Top Recs

The following: A list of things people have recommended to me, ordered according to our relationship to each other, arranged by order of importance and/or frequency of occurrence of said recommendation.

Friends:

  • Archer
  • Downton Abbey
  • Lost
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (book and movies)
  • Afternoon naps
  • Bouldering

Acquaintances:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
  • Hitchhiking
  • The one on the left.
  • All lady fight club
  • To prove it by choosing which limb.
  • Mint tea
  • Chewing gum

Co-Workers:

  • Downton Abbey
  • March Madness
  • That cute place down the street.
  • To give up the coordinates for the rest of him we swear we only want closure.
  • Vaping

Upper Management:

  • To value “experience.”
  • To treat co-workers “like family.”
  • To give 110%
  • Offal on demand.
  • Game of Thrones
  • Dystopia
  • THE BOX

Family:

  • To call more.
  • A career change.
  • A nose job.
  • The key so we can finally know what he hid in that room we found behind the fake bookshelf in his workshop.
  • To please god stop reminding us.
  • Downton Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Family, Food, Friends, Hobbies, Jobs, Movies, People, Relationships, Sports, Television

Awards Eligibility – Stories 2019

Last year, I started writing fiction – specifically, short stories that I’ve kept, in various forms and fragments, on my computer but until recently never had the courage to finish, let alone send out for publication.

For this and other reasons, 2019 has been a year of hard knocks. My skin stings from the red hot burn of the rejection letters heaped up in my archives folder. But I’ve learned a lot with a lot more to go. And that’s…strangely reassuring.

I love sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction and tend towards that in my writing

 

Here are my awards eligible short stories for 2019:

Good Books All – in Astral Waters Review, Issue 2. Available online.

Monstrous Attractions – in Augur Magazine, 2.3. Available online (samples of longer pieces available for free on the website).

 

I also published a non-fantasy/non-speculative fiction piece earlier in the year:

Flesh, Not Blood – in RicePaper Magazine. Read online.

 

Finally, in the coming days I will be adding a new section on the blog to keep a running tab on my publications and where to find them. Hopefully, I will be able to add to the list as time goes by.

Here’s to all good things (rejections and all) for 2020!

 

 

 

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Uncanny Valley

I’m not sure whether I’d say that wax figures are replicas or facsimiles or tributes, just that they look like someone you may know, or at the very least represent someone (alive or dead, real or fictional, to use those terms very loosely) known. Celine Dion or Flash Gordon.¹ Virginia Woolf, Stevie Nicks, David Hasselhoff or Alf.

Those types of people from which those type of figures are made.

Not living, but life-like…actually, larger-than-life. Posed, if not poised. Fake flesh, real clothes. Shoes to match. Jewellery, sometimes. And hair, human or otherwise.

Effigies, all. Graven images? Maybe.

***

Some faces you see more than others. Some figures just dominate.

Olivia Coleman plays the Queen Elizabeth II on the series “The Crown,” and Helen Mirren played her (Queen Elizabeth II, not Coleman) in the movie, “The Queen.”

I went to a wax museum, my first, which was buried in a mountainside in Vietnam. Ba Na Hills. Inside were life and near-life wax figures of (in no particular order): Kobe Bryant, John Rambo, a very scary Micheal Jackson, a weirdly proportioned Mr. Bean and, finally, a royal tableau featuring Prince William, Kate Middleton and, standing off-side for some reason, the Queen, Elizabeth II.

Only, that queen didn’t quite look like the Queen. Yet, she did. Because, well, it seemed very much like Helen Mirren’s head – not hers but the one she wore for the movie “The Queen” – had been placed on what looked like the body of the Queen, wearing a Queen-looking (matronly?) dress and the kind Queen-looking jewellery befitting a royal (big knots of it like babies’ fists).

THE QUEEN

Or am I wrong? Perhaps I’m only seeing something I only think I’m seeing, but that’s not actually there. Like how you confuse someone for their younger, yet very similar, more familiar (you’d swear by it) brother. Or friend. Or cousin. Or whatever.

Not a double or a doppelgänger but someone like that.

***

In recent years, it appears that they’ve changed the wax figure Queen. Her face, at least, looks more Queen-like and less Mirren-esque.

