Monthly Archives: February 2018

Open Secrets Vol. 1

– The answer is very probably “Yes.”

– Things you can’t undo: the past, sneeze, fry a chicken. Repeat, then, if necessary.

– High school was so very long ago.

– They are still making Hellraiser movies. They’ve never not stopped making Hellraiser movies.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.16.03 AM

Hellraiser (1987), Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), Hellariser: Inferno (2000), Hellraider: Hellseeker (2002), Hellraiser: Deader (2005), Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005), Hellraiser: Revelations (2011). Not pictured: Hellraiser: Origins (2013), Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

– “Mandatory” but not (always) absolute.

– Hard hats expire.

– So much in the naming (i.e. “The Amazing Spider Man”, “Old Faithful,” “Typhoid Mary”) it’s almost unfair.

– The answer is most assuredly “No.”

– The dog didn’t do it.

– Ringo Starr will outlast them all. And us.

– “Soon” is a hard promise.

– Dying is (pretty much) for everybody else.

– The last one? I ate it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Points of Convergence (Repertoire of a 6:00AM Commute)

There was a time when my morning commute meant a pre-dawn commute before the commute. It required taking a very early bus to the subway, to another bus, and then to a station where I met up with my Work Crew for what was then another 30-to-90-minute drive to site, wherever it happened to be that day.

***

The Very Early Bus arrived at around 6:00AM and the stop was about a 10-minute walk from my house.

Now. There was my Work Crew, whom I saw every day, and then there was my Commute Crew, with whom I also had a specialized relationship (they being the first faces of the new day, which placed my Work Crew in a close, yet distant second).

 

There was really no comparison:

 

  1. Leather Jacket Motorcycle Man. The jacket was of a rich, heavy leather. It had shoulder armour (impressive!) and fit him perfectly; less like a glove and more like a second skin. I never saw a motorcycle helmet. I never saw a motorcycle. Seemed unnecessary, maybe even over-the-top.
  2. The Old Timer. He must have lived close; his stop was only one away from mine. We could have been neighbours, though I never saw him in the street. He was quite, if not rather, elderly, perhaps even venerated.
  3. Army Gent. Over the weeks I watched him go from civvies and duffle bag to full-on uniform: beret, Canadian Flag patched prominently on his camo jacket; shining, immaculate boots. And duffle bag. He looked rather dashing, set. He smiled often, and not unkindly.
  4. Mr. Hard Hat. The yellow hat was sometimes worn on this man’s squarish head or on his heavy belt and sometimes it was nestled securely in his lap. He never took his gaze off the middle distance. His hours were probably as bad (if not worse) than mine. He sat tall, and primly, regardless.
  5. Lady Grey. She and The Old Timer were friends (or maybe neighbours – there’s a difference sometimes). She helped him off the bus. She reminded me of Tea Time. She carried a big shoulder bag looped over her small torso. Sometimes it appeared heavy and overloaded, as if it were full of bricks or hard drives. Other times, it was so empty it swung chaotically around her, like a siren. Maybe she kept tea in there? It seemed full of promises. She and The Old Timer sometimes talked animatedly (though quietly) with each other, but I didn’t ever catch a word of their conversation. Why spoil a good thing?

 

The Subway was usually empty at that hour, or it was full of people still clinging to or retreating back towards the last vestiges of sleep (including me). It was warmer, roomier, quieter there: you could be totally alone. It was easy. Can you blame us?

The Another Bus was not without its charm. For example: The Man With the Scruffy Dog He Kept Inside His Jacket. For example: The Woman Who Cut Her Fingernails At the Back of the Bus. For example: The Bad Hermit. But by that time of day, the riders were more diffuse, more varied. I never kept close track of them.

The Station had the Steel Drums Man. By then, it was about an hour into my morning commute to my commute (sometimes longer if traffic was bad). Whatever time I arrived, he was there, playing away on a set of steel drums in the vast corridor connecting the buses and the subway, near but not too close to the escalators leading to daylight. The perfect spot.

