Category Archives: Death

Dead & Deader Till We Get to Deadest

Books are dead.”

I keep coming back to this, not because of any apparent (or is that obvious?) absurdity of the statement itself, but the mean-spirited intent behind it. It is one of the funniest things (intentional or not) that I’ve had another person say to my face in a good long while. It has become my dead horse. A true gift.

But anyway, it is Friday – week’s end! And with that in mind, here is a list of the books I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks and months.

There is no order to the list, no rankings or ratings or reviews. I just like to keep a tally so that I know what I’m reading after having read it. I also know that this list will tell you less about me than it will ultimately reveal.

That’s good for both of us.

That’s what’s best for everyone:

  1. Vi – Kim Thuy
  2. Barracoon – Zora Neale Hurston
  3. Trail of Lightening – Rebecca Roanhorse
  4. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  5. The Red Threads of Fortune – Jy Yang
  6. Marriage of a Thousand Lies – S.J. Sindu
  7. Eloquent Rage – Brittney Cooper
  8. Kilkenny – Louis L’amour
  9. Chicken With Plums – Marjane Satrapi
  10. Mr. Fortune’s Maggot – Sylvia Townsend Warner

These are books that I will say that I recommend – or don’t, depending on what you’re looking for in a book, depending on what your particular whims or needs or desires are.

In any case, if it is indeed true that books are dead, they can’t possibly get any deader, can they? They’re the deadest they’ve ever been!

And how could you argue with that?

 

 

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Filed under Books, Death, Language, Words

Bumper Crop

As it turns out, the one tomato plant I bought on a whim because it cost a dollar (even though it was wilted, mostly dead or dying and seemed to be more brown than green) was the plant of the garden this year, producing, shall we say, a rather bumper crop of produce:

IMG_9072

As for the rest, a confession: despite earlier enthusiasm, I eventually left the garden to fallow…though before it can do that I suppose it needs “to rot.”

It is. Rotting, I mean.

Nothing untoward or gross – just a slow decay indicative, really, of my failure to provide care or manage it.

To care, I mean.

The other tomato plants died in the ungodly heat and for lack of rain, and water (two very different things, as it turns out). Likewise, the jalapeños and other assorted peppers (bell, ghost, habanero) perished. The squash and the mystery plants, though mysteries no more, were ravaged by vermin (raccoons, skunks, squirrels and rabbits, we had them all this year).

It was more than enough to demoralize, to quit. To not to care, not anymore.

I can only blame myself. And the gods.

I realize. I was too ambitious. Next year will be another year, at least, to try.

But that, I also suppose, goes without saying.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Change, Death, Food, Hobbies, Plants, THE FUTURE

Conversations About Dogs With Near Strangers

I had met Shari before, at a seminar, but we did not speak to each other, the class getting much in the way of that.

On our second meeting, waiting in the dim little hallway for the class to begin, we talked about dogs.

Hers is 8 years old, a bulldog/boxer mix with an attitude problem that she’s tried to work with him to, if not remedy (he’s too far gone for that), mitigate. I told her about Lou, our 14 year old dachshund, and even got into the specifics of his many issues and countless idiosyncrasies, and all the things we’ve done to help him along with those.

Strangers can talk to each other about their dogs for days; dogs being a “safe” topic for discussion with people you don’t really know all that well – a way to talk about yourself without having to talk about yourself.

Dogs help us open up.

A confession, then, from Shari: “I know this sounds weird, but I’m already thinking of the day I’ll have to put my dog down. I shouldn’t be, he’s old but not that old. But I can’t seem to help it.”

“I think about that too,” I replied. “It’s not so weird.”

“Well, when I have to, I’ll have to. You know?”

Dogs teach us about responsibly (to think about it, to take it seriously). They help us with our empathy. And they teach us about mortality: the impermanence of things, and what (if anything) we can do about it.

Another confession from Shari: “I’m worried about how my newborn son will get along with my dog. But we’ll just have to figure something out. I am not getting rid of the dog.”

Ah, yes. Of course.

Dogs help us prioritize.

 

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Filed under Animals, Death, Dogs, Mind and Body, People, Philosophy

Shamone (Part 2)

We had veered off the TransCanada highway ages ago, deciding instead to follow the backroads that lined the providence – a network of ragged capillaries that spread out and fed the small places that dotted the landscape.

