The 8K-word Story

Around Halloween, I sent my freelance Editor, James, a precis for a story that I hoped would be, “a little longer than my usual 3,500 or so.”

He replied that I should not feel bound by the 8,000-word limit I had set in mind. “You’ve more than an 8,000-word outline here, looks to me,” he wrote back.

“Well, we’ve been playing catch with this thing since November and I am now on the brink of the 90,000-word elevation. OMG. Startled emoji. #climbingEverest. I have kept my routine intact for this long-form excursion – write every day, usually in the morning. Edit a little, but not full-out. Read segments aloud to Jan.

I’ve been sending James instalments every three or four days. He usually replies within two or three. He suggests, trims, refines, but uses small tools – the big John Deere is still in the shed.

The novel cadence, I find, is a little like a game of catch with a football. You catch, adjust the ball in your grip, line up the laces, chatter a bit, set up, take a step and toss it. Repeat.

James keeps things in bounds that tend to creep around, run aground, deafen with too much sound, and bark like a hound. Like… The plot: “You killed him?” The location: “I thought they were out in the boat, not on the dock!” Character traits: “Don’t be so soft on him. Make him a real bastard!” Style: “I’d say this is rather not Toewsian! You do well with the ands, not the short sentences, don’t be afraid!” The POV:  “Why are we in Vivaca’s head?” Mechanics: “Why do you use so many semi-colons?


And now we are reaching the end. It’s scary. It’s not the REAL end, it’s the end of the first draft, James reminds, but still. Change is afoot. Hope I can still go to sleep in a rowboat adrift on Bannock Lake and wake up pushing a pick-up truck out of the snow on the side of a granite outcropping. I’ll keep talking like my characters and secretly trying out dialogue on Jan. I’ll miss the words, “hollowway, loon shit, diewel, thwart,” but there will be plenty more, I’m sure.

top of everest

Things to Look Forward To:

! James cutting a broad, gory swath on his first overall read-through edit!

! Replies from Beta readers.

! Submitting edited novel excerpts to literary journals!

I expect that the summit of my first draft will be like the top of Mt. Everest — littered with lots of discarded material. I fear that, but, it’s a tough business. Pass the oxygen.

Tray Bong!





I’m One of Those

I received a forward from a friend who I enjoy a lot and also respect, not a little. He’s a person almost anybody could model their life after and enjoy many improvements in the process. That goes for me, that’s for certain!

Anyway, he’s of a more conservative bent than me, for the most part. Not altogether and not in the context of the current binary way of things. I believe we can disagree civilly.

The forward was about the dangers of large-scale immigration and why we should object to it in Canada. The message closed by encouraging recipients to: “Forward to everyone on your contact list!”

But… “everybody on my contact list” contains mostly people like me: those whose antecedents arrived here with no money, little or no English, next to no desire to learn English, demanding their own schools, refusing to join the army, getting free land for nothing while people who lived here for generations were forced to give up land for these newcomers.

The ladies wore weird headgear, the men’s closets were imbued in octopus ink, women were treated like indentured cooks-maids-baby incubators and every third adult male started his own church when he wasn’t debating buttons versus hooks and other matters of eternal salvation.

I come from a long line of ‘undesirable aliens’ — similar to the ones we Canadians are now supposed to “watch out for!”

I and my kind are lucky our predecessors were given a free, tax-payer-sponsored, gov-enforced sanctuary on the East Reserve, or all the gun-toting Canadian citizens back then might have chased the invading hordes of Mennos the heck back to Mother Russia to get ground up like foarmaworscht in history’s most violent wars.

The wide-eyed Molotschnian folk who arrived here were dependent in many ways on the kindness of strangers. They received that from Canadians — and Germans and Brits along the way, too! Now it’s our turn, even if we don’t like the looks of this incoming bunch. Some of them are religious fanatics. Oba!

By 2050, Canada will be 50%+ Asian and the U.S. will be a Hispanic majority, so really, squabbling now is just a waste of our znackzote-scented breath anyway.

