Saturday, June 23, 2007

311 Days, 447,840 Minutes and 26,870,400 Seconds of Fun

I''ll, uh... get back to you on that one

Boy, is it the end of June already? Where does the time go? Pull up your pants, sit back and join me on this, the occasion of my triumphant last post from sunny Sandy Bay. It’s a watershed moment, something for the grandkids; consider it an hour-long season finale of sorts as we head into the summer months that will rival the time Picard got turned into a Borg.

With the drive back ahead of me it’s not quite time to crack the champagne. Still, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of accomplishment mixed with a bit of elation on the last day of school. Sure, hardly any of my kids passed and I didn’t really have any sort of positive impact on their lives or the community at large in scientifically-measurable ways. But, look on the bright side…

Anyway, I did it. I feel like Armstrong walking on the moon, like Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Like Salk curing Polio and Lincoln freeing the slaves. I am Von Bismarck uniting the Germans, Fleming discovering penicillin. A woman doing something notable. I fucking did it, man.

It certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I’m told they were taking bets at the start of the year to see how long I’d last, and who can blame them? Some lanky, effete young guy shows up from Southern Ontario, a first year teacher who is by far the youngest guy on staff who got suckered into something that’s way more than he bargained for. Some kids made it a living hell, presumably to get me out of here (bless their determination). There were some nights – and I can say this, for once, in all seriousness – that I just hoped one of them would burn my car to the ground and give me a plausible reason to leave with dignity. The graveyard in Sandy Bay is littered with the bones of those who came before me and failed, and I could easily have been the latest in a long, unbroken chain. A chain that is made out of their bones! But I’m not.

That said, let us now have a tribute to the fallen – those pour souls who shuffled off this mortal coil long before the year was through:

Mr. G. You mandolin-playing rascal, come back! I do declare, the place just hasn’t been the same without you. Few people can balance guitar playing, proselytizing, ponytail growing and their job as well as you can.

Mr. W. He who took a gamble on an untested young man from Ontario. What words can I say about him that haven’t already been spoken? Ever the avid outdoorsman, he was more than happy to “give” me a fishing rod from his considerable collection (which, I assume he had in case he had to catch 17 fish at once) when I caught the fishing bug earlier this year. Sadly, like Mr. W, his rod didn’t quite make it through the year, its tip having snapped off last week. If your many anecdotes were anything to go by, you must have lived an interesting life. I can only wonder what adventures you’re getting yourself into in the great crawl space in the sky.

Mr. R. Oh, the fun we had together, chum. Sure, you unwittingly brought your wife and children into a war zone (the rent was cheaper than in Baghdad), but at least you figured it out before too much irreversible damage was done. Sorry about Mrs. R’s involuntary liver donation, but do try and see if the Band won’t cover the costs of Junior’s therapy. (note: Okay, you actually were a cool guy, and your presence was missed, I’ll admit)

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. I know the occasional staff member reads this page and I have to say… I’m not actually from Oshawa. I’m from its neighbouring, smartass, yuppie younger brother, Whitby. I told you Oshawa all this time because that’s where I grew up, where I went to school and lived. My family has only been in Whitby for barely two years now, and I’ve been away at school (and here) for most of that. In the GTA there’s barely any difference between cities the way it is up here, anyway. Second, nobody has even heard of Whitby (and rightfully so), whereas I’m sure to come across people with a cursory understanding of where Oshawa is and what it’s about (Eric Lindros and GM). You’ll forgive this little fib, but it was for the best.

Now we turn our attention to one of the unsung heroes of this trip: my car. Yes, her characteristic yellow covering of paint brought my sexuality into question numerous times, but she sure has seen me through some rough spots in the Great White North. It would be a crime not to point out the effort Ole Yeller’s put in for me. Take, for example, this rough estimate of how far she’s traveled these past ten months:

- 3300Km: Whitby to Sandy Bay
- 4000Km: Sandy Bay to Flin Flon/Denare Beach and return (est. 10 times in my car)
- 6000Km: Sandy Bay to Saskatoon and return (5 trips, and you’re damned right it felt like 6000Km)
- 3300Km: Sandy Bay to Whitby

For a grand total of 16,600Km, give or take. Okay, screw it, that doesn’t actually sound like all that much now that I’ve written it all down (“Why, that’s almost 42% of the earth’s circumference around the equator!), but you get the idea.

