Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Monday, September 26, 2016

"The Weasel's World"/ "Bog Tender"

Sept. 10, 2016 "The Weasel's World": I cut out this article by Joe O'Connor in the National Post on Nov. 5, 2011.  It was in the A- section.

He says I can call him Marv, Marvin, or the Weasel, an affectionate nickname bestowed upon him by George Chuvalo, the great Canadian boxer who fought Muhammad Ali, busted up the champ’s ribs and lived to talk about it.

Ali gave the Weasel something, too, a gold bracelet that jangles from his right wrist. He wears a gold watch on his left, plus a gold necklace. Hoffa’s boys bought the necklace for him in 1952. That’s Hoffa, as in — Jimmy Hoffa — the Teamsters union boss who disappeared, mysteriously, in 1975.

“I have it on good authority that Mr. Jimmy Hoffa is resting at the Renaissance Center Hotel, in the concrete, in Detroit, Michigan,” says Marvin Elkind, aka The Weasel. “When I went to work for Mr. Hoffa, as a driver, he told me if I was ever late I would be hurt. For four years, I was never late. I still have a reputation for being prompt.”

And so it was that the Weasel arrived several minutes early for our lunch date at The Lakeview Restaurant, an oldstyle Toronto diner and former neighbourhood haunt of a former hoodlum.

“I got busted here,” says the portly, slope-shouldered septuagenarian with a brokentoothed smile.
Popped by the cops when he was 11, for breaking into stores and bragging about it by buying a round of ice cream cones for his buddies and then flipping the waiter a dollar and telling him to keep the change: ‘‘Bogart did it in a movie.”

Marvin Elkind’s life could be a blockbuster. But then, it is always best to start with a book, and The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob, written by the National Post’s award-winning crime writer, Adrian Humphreys, and excerpted here today, is an exquisite tale: revelatory, deeply layered and, best of all, true, confirmed by the agencies that worked with him.

The Weasel, understand, had other names: rat, fink, snitch, turncoat or, to be polite — paid police informant. Names his mobster buddies never knew about. Had they, Marvin Elkind would be wearing concrete slippers and sleeping with the fishes at the bottom of Lake Ontario.
Instead, he is digging into a Lakeview cheeseburger, telling stories about his 25-year career as the Wayne Gretzky of Finks, a stint that spanned several continents and saw him working with the FBI, Scotland Yard, RCMP and Mexican Federales.

“I’ll tell you what makes a good informant, and I am giving it to you straight, kid,” says the Weasel. “You have to be a guy that isn’t high level in any one mob, and works in several; a guy that is dissatisfied, feels he never rose as high as he should have and doesn’t have strong loyalties and is embittered. And you have to have steel balls and no brains, and I got them both.”

Chutzpah, and the audacity to stroll into mobsters’ lairs wearing a wire with no backup.
The Weasel recalls a case involving Johnny Pops Papalia, the Ontario mob boss. Pops was running a mortgage scam, selling land that didn’t exist.
Mr. Elkind got in on the deal and met Pops wearing a wire rigged into his belt.

“The meeting was going terrific, and I am looking at a piece of paper, and John, sitting opposite me, reaches toward my belt,” says the Weasel.
The fink thought fast. If Pops touched the belt, he would slug him in the mouth, call him a “fag” — remember, this was a while ago — and pray the wise guy’s embarrassment would rescue him.

“It turned out he was reaching for the paper in my hand,” the Weasel says, cackling.
There were bigger jobs. Marvin’s connections gave him access to other bad people, like Muftah El-abbar, a suspected Libyan terrorist with a penthouse in Toronto and ties to Muammar Gaddafi. U.S. agents asked for an introduction, and soon enough, American missiles almost put the Libyan dictator out of business in 1986, long before his own people did, thanks, in Bogart did it in a movie part, to a phone number provided by the Canadian fink.
“That’s the one thing I am most proud of,” the Weasel says.

Today, his pride is wounded. He is old, and looks it. He has diabetes, high blood pressure, bad kidneys, trouble with stairs and trouble standing. And he is still working, a legit job, driving for a family with a mentally challenged daughter.
“I am going to be frank, kid: if I was in a situation where I had enough dough to retire and enjoy life I wouldn’t have done the book,” he says. “I am doing it because I see it as a last hurrah to see if I can make some money.”

Books, you see, get turned into movies, and the Weasel’s life is an epic.
“Danny Devito could play me,” he says, flashing his broken tooth. “Or else, maybe Joe Pesci.”

There was an excerpt called "Hello, FBI Detroit" by Adrian Humpphrey's printed on the same page.  It's not on the internet though.  It's part of the book The Weasel: A Double Life in the Mob.

"Where it feels natural": I cut out this article by Alix Ohlin who reviews Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory.

