Borders

Cars line up to cross into the U.S. at the border on Feb. 25, 2017, in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

I live in Montreal,Canada, and I stay put most of the time. I have my wanderlust in check. I love it here. Last night, a friend of mine pointed out that I have been travelling a lot lately. I guess I have. I vacationed in North Wales and did side trips to London and Liverpool. I also recently played a gig in our nation’s capitol, and most recently made a trip to New York City.

I travel to the States most often. I have a daughter, friends and extended family who live there. Travelling by automobile, it is reasonably easy to visit adjacent states. There are four states that border on Quebec: NY, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I have visited all of them within the last several years despite my visceral opposition to the American president and the awful imperialistic and militaristic policies of (typically) Republicans.

Even before “T” I found the border a bit intimidating. I don’t like uniforms or guns (not in that order). My car is not pristine and I look like a hippie. I have to put on a mask of obedience and subservience at the border which is ironic as they always ask me to remove my shades, and neither obedience or subservience is prominent in my real character.

My wife simply WON”T go since the election of “T”. She always feels traumatized by the border. She was not born in Canada, she was born in India which always results in further scrutiny from the border police. She has about as much in common with terrorism as a kitten has in common with a python.

In the summer of 2016 (pre-T) I rented a cottage in Vermont for several days. I had to split my vacation between my wife (3 days) and my girls (4 days) due to their conflicting work Schedules. This meant I had to traverse the border several times in either direction with different passengers in the car. I witnessed my wife’s discomfort and we got questioned (not about her nationality) about the two Shih-Tzus travelling with us. They let us pass, but scolded us for not having their papers with them….. After our three days together we returned to Montreal and I piled my girls into the jeep and we returned. BAM! Pulled over, car searched, tomatoes confiscated….the elder daughter was questioned about a student visa she had had to study in Texas. It had been 2 years since she had decided to not pursue the degree and moved away. After a half hour of waiting they let us through and supposedly entered her change of status into the “system”.

At Canadian Thanksgiving that year, my siblings and I rented a house on Lake Champlain just across the border. Lake Champlain is partly in Canada and separates NY from Vt. I was prepared for our weekend. We brought food and I brought my guitar. I thought going through at a small crossing like Beebe Plain at an odd hour would be a breeze…… They rummaged through everything, cut open a sealed package of cookies, didn’t treat anything respectfully. I had to bite my tongue when the guard gestured to my guitar case and asked “what is it?” and then “what’s it for”. I hate having to stifle my sarcasm. He then gestured to my box of CDs and warned “You’d better not be intending to sell those!” I said it was unlikely seeing as my family already had copies of all my CDs and we were going to a cottage. Sharon scolded me afterward for being too “familiar”.

They let us through. Then “T” happened. The world immediately got sick. I vowed to not go south while he was in office. I have since broken that vow because my younger daughter now lives there, and I have to visit her, and due to tie ups with her Visa status etc. It is best she not come up here.

I went down to NYC last week. At the border with my older daughter, we got flagged and told to pull into the customs and immigration building parking lot. We did, and went inside, but not before encountering a surly GI Joe type guy who barked at us to go inside. I thought, “How Rude” and “what an asshole!” Then I saw how he treated the next people who had just pulled up. He screamed at them “What are you parking there for?” and gestured menacingly and inhospitably (is that redundant?) to a stall.

The people behind us were a young family (Mum and Dad with a toddler and infant) who looked like they might be middle eastern (that is to say they were light brown) and as I learned later had “foreign-sounding” names.

We waited and waited to be called. I took advantage of this time to use the facilities. When I got back my daughter leaned in to me and whispered to me that we were the only white people pulled over. I looked around and sure enough that of the 20 or so people, we were the only white people in the waiting area. Ema was indignant. She said she was angry, that this was not right. I said “You’re right, but let’s keep a lid on it til we clear our hurdle.” I also noticed that EVERY officer on duty was white and male and dressed like GI Joe. We were called after a man named Malik who was interrogated VERY thoroughly with stupid questions like: “Are these your children” etc. I witnessed Systemic racism first hand.

