Remnants of a gone world

November 30, 2011

I met this old lady on the street. I was maybe 25. She looked a 100. And moved like she was going back in time. And was carrying groceries. I offered to lend her hand. Well, our journey was only a couple of apartment buildings. But it took a half hour. And she talked all the time. Found out I was a writer. She had been a nurse. Talked about her life in the world wars. Offered to help me with my publishing career. She’d go see the publishers. Tell them I was a wonderful young man. Asked me into her apartment for tea. I declined. (I had to be somewhere else a half hour ago.) I never saw her again. Very odd when you meet the remnants of a gone world. They are so filled with good will. Almost like angels. And so I wrote this next story.




The widow Murphy leaned provocatively. Hand on her hip. A cigarette hanging out of the side of her mouth. Except there wasn’t any cigarette. Although there was smoke. Against the store shelf. Smiling. Her left eye drooping. Over her left breast. Just like she had in 1939. On Yonge Street in front of Fran’s. Where friends meet.

The widow looked up at Ralph Sampson stocking the shelves with boxes of cereal. Wished she had that cigarette. A girl needs her props. She marveled at Ralph Sampston’s height. A long drink of water. And the strength of his arms and shoulders. And his fearlessness at the end of that very long…ladder. Or was that latter.  The widow giggled and enunciated the word ladder. And then the latter. She purred. It’s like he’s in the sky.

“Those boxes must be very heavy.” The widow said, smiling demurely. Her voice foggy and heavy. But also, unknown to her, scratched and breaking up like an old ’78 record. The widow recalled that early Saturday evening. When she had seduced Mr. Daniel Bissada. In Fran’s. Over a coffee and lemon pie. Her hand under the table. Just as war was breaking out in Europe. The poor Poles. They didn’t see it coming. There was a look in the widow’s eyes. The flight of the present into the past. Even in 1939 she was recalling the past. Telling Mr. Bissada what a traumatic series of events. Had her youth been. Different. If her father had married. Higher up.

Ralph looked down at the old woman patiently. In the back of his mind he wished he was packing something heavy. Cases of coke. Even diet coke. Objects do fall. And he could ask her to leave. Politely. For her own safety. But cereal boxes. They were no threat to anyone. No matter how much they were fortified.

“They’re cereal boxes, mam.” Ralph looked around and wondered whether there was any other possibility of escape. This was not the first time that Ralph and the widow had engaged each other. His greatest fear. That she might try to secure the ladder. By holding onto his ankle.

“Oh yes,” the widow responded. She squeezed her shoulders together like a small girl on Christmas morning looking under the Christmas tree. And seeing that itty bitty basket. That she had so dreamed of. The yellow one. “My first husband was a strong man. Such muscles. Muscle on muscles. Great big shoulders. Like a mountain. We were quite the item in the neighborhood. I walked in his shadow. Until his untimely death. Most untimely. ”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph responded.

“Thank you, Mr. Sampson. I was terribly lonely. For such a long time. All death is untimely. Especially a loved one. But, it was many years ago. Even though it seems like yesterday. Everything seems like yesterday, don’t you think?”

Ralph nodded. What was he supposed to say?

The widow took a deep breath and sighed. Oh how she endured the painful memories of her life. Everyone in the drug store was so proud of the widow’s stoicism. It made their trials so much easier to endure.

“But,” the widow continued, “he left me well endowed. Samuel made sure that he had life insurance. Such foresight. Oh to seem him in that box. A man that strong. Struck down. Such large hands. He would put them around my… waist. I had a tiny waist. And just lift me up like I was a feather. A feather. I could have… blown away.”

Ralph nodded at the old lady and tried to continue on with his work. Without seeming to be rude.

The widow licked her lips. With the tip of her tongue. They were dry. Why am I so dry? It’s like I could burst into flames at the slightest… touch.

“I’ve had many lovers, Mr. Sampson,” the widow said than buried her eyes in a moment of modesty. Before shaking her head in wondrous abandon. “I had a black lover. Ebony. He was from the Sudan. I believe he was a follower of Mohammed. Have you been to the Sudan, Mr. Sampson?”

Ralph shook his head.

