AccolAIDS much appreciated!


Healthline editors recently published the final list of their favorite HIV & STD blogs and I’m pleased to let you know that this blog made the list, which can be found here (in no particular order).

I am very appreciative of this vote of confidence!

Kenn Chaplin is no defeatist; he’s brazen, energetic, gut-wrenchingly honest, and inspiring. This active blogger, political activist, traveler, and long-time AIDS veteran knows a thing or two about living with AIDS.

He fills his blog with jokes, personal stories, tributes to friends who have lost the fight, and lovely photos of anything he wants. Along the way, he educates his readers about life with AIDS. Kenn knows (and shows) it’s not always easy, but hopefully he also knows how important his strong, steady voice about life with AIDS is for the rest of the HIV/AIDS community. Go, Kenn!

A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton


August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Two Beatles albums (from iTunes!) stir assorted memories


David Letterman, noting Yoko Ono’s 78th birthday last week, joked that she celebrated by breaking up The Jonas Brothers.

Back in the twilight of sixties, perhaps early seventies, a much-appreciated Christmas gift (namely for my older brother Craig but which the rest of us took full advantage of) was a record player. Not just any record player, either. This was stereophonic, which as far as we could tell just meant there were two speakers – left and right – with enough spare cord to separate them by a couple of feet or so. We later learned (of course Craig already knew) that cool things happened in one speaker, then the other, sometimes back and forth.

It wasn’t in a big coffin-sized cabinet like my aunt’s. It was very slim. The record player dropped down from inside like a Murphy bed and it had a spindle maybe six inches long where you could pile records one on top of the other and they would drop down, individually, as the one before it finished – very cool. This also worked for 45s (single songs, double-sided). An arm swung over from the corner and held the records in place up top until they were ready to hit the turntable.

It’s hardly a surprise, thinking back, that it was green – my mother’s favourite colour – kind of the same shade of green as the fridge and stove.

If I remember correctly, that Christmas Mom and Dad played it pretty safe (for them anyway) with gifts to us of the greatest hits albums of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, the latter being a Christmas album some of which I now have in mp3 format for old times sake.

I’ll try to think of a list of many of the albums which eventually flopped down onto that stereo turntable but meanwhile, as I enjoy the remastered Beatles iTunes in my ears, I’ll share a few memories of them.

I remember seeing them on one of their Ed Sullivan Show appearances. I remember the black suits and ties, white shirts and the scandalous mops of black hair which they all shook at various times as they performed. I must admit my appreciation only grew for them after they broke up, I was quite young, probably allowed to stay up to see them because the mouse was on with Ed, or promise for later that night.

Craig had both Let It Be and Abbey Road, the two I’m listening to now, if not more.

I almost owned a late hit single of theirs – at least I was late trying to get it, which I didn’t. My first and last shop-lifting attempt was, among a couple of other things (pipe-smoking equipment well beyond my age), the single “Revolution”. Never did get it, but will never forget the reason why.

As I was heading for the mall exit at Woolco (that dates it right there) a man hooked me under my right arm, very discreetly, and asked me to “vide tes poches” – empty my pockets. Well, amateur that I was, hoping to impress my peers and yet flying woefully solo, he very nearly had a few extra lumps from the back of my pants!

I was red-faced, nearly crying I’m guessing by then, certainly panicked. His office was back between the washrooms and the shipping room. Long story short, he eventually told me that he wasn’t going to involve the police nor my parents. Good thing, too, because as I explained to him I was just a few months away from a once-in-a-lifetime school trip to London (so I must have been 15 or 16).

Other than being later than expected home that night, I escaped unscathed.

Happier memories just floating by come from a diner in the Bellerive district of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, where I grew up. It was called Le Fricot (The Stew) best-known, by me, for its nice, brown french fries (second only to the chip van which parked near the tracks on Maden Street most summer evenings). The Fricot was a one-storey building, modern, cube-shaped (it might be mistaken for a bank nowadays) and was built on a corner of an otherwise older neighbourhood so I suspect one of our annual major winter fires probably cleared a spot for it. Inside, diner-style, were booths separated by faux wood just above elbow height and mini jukeboxes dangled over the partitions between booths. I’d guess the going rate was three songs for a quarter. I distinctly remember that opening yelp from The Beatles’ “Oh Darlin'” there!

Song titles – and picture me singing the background sopranos at the top of my lungs in the basement – included The (soaring) Long and Winding Road, the hammer instrumentation of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, the guitar opening and brass-in-bass line of Because, the simple, descending, repetitious bass clef piano line in Let It Be, and the lyrics alone from She Came Through The Bathroom Window were hilarious enough for this kid!

“The Shack”: allegory, empathy and the question of forgiveness


“I brought a book I think you’ll find interesting,” my cousin said as we sat down for lunch recently, handing me a paperback copy of The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.

