A season for testing new lows, along with a Gordie for all seasons

Researching the popular topic of “Just how much does CNN suck, anyway?”, this morning I took note of a new rock-bottom just established by the network’s ever-pert news anchor Soledad O’Brien.

Ms. O’B seems oblivious of the depths her program is dredging, and appeared positively chuffed with her latest achievement in current affairs reporting. In what was repeatedly trumpeted as a CNN Exclusive, the newscast was able to secure an interview with a spokesman for Volkswagen USA, who graciously permitted a sneak-peak at the new advertisement VW intends to air during this weekend’s Super Bowl broadcast. In a time of diminished expectations, this is what now passes for a scoop at CNN — as indeed it would throughout the broken remnants of the crap-dispensing machine known as the media business.

Inviting some guy in a suit to try to sell you a shoddy Mexican-built automobile a few days ahead of his planned schedule is not what is typically regarded as the work of a journalist, and this sort of activity has not previously provided the key to the boardroom of the Pulitzer nominating committee. But I had to admit that the sneak-look at a VW commercial was more interesting than CNN’s usual agenda, which consists of one incensed Democrat sneering at two outraged Republicans, or some approximate configuration.

As for the commercial, in one more break with convention, VW seems to be attempting to market their new model not as a semi-cute $20,000 grocery-getter, rather as a non-pharmaceutical therapy for mood disorders. The FDA is bound to weigh in on this claim, but how the world does need an antidepressant right now: due, in no small part, to the constant stream of misery-making tumult emanating from sources such as CNN.

It’s a given that many will find themselves down-in-doldrums this week, owing to factors such as minimal daylight, circulating common-cold infections, uncertain economy, and other of life’s tiny burdens.

One of my friends claims to be immune to depression, in spite of his having relocated some years ago from Canada to Belgium. We know, through the CIA Factbook and other sources, that Belgium is the most soul-crushing land in the world, and that Flanders is the most dispiriting portion of Belgium. Naturally, my friend chose to settle in Flanders.

My impressions of this aptly categorized Low Country were formed from having once spent the better part of a week holed up in a Holiday Inn, out by the R1 ring road that encircles Antwerp.

At first I thought the hotel had been designated as some sort of special containment zone for the incurably melancholy. Upon my arrival, the unsmiling blonde at the registration desk waved away the Priority Club ID card I had extended. In that distinctively joyless monotone drawl the natives use, she said, “I’m sure that you realize we will not award points, based on the cheap rate that you are paying.” Her tresses shook in rebuke. Cheap rate? Nowhere in Belgium is there anything that might be termed a cheap rate, for any desired good, or any service. The country’s constitution stipulates equal rights for all to be price-gouged, and the citizenry exhibit lugubrious resignation, tinged with general contempt, as a sign of their gratitude. Possibly being ripped off at every turn is one source of the population’s discontent, but it could not be the only source.

The news kiosk in the lobby was run by another sourpuss, who, for companionship, kept a cheerless little spaniel who slept away the afternoons in a basket. I’m a sucker for all dogs, but this one might have been in need of a biscuit soaked in Effexor. A small hotel guest toddled into the kiosk and asked the dreary newsagent if she could feed his dog part of her leftover breakfast sausage. “I think not,” the man said. “The dog is very unhappy this morning. She has lost her ball.”

Any objective stranger might have drawn the conclusion that everyone in the place had lost their ball.

As grim reinforcement, the recorded music in the Holiday Inn lobby seemed to be an endless tape-loop of dead Karen Carpenter, the starved American chanteuse, suffering slowly through her 1973 version of It’s Yesterday Once More. That might well have been the national anthem of Belgium. In Belgium, it is yesterday once more, and it is bound to be again tomorrow.

You’ve never seen such a collection of sad-sacks in your life. And, coming from Toronto, Canada, I’ve crossed paths with more than my share of unhappy campers: dour sons of Scottish bankers, frowning ex-Moscovites grumbling at the Price Chopper having missed out on the packs of two-dollar cheese slices, angry lads from Trenchtown wearing wraparound sunglasses while they ride the Bathurst street car, bitter hard-luck cases, and vast numbers of glum Gusses who look like they’ve just figured out they left their wallets back on the bar-counter of the Legion Hall.

Well, I’m telling you that any of those miserable Canucks would seem to be radiating sunshiny bonhomie if you set them down on a random street-corner in godawful Antwerpen. And, for that, my friend who insists that he isn’t bummed-out in Belgium seems to spend a good chunk of of his nighttime sending me maudlin e-mails that attempt to recall a merry past life in jolly old Toronto.

World o’ Gordies: Hillbilly funnyman Tapp, from television’s “Hee Haw”

I encourage these exchanges, perhaps thinking they test my resolve not to be dragged down into the seasonal despair. He will write, from under a gray Flandrian cloud-cover, “How about all those famous Canadians named Gord, or Gordie, or Gordon? There sure are a lot of them. How many can you name?” And I’ll run through the most obvious pairings – musicians Lightfoot and Downie, Pinsett and Tapp from the stage, Sinclair and Martineau of the newsroom, Howe and half the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame – and he’ll point out a few I missed. Good clean trans-oceanic fun, and not depressing in the slightest. Nothing wrong with a couple of old chums amusing themselves by flipping Gordies across continents, is there?

A peck o’ Gordies: legendary broadcaster Sinclair

During these sessions, I’ve never seen fit to point out that “Gordie” recently was a derogatory term used in the taverns of upstate New York to disparage customers who had crossed the bridge from Canada to attend the Buffalo Bills games in Orchard Park. Waitresses and barkeeps could quickly grow impatient with the foreign habits of these strange folk, and complain among themselves about the cheapskate, nickel-tipping, duMaurier-smoking, touque-wearing Gordie McGordies, a tribe destined to be confounded by the most commonplace items, such as Beef-on-Weck, Troyer Farms potato chips, and the Johnnie Ryan brand of sodas.

Like many problems, however, the Gordie influx into America’s taprooms straightened itself out through the natural process of the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls. These days, the Gordies, like so many, tend to hunker down much closer to their own environment, raising their betouquéd heads only on rare occasions: Super Sunday being one, and then only to catch the score on TV. It’s possible some may dimly recognize the new Volkswagen ad if they happen to see it, but how likely is it that anyone, anywhere, is going to pay any attention?

The better question might be: Why doesn’t CNN know that?

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