Category: Life (Page 1 of 20)

Parting Gifts

Me and Peter Chin in Radio MCR circa 1989

“How else you gonna be?”

That was Peter Chin a few days before he left us. We were talking on the phone. He wasn’t in great shape. They’d taken him to the hospital a couple of weeks earlier because he’d woken up with no feeling in his legs. He couldn’t walk anymore. I may have the details wrong. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’d been cheerful during our call though he must have known the prognosis wasn’t good.

“I have to say, Peter, you sound pretty positive despite everything,” I’d told him.

“How else you gonna be?” he said.

It was a gift. Peter had been good to me right from the beginning, ever since we’d met thirty-four years earlier serving the nation’s broadcaster in Radio Master Control. He’d mentored me, and I was awfully fond of him, and now here he was in the last week of his life and he had to have known it and he wasn’t anywhere near old enough to be in the last week of his life and he was cheerful. It kills me to think of it. But it was a gift he was giving me, it wasn’t an act, I’m sure of it, it was really Peter showing me that you could face that sort of thing, the end of your own life, with courage and grace and I will remember it to the end of mine.

Then there’s Gus. Gus was my next door neighbour, had been since 2001. He passed away a couple of months ago. You may think this is sad, me writing about good people dying, and of course it is, it is definitely sad, but it’s a part of life (“the last part,” a friend’s father once said) and we arguably don’t talk, don’t think about it enough. But bear with me, please, I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom.

The last thing Gus ever said to me was a joke. He’d had surgery and it hadn’t gone well. In fact, it had signaled the beginning of the end. He never got better. And he was sitting on his porch in his eighty-fifth year with the woman he loved, who loved him back more than anyone I’ve ever known has ever loved anyone, and who was there with him right til the end, and he was watching my wife and I move a ridiculously heavy couch from our basement to our living room through the front door.

“Good for you, Joe,” he told me, in his soft Scottish lilt. “Making your wife lift the heavy end.”

Gus knew the end was near but he faced it with good humour, joking to friends, family, and nurses alike right to the end. We lost him a few weeks after he poked fun at me.

My father-in-law Dave spoke to me via video from the hospital bed from which he would never rise.

“How are you, Joe?” he asked with genuine interest, my well-being somehow, impossibly, important to him during these last few hours of his life. “You look good,” he added, his attention firmly directed on those around him rather than on his own predicament.

I am not at all sure that I will be able to muster anywhere near the same courage and dignity when my time comes, but having seen it done now I shall certainly try.

Bill Lane. (Boy, I really feel like we’ve lost a lot of fine people in a short span of time this past year. I think about them often.)

Bill’s family reached out in his last few days, soliciting memories from those in his life. I shared one on Christmas Eve, honoured to have been included. So did many others. There’s a picture of Bill on Facebook taken on Christmas Day after having received those memories. He appreciated us celebrating his life. He’s lying in bed smiling. Smiling, though he would be gone a few short days later.

You see, don’t you? It’s possible to smile at the end. To joke, even. To be positive in the face of certain calamity. I am sad, thinking of my friends. I wish I’d gotten to know each of them better, spent more time with them.

But I am also braver courtesy of their parting gifts.

Facebook Marketplace Scam

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Trying to sell my Korg M1 keyboard on Facebook Marketplace. I haven’t used Marketplace much, but I did manage to sell some winter tires and an amplifier on it before, so I didn’t anticipate any trouble.

After getting a few nibbles that never went anywhere, a woman named Zara contacted me ostensibly from Sudbury, initially in French. She had a Facebook profile featuring a single headshot and a banner displaying a photo of a baby. There were a handful of pics and posts of babies and puppies, complete with sporadic comments from alleged friends and relatives. Just enough to make you think that maybe (maybe!) this could be a real person. (She had no actual Facebook friends, though.)

Zara professed interest in the keyboard but was too busy (and presumably too far away) to pick it up herself. She proposed using UPS to both pay me and have it delivered.

I thought this was a bit strange as it bumped up the cost considerably, but hey, whatever. I went along with it initially. She proposed a time the courier would show up with the money and collect the keyboard. Fine with me. Then the kicker: I would have to pay $160 in insurance online upfront. But hey, no prob! She would ensure I was reimbursed once the courier showed up at my door with the cash.

“Heh Heh. I will admit you had me going there for a bit,” I texted her. “Seems like an awful lot of work for $150.” (Unless, of course, she or he was conducting several cons simultaneously, which seems more likely.)

“I don’t understand you,” she texted me back. “Please check your mailbox and spam. ” This was for an email presumably from UPS with directions on how to proceed.

Sure enough, there was the email in my spam folder. Pretty dodgy looking, from the following address: upsexpresslaposte225@gmail.com.

