Saturday, May 26, 2012


The morning sky was damask and the air sticky.  Wearing a t-shirt and jeans and slinging my guitar, I strolled eastward bound on a Victoria Avenue sidewalk in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The vehicular traffic was thin, the pedestrian traffic thinner, and the merchants along the way were just opening their shops.  I passed confectionaries, laundries, coffee shops, and lube stations.  The farther east I strolled, the more industrialized and grayer the signs of the neighborhood became.   And this is why the lawn sign, Psychic Readings by Mrs. Johnson, stopped me in my tracks.

Psychic Readings by Mrs. Johnson also brightly shone in neon through the front bay residential window. By Mrs. Johnson, I thought seemed somewhat vanilla, even milquetoast, especially when accustomed to the more gimrack monikers such as the Psychic Readings by Ms. Moon or Madame Star, Ms. Gabriella or even Madame Zoradamus.

I later googled Psychic Readings by Mrs. Johnson, and surprisingly discovered it to be not an uncommon business title; it may even be a franchise.  And reflecting on this, of course it could be and why wouldn’t it be; after all, communicating with the spirit realm is big business.

A psychic is one who professes to have extrasensory perception (ESP), an ability to perceive information that is hidden from the ken of normal senses.  It is commonplace for a psychic to express aloud to an audience something like: I am receiving a J, the name Jack … Jake … James … Jamie … Jeremy or I am hearing a loved one who has just recently passed by the name of Helen … Ellen … Eleanor …or Lenore.  Psychics refer to this as a cold reading.   Critics call it fishing.

It is always the case that psychics need assistance from their audience members and clients for clarification and interpretation of who these senders from the spirit realm may be, and why they want to momentarily cross over, given to suggest that either psychics are hard of hearing or, heaven forbid, when attempting to communicate with the quick, the dead can only mumble.

In years previous I taught high school Psychology.  You do know why I teach Psychology, I would say to them, because I am psychic!  Predictably every Friday a certain few would be stunned by my proffering some general adolescent behaviors:
  • One of you swore at your parent this week, and even slammed the door when you left your house.
  • One of you were just recently dumped by your girlfriend.
  • One of you has serious boyfriend issues.
  • And one of you, sitting in this classroom right here, right now, is very, very sad.
All such soothsayers, clairvoyants, astrologers, graphologists, tea leaf readers, new-age healers, and mooniacs have similar speils.  Here are some made-up examples:
  • You are most certainly not what you seem. There is this shadow within you that longs to defiantly spring forth during the sunshine of day.
  • Something is troubling you and I am getting that it is work related.  You are feeling that you are not appreciated for what you do and are wishing to move elsewhere, move on to where there is recognition and opportunity.
  • Not all of your family members make you happy. Remember you need to treat yourself as number one, for you deserve it.
  • I am getting thoughts you are having about your significant other.  Sometimes keeping the harmony is difficult.  Even though talk is cheap, it is time for you to speak up.
  • Right now you are having grave concerns about your personal health and well-being.  You must stay positive, treat yourself to an apple a day, so to speak, and the world will spin your way.
And some more just made-up examples:
  • Sometimes your dreams seem unrealistic to others that are close to you, and to keep the peace, you simply agree.
  • Outwardly even people who are close perceive you as being in control, though inwardly you have angst.
  • Your honestly, as of late, has been detrimental to your sociability.
  • You wish you could be candid with your comments, but your social conscience prevents you from doing so.
  • You are infatuated with someone … a situation that is either untenable or socially taboo or morally wrong.
The psychics provide the words, banking on their clients' inclinations to find and provide the meanings.  We, as humans, tend to find meaning in just about anything (e.g., Jay Leno’s image on a potato, e.g., the Virgin Mary’s image in a water stain), and oftentimes sideload these discoveries to the tramontane of trumpery (and to the psychics).  In short, tell people what they want to hear and they’ll always come back for more.

I am writing this essay to neither debunk nor investigate psychics and their readings.  I am writing only to express that it is both mysterious and magical to think that when people pass on, they continue to live beyond our memories. For consumers, the words of a psychic may be full of wonder or full of folly.

