Author: ilanderz (page 1 of 14)

Aurora Awards/Prix Aurora: Time to Vote!

Apparently I have a short story eligible for an Aurora Award this year. It’s called “Fizz” and you can find it by clicking here.
 
(Yes, I know it’s bad form in blogs to say “click here.” Don’t care. You’re going to see a lot of that in this post.)
 
But the fact that I have an eligible story is not the important thing. The important thing is that you be aware of the Aurora Awards, which are Canada’s top science fiction awards, and the fact that you can vote for them.

It costs $10 for a CSFFA membership to be able to vote. Oh come on, that’s not much! Well okay, it’s a bit. But it’s worth it to be able to vote for Canada’s best science fiction.

To become a member, go here.
 
If you’re already a member, just log in to the Aurora Awards/Prix Aurora site and nominate your favourite work(s).
 
Other Five Rivers authors with eligible works include:
 
Dave Duncan: Novel, Eocene Station
 
D.G. Valdron: Novel, The Mermaid’s Tale
 
Susan MacGregor: Novel, The Tattooed Queen
 
D.G. Laderoute: YA Novel, The Great Sky
 
Robert Runté: Short Story, The Age of Miracles (Robert is my editor)
 
Susan Forest: Short Story, Earth and Flame
 
Lorina Stephens: Short Story, The Intersection (Lorina is my publisher)
 
James Beveridge: Cover Art, Eocene Station, Spawning Ground
 
Jeffrey Minkevics: The Mermaid’s Tale (Jeff is doing the cover art for my upcoming novel A Time and a Place)
 
Patrick Hunter: The Great Sky
 
The complete eligibility lists are here.
 
Go vote! For your favourites.
 
 

Life With a Broken Ankle

As almost the entire planet probably knows by now, about five weeks ago I broke my ankle slipping on a patch of ice on the way to work. A clean break in both the tibia and fibula.  A classic example of how life can be turned upside down literally in the blink of an eye.

I wrote about the first couple of days here.

I wasn’t sure I’d write any more about it because it’s not like breaking an ankle is that unusual.  But who knows, there might be people out there breaking ankles this very moment, people soon to be confronted with vast amounts of free time to scour the internet seeking articles on “What to Expect When You Break Your Ankle”, so what the heck, I’ll pick up where I left off.

The original cast. More of a splint, really.

All things considered, I was pretty lucky. I had surgery two days after the accident. This allowed my ankle to begin healing properly almost right away. For this I must thank the Canadian Health Care System. I wasn’t required to cough up any dough, didn’t have to negotiate any labyrinthine bureaucratic hurdles. I just had to show up at the hospital when they told me to.

The surgery was pretty straightforward. Still, I was a bit nervous. I was thinking of my paternal grandfather, who died shortly after exploratory surgery for cancer back in 1954. A blood clot got him, I’m told. I didn’t really think anything like that would happen to me, but it was on my mind.

As I lay on the operating table, the nurse asked me if I had any questions. I had lots, but my brain wasn’t completely functioning.

All I came up with was, “You guys have done this sort of thing before, have you?”

“Google’d it this morning,” the nurse assured me. “We’re good to go.”

And they put me under.

I woke up later with nine screws and a plate in my ankle and much better questions on my lips, but the surgeon had left, so my questions had to wait.

Before the surgery I had worn a cast that went slightly above my knee, preventing me from being able to bend my leg. After the surgery I wore a cast that went a little more than half way up to my knee. It was a huge improvement being able to bend my leg.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the pain was quite manageable.  I’d heard it could be pretty bad. That’s not to say there wasn’t any, but it was more discomfort than pain per se. At times it just felt weird, making me wonder what was going on down there. I had narcotics (Oxycocet), but I never took any. Ibuprofen seemed to do the job. The cast began chafing after a couple of days. I didn’t realize it, but the chafing was doing a number on my foot. I would find out just how bad it was about a week and a half later, when they took the cast off.

More machine than man, now…

One morning several days after the surgery I woke up to find that a good portion of my leg had turned black, especially under the knee. This freaked me out. I actually looked up gangrene, just to rule that out, but it was just severe bruising. Probably because I was keeping my leg elevated and the blood had pooled toward my knee. It made bending my leg really uncomfortable. It lasted about a week before clearing up, at least on my leg. Five weeks later my foot is still bruised.

There was also quite a bit of swelling. This lasted until two or three days ago.

Sleeping was pretty uncomfortable for the first little while. I was sleeping downstairs in the guest bedroom. I could negotiate a path from the bedroom to the washroom easier down there with crutches. Also, I wouldn’t disturb my wife with all my clattering about if I had to get up in the middle of the night.

The bed in the guest bedroom, I discovered, isn’t anywhere near as comfortable as the bed in our master bedroom. (My apologies to all our guests over the years!) And having a cast on my leg didn’t help matters. I like to sleep on my side. The only way to make this comfortable with a heavy cast on one leg was to stick a pillow between my legs.