My grandkids are French-Menno-Ukrainian-Metis and I’m proud of it and I suspect old Delegate Toews might be too if he was still around. He is one of those responsible for some of the details of the Mennonite diaspora, back in 1873.


I respect opposing opinions because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us the ability to be 100% full of horse dung, a by-product that — when frozen — is good for road hockey but wears out its welcome in a warm room full of loud-talking Mennonite settlers’ offspring.

“Disagreement makes the world go ’round.”
— Chuck Toews (to me, my sisters, my daughters, and quite a few others)

Best of Fiction on the Web

Write. Edit. Research. Submit. Wait.


For short story writers, this is the air we breathe – the ink we drink. The, “Thank you for submitting,” e-mail we dare not open. It can be a grind because even the best get rejected. Even the best are shunned.

But occasionally the stars align, the would-be fatal bullet hits you right in the pocket flask (or Bible; it’s either Gibsons or Gideons) and you survive. A story appears. People read it and a few of them comment. One or two like it. The story makes its way around and the editor might think, well, that was a pretty good pick!

Then, riding that rare rogue wave – you get picked again. You are, dear boy, a ‘Best of’ author. (Cue: Whistling Bridge Over the River Kwai music or maybe Chariots of Fire – bare feet slapping through the surf.)

Anyway, this is a long way round to tell you that my story, “Nothing to Lose” is one of those fortunate few to be picked for Charlie Fish’s first ever anthology of Fiction on the Web (1996-2017).

Mine is a story about a Canadian man and some of the choices he had to make on the prairies in the early 1960’s. Do we ever fully release ourselves from the grasp of regret? At what cost?

All I know for sure is it’s nice to be picked.

I remember the ribboned woodgrain of that pale yellow door. I remember the diesel exhaust residue from the Zamboni and the other smells – ice, sweaty leather, and the stick of Juicy Fruit the caretaker gave me. He’s beside me at the back of the pack, me trying to see. It’s the Bantam team try-out results.


I had no real chance. I started skating late and despite a love for it, the goalie spot was unlikely for me. “A foregone conclusion,” as my dad, a famous defenceman in his day — try-out with the Red Wings — used to say.


“Think you made it?” Mr. Thiessen said, looking down at me.


“Nah. Pete, and then Bobby, as back-up,” I said, flipping wet hair off my forehead.


“Can you see?” I said to him. The list was taped to the door of the dressing room. It was on the coach’s Royal Bank of Canada stationery. Typed names. Double-spaced.


“Gotta do the ice,” he said, chewing hard on his gum. “Huskies play tonight.” He nudged me as he walked off. “Let me know,” he said, turning half around, his boots loud on the skate-scarred wood planks.



The Best of Fiction on the Web press release

Chapter 26

Mulholland and Hardbar

My WIP novel work continues and I have reached 64K words. That’s 64,000 first draft words. That number will likely turn into quite a few less after some slasher action by the grim reaper, formerly of Cambridge… now a regular at the White Hart, near Gunthorpe Street of Whitechapel. (My freelance editor James, who believes the only good adverb is a dead adverb. He likes his verbs naked.)

It is a pivotal chapter – where the book’s title characters meet! Here’s a chapter blurb:

Chapter 26 – Mulholland has a guest. Hardbar has injected himself into the world of Penrose Pond. They start out with an apropos sea-faring adventure, on April One. It’s Grandfa’s birthday, and also a wee tip-o-the-cap to the author’s real-life father-in-law – a dark-skinned gent named Henry (Heinrich) Kasper, born on April 1 and said to be descended from one of the three wise men.

The introduction of Mul and HB, featuring: Krüt, a parka Jesus, and a “beastly waat schneemachine!”

And a first-draft snippet:

With a glower, Hardbar dove headlong off the foot ramp of the snowmobile where he stood. He was powerful, and he cleared the water easily, his padded chest landing with a muffled, “whump!” on the ladder. A crescent of ice near his knees broke away and floated creekward. His lower legs were immersed, and he scrambled, cursing — his eyes wild — towards Mulholland.

“Back! Pull backwards!” he yelled as he scampered forward, banging his knees on the ladder rungs and scuttling forward, all ahead full.

