Presence of Absence

I miss my dad. Not always, and less often than at first, but today. It has been over twenty one years since he died. I had young children then and my grieving was balanced by the duties of fatherhood. I have mementos. Things that I inherited that were his. Things that remind me of him and our connection. Things that recall his presence.

I was listening to a radio program called “Ideas” on the CBC yesterday and the episode was called “Haunted”. One of the interviewees was Daniel Goldstein who made art from various things that reflected his feelings of loss as a member of a community that was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. He used a phrase that I may have heard before, but this time I was prompted to retrieve the episode and listen more closely to make sure I was understanding him correctly.

The phrase was: “presence of absence” to describe his haunting artwork. My spine tingled. This oxymoron hit home. He put into words much of what I love in life. I love deserted spaces, liminal spaces. I love things that have been tossed aside, but remain. I seek out ruins and cemeteries. My pinterest “likes” feeds me rusty train engines and deserted theatres, abandoned subway stops, classic cars and trees growing out of cars and the like. I am waking up to the fact that the reason I like all of these things is my predilection for presence of absence. I imagine what was there before, I may romanticize what was there, because there is no real way of knowing.

I am reminded of photos of derelict barns that my friend Percy takes, the realist art of Alex Colville, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Songs like “Torn Screen Door” by David Francey also come to mind.

Perhaps I love to bask in melancholy. I don’t necessarily feel melancholic or nostalgic, but to witness others that recognize this beauty gives me comfort.

As I googled “presence of absence” the word “Saudade” kept popping up

Saudade is a Portuguese word that is almost untranslatable. The best way to describe it is: the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly but know you can never experience again.

I love word play, and in 2004 when I first looked up the word “Saudade” (a word I had seen in Bossa Nova titles (Chega de Saudade, etc.) I realized that the feeling actually was embodied by a song I was writing then called “So Dad…” which was a conversation with a ghost. I was hoping that they were pronounced the same to complete the pun. Apparently in Portugal they pronounce it “SO Dad Jay” which annoyed me, but the Brazilian version was close to “so dad”. I am with Brazil on this one.

Saudade / So Dad…
Ian G Hanchet

So Dad… I look in the mirror some days
I look in the mirror some days and I see your face
Looking back (2x)

You lived your life well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you, I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… I can hear your voice some days
I can hear your voice some days 
When I’m yelling at my kids (like you did) (2x)

Then I remember  To treat them warm and tender
But with a firm hand, I understand

So Dad… the shadow that you cast  Is pretty big
The shadow that you cast is pretty big
But it isn’t all dark

So Dad… the fire in your veins went out
The fire in your veins went out 
But though we part, you left a spark

             (chorus 1) 

So Dad… I grew up under your wing
I grew up under your wing 
And I may have stayed too long
So Dad… you gave me a voice to sing
You gave me a voice to sing
But you let me sing my own song

You did your job well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… the last time I kissed you
The last time I kissed your forehead
It was already cold
You’d stopped… Growing old…

So Dad… A little bit of you lives on
A little bit of you lives on
in your prodigal son

	I’m only a little boy, Just a little boy 
	I’m your little boy still, I’m your little boy still

©2004 IGH

Better Than Gold

My first music teaching job after graduating from McGill, was in Manitoba. I inherited a healthy band program from my friend Kenny Gold who had recommended me as a bilingual music teacher. I made the move out west and worked my butt off to keep the program growing. 

My predecessor had started a jazz combo which I continued. We had a lovely group of kids that took it pretty seriously. In the combo were three kids whose parents were musicians. 

Pete and Joe were brothers. Joe played alto sax and flute, although he didn’t play flute in the combo. His brother Pete played drums and piano. Both boys were very adept at their instruments and I could not teach them anything technical as they had already surpassed my knowledge. What I was able to teach them was style, humour and attitude and pointed them towards the right things to listen to. Their parents played in the Winnipeg Symphony and both brothers had had extensive private training. Both boys went on after school to playing, writing and recording original music. Joe had his own studio. For a while as well. 

Clayton was a tenor saxophonist and had a lovely tone. A big sound. He was not a very good reader, but made up for it with a great ear and his ability to imitate his tenor heroes. His dad was a jazz bass player, so Clayton heard lots of that style of music. I never told him what to play, though I did suggest he try to copy solos from pros. His playing on St. Thomas (Sonny Rollins calypso tune) was particularly beyond his years.