After a while I realized that he was playing the same set of songs every day, day after day. I realized then as I remain sure now that it could not have been otherwise: they were nice, and he was very good at them. He made them sing. 1) Seeing the Steel Drums Man and 2) hearing him play meant that 3) I had made it (for another day at least). One more day at least. No small feat, by any measure.

***

My commute before the commute went on for months, until there came a time when work was scarce and I was laid-off from the company for the winter. In the spring, I walked to take the Very Early Bus again.

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

“Where have you been?” he cried. Each word was almost its own sentence, its own question: Where. Have. You. Been?

It felt good, if not right (not really) to be there again, with my fellow pre-dawn commuters. Sometimes you don’t need all that much to count on, and the extras you do get don’t make up for anything but themselves.

I saw Motorcycle Man, The Old Timer, and Lady Grey, though there were a few new faces I didn’t recognize.

If anyone was missing, I’m sure they had their reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Regrets

Version .1

He was charming in the way that mayonnaise is appealing because of its apparent ubiquity in sandwiches (tuna, ham, chicken salad): agreeable enough as standard (or a standard, anyway). He told the new guy how he had talked to my mother on the phone, just the other day in fact.

“She’s a lovely woman,” he said, meaning my mother, looking me in the eye. He went on and on.

Except.

He never spoke to my mother. Or, to put it in better terms, my mother never spoke to him. Has never spoken to him. He spoke to Claudia’s mother. Claudia,* the only other Asian-Canadian woman who worked there. Claudia, who was not me, whose mother was not my mother. But, I guess, “a difference that makes no difference” (even when it does and especially when you’ve already committed yourself to the convenience, the ease and matter-of-factness that comes from it), right?

He smiled at me. I smiled back. I smile back.

He left and I didn’t have anything to say to myself after that.

Except. If only. But still.

Yeah.

 

Version .05

(It’s like stepping on live snails after the evening rains in the summer: the leaden air; the sudden crunching underfoot, the pop, the grinding of shell into sidewalk; the mess that cakes to the soles of your boot. The thought of what shouldn’t have happened, what could have been done. The damage, the waste, and what possible difference there could be separating the two).

 

Version .2

She spoke in quick clipped tones that shot out from the receiver as I held the phone against my ear. I didn’t want to be there. That’s not an excuse (and barely an explanation). She asked about paper lanterns (“Paper lanterns…paper lanterns…paper lanterns!”), whether we had any in stock and how many, what colour and what etc., etc., etc.

“Who was that?” called Mom from across the store, dusting shelves, merchandise, as always (as ever).

I told her, with my hand over the receiver, for cover. The phone dropped to the floor and I looked at it for a while before picking it up.

What difference did it make?

She came into the store later that day. A woman who looked very much like my mother, like me.

“I called earlier. The girl on the phone said I was ‘some white lady.'” She laughed.

“Oh! It was her!” Mom said, pointing, laughing, looking right through me, not nearly so cheerful. “You wanted lanterns.” It wasn’t a question.

I deserved it, the reprimand, the dismissal.

Except. If only. But still.

Of course.

 

 

________________________________________________

*Not real name.

 

 

 

 

 

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Browbeaten (Black & Blue)

I don’t know when my dad started losing his hair, but it was early on in both our lives.

He tried many things to stymie this most unfathomable loss, but in the end had little recourse but to stop cutting it, to just let it grow and then to start, kind of, creatively sweeping it across the great expanse of his head, precious resource as it was.

He also started dyeing it the instant he found his first grey hair, to a shade I think would be rightly called “Permanent Marker Black.” Or perhaps “Sharpie Gardens” (“Bic Dreams” also works rather well).

I am not making fun: it was actually refreshing to see my dad colouring his hair as we came home from school or work; there was no furtive shutting of bathroom doors or nervous sleight-of-hand over a splotched-over kitchen sink when it came to my dad deciding on that day to annihilate his greys.

He just did it.

***

(I always thought mustaches were cool because of my dad. His was both proud and stately. Now everybody thinks mustaches are cool, but my dad had nothing to do with it.)

***

My mom despised my dad’s comb-over – how it splayed, was mucked-over his scalp – a hatred which intensified in direct proportion to the comb-over’s sheer magnificence over the years. It was an on-going Thing with them; a continual war in which battles were attained by each side, but never quite won.