Strange things happen when you go traipsing through the hollowed-out landscapes of the Uncanny Valley.

But I know what I saw, even I didn’t see it.

 

________________________________________________

1. For the longest time, I confused “Flash Gordon” with its soft-porn, sexploitation counterpart, “Flesh Gordon.” I thought the latter was the former, which defined the character and films for me for years. Similarly, I had always assumed I had seen “Top Gun” when in fact what I had watched and assumed was “Top Gun” was the movie “Hot Shoots.” Finally, Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid are not the same person, despite their apparent interchangeability, which honestly seems to me to be some kind of low-end superpower.

 

 

 

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One Good Egg

Does anybody get as angry about wrecking the perfect egg as I do?

I’m not actually looking for an answer. It’s just…I get so angry.

Eggs are just about the perfect food vessel. Fragile, sure, but also not really: try to squeeze an egg from end to end and you’ll find it pretty hard to break. You can smash an egg on the table or the ground or your forehead with ease, I suppose, but what then have you proven? You just broke something that wasn’t meant to be smashed. Gold stars all around, big fella.

There was a time when eggs were forbidden in my family because of the tendency among the adults (now referred to by us as “the Old People”) to obscure (then ignore) cause and effect, a kind of shirking of responsibility in order to get through the little cruelties (and ultimate tragedies) of an uncertain life. Or so it seems to me.

Fear can make people do scary things.

Sunny-side up eggs are a particular favourite of mine – that delicious, velvety yoke, warmed but not overcooked, sprinkled lightly, delicately, with a little bit of salt and a dash of pepper. A tiny sun, a taste of heaven. Perfect.

But there are times when I mess up and the yolk breaks, spreads, then overcooks into a gelatinous clump of yellow-on-white. Not exactly inedible, but certainly far from appetizing.

Fuck.

And then what? Then fucking what?? No such thing as the perfect egg, not this time.

I’m not eating that!

Ugh. The fruitlessness of it all. The absolute waste! Is a little perfection – the joy of it, the fulfillment therein – too much to expect? What is this world even? I can’t.

Yeah. Yeah, sure. Sure, there are always more eggs (they come by the dozen, don’t they?), but who knows? Don’t you realize…? I just –

Also, those eggs are not that egg. That egg is ruined. Forever and endlessly.

And now my toast is lonely.

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Death, Emotion, Family, Food, Interruptions, THE PAST

Brick Bye Brick

My aunt’s boyfriend was neither smart nor kind, but he was tall and with a good amount of hair, all things considered. That was more than enough. That was all that it took for him not only to become a part of our lives, but placed at its very centre by the adults in the family. To this day it disturbs me how small we were; how easily we shuffled or were pushed to the periphery.

Eventually, they married. Then divorced. I don’t know where he is now, but it doesn’t matter.

This story is about what happened before all that. This is about that one time with the brick.

***

He stacked the brick on a set of rough wood planks, and left the setup in the parking lot behind my parent’s store. For about a week, you could find him back there, s-l-o-w-l-y bringing his arm up past his shoulder then s-l-o-w-l-y easing it back down again to touch the brick with the base of his open palm, feet planted wide, knees bent, cheeks puffed out and sucked in by big, exaggerated breaths.

Just like that for days and days. Preparing. Getting ready. “Training.” All this (need I say it? He had absolutely no martial arts training whatsoever), because he was bored and because people had stopped paying attention to him and because Jackie Chan was huge that year.

Rumble in the Bronx? A classic even still.

But Jackie Chan wasn’t all that tall and his hair was only OK. And besides, boyfriend knew that he could do it – break that brick straight in half – because he not only did he believe in himself, he’d never stopped believing in himself, no matter what. He was, in other words, a winner. Number 1!

And wouldn’t you know? Could you guess?

YES. Of course the stupid motherfucker broke his hand, and badly. The brick remained totally unscathed because OF COURSE IT WAS. The second best part? Boyfriend kept his busted-up hand wrapped in dirty bandages for weeks until he finally went to a doctor, who admonished him for waiting so long to get his “work accident” attended to.