The worst, though, was the lack of mobility. I was warned not to put any weight on my bad foot. The last thing you want to do is to break it again while it’s fragile. Maybe there’s a way to get up and down stairs with crutches when you can’t put any weight on one foot, but if so, I never figured it out. I was reduced to crawling up and down the stairs on all fours. It was kind of pathetic. I felt like we had suddenly acquired another dog, and I was it. Sometimes as I crested the stairs into the kitchen I would announce my presence with a bark.

As if having to crawl up the stairs wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t even shower by myself those first few days. Not exactly safe standing on one foot in the shower, and I had to be careful not to get the cast wet. I went several days without showering. Instead I just knelt by the tub to wash my hair and scrub my body. When my stench started knocking people standing close to me unconscious, I realized something would have to be done about this.

Coincidentally, my friend Fergus happened to have broken his ankle a couple of weeks before me. (So did two other friends—it’s been a virtual pandemic of ankle fractures this year.) Fergus suggested a stool in the shower. Myself, I thought you were supposed to dispose of stools in another part of the bathroom, but hey, whatever turns your crank. My wife borrowed a special waterproof chair for seniors from a neighbour. The chair sat half in and half out of the tub. The idea is to sit on the part outside the tub, then gradually work your way in. Fergus also mentioned something called a Seal-Tight Brownmed Cast and Bandage protector. He didn’t have much credibility with me after the stool business but I ordered one anyway and was glad I did. Between the chair and the bandage protector I was soon fit for human companionship again.

I loved the cast art, courtesy of my daughters

One day my wife arrived home with a walker she’d borrowed from someone. I liked it at first, but it required a lot of hopping on my good foot, and after three or four days of this the heel of my good foot started to hurt so bad that before long I couldn’t walk on either foot, so I reverted back to the crutches.

Crutches are great, but unfortunately you can’t really carry anything when you’re using them, unless it’s small enough to jam in your pockets. So my wife and kids had to wait on me, fetching stuff for me, carrying bowls and plates to the table during meals, and cleaning up without my help. They did all of this graciously, but I hated being dependent, and tried to refrain from asking for anything. Often I would just figure out how to carry or move something myself despite my inability to do so with ease. Which, if it was even possible, was usually time consuming, and sometimes dangerous, especially if it involved stairs.

During this period I felt a lot worse for my wife than I did for myself. Suddenly she had to do all the chauffeuring, and dog-walking, and grocery shopping, and waiting on me, in and around going to work. It wasn’t fair to her. I tried to compensate by doing most of the cooking, and cleaning up in the kitchen afterwards, which I discovered I could manage by resting my knee on a stool, or leaning on my crutches, and hopping around a lot. Of course, it still didn’t make up for everything she had to take on.

And then there was all the sitting around. I imagined I could feel my body deteriorating with the massive doses of inactivity.  Before breaking my ankle, I was reasonably active, walking the dog, doing Pilates. I was contemplating returning to Karate. That was out of the question now, and Pilates classes would have to wait. I did some Pilates lying on the floor, but I couldn’t really get into it. Not vigorous enough, for one thing. Had it been summer, I could have hobbled around outside on the crutches, but with ice still coating the sidewalks and streets, that was out of the question. Still, I did manage the odd outing, such as accompanying my wife to Costco one day, which helped shake off the cobwebs.

Many people assumed that I would have a lot of free time while recovering. That never happened. My sister and her husband immediately shipped me up a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror and Fantasy, thinking that I would have all kinds of time to read now (thanks guys!) The truth is that during this entire time I continued to work. I only took one sick day, the day of the accident. After that, I worked from home. Why?

  1. Because it’s 2017
  2. Because I’m an idiot

Actually, I did this for a number of reasons. One, because it wasn’t really clear what I should do. Initially, my surgeon never gave me any instructions about work. Another surgeon told me that commuting was out of the question (my commute into Toronto is an hour and a half each way, involving busses and trains and stairs and so on), but nobody produced any paperwork to this effect until two weeks had gone by. Because of the nature of my job, I could continue to work remotely via emails, phone calls and Google Hangouts, so that’s what I did. It kept me busy, and it also kept me in the loop.  There was a lot going on, I had only been in my current position for six months, and I really didn’t want to fall behind.

(I did manage to get some of the Kipling read, though.)

That sums up the first two weeks after I broke my ankle.  Eleven days after I had my surgery, I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Ibrahim.

More on that in my next post.

Don’t look too closely if you’re squeamish…

Remembering Stuart McLean

It was my first time working with this particular host.

He took a seat before the mic in the announce booth. I’d set up a Neumann U-87 for him. He started talking and then stopped with a funny look on his face. He picked up a pencil and dropped it. The mic picked up the sound of the pencil dropping with exceptional clarity. It was an especially good mic.

I got a bad feeling.

“It sounds weird,” the host said. “There’s something wrong with the sound.”

I thought, oh here we go. This guy had a hit show. He was kind of famous. Famous enough to be difficult to work with, I was willing to bet.

I could not have been more wrong.

