Friday 31 December 2010

"Barney's Version" (the film)

Who the hell’s “Version” is this, anyway?

posterIn my last post, I confided how much I was looking forward to seeing the film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version. Yesterday, I actually put my money where my mouth is. Now all I can say is, be careful what you wish for.

I knew from earlier reviews that many attributes of the book that had most amused me—particularly its skewering of Quebec nationalist politics and Canadian cultural nationalism—had been left out. I was philosophical about this: after all, turning a 417-page, four-decades epic of one man’s life into a two-hour film demands some streamlining.

But there’s streamlining and then there’s the hatchet job, and I’m sorry to say, despite the smattering of applause from the nearly-full auditorium at its conclusion, Barney’s Version the film is more like the latter.

To mix metaphors a bit, it seems that the delicate artistic balance of the novel has been destroyed in this new “Version,” and this drunken lurch is nowhere better demonstrated than in the film’s treatment of Jews and women. And Jewish women, in particular.

Barney’s Version the novel is the fictive autobiographical confession, “the true story of my wasted life.” It has a largely tripartite structure, with books based on each of Barney Panofsky three marriages.


Now the triangle is an ancient, mystical, and frustrating form—just ask any teenager struggling through trig 101--and still holds great attraction to us today—as morbid interest in Aniston, Pitt, and Jolie, Charles, Diana, and Camilla, or the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, demonstrates. In Barney’s case, though, these three wives are in no way a triangle: they are guideposts in the life of a man on a mortal journey, searching for meaning and love. (Hmm, perhaps more like the Father-Son than I thought…)

The first Panofsky wife is Clara Chambers (actually Charnofsky), the hedonist of his youth, a first class f*cked up bitch. In the book, she is a talented artist whose modest genius is hugely inflated by the feminist commentary that grows around her suicide—a knock-off of Sylvia Plath, with Barney cast as Ted Hughes. In the movie, Clara’s (Rachelle Lefevre) talent is not discussed and the fame that lives on after her, redacted. Not so Clara’s father, played by Saul Rubinek1, who appears on the heels of her death as a bearded Orthodox Jew, unmasked in short order as another in the long line of Richler’s nasty Jewish characters.


The second Mrs. Panofsky, an archetypal loudmouthed yenta of a Jewish American Princess, is brayingly brought to life by the incomparable Minnie Driver—who really should have been cast as Miriam, the third in Panofsky’s marital hat-trick.


Driver is beautiful, a great actress, and she looks plausibly Jewish…which brings me to the crux of my beef with the liberties taken with this celluloidization of a novel: in Richler’s version, Barney’s third wife is Miriam Greenberg, clearly a Jewish woman who, as I wrote in my earlier post, drives a stake through the shiksa goddess motif favoured in novels by Jewish men of a certain age and stature (and not just of a certain age either; the all-round repulsiveness of the Jewish woman is still common cultural currency, as throw-away lineslines2 in The Social Network demonstrates).

If you need examples of the shiksa goddess, think Cybill Shepherd (in Tootsie); if you need a fer instance of the opposite, please see this description of Sophie Portnoy of Portnoy’s Complaint. Then there’s most of Richler’s earlier oeuvre (e.g. the lovely Gabrielle Lazure as Pauline Shapiro contrasted with the odious Esther, Joshua’s mother, played by Linda Sorenson, in Joshua Then and Now).3,4

But in this film, Miriam Greenberg morphs into Miriam Grant (played by the luminous Rosamund Pike) and, to emphasize the point, this stylish, classy and sexy shiksa’s wedding ceremony is concluded by a man wearing neither head covering nor tallit, is clearly a non-Jewish one (driven home by the phrase, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”)


Now, these are by no means the only flaws with this film—it seems to forget the murder-mystery plot line for what might have been an hour, it should have included voiceovers with Barney as he wrote his confessional (rather than the stilted info dump conversations it employs instead), and the resolution of the murder is so heavy-handed, it appears aimed at imbeciles (with apologies, of course, to imbeciles). Also, Barney’s paunch in his 20s is almost as noticeable in his 60s. Which brings us to another eternal motif in the story, that of Beauty and the Beast motif (which was, apparently, according to Charles Foran, how Richler referred to his relationship with his beloved wife Florence).

