the diary thing 
JUST AS I SAT DOWN TO WRITE THIS the doorbell rang. I had seen the Post Office truck pull up and the driver, a young woman with a huge head of curly brown hair, jump out with a fat package, a brick-sized something packed in a padded envelope. From my perch up here by the window I could see that the padding had torn open, and was leaking kapok. I was already on my feet and heading down the first of three flights of stairs when the bell rang.

The fuzzy, gray kapok clung to my housecoat, leaking like powdered blood from the open wound in the side of the envelope. I hefted the package from hand to hand as I walked back upstairs. I knew what it was as soon as I saw the sticker with my address on it.

Gingerly easing the contents out, powdery kapok spilling all over the place, I pulled out a shrink-wrapped set of videotapes, the complete run of episodes for "Jazz", the new Ken Burns documentary series running on PBS next month.

I'm supposed to be writing about the series, after I interview either Burns or his co-producer, Lynn Novick, sometime in the next two weeks. To that end, I've already been sent the big-assed, glossy coffee-table book for the series, and half of the twenty-eight CDs being released by two different music conglomerates for the show. Not a bad haul for one, little 1000-word feature. 

These are the perks that make up for lousy pay, the carrot on the stick that keeps writers working to fill the pages of entertainment sections and glossy magazines. It's been a long time since I've cashed in on this particular gravy train, but hey -- after years writing about jazz, I think I deserve this payback. 

JUST TWO WEEKS AFTER he was voted back into office, our tacky little joke of a mayor was hit by a paternity suit filed by a woman he began an affair with in the late fiftes, and the two adult sons she claims are his children.

You have to understand that the mayor has always made a major deal out of his wife, Marilyn, a shopaholic who was busted for shoplifting a year or two ago, and whose portraits -- as Cleopatra, as Queen Elizabeth the First, as Madame Pompidou -- hang, rendered in atrocious oils, all over their monster home in the suburbs. Mel made his money as a furniture salesman, and his political bones as mayor of North York, a Toronto suburban municipality. No one has ever accused Mel, or his family, of having good taste, and now this sordid little scandal has prompted little more than a wave of eye-rolling and bemused chuckling across the length of the town.

Frankly, Mel always seemed like the kind of guy who had little flings on the side while the wife stood by his side -- as long as the money held out, of course, and it always held out for lucky little Mel, proof that fortune doesn't always reward the wise. It's the kind of thing that, obviously, never entered much into the consciousness of the million or so people who, over the years, could be relied upon to return Mel to power. The worst part of this whole sad interlude isn't the effect it'll have on the city -- frankly, Mel has always run his turf largely by stepping aside and letting developers do their thing, a kind of political aikido maneuver that works well in Toronto -- but that the city, as a whole, is suddenly forced to consider the less-than-palatable image of the mayor having sex.

It began, apparently, while she -- a married woman -- was working as a secretary at one of his furniture stores. It was 1957, and you can imagine the camera rolling past the blonde wood bedroom suites and space-age recliners as the credits roll, when a male voice, in a faintly suggestive, agitated tone, calls out over the p.a.:

"Mrs. Louie to shipping, please."

The camera passes through the frosted glass walls at the back of the store and pans through the four or five desks in the secretarial pool. Knowing glances are passed around as one of the women, a fetching but not stunning young thing, gets up from her desk, passes her hands down over her hips to smooth her dress, and checks her stocking seam as she makes her way past the other desks on her way to the back room. The door shuts behind her, and a giggle breaks out in the room. One woman, a bit older than the one who just left, hasn't looked up from her typing the whole time. The giggling dies down when everyone notices that she's just sitting there, her fingers resting on the keys of her machine, silently sobbing.

The camera cuts to the storeroom. The guys in back are out on deliveries, and the garage doors have been locked. The sounds of grunting and squealing can be heard as the camera pans past piles of boxes and drifts of headboards and mattresses. Finally, the camera stops in a space carved out amongst the boxes, where a bed has been put together on the warehouse floor, and a bare mattress supports a couple copulating desperately. His pants are around his ankles, her dress hiked up, one stocking undone from its garter straps and collapsing in a diaphanous bunch past her knee. His buttocks, pumping mechanically, are covered in a thin growth of sweat-coiled hair. A chorus of grunts and squeals, seeming to answer each other in peculiar kind of dialogue, is suddenly cut short when he barks out a single word.