Stuart McLean played with the mic some more, having fun with the sound, dropping pencils, making funny noises, just generally being playful, having a good time. Then we got down to the business of recording an episode of his show The Vinyl Cafe.

At that time the producer of the Vinyl Cafe was David Amer, with whom Stuart created The Vinyl Cafe. David worked on the show ten years before handing the reins to Jess Milton. Didn’t matter that David left the show; Stuart continued to credit David as the Founding Producer of the Vinyl Cafe for the rest of the show’s run. Because that’s the kind of guy that Stuart McLean was. Considerate, generous, kind.

Stuart McLean with a Neumann U-87

Stuart McLean with a Neumann U-87

Sometimes we packaged the show during the evening. One night my mother was flying up from Prince Edward Island to stay with me, but I couldn’t greet her at the airport or see her when she arrived because I had to record Stuart for the Vinyl Cafe. I mentioned this to Jess the Producer. She got on the talk back and told Stuart.

“What’s your phone number?” Stuart asked me.

I told him.

When we figured there was a good chance my mother had arrived, Stuart called my home. My mother answered. It just so happened she was a huge Vinyl Cafe fan.

“Hi Mrs. Mahoney? It’s Stuart McLean. I just wanted to thank you for loaning us your son tonight.”

They had a great little chat. My mother was tickled pink.

Mom got to meet him in person, too, when Jess and Stuart arranged tickets for my folks when The Vinyl Cafe played Summerside, PEI. They were always generous with their tickets. They gave my wife and I tickets for a couple of the live Christmas concerts in Toronto. We thoroughly enjoyed the live shows. Now I wish I’d gone to see every single one of them.

He was a nice guy, for sure, but he wasn’t without sass.

Once he arrived in the studio dressed to the nines in a sharp looking suit.

I looked down at my ragged jeans, with holes in the knees, and said, “Gee, I didn’t know I was supposed to dress up for this gig.”

He said, “Well, you were, asshole.”

He was joking, of course, and I was highly amused. It wasn’t every day you got called an asshole by Stuart McLean.

The odd “asshole” remark notwithstanding, Stuart was every bit as nice as you would expect him to be, in the best possible sense of the word.

It was a privilege to have been able to work with such a man.

The Tale of a Busted Ankle

There are worse accidents to have, but a busted ankle is bad enough for me, thank you very much.

Ironically, it happened minutes after leaving the doctor’s office in Brooklin, north of Whitby. It was my annual physical. I’d gotten a clean bill of health, more or less. There was some blood work left to be done, but otherwise fine.

There's a broken ankle in there somewhere, desperately trying to heal

There’s a broken ankle in there somewhere, desperately trying to heal

I needed to get to work. My wife had dropped me off at the doctor’s office before going to work herself. My plan was to walk from Dr. Libby’s office, which was on Winchester near Thickson, to the other side of Brooklin, and catch either the 302 or the Go Bus on Brock Street down to the Whitby Go Train Station.

Earlier that morning, when I first stepped outside, I had been happy to see that the ice had receded. Sidewalks and roads seemed mostly clear. Still, I was careful as I walked along Winchester, sidestepping any areas that looked dangerous. It was about minus three with a light wind blowing. Not too bad a walk. When I got near the rink, I crossed to the north side, which seemed safer. At Brock, I considered whether to go north or south to find a bus stop. I crossed to the west side of Brock and decided to head north, which led into the downtown core and seemed more promising with all its shops.

I remember peering ahead, trying to spy a bus stop sign. I don’t even remember falling. I just remember suddenly finding myself flat on my ass. My backpack protected me from hitting my head. When I went to get up, I spotted my left foot, encased in an ankle high-winter boot, twisted around in the wrong direction. So twisted that I gasped aloud upon seeing it. “Aaagghh! Aaagghh!” The sight was worth a good two gasps.

I couldn’t stand on that. It was wrong. It needed to be right. I reached out, grasped the boot, and started to twist it back in the right position. It resisted, giving me time to realize that wrenching my foot back into the proper position myself was probably a bad idea.

What to do? I couldn’t stand. There was traffic along Brock but no cars stopped. There was nobody on the sidewalks. I considered trying to crawl forward along Brock with no real plan other than to move. I was, I realized, in a bit of a pickle.

Initially there was no pain. I anticipated a physical reaction, figured I’d go into some kind of shock, but having never experienced a similar injury I didn’t really know what to expect. Would I have some kind of panic attack? Right then I felt pretty calm about it all, just trying to work out some sensible course of action. I thought, maybe I should start calling for help.

I managed one half-hearted “help” before a woman stepped out of a store across the street. Traffic had paused, so she ventured into the street. “Do you need help?” she asked.

“Help!” I said. “Yes!”

She came closer, caught sight of my foot. “Oh my God,” she said.

A man came out of another store and jogged over. He wasn’t dressed for the weather. “Do you need an ambulance?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I think that would be good. But you should put some clothes on.”

“I’m fine. Did you hit your head?”

“No. My backpack protected me.”

“Good. Just to be sure…” He held a finger up before my face. “Follow my finger.” He moved it back and forth. I followed it with my eyes.

