Cafe talk


I was in my local coffee shop (Fiona’s, in Camrose – you should all go! It’s the best.) and there was this man…Okay, maybe not quite a man. He was maybe 20. Perfectly ordinary guy. Accompanied by what I suspect was a new girlfriend.

He came in talking. About Eisenhower and economics. I have to say that while I think (hope) his heart was in the right place, as someone who (unlike this boy) lived through the Eisenhower years, about 99% of what he said was pure BS, when it wasn’t terminally inaccurate and/or bordering on lies.

But okay, whatever.

He talked for the four or five minutes it took for the line-up to move. He stopped long enough for the GF to put in her lunch order. He then resumed his lecture (really, that’s what it seemed to be) and they sat down.

It was crowded, so I wound up at the table beside them. He was still talking.  At odd intervals, the girl put in some head-nodding, some “Uh huh” stuff, and occasionally managed a “That’s interesting”.

At first, she was pretty enthusiastic, which is why I put it down to new-girlfriend-ism. Mind you, none of these responses merited even the tiniest acknowledgement that she had spoken or reacted.

Forty-five minutes later, he was still talking. About politics, about the school system, about autism and learning disabilities – in all of which his half-informed and generally half-assed opinions were presented as incontrovertible fact.

GF was still nodding/uh-huh-ing, but the intervals between were getting longer , and her gaze had gone from at least slightly impressed to vaguely distracted.

At the one hour mark, he was STILL in full flow and showed no signs of stopping. The GF now had that “middle distance” stare on, still occasionally nodding, uh-huh-ing, but it’s not even an open question as to whether she was still listening.

Run, I thought. Run, honey. Grab your stuff, pretend you’re heading to the washroom, and get Patty to let you out the back door. Change your name to Brian Dunleavy and join the French Foreign Legion, because this isn’t just who he is – it’s who he will always be.

If you don’t understand why I hoped she’d do that, you’re probably a man. In fact, you’re probably that man.


Flash Fiction Friday!

It’s midnight.

My footsteps echo on the path, a rhythmic squelching of mud and dead leaves.

I’m all alone, and I’m okay with that – this town full of busybodies is only quiet and peaceful at night. During the day, it’s a never-ending  chorus of questions:

“How are you?”

“How’s Annie doing?”

“Will you be at the meeting tomorrow?”

“Can I help you carry that?”

And I’m not used to it, not anymore. Not after twenty years in the city, where no one gives a rat’s ass who or what I am, much less how I feel.

But here? Here, my fifth grade English teacher sends me invitations to have lunch with her at Memory Acres, the lone senior’s complex beside the hospice and the main medical clinic.

Here, the girl at the grocery store check-out is my used-to-be best friend’s daughter, calls me “Uncle”, and seems to think it’s her job to point out all the things on sale.

The bank teller makes jokes about writers having their heads in the clouds when I realize I can’t find my bank card – but it doesn’t matter, because she knows everyone’s account numbers and passwords, anyway.

I’ve never been a violent man. One of my exes called me “long-suffering” – but she meant it in a good way. I think.

I don’t own any firearms. I haven’t been in a fight since I was nine.

But frankly, I’m ready to kill every last one of them.

Five Months of Legal Weed


In October 2018, the Canadian government legalized marijuana.

It’s a limited legalization: we are supposed* to buy it from licensed dispensaries, locally or on line, each household is limited to growing no more than four plants each, and each community and municipality got to add by-laws about where we can smoke it (basically, most communities used the model for cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol), and where licensed grow-ops and retail outlets can be located.

In the months leading up to The Day, and especially (for some unfathomable reason) the night before the legislation went live, some people were predicting doom and destruction and the re-run of Sodom and Gemorrah – with attendant rises in car crashes and violence and other, unspecified crimes.

It’s nearly six months on, and the silence has been deafening.

There was one (ONE!) report on the first day of the new world when a driver was caught smoking a joint while driving. That was in Winnipeg.

