Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A casual observation

I'm not sure now if it was Thursday or Friday morning... I actually thought to make mention of it here at the time, but neglected to... just goes to show you... but anyway, I was on my way to work, and as I crested a hill in my neighbourhood, I saw a large, fat skunk lying dead in the road. The air was suddenly full of his (or her?) "perfume". I steered around him, of course. Not just because he was a skunk, but because the idea of running over a body offends me. That skunk may not have been human, but he was still a being. To some extent, he was "someone", if you see what I mean.

I wondered at the time what would happen to the body.

On the weekend, I drove past the skunk. His body had been mashed up, everything opened up and on display, by the passing wheels of cars. Good God, that seems cruel. There's the world for you.

The last couple of mornings (today's Tuesday) I've noticed there's not much left of the skunk. A few tufts of fur, stains on the road. In a few days, from all practical intents and purposes, it'll be like he never even existed.

Now a skunk is a sentient being. Maybe not sapient, but sentient. There's someone behind the eyes, albeit someone pretty dull, I'll grant you. But anyway, he wanders out onto the road, probably just looking for food on the other side, and pow, that's it. That's his big mistake, for which he forfeits existence: that he wanted to be on the other side of thirty feet of asphalt. Okay, he was a skunk. He was never going to build a moon rocket or write an symphony to the glory of love or cut a canal across Panama. But how many of us do? It seems to me that most human beings never aim that high either. Most of them time we're pretty much just talking skunks. We wander around, looking for things to eat, other humans to screw (am I being literal or figurative? Yes.), and seeking diversions to pass the time till God comes along to squash us with His car, in whatever form it takes... heart attack, cancer, gunshot, typhoid, fall, sometimes even a real car. So what's the point of all that?

I don't really know where I'm going with this. It's just something that I needed to say. The only tribute that skunk's ever going to have, I imagine.

Some more musings

Before I headed out, I took another look at those photos. There's this one that really stands out. Well, a few do, but one in particular. It's Jody standing at the right of the frame, speaking, deep brown eyes looking off at someone out of the shot to the left. He's wearing the green and white UNM jacket, and his hair's in his eyes. It's some scene I was never a part of, but years later, I'm privy to; what an age we live in... Where was I that day? Did he and I talk later on? Did he tell me about this, and I've forgotten, letting it wash over me almost immediately as just one more day in an endless string of casual meetings that turned out to be not so endless after all? And there he is, so young, so hopeful, full of life, just this handsome American kid I knew who was fated to be murdered by his own body.

I guess murdered's not really the right word. After all, it wasn't malicious. His body didn't consciously set out to kill him. It just happened. One day, a long time ago, some cell in his body made a mistake, and it just snowballed. He couldn't stop it. We couldn't stop it. What would you call that? Criminal negligence causing death? I guess that's the fate of us all. If you live long enough—if no disease or accident claims you first—your body kills you, finally. We're all our own executioner of last resort. Why is that? Why are we designed to get on the planet, reproduce, and get off again? It doesn't seem right to summon us into being just for that. What's the point?

I look at these pictures of Jody and it all comes back to me. The weird feeling of him not being here anymore. I was just remarking to his dad on ICQ... I sure want to talk to him again. It doesn't seem right somehow that that was so simple, such a casual thing on Friday afternoon, and completely impossible Monday morning. How can that be real? Now that I've seen so much more of who he was, I want to talk to him about it. :(

Where'd you go, Jody? Will I see you again someday? I've got so much I want to ask you now, even more than before.

Thoughts of Jody

Tomorrow's the first of September. Most of the summer is gone. Jody never made it to this summer. He fell just short of it, dying in the last days of spring.

Sunday morning I was down at Tim Horton's and Lick's (I was after tea biscuits and a turkey burger, respectively). I was sitting in the car in the rain. I had put on Shaking the Tree by Peter Gabriel, and the song Mercy Street was playing. I couldn't get out of the car. The lyrics had new meaning, not the yearning but hopeful ones I used to hear, but something much sadder. Looking for Mercy Street... swear they moved that sign; looking for mercy. In your daddy's arms again...

This time last year, Jody was "cured" of his cancer. Then they moved that sign on him. In October it was back, and in June, he was gone. Jody was 26, a grown-up, but only just, and how desperately he must have wanted to run to his father's arms, his mother's arms, for them to hold him and tell him it was alright. And God knows, they must have wanted to be able to. But it was way beyond scraped knees or playground bullies or scary noises from under the bed. This was about God throwing dice, Einstein be damned, and someone who never had a choice in the game losing.

A young woman Jody knew contacted me recently, and last night she shared some of her photos of Jody from several years ago. Just Jody being Jody, hanging around with friends, helping out with computers, wearing the college colours and being someone. I knew him then, but not as that person... just as the sweet "voice" of RubyOcelot saying, "uh oh!" on ICQ and telling me such wonderful things. Meanwhile, here was this young man somewhere, being a person. It's a little hard to merge those pictures. The real Jody is beginning to eclipse what I remember as RubyOcelot. And maybe he should.

This morning, I'm sitting here about to be late for work because I don't want to let this moment slip away. This morning, it's Warren Zevon and Desperadoes Under the Eaves. I sort of got into Warren Zevon about a month and a half before Jody died, and so most of this music is tainted by Jody's illness, his death, and now my realization that while I was out enjoying all this, Jody was in fact dying, and probably preparing himself for it. He was compassionate enough not to point that out to me, except maybe once, subtly. It was going to be a broadside no matter what, but he let me live in the pretend world that he would one day be alright. Imagine that. He let me be innocent and naive.

Don't the sun look angry at me?
I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was listening to the air conditioner hum.
It went mmmmmm, mmmmmmm, mm hmm hmm hmm hmm...
Look away down Gower Avenue...

Monday, August 30, 2004

Just some random musings

It's been most of a week since I put anything new up here, so maybe I'll just throw in, if only so one day I can look back and remember what I did with this little chunk of my life. :)

Well, Thursday, the company had a BBQ and a little games competition. I was on a bocce team. Never played the game before in my life, and it showed. It's a little like curling; not a difficult concept to master, but a whole different matter when it comes to execution. I was also in a four-legged race (hang on, I'll explain), teamed with my boss and a co-worker. I was in the middle, and each of them was tied to one of my legs. Get it? Six legs acting as four. We came in second in our heat; not bad, I thought. Everyone got a prize. Names were drawn out of a bag, and when your name was called, you went up, picked a number, and that's what you got. I got a kerosene lamp, which was pretty cool. But while I was waiting for my turn, it started to rain, very lightly. Everyone was complaining, and I found myself getting a little antsy too. But then I thought, God, you know, there was a time not all that long ago when this would have been just about perfect to me. Standing in a field under a heavy sky while a warm breeze and warm rain misted down on me. There was a time I used to walk through puddles even with shoes on; now I tend to avoid them even in sandals. I just shake my head and wonder when the even the little pleasures of nature got to be like some hairy aunt's kiss to me.

Friday we all went out to fete a couple of guys who are leaving the company. One of them is a guy in my department; a Russian fellow a few years younger than me. I always wanted to talk to him about life back then but it just seemed too invasive. I happened to wind up sitting across from him at the restaurant and used a word a friend had translated for me a few years ago ("krolchika", a female rabbit) as my opening. Turns out that, yes, it was translated properly and not a dirty word or some other joke my friend had been playing on me all these years. But my co-worker sensed in me an interest in things Russian and he opened up. We talked about his life in Moscow, and how he remembered going down to the Russian White House during the coup attempt, and seeing the snipers on the roof tops... about being a lieutenant in the Russian Army while going through college... about how women in Russia are equals, but tend to follow the lead of the men, even these days, balanced by greater responsibility on the shoulders of the men who presume to lead. It was all really interesting, and now I'm sorry I waited till the guy was leaving to talk to him. But that's me all over. I must have gotten to be last-minute friends with a half-dozen people who've left the company over the years.

