Far from the madding crowd

September 23, 2011

I don’t like crowds. They depress me. Especially on the Expressway. All those dreams. Inside those cars. All those disappointments. And telephone directories. Knowing that your name is crammed in there. Somewhere. Hardly able to breath. And not just human beings. I love cows. In small herds. Or in movies. With cowboys. But seeing large herds of cattle outside cities. All that innocence headed toward the slaughter house. And they know it. And not just mammals. Insects. When I see a swarm of ants on the side of my house. I get the hose and wash them off. They seem. Dangerous. But I love one crowd. Ideas. Libraries. But not galleries. Especially big ones. The paintings seem like prisoners. And I can imagine them making a break one night. And being shot while they are trying to climb the walls. But in libraries, books seem content. Like cows. In a meadow. Far from the madding crowd.



Mr. Martins sat on the stool. Like a small child on a poddy. His left arm swallowed by the sleeve. Of the blood pressure apparatus.

They should give it a name. Like Earl.

Mr. Martins laughed at a joke that someone had told him the previous day. About a guy named Earl. Who was sitting in a bar. On the stool beside him. Sat an orange box. Earl said burglar.

Mr. Martins didn’t get the joke at the time. But he was laughing now. The long pony-tail that hung down his back. Swung from side to side. Peacefully. Like a swing from the bough. Of an apple tree.

Nearby a pharmacist counted pills. Fifty six. Sneeze. Dam. One. Two.

A tear ran down Mr. Martin’s smile. The pharmacist’s assistant was dealing with a customer. Who had been waiting in line. For days. To drop off a prescription. A week was lined up behind him. There was a second line. Customers picking up their prescriptions. A lot of humming of the same tune. Fed over the intercom.

Take The A Train.

Some were tapping their toes. One man had a toothpick in his fingers. Another was using a jackhammer. On his callouses. Somebody’s mother was sweeping. Up the aisle. In a chorus line. Of 1927.

“Mr. Martins!” a voice cried out from an aisle of headache remedies.

Mr. Martin was shaken. From his revelry. Smiled and winked. That gentleman Ralph Sampson, an employee of the drug store and a tall drink of water, had now reached Mr. Martins. Mr. Martins reached out with his free right hand. To shake Ralph Sampson’s hand. The blood pressure machine had a death grip on his other arm.

“You’re looking well, Ralph.” Mr. Martins smile was rattling. His head nodded up and down like a bobble head.

“Damn thing is like a shark. First time it swallowed my arm, I thought it was going to rip it off at the shoulder.”

“I haven’t seen you for some time, Mr. Martins.” Ralph said.

Ralph stood smiling at Mr. Martins for the longest time. Like the Supremes. Singing Reflections. Pointing to the door. And then to the other side. Of the door.

“I heard rumours.” Ralph continued. “Heard that you were doing poorly. I prayed. It wasn’t so.”

Mr. Martins was tired of smiling. But the machine. Wouldn’t leave his head alone. Shaking it up. Like it was a can of paint. Mr. Martins tapped on his chest. With a finger from a hand. That was free. So sure of itself.

“Ralph. I had a heart attack.”

Ralph gasped. His own hand. Went to his own heart. Mr. Martins put a finger on his lips.

“I don’t want the whole world to know, Ralph. Not good for business. I don’t mind my friends knowing but… I’d like to stop it there.”

Ralph smiled. He was pleased to be considered amongst the friends of Mr. Martins.

“I did as you suggested, Mr. Martins.”

Mr. Martins lost his smile.

“You didn’t divorce your lovely wife? Such a beautiful woman. A princess. I know she’s so far. From you. But love is like a girdle. It keeps things from jiggling.”

Ralph laughed. Shook his head. Laughter echoing all the way down his oesophagus.

“Mr. Martins, you are too funny. Too funny. I’m not married. Naturally, you have many admirers. And you have mistaken me for one of them. I am flattered. No. I started taking classes at Humber College. Business management. In fact, your name came up in class. You’re something of a legend. In the local business community. Although I would not believe everything they said.”

“Believe everything you hear.” Mr. Martins glanced at the dial on the blood pressure machine.

It must be almost. Done.

The blood pressure machine began to deflate. Mr. Martins sighed. Took his arm out. Rolled down the sleeve of his shirt. He looked at the readings on the machine.

“Slightly over optimal.” Mr. Martins was pleased. “Just about the way I feel.”

Ralph continued, “Mr. Reynolds, our teacher, was saying that you ran your consulting business out of a coffee shop for ten years. Your secretary reported to you everyday for instructions. An unusual business practice.”

“Isn’t that where we met?” Mr. Martins asked then added, “If I had an office, I would never have showed up. I hate offices. All the politics. Dress code. Casual Fridays. Ralph. Offices were built for people who like to organize things on Monday. And then reorganize them Wednesday. They are the demons of mediocrity. Business should be carried out in the market place.”

“Mr. Reynolds said that you made tens of millions of dollars.” Ralph smiled. “No one knows how.”

Mr. Martins stood up and put on his jacket. A hockey jacket with Lightning scribbled across the back.

“I had a smart secretary, Ralph. The beautiful Florence Devine. Gone now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Not dead. Worse,” Mr. Martins responded. He raised his eyebrows. “Married.”

Ralph laughed.

“What brings you into the drug store, Mr. Martins? Used to see you over at Tim’s. That’s where I heard the rumours.”

“About my heart attack?” Mr. Martins asked.

“No, sir. A heart attack was never suggested for your sudden disappearance. One rumour said that you’d been swallowed by sharks while fishing for marlin off the shores of Florida. A gory description spoken with a great deal of relish. Another rumour had you married. To a transvestite named Ms. Devine. And yet another said that you’d come down with the flesh eating disease. Contracted while you were having dinner at Scrappy Reilly’s.”

