The Sandwich

 
He didn’t so much eat the sandwich as fall into it. An architectural wonder of a sandwich it was, layers of meat and cheese and those expensive sprouts you get at the Whole Foods stacked primly yet precariously one after the other, like magic, like wonderful, luscious stratigraphy.

The sandwich was a sensation.

Held together by great dollops of fancy mustard and glistering with just a hint of artisan olive oil, the kind that comes from an island, somewhere far away.

As he bit down his face slowly vanished, embedding itself in sandwich almost to the bridge of his nose, and with laboured chewing and a mighty exhalation he resurfaced again, like an orca cresting the waves against a magnificent sunrise, the light of the midday sun hitting his face just so.

Our eyes locked.

“Oh!” he said, and I marvelled at his audacity.

Don’t say anything. Don’t you dare ruin this.

“Is that all you’re having?” he said, indicating my own pathetic lunch (nothing at all compared to his), sandwich juices running down the sides of his mouth.

He dabbed at them with the palm of his hand.

He took another bite before I could say anything, his face disappearing again into the sandwich, two great slabs of ham dangling from between thick slices of bread, mercifully blocking my view once more.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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For The Birds

 
A family of robins moved into my yard. Two adults, two fat fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

The fledglings eat constantly, and it is a wonder how many worms the adults manage to find to feed them day after day after day.

I was thrilled at first. These delightful visitors, my guests, evidence of life happening!

And then the lawn furniture. The patio, the spot under the tree where I like to read.

Bombarded. Destroyed with the collective birdshit of two adults, two fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

That fat little bastard, who eats all the worms then perches over my spot, more than seems necessary.

Do you see me, little bird? Can you see me watching you? I know what you are doing. I see you.

Fat Bastard Bird

So it occurs to me that the robins have perhaps worn out their welcome. They have turned theory into practice and ruined it with consequence.

And of course, they haven’t done anything.

They are birds.

That is what I tell myself now, because I can.

Shit happens.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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House Haunting

 
I like to walk around in other people’s houses when they are not there. It thrills me.

I like to open kitchen cabinets and refrigerator doors and I like to peer under beds and parse paint choices and peruse bookshelves.

I like to straighten pictures and nudge knick-knacks just a touch to the left, just a touch to the right.

I walk, I look, and I wonder about the people.

Would they notice the planter askew, where I had moved it with my finger? Would they mind that I used to bathroom? I startled the cat on my way to the bedroom, poor thing. I creaked the floorboards going up and down the hallway.

Tee-hee! Ha, ha, ha!!

I think about how fun it is to haunt people, and then how ultimately pointless.

Tee-hee.

And then we gave notice on our apartment, and for a while I wondered about my own paint choices, the books lining the shelves in my living room, the contents of my refrigerator. My plants, my furniture, the crusty dishes I left in the sink.

And I thought about being haunted.

Do I want to live somewhere where the people before had painted the walls a deep, insistent mauve? Where the kitty litter had been kept, of all places, in the kitchen? Where Anne Rice enjoyed such an undeniable presence?

And which Anne Rice? Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned? Anne Rice, The Pious? The Once and Future Anne Rice?

Does it matter?

There were hand smudges on the walls of my new place. I painted over them but sometimes when I pass along the hallway, I can almost just see them.

And I admit that for now I will avoid looking directly into the dirty mirrors strewn around this place, I will throw away the greasy microwave that was left here, I will sprinkle “Nature’s Miracle Just for Cats Urine Destroyer Intense Urine Stain & Odor Remover” around this godforsaken place like freakin’ holy water.

I think that would be best, don’t you?

Ha, ha, ha.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Office Potluck

 
I think, perhaps, that the person who organized the lunchtime office potluck (and any and all office potlucks) must be a person morbidly and masochistically obsessed with the absolute bare minimum of the human endeavour. The love of cold, over-spiced food must reduce that person to fits of writhing ecstasy.

The sight of self-professed and self-possessed office foodies coming out to strut in the miraculous daylight that streams into the building in thin, wavering streams. That. That must drive that person screamingly, lovingly mad.

Not to mention the tight courteous smiles as bosses and underlings feast together on paper plates and with napkins that Hazel from HR forgot to bring but oh you know what never mind we can just use this roll of toilet paper someone found under the sink in the kitchenette.