Saturday I went up to to another town with P-Doug and G to a huge used book store I found last week. I think P-Doug was impressed; he bought four or five books. I imagine he'll be back. The town was old, established; we drove around a little looking at the sights but G was impatient to eat (being diabetic) and at one point lost patience with it all. That effectively killed the nickel tour and shut down conversation for a while. I had the interesting sensation, in my mid-30s, of being a kid caught between squabbling parents. There are probably better ways to recapture one's youth, but I'll take anything I can get.:) After that, we headed west to a pub we used to frequent when I lived in the far west end of the city. I wanted the curry there... first place I ever had a curry. Naturally, they were out. In the course of it, we also visited the little crafts commune adjacent to the pub, where yuppie WASPs sell their art at (what I consider to be) pretentious prices. I'm not saying the stuff's not good, but four grand for a chunk of white marble that looks like something grandpa might have whittled out of a giant bar of soap? Gimme a break. Fourteen hundred for a watercolour? It's three bucks worth of paper and pigment. I'm happy for you that you think your time's worth five hundred dollars an hour, but don't be surprised when the stuff's not flying off the walls.

Saturday evening when I was by myself again, I got into an artistic mood myself and decided to blow words over the computer for a while. I was in a mindset to write free associating poetry, whichI really haven't done since university. I decided to just write, then sleep on them, and see if I still saw anything of value in the pieces in the morning. As it turns out, I did. I was pleasantly surprised. Of five poems, I only deleted three lines and changed less than half a dozen words, and corrected the spelling of three (not bad, considering I was typing with my eyes closed). All in all, I have to say I was pleased with the results. Note that in spite of that, I don't expect to stick someone to the tune of several grand for any of them. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Review: Collateral

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

So, last night I met up with P-Doug and G and we went to see the movie Collateral. Tueday nights are $4.25 nights, as I've probably indictated elsewhere, so it's a good cheap evening. In the food court, I got chicken curry over rice, a side salad, and a can of Diet Coke for about six bucks. So all-told, it was about a ten-dollar evening—cheaper than the movie alone, most places. But anyway, you're here to read about the flick, no?

Well, first I'm going to subject you to my gripes. We got there good and early, as usual, and chose the seats we wanted. Everything is always fine till the last five minutes when every doughhead who never heard of a "watch" suddenly shows up at once, milling around with three or four of his buds, expecting to find seats that are A) close enough together so they can indulge in one another's farts and BO, B) not so close to the screen they get whiplash whenever anything happens on screen, and C) not in some armpit of the theater where everything on the near side is HUGE and everything on the far side looks like it's in the next county. Naturally, this means bothering people like us who already have seats. In last night's case, it was a group of Chinese guys. The one who sat next to me was about nine feet tall, seven and a half pounds, with the boniest elbows anyone was every jabbed repeatedly with throughout a movie (that "anyone" being me). For some reason, he brought along his pet knapsack, which he insisted on keeping in his lap... thus, his winged-out elbows. His buddy had a chronic cough that came and went throughout the movie. Geez Louise.

The coming attractions rolled. All of them were forgettable slush, except one. Some Christmas show. It looked excorible. Ben Stiller is in it. Need I say more? Yes! Because suddenly, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are in it! De Niro's playing the schlamazel role, which is rare for him (think Midnight Run), but when he does it, he's great. Listen, I don't care if Hoffman and De Niro stand there shouting the phone book at each other. It's going to be entertaining.

Then the theatre showed its classic dos and don'ts reel. These alternate between an outer space theme and an undersea theme. For a long time they only showed the outer space one. I missed the undersea one, with the demented octopus shoving popcorn in my face (but that's the one they showed last night). These things are bad, cheesy, cut-rate 3D animation done by some joint in New England. They come across like some precocious high school student's stiff test reel. Yeah, alright, kid, you're hired. Your dream's come true. Now get to work on this scene of Tony the Tiger riding a frosted flake like a bucking bronco. Stop crying! This is what you wanted...

So... the movie. :) Well, Rotten Tomatoes had it running at 86% "fresh" yesterday; an unusually strong showing. An indication of good things! True enough. This is a good movie. So good, in fact, that at several points in the movie, I found myself thinking, "my goodness, this is really a good movie!" That's how good it was.

The story opens—without credits, as P-Doug pointed out—in LA, where a cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) is picking up a young woman, who turns out to be an attourney. In an enviable exchange of dialogue that always neaty dodged getting boring or silly, these two get to know each other over about five minutes. When Max hands her the photograph of the tiny island he takes mental "vacations" to, you realize it's one of those moments where someone you'll never meet again touches your life in some singular way, and years later while you're looking for something else, you'll come across the item and suddenly be right back there. Like I said, it's a really good movie. THAT kinda movie.

Anyway, Max's next fare is Vincent, a dapper-dressed but in-need-of-a-shave Tom Cruise. Vincent and Max get gassing too, and before long Vincent has roped Max into driving him around all night, while he attends to "errands", with the promise of six, no, seven hundred bucks. Max thinks that's pretty good, till a dead guy suddenly falls out of the sky onto his cab.

Okay, at this point, you have to go, hmm. Like, what are the odds? Alright, stranger things... Just go with it. So you go with it, and that's good, because later on, it's a plot point.

So, when Vincent returns, it doesn't take Max long to figure out from his attitude that he's responsible for the big human-shaped dent in his roof. At this point, Max essentially becomes Vincent's hostage, taking him from... ahem... errand to errand. At one point, Vincent even takes Max out for a drink at a jazz club. This is an interesting departure. Things become almost convivial as Vincent buys the owner a drink, and the owner regales them with the time in the 1960s that Miles Davis himself breezed into the club to jam. The mood sours when Vincent drops a name that apparently chills the blood of the jazz club owner, and suddenly Max and the viewer realize Vincent's here for more than just a snort and some tunes. The club owner maintains his dignity and aplomb all the way down... which is, I'm sorry to say, all the way. This movie features some hard, unusually brutal murders. This one is particularly effective because by the time Vincent kills him, you've come to like the club owner. Max's reaction and the viewer's are one and the same. This is a good movie, see.

An aside at this point... I'm not quite sure when it occurs in the movie now, because it's not closely tied to other events, but at one point (I think as Vincent's committing his second hit), Vincent ties Max's hands to this steering wheel and leaves him with the cab in the alley. Vincent does everything he can to attract attention. He attracts a couple of thieves who threaten him with a gun and steal his wallet, as well as Vincent's briefcase. Fortunately Vincent's there to set things right. Five quick bullets put down the other two guys. One of them eats a gratuitous just-to-make-sure sixth, and Vincent tosses Max his wallet back. What gets me about the scene is, yes... these are bad dudes. They robbed a guy. But the loud cheers that went up from a quarter of the audience when they were mercilessly killed sent shivers down my spine. Hey, folks... Vincent's the bad guy, remember?

I want to take a moment to praise the atmospherics. The cab sails around middle-of-the-night LA, and makes the place look otherworldly. A very compelling look at the place, through some deliberately odd camera shots (watch for the one with Max barely in the frame as some sort of refinery slowly passes by in the background). It's quiet, deserted, dark but softly lit. Makes you want to be there, dream there.

Now a lot of people get killed in the course of this thing, including the cop with brains and a heart of gold. Now I figured his appearance heralded the start of the 'buddy' movie, where in the end the cop would pop up and blow away the baddy and save Max. Uh uh. He eats Lead à la Vincent on the way out the door of a club. And that's it for him. No "lucky I had on my flack jacket!" scene later. He's dead. Meanwhile, his boss who shrugged the whole thing off to the FBI is at home, safe and warm in his jammies. It's that kinda movie.

The ending, though, doesn't sit quite right. I mean, it's not bad enough to ruin the movie, but it goes for all the cheap cliches they'd pretty much managed to avoid till then. The fifth and last "errand" of the night turns out to be... tah dah! the lawyer chick from scene one! Now... I can accept a lawyer and Max might strike up some chemistry. I can accept that Vincent's job is greasing prosecution witnesses and, yes, ultimately the prosecuting attourney. I can accept that the woman Max met at the beginning is that same attourney. But... not all of them. Not all together. That's just asking a little too much. Why couldn't the lawyer have been a guy? Would a guy not be worth saving, just because he's not a romantic prospect? Or just some stranger? Wouldn't Max try to save anyone, after all the death he's seen? But anyway...