“Scrappy Reilly’s?” Mr. Martins looked up at Ralph. “I don’t believe that I’ve ever eaten in Scrappy Reilly’s. Where is Scrappy Reilly’s?”

“It went out of business, Mr. Martins.”

Mr. Martins thought about that for a moment. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and with a pencil so small it disappeared in his fingers, wrote a note. Then he looked up at Ralph.

“Why am I here at the drug store?”

Ralph smiled. There was a vacant stare from the clerk.

Mr. Martins made a grand gesture with his hand.

“If I have another heart attack, and you can be sure, Ralph, that another heart attack is on its way. Speeding down the old 401. What better place to conduct my business. It’s open 24 hours. There’s a clinic attached to the drug store with a doctor in attendance. And all this medication. Next to running my business out of an E.R., I couldn’t think of a better place. That’s why all the seniors smile when they drop in here. They feel safe. Besides I couldn’t keep drinking all that coffee at Tim’s. Caffeine isn’t great for the old ticker. And I couldn’t stomach decaf. Just doesn’t give you that kick. And those donuts. There’s a reason why there’s a hole in them, Ralph.”

Ralph laughed and was about to ask Mr. Martins why there were holes in donuts when Mr. Martins’ attention was broken. He gestured. Ralph turned. A beautiful young black woman. Long black straight hair. Tall and willowy, with small breasts, long legs, and wearing a tight black skirt. Stepped down the aisle. Ralph swallowed deeply. Ralph had never seen such a woman.

“It’s the lovely Ms. Wendy Passion,” Mr. Martins said.

“Your new secretary?” Ralph asked.

Mr. Martins nodded.

Wendy Passion stepped up to the two men. Mr. Martins introduced her and Ralph. Wendy smiled at Ralph and bowed her head. Than turned to Mr. Martins.

Mr. Martins looked from Ralph to Wendy and smiled.

“You can speak freely, Wendy. Ralph is my… protégée.”

Wendy and Mr. Martins spoke about business for several minutes. Ralph listened attentively. Mr. Martins took out the scrap of paper that he had been scrawling on previously. They talked about some new investments. When they were finished, Wendy nodded toward Ralph, and departed.

“Isn’t she a princess?” Mr. Martins said shaking his head. “And smart too. That’s one of the keys to success in business, Ralph. A smart secretary. And when you get one, pay her well. More than she can expect to earn anywhere else. In fact, I’d pay Wendy more than I pay myself if it came down to it.”

Ralph shook his head.

“I don’t know, Mr. Martins. A woman that looks like that. How long are you going to be able to keep her?”

Mr. Martins looked at Ralph.

“What are you trying to tell me, Ralph?”

“Well, Mr. Martins.” Ralph hesitated.

“Come on, Ralph,” Mr. Martins insisted. “Out with it.”

“A woman that smart and that looks like that, well, she isn’t going to remain free…”

“You think I should marry her?” Mr. Martins interrupted.

Ralph nodded.

Mr. Martins thought for a moment.

“I hadn’t considered that possibility.”

Mr. Martins patted Ralph on the back.

“I knew you had a mind for business.” Mr. Martins looked around the drug store. “How long have you been working here, Ralph?”

“Two years, Mr. Martins.”

“And you don’t own it yet? Shame on you, Ralph.”

Ralph shook his head. “I don’t have your flare for business, Mr. Martins. Not yet anyway.”

Mr. Martins smiled grimly. He was quiet for a spell. Then he looked up at Ralph with the most serious expression Ralph would ever have expected.

“Ralph, a heart attack comes with its own lessons. The obvious one is that we are all mortal. I don’t know why but the most obvious fact of life almost totally eludes human beings. It’s almost as if they are afraid to look death in the eye lest they be turned into stone. Like death was Medusa. And I’ve learned my lesson. There’s not more to life than business. There’s not more to life than anything. Life is the key. Stay breathing. So hurry up and do anything.”

A knee jerk reaction

September 22, 2011

My mother was a very strong woman. Still is. She will have her way. And if it is not to be by the force of  her personality than she will use manipulation. As a young man I seemed to use all my power to lose myself of her influence. I loved her dearly. But I could not survive in the same house. So I left. As soon as I could. I met other strong willed women. Some were just princesses who wanted their way. Others were extremely interesting, very attractive. But they were in charge in their life. And they weren’t giving it up to any man. Not that I ever asked. I just knew I had to get away. My wife says that I’m negative. My first response is always no to everything that is suggested. That’s true. But its a knee jerk reaction. The need to have time to think things over.



Tom Payne. One of the dullest of God’s creatures. Eyed the grocery cart. In the ailse. For several seconds. He looked around. Abandoned. Orphaned. Left out. In a world cruel to wheeled creations. Tom Payne looked around. No one. In the neighbourhood. Tom stepped up to the cart. Empty. He dropped his purchases. Several boxes of tissue. On sale. A box of laundry detergent. Band-aids. For those blisters on his tongue. He placed his hands on the handle of the cart. Smiled. And began to move down the aisle to complete his purchases.

“Not so fast!” From behind him. Like the apocalypse.

Tom looked behind. An attractive woman dressed for an occasion more formal than shopping began to approach him. Mary Newton. The bank manager’s wife. She was walking like she meant business.

“You took my cart.”