Recasting Miriam Greenberg as Miriam Grant resurrects the shiksa goddess, just when I finally thought it was safe for this Jewish woman to head back to the movies. Unfortunately, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

So I guess my question is, whose odious version of Jewish womanhood is this? Screenwriter Michael Konyves’, producer Robert Lantos’, or director Richard J. Lewis’?

Inquiring yentas want to know.

To be fair (and really, this comment comes 7/8 of the way through my review, so how fair could it be?), this Montreal audience appeared to love the movie, the trip down memory lane (though how COULD they have left out Duddy Kravitz’ final hurrah?), the talented ensemble cast, Dustin Hoffman’s mastication of the floorboards, etc.

dustin and paul

Had they read the book? Did they remember it if they had (the book having been published in 1997)? Or maybe they felt the film’s poignant finale was enough for them, that 75 per cent of Barney was close enough to the mark.

As A.O. Scott puts it in the New York Times,

In spite of Mr. Giamatti’s ferociously energetic performance “Barney’s Version” never figures out just who Barney is. In Richler’s pages he is above all a voice — profane, sophisticated, tender, mean and funny — and the filmmakers prove unable to compensate for its absence…in attempting to honor the spirit of the book, they extinguish it. It is a wild, unruly novel of character, in which the character himself is at once incorrigible and irresistible. The film tames and sentimentalizes him, and in showing respect for Barney’s author turns his creation into something unforgivably respectable.

Harsher judgement than my film attending confreres and consoeurs. But I agree with Scott: the problem with this version of Barney is that we have no idea WHAT these three women could possibly have seen in him...of course, we do know what Clara saw, and even the second Mrs. P (who is so odious, she never even merits a name!)...but what could the luminous, perfect redeeming wife have seen in him? Frankly, in this version, that's a bigger mystery than Boogie's disappearance.

But finally, I guess I still have to say that I’d rather have this Barney than no Barney.



1 Irony of ironies, Rubinek was born in a refugee camp in Germany following WWII…both film and book skewer Jewish community fundraisers who use the threat of another Holocaust after every publicized local grave desecration or incident of swastika tagging as a fundraising opportunity. Which makes Barney’s Version (the movie) exhibit A for scholars like Jenny Peto.

2 From a blog post titled "Is The Social Network's Asian Fetish Acceptable":

Eduardo: It’s not that guys like me are generally attracted to Asian girls. It’s that Asian girls are generally attracted to guys like me.

Dustin: I’m developing an algorithm to define the connection between Jewish guys and Asian girls.

Eduardo: I don’t think it’s that complicated. They’re hot, they’re smart, they’re not Jewish and they can dance.

3 My earlier post discusses the possible reasons—all that psychological crap—for Richler’s generally dismal portrayal of Jewish women.

4 For what it’s worth, I feel compelled at this point to admit that my long-term marriage—my one-and-only—is to a man who wasn’t born Jewish (but who converted after we’d been married 6 years). My parents could never afford a house in Cote St. Luc when I was growing up, but I do have a Master’s degree (my hubby, very accomplished in his own right, does not…note to self: must ask how often I rub his nose in this…)

Thursday 16 December 2010

Waiting for "Barney"

The first Mordecai Richler novel I read was Son of a Smaller Hero in the late ’70s. I was a McGill undergrad in an intro to CanLit class taught by a Caribbean member of the professoriate, the punchline to the course being: there’s no such thing as Canadian literature because lit-rah-chure is universal, don’t you know?! Though set in the same Mile End district as later works Duddy Kravitz and St. Urbain’s Horseman, Son of is worlds away in sensibility — dark, angry, and bitter, unleavened by any of the renowned Richler ribaldry.

