Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner

The first time I really felt like an ACTOR, was on the set of a TV Christmas special called: Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner. I played a waiter in a snooty restaurant that gives Freddy the "bum's rush" out the door.

We shot this at the Distillery District, in 1981 before it became the DISTILLERY DISTRICT. A great many films have been shot there, at the abandoned Gooderham's plant, and I've worked on a few, but this was my first.

Cobblestone streets, abandoned buildings were only a part of the scene; the art department had done a terrific job, making all of this look like the Depression era Bowery District of New York: the signage on the buildings, desperate looking men huddled around open fires in oil drums, so that when I first arrived and walked through the gates, it felt as though
I'd stepped through a time portal into old Hollywood, onto the back lot at Paramount.

It was the beginning of Fall, 1981, and the scene was dressed for Christmas and it was pure movie magic. During breaks in the shooting, we sat around the fire and listened in awe to Red Skelton's memories of the real depression. Listening quietly and only occasional chiming in was his friend and co-star, the erudite Vincent Price.

Once Red began telling tales, that was it. The spotlight was his, effortlessly. He was around sixty-eight at the time, and full of energy, but his handler always tried to get him to stop so that he could rest. Even when out shopping at the Eaton Centre he was beset by so many fans and well wishers and he would graciously stop and talk with everyone. Red's assistant had to keep nudging him along or he'd never be able to get anything done.

One of the things he told us around that glorious fall fire was that one of his other famous characters, Klem Kadiddlehopper, was actually a legacy from his father, who'd been a circus clown. Red's dad had died just before Red was born and Klem was his inheritance.

It was a lovely Christmas Dinner.

And in the words the Red used to close every show:

Goodnite and may God Bless.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Because we don't know when we will die

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless."
Paul Bowles, from The Sheltering Sky

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Bethlehem Christmas tale.

In October of 1970 we'd planned on spending the winter on Ibiza with the rest of the hippies. But we ended up in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz instead.

Mahn tract, gott lacht. (Loosely translated: wanna hear G-d laugh? Make plans.)

We spent that winter on Kibbutz Ga'ash, a small kibbutz about a half hour north of Tel Aviv sited on cliffs overlooking the Med. In addition to the agriculture, there was a lighting factory, still is, well known throughout Europe for its innovative designs and quality products.

I started in the fields pulling ground nuts (peanuts) out of the ground. Not easy. Then to the avocado groves, and to the lemon groves.

Standing in the middle of a grove of lemons really lets you know what your nose is for. Incredible. Nothing like lemon-scented Pledge. Nothing at all.

After a few weeks we wangled jobs in the dining room. This was the best job. Even though the zmanim (volunteers) had it relatively easy on our kibbutz (we only had to work from about 7 am to lunch, other zmanim on other kibbutzim until four), the kitchen was the best.

Our day started cleaning up after the buffet breakfast: stack the tables, chairs, hose down the tile floors, mop 'em, and squeegee the water to the troughs along the walls. Wash rinse repeat. Let dry. Set up tables and chairs for lunch. Break.

The breaks were the best, fresh baked goods out of the kitchen, hot coffee or ice cold drinks. Then, we were free, left alone until first lunch; this meant an hour and a half off. Then back to serve first lunch (there were two sittings).

And that was it, day done.

The afternoons were spent beaching, a five minute walk down the cliff, or day tripping. I'd bought a motorcycle, a little 90cc Yamaha from a departing volunteer and we'd ride off to see the country: Caesaria, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ein Gedi. Walked the Via Delarosa with pilgrims, saw Crusader graffiti, but didn't leave any of our own, climbed the snake path to Masada.

On Christmas Eve, the Kibbutz arranged for all the volunteers to go to Bethlehem, which on that night, was only accessible by special passes available only to tourists.

When we arrived at dusk, the town was packed. Every hippy in the middle east was there, many carrying four foot candles, and mumbling "far out man". Really. "Far out man."

Many were also stoned out of their minds on hash or arak, an anise flavoured drink.

The other kids there were the eighteen year olds in jeeps with machine guns. The kids in the army just keeping a watchful eye.

The midnight mass service at the Church of the Nativity was packed so the service was projected onto the outside wall of the police station. A little strip mall named, are you ready, "Manger Square" stayed open as did the post office so that you could have your postcards franked "Bethlehem, Christmas Eve". Yup, did that too.

