Category Archives: Places

Fish Story

1. Storm Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Over Turned Bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3. The Osprey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Intimidation Game

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

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

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

See: That Philadelphia Starbucks.

See: My elementary school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presence of mind is a place. It counts.

And if only it were just that easy.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Filed under People, Places, Politics, Race, Relationships

Alien Screech, Robotic Bleats

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

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

It’s a hard question, with many answers.

Mostly, I tell them about the cicadas.

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

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

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

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

Bleat-Bleat-Bleat!

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

SCCcCccRRRRreeeEEEEEEeeEeEEEeEeEeEEEEEEee!

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Cold Inn Comfort

The art, such as it is, repeats itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Scenario 1:

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

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

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

No, nothing out of place.

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

It knows.

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

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

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

Scenario 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reluctantly, she considers the box.

Scenario 3:

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

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

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

You blink.

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

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

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

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

“Hello.”

***

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

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

It is never the same, unless the place is.

Wherever and whatever that place happens to be.

 

 

 

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

About Fran

As I said:

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

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

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

How could you deny it?

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

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

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

WHY?

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

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

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

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

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

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

Unless

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

The perfect crime.

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

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

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

UNLESS

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

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

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

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

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

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

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

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Close (But Not Too Close)

The lab tech leaned in close as the clamour in the next stall (cries of laughter, joy, and pure, unadulterated mischief raised above the level of what very well could be deemed acceptable patter in the workplace), as the commotion behind the screen reached what I later realized was its absolute pitch (for a while, it seemed that the chatter and babble were on-going, a constant feature of the place itself).

In a most conspiratorial fashion, the tech, an older lady with a severe expression and total poise, told me that the employees there needed to act more professionally while at work. She went on about other Things, Things that were seen but noticed.

“It’s not right, all this, is it?” She leaned back and nodded, confident in the unspoken knowledge that I understood.

“Can you believe it?” whispered the cashier, ostensibly meaning the person who had been in front of me in the line, who had tried to pay with a store credit card from a different store. “This world, I tell you.” She went on, a tall, statuesque woman with kind eyes. She took her time, telling me about the state of things, what was happening. Her held her tongue as a manager walked pass, then continued. “You know,” she said.

“No, no, sweetheart. Not that one,” came the gentle admonishment from the woman behind me. “Put it back. It’s no good, it’s no good.” Her clothes were careworn, her face open and friendly as she spoke. She told me more, slowly, carefully so that I would not lose a word of what she said as we stood there in the open-air market. The smile dropped from her face as she left, neutralizing her once more, giving her cover as she moved back into the milling crowd.

Every time, though never when I expect it: they lean in close, but not too close, and tell me Things that need saying, that are not to be trifled with, or ignored.

Maybe I just have that face.

Same as theirs, but different.

You know what I’m saying? Don’t you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Interruptions, People, Places

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.

 

 

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[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

Teeth (Part 2)

Have you ever had a friend with whom you could say the worst things – not about other people or even yourself, but about life, about life itself? Terry is that friend for me.

Terry slapped a hand against his cheek, the one that had been so egregiously affronted by the broken tooth. He nearly flung himself from his chair. He swore some more.

A lot, actually: “Fuck, fuck, fuck! I have nothing now! Nothing! My teeth were all I had!”

“Your teeth – ?” I began.

Terry elabourated: “When I’m an old man and I have nothing else and I’m fetid and I’m dying and my kids have abandoned me and I’ve lost all my money and all my hair, I figured at least I’d have my teeth! Now what the fucking hell do I have? Nothing, nothing. Ass.”

I looked at Mae. “You probably won’t even make it to old age, Terry,” I said. “You can die tomorrow and with your teeth busted, it’d come out the same. That’s better than it sounds, isn’t it?”

“I could have been an old man with great teeth! That would have been…More than, better then -” he lost his train of thought. “Ow!”

Stephen sipped his drink.

Vain people are everywhere: places where you look and places you’d never think to look. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault. And maybe they are not so much vain people, but people that are vain about something. Who knows?

But ever know anyone vain about their teeth? Who, for example, brushed them vigorously in the morning and at night, who, for instance, flossed so religiously it was sacrilegious, it was obscene, and who, as a matter of pure fact, guarded them as carefully as a mother hen, as a tigress does their precious offspring?

Terry was very proud of his teeth; Terry was that proud of his teeth. And I’ll admit, up until then, they had been perfect: bright, gleaming, evenly spaced, with a good tooth-to-gum ratio. They reminded me of white picket fences, of flawless, snow-capped peaks, of Freud. The impression they left was one better than that of mere possibility, or potential: it was of defiance itself.

Defiance dentata.

Understand. For Terry, losing one tooth (even a partial loss) was as bad – worse even – than losing them all.

“OW!”

Terry and I once watched Teeth (2007), a movie about a girl whose vagina dentata is first her only defence then her best weapon against her attackers; men close to her and also strangers; men who molest, assault, rape.

“The teeth,” Terry had said about it. “At least she has her teeth.”

And here we were now: a bubble tea restaurant where Terry could not say the same for himself.

Oh well. “Terry,” I said. “You might as well suck it up.”

Terry spat out each word: “Suck. It. Up?” So much for being amiable.

“Fine. Lose all your teeth, why the fuck not? Knock the rest of them out for all that they’re worth now, crumple up into the gutter ass-up and die.” I’m never sure if I’m more or less articulate when I’m mad, or approaching it.

Terry’s mouth twitched. “I can’t afford to go to the dentist. What if this ends up hurting all the time?”

Ah. “What doesn’t?”

I am now reminded of the time when I was in the fourth grade and I begged my mom to take me to the dentist because my teeth felt loose. I’d grab a tooth and wriggle and it honestly felt like my teeth, all of them, were not properly attached to the rest of me. I was terrified of losing them (again, see Freud…or maybe, actually Jung?). More: I was convinced I would lose them merely because it was a possibility. The dentist thought I was insane. My mom, who has a hard time believing allergies (read: other people’s) are real, concurred. Did she ever. A lot, actually. It hurt.

“What doesn’t?”

And Terry, finally, let it go. Insomuch as someone like Terry could “let it go” at a time like that.

In any case, he stopped complaining as much (that is, as much as he could have).

“I guess I really can die tomorrow.”

It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse. Hope for the worst so that anything less than that has to be better. Sometimes that’s even more than you can ask for.

(Most times, you’re not even in a position to ask.)

Terry knows that, and so do I.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

*CASH AND DEBIT ONLY*

(Debit since 1990)

Peters’, unfortunately, only had outdoor seating and it was cold, 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.

 

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

________________________________________________

[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?

 

 

 

 

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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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