Mulholland, kneeling behind the ladder, jerked hard to pull it towards him. It did not budge with the 150-pounds of Hardbar weighing it down. It was too heavy for Mulholland and his awkward position. He jerked again and again, but his knees and toes just slipped on the ice. As he tugged, the grey, deeply fissured wood dowel that was the bottom rung made a cracking noise. He stopped for fear of snapping it.

Hardbar was now more than halfway towards him. Another large half-moon had broken away behind him and a grinning semi-circle of dark swirling water reached as far as Hardbar’s feet. The snowmobile end of the ladder was submerged.

“STOP!” Mulholland commanded. Hardbar looked up at him, his face wet and granules of ice stuck in his beard. “We gotta slide the ladder along with us. It won’t move with you on it – I got no grip!”

“Okay, yeah!” Hardbar said, understanding the predicament immediately. He flopped off the ladder, lying alongside and hugging it one-armed and one-legged in a post-coital embrace. He untied the knotted arms of the parka. “Here,” he said, flipping the coat at Mulholland who was shimmying down along the other side of the ladder, bringing himself abreast of Hardbar. They each grasped a sleeve and the hooded parka lay atop the ladder spread-eagled.

“Like Jesus on da cross,” Hardbar commented, looking at the parka figure. Then, his accent faint, he said, “serious, can you swim? I really can’t.”

Tray bong, tray bong…





Where I am Less-lesser-known

A friend and colleague signed his writerly email, “in the struggle”. I liked that in a whole bunch of ways. My new occupation is revenue-negative and offers many noble struggles. I’m in it, for sure.

I have always been the “man of action” type. If I have a problem, I set about fixing it without delay, despite not knowing what the hell I’m doing.

“What are you looking for?” Janice often asks, in a reasonable effort to help as I buzz by, like an angry wasp looking for something to sting.

“I’ll know when I find it,” says I.

So too, it goes with writing. I received some professional prep along the way in my days at Dun & Bradstreet, but those reports were so clipped and “factoidinal” that even the current U.S. President would find them too brief. (If he spoke English, which Las Vegas stakes at 4:1 that he does not.)

My long wasteland sojourn as a propagandist for various window and door makers also gave me some writing chops, but not, I fear, of the MFA/bright new voice variety. For example, I once penned this slogan for a wood window and door manufacturer: “Dedicated to Wood”. I did, it’s true, not see eye-to-eye with my boss — nice fellow though he was/is — and I let that obvious, smirk-inducing double-entendre go to bat for us, so to speak, partly out of my mean spirit. (He approved it, so – I guess it’s on him.)

So, unprepared as I was, the last three years of writing and submitting stories to literary magazines and contests has been educational! I’ve relied on my lifelong survivalist instinct and “Imma quick learner, eh,” attributes to see me through. Now I have a truly gifted freelance editor on ‘my team’ and my learning curve is a-spikin’.

The thing that continues to puzzle and inspire is the audiences that I have found – or that have found me.

The twitter graph above tells the tale. My stories tend to do well in the U.S. and also in the U.K. & Ireland. Canada is on the podium, but you’d think — at least I did — that the True North would be my base. I supposed my hometown crowd would be the one that GOT all my arcane references and cheered every goal and razzed the penalties.  (“REJECTIONS SUCK…REJECTIONS SUCK!”) Instead, my Canadian twitter followers are third ranked.

Granted, my >4K sample of twitter stats is an imprecise demographic, but at least it gives me some kind of a read on who out there is, uhh, reading me and where they’re from. (57% female, mostly professional and making more money than I ever did flogging fenestration.)

I suppose part of it is because my stories of Canada and its small towns, quirky Mennonites, zillion-tree forests, and sparkling waters are a fresh take for U.S. and U.K./IE readers living in crowded cities filled with unminded gaps and too-handy handguns.

I went with this apparent vibe and have hooked my word wagon to the star of a London-based editor. Mr. McKnight also gives me insight as to why Brits and other non-Canucks might appreciate my oblong characters from a square world.

