The Collection Agency

peanut butter jars

By Jim Hagarty

I have always felt like an outsider because I don’t have a collection of anything.

The list of things people collect is endless and I have always been envious of them. Stamps, coins, old records, even cars. Books, art, silver cutlery.

I decided to change that. And so I have begun my own collection, a photo of which is shown above.

I collect peanut butter jars. I love them. Each unique from the other, each with a special memory of the great peanut butter I have scooped out of them by the tablespoonful at 3 a.m.

“How do you tell them apart?” says the ignorant non-collector.

Believe me, I know them. I am thinking of given names to each of them.

My challenge now is to decide which one of my kids I will leave the collection to in my will. I don’t want them fighting over them.

I don’t want to separate the jars. They belong together.


Death Comes to Cold Hill

By Jim Hagarty

As we try to make our way through life, it’s important, at some point, to figure out what we are. Maybe even more vital, is to come up with some conclusions about what we aren’t.

We are told, and I’m glad we are, that we can do anything we want to do. But that presents us with a lot of choices, and sometimes that can be bewildering.

At some point, it became clear to me that I am a writer. And as a writer, I should be able to write anything. But after a lifetime of writing, I am not sure that is true. As it seems to have turned out, I am a pretty good short story writer, best at penning little fables about life as I observe it in all its wonder.

But I didn’t just arrive at that grand realization one day when the clouds parted and God pointed right at me. I tried writing other things.

I am OK with poetry but I have only a fundamental grasp of the craft and have never been interested enough to study it further. On reflection, I could have maybe made a living writing greeting cards poems.

“When the days begin to shorten
“And you look into the sky
“And wonder at formations
“In the clouds as they drift by…”

And yadda.

Fifteen years ago, after I left my job teaching journalism at a local college, I tried freelance writing. I had the occasional thing published but basically came to hate the process.

But people always told me there were probably a few good novels in me. So I tried that too.

My first attempt was a humourous look at higher education. It was a book called Off to College. I might have finished three chapters. It sucked.

Another humour novel sprang to mind.

Billy and Charley hit my computer monitor. Three or four chapters in, I was bored out of my mind, ready to kick William and Charles in their boring behinds. Spoiler alert: If the writer is bored, the reader will be suicidal.

Then it dawned on me that I needed to tackle something meatier.

Presenting, Death Comes to Cold Hill.

Gratefully, death came to Death Comes to Cold Hill in fairly short order.

I had one minor success. A book about being a stay-at-home father called Poor Daddy. I am proud of it but the only reason it works is it is not a novel but a collection of more than 40 shorts stories.

But my freelance career was careening off a cliff, same one, probably that was featured in Death Comes to Cold Hill.

I went back to work on a newspaper. And before long, I resurrected my old humour column. Weekly short stories about the little ups and downs of life. I knew I was once again where I belonged and so did my readers.

We call people who work with wood, woodworkers. Good name. But within that classification are dozens of sub classifications. Same with cooking, decorating, glass making …

And writing.

I don’t know the origin of this quote or the context in which it appeared, but some smartypants somewhere once said something to the effect: “Life is a casting off.”

That seems to have been true with me. I didn’t find the right road till I had driven off down a bunch of wrong ones. I am glad I went down them, but grateful that I backed up and tried other ones.

The way I sometimes was headed, I might have ended up on Cold Hill and we pretty much know what awaited me there.

The Men Who Carve In Stone

Remembering Rankin cd cover

By Jim Hagarty
This is another memorable original song from my friend and fellow singer-songwriter Ted Schinbein who produced a CD entitled Remembering Rankin full of songs dedicated to his years living and working in the remote Rankin Inlet in northern Canada. The experience changed Ted forever and some of his fondest memories center around Rankin still today. Ted’s CD is available in the Corner Store.

The Men Who Carve in Stone by Ted Schinbein

The Sound Investment

By Jim Hagarty

It was a lazy, hazy Sunday afternoon in the summer and I was sitting in a lawnchair out back of my little blue shack in the city, when a noise, not unlike that of a jackhammer, or a hurricane, pierced the air of serenity around me.

“What the …?” I gruffed, my face immediately contorting into the sourdough scowl that is pretty much a permanent fixture on it these days. A short stroll led me to the source of my latest woe. The hair-raising hubbub was emanating from my neighbour’s place. He was busy:

a. dynamiting his concrete front porch to bits;

b. chainsawing his winter supply of firewood for his old furnace;

c. revving up his new, private, supersonic jet airplane;

d. washing his truck.

If you guessed d., leave me your name and address and I’ll get a sympathy card right out to you. Because you obviously have had some experience with yet another one of modern technology’s great breakthroughs: the power washer.