The edges are stained a nasty antifreeze blue, but it’s probably fine.
 
 
The confusion around the table is immediate: two currents of hungry workers begin circling the food. One shuffles clockwise; the other shambles counterclockwise.

Hierarchies emerge. Turf is claimed. Elbows come out.

“Hey. Line starts over there,” says Brody, who arrived after me, pointing with an immaculate white hand to the other end of the table, the counterclockwise moving current. His plate is half full of something lumpy and beige, I don’t know what.

And I think:

I want a burrito from across the street. I want leftovers from dinner. I want to be away from that limp three-bean salad staring at me in the face.

And I think:

I work with someone named Brody.

There is a Brody that works here and everyone is cool with that.

Three bean-salad.
 Featured image
 
 
There was no getting out of this: the lack of seats, the picked-over coleslaw. There is no “I” in “team” like there is “meat” which I don’t think will keep well in the stale heat of the boardroom.

People “ooo” and “ahh”. The head of the company has kale between his teeth, the guys from the mapping department huddle by the door, blocking my escape. Someone scream laughs as club soda spills on the floor.

I look mournfully at the fried baked cheese pan someone had brought in from the cold backseat of her car. I imagine her swaddling it in the kitchen rags that now litter the floor under the table.

I imagine its bubbling surface in a 400-degree oven and her face pressed firmly against it in impatient agitation.

No one would think to bring in fried baked cheese!

And I know:

It will sit in my stomach as it now sits on the table.

Like a brick.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Vesuvius Redux

 
I was told the pipes in the basement had been painted crimson so that people would see them and wouldn’t bash their heads on them. Not that that had been a particular problem for me, at my height. But I had seen others do it enough – Chris, for example, forgetting himself and clunking his forehead something wicked, his long curly hair flying all directions as he grabbed his skull in shock and pain – to learn to respect the pipes. Now faded to a dull reddish-brown, they hang low and unnoticed and full of spiders, silverfish and centipedes.

A veritable ecosystem.

Occasionally, the bugs fall down onto the boxes below, their tap-tap-tapping sounding like raindrops. Hundreds of them: boxes and boxes waiting to be processed, waiting in that cold, dank basement.

Occasionally, a smell of rotten eggs and sulfur, of funk and regret and defeat will seep from the pipes, filling the corridors right outside our workspace, invading our nostrils, assaulting the senses. We’ve complained, nobody listened.

It’s an old, old building. What can you do?

Make the best of it. Lemons and lemonade.

Polish that turd.

But it was the pipe below. It was the pipe below, embedded in the concrete floor beneath our feet, which proved truly dangerous. That neglected pipe, that ancient artifact and all that backed up sewage, all that compacted shit and human garbage, striving for release. It was only a matter of time.

Then the hallways began to echo.

The women did it.

I know who supposedly and positively said it. His booming voice, affected, operatic, bouncing off the thin walls that, miraculously, still held the building together. Nothing I can prove. It’s just a rumour.

But the echo reverberated, repeated itself as it moved form floor to floor, from mouth to ear to ear.

The pipe, four-inches wide and running the great length of the floor of the basement, had been clogged, the echo said, absolutely glutted, the echo repeated, with tampons and female sanitary napkins as the landlord himself had apparently and absolutely shrieked back down the hallways and corridors of the building.

Never mind the age of the building, ancient by anyone’s standards, never mind that the building’s sewage system remains connected to still others all over the city block, never mind the 500 feet of bloated toilet paper the plumbers found down there, after the fact, never mind the daily, repeated abuse of the downstairs bathroom by those with booming voices and those searching a reprieve from heavy lunches and fatty office snacks. Never mind.

The women did it.

The adult women, obviously, who need now and again to be told by more rational minds not to flush their tampons and female sanitary napkins down the toilet, down the drain, to refrain from jamming up the pipes with their vile, bloody woman mess. There is a lot of wagging of fingers at this, a lot of nodding and some grunting.

There is to be a meeting, I’m hearing from the walls, sometime next week. Ladies only, to discuss our lady problem.

Ladies. Ladies, ladies, ladies. It will dribble down to us from a stern face, it will wash over us like a red tide of admonishment. There will be no meeting, we’re hearing, for or with the men.