Another set of brothers, Bruce and Richard played trumpet and bass clarinet respectively. Bruce was a hard worker and was able to extend his range pretty high à la Maynard Ferguson. Their dad was a “band booster” and drove kids all over the place and was able to get us playing opportunities outside of school. 

Our pianist was Leanne. She never improvised, but was a very good reader, so was able to play jazz voicings that were written out for her. Her mum and dad also were very supportive. 

Our bass player was Ricky. He was a tall, quiet, steady ginger who was a very steady bottom for our horns. At the Brandon Jazz Festival the band was billeted in a dormitory. When I did my rounds checking on kids, some of the rooms were pretty rowdy, and mildly naughty things were going on, Ricky was reading the bible……

The combo kept getting better and better. Joe graduated, but returned to school for rehearsals. We went to Jazz festivals and at one of them we won a gold medal in our category. We were thrilled to bits as you can imagine. This win meant we were invited to a national competition held that year in Calgary. It was a big honour, and we started to fund raise even before we got the go ahead from “the suits”.

After all the plans were put into place we had a band meeting before a rehearsal so I could complete our application form. I needed the birthdays of all the kids. Ricky had just had a birthday and as I wrote the info on the form, I realized it bumped us up into a higher category (18 -22). I told the kids, and arguments started. Some of the kids wanted me to lie about his age. I said that it was tempting, but what kind of a role model would I be if I lied? I managed to convince them that the goal was to play and do our best, and who cares if we don’t get a medal, we already proved ourselves. I also said that getting a medal if we know we cheated would not be an honour.

In Calgary, the kids saw and heard excellent music, attended workshops with pros and fraternized with jazz music nerds from all around the country. It was fun and interesting.

Our performance went very well. All the kids were at their very best. Joe, Clayton and Bruce played particularly inspired and with a new fire. They played with nothing to lose, up against really good college kids against whom we felt we had no chance.

On awards night, we sat through some really great music interspersed with each categories results. As each category was read and the honourees lauded,  we saw products of great well-funded programs reaping their well-deserved awards. When our category came up, we all crossed our fingers and when we heard the words “Silver goes to St. Norbert Collegiate” we all were on cloud nine. I had tears, pretty sure they all did. It was such a great feeling.

The evening continued and individual awards were presented. Clayton won Yamaha award for “outstanding soloist” Bruce also won a similar award for one of his solos.

I think we went out for a treat afterward, and we talked it over. Everyone was ecstatic at our placing. I asked if anyone regretted not lying, and everyone said “no”. 

I was proud of those kids, they were like a little family.

Sometimes Silver is better than Gold.

P.S. we were invited to play the Montreal Jazz Festival, but most of the kids were not able to go. So, in order to attend, we changed the combo lineup and I got to play with Pete and Joe who had been accepted to McGill and two other musicians who went on to successful music careers. 

After Calgary,  I decided I had done a good job, but I wanted new challenges and to be back in Montreal, so I resigned and enrolled in the Masters program at McGill.

Not the combo, but Senior Band from 1987 or 8

Tangible History

I am not sure what compels artists and musicians to seek out places where their heroes/mentors lived or died. I have been reading Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids” and she often refers to famous events that occurred at the precise spot she was inhabiting at that moment: The place where Dylan Thomas lived shortly before his death or the place where so and so was murdered, etc. She visits France to trace the hangouts where Beaudelaire lived and died. Her pilgrimage like so many others to the Père Lachaise cemetery to visit Jim Morrison’s grave that lies among hundreds of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Molière et al.

Stories of pilgrimages abound. I recently read “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain which details a tour of Europe and the Middle East which is best described as a pilgrimage. Holy sites, the very streets where DaVinci walked, the river Jordan where John The Baptist did his thing. The Mount of Olives, etc. There is a certain comfort and insight to visiting these places. To tread on the ground where our heroes trod.

I think my first experience of this kind of visit to a dedicated site of remembrance to a famous person was seeing Louis Riel’s grave in Winnipeg and seeing the remnants of the coffin in which he was carried to his final resting place. I caught the bug. Tangible History.

My most recent pilgrimage was to England and Wales where a millenia of my ancestors had lived and breathed. My ancestors invaded Great Britain in 1066 with William The Conqueror. Although I did not visit an exact place, I had a strange sense of belonging where the accents all resembled my Grandfather’s. 

