Alone we fail

“Summer still isn’t here yet,” I said to Camp, taking off my windbreaker.
“It was warmer a month ago,” Campbell, as he refers to himself, agreed with a sigh. “It’s the end of the month, the kids are out of school and I’m starting to see a few tourists in the book shop. It can only get better,” he added, while a new waitress asked us politely what we would like to drink.
“The usual, I mean two pints, one ale, one lager please,” Camp said.
“Where is Vicky?” I asked.
“She’s off on holidays with her boyfriend. Winnipeg I think. By the way my name is Rose or Rosie to my friends.”
“A proper Irish name,” Camp said.
“Yes, my mom is Irish. Immigrated to the Kootenays in the seventies.
“The good old days,” Camp said, “when life seemed somewhat simpler or we were just more ignorant and less informed and distracted by all this electronic information and propaganda.”
“Or time plays tricks with the memory,” Rosie said. “My mom said that money was scarce but people looked out for each other. I remember lots of potlucks and neighborhood parties. Now it’s everybody for themselves and money is still scarce. Two pints coming right up.”
“She has a point,” I said. “We are much more focused on individuals than on the community.”
“Speak for yourself,” Camp retorted. “I’m trying to do my part at the town hall. We have a recreation center, parks – even for dogs – soccer fields, indoor swimming pools and ice rinks, mountain bike and walking trails.”
“How about the German loss last night? An epic defeat and the whole of Germany is in mourning,” I said.
“It’s the one big surprise so far. South Korea beating the mighty Germans. Unheard of. But that’s what I like about the game. You just never know. Plenty of drama and excitement and it’s all unedited, uninterrupted live broadcasts. No fake news there.”
We both took a sip from our cold drinks and contemplated the universe.
“What about those primaries in the US and Judge Kennedy resigning from the Supreme Court. Now Trump can really put his stamp on the future. Probably re-open Roe vs. Wade for starters.”
“Maybe he’ll appoint his sister. She’s a judge.”
“Yeah, but maybe too old and not as radical as he would like.”
“You know Camp,” I said, “maybe we’re doing this all wrong. We’ve all fallen into the Trump trap. Exactly what he wanted. It doesn’t matter what he says or does, how much he lies and cheats, we lap it up like free beer. Instead we should all just ignore him and focus on the real important things in life, like healthcare, education, the environment, energy and helping each other out.”
“You’re such a romantic,” Camp laughed, “how can you ignore the elephant in the room?”
“I think we should just close the door on the room and concentrate on the rest of the big house we all live in,” I said. “Trumpism isn’t a way of life, it’s an aberration like Nazism or Communism.”
“Dream on my friend,” Camp said. “People seem to want a strong leader, not a philosophy. They want somebody who articulates all the things they dare not say themselves, somebody they can identify with and somebody that blames everybody else but themselves.”
“Somebody as ignorant, as biased, as prejudiced, as uncouth and as bigoted as you know who?”
“I’m afraid so. It’s starting to look like a civil a war. The people are so divided and the Democrats so disarrayed that they are starting to attack people personally. It’s not what will inspire anyone to change their minds. We need to completely shift focus away from personality to policy,” Camp said. “Alone we will fail, together we may yet prevail.”
“Sounds like you two guys are sorting out the world,” Rosie said, “sounds like my mom’s friends.”
“What we need is more pot-lucks and neighborhood parties,” Camp said.
“That’s a good idea,” I said, “These days people will think it’s a pot party and to bring your own luck.”
“We used to have a dog named Lucky. He had one leg and one eye missing and one lame ear,” Rosie said. We both looked at her not knowing if to laugh or to cry. “And what you two really seem to need right now is a refill.”                                                    In perfect synchronicity we passed Rosie our two empty mugs.

