Unreal Realestate

My first thought was: there is somebody else in our seats. I looked at the back of a short-cropped grey head and only after a second look did I realize it was Campbell, or Camp for short, who was looking out over the tranquil Gibsons harbour with his back to me.

“Holy shit Camp, what happened to your hair? Is this in sympathy to Muriel’s ‘hair on fire’ and subsequent re-styling from last week?”

Campbell swivelled around and he now looked like an army general. “Yes and no,” he said. “Apparently respect is also in the eye of the beholder and my new look improves my public appearance both at the book store and in council. Short hair is in these days. Haven’t you noticed? On the other hand Muriel has pointed out to me that I looked like a cross between Einstein and Beetlejuice and was in serious need of some grooming. I aim to please in such trivial matters; it gives me an edge on the important stuff,” Camp explained.

“Wow, I guess it’s my turn next, except I only have to please Clare who doesn’t much care about my hair. It’s my weight she is more concerned with. My diet plan of: drink more beer and eat less is not having the desired effect.”

“We all have our cross to bear,” Camp said cryptically and with a nod to Vicky ordered us two pints of the foamy beverage.

“Nice haircut Camp,” Vicky said, lending credence to his argument.

“To change the subject, have you seen the latest stats on homelessness in Vancouver, over 3500 as of the latest count and the corresponding rental housing crisis? According to the latest census over 25’000 empty homes and 800’000 empty bedrooms, based on a study by Paul Smetanin, president of the Canadian Centre of Economic Analysis. All this in a housing market where the average house price is north of a million bucks,” I pointed out. “Shocking, to say the least, it’s a real estate casino where the renters are the losers.”

Camp just shook his short cropped head which was much less dramatic then when he shook his former lions head of curly white hair. It will take me a while to get used to it. “Yeah, and the government is spending more money on taxpayer election subsidies, $ 2.50 per vote, to replace the corporate and union donations, and nothing for daycare or rental subsidies but a few million defending the new premier’s public sliming of a senior bureaucrat.”

“I guess it is politics as usual in BC,” I said. “ Would it really be that hard to improve affordable housing and encourage more rental housing investments?”

“I guess there could be preferred tax rates for investors and developers in building and maintaining rental stock or there could be direct investment by the government in building and acquiring rental units. Something the CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp) used to do before they became an insurance company or subsidies for co-ops.”

I thought this over while our beer arrived. “As long as there is extensive money laundering through real estate and offshore investors, flipping paper properties and mortgages and getting away without paying capital gains taxes, there is little incentive to invest in long term rental units. Add to that the tendency to take rentals out of the market by turning them into Airbnb’s. It’s a real detriment to affordable housing from Barcelona to Vancouver, from New York to Paris. More and more people rent out anything from the empty nest bedrooms to whole apartments via Airbnb. They can make as much as a month’s regular rent in ten days daily rentals, without the added worries and responsibilities of renter’s demands and problems.”

“This makes it difficult for Universities as well as business’s to attract young brains and talents. I have a good friend who was offered a coveted job at UBC but couldn’t afford to make the move from Halifax into the Vancouver real-estate market. What you pay for a house in Halifax you can barely buy a one bedroom apartment for in Vancouver. We should be happy to live on the tranquil Sunshine Coast,” Camp said.

“I guess we’re talking about popular destinations. I’m sure this maxim doesn’t apply to Detroit or Milwaukee,” I said.

“Yeah, but the word is out about the beautiful Sunshine Coast I believe. Mass tourism has arrived here as well. Like in that small town in Switzerland’s Ticino. Somebody posted a u-tube video on the idyllic hamlet, which received a million hits and resulted in hundreds of tourists descending in cars, trains and automobiles on the unsuspecting and unprepared town and it’s denizens. It could happen here.”

“It already has,” Camp pointed out, “multiple coaches, sometimes three or four at a time, have taken up all the parking across from Winegarden park this summer and disgorged a couple of hundred thrill seekers onto our main street. Most of them were looking for a bathroom and photo ops of local curios, myself included,” Camp said.