“Need better graphics,” I texted Zara. “And the gmail address is a dead giveaway.”

I provided a few more tips on how I’d conduct the con a lot better, if it were me (not that I’m an expert, but I hate seeing sloppy work).

I blocked and reported her, which doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Just checked Facebook Messenger; she gave me a thumbs up, evidently happy with my helpful advice. Her profile page is still up, though her banner displays a Ukrainian flag now instead of a baby.

And I’m still trying to sell my keyboard.

The Ukraine Strategy

Photo by Gladson Xavier from Pexels

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) used to prevent war between NATO and Russia. Now it appears to just prevent NATO from fighting back militarily. So Russia can do whatever it wants without fear of military retaliation from NATO.

A question: were NATO to fight back, would the idea of mutually assured destruction prevent Russia from escalating for the same reasons that make NATO hesitant to intervene more directly? If so, then perhaps NATO should have intervened directly from the outset.

There is also the possibility that Putin will escalate anyway and deploy nuclear weapons out of desperation or impatience (or because he’s suicidal or just plain evil), in which case NATO should also have intervened earlier, because it wouldn’t have mattered. And in such a scenario perhaps there is a chance, however slim, that Putin could have been brought to heel.

Of course, nobody has a crystal ball. We don’t know what Putin will do if NATO retaliates directly, or if Putin becomes desperate. So we’re left with Russia and NATO not just capable of destroying one another but much of the rest of the world, and Russia savaging Ukraine because it suspects it can get away with it aware that NATO will stand by (not entirely helplessly but certainly not bringing all its forces to bear) for fear of Putin abandoning all reason and killing us all (or most of us). Which he might do anyway.

And in this way we are held hostage, made impotent, unable to help Ukraine or prevent future similar aggressions from either Russia or China (e.g., Taiwan) or (insert aggressor of choice here). This is obviously untenable. The problem is that the stakes are so high (back to mutually assured destruction) that NATO can’t afford to get the calculus wrong. On the one hand, with NATO’s current strategy, global bullies will probably continue to ride roughshod over the rest of us and it will just keep getting worse until the final fatality, the final bullet in the final head, as it were, could well be democracy itself.

On the other hand, should NATO opt to intervene directly (e.g., fly over zone) the probability is at least medium that the result will be catastrophic for all of us: a third world war, millions if not billions of casualties, with the survivors looking back wistfully at a mere pandemic as a kind of lost golden age.

Emotionally, I want to intervene directly. I want the no fly zone. I don’t want the bully to get away with it. I want the cavalry to show up, kick the bully’s ass, save Ukraine and democracy, and everyone (except the bully) lives happily ever after.

Abba Eban

Intellectually, I know it isn’t going to be that easy. That we have to get the calculus right. That we have to defuse this bomb without blowing everybody up. I believe it to be possible. As Former Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Abba Eban has said (a version of the quote is often misattributed to Winston Churchill), “Men and nations do act wisely when they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” It is a tragic function of the human condition that wisdom does not always (or even often) come first.

Myself, I do not presume to possess the wisdom required to lift us out of this awful predicament. Maybe sanctions will be sufficient; maybe some other action will be required. I don’t know. I have only faith in the collective wisdom of humankind (sadly after much bloodshed, suffering and tragedy) to eventually get the calculus right.

Northern Exposure

I just finished watching all six seasons of Northern Exposure, a television series that first aired in 1991 about a young doctor forced to work in a small town in Alaska.

Northern Exposure was prestige television before there was such a thing as prestige television. I remember considering it a cut above when I first got into it, though not right away. I’d seen part of an episode when it first aired and dismissed it. My friend Trish insisted I give it a second look. She loaned me several VHS tapes jam packed with Northern Exposure episodes. I watched them with my roommates and we were soon hooked. I watched the first two seasons and thoroughly enjoyed each episode. I continued watching on network television once Trish’s episodes ran out. Then life intervened and I left the country for a while and fell off the Northern Exposure bandwagon.

But I always remembered the spell the show wove, its sensibility, its slightly off kilter humour. When the pandemic hit and I found myself working from (and mostly trapped) at home, I thought maybe some Northern Exposure magic might be just the thing to help get me through. My wife gave me all six seasons as a Christmas present (on DVD; it’s not available on any streaming platforms, as near as I can tell), and I’ve spent just over a year gradually watching them all.

I was surprised to discover how few episodes I’d actually seen. Maybe Trish missed taping a few. Or perhaps I’d completely forgotten some. Turns out I’d never seen any episode beyond the first two seasons. At first I was thrown by the 4:3 (or 1.33:1) aspect ratio, having become accustomed to 16:9 these last twenty years or so, which only became standard after 1996, once Northern Exposure was off the air. 4:3 doesn’t entirely fill a modern television’s entire screen. But after an episode or two the 4:3 aspect ratio stopped bothering me.

