Memo to politicos: There’s nothing to fear, let the girls play

I don’t expect you to understand me or the reasons that brought me to where I am today.

Hell, I didn’t understand it for most of my 70 years.

Head doctors wrestle with it and other people with medical degrees of a different stripe aren’t certain what to make of it, either.

But here’s something you should understand: There’s nothing to fear.

I’m not a threat to your way of life, your religion, your job, your children, your family pet, your home or the company you keep. I won’t let my pooch poop on your lawn without scooping up the leavings in a doggy bag, I won’t park in your handicap spot, and I won’t crank up my music so loud that you can’t sleep at night, whether I’m playing Sinatra, Streisand or Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

I don’t know any transgender individual who thinks differently, the possible exception being Caitlyn Jenner, who’s actually more of a menace to the trans community than the general population.

In return, I ask just one thing: Don’t exclude me.

Me: Before and after.

Don’t tell me I can’t live in your apartment building. Don’t tell me I can’t be your co-worker. Don’t tell me I can’t kneel in your temple. Don’t tell me I can’t break bread and drink in your local watering hole. Don’t tell me I can’t shop at your market. Don’t tell me I can’t join your slo-pitch team.

In short, don’t tell me I don’t belong.

Yet this is what’s happening today, most notably in the United States, where numerous politicos of a sharp conservative tilt have mounted a crusade to prevent transgender females from sharing the playing fields of the nation with cisgender girls and women.

The anti-transgender constituency talks like there exists a sizable squadron of very large, very hairy, ape-ish men just waiting to dab on a little lipstick and mascara, convinced that’s the surest route to the top step of an Olympic Games medal podium, whereupon they can look down on their cisgender opponents, vanquished and lying in tattered ruins at the side of the track.

“It’s unfair,” goes their rallying cry.

Except there’s no evidence to support any notion that a male-to-female transition has ever made someone a superior athlete.

Let me tell you something about a male-to-female transition.

When I started taking hormones, the top of my head was five feet, 6.5 inches above the ground. Today it’s 1.5 inches closer to the ground. I was 138 pounds at the outset and soon dropped to 129, just one serving of chicken and dumplings heavier than my playing weight at age 18.

I was in my fifties and worked as a cleaner at a nightclub at the time, and had no difficulty with the heavy grunt work, easily hauling hefty bags of garbage up two flights of stairs to the dumpster and casually swishing a sopping-wet mop across the sticky, syrupy floors. In short order, however, I often couldn’t pull the garbage bags out of the bins, let alone lug them upstairs, and that chore became part of the barman’s duties. The wet mop, meanwhile, soon felt like it was attached to an ATM machine.

Trust me when I tell you hormones and the dramatic drop in testosterone levels are an energy and strength-siphoning bit of business.

For example, I was skilled enough to play in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League at age 18. Yet had I transitioned then, there was scant chance I would have been physically capable of competing with testosterone-fueled boys/young men aged 16 to 20. Actually, forget scant chance. Based on my transition experience, it simply would not have been doable, except perhaps in my mind.

The alternative, of course, would have been to join a female league, except they were non-existent back then. They exist today.

Jessica Platt

Jessica Platt was permitted to suit up with the Toronto Furies of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and her on-ice impact was negligible, with just two goals and three points in 49 games. Unfairness wasn’t an issue. There was nothing to fear.

Is it possible for a transgender female to come along and dominate her sport? Absolutely. Just as tall females dominate, just as big-boned females dominate, just as females with above-normal testosterone readings (see: Semenya, Caster) dominate, just as females with big feet and wide wing spans dominate. It’s never been one-size-fits-all on the playground, and never will be.

That applies to life.

Being transgender shouldn’t disqualify any girl/woman or boy/man from her/his pursuits, nor should it cloud anyone’s judgement and become a roadblock.

Again, leaning into my lived experience to provide an e.g., when I was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Writers & Sportscasters Roll of Honour the group’s president, Ted Wyman, informed me that my gender “wasn’t an issue. It never came up in our discussion.” They let me know that my body of work indicated that I belonged, and I applauded them for that. Still do.

