George Tsinokas was such an original – talented, smart, funny, with the biggest heart of any human being I have ever met. His loss is immeasurable.
I may do a better job of organizing these words later but for now, I hope to write down some of the best things I ever heard George say. If you have anything you would like to add to this list please do, and share the post with others so they can add to it too.
George, after taking on my unfashionable mop of hair and transforming me into a sharp, trendy professional:
“Now, Rita, you know this requires SOME effort. You can’t just roll out of bed and expect to get this look.”
When Lois Brown ran against Belinda Stronach in the 2006 federal election, George met us at Global News to do Lois’ hair just before an important debate. He rolled into the studio with a travel kit of tools and supplies like Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.”
Watching George comb, blow and spray Lois’ famously unkempt hair, I mused out loud “I wonder who is doing Belinda’s hair?”
“Well, it must be the Number Two salon in Durham, because I can tell you Belinda is not being done by the Number One salon in Durham,” George sniffed without missing a beat.
I actually live in Newcastle because George Tsinokas invested in Clarington real estate. When I decided I wanted to move out of Toronto, I originally thought that meant I would be driving north toward Barrie. Then I discovered that in opening his newest salon, George and Vasile didn’t just buy a salon in Bowmanville – they bought the entire PLAZA in which the salon happened to be located.
“I have learned,” George shared one day, “that I could never save as much money as real estate can make me.”
Those words are seared into my brain now. If someone as smart as George Tsinokas was investing in Durham, I thought, that’s where I’m investing too. I have never looked back.
“You are someone I really treasure,” George told me one day. Wow, what a nice thing to say! I should say that to more people, more often.
“Growing up, I was never ‘the best’ at anything,” George explained to me one day. “I was not athletic, I was not at the top of the class. I wasn’t musical. But once I got into the business world and found I could make money, I realized, ‘THIS is something I can do. I am good at this.’”
This should be good news to lots of young people finishing high school and heading out into the world. I thought about George’s words a lot when I was running my Junior Achievement class last winter.
George married a stunningly beautiful, dynamic woman named Heidi. I loved the story of how they met: there used to be a nightclub called “Staircases” which was full of staircases on which young people would mix, mingle, sit, lean across to meet and talk over loud music and alcohol.
George told me, “I spotted Heidi leaning against the railing of a staircase across the room and I knew immediately she was someone special, so I worked my way over to her.”
“What was you opening line?” I needed to know.
“I walked up to her and said, ‘Who does your hair?’” George recounted. Of course, he did! And then they talked about hair for quite a long while, and the rest was history.
Some things make such perfect sense, there can be no doubt.
Has the Covid-19 quarantine left you bored, trapped at home?
Are you sick to death of unending, hysterical media coverage?
I have GREAT news for you!
Possibly the best action/adventure writer of all time decides to write a spine-tingling, engaging thriller that addresses one of the riskiest and most dangerous challenges facing the Western world. The story details a health catastrophe of epidemic proportions, killing millions, destroying lives and families, causing suicide and financial failure at tragic levels.
What begins as a mystery morphs into horror as the story turns into cliff-hanger. You are absorbed by facts and details that leave you gob-smacked and incredulous; there is not a dull page in this book. You cannot put it down.
By tales’ end, it may be that the book has changed your life.
The book is a little-known masterpiece by Jack London, author of “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.”
The book is “John Barleycorn, or an Alcoholic Memoir,” and it was published in 1913, when London was at the peak of wealth and fame as one of the most popular writers of the age. (“Jack London” is the pen name of John Griffith Chaney.)
From the matter-of-fact recounting of his first drunken experience – “I was five years old the first time I got drunk” – to the impact alcohol had on his developing friendships at age seven and social life when he set out to sea as a teen-ager, it’s easy to think that London’s relationship with alcohol was a product of the rough age in which he lived.
When you look at how alcohol is presented today, you will find unmistakable parallels. We may have more laws, more rules and regulations about alcohol consumption in 2020, but we don’t have any less alcohol or any fewer ruined lives. “John Barleycorn,” as London personifies the product, the lifestyle, and the warped decision-making processes associated with drinking, is alive and well and actually making most of the rules.