The day after he broke his hand, the brick was gone. Gone like it had never been; as if everything surrounding it had never happened. Even the wood planks had been disappeared. No one needed to tell us that under no circumstances were we ever, ever to talk about the brick again or about martial arts or about Jackie Chan (who, in any case, used a stuntman sometimes, the wimp, or didn’t we know that?). No need to embarrass ourselves, talking about something that didn’t happen, right? Also, these bandages are from WORK ACCIDENT.

Sure, asshole. But why couldn’t you just keep them clean?

***

Time makes fools of us all, no matter which direction it comes at you from. Telling you all this now, about the brick, after so many years, makes having lived through it doubly worth it, even if I’d give most anything not to speak of him, as if he’d never been. As if he’d never happened.

Like I said, fools of us all.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Childhood, Education, Family, Movies, THE PAST, Time

Deborah

I saw a zebra once while driving. That is to say, I’ve seen a zebra once, while being driven.

I was not driving. I was in the car while it was driven and I, therefore, being driven.

To the Tyrone Mill, just outside (or inside, depending on where you’re coming from) Bowmanville, Ontario. That’s where I saw the zebra.

Pronounced: zee-bruh or zeh-bruh (therefore rhymes with Deborah, like in the song by T.Rex [as featured in the movie, Baby Driver]).

You know the song?

 

Oh Debora, always look like a zebra

Your sunken face is like a galleon

Clawed with mysteries of the Spanish Main, oh Debora.

 

Oh, Debora!

The zebra was gazing in a paddock close to the mill. It was a quick glance, but undeniable. There it was, a real, live zebra somewhere in and/or around Bowmanville, Ontario.

I would swear to it, and I would pass every test, every lie detector, withstand any interrogator (military or otherwise) who pressed me on it. And I would be right. And I would be wrong.

Because I was right; I am wrong. Mostly so. Either way.

Zee-bruh. Zeh-bruh.

According to the clerk at the Mill – who is friends, it turns out, with the daughter of the people who own the properly with the field in which I saw the zebra – I did and did not see a zebra. The zebra. Because the zebra is a horse, the horse (the mostly white horse), cloaked in a zebra-striped horse blanket.

The zebra…it was a horse, of course (dressed as a zebra).

Now, surely. You can understand my mistake, which is not so much a mistake, I think, so much as a calculated misunderstanding (done by me on someone else’s behalf…who dresses up a horse as a zebra, and a mostly white horse at that, without expecting people to see a zebra where there is no zebra but a horse dressed like a zebra?).

A horse, of course, of course, and not a zebra but the guise of one.

Zeh-bruh. Zee-bruh.

Tomayto. Tomahto.

And Deborah.

Oh, Deborah!

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Communications, Interruptions, Movies, Places

Reliable Witless

One of my aunts once tried to sneak up on a peacock at the zoo, in a vain attempt to pluck one of its magnificent tail feathers, a souvenir to remember the day by. We were in the picnic area eating our packed lunch (day-old pork-chops and corn brunt on the cob); the peacocks wandered among us, free-range. Squatting on her haunches creep-creeping along, a wicked smile on her face (or perhaps a wide grimace) she extended her hand, fingers grazing a fringe of iridescent feathers of blue, green and gold. I watched. I could not not watch…

…then I realized that the memory actually occurred to me during a dream, in which I was walking through Chinatown looking for cutlery and came upon a store display with peacocks feathers for sale for a buck a piece. The memory of the zoo was part of the dream and upon waking and right now as I’m typing, I cannot say whether the memory in the dream was a real-world memory, or a dream of one. I don’t remember. I can’t distinguish.

I could ask my aunt, but if she lied I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I don’t know if she’d have any reason to lie, especially about something as seemingly harmless as this (of course, for this to be true, we’d have to set aside the peacock’s POV because I don’t imagine it would consent to such mistreatment), but confirm or deny the matter nevertheless remains, crucially, beyond me.

A memory in a dream, or a dream of a memory. It happened, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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[CC]

My sister thinks it’s strange that I watch TV with the volume turned low and with the closed captioning on. She thinks it’s funny (not “Ha, ha” funny more, “That’s…hiLARious). I’ve never really thought all that much about it, but it occurs to me that I’ve been watching TV like this for some time now. A few years at least.