“Are you a doctor?” I asked.

“No. Just had First Aid training.”

“What’s your name?” I asked him. I wanted to remember the names of the people who helped me.

“David,” he said, getting out his cell phone. He began talking to the folks at 911, got them up to speed. Then he went back into his store, quickly retrieved some coats, and covered me with them. He put some under my head too. I noticed that I was still lying on the patch of ice that had done me in. I laid my head down on the coats and felt well-looked after.

A fit, outdoorsy-type stepped up. “I’m a trained ski instructor,” he said, sounding a bit like Patrick Warburton. “I can snap that foot back into position for you if you like.”

Briefly, I considered it. For like a fraction of a second. Sure would be nice to have it facing the right way again. “I appreciate the offer,” I told him. “But I think I’ll wait for a doctor.”

He accepted that.

Another fellow seemed to take over, a younger fellow, maybe around thirty. He asked me how I was doing. I told him fine. I asked him his name. “Anthony,” he said.

“Thanks for sticking around, Anthony. Thanks everyone,” I said, craning my head around to see who else was there. I couldn’t see anyone else. Perhaps they’d moved on, confident that Anthony had everything under control.

Anthony stepped out into Brock Street and waved his arms like someone directing a plane on a runway. I don’t remember any sirens. An ambulance pulled over and two paramedics got out.

“Careful,” Anthony instructed. “Pretty icy.”

Seconds after that one of the paramedics (Derek, I learned shortly afterward) slipped and almost fell. I wondered how many others had fallen victim to that treacherous patch of ice.

Derek the paramedic cut the laces on my boot and gently removed the boot. With the boot off, it was even more obvious how badly broken my foot was. Later, a nurse would describe it as twisted 180 degrees. It was probably closer to 90 degrees in the wrong direction, but still.

“Ever broken a bone before?” the other paramedic asked me.

“No,” I told him.

“You’re handling it pretty well,” he said.

I resolved to continue handling it well.

We negotiated how to get me on a stretcher. I suggested that if they helped lift me, I could get up on my good foot and get on the stretcher. We were all concerned that my good foot would slip on the ice, but with the help of the paramedics I managed to get up and lay down on the stretcher.

“On a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain?” Derek asked me, once ensconced in the back of the ambulance.

I considered. “Four.” It was quite manageable.

“It’ll probably get worse,” Derek warned. “Any allergies?”

“Only cats.”

“I’m gonna give you some Ketorolac,” he said. “It’ll help for a bit.” He injected me with a needle.

As we drove along, again no sirens. Not a big deal, taking a guy with a broken ankle to the hospital.

In the Oshawa hospital, Derek parked my stretcher in the hall and waited with me as we waited for a room to become available. “It’s busy,” I observed. Emergency was crowded with patients and paramedics and nurses and other hospital personnel.

“Most of them don’t need to be here,” Derek told me. “You need to be here.”

After only a few short minutes someone directed Derek to push my stretcher into an emergency room. Derek and I parted ways. Two nurses took over, one experienced, the other a student. I believe the student’s name was Kristin. I don’t remember the other nurse’s name. Events get a bit blurry here, because the pain and discomfort suddenly ratcheted up enormously.

I was taken for an X-Ray. Deb, the X-Ray technician, had partially blue hair. Young and confident, she directed a team of two other technicians how to properly X-Ray my twisted foot. It took some imagination to figure out how to get the proper angles.

I lifted my head to have a look at my naked twisted foot.

“Don’t look at it,” Deb commanded.

I decided Deb was right. I didn’t need that image burned into my brain. Still, I caught a glimpse of it before lowering my head. It was so much worse than seeing it while still in the boot. I longed for a time when it would be facing the right direction again. Old enough to know how time works, I reminded myself that this too shall pass.

The pain was now a solid nine out of ten. I’d had no medication since the Ketorolac. Back in the emergency room, the experienced nurse took a look at my foot and drew the curtains. “No one needs to see that,” she remarked.

Later, Kristen, the student nurse, told me that she’d said to the other nurse, “I don’t understand why he’s not screaming his head off.”

I wasn’t screaming my head off because I was doing my best to contain it. I had one arm behind my head and my good leg drawn toward me, trying to reduce the discomfort and pain. It helped a hair, but not much. I wondered how much longer I could stand it. As long as I needed to, I decided.

Kristen started setting up an IV. The IV included both Saline and Morphine. She apologized for the needle, but it was nothing compared to the rest of the pain I was feeling. The morphine wouldn’t flow. The vein had collapsed.

“He’s in shock,” the other nurse said. She tried the other arm, then a second location on the other arm. Every vein she tried collapsed. “Three’s my max,” she said.

“Don’t give up,” I encouraged her. “Go for the gusto.”

She tried the first arm again. No luck. I was starting to feel like my luck had run out. I overheard one of the nurses say it was Friday the 13th. I’m not superstitious, particularly. Still…

“I can only stand this another seven or eight hours,” I joked.

