Hey look, that bozo in the newspaper is me


The wonderful fabric art behind me, Across Canada and Around Town, is by Nancy Sachro of Sault Ste. Marie. I thought it made me look rather saintly. Dangerously saintly.

By Nadine Robinson

Sault This Week

Jan. 23, 2023

When you pick up a copy of Sex is a Four-Letter Word and Other Misconceptions by Tom Mills, you may be expecting sexual content.
Even the book cover is a nude 16th century painting of Adam and Eve that Mills has had to adorn with price stickers as modesty bars for some vendors. While the book is provocative, it is more thought-provoking; and it’s more likely to excite your funny bone than other parts of your anatomy.
“In going through my old columns, I noticed that I had written so often about sex that I should probably change my name to Dr. Ruth, hence the book’s folder was labelled “sex.”” Mills said. “So, when it came to write a title, “sex” was the first word that popped into my mind, even though most of the stories have nothing to do with sex, except perhaps in a Freudian sense.”
His love of puns drove the rest of the title: “I thought the fact that Sex actually isn’t a four-letter word would convey instantly that I was not being serious, while the allusion to four-letter words would be a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Know what I mean? The subtitle’s “misconceptions” is a bonus pun.”

The resemblance is uncanny
The resemblance is uncanny

The award-winning columnist, humourist, author and journalist modified several of his old humour columns into the content of the book back in 2017. He’d been told for years by readers: “You should write a book,” and so he finally did, seven years after he’d retired as the news editor and columnist at The Sault Star. He came to the Sault in 1980 as an editor and reporter. Previously he’d been at The Winnipeg Tribune, The Niagara Falls Review, The Cambridge Reporter, and The Woodstock Sentinel-Review.
He was born in North York in the GTA into a “fairly creative household” where he and his sisters were always performing and creating plays. Once Mills was hired for a job in radio, but then he heard himself in the voice test and decided that he had a voice for print (whether or not he had a face for radio).

Out of all of his writing, doing his humour column titled Humour Me was what he preferred. He has always liked making people laugh and he enjoys the levity of making up his own facts. Mills estimates that he has approximately one thousand such columns in print.
One of his favourite columns, due in part to readers’ positive feedback is: Some Men Who Travel Together With Two Small Kids Are Not Gay. He had taken a cruise vacation with his son and grandkids and a surprising number of people assumed they were a gay couple.

“Yet as I note in the story, a gay friend once told me that no one who dresses as poorly as I do could possibly be mistaken for anything but straight.” Mills said.
“The story tells how a young woman wearing next to nothing parked her protuberance next to me in a hot tub, obviously not expecting me to sprout Marty Feldman eyes. And it reflects on the irony that while many people on cruises pretend they’re someone they aren’t, I went to some lengths to come out publicly as a grandpa.”

He’s proud of the book and the title, though he says: “Some of my hockey buddies like to remind me that “goal” and “puck” and “miss” and “lose” are also four-letter words.”
Mills has always played hockey, and guesstimates that he’s played for 50 teams in seven countries. While he jokes that he started playing on prehistoric bone and stone skates, the truth is that he did start playing with a ball glove as his goalie glove and his pads had 3/8 wood dowels in them as protection. While he has updated his equipment, Mills still plays multiple times a week in goal, though he likes to extract revenge once in a while as a forward. His author photo on the book is him in an old-time hockey mask.
Marrying his two passions together might be Mills’ next project. “I have a really great concept for a funny novel about hockey.” He joked, “I could do a nonfiction one but I’d have to wait for a bunch of people to die, so they couldn’t sue. Truth is stranger than fiction.”

During his career, he was a two-time winner and three-time runner-up for the Ontario Newspaper Awards (ONA) [Sandy] Baird Humour Writing Award, was a runner-up for the ONA Joan May Award for Columns, and won the Osprey Media Award for Excellence in Editing.
Mills can be found at local author events, though he doesn’t typically read from the book. “Generally at events I read something new and as yet unpublished rather than a book excerpt,” said Mills. “I don’t like revisiting my own historical fiction and tend to be more invested in whatever I’m working on at the moment. Besides, having to come up with something new for a reading forces me to … come up with something new. I guess that makes me like those musicians who insist on playing stuff from their new CD at a concert when all the audience wants to hear is their greatest hits.”

