And it was courage

December 30, 2011

I used to think. (Some would argue that.) That the most important question to ask was. Why are we here? And the second. Is there a God? Now, I’m not so sure of the second. Time like erosion. Has eaten away at my queries. And I’m back with the early Greeks. On the edge of a cliff. Addressing the sea. Knowing that there were no gods. And that man was alone. And that there was no explanation. Only himself to offer questions. And it was courage.

I heard a program on the radio. Why do people do good when there is no prospect of profit? When they did not believe in an after life? When there would be no reward. Good for its own sake. More courage.

My mother sits in an old age home. Tired. Her body aches with it. She wants to die. But I can still make her laugh. Courage.

Happy New Year.

 

…………………………….

THERE AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS

 

Mrs. Murphy leaned against the counter. Her wrinkled elbows began to bruise. Like peaches in a crystal bowl. Glistening in the morning sun. Ripening too soon. The widow looked up at the monitor that hung from the ceiling. A small pain struck her neck. Small as Rhode Island. An infomercial about losing wrinkles. Like human skin was canvass. Put up those tents. Lets’ build a fire. And roast marshmallows. A woman was having make-up applied. The woman on the television looked oddly amused. As if someone had told her a joke. Days ago. Now the punch line. Hit her right in the snoss. Mrs. Murphy didn’t get the joke. And was offended by the young woman. For being young. She doesn’t know wrinkles.

“Are you alright, mam?” Deborah Hall, the cosmetician, asked. Rubbing hand lotion. On her hands. Feeling the chafed skin on her knuckles. Abrade all your dialing cares. Growing delightful. Seeing the sun rise.

The glass is half full. Deborah was not really concerned with Mrs. Murphy but she had to ask. Mrs. Murphy was the other half of the glass. The half that was empty. Used up. Concussed by memories. Deborah was feeling unconsciously Christian. Too many Republican speeches on the television. Bombastic claims. Humbly holding God’s hand. So that He won’t get away. She would have preferred to get back to her magazine. Or continue polishing the glass counter. Or dream about… It all came down to the same thing. It was her job.

Mrs. Murphy looked at Deborah. No tears in her eyes. Too dry for that. Like kindling. Ready to start an argument. Her eyes might burst into rage. She pointed at the monitor.

“Like to see them slather a bunch of that cream under my ass,” the widow said. “Lot of wrinkles there.”

“Excuse me!” Peggy asked. Oh how she hated being woken up. So abruptly. By rancour. Or vulgarity. It offended what she believed. A drug store was all about. A tranquil hostel against the violence of the world.

Mrs. Murphy reached out and patted Deborah on the hand.

“I’m sorry dear. Just slipped out. It as if I have that syndrome. Tourettes.

“Tourettes?”

“A neurological disorder characterized by recurrent involuntary movements and sometimes vocal tics, as grunts or words, and especially obscenities. Can’t control my language some times. Just have this God awful urge to let some curses rip.”

“I’m sorry, mam.”

“Ever hear of the Big Bang?” Mrs. Murphy smiled sweetly. Remembering when that smile had been to her advantage. When that sweetness was mistaken. For a deep inner beauty.

Deborah sighed. Ready to expire into another day dream. Anything to lock the old woman out of her head. She was determined not to let the old lady make her feel. Uncomfortable. Her stomach began to grumble. She shouldn’t have hurried through her breakfast.

“The Big Bang was God farting.” A strange other worldly cackle slipped out of the old woman’s lips. As if she was the mere wardrobe. Of some alien. Inside.

Deborah looked down at her knuckles. They were shining. Like pearls at the bottom of a clear pool. Of water. In Achilles’ Greece.

“I’m a conflagration of maybes. Maybe I’m rich and could leave you a special purse in my will. Maybe I am descended from royalty. And could dress you in a title. Maybe I have crabs hanging off my thighs. But why go on. When you get my age, it’s easier to remember what you don’t have. And I don’t have much time.”

“Oh,” Deborah responded.

The widow sat down on the seat of her walker. She took a breath. She looked up at the cosmetician.

“Do you remember?”

Deborah leaned over the counter and smiled at the old lady. She wanted to be kindly. She had to try. How do people get old like this? They must be born that way.

“Remember what?” Deborah asked.

“That’s just my point.” The old lady smiled. Not because she was pleased with herself. But because her face did not know what else to do. More and more it seemed as if the different parts of her body functioned on their own. According to some laws in different dimensions.

“I don’t understand.” Deborah turned her head slightly to one side.

“Well, how could you expect to understand,” the old lady responded. “If you don’t remember than there is precious little to understand. Memory is order. Order is rationality. Blow a tire and you can buy another shoe.”

Deborah shook her head as she stood up. Confused. Unamused.

“Are we having a discussion, mam? Because if we are, I have no idea what you are talking about.”

The old lady climbed out of her walker and would have grabbed Deborah by the collar if Deborah had been wearing a blouse. Would have grabbed her if she could have reached Deborah. Glanced at the young woman’s breasts. Which seemed non-existent.

“I don’t remember when I stopped remembering,” the old lady said. “But I do recall when it seemed everyone began to forget. It was right after 9-11. That disaster in New York. They took out the entire planet. Only one of us survived. We’re all in that someone’s mad dream. And you know when it all ends?”

Deborah shook her head.

“When that someone amongst us wakes up.”

Deborah was suddenly awake. Snapped to attention. Realizing that something had just zipped by her ears. Something important.

“Who?” she asked.

Mrs. Murphy turned away and pushed her walker down the aisle. She stopped. Turned around.

“Maybe, it’s you.”

The tiles on the floor lit up. Like cards dealt. In a game of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. And the voice on the monitor hanging from the ceiling. Like a horse thief. Giggled. Someone in Philadelphia had asked if there really was a God. And the monitor had replied. ‘There ain’t nobody here but us chickens.’

 

Maybe its happened in your town. Its happened in Toronto. A town I loved. Everywhere you go now. Towers. Stalinesque architecture. Row after row of ugly. A wall of brick and glass along the lake. Tower city in the north. And now the west end. The promise of 30 story buildings along a major thoroughfare. 30 years ago the city had a plan. 20 years ago another plan. Plans were never followed. Developers do what they do. Make money. Build ghettos. Ghettos for the rich. Cages for the poor. Toronto. Once a city of neighbourhoods, now a city of parking lots. Caused by greedy developers, corrupt politicians, and an indifferent population.

These are buildings in Toronto, Moscow, East Berlin and Mississauga. That’s the thing about ugly. Its hard to tell them apart.

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This is a short documentary with Frank Gehry, the famous architect, designing a harbor in Sonderborg, Denmark.

Brutality of their own

December 29, 2011

A child life is filled with thugs. That parents know nothing about. Some of the worst crimes against children are committed by other children. I remember a kid. We’ll call him Brady. He wanted so much to be friends. With anyone. That everyone took advantage of him. One time I can remember trading comics with him. I traded 4 or 5 comics to him for a couple dozen of his. When my father found out, he marched me back to Brady’s house. When Brady’s father found out, he lit into Brady. Called him a wimp and several other endearing words of the times. My sister was picked on by her friends. When she was about 7 years old, the girls she hung out with took her down into a basement of one of their houses and talked her into taking all her clothes off. Then they left her there. Crying. Huddled in the corner. For what must have seemed like hours.

