Hedgehog hair cuts and pointy shoes!

I'm not sure what it is, but I've noticed lately that a lot of young men seem to be having a love affair with their hair. And not just the hair on top of their heads, but also on the bottom of their chins and who knows, maybe in other places, too. I'll leave that to your imaginations. I've seen weird hedgehog hair cuts, horrible Wolverine-style cuts, and long, stringy beards choked-to-death with beard wax reminiscent of that Duck Dynasty facial hair schlock.
These are just a few of the hipsters I saw at Cross Iron recently. Two of them were working in Tommy Hilfiger and I could barely constrain myself. My inner fashion sense was just begging me to ask, “Hey, man, what's with the long, pointy old-man shoes? Is there a wizard's convention in town or something?”
I kid you not, one of the dudes shoes must have been close to 16 inches long. He couldn’t even walk normally. In fact, images of clowns were filling my head.
Honestly, though, if the hipsters of the 40's saw these contemporary metro sexual wannabes in their thrift-store-bought label clothing and pokey clown shoes, there'd be a rumble happening tonight!


Messiah moment

I am sitting in a pew marked with a number seven in Knox United Church in the heart of Calgary. I am with my wife, Bonnie, and her mother and her husband. We are here for the Spiritus Chamber Choir performance of Handel’s Messiah. The choir is accompanied by the Spiritus Baroque Orchestra, a collection of period instruments including an harpsichord, and five vocal soloists - a soprano, mezzo-sporano, tenor, baritone and a treble, a young boy. I have never sat through a performance of the Messiah and I’m not quite sure what to expect. Normally Bonnie would be singing with Spiritus, but she has struggled through the same head/chest cold I have for the last few weeks and her voice is just not up to it.

Messiah man

The performance begins and I am immediately raptured into an ethereal place. There is nothing quite like a live performance, especially if it is of such high calibre as this. The Messiah has four parts, and as the first of these, “sinfonia,” begins, I notice an elderly man sitting across the aisle and to the right of me. He is perhaps in his 80’s. His head and shoulders twitch occasionally, and he licks his lips and blinks often. He is clearly enjoying the music, as am I.
When the guest Soprano, Jana Miller, rises up on the platform and begins to sing “There were shepherds abiding in the fields,” I notice the old man begins to cry. The soloist’s voice is angelic, sweet, pure. Her performance is marked with an honest enthusiasm and authenticity. She falls silent and Spiritus sings “Glory to God,” and the air vibrates with power and passion. As they end their part in this beautiful chorus, the soprano moves gracefully into “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.” As her voice lifts and falls with remarkable precision and grace, the hairs on my arms stand on end. I glance over at the old man. His shoulders twitch even more as his love of the music speaks to his body. His lips silently speak the words the soprano sings. From where I sit, I can see a tear escape a tightly shut eye. It moves slowly down over the wrinkles and spots of his aged face and I can’t help but cry with him. We are experiencing a very small, but beautiful moment of Heaven on Earth. I commit his face to memory and draw this when I have a chance.
Performances like this are never just notes on a page, singers and musicians, venues and those who come to watch and listen. When you sit through a timeless piece like the Messiah, sung and played by skilled musicians who clearly love what Handel created, you can’t help but be swept up into something that transcends the mere act of writing or performing. Regardless of the obvious religious message of the piece, or even the reasons Handel may have written it, you can not help but be touched by the awe and wonder that the words and music inspire.
When the final notes of “Amen” were sung and played, the crowd at Knox United rose in unison and cheered and clapped for a full 10 minutes.
I don’t know the old man, I don’t know his history, his joys and sorrows or his losses, but we shared, for a short time, along with the hundreds that were there, an emotional and physical and even a spiritual connection to a beautiful work of human creation. I wish that our creativity would only ever be used in such ways. One can hope.

Looking for a job ...

My move to southern Alberta has been an adventure of not quite epic proportions, but definitely one of minor Holy Grail quest challenges. A few knights who say Neep, some rabid rabbits, and this suspicion that all may not be as it seems.
I am 53. That shouldn’t matter, but like aging male movie stars who are cast opposite leading ladies often more than half their age, it does matter to the viewing audience. That may not be proper, but It’s all in the perception, I guess. I can not say that I am overtly the victim of agism, but my bald head, salt and pepper goatee and obvious wrinkles have played a deciding factor in my employment. Will I have the endurance of a twenty-something? Will I want more money because I have years of experience over said twenty-something? Most importantly it seems, will I be retiring when I turn 60, and will a prospective employer really want to invest time and money in someone who may not be around all that long?
My job search has been quite frustrating to say the very least. I either get zero response, or I am the recipient of a slightly raised eyebrow and the question: You’re looking for full-time?
Well, actually, I am looking for anything that won’t kill me.
I am a damn fine cartoonist and a not-so-bad graphic designer. I have worked in the industry for close to 30 years. I have written novels, short stories and feature articles and book reviews, written, pencilled and inked comic books, designed everything from calendars to magazine to newspapers to children’s books and every possible thing in-between.
Of course, I am 53.
In today’s fast-paced, youth orientated industry, I am an old horse waiting to be put out to pasture. Of course, in days gone by, old horses were boiled down into glue.
Maybe I yet have a purpose!
The rabbits, you ask?
Oddly enough, there are rabbits here, everywhere. White, fluffy, bouncy, oft-found as roadkill, rabbits. I haven’t been attacked yet, but I did see one last night that seemed to be staring at me.

Real Canadians ...