Closer to home, the only news I could find was that Camrose County tried to prevent a grow-op from opening by claiming it didn’t fall under the agricultural regulations, but last week, the courts told them “Nuh-uh – it’s the same as any other market-garden-type enterprise” and ruled that it could go ahead.

We still have no dispensaries here in town, and those who need to have to drive a whole 20 minutes to Wetaskiwin for instant weed purchases. City Council is losing money, because we have a number of empty storefronts that could be filled not only by those retail places (and probably some inventive snack-and-go shops next door to them, because Nature abhors a vacuum) in terms of business taxes and money staying in the community.

The police, not needing to worry about people carrying around small quantities of reefer, are spending more time dealing with drug problems regarding meth and heroin, and going after car thieves and mediating domestic altercations.

The rest of us are carrying on pretty much as always, except a lot more people stand around at the end of their back gardens after a long day at work, having a couple of tokes after supper.

Armageddon did not come.

The sky did not fall.

I, myself, smoked a joint on the day it became legal, just on a matter of principle. Since then, I’ve been too busy writing short stories for anthologies I was invited to participate in, and also learning to knit.


*In point of fact, a country-wide shortage after the first day, coupled with reports that the legal weed is generally of low quality, has led to people returning to their normal suppliers. The police seem, for the most part, to be studiously ignoring this.

Flash Fiction Friday!

Flowers have power.

You think they’re just pretty things, or else you remember that without them there would be no honey – that they form an integral part of the ecological balance.

But you think that’s inert, inadvertent, a question of evolution.

You don’t hear the whispers. You don’t see their covert actions, as they pass along their secrets from the grasses to the trees. You don’t notice the signals as they wave to each other in the breeze.

You don’t know their true names, or how they take in everything they hear and see, storing up knowledge and sending it ringing like church-bells, deep into the earth.

And because you don’t think of them as powerful, you are forever at their mercy.


I love those people who “abstain from politics”, don’t you?


They’re so virtuous. So above the fray. So holy.

They aren’t going to sully their social media with anything that might offend anyone.

Instead, they keep on, like Pollyanna, pretending all’s right with the world, right up until the day that they themselves are affected by some decision they refused to inform themselves about.

The dam breaks.

They howl. They weep. They beg for assistance.

Strangely, the people who do offer help, or at least empathy and support, are not their fellow Madame Panglosses, who immediately unfollow or unfriend, but the very people they have chastised for “bringing politics into everything”.

People who try to insulate themselves from the reality (which is that politics affects you, whether you choose to discuss it or not) are not trying for peaceful co-existence or for civil discourse.

They are trying to do one of two things: to please everyone out of pure self-interest and the devil take the hindmost, or they are cowards and know that their own beliefs are both wrong and offensive.

You can tell the first kind because they lecture people who sail even slightly close to definitive statements stronger than “Can’t we all just get along?” with homilies about Christian virtues or regurgitated Zen paraphrases. They tend to claim that “we don’t know the whole story” when something really egregious, something that really cannot be ignored, emerges. Their mating cry might well be “That’s just your opinion.”

The other ones reveal themselves through cartoons and/or shared memes that are obviously offensive, and then, at the first sign of opposition, retreating into “Can’t anyone take a joke anymore?”, or by trying to pretend that they’re approaching things with a rational, logical, objective stance, and you are just a) emotional, or b) a “socialist”.

I don’t unfollow or unfriend people on social media very often.

But these guys?

History is littered with them.

I don’t need to fuel their vanity. And neither do you.


Flash Fiction Friday!

The cold wasn’t really the problem.

She was used to that, and she still had some very expensive winter gear, the left-over benefit of having worked for the oil industry back in the boom times.

It wasn’t even the ever-present snow and ice, in and of itself. She had shelter, and she had heat, having closed off most of the house so that the living room fireplace was enough to keep the single room she now lived in warm enough.

It was the problem of food.

