Category Archives: Places

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

Treasure, Treasure Everywhere!

It was as though we stepped into a daymare masquerading as an antique market.

I do not, as a matter of course or habit, frequent antique markets. Once or twice a year, at most, and mostly because I have a few precious friends who live for these markets – who know all the vendors and all the wares (and about them) and have committed the antique market circuit (it is seasonal; it passes from county to county like a circus and all of its transient allure) to memory.

It’s fun going to antique markets because I go with my committed friends, and I only go to antique markets when I go with them.

As for the rest…

… Not all of the “antiques” live up to the name, or even care to aspire to it. There’s a lot of junk (“vintage” as it may as well be), or borderline junk (or borderline or absolute treasure, depending on how you’d see it) – props from movies no one’s seen (or longer cares about, if anyone ever did), random doll parts (heads, arms, torsos), chairs made of discarded horns, disused and disembodied clown heads, anatomically outrageous equestrian statuary, pharmacological (not to mention gynaecological) implements (both great and small) – most of it hard to keep in the mind when it’s spread across vendors’ stalls going in all possible directions.

When the senses are bombarded by the immediacy of these myriad…things.

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I am convinced that much of the stuff is haunted, or at least cursed in some nefarious way. No monkey’s paws (not yet) but a few purported “shrunken heads” have popped up here and there. The implication of such a thing is bad enough; the sustained drive to covet it…well, what isn’t for sale these days?

The antiques, such as they are – and there is a fair amount of what may be termed “the good stuff” (vintage jewelry, beautifully hand-crafted furniture, some exquisite taxidermy, dishware of various shapes, sizes and hues, cute and/or elaborate butter stamps, etc.) – repeat themselves as you make your way from vendor to vendor. So many butter stamps. Endless bowls and tureens. Tables and chairs and desks just everywhere.

This particular market, though (Christie Antique and Vintage Show, 26/05/18), and on this particular day, seemed primed for the peculiar and the unsettled.

All of the above-mentioned junk above, with all its attendant weird angles, strange proportions and unreasonable scale. But also brief pockets of lucidity, in which the heads, horns and assorted aberrances receded into everyday folk art, books, china, rugs and lamps.

Daymare (noun): a frightening or oppressive trance or hallucinatory condition experienced while awake.

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Oppressive heat; unrelenting humidity for all that it was a supposed spring day too, though the clouds and gentle wind provided intermittent relief.

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Many “vintage” photographs with dead faces staring out not unpleasantly. A lot of inexplicable nudity (not all of it pleasant). Some tantalizing glimpses of nostalgic charm (in the form of, say, a freezer bag full of He-Man action figures or a neat pile of gently used sets of Operation).

A heady sense of timelessness in which minutes turned into hours turned into minutes turned into that second I looked away and then insides were out and on display.

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Overpriced refreshments, and even then barely enough of them.

On and on as they day wore on, and wore thin.

No relief, and then some.

There’s another CA&VS in the fall (08/09/18) . Rain or shine! Will I be there?

I’m beginning to think I never left…

 

 

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Filed under Dreams, Events, Friends, Interruptions, Places

Kick Ass

The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada (DSC) is located in Guelph, Ontario. It is a not-for-profit charity funded by private donations and currently houses 86 equines (meaning donkeys, mules and hinnies). A mule is the offspring of a (male) donkey and a (female) horse. A hinny is the offspring of a (female) donkey and a (male) horse.

Here is the DSC’s startlingly-detailed and rather intrepid About Us:

Since 1992, The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada has been a refuge for donkeys, mules and hinnies who have been neglected or abused, or who can no longer be cared for by their owners. The Sanctuary rescues the donkey with hooves so long it lives in constant pain and cannot walk. It saves a terrified mule shivering in a pen in a slaughterhouse. It offers a home to a much-loved donkey whose aging owners can no longer provide adequate care. At the Sanctuary, the animals are provided a welcome and often life-saving peaceful haven after years of suffering and neglect.

The DSC does all these things and more. I learned a lot about donkeys, mules and hinnies during my visit there, and got to wander among these great beasts – with names like Cargo and Hershey and Daisy and Bob Ray – for one lovely summer’s afternoon. Some were amendable to knowing me. Others, decidedly not.

Does it matter? As the DSC’s puts it: We feel fortunate to be in proximity to such gentle souls day after day.

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There are worse ways to spend your time.

