I used to love computer technology.  Ended up with a dream job working with computers for a living.

One year at Thanksgiving, my boss called her staff into her office (it was a small gang), and we had a Thanksgiving meeting.  She asked each of us to talk about what we were thankful for.  Two of the girls rolled their eyes.

I said “I’m thankful for my job”.  One of the girls barely stifled a snicker as they grinned at each other.

“I’m serious.  You don’t know the kind of hellish job I came from.  For the first time in my working life it’s a treat to get up in the morning.  I actually look forward to coming to work.”

The point was lost.  These girls had it great, and didn’t appear to know it.

It wasn’t the computers so much, I now realize.  It was the fact that I’d found something interesting that made me curious.  This job was all of that.  I got to be the lone computer guy for the office (among other things).  I managed a consultant and soaked in all of the knowledge that I could.

I think maybe it was the shiny buttons and lights that attracted me.  Press a button and something happens.  Press another combination and something else happens.  I loved exploring that world.

shiny

Eventually I moved out of that job and into another one, again involving computers – only more so.  Once again I had an excellent boss, who believed in letting his people stretch the limits of their understanding.  He encouraged us to work with servers.  At first, we spent time learning about them.  Then they became our responsibility.  We spent many long nights in the server room trying to figure out why one or the other server wasn’t working.  Long nights talking long distance with the server manufacturers, jointly troubleshooting problems.  While we had lots of frustration, it was coupled with bouts of joking and laughter.

There was the time that four of us were stuck in a tiny room, working on a server.  There was a guy about my age, and a vendor rep around the same age, a younger woman, and then of course me.

The vendor guy said “I don’t know.  This isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.  Do you know anyone who specializes in this server type?

My older colleague said “Oh I know.  I’ll give Dave a call.  He works with these all the time.  He’ll know just what to do.”  He got his cell out.

“Can I speak with Dave?”

While waiting, the vendor blurted “Dave’s not here”.

Three of us burst out laughing.  The poor younger girl looked confused.  Never had I seen such a clear barrier between one generation and the next.  Someone should make it a rule that as part of their education everyone gets exposed to the material of “The Beatles”, “Cheech and Chong” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.  Make it mandatory.  I guarantee you very few would complain – those are all classics.

For the past number of years, the number of new and innovative applied computer technologies has diminished, as have the opportunities for late night struggles with workmates.  This all mirrors my level of engagement and interest.  If there’s nothing new, there’s little to be curious about.  No new shiny lights and buttons.

Getting up in the morning has become more of a chore than a joy.  In fact, over the past couple of years, there’s been a new interest to take its place during my off-work hours, a new shiny bauble.

Writing – something I used to do as a hobby – has become something a little more.  I now write freelance critiques of a couple of TV shows.  The challenge is to make them interesting and readable. To have an opinion and to articulate it in such a way as to invite comment and conversation.  Luckily, the shows themselves are so well-written that they provoke emotions in our readers.  This helps.

Seems a little ironic that the one subject that bores me is being used to indulge another passion.  The computer, far from being a fascinating innovation, is now serving as a tool to enable the expressing of my ideas in writing.

There are a ton of questions I’ve yet to answer, and a bunch I’ve yet to ask or figure out.  Like, what’s next?  Where can I take this writing thing?  I mean, beyond the obvious (e.g. a novel).  If I’m to escape the “golden shackles” of computer-related employment, how do I leverage this love of writing?

(That’s an open question, by the way.  Any of your ideas would be gratefully received.)

The bottom line is that Dave is most certainly here.  Keep knocking.  He’ll get there eventually.

The first part of this blog is here:  Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean (Part 1)

He enjoyed his solitude.  An existence of peace that he had only experienced as fleeting moments while driving in his car.

Or in the occasional evenings when he pretended to be working on a late-night project.  A fiction he’d told his wife so that he could take advantage of an angst-free and clean hotel room.  An oasis of sanity in a desert of whirling incessant drama.

His journey to self-awareness was a gradual thing.  It began with the helpful doctor-therapist he had been seeing, as she merely reflected his journey back at him.

His life took on a patina of gratefulness, as his mental chaos slowly subsided.

He grew to appreciate his now mostly-permanent peaceful home.  It began to be a place of joy, where he could still his racing heart.

For many years, he grew to enjoy his bachelor existence.  To be sure,  he liked being with people too.  But the prospect of that solitary nest always beckoned him at the end of the day, as a target – one that promised a whisper of studied silence, settledness wrapped in a certainty of cushioned peace.

He still experienced moments of panic.  Often, when he stayed out late he became aware of an unreasoning anxiety.  He hadn’t called anyone to let them know he would be late.

Then he realized: there was no one to call; no one to whom he need be accountable.  He was on his own.  His time was his own.  He found himself laughing out loud at the absurdity of his thoughts.

It would be a number of years before he truly grokked what his freedom entailed.

His life took on an examination of the variables that had put him in a position where he had almost committed suicide.

Religion played one of the largest factors.  Rules and dogmas to which he’d adhered; demands which had enslaved him to a life of torturous upset.  He couldn’t blame the preachers or his friends and companions of the religious fog.  He had walked into the scene, willingly, with his eyes wide open, as he knew many people do.

His ultimate rejection of religion was therefore singular.  He decided that he didn’t want to make it a grand thing. He wasn’t interested in loud proclamations of the futility of following man-made religious laws.  He only knew that he had to make peace with the fact he was walking away from it.

Though not from God.  His belief in the divine was too real.  But it was also much less defined than he had at first thought.

His solitude became routine.  Routine became boredom.  Boredom provoked dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction provoked realization.

Having divested himself of the limits of marriage, and of the laws of religion, he realized that he was bereft of a ton of limits.

Were there any, beyond the limits of the laws?

Not much, he found.

There were the limits of his character, and of his morals, of course.  Those he held as precious necessities.

Beyond those though, there wasn’t much in the way of limits.

He was subject to the whims of others.  His job was his, only as long as his employer required him.

His house and home was subject to the limits of his employment.

His health was subject to his behaviours (which he could change), to his genes as exhibited by his parents and ancestors (over which he had no control), and to the vagaries of fate (he could be hit by a bus at any time).

Ultimately, he realized, there were no guarantees and for all practical purposes, no limits on him.

This understanding was both negative, and positive.   The negative was obvious.

The positive, though.  That was new.

Put simply, there was nothing he could not do.  If he had a mind to do something, and the determination to do so, there really was nothing to stop him.

One day, not so long ago, he realized this.  Not just understood it conceptually.  He knew this.

He could do anything.

The only thing stopping him was…..himself.

He knew what that meant.

Routine, boredom and habits were no longer his friends, crutches on which he could depend.

That enlightenment blew him away.

Suddenly, he could  see the changing horizon, a distant place of shifting colours, full of the promise of possibility, absent of definition and finality.

He was undone.

The realization came so slowly.   Like a particularly vivid LSD trip, the awareness of the truth threatened to overwhelm him.  A visual so all-encompassing he couldn’t see the sides of it.

As a small child, he was aware of his limits.  Though he wasn’t conscious of it,  those limits made him feel safe.  He would always have food, always have a place to sleep.  He had parents who saw to his every need.  He expected them to look after him.  It was his right.  He knew nothing else.  That’s just the way it was.

About ten years later, he began to realize how precarious his existence was.  His mother, filled with fear and foreboding, simply had to tell someone, so she told him.  Their home might be repossessed.  They had received a Sheriff’s letter, stating as much.

In the week dark hours of the late night/early morning, his mother had stared out of their large living room window, frowning.  He had been there to see the worry.  The glowing golden ember at the end of her cigarette provided the only illumination in the living room, as she confessed her fears.

They would lose the house.  Maybe their large family would have to be split up.  She didn’t know where they would get the money, as her husband (his dad) had squandered it all away on booze and the racetrack.

Somehow, a few months later, he learned that they had retreated from their fiscal cliff, somehow.  Maybe an angel had intervened, he didn’t know.

He just knew that somehow, despite his bad credit, his father had secured a second mortgage.  They would have to move, this time to an older house.  The difference in equity would bring a small measure of relief.

A number of years later, the boy had finally grown up.   He found a girl, got engaged, got a job at  a factory, and had finally moved out of his fear-ridden home.

The pursuit of that elusive safety he craved looked like it was coming to an end.  The factory paid well, and he could afford to get a modest apartment with his young bride.

He remembered a hand-drawn sign he had seen during the first week of his job at the factory. It read “ya wanna eat, ya gotta work”.

That thought had stayed with him during his years working at the factory.  Its truth was depressing, mostly because of how he interpreted it:  “you have to live in hell, if you want to live at all.”    At the time, he had no awareness that work could be something about which he could feel passion.  No one gets passionate about working at a factory.  Especially not a factory that was as oppressive, demanding and as soul-killing as this one.

The search for safety took on a different hue.  Years of marriage to someone with whom he could not relate began to poison him.  Toward the end of that relationship, he had begun researching methods for committing suicide.  He didn’t think he could go through with it for the same reason he couldn’t separate from his wife:  his religion forbade it.  He knew that tension would end somewhere: it was impossible to keep pulling at both sides without something popping.