Money 101

“Camp, I just read that article in the Coast Reporter that points out that 30% of local renters spend over 50% of their income on rent, putting them at risk of homelessness,“ I said as soon as I sat down at our corner table on the glassed in veranda, loosing no time in airing what’s been bothering me.
“Yes, I read it,” Campbell or Camp to us patrons at ‘Gramma’s’ said, “and just as many people are one payday away from being broke.”
“We are the lucky ones Camp,” I said, “we have money to drink, eat and buy stuff. I’ve been thinking that money has a lot to do of how we look at the world, each other and the future.”
“You’re right there,” Camp said. “Money, or the lack thereof, is what rules our existence. Money has been called many things from the curse of mankind to its saviour. Some are born into it, most of us work hard for it; millions of people never have any, no matter how hard they work.”
“I know, but being born rich doesn’t guarantee personal success in life but on the other hand nobody sympathizes with a depressed millionaire.”
“The majority of the planet’s 7 billion homo sapiens are born into poverty and into a life of drudgery, toil and subsistence. Common clichés like: Money isn’t everything or Money can’t buy you love is not the kind of wisdom that serves the poor dirt farmer in Uttar Pradesh or South Sudan. We also know that money breeds snobbery and self-aggrandizement to the point where some meatheads equal being rich with being favoured by God himself,” Camp stated unequivocally, downing half his pint in one go. He was either very thirsty or agitated. Probably both.
“Money can buy almost anything except Immortality, Youth or Truelove,” I said, taking a long drought from my mug as well. This warm weather makes for a healthy thirst.
“Except from exactly those three – the holy trinity you might say – the most money is made,” Camp insisted. “The cosmetics and fashion industry cater to everlasting youth, religions extol and guarantee eternal after-life and love is for sale in the guise of sex, drugs and happiness, promised by a myriad of potions, books and dating sites.”
“But where does money really come from.,” I asked, knowing Camp would have an answer.
Camp sat back in his chair and rubbed the side of his nose, a telltale sign that he is about to step on his soap box. “A government or a bank prints a quantity of money and then they hire and pay a group of people to dig a hole. When the hole is deep enough, they hire another group to fill it in, while the first group digs a new hole. Now two groups have money and income with which they can buy things, which prompts others to make stuff and add value to various commodities as well as create services like clothing, transportation and yes, even pubs. Commerce and industry is now in full swing,” Camp lectured with one professorial finger pointing in the air while balancing a half a pint with the other hand.
“Personally I like having enough money so I don’t have to worry about it.,” I quipped.
“How much is that?” Camp said. “I don’t desire millions because that amount of money implies responsibilities. I would have to invest, divest and probably hire people like lawyers, advisers and servants to manage the millions. It gives me a headache just thinking about the implications of being filthy rich.”
“Well, I have a working wife whom I fully support with cooking, shopping, washing and cleaning. The kind of responsibility I can handle and according to Clare is the perfect division of labour, which cannot be expressed in simple monetary terms. You’re priceless, she told me the other day. I’m not sure if she referred to my invaluable domestic services or my lack of ambition.”
“Likely both,” Camp said.
“There was a time when I thought I could make some money for nothing, you know, invest in the big casino called the stock market. I got this tip standing in line at the grocery store. ‘Opportunities like that come once or twice a lifetime,’ I argued with Clare who was adamantly shaking her head. “Let me quote you a guy in the know love, she said. Warren Buffet famously said: ‘When everybody else gets in the stock market, it’s time to get out.”
“What does that tequila head from Margarita Ville know about the stock market?” I retorted. No need to explain why Clare’s mouth wouldn’t close for lack of air. I was confusing Warren and Jimmy.
“Even if you behave like the perfect idiot, I can’t help it, I still love you,” she said. Which makes me the luckiest – not the richest – man in the universe.”
Camp chuckled and said: “All the money that passes through my life, I never see any of it. It disappears down the rabbit hole of bills and debts and just leaves enough left over for a couple of pints every now and then.”
“Let the government buy the next round,” I offered. “I just got my tax rebate.”
“You two talking high finance?” Vicky said. She has ears that can hear the sound of an empty glass being set down from a mile away. “I advise investing into a refill which will earn you instant benefits.”
We couldn’t argue with that.


Theatre of the Absurd

“This was quite the week”, I said to Camp who was sitting in my seat as arranged a week ago.. “We had the theater of the grotesque in Singapore.”

“Yep, a photo op for a mass murderer who killed his uncle and poisoned his half brother in Malaysia. Just a week ago he was the dictator of the most brutal regime on the planet with over 200’000 prisoners in the gulag.?”

“And then Trump made him into a pop-star. For what? Did anything of substance result from this depressing charade,” I asked.

“Not really, no time plan for denuclearisation, no concrete agreements, just a publicity coup for Kim the pariah and an embarrassment for world politics.”

“All hype and bluster, theater of the absurd,” I said. “He insults Trudeau, the host of the G-7 club in Quebec, and then calls Kim his new best friend.”

“That’s what you get when you let the lunatics run the asylum.”

“On another sad note, Anthony Bourdain stepped off this world last week. He was one of my heroes ever since ‘Kitchen Confidential’, the book that started the whole food and chef fascination. “

“Yes, quite sad really,” Camp said, “he is the one who said: our bodies are not temples but amusement parks, enjoy the ride.”

We quietly toasted Anthony and paused for just a few beats taking in the summery vista out front our perch above the pebble beach of Gibsons Harbour.

“How is business these days,” I asked Camp, owner of Coast Books, one of the few independent bookstores left and an anachronism of sorts.

“The tourists are here already, every ferry is overloaded and the store is always full of browsers,” Camp said, “but hey, I’m not complaining about a fate of my own making. There are still people who buy books.”

