Rich and Poor

“Gibsons is the most beautiful place on the planet when the grey clouds tear open to reveal the blue sky and the snow capped mountains across Howe Sound and the air is fresh, the grass is green and the roads are clear,” Camp enthused as I sat down at our usual table at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ in our quaint Gibsons village.

“What have you been smoking? It’s been raining for the past month.”

“Well no, we had a beautiful day on Monday. I can still see it.”

“Hey Camp, did you read the latest Oxfam report? It states that the richest 8 men own as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people that make up the poorest half of humanity? In the USA alone the income growth of the bottom 50% has been zero over the past 30 years while the incomes of the top 1% have grown by 300%.”

“You mean the one about the 99 percent economy? Yeah, I read it. No real surprises there.”

“It’s obscene for so much wealth to be in the hands of so few. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions of people into poverty and is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,” I said, more or less quoting Winnie Byanyiama, director of Oxfam International.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Campbell or Camp, to all of us who know him, said, shaking his head. “And the rich get richer and the poor are left behind. Income and wealth are not trickling down, instead they are being sucked upwards.”

“You can only reduce poverty by sharing prosperity,” I said, lifting another quote from the sobering report.

Without ordering, Vicky brought us two foaming mugs of the amber liquid.    “To the 99 percent,” Camp toasted. “We could soon see the world’s first trillionaire.” Camp held up his phone, breaking one of our sacred rules once again. It’s becoming a habit. “It says here: “You would have to spend one million every day for 2738 years to spend one trillion. Talk about pressure to spend. And here is another stat,” he said pointing at his smarter-than-I phone. “In the 80ies coca farmers got 18% of the value of a chocolate bar, today it’s a mere 6%.”

We both shook our heads and took a soothing swig of our drink.

“Just last week there was a front page story in the Vancouver Sun with a homeless former electrician on the front page, now living in a makeshift shelter next to Oppenheimer Park,” I said. “People cannot afford to live in this city anymore. Real estate and rents are out of control, thanks to offshore money laundering and lax rent controls. That doesn’t just go for the homeless and the poor. Even university professors and businessmen turn down lucrative positions because they cannot afford to move here from Halifax or Winnipeg. Lotus Land is increasingly unaffordable for the middle class. “

“You can’t blame the rich for taking advantage of poor oversight and a greedy housing market and you can’t blame the poor for their own misery. That’s why we have governments and laws, rules and social safety nets,” Camp said.

“Or not,” I countered. “But that doesn’t help the working poor. The hospitals cannot find menial workers and care-aids because they cannot afford to live in Vancouver and driving every day from up the valley is a weak second option. All the income you save on rent goes for gas and all your spare time on commuting,” I said.

“And then there are us small business men who work for less then minimum wage because we cannot afford to pay ourselves. I can’t remember when I last took a pay check out of the bookstore.”

“At least you get free books.”

“Well, not really but I do take some expenses like ferry tickets, utility bills and even some meals out of the till, sometimes I take emergency cash advances, and like everybody else I juggle a portfolio of several credit cards.”

“How much does a town councillor make?”

“Not nearly enough and no way to get rich in local politics.. Just under fifteen grand, half of what the mayor makes. I’m just happy and lucky that I own my home which I built myself 30 years ago.”

“You couldn’t do that anymore today,” I said. “They would kill you with permits and licenses, paper and inspections. Death by burocracy. But don’t you worry Camp. I’ll buy the next round. It’s the least I can do for a poor, working businessman and politician.”

“By the way did you read Sean Penn’s letter in Time in response to Trump’s shithole comment? He called him an enemy of compassion and the state?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Check it out.”

“Did you boys see the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie yet?” Vicky asked, taking both of us back to reality.

We both shook our heads in unison.

“May the force be with you,” she said with a wink while setting down two fresh pints.




