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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sunday Morning (A Waffle Recipe)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Using a large spoon mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the milk and water.  Stir until the mixture has a creamy consistency.  Separate the egg whites.  Add the yolks and the apple sauce to the mixture.  Mix well.  Whisk the egg yolks until they are stiff.  Fold them into the rest of the mixture.
Heat the waffle iron until it sizzles as you coat it with a small amount of butter.  This will prevent the waffle from sticking.  Pour the waffle mix into the waffle iron until it is about 3/4 full.  Cook until golden brown.  This mix should produce 4-5 waffles 8" in diameter.
Eyes shine in a perfect face,
pure thought, pure space.
I am only of the moment,
I do not exist,
Truth you can't deny,
Love you can't resist.
Shadows of imagination,
Reality insists.
New perceptions of the now,
The memory persists.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fortune Hunter

Hey where's my million dollars?
Why won't my fortune ever be found?
I've looked up high and low,
I've looked around and round.
So where's my million dollars?
Why can't it ever be found?
It's not on top of mountains,
or deep beneath the ground.

Don't think the shadow's empty,
that it's just an empty shell.
It is a clever decoy,
To pull us into hell.

Hey where's my million dollars?
I've looked for years and years.
I've sacrificed and given,
up all that I hold dear.
I want my million dollars.
I want my fortune to be found.
To prove my faith's not empty,
As empty as my fears.

Don't think the shadow's empty,
or that it's just a shell.
It is a lovely decoy,
luring us beautifully to hell.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Trick of the Light

     Melvin came to himself fully dressed in a brown snowsuit and knee deep in pristine snow in the empty lot beside the family house-trailer.  He stared placidly at the rectangular home.  White and green metal siding peeked out above eight foot banks ambitiously piled as insulation against the season.  Although the late morning was overcast and gloomy the glorious snow sparkled and dazzled Melvin's eyes.  If he were not so stunned by the sudden appearance of his conscious self the boy would have been startled to discover there were no footprints in the snow leading from the trailer to his position thirty feet away.  He only concluded the trailer was his home because he was looking at it when he opened his eyes.  This event made for only his second memory so far that day.  The first was of a glowing ball of light.
    He chewed the frost as it formed in his itchy hand-knit wool scarf then blew long puffs of steaming breath into the winter and pretended to be a dragon in a red pom-pom toque.  Eventually, inevitably the relentless cold insinuated itself into his thick and clumsy mitts and boots.  One inch of space age foam and rubberized plastic could never stop the primitive elements.  Melvin couldn't tell if the tingling he felt was frostbite or the feeling he always got from being perfectly alone in the winter stillness.  When finger and toe wiggling no longer held back the creeping chill he scooped a handful of clean snow into his mouth and charged like an awkwardly armored knight for the trailer's warmly lit windows.  By the time he reached the door he'd put the entire incident out of his mind.
     He remembered five years later, sitting on the edge of his bed in the midnight depths of winter.  The furnace, an old fuel-oil burning model, chuffed and roared in the hallway breathing comfort and warmth into the small home.  Despite familiar sounds and surroundings Melvin could not help but feel confused and more than a little concerned.  The orange light had returned.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lyndsay Markham

     Lyndsay Markham found himself longing for familiar-looking people doing familiar-looking things, so he could despise them.  All this perpetual newness was unsettlingly pleasant.  He passed a garish gilded mirror in the quaint colonial hotel lobby and was horrified to discover a sunny smile had displaced his well-practiced sneer of perpetual disdain.  That settled the issue.  It was time to end his vacation or forgo an entire lifetime of rehearsed, aloof, unlikableness.  Thinking of the effort invested in forming such a disagreeable personality and the open-ended return trip plane ticket his co-workers and mother had chipped in for him on his birthday he couldn't quite shake the feeling he was missing something.

Cold Bones

Cold Bones, in a frozen stream.
Winter Dreams, and is more alive than we know.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Legends of Little and Big Indian Lake

    A long time ago, before the days of my grandfather’s grandfather, a people settled here.  They were lucky and strong and fierce and wealthy.  This land lays between the Cree in the West, North, and Northeast, and the Ojibway who came from the East and South.  The land was generous and gave food and shelter to the people and instead of making war the Ojibway and Cree traded tools and weapons for meat and skins.  The people were at peace and prospered but all their good fortune came from a powerful sorcerer, the most powerful the people had ever seen.  He took many wives and the best of all the food and as long as the people honoured him he used his magic for them, to call the spirits of the animals and the land to help them, and destroy their enemies.
     Over time the people began to resent and fear this powerful man until one day they stood up to him and said “Our good fortune has nothing to do with you.  We work hard and honor the creator while you take the best of everything.  You do nothing for us.  We will serve you no more.”
     The sorcerer said nothing but the next morning he had left the people.  He fled into the bush with his wives and children.  The people said “Good riddance.”  And got on with their lives.
     But the sorcerer and his family cursed the people. He built a lodge on the back of a giant sleeping turtle and called on the sacred pines that grew there to send an evil wind.  He dressed his family in beaver skins and used his magic to change them into giant beavers.  He swam to the sacred cliffs and painted an evil curse on the rocks.
     That spring the wind blew away all the rain clouds until the trees were tinder dry.  In summer they sent lightning to start a great fire.  The evil wind blew smoke and fire through the people’s village and they ran before the flames.  Many elders and children were killed.  The wind sent winter early, there was no fall, and the people froze without their homes.  The flames had chased away all the game and no traders came. 
     The sorcerer’s family built a giant beaver dam.  In the winter the evil wind brought snow deep enough to bury a tall man standing up and next spring the rains never stopped.  The relentless waters pushed the survivors west.  They were starving and poor.  The Cree saw their former allies were cursed and would not help them.  The Ojibway found the sorcerer’s curse painted on the rocks and visited no more.  The curse was so powerful anyone who spoke of seeing it would die.  It called forth a Wendigo.  The evil wind blew the smell of the people to this horrible creature and it followed them as they ran from the sorcerer’s wrath.
     The people ran night and day, never sleeping, never eating, through swamps and dense bush.  The wind always blew against them and the Wendigo howled at their heels.  They were weaker every day.  Finally they came to another lake.  In desperation the survivors built canoes and set off on the water.  They almost escaped but when the Wendigo reached the shore and saw its prey escaping it roared to the evil wind and called a great storm.  The tornado scattered the people and they were lost and alone among unfamiliar islands and waterways.  The fearsome Wendigo hunted down every last one of the people on that lake and they are no more today.  That is why both the Cree and Ojibway call it Lake of the Wendigo.  Storms come up suddenly, islands can confuse even experienced hunters, and the Wendigo is always hungry.
     The sorcerer’s lodge on the back of the giant turtle was dry and safe from the floods and fires but when his family returned to be changed back into people he could not do it.  He had forgotten he needed human skins to change them back to people and nobody would come close enough for him to take their skin.  So he took the skin of a beaver that wasn’t a relative and changed himself.  He still lives there with his wives, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  The Cree name for the lake made by the beaver dam means The Lake Where Few People Live.  White men translated this to Little Indian Lake.  The Ojibway named the lake beside the cursed rocks Lake of the Powerful Man.  White men call this lake Big Indian Lake.
Anishnabe elders say these waters are still cursed today.

     Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of Little Indian Lake isn't the ancient multi-generational beaver dam that forms it.  It certainly isn't the "loon shit" on the lake-bottom - thick, stinking, voracious mud 10 feet deep and named after the waterfowl that populate the area.  Nor is it the small, circular, ancient pine and granite island centred on the water.  It isn't even that the lake and the island are exactly the same shape.  No, what is remarkable about Little Indian Lake is it drains into Big Indian Lake through a gap blown in the beaver dam by the government.
     Every spring snow-melt and rain water would overwhelm the landscape and threaten rail lines and nearby mining claims.  So one year the provincial government sent a man in a canoe to find the cause of the flooding.  Beavers were suspected.  He found the ancient dam and with government issued explosives blew a wide gap in the line which prevented miners and railway men from coming to detonate the entire structure.  The annual flood drained like a punctured abscess into Big Indian Lake, then further into the watershed and eventually north to Hudson's Bay.  An extra bounty was placed on the beavers and they too quickly disappeared .
     The government man was curious about what lay beyond the dam and returned with his canoe the next spring.  Guiding it through the gap he made in the dam the year before he found himself in a different land.  Behind him lay swamps and bogs full of stink, sucking mud and insects, black spruce and jack pine.  Here beyond the dam the air was suddenly clean.  Noble white and red pine trees stood sentinel on sheer granite and basalt cliffs etched and decorated by time and hardy colourful lichens.  The gloomy grey sky parted and sunlight fell like a benediction to kiss the cool water dripping from his pale birch paddle, and sparkle like gold on the pure clear lake.
   He paddled slowly that first day, hugging the shore as it ran in a straight line gradually north-east, then due south, before turning sharply back to the west.  With no single outlet to the triangular body of water, drainage occurred through a myriad of cracks in the stone that at some points towered 100 feet over his head.  The lowest point he observed was still ten feet above the waterline.  With the sun sinking toward the western horizon he found a stone shelf large enough to land on, hidden behind a cracked basaltic outcropping.  He pulled his canoe out of the water and discovered the shelf led deeper into a fissure formed centuries ago when the rock face spalled away from the ancient, eroded mountain.
     In the fading light he made his camp near the water's edge.  He had no wood for a fire so made do with dry rations and warm blankets.  He slept there while the lake lay in a perfect calm reflecting every star.  As the full moon rose it lit the scene like a silvery noon day sun.  Eerie, haunting loon calls penetrated the government man's sleep and gave him strange twisting dreams.  When the sun finally climbed out of the east the white man was fully awake and breaking camp.
     Before leaving he couldn't resist the temptation to further investigate the giant crack in the stone.  Curiousity turned his feet up the smooth slightly sloping pathway framed by sheer rock walls to his right and left.  Open to the sky above the natural alcove suddenly widened then ended abruptly.  Images were carved and drawn on the rockface in front of him.  Turning in a slow circle he realized complicated designs and signs, animal shapes, human and supernatural figures and surrounded him.  The rising sun's light slowly revealed more and more images until he could see the rock faces were covered in pigment and scratches almost the entire length and height.
   Excited now the government man took a notebook from his pack and began to sketch the sacred drawings.  Long hours passed.  He forgot to eat.  The pages of his notebook filled with the pictures on the hidden cliffs.  He copied everything he could find.
     At the end of the day, in the dying light he saw a final image near where he'd slept the night before.  It was ugly and crudely drawn.  A large triangle with a smaller circle occluding the westernmost corner was surrounded by different figures.  Representations of trees and what looked like beavers with human legs were drawn around the circle.  Behind them were small crouching human figures circled in red.
     He felt a shiver across his shoulders and dismissed it as the rising evening breeze.  Ravens swooped and croaked above his head.  He was distracted by their flight and looked away for a moment, watching them play.  The wind became decidedly stronger.  It carried a smell like the carcass of a bear or skunk long in the sun.
    Something, a movement, or a sound made him turn back to the last drawing.  A new and disturbing figure filled the odd triangle shape.  The government man could have sworn it was not there at first, but now that he saw it, it seemed to move and grow and reach out for him. It was a large and grotesque man covered in long red hair, with red eyes, and a red dripping mouth. The red outline of its form was filled in with blue.  It lay on its back with outstretched arms like a drowning victim but it seemed to shimmer and rise from the rock face.  
   Blaming hunger and poor light for this vision he drank water from his canteen and had a snack of deer jerky before turning to the last blank page in his journal.  As he copied the final rock painting, the insistent breeze became an angry wind and soon water was spraying up against his legs while waves worried and pounded his canoe.
     Three days later an Abitibi survey crew set up camp at the north-east corner of the lake and made a gruesome discovery at the cliff base.  A man's body lay face down in a canoe, dead from an apparent bear attack.  The foreman surmised the man had escaped back to the canoe only to die of his injuries, then drifted away with the current.  Holding their noses against the corpse's pungent sticky smell and brushing away horseflies they found a blood-soaked notebook locked in the man's hands but when they tried to open it the blood had glued the pages together.  The pages tore and cracked and the book was unreadable.
   With much effort and cursing the survey crew packed the body and the canoe back to the nearest rail stop. The local RCMP detachment collected the body, had it identified, and shipped it back east to his widow.  A month later all development south of the rail-line and the new highway running parallel to it ceased.  The area, including Little and Big Indian Lake was to be the newest provincial park, natural in perpetuity.  In fact the only ways in or out are still on foot through bog or swamp, or a single lane of ministry maintained, washout prone, gravel road.


Friday, August 26, 2011

We Was Mountains

We was mountains.
We was teeth of the world.
We was jagged and sharp and cruel.
We was fearsome and smiled across the blue, blue sky.
We was biting clouds.
We was taller than birds.

Now we is elder to sand and pebbles and rocks and boulders. All stones is child to us.
We is broken, rotting, pink, granite gums.
We is scratched and ground and shattered by ice and roots and dynamite; washed and worn away by rain and wind.
We is terrible no more to chew the skies.
We is walked all over and mocked by birds.
We is swamps and bogs and lakes, remade and reshaped by beavers and men.
We is mountains no more.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Robert and Dick

An architect's office.  A man works alone at his desk.  Another man bursts in.

Dick:  "Robert!  Design me a house!"

Robert:  "Hello, Dick.  How are you today."

Dick:  "Fine Robert, just fine...And yourself?"

Robert:  "I am doing quite well as a matter of fact.  I even started working on..."

Dick: Interrupting, "Good, good.  I've got something else for you to do."

Robert:  "A house yes, I got the memo.  Listen Dick, you've hired a number of skilled interns who are drooling for a chance to design anything."

Dick:  "I want you to do it."

Robert:  "Dick, old man, you know very well I don't do houses anymore.  I've moved on to bigger and better."

Dick:  "Oh, is this beneath you?"

Robert:  "Yes, quite frankly."

Dick:  "I'm your boss!"

Robert:  "Partner."

Dick:  "Senior partner Robert and I want you on this project."

Robert:  "Why?"

Dick:  "It's a contest."

Robert:  "Oh really.  A design competition?  For a house?  Dick, seriously.  You brought a number of new interns that us senior partners, some more senior than others, are tripping over because they haven't enough to do."

Dick:  "It is a very important competition.  From the government. for a house, that can generate its own power and surplus, that can be resold.  At a profit, potentially of, well a lot of money.  And the winning firm gets a share."

Robert:  "Dick, I knew you were greedy but I never figured you for an environmental patriot too!"

Dick:  "Robert!  I need you to be in charge of this thing, do you understand?"

Robert:  "Loud and clear sir!"  Salutes, "What about this?"  Holding up his current project.

Dick:  "Give that one to the interns."  Takes a deep breath, "I'll announce this at our meeting today.  And you will be there this time."

Robert:  Saluting again.  "No-one else knows?"

Dick:  "Not even the other firms.  Not yet.  Robert..."  Exits.