As I write my novel, I have felt the subtle nudge from Albion and have included some characters from further afield:


Billy Penrose: a Cornishman transplanted to the prairies; a lover of the Boreal biome and at home in his adoptive Canadian version of the 50th parallel – far from his salt-soaked origins. He is my MC’s Grandfa.



Patel: An Indo-Canadian youth, born in Canada and a friend to the MC. He is subject to the racism and ignorance that was (and is) part of the Canadian patchwork quilt society. This character is both a tip of the metz to my 2% follower-reader cohort from India, and also a reflection of my own life experience on the University of Victoria campus in the mid-seventies.

* * *

us flag reader

Sooo, seeing as 53% of you reading this are statistically-likely to be American, and I have already twisted your tail by teasing your Pres (“Ol’puddin-head”) I should acknowledge you – a loyal and mighty clan.

Several U.S. literary sites have done me the honour of accepting my work. I do have quite a few U.S. points of reference in my stories because, well – we’re neighbours. Also, I’ve worked for and with Americans and much of my travelling has been in the States.

My most recent publication will sit on a rocking chair on the front porch of a Berkeley, CA publication: riverbabble. This site has been in operation since 2002 and I feel a special thrill to be included.

My story here is based in part in Tacoma, WA and also spends some dreamy time in a ballpark somewhere along the Canadian/U.S. border. In the era the story is set, there were cross-border leagues in operation featuring teams from neighbouring states and provinces. It was “country baseball”, all bruised knuckles and peeling paint, but it embodied the kind of earthy, poetic beauty that I find in almost all sports.

Anyway, you can find many wonderful poems, flash fictions, short stories and essays here: riverbabble 32 Winter Solstice 2018, including my fiction, “In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence”.

riverbabble 32 cover

Tray Bong! 





Life in the Noireal Forest

I am so far in, I’m out again.

Here, deep in the rotting guts of my novel WIP, “Mulholland”, it’s winter. This place is cold and isolated. It’s fearfully unforgiving. I’ve killed one already — a boy — and I’m laying the groundwork to take another life. Meanwhile, my main character is festering; his will to do good snapping like a frozen twig along the trail.

Centipedes, weevils, and maggots follow me around. Crows perch on the sundeck railing like it was a gallows, gossiping loudly in Hitchcock voices about my murderous intent. Snapping turtles have roused from their rock-hard winter sleep, yawning hungrily and awaiting fresh carrion.

My hands already blooded, I can’t go back and I reach for the black-hearted keyboard…

Mulholland drove on, thinking hateful thoughts. He was out of sorts. The sky was cloudless. Blue as a package of Black Cat cigarettes; clear and cold. The red needle on the temperature gauge sagged below the equator into the COLD half of the register. He knew tonight would be bitter, the stars out and bright, but providing no heat – only suggesting that somewhere, far away, it was warm.

Phew! Good thing a diminutive Mennonite named Hardbar (he’s a Friesen) arrives soon to lighten the mood. In Friedensdorf, a town full of Friesens, Hardbar is one of seven sons with six paternal uncles and a dog named… what else? Friesen.


Babbling in Berkeley

Like many people, I check my phone too often. Like all writers with work outstanding, “Pending Response”, as Duotrope describes it in a much-muted fashion, I check my inbox WAY too often.

A few days ago, I received a note from Publication “X”, with whom I have a short story under consideration. Their note was not directly related to my submission, however; it was addressed to me as one of a group of “Contributors”. My writey-sense a-tingle, I double-checked and the answer came back from my beer-blunted memory, “No, you have not yet been accepted by this pub!”

I shrugged it off as a Mail Chimp accommodation – the message had come to me as a request for a donation to Pub X’s funding efforts for 2018. I had not contributed a story, but I had submitted and I supposed that they had amalgamated the lists — submitters and contributors — into one mega-list for their pitch mail-out.

Knowing the punch-in-the-throat feeling of believing, “Score!” only to have Lucy yank the pigskin away with a flourish, I was guarded with my feelings. Oh yes, the ponies were ready, all right:  the wild horse in the breaking surf joy. Galloping joy. Unbridled. Splashy, splashy. Joy.

