Why Canada Won’t Last

It comes down to a matter of architecture.

I had not been to the States in about two or three years, and even then it was on the blind movement of a Greyhound bus, where I was unable to see much except for the taillights of passing cars and the

halogen halo’s of overhead street lights. It had be a long, long time since I had driven down in a car. It had been an even longer time since I can remember taking the side roads instead of the interstates.

My girlfriend and I were driving down to visit some of my relatives in Rhode Island and at the last minute we decided to get off the New York Thruway and take the minor roots. It was our second day of

driving. On our first day, we had been stalled up in Canada by a flat tire. So up until the morning of the second, our trip through the states had been at night. It was on that bright an clear morning, driving out of Schenectady, New York, that we had both begun to notice the difference in the architecture.

In Canada, especially in Southern Ontario, there is a general pattern of movement. People come here; they move to the cities and rent a house or an apartment. They save money, and when they have enough, they put a down payment on a house of their own. They live there for a while, usually in a neighbourhood of a similar ethnic background. They raise a family, and then, either they, or their children, sell the house and move further out of the city, usually into an area with a similar ethnic background. This time however, they don’t move into the house on the property they just bought. They instead tear down the house and build a new one.

This is where the major difference is. In the States, from my travels and experiences there, when someone moves out from a city and onto a property where they want to settle, they do not usually demolish the house that is already there. They renovate it, they add to it, they change the colour, and perhaps the trim, but they do not usually tear it down. When they want to start a business, they don’t turn their 4-story, 200 year old Georgian into a parking lot. They simply they make minor adjustments to the interior and hang a sign out front.

What does this difference have to with Canada’s survival as a country?

Everything. Americans keeping the old houses and buildings, and consciously or not, it gives them a sense of continuity, a connection to the past. You can feel it when you walk down the close streets of New York’s little Italy, or tour through the old bank buildings of Boston. Unlike us, Americans don’t like a clean slate, they prefer to simply add the old one. As a result, the wooden, brick and stone faces of history are everywhere to remind them of who they are and where they came from.

Canada is not a young country. One of, if not the oldest street in North America runs along the waterfront of Saint John’s Newfoundland. We are considered young because we look it. We do not wish to keep our historical landmarks. Instead we prefer to tear the drafty, dated, things down and put up something bigger and more expensive looking. As a result, the area where I live, just north of Toronto,

once an old quaint neighbourhood, has steadily become a neighbourhood of pocket-sized mansions, all with about as much character as your average big box shopping plaza. In Toronto, a small group of

preservationists had to fight tooth and nail to stop the powers that be from demolishing the old city hall when they were building the new one.

This desire to wipe the slate clean, to start again, results only with a general disregard for our own past. Ford might have said “history is bunk” but it is us Canadians who habitually practice what he preached.

This lack of respect for our old architecture is representative of a great national apathy that pervades Canada on many levels. How may of us vote? How many of us can remember being taught a decent

lesson in Canadian history when we were in school? How many have us have travelled much in Canada? How many of us care?

This apathy has spread to the younger generations as well. Children today have no real concept of what Canada is. I have personally witnessed this myself. A 10-year-old student of mine knew who George Washington was, but couldn’t tell me who John A. Macdonald was. Another student thought that Toronto was in New York. It’s hard to believe this, but to our very young, Canada is not a country.

I wish I could offer some easy solution for our predicament, but there is none, especially when most of us don’t really care one way or the other. Like an Alzheimer patient, we are perfectly happy in our own softly fading world, ourselves completely oblivious to what we are losing.

Even if I was to show you, how many would care that we are losing our country, our history? How can I convince you that you are suffering, when you sit on your plump leather couches in front of your wide screen TV’s? How I can make you realize the importance of what we are losing when you have more than you need?

Perhaps I can’t.

Maybe the only way that people will learn of the greatness of our country is when we lose the more obvious characteristics of our country, like gun control and health care. It frightens me to think that having a gun to our heads or having to use a credit card when we visit the family doctor are the only things that will wake us from our deep, peaceful slumbers.

But before that happens, I can offer you some preventative advice: if and when you do get a chance to move onto an older property, think twice about demolishing the history that is already there.

christmas sucks

It’s official. Myself and a good number of people behind me declare that Christmas really does suck, and should be canceled with all the stress, hypocrisy, and gluttonous spending it represents.