“It’s a dry country,” the widow continued. “Very dry. At least the western provinces. So I’ve been told. Sidney was his name. His Christian name. Even though he was Islamic. He had an African name. Which eludes me at the moment. Sounded something like Moebaygo. It was not Moebaygo but that gives you the sense. Musical. He was very musical. I could listen for eternity to that man singing. While he was shaving. A strong tenor voice. We were a passionate couple. His skin was dark. Almost as black as yours. Mine was pale. We looked like an Oreo cookie together.” The widow laughed softly. “What a laugh Sidney had. So large a laugh you’d fear that it would swallow you whole. And then he left.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph responded as he continued to put the cereal boxes in the shelves. He reconsidered what would happen to the old woman if one of the boxes of cereal would happen to fall. They were light. But she looked so fragile. And the more he looked, the more fragile she appeared.

“Don’t be sorry, Mr. Sampson. It was many years ago now. Although it seems like…”

“Yesterday,” Ralph suggested. Politely.

“Oh yes.” The widow was very pleased with Ralph’s response. “Yesterday. Perhaps we are soul mates, Mr. Sampson.” The widow paused for a moment to wet her lips. “I don’t know why he left. I like to think that, so overcome was he by our love, he joined the foreign legion. I know it is just a silly girl’s romantic notion. But he left me with many wondrous memories. He was a big man. All my lovers have been big men. Except Mark. He was my second husband. Japanese. And a wonderful lover. A small man. But, he could dance. The man walked to the corner to get the newspaper. Every morning. Doing the Fox Trot. You should have seen Mark and I on the ballroom floor. We were like wisps of morning dew. Floating almost silently across those shiny floorboards.” The widow closed her eyes. “I can almost feel us dancing still. He was taken from me far too early.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, mam,” Ralph said as he placed the last cereal box on the shelf. And began to descend. Each step toward the widow. ‘s open. Arms.

“He died during a bank robbery,” the widow said. “Did I say that already?”

“No, mam,” Ralph responded.

“It was so strange.” The widow gazed out into the store as if she were looking into another place. Spain perhaps. “It was in a bank. Mark loved the marble floors. His shoes slid across the surface like skates across ice. The gun of one of the bank robbers went off and stole the life of my dear Mark. I like to think that he had thrown himself in front of the bullet to protect a child’s life. But in fact, he was hiding under a table. It was just a strange… accident.”

The widow began to sniffle. She reached into her purse and took out a tissue. When she had finished administering to herself, she looked up ready to continue her reminisces but found herself alone. Ralph had left.

“Oh, dear,” she said. “I haven’t thought about Mark in years. I’d forgotten all about him. I wonder. Was he Japanese. Or just short.”


The Announcement

November 29, 2011

I think I could spend hours at my local Shopper’s Drug Mart. Its big enough and varied enough for several different stories to be going on at the same time. The ladies in the perfume section who greet you. The boys/men stocking the shelves. The pharmacists distributing drugs. The doctor at the back in his clinic. The post office officials. The ladies at the cash register. This story, The Announcement, is another of my ‘jazz stories’. Part of a series of books called OPEN 24hrs. This book is the Afternoon Shift. The Day Shift is available at Day Shift . If you are curious or interested.




Pink pigtails. Not exactly Moses. At the Red Sea. But the lovely May looked over the cash register. And up at the clock. Her bright gleaming eyes brimming as they say with anticipation. As was her retainer. It was sparkling as well. So happy. Like a sun shower in April. So many tears, her teeth were drowning. Let’s get back to that smile. It could lighten gloom. And your pocket book. Who wouldn’t pay. You see May wanted to dance.  Up a staircase. On the edge. Of a blanket. Hanging over the 21st. Floor apartment. Accompanied by three young men dressed in tuxedos. Choreographed. With camera shots from the ceiling. To show her being carried on the fingertips. Of these gay young men. Light as a feather. She was. Almost like a cloud. Drifting over the fingertips of skyscrapers. Like a balcony. So splendid. So pure of spirit. And the strings in the orchestra humming. The brass section deep in a rhythm of blue. That’s enough about her smile.

May turned to Bea. The head. A little overweight. Who was helping Josephine. A small problem. Her cash register was choking. Loonies. Filling up her drawers. Too much provincial sales tax. The rich don’t like to pay. Why should they? Don’t they produce all those jobs. That pay taxes. That fill the coffers. That’s enough from the bully pulpit.