When Vincent finally corners the lawyer, Annie (Jada Smith), he doesn't pop her like he's done everyone else. No, he sneers and closes in on her as she crawls away like some helpless black Faye Wray. That struck me as too out of character. To me, no way would he take any chances. If she gets in his sights, she's meat. So I had a hard time with him not taking care of business. If he's got a problem shooting women, they never set it up. Likewise, when Max shows up pointing a gun at Vincent, nobly telling him to "let her go", Vincent actually talks to him instead of dropping him like a 200 lb. sack of spuds. Now earlier, we saw Vincent chew through about fifteen heavily-armed guards in a night club like he was doing a floor routine. But he can't kill a single guy who, five mintues ago, didn't even know enough about guns to shoot out a window on his first try? Come on.

Max manages to wound Vincent and he and Annie escape to the subway, where the final showdown occurs (this is kind of set up earlier in the movie by off-the-cuff remarks Vincent makes about how impersonal LA is). Separated by a steel door, Max, who probably knows about as much about guns as I do (nothing) manages to gun down a professional, Vincent, as he closes in. Sorry, I don't really buy that. Then Vincent, apparently shot through the right lung or liver, sits down calmly like Roy at the end of Blade Runner to blow poignant air over Max and Annie who, apparently now out of danger from this dead man sitting, gape at him as he cracks wise a couple times and croaks. Okay, you knew he had to die at the end, but it's cheap. It's like he wanted to die. He gave Max and Annie way way way too many chances that no dedicated professional hitman would have done. I wanted them to win, of course, but by guile... by outsmarting Vincent, waiting for him to screw up, and then hoisting him on it. Instead, we end up with just this sorta 'aw shucks, Tex, yuh got me' ending. Max and Annie wander off, presumably to have a life together, while Vincent rides the metro to hell, the end. Still, not enough to ruin it. Went from a 9 to an 8, that's all. This is a buyer and a keeper. I'll be watching for it.

Oh... and the soundtrack was AWESOME. Gotta get me some of that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I shot an arrow in the air...

...it landed in my underwear! Etc., etc.

So today, I've prepared five of my short stories for mailing out to various literary mags across the country. I sent another one out two weeks ago. Who knows... maybe this time I'll get somewhere.

This has been prompted by a few things. Of course, the most recent motivation is Jody's death. You can't watch a 26-year-old die without becoming acutely aware that we, each of us, has only so much time. Nearly as long as I knew Jody, he wanted to create a game called "Slipstream". He talked about it a lot, but in spite of all his gaming experience and his wizardry at programming, he never did finally get around to actually creating it. I'll never know for sure, but judging from Jody's creativity, I'd guess the world really missed out on something good.

The other reason is this kind of nagging biological clock thing. But instead of feeling obliged to give your parents grandkids (that's a guilty feeling for another day, thought the bachelor), mine is about a professor I had in university. I was in his creative writing class in third year, along with maybe one-and-half-dozen other people or so, of all ages. It was the professor's retirement year. At the end of the academic year, I had a course-end interview with him in which he told me I was probably the most promising student he had in twenty years of teaching there. Now I don't know what he told everyone else... maybe he said that to every student to encourage him or her; God knows. But the point is, he did say it to me. This was a man who was once short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Literature. So you can imagine... I pretty much floated out of his office. I was 22, I guess; only just, if that. I was going to beat eggs with big word processing sticks. I was accepted by another professor for one-on-one creative writing studies the following year.

Then... nothing. I left university wondering what I was going to do with an English degree, so I went to college to learn animation. I still wrote, but only occasionally, and just hobby stuff. Nothing IMPORTANT. Nothing with A BIG THEME. I'm being facetious here, of course, but underneath it all, there's still this sense of having something to say to the world, offer some kind of insight, or give it something of value. Nearly fifteen years have gone by since the Professor paid me one of the highest compliments of my life (being asked by Jody's mother to create the images for his headstone sort of edges it out), and I've done nothing.

The Professor is either 80 now, or about to turn 80. God knows, I don't mean to jinx the man, but generally speaking, when you hear someone's 80, you start thinking about the finish line. I want to do something to reaffirm to this man that he was right, that there was something worthwhile in what he saw and justify the faith he showed in me by saying what he said. This has become very important to me. Maybe I don't have the chops to get published in something literary, but I have to try. Deep down, I knew if I didn't try, then I wasn't putting my pride on the line. I've spent over a decade not trying, and I've gotten the predictable results. Well, like that 98-pound weakling in the Charles Atlas ad, it's time for me to gamble a stamp. Or two. Or a hundred.

Here goes nothing... and everything.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Creationism is an insult to God

In the course of the story I'm currently writing, which features as its central characters the descendants of lemurs, eight million years or so from now, it dawns on me that the "image of God" and the "children of God" can't be physical descriptions. They have to be descriptions of any being capable of perceiving the fundamental laws of the universe, without regard to their physical form.

Creationists rail on about how it's insulting to God to deny the literal nature of the Bible. I think the Bible, in particular the King James Bible (despite my Catholicism) is a magnificent, seminal piece of human literature. If I could pass only a half dozen books down to future generations, rest assured the KJV, as a general code to ethics and an example of the particular beauty of the English language (among other human languages, of course) would be on that list. But I believe the Bible is allegorical. I'd like to believe it is at least vaguely inspired by the divine spark. Perhaps it is not the WHOLE truth, but it contains enough IMPORTANT truths to warrant our attention. It pleases me to believe there is a God, one so all-encompassing that He/She (there is no appropriate pronoun in English; "It" is impersonal and will not suffice) knows us all and loves us all.

It seems to me that to suggest a being as infinite and powerful as God would be so impatient as to create the world in literally six days, and stack the deck so that ten-fingered, ten-toed primates with almost no fur would be the literal image of His/Her divinity, is insulting. Human parents will tell you "I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, or what colour their eyes or hair are... just so long as it's a healthy, happy child..." But somehow, we're supposed to accept that God Him/Herself is less patient and accepting than any human parent? I don't.

I believe that God created a universe capable of eventually giving rise to beings that would evolve to sentience, and be able to wonder at themselves, the universe, physical laws, and even to guess at the nature of their Creator. God is no hurry. God is infinite. God creates the rules, and then enjoys watching Creation stir to consciousness, grow, wonder, love, fall, redeem, strive... finally to return to God. Evolution is God's way of saying "I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, or what colour their eyes or hair are... just so long as it's a healthy, happy child..." If you are a Creationist, all I can say is, you've grossly underestimated your Creator. Think again.

Adieu. :)

As Good As It Gets

Sometimes I think about how rough things can be, sure. We all do that. But then I have a moment of lucidity and I realize that compared to 99.9993825% of humanity throughout our existence on this planet, I've got it all over them.

I'm sitting here on my bed in the buff, working on a story in a word processor (no scribbling, no erasing), slightly drunk on Planter's Punch rum and Diet Pepsi, (too) well-fed, with a two-bedroom apartment all to myself (my two cats, one of whom is rolling around beside me, notwithstanding), while a fan blows previously-air-conditioned air around my room and I listen to any of the several thousand songs I have, and debate if I want to put on a movie ("Here's lookin' at you, kid..."). The ice cubes in my drink are made of clean water I take for granted. Kings couldn't claim this stuff fifty years ago, but a middle class nobody like me can have it now.

I live in a stable, federal, democratic, constitutional, largely English-speaking country of the Western alliance in the early 21st century... not untouchable, but certainly moreso than most people throughout history; the nuclear arms of three allied nations are pledged to my defense. I have access to medical treatment. My family and friends are nearby and not persecuted for their race or religion or politics or sexual preference. The commercial world scampers to indulge my every conceit and whim (so long as I'm willing to shell out, of course). Almost without question, I live in the privileged top 15 or 20% of our species, and even the humblest of us lives way beyond the wildest hopes of the even the great apes. I say none of this out of arrogance... I've done nothing at all to earn this. I was simply born what I was, when I was, where I was, to the parents I was. Virtually none of this is my own doing. I say this out of gratitude... to whatever forces put me here, if any.

