Category Archives: Travel

Express Purpose

I dreamed a family reunion which took place on a magnificent train from a bygone era. All my relatives were there – dead, alive, some I recognized and some who recognized me. Didn’t seem to matter.

The train was a model built to human scale; its dimensions (if not proportions) toy-like but functional, made to serve. No other way to explain it.

It was night. There were orbs of light inside and out and the terrain was a rolling countryside as seen from the track, set firmly on the rim of a long dormant volcano.

Round and round and round we went, making excellent time getting absolutely nowhere.

I noticed. Everyone on the train looked like me, related to me or no.

“What train is this? What train is this?” I asked.

The conductor approached slowly from askance to finally stand before me in all his accustomed glory. A white man with a mustache, impeccable. Red suit, gold buttons that glimmered and shone.

“This is the Oriental Express,” he said, which enraged me.

“Then I want off this train!” Family be damned.

“The only way off this train,” he replied dryly, “is to jump.”

The only way off the racist train was to jump – to throw yourself off – its interminable tracks.

Dreams may be symbolic, but there’s nothing that says they need be subtle.

I woke up angry, somewhat relieved.

But only somewhat.

 

 

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Filed under Dreams, Family, Race, Travel

Beat It

A year taken month by month, a month taken day by day, and days taken by the hour. Break that down into minutes, seconds…

I’m told (I’ve been told) that’s the secret to getting by. I’ve tried it.

And so:

Yesterday now is tomorrow; September was five minutes; it’s already Christmas. I was never a child; dinosaurs roam the earth!

Beat-by-beat-by-beat.

10 seconds or a year, it doesn’t matter. Does it?

Just got to get through, and on to the next thing.

Whenever that is.

Like it matters.

 

 

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Filed under Change, Philosophy, Time, Travel

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

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

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

The Places You’ve Been (Before & After)

Sharon Temple is located in East Gwillimbury, not too far from King City, Ontario. I went there with Nate and Ally[1] recently on a mutual day off.

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There was a school group before us. They left as we came in and staff were a bit surprised by our adult presence there on a weekday.

(This economy.)

According to their literature, Sharon Temple was “a community formed during the War of 1812, inspired by the Rebellion of 1837, and instrumental in the fight for true democracy in Canada.” Several members, indeed, took part in William Lyon Mackenzie’s 1837 uprising, which led to key political reforms for “responsible government” in what was then Upper Canada. Read more about Sharon Temple here. Suffice it to say, their stairway is an architectural feat, the Temple itself a marvel.

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Admission: $5 Adults. Children (under 16) free.

We hit an antique market in Barrie shortly after visiting Sharon Temple. It was two-and-a-half floors of a very large building just brimming with stuff – all kinds of matter, seemingly all manner of Thing, although it seemed rather generous to call or deem some of it “antique.” Antique markets are strange places: they seem rather like high-end thrift stores, or immaculate refuse heaps. We had been told by our mutual friend that this particular place was great for quality (or at least hard-to-find) books.

The books up for sale were overpriced for my taste, but Nate and Al poured over them and found some hidden treasures pertaining to their specific interests.

These include (in no particular order): Ontario history; archeology in Western, Eastern and Southern Ontario; provincial archives/sketches; big books full of old maps; and descriptions of early slip-decorated pottery in Canada.

This list is by no means extensive. I have very interesting friends.

I found (in no particular order):

 

  1. An array of foam skulls, purportedly from the set of the 12 Monkeys TV show (which I don’t watch).[2]
  2. A stain glass poodle.
  3. Many wood duck decoys of varying craftsmanship, price and (in some cases) degrees of decay.
  4. A “vintage” mushroom lamp that cost several times more than my hydro bill.
  5. An ENTIRE EDWARDIAN SITTING ROOM (removed piece by piece, bit by bit, wood panel by wood panel and by wall by wall from an estate somewhere in England, with the fourth wall removed/left missing like a stage play or sitcom…a steal, really, at only $38,000).
  6. Metal coin banks in the shape of various animals.
  7. A statue of a Bull fighting a Bear (both male) affixed to a pure marble stand.
  8. Circus Butts.
  9. Old, used buckets of KFC – let me clarify: for sale.

 

I rejoined Nate and Ally. I left them once more to their books and wandered a bit before rejoining them again. I rejoined them again after walking back to the Edwardian Sitting Room, standing inside a place that was and was not there, before stopping at the array of foam 12 Monkeys skulls and picking one up as if it were, alas, poor Yorick.

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And lo. And behold: flipping idly through Al’s very large pile of “To Buy” books, I came across an account of the Children of Peace, the people who built the Sharon Temple and their founder, one David Willson. There were pictures, some admittedly at weird angles, of the Temple’s magnificent structure and accounts of Willson as an outspoken, even outlandish leader.

