April 30, 2004 04:03Sleepless In Montreal
After I finished peeing, I took a good look at myself in the bathroom mirror. My worst fears had been realized. A lab-test monkey was looking back at me. Harried, blood-shot eyes peeked out from under a mop of tangled hair that was thick with blobs of electro-conductive jelly. Dozens of wires, taped and epoxied all over my head and face dangled down, disappearing into a junction box strapped over my shoulder. It was the middle of the night for me Ė 11:00 am to everyone else. This lab monkey may have been out of his cage, but the taste of freedom was to be brief. There were more cruel and unusual experiments to come, and hours of more test time to log. Escape might come later, but for now it was back to a fitful nightmare of semi-consciousness under the watchful gaze of the video cameras and the row of computers monitoring my every twitch and brainwave.
This was the sleep clinic, two months ago.
ďHave you ever been waxed?Ē she asked, barely able to hide her sadistic glee.
Letís call her a nurse. Iím sure the term is incorrect and Iím sure it would displease her. But you canít be too picky about semantics when you dress in white, work in a hospital, and perform menial medical procedures on patients. The medical procedure of the moment was the removal of the electrodes that were taped to my shaggy legs. The test was over, and it was time to detach all the equipment that had been fitted to my body eight hours earlier. The nurse was of the short-sharp-shock school of Band-Aid removal. In this case they werenít Band-Aids, but a special brand of medical tape stuck all over my face, chest and legs. But the principle was the same. One quick, jarringly painful rip and the tape was gone. So was a substantial tuft of leg hair, but at least it was all over. For that stretch of tape. Thirteen more to go.
By the time I stumbled out of there, I looked like I had been gang raped. It would take days to wash all the sticky crap off my body, and about as long for the physical damage to fade. I knew it wasnít going to be a happy experience when I first arrived. Iíd seen one of the other test monkeys taking a bathroom break while I was in the waiting room. He had looked like hell, and now I looked exactly like him. My hair was matted with jelly, my face covered with red welts where the electrodes had been taped, and I had the eyes and gait of a man whoíd just had the single worst night of sleep in history.
There wasnít much new about that last part. Iíd been among the living dead for a very long time. In fact, I hadnít slept at all in at least ten years. Oh, Iíd fall into a state of unconsciousness regularly. No doubt about it. But sleep Ė real sleep Ė was something I hadnít known since I was a teenager, if even then.
Every morning Iíd wake up exhausted, often with a headache, never with any energy. A shower, a cup of tea, breakfast, and Iíd be functional. Barely. Iíd go through my day in a fog. It felt like I had moss growing on my brain and I was never fully awake or aware. This would last for three, maybe four hours, and then Iíd need to go to bed again. A five or six hour nap would gear me up to get some work done in the evening before it was time to go to bed again for real. And the cycle would repeat.
This was my life as a zombie. I was a high-functioning zombie, but a zombie nevertheless. Never truly awake, never truly asleep. What I accomplished, I managed through a cocktail of adrenalin and caffeine.
Iíd considered checking into a sleep clinic for years, but it wasnít until things become intolerable that I admitted something had to be done. I knew I snored, but over the last year it became impossible for my wife and I to sleep at the same time in the same bed. I didnít breathe so much as struggle for air at a high decibel level.
I first heard about sleep apnea when I was still a kid, and even then I thought I might have it. A month after my night of monitored sleep at the clinic and I was finally, officially diagnosed with it. I had apnea all right. I had it bad.
Described as ďsevereĒ sleep apnea, the graph told the tale of a struggle for air that was waking me up at a rate of slightly more than once a minute. This would go on all night, with me waking myself up hundreds of times in a row until morning. I was getting no REM sleep whatsoever. My condition Ė as far as my own personal take on it went Ė was killing me slowly but surely.
There were two solutions suggested. The first, offered with no guarantees, was to be surgically altered. Doctors would remove the single largest pair of tonsils any of them had ever seen, along with a few other slices of extraneous meat, and weíd hope for the best. Choice ďBĒ was the mask.