Nearly anyone in the world with the capacity to read these words is in exactly the same situation, if not better. You stop for a second and count your blessings.

"I am a pauper in paradise / Though I have nothing, I don't complain / I am a pauper in paradise / Better this than a king in chains."

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Remembering to forget

It occurred to a few minutes ago that the second anniversary of Jenny's death came and went without my ever noticing. The realization of it was prompted by the card I just got for P-Doug and G, who finally had to put one of their old cats, Chaucer, to sleep two days ago.

Jenny was a little black cat; I had her for 13 years. She was a present from my first and only real girlfriend. Jenny died August 15, 2002. She had a thyroid condition for a couple of years that would sort of come and go without much regard to the medication, but finally she got really skinny and couldn't control her bowels anymore. I coped as best I could. That Thursday morning the clock went off at 7, I got up at 7:13, walked out into the hall and saw her lying in the spare room, eyes open. She looked awake. But she was dying or already dead. The fur on her hip was licked the wrong way... it had to be Bonnie, my other cat... she must have been with her when she died.

I have Jenny's ashes on shelf. Recently they were joined by a little portion of Jody's. Jody absolutely loved cats. I think being there beside Jenny would make him happy. But anyway...

I'm not sure how to feel about this. I do understand that we can't dwell forever on those we lose, and as much as I've missed Jenny, I have gotten on with my life. I have Bonnie and Max to take care of now. But still, it's only been two years. I'd have been a little more comfortable if the first anniversary of her passing I forgot was the 5th or the 10th, not just the second. Will it be like this with Jody? Already now it seems to me like a long time since he died, but it's only been a little over two months. I was talking with him as recently as early June.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder how adults kept the lid on their sorrow and disappointment. I even used to wonder why they would. I still don't know. All I do know is that somewhere along the line, something changed in me. Dulled, blunted, and I'm less capable of feeling. Something's really died a little inside me, and it must be fairly recent because I'm a sloppy, sentimental guy and even in my 20s the littlest thing used to just wreck me.

On the other hand, I'm watching another of Jody's friends just wallowing in pity... not so much for Jody as for himself, in having lost Jody as a support in his life... and it vaguely offends me. Maybe it's that part of us outside ourselves looking back in, that Foreign Legion everyone keeps camped on their soul, that's telling me to bottle up my own feelings and just deal with it... because there's nothing I can do now to help Jody, make him feel better or loved, or bring him back to life. I think I've reached the point where I can see that feelings, in and of themselves, are one thing. You have them, they're there; you don't control them and you can't reason with them or wish them away. But expressing them, giving them a shape and a voice and a presence in the world outside yourself where they affect others... that ought to have some kind of a point. If it doesn't, you're just indulging yourself in their emotional machinery and demanding they print up pity for you in a way you'd never impose on, say, their wallets. I guess there comes a point where you have to internalize it, ferment it into some vintage just for yourself, stop making your problem everyone else's. Some people get that and some don't.

Does that sound cruel? Or realistic? It's the first time I've ever really thought about it explicitly.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Downtrodden barefoot revisited

In the first posting or two I ever made here, I complained about some security geek with a clipboard giving me grief for walking barefoot in the parking garage. Well, guess what? I came home tonight and there he was again. This time, he had some other guy with him. For no reason at all, he buttholes me on my way to the door, and starts telling me he's training this other guy because the security company is sending him to another site... one in --> THE <-- reputedly worst part of town...

First of all... why do I give a shit?

Second of all... yay, couldn't happen to a geeker dork.

Anyway, just to be nice, I chit-chatted with these fellahs. The trainee seemed okay... but I started getting a vibe off the pencil neck. And suddenly I was right back in the library with Mr. "Hello, sir, have you read Larry Niven's Ringworld? Oh you should and by the way I write like him and can I have your e-mail address?". I hadn't talked with him long enough that first time to realize that the building is being guarded by a guy with an IQ that, if it were a temperature in Fahrenheit, probably wouldn't even make you break out in a sweat. This guy is missing teeth. This guy is wearing glasses that went out of style when I was 14... and he's younger than me. And he starts asking me all these questions about my personalized plate that he noticed when I drove in. Call me paranoid, but I'm not real big on guys who probably couldn't get past grade eight taking a real interest in me, my life, or aspects of it. So I excused myself and got out of there, and—I'm not kidding—I actually shook my shoulders in that involuntary "FUCK that creeped me out!!" kinda way as I walked down the hall.

Then I kicked off my sandals and climbed the stairs barefoot, as usual. Up yours, Batman of the Ozarks. :)

The day you die

This morning when I was sitting at the light, waiting to turn onto Hwy 7, I noticed a sign I'd seen a thousand times before. It announced the downloading of the highway from the province to the town, effective June 7, 1997.

June 7th is the day Jody died, seven years later. This year, 2004.

I know it's just a coincidence; a million billion things have happened on various June 7ths throughout history. But how many times in the past four years did I pass that sign without ever knowing what June 7th would come to mean? What was I doing June 7, 1997? It was a Saturday, so it seems. More importantly, was was Jody doing? It was a couple of months after he turned 19. He was probably on break during college. He had his whole life ahead of him. That turned out to be pocket change from a decade.

Which gets me thinking. Every year, every one of us lives through the day we're going to someday die, without ever knowing which. Which one is that special day for me? For you? That one that, like your birthday, stands out from all the rest...

Played it, Sam

So, I blushingly confess I am no longer a Casablanca virgin. I've watched the movie now, and am prepared to deem it worthy of its renown. Humphrey Bogart's nowhere near the stiff he's been made out to be in all the impersonations. There was a liveliness to his performance as Rick Blaine that was subtle but real. I was particularly delighted by the scene where the Germans are waving what they have on him under his nose, and after glancing it over, Rick looks up and asks the table, "Are my eyes really brown?" I love that kind of thing.

Peter Lorre's Ugarte character certainly does stand out. I always had the impression he was this greasy, despicable guy, but my heart really went out to him somehow. What amazes me is just how large a figure he seems to have become in all the Casablanca references... and yet the guy's on screen for what, maybe five minutes?

I have to admit, I was surprised to find out Ilsa was married (though believed herself widowed) when she was seeing Rick in Paris. That's the sort of complication you don't normally see in a movie from the 1940s. A nice bittersweet edge to it all... a much better explanation than something lame like deciding it just wouldn't work out or something. Finding out your husband's still alive... yeah, that must kind of knock the world sideways on you.

There are also a couple of commentary tracks on the DVD. Now I love commentary tracks. The first one is by Roger Ebert. Hey, is there anyone else out there besides me who was floored that Gene Siskel died before Roger Ebert? No offense, Roger, but looking at the two of you side-by-side on "At the Movies" in the 80s, my money was on Gene. Anyway, I was thinking it would have been better if they could have gotten Bogey to do one, but I gather he's hard to get hold of nowadays, so they probably would have had to have anticipated the eventual creation of DVDs back in the 50s, sat him down, and recorded his impressions. Looks like they didn't bother to put that much thought into it. The film is introduced by Lauren Bacall, though, which is pretty cool. :)

This is a movie I know I can watch repeatedly. I should start looking for other films with Bogey in 'em.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

You must remember this...

So, about two hours ago, I went out at lunch time and rented Casablanca. A friend of mine tells me it's boring, and maybe it will be. But I don't care. I want to see it at least once, just to have it under my belt.

I do hope it's something great that I can latch onto, keep coming back to, enjoy for years. There's no way to know for sure. Citizen Kane, for instance... a friend of mine built it up as this cinematic masterpiece. This is common knowledge, right? It's the proof that Orson Welles was a genius... yeah, you know, Orson Welles? The "genius" who panicked the Eastern Seaboard in the 1930s with a radio program? Maybe "genius" isn't the right word, hmmm? Maybe "impresario" is more appropriate? Possibly "oblivious butthead"? Anyway, you can probably see where this is going. I found Citizen Kane to be boring, pretentious crap. Too many scene cuts, too many scenes, too much explanation. Instead of focusing on one or two moments in the guy's life, we get the re-enforcements larded on, layer after layer, see, this is what he wanted out of life; see, this is what wore him down; see, this is why he turned mean... Were audiences back then really that stupid? And all to set up what really boils down to a visual gag... Rosebud, it's a sled! Yeah! See, he was yearning for the simplicity of his youth... Wow, there's a shocker, huh? Unlike the other 99.999999999% of humanity, this guy yearned for his simpler, innocent, carefree childhood... That's your point, huh, Orson? Yeah. Genius.