There was a stage set up and choirs from around the world were lined up to sing. Ministers and services and speeches and sermons.

We left around two in the morning and were driven back in an open canvas topped lorry, freezing cold, but a great view.

About an hour outside the city, I looked into the pre dawn sky and saw the Star of Bethlehem poised over the town.

Big, bright, magical. A Hallmark moment. Really. No booze or hash involved.

I'm told it was Venus hanging low in the sky.

That's what I was told anyway.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Clip Clop is a Real Word

While clearing the snow from the sidewalk in front of my house the other day, I heard a nostalgic sound. Two officers of the Mounted Unit were slowly clip clopping down my street. Fine, the officers weren't clip clopping, their mounts were. The cops were saying hello and waving to a couple of kids walking by. Not an unusual sight downtown on the main streets, but this was a first for me down our side street.

Being a downtown city kid in the fifties this was a sound I heard almost every day: our bread, eggs and milk were all delivered by men in company uniforms driving horse drawn wagons. Ice and coal, too. The horses knew their customers, dutifully stopping at the appropriate houses on their routes.

We would run out to give them the occasional sugar cube, carrot or apple.

This was very brave of us, little fingers gingerly heading towards Dobbin's giant teeth.

And for our courage, we would be rewarded with horse shit. Watching animals poo was always a great amusement.

I don't think that's changed today. I don't mean for me I mean for kids.

Then we'd grab shovels larger than we were, scoop it all up and spread the manure on our lawns. I can still smell it.

One summer in the early seventies, an experiment by City Hall allowed carriage rides in the city core and we used to hear that clip clopping going by our house as we drifted off to sleep and they returned to their stalls on the Exhibition Grounds. Too many traffic issues put an end to that experiment.

I love that sound and it was wonderful to hear it again.

Then I went back to shoveling snow instead of horse shit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's about the oil.

I like my latkes thin, crispy and rustic looking.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Turkey Day

A few years ago I was working on a picture called Choices of the Heart about the life of Margaret Sanger the extraordinary woman who founded Planned Parenthood. She lived in a time when you could go to jail for talking about birth control. And she did.

Her part was played by Dana Delaney.

I was the assistant bad guy and the real heavy was played by Rod Steiger.

We were between shots just hanging out on Queen St, east of Victoria and he was talking about the time he was driving through Switzerland with his wife Clare Bloom. They were on the way to visit Charlie Chaplin and his wife Oona, a friend of Clare's. Chaplin took to Steiger that night and they had a wonderful time.

And I'm sitting there thinking, six degrees of separation. I'm having dinner with a guy who had dinner with Charlie Chaplin.

It was a blustery kind of night, not terribly cold but there was a wind and there we were out on the street sitting on a couple of director's chairs.

And it was American Thanksgiving.

Rod was missing his family and really wanted some turkey.

His driver was there having a smoke and Rod called him over. "Go across the street to that restaurant" he said,
"and give 'em that living legend shit. See if they'll do me a turkey."

No happy ending. The restaurant was duly impressed with the "living legend shit" but didn't have a turkey on hand.

We made do from the craft table.

I didn't make the cover, but at least I got billing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why me?

Old story: a ninety year old woman has the good fortune to be able to live by herself and keep her independence even though she has a few medical problems that limit her mobility. She's also fortunate enough to have a much younger neighbour who does her shopping and runs errands.

Sadly the younger friend dies.

The ninety year old's response? Why does everything happen to me?

My mother has survived the war, cancer and now cataract surgery. However one eye still had a slight problem. This was corrected in the ophthalmologist's office with a ten second laser blast.

None of her friends had this problem with their cataract surgery. They were, according to my mother, all out playing golf within hours. Hours!

Why does everything happen to me?

I'm havin' too much fun on Facebook. No good can come of this.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Earlier this year my mother received an invitation to a camp reunion.

It was for the opening of the Museum at Bergen-Belsen. She didn't go. She'd been there once, she said, that was enough. It was only one of the four camps she survived.

Eight brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, didn't. They were murdered.

The camp was liberated on April 15 , 1945 by the Black Bull, the British 11th Armoured Division.

photo by Mohammad Hamid

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

Walt Whitman

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Couple of Clowns

I’ve known Camilla Gryski on and off for a long time. She is, as Today's Parent says, a woman of many hats: a clown, and not just any party in your face clown, but a theraputic clown at Sick Kids; and she’s authored more than a couple of books. One of her books is called: Cat’s Cradle A Book of String Games. Illustrated by Tom Sankey.

