The Canadian Con

Cancon copy
This morning I woke up to a e-mail from the Canadian Council for the Arts rejecting my application to apply for any form of grant or funding for my art; writing books.

When I was much younger and starting to write my first novel series I briefly considered applying for some sort of government funding but ultimately didn’t. Why? I felt that the arts institutions of our government wouldn’t be willing to give money to a twenty one year old with a bunch of crazy ideas about telling action adventure stories for the masses. So I spent nearly a decade writing and publishing work all out of my own pocket and was mostly happy to do so. I recognized, even then, that simply having ideas doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have some sort of bursary or support, especially if you have no tangible experience.

Now, years later with four novels written and published, literary workshops ran and other people’s work funded and published, I felt like I had at earned the credibility to at least apply for some sort of government related funding. Turns out that’s not the case. The e-mail I was sent by the Canadian Arts Council read as follows with emboldening for emphasis:

“Thank you for submitting your Applicant Profile to the Canada Council for the Arts. We have examined the information you provided in light of the eligibility criteria for:

Literary Writer

Based on the information provided, your Applicant Profile has been declined for the following reason(s):

  • Your background does not meet the general expectations for applicants in this field of practice.
  • Your experience does not meet the specific requirements for this profile.
  • Please note that self-published works are not eligible for this profile; if you re-apply, please note that your CV should be in bibliographic format, listing title, publisher, year, pages.”

1. I have been writing and publishing literal literary novels since 2012. Writing is my life. It’s all I care about. So what if I don’t have an english degree and a boatload of debt? I have been attacking the page every day since I was 15 years old. Writing is the only background I have.

2.  My experience: What experience do they expect me to have? I did it. I did it multiple times. I wrote and published these books. They are legitimate books. They have a story that spans volumes. They have ISBN numbers. They are for sale through legitimate dealers. They had design teams. They cost me a lot of time and money. They aren’t ‘zines or poorly constructed self publications. They are real books. What other experience is there to becoming an author of literary merit?

3. Self Publication: I could understand why certain self published authors would be excluded from the application process. The kind of people who are neither skilled nor inspired, producing sub par material, or those that peddle hateful rhetoric in publication. I don’t believe I’m either of those type of person and an institution like the Canadian Council for the Arts should be able to tell the difference. No one would blink at the idea of a musician releasing their music themselves or a painter organizing their gallery release or a performance artist funding their own show. Why is writing any different? Especially when it comes to applying for the privilege to use taxpayer money to make art.  It is offensive to think that I’m only eligible for the chance to apply for arts development money if I have already succeeded enough as an artist to have some gate keeper publish my writing. Do you have any idea how much work it took to write, edit, design and fund the publication of 4 novels? Art is work. It’s not just a brilliant mind. It’s effort and focus and vision. To be denied status as a literary author because I did all the work myself is infuriating and insulting.

So I phoned the Canadian Council for the Arts and was bounced from phone line to phone line looking for someone to talk to about all this before I ended up on the line with the man who had rejected my claim. He basically told me that the grants are reserved for writer’s already working in a professional capacity. I told him that’s ridiculous and frankly really unacceptable. It’s a thin veil covering the internal machinations of the Canadian publishing industry who’s only looking out for those who’ve already seized the reigns of power and now manipulate the means of production. It has always been my perception that academics get published early, build the connections needed to get a book deal and then once their foot is in the door they sign up for as much free money as possible while delivering as little work as they can manage. The guy on the phone quibbled and repeated his talking points which were just as unsatisfactory the second time around. He said that I would have to be published by a real publisher and I asked him what I was. I created a publishing house. I released my work and the work of others. He told me that I had to be recognized in a professional capacity by the industry itself and I just shook my head. “That’s the best you got huh” I responded. Then I asked him why the Canadian Council for the Arts even exists if not to support artists that actually need it and he trailed off telling me I’d have to email his public relations supervisor. I assured him I would and did less than an hour later.

All I want, all I have ever wanted in fact, is to develop my writing and career as an artist. I spent nearly a decade trying to prove I had the sand to do it without ever once going looking for what I considered a hand out. Five years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead taking money from any sort of fund let alone a government one. As I grew and matured I came to feel that if the opportunity was there for me to receive funding to further my passion I should take it even if I felt like the art institutions of Canada wouldn’t appreciate or value my raucous pulpy action stories. I’ve been scoffed at by enough academics who consider what I do to be childish or lacking depth, without ever giving my work a chance, for those feelings of apprehension to be validated. Still at this point I didn’t think that The Canadian Council for the Arts would be able to dismiss the existence of four novels much less deny the legitimacy of my status as a literary writer. Looks like I was wrong. This entire experience has been terribly disappointing. I wanted to believe that The Canadian Council for the Arts wasn’t an insular fund group that exists to subsidize the bloated and ineffectual arts industries of this country that have grown fat off’ve the blanket nature all the arts that fall under CanCon. Too bad all my youthful perceptions and suspicions about the systemic exploitation and manipulations of our arts funding turned out to be right all along. Canadian Content, it’s a Con allright.

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Cheers.

I’d like to announce that I’ll be a launching a new novel this fall. I don’t have a definite date or space set yet but I’ve been finished the book for a while so I hope you’ll join me for the release of the final novel in my Bartender series.

The Bartender: The Last Waltz

Bartender3_COVER

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I wrote two novels before I turned twenty and you’ll never get to read them. For most of my early twenties I wrote short stories and other creative pieces, releasing them in ‘zines, before I decided to start writing a novel inspired by the pulp fiction, crime and comic books that I loved. That novel, which I started writing on the beach Summer 2011, became The Bartender a 3 part pulp fiction novel series that transcends sub-genres, tones and prose styles while attempting to remain a rapid fire, functional piece of commercial fiction for the twenty first century. These works are the distillation of many of my favourite aspects of action adventure style fiction, infused with my own creative influences and garnished with my perceptions and observations of people, society and reality.

Yes, as I wrote The Bartender I was in fact a bartender. That role gave me insight into a great many things but thats not who I actually am. It was a role I played. Now that story is over to me. My creative process no longer requires that I live parallel to a world of criminality and sin to provoke my imagination. I’ve been there done that. I can still do it. I will never forget it. I loved it. But I was very happy to finish these books and be done with all that. Know that the shit I’ve seen I can’t un-see. Understand the amount of people I’ve known that I’d love to forget. There are secrets I keep without anyone ever knowing that I had them. I know where the bodies are buried. I know the dirty deals. I’ve seen the blood on the street. Eventually I realized that life behind bars is time served, bub. In the time it took me to write these books I have been a rogue hustler and a neighbourhood sheriff, conducting straight business while immersed in ethical ambiguity. Walking that line has educated my methods of detection, sharpened my skills of perception, and time and again return me to a place where my willpower and toughness is tested. The whole point of this experiment in identity was to write a set of novels sharing what I had learned by way of action adventure crime story. It could be said that in writing these books it all got a little out of hand and perhaps I got carried away.

Sure I was stupid enough to make the stylistic choice of putting my own face on the cover of these books. In the process of attempting to market them I have regretted it. Somehow blatantly fictionalizing your life is more embarrassing and less socially condoned than you might think. Or maybe I’ve just been paranoid. Now that it’s all over I have decided I just don’t care anymore. How many albums do you see with the artist’s face on the cover? Know that at some point in my youth, while I was still in constant need of attention, I was shamed into understanding that just running your mouth because you have thoughts isn’t good enough. You gotta be able to back up what you say. Talk is cheap. That’s probably how I ended up writing these books, because I said I was gonna do it and then felt like I had to do it. It was hard but I became a better person and a better writer because of it. Just know I don’t really have any desire to sing praises for myself. It’s hard to think that I’m all that awesome. Even writing this, an announcement for something I should be proud of, was difficult for me. I’ve always just wanted to write stories. Write books. Lose myself in imagination. Investigate stuff. Get into something in a complex way and understand the nuances. Live it. Feel it. Break some bones for it. As much as I have written these stories for myself, the hope was that when I was done other people might read them.

That’s it! I’ll be releasing more information about the launch as the plans are set.

You want to know the rest of my secrets you’ll have to read the books, which are available on Amazon, and hella cheap and right on your phone from Kindle. Or you if you want to support your local bookstore you can order them wherever you buy books. Ask for them by my name!

The Bartender: Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Bartender: Appetite for Destruction
The Bartender: The Last Waltz

Cover Art for The Bartender: The Last Waltz by:
Milton Stille-Cover Photography.
Peter Warkentin-Cover Design.

Shakedown

Wednesday night, New Orleans. Day 26.

In an effort to ease my homesickness I have built a strong beer buzz watching NHL playoffs, and bullshitting with tourists. After getting under the skin of some San Jose Sharks fans I’ve taken my leave to wander down Bourbon towards an inevitable uber ride back to my current home by Tulane University.

Even on a Wednesday night the Quarter is brimming with tourists of all types. Fat white midwesterns bumbling from one oversized cheap beer to another and ashing expensive cigars all over themselves. Pan-asian tourists in reserved dress drag their kids along, their faces awestruck by the architecture and bawdy street hustlers. Tourists throw dollar bills at the bucket drummers and tap dancing local kids that occupy gaps in the crowd. White hot afro americans kitted in fresh kicks, bright athletic clothing and fine kangol hats savour the evening with their peoples. European seniors with tucked in polo shirts and fluffy blouses carry a distinct air of civility in these manic city streets while carrying green bottles of Stella and Heineken wrapped in black bar napkins. Of course no visit to Bourbon is complete without the ever present pack of sweating wet faced frat bros in cargo shorts and boat shoes who bolster their dad bods by sucking down an array of neon coloured liquid garbage while taking the opportunity to hoot and holler at anything with a pair of tits over the age of 15. All of the people above walk directly into bear trap hustles such as strip clubs advertising no cover or the even simpler sell: Big Ass Beers or Fishbowl sized drinks. Drug dealers wander up and down Bourbon street brazenly advertising their wares: weed? coke? Got that good coke, here! 50 milligrams of viagra? This American wonderland is, unlike Las Vegas, is carefully disguised by the history and character of the surviving buildings and organic culture. Weathered mason work and splintering streets sing under the feet of the people and vehicles, it is a duet backed by the ever present southern soundtrack that floods this street in particular.

I was thirsting once more taken a slash before I’d left the last bar I’d been in and as such wasn’t eager to suck down another canister of rental fluids. The Nola culture of public drinking is kept in check by the strict policing of public urination and basic stupidity. If you need to piss you’re going to need to find somewhere appropriate to do it, and in keeping with the City’s tradition of hustle, every joint in the Quarter bears a sign reading No public Washroom. To enforce this, and other laws meant to keep the intoxicated quotient of the City in check, NOPD are spread out on foot, motorcycle, car and horseback throughout this central tourist district. They all pack heat in the form of glocks, batons, tasers and pepper spray while wearing body cameras mounted in the center of their bright blue short sleeved uniforms. NOPD seems like the appropriate acronym, but if what I’ve heard from the locals is true it’s more of a cruel joke. With understaffing and poor pay comes corruption and it had been explained to me by more than one local that most officers of the NOPD, like everyone else in the town, had their own side hustles. This was apparent in the swagger of officers who rolled with a similar confident body language to the strip club pimps I’d seen hollering at the tourists . The nonchalance of these officers is further accented by cigars carried like nightsticks in their leather gloved hands.

