Sunday, September 27, 2015

Peanut Butter Month

September is Peanut Butter Month, according to a National Post columnist. But for some of us, every month is peanut butter month.

Peanut butter connoisseurs know that peanut butter goes with everything. The banana-peanut butter-honey combination has long been accepted by the world at large, but peanut butter goes equally well with orange slices. With aged cheddar cheese. With pickles. With lettuce and mayonnaise. With bacon. On toast with strawberry jam. And, thanks to the adventurous palate of Rocky Rocksborough-Smith, with smoked oysters (an inspiration that came to Rocky one day when he looked in his cupboard and only a jar of peanut butter and a tin of smoked oysters).

And finally the menu planners at White Spot Restaurants have recognized the power of the gourmet goober: you can now order a Triple O Peanut Butter, Bacon and Jalapeño Burger.

William F. Buckley, Jr. frequently drove many miles to find a little-known brand of peanut butter that was, to him, the ne plus ultra. But the political figure who may have been the greatest devotee was Barry Goldwater, longtime Senator from Arizona and once Republican candidate for President. Senator Goldwater liked peanut butter so much, he spread it on steak. One day his sons dared him to shave with peanut butter, a challenge he couldn't resist. When he got to his desk at the Senate, people probably wanted to lick his cheek.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Moving Day?

"Steve, what are you going to do with all these copies of Hockey News?"

"Just leave them there with my Maple Leafs sweater, Laureen. We're not going anywhere."

"Steve, what about all these 8-track Elton John tapes? Does anyone even play these?"

"They're fine, Laureen."

"Well, we have to start planning, Steve. We can't take all this stuff with us."

"I've told you, Laureen, we're not going anywhere. The Australian guy and my new tax lock are going to keep us here."

"Well, if you say so. But I still worry. Do you think Justin will be upset by all those Margaret Thatcher pictures you've hung in his room?"

"What makes you think it's going to be Justin? I mean, forget it, Laureen--we're not moving."

"Steve, did you see John Boehner's resignation this morning? I thought it was wonderful when he came in to announce it singing 'Zippity-Doo-Dah.' Wasn't that nice?"

"Shut up, Laureen.  And help me with this box."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Le Debate, en Français

The Fabulous Five took the stage in Montreal ce soir to debate election issues en Francais.

The rousing finale came as Messieurs Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau et Duceppe, avec Mlle. May, joined together in a medley of the songs of Edith Piaf.

Clearly the emotional highlight of the evening was M. Harper's rendition of "Je ne regrette rien."

Polls taken following the debate show that Quebec voters favor Gilbert Becaud.

(Apologies to Ms. Irwin, our high school French teacher.)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

99 on Harper's Line

Wayne Gretzky has given thumbs up to Stephen Harper, Canada's hat trick Prime Minister.

Not to be cross-checked, Tom Mulcair has consulted a Montreal medium who has put him in touch with the spirit world, and, a spokesman says, "Tom has the unqualified support of Maurice 'Rocket' Richard."

Meanwhile, the entire Hamilton Tiger-Cats cheerleading team has come out in favor of Justin Trudeau, voting him "The leader we would most like to do the Grouse Grind with."

A final note: hockey guru Don Cherry has offered to give Stephen Harper one of his suits. "I think the guy needs some brightening up," said Grapes."We might have to let the waist out a couple of inches, but I think one of my outfits would look good on Steve. I'm sending Ron MacLean over to 24 Sussex with a nice plaid number right now."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Chekhov on Chekhov

New York Review Books (NYRB) is one of the most interesting publishing houses now at work. NYRB does not publish new works, it publishes worthy titles that may have vanished from bookstore shelves and even from libraries. A current list includes J.G. Farrell's "The Siege of Krishnapur," Mavis Gallant's "Paris Stories," Dwight Macdonald's "Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain," almost everything Kingsley Amis wrote, Kenneth Fearing's "The Big Clock," and such curiosities as "My Dog Tulip" by J.R. Ackerley and stories Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote for his children (signed "by Papa").

A recent title we turned up is "The Prank: The Best of Young Chekhov." this contains stories Anton Chekhov wrote in his early twenties, while in medical school. And while it's fine to discover anything by Chekhov, the surprise here are illustrations to the stories, drawn by Anton's slightly older brother, Nikolay.

A further surprise is how modern these 1882 drawings are--clever, witty pen-and-ink sketches that could have been drawn for the mid-twentieth century Punch or New Yorker.

If Bill Duthie were still here with his flagship Robson Street store, we would see a row of NYRB titles. Perhaps harder now to find, but worth looking for. To see the full list, check

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Debate or Bowling?

The leaders of Canada's three major political parties are preparing for tonight's debate on the economy, an event that promises to have fewer viewers than "The Big Bang Theory" and "Celebrity Bowling." The winner of this debate on money matters is expected to be decided by learning which leader at the end of the evening has the most change in his pocket.

Meanwhile, polling has identified the core supporters for each of the parties. Here are the results:

Conservatives: The Sox with Sandals Set.
NDP: Men with Beards.
Liberals: The Grouse Grind Gang.
Green Party: Kermit the Frog.

One of the puzzling things about political debates is that prior to them, the leaders stand backstage smiling like old friends. Then they go on camera and say wretched things about each other. Afterwards they shake hands and hug.