I’m pretty sure I acquired St. Urbain, Joshua Then And Now, and Solomon Gursky was Here through the Book-of-the-Month Club (something you won’t often find a literary writer admitting), in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. And while Gursky is, by some accounts, supposedly Richler’s masterpiece, I had to force myself through while the other two I read with pleasure, and more than once.Here was a Montreal I could still see evidence of, if only in broad strokes. Sort of like those chalk outlines left over at crime scenes. It wasn’t my Montreal but, in fact, my parents’, especially my father’s. But where my father was the good son — who stayed close to and cared for his parents, no matter their faults — Richler was the angry young man who flung himself across an ocean to drink, fuck and write himself into adulthood.

In retrospect, the Richlerian coming-of-age seems more like a romantic cliché, this swanning around, down and out in London and Paris…Ibiza, crossing paths with Papa Hemingway, et al. Reading about it again gave rise to a sort of melancholy, in the same way having missed coming of age at Woodstock makes me nostalgic for a more recent past I also managed to miss. Although Richler probably felt the same way over having been too young to serve in World War II…

But there’s a special place in my heart for Richler’s tour de force of a novel, his grand finale, Barney’s Version. It has everything — humour, a whiff of mystery, poignancy, a suggested reading list for a literary illiterate like yours truly, the Falstaffian hero Barney Panofsky — cantankerous curmudgeon of good heart crossed with the insanely irresistible fax machine prankster, though I could have done without the soft shoe.

What I really loved about Barney’s Version, though, was the stake through the heart of the shiksa goddess motif. Here was a novel in which all three of Barney’s wives were Jewish women, even the third and favourite one, “Miriam, Miriam, my heart’s desire…”

As a Jewish woman, what a relief to finally read a novel by a Jewish male writer of stature in which a Jewish man actually desired a Jewish woman! One he was wholeheartedly, head over heels in love with and mad with desire for. What a novelty, as Quill & Quire’s reviewer James Grainger notes, amidst the “the parade of harpies, good-hearted floozies” that made up Richler’s usual female universe. (Miriam may be wonderful but she hasn’t, by a long shot, the dimensionality of Barney. But then again, who does?) And, of course, Jewish women aren’t harridans only in Richler’s universe, but in most Jewish men’s work.

In fact, once this deep desire of mine was fulfilled by Barney, I finally became aware of how large a need it had been (in fact, I still wonder if meeting it was calculated, a marketing ploy). But even if Richler decided to toss his largest constituency a bone — since women buy and read most fiction, I’ll wager the majority of even Richler’s readers are also women — I forgave him. Because really, who could hold anything against Barney?

Grainger actually castigates Foran for failing to speculate on the reasons for Richler’s way of writing women…and then repeats the identical error. But I have this theory…

Foran’s biography clearly owes a tremendous debt to Michael Posner’s The Last Honest Man: Mordecai Richler. In many places, Foran seems to have simply transformed the sliced and diced verbatim interviews Posner reports, into narrative prose.

Foran, who in publicity shots appears to be cultivating a Mordecai-ian hairdo, also takes pains to present his book as an unauthorized biography. To which I can only say: if this be unauthorized, one shudders to imagine the converse. Because, on comparing Posner and Foran, one becomes aware of the areas where the hagiography ends — which are, coincidentally, the points Foran conveniently overlooks. Some of them have to do with women, one being Mordecai’s first wife, Cathy Boudreau. According to one of Posner’s sources, a “friend, who requested anonymity” suggested that “Perhaps seeking a way out of his marriage…Richler…became impotent…‘I think towards the end Mordecai was uninterested and withholding himself and out of need, I guess, she slept with some of his friends (Posner, p. 106.’” (With friends like that, as my mother might say, who needs enemies?)