Tom looked surprised. The roughness of her voice seemed out of sync with her appearance. Shapely. Blond hair that cascaded. Aka Lauren Bacal. Shoulders more gentle would have had to be pinched. To see if they were real. But whre was the smoky lilting voice. Instead he got harsh guttural sounds. Hitler on his best day. Promoting a new hair rinse. Tom swallowed deeply.

“I did not.” Squeak. Like a mouse. Tom Payne was a shard. Of the mirror he should have been.

“You did!” She insisted. Her voice seemed to have gained force. The closer she got to Tom. By the time she reached the cart, Tom was totally cowered.

Tom lowered his eyes. His shoulders seemed to cave in at the neck. He’d never been very strong with woman. His own mother continued to brow beat him when he visited her in the senior’s home, even though she was close to 90, half blind in one eye, hard of hearing, with arthritis in 3 of her 4 limbs, and constantly reaching for a respirator.

Tom Payne stuttered.

“I thought it was abandoned.”

“It wasn’t.”

“It was empty.” Tom began to make his case. “And there was no one around. And I waited. And you seemed to come out of. Nowhere.”

“You waited!” Mary Newton leaned over to one side. A smirk attacked the left side of her face. Placing one hand on her hip, she nodded.

“How long?” she added. Waiting for a measurement. Undeniable proof.

Tom thought for a moment.

“A couple of minutes.”

“A couple of minutes?”

“Well,” Tom hesitated. He knew that all was lost. “Maybe not a couple of minutes. But it was at least a minute.”

“Sixty seconds?” Mary closed her eyes. Her head shook dismissively.

“Well, it’s hard to tell. There was no one around.”


“Forty,” Tom shouted. “It was at least forty seconds.”

“Forty seconds isn’t long enough.” Mary stepped up to the cart and put her hands on the handle. “Now get your rubbish out of my cart. Or…”

“Or what,” Tom finally had the courage to ask.

Mary Newton turned to Tom and looked him straight in the eyes.

“You don’t want to find out!” she said.

Tom released his hold on the cart. Defeated. He gathered his things and made his way down the aisle not daring to peek behind him. When he made the turn into the next aisle, he heard the howl of Mrs. Newton’s laughter behind him.

Collage. In film. Was first introduced to me on Fractured Flickers. Fractured Flickers took pieces of old films and dubbed in their own dialogue. There were a lot of bad jokes, worse puns. etc. Until you couldn’t stand it any longer. And your stomach started to hurt. And your buddy laughing beside you headed for the washroom before he pee’d his pants. And after he left. And your laughter subsided. You thought. I could do that.

Hans Conreid interviews Rod Serling

I never saw that woman again

September 20, 2011

I was in a hardware store. Just out of university. Downtown Toronto. I was looking for pliers. A middle aged woman came up to me. In her mid forties. She was pretty but wore no makeup. Looked like Anna Magnani. She asked me if I did handy work. Her husband had died and there was so much work to do around the house. There was a kind of desperation about her. And I admit to being afraid of her. She looked me straight in the eye. Like she was trying to tell me something. But I couldn’t read it. It was like being in the middle of a play. Reminded me of a Tennessee Williams play, The Fugitive Kind. I never saw that woman again. Nor have I ever forgotten her.



“You know, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy cocked her head. Sideways. Listened to the bones in her back. Snap. Raised a hand. Gloved. And Waved to the owner of the dollar store. “Love is wasted on the young.”

Louie smiled. A faint almost lipless smile. Like the matinee idols of a bygone era. Louie pushed back his straight lubricated locks. His eyes crinkled.

“Viva romance.” With the emphasis on ‘ro’. And in a raspy French accent.

“Oh, I see it all the time on the television. Dear.” Mrs. Murphy continued unaware of Louie’s antics. “Couples jumping in and out. Of bed. Girls acting. More like men than men. So aggressive. Animal love.”

“Still,” Louie shrugged his shoulders continuing his parlor game, “it is romance.”

Mrs. Murphy took a deep breath. Sat down on her walker. Smiled weakly. And seemed to slip away.

Like a rose sprinkled with dew.

Louie’s eyebrows rose in parenthesis.

Oh, my God!

He touched the old woman’s shoulder. Did she die?

“Mrs. Murphy.” Louise was very concerned.

He shook the old lady.

“Don’t die.” Louie was shaken from his revelries.

Mrs. Murphy looked up from her seat and shook her head.

“I get a little dizzy when I get excited.”

“What!” Louie said turning his good ear to the old lady. She took another deep breath.

“Head spins. Feel like I’m going to swoon. That’s what old age is all about. Swooning with the wooing. But, I had my time.” The old lady looked up at Louie. Giggled. “You’re so young, Louie. You think you’ve still got time?”

Louie stepped back. The last place he wanted to be. He grinned mischievously.

“Time for what?”

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie.

“Shame on you, Louie. I know what you’re thinking. You’re worse than the young people. Trying to make an old woman blush. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Mrs. Murphy!” Louie cried innocently. “I don’t know what you are talking about..”

Mrs. Murphy wagged her finger at the store owner.

“Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Murphy.” The smile left Louie’s face.

Mrs. Murphy waved at Louie good naturedly.

“I know.” Mrs. Murphy sighed. She paused before continuing. “Do you know what it’s like, Louie, to know that you’ll never fall in love again? That you won’t feel that skip in your heart.When. A young man looks at you. I’m not talking about… fooling around. I’m referring to something finer. Something…”

Louie heard a commotion from the back of the store. His eyes flashed on the convex mirrors in the corner of the store. Three teenage boys were up to something. Louie turned to Mrs. Murphy and put his finger over his lips. Then he turned and walked to the back of the store.

“Can I help you?” he asked the boys.