Reasons why are plenty, come to think of it:

1) We have the technology, better than it’s ever been (for the moment).

2) I live in a small place and having the TV turned up loud dominates the whole house. Really, it just takes over everything.

3) I have trouble hearing/understanding fast dialogue (i.e. Gilmore Girls), unfamiliar accents (i.e. Harry Potter movies) or languages (i.e. German as well as High Valyrian).

4) Descriptions as well as dialogue: [ominous whooshing] [boisterous chatter] [SCREAMS] [muttering] [whistle shrieks] [romantic music] [LOUD PROTEST] [softly]

5) Comparing the dialogue with the captioning, following along and seeing where they diverge or witnessing how faithful they are to one another is strangely fascinating. Closed captioning can be wildly uneven (i.e. done by people, a service, bots, in-house or outsourced; done for real-time broadcasts, live shows or streaming services) – at times it can be quite daunting to follow, let alone rely upon for transcription, interpretation, translation.

6) There are also styles of closed captions, pop-on/block (words appear in rows/complete sentences with add-on rows as you go), and roll-up/scrolling (words appearing left to right, one line at a time) being the two main ones. Depending on the method and quality, words on screen can move along with the action or ahead of it or lag woefully behind (if they appear at all).

7) Weird questions of censorship: “swear words” (however so defined by those involved, yet their intent is obvious from the proverbial get-go) left out in some places and some shows, but not others. Whose responsible for that? Why do they care? Why would they? Fucking prudes. 

All those reasons, and also, because of them, this: a vast and growing dissatisfaction with the way some shows, movies and broadcasts are, for lack of a better word, paraphrased by the closed captioning, and often badly. So badly done, actually, that it’s just wrong. Hacked-up. I can tell the difference, but then I am an abled person whose hearing is not impaired.

All those absent words, all that incomplete action, all those pieces of the story missing, gone and/or rendered completely nonsensical. Where’s the context? What’s the rhyme or reason? Where’s the nuance?

Why set out to do something if only so that you can do it wrong? Don’t be cheap. Don’t make it cheap.

Word-for-word, it matters.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Entertainment, Family, Language, Movies, Pop Culture, Television, Words

The Coyotes Have It

The City

In the place where I live there are raccoons in the streets, skunks in the driveways and possums in just about any alleyway you dare to imagine. Pigeons abound during the daylight hours, coo-coo-cooing as they bob their pigeon heads and flap their pigeon wings. There are falcons and hawks in the crooks and crannies of the skyscrapers, who swoop down from nowhere to pick off a pigeon here and there.

Coyotes creep the margins, stealing food and eating the scraps given to them by imprudent humans. They have are often believed to be the killer of pets (small dogs, the occasional cat), and then hunted down for the transgression. This is done to keep the public calm – to keep people from freaking the fuck out about something probably overblown and which in any case they have very little control over.

The coyotes are not interlopers.

No. They are not.

 

The Not-City

In the place where I used to live there are also raccoons and skunks, possums and pigeons and hawks, but not as numerous and not nearly as brazen. Country creatures to the city ones, although of the suburbs (a close and yet infinitely distant second). Furtive creatures, mostly keeping out of the way, mostly keeping to themselves.

Mostly.

There are also coyotes. These are ghosts, seen in passing along the periphery of one’s vision. Pets go missing thanks to the coyotes, or so the story goes. Nothing new there.

But the coyotes here are not the solitary rogues of the city. These coyotes amass, forming family groups; forming packs. They amass and they scream. So much screaming sounding in the night from the patchwork of green spaces and tumble-down woodlots scattered about the suburbs. Bloodcurdling screams that go on and on into the night, laying territory over property, calling each other home again.

 

The Non-City

Once I found a coyote den, long abandoned, in the woods. Nearby was a scattering of bones and among those, one pristine coyote skull. Here it is, I thought. Proof.

At last.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, City Life, Dogs, Family, Nature, Pets, Places

Ride Along

1. The pony was shaggy, overworked thing, all knobby knees and sagging skin. And even though it was still nursing its tiny foal, they saddled it up and give me the reins. The baby followed us, tying to keep pace with its mother so it could nurse, while the guide, a terse man with thin lips, pulled us along atop his own stead, a horse and not a pony. It was wide-eyed and better fed then its companions – that’s about all I can say about the horse. The pony tried to stop to fed the foal. I didn’t mind, but the man sure did.

