Category Archives: THE PAST

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

Re-Up!

Sometimes I wonder if I have the requisite nostalgia in order to enjoy the latest crop of reboots/revivals/reimaginings.

Films, TV shows, books, etc.

You know.

As a sought-after demographic, I theoretically should (all things considered). I should have the nostalgia, the memory, the desire to pursue or re-live or indulge, having spent my formative years in the era(s) that produced the works these new ones are based on – or off of, depending on your POV of such things.

Yours and mine.

Then again, is nostalgia requisite (or in this case, a pre-requisite?).

Most times it’s enough to simply get the references. Cred, then, not nostalgia.

#BirdBirdChallenge

There’s also something to be said about quality. Isn’t there?

No matter.

What’s old that’s new again?

What’s new?

What’s up?

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Movies, Television, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

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

La Chasse Aux Canards

Growing up, my parents, my mother especially, periodically had fits of home improvement that often manifested in schemes to re-decorate the house.

One time, it was all new lamps (i.e. all the lamps in the house, replaced, with new ones).

One time, they let my aunt’s idiotic boyfriend spray-paint the kitchen cabinets so that they looked like stone – the dark grey textured type you’d find inside derelict amusement park rides (jungle themed or the like), or a poorly drawn cartoon.

One time, they decided paint was passé and wallpapered all the bedrooms, including mine.

My parents. They were (and remain) the “Children are meant to be seen and not heard” type. Which meant they picked out the wallpaper and did not consult us or take any protest on our part either seriously or at all. Which was fine with my siblings and I because we’d long resigned ourselves to living in a cramped house with loud tastes where everything, invariably, clashed. An amusement park ride, of sorts, of its very own.

You had to laugh. You just had to.

They wallpaper my parents picked out for me had dogs on it, at least.

“You like dogs. I got you dogs,” my mom said. “There,” she said, a word with as much finality in our house as, “So, there” or “The End.”

I did like dogs (I do). And was actually surprised that my mom had made such a concession in her decorating on my behalf.

Except. Interspersed with the dogs (a trio of spotted hounds) across the beige and brown background of the wallpaper were long cattail reeds, ducks in various stages of flight and men with guns. Muskets, actually.

A duck hunt frozen mid-frame repeated ad nauseam and plastered across the four walls of my bedroom. I would not have known what to do with such a scene – such a substance as that wallpaper – had I known beforehand that it even existed. But then, just like that, it was in my life and would remain so until we moved from the house, many years later.

I often think about my childhood bedroom as a sanctuary (I had a lock on the door and was generally left alone when in there). But then I remember the wallpaper and remind myself that freedom can be as much a luxury as it is a joke. Concessions can be their own intrusions, dogs or no.

There were men on my wall shooting at ducks.

Sometimes I imagined the ducks got away; other times the dogs or men got them. Eventually, I learned not to see men or ducks or dogs and just let the wallpaper be wallpaper.

Come to think of it: I never thanked my parents for the wallpaper. A part of me thinks that that’s only fair, but then we were never talking about fair, not here or anywhere even remotely close to it.

Were we?

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Change, Family, THE PAST

The Jar

There is this very large pickle jar currently sitting on my counter that I should recycle, should get rid of, but won’t.

I want to get rid of it, but also no I don’t.

IMG_9218

It is truly a large, mightily impressive jar. It is, I guess, aspirational.

The possibilities!

I used to put all sorts of things in empty jars:

  • Bugs (grasshoppers, crickets and spiders I’d eventually release, and often back outside too)
  • Buttons (buttons belong in jars!)
  • Nuts (chestnuts and acorns from around the neighbourhood because where else would they go though?)
  • Change (not “spare change,” that’s a luxury)
  • Paper clips and screws (they just seem to go together, don’t they?)
  • TACKS

So many things. So many jars. But no more.

The very large pickle jar currently sitting on my counter…maybe it’s not so aspirational then. But nostalgic.

