The Appalachian Highlands


Let me tell you a little story.

 When I was in the fifth grade, I had to write a report about The Appalachian Highlands for my Social Studies class. I call it a class but it was more or less just a period of time we worked on social study type things: geography, history, culture, politics, monarchs, and others. My grade five teacher was an old Irish woman named McLarney. She liked to wear white collared blouses with grey hand-knit shawls that she clipped together with brass broaches. She had a thick accent and she like to slap the top of desks with metre sticks when we were being unruly. She had this tendency to use strictly yellow chalk. It meant that her hands were always covered in a thin film of banana peel coloured dust which she generously transplanted to your shoulder when ever she checked on you doing your work.

McLarney was my second teacher at the elementary after I moved back to the city. She was, unbelievably, my fifth consecutive middle-aged female homeroom teacher. In hindsight, I only had 1 male homeroom teacher my entire grade school experience.

Anyway, McLarney was a rigid disciplinarian and believed in the rule of law in the classroom, neat handwriting on your assignments, and she rarely tolerated any kind of outburst. Once, a student went on a name-calling rampage in the coat and boot area. He called us all “stooges.” It felt worse than it really was but the allegations found their way to McLarney in proper time. She had him reprimanded in the “quiet room” — a blue padded room near the principal’s office where hyper-active children were sent to calm down. I don’t think Derrick every forgave us for getting him that time in the hole. I hope he’s over it.

So early in the year, McLarney handed out our first-half projects for each course. Science was designing a Science Fair experiment. Language Arts was a novel study: Lois Lowry’s The Giver. And in Social Studies, well, we had to write a research report about one particular geographical region of Canada.

This assignment was exciting for me because it was going to be the first full length research report I’d written on something that wasn’t an animal. Recently, I had knocked both walruses and polar bears out of the park, I was excited for the change in theme. And, the other cool part, was that we had to work in teams. I loved working in teams. I think it was a sports thing.

I ended up teaming up with a new kid at school. He’d just started at our school in grade five, but he liked playing soccer at recess and talking about the Oilers with me over peanut butter sandwiches at lunch. His name was Ryan Wass. In a funny turn of fate, years down the road, we ended up playing against each other in high school football. I heard he got into insurance back home, as far as I know, he’s still there.

So it goes that Ryan and I were teammates on this report. It was my job to pick the region from a list of fifteen or so. Of course, looking for the easiest way out of most things, I picked the region with some of the smallest area in Canada — at least that’s what I thought by the colour coded map of the regions McLarney laid out for us to choose from.

The Appalachian Highlands

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Glorious Hair Please


I’ve been growing my hair out since November. It goes slow. Feels like some days I’m short the keratin or testosterone or whatever it is inside of us that pushes them damned little hair follicles out of our pores. In four months I’ve seen other guys have curls already forming at the back, the top lengthening out to the point they need to comb it back, or maybe even have enough to make one of those top knots. But mine is not close to that yet. It’s mostly uneven and cowlicky.

I want to cut it off.

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Tits Out, Pants Down, Overnight to London


 I found my estranged grandfather in a Legion in Northwest Winnipeg by accident earlier this month. I’ve probably told the story about a thousand times since it happened. I haven’t heard from the guy since nor have I really thought about it, except when I’m inventing new ways to tell the story. Holding the right notes, shifting in my seat to key discomfort. Swearing. It’s ok, though, that I haven’t heard from him. Like I said the day it happened: I have had three good grandpas in my life, I don’t need a shitty one.

I saw Metric last night at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg. Roommate G and Lady LKL got me into the gig for free. Weird thing is, had it been 2007, I would have paid full score to see that same show. I may have even driven to Calgary on a schoolnight with Your Man Solz and J just to get a glimpse (Fact: I actually did). But after thirty rattily minutes of an uninspired set we made for the exits like we had snuck-in.

Time shifts on all of us, imperceptibly. It’s like taking off a glove in a lot of ways, you can forget so quickly exactly what the air felt like a second ago as the new environment envelops you. How does it feel now? You might ask yourself. If you’re self-aware like that. I do, probably too often to be honest.

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Bear Clan Patrol


 It’s a little colder out than I thought it would be and I’m worried that without a toque or gloves I may not be able to make the entire three hour patrol. Daylight Savings is a slippery fish, what sun you catch at the front you lose at the end, and it is already sinking slowly in the west before we snap our team picture.

Fifteen in total tonight, that’s a good turnout for a Saturday, I’m told. In a backroom in the Ndinawe Youth Centre deep in the heart of Winnipeg’s infamous North End, smudge bowl steaming, we decide to break into three groups. The first group, working on tips from the community, are off to downtown shelters and parkades to kick over rocks and put up flyers looking for a missing Indigenous woman. The other 11 of us are splitting off into two pods and we will weave a braid to each of the four corners of the North End, announcing our presence, squashing potential violence and drug activity, checking dumpsters and abandoned warehouses looking for bodies or people using drugs, and escorting single females home, offering change for people to get on the bus, and picking up needles in playgrounds. It’s my first night on the Bear Clan Patrol. I zip up my coat, pull my hood over my hat, and shove my hands deep in my pockets.

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I Could Get A Good Look at a T-Bone Steak


Winnipeg. Pearl of the Prairies. I landed here in a blizzard at the end of February. People laughed at me. “Going to Winnipeg!” They’d ham it up for me. Remember that Goodyear commercial from 20 years ago where the bald pitchman gets on the wrong flight in his tropical shirt and instead of going to Hawaii he’s, yep, ‘Goin’ to Winnipeg’? Funny how many people remember that silly little line. As with any good advertising, the punch of the line is in its perfect accuracy: nobody can be truly optimistic about flying to Winnipeg in the middle of winter. I felt that same tingling regret of apprehension before I packed myself on to a westbound plane.

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