To get a real sense of her selfless sacrifice, Ole Yeller’s been doused in latex floor covering, had her windshield cracked and replaced, her passenger side window smashed in, her engine mount cracked in two (that one was my fault), been subjected to two flat tires, scratches, an attempted break-in to her trunk, spit, attempted license plate theft (“attempted” in the sense that the plate was later found), and stuck in about a million snow banks. She’s been around the block, alright, and if she can just hold it together for the drive home, there’s a hand wash in it for her.

Much was made of the plan George and I had to photograph a series of dead dogs we came across up here. I think we ended up with 4 or 5, far short of the 12 necessary for our calendar. Let it simply be said that sometimes in life we come across things that are so unbelievable, we would not believe it ourselves later while reminiscing if we didn’t have photos to prove it. My big plan was to reveal our efforts in my final post, but… ehh… somehow, a bunch of photos of dead dogs just doesn’t sound like fun.

Now, I can’t go on at length like this without mentioning the positive aspects of my year in northern Saskatchewan. I did come up here in part because I wanted to follow my mother’s footsteps in teaching up North (there, I said it) and in certain respects that paid off. The expansiveness of it all – the curious mix of isolation and marvel one feels up here. The Northern Lights were really something to behold, and I consider myself fortunate to have seen them. Additionally, the bitter cold does something to you, and it’s not altogether bad. I don’t know when I’ll next live through minus 40-degree weather, but I look forward to it.

I almost cry to think that my weekends in Flin Flon with the Trevors are over. I suspect I’ll encounter them again in the future, but never again quite like this. If I could single out anyone who really opened up their lives for me in order to make this a livable experience, it would be Sarah, Buz and George. They’re exciting, accommodating and generous beyond words, and I’m going to miss them greatly.

Some words, quickly, on the city of Flin Flon. It’s a marvelous town where legend and history collide. It’s unlike any you are likely to experience. I am richer for having been there, and without question my fondest memories of the past 10 months are of that place and its love for rough, northern junior hockey, tall smokestacks, rocks, and above-ground sewer systems. It has character in ways that London, Oshawa, Whitby and Kingston can only dream of. The people who live there have a steadfast devotion to the North, to roughing it, to ploughing through life and making the most of their situation with no apologies. They are the unsung heroes of our country, manning a desolate outpost and taking from the earth with their bare hands the very resources we live on. So, fare thee well, you bastion of the North. May Flintabatty keep you on the right path.

Driving up here means going great distances with nothing in between. Thus, you can be miserable for 6 hours or learn to enjoy it. For my part, I gradually came to look forward to trips into LaRonge, Prince Albert, Flin Flon, and Saskatoon. I felt a sense of attachment between myself and the road; those long, majestic highways that link Northern Saskatchewan’s disparate little communities, traveled for decades by a certain breed of human seeking life, adventure and fulfillment in Canada’s North. Surely their construction is an overlooked achievement; a feat rivaling the construction of the Great Pyramids. Turning off these great arteries and arriving in a small town of barely 5000 feels like traveling from the desert to a bustling metropolis. Places like LaRonge have an admirable atmosphere comprised of a palpable determination and unparalleled resilience you won’t find anywhere else on earth. I’ll likely never come across a barren yet exciting environment like this again, and a part of me is sad to be leaving that.

And my truly beloved co-workers. What can be said? I understand how things work in the staff rooms back home, and I know I’ll never encounter such camaraderie again. By necessity you make fast company up here that, hopefully, turn into lifelong friendships. You both work and live with the same people, day in day out. Shared situation, shared experiences and - with very little else to do in town - in many respects, shared lives. Yes, you were older. And, yes, I was obnoxious more often than not. In spite of this you took me - the new, young, clueless fool – under your wings and helped me through my first year of teaching. We had each other for 10 months and little else, and I could not have done it without you. Even the ones I hate I love, for nobody can go through something like this beside someone and not feel a certain kinship with them. They are that rare breed, the Northern Teacher (who lives on a diet of rye), and for ten brief months I counted myself among them. I talk often of writing a book about this whole thing, as each and every one of you is the most interesting, unforgettable character. Well, except that boring old Shukin guy.

