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The Blue Pill

Unless The Matrix starts with the scene with Neo evading Agent Smith, ducking behind cubicles and office furniture, desperately following Morpheus’ orders, the movie doesn’t feel real to me.

The first time I saw The Matrix I was in a car with a bunch of friends of a friend, at a rundown drive-in parking lot somewhere on the outskirts of Calgary, 1999. We got lost, arrived late. Caught the movie beginning at what reminds in my mind as that pivotal scene.

I have since seen The Matrix two more times (maybe three), and in its entirety.

Neo has an apartment? Look at those people standing there in the hallway! Trinity first speaks to him at some aboveground underground latex night club? Really.


Each time since 1999, Calgary, everything before Neo in the Office is a new movie, a different Matrix from The Matrix as I know it. I am aware that this Matrix is the real Matrix (The Matrix as it has always been, if there is in fact to be a Matrix film), but I can’t convince myself that that is so, memory and sensation in this case overriding fact.

Never mind the red pill.


2009. A transcontinental flight from Canada to Vietnam. Malaysian Airlines in flight movie.

The Watchmen.

It is the case that sometimes (and likely much more often than you think) countries will edit foreign films for domestic consumption. They revise the material, edit for content, blur things out, cut scenes containing, for instance, sex and/or violence (or interpreted as such…and let’s face it, hardly anyone makes cuts when it comes to violence).

Enter Dr. Manhattan.

Have you seen the film? Read the graphic novel? Then you’d know: the good doctor is naked, full frontal, a lot of the time.

Except where I was, fifty thousand feet in the air somewhere between Toronto and Ho Chi Minh City. From the hips down – way down – down past his cobalt thigh and down to his cerulean knees, there was a mass of pixels, pixels, pixels overlapping each other like crude geometric barnacles. They (the proverbial they) blurred it, and took extra just to be sure.

I found out about that extra later when I saw the North American (adult rated) release of the movie.

Imagine my disappointment; picture my surprise, however underwhelmed it was destined to be and inevitably so.


  1. My aunt’s house. A bootleg copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hello again, Keanu.

Whomever got to this movie before me had a grand ‘ol time with the edits they employed. Bootlegging it, apparently, was not enough to satisfy.

All sex, all whiffs of it were cut from the movie’s 128 minute runtime, as was most of its violence (again not all, I saw much blood, a few stabs and, I believe, a beheading, if not the acts that lead up to them or even followed).

The final cut made no sense or rather, it made the kind of sense you’d sense in mediocre dreams and poorly-constructed nightmares. Dialogue cut mid-sentence, absurd time jumps from one scene to another, characters that simply appeared and/or vanished without explanation. Or reason.

The whole movie was 20 minutes long, if that. And it was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of a movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It took me years before I saw the full, unadulterated movie.

And yet. Both versions remain valid, the one being so far removed from the other that they are different things entirely, things quite impossible to compare, one way or the other. No need to vouch or even speak of quality or control here.

Too much has changed. Not enough remains the same.

Hello again, Keanu.

And again, but not really.





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Teeth (Part 1)

We found ourselves across the street from the famed Peters’ Drive-In, just off of 16th Ave, NE, Calgary, Alberta.

Peters’, “The Drive-In You Can’t Drive By.” Peter’s, the with its thick, custom-made shakes and flame-broiled burgers and “Family-Sized” fries that could easily satisfy a small battle-worn army. Peters’, a virtual institution (established 1962, though under new ownership as of 2015) – politicians eat here (on campaign stops), weddings (plural, yes) have been photographed here, birthdays (children’s, even) happen in its adjacent parking lot – Peters’, in short, THE go-to place to go to if you happen to be on that particular side of Calgary at any particular moment.

Or not.


(Debit since 1990)

Peters’, unfortunately, only had outdoor seating and it was a blustery, grey day in the city turned cold, unfriendly evening, and this place, a bubble tea bar with à la carte snacks (fish cakes and yam fries and wings and fried dumplings) thus seemed warmer, more welcoming.

Staying at Peters’ would have meant having to eat in the car, a tiny, overpacked Corolla that would not have comfortably seated four adults let alone a box of Family-Sized fries, a couple of shakes, a burger a piece. Staying at Peters’, institution or no, meant fighting what appeared to be a mostly teenaged crowd (and a scraggly one at that) for position and territory (seating was available, but limited). Staying at Peters’ made us feel exposed.

This is not a story about Peters’.

Yet, I wonder what would have happened if we had stayed there instead of going to the bubble tea place.


