Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pussy bread and other gender-specific products of the 21st century




Surely this has to be the most gimmicky of gimmicks. It's bad enough that little girls are coerced into playing with plastic princesses and Hello Kitty, while boys are blowing things up with whatever-it-is-they-play-with-now (my 8-year-old grandboy is too busy reading at  high school level). Now we have to EAT that way, too. I can't eat a "man's bread" without being seen as, probably, butch, if not outright lesbian (assuming lesbians are manlike in any way except being basically human). Anyway, gender-specific bread is selling, this I know, for the Huffpost tells me so:





Bread For Women Is The Food Product You Didn't Know Was Necessary

The Huffington Post Canada | By Rebecca Zamon

Women's bodies might have different nutritional requirements than men, but did anyone ever expect that to extend to bread products?

Stonemill Bakehouse, a Scarborough, Ont.-based bakery that creates "health and well-being breads," is being called out for selling gendered breads — specifically, a bread meant just for women (sold in pink packaging) and a bread geared towards men (in green packaging).

On the bakery's site, it breaks down the various nutritional elements of each loaf, the ingredients of which are quite similar — but when it comes to how it's advertised, the divides begin to appear. The women's bread boasts of being a source of calcium and magnesium, and "70 calories per slice." Meanwhile, the main difference in the men's bread is a smaller amount of sodium — and a reordering of benefits like protein and fibres to place them higher on the list.

In an email to the Toronto Star, Gottfried Boehringer, president of Stonemill Bakehouse, wrote that the bread's makeup was meant to be for the purposes of both "nutrient needs" and "nourishment."

But is that really necessary in a loaf of bread?

"Women do need calcium and iron more than men," says registered dietitian and HuffPost blogger Abby Langer. "But when I hear about it in bread, I always have to question bioavailability. Are people going to absorb more iron or calcium because they're eating fortified bread? The answer is usually no."

The company sells other breads with names like "Calorie Control" and "Body Balance," and as Langer points out, bread has long been a product that's had nutrients added to and taken away from it.

"These claims that they're making are really no different than any other bread," she says. "But I would not recommend relying on a bread for your vitamins and minerals."

Instead, this appears to be more of a marketing tactic, preying on the supposed importance women place on weight loss and men. It calls to mind similar to Sexcereal, another Canadian product that has male and female versions for "bio-functionality" (hers in pink, his in red).

As it turns out, that could come back to haunt the company. As the Globe and Mail reported last year, women are increasingly turned off when products meant specifically for them come in a shade of pink.


. . . Alrighty then, let's just extend that notion a little further. And it's surprising just how far it will extend.



A GALLERY OF GENDER-SPECIFIC FOODS






Female croissant




Male croissant





Female pizza





Male pizza





Female potato




Male potato




Female eggplant




Male eggplant



Female sausage



Male sausage




Female grapefruit




Squiiiiiiiiiiiissssshhhhhh. . . . . 


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Ghost of Wesley Hall





(From a site called Eerie Places: Haunted Windsor and Essex County)

Ontario - Chatham - Park Street United Church - A tall man dressed in black has been seen at night running through a room called Wesley Hall. Two janitors had seen him. The odd thing was, was that the motion detectors were on. On another occasion, the same man was seen by a teenager playing hide and goes seek in the sanctuary. Also, in a certain storage room near the gymnasium, an intoxicating smell can be detected.




OK then. This might just be one-of-your-average, run-o'-the-mill ghost sightings. Most of the strange goings-on listed on this site really aren't so strange. But who is this mysterious man-in-black running around Wesley Hall?

I think I might know.






Eons ago, I wrote about the minister of my church, Rev. Russell Horsburgh, and the havoc he wreaked on a small-town congregation in the early 1960s. This had such a deep impression on me that I based a character on him in my second novel, Mallory. Who knows why the good folks at Park Street United hired a man like Horsburgh: he was a firebrand who believed in civil rights and actually allowed "negroes" into the church (and not just as cleaning staff). He  held meetings and discussion groups about controversial issues instead of sweeping them under the rug. As if that weren't bad enough, soon he had marshalled the listless young people's group into a passionate affair, which turned out to be a mite too passionate.



