It wasn’t all psychological. I can remember returning to my old neighbourhood and a gang of kids there tying me to a tree. And whipping me with tree branches.

This story is more of a portrait. Of kids trying to escape brutality. Through image. Bravado. And brutality of their own.

…………………

USING THE N WORD EVERY TIME HE OPENS

“I’ve had my escape planned for years.”

That’s how Tony talks. Quietly. Softly. Self-assured. Like he has all the angles covered. Like he’s consulted a Hollywood writer. To sketch out his life. Not too many details

“That’s the first thing you’ve got to learn if you’re going to choose a life of crime.”

Tony has a movie vision of crime. Making the big killing. Being killed. Or living the rest of your days with a big smile on your face. Knowing that you fooled the man. Tony liked that expression, the man. It appealed to his sense of fairness.

“Imagine every possible job you hope to pull off and then imagine that it goes wrong and you need to escape. Visualize. Even life itself. Death will come.”

Tony sees himself as a kind of philosopher. Tough. Like a wise guy. Who is wise. Knows his way round the block.

“You know there’s going to be that final moment or moments when it’s all going to end. And how are you going to escape that. I got a way. I got it all figured out.”

Tony likes to chew gum when he talks. Philosophizing. Imagining that Socrates snapped that  rubber in his mouth. It made Tony feel. Existential. He didn’t know what the word meant. He’d read it in a comic book. Somewhere. Maybe Batman. But he liked the sound of it. Existential. Sent a chill up your spine. Like gum popping.

“Know thyself. That’s the first thing I learned. And I knew. Went over it in my head. Since I was a kid. And taking accordion lesson. I was never going to be brilliant. Not squeezing the box. Not at anything. Not that I ain’t smart. I’m plenty smart. But in the straight world if you’re going to do things on the straight and narrow, you got to be really smart. And lucky. Better be smarter than lucky. That’s the second thing I learned. Crime was easier. I mean the learning curve is sharper. You gotta learn or you’ll burn.”

Tony likes to see himself as a guy who’s seen both sides of life. From up and down. All that Joni Mitchell shit. He likes to see himself as a survivor. Like he walked out of the rubble of an Italian town after the second world war. An orphan who made it. Except of course that it would have been his grandfather who walked out of the rubble. And his father who built up the plumbing business that now pays his rent. If he lived alone. But Tony stills lives at home. Somebody had to do his laundry.

“People say. Mostly teachers and guidance counsellors say.  Tony, you could go far if you applied yourself. Applied myself. What they mean is work hard. Jump through the hoops. Kiss ass. Do what is expected. And do it over and over again. And then hope you’re lucky. Luck has too much to do with being straight. In the criminal world, luck has nothing to do with it. So I chose crime. That’s the third thing I learned. Oh, I didn’t mention it yet. There’s not as much competition in crime. Most of the people who are criminals are stupid. Morons. They get caught by high school drop outs – cops. How stupid you gotta be?”

You can see where Tony is headed. Probably get caught shoplifting. And bawl his eyes out if they keep him an hour in jail. The parents will come down to the police station and get him out. The mother will cry all the way home. The father will drive too fast. And yell. And Tony will sit in the back seat and smirk. And think how much cred this will give him with his friends.

“So I got two buddies now. Both morons. I wouldn’t say that to their faces of course. They’re sensitive. People are like that about the truth. There’s Teddy. Teddy is a cry baby. Been a cry baby since he was a … a cry baby. I’ve known him most of my life. He’s afraid of the dark. Afraid of his momma. Teddy is just a bag of jello. And then there’s Sean. The guy thinks he’s black. Keeps using the N word every time he opens his mouth. Which is something Teddy hates. Teddy is an N. Sean would change places with Teddy in a nanosecond. Sean is all muscle, no brain.”

Tony’s friends are more pathetic than he is. Isn’t that how all criminal networks begin? Little creeps. Who are always taking the easy way out. Tony is right when he says that Teddy is a baby. If it was up to Teddy he’d be back on the tit tomorrow. And Sean! A brute. One of those guys who likes putting his fist through someone’s teeth. For practice. And one day gets caught in an alley. By someone with dentures. And friends.

“But Sean likes me. I think he’s a faggot. But that’s okay. What do I care as long as I’m not putting out for him and he does what he’s told. Course, I could never tell Sean that he’s a faggot. Who the hell knows how he would react if he had to face the truth about himself? But it comes in handy. Having two guys who’ll pretty well do what I want. And what I want is to make a reputation. Stealing. Robbing drug stores. We’re going to be called the Drug Store Bandits. That’s why we’re going to rob drug stores. It sounds good. In a rap. Maybe on the news.”

You see how smart Tony is. He wants to be remembered for being a thief. Of drug stores. Blind ambition. Sometimes I wonder how he got this far. Mom was too easy on him. That’s what I think. And dad. Never kicked his ass like he kicked mine. The older brother. That’s what they call me. Don’t even bother to call me by name. Be a plumber. Get a trade. Sweat my ass off for the family. While their little golden boy sits around playing the tough guy. And heading straight to hell.

“Drug Store Bandids. It makes a neat name for a gang. Later on after we hit the big time, I’ll probably go out on my own. That’s what happens in rock groups. The lead singer leaves the group once they make a name for themselves. Well, why not? I’m going to make a name for myself. I can’t have morons hanging on to me. Dragging me down. You know what I’m saying? I’ve got to be myself. But that’s for later. Right now, we’re going to make everyone stand up and pay attention. Drug Store Bandits. It’s gotta a ring to it.”

A collage of commercials

December 28, 2011

Listening to a group of writers. 3. Talking on the CBC. Talking about their books. Like someone trying to sell A-C to the Inuet. But it occurred to me that so many of my characters in my stories have no inner life. I feel like that sometimes. Nothing inside. For a while I thought that humans might be intellectual compost heaps. Information went in and ideas came out. But that was the Educational System in me. As I grow older I find that I can take almost any point of view. And pretend that it means something. In fact as I get older I find I have less and less to say. About anything. A few simple things in my life. My kids. My wife. My friends. Starbucks coffee. And I think that the barrel is almost empty. Then I hear the Governor of Texas talk. Mr. Perry. And I feel like Socrates.

This story is about a commercial. Which is some peoples whole life. They are so filled with cliches that they sound like a collage of commercials.

………………….