(There’s more of them than you’d think, these places; places such as these.)

Places that could not rightly be said to compare to the big places elsewhere, but which offered a break from the monotony of the road, nonetheless.

Places whose existence by the wayside remained contingent on their ability to attract the curious, the eager and the weary, and to capture their attention for just long enough, for that crucial moment, or two.

Places whose particular claim to fame included tours of forsaken industry (mines, factories, mills), offerings of historic (or historical) points of interest (a fort, a trading post, the birthplace of some local notable, fictional or otherwise), and (my favourite) roadside attractions toting otherworldly monuments invoking hometown character or charm, standing resolutely in place and steadfastly against time. The quirky, the bizarre, the aberrant, unabashed, on full display, for all the world to see:

WITNESS! Bow Island’s orange-footed, sheriff-hatted, cartoon-faced statue of one “Pinto MacBean,” smile askance, holstered gun at the ready, gloved hand a great, keyhole-shaped oven mitt forever waving to passersby. Erected 1992 to signify “the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area” (so says Pinto’s commemorative plaque).

 SEE! The World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller. Purportedly the largest. I never verified (it’s not the kind of thing you verify). A nominal fee lets you climb the staircase embedded in this T-Rex’s fiberglass flesh so that you can peer out of her open mouth at people standing not all that far below (you can then, like Pinto, wave to them). Erected in 2000, she stands 25 meters tall and can fit up to 12 people in her mouth at a time.

 EXPERIENCE! The (slightly deranged) whimsy of the stuffed and mounted rodents at Torrington’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. The critters are plentiful, and are outfitted in cute little costumes as they engage in various hometown activities, like going to church, frequenting the local pool hall, or street brawling with animal rights activists. Admission also just a nominal fee away (two dollars, but that’s 2009 pricing). Established 1996.

 Witness! See! Experience! Between work, between school, between the responsibilities and expectations of everyday life, between us, we had all the time in the world to explore these places; places such as these where MJ had manifestly refused to materialize.

Now, though.

I found myself quietly singing along here and there as the pavement rolled on under the rusting carriage of Terry’s ancient Corolla, and there was nothing much else to do but stare up, into that enormous Alberta sky, out there, at clouds as big mountain ranges and a blue so intense it made you feel somehow flattered, and somewhat ashamed.

Stephen woke up with a start, then drifted off to sleep again. He kept doing that, never fully waking, not entirely sleeping. It got to be unnerving. “More MJ?” he asked. “Still MJ?” he breathed, then dozed.

Mae pulled back from the window and tilted her head towards the radio.

Terry drove.

No. Nothing much else to do at all but surrender to the vastness ahead and MJ’s omnipresence within, hovering over us, god-like, and with such measured indifference for all his omnipotence that always seemed to me prerequisite to being one amongst the gods.

The songs flowed, one after another as Terry flipped blithely from station to station, managing somehow to prompt no apparent break in the music, failing to rouse a voice from the ether to break the spell and confirm or deny what it was (whatever it was) that was happening.

The whole world has to answer right now, just to tell you once again,

Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man,

Cause we danced on the floor in the round,

Inside a killer thriller tonight,

A crescendo, Annie.

Celebrity, unleashed! MJ in all his glory, in all his incarnations, from Off The Wall (1979), to Bad (1987), to Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995), and on to Invincible (2001).

Thriller (1982).

We should have known.

But since we were drifting anyway, and with no particular destination in mind as the towns blurred together and it became difficult to know for certain which name belonged to which place, which attraction meant what, and to whom, it was, admittedly, kind of nice to have something familiar along for the ride.

We found the Birds of Prey Sanctuary more than we discovered it. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3. Established 1982.

The clerks inside the gift shop were friendly and politely curious. Attentive in the way that clerks are when the arrival of patrons means a long-awaited reprieve from the dusting of pristine shelves and the wiping down of spotless countertops.

“Where you from?” one of them asked.

Terry and Mae and Stephen answered easily. “Ottawa,” they said. “Thunder Bay.” I hesitated, and then answered “Toronto” and then we watched as the clerks’ faces changed accordingly, as if something had fallen into place for them. I suppose they took that as their right. I guess, anyway, that it was at least their prerogative. This is such a big country.

It was by now late afternoon.

Did they not know about MJ?

“Toronto, eh?”