Doctors and Drugs

Campbell or Camp, my sparring partner in all things, controversial, intellectual or trivial, didn’t look so good this Thursday evening. Maybe it was the lighting or the fact that we haven’t seen much of the sun lately; just monsoon like rain, fog and more rain. He looked kind of pale and even his posture was not the usual straight back, upright with chin thrust forward attitude, but instead he looked somewhat compressed, sunken in with his chin on his chest.

“What’s up Camp, you look like shit,” I said, trying to be casual.

“Thanks for your concern,” he said giving me the evil eye. “I’m feeling a bit under the weather, stuffed nose, clogged head, sore throat.”

“I think a hot rum toddy is in order,” I suggested and waved Vicky over for a consultation. “Yes, we can arrange that,” she said, “rum, lemon juice, honey, hot water and a cinnamon stir stick.”

“Sounds like medicine,” Camp grumbled

“Let’s call it Deep Throat,” Vicky suggested with a wink, which got at least a chuckle out of my friend.

“You gonna see a doctor?” I asked which snapped Camp straight back up with his chin aggressively thrust forward and his eyes big and on fire, with fever or fervour was hard to tell.

“It will be a cold day in hell before I go and see a doctor for a common cold. They’re no better than car mechanics and if you find one you can trust you’re a lucky man. I have yet to meet one. They’re bone fixers and pill dispensers. Do I need to repeat how in the US alone the doctors turned millions of patients into drug addicts and how the health care business is the biggest growth industry in history? Don’t even get me started.”

“I tend to agree with you there Camp, I don’t have much good to say about doctors either. I just read an article in my Swiss paper about how unreliable and arbitrary doctors’ consultations are. How they cannot determine anything conclusive with a stethoscope because it has a shallow penetration threshold, maybe a couple of centimeters, nowhere deep enough to diagnose lung or intestinal problems. Most of those surface examinations have at best a placebo effect this study concluded.”

“Muriel’s friend took herself to the hospital because she feared an imminent heart attack. This woman is a nurse and not prone to hysteria. They gave her some aspirin and sent her home, claiming there is nothing wrong with her. That night she couldn’t sleep and the next morning she took the first ferry into town to St.Pauls Hospital where she was immediately hospitalized but still suffered a debilitating stroke that put her into a wheel chair and months of physiotherapy.”

“There are exceptions Camp,” I said, “like ‘doctors without borders’ doing incredible work in desperate situations. Also, remember when I had my busted knee fixed? Tore my ACL, MCL and meniscus, as well as dislodged a piece of bone under my kneecap. I stepped into a divot, twisted and kicked, missing the ball completely but instead collapsed like a felled tree. The doc had a plastic model of a knee on his desk and showed me exactly what he was going to do. ‘Pull this ligament, attach it over here, then pull it to the other side and staple it there, cut off a piece of the cartilage and take out the bone fragment. Takes me about 45 minutes, takes you about six to nine months.’ When I went to the hospital for a check-up after the operation he recognized my knee but had no idea who I was.”

Camp laughed, “That’s what I call a good doc.”

“What about drugs, you must take the odd Tylenol or Advil, maybe even vitamin C or D which is apparently good for lack of sunshine? It’s supposed to help people like me with SAD, Seasonal Affected Disorder. Although no amount of pills or artificial lamps can replace real sunshine.”

Camp just scoffed. It’s all snake oil and witches brew, give me a shot of brandy or Noni juice for more serious ailments.”

“Noni juice?”

“According to Pa, a self proclaimed guru I met in Raratonga, in the Cook Islands, many years ago Noni juice prevents cancer, promotes a healthy liver and even improves memory capacity. That sounds as good to me as any other medicine.”

“So you trust a self-proclaimed shaman more than your doctor who went through ten years of medical school. Doesn’t sound right to me.”

“Why are we supposed to have faith in the medical system, like it’s some sort of religion? Faith does not replace trust and I want to trust my mechanic and doctor, not believe in them,” Camp grumbled.

“I trust the nurses more than the doctors. At least they actually talk to you like a human being and answer questions. I’m just grateful that we have a universal system here and don’t have to bring a credit card and a financial adviser to a medical consultation.”

“Now that I can agree with.”