GO AHEAD AND FORGET WHAT YOU GOT FOR NOTHING

Mr. Singh. Leaning off to one side. Only slightly. Like Bogart. Leaning on a door jam. Thinking about some dame. And another drink. Mr. Singh. Gathered himself. In front of his store. A pride of lions was placed behind him. One for the ‘M’. The other two for ‘GM’.  Digital effects. Between Mr. Singh and that huge yellow sign. The one that read. Just before the apocalypto. EVERYTHING MUST GO. Which was a faint hope. A last gasp. A shot in the dark. It was sell everything. Or Mr. Singh would have to go. Broke. And he knew it. But which had little. Nothing to do with the matter at hand. Mr. Singh’s shadow. Stumbled. Across the face of the lions. Bending their ear. Another cigarette. He told his story. They looked indifferent. Couldn’t have given a crab’s ass. If Mr. Singh was there. Or some other chum. They’d just finished eating. A republican. Wouldn’t mind chewing on one of those. Mostly fat. Mr. Singh loved his profile. Like Alfred Hitchcock. Although Mr. Singh himself looked more like Alfred E. Newman. That mad cap icon. Of American industrial might.

Mr. Singh. Looked quite distinguished. In his salt and pepper suit. The producer smoked a cigar. He was anxious to get the whole thing into a can, race it back to the studio, edit it, put it on the television and collect his money. Before the lions got hungry. Digitally speaking. The director. A small Frenchman with a slight Jamaican accent. Wearing a beret. Smoking a French cigarette in a German cigarette holder. Sat in a lawn chair. Smiling. How he loved to watch his own creativity. Ravel. The camera crew stood some feet away. Their dogs were dead. They’d been on their feet all day. Something this stupid shouldn’t take this long. They all agreed. Someone called out ‘somebody better say something’. The director cried. Action. Mr. Singh began to do the moonwalk. Sliding his shoes like feet in sand. Man, he was smooth. Tapping his toes like Sammy Davis. Junior. Cocking his head to one side. His hips tucked under his shoulders. His fingers snapping. Like lady fingers. On July 4. Strutting toward the camera. Like Mick Jagger. His lips pouting. Like Brigid Bardot. He sang:

“Have I got a deal for you! Best deal since 1940. Two. They brag about bargains. In Buffalo. Save yourself. In Buffalo. Boy, you got to forget. Those boasts. From those boys. Have I got a deal for you? We got your rugs. Spelling out your name. We got your couches. Dressers. That will make those chins wag. Checking out that tag. Old ladies in Barrie. Will be driven crazy. We got bargains. Don’t be no Judas. You can betray. Genghis Khan. For half of what you gave. At church. For Jesus Christ. Can you hear that jangle. Of change in your. Pocket. What a sweet sound. Go ahead and forget what you got for nothing. No one pays to enter this world. But look at the price. You pay. Not to leave. Keep your nickels and dimes. Maybe some day. A collector. A handsome collector. Will reward you for your patience. Don’t be afraid to steal. We wiped out that commandment. With each of our prices. Don’t worry. About poverty. You’ll always get by. When you come to Singh. Slow down. Keep your money in your bank. Come on down. Lets Singh you a different tune. Everything must go. From my house. Right into your house. We just want to treat you right. Have I got a deal for you!”

The Death of Lou Grant

December 25, 2011

Nominated for an EPPIE Award. And its free. Laughs, chuckles, rape, and murder.

The Death of Lou Grant

A man is dying in his backyard of a heart attack. He begins to recall his life. Except that it is not his life. It is the life of a fictional character from a popular television situation comedy. And he can’t…

Day After Christmas

December 24, 2011

This was a story I wrote for my son when he was born. It was part of a collection of stories called A Box Of Chocolates. To those who are so inclined, I hope you enjoy it. In any event, the best of the season.

 

………………..

THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

 

Being Sad

 

It was the day after Christmas and Raymond Chocolate was very depressed. He was uncommonly quiet. His long face got on everyone’s nerves so much that Mrs. Chocolate was forced to tell Raymond to play outside until he was in a better mood. Raymond was so depressed that he didn’t even object to wearing the pink tuke his Aunt Molasses had sent him as a present.

When Raymond stepped outside his breath came rushing out of his mouth and formed a nice round ball. Usually Raymond liked to take these balls and throw them at Ludwig Van, his invisible dragon. This day Raymond just looked at the ball. The ball waited a moment longer then usual, shrugged its shoulders, and fell into the snow.

“You are depressed, sir!” Ludwig Van said. “I was depressed once. I went to a dentist and had it pulled out.”

Raymond mumbled, “Isn’t nothing.”

Ludwig smiled and added, “It was a wisdom tooth. The only one I had.”

“Ya, right,” Raymond responded.

Ludwig Van became quiet. He was trying to mustard all of his courage together. He put his courage into his mouth like a hot dog and ate it.

“Sir, I don’t mean to be nosy, never have been nosy as you very well know, but what’s got you so sad?”

Raymond turned to the invisible dragon who on such a cold day was almost visible and sighed.

“Ah… you wouldn’t understand!”

Ludwig Van sighed. “I suppose you’re right. If it’s as bad as you say perhaps you could have it pulled out. I was once depressed and I went to a dentist… Oh, I told that story already.”

Raymond took a deep breath and then poured out his heart.

“I’m sad because… Okay, first, there were those socks Christiane got me as a Christmas present. Socks! Socks aren’t presents! And then there was the way everyone found Baby Alan so cute. Since he started talking there’s no way I can get a word in edgewise. I used to be the one that said the cute things. And then of course there’s always the big question?”

“Big question?” Ludwig Van gulped.

“Will there be another Christmas? I heard mom say that the bills were piling up. She wondered how we would make ends meet. And I heard dad say that he didn’t know how the country could be held together. So many people don’t have jobs and so many jobs need to be done. And I heard Christiane say that there might be another ice age and that it started yesterday.”

“Another ice age!” Ludwig Van cried. “That is depressing. I remember the last ice age. Everyone slept a lot.”

And so Raymond Chocolate and Ludwig Van trudged aimlessly through the snow, which had freshly fallen the evening before. Raymond Chocolate sank up to his knees with each step while Ludwig Van walked on top of the snow. Invisible dragons are able to walk on top of the snow because they are born with snowshoes built into their feet.

 

Jack-in-the-Box

 

As Raymond and Ludwig Van trudged down the street through the snow they heard a voice.

It cried, “Hey!” Raymond turned to the invisible dragon.

“Did you hear that?”

“Yes I did,” Ludwig Van replied. “But, I can’t remember when. Was it Tuesday? No, that’s impossible. Tuesday is tomorrow at least for today. Maybe it was Wednesday.”

“Hey!” a voice cried again.

Raymond looked around. “I heard it again.”

Ludwig Van scratched his chin with the end of his tail. “Maybe it was an echo.”

“I’m here under the snow!” the voice cried.

Raymond stepped over to the side of the road and pushed snow off the top of a mount of snow. Underneath the snow he found a beaten up old jack-in-the-box. The head lay out of the side of the box like a tongue out of the side of a mouth.

Raymond asked. “Whet are you doing out here?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” the jack-in-the-box snarled. “Getting a tan? Of all the people in the world I could have been rescued by, I have to pick a kid. I hate kids! What am I doing here? How many times have I asked myself that question? Why am I out here? Because I’m last year’s toy. Oh, the little monsters, they were very happy with me last year. Last year they couldn’t keep there grubby little hands off me. But now, this year, they say I’m no fun!”