One night, on a dark road, he drove towards his home.  The small highway was empty, with nothing on either side of the road to see except trees.  For just a moment, he had a visual of turning the steering wheel abruptly and crashing into one of them.  Everything would be over.  It could happen so fast, and he’d find relief.  He thought “I could do it.  I could just do it now.”   The thought was so compelling he found himself frightened.  He knew he really could do it.

The next day he saw his doctor and told her about it.  After first checking him to see if the impulse was still there, she referred him to another GP – one who specialized in cognitive therapy.

Talking really helped.  He was always cheerful with his therapy doctor, seemingly bright and unconcerned about anything.  She wasn’t fooled though.  She kept asking leading questions.

One day he arrived at her office, anything but cheerful.  This was the moment she had waited for.  He finally opened up, revealing the torturous angst he had harboured for so long.

“What’s it like when you arrive home from work?” she asked.

“It’s like a living hell” he replied, honestly.

“So” she said, “you realize what you’re doing, right?”

He looked at her.  “What?”

“Every time you go home to that living hell, you’re making a choice to go home to a living hell.”

At first, he was confused, then slightly offended.  Then he realized the truth about what she said.

She was right.  There was no safety at home.  There was only hell.  And no one was holding a gun to his head.  That hell wasn’t being enforced on him.  He was making a choice to go into it, every day.

He turned that truth over in his head, several times.  He looked at all angles of it, tested it for accuracy.  It was deadly accurate, and his ignorance of it had almost killed him.

It took a while but then he decided that he need to start making other, better decisions.

So he did.  They did.  His wife agreed that they shouldn’t be together anymore.

When he picked up the keys to his bachelor apartment, he felt a measure of excitement.   Then, when he opened the door and looked around the small one-bedroom place with the shag carpeting, he breathed in the peace of it.

He was surprised by his own tears.

(end of part 1) (part 2 is here at Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean – Part 2)

The hospital room had low summer lighting.  I think that’s what they call it, anyway.  Summer lighting.  It meant that the lighting wasn’t harsh or hard on the eyes.  “Muted yellow lighting” would have been more descriptive.

Anyway, it was calm.

Much like the patient in the bed.  He was calm, too.  Peaceful. Apologetic.

In the last few months, he had made an effort to talk with everyone.  His kids, his brothers, me.

In each case, he had offered up an offer of peace.  His way of saying he was sorry.  Sorry for the way he had treated us.  Sorry for the angst and anger he had vented on us.  Sorry for the hurt.  Sorry for the pain and the worry and the overwhelming fear he had provoked.

He told each of us that he loved us.  It seemed important to him for some reason.

I vaguely recall the time he told me that too.  I accepted what he said, politely.  That’s what you do, when someone says they love you.  Especially when that someone has been a vision of horror for such a large portion of your life.  You smile and you say “me too”.

Whether you mean it or not is another thing entirely.

I didn’t.  I couldn’t.

I damned well did not love him.

When he breathed his last breath under that summer lighting in that hospital bed, I breathed a sigh of relief.  And I felt marginally guilty for doing so.

melody

I went home that night.  My daughter was in the kitchen, doing something.  I don’t recall exactly what.  Probably doing dishes.

Leaving the lights off, I sat down at the piano, and started to play.  I didn’t have a song in mind, so I created one.  Arpeggios came to mind, and I followed through.  Minor keys, major keys.  A rhythm.  It coalesced into…..something.

It was at once stark, painful and hopeful. It was peaceful, and sad.  I decided to make it a song about my dad.  I called it “Hope of Glory”.

When the time came and we had the Catholic mass for him, I sat at the front of the church and I played that song.

Interspersed with the melody were the vibrations of memory.

My father, drunk and angry.  Wrapping a chain around his fist.  My mother yelling at him.  He had been pulled over by a cop earlier that week and by God he was going to go hunt for the cop and repay him.  My mother threatening to call the police the moment he left the house.

My fingers caressed the keys, plinking away at the foundation of the song.

My dad, drunk once again, looking for a fight.  Hearing me say something at the top of the cellar stairs.  I don’t recall what it was, but I had made the mistake of disagreeing with him.  “ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?”

“But..” I started to say “that’s not what——”   Then I heard him running to the bottom of the stairs.  I turned, opened the door and bolted outside.

His 350 pound lumbering gait was no match for my lithe 140 pound sprint.  I could at least outrun him.   He roared in frustration at the door.  “DON’T COME BACK”

My fingers picked up the melody, to counterbalance the bass line.  The rhythm began.

My dad, raising his voice.  The first sign of a rage that would be repeated each weekend, and eventually every other weekday for years.

A series of thumps and scrambling and grunts.  My mom, crying out.  My grandmother yelling at him to stop.

My fingers played eloquently on the keys, calmly following through on the variation.   The silence of the church.

My dad, now sober, unable to relate to me.  We’re sitting in the living room, a show on TV.  He says something.  I say something in response, politely.  Awkward silence.

The song I play now building in volume and depth.  Searching…searching….

My father, laughing now with his brothers at a picnic.  Relating to them, and to a few of my siblings.  But not to me.  My mother, close-lipped and patient.  Me, just wanting to get away.

The song now slows, and I bring it to an end.  Finally.

—————–

On the night I first play the song, my daughter comes to my side.  Puts her hand around my shoulder.   “What’s that, dad?  It’s beautiful.”

“It’s just a song I made up, sweetheart.  It’s for my dad.”  She squeezes my shoulder.  My head is bowed, and my tears drop quietly.

—————–

He’s been dead for at least a decade now.  A little while ago I had a dream.  It was about him.  We were talking and laughing and I think we played some baseball or something.  I regret not writing it down when I woke up.

The only thing I know is: it was good.  And, apparently after making a concerted effort time and again over the years to forgive him for his drunken violent rages, I’ve finally made peace with him.

Hope of glory.

Bum Doctor

Posted: March 25, 2014 in humor, humour, Life
Tags: , , ,

I felt an inward flinch as I approached what looked like a set of mahogany doors.

I’d been both looking forward to this visit, and dreading it.  Something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was that a Google of my symptoms all concluded with the ominous warning “get thee to a doctor – pronto!” And so I had.  First to my family doc, who then set up a referral to a bum doctor.  Okay, a proctologist.

bumdoc

Feeling squirmy yet?

You can imagine how I felt. I only had to wait a month – which, believe me, was just fine as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t want unwelcome news coming my way.  And the potential varieties of prognosis was just too awful to think about:  it could be cancer, it could be something to do with my prostate.

And then there were the cures to consider: from chemo to radiation to removal of parts.  My imagination – with the kind help of WebMD – had no limits.  So I waited out the month and tried not to think about it.

Which brought me to today, and those dark, dark doors. I walked in to a reception area which was similarly dark.  One might say “rich” in tone.  Dark wood reception desk, muted lighting, and classical music playing on the P.A.

I kind of expected a maître d’ to come out and look me up and down with disapproval. “No, no, no.  This won’t do”

And then he’d hand me a smoking jacket.  “Would you like to try one of our cigars?  And please, have a brandy while you’re at it.”

The frowning receptionist thrust a questionnaire at me and intoned “fill this out.  Front and back.  Sign it and return it to me.”

I sat down.  Looked around.  The guy closest to me was slim, and probably my age.  He wore a denim jacket and jeans, and was watching his iPhone with rapt concentration. The lady sitting across from me looked like a frightened bird.  Her carefully coiffured head turned this way and that.  Looking, I think, for a way out. She knew she was trapped.  Maybe I was projecting my state of mind.

I completed the form and handed it back.  “Have a seat.  Someone will be with your shortly.”

Eventually I was ushered into the doctor’s sanctum sanctorum.  I sat on a little black stool.

Presently he entered. A more genial and welcoming doctor you couldn’t imagine.  This small smiling thin guy looked like he was in his 80’s.  I felt my stress evaporate almost immediately. Still, I kept glancing around, looking around for cattle prods and other instruments of torture.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know what goes on in these offices.

My stupid ADD brain of course kept a running commentary of smart remarks, all of which I kept to myself. I mean, that doctor asked me a lot of questions.  So when he asked “are you gay or straight?” and I answered “straight”, my brain added “yup. It’s a steel trap back there doc, so you’re gonna have your work cut out for you trying to invade it.”

I smirked, and hoped he didn’t notice.

After ten minutes of discussion about my medical history, my eating habits, my family history and the current Maple Leaf standings in the NHL, he was able to give me even more relief by saying “I’m pretty sure your problem is one that involves your diet.  Put simply, the food you’re eating is all wrong, and it’s irritating you down there.”

“So…” my brain added “not cancer then?”

“But I’ll need to examine you to see what exactly is going on.”

Oh. I had hoped that just our discussion would be enough.  Guess not. I swallowed.  It was time for the Big Reveal.

In front of us was an examination table.  I looked but couldn’t find the stirrups.  Maybe he was going to have me lie on my side, like my regular doc has me do when I’m getting my annual physical. No such luck.

“I want you to kneel there, and then pull your pants and underwear down.”