I stop up to lean against a light post and light a Marlboro red and once more soak up the sights of this looney place. A hastily assembled brass band jams in front of me, the street talk of tourists echoing in my ears. The strip clubs send their women to wander out into the street tugging at the edges of revealing negligee in an effort to charm the eyes of wasted young men and lure them with their fishing tackle. Bars on Bourbon pay men to carry oversized signs shaped like beer steins, booty and busts which they use to pause tourists eager for a backdrop for a tacky picture. The tourist’s phone in hand they lure them into their drink dispensary of hire for another bucket of soon to be warm draught. Many men of all races and ages wear a variety of clothing emblazoned with some form of American military endorsement, many of them limp their way down the uneven streets. A face tattooed crust punk carrying a paper sheathed tall can of something moves down the sidewalk and yells: USA! USA! USA! We bombed the Ruskies this week motherfuckers! We bombed the Ruskies! USA! USA! USA!, and there is a collective chill that runs through those around me as many people check their phones for news updates and the crust punk cackles and moves on. Despite the lingering bite of that frosty prospect, those that have gathered this evening are soon warmed by the music and the hot New Orleans night.

 

A small crowd has formed in front of the six piece brass band and a hammered young white guy hoots and stomps next to a group of black tourists, nodding his head to them in the familiar way white people do while touring this mecca of black culture. One of the black men in this group eyes the inebriated caucasian up and down as he dances off rhythm, his limbs jangling like a marionette, before heartily laughing at the honky’s expense. Dejected and  embarrassed at the shunning of his intoxicated expression of brotherhood lite the white guy backs up to the streets edge beside me and exacts a petulant modern revenge. He withdraws his cell phone and from the cover of a lamppost and films the dancing and jubilations of the group of afro americans while sniggering to himself.

 

Across the crumbling cobblestones from me is one of the alcoholic slurpee joints, serving up thirty two flavours of booze soaked chemically flavoured ice slush out of your choice of towering tourist cups. At the entrance to this place three blonde girls of ascending heights wearing white jean short stand calling to those that stumble by to join them for a shooter, or two, or three! I laugh to myself and exhale smoke, soaking up the heat of the night and the trill of the crowd.

“Hey!….Hey!” I look up to see that the center of the three blonde girls has cupped her hands ‘round her mouth and is yelling at me. “Yeah you, tall guy, what you doin’ over there all by yourself?! Yeah you!” Her voice has that heavy southern twang and she moves her hips like a western music singer.

I wave and put my smoke in my mouth.

“Well don’t just stand there!” Calls the taller girl next to her.

“Yeah, c’mon we’ll buy you a shot, maybe even two.”  Chirps the shortest of the three.

Had it been just one girl, even two, or had I been a few beers shallower, or less lonely for someone to talk to I probably would have been able to defend myself against such a frontal assault of brazen luring, but such was not the case. I flick my smoke butt into the street and jump off the elevated sidewalk to stroll over to the other side.

As I approach the beer suds wash out of my eyes and I begin to get a better look at the blondes, all three lacquered in thick orange makeup, the roots of their aging bleach jobs showing with prominence. The girl in the middle has a scrunched in face with narrow eyes and little bird lips dressed in clumping neon pink lipstick. The taller girl to her right wears a white halter top with the rims of a neon pink bra bursting at the edges while the shortest of the three wears red cowgirl boots and a pink and blue plaid snapped shirt tied in a knot to reveal her midriff. At a table beside them is a rack of test tube shooters of a variety of colours unnatural to liquids in nature. In the background three far more normal women work the slurpee machines, all of them giving me an eye like I’m just another stupid rube getting suckered in by the jean short cut-offs and bleach blonde hair, and I guess in this state of stupidity I am.

“What’re you doing all on your own ?” twangs the girl in the middle with sour lemon face who had called me over.

“Just havin’ a night, what are you girls doin?” I respond with my own cosmetic southern tone.

“My sisters and I are just sellin’ some shots, but we said we’d buy you one so which one do you want? There’s pina colada, hurricane, blue hawaii, melon, lemon drop.”

“Your sisters? These are your sisters, for real?” I laugh as I eye the vials and then to the girls on either side of the one in the middle.

“Yes, I have four sisters and three brothers.” Says the one in the middle, and I hold back a grimace at the continued reinforcement of her trashy stereotype.

“Dang.” Is all I respond with.

“So which shot do you want?”

“Uh hurricane sounds good to me” I respond with a shrug and she pulls me up the steps and into the slurpee shack before she snags up a pair of red vials and hops up and kneels on a stool in front of me. She places the plastic vials in her mouth and tilts her head back, before resting her arms on my shoulders. I roll my eyes while she’s not looking and open my mouth while she leans forward and pours the shots into my maw. She removes the shot tubes from her mouth, gives me a kiss on the cheek and then asks if I want to repeat the process for her. I say why not and she chooses two blue vials, placing them into my mouth so I can tip them into her slimy pink caked lips. I keep my hands to myself even as she tries to push herself closer to me. I ask her how much they are and she tells me they’re four bucks. I give her a twenty and she doesn’t even pretend to reach for change.

“Wow you sure are nice, real polite even.” Her canned response sounding stale.

What a laugh. None of this is a turn on, it’s obvious gratuity is the kind of tacky grossness I typically avoid like the plague. But fuck me, you only live once. Behind me her sisters continue to hustle the street, drawing in a pair of brothers one of whom is crowned in a Duck Dynasty hat, the other in a Toby Keith Red Solo Cup shirt, they both drink the Bourbon street standard: neon green hand grenade shaped slushies. The pair of ladies reel the fresh fish in. Once landed the slobbering rednecks immediately begin to wrap their arms around the girls as if they’d known them their whole lives and before long they’re taking cell phone pictures with the girls and shelling out bucks for test tube drinks of their own.

Ol’ lemon face beside me looks me up and down and I wonder how many guys grope the shit out of her on a daily basis. “What are you doing here in town?”

“Just vacation.” I saw with a shrug.

“You’re just so nice, I don’t know what it is about you?” She says again and the alcohol in my brain nudges me to wonder how low, not to mention temporary, the bar has been set of her expectations of men.

“I guess I’m just a nice guy.” I shrug, the shots I’d just had were strong as all get out and the booze in my is system picking up speed nudged along by the nicotine laced night air.

“Say, you smoke weed?” She asks.

“Uh yeah!” I respond, far more interested at the prospect of smoking dope than I am at having to continue this bland nice guy conversation.

“Great, hey Amber! Cherry!” She yells at her sisters in a tone that encourages me to believe that they really are all related. “I’m gonna take break.” They look at her, unimpressed as the pair of Ozark’s most eligible continue to grind up on them.


The girl I’ve been talking to approaches the slurpee bar and yells at one of the girls behind the counter, a brunette gal with tattoos wearing all black, who lets out an audible sigh before responding to the shrill calls of the blonde’s demand to get her purse out of a cupboard. The tattoo girl momentarily looks at me with a snort like the schmuck I am before turning back to her slush vending duties. The number one blonde starts fishing in her purse with no luck of finding her weed. She gets her phone out and uses the flashlight to search in her bag some more before exclaiming “Fuck it” and then ripping the bag almost in half before explaining “I’ve gotta a lotta purses, it’s allright.” Then from behind us there is a commotion as a large round afro american police woman pushes up into the store pointing at the shooter vials and speaking with derision at Cherry and Amber.

“This is not happening. What the fuck! Fuck this!” exclaims the tallest of the three girls, leaving the open bay doorway and storming across the room and out of sight, leaving the shortest of the girls to shrink at the aggressive advances of the lady cop.

The number one blonde throws her purse over behind the bar and onto the floor before she gets into the mix. “What? What now? What’s going on huh!?” She yells getting in the face of the lady cop who tells her to back the fuck up.

The tallest girl storms back into room to scream “What the fuck! This is fucking bullshit! I’m not doing this right now! I can’t even! Agghhhh!” before disappearing once more from sight.

Out of nowhere two weathered older women wearing yoga pants, neon coloured tops and sporting ragged dye jobs of their own appear and join the number one blonde in shouting at the lady cop. I’ve been standing in the same spot for all of this with a stupid look of drunken amusement on my face while I hope that when this is all resolved the offer of weed is still going to be on the table. From the looks of things they’re going to want it. The women behind the counter have crossed their arms and roll their eyes watching the three blondes continue their firestorm confrontation with the officer.

“What do you mean we don’t have a liquor license?!” Screams ‘Ol Lemon Face directly into the mug of the officer, who holds up her hand to shield herself from the spit that flies from those pink lips.

“No, no, no these girls do this every night of the week they are-” enters the gravelly voice of one of the older women, who I can only assume are the girls handlers. The presence of these older women start to enhance the idea that these blondes are hustling more than just overpriced shitty shooters.

“Ma’am, you don’t take that tone with me!” commands the lady cop who has since had two male officers, both smoking cigars, join her as backup. They stand at the edge of the shop looking from each other to their female counterpart and then the blondes and their handlers.

The tallest blonde returns to scream more profanity and stamp her feet and I can’t resist laughing. My chuckle draws the ire of one of the handlers who gives me a stank eye so I restrain myself. I step outside the slurpee shack and onto the street where I put a fair distance between myself and the commotion, lighting another cigarette and watching the rest of the conflict transpire at a safe distance.

There are continued wails and visual cues of indignance from all the women involved in the liquor hustle. The female police officer appears to be writing tickets to all three of the girls who continue to verbally protest. As the female cop ignores the girls they turn their attention on the male cops who listen for a moment before stating something to the extent of you’re right we wouldn’t ticket you, but this is her beat tonight. I’m unclear as to the legality of everything involved, but it has all the hallmarks of a shakedown. Maybe, had the girls not exploded at the female officer there could have been something they could have done that would have allowed their hustle to continue. But their shrill denial of legal infraction had not aided them, and the presence of two older women as their representation and council had only made their infraction look worse. Before long all three of the blonde girls are holding tickets, dispensed by the lady cop, and are storming around the establishment like it’s their bedroom. The women behind the counter are not amused, standing by and waiting for the storm to clear so they can return to making their own straightforward money. In the ensuing chaos the number one blonde catches my eye and makes it clear that she’s still going to smoke me up, although the look in her eye gives me an icy chill even in the New Orleans heat. As the blondes file out of the slurpee vendor paradise I follow and catch up as they turn down a side street. Lemon Face fishes in her shredded purse and procures a joint which she lights and passes to me.

“Can you believe that fat fucking nigglet bitch?!” Shouts Lemon Face and I choke on the weed.

“What the fuck was her fucking problem?” Screeches the tall one and I mask my expression of holy shit with another cough.

“That bitch, that fucking nigger bitch!” comes the shrill voice of one of the handlers as we all steam off down the street. “Every fucking time!”

They all, except for the short one who just seems exhausted, continue a steady stream of racially charged cussing. I’m disgusted by their attitudes but I’ve ridden this coaster of weird entitlement this far and besides we just got to the weed. Eventually we come to a stop by a large planter box outside a hotel and the joint continues to go around. Lemon Face is frantically yelling at her phone, on speaker, and what I assume is the girl’s mother’s voice occasionally cuts through only to be interrupted by her daughters.

“She had no right momma. What the fuck, that’s our job. That’s how we make a living and that pig gonna tell us what we can’t do!”

“Is this the first time this has happened?” I ask, to no one in particular but I grab the attention of Lemon Face.

“No it happened last week, and a few weeks ago. But it’s always the bitches that are going after us.” She responds to me before shouting into her phone once more. “Yeah, no it was the woman again, yeah the guys were there but those faggots didn’t do shit!”

“Who the fuck are you?” Says one of the older handler women, putting her hands on her hips and giving me a look of derision.