I was only eight or nine when all this happened, and my parents were trying to protect me, I guess, or else just get me to shut up, so I had to piece together whispered fragments: "psychopath," "in league with the devil," "what they found in the church," "liquor bottles, cigarettes. .  .and worse." There was national coverage of the scandal as Horsburgh was thrown in jail, tried, and found guilty of leading juveniles into immorality, vagrancy and delinquency.







I don't know how long he spent in jail, but a few years later he died of cancer, all his holy fires spent. He had a group of loyal supporters who in later years claimed to have exonerated him and found him completely blameless, the victim of a witch hunt, but by then it was too late.

Personally, I think Horsburgh was a megalomaniac and a sociopath. I remember him as a big, tall, scary man in black who harangued the congregation and literally pounded on the pulpit as he drove his points home. He once (infamously) printed Martin Luther's "casting my pearls before swine" speech in the church bulletin and signed it with his own name. ("Someone" - ? - had x'ed it out before it was mimeographed, but it was easy to read the original by holding it up to a window. Such goings-on.)




Do you believe in spooks? Ghosts, things that pound pulpits in the night? This account, full of spelling mistakes, may just be a hoax playing on a dark bit of Chatham history which the townsfolk would rather forget. In fact, if you asked anyone about it even 10 or 15 years later, they would likely have denied any knowledge of it. I once tried to hunt down a copy of The Horsburgh Affair, a book someone wrote to defend him, and it had to be dredged out of the inactive vaults of the Vancouver Public Library. Not exactly a bestseller, though I do remember a copy floating around our house in the book-lined den in about 1965.  As I recall, the book is exceedingly poorly-written and doesn't prove anything.




Oh, about that "intoxicating smell" in the storage room near the gymnasium. . . well, this is just too funny, isn't it? For one of the more vile rumors about Horsburgh was that he encouraged his teenage reprobates to partake of illegal substances in the church basement. I don't remember a gymnasium in the church, but maybe they added it when Dufferin Hall was torn down and turned into a parking lot for the dental offices and chiropractors who had invaded the main church building. (This was when the proposed Country Music Hall of Fame and the indoor parking lot for a local motorcycle club had been vetoed, along with other "unseemly" options which we can only imagine.)

http://www.cktimes.ca/archives/column/11/9271.html
http://www.cktimes.ca/archives/column/11/9302.html




I attach a couple of links to a very well-researched article from the Chatham Daily News which I found a few years ago. This was the only detailed information I could find on the subject. The article is largely sympathetic towards him, an understandable attitude in light of the small-town primness of the times and the fact that most people never knew about the strange butts, empty liquor bottles and used condoms the (black) cleaning staff found on the floor of Wesley Hall.




(I just thought of something. The way that ghost-sighting report was worded, it's unclear whether it was that teenager in the sanctuary who was playing "hide and goes seek", or if in fact it was the Good Reverend Scary-boo Horsburgh himself. And if so, playing with whom? With the Ghost of Christmas Past, or the deceased maiden lady clerk at the Metropolitan store who sold goldfish for 15 cents, or that well-known reprobate of abandoned church sanctuaries, Ebeneezer Screwed?)

Second, or third thoughts: I don't know what possesses me to google certain things - insane curiosity, maybe. Though the pickings on Horsburgh are still lean, they're better than the zero of a few years back. I did find an article about his triumphant return to Chatham after being acquitted of all the sex charges. The name Vellinga came up, which made my hair stand on end - a name I haven't heard since my Chatham days, though they weren't people I knew well. There was a sort of high back barrier of a fence behind our garage, and the Vellingas lived on the other side of it. So. Horsburgh had supporters, all right, even the Vellingas. But what weirded me out even more was this picture:




I didn't bother trying to remove the watermark because the figure is too repugnant to me. The caption was "Still trying to help teenagers". I wrote a whole novel about how this man devastated and destroyed countless teenagers, so there's just a touch of irony here. You don't often get to capture the devil in a photograph.