“With your new hair style you’ve eliminated that problem,” I said.

“Hey, that’s a benefit I hadn’t even considered,” Camp laughed. My descent into anonymity. “That calls for a celebration !” With a flourish he raised his arm, making the V sign to Vicky who efficiently replaced our empty glasses with two full ones.”

“I’m not so sure if we can celebrate much these days. The lunatic in the white house is ready to flip the switch and hurricanes and earthquakes are devastating entire regions like Puerto Rico, the Florida keys and parts of Mexico. A volcano is about to erupt in Bali and add to that the half million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh fleeing ethnic cleansing by the Buddhists in Mayanmar. On and on goes the list. It’s a crazy world out there,” I lamented.

“On the contrary my friend, there is lots to celebrate. Take a look at the Invictus Games, currently going on in Toronto or how about McCain, even though he is diagnosed with brain cancer he seems to think with a clearer mind then all the other republicans, or closer to home we now have a third micro brewery and distillery in our small town. That’s real progress I dare say.”

“I suppose you’re right Camp, celebrate the small victories since we can do little about the big picture. Cheers.”


Heros or Fools

As soon as I sat down, Campbell or Camp to all and sundry, wanted to get something off his chest, even before we ordered anything to drink. This was unusual but I could guess what was bothering him.

“Hey Camp, I heard about your eh, fire drill at the restaurant.”

“Well yeah, you could call it that but I better tell you what happened before you listen to any nasty rumours.”

I played the peeved and doubted Thomas. “Oh Camp, I’d never.”

“Yeah sure. It all started like the perfect evening. A pleasant dinner out with my co-counsellor and friend.”

“You’re talking about Muriel. Your special friend.”

“Right, Muriel. Anyway we were just waiting for our orders when Muriel leaned across the table to whisper something  to me.”

“Maybe she wanted to give you a peck on the cheek or maybe even a kiss on…”

“Hold it right there, buddy. That’s the sort of gossip that turns facts into fiction my boy.”

“Ok, carry on. She was leaning across the table and then ?”

“Well, there was a candle on the table and for this eh, occasion she let her hair down, so to speak.”

“She let her hair down?”

“Well yes, she wore it open and falling onto her shoulders. Anyway when she leaned over the table her hair instantly caught on fire from the stupid candle on the table. I couldn’t believe it. It was instant. And because I’m a man of action I reacted instinctively since there was no time to think.”

“What did you do Camp ? Call 911 ?”

“I threw my full glass of beer at her head.”

“You did what ?”

“I just told you. I put out the fire but the smell. Oh boy, nothing worse then burning hair.”

“Doused Muriel in beer ? I can’t believe this Camp. How to ruin a romantic dinner.”

“You tell me. Muriel wasn’t too impressed at the moment but she came around later on, after she returned from the bathroom, and forgave me. She actually thanked me from saving her from a worse fate. Anyway she now has bangs and a cute page cut. Actually looks quite good on her.”

“Camp you’re my hero. You throw a glass of beer at your date and come out a champion.” I couldn’t stop myself any longer and burst out laughing until even Camp, who seldom smiles and never laughs, chuckled.

“Here are two complimentary pints from the new brewery in town,” Vicky said, setting two foaming glasses in front of us.”

“Free beer ?” Camp said, nonplussed.

“Yes, I figure you deserve it.  I thoroughly enjoyed your volunteer fire fighter episode,” Vicky said, “Like a real hero.”

“Hold it there girl, heroes risk their lives for others. Stanislav Petrov*) was a hero. He saved the world from nuclear war. I merely put out a fire, in more ways then one, which makes me a fool, not a hero, by all accounts.”

I needed to share my worries of the week with my friend. “Now that the BC fires destroyed 150’000 hectares of forests this hot summer and displaced 37’000 people we’re happy to see some rain around here. Meanwhile serial hurricanes are ripping through the Caribbean and earthquakes are pounding Mexico and the leader of the free world is threatening with annihilation and world war III at the UN,“ I said glumly, staring out at the calm waters of Howe Sound.

“There you go again, like Atlas, carrying the world on your shoulders.”

