I’d say please (please). I’m your man.

When we were young, my parents would take us on long winter road trips to Red Mountain and Silver Star. We didn’t do much as a family, but we skied.

The five of us would cram into our Toyota Turcel, packed to the hilt with equipment, clothes, blankets, pillows, and enough mandarin oranges to stave off scurvy for one hundred years. These trips also marked the yearly détente in my parents’ hard-lined approach to all things junk food, and over the course of the drive, my sisters and I would patiently await our gifts: a big bag of plain Ms. Vicky’s potato chips, Turtles chocolates, and homemade gingerbread cookies.

If heaven could be defined.

Other than the lingering smell of sea salt and a constantly queasy tummy (as the middle child I was forced to endure the middle seat), the thing I remember most about these trips is the music.

The wonderful music.

My family I would listen to tapes and tapes and tapes of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and The Beatles. The Rankin Family and Stan Rogers. Boney M and Enya. Our tastes were eclectic as they were magic.

Because with so little to define us, they did just that.

I campaigned constantly for The Commitments Soundtrack, but my musical candidate was a consummate loser to Leonard Cohen. And every time I lost, I would beg the powers that were to “please.”

Please stop playing Leonard Cohen.

Unfortunately, they didn’t, and I suffered in silence.

I hated how his songs were too much. Couldn’t stand the way they made me feel. Drained of all emotion, and yet somehow still full to bursting. Slightly sweaty. Squirmy and shirty. Filled with a restlessness. An energy that was only exacerbated by the car’s hot and cramped quarters.

It was music that made me want to run away.

The only song that I could stand was “I’m Your Man.” I liked the synthy keyboards and the other moody instruments that, try as I might, I could never place. How it was more spoken word than song. The slow raspy voice. I liked how it had an immediate and sobering effect on my fellow passengers, forcing us all to pause.

To stop our frenzied fights. Breath life into our suffocating silences.

It made me feel warm. Cozy. I imagined dancing, slowly, as a grown-up.

But after grade seven we stopped going on ski trips.

After grade ten my parents divorced.

And I don’t know when I stopped listening to Leonard Cohen. I didn’t even think about him until after I started dating Marc.

We were up at his own parents’ cabin on the Sunshine Coast and we were looking through their record collection. We were trying to decide what to play next. We were slightly drunk and eating peanut butter sandwiches.

“We need something that we can dance too,” I said.

He pulled out Songs of Love and Hate.

“Not Leonard Cohen,” I heard myself say. I didn’t even stop looking through the other albums. “I hate him.”

Marc looked at me dumbfounded. “No one hates Leonard Cohen.”

“I do,” I said. “We used to listen to him all of the time on road trips. He’s depressing.”

Marc looked me in my eyes. Long and hard. And then he put the album away. “Okay,” he said. “We can play something else.”

And we did.

For years and years, we always played something else.

The Faces. Cat Stevens. Bob Dylan.

In the spring of 2010, I defended my thesis and bid adieu to graduate school. Marc and I celebrated on the Coast. Driving along the highway, I closed my eyes to the late afternoon sunfall. It felt like, for the first time in my entire life, I was no longer worried about school.

The next morning, I crawled out of bed and, alone, slid into the quiet of the house.

I tiptoed to the record player. Paused. Took out Songs of Love and Hate.

I held the cover lightly in my hands. Stared at the cover. Turned it over. Took out the record and placed it over the spindle. Set the needle.

And listened.

Mouth those words like you mean it

There are times in my life where I think to myself, “holy hell I was one weird kid.”

This happened a couple of days ago, as I sat in my office regaling one of my co-workers about the time in grade six when I wrote an award-winning speech on the life of Evita Peron. At the time I was unabashedly obsessed with the movie musical starring Madonna and Antonio Bandaras, and my presentation was written from the perspective of one of Evita’s childhood friends (played by me). In my zeal to create a compelling narrative, I fictionalized a series of letters that (I liked to imagine) the two women had sent back and forth between the time she moved to Buenos Aires in 1934 before her death in 1952. I even cried at the end, reminiscing about our lost childhood innocence.

It was pretty nuts.

(The reason that I was telling this tale in the first place was because I felt my work aesthetic that day to be very “Evita-esque” and had asked the same co-worker how she thought the two below photos compared):


“Hair needs less bangs, and more height,” she rightfully critiqued.