For a copy of Sex is a Four-Letter Word and Other Misconceptions, head to The Artesian at 514 Queen St. E., Stone’s Office Supply, City Meat Market, The Post Gift Shop at the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, or Feeding Your Soul, at 96 White Oak Drive E. Mills can also be contacted directly at hathcharm@gmail.com or by phone at 705-777-0364 to arrange purchase and delivery for bulk orders or autographed copies.
Mills is on the Internet at https://humourmetom.ca/ and on Twitter and Facebook @humourmetom.
Nadine Robinson is a local freelance writer. You can reach her at the.ink.writer@gmail.com or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @theinkran.

Auto ads are downright unnatural

Published in The Sault Star Nov. 23, 2022

Some of the people who make car and truck commercials should get out more. Their concept of nature is downright unnatural.

One of the central themes of their auto ads is that we should buy a new car or truck so we can experience nature.

Big, bad and not-too-damned-beautiful wolf

Or, as one ad puts it, “head into the big, wild, raging, so-damned-beautiful-it-hurts world.”

Venturing into nature is the only way to find out what we’re made of, the ad insists.

Then the ad shows someone parachuting into a canyon. Simply driving your jeep into a canyon to see what it’s made of would lower the resale value, I guess.

And really, must it be a canyon? Wouldn’t parachuting off something like the CN Tower test your mettle just as well?

Regardless, I’d say buying a new vehicle will tell you as much about your credit score as about yourself.

Some of these ad-makers glorifying nature don’t really know much about it. Their version of the wild world seems to have been developed by watching Disney or Pixar films.

For example, one ad features a little boy in a car seat, waving a wolf toy and offering up his best wolf howl.

His parents indulgently drive to a clearing in the woods, where a wolf obligingly appears and howls back at the boy, to the youngster’s delight.

Now, I do a lot of hiking through the bush and sometimes see wolf tracks or wolf poop. But I’ve seen wolves only at a great distance. Wolves fear humans, despite what fairy tales and advertisements might suggest.

I imagine a wolf might trot up to a vehicle if it had a deer carcass draped over it, but not to entertain a preschooler.

Besides, while the family vehicle in the ad is stopped on a grassy clearing, the wolf ostensibly just a few feet away is standing on a huge expanse of packed snow. That gap in terrain is as wide as the gap in my credulity.

In another ad a woman is driving . . . sorry, a woman is bouncing behind the wheel as she sings and waves her arms and looks everywhere but at the road ahead. For all I know she’s also buying Christmas gifts online; drivers can do stuff like that in modern vehicles.

Her alarm beeps and the automatic braking system activates, saving her from colliding with a moose. The beast then walks alongside the vehicle and peers in benevolently at, you guessed it, a child in the back seat.

I’d like to see an ABS pull off that emergency stop if a car barreling down the Mile Hill encountered an oversized ungulate that meandered up from the flats. I’d like to see it because vehicles hit moose there all too often, sometimes with fatal consequences.

The only time I almost hit a moose, one foggy night on a Goulais back road, the so-damned-beautiful beast, apparently affronted, stomped threateningly toward my car’s hood, forcing me to back up for about 50 metres before it took to the bush.

That moose displayed absolutely no curiosity about the kids in my vehicle. Like other wild animals, moose do not audition for social media videos.

I’m all in favour of people driving to places where they can explore nature. But in truth, the only nature most people targeted by those ads are likely to encounter is human nature at its worst. They’re doomed to find out what they’re made of on the freeway, making sudden stops and dodging stunt drivers.

Even here in the north, most people spend about half of their driving time leaving nature behind. Sure, I take my truck to some wild places, but its most frequent destination is the hockey arena, where I find out what I’m made of by failing to keep as many pucks out of nets as I once could.

And vehicles are not nature’s friend. U.S. agencies blame cars and trucks for nearly 75 per cent of carbon monoxide pollution and 27 per cent of greenhouse emissions.

As well, many of the features that make modern vehicles so-damned-expensive-it-hurts are there expressly to overcome nature: the aforementioned ABS, various traction and four-wheel low features, climate-controlled cabs, heated seats and mirrors, stereo systems to drown out any natural noise that dares penetrate the sound-insulted cabins. 

Some truck and ATV ads acknowledge that vehicles and nature are not always best buddies. 

In those ads, rugged rigs, macho even with the most feminine of ecstatically grinning drivers, churn up desert-like terrain, spitting out endangered plants behind them, or spew stones as they bounce along through fields, scattering bunnies and badgers before them.

In one ad, a truck churns up huge muddy ruts along a bucolic bush road. Then a timely rain shower cleans it up much better than a couple of trips though the carwash could. It’ll look real purty parked in the driveway in Mississauga.