Which brings me to the subject of Richler’s mother. The book is quite detailed in the matter of even his parents’ upbringing, particularly that of Lily (sometimes Leah) Rosenberg, Mordecai’s mother.

Foran makes quite a song and dance of a 2,400 word letter Richler wrote his mother in 1976, a copy of which he kept in his archives. Florence never knew about the letter, which finishes with Mordecai explaining why he deviated so greatly from the biblical injunction “to honour our mother and father [;] I must point out that there were some things Moses had not yet heard of.” He then tells her he remembers, from his boyhood, that she had sex with one of her boarders in the bedroom Mordecai and his mother shared, “the two of you humping together only 12 feet from a boy of 12.” And please don’t accuse me of being a spoiler: Foran announced the contents of the letter — complete with the quotes I cite, in The Globe and Mail, on the publication of his book.

For me, the true tragedy at the centre of Mordecai — aside from his sad decline and untimely passing in his final illness, which in this account more than ever resembles an alcoholic beset by a tragedy of medical errors — is all his mother’s. Maybe she was an embittered old woman. Maybe she was mentally ill. Maybe she had, as Mordecai wrote, humped her lover “only 12 feet from a boy of 12” (Would you really trust the accuracy of such a freighted, 33-year-old memory? Foran himself describes the great outcry within the Richler clan to Mordecai’s assertion that his Richler grandfather struck his own — the grandfather’s — children; even Mordecai’s brother “wonders if [MR] had got this wrong…But [concludes the brother] whatever his other flaws, Mordecai Richler did not fabricate [p.707].”) And then there was the fact that this letter was among a set of papers that weren’t to be made public until 20 years after his death…which to an outsider like myself makes the inclusion of this letter in the book an immoral act, despite the estate’s waiving of the condition.

Lily Rosenberg’s sin was to be born female in the home of a revered Chassidic Rabbi more than a century ago, and so be ineligible to follow in her father’s footsteps the way a favoured son might, despite being otherwise capable or worthy. She was relegated to the position of errand runner to her exalted father, “a slave to her Judaism…submissive to her father who deprived her of higher learning she could obviously have enjoyed and mastered (p. 497),” according to a review Foran cites of her fictionalized biography, The Errand Runner. In fact, her father did the best he could for her in the sad times into which she had been born — Lily was married off to an unsuitable boy from a prosperous family, an attempt to assure her financial future. Instead, the marriage was ill-starred and poverty-stricken. And then, her father dead, Lily cared for her mother, bed ridden from a stroke that left her incontinent and at risk for gangrene, for seven long years. She eventually had her marriage annulled — making her sons bastards, according to Jewish law.

Who wouldn’t be bitter, surviving such a scenario? (And here I include both Lily and her sons…)

I do recognize the above spin perhaps echoes the posthumous fate of Clara Charnofsky, the fictional Barney’s first wife. I also feel, after having read Foran’s book — and Lily Rosenberg’s — a better understanding for the way Mordecai wrote women (for example, the mother who does a strip-tease for the bar mitzvah bochers in Joshua Then and Now, the mother who died of Alzheimer’s, as Lily did, in Barney’s Version). The story of Lily Rosenberg, the story of Mordecai Richler…these are novular in their own right.

One thing I think neither Posner nor Foran picked up on was that Duddy Kravitz was not the original I’d always thought he was.

In 2009, the writer and producer Budd Schulberg died. I must have read an obituary on him at the time, and put his seminal novel, made into a movie and even a highly successful musical — What Makes Sammy Run (1941) — onto my reading list.

Well, in 2010, I finally read it…hmm, I thought, why does this Sammy Glick person seem so familiar? Because Duddy Kravitz was an updated, menchified Sammy Glick. From the 1959 New York Times review of MR’s book by Florence Crowther (no relation):

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is really the revved-up odyssey of a young man from the squalor of St. Urbain Street to the…stylish residential heights of Montreal’s Outrement. The young man is Duddy Kravitz, a Sammy Glick by any other name, but a broken-field runner rather than one with his eye on the long distance crown.

