uu — 4 (blue without showing it)

blue door

27 July 2015 - Dad’s back to work today. Odd not hav­ing him around. Pip­ing in with one or another tid­bit he’s read online. Moun­tains on Pluto. The mass recall of cars with hack­able on-board com­put­ers. Cecil the lion. Bat­ter­ies to power the home.

He’s a civil ser­vant. Like his old man was. And like his old man he’s prac­ti­cal, sen­si­ble. Not gen­er­ally given to con­sid­er­ing the messier issues gen­er­ated by the world we hap­pen to live in. Nor stricken by striv­ing for expe­ri­ences broader than the com­pass and penknife he keeps in his pocket.

For him work is some­thing you do to have a home and a cer­tain amount of flex­i­bil­ity to do as you choose out­side the office. He doesn’t think about lik­ing or dis­lik­ing his job. Or whether or not he’s doing enough to ful­fil himself.

He likes the social dynam­ics of work and the struc­ture it pro­vides. The daily chat­ter, the weekly rou­tine. From 8–4, five days a week, he knows who he going to see and where he needs to be.

The rou­tine, as he lived it, con­tin­ued after work. He’d drive home, park the car, then walk to the gym for an hour of exer­cise before head­ing back home, mak­ing and hav­ing din­ner and get­ting on with what­ever ren­o­va­tion project he had going on around the house.

There were vari­a­tions and excep­tions of course. But in the main his days were active and full. So being a layabout in his own home hasn’t sat well with him.

Until the last month or so he hasn’t been able to do much more than look at the goggle-boxes (TV and com­puter) and try to find lying/sitting/standing posi­tions that don’t aggra­vate his hip.

He’s been anx­ious, frac­tious, short-tempered. In turns bored and down­right blue. He’s con­sid­ered his own human frailty. Won­dered if his body fail­ing him is just the begin­ning of what he can expect of get­ting older.

To which I pointed out that he was hold­ing a pair of read­ing glasses. ‘Snarky devil,’ he said.

Seems he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear. That he’s in sound health, doing very well for a man in his mid-50’s.

He cringes at the men­tion of him being in his fifties and tells me to stop using my x-ray vision on him.

Nor has he lost his play­ful sarcasm.

Which, from my per­spec­tive, sug­gests he enjoys hav­ing some­one in the house with him. Not to look after him so much as to just be good com­pany. A companion.

This has weighed on my mind for a long time. The fact that he’s alone in his home. I sus­pect he would like to share his life again. But it’s not some­thing we talk about. He is after all a man of his generation.

Blue with­out show­ing it.

Some doors needn’t be pried. They’ll open at the appro­pri­ate time.

Okay then. Where was I?

One of the rea­sons his recov­ery has taken so long is that once spring hit he got his annual dose of lawn fever and had to go and get the aer­a­tor out of the garage. He got it onto the front lawn alright but went and strained a few mus­cles try­ing to start the damn thing.

While hav­ing to keep his dis­tance from the lawn was a downer, the thing that seemed to put him in the deep­est dumps was not being able to go on early sea­son fish­ing trips with ‘the boys’.

Ah, the boys.… It’s always amazed me that he and his set of life­long friends have man­aged to stay so close after all these years. They grew up together. Started careers and fam­i­lies and bought houses around the same time. Some have gone away and come back. Oth­ers have lost what they had and started anew. But they still play on the same same beer league hockey team and get together to watch sports. And go on fish­ing trips.

This past week­end Hank and Chuck and Blair were over to final­ize details for an upcom­ing 4-day fish­ing odyssey in mid-August. Dad was in his glory. Telling sto­ries of his retreat. Hang­ing with a bunch of old phoneys and get­ting his yoga on.

He’s also men­tioned seri­ously con­sid­er­ing the pur­chase of an RV—what he called a retire­ment villa on wheels.

I teased him by say­ing maybe it would become a roman­tic vessel.

The boys got rowdy. Dad raised eye­brows and dim­pled a cheek.

He’s back. And as of today the struc­ture of his life, and a large part of his con­tent­ment, returns to full-on nor­mal. He was like a kid this morn­ing get­ting ready for work and prepar­ing his exer­cise kit for afterwards.

Eager, happy, excited.

I went to the front door with him. He looked over his freshly mown and edged lawn and nod­ded to himself.

Yup. He’s back alright. You’d never think he was gone.

IoN now available as ePub

IoN cover

After much behind-the-scenes tin­ker­ing Instead of Norm, the first novel fea­tured here on EXPERIMENT PAGES, is now avail­able to pur­chase! For $6CAN the ePub is yours—check side­bar for details.

IoN blurb - A comic/playful novel cap­tur­ing a day in the life of guy named Norm, who lives with his girl­friend in a city by the sea. Norm is an unpub­lished writer obsessed with inven­tive­ness and ways of express­ing his cre­ativ­ity. Things are about to change.

Thanks to those who have expressed an interest.

Should you be so inclined, feel free to spread the word.

I will be endeav­or­ing to have the other EX-PAGES nov­els avail­able in due course.

Cheers.

uu — 3 (phở room on nome)

Ford Mercury pickup truck

19 July 2015 — The things you hear some­times. Twice in the last week I over­heard young women say that some­one they know has Asperger’s. Both times the some­one was a he. The first diag­nosed by the dec­la­ra­tion that ‘all he ever talks about is him­self’; the sec­ond with, ‘He never listens.’