The jack-in-the-box turned its head, looked up at Raymond and hollered. “I am fun! I am! Test me and see. Go ahead, why don’t you!”

So Raymond stuffed the jack-in-the-box in the box and closed the lid. Then Raymond turned the little arm on the side of the box. Raymond warned Ludwig Van to take cover. So the invisible dragon hid behind his master and put his hands over his eyes and gritted his teeth in anticipation of a terrible scare. Very slowly the lid of the box rose up and the jack-in-the-box crawled out ever so slowly and whispered in a very tiny voice, “boo”.

Raymond stared at the jack-in-the-box. Ludwig Van took his hands off his eyes and looked at the jack-in-the-box and puffed out his chest.

“Nothing scares me!” the invisible dragon proudly declared.

When the jack-in-the-box realized he hadn’t frightened anyone he began to cry.

“Oh, I’ve got to face up to it. I’ve lost the magic. Good-bye showbiz. So long world. You’ll never have this jack-in-the-box to kick around anymore.”

With these words the jack crawled back into his box. Raymond closed the Lid and covered him again with snow. Ludwig Van began to weep, his tears turning into icicles, the icicles slipping from his eyes and sticking into the snow just missing the invisible dragon’s toes.

“Maybe things will pick up in the spring for the little guy,” Ludwig Van said.

But Raymond didn’t hear his friend. He was too depressed.

 

The X-Christmas Tree

 

Raymond and Ludwig Van continued on down the street. The streets were empty. Everyone was inside being happy, Raymond thought. If only they knew. As Raymond and Ludwig Van turned the corner onto the street that led to the town dump, they heard someone sneeze.

“Haaa Choo!”

“Was that you?” Raymond asked his invisible friend.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised, sir,” Ludwig Van replied. “But, I don’t remember sneezing. Of course I have a short memory especially when I’m not warm.”

“Haaa Chooo!”

Another sneeze. Raymond turned and saw some snow fall off a tree. It was a Christmas tree stuck in a snowdrift, still dressed in tinsel, and Christmas balls, and colored lights.

“Was that you who sneezed, Christmas tree?” Raymond asked.

“X-Christmas tree,” the tree responded before it sneezed again. “I think I’ve caught a cold.”

“Shouldn’t you be inside?” Raymond asked.

“Yes of course I should. But they couldn’t wait to get rid of me. Christmas is barely over and here I am, abandoned, stuck in this snow bank and feeling… Haa Choo!”

“Bless you!” Ludwig Van said.

“And it all started out so beautifully,” the tree sniffled as its ornaments shimmered. “Last week when they bought me and put me up in their living room I felt wonderful. They treated me like a queen. Dressed me up, laid gifts at my feet. Well, I can’t begin to tell you how glorious I… Haa Choo! I thought that being a Christmas tree would be so glamorous. But, look at me now. I feel like crawling away somewhere and… Haaa Choooooo!!!”

And with this the Christmas tree began to cry and because it was so cold the tears turned into icicles and because the icicles formed only on one side of the tree, the tree began to lose its balance.

“TIM—BER!” cried Ludwig Van who just managed to get out of the way of the falling tree.

“I’m getting even more depressed,” Raymond said as he turned away from the fallen tree and trudged down the street.

“Well, sir,” Ludwig Van said as he followed behind his master, “judging by that x-Christmas tree and the jack-in-the-box you seem to have lots of company.

 

The Jungle

 

When Raymond reached the jungle, which his father insisted was the town dump, he stopped. Raymond informed the invisible dragon that he was going deep into the jungle never to return. It was Ludwig Van’s decision whether he wanted to follow him.

“We’re a team, sir,” Ludwig Van smiled as he stretched his arms to three times their normal length and wrapped them around his neck like a scarf.

The two friends plunged into the jungle. Because of the numerous snowdrifts they were at times forced to take curving and sweeping trails. But none of this mattered since they were headed nowhere in particular. As they walked they passed half buried pickup trucks, telephone booths, rolls of fencing. A long green hose rose out of the snow several yards ahead, looked at them for a moment, than sank back into a snowdrift. Occasionally the heads of television sets and washing machines were spotted peaking out at Raymond and Ludwig Van.

Ludwig Van said. “This must be the end of the world, sir.”

The invisible dragons’ teeth began clattering together with the cold.

“Don’t you think we should turn back, sir?”

Raymond did not respond. Instead he turned his head and pointed his ear to the east.

“Did you hear that?” Raymond asked.

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Ludwig Van replied in a cold mousy voice. “I’ve bean hearing things all morning.”

“Someone is singing!” Raymond said.

Raymond looked around. The singing was coming from an old abandoned car.

“Over there,” Raymond pointed.

When Ludwig Van found himself alone he hastened to catch up to Raymond who was headed toward a long very black car.

Raymond and Ludwig Van gazed into the old automobile through the windows but could see nothing because all the windows were frosted up.

Raymond knocked.

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that, sir,” Ludwig Van squealed.

“Yes,” a voice from inside the car replied. “Come in.”

Before Ludwig Van could stop him, Raymond opened a door and looked inside.

 

Sam

 

“Come in arid join me,” a hurtle smiled. “My name is Reginald Clifford the Third, but my friends call me Sam which is what you may call me.”

Raymond And Ludwig Van climbed into the front seat of the car. The hurtle had been enjoying a cup of tea and he offered Raymond and Ludwig a cup to help them warm up.

Ludwig Van swallowed his tea quickly and sighed.

“I never thought I was going to feel warm.”

Raymond asked. “Why were you singing?”

“Why?” Sam smiled. “It’s Christmas time my boy or at least that’s what we cell it in this neck of the woods.”

“But,” Raymond protested in a sad voice, “don’t you know what’s happening?”

“What’s happening?” Sam asked looking quite concerned.

Raymond proceeded to tell Sam about the jack-in-the-box, and the x-Christmas tree, and the socks, and being the lost kid in the family, and the bills piling up, about all the jobs that had to be done, about the ice age, and about the sorry state of the world in general.

“Enough! Enough!” Sam begged laughing. “I know all about those matters and serious matters they are, especially about being the lost boy in the family As far as the ice age is concerned, I thought it started yesterday and you can never have enough socks in an ice age.”

“Does it all make you feel unbearably sad’” Raymond asked.

“Yes,” Sam responded shaking his head, “if I let it. But today, I’ve taken a holiday from all those cares.”

“You mean you don’t went to face the truth,” Raymond scolded the hurtle.

Sam giggled for a moment.

“You are a very serious young man, aren’t you? I haven’t seen someone so upset since my brother Louise woke up one morning and found that someone had painted his shell pink. I thought it was a harmless prank myself.”

Sam reached over to the glove compartment and pulled out a small package wrapped in Christmas paper. He handed it to Raymond.

“For me?” Raymond cried.

Sam nodded

Quickly Raymond unwrapped the present. It was a mirror.

“Thank you,” Raymond responded. “But, I don’t understand.”

Sam smiled. “The real present is inside the mirror.”

