Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 3.31.17
Stanstead, Quebec


Risky days for columnists

Hi there. How's tricks? Does anyone say that anymore? "How's tricks? " Sounds Damon Runyon-esque. That's Damon Runyon, the American writer, not Damon Runyan, the Canadian actor and star of "Degrassi: The Next Generation," though, honestly, what kind of parent does that to a child? It would be like if my last name were "Frankenstein" and I named my child "Brideof."

But seriously, how's tricks?

That's one of those greetings I like to spring on the members of the high school yearbook club I supervise. Most of the girls in the club are from Asia, so when I come in and say, "What's up, Doc? " they just look at me. Then I ask them if they know who Bugs Bunny is, which they do, and the rest is fairly self-explanatory. I ve also tried "What's the story? " and "What's cooking? " which likewise generate blank stares.

I have never tried "How's it hanging?" nor do I intend to. Never once have I thought, "Would it be so bad, just to see what it felt like?"

Also, I would like to point out that I am not generalizing about Asian girls. I write this based on my own experience knowing full well that there may be many Asian girls, perhaps the majority, who are familiar with North American greeting colloquialisms.

Sorry. I'm a bit nervous, kind of stalling here actually, because I don't want to inadvertently write something that crosses the line or displays bad judgement on my part.

Recently, Macleans columnist Andrew Potter had to step down as the head of a prestigious institute at McGill University over an ill-considered and poorly substantiated blindside of Quebec society, and this week, Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren got the Internet in a froth when she wrote about the time she attempted to breastfeed a stranger's baby at a party. I'm worried because I too have been to parties. I've been to lots of parties. I've done stupid things at parties. But there were never babies involved. That's not necessarily true. Babies were sometimes present. But there was no nursing. By me. I have not nursed any babies. At parties or elsewhere.

I'm sorry you're now picturing me nursing a baby.

You see? You see how easy it is? I set out to write something specifically about not ever having breastfed strange babies at parties and then I find myself telling about that time I went to a house party and had to go to the bathroom, and I noticed that the toilet was running, so I lifted the lid to fiddle with the doodad, because toilets – - how hard can they be? And then suddenly there was a geyser of water shooting out of the tank. So I put the lid back on and left. A few minutes later, I heard the owner upstairs yelling, "What the hell! "

But, still, I didn't break any social mores. Just a toilet.

I've got to be extra careful, because my deadline is looming, like maybe McLaren's deadline was, and she was thinking, "Well, I have to write something…" Maybe like me she had tumbled down the rabbit hole of Netflix, letting hours slip away instead of writing, delighted by the entertainment yet coming away with a bloated sense of wasted time and chip crumbs down her shirt, which would make breastfeeding uncomfortable for both her and a stranger's baby, I can imagine.

And that could easily get me talking about how it's odd I don't feel guilty about reading books for hours, which in turn could lead to me telling about that time I went to a party and saw a book I liked on the host's bookshelf and took it home. People do that all the time, right? Perfectly normal behaviour? Hosts expect that. If you open your home to guests, you assume you're going to lose a bestseller or two, especially in Quebec society, where people steal books because of the underground economy and instant teller machines that spew copies of pirated DVDs.

And I don't feel guilty about it at all, because if I did feel guilty, or if I suspected this might be behaviour or a sweeping generalization that people might find really, really weird, I certainly wouldn't write about it.

Or would I? That's why I'm nervous, see?

So what have we learned today? That writing a column is fraught with risk, that vigilant editors are important, that I make Asian girls uncomfortable, that breastfeeding should be handled by professionals, and that you invite me to a party at your peril.