Haunted: the home town that lives in my head





We lived at 20 Victoria Avenue, Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Such a long handle, and a strange place.


I just had the urge to dig out some photos of the place. Plenty strange, but a beautiful old Edwardian-era house previously owned by the unmarried Terry sisters.


Since I first posted a different version of this piece a couple of years ago, a wealth of old Chatham photos has emerged from the vast wonderland of Google images. Thus fuzzy memories are brought into sharp relief, a new phenomenon that must be changing the human brain in some fundamental way (oh, THAT was what the church looked like! I thought it had windows on that side. Etc.) But nobody has noticed that yet. When I hear even the most insignificant names attached to Chatham, I get the queerest feeling, almost an ecstasy, but at the same time a longing so intense that it scares me. Oh, I want to go back, go back to when it was simpler, when milk was delivered by horse and wagon and Milky the Clown entertained us instead of Spongebob and Phineas and Ferb.






Plenty of the old houses in Chatham looked haunted, and very ugly. I used to wonder how anyone could live there. I remember sloshing along in rubber boots, walking home to have lunch (fried eggplant, if I was lucky) and watch Popeye. These were the vintage Popeyes made in the early 1930s, which I didn't see again until I found the DVD re-release a couple years ago.


It's all a pastiche or jigsaw or something. Making story means imposing order, usually, an order that really isn't there. So I won't make story today. Wait a minute. These weren't boots at all, but boot covers, something like the ubiquitous "galoshes" (talk about onomatopoeia!) that we all wore to protect our shoes. They leaked like mad, but that's what we did. Ladies wore little plastic bonnets to protect their hair, something like a shower cap.






I remember a bit of a song about pigeons with pink feet. Never mind. A capital ship for an ocean trip was the Walloping Window Blind. . .


Sugar beets. I remember the burny intense smell of sugar beets being processed into sugar. It reminded me of my Mum making something delicious called Burnt Sugar Pudding, a caramelized confection with a velvety texture. In those days, no one had to limit emissions in any way. There was the Lloyd (no kidding, it was really called Lloyd!) jute bag company. I didn't know what a jute bag even was until someone told me, "Dummy, it's a burlap sack."


And then there was Darling's, the most hideous smell in the world. This was most evident on the infamous sweatbox days of a Southwest Ontario summer, when the fumes were held down by a heavy lid of humidity. It was stomach-turning, a mixture of guts and hides and bones. They used to tell me it was a slaughterhouse, but no slaughterhouse could smell that bad. Later on my brother told me it was a rendering plant, i.e. glue factory: so maybe that's why no one told me the truth, so I wouldn't scream with horror that horses were being melted down so our postage stamps would stay on.






"Horse glue,"my husband said 200 years later. I thought about it. I was licking the boiled-down gluten of an old horse, maybe a retired racehorse with a blown tendon. It didn't bear thinking about.


What else?


thump-thump, thump-thump. . . no, more like a "stock-stock-stock-stock", some sort of factory. God, Chatham seems now like it seethed with industry.


Plack. Plack. A neighbor, an old man named Salem Aldiss, used to take a flexible board and bend it back and let it snap on the cement. Hordes of starlings would shoosh up and blacken the sky, but soon they'd be back on the trees and powerlines, craaawwww! craaaaaaaw!craaaaaaaaaaw-ing in a vast creepy choir and leaving splats of guano that was most unpleasant to try to remove.






I think I bit my neighbor, it's so long ago. Shawne Aitken, Mr. Aldiss's granddaughter, used to come in the summer to stay with her grandparents. She lived in Sault Ste. Marie. I loved Shawne and maybe even had a mild crush on her, but when I was very very little I bit her I think. My mother was required to march me over to her house (only two houses down, not a long march) and apologize. Then Shawne, still a little weepy, gave me a sucker, and we were friends again. (Purple. The best sucker in the bag.)