It is odd to be one of the very few who appear to be leaving. There were moments, particularly around February, where I had to figure we were all one shitty 7th period away from packing our bags and leaving en masse. To think that the majority of them are hanging on for another tour of duty while I’m leaving is strange. I’ll be doing whatever I’m doing, and there will be the lot of you, doing it all over again without me while someone comes to take my place. It’s sorta like being the youngest kid in a family of 20, and even though you’ve left they’re still watching TV, eating supper and going out to have fun together without you. Oh, and they adopted a cuter, more fun child to take your place. I’m jealous.

I couldn’t end things here without talking about the situation in Sandy Bay in a wider sense. You are familiar through me with the place. It’s no secret that living here puts a strain on a person that nobody should have to bear, least of all children. There are those who make it work; Tony, in particular, strikes me as a man who has built a comfortable life in Sandy Bay for himself and his family. On the other hand, you have many, many people living in Third World conditions assaulted from all angles by all the things you might imagine: Drugs. Alcohol. Poverty. Abuse. Death. The human spirit can’t develop properly up here; people can’t reach their potential, and many die far, far too young. It hurts, it really does, to be going back to Ontario while thinking of the people I’m leaving behind, and the seemingly-hopeless situation in which they live. I have no clue how to fix this, and I can’t offer more than a stern “something must be done.” But now you know. And if you think that Natives have it easy with their government hand-outs, I’ll punch your teeth down your throat.

I think that’s it, isn’t it? It’s everything I have to say upon my departure from the Northern Village of Sandy Bay. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. This time wasn’t what I wanted, in some ways it was harmful, and in many respects this feels like something of a wasted year (I’m sure my students would agree with that sentiment…). On the other hand, I have lived through exciting experiences beside amazing people in an unforgettable land. So to George, Roger, Marion, Brenda, Peter, Chuck, Ken, Douglas, Dale, Tony, Roseanne, Ted, Robin, Sharon, Lyndsay, Luke, E.D., Arden, Orville, Kevin, Jamie, Barb, the other Brenda, Sarah, Buz, Munchkin and Meagan at the Orange Toad, I thank you for your friendship, patience and help, and wish you all a fond farewell. May we meet again another day (particularly that last one).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Spot the Difference

For your consideration, a comparison:

Exhibit A: Walter Cronkite

"Nah, I'm just shittin' ya. He's out screwing Marilyn Monroe, who is also not dead."

Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite began his esteemed career covering local sports in print and over the radio in the Midwest during the Depression. From there he was dispatched to the front lines, reporting from North Africa and Europe for the United Press.

In 1950, Edward R. Murrow added Cronkite to the staff of CBS’ nascent news division. After a decade of distinguished reportage, Cronkite became anchorman of the CBS Evening News in 1962. It is in this role he is most remembered, delivering to the baby boomers (and their parents, who, like him, are members of the Greatest Generation™) news of the Kennedy assassination and the moonshot, while holding their hands through the tragedies of Vietnam and Watergate.

Walter Cronkite probably did some stuff after this too, but I think that’s enough Wikipedia summarizing for one day. Rest assured that in retirement he has remained as respected as ever, offering scathing criticisms of the war in Iraq and voicing cartoons.

Exhibit B: CNN’s recent journalistic output

Cat stuck in washing machine is YouTube rage

Lovesick pup seeks date with first dog Barney

Orangutan likes the Bears
Orangutan defies experts on Super Bowl
(note: I was unable to confirm if these are two separate orangutans, or if there are two football-predicting organgutans that are worthy of CNN's interest)

Paris Hilton tape features 'n', loving 'f' words
(note: no fucking clue what this means)

'Hoohaa' monologues better than (bleep) play
(note: again, if anyone can explain what they're trying to get across with this...)

Funny side of an 'astro-nut' 'lust in space'
(Nice to see CNN can find the humour in a mentally ill woman's attempt at murder)
Dumb thief walks into closed door, falls down
Aunt's complaint turned 'vagina' into 'hoohaa'

Fat dog skateboards down Arizona streets
(see, now, if the dog hadn't been fat, would this have made the cut?)