 

2. The elephant ride happened a few years before the pony, at a circus that came to town once a year. At the end of the show, once the lions had been wrangled back into the their cages and the clowns, mercifully, exited the stage, parents lined up with their children, and for a small fee, bought them a seat on the elephant’s back. The “saddle,” such as it was, was more like a playpen, capable of carrying about a dozen evenly-sized kids at a time. We were then taken around the perimeter of big top. We went around and around and around, then stopped and disembarked.

I cannot say the elephant enjoyed giving rides for a living. It also did tricks – balancing on its front legs, sitting only on its hind legs, trunk curled high in the air waving a baton (the secret of tricks: the more antithetical to the nature of the beast the more impressive the trick). Elephants must earn their keep at the circus. As for me, I remember staring intently at its cracked grey skin, at the coarse black hair growing there, sticking out in all directions, something you don’t ever see in cartoons or storybooks depicting elephants. Something I did not know was even possible before that day, but which I’m sure I could have easily looked up in a book.

 

3. A friend decided to surprise me with a camel ride at the zoo, buying the ticket while I roamed elsewhere, unawares. There was no line and few people out that day. It was nearing the end of summer, the beginning of their off-season. The camel seemed annoyed at having to work on such a light day, but it dutifully carried me along a well-marked path, its keeper guiding it using a halter attached to its head. It was a Bactrian – two humps, not one. My friend took our picture: it is of me giving her the finger as I ride the camel. This was all after the elephant, years and years. I didn’t say anything during the ride, not to the camel and certainly not to its keeper. Our relationship was strictly transactional.

***

Bactrian camels live up to 50 years in the wild, and between 20-40 years in captivity. So it is likely the camel at the zoo is still alive. Elephants live up to 20 years in captivity, and anywhere between 60-70 years in the wild. There are no more elephants in zoos in Canada and elephants have been banned from circuses (or rather, circuses have been banned from using elephants). I doubt the elephant I rode is dead, and I hope it went somewhere that was more in line with the dignity of elephants. The pony is surely dead.

That any one of these creatures allows us to ride on their backs seems preposterous, perhaps because it is.

It just is.

***

While on vacation one year we stopped at an unnamed tourist trap offering ostrich rides. Living, breathing ostriches, $20 bucks (American) a ride. Speaking of the preposterous, and not forgetting too the sheer lunacy to be found out there, literally anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Childhood, Places, THE PAST

Bowlerama

There’s a bowling alley in a strip mall near my house.

Or at least there was.

The strip mall is no longer. It has been devoured by a colossal hole, which will serve as the foundation for a new building. By its scale and scope (not to mention depth), the size of the work crew and the recently mounted cranes now there, I’m guessing an office building or (more likely) a condo.

Lots of condos in this city.

I haven’t done much bowling in my life. A few get-togethers with friends, a birthday party or two. A school trip once – a reward for good behaviour and nice (but not spectacular) grades. Five pins and ten; big balls and small.

I never went to the strip mall, let alone the bowling alley in the strip mall. The street was always seemed too busy to cross, and the strip mall didn’t have a convenience store or coffee place or restaurant. Nothing to entice someone out, say, for a mid-day stroll.

But I always liked the idea of having a bowling alley near me and that it was in the strip mall (a rather odd though innocuous thing to have in the neighbourhood, and therefore not without its own charm), and, admiring it from afar, I thought I might go someday. The hole reminded me of all that and confronted me with the fact that it’s too late for any of it.

Come to think of it, I actually never really ever enjoyed bowling, good grades or no. The lighting, the sound of constant thudding. Those shoes… Not that I begrudge anyone those things. Besides, not liking something is not the same as hating it. Nice enough, but not spectacular. Good to think on.

Then again. My friend lived in a condo that had a bowling alley as one of its amenities. The two are not mutually exclusive. Maybe it’s not too late after all.

This is probably the most time I’ve ever spent talking about bowling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Entertainment, Friends, Hobbies, Places