“I personally enjoy nothing more then reading a book when I find the time,” I said, “mind you, more often then not I’m staring into my small or big screen instead, consuming the latest news clips. It’s a bit like an addiction. You can never get enough and it’s always the same. You think the sun would still rise and the tides would still go in and out if I would go cold turkey and not watch the news for a month?”

“The world would never be the same,” Camp laughed, “but you might feel left out. I for one will be glued to the screen for the next month, waiting to catch that magic move or brilliant pass to stop time. It’s the world cup in Russia, that’s what I’m talking about, sure to distract, entertain and provide drama, tears and glory.”

“I might stop by and join you for a few games. Maybe I’ll even buy a book from you. How many books do you think are out there?” I asked. “Must be a challenge to keep up with the latest.”

“I can tell you. According to Google, some 130 million books have been published and every year, in the US alone, there are between 600’000 and a million new books. About half of them are self-published and sell less then 250 copies each. I stock about 1’000 titles and some of those haven’t moved in years. It’s a fickle business and I’m constantly second guessing myself. My perennial bestsellers are children’s books, mostly purchased by grandmothers. My personal favourite this season: Ferdinand, now a major motion picture cartoon. You should watch it.”

“A cartoon?” I said, somewhat baffled.

“I watched it with my niece,” Vicky said, having overheard Camp’s recommendation while refreshing our beverage. “It’s a great story and a fun film about a gentle soul inside the wrong body. A flower loving bull who doesn’t want to fight.”

“Wow, sounds like they should screen that at the White House,” I said.

“Right after they show that bizarre Destiny Pictures propaganda video for the hundredth time, the one Trump presented to Kim. ‘Out of the dark can come the light and the light of hope can burn bright. Leni Riefenstahl would be jealous. Guess who the two main protagonists are.”

“Dear Leader and Manchild? Are people really that gullible,” I asked.

“People love nothing more then fantasy, especially when the reality is a disaster. Give me Laurel and Hardy any time,” Camp said, finished his beer and got up. “I’m taking Muriel to the new pizza place,” he announced.

“Pizza, cartoons, soccer? What happened to the Campbell I knew, the recluse and naysayer of yesterday, now suddenly the man of the world,” I wisecracked.

“You need to get out more often. See you next week,” he said with a wink and a smile.












Who we elect and Why

Camp was already into his beer when I got to the pub. I wasn’t late, he was just early. “Slow day at the old book store? I asked.

“You could say that. I just didn’t feel like hanging around any longer, staring out the window and twiddling my thumbs. It’s one of the privileges of running my own small business. I can come and go as I like.”

“It’s almost like retirement,” I said.

“Yes, without the pension and the discounts and plenty of responsibility.” Camp retorted.

“Did you watch the Ontario election last night?’ I asked.

“As you know I don’t have a TV but I saw it on my computer. No surprise there except in the broader sense. It puzzles me how people can elect a guy to run the province and yet he cannot even run his own family business and has no legislative experience.”

“Why do the people keep electing governments that go completely against their interests like poor people supporting a candidate who is owned by the rich.

We keep electing leaders and parties who have no interests in the ordinary people but they get elected on simplistic promises that nobody expects them to keep.”

“Yes, it’s a riddle. Maybe it’s leadership by resentment. Working class whites are frustrated and resentful and perceive social programs geared towards ethnic minorities. So they elect populists who promise to go against the political establishment and change everything.”

“Everybody wants change for the better, mostly for themselves and their own economic position. Everybody wants more money and more rights. The poor as well as the rich,” I said.

“People vote emotionally and the young aren’t interested it seems. Just look at the Brexit analytics. The ones with the least education and the poorest voted for Brexit or look at the Hungarians and Poles. It’s called nationalistic, populist illiberalism but they voted for it, against immigrants and EU policies.”

“The EU is mostly about money.I’ve read that in Poland EU money represents over 60% of infrastructure spending while for Hungary the figure is 55%. Why bite the hand that feeds you?”

“Somebody once said: Democracy is not a paradise, democracy offers the possibility to change what’s bad. With the erosion of democracy that possibility for positive change goes away as well,” Camp said.

We both stared glumly into our stale beers. Luckily Vicky took pity on us and without asking brought around two fresh pints.

“It’s a crazy world out there,” I said, shaking my head. “We have a summit between a mass murderer and a misanthropic man-child touted as the biggest news and now we have Doug Ford in charge of Ontario. It’s driving me to drink,” I said.

“Don’t let me stop you,” Vicky joked, “you’re at the right place.”

“Is there any good news?” I said and then remembered. “Oh yeah, the Senate passed bill C-45 yesterday, the recreational marijuana bill by a vote of 56-30.”