I looked at the baseball caps with CBP on them worn by the officers and in my poetic dyslexic way, I started thinking PCB and CBD and CDN….etc. As I write I had to look CBP up to be sure of the actual acronym…..

We had to explain Ema’s non-student status over again, and they had to go into the “system” and verify everything. We got through, and they didn’t search the car which is a good thing because I have a prescription for CBD oil for my migraines, CBD is illegal in the US (which is criminal in itself…), and although I have synthetic CBD (which is allowed in the US) I also had a tablet of chocolate that was made with CBD in my luggage.

About 20 miles into the States there was a huge roadblock on I 87. A dozen or so cop cars in the median and several lines of cars waiting to proceed southward. There was a sniffer dog walking with his/her handler going up and down the line of stopped cars. I felt a bit nervous, because I know how good a dog’s nose is (ironic for a species that eats poop, but I digress). We were waved on as I showed my passport to the cop. I am surmising that they were looking for Americans who bought pot legally in Canada and were headed back with it.

We had a lovely trip. I didn’t need the CBD chocolate after all.

Coming home, we approached the border. The guard for our queue was female and her skin was black. She addressed us in both official languages (English and French) and was courteous and professional. She asked us where we lived, how long we’d been in the US and if we had anything to declare? I did. I had two bottles of “Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan brand Whiskey) and a framed photo that we had shipped to my brother’s place to save on international shipping. She gave me our passports back and said “Have a nice day!”

To quote Paul Simon “Gee, but it’s great to be back home”. If you hear the song as you read that, you’re my kind of person.

“Have A Nice Day” Indeed!

I Don’t Like It Here (Not One Wee Bit)

While travelling back to North Wales from London by tube and then Train I overheard a whiny little boy who quite clearly was fed up with waiting around in Euston train station. I wrote the words he spoke: “I don’t like it here, not one wee bit” in my notes folder. Back at the home where we were staying I picked up a guitar forgetting I had tuned it DADGAD. I grabbed what I thought was a D chord but in this tuning was a D7. The next chord (Bb) was just where the song went…almost like it was dictated to me. The words rushed out in a torrent as I channeled my own experiences of discomfort and imagining those of children with Autism who I have known. As I was writing it all down I was aware that I actually DID like it there. It was a beautiful experience to travel in my ancestral homeland.

Everything is noisy, no-one’s sitting still

I won’t drink the poison, I won’t swallow that pill

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

my clothes are feeling itchy, I need to take a shower

feeling itchy, snitchy, bitchy,  minutes seem like  hours

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

everyone looks worried and no-one looks around

scurry hurry worry, people driven underground 

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

we all know time is fleeting, time to beat the clock

time to miss more meetings, time to take a nature walk

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

(today) all the trains are running, but nothing runs on time

pacing, racing, chasing, I have no peace of mind

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I tend to glorify the past I want time to stand still

but nothing ever lasts and nothing ever will

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I feel ill at ease, like I don’t fit my skin

I need to be released, my patience is running thin

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

cooped up, locked, up locked down, locked out,

look out, look up black out, fed up

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

Hidden Gem

Today, I don’t know why, but I decided to listen to some music that I rarely listen to at all, let alone first thing in the morning.. I put on Beck, Bogert & Appice. Their eponymous first album.

It was never a “great” album despite being a “Supergroup” , but in the present moment I am listening with fresh ears. Of course Jeff Beck  is brilliant. He dive bombs and squawks in places that delight. The music is at times Beatlesesque…at times shadowing Cream. I hear a bit of Beach Boy harmony in there as well. Sweet Sweet Surrender is reminiscent of I Shall Be Released.

The lead vocals are workmanlike. Not one of the great voices that come to mind in Jeff Beck’s legacy (Max Middleton, Rod Stewart). The harmony vocals are reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge and Grand Funk. All those  huge industrial rock bands in the 70s. “Why Should I Care” reminiscent of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by the Stones.

The rhythm tracks are what I find interesting. The playing is very good all round. A lot of work went into arranging and executing these songs. Lots of punches and abrupt (tight) turns. The Allmusic guide gives it 2 and a half of 5 stars. I agree, but this should not deter one from checking out a lovely example of Rock Music on it’s own terms. 