I once asked my Grandfather why he had an accent only to be rebuked with: ”I don’t have an accent, YOU do!, I am British!”. 

On my agenda for this trip overseas was a trip to London where I needed to see the Abbey Road crosswalk and the studio where so much great music was produced.  I also wished to see “Berkeley Square” of the famous song “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” and Trafalgar Square of the song lyric “I Was Born In Trafalgar Square, If it’s Good Enough For Nelson, It’s Good Enough For Me”. We also ate and drank at a very Dickensian pub that had been frequented by Charles Dickens. I also wanted to visit 21B Baker Street which didn’t look at all like what I had imagined, but I came to the realization that it had also been imagined in the first place by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was visiting a shrine that was fictional…

 Our stay in North Wales was less than two hours from Liverpool, so we made a day trip and were able to visit Strawberry Field and Penny Lane and The Cavern Club replica as well as the actual site of the Cavern Club and all the other Kitschy Beatlesesque nostalgia sites. We were ten minutes too late for the last Magical Mystery Tour, but so be it. My eyes were opened to a different reality from what I had imagined. John Lennon’s childhood home and neighbourhood resembled many in my home town. If I had done more research, and we had had more time I might have visited William Blake’s grave. 

Later that same year, I visited New York which I do fairly frequently. On this occasion I visited the “Strawberry Field” and the Imagine commemoration in the shadow of “The Dakota” where John Lennon had been murdered. Other places and “shrines” I visited in NY include all the Jazz clubs and/or places where they had existed. 52nd street sure ain’t what it used to be, The Apollo Theatre. Bleecker Street and all the folkie haunts. Just  walking the streets of Greenwich Village was inspiring although like everything else in the capitalist world, it is ruined by gentrification and cheesy tourist traps. Broadway and Times Square with their rich history did not impress me, but seeing the “Brill Building” where so much great pop music came from was inspirational.

I live in Montreal, which was home to Leonard Cohen. There are wonderful large posthumous murals of him in several locations around the city. His duplex on Ste. Dominique street has been the spot that people go to to reminisce and to somehow get a taste of where so much great art came from. My girls both attended the elementary school where Leonard had gone to school and played in Murray Hill Park just a Stone’s throw away from Leonard’s ancestral home (although we didn’t know it at the time). Leonard is buried on Mount Royal between Westmount and The Plateau (his two homes). Mount Royal Cemetery has many famous people in it, although maybe not world famous. Former Prime Ministers, etc. The Anna of “Anna and the King of Siam” is buried there.

What inspired me to write about shrines today was a picture I saw yesterday of a musician (Jon Wurster) in front of Bob Dylan’s childhood home in Hibbing Minnesota. The picture was accompanying a story about how the same musician had opened up for Bob Dylan and during soundcheck he pocketed a Kleenex from Dylan’s area on stage. A souvenir he kept to this day. 

Bob Dylan has some famous stories of visiting shrines. The film footage of him and Alan Ginsberg at Jack Kerouac’s grave come to mind as well as the time Dylan was on tour in Winnipeg and he visited the home that Neil Young had lived in as a teenager. The present owners were awestruck… or the  time Dylan was walking around in a hoodie in New Jersey to get the  vibe of Bruce Springsteen’s stomping grounds. He was picked up by a young police officer for vagrancy and had no ID. He was amused that the “kid” didn’t know who he was but is now legendary in the precinct because the older cops sure as hell knew. 

In the early 2000’s I drove my family out west to Winnipeg to visit friends I had made during my four years living there in the late 1980’s and also so my wife at the time could record an album at a studio complex owned and run by a former student of mine. We had our two young daughters in tow and our lovely dog, Stardust. It is a Loooooooong trip from Montreal to Winnipeg. With two kids in tow it meant park stops and pee breaks and motel stays. If I drove non-stop it would take about 25 hours. to traverse the 2300 kilometres, so you can imagine how long it took us in a mini van with all the kiddie stops…. We went south of Lake Superior as I wanted to partially retrace my hitch hiking adventure from when I was sixteen years old and decided to hitch hike to the Yukon to see my sister. 

