Monday, December 13, 2004

Into the snow

Friday night I went out P-Doug and we had a few beers. I gave him some music and animations on disk. He had gone over a "read me first" section of a resume site I've been working on. Pretty much everything he's suggested so far was all good and made sense but I kind of balked at this one. The read me first I'd written was a brief, very personable piece about who I was professionally; how I'd started out in the animation industry, found it unrewarding, and wound up in tech writing. P-Doug thought it was off-putting where it got into the downside of the animation industry. He felt that it should focus on "these are the skills I bring". To me, that's nothing more than a restatement of the resume. If that's all it is, a summary of the resume, what do I need it for? Maybe I'm wrong; he's the guy who has to do the hiring where he works. But I was proud of what I wrote, and how human a document it is. Everything else on the disk is dry as the Sahara. Aside from a couple of cartoon foxes to give the site personality and the "read me first" part, there's nothing else there about who I am. The bottom line for me is this: yes, it's about looking for a different job. But if the guy at the other end couldn't give a shit about who I am behind the skills set... if he or she couldn't care less about me as a person and I'm going to be nothing more than talking corporate property, then I'm not interested in working there. If I sound like someone interesting to work with (the read me first file), and I've got the skills to do the job (resume and work samples), then we should talk. I think he's right that it needs to at least say general what I can do, and I'll rework the piece on that basis, but I'm sticking to my guns on the general slant. I am really not interested in trading this job for one that's LESS attractive.

Saturday I decided I needed to shop for a few gifts and stuff. But it's two weeks till Christmas. No way was I getting in the car and trying to park somewhere. I decided I'd walk up Sheppard to Mark's Work Warehouse and Canadian Tire. As I got ready, it started to snow. I decided to walk it anyhow. I brought my camera so I could take pictures in the snow to show my friend in Dublin. It was the first time I've walked through Lescon Park in the nearly five years I've lived where I do. It was beautiful. There were footprints in the snow, but I didn't see another person till I got all the way to Sheppard. I went to the stores up on the hill, and then headed back. I thought I'd take a new route through the burbs, but it turned out to be a hopelessly long one. A nice walk, but I was frustrated by not knowing where I was going. A couple of times the route took me in directions I didn't want to go. But I eventually got home. But then, it was pretty dark. I was surprised how very suddenly it got dark, too. It was gloomy for most of the trip, and then suddenly, pow. It was definitely night. The temperature was right around freezing, so the sidewalks were a little tricky. But all in all, it was a great little wander. I was on my feet for nearly three hours, and I expect I walked about three miles or so. Sunday I meant to get out and mail some things, but I just never got around to it. I did drive to Lick's for a nature burger (with cheese, for once) and nature chili. That was a good meal.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


History buffs will remember that today, December 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day. It's the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, bringing the United States into WWII with the rest of us.

For me, it has another connotation, one that I've been dwelling on. A kind of turning point, or milestone. It's six months today since Jody died. That was a Monday; this is a Tuesday.

So I'm left sitting here this morning wondering what I'd do if I could turn back time. I "spoke" to him last on June 4th, via ICQ, sitting right where I'm sitting right now. When I got up to go home and said "adore", how could I have known it was for the last time? That it was farewell? Six months ago, at this very moment, he was still alive, though he must have been in a very bad way. I'm not sure exactly when he died; no one really is because he was alone in his room, and found collapsed on the floor. He must have been trying to go for help when the pain or lack of breath took away consciousness. Forever. Timber, the roommate who found him, reckons it to have been between 8:30 and 9 (as I recall) CST. That would have been 9:30 or 10 here. I was just sitting at my desk, busying myself with little things, while perhaps the sweetest person who's ever been in my life was dying. If I'd known, what would I have done? Called him up more, certainly. Talked to him, covetted his time. I would definitely have visited him; something I never did. It's all too late now. But maybe it's better this way. At a distance, he could always be just Ruby, not Jody-with-cancer every single second. He told me a few times what a bittersweet thing visits were. Nice to see people, nice to be loved, but physically exhausting, and emotionally... I mean, every visit must have seemed like good-bye when you weren't sure how much time you had, but you knew, odds were, it wasn't much. "Two years" became seven months.

Something fundamental about my moorings in life was about to pull loose six months ago right now. But I didn't know that yet. I had a sick friend I was very worried about, and in cold, honest moments, feared would soon die. But "soon" was a year and a half. And then he was gone. And all that's left is sweet memories, a name on the ICQ bar, and a little pouch in a cedar chest at home with a few grams of my RubyOcelot's powdered bones inside. Bones that once made a happy little boy run and jump, and carried around the brilliant mind of a wonderful young programmer. Oh, Jody. I miss you. This world's a poorer place, and hardly even knows it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

How they shine

I'm missing Jody quite a bit this afternoon. We're closing in on six months since he died. Less than a week. This is a major milestone coming up. It wasn't quite summer yet that day, that horrible day I took that drive in the rain, in a new world that didn't have Jody in it. In a world where I could no longer get on the computer or even pick up a phone and talk to him, touch souls with RubyOcelot. Know for sure he/she was there. I'm only guessing these days.

Is the pain and sadness the only thing I have left to give him? This soulhunger and yearning, something that can never ever be filled... is that all there is left? Jody, I want to talk to you so much. I know you know what you meant to me, and I know you know that I know what I meant to you in return. But would it be so terrible if we could say it again, just once in a while? I'm grateful I had you in my life and that I was in yours, but it feels wrong that I didn't take it for granted, I cherished it, and it was still taken away. Worse yet, that you had learned in the greatest possible terms not to take your life for granted anymore, as you once did, and still it was taken away... not after a long life of 50 or 60 more years, but almost instantly.

I don't know. Maybe that was all the growth your soul needed to do in this life, or something. That and the magnificent bravery you showed in the face of so much pain, fear, and disappointment. There should be monuments to you. Even as base and shallow a creature as me can see that. Sometimes, like this morning on the way to work, I find myself wishing it had been me instead. I would have been unbearable, and it would have been a fitting end. And it would be over for me now. Jody deserved to go on and on. If I could close my eyes and cease, with only the consolation of certain knowledge that Jody would wake up instead, I would do it. How sweet it would be if we could pass each other in that split second, clasp hands, and he could know and understand. That's selfish of me, but I would only want him to know how beloved he really was. It wouldn't be driven by bravery. I'm not a brave man. But I think I could do that. I don't have courage, but I do have love. That's fuel enough.

Oh, God. Is the sadness Jody left in his wake the only monument You're prepared to give him? Please... inspiration. Give us something. Give me something. Show me what to do.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Leaving New York

This time last year, we knew Jody's cancer was back. I guess it was right at the very end of October when he started having pain in his side again, and co-workers chased him to the doctor. I remember him leaving me a terse message on ICQ that it was back, and then getting together with him on the net the next morning. Both of us in tears. He was scared, and he didn't want to die. But by the end of the conversation, he'd recovered somewhat and was preparing to take it on. I was scared too, but I thought, I hoped, he'd beat it again like before.

He told me the doctors had given him two years to live. And I remember last spring him musing to me that he'd already used up 1/4 of his alotted time left. Neither of us knew at that point he wasn't going to live even another three months. Me, I thougth two years was the conservative estimate. It should have been. He was young, strong, with good people behind him and a good medical plan. He should have been around for years to come.

Just a few minutes ago, as I started thinking about writing this, I went looking for a disk in one of the drawers. I found the card from the See's Famous Old Time Candies (chocolates) he sent me in 2001. They were godly. The card smelled of their luxury for ages afterwards. But the scent's gone now. There's just the card. Inside, the See's people printed Hiya! Adore! —RubyOcelot and FROM JODY YOUNG. Over the months I looked for this card a couple of times, but never found it. It was between a couple of disks. I've held onto it all this time, from long before Jody ever got sick. I'm grateful I still have it; it's always meant something to me. Now I can take it home and put it in the cedar chest with his ashes and other memories. That young man, now gone, he touched my life both so deeply and so broadly. He was a presence in my life though we never met face to face, through everything I did and everywhere I went for ten years.