In his introduction, London makes an important point: he is not writing as a genetically pre-disposed alcoholic. His experience wasn’t exceptional: he consumed alcohol as alcohol was intended to be consumed.
“I am a seasoned drinker. I have no constitutional predisposition for alcohol. I am not stupid. I am not a swine. I know the drinking game from A to Z, and I have used my judgment in drinking. I never have to be put to bed. Nor do I stagger. In short, I am a normal, average man; and I drink in the normal, average way, as drinking goes. And this is the very point: I am writing of the effects of alcohol on the normal, average man.”
Describing how John Barleycorn slithered in to became a pervasive presence in his life, London wrote, “I sketched my first contacts with alcohol, told of my first intoxications and revulsions, and pointed out always the one thing that in the end had won me over—namely, the accessibility of alcohol. Not only had it always been accessible, but every interest of my developing life had drawn me to it. A newsboy on the streets, a sailor, a miner, a wanderer in far lands, always where men came together to exchange ideas, to laugh and boast and dare, to relax, to forget the dull toil of tiresome nights and days, always they came together over alcohol. The saloon was the place of congregation. Men gathered to it as primitive men gathered about the fire of the squatting place or the fire at the mouth of the cave.”
London’s near-magical command of the English language and gift for indelible imagery enliven every page, every perception:
“We were three tipsy young gods, incredibly wise, gloriously genial, and without limit to our powers. Ah!—and I say it now, after the years—could John Barleycorn keep one at such a height, I should never draw a sober breath again. But this is not a world of free freights. One pays according to an iron schedule—for every strength the balanced weakness; for every high a corresponding low; for every fictitious god-like moment an equivalent time in reptilian slime. For every feat of telescoping long days and weeks of life into mad magnificent instants, one must pay with shortened life, and, oft-times, with savage usury added.”
I found fascinating London’s description of how casually, quickly and completely John Barleycorn took over his daily schedule in the later years, after London had achieved great success as an internationally renowned and beloved writer. Drinking more, drinking earlier, drinking ever-more special concoctions, ever-more expensive products, with a circle of friends more dedicated to drinking than friendship, he slid into the lifestyle we see all around us in the present day.
Early on, he wrote 1,000 words per day, first thing every morning, no matter where he was on the globe. Then, he began to celebrate finishing his 1,000 words with a drink. Eventually, he enjoyed drinking WHILE he wrote his 1,000 words; and at the end, he could not write anything at all unless he had a drink first. BAM. There you go. There’s John Barleycorn for you, at work, in charge of your schedule and your life.
London was able to see what was going on, and he thought he was capable of changing it.
“It was my unmitigated and absolute good fortune, good luck, chance, call it what you will, that brought me through the fires of John Barleycorn. My life, my career, my joy in living, have not been destroyed. They have been scorched, it is true; like the survivors of forlorn hopes, they have by unthinkably miraculous ways come through the fight to marvel at the tally of the slain.”
This grateful observation might carry more weight, had London lived to a ripe old age in good health and written dozens of more classic books and stories for the world to enjoy. Sadly, he died at age 40, possibly from an accidental overdose. Whether his death might in fact have been a suicide is still debated.
No matter how he died, while he lived, Jack London made an observation which is perhaps even more meaningful today. As we fret about the long-term consequences of climate change or the assumed estimated projected infection rates of COVID-19, there remains a clear and present danger to people of all ages, especially young people, which we blithely ignore:
“We have with great success made a practice of not leaving arsenic and strychnine, and typhoid and tuberculosis germs lying around for our children to be destroyed by,” London observed.
“Treat John Barleycorn the same way. Stop him. Don’t let him lie around, licensed and legal, to pounce upon our youth. Not of alcoholics nor for alcoholics do I write, but for our youths, for those who possess no more than the adventure-stings and the genial predispositions, the social man-impulses, which are twisted all awry by our barbarian civilisation which feeds them poison on all the corners. It is the healthy, normal boys, now born or being born, for whom I write.”