The experienced nurse chuckled. “I’ve decided you’re my favourite patient,” she said.

“You tell all your patients that,” I said.

“No,” she said in a way that convinced me that she didn’t. Later, I would overhear several patients moaning and complaining and carrying on outrageously, and I realized that in comparison I was probably not a bad patient to have to deal with.

The nurses conferred. “We need such and such a nurse,” the experience nurse said.

“She’s been called away,” the student nurse said. “What about so and so?”

“No, not her,” the experienced nurse said in tone that suggested Dear God, no, not her. I felt like this nurse was looking out for me.

They finally got ahold of the one they were looking for, the talented IV nurse. It took her two or three tries. I believe between the three nurses it took eight or nine tries before they got a vein that didn’t collapse, before the morphine flowed.

I felt it going into my arm. “My fingers are tingling, if that’s useful information,” I said.

“Normal,” the talented needle-nurse said.

Somebody arrived with some forms. “Can you sign these?”

I signed them. Something to do with giving the hospital the right to treat me.

A doctor showed up. “We need to straighten your ankle,” he said. “I’m going to give you Fentanyl. It’s ten times stronger than morphine.”

“Go for it,” I said.

He injected it via needle. It burned going in. Later, my wife, who’s a pharmacist, reminded me that Fentanyl was the drug killing everyone in British Columbia. Of course, they weren’t using it correctly.

I became drowsy almost instantly. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, all was quiet. I glanced at my foot. It was swathed in bandages. It was straight again. I couldn’t believe it. I had only closed my eyes for an instant.

Nurse Kristin spied me awake. “When did this happen?” I asked her, indicating my bandaged, straightened foot. “Did I lose a couple of hours?”

“It’s just been a few minutes,” she said.

I checked my watch. Time was acting funny. It was about two pm. It didn’t feel like four hours had gone by since I slipped and fell, but it had.

“A few minutes ago this room was crowded,” Kristin said. “The doctor straightened your foot and the sound it made… everyone in the room cringed. It was horrible.”

I was glad I hadn’t been awake for it.

My wife Lynda arrived. I brought her up to speed. She was (not surprisingly) sympathetic and waited patiently with me. I’d texted her earlier but she hadn’t received the text. The nurse had phoned her at work, but hadn’t talked long. “I have to go straighten his foot now,” she’d told my wife, who hurried over shortly afterwards.

I had another X-Ray from Deb and her team to see how well the doctor had done. Turned out he’d done pretty good, but the break was too bad. Both bones on either side of my ankle completely broken. I’d need surgery, followed by weeks of no weight on that foot, and then physio and several more weeks if not months of recuperation. It was a severe enough injury that the surgery had to be done pretty soon, but there were no beds left in the hospital for that night, so they sent me home.

I slept uncomfortably with a leg I couldn’t straighten because the temporary cast went up to my knee. I couldn’t get clothes on or off my bad leg and could hardly get about anywhere. I couldn’t even use the washroom properly because our bathrooms are tiny, with the tub close to the toilet. Unable straighten my leg, I had to prop my leg over the side of the tub to sit on the toilet. Hard to get a good seal that way. (Too much information, I know – sorry).

The next day, Saturday, my angel of a wife waited on me hand and foot while we waited for the hospital to call me in for day surgery, which they finally did around supper. But after three hours back at the hospital, they sent us home again. No more surgery that day.

Surgery finally happened the following day, Sunday. The surgeon inserted a long, narrow metal plate and eight screws on one side and an enormous screw on the other side. Afterward, I could bend my leg with the new cast; a huge relief.

All told, the care I received from the people in Brooklin, the paramedics, the nurses, the doctors, the technicians, Lakeridge Health, the Oshawa hospital, has been superb. The whole ordeal has been handled compassionately and professionally. I must thank especially my lovely wife Lynda, who has been nothing short of an angel throughout all of this. Honestly, I feel worse about the impact on her than I do about the impact on myself.

Surprisingly, there’s not much pain, although at night my foot sometimes winds up in a bad position, forcing me awake on the verge of a scream. During the day it’s fine, as long as I keep it elevated. I’m not sure how that’s even possible with two broken ankle bones and screws inserted into my foot, but I’ll take it. The worst is the lack of mobility. I have crutches and a rolling chair and I can hop and crawl, but what a pain in the ass. Still, it could have been much worse. Could have hit my head, or broken my hip.

It’s going to be a long road to complete recovery, but I’ll get there.

Yes, this too shall pass.

More machine than man, now…

Barney’s Version

In March 2003, my radio drama colleagues and I recorded a play called Barney’s Version, based on Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s last book. The play was adapted for radio by Howard Wiseman, and directed by Greg Sinclair, or Gregory J. Sinclair, as he was always known in the credits. (Once, when one of Greg’s dramas went long and had to be cut for time, I suggested we save a second or two by cutting out the “ory J” in the credits.)

Barney's Version Cover Art

Matt Willcott, a year away from retirement but still giving it his all, performed sound effects. The glue in this massive production (and by CBC radio drama standards Barney’s Version was a definitely a massive production) was Associate Producer Colleen Woods.