In essence, ad-makers offer up two views of nature for potential purchasers of vehicles. You can anthropomorphize it. Or you can spin your chunky tires though it. 

Neither one revs up my engine.

Products don’t pass the sniff test

Published in The Sault Star Sept. 20, 2022

It makes no sense to me why there aren’t fewer scents.

To my knowledge I’m not allergic to any of the myriad of malodorous concoctions that manufacturers insist on gifting us with in household and hygiene products.

But I can’t stand their stink.

A rose by any other name would smell like s— if it was concocted by a chemist

I turn up my nose at some chemist’s idea of what a flower or fruit — or even an abstract quality such as freshness — smells like, partly because that concoction is about 10 times stronger than anything found in nature.

And no, adding a drop of mango juice and a dash of whatever jojoba is to a huge vat of chemicals in a factory somewhere doesn’t entice me to pay an extra buck for shampoo. Neither does attaching words such as “nature” or “natural” to the product.

Yet advertisements and labels flaunt the stinky stuff they add to all sorts of items, even though most of which do little or nothing to make them work better.

“Now, with larks’ vomit!” Can’t wait to roll that under my arms.

Product perfumery doesn’t pass the sniff test for those of us who would prefer to emerge from our showers not smelling like we had just visited a third-rate bordello (or what we imagine one of those must smell like).

The anti-scent army includes people who reject perfumy products for aesthetic or perhaps psychological reasons, maybe traceable to a traumatic dating experience at age 13 or to being over-aggressively embraced as a toddler by a heavily perfumed aunt. That’s between you and your shrink.

But it also includes about a third of the population who, according to one U.S. study, “reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products.”

About 15% lost workdays or a job because of scents in the workplace, 20% leave a business as quickly as possible if they smell scent and more than half would prefer public places be fragrance-free, Anne Steinemann’s study adds.

The fact that a huge chunk of the population reacts with anything from displeasure to anaphylaxis to what others slosh on their bodies has not been lost on a number of workplaces, many of which have scent-free policies. Many are advisory rather than mandatory, but at least there’s an avenue for those seeking to end olfactory offence.

Hospitals, health centres and physicians offices usually prohibit scents.

But I’ve always marvelled that someone with a scent allergy wanting a prescription filled at Canada’s largest drug store chain must gag his way through the perfume section en route to the pharmacy counter.

Makers of soaps, shampoos, conditioners, laundry products and the like have largely failed to respond to consumer clout of the scent-free crowd, beyond assembling yet another focus group to see if mango-coconut-lychee is more appealing than vanilla-sandalwood-orchid.

Oh, you can find non-fragrant products on the grocer’s shelves, if you hold your nose and open your eyes. They’re right there, between the tropical peach and mango and the raspberry and orange, probably absorbing odours by osmosis.

And watch it: just because something is “unscented” doesn’t mean it is fragrance-free. While “unscented” might not have an evident fragrance, it can contain odours added to mask unpleasant smells of active ingredients.

Terms on the label are misleading. According to what I found on a supermarket chain’s web page, one popular shampoo touted as “pure” and containing “active fruit protein” has 30 ingredients, 17 of them with chemical suffixes.

When “parfum” or “fragrance” are on the list, that could mean any of more than 3,000 ingredients that might be sourced from anything from plants to petrochemical plants. Fragrances are considered trade secrets.

Oddly, it was my dog that first put me on the scent of this perfumed products issue.

She’s a shedder. I had heard that certain dryer sheets repel pet hair.

I searched online and found them at a local store. But the package bore words to make any scent-sensible soul shudder: Fresh Scent.

After a few minutes, the cab of my truck smelled as if I had bought and hung about a dozen of those Christmas-tree-shaped air fresheners (now available in black ice, colada and vanillorama!).

I dumped the sheets into the truck box so I could drive back for a refund without choking.

By the way, shouldn’t a product scented for a dog smell like something dead and/or rotten that they would like to roll in?

Anyway I wrote to the manufacturer to ask why the scent-free version pet dryer sheet they make is not available in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As a mostly-retired person I have the time to indulge my inner crankiness.

They responded with the usual blah-blah about research and consumer testing, telling me I should bug my local store manager until he or she stocks the product. Then they gave me a link that showed me the closest place I can buy scent-free pet dryer sheets: Sault Michigan.

So what are we anti-cognoscenti to do?

Must we hope that when prime-minister-designate Pierre Poilievre promises freedom, he means freedom from scent?

Perhaps we could assemble the legion of the cranky and hang around store managers and product manufacturers like a bad smell until they dispense with some of theirs.