What then? Do they go out together for drinks? We're guessing they do. Harper orders a Diet Coke, Mulcair gets Molson's Canadian, and Trudeau calls for Red Bull. Elizabeth May, not invited to the debate, stays home and has a Martini. We're with her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What to Leave Out

The September 14, 2015, issue of The New Yorker has a John McPhee article titled "Omission." Its subject is leaving out material in writing to strengthen, not diminish, the piece.

Not surprisingly, McPhee quotes Hemingway, who famously said, "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will feel those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water."

McPhee cites other quotations of the less is more dictum from the worlds of visual art and architecture, but doesn't mention music. So here are two lines that suit the subject:

"I always listen to what I can leave out" -- Miles Davis.

"It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play" -- Dizzy Gillespie.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Autumn Playlist

"As the days dwindle down, to a precious few..."

I know you know those lines--written by Maxwell Anderson, set to music by Kurt Weill, and memorably sung by Walter Huston. "September Song." It's that time.

There are other wonderful songs for a season that seems to bring a kind of rueful memory, a soft regret. Probably the first on the playlist would be "Les fueilles mortes," better known as "Autumn Leaves" in its English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was Yves Montand's signature song, and when he ended his solo performances with it, the applause went on for what seemed like days.

Johnny Mercer gave English lyrics to another European song, the German "Summer Wind." Sinatra recorded it, but the better version is heard in Mercer's own bourbon and honey delivery. And Mercer also wrote lyrics for "Early Autumn," the coda to Ralph Burns's "Summer Sequence," recorded in the 1940s by the Woody Herman band. It was Stan Getz's solo on "Early Autumn" that made him not just one of the Four Brothers, but a star. And then there are such wonderful, unforgettable Mercer images as "a dance pavilion in the rain."

Perhaps the classic lament for a lost summer love is "The Things We Did Last Summer." Julie Styne wrote the music, and Sammy Cahn set down the words, which include "The leaves began to fade, like promises we made."

Fill out the list with "Autumn Serenade," "September in the Rain" and eccentric Henry Nemo's "'Tis Autumn."

The truly sad song doesn't come until later. That's "When October Goes," the last lyrics Mercer wrote. His widow took them to Barry Manilow, and the composer set them to a farewell melody. The only recording of it that we know is on the album "Rosemary Clooney Sings the Songs of Johnny Mercer."

When October comes, pour a glass of brandy and listen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shanah Tovah!

A clarion call of the shofar, to salute all celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, the beginning of the year on the Hebrew calendar.

We think especially of fondly remembered friends enjoying apples and honey, dates and pomegranates somewhere in the Great Beyond--including Art Finley, who used to say, "Some of my best friends are Jewish: my parents. And some of my best friends are Christian: my wife and children."

Shanah tovah!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Harper's Aussie Rescue Mission

It is reported that Canada's Conservative Party, desperate to be pulled from the Slough of Despond, has engaged the services of an Australian campaign-meister. If he'd been around, people say, he could have gotten Mr. Dress-Up elected Prime Minister.

So now he has taken over the Conservative campaign. We imagine this heavyweight from Down Under as the Crocodile Dundee of politics. We hear him addressing the humbled Tory team: "You call that an attack ad? This is an attack ad!"

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau has been photographed trading punches with a sparring partner in a Vancouver gymnasium. This suggests a much more interesting format for the next leaders debate.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Looking for Another Job

The leaders of Canada's political parties, being prudent individuals, have given serious thought to what they might do should they lose the October 19 election. They do not want to swell the country's unemployment figures.

Thanks to information leaked by an Ottawa career counsellor, we are able to reveal the fall-back plans of Ms. May and Messrs. Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

Tom Mulcair: Considered a shoo-in to play the lead in "The Monty Woolley Story." Should this fail, Tom's agent says he has a lot of department store Santa gigs lined up.

Stephen Harper: Greeter at the Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Museum, although he was hoping for Walmart.

Justin Trudeau: Host of "Celebrity Boxing," based on his defeat in the ring of Patrick Brazeau. "There's a connection between politics and boxing," said a network spokesman. "A lot of Raging Bull."

And Mr. Trudeau is not the only leader looking to television. Elizabeth May's potential future: replacement for Rosie O'Donnell. "Bring her on," said Donald Trump.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Tim and St. Tim

In the midst of last weekend's sturm und drang, we looked over at a bookshelf and the first title to catch our bloodshot eye was Laurie Colwin's "A Big Storm Knocked It Over."

But, as Jack Wasserman often wrote, that's not the item. What we want to tell you about is the sign posted outside the Church of St. Timothy in what was, for a very long time, darkest Burnaby. While almost all the city was without electricity, this church had power. "Divine intervention," we suggested.

At 7:00 that Sunday morning, the Reverend Stephanie Shepard, herself caffeine-deprived in the powerless rectory, arrived at the church, found the lights on, and began to brew a pot. "Then," she said later, "I thought if I'm making coffee for myself, why not make it for everyone?" So she prepared vats of high-octane coffee and tea, and posted a sign on the street inviting passersby to come in for a cup.

The lesson: If you can't count on Tim Horton you can count on St. Tim.