Ladies only.

Obviously then, no wonder. All that shit. No wonder the pipe exploded, no wonder it erupted with such force as to put Vesuvius to shame, lifting the metal drain in the centre of the boiler room clean out of its socket, making it land haphazardly beside the gaping, emptied out maw of the pipe. Something truly to marvel at.

MIGHTY POOSUVIUS! Spurting forth from deep down below, destroying that severe atmospheric tension in its reeking cataclysmic fury! MIGHTY POOSUVIUS! Trembling beneath the surface, bringing with it terrible liberation from all notion and pretence of civilization. All that shit.

A veritable metaphor, an absolute reality.

Oh, though. Did you hear? I should tell you maybe that I didn’t see any tampons in the white and brown and black maelstrom that ravaged the basement that fateful day, when I was down there, after the fact. Just wads and wads of toilet paper and sopping gobs of human feces. That real metaphor caked to the floor, splattered some on those echoing walls.

OK. OK, OK, OK. So that’s not entirely true.

I saw one tampon, still in its applicator, planted there like the spotless knife at a crime scene. A smokeless gun. One among the mounds and mounds of distended, utterly ruined toilet paper. And poo.

There are, of course, rumours of how and why and if that would be there.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Saving Grace

 
I see the church standing there everyday on my walk to work, at a busy intersection in the heart of Mirvish Village, and I think how miraculous.

I’m hardly in churches. My first time, I was in elementary school because, in their gratitude to some helpful and determined neighbours, my parents took me to a church for Sunday school. A show of goodwill, a polite gesture (nothing actually promised).

I remember it was dark and I remember the happy smiling triumphant faces of the neighbours, a husband and a wife, as they lead us into the church.

And I remember it being dark. Dark inside the church as we walked through the heavy wooden doors. Light filtered through stained glass, deep reds and blues I hadn’t ever seen before. There were seats like benches and a sort of fountain full of still water.

I don’t remember thinking much about the water because (I’m told) I stopped and stood transfixed at the figure thrown in contrast by the windows, nailed to a cross nailed to the wall of the church.

Thin emaciated naked save for rags strewn around his delicate waist. His face a mess of agony, blood streaming freely from the thorns wound round and round his head.

His weird muscles. And nails right through the palms of his hands. More blood. I close my eyes now and imagine dirty fingernails.

Actually, (thinking now), all nothing I hadn’t seen before.

But for that save for that beard.

My god, that beard.

I was only five, maybe six. I lived a very sheltered life, school and home and adults with no beards. None of the men in my family had beards, or attempted them. None of my teachers had been men, or had beards.

My god, that beard. Too much too far, already asking so much to begin with.

I cried and screamed (I’m told). I cried and cried and cried (I remember). Inconsolable willful desperate child! The neighours, appalled dismayed embarrassed, told my parents to take home. I was never asked back. My parents never went back. No babysitter. Oh well too bad.

And I think thank heaven for, you know.

Thank god.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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IMPRESSionS

 
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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In Cahoots

 
It’s strange now to see anyone using a pay phone. Stranger still to see anyone using a payphone on the subway platform, but there she was.

The woman in the farmer’s galoshes.

I don’t want to reveal too much; I don’t want to, you know, compromise her identity or anything, the woman in the farmer’s galoshes with the big scar running from the corner of her left eye to the middle of her rather prominent forehead.

She picked up the phone and dialled, punching in the numbers without hardly ever even looking at the keypad.

The phone rang a few times, it must have, before she got an answer. She tapped her thick fingers against the plastic sides of the telephone booth as she waited.

Her nails were immaculate.

“So you’re home after all,” she said, finally. “Meet me at our spot in half an hour.”

A pause, the heavy underground air ringing my ears.

“Oh, sorry. Did I wake you? Alright then. Meet me at our spot in an hour. Can you get to our spot in an hour? Is an hour enough? Alright then. I’ll meet you at our spot in an hour.”

She hung up the phone, placed the receiver back in its cradle with a semi-satisfying click, the woman with immaculate nails in the farmer’s galoshes with the big scar running from the corner of her left eye to the middle of her rather prominent forehead.