The free LibreVox audiobook of “John Barleycorn” is available here.
The Gutenberg Press publication of the book is here.
Special thanks to Hans Weinhold for recommending this book to me!
I raised three kids as a self-employed single mother. On the hardest days, I had my hydro shut off and coasted to the curb as my car ran out of gas.
The inconvenience of having a credit card declined paled in comparison to the day Bell cut off my phone, hours after I signed the biggest contract of my career. I woke up terrified that my gigantic new client would call me to find my phone out of service. I laid in bed sobbing at the imagined humiliation.
After a while, I realized, crying in bed had not changed anything. So, I got up, swallowed my pride, and went to a friend to borrow the money to pay the bill.
These are not experiences I would wish upon anyone; however, they didn’t kill me, either. They didn’t even make me a bad person: they made me a broke person.
“You need to know how to be poor,” I advised my kids as they grew up. “Being poor is a skillset. You have to know how to deal with it. You’re not bad, or stupid – you’re broke. Temporarily. Get up and fix it.”
Post-COVID-19, millions of Canadians are about to find out what it means to be broke through no fault of their own. It’s gonna be ugly, and painful. Credit cards will be declined; phones will be shut off; friendly banks will start bouncing payments and adding $40 NSF fees with gleeful abandon. There will be bankruptcies.
(Tip#1: immediately stop automatic payments from your bank account and make payments yourself only when the funds are there – or you will NEVER get out from under the NSF charges.)
Those who have never learned how to be poor risk confusing being broke with being worthless. Don’t make this mistake! Don’t confuse the consequences of the approaching economic pain with your own self-worth. The two things are mutually exclusive.
The true mark of your character over these months won’t be whether you endure financial hardship; it will be HOW you weather financial hardship. This will be especially true if you are a small business owner, self-employed, or working in a service deemed non-essential.
The night I ran into a pharmacy to buy lice shampoo so my kids could return to school and had my credit card declined, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. (Tip #2: Cash is king. Hoard it.)
Thirty years ago when I was scrambling, there was very little talk about the horrific mental health impacts of financial hardship. Now we know it is a major cause of depression and even suicide.
The ones to suffer first and hardest will be the entrepreneurs and risk-takers that drive wealth creation in our society. These people aren’t worried about numbers on a balance sheet: they are terrified that both their dreams of success and their worth as a person are evaporating before their eyes.
My advice to them is: don’t confuse being broke with being worthless. Fear and stress will harm you more than penalties and interest.
Swallow your pride. Avoid credit cards. Avoid alcohol. Embrace overtime. Love your family.
We are staring down the barrel of another month of Coronavirus media coverage.
Is it even possible to endure the stress of the 24/7 news cycle, full of hysteria and doom?
To survive, do what I do: make the best satire sites part of your news feed. The Beaverton, Genesius Times and the Babylon Bee are probably better for your mental health than antidepressants or therapy, and cheaper, too.
Although I am a media junkie, I allow notifications from only one news site: Canada’s own, the Beaverton.
“Despite suspended NHL season, Leafs somehow still eliminated from playoffs” the Beaverton announced on March 13th.
“Toronto fans have taken the news in stride,” the Beaverton reports encouragingly. “‘Despite the virus shaking up our normal daily routines and activities, it’s comforting to see the warm familiarity of the Leafs again having no chance to win the Cup,’ said local attorney, Marla Danvers. ‘Makes you realize that things will be back to normal soon enough!’”
The Beaverton’s Canadian identity allows it to deliver sly, witty political satire non-Canadians would never write:
“As Wet’suwet’en railway blockades across Canada continue with no end in sight, PMO aides have reportedly been forced to physically restrain Prime Minister Trudeau to stop him from delving into his costume chest in an attempt to aid negotiations,” the Beaverton deadpanned.
After the Beaverton, my personal favourite is the Genesius Times, which proclaims itself “the most Reliable Source of Fake News on the Planet.” (Disclosure: I publish stories in the Genesius Times under the pen name Doreen Tipton.)
It has an unapologetically raucous sense of humour; in tone and in spirit, it reminds me of the MAD magazine I loved as a kid.
