Staff Picks

Prompt: Movies

Dear Wednesday,

For a birthday treat as a child, I was allowed to invite six of my closest companions to go and see Disney’s 1001 Dalmations. What with one thing and another we arrived so late to the theater that the only seats left to accommodate us all sitting together were in the front row.


There are drug-free psychedelic experiences to be had all around us if you let them happen! Have you ever bit into a pepper so hot that your eyes rolled back and you saw stars and almost lost consciousness? Psychedelia! Have you ever donned scuba gear and plunged into deep water only to discover that you didn’t know any more which way was up or down or left or right and felt like you were likely to die in a floating, gravity free world just like the one you left when you were born? Bad trip! Have you ever laid flat on your back in the countryside on a clear night and seen so many stars that they suddenly envelop your body and spirit and you drift into concurrent significance and insignificance? Woot!

Or just stare at a chunk of Romanesco for awhile, and see if that doesn’t pry the lid off the top of your head and allow delicious madness to creep in. Cheap thrills!


In the spirit of madness and movies, may I now present a few of my favourite cartoons related to that theme?

cartoon movie popcorn

cartoon movie shoelaces

cartoon movie heads

Peace, love, and fractal vegetables,


Legal Drugs

Prompt: Law

Dear Wednesday,

I wonder what the world would be like if there were laws that penalized or even incarcerated liars?

Think of anti-vaxxers, who put the world (yes, the world) in jeopardy of preventable disease pandemics. Or YouTube conspiracy theorists who bully the innocent and terrorize the gullible. Or policy-makers who claim devotion to bettering the human condition while taking bribes to do the opposite. Or a big fat Orange Foolius who lies multiple times daily and renders a entire nation laughable, harmful, and ineffectual all at once.

And he doesn’t even cross his tiny fingers.

…Quick, a diversion! Like you and the entire population of the Universe, I am sick to death of you-know-who. So may I present a few of my favourite cartoons, more or less related to today’s prompt, “law”?

cartoon divorce

cartoon higher court

cartoon legal drugs

Peace, love, and good health,



Prompt: Compass


Isabel didn’t like lesbians, but that didn’t stop her allowing them to join the Union. In fact, she had developed a degree of sympathy with their rejection of men; she longed to marry and have more children, but if given a chance, would happily strangle her ex-husband to death.

In any case, the lesbians buttressed up the Union, which now stood at forty-plus girls and recruitment was still and always a priority. Before long, they might control over half the prison population.

It was necessary for Isabel to make her way through her daily routine with an entourage, not just for personal protection but because there were always errands, persistent supplicants, spontaneous ideas that needed recording; and, of course, to maintain the aura of authority among Union members and potential recruits. In this crumbling castle with plaster walls the colour of ice-crusted leaves, where the shrillness of voices was amplified by wide empty hallways and panic, and where dullness and soul-destroying monotony were dutifully embraced, the sight of Isabel with her brightly dyed red hair and completely illegal red fingernails, surrounded by hand-picked and deferential subjects, all looking well-fed and alert and alive, was memorable and aweful.

The guards tolerated her with good grace and by the convenience of bribes, usually drugs or favours, but sometimes too because they were no more immune to spectacle and the mysticism of hierarchy than the girls were.

Isabel’s first feat of magic was the curtains she negotiated/ battled for in the main toilets, a victory she insisted was successful because of the support of certain fellow inmates, the girls whom she dubbed the Union. And as she continued to serve her time, she struck a secret deal with Armando, a senior guard, for the safe and consistent import of various narcotics, the most popular of which was not cocaine or heroin but Xanax, and the siphoning of profits to an external account. She set up an inmate-controlled medical emergency system, so her girls would not die of the drugs she smuggled. She petitioned small, independent operations with the prison walls to amalgamate with her Union, less by threat than by luxurious coercion.

You would almost, Miss Fisher said of her one day to her friend Wendy, believe that Isabel had been a powerful businessperson and negotiator in the real world. Perhaps her crimes had been of the corporate variety?

Oh no, Wendy had told her. Wendy was intimate with Tricia, who was one of Isabel’s closest aides and confidantes.

Isabel was the daughter of illegal immigrants who were deported, though not before they abandoned and entrusted their child to the care of a friend, who turned out to be a notorious madame, Wendy told Miss Fisher, who raised Isabel to be a pampered and prized virgin ready for auction, until Isabel was raped by her English teacher and subsequently booted from the brothel.

Homeless for years, Isabel fell in with a pleasant and shy man who imported cocaine from Colombia. They married and had two children before he turned federal witness, at which time they were banished to a small town in Minnesota, where he continued to import cocaine with a new set of suppliers until he was arrested again. Isabel and the children moved to Miami but as homelessness loomed and she was unable to otherwise support the children, she began a short-lived career as a drug mule.

Her husband divorced her while she was in prison; and after being released again, he took custody of the children and moved them to the American Virgin Islands, where he continued to live as a roofing/ drug importer.

