Sunday, October 31, 2004

Understatement

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

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

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

Disappointed.

That could only have been wry.

Down In -- make that on -- the Park

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

Winding down the weekend

Happy Halloween, Small... :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Tuesday's update

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2004

No more youth! :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Human conceit

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

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

I sniff, therefore I am

By ELIZABETH ABBOTT
Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page D14

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bang, zoom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Warming up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooling down

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Caecilius song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The undermuch on Thursday

Well, let's see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The overmuch on Thursday

Today it's four months since Jody died. Four months. It's starting to seem really long. And yet, sitting here at my desk where I interacted with him for years, he seems just about as real as he ever did. Like he could pop up any second. Did I ever take that for granted? Sure I did. Right now, his uncle Jesse's on. A couple of my other friends are too. I'm not sitting here thinking they might be gone tomorrow. Or I might be. But I should have been different with Jody. I didn't know he was going to die, but I knew he could. And that he probably would, in a year or two.

You never know. You just never know.

Jody's dad, Jim, had his new tumor removed on Monday. It's malignant, and his doctor told him a year or two. That's about what they told Jody not quite a year ago now. Yeah, it's October. Jody's last "healthy" month. The last month with mornings in it he woke up and felt fine, thought he had a future. Come November, that was all gone. Well, now it's Jim. The doctors in the States are talking about radical surgery now for him, even though I don't think he currently has any other tumors. Cutting out muscle... it sounds pretty grisly. He's wondering if he wants to go through that, suspecting the outcome will be the same. Who can blame him for thinking that way? He's talking about seeking alternative treatments in Mexico. It's not that he's desperate; he seems to have accepted he's likely not going to live too much longer. But he's still open to exploring his options. I suppose, all things considered, that's the healthiest possible outlook a person in that situation could take. I couldn't. I'd be going nuts, blaming everyone, making bargains with God, the way I used to when I was a kid, coming home over the hill, praying I'd see my dad's truck in the driveway, knowing what kind of an evening we were in for if I didn't. Please, God, if he's home, I'll do this... I won't do that... I'll be good... please, God...

I finished catechism and had confirmation a year and a half ago... I guess my grown-up version of this. Jody got "well" right around the time I finished up, around Easter. I slacked off in the summer, and Jody's cancer came back. There's no connection. It's a coincidence. ...It is, right?

I love you, Jody. I always will. I hope there's a God, and I hope to Him you can hear this. I hope you know.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The real start of autumn

For years now, autumn for me begins when the weather finally drives me into a jacket and sneakers again. That was today.

This morning I woke up and decided to take back the movies I rented last night, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Supersize Me!. They weren't due till tomorrow, but I figured, well, I watched them; get the chore over with. (Highly recommend both movies, by the way.) When I let the dog out on the balcony to do his biz, I could already tell it was that cold. So when I walked up the road to drop the movies off, I wasn't in short sleeves and sandals, nope. This time it was a jacket and sneakers. This is the practical end of the summer, I guess. Oh, there might be a few more warm days left, but it's definitely the slide into winter.

On Sunday, when I was driving around with P-Doug, I was playing the CD he gave me of some of Leopold Stokowski's adaptation of other composers' works. The first piece is Sheep May Safely Graze, by JS Bach. At some point in the past year, that melody became imprinted on my mind in conjunction with a silly little story I wrote for Jody September last year about how a kind-hearted cow turned a community of mean fleas around. Since Jody's death, it's really become full of meaning for me. Around a week after he died, I was driving out to meet an old flame to talk about it all, and just before I arrived, the classical station played the song (this time performed by Yo Yo Ma), and I could barely drive.

[N.B.: if you don't know who Leopold Stokowski is, he's the conductor in the Disney musical Fantasia, as well as the figure being lampooned by Bugs Bunny at the end of What's Opera, Doc?.]