“Is it time, yet?” May’s hands grasped each other. Like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in weeks. She gasped. Wanting to rush off into her performance.

Bea smiled. Comfortingly. Like only a mother could about her youngest daughter. Only May wasn’t Bea. ‘s daughter.

May shook her head. Ringlets cascading down. Like pulp romance novels out of a garbage truck. Dumping culture into the dump. Where it had a chance to become something. And all the gulls. Landed. Reading the paperback novels. Offering positive criticism. Only Atwood belonged in the library. Of their memories.

Oh, these girls make me feel so young.

“Not yet, dear.” Bea sang. Like a restless wind. In that bottle of Coke. She could have been Jeanette Macdonald. But alas. No Nelson Eddy.

Bea was an older woman. Dyed black hair. Short. Parted in the middle. Thinning on top. There was a wart on her cheek. Several long hairs dangling. Like Rapunzel.  Curling like smoke from the mouth of a frog. Beauty had begun to wane. Early for the young Bea. Moments after they cut that umbilical chord. Still Bea took pride in her appearance. And working with the two young girls, Josephine and May, that was special. There were souls to mold. Lives to direct. Almost like being seven years old. Playing at being an adult. In the back of the garage. Where uncle Ernie used to sleep it off.

May was more handsome. Than most. Some say she would have been an embarrassing man. Too beautiful for the male sex. May returned. To her cash register. A customer came up and placed her goods on the counter. May’s long red fingernails tap danced across the keys. Her toes began to tap. There was a melody sleeping in her mouth. Waiting to sing. May smiled at the customer. Glanced at the clock. With the greatest care. Placing the customer’s purchases in a plastic bag. From a distance she looked like she was humming. Some said that she was the next Shirley Temple.

“I’ve never seen a girl so excited.” Whispered Josephine to Bea. Making quite a fuss. At the other cash register. Shrugging her shoulders. Parenthesis. There’s always some good. In everyone. Even the Nazis could be cute.

Josephine held onto the notion. Rubbed it in. Under her arms. Over her breasts. In the open bathroom window. Every night. Maybe her prince was a peeping Tom. Josephine had seen a great deal of life. On the television. Its pleasures as well as its disappointments. May had a lot she could learn. From Josephine’s mouth.  There was that time. At the airport. With the friendly hitchhiker. Who was trying to kill time. Flight delayed. And the time on the beach. The sun was going down. A boy on his back. And she’d had too much to drink. He was only a few years older than her. And it wasn’t true. That he was someone’s uncle. And it wasn’t true. That he was divorced. Or even married. And there were evenings. All those evenings. She chatted for hours. On the phone. With Raymond. Who became a priest. But kept using the word blessed. And told her that she would have been the only girl. For him. If it hadn’t been for the Eucharist. A wafer with a loose tongue.

Bea glanced at Josephine. Lost in her thoughts. Amongst the a priori and posteriori. It amused her the way Josephine pretended to be years older than May. The difference being only a few months.

“You’d think she was auditioning for the part of Juliet.” Josephine said. Turning. She spotted. Paul McGregor up a ladder. Placing some women’s napkins. On an upper shelf.

“I heard that.” May shouted. Inside her head. As her customer swiped her debit card. She pointed at Josephine. Bea laughed. Bea felt like a date square. Not being one. Eating one. Something small and sweet. She was growing faint.

Bea mumbled. About the cash register. Josephine nodded. Paper was stuck. Does anyone really want a receipt? What if someone accused you? Of theft. Your word against theirs. 6 months. First offense. Don’t they just throw them away? Bea wondered about Paul McGregor. Was Josephine interested in the clerk? Weren’t he and Josephine, an item? And what about Mr. Singh’s daughter? What did she and Paul have in common? She grinned. Paul is quite the Valentino. But couldn’t remember if she’d taken her Exlax that morning. Don’t want to be bound. Up.

May handed her customer her receipt.

Thank you.

She’d been trained. Well. After every sale.

“You never know.” May addressed the other two women. “The world could end. I heard of a famous actress who was discovered in a drugstore. If her, why not me? Somebody has to be famous.”

Josephine laughed. Her fingers tangled in her blonde locks. Playfully.

“Oh, let her dream.” Bea’s smile hugged her teeth.

