Category Archives: People

Open Secrets, Vol. 14

  • MIGHTY RHINOPITHECUS
  • Good Bones vs. Bad Teeth
  • So don’t do it.
  • “Authentic” is a slippery slope, my friend.
  • Lucky Numbers: 8, 73, 31, 5, 10578974, 2.
  • The shortest month with the longest days.
  • TAWNY FROGMOUTHS.
  • Never mind minding the odds.
  • Predict tomorrow.
  • Open Concept vs. Closed Mind
  • “Chewsday.”
  • Spiderman —> Spidermen —> Spidermens
  • Tough call. But impossible?
  • SAIGA ANTELOPES.
  • Nuts to that.
  • Cold Tea vs. Hot Take
  • Sketchy, shady people everywhere!
  • Omens: black cats, cracked mirrors, overcast brows, sour beer, mismatched CrocsTM.
  • She gets it.
  • Bad dubs ruin lives.
  • ANY NUDIBRANCH.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Change, Fashion, People, Science, Secrets, THE FUTURE

Working Titles For My Forthcoming (And Totally Imaginary) Autobiography*

  1. Who Are These People, and What Do They Want?
  2. No Is A Sentence.
  3. And I Was There Too.
  4. Porcupine Blues.
  5. Lose A Man, Eat A Pizza.
  6. Hardly A Sham.
  7. I Remember Everything.
  8. Small Wounds.
  9. Various.
  10. Meh.
  11. Just the Crunchy Bits.
  12. BRRAMP!!!
  13. The Loud Part Quiet and the Quiet Part Loud.
  14. How About I Just See You There?
  15. LOL STFU!
  16. OK Guess I’ll Put On A Bra Then.
  17. Sludge and Drudgery.
  18. Paper Beats Rock?
  19. Everything That Isn’t, All the Things That Aren’t.
  20. It Had To Be Somebody.
  21. The Bitter Sweets.
  22. Armloads!
  23. You Missed.
  24. More Money Than Cents.
  25. Not Over It.
  26. Fire, Fire, Everywhere!
  27. FINE, fine, fine, fine.
  28. Pub = Public House, Flo Rida = Florida. And Other Discoveries.
  29. Only You Would Think That, Karen.

 

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* Please follow any of these with “The Cindy Phan Story,” where you feel it best fits.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, People, Plans, Pop Culture, THE FUTURE

The Day The Sun Exploded, Astounding Helmet To An Incredible Degree (All Things Considered)

I don’t even know if his name was really “Helmet” but I remember that’s what people called him because of the way he cut his hair (or maybe it was just the way his hair was cut. He may not have had all that much to do with it. I remember my own parents subjecting me to Very Bad Haircuts from the ages of 2 to 13).

Eighth grade English class. Middle school reading, writing and that catch-all “comprehension” (whatever that means, and however so measured).

Helmet wasn’t a nice guy, and he wasn’t a jerk. He was mostly background, a personality that would pop up now and then to make himself heard. He stood stooped and gangly, a redhead with freckles and shirts short at the hem and long in the sleeves, each partially chewed. Uneven eyes set above a restrained nose and a wide mouth with overlarge, slightly hanging teeth. Jeans, mostly. Brown shoes.

The reading was Lord of the Flies, and Helmet was dismissive.

“Who cares what’ll happen to those boys? Humans will go on forever.” Such was Helmet’s very precise, very exacting logic. What, in the grand scheme of things, was one island population – one that’s anyway not even all that populated and populated with an unruly group of miscellaneous British children besides?

“Until the sun explodes,” someone added. I want to say it was Jean, but it was probably Paul, whose one aim that semester was to seem wise beyond his years.

“What?” Helmet blinked, peeling himself away from his spot along the wall. “What?”

“Super nova,” I said. “It’ll go super nova.”

What?” The idea slowly embedded itself in the soft tissues of Helmet’s head, creating a neural pathway where there had not been one before. “The sun…is going to explode?” No one had ever told him.

“Red giant,” I said. “And then -”

“Everybody who’s not dead yet dies,” Paul, definitely Paul, added hastily, so eager to get ahead of the point he missed it entirely. “Everything dies.”

“No! Really?” Helmet gasped. “Really. For sure?”

“Helmet. The sun will explode one day. It’s going to go out and become a black hole and the heat and light of our universe will be gone,” said was our teacher, Mr. E, who was also mostly background, but who somehow found the energy to pipe up every now and then to move the class along. Such was his dedication, and the limits of his particular skill set as an educator.

Helmet gaped. “No…”

“It won’t happen, not for a long, long time,” said Mr. E.

“How long?” Helmet asked, time suddenly very much a factor now that forever was off the table.

“Billions of years. At least.”