A CPAP machine is designed to keep the airway of an apnea sufferer open with a continuous flow of air pressure. I already knew this would work. Theyíd hooked me up to one of these gizmos for the second half of my sleep test, and the graph said it all: regular breathing, REM sleep.
I accepted the CPAP prescription, made an appointment with the nearest CPAP technician, and prepared to spend my last restless night on the couch.
Now, make no mistake about it, connecting myself to a ventilator machine every night via a long hose and mask that makes headgear braces look absolutely suave by comparison is a private little hell I wish on no one. But thereís no denying the thing works. Iíve been on it for a month now, and Iím still just figuring out whatís normal for me Ė normal amount of sleep, normal level of alertness, normal functionality. All I know, as I told my sleep clinic doctor today in a follow-up appointment, is that my worst night of sleep with the machine is better than my best night of sleep without. The whole humiliating medical procedure I went through to get diagnosed may have been worth the ordeal after all.
But if you think that was bad, remind me to tell you about my colonoscopy some time.
April 28, 2004 04:38Cremains Of The Day
This time last week I was putting another relative in the ground.
Itís a regular occasion with big families, but this one came after a long barren stretch. Family fatalities get scarce once the oldest generation thins out. We probably have a few years to go before my cousins and I all start dropping off, so these days the Simmons clan has been in a bit of a funeral lull. After a while, I canít help but miss those Urgel Bourgie reunions when everybody gets together for the first time in ages. Well, everybody with one notable exception Ė whoeverís turn it is to fill the box.
Once again it was time to dress formal and make the trek up the hill to the Mount Royal Cemetery to file someone else among the endless rows of markers no one but the most dedicated headstone hunters bother to read anymore (incidentally, if youíre among these morbid enthusiasts, come and kill a couple afternoons searching for our cityís small collection of Titanic victims, or the final resting place of Anna Leonowens of The King and I fame Ė itís fun for the whole family. Pack a picnic).
If you ever get a chance to go to a burial for ashes, I highly recommend the experience. Seeing the teeny-tiny grave is worth the price of admission alone. It sort of reminded me of my childhood visit to Montrealís now-defunct midget museum where they kept all the teeny-tiny chairs and teeny-tiny cutlery and teeny-tiny toilets. It was all so cute. And, if a grave can indeed be cute, then gosh-darn-it this one was downright precious.
If youíre an environmentalist, you might want to consider cremation as the green option. Sure, you rob the worms of a decent meal, but you take up so much less space. Why, thereís now no fewer than five of my family buried under the same stone. They let you do that with ashes. Itís very cost effective, except for the expense of having a new name chiseled onto the end of the granite list. Each time someone kicks off they just turn up the soil, sprinkle them into the mix, and pat it all down again. It all looks like dirt anyway, so who knows whatís a bit of who? It also makes less work for the city developers when they inevitably bulldoze the cemeteryís prime real estate to make way for the next round of condo construction.
Yes, what was such a shocking revelation in Poltergeist is actually standard operating procedure. It happens all the time, and when they do it they can barely be bothered to remove the stones, let alone the bodies. Remember that the next time youíre strolling through Dorchester Square. Youíre actually walking on the heads of those felled by Montrealís last big cholera epidemic. Enjoy.
Me, Iíll skip the rites and rituals of a standard funeral service, thank you very much. I donít need a little square of roped-off land, and I donít want a marker thatís only going to get kicked over, removed, or washed clean by years of rain and wind. Just take me directly from the crematorium and sprinkle me somewhere nice. With a view.
Failing that, I should be in a convenient flushable form, so give me a burial at sea. You can even send me off by teeny-tiny toilet should one be available. Ask a midget.
April 13, 2004 21:11Chicken Wings And Cock Rings
Easter has passed, and with it the sacrificial lamb trilogy, not to mention a more nefarious trilogy, all in the Movies in Longshot section.