I wanted to see the town of Marquette where I had been stranded and where some hippies had picked me up from the side of the road near midnight after I had just been hit by a flying beer bottle thrown by some local redneck hoodlums and the hippies made me a palette on the floor. I wish I knew who they were, because they really comforted me at a low point. 

Also on my list was Duluth, Minnesota where Dylan had been born and Hibbing, Minnesota where he “came from”. Hibbing was a detour for us. It took us about two hours out of the way on an alternate route to Winnipeg. My goal was to seek out his house and have my picture taken in front of it. I can’t stress enough how important this was to me. Don’t forget that this trip was pre-cell phone and pre-internet. I had taken the time  to research the addresses from the several biographical sources that I owned and had a visual from one of them. I may have even brought one of those books with me… We found the house, and from the street I could see the bedroom window where Bob had dreamed and started playing and writing. I posed for my photograph and my wife took several. Mission accomplished. We saw the strip mining area that brought people to Hibbing in the first place and drove past the high school and the location where the Zimmermans had a dry goods store and a theatre.  Hibbing is pretty “fly-over America” it is stuck in a time warp and the chances of my ever going back are pretty close to zero. 

Everybody was itching to get to our destination which was another six hours away. I thanked my family for indulging me that detour, but now it was off my “bucket list”(not that I have a bucket list, per se). 

We got to our friend’s house just south of the city and had dinner and I settled the girls down for the night with a bed time story. They were acting weird and conspiratorial and I asked them “What’s up?” They said “we promised mom we wouldn’t tell!” “Tell what?” I replied “We don’t keep secrets in our house”. They both blurted out “There was no film in the camera!” “Mummy told us not to tell.” …………….

The picture I saw of Jon Wurster in front of Bob’s house should have been me.

Merry Pranksters

I recently heard from my old friend Roy of the passing of yet another of my mentors. Cahill Rooney died on Good Friday 2021. Along with this news came other news that someone had written a book called “Brothers In Montebello”.

The author (Shawn Urlocker) arrived the September after I graduated, so I never knew him, but I purchased the book anyway,buying it online on Monday. It arrived Thursday morning and I devoured it by Friday evening. The stories inside stirred up memories of school mates and names long forgotten and places that I had known intimately. The book mentioned an event that I was involved in. The back cover said that:

“Presentation High school in Montebello was a ‘last chance’ for Montreal’s most incorrigible youth, while also offering a quality education for “regular lads”.”

Needless to say, I was not a “regular lad”. I did graduate with top grades in English and Religion, and went from being a mediocre student to being accepted at Acadia University.

The book told of the kids at the school and their lives in and out of school. It also mentioned a caper that I had been involved in.

Mr. Rooney was the Vice Principal of Presentation High School. The school year I attended was my final year of high school. 1973-74. Mr Rooney was a character to be sure. Physically, I felt he looked like Roy Orbison. He had a thick mop of jet black hair and black rimmed Ray Ban glasses. He walked on the balls of his feet and it seemed like he was always smiling. He had a way of emitting a short and high pitched “hm” and raised his eyebrows in surprise as he entered a scene. I am pretty sure it was a nervous habit of his, but it made us wonder what he knew and we would wonder if he was “hmm”ing disdainfully or playfully. I often found myself copying this mannerism of his in my own teaching career from time to time, and each time I did, I would think of Rooney.

Cahill Rooney loved cars. He had several classic Jaguars that were not running, but parked on the lawn beside the school. The year I was there he had a Hemi Roadrunner which is a honking big muscle car. I only remember riding in it once, which was a trip to Ottawa and back. The date was Saturday March 16th, 1974. I had convinced some of my pals to come to a concert in Ottawa with me. I played guitar and was becoming increasingly fascinated by things musical. Mr. Rooney took courses in Ottawa and went frequently. He was going that Saturday and we were able somehow to not only get tickets, but get a ride, (we also got some potent LSD) and all this before internet and not having any credit. Rooney was a pretty cool guy, all told.