Further reading revealed a former school teacher turned minister, disowned by the Quakers for “some peculiarities of belief or conduct,”[3] (including, apparently, his love of music, including, for example, his own particular brand of mysticism), Willson is described thusly in one account:

“David Willson seems about 65 years of age and is a middle-sized, square-built man, wearing his hair over this face and forehead, and squints considerably…He was dressed in a short brown cloth jacket, white linen trousers, with a straw hat, all perhaps home-made. Originally from the State of New York, he had resided thirty years in this county. The number of his followers is unknown, but all offering themselves in sincerity are accepted, as he dislikes sectarianism, and has no written creed. He seems to act on Quaker principles, assisting the flock in money and advice.”[4]

(Willson strikes me, after everything, as a man not just of his time but of the unforeseen circumstances, rather than the inevitabilities, surrounding it – a compelling figure for all that he was, and remains, a rather uncanny person.)

Still, it was the pictures that I found particularly striking: we had just been there an hour ago. The pictures seemed proof of something; they somehow added another layer to the veracity of the day, conspiring with us, egging us on.

Something like that.

***

In the end, I didn’t buy anything at the antique market, but it’s the thrill of the hunt, yes?

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Because there’s something about it, isn’t there? Reading about a place you’ve been to before, feeling out how one experience compares (enhances? diminishes? challenges? complements?) to the other, afterward. Learning about someone you didn’t know existed a day before, or even that morning, their life leaving some kind of impression on yours.

And then there was the experience of having been in a sitting room that wasn’t, of having encountered a memento from a show I have never watched in, of all places, Barrie, Ontario.

Wasn’t that something?

Maybe I shouldn’t have passed by those foam 12 Monkeys skulls. Maybe I should have more seriously considered the Room.

But since I can’t place the value in either of those Things, since their purpose eludes me, I think it was the right decision not buy anything after all.

That day, at least, it was best.

 

 

________________________________________________

[1] Not real names.

[2] I have seen the movie (years ago) if that counts for anything.

[3] Hughes, James L. (James Laughlin). (1920). Sketches of the Sharon Temple and of its Founder David Willson. York Pioneer and Historical Society: Toronto, 1. Available: https://archive.org/details/sketchesofsharon00hugh_0.

[4] Patrick Shirreff, quoted in Hughes, 11.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Hobbies, People, Places, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Travel

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

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

***

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

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

 

There was really no comparison:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

***

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

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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They Call Him Pinto

 
“Pinto…McBean?”

That’s Pinto MACBEAN.

M-A-C-B-E-A-N.

He flashed across our vision as we drove through the streets of Bow Island, Alberta, lost as anything. A beige and orange dollop blur that beckoned from the horizon.

PINTO, large, bold and black was stamped on the brim of his cowboy hat.

Those eyes, vast yet warm. That crescent moon smile and John Wayne-ish bandana. That lovely, pear-shaped body. His gun (a six-shooter?) hanging rakishly off his hip, his two hands impossible mittens, at once waving hello and resting just above the gun.

PINTO MACBEAN

As if to draw?

As if to give us pause?

Et tu, Pinto?

Ceci n’est pas une pistolet, Pinto.

An information booth, itself non-descript and patient, Sorry We are Closed hanging dead centre of the window yet open for business, stood in Pinto’s wake.

Coffee mugs graced with Pinto’s likeness were on sale on the one shelf set up on the one wall that had much of anything. Stationed behind an enormous counter, the old woman inside offered us bags of free dry edible beans, her head just peaking from above a vast edge Formica.

Different kinds, assorted sizes. As much as we wanted! That was, after all, why Pinto was there; to signify the importance of the dry edible bean industry in Bow Island, Alberta, letting us know exactly, You are Here.

The Bean Capital of the West.

Bow Island, Alberta, which is not an island. Population 2,025, according to the 2011 Federal census.

Bow Island, Alberta, a place, a nearby sign reads, that remains In the Heart of the Golden West. The Last Frontier.

In case you didn’t know.

I took kidney beans and black beans.

Weeks later, when we unpacked the car, we couldn’t find them. Not anywhere! Not a bean.

Kris swears he didn’t take them, but later admitted that they were spectacular in his stew.

We’ve never said another word about it.

Pinto Info?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Interlude!

 
He had a kind face, with laughing eyes and an easy, well-worn smile, the Australian man did; and he talked oh so pleasantly as the boat rowed us down the gentle river towards the pagoda, his voice all silk and perfume.

The water rippled playfully; lapped up the side of the boat with a splish-splash-splish in time, of course, with the dip-dripping of the paddles.

I listened, mostly, while he talked, and almost missed it when he said, “Of course, this could all go pear shaped and we’ll be lost!”

He laughed in small breaths that battered the morning mist, marinating the air around us; that floated off into the landscape.

Pear shaped?

How alluring! That full-bodied, voluptuous body! Bottom so fine and contours so beautifully scrumptious; that taper into that inevitable, delicate nape. The sweet spot that is neither bottom or nape.

How nice it is to have such sexy problems!

Perfume Pagoda 2014
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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