“He’s fine, she’s probably just gonna try and fuck him.” Sighs the taller of the three blondes who is texting and periodically screaming at nothing.

“I’m a lawyer.” I lie, the weed and the generally shitty personalities of the women emboldening me to just say whatever I feel like.

“What?” Says Lemon Face. “Momma one second. Did you say you were a lawyer?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Here.” She shoves the phone into my hand and I hold back a snort before I take a few steps back from the cackle of hens who continue to fudge pack each others shitty opinions and interpretations of the event.

“I don’t know who you are, but are my daughter’s going to be alright?” Comes the voice of an older woman, her southern accent heavy.

“They’re going to be fine.” I start putting a bit more southern in my voice.”Trust me, they were serving liquor inside a licensed establishment. The officer in question appeared to just want to be giving them a hard time. However I would recommend that they make sure to dispute their tickets, which should have the officer’s information and badge number present on them.”

“Oh thank god, I’m…I’m just so worried. My baby girls! Thank you.”

“Ma’am.” I respond and then hand the phone back to the number one blonde who continues talking a blue streak like she’d never let go of the phone before eventually , “Yeah, I love you momma yea, I’ll talk to you later.”

The notion of pretending I’m a lawyer, encouraged by the booze and dope, has put me in character and I’ve pulled out my notebook and am hastily jotting down the basic instructions for disputing a ticket like this, when I’m interrupted by Lemon Face.

“What are you doing?” She asks indignant.

“I’m taking down some notes for you so you can legally dispute that ticket.”

“I don’t even need to dispute it! Fuck that bitch. How dare she, how dare she tell me what I can and can’t do. You know, I know you know what I mean.” She snarls, and sadly I do. You’re a racist piece of shit lady. “The fuck that nigger can tell me how I can make my money. Tell me how to do what I’ve been doing since I was….since I was sixteen.” She says and my weed heightened imagination is triggered to deliver an image of this gal, sixteen years old and learning how to hustle men with her body and attitude. Perhaps spurred on by her mother, perhaps it’s a result of having so many siblings and needing to take care of your own self. I won’t go farther to rationalize her awful nature but there is some pity in me for people that have turned out so malignant.

I put the notepad down, and check myself. I don’t want to help this person in any way. It had all been a fun trainwreck to watch and I am happy that I got smoked up, but the vitriol and ugliness that oozes from the anus like puckering face of this woman have stripped me of any more true amusement I have for the situation.

“Yeah, I don’t even need to dispute it! You know why she was doing that. You know why. The guy cops, they never bother us. They said this was her block, and she gonna do the policing. Well fuck her!” Her voice has become even more shrill.

The rotten root of this anger is that a black woman, cop or not, dared tell these ratchet ass white girls what they could or couldn’t do. That was the most offensive notion to the girls. I’d wager that the girls probably were breaking the law in some way, but their racism overrode their concept of their wrongdoing, or even their ability to preserve their hustle with a payoff for such an obvious shakedown. The status of authority of police meant less than shit to these shooter hustling bimbos. Every time they used the word nigger I felt that hate in them, that toxic separatism that displayed that these girls, despite their rather basic vocation, believed that they were better than any black person. And the Police? Corrupt or not, it didn’t really matter to me. Through the whole process, before anyone had started throwing the N word around, I felt a satisfaction in watching that black lady cop shakedown those girls, even more so once their protests of foul play became less rational and more audible. They displayed and enhanced version of that very special entitlement and preferential treatment that flows through the veins of white america. The same sentiments are telegraphed, though less severe, when I’ve watched white employers speak to their employees or even co-workers of colour, their authority in their minds is without question. The brand of white American social conditioning presented without fanfare.

“Kendall our fucking ride is here, just get his number. Lets go!” Yells the tallest girl to her sister.

I wouldn’t take her number even if she offered it. Instead she fires up another phone call, half turns from me, still furious, angrily waves and then storms away without saying another word.

 

I shake my head. Have a good hard laugh and stroll away in search of a better type of person.


 

 




 

Boil

It’s six thirty on a nice Friday evening in New Orleans and I am sitting on on my skateboard across the street from a crowded bar in the Marigny that’s hosting a crawfish boil. I’m drinking stoli and soda and smoking a Newport while I watch the crowd of people milling around the cook trailer enjoying themselves. I begin the process of revving myself up to be more aggressive with my socializing. In New Orleans just under a week and I had yet to make even a temporary new friend.

“Hey any y’all know where can I buy smokes around here?” Comes the voice of someone speaking to no one in particular. I look over to see a scruffy young guy wearing a fraying fatigue green baseball cap and a red nascar t-shirt which covers a generously protruding stomach.

“There’s a few corner stores down on Frenchman.” I reply, assuming he’s a tourist like me.

He sighs like the two hundred metres to Frenchman street are too far away and shrugs it off. My eyes follow him as he goes back to wandering around the street, crowded with overflow from the bar. The crowd is a respectable cross section of young and old adult styles, though most of them are white. With the sun dipping behind the buildings there’s the same feeling of comfort and enjoyment that I’d typically associate with the dog days of summer, except this is the Spring. Beautiful young women roll up on bikes, greet their guys and hug their girlfriends before locking up their rides. On the curb beside me people, who’d arrived early to beat the now massive line, suck down crawfish served in styrofoam take out containers and drink tall boys of PBR or Highlife. I feel rude as all hell smoking next to them while they eat, but I’m not the only one and they don’t seem to give a shit. There isn’t any live music coming from the bar, a rarity here it would seem, but on the steps of a small building behind me a leather faced guy rips on acoustic guitar playing standard hits from Sublime to The Beatles. For the past hour I had been circling the neighbourhood on my skateboard, a big soft wheeled cruiser cobbled together from discount pieces purchased at the local skate shop. I had been sifting through the populist venues and tourist traps waiting for the evening to start.

“Fuck it, hey can I have a cigarette?” says the same guy having circled back around to me.

“They’re menthols but yeah.” I reply fishing in my shirt pocket for the Newports.

“Ah really?” He thinks on it for a second. “Ah whatever.”

I hand him the smoke and he sits down on the curb next to me to light up, a few minutes later a apparent friend of his, comparable in size, toting a po-boy, sits down next to him. They talk back and forth to each other for a few minutes about buying and selling something but I can’t figure out what it is. Sounds like models of cars with names like an X7 and such. A pickup truck with a pack of cute girls in the bed pauses for a moment in front of us.

The guy eating the overflowing po-boy, raises half the sandwich in the air, “Want a bite?”

“Uh, is that bread? No way.” Says one of the girls with a scoff before the truck pulls away.

All three of us on the curb laugh out loud.

“Dang, did she say ‘is that bread’?” asks the guy who I’d given the smoke to.

“Fuck her. I didn’t want to give her a bite of my damn sandwich anyway.” The friend speaks through a mouthful of food, lettuce and sauce falling onto the wrapper that he’s laid at his feet like a drop cloth. “This is a panko crusted po-boy. One of the best po-boys in the whole city and it’s amazing how many people don’t even know about it.” He continues to speak, mouth still full, then opens the sandwich to display the neatly the arranged shrimp coated in the spiky japanese style breadcrumb.

“Oh yeah where’d you get it? I’m not from around here.” I ask.

“Oh where you from?”

“Vancouver, Canada.”

“Damn, I met some guys from Vancouver a couple weeks ago, and they was lookin for weed. I was like yo I got this one nug I could sell you and he was like ‘ten bucks’ “ Continues the sandwich man.

“No shit?” says his friend turning his head and picking a piece of tomato off the sandwich wrapper on the ground.

“Yeah, then he was like ‘in Vancouver weed is so cheap I can get a half ounce for a hundred bucks’, and I was like ‘that’s nice’. “

“That’s just ignorant.” I say to him, “Assuming you can come from somewhere else and get your hometown prices.”

“Yeah, that shit’s non negotiable.”

“Weed is pretty cheap back home. You just walk into a store and buy it. Eighth for thirty bucks, quarter for seventy.” I state and they nod along at the prospect.

“Speaking of which, yo you want to roll a blunt?” Asks the guy eating the sandwich.

“Sure, hook it up man.” Says the scruffier of the two holding out his hand which is filled by his friend with a blunt wrap and a healthy green emerald of weed.

Typically a consistent weed smoker I had yet to have the inclination to go looking around like a dumbass for any in Nola, but the vodka in my bloodstream, the glowing embers of the neighbourhood’s skyline, and the straightforward good nature of the pair of guys had me hankering.

“Hey you mind if I hit that with you?” I ask as the guy next to me starts to break down the sticky dense herb with his fingers. It smells pretty good.

“Yeah sure man, cool Ty?” he says to his friend.

“Yeah that’s cool man.’

“Sick, say what’s your names?” I ask.

“I’m Kyle” responds the scruffy one rolling the blunt.

“Tyler.” the other says, digging into the second half of his lunch.

“Nice to meet you guys, can I buy you a drink or something?”

“Nah, I’m good man.” responds Kyle without looking up.

“We got a case of Bud Lite comin’ later. It’s cool man.”

“A case of Bud Lite?” I laugh.

“Yeah, I know but we’re getting it for free. We were shooting video all day for them. Bud Lite I mean.” says Tyler.

“What kind of video?”

“Skateboarding.”

“Man I swear there was a can of Bud Lite in like every single shot anyone took today. Just before Glenn did that front side three I got him slammin a whole tall-boy.” says Kyle without looking up from his handy-work.

“It’s gonna be on Bud Lite’s snapshat and stuff. It’s tight. Yeah you skate.” Tyler gestures to my board, sandwich bits falling on Kyle’s leg.

“Yeah, got it this week, but it’s a grandpa board. Big soft wheels. I’m just here riding ‘round. Shit I can’t even ollie.” I said pointing to the fat rubbery wheels beneath me.

“You buy that here?” asked Kyle.

“Yeah.”

“At Humidity?” asked Tyler.

“Yeah man, just the other day. Gotta say I’m surprised that there’s really only one skate shop here. In Vancouver we’ve got a bunch of them, but I guess it’s more of a subculture here? I don’t see a lot of people riding, ‘least not in the streets.”

“Yeah and if anyone opened another skate shop here?” Chimes in Kyle while he puts the finishing touches on the blunt.

“Yeah, that’d be like a major front on Philly. He’s the guy that owns the store. We done some filming for him before too.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what people would do if someone opened up another skate shop in Nola.” said Kyle as if the very notion was beyond all possibility.

Tyler finishes his sandwich then Kyle fires up the blunt and it we pass back and forth. It has been a few weeks since I’ve smoked so it hits me like a Mac truck. My desire for conversation and social interaction increases tenfold but my abilities to conjure anything interesting to say is compromised by the overwhelming high. I just sit and grin, taking the street in while Kyle and Tyler continue on talking about some special release of some special model of something. Not long later a tall skinny friend of theirs, Lee, arrives on a pedal bike drinking a paper sleeved tall can. Lee has a long neatly groomed beard and a serious array of leg and arm tattoos. The cotton-mouth starts creeping in on me and after first depleting the rest of my drink I guzzled the remains of the water from the bottle in my backpack. Still not quenched I go back to the bar for a drink, which takes a lot more effort than it did a half hour ago.