“That’s right and all against were conservative, overpaid non-elected legislators,” Camp said and then added: “Now the House of Commons will have to decide what to do with the over 40 amendments. Then it will have to go back to the Senate for a second vote and it will also require Royal Assent.”

“This will take months I said, “and it will be so complicated and restrictive that it will barely change anything.”

“We should just concentrate on what’s important like the upcoming World Cup in Russia and the sunny weather,” Camp said. “I even got myself a TV from the thrift store in order to watch a few games at work.”

“You’re right of course. It’s no use getting frustrated and depressed by events and situations outside our limited sphere of influence and control. As Clare puts it: It’s the small things in life that count: a blooming flower, a dinner with friends, a decent bottle of wine, a good night sleep and a clear conscience.”

“I second all that but I still can’t believe they voted in Doug Ford as premier of Ontario.”

“It is democracy at it’s worst,” I conceded, drowning my disappointment.



Trade Wars

I love these bright early summer evenings. The tide was going out and I walked along the beach to my usual Thursday meeting with Campbell at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on our quaint Gibsons harbour. Camp as I’ve called him for years, is my friend and occasional verbal adversary and sparring partner but this time I came with an agenda.

“I’ll trade you seats,” I offered Camp as soon as I sat down, “I think you have the better view.”

“Oh,” he said, taken aback, “that depends on your point of view. Tell you what, I’ll trade seats with you if you pay for the first round, and the one after that.”

“Now is that fair?” I asked, “you not only get to have the better view but now you have free drinks as well.”

“We can always go to a court of arbitration, hoping to get a fair ruling.”

“We’ll ask Vicky, she’ll give us her wise counsel.”

Just at that very moment Vicky was striding over to clean off the table next to us, a perfect time to ask her while she was working.

“Vicky, who do you think has the better seat here?” I asked, “Camp with the frontal water view and the harbour and the island or I with my back in the corner and the view of the whole terrace and a bit of the dock and the water off to the side.”

Without interrupting her chores she said: “Depends what you want to see: The far and serene view of the water, Keats Island and the leisurely boat traffic or the busy circulation of people coming and going, whose drinking what and with whom and how much. I’d say you both have the best seat in the house and I call it even. How about you swap seats every other Thursday.”

“That’s the longest speech I ever heard from Vicky,” Camp said, after she wiped the table with a bit of extra gusto and vanished into the interior of the pub.

“Brilliant solution really.”

“She must have watched the news last night about Trump’s trade wars. Upsetting every ally and apparent friend. What does he hope to gain?”

“Notoriety and longevity,” Camp said.

“How to do you mean?”

“He doesn’t want to be remembered for just a different kind of president, he wants to go down in history for the one who upset the balance of power and brought the world to the edge of the precipice, just to try and bring it back and thereby win the Nobel peace price.”

“Like a poker player? Is it all a bluff?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think so. He has surrounded himself with likeminded people and sycophants who love nothing better but to make history and if it takes a war then what better way then to have a trade war, at least it’s some kind of war. It’s simple hubris.”

“Maybe it’s just a side show and Iran and Korea will be the main feature.”

“Maybe, but he will blame the rest of the world for the uptick in prices and commodities which are sure to follow all these new tariffs. I told you so, he’ll say, they all have it in for us.”

“At least Trudeau stepped up to the plate and called for common sense to prevail,” I said.

“About time, but he only made it to first base, a long way from the home plate.”

“I don’t get it. Everybody will lose, meaning everybody is you and I. If there is a sudden tariff on hops and malt then the price of beer goes up. Very bad news and if for every $ 100 of aluminum the Canadians are charged a $ 25 tariff then that cost gets added on at the production end and passed on to the customer like Boeing and Ford who then roll it on to the consumer.”

“And in retaliation an equal punitive tariff gets imposed on a bottle of Bourbon and a Harley bike, which will put out the Hells Angels, surely a core part of Trump’s base. That will have its own consequences. Might even lead to a world war, sort of like the butterfly effect,” Camp mused.

“That’s Trump for you, chaos theory in action. You think he knows what he is doing?” I asked, shaking my head.

“Does the emperor know he has no clothes, believing he’s wearing the finest and most magnificent cloak?  And did any of his advisers or his loyal legions of admirers tell him that? No, it was a little boy that cried out: “But he has no clothes.”

“Who has no clothes,” Vicky, who just appeared at the perfect moment, asked surprised, “you two naughty boys having indecent thoughts?”

“No, not at all,” Camp cried out, throwing up his hands and laughing, “we’re just picturing Trump appearing naked on Fox News while everybody claps and applauds his fantastic new outfit.”

“I think you two maybe need something stronger than beer, how about a shot of Jim Bean, I hear the price is going up.”