I thought I was the only child who'd bitten someone in the history of the universe. That memory was squashed so far down in the "shame" bin that, like compacted paper or Jurassic mineral layers, it won't even come out properly. Maybe it's just as well.


There were two Pauls in kindergarten, Paul Sunnen and Paul Tunks. I didn't like Paul Tunks very much, he was fat and obnoxious, but I was in love with Paul Sunnen because he was thin and romantic, and a diabetic. I wasn't even sure what that was - it was called "sugar diabetes" in those days - but  there were whisperings that he had to have needles. We all sat cross-legged in a circle embedded in the linoleum floors of the kindergarten room, and I always sat directly across from Paul Sunnen. We drank milk out of weird-looking little glass bottles and had to have a "milk ticket" to get it.






In kindergarten at McKeough School, we had two elderly spinster teachers, Miss McCutcheon and Miss Davy. In my memory, they are about nineteen feet high. My mother was tall as a sequoia. I remember hanging on to her apron and looking up, far up. Family legend has it that one day my mother said to me, "You don't like me." I answered, "You not bad." This sums up our entire relationship.


What else? Ann Peet, who could be nice to me or awful. They were Dutch and lived next door. They were poor in a much-mended sort of way, but clean and presentable, which my mother approved of. There were a lot of kids, Annie and Susan and Charles and Brian and. . Garnet, named after the mayor, Garnet Newkirk I think. Garnet John Cornelius Peet. When he was born, Ann went door to door to tell everyone, telling us his name was Garden John. Ann's father was in the war in Holland and told stories. Once he told her that the people were so hungry in occupied Holland that a woman ate her baby.






All this somehow made its way into Mallory, my second novel. Not sure how it evolved into such an autobiography. Anyway, Mr. Peet (Cornelius: did anyone call him Corny?) had pigeons, and I liked to climb over the (actual) white picket fence in our back yard and watch them reproduce. I had no idea what was going on and one day asked Mr. Peet what they were doing. "Dancing," he said, with a sly smile. One day I saw him bring home a live chicken in a jute bag (probably from Lloyd's). He grabbed its neck and took a knife and sliced its head off. The chicken's body flapped and convulsed all over the yard, while the beak on the severed head opened and closed.


My parents had dirty books. Under my Dad's underwear in the bureau drawer. My God, I must have had nerve. When they were both at choir practice, I would burrow around and find them. One was called Ideal Marriage and didn't say very much. Another one, much more dirty, was called ABZ and was a sort of encyclopedia of sex, originally published in Sweden or somewhere. There were whole pages that were blanked out that said, "This page has been removed by the publisher for violating obscenity laws," or something like that. They didn't just edit it out, they obliterated it. My Dad sold books and would sell Ideal Marriage to someone under the counter, but where the hell did this one come from - and, more to the point, what the hell was fellatio?






Oh, don't let's get into sex and Carmen Ferrie (she's probably still out there somewhere and is still red-haired and funny and smart and popular). She told me stuff, but I simply didn't believe it. Jesus! Even though I already knew from experience what an orgasm was, it was hard to believe that people would actually want to do that stuff.


I will leave horses aside, as I've covered them thoroughly in other posts. I will also have to leave Bondi for now, though it was a rapturous two weeks out of the year. Bondi hasn't changed a whole lot in all those years, and is still run by the same family, which somehow gives me hope.


Stamping on puddles with the little plastic boot-covers that fastened with a button and a piece of elastic. Plash.Stamp. And best of all - the spring flood, when the pitiless endless aching Ontario winter finally let go and released several tons of water all at once. It shooshed and roared. The street was like rapids. Some of the bigger sidewalk hollows still had ice over them, and it was pure ecstasy to stomp them and see and feel them shatter under your feet. Stamp. Crunch.






Around the corner, oh my god there was a little hill in the sidewalk! A little drop. It seemed like a thousand feet down. I was probably three and riding a tricycle. Is that drop still there? Back then a three-year-old was given complete freedom outside, not even watched. I couldn't ride up the hill and had to drag my tricycle up the grass, but I did it over and over again.