“How is that toddyl?”

“Probably better than anything the doctor prescribes.”

“That calls for another one.” I held up one finger for my beer and mimicked one finger pointing down my throat for Vicky.



Women and Men

Campbell noticed right away that something was bugging me. I guess I wear my emotions like a flashy T-shirt, for everyone to see or maybe it was just my hair that I forgot to brush. “What’s eating you my friend, you look like shit, if you pardon my French,” he said.

“Clare and I had an argument and we never argue. I can’t believe this #metoo campaign has wedged itself into our marital bliss.”

“Oh,” Camp as we all call him, said with a raised eyebrow. “That’s a touchy subject, if you pardon my pun, with clear sides but no clear winners.”

“Well exactly. I just read that letter from ‘Le Monde’ to her this morning, which was signed by over 100 female French writers, academics and artist, Catherine Deneuve among them. They denounce the #metoo campaign as a witch hunt against men. They also say it puts inappropriate and clumsy sexual advances on equal footing with violent aggression and rape, which diminishes the later which are real punishable crimes.”

“It’s mostly about control, not sex,” Camp said, “and men in positions of power, as we know, can be corrupted. Women on the other hand do have the power to say no or when there are real transgressors, like that sleazy Moore, there is the law. But the public forum leaves no chance for the accused to defend himself.”

“That’s what I said but Clare claims that it is about time women stood up and not tolerate this endemic, inappropriate behaviour by these men any more.”

“And do what?” I argued. “Legislate moral behaviour? The state has no place in the relationships between men and women. Their mandate is to educate the citizenry so they can make proper choices and behave in a civilized manner.”

“From the military to the entertainment industry men have harassed women without consequences for far too long,” Clare said, standing her ground. It is at this point I left to come here.

“She is right you know, and it’s true, these transgressions are intolerable,” Camp said, making me feel even worse.

“But to legislate morality will cast us back to a puritan age, which was the opposite of feminism and freedom of expression. Also this #metoo movement portrays women as victims which is anything but equal and only plays into the hands of the religious zealots who do not even want to talk or educate about sexual behaviour.”

“I agree with you and believe this campaign has overshot the mark,” Camp said in an attempt to pacify me.

“Just look at all the magazine covers at the checkout in the grocery store. It’s all about sexual allure, body hype and who sleeps with whom. Is that helpful?”

“I guess, Clare watched Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globe awards. Very powerful and some even say presidential,” Camp said, trying to focus the conversation.

“Yeah, I watched it as well. She is a very accomplished woman who has come from humble beginnings to become one of the biggest entertainment moguls. On the other hand she did not accuse anybody by name nor did she condone trial by the internet. “

“We should ask Vicky, what she thinks of it all,” Camp said.

I waved Vicky over and asked her straight out what she thought about this #metoo campaign.

“Well fellows, having worked as a server in bars for a few years I’ve had every form of interaction with my customers, from simple flirting to ass pinching to sexual proposals to outright lecherous harassment and even a couple of marriage proposals.”

“Oh, and how do you deal with these, eh, advances?” I asked

“I ask them to stop or swat their hands away or threaten them with emasculation or a phone call to their wives. That usually does the trick.”

“In other words you deal with them yourself. Did you ever complain to your boss?”

“What’s the point, it’s the nature of the beast. Believe me, all those actresses knew that Harvey was a pig but they still met him in his den, wanting that gig. He produced some great movies though.”

“As did Polanski. I’m with you. You have to separate the work from the man. Do you think Picasso or Marlon Brando were choir boys?”

“I do not condone accusing anybody in public,” Vicky said. “If I have an issue with somebody I’ll deal with them directly or there is always the police and the law for real assholes. You two need another drink?”

“Do we ever! Thanks Vicky.”

“There is a woman in Britain who want’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ pulled from the shelves, claiming the prince had no right to kiss a sleeping girl without her consent.”

“Have we all gone nuts or what?” Camp said.

“I’ll better go home and make up with Clare. I hate it when we’re not agreeing and she is usually right in these matters.”