Robert:  Mimicking Dick  "Robert..."  Pushes current project aside, pulls out a tennis ball and begins to bounce it off the floor.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Interactional Space and Learnibility

            Say It Out Loud Assignment-Presented February 11th, 2011

            What can I talk about, what can I give you in 5 minutes that is valuable worthwhile and enduring?  What can I say that won’t forget by next week, next day, next class?  Because I know I will.  If the information isn’t presented as an image or in a personally meaningful way apparently that information won’t stick in my mind.  At least that is what I am told.
            So in 5 minutes what is meaningful?  An awareness of space!  Of all the things I can talk about I choose space.  Not space in general, outer space, inner space, space in relation to time, but specific spaces.
            My research project will be on learning environments and I’d like to talk about where this idea came from. I’m 32 and I spent 6 years in retail.  As a result I am an excellent building materials salesperson, an excellent inventory manager, and a very good retail department manager-specifically retail building materials.
            The key to excellence in this field is an understanding of space and the effects it has on the people in it.  The next time you put yourself in a store look around.  You aren’t just in a store.  You are in a shopping environment that is intentionally and specifically designed to operate in such a way so as to maximize the results of precisely two social phenomena, buying and selling.  These phenomena are socially complementary.  One does not occur in the absence of the other.  And there are many other examples of socially complementary phenomena, one of which is teaching and learning.
            Now, the idea that informs the design and construction of all successful shopping environments is this: shoppability.  As it has been described to me, and as I have experienced it, this may be understood to be the job of everyone working towards the common goal of maximized profit.  To define it, to maximize it, a salesperson needs to remove all possible barriers that exist between a customer-any person with money or credit to spend-and the products or services they need or want.  A perfectly shoppable space then is one that is perfectly barrier free to customers, allowing and causing shopping to occur, thus relatively barrier free to customers’ money entering the store’s bank account.
            Barriers can be physical-locked doors, no product, unavailable product, poor store location…
            Social-the store isn’t cool, staff is unfriendly, untrained, or unavailable, there is a religious or legal prohibition against what you sell.
            Psychological-the customer doesn’t like to spend money, no encouragement or enticement to buy, no demand for the products and services that you do sell.
            This is not an exhaustive list and truthfully the boundaries between these barrier categories can be quite permeable but essentially the ideal shopping environment occurs at the intersect of a barrier free physical environment, a barrier free social environment, and a barrier free psychological environment.
            Something else happens in this intersecting space as well; the “space between” the physical, social, and psychological environments we all inhabit.  Interaction.  This interactional space is where we experience reality, in relation to everything and everyone also experiencing reality.
            But let us pull back for a moment.  Interactional space doesn’t just happen.  It can be created with intent to bring about and maximize the results of specific complementary interactional phenomena.  The shoppability of a shopping environment; buying and selling. 
            The ultimate outcome of a shopping environment is maximum profit.  This is brought about by maximizing shoppability.
            So could we not also say the ultimate outcome of a teaching and learning environment is maximum learning brought about through optimized learning conditions characterized by the removal of physical, social, and psychological barriers to learning.  Learnibility.
            In a nutshell what was continually reinforced in my retail career and will inform my next research project is this; we make reality, success is brought about by reducing, removing, and thereby overcoming barriers to success, and we are all empowered, if you need it I give you permission, to do this.

                           Physical Environment--------------------------Social Environment
                                                     \                                                 /
                                                       \         Interactional Space        /
                                                         \                                          /
                                                           \                                      /
                                                           Psychological Environment

The Biefeld-Brown Effect

A single light shines down on a dusty battered soapbox.  A small bespectacled figure with rumpled clothes and tousled brown hair steps up and begins to address the audience.

"Would you be able to describe the Biefold-Brown effect if somebody asked you?  Have ever heard of it?  Not many people know about it, and those that do dismiss it as science fiction, or worse.  They call it a curiousity and a waste of time.  Did you know that archaeologists found an ancient battery in a pharoah's tomb?  Someone figured out how to generate an electric current with metal plates in an acidic medium in a clay jar.  Batteries have existed for thousands of years but they were a curiousity, of no practical value, back then, a dust collector, a secret toy for the most powerful man in the world, a rich man's private distraction...
Biefeld-Brown could be just that today, but I'll tell you in a thousand years Biefeld-Brown will be as common as batteries.  Maybe sooner.
How long do you think people have been generating electricity?  A very long time.  Before Ben Franklin, even before that pharoah's battery.  The Biefeld-Brown effect is just as old, and soon everybody will get to see it."

A shrill female voice interrupts the monologue.  "Jimmy!"

Jimmy:  "What!"

Melissa: "Get upstairs now!  Food is ready!"

Jimmy: "In a minute!"

Melissa: "Now, or I will come down there and beat your ass on every step on the way up!"

Jimmy:  "But"  He is interrupted by the sound of footsteps over his head.  He looks up.  A door bursts open at the top of the stairs behind him.  He jumps off of the box and runs to the stairs shouting, "I'm coming! Dammit!"

A spotlight shines on a dark curtain.  A bespectacled figure with tousled hair enters the light.  He is wearing a coat one side of which looks like a professor's lab coat, the other side looks like a circus ringmaster's.  As Jimmy delivers his monologue he turns so the corresponding side of his jacket faces the audience.

Professor:  "The Biefeld-Brown effect is, in fact, the principle behind levitation!"

Ringmaster:  "Heyya, heyya, heyya!!!  Come one, come all and see the amazing talents of Biefeld Brown!!!  This young man will astound you, he will amaze you, he will make you question the laws of the Universe!!!

Professor:  "It was first described by two researchers, Dr. P.A Biefeld, and Thomas Townsend Brown, who observed capacitors, when highly charged, move, in relation to gravity.  They could make things float and they used simple experiments to demonstrate this."

Ringmaster:  "You won't believe what your eyes are seeing but I personally vouch for the veracity of what you are about to witness...When I pull back this curtain you will receive a full demonstration of this young man's ability...The power to defy gravity... Watch and be amazed."

Professor:  "The researchers used a balance, with a capacitor on one side, and charged the capacitor, and as the capacitor charged the balance moved on the capacitor's the direction of the positive..."

Melissa:  Shrill, almost screaming, calling from upstairs.  "Jimmy!!!"  The light widens and show Jimmy is once again in his basement workshop.

Jimmy:  Impatient.  "What?!!"

Melissa:  "Don't even think of talking to me like that or I will come down there and smash whatever toy you think you're playing with!"

Jimmy stays silent as the upstairs door opens.

Melissa:  Suspicious and taunting.  "Who're you talking to?"

Jimmy:  Cautious.  "No-one."

Melissa:  Warning.  "Jimmy."

Jimmy:  "No-one!  Myself, I was talking to myself."

Melissa:  "You're a little freak Jimmy.  You know that?  Why don't you get a friend?  Or a life?"

Jimmy:  "I have friends, Melissa."

Melissa:  "You have problems you little pissant...Billy's here."

Jimmy:  "Bullshit."

Billy walks-in and pushes past Melissa on the stairs.

Billy:  "Fuck off Melissa."

Melissa doesn't confront Billy.  Instead she stomps through the door and slams it shut.

Billy:  "Your sister there's a real piece of work, you know that champ?  Hey, you still working on that flying thing?  I'd love to see it."

Jimmy:  "Yeah, it's not ready.  I had to sneak a generator in here.  I was going to patch into the house current but...That was problematic.  As it is I had to build a muffled housing for the generator and run an exhaust vent out the window."

Billy:  Surprised.  "No-one's noticed?"

Jimmy:  "They don't care.  I brought the generator in in pieces...reassembled it down here."

Billy:  "Where is it?"

Jimmy:  "See that box?"  He points at the soapbox he was standing on earlier.

Billy:  "Yeah?"

Jimmy:  "That's it. The exhaust ducting's behind it.  It can be broken down and stored when I'm not using it.  It hooks up to the exhaust port and runs up to there.  Those heads carry the current."

Billy:  "Can you start it up?"

Jimmy:  "Just pull that cord, but wait!  Here I'll show you the unit.  The generator is just to charge the condensor."

Billy: "Cool."

Jimmy reaches behind the curtain and pull out a complex pyramid of tinfoil wrapped around a lightweight frame.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Rheinholt, suspended by his thumbs with a sturdy hempen rope, swung in a slow, repeating arc over the pointy ends of heated, sharpened, iron spikes and contemplated his morning so far. Burnt toast, thoughtlessly delivered by the maid caused him to turn quickly to chastise her thus spilling scalding coffee in his own lap. A fire at the workshop meant the loss of a contract for 1000 marionettes. Shortly thereafter he had to cancel all further visits to his favourite mistress and subsequently dismiss the head of his household security for impropriety. He recalled the loud, official-sounding knock on the door that came immediately after he regrettably uttered, "What else could go wrong?"
Of course, he thought to himself, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Walter and Mary

A middle-aged couple prepare for a house party. Mary is ready and bustling about the house ensuring everything is in top form. Walter enters from the bedroom. He is only partly dressed, his pants are undone, he wears one shoe, his shirt is untucked, and he has an untied tie slung around his neck. He holds up a large bundle of ties almost in supplication. They look like a ball of snakes.