There were many fine actors in this production, including Denis O’Conner (The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, and a veteran of over 300 radio plays for CBC/Radio Canada), Kathy Greenwood (Whose Line Is It, Anyway? and The Wind At My Back), acclaimed actor, director and critic David Gardner, and Wendy Crewson (The Santa Claus movies, in which she played Tim Allen’s ex-wife, and Air Force One, in which she played Harrison Ford’s wife), among others.

Greg had briefly considered fellow Canadian Richard Dreyfuss in the role of Barney, but ultimately decided on Saul Rubinek, who was also Canadian. Rubinek had enjoyed big parts in major Hollywood productions working alongside the likes of Nicholas Cage, Clint Eastwood, Nick Nolte and Christian Slater. He’d been working as an actor since he was a kid, on the stage, television, radio and film. He had also written, directed, and produced.

Saul Rubinek

Saul Rubinek

How do you get someone of Saul Rubinek’s stature to star in a Canadian radio play? Our casting director, Linda Grearson, put a call into his agent. Not only was Saul available, he was interested. This wouldn’t be his first gig for the CBC. He’d cut his teeth working on CBC Television productions. Saul lives in L.A. with his wife and two kids, so Greg flew him in.

I’d first heard of Saul Rubinek at school at Ryerson, when a teacher had screened a copy of a film about a Russian named Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko. In nineteen forty-five, three days after World War Two, Gouzenko defected to Canada along with one hundred and nine documents proving that the Russians were trying to steal atomic secrets. Gouzenko’s defection sparked the Cold War, as the West used the evidence of espionage to end their alliance with the Russians. Gouzenko, fearing for his life, was given a new identity and became known for wearing a sack on his head during public appearances. But he lived a middle-class life in the Toronto suburb of Clarkson and died of a heart attack in nineteen eighty-two at the age of sixty-three.

Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko

Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko

Curiously, the film about Gouzenko, which was written by well-known Canadian journalist and writer Rick Salutin, doesn’t appear on Saul’s extensive filmography on IMDB. Nor is it mentioned in a Wikipedia article about Gouzenko. It’s no doubt buried in the CBC’s television archives, and may never see the light of day again.

Since seeing Saul’s portrayal of Gouzenko, I’d seen him in the films The Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and The Family Man with Nicholas Cage. He was an accomplished, well-regarded character actor. Rick Salutin called him “very funny.” Greg Sinclair believed that Saul, along with fellow lead Wendy Crewson, were among the best in the business.

When I first learned that Saul Rubinek was going to star in one of our plays, I thought, okay, that’s cool. My next thought was, I wonder how much of a pain in the ass he’ll be. I was thinking that a guy like him might be a bit full of himself, and used to being coddled with craft services, limos, trailers and the like. We didn’t have stuff like that in the CBC Radio Drama department.

Saul showed up on the first day all business. Okay, what’s happening, what are we doing, what page are we on. Short (5’7”, the same height as Tom Cruise) and plump (not fat), with big bushy eyebrows, he looked more like an accountant than a leading man. He could convincingly play Eugene Levy’s brother.

He insisted on wearing headphones during the first scene. I was not happy to hear this. I wasn’t keen on actors wearing headphones. There was the problem of headphone leakage, limited mobility for the actors (the headphones weren’t wireless), and actors becoming too conscious of their voices. In my view, the actors needed to perform their scenes without worrying about what they sounded like. Also, there were a lot of scenes in this play, with many different setups. It would be a pain in the ass to have to run headphones for Saul in every different scene. I was afraid this might be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such demands.

I set up the headphones for him.

Immediately after asking for headphones, Saul asked for a table to set his script and other assorted paraphernalia on. I hauled out an old desk that we used as a sound effects prop. Saul set all his stuff on it. Matt pointed out that the table I had selected, which was on wheels, was missing a wheel. It was liable to tip over. Oh. No worries—I found three or four old books to prop it up. But when I lifted it up to shove the books under the problematic corner, the table promptly flipped over, tossing all Saul’s papers onto the floor in a jumbled mess.

I braced myself for an outburst. None came. Without saying a word, Saul leaned over and picked up all his papers without complaint while I finished stabilising the table.

This was a good sign.

We got through several scenes in a brusque, efficient manner, with Saul completely focussed on the task at hand.

For one scene he needed to be sitting, so I provided a chair for him. He sat down before the microphone. We’d gotten rid of the desk, so I thought maybe he might like a music stand to put his script on.

“Wanna stand?” I asked him, holding up a music stand in one hand.

“I’m sitting,” he said.

Greg, Matt and I laughed, thinking that he was joking.

Brandishing the music stand, I repeated, “No, do you wanna stand?”

“Can’t you just lower the mic?” he asked.

I realized that he wasn’t joking, that he had misunderstood.

I repeated as clearly as I could, “Would you like a stand?” but by then he was talking to Greg about some plot point, so I left the music stand in front of him and returned to the control room.