I loved re-watching the episodes I’d seen and happily ventured into new territory. The ones I’d seen took me back to a time when I was younger than two of the main characters in the ensemble cast, Joel and Maggie. I was twenty-six when I started watching Northern Exposure the first time around; they were about twenty-nine. Watching the episodes now I found I was closer in age to ex-astronaut turned entrepreneur Maurice Minnifield. So, that was weird. Where has the time gone? (Still younger than the character of Holling Vincoeur, though.)

The first two seasons held up nicely. Much of the magic, I realized, lay in the show’s magical realist elements. The show is at its absolute best when it marries magical realism to bold storytelling (such as briefly breaking the third wall in season two’s War and Peace, or going back in time for a period piece in season three’s finale Cicely). This is not a show with car chases and murders and drama (though death does figure occasionally). It’s a pleasant show, often delightful, shot brightly for the most part, about agreeable, gently flawed people. The music choices are varied, eccentric and entrancing (at least for the first few seasons), featuring artists such as Daniel Lanois, Etta James, Magazine 60, Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, Brian Eno and more. It was fun seeing actors like Jack Black, Graham Greene and James Marsters pop up at random. Stars Rob Morrow and Janine Turner are note perfect throughout.

I found the show the perfect anodyne to the increasingly mad world we find ourselves in now. I couldn’t completely escape, though. Unsettinglingly, I heard Trump’s name invoked not once but three times during the course of the series, each instance jarring.

Does it hold up for the entire six seasons? I had read that it doesn’t, but was curious to see for myself. In the middle of the show’s run creators Josh Brand and John Falsey handed the reins over to showrunner David Chase. Chase is famous as the showrunner for The Sopranos, a gritty show about a mob boss, considered one of television’s greatest series. I found this fascinating. Chase admitted not really understanding the premise of Northern Exposure. So this guy, who professed not to understand the premise of Northern Exposure, but who obviously knows a thing or two about making television, wound up running the show. He had other writers (such as Diana Frolov and Jeff Melvoin) to help him, writers who did mostly get the show, so I’m happy to report that the show does indeed hold up. Sort of. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s get a bit dodgy around the end of the fourth season and into the fifth, but does eventually find its stride again until near the end of the sixth season.

The sixth season is hit and miss. The season premiere, Dinner at Seven Thirty, is strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed a storyline featuring Joel giving up his medical practice to head north and immerse himself in native culture. Halfway through the season Joel is replaced by another doctor and his wife. The actors, Paul Provenza and Teri Polo, are fine, though little of note is done with them. There’s an episode near the end of the run featuring Ed Chigliak (called Balls) that in my opinion is among the strongest in the entire series (well, one of the episode’s story lines, at least). It provides actor Darren Burrows (Ed) with a material he could sink his teeth into for a change. Another enjoyable episode from season six, Little Italy, curiously presages The Sopranos.

There appeared to be a lack of understanding of some of the characters in season six. Apart from the aforementioned episode Balls, and half-hearted attempts to make him a filmmaker and a shaman, the character of Ed Chigliak gets entirely too goofy over time. It’s a shame; the writers could have done so much more with him. Elsewhere Brian Doan has written (in an essay about Northern Exposure that far surpasses this one in depth) about Chris Steven’s incipient toxic masculinity, and dammit Chris actually does become that a bit. It is painful to watch and a betrayal of the way Chris was presented earlier in the series, when he lived with a self-awareness of his darker side.

Sadly, none of the characters ever live up to their potential. In the first episode of the sixth season (Dinner at Seven Thirty) we see Cynthia Geary as a completely different character. I didn’t even recognize her for half the episode. It was a glimpse of what could have been done with Geary’s character Shelly had the writers allowed the character to grow. And in the final episode of the entire series, Tranquillity Base, which, sadly, bordered on the ridiculous (no, actually was ridiculous), we see Holling Vincoeur as a caricature of himself, more bloodhound than man, while Chris Stevens is ludicrous as opposed to insightful. Still, I like the montage music in the final moments of that episode (Our Town, by Iris Dement), perhaps the only saving grace (one final, parting gift from the series) in an episode that otherwise seemed deliberately designed to make fans repeatedly facepalm themselves.

Although the series ended on a less than stellar note, it was still entirely worth watching. It did not betray my memories of it. And although I will never watch it in its entirety again (unless I somehow become immortal between now and eternity) I fully expect to cherry pick episodes here and there when I feel the need to return to the state of mind that is Northern Exposure at its best.