There was a strange church on the corner that said Jesus Saves, the kind of church we didn't go to, thank you very much. Too much singing. There was a sort of bar at the front entrance, and I'd hang off it like a sloth and pretend I was riding a horse that I called "Bet".





Oh and, the pervert in the park. When we were pre-teens, Shawne and I in those endless sweatbox summers went to Tecumseh Park because there was a swimming pool (kind of) and baseball games. I hated baseball but went with her anyway because it was something to do. There was a man, this guy. He had a funny smirky smile. He was sort of like "The Big Fat Man" of our very early childhood, a version of the Boogie Man (a rather fat elderly gentleman whom I am sure was completely harmless. When he saw me, he always said, "Hello, boy.") This guy, the funny smirky guy who looked a bit like Lee Harvey Oswald, just loitered around. He was always just out of eyeshot, and we giggled and ran away, having fun. Jesus, we could have been raped or killed. One time, just one time in the Chatham Daily News, there was a one-paragraph story about a paper boy who had been sodomized (how is this possible? But it's true) by an unknown stranger.






I retain memories of Chatham and feel a kind of bliss, which is weird because my childhood was anything but blissful. My Dad's drinking slowly and inexorably escalated until he became a staggering, booming tyrant. My older sister refused to believe any of my stories. He was a fine upstanding man, a wonderful father. But she hadn't been around him for ten years. She had gone to Europe, as far away as she could get, the other side of the world, even speaking another language that none of us knew. He sent her money. Briefly she acknowledged his alcoholism in a letter, and once told me she found him "oppressive", but she took it all back when I told her I had been sexually abused. The wagons went in a circle, and like all oppressive patriarchs, he was once again crowned with many crowns.


Dylan Thomas, you were wrong, this stuff is all shit, and jumbled as hell. I don't want to make story today. This is my life. I somehow came out of all this jumble. Branch led to branch. It's amazing I am still connected to one friend from those days, a little surreal. All this came from the rather ghastly sight of McKeough School, which I never really looked at because I was too busy marching in to military music.





Post-blog observings: I just realized, as I dug out a previous post about my old church being haunted by the notorious Russell Horsburgh, that all of Chatham-Kent and its surrounding communities is thick with apparitions. No kidding, there are ghost tours you can go on. When my friends and I walked by those old Gothic-looking brick buildings on Victoria Avenue, it would not have been much of a stretch to imagine they were haunted. But I never heard of any ghost tours. My own flirtings with the paranormal have never lead me anywhere significant - nothing has really happened, as far as I am concerned, to convince me that it's anything more than wishful thinking and/or my imagination. We all long to know what is on the "other side", and I suppose being a ghost is better than being nothing at all. Though I can see them wafting in and out of the windows of McKeough School (above), which is supposedly being renovated and used as a heritage site, I kind of hope they stay out of my house. Go back to Chatham where you belong!





Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron - An American In Paris




Going with Gershwin, going wherever this Gershwin thing is gonna take me, I'm reminded of one of my fave movie bits: the sensuous, incredibly acrobatic ballet from An American in Paris. The trumpet solo in this version blows all the rest out of the water, forever. Hard to describe, really - you just have to listen to it - but it just has more - balls to it, more imperious sexuality, more Gene Kelly animal physicality. As I've said before, I never associated Gershwin with sexuality (though with this shining steed of a solo in my memory, I don't know how I could have thought it). 

Uan Rasey - does that name ring any bells? Not here. But he was one of the unsung heroes in MGM movies, one of those top-flight musicians who, instead of plodding along in the same groove with a symphony orchestra for decades, found himself providing the sound track for our lives. I don't even know how you pronounced his name, and he died at 90 a few years ago, but God, he made this number, made it racy, a little tom-cattish, finding misted midnight corners in it, nuances no one else could provide. 

I still think of Gershwin as asexual - the princely bearing, the Hapsburg lip, the "Gershwin is in the car" approach to the world - but from somewhere, or out of nowhere, this vibrating, brassy fire.