***

Donkey Facts:

  • Mules and hinnies are the offspring of donkey (and horse) parents, but 99.9% of the time cannot breed amongst themselves to make more mules or hinnies. This does not stop them from trying, and after all, who would? Such efforts may seem futile (a group of mules, after all, is called a “barren”), but by definition not impossible.
  • When presented with a situation, donkeys think, then decide their course of action – which means they choose, and on their own terms, whether they will do something, or not. Some might call that being “stubborn,” but then there will be always people who demean that which they don’t understand or that which refuses to satisfy their wants and needs.
  • Due to the harshness of their natural environment(s) (i.e. arid scrubland) a donkey’s sense of “flight-or-fight” is geared more towards “fight” then “flight,” resources such as food and water being scarce. Donkeys would rather hold their ground and face what’s coming. Not many of us can say the same, though that’s not the donkeys’ fault.

Favourite Donkey Fact:

Q: Do you know how a donkey goes about attacking predators – say, a coyote? (You’d think it was by rearing up and kicking at it with its back legs, yes?)

A: The donkey grabs the thing by its scruff, grabs it as hard is it can with its teeth, and then uses its front legs to pummel the thing to death.

Great beasts, gentle souls, and never to be underestimated.

The Miraculous Mule.

The Wonderous Hinny.

That Incomparable Donkey.

 

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Filed under Animals, Places, Travel

Little Fallen Kingdoms

1. The Flower Man Cometh

Summers in the city mean patio dinners in the evenings; the sultry air, the cool breezes, the relaxed conversations – the city, for once, forgetting to take itself so seriously. A good time to catch up; reconnect with old friends, meet new ones.

Eat & drink. Be merry. Etc.

Then there are those who don’t (or can’t?) get into the swing of things. Those who fail to keep the hard-earned peace. Those who seem determined to spoil it, everything, for everyone.

Know who I mean?

His stories were boring, which would have been fine if not for his demeanour: the way he demanded attention, adoration, even, for this startling mediocrity. The way he was convinced (and tried to convince) that he deserved it. The way he interrupted if not speaking, or spoken to.

You know who I mean.

We all saw the Flower Man from across the empty street, one from a fleet of flower peddlers who roam the city’s summer’s night, flitting from patio to patio, selling puckered roses. Pressuring people to buy them or, lo, forsake love – reject it completely as a concept, never mind a possibility, forever. A hard bargain.

No one really ever wants a flower from the Flower Man.

But it was he who called him to our table, waving empathetically like a drunken sailor come off from the docks: a desperate fool. A fucking cliché.

Only $5 a rose? He bought one for his girlfriend, pulling out the sweaty bill from his front pants pocket which such flourish I wondered if he even noticed (or cared) that the flower was already wilted, already halfway dead.

Probably not.

Rose installed in his girlfriend’s waiting hand, he turned to us expectantly. The Flower Man turned to us, expectantly.

Follow the leader.

The people around us looked away, some cringing, knowing that they would surely be next. The Flower Man can be most persistent, and unforgiving. Who counts as a couple and who does not? The Flower Man decides, apparently. He alone knows love’s bounds. The roses have no say in it whatsoever, poor things.

“Pretty flower for a pretty lady?” The Flower Man asked my partner.

“We’re not together,” I said, gesturing to myself and Stephen.

“We’re not together.” Three small words that did just the trick, banishing the Flower Man from our table.

Now.

Do you believe it magic? Because those words spread like wildfire – engulfing the patio, cleansing the night.

“We’re not together.”

Every table with a purported couple, each having one speak for the other:

“We’re not together.”

No more roses sold that day. Not at our patio, at least. Whatever became of them it at least wasn’t that.

 

2. Punchline Botanical

Flowers are a joke, aren’t they?

You buy a bouquet of flowers. You put them in a vase. You watch them die. They die sl-o-o-owly.

I bought some the other day on a whim (as a joke for Stephen) and we giddily put them in a used pickle egg jar, installed them in the corner of the living room, and forgot about them.

What else is there?

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Except. Now, I catch myself, looking at the flowers and thinking…nothing in particular. I realize this is because I have nothing to add. Nothing whatsoever. They are dying, and doing it slowly, but that seems so far away from the present moment – and they are more than pretty; they are lovely in their resilience, their pomp and glamour – that what does it even matter that that’s the truth?

It’s not a lie, or a denial, the fact of the flowers. Their presence is irrefutable.

What sorcery is this?

 

(2.5 How Does Your Garden Grow?)

(I planted a garden this year, out back behind the house. I figured just a plant or two. I was convinced I would grow bored and abandon them before summer’s end. They’re plants, after all. Easily replaced by more of the same. Or not. Who cares?