The Deer Yard and Other Stories

About The Deer Yard and Other Stories:


Illustration by Erin Mahoney
Cover Design by Valerie Bellamy

For as long as I can remember my father has been writing stories, mainly about growing up on a farm in Johnville New Brunswick. I would say that my sister Susan Rodgers and I got the writing bug from him except that my mother told me recently she’s always wanted to be a writer too. I think the bug bit the whole darned family.

I’ve long wanted to collect my father’s stories up in single package. For years I’ve had versions on my laptops and computers and hard copies laying about. But I was never sure I had them all.

I managed to get home to Prince Edward Island this past summer. While there, Dad and I talked about his stories. He’s eighty-seven years old now. He showed me stories of his I’d never seen before. Before I knew it, I was gathering all the stories up, making sure I had them all. Some were already in electronic form. Others were on paper, having been typewritten decades earlier. (Dad told me that purchasing a typewriter was the original impetus for starting to write.) Others were parts of amateur collections that had been put together over the years by writers groups my father had been part of. One story was actually a letter written to Dad by his brother Bill back in the fifties, a letter possessing a singular charm, and that eventually became a part of this collection.

After I thought I’d collected every word Dad had ever written, or at least that he could remember writing, one of my cousins, Ann Cassidy McCambley, sent me three stories he’d forgotten he’d written, that his sister Marion had absconded with after a visit to Dad’s house years ago. (One of those stories, “Fishing,” is a part of this collection. )

Left to Right Front:
Some of Dad’s family growing up: Leo Charles Mahoney, Marion Theresa Mahoney Cassidy, “Joan” Clara Joan Mahoney Jones, “Bill” William Joseph Mahoney, Ambrose Joseph Mahoney, “Tom” Thomas Aquinas Mahoney (my father)
Back:
Helen Elizabeth Kilfoil Mahoney, “Joe” Joseph Thomas Mahoney (my grandfather)
(photo courtesy of Ann Cassidy McCambley)

I started editing. I already knew the stories possessed their own allure, imparted in part by a striking authenticity. The voice, the vocabulary, the terminology, is straight out of Dad’s youth growing up in Northern New Brunswick in the forties and fifties. It’s a whole other world, one Dad brings vividly to life. Editing the tales consisted mainly of cleaning up the grammar and punctuation. As much as possible I hewed to Dad’s original prose, changing only what was necessary. It felt like polishing gemstones; I was not chipping away rock and detritus only to unearth coal. These were emeralds, rubies, diamonds. And I don’t believe I’m saying that just because the man is my father. My father knows how to tell uniquely compelling tales.

Or, truth be told, re-tell some of them. Many of the tales in this collection were told to him by his father, for whom I am named: the original Joseph Thomas Mahoney, or Joe… the exact same name as me. That Joe Mahoney was born in 1900 and died tragically young in 1954, younger than I am now. He was a teamster and a farmer, worked his own farm all his life with his burgeoning family. And while doing so told a lot of stories, many of which my father remembered, and some of which are in this collection, two of which are entertainingly told in part in that man’s own voice. Here’s a photo of the man in his prime, with my grandmother, Helen Kilfoil, and an aunt and an uncle:

Helen Mahoney holding Alice Marie Mahoney Whelton & Joe Mahoney holding “Johnny” John Francis Mahoney
1929 (photo courtesy of Ann Cassidy McCambley)

The Deer Yard and Other Stories is being published by my own imprint, Donovan Street Press, in association with my sister Susan Rodger‘s company Bluemountain Entertainment, subsidized in part by a grant by the government of Prince Edward Island. One of my daughters, Erin, illustrated the deer on the cover. Valerie Bellamy, a graphic and book designer from Halifax, designed the superb cover. All three of my sisters, Susan, Shawna and Kathy helped proofread the collection (there are zero typos, or had better not be!) It’s available in ebook now; a softcover version (featuring large print) will be available shortly.

Here’s the back jacket blurb:

Tom Mahoney grew up on a small family farm in Johnville, New Brunswick. Despite a lack of modern conveniences such as running water and electricity, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Tom’s was a world of natural beauty; of soft and lonely quiet. Life was never dull. His active imagination was nourished by ghosts and demons, intrepid priests, drunken neighbours, redneck bullies, frightened deer, angry bears, wannabe circus dogs, and plenty of shenanigans. From these seeds great stories grew. Drawing on his own experiences and those of his family — his father was also a gifted storyteller — Tom’s humorous and touching tales, spanning decades, brim with colour and authenticity.

The Deer yard and Other Stories

The Deer Yard and Other Stories is available at the following online retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Vivlio

Goodreads

A recent photo of Dad with his sisters: Alice Mahoney Whelton, Marion Mahoney Cassidy, Tom Mahoney, Joan Mahoney Jones (photo courtesy of Ann Cassidy McCambley)

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