The cosmetician, Deborah Hall, walked by. The cashiers and waved.

“She’s better than us.” Josephine muttered. “How many brains does it take to put on makeup?”

Bea shook her head. “Late again. That won’t go over well with Mr. Edwards.”

Bea moved from behind Josephine’s cash register. Over to May. She handed May a sheet of paper.

“Now read it over once,” Bea said. “Make sure you understand what you are saying. When you speak into the microphone, take your time. And don’t yell. Just talk in your normal voice.”

May took the sheet of paper and read it over once and then a second time. She looked at Bea.

“Is it time?”

Bea smiled. “It’s time.”

Josephine shrugged her shoulders in her cute manner.

“Is it afternoon or evening? I mean it’s 6 o’clock.” May looked concerned.

“It’s evening, dear,” Bea said drawing the microphone from behind the counter and handing it to May.

May took the microphone. The giddiness and childlike glee disappeared from her face. Replaced by a somber serious.

“Good evening, shoppers. Have you begun to empty out your attic for spring? Have you begun to clean those windows or vacuum those rugs. Its spring cleaning time. With all that old dust flying up in your face, don’t forget….”


Me Jane

November 27, 2011

Literate man is a schizophrenic.

Or so says Marshall McLuhan. His visual sense has been separated from his hearing. Pre-literate man is a whole man. His ears unify his experience.

Remember when Jane tries to teach Tarzan to speak. In effect make him a literate man. She is really seducing him into becoming ‘bi-polar’. As it were. She wants to change him. Into a European. At the beginning. Later she learns her lesson. And Tarzan must be himself. Noble. Although clean shaven. Pretty nifty hair cut as well. How come no one in the 60s looked like Tarzan? They were all trying to get back to the garden.

Actually I think Grace Slick may have looked a little like  Jane.

I’m thinking that McLuhan may be guilty of sentimentalism. Hold on. Someone just called me on the phone. Except that I don’t have one.


November 26, 2011

One of my favourite series of poetry. There is something about the sleazy or down side of our culture that is so appealing. Like the Wizard of Oz, pulp culture promises a better life. Maybe . Except no one believes that it is any more than a lottery. But life should be more than chance. Except it often isn’t. And as much as it my be filled with wonders great and mundane, it still ends.

Short listed in the C.B.C. national poetry contest. These poems are dedicated to the dime novels and pulp fiction, the disposable culture of its day.

My grandfather used to sneak out during the day to a brick wall that existed between he and his farming neighbour. Under a rock he would find the latest pulp novel. In that way my grandfather and his friend would exchange books, reading them in those lazy afternoons when it was too hot to work in the fields. I have dedicated these poems to those pulp novels.



Cut down on employees

November 25, 2011

My wife was in a meeting. At her firm. A big accounting firm. A sweat shop. (That’s another story.) They were talking about ‘branding’.


The company has to distinguish itself from other companies. The ‘Double R’. That’s the ranch. And of course the employees have to operate under the image of these brands. Thats the cattle.


It seems to me that if you’re going to use branding, you should do some branding. There are many creative and talented tattoo artists. Maybe they would like to turn their skills on business. And it should start at the top. With the CEO. Or Os. It would certainly cut down on employees fleeing to your competitors. Who would want to go through branding twice? Or more.

Well, maybe some CEOs would.

In the case of my wife’s firm, they want everyone to think that they’re an ECO-friendly company. So they put large trees in their lobby. And pass out free bottles of water to their employees. They call this the ‘company culture’.

It occured to me that a company shouldn’t be allowed to lie about their culture. It should be clear as tap water (after you’ve run it awhile) true. But what if you lie about your culture? Portray yourself in a light that is flattering but untrue?

Well, that brings us back to branding again.





They wait around to die

November 22, 2011

I can always tell when I’ve lost my sense of humour. Its when I start telling people the way it is. Adam Smith had no sense of humour. He said that everyone operates in their own best interests. No one laughed. Ayn Rand liked what Smith had said. And repeated it in a number of different ways. She got a lot of laughs. She reminds me of the famous comic Jackie Vernon.

Ayn Rand didn’t believe in makeup. She thought that beauty wasn’t skin deep. Here is a picture of her. She had a professional photographer take it.