Upstate New York buurrrr-ied under snowfall

Dolphins may protect the nation, one fin at a time
Husband-in-chief forgets Valentine's Day
Bill Cosby's dog wins title paws down
(I wasn't going to read this article about Bill Cosby's dog until I read the pun. Then I just knew I had to!)

Where there's smoke, there's ... Obama's cig?

Coulter drops f-bomb onto political battlefield
("f-bomb" has now made its way into professional journalism?)

Britney's antics make K-Fed look like good dad

3.15.07 Meet Angelina's boy: Pax Thien Jolie
(CNN had to tag this one off to, so big was this story)
Scalper profits off Scouts; the problem is ...?
(Seriously, who writes this shit - some snarky yuppie?)
Anderson Cooper: I know Regis. I'm no Regis
(note: Anderson Cooper is gay. Like... literally)

'American Idol' says 'bye-bye, curly'
A prez walks into a journalists' dinner ...
Trump has 50 percent chance of losing hair

Guy with walker swings bat at naked intruder
(really, “guy”? Who is editing this stuff?)

Why is Sanjaya still in 'American Idol'?

Coyote jumps in Quiznos drink cooler

'Porn & Pancakes' fights X-rated addictions
Kindergarteners kept quiet -- with clothepins
Cemetery wedding is to die for, newlyweds say
Anna Nicole Smith's private diaries revealed
(not so private anymore, Nicole! Ha ha!)

He's dying!' wife cries, so hospital dials 911
Halle Berry to go bald for new movie
Kitten stuck in wall, so rescuers smash holes
(Stop the presses!)

Madonna back in Malawi to adopt?
Station airs best of Imus, plays that broadcast
Smith diaries: 'We have a buy-it-now situation'
I-Report: Gunshots captured on a cell phone

Edwards locks into pricey haircuts

You-know-who finally gets boot on 'Idol'

What's behind Baldwin's rant at his kid?

On payday, it's still a man's world
(nice way to sum up one of society's most egregious power imbalances)
YouTube phone guy didn't take CNN's 4 a.m. call
(At this point, a smart reporter would maybe not write a story about YouTube phone guy)

Funny Lunch: Baby Cakes Sees A Play

YouTube rage is piano-playing cat

Bush dance is catnip for late-night comedians

Funny Lunch: Fark is cookin' & cruisin'
Anna Nicole Smith's baby now in U.S.

Uh, you should expect fat in your KFC, judge says

Duckling follows, grooms, naps with puppy
Funny Lunch: Maria Bamford's kicked out

Aging cheese Web site molds following
Knut baby cuteness lost to long nose, belly sag

'Dancing With the Stars' boots another star

*&^%! You CAN say that on TV, court rules

Judge Judy: 'Vacant' Paris Hilton deserved jail

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Home Stretch

(Note: If the formatting of this blog is weird to you, get Firefox already, loser)
Ringham Originals, eat your heart out

On this, the three week pre-anniversary of my homecoming, let me pause to take a moment and reflect upon the current state of affairs here in Sandy Bay.

There is, needless to say, a certain energy in the air. It’s as if the winds have changed direction, and everyone can feel it. This all started some two weeks ago, when our principal called the staff in for a meeting after school. It was there that he announced my decision not to come back next year, which produced some strange feelings within me. It felt as though a weight had been lifted, his saying that. I’d been wrestling with the question for some time of how to tell the locals I’ve become friendly with that I wasn’t returning (the implicit statement being that their hometown is so unbearable, I can’t stand to live in it). Well, good ole Arden got that out of the way for me, so that was nice.

I now find myself in this odd position whereby I’m only one of two staff members who are definitely not coming back (there are one or two on the fence, so far as I can tell, but no decisions have been made to my knowledge). There have been a few meetings lately about timetabling, scheduling, attendance and the like for next year, and I definitely feel like the odd man out at these affairs. Hell, the VP and others have said on numerous occasions that there’s really no point of me being there. They’re just being nice and saving me some time, of course, but I do feel like something of a pariah; a quitter sneaking out of town with his tail between his legs. I mean, the year was as tough on the rest of the staff as it was on me, so why am I the only guy taking off? It’s an odd little feeling, like I’m no longer a part of the team.