“I can’t help it Camp, these things worry me.”

“I have to compliment your Swiss Councillor whose rebuttal pointed out that the UN is there to keep the peace of the world and is not a forum for threats of war and destruction,” said Camp. “A voice of sanity in a wilderness of confusion.”

“I sometimes feel like I live in the wrong alternate universe Camp. Maybe somewhere I slipped through the wrong rabbit hole. The universe I wanted to live in was where Al Gore won the presidency, fossil fuels have mostly been left in the ground, Russia joined the EU and borders and fences have been disbanded,” I said much to Camp’s amusement.

“Maybe you need to sign up for one of those mood enhancing cannabis prescriptions,” Camp suggested.

“Clare wouldn’t go for it,” I said. “She believes in facing reality, no matter how difficult, and forge ahead with a positive outlook and an open mind. Useless clichés when you’re faced with a constant barrage of bad news, I say.”

“She has a point,” Camp said. “What use is it to brood on misery when you can just enjoy the sunshine and the fine new craft beers being offered everywhere.”

Just at that moment Muriel walked in, looking rather cute with her bangs and page cut. “Mind if I join you two?” she asked and pulled up a chair.

“No need to stare at my new hair style,” she said with a wink and a tilt of her head. I just want to make it clear that Camp here is my Champ. Without his jungle reflexes my hair would not be quite this stylish.” And with that she smacked a kiss  on Camp’s cheek which made him him look like he had an instant case of tropical sunburn.

“All is forgiven then?” Camp asked sheepishly.

“No need for forgiveness, but I’ll have one of those beers as well.”

Vicky must be psychic when she appeared with a pint for Muriel. “This is for you from me and I must say the new hair style suits you.”

“Thanks, I’m just happy I still have hair.”

We all laughed and drank to that.

“Beer always tastes better when it’s free.” Camp said. I couldn’t agree more.

I have to admit that my mood improved markedly with Muriel’s sunny presence.  For just that moment she made disasters and dangerous demagogues go away.

*) https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/20/man-who-saved-world


The Bottom Line

Lucky for us, Campbell or Camp to all his friends and foes, was able to snag us our usual table at ‘Gramma’s’ Pub, on the glassed in veranda in the corner under the TV. Another glorious day with a few clouds drifting across the pale blue sky, a westerly whipping up a small chop in the harbour and providing some wind for sailing enthusiasts. All in all, a perfect late summer’s day. I said that much to Camp, who sadly shook his full mane of unruly white curls.

“We need some rain. I didn’t think I’d ever say that in these parts. We are after all in the rainforest, even though a lot of it is paved,” Camp said ruefully.

“I have to say I love the sunshine and since there is nothing I can do about the weather, I might as well enjoy it,” I said.

“Easy for you to say my friend, you’re retired and have a working partner. I’m on my own in the bookstore, which is truly a non-profit venture, albeit one that has it’s perks: Usually intelligent and curious customers, lot’s to do and read even when there is nobody in the store; a great view of the harbour out back and perfect working hours and last but not least: within walking distance of the pub.

We drank to that.

“You must have some best sellers that hold up the bottom line and always sell,” I said.

Camp was quick in responding. I must have hit a nerve. “A good book is a book that sells. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, who wrote it or if it’s literature or trash. All that matters in the book business is to be able to sell the book. It’s a sad truism that often times the best written books just sit on the shelf. Why? It’s as simple as a fickle public. Second guessing Joe or Jane Public is a waste of time. And yes, you can judge the book by its cover. Years ago our summer best seller was: ‘How to shit in the woods’. A thin volume that deals exactly with what the title implies. But what sold the book was the picture on the cover of a guy with his pants wrapped around his ankles, one hand with a roll of toilet paper the other holding a small spade. That image and the title sold that book, not the contents. The same applied to: ‘Women who run with wolves’ ‘Men are from Mars, Women from Venus’. If I would be interested in producing a book simply for it’s commercial value it would be entitled: ‘How to get rich quick, legally’, or ‘True love, just around the corner’, ‘Sex, love and money: Guaranteed!’ or ‘Life after death’, as told by the ones who came back.