“CDC: Current outbreak of stupidity may be worse than the outbreak of coronavirus.” Genesius Times announces in a headline with which many readers might agree.
“Due to the recent outbreak of stupidity and panic-purchasing by complete idiots, the nation is currently experiencing a shortage of toilet paper and common sense…we expect supplied to be replenished once these sheep-minded morons have all staved to death in their homes surrounded by toilet paper but without anything to eat.”
“Local biological men dominate International Women’s Day” blares another, above a photo of five “women” straight out of the Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv School of Burly Man’s Fashion.
“This International Women’s Day is so important because we’re finally realizing that women who are women are great, but even better than that are men who are women,” the perfectly politically incorrect text points out.
After checking the Beaverton and Genesius Times, I make sure to read the Babylon Bee, which has more of an American political focus but still lots of laughs.
“Biden: ‘I Am The Only Candidate Who Can Beat Ronald Reagan’”
“Fresh off his afternoon nap, presidential candidate Joe Biden gave a fiery, high-energy speech in Houston today, claiming to be the only candidate who could beat incumbent Ronald Reagan.”
There you go: Pandemic Media Survival, 2020. Read two articles, and call me in the morning.
This article ran originally ran in the Toronto Sun July, 2017
Toronto still stings from the infamous 2010 “à la Cart” experiment, in which bureaucrats planned to bring 15 healthy ethnic food options to Nathan Phillips Square.
Staff with no restaurant experience brainstormed to develop a standardized cart and a list of foods which could be sold. Vendors were required to pay for permits, purchase $30,000 carts and have menu changes approved by Public Health. Several vendors were financially ruined and at least one declared bankruptcy.
Now, Toronto is financially devastating a group of people which is 45 times larger and has invested over $40,000,000 serving a much more important market: vulnerable customers who need Accessible taxis.
As Council’s need to meddle in business knows no bounds, it decreed in 2014 that henceforth, 100 per cent of new taxis would need to be accessible. This decision was not based on any research or needs analysis; it was purely a virtue-signalling exercise. The industry had already met the goal of making six per cent of cabs accessible, despite the fact that Accessible calls account for less than 1 per cent of requests received.
In 2014, Council voted to release 500 additional Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTL) plates. Purchasers were aware that they could ONLY put these plates on Accessible vans, which are customized with wheelchair ramps, cost almost double the price of a sedan taxi and guzzle a lot more gas.
Operators stepped up in good faith to purchase the licenses and the vans. People who need Accessible taxis often need lots of help in and out of buildings, cars, and appointments. This segment of the market is not as simple or lucrative as business or bar calls, but enthusiastic entrepreneurs, largely immigrants, stepped up to deliver services Toronto does not want to pay for itself.
Amazingly, 551 men were OK with this proposition. We should thank them.
Instead, in 2016, Toronto pulled the rug out from underneath them when it adopted Chapter 546, the new Vehicle for Hire by-law. Two years after it insisted upon 100 per cent Accessible taxis, Toronto decided it didn’t need ANY REQUIREMENT AT ALL for Accessible taxis. It cancelled the TTL program, and instead brought in a two-tiered system allowing Uber use its own fare structure without offering Accessible service.
Overnight, all the men who bought TTLs were stranded, competing with 30,000 additional vehicles which were not required to buy $65,000 vans.
They have been devastated, financially and emotionally.
Latif Gowher, who heads up a group of TTL owners asking the City to convert their TTLs to Standard plates, calculates that under the new Chapter 546 market reality, there is no way an owner can pay off the van in the seven years it is allowed to be on the road.
“We signed up when there was one law for taxis. Now there are two laws, and Uber is not required to comply,” he notes. “This is not what we signed up for.”
Several of those who purchased the plates have returned them to the City, or sold their vans and plates at a loss.
This is a serious problem for Accessible taxi owners, but even more so for the clientele that need them.
Instead of making continued progress toward meeting the 10-minute equitable service goal set by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Toronto is likely to move in the opposite direction as taxi operators have realized bureaucrats and politicians are nonchalantly using them as a political football.