It had been a long day in a series of long days during which time our plans to take a road trip through the province had finally been made. In a day or so, we’d be off.

Terry[1] was in a mood. He’d come out West to see if he and his girlfriend, Mae, [2] could make a go of it; try and start a new life, etc. Easier said than done and even then, the dream was difficult to articulate.

Why out West? Opportunity, maybe, but wasn’t that years ago? What was it, anyway, to “start a new life?” Was he so completely over, and done with, his last one? Was Mae? 

When does this one life end and another, the other, begin?

Terry and Mae found temporary housing renting a unit at the nearby college (it was summer, the students were long gone from that place). Just was well, since the plumbing was busted and the electricity was spotty, at best, due to construction. Terry had a couple of leads but nothing confirmed, nothing solid, in terms of work. Mae was having a harder time even finding places to interview for. The city was indifferent to their plight; the people seemed strangely withdrawn (at least compared to their counterparts out East); the moon (Terry swears it) scowled at them from above, looming large, inescapable. It had been weeks.

So, when we visited and then agreed to join them on the road trip, Terry was in a mood. He was animated as he always was, with that look about his eyes that could only be described as “dogged”; he was even amiable (for Terry), but worn around the edges, slumped, a little, at the shoulders. Frayed, picked-over Terry.

Our server set our order – a smattering of snacks and four custom made bubble teas – on the table. I think mine was Strawberry Something. Stephen had something with mango in it. Mae’s was purple (very purple). Terry brightened at the sight of our glorious repast. He reached past Mae and speared a dumpling with a chopstick, popped it into his month, and screamed.

“My tooth! My fucking tooth!”

Terry had chipped his tooth, and badly (or to hear him tell it, the fucking dumpling chipped his tooth and so very badly).

This is a story about Terry’s teeth.






[1] Not real name, though he really could be a “Terry” if he wanted. Alas, “Terry” wants for nothing.

[2] Not real name. No sense veiling “Terry” if I’m going to out “Mae,” is there?






Filed under Change, City Life, Food, Friends, Holiday, Interruptions, People, Places, THE PAST


1a. The Party

A high-rise apartment overlooking a convenience store and a church, painted green. Awful green. The Men hunched over in the living room, watching ultimate fighting. The Women on the balcony. Every so often, they passed each other in the kitchen, where someone had left Electric Ladyland playing in the background. The puppy ran out onto the balcony and peed everywhere, stepping in it, soaking its soft white fur. It ran into the living room, and I took it as a signal. But the party continued anyway.

2a. Cover Me

Calgary. A shitty bar that smelled like musk and stale booze. Sticky floors. Bad food. And a terrible band with a drummer and a singer you could mistake for the same guy. Not twins. The same guy in the same spot twice at once. The one guy, the drummer, had changed his birth name, which was Guy, to something else. They started playing All Along the Watchtower, but stuck in a 7-minute musical interlude about “meeting a woman in a coffee shop (co-co-co-coffeeeeee sh-sh-sh-shoooooop).” They gave everyone a free CD at the end of their set. It was self-titled, I can see it in my mind’s eye, but I can’t remember the name of the band.

1b. Objects in Space

A drunken high school party in the basement of someone’s rich parents’ house. A friend got high and became paranoid about UFOs. She curled up in the corner on the expensive shag carpet and screamed and cried about UFOs, she was so afraid. Finally, I told her that there was no reason to get excited; the air force had satellites in the stratosphere that tracked those sorts of things and if there were UFOs, we’d have likely known about it. She calmed down and after a while, passed out. At another party she stood with her friends on a balcony and I was there too, in a state of vague but real urgency.

2b. Objects in Space II

Past midnight, just outside the downtown, which was never far way from anything in the city. I was staying at the drummer guy’s, not Guy’s, rented house, was told by his girlfriend, my friend, that he was very deep and had a lot of soul. But how could that be? I found myself lying on their sofa staring, rapt, at his bookshelf, was not able in fact to wrench my eyes away from it. It was stacked with only and seemingly every Tom Clancy novel in existence, and a few copies of the same titles too. I consoled myself with the thought that it wasn’t actually my business. Outside the wind began to howl. In time, I fell asleep.

1c. Provisions

She wanted milk and ginger ale for the party. She sent him out to get them because she was busy cleaning the apartment. He stopped at a Goodwill store first, bought a sectional sofa after a quick phone call to borrow $100 from his dad, brought that back instead of the milk and ginger ale. I imagine that it was he who picked the colour of those awful walls, but that it was she who painted them. I cannot, of course, verify any of this.