In 1971, I become a
professional, Equity card carrying, actor, appearing nightly at the Global Village Theatre on St. Nicholas (now the home of Noah’s Natural Foods).

The show we did was “The Golden Screw” and I think it had won an OBIE in New York; our director was also its author and had starred in it in New York. Tom Sankey.

(A sidebar: the show is still being produced, here and there, hither and yon.)

I bought this on ebay for 99¢ just a couple of weeks ago.
How could I resist?

Fergus Hambleton and the boys provided the music and Gilda Radner worked in the box office selling tickets.

Next year she auditioned for Godspell by singing Zippadee do dah. That's when she became Gilda Radner.

But that day we were just a bunch of clowns trying to get some laughs and make a buck in show biz.

L-R: Michael, Mary Ann, Me, Vinetta & Gilda on Marcus' shoulders

What a wonderful feeling, wonderful day, plenty of sunshine comin' my way.

Friday, November 2, 2007

desperately seeking

I'm not sure why, but I was pressured into joining Facebook.

Not in the "we'll break your legs" kind of way, but in the subtle, "all the really cool kids are doing it" kind of way. And the "you'll have loads of fun" kind of way.

And since I've always been known as a a fad follower post facto trend setter, here I am.

I've trolled around, for I am a troll, and joined a couple of groups.

And wrote on a wall.

And now what?

I feel like the kid at the party hanging out in the corner, who can't decide between the Cheesies and the cute blond with the short skirt. Tough choice. At least I had a shot with the Cheese Puffs, but I'm still wedged in the corner.

Speaking of which, Barbara's Bakery Cheese Puffs are terrific. Get 'em at your local health food (seriously) emporium or Whole Paycheck.

So back to Facebook. I know it's a social networking site. Gotta love that term. And I know it's mostly kids (that definition changes of course, for me now, it's people under 50.)

And as Chuck Lorre wrote on one of his vanity cards, I seem to be invisible to young women. And rightly so, I suppose.

So what am I doing on Facebook. I dunno, I'll let you now after I network some more.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hoard That Candy

Okey dokey, it’s finished, the little monsters, (and turtles, and princesses and spidermen) are home, tucked into their wee trundle beds, dreaming of liquor and wacky tobacky.

Pack up the leftover candy and hoard it until next year. Doesn’t everybody do that?

Come to think of it, I didn’t see any of the traditional H’ween candy this year. You know, the chewy pull out your fillings toffee that was the holiday staple for years. Didn’t actually taste very good, but it did taste like Hallowe’en. Maybe it was just a Canadian thing, but I couldn’t find any reference to it on Google.


Much bigger issues on the horizon: the writers’ strike. ‘Twil impact my teevee viewing, I think.

I side with the writers of course; it’s tough enough stringing two or three words together to express a coherent thought, let alone a cogent one. Try writing those thoughts in the voices of a dozen disparate personalities. And while you’re at it, make it compelling and entertaining.

Amuse us!

It’s all about the future. Writers want a piece of potential future earnings derived from any new media, producers don’t wanna share. Unless they really really really have to.

But they will eventually.

They’re just trying to hold onto the candy until next year.

Even the Teamsters have weighed in, and they pull some heavy weight. While unable to officially endorse the strike, unofficially, leadership has said that they're not crossing any picket lines and if individual members don't want to cross any, that's entirely up to them.

Share the candy fruits of hard labour.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's All Trick, No Treat

It looks like the neighbourhood's going through another cycle. When we first arrived, we ponied up to the little Hallowe'en terrorists for quite a few years and then as the kids got older the numbers dropped off. Hell, one kid was four, now he's got a four year and is still living in the same house.

This year I see more house decorating and many more strollers than has been for a long time. There's no one here that goes all wacky about it trying to mimic a theme park, but people do get into the spirit of things, a cobweb here, a tombstone there.

So, looks like it's off to Costco to lay in supplies of chips and candy and absolutely nothin' healthy.

Remember: Nobody gets out of here alive.

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's, Like, So, You Know, Canadian

We're always talking about our duality as a nation: English, French; East, West; but in reality it's seasonal. We have only two seasons in this country: BBQ & Hockey.