Lately, the new REM song Leaving New York has been on the radio a lot. I heard it on the way home last night. It's different enough from what happened that it doesn't really hurt to listen to, but it's still tangential to the idea... leaving... Jody leaving us all, and it wasn't easy for him... All of us leaving him behind in time, and how hard it is to feel his presence fade. I don't want his presence to fade but life has a way of filling up the empty spaces of the moments that once belong to someone else. That's a betrayal, but one that's built into us. We can only try to fight against it and burn those we love into memory. Memory with the power to force itself into our conscious thoughts. We owe those we've loved and lost that effort, even if they're still alive somewhere.

It's almost six months now since Jody died. Probably about the same happy space of time that he was "well" between bouts of cancer. That golden summer he had his life back and before him, and we were secure in his existence in our lives. Oh, Jody. How I wish you could just spring up on ICQ and talk to us. That would be plenty. I'd give pretty much anything for that, if only that much were possible for the rest of my life, however long that turns out to be.

Today is American Thanksgiving. Today he should be with family and smiling, an absense in my daily life because he's away from work and ICQ. A happy absense, because I would know he'd be back on Monday with things to tell. Today instead my thoughts are with his mother and father, his brother and sisters. This first holiday without him. I guess God will understand if the thanks being given by the Youngs today aren't that effusive.

Adore, most beloved.

Monday, November 22, 2004

It's funny what does it...

I'm busy copying documents at the moment, and I threw on some music over my headphones. I have the MP3 I made for a friend of the end credits from Master and Commander. That melody the captain and the doctor were playing the duet of as the ship heads off. I recorded that in May, about a month before Jody died. Wow, does it ever give me a lump in my throat. I guess I knew it would. Mornings back then when I was getting ready for work, I'd be humming it while I thought of him, wondering what was going to happen, never suspecting how short his time really was. And since then, when I think of him in the mornings, that melody has come to mind. It's such a longing, yearning melody that it hurts just to hear it again. Makes me think of Jenny now too.

I don't mind him being "gone" so much as I mind not being able to talk to him. The nature of our relationship was such that if I could just talk to him on ICQ from beyond the grave or something, it wouldn't hurt half as much. There's some part of my mind that doesn't quite understand why that isn't possible. It should be. I suppose I'm nothing special in that regard. That must be a common sensation for every human being who ever lost someone, whether living or dead.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The view from Atlanta (posted from back home)

Tonight I'm in Atlanta.

I arrived yesterday. It was a long trip. The actual flight was only an hour and a half or so, but there was lot going on before and after.

I'm down here on business for my company. I'm assuming the duties of a writer down here to look after a product we're now developing back home. I feel a little guilty about it because I'm sort of taking someone else's job. She's a contractor, and I guess the company just thought there was more logic in maintaining an employee, and especially one at the same facility where the product's being developed. But anyway...

P-Doug picked me up yesterday just after noon, which was great of him. Dropped me off at the airport around 1. I stood in line for my ticket. Stood in line to clear customs. Stood in line for the baggage check. By then, it was 2:15.

Then the waiting started.

My flight was scheduled for 5:20; we actually took off just a little after 5:30 or so. So for about three hours, I sat there, and read Schindler's List. The flight, when it took off, was actually pretty smooth. I was flying with Delta, and it was kind of weird not having all the in-flight instructions repeated in French. No Spanish, either, which I would have assumed to be the second language if there were one.

When I got to Atlanta, I got on this little train thing that takes people from the gates to the terminal. There, I located the company where I had a car reserved... supposedly under my boss's credit card. Nope. The car was reserved all right, but I was on the hook for it. Now I have a large credit card debt that I shifted to the bank and it will take another two and a half years to clear. So I keep my credit card inactivated. Luckily, I thought to bring it with me. I stepped away, called their 1-800 number, and got it activated. So, I got my car, a nice red Alero. Cool; I used to drive an Olds till last April.

I got out on I-85 and headed north. Americans here drive a lot gustier than they do when they're visiting Ontario. I suppose that's for the same reason I was taking it easy -- they don't know where they're going in Ontario anymore than I do in Georgia. Incidentally, last night was the first time in my life I ever drove in the United States... or possibly outside Ontario even, I'm not sure. It's interesting that the highways here don't have overhead lights on them. They just count on the ambient light of the city. Maybe it's a weather thing. They're also pretty smooth, but I imagine that's because there's a whole lot less frost heave in the winter here than up north.

I got to the Marriott in Norcross (where I'm typing this) and the same deal. Yes, you have a reservation, no, we need a credit card. Fine, so the room is also on my personal nickel. Frankly, I think this is all pretty slap-dash. I've worked for the company about four years now, and just at the last minute, they decide I need a corporate credit card (for which I, a Canadian, had to fill out some IRS form for because the account to pay the bills is in the US), which they don't even manage to get to me before the trip they seemed to feel was necessary. If I hadn't brought my credit card, I'd still be sitting in that airport with my thumb up my Royal Canadian ass.

The room is pretty nice. Big bed with soft pillows, couch, desk, big TV, coffee machine with complimentary coffee. I put my things away in the dresser and found a copy of the Book of Mormon in one of the drawers, left by some kind soul, no doubt. On the first page, some other kind soul had advised the curious browser in black ball-point pen "This is a CULT & there is a hell!"

And I sure can't complain about the location relative to the office, though. I could walk there in under 15 minutes. It's almost literally across the street. Half the women in Georgia seem to be named Jennifer. The woman I'm training with, the head tech writer here, the woman at Target where I bought the Diet Mountain Dew I'm drinking... There are a lot of black people here in Atlanta (no surprise), but everything's cool. It sure looks to me like the bad old days of people knowing their "place" are over and done with for good. Mind you, I'm not black, so I guess I can't really say with authority. It's just how it seems.

Jennifer, the woman who's training me in her job, is the spitting image of Jane Curtain. Even her mannerisms are the same. Similar voice, too. I'd swear they were sisters. Imagine Jane Curtain with a North Carolina accent and you've got it. She's funny, patient, kind, and professional. Exactly the kind of person managers anchor their departments on. I wouldn't mind having Jennifer for my boss for one little minute.

The other Jennifer took me around the office to meet a lot of people whose names I instantly forgot (no reflection on them; I just suck at remembering names). Suggested we go out for lunch tomorrow. So get this: I'm down here in Atlanta, on a business trip that's costing my company somewhere in the neighbourhood of fifteen hundred bucks, and what will I be doing tomorrow from 9-11? Phoning in to Toronto to listen to a "town hall" meeting being given by one of our execs from Milwaukee. Right afterwards, I'm going to lunch. Wednesday morning, I have to dial in to a defects meeting being held across the company for about an hour. So in other words, out of the 20 hours or so I'll be in the office here, about 25% of them are about to be gobbled up by socializing, hearing people drone about defects I can't do anything about yet, and listening to some report on how the company's doing being given in the city I left to be here! Does that make sense to you?

Restaurant food is fairly cheap here, I'll say that. Last night and tonight, I ate at IHOP. We don't have them in Canada (at least, not that I know of). Last time I ate at one was in Florida when I was 15. Yesterday I was bad and had fries and a sour dough burger (well, half. I ate the rest for breakfast). Tonight I was better; I had a southwest chicken soup (very nice!), a baked potato and a chicken breast. Aside from the butter, pretty much guilt-free. The total was $8.46, and I left a $3 tip. Now back home, that would have been a fifteen-dollar meal easy (including the tip). It's no wonder people eat out so much here.

Being the States again so soon invites inevitable comparisons. I went down to Dallas for Jody's funeral in June. I really expected Texas to be overflowing with loud displays of belligerent patriotism. But it wasn't. No more so that we are back home, anyway. That impressed me. Here, it's a little different. It's much more overt. Half, maybe more than half the cars I've seen have American flags and slogans on the bumpers, in the windows, on the aerials. As I was led around the office today, I was struck by how many of these people had patriotic motifs to things. Flags, picture frame, shirts, drawing by their kids. One guy had all this Bush/Cheney stuff in his cube. Now, this is Georgia. I know that most of the people I see around me either voted for, or at least support, George Bush. But it was weird seeing it right in front of me, just a naked as you please. I mean, yeah, it's the guy's right, but given that Bush is roundly disliked where I come from, it's a real shock to encounter the other side. I didn't bring anything with me that would tag me as a Canadian (other than a $20 bill and my identification). I have to wonder if I would draw stares if I were wandering around with a maple leaf on my shirt. Would I be confronting these people with the sudden reality of the rest of the world (unrepentant, unlike immigrants who come to "become American"), something they usually only glimpse on television? The Other, made doubly shocking by just how similar he is, and yet, is somehow foreign? It's hard for me to say, and I have no intention of finding out. People in the office certainly know I'm from Toronto, but they're used to dealing with us... the company's one, exotic, foreign office. So they don't bat an eye at it. But somehow, I don't think that'd be representative. Everyone here is so mutually-congratulatory about being American that openly being anything else must be like having three nostrils or something and making a big show of picking your nose.