The next three weeks or so should be interesting. At school, there is the matter of cramming in some end of year business and trying to pass those 2-3 students who are on the bubble. After 3:30, though, I think things are going to start getting interesting. Northlands College teaching for George and some others is starting to wind down, freeing up his after school schedule; the weather is finally starting to turn (Saturday afternoon had to have been in the single digits again), making way for some prime fishing time (with the possibility of a tan); and liquor.

I must say, the after school “extra-curricular” meetings have been on the rise lately, along with staff attendance. There may be a tacit understanding between some of us that there’s no shame at this point in getting snarbuckled more often than not until we hit the end (or perhaps I’ve been reading into it the wrong way). I had a teacher grab me a half gallon of liquor over the weekend and… after taking a look at it last night and asking myself if it could really withstand the next 2.5 weeks, I’ve requested that another teacher make a trip to the bottle shop in Flin Flon on my behalf tomorrow to give myself an even gallon. And if that doesn’t cover it, there’s always Listerine (a word that MS Word will capitalize for you if you don’t). Maybe I’m getting a tad too dramatic, but I don’t quite know how I’d have made it this far in the year without booze. There is definitely a shared appreciation of alcohol among staff members, and it’s something I quite enjoyed. It’s a good way for the staff to bond that I doubt you’d find in a school back home.

Last week was Sandy Bay’s annual Culture Week. Basically, a bunch of people from the community show up and teach kids how to make crafts, drums, baskets and the like. It was a real gong show with respect to planning and timing, but I’d like to think that the kids got something out of it… right? Friday’s closing ceremonies in particular were a disaster of comical proportions, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite forget that day.

Wednesday was interesting, as it was the annual Treaty Day in Sandy Bay. Very curious affair, that. Back in the 1870s, I do believe, when the ancestors of the native residents of Sandy Bay entered into the Treaty agreement with the government, they and their descendants were promised $5 a year, each. Now, back in those days I’m sure $5 wasn’t chump change. It is today, though, but that doesn’t stop the odd spectacle of a few hundred people showing up to grab their crisp $5 bills. It’s quite a thing, with dancing, dignitaries and even RCMP in dress uniforms.

Hey, the Union Jack at Treaty Day! Guess there's no hard feelings?

On a different note, I made an interesting scientific discovery this past Saturday at 4 am. I started playing Mega Man 2 (inarguably the greatest Mega Man game of all time) at 1 or so, and just never gave up. Looking out the window at about 4, I noticed it was bright! Like… really bright. I knew the sun got a little wacky this far north, but I’d never been awake to really notice. So, essentially, the sun goes down somewhere after 10:30 (you can still see its glow over the horizon well past 11, thus ruining any chance of seeing the Northern Lights), and comes up around 3 am. Very strange. Note the photo I took at 4 in the morning (and the sightly chicken wire over my window).

Damn you, tilted axis of the planet!
Anyway, that’s the lay of the land right now. Not much longer to go until George and I hightail it out of here and head for the nexus of rampant crime, depraved beastiality, brazen drive-by shootings and other examples of moral depravity that is the GTA – as per a number of resident Saskatchewanians (which, technically, I’ve been for 9.5 months).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Overheard on Mustafar

I grew this beard for you!

Obi-Wan: You were the Chosen One! You were supposed to bring balance to the Force, not destroy it! I loved you like a brother!

(Obi-Wan walks away, leaving a dismembered Anakin to die)

Obi-Wan: Alright Threepio, let’s get out of here.

C-3P0: So I guess you took care of Anakin. Cut his head off with your lightsaber?

Obi-Wan: Well, not exactly…

Threepio: Oh, you son of a bitch! Sliced him clean in two, eh?!

Obi-Wan: I just kinda left him there at the edge of a river of lava. But he was on fire when I was taking off!

Threepio: On fire?

Obi-Wan: Right, and I cut off all his limbs.

Threepio: Alright, no prob. You left his dead body to burn.

Obi-Wan: Well, alright. He wasn’t dead dead. He was dying.

Threepio: Okay, okay… you sure you don’t wanna go back there and just finish the job?

Obi-Wan: Well, we really should get going…

Threepio: No, seriously. Just gimme a blaster or something, I’ll just shoot him in the head. Just go right over there and get it done. I mean, Christ, he has no limbs. It’s not rocket science.