I believe, now having read it, that she might have been nudged to give me this book because she knows, perhaps as much as any confidant, “The Great Sadness” (as the novelist puts it) which has been stored, occasionally visited, and allowed to grow unchecked in my own run-down Shack.  I’m guessing she might believe some of the messages of the novel could be applicable to me.

It is not difficult for me to imagine how wrenching it would be, certainly a step out in faith, to face those men I have written about who wronged me in my childhood and youth.  At least one is dead and the others, well, I don’t even know their names let alone their current state-of-being.

That’s not the point.  Were they to appear in my dreams I would almost certainly be forced to confront them.  Would I, in such a dream, or do I now, in compartmentalized pain, feel willing – to say nothing of empowered – to symbolically release their throats from the anger of my tight grasp and hand them over to the power whose many names include God?

The message seems to be to trust that something beyond my judgment, my imagination – beyond belief often – is a better repository for my judgment (which I ultimately can’t inflict anyway) than am I.

Somehow, in releasing my grip, I imagine forgiveness looks more like letting go – leaving judgment to forces beyond me. The haunting “monsters” of my past, after all, are dead as far as I know so my preoccupation with holding on, even if it’s not uppermost in my consciousness, is clearly only hurting me. I get that. To let go completely, though, seems more than I can do – at least on my own. Another message of the book, then perhaps, is that I don’t have to do it by myself.

To the best of my ability I release my hold on these men, that in letting go of them their power over me will be lessened. I will not, however, shy away from using the experience – all of it – as best I can whenever I believe it might be of assistance to someone else.

A & P’s Chapter 11 and my Chapter 1


A & P, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, is being ahem reorganized.

The company’s Chapter 11 filing today is juxtaposed in my mind closer to Chapter 1 of my life.

The biting cold wind of this mid-December day reminds me of the A & P of my childhood.  (You might have read a story I wrote about this recently but I mistakenly over-rode its url for something else – thereby deleting it sans backup – so today’s timely business story has prompted me to try again.)

A & P, on Victoria Street in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec, was one of only a couple of grocery stores in the small downtown area and, by today’s standards, would not be described as a supermarket.  It was located in a gray stone building in a row of stores with apartments over top, just steps away from the old post office’s iconic clock tower.

Shopping day was always Thursday.  Dad would bring home his pay cheque at lunch time (imagine the luxury of being able to drive clear across town to come home for lunch every day!).  Then after a brief “stretch out” after his lunch, those of us still not in school would get in the car with Mom and Dad for the afternoon’s outing. 

Valleyfield 4a © RCIP 2010. Tous droits réservés

We’d drop Craig off at school, take Dad back to work (“Toodle-oo”, he always exclaimed) and then Mom would slide across the front seat into the driver’s position to carry on with Lynn and me in the back-seat.  (She was sixteen months my junior, and therefore the youngest, until Janice’s arrival when I was eight.)

Map picture

I don’t remember parking being much of an issue along Victoria Street but I’ll admit to have been too young to notice if it was.  I can picture Lynn and me taking Mom’s hand, one on each side, Mom lifting us over snowdrifts at the curb.

Mom would have made sure our faces were sufficiently covered to protect us from the cold and wind.  I still remember how much I liked the feeling of Mom pulling scarves tight, making sure our jacket zippers were all the way up, and the feel of her adult-sized fingers touching my cheeks.

I believe there were two side-by-side doors at the A & P, an entrance and an exit, but the doors were heavy and only Mom could open them.  There was a slight slope up from the sidewalk to the doors with bristly, rubber mats where we could give our feet a preliminary snow-loosening stomp.  (There was always a supply of flattened cardboard boxes on the floor just inside the door where we were expected to try to finish the clean-off.)

The shopping experience, no matter what the time of year, was not too memorable for me in those early days although I am sure that my sister and I tried unsuccessfully to pull our favourite things into the big, four-wheeled cart.

What has stayed with me all these years is what went on at the end of one aisle near the check-out.  It contributes to my sensory memories of cold cheeks and toes, sweat on my brow and perpetual sniffles. A crimson red machine stood there with silver knobs and a chute up on top (I couldn’t find a stock photo of that description.)  Coffee beans came out of boxes that looked like gum machines, flowing into paper bags which people filled, one at a time, then poured their beans into that chute up top.  After making a very loud noise, the bags were placed at a mouth at the bottom of the machine and out came coffee, all ground into small bits like sand.  The smell was fantastic and it permeated the store as stray grinds fell onto the wet cardboard all around.

I didn’t drink coffee until I was much older, by which time this old store had closed, replaced by a sporting goods outlet.  I think our next grocery stores were Spot and then Steinberg’s but I will never forget A & P for its coffee aroma, evident to anyone coming in the front door (in all four seasons). 

Eight O’clock Coffee!

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