Speaking of wonder and folly, the members marching in my Chaucerian Parade this week:
  • Hey man, can I borrow a couple bucks to buy some strings for my guitar? asks Brian, a busker who is wailing in front of the liquor store next to me in the Extra Foods parking lot.  Brian refers to himself as a musical performer – he hates the word, busker.
  • I love that hat! expresses a consumer greeting me as I strum in front of Shoppers on Broad.  He is referring to my brand new Brixton Tiller Ranch Hat, a gift from my nephew, Brad, purchased at the Chinook Mall in Calgary.
  • You know what you should do, states a fellow dressed in suit.  You should rent a big hall, play just like you’re playing, and charge admission.  You’d make a lot more money!
  • You know about the effects the residential schools had on our people, states a fortyish fellow walking with two children.  Well, it wasn’t all bad … Some good, too, came out of those schools.  My uncle learned to play the fiddle and the guitar while in one of those schools.  You should hear him play!
  •  A young man wearing a derby hat shows me a fifty dollar bill by holding it in both his hands up close to my face.  He then pretends to toss it into my guitar case. But he keeps the fifty in his fist and laughs.
 Goodnight, Mrs. Johnson, wherever you are!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


 Each week I meet a callithump of characters while busking. Some of these characters spark interest enough for me to first etch them into my mind, then later type them into my blog, to march in my Chaucerian Parade so to speak.  As I’m sitting with my laptop determining which of these passers-by to be worthy of publication, I’m also pondering the sidewalk laws of attraction that makes them so indelible.  As a buskologist, I’ve come to comprehend the criteria for which I choose to march certain characters in print across my page.  Those chosen have piqued my interest by their face, physique, or phatic chat.

Peoples’ faces represent their first line of communication. Besides those symmetrical visages of Hollywood cover girls and chiseled Marlboro men, funny and strange faces that are chubby, patchy, and pimpled, too, are notable.  Talking to consumers I notice whether they have a countenance that is square, oval, triangular, or stoned. When I’m talking to folks I am actually with faces that are fronting big heads, little heads, empty heads, and talking heads.

Physique refers to the degree to which a person’s physical traits are regarded as aesthetically pleasing or not.  Men, generally, are attracted to women who have a youthful appearance, and exhibit a symmetrical face, full breasts, full lips, and a low waist-hip ratio. And women, generally, are attracted to men who have broad shoulders, narrow waists, and v-shaped torsos.  However, to march in my Chaucerian Parade, none of these attractive descriptors are necessary.  Besides, most women and men do not possess such porn presenting bods. Most people are not pretty, or dainty, or delicate, or brawny, strapping, or handsome.  More people are gawky, or homely, scrawny or rotund.

Phatic Chat:
Phatic chat is the rather insincere small talk that simply impresses or not, a deeper sense of sociability.  How’s it goin’, Have a good day, Nice weather, are just three examples.  There are consumers who want to express further their day-to-day themes of discontent, presenting discourse on politics, religion, and their personal state of affairs.  Such consumers, especially, make discursive fodder for my blog.

This week in my Chaucerian Parade:
  • Gus, the 88 year old returns to chat.  How was your birthday? I ask.  Do you feel any older? Actually, it wasn’t really my birthday, he confesses.  My birthday was in March.  (I am wondering why Gus would fib about his birthday!)
  • And Hank’s Potatoes, too, returns for a chat.  His is sipping a Big Gulp.  I’ve seven bags left to sell, he says, I'll just open the back gate and they'll sell like hot cakes!
  • There is a little boy and girl who keep peeking out the glass door while I play.  They look to be eight and five, respectively.  Do you have a home? asks the little boy.  Moments later he asks, Do you have a family?  
  • Leo, the mad hatter stops for a chat. Leo shops at Value Village only to buy cowboy hats. Fourteen dollars is the most I ever paid, he states.  Come summer at Native Days I sell them at my reserve for around a hundred bucks apiece. 
  • I'm clean now, says Christie the pan-handler, and I've got a good man!
  • You should be playing at the Fainting Goat, states a sixty something guy in a suit and Yankees baseball cap. 
  • You should be playing at the Fainting Goat for sure, states his female companion as she slips a fin into my shirt pocket whilst the Yankee has his back turned.
  • You know what the best thing about busking is, states a beer breath fellow who claims to be a busker from Ontario.  Watchin' the babes! he responds to his own question. 
I must confess, that most of my consumers are quite unlike my self.  Most consumers are unpretentious; they come as they are, forthright in their grace or their grossness, exposing their wisdom or their folly for the world to read.  I remind the reader that my stand-and-deliver performance is all pretend, not the guitar-slinging cowboy my consumers think me to be.

Some factoids on a social theory of human attraction: There are times our conscious selves are drawn to those people having the positive qualities we yearn for, and there are times that our unconscious selves are drawn to those people having the qualities that will wound us. Given this, still it is uncommon and exceptional for any of us to be lustily attracted to someone we deem physically unappealing.

From a buskologist perspective, there is but one factoid of human attraction  ...
All the world’s a consumer parade, of which its marching members unwittingly display their chevrons of face, physique, and phatic chat. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012


The first tough guy I ever met was Rodney Wedge.  When I was six years old Rodney Wedge wrestled me to the ground, straddled me face up, and spit in my face.  Nobody I knew liked Rodney.