2c. Enter the Dragon

The band broke up. She married someone else. Outdated computer manuals and a Bruce Lee biography sit on the bookshelf in their home, and I stand in front of it and reprimand myself by the impulse, once again, to judge, to make pronouncements that most likely helped no one, and more likely did not that much in the long run.

3. Said the Joker to the Thief

Did you know? That Bob Dylan wrote and recorded All Along the Watch Tower in 1967, but that it was Jimi Hendrix’s version, recorded six months later, which resonates with most people. Some say that Hendrix’s version has surpassed Dylan’s original. Still others believe that Hendrix’s version is the original. But given the facts that, of course, is impossible.

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May You Live Long and Prosper…


In the summer of 2009 on a road trip through Alberta, Canada, my friend Kris, smug grin in place and a sort of heady satisfaction in the gleam of his eye, promised me we’d be “bolding going” to someplace special.

“OOOhhhh… Are we going to Vulcan??”

“Fuck you.  Get in the car.”

Vulcan, Alberta!

The small prairie town that flirted with greatness and then turned to coincidence to make an honest living.  With just under 2,000 people it has, the town’s far-out website pledges, “worked hard to take advantage of its name by creating a fun and unique Star Trek related identity that makes it stand apart from any other small prairie town. Today, Vulcan offers a fun and unique tourism experience for visitors and Trekkies alike.”[1]

* * * It’s Space Tourism!  Here!  Now! In the “Official Star Trek Capital of Canada,”[2]  VULCAN, A L B E R T A * * *

Yours to discover, in wild rose country.

Speaking Vulcan in Vulcan.

Welcome to Vulcan in Vulcan.

Well, why not?

True, “Vulcan’s famous name came from a CPR[3] surveyor, who had a penchant for Roman Mythology. In 1910 the surveyor named the town Vulcan after the roman God of Fire and Forge because it was to rest on the highest elevation point.”[4]  Yet, even the gods themselves can only do so much.  Not all gods are worthy, after all, and we don’t have to love them.

Onward, then, from The Forge to the Final Frontier!

We arrived late in the afternoon, stopping off at the tourist information centre before carrying on to our final stop, Calgary, just an hour or so away.  Outside the Vulcan Tourism and Trek Station/Galaxy Gift Shop, so called, there are, the town assures us, “Star Trek inspired attractions.”  Specifically: a Star Ship FX6-1995-A,[5] and a humble memorial to the creator, Mr. Gene Roddenberry himself.  The ship sits atop a pedestal, thoughtfully embossed with plaques welcoming visitors in Vulcan, English and Klingon.

In Vulcan, Alberta.

To seek out new life and new civilizations…

Approaching the ship from below, it takes but a slight fold of the imagination to envision it soaring up, up, up into the cosmos and through the very limits of the Alpha Quadrant before swooping back down to Earth to rest again, “proudly overlooking highway 23, halfway between Calgary and Lethbridge near the Centre Street entrance to town.”[6]

Across the street: a gas station.

Inside, another story.

Stepping into the building proper, “designed to look like a landed spaceship”[7] – a feat which, with its white spires pointed to the sky and across the horizon and its prominent chapeau/dome, succeeds, actually, if you take it as a building that is designed to look like a landed spaceship – the blue of the Alberta sky gave way to a nebulous womb of inky blacks and purplish whorls and silvery trims.   Dangling spheres and soft, suggestive light.

And Wall-to-wall murals… 

…and Postcards and mugs, and costumes and props. And the “Vulcan Space Adventure” virtual reality game.[8]   And commemorative plates and posters and shotglasses and camo hats and jewelry and nutcrackers and candy and cards and t-shirts and bobble-heads and coasters and large people wall stickers and collapsible water bottle-set phasers and Tribbles (medium) and ST Fish Car Emblems and Pon Farr Perfume (for Women) and maps and notepads and Five Dollar Coins[9] and coffee beans and Starfleet beer cozies and ornaments and ST business card holders and Vulcan pens and pins and badges and ST Pizza Cutters[10] and busts and toys and, inescapably mixed into all of this yet somehow at the forefront and most of all, Them.

“Life-sized Star Trek character cutouts…waiting to pose with you on the main bridge of our Star Ship.”[11]  Yes.  The Vulcan Tourism and Trek Station/Galaxy Gift Shop has a bridge.  Of course it does.  And there are costumes for those who want to pose along.  That’s what Vulcan promises: a good time, an experience, a sensation.  They are waiting.

Yet, through the distortions and neurosis of memory, that’s not what quite I remember.