And isn’t that something we all seek? Acceptance and belonging?

So let the girls belong and play.

COVID-19 and the Live and Let Die syndrome

Let’s say I contract COVID-19.

And let’s say I’m in a hospital bed, struggling for what might be my final breath. Someone half my age, also in last-gasp mode, is bedded down in the room next to mine. We both need a ventilator. There’s only one available.

So which of us lives and which of us dies?

Well, a rousing game of rock, scissors, paper to claim dibs on the ventilator is out of the question because, hey, we’re dying and I’m not prepared to squander my final wheeze on a silly schoolyard/pub game. So, what, we leave it up to the medics to decide? Nope. Not moi. I insist that the 35-year-old live on.

Which means, yes, I’m quite prepared to die, and I’d rather spare any doctor the uncomfortable dilemma of making the COVID-19 choice of live and let die.

Death doesn’t frighten me, you see.

Actually, I don’t think anyone truly fears death. The fear is in not living any longer. We fear leaving before we have fulfilled a dream, or before saying what needs to be said, or before counting all of our money. We fear the loss of those external elements that we believe make us who we are. We fear death of self before death itself.

But is death not the ultimate confirmation that we have lived? Without death, there is no complete life.

I’m now in my 70th lap around ol’ Sol, and mortality has dogged me for the past 20 years. It’s what happens when we arrive at a certain station of life and, for me, that was age 50, when the angels began to collect former newspaper colleagues, honorable adversaries and dear friends at an alarming rate.

Gone are Matty and Pick and Witt and Gus and Jon and Shawn and Abby and Robby and Skull and Siggy and Reyn and Shaky and the Baron and Trent and Jeems and Milt and Chester and Cowboy and Bish and Billy P—all 20 of them leaving since the turn of the century, which doesn’t seem that long ago. I admired those people and learned something about journalism from each of them in different ways. What to do, what not to do, how to do it, how not to do it. Some valuable life lessons were tossed into the mix, as well.

And that’s only a partial list of the dearly departed. It doesn’t include the numerous sports figures—Fergy, Baiz, Moosie, Frank McKinnon, Vic Peters, etc.—with whom I once shared space and oxygen. Nor fellow elbow-benders like wee Des, Georgie Boy and Hillbilly John. Again, all gone in the past 20 years.

I don’t dwell on death, but it is a constant for those of my vintage, and never more so than now, with the COVID-19 body count rising each day.

Medics like B.C.’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, talk about an “ethical framework” that determines who does and who doesn’t get a ventilator if we reach crunch time during the pandemic, but I prefer to take it out of their hands.

If it’s between me and someone with plenty of runway remaining, I’m good to go.

Donald Trump

So, Donald Trump wants to see activity in the playground “very soon,” and the American president believes it will be business as usual for the National Football League in September. “I want fans back in the arenas…whenever we’re ready, I mean, as soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey,” he told news snoops on Saturday. Well, that’s a warm-and-fuzzy sentiment, but also extremely unicorn-ish and full of fairy dust. “Nobody gives a shit (about sports) right now…better to turn hockey rinks into makeshift hospitals or morgues,” says Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Room Physicians. So there.

If Donald Trump refuses to ship 3M protective masks to our Canadian health workers, I say we recall Neil Young, Alex Trebek and the Stanley Cup. But they have to keep Celine Dion, Howie Mandel and Nickelback.

Most of us follow our personal doctors’ advice. I mean, if told to take two aspirin and call ol’ sawbones in the morning, I take two aspirin and make that call. Yet when the finest medical minds in our country advise us what to do (stay the frig home) during the COVID-19 crisis, they are ignored by many among the rabble. I find that to be a most curious bit of business. Even more curious: Why would it take a celebrity athlete, singer or movie star doing a PSA to convince some that the safest place to be right now is behind our own closed doors? Seriously, you’ll listen to, say, Connor McDavid instead of Dr. Theresa Tam? The mind boggles.