And yet. I spend hours at a time out there. In the garden. Tending to the plants (so many plants), fulfilling their needs. Basically, making sure they are OK – and more than that, thriving – and no matter what havoc the sun is wreaking on my skin; no matter how my already tender back hurts. No matter the rain or the shine.

They have a power over me I can’t yet explain, or account for. Something that brings me out there with purpose, if not a real sense of time going.

And it does not matter that they, the plants, do not care one whit about me, and never will.

Don’t they?)

 

3. Flower. Power.

Dr. Ellie Sattler saved the day (T Rex notwithstanding). She did what needed doing, and she did it well.

It does not seem all that obvious at first, does it? Salvation from a paleobotanist (more plants, dead plants and long dead plants at that), especially when there are dinosaurs around, some of them bloodthirsty. A few, perhaps, out for revenge.

But that’s what happens when you underestimate power & presence. When you misjudge, devalue, miscalculate.

“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

Stop. Smell the roses.

(But mind the puckered ones).

 

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Fish Story

1. Storm Waters

The pond was located not too far from my cousin’s house, just behind the park, close (but not too close) to the highway.

“We’re going fishing,” she said, bucket and net in hand. She was a year older than me and, therefore, wiser by ages. I was in charge of the fish food: a full canister of blue and yellow and pink flakes that we had procured from her parents’ vast inventory.

Hers was a family of fish breeders. Her parents, my aunt and uncle, breed and raised fish and showed them competitively, sold the rest. Not a profession, just a hobby. But one they took very, very, ever-so seriously.

The storm pond water was murky and littered with patches of thick-grown, brown flecked green scum that rode the motion of the overflow as the pond lapped at our flip-flops.

“Ready?” She filled the bucket with some of the water, careful not to collect too much of the scum. Then she opened the canister, popping the foil seal just so (releasing its freshness), and held the net at the ready. “Now!”

We tossed handfuls of the fish flakes onto the water’s surface, rich fragrant snowflakes among the assorted waste of the storm waters.

“Wait.”

It didn’t take long. One by one and then in groups and then in droves came the fish. Fish of all shapes and colours – anything, really, that you could imagine from your local pet store. Murky water turned a riot of gold, white, red, black mixed with blue, yellow, pink. Tails swished, fins broke the filmy surface, bodies churned the murk it into a frothy mess from which bulging, unblinking eyes glared at us like spotlights. Open mouths; so many open, toothless mouths.

Poor, abandoned creatures. Tossed away (discarded, dumped, flushed) by people who I imagine had once been enamoured by their charms, by the prettiness of their delightful hues, clever contours and cute underwater antics, which were now all rendered grotesque. Life in the storm waters had caused the fish to change, to grow to monstrous sizes and into unseemly proportions. Into ungainly, ugly masses; living breathing tumours. Absolute freaks among freaks.

“When we have enough, we can go home,” my cousin said matter-of-factly. With practiced strokes she began netting the fish, the weight of them bending the pole into a most unnatural angle.

I never asked her how much was enough. It would not have been the proper question to ask, at that time. It was a lot.

And I never asked what the fish were for, what she intended to do with them.

 

2. Over Turned Bucket

Here, catfish aren’t exactly good eating, and I remember my dad holding a particular distain for the uncouth creatures – all eyes and slick mottled skin and barbs you could not convince him weren’t somehow dangerous. But luck is a fickle thing: we caught so many fish that day, and all of them catfish. Perhaps he felt that he needed to salvage the day somehow, redeem ourselves as best we could. In perhaps the only way we could.

The garage was the only place my dad was allowed to clean and prepare the fish we caught. Mom, ever fearsome, made sure of that, and it’s hard to blame her. The stink of fresh water fish, no matter how freshly caught, no matter how much my dad insisted he’d get it all, had a way of lingering long past due.

The preparing of the fish was always a solemn affair. Dad talked little as he worked, and we either watched him or we didn’t. Talk little, work fast, that’s all that mattered. Be there with him or no, dad would do the work regardless.

I crept into the garage, careful not to make unnecessary noise. Dad was at the worktable, effortlessly sliding a big knife lengthwise through the body of a particularly girthy catfish. Its head was missing, its fins and tail soon to follow.

“Don’t get too close to the knife,” he said, not bothering to take his eyes off the fish. “Move.”

I did as told, accidentally knocking over the metal bucket I missed seeing on my way in. It hit the concrete floor with a soft bang, overturning its burden so that it was undeniable. There was no looking away from them.