The money, too. It's weird using $1 bills again after all these years. Also weird is how many you have to use. They don't use the $2 bill here. It's kind of a pain; you spend 90 cents of $10 and they're forced to give you five bills (and a dime). Back home, you'd get one bill and three coins (two toonies and a dime). Also, the money all looks the same. When I was at Target this evening I was trying to get $7 together. I've got my two ones, and I'm looking for my five, but I'll I've got is two more singles, and I'm going, what the hell? Then I finally realized one of the "ones" I was already holding was my five. Yeah, I know, how hard is it to read numbers? But back home, you don't have closely examine the bills. A blue one's a five. A purple's a ten. Green, twenty. Red, fifty (yeah, like I see a lot of those). And since we don't have the $1 or $2 bills anymore, it's even easier. Reach in your pocket; a big coin's going to be either a loonie or toonie. Pull it out and the colour will instantly tell you (bronze, loonie; silvery, toonie).

It's still green down here, but I was surprised to see the trees starting to turn. I didn't think that happened in the South. I'm told it snows in Atlanta, too. That really surprised me. As I was coming in last night, they told us on the plane the temperature was 11 degrees (Celcius). I thought, wow, that's not much better than home, really. I always thought the one saving grace of the South was that they didn't have to put up with bullshit weather (hurricanes notwithstanding). Turns it that's only true even further south than here. What a gyp!

I'm used to American TV, of course, but the lack of an alternative puts the differences into sharp contrast. There's no leisure to anything. It's all rapid-fire. News commentary programs on CNN, which I admit I haven't watched in years, suddenly have an open and unabashed slant, and don't blanch at name-calling. An awful lot of the commercials are aimed at alarming people and then telling them how spending a lot of money, spread out over a number of small payments over several months, can save them. I saw a home defibrilator kit being sold. At first that seemed like a sensible idea, but then I started thinking, well, what else could they offer you? The home dialysis kit? The home liver transplant kit? You could sink yourself saving yourself. As similar as we are to the Americans, there's a real different point of view these days.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Leaving on a jet plane

First of all, I'd like to say I've figured out how to save people from tornadoes. I've been watching Twister this evening, and it occurred to me some time ago that every time a tornado catches up with Bill and Jo, it tags them and suddenly vanishes. Even the F5 at the end of the movie. So: put Bill and Jo in front of a tornado, let it catch up to them, and POOF! This pair is tornadobane. Probably because they themselves suck.

Well, about this time tomorrow, if all goes well, I'll be in Atlanta. I have to go down to our office there for three days to do some training. I'm sort of looking forward to it, but really, I'm not. I'm scared to death of flying. Going through customs is an ordeal. I have to get a car there, check into my hotel there, find my way to work there... all things I've never done on a trip before. I wish it were all over with already. I should be home around this time Wednesday night. Most people would consider it an adventure; a friend of mine was waxing eloquent about how lucky I am that the company's paying to send me somewhere else for training. All I can see is the inconvenience. Frankly, I can do the job without leaving town. But the stuff I could learn over the next six months or so could really be invaluable to my career.

Well, we'll see how it goes. What else can I do?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Moooooove it, lady!

So there you are. It's a working day. Lunch time. You want to get twenty bucks out to go grab something for lunch. But when you get there, some cow is hogging the machine, paying every fucking bill she's gotten since her 14th birthday. Hey, you inconsiderate moron! It's lunch time! Nobody has all fucking day! Do that on your own time after hours! Or better yet, learn how to click a mouse and do it via your bank's website in your ugly bunny slippers! All I want is a twenty dollar bill, not to spend seven minutes of my life staring at your bad hair while you lick envelope after envelope after envelope! >:|

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The story of Jenny

When I was 21, I was dating my high school sweetheart. For my birthday, she bought me a little black kitten. I was still living at home then, and knew it would be an uphill battle to keep her. I wanted to call her Alshain, after a feline character in the comic FUSION. I remember my mother saying no, no way... but as the little kitten curled her way around the kitchen table, Mom's heart softened. She balked at the name I'd chosen, and said she was a dainty thing, like Winston Churchill's mother, and said I ought to name her Jenny in accord with that. I was willing to do anything to keep the little thing, so I acquiesced. Jenny she was.

I had Jenny for thirteen and a half years. Most of them, while I was living with my parents. When I moved out on my own in 2000, I got another cat to keep Jenny company (since she was, for the first time, along most of the time while I was out at work). The new cat was Bonnie, a two-year-old who'd recently had a litter. I got her from the pet rescue section of Petsmart (which has found homes for well over a million dogs and cats across North America). Jenny never really liked Bonnie. But still, I don't regret it. As my friends P-Doug and G have told me, having two cats allows each cat to be a "cat" to another. They can't get that out of humans or dogs, which is all Jenny had till then (three humans and two different dogs in her home life...).

I got Jenny when I was still in university. She was with me through two following years of college, where I learned animation. A year and a half of unemployment. Two and a half years of poorly-paid animation shitwork. Another year and a half of unemployment. A year of self-respect-building work in a warehouse thanks to a high school buddy (Alan, I'll never ever forget you). And then my big break into the professional world. I moved out of my parents' home to my own place, just me and Jenny, till I got Bonnie a month or so later.

It was around the time I got Bonnie that just how old Jenny was getting was splashed in my face like cold, cold water. I took them both in for a check-up, and was made to realize, for the first time, that my "little girl" had almost no teeth left but her deep-rooted fangs. Who looks at a cat's teeth? I'd always fed her soft, canned cat food. It rotted her teeth out. God, that wounded me to the soul when I realized that. She was 11 or so then, I think (her birthday was January 17, 1989; I got Bonnie in June of 2000).

Jenny developed a thyroid condition that cost me about $50 a month after that. Her health seemed to eb and flow. I remember one evening, my normally slightly aloof Jenny lying at my feet as I sat the computer. Skinny. She'd lost so much weight. I think I knew in my heart she was saying good-bye. Just after that, one morning in August, 2002, I woke up at 7:13. Walked out to the bathroom. Saw her lying in the spare room (she couldn't get up on my bed anymore). I called to her. Her eyes were open. She didn't respond. I rushed her to the vet, but she was probably already gone when I picked her up. My poor little Jenny. My child. The closest thing to a daughter I'll ever have... The first unconditional love in my life, extinguished. That was August 15, 2002. Thursday.

Four or five days later, Jody's dad called me at work, and told me Jody had cancer.

That was the bitterest week of my life, till Jody actually died himself last June. My God, I stll can't believe Jody's gone... Not even two years after I lost Jenny, and heard the news about his cancer. Jesus. Jesus!

That night, I took Bonnie and deserted my home, and went to my parents' place in Hamilton. Their friend Roger was there. He had lost his wife recently. I remember him sending me out in his car for beer, to a mall I used to walk to as a boy. The following day, we were all back in Toronto, on a cruise of the harbour. It was a weird, disjointed moment of my life.

But anyway, the evening of Thursday, I slept on the couch in their rec room. I couldn't sleep in "my" room at their place, because it reminded me of Jenny from our trips there. I left their big screen TV on all night. Over and over and over and over, Ocean's Eleven played. I seemed to sleep for days. Fitfully. Every time I woke up, the end credits seemed to be playing. The song was 69 Police by David Holmes. To me, that song was always the song of Jenny, streaking Heavenward. One of the longest nights I've ever lived. It was agonizing... the constant realization that I was still living in the same day, then the same 24 hours, in which my most beloved, trusting, adoring little animal had lived, and then ceased.

And then last June, Jody died. Human, speaking, able to express his affection to me in words. Broadsiding me at work. Jesus Christ. Jesus.

It cost me about $400, as I recall, to get Jenny's ashes back, but I did. I had to. She was born in Scarborough. She died in North York, but was taken to a vet in Scarborough. I promised her she would not remain where she was born. I swore to her, as I left her body in that clinical room, that I would bring her home. And I kept that promise. She resides in a pretty little urn on my mantle, such as it is. She has been joined, since June, with a small amount of the ashes of Jody Young, who lived only twice as long as her, though he ought to have outlived her five times over. Side by side, they occupy the holiest place in my home.