Now some of the other things you can say about the movie are fair cop. The camera angles, for instance, as I've been led to understand, were new and unique at the time. Bold, daring, breaking away from static conventions. Okay, fair enough, maybe. But if so, the movie's a victim of its own success. In popularizing such points of view, it ironically rendered itself nothing special. Sort of like IBM introducing a PC standard that anyone could (and thus, did) clone from parts off the shelf. So unless it's pointed out to you that yes, this is where that came from, you're not going to recognize the originality of the technique. So again, you're left with a "so what?" movie that, without the benefit of cinematographic esoterica, looks like any other. Forgive me, folks, if the genius seems a little thin on the ground.

But anyway, I'm hoping whatever it is that's made Casablanca so special for all these years will be self-evident when I watch it. I guess I'll let you know. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Here's lookin' at you, vid...

I've realized I have to see Casablanca. I've never seen the movie, but it's such an integral part of our culture that I feel a little like I didn't do some of the basic readings. Here's how derivative it is... my favourite episode of MST3K (Overdrawn At the Memory Bank) is a send-up of a movie set in the future that themes itself on Casablanca. That's, what, three, four levels deep? But I get most of the references because I've been innundated with Casablanca references my whole life. Well, I think it's way past time I rented the original and saw just what's so fascinating that it's held an entire culture's imagination for the past sixty years or so.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Biggles! Put her in... THE COMFY CHAIR!!!

Oh, yeah, before I forget (again)... that really horrid chair I mentioned about a week ago? Well, when P-Doug and I were back down there boozing yesterday, he found a brouchure from that furniture place. Believe it or not, they actually feature a photograph of that chair in their sales pitch. Sure, wouldn't you showcase a rusted-out 1978 Datsun on your BWM lot? I know I would.

Now, I couldn't swear to it, but I'm willing to bet this is the chair the representatives of the Family Compact—uh, I mean, the Government of Upper Canada—used to force confessions out of Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount just before they were hanged after the Rebellions of 1837. Is this the chair that saved the British Empire in North America? Hoorah!

* * * * *

...Well, I was going to show you the chair, but the nice people at LiveJournal only want us to put up really awe-inspiring pictures no bigger than 100x100 pixels. So if I ever want to show you a really detailed picture of one of my toenails (other than either of the big ones, that is), we're all in luck... otherwise, we're SOL. Alright, fair enough; so thenI thought I'd show you the picture via a link to the furniture company's website, but of course they, like every other prissy cocksucker in the world at the moment, are busy "updating" their website. Why does it never occur to these assholes to update their fucking websites BEHIND THE SCENES, leaving the old one up till they're ready with the new one, instead of expecting the rest of us to leap to our feet clapping in joy and dancing aroundso ecstatically that we fling shit at each other like water balloons? Oh, do I sound a little pissed off, overpriced-antique jerkoffs? Sorry. And sorry to you too, folks. Despite my clever wit and biting sarcasm, the Internet has entirely let us down and you'll just have to continue to imagine what otherwise might have taken your breath away but for the meanness of LiveJournal and the obliviousness of the furniture twerps. >:(

Ars pro artis, or some junk

There's an art store I go to every so often. The buggers never have the pens I'm after in stock. But I swear, I get more music out of the place than I do art supplies! Last year, the radio there was playing "Feels Like Heaven" by Fiction Factory... so I went home and found it. A couple of weeks ago, it was "Cloud Number 9" by Bryan Adams. Hadn't heard that in ages. So, folks, take up art! And your music collection will grow. :)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Meanwhile, back in the 1980s...

I just woke up from the strangest dream. I don't very often remember my dreams, but if I wake up during or just after them, I've got a better chance of doing so, so... Let me record the adventure!

I don't remember it all but I do remember wandering an old neighbourhood near where I used to live... it was once a little town surrounded by countryside till the city engulfed it in the 70s. In the dream, I was there with my friend Roc, the guy I mentioned yesterday, and we were going to these old used book stores I used to haunt years ago. The place didn't look the way I remember it, and eventually it morphed into some other place. Roc wanted to go to some different shop, so I followed him, babbling away to him. He wouldn't respond. I then realized I was following some woman I didn't know, and that's why "Roc" wasn't responding. I saw Roc walking a path off to my left, and knew I'd have to catch up with him. The woman and I crossed a foot bridge over some nice little creek, and on the other side, P-Doug and G were waiting for me. So much for Roc.

I don't remember what happened right after that, but I eventually wound up driving around on my own. I stopped into some fabric shop (hmmm... maybe G did have something to do with this!) and picked out something made of flax, or something, that someone there told me was just great for stuffing furniture. I took a bunch of it to this car dealership that somehow I had something to do with. I felt like I didn't belong there, though I knew the people (for some reason, they were all the guys I worked with in a warehouse one summer during university), and I put the material on a shelf where it would no doubt be noticed and used to comfortably stuff car seats! One of the guys I used to work with, a fellow I was friends with for a while, took me aside and told me confidentially that the stuff was in fact crappy for stuffing furniture. It was very itchy. I felt sad. I left.

Somehow, I wound up wandering around with Jeff, a guy I knew in high school, and haven't seen in about ten years. More used book stores. The sun was setting, and we were with a bunch of other people in this open-air tourist wagon being pulled by Clydesdales. He was going on about something, and I was relaxed and gazing off into the distance. We're on the crest of this hill, and we can see this whole city spread out below us, and just on the horizon, I can make out what seems to be a mushroom cloud... no, two of them. It's hard to be sure; in the setting sun, they're misty and nearly transparent, so far away they're barely moving... so I sit forward and yup, that's definitely what they are. Other people begin to notice, point, mutter. Suddenly another one bursts, closer. Then another, then another, closer each time. A nuclear attack... and I'm wondering, Russia? Terrorists? Too many to be terrorists... we must have pissed off someone substantial. I resign myself to the fact we're about to die, and I turn to Jeff and offer my hand, and he shakes it; 'nice knowin' yah' kind of thing like that 'Well, that about wraps it up for this life' scene between Ford and Zaphod in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We didn't get a chance to sing any ancient Betelguese death anthems, though, because the ground shook and the shockwave hit us and that was that; I woke up.

I can't remember having dreamed of nuclear war since I was a kid. Maybe I have, but I don't remember it. It's funny because not all that long ago, I was remarking to a friend that the world seems so different now. When I was a teenager, nuclear war was just about a daily topic of conversation. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, it hardly gets mentioned. I guess it's still in the back of everyone's mind, though.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

At your elbow

Max, the male cat of my household (Bonnie being the female) is literally at my elbow. He's lying on the bed, touching me, watching TV, or looking in its general direction. Maybe he likes Exodus.

Max is a lot like a dog. He's awfully friendly, comes when he's called a lot of the time, flops around at my feet, comes to the door when I come home, and likes to be in whatever room I'm in. Now I've always believed cats were barely social creatures who put up with a certain number of humans in their lives because we fed them and they grew fond of us. Max seems to like humans generally. Bonnie's pretty friendly too. My first cat, Jenny, was a little more self-possessed.

Now the funny thing is, neither Bonnie nor Max likes the food I eat. I'm not kidding. God's own truth, Bonnie has never once eaten any of the food I've offered her that was I eating. Max has only once; tuna. And not again. Jenny made a fool of herself, a shameless little ebony beggar, for cheese, Cheez Whiz, milk, bacon, and especially fried halibut... she'd have traded a kidney for that, I'm sure... but Max and Bonnie could not possibly care less about the food I'm eating. So what am I left to conclude? For some reason, Max simply likes human beings.

I was... ACTING!!!