I’m sitting in the food court of the Cross Iron Mills mall at Balzac enjoying a cup of frozen strawberry/banana yogurt. It has been very a long day and I’m taking a break from job hunting. There is a young family sitting a few feet from me. The man is tall and wears a dark, sweat-stained cowboy hat. His features are angular and his face is young but bronzed in the way that only the prairie sun can make happen. His wife is in slacks, a slightly aged blouse, and carries a large shoulder bag. She wears a tight ponytail that pulls her long hair away from her face. One quick glance tells me that she carries the weight of a young family on her shoulders. Their two girls, probably a year or so apart in age, are both wearing matching dresses with bright floral patterns. The girls are young enough that they can sit and swing their legs without their feet touching the floor.
“I don’t get this.” I hear the man say to his wife.
I see his face from the corner of my eye. He appears grim and troubled.
“Mmmm?” his wife replies.
“What are those people doing here?” He mutters, emphasizing the word ‘those.’
They have a brief conversation that is laced with remarks like, “real Canadians,” and “foreigners,” and I suddenly realize that I am listening to the fears of people facing a change they can not deal with or do not want to accept.
“Those people” are the multitude of dark skinned, English-as-a-second language workers behind the many food counters in the mall. There are no light skinned workers, no “real Canadians,” as I heard, serving food to the mall’s mostly Anglo-Saxon patrons.
The world this young family thought they understood has changed.
I live in Airdrie now, and I remember this city from my childhood as a one-horse, one-restaurant, one-gas station town of farmers and ranchers. The oil and gas boom came, and the little town grew into a city of nearly 50,000, with malls, schools, churches and temples, and all the problems that come with economic and municipal growth.
We would like to think that we control most of the aspects of our lives, but we rarely do. We grow older, we bald and we gain girth around our waists that becomes harder and harder to manage. We plan a glorious long weekend of camping and it rains. We go through a fast-food drive thru and the voice that greets us is foreign sounding, almost unintelligible, and we feel like the familiar has slipped away and been replaced without our permission.
Suddenly we are aware of a shift from what we felt was normal, acceptable, safe and familiar, to this troubling realization of “what are those people doing here?” Our hopes and dreams for our children’s future might not have included this seeming unwanted onslaught of ethnic and cultural diversity. Instead of the familiar, we now look out upon a sea of faces and culture we do not know. It can be very disconcerting.
However, I believe is incumbent, no, it is demanded of those of us who are not First Nation, who can not honestly claim to be “from here,” but who consider ourselves to be “Canadian” because we were born here, to remember that we are citizens of this great country because someone “foreign” immigrated here from elsewhere. Ultimately, even the original peoples are from elsewhere. We are all guests and caretakers of this great land. However, like the many workers in the mall, the change our immigrant fore fathers and mothers made, was to move, or in many cases, to flee from what was their home, their birthplace, to a country that is foreign, has a very confusing and muddled language, and nothing, absolutely nothing “feels” like home.
There are some things that are universal on this planet. The predominantly European faces of the Prairies has expanded over the last century to include a rainbow of ethnicities, languages and cultures. Not everyone wears Wranglers anymore, or Paris fashions, or drives a pickup, or speaks English, but a smile, a polite thank you or hello, and any act of kindness and respect is universally known and appreciated.
It just takes a conscious decision on our part to be that kind of person, to be that “immigrant” who remembers where they came from and how eventually being here, in Canada, can feel like home and can feel like we are no longer “foreign,” but neighbours, friends, “real” Canadians.

Just a suspicion ...

I was recently asked a question about the cartoon below.
I made an editorial comment on the Harper government’s ‘“equalizing” of EI benefit requirements for Northerners. Jason Kenney, the federal Employment and Social Development minister, essentially made the three Northern capital cities subject to the same rules as southern Canada. Residents of these northern capitals will have to work 700 hours in 52 weeks rather than the current 420 to qualify for EI. These benefits will now run out after a maximum of 36 weeks instead of 45.
I was specifically asked about the words I placed on the piece of paper in Kenny’s little hands:
Northern Living Allowance and Northern Tax Deductions.
Did I know something that even our member of parliament, Ryan Leef, didn’t know? Was Ottawa targeting the special benefits given to those of us who willingly live in such a harsh environment for the purpose of asserting Canada’s sovereignty over the vast and mostly untapped resources of the North?
Well, no.
It’s only a nagging suspicion on my part that this federal government has long despised these benefits. If you live and work in the North, turn to the person sitting next to you, and ask them if they’ve been audited by CRA in the last couple of years. Audited ... for travel expenses or perhaps the living allowance? I bet 9 times out of 10 you will get a “yes.” A yes most probably followed by a harsh expletive.
For several years now, at least in Whitehorse, tax preparation offices have quietly complained about the number of audits being done on Yukoners for the travel expense and Northern Living Allowance items on your T4. Some poor unfortunate souls have been audited for these items several times, and a few over consecutive years. Now, maybe that is just CRA staff being good bureaucrats. After all, whatever government is currently in power, they depend on the honesty of all Canadians to pay their taxes to support all the wonderful benefits we are privileged to enjoy in this country, and to allow our duly elected officials the joys of travel to foreign locals, and to eventually be the recipients of a very generous pension when they retire.
However, ask a tax person in Whitehorse how they feel about these audits, and you will get a consistent answer: since the Conservatives shut down the tax office in the Yukon’s capital city, these audits have become a nightmare. There is no longer a representative of the government in Whitehorse so any communication or transmission of document shas to be done online or, gasp, by fax. Some tax offices are even rolling in the cost of handling these audits into the initial fee that you pay for their services.
So, do I know something our sole member of parliament doesn’t know? (Okay, I can hear some of you laughing.) Probably not, it’s just a suspicion, a feeling, a slight nagging at the nap of my neck if you will, that perhaps one day, maybe soon, the audits will cease because those line items on your T4 will quietly disappear.
It’s just a suspicion, that’s all.

FEB 21-14 Kenny perks