Cardboard cutouts of every conceivable ST character, sardined into any available space!  A gaggle of Trois!  A pile up of Captains Kirk, Picard, Janeway!  An Archer!  A matching set of Commander Siskos![12]  A baker’s dozen Klingons!  Data!  Why are you pointing that phaser at me, man?  Dude, be cool.  There a Spock, there’s a Spock, there a Spock, there, there, there!

And also something else.  Undeniable.

I am not an observant Star Trek fan.[13]  I used to be able to name episodes and plot twists and stardates and the variously sexy bearding of one Commander William Thomas Riker,[14] and there is a glut of unwritten Ensign Ro fanfic buried somewhere in shallow recesses of my subconscious, but these days I’m liable to get tripped up in the minutia.

Penda Uhura?  Nyota Uhura?  Penda Nyota Uhura? Nyota Penda Uhura? Beyond Uhrua?

I lapsed.

Kind of a lot.

This kind of works for me, though.

Sometimes, too, instead of rapt attention,[15] Star Trek inspires a kind of manageable ennui as I stray from the lessons of the Prime Directive,[16] and focus instead on the actors tugging haplessly away at their shirt bottoms.

Stop.  I still love Star Trek.  But now I can’t always help seeing the cardboard for the cutouts.  And so as I made my slow circumambulation of Trek Station, an odd sensation of having interrupted someone else’s carefully planned fun.  A kind of embarrassment of not knowing, exactly, what to do with myself as my expectant friends looked on.  A feeling of interloping on the Crew, standing there in silent testament of the town’s devotion, wondering all the while whether all this tongue-and-check embrace of Star Trek is a kind of gesture to those of us who aren’t committed.

It was certainly not the homecoming Kris had hoped for me.

I purchased an “American Gothic Vulcan Mug” and a pair of rubbery stick-on Vulcan ears for my friend, Rosena, who had an impressive (in the way that impressive is a kind of scary, penetrating obsession) with a certain Zachary Quinto at the time.[17]

Leaving, giddy, self-conscious, relieved, I impulsively the young clerk standing behind the counter, all decked out in her replicated uniform, “But, though, do you like Star Trek?”

“When you live here, you kind of have to,” is what she said.[18]

 [1] Quoted from: http://www.vulcantourism.com/?page_id=8.  The website doesn’t denote Star Trek as a title by italicizing it, but for consistency, and wherever I can, I do.

[2] They are serious.  In 2010, the town of Vulcan finalized a licensing agreement with CBS Consumer Products which gave Vulcan the right to create its own line of Star Trek/Vulcan (the town) mechanize available exclusively at Vulcan-area businesses.  The official recognition of Vulcan as the “Official Star Trek Capital of Canada” came with the deal.  A bonus.

[3] Canadian Pacific Railroad.

[4] Quoted from: www.vulcantourism.com/?page_id=173.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it would follow that because Vulcan (the town) rests on the highest elevation point in the vicinity of Vulcan (the county), that Vulcan (the town) would be named after Vulcan (the god), who is said to toil in blacksmith shops beneath volcanoes.

[5] A.K.A. The Starship Enterprise from Star Trek V.  Thank you.

[8] It looked like it cost extra, so I didn’t enquire.

[9] $15.00/Ea

[10] Shaped like the Enterprise.  You can just see it now, can’t you?

[12] By this, I mean pre and post goatee.

[13] The difference between a “Trekker” and a “Trekkie”?  So much drama.

[14] Read: not sexy.  Lt. Thomas Riker was sexier, comparatively.

[15] Back in 1993 I nearly burned down the kitchen while watching the premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, dinner-cooking-on-very-hot-stovetop totally forgotten.

[16] I can’t remember, although I can’t shake the impression that the Prime Directive can’t – in the way that “can’t” really is “shouldn’t” – be used against Star Fleet, if it, indeed, ever “can” be, and that if it ever was, that such an unhappy occurrence most likely came from the misplaced arrogance beaming in from the other side.

[17] Around that time Vulcan (despite not having a movie theater) had unfortunately lost an impressive and ambitious bid to premier the new Star Trek (2009) film.  In appreciation of the town’s valiant efforts, a private screening of the film was held in Calgary for 300, um, Vulcanites (?).  Vulcanoes?  Bruce Greenwood was there.  It was nice.

[18] By a similar trick of Fate, I will find myself in Calgary, Alberta June 8 – 10th, 2012 and these dates coincide precisely with Vulcan’s Spock Days and Galaxyfest, a three-day event which turns the whole town into an open convention centre.  But you still have to register.  It is the 20th Anniversary.  Will I make it?

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