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.



Changes and Choices

I arrived at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ early and read the paper in order to kill the time until Camp arrived. I have stopped reading the local papers a couple of years ago because I could watch the news on the computer and I also couldn’t stand all the advertising throughout the print media. The news of the day was all about the change in the provincial government, a tenuous mandate at best with just one vote majority for the New Democrats thanks to a coalition with the three Green Party members. Campbell or Camp as the world here knows him showed up right on time and I noticed a bit of a swagger to his step.

“Hey Camp, you look like you had a good day at the store or does it have something to do with Muriel? Muriel Bisset is the Quebecois counsellor on the local town council and as of lately a rather close associate of Camp who is in complete denial about his true feelings for her, which are apparent to everybody, including Vicky the waitress. “Hi Camp, how is Muriel?” she asked him while setting a pint in front of him. “Eh, just fine, thank you,” he mumbled.

When I raised a questioning eyebrow he elaborated: “In fact she decided to support my proposal for the yacht club expansion. With a few tons of rock we can build a new breakwater and double the capacity of floats and boat slips which is a cheap and efficient way to boost the local economy,” Camp said. “No expensive buildings, no land use, just a water use permit from the feds and we’re in business. Mooring capacity for pleasure boats is at a premium all over the lower mainland and we have the space, the place and now we have the means to address that.”

“Congratulations. I guess you two will celebrate your political victory.”

“Well, yes, she has invited me to dinner tomorrow, but you know her daughter Sophie will also be there.”

I didn’t say anything, just winked at him and took a swallow of my beer.

To change the subject I asked Camp what he thought of the latest power swap in Victoria. “I guess a change in government is a good thing but I don’t like the fact that no matter who governs here in BC, or Canada and the US for that matter, only represents half of the populations. The other half is left out of the process altogether and can only vote again in four years.”

“What would you prefer Camp? A monarchy, a military dictatorship? Democracy is still the best form of government or as Winston Churchill said: Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

“I like the Swiss government,” I pointed out, “seven Councillors elected by their peers, representing the major parties of which there are at least five as well as the choice to have a plebiscite on any issue. All the Swiss citizens have to do is collect a certain amount of signatures and the issue will have to be voted on by the people .”

“Yes, I like it too, “ Camp nodded, “except that those parties with the most money can outspend everybody else with propaganda and one could say manipulation.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being powerless and a mere spectator of the political charade played out in our houses of parliament for the next four years.”

“At least in Switzerland the people have a choice. Here, once the party with the most elected members – not necessarily the most votes – rules the roost, the other members or parliament who represent the other half of the population has no recourse, no power and no choices. They can howl at the moon all they want and nobody listens and all their howling and posturing has no consequences.”

Camp was right of course and I said that much. “It’s our system that is in need of an overhaul. You only have to look south to see what’s happening in the mighty USA where none of the people seem to be represented by the politicians, never mind only half.”

“The US is a plutocracy, not a democracy,” Camp said. “Only millionaires and celebrities have the clout and the money to get elected there. And if only half the eligible voters cast a ballot, then a mere quarter of the population is represented by the ones in power, not counting all of those millions of people who are excluded from the voting process for one reason or another. No wonder people stay away from the polls in droves, especially when the choice is between the ‘wicked witch of the West or Darth Vader.”

“And then the newly elected party spends most of their time cancelling policies and laws the party before them enacted. What a waste of time.”

“Let’s just hope that our present new government does what they’ve promised,” Camp said.

“What’s that?” I asked

“Listen to the people.”

“That’s almost as refreshing as this cold beer here Camp. Imagine: Power to the people.”

We raised our glasses to that. Cheers !

Over a few Pints

       Once every week, on Thirsty Thursday, Campbell, or Camp as everyone knows him, and I meet for a pint or two at ‘Grandmas’ the local pub, overlooking the picturesque harbour and Keats Island. We discuss sports, the weather and the future of mankind. Sometimes we veer off into dubious territory like politics or religion but since we both hold similar convictions and beliefs, we are each other’s most benevolent audience. Camp has a tendency to launch into diatribes and I have been known to be equally opinionated. Clare calls us the beer philosophers. She has a point. Here are our profound insights during yesterday’s discussion.

“Politics is the one domain where self-serving idiots outnumber common sensical, moral, smart, compassionate and humorous human beings,” Camp said, the moment he sat down, while taking a healthy swallow. He should know, being a politician himself. An Alderman, recently re-elected for another 4 year term. “It’s also the arena that attracts devious, power-hungry, egocentric aspirants, mostly ex-lawyers and real estate agents who use politics as a way to improve their self esteem, win new and important friends, line their pockets and secure themselves a future with a fat pension and possible seats at boardroom tables.”

“None of that applies to you of course,” I said, “definitely not the part of the fat pension. I don’t think aldermen in a small towns get any pension. Not even free drinks at the pub.”

Camp carried on. He was on a roll now, proselytizing. Something had got his goat, probably a difference of opinions, must have occurred at the council meeting that afternoon.