We are not scrooges, nor are we schmucks. In fact, we are people who are very kind, generous and giving throughout the year, and find the Christmas idea of giving as contrived as the acting on a late night infomercial.

The fact is, we are all tired of it: the crowds, the traffic, and the line-ups. We no longer choose to wonder aimlessly down the crowded isles of department stores, picking out gifts with as much thought as pocket calculators; devices that know only one thing: that they should by something for somebody, because that’s what they are supposed to do at this time of year.

Nero once said: as long as you keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, you can control them. Like $13 movies and $5 Pepsi’s, Christmas is a circus in itself. Its a sham, a way of feeding the pockets of the wealthy by encouraging the desperate masses to be generous and open their wallets and spend more and more of the money they don’t have. The sense of power and control that consumers feel when they use their bank or credit cards lasts about as long as it takes Visa to send them a bill when its all over. And any hopes of getting out of the financial shackles they’ve grown into dissipates into yet another year of interest payments, and any hopes of North America’s average savings rate to rise above 0% vanishes into the next 12 good ol’ days of Christmas.

Look at it this way: at Christmas, do the companies you work for, the same companies that invest millions of dollars every year into TV commercials that convince you to spend your savings on presents, do they show you any generosity by giving you a week off – not even a paid week off – to be with your families? What about their contribution to the Christmas spirit? Most of the people I know had to be back on the 26th. Every year, Christmas becomes less and less an act of giving and more and more a payoff for not seeing your loved ones enough.

The fact is, Christmas has little to do with religion, and it has little to do with giving:

A) It’s neither mentioned in the Bible, nor is it for certain when the three wise guys made their way across the desert to find the baby Jesus. The Christmas tree is just a mishmash of beliefs from China, Egypt, Germany, and the lights are representative of an ancient ritual where victims were burned alive as an offering to convince a sun god to warm things up a little.

B) Santa Claus, the old Santa Claus, not the contemporary Santa Claus invented by Coca-Cola, but the original one known as Saint Nicholas, was a simple Bishop living in Turkey who once a year – NOT DECEMBER 25th – would stuff candies and trinkets into the little shoes of children. He did this because he, and the children were poor. Then, it was a humble act of giving. Now, in today’s North America, it’s not about giving, it’s about spending. It was an idea bread from poverty, and was never meant to be a novelty of luxury.

C) The original idea of Christmas has about as little to do with a developed country like ours, as Buddhism – another idea bread from poverty – has to do with BMW driving yuppies in Kitsilano, Vancouver.

And so, it is for these reasons, that many others and myself believe that Christmas should be canceled and replaced with daily acts of giving. Instead of one day of spending, people everywhere could enjoy showing their appreciation for one another in the some of the following ways:

1. Don’t tailgate. Its annoying.

2. Start a conversation with a complete stranger, every day.

3. Never send group emails, like this one.

4. Volunteer once a week.

5. Look people in the eye and say “please” and “thank you.”

6. Don’t be a snobby, ignorant bigot.

7. When some one wants to change lanes in front of you, don’t speed up and try to block them.

8. Don’t complain or brag repeatedly about your problems, they are meant to be solved, not worn as a badge.

9. And when you complain about your problems, don’t snub the advice you receive. When people give advice, they are giving a bit of themselves.

10. RAK: Random Acts of Kindness. Do one nice thing for someone, every day.

11. Don’t swear.

In conclusion, we believe that by following some of these examples everyday, instead sheepishly heeding the corporate call to the cleaners every Christmas, we could make life better for everyone ever day.

Happy Holidays (what holiday?)

Dear Dan Savage

The following is an old entry that was erased by my substandard server, who even with the $100 US activation fee for all its members, couldn’t be bothered to back up their files in case of a server failure. Luckily we did.

Dan Savage is a popular sex advice columnist. He deals out advice to wide spectrum of society, but mostly to the gay community. This is a letter I wrote to him:

Dear Dan Savage,

I read your column last week about the guy you said was the closet-gay. It got me pretty worried. I read your column every week, does that make me gay? I am in some kind of denial? To make things worse, I usually read your column in my boxer shorts, and although I have never been aroused while reading your column, I usually eat olives while I read, and if you really look at an olive, I mean, its shape is well, you know.