“That’s me,” Raymond replied.

Sam chuckled. “Isn’t that wonderful? You’re here. It’s better than not being here. My brother Velma was never here and he always had trouble doing up his shoelaces.”

“I know the feeling,” the invisible dragon sighed.

“You see,” Sam explained. “It takes courage to he here. And it takes even more courage to see all the problems of the world and stay here. And it takes even more courage then that to smile and maybe to even change the world a little, to make it a better place for everyone.”

“You mean there’ll he Another Christmas,” Raymond said.

“Of course,” Sam grinned.

“But the way people talk…

“Oh them,” Sam said shaking his head. “Sometimes adults talk very foolish. You’ll understand that better when you grow up.”

“Did you’ hear that Ludwig Van? There’s going to be another Christmas.

“Yes, sir,” the invisible dragon shivered, “But maybe they could hold it in the summer next year.”

Sam laughed. Raymond laughed. Ludwig Van laughed. And then the three friends began to sing Silent Night even though it was early in the afternoon.

 

 

It was about hair

December 23, 2011

The twentieth century has created a number of characters (stereotypes in a way) who did not exist in earlier times. Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Bogart’s hard boiled detective. James Garner’s fast talking Maverick. And the detective. Sherlock Holmes. And my favourite, the bumbling detective. Clouseau is an example. But my favourite is the library detective on Jerry Seinfeld.

I used that same character for this short story. (He appears again in other stories in the book trilogy ‘Open 24hrs’.) He is a derivative character that came out of the 60s. There were a lot of people who acted like this. They were vicious, opinionated, mean spirited and angry. I worked for one. During the 70s. It was a summer job. Working in the parks for the city. I was called into the big bosses office and interviewed. It was about hair. The supervisor’s name was Cock. Could you lie about something like that? He was a Scotsman. (I’m part Scottish). He was stubborn, short, and cranky. And he was on a mission. The speech lasted about 20 minutes. The policy of the city (or Cock, the two were interchangeable) was to make sure that there weren’t any hippies employed. That meant of course long hair. So in order to get a job everyone had to get a haircut. I couldn’t afford not to have this job if I wanted to go to university. There were over a hundred of us hired so Cock must have spent near a month interviewing. So of course I like everyone else showed up in early May with our hair cut. Which we did not cut again until the next spring. And the interview. With the City’s Cock.

……………

EVERYONE IS PRESUMED GUILTY

Paul McGregor and Ralph Sampson. Clerks in the pharmaceutical. Stood at attention.  Against the bathroom wall. Line-up. There was a slight breeze off the hand dryer. Their eyes were directed straight across. Like lasers. In ole L.A.  At the opposite wall. The store detective was dressed in a grey trench coat and fedora. Like he was going to ask, what can I do for ya. Strolled back and forth. In front of. Them. A toothpick waving. Like a baton. Up and down in his mouth. The marching-meister-mister. In a parade. Of one.

The detective stopped in front of Paul. The shorter, paler, younger of the two clerks.

“And this is where the excrementum was located?”

Paul stared at the detective. The detective ground his teeth on the toothpick. Impatiently. That yo-yo mind. Spinning its wheels.

“The feces,” the detective said. “Let’s be professional about this…”

Still Paul looked perplexed.

“The shit! The goddam turd!.” The detective cried. Blood pressure climbing up.

“Yes, sir,” Paul responded, glancing down at the floor. The detective’s laces were undone. Fed up. Ready to go and get up.

“You’re sure?”

“You were there, sir.” Paul looked at the detective. With a look of confidentiality. “You’re the one that took the photograph of it. Before I cleaned…”

The detective stepped toward the young clerk. Who did not retreat. Forfeiting his personal space. He did not retreat. Because… well, there was a wall behind him.

“What are you implying, kid?” The detective’s forehead was now pressed against Paul’s chin. Paul stared at the detective’s scalp. A rash was spreading. Through the detective’s thinning hair line. Brush fire. Paul wondered if he should mention anything about the rash.

“Well!” the detective roared into the clerk’s throat.

Sweat began to roll down Paul’s forehead. Ran down his cheek. Like an eaves trough. Dripping off his chin. A stalactite in the making. Onto the roof. Of the detective’s head.

“Nothing, sir.”

The detective moved away from Paul. Snorted. Stepped toward the far corner of the room where he addressed the taller, darker, older clerk. Ralph Sampson. And remembered his grandfather. Remembering when there were no black folks in Toronto. Who were not employees of the Canadian National Railway.

“Pretty sure of yourself. Aren’t you?” the detective asked.

Ralph smiled.

“Tall!” The detective spit the word out. Like he’d done Heimlich. On himself.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“You tall people make me sick.” The detective crunched his shoulders. “There was a time in this country when people weren’t so damn tall. We were a proud people. We stood tall. Or at least we thought we did. Until your sort showed up.”

Ralph looked at Paul unable to make out what the detective was about. Paul shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay Houdini. Where were you on the said day?”

“Today?”” Ralph asked.

“What other day would I be referring to?”

“I was working, sir.”

“Can you prove that?”

“Prove what, sir?”

“Prove what?” the detective cried. The detective was fond of repeating questions. It gave him time to think. And it sounded like he was angry. Anger was good in an interrogation. “That you were working that day?”

Ralph nodded. “You can ask at the office.”

“How do we know that you weren’t conveniently visiting Niagara Falls?”

Ralph swallowed deeply. He glanced over at Paul who was looking up at the ceiling.

“Don’t try to get the answer from him,” the detective barked.

Ralph smiled. But not in a good way. “Why would I go to Niagara Falls?”

“The same as everyone else,” the detective answered.

A bead of sweat trickled down Ralph’s forehead into the corner of his eye. It was salty and stung. Ralph’s voice broke.

“To watch the water go over the falls?” Ralph responded.

“The water going over the falls?” the detective repeated scornfully.

Ralph nodded.

The detective stared at Ralph for several seconds then rushed toward him, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a photograph of the excrement. On his Iphone. Or in it. Figuratively speaking. He placed it directly in Ralph’s line of sight. The Iphone. And not the turd.

“Look familiar?” he cried. The detective was showing his teeth. Which weren’t all there. And the ones that were. Were stained. From coffee. Smoking. From that girl who worked in the spa. And never washed her hands. Tartar buildup.

“Yes, sir.” Ralph nodded.

“Ah,” the detective cried, “so it was you who left this little memento?”

“No, sir.” Ralph shook his head sideways.

“You said you recognized it.”

“I know what it is,” Ralph explained. “I didn’t mean to imply that I took ownership of it.”

The detective stared straight into Ralph’s eyes.

“Pretty fancy words for an immigrant,” the detective responded sarcastically. He didn’t like immigrants. Didn’t like the way they dressed. Like the rest of the citizenship. Hiding. Camouflaged.

“I’m taking night school.” Ralph smiled.

The detective took the toothpick out of his mouth and placed it behind his ear. Why would an immigrant try to better himself? Wasn’t the country good enough without him advancing himself? Trying to climb over those who were cued before him? But the detective did not raise the issue. He was an immigrant himself. Instead he put the Iphone  back in the pocket of his trench coat. And stepped away from the two clerks.