“Shit” said my brain.  “Okay” I said aloud.

I kneeled on the kneeler (which I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out) that was attached to the table.  The table was for me to lay face down on. Perfect praying position.

After pulling everything down, a female nurse (or someone, I have no idea what her role was) sauntered into the room, nonchalant and uncaring. My brain said “HEY! DID YOU GET A GOOD LOOK, BITCH??” She wandered over to the sink and got busy….doing dishes I guess.  Seemed this was going to be a community event.

The doctor said “okay you’re going to feel some pressure” I laid there on the table, ass in full flower display, just waiting for the moment.

Then I heard a buzzing sound.   Brain: “WTF???”

He was raising the table up. It was on hydraulics. I nodded to myself.  Made sense.  He’d have had to kneel himself otherwise, if he wanted to get a good look. The buzzing stopped.  Another buzzing sound began.  The table was rotating slightly, so that my ass could be fully pointed in his direction.  Lovely.

Finally it stopped.  And the prodding began.

I could feel something slimy going on back there and realized I was being medically violated. “Okay” said the doc.  “I want you to squeeze my finger”

“Fine” said my brain.  “Just give me your hand and—-oh.  I see what you mean.” I squeezed.  My brain confessed “I know it’s not much, but frankly you can’t blame me – I’ve been slacking on my kegels lately.”

He removed his finger and inserted the scope.  I felt that.  I really really felt that.

“You’re going to feel even more pressure, because I have to get some air in there so I can see better.”  I heard him squeezing a bladder as my insides pushed sideways.

*plop*

“You can pull your pants up now”.  Oh good, it was done.   And the nurse was still over there, washing her dishes.

He took about fifteen minutes to educate me on what I should and shouldn’t eat.  Additionally he wants me to come in for three treatments to correct a few things that are wrong up there.  Nothing major, and the end result *cough* will be very positive.

I walked out of that office with a smile on my face and a relieved spring in my step. I even thought about whistling.  A glance at the frowning receptionist made me reconsider.

Penny

Posted: March 23, 2014 in humor, humour, living, show business
Tags: , , , , , ,

She died a few weeks ago and was laid to rest the following Saturday.

While it’s a shame when any friend or family member passes on, the fact is she left us while she was still young.  She had many more years of sowing oats ahead of her.  I think (but am not sure) that she was in her early thirties at most.

Penny* was a hard nut to crack.  I first saw her in my improv comedy class some years ago. She was a tiny thing who tended not to say much.

I couldn’t get a read on her: maybe she was just naturally introverted; maybe she disliked me; maybe she didn’t like men in general.  I wasn’t sure.  Funny how that works: how quiet people are often misinterpreted as anti-social.  I’d seen that happen a few times before with other shy people, so was loathe to make assumptions about her.  She remained, for me, somewhat of a question mark.

Another friend, Lisa* (who was married at the time), invited me into their small gang.  All of them were in the same improv class as I was, and all of them were hilarious and friendly.  Penny was part of the group too.

Maybe back then I had a natural need to make people warm up to me.  I was usually successful too:  all it took was reading them to find out what makes them tick, and then finding something in common.  Often, humour worked for me.  For some reason, it just never worked with Penny. It bugged me a little bit – but only because I wasn’t sure if she hated me, or just tolerated me or what.  I had to try and stop guessing and stop trying to figure her out.

The main reason I enjoyed being in our little improv gang, actually, was that I couldn’t read any of them.  Not at all.  This usually meant they were self-aware, typically self-confident, and curious as hell about the world.  That described the gang perfectly.

The corporate training man in our group, who had the same name as me – Wolf* – was friendly, gregarious and welcoming.  He could switch on a dime though. I was certain of that.

I remember going with the gang to his huge condo in Toronto after improv class one night. We were joking and having a good time, and, needing to say something I blurted out something about pot.

“Well we have some” someone said.

“What?  Pot?”

“Yeah, maybe we should smoke up.”

I looked around at them, thinking.  Finally:  “I’ve never done it”

Everyone’s eyes widened with disbelief.  Including Penny’s.

Wolf said “you haven’t?  Wow.  Really?  Not once in all your life?”

“Never” I said.  “I grew up as a religious guy all during my teens.  Didn’t even drink back then.”

“Well we need to get you going then.  Do you want to try it?”

I did, and said so.  I could tell they were pleased.

Someone lit up a joint, and we passed it all around.  I coughed.

Lisa said “that’s good.  That means it’s working.”

The only sensation I got was a sore throat.

“It’s not working” I said.  “I feel the same”

Wolf replied “well that often happens with the first toke.”

I nodded.

Penny said “next time you puff, trying holding it in longer”

I nodded, happy that she was talking to me.

Wolf blurted “oh my God!  We have to get you some munchies!”

And with that, he jumped up and opened up his cupboards, looking for some snacks.

“Here.  Try some Doritos”.

I took a chip, obedient to the core.  I wasn’t actually hungry but didn’t want to destroy any illusions.

Penny laughed.  I grinned.

Ever afterward, I joined them after improv class, and we went on some typical late night adventures.

Once, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant at 3:00 in the morning to have some soup. None of the servers seemed to speak English, so we ordered off the menu according to the number assigned to each dish.

Another time, we all went to a strip club.  Wolf bought a VIP lap dance for Lisa.  After she went to the VIP lounge, Wolf said “let’s go watch!”  And so we did.  I can’t recall if Penny was there.  It seems likely that she was.

I recall the bunch of us going up to the roof of Wolf’s condo late one night after improv class, and looking up at the stars. This was the first time that pot had a negative effect.  I looked at the edge of roof and had the sudden thought that they could so easily push me over it, if they wanted.  My paranoid brain thought “why wouldn’t they?  It’d be a perfect crime.  No one knows I’m here.”   I got nervous, and couldn’t wait to go back to his condo apartment.

In later weeks, I only recall Penny and I doing an improv routine together just once.  We were playing a couple of friends who were riding the subway while standing. Subways tend to shake a bit, so we had to shake to create the illusion.  Penny looked at me and said “nice tits”.

This was so unexpected that I broke character.  Near as I could tell, though overweight I had yet to develop man-breasts.  She had triggered my Achilles Heel.  I looked down.  I forget what I said, but just remember that it was lame.  What I should have said was “I just had them done.  You like?”   And then I should have put one of her hands on my chest.  “Here. Feel.”

Penny invited a few of us over to her place after class. I knew I was finally on her approved list when she said to me “listen, I know you commute into Toronto every day. How would you like to room here with us instead?”   I was honestly taken aback and so grateful that she asked.

“Um, thank you!” I said. “I’ll have to think it through, figure it out.  How are you guys with cats?  I have two of them”

“Oh” she said, looking at her roommate. “That might not work.  Jake* is allergic.”

“Well, thanks so much for the offer!” I said.  I was truly grateful and touched that she even asked.

“What are your cats’ names?” she asked.

I smirked.  “Um, well one’s named Princess”.

We all laughed.

“You’re not going to believe the name of the second one” I said, through my tears.

“Tell me!”

“Muffin”

They roared.

Wiping her eyes, Penny asked “so who named them?  Your wife?”

“No……” I began. “Uh.”

“Not you” she said, incredulous.

“Yeah.  Me.”

The laughter increased once again.  I have no idea why it was so funny, even though I smile now, remembering it.

Once, when I moved into my small apartment in Oshawa after separating from my wife, I invited the gang in for a house-warming party.  Wolf brought his girlfriend, and Lisa and Penny came too.

While waiting on the pizza delivery, Penny checked out the books on my bookshelf.  I was a little embarrassed, as some of them were swords and sorcery novels.  I noticed her smiling.

We plowed into the pizza and got some beer going.  All night long we laughed and talked about everything.  I don’t know what it was: there were no egos involved, no holding back on anything.  We were free with each other.   That little group of ours was magic to me.  I’ve never grown quite so close to a group of people as I did to them.

The improv classes ended, and we all drifted apart, as friends sometimes do.

I heard that Penny had changed her name and had gone into standup.

Lisa did some standup too, right before she traipsed on down to California to break into the acting world there.  She eventually came back to Canada and we became Facebook friends.

I was shocked when Lisa messaged me one day a few years later and said “Penny died yesterday”.

It was a death through illness.  And it was a ripoff to the world.

Damn it. It should not have happened.

*all names have been changed, as per usual

In case you missed it, it seems that a large number of folk in France dislike the whole subject of gays and homosexuality.  They would prefer their children not be taught about the differences in people.

Isn’t it amazing how fast news goes around the world?

connected

We’ve come such a long way in just a few short years.  Seems that way anyway. 

After the first plane hit one of the twin towers back in 2001, most of the world tuned in to watch the second one hit, in real time.  Reactions were mixed: most folk were horrified.  Some actually shot their guns off into the air, rejoicing.

No wonder newspapers are having a hard time of it, and struggling to stay afloat.  In an instant-gratification, instant-access world, the fate of the traditional news rag is to stand as an anachronistic beacon; a signpost to another, calmer era.