In 1996, I took a job as Press Secretary for Dave Johnson, MPP. He had just been appointed Government House Leader, a responsibility he added to his portfolio as he was also the Chair of Management Board (now Treasury Board).
Dave’s first week as House Leader was incredibly chaotic and tumultuous, as the elected Speaker of the House, Al McLean, was accused of sexual harassment by one of his female staff.
The outrage and overwhelming media attention this story attracted, just as the House was returning under the already-hugely controversial Mike Harris government, can hardly be understated. It was a circus. Calls for the Speaker’s resignation were deafening.
This was the second or third day of my new job, my first job inside of government, and I was seriously questioning whether I made the correct decision in shuttering my business to take this position.
Staff in the House Leader’s Office were frantically scrambling to find a precedent for the situation somewhere, anywhere, in any Commonwealth democracy on the planet: the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa….anywhere. This exact situation had never occurred, and Ontario was indeed “setting precedent” in any decision made.
The day Parliament returned, Dave Johnson’s first official day as House Leader, I was standing in the hallway outside the House doors. It was jam packed with media, cameras, lights, producers, reporters, photographers. Standing off to the side at the edge of the scrum, notepad and pen in hand, was Christie Blatchford. A little star-struck, I approached and extended my hand.
“Christie,” I said, “I am one of your biggest fans. I am so honoured to meet you. Are you following this story?”
“I broke this story,” Christie sighed sadly. “The female staffer who accused McLean of harassment called me first. I wrote the initial article.”
She spoke without the slightest trace of triumph or ego. The fact that she had “broken” one of the biggest stories yet about a member of the reviled Harris government seemed not to matter one whit; the fact that the Speaker did in fact resign his position in disgrace brought her no joy.
She did not fight her way to the front of the scrum, elbow aside less senior reporters. If she had, out of respect for the fact that it was “her” story, her media colleagues would have waited for her to ask the first question before they began shouting theirs. In fact, she didn’t plunge into the scrum at all. She continued to stand unobtrusively off to the side, until Dave finished giving his comments and answering questions for the assembled press gallery.
Then, when he was done and the cameras were lowered and the lights went off, he stepped over to where Christie was standing. They spoke for a few minutes in a calm and civilized manner, the quietest moment I recall seeing all day. As a former East York mayor, councillor, and Metro councillor before he was elected to Ontario’s Parliament, Dave Johnson would have held Christie Blatchford in the highest esteem. They were birds of a feather actually, both dedicated, professional, respectful, committed to service.
It’s impossible to summarize Christie Blatchford’s significance in the world of journalism, justice, politics, and Canadian life.
These words stand out for me:
“She called me first.”
Trustworthy, brilliant, always there when it mattered – Canada turned to Christie first. I wonder who we will turn to now?
This poison is seeping into our brains. It is killing us.
The poison is not carbon dioxide: it is Fear.
It is irresponsible to pretend that carbon dioxide is a poison which is killing us; shoving this fearful idea down the throats of trusting children who are a captive audience is a heinous form of child abuse.
I am honoured to teach a class on business and entrepreneurship in the Jane-Finch community. Every week, I get to spend time with 14 bright, hard-working high school students who dedicate time after school learning how to start a business, from businesspeople.
Early in the program, the class was tasked with inventing a product to manufacture and sell. One of the most engaged and serious girls in the class suggested:
“We should invent a process to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
“That already exists,” I pointed out tactfully. “The process is ‘photosynthesis.’ Plants do that: they take carbon dioxide out of the air and produce oxygen and sugar.”
The class stared at me blankly. “Is anyone taking Biology?” No hands went up. “Chemistry?” I asked hopefully. Nothing.
“Are no sciences required? What is one class that everyone takes?” I asked.
“English!” the class chorused.
OK…so everyone can read terrifying media articles about climate change, but no one realizes carbon dioxide is not toxic. Good to know.
This conversation took a frightening turn as we discussed creating a board game: one boy suggested it should have a post-apocalyptic survival theme. Players would compete for resources in a world destroyed by climate change.