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.

O Canada

When my grandparents arrived in Canada from Great Britain, they brought with them so many of the customs and values of their thoroughly British upbringing. At the time, the Canada they arrived in was a colony of the British Empire, soon to be renamed the Commonwealth. Granted, their adapting to the new world was less drastic than people who need to learn the language, customs and mores of their adopted country. Another major difference is that my grandparents were not refugees. Their immigrating was voluntary and gentle and direct. My grandfather never gave up his Victorian views despite being here in Canada for over sixty years (all of his adult life except the years spent overseas in the Canadian Army in the First World War). My father was born here and espoused Canadian values with a slight tinge of his British heritage showing through. He never missed the Queen’s Christmas message for example. I am fully Canadian and never have visited England (yet). I am fluently bilingual and considerably less dogmatic than my dad.

One can only imagine the culture shock that someone coming from a non-English or French speaking culture must experience. How about coming from a war-torn nation where ideologies shoot at each other and information is either un-trustworthy or non-existent?  Bewildered and amazed, we ask a lot of these people right off the bat. How can they assimilate quickly? Why should they? It may or may not happen.

Several years ago, just before the 2015 Canadian election while I was out for a stroll, I watched three generations of women walking down the street toward me. Grandmother was wearing traditional garb. Very colourful and head fully covered including a scarf over the face. The next generation wore a Hijab that matched her beige western outfit. The third generation was in slacks and a sweater, dressed like my daughter would. It made me happy. I don’t know their story, it is none of my business, but I knew these three women were safe here. They have the benefits of their own culture while enjoying the freedoms inherent in Canadian society.

 That very morning, I heard people being interviewed on CBC about their political choices. Many mentioned the NDP’s support of people who wear the Burqa as a reason for abandoning the party. It saddened me that fear-mongering and intolerance and misunderstanding on an issue that barely affects them on a day-to-day basis overrides the awful truths of the ugly transformations in Canada (under Harper, a polluting, warring country that the obfuscators in power had bullied through with a majority of seats but merely a third of actual support from voting Canadians.  

The Tories (actually Reform party=Northern Republicans) were poised to do the exact same thing they had done the last time. Split the support between the reasonable people who wish to support and protect our Society (Green, Liberal, NDP, Bloc) so that their votes are squandered and the self-congratulatory xenophobic bigots drive triumphantly around the right flank based on empty boasting about Leadership and supposed Fiscal mastery that are easily disproved.

At the time I wrote “Don’t let the country be hijacked again. Vote strategically so that Canada can get back on track.”

We are headed into another federal election with the landscape altered . After several provincial elections and the fiasco in the States have put arrogant, philistine right wing privilege in power with their bigotry in action and on display makes me fear those muslim women I saw are not as safe as I would like them to be. It is not a direction that makes me proud to be Canadian.

The last election was won by a liberal majority who have outshone their predecessors with several key promises made, but have failed miserably on so many key issues (Parliamentary reform for example). I hope that the election results in 2019 bring us a more balanced minority government that focuses on the environment and core values of health, education and equity for all.

With the cyber vomit that will be coming soon, I suspect the wrong things will be done for the wrong reasons and our jewel of a nation will be tarnished and damaged by the populism and partisan hatred like our neighbours to the south. 

Resist!

On Your Image

“On Your Image” is a phrase used in recovery to describe the lifestyle you are projecting to others. We are all on our image whether we like it or not. We are all either: A.) in some sort of recovery from some sort of damage or the other or B.) in denial. I am not talking about formal recovery like rehab or a 12 step program, just the way we traverse the years and deal with adversity and wounds from the past. Face em or bury em.

I woke up two days ago and decided to get my hair cut. This is probably a common occurrence for most people. They get a hair cut weekly? Bi-weekly? monthly? It has been a long time since I had had even a trim. The last trim I remembered was before my wedding over two years ago. Getting my hair cut was a big deal to me.