BOOK REVIEW Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory By George Szanto Brindle & Glass 272 pp; $24.95

Is home the place where we grow up, or one we grow into? For George Szanto, who has spent his life teaching and travelling in locations from Wyoming, California and Montreal to Germany, Mexico and Brazil, it took retiring to Gabriola Island, B.C., to feel rooted and at ease.

In Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory, Szanto writes of Gabriola with as much sweetness as its title suggests. Structured as a year-long journal, Bog Tender records the shifting seasons and local landscape, as well as the minor events of retirement. He reads and writes, undergoes medical treatment for his ailing eyes, takes care of his house, sees friends and family.

At the same time, Szanto digresses into his personal history, as each month of the year gives rise to associations from the past. September reminds him of time spent in Mexico; May of meeting his wife on a boat trip to Europe. The memoir swings between travel and repose, the past and the present, with a quiet, steady rhythm.

Some recollections offer more substance than others. The strongest sections centre on his father, who instilled an appreciation of the natural world by teaching him to fish: “He gave me the woods, the ponds, the lakes and the bogs. Handed them to me, with a fishing rod.”

Later, when Szanto is forced by airline security to relinquish fishing lures that had belonged to his father, he gets terribly upset. It’s the only moment in this otherwise tranquil book when he admits to being angry. As an anecdote, it’s both perfectly ordinary — it could happen to anybody — and genuinely heartbreaking.

Not every ordinary moment is fascinating, though, and sometimes his attention to the daily record can grow minute. “Also new for us this spring,” he remarks, “an uncertainty about the septic tanks” — a detail with the ring of truth, but perhaps not one the reader needs to share.

As his anecdotes range from his parents’ lives to his own experiences as a graduate student, playwright, professor and parent, Szanto always
He gave me the woods, the ponds, the lakes and the bogs returns to the bog by his home. Waterlogged and still, it presents an extended metaphor for the rich, sometimes melancholy process of recollection: “I look down into the September bog, under the water — what’s down there in all the murkiness? And in my own shadowy storehouse of memories?”

The bog is a place to observe wildlife — especially birds, which are vividly described — but also to brood. The deaths of Szantos’ parents bring out what he calls “the satisfaction, and the sadness, of remembering.”

Counterposed to this sadness is an intense attachment to nature. Szanto is acutely, almost painfully, sensitive to the world outside his front door. When a heavy snowfall breaks the branches of some flowery plum trees, he feels crushed himself, and immediately seeks to repair the damage: “Staring at the mutilated trees gave me only a sense of devastation and loss. Now, with luck, healing and growth could begin.” He fixes the trees, carries the downed branches into the house, and enjoys the flowers’ sweet smell.

In this as in many of Szanto’s stories, a small misfortune gives way to deep gratitude. A sense of constant good luck hovers over the book. A great deal of space is devoted to the Szantos’ quest for the perfect piece of real estate. All tradespeople are honest and reliable, all meals are delicious, and all inconveniences are minor. The contemplative life is punctuated by festive dinner parties and trips to Hawaii and Alaska. It seems either a charmed life or an edited one. As one visiting friend remarks, “All I’ve seen is beautiful places. Isn’t there anything ugly on Gabriola?”

Maybe there isn’t. Certainly Szanto is conscious of his privileged existence, and Bog Tender’s pleasant tone is colored by his understanding of how easily things can go wrong. A fishing accident and hornet sting could prove fatal, but don’t; cataracts threaten his eyesight but are successfully treated. Szanto’s anxiety over his sight — the sense that most connects him to nature, and to his writing — is muted but palpable. After surgery, he feels both euphoric and insecure: “like somebody’s faking all this new clarity of vision for my momentary benefit and can take away the fakery with equal ease. As if I were flying across a frozen bog, unsure of the forces keeping me high in the air.”

To be tender is to be sensitive; to be a tender of a place is to take care of it. Tender also refers to currency. Bog Tender encompasses all these meanings. Szanto, in his mild, unhurried way, makes a strong case for the beauty of the bog, and for the value of choosing, at last, a home.

"Canadians split on tipping"

Jul. 14, 2016  "Canadians split on no tipping idea: poll": I found this article by Amanda Stephenson in the Edmonton Journal today:

Earls restaurants will have to tread carefully with its new no-tipping pilot project but the general concept does have a lot of support, suggests a new poll released Wednesday by the Angus Reid Institute.

The poll — conducted this spring, before Earls announced its new Calgary location on Stephen Avenue would eliminate tipping in favour of a 16 per cent “hospitality surcharge” — found Canadians are split over preferred compensation models for restaurant staff.

Forty-six per cent said they prefer the current system, where tipping is standard practice when dining out, while 40 per cent said they would like to switch to a “service included” model with higher base wages for restaurant employees. Thirteen per cent of those polled said they had no preference.

Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl said the results seem to indicate there is some ground for Earls to build support and acceptance for a new system. Fully three in five of those polled agreed with the statement, “Tipping is no longer about showing appreciation for a job well done” while 71 per cent agreed that “Tips just allow employers to underpay their employees.”

Still, Kurl said Earls will have to work hard to communicate its reasons for making the switch, as many Canadians appear to remain unconvinced.
“It’s not that you’re seeing overwhelming opposition to this, but you are seeing a great deal of reticence. People are not exactly running to embrace this new model,” she said.

Earls said this week that its new Stephen Avenue location will be a “prototype concept” where new ideas for the chain — including ditching tipping — will be tested. It said the 16 per cent hospitality charge will be divided among all hourly staff in what will amount to a higher consistent wage.

The move places Earls among a number of restaurants in North America that have been experimenting with new compensation models in recent years, with varying results. The U.S. casual dining chain Joe’s Crab Shack, for example, recently reintroduced tipping at most of its locations after losing customers as a result of its service-included dining model.

The Angus Reid poll also showed Canadians don’t tend to deviate far from their standard tip because of the quality of service. Only nine per cent of respondents said they did so “often,” with the vast majority of respondents saying they tip on average between 10 and 20 per cent. Wealthier Canadians tend to tip more than lower-income Canadians.

“The level of tipping that we see from these results is much more closely tied to the ability to pay than it is tied to the quality of service,” Kurl said. “We have past the point in this country of accepting that tipping is merely a thank you for a job well done. It has become a very ingrained and customary practice in the minds of Canadians.”

My opinion: We'll see how this works out.

I was talking about this with my co-worker A at my second restaurant job.  She says: "Why should the customers pay for the 16% charge, when the restaurant should be paying the workers more?"

While I'm at it, I was talking to my co-worker Je at my first restaurant job.  He told me one table said to him: "We're not tipping you, because we're on a budget." 

Je: Like why did they tell me this?  They shouldn't have told me this at all.
Tracy: Maybe they told you because then you won't be like "Why didn't they tip me?"  This reminds me when I read a letter in the Edmonton Journal, that if you can't afford to tip, then maybe you shouldn't be eating out at all.

Je agrees. 

Jul. 16, 2016 "Change to tipping system is inevitable, but servers want to keep it": I found this article in the Globe and Mail today:

Michael von Massow is an associate professor at the University at Guelph who researches animal welfare and consumer perceptions.

Earls Restaurants brought gratuities back into the public’s consciousness this week by launching a no-tipping restaurant in Calgary. The Angus Reid Institute further fuelled the discussion by releasing a poll suggesting that a plurality of Canadians prefer the existing system over one where higher prices are charged and service is included.

The Earls model is to add an automatic “hospitality charge” of 16 per cent to the bill, which was not one of the options provided in the Angus Reid survey. Disagreements continue within the restaurant industry on whether an “all-in” price or a service charge is the best approach, but it’s notable that 40 per cent of people surveyed said they preferred the new approach. It suggests that there is appetite for change among a significant portion of the dining public, independent of the benefits to restaurants, which are well documented.

Some sort of change is inevitable, as the current business model is unsustainable. There are a wide range of operational reasons, but the main driver is a desire to divide the benefits of tips more equitably among restaurant staff. Kitchens are chronically and significantly underpaid, and research suggests that while tips are not strongly correlated to service quality, that service quality is affected by the expected tip given a server’s assessment of the customer. Removing the opportunity for such subjectivity could generate a more consistent customer experience and is clearly in the best interest of both customers and restaurant managers.

Another potential driver of change that has received much less attention is related to taxation. Relevant to the restaurant industry was a recent Canada Revenue Agency announcement about a four-year audit of pharmacists, which looked at unreported income from rebates paid by generic drug companies. The CRA found $58-million hidden by approximately 1,000 pharmacists across the country, an average of $58,000 per individual.

For servers, the connection between tips and taxes is an elephant in the room. It’s estimated that customers leave at least $4-billion a year in tips in Canada. It’s not clear what proportion of that money is declared, but it’s definitely not all of it.

Tracking tips would be easy. More than 90 per cent of restaurant transactions are paid with a credit card, where the tip is highlighted and separated. In California, restaurants are required to report tips so the U.S. Internal Revenue Service can track reporting when servers file their tax returns. Even without required reporting, targeted audits of a few restaurant companies would very easily identify whether there are gaps in reporting.

This would be unpopular with servers. It would also be problematic for many, as tips are usually paid out in cash. The savings rate on daily cash is likely much lower than it is on a direct-deposit payroll cheque. On the other hand, requiring servers to pay the tax owing on the income would close the gap between cash tips and a higher wage.