Then we laughed like drains.

After we regained our composure, I told her about my speech, and my ever-enduring love for the Evita musical.

She again started laughing, before shaking her head and asking the oft-repeated question: “how did you end up being this way?”

To which I answered, as always, “I have no friggin clue.”

I was just a weird kid who was into weird things.

But not only that – I really, really liked the things that I liked, and even though I desperately wanted to fit in, I could never truly let my desire for social approval and acceptance outweigh my desire to be strange as hell.

Case in point: every year my elementary school held a day totally dedicated to airbands (or lip synchs if you will.)

It was a huge thing. Kids had to audition in front of their class and the king of teachers himself – the formidable Mr. Bell – in order to get on the program.

The best outcome one could hope for was to be cast in the both the morning and afternoon shows, which meant you were out of classes for the entire day and were able to showcase your routine for multiple audiences on different shows.

It was the best.

In grade five I was a new student to the school and, despite loving to be on stage and wanting desperately to perform, I was too nervous to put anything together for the auditions.

I remember very clearly the only acts that tried out from our class were two groups of boys who literally performed “air bads” – with guitars, basses and drum sets – to “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America and “Basket Case” by Green Day.

I had never seen boys hop around on stage, pretending to play instruments before. It was totally bizarre.

(I had also never heard the latter song and quickly became obsessed. I would sit by my radio with my blank cassette at the ready, poised for the exact moment it would begin to play.)

The next year however, I was primed and ready. I had a solid group of friends – some of whom who had even agreed to act with me!

Together we put on “Hakuna Matata” and “RESPECT.”

Imagine, if you will, the tallest, skinniest, whitest twelve year-old, harnessing everything her bad-ass, budding feminist self has to offer, so that for approximately four minutes, she WAS Aretha Franklin.

It just may have been the finest performance of my life.

I distinctly remember all the teachers absolutely losing their minds.

Hakuna Matata too was a pretty good show. We had an absolute blast, dressed head to toe in tie-dye, pretending to be the animals, and really getting into the spoken word sections.

Nothing like a farting warthog to get us going!

However, because I wasn’t one to ever leave anything well enough alone, I decided that I wanted to do one last airband to round out that year’s revue.

At that time of my life I was also pretty obsessed with the Forrest Gump Soundtrack (being as it was that I was Benjamin Buttons, and reverse aging like a fiend, from eighty to eleven) and I especially like the song “I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry.

(Holy shit.)

I mean, to its credit, it’s a solid, nice song.

But what I could have possible been thinking when I chose THIS tune as my third airband is an enigma wrapped in a mystery folded inside of an ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME?

The one thing that sold the entire act was that I committed like crazy. I dressed up in a suit, wore a tie and bowler hat, and carried a cane. The whole thing was so earnest I was basically Charlie Chaplin in an after-school special.

Evidently Mr. Bell really dug the performance, because he cast me in the morning and afternoon shows.

I never for a moment even stopped to think that what I was doing was brave, or nerdy, or subversive, or strange.

I just liked the song and thought people might identify with the lyrics!

The reaction I received left me absolutely stupefied. People were impressed! And not necessarily by my performance, but by my bravery for going through with the performance in the first place.

I’ll never forget Carrie Knoll coming up to me after the morning’s show and just blurting out “That was one of the coolest, cutest things ever. I cannot believe you had the guts to do it.”

I thanked her profusely. Being one of the coolest girls in our grade, her words were more than just a compliment – they were an act of legitimization, of the acceptance that I really truly did crave.

I was just flabbergasted that they were born from (what was perceived to be) such an extremely nerdy public endeavor.

Which just goes to show, you totally can kill two birds with one song.

Especially if it’s from a soundtrack you love.

Smoking, or non?

I did a lot of crazy stuff as a kid.

(This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you.)

In grade two, Ms. Nolan (full disclosure: I LOVED HER) asked us to bring in props for our “class store.” We were going to learn how to add and subtract integers through the purchase of goods on sale in our shop.

The student buying the products would have to add up the price of their groceries, while the cashier would have to calculate the correct change owed.

As a class, we were darned excited about this math unit.

Now, other kids brought in cereal boxes, soup cans (that had been – responsibly – cleaned and dried), kraft dinner packages, and egg cartons.

And what, you may be asking yourselves, did young Ethel bring to the project?