Louie’s voice had taken on a different timber. A rough, angry tone. He wanted to scare them. These boys. Who huddled in his store. Building up the courage to steal something. When they turned around to face him, Louie realized they were older than he had suspected. One of them had grown a goatee. He was the one that held the plastic gun in his hand. His name was Tony.

“How much for the gun?” Tony asked.

“A dollar,” Louie said. “This is a dollar store.”

“If we buy three,” the bigger of the three boys called Sean asked, “can we get a deal?”

Louie stared at the boy. There was a small scar dividing his left eyebrow. The third boy stood silently behind them, smiling. His teeth were yellow. He was smaller. There was a cigarette stuck behind his ear. His name was Teddy.

“Why do you boys want to buy these plastic guns?” Louie asked. “They’re for kids. Little kids.”

“We’re going to rob a bank,” Teddy responded then chuckled.

Louie smiled. Smart alecs.

“It’s for my nephew,” Tony added, irritated with the response of his friend. “Him and his friends like to play cowboys and Indians.”

“Everything is a dollar,” Louie said. “You want a deal, go to the casino.”

The three boys looked at each other. They put the guns back on the shelf.

“We’ll come back later,” Tony said. “I forgot my wallet.”

The three boys sauntered slowly out of the shop. Louie kept his eyes riveted on them.

“Those boys are up to no good,” Louie said to Mrs. Murphy when he had returned to the cash register.

“I think I recognize one of them.” Mrs. Murphy was swept up in a momentary shrug. “The black boy. I think his little brother died last year. Drowned in Etobicoke Creek.”

Louie nodded. “Yes, I think you’re right.”

“His poor mother.” Mrs. Murphy shook her head. “They showed the funeral on the news. She broke down. That boy’s death almost destroyed her. You’ve got to wonder how some people survive such pain.”

Louie smiled. He still had his mind on the three boys and the toy gun.

“What would those boys want with little plastic guns?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

“Rob a bank, maybe,” Louie said.

“Oh don’t be foolish, Louie,” Mrs. Murphy said. “A person could get killed doing something stupid like that.”

“Well,” Louie nodded knowingly, “they are boys. Now, what do I owe this appearance?”

“Can’t a body just drop in on someone?”

“Well,” Louie explained, “it’s my experience that either people want to spend money in my shop or they want me to give them some money for some honourable cause. In any event, money changes hand.”

Mrs. Murphy slapped Louie’s hand playfully.

“And I want neither. Actually I do need some gardening gloves. But I wanted to speak to you about the bank leaving the plaza.”

“Yes, I heard,” Louie said.

“What should we do?”

“You could get a petition started.” Louie suggested.

“Would you sign it?” Mrs. Murphy asked.

Louie shook his head. “Not that I don’t agree with you. I think the bank should stay but it has been my experience that banks seldom listen to the voices of people. They only listen to money. But I have another reason. Not one that concerns you but one that I’m having a great deal of trouble with.”

Mrs. Murphy who had risen from her walker, took her seat again.

“My goodness, Louie, you are serious.”

“I am having trouble with the owner of the plaza. Mr. G.”

“What sort of trouble?”

“I had an agreement with Mr. G. that I would be the only dollar store in the plaza. Well, Mr. Singh, who runs the discount furniture store has opened a dollar corner in his store. His daughter runs the corner for him. I complained to Mr. G. There is barely enough money in the plaza for one of us. Mr. G. has taken my concerns under advisement. Which means that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.”

Mrs. Murphy stood up angrily.

“This is quite dreadful, Louie. We can’t have it. Simply can’t have it.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to talk to him.”

Louie grabbed Mrs. Murphy. “Please. I know you think you’re doing the right thing. But I’m in enough trouble with Mr. G. If you…”

“I’m not going to speak to Mr. G,” Mrs. Murphy said. “I’m going to talk to Mr. Singh.”

Mrs. Murphy pushed her walker out the door.

“Watch out for the daughter,” Louie cried as the door closed. “She’s a live one.”

The old lady pushed her walker out of the shop. Louie turned his attention back to some paper work he had begun when the old lady had entered. He didn’t notice the young boy standing in front of him. It was one of the young boys he had chased out of the store. The small one called Teddy. The boy was holding a gun in his hand. Louie looked down at the gun then up at the boy. The boy was smiling at him.

“I’m sorry,” the boy said, “about all that shit before.”

Louie looked down at the gun pointed at him. How did the kid manage to sneak up on him like that? He wondered if he would have enough time to reach the baseball bat he kept under the counter. Likely not. But he had to do something. The boy reached into his pocket. And pulled out a dollar.

“You said the guns were a dollar,” the boy said.

Louie took a deep breath. He rang up the sale.

“You better put that thing in a bag,” Louie said. “You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.”

The boy smiled. Louie put the plastic gun in a bag. The boy made his way to the door. Before he exited, Louie spoke up.

“What are you going to do with a plastic gun?” Louie asked.

“I’m going to kill that old lady,” the boy muttered.

But Louie couldn’t hear him. With his bad ear.

My earliest introduction to history was Peabody’s Improbable History. Okay, it wasn’t. But no one is beyond lieing. Isn’t that what a lot of history is… lieing. Written by the victors. Peabody taught me that history could be remembered as a version of today with puns. And of course there was the subject of the dog being in charge of the boy. Which fit all of the facts as I knew when I was young. And my name wasn’t Sherman.

