BACK TO THE FUTURE
“How many times have you been told not to write ‘tongue-in-cheek’ letters and send them off without approval?” asked “Deputy Mayor” Janis. “Well”, I said, “it was a weekend and couldn’t wait; the Tarana Globe and Mail had a story that was unfair to Sarnia. It suggested the controversial Eastern Gas Plant was in Sarnia and, worse, put there because the ‘locals would have no objection,’ so off went a letter.” (Google The Globe and Mail: “Dear Toronto: Get over yourselves, Love, Edmonton and Sarnia”; and BuzzFeed Canada “This Canadian Mayor Wrote the Best Response To A Reporter Who Threw Shade at His City” to read the letter). Continued on saying “when I write those ‘Mayor Speak’ serious, eye-glazing letters, no one pays any attention just like when I am talking to you right now. So I wrote a funny one.” The “Deputy Mayor” glared with that rare red-headed woman stare that can melt wax, turn men into puddles and make dogs howl. “You don’t remember all the other letters you wrote and sent off that made the phones ring, the media sing and the emails zing?”
Sure I did, but what better time for a “Column Dream Sequence”: For those reading at home, just rub your eyes for five minutes while spinning around. Besides bringing back memories of the first time you drank too much before a high school dance, you can flashback in time. (Note: The CRTC has edited these dreams to ensure 30 percent Canadian content. Not available on Netflix).
The Lake Chipican Letter of 1998: President Clinton had signed a Bill (not himself, but a piece of legislation) designating Lake Champlain as a Great Lake to allow Vermont to access grants. So a Mayor, whose name escapes me right now, with a lot of time on his hands, wrote to Prime Minister Chretien urging that Canada designate our own Lake Chipican as a Great Lake, the only one with gold fish. Noting a trench could be built connecting the 17 acre lake to Lake Huron and that “I am sure if Lake Chipican receives this revered status we could have Gordon Lightfoot write a song about the lake (the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Chipican); have miniature freighter races and, keeping with our character as Canadians, we would be more than willing to apply for every grant under the sun.” National and international media picked up on the story. CNN sent it around the world. The Prime Minister’s Office said they were looking into the issue and two weeks later the decision was reversed. Only in a dream would anyone believe the letter had anything to do with it.
The Elvis Letter of 2000: Collingwood Council was cutting their grant to the Elvis Festival, not liking the image that it gave the town, despite bringing in 60,000 fans, huge sales of peanut butter and banana sandwiches and black velvet paintings. So off went a letter, loaded with Elvis song titles saying “I was ‘all shook up’ and while an unwritten rule of conduct between Mayors is ‘Don’t be cruel’ to other communities; however, ‘It’s now or never’ for us to pursue this event. I am sure if we are successful the King would say ‘That’s all right.’ I know there will be those who will have ‘Suspicious minds’ about my motives, but if I don’t pursue the opportunity, it will ‘Always be on my mind.’ ” It seemed every Elvis impersonator in Canada called the office in character, offering support. I ended each call to them by saying “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.” Needless to say Collingwood Council couldn’t help falling in love with Elvis again so the festival stayed and Elvis, for once, didn’t leave the building (was amazed by the loyalty of Elvis’ fans that called to offer support–will be a sad day for them when he dies).
The Michael Moore Letter of 2004: A group of Young Conservative Alex P. Keatons filed a charge against American film director Michael Moore with Elections Canada, claiming he had violated the Election Act by, as an American, telling people not to vote for Stephen Harper (If that was a crime most of my friends would be in jail). Was amazed that these Young Conservatives didn’t believe in freedom of speech. So off went a letter to the Chief Election Officer. “If it will assist in your review of this matter I am willing to declare Michael Moore a citizen of Sarnia, Ontario, therefore making him a de-facto Canadian. Making him a honourary Canadian will give him the right to whine, bitch, moan, complain about taxation, the high level of taxes and then move forward and pay his tax bill and vote for the government in power. It is my hope that Mr. Moore, who has frequented Sarnia in the past, will accept this distinguished honour. Perhaps I should paraphrase the words of John F. Kennedy… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Sarnia, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Sarnian. While Sarnia does not have a Berlin wall, we do have a sound barrier on the highway which will be an excellent substitute. In conclusion, I also want to state to you this letter is nonpartisan as I do not belong to an organized political party—I am a Federal Liberal.” (Election results since then prove the foresight of that statement). Moore loved the letter and the responses came from everywhere, mostly positive and supportive, getting the point of the letter. The negative e-mails, especially from the U.S. Tea Party types were vicious, nasty and often unintentionally funny (apparently the ability to spell, write in sentences or fact-check is not a prerequisite to operating a computer). Favourite was “You scabrous, moronic, grandstanding leftist toad.” The Chief Election Officer dismissed the complaint.
The Arthur Black Letter of 2009: The renowned Canadian author and humorist had a horrendous experience at the local airport with Air Canada security. He wrote a column called “Sayonara, Sarnia; It’s been good to know you.” Needless to say it wasn’t complimentary. So off went a letter. “Just read your column about your book tour that brought you to Sarnia. While you may mock us, the safety and security of our 993 Tim Horton’s is of paramount concern for the citizens of this city and the airport is a prime entry point. Thus our security is second to none. Did you meet Bob our security guard? He doesn’t have a gun but does have a whistle and is trained to use it on anyone who gets in the wrong line. What did you think of the three foot security fence? How about the x-ray machine borrowed from a local dentist? You may have been partially responsible for your own problems beyond the lack of photo ID. Were you in Air Canada’s terrorist or non-terrorist line? They are very Canadian. If you were in the wrong line Bob immediately would have placed you on double-secret probation. I apologize for the lack of a coffee machine. The machine was removed so no terrorist could hold a hot cup of coffee to a pilot’s throat or, even worse, make him drink it and demand the plane be flown to Petrolia or Oil Springs instead of Toronto. I have checked with Bob and he says it is not our fault locally because apparently anyone who works for the CBC is automatically put on the Terrorist Watch List by the Harper Government”. Black’s response in his next column was “Wow. Imagine having a Mayor with a sense of humour like that. It’s enough to make me want to go back to Sarnia even. By train, mind you.” (Thanks to the RAIL group Arthur you will be able to come back by train.) In his next book “Black is the New Green”, he devoted a chapter to the story.
As this dream sequence ends, the point of the letters was to take the mickey out of people. That is the Irish way of gently teasing and making people laugh to make a point with humour. The Globe and Mail reporter, Adrian Morrow, responded with grace saying in part “Thank you for this very Swiftian response to my story. I wish all the angry e-mails I get were so entertaining. All the best and give Uncle Festus my regards”. Even Ben Mulroney got into the act tweeting “I got burned by the Mayor of Sarnia. Crossing that bad boy off my bucket list!”
Postscript: Received a misconduct penalty from the “Deputy Mayor” with my letter/column writing privileges suspended till October though did manage to work out a plea bargain. The “punishment” will end in October or whenever the Tarana Blue Jays are out of contention, whichever comes first, so may be back writing again by early August.
If you have any ideas or comments please call me at 519-332-0330 Ext. 3312 or 519-336-8092 or email email@example.com