“She’ll forgive you,” Vicky said, “ask her out for dinner.”

“Like a date?” I said, kind of liking the idea.

“Yes, girls like to have fun. Tell you what fellows, maybe I‘ll start a new hash-tag and become famous. How about #notme,” she said, followed by a throaty laugh.






Las Vegas New Year


                                    Where the rich come to play

                                    And the poor come to pay.

As soon as you step into the arrival and departure lounge the mechanical whirring, dinging and ringing of the ubiquitous slot machines permeates the atmosphere like everywhere in Las Vegas. This soundscape of gaming lures the masses to sit in front of, and feed money into, these blinking and clanging automated gaming terminals, depicting in bright neon lit screens various cartoon like scenes of fantasy themes, television and Hollywood icons. Casinos are at the heart of Las Vegas and they are the foundation on which this city has been built on and is still supporting thousands of jobs and the 150’000 hotel rooms. In this mirage in the desert you can go from the Coliseum in Rome to the Eifel tower in Paris to the canals and palaces of Venice, the roller coaster and Greenwich Village in New York or enter the pyramid in Luxor by just crossing Las Vegas Boulevard on one of the many elevated and escalator equipped crosswalks.

Seventy years ago Las Vegas was just a dusty old western village where today Freemont Street is covered by the ‘world’s largest’ video screen. This section features zip-lines under the video canopy with hourly visual effect shows to 80ies rock music like The Who or Heart. Its’ gaudily lit casinos and restaurants are older and a bit seedier then the glitzy new palaces on the strip, with lots of freaky performers at street level entertaining the crowds for spare change. Restaurants like ‘The Heart Attack Grill’ where 350lbs eat for free can be found here.

Continue reading

Squirrel against Man

At present the score is in favour of Chip the squirrel who has chosen to take up residence underneath our house and is living off our bird feeder. I tried to chase it away but it came back. That was: 1:0. Then I suspended the birdhouse from an ornamental garden hook, surely much too challenging for a silly squirrel. Guess what? 2:0 for the other team. Next I suspended the birdhouse from the eaves and watched as Chip climbed up the wall of the house and then leapt the four feet into the birdhouse, by itself a spectacular feat that defies the laws of physics. 3:0.


At first it was just a distraction, then a nuisance and lately this furry critter has ballooned into an obsession. I felt like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, being outsmarted every step by this darned squirrel with its big beady eyes following me into my dreams. What am I to do?

“Just leave it alone and enjoy watching it,” was Clare’s sage but utterly pointless advice.

“You must be kidding, this critter has got to go. What if it multiplies and pretty soon we’ll have a whole family of squirrels living with us.”

“You could remove the bird feeder.”

“Oh yeah, it’s not only about the birds who cannot get to the feeder because of you know who, but also about yours truly who enjoys watching the birds.”

“Must be nice to have your mind taken over by a simple squirrel. There is a whole world out there with wars and famines, epic disasters and political upheaval but no, my husband’s mind and resources are being hijacked by a cute, furry wild animal with the brains the size of a peanut and the ability to outwit him all the way.”

I resented that last remark and took it as an additional challenge. No, that will not happen. I found a long, telescopic pole and suspended the birdhouse about 5 feet above the deck railing. ‘Jump into that!’ I giggled under my breath while Clare watched me with a look of concern in her eyes, probably worried for my sanity.

I perched in my favourite chair by the window, proud of my ingenuity and pleased that the birds would flock to their feeder uninterrupted by Chip the squirrel. Here he comes, stealthily, eyeing the situation from the railing, jerking left to right, tail in the air, then he sat back on his haunches and remained stock-still. What’s Chip doing? Meditating and scheming with his little paws in front of him and a look of surprise or was it defeat in his shiny eyes. I got all day if this is a waiting game. I settled in for the long haul. “Got you,” I yelled triumphantly, clapping my hands. Suddenly he’s on the move, changing tactics I guessed. Where is he? I momentarily lost sight of him but then he appeared on the windowsill on the outside, looking in at me. Was he mocking me? And then, oh horror, the wily critter took a tremendous leap and practically flew into the birdhouse and made itself at home while I chewed my nails in defeat and muttered and cursed to myself. Clare almost doubled over from laughing so hard. “4:0 for Chip,” she crowed gleefully.