The concert was a triple bill. The first act was “The James Gang” which at this time had Canadian guitar legend Domenic Troiano on guitar (not Joe Walsh…who had left by then). They were loud and heavy. Not my thing, I was there for Roy Buchanan who was a blues based telecaster slinger who I had discovered while hanging out at Phantasmagoria record store which was a cool store with barnwood, sofas and tropical fish. I heard Roy there and bought the album “Second Contribution” on the spot. I think he came on second, but I can’t be sure. I know I loved the music. The other band on the bill was “Soft Machine” which was a prog rock outfit… lotsa synths and I did not relate to them at all. Fortunately the double barrel orange pills we had taken before made all the music and the experience a cloudy jumble. Meeting up with Rooney after the show was a trip in itself…. We were so blotto… every thing he said and every growl of the engine were amplified with cosmic significance somehow. Rooney drove fast! We were doing well over a hundred and twenty. (Miles Per Hour) Canada would go metric in almost exactly one year. Ripping down the 417 from Ottawa to Hawkesbury was like when the Enterprise goes warp speed… all the while with Rooney smiling and “hmm”ing and we feeble ados not able to discern if he knew how fucked up we were… The bridge to quebec and up the road we all knew so well back to Montebello. There is now a high speed bypass from Lachute to Gatineau, but the old road is pretty much as it was then.

That was not “the” caper. It sticks out in my memory, though. I remember Dave MacDonald was with us, and I am pretty sure there were two others but time has erased those details.

AT our “reform” school there were brothers who taught and ran the place and several teaching positions held by “lay people” The year I attended there were two men from Queens, NY . I remembered them as Bart and Steve, but in the book it refers to a Mr. Ross. They both used to regale us of stories of going “clamming” near their native Queens. Very heavy and thick Queens accents. I think they may have been “old boys”. We’ll call “Bart” “Ross” for the sake of this story.

Ross had an old Volvo like this one:

Volvo Classic Cars | Volvo oldtimers for sale at E&R Classic Cars!

His was easily classifiable as an old car… junker….beater….etc. It had a manual transmission.

One of my classmates (I don’t remember who, but probably Dave) came up with the brilliant idea to “relocate” the Volvo as a practical joke. We snuck around after lights out and got to work. We needed many strong boys to push it and someone behind the wheel to steer. Gerry (Muttsey) was the strongest and Bruno was also muscular. There were others, but only hazy in my memory. David and a long haired kid named “Poshton”. I had my driver’s licence and knew stick, so I was elected the wheel man. The goal was to push the car around to the back of the school and deposit it in the Gym. The school was built on an embankment. Two storeys visible in the front, but two more storeys beneath those levels. We got the car around to the back alright, but hit a snag at the Gym door. The car did not have enough room to turn the 90 degrees necessary to go through the door. We had to lift the back of the car up and swing the tail around without very much room to do it because the sidewalk we were on could accommodate the car, but dropped off severely not unlike a mountain road. When we got the car perpendicular to the school, we realized the gym doors needed to be removed and the car needed to be lifted in the front to get over the threshold and into the gym. Imagine all the grunting and swearing of pubescent boys exerting themselves and picture the bedroom window of Mr. Rooney’s bedroom two stories directly above. It is a miracle we didn’t wake him.

We got the car into the centre of the gym and someone took a picture. I wish I had that photo now, I don’t even remember who took it. About a dozen boys in the middle of the night atop and astride the Volvo. We all snuck off to our dorms and went to sleep feeling pretty damn proud of our collective naughtiness. We were awoken rudely before the usual time by the Brothers and Ross yelling for the grade ten and elevens to wake up. They told us that the Volvo had been stolen and we were the prime suspects. No-one spoke. Muttsey was singled out, but he remained mute. We had a code as young punks to not “squeal”. This is before they found it in the Gym… The Securité du Québec officers were there and one officer strolled downstairs and came back grinning and said “J’ai trouver ton auto, monsieur!” and Ross went downstairs and came back fuming and ranting (and smacked a few of us that he was sure were in on it. Muttsey and Timmins….. Still we were all mute. Mr. Rooney came in with a shit eating grin and brother Raymond came in smirking as well. They lectured us and made us skip breakfast and we had several duties piled on the lot of us. That was it.

I felt kind of bad because Ross had gotten up very early to drive to Montreal for a dentist appointment which he ultimately missed. We really loved the guy, and were totally not thinking of the ramifications or consequences of our brilliant, but admittedly delinquent caper. Idiot boys.

I am pretty sure that Brother Raymond and Mr. Rooney were secretly proud of our teamwork and our ingenuity in pulling this off even though they feigned anger, disbelief and revenge. I can picture them sitting over a scotch and howling with laughter at how their incorrigibles did.