Who knew that when the internet became available, the thoughts and trends of faraway countries would transmit to those of us in the U.S. and Canada, in the blink of an eye?  Who knew that libraries too would become dusty relics, at a time when Google provided access to all of the information you could possibly need or want?  About anything!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  All of this has been obvious for a while.  I’m just struck by the effects of the increased access to knowledge, to news, and now to culture.

Living in Toronto, I find I’m used to the presence of multiple cultures involving nationalities and sexualities.  Every summer we have food weekends, which celebrate Greece or Italy (and a host of others, I’m sure). 

Like many large cities, we also have Gay Pride week, which also involves at least two parades.

I’m used to a culture of tolerance here.  So it seems surprising when I read about what’s going on in France, and how gay marriage has been enshrined in law, despite the outrage of many of its citizens.

Not so surprising, given Russia’s autocratic supposedly he-man leader (the great, the wonderful, the amazing, the virile and often shirtless Vlad – the Vladimir – Putin) is the anti-gay culture enshrined in that society.  A culture which promotes a passive acknowledgement and appreciation of anti-gay violence, while hypocritically giving lip service to a decidedly tepid tolerance of gays.

Despite Toronto’s enshrined tolerance, there are a few conservative newspapers which (unwittingly? unintentionally?) provide a forum in that same city for those who find gays disgusting.

“I don’t want to hear about what they do with each other’s penises”.  Trust me – no one does.  Just as no one wants to know about how your grandfather services your grandmother.  But then again – that’s a red herring, isn’t it?  Of all of the gay people I know, not one of them has ever expressed any interest in vocalizing any details about their nightly romantic escapades.  (Not that I’ve asked, mind you). But then, I don’t ask my hetero friends about how much hot wax their girlfriends poured on their naughty bits either.

The intolerant in our society are barking about what gays do with each other, but this isn’t information based upon what gay folk are actually saying to straights.  It seems to be mostly based upon what they imagine gays are doing to each other beneath the sheets.

This aversion to the gay culture stems from religious intolerance.  Religion has always had a problem with sexuality in general though. Ask a preacher about masturbation and watch the sparks fly. 

When I was entering adolescence, I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked my Baptist preacher about it.  You never saw a face turn so quickly turn red.  After mumbling a few words about “the sin of Onan”, he shut the door.  He just couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

Back then, we didn’t have Google or the internet, so I had to search elsewhere to find out what he was talking about.  (You, on the other hand, had full access to Google, so have it. I won’t explain it here.  Search phrase: “sin of Onan” “spilling seed”).

I could lay all of the angst about sexuality at the feet of religion, and I supposed I’d probably be correct in doing so.  The sad fact though is that change and acceptance goes largely unappreciated, as part of the human condition.  It goes beyond mere religion.

We like things to stay the way they are.  We like our values to be static.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.   We cheerfully rejoice when a thief is jailed, and even more so when we learn that someone in a far away land has been hung for his crimes.  Some of us don’t even mind when we hear about a thief having his hand chopped off.  We’re not really interested in the sick child he had at home, or in any of the circumstances which precipitated his crime.

There was a time when it was acceptable to own slaves, or to treat people with different coloured skin differently.  It took a long time to change all of that – and it didn’t happen without a lot of blood being shed first. 

Seems almost crazy to think that there are still evolving cultures out there where people still have to stay in the closet, or hide their nationality.  You’d think that with the advent of the internet, we’d all come together and cast off our prejudices.

The Olympics has given us yet an opportunity to do so.  Putin’s announcements and laws about homosexuality has given him somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as he has opened the door to discussion, to debate, and to protest.

Cities around the world are raising the gay pride flag, in support of the Olympics and in support of the gays who participate, and in support of the gays who live in fear in Russia.  Those with entrenched hatred of gays are complaining loudly about it.  This includes our Toronto mayor, who is vehemently protesting, and trying to get the Pride flag removed. 

“I’ve done everything I can to ge the Canadian flag back up” he said.  What he didn’t say was that a Canadian flag had not actually been removed.

I have to admit that it’s fun to see genuine hypocrisy hard at work. One has to tweak logic pretty hard on the nose in order to get it to support one’s prejudice.

Someday, the brotherhood of man will be understood and embraced.  Until then, we’ll continue to have mobs, and lynchings and wars. 

Still, there’s a catharsis in knowing that the fight for tolerance is persistent.  No matter how badly folk want people to shut up about it, it’s just not going away.

“You are so cold”

I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion.   The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was. 

What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”

Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions.  I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen.  And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months.  Why can’t you understand that?”

For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up.  It’s like asking a banana to peel itself. 

Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.

Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.

I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently.  My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.

I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her.  Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel.  I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on.  Before you should carry on, in most cases.

And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair.   It seems to be a male-female thing.  A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions.  Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing.  This issue isn’t about that.

The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain.  My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people – is:  he or she needs professional help.

I’m not equipped.  I haven’t had the training.  Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help. 

doctor

If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person.  This is acceptable.  What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result.  Which is: nothing.  Stasis.

It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person.  I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion. 

“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet.  I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry.  I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”

(Just kidding about the first one)

Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:

“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.  I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling.  Am I crazy?  Also – did I say you were crazy?”

I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness.  Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy. 

Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are.  Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance.  Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine. 

Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash.  They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain.  They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay.  And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.

And they want to talk about it.  At high volume.

They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence.  How dare you. 

In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy.  Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.

They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them.  This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.

You’ve now got a toxic friend.

The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off.  Regretfully.

It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity. 

I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t.  I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic.  Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”

I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year.  You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend.  How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?

I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends.  On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”

They shrug, resignedly.  There is no point.  Not really.  They’re building after-life credits, I suppose.  They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.

What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.

I could be wrong though.

I wasn’t late.

I never really intend to be late anyway, but normally I am, despite my best efforts to plan ahead of time, for traffic, for getting ready.  Despite the understandable outrage of those who are forever punctual, lateness doesn’t represent a lack of respect on my part, nor does it mean I think my time is more important than theirs.

It’s a function of a brain that works in kaleidoscope, rather than lines, the latter of which has starting points and focused destinations.  Didn’t find that out until the diagnosis I received a few years ago.

But I digress.  This was a rare victory, and I was relieved.

I even had time to relax for a bit.  Sit down and watch the automatic doors as they briefly opened, and burped out a few people before closing again.

I could feel my heart starting to race, and found that I could no longer sit.  So I stood up and watched the doors, until my little girl sauntered out, smiling.

She rolled her suitcases to the end of the ramp where I stood waiting.  Both of us dropped our stuff and we grabbed each other for a huge and tearful hug.

I honestly forgot how long it had been since we last saw each other in person.  We keep in contact all the time via phone (and occasionally by Skype) but hadn’t spent time together since, I’m guessing perhaps two years ago, when we went on a camping/canoeing trip together.  And where I learned the importance of only camping with a trailer that features a Craftmatic adjustable bed.  She on the other hand could camp out on the floor and not be affected.  The brat.

After the hug, she stood back and mapped out my face, checking for imperfections.  To her delight (and to my tolerant amusement) she found one.  There was a single hair growing on my cheek, which it had no business doing.  Mind you, there was like, a million of them growing on my chin and beneath my nose.  But I guess those were okay, as they were only following instructions.  So she plucked that one hair, saying “hold still, Dad.  Take a deep breath”

I didn’t. I pluck hairs all the time from errant locations.  I’m used to it, and the performance no longer brings tears or even flinching.  I smiled.  She plucked and missed.

Horrified, she said “oh I’m sorry. Let me try again. Are you okay?”

I nodded, still smiling.  She plucked again and this time she got it.

Grooming all done, we turned and began walking.  “How are you doing?” I asked. “Are you hungry? Did you get a bite to eat on the plane?”

She thought for a moment. “Well I could use a tea, Dad. Is there a coffee shop nearby?”

There was, and so we went, chattering as if we hadn’t spoken in a year.  (Well, she chattered. I added an observation here and there).

Our relationship has always been like that though.  We can not talk on the phone for weeks at a time, and when we connect, it’s as if we just spoke yesterday.  I never realized how rare that was until encountering some folk who feel rejected if you don’t check in with them in scheduled intervals.

Afterward, and after dumping her suitcases into a limo-SUV (I really don’t know what to call those things: it’s a limo service, but our ride took the form of an SUV), I warned her about my place.

“You’re going to hate it” I said. She looked at me, grinning.  We both knew she would be making some changes, even though she would only be there for a few days.

And change it she did.  Prior to her arrival, I had the perfect bachelor setup: big-ass plasma TV, front and center, Lazy-boy chair right in front of it. Dolby surround-sound speakers placed in such a way as to make the chair the “sweet spot” for….well, for pretty much everything.

man_cave.jpg

Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.

The sofa was to my right, along the wall.

As soon as we walked in the door, I braced myself.  This wouldn’t do.  Not at all.  And she confirmed it fairly quickly.

She also didn’t like my office setup, which was situated in the dining room.  It was too closed off for her liking, and “no one can see the beautiful screensavers – all they can see is the back of the monitors and all of the wiring”.

“No problem” I thought.  “It’s just me looking at the stuff, and I really don’t care.”