Obi-Wan: I’m really more eager to get outta here…

Threepio: You sure now? Because, I mean, he ended up being one evil son of a bitch and I think we really could save ourselves a lot of trouble if we just took five minutes to go back there and make sure he’s dead. Again, I’d like to point out that he has no limbs.

Obi-Wan: Don’t do this…

Threepio: Five minutes of our time, man.

Obi-Wan: Didn’t he build you?

Threepio: Okay, you’re way out of line.

Friday, June 01, 2007

How the Mighty Have Fallen

A number of years ago, Rory discovered that one could get on a “guest list” at GT’s and skip the line. I really only have vague recollections of this, so it probably had something to do with his birthday. Not “vague” because we got snarbuckled, but because Rory’s birthday parties usually have us folding old refrigerator boxes and taking them to the recycling plant. Just really dreary, unmemorable stuff. Not unlike Rory, I hasten to point out.

In our first installment of People Who Are Having Less Sex Than You: Guy in the middle there

Anyway, to get on this guest list one had to give up an email address. Thus, as a consequence, I’ve been getting various promotional emails from GT’s for the past 3 years. Somewhat annoying. The other morning, however, I got an electronic communiqué that brought a tear to my eye, so depressing a picture did it paint of a once-glorious drinking spot/site of almost thirty Smith shoot-downs over a five-year period (in that they were shooting me down).*

GT’s is now enforcing a dress code. This on its face is pretty lame, but wait till you get a load of the stuff they’re codifying out of the place:

- No hoodies up in the bar
- No angled hats
- No gang coulours/tattoos
- No medallions/chains worn over clothes
- No grills
- Lugz must be tied up
- No baggies

See people, this is what happens when you open your bar to Fanshawe students. Ha, no, I kid (no, seriously). And, all good things to guard against to be sure, but – my god – why do these have to be prevented in the first place? Has the vaunted GT’s – once a place to spend a solid evening any night between Thursday and Saturday, inclusive – sunk to the point where they have to ask patrons to keep their grills at home? Dress code or no dress code this is a bad sign, for, as the old adage goes, “if she says you don’t need a condom, you probably do.”

Or maybe it’s that the old Spikester has entered his Carlsberg years, hmm? I must admit, the siren song of the dance floor is less alluring than it once was. And a lanky, balding, creepy, (comparatively) old school teacher is probably not the hottest ticket going.
Yep, reckon I ought to start packing it in. Start tucking in my shirts outside of work, brush my hair forward over my forehead, put the Nintendo in the closet and start saving for that widescreen plasma today. While I’m at it, better start paying attention to interest rates, figure out just what a GIC is and start putting a little something away for Maximus’ education (he’ll be my son). And, heck, why stop there? Now that I’m about to become a reputable member of society, what use have I for 6.0 Schlitz tall boys? No, it’s Moosehead, Rickard’s or Keith’s for me, or Stella if the wife’s calendar is right.

Ahh, and that pesky wife! Without a dance floor on which to snag one, to where will I turn to get a woman? I’ve been trying in vain for years to get my name out there with graffito tagging, sky-writing and hobos wearing sandwich boards. None of these (particularly the last one) has yielded results. Efforts must be redoubled upon my glorious return to civilization. Right after I get Anarchos to level 70, that is (note Cameron's amusing pun).

Ahh, alcohol and the objectifcation of women. How I'll miss you.

* How did I arrive at this figure? In a typical school year, we get (or “got”, if you want to ruin things) roughly 30 weekends. Many times we went out multiple times per week. However, I guess that there were an equal amount of times where – again, due to Rory – we stayed in. Thus, I estimate my chums and I went out an average of 30 nights in a year. You multiply that by 4 (owing to the year I was “off the market”, as the kids say) and get a solid 120 nights out during which I was available. You have to figure we spent a quarter of those at GT’s, bringing us to 30 evenings once more. Accounting for the 2 instances at GT’s during which the odds somehow went in my favour, and you’ve got yourself 28 sad, lonely cab rides home.

Interesting bonus fact: The chimpanzee from the Tarzan movies from the 1930s is still alive.