In the past hour the sunny watering hole of day drinkers of indeterminate origin had been dominantly overtaken by a pride of locals. Those who had been pursuing an afternoon buzz, tourists and layabouts like me, had passed that hard to maintain measure and were now audible in their inebriation as they attempted to speak over the music. Sidling up to a free square inch of the the full bar I look at myself in the mirrored wall beyond the bottles and laugh at how ripped I am, my face lining up beside a photograph of Mark Twain which I take as a good omen. Schlock piano music punches out from speakers surrounding me and I feel the sweat pushing through my pores before I take a deep breath and tent a twenty in my hand, waiting on the bartender to make it my way. In the cooler behind the bar I examine the glowing bottles of beer, the Corona and Sierra Nevada pale ale are the most depleted. Down in the far right hand corner was a column of Becks, a German style pilsner, so on a stoned whim I order one of those to find that it was so rare a request that the bartender couldn’t find them.

I left the rowdy barroom and returned the chill of the street to Kyle, Tyler, and Lee continuing to discuss, and with much fervour, the topic which had been on their lips since I met them.

“Sorry guys, what are you talking about?” I interrupted.

“Shoes man.” Said Lee.

“The air jordan 1 black and royals.”

“Oh, I hear you now.” I responded, having met a few sneaker fetishists in my years.

“Yeah man, Lee runs a shoe store and last time they released those he sold his for like sixteen hundred bucks.” chimed in Kyle passing me the still smoking blunt.

“No shit?” I say to Lee before taking another huge pull on the blunt and passing it off to Kyle.

“Yeah, but I don’t even know if I’m gonna get any this time. Had to put my name in a lottery.” Sighs Lee.

“Better than me, I’m gonna have to get my ass up at like four am tomorrow if I want to get a pair. I buy and sell shoes online.” Tyler explained to me.

“Hey man, just to give you a little advice” Kyle got my attention, “Right now, with the crawfish cook up it’s like a street party and everyone’s chill, but you don’t want to be carryin’ around a bottle most of the time. Cops give you shit, some people might think you a mark, a tourist, y’now? You get wasted you don’t want that. Throw it in a plastic cup next time.” He gestured to the beer bottle in my hand.

“Thanks for the tip.” I responded.

At that moment a big blue shipping truck with the words Bud Lite rounded the corner and the vehicle parallel parked in a space just across the street from the bar.

“Shit they’re here. Finally” Said Tyler, blunt in his hand, cockiness elevated.

Out of the vehicle comes a thin latin guy in a baggy t-shirt and pants with a red cap on and a pretty mulatto gal in a black dress and jean jacket. The guy approaches us with a six pack of Bud Lite in hand, tossing out beers to people on his way across the street.

“Yo Philly!” Shouts Tyler.

“Hey Philly!” Follows up Kyle.

Phil, the owner of Humidity Skate shop approaches us and goes to toss someone a beer but with the condensation on the can it slips from his grip and hits the street, a single spray of beer shooting into the air. Tyler runs forward and picks it up off the ground, cracking it open and shot-gunning it down. Phil apologies to a lady sitting on the curb next to us and then comes over, slapping and gripping the palms of Lee and Kyle before giving me elevator eyes which settle on my skate. He doesn’t say anything to me instead turning his attention over to Tyler for some skin.

“You drive that truck?” Asks Kyle to the girl that came with Phil.

“All the way from New York.” She says with bravado.

There’s some brief conversation but the pair of them don’t hang out with us for five minutes longer before moving along behind the crawfish cook up trailer to hang with a pack of other skaters. Stoned as I am time begins to blur together until I’m hanging with Tyler back on the periphery of the other skaters.

“Yeah, I can’t skate for real. Few years ago I messed my back up snowboarding, had to take like five years off’v riding anything. So now I can only ride these fat ass wheels and cruise around.”

“Yeah man. I used to skate too.” Says Tyler in a sad tone that has me envisioning him as a rotund teen being ridiculed by a pack of hardcore inner city too cool for school n’er do wells.

“So you like, buy and sell shoes online?” I ask.

“Yeah man.”

“Like, that’s your job, that’s what you do full time?”

“…yeah for the most part man. Gotta have a few hustles in this day and age though. Maybe I’ll hit that big score sometime and flip some stacks. I’d love to get my hands on those Jordans tomorrow.”

“You ever work in the service industry? It sure looks like good money.” I point to the bar.

“Nah man. Too crazy for me, those people make bank but you get a reputation. You just spend all your money back in the bar.”

Lee joins us from the miamasa of people. “Fuck, those fuckin’ dickheads in New York.”

“Another one?” responds Tyler.

“Yeah, every goddamn time.”

“What’s the score?” I ask, nestling another smoke in my mouth while juggling my skate and beer in my hands.

“People from New York always orderin’ stuff. But when it doesn’t show up on the exact day, they’re phonin’ our asses looking for a goddamn refund, which we’re obligated to do, but then we give them their refund and then they get the package and they keep both and you never hear from them again. Pricks. I get them though.”

“How you do that?” Asks Tyler.

“Always keep your receipts man. UPS, Fed-Ex, shit most of the time I just use the Post office. United States Postal Service, now there’s some people that understand the value of keeping the receipt. You keep that they’ll sort it out. It takes time, and I never really get all the money back but-”

“Beats taking a straight up loss.” I say out loud, while in my head thinking about how using the federal postal service may not be the best way to do your shipping and receiving as an online business.

“Damn right.” Finishes Lee.

“I got that jacket this week.” Tyler tells Lee.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah but it was the dark green one, not the black one like I wanted. I was thinkin’ about sending that back-”

“Is that like another limited edition thing?”

“Yeah man, less than thirty of ‘em made. But it’s gonna be fuckin’ summertime, no one gonna want that shit right now.” Tyler purses his lips and shakes his head.

“Why don’t you just hold on to it, keep it mint and then in the fall when everyone else is sold out of that jacket, you just re-release it and jack up the price.” I say.

 

“Shit man, now you’re talkin’ hustle.” Laughs Lee slapping me on the shoulder while Tyler nods his eyes drifting off.

For the past hour we’ve been milling behind the exhibition of crawfish cooking. The guy cooking in the small two man trailer is a bearded fanatic adorned in a big ass apron who, based on his erratic temperament and the volume of his voice, is half lit. He dances back and forth in the aluminum trailer which houses the heavy duty aluminium cook pot heated by a turbo propane torch range. Having brought the crock of water and several packs of Zatarain’s seafood seasoning to a full steaming boil the cook dumps the mud bugs in twenty pounds at a time. While the creatures cook he jumps back and forth, preaching to the crowd and screaming unintelligible, but highly entertaining, phrases like Burn me down! And This is the dawn of time! at the top of his lungs.

“Christ is he on mushrooms?” Says Lee.

“Could be, where can I get some?” Laughs Tyler.

“It’s a damn shame is what it is.” Laments Kyle who has appeared next to me.

“How so?” I turn and ask Kyle.

“He’s been cooking those suckers for like ten minutes.” replies Kyle, shaking his head.

“They’re a bit delicate for that huh?” I respond, offering him another cigarette, which he takes.

“Hell yeah they are. Using a kettle that big and a heat range that powerful? You only wanna have them in there for two or three minutes tops.” Kyle sounds like he’s watching child abuse.

The most recent batch of crawfish appears to be ready and the cook kills the heat on the range.

“Ice, you wanna get that ice in there.” continues the commentary of Kyle.

“Man, that’s some hot stuff. Imagine dumpin’ that on your legs? What a horrible way to die.” Muses a thoroughly stoned Tyler. “That’’s so hot, burn your fuckin’ skin right down to the bone.”

Kyle has his cigarette hand right up across his face while he watches the crawfish Prophet fumble with the giant colander which sits right in the kettle. “Ice, get that damn ice.” he says again and again.

“What just to bring the heat down?” I ask, lighting my own smoke.

“It’s not just that. You want to put the ice right into the pot, a whole lot of it. It brings all the flavour and seasoning to the top of the pot, so when you strain it out them crawfish collect it all. Lord, this is just painful to watch.” At first I thought he was at least half goofin, by Kyle is clearly pained by this procedure.

“You do any restaurant cooking?” I ask him.

“No, not really. I mean my parents live just outside of Nola and they run a crawfish joint. I worked there when I was a teenager.” He speaks of it as if those days gone by were working in a gulag, not a kitchen.

Throughout this I’ve been holding onto my skateboard, never really letting it out of my hands. By light posts and grass patches there are stacks of skateboards, all lined up against each other, their owners out and about in the crowd. Since I’d gotten to New Orleans not a day had gone by where some random stranger or kid hadn’t asked if he could ride my deck for just a second and I’d become paranoid of losing my new wheels. Now, hanging out on the cool kid side of the cook out, despite my slipping sobriety, I’d become very aware that I was on the receiving end of some harsh mean muggin’ from a variety of Nola skaters. In Vancouver neither my style nor my demeanor passes for that anarchic apathy stereotypical of a dyed in the wool skater so it wasn’t surprising to me, what with my geriatric ride, that I was not the most popular new person in the crowd of hard core New Orleans skateboarders. Easily the most square person in a fifty foot radius I didn’t bother trying to socialize with anyone besides Lee, Kyle and Tyler. The local skater’s style was that of oversized tee’s and ultra loose or tapered ninja pants and look of dedicated indifference. Occasionally a moment would present itself to inject my thoughts and opinions into the mix of a group of strangers but sensing I was already an interloper I decided to keep my mouth shut and my positioning at the edge of their scene.

Then a big white Chevy Tahoe with giant chrome rims pulls up beside the crowd I’ve associated myself with, blocking off traffic and banging hot jams. A black guy wearing a dew rag and sporting a variety of metallic teeth and sparkling finger jewelry sticks his head out the window while his driver kept the engine running.

“Yo! Tyler where you at!? You got that weed?! I know you got it!” Yells the guy into the crowd who collectively moves back from the vehicle.

Tyler emerges from the crowd and approached the vehicle speaking to the guy but keeping his volume down. He appears casual, confident even, but from where I stood I could see his brow loading up a clip of sweaty bullets. It didn’t seem to matter what Tyler told the guy, every thirty seconds or so he’d yell, “Where that weed!? I know you got it man!” or something of that nature. This went on for ten minutes or so until someone allowed Tyler some space and approached the SUV to pick up the bullshit where Tyler had left off. Tyler, in the meantime, went around back of the ride looking it up and down. Before too long the SUV’s music jacked up even louder and started to pull away from the cook up. As it passed I could make out some sort of skull and crossbones decal on the vehicle’s back window and something that amounted to the phrase thug crew. The specifics were lost to my booze blurred vision and memory. What wasn’t blurry was a stat I’d read earlier in the week stating that New Orleans had seen fifty one murders in the first three months of 2017.

“A total fucking shame.” returns the voice of Kyle from not far in front of me. He had torn one of the finished crawfish limb from limb, it’s juices coating his hand and face as he was once more shaking his head. “Not good at all. Fuckin’ idiot.” He threw the crawfish carcass into a trash bin next to us and licked off his fingers.

“Shit the bed huh?” I say, to which I received a saddened nod.

Tyler appears next to us, visibly shaken. “Yo man, you got any rolling papers?”

“Nah man, we outta blunt wraps too.” responded Kyle. “You want me to go find some papers?”

“Yeah man, can you do that?” Said Tyler, those sweat bullets now firing down off his forehead.

“No problem, these crawfish suck ass anyway.”

Behind us one of the cool kid skater guys has jumped the lineup of over fifty people and retrieved several trays of crawfish which he now doles out to the rest of his gang. People in line groan but their lamentations fall on deaf ears. The Bud Lite chugging skaters nosh on crawfish. I cling to the edges of the group, receiving dirty looks for my oversized wheels. I start getting the feeling my welcome is all about worn out and that even famous southern hospitality has limits. That’s fine, my blood alcohol levels are nearing an altitude that have me thinking it’s time to pull the ripcord as well.