Helmet didn’t answer at first. “Oh.”

“Why don’t you ask Mr. D,” suggested Mr. E. Mr. D was our science teacher.

But Helmet was beyond science at that point. Beyond the stars themselves, the universe – no, life itself now cold, pointless. A sow’s head on a pike, staring with dead eyes into the nothingness beyond.

Or maybe…perhaps not.

“Where’s your summary?” asked Mr. E, tired now, wanting only to collect everyone’s homework and declare the class over (and only five minutes early this time).

“Yeah…I didn’t read the book,” Helmet replied. He shook his head as if to clear it. Tugged at a sleeve, rubbed it thoughtfully against his chin.

Grinned.

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Education, People, School, Science, THE PAST

$50

I constantly ask myself: “Is this at least $10 worth of fun?”

That seems to be the limit. Any more than that and it just doesn’t seem quite worth it.

 

1. Let’s Go To The Motherfu*kin’ Movies

My best friend got $50 from her parents for her birthday, which was a lot of money, especially for a fifth grader. It was the most money I’d ever seen a kid our age have. It was more money than I’d ever had.

“Shouldn’t’ you save some?” I kept asking.

“Why? We’re already here,” she kept saying back. Here was a movie theatre attached to the mall where we’d already spent a good portion of that $50 on junk food and other things I can’t even remember what.

We saw an animated film that was a bit young for us, but which was the only thing playing at the time. It had odd musical numbers that ultimately proved memorable only because they were slightly less worse than the film itself.

Movie tickets back then were under $10.

The next week and we were broke again, and would remain that way for weeks to come. For weeks on end.

It was almost worth it.

Anyway, it was the best we could do. It was everything that we, between us, could have done.

 

2. Wholesale $50

My dad found $50 on the ground next to the wholesaler’s where we went to every two weeks to pick up vegetables for our small grocery.

“Don’t tell mom.” That was the first thing he said. “Let’s go for pho!” was the second.

We ordered pho dac biet, the special. It came with everything. Usually, we’d get fast food or something else, something cheaper, but a wholesale $50 is a wholesale $50.

“Here, you can have what’s left,” said my dad. He gave me the change from the bill. But the difference between what he gave me and the cost of the meal did not add up and I told him so, thinking perhaps we’d been shortchanged by the server.

“I took $5 for lottery tickets,” he said.

Was it a confession? To this day, I’m still not sure.

 

3. Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Stephen and I once found a crisp $50 bill at the foot of a frozen waterfall during a hike in the snow. It shone red against the white of the forest floor; a beacon on a cold winter’s day. A sign, if there ever was one.

$50? Think of the possibilities. An easy $50, free and clear!

But. We were living a new life in a new city and were still in the process of settling in. Extra money therefore meant extra responsibility, or at least the sinking feeling that we should act extra responsibly with it.

We used the $50 to buy groceries. Also, toilet paper. The good kind.

No lie. It was everything.

Double ply, double happiness.

Fun notwithstanding.

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Family, Food, People, THE PAST, Thrift

The Very Best Humanity Has To Offer

I see people doing all sorts of things riding the subway:

  • People clipping their fingernails/toenails, often with clippers (sometimes without).
  • People fighting (usually men, and mostly with a lot of chest-beating, cussing and not all that many punches or kicks or jabs. Some food throwing, though).
  • People (usually but not exclusively couples) making out with each other, touching, groping, exchanging fluids, etc.
  • People eating outlandish food (by this I mean lidless bowls of soup or large, unwieldy sandwiches, and just today I saw a man eating from a neat pile of pistachios balanced on his crotch).
  • People sleeping, busking, crying, laughing (sometimes uproariously).

Also, this:

Three people huddled together though isolated from the rest of the riders, who backed away to give them much-needed space. A young woman with a grim-faced friend each kneeling on the floor on either side of her, an imperfect symmetry reminding me of a renaissance painting in form, composition and mood.

The woman was very sick, or extremely drunk (at a certain point, I think these states of being are rather indistinguishable, if not interchangeable). One of her friends held open a half-full plastic grocery bag under her face, which swung as the train swayed back on forth on the tracks.

The contents of the bag sloshed within, reeking and terrible.

The other friend had cupped his hands and remained in waiting, in case the woman vomited again and missed the grocery bag. His hands did the work of redirecting the flow to its proper place.

“She’ll be alright,” said the friend holding the bag. “We just need to get her home.”

The other friend said not a word, made no move to wipe up the mess in his hands.

The woman vomited again, into the hands, into the bag.

I admit. She did seem to look better after that particular volley, though I cannot say it was the same for the bag (or the hands).