I am a sad man this evening. The sweet loves of my 20s, slipped from this world and gone, and I am left with the dry, silent powder that was once them. Their souls are quiet. Not quite silent...their songs still resonate in mine. But so very, sadly softly.

Come visit me, please, beloveds, in my empty, tumbling dreams. Remind me again of the love I've known.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The weekend past

As of yesterday, Jody's been gone five months. It occurred to me last night. It's beginning to feel like a really long time. And yet, when I look at his name in the ICQ bar... our method of conversing was just so timeless, unfettered by images of location, that in a way, it still feels ongoing. I can't really explain that.

On Saturday I did manage to link up with P-Doug, and we went down in the valley to look over those buildings I found. Believe it or not, P-Doug had heard of them. Read about them a couple of years ago, but wondered where they were. Apparently, they form a pumping and water distribution station for the farms thereabouts in the 1920s. We agreed that the bridge abutments look like a good place to sit and read in the summer. We drove across Don Mills Road, and Greydon Hall does still exist, in all its glory, though it's surrounded by suburbs and schools now.

I went out drinking with Dave, who I haven't seen in months and months, and ate way too many chicken wings I shouldn't have. I really do wonder where all the will power I used to have went. I need to find it again, and fast. These pants ain't gonna fit forever if I keep this up. It was a blast to see him, though. We had a bit of a sticking point later in the evening when he asked me if I saw Father of the Pride while it was on. I told him no, I missed it, but that I didn't have much expectation that it would last when I heard the premise. He seemed put off that I could judge the show without having seen it. And there's something to that. But I didn't say I thought the show would necessarily be garbage, just that the idea — a bunch of lions in Las Vegas who act like lions on stage and then like humans behind the scenes — was a hard sell to me. The circus scenes would be spotty, and how many jokes can you really tell about performing animals before you're repeating yourself? As for the behind the scenes stuff, all that sounded like was domestic comedy in lion suits. Well, you don't need lion suits to do domestic comedy. Frankly, as much as I like anthropomorphic animals, I can see that in the backs of most adults minds, it's an unnecessary extra layer. Fetishistic. You can tell all those stories without animal characters. Animal characters, in the Western adult mind, are used to sugarcoat morality lessons for kids. It strikes us as condescending when it's aimed at us. It's cultural... it's hard to dodge. That's why, site unseen, I felt the show wouldn't fly, and I said so to P-Doug months ago. Now Dave is right; I owe the show a watch just to appreciate the writing, the art, and what they were trying to do. But I still feel justified in judging a premise on its own merits. Judging the execusion of it is a different matter. You don't believe me? Premise: human flight is a wonderful idea. Execusion: those guys flapping cardboard wings while running downhill in 1920s silent films. Concept and realization are separate things and can be considered independent of one another.

For what it's worth, I suggested something that might have gone a little further, though I admit it too is an uphill battle. If you must tell stories using animal characters, take humans out of the loop. Set it in the future, when humans are a long-dead curiosity, and some animals have learned to talk, build houses, and form complex societies. There's a springboard for social commentary that's wide-open and not tied down in any way to what's going on here and now.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


Something I forgot to say when I was talking about Jody a few minutes ago...

What got me thinking about him on Friday afternoon was one of his journal entries. He sent me to his journal once or twice, but I shied away from it. I didn't want to know. If he wanted to share something with me on ICQ, I was there. Somehow, looking into his mind on the journal was just a little too real. I didn't want to have to confront it. I wanted to deal with it on his terms, what he wanted to bring to the table on ICQ. I didn't want to read it alone, in a vacuum. As it turns out, that's exactly how I have read it. I read the whole thing after he died.

What I was thinking of as I stepped off the sidewalk at work heading for my car was the entry when he learned that the treatment hadn't been successful. That it might have slowed the tumors, but only just. They were still growing, at least a little. I think his doctors were hiding things from him. As I look at it now (it's his entry for February 24th), he still seems hopeful. Talks about reading about Thalidomide on the net. I don't think he knew, none of us knew, that he had about three months and a week or so to live at that point. But what strikes me, what chilled me Friday when I thought back to it, was his choice of mood. "Disappointed". Disappointed. Yeah, my cancer treatment's not working. I'm 26, and it's looking pretty much like I'm going to die. Soon. "Disappointed". I guess the illusion was really over for him that day. He let it live in me, though. He never really took that from me. I can remember times when he would remind me, with a smiley on ICQ, that his chances weren't good and he probably wouldn't make it. But those instances were rare, and he soft-peddled them. Christ, he was brave. Facing that without burdening me. Because of that, for me, there was always another option, more time... I couldn't believe he could really die. At least, not for a long time, and not until months after the cancer had rendered him incommicative, and I was 'ready' for it. But no. I talked to him on the Friday before he died. Saturday, his friends took him to a Renaissance fair. Sunday night, his friend in Colorado had a phone conversation with him. Twelved hours later, he was just gone. Just like that.


That could only have been wry.

Down In -- make that on -- the Park

That park I found in September, the conservation area... it's definitely closed now. Which sucks, because it was a reasonably warm week and I would have liked to do just a little more hiking. No dice. I went out there Tuesday; there were a million billion junior high school kids there. Buses and everything. Some sort of games or competition going on. Doesn't make for a contemplative walk in the woods, so I left it to them. Wednesday, I went out there after work, about 5 or so. Park closed to vehicles. Maybe it's just in the evenings, I thought. Went back Thursday at lunch. Same bunch of kids. So, I thought I'd give it one more whirl on Friday. No kids. No me, either: park closed to vehicles. That's during the day. So I guess that's that till spring. Ah, well.

Winding down the weekend

Happy Halloween, Small... :)

Friday, as I got in the car on my way home, my thoughts were of Jody, and I was wondering if he could ever make himself known to me from... y'know... the Other Side. There were a couple of things I needed to pick up, so I got off the 404 at Steeles. At the off ramp, waiting to turn onto Steeles, I stopped behind a car with a license plate that read NVRFRGTU... "never forget you". My first thought was, yeah, Jody... I'll never forget you. But then as I turned into the parking lot of the shopping centre, I suddenly realized if maybe this wasn't a message for me. Something Jody wanted me to see. Yeah, yeah, I know... the human mind is an amazing instrument for exaggering trends and inferring patterns that aren't there. But who can say for sure? It sure would be sweet to find out I was gently nudged, somehow, to be given just the quietest of whispers, if I would only listen.

Yesterday, Saturday, the weather was great here. Got to about 20 degrees. I broke out the sandals for the first time in weeks. Early in the afternoon, I decided to head to Lick's for a turkey burger, as previously mentioned this this journal. On my way there, I passed this little park I've passed a hundred times now without stopping. This time, I decided to have a look. I pulled into an adjacent parking lot and trotted down into the valley. This part of the city was built in the mid-to-late 1960s. The bridge I had just crossed had a plaque announcing it was built in 1968. I knew for aerial photos I have that a smaller bridge had once been here, though what purpose it served (since the road I'd just come down wasn't built till 1964) I can only imagine. So I thought I'd take a look.

I noticed a stone building, the roof all caved in. I decided what the hey, and took off my sandals, and indulged myself in one last, brief, barefoot hike before winter sets in. I wandered up to the building. It was covered in graceless graffiti, and had two rooms. One houses some sort of giant container. The other was just some kind of utility room, I guess. I wonder what purpose it served? It couldn't have been anyone's home; it was way too small; smaller than my master bedroom, or no larger. Padding off through the grass towards the river, I followed a foot path to the water. That old bridge from the photos was gone, but I did find a pair of concrete bank abutments where it must have once been. The banks have been heavily re-engineered. No evidence of the road at all exists.

As I headed back, I noticed another small building, across the gravel path. I went up to investigate it. It was a tiny thing, almost built into the hillside. If two or three people could fit into it, that would be the limit. It concrete, flat on top, but had a weird, almost gothic look to it. What in the world was it for? All kind of mysterious.

I called P-Doug and G when I got home. I was bored, and I rememberd this Irish shop down on Kingston Rd. I went to a couple of years ago when I got my Irish citizenship. I wanted to go back there. They reminded me where it was, so I set off. It was pouring by then. I have a pair of 4-CD sets of Canadian music, and I put on one that has Ahead By a Century by The Tragically Hip, a song I found I've had the video to for nearly two years now. I listened to the song about half a dozen times as I drove south. I can't believe this song's been around since 1996 and I'm not familiar with it. Shame on me.