Like Sammy, Duddy is bound to escape from the poverty and humiliation of his boyhood. But unlike Sammy, once Duddy has outgrown his childhood peculations…his urge is for the honorable, the legitimate, the man-to-man enterprise…”

In fact, Duddy is even referred to as Sammy Glick in the novel (on p. 165 of the version in Google Books—again, sharpening my appreciation for an e-reader…). Which underlined a thought that had occurred to me a couple of years back, on perusal of Irene Nemirovsky’s David Golder (which I couldn’t even bring myself to read, it sounded so horrific): you can never go wrong making your Jewish character a son-of-a-bitch.

But perhaps one of the most impressive lessons I learned from Foran’s book was the invisibility of women as writers in the era of Mordecai Richler (a defect somewhat repaired in Linda Leith’s new book, Writing in the Time of Nationalism, which rescues from obscurity the names of woman writers of the Richler era). Foran does his best to keep women’s names in the narrative, but other than the occasional editor and agent, and despite Florence’s primacy as Mordecai’s first and best critic, women are pretty much absent in the creative sense — other than as wives, lovers, babysitters. Oh, Foran does mention Mavis Gallant, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Atwood, but mostly in passing; it seems as though he’s worked hard to get them in at all (and if you want a real eye-popping view of what it was like to be a women even in professional society of several decades past, please read Stephen Kimber’s book Not Guilty, about politician and serial sexual predator Gerald Regan).

Pining for Barney, I went to the book launch for Mordecai: The Life & Times, the first launch I’d been at where the author declined to read from his book — and at $40 a pop, he should have! Before the proceedings actually got underway, Marvin Rotrand, a member of the Montreal’s civic government, circulated a petition among the paltry, grey-headed crowd (a number of young people were there, but only because they were buddies of Foran’s daughter, who attends a local university. A couple of them I spoke to: Americans who had never heard of Mordecai Richler). Rotrand has a petition going to “request that the City of Montreal make an appropriate gesture to commemorate the contribution of Mordecai Richler in naming a street, a public place or building in his honour.” It has garnered 2,000 signatures. Meantime, a petition demanding Quebec’s premier resign has collected nearly 150 times as many names…

Foran and Rotrand joked about the possible canonization of Mordecai, riffing on Saint André Bessette, the former Brother André, who had recently been canonized. Which set me to thinking of an appropriate commemoration that might have Mr. Richler rolling in his grave — with laughter. St. Joseph’s Oratory is the shrine built through Brother André’s devotion, the largest church in Canada, and one of Montreal’s major tourist draws. Our jolly comrades of Quebec sovereignty and archetypal Richlerian foes, the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, have episodically agitated to change the name of the street, Queen Mary Road, where the Oratory is located. I think it might be time to give in to the SSJB’s demands in exchange for one of our own: why not rename the Oratory in honour of the late lamented Mordecai Richler, the most successful writer Montreal ever — now and probably ever — and St. Urbain’s true horseman?

Foran is a strong writer and his book is a wonderful achievement, bringing a glimpse of so much of Montreal literary and social history — particularly, but not exclusively, Montreal’s Jewish history — to life. The prose is lively and powerful and moves at a great clip. I was sorry to finish it, moved to tears repeatedly while reading the last chapters, which is a remarkable feat, especially in biography. Foran’s book fittingly — and to the chagrin of Richler’s political foes — seeks to praise Richler, not to bury him, unlike some of MR’s literary fellow-travellers (see ELAN’s RAEV program, for example).

But even after reading it, I haven’t had my fill; I am still waiting for Barney. In so-doing, I know I am really waiting for a version of Mordecai. I’m waiting for a version of my father, for a version of Montreal’s late, lamented past, to reappear. And in this, I know, I am really, pace Beckett, waiting for Godot. Unfortunately, I know something else — spoiler alert! — that despite our devotion to it, the past, like Godot, never comes.