"Ungh, Marilyn!"

He knows what he's done as soon as he's done it, and they stop at once. The camera cuts to a close shot, over his shoulder, as she looks up at him, her hair a mess, lipstick smeared across her cheek and down to her jaw, her eyes wide with shock and the first hints of rage. She scrambles out from underneath him, making small noises -- "Hmm. Hmm. Unh. Unh. Nuh." -- with her mouth closed.

"Baby, I'm sorry." he says, still lying on the mattress, holding his torso up with his arms, his pelvis pressed against the satiny, flowered quilting.

"Oh my God. This is a mistake. I just knew this would be a mistake, Mel." She's barely opened her mouth to say these words as she struggles with her stockings, the dress, a search for a shoe.

"Baby, what can I say to make it up to you?" His voice is desperate. He notices that he's still in flagrante delicto with a piece of his inventory, and springs up from the bed, grabbing for his trousers and boxers, pulling them up and frantically tucking in his sport shirt before realizing that it's the guayabera he'd bought in Florida the summer before, and meant to be worn over pants. Only this last thought makes him take his eyes off of her. His anxious gaze is a mix of fear and need. Already he's running a mental balance sheet that calculates the cost of a necklace, a month of dinners, a vacation, even, that might buy off the inevitable, at least for a year or so.

You see what I mean? So sordid. So many cliches.

"While we have only recently learned that Mel Lastman is our father, he has known about us all our lives and knew of the poverty we have suffered," Todd Louie said Friday.
- from today's National Post. Not surprisingly, money seems to have been a key motivator in his sons' claim to paternity. It might do "Toronto the Godd" a bit of actual good to confront this tawdry little scandal for awhile. It might cure the city of its longstanding addiction to self-righteousness.

Some gloating, and a little fantasy about the the private life of our mayor. Not for readers under 18 years of age.

WE'RE HAVING CHRISTMAS at our place this year. It's my year, by which I mean that my family holds precedence this year, since we spent last Xmas in Nova Scotia with K.'s family. It'll be like this for a few more years at least, until our own family -- by which I mean us, with children -- starts to hold enough specific relational weight to become our own familial axis.

I suppose this year is sort of a dry run. My sister and her husband usually hold the festivities at their place, but the stress of a particularly traumatic year -- capped off with an ugly experience with a tenant, a ne'er-do-well musician type who brought his bar brawls back to their home -- has made them unhappy out in the small town they made their home barely two years ago. We would, it was suggested, be a great favour if we could take over this year. K. was thrilled at the idea, and so this year's Xmas is our first as proprietors.

I've cooked holiday dinner before -- I remember a sweaty day spend in a tiny kitchen in London, cooking a bird and a ham with all the side dishes for Paul and Geraldine three years ago, and I've helped my sister with Xmas dinner for years, now. I didn't take part in the lobster cooking last year out in Nova Scotia, but then again, what can you do besides toss the big old sea-monsters in the pot and try not to think about it?

So we're going to have a tree, and decorations, and a few frantic days of cleaning. K. is particularly happy to have the tree, since I've managed to put the damper on it for a few years, citing a climb-happy cat that would certainly send it tumbling to the ground. That cat, our poor little Nato, died this year, only to be replaced by Tado, our little tank of an eight-month old kitten, the most muscular and trouble-making animal I've ever owned. She's already taken care of a big, beautiful Moroccan bowl in the kitchen and a glass-topped coffee table in the living room. I can only imagine what she'll do with the tree. 

I USED TO LOVE CHRISTMAS. It's been years, though, since I invested any energy into anticipating the holidays with anything more than dread. I adored the season as a child, and continued to put a lot of energy into it into my twenties, but the trough of self-pity I fell into after the end of my first major relationship, followed by years of frustrated singlehood -- not to mention working in retail, as a toy salesman, at that, for many years -- pretty much drained the season of any special quality other than a wry excuse to get plastered and complain about the year just passing.

There's nothing original -- or particularly endearing -- about that, and it wouldn't wash with K., anyway. She loves the holidays, and puts a lot of energy into it. It would be churlish -- and I would, by extension, be a churl -- if I persisted in bitching and moaning from the first appearance of icicle lights till the last wobbly chime of the new year. God knows that the sorry state of freelancing in January and February will give me more than enough reason to complain. More later.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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