Another woman. This one a fully fledged med­ical pro­fes­sional. In the hos­pi­tal food­court. Telling a male col­league, who’s all eyes and ears with her, about her ‘depau­per­ate lovelife’. That it’s hard to find some­one who isn’t either stoned all the time or want­ing to be.

Man on phone in hall­way. ‘You aints liss­nin is you? I said I gots me phở room on me nome. Capiche?’ The last word said, ‘cap-ee-chay’.

A patient’s mother stat­ing with absolute cer­tainty that her boy has ADHD. Because he never sits down and won’t ever listen.

Who­ever they are,’ says one intern to another. ‘The own­ers of the world lord it over us like silent kings and queens.’

Speak­ing of queens. Walk­ing to gro­cery store last night passed two older ladies who’d stopped to pet and talk to a cat lay­ing about stretch­ing on a shady lawn. On the way back I saw the same ladies stopped out front of a house across the street. They were smelling white flow­ers and with­out bat­ting an eye each snapped off three or four of the flower heads. As they started to walk away, slowly, I noticed they both used canes. I kept watch­ing and saw them stop again. One of them passed her flow­ers to the other and pulled some­thing from her pocket. She put a joint in her mouth and lit it. Blew smoke. Pock­eted lighter. Took another drag. Blew smoke. Took flow­ers from the other and passed the joint. I stopped watching.

Aggra­vated insults and des­ig­nated sit­ters. Chas­ing visions.

Talk­ing vision­ing exer­cises with Clara the other day. She laughed at her devo­tion to the prac­tise. Hav­ing found that her ses­sions are more like a hobby these days. She’s so used to doing them it’s like day­dream­ing. I said I did them as a kid. Cut out pic­tures of things I wanted from mag­a­zines and posted them every­where. In my mind’s eye I walked through spaces I wished to inhabit. Envi­sioned my future hus­band. Saw what I’d be doing for a liv­ing and saw my older self rid­ing horses and hik­ing in moun­tain­ous places and dri­ving up to my own pri­vate hideaway.

Wasn’t til after Mar­cus died I took vision­ing more seri­ously. As means to set­ting goals and plan­ning my future. The first Sun­day of every month I’d sit down, clear the head for wan­der­ing, then write every­thing out. It seemed to work won­ders. Gave me a chance to stop think­ing about Mar­cus. Kept me focused. It got me to going to school, got me through school, got me to work­ing and even got me to mov­ing out west.

But I never fore­saw G—the man my pro­jec­tions sum­moned had a darker com­plex­ion and more pen­e­trat­ing eyes. And vision­ing didn’t pre­pare me for how I’d feel. About him, about the time it would take for us to hap­pen, about the flood of inse­cu­ri­ties that came with open­ing myself up. I didn’t imag­ine the house, liv­ing together, Liz, his dad. None of it fit the sce­nar­ios I’d envis­aged. It was so much better.

And I miss it. All of it. But mostly my G.

Who tells me he loves me at least twice a day.

I have to shake my head.

Was a time there thought about end­ing us. Because it seemed sensible—why post­pone the inevitable. But then he came out for Christ­mas. Was so car­ing and sup­port­ive. Stayed two weeks. Took him out to see mom. Hop­ing he might bring her out of her stu­por. They got on fine but mom has made her blind­ers per­ma­nent. He tried though. And didn’t put up a fuss. So I got to think­ing maybe we just might make it through how­ever long.

And now that how­ever long is look­ing like it has an end. We talk about me going back. Maybe as soon as my trip in August—return ticket be damned.

Just off phone with G. I read to him the above. He lis­tened with­out inter­rup­tion and said he loves it. Espe­cially the ‘aggra­vated insults’ bit. Because it sounds like me.

He told me about work and the drought and tak­ing his dad to the Avengers and see­ing an old red and white Ford Mer­cury pick up truck in the park­ing lot. And then he told me about his morn­ing with the rat. How he’d gone out to water the plants and from between pots on the back porch saw the long tail of a rat. He jumped back. The rat moved but only slightly. He looked more closely. The rat was small and appeared to be labour­ing. He moved a pot. The rat under­went a kind of instant seizure, screeched ter­ri­bly and went onto its side, paws up in defen­sive pos­ture. It was badly injured some­how, its eyes pleaded to be left alone. Maybe it was wait­ing to die peace­fully. G didn’t know what to do with it. Decided to leave it be and went about water­ing. He checked on it a few times. Still there, in the same posi­tion he’d left it, its eyes seem­ing to acknowl­edge G as a kin­dred spirit. He went out front to water. At one point he heard a squab­ble of crows but didn’t think any­thing of it. When he next checked the rat was gone.

He’s been think­ing of the rat all day. Won­der­ing what its final moments were like. Per­haps a feel­ing of being lifted into the air, sight­ing the house and the street and the trees and now higher the sky and at last the sun blind­ing those dying eyes.

Arthur, Hero — 8

brick wall

Mar­vin informed me later that every­thing in the deli was staged. A test of my char­ac­ter. To see how I react to being invisible.

Appar­ently, in this regard, I am a nat­ural. ‘A fuck­ing prodigy,’ as Mar­vin put it. He’d never seen Big Al stand up to intro­duce him­self to a poten­tial recruit before, let alone per­son­ally wel­come him to ‘The Family’.