When I got the place, it was locked. There was this woman inside, smiling at me. When she realized I meant to come in and couldn't, she jumped up. She explained, in an Irish lilt, that she'd been using the facilities and had locked the door and forgotten to unlock it. I bought an Irish flag for my car to go with my Canadian one (okay, a bit demonstrative, I'll admit, but not what I'd call flamboyant), and an Irish-European Union patch that I'll eventually iron on something. I was looking for just such an item for my car window, actually. Why is it so hard to find a blue bumper sticker with twelve gold stars and IRL in white in the middle? Every other fucken immigrant from the EU has such a sticker from their country on their jalopies. I feel left out. Anyway, she told me she and her husband had been in Canada 38 years (I didn't say it, because it would have sounded insincere, but she looked to me to be in her mid-to-late 40s... obviously she wasn't 10 when she moved here, so I'd say she's doing very well!). We got to talking, and she told me she had two children, and her daughter, a single woman 29 years old, had moved to Dublin two years ago and loved it. She told me that there was a lot of work in Ireland these days, but prices had gone through the roof. Times were, she and her husband went home every year and scooped up bargains to bring back to Canada. Not anymore! They still go home every year, but there are no more bargains when the euro's worth about a buck and a half Canadian. She told me she and her husband were heading back in a few weeks and staying till March! Dodging the snow. Good plan! I wish I could do that. A job that wintered me in Dublin and summered me in Toronto would be awesome. :) She urged me to go see Ireland and suggested April, when the weather's really picking up. Fares are inexpensive. It's something to think about. Next year, I'll have three weeks vacation. Maybe I should make some plans. I do have a friend in Dublin; it would be awesome to see him. Thing is, the guy works. I can't just show up and expect him to lead me around for a week, a week and a half. It's an exciting idea, though.

Today was cooler, more like 12 degrees. Socks and shoes weather, sadly. Lick's gave me a coupon on my visit yesterday for a free Nature Wrap. Well, I like the sounds of it... joking aside, I decided to indulge myself again. Hey, free's free! Turns out it's kind of like a burrito. Rather small for three bucks and change, I think, but maybe once in a while. It was pretty good, just kind of small for a main course, IMHO. Anyway, I brought my camera with me and took some shots of the park, the buildings, and the little bridge abutments. I'll compare them with my aerial shots and see what I can figure out.

I guess it was right around this time last year that Jody started getting that pain in his side again, and was diagnosed with his cancer back. It was around this time last year his doctors told him he probably had about two years to live. You know, he didn't even have two years to live from the time of his first diagnosis. He started having trouble with his blood clot in his knee in May of 2002. He died in June of 2004. That's your two years. Retroactively. Jody started his own live journal around this time last year. I think he suspected he wasn't going to make it to thirty or much past it. I guess he wanted to record what was going on in his life so there'd be some record of his having been here. Something tangible that we could still point to when he was gone to remind ourselves that he really lived, he really loved us, and we really loved him. And, for those of you who are interested, here it is... <--click on the link...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Tuesday's update

Well, let's see. My friend Dave was up from Rochester for the weekend. That was cool; we watched some movies, had a bite with P-Doug and G at the Mongolian place.

Yesterday, I got my car back. Actually, it was ready on Friday, but the auto repair shop said that my insurance company hadn't received third party liability confirmation, so I was (temporarily) on the hook for the $500 deductable. Well, I don't have $500 just lying around to hand someone, even temporarily. My credit card is inactivated and I like to keep it that way. It's there if I need it, absolutely need it, but this didn't sound absolute; it sounded more like "get it straightened out", you know. So I told them I couldn't get it Friday; I'd have to get it Monday. Well, Monday did the trick. Before noon yesterday, they had it all worked out. The insurance company didn't want to keep paying for the rental, and the auto shop needed my John Hancock, so between them et al., they got it done. I picked up the car last night. Okay, call me selfish, but I don't feel like I should be out of pocket, even for a few days, for an accident that wasn't my fault.

It's supposed to be warm this week. I'm thinking of a couple trips to the conservation centre, a couple more barefooted walks in the woods before the cold really sets in. The park might be closed by now. I'll have to see.

* * * * *

I was thinking of Jody while I was getting ready for work this morning. I remember when he had cancer how much he used to look forward to going to work. He'd really get charged up about it. I suppose, when you're sick, and potentially fatallly so, anything with a semblance of normalcy about it is welcome. It must have given him hope. It gave me hope, whenever he went in. It was like, 'yes, things are bad, but look, he's doing the normal, everyday stuff we all do, so it can't be that bad..."

Maybe I'm not being fair, though. Jody always got a kick out of his job, long before he got sick. He was a programmer, and from what I'm told, an exceptional one. I can remember him boasting about the compliments he got. That was unusual for him. Jody was pretty down on himself a lot of the time. His folks went through a rough break-up and I think it really affected how he saw himself and his self-worth. His job, and his co-workers, really helped him break out of that. Especially once he got cancer and he saw the depths of their caring for him, and the lengths they were prepared to go for him.

It should have turned out differently, you know. It really should have.

On the way into work this morning, just as I was coming onto the 404, Yellow by Coldplay started up. The tears started up, especially at the "skin and bones" part. It was bittersweet, very bittersweet. But mostly sweet. Oddly enough, yesterday, as I was driving down Warden to drop off the rental car, the same station played Boys of Summer by Don Henley. That started the waterworks up too. I really want him to be around. I miss him, just talking about nothing, knowing he's there. I miss his Dad, too, still down there in Mexico. I hope he gets back soon.

Monday, October 18, 2004

No more youth! :)

My folks got back from the Carolinas yesterday and came into the city to pick up Mike (our dog) this evening. They brought me a 1.14 L bottle of Capt. Morgan spiced rum in payment for looking after the little living room-wrecking bugger (along with a small camera tripod and two nice red pictures of William Lyon McKenzie King... that's 2x$50=$100 to you non-Canadians). So this evening I'm into the rum.

Right now I'm listening to 88 Lines About 44 Women by The Nails. Just before I started university in 1987, I stayed over with my friend Dave in Hamilton, and I copied this song from him (along with The Police album Ghost In the Machine). I remember listening to it while riding the bus to school and wandering around campus those years. I was young. Okay, I was hideously fat and wasn't getting laid, but still... I was young. The world was full of infinite promise, there were few real pressures on me, I was a writing machine, I had hair (on my head, not just on my back, ears, and ass). It was a lame time to be young, I admit. AIDS emerged the very second I sprouted pubic hair; the recession was in full bloom, and there was no Internet so porn was strictly work-up-the-guts-and-buy-it-at-the-corner-store or steal it from the barber shop. Still. It was a fucking excellent time to be young. Aside from world wars, when isn't?

Now the whole spiced rum thing works like this... I have a friend, a Scottish immigrant, named Alan. He was a friend at the very end of high school, but became like a brother to me in the years that followed (put it this way: he was the only other person, besides maybe my Dad, whose lap my cat Jenny would seek). In fact, he rescued me from chronic unemployement in 1999 when he offered me a job working in an Ericssson warehouse he managed, God bless him. In a practical sense, he's the best friend I've ever had. We've kind of lost touch lately because he's married and has a kid... you know the drill. But back in the 90s, we used to spend a lot of weekends down in my parents' basement (AKA my bedroom/sittting room) watching movies, getting pissed, and eating wayyyyyyyyyyyy too much pizza. What a fucking awesome time we had. If I croak tomorrow, at least I had those moments. Alan's one of the funniest people I've ever known (along with Dave, the guy I got the song I mentioned from... he's incredibly sarcastic, but in a nice way). Anyway, one day, we wanted to get drunk, and I raided my parents' liquor cabinet... they were pretty easy-going about this, once I was legal, anyway. There was a bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum left over from egg nog Christmases Past. Alan was dubious, but he went with it. I created a monster. Alan's since then become quite a fan of Captain Morgan's spiced rum, to the point that I started gagging on the stuff. We'd hop in the car and drive waaaaayy out to Hopedale Mall (where there was also an LCBO outlet with spiced rum) in Oakville to buy pizza, panzerottis, and garlic bread at Gino's Pizza... for my money, the best pizza in North America. It was about half an hour west of where we lived, and there were closer outlets, but Al insisted on going there because he's a sentimentalist who believes in observing the forms, you know? Picture us, overweight, unshaven, late 20s, in suburban Toronto basement, half drunk on spiced rum and Coca-Cola, pizza-fed, watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and laughing at the goings-on and our own commentary. Man. It was sweet. It was so sweet. It was just the soft fringes of Heaven, a couple of middle class honky kids enjoying life a little more than our due.