“Trust me, dad”, she said. “If you don’t like what I do with it, you can put it all back.”

We spent most of her second day there, going to town.  I was assigned the task of sorting out the bookcase.  I have no idea why I still have a bookcase, actually, since I buy all of my books in e-book format, and have no need of physical books anymore.  Right now the bookcase serves as a drop-off point for stuff that lacks a home. Receipts that I haven’t shredded, the odd flyer, pennies and pens that I pick up off of the floor.

My apartment isn’t nearly as bric-a-brac as I’m making it sound.  It’s just that when I have something in my hand, and no time to figure out where it goes, the bookcase is my instant repository.  I put stuff there, knowing that I’ll get around to sorting it someday.

“Someday” is right.  When I started sorting, I found a lot of outdated stuff that belonged in the trash.  Stuff I hadn’t seen in a couple of years actually. It was a little embarrassing, particularly since I’ve made it my life’s goal to de-clutter.  The protocol is: if you don’t see or use it within a year, you don’t need it.

I had a lot of stuff there that qualified for the green bin.  Still do, actually, since I didn’t make that much of a dent in it.

Daughter however did just fine with her tasks – which was pretty much everything else.  She shoved everything around, made it all tidy, grabbed whatever twist ties she could to make the entertainment center and desk wiring all serene, if not beautiful.  When she ran out of twist ties, I became the scotch tape caddy, doling it out as she needed.

When she was done, my place looked presentable again.  The big chair was kitty-corner to the TV set, with the couch forming the other part of the scene.  The TV itself was in a corner.  And my office space was transformed such that any visitors could clearly see everything I was working on. I don’t plan to have many visitors.

“What do you think, Dad?”

I stood in front of my office desk, looked up at her and gave her a small wave and a smile.

She laughed out loud and went to grab her camera.  So I had to hold that pose for a while. Such jocularity loses its pizzazz when you have to pose for it.  I think we both knew that.

Our time together ended way too soon.  I saw her off the next day, when she left me to go visit her mother for the other two days she would spend in Ontario.  And now she’s off to western Canada, there to provide massage treatments for tired skiers.

I miss her already.

Funny thing, isn’t it?  When you’re young you have all of the time in the world, so nothing seems all that important.  You go out with your friends, have some pizza, run around the city all night and sleep until noon or late afternoon.  Life is good, despite the fact that you have just a few dollars to your name.  You have a roof over your head and there’s food on the table.

It’s only later on, when you get older that you begin thinking “you know, I should be doing something with my life.  I should be ‘here’ by now.”  “Here” meaning “owning a house” or “advanced in my career”.

If you’re not careful, you can go your whole life thinking that you’re constantly in a race to play catch-up.

I have to confess: my stance on life has always been like a car on a hill.  I didn’t need to do much, just let off the brakes and just coast.  Didn’t even have to turn the key. In some instances, I’ve allowed too much to happen without my consent, with the mistaken assumption that stuff was being “done to me”.  The horrible and stark fact is: I made the choice – even by doing nothing – to accept the circumstances life threw at me.

Photo is entitled "Chevys".  Photography by Noel Kerns. Visit his website at http://www.noelkernsphotography.com

Maybe this is why I still believe in God, though not religion.  The stuff that’s been thrown at me has been pretty good, with a few exceptions.  I’ve always had good-paying jobs, for example.  And when life in a factory got to be too stressful, I took a small buyout and quit (despite the fact that I had a family to support), and within a few months had another job in an office that paid almost as well.

I remember my wonderful boss at that job gathering us together for a regular meeting. (Man I loved that woman.  She was bright, articulate, generous and helpful, not just to her employees but to our clients.  But I digress).

At the start of the meeting, she asked us all to talk about what we were thankful for.  I recall one young woman sharing a look with another one, and then rolling their eyes.  Both participated though, and gave the usual responses.

“I’m thankful for my family.”

“I’m thankful for the new motorcycle I’m getting next week.”

Then it was my turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m thankful for my job.”

That got a derisive laugh – mostly from the two women.  I was serious though.

“Honestly, you don’t know what it was like for me before I got this job.  I worked in a place that was hell for me before coming here.  One time the stress was so bad they called in an ambulance.  I couldn’t wait to leave that place.”

The room got quiet.

“And then I got the call to come in here, and was tasked with helping people.  People who would otherwise end up on the street.  I’m being paid to guide them to a better life.  How awesome is that?”

The two women were silent, and watching.

“Plus” I added, “I get to play with computers.  And I get paid to do it!”  I smiled.  “And I get to work with you guys, in the best work environment ever.  Yeah, I’ve got lots to be thankful for.”

I wasn’t that comfortable expressing emotions openly so I stopped right there.  My boss noticed my discomfort, smiled and then called on the next person.

Another “coasting” experience involved kids.  Specifically, I didn’t want us to have any.  When my then-wife went in to the doctor’s office to get tested, the girls at the front desk got the news first.  One of them called me over.  “Do you want to have kids?” she asked, smiling.

“Sure” I said.  “I guess so”

Then my wife came out and gave me the news and we hugged.  Inwardly, I was aghast. I didn’t know myself all that well back then, but inside I was all like “back up, back up, BACK UP”.  The problem was that I wasn’t into my marriage at all, and was unconsciously looking for a way out.  (That’s a story for another day, but long story short: we got married way too young and for the wrong reasons.).  The bottom line was that anything permanent at all, like kids, pretty much put the nail in the coffin.  I felt trapped.  It was a scary place, the inside of my brain, back then.

A couple of days ago, I saw a YouTube video interview featuring Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.  In it, she discussed her favourite Disney character – Ariel, from “The Little Mermaid”.  She said “my dad would kill me for saying this, but for my fifth birthday he dressed up as King Titan..” and here she started laughing “…which is so cool.”  She then went on to explain that her little brother was dressed as Sebastian.

As I drove to work the next day, I thought about that interview and about what her relationship with her dad must be like, and concluded that it had to be pretty amazing.  And that brought back some memories of my relationship with my daughter.

FLASH: I’m in the hospital, in the hallway waiting area. (I wasn’t allowed in to see the birth, as the baby was being delivered via C-section).  The doors open and out comes a nurse, pushing an incubator.  I can see through the window of the machine, and notice there’s a skin-coloured oblong thing in there.  “Sir?” she says, looking at me. “This is your baby.”  I walk over while she opens the top.  The thing has some hair on its head.  I look at the nurse.  She smiles “it’s a girl.  This is your daughter.” I look down at her, laying there.  She’s not moving, though she is breathing. I look back at the nurse.  “You can touch her”, she says. “Go ahead.”  The universe holds its breath, waiting.

I look down and reach my hand in and feet her arm.  It’s warm. And like that, my entire world rocked on its edge.  The change in me was imperceptible but strong.  As articulate a writer as I might be, I have no words for this.  I didn’t then and I still don’t now.  It’s like my brain turned itself inside out, shook out the crumbs of depression and angst and re-asserted itself.  I love this child. That’s the truth. It’s also an understatement.

Like I said.  No words.  The power of that moment has stayed with me, all of these years.  And I find I still can’t tell the story without feeling emotion.

FLASH: I’m in my living room, and my little girl is now five, maybe six.  I’m not sure. The TV is on and she’s standing there in front of it, looking at a commercial.  She seems completely unaware of anything except the TV, and she begins to mimic the announcer.  She does it perfectly and I suddenly burst out laughing.  My little princess has character!  And she’s hilarious.  Wow.

FLASH: Both of my kids are in trouble, and I’m angry.  They’ve done something wrong (I forget what it was, which shows you how important it is), and I need to bring the hammer down.  “YOU GUYS SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. I, UH…” I’m so angry I can’t speak properly. “THAT IS, IF YOU…IF I…”  My mistake was in chastising them both at the same time.  My son is laughter personified, looking for any excuse to let loose.  Put them together and they’re like gasoline and a struck match.

As I struggle to get the words out, my daughter suddenly bites her lip, then looks at her brother and they both start giggling then quickly dissolve into helpless laughter.  “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” – but it’s no use.  They’re too far gone.  And then, despite my damnedest, I can’t help joining in.  Hopeless.

FLASH: it’s about ten or eleven years later.  We’re in the new apartment and my daughter’s just come home from school.  She’s smiling (it’s kind of her thing: she smiles an awful lot, all the time).  she says “hey dad.  I went to the store and saw something.  I bought it right away because I just have to give it to you.”

I’m smiling in response. “Really?”  She grins.  “Yeah.  Let me get it out of my pocket”.  She reaches in and seems to struggle to get whatever it is out, and then she finally gets her hand out and flips me the bird, laughing hysterically.  I can’t help it – I start laughing too.

All of these memories flash through my consciousness on my ride to work, I get a small glimpse of what life would have been like had I not married and had kids.  Sort of a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment, if you will.  I imagine a life of utter boredom, a life of greyness.  An okay life perhaps, but missing such a golden seam of bright and blinking joy.  It hits me hard, this revelation. and I realize what is for me a grand truth: even if I’m not precisely where I want to be in my life, I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I’ve no real complaints.  Not really.

parking-lot

The sun sneered down at me, with the wrath of a thousand carcinogenic volcanoes.   (Didn’t know that did you?  I’ll bet volcanos are totally cancer-causing.  That is, if you survive the slight burn you get from the magma)

I was on my way to a birthday party, and this was the second car of the day.  And I was late.