Most guys my age either don’t have hair, or they do, but it is white. There are also combinations of balding and whiteness/greyness that men my age contend with. This sets me apart from that category “men my age”. Most teachers are relatively clean cut. Hair sets me apart from that group as well. While out walking the dogs several years ago a neighbour introduced himself and said “So, you’re the neighbourhood hippie!” I was relieved that I did not fit in to this setting. I stood out. With long hair I could maintain the delusion of immortality and being an outsider, a counter-culture rebel, a musician. and not “the man”: Teacher, dad, suburban middle-class, middle-aged curmudgeon which is actually closer to the truth.

Image. Ego. Insecurity.

I used to be proud of my “I don’t give a shit what others think” attitude. Turns out I do care more than I thought. I present as someone who doesn’t give a shit, but hidden from view is this insecurity and fear of being normal. being mediocre. being forgettable, being boring….gasp!!!!

As a teenager I had many struggles with my parents over the length of my hair. I liked it long. All my heroes were hippies and yippies and Rock musicians who I wanted to emulate. I even started a petition in High School as to whether I should cut my hair. My favourite comment was from my vice principal who wrote that “Leroy Beals has no concern with what is on the outside of Ian’s head, he is, however deeply concerned with what is on the inside of Ian’s Head”. 

picture of a photocopy of a scan… Me at 16 with harmonica. LRHS
Nicholas Lewin, Ian Hanchet, Jane Brown LRHS
A hero!

My hair was not always long. For the first half of my adult life, I kept it kind of short. Sometimes spikey. Punk. As a young teacher, Music Therapist and dad, short hair and a clean shaven face were how I presented. Short hair does not get pulled when interacting with young children with Autism or my own babies. I never had to shave more than once a week because my “whiskers” were only barely visible. My heroes at the time were Jazz musicians whose hair did not figure into their coolness. 

in my 40’s

Things shifted for me a few years back as my mom was descending into her dementia and my job satisfaction was diminishing and my first marriage was crumbling. I discovered that without the judgement of my mom, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Her voice telling me to “forgive” and to “turn the other cheek” turned into a “NO!” I don’t want to take this anymore from anyone. I started to let my hair grow, and when my mum died I had the freedom to make clear choices without the cloud of her invading my conscience. I switched jobs. switched partners. Switched on my creative juices. My musical output went from “sporadic” to “frequent” to “constant” and my self-esteem and confidence started to blossom. All of this coincided with my growing my hair longer.  

Just before getting it cut, my hair was half way down my back. It got caught in my seat belt and my harmonica holder (not at the same time…). All shoulder straps pulled my hair. My hair blew all over my face on windy days, stuck to my sweaty neck on hot days, got in my mouth sometimes when eating My bird (Johnny Winter) would like to burrow up in there like some divine nest. Getting my hair cut was a big deal for me. My hair kinda defined me.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I went from being  “Jack Nicholson” to “Sting” to “The Dude” through to “Willie Nelson”, “Gandalf”, “ZZ Top” and “biker” or “viking”. Guess who is more “on his image” than the people he sat back and judged? Did you notice that I was projecting an image of “other” that has other people’s names on it? Oh the narcissism, vanity and hubris I am guilty of! 

gift from a parent…..

I was thinking that my hair is where my strength came from. Like Samson, whose hair was the source of his strength and a symbol of God’s power. When his hair had been cut by the trickery of Delilah, he lost everything and he was captured by the Philistines who blinded him by gouging out his eyes. 

The Philistines are the last people you want to contend with as an artist. They are the enemies of freedom and truth and beauty. Unawake people with little or no time or aesthetic sensibility. I hate them, try to ignore them. They are stupid. I certainly don’t want them controlling my life. Guaranteed they vote for pigs.

Well. I am not Samson. My hair is not the source of my strength. Never was. I cut my hair and lo and behold, I am still here. No fear of Philistines. Feeling stronger than ever.

39 upside down. Notice the stained glass halo?

I am free of this burden for the time being. My hair is going to be sewn into a wig for someone whose “image” has changed due to the indignities of trying to save their life through chemotherapy. They are not “on their image”. They are projecting “sick person”. Who the hell wants to project that?! If a small vanity of a wig restores some of their “non-sick person” my hair will have done more good than it ever did on my head.