(Originally published on The Rover, Montreal's online arts magazine)

Monday 13 December 2010

The Hardboiled Stress Of Being Santa

(What's the connection between dirty letters written by Santa, cash payments to former Prime Minister Mulroney, the Guess Who reunion tour, randy goats, sustainable development and Gilbert Gottfried? Join intrepid tabloid reporter Renta Yenta as she narrates my funny Christmas Valentine for Canadians...originally published on on Feb. 14, 2010. Hope you enjoy & season's greetings!)
Abridged Timeline:

1. CBC News, The Fifth Estate: November 8th 2007: German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber files affidavit alleging he negotiated a $300,000 lobbying deal with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at the prime minister's Harrington Lake retreat two days before Mulroney stepped down as prime minister in 1993.

2. Canadian Press, December 14, 2007: Canada Post investigators and Ottawa police narrow the field of suspects behind letters from Santa containing curse words and descriptions of lewd acts.

3. MSN News, September 16, 2009: Questions of credibility and wrong-doing continue to dog Mulroney. His relationship with Schreiber becomes the focus of further concern as the businessman makes public documents showing where and when Mulroney took cash payments for lobbying government. The allegations result in a commission called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, headed by Justice Jeffrey Oliphant. Earlier this year, Schreiber is extradited to Germany to face charges of bribery, tax evasion and fraud.

It's the story that refuses to die, and so, yours truly, intrepid tabloid reporter and all-round diva Renta Yenta, has decided to come clean, to cough up the ganze megilla—that is, to fill you in on the whole pungent, sordid tale…

WARNING: rated X for explicit content (rutting goats, sweaty reindeer, Santa Claus, Brian Mulroney, Karlheinz Schreiber, political corruption).

Maybe it was inevitable, given the pressure on him and all, but still, I was shocked when, just days before Christmas of 2007, the world was confronted with Santa's strange behaviour—writing letters to kids filled with swearing and descriptions of lascivious behaviour…After I roused myself from my daydream, I realized this wasn't the Santa Claus the world knew and loved.

I smelled a rat.

And so, partly to cope with my own devastation (some of my best friends are Christian, see?), I decided to apply my particular perspicacity and get to the bottom of it. After all, I know a good story when it bites me on the ass. And sometimes a newsgal's just gotta make a living.

No matter who gets hurt.

Soon as I pulled myself together, I jumped on the blower. And before you could say “Merry Christmas,” bingo! I discovered good ol' Santa was on a publication-banned court-ordered stress leave that stretched from the middle of December to 5 p.m. Christmas Eve. All provided, of course, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

I couldn't reach Santa himself but after much tsuris1 and tuml 2, managed to make contact with his arctic NGO, AGI3. I knew they'd be running spin big time on this baby and that odds were good they'd be looking to play me…but then I thought, what the hell, couldn't hoit.

What follows is a worldwide exclusive, a transcript of the conversation I had with Santa's personal representative and communications consultant, PR person Caspar Flack, his psychiatrist, Dr. Mel Chior, and his accountant-cum-aroma therapist, Balt Chazzer 4.

Dateline Montreal, December 20th 2007:

“First off,” Flack said, “you gotta promise never to refer to this here situation with Santa Claus as a nervous breakdown, okay? And, uh, we're still off the record, right?”

“Not a snowball's chance,” I said, scribbling gleefully.

“My God, what a fucking nightmare!” he shrieked. I heard a repeated smacking sound, suspiciously suggestive of someone banging the telephone receiver against his forehead, which was followed immediately by the click of a disengaged line.