Yesterday saw me back on the set to watch two of the latest Fries With That? episodes to come out of post production. Intrepid director, Giles Walker, was particularly pleased with how one of the shows I wrote turned out and wanted to screen it for the cast and some of the crew. I think part of the reason it works so well is that I was writing about a subject near and dear to my heart: nerds. Specifically, zombie nerds laying siege to a handful of terrified victims in their quest for crappy plastic movie merchandise. I have no idea when the public at large will be exposed to the results, but at the rate YTV is running the show, it shouldnít be long.
Fries With That? is now airing four times a week, Monday to Thursday at 9:30 pm. Itís playing back-to-back with Radio Active reruns, making it YTVís unofficial Giancarlo Caltabiano hour. Heís the highest profile link between the two shows, but they share many of the same producers, crew, and writers (myself included).
None of my Fries episodes have been broadcast yet, but I look forward to seeing what products all my hard work will help push on an unsuspecting public during the commercial breaks. Probably a combination of diapers and Barbie dolls, which I suppose is more demographically desirable than Depends and Viagra.
Involving yourself with any sort of advertising these days is morally dicey but pragmatically unavoidable. The ads are everywhere, and there are no depths they wonít sink to in order to fill your head with product names and slogans. If they could beam this shit directly into your brain and make it your every waking thought, they would. I should be grateful Iím only associated in a television capacity. Itís a time-honoured, traditional way to berate people into consuming more. The ads piggyback on TV shows and vice versa. I supply the sugar, they supply the pill to swallow.
These days I donít know which is more humiliating Ė what corporate ad executives do to shill their product, or the act of actually sitting through their crass sales pitches. Seriously, have you seen this? We now have a burger giant distancing itself from beef and embracing chickenÖand S&M. Thatís right, chicken and S&M. How can you have one without the other? I know when I buy a chicken breast, I always look for the nipple clamp.
Sex is nothing new in advertising. Neither is degradation. But shouldnít we still at least pretend our lust for goods and services is wholesome and positive? Itís good for the economy, right? Thatís always been our story, we should stick to it. I donít think I like this idea of admitting the sick symbiotic relationship between buyer and seller as we take turns being each otherís dog. Truth in advertising is a rare commodity, so why start bandying it about, forcing us to decide who the Tops and Bottoms are, when all anyone really wants out of the transaction is a fucking McNugget? Or whatever equivalent the competition in question offers.
Thereís probably some important lesson for marketing majors to glean from this new campaign. Possibly something along the lines of ďnever agree to be a costumed spokesman for any product no matter how desperate you are for an acting gig.Ē Having no desire to perform in any acting capacity, in or out of costume, that particular lesson is lost on me. Instead, the only thing the folks down at the ridiculously acronymed ďBKĒ have taught me is that contrived porno webcam shows have gone mainstream.
Yet I suppose, in this time of increased sexual enlightenment, we should all be up on our dominant/submissive jargon, especially when itís coupled with bestiality. So remember kids: when you stuff a roasted bird, use plenty of lube and always have a ďsafeĒ word if youíre planning on using your whole fist.
April 01, 2004 15:45For Your Consideration
With the Genie Awards fast approaching, now is the time for Academy members such as myself to get reams of material in the mail, soliciting my vote for my favourite Canadian movies of 2003 that I never actually saw. As you may have noted in my previous entry, Iím a tad cynical about the awards process.
In past years, I havenít even returned my ballot, quite correctly figuring that I wasnít qualified to offer an opinion if I hadnít seen all the nominees. But then, why shouldnít my vote count when Iíve probably seen way more of the films in question than most of the people who are voting? What an unfortunate conundrum to have to deal with. I canít believe I pay annual dues for the privilege of being faced with such a moral dilemma.
This year however, I think Iíve struck upon a sure-fire system to determine who gets my vote. I want to make it perfectly, publicly clear right here and now: Iím open to bribery. ďFor your considerationĒ indeed. You want my consideration? Gimme swag! You want my vote? Fine. Itís for sale. Buy it.
Now, Iím not suggesting nominees start delivering envelopes stuffed with cash to my doorstep. Letís be realistic here. A Genie win isnít going to earn your movie any extra box office. As a Canadian film, your little piece of celluloid is doomed to financial ruin from the start. But the trophy looks kinda cool, doesnít it? Want one? Then buy my vote. It can be purchased very inexpensively.