I’ve seen and interpreted most of the story for myself. The scene of locals in New Orleans is much the same as anywhere else. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how much are you holding. I’d gotten lucky by giving a smoke to a nice guy who had a nice friend, who had with generosity shared a fat ass blunt of some real solid weed with me, but these two gems were on the periphery of their own community. Relegated to shooting cell phone videos for skaters to promote Bud Lite on their snapchat, bowing down to local demagogues and tastemakers, and paying lip service to the shady guy in the SUV who I’ll assume is relatively dangerous. I’d asked earlier and discovered that both Kyle and Tyler were 24. 24 and chasing the very ridiculous modern american dream. Get rich, any way you can. Whether it’s selling collectible sneakers on the internet, dealing out dimes of weed or pandering to those who’d already made it in that very special, very lucrative, very american way. I like Tyler and Kyle. I like them a whole heck of a lot more than the entourage of skaters that eyed me like a dead fish in the sun because I was wearing bright colours and packing a cruiser skateboard. Tyler and Kyle truly did not give a fuck who I was or what I was about. They were happy to share their world, however brief, with me, even though they must meet a million dickhead tourists like myself every year. Yet their authenticity and general lack of reservations and pretensions greatly endeared me to them, which is maybe why I was so honest with Tyler when I spoke to him again and for the last time that night.

“So what was the deal with that?”

“What’s that man?” Tyler replied huffing and looking around.

“The deal with those guys in the SUV?”

“Ah man, it happens. It’s Nola. You know people come around askin’ things.”

“Yeah? Seemed kinda intense to me. That happen a lot?”

“Sure, yeah guys pull up like that, load the block with sound. Take off.”

“Do they usually roll up yelling your name out the window of their ride, declaring that you got the weed? Seemed a little intense man.” He doesn’t respond. “And what was the deal with that decal on their back window? Like thug crew or something? What’s up with that.” He still doesn’t respond, and I realize that I’m drunkenly stumbling through my point.

Kyle returns with rolling papers.

“Yo man, let’s get outta here.” Says Tyler to Kyle.

“Yeah?” He says handing his friend the papers.

“Yeah, I gotta get up early, buy some shoes yo.”

I thank them both for their hospitality to which Kyle says, almost absent mindedly, “Ehn, I’m sure we’ll see you again.” before they shuffle over to Philly and the rest of the Skaters to burn one more joint. I finish the remains of my beer, hear a siren in the distance, then the unbridled yell of the crawfish cook before I laugh at the pleasures of the evening and very slowly roll out of the Marigny.

A Police Inaction

vpdcrest-stacked-line_color

More like: “Ignore the Call”

A week ago, looking for any sort of municipal support, I sent the following letter to the e-mails accounts of all of the Vancouver City Councillors, as of today two of them have responded. Later this week I used the following letter as the basis for an official complaint against the systems of the Vancouver Police Department and their governing body the Vancouver Police Board.

The letter concerns the Vancouver Police Department’s ineffective, underfunded and non-prioritized sex crimes division. Accompanying this there is also criticism of the lack of budgetary transparency within the VPD as well as the inadequacy of budget and priority given to the VPD sex crimes unit. This letter also serves to detail the ineffective process that is in place to give citizens the ability, or inability as it were, to speak out constructively regarding the systemic law enforcement policies of Vancouver. The names of the officers involved in this matter have been purposely withheld. This letter also details a person’s strength and perseverance in the face of multiple injustices.

The following letter contains content that some may consider graphic as well as information that may trigger people. It is not the intent of this letter to offend or shock but to draw attention to the crucial issues of: the damaging systemic attitudes and policies of the Vancouver Police Department regarding sexual assault, the investigation thereof, as well as their lack of respect for the trauma and safety of victims and the perceived inaccessibility of this branch of law enforcement.

The Police need to say:

We can do better

Dear  Vancouver:

On June 22nd, 2016 a female friend of mine, Catherine, was sexually assaulted close to her home in East Vancouver. After the attack, she called The Vancouver Police Department. They arrived, they took her clothes for processing, and told her that someone would be assigned to her case. A hat had been dropped at the scene of the crime and the VPD would take the DNA tested to see if it hit a match with anyone in their systems. The next day, she went into the Police station at Gravely and Boundary where she sat in a formal interview room and gave a statement to the Detective in charge of her case. She was told that an officer would be by later in the week to get a DNA swab from her. In the days that followed, Catherine attempted to get in touch with the Detective but to no avail. He was either repeatedly “sick” or was scheduled off. Frustrated and angry, Catherine spoke out about her experience on social media and within a week, she was receiving calls from the media. And so was she only then contacted by the VPD. In the period of the past two week, there had been 4 assaults on women in East Vancouver, aside from Catherine, and the media wanted to know more about Catherine’s assault. The VPD had admonished Catherine for speaking out publicly, telling her that if she shared too much about her experience, it could jeopardize her case.

July 2nd, 2016: The Detective in charge of Catherine’s case got in touch with her, almost two weeks later, to ask her to come in and work with someone to create a composite sketch of her attacker. Over the next week, Catherine had intermittent communication with the VPD, all of which happened over the phone instead of e-mail. They informed her that they would not be going public with her case because they didn’t want to create “White Noise” in the media, a comment that deeply offended Catherine for obvious reasons. Catherine explained to the Detective her frustration with the VPD’s lack of apparent interest in her case. She couldn’t understand why in the first week following her assault there were no officers coming to her for a composite sketch, DNA swab, and interview; making use of the details while her memory was still fresh. More so, the Detective assigned to her was neither available nor did he seem to display any urgency regarding her case. The VPD gave no accommodating response, offering only a verbal shrug.

July 4th, 2016: Catherine goes to the VPD to attempt to describe her attacker for a composite sketch but can’t remember or doesn’t want to remember the face of the man who assaulted and traumatized her. The VPD treated her like she wasted their time. They also told her that the Vancouver forensics lab was “backed up” so they would need to send her clothes to a lab in Guelph Ontario for DNA testing. They would be sending the multiple articles of clothing from her case one piece at a time.

August 24th 2016: Catherine received a call – always a phone call, never a record of the interaction – from the Detective assigned to her case stating they had matched the DNA in the baseball hat found at the scene of her attack with someone in their database. The man is considered a “street bully” by the VPD but the officer speaking to Catherine stated that the suspect didn’t have a track record of attacking women, so the police “weren’t worried”. The VPD stated that they couldn’t share the man’s identity with Catherine and that she would have to wait until mid-October, four months after the incident, to hear back from the DNA testing on her clothes to see if it is a match to the DNA found in the hat.

October 15 2016: After repeated attempts to get in touch with anyone related to her case, Catherine is finally told that the lead Detective of her case has been re-assigned and that he had in fact, not been working on her case for the past month. He was replaced by a new officer who Catherine immediately attempted to contact, but unsurprisingly without any success. Catherine left numerous messages, none of which were returned.

December 2016: No one from the VPD has called Catherine in months, so she starts phoning the VPD Sex Crimes unit directly. Her case had been passed from officer to officer until finally, she is given a female officer to talk to. The female office took down her info and passed it up the chain of command to a male superior. A few days later, this female officer phoned Catherine to tell her that her case had essentially been closed since there had not been sufficient evidence to link the DNA on her clothes to that found in the hat. Catherine was angry because the VPD had known this for a while and had failed to share the information with her. Catherine asked why she had never done a lineup with the potential suspects to which the officer had no response. At this point the officer attempted to calm Catherine down by telling her that the suspect related to the hat found at the scene “doesn’t attack women”, to which Catherine angrily responded “he attacked me” and hung up the phone.

December 8 2016: The original lead Detective for Catherine’s case, the one who was removed, calls her and asks her if she still wants to do a photo lineup; she says yes. Almost six months after her initial attack, the Police bring Catherine in to look through a massive stack of suspect photographs. In the months since Catherine had done everything she could to block out the memory of the attack, much less the face of her attacker. Catherine did not feel confident about her choice from the mug shots in the photo book and the Police once more behaved as if she had wasted their time. This is six months after the attack.

May 2017: Catherine has her caseworker from Women Against Violence Against Women contact the Police to see if Catherine can have her clothes back. A day or two later, Catherine was called by that original Detective again and he said her clothes had been returned to the Police Property office. Catherine went down there where she discovered that not all her belongings had been returned. At this point she vented her frustrations with the entire police apparatus, focusing on the lead Detective who had seemingly ignored her case. The Property office clerk then shared with Catherine that the Detective who had been assigned to her case had never been a full-fledged investigator; he had only been training to be a Detective. He currently wasn’t a Detective which the clerk stated was probably reflective of his investigative skills.

 Over the next month, Catherine would go on to try and retrieve the rest of her clothing as well as some sort of resolution of closure from the VPD. She received neither. She went through the list of people she had been assigned to but none of them returned her calls. All of Catherine’s communication with the VPD was done over the telephone, where there would be no record of her conversations or attempts to contact those in charge of her case, much less any concrete statements offering solace.

 Catherine once more shared her frustrations with the VPD on social media. I, Axel, saw it and contacted her to say that I would help her speak out and share her story so that perhaps the VPD could change its systems and policies regarding the procedures and approaches to interacting with victims of sex crimes. Catherine told me about the numerous women who had contacted her after she made her assault public and how all of them had similarly awful experiences interacting with the VPD. Either their cases were similarly ignored or diminished like Catherine’s or the Police had no sensitivity to the trauma of the victim’s experience and often ended up intimidating these women with tones better suited to interrogating suspects than interviewing trauma victims. It became our intention to speak directly to the Vancouver Police board, share Catherine’s experience and the experiences of these other women and ask for structural re-considerations regarding women’s safety and the investigations that follow assaults.

I talked to Catherine and she shared her whole story with me. We prepared to speak at the Vancouver Police Board meeting, a public meeting at which I have seen speakers present issues like: fireworks safety, public concerns about the proliferation of marijuana use, bike lane transit law enforcement, the ranting of angry anarchist, socialist, activists and more. So it was a shock to me when I sent my request to speak at the VPBM and after explaining our cause received this response from the board’s administrator Patti Marfleet:

“The matters you wish to speak about are matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) and therefore would not be appropriate for the Board’s delegation process.

The Board has no authority over specific operational matters or complaints about the conduct of individual officers.

The concerns you raise would be most effectively addressed by filing a complaint against the VPD through the OPCC, an independent office for complaints against the police. The OPCC will review your information and determine whether there are allegations of misconduct against specific officers that should be investigated as a public trust complaint through the VPD’s Professional Standards Section.”

We appealed the denial and reiterated that in the intention of our request to speak, that our grievances are not with an individual police officer; they are with the systemic approach to women’s safety and the general attitude and approach to the investigation of sex crimes and violence against women. I pleaded that they reconsider. We were once more denied and directed to the Office of the Police Complaint commissioner, which exists as a filtering system for police complaints. When I contacted the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner I was informed that my complaints fell under a “service and policy” complaint and would be directed, through the OPCC, to the Vancouver Police Board, who had already rejected our requests to speak or hear our justifiable grievances. So was to be done? I had already been told by the Vancouver Police Board that his is not their problem and I’d also been told by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner that should we submit a complaint it will be directed to the Police Board, the very organization who rejected our request to be heard in the first place.

In response to this bureaucratic cycle I wrote my local MLA Melanie Mark to inform her of the situation and request help. Two months later, after my letter had made it through several chains of people, I received a call from the Solicitor General’s office informing me that my best course of action was to take our cause to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, who would then in-turn pass it on to the Vancouver Police Board. This was very frustrating. Why can’t we speak to the board directly? We live in this City. We pay taxes. Why is the issue of women’s safety and the transparency of the Vancouver Police Department such a taboo topic that we have been repeatedly sent in circles searching for someone official who will actually hear out our cause?