But, I said, no. “Whoa, horsey,” I proclaimed aloud, sipping my Beausejour Co-Op dark roast, in-store special blend. I remained an inscrutable Mennonite, the horses quiet in my mental house-barn.

So, anyhow… I then received a note from riverbabble. Like Publication X, I did have a submission pending with these good Berkeleyites. The email contained a publication release form. My blood froze – just like my sewer line did a week ago. Here is a better way to put it:

 Cold oils slid along his vein chilling his blood…

JAMES JOYCE, Ulysses, Calypso, 2734-2743.

Oh bah yo! I heard a distant nickering. Then an urgent whiney. Hooves stomped on hay-strewn floorboards and equine snot made a splatting, sticking, allegorical dark spot on the half-dry concrete of the barn’s centre aisle.

The horses wanted out! “Let us the beach be running,” they cried to one another, eyes wide and nostrils flared. Horseflesh shivered like potluck Jello from the cheap guy at the office. Metaphors reared up on their hind legs.

And then it was true and I was astride one of them – a fierce blue-black beauty who led the thundering herd, salt water and sweat frothing his flanks. I gripped gritty fistfuls of wet mane hair and wept while I shouted and rode the hardpacked sand at full speed, reckless and jubilant.

Typing furiously, I spilled my cuppa Co-op coffee in a crescendo of communicative copulation… Oh. Too much. Sorry.

riverbabble 32 cover
So, it’s true. My short fiction, “In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” will be a part of riverbabble 32, Winter Solstice Issue, 2018. Having run out my delirium, I sit now at my writing desk, a barn blanket warming me as the sweat cools on my back. “In the Dim Light…” is a story that is as noir and clenched as this blog post is fractured and silly. Light and dark, they both have their place, it’s said.

Thanks to Editor Leila Rae and her clan. It’s my second admission to this group and I know now — I didn’t the first time — just what a fine thing it is to be a contributor to riverbabble!

And who knows, maybe Publication “X” will come through as well. If so, the beach will beckon again and I’ll be only too happy to pound along that broad strand, “with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea,” as they say in Hibbing, MN.

allfornow – Mitch


A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley


Editing: “Nuts and Bolts and Oiling”

January 10, 2018. Here’s a thoughtful article from a skilled editor. Sue Tyley did the editing on the upcoming print anthology, “The Best of Fiction on the Web”, in which my short story, “Nothing to Lose”, appears. The book is in for typesetting now and Senior Editor Charlie Fish is working on a cover and other design and content decisions. A foreword by author Julia Bell and a felicitous contribution from actor-writer Richard E. Grant – of Game of Thrones fame, and more – are two items to be included.

A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley


For more information on the “The Best of Fiction on the Web” anthology, follow the following fish:

icon_FOTW fish

And here’s the LATEST from Fiction on the Web, a cool place to hang out, NAWMEAN!? P.S. – My affected London accent has a flat, nasal, Plautdietsch ring to it. Keanu Reeves ain’t got a ‘fing on me.

A Letter to My Conservative Friends

What do you do the day your sewer pipe freezes? I wrote this.

First of all, am I a ‘snowflake’ because I don’t want the environment to be irrevocably ruined? If so, sign me up! I’m in. Call me names if you must just don’t say I’m irresponsible or negligent.

You see, the environment, last time we checked, ignored political borders. So, yeah – I am inclined to pay attention to what goes on, south of the border, down USA way. Also, whatever disease they have right now – I’m hoping we’re immune. But I doubt it.

Therefore, I believe we need more snowflakes, dude! Banks and drifts and dunes of ’em!

More scientists, too. Scientists, most would agree, are best taught in schools, not in houses of worship. “Why?” So the scientists have the freedom to ask, “Why?” instead of stating, “Because that is our faith.”

Let our faith be that we will have the scientists ask why, over and over, and then, well, let’s go from there.

Can we not let schools be schools and their views–from crop science to medicine–be broad? Broad enough, at least, to see that the earth is not flat, appearances notwithstanding. Even at the corner of the #1 and the #12 – a plain if there ever was one.