The funny thing is, the first time I ever heard the melody was an electronic version that some guy used to back a song slagging, of all things, Gary Coleman of Diff'rent Strokes fame. It was on Doctor Demento, and one of the songs I've saved on tape over the years. Back when I was in high school, I listened to it alot, though I hated the frog-mouthed singer and his inane lyrics. The melody was just that good. Well, sometime last year I finally heard the melody alone and learned the name. I'm only just reaching the point where I can hear the song without my brain digging up the idiotic lyrics to it.

On Monday, I was thinking about all that. First time I heard that song was probably in 1986 or 1987. I was in high school, and Jody was still just a little kid then. We didn't even exist for one another yet; we were still nearly a decade from meeting up online.All the while this song was in the background, just percolating, waiting to be shaped into something fuller by afunny little story I wrote just to amuse a friend during an idle moment, and the tragedy that befell him less than a year later. The fact that it'sentirely a function of my own mind and feelings doesn't change mywonder at strange it all is.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Sunday's a trip

Yesterday was pretty cool. I went down to pick up P-Doug at his place, brought my camera. He took some great shots of our drive down to the Distillery District (I promised them to a friend in Dublin). When we got there, we ate at the sandwich shop again. I had the same thing as last time... turkey chili, Diet Coke, organic bread, and a couple of scones (though I didn't eat the second one till suppertime). P-Doug had a chicken terragon pie. We picked up a free copy of the Star and read about that woman in California who's doing the 30-second bunny versions of popular movies... This time, no gripers from New York plagued us.

About noon we wandered into the jazz compound, but the taps weren't open and the band wasn't there. The doormen told us the management had decided to move beer and music indoors, even though it was still fine weather. P-Doug and I wandered in, saw Kevin Clark and his dudes up there on balcony, but the song ended and they went on break, so we decided to split. We wandered around a little first, took pictures of the Mill St. brewery, some wacky, over-priced artwork, and a little book store with hilarious poseable action figures, and took off for the Beaver and Furkin.

When we got there, we sat outside. We were alone. The waitress even joked about us making her come outside to "freeze", but the fact is, it was in the mid-teens and even with the breeze, it wasn't what I'd call uncomfortable. It was fresh. One of the last few sandals weekends, I expect, if not the last. We split a pitcher of Keith's and just talked. I remarked that it reminded me of weekends when I was a kid... more like spring than autumn... the glistening cars in the parking lot reminding me of places I got dragged to when I would rather have been at home vegging over cartoons.

It was great, except for this guy who kept coming out to smoke. You can't smoke in bars around here anymore, so he had to come outside. There were only two tables in the sunlight, and evidently this guy also felt uncomfortably cold because he sat at one of them. We were at the other. Naturally, his table was upwind, so we got to smoke too. An entire world for him to smoke in, but he's got to be eight feet from us. The cold drove him in pretty quickly... what a wimp... but he was back about 45 minutes later. At one point, though, and I hate to admit it, I nearly enjoyed it. The second-hand smoke that was a part of my life till the day that I moved out still sort of lingers with me, I guess. First time I ever felt that way, though.

I dropped P-Doug off at the subway just down the street at 2:30... he had to get downtown for a tafelmusik concert at 3:30. After that, I drove up to the park at German Mills where P-Doug and I went last November. It's at the nub end of Leslie Street where, for some reason, it seems they never bridged the creek, and the road is discontinuous. The weather is still nice, the trees haven't started to turn yet in earnest, so things still look pretty summery. I brought the camera and decided to take some shots. After crossing the bridge, I took some shots of the gazebo, and then left the path to go out on the little finger of land carved by the creek. It's an extreme oxbow in the making... the creek hasn't quite carved its new channel through. I went right out to the end, where the elbow forms a broad pool. And there was a beaver, and honest to God beaver, swimming around in it. I could hardly have been more surprised. Aside from the zoo, I don't think I've ever seen one before in my life. Certainly not in the wild, and especially not in the city. But there he was. Or she. Calm as you please. I must have taken two dozen pictures of him. I climbed down the point and waded over to the little gravel island at the edge of the pool, and took more shots.