“Fascinating,” said Miss Fisher. “It would make quite the story, if true.”

“Even if it isn’t,” said Wendy. “Anyway she’s always had to scrabble and scrub for a living. She had nothing yet lost everything. Hardly a corporate or any kind of power.”

“She wants my blessing,” Miss Fisher said. Wendy wasn’t sure if Miss Fisher was still talking to her. Sometimes her aging mind wandered, these days.

“Your blessing?”

“Oh yes, for her Union. She imagines I have some kind of influence,” said Miss Fisher.

“She wants you to join?”

“She does, indeed. And you too. And all my little friends.”

It was a Sunday afternoon early in November, but so sun-lit and warm that they’d removed their old woolen coats and scarves and basked in the unexpected glow. Their bench backed against the stuccoed utility building and faced a tall chain-link fence, beyond which was a sparse forest of spruce and fir; the closest to a view location that was available anywhere on the grounds.

“She could probably source some pecans for you,” Wendy said. She leaned back and closed her eyes, pretending for a moment she was enjoying a supple, warm day anywhere else.

“Do you think so?” asked Miss Fisher.

Wendy nodded, hoping Miss Fisher was watching. She felt deliciously drowsy, and probably could have dozed off, if she hadn’t felt the pierce of a frozen droplet on her forehead.

She sat up. The sun still shone, but the air had turned bitterly cold. Miss Fisher was pulling on her jacket again. All around her the air was filled with ice rain— tiny sharp pellets of ice that sparkled in the sunlight like shards of tinsel.

“Amazing, isn’t it,” said Miss Fisher. “How things can change in an instant.”

Fries for Weeks

Prompt: Argument


He hadn’t seen his childhood best friend, Denny, in over five years. They’d had an argument over a woman, which should have seemed crazy at the time, and was incomprehensible now. They both wanted this particular woman named Donna, whose qualities Dominic could not remember, and the boys took it upon themselves to decide who would win her, as if her opinion on the matter was irrelevant. Funny.

Then Dominic’s parents had the accident, and while the argument was forgotten, he’d had no time to rekindle the friendship.

So now he tracked down good old Denny to a residential hotel. The place was grim on the outside: dirty, needing repair, windows with cardboard-patched holes, and limp curtains hanging from detached rods.

Denny’s room, however, was surprisingly clean and bright, all things considered. It smelled of Pine Sol, and was tidy and uncluttered, with freshly washed dishes in a rack by the sink, and a vacuum cleaner propped up in the corner as if in a place of honour. Denny himself was a little thinner, a little hairier, with a wispy beard growing in and raggedy sideburns.

They caught up on old times. “Donna?” asked Dominic.

“Dumped me,” said Denny. “It must have been you all along.” They laughed.

“When did you decide to grow a beard?” Dominic asked.

“Three years ago,” said Denny, and they laughed again, then Denny asked, “Your parents?”

“Dad gone. Mom at home with me,” said Dominic.

“Rough,” said Denny.

“Sometimes,” said Dominic. He was a bit thirsty, and wondered if there was beer in the lightly stained, but obviously scrubbed, refrigerator. “Drugs?” he asked.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Denny with a smile. “Oh, you mean do I do them now? Yeah, for awhile, trying to get clean again. For the second time. This place, the methadone, the social worker, even my last haircut— all courtesy of you and the rest of the hardworking, tax-paying public. Thanks, by the way.”

“No problem,” said Dominic. “You can pay be back.”

“Sure! I’ll give you access to my bank account.”

“I need about two hundred dollars,” said Dominic. “Like in a couple of days.”

“Urgent? Like the fries we wanted that day?”

“Exactly like that,” said Dominic. “That’s why I came to you.”

Denny was the best friend who never laughed at him, always took him seriously, was game for foolish adventure, and kept the shared, stupid, embarrassing secrets to himself; yet his moral compass was so fragile that he rarely tried to actually protect his friend.

“We could have had fries for weeks,” said Denny, “if you hadn’t jammed out.”

“I’m not jamming out today,” said Dominic. “I won’t knock on doors asking for quarters, but I’ll do what it takes.”

“Have you thought of giving blood?”

“I give blood every six months, since the accident, you know.”

“Oh.” Denny went to the fridge and took out two cans of Five Alive. Without asking, he opened them both and handed one to Dominic.

“Rob a bank?”

The Five Alive was barely cool, and only just drinkable. “I considered it,” said Dominic. “But I’d get caught, and who would look after my mother?”

“Ok,” said Denny. He went to the sink and poured the rest of the can down the drain. “Fucking shit,” he said. “I can’t even have a beer.”

“Sorry, must be hard. But good on you for trying.” It was such false sympathy, and the compliment so shallow, that when Denny laughed, Dominic joined in.

“I know someone,” said Denny. “Not a friend or anything, but I trust him, and he is always looking for, um, fresh new people like you.”