All the promotion in the world isn’t going to sell a book if the public is not interested. I should know because we have the store full of beautiful coffee table books with gorgeous photography bound in expensive glossy paper and endorsed by famous people. Children’s books are a prime example. Grandmothers used to buy the old standby classics like ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ or the fairy tales. Not any more. Now they come in and bluntly ask: What do the kids like? If it has a TV show or a game attached to it that so much the better. All the beautiful artistic books by unknown authors just sit there and look pretty. The bottom line is like in any business: sales, profits and losses and if it’s not on the shelf, you can’t sell it.”

“And then there is Murphy’s law: ‘If it can go wrong, it will go wrong’, I lamely added, surprised by Camp’s passionate monologue.

“Or the weather,” he said. Remember Christmas Eve Day past which is always our best day of the year, except last year when we awoke on the morning of the 24rh December to the beautiful sight of a about a foot of fresh snow. This is Lotus land! This doesn’t happen here! Remember, it never snows in the lower mainland. I barely made it to the store. On foot that is. The best day of the year turned into the worst day of the best month. My thanks to all those customers who heroically braved the lovely weather looking for that last minute gift, we survived. I am in the book business because I love books and all that it entails. Definitely not for the money. Here is another truism, the last one for today: If it ain’t fun it ain’t worth doing. That after all is the ultimate bottom line.

That was by far the longest soliloquy by my friend.

“Hear, hear, long live Coast Books,” I toasted him. We emptied our glasses in one long drought, two thirsty men for sure. We immediately ordered another round from Vicky who must be a mind reader because she already had two fresh cool pints ready for us.

“But lucky for you Camp, you’re also a politician. I hear there are big bucks in politics. Just look at the latest golden handshakes for civil servants that have been let go by the new government In Victoria.”

“Well again, I’m the wrong kind of politician. Volunteer, not paid, honest and elected, unlike those deputy ministers who ended up with half a million dollars severance pay.”

“Disgusting,” I said.

“In the contract,” Camp retorted.

“There you go. All you need is a proper contract with lot’s of small print.”

“All I need is cold beer and a book that everybody wants to read.”

“Cheers to that,” I toasted my friend.



Sport or Religion ?

”Strange light,” I said to Camp as soon as I sat down, referring to the persistent shroud of smoke particles from the wildfires hanging over the south coast.

“Looks like Beijing,” Camp grumbled, “but we shouldn’t complain. Just then the TV above our heads showed the destructive path of hurricane Irma with Jose right behind. “Now that is bad weather,” I said, shaking my head. We both sat there, feeling awed and powerless. But Campbell, or Camp as the world around here knows him, had something else but the weather on his mind.

I ordered us a couple of pints from Vicky when Camp pointed an accusing finger at me. “You like to watch soccer or footie as the English call it or Football as it should properly be called, not to be confused with the game played with helmets and shoulder pads.”

“Sorry Camp, what was the question?”

“European football, you watch it don’t you?”

“Yeah , I love Barcelona, in fact the whole La Liga Espanol and I also follow the Whitecaps and some MLS games. It’s the beautiful game Camp. Artistry with a ball, accuracy, control, suspense. Hours of spontaneous, sometimes repetitive choreography interspersed with moments of pure brilliance.”

“You are talking about soccer aren’t you?”

“Camp, I detect an attitude of doubt and disapproval but you haven’t grown up with the game, haven’t played hours of football in back alleys against garage doors, in open fields and gravel parking lots.”

“It’s not the game I object to, although I don’t understand it. Most ball games are leisure activities, where the endless waiting is filled with drinking. Most of these games like golf, curling, bowling and crocket can be played by octogenarians and do not qualify as a sport in my view. Except baseball of course.”

“Hold on there my friend, you’re treading dangerous waters here. Football or soccer is a highly competitive sport demanding talent, focus, training, physical fitness. eye to mind to foot coordination and utmost alacrity. It’s the ultimate a human body can excel in. Nothing trite or trivial about it. It’s more popular than religion, have you know.”