Given this unprece­dented turn of events Mar­vin saw fit to ensure my tal­ents weren’t wasted in a kitchen or on a load­ing dock. If I didn’t object, he wanted to take me on as his wing­man. I had no idea what tal­ents I sup­pos­edly pos­sessed but, con­sid­er­ing the alter­na­tives, I cer­tainly wasn’t going to chal­lenge him on it.

Exactly the point, I guess.

So it is that for the com­ing weeks I’m Marvin’s pas­sen­ger. There to watch and lis­ten, and when nec­es­sary lend a hand. From the out­side look­ing in he’s a highly func­tion­ing but­ter­fly. Going from one estab­lish­ment to another and man­ag­ing trans­ac­tions. Most are stan­dard arrange­ments that require lit­tle more than a rou­tine checking-in to make cer­tain every­thing is in order—delivery ful­fil­ment and sat­is­fac­tion with goods etc. Some vis­its entail pass­ing along details on prod­uct avail­abil­ity. Other stops involve tak­ing requests for spe­cific items. What­ever the deal is it’s Marvin’s job to keep lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open and to ensure things hap­pen as smoothly as possible.

I meet count­less own­ers, man­agers, super­vi­sors. Shake their hands, repeat their names, then stand back and let Mar­vin do his thing. The inter­ac­tions are all very male in exe­cu­tion. A fair bit of show­man­ship and puffy pos­tur­ing. Jokes are shared, deals are struck. On we go.

No guns, no body­guards, no pat-downs. Pretty straightforward.

Mean­time, my stay at the hos­tel enters its sec­ond week. I’ve got­ten used to the tran­sient bus­tle of the neigh­bor­hood. The enthused inno­cence of young tourists, the urgency engrained in the body lan­guage of home­lessly roam­ing locals, the thick-skinned and often kind and gen­er­ous spirit of those work­ing in these parts—many of whom over­look the poor pay in favour of that lit­tle bit they do to make life a touch more bear­able for the wounded souls who’ve grav­i­tated to Old Town.

I rou­tinely wan­der up to River­front. To stand in the mid­dle of the foot­bridge and watch the water flow. Fac­ing west you can almost for­get you’re in the city, smack dab in the mid­dle of things. Sure, in the dis­tance, there are elec­tri­cal tow­ers trac­ing the flank­ing hills, and two more bridges before the river banks south and out of sight. But with the trees in full sum­mer leaf blan­ket­ing the land in green hues, most of the houses and other traces of human­ity are blot­ted from view.

East, of course, is another story. It’s all about the city. Can’t see any­thing but. Down­town. The bridges and sta­di­ums and muse­ums and ramp­ing road­ways. And nearer to hand River­front, cur­rent jewel of the developer’s eye.

What’s already built is beau­ti­ful and fright­en­ing. Like an out­door mega­mall. Large pub­lic sculp­tures invite won­der and defy hum­ble descrip­tion. Novel condo tow­ers look­ing as light as trac­ing paper and as free-spirited in design as one might expect from a child with an end­less sup­ply of build­ing blocks. Along the river itself a wide board­walk, giv­ing onto green spaces and plazas. All of it put together to accom­mo­date large num­bers of peo­ple, so long as they are either on foot or pedalling.

In the glitz of new­ness, it’s hard to imag­ine that River­front used to be a ware­house dis­trict. Lit­tle trace of this pedes­trian past exists. The old build­ings are gone and the major­ity of the land between River­front and Old Town has been razed and is either in the dusty throes of con­struc­tion or fenced off for same. Bill­boards announce ‘The Future is Com­ing’. Archi­tec­tural ren­der­ings depict what the future will look like—and Old Town, as it exists, doesn’t fea­ture in any of them.

Back in Old Town, many of the build­ings closer to River­front have been evac­u­ated and slated for demo­li­tion. But peo­ple still take to these soon-to-be-forgotten streets, if only to get beyond them and into the nearby sub­way station.

It is here, among long­stand­ing brick walls, I’ve seen fit to make use of my note­book and record some­thing of what I’ve seen.

Late Fri­day after­noon. Mid­dle of busy side­walk. Delighted lovers in a pro­longed embrace. Her tippy-toed on his sneak­ers. Him telling her some­thing only she can hear. Their faces beam­ing. Love in their eyes. Unbreak­able gaze. The bus­tle around them not enough to pierce their happy bub­ble. Her hands around his neck, fin­gers a-dance, like a hair­less spi­der. His hands about her waist, the right one accen­tu­at­ing the cadence of his words? Per­haps one or the other of them has done some­thing won­der­ful. Against the odds. Proof of love. And this is another acci­den­tal moment nei­ther knew could happen.

Broad day­light. Scrawny dude tak­ing bolt­cut­ters to lock secur­ing bike to park­ing meter. His Yan­kees ball cap on back­wards. Along comes beefier mofo. ‘Get your fucken hands off my bike!’ Lock falls to pave­ment. Scrawny dude reel­ing around, hit­ting front wheel with elbow. Bike tip­ping. Beefy mofo, charg­ing, catches han­dle­bar in same motion as shoul­der clips scrawny dude’s jaw, send­ing his head back, his body fol­low­ing to ground, knock­ing ball­cap off his head. The bolt­cut­ters fly. Beefy mofo grips sad­dle post with left hand and tosses wild swing­ing punches. His posi­tion­ing isn’t great for this. Turns to stomp­ing. Scrawny dude tur­tles and par­ries and kicks, even­tu­ally push­ing him­self away, pur­chas­ing enough dis­tance to turn and scram­ble to palms and knees. He sprints away limp­ing and hold­ing his right wrist, the hand shak­ing as tho it’s numb.