I don't know when it was... sometime in the 60s maybe... but the way actors performed on camera sure changed at some point. I'm watching Exodus right now, which I think came out in 1960. And all the actors in it are acting like... they're acting. Like a stage production. They're in the roles, but they're not "of" in the roles, if you know what I mean. They're aware they're performing a role, and it shows. Campy.

Now here comes Paul Newman. Right off the bat you can tell he's of the modern age of actors. He flows into the room, talks like he's talking to you or me or his buddies or his agent. He's who he is in the role, not Paul Newman delivering a script. This isn't to say some of his lines aren't a little stilted, but hey, guy's gotta work with what he's got. Everyone around him is like some version of Jon Lovitz's Master Thespian character... they're... ACTING!!! Paul Newman's acting.

Well, watch the flick, you'll see what I mean. :)

P.S.... who's the woman in this movie? She looks like that chick in Pulp Fiction with "all the shit in her face" (according to Vincent Vega, John Travolta's character). No way she could be, of course. A relation?

Let 'em all go to hell, except Cave 76

Here's how Saturday is shaping up. I've invited over my friend, Capt. Morgan, in his dark, 12 oz. form, to spend the afternoon with me and about four litres of Diet Pepsi. We're going to watch Exodus, Breakdown, and a couple of other movies I forget now. Just sort of grabbed whatever caught my eye. I'm going to get mellow and while away the day playing Empire Deluxe, cursing and swearing. I just hope I won't do anything dumb like order pizza.

I feel a little bad because I'm kind of breaking a promise I made to myself when I got back from Dallas not to drink alone, but I just want to kick back. It's summer, I've been eating sensibly for the last few weeks, so... a little indulgence.

Earlier I spoke to my friend Roc. Things are a little rough for him. He's part of a rather traditionalist Italian-Canadian family (his folks are immigrants, but he's native), and despite the fact that his mother's health is declining and his dad's in a really bad way from dementia caused by an ongoing number of strokes, his mother won't hear of putting his dad someplace where people can properly care for him. Roc's the most dedicate guy I know personally, but even he's starting to think about heading out on his own... so I can only imagine how rough it really must be. He had a car accident recently in which he was at fault, but he considers the charge (careless driving) excessive and is going to fight for a lesser charge, and I say good for him.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Earth to Colorado...

There's this other friend of Jody's; guy I met at the memorial. It's a long story, but in the course of things, Jody saved his life. The guy's been through a lot, and I guess has a pretty maudlin disposition... so do I, but not like this. I've been to his LJ and he sounds as bleak now as most people would be in the first week after losing someone.

Jody meant a lot to him. He meant something to Jody; they were friends most of a decade. In recognition of that, I've been trying really hard to engage this guy in a dialogue. He seemed to want a friend when I was in Dallas. But now that I'm making the attempt, the couple of replies I've gotten are about how he's not fit company (well, thanks... how about if I be the judge of that?). Meanwhile, he keeps wailing for help in his LJ. Okay, some guys need to be wooed... you know, yes, your feelings are special... some folks need that recognition before they'll open up. But there's something a little unseemly about this. Jody's roommates, who lived with him for years and years, are not behaving this way... neither is his father... all of whom have a lot more reason to feel like this, but are keeping their noses above water. I'm beginning to suspect this guy enjoys wallowing in self-pity because it's the only thing that makes him feel special. I want to help him. Jody saw something of value in this guy. But I admit, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm on a fool's errand here. I don't want to believe all this guy wants to do is drink his own tears, but it's starting to look that way.

I don't want to give up on a friend of Jody's, someone I could help, and maybe befriend. But this is two-way street. This guy's howling from a burning building while he shoots out the tires of my fire truck. Wherever Jody is, I can't imagine he's very pleased to see his friend treating his efforts and kindness (or mine, for that matter) with such contempt.

Shadows in the rain

Over lunch I took off again because, like yesterday, I had a letter to send. After I posted it, I decided to kill half an hour at the nearby library. It’s situated in this little burg that used to be a separate town, but is now an upscale patrician Anglo island in a Chinese sea. As I drove through the narrow, tree-lined streets, it came to my attention that this town doesn’t have speed bumps, it has “speed humps” (that’s what the signs say, folks, I kid you not). There’s fodder here for some black comedian, I’m sure...

As I made my way there, it occurred to me that I was following the same route I took there the first time I went, which was the day Jody died. It was raining this time, but the day I went, it was dour and overcast, but the rain, just like the tears, just wouldn’t come. I didn’t even go in that time; I just needed to get away from my desk where I heard the news, and drive someplace where I wasn’t going to be in a lot of traffic.

Now if you talk like this, friends will tell you you’re obsessing. And it’s true, I am obsessing. One of the best friends I ever had died two months ago, far too young, after a painful illness. He was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever had in my life and there was not a goddamn thing I could do to help him. So if I can’t—if I don’t—dwell on that, then what’s the point of being human, or having feelings at all? If I still preface every entry with something about Jody two years from now, then I invite friends to roll their eyes, call me out for a beer, and do one of those gentle intervention things. But not just yet.

When I got to the library, I picked my way between the trees to duck the rain. When I got inside, I did what I always do there. I made a beeline for the discarded books to see if there was anything interesting to buy. I found a book about Ayres Rock in Australia. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at it, though, because just after I arrived, this fellow came up with a cart of books to add to the discards. He said something like, “Good afternoon, sir, and how are you today?” And I replied in the usual polite, non-committal way you’re supposed to respond that that sort of polite, non-committal pleasantry in a WASP country, and figured that was it. I guess he didn’t hear me, because he asked again. This time, I turned to face him when I replied, and asked him how he was doing.

The kid was tall, thin, blond, gawky. Braces, thick glasses. I mean, unusually thick for this day and age with high-refractory-index glass. Now I say ‘kid’ because he was quite a bit younger than me, but in all honesty, I just could not gage how old he actually was. He could have been anywhere between 16 and 22, and that’s at a guess. I couldn’t get a handle on him. Then he did just the thing you’re not supposed to do in a WASP country when someone asks how you are. He told me. His back was hurting him, blah blah something something, just fine for not having worked a day in his life, aside from volunteering here at the library. I'm not kidding; that's what he said. And I’m thinking, geez, fellah, did you notice me reading this book, what’s wrong with you? Then it began to dawn on me that something was wrong with him. I don’t know quite what it was, but it’s that feeling you get... that instinct I think all animals have when they can tell someone of their own species is not quite “right”, you know? It’s innate.

He introduced himself as Greg, I think, and I told him my name, and he offered his hand. So I shook it. He had a strange handshake... tight in the hand, but loose in the arm, so your hand was pulled all over the place... like the kind of handshake an octopus might give. It was a little too insistent; it went on just a second or two too long... a couple of pumps. I couldn’t quantify exactly what a “correct” handshake is; I only know it when I feel it, and that wasn’t it.

This fellow started spontaneous talking about his writing. He recommended Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, which I admitted then and admit now, I’ve never read; he mentioned it in order that he could goon to tell me that his friends compared his own writing to the Ringworld stories... favourably, I’m assuming; he didn’t say. He asked me something I didn’t quite catch; his speech was a little mushy and it wasn’t easy for me to understand him... it occurs to me now his problems may have included being hard of hearing as well. Anyway, I took his question to be, did I have any kids. Given that he was somewhere around 20, and I’m old enough now that I could conceivably have kids in high school (maybe I look like someone he knows, I was thinking), that was what I took him to be asking, and so I said no. I still don’t know for sure what he asked, but that probably wasn’t it, because then, he went on to ask me for an e-mail address where he could send me his stories. I hedged—okay, I lied—and told him I only had a work address and it was for internal mail only (which isn’t strictly true, but it’s all I use it for, anyway). I excused myself as politely... lamely... as I could, and headed into the library proper.

Now I feel strange about the whole thing. That kid kind of frightened me. But why? He wasn’t doing anything threatening per se; in fact, he was being very friendly, if you think about it. He was offering to share what he thought about with me, in the form of his stories. But of course, he was going about it in a way far, far too bold for our society. And in thinking about it, I can see this tennis ball of fear and guilt blasting back and forth in my mind...