They got off the subway at the next stop, the friend with the bag passing the bag to the friend with the formally cupped hands so that she could help the young woman up without getting too much vomit on her. It was a wordless exchange, and therefore wonderous.

I have no doubt they got her home.

I have no doubt they made sure she was OK before they left.

I have no doubt they remain friends still – or even if not, that it was not this incident that broke them apart.

Regardless, they will always have that perfect moment together, there in the subway.

They will always, at the very least, have that.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Food, Friends, People, Transportation

Jesus Lady

Jesus Lady lived a few houses down from us, on the house near the top of the hill (we lived nearer to the bottom).

She had a mean yellow dog and loud signs taped to the large windows of her front patio, which read:

JESUS SAVES THOSE WHO ARE SAVED.

JESUS LOVES.

JESUS WEEPS FOR YOUR SINS.

Etc., etc.

She was a small woman, but physically strong and persistent, as most people who believe themselves to be righteous often are. She waited in front of the patio (many school kids had to pass her house in their decent down the hill, towards home) and rushed forth to shove pamphlets about Jesus and how he loves and saves and weeps into our hands. She would hold on to coats or sleeves demanding to know if we loved Jesus in turn, and whether we were saved or not.

She did this most of her days, often with her mean old dog in tow. Together, they dominated the sidewalk. I came home from school with many pamphlets, which my parents used to wrap fish guts and egg shells so that they wouldn’t stick to the inside of the garbage can.

Jesus Lady got to know my face. How could she not? We saw each other almost every day. I went to that school for years.

I tried to dissuade her, get her to leave me alone. I really did. Told her I wasn’t interested, that I didn’t believe in god or Jesus, that I was Buddhist (and hence, good insofar as matters of the soul were concerned).

But Jesus Lady was not moved. Would not be made to see anything but her god-driven mission to save. Us. All.

So, one day I did the only thing that seemed natural. I lied right to Jesus Lady’s Jesus face.

“Yes, I am saved now.”

The transformation was instantaneous: she lit up like a fiberglass Jack-O-Lantern. I remember it well, her expansive grin slightly grotesque, her pallor decidedly…orange.

“Oh, praise Jesus! Praise Jesus! Praise Him!”

I expected her to see through the lie (I did not put much effort to selling it, just mechanically said the words, Yes. I. Am. Saved. Now.). That she accepted it so readily taught me that truth and validation are not the same thing, and that a lie, one beautiful lie between two people, can set them each free.

And that nothing is free.

From that day forward, I was able to walk by Jesus Lady (dog or no dog in tow) with only a mild, “There she is! The girl who is saved!” rather than the usual litany of “You’re going to Hell/Devil child!/Buddhism isn’t real!”

Etc., etc.

From that day forward, Jesus Lady watched me walk by, the child she saved for Jesus’ sake, who never had a word otherwise to share with her and whose friends snickered at her back with every, “She is saved! Praise Him,” that flew from her thin lips, empty words that they were.

***

Jesus Lady, I eventually learned, had an adult son. I’m pretty certain his name was Christopher (of course it was), but not in a factual way.

By then I was working most days in our city’s grimy downtown, one cashier among many.

That’s where I saw them, one summer’s day: Jesus Lady and her son (the dog was long, long dead) walking the streets, pamphlets in hand.

Her son. He was dressed as Jesus, complete with a straggly fake beard, flowing robes, a crown of (pipe-cleaner) thorns and a giant wooden cross strapped to his back, which immobilized his arms (his mother, naturally, handled the pamphlets).

It was quite the display; he really seemed to be suffering, under all that grab in that all that heat, bearing that mighty cross day after day in a downtown core that was already half-dead in its dying.

It took me days to see it, but then I did.

The cross. It had a set of roller skate wheels attached to its bottom, allowing this Jesus to master the sidewalks, but also to struggle against the burden of his beliefs quite convincingly, if he so chose. It was really up to him.

I wonder if he ever thanked god for that.

***

Did you know that “dog” spelled backward is “god”?

People say it is also the same thing the other way around, but as a non-believer, I have my doubts.

 

 

 

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Filed under Dogs, Mind and Body, Names, People, Race, Religion, THE PAST

Picture of Health

The dietician called me in a half hour before my doctor’s appointment because we “needed to talk.” I say the dietician instead of my dietitian because every time I go to see the dietician for my health program they send me to a different dietician.

This dietician, was a dietician I had not yet met. She seemed solid, serious but also nervous (it was in her eyes). She sat me down in her office, equipped, I was surprised to see, with wide, generous windows and room enough for a table, functional chairs and a large desk.

(I have been in professor’s offices that were little more than storage closets, little less than repurposed cloakrooms.)