The start of what will become an unbreak­able habit.

uu — 2 (nothering the bother cots)

forestfire sky

06 July 2015 — Don’t it just seem we’re all so fright­fully busy all of a sud­den. Clara, an HCA I’ve befriended, said this. In ref­er­ence to a guy she’s been see­ing. Matt. Who’s for­ever can­celling out on dates. Say­ing he’s too busy. Clara doesn’t buy it and has decided to let him dangle.

We went for a drink after work. Some­thing I don’t do too often. Not because I don’t want to but because I tend to con­sider the after effects (get­ting home, my head in the morn­ing) and what I’d be miss­ing (chats with G, being there for dad). Today the tim­ing was per­fect. It’s my Fri­day. Dad’s off on a week­long physio retreat. And G, well, there’s never really a prob­lem there—being three time zones ahead has some advan­tages, at least on the call­ing side of things. Doesn’t make up for the phys­i­cal dis­tance, but I can be as late as I like, or tipsy as a heavy wrench, he won’t raise a fuss.

Clara’s 33. A sin­gle mom with an 8 year old son named Dustin. She doesn’t have any­thing bad to say about his dad, who’s still in the pic­ture, takes Dustin on the week­ends, and oth­er­wise helps out how­ever he can. But she does go on a bit about the smaller stuff. Grey hairs creep­ing in, get­ting her nails done, vaca­tions in the sun, meet­ing a hunk. It’s weird. She’s such a strong and free-spirited woman. Very inde­pen­dent, con­fi­dent, deter­mined. Likes to have her fun. Is brazen and spon­ta­neous. Out­go­ing, flir­ta­tious. Yet some­times it sounds like she’s dis­ap­pointed about only liv­ing half the life she wants. Almost as though she regrets the past that brought her to now. That she didn’t get to where she’d hoped. I know she’s just ven­ti­lat­ing. Say­ing aloud what’s press­ing on her chest. To some­one she can be open with. Some­one she trusts. A friend.

Talk and lis­ten. This is what friends do, I guess. When it comes right down to it. With Clara I lis­ten more than talk. I do talk of course. And Clara’s good about try­ing not dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion. Catches her­self when she’s got­ten her­self going. Waves a hand in front of her face like it’s too hot in here. Exactly what she did after rant­ing on Matt.

We switched tracks and had a long dis­cus­sion on busy-ness being the new norm. I’m not sure we came to any con­clu­sions on the mat­ter. To be hon­est, it twists the mind to think about it.

Or, as I put it to G this evening when I got home: it nothers the both­er­ing cots.

He had a great chuckle at that. Said I should write it down. Then asked how the note­book was going. Which is why I’m at scrib­bling now, after ten, on the back porch.

I haven’t got­ten around to mak­ing this, this jot­ter­ing, a part of my rou­tine. But I do think about it. Quite a bit actu­ally. Been tak­ing notes on my phone. Mostly a bunch of non­sense. Or stuff I’m not sure what with to do. Like this, from ear­lier in the week:

A woman with­out hands, a man miss­ing an eye. Dozens in wheel­chairs. The injured, the maimed, the addicted, the obsessed, the mis­shapen, the dis­eased, the con­di­tioned, the bro­ken. All in the course of a day. In the course of a day, all.

I wouldn’t know how to form a nar­ra­tive around this. Yet it exists. A con­densed and sus­pended expres­sion on what one sees work­ing in a hospital.

Many’s the time I leave work utterly drained and haven’t the energy to do much more than check in with dad, pre­pare a quick meal and plop down in front of the com­puter and watch Net­flix. Any desire to put pass­ing thoughts to ink evaporates.

Here’s the thing about being busy—it doesn’t have to be productive!

Inside now. Past 11. Get­ting ready for bed. Put on the lat­est G-mix CD. Reminded me of com­ing home last week to see the car in the wet sudsy dri­ve­way. Freshly washed and shin­ing. A nice surprise.

Dad was in the garage tin­ker­ing. Loi­ter­ing, really. He wanted to be there when I arrived.

I rushed up to hug him thanks. The smile on his face tak­ing me back to younger days.

There’s more,’ he said.

On the hood of his sta­tion wagon a pack­age. From G.

In it the mixed CD, a pressed flower (Matil­ija poppy), a short let­ter, and copies of two sets of plane tick­ets. One for him to come thi­s­aways in late July. The other for me to head out there late August.

Um.

And just now, last but not least, a photo from G. Texted with the mes­sage, ‘tonight’s sun in my forest­fire sky’. Fol­lowed by a sloppy wet kiss good night.

uu — 1 (patience and acceptance)

flowers picked for uu

Car in shop. Had to take train in to work this morn­ing. Early early. All those half asleep faces. Every­one avoid­ing eye con­tact. The ride long and dull. Didn’t think to bring head­phones. Don’t need them in the car. Where I get to lis­ten to G’s CD mixes. All by myself. Loud as I want. Helps me for­get the com­mute and keeps me from remem­ber­ing how far we are apart.

Got off the train feel­ing slow and a lit­tle lone­some. Hap­pens now and again. When time slows and the mind isn’t con­cen­trat­ing on what the hands are doing.