A jumbo box of Eggo waffles and an (empty, thank goodness) twelve-pack of Labatt Blue.

That’s class with a K right there folks.

For all you non-Canucks out there, LB is a kind of beer. And a pretty bad beer at that. (Actually, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t even exist anymore.)

Ms. Nolan must have been pretty flabbergasted, especially because our grade four buddies had come down to help us set up shop (literally) and bunch of them were play-acting drunk, slurring their words and taking pretend swigs from the bottles.

Needless to say, most of my props went home with me that day.

Though the Eggos stayed.

Flash-forward to grade five. We had a student teacher named Michael, who was wonderful and completely lovely.

He was patient and soft-spoken, was always excited and dressed really well.

(In my memory he’s about fifty-nine, but in reality the guy couldn’t have been older than twenty-six.)

And as a class, we used to make him sweat like long-tailed cat in a room filled with rocking chairs.

And I, I was a chief culprit of this stress (though not of my own volition or intention.)

Like I said, I just did weird stuff!

Case in point:

One of the assignments he got us involved with was a cross-Canada anti-smoking campaign, which was also a competition to see who, out of all the elementary students across the country, could create the best anti-smoking poster and catch phrase.

In order to participate, you had to finish the sentence: “If you smoke – …”

I’ll never forget the winner from the previous year, because my ten year old self thought it was absolutely freaking brilliant, and the poster looked like it had been drawn by a professional artist.

The winning poster read:

If you smoke, you’ll be hooked!

The accompanying picture was that of a really sad killer whale being fish-hooked by an evil (and obviously soulless) smoking henchman.

Aha, I thought to myself. This was what we had to live up to!

So what did I pull together you might ask? Did all my hard work ensure my victory?

Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

My slogan was: If you smoke, you’re just a butt!

Genius, right?

I mean, who would want to do anything that reminded them of bums? No one, that’s who!

My poster, while a little avant-garde, was sure to wow the judges.

This is (a recreation of) what I drew:

That’s a border of cigarette butts by the way.

Needless to say, I think Michael may have had a heart attack when he saw this.

He kindly let me know that there was no way, not for all the tea in China, that he was letting me send in a poster that depicted a bare ass smoking a cigarette.

I fought back hard.

Couldn’t he see how much effort I had put into it? Yes he could, he told me. Couldn’t he see where I was coming from? Yes he could, he told me. Didn’t he like my border of cigarette butts? Yes he did, he told me. Didn’t he think that the thought of putting your mouth on a bum would make kids not want to ever smoke a single cigarette in their entire life? Yes he did, he told me.

At this point I remember his face getting really red – not from anger I’m sure – but more from the fact that if he didn’t laugh soon, his entire head would explode.

In the end, I received an A on the project and I got to keep my slogan, but I had to go home that night and make a new poster.

So this was the one I sent into the competition:

(The stars are the cigarette butts – I was too lazy to draw them out again.)

Needless to say, I didn’t win.

But hey, it wasn’t a total wash. In fact, looking on the bright side, I don’t smoke, and if I ever hear someone say that a person has a “smoking ass” – well – only I know the real truth of the matter.

But like I said, crazy stuff guys.


I can be your hero baby

When I was in grade five, I was singled out as a “gifted” student.

Because of this, I was shipped off every Thursday to room 320, in order to spend the day away from my friends with the biggest losers I had ever met.

(Or at least the biggest losers in my highly-evolved eleven-year old opinion.)

And no doubt, all of those kids were looking at me in the exact same light.

The condescension hung heavy in that classroom, let me tell you. Like a really snotty cumulus cloud.

We were all there to participate in a program entitled “COW: Changing our World.”

This was horrible.

I was missing double gym to spend my day talking about environmental and political actions that, sure I cared about, but didn’t really care about.

Not more than kicking ass in frisbee death anyway.

One afternoon, after emptying our juice boxes and wiping the peanut butter from our mouths, Ms. Marvin asked us to sit in a circle and tell the group about our heroes.

I panicked.

What kind of question was that?

I can remember wracking my brain for strong female icons that I could proudly say were my heroes.  I admired Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedman, but they weren’t mine. But I admired them to such an extent that they were pratically mythological, made-up figures and they existed for me because of everything my mother had told me about them, and the few books I had found in my library.

The same for Roberta Bondar and Nancy Green and Nelly McClung.

