“JACK KNOX is a friend of mine,” I told the mayor of one of the infinite number of municipalities that make up Greater Victoria.
In this case, I happened to end up at the same dinner table as this mayor at a function in Vancouver recently. I explained that while Jack is a Victoria institution now, he grew up in the ‘Loops and once worked with me at the Kamloops Daily News.
“Oh, yeah?” the mayor said. “Heh, heh, yeah, ol’ Jack gives us a pretty rough ride sometimes.”
Victoria and provincial politics aren’t the only things Jack gives a rough ride but he almost always does it for laughs, which he gets plenty of. He has a huge following on the Island and elsewhere.
I got an advance copy of his new book, Opportunity Knox, in the mail this week. It’s a collection of some of his columns from the past 20 years.
He explained to me on the phone a couple of weeks ago that his book publisher wanted a follow-up to last fall’s Hard Knox, which was on B.C.’s best sellers list for several weeks. So, he spent part of his summer on a beach sorting through clippings from the Times-Colonist, where he’s been a full-time columnist since around the turn of the millennium, and presto, a new book.
This isn’t a review of the book, nor a plug, exactly, for a Kamloops boy who’s done good. What it is, is a reflection on our need for more smiles and laughter.
Those who bring us the news, or who comment on it, probably spend their off-hours in counselling, for they are a depressing and surely depressed bunch, lamenting as they do the state of the environment, politics, family life, the healthcare system, urban decay, you name it.
And they love to lecture us on what we should be doing about it. Take the bus, vote for proportional representation, spend more time with the kids, exercise every day, pick up some litter. Do this, do that, or we’ll all die.
One of the things I like about Jack is that he doesn’t lecture. He makes his point with humour.
He began life as a traditional news reporter and editor — “I’m a serious journalist, damn it!” he protests — but one day in 1997 he wrote a funny column, “just for fun.”
People responded to it, and he’s been doing it ever since. He tells the story of being out for a walk with his wife last winter after Hard Knox was published. A stranger stopped and said, “I read Hard Knox while having chemotherapy this morning. Laughed my butt off.”
That’s the sort of thing that keeps him going, and thank goodness. We need to have a laugh about what’s going on in Ottawa, or Washington, or Victoria, or City Hall.
And most of all, be able to laugh at ourselves. Jack reminds us to do that.
In his new book, the mythical Buck the urban deer makes an appearance. Jack writes about Buck quite often in his TC columns. Who among us hasn’t had bad thoughts about the deer who come through our back yards laying waste to our kale and tomatoes like the Martian Tripods from War of the Worlds?
Barbie and Ken, Veronica and Archie, Barking Dog, and Homer Simpson get some space, too, because sometimes Jack just likes to make stuff up.
But I like his writing best when he turns his attention on himself, writing about the everyday things we all have to put up with — parking tickets, crowded airplanes, lineups at the super market, shopping for Valentine’s Day, appendicitis, the time his parents bought him a dead guy’s bed.
OK, maybe not the last one, but you know what I mean.
None of us can write like Jack, but we can take a cue from him and try to find some sunshine. Like Jack, I’ve met premiers and prime ministers (and spent a day with a governor-general once), mayors from all over the world, interviewed a stripper or two.
Unlike Jack, however, I’ve never been tasered, interviewed a murderer in his cell (although I did talk to one in my office once) or gotten a call from Barack Obama. And my stripper was clothed, unlike Jack’s.
Thing is, Jack can find humour in all of it.
I’ve been threatening for a long time to write a column the next time I go in for a colonoscopy. I think, “That might make a pretty good column.”
But then I think, nah, Jack could do it so much better. Maybe it’ll be in next year’s book.
PS: Jack’s column is published Sundays here on ArmchairMayor.ca.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published Monday through Thursdays, and Saturdays on CFJC Today, CFJC Midday and CFJC Evening News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.