“Should I just give up and feed the darn squirrel or abandon the birdhouse altogether. There was another option: A live trap. When I talked to our neighbours about the defiant squirrel, practically taking over the dinner conversation with my ‘obsession’ as Clare calls it, Adam went out to his workshop and returned with a homemade contraption made out of a piece of 4” pvc, a hinged light cover plate at one end, a pivot in the middle and a coat wire that held the cover plate open for Chip to crawl into the pipe after the peanut bait. The weight shift would tip the pipe and release the cover plate and trap the furry beast. I was very impressed with the ingenious device and ignored the evil eye from Clare. On our way home she lectured me: “First of all it’s illegal to relocate wild animals and secondly, Chip would surely die a miserable death of starvation and stress, deprived of his cache and territory. I will not tolerate your ‘final solution’. If you go ahead you might as well relocate yourself as well. “


This was seriously getting out of hand. Even I could see that. Now that darned squirrel was becoming an existential problem, much bigger than a mere technical challenge. Should I admit it.? 5:0. This uneven contest was starting to impact my life in ways I didn’t foresee. I lost my appetite but made up for it with a fortifying drink much earlier in the day then even on holidays. I became morose and self-absorbed and according to Clare was ‘lurking around the house like an old dog with it’s tail pulled in.’ I couldn’t let that bleeding squirrel win and make me capitulate and remove the birdfeeder altogether. The situation left me two choices: either tolerate Chip and live with it, practically impossible at this stage in my sorry life, or trap and kill it without Clare finding out about it, in itself almost an impossible feat in my inebriated and confused state. Also, could I live with the murder of an innocent woodsy animal on my conscience, just trying to survive in this mean old world,?  Squirrels are people too I read somewhere. Those were my conundrums at the beginning of this brand new year.  Not a promising start.

I realize this wasn’t ‘The old man and the Sea’, more like ‘The fool on the Hill’. This contest between squirrel and man mirrored my eternal battle against mediocrity: myself and my insights and feelings against the world; Chip exemplifying the world getting the better of me while I was trying to outwit nature which felt ever more like swatting at windmills like the legendary squire of La Mancha except where was my Pancho? Clare refused to take on that role. I was on my own.

I scanned the Internet and found dozens of sites about squirrels; anything from repellents to traps and all manner of squirrel-safe bird feeders. I even came across a U-tube video of a squirrel catapult, which would not go over with Clare. It was comforting to know  that I was not alone.

And then Chip didn’t show up. Maybe he gave up, maybe he moved, maybe I scared him off – fat chance. It was a new development and it kind of took the wind out of my sails. I suddenly found myself hoping for Chip to reappear; he had become my raison d’être or more precisely, the bane of my existence. Truth is: I missed Chip and the endless hours of entertainment he provided. Now suddenly I was bored, trying hard to go back to of some of my neglected chores, like paying the January bills and answering belated Christmas e-mails, but always, out of the corner of my eyes, I kept a wary watch on the birdhouse, knowing full well that our acquaintance wasn’t over yet.

“There he is,” came Clare chirpy voice from the Kitchen. I almost dropped my coffee and sure enough there was. The audacity, the nerve, the utter lack of respect. That does it, I thought grimly. Chippy, as Clare calls the wily critter, left me no choice but do what is always called for in stalled and seemingly unresolvable situations: Compromise. I planted the birdhouse, which by the way I built with my own hands, in the yard on top of a 2m high, metal, telescopic pole. No way José could he get there without wings.