If your hands are busy so is your head. One of dad’s old sayings.

The other day he was sit­ting in his lounger mak­ing fists and explod­ing them. I’d brought him a glass of lemon­ade. Watched him make a few fists and blow them slowly apart. I asked if his hands were sore. He said no, they’re idle. I used his say­ing on him. If your hands are busy so is your head. He paused a sec­ond, as if to deter­mine how the phrase was intended, then gave me a bright smile.

Things are get­ting eas­ier. He’s mov­ing about pretty well and doesn’t have too much pain. The hip has healed but there’s a long way to go with physio.

He’s joked that all the mus­cle in his right leg turned into a flat tire around his waist. I tell him he has chronic waist­ing disease.

Such is our approach to deal­ing with the rough spots in his recov­ery. Biggest hur­dles: him hav­ing to let me care for him and him not being able to drive. He hated stay­ing in the house all day. Had to drive him around and lis­ten to him try­ing not to com­plain about this that and the other. Hella that. Being a mother hen to your own father. But we fig­ured it out. Inch by inch.

Patience and acceptance.

Like this morn­ing. At the train sta­tion. Mop­ing to the bus stop. Stand­ing there in an aggra­vated huff. Til I looked at my hands and prac­tised mak­ing fists and explod­ing them. Worked won­ders. Brought a quiet resolve to own the moment. Instead of con­tin­u­ing to stand there wait­ing I chose to walk. Few cars. Not many peo­ple. Good time to be on the streets. Even down­town. Dis­pelled my slow blue mood straight away. And as I got close to the hos­pi­tal saw the half moon low up there in my pale blue sky. Heard G say­ing, ‘When­ever you alight upon the moon I’ll be in your head.’

And he was. All day long. My thought­filled G.

I sent him a text on my cof­fee break. The usual lovey dove good morn­ing stuff. He replied with a pic­ture of flow­ers and a mes­sage: just picked these for u, my wub­bly uu.

My thought­ful G.

Who for Christ­mas gave me two things. A bound and printed copy of a book he’d made of a jour­nal he’d been keep­ing. And a notebook.

He called the book Deliv­ery. It’s the only copy. I almost fell into pieces.

The note­book, he explained, was for me to do some­thing sim­i­lar with. Or not. My choice.

It, the note­book, has been on my bed­side table ever since. Until this evening I hadn’t even cracked it open.

Then today hap­pened. Felt like the kind of day that starts some­thing I want to remember.

Bookshelf — June 2015

IMG_8969

Plants have taken over my life. I get paid to look after the needs of plants in parks. On my own time I’m keep­ing a lit­tle nurs­ery of sorts in the spaces avail­able to me where I live, while at my girlfriend’s house we have a veg­etable gar­den and this year I con­verted a goodly sized por­tion of chafer bee­tle dam­aged front lawn into a flower gar­den. Plants, plants, plants. I seem to have lit­tle time for any­thing else.

In the morn­ings, I wake up with a mod­est han­ker­ing to see how the green babies are doing. When I get home from work the first thing I do is check on the ver­i­ta­ble mar­tians. Every­where I see plants I do my best to name them (in my head), and if I’m uncer­tain I’ll do some research or ask.

Prior to the last cou­ple years flow­ers rarely excited me. Trees were the plants I most admired (qui­etly). But now I’m appar­ently a lit­tle obsessed by all things plant.

Where pos­si­ble I grow from seed. In the veg­gie gar­den, with the excep­tion of cel­ery and toma­toes, I’ve done the sow­ing and entrusted week­day water­ing to my girl­friend and her daugh­ters. This year we have unruly pota­toes grow­ing like mad. A pair of sun­flow­ers sur­vived night crit­ters and are now as tall as I am. Nas­tur­tium, zuc­chini, cucum­ber, car­rots, loads of leafy greens, pep­pers, herbs—all have done well this sum­mery spring.

So well that I’ve started a late spring batch of veg­gies, herbs and peren­ni­als at my place. I shall soon have more leafy greens than I can eat. As well a poten­tially decent sup­ply of starter orna­men­tals that I’ll exper­i­ment with plant­ing out in the fall (shasta daisies, echi­nacea, rud­beckia, hol­ly­hocks, fescue).

Beyond seeds I’ve actively res­cued a num­ber of plants from the scrapheap and accepted orphans from other gar­den­ers. Var­i­ous orna­men­tal grasses are hap­pily respond­ing to my efforts, as are a few gera­ni­ums, three Ligu­laria (two of which are mas­sive and start­ing to show off their bright yel­low spiky flower heads—from bot­tom to top), and a hand­ful of tree seedlings (styrax, Japan­ese maple, golden rain tree, and a cool species of mountain-ash [Sor­bus caloneura] that has sim­ple leaves and in matu­rity pro­duces fruit that are the shape of tiny pears, to name a few).

And then there are the trees. The ones I sim­ply gaze at from time to time. Amazed at how they do what they do with very lit­tle atten­tion. I’ve got red­woods and cedars, a dog­wood and a larch, junipers and cypresses—and I’m keen to expand my scope to include what­ever come my way.

This week­end, at a friend’s place, in exchange for swim­ming in their pool and beers and a huge Sat­ur­day din­ner, I planted up palms and cycads, a banana and a fat­sia, and put together small con­tain­ers of sun-loving growers.