For restaurants, reporting would be onerous but manageable. A bigger issue would arise if the CRA insisted that restaurants withhold tax from credit card tips. That would mean the tip money was considered income and the restaurant would also have to pay payroll taxes on the tip money. In a low-margin business, this would be tough for most and fatal for some without a new business model.

There are many reasons to develop alternatives to tipping and change is probably inevitable. But the industry is still coming to grips with what that future may look like.

 "The tipping point": I found this article by Liane Faulder in the Edmonton Journal today.

My week:

Sept. 11, 2016 TV and real life: I wanted to add to the "my week" part in the "From the Ashes" (Sept. 11) post.  I want fun and excitement in my life, and I go to Meetups.

I know my life will not be as crazy, fun, and exciting as a Blindspot episode where FBI goes into fights, shootouts, and car chases.  I don't want my life to be like that.  If I did, I would have went into law enforcement.  Instead, I'll watch it on TV.

Escape Rooms: If I want my life to be like TV, I'll go to those "Escape Rooms" places.  It's where you and at least one other person solve a puzzle to break out of a room.  I have seen lots of situations like these in TV and movies.

Sept. 13, 2016 Blindspot: This show is coming on tomorrow.  I looked up "blindspot bloopers" on YouTube, but got this instead:
This is a funny interview where Stapleton shows that he got a bruise on the back of his leg.  He takes off his pants, but it's not really sexual.  It's at the 2 min. 47 sec mark.

Sept. 15, 2016: I woke up early this morning to watch the season 2 premiere.  I liked it.  I got answers to who Jane Doe was.  If you watch the show and don't want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph.

There is a bigger enemy like a terrorist organization called Sandstorm that the FBI have to take down.  There is also a mole in the FBI and we don't know who it is.

I'm going through my desk drawer and want to write a few things before I give them to my co-worker S.

Pebblechild: I was shopping at Whyte Ave before my Filmmakers Meetup.  I went into a store and it sold these kind of things:

Provide employment

Hathay Bunano provides fairly paid, good quality, flexible and local employment for rural women who are poor and often disadvantaged.

FAVA: I haven't visited this site in awhile.  There are lots of classes and workshops like producing and screenwriting.  It seems the fall producing class is cancelled.

The Saga of the Jack of Spades: This is from one of the people in my Filmmakers Meetup.

"The land, once unified under a single banner, has been divided into four territories, each territory ruled by a family. The Diamonds, wealthy and corrupt; the Clubs, strong and resourceful; the Hearts, ambitious, though loyal to a fault; and the Spades, hard and merciless, and all of whom desire power above all things.

Centuries of bloodshed have won a tenuous peace between the families. To prevent another war, the Four of a Kind, an order of wise and holy men, have been entrusted to keep the peace at any cost. Each King is watched closely by a member of this conclave, though, like all things, corruption has, too, spread through their ranks. The land, yet again, finds itself poised on the edge of a sword."

Sept. 19, 2016 Weather: I want say the week of Sept. 11-Sept. 17, 2016 was warm enough so that I can read the newspaper on my lawn chair in my backyard.  Now this week, it's cold again.

Sept. 20, 2016 Mary Brown's burger: On Sat. Sept. 17, 2016 I went to Mary Brown's to get a free chicken sandwich.  They had put a flier in my mail box.  I went to one in the morning at 11am as my breakfast.  There were 6 people in line.  I ate it and went home for an hr.

Then I went to another location to get another free burger for my lunch.

I'm sure some of you guys are laughing at this part.

The Simpsons: It reminds me of the episode where Lisa joins a spelling bee.  The subplot was Homer becomes obsessed with the ribwich sandwich at Krusty Burger and went on tour with it.

BBQ: On Sun. Sept. 18, 2016, I then went to my work's BBQ and had a burger and a hotdog without a bun.  I also got 2 burgers and a hotdog for home.

Sept. 25, 2016 Fall 2016 TV season: This is the Cole's notes version of it.  From Sept. 19, 2016-Sept. 24, 2016, I was watching all these new TV shows that debuted.  Most of them I recorded it and watched it the next morning at 7am before I had to go to work:

1. The Good Place
2. Kevin Can Wait
3. This is Us
4. Bull
5. Designated Survivor
6. Lethal Weapon
7. Notorious
8. Pitch
9. The Exorcist
10. MacGyver

I would say all the shows are average.  I like This is Us and Designated Survivor, but after I saw the pilots, I wasn't like: "I have to watch every episode."  I want to watch a couple more episodes each to make a decision if I want to continue.

I saw The Exorcist last night and was undecided.  I have never seen the movie.  Then I thought about it some more and thought I should record all the episodes and watch it one week in Oct.  You know, to get into the Halloween mood.  I'm sure some of you guys are laughing at this part.