Monthly Archives: August 2014

Baby-Talking Her Way into the Kingdom of Heaven

We sat in a conspiratorial circle: deep down in the dark dank, hormonal dungeon, of an unfinished Ville-Émard basement. Aside from the flickering flame of a drippy dollar-store candle, the room was pitch black. My best friend’s parents were out of town, and Alex Vinetti and I were alone, at last, with girls—playing that timeless 13-year-old game, which might as well be called Let’s Break the Sexual Tension by Scaring the Shit Out of Each Other™.

It’s a game that, like hockey, consists of three periods. In the first, we recounted with deadly seriousness every scary ghost story we knew. In the second, we played Ouija—until the planchette developed a demonic mind of its own; Christina screamed bloody murder; and Kim locked herself in the bathroom.

Of course this was all just a kind of awkward adolescent foreplay, all just a prelude to the main event: the third period, wherein we’d get to play Truth or Dare™, an ingenious game that allows the young to rise—above their insecurities—and soar, far above and beyond good and evil: a game that allows the young to guilelessly and guiltlessly give-in to their capacious curiosity, without shame, or consequence.

Though the musty air was practically pregnant with pheromones, we were all just too young, and too chickenshit, to talk about sex. So we talked about death, with all of the erotic intensity, and attention to detail, of a bird of paradise, busily at work, on his palatial love nest.

“What’s the last thing you wanna hear before you die, John?”—pretty sure Christina came up with that gem.

“The last thing I wanna hear is the sweet summer sound of a red-winged blackbird: con-ca-reeeee-ah, con-ca-reeeee-ah, con-ca-reeeee-ah. It’s a sound that never fails to fill me with a half-crazy happiness, a sound that elicits a rapturous response, immediately and inexplicably, a response that wells up from unfathomed depths, from the very ground of my being, a delightfully demonic sound that possesses me, in an instant, with a kind of divine madness, a Dionysian ecstatic giddiness that’s so sudden and uncontrollable and over-the-top that, truth be told, it’s kind of embarrassing.”

If we played Truth or Dare™ late one night, in 2012, when I was 38, and you asked me the same question, I’d have given you the same answer I gave Christina, in 1987, when I was 13. But if you asked me today, in 2015, I’d have to confess: the blackbird’s been bumped—ousted, and replaced—by an even sweeter sound, a golden honey sound, that poured, out of my neighbor’s window, and onto avenue Laval: All. Summer. Long.

I’m talkin bout the sound Ashley Sabin makes when she’s talking to her baby girl, in her singsong voice. I’m talkin bout the sound of a love-struck mother, baby-talking her way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

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Some Asshole FLASHed my Kids in the Park!

“With THE FLASH Pass Platinum your reservation reduces wait time by up to 90%!
It also includes 2X — where you can enjoy selected rides TWICE IN A ROW
without leaving your seat!”—Six Flags Entertainment Corporation

Fullscreen capture 2015-06-03 44642 PM

There have always been assholes who cut in line at the amusement park, but Six Flags Entertainment Corporation has now made it legal for them to do so. If you’re willing to pay extra, you can actually buy the right to cut ahead of sweaty parents who’ve been waiting in line with antsy kids for an hour or more. It’s maddening—utterly maddening—especially when you consider how much the price of regular admission has gone up in the last few years. The lines are already really long, far longer than they should be. So seeing someone cut the line is just horrible when your kids are hot and sweaty and thirsty and sunburned and grumpy because although we’ve been at the park for four hours they’ve only been on three rides!

Fullscreen capture 2015-06-03 43844 PMFLASH passes reek of the Ancien Régime—with its purchased aristocratic titles, conspicuous consumption, and appallingly unapologetic unfairness. They are, for that very reason alone, deeply offensive to anyone who shares my democratic values. But, regardless of your values, I think FLASH passes are also simply bad for business. Just as private schools undermine our public school system, and two-tiered healthcare systems undermine our public healthcare system, FLASH passes undermine our faith in the price of regular admission. Airlines have been slowly figuring this out lately. When pretty much everyone is getting some sort of discount, the regular price starts to look like a lie.

Be that as it may, even if I could afford to get my kids FLASH passes, I wouldn’t do so for fear that it might turn them into assholes. Think about it, what kind of vile elitist messages are you communicating to your kids when you buy them a FLASH pass: hmm, well, among other things, you’re teaching them that (1) rich people don’t have to be patient; (2) the regular laws of the land don’t apply to you when you’ve got money; (3) you’re more special and more important than the other kids because your parents happen to be rich.

I’m reminded of something my wise old friend Robert Warren once said at a dinner party: “Even if a private school could somehow guarantee that they could give my daughter a superior academic education, I still wouldn’t send her there because private schools invariably give your kid a terrible social education. They inculcate elitist values, and turn your sweet little kid into an entitled little brat.” Robert is, incidentally, the pastor who married Anna-Liisa and I. He’s also the former head of the Old Brewery Mission (the largest homeless shelter in the Montreal area). We wanted him to marry us because he represents, for us, everything that’s best about the social gospel tradition, everything that’s best about Christianity: its universalism, its democratic sensibility, and its commitment to social justice. Robert would be grossed out by the FLASH pass, of that I am sure. Perhaps I should give him call. Been awhile since we talked. He’s been living in France for quite some time now, a place that still seems to remember why 1789 happened—a place that still seems to understand why it may need to happen again.

The FLASH pass is, at bottom, a rejection of the middle-class vision of the American Dream that Walt Disney explicitly celebrated with his democratic-design for Disneyland: a design that soon became the industry standard for amusement parks. Sure, the place (Disneyland) and the man (Disney) had issues. No doubt about that. But it’s hard to miss the egalitarian intention of the park pass (a Disney invention, I was surprised to learn). The original intent of the park pass was to create a little democratic Nation of Fun, where “all men” (and women and children) were “created equal” as soon as they crossed that magical border into Disneyland. Disney’s model was considered crazy at first. The norm at the time was for kids to pay for rides individually. This meant that rich kids could go on ride after ride after ride, whilst less fortunate kids had to sit there and watch. But the new amusement park model pioneered by Disney (which, I hasten to add, very much mirrored the middle-class America that emerged out of the ashes of the Second World War and the Great Depression) wasn’t cool with that anymore. The FLASH pass really hits a nerve precisely because it makes manifest how far we’ve fallen from the grace (and gracefulness) of those halcyon days. Watching a kid jump the line with a FLASH pass is sort of like being told that your kid’s Grade 3 teacher isn’t willing to give your son help with his times tables because you paid the regular admission, but she is willing to give little Tina extra help with her math homework because her parents paid extra.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)