I haven't seen Al in about a year now. There's nothing bad between us. It's just that we live about forty miles apart, and he's married and has a kid. That's life. No regrets, and more power to the guy. He's probably the best dad in the universe, you know? Ahhh, but I miss those days. Sure I do! But at least I had them. And I can hold them in my mind and coddle them, and smell the pizza, and taste that gawdawful spiced rum I'm drinking as I write this.

God, you took away Jody. But you gave me Jody in the first place. And you gave me Alan, and our weekends, and a friend who got me out of that basement and gave me back my dignity in the shipping department of a warehouse in suburban Toronto. I'm grateful for the kindness you've shown me in the beautiful people you've introduced to my life. Help me remember the good times. I don't know how long I'll have. But I've known some sweet, sweet times. Gentle, casual, simple friendship. And I am grateful.

Deborah was a Catholic girl; she held out to the bitter end
Carla was a different type; she's the one who put it in.
Mary was a black girl; and I was afraid of a girl like that
Susan painted pictures sitting down like the Buddah sat...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Human conceit

Yesterday when we were out, one of the things I came across was a review of a book called, I think, How Dogs Think, aserious work on the consciousness of dogs. I find it amazing... actually, make that distressing... that in this day and age, there are still people who argue that dogs and other higher animals can't think. That they're not consciously aware. How can anyone believe that? Okay, they don't talk, and they can't tell us in abstracts. But a lot of humans can't either. Does that mean they're not consciously aware? This is a logic bomb that could flatten Hiroshima all over again. At the moment, I'm sharing my place with two cats and a dog. It's entirely self-evident to me that they think, feel, and are aware of themselves, each other, and me as beings (as opposed to things). And moreover, that they are capable of identifying and reacting to the emotional states of the other beings around them. There is no vast difference between us. The differences are quantitative, not qualitative. I will say that I do believe that we, as humans, think more profoundly in abstractions than any other kind of animal we know about (though I admit, I'm not sure when it comes to dolphins and orcas and whales... who knows what they're capable of?). We are a remarkable species in the rare combination of abilities we have and what they enable us to achieve (like you reading my words from hundreds or thousands of miles away, without necessarily ever having met me in person). But all the others are remarkable in different ways. If aliens arrived on Earth after humans were dead and gone, they would still find intelligent life on Earth. Cats, dogs, raccoons, whales, dolphins, octopi, ravens, crows... hundreds of intelligent species. Just not technological ones. It's not the same thing. It's only our arrogance that makes us equate the two. But anyway, the book sounds very interesting and I'd like to look it up because I do love dogs, and I bet a lot of what the author says applies to cats as well.

I notice that the Globe and Mail has the review up on its website. Since the availability of such resources is notoriously ephemeral, I'm going to quote the article here for you, in the hopes that it will spark you too to look for the book... and to read the Globe and Mail! :)

I sniff, therefore I am

Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page D14

How Dogs Think:
Understanding the Canine Mind
By Stanley Coren
Free Press, 351 pages, $37.50

It's 2004. We can clone sheep and catapult humans into outer space. But if 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes were miraculously restored to life, this evidence of scientific progress might astonish him less than the immutability of his own views about the nature of dogs and other animals: that unlike humans, they cannot think and are therefore mere "automata."

Stanley Coren wishes "we could dismiss these kinds of arguments as simply reflecting attitudes of an unenlightened and best forgotten past," when anguished dogs were nailed to planks and eviscerated so their physiology could be observed. But some modern theorists still deny that animals suffer conscious pain, and that injuring them is, therefore, a moral issue. In response, Coren, a University of British Columbia psychology professor and bestselling author of The Intelligence of Dogs, once again takes up his literary cudgels to establish beyond all doubt that dogs are, indeed, thinking beings.

Most of us who live with Canada's four million dogs do not need to be convinced that they think. We will, however, learn a great deal about how they do so, and what sorts of things they think about. And, should we ever find ourselves, in Coren's words, "joining that argument in [a] room full of behavioural scientists and philosophers," we'll be well armed with data.

Coren's methodology is to establish scientific "givens," examine and contextualize canine physiology ethologically, then proceed to his own hypotheses and conclusions. He reviews experiments and studies by researchers and the observations of dog trainers, and supplements this with anecdotal data that will surely resonate with dog-knowledgeable readers.

To express the dog's thought processes, Coren modifies the Cartesian "I think, therefore I am" to "I sniff, therefore I am." Unlike vision-oriented humans, the dog's nose "not only dominates his face, it also dominates his brain and thus his picture of the world." Beagles and German shepherds, for instance, have 225 million scent receptors; we humans have a paltry five million.

One consequence of this extraordinary sniffing ability is that if a five-millionth of a gram of butyric acid, a component of sweat, is dissolved in one million litres of water, a dog can detect it. Search-and-rescue dogs locate humans under tons of rubble, drug dogs detect substances hidden in human orifices or vats of sardine oil, explosive-detecting dogs identify explosives among soiled baby diapers, medic dogs sniff out cancerous growths. Dogs use their extraordinary noses to glean information about their world, their pack members and their enemies. When the family pooch investigates a fire hydrant, she is keeping up to date with local news: a passing bitch is pregnant, a young dog is flouting his dominance, another one is timid and submissive.

Dogs also collect information from sensory nerves on the lips, from the specialized nerves on the pads of their feet and, like cats, through their whiskers. They learn as well from their environment, by observation and interaction with other dogs, humans and animals such as sheep, chickens and cats. "A dog must socialize to dogs in order to learn that he is a dog and how to function in a canine society," Coren writes, "but he must also learn how to act and behave in a society of people, meaning that he must socialize to humans."

Coren devotes considerable space to the ever-fascinating subject of dog breeds, the result of mankind's tinkering with the canine species. In the 18th century, for instance, monks in a French dog-breeding monastery selected for "Christian traits" such as loyalty, affection, co-operation and, above all, obedience.

Swiss monks raised St. Bernards which seek out travellers lost in snowy mountains; while one of the big dogs trots off to summon help, two others keep the victim alive and warm by lying down on either side of him.

As in The Intelligence of Dogs, Coren ranks breeds in descending order for such traits as excitability, aggression toward other dogs, snapping at children, dominance over owner, territorial defence, destructiveness, playfulness and demand for affection. These new lists are sure to generate controversy. Let me sling the first shot: Though I was gratified to find beagles second on the sociability list, I was perplexed as to why these esteemed airport contraband sniffers are consigned to the bottom of the trainability list, just seven spots above the famously dense (though admittedly gorgeous) Afghan hounds.

Despite his interest in breed characteristics, Coren stresses the importance of environment in shaping a dog's personality. "Breeds and breeding make a difference," he writes, "but they merely favour or predispose a dog to achieve a certain temperament. There is more difference between individual dogs in any given breed than there is between breeds and bloodlines." As in people, so in their canine companions.

In his final chapter, Coren answers the key question -- "Do dogs really have a conscious and rational mind that works like our own?" -- with a resounding Yes! Dogs remember objects and sequences of events, they have self-awareness and they predict how others will act, draw conclusions and act on them. Coren quantifies dogs' intelligence as equivalent to that of a human child from 2 to more than 4.

How Dogs Think is much more than a treatise on the canine mind. By explaining canine thinking and modes of learning, it will be immensely helpful to anyone training a dog. Coren recommends consistency, praise and food rewards as training methods, and advises against punishment because "a sensible dog may try to escape and evade further contact with his owner . . . another negative outcome is that it establishes the fact that aggression is not only possible but permissible between the dog and what he considers to be the rest of his pack."

"Training dogs is easy, " Coren concludes, "training trainers is hard."

Coren's range of knowledge, his clarity in presenting his material and his originality and common sense in interpreting it, combine to make this essential reading for anyone who cares about man's best friend. It brought me a deeper understanding of my own dogs and put certain of their behaviours into perspective. And finally, How Dogs Think fulfils Coren's goal of providing solid data to counter arguments from the inevitable naysayers.