I’d read somewhere that the root meanings of nostalgia are “longing” and “regret.”

“Homecoming” and “pain.” And an empty jar.

I don’t even like pickles, not all that much.

Not really.

 

 

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Filed under Food, Hobbies, Philosophy, THE PAST

3 Ghost Stories

1. Bannister

The first house my parents ever owned was haunted. They lived there for a year then moved before I was born. Whenever we drove past the house (a two story derelict Victorian), my mom would point it out and say, “That’s our old house. It’s haunted.”

She knows this because every night she lived there she dreamed of an old woman who beckoned her from the bottom of the stairs.

Follow me, the woman commanded. Follow me.

It took her entire strength of will for my mom to resist, clinging with all her might to the bannister even as she felt herself irrevocably pulled towards the woman. It happened every night. Every night, the struggle, the temptation.

Sometimes my mom is convinced that it wasn’t a dream, though she never doubts that the ghost was there, real as anything.

Lesson: Better safe than ever sorry.

Sorry, not sorry.

 

2. Bathroom

My aunt often told us the story about how when she was a little girl, she was terrified of having to go the bathroom at night. There were toilet ghosts, you see, that grabbed at her or which appeared in the mirror or in the corners of the room. They stared and laughed at her and ran the length of the ceiling, disappearing behind the toilet and into the walls.

Most nights, this would happen.

Eventually, she learned to hold it until morning. She advised us to do the same, because who knows?

Lesson: Anyone can learn, given the right incentives.

Also: anything can happen if you decide to go wandering at night, even the ridiculous impossible. Even in your own home. Especially in your own house. Ghosts can do more than just beckon.

 

3. Bedroom

My siblings and I shared a bedroom for the years we lived at my grandparents’ house. A multigenerational household it was too (our family of five, my grandparents, a few aunts and an uncle), though for me that just meant dealing with a lot of overbearing bodies: too many talking, jabbering heads, befouling the air around you; too many pairs of hands and feet, taking up space. There was a lot of tension, living in that house, and no escape from it.

I found out much later that my parents, grandparents, my aunts and uncle believed that 1) our bedroom was, indeed, very haunted (specifically by a being that liked to sit on you and draw your “essence” away from your body, as they each in their own turn had experienced), but that they also thought 2) it was OK for us to sleep in the very haunted bedroom because “the ghost won’t bother the children.”

The fact that we knew not to listen to ghosts, the fact that we stayed in that bedroom all night without compliant was proof of that, wasn’t it?

Lesson: The cost of a reprieve can be invaluable if you don’t have to pay for it yourself.

“The ghost won’t bother the children.” They seemed so sure of this. More, it seems that despite their own beliefs, the adults had no trouble transferring the responsibility of their fear to us, of saddling us with the burden of keeping things in check.

I had believed hauntings to be many things. I had not known until then that they could be also be convenient. Expedient to a point, and to a fault.

 

 

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Filed under Family, Ghosts, Interruptions, THE PAST

The Loving Huntsman

A minor triumph recently: I finally secured a nice copy (an excellent edition) of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes; or The Loving Huntsman.

It’s taken about a year to achieve this. Over a year, actually, plus a month or two.

I was, and remain, committed.

***

Lolly Willowes is a story of struggle, privilege, humiliation and personal retribution (which looks very much like vengeance, though it is not). There is a cool intelligence in the writing, a wry and discerning mind behind the prose. A rarity, even now. Even today. Possibly always.