Shortly after that Saul began pestering me about being heard in the control room. Whenever we finished recording a scene, and my presence was required on the studio floor, I muted the microphones, effectively turning them off. You don’t want to have microphones on if you think you might have to handle or move them. Also, when I was on the floor I wanted to be able to speak to the actors and sound effects engineer candidly, without anyone in the control room hearing me. Several times early on Saul tried to talk to the director in the control room after I had muted the microphones, and when he was unsuccessful he didn’t get angry per se, but he was visibly irritated:

“Why can’t he hear me? Can’t you set something up, you know, some kind of permanent mic on the floor which just automatically switches on at the end of every scene so I can talk to the director?”

I told him, “Saul, that might be a good idea with you, but to tell you the truth, other actors, we just don’t want to hear what they have to say,” which earned a laugh from Greg, Matt, and Wendy, and even Saul laughed.

“I’ll tell you what,” I told him. “I’ll suggest it to the other engineers, but it probably won’t go over very well.”

“Why don’t you just build it with a switch so you can turn it off whenever you want?” Saul suggested. “And remember: if you create such a system, you must call it the “Rubinek” system.”

So he was obviously not without a sense of humour about the whole thing.

When I did bring it up to the other engineers in one of our bi-weekly meetings, one of my fellow Recording Engineers said (referring to Saul), “Get over yourself!”

Still, I tried to be much more diligent about leaving the mic on so Saul could be heard in the control room, and any time I had to turn it off, I warned Saul that we wouldn’t be able to hear him for a couple of minutes. I continued to set up headphones for him in every scene. By the third day of recording, I felt that Saul had adapted to the pace of radio drama recording. He’d warmed up considerably (or maybe I had warmed up to him). He was calmer, more relaxed.

There was an old grand piano in the studio. Between takes Saul would sit down and play. He always played the same piece, Gnossienne 1, by French composer Erik Satie.

I was impressed to hear Saul play this piece because I happened to love it. My sister Susan had played it when she was studying piano in High School, inspiring me to memorize it myself. Other than my immediate family, I didn’t know anyone else (other than CBC host and musician Tom Allen, maybe) who even knew of the piece, let alone knew how to play it. Impressing me even more, Rubinek had figured out how to play it by ear, and he played it well.

During another break, Saul told us about working with Clint Eastwood on the set of “Unforgiven.” Saul had a major role in that film as a journalist by the name of W.W. Beauchamp. He told us that Clint always did two takes of every scene: one take and a safety. To block the big fight scene at the end, Clint came in and said to everyone, okay, you figure it out, I’m going for a coffee. Then he went away, came back a couple of hours later and asked, “You got it all worked out?” And then shot the scene.

After getting the master shot and the safety in the can, the cast and crew spent three days shooting extra coverage of the scene, getting all the little cutaways and close ups.

“If you watch that scene,” Saul told us, “you’ll see just one person sitting, and that’s me, because I knew they would take three days to shoot the coverage and I didn’t want to be standing the whole time.”

Saul was just getting into directing himself at that time. He spent a lot of time with Clint learning about directing, and has since directed several television features. The impulse to direct was strong in him. He couldn’t resist the temptation to direct other actors during the recording of Barney’s Version.

“No you have to say, “the Twelve year old!” very aggressively, not mildly,” he instructed David Gardner, who played Barney’s lawyer, referring to Barney’s favourite scotch. Gardner, an accomplished director himself, didn’t appear to mind. It was obvious that Saul’s intent was to make the scene as effective as possible.

Another time Saul burst into the control room to tell Greg to tell an actor something he felt strongly she needed to know, presumably not telling her himself out of fear of offending her. Greg took this all in stride. In fact, the partnership between Saul and Greg was a potent one as they constantly challenged the limitations of the medium.

One obvious limitation of radio is that you can’t see what’s going on. For this reason you have to exercise considerable caution when conveying action in a radio play, especially when attempting traveling shots. A traveling shot is a shot in television, film or radio in which the camera/microphone follows characters on the move. Think Xander on his skateboard in the opening shot of the very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, skating down the street and into his high school. Another famous example is the seven minute and forty-seven second long tracking shot that opens Robert Altman’s The Player. Imagine how confusing that shot would be without pictures.

Travelling shots can be tricky in any medium. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the pilot episode, regretted the time it took to set up and execute the travelling shot with Xander. He was used to film. In film, you can take more time to get a shot, unlike television with its stricter shooting schedules.

In radio, writers often write travelling shots accidentally. They don’t even realize they’ve done it until they get to that scene in the studio and the recording engineer exclaims, what the heck? This is a travelling shot! You do realize how difficult travelling shots are to convey on radio, don’t you? To which the writer responds, why are you surprised? Didn’t you read the script before getting here? To which the engineer grumbles, well, the director should have caught it, at which point the director jerks awake in his chair and asks, what scene are we on?

Travelling shots are tough to present on the radio because the listener can’t see what’s going on. If you fail to convey the fact that the characters are moving through the only two options available—dialogue and sound effects—then the listener won’t understand what’s going on and your production will suffer.