Walter: Hon!! (Whining) What colour goes best with this shirt?

Mary: What dear? (Adjusting a vase in the living room).

Walter: I said what tie should I pick?

Mary: (Not looking) It doesn't matter dear, choose any one.

Walter: This certainly does matter. I would not want to clash with the window treatments.

Mary: What dear?

Walter: What tie, what tie!

Mary: (Finally looking at him) I can't understand a word you're saying. If you're looking for neckware you needn't be so formal.

Walter: (Wildly shakes the bundle of ties at her).

Mary: (Sighs) None of them, they're horrible. Take the dark one from the closet.

Walter: (Grumbles and turns away) Stupid woman.

Mary: (Pleasantly) What dear?

Walter: (Turns back and yells). I said you are a...stupid...woman!

Mary: (Chiding him) Stop speaking gibberish you silly man. I'm sure it amuses you but our guests won't find your antics entertaining.

Walter: They can go to hell with my antics and so can you. My antics indeed!

Mary: (Worried, approaches him) Walter you're not making any sense, are you having a stroke?

Walter: (Sarcastic) Yes I think that's it, a blood vessal has burst in my brain and is bleeding inside my skull. I...(doorbell rings and the sound of laughter us heard from outside).

Mary: Oh God, Walter, go finish getting ready and don't babble in front of our guests. It's not funny, it's embarrassing!

Walter stomps back into the bedroom as guests arrive and fill the room. Mary runs around taking coats , getting drinks, and finding seats for everybody. Eventually she has so many coats she can't see over the pile and she tries to open the bedroom door to drop them on her bed. Her hands are too full to turn the doorknob. She does not want to drop her guest jackets on the floor and nobody helps her. She kicks at the door but Walter does not open it.

Mary: (Quietly, trying to whisper at first but quickly getting louder and more shrill) Walter...Walter...Walter...WALTER!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Travel Journal: Visiting India - October 2005

Oct. 4/05
Tomorrow we leave. Tonight is the final Canadian night. CBC on the TV tells us the local Winnipeg news. We argue about packing. I don't buy the proper timer for the household lights. T can't let it go. The shine on this trip is fading. The more I look forward to going the more I realize the person who most condemns my faults is going to be my tour guide...
The weather turned cold yesterday, and it is colder today. CBC news predicts tomorrow will be 30 degrees celsius. The trees are in their autumn bloom and I can feel winter's fingertips in the wind. There should be snow before Halloween. Maybe.
I can't even imagine 20,000,000 people. Destination: New Delhi.

Snow in Winnipeg this morning, blowing and wet. Limited visibility and wind gusts up to 70 km an hour but the planes take off on time. This is Winnipeg after all. We have a reputation.
Malaria prevention medication makes me ill. One pill a day. I'd rather have the malaria.
T is nervous and taking it out on me.
Here I am standing in the international departures gate at Pearson International airport in Toronto. I was supposed to meet up with my best friend but we missed each other. I try not to worry and make a plan to e-mail him from India. G, sorry I missed you. I hope you didn't show up so you didn't have to wait around, but I know you did. I should have brought his phone number.
Weather in Toronto is clear, warm, and bright. Winnipeg will be a blizzard until tomorrow at least. New Delhi is another 18-20 hours away.
A fellow in a wheelchair begs to be let on a flight and is taken away by security. There is no such excitement as we board.
Bollywood in-flight movies, screaming babies, cramped naps, and airplane food. Surprisingly T is in generally good humour. I begin to see her harsh edge in context. She's used to crowds.

It's 8am and Midnight and I'm not sure what day it is. Flight attendants stopped answering calls sometime last night. The plane is full and I'm the only person of European descent flying to India today.
We've flown over the Arctic, over Europe, over the subcontinent...
The plane lands and I smell burnt magnesium and incense.
We disembark. I encounter humidity, crowds, and the most well-armed airport security guards I have ever seen. I can now stop wondering what an AK-47 really looks like.
I'm through customs like a breeze and I see more people in the airport lobby than live in my home town.
T's father meets us. We leave the airport in a driven car of some sort, not a taxi exactly, and we pass more security as we leave. A dusty haze covers everything and dims the city lights until everything is washed in an orange glow.
We drive to T's house. Roadside markets are alive and well. I observe the Laissez-Faire nature of urban planning and traffic laws. There are green and red lights and not much else. Traffic lanes are optional, the horn is a turn signal. I wonder about the laws that structure the economy, the roadside vendor sitting, it seems, in the middle of nowhere, and urban dairy farms. I see more farm equipment than I expected. New Delhi makes me think of a village that has gotten away from itself.
T's childhood home is a single flat in a gated community. It is a well kept house made of concrete and brick just like any other building in the city. Heavy locked iron grates protect windows and doors. T's mother looks well despite the late hour, and cancer recovery.

It is confirmed today is the 7th. 12+ hours were lost on the plane. Air Canada will return them on the flight home.
We wake-up, eat breakfast, and meet the two maidservants.
#1 is plump, older, grey-haired, and very kind. She is a sweeper and she cleans the back stoop for each flat on the back lane.
#2 is very skinny and young-looking. U wears a purple sari and has dark brown skin. I forget she's in the house while she sweeps and mops the four room flat. Both women knew T from infancy and compliment her on her choice of partner (me). There is affection in their relationships but also a very clear class divide.
Water closet means closet, and water is rationed.
I walk around the neighbourhood with T's dad, in a very busy, loud, warm, and dirty city.
In the afternoon we all hit the shops. The drive over reminds me traffic laws/regulations/rules are in fact just suggestions. Most drivers agree to drive on the left side of the road, nobody agrees on where the lanes are. Traffic is an unregulated flow, while water is not.
"South Extension" and "Lajpat Nagar" are malls with every shop open to the street. No department stores. Shops offer brand name clothes at $10.00. Note $1.00 = 30-35 rupees.
Everyone is a hawker. Don't let the beggars overwhelm you. Everybody wants something. Some very attractive women shop here. The store clerks are friendly and always have time for paying customers. I have to haggle for everything I want to buy but even so foreigners pay 3 to 4 times more for goods than locals.
There are so many people, it is impossible to follow just one in the crowd. Individuals are quickly swallowed by the swirling, colourful mass. Capitalism is unrestrained, closer to a natural state. Bureaucratization of anything impinges on it, but I have a personal bias against paperwork.
This city's air is smog, and perfume freshened with the human disregard for regulation of commerce and housing. Yet water and power consumption are closely monitored.
Back home everybody seems to like their gifts.

Anti-malaria meds give me weird dreams. I dream I wake up in my mother's house and her second husband is still alive. Luckily I wake up here.
Then I have a busy day. Haircut - best in my life for under $1.00.
Neighbourhood cows are very friendly.
Roads are twisted veins of traffic clotted with vendors and road side storefronts.
After a brief stop at a market for a wedding sari, we make the long drive to my new Uncle in law's house.
Maternal Uncle=Mama
Maternal Uncle's Wife=Mami
Honorific is preceded by the person's proper or familiar name. Therefore T.....mama and M...mami. They have two teenage daughters, 5' tall, dark hair, eyes darker than T's, but skin and complexion are fair and smooth. The younger girl seems shy, while the older one is quietly confident. Both are intelligent, easy-going, and well-behaved. Uncle's house is the bottom flat of a three-storey dwelling. Above lives T's second Uncle, who is working in Tanzania, and his wife, another Mami, B....mami. She is insightful, very smart, seems to be a troublemaker, and has a fun personality. The empty top flat belongs to a third uncle living with his family in another city. This is a strong hearth culture.
Three languages are being spoken. Two remain locked away from me like music I've heard but can't identify. T translates. With different accents even our Englishes fail to mesh.
The women prepare and serve 4 dishes for lunch and a fifth dish for dinner. I'm given two bowls of ice cream and eat until I nearly burst. Between meals the women argue about T's wedding spread until T cries. I offer comfort and we sleep until 6pm.
After supper a birthday celebration across the street commandeers the neighbourhood square. City streets are no less busy at night.
Malaria meds make my stomach cramp on the ride back to T's flat. I arrive and experience the most massive BM of my life. Personally astounded by the feat, I flush away the Guiness record before it can be properly recorded.
Forgot to note, yesterday I met my first squatting toilet.