Catherine started doing her own research into the statistics of sexual assaults and how our police department handles them. An article she found was illuminating. In 10 years, there were 5200 reported sexual assaults in metro Vancouver. A quarter of these ended in charges being laid. Of that quarter charged, 2.9% alleged attackers were sentenced for their crime. This statistic is frustrating to read on its own, but Catherine went a step further to find out why so many cases like hers were barely worked on. She spoke to the Sergeant of the VPD Sex Crime unit and found out that not only were there 6 people maximum assigned to the sex crime unit at a time, there were only 2 detailed there at the time she was attacked. She also learned that the officer that had been assigned her case was not even truly training to be a sex crime detective, he had been placed there because he was too injured to be on patrol and other investigators had been taken out of the unit and assigned to “bigger investigations”.

Catherine began looking into the departmental budgets and staffing for the VPD to understand how the sex crime unit is prioritized within the organization. After filing freedom of information requests, Catherine’s research was cut short when much of the information in her request was withheld by the VPD. The VPD would not offer their budgets or how many people manned each police unit for “strategic” security. We understand this policy regarding strategic units like gang and narcotics task forces, however most sexual assault is not a strategic orchestrated crime. It is unpredictable and savage. It damages the victim and our society long after the transgression had been committed. These damages are made more severe when our system of law enforcement minimizes the priority of such cases as well as the trauma of the effected individuals. Budgetary transparency must be assured if our protective institutions are to be trusted. This is not a tactical anti-gang task force whose movements must be kept secret: this is the safety and respect of our mothers, daughters and sisters. We feel sharing the budgets of individual departments does not compromise the integrity of the VPD’s strategic security however, by not doing so, it compromises the institution’s integrity and credibility.

There are 30-40 sexual assaults in Metro Vancouver per month. The VPD claims that they do not have the budget to fulfill their own DNA analysis requirements, this is why Catherine and other’s evidence is sent to labs on the other side of the country. On top of this, much of Vancouver’s DNA and evidence analysis is supported by the Provincial government, and under the BC Liberals, more and more support was withdrawn with every successful election. This lack of funding and priority is why 2.9% of those charged with sexual assault in Vancouver go to jail for it. Catherine and I posit the thought that if the VPD can afford a fleet of brand new Dodge Chargers, ATV’s for beach patrol, state of the art tools and technology alongside several SWAT level armored trucks, that one would think the VPD already had a budget and systemic hierarchy that prioritizes the safety and support of women and abuse survivors. To us public safety includes: timely DNA analysis, a staff of sex crime detectives with comprehensive psychological training, and sex crime unit with a staff size that reflects the actual number of reported sexual assaults per year.

atv police

What’s the budgetary allotment for these? How crucial are they to our safety?

Catherine and I have been considering what we should do next. We want to be heard and have our justifiable criticisms taken seriously. We want the Police to do a better job systemically, not just at the individual level. We want to be able to speak at the Vancouver Police Board meeting and have those who are supposed to serve and protect us, listen to us. Listen to women.

Who am I? I am Axel Matfin, a writer, an East Van community member, and ally for those who need help. I have years of experience working in the bar, nightclub, restaurant, and security industries along the way, I have interacted with the Police concerning manners of violence. I have spent years analyzing the structure and attitudes of VPD officers in the field. I have attended and spoken at the Vancouver Police Board meeting regarding community safety and the lack of social integration in East Van by the VPD. I am not an enemy of law enforcement, but I believe that rigorous and consistent reform and reinvention is required to meet the needs of the people in this 21st century metropolis. I do not care to be a figurehead nor am I a person who seeks self-aggrandizing attention, but I do understand that I have the responsibility to speak out when I feel that something is wrong. I believe that the VPD’s current institutionalized approach to engaging and communicating with victims of sex crimes, predominantly women, is fundamentally broken, and must be repaired. I believe that their investigation methods regarding these crimes are weak and not given the budget or priority that they deserve. I believe that the rhetoric and culture of the VPD in relation to these crimes is antiquated and completely devoid of empathy and sensitivity. I believe that the bureaucracy of the Vancouver Police Department prevents and discourages the public from interacting with their law enforcement officials. I see women, especially women of colour, living at the bottom rung of the economy, in need of Police aid, only to have their situations belittled, ignored, or minimized.

Less than a month ago I was tending a bar on the East Side and a VPD officer armed with baton, pepper spray, gun, and armored in kevlar came in, walked up to the bar and said: “I’m looking for a drunk Indian. I mean Native woman.” He didn’t offer any more details about the woman except that she might be wearing a high visibility construction vest and that she’d been missing for two days. This officer must not be aware that many Indigenous First Nations women of east Vancouver work in construction. He seemed tired. He seemed annoyed. He seemed bored. He seemed like he didn’t care. When I asked if there was anyone I could call if this particular woman was found, he shrugged and told me to call 911.

That lack of fundamental empathy in our peace officers is completely unacceptable. It is disgusting, and must change. 

Catherine and I are asking for your consideration and help. We seek policy changes from our Police. We would like to have our concerns heard and taken seriously by our governing body. We would like to speak directly to those in charge of these policies. We do not appreciate being passed from one institution to another, being sent back to the start of the line each time we do so. We want a straight answer. We do not understand why this very important issue was initially eschewed by the very avenue, the Police Board Meeting, that is supposed to give us the people, the taxpayers, the voters, an opportunity to participate in our democracy. Just after the year of #Metoo it is appalling that our concerns have been treated as a nuisance instead of a crucial part of our social dialogue.

Our fundamental complaints with the VPD:

  1. Lack of priority and budget given to the VPD Sex Crimes unit.
  2. Minimizing the severity of the victim’s trauma and actively telling victims to not speak out about their abuse publicly.
  3. Extreme lack of empathy and sensitivity displayed by officers who are interacting/interviewing those who are victims of sex crimes.
  4. Lack of organizational transparency, especially regarding the nearly $300 million budget of the VPD.
  5. Lack of public accessibility to our institution of law enforcement. If a citizen wants to speak to the police about matters of public safety that citizen should not have to go through the OPCC to do so. The Vancouver Police Board exists, in part, to publicly delegate the operation of the VPD and in doing so they are supposed to give the public an opportunity to engage in this process. They have failed to do so.

We want our concerns taken seriously. We feel that many other Vancouverites will feel the same way. Please share this article, file your own official complaint with the OPCC, look into the VPD stats for yourself or simply stand in solidarity with us in our quest to speak at the Vancouver Police Board Meeting.

Catherine Fancioli
Axel Matfin

Dead People Don’t Vote

I spent a good portion of my day trying to get a clear answer out of the City of Vancouver, BC Liberals, BC NDP and BC Green Party concerning an inquiry into their strategies for solving the Fentanyl Epidemic in BC. Representatives from each group repeated the same formulaic rhetoric about “harm reduction” strategies and improving mental health institutions, failing to hear me when I stated that these slow moving bureaucratic institutions will mean little to those in need if people keep dying at the rate they are. Fentanyl is not heroin, it is not a drug that lends itself to harm reduction, it is flat out killing people. There is no way to manage Fentanyl use by an addict because in the de-regulated world of street drugs if a person unknowingly receives it, they can likely end up dead. Clean needles don’t make a difference. It is a random strike upon the user, with no warning signs.

To put this crisis in perspective: in 2016 in New Orleans, a murder center of the USA where there are plenty of hand guns and assault weapons, there were 175 murders. In BC we had 914 overdose deaths. At a certain point we must call a spade a spade, this is no longer just a mental health and #addiction crisis: it is mass murder. Yet our politicians only plan is to lean on the strategies and techniques used to combat HIV/Aids which were pioneered in the Downtown East Side in the 1990’s. When pressed our leadership quotes the phrase “harm reduction” as if it erases the reality of Vancouver’s open air drug market and puts criminals behind bars. I agree that harm reduction centers are still required and that mental health institutions are of paramount importance for people in need of them but this is 2017, and our society needs new methodologies to combat the source of the problem. The Drug trade has changed. Over the past 25 years The City of Vancouver and the #Province has allowed for a climate of illegal drugs and their street level distribution to become normalized to the point where #VPD perceptibly spend more time having coffee in Yaletown or breaking up independent art shows and underground venues than they do actually arresting those responsible for the deaths of so many of our citizens. The #RCMP flat out refuses to present to the public with any angle of their strategy for dismantling these criminal institutions, only appearing when they have drugs on the table to show us so we can hail the conquering heroes. This egregious failure to act is almost as offensive as the lack of validation for the concerns of the public. Stats show that there are less than a hundred drinking and driving related deaths in BC annually, yet massive amounts of municipal, provincial and federal resources are put into road blocks, breathalyzers, and the prosecution of drunk drivers. When street racing became a problem in the early 00’s the BC Provincial government overhauled the entire licensing system of BC to prevent irresponsible youth from getting into car crashes. It has been a year and we have nothing from our leaders. 914 overdoses. 914 dead. 914 people, family members, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. Canadians.

During the April 26th televised BC Provincial Leaders Debate on #CBC the topic of Fentanyl was given 2 minutes and not a single candidate brought up the role of law enforcement in preventing the current crisis that BC faces. Instead of a comprehensive plan to arrest the importers and distributors of street drugs, the City of Vancouver has recently released plans to increase taxes on citizens to raise an additional $3.5 million per year to build a new Community Police Center in Strathcona, as well as funding noxalone training and other initiatives that have yet to be defined. The Non Partisan Association, the minority opposition to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver, does not support this tax increase because they are unsure that throwing money and old strategies at the problem will be able to solve it, potentially just becoming another bureaucratic public money pit. What will a new Policing Center matter if Police aren’t arresting anyone or gathering detailed information dossiers on the neighborhood or criminals themselves? And if they are, why can’t they tell us that is what they are doing? What good will Noxolone do in stopping the lethal drug from getting into the hands of addicts who, let us not forget, are the mentally ill? Vancouver paramedics are run off their feet, facing over hundreds of overdose calls a week, feeling futility in their jobs saving lives of addicts who are likely to overdose again. This methodology is a waste of our public servants time and efforts, as well as a waste of taxpayer money. The strategies of harm reduction were not designed to reduce the harm of a drug like this, and our electorate needs to take heed of that and recognize that this is a lethal epidemic deserving of their priority. We need leaders who do not shy away from scary subjects like crime, for ignoring it does not make it go away.

Odds are you know someone who died of a Fentanyl overdose, or at very least you know someone who knew someone and you feel the climate of fear that exists on the streets of Vancouver. Too long have the institutions of illegal drug distribution gone unchecked and now it is costing hundreds of people, many who are not addicts, their lives. It is time for Law enforcement of the City of Vancouver, the Province of BC and the Federal Government to be accountable to it’s citizens and take action in pursuing, arresting and judiciously prosecuting those that continue to exploit the most vulnerable in our society as well as those who sought solace from their troubles in a very depressing place. The victims of these crimes were hurting no one but themselves, their very desire for heavy opiates a result of our societal failure to address the mental health of those most in need of healing. We treat mental health and addiction like the disease, it is not. These sad bedfellows of the human condition are the symptoms of the horrible infection of crime and economic disparity that has infested itself in the lower mainland of BC. Economic disparity cannot be simply attacked, that is where middle class citizens require true “harm reduction”. However the importers and distributors of these drugs are murderers and it’s time they were treated as such. If it’s not possible for our establishments of law enforcement to peruse and prosecute these criminals, then maybe we as a society need to change our drug laws and the environment of prohibition that fosters such criminal institutions and their black market economy.