Gather by the margin of the river? Of course! Scientists don’t prevent that. They shine a light on that Chartered pledge. Gather by any river you want.

Aliens Need Not Apply

‘Libtard’ – a shameful, ignoble word and I’m positive most of my friends don’t use it except when they are with an extreme crowd. Peer pressure. Anyway – am I a libtard because I don’t want a Canadian version of the WALL around “our” part of the sandbox? (The same sandbox we grabbed when the previous tenants weren’t looking.)

Sure, my weak-ass approach might mean sharing more of Canada with some odd Queeg Quegs who did not RSVP. Just like in 1873, when the Métis, French, the subjects of the British Queen, and all the established patches in the quilt around the Red River of the North had to get used to us. And we were a bunch of dike-building, silk-spinning, plum-growing peaceniks. Aliens? Oh bah, joh! 

We sat in our white-washed (inside and out), gender-segregated churches and argued about our ancestors –  the people who waged word wars about buttons versus hooks. (Like Dee Oolah even cared.) Oh, what a magnificent gaggle of crazed zealots we were!

“Mennonites with hooks and eyes,
are pleasing to the Holy Guise.
But Mennonites with buttons and pockets
are choice trinkets for the Devil’s lockets.”

Günter Gross, via page 503, Mennonite Low German Dictionary, Jack Thiessen

We were bonneted, bearded, stubborn, obscenely productive foreigners who spoke Plautdietsch like we really, really meant it. Deutsch issued from our lips even as Canada fought wars against Deutschland. Hmm…I would have thought that was suspicious. It was! It was, and yet they let us carry on – every Hans and Heinrich and Helen.

But we, of course, and to our ever-lasting credit (union and otherwise) made the struck pay off. “Damn it, how those Mennos can make the Red Fife grow!” happy prairie politicians said, twirling their moustaches with fingers dipped in every pie.

They all got used to us, I guess. The Englanders and colour commentators (“A good Canadian kid!”) can now pronounce our strange, umlauted names as accurately as any church elder. Now they prize our books, buy our autos, elect us to high office; even teach us graft and greed! (We’re fast learners and even offer some tricks of our own – like conflating church, and state and industry – a time-honoured way to make pigshit flow uphill.)

So be it – as we were welcomed, let us welcome others. Bring on the frintschoft, the fast-talkers, the money-changers, the dishwashers, the uber drivers and the undertakers. In fact, invite the whole madman’s rainbow garden, sown with every flavour, stripe and viewpoint and let them brandish their curly daggers and their straight laces alike. They will enrich us, and although that road may not be perfectly smooth, it’ll be worth the trip.

So be it, indeed. Even if that means acquiring some new, elastic personal boundaries, or smelling a little more garlic–or curry–or seeing a tall spire, here and there. Even on ‘your’ side of Sumas Avenue.

Also, we must remember: as the USA turns to a Hispanic majority–estimated to happen in 2044–Canada will become an Asian majority by 2050, or so. I want my children and their kids ready for that sea change, not meeting it with irrational dread and regurgitating old great-bias and great-great-hatred.

Soa doa wie doat nich

Am I a ‘sinner’ because I fear the climate is shifting and we are bringing it about?

“We don’t do it like that – it is not our way,” as author Elizabeth Reimer Bartel wrote* with a full heart.

God commanded his flock a long time ago to not worry about things like climate. “I got this,” He might have said, had He cameoed on a TV sitcom.  (Yes, you can PVR God, just not on more than two channels at once.) “You guys go ahead and sacrifice that lamb, dam that creek, burn that whale oil, domesticate those beasts – let me worry about the deets.” We made the deal and now there are nine billion of us and the creeks are all dammed and we are drowning in the deets, Big Oolah.

I’m guessing that since He has not fixed things, He’s either suffering from some major Saviour’s block or He wants us to use our miraculous brains to fix it ourselves. I expect it’s the latter.

Sunday (Afternoon) Golf

Am I a ‘leftist’, or is that just what you call all those who push back at the hate mongering that passes for leadership?