“Well, you got me there. Actually I brought it up because of the insane amounts of money clubs spend on individual players. I just read that this Neuman guy from Barcelona was sold to a club in Paris for $ 450 million.”

“First of all the name is Neymar and Barcelona has sold him to Paris St.Germain for $ 263.- million. Yes, it’s a lot of money for a ball player,” I admitted.

“Some would call it obscene. $ 130 million per leg? It’s a quarter of a billion dollars my friend. You could build a nice size, modern and equipped hospital for that, or build 250 apartments or pay university tuition for 2500 students or any number of meaningful things. And it’s only one player on a roster of what? 20 players per team and how many teams? A hundred, a thousand? Or how about the half billion dollar payout on that recent Vegas boxing match? Hyped like it was the second coming. It’s insane! Some Sports teams have higher budgets then some countries and stadiums are today’s churches. The only difference is that sports teams don’t promise an after life but they demand and command just as fierce an allegiance and devotion from their fans.” Camp took an exhausted gulp from his beer while I tried hard to come up with a meaningful rebuttal.

“I happen to play soccer myself, “ I lamely said, “and I love it, always have. And I play for free. In fact it probably cost me plenty over the years, including reconstructive surgery on both knees, fees and equipment, travel and work missed due to injuries and not to mention all the rounds of beer after the games and tournaments.”

“You’re describing exactly what I said,” Camp pointed out, “even risking health and body parts. It’s a religion for all intents and purposes, with high priest like this Neymar guy and popes like the Russian oligarchs who own the teams, pandering to their predominantly male congregation of devoted fans. It’s bread and circuses, opium for the masses, distraction and entertainment. I guess we need that. And they’re hopped up on drugs and performance enhancers. Super humans they want to be like that Lance Armstrong and this Russian tennis player.”

“Sharapova,” I said. “I’m a bit ambivalent about drugs. Mind you the drugs I took as a young man were the performance reducers but Lance brought cycling to North America and he raised millions for cancer research and he did win the most gruelling race in the world seven times. Ok, he took drugs but apparently so did everybody else.

“Not sure why anybody follows those sports?” Camp said.

“It is all some people have, a team to stand behind and live and breathe every move, every pass, every goal. It’s the stuff of memories and stories, myth and truth, fact and fiction,” I enthused.

“Oh boy, I think I’ll need another drink.”

“Hey what’s that on the TV Camp, it’s called baseball I think.”

“Now there is a real sport !” Camp visibly livened up and sat up straight, eyes locked onto the screen over my head, forgotten was all his lament and griping.”

“Now there is talent and skill, not twenty guys running after a random ball. Here we have strategy, rules, precision timing, technique and talent and defined jobs and positions, umpires, catchers, outfielders and batters. Now that’s a ball game my boy.”

I thought it best to remain quiet. Let the man have his opium. I was going to mention cricket, probably the world’s most popular ball game after soccer but then I don’t have a clue what it’s all about. Or what about rugby, surely the most physical of all ball games with a devout fan base, almost like a brotherhood. Instead I quietly sipped my beer while Camp ignored me watching the baseball game. Comparing baseball to football. Unbelievable. Bananas to apples, both fruit but both so different.

Playing sports is healthy, watching it from the couch maybe less so. I’m glad we solved all that. I finished my beer and quietly took my leave. Camp, who was completely distracted. Just said: “Until next Thursday.”



Climate Woes

“Did you hear about that rock slide in Bondo, Switzerland, I asked Campbell as soon as I sat down. “Three million tons of rock swept down the mountain.”

“I heard about it on the radio. They blamed climate change for it I think.,” Camp said.

“Yeah, melting of the permafrost and the resulting water pressure. Glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. Extreme weather and record breaking disaster statistics everywhere. Just look at Texas and hurricane Harvey, the mother of all hurricanes. Or close to home the 150 active forest fires in B.C. I think we’re doomed as a species,” I said glumly, depressed by the overwhelming evidence of our foolish, short-sighted mismanagement of our planet. “And Trump’s exit from the Paris Agreement is just symptomatic of our self-destructive behaviour,” I added.