Now Dr. Chior, the psychiatrist, jumped right in. “Ms. Yenta, you'll have to forgive our Mr. Flack. He's monitored over fifty thousand reports from around the world in the six days since the news of the rude letters broke. He's exhausted, I'm afraid, hasn't slept a wink. But you're the first journalist to have uncovered Mr. Claus's court-ordered rest period, so before we go any further may I just say some hearty congratulations are in order?”

“Thanks very much,” I said. (Don't think yours truly can't tell when she's being buttered up!) “But can you tell me what exactly precipitated this extremely unSanta-like episode?”

“Well, any number of things, I suppose. But I guess it all starts with the information revolution.”

“Really,” I said, thinking WTF5 doesn't? I figured he was looking to brush me off, to tempt me with some wild goose chase. (Little did I realize just how wrong was my choice of livestock…)

“Think about it this way. Before Al Gore invented the Internet, most of the world's people had never even heard of Mr. Claus. So he served maybe one, one-and-a-half billion people. But now, what with broadband, everyone on the mother-lovin' planet knows of him, and demand for his services has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, his funding hasn't nearly kept pace.”

“Not nearly,” Chazzer chimed in.

“Uh-hunh,” I said, still scribbling like mad.

“I mean, we've been writing Can Con grants till our hands cramp—let's face it, Mr. Claus is a performance artist of mythic proportions--but with this tight-fisted Conservative regime, he might as well be pissing into the wind. If you'll excuse my French.” Mel Chior cleared his throat. (I was getting the distinct impression this guy was in love with the sound of his own voice.) “Since Google and Wikipedia came on the scene, Mr. Claus has been forced to do much, much, more--and all of it without one thin dime of increased support.

“Burnout was only a matter of time.”

“But why now, exactly?” I persisted.

“I blame the Boomers myself,” Chazzer, the accountant and aroma therapist, chipped in, “and their inflated sense of entitlement.”

That sounded pretty promising (editors love stories that appeal to a broad demographic, and if you've seen a Baby Boomer's hips lately, you'll know they're about the broadest demographic going!). I encouraged Chior to keep talking.

“Well, they can be so demanding. It's as though they never outgrew their infatuation with Mr. Claus. Children in earlier generations, they cease and desist after the age of ten or so, but these Boomers…well, they're in their sixties now and they still haven't stopped with their endless requests. Lower taxes, free health care, Viagra in the drinking water, a Guess Who reunion tour…it just never ends. And when Mr. Claus realized there could be another thirty years of this…” His voice trailed off.

“But why an aroma therapist? Mr. Chazzer?”

“To cope with the unexpected side effects of the push toward sustainable development,” Chazzer said.

“Huh?” I said (again thinking like, WTF???).

“You know, all those websites where you can give mosquito nets, chickens, or a goat on behalf of a loved one to a family in the third world."

“So well-intentioned but--my goodness—the consequences. Heartrending, really,” Mel Chior added.

Flack had finally made it back on the line, and now he pitched in, too: “This year, Santa had twelve thousand goats on order. Twelve frickin' thousand! Imagine what we were faced with, trying to keep them all under control up here at the North Pole. I tell you, the shit was flying! It was like being held at gunpoint during Question Period--with Gilbert Gottfried filling in for Rhona Ambrose! And you know that expression, ‘randy as a billygoat?' Well, it's true! The butting and rutting going on up here--it was just like being on Parliament Hill--or at the Assemblée nationale! The poor elves were beside themselves.

“Not to mention,” Flack added darkly, “what happens to the bleedin' reindeer when they start making all those tropical deliveries.”

My spidey sense kicked into overdrive. “Why, what does happen to reindeer when they make all those tropical deliveries?”

“Well, they're cold-weather animals, innit? In the tropics, they'd be sweating incredible-like, wouldn't they?” Flack said. “And do you think anyone ever bothered to give just the teensiest, tiniest THOUGHT to what nine sweaty, overworked reindeer SMELL LIKE?! No, of course not! None of those green revolution types ever consider the consequences of their little gift-giving fads on poor old overworked Saint Nick!”