They’d had no spring or summer for nearly two years now, and it didn’t look as if that would change this year, either.

Sure, she could hunt: her dad’s old crossbow was still in working order, and she had managed to reverse-engineer from the old bolts, so that she had enough new ones ready when the opportunity arose.

But there wasn’t any game left to speak of, and it wasn’t just that everyone had hunted out the area.

She couldn’t live without something green and growing, in addition to on-the-hoof protein, and neither could the protein.

Climate change.

That thing she’d laughed about, and voted against combating, back when that oil company had paid her so well.

Food Chains



Edit Feb. 9/19: There are SOLUTIONS

Food is political.

It is. You know it is.

Food acquisition can be manipulated to penalize whole groups.

Why do you think some neighbourhoods are “food deserts”? No supermarkets mean that the people in those areas will have to travel long distances, expending time, energy and money they cannot afford, just to get food, or to stigmatize groups (think “Food Stamps” and how they are policed by the well-fed: Poor people mustn’t eat “junk food” but at the same time are criticized for buying anything healthy like, oh, I don’t know, actual meat, or fruit, or non-sugar-laden cereal…)

Food availability and affordability can be manipulated to keep a population obedient: governments who routinely claim that things like education and health care are “too expensive” to be funded by taxpayers will, if necessary, have no problem subsidizing farmers who might not vote for them if they go broke. (see: subsidies for farming in the USA. It’s stopped now, but for 70 years, the US government made sure that a lot of these farmers stayed in business, even to the point of paying them not to farm at all.)

The USSR made sure that no matter what, there were things like cheap bread and potatoes, because they knew that the civil unrest generated by starvation would topple their regimes. No matter how tight the budget might have been, that was a priority for them.

But currently, the politics of food are going to get very tricky.

Food prices worldwide are going to rise, because of what we are doing to the climate and to the ecological balance.

It doesn’t matter if you believe in this or not. It’s a fact. There won’t be a different price list for climate-change deniers. Your food prices will rise alongside mine. There are no exceptions and no mercy here.

Look at the floods, and the fires burning worldwide, and tell me that we’ll have the same amount of usable farmland next year. Think about what happens when millions of people (some of whom used to grow that food for you) are displaced.

We in North America have actually been here before, and not all that long ago.

We’ve ignored the reality, the science of that time. We’ve pretended it was just some isolated, causeless act of deity. We’ve mythologized both the cause and effect of our own myopia.

But the fact is that we collectively caused the Dustbowl of the 1930s by using short-term farming practices that created an ecological disaster across the Midwestern USA and Canada: what the farmers had done to the land made it impossible to cope when the weather decided to not be exactly like it had been for each preceding year in our farming memories.

And for USA citizens especially: right now, you are getting all hysterical about immigrants from “other countries” coming to your borders in search of simple survival.

Wait until it is you. Wait until it is your neighbor. Wait until it is US citizens who need to relocate from state to state, in droves, coming with virtually nothing, because their livelihood has been stripped from them by drought, by fire, by flood.

Because, if you were to ask, you’d find that half of the native Californians you might know have grandparents or great-grandparents who were stigmatized as “Okies”, and who were exploited and vilified, herded into “camps” and left to sink or swim without resources, simply because they sought refuge from disaster.

Farmers without farms, because the banks simply gave no fucks: they will not now, either.

People willing to work for food were starving to death along the roadsides of America. They may yet be doing so again.

Meanwhile…your food prices will rise. Worldwide, shortages are already making some things increasingly unaffordable. At some point, unless you are a billionaire, some things you think of as necessities will become luxuries you won’t be buying anymore.

Oranges. Avocados. Meat. Cheerios. Coffee.

And if you’ve been pretending that politics is boring, or that everything is A-OK because it hasn’t happened to you…wait till you look into your child’s eyes and know that you cannot feed them supper because there just isn’t any food at all.

I’m betting politics won’t seem so remote to your life anymore.


#GrapesofWrath #Dustbowl #DirtyThirties