“No criminal record,” said Denny. “I’m just assuming…”

“Go on.”

“Compensation is good, risk is high, but for a first offender the consequences aren’t that fierce.” Denny then washed his hands in the sink. “I’ll call him and set something up,” he said as he dried his hands. “Now— sorry man, but I have an appointment with a government official, much as I would like to talk about old times and all that.”

Another blatantly insincere sentiment expressed, but this time neither of them laughed.

They shook hands, and Dominic left, wondering if Denny even had an appointment, or simply was bored or irritated and not interested in spending time with the kid from his past. Denny tolerated this clean, inexperienced, clueless, sheltered, privileged young man whom he had once loved, but whom he thought, Dominic was certain, knew nothing about needing money, being afraid, or being desperate.

Denny was right of course. The need for two hundred dollars now, to spend on his mother, seemed petty, insignificant, selfish, indulgent, blindly naive, and foolish.

But he would get the money anyway.


  • Image: The Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, one of the worst residential hotels in the city and accused of taking advantage of the poor, the homeless, and the physically- and mentally-challenged. Promises to enforce standards and take landlords to task have gone unfulfilled for years. 

Hilda’s Birthday

Prompt: Carefree


It was Hilda’s birthday. She and Zach were taking the day off, even though it was a Saturday, and spending it however Hilda wanted, which was their tradition when one of them had a birthday. She’d stayed at her sister’s overnight, to enjoy a semblance of a family celebration of a milestone birthday, and Zach was to come by and collect her.

She had an idea that they could smoke a little pot and go to the aquarium. She and some friends did that on her seventeenth birthday, and walking through tunnels surrounded by immersive waves of blue light while high was a life-changing experience for Hilda. There is more to life than meets the eye, her friend Carrie told her on that day. Yes, indeed there was. She couldn’t remember what exactly she learned on that excursion to the aquarium when she turned seventeen, but sometimes that’s how change was. You emerged a different person, and left the shell of your old self behind, forgotten.

But it was past one o’clock, and Zach hadn’t turned up. She phoned him and got the machine. She called and texted his cellphone, and got no reply.

So she hugged her sister and walked a block and a half to the bus stop, and took the city bus to Zach’s apartment. The journey involved a transfer, and a wait, so it took some time. Hilda was tired and slightly irritated as she approached the door to Zach’s flat and both rang the doorbell and knocked.

She thought she heard someone shout “Come in!”, but she could have been mistaken. Anyway, the door was unlocked and she went inside. It smelled like burnt toast. Zach was in the living room, sitting on the floor, leaning against the front of the couch, chanting to himself.

“Oh, great,” said Hilda. “So you started without me.”

Zach grimaced, his eyes closed, and said, “It doesn’t matter. Hilda? It doesn’t matter.”

Hilda sat cross-legged on the floor beside Zach. “What is it? What happened?” She felt his forehead. It was damp, but cool.

“My father died,” said Zach.

“That was two years ago.”

“He died yesterday, and two years ago, and twenty years ago,” Zach said.

Hilda got up and went into the kitchen to make sure all the stovetop burners were turned off and the fridge door was closed. She made a glass of chocolate milk from a syrup and took it to Zach.

He took it from her, but stared at the glass in his hand.

“What did you take?” Hilda asked.

“It isn’t working,” Zach said. “Nothing is enough.”

“It’s ok Zach,” said Hilda.

“No, it’s not.” Zach’s head drooped into his chest. Hilda took the glass of chocolate milk from his hand and put it on the coffee table.

The land line phone rang. Five long rings. Hilda sat with Zach’s left hand between her two hands, in her lap, as she sat on the floor beside him.

There was a pause, as Zach’s message was played to the caller. Hilda couldn’t hear it, but she knew he said, “It’s Zach. I’m not taking this call. But out of my deep respect for you, I will call you back if you leave a message.” Beep.

“Zach? It’s Bernard. Remember? Motorcycle in ditch? Broken mandolin? My friend repaired it, but it took longer than expected because he had to make the damaged parts he couldn’t locate, himself. Don’t worry, he’s an artist. Even your dad wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Anyway I have it here. Come by and pick it up any time.” Pause. “Call me. Bye.”

Zach withdrew his hand from Hilda’s lap. He pushed his unwashed hair out of his face, and reached for the glass of chocolate milk. He looked at Hilda for the first time since she arrived. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Good,” said Hilda.

“Could you do me one small favour?”


“Get me a spoon? I like to drink chocolate milk with a spoon.”

Hilda knew that. She forgot. It was the way Zach drank chocolate milk as a child, savouring it, sip by sip, since it had been such a rare treat.

“Are you all right?” said Hilda.

“I’m not sure,” said Zach after a moment. “I lost words and gravity and the skin that holds me together. But you and Bernard…”

“It’s hard to escape things,” said Hilda. “I’ll get the spoon.”

“We’ll do your birthday,” Zach said.

“Damn right we will,” said Hilda.