“Politics also carries the elusive promise of historical significance and the dangerous but tantalizing possibility of shaping and changing the world for good. In most cases this ambition metamorphoses into the exact opposite. Very seldom do people enter politics for the common good or because they want to improve the lives of other, ordinary people. Although everyone pays lip service to those noble causes, most enter the political arena to nurture and foster their own and their rich friends agenda. The socialist view of shared resources, decent labor laws and fair division of capital is not a popular platform these days when even liberalism is circumspect and cowers behind euphemisms. It remains a paradox that social democrats are generally regarded with suspicion and a certain degree of derision like they want to take away something when in fact they’re the only ones that have managed to add to the common person’s lot.”

I agreed with Camp and said so: “I totally agree with you. I also feel like an idiot when I voice my support for the ordinary people, who want nothing more then security at home, at school, at work and in their neighborhoods.”

“Yes, and security comes from benevolent policies that entrench rights and choices – not the kind that is enforced with uniforms, guns and barbed wire fences. Is it so hard to see the difference? Am I naive to believe in the security that springs from a well educated, fairly regulated and equally opportune society, which also includes the right to make money, earn profits, invest and get rich?”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” I said, “or to quote Clare, my no frills, down to earth better half and conscience: “A society that cannot look after its old, sick and poor in a dignified fashion is not a modern civilization.”

“Exactly, Camp agreed. “A society that does not tolerate diversion and division does not deserve to be supported by modern, thinking people. I’m not asking for utopia or nirvana, but simply for the only cause worth entering politics for. Maybe I’m just a day dreamer, an idealistic simpleton trying to make sense of Orwellian doublespeak, the preferred language of modern politics.”

“You should run for prime minister instead of the town counsel,” I said and Camp just laughed. I could tell he was a bit frustrated, having just been elected counselor. He really wanted to run for mayor, but was out muscled by Hank Marshall, Mr. Real-estate and most popular Shriner in town. Hank drives around in big silver Escalade with a sheriff’s star emblazoned on both front doors with the name Marshall in the center.

I consider myself reasonably well read, adequately educated and I do feel compassion and pity for the less lucky and less privileged then myself. I also have some fairly strong ideas about how a just and fair society should be structured and governed. Another pint later I launched into a diatribe of my own that only a likeminded fellow drinker like Camp could tolerate: “I’m not suggesting anarchy and armed uprising,” I pointed out, holding my hand up in mock surrender, “nothing too radical, but we need to get rid of the free enterprise think tanks that write the rules from Washington, London, Ottawa and Victoria. This includes the present gang of thugs in the White House who claim to get their modus operandi directly from the Almighty who directs them to subvert the will of the people with propaganda, lies and empty promises.”

“Hear, hear!” said Camp, accompanied by a generous burp.

“Ignorance, fear and greed makes up the three headed monster ruling the world from Washington D.C.” I doubled down, unstoppable now. “Of course, all with the help of the mainstream media, born again, fundamental religion, the industrial war machine and the privatized security and military industry. This kind of autocratic, paternalistic government makes idiots of us all.”

I was out of beer again and the hour was getting late. Clare would not be pleased by my absence and probably had ordered out by now. Camp, recently divorced did not have any such qualms and for him the matter was far from finished. “Democracy is the best political system, with all its faults and downfalls. It’s better then a monarchy or a parliamentary dictatorship, but like you, I feel we have been duped and bamboozled for the past 30 years. The fact is that we live under the yoke of a plutocracy, a rule of wealthy elitist who cleverly managed to buy themselves into positions of power. Only millionaires are able to buy the propaganda and management machinery that enables them to run for office. These are the days when movie stars and sports personalities have the best chance to get elected. It’s all about recognition. Superficiality over substance.”

“You don’t have to look far,” I said. “Just look at Hank Marshall, your own nemesis.”

Camp nodded his head and after a short pause said: “I fear a return to the dark ages, a sort of byzantine empire, ruled by electronic profiling and computerized governments run by immoral men in windowless rooms.” He morosely stared into his empty glass.

“Maybe I should step into politics myself,” I offered, “but I’d be in a brawl within the first five minutes. I think politicians should all be forced to study a crash course in Plato and Machiavelli, economics by John Adams and John Maynard Keynes and then write an exam before they are allowed to run for office. And no, Machiavelli is not one of the Sopranos.” I was coming to my closing argument with the help of my sober, moral compass in the back of my mind but also waiting for me at home. “Clare thinks the world would be better off if it was run by women: At least the wars would be fought with words rather then bombs and motherhood issues like social justice, fairness and equal opportunities would rise to the top of the agenda and would not remain utopian, socialist concepts.”

Camp agreed with Clare. “It’s true, we should let the presidents and prime ministers leave it to their wives and daughters to sort it all out and send their husbands on a yoga retreat, a place remote and private enough to exist naked on a diet of fruit, nuts and water.”

“Yes, my friend, enlightenment always starts in the dark. Where else could you see the flicker of a candle? Certainly not in the glare of klieg lights. And what does anything mean anymore?”

“Gobbledygook and blabbermush,” Camp offered, “We’re past Orwellian newspeak. Fake news are the new propaganda tools. Just look at what’s happening in the Philippines.”

“Yes, social media politics are here to stay. Rule by twitter, news by Facebook.”

Camp just shook his head. “And on todays menu you’ll find: positivism cloaked in possiblilism; pessimism disguised as realism; confusion as modern epitaph with a twist of subterfuge. And for desert: Fake news served up in real time. Maybe I’m the idiot who doesn’t get it. Check please.”

“See you next Thursday.”