And sometimes on beautiful, crisp and colourful fall days, they overlap and all is right with the world.

Toronto Marathon

Yeah, I know it's for a good cause, the Princess Margaret Hospital. But it's always for a good cause. And it's not just the Toronto Marathon. There's a slew of 'em and they're always on a Sunday.

Maybe the people running this show still think that Sunday's the Lord's Day and nobody's working and nobody's going to be inconvenienced by all the cops rerouting traffic so you have to go miles out of your way to get to work, or go shopping or get to Princess Margaret Hospital for that matter, or some other damn thing.

So why is it always Downtown Toronto? Can't someplace else share the joy, share the glory, of hosting these things.

And if it has to be Toronto, why can't they just close the Gardiner Expressway (which they do practically every other weekend anyway) and run there. Or Exhibition Park. Or High Park. Or Rosedale Valley Road and the Bayview Extension?

It's Sunday. Give it a rest. I need to work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Beauty, The Splendour, The Wonder

Around thirty-six years ago, this week, I worked on a short film called The Lonely Creator. I was a revolutionary, a visionary who espoused (interesting choice of word) the notion that we could do away with MARRIAGE. The production art department dummied up a phony Time Magazine cover. (There was no Photoshop then, everything was done by hand with an Exacto knife and glue. A tough job, requiring skill and a steady hand).

I was married at the time, still am, and to the same girl (not the one in the photo, though), and just found this cover tucked away in a file cabinet.

I even still have the hair.
(Not quite true. I do have the hair but it's in a bag in a drawer).

I've never seen the film however. Perhaps that's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Open Wide

So today I'm at my gentle, thoughtful, kind and efficient Dental Care Provider, Painless Potter, having a checkup and cleaning and I took this shot.

In thirty years of practice, Dr. Sardi says, he's never had a patient take a picture of a procedure while undergoing the procedure.

It's not easy being first, but somebody has to do it.

And at the end, a good report card, and free sugarless gum.

Another day in paradise.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub Thanks for the Grub

We enjoyed a Thanksgiving Dinner at my oldest friend's house last night. I do mean oldest, we were practically litter mates: our mothers were best friends since they were kids, grew up together, were in the same barracks in the concentration camp. Survived together. That kind of oldest friends.

Thanksgiving in Canada has changed from when we were kids in post w
ar Toronto. It was just another holiday, then, no special social import. But over the years here we've begun to treat it as the Americans do, a family and friends day, a day for giving thanks.

I always thought that I hated punkin' pie.
Apparently I don't. I was misinformed.

But sorry, I still have no great fondness for the yam/sweet potato. Yes, I know that they're different, but I don't care.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub.

So we give thanks, not just for a bountiful harvest but for family and friends; for those who gave up everything familiar to venture to a new world. New language, new customs, new opportunities. I have been a stranger in a strange land. To those who survived and endured hardships so that their children wouldn't have to. To those who came before and made it a little easier.

And to those who made it all possible.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Another Boomer Out of the Barn

For forty years or so I suffered from migraines.

Over that time, I figure I lost three days out of every ten. That's a lot of lost days. I was at emerg so often I had my own parking spot. (It's a joke. Although our criteria for buying a house was that it had to be no more than two blocks from a hospital and a library. That's true.)

Most of the time the trigger was barometric pressure, the time just before the rains came. I always had a warning, a kind of mental telegram. But they were deceptive little buggers; I never got a headache without a warning but lots of warnings when no headache arrived.

In the beginning I was able to get by with a little help from aspirin/codeine, then over the years that became Tylenol 4 and Demerol. I functioned fairly well on the those meds with only one side effect: food often tasted better. Go figure.

The trouble was that the headaches often came hand in hand with nausea, so I didn't particularly want to eat.

Anyway, the protocol for many migraine meds is to take them as soon as you get this warning sign. Don't wait for the headache. Some people refer to this warning as an aura. They experience it as a kind of visual halo, a personal light show, you know like an... aura. Never had that myself. For me, my senses went all atingle. I smelled perfume two blocks away; the light, it hurt; touch was tough, I couldn't abide being touched; I heard stuff. Like people whispering. In another country. Sometimes walking/pacing would help, sometimes lying in a dark dark very dark room would help.