Ashley (DeadEye) Jones

On the subject of boggled minds, mine went for a shake, rattle and roll the other day when I happened upon something called Swamp People during a channel surfing expedition. Yowzas. What some folks won’t do for a buck. They get their kicks—and earn a healthy portion of their yearly income—by grabbing guns and hunting alligators in the thick of the Atchafalaya River Basin swamps in Louisiana every September. Not surprisingly, most of the Swamp People are men, but one woman was featured on the show, and I can guarantee you that Ashley (DeadEye) Jones is someone you want on your side when the fur starts to fly. Working solo on an air boat, she tagged three gators and lived to talk about it over some Cajun cooking. Truthfully, I didn’t know people like this even existed, but these ‘gator trolls have been on the History Channel for 11 years.

Tough times continue to hit the rag trade due to COVID-19, and the Winnipeg Free Press has asked workers to take a 12-to-20 per cent whack to their wages. Publisher Bob Cox took the lead, with a 50 per cent slash to his salary, and we can only wonder what newspapers will look like when we break through to the other side of this thing. Many won’t make it.

About two weeks ago, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was bragging about a 20-page sports section in the Toronto Sun, at the same time ridiculing the Toronto Star for running just two pages of sports coverage. It was a disturbing and tone-deaf boast. Today, the Sun has shrunk from 20 pages to 12 pages of nothing worth reading, with no section cover. Like the aforementioned Dr. Alan Drummond submits, “Nobody gives a shit (about sports).”

If you’re having trouble coping with self-isolation, consider that this is how many of our seniors live year-round. It might be health/mobility reasons that keep them inside, in might be financial, it might be a lack of motivation to get out and about. Whatever the case, many seniors are out of sight, but that doesn’t mean they should be out of mind. Give a kind thought to our elderly. They’ve earned it.

San Jose has a great big rat and Winnipeg has a Golden Boy with great big balls

So here’s what I’m thinking about three members of the San Jose Sharks bashing good, ol’ Hometown…

First of all, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed could have been a tad more creative in dissing Winnipeg. I mean, describing River City as “cold and dark” is so much meh. Same old, same old.

The Golden Boy: Tall, proud and buck naked.

It’s frigid in Winnipeg, you say? Well, duh. So wrap yourself in a parka and trundle to and fro in those subterranean tunnels and above-ground test tubes that connect the downtown corridors. And it gets dark in Winnipeg? Ya, like, after the freaking sun sets, dudes. A setting Sol is not peculiar to Pegtown. At last report, River City was still part of the Solar System, so, ya, they have to deal with that pesky dark-of-night thing.

Second, if you hang your hat in El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, you might want to trigger the filter between your brain and tongue before opening your gob.

Technology aside, what’s San Jose really known for?

Well, news outlet FiveThirtyEight named it “the most forgettable major American city.” Economist and migration blogger Lyman Stone ranked it as the “weirdest city in America” in 2016. On WalletHub’s listing of the most fun cities in the U.S., it comes in at a distant 95th, behind notable good-times spots like Akron, Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Rapids and Des Moines.

Little wonder the mayor of all 1,042,094 people, Sam Liccardo, says, We’re not big on bluster.”

Apparently, Mayor Sam and other civic leaders have been trying to come up with a fresh slogan for San Jose. Hmmm. The city has this quirky law which prohibits animals from publically fornicating if within 1,500 feet of a church, school or pub. Might make for a catchy slogan—San Jose: We never screw the dog.

A better question would be: How do those horny critters know if they’re inside the 1,500-foot, no-humping zone? Do they post doggy signs?

Whatever, San Jose is not without its selling points.

Reportedly, more than half the adults in the self-proclaimed Capital of the Silicon Valley have a college education. I assume the other half voted for Donald Trump.

Joey Chestnut

And, hey, San Jose has celebrities. Like Joey Chestnut.

Nobody on this planet eats more hot dogs in less time than Chestnut, the renowned face-stuffer who’s been known to scarf as many as 72 Nathan’s tube steaks in 10 minutes. What city wouldn’t be proud of a world-class glutton?

I’d say Chestnut’s achievement is admirable, except I’d be more impressed if he could gobble down 72 Salisbury House cheese nips in 10 minutes.