I believe a clear message needs to be sent to Vancouver City Hall, Victoria and Ottawa to let them know that this streak of deaths needs to be an immediate priority for the secure future of British Columbians and Canadians. I have been trying for weeks to get an adequate response from any of these offices of government or the potential candidates who represent them, and my voice has fallen on deaf ears or been presented with empty platitudes. So maybe if enough people read and share this status our voices will be heard together. I am tired of our elected body playing petty party politics and economic roulette with our future while those charged with protecting us pick and choose the policing of out dated laws and by-laws while ignoring us and the most vulnerable in our society. This not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of life and death.

“There’s two guys fighting outside” says the Lady in front of my bar.

I run outside to see two five foot something guys facing off against each other. One is a young First Nations guy, the other is a young white guy with his shirt ripped. They’re both bleeding from the face. On the ground there’s a busted beer bottle. Both guys are bleeding from the mouth, although the white guy has a considerable cut on his head. The white guy says something to the effect of “I don’t want to this”, before the First Nations guy calls him a bitch. The FN guy goes at the white guy and the white guy knocks him out on his feet with one punch right on the jaw. The FN guy goes splayed, like he’s falling to make a snow angel, and then I hear his head hit the street. The white guy bolts. The security guard asks the FN guy’s friends if they’re going to help their friend, and their response is “no he’s a bitch” before throwing the downed guy’s hoodie onto him while he convulses on the ground. I’m on the phone with the ambulance because this guy needs one and I don’t have an hour to wait for the VPD. I take the guy’s hoodie and go to put it under his head, then I feel the heavy sticky warmth of pooling blood. He’s got a lot of blood in his mouth, and he’s trying to get up but I keep telling him he’s gotta lay down because we need to make sure he’s ok. The official story was that this guy who’s bleeding all over the place bottled the unsuspecting white guy, then picked the fight and then lost, badly. Some might say that this guy got what was coming to him, but I don’t see it that way. I just see a dumb kid from a rough background who made some bad decisions. When I see this guy laying here on the street I just feel pain and guilt and shame. I wish I could live in a world where white colonialism never did it’s thing to the indigenous people of this continent, and many others. I wish there wasn’t rampant institutionalized exploitive corruption within the government and the native bands themselves. I wish law enforcement could be a worthwhile profession that didn’t enforce stupid laws. I wish that the mental and social health of First Nations people was given as much advocacy as flashy camera friendly pipeline protests parading around Leonardo Dicaprio and Jane Fonda.

I go back inside and wash the blood off my hands, which sadly don’t shake when I see shit like this anymore. I finish work in a fever dream of helping the police with security footage and cashing out before I go home and try to reconcile it all. Justin Trudeau keeps on playing nice guy cards by picking up humanitarian slack, or at least is claiming to do so to heal our international image, but Canada still bleeds. Our cut may not be as deep, but it is infected. We don’t want to talk about this infection. We don’t want to talk about systemic oppression and the hate and resentment it fosters. We don’t want to talk about crime and drugs. We don’t want to talk about the alcoholism epidemic in First Nations people because we’re afraid that we’re going to be called racist for even mentioning the stereotype. We don’t want to talk about the highway of tears or the first nations thirteen year olds that wander around east van at all hours of the morning. We want to ignore all of this, because it hurts, but if it hurts for normal ashamed white people like me, it’s gotta be a lot worse for those that endure this reality. When shit like this happens in front of my face people tell me “You need a different job.”, and I want to smack their rose coloured glasses off their ignorant dip-shit face. If I stopped seeing this stuff, could I then choose to not acknowledge it? How do people live with themselves when they ignore this stuff? I refuse to stick my head in the sand and pretend like these aren’t crucial issues. While our Mayor Gregor Robertson rallies for eventual higher levels of office by appealing to the very clean very friendly very simple environmentalists, think about what he or any other major Canadian Politician has done for the advancement First Nations peoples that hasn’t end up being fickle lip service. Acknowledging the damage done by residential schools is an important step forward, but it is only a fraction of what we as a society must do to even attempt healing and reconciliation-we must recognize the present state of Canada’s relationship to the health and well being of it’s indigenous people, and we must honour them with more than government payouts and cultural platitudes. We owe them far more than that.

Empirical Narrative

ccsw1-copyWe, as a species, are addicted to narrative. We crave stories that explain our own nature to ourselves. Arguably there are no new stories, just new ways to tell the stories that are ingrained into our history and psyche. We tell the same stories over and over again and while I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this on the whole, I believe that we are obliged to make a closer inspection of the stories and characters, also known as properties, that have come to dominate the hearts and minds of twenty first century consumers.

The access point to this essay is Disney, a giant media conglomerate  founded in 1923 by Walt Disney and his brother Roy. Disney pioneered feature animated films before it began to evolve into a full studio which produced a broad range of films both animated and live action. Disney has always utilized fairy tales and folklore that do not fall under specific ownerships or copyright laws. It’s the use of these stories, and their universality, that contributed to making Disney a household name. Over time a chief criticism regarding Disney’s appropriation of stories is that the stories themselves become Disney-a-fied, re-written or re formed to be made more palatable for consumer audiences. What were once enchanting simple parables, unflinching morality tales, and even tragic horrors, became saccharine, family friendly fare. We all have our own feelings about Disney films, whether it’s reverence for their golden eras of musical cartoons, a nostalgic appreciation for their live action adventure films or the typical gushing aimed at the much lauded Pixar, yet for all those cash cows there are two of Disney’s divisions that one could consider bullet-proof: Star Wars and Marvel Entertainment.

Since acquiring Marvel Entertainment (2009, $4.2 Billion) and Lucasfilm (2012, $4.4 Billion), Marvel has gone on to generate over 5 billion dollars in international film gross while in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens made just over 2 billion dollars. These are just films, to say nothing of merchandising. To understand the amount of intellectual property Disney wields, let’s break down the structure of both Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment.

Lucasfilm
-Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as all subsidiary merchandising rights.
-Industrial Light and Magic. Since its founding by George Lucas in 1975 ILM has been a leading developer of special effects for whatever studio will pay for them.
-Skywalker Sound, founded alongside ILM in 1975, is considered the gold standard in film sound design
-Lucasarts, software publisher of all those great video games, from Monkey Island and Grim Fandango all the way to Star Wars: Battlefront.

Marvel Entertainment
-Marvel Comics. Not only does Disney have the ability to dictate what content goes into NEW comics they also own the entire back catalogue of material. Most of this material is not owned by the original creators. Stan Lee did not create most of those characters. He Co-Created most of the popular Marvel Characters with people like Jack The King Kirby (Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man) and Steve Ditko (Spider-Man), though over time Lee has become eponymous with most Marvel creations whether he had a hand in their creation or not. Most superheroes were created under a work for hire contract, in which all original ideas that an artist may create while working for a company, in this case Marvel, belong to the company not the creator. In many cases these creators do not receive proper attribution for the characters and worlds they created, let alone any financial compensation. There are artists who died in hospital beds because they couldn’t pay their bills, because Marvel, in large part due to the greed and ego of Stan Lee who would not arrange for, even though he had multiple opportunities to do so, a reasonable back payment for works which had become invaluable.
-Marvel Studios, you know, the best superhero movies? The cultural id that dominates our popular conversation and polarizes our attention? The tidal wave of popularity that has kept rising since 2008 and has generated billions of dollars. Film. Netflix. Cartoons. Merchandising.

Why do we like this stuff? Why has Star Wars and the Marvel Universe become such an indelible part of our modern cultural experience? In Marvel’s case it’s because they have had over sixty years to build a universe that functions autonomously, relying on inlaid logics, characters and rules to provide a simulated reality that has a range of history near impossible to have completely experienced. Marvel’s characters have a depth of morality and humanity that contains their supreme powers, they are our benevolent new gods. Star Wars is an ongoing opera that projects the story of a never ending war between good and evil, light and dark. Exhaustively documented since Joseph Campbell, Star Wars is the monomyth, or hero’s journey. Stretched, condensed, gender swapped, or tonally reversed, it’s still the same essential story. As long as it still has the word War in the title, the central theme of that franchise will always be evocative of moral struggle displayed with mortal consequences. The Rebellion vs the Empire is the same as the Resistance vs The New Order or the never ending struggle of Sith vs Jedi. We as a culture love to have a conceptual force of oppression to fight against. Both Star Wars and Marvel are intrinsically familiar to just about everyone in the media-consuming world as they connect us to a intoxicating nostalgia for something that may have never existed. These proprietary universes are emblematic of our conceptual resistance against tyranny or our struggle to conquer the evil, not just in the world, but in ourselves. That’s why we love them, they hold up morals, ethics and concepts that seem beyond our depressing terrestrial abilities and willpower. Yet this fandom is problematic, as too many of us love to worship the Jedi and their principles in theory while refusing to advance ourselves beyond the intellectual and social functionalities of a Tusken Raider. It is thick irony that we should pay money and lip service to the concepts of rebellion, or the virtues of super heroics, when we ourselves are complicit in the sustained status quo of celebrating indulgence, hyperbolic ego and greed. These familiar comfortable brands sustain the preservation of the status at the cost of tyranny. The films and their characters are rental beliefs and convictions, their cultural imprint is a collectable cup from 7-11 and a tattoo that reads official fan club.

I am going to see the new Star Wars film and I do enjoy the Marvel movies, but I’m struck with a profound mental pain when I think about either of them and their place in the culture. Star Wars in general, and particularly Rogue One‘s heavily marketed concept of rebels and rebellion is an eternal message, but there’s part of me that can’t help but feel it’s just too well designed for the current state of our planet. Doesn’t everything feel scripted these days? We are craving a rebellion, we’re craving inspiration to get out and change the world, but our methods are flawed and the leadership of our rebels is shrill and entitled. What I wonder is, if the majority’s desires to rally and affect change will be derailed by the haze of masturbatory satisfaction that follows indulging in a cross planetary narrative meant to salve the feelings we’re currently experiencing as a culture. Will Star Wars give us all the rebellion we need? What calls to rebellion are really being made when we buy a functioning BB-8? Are people mentally embracing the complex nuances of American history and identity when they put on a Captain America T-shirt? Do people consider the psychological torture that goes with Wolverine being a super regenerating amnesiac living weapon? Or do they just like the claws? What, you don’t wake up in a cold sweat thinking about how Spider-Man accidentally snapped his perfect girlfriend’s neck, while trying to save her life? The Hulk? Killed thousands of people who got in the way of a temper tantrum or two. Do people really identify with the white conformity of the Empire enough that they’ll get Tie Fighter tattoos or sport bumper stickers mocking the Alderaan genocide? People lose their shit over cultural appropriation, but don’t bat an eye at the idea of dressing up as or identifying with a storm trooper, a literal metaphor for the Nazis. The idea that we so willingly pledge our allegiance to something with WAR in the title is astounding when we claim to espouse so many other high morals and standards. It’s ok gang, this time around it’s the women who are doing the killing, thats equality. The sweeping christmas marketing campaign for Star Wars begins and I’m watching commercials with little kids gleefully shooting down faceless soldiers, rallying their friends to get a lightsaber or blaster and join the fight. In Star Wars, the Empire is a vast intergalactic tyranny that governs with an iron fist, forcing conformity and submission across the universes. In real life, Disney is a vast media conglomerate that presents us with a simple, comfortable, safe, resolvable version of our plight.