Over the years, of course, I met more tough guys, and looking back, three especially come to mind: Reg, Larry, and Johnny.  All three of these guys were hockey players with the Vanguard Eagles of the NHL (Notekeu Hockey League) and unlike Rodney, everybody I knew loved them.

Reg was a debonair Adonis.  Being Superman tough, Reg was always clean cut and extremely charismatic.  He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t swear, but he did run two miles to the bridge south of town and back each and every day until he finally landed a right wing spot with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League -- the same league that Don Cherry has referred to as the toughest in junior hockey! (Reg returned to the Vanguard Eagles when his junior hockey career came to a close.)  

If Reg was Superman tough, then Larry was Batman tough. Larry liked to party and, strangely, liked to fight. No one who knew Larry would dare take him on in a punch-out. As a pugilist, Larry had class, as he had established a bright-line between who he would and would not fight. He never once fought any of his friends, nor anyone from our town, for that matter.  Larry’s prey was mainly strangers who drove into our town, to party hard and flirt with our girls. In the rink, Larry was the Vanguard Eagles’ Paladin, controlling the game with his phenomenal goal scoring ability. Larry never had to run to the bridge and back to create a spot for himself in junior hockey, for in any game at any rink, all scouts recognized him as an uber-player.  At fifteen years of age, Larry was assigned third line left winger for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.  (When Larry finished his junior hockey, he returned to the NHL (Notekeu Hockey League) and coached the Simmie Senators.

Johnny, unlike Reg and Larry, was Joker tough.  Jocund when sober, and not to besmirch the straw- thatched Johnny too much, after a few beers he would transmogrify into a narcissistic braggadocio. Drinking with Johnny was always risking an ambuscade of fisticuffs. You just never knew when he’d turn on you.  Johnny’s hockey zenith both began and ended on left defense with the Vanguard Eagles.

One of my first tough guy moments came while drinking with Johnny.  One time in my emerging adulthood, the two of us, Johnny and self, were drinking beer in Johnny’s truck.  Getting drunker, Johnny got nasty, so much so that he called on me to take it (the fight) outside, and I complied.  We stood facing each other with our fists up.  Johnny took the first punch, a swing and a miss.  I ducked and returned with my fist to his jaw.  Thrice more he tried, resulting in three jabs to his jaw.  To my surprise, when Johnny tuckered he extended his arm for a handshake.  We shook hands and climbed back into his Fargo for some more beers.  Sad for me to say there were no witnesses to my victory, but so what. I am the hero in my story because I have the power and bravado to write whatever I want.

Since then I’ve made feeble and narcissistic attempts to continue my imaginal tough guy status -- in the cool style of Steve McQueen no less.  I’ve been a student of Karate and Mu-ay Thai.  I’m a long-distant runner and I love lifting weights (Olympic style) on a regular basis.  Alas, I've not fought since my salad days at university, during which I even spent a night in jail because of a barfly night of fighting.  Fact is, now I never fight, and never would unless it was truly a matter of life or death.  And even if that were the scenario, I'm pretty sure that I could outrun any bully about to clobber me.

The idea of might-is -right has been prevalent since our societal ways of hunting and gathering.  There is a rather boorish phase in our archetypal development when each of us believes in the power of might-is-right. Some of us move through this phase; some of us do not.  Assigning this imaginary power into a proper perspective demands a certain maturity.  Clinging to might-is-right is immature and idiotic.

Even so, might-is-right continues to be a significant bully-pulpit of our times. The benighted notion of might-is-right is in practice everywhere on the planet, the Far East, the Middle East, and yes, the West. I've witnessed bully behaviors in workplaces, at recreational facilities, and in peoples' homes. Fortunately, among the enlightened, powers opposite the might-is-right attitude are enacted. The majority of people, being gregarious and community minded, really do want to get along with one another. Most of us employ the power of retreat, the power of speech, the power of turning the other cheek; though expressing such positive powers can be oftentimes very, very tough.

While busking today I had the opportunity to meet two real tough guys, August and Hank, both of whom being octogenarians, and both marching in my Chaucerian Parade at Value Village.

August (Call me Gus) was out and about celebrating his 88th birthday today.  He was shopping at Value Village and stopped to chat. I play guitar, he said, but I've never played a twelve-string.  Is it hard to play?
In a rare moment of generosity, I handed Gus the reins. Fifteen minutes later when his friends arrived to take him for a beer, I finally got my guitar back!  Happy birthday, Gus!

Eighty year old Hank was delivering potatoes. Hank said that he and his friends, one of them a busker, gather at his house once a week, to jam and drink whiskey. Today he was delivering potatoes to over a dozen restaurants and this was his last stop. Hank handed me his Hank Potatoes business card.

Being a blogger, I am obviously of the putative belief that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Hey, Rodney Wedge, I am no longer the victim and I just want you to know that ...

Ya, I write dirty, whaddya gonna do about it!