When I got this aura or telegram I'd say to P: There's a boomer out of the barn. It's line from Hunt for Red October referring to a sub leaving its holding pen. There's a boomer out of the barn.

So you pop these pills and sometimes they kill the headache, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes the weather changes and they go away by themselves. And sometimes they don't. That's when I'd visit emerg for Demerol.

Men often get cluster headaches. They come in groups over a period of days so you're just not sure when they're really gone. Devious.

And you pop a lot of pills.

If you, and by you I mean you and not me, get regular take an aspirin headaches you haven't got a clue what I'm talking about. A white hot fireplace poker being thrust into my eye would have been a welcome relief. It would have distracted me from the headache for a minute or two.

And I had it easy. Only three days out of every ten. Some poor bastards live with this every single day. Some even have lives and jobs and everything. I marvel.

Anyway people who are afraid of thunder are called astraphobics. Me I'm an astraphilic. I love thunder. I love the sound of it, I love being surprised by it (although it's rarely a surprise). I love the feeling of hearing something Morg from Cave 12 would have heard. I get to feel all warm and fuzzy and human and connected and all.

Thunder was a telegram that my headache was about to be over. The end was nigh, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Oh joy, oh joy.

I don't get headaches anymore. I think that when I hit andropause, and things started changing, I decided to stop taking my pills and see what would happen. What happened was nothing happened, or rather they stopped happening. Spontaneous remission.

But P started getting them just when I stopped. Her triggers are Mondays. Go figure. So we're still a migraine household. I wish I could take them back from her, because I'd grown used to them. I'd lived with them for so long I felt different without them.

Anyway, it rained and thundered this afternoon, and I sat on my porch and watched the lightning, smelled the ozone and waited for the thunder.

Another boomer back in the barn. Oh joy, oh joy.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sticks and Stones

Old joke:
Q. How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Nine. One to screw in the bulb, eight to sit around saying: "I could have done that. Better".

I think that many of us sometimes look at someone's creation and think the same thing: what's so special about that? I could have done that.

Well ain't so. And you didn't. You probably couldn't.

It's just too easy to dismiss something because it appears too facile.

Last night at the David Kaye Gallery, Kai Chan showed his latest constructions, To Please the Eye, delicate, intricate and intriguing manipulations of sticks and other materials.

Always a delight for the eye and the mind.

Sticks and stones.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Autumn Moon Is Bright

Is this a case of cynanthropy?

Some people have deathly fear of clowns,
others of politicians, sometimes one in the same

Ellen seems to have her own private entrance to the Baths

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hollywood North Tour

Hot spots & back lots See a living movie site & walk the Walk of Fame

No doubt you're aware that it's TIFF time (Toronto International Film Festival). When I see bus tours like this, I know we've hit the big time.

Now, where are those maps to the movie stars' homes?

I need to see if I've made the cut.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Food and Hats

Paul Newman tells the story of two young actors who meet on a movie set: one says to the other, "boy did I meet a girl last night. It was terrific, best date I ever had." Twenty years later they meet again: "boy, did I have a meal last night night. It was incredible. Best meal I ever had." Twenty years later they meet again:"boy, did I have a bowel movement last night..."

I think I'm at the middle stage; apparently, it's all about the food right now.

Yesterday was Jackie's birthday and we went to Terroni's for pizza. What can I say? It's Terroni's, it's pizza, end of story.

I'm still inside, paying; they're outside, smoking.

And since the Nutty Chocolatier is just steps away...

After that we went home and had cake.

And what's a birthday without hats and embarrassing photos posted on a blog.

And when there's leftover cake for breakfast, unbridled joy.

Amuse yourselves while you can folks, after this, it's is all about bowel movements.

And silly hats.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

If the music's too loud, you're too old.

I'm just so lazy, I absolutely love it when stuff comes to me. This weekend is the Italian Festival which shuts down College St. just minutes from my house. Earlier in the year we had "Taste of (Little) Italy", now this; and If Italy makes it to any soccer finals they'll shut it down again.

There was food of course, tastings from the bazillion restaurants that make up the strip between Bathurst and Ossington, as well as games for the kids, and games for
the grownups.

And there was music, some of it good, all of it loud.

And what would an Italian Festival be without sushi?

or martinis

or accordians

or lamb

or risotto in Parmigiano-Reggiano bowls

or nuns

or conga drums ?