On the edge of death

September 20, 2011

When I was having a heart attack (they called it a quiet attack) I went to a clinic. Thought I had some kind of bug. A flu. It was hot out. So I was sweating. Feeling like I wanted to vomit. Sat amongst a crowd of people. Mostly mothers with kids. A lot of pain. Felt like a prisoner of that moment. Couldn’t day dream. Which is my usual practice in crowds. They make me feel ill. I think that is why some of my ancestors came to the New World. The old one was getting too clausterphobic. One of my uncles lived in a cabin. By himself. Far from town. My other uncles lived in alcohol. One lived with an Indian woman who he beat when he was drunk. My mother said that the woman was one of the kindest people she’d ever met. And these were the genes I was carrying. Feeling crappy. On the edge of death. Without knowing it.



“Do you have any idea how long we’ll be waiting?” the woman asked. The receptionist. In the medical clinic. I’ve got things to do.

Clutching the woman’s hand was her daughter. She looked up. Her frightened eyes spoke.

Mommy! I’m not feeling better. Like you promised this morning.

The receptionist turned her radio down.

I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

“Can I see your medical card?” The receptionist looked up. Routine questions. Another routine day. Every one like the one before. The receptionist was chewing gum. It irritated the mother with the daughter.

“Must you do that?” The mother said.

The receptionist looked up.

“Excuse me?” The receptionist looked lost in the question.

The mother pointed to her own mouth. Open. Still. The receptionist could not gleam any clue.

“The gum.” The mother enunciated slowly.

The receptionist. She chewed on.

The woman pointed to her daughter.

“I’m trying to set a good example. To my daughter. Takes a village to raise a child.”

The receptionist blew a small bubble. Which looked a lot like an “F”. And a “U”

“Your medical card.” The receptionist repeated. Snapped her gum.

The mother handed over her medical card. The receptionist turned up her radio. The lights began weeping.

Got no mansion, got no yacht,

Still I’m happy with what I got.

I’ve got the sun in the morning

And the moon at night

The mother looked around. She felt like dancing. Were there cameras? In the room. She’d had better days. When she wasn’t loaded down. With a daughter. That was a mistake. Was no one here feeling sorry? For her. In a clinic. With her little daughter. Not even Carl’s. Who’d been away that weekend. Fishing. A day wasted. In a clinic. When she could have been with…

Nothing ever works out the way you expect.

The receptionist looked at the card. She had plastic gloves on.

You never know where these people have been.

“Have you been here before?”

The mother turned back to the receptionist. She nodded her head. She realized that the receptionist was not looking up.

She responded. “No.”

And I’m not crazy about being here this time.

The receptionist handed her a clipboard. With a form. And pencil on it.

“Fill out the form and return it to me.”

The receptionist looked at the woman. Blew another bubble. She hated these people who came in here. Begging for help. And yet still looking down their straight long noses at her.

God, I wish I was working at the cosmetic counter. Someplace where you could get some respect.

“Will it be long before we see the doctor?” The mother repeated her original question. Which the receptionist had not heard. And perhaps was never asked.

“It’ll be a while.” The receptionist’s monotone voice seemed drained of care.

The receptionist turned her attention back. To her radio.

If I was a little bird. I would fly from tree to tree.

I’d build my nest up in the air

where the bad boys couldn’t bother me.

“My daughter is very sick.” The mother’s lip quivered. A little girl. Who was frightened. Who wasn’t really expected. But who now was sick.

“I think it is something she ate. She’s had the runs. A stomach ache.”

The little girl continued to pull at her mother’s arm.

This is taking an eternity, mommy. And I’m hurting now.

“The doctor will get to you as soon as he can.” The receptionist looked at the little girl. With regrets. Something in the little girl’s eyes. Like she knew. She wasn’t expected. Wasn’t wanted. Wasn’t needed. The receptionist knew the feeling. She didn’t want to look at it.

“Take a seat.” She said.

When am I going to get a coffee break? I have to pee.

The woman looked around at the other patients in the waiting room.

“I’m sure that these people wouldn’t mind if my little girl…”

“I’m sorry, mam.” The receptionist intervened. She enjoyed that. Interruptions. “You’ll have to wait like everyone else.”

The woman took a deep breath. Turned around. Looked for a seat. They were all taken. A red headed man stood up and offered his chair to the little girl. The woman nodded her appreciation and sat down, her daughter climbing onto her lap.

The little girl looked at the red headed man. She decided to call the red headed man… Walter. Walter was an uncle. He had died in Vietnam. One of many Canadians who served in the American forces. Her mommy was always taking out pictures of him. And crying. Over a glass of wine. While Carl made dinner.

Walter leaned against the wall. The air-conditioner droned on. Music squeezed out of the small radio. From where Walter stood it could hardly be heard.

I spoke last night to the ocean. I spoke last night to the sea.

And from the ocean a voice came back

‘Twas my Blue Jacket answering me

The dingy green painted walls shot arrows of pain. Into Walter’s brain. Sweat ran down. Walter’s forehead. His breathing was. Shallow.

God, I hope this is the flu.

Walter’s father had died from a heart attack. As had his grandfather. The family talked about it. At Christmas. At Thanksgiving. On Labor Day. All the time. Like it was the curse of the family. But no one told Walter what the symptoms were.

I like eggs and bacon served by the one I love.

They only said it was inevitable. Walter would die. And soon. Walter undid the top button of his plaid shirt.

Gotta get out of here.

Turning, he stepped out of the clinic and into the pharmacy. He needed fresh air. Stumbling through the aisles, he apologized to an old lady who pushed her walker across his path.

“Why are the young in such a hurry?” Mrs. Murphy shook her head.

Walter headed for the front doors.

Once outside, Walter leaned against the glass walls. Of the drugstore. He took a deep breath. A few yards away. An Asian kid with a Fu Manchu moustache sat Buddha like on the cement. Bumming money. Reading a book. Nietszche. And listened to headphones. Ella Fitzgerald.