Since itís such an incredible pain in the ass to screen all these great Canadian epics during the fleeting moments theyíre actually in the theatres, I want screeners. Simple enough, isnít it? American Academy members get all sorts of screener copies of their nominated films. So much so, itís become a major piracy issue. But not so in Canada. You think we get copies of all the movies sent to our doorstep? No way! On average, I get maybe one copy of one movie sent to me by a particularly enterprising production company. Thatís it. And thatís gotta change.
So Iím saying right here, right now, if you want me to vote for your movie, send out copies to the members. I will vote for any nominated Canadian movie that arrives on my doorstep in a timely fashion, regardless of the actual quality of the film. If I get copies of two movies nominated in the same category, I will give preferential treatment to ones on DVD as opposed to video. Should they both be on DVDÖ Well then, I guess Iíll just have to watch them and pick the one I genuinely think is better. But hopefully it wonít come to that.
Act now, the clock is ticking. Thereís no clear frontrunner because so far I have yet to receive even that one token screener. You can earn extra points with pretty packaging, but save the full colour fliers, movie posters, and critic quotes. I wonít read any of that crap and neither will my recycling box.
15:24And The Winners ArenítÖ
I should mention that the Writers Guild Award finalists have been announced. You may remember that I was drafted as a first round judge to sort through the various nominees in the comedy/variety category. The resulting list of finalists is both utterly expected and jaw-droppingly shocking to me.
The Made in Canada episodes I voted for all made the final cut. No surprise there. Itís a fantastic show, and I know Iím not alone in loving it. But as for the other material, I canít help but notice that the script I gave the single highest recommendation to did not earn a nomination. That means the other two anonymous first-round judges out there had to have given it a dismally low rating. Iíd like to think this is just a simple difference of opinion, but I can guess at the real reason. They didnít read the script.
Admittedly, when I saw this entry (which shall go nameless here) on the pile, my expectations were low. In fact, I saved it for last because I so dreaded having to even give it a fair shake. Well, it turned out to be the freshest one of the lot, brimming with quality material, and genuinely funny. It so clearly stood out from the rest of the entries, many of which were mediocre, a few of which were truly awful, that aside from giving it top marks, I also mentioned it again by name when I turned in my ratings.
The fact that this script ended up slipping through the cracks leads me to believe that the other judges made the same initial assumption I did Ė only they never gave it the benefit of a unbiased read.
But this is hardly scandalous. You may be utterly unsurprised to learn that this is how most awards are divvied out. Politics and perceptions decide who gets which trophy, not the actual merit of the piece in question. Iím going through the exact same scenario again right now.
Last week I received my ballot for the 24th Annual Genie Awards. Thereís a number of movies I can vote for in a variety of categories. Have I seen them all? Of course not. Am I required to see them all before I vote? Again, of course not. Oh sure, they suggest you go see them before you vote, but do you think anyone actually does? These are Canadian movies after all. Good for you if you manage to catch them in that narrow one or two week window of opportunity when they play locally. But most Academy members wonít. We have the option of dragging our asses all the way down to the Academy offices to borrow tapes of the nominees, but whoís really going to bother to make that trip a dozen times when weíre only allowed a maximum of three at a time and they have to be returned the next day? Even Blockbuster will cut you a better deal than that.
So once again, the best in Canadian film this year will be determined by a bunch of industry professionals who havenít seen jack shit. Let me make a bold prediction right now and say The Barbarian Invasions will clean up. Not because itís the best Canadian movie of the year Ė it may well be, but who the hell has seen enough of the other releases to know for sure Ė but because the American Academy already gave it an Oscar for best foreign language film. They made the call for us, so now we donít even have to think about it.
And thatís great, really. It makes our job so much easier. Now we donít have to mark our ballots while trying to decide between a bunch of movies we havenít seen and probably havenít even heard of. We have a ready-made favourite. But God help us when it comes to picking anything in a category The Barbarian Invasions hasnít been nominated in. Then weíre screwed.