A witty retort here, a scathing comment there, some handwringing, a lot of empty threats and many unmet challenges: nothing ever decisive, nothing that would bring about a lasting, peaceful co-existence. Only a kind of peace, a tepid cease-fire that freed up at least some of the day for errands and housecleaning and maybe an hour or so of prime-time TV.

That is. Until.

Until the day my dad came home from my aunt’s salon with not one hair on his head.

Not. One.

No comb-over, no mustache. No eyebrows.

I have no memory or idea about what could have precipitated this. All I remember, all I know, is that one day my dad had hair on his head, and the next, he didn’t.

And something else: “How about now?” he asked my mom on that day. That fateful day.

My mom shot him that look, a look that over time was so perfected as to be drawn on.

In fact, it was drawn on.

***

Mom came home from my aunt’s salon with her eyebrows tattooed in place one day and so long ago they have since turned blue.

Over time, black tattoos will go blue, unless you get them re-done.

But why? The tattoos, I mean, not the fact of their fading to blue.

“Because,” Mom said. Makeup costs money and this also saved time. We didn’t have much of either, in our house. It made a lot of sense, and aligned perfectly with my mom’s brutal practicality.

She did it for us.

If my dad had something to say about that, we never heard it.

***

(I always thought Mom’s eyebrows were fearsome because of my mom. I’ve not seen many people with them done, though I suspect on some level that my mom may have something to do with it. She is just that capable.)

***

The time my dad shaved off all his hair (including his mustache, including his eyebrows).

It was either shortly after or shortly before.

In fact, it was both.

***

My mom was in the ICU, recuperating, drugged. The surgery was long, but the prognosis was good. We stood there, my sister and I, hovering by her bedside, not sure of what to say. Finally, I said the I only thing that seemed worth saying in that moment: “They’ve gone so blue.”

The way her eyebrows rested on her face, the sheer blueness of them…her expression before us was one of severe, unmitigated reproach. It was as if she could hear us talking; it seemed that even in sleep she was aware, alert and admonishing.

Mom.

“Yeah. She looks super pissed off. And very blue, actually,” replied Dolly. Mom’s natural pallor, whether it was from the ordeal of the surgery or because of the weird off-color lighting of the ICU, had gone decidedly indigo. Her arched blue brows did nothing to dispel the illusion. “It’s like two sharks colliding,” Dolly remarked, matter-of-factly, and we were both reassured.

Everything would be OK.

(Dolly is excellent with the facts of matters great and small.)

The ICU nurse overheard us and said nothing. It’s not hard to wonder what she probably thought of the scene playing out in front of her. It’s not difficult to surmise that she likely kept quiet not for our benefit, but for hers. Why risk that look herself? Why ruin what, by our standards, was a perfectly good reunion? No need to impose, to interrupt.

How dare she?

My dad’s eyebrows had grown back by then, as did some of the hair on his head, but he didn’t regrow the mustache, which I think my mom always hated anyway.

The night before the surgery, in her hospital room, he bought her a flower from his garden, which she also hated (it also being rather overgrown and quite unmanaged). But she accepted the flower.

My aunt was there too, but no one mentioned the salon.

 

 

 

 

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Fire, Fire!

Dreamt the other night that my plants become infested with fire ants which colonized them via spider webs my house was a warehouse but also the back of a restaurant somehow shadowy government figures were after me so I turned virtually invisible and hid out on the roof two people found me but I convinced them not to rat me out with my magical fire breath they fell hard and fast and far but my concern the entire time was for my plants my plants the ants ants poured out of them like water live lava..!

I woke up itchy, relived and also vaguely disappointed.

What dreams may come, eh? Or mayn’t they?

Mayn’t?

 

 

 

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Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 2)

(con’t from Monday’s post)

The BOOK BINGO sheets were prominently tacked on the wall near the stairway leading up to the managers’ offices, a veritable dead zone for employees like me. Dallas, my manager, caught me a week or two into The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of Twenty-Fifteen, standing in her way, staring at the sheets, paralyzed by indecision.