Fear: there’s something wrong with this guy.

Guilt: but he’s not dangerous, and you must treat him like everyone else; you must be fair.

Fear: what if I say the wrong thing? What if he knows that I know there’s something different about him?

Guilt: then you would hurt his feelings, and you would be a heel.

And so here I am, stuck in the middle of this complicated internal dialogue, prompted by some young man who only wanted a friend, I guess. God knows, maybe his writing is really brilliant... it might be impressive as all get-out. I’ve known a couple of people who were a lot better on paper and in text than they were in person. But I was just not comfortable opening that window.

On my way out again, I was hoping I’d be able to avoid him. But he spotted me and called good-bye, and remembered my name. I called good-bye back, and headed to my car. I wanted to run, because it was raining, because he creeped me out. But he was standing by a window, and because he could have been watching, I made myself walk.

This will be on my mind the next time I go there. If I go there again.

Who needs drugs when you've got the Beatles? :)

Lately I've started listening to music in the car again. I mean, I was, even after Jody died, but I was sticking to the classical and news stations, and a couple of CDs my friend P-Doug gave me that I guess I felt it was okay to associate with this period in my life. I mean, as I look up, I can still see Jody's name in the "offline" section of my ICQ bar. Still can't quite believe it will never light up again, but... I digress, right?

Anyway, this week I've been listening to a couple of XTC albums. But I don't want to get tired of them, so yesterday, I switched over to my copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was introduced to that album—as an album—back in the mid-80s when I was a young teenager, long time after the album was released. I knew some of the songs from the album from airplay on the radio, and a couple of them, namely Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds and When I'm 64, are featured in the movie Yellow Submarine, so I knew them pretty well. But this album, as a collection, as something you roll through end to end, was new to me. What an experience.

[A note here... when I say "end to end", I'm not including Within You Without You, the last song on side one... yes, kids, I remember when listening to the second half of an album required you to actually turn it over... I can listen to it now; it's still not one of my favourites, and for me, it's sort of the SPLHCB's Apocrypha. When I was a kid, though, I absolutely loathed the song. Too long and too boring. Sorry, George... I sincerely love a lot of your stuff, especially once you were out on your own (like Blow Away, Got My Mind Set On You, When We Was Fab, Breath Away From Heaven, Just For Today, Devil's Radio... okay, pretty much anything from Cloud 9), but this one just ain't one of them.]

A number of the songs on Sgt. Pepper are special and deep for me; I like pretty much all of them one way or another (is there anything in the world as innocently eerie as the ending of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite? I still get goosebumps.). But the one that really stands out from all the rest, and has from the first time I heard it, is A Day In the Life. The orchestration, the otherworld-in-this-world lyrics, the pacing... just phenomenal. One of those songs in your life that's like a revelation. I'd never heard a song anything like it. I could close my eyes and the music would fill my mind with images, enhanced by the orchestra, the broad, rising bass. I swear to you, with nothing more in my system than cola and a peanut butter sandwich, that song could make me feel like what being high is supposed to be like.

One image the song inspired in me has always been particular powerful, because it's so compelling, so sensual, so hopeful in spite of its setting. It's not quite what you'd call religious, though. It's not exactly profane, either, but it leans more in that direction. Times I would listen to the song, the parts that John sings "I'd love to turn you on...", followed by the rising cacophony (there are two such instances in the course of the song, one in the middle and one at the end), would inspire in me this vision of a ruined downtown city street, deserted, like the end of civilization. Newspapers blowing around, that kind of thing. Stark in the setting sun at the end of the street. And in one of those huge, 1930s-style glass store front window displays, two teenagers, a girl and a boy, wearing only t-shirts, making love. The boy reaching out his hand, reacting as he burns it in a candle's flame (itself personified by the driving 'beat' of the piano). It's like they're remaking the world, starting over, a new generation's Adam and Eve. I know how odd that all sounds, believe me, and I don't know where the image really came from, but if I'm sitting somewhere listening to it, I can close my eyes and just about feel the music cupping my face and lifting me away during those parts. Psychologically, it's very intense. And it's not even erotic, despite the imagery; it's more sensual, spiritual. Obviously, I couldn't entirely indulge my mind in it while I was driving around, but it was nice to be visited by a vision that's still powerful after about twenty years.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Sometimes it even works...

I just got back from a quick trip to the post office to mail a letter to an old university professor of mine. On the way over, I noticed a speed trap, and made note of it for the return trip. Coming back, I crested the rise and what do I see but flashing lights. Ah ha, burn victim! Got someone. Who does it turn out to be but the guy in the local coffee wagon who blazes back and forth through the industrial park like if he doesn't get from place to place at 75 mph, people suddenly might decide they're not hungry or don't need a nicotine fix. Okay, call it schadenfreude, but... ha ha! :) Yeah, come blow your horn now, Little Boy Spew...

Nyet nyet Soviet, da da Canada!

Yesterday on my way into work I was passed on the highway by a black Corvette with a big "RUSSIA" sticker on the bumper. I had to laugh. I thought, "Well, so much for the Revolution, huh, tovarich?"

Blue jeans and two-ply toilet paper... what a country!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Empire too; we can depend on you...

"Bad" news: after a couple of years of not being able to play Empire Deluxe anymore because it barfs on XP, I tried the trick of setting the compatability for that program to Win95 (there's a setting in XP to allow you do this; right-click on the program's icon, select "Properties", and then the "Compatability" tab and you'll see it), and forced the program to run in 256 colour mode, and voila. It works like a charm (at least for the fifteen minutes or so I played it). I was sure I'd tried this before in the past and it hadn't worked... apparently I hadn't. The upshot is, yay, I get to play Empire Deluxe again! The downside is, now it's that much easier for me to flush hours and hours of my life down the toilet and accomplish nothing.

Was that a weekend?

I didn't do much on Saturday. In fact, aside from finishing a decade-old drawing and nuancing a few words in a story I wrote last week, I really didn't do anything. I hate that. Some people thrive on lost weekends (chemically-doused or not), but I feel like, well, there's another one gone and I have nothing to remember or show for it. So Saturday evening I got on the phone and invited P-Doug out to the Distillery District downtown, where there's outdoor beer and light jazz. P-Doug introduced me to the place on a whim the first weekend in July. That was the weekend after I got home from Jody's memorial in Dallas, and the beer, the warm air, the soft jazz, and the conversation were a salve for the soul... something I'll remember, or hope I'll remember, all my life.

Anyway, a couple weekends ago we headed downtown to do it again. I've told that story here. We went to the NFB, drank at one of the Firkin pubs downtown, and never even got to the Distillery District.

Well, this time we made it to the DD. P-Doug was busy Sunday morning, so I picked him up at two in the afternoon. We got there about twenty minutes later. I was hungry; hadn't eaten in seven hours by then, so on the recommendation of one of the waiters at the expensive joint we were sitting at, we skipped off to a nice sandwich shop around the corner. We split a lunch of a large roast beef sandwich and two huge tea buscuits with butter and jam; how very British. The roast beef was a little rare for my tastes, but there was a lot of it, and the bread was really wonderful. There was some kind of seeds baked into it, but not those ghastly caraway seeds that make bread taste like it spent the night in a French cat house. While we were eating, this tiny little terrier, apparently named Hanna, came up to us, and watched us hopefully, but a woman warned us the little dog was "on a diet". Hanna must have weighed five pounds, if that. A slice of roast beef probably would have turned her into a wee balloon.

Just as we finished eating, I could feel the rain in the air coming... you know that feeling you get. Something about a change in temperature or something; anyway, my Spidey sense was tingling. I remarked on this to P-Doug and said if we were going to get a beer, we'd better get a table with an umbrella. So we headed back over, and sure enough, just as we got back to the patio, it started. We opted to wait it out inside in the same place we waited out the rain the first time we were there. One of the buildings houses a gallery of for-sale artwork, a hoidy-toidy ice cream joint ("One scoop of lo-phat tofu rhubarb mocha, sir? That'll be twelve-fifty..."), and this pretentious little antique shop. One of their featured items was a teakwood chair that had been 'recovered'... "Recovered from what?" P-Doug asked. The seat of the thing looked alright, but the back was irregular, with jagged holes you could literally put your fist through. I told P-Doug it looked like something past generations of cops had used to wring confessions out of suspects. $350. There were desks and tables there that cost more than most people make in a month. It was ridiculous. I agree, furniture should be nice, but come on. If it's nice beyond the point of utility, you've forgotten the idea behind furniture in the first place.