Camp, one of five councillors for our small town, owner of ‘Coast Books’ which he calls a ‘public service enterprise’, and purveyor of all topics known to average people, gave me a worried look. “I think Clare is right, you carry the world’s problems on your small shoulders and neither you nor anybody else can carry all that weight alone. You need to lighten up, step back, observe from a safe distance.

You’re right, we’re doomed in the long run but not just yet. Even if the world spins off its axis, some life, maybe even some of us, might survive and adapt but we’re not helpless, we can still fight this self-destructive trend. We are the smartest carbon units we know about.”

“Too smart for out own self probably. What do you suggest? Control carbon emissions, replace fossil fuels with renewables and reduce our personal foot print,” I said, feeling a tad cynical.

“Well yes,” Camp said and embarked on one of his diatribes just as Vicky plunked down a couple of frosty pints in front of us. “The technology is here to switch to 100% renewable energy. Germany has already achieved several days of supplying all the country’s electricity needs with solar, wind and hydro. As of today, in southern countries from Chile to Abu Dhabi to India solar power costs less to produce than any other form of energy and in the US and Canada the costs for wind turbines are coming down. Electric cars are here to stay and coal needs to stay in the ground. Trump’s reactionary withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has galvanized cities, states and millions of people in the US who have vowed to uphold the agreed on targets. But the time for words or paper agreements is over. It is now time for action if we want to curtail the heating up to our fragile atmosphere, otherwise we’ll end up like planet Venus. We have the technology here but the political will is missing.”

“You’re talking radical behaviour change,” I said, taking a sip from my beer.

“Oppose all new pipe lines, stop oil exploration, prohibit fracking and withdraw all fossil fuel subsidies. You’re suggesting an energy revolution.”

“Well, as you pointed out, we don’t have much time to change our behaviour. We were able to stop acid rain, we eliminated fluorocarbon emissions, we conquered diseases, we split and fuse atoms and we figured out how to communicate instantly around the world, why the hell can’t we change our dependence on hydro carbons?”

“Maybe it’s the fossil fuel industry and lobby that still controls much of our economy and politics. I guess we should only elect politicians that are committed to radical change,” I suggested. “Good luck on that. 50 million people just elected a president that represents the exact opposite. He even promised to open up the coal mines again and calls climate change a Chinese hoax.”

“You have a point, but maybe he is the catalyst that we need to turn the fossil behemoth around,” Camp suggested.

“What about natural gas or LNG as has been touted by the previous government as the holy grail for British Columbia.”

“Two problems that spring to mind,” Camp said. “First off, all the new gas finds under American soil has to be fracked, meaning explode the subsurface geology resulting in all kinds of problems, particularly with aquifers and groundwater. Secondly the process of producing gas releases so much methane into the atmosphere that the net result of natural gas is equal to burning coal.”

“Which brings us back to renewables,” I said.

“Yes, use fossil carbons for plastics, bitumen, and for now, the airline industry, ocean liners and cargo ships which by the way burn bunker fuel or ‘navy special’, the crap that’s left over after the refining process. “

“Which leaves atomic energy,” I said.

“There are about 450 reactors worldwide with 60 new ones under construction. All together they provide about 10% of the worlds electricity. They are very efficient energy producers but the disposal of burned out fuel is a problem and so are the potential catastrophic consequences of a melt down.”

“You’re just a walking encyclopaedia Camp,” I said.

“Dr. Google and Wikipedia are my helpers,” Camp said “but common sense and responsible behaviour would solve most of the world’s problems. On a more positive note, we’re lucky here because we now have three breweries in this small town. We better step up to the plate and do our share.” Camp held up two fingers for Vicky to see and within the blink of an eye two new frosty brews arrived.

“Isn’t life a crazy thing?” I said, “We live like kings in paradise and yet we feel doomed. Is it better to know and feel helpless or is it better to be helpless and not know?”

“All I know is that we should not ignore the basic facts my friend. Cheers.”

Check out this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZDYhQ4UAnA