Elizabeth Abbott's beagles, Russell and Pumpkin, and their dachshund sister, Alice, sniffed at this review and regret that it omits their favourite story about how the beagle, Darby, tricked Coren into bending over like a human stepladder up to the counter where the cat Loki's kibble was kept.


Lately I've been listening to 94.9 The Rock on the radio. I seem to go through these periods in my life when I get plugged back in to popular music for a while. Last time was 1999 when I was working the afternoon shift with a couple of guys in a warehouse. There was some unbelievably good music that year.

Well, seems like those times are back. They probably never left; it's just that I'm listening to a station that really suits my tastes. A half a dozen really, really good songs have come out of nowhere at me in just the last couple of weeks. It Can't Be Nashville Every Night by the Tragically Hip, Somehwhere Only We Know by Keane, Not Ready to Go by the Trews, I Won't Back Down by Tom Petty... and latest of all, for me, is Yellow by Coldplay. It's one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in years.

Like so much these days, it lends itself to exploring my feelings over Jody losing his battle with cancer. On the whole, the song has nothing to do with that. In fact, it more plugs into a storyline I've had in my head for years about a man in either some vague future or an alternate world; a lost soul who is sent to bring about the end of the world but instead is converted by the compassion of the people he comes to know into being an instrument in the hands of God to save the world instead; a soldier whose bloodless victories convert him into a diplomat who, like Moses, is fated not to live to see the fruits of his labours. The song evokes in me visions of a golden ribbon that leads the viewer through the crucial arc of his life; a prophecy. If you listen to the lyrics, you might imagine what I mean.

But anyway, the chorus begins with the lines, "Your skin, oh yeah your skin and bones / Turn into something beautiful..." "Skin and bones" for me cuts deep, because I immediately think of my cat Jenny, who I had for thirteen years. A beautiful black cat who doted on me and almost no one else. The last couple years of her life, she had a thyroid condition, and while her fortunes ebbed and flowed, there were times she was just skin and bones, especially the last couple of months before she died. She couldn't get up on things anymore, she sometimes couldn't control her bodily functions... Anyway, the song takes me right back there, those fearful moments when I would confront the fact she wouldn't be around forever or even for much longer, and there was really nothing I could do about it. And one morning, she was just gone.

One morning, not long ago, Jody, my beautiful, sweet RubyOcelot, was just gone. Combine that with the fact that Jody was diagnosed with cancer not even a week after Jenny died, and you can really appreciate the tie-in.

And so I'm trying to understand this line that literally brings tears to my eyes. Your skin and bones turn into something beautiful. My sense of it is that the physical body is just a fleeting vessel that corrupts, but that something beautiful and incorruptible is finally freed from it. But it's still such a painful idea, because we're still losing that person (human or feline), at least until it happens to us. I want to be able to let Jody and Jenny know how I loved them, how much they're still a part of who I am. I suppose they knew, to the extent that they were able to know. But I'd like to be able to make it clear. I don't know; maybe one day I can. Or maybe it was just that plain to them the moment they died and everything was revealed. Or maybe there's nothing. I don't know. The funny thing is, I find myself lately not so much afraid of nothingness after death for my own sake, but for the sakes of those who've gone before me. I can't bear the idea that they don't exist anymore, somewhere, somehow. There are few ideas more revolting and offensive.

No. No, they exist. They curl around my mind and soul at will and know the whole of me, better than I do; the good, the bad and the ugly. They are with me always.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bang, zoom!

Well, here we go again. On the way into work this morning, I got rear-ended. The damage doesn't look too bad... not to my car, anyway, but Christ. I've only had the car six months, if that. Not quite,I think. This is the third accident I've had in about three years, since I moved to this part of town. A few years ago, I got bumped from behind by a truck on the onramp to the 404. April last year, a guy turned wide coming off the 404 and sideswiped me. Today, I got banged into at the last light before getting onto the 404. That friggin' 404, man. I got punched hard and ended up bumping into the car in front of me. That poor guy; almost nothing happened to his car, but he got to stand around with me and the woman who hit me.

She was an immigrant from India or someplace near it. G2 class license, I see on the accident report, which means she's a learner without her full license yet. She's also forty. See, this is my problem. I'm living in a part of the city that is, no joke, majority foreign-born. I'm the minority here. The guy I hit? Also an immigrant; Chinese fellah.

Her car went under mine. Lucky for me, but not for her; her hood was bent up like an A-frame. Dented the bottom of my back fender, and bent my tailpipe, as it turns out. One of the tow-truck guys, Dave, told me there was a risk the catalytic converter could overheat and catch fire. Well, I thought, why take chances? The accident wasn't my fault, but if I drove around and the car caught fire, it would be. So I let him tow me. Did all the dancing around on the phone with my insurance company. The place that fixed up my Cutlass last time has my Spectra this time (my insurance company guarantees their work, so I agreed it should be sent there).

I'm really getting sick of this. I've been involved in five accidents since I got my license at 19. When I was 21, I fishtailed on a country road and rolled the car into a ditch. My fault. Then when I was 26 I got rear-ended in stopped traffic on the Gardiner, and pushed into a car in front of me. Pretty much the same accident as today, only I think that time worse because there was damage to the car I was pushed into that time. Then, for years, nothing. But I move to North York, and bang, three since then, and I've only lived in this part of town since 2000.

Last time, I thought about starting to take the bus to work. But I work in a different town from where I live. So the town I work in expects an extra fee when you cross the border. Not that they provide anything like, oh, a bus, a driver, a vehicle and driver who need to be insured; no. It's a fiefdom pissing contest thing. I checked with the TTC today to see if a Metropass ($90 a month) would cover that. Nope. York Region would still expect me to bend over and lube up for them doing fuck-all for me. Oh, yeah... everyone's just dead serious about getting people out of their cars and onto public transit, aren't they? Fuck me, are they hell.

So I guess I have to keep driving. No way am I spending $200 a month to ride the fucking bus to work just because the province and the municipalities don't give enough of a damn to harmonize things. Fuck that! I'm a hostage to their fuckheadedness; isn't that great? I'm about as pro-car a guy as you're likely to find; I'd bulldoze half the city to build superhighways if I could... so if you can get me to the point of looking at public transit (after the shit I used to suffer using it), then you know things are bad. But are they meeting people like me half way? Fuck no, they're out to take advantage of us and make life harder for us! It's not even a break-even thing! It's spend more for less convenience! What the fuck??

I'm seriously thinking of moving, or finding a new job on the subway lines somewhere. Sooner or later someone's going to punch my ticket and it won't be one I walk away from.

P.S.I'm also working across the aisle from this Indian guy who's just moved up from California. This guy is like a walking fucking sound effects library. Every five minutes, some piece of plastic shit on his person or other rings, farts, giggles, or breaks into opera. I don't know why that bothers me, but it does.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Warming up

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. My folks are out of the country, so it's the first time I've been on my own for Thanksgiving. Wasn't anywhere near as bad as I might have imagined. Of course, there was a time a few years ago when I forgot it was my own birthday till my Mom phoned me. That's how it goes.

So what did I do instead? I went to the Science Centre, of course. P-Doug brought his mother down from the north and dropped her off at his sister's place, so I picked him up and took him with me. We saw an IMAX movie called "Forces of Nature" that was volcanoes, earthquakes, and tornadoes, and the efforts being put into predicting them and avoiding them. The most interesting thing I learned was that a large fault runs through Turkey, and its stress point has been moving westward, and is now situated about ten miles south of Istanbul. They're going to get it soon, so they have to get ready.

The stuff about tornadoes was also pretty interesting. They field crew they had had two doppler radar setups, and they managed to be the first team in history to position themselves at the proper right angle to record the creation of a tornado in radar in three dimensions. It wasn't quite as zany as Twister, but there was an outtake during the end credits that showed the guy with the IMAX camera realizing the tornado he's filming is too close and deciding to get in the car. The driver comes out for a moment to help him, and it quickly becomes apparent he's locked them out of the car. Talk about your cliffhanger endings. I'd really love to know how they got out of that.