Who the hell is Mortdecai (and why?)




You know, folks, it's rare that I see a movie with the kind of reviews this one got (see excerpts from Rotten Tomatoes, below). Apparently Johnny Depp has been on a real losing streak. I was puzzled over why he strapped a dead crow to his head to play Tonto in the recent weak update of The Lone Ranger. This one is even more puzzling. I'm not sure I want to know what it is about, but it looks like it's about 2 hours too long for these particular critics. Once Siskel and Ebert claimed they wanted to kill themselves rather than sit through one particularly abominable movie (I think it was called  She's Out of Control). I am sure at least some of these critics wanted to take long (two-hour?) washroom breaks or just sprint for the exit, making up the review out of whole cloth, as I am sure they do anyway.





When I blathered on about making The Glass Character into a movie, an idea which was ridiculed and shot down so quickly I don't even know how it got back on its gasping, quivering feet, everybody said, "Oh, it should be Johnny Depp." Johnny Depp is now well over 50 years old, and while those Cherokee cheekbones have served him well, in the book Harold is barely 30. Johnny looks nothing like Harold, not even close. Zachary Quinto was my first pick, and he still might pull it off, and Jake Gyllenhaal was in second place, though his look is pretty far off (except for. . . those lips). But Johnny. He has yet another stroke against him now. It's sad, because he has turned in some interesting if over-quirky work over the years. I liked him on 21 Jump Street, myself, when he played a rogue cop. But Harold? No matter how cute his Keatonesque antics in Benny and Joon, he just won't make it - in particular, not after this.






Full Review… | January 23, 2015

ScreenRant
With art-heist caper Mortdecai, Johnny Depp tries his darnedest to start a kooky Austin Powers-like franchise with a side of bumbling Insp. Clouseau. But dash it all if it isn't a crashing bore, old bean.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Toronto Star
 Top Critic
[Mortdecai] fails on just about every level, so committed to its ridiculous premise that it doesn't bother to step back and recognize what an unholy mess it is.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015




Grantland
 Top Critic
Stale, strained and sadly dismal considering all parties involved, Mortdecai wants to be a globe-trotting roguish romp crossing the globe in a bespoke suit, but it feels more like a brandy-soaked nap in grandad's threadbare housecoat.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

About.com
Depp's strenuously unfunny performance turns a frivolous caper comedy into a grim death march to the closing credits.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Newsday
 Top Critic
Mortdecai is content to stroll casually and unassuredly through its paces, taking long, long intermissions for Depp to whimper and giggle.





Full Review… | January 23, 2015

CraveOnline
A sh-tshow from start to finish, a theoretically whimsical comedy wherein the actors physically begin to shrink as it goes along, as if they realized what they had gotten into just a beat too late to possibly escape.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Deadspin
Go if you're a raging Anglophile with an afternoon to burn or you just love Depp, even at his hammiest. Otherwise, don't point this thing at you.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Entertainment Weekly
 Top Critic
It's heavy on doses of double entendres, slapstick and zaniness, but completely bereft of any laughs or true entertainment value. (Full Content Review -- Sex, Profanity, Violence, etc. -- for Parents also available)
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Screen It!
When it gels, it's genial. When it doesn't, it drags. And drags.



Film School Rejects
If you have an allergy to pure goofballery, this is not the movie for you. Spend your Depp bucks elsewhere.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Blu-ray.com
What looked funny in small, trailer-sized doses turns into an interminable death march when applied to an almost two-hour run time.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

CinemaBlend.com
There was no laughter, just grim resolve on the part of those of us professionally obligated to stick it out through the bitter end.
Full Review… | January 23, 2015

Beliefnet
[An] absolutely bewildering waste of time, talent, energy and money.


POST-BLOG POST-MORT(DECAI)

Could not resist adding this morbid little tidbit. Much has been made of Depp's box office decline in recent years. It strikes me that he isn't being careful enough what he takes on - just has to work all the time, for reasons of his own. Maybe he's broke. It amazes me how these stars go through money.