This handy dandy device is a portable machine, driven by a gasoline engine, which transforms the pathetic trickle of water that normally emanates from your garden hose, into a torrent of moisture any self-appreciating firefighter would be happy to direct at the worst four-alarm blaze. For $200, you can blast away at the grime in your world and demonstrate, yet again, your dominion over nature. It is not by accident that the name of this new apparatus promises to deliver “power.”

Actually, the power washer is not new; industries of all types have been using it to accomplish their various ends for years. What has changed is the widespread marketing of it for home use. Isn’t this how we ended up with the leaf blower?

For a pittance, we can all now give the fickle finger to filth. Glossy TV ads show the amazingness of it all: with its use, concrete patios, wooden decks and metal autos become shinier than the glistening faces of the happy homeowners who smile into the camera and testify that their lives have been forever transformed by their new Blast Master 400, Series E. They powerwash everything now, from the bricks on their house, to their motorboat, to their lawn furniture, their trees, their three smudgy kids and their ornery old grandpa on Saturday night.

But this is precisely the problem. It’s the same old story: because we can, we do. North American men used to be notorious for spending Sunday afternoons with their nose and toes pointed towards their rec-room ceilings which mercifully muffled their deep snores from the rest of their family. This activity, quaint as it might seem now, was known as resting. Now, thanks to power washers, power “vacs”, leaf blowers, power lawn edgers, power sanders and portable air compressors, we’re outside cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning as if we expect some community drill sergeant to line up all homeowners at the end of each weekend for a spit-and-polish municipal inspection. We return to “work” on Mondays in states of total exhaustion.

Bring back the “power” nap, I say.

One by one, our cherished stereotypes of summer in the city are falling by the way. When I moved into my home 30 years ago, I’d often head to the curb to buy an ice-cream bar from the pre-teenager who pedalled a small, white wagon down the street, ringing a little bell to let everyone know of his approach. Neighbours would cut their lawns on Saturdays, never on Sundays, and quietly wash their cars in their driveways the traditional ways, soap suds dribbling from sponges and water trickling from limp, green rubber hoses. There was something so suburbanly nice about it all.

Now, everything is about power, whether its power for our cars, our stereos, our computers, or our garden hoses. The ice-cream pedaller boy is long gone for good and so, apparently, is any hope of peace and quiet on a Sunday afternoon in the summer.

There is a new home computer available that is being marketed as making practically no sound when it is running and, in truth, it’s a pretty quiet little outfit. In comparison to my 22-year-old rig, which rumbles like a backhoe in need of an engine overhaul, this machine would not be a distraction during prayer time at a Trappist monastery.

However, so accustomed am I now to absorbing the ever-loudening pollution of the air waves around me, that I don’t really notice the ridiculous racket until I shut my machine off for the day. Then, I simply marvel that my brain is still able to function after listening to this incessant whirring all day long.

If I were manufacturing consumer goods for the 21st century, I think I’d be looking into ways to make everything quieter, not louder. Because once we’ve gotten a little further down the path to safe streets, safe water, safe air and safe sex, we are going to start demanding safe sound waves. Noise pollution is the next great frontier. Medical authorities already claim it’s causing accidents, physical and mental-health problems, suicides and in one celebrated case where a man went berserk on the fellow upstairs in his apartment building, murder.

A couple of years ago, another neighbour of mine, intent on enjoying his Saturday afternoon, brought a massive stereo speaker outside, plunked it on his back porch, and let ’er rip for seven straight hours. Shortly after the start of this free rock concert, the phone rang inside my house, and I had trouble hearing the caller’s voice, even after I closed my kitchen window.

A theme is developing here, the astute reader is saying by now. Seven hours he put up with this? Why doesn’t he just tell his neighbour to pipe down?

For the answer to this puzzle, see “murder”, two paragraphs up. Whether his or mine, it’s hard to predict.

Who knows?

I might just buy my own Blast Master 400, Series E, climb the fence and let him have it.

In Defence of Parking

ticket defenders

By Jim Hagarty

I pulled into a very small and very crowded parking lot this afternoon to pick up a pizza.

I squeezed my car into a hairpin of a space and then got out. Confronting me was the sign shown above.

We have a company in Canada called Ticket Defenders which helps people fight tickets they receive for a variety of infractions, some of them issued because of parking violations.

My first thought was, am I going to get a ticket for parking in the Ticket Defenders’ spot? And if I do, can I walk into the Ticket Defenders’ office, situated right in front of my car, and ask them to defend me in court so I can get out of paying the ticket?

If they turn me down, is there a business anywhere called Ticket Defenders Ticket Defenders which will fight on my behalf to get the ticket issued by Ticket Defenders cancelled?

If there isn’t, I might have to open one.

First, I need to finish my pizza.