***

We stopped at a place not too far from the sanctuary for dinner. It was famous for its Italian-Canadian fare (that’s what the guy at the gas station said), but it was particularly prized for its gigantic pizza bread: great slabs of hot dough, the rough size and heft of a decorative pillow, leaden with shredded, multicoloured cheese and finished off with a spray of light green parsley not at all unlike the trimmings fired from the backend of a lawnmower.

(The description above, I assure you, does not do justice to the taste).

We settled in, ushered to a booth by an unnamed hostess. Someone looked up.

And there he was again.

Only this time a vision dancing in perfect synchronization with his sister, Janet, in the legendary Scream video, two figures effortlessly swaying, pop-locking and pivoting in zero gravity on a screen affixed to an unassuming corner of the dining room, close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.

“Look!”

The Incomparable Jacksons. The Immaculate MJ. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3.

“Here too!” exclaimed Terry, pointing, eyes no longer heavy-lidded.

Our server, a man with a shining forehead, thick arms and little patience, may have heard the urgency in Terry’s voice. We were, if memory serves, agog. Certainly, I was and Stephen too.

“Don’t you know?” barked the server, snapping us to attention. “You don’t know?” he added more gently when he realized he had it. “He died. Michael Jackson’s dead.” He eventually left us with our food, carefully arranging it before us on the heavy, water-stained table.

“Died?” echoed Mae. “Dead?” she said, tasting the words.

Despite everything, given everything he had been and done and had become, MJ had never done that, never been that before.

It shouldn’t have been possible: Michael Jackson was dead.

Pinto MacBean, however, remained.

Remains.

Annie are you okay? Will you tell us that you’re okay?

It should not have been possible: something of the permanence of life as we knew it had shifted under our feet and left us stumbling for purchase. As sudden as it was, therefore, absurd. It was more than enough.

It was time to go home.

Time to head back and, if possible, redeem ourselves.

“I’ll drive,” Terry said finally, attempting a laugh around a mouthful of bread.

 

END

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Change, Death, Food, Friends, Music, People, Places, Pop Culture, THE PAST, Travel

Shamone (Part 1)

Michael Jackson was dead, though we did not yet know it.

Summer 2009. A road trip through southern Alberta had taken us across the badlands, past the mushroom-capped hoodoos in Drumheller, in rough tandem alongside the undulating trail of the Milk River, and on to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.

Our direction now, vaguely north. Back to the Calgary, toward where this whole thing began, then home again.

It had been a long time since anyone had spoken. After days spent wandering the park, after days, in fact, of traipsing through the various nooks and crannies of the province, we were dirty and tired and severely dehydrated.

I remember Terry’s bloodshot eyes as he drove on, the only one of us who knew how to drive stick and, therefore, the only one of us to do all of the driving (he resents it still). I remember Mae’s feet sticking idly out the open window, her shoes long abandoned somewhere inside the car, and I remember Stephen slouched over in the front passenger seat, snoring gently despite the hour, the rumbling of the Toyota a kind of lullaby in the afternoon haze.

Terry fiddled with the radio as he drove; mentioned something about how it was the only thing keeping him (and, therefore, us) alive at the moment.

And I remember, in strange succession, on radio stations whose frequencies seemed more like obscure mathematical formulations than simple identifiers (101.1 CIXF, 93.3 CJBZ, 90.0 CBRA), came all the classics: Bad (1987), Beat It (1983), Billie Jean (1982).

Thriller (1982).

And (my favourite), Smooth Criminal (1987).

Annie are you okay? So, Annie are you okay? Are you okay Annie?

Then came a few lesser known works, interludes between the real, genuine hits: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin (1983), In the Closet (1992), You Rock My World (2001). Underrated, perhaps, in their day (or maybe just unremarkable).

Yet, they remained undeniable.

“Why is he following us today?” Mae said this, feet still out the window, toes lightly kissed by the sun. She asked this more than once, as the kilometers ticked by:

“Why now?”

“Why here?”

“Why MJ?”

There was an unease in her voice that spoke to our mixed feelings towards Michael Jackson – the one and only King of Pop, the man who revolutionized music and dance and fashion as we knew it – whose status as a cultural icon remained undisputed, yet marred by garish speculation of his (apparent) eccentricities (his health, his features, his monkey) and unproven (and hence all the more lurid) talk of his dark predilections.