After the show, we wandered around the Centre. There was a display about global warming from the point of view of people living in the Arctic, and it was hosted by an animated inukshuk ("in-NOOK-shook", one of these things: I've always found these "global warming" tracts ironic. They always start off by pointing out how wildly varied the climate's been in the past, but then they get into how the temperature variations these days must be manmade. I'm not saying they're wrong, and I think we ought to be roping in emissions for so many reasons... but I'm still suspicious of the science. It's too shallow, timewise. When I was a kid, a few bad winters had science speculating we were heading into the next ice age, since we were blocking out the sun. Now, a few hot summers and we're trapping it. This strikes me as Ug the caveman warning everyone not to spin around three times because that must be what causes the gods to send lightning bolts. Maybe. But I just think the environment is a whole lot bigger and more complicated than that.

We also ran into this guy running the radio shack there. He was a ham operator, and it was pretty fascinating listening to him. But there was this sense of time having passed him by, and even he admitted it. The functions of ham radio not that long ago have largely been taken over by the Internet. More than a few times, he asked us if we were interested in getting involved in ham radio, and he was only half-joking. It did seem interesting, and if I'd been an adult in the 70s, I'd have probably jumped right on. But it's not the 70s.

I better wrap this up for now. It's a start. I'll see if I can record a little more of my thoughts on the trip later on.

Cooling down

I guess it's official now. I got out of the car at work a few moments ago and I could see my breath. That's not just autumn to me, that's the first hint of winter licking at your nipple.

There's no one else in the office yet. My room, anyway. It's kind of strange. I got thinking about what it'll be like in a couple of months with the snow outside, and the coldness pervasive in the air no matter how warm they make it. I thought about sitting here alone and quiet around Christmas time and it occurred to me that I won't have Jody on ICQ there to keep me company... to just short of show up, and talk, and remind me someone cares in the world. That's melodramatic, I know, but this is how the feeling is shaped... what can I do about it? This will be the first Christmas without Jody... without Ruby... in ten years, for me. A quarter century for others.

What if the dead could visit? Wouldn't that really make the holidays something to look forward to? Well, unless they're someone you felt you were well rid of, I suppose. That's a different story; it's certainly not the case here, though. I mean, I never actually spent a Christmas with Jody. That's obvious; we were never in the same place, except on the Internet (it's funny how that seems to count and not to count all at once... I guess I'll just have to accept it really is just one more, new means of human presence and stop feeling I have to explain it away). So suppose Jody could come back between, say, Christmas and New Year's. He'd want to be with his family, but maybe he'd find some time for me at the end of December. Wouldn't that be something, if we could finally meet up, that way? Mind you, deep down, I still hope to meet him someday. I don't know if I really believe I will, but I sure hope I will.

So now the weather gets cold, one more time, and I'm one more year closer to that. And on and on she goes.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Caecilius song

When I was in grade ten, I took a year of basic Latin. Nerdfodder, I know, but I had a great time. I loved it. We were using a set of short, illustrated texts from Cambridge University. The central character was a patrician named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus. ...Funny I can still remember that... I remember on my first day pronouncing it "sesillious". It's actually "keye-KEE-lee-us". Anyway, that was the year UB40 did their version of Red, Red Wine, which I think is originally by Neil Diamond. I like Neil Diamond, but man, is their version ever better than his (but to even the score, Neil Diamond's version of Suzanne trumps its original version by Leonard Cohen. Now I just need to find something of UB40's that's better done by Leonard Cohen and everyone's even). Now, the song has nothing at all to do with Roman times, or Roman music, or Pompeii, or anything at all. But because of when I heard it, I've always associated it with Caecilius. I just put the song on, and the thing that's always bugged me about it is how murky some of the lyrics are. I decided to look them up on the net.

Well, they got it wrong, but it's close enough that I can piece together the rest. Now I never had a problem with the chorus, but it "meat" of the song was always tricky. To me it sounded like:

[Indistinct, but sounds like] Butterfly
Can be time
Thoughts of you leave my head
I was wrong,
Now I find
That just one thing helps me forget...

But based on what I saw on the net, it seems it goes:

I'd have sworn
That with time
Thoughts of you'd leave my head.
I was wrong,
Now I find
That just one thing makes me forget...

I mean, the song's about a guy getting drunk to get over someone, so I knew it had to be something like that. It's just nice to know. So the song has two nice feelings. It takes me back all those years to a class and a subject I enjoyed, and it's one of those sweet wallow-in-self-pity songs.

That fellow I mentioned a while back, the other friend of Jody's who's taking his death really hard... his most recent LJ entry is about getting drunk over things. I don't know. I reached out to him, didn't get much of a response, and four months later... well, I haven't forgotten either, but I talk to Jody's dad almost every day, and while Jody comes up a lot (naturally enough), he's not obsessed. He lost his beloved son, but he still has a life, other children, a woman he adores. But maybe that's the difference. Maybe Jody was all this guy had...

I don't think that would make Jody very happy. :(

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The undermuch on Thursday

Well, let's see.

As I mentioned, Tuesday, I rented Fahrenheit 9/11 and Supersize Me. Both have a lot of great collateral stuff. But let me talk about Supersize Me, because it was the one I didn't see in the theatres, and odds are, if you only saw one of these two movies, it's the one you didn't see either.

This time three years ago, I weighed about 290 lbs. That's down from about 310 at the end of 2000. It was at the end of October I got into a program of weight loss for men. The program was a lot like Weight Watchers... nothing tricky or faddish, just eating sensible foods in sensible proportions. I got down to about 185 two years ago. I'm currently back up between 205-210, fighting it back. This might be my set point for what I eat and like to eat. I'm doughy, but I'm not gross (I don't think). Put it this way. When I go out now, the first thing that goes through my mind is not the dread that people are going to stare at me or ridicule me or be disgusted if they see me eat a sandwich. I feel relatively "normal"... and since I started getting teased about my weight when I was six or seven, you can imagine, that's a pretty new feeling, even after two years.

Anyway, enough setup. The movie is about a guy who eats McDonalds food, three meals a day, for a month. In the course of it, he goes from exceptional health at 185 lbs. to alarm bells going off in just two weeks, and a weight of 210 by the time the experiment ends. One of the collateral pieces is an experiment in which he jars up a number of McDonalds sandwiches and fries (in individual jars), and a "real" burger and "real" fries. They sit for ten weeks. The "real" burger and fries rot quickly and have to be thrown out after about two weeks. The McD's stuff hangs on, the mold taking a lot longer to get a foothold. But what was most alarming was that by the end of the ten weeks, the McDonalds fries had not changed at all. Not one bit. Lying there in the jar, they looked like they'd just been bought. It was sobering. I don't know how many pounds of that stuff I gulped down over the years, but I can't imagine what they're doing to those things to make them that toxic. I mean, microbes eat shit. If they won't touch these fries... are they actually even food?

Anyway, yesterday I bought a spaghetti squash. I bought a few during the course of my weight loss, but not many since. It's not bad; it's a little sweet, and it does string out like spaghetti, so it's a little fun. But it's a pain to prepare. You have to saw the thing open, then scoop out the guts like a pumpkin, then broil it. Still, I'm looking forward to it. I also bought portobello mushrooms. Now, I hate mushrooms. I have since I was six when I ODed on mushroom soup at last (it was one of about only six foods I'd eat). I just got sick of the stuff and until very recently, I couldn't stand mushrooms. I still don't like them. But, everyone keeps telling me how similar portobellos are in flavour and texture to meat. I'm dubious, but I'll give it a go. I also bought yellow peppers and a big white onion. I usually buy Spanish onions if I'm bothered to buy onions, but this one just smelled glorious. Right over the top, as onions go, so I bagged it. I'll fry it, the peppers, and mushrooms together in olive oil this evening, and serve them with the squash and tomato sauce. I'm not expecting to fall in love, but I'm hoping it's palatable. We'll see.

Now I meant to cook all that last night, but I remembered I had to go out and meet P-Doug to go to the IMAX theatre. We saw Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. That was really pretty cool. Or hot, actually. Some creatures down there live in water that's above the boiling point (it doesn't turn to gas, though, because it's 4000-6000 psi). They (the film makers, not the creatures) have a website, which I haven't visited yet, but it's, apparently. They're also showing Forces of Nature there, which we might see on Sunday.

I probably won't be doing much with friends this weekend. P-Doug and G are heading up north to visit his mother, and bringing her back down for Thanksgiving at his sister's place. So I'll probably just sit around, watch movies, maybe get a little buzzed (rum? rye? Haven't decided yet...). Again, we'll see.