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.