A tarnished idol; a fallen star.

(But an idol, a star, nonetheless.)

The fame, the scandal, the infamy: he made for a formidable apparition. That he had become our unsolicited chaperone, just as we found ourselves at a loss at what to do and where to go, made this impression of him (made him?) all the more uncanny.

 

…to be continued.

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Change, Death, People, Places, Pop Culture, THE PAST, Travel

Small Confessions

Mr. X used the school’s PA system to call me from homeroom to the music room. I knew what it was about, but remained remarkably calm as I made my way down the hallways of our sad little school, the smell of damp and mothballs catching in the back of my throat.

[Confession: I had signed out one of the trumpets from the school’s collection over the weekend, and through a series of (then) hellish but ultimately (as in now) comedic events, managed to damage the instrument very badly.]

The music room was not, as I had expected, empty. There was a class in full swing and everyone went silent as I entered the room and found Mr. X standing in front of them, right next to the ruined horn. He’d propped it up in its case on a stool and opened the lid: a mangled metal mummy put on display for all to see.

[Confession: I was fully ready to cop to the damage I’d done. Had mentally prepared for it in the hallway. But something about Mr. X having the class ready in wait, as witness – something about the theatrics of the whole music room set up turned me around on that.]

“One thing you should know about me: I don’t get angry. I get even.” That was what he told every class at the beginning of the year. It was delivered as a joke, but not to be taken as such. Not entirely. Standing there, called out in front of the class (mostly kids I didn’t know, but I few I most definitely did), standing in front of the messed-up trumpet, in front of him, I now knew that for sure. It was hardly a joke.

[Confession: At first, I thought it was an extremely funny thing to say: “I don’t get angry. I get even.” That particular brand of sardonic humour was, like, so in back in the day.]

“Do you know what happened to this trumpet?” he asked, loudly, and without preamble. And of course I did because, not only had I done it (or rather, allowed it to happen), but my name was on the sign-out sheet for exactly one trumpet (though, to my great benefit, it had taken a day or two for that particular trumpet to make it back into class circulation).

The students whispered (“she did it!”). Some laughed.

“No,” I answered. “I don’t know.”

“Because it looks like someone’s beat the hell out of this thing.”

“Wasn’t me.”

The teaching assistant (some young guy whose name must have been something like “Allan”) held up the sign-out binder. “It says you signed out a trumpet.”

“I did.” No lie there.

I remember the silence that engulfed the room as Mr. X, Allan and I stood there (a trumpet is not the trumpet, is not that trumpet, is it?). As the class quieted and settled in to watch.

I learned a lot about silence that day.

[Confession: My bowels had turned to ice. I was so sure they had me and would have probably admitted everything had Mr. X not chosen to speak in the very next moment.]

“OK. You say no. You say you don’t know. Go back to class.” It was clearly an admonishment, a small victory via public humiliation. But I think: his as well as mine.

He remains the only non-white teacher I ever had growing up (this includes elementary, middle and high school). So it also felt like a betrayal.

[Confession: I stopped taking music after that semester, although I signed out the exact same trumpet, (after they’d fixed it), at least twice more before the end of term using, of course, the new sign-out sheet in which date, name, instrument and INSTRUMENT NUMBER were prominently listed.]

Mr. X never mentioned the trumpet to me again. I never paid for the damages or was (officially) labelled the culprit. The other students quickly tired of the intrigue and scandal (such as it was in our pathetic little ‘burg) and moved on to the next thing, whatever that was.

A few years later, when I learned he died, and that he’d been killed in a skiing accident, I remember thinking: No way.

[Confession: But what I said was, “Just like Sonny Bono.”]

Yes. Just like Sonny Bono. I confess, I said that. I confess, I could have done better. I confess, that if in this whole story there is any fault to find or blame to assign, it’s not to be found anywhere I can imagine.

 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

P.S. Fuck you, Allan.

 

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Filed under Death, Education, People, Race, School, THE PAST

Open Secrets, Vol. 11

  • Remember awesome?
  • Many vs. Various.
  • It’s all a numbers game.
  • Why not take a stab (or two) at it?
  • Noble Dogs vs. Average Men.
  • Sure, makes logical sense.
  • Too much rope.
  • Civility vs. Humanity.
  • Do you care to brand it?
  • Try twisting it off.
  • All these sad dudes everywhere.
  • Definitely Mortal vs. Technically Immortal.
  • Pretty’s a lot.
  • But everything?
  • It counts. Until it doesn’t.