Early morning, we take a trip to India Gate, then Lodhi Gardens, and Sirifort. Sirifort is an ancient auditorium. Lodhi gardens has four tombs from the Lodhi dynasty, two square, and two octagonal. Someone (the British) turned the area into a park. Sikander (Alexander) Lodhi has the most interesting tomb.
We drive past a strip of lumber and construction material stores, and any number of storefronts, then come home and sleep. Anti-malarial medication is giving me terrible indigestion.

Headache, brain stuffed with cotton, indigestion is gone.
Sleep until 3am, then toss and turn until 5am. Read some. The heat is a constant fever. No incandescent bulbs, only fluorescent, and each room has an airplane grade ceiling fan/propeller.
In the news an earthquake on the 7th shook the border between India and Pakistan. Tremors were felt near New Delhi. We felt nothing.
Language remains rapid-fire and distant. I can pick up the sense of a conversation but not the words. Occasional outbursts of English are spinning signposts on a twisting midnight highway.
Today's plan: 11am - T's new glasses, bought on the 8th will arrive.
12pm - Visit Durga Puja pavillion.
1pm - Connaught Circus for shopping. Also visit Rural Handicraft Emporium.
Evening - Visit local Durga Puja celebrations.
I'm still looking forward to real tandoori chicken.
At 11am a 10 year-old boy delivers the glasses. Shouldn't he be in school?
The Durga Puja Pavillion is huge and hot. The celebration of the goddess Durga is, at this time of day, more like a carnival or midway than a religious experience.
I see Israeli and European tourists shopping at Connaught Circus. It is a very diverse shopping experience, and all I buy are pants.
We go to the restaurant Nirula's for lunch. I finally have Tandoori chicken and it is excellent. So is the ice cream. The digestive after-effects are the opposite of excellent. It's not the food, it's the anti-malarial medication.
The traffic is immense; tail to cheek, nose to jowl.
The Rural Handicraft Emporium is a five level building stacked with intricate rural handicrafts; quilts, 1/4 scale statues of elephants, decorations, jewellery. It is expensive and no barter is allowed. I buy a scarf for my sister, an embroidered bedsheet for my mom, and a bedsheet for T and I.

An early start sends us to the Kutb Minar. A national heritage site it commemorates an historical Islamic dynasty. The British attempted to restore the site and then turned it into another park. When they left it became a major cultural symbol and later a tourist centre. The main feature is the Kutb Minar, a multi-storey tower hundreds of years old. There is also an Ashok pillar, a coincidental relic. A cast iron pillar 20 feet tall, inscribed with the laws of the land during the time of Ashok, this pillar is one of many found throughout India. The pillars were too difficult for later conquerors and dynasties to cut down.
Then to Gurgaon, developed into a retail centre over 4 years. Shantytowns, slums, and farmland paved and converted to North American style, multi-storied malls. Shopping, mall food, then back home for siesta. I read instead. My stomach is in much better shape. The more I eat the better I feel. Physical systems seem to be back on track.
After the household nap we dress-up for the neighbourhood Puja.
There is an unofficial Durga Puja competition between Bengali neighbourhoods - whoever throws the most entertaining party wins. We sit in a sweltering, noisy, crowded, tented pavillion with some of T's old acquaintances to watch a dance drama about Arjun and a princess.

A day off - no shopping. T's dad finishes the final wedding preparations by noon. A whole day of rest means I finish reading a historical retrospective analysis and comparison of Stalin and Hitler. Then I start reading "The Way of Acting" by Taduki Suzuki.
When I return to Canada should I audition for my friend's play for the Master Playwright Festival, or a former professor's Shakespeare production? Stick to the original plan, or make a new one?
Later today we will return to T's relatives' house for three days.
In Canada, when the weather is this warm for this long there is a thunderstorm. Here, there is no relief, only surrender to the drowsy, sweaty heat. The locals seem unfazed but even this October warmth is unseasonal.
Lighter clothes are worn for the Puja, and evening and morning coolth mediate midday burning.
Behind the house a pick-up game of cricket starts in the small common square. Children ride bikes, wild adolescents ride scooters. Vehicles go everywhere in this city except for up. Sidewalks have 12 inch curbs to prevent people from driving on them.
Office buildings are regal and grand brick structures neighbouring tent communities of transient labourers following work, usually road construction or excavation.
It cools off and I can sit outside. Space is precious here. Bricked in terra-cotta courtyard, 30 square feet of private property is the middle-class norm. That and a minimum of two maid servants. Space is precious, labour is cheap.
People are everywhere, the streets are living.
I go inside, enter a room, turn on the light and the ceiling fan.

T.....mama's house. We are joined by T's oldest maternal uncle A...mama, his wife R...mami, and their two teenage sons. B....mami is also there. Four more relatives arrive tomorrow.
The ladies take me to a nearby street market to watch them get intricately patterned henna tattoos on their hands and arms.
I film part of this, standing out in the crowd like a tall pale North American with a shiny video camera in an Indian street market. An old man approaches me. He is 5'4" with short, sparse, grey hair, a cane, a woven satchel, a broad smile, and bad teeth. Is he a grandfather, a monk, or a con man? We talk about where I come from, and what I am doing in India. He tells a story about being a language teacher in Burma and stands too close to me.
There is a breeze across my face, impossible in the crowded alley. It tickles my nose and I sneeze. It happens again, again, and again. My eyes are watering and a small group of grubby children or really short adults appears. T sees something is wrong and pulls me over to the henna stand. The strangers vanish like a sneeze in a tornado.
I sit on a wicker stool at the edge of the street market and look around at the endless storefronts and second level residential flats. The market is everywhere.

New Arrivals
T's maternal aunt, her husband, and their son and daughter are here.
Maternal aunt = first name + Mashi, therefore B...mashi
Maternal aunt's husband = first name + Mesho, therefore S....mesho.
B....mami's father and sister also stop by. Her sister works for the United Nations and is responsible for getting T the plane ticket that brought her to Winnipeg in the first place. She attends the wedding as the honourary matchmaker.
The whole day is spent eating, interrupted for dressing, the purification ceremony that takes place before the wedding, and the traditional stealing of the grooms shoes. After finding my shoes we wash smoke over our heads, and touch our hands to our chests. An aunt draws a pattern on the terrazzo living room floor and the family crowds in. I wear my wedding regalia, T is in her sari. Her oldest uncle gives her away. The ceremony is complicated and the room is noisy. Solemnity is excluded. The Hindu priest, his helper, and T and I sit on different sides of a small fire on the terrazzo. Her family gathers in a circle around us. We chant and offer clarified butter to the goddess by burning a spoonful at a time. The flames burst and shrink, burst and shrink.
We circle the fire seven times and we are married. A cousin videotapes the three hour ritual. Relatives shift and shuffle to follow the camera competing to be in every shot. Throughout the chanting and offerings T's female cousins giggle and fuss with my garb and her sari. The boys crack jokes. The adults freely comment and compare this event to their own, and other weddings they have been to. Ours is a small family affair, not the typical 3 day community party. We take many pictures eat and drink some more. At the end of the day T and I tally the gifts. 25,000 rupees is quite the haul.