Ayn Rand defended the rich. They were rich because they were better. Which goes without saying. The prisons are filled with people who wanted to be rich. They got caught. So I guess they weren’t as smart.

Rich people don’t want their children to have the same opportunities as everyone else. How else can you explain it? Inheritance, I mean. If you got rich because you worked harder than anyone else and was smarter, wouldn’t you want your children to have the same opportunity.

I’d like to be rich. I’d buy a suit. Custom made. One of those Panama suits. Off white. And then I’d wait around for someone to bury me. That’s what the rich do. They get rich. They buy a lot of stuff. And then they wait around to die.


Or we are

November 21, 2011

What is property? I did my master thesis on Karl Marx. He talked about property a lot. Sometimes it was an object. Or real estate. Sometimes it was a person. Or the means of production. Now it is an idea. Someone coins the phrase “intellectual property”. The Theoryof Relativity was first articulated by Einstein. He doesn’t own it.  If there hasn’t been an original idea since the ancient Greeks (and I believe that is true) what are we talking about? People make claims on a whole variety of things. An art collector may claim that he owns a Van Gogh. Did he paint it? Each of us owns… nothing. Things are in our possession for a while. And then are gone. Or we are.

What is evil? When Macbeth killed his king, it was not the killing of another human being that was his crime. It was upsetting the order of the day. The order of the day is a pyramid from God to King (Duncan) to Lords to serfs. By killing Duncan, Macbeth has introduced chaos into the world. Chaos is evil because it introduces an amoral world. Anything can happen. When King Lear attempts to decentralize his kingdom by parceling out his kingdom to his daughters,  his folly introduces chaos to the kingdom. Beyond random acts of violence, this is the true evil in the world.

So far I am persuaded that Shakespeare and McLuhan agree on this point. Evil is chaos. Goodness is order. But was Hitler’s dream of a new German order good then? Once you get passed the messy parts. And didn’t Lenin and Stalin agree that there would have to be blood drawn before the new Communist order came to fruition? Doesn’t all change mean violence? Which usually mean a cycle of violence. And wasn’t the Christian ideal of  ‘forgiveness’ a way out of this cycle? Or Gandhi’s appeal to non-violent protest? Or democracy?

Of course change does not appeal to the affluent. The privileged. The rich. Their resistance to change does create violent conflicts. Perhaps their resistance is sometimes justified. In America there is a fear of tyrany. You can hear it on a lot of talk shows. There is also a fear of the mob.

The rich are terrified of the mob. The poor of a tyrant. The middle class want everyone to relax.

Something to chew on

November 17, 2011

McLuhan believes that the Gutenberg ruptured the middle ages sending it into the Renaissance. It moved from an ear culture to an eye  culture.  From a hot involved culture to a cool detached one. What does that say about music created during and after the Renaissance. Is it cool. Classical music has been accused of being detached. As opposed to jazz say where people get off their feet and dance. African music is portrayed my McLuhan as being essentially an ear music. So why is modern life filled with so much music. And music that is hot and invovling like rock’n’roll, beebop, jazz, big band, rap. Are we moving into a new era? Out of modernity?

Post-modern. What does that mean?

‘Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on whom the interested parties are and of what their interests consist. It supports the belief that there is no absolute truth and that the way in which different people perceive the world is subjective.’ (

All realities are only social constructs. Now there is something to chew on.

Blind as bats

November 16, 2011

I had a few more glasses of wine than I should have. I was challenged. To read The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan. I’m at page 16. In a bog. Its like quick sand. I can’t seem to move on. The quicksand is questions.

“The illusion of the third dimension is discussed at length in E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion. Far from being a normal mode of human vision, three dimensional perspective is a conventionally acquired mode of seeing.” Page 16

Perspective is not real.

In a larger and more speculative sense, the theory ( holographic principle) suggests that the entire universe can be seen as a two-dimensional information structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon, such that the three dimensions we observe are only an effective description at macroscopic scales and at low energies

What is disturbing (and a view that I myself am inclined to believe) is that we are blind as bats. We perceive very little of what we like to call reality. Much of what we know (perceive) comes from science. In the early middle ages no one knew there was anything such as germs.

Our technology has expanded our senses. And our culture. We are a pack animal. We learn and understand the world because of us. The group perception. Not because of an inventor in Port Huron, Michigan

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