So, yeah, a bit bonkers on plants. Works for me tho.

Per­haps soon the words will return to take priority—I hope so. I miss them. The words. Play­ing with them. Dis­cov­er­ing what sto­ries they wish me to tell and how they would like me to do the telling.

Mean­time, I still man­age to find time for read­ing. Here’s a list of what’s cur­rently on my shelf [L-R]

  • Eduardo Galeano — Upside Down
  • James Rebanks — The Shepherd’s Life
  • Ian McE­wan — Sweet Tooth
  • Tom McCarthy — Satin Island
  • Ian McE­wan — Saturday
  • Joshua Foer — Moon­walk­ing with Einstein
  • Ian McE­wan — Solar
  • Kurt Von­negut — Palm Sunday

Playlist 2015 — 5

IMG_8974

Week­day morn­ings I’m off to work before 6. Just short of 2 weeks ago I sowed a batch of seeds (leafy greens and a few peren­ni­als) in small pots and placed them on the side of a lad­der hung hor­i­zon­tally along the fence by my door. The cus­tom of late is to check how the seeds are doing. If they need water I give them a spritz, if there are any new ger­mi­nants I record on my phone. After that I put on the tunes and make my way.

This morn­ing I checked the pots (it rained last night/no new cotyle­dons) and struck out per usual. Only I hadn’t man­aged to get the music going til on the street. While fum­bling to get the ear­buds prop­erly ori­ented I heard an unmis­tak­ably famil­iar bel­low­ing and of course looked up. There was my buddy Sean, cycling past with a yoga mat stick­ing out of his backpack.

Good stuff.

And a fine way to start the day.

I got my ear­buds straight. To work and back, this was today’s playlist (first lines):

1. Baby will you come home with me. [Matthew E. White — Feel­ing Good is Good Enough]

2. Look for Jane, to call her name. [Ulti­mate Paint­ing — Jane]

3. Hap­pi­ness takes time and time is my life. [Dan Dea­con — Mind on Fire]

4. Hold­ing me down, I can’t believe I am drown­ing some­how. [Archive — End of Our Days]

5. Please don’t stop me. [Archive — Black]

6. You gonna change this world, you wanna change this world. [Bill Fay — Order of the Day]

7. I would do any­thing for you, for you are the only thing good in my life. [Tobias Jesso Jr. — For You]

8. Good­bye to you my trusted friend.… [Yes, you know it!]

9. She sat smok­ing a cig­a­rette. [Bill Fay — Dust Filled Room]

10. You’re like a moon that’s full. [Wilco — I Thought I Held You]

11. I am Super­man and I know what’s hap­pen­ing. [R.E.M. — Superman]

12. I’ve been search­ing and you’ve been gone. [Uncle Tupelo — The Long Cut]

13. Sleep lay behind me like a bro­ken ocean. [The Police — Truth Hits Everybody]

14. Dear god, hope you got the let­ter and I pray you can make it bet­ter down here. [XTC — Dear God]

15. The stars would know to send you the shiv­ers. [Phos­pho­res­cent — Remain]

16. It is time for stormy weather. [The Pix­ies — Stormy Weather]

17. About what I said just before, you know your clothes on the floor. [Wed­ding Present — What Have I Said]

18. Only love can make it rain. [The Who — Love Reign o’er Me]

19. You suck my blood like a leech. [Queen — Death on Two Legs]

20. When I look out my win­dow. [Dono­van — Sea­son of the Witch]

21. The lunatic is on the grass. [Pink Floyd — Brain Damage]

There you go. Wher­ever you are. Enjoy. The weekend.

Arthur, Hero — 7

grey cables

Meet­ing Mar­vin goes as arranged. He’s stand­ing by his open dri­ver­side door. Talk­ing on cell phone. Smok­ing cig­a­rette. Latino com­plex­ion, around 5–10, goodly mus­cled. Con­spic­u­ously styl­ish. Short black hair, expertly tou­sled. Thin metic­u­lous goa­tee. Snug white short­sleeve button-up, mir­ror sun­glasses hang­ing from breast pocket. Black jeans, brown dress shoes. His only vis­i­ble embell­ish­ment a sim­ple band tat­too about an inch wide above left wrist.

I walk toward him. Stop a few feet away. Take off my back­pack. Place it between my legs. Mar­vin shows me his eyes, raises a hand to say he’ll be right with.

The morn­ing is bright and warm. A clutch of new arrivals emerge from the bus depot. Dis­pers­ing every which way, suit­cases in tow.

Mar­vin peaces out. He drops his cig­a­rette and steps on it. Back pock­ets his phone. Extends his hand.

We shake, exchange pleas­antries, get in truck. Very clean, almost no clut­ter. A wooden cru­ci­fix on a beaded cord hangs from the rearview. Col­or­ful minia­ture Mex­i­can tur­tles with wob­bly heads on the pol­ished dash. The stick­shift sur­mounted by an inverted 8-ball (cue ball with white 8 in black cir­cle). Top of the line CD player. House music turned low.

Marvin’s talk­a­tive, end­lessly smil­ing, instantly like­able. Between phone calls, which he keeps short, he touches on an array of light top­ics. The good weather and what it does to make women even more beau­ti­ful than they already are. Sports, music, the com­ing week­end. He’s quick-tongued but easy-going, relaxed yet buoy­ant, bristling with con­tin­u­ous excite­ment. Can­did with­out being self-indulgent.