T and I chill out on the terrace of B....mami's second storey flat. There is nothing to see but city and bright blue sky. Inside and outside it is close quarters for all.
We take a cramped dangerous car ride to yet another part of the city to T.....mama's new flat. T's uncles have agreed to sell the three storey townhouse their parents left them. The new home is spacious with a large terrace but needs some repairs. He says it cost him 17 Lakh which translates into 1,700,000 rupees, or $57,000.
We head to the wedding reception. Understated at 40 guests it is usual to host 300-1000 people. There is food and more food. Always food.
I dance with my aunts and my new, young, pretty cousins.
Return to T's parents flat to discover the power was out for two of the three days we were away.

To do: Buy more postcards for a friend of mine and hand deliver when I return.
Today's Plan: More relaxation punctuated with moments of rest.
Addendum: Original plan interrupted by more shopping.
Ansell Plaza is a melding of the traditional marketplace/street market concept, with a modern mall, a Greek amphitheatre, and a round Indian courtyard.
The building is red, semi-circular, four storeys tall, and features an enormous flatscreen TV on the exterior wall facing a stone-paved public area and fountain. The roof is rounded and clad in stucco like the walls. There is a covered section between two symmetrical arcs making the building a single entity. Armed security guards and metal detectors frame the entryways.
Parking is crazy here as T's dad jockeys for a spot but it is much improved over the traditional malls like South Extension. That is an open market-place with a labyrinthe of outward facing store fronts where parking lot is like a cattle corral. The attendants are lazy, confused cattlemen prodding and guiding cars into 2, 3, 4, up to 10 deep parking stalls. Keys on strings for the cars they park are wrapped like bandages up and down their arms.
We return home from Ansell Plaza by 5pm and do laundry.

Tomorrow we head to Shimla, today we relax. Finally. I'm done all my reading.
T's dad wants to come to Canada. Problem: How to transfer/bring money and savings from India.
Last night I met the sisters Neha and Megha. They are neighbors and were only children when T left. Neha is 18, Megha is 16. The are very similar and very pretty. Neha acts as a tour guide around the neighbourhood, Megha is a bodyguard elbowing crowds and intimidating hawkers who get too close.
Bright eyes, lovely figures, intelligent, friendly and very curious about T. She seems to be a hero to these girls. She escaped from her parents, but also succeeded in her career and chose her own husband. Her culture is highly integrated and promotes positive social ideals. There is a lot of pressure on the young to perform and conform to standards.
Neha likes chocolate and French. Megha never speaks.
Tina is shy and embarrassed by her community even as I'm fascinated. So far she is disappointed by our trip and would rather stay in bed.

I wrote a poem today:
The end of a life so beautifully wrought
is a tale too sad to tell.
Mangled and rotten and bloody stumps
of firewood to sell.

I also missed two days. On the 18th:
Up at 5 am to go to Shimla, a 9 hour drive into the big, big foothills of the Himalyas. The highways are full of truck traffic until we reach a town and then cars take over again. English disappears from road signs, one mile outside the city. We stop at an unspectacular truck stop for breakfast, and then drive straight through. Our driver shows his expertise at turns and dodging large buses and trucks on the switchback road up to Shimla. A roller-coaster of death.
The highway passes below the town. We unfold ourselves from the truck, and shake off the nausea. Elevators take us up to Shimla proper. The whole village is terraced on the side of the hill. There are no cross streets. Steep concrete staircases connect avenues again lined with flats and storefronts. The main drag is at the top of the elevator. Restaurants, shops, hotels, and clubs line the mall road. We stay at the Bridgeview hotel, a middle-range establishment for honeymooners, but this is the off-season so it's almost empty. Every view is a postcard. We can't take enough pictures.
A stop for tea. Look out the window and see the entire village stacked on the side of the foothills and a distant panorama looking away from the base of the Himalayas. The tea costs 4 rupees. T is scandalized, we are being ripped off, that is way too much. With the conversion it costs 11 cents. I have two more and leave a tip.

19th: Hotel room looks out an a patio at the geographically lower end of the street. The shower takes forever to warm up. Frost on the ground in the morning. I wear long sleeves and a light jacket. In -country tourists wear toques and parkas. I have my first taste of North American food since landing, at Baristas, a Starbucks/Second Cup style cafe. Coffee and chocolate cake for breakfast prepare me for the long trek ahead.
We walk the strip, to the high end of the road and take a tour of the Institute for Higher Learning. It's a Scottish castle, built by the British. We follow the path through the magnificent gardens while we wait for the tour to start. These days it is a renowned centre for post-Ph.D. studies in the humanities. Previously, it was used as the Presidential summer residence. Originally the British Viceroy summered here when Shimla was the summer capital during the British Raj. The grounds and the building are neat, tidy, and scenic.
It is a long walk to reach the building and a longer walk back. We stop at Devico's for some Indian fast food and escape the cold rain that starts just before lunch. Our meals are adequate and we return with T's parents for dinner.
Shopping is inexpensive and merchandise is relatively high quality along the tourist strip. Book stores, clothing stores, and a number of stores selling nothing but scarves. We visit three scarf shops and buy gifts. Shopkeepers barter with T and lower prices to 180 rupees. I ask and receive the standard reply, "No, sorry 320 rupees." However they are eager to impress both of us with the quality of the fabric. They boast like sari salesmen, "I will show you ten colours." If we didn't stop them, they never would.
My legs ache.

20th: We leave after a too short visit and swerve our way back down the hills to Dehradun. The scenery is beautiful but I turn as green as the trees. Luckily carsickness is not fatal, although I'm wishing it is. T's mom and I are both extremely nauseous. I pass out from illness when the road finally straightens and wake-up outside T's oldest uncle's house.
Dehradun sits on a dusty, rocky plain some distance from the foothills, on the other side of swampy, boggy terrain. The city appears more cobbled together than Delhi and the streets are potholed and cracked.
A...mama's house looks very nice. The yard is small and enclosed by sturdy fortified concrete walls. The building has two storeys, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a second storey terrace. A wiry-haired, female, Pomeranian-mix named Snowy is frantic to meet us. She wags and licks as hard as she can and I pet and scratch her and discover she can sit and stay before she's again shooed outside.
This is just an overnight visit. R...mami cooks dinner, we eat, listen to music, watch T.V and go to bed. T and I are given the master bedroom, T's parents sleep in one of the boys' rooms, and the boys share the other, while A...mama and R...momi sleep on a mattress downstairs. I don't feel bad about being the guest of honour.

We return from Dehradun. On the way we stop at Cheetal's, a high class cafeteria and outdoor garden. When we reach Delhi we visit the Baha'i temple. So do a lot of other people. T does not agree with organized religion, any of them. She's grouchy again.

Return to T.....mama's house and go out for dinner. We pay to say thank-you for hosting the wedding. 35 rupees = 1 dollar. The conversion makes us look generous. After that we socialize, and since the hour is late we sleep over. T is in a better mood.

On the way back from T.....mama's we stop at Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini Nagar for shopping. Both bazaars are packed with shoppers preparing for the next festival, Diwali. Wherever I go in this city I am struck by the profusion of colours and decorations and the proud declaration of various faiths in the ubiquitous religious iconography.
I buy two pairs of pants and T buys a watch at the open air bazaars. The watch is defective and T returns it. I buy another shirt, and two kurtas to give as gifts.
Beggar children approach us twice in Sarojini and we discourage them by ignoring them and walking away. Begging is their job. Each time they are rebuffed they return to a group of glaring adults. The youngest child looks to be. A German tourist spares a few rupees and is chased mercilessly through the crowd by a mob of youngsters. In Lajput professional adult beggars ply their trade. We ignore them too.

T's mom returns to work after a leave of absence due to cancer. T, her dad, and I drive to Connaught Circus so he can go to an Indian branch of a Canadian bank and open an account to transfer money to Canada when he and mom immigrate. Then we shop some more. T's dad buys a new video camera. T buys some books to read on the plane, I get a Hindi to English dictionary. Maybe I can teach myself Hindi and finally know for sure what everyone is saying. We drive home after T buys me two more pairs of jeans. I try them on and they are too small.