***

Lolly Willowes (or The Loving Huntsman) also has the best narrative portrait of the Devil I’ve ever come across:

 

To be this – a character truly integral, a perpetual flowing of power and cunning from an undivided will – was enough to constitute the charm and majesty of the Devil. No cloak of terrors was necessary to enlarge that stature, and to suppose him capable of speculation or metaphysic would be like offering to crown hi with a few casual straws. Very probably he was quite stupid. When she had asked him about death he had got up and gone away, which looked as if he did not know much more about it then she did herself: indeed, being immortal, it was unlikely that he would know as much. Instead, his mind brooded immovably over the landscape and over the natures of men, an unforgetting and unchoosing mind. That, of course – and she jumped up in her excitement and began to wave her arms – was why he was the Devil, the enemy of souls. His memory was too long, too retentive; there was no appeasing its witness, no hoodwinking it with the present; and that was why at one stage of civilization people said he was the embodiment of all evil, and then a little later on that he didn’t exist (1999: 220-221).

 

Forgive and forget. Who doesn’t need that, once in a while?

Who doesn’t crave it, the reprieve of disremembering just the right thing, at just the right moment, so that everything (present, future and past) will be alright. Will just turn out that way?

Pick and choose, overlook. Exonerate.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Speaking especially of the Devil himself.

 

________________________________________________

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. (1999). Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsmen. NYRB: New York.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Language, Philosophy, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Words

Won’t Amount to a Hill of These

My habit isn’t to eavesdrop on people, but I do at times catch snatches of conversations that are hard to keep to myself.

 

Yesterday, it was one about beans:

“I can’t eat so many things right now.”

“You want chicken wings? My mom can make chicken – ”

“No.”

“How about tacos?”

“With the kids? Too messy.”

“Oh.”

“You know. I can have chilli. She makes good chilli.”

“Okay! Chilli it is.”

“Problem is, I hate beans in my chilli. Can’t handle them. Especially now.”

“So we’ll ask her not to put them in.”

“Oh, please.”

“What?”

“Remember the time you mentioned you didn’t want beans and she served you a bowl of bean-less chilli and then she gave me mine and it was just full of beans? And I told her, again, that I can’t stomach beans in my chilli and she was like ‘Oh, you don’t like them?’”

“That was just a misunderstanding.”

“No it wasn’t. She hates me. She did it on purpose. Because she hates me.”

“She doesn’t – ”

“She’s crazy and she hates me.”

“Because…she puts beans in your chilli?”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO ABOUT BEANS. You didn’t have any beans in your chilli.”

 

Shortly after, it was time for their appointment. I watched as they walked out of my life, presumably forever.

Memory and conviction are odd catalysts in conversation – where they will take you and where they don’t, and what that will do to the rest of your day.

It wasn’t about the beans.

It wasn’t ever about the beans.

 

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Filed under Communications, Family, Food, Relationships, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

The Swan

“Mr. Fister,[*] Cindy wants a swan!”

“Well,” said Fister, looking directly at my face and smiling the way animals do when issuing some imminent threat, “then she can ask for one.”

The exchange was a surprise; I was hovering in the doorway of the school’s Hospitality class waiting for Dolly so we could walk home.

I was not angling for a swan, one of dozens of confectionary creations made that afternoon by the class for parents’ night.

I did not want a swan. I did not want to ask for a swan. The swans looked chalky to me, dry and especially pathetic. They looked like uneven, bottom-heavy worms that tapered upwards into a vague S-shape with two dark sprinkles for eyes and a gob of icing for a beak.

They looked like hell.

Dolly looked at me expectedly. Mr. Fister tucked his small teeth under the greying hair of his handlebar mustache.

Hell is.

“Mr. Fister, can I have a swan?”

Mr. Fister watched as I reluctantly plucked a swan at random; one from among the demented flock before me. That was probably the worst part: that despite everything, I had also brought this on myself.

I took one bite: I was right. It was chalky, dry. It tasted like stale, hollowed-out bread. And something else, far more distasteful…

The incident remains largely forgotten in my daily life. But sometimes, when I encounter ugly birds or badly-executed desserts or unseemly, overbearing men, or when Dolly again does something that particularly annoys, I remember that foul-tasting little swan, the only innocent among the four of us that day.

 

________________________________________________

[*] Was “Fister” even his real name? If it ever mattered, it doesn’t now.

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Education, Family, People, School, THE PAST