I am quite sad that I couldn’t find pictures of Cahill Rooney (the right one…) on line. He was ultimately a very private man. I have many pictures of him etched into the recesses of my brain and another memory of seeing his name in the Gazette in 2012 in regards to a development project in Shaughnessy Village where his home backed onto the development. I checked the phone book for Rooneys and found one on Chomedey Street. I knew the street as I had had an apartment in a converted townhouse there in the 70’s. I called him up and we chatted a bit agreed to meet up at a café nearby on another day. He was thrilled to know I became a teacher and was eager to discuss my music with me. Alas, it never transpired. I regret it. My life was about to become unmanageable as I was close to burn out my job, my mother’s health, worry over one of my children and my marriage had unravelled beyond repair.

Now he is gone. We never have anybody forever, but having him ever present in my memories and habits will have to do. I am surely not the only boy he ever helped as I see from Urlocker’s book. I intend to have a chat with my buddy Roy who went on to help him establish his own school in Aylmer, Quebec a few short years after I graduated.

I have another tale from school days here:

The Gift

A lovely story in which I had a hand.

Dare Boldly

When the email arrived carrying a link to ‘The Gift’ I wasn’t really expecting it.

Sure, when Ian Hanchet (the gift giver) commented on my poem “If I Could...” he wrote, “I was inspired to immediately pick up my guitar and melody flowed from me. I recorded it on my phone, but I need to become more acquainted with the rhythms of your poem so that I may do each phrase justice. Too bad my life just got super busy. Maybe Next week I can return to this work of wonder.” When I read his words I thought, ‘how lovely’ and promptly wrote back to thank him and to let him know how excited I was he liked the poem that much.

And then, I let it go.

Yesterday, Ian emailed to say he’d finished the song and included the audio link.

I cried as I…

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Mark Twain

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”   ― Heraclitus

Aside from the gender specific reference of the above quote, it is profoundly true. I like to revisit things. Places, people, music, films, ideas, books. 

Recently, I have undertaken the task of Reading “The Unabridged Mark Twain”. Many of the stories are ones I read as a boy and/or as a younger man. One of the tales is “Huckleberry Finn” which is a sequel of “Tom Sawyer” which I have also re-read (as the tome is chronological and I started at the beginning). Immediately after publication, Huckleberry Finn was banned on the recommendation of public commissioners in Concord, Massachusetts, who described it as racist, coarse, trashy, inelegant, irreligious, obsolete, inaccurate, and mindless. It is none of these, but what more temptation would a young boy need but to read a book that was banned?

When I first read Huckleberry Finn I doubt if I was yet ten years old. It is quite a compelling story of an adventure down the Mississippi River on a raft by a young boy who was around my age at the time and his friend, a runaway slave. The narrative is written in a style that imitates the language of the people of the southern United States in the mid eighteen hundreds which is pre-Civil War. Being Canadian and raised in the 60’s, my models for this style of speech would have been from TV at that time. The Andy Griffith Show, Disney movies, Gomer Pyle, etc. Perhaps I had seen Gone With The Wind as well. The tropes of southern belles, country bumpkins, gamblers, grifters, southern preachers etc. would all have been modelled in Western Movies and shows like Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, etc.

The intention behind my reading books as a child was just to follow the story. To get to the end. It never struck me as odd or unnatural or unusual that black skinned people in this book were referred to with what we now call “the ‘n’ word”. I didn’t use it myself, I didn’t hear it except from time to time on the playground at school even though my elementary schooling was in a privileged and predominately white neighbourhood and the word was meant to disparage like “fag”, “Pepsi”, “retard”. Words meant to isolate, to demean, to destroy. Thinking about it now makes me realize how little I understood things. To me, those words were just sounds that did not apply to me because I was not black, gay, or French or intellectually challenged (my sister would argue the last point. Lol). I was truly naive.

The ‘n’ word did not make my skin crawl as it does now. The social order of the story was just a description, no more, no less. I did not question it. The matter- of-fact manner in which slaves appeared in the story lacked the ominous and oppressive weight that I understand now as an adult. I had heard about and read about slaves in Sunday School. Jews enslaved in Egypt, etc. Just Stories. 