“I’ve questioned all the male staff.” The tone in the detective’s voice had become darker. He was sulking. “You two were my last hope.”

“Perhaps it’s one of the female staff?” Paul suggested.

The detective glared at the clerk.

“A woman would never commit such a vile act. Its not in the female DNA. And if she did… the sample would not have been so… elongated. It would have been more in the shape… more like a pie.” The detective thought for a moment. Then he shook his head as if he were trying to escape the clutches of a disgusting image. “No, this is the work of the masculine gender.”

“Did you speak to Mr. Edwards?” Ralph asked.

As soon as Ralph asked this question, Paul let out a whine. Overwhelmed either by Ralph’s courage for suggesting Mr. Edwards as the culprit, or shocked by Ralph’s stupidity.

“Mr. Edwards?” The detective rubbed his chin. He looked down at the floor, deep in thought. Then he glanced at Ralph and returned to his thoughts. The owner of the drug store. Never thought of him. Might be an immigrant. Somewhere. Back there. In his ancestors.

“It could have been a customer,” Paul said.

The detective looked at the clerk.

“What did you say?”

Paul repeated himself.

“Jesus!” the detective cried, kicking a dent in the garbage can. “A customer? There must be thousands of them. This case may never be solved!”

“Perhaps we have some suspects?” Paul suggested. “The regulars. Regular customers.”

“Yes.” The detective stepped up to Paul McGregor. “Any one jump out at you?”

“No, sir.” Paul smiled.

“Then why did you suggest that you might have your suspicions?”

Paul grinned sheepishly. “You looked so discouraged.”

The detective turned to Ralph. “Give me some names. Off the top of your head. Before you have a chance to think.”

Ralph struggled for a moment to come up with a name.

“Louie,” he finally said.

“Who the hell is Louie?” the detective asked.

“He runs the dollar store,” Paul explained. “And what about Big Bob from the hardware store. Or Tom Paine. Or Mr. Newton. One of those exterminators. Or that social worker, Mr. Macdonald. Mr. Singh…”

“Not Mr. Singh,” Ralph said.

Paul nodded. “That’s right. Mr. Singh would never use our washroom.”

“And why is that?” the detective asked.

“He and Mr. Edwards don’t get along,” Paul explained. “There is Mr. Martins.”

“Not Mr. Martins,” Ralph objected.

“You’re right,” Paul agreed.

“And why not Mr. Martins?” the detective asked.

“Because he’s a friend of Ralph’s,” Paul replied.

The detective grabbed Paul by the shirt and pulled him towards his face.

“I don’t know where you come from kid. But in our system. Under our laws. Until we find out who did this. Everyone is presumed guilty.”

Who is the most interesting character in the 20th century? To me its a toss up. Between Soren Kierkegaard and Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin’s little tramp introduced to me, a comic/tragic character. A romantic figure who managed to survive the stupidity of the 20th century. There was the Dark Ages. This is the Lite Ages. We are so dumb. Finally free of the oppressive caste system in Europe and we sink to the lowest common denominator. The demagogy  of the rich.

And Kierkegaard. Who dared to consider the possibility. Of a real God. And took that leap. And believed in the absurd. Last night someone stole the elevator from our apartment building.

 

……………….

THE BALLAD OF A THIEF

 

Sean was sly. Not quite the fox. But in his own mind. He had some nasty tools. To get himself into trouble. And out. A double zero 7. Hero. When in the pincers of death he’d take himself aside. And ask. What would Bond do? That quirky smile would spark. That yellow tattoo of an orange on his arm. Would shine. He’d get a sparkle in his eye. The left one. To you. And he’d know what to do. Like a television commercial. The answer would just pop into his head. Like the game was fixed. Out of nowhere. And he sashay down that aisle. Of moil and trouble. Every so often taking a side step. A little Fox Trot parlay. With gravity. Just like he was doing. Now. Down the aisle. In the pharmacy.

Fu. Man, he kept his eyes on everything. Like City TV. From his perch. Not the fish. Outside the drug store. His face pressed against the glass. He watched Sean amble. Elbows flying. Wander through this story. Like he was Camus. Shuffling easily from word to word. Shuffling easily from product to product. So happily. It made Fu cry. Man, that guy is sly!

No one had spotted Sean. None of the employees. Of the drug store. So caught up in their own tasks. And the other shoppers. Might as well have been lifters themselves. They had no clue. No idea that Sean was up to no good. And the only good thief is one no one knows is a thief. Like someone had misspelled the word. Put the ‘i’ behind the ‘e’.

Sean moseyed on passed Paul McGregor. A bright enough lad. On other occasions. Like his sister’s birthday. And the combination to every lock. But not today Paul’s head was in a cloud. Number 9. Poor Paul. Thinking about the Singh girl. Swashing his mop across the floor. Thinking about her eyes. Swabbing the deck. And her hips. Where little Albert Franklin. Had thrown his lunch. Through his mouth. It was like a crime scene. Paul imagined. Gangland slaying. But there was no disguising Albert Franklin’s hot dog. That was once so comfy. In Albert Franklin’s stomach.

“Nice work,” Sean’s teeth chattered. The jabber all mixed up with his smile. The hot dog gave him a sort of appetite. But not for food.

“Happens.” Paul shrugged with a twist. Of his mop. Waving it across the floor. Like it was a magic wand. Which that little Singh girl was missing.

“Someone get sick?” Sean asked. Asking the obvious. Which kind of put to rest the point of asking a question. But Sean knew what he was doing. Throw the attention. In the other direction. Make it sound. Like he was interested in Paul’s predicament. Isn’t that how innocent bystanders behave? Sean was happy. What an insight. Made him want to whistle. Which he did.

Paul continued to swoop up the dupe. This isn’t worth minimum wage, he should have thought. And then he heard a tune. “Into each life some rain must fall. But too much is fallin’ in mine. Wondered where he’d heard that tune. Had it been over the intercom? Changed his mood. One more hour. And his break. In the back. Of the drug store with that Singh girl. And her chocolate skin.

Sean wanted to snap his heels together and laugh. I’ve got him hooked. He thinks that it’s cool that a cool guy like myself would actually be interested in a dork. A clerk like him. Especially since he’s mopping up someone else’s stomach.

But Paul was smiling to himself. He watched Sean moved down the aisle. All dorks aren’t dull.

“We’ve got it on tape. No one heard Paul speak. But they couldn’t have missed his gesture. There was a camera hanging. From the ceiling.

Paul had to smile. He wished he could have laughed.

This guy thinks that I don’t know what he’s up to. Going to leave the store with something he hasn’t purchased. Talking to me like he cares about what I do. Who cares about a mop and barf except a thief?

“Oh ya,” Sean said. Looking up at the camera. Straightened out his collar. Winked at the camera. All in the plan.

“Good you got those cameras. The world is a stage. And all of us are players. Just give us the opportunity to perform.”

Behind Sean, Paul looked at his mop.

