The Open Mike column is back based on underwhelming demands by the readers for its return. The column first appeared in this paper 20 years ago in October 1999. At that time explained why the column was starting up. “In today’s world of ghost writers and speech writers for politicians, it is a pleasure to be able to communicate directly with you in a column authored by myself. I have always loved to write and it brings a great deal of clarity to one’s own thought process. George Orwell said it best in his essay called Politics and the English Language: “The reason politicians can’t think clearly is because they can’t write clearly.”
Wow! Wasn’t that opening statement pretentious and self-serving? The editor at the time agreed I could write about whatever I wanted. Looking back at the early columns they were stilted in language, writing (Editor: Surely he means typing) and were often boring and full of self-promotion. Used “I” so much it could have been a drinking game, it appeared so often. Example: “As I cut the ribbon to open the new Tunnel I reflected back on all the great things I had done since I became mayor, too numerous to list here, I think.”
Over time the column developed into an (alleged?) humour piece with the London Free Press once stating the Open Mike column had “almost as many laughs as a Dave Barry column” (don’t know why they said “almost”). That was the biggest honour ever received since winning second place in kindergarten in the castle popsicle-building contest.
The late CBC icon Arthur Black had a chapter in his Green is the New Black book featuring his columns. One chapter was about a funny exchange between us and his disastrous book-signing trip to Sarnia. Of course, as part of the Columnist Brotherhood, we both used the exchange in our respective columns to fill up space. Over time the quote by Shania Twain’s brother Mark became true “Write about what you know”. And could add “or make up stuff”.
The column has become a bigger challenge to write over the years as humour has evolved and changed. What worked then doesn’t work now. And the fear of offending someone, someplace, at some time, is constant in today’s marshmallow world. Decided two years ago to venture into the social media swamp of Twitter and Facebook. On social media try to keep it humorous and not like most politicians social media. Although at times people don’t get it like on Canada Day when I tweeted “if you wear something red and mention my name you will get into the activities for free.” The fact the event has always been free went over the heads of some who responded.
Try not to run pictures of myself but just of the event but when am in pictures identify myself as “unidentified man along with his red scarf.” The red scarf often shows up solo in pictures and is developing a cult following. One positive thing about social media (tried to come up with two things but failed), given the dramatic decline and quality of main stream media, is special moments in the community can be shared that the media doesn’t cover due to lack of people resources. Golden Rule for social media is I don’t respond to any tweet or posting. Contact and home number is posted if people want to contact me directly.
Debated starting the column again because social media is immediate and it does eat up content daily while the column is only published every three weeks and not in the summer time (or during elections).
The humorous columns would bring comments like your column was so funny I almost laughed or people not getting the jokes. Once used the phrase “Irish Alzheimer’s”, a phrase my Irish dad Des told me about which is “when you forget everything but your grudges.” Thought it was a good line, however, it brought an official complaint. The column called “Reflections” in 2008 about personal change brought an overwhelming response and ended up recording it to run on CBC across the province. Personal columns about the loss of my dad, Des, and mom, May, and one about “The Bench” on the waterfront in their memory brought many comments about personal loss and healing.
Have written columns at some risk politically. Many years ago police showing up at a noisy party (I consider it music not noise) complaint at the Bradley Bunker (“Your Worship would you turn the music down”) to getting a speeding ticket (Congratulations Officer you did a great job keeping up with Air Mustang).
As the column evolved so did a cast of characters. My real life friend Bob became “my cynical friend who wishes to remain anonymous “Bob”. After Bob passed away, to bring gender parity, my friend Julie became the new anonymous cynical person. Typical Cynical Julie quote: “Women spend more time wondering what men are thinking than men spend thinking”. Julie is a Tarawna newspaper person who sends in scud e-mails anytime I quote myself. She can’t believe anyone would quote themselves. My defense is “I have to quote myself as no one else will.”
Uncle Clary in Belfast does exist with a great sense of humour and his faithful companion called Guinness. And no, that is not the name of his dog. He was a policeman there for over three decades and sends a constant stream of Irish jokes which, for some strange stereotypical reason, 99 per cent involve alcohol.
Uncle Festus from Moose Jaw doesn’t exist except on these pages. Killed the character off years ago because thought it was too corny but found people loved him so he came back with the explanation that he hadn’t died. I had just dreamt that in the shower.
The Guinness Sisters’ (Janis and Marlene) adventures travelling through Ireland were a big hit. Although in real life they are the Pinot Grigio Sisters.
The title “Deputy Mayor” Janis was bestowed on the Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Janis, on these pages many years ago based on the fact many believe she really runs the city. Janis has now been 46 years at City Hall (no time off for good behavior) and took her oath of office on an autographed Bible. She is beloved by all those who know her.
Janis has a witty observational sense of humour. Example: After a rough week politically told her “didn’t think anyone out there liked me.” Her response was not to worry as “not everyone has met you yet.”
Other characters have come and gone. And friend’s names often show up in the jokes, trying to make the column more personal. It’s also a threat that can be used against them. My late mom, May, used to say after something funny happened in our lives “This isn’t going to show up in the column is it?” Would respond “certainly not unless I am desperate for material”. Columnists would even cross their moms if it resulted in good column material.
One life lesson learned over 20 years are any jokes about seniors, grandmas, onions, accordions, bagpipes, and Neil Diamond will bring an instant negative reaction. Not true though about the Toronto Maple Leafs as it takes their fans longer to grasp the jokes and even then they have to read them repeatedly.
Column writing is hard. Not a natural writer. Friends say I will live forever because if I had a terminal illness would never get my goodbye note done. While most writers believe editors are placed on earth to torture writers, have been blessed since mine have left me alone on the word count. This column often runs up to 1,400 words. The standard is 400 to 750. My pledge for this column was 750 words. Oops! Now at 1,300 words. Know the critics will say another broken promise. Maybe next time will write a shorter 750-word column unless I only have time for a longer one. Till next time.
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