We are driven by our desire to engage with stories and narratives which we have become accustomed to, for those are the only things that have ever held any answers in the eyes of the consumer. Our desire for and satisfaction with Star Wars and Marvel has changed these two properties, once considered sanctuary for outsiders and purveyors of the counter culture, civil rights, and advanced thinking made simple, now they are symbols of our willing submission to the placating designs and social narratives of our corporate overlords. When George Lucas created Star Wars, it was about rebellion. It was about tapping in to the eternal struggle of good vs evil. He made a movie that rebelled against many of the sentiments of gloom and doom at a time of rising Cold War tensions. Star Wars was not anticipated to be a popular film, because it wasn’t the way things were done and instead it changed the world. With the success of Star Wars: A New Hope, George Lucas was able to utilize the profits of his merchandising and special effects companies so that he could freely develop his future films, without the interference of the studio systems and their inevitable focus testing. He staked it all on The Empire Strikes Back and I’m sure you can tell me how that turned out. Creative freedom was Lucas’s rebellion and it gave us an inspiring, if not wholly original, story to draw upon. The creative liberty that is engrained in the origins of Star Wars has become a manipulative piece of its identity. We still perceive it as an underdog. As a rebel. Something you’re not supposed to like, but you like it anyway ’cause fuck the man! The stories of Star Wars and Marvel are not written by individuals, with visions of worlds beyond our current imagination, they’re written in think tanks and board rooms, by men and women who have turned the brilliant metaphor of a story into a cold, hard calculation designed to hit every demographic possible. The superheroes didn’t fail, we sold them out.

To clarify, I do not think that the enjoyment of Star Wars and Marvel should be verboten, but I do feel that we should all take pause and consider the implications of placing so much of our cultural interest and faith in two properties that are a representatives of a real world Empire; the only type of empire that has endured the transition into the twenty first century unscathed, the corporate empire. Disney has seen political ideologies come and go, that Mouse blows his nose at Presidents and governments. Our popular and celebrated culture is all that really matters anymore. For what else has the ability to capture the hearts and minds of the populous more so than our art? To deny this would be to say that Harry Potter had no effect on the world’s youth, Adele never made an entire stadium cry or that Emperor elect Trump didn’t play a whole country’s hunger for a villain like a fiddle. It has always been the stories we tell each other that reinforce the narratives with which we approach our lives. It is far easier to escape to a world where great power intrinsically must come with great responsibility than it is to accept the powers and responsibilities we already possess. We yearn to become part of that story from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, where the narrative dictates that we will overcome the nebulous oppression that surrounds us based on faith, dedication and the advice of old, typically white, men. I don’t discourage anyone from embracing fictitious narratives in their personal lives, it can give you hope. It can give you an escape and a reprieve from the cold bitterness of our present reality. But should you choose to represent yourself with the symbols and ideals of the superhero or align yourself with the light or dark side, take pause and consider that in our modern society, our culture is religion, the popular and enduring characters are now the gods who hold sway in our hearts and minds. If the morality and struggle of these heroic characters is worthy of our attention and obsession then should we not pledge our allegiance to those ideals in a way that goes beyond a sitting in a movie theatre lineup wearing a robe and toting a plastic sword, arguing who shot first, or endlessly weighing in on the casting of our new idols or the hiring of the next artistic lottery winner eager to play with big toys and money?

ccsw2-copy

These images are from a phone and internet company in the Philippines, a country who’s President has ordered for the execution of over 5 thousand people since mid 2016.

 

Many will shrug this off as a Scrooge-like humbug, the rantings of a Debbie Downer, but please don’t misunderstand me. I have loved Star Wars and Marvel with all my heart for as long as I have been able to read, but I don’t know if I can continue to reconcile the puppetry of the heroes of my youth as they are used to sway our attention with nostalgia, unconsciously aligning us ever more with the Dark Side.

Stay Positive

ISS-View-Earth

I’m going to save everyone.

How so? I haven’t figured out all the details, but I’m working on it. What are you doing?

We live at a turning point in history. Whatever happens with elections both at home and abroad, we are not bystanders in the destiny of humanity. We, my friends, have the ability to step up and lead ourselves through these times of uncertainty and fear. Now is the time for us to start building a better future. Do not easily ally yourself with political slogans or the lobbyist calls of either the left or right. There is no us and them. Think objectively about the issues presented to you and even have the savvy to use the internet for a little research. Whether you believe in the proclaimed good intentions of our magistrate or not, you should believe in yourselves and each other.

The world need heroes, my friends. The world needs people to grit their teeth, saddle up and ride in pursuit of what they believe in. The world needs people who will never say die and face whatever trite apocalypse the media sells them with a sneer of disdain. These days, of any of the other days I’ve witnessed in my short life, there is so much obvious suffering in the world. There is no truth and there is no justice some would say, but these doubters and the haters simply aren’t trying hard enough. I have found truth in the many faces of love. I have found justice in a self prescribed code of morals and ethics that is guided by my own faith in what’s right and wrong, not at the instruction of some talking head or popular rhetoric. The world needs you heroes. It needs you to fight until your dying breath against fear, apathy and hate. We as humanity must pursue goals that both satisfy our own desires and needs while providing for the welfare of those less fortunate or less capable. In the face of terror we must remain vigilant and honorable. We must look the beast in the eye and stand fast no matter the horror it threatens to inflict. I do not ask of you to bear arms and conduct violence against our fellow human, no instead I demand that whatever it is you do in life you do it well. Play guitar. Draw pictures. Build dog houses. Fight fires. Run marathons. Bake cakes. Rage against the machine. Love everyone and everything in your path. Whatever you do, attempt consideration and compassion for your fellow man. If you feel you are justified in violence, even if you are right, you are wrong. If you believe in anything less than total human equality, you are the villain in this chapter of humanity’s story. Yet, know this, even villains can become heroes in this world, for redemption still exists. Do not conduct yourself and your actions as if you bear no merit upon the world, for you my friends are the only thing that can save it.

We are all superheroes now. If you had an iphone loaded with apps in 1984 you’d be capable of more than anyone could dream of at the time. That technological separation you feel with your parents or grandparents? That’s the rift of history that we’re all caught in. It’s society re-calibrating itself to new technology and new ideas, like in the century before, and whether or not you’re a history buff I bet you know that those days were filled turmoil and death, just like the many days since. The difference is that today in 2016, you’re here, and you’re all super-heroes. The science fiction of our parents days and our childhoods are in fact a reality. If you can imagine it, you can make it happen. I dare you. When you get up in the morning and take the bus or get in your car or don’t even leave the house, I just want you to believe that You can make the world a better place somehow. Just believing it is enough at first, and then you’re not going to be able to avoid it. You’re going to believe that you can save everyone too.

I write books that carry messages. I serve people drinks and entertain them to ease the tedium and grating anxiety of reality. Ultimately I‘m just doing what I can to make the world a better place. I hate the corruption and lies of those that conduct our society, but I don’t want to watch the world burn just to piss on the ashes and claim some sort of rebellion that I don’t understand. Juvenile protestation is so 20th century. Talk is cheap and judging by the internet it’s getting cheaper by the minute, so what we need isn’t more prattle- what we need is action. I’m 28 so if you’re either a decade up or down from me you can probably speak to the confusion and weirdness of our generation, but rest easy in knowing, that it’s always been this way. The world is filled with chaos and uncertainty as the complex metaphysical battle of good against evil rages on, just the same as it ever has. Yet for this confusion and tension, life as we know it has never been fuller. This world floods at the edges with beautiful people, spectacular ideas and those that make all our lives a richer deeper experience. It is necessary to have brave people stand for us as a vanguard against against violence, abuse, inequality and the divisive viral infections of religious and racial hatred that have fuelled the forge of the human war machine throughout history. But before we can ask a soldier to take up arms against another human, the education of their fight must be honest. Our soldiers must know the symptoms of our social diagnosis before they can ever be asked, or authorized, to make the decision to take another’s life. This is an ideal that many would scoff at in the past as egalitarian or naive. The difference is that now, we’re here. The smartest, most advanced, creative, FREE people in the entire GOD DAMNED world. What was all that for? Huh? What was the past 2000 years of bloodshed, racial discrimination, religious bigotry and hatred for? So we could sit on our asses and expect more for nothing? I don’t think so. So whether you’re building a high rise, copywriting some new ad, teaching a university course, treating some kid’s broken arm, helping someone pick out dishrags, struggling with your own addictions or issues, selling someone insurance, learning stairway to heaven in your basement, brokering a high priced real estate deal, butchering a hog or tending bar-when you’ve got a few seconds to spare? The world needs you.
The world needs you to do whatever it is you do. I know you’ve got deep inside you, that thing you can do better than anyone else. I know you’re depressed. I know you’re angry. I know you feel powerless in the face of the soul sapping news that rains down upon us every day. But you can beat it all, I believe in you. You are more powerful than you think and you are no longer shackled to the ideas and dogmas of the past. All your fear. All your damage. All your hatred. All your guilt. All your sin. All these things are powerful, but not as powerful as the harnessed power of your will. The energy that awaits all those who would tempt fate, look the devil of doubt in the eye and dare to achieve greatness. There is healing and absolution for all of us, and no one should be excluded.  There is a rebirth coming for mankind, but it need not be born out of bloodshed or the ashes and the remains of the old world. It can be a sacred union founded on honouring those fallen over history and celebrating our evolution as we move forward to respect the beliefs and cultures that populate our still beautiful planet. Everything that was ever promised to you by preachers, politicians or gods? It’s already in you. They never had it. They could never touch it, they could never take it. Because they are weak, and that’s why they need you. They don’t have friends, they don’t have talents and skills. They are a consortium of liars who have burned every last shred of imagination and magic from their minds, as they only care for themselves and their affiliation with their simple strain of power. Those that would proclaim that they have easy answers or present you with an ultimatum of belief are adept at only lying to convince you that you are weak. You’re not. You’re the most powerful being in the universe. All you have to do to activate your super powers is to reach out and help someone, then you’ll see how high you can fly.

Countdown to liftoff.

BRASS-Illustrated

Art by: Sarah Campbell

In less than a week I’m going to be packing up my shit and hopping in a Van with the dudes from BRASS, Vancouver’s darling punks, and heading on a speedy tour (tentatively titled : The Keep ‘Yo Dick Hid tour) to Penticton, Edmonton and Calgary for the infamous Sled Island Music Festival.

Dates are as follows, lineups are tentative:

June 21st @ Kurt Russel’sVancouver with: Anchoress

June 22nd @ The Royal Canadian Legion, Penticton with: HEDKS & Lost Apes

June 23rd @ The Buckingham, Edmonton with: HEDKS

June 24th @ The Brothel, Calgary with:

June 25th @ Sled Island, The Palimino, Calgary with: Pears

B1

Devon, Tristan, Rory & Eric have allowed me to come along for the journey not just because I’m a pretty cool guy but because they’re hoping that I can re-forge Alberta’s perception of the quartet. Since last tackling ‘Berta they’ve traded up a bass player and written (almost) a whole new album. I’m here to see what happens as they test their mettle on the road a year after the disastrous No Soap Radio tour fell victim to vehicle fires and a major personality malfunction. This year I’ll be taking on the role of Tour Dad as well as documenting as much of the journey as possible. I’m hoping for some video, photographs, audio and of course a lot of writing about the experience. It’s my goal to gather enough memories and materials to write a uncensored book about the tour. This is me getting in the swing of writing about more topical stuff.

Hit me up on the road @AxelMatfin on twitter or instagram!

Hope to see you in Alberta!