I placed a few conciliatory peanuts where the bird house used to be, for compensation and a token of our lasting  relationship, hoping Chip would take the hint and  go away. Clare thought I handled the dilemma with aplomb but missed seeing the birds from our living room window. “Birds didn’t get anywhere near the feeder while Chippy ruled the roost,” I said and she had to admit that I had a point.IMG_3179.jpg








Frequent Flyer Woes

It’s a brand New Year and we’re all settling back into the doldrums of January: Paying off credit cards, considering diet and exercise plans, putting away Christmas lights and decorations, sorting through tax receipts, returning unwanted presents or just plain sobering up. I for one am glad the jolly season is over and we can get on with whatever each of us deems the ‘normal state of affairs.’ For Camp and myself that means we’re back to our weekly Thursday meeting over a couple of pints at our same old table on the closed-in terrace at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ in Gibsons, overlooking the harbour and the grey, wintry waters of Howe Sound with Keats Island in the near distance. Not such a bad spot to air your latest observations or complaints from the fools pulpit or just plain gripe about the latest ferry schedule or in my case the many wasted hours spent at airports trying to get somewhere.

Campbell or Camp as we Gibsonites know him as, was already comfortably seated in his usual chair. After exchanging happy New Year wishes Camp was grumbling about all the Christmas returns and exchanges at the bookstore. I listened patiently, nodding and commiserating and finally was able to vent my latest peeve: Flight cancellations and/or delays.

“Have you ever flown anywhere lately Camp?” Since this was a rhetorical question I didn’t expect a reply from my friend who just shook his head and looked at me with a raised eyebrow and the demeanor of someone who is being served up a stale, warm pint on a thirsty summer’s day.

“Can you make this quick, like in ten words or less?” he asked.

“Ok, I get it. How about ten sentences?”

“If you have to.”

“Alright here it comes: Our flight was delayed due to a flat tire. After an hour long wait we were informed that the tire was en route from Montreal. The flight was delayed for 24 hours, not cancelled, just delayed. Get it? That was last year.”

“That’s five sentences,” Camp quipped, taking a sip from his pint.

“On our next flight we couldn’t land because of smog and fog and were detoured to another city, parked on the tarmac for two hours then finally cleared for our destination where we missed our connection. Fourteen hours later, around midnight, we are re-booked, and arrive at our final destination at 3AM instead of at noon. Or how about after boarding we are informed that there was a scheduling issue with the pilots and the two guys in the cockpit will have to be replaced with two new guys who were en route on another delayed flight. We had to deplane with all our luggage, were handed a ten dollar voucher and had to wait for three hours for new pilots. Travelling can be hell Camp, not all fun and games. Herded like cattle, treated like inmates and then finally released into our vacations exhausted, unnerved and definitely late and yes, also relieved. That’s it in ten sentences.”

“You can’t possibly ask for my sympathy?” Camp said. “You jet around the planet, leaving a carbon footprint the size of a small island nation and then complain about the ordeals of airports and airlines. Meanwhile us landlubbers and stay-at-home-guys try to save the planet by walking and biking, recycling and promoting a green economy.”

“Ok, you got me but am I supposed to feel guilty, stay at home and bemoan the state of the world? From what I could find out air travel accounts for about 5% of total emissions and us staying at home is not going to improve that. I’m hoping that more climate friendly fuels like hydrogen will eventually be used as jet fuel. I’m sure the Germans and maybe even NASA is working on it.”

I was on the defensive end of a loosing argument and quenched my frustration with a healthy swallow of soothing beer while Camp, against our rules, was thumbing through his smart phone.

“One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates the equivalent to 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons a year; the average European, 10. So you fit right in there my friend, but between the two of us we’re below average if that makes you feel any better.”

“Not really, but I cannot row across oceans, nor walk across continents. And neither do Al Gore, Naomi Klein, David Suzuki or Richard Branson to name a few, all jetsetters and vigorous proponents of a greener world. I guess I’ll have to buy the next round and convince Clare to turn the heat down and wear a sweater instead, to offset some of our jetsetting.”

Camp laughed. “That’s called offsetting.”

Vicky arrived with two foaming mugs before I could even give her the usual victory sign. “You fellows had a nice holiday season?”

“Yes we did,” we both answered in stereo.