The heads. That’s where dad put them. The squirming, gasping, wide-eyed heads. The twitched, they spasmed, they stared right through me as they whispered unheard words with wet fish lips. Curses, for all I know. Wicked incantations, gulping greedily at the air, seeking purchase.

One, two, three…five, seven, eight. All the fish we had caught that day, though even now I could swear to you that there were so many more than that, fish be dammed.

(Later I’d learn that it was an automatic nervous/muscular response, the fact of the heads moving after decapitation).

But tell that to the child who for all I know is still there, counting heads, unable to do much else. Unable to be of much use to anyone.

 

3. The Osprey

Years later. New house, new backyard patio. A birthday BBQ featuring my dad’s famous pork chops, chicken and quail. A most sumptuous repast.

My cousin wasn’t there. We are, for all intents and purposes, estranged.

So I wasn’t thinking of her as I let my head fall back on the cushion of my chair and gazed at the impossibly blue sky.

It had been years since I’ve gone fishing with my dad. But I wasn’t thinking about that either.

I wasn’t expecting to see the bird or much, really, of anything.

Osprey are fishers. People at the dog park near the river sometimes freak out, seeing an osprey hovering above them and, more to the point, their small dogs. There is a part of me that wants to tell them not to worry, to reassure them that everything is, in fact, OK: this particular bird of prey will do no harm to them or, more to the point, their dogs. But then I wonder how much good it will do: people also do so love drama and the dog park, indeed, is a rather sleepy one.

The osprey that came into view above my head as I sat in my chair on my parents’ patio during my dad’s birthday BBQ flew low, struggling to keep hold of its massive catch.

The fish held in its talons was easily bigger than the bird by half. But then, maybe I’m exaggerating, for dramatic effect. This much is true: the poor thing gleamed gold-orange, gold-orange-gold, huge scales protruding off its belly, which was so engorged it seemed likely to explode in the heat of the sun as the fish twitched and spasmed, struggling to free itself.

Of course, we laughed: some ridiculous person in my parents’ ridiculous neighbourhood had lost their ridiculous fish from their ridiculous (that is to say, exquisitely landscaped) backyard pool.

But now I find myself thinking of my cousin and of the storm waters and wondering what, exactly, the osprey had caught, and where, and also what my dad would have done if the bird had dropped the fish in the middle of his BBQ.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Death, Downtime, Family, Friends, Pets, Places

The Intimidation Game

I don’t get put off by people so much as places, partially because so many are built with certain people in mind, for them to congregate, mingle and be alike.

It is a circuitous anxiety, as most are: I know that I am actually not trying to avoid any one place. I know this. But it is also the case that places built with certain people in mind must therefore exclude other people from the forefront of said mind. Must therefore consider them not quite people. Fancy places, exclusive places, everyday places in which life’s simmering tensions and pro forma injustices get played out in the most banal and outlandish ways.

Places – any place – that renders you lesser because of your very presence there. Places where everyone, theoretically, can belong. But not anyone.

See: That Philadelphia Starbucks.

See: My elementary school.

See: Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook (etcetera).

The trick, if there is one when it comes to these places, is to go with someone (preferably someone coded as the kind of person who is sought after in these kinds of places; someone who would be, rather than suspect, welcomed). Further, it is imperative that they go in first. At least, at first. A scout sent in to assess the situation, a decoy and then a port for which you become proxy then agent,* a literal human shield to dive behind to avoid or defy prying eyes and then, if need be, to sacrifice as you make your own backward escape out, away.

The sacrifice, of course, is mostly yours, not quite theirs. It is their privilege, after all.

I am not kidding. I have done this. I have lived it.

The other Thing to do is to avoid these places altogether, the idea being to starve them of your patronage. But when such places already exclude you, or work to do that in the myriad ways at their disposal to do so (by providing cold, cruel service, by inflating the cover, by labelling you “difficult” or “aggressive” at what they deem the slightest provocation), that seems a hollow victory, a rather shallow high ground.

I think maybe it is not so much a problem to be addressed, as undermined. You don’t have to avoid these places, since anyone can count as everyone, but you don’t have to go to them either for any other greater reason than because you want to. I mean not just you, and not just me. Anyone, anybody. Everyone.

Presence of mind is a place. It counts.

And if only it were just that easy.

 

 

 

 

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* Need it be said? You are always agent. For good or bad, yours or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under People, Places, Politics, Race, Relationships

Alien Screech, Robotic Bleats

The way I figure it, you can’t blame a place any more than fault an individual for their mutual incompatibility.