Skirt­ing the shorter older build­ings of down­town our gen­eral bear­ing is south-east. Lane clo­sures and manic traf­fic have no dis­cernible effect on Marvin’s mood. He’s utterly relaxed behind the wheel. Win­dow down. Rel­ish­ing the moment.

We drive through Chi­na­town, an indus­trial sec­tor, hit a main artery ser­vic­ing what looks to be a lower mid­dle class res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood ris­ing the ranks.

Food mar­kets, restau­rants, din­ers, cafes, bars, cor­ner con­ve­nience stores, laun­dro­mats, dime stores, bak­eries, butch­ers, pawn shops, florists, sec­ond­hand stores. Old school mer­chants. Some appear­ing to have been around for­ever, some with a touch of mod­ern flair. A cin­ema, a hard­ware store, a fire­hall, a gallery or two, a bowl­ing alley, a pool­hall. The strip is short of noth­ing, save chain­stores and car dealerships.

We park out front of a dry clean­ers. Mar­vin turns off the engine. Checks his phone.

Ten twenty-three,’ he says. ‘A bit early yet. Give me a moment.’

He makes a call.

It’s Mar­vin.… Out front.… Yes.… Will do.’

Mar­vin turns off the phone.

We’re just gonna hang a few minutes.’

The phone rings. He checks who’s calling.

Gotta take this one. The girl­friend. You okay in here for a bit?’

I say I’m fine.

Sher-ee!’ he answers, gets out, closes door, walks around back of truck and onto the sidewalk.

In side mir­ror I see him toe the curb. I turn my atten­tion to the tur­tle heads, now still, the big eyes painted on top seem­ing to stare at me.

After a cou­ple min­utes Marvin’s beside my window.

You ready?’

I open the door. Roll up the win­dow. Grab my backpack.

You won’t need that.’

I stow the back­pack on the floor.

On the side­walk Mar­vin tells me he’s got some busi­ness to tend to. With a guy named Reg.

Here’s how we’re gonna play this. I’ll hold the door for you. You walk in. Stand in front of the counter and let me pass. Reg will be at the back table. I’ll sit across from him. You sit beside me. And just so you know, I won’t intro­duce you. Reg is a bit old-fashioned. Straight-laced, if you know what I mean. Not much for strange faces. Sound good?’

I nod. Mar­vin pats me on the shoul­der and adds to his smile.

Here we are.’

Al’s Deli. He holds the door. I head in. The ser­vice counter takes up the major­ity of the space and runs the length of the pub­lic part of the shop. Along the right wall four tables, each with four chairs. A large man in butcher whites sits at the first table with his back to the win­dow. He’s scan­ning a news­pa­per, pays me no mind.

Big Al,’ Mar­vin exclaims upon entering.

The large man looks up. An approx­i­mate smile dis­torts the fleshy con­tours of his big face.

Mar-vin.’ Said like he hasn’t seen Mar­vin in a long time. ‘Good to see you, my friend.’

They clutch hands and Mar­vin bends down for a half embrace.

You look good,’ Mar­vin says.

Big Al waves him off, ‘You’re a ter­ri­ble liar.’

Mar­vin taps a fin­ger against his nose.

Big Al leans heav­ily in his chair, gaze peer­ing over the counter, barks a name I can’t quite make out. From the depths comes a greying-haired woman, wip­ing hands on a white apron.

Mar­vin appears delighted.

Sophie,’ he says as he scut­tles over to the counter. ‘Beau­ti­ful as ever.’

They hug over the counter. Kiss cheeks.

I look at the tables. At the back one sits a man fac­ing the door. Reg, I take it.

Mar­vin taps my arm, scoots by. I follow.

Reg is eat­ing a cookie. He’s bald­ing and thin. Wear­ing old suit and poorly exe­cuted tie. Big frame glasses. There’s a dark fedora on table.

Mar­vin stops at the table.

Reg,’ he says, offer­ing his hand.

The small man stays seated. Shakes Marvin’s hand. Doesn’t say any­thing and doesn’t took at me.

Mar­vin sits oppo­site Reg, against the wall. I take seat beside Marvin.

Reg fin­ishes cookie. Nap­kins his mouth. Pushes plate aside. Reaches to his feet. Puts leather valise on table. Unbuck­les, pulls out ledger book, opens fully onto table, lifts glasses onto fore­head, leans for­ward, licks fin­ger, flips pages with snap, fas­tid­i­ously runs fin­ger down entries, find what he’s after, dou­ble taps entry.

Here we are.’

Sits back, glasses back down on his nose.

They talk deliv­er­ies and pick ups. I look at the walls. Faux brick pan­elling to about four feet. Above that a muted yel­low to the exposed ceil­ing. Loom­ing over Reg a blank flatscreen tv. Not on. Cen­tred above our table a small grey and white pic­ture in a dusty glass frame. Of tele­phone pole, cables, trees. Can’t tell if it’s a photo or a paint­ing. Tag tacked to wall beside reads $50.

To Reg’s right a wash­room door.

I hear clas­si­cal music. The sound of Big Al flip­ping pages of his news­pa­per. I do my best not to look directly at Reg. He’s got hair com­ing out of his ears. Below the cor­ner of his jaw­bone, a piece of toi­let paper with a tiny blot of blood. His neck sinewy, the skin sag­ging. Dan­druff on the upper reaches of his suit jacket.