“You alright?” Fu asked, removing his headphones.

Walter slid to the cement. He shook his head.

“Food poisoning. I think?”

“Vomiting and diarrhea?” Fu asked.

Walter nodded. “I thought I was dieing.”

“Drink a lot of liquids,” Fu suggested. “Especially water.”

“I think I’m over the worst of it,” Walter said.

“A guy gave me his lunch one day,” Fu said. “Instead of money. I was sick for two days. I think the guy tried to poison me. You’d be surprised about the amount of rift raft you meet in my profession.”

“What’s your profession?” Walter asked.

“I’m not sure there’s a word for it,” Fu responded. “Beggar is too pejorative. If I lived in the middle-ages I’d be one of those guys who lived for years at the top of the pole. A sage. I think they were called sages. Can’t be sure. What do you think they were called?”

“Nuts, maybe.” Walter took a handkerchief out and wiped his neck.

“My father was a magician,” Fu said.

Walter looked at Fu wondering why the beggar had parted this information to him.

“And my mother was a lawyer,” Fu added.

“Your mother was a lawyer and your father was a magician?” Walter asked.

Fu nodded.

“How did that work out?” Walter asked.

Fu smiled. “They had me.”

“I’ll bet you were a blessing,” Walter said. Feeling better.

Maybe all I needed was fresh air.

“You would have thought so,” Fu responded.

Just at that moment, the doors of the drug store opened. The little girl who had been in the doctor’s office with her mother, ran out. She looked back and forth. She couldn’t decide where she was headed. Her mother rushed to the door. Almost reached her. The little girl made her decision. She stepped over to Walter. Sitting on the sidewalk. She opened her mouth. And gagged.

“Please! No!” Walter begged. And threw up his hands.

“No Tara, not on the man!” Her mother cried. Too late.

I might have hurt myself

September 18, 2011

The truth. Plato had 2 metaphors for the truth. In his cave analogy. Fire. Always changing but still remaining a fire. The sun. The absolute truth. I heard on the radio that the explosion of a super nova was thousands of times brighter than the sun. Outside of numbers how could anything be brighter than the sun. We cannot look at the sun. Is it the same for truth? Is it something we can never know. Because of our own species limitations. We know its there but we can’t look at it for long without damaging ourselves. I know I don’t seem to be going anywhere with this. But what if that is the problem with fanatics? They have stared at their perception of truth for so long that it has damaged them. I better stop now. I think I might have hurt myself.

They don’t amount to much

September 17, 2011

One of my first introductions to the absurd in life was a series of cartoons on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. They were called Fractured Fairy Tales. They were narrated by a fellow named Edward Everett Norton. Such a delightful voice. Filled with an understated zanyism. In film he was a very funny man. But in these tales it was just his voice. The tales themselves are always understated. They seem to celebrate the humour of the mundane. In laymen’s language (I love using that expression. It makes one feel so superior) the absurd. The stories are filled with asides that don’t amount to much. Much like my own writing. Here is  one of the tales.

Time and again.

September 14, 2011

This story is about the conflict between mentalities. People of the same age. Usually in their early 20s. I thought it was something quirky about the baby boomers. But I’ve seen it time and again. (That’s a hopeful phrase). I see it as the open vs the closed mind. The closed mind is always sure that they are right. And they don’t change. The open mind is sure that they are right. Except when they are alone. And reconsidering. I have seen closed minds on the left or liberal wing politically. But there are far more on the right or conservative wing.  They usually have more stuff. And so, in any discussion, they have more to lose.




Deborah Hall glanced at herself. In the mirror. On the counter. Over the speakers she could barely hear the background music. That filled the drug store.

Some find it pleasant dining on pheasant.

Those things roll off my knife.

Just serve me tomatoes. And mashed potatoes.

Give me the simple life.

A lone hair had parted company. From her right eyebrow. And was making inroads into the gap between her eyes. Grabbing a nearby pincer she plucked the hair.

“Bastard!” she muttered. To herself.

Pay day and I’ve got a rogue hair.

Having conquered that problem, Deborah returned to the magazine she had been reading. The Canadian Way, it was titled. And talked about the passivity of Canadians. About their politeness. About their search for a new alternative to conflict.

Deborah slammed the magazine. Closed with anger.

“We are not wimps,” she cried. Loud enough for someone to hear if they were in the local area. Someone was.

“Excuse me.” A young woman named Zaira, who had been standing at the counter for some time, spoke. Normally Zaira had many things to say but on this occasion she had only one.

Deborah glanced at the young woman as she re-examined her forehead in the mirror. She recognized the girl from somewhere. So many people passed through the drug store. Who can remember everyone? And yet she knew. She should. It was a great asset in her job. If you could remember a name. The customer felt complimented. Compliments led to sales. Sales to raises. Raises to a new dress. Or a scarf. With things dangling.

“Yes, dear,” she said. Smiling.

Zaira leaned over the counter.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” Zaira asked.

Deborah turned from the mirror. Scanned the girl. Dressed rather drably. A simple blouse and torn jeans. Overweight. A membership in a club might help. Her hair could be lightened. And shortened. Her teeth needed some work. And God, who ever told her that a mole was a beauty mark? Or the single eyebrow across her forehead. Her skin was too light. That wasn’t her fault of course and could be remedied by a visit to a tanning salon.

“You could be stunning.” Deborah smiled then added. “With a touch up here and there.”

Zaira leaned to one side. A sudden smirk. Sudden a word that should be used sparingly. Something on her face. Which, in Deborah’s opinion, did nothing to add to her appearance.

“And what makes you an expert on beauty?” Zaira asked.