The interval since I first read Twain is 50 odd years. My education and personal growth and changes since then have been vast. I have held beliefs, reversed beliefs, been entirely skeptical, entirely optimistic. Ambivalence, it could be argued, is a Canadian trait. Yet I have always had a healthy disregard for authority, always questioned yet generally adhered to the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). I have travelled. I have worked and played, loved and hated, fulfilled both dreams and nightmares. 

The human body almost entirely replaces itself on a cellular level every 7 years. So At age 64, I am Ian Hanchet version 8.0. I have been regenerated roughly six and a half times since I read Huck Finn the first time. Who was that guy?

I have benefitted greatly from my White Privilege. Which I now know has been at the expense of others. I am a direct result of the colonial system living in a land that was stolen. I have been able to do things others could only dream of. It seems the world is in constant flux. Economic and Territorial powers are always in flux. I have the luxury of being able to think and not be worried where my next meal comes from. I am thankful and ashamed.

To revisit Huck after reading Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, is to uncover the degrees of subtlety that Twain infused into his writing. I googled “Twain and racism” to see if I should continue. It turns out that Twain was a champion of racial tolerance and critical social commentary and human rights. Did my world view come from him in the first place, the subliminal foundation on which I built me beliefs and non-beliefs throughout my life or am I just realizing now what has always been there? Every awakening I experience is like being freed from being a prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the cave. 

Not just Huck, either. So far I have revisited: “The Innocents Abroad” which satirizes Amerocentric travellers and the revelations of places visited and the people in them as a huge hustle; “The Prince and The Pauper” where privilege and disenfranchisement trade places; At this writing, I am half way through “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” which is also a scathing yet subtle satire of aristocracy and power structure. I am at page 1,000 (about 3/4 of the way through)of the first of two tomes. 

Some of the stories in here I will be encountering for the first time. Putting my feet into a new river. Early in my teaching career I remember taking a school band by bus on an excursion from Winnipeg to Minneapolis. The bus driver announced at some point that “to our right is the great Mississippi River!” I asked him rather excitedly to stop the bus as I wanted to dip my toe in this heralded river that bisects america, rich in history, down to the Delta which is Blues country and ends in New Orleans the birthplace of Jazz. I scrambled down the embankment with my students watching on as their Weirdo Music Teacher took off his shoes and waded into what turned out to be a very polluted part of the great Mississippi River. I remember that, rather than elation I was horrified that such a great natural wonder could be so mistreated. An environmentally conscious person was newly baptized. Part of my reverence was shattered. It was restored a decade later on a trip to St. Louis where the river was cleaner and better represented the images of my youth. The literary river I just waded through was like reading it for the first time with eyes wide open. I wish I could have gleaned from it way back when what I did this time. Alas, not the same man, not the same river.

The real richesse  of retirement is the amount of time I have to reflect on things, assume a mantle of wisdom and to get to projects and books I could never make the time for on the treadmill. *ironic side note… I listened to “A People’s History of America” while exercising on an actual treadmill. Makes me feel less like a chubby hamster.

The Rockland Game

Today I got to play “The Rockland Game”.

I had to drive Sharon to an eye doctor appointment on Beaumont St. On the outskirts of “The Town” (as inhabitants and former inhabitants refer to Town of Mount Royal….TMR).

Coming from the West Island on the 40, I could have chosen either Rockland rd.or l’Acadie blvd to get there. I chose Rockland rd. And drove at the posted speed limit of 40 kmh. A dink in a BMW flew past me and was waiting at the next light in the “fast lane”. As I approached the red light, Sharon was quite alarmed that I was going to “burn through a red”. She was quite alarmed, but the light turned green as if by magic and we sailed through, passing the stationary, text-checking Bimmer driver while I explained to her that my dad taught me this game when I was around 11 years old. Mr. BMW Pants-Wetter zoomed out of the light and past us (obviously in a hurry to get to the next light) and we leisurely sailed past him on the inside as he screeched out as the next light changed, obviously miffed that a geezer in a Jeep could be taking advantage of him so. We made the entire length of Rockland at 40 kmh without even touching the brakes. I am guessing, but I think it was five or six sets of traffic lights. Same story each time. Maybe four lights, maybe more until we both had to stop at Jean-Talon.

When my dad showed me this game, it was before Canada went metric, so it was 30 MPH. Same principle though. He was so smug about using his math skills to beat testosterone.

Today, I was the smug one. A bit like Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady wins the race. Can you hear me gloating?


Beautiful and funny. Just like you!