The first car – a Mini Cooper – had betrayed me in the worst possible way.  It had winked its “check engine” light at me.  At least, I think it was “check engine”.  Might have been “engine is on its way to blowing up big time and you have ten seconds to get out”.  I have no idea.  It was just a symbol, really.  It looked like what some engineer thought an engine should look like.  If I wasn’t a guy, I might mistake it for a badly cut piece of pie though. 

(Wordage helps, people.  Let that be a lesson.  Say what you mean.  Don’t just draw a stupid picture and hope your readers can glean the meaning.)

Oh and the light behind the symbol was yellow.  Which means “caution”, I guess.  It wasn’t glowing red.  It wasn’t pink either.  “You have a ridiculously sparkly and entirely fabulous piece of pie waiting for you, right where the engine should be.”

Anyway, it was a rental, and so the rental agency offered to set me up with a replacement Mini. “After you drop it off, you’ll have to go to one of our other lots to pick up the replacement Mini.  It’s all set up for you.”  And with that, they gave me the address and off I went.

The lot was (they said) at the corner of Finch and Yonge.  They were right.  There surely was a parking lot there.  It didn’t have just one rental car though.  It had pretty close to a million shiny cars, all parked cheek by jowl.  I was supposed to go to the section of the lot that had the rental agency’s cars, but I didn’t know where that was.  Usually the company has signs up near the cars, featuring the name of the company emblazoned in hard to miss lettering.

I looked at that vast vista of chrome and sunlight and wondered where to start.  Did I mention the carcinogenic light?  Okay so it wasn’t a volcano but it was just as bad.  It was the sun.  That thing I used to worship when I was younger, which all of the doctors now say can kill me.

I remember the time I went to a dermatologist.

“Have you used a tanning bed?” he asked.

“Why yes, I have” I answered proudly, as I turned my profile so he could better glimpse all of my tan beauty. “Why do you ask?”

“I ask because you’re a moron” he grunted.  “Those things will kill you.”

“Oh” I said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“WELL DON’T DO IT AGAIN” he barked.

Seriously, the guy was upset with me.  Like I’d stabbed his grandmother in the eye or something.

I took his warning to heart and, since that time, I’ve been religious about applying sun block before heading out the door in the summer time.  Every time.

Except that morning.  I was in a rush, and I figured that my sunlight exposure would be minimal:  I’d be either underground or on a bus until those few minutes when I would move from the bus to my rental car. 

Never realized I’d have to spend an obscene amount of time under the blazing meatball hunting down an elusive tiny little car in a reflective death chamber parking lot.

Ten minutes into my concrete nature hike a mildly helpful thought sauntered brazenly across my consciousness, hands in its pockets.  “Maybe” it said “you should call the rental company to get their help in finding at least the correct quadrant of this maze.” 

Like all good thoughts, it didn’t intrude too far.  I replied with “I’ll find it.  I don’t need anyone’s help.”  The helpful thought wandered off while whistling a carefree tune, unoffended by my manly obstinence.  Clearly it knew I needed help but wasn’t yet ready to admit it.

Anyway, I was in luck.  I had an app on my iPhone that would allow me to unlock the rental car, or honk its horn.  I took it out and pressed the horn icon.  The car horn honked twice. 

“There!” I thought. “I heard it!”  I was overjoyed.  This wouldn’t take long at all.  I knew where the car was.  It was down on the bottom right quadrant of the lot, about a mile away from where I started.  So I began the walk to that point, using the app to re-honk every few minutes.

Weird thing.  As I got closer and closer to my destination, the honks began to change.  They were no longer emanating from the northwest corner, so much as the north-middle corner.  So I changed trajectory and headed due north, honking all the way.

When I reached the northern limit of the lot, and pressed the horn icon again, I heard the sound coming from the exact opposite side of the lot.  The southern side, middle.  So I started walking toward it again, still honking.

As I progressed, the honking changed direction and this time, it was back at the northwest corner again.

About a half an hour later, the concept of “echo” finally dawned on me.  So I broke down and called the car company.

The lady was nice.  “Are you at the corner of Yonge and Finch?” she asked.

“Well yes.” I answered.   “Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“The instructions said to go to the subway station at Finch and Yonge, and that’s where I got off.  Directly across the road is a parking lot.  But I just noticed that there are no signs for Finch.  Is it possible I’m in the wrong lot? I keep honking the horn with the app, and I hear it.”

“You hear it?  Then maybe you’re where you should be.  I’ll stay on the line and honk the horn from my console until you find it.  How about that?  Would that help?”

“Tremendously” I replied.  “Thank you so much.”

“No problem” she said.  “I’m honking now.”

“You’re honking? Have you seen a doctor about that?” I blurted.

“What?”

“Sorry.  Nothing.  I don’t hear the car horn though.”

We finally figured out that I wasn’t in the right lot at all.  Forty-five minutes had passed under the blazing evil orb and I was in the wrong lot.  I had to walk a full block south to get to the right one.  And there it was, sitting in the tiniest little parking lot ever.  And it had signage!  Big bold signs.  “Here’s your rental car, dude.  Right here.  Right between these two signs. Honestly, I couldn’t have made it clearer if I’d painted little devils all over the place, with their pitchforks all pointing at the car”.

(Not really.  The signs just had the name of the rental agency.  But yes, it was pretty obvious.)

I pressed the horn icon just to make sure.  The replacement Mini honked back with severe cheerfulness.  It sounded different than what I’d heard before though.  Seemed kind of odd.  And how could I hear this tiny little horn honking from such a great distance away, yet not hear it when the help line woman honked it from her application?

I squeezed my sweat-soaked sunburnt body into the seat, started the car, turned on the air conditioner and took off.

A few hours later I realized that the horn I had heard honking wasn’t coming from the car, nor was it coming from an echo of the car.  It was coming from the iPhone app itself.  The app mimics the sound of a horn honking.  I had been following my own silly ghost around all afternoon.

Urban Soak

Posted: July 9, 2013 in humor, humour, Life, romance
Tags: , , , , ,

Rain

Teeming.

That was the word for it.  I tried out other synonyms.   “Pouring”.  “Pounding”.  “Sneaking”.

Sneaking?

The early weather report had called for occasional thunderstorms and brief moments of rain.  I was prepared.

The day before, I had carried my collapsible umbrella onto the subway train.  After getting off at my stop, my ADHD brain said “wait.  Something’s wrong.”  And it wasn’t until the doors closed that I realized I’d left my umbrella on the car.  I watched helplessly as the train picked up speed and nonchalantly took off.  No doubt it would provide someone else some protection.  Not me though.

The next day I watched the weather report, and in particular took note of the word “chance”.  “Chance” as in:  if you bring your umbrella you’re going to be the only person holding one, as everyone else around you – all wearing sunglasses and tans – will smile at you with patronizing derision. 

Still, I had a bit of walking to do, so I hunted down my spare umbrella – the huge clunky one – to carry with me for the day.

When I got out of the massage therapist’s office, I noticed it was …..teeming outside.  “Good” I thought.  Unlike some of those bedraggled sun-tanned miscreants standing in the doorway, waiting for it to settle, I had my giant black Marry Poppins umbrella, all deployed and ready to go.

I stepped out, secure in my dryness, and walked across the street to the bus stop.

Midway through the intersection the rain stopped teeming and began to roar with abandon.  At one point, the only part of me left dry was my face.  Barely.  The rain had sneaked under the umbrella – by virtue of the gunshot pounding at the ground, which could only ricochet up and at my clothing – and soaked me thoroughly.  A girl and I took what shelter we could find in the overhang outside of a dentist’s office.

“Nice weather, huh?” she said, smiling.

“What?” I replied.

“I SAID—never mind” she frowned.

I could barely make out anything she said over the storm’s argument. 

“Funny how….FUNNY HOW WE HAVE TO STAND HERE WITH OUR UMBRELLAS AND STILL CAN’T KEEP DRY” she offered.

“What? Oh…  Yeah” I rejoined.  I must have intimidated her with my magnificent social skills and verbiage, as she gave up saying anything after that.

I tried though.  “So”, I started.  “SO.  JUST HEADING HOME FROM WORK?” I asked.

She nodded.

The bus came.  We could see the poor travelling souls, standing in the bus aisles, bum to rump and wet clothing all sticking to each other.

She got on.  I said “I’ll wait for the next one”.  I could see it in the distance.

After it arrived, I found an empty seat and sat down, grateful and wet.  The novel I was reading was just getting interesting when the driver announced “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THIS BUS IS OUT OF SERVICE AT LAWRENCE”. 

“Are you freaking kidding me?”  It wasn’t until the short older lady with the moustache and hairnet sitting in front of me turned around and glanced my way with a startled expression that I realized I had said it aloud. 

We all bundled out of the bus, and stood in the rain with our shielding umbrellas until the next one arrived.  It was already fairly packed with people, so we had to force our way onto it, bum to rump, all wet and miserable.

Then we noticed something else.  The power was out everywhere.  This meant there were no stoplights.  And this meant that the rate of travel in amongst the rat-like horde of cars went from slow to “oh my God it’s like we’re going backward”.  Some Hasidic Jewish kids, all dressed in black took it upon themselves to direct traffic at one intersection.  They had no umbrellas and looked like they were having a blast.  I smiled, kind of wishing I was a teen again.

The thought of the romance of rain blossomed.  I recalled that first romantic kiss I took with a girl when we were in our teens.  It happened under her see-through umbrella on a dark rainy night.  I remembered the lemony scent of her perfume and the intense, surreal joy of holding her closely, and sharing breath for a while.

Though we all made it to our destinations (after passing drowned cars – so many drowned cars – along the way), I couldn’t help thinking.  One important pass-fail aspect of any future romantic relationships will be my partner’s tolerance or acceptance of rain-enhanced public displays of affection. 

But by that I mean “light rain” not “sneaky, pounding, pouring teeming ricocheting rain”.   That crap’s just gross.

pool

The first thing I noticed was the cut.  It stung when I washed my face.  And when I looked up to see what was wrong – there it was, staring at me like a third eye.  In fact, that’s about where it was too – right where a third eye would be if I were an alien (or maybe a little more spiritually enlightened than I am).

“Damn”, I thought, staring at an otherwise perfect face “I wish I knew how I got that.”

Slowly, bits and pieces of the previous night came back into focus.  Dinner, drinks (so many drinks), a game of pool and a ride home via taxi. 

My head wasn’t aching and my stomach wasn’t upset so I think I was safe in assuming I wasn’t hung over.  By the same token however, the room was still swimming, just a bit, so perhaps we can assume I was still slightly drunk. 

I took out my phone and texted my dinner and pool companion.

I jut got up and not hungover either.  May actually be still drink though. : )

A minute later I read what I wrote and provided the correction.

*drunk

Totally missed “jut”.

Much as my eyes wanted to close, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing work, or of calling in late.  Not on account of drinking anyway.  So I had a breakfast.  You know, to soak up the alcohol.  Although frankly – it didn’t stop the room from trying to twirl me around in a hazy ballet dance.  I kept wondering why my stomach didn’t want to heave.   It never does, actually, when I drink Chardonnay.

(By the way, I need to mention something before talking about this further.  I value the privacy of my friends and family so will never ever take liberties with their names or identities on my blog.  In fact, as much as I adore my good friend from that night, I won’t write much about her.   This blog is about me.  Beautiful, exciting, slightly narcissistic and totally humble me.)

As I was preparing breakfast, I suddenly gasped.

“Holy shit” I thought.  “Did I even pay for the pool and drinks at the pool hall?  Did we inadvertently scam that place?”  My friend had generously paid for our dinner and drinks, but I really had no idea whether I paid for our game of pool.   I know I *intended* to pay.

Me and my facial cut scrambled over to the computer to quickly look up my bank account.   I sighed in relief.  There it was.  $103.74 to Jerry’s Pool Hall. 

Memories of that never-ending one game of pool filtered through my alcohol-soaked consciousness.   It seemed the balls were all were magnetically repelled from the pockets or something.  We couldn’t get near them.   Sinking one of them was like a miracle.   We cheered each other wildly whenever it happened.  I’m pretty sure my cue was defective because several times it refused to even go near the while ball, preferring instead to skid along the green felt. 

Wait.  Not green.  The felt was actually kind of a pukey white.

And when we were done playing……well actually we weren’t done, exactly.  I think we just lost interest.  The black ball retained its stately dignity, having never come close to making an acquaintance with a pocket.   My companion went to the washroom, while I made a majestic attempt to get the balls back together.

I took all of the balls – both of them – out of the pockets and lined them all up with the unsunk balls.  Then I put the triangle thing around them.  Then (I swear to God this is true) I tried to gather them all up in my arms so as to return them to the front.  But they kept falling out of the triangle, scurrying away like bratty mice.

The guy at the front got tired of laughing I suppose.  He eventually came to my rescue and provided a tray for them.

I paid up and we left.  And that’s all I remember.

I don’t recall the ride home, don’t recall paying the cabbie.  Worse, I don’t recall whether I brushed my teeth or not before falling into bed.  The only evidence I was in the bathroom at all was the tube of suntan lotion and tube of toothpaste lying on the floor in there.  

What a night.

P.S. Bits of the night are still coming back to me.  It’s entirely possible that we did finish that game.  I really have no idea.  I do know I didn’t win.  I have no idea why this is important.

A friend of mine just posted this cartoon on her Facebook wall:

Funwithwords

So I responded that we should not forget the other replacements for “said”.  Like “go”, for example.  I illustrated my point with the following:

————————

Jim goes “so I buried the dead hooker, like you asked”.

And Pete’s like “hold up. Not near the petunias!  Dude, I *just* planted those things.”

And Jim’s all “nah, bro. She’s, like, interred and stuff, in your neighbour’s yard.”

And Pete goes “righteous!”

————————

A walk in the mall or a ride on the subway allows you to hear many conversations like the above (minus the dead hooker of course).  Proving, I think, that today’s vernacular has taken a kind of colourful turn.  Would you agree? I’m not at all convinced it’s a bad thing.  My belief is that a word or the usage of a word becomes evident and valid when one person says it, and his listener understands it.   Webster would likely grunt and do his best to turn over in his grave at that notion; however, he would hardly be in a position to object openly.  Therefore my point remains unchallenged.

Contrast the above conversation to this:

————————

James encountered Peter on his morning tour of the neighbourhood. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, James raised an unpleasant topic. “Peter” he said “I have taken care of that matter we discussed yesterday.”

Peter furrowed his brows in confusion. “I’m at a loss as to the meaning of what you just referenced. What matter?”

James replied “oh you know – I have dealt with the recently deceased ‘working girl’ who suffered the misfortune of having a heart attack while in your employ.”

Peter sighed. “In what manner did you – ahem – take care of her?”

James smiled. “Well, I simply dug a shallow hole and planted her in it.”

Peter gasped in surprise. “Oh dear Lord. You didn’t bury her near the petunias did you?”

Scratching his head, James replied “are you truly concerned about your flowers, and not the recently deceased? I am frankly surprised at your glaring coldness, my friend. Are you perhaps an untested psychopath? Do you feel the need to study others’ emotions, so as to mimic them as best you can?”

Peter laughed. “By no means. It’s just that those petunias were chosen by my wife. If they died before their time, I envision my poor wife attempting to dig them up, only to encounter some part of a dead woman’s hand or leg at their roots.”

James sighed with relief. “Worry no more, my good man. I have interred her remains in the garden of your neighbour.”

Peter smiled. “Indeed you are a prince among friends.”

————————

Given the subject  – a deceased prostitute – I would find the above conversation as colourful and as entertaining as the first, albeit for a different reason.

I think this is one of the reasons I love the English language so much.  There are so many different ways to arrive at the same meaning, each method providing a nuance and shade of meaning that differs from the other.

Peer review time:  what are your thoughts on the above?  Are you disgusted by the slaughtering of the English verbal language or are you amused by it, as I am?  Be honest: has some of it crept into your lexicon?

A couple of days ago, magic came alive, right there in my apartment.

After my daily shower and shave ritual, I made a trip to the main bedroom (it’s a one-bedroom apartment), there to peruse my wardrobe choices.  As is my wont, the decision came down to the usual: a pair of jeans that were hanging right where I left them, puddled on the floor.

Only this time “puddle” was a little too literal:  the jeans were soaking wet.  And it was time for me to leave for work.

Jeans

I held them up and stared at them in disbelief.  They weren’t dripping, but they were heavy with moisture.

I looked down at the floor, which appeared to be bone-dry.  Then back at the jeans.  Then, the floor.

I blinked, as a dozen possibilities flitted across my early morning brain, wayward moths struggling to find the nearest candle of logic.

Years ago, I learned that my brother-in-law, in a stupid state of drunkenness got out of bed and used his TV set as a urinal.

I sniffed the pants.  No untoward smells.  And besides:  I hadn’t had anything to drink the night before.   The visual I had, of getting out of bed and taking a whizz on just those pants, stayed with me.

I sniffed them again, just in case.  Then I hung them on the shower rod and sniffed them again (about three times I think).  And then I washed my hands, because ew.

Back to the bedroom.  I moved a few things around to see if I could see what else was wet.

Nothing.  Everything was dry.

Could this be one of those things, like spontaneous combustion, where someone is burnt to a crisp, while everything around him is unharmed?   Only the opposite, with water?  Could my jeans have become spontaneously drowned?

I remember repeating “holy shit” and “that’s so weird!” to myself, several times over and over, as I picked out another pair of jeans (along with shirt, etc.) and headed out the door to work.

Maybe it was a spiritual thing, and an evil ghost came into my apartment and just did that one thing, just to mess me up.  If so, it worked.

Occam’s razor said “what are you?  An idiot?”

My brain puzzled it out for the entire day.  I decided some more sleuthing was needed.