Deborah smiled uncomfortably. The harsh tone of the young woman had caught her off guard. Not suddenly. But certainly moments after she digested the words. But then she remembered. Reports from other stores. About abusive customers. Especially in the cosmetic departments. The new battle ground for feminism. She had read an article in the same magazine. That rested on her counter. About the twelve sexual spots. That every man wanted…

“I’m not sure I know what you mean, dear.”

“Define beauty.” The girl insisted. Insisted is too harsh a word. It wasn’t like the girl grabbed her by the collar and shook the words out of her. Maybe suddenly was okay.

Deborah looked around the shop, hoping to catch the eye of one of the clerks. Or the detective that Mr. Edwards had hired. She was sure of it. This was the same girl who had accosted Gilda, her friend who worked in Sherway. They’d almost come to blows. Gilda took three days off work to regain her composure. She was not sure that she would work again.

“Did you want to buy some make-up?” Deborah asked.

“Do you know how they test make-up?” Zaira asked then went into a detailed description of the animals tortured in the name of beauty.

Deborah stared at the young girl.

“I’ve heard all this before,” Deborah said. “And I did some research. You’re exaggerating.”

The smile left Zaira’s face.

“It is not an exaggeration. Animals are tortured in the name of fashion. For some distorted image of what it means to be a woman. Aren’t you ashamed to be involved in such immoral behaviour?”

“You’ve asked that question before?” Deborah responded. “So you don’t expect me to answer it.”

The girl looked surprised by Deborah’s response.

“Excuse me?”

Deborah nodded. “At Sherway Mall. You were very disruptive. My friend, Gilda almost lost her job. Is that your idea of justice? Putting decent girls out of work? Gilda’s done nothing but cry for days. And it’s all because you are so…”

Deborah couldn’t think of anything else to say. She was too upset.

Zaira was caught off balance.

“I think you’re overreacting. I just meant…” Zaira stumbled on the words.

Deborah clenched her teeth and spoke under her breath so as not to be heard. Outside the local area.

“You little… twat!”

“What?” Zaira cried. “You called me a twat!”

“I’d call you that other word,” Deborah said. “The one that rimes with runt, but I’m too much of a lady.”

Zaira turned to leave. Deborah stepped from behind the counter and grabbed her arm. Zaira turned around. Embarrassed.

“If I see you,” Deborah said, “in our store again, I’ll call the police and have your sorry ass thrown in jail.”

Zaira stared at Deborah for a moment. “Are you threatening me?”

“It’s not a threat,” Deborah said. “It’s a promise. And you’ll be happy to see the police.”

“And why is that?” the girl asked.

“Because,” Deborah responded, “if I find you in this store again, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!”

A tear ran down Zaira’s cheek.

“No!” Deborah cried. “No crying. I forbid it.”

The tears continued to roll down Zaira’s cheek. Deborah turned redder. For a moment. But then she could not restrain herself. She took Zaira into her arms.

“This isn’t fair,” Deborah said. “I was just beginning to dislike you.”

Zaira sniffled. Deborah turned around and grabbed a handful of tissues from the box on the counter and handed them to Zaira. Zaira wiped the tears from her cheek.

“Why did you turn so angry?” Zaira asked.

“Oh,” Deborah began but halted. She took a deep breath. “I’ve been pissed about a few things around here and you became a target for my rage. Why did you have to talk like that to me?”

“I’m not sure,” Zaira responded. “I guess because I was right,”

Deborah shook her head and took the girl in her arms again.

“Being right is no excuse for rudeness,” she said.



Did I create him myself

September 13, 2011

I wrote this story based on the colour of a man’s skin. I’d met him in high school. My last year. He had transferred. And I only talked to him once. His skin was so black that it looked blue. He also had straight black hair. And very soft features. Like some southeastern Asians have. He told me that his ancestors had been Cheyenne and black slaves that had run off into the swamp and been taken in by the indian people’s there. That’s one version. I wrote this story based on the colour of a man’s skin. That I met in university. Once again his skin was so black that it looked dark dark blue. One of the most handsome persons you’d have ever seen. And he was a cross between Cheyenne and Afro-American. Now I don’t know which of those two stories is correct. My memory holds both of them. I am sure that I had met such a fellow. So I wrote this character into my stories. Or did I create him myself.



“You’re almost blue,” Paul McGregor said to the tall African standing on the stepladder. Like Jack. On the beanstalk. The giant not Jack. Coming down. To lay out the town. Like a rug. In short the two drug store clerks were restocking shelves.

“Deep blue. Queequeg. Without the whale.” Paul lifted the diet coke. Which did feel lighter than regular coke.

Ralph. The African accepted the cases of cola effortlessly from Paul without a comment. The pile of cases had already reached about six feet. They would be gone by the end of day. Every couple of months the drug store put cola on sale. Two per customer. It amazed Ralph how much cola Canadians drank. Damn country is hooked on carbonation.

Paul wiped his brow. Some ran into his eyes. And he realized he felt wonderful.

“Man, I can’t get this song out of my head.”

“What’s the song?” Ralph asked. Who had his own problems. He had an irresistible urge to sing.

“Don’t know the title.” Paul laughed as he lifted another case. “Who would have thought that we would all end up as juke boxes?”

The air burns and I’m trying to think straight. And I don’t how much longer I can wait.” Ralph’s voice sang out. With a sharp accent. His lips massaging each syllable. Almost as if his tongue was keeping beat to the rhythm of his speech.

Paul laughed. “What’s that?”

“Heat.” Ralph said then explained. “Heat makes me want to sing.”

“But we got the AC on.”