I imagine a foursome for golf. Let’s call it a politically-mixed group. It comprises the American Steve Bannon (I think he’s American? Could be Russian?), a Syrian refugee who froze off six fingers when walking over North Dakota beet fields to get to Canada, dee aforementioned Oolah, and me. The odiferous and the ornery, the omnipotent and the obstreperous.

We play the game not with clubs and golf balls, but by hurling ideas as far as we can. More like Frisbee golf, come to think of it, especially since three of us have beards and one of us wears sandals. (Not Birkenstocks, alas.)

Bannon strikes first, launching now-commonplace shock and awe as far and as wide as his amplified voice can broadcast. He flings it from a high place and some of what he throws lands in Canada. Sharp Operators observe with interest, “Hey! That could work here, too!” they say, grinding their unblemished knuckles into the eye of reason.

Next up, the four-fingered Syrian. She was an engineer back in her native land, so she has rigged a clever device to take her shots; overcoming her physical infirmity. Her prosthesis is constructed of gold and measures precisely 12 inches. Trim it, she did, with history and law, though these nostalgic indulgences were easily rubbed off. Not knowing the course we played, her powerful drives bounced badly, misbehaving and leaving her with impossible lies.

It was my turn, but Bannon’s caddy pushed me aside and said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it!” He took my shot and I admit it was much stronger than I could have managed. It travelled at least a country mile – from dit seid to yan. In comparison, my effort would have hardly made it off the tee. The gallery gave a rousing cheer and noted his black boots and brown shirt. “Natty attire,” they whispered with admiration. “That’s what we need, a man who buys his shirts and his ideology abroad. Someone to make golf great again here in Canada too!”

“You’re up, Big Hitter,” I said, but the Almighty was busy with a call from the hereafter. “Long distance, gotta take this,” He said, His words rolling like thunder. He gestured to the Syrian engineer. “Take another turn,” He said. “Knock one right down the waterline!”

She waggled, she knitted her brow, she rent her clothes, and she bowed her head. Just as she began, the florid caddy ran up with a fully automatic rulebook. “She can’t play!” he bawled, unlocking the safety on his weapon. “She’s not a member! She doesn’t belong!”

All eyes turned to the attendant elected official, whose ruling was law.

“Sorry, I have a previous engagement in St. Pierre, at the Frog Follies,” the official said and he slipped away in silence, his thousand legs churning in practiced conformity.

“Well, look, she’s with me and I’m the founding member. So slow your role,” God said, eyeing the caddy’s red hat and wondering how it could fit over that albino mink coiled on his scalp.


And it came to pass in the land of Nod–the land of vigorous, sycophantic, sanguine nod–that the lowly caddy became king. “Kiss his ring? You can’t be serious,” I say.

Really though, who would follow such a man? “Who? I scream up at the six-story bunker? Who?” I whisper to the woman, up early to do some baking – the only way she has time. (Meet Netty at the mall, go straight to work, pick up the kids after school, make dinner, work on my dissertation, get dressed for the Christmas program. Is that tonight?) Who? I demand of the once-outspoken preacher’s kid who sits drinking coffee, spezearen and smirking while his proxies inherit the earth for him. Who? I ask of the slave drivers who strain to shove a shop-worn camel through the eye of a needle, “just one more time.”

Where is the line of dissenters – each in that queue as conscientious and true to themselves and their children as Christ the carpenter? Would that line not be a raging, roaring, rippling, steel chain 7,448 KMs long?

“From Bonavista to Vancouver Island;
the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters?”**

And when he shouts, “Bomb them!” we reply in unison, “Give them bread.” And when he says, “Build the wall!” the congregation sings, “Love thy neighbour!” And when he hisses, “They defile Him.” we shout, “He is in them.”

And would that unflinching line not be led by clear-eyed Mennonitisch people with their DISAVOW pens flowing dark; indelible with the ink of their antecedents? I want to believe it would be so. Unsaved, auf’jefollnah wretch that I am, I want to sign on. I want to link arms and bellow, “Not on my watch!” with the same conviction as that hollow pipsqueak who once spat those words in the face of the 98-pound high school girl in the Council Chambers.

