Arm’s Length

Sideways Selfie

Oxford Dictionaries has crowned Selfie as the Word of 2013.

a photo that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

Since this time last year,  the frequency of the word selfie in the English language has increased by 17,000%!

Its linguistic productivity is already evident in the creation of numerous related spin-off terms showcasing particular parts of the body like helfie (a picture of one’s hair) and belfie (a picture of one’s posterior); a particular activity – welfie (workout selfie) and drelfie (drunken selfie), and even items of furniture – shelfie and bookshelfie.



Win-Sum Inn

Win-Sum exterior

During the summer of 1980 I bartended in the village of St. Sauveur, an hour north of Montreal.  I was 19 and had no experience but was hired on the spot by the two young doctors from Montreal who had just bought the fading Win-Sum Inn.  A three-story log hotel, the Win-Sum Inn had been a popular ski destination in the 1950’s for Montreal and New Yorkers:  22 steam-heated rooms, an automatic sprinkler system, a log-walled dining room and delicious food prepared by “a really good chef”.
Booklyn Daily Eagle 1951









I worked in the basement bar once advertised as the “amusingly decorated Dog House”. There was no trace of anything amusing, just dark bar furniture and a pool table.  I opened at 4 pm every day. It was a drag to have to go into the cold dark cellar and serve scotch with a beer chaser to old Eddy. He didn’t like the new owners very much because he could no longer keep a running tab or smoke his pipe inside. A fixture at the far end of the bar with his full head of white hair and matching mustache, he rambled on about the injustice of being a German soldier in WW 2, the virtues of his long dead wife, and the uppity outsiders buying up the town.  One day he brought in an old hand gun for no particular reason, he just laid it on the bar and ordered his usual.  The young doctors told him he couldn’t come back, and tensions simmered all summer long between some locals and people from away.

André the chef and I were the only two people living at Inn; he came with the place when it changed hands. I couldn’t really tell if he was a good cook or not – the inn was never very busy. He rarely spoke to me, but he always asked how I wanted my dinner. I wasn’t a picky eater, I just didn’t like to eat fish with the head still on.

Andre had a room on the second floor, just around the corner from the staircase leading up from the kitchen. I chose a room way up on the third floor – two twin beds, a little sink where I brushed my teeth, and a small window set into a sloping roof  that looked out over the mountains. It was cozy, but there were lots of creepy noises – clanging, creaking, knocking.  There weren’t many guests, so when someone did come up the stairs at night, I paid attention.  One night some friends were staying over, four of us crammed into my room, when the footsteps stopped outside my door.  It was Eddy, drunk, and wanting to chat. His white hair glowed as he attempted to perch on the bed nearest the door. We persuaded him to leave and never mentioned it to anyone.

really good chef 1965

I learned to play pool really well that summer in between pouring beer for the locals, who all wanted to help me improve my game in some way.  The Air Canada pilot became quite flushed  after a few drinks and had lots of pointers from the bar stool, the lanky social worker from the youth detention center, who invited me to his best friend’s Jewish wedding, was much more hands-on with cues and angles.  And a small, compact man, who claimed to be the only black resident in the village, pushed Ayn Rand’s book on Selfishness into my hands, gave me two days to read it, and then wanted to come up to my room and discuss it.
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I stopped in St.Sauveur about 10 years ago and went up the hill only to find a deceptively small meadow bordered by very tall evergreens. The only person I could find who remembered anything was a baker at Boulangerie Pagé, the oldest family-run business in town. The Win-Sum Inn had burned down years ago, and it was probably to claim the insurance.

I stopped in St.Sauveur again recently. Pastel aluminum-sided bunglows lined the freshly-built street that ended in the meadow. It was silent, I hoped kids played here at least. Could a whole other world have really existed on this impossibly small patch of green?

I asked the woman running the Jugo Juice store what she knew about the WinSum Inn. She’d grown up here, but had never heard of it, and was actually a bit skeptical. Pagé bakery had been sold. Maybe there was no one left in town who could corroborate my story, but there was the internet.


The Right Pitch

transistor radio_filterThe small AM-FM transistor radio with the powder blue vinyl cover that snapped into place was always by my side. I held it against my ear in bed, volume undetectably low, listening to the end of the Montreal Alouettes football game on CJAD. It leaned against the wall on top of the toilet tank blasting CKGM’s top 40 while I showered.

Strolling along country roads with my baby
it starts to rain, it begins to pour

Laughter in the Rain was a big hit in 1975 and my 14-year old self paid close attention to this high-pitched voice every time it came on the radio. Somehow I didn’t notice that Neil Sedaka was the singer; I heard only the voice and the lyrics. Teenagers listen to music with a particular kind of obsession, searching for themselves in songs. But I couldn’t find myself anywhere, even though I didn’t really know what I was looking for.

Without an umbrella we’re soaked to the skin
I feel a shiver run up my spine
I feel the warmth of her hand in mine

Our family vacation was always a camping trip to the east coast – the Maritimes, Maine and once, Cape Cod. We would sit around the fire after supper talking, joking, my younger brothers and I setting marshmallows on fire like torches, burning them to a crisp, and then throwing the black skins into the flames. Around the campfire of ’75, my mom was softly humming my song:

Ooooo, I hear laughter in the rain
Walking hand in hand with the one I love

I blurted, without thinking, without knowing, “It’s weird to hear a woman singing about another woman like that……..unless you’re a lesbian I guess….. ”  And there it was, the word I’d been looking for, inside of me. My startled mom asked why I would say such a thing. My brothers clamoured to know what was going on, settling, finally, on the hilarity of thinking that Neil Sedaka was a woman.

Fête du croissant

Montreal’s second annual fête du croissant is upon us. Dovetailing nicely with 4/20, local pastry chefs want to remind us that authentically crafted croissants are made with flour, butter, butter, butter, and water. They don’t come in a plastic six-pack package and you won’t find them in a big-box store – those are counterfeit croissants.


Still, even amongst artisans, there is a big difference. Our micro-contest contestants declared the one on the right (above) and on the bottom (below) a clear winner.


Bacon Backlash

Kentucky Chicken Rice

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, more cancer than ever, Fast Food Nation, contaminated meat, animal rights awareness, eating local, organic farming, vegans, vegetarians, lactose-intolerants, gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free – the backlash was inevitable.

… food chains are tapping into a demographic that is pushing back against the healthy eating trend and giving in to a product that’s being unabashedly upfront about being unhealthy.  Debi Andrus, marketing expert, University of Calgary

Former reigning champs in the extreme-sport of piling junk together and selling it as food are Wendy’s Baconator  – 1,130 mg of sodium and Burger King’s Triple Whopper  – 1,600 mg sodium.  Recommended daily consumption is 1,500 mg.

But look out, KFC, the greasy, secret-herbs & spices chicken emporium introduced the Double Down “sandwich” in 2010 – two pieces of fried chicken (grilled if you’re watching your heart) sandwiching bacon, cheese and special sauce – 1,740 mgs of salty madness. It was pulled after a  month in Canada, and then reintroduced in 2012, with an allegedly lower sodium count.

And now KFC Japan prepares to launch Kentucky Chicken Rice featuring a ketchup-flavoured rice patty garnished with cheese, sauce and mayonnaise jammed between two slabs of fried chicken.  To properly honour the launch, Toronto Life has assembled a Top 10 of the World’s Grossest fast foods.  This stuff may be edible, but it’s not food.