And this guy, the closet-gay, says he fooled around with his best friend when he was in his early teens. Well, though I have never fooled around with another man, I was on the wrestling team in junior high and I kissed a friend on the lips at New Years Eve Party. Do these count? And this guy, the closet-gay, says he sometimes fantasizes about having anal sex. Well, although I have never wanted to have sex with another man, I remember now when I was 12 I sometimes used to look curiously at the bulges in my male teacher’s pants when they crouched, and sometimes when I see a handsome man on the street, I will think to myself “my, he’s handsome.” Do these things mean something?

And an old girlfriend of mine showed interest once in having a threesome with another girl. I didn’t want to because I wouldn’t know whom to thank. Anyway, is she gay? Am I gay because I said no? And another old girlfriend of mine fooled around with her best female friends a couple of times, and the decided to call it quits because of lack of interest. Is she gay? Can a woman fool around with another woman and not be gay? Can a man? Can you go back once you’ve crossed the line? Or is the gay lifestyle more like the Mafia, where once you’re in the only way you can get out again is feet first? Are there gays who are closet-straights? Are you? How can you be sure you’re not in denial?

Are we all supposed to take sides? Or is this a phenomenon of the oppressed, your lines so rigidly drawn by a society that fears, and sometimes hates you? And don’t these lines perpetuate the fear and strangeness? Aren’t they what make being gay something you have to deny, like a tumour?

A lot of questions, I know. But we monitor each other and ourselves so closely now. In the past and even today, the gay lifestyle has been seen as one of sin and wickedness and sickness, and in your struggles to change the world you’ve taken those opinions and made them camp. It is still a fearful world, but I believe lines have softened and society has changed for the better, but has the gay community changed? Can things become a little more fluid, Dan?

I believe you are the things you do when you’re not thinking about them. But I guess if this way of thinking gets out, you might be out of a job.

Rocco de Giacomo

Ps I’ll say in advance that what I said about the improvement of society will be completely subverted next week when, after reading this letter on my website, all my friends and family will call up and ask me if I am gay.

My Birthday


As the Saturday of this past weekend marked my 29th year of being alive, I allowed myself to dwell upon the happenings and experiences of my life. I thought a lot. I felt good about myself. I felt sorry for myself. I decided that there were parts of my life that I am very proud of, such as my writing, my teaching, and all the travelling that I have done. I reluctantly pointed out to myself that there are parts of my life that I think could do with a great deal of improvement, such as the maintenance of the relationships with my family and friends, and the recuperation of my rather dismal financial situation. In others words: quit acting like a schmuck sometimes and get a handle on my spending so I can afford to live above ground, preferably in a place with windows and ceiling space. After balancing the pro’s and con’s of my nearly 3 decades of existence, I’ve come up with a few personal notes, a number of helpful suggestions that, I would like to think, could help the reader live a less painful, and perhaps a more pleasant life.

1. If you borrow somebody’s car, always fill the tank or at least put a little gas in it before you return it.

2. With every pay cheque, try to put a third to bills and expenses, a third to your savings, and a third to fun.

3. There is a fine line between abstract art and wallpaper.

4. If you are worried whether you can afford something or not, 90 percent of the time, you can’t.

5. To the women, especially those in university: just because a guy wants to sleep with you, does not mean that he is romantically interested in you in any particular way. Getting a guy into bed is easy part (especially after 6 beers); keeping him there the next morning is the challenge.

6. A video game is one of the few things where a person can invest the maximum amount of time and effort into a challenge to learn and accomplish absolutely nothing.

7. To the guys, especially those in university: quit trying to impress one another, and just be decent, for Christ’s sake. Besides, everyone knows the stories of your sexual exploits are mostly embellished BS.

8. Travel. Travel. Travel.

9. On perusing different lifestyles: you can go to the zoo, but don’t get into the cages.

10. Believe in yourself, believe in your dreams, and don’t let anyone try to convince to give up on either. Whenever you feel any doubts, remember: the word “passion” comes from a Latin word meaning “to suffer.” No ever said it would be easy.

11. Sexual “quickies” are the dipstick to any relationship. The more you have them, the healthier the relationship.

12. As Canadians, we should learn to cut back on the amount of times we say “sorry” by about 50%.

13. Always leave them wanting more.

14. Leaders are usually those who have the guts to make tough decisions.

15. And lastly, and often the hardest piece of advice to follow: if you say you’re going to do something, do it. Every time you don’t takes a little self-respect away from you.

Well guys, I hope this helps. Have a good workweek. And you can send “Happy Birthday” wishes to me via Latchkey.