San Jose also has notable landmarks. Like the world’s largest rat. That would be a 30-foot Chuck E. Cheese. The thing is, they keep the rodent caged. And indoors. Wimps.

Bay way of comparison, Winnipeg has the Golden Boy—all 17.2 feet and 3,640 pounds of him—and he stands outside (even when it’s dark), proudly atop the Manitoba Legislative Building with his bare balls hanging out. Try that in minus-40 weather.

Winnipeg can even match San Jose school dropout for school dropout. They have Stevie Nicks, who left San Jose State University and eventually found fame with Fleetwood Mac. But I’ll call their Stevie Nicks and raise them a Neil Young, the Kelvin High dropout who joined Buffalo Springfield, then Crosby, Stills & Nash.

But, listen, I’m not hear to trash San Jose, even though trash talking the other guy’s town is as old as a Bob Hope joke. Happens every day. And Winnipeggers definitely do it, too.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone in River City say something warm and fuzzy about Regina? As if. I recall a former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach, Professor Mike Kelly, describing the good folks of the Saskatchewan capital as the “toothless, green, watermelon-helmet-wearing people from the crotch of Canada.” And Ol’ Lefty, Bombers place-kicker Troy Westwood, called the flatlanders “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.”

Others in Pegtown have used different parts of the human anatomy to describe Regina, and each of those body parts leaks and emits foul odors.

So there’s that.

Chuck E. Cheese

Legendary jock journalist Jim Murray, meanwhile, seldom squandered an opportunity to have sport with his many ports of call as columnist with the Los Angeles Times.

On Cincinnati: “They still haven’t finished the freeway…it’s Kentucky’s turn to use the cement mixer.”

On Baltimore: “The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It really doesn’t rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore’s a great place if you’re a crab.”

On Minneapolis-St. Paul: “They don’t like each other and from what I could see, I didn’t blame either of them.”

On San Francisco: “It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn’t get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is quiche.”

Thus, when Hertl, Braun and Heed went off on Winnipeg, describing it as “dark and cold” and, at the same time, suggesting it was a horse-and-buggy burg that had yet to be introduced to the dot.com world of hashtags and tweets (“I don’t know if they have WiFi there yet.”), they weren’t exactly breaking fresh (frozen) ground. People have been taking frost-bitten cheap shots at good, ol’ Hometown since the first Red River cart blew a tire (what other reason could there have been for stopping and settling there?).

Remember old friend Ilya Bryzgalov? The former National Hockey League goaltender wasn’t afraid of anything in this entire world. Except “Bear in forest.” And living in Pegtown.

You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?” he once advised news snoops. “Not many people live there. Not many Russian people there. Plus it’s cold. There’s no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.”

Bryzgalov made me laugh. Hertl, Braun and Heed not so much.

If you’re going to trash talk, boys, come up with some fresh material.

About Vietnam and Las Vegas…a president in Puerto Rico…Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys…rude noise on The Voice…learning about Will & Grace…October baseball…and shining in 2019

Random thoughts before the candle goes out and the sun comes up…

I spent the entirety of my Sunday watching the final six installments of the Lynn Novick/Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War and went to bed emotionally spent and softly weeping.

Such atrocities. Such carnage. Such an unnecessary waste of human life.

I awoke 5 1/2 hours later, at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and clicked on my TV. I began weeping again. Another atrocity. More carnage. More unnecessary waste of human life, this time on our side of the world, in Las Vegas.

You wake up in the morning knowing the world will have changed overnight, but you don’t expect this kind of change. Fifty-eight people taken to the morgue. Approximately 500 whisked away to the ER at five different Vegas hospitals. That’s almost 600 people killed or cut down. By a man who, due to silent voices in his head and a disturbing, horrific sense of right and wrong, took a piece of pure Americana—a country music festival—and buried it in pure evil.

The physical toll is shocking, the worst human slaughter in modern-time United States. The emotional fallout is much greater.

Approximately 22,000 innocent, happy concert-goers are victims. Their friends and loved ones are victims. First responders are victims. Doctors and nurses are victims. Jason Aldean, on stage closing the Route 91 Harvest Festival when bullets from high-powered weapons began to rain down from a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and other performers are victims.

