National Rifle Addiction

Winter is back here to stay it seems. Our yard looks like a gigantic merengue, the trees are frosted and I’m bundled up with hat and gloves. The gunmetal water of Howe Sound looks cold but when the clouds part to let the sun through, it’s winter wonderland, if you don’t have to drive, that is.

Campbell was already seated at our usual table, scanning the Globe and Mail. As soon as I sat down he pointed with his index finger to an article in the paper,. “Did you hear the speech from that teen Emma Gonzales addressing the gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale? It was just two days after a crazed school mate killed 17 of her fellow students in Parkland, Florida. He pulled a fire alarm and then fired point blank into the exiting students with his AR 15 that he bought at a gunshop. He was too young to buy a beer but no problem to buy a military style assault rifle including the accessories to make it fully automatic as well as all the ammo he wanted.”

“I haven’t heard the speech yet but Clare has. She was all fired up about this young woman and the eloquence and passion of her speech. I guess she really put it to the lawmakers who accepted donations from the NRA.”

“Yes, she really did; pointed out that Trump himself accepted 30 million and then she divided that by the gun victims in 2018 so far. It came to $ 5’800. That’s how much a life is apparently worth but as the year goes on, that figure will go down. And what did the lawmakers do in response to this latest tragedy? They sent thoughts and prayers.”

I could only shake my head at the cowardly and senseless mindset that would make anybody support such a destructive and insane gun policy. “Can money really buy somebody’s reason, common sense and conscience?” I asked, knowing the answer already.

Camp just gave me a look that was louder than words. “They always quote the 2nd amendment , like it was one of the ten commandments. The law was meant to arm the populace, so they could overthrow a despotic government if the need arose. That was long before automatic weapons. I think they still used muskets and long rifles when the amendment was passed in 1791.”

“Sounds like they missed their chance though, instead of the government, they’re killing each other,” I said. “Kids killing kids. What for? An amendment?”      “Trump told a group of the survivors from Parkland, that were invited to the White House, that he wants to arm the teachers. Said that attacks would end with more militarized education institutions and by wearing concealed weapons.”

“Does he know that over 75% of all teachers from kindergarten to high school are women and where should they conceal their Berettas and Colts?” And does he think all teachers are gun experts or NRA supporters?”

Vicky arrived with a couple of fresh pints, pointing at the blue sky peaking through the clouds. “Just look at that beautiful blue,” she said, making both of us turn around. “It’s not words that makes the view beautiful, it just is. You two always worry about things out of your control. Like the weather or the price of beer.”

“Vicky has a point Camp. We spend half our life planning the future and worrying about the past and the other half checking the internet for what we’ve missed,” I said. “We’re all so scattered and confused.”

“Speak about yourself. I’m trying to make a living selling books and advocating for changes to improve our little town. Not all of us have the luxury of leisure like you and the time to get bored. By the way did you watch any of the Olympics? I can’t believe it’s already eight years since the Vancouver games.”

“We watched Tessa and Scott ice-dance their way into everyone’s heart and to Olympic gold , and we saw the women’s hockey team lose a heartbreaker to the US in a shootout. They should have both won the gold.”

“I watched some of the highlights but I always liked the cultural vignettes. Imagine, I didn’t even remember that it snowed in Korea. Come to think of it, you used to love to ski, didn’t you.”

“Yeah, I gave it up after a couple of bad falls but you’re right Camp, I should get involved in something useful. I’m thinking about taking a course in brewing and distilling. With all these new craft breweries springing up there must be opportunities.”

“Now you’re thinking with an alert mind.,” Camp said, “and the benefits could be rewarding.”

I’m not sure if he was having me on but I let it go. Better to quit while I was ahead.

“Check out the eagle over there,” Camp said and we both watched the majestic bird circle overhead, his aim unwavering and focused.



On my walk along the beach I picked up a couple of washed up plastic containers and put them in the next trash can. It doesn’t happen often that I see garbage or litter in our pristine coastal town, unless a bear or dog upends a garbage can and spreads it around. Unlike Mexico or many other struggling societies where plastic drift and road side garbage are the norm. I walked up the back stairs to our seaside pub to find Campbell already seated at our favourite table, glued into his smart phone, which he quickly pocketed when he saw me.

As soon as I sat down Vicky appeared like a mirage right on cue with two foaming mugs. Twilight hovered over the grey waters of Howe Sound and a pale lemony sun struggled through the gunmetal clouds with promises of longer days.

“You must recycle a lot of paper and cardboard at the book store,” I said to Camp who looked at me with his head tilted to one side.

He replied like a teacher talking to a dense pupil. “Recycling is a common mode of behaviour here on the Coast. We recycle anything from plastic bags to cardboard, household batteries and egg cartons, light bulbs, electronics, Styro-foam, even compost. It’s like a religion where littering is a sin and bad garbage behaviour is best practised in secret. What brings this on?”