“Miss, could one of the options be ‘suicide’?” a student asked.
“Yeah!” another chimed in enthusiastically. “And if you knew you were going to die, you could use your next three turns taking out as many of your enemies as possible before you go! We could call it, ‘Escape from Toronto.’”
“Whoa!” I jumped in. “Suicide is not an option, the world is not ending, and I don’t know where you would escape to that is better than Canada – most of the world wants to come here. How about we create the rules so that you can leave all the resources you collected to your allies if you die, to give them a better chance to survive?”
The students liked this idea, and turned to discussing what the resources should be: food, shelter, medical care, magical superpowers. The basics.
This conversation haunts me. Why are we instilling young people with fear when we should be imbuing them with confidence?
These kids need to wake up every day thinking, “Anything is possible!” not “We are all doomed.”
Why work hard, create a plan, invest in skills, or develop relationships when you don’t expect to be here 12 years from now?
What kind of adult would poison the minds of young people with the idea that they should live in fear? It is criminal. It is beyond abuse – it is a murderous attack on their hopes of achievement before their dreams can even be conceived.
The only thing we have to fear, speechwriter Napoleon Hill famously wrote, is Fear itself. Yet, we are allowing fear merchants unfettered access to the minds of our kids.
Enough is enough. This has to stop. Parents, teachers, businesspeople, journalists, artists, and athletes need to tell young people: “You have a future, and it can be great! Study hard. Work hard. Think positively. Believe.”
This week, we are trying to absorb the news that a high school student in Hamilton was stabbed to death in front of his mother, by two students who clearly believed they could get away murder.
Where would young people get the idea they can get away with murder, on school grounds, in Canada?
From us. They got the idea from us adults; from our poisonously weak thinking, our recklessly irresponsible words, and our terminally ineffectual actions.
If it’s true that “the thought is ancestor to the deed” (and I believe it is), we need to drop everything and adjust our thinking immediately.
Our thoughts and words are a matter of life and death. Now, more than ever.
On January 20th, 2016, I delivered a deputation at the monthly meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board.
At the time, I was merely personally and professionally outraged that politicians and bureaucrats were not only abdicating their responsibility to regulate ground transportation to ensure the safety of riders, they were rolling out the red carpet for law-breakers.
Even I would not have predicted the explosion in gun crime and violence we have seen since then.
My name is Rita Smith, and I am the executive director of the Toronto Taxi Alliance. However, I am not speaking on behalf of the TTA; I am speaking as a communications professional with 30 years’ experience at all levels of government and business.
You may recall that about 12 years ago, Toronto was being subject to an annual event at the end of the CNE.
Young people who were often drunk or high would run through the Ex grabbing stuffed animals, knocking over signs and generally creating mayhem that then spilled outside the Ex.
I recall an interview with the police chief at the time, and the firm message he delivered when he committed to preventing another episode of chaos:
“The criminal element is not in control of this city. The police are in control of this city, and we will stop this.”
And they did.
Fast forward to 2016, and citizens of Toronto are hearing a completely different message, one that does not inspire confidence.
Instead of hearing that police have the power and the intention to enforce the law, both the Mayor and the Chief of Police have told media “We cannot enforce the law against Uber.”
This is an incredible occurrence, unlike anything I have ever seen in my lifetime.
I have lost track of the number of times people ask me, “How can the Mayor say he can’t enforce the law?” or “How can the Chief of Police say he is powerless to enforce the law?”
From a communications point of view, this message is devastating.
Because EVERYBODY hears you say it: not just taxi drivers and Uber drivers.
Drug dealers heard it. Thieves heard it. Gang members heard it…shooters heard it.
No doubt, they rejoiced in hearing it!
Parents and kids heard it too. It did not inspire confidence.
Toronto has just experienced several bad months in terms of violence, shootings and murders.
Chief Saunders has referred to this as a “spike,” some kind of anomaly.
I suggest you need to look to your language, and stop making public declarations of the fact that you are incapable of enforcing the law.
Find a different reason for why you are choosing not to enforce the law against Uber.
But for Toronto’s sake, please stop using this one.