“Would you like to dance?”

Paul slid his hand around her waist. The Singh girl. And waltzed slowly down the aisle. The sixteen step.

Sean looked over his shoulder. Saw the clerk dance off. Snapped his fingers and stepped around the pool and into the next aisle. There was a woman. In a checkered dress. That made her look like a table. In an Italian restaurant. She was bent over a stroller talking to her kid. Sean smiled. At her ass. The kid was looking up at the monitor. The monitor was warning shoppers about shoplifting. The woman looked up at Sean. Something was dangling from her chin. Sean knew it wasn’t a medal for bravery. It made him want to upchuck. Chuck chuck up. He looked away. The kid must have spit on her.

Sean passed down this aisle. And over to the next. Filled with hair dyes. And makeup. Small enough packages. To stuff in one’s pocket. Small enough to put up one’s baggy trouser leg. What the hell would I do with make-up? Stealing what you did not need. Just plain stupid. There was no other word for it. Sean knew it. Still times were getting desperate. What was the point in entering the drug store if he was going to leave empty handed. Absent minded. Holes in his pocket.

This sucks! Sean shoved his head down. Between his shoulders. Made his way past the magazine stand. Slunking. Spunky eyes. And an attitude from Harlem. His eyes slung back in his head. Sliding back and forth like a bubble. In a balance. Got to love that counterpoint. Looking hither and thither. To see if someone spotted him. Sean grabbed a newspaper. Stuffed it up under his shirt. Man that tickles. Where the tattoo over his heart of a heart fluttered.

Making his way out of the store when a voice. Cried out. From behind. Better than ahead. Sean didn’t stop. Didn’t stoop. Held his head high. The race was afoot. The sliding doors opened. Obeying the laws of the universe. Sean dashed. Slashed between cars. Like a rash. Spreading across the parking lot. And behind the large neon sign. That advertised The Six Points Plaza. To cars that passed by. Including police cars. And ambulances. And little old ladies out on a Sunday drive. When Sean was certain he was safe he looked at his loot. This was the fun part. Like Christmas morning. The first time with a girl. When she gave permission. He looked down. Expecting to see a newspaper. The Sun. Or the Star. It wasn’t the daily journal of world events. That cost a buck. It was a real estate paper. And it was free.

Fu watched all of this. From his perch on the ground. Not in a lake. Outside the drug store. The grin shattered his face. He laughed. Like it was going out of style. Like those tears of guffaws were moon beams. In a vacant mouth. Like he had died. And gone to heaven.

The object of our love

December 20, 2011

Sometimes when the night gets cold. You get a glimpse. When a loved one passes on. But mostly we live in a dream. A sleep. Watching the shadows flickering across the walls of Plato’s cave. We are social animals. The thought of being ostracized from the company of his fellow man, led Socrates to accept suicide. But being on the outside is what all of us fear. And the greater fear. That everyone will suddenly know who we really are. And shun us. Shame. Even the good man. Lives with the fear. That others will think him a fool. And because he is good, he will accept the possibility of their judgement.

This is a story of delusion. Self-delusion. Which we all indulge in. We fall in love. Knowing that the object of our love will die.

…………………………….

BLOWS DESCARTES RIGHT OUT OF THE WATER

 

Paul McGregor stepped out. One foot thrown high in the air. Like Fred Astaire. Followed by the other. His foot. Not Ginger Rogers. Of the drug store. The front of the drug store. Not to be mistaken for the rear. Paul felt terrific. In almost everyway. A cigarette in his thoughts. His lips drowning. In that mortal bliss of anticipation.

Fu sat. His legs twisted like a pretzel. On the cement. Leaning back against the drug store window. Like it was a couch. Reading a book. Literate architecture. Fu was also blissed out. Without the use of tobacco. Although he was unemployed. And begging.

Paul dug into this shirt pocket. The uniform shirt. That the drug store gave him to wear. Not the drug store per se. But an agent of the drug store. Paul took out a package of cigarettes. Rothman’s. He wished they were Camels. Gotta love the name Camels.  A real inspiration. He lit one. Up. It tasted so… hmmm. Before Paul could put the pack away, Fu cleared his throat. A cough. Asked if he could bum one. Paul nodded. He felt generous. Everything was going his way. It was one of those days. Nothing could go wrong. What could go wrong? Dare anything go wrong? Paul handed the package to Fu. Fu took out two cigarettes. Stuffed one behind his ear and lit up the other.

“What are you reading?” Paul asked. He noticed the book in Fu’s lap. It was one of those moments. He felt like taking an interest in others. That feeling of wellness made Paul feel… generous. Man was good. Human kind was good.

“Camus,” Fu replied. “The Outsider.”

“Any good?” Paul thought about Singh’s daughter. Her lips. Mostly. They had met the day before. After work. They messed around. Paul had gotten his tongue. Into her mouth. She almost screamed. But gagged instead. He would see her again. Today. They would meet again. Paul had brushed his teeth. Flossed. Bogarted some Listerine. Just the thought. Of her tonsils. Sent a quiver through Paul’s tightening trousers.

“It’s so good. I read it twice,” Fu responded.

Fu juggled the package. Of cigarettes in his fingers. Handed them back. Paul stuffed them back. In the drug store’s shirt. Stepped toward the curb. Wanted to sing.

“How would you react if your mother died?” Fu asked.

Paul looked at the homeless fool. Sitting on the cement. Like Buddha. Paul wondered. What the hell Fu was getting at. He also remembered what his mother had said about sitting on cement. Kidneys get cold. Pneumonia. Or something worse. Resulting in considerable damage to your abilities to populate. Or copulate. He couldn’t quite remember what his mother had been getting at. But he didn’t want problems in that department.

“She’s already dead,” Paul said. “I was six years old.”

“How’d you feel?” Fu looked very professional. Or mystic. When he asked this question. Perhaps CEO was just another name for GURU in capitalism.

“It was a long time ago. My dad remarried. My step-mother was a bitch.”

Fu nodded. He took a small pad out of his pocket. Wrote something. Didn’t say what.

“What’s that?” The smoke escaped. From Paul’s teeth. Like Sunday morning Mass. The stampede at the end.

Paul was a writer himself. Had his own small pad. Filled with notes. Lately about Mr. Singh’s daughter.

Fu looked up. “Thoughts.”

He handed the book to Paul. Paul looked at the book. Page after page. Words scribbled. Not unlike his own. He read a few pages. They sounded pretty mundane to Paul but he wasn’t into belittling Fu’s efforts. Not today. When the world was so… hopeful.

“Why do you write in such short pieces?”

“Einstein wrote his theory of the General Law of Relativity on one page.” Fu smirked. Like all folks do. When they think they’ve let you in. A wider world.

Paul thought. The smell of Mr. Singh’s daughter’s perfume. Disrupted his thoughts.

“Not so short,” Fu said.

“You think that way too?” Paul asked. “Like bursts.”

“I live that way,” Fu answered.

“You mean,” Paul said, “that life is made up of all these small crumbs?”

Fu smiled. “Ya. Small crumbs. The kind you’re fed. At the Master’s table.”