So the country to the south has been crippled. Again.

The Olympic Mountains

When I look out the main window of my humble home on a clear day, I can see the United States of America. Literally. The Olympic Mountains are off in the distance, standing tall and firm across the Juan de Fuca Strait in Washington state. It’s a peaceful, picture-postcard setting, totally at odds with the chaos, confusion and killings that occur far too often behind them.

It’s easy for us on the north side of those Olympic Mountains to feel smug and say these types of mass murders are “an American thing,” but do we really want to go there? Americans are our neighbors. Our friends. Even if we find them a tad loud and obnoxious when they visit, they’re North American kin.

Besides, it’s not like we’re immune to the depravity of minds that either snap or plot evil in Canada.

It was only nine months ago, remember, when a young man strolled into a Quebec City mosque and opening fired. By the time he walked out of the Islamic Cultural Centre, six people lay slain and another 19 were wounded.

It’s all so sad.

One of four students dead in Ohio.

The Vietnam War documentary, which aired on PBS, is a superb, enlightening and gripping work from Novick and Burns. It is a harsh reminder of the violence that prevailed during the 1960s and early ’70s—it definitely wasn’t all flower power, groovin’ and great rock ‘n’ roll like some Baby Boomers would have you believe—and I’m sure it opened eyes to the shameful deceit, cunning and flat-out criminal activity of people in the White House. The most heart-tugging and tear-inducing segment for me was the sight of students lying on the ground, dead, at Kent State after the Ohio National Guard had gunned them down. Innocent kids, killed by their own government. I can still hear the haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio” in Neil Young’s classic protest song Ohio. Sigh.

Speaking of government, did U.S. President Donald Trump actually tell people in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to “have a good time” and toss them paper towels? Well, yes, he did. Oh my.

Okay, it’s about Tom Petty. My favorite Tom Petty stuff was the stuff he did with Nelson, Otis, Lefty and Lucky, aka the Traveling Wilburys. Now, with Petty’s passing this week, there are only two of the Wilburys left—Lucky (Bob Dylan) and Otis (Jeff Lynne). George Harrison and Roy Orbison had preceded Petty to the big rock concert in the sky. Petty (Charlie T. Wilbury Jr.), Dylan, Lynne, Harrison and Orbison only recorded one album together —Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1—and it’s brilliant. Those boys could really get after it. There’s a second album (I have the both on vinyl), but Orbison had already left us.

The Traveling Wilburys: Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison.

My favorite Traveling Wilburys tunes…

  1. Handle with Care
  2. End of the Line
  3. Rattled
  4. Not Alone Any More
  5. Poor House

Gave The Voice a try last week, but, sorry, I cannot watch if Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson are sitting in two of the four judges’ chairs. They both seem to be of the misguided notion that the show is about them, not the contestants. The hokey Adam Levine-Blake Shelton bromance wore thin about six years ago, but Cyrus and Hudson make the show unbearable. Click.

I’m told Will & Grace are back on TV. Hmmm. I didn’t know they had left. So, because I missed them during their first go-round on the small screen, I thought I’d give the new season’s first episode a look-see. I must say, that was a funny show. And imagine my surprise. There are gay characters. Who knew? Must check it out again. (Sidebar: Debra Messing has gorgeous hair. Love the color, which also happens to be my color.)

I love October baseball, even if I don’t have a cheering interest. Actually, I found myself root, root, rooting for the New York Yankees in their wild-card skirmish with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. I’m not sure what that means. I mean, I’ve always been an ABTY ball fan—anybody but the Yankees. So why was I cheering for them? I think I need to book some time on Dr. Phil’s couch.

If I was still in River City, working in mainstream jock journalism at the Winnipeg Sun, I’d be required to attend a hockey match this very night between the hometown Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs and pretend it’s important. I’m glad I’m no longer in River City working in mainstream journalism.

According to my October horoscope, “2019 will be your time to shine.” Excuse me? 2019? What the hell am I supposed to do until then?

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