People sometimes ask me why we moved back to Ontario after spending only a year or so out west, in Alberta.

It’s a hard question, with many answers.

Mostly, I tell them about the cicadas.

The alien screech of those delicately-winged insects, eyes set far apart on a squat, almost dumpy body, has a way of bypassing common sense. I only realized later that I never noticed it until I wasn’t there to hear it: that screech, that electric buzz rattling off the treetops, sounding off the frenzy of new life.

It was the white noise of childhood summers, and now provides a semblance of nostalgia for an admittedly scattered adulthood. That wretched, wonderful screech suddenly as gone, as removed as I became and then replaced by the robotic bleating my new city’s ubiquitous magpies.

You hardly ever see a cicada unless its dead, after having spent itself at last in the trees and then having fallen unceremoniously to the ground from the branches way up above. It is quite the journey, emerging from underground, taking flight, mating and dying. It is everything.

I never heard the cicadas in Alberta. They remained an unfulfilled promise of a rather unremarkable summer. My memory of that time is rather blurred and indistinct. I did see magpies, though, and almost every day.

Bleat-Bleat-Bleat!

Some cicadas emerge from the dirt in 13-or-17-year-cycles (and only in 13-or-17-year-cycles), in numbers so immense as to betray the mathematical import of the cycle itself.  These cicadas, obviously, cannot be divided among themselves. They are prime.

SCCcCccRRRRreeeEEEEEEeeEeEEEeEeEeEEEEEEee!

You can’t always go back. But eventually we did move back because we could. That privilege was ours; the opportunity presenting itself just so. Nothing special, the difference between luck and fate remaining as firm as ever.

We drove across the country on rough roads and, inevitably, through a late-season blizzard, a five day journey in which the dog got sick, the Jeep lost all its heat and my succulents died, arriving in Ontario at end of March.

I heard the cicadas that summer. It was an odd sensation: I was struck by a feeling not so much of being, finally, home (because the notion of “home” has always seemed too neat, too trite to be of any good use), but of something’s stubborn having finally been shaken loose. The summer was no longer incidental.

We had gotten away with something, I just knew it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Insects, Places, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Cold Inn Comfort

The art, such as it is, repeats itself.

Three panels on one elongated frame, hung just above the bed; each panel an abstract, non-comitial rendering of something that resembles earth-toned coffee stains overlapping each other on a hard wooden table. A kind of meek, kaleidoscopic effect (or is that affect?).

Ottawa, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Vancouver. Wherever. Whatever.

Every room the same: an unfailing arrangement of bed against wall (close to the small alcove containing the bathroom and the door), TV placed atop a chest of drawers in front of bed, desk with black faux-leather swivel chair beside chest of drawers (leading away from the alcove and door), mini fridge (possibly with an ancient microwave balanced on top), then some dead space of a few unimaginative feet, leading finally to a sliding glass door festooned with elaborate (often broken) lock, ostensibly to keep unwanted elements out.

Imagine someone. Anyone. See yourself. Staying in this room in one city or another, some capital propped up against the landscape, some small town just big enough for the chain motels to test their tepid waters. Put up a location, see what takes! Provide slightly more-than-basic cable. Serve a “free hot breakfast” (available 6:30AM – 9:30AM) that’s already been worked into the price of the room.

Every room the same. With one exception: the large framed photo by the bed. Hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed. Always different, always a photo of the place outside the room, the world surrounding the motel: the Rockies, the Sleeping Giant, the Parliament buildings.

It’s the one thing you, weary traveller, have learned you must count on.

***

Scenario 1:

A man wakes up and discovers that it is still dark outside (too early to get up, much too early to partake in the “free hot breakfast” of sugary bread, machine-dripped coffee and scrambled eggs fresh from whatever half-opened carton of liquid egg-like product that happened to be lying around that morning). He is shivering. He does not remember going to bed; he had not planned to sleep, not after this particular job.

He is suddenly reminded of the blood that still remains under his fingernails, the bruises running the length of this ribcage, marring his face. He tastes vomit – he, actually, reeks of it (and not all or even that much of it is even his). His head throbs, his temples dancing to the beat of an erratic pulse. He tells himself again that he regrets nothing and then just like that the darkness is too much for him.

He turns on the oversized lamp that is (also always) by the left side of the bed. Nothing out of the ordinary appears in the lacklustre light in provides. He breathes.

No, nothing out of place.