Oct. 25/05
We return the pants, buy the proper size, and hang out at the house until it is time to head to the airport. T.....mama's family, and B....mami telephone and say their farewells. We leave the house and even though the traffic conspires to keep us there our Sikh driver makes it to the terminal on time.
We say our goodbyes and see you soon's and go through security. I am through first. Just before I enter the international departures lounge there is a table set up. It seems to be an additional luggage check but the woman in front of me with two small children opens her wallet and looks away as the official managing the table reaches in an takes out a wad of cash. He does a perfunctory check of her carry-on and waves her past yet does not even want to talk to me and waves me by with barely a glance. T follows me and he calls her over to the table. She plays dumb until I walk over and ask her if everything is all right. The fellow lets her go without a bribe. There are no further complications when we board. The plane is almost empty the whole way back.

We are back in Canada and wide open spaces. Winnipeg is frozen and drab.

Jet lag.

I return to work.

I watch the news on CBC. Bomb blasts in New Delhi kill 59 people. One bomb exploded where I stood on the 23rd in Lajput Nagar. I recognize the place from the images on TV and know what it looks like without scorch marks, rubble, and bloodstains. The bombings are later linked to militants opposed to co-operation between India and Pakistan.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How to deal with Monsters!!!

If a monster is creepily sneaking, or sneakily creeping
If a monster is rapping and tapping, or tapping and rapping,
If a monster is breathily drooling, or droolingly breathing,
In your closet, or at your door, or under the bed on the floor,
Then this is how to deal with MONSTERS!!!
Step 1: Close your eyes, lay very still, and breathe like you're asleep.
Step 2: Wait for the monster to sneak, and creep, and rap, and tap, and drool until it is right beside your bed.
Step 3: Stick out your thumb and poke it in the eye.
Step 4: Move fast! Grab the monster by the arm and stick its elbow in its ear.
Step 5: Fold the monster in half.
Step 6: Crumple the monster like a piece of paper and throw it on the floor.
Step 7: Kick the monster to the garbage can, stick it in the bottom, and call the garbage man to take the monster to the dump.

And now you can deal with monsters!


A perfect day leaves me dissatisfied. Through that open window loneliness creeps like a dirty cat, muddy pawprints marking my soul. The stains widen, darken, collect and form... what? Depression? Fear? A feeling so familiar it is welcomed despite its weights, its ugliness, the sadness, and hate it brings. Anger for loving it, needing the pain it causes, hate for the anger I have.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Edward Baldstreet

This is the story of a storyteller; the late, great Edward Baldstreet.
As a child, he was known as a shirker and a rogue. Somehow he always squirmed his way out of work. There were days he would go down to the local tavern to pick the drunk men's pockets. But usually he'd go down to the stream deep in the woods behind his house where nobody could ever find him.
Down there in the woods, in his own secret spot by a bend in the stream, he would sit, watch, and listen to the water go burbling by. Here he would dream. Dream about faraway places, and daring heroes performing spectacular deeds. Sometimes he'd imagine himself as one of the heroes, riding out on his snow-white charger to rescue a castle or a fair maiden from some evil force. Other times he would be a tragic figure betrayed by a close confidante and killed by a bitter enemy. Mostly he dreamt of heroes long-gone doing deeds long since forgotten.
Unfortunately as he got older he discovered the pleasures of alcohol and soon his secret place down by the bend in the stream, deep in the woods behind his house was forgotten.
But the stories weren't and with the lubrication of alcohol he became one of the greatest storytellers. He could dream up a story in seconds as long as the promise of a free drink was involved, and he tell that tale as if it were a sacred myth centuries old. Over the years he amassed a stupendous arsenal with which he dazzled, entertained, and stunned his audiences.
He lived out his days at the tavern where as a child he had robbed drunken men of their money. He survived on his tales of places he'd never been, people he'd never met, and deeds he'd never seen done.
But one day the tales ran out, the heroes disappeared, their deeds vanishing like mist. Edward Baldstreet passed on with only his fellow drunks at the tavern and the young men who knocked off early from work to ply the drunken old man with drinks to hear one of his amazing tales to mourn his death.
Some say if you visit that tavern in the mid afternoon you might see an overweight old man sitting by himself in the shadows, at a table in the corner waiting for someone to buy him a drink. Others say if you walk along the edge of the woods you will come to a ruined house with a stream running deep in the forest behind it. If you look you might find the flowing water and a small hidden bend where you can hear the stream burbling by, telling stories of where it has been and what it has seen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I get the feeling I might be too cynical. There are times in the cool darkness, when the lights are off and my eyes are closed and I’m listening to the far off sounds of the universe in motion, and people’s thoughts, that I hate everyone and everything God ever made. Even myself. This just makes me normal. At least I’m feeling something. I’m not like those crazy locked up hardcases, so numb they don’t even feel their own bodies anymore. We all need to be better than somebody. Whatever.

I’m in this zone, feeling sound as it vibrates on my ear drums and the door opens. I crack an eye like an alligator.


“Yeah Murphy.”

“Another headache?” Murphy knows me from a long time back. He doesn’t care, like me, and we have a connection, some brotherhood based on common pain and emptiness. We both have spiritual toothaches. I guess we’re each others’ spiritual dentists.

“Yeah.” I can smell him. Cigarettes. He’s the only guy I know who still smokes. I used to. Now when I need a fix I stand downwind from him. Filter-free at no cost. He’s full of questions today. Something is wrong.

“Take a pill?”

“I took several.” I don’t ask him what’s going on. I don’t want to know. I think about the sound of electronic feedback and avoid reading his mind.

The silence in the room bleeds into my open eye and pries open the other one. Two grey men in a grey room.

“I was worried about you.”

“You should be. I’m still not right, but I’m better.”

“Understand, we were only trying to help you.”

“I know. I was far gone when you found me. Thanks.” This again. Okay, I went mad, but long before we ever met. “I’m feeling now. Things are better.”

“It’s not what you think it is.”

What!? I don’t show a reaction, although Murphy knows he’s surprised me. This is new.

“Johnson’s back in the city. He’s got the same thing you had.”

“Alcoholism?” Glib response, defenses up, fits my pattern, this seems to be me.

“A symptom, but something is feeding on him.”

We’re thinking of our scars. We’ve all walked through hell, but for some reason Murphy made it through. And back. Without falling apart, without the mad fractures Johnson and I suffered. Sometimes I think he’s part demon and he enjoys this mess. I know he and Johnson are closer than I am, twin minds, but Johnson and I…we broke down.

“You seen it?” I ask a real question.

“It was at his place, yeah.”

I don’t want to see anything ever again, Johnson or those things. I escaped. Murphy left me there. I saved myself in the end.

“I don’t want to see him.”

“He doesn’t want to see you. Just think about it okay?”

I don’t care, I can’t care. It’s a trick. “I’ll think about it.” I say. There’s no option, he’ll just keep coming back if I say anything else. I wouldn’t trust me either. Damn us both.

Murphy sighs and stands up. He opens the window blind, lets the light in, shines it on my empty room. Before the door clicks shut he shouts “I’ll call later! Take care of yourself buddy!”

He’s gone, and left the sun behind.

I believe in monsters.


“I warn you,” the brown girl with the black braid said quietly, “I cheat.” Her deep black eyes locked the stringy, sun-burnt boy in place.  She punched him in the arm with the smiling, honest, and arrogant confidence of a feral, chthonic thirteen year old girl.
His young, white, male ego, the immature misogyny of insecure boys for all females, and the desperate prejudices some of the poor hold as shields against the marginalized - in short his need to be better than somebody, anybody else - stopped him from rubbing his shoulder. The strength in the punch stopped him from hitting her back. Instead, he tucked his chin and tried to match her impenetrably deep stare with his own striking green glare. "I can beat you."
She squinted, for a long slow moment, measuring him like a used suit.
“Get on your bike then.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I think this is still a work a in progress. It began as a stream of consciousness exercise. This is only the 2nd or 3rd edit.

WUS-KWI Is the name of the place where the white birch tree stands on the beach and welcomes you back every summer.
It marks an invisible gateway to the sand, and the water, and the sun. Only the pure and true heart passes.
You haven’t been forgiven because there is nothing to forgive. The sin-tank is empty but

There must be callouses on your hands from climbing trees and hanging a hundred feet in the air with just one arm, and on your feet and toes from rocky paths and splintery docks.
Your skin must be browned and your hair must be bleached with the sun.
You must smell like the water and move lighter than a breeze. Yours is the surest step.
You must be scraped and bruised and itchy and healing and whole.
You must be laughing.
You must jump carelessly and often into and over anything.
The sand is cool on your toes in the morning and burns before noon.
The water refreshes.
The lawn? is crickets and grasshoppers and your grandmother’s favourite flowers.
Every day tastes like butterscotch candies or scotch mints from your grandfather.
You won’t be done swimming, sunning, sanding until the summer ends, and it never will, but it always does.
The rain keeps you inside sometimes because sometimes you stay inside and these days coincide not because…
When they fall the rain drops are large and splat and warm and splat and you can shower in them.
And then the lake is warm on top and cold on the bottom but you don’t know this until you’re old enough to swim on your own and dive and hold your breath and even if the water gets in your nose and burns behind your eyes you still open your eyes and swim as hard you can to the bottom to get a handful of cold, cold mud and carry it like a trophy from the cold, cold depth to the warmest top two feet of water, when you realize you are shivering and then above the surface and…
You let the water drain from inside your nose because everybody is a fish now and nobody minds and you hold the pitiful small handful of mud to the sky to show that you can finally do it too and you see it is blacker and finer by far than any other mud you have ever seen and you drop it back into the lake. It filters back into the water. You wash your hand, blow your nose and swim in the warmest top two foot layer of water back to shore.
If you were your mom/dad you would swim back to shore underwater kicking with both feet like a strong strong dolphin or a shark or a musky or a pike, and grab one of the kids in the shallows like they were an unsuspecting baby duck. Then you would throw them into the air and let the water swallow them. After that any kid is your kid and they all laugh for you to throw them until your arms hang limp and they chase you from the water. Shivering blue lips cry for more and you run to your towel and your own patch of sun.

There is no time for disappointment.

And one day…Your little/big one comes dripping from the water and s/he warms on the big sun-warmed rock that you warmed on, a century before, that your mom/dad warmed on, a thousand years before, and your daughter/son warms on now, that their daughter/son will warm on ten years from now. Etc.
And they smile and sparkle with water jewels and you cry a little bit because they don’t yet know about Wus-kwi and the lifetime you gave to be here and if they knew, really, really knew, it would mean they were older and you were older and that somehow you had missed them getting older.
It doesn’t bother you to be closer to death
But every second of life your little/big one daughter/son is closer too
And the joy is sorrow so you take the sun fully in your eyes and don’t blink until no-one can tell the difference between the tears. The water sparkles.

You look and smile and ever wonder why your mom/dad…?

Then you spend your life in/on the water. Time the waves, know the sound of every boat, love the smell of gasoline, and wood-smoke. You know the difference in the smell of algae on a metal boat in the water, from algae on wood in water, from algae on rocks in water. You know the quickest way to remove leeches, can pick up crayfish safely and unsafely.

Eventually summer follows you through the invisible gate past the tree because…

You head up to the cottage, up the long wooden walkway your daddy and granddaddy and sister rebuilt when she could just hold a hammer and you could finally begin to be trusted to stand on your own. The steps were so big and you needed someone with a big hand and Big Voice Above You. Now the steps are one at a time because you are longer and stronger (and the favourite, but you don’t think so, but you know so).

You sleep in the boathouse and everything is warm and pine. It’s always pine but July-August warm is never cold. June warm is cold at night. August-September warm gets colder everyday until you leave and summer hibernates in your room until you come back and unlock it for everybody and run past the tree, Wus-Kwi, so it can follow you back.

Spiders. Spiders. Spiders.

One day you betrayed them and killed them on their farms on the window panes where they grew moths to eat and trade. One spider on each window pane 8 panes on two windows. They thought the agreement you made -they stop the bugs you don’t kill them- was forever but because summer ends (but not really) so did this
and now giant spiders are everywhere and you’re not afraid of them, but sad because you were wrong.
That summer of the spider treaty has never, will never end, because that was summer and it never does. Maybe you thought it was a different summer so you used chemicals and rags and wiped out only a few and betrayed so many. That was experience because…
If nobody is around the spiders will grow bigger than your hand, and you haven’t been around. Maybe they just miss you like everybody/thing else?
You miss them and they are empty and you don’t miss them and you are empty and they are you and you are empty.

Feed the ducks.

Ducks will eat spiders…and crayfish, and minnows and bread until they explode with poop. But they are not fish.

So the day you arrived, You had been there before, but this was the first time you saw the sign on the boathouse that said Wus-Kwi, and you asked what does that mean, and a big voice above you said White Birch, and you believed it because it came from a Big Voice Above You. That was where most big voices came from and so far you believed in them. You don’t know if that’s what it means but the first trees the big voices with the tall legs show you are all the white birch trees. Later on you know the birch trees don’t go all they way back to the middle of the island because that’s mostly balsam and swampy. There are many, many pine trees, and the first oak tree you ever realize is an oak tree.
There are rooms in the boathouse, one is yours, and the other is your dad’s but he snores and it’s too scary at night and the spiders don’t know you yet, so the Big Voices with Tall Legs make your sister’s room under the cottage into two rooms with a curtain one year. But the alligator scares you, (your grandfather shot an alligator(you think)) and the skin on the wall goes but it keeps the sleep it took away from you with it. You get another room underneath the cottage on the other side. You can bang on the wall and bother your sister. Your grandmother sleeps above you she can thump on her floor and wake you up in the morning.
Someday dad’s room in the boathouse is yours, after Grandaddy dies and you inherit summer (because your sister inherits it from him but she gives it to you) and Dad inherits Granddad’s room.
but not today and not forever
but when you are there and while you are there, you keep summer.

Once upon a time summer is your sister’s.

Because she is granddad’s favourite and she dances for him, and you do not do such things but he gives you both candy, but her first,
But. Granny likes you better so you get more bacon and served food before some other people. And when she is old and forgets everybody/thing else she never forgets you


And you don’t remember people or events for longer than a day,week,month,year so when you ask your sister Do you remember when? she is the first and for a long long time only one who knows you don’t remember like everybody else does but you memorize like nobody else can.

One day she says don’t cheat again or none of us will play with you. Already you can beat all of them but cheating is more fun at cards and games with money. But she has said so and then she will do so, so you try and try and try, and eventually you don’t cheat anymore pretty quickly. Everybody is smart and everybody is healthy and everybody is safe and you are arrogant but still slower (sometimes) but meaner (always) so nobody minds. But eventually you catch up, but you are not smart in the strangest ways. Like remembering and maybe holding your breath. And weaker but if you are weak and stronger than us, than we must be very weak. We think you are strong.

You sit still and figure it all out somedays after breakfast if no-one is around.
You sleep.
Then one day you feed the ducks and you know one picture is taken when you are pointing at them and sitting on the edge of the dock and luring them up the beach. That is the second picture
and the first picture, the one you didn’t know about, shows a shadow of the beast in the boathouse behind you.
Your granny knew about the beast and she was so tickled she could get a picture of the ducks, the boathouse, the beast, and you, without you making a face at the camera.
When you saw the pictures in an album you thought you didn’t know the beast was there too is making a face.
It was tickled my granny could take a picture of me too. It still lives there.

You wake up one day past the gateway
and everyday after you sleep and wake there.
If you are you
you brought summer with you and it stays there forever too.
Every day you are fed and everyday you are loved and every day you wear exactly as much as you want to wear if the minimum is shorts and you are over the age of dressing yourself.

One time summer was sweaters, and one time it was bathing suits, and it always turned into…