It rained for about half an hour while we wandered around criticizing everything. I liked the shirt we saw this one guy wearing... had a photograph of a squirrel on it, in a mask, with that ransom-note printing style saying something like "Hand over the sunflower seeds and no one gets hurt". When the rain finally quit, we headed back over to the patio, only to find the brewery we were hoping to patronize had taken the handles off the taps and retreated indoors. We'd finally had enough. We left.

We headed back uptown. One of the pubs we meant to go to had closed. So we headed east to the one we usually go to, and had a nice couple of pints while we talked about that story I'd worked on. I took one of P-Doug's suggestions to heart and have subsequently changed a scene in the story.

Afterwards, we met up with P-Doug's missus just down the street at a restaurant, where the chicken soup and the chicken wrap (and the chicken sundae and the chicken coffee and... oh, sorry) were pretty good. Apparently Bell is putting "free local calls" phones in certain restaurants now. It was only the second one I'd seen. One of the waitresses told us that the gimmick there is that the little screen shows you commercials and ads. So, it's just like TV. The commercials are the price of admission. Sounds good to me!

Well, and that was the weekend.

A piece o' advice

...if you're going to use rich text mode to write an entry, select it before you start, not after. I spent fifteen minutes yesterday typing an entry for what was up on the weekend, only to click "rich text" when I was finished. POOF. "There you go, mister, rich text setup! ...Oh, you wanted to KEEP all that stuff you typed? Whoops... sorry..."

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Blast from the past

It occurred to me as I was walking into the building I work in yesterday that August 6th was the day the US dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima. Fifty-nine years ago, I guess. August 9th is the day the Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. So right now, fifty-nine years ago, that second shoe hadn't dropped yet. Not that anyone knew it would; but I have to wonder what it was like sitting there on August 7, 1945, realizing the atomic bomb existed, and had been used. That now a single weapon could destroy a city. What were people thinking? What were Americans and the Allies thinking? What were the Japanese thinking? I wonder if the Japanese even knew on August 7th... the people in and around Hiroshima notwithstanding.

What was life like in Nagasaki fifty-nine years ago today...?

Two months silence.

When I woke up this morning at 9:30, I realized that Jody had been gone for two months to the day, almost exactly to the moment. His roommate's best guess is he collapsed between 8:30 and 9:30 their time. 8:30 there is 9:30 here. The last time Jody and I spoke to one another directly was over ICQ on June 4th. We said our usual good-byes and that was that. I never got to speak with him again.

It's funny. It doesn't seem like two months since then. It feels either like a couple of weeks, or a couple of years.

Adore, my sweet RubyOcelot. I hope you're reading this, somewhere.

Iraqwork Orange

I've been having this wee discussion with a friend of mine of conservative bent by e-mail over the last couple of days. The initial point was an article I read in the Independent in which Robert Fisk contends that news of what's really going on over in Iraq is not getting out over the mainstream media...

August 1, 2004

'Can't Blair see that this country is about to explode? Can't Bush?'

The Prime Minister has accused some journalists of almost wanting a disaster to happen in Iraq. Robert Fisk, who has spent the past five weeks reporting from the deteriorating and devastated country, says the disaster has already happened, over and over again...

...and anyway, his response was something to the effect that since this guy was telling us about it, therefore the news is getting out and it's not a secret. I'm used to this sort of specious argument from him; it's the sort of juvenility he resorts to in debate because he's too lazy to think for himself or do any research... and supposedly he used to be a journalist. Today he also responded to a posting I sent saying that large majorities in Western countries oppose US unilateralist policies by pointing out that the United States is still the number six in the world in terms of immigration per capita, so if people are moving there, they must be doing something right. In other words, because a quarter million people or so move to the US every year, therefore fifty million Frenchmen can't be right, to coin a phrase. This is the equivalent of arguing that Wal-mart is justified in firebombing Joe's Department Store over the objections of Sears because Wal-mart has more customers.

I tried to make a point to him that regardless of his political bent or mine, if Fisk is right and information is being withheld from the electorates in the US and UK, then we have a real problem here. How can we claim to have democracy in the West if the electorate isn't kept informed of the outcome of policies undertaken by governments in their name? How can the people steer policy if they're not informed? Maybe that's the point, I said.

In thinking about it afterwards, I started wondering what my response would be if the "good" news weren't getting out. I was opposed to the war in Iraq from the start. But suppose things had gone really well there. Would I be as upset if the news focused on all the bad things, and never about how the country was being rebuilt, how democracy had really taken hold, how cheering crowds had waved to the tommies and doughboys as they shipped out, up, up and awaaaay!...? I'd like to think I'd want balanced news, the good with the bad, all that.

But it occurs to me that even if things had gone really well, there'd be another problem that would trouble me. It would be setting a bad precedent. It would be proof that blitzkrieg can plant democracy. Let's face it; right now what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan—even if you ignore all the self-serving plutocratic reasons for the US and UK et al. to be in there and completely swallow the whole "we're instilling democracy" guff—is nations being held down at the point of a gun and brutalized to behave in ways they wouldn't otherwise... ways that suit Uncle Sam, not the people themselves. Isn't this exactly what we were warned about on an individual level in A Clockwork Orange?

Conservatives go on and on about what a shitheel Saddam was... and yeah, he was, but no more so than three or four dozen other dictators around the world; why do they rate "Get Out From Under the 7th Fleet Free" cards? Because they don't have oil, they didn't cost Daddy his election, and they don't (for the most part) look like the guys who crashed the planes on 9/11. That's why. Eleven of those fifteen hijackers were Saudis, but since Saudi Arabia's already in the pocket of this administration, all I imagine they got was a stern talking-to behind closed doors. Saddam, though... wow, this guy was running his own country like he had the right to run his own country or something! Imagine the nerve! Pricing oil in euros in favour of his largest trading partner (the EU) and against the interests of the US (floating along on oil-based fiat currency since the Nixon administration)... No wonder this guy took his lumps. It's just too bad tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and thousands of naive Allied soldiers (so far) have had to take his lumps too.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Balms or bombs?

I had this conversation this morning with a friend of mine in the States...

I have been on the phone with my old boss negotiating on how he can pay an $11,500 bill for my old hospital stay... and since he is broke he cannot pay the bill. He is responsible because he didnt pay the insurance bill and the ins. company dropped the entire company. I had to have emergency surgery in that time frame and it turned into quite the fucked situation... I should have filed suit then, but now I am forced to do it now, just to get the bill paid, hopefully from his business insurance! ...its a mess. I called an attorney and will get that ball rolling next week! I should have done this months ago! I have been nice for a year now and have put my credit in jeapordy at this point. It has cut into our livlyhood which is almost in the shitter already. I did my job and wasnt so trigger happy as I could have been a year ago when I was angry. I would be wealthy and they would be out of business. Now it looks like they will just be out of business.

You know, as similar as we are to the US, as nearly identical as we seem on the surface, I sometimes really have to wonder. I don't understand the US sometimes. As a society, it's like some faded Hollywood starlet who's more concerned with making sure the drapes and carpets look lovely and building gates so no one steals her precious stuff, and ignoring the fact that the support beams are rotting and the place is beginning to collapse. As long as it looks great and no one can approach, who cares?

Canada's not the world's richest country, or the biggest, or most populous, or pretty much the world's "-est" in any category you care to name. But somehow, in spite of that, I can't help thinking we largely have it right. One thing I can say is, as a society, we tend to look after the fundamentals, and spend on the frills afterwards. You only get three-score and ten, as they say, and you gotta spend 'em somewhere. Frankly, when you add up all the pluses and minuses, I really don't think you can do much better anywhere, anywhen, than here, now.

You always hear about Canada becoming more like the US. Just imagine for a moment if the US become more like us.