“I was dreaming. Dreaming about being some place. Outside. Drinking hot tea. Hot tea makes you sweat. And the sweat makes you feel… so cool. Better than AC.”

Ralph said cool with extra ‘o’s in it. Making it sound like there was a light breeze moving across the vowels and making the ‘l’ flutter like a flag.

“And you get in the mood for singing.”

“And sweating. will cool you. It’s the body’s air-conditioning. Working man’s sweat. Filled with grit and worries. And the tea. Sweet. Like a cool mid-day sun shower. Rain drops running out of the eyes of orchids. Tears of God. Joy. Existence is so cool.”

Paul laughed. “Man, where did you hear all of this stuff?”

“Where all wisdom is found,” Ralph responded. “From my grandmother.”

“My granny smokes cigarettes and watches soaps,” Paul said. “The only thing that comes out of her mouth is smoke, and phlegm. You should see her spit. She can hit a fly at ten feet.”

Ralph laughed.

The two men worked for some time in silence when Paul asked.

“Why do you suppose people have different colours of skin?”

Ralph looked at Paul and shrugged.

“I used to think that it had something to do with the sun,” Paul added. “Northern peoples tend to be paler. But then I noticed how dark the Inuit were.”

The tall African chuckled as Paul handed him another case of cola off the skid.

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this?” Ralph said.

Paul stopped and took a breath. “You think the races are different species then?”

Ralph shook his head. “We’re all Africans. Some just left the hearth earlier. We’re all tourists on the planet.”

Paul nodded and didn’t say anything for some time. He took a breather and looked up at the tall African.

“You ever been in love?”

Ralph chuckled. “Depends. On what you call love.”

“You know,” Paul said. “When you can’t get someone. Out of your head. When you wake up. Worried. First thing in the morning. That she might have found someone new. Better than you. Or if not better, someone just new.”

Ralph laughed.

“Who is the unfortunate girl?”

Paul blushed.

“She worked here. For a while. A college student. Real smart. Smarter than me. Do you think that’s a problem?”

“Josephine Baker,” Ralph said.

Paul’s mouth dropped. “How’d you know that?”

“I saw you too chatting it up,” Ralph said. “Hardly able to get you to do any work. And she is smart. Isn’t that why her father forced her to quit? Afraid that Josephine was liking the job too much. When it was you she was liking too much.”

“You think she’s too smart?” Paul asked.

“Most women are too smart,” Ralph responded. “Too smart for men. If women waited for their equals, the species would die out.”

Ralph put the last carton on the shelf. Paul took a deep breath. Ralph looked down on Paul. As he descended the ladder.

“You’re a wise guy, Ralph,” Paul said. “Where’d you learn all this shit?”

“It is my tribe. We were known as the Blue Men. Our wisdom was known throughout the region. Before the Europeans showed up. And taught us to read.”

“Socrates did not believe that one should write down one’s thoughts,” Paul explained. “A great idea does not need a publisher. It needs a conversation.”

Ralph nodded. “That was like the great thinkers amongst the Blue Men. For generations they debated the important questions of existence. In this way, our young people learned about their world. Appreciated the life around them. It wasn’t thought necessary to write anything down. Then the conversation stopped.”

Ralph folded the stepladder up. Paul lifted the skid up and the two men dragged it toward the back of the store.

“What stopped the dialogue?” Paul asked.

A grimace appeared on the face of the African.


“Fear?” Paul asked. “Fear of what?”

“The white sails of the tall ships,” Ralph responded. “The slavers.”

The two men dragged the skid into the shipping department and laid it on top of a pile of skids.

“My ancestors were Scots,” Paul said. “A warrior tribe. They used to paint their skins blue before a battle. To scare the enemy. We fought the bloody English for hundreds of years. They kept knocking us down but we kept getting back up.”

Ralph laughed. “Well, maybe we are related, Paul. Both of us being a blue people.”

Paul chuckled and shook his head. “My grandmother wouldn’t want to hear that. She’d choke on her cigarette.

“Do you ever want to go back to your homeland?” Paul asked.

“Yes,” Ralph replied. “I will return to my homeland for a vacation someday. With my new bride and child.”

“I didn’t know that you were married,” Paul said.

Ralph laughed. “Well, I’m not. Yet. Still looking. But, I’ve got my eyes on a few prospects.”

Paul laughed. “A few!”

“Well,” Ralph smiled, “you’ve got to have a back up plan.”

The two men stepped towards the back entrance to the drug store. Paul reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. He offered one to Ralph who refused. He had his own.

“What about you?” Ralph asked as he lit Paul’s cigarette and then his own.

“Marriage?” Paul responded. “I don’t believe in planning. It ruins the now. Besides you can’t marry and be a writer.”

“Writers can’t marry?” Ralph asked, the light grey smoke filtering out through his deep blue lips.

“You’ve got to be married to your work if you’re going to succeed.” Paul took his cigarette out of his mouth and looked at it. It was a habit he had picked up. It served no purpose but he couldn’t stop.

“I don’t think,” Paul continued, “a woman wants to take a back seat to my word processor.”

“And what will you write about?” Ralph asked.

Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been writing a lot of sci fi recently. Got this story in my head about people living in an insane asylum. It’s from the perspective of the patients. They think they’re living at a summer resort. They all play roles. The parts of people you’d likely meet at the resort.”

“Interesting.” Ralph nodded as he drew lightly on his cigarette.

“You think so? I’m kind of stuck to tell you the truth.”

Ralph thought for a moment.

“Why don’t you make one of the inmates of the asylum a murderer?”

Paul looked at Ralph and laughed.

“That’s it. Murder. Someone is killed. That always picks up the interest of the reader.”


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