And there I was. Standing there, right next to the booth, the action, pretending to read Didon’s Play It As It Lays, and trying to be cool, just be cool, and wondering.

Was it possible that I had just witnessed something clandestine, at 4:00PM on a Sunday?

I mean, should I even be telling you this?

She timed it perfectly. Our train arrived. The doors opened and the woman got onto the subway car ahead of me.

I tried to catch her eye as she turned, and I failed.
 
 
 
 
 
References

Didion, Joan. (2005). Play It As It Lays: A Novel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (revised paperback edition): New York.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Goodbye, Downstairs Neighbours

 
Near the end, they fought constantly; the shouts and rumblings from below almost becoming another rhythm to the creaks and sighs of the old house we shared.

But this one discordant; this one malicious and terrifying.

Every night another screaming match, another shitty day at work, another day the dog was walked.

Doors slamming, the baby crying, the dog barking.

Things going bump in the night.

Jesus, man! Nobody stood by you when you needed them. Only me. I’m the only one you fucking have and now if you’re not going to fucking smarten up, I’m not sure what I’m going to do! Stop being such a little stuck-up bitch!

You’re the bitch! You’re the one who’s not worth a fucking shit you fucking asshole bitch!

You listen to me. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. Don’t make me say it again. Jesus, man. Fuck!

I CAN’T EVEN FUCKING LOOK AT YOU!

THE FUCKING BABY IS CRYING OH GOD THE BABY IS CRYING ARE YOU FUCKING HAPPY NOW?

WHAT’S WRONG? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?

I tried turning up the T.V., or going into the other room. I tried staying out a little later after work and visiting my parents’ place on the weekends.

We bought a sound machine to drown out the noise.

But it was no good making excuses.

So, I just listened.

I listened every night, every time they started fighting.

Just in case.

If things went from bad to worse.

One call.

Dial 9-11.

Get help.

Thinking all the while, when I hear it, I’ll know. When it happens, I will call.
 
~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 
And then, when the landlord said the people downstairs would be out by the end of October, I realized that as much as I wanted them to move out and leave us for good, forever, that as much as I wanted to rest easy, finally, in my own home, what I really wanted was for them never to have moved into the house in the first place.

How naïve.
 
~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 
It’s been two weeks now since the downstairs neighbours moved out and the days before that were some of the worst ever. But no call was placed.

I didn’t call.
 
~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 
At night I listen to the silence of the house and breathe in the stillness all around me. It is in those moments that I think about them, still, and wonder where they have gone and why the left and what brought them to the apartment downstairs in the first place.

And I sometimes wonder, now what will they do?

What will they do without me?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Best of What’s Around and Around

 

Ford, Chow, Tory 2014

 
When a person votes for a candidate other than his or her desired choice, and does so in order to avoid an undesirable outcome (i.e. to prevent an undesirable candidate from winning an election), this is what is known as “strategic voting.”

The act of strategic voting is part circumstance, part belief; as contrived as it is real, and as real as anything. In the surreal nightmare circus that has been the 2014 Toronto Mayoral Election, in which votes cast will likely not be for one candidate, but against another, this seems particularly cogent:

Olivia Chow started as the frontrunner, but has now sunk to third place.

The belief is that Olivia Chow, while a desirable choice for mayor, is actually undesirable because she will not get enough votes to beat Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is in second place.

The belief is that Doug Ford is so undesirable as a choice for mayor that people who would otherwise vote for Olivia Chow will vote for John Tory, just to keep Doug Ford out of office.

John Tory is the current frontrunner.

The belief is that John Tory, when compared to Doug Ford, is the most desirable candidate, although without Doug Ford, John Tory is not as desirable as Olivia Chow.

In any case, it is hard to separate the circumstance from the belief, and reality remains as supple as it ever was:[1]

If people believe that Olivia Chow will lose if they vote for Olivia Chow, they will vote for John Tory.

If people believe that Doug Ford will win if they vote for Olivia Chow, then they will vote for John Tory.

If people believe John Tory will win even if they vote for Olivia Chow, she might have a chance of winning.

In all scenarios, Doug Ford is the lowest common denominator, the least of all possibilities.

But that is more than enough.

 
 
 


[1] For the Anyone But Chow scenario, please switch the names “Olivia Chow” and “Doug Ford” that are not in bold.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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