 

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Filed under Death, Interruptions, People

Stranger Readings

When and wherever I see a stranger reading (the subway, the park, the doctor’s office), I always try to figure out what is it they’re reading. What, then why.

How being obvious.

(Or is it? There are times the pages are obscured, and I just have to imagine they’re there and also being read. Also, there are so many assumptions in “How,” isn’t there?)

So, why? Why that book? Is it the content? The author? Is this a project, or a pastime (or both)?

Is this good?

More: good in all sense or semblance of that word, “good.”

Tell me stranger: Do you know something I don’t know? Maybe you know something I do.

Also: Maybe I could tell you a thing or two. I have books too.

Then: “Books are dead.” Did you know that?

Finally: Yes, dead. Read for work. Reading is work. Work to get paid, or don’t work at all. Getting paid is everything, or it is nothing. Anyway, no one likes their job, which is the same as work. Don’t be a sucker! A show-off! A conceit!

Never concede.

Books are dead.

***

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take things so far down that particular logic hole; the rabbits there are deranged.

This is nothing that should be done. Stranger readings ought to stay that way.

This is just an exercise.

The premise being ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Communications, Death, Interruptions, Language, People, Routines, Words

To Death

At a certain indefinite point, I became, and remain, wary whenever someone invokes someone else’s name in relation to my memory of that person:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes, or no. Maybe?

“They died.”

This keeps happening: I learned my mother’s cousin died this way. I learned a friend died this way. I learned two former co-workers died this way. And another friend; they died this way.

One way or another, they died this way:

“Do you remember X?”

“They died.”

I learned a stranger’s friend died this way while she was speaking to another friend as we all rode the streetcar together:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes (in this case, yes).

“They died.”

I say wary. Wary, yes, but not offended, or indignant, or upset. Just primed now, for the inevitable.

***

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn that someone’s died, but they seem to be lacking in conviction (if not intentionality):

I have some terrible news. There’s something I need to tell you. This isn’t going to be easy, but…

Maybe not conviction, then, but something closer to certitude, declaration…substantiation. Status. All of these things and not one of them.

They died.

Alternatively:

They’ve passed. They are no longer with us. They’ve been called home.

Again seems lacking; again seems beside the point.

(Are you sure?)

(“Home.” There’s that word again. Home.)

They died.

If there’s a better way to say it, I’ve not heard it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Death, Family, Friends, Language

Dog Days

Louis recently had 14 teeth taken out in a procedure that quickly became a marathon operation, complete with dramatic skips and beats in which he, in his fright and confusion and special doggy frustration, tried to fight his way out; in which his breathing became abnormal (though it stabilized at just the right critical point for the work to continue); in which his teeth, while seemingly normal from the outside (and thus, primed primarily for a cleaning) were actually abhorrently rotten on the inside (hence the transformation of his dental work from standard to complex to troublesome), and in which the resultant financial cost went from the low $$ to the high $$$.

Yet, it was nothing, this being his 4th major procedure (2 back surgeries for herniated discs; 1 for a snapped ligament) in his 14 long years of doggy life. He’s since recovered, as he has 3 times before. He acts as if nothing had happened, though there is less and less of him for anything to happen to as time goes by.

Dog Days

The absurdity of this dog. The absurdity of it all – all of it, our life together.

In a 1972 letter to Jane Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut mediates on the nature of death, having perused the copy of Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld’s memoir, that Jane has sent him:

“I open it at random, and I find a lot about dying meaningfully, and about sacrifice and pain and mysterious destinies…Are you really tuned in to this sort of stuff? Should I be? Well – I’ll try, but it’s not my style. I, for one, am glad I didn’t die in Africa, although that opportunity was mine. I still believe that a dog is going to kill me, and it scares me – and it pisses me off” (2012: 192).

There are fates worse than death, just as there are a million ways to die. Vonnegut’s is the closest that comes to mind as being, if not right, if not justified, if not even true in its most tangible sense, than fair.

Harsh, but fair. More than fair.

This dog is going to kill me.

 

 

________________________________________________

Vonnegut, Kurt. (2011). Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield. Delacorte Press: New York.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, Death, Dogs, Health, Pets, Philosophy, Relationships