Until he looks up and finds the frame hung up on the wall, just by the foot of the bed, empty. A great white nothingness where a picture of the Canadian Rockies should be just manages to glow, a little, blankly, then hotly, in the darkness of the room. It is clear it is calling to him. Beckoning.

It knows.

He realizes he won’t make it to either door if he tries to escape: movement now that he has seen the frame will only serve to pull him in and snare him in its field of vision, something which he knows he must not do.

Terrified, the man realizes that his only recourse is to lie silently in bed and wait for the daylight.

It soon becomes apparent that the light, too, is conspiring against him. The lamp dies a slow mocking death, its flickering like cruel laughter. The darkness – despite what should be by now the encroaching dawn – remains.

Scenario 2:

A woman wakes up from a long nap after spending the better part of the day touring the nation’s capital. Standing on the steps of the Parliament buildings, she remembers telling her friends to expect her in the evening upon which one, a man who everyone knows had a huge crush on her in high school, handed her a polished wooden box. It fit nicely in the palm of her hand, though it weighed down her palm and tired her arm. There were etchings on it she couldn’t quite make out.

“Not now,” he said, when she began to open it. “Later, when it’s time.” He wagged a thick finger across her eyes and then stuffed the offending hand deep into his front pants pocket. Behind him, their other friends tittered loudly like a nest of drunken sparrows.

Now, sitting up in bed, the woman thinks again of the man, and her thoughts are less than fond. Actually, she remembers him being more of a friend of a friend (or someone’s brother, maybe); in any case, he was an annoyance she put up with because it made things easier among their rather exclusive group. She remembers being liked by most everyone (by everyone who counted), and as she does this, she glances idly to the spot on the wall above the foot of the bed.

The picture is of the Parliament Buildings, but it is from the year 2056. The semi-distant future. She only just recognizes the buildings from that very afternoon (there have been quite a few alterations, queer flourishes, and add-ons), and then only after reading the little inscription affixed haphazardly to the frame itself: a bronze plate with scratched-on letters.

It seems like a warning; even the ambient noises of her room now seem strange, a measured humming she can’t quite place. Yes, there is an ominous whooshing in her ears and the air tastes brittle, like tin. She reaches for her cellphone, but cannot find it in her to turn it on. What if – ?

A cursory glance of the room reveals nothing else has changed. A prank, perhaps? Or is she still dreaming? She looks again at the unassailable frame.

Reluctantly, she considers the box.

Scenario 3:

The Sleeping Giant Provincial Park isn’t quite as you remember it. It seems less pristine, more congested now, and the childhood fancy you had of the rock outcroppings being the Giant’s “spine” as you walked along them does not hold the same sense of joy (or was that whimsy?) you had hoped it would. The scale, the immensity of actually being there disrupts, undermines the fantasy for you. But not as much as you imagine it should.

Mostly, you are just tired. You realize it was a mistake to come back (you regret it so much), and you are glad you decided to spend this last night at a motel rather than at your father’s place. In the morning, you will leave them both.

Something about the frame hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed catches your eye. A portrait (of sorts) of the rock formation, the Giant, who indeed appears as if reclined, as if in sleep. He is surrounded, of course, by the mighty waters of Lake Superior, and you find yourself oddly comforted by the thought, the assurance of that critical distance. You walk up to the frame, traces of a smile pulling at your lips. You put your face in real close, almost touching the glass. A challenge (and one, you are certain, easily won).

You blink.

There is a man standing, perched, on the Giant’s chin. The perspective is impossible: he is so far way and yet so very close; his features are clear but his proportions are indistinct. He must be a giant himself to stand on that massive jaw the way he’s standing on that massive jaw, that jaw that nonetheless remains in the distance, bounded by the water, all that water, of the largest, the greatest of all the Great Lakes.

You want to step back – away – from the frame, its incontrovertibility, but know that it is already much too late.

You see his face. You realize that you’ve seen that face before. More than that, his expression, the one staring back at you from the frame, is one of recognition. And anger.

You blink (you can’t help it) and the man vanishes. The hairs on the back of your neck suddenly prick at a presence behind you, looming and immense.

“Hello.”

***

Each scenario, while fantastic, is not wholly ridiculous. Not when you’re sitting in that room, not when you’ve been across the country, as I have, and discovered them all – every room – to be the same, in whatever city, whatever place you happen to be.

Every room the same, except for that one picture, the large framed photo by the bed, hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed.

It is never the same, unless the place is.

Wherever and whatever that place happens to be.

 

 

 

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Filed under Interruptions, People, Places, Routines, THE FUTURE, Travel

About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines