Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steamers and Buses in the First World

For her, the most memorable metaphor of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was Marlow’s futile search for rivets, a frustrating task because they were everywhere, except where he wanted them. She thought of this often, like when she faced an empty coin purse in front of a parking meter, all the while knowing there was a bowl of change back home. Or when the toilet paper ran out in the downstairs loo but a surfeit of rolls were stacked upstairs. Or waiting for the 47 South Lansdowne bus. It’s not like she’d be eaten by cannibals but it still resonated.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Saratoga Shuffle

I’ve been through Saratoga Springs maybe a half-dozen times, but I’ve heard it’s quite beautiful.
     They say Cornelius Vanderbilt would vacation here often, to take the waters and perhaps even dine at Cary Moon’s exclusive Lake House where, legend tells, the potato chip was invented just for him.
    But none of that for my mother, my sister, and me, back when Saratoga was the halfway point from New York to Montreal, and Greyhound would shunt us all off to the rest stop nearest the interchange, through the lone restaurant there, like so many cattle down the chute.
     “Thirty minutes, people!”

Photo by Bob Coolidge. December 1970.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Appaloosa Queen

I was a young 19 and it was my first overnight bus trip from the Soo to university. My seatmate was in her forties, with a sunhammered face and raw blonde curls. She told me a long story about how she’d been the first runner-up in the National Appaloosa Queen contest in 1970 something. I’d never met anyone like her, I felt sad and weirdly uncomfortable. She got out to smoke in Sudbury. When I woke up in Toronto, my head was on her shoulder.
     I’ve always liked purses with fringes. Guess I kind of wish I was a cowboy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting the Hell Out

I stole the money from that bastard. Took the first bus west. She sat next to me. In Calgary we got off together to get breakfast — and suddenly she’s calling me ma. It hit me hard, you know? No one ever called me ma before. I was flattered. Tickled pink. I paid for her food. She said I was her spiritual mother and that her real ma beat her. She said a lot of things. We got on the bus. The driver shook me awake in Vancouver. She was gone and so was the money I stole from that bastard.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Park Estate Hustle

Getting the hell out of the trailer park would’ve been accomplished much sooner had I realized my initial goal of becoming a pirate. But instead, I became a door-to-door salesman. Mrs. Stanton, a dodgy local crone who liked a little child labour with her pyramid scheming hooked me up with a variety pack of candles and a 10% profit margin. Even though this was a time when being a helicopter parent meant watching M*A*S*H with your child, my folks were curiously sanguine about me tramping the neighbourhood with a pocket full of two-dollar bills and a ten-pound box of paraffin.

Clip from page 2 of The Sarnia Observer, April 18, 1884.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Where there’s smoke . . .

Our last New Year’s together, she had an idea: “Let’s both write down our wishes—then at midnight, throw them into the fire so they’ll all come true.”
     “That’s pretty dumb,” I said. “Who wants to see their dreams go up in smoke?”
     “But it’s the smoke that’ll spread our hope around the world.”
     “No, babe, it makes way more sense just to write down our problems, then watch them all vanish.”
     “Fine,” she said, “we’ll do it your way;” grabbed my pen, wrote one small single word, and threw it into the flames.
     “There you go, Roy. Problem solved.”
Photo by Pat Pilon.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lost Causes

In the first church Brother Andre built, we look through Plexiglas at his humble 1920s bedroom. Visitors have pushed notes through the barrier. Multicoloured papers are strewn on the floor. They are in every language and by different hands, both childish and the elegant penmanship of people born before the computer age. Pray for me, Holy Brother . . . Je vous en prie, Mon Seigneur . . . I’m sick, my mother’s dying, my child’s crippled, my dog’s lost, my father’s gone, my wife is leaving me. Help me. We crouch to read the notes through the glass. They are like museum pieces  – Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Wholesale Euthanasia

Good news: The Supreme Court says it's no crime if I want to off myself.
     Bad news: The National Post gripes that, “The law the government crafts in the next 12 months must allow patients to seek help in ending suffering without opening the door to wholesale euthanasia."
     Huh. Wholesale euthanasia. What a pall that casts on the cheerful practicality of “wholesale”, a word coined in 1417 to refer to selling “any girdeles by retaile or holesale.” So is the National Post proposing euthanasia be retail? Eww. I don’t want to get euthanized at Yorkdale. Or, like, the Eaton Centre.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Once upon a Grifter

Years ago, a man claiming to live “just ’round the corner” would ask you for money to fix a plumbing emergency. With just the right blend of pathos and urgency, he took Macdonell Avenue for a ride. But my favourite shyster by far was a marginal little sponge-monster who visited twice yearly, collecting for a charity that taught street-proofing to kids. Over the years we got to be quite friendly; he’d ask about my son, I’d inquire about his impending court case. Once he asked me to make a cheque out to “Cash.” His organization was called Otter Know Better.
Image from Damn Good Doormats.

Monday, February 2, 2015


“You’re probably not going to know anyone,” said Nick, as they walked up the drive. “So, maybe just relax and be yourself.”
     “Are you kidding?” said Cam. “If nobody knows me, I can be whoever I want.”
     “You’re telling me you’ll just walk into a party full of strangers and lie?”
     “Just enough to blend in.”
     “And if you meet somebody else you like?”
     “Jeez, Nick, maybe tonight I just want to be somebody else. Maybe tonight I just want to get drunk on somebody else’s beer. Maybe tonight I just want to get it on with somebody else’s girlfriend.”
Photo by Israel Orlandi.

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