However, it can be done if you know what you’re doing. There was a scene in Barney’s Version in which Barney runs back and forth between his living room and his kitchen trying to remember the word for “colander.” When I first read this scene in the script, I immediately considered it a mistake and began contemplating how it might be re-written so that it wouldn’t be a travelling shot. I thought it would be tough to make the listener understand that Barney was moving back and forth between a living room and a kitchen.

Director Gregory J. Sinclair

Director Gregory J. Sinclair

Greg and Saul begged to differ. As I’ve mentioned before, we were blessed with a terrific studio in which multiple set ups were possible. Greg instructed me to set up a living room acoustic space directly adjacent to our built-in working kitchen. The kitchen acoustic was completely different than the living room acoustic—listening to dialogue spoken in one, you could not mistake it for the other. This was critical.

To make the travelling shot work, we set up two stereo microphones, one in front of Barney’s chair in the living room, and another covering the kitchen. We kept both microphones live, so that when Barney (Saul) moved from the kitchen to the living room and back again you could clearly hear the change in acoustic. Saul made lots of noise while moving back and forth so that the listener could clearly track his movements.

By this point in the show we had completely established the living room as a distinct acoustic environment, by (among other things) consistently using the same sound props (leather chair, glass of scotch, tape recorder). This, together with liberal use of obvious kitchen props (cutlery drawer, dishes etc), made it abundantly clear to the listener exactly where Barney was at all times.

When I wasn’t setting up neat tracking shots for Greg, he kept me and Matt Willcott busy lugging stuff around, couches, chairs, tables, from one set up to another. Matt and I hardly ever did this kind of thing. It was radio, after all. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see the furniture. In most radio plays, we just imagined the chairs and tables were there, unless we really needed to hear them somehow, and even then we just used a stool to double as a table or to create the squeak of a chair being drawn back. But Greg was going out of his way to make the actors—Saul in particular—comfortable. Many of our actors were experienced film and television actors who preferred to perform their actions with real props.

From time to time, as we lugged one piece of furniture or another, Matt would grumble, “Who’s gonna see the table on the radio?” That’s when he wasn’t saying, “Tippets and Richardsons: you tip it and I’ll rip it!” (Tippets and Richardsons being a well-known moving company in Toronto.)

“You know, I’m a recording engineer, not a mover,” I told Greg. “I’m supposed to be more of a white collar worker.”

Wendy Crewson overheard me. “Well, you’re an engineer, right? There’s all kinds of engineers. Sanitation engineers, for instance. Don’t they move things?”

“I think whether I’m a sanitation engineer or a recording engineer depends on the drama I’m recording,” I told her.

Later, I asked Wendy what it was like working with Harrison Ford.

“He’s a wonderful person,” she told me. “Not at all like he comes across in interviews. He’s a party boy, a lot of fun. He used to zoom up to my trailer on his motorcycle and bang on the trailer. Come on, let’s go! he would shout, and then with me on the back of his motorcycle, smoking a big doobie and thinking, if only they could see me now! we’d zoom off for Thai food.” Apparently Harrison loves Thai food.

Wendy Crewson

Wendy Crewson

When she told me that Harrison was a nice guy, I told her I’d ask Harrison the same thing about her.
“You know what I think he’d say? The exact same thing I said about him,” she said, and laughed, because really, what else are ya gonna say.

All of the actors in Barney’s Version were superb. This is not surprising. Casting Director Linda Grearson never let us down. We had no trouble attracting top-notch talent. Actors seemed to like making radio plays with us. The atmosphere in Studio 212 was always pleasant. And when you’re performing for radio you don’t even have to memorize your lines: you have the script right in front of you.

Two performances stand out. Kathy Greenwood was sincere and touching as Barney Panofsky’s ill-treated second wife. Kathy brought an endearing quality to the role that made Panofsky look like a fool for not loving her properly. And Saul as Barney Panofsky was a revelation to me. It wasn’t Method, I don’t think—when not in character, Saul was himself—but when he sat in Barney’s chair and drank Barney’s scotch and tried in vain to remember what a colander was called, Saul Rubinek inhabited Barney Panofsky. He didn’t just lift the words off the page. He strapped Saturn 5 rockets to them, achieved escape velocity, and placed them in orbit. As I recorded him, I tried to figure out how he was doing it.

For one thing, he knew the script cold. He may have memorized much of it. If not, he’d clearly gone over it many times. He was not one hundred percent married to the script. If he felt the need to change a line slightly to make it sound more natural, he changed it. Subtle changes here and there. He was not afraid to grunt and clear his throat and fart and burp and inject whatever other flourishes he felt were required to bring Barney Panofsky to life. Nobody objected.

I don’t expect I’ll ever fully understand the alchemy involved.

Saul’s work was illuminating in other ways, too. Looking back, I see that in a few short years I had become lazy, conservative, and rigid in my thinking. Saul was operating on a whole different level. His energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism challenged me to open my mind, to think bigger, to do better. His example has informed my work ever since, whatever form that work has taken.

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