“And that's where the aroma therapy comes in,” Chazzer added.

They kept on tryin' but I wasn't buyin'. “I hear what you're saying, but to tell you the truth guys, while all this sounds like a bit of a pain, it hardly explains why Santa's gone off the deep end. Writing pornographic letters to children? Is this Santa's workshop we're talking about or the Christian Brothers? Why now? And why Ottawa, of all places?” (Your intrepid reporter may be a Yenta, but I wasn't born yesterday!)


“Flack,” said the psychiatrist finally, “it's not working.”

“Don't do it Mel Chior,” Flack shouted, “For God's sake, man, don't! We've got to stick to the communications strat--” He was cut off mid-kvetch.

“I can see we're just going to have to level with you, Ms. Yenta,” Mel Chior said, and his voice dropped a mellifluous octave. “It's about the Conservative caucus. And Brian Mulroney's grandchildren.”

“What?” I said, in consternation. “Mulroney's grandkids? What do they have to do with anything?” (That the Conservatives were mixed up in this was a yawner but I knew this new youth angle would make my editor pish6 himself.)

“For the past month, Mr. Mulroney's grandchildren have been sending letters daily, asking Mr. Claus—begging him—”

“Imploring him,” Chazzer interrupted.

“--to restore their grandfather's reputation. Ditto for the government caucus.”

I chewed on that for a sec. “That'd be a tough one,” I said. “I mean, he IS Santa Claus 'n all, he does some amazing things, but a miracle-worker he's not. Those poor kids.” (I'll never have it in me to feel sorry for the Cons.7)

“You still don't get it, do you?” the aroma therapist interjected. “Karlheinz Schreiber has grandchildren. And a great-grandchild, too. Don't tell me you've forgotten what Santa's main responsibility is?”

“His raison d'être, as it were,” said Mel Chior.

Being of the Chosen persuasion, I puzzled this for a few ticks—was this some kind of goyische8 trick? “Bringing presents?” I finally offered.



“No!” (Flack was back again and now all three of them were at me.)

“Jews!” scoffed the aroma therapist.

“OH. MY. GOD,” Flack roared. “Chazzer, will you just go somewhere and stifle your damn self?” (There was a strangled sound and for a moment there I thought I heard him doing that thing with the receiver again.)

“Santa's most important job is to figure out who's been naughty!” Chazzer exclaimed.

“I tell you, the stress on Mr. Claus has been unimaginable,” the psychiatrist continued.
“Downright intolerable! And then, seeing all those Ottawa postmarks…Mr. Claus just… blew a gasket, as we say in the trade. He's not been trained to deal with anything even remotely like this. As the DSM-IV would describe it, he's gone completely round the bend.”

“That's terrible,” I said. “That really stinks!” (You should pardon the expression.)

“Indeed,” the psychiatrist said. “Unfortunately, no matter what Mr. Claus does, I expect Mr. Mulroney's grandkids--not to mention the Conservative party--are just going to have to suck this one up.”

“Isn't there anything you can do?”

“I doubt it,” said the accountant-slash-aroma therapist. “We've wracked our brains and come up with nothing. Nada, zip, zero, zilch! And we can't even get any high-priced advice. The big boys at Navigator9 won't even take our calls. And The Strategic Counsel10? They won't touch us with a 10-foot pole.”

By now, Flack was audible sobbing in the background.

“Too tragic,” said the psychiatrist. “No, nothing more to be done, I'm afraid.

“This is one of those things, I fear. Mr. Mulroney's just going to have to take this one on the chin.”


1. Aggravating trouble
2. Confusion
3. AntiGrinch International
4. Pig
5. What the fuck
6. Piss
7.;; and so on…
8. Gentile
9. Canada's Arnold Schwarzenegger of the communications industry.
10. Canada's Dwayne Johnson of the polling industry.