“Well, you must have heard that as of this January China banned 24 different types of waste they will no longer accept from other countries, sending shock waves through the ­global, multibillion-dollar waste disposal and ­recycling industry. China happened to be the largest importer of foreign trash and up to 60% of plastic waste ended up in China. No more.”

“The world cannot continue with the current wasteful consumption model based on infinite growth in a finite world,” Camp said, “ and our waste problems start at the source. Governments, industry and corporations need to come up with transformative solutions that will stop the current flood of waste.”

“Good luck with that,” I said, “I saw the colossal waste in the film industry where entire stage sets got trashed after a few days of shooting. It’s probably better today as Polystyrene moulds are being recycled.”

“There is money in garbage,” Camp said.

“I believe so. I know that in Zurich the incinerator which imports garbage from Germany provides over 10’000 households with heat and electricity and it claims to be co2 neutral, ” I said.

“I’ve heard of Nine Dragon Paper, which ships massive amounts of recycle paper back to China which has an insatiable appetite for paper products. There is probably more money in recycling garbage than in selling books,” Camp said.

“Just think of all the old TV’s everybody had to dispose of to make room for the new flat screens. Electronic garbage. We’ve all seen pictures of grubby kids scavenging though mountains of toxic, electronic trash. I scoured the internet in the past couple of days and came across some staggering numbers and facts,” I said. “According to a UN report, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste, mainly computers and smart phones (gone stupid), were dumped in 2017. And then there is the plastic floating in the oceans of the world. Henderson Island which is part of the Pitcairn group, is covered by 18 tons of sharp, hard, toxic plastic that washed up on it’s once virgin beaches. Imagine that.”

“Take Vancouver,” Camp said. “Although it aspires to be a Zero Waste city, dumped 650’000 tonnes of waste in landfills last year, which amounts to about one and a half tonnes of garbage per resident, 30% of which is food waste,“ Camp said, after googling his pocket computer,  which is actually against our Thursday rules.

“I pick up garbage when I see it because it bothers me and I try to compost, recycle and reduce waste but I do feel a tad stupid when I save a plastic bag and then have to watch the insane amount of throw away cups and containers from fast food outlets. One family can involve 20 different containers for food and drinks of one meal of burgers, chips and pops, including straws, napkins, trays, cups and lids. According to a city staff report from June last year Vancouverites throw away 2.5 million coffee cups and 2 million plastic bags per week,” I said, checking my note book.

“I don’t frequent fast food joints but you should drink up. Stale beer is a waste of a valuable commodity.”

I immediately followed my friend’s advice. Waste not want not.









Ignorance and Knowledge

We’re into the January blues. The weather, the stock markets and the local economy can only improve. Those who can, flee south towards the sun and those who have to stay behind can only imagine what it would be like. I have a picture in my mind of a sunny beach, toes in the sand and margarita in hand. Such were my musings as I ambled towards our table on the glassed in and heated veranda for our Thirsty Thursday get together over a pint or two. Campbell, or Camp as we all call him, was unusually late and after checking my watch noticed that I was early. The good news is that the days are getting longer and Clare is still working, leading a productive life and bringing in a few shekels. Tax season will soon be upon us and the beer isn’t getting any cheaper.

“You’re early,” Camp said, while taking off his old woollen tweed coat and his   fisherman cap, stepping aside to make room for Vicky who already had two foaming mugs at the ready. I guess we’re easy marks, no surprises there.

‘Hard to believe we have a water problem here on the coast,” Camp said, shaking the water off his hat. “It’s a management, infrastructure and political problem, not really a lack of water.”

“I read that the 5 million dollar water meter project will reduce demand by 20%. Which doesn’t really address the supply issue,” I said.

“Yeah, between new reservoirs, rainwater harvesting, some new wells and lowering the water intake at Chapman lake we should be able to support another couple of thousand multi-bathroom houses on the coast.”

“What do you make of all the howling coming from the White House. Not a day goes by without some new and distorted news flash, always coming from the same source. He who shouts the loudest is the most right,” I said.

“He, who every morning tweets from his throne, without knowledge, is king of the ignorant,” Camp said.

“Did you just make that up?” I asked, taking a sip from my beer.

“Well yeah, you can quote me if you like. It is a serious business, this president who wants to take the institutions and instruments of the state like the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon and Homeland Security and make then all into instruments of the office, his office in particular.”

“Along with better access to the nuke button and a supreme court that will rule from the top of the mountain for the rich and powerful for years to come, forgetting about that we’re all supposed to be equal,” I said.

“Just last Friday Carl Bernstein warned us that these could be the darkest days since Joe McCarthy. He said something like: We have the unprecedented situation of one of the main political parties backing the president in the belief that he is above the law.”

“It’s ignorance,” I said, the fact that millions of people in the US have no clue of world history, other cultures, languages, geography, never mind philosophy or literature. It’s a lack of general education. You cannot fix or build anything without the proper tools,” I said.