My beauty mom and beauty sis. Two women I admire greatly.

Each name stuck in my throat like a ball of hair; I could feel my tongue trying to push words to the front of my mouth, but nothing would come but nerves and peanut butter breath.

I cannot remember whom the first three students named.

Perhaps this is because of the enormity of Justin’s (number four’s) pick.  He sat there in his green club-med sweatshirt, tapered jeans and classic bowl cut, so confident, so ready.

He was more than prepared to announce to the world his hero.

I remember he even inhaled before speaking.

“My hero is Jean Chretien.”

I want to embellish here and say that I came close to passing out upon hearing this, but it’s not true.  I might have been a drama queen, but I knew where to draw the line.

But still – Jean Chretien?

How could anyone in their right mind possibly say that he was their hero?  It certainly didn’t make things better when the girl next to him (I’ve since forgotten her name) declared that her hero was Kim Campbell.

The only thing running through my head was: WHO ARE THESE WEIRDOS?


From library and archives Canada
The usual suspects. HILARIOUS side note: when my mom was working in Ottawa in the early 90s, she was walking down the street one night and a woman yelled out "There's Kim Campbell!" This has kept me laughing for years.


Now to be fair, in retrospect, I can (kind of) understand the reasoning behind an eleven-year-old girl’s decision to pick Kim Campbell.

Being the first female prime minister of Canada definitely propels you into a certain category of individuals (despite the fact that her party had already been decisively trounced in the elections).

But didn’t she listen to Double Exposure? They made fun of her all the damned time!

I do not recall the way the rest of the day panned out; I was too unsettled, too shaken up.

As I walked home, scuffing my tennis shoes and tripping over their laces, my mind raced with makeshift answers.  Justin was not the athletic type – his legs were even skinnier than mine (and I was of such a stick-like nature that I could see my heart beating every time I emerged scrubbed-pink from the bathtub), so it was acceptable that he wouldn‘t pick a sports figure.  He didn’t seem one to idolize film stars or literary giants.

And because of this, I began to question the defining qualities of this commonly used label.


If someone could say that Canada’ twentieth prime minister was their hero, what did that mean for the term itself?  Could just about anyone be a hero?  What were the specific requirements and did they all have to be met?  How could Jean Chretien be so special to one little boy?  It was obviously not a choice born out of passion.

But then again maybe he was just a HUGE fan of the Constitution.

Looking back, the best that I can come up with was that this choice was one of utmost pragmatism.

On the first day of class Justin had said that he wanted to be a politician; somewhere along the line he must have realized that in order to accomplish this, it might be good to look up to someone who had already achieved this position.

And now of course, I know that there is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, if I could go back in time I would say party on Justin.

(Liberal) PARTY ON.

But that night I sat at the dining room table with my feet tucked neatly into the folds of my knees and slowly mashed my tofu around my plate.  My mother, used to my pickiness, sat across from me and told me to stop molesting my bean curd.

“It’s not the tofu,” I said.  Because in fact it wasn’t the tofu, as I really liked tofu (and still do to this day.)


“Well then what’s the matter?”  My mother crossed her arms and looked at me, cocking her head to one side, making the dangly parts of her earrings knock together like wind chimes.

“Some stupid idiot in my class today told everyone that Jean Chretien is his hero.”  I rolled by eyes.  My fork clanged onto the plate as I let it slip from my fingers.  “Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?”

I knew that my mom didn’t want to laugh.  But she was one with whom I would listen to Double Exposure on the CBC. She also read Frank Magazine (in fact she had been lampooned herself in the rag) and like her daughter, thought that this was just too much.

My mother let out a wallop of a laugh.


Her whole body shook like an oversized maraca.

So I let loose too, laughing with an intensity that felt unnatural, but I felt like if I laughed hard enough the uncomfortable pit buried deep inside of me wouldn’t sprout leaves and grow into a tree.

As long as I laughed I could think Justin as a strange anomaly and continue to think of heroes as easily definable, realistic beings.

But eventually, I stopped.

And I, on this day, April 30, 2012, would like to extend an apology to both Justin, and the unnamed Kim Campbell fan.

In an age of Jersey Shore and Kim Kardashian and Twilight – I’ll take their choices.

But I”ll probably still need that juice box.

Because although I might take it, it’s still not going to go down any easier then it did the first time around.

And for that I blame Double Exposure.

(And my mom.)