The sheets glared back, white and hot and waiting.

“You know,” Dallas said. “You’re allowed to read whatever you want.”

“This isn’t a test. Just pick a favourite,” came her voice, tinny and smelling faintly of copper.

“I’d like to know your favourite,” said Dallas, and smiled.  

***

(Dallas’s teeth were sharp and yellowed. Rumour had it she had a fake tooth, but no one knew which tooth was the fake tooth. It was anyone’s guess.

I sometimes imagined her taking her new tooth, fresh from the dentist’s office – a brilliant enameled chip, or maybe a hard, alabaster nugget if it was a molar and meant to crush and grind – and staining the tooth with tea bags and coffee grounds on her kitchen table, late into the night, and doing so until she was absolutely certain no one, not one living soul, could tell just which tooth was the fake tooth as she smiled at them from behind dead eyes.)

***

Rumours are many-edged, double-faced things that can cut and bite you if you approach them the wrong way. They proliferate like vermin; spread like wildfire.

Which also means that rumours can be useful – travelling fast and burning away at things until their cores are naked, exposed.

Eventually, it hit me again: the categories didn’t matter.

It was the books.

The books were the key.

***

“Why the Hell would you read Fifty Shades of Grey as your BOOK IN A SERIES? That book is pure, unadulterated smut. And it’s not even good smut.”

“You sure, Dallas?”

“Trust me.”

I read, I adapted. I read some more.

The Secret is your IMPORTANT BOOK? Dallas and I love that book,” boasted Houston, another manager and Dallas’ husband (the place was pretty incestuous, but only insofar as most office environments are incestuous, which is to say not very much, by comparison). “You know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “It’s, like, an open secret.” He winked. It was foul.

I read.

It became a source of power, and a refuge.

The Art of War isn’t an EPIC POEM!”

“It is, Phoenix, if you read it fast enough. The Chinese starts to rhyme.”

“Are you joking?”

It saved me from myself.

***

Did I read all the books I marked off on my BOOK BINGO sheet?

Yes.

Did they fulfill their categories?

Yes.

Were they good books?

Honestly: any book that sets you free is a good book. Any book that does precisely that is worth its weight in fucking gold.

Yeah. I won BOOK BINGO that year. That year, I got bragging rights and learned so much compared to what I eventually gave away. And then I found work in a better, more supportive environment.

There is no doubt about it. It was because of the books.

***

I wonder: did the others who partook in The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 do the same as me? Had they recognized the power lingering on the other side of books?

If they had, I didn’t notice, which of course would have been the whole point.

 

THE END

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Education, Employment, Interruptions, Jobs, People, Relationships, Ritual

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 1)

My interest in doing anything diminished by something like 98% whenever I’m specifically asked or told to do it.

Perhaps I am a contrarian, but I doubt it.

This tendency, this character trait, this human flaw, whatever you want to call it, thankfully does not interfere with my work life, which makes me a Good Employee. For all intents and purposes.

Maybe not a contrarian then, but simply a pragmatist.

Whatever it takes.

Look. I tried to get along with my office mates (I try to get along with everyone!) but it isn’t always easy or convenient (or wise) to do so. Offices especially can be strange environments – few resources (promotions, photocopying privileges, pens & paper) makes for some intense competition and, in my case, produced some rather toxic rivalries. Everyone seemed to know this, but that isn’t the same as saying it was acknowledged, openly or otherwise.

Or is it just me?

(It’s not just me.)

*****

There are things people did to ease the tension: some brought in cookies and candy, others organized office potlucks, a few nominated themselves (or were nominated) as to go-to people to for those wishing to celebrate their birthdays at the office (after work hours, and we all had to chip in for the cake).

There were few birthdays at the office.

For a while we were allowed, encouraged even, to bring dogs in to work (“Pet dogs,” reminded our boss, Tucson,* pale, immaculate finger wagging in the air, adding his usual linguistic garnish as a way to stay at the head of the decision, though it may have been a directive rather than description, it was hard to tell with him).

But the dogs quickly became bored, then destructive, then somewhat belligerent (they could sense it too, the tension, and were getting spoiled from the cupcakes people fed them under their desks).