Sometimes I feel like an imposter in my own life.

This evening, my rockstar husband and I are playing a gig at our beloved Mariposa Cafe to raise money for the St. James Drop-In Centre, a wonderful community resource that supports members who are coping with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. Our friend, Antonella, volunteers in the art therapy program there and her enthusiasm for the program and compassion for its members convinced us to support the cause.

It is less sold out closer to showtime but for a few weeks it was!

We played a similar gig nearly a year ago, selling copies of our self-funded cd of cover tunes and raising close to $1500. This year, all proceeds from the $15 cover charge will be donated to the cause.

I’ve come a long way, baby.

From music teacher Mrs. Bloomer with the chinny chin hairs and…

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Thoughts And Prayers

Strolling up on easy street It couldn’t happen here
I’d better send an easy tweet with thoughts and prayers

I think i’ll get a coffee, Think i’ll go downstairs
But not before sending off my thoughts and prayers

Thoughts and prayers Thoughts and prayers

Staring blindly at your screens In your easy chairs
Sending thoughts….and prayers

This has triggered somethingI gotta show I care
But I can’t think of anything but thoughts and prayers

Just another bloodbath Life can be so unfair
I won’t stop a shooter, But I’m sending thoughts and prayers

Thoughts and prayers, Thoughts and prayers
Staring blindly at your screens In your easy chairs
Sending thoughts….and prayers

Now If your faith had legs, You wouldn’t vote for millionaires
That won’t change the gun laws but send their thoughts and prayers

No blood on MY hands, And got no Helping hand to lend
But I feel like a hero Because I pressed “send”

Thoughts and prayers, Thoughts and prayers
Staring blindly at your screens In your easy chairs
Sending thoughts….and prayers

I didn’t cause it… (thoughts and prayers)
I can’t control it … (thoughts and prayers)
And I can’t cure it…. (thoughts and prayers)
thoughts and prayers ad nauseam… thoughts and prayers

Just sitting in my bubble, I was caught unaware
That things like this might happen. Here’s my thoughts and prayers

I gotta make excuses To show I really care
Sending off my useless Thoughts and prayers

Thoughts and prayers, Thoughts and prayers
Staring blindly at your screens In your easy chairs
Sending thoughts….and prayers

Then there are the victims, But They no longer care
They’d rather have their life back, Stead of your thoughts and prayers

“In my defense, I am Dyslexic”

One of the little things I take pleasure in is giving an alias to the baristas at Starbucks when they ask for my name. I am usually buying a latte for my sweetie. I have used some such as:  “The Emperor”; “Viking Banana”;”Ziggy Stardust”; “The Dude”; etc.

I also like to give the names of famous musicians as well. I have used “Frank Zappa”; “Willie Nelson” and “Bob Dylan”. 

This little game usually puts a smile on the person’s face who took the order and also the person who prepares the coffee. I make a point of asking who it’s for if the barista just hands it out. If the name is really absurd I might ask them to announce it louder. It is a fun game and most of the servers go along with it. They won’t print swearing, which I understand but I find irritating. I wanted to use “corporate prick” and was refused. 

One time I told the Barista I was the “Queen of Sheba” who is a biblical figure of repute. An African Queen who bore gifts of great value to King Solomon. The barista wrote “Queen of Shiva” which is a word likely known to the man who was probably jewish rather than Hindu. In Judaism, shiva is a period of mourning. In Hinduism it is a god of asceticism (deprival)…similar, but not Sheba.

My latest encounter was when I told the person taking my order that I was “Beethoven”. She complied and before I saw it she said it was “probably mis-spelled”. I asked “How can you mis-spell such a famous name?” She said “I am in Science, not music!” I told her I was in music, but I could spell “Einstein” and furthermore I asked her if “for example, you are writing a Master’s thesis on Hydrocarbons, what would happen if you got “Hydrocarbon” wrong? We agreed she would probably fail. She then exclaimed… “in my defense, I am dyslexic!” which to me is not a defense at all, but an excuse because I, too, am dyslexic and have only used that as an excuse for comedic reasons as in “I have sex daily” which is an anagram of “I have dyslexia”. (I’d rather have sex daily for the record.)

When I got the coffee and read the label on the cup I was amazed at how wrong she could have gotten it. I was tempted to ask if she was related to Donald Trump, but that would have been cruel and insulting.