The opposite bank looked like it presented the easiest way back, but getting up the bank was a stone bitch. I grabbed onto a sapling and started to climb, but the bank just gave way under me and my toes were just carving huge grooves in mud and clay. It took me a few seconds to make it, with the sound of preciously snapping wood leaving me wondering if I weren't about to take a mudbath all the while. The forest on this side turned out to be thick, and it took me about fifteen minutes to bull my way through. It was thick underbrush, with no footpaths, which surprised me because I would have imagined kids would be all over the place in the summer... I sure would have been, but then, I didn't have XBox. There were stinging nettles that left itchy little welts on the backs of my hands and tops of my feet. But, I braved on and reached the bank again. That's when it occurred to me that, convoluted course notwithstanding, I wasn't on the side of the creek I wanted to be. I'd only crossed once. That put me on the wrong side, the opposite side from the path. I had to cross again. I found a likely spot to ford and did, this time getting my rolled-up cuffs wet into the bargain. I climbed up the steep opposite bank just as this elderly couple went by. I must have looked interesting... guy in denim jeans, jacket, and cap, scrambling up a riverbank and stumbling out of the forest, pant cuffs wet above filthy bare feet, clutching a camera and sandals. One of them tree-huggers! The old guy said, "I thought I heard something!" I threw my sandals down and stepped into them, saying, "There's a beaver building a dam. Never saw one before..." We spoke for a few moments and he told me there were actually a couple, a brown one (which I guess I saw) and a black one. Agreed that next year should see the little finger of land cut across by the creek... then he wished me a good hike and headed off with the woman he was with. I followed the path a little while, then headed back to the car and headed home. That was about four o'clock. I actually raced a guy down Leslie from Finch to Van Horne (where I needed to turn), and I beat him, too. Yay me! :)

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Power fai—

Just after my last entry, the power went out. For about ten minutes. I was in the middle of working on a drawing in Illustrator. Same one I was working on last night, did an hour's worth of work on, and then didn't save. I thought it was just bugging me because I'd turned layers on and off at the last second, but no, I hadn't saved one second of that work. AUGH!

So this morning, I'm thinking, I'm not making that mistake again. So I get done with about ten minutes worth of work, and then hit save.

Half way through the save, the power goes out.

So I'm starting Illustrator right now to see if even the original file survived, or is it just a corrupted mess.

...Okay, the original file's okay, but all that work is fucking gone AGAIN. This is really getting fucking old. >:(

Also, the radio came back on, and that song "Simple Gifts" was on. If you know the Quaker lyrics, it's the one that goes "T'is the gift to be simple, t'is the gift to be free, t'is the gift to come down where we ought to be..." I always loved the tune in elementary but some guy did variations on it (without the lyrics), and it just... fucking... grinds. On and on and fucking on, the same couple of phrases, over and over, till you just want to smash the guy's skull with a STOP sign. Someday I'd really like to meet the guy and thank him for so completely sucking the joy out of a little melody that once gave me goosebumps.

Even my dreams are square

Well, I had this dream last night. I don't remember much in the way of details. But I do know I that in the dream, I traded in the '05 Spectra I leased in April and bought this big, white, European-style van... you know, with the seats arranged down the sides along the windows facing in instead of forward, leaving empty space between them? I don't know why I did that, but I spent most of the dream sweating the payments and the gas mileage.

I woke up about an hour ago with it nagging me, and then there was that slow, comforting realization that no, it was just a dream, I didn't buy any ridiculous van, and the Spectra is still parked in my spot in the building's underground garage. Isn't that a nice feeling?

I'm pretty sure I know what the dream's about, though. My brain is nagging me about impulse buys. The way my finances work is I'm always flush on the 15th, getting antsy by the 1st, and flat broke by the 14th. That's just how it works; it's going to be like this for years. There's also the huge guilt trip on me this morning that I caved in and ordered pizza last night, the Eighth Deadly Sin. I do fall off the wagon, more and more, it seems. And boy, it doesn't take much to put a pound or two back on. :(

It's 7 in the morning right now, and my radio just came on. Tafelmusik! Paul will be pleased to hear that, if he ever happens to read this.