A NO DOGS policy was instituted.

For a while after that, there was nothing, save the baked goods and the potlucks and birthdays as rare as black, winged unicorns (or promotions).

Then came BOOK BINGO.

*****

Phoenix came up with the idea, and it seemed a good one. It seemed inventive and sound and, most of all, harmless. We were, after all, a group of smart, educated people, who often professed our love of books in the narrow, sagging hallways of the ramshackle building that housed our cubicles, on the tacky carpeting that ran beneath our shared workspaces like an oil slick; in the upstairs kitchenette with the broken microwave. Some of us were even in book clubs.

Book clubs, even!

*****

The categories listed on the BOOK BINGO sheets that Phoenix printed out for us seemed interesting and (dare I say it?), fun:

 

B-3: A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL.

I-5: A GRAPHIC NOVEL.

N-2: A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER.

G-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2015.

O-4: A BOOK WRITTEN BY A FEMALE AUTHOR.*

 

“Where’s the harm?” I said.

And Phoenix smiled.

*****

In the end, five of us (it was a small office, despite everything), signed on for what was already being hailed (by Phoenix, ever the ringmaster, ever the MC) as The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 (pronounced “twenty-fifteen”).

Because not only had we agreed to play, we would play big: no rows or columns of B or I, or the like or that ilk. Not even impressive diagonals would do. The winner would be declared the first to complete the entire BOOK BINGO sheet (all twenty-five squares, minus the star in the middle that marked the free space). The good space.

The prize would be bragging rights (or cake if we all wanted to chip in for it).

*****

Bragging rights I wanted.

Bragging rights I understood. Bragging rights were how you got around a place like the place where I worked, how you carved out a space for yourself and kept it that way.

I got books out from the library. I took gathered books that I had purchased from second-hand stores and garage sales and had always meant to read, sometime IN THE FUTURE, when the time was right. I made piles and lists. Books towered on my nightstand. They littered the floor, crept onto the bed and invaded my dreams.

I consulted BOOK BINGO sheet, and took a closer look at the categories carefully picked out by Phoenix:

 

N-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.

O-2: A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

N-5: AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

O-3: YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

 

And it hit me.

Each category – it asked a lot. Each would give the people I saw every day – and really only because I was paid to be there (seeing them was, in a way, incidental to being there) – a little something of myself.

It hit me hard.

*****

(Was this a bad thing? Was it bad? It didn’t seem good. Not like it mattered at that point. I was in, do you understand? I was making progress, even.)

*****

I remember thinking: I am a Good Employee. I can do this. This is good.

Besides, I reasoned, maybe I was being silly. Perhaps I was overreacting in order to compensate for the state of things. Seeing ulterior motives and indulging in paranoid fantasies where there was only collegiate goodwill and a genuine, concentrated desire to connect. I was seeing entitlements where there were only efforts to create a more open, friendly, happy place to work.

A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

But then there was never enough pens & paper.

AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

There was never enough to go around, if certain people needed it.

YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

And I was not certain people.

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. All names, and possibly genders, have been changed to obscure the identities of the very real people that lurk just behind those identities.

* This required a special category???

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Dogs, Employment, Jobs, People, Pets, Places, Politics, Relationships, THE FUTURE

Bong Go

There is one morning in recent memory where I caught my teenage neighbour out on his stoop with a giant, truly impressive bong (not unlike a really large test tube, or small palm tree).

He choked on it when I said “Hi” and I looked away so he could shove it behind him and pretend he didn’t have it. And so I could pretend I never saw it. So we could both pretend that it wasn’t, in actuality, right there, jammed between his body and the front door, jabbing him uncomfortably in the back like it was indignant.

(Wouldn’t you be?)

Then he smiled and said “Hi” back.

Then we talked about the weather for longer than seemed necessary, or possible. He shifted, fumbled, and the bong fell unceremoniously to its side. The noise it made as it did so was one of pure resignation.

Then he really smiled and I really smiled and we forgot about the weather and wished each other a nice day.

Because it’s not always about how the day starts, is it?

And the morning had really only just begun, hadn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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