“We’re here today because your husband emailed us on your behalf.” There were, she went on, issues he wanted me to discuss with the dietician, a dietician, which today was this dietician. The whole thing was wildly conspiratorial, especially since I know my partner did not (and would not) go behind my back and rat me out, least of all to the/a/this dietician. Anyone.

Whoever that patient was, she was not me, a patient but not the patient under scrutiny.

I asked the dietician to check my file again.

I was right: I was not the patient she thought I was.

She took a closer look at my file.

“You’re doing great!” Then before she could stop herself: “Why are you even here?”

Why? Indeed!

I was then shuffled over to the doctor’s office (not so big or generous of windows, but it had a better view and a larger desk), and was told by this doctor (there are two) that she was “actually not too unhappy” with my progress.

I was then sent on my way, back out to the ether only to have to come back to see them again in a few weeks.

Them, they, whomever they happen to be that day.

Wonder who I will be?

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Health, People, Relationships

Idiot. Dog.

I warned him, but he didn’t listen.

“Don’t touch the dog. He doesn’t like it.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make him like me!” He smiled, his mouth an exhausted rubber band pulled listlessly to both sides of a disingenuous and frankly uninspiring face.

Not exactly a “no means no” kind of guy.

Lou snapped at him twice before he gave up, retreating with a look of pure resentment shot toward me like I hadn’t just warned him, hadn’t told him so. Exactly so.

Of course, it was the dog’s fault, wasn’t it? And because I am responsible for the dog, Lou’s not liking this particular man was also my fault; the dog is still my dog, after all, and it shouldn’t snap at anyone, least of all someone determined to make him like him.

Imagine making something, someone, anyone like you. Being blameless to such fault. Imagine believing in that, as a person.

Honestly…

According to a book I read about filmmaking, an easy way to signal to the audience that a character is a good person is to have them pet a dog.

The dog, of course, has to let them. Has to want to be approached in the first place, to say nothing of the person approaching it.

Now. Imagine that.

 

 

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Filed under Dogs, People, Politics, Relationships

Stranger Encounters

They happen.

At times and in turns unsolicited, unprovoked, utterly unreal.

 

1. Flower Market, New Delhi

Random Man: “You there! You are at the flower market and you can’t smile?”

 

2. Dog Park, High Park, Toronto

Dogwalker [runs up to me and Lou]: “Look at him! Him? He’s beautiful. Lovely bone structure. You’re lucky to have him. Congratulations!”

 

3. Coffee Time, Kitchener

Woman Steps Through Front Door: “Dang, dang! Y’all got none of them there cheese cussiants, do ya?”

 

4. Beaches, Toronto

City Garbage Worker [jumps off side of moving truck ]: “Hey! [points to truck driver] He’s Filipino!”

 

5. Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

Vendor [referring to Stephen]: “He has such a gentle face!”

 

6. Beaches, Toronto

Random Man [points to Lou]: “Heinz 57! Heinz 57!”

 

7. Downtown Kitchener

Random Man [blocks my path, bows]: “Ni hao, ni hao, ni hao!”

 

8. Calgary, Alberta

Random Man [yelling from driver’s side of parked pick up truck as Stephen and I walk down the street]: “Got him walking on the outside of the sidewalk! Good man you got there!”

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Dogs, People, Places, Plants, Uncategorized

The Art of Conversing…

…with other people. It’s not easy, but it’s not always hard. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. Not always.

Evidently, it’s best to let conversation flow by allowing, at times encouraging, the other person to talk about themselves. Forget topics like politics or work or religion or the weather.

Get them to talk about themselves.

Hardly a feat.

People love to talk about themselves! So many of them just do. Which can be a great advantage because information is power and there are so many fools out there and fools slip up all the time, inadvertently showing you who they really are in a few poorly contrived quips or two (or three or four depending on the fool and their personal level of foolishness).

 

*Bronze Level Foolishness*

“I don’t know exactly. But. I. Am. Sure.”

“I know you said you’re not interested, but I’m going to leave the door open. I’m just going to leave it open. It’s open.”

“I only drink water in the morning so that it will last all day and I won’t need to stop to drink. My body knows. Saves time.”

 

**Sliver Level Foolery**

“Well, when I’m up, I assume everyone is up! Because they should be.”

*[Scoffs wetly to emphasize point]* 

“I will not abide graffiti.”

“See how slim my fingers are? Intelligence!”

  

***Gold Level Fools***

“Gay guys hit on me all the time! I’m what’s known as a ‘bear.’”

I’ve never seen anything racist, so…you know?”

*[Blinks slowly for effect]* 

“Listen, if I had started fathering children at sixteen I’d be a grandfather by now!”

“I should make lesbian porn because I know what lesbians like!”

 

Maya Angelou said it best: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Believe.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Language, People, Relationships