The A-word

But, if it’s all about abortion for you, then let’s talk. Let’s take a deep breath. I respect your passion. Many are driven by their abhorrence for abortion.

So be it, I’m not arguing that issue. There might be a fifteen-year-old living on the street who has an opinion – I’ll leave you two to discuss things. Again, deets.

The US president has made clear promises about abortion. It’s off-putting to you that his lifeboat is filled with a collection of repellent Scaramucciesque characters. The US President himself is unapologetically vile in his behaviour when held to the standards we all (try to) follow–conservatives in particular– in our own lives. This US President, the caddy in the little parable above, is shunworthy by any church standard. He and his chosen crew are those who would take you down with them, but you believe it’s the last boat – the only boat.

I sense that you feel compelled because “he promised to fight against abortion for us.” And, “he’ll change the law in America and then we can vote in a Canadian clone here, right?”

Maybe. He could just as easily bail out on you, leaving you with only your heart and no sleeve upon which to wear it.

I  know that you see right through this bad caddy’s specious fake-fervour – you know what he really is. So, why do you believe he will support you when the time comes? His political needs always come first, isn’t that obvious? He’s likely to abandon you for some new expedient and he’ll do it with a tweet. A message you may not ♥.


If you hunt or are a target shooter or a collector, fill your boots. Maybe you need a .22 for the farm or at the cottage. (That last one is a stretch.) But other than that, I have reservations. I hope Canada does not copy this frightening American trait. GUNS.

The 12 months of 2017 in the United States:
🔫  61,113 total number of gun incidents
🔫  15,501 gun deaths
🔫  31,065 gun injuries
🔫  345 mass shootings
🔫  2,003 unintentional shootings
🔫  2,018 incidents of defensive gun use
🔫  3,949 children/teenagers shot or killed
Canadian numbers are creeping upwards. Do we really want to join in reckless gun ownership and proliferation? The problem is, if we get a “populist” Canadian version of the current POTUS, it might come part and parcel with Republican style anti-gun control rhetoric and policy. Surely we can leave that to our US neighbours. Do you agree?

The Bully Pulpit

As a kid, I was the owner of a late birthday and a precocious nature. I was a small boy, usually the youngest in the class, and I had shrimp-orange hair, a bumper crop of freckles and ears like London Cab doors. Teasing came my way, not unlike the Steinbach snowstorm of ’66. True to popular gingerology, I possessed the infamous redhead short fuse so black eyes and split lips ensued. (Mostly mine.)

I earned, via the court of knuckle justice, a discerning eye and ear for blow-hards. I could spot a bully who was secretly not willing to back it up in the same way some schnoddanäs pastors claim they can spot a gay congregant. I’d hone in on these posers and challenge them:

Runty me: “Shut up!”
Big bully: “Nay!”
Runty me: “Then let’s fight.”
Big bully” “Nay!”

Doing this repeatedly, I developed a keen sense of Naydar. (Nadir too, in some cases.)

When these self-professed toughs backed down, I won a small measure of street cred there on the Southwood School playground. If I was off in my assessment, I endured a physical pounding – so my iterative process, like editing, painfully discerned the true from the false.

I also learned not to lead with my right hand.

Fast forward to 2016. #45 came on the US scene and I read him as a straight up heehnaschiet. A pair of deuces acting like a flushNo doubt about it – my Naydar screamed its verdict like the in-dash Geiger counter on Bond’s Aston Martin db5.

Evidence? His unfulfilled threats against North Korea and his yellow-bellied bluster against women who accused him of a host (not heavenly) of misogyny. He’s all talk, locker room and otherwise. Vietnam deferments, I’ll remind you, made his true character clear long before he became a seedy pop-culture symbol. An unconscientious objector.

I believe Putin has a similar result on his Nyetdar, so please my friends – don’t lead with your right.


Fun reading for masochists: Fire & Fury Excerpts

That’s it. We may differ, but I like you, ya know? That’s why I bother with all this nertjeI hope you can still like me. Just maybe not, you know, online. I’ll understand. 🙂


The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

The Rothmans Job
By Mitchell Toews

A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”


Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.


Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.


“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.

“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”

“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.


Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.


Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”