His voice is droll. Marvin’s is toned down—I can hear that he isn’t smiling.

I look at the $50 pic­ture. See it’s a street scene. Cars parked on the road. A street­lamp. Scat­tered cloud caught in a burst of sunshine.

Even­tu­ally I hear Mar­vin perk up.

O-kay,’ he says.

Reg closes ledger. Mar­vin stands. They shake hands.

As I get up, notice Reg glance toward front of shop. He takes off his glasses. Puts on fedora. Busies with valise.

I fol­low Mar­vin. He calls out a farewell to Sophie, who’s not in sight. As we near the door, Big Al lifts him­self up. He embraces Mar­vin, who’s about the same height but much thin­ner, and then looks at me, nods, holds out his right hand.

Arthur, Hero — 6

backpack

Freshly arrived I step from the easy light of the bus depot into a busy bright after­noon. Before me a wide green plaza. Over the trees big build­ings loom. Down­town feels near. There is much to see and hear and smell. I am alert to dis­trac­tion. But more than any­thing hungry.

In the plaza I get a hot­dog and sit on the low wall of a dry foun­tain, back­pack between my legs. All man­ner of peo­ple snake and bus­tle and hun­ker about. I watch them pas­sively. Sense their accli­mated indif­fer­ence to the daily clamor. The traf­fic and con­ges­tion, the grit­ti­ness, the con­struc­tion, the noise of every­thing under the sun.

My mind is rac­ing in too many direc­tions. I open my back­pack. Retrieve note­book. Mark­ing the cur­rent page a beer coaster. On which is writ­ten the name Mar­vin, a phone num­ber, and a note to say MT sent you.

This is why I’m here. Con­tact Marvin.

I scope the sur­rounds. Look­ing for a pay phone. See a hos­tel sign up the block a bit. I’ll be need­ing a place to stay. Likely be a phone there.

With­out fur­ther I’m at the hos­tel. I reserve a sin­gle room for a cou­ple nights. There’s a phone by the entrance. I call the num­ber. One ring and I’m through.

Yell-o.’

The voice is upbeat, loudly spo­ken. Dancy music and lots of chat­ter on his end. Like he’s in a bar.

Is that Marvin?’

That it is. Who’s this?’

This is Arthur. MT sent me.’

Ah. Straight to busi­ness. Good, good. Give me a sec.’

I hear him say he’s just gotta take this. A few sec­onds pass. Music and chat­ter fade.

All right-y, Arthur. You still with me?’

Still here.’

Great. Let me ask ya, Arthur, how old are you?’

Twenty-five.’

Got ID?’

Yes.’

Phys­i­cally fit?’

Yes.’

Any issues I should know about?’

None that I’m aware of.’

That’s say­ing some­thing. Where you call­ing from Arthur?’

Hos­tel by the bus station.’

Right in the thick of it. Good stuff. Can you call me from the same phone between six and six-thirty?’

Shouldn’t be a problem.’

Well, Arthur, I’ll see what I can do.’

I hang up the phone and stand there a moment. A lit­tle uncer­tain what to do with myself. It’s just gone three. I can’t get my room til four. Fig­ure I may as well get a bet­ter idea of where I am. I peruse a rack of tourist brochures. Find one with a sim­ple map. See that I’m in a part of the city called Old Town, cen­tral to four adja­cent areas: Down­town, South­lands, West­side, and River­front. I put the brochure back in its slot and set out.

Along­side the hos­tel a bar, a cof­fee shop, and a con­ve­nience store. Across the street a num­ber of take-out joints and a bank. This noted I take a cross street, head­ing for the river.

The walk does me instant good. I don’t know for how long I was on the bus but my legs rel­ish the move­ment. The rest of me, stranger in a for­eign place, defaults to wit­ness. I try not to look com­pletely out of my ele­ment. Or let my gaze linger too long on others.

I pass a young woman seated against a tree bawl­ing her eyes out. A gaunt man pilots two shop­ping carts laden with bulging garbage bags jan­gling a rhap­sody of bot­tles and cans. Sport­ing a well-worn safety vest and a cow­boy hat, another man col­lects with a garbage picker cig­a­rette butts, deposit­ing them in a gal­lon paint can he car­ries by its han­dle, a sil­ver watch loose about his wrist. A man and a woman hud­dled by a garbage bin putting nee­dles into each other’s arms as a short old-timer shuf­fles them by smil­ing, hands clasped behind back. The man and woman pay no notice and the old-timer, per­fectly zen, doesn’t break stride or even look for cars as he crosses the street from alley to alley.

Peo­ple being peo­ple in the ambit of Old Town.

I wan­der along. Mes­mer­ized by the dark beauty of these worn and neglected streets. The brick build­ings that have seen bet­ter days, the colour­ful lay­ers of graf­fiti, the boarded up shops, the strewn garbage, the near-constant stench of urine, the con­trast­ing tex­tures of hard sur­faces left to crack and fill with weeds, the deter­mi­na­tion of the luck­less souls roam­ing these parts carry on regardless.

Before I know it more than an hour has passed. I’m itch­ing for a shower and a beer. The river will have to wait.

At 615, three beers to the good I call Marvin.

That Arthur?’

He’s got good news. Says he’ll pick me up tomor­row morn­ing at 10. In front of the bus depot. He’ll be dri­ving a white Ford Ranger.