“But that doesn’t answer my initial question,” Paul said, pointing his cigarette at Fu. Like a branding iron. “Why write, think, live in morsels? When you go to the library, the books there are always huge. Like the importance of a book is dependent on its weight. If you want the world to take notice, you’ve got to think. Big. Why write in such small bursts?”

Fu was silent. He needed a moment. To consider Paul’s question. And to suck on his cigarette. He loved that swirl in his chest. That swirl in his brain. Was it thinking or nicotine?

“Because,” he began, “something might happen while I was biting off something bigger.”

“Something interesting?” Paul asked.

“Something dangerous,” Fu replied.

Paul thought about that. For some time. He thought about Mr. Singh. He wondered how he would react if he found out about his daughter. Fooling around with Paul. She had told Paul about her father’s fiery temper.

“Why do you pretend to be something you are not?” Fu asked.

Paul dropped his cigarette on the cement and ground it out.

“What are you talking about, man?”

“Isn’t your name Maynard?”

Paul laughed.

“Fuck no!” He said too loudly. Then looked around to see if anyone had heard him. They might report him. Mr. Edwards did not approve of profanity.

“You sure?”

“I guess I know my own name.” Paul was angry. He didn’t like people putting words in his mouth. Or making him out to be someone he was not. Or screwing up a day that looked so filled with promise.

“Where’d you get a crazy idea like that?”

Fu looked in his book then up at Paul.

“You did. About three weeks ago.”

“I told you I was someone named Maynard G. Krebbs?”

“I never said anything about your last name. Or your middle initial.”

Fu returned to his book. Paul stared down at the young Buddha for a minute.

“How did you know your last name?” Fu said before Paul could speak.

“A guess.” Paul took out another cigarette and lit it up. “I must have heard of it somewhere.”

“Do you know who your parents are?”

“Ya,” Paul lit up another cigarette. “I guess I know who my parents are. And I guess I know that my mother died in child birth. Giving me life. Died because my fucking head was too big. And the doctor’s couldn’t stop the bleeding. But not right away. About six years later. Still. The law still applies. Cause and effect. And I guess there are things that happen to you that you never forget. Even if you don’t exactly remember them.”

Paul sucked on his cigarette. A for some time.

Fu did not look up from his book. Nursing his own cigarette between his fingers as if he were giving birth to smoke.

“Did I really say my name was Maynard?” Paul asked.

Fu looked up.

“I wouldn’t fuck with you, man. And that’s not all.”

Paul slid down the wall and sat beside Fu.

“You said,” Fu began, “that you didn’t believe that the people you were living with were your parents. You said that you were a fictional character.”

“A fictional character?” Paul’s mouth hung open. That sounds crazy, he was about to say but was interrupted by Fu.

Fu nodded. “You said that you were a character from a comedy series in the 1960s called The Loves of Dobie Gillis. You were a character named Maynard G. Krebbs. He was the only thing that was real to you.”

“Jesus!” Paul sighed. “The only real thing. What does that say about… this?”

Fu shrugged. “This is this.”

The smoke slipped out of Paul’s.

“Sort of blows Descartes right out of the water, don’t you think?” Fu smiled sheepishly.

“How come I don’t remember any of this?” Paul asked. At the same time he had forgotten all about Mr. Singh’s daughter. And the day. The promise of the day.

“There was something else,” Fu said.

Paul turned to Fu.

“You have a tumor.” Fu said. “In your brain. Between your hemispheres. Like a hot dog. And you don’t remember any of this because you’re in denial. It’s the first stage.”

“No, shit.” Paul spoke like a man in shock. Unable to deal with the quality and quantity of information being fed into his cerebrum. Either hemisphere. Or maybe he was in the second stage.

Fu continued to slowly draw on his cigarette. Paul’s cigarette was stuck between his fingers. Burning down. Smoke going up.

“Am I fucked?” Paul asked.

Fu turned and looked at Paul. “Apparently.”

Everyone was silent. Smoke rushed into the sky. The sun hid behind its cloud.

 

Consciousness is a rumor

December 18, 2011

Trying to remember what innocence was like. Its impossible. I suppose history is against us. Every generation thinks that somewhere along the way they lost their innocence. For us it was Kennedy’s assassination. For the generation in college it was 911. For our parents it was Pearl Harbor. Or maybe The Crash. But the world has never been innocent. We’ve just been stupid.

So I’ve imposed innocence on this story. I’ve treated childhood like a cartoon. That everything is exaggerated. Or surreal. Or big. Or completely misunderstood. Sometimes I feel consciousness is a rumor.

…………..

EYE BALL

 

Little Alvin McGuire sat in his stroller. Slurping back some snot. That had rolled listlessly out of his nose. Like some primordial intelligence. Out of the froth of time. Alvin’s eyes were wide open. Shut. Open. He loved his lids. Like a saloon owner likes that swinging door. Like the massage therapist likes those tugs. Those mugs. Like the housewife adores. That brand new screen door. Flies out. Kids in. So Alvin loved his lids. The way they swung open. So blue. His eyes. Like a tropical sea. Clear as glass. That you could see through. At the Angel fish. Waxing those wings. Strutting their wares. Down Yonge Street. Carrying brightly lit bags out of fancy shops. And the sharks moving slowly in smaller and smaller circles. Pimps in Cadillacs. Fresh. Could eyes look fresh? Alvin’s did. Everything was an adventure. Inside them. Like learning a new language. New words. Pinatha. That was something. Meaning something. Alvin looked around. No one paid much attention to little Alvin sitting in his stroller. Except the eye ball. Alvin looked up at the eye ball. A monitor. Fastened to the ceiling. But not to Alvin. It was an eyeball. Was it a warning of nearby alligators? Alligators frightened Alvin. It was mostly the small warts on their snouts. And the wicked smile. Reborn something or other. Bad breath. Mostly retired car dealers. Caused from too much smoking. Or was it the presence of the Merrimack? Alvin gurgled with laughter. The eye ball above him had another eye ball inside it. A dream inside a dream. An infomercial. It was a sad eye. Dry. Itchy. A man was raising a tube above this eye ball. Could have been a gun. Was he going to blow his brains. Out. All over the pharmacy floor. Where someone would surely slip. Spend months in rehab. Alvin reached out. To the applicator. A golden drop of gob, it could have been snot, descended out of the nostril. Applicator. Slowly. Like a dance. And dipped its toe gently into the pupil. Like a flower just come to bloom, the eye changed from its desert personality to a more tropical incline. The eye ball got smaller until it fell into a face. The face smiled. Inside the monitor. Inside the eye ball. And it seemed to Alvin that the eye ball was God. That God was smiling. Alvin squirmed in his stroller. He needed some of that miracle snot. That stuff that put you in touch with the Supreme Being. He looked around. There were a lot of miracle tubes of snot on the shelves. Which one could he reach? Alvin burped. That looked good, he thought. And reached out for a package near him. There was a large word on the package. Hemorrhoid. He could not say the word. But he loved the way the h’s rhymed.

 

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