“You’re right of course, public schools in the US are over crowded, under funded and are closing at an alarming rate. And then there is Betsy DeVos, who wants all science vetted against scripture and is a big proponent of school vouchers, which gives parents the right to use them for private and religious schools, basically taking the money right out of the public schools. I read somewhere that over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. Of these dropouts, nearly 60 percent will go to prison at some point. That’s a pretty bleak and sad statistic.”

“Education is knowledge and knowledge is power, not power to rule and strike fear but power to understand and tolerate,” I said, “and you can quote me on that, Camp. And while growing up they get their news-bites from Facebook and Twitter.

“Not a lot of laughs in this corner today,” Vicky said, who surveyed our empty mugs with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, we’re talking about the ignorant and under-educated masses who make up the Trump army,” Camp explained.

“Really,” Vicky said, I believe most of those senators and members of congress are lawyers and have university degrees.

“Well, eh, right you are, I guess it’s more a case of the white old men holding on to visions of aristocracy where the working poor are also the ignorant and docile, like sheep or cattle.”

“You boys need to lighten up. It’s not all that bad. More people are working, and have more choices in America then in most other countries, except of course Europe and Canada. And they have the best contemporary music. Ever heard of Khalid? He’s got a song called ‘Young, dumb and broke’ or how about Bruno Mars?”

Both Camp and I were speechless which doesn’t happen often. Camp cleared his throat and pointed to the two empty glasses. “How about a couple refills Vicky?”

“You bettcha,” she said, turned coyly on her heels and sang: “ Young, dumb and broke…”



Age and Wisdom

“Are you a senior?” the young woman at the cash-out counter asked me. I looked around to see if she was talking to someone else.

“Me, oh, yes, senior. Would you like to see ID.”

“That’s not necessary sir, thank you.”

Well thank you too. I thought, kind of miffed, not at all happy about my senior’s discount. Was it that obvious? Did I really look my age? Maybe I should have shaved, plucked my nose hair, groomed myself a bit better. When I got home I asked Clare if I really looked that old.

“How old is that?”

“Well, eh, like a senior.”

“You look distinguished my dear and if you combed your hair you’d look five years younger.”

When I related the episode to Campbell, he just laughed. “Remember when we were in our twenties? Everybody over forty seemed ancient and everybody with grey hair had one foot in the grave. It’s the invincible age, when the future stretches out endless into the distance and old age included everybody over thirty.”

“And then comes the age of platitudes, like ‘you’re only as old as you feel’ or ‘young at heart, old in wisdom’. Well I feel fit and thirsty, curious and engaged. Who cares about a silly number? Some people are old at fifty,” I said, trying to downplay the whole age thing.

“You know when I feel old? When I sit on the ferry reading a book while all the young people stare into their smart phones.”

“That’s got nothing to do with age,” I said. “Everybody stares into their little screens like all the worlds secrets are buried in there. I feel old when a cashier gives me my senior’s discount without asking to see my ID. “

“Just because you’re of a certain, eh, mature age doesn’t mean you’re any wiser for it. In fact the older I get the more I seem to forget,” Camp said, “Or to quote Socrates: I know that I know nothing.”

“Didn’t he also say: ‘Wisdom begins in wonder’?

“While we’re at it, I like Leonard Cohen’s analysis of aging men with regard to the allure of women: You start off irresistible, then resistible until you become invisible and eventually somewhat repulsive but at the end you transform into cute and that’s something to look forward to.” Camp said.

“Yes, and I also like his line: “I hurt in places where I used to play.”

Camp laughed and took a long sip of his beer. He set it down and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “I think it was one of Stephen King’s characters who outlined the three ages of man, wich are youth, middle age, ad how the fuck did I get old so soon.”

We both laughed and nodded. Only a guy who’s there would wholeheartedly agree.

“My dad used to say: getting old is easy, being old is hard.,” I said. “He didn’t like being old but never complained unlike my mom. Both made it into their nineties. He lost his mind and she lost her body. Not sure which is worse.”

“Probably losing your mind is easier on yourself but hard on everybody else while losing your physical abilities is hardest on the person,” Camp said. “Anyway we’re nowhere near the sunset years, we’re still in the fun part of life where we need to enjoy every beer like it’s the last one.”

“Wise counsel my friend. Let’s ask Vicky what she thinks. She is a straight shooter.”

“I dare you,” said Camp.

I waved Vicky over and asked her straight out: “Vicky, do you think I’m old?”

Vicky took a step back and tilted her head and put one hand under her chin, looking at me like I was a curious painting or a strange kind of plant.

“When I look at you I don’t see age, I see someone I like and know. As far as I’m concerned the two of you are ageless.”

“Vicky, you should be in politics,” Camp laughed, “we need somebody like you at the town hall. “

“Can I talk you two into another beer?” she said coyly. How could we refuse?