After getting home, I started pulling everything apart:  I dragged the dresser out and checked behind it:  no water at all.  Curiouser and curiouser.

It wasn’t until I checked a cardboard box and saw that its underside was damp that I finally realized, with relief, that my pants weren’t magic at all.   Why my brain didn’t immediately go to that explanation in the first place (Occam’s razor again) eludes me.

I mean, I still didn’t have an explanation for it:  I didn’t spill any water in the room – since I don’t generally bring water of any kind in there anyway.   When I told the superintendent about it, he suggested that maybe there was a leak from the central air conditioning ducts – but that’s at the other side of the room.

It was he who suggested I pull stuff out from my closet.  And oh man – was that ever a mess.  I’ve been meaning to declutter my apartment for a while now – pulling all of that stuff from the floor of my closet out was the kick in the head I needed to get started on that right away.  There were bags of documents in there, wayward shirts that hadn’t seen the light of day in some time (which wouldn’t be worn anytime soon – until they’d paid a visit to the dry cleaners at least), and all kinds of sundry odds and ends.  Sure enough:  some of the bottom stuff had gotten wet as well.

The super decided that someone’s bathtub was leaking.  After some investigation he found that my upstairs neighbour’s tub had a loose soap fixture, and so with every shower, some water made its way down to my closet.

Mystery solved.

I’m a little worried about my sanity however.

ADHD Drugs.  Tried them.  Worked as advertised but also had some interesting side effects.  I’m not sure I can ever get used to the second head that grew out of my shoulders, but whatever….

I think I went a little nuts when the doctor sat me down, showed me a chart and announced that his findings of my symptoms were almost off of the charts.   “Here’s where normal people are” he said (or words to that effect) as he pointed to a line across a graph.   Then he pointed to a line near the top of the page that went from left to right in a kind of a zigzag pattern “and here’s where you are.”   I was more than pleased; I was ecstatic.

squirrel-dog

There are so many more symptoms to ADHD than just the propensity toward distraction.  Many of us – especially ones with a more severe case of ADHD – become debilitated throughout our lives.  A great many can’t hold a job, a marriage or maintain our health.  Many of us have addiction problems.  I don’t mean just drugs; I mean anything under the sun: sexual addictions, problems with booze, problems with almost anything.  And so many of us hop from one addiction to another.  My dad was an alcoholic, so I was fortunate enough (long before the diagnosis) to recognize that I may have inherited his fascination with booze.  So although I enjoy wine, I was smart enough to occasionally go through dry periods “just to make sure”.   Then I realized that I was beginning to enjoy pot too much (this was years ago, officer), so I stopped taking any of that for a while.  There were a number of other ones – I won’t bother to list them here.

Many of us become adrenaline junkies, often taking horrible chances with our lives while looking for that “high”.   Scratch the skin of a person who gets into way too many car accidents and you may find a person with ADHD.

Socially, we are often just a bunch of misfits.  I never realized it until my daughter and I started comparing notes.  “Dad” she would say “I feel guilty about getting so bored with conversations sometimes”.  I would reply “I KNOW, RIGHT?  It’s like they’re all ‘blah blah my vacation blah blah” and I’m like ‘what time is it? Oh I’ve got to go'”.

Sometimes I even blogged about it.   Like the blog I posted about a guy who was into some of the same types of books I was interested in – only in a kind of steroidal way:  it was all he could talk about, and it bored me to tears.   I eventually realized that the problem wasn’t him, it was me.  (“Sure it was” I hear you say.  “That’s so cliché, man”.  And okay – so it is.  Happens to be true).  Normal people – however “normal” is defined – can carry on linear conversations that have beginning, middle and conclusion points.   I realized that wasn’t the case with me or my daughter:  our conversations were more like exploring birds, hopping from tree branch to tree branch, never landing on the same one twice.   A bouquet of non sequiturs, if you will.   We eventually realized that we were annoying others who wanted to get in on the conversation but felt they couldn’t.   “Can you not stay on the point???” they’d exclaim, exasperated.   “What point?” would be our innocent response.

Our conversations often frustrated ourselves as well, but only for brief moments.  It kind of went like this:  “um, what was I talking about?”  “I dunno” *shrug*   Whatever it was seemed important; it was a point I was trying to get to, only I was too excited by the process of the conversation and so, as usual, the conversational car left the track and flipped end over end into a field of much more interesting thoughts.  Crash and burn.

“Were you aware that there’s an eclipse of the moon tonight?”

“Oh really?  I’d love to see that.  I can’t stay up late though, I have a test in the morning.”

“Well maybe you don’t have to stay up to watch it.  Maybe you could….”

“Oh my God Dad.  I remember the last time I saw the Northern Lights.  They were so beautiful…”

“Was that when you were on that camping trip?”

“With Pete?”

“How is Pete?”

“He’s married now and he’s running his own shoe store.”

(Then I’d think: shoes, running, Nike, “just do it”)

“Hey I’m going to finish the next chapter of my book tonight.”

“Really?  That’s so good, Dad.”

(And she would think “books, Kindle, Amazon”)

“Do you know that Amazon delivers to Canada?”

(And I would think “old news, news, newspaper, columnists, Conrad Black)

“I knew that.  Hey have you ever read any of Conrad Black’s stuff?  The man’s a wordsmith!”

(And she would think “wordsmith, clowns, elephants, circus”)

“No I never have.   That reminds me: Cirque du Soleil is coming to town.  I’ve got tickets!”

And on it would go.  You can just picture other “normal” people saying “okay – just what the FUCK are you guys talking about?”

We’d both look at each other and smile.

I think even my writing gets affected and infected by this type of meandering.  For example: I meant to tell you about my foray into the ADHD drug world.

So the first one was a long-term drug that you have to take every day.  It’s supposed to get into your bloodstream as a constant presence and affect what’s called “executive function” – whereby you retain the ability to not only focus, but keep all of the balls in the air at the same time.  Most people aren’t aware of it: they put their current thought on a shelf – NOT FORGOTTEN, just placed aside for a moment – while they deal with a more pressing thought.  Then when they’re done, they go back to the shelf, bring down the thought and work with it again.  With ADHD folk it’s more like we hoof that thought into the outer stratosphere, completely forgotten and rarely ever seen again.  It’s not deliberate; it’s just the way our minds tend to work and process.   This drug was designed to help patients gain a measure of control.

I have no idea whether it worked or not; I didn’t stay on it long enough.  Just a week.  Just long enough to notice that I was having a very hard time trying to pee (among other things).  It was horrible.  I got worried that maybe my body was going through an unwanted change, until I got onto the net and started reading about the side effects.   So I dropped that drug like it was a flaming bag of dog poop – and I felt better almost immediately.

I went back to the doc who prescribed another ADHD medication that he promised wouldn’t mess me up so badly.  The side effects were minimal and as long as my blood pressure remained under control there wouldn’t be any problem.  I went on it for a few weeks and didn’t notice any change in my ADHD symptoms so went back to him.  He increased the dosage.  I tried it for a few more weeks; still no change.  I went back – and this can get boring so let me just say it took a few more visits until we got the dosage right.   And then, presto!  The required effects kicked in.

I was able to focus; I was able to complete projects; I was able to go places and not leave my iPhone or iPad sitting somewhere for someone to pick up and adopt as their own.  (Can’t tell you how many times I’d done that before).

There were other noticeable effects too.   I started boring the hell out of myself.  Anything I wrote was tedious and long – and complete.   I hated my writing.  My creativity took a noticeable hit.  I figured it was worth the price of being able to be just a little bit linear in thinking again.

Then one day I started having pains in my chest.  Severe pains.  I went to a walk-in clinic and the doctor said my blood pressure was through the roof.  She ordered an EKG (my heart was fine), and then prescribed some nitro.  I quickly realized the culprit:  the high doses of the ADHD drug was affecting my blood pressure.

So I went off it.  Completely.  Cold-turkey.

My blood pressure’s back to normal, and my creativity is back.

In talking with a good friend of mine who is also an MD, we seemed to agree that maybe, just maybe, people are designed to be different from each other, and maybe there’s no real need to alter our behaviour (or as we called it, get into “social engineering”).

I only know I’m enjoying the crap out of life right now, and it’s doubtful that I’ll ever seek help for my ADHD again.  (Never say never though).

Final note:  I hear you saying “dude, your creativity can’t be all that great.  You rarely write a new blog.”   You would be correct:  my blogs are too few and far between and I’m planning to change that.   But – and this is a huge thing – I’m still writing.  I’ve been employed for a few months as a critic for the popular site TVFanatic.com – and I write a weekly review of two shows:  Criminal Minds and NCIS.   Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to interview two of the Criminal Minds stars too:  Matthew Gray Gubler (who plays Dr. Reid) and Joe Mantegna (who plays Agent Rossi).   If you want to check it out – no pressure! – you’ll find the reviews at Criminal Minds and NCIS.  (My name on there is Douglas Wolfe.)

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just keep playing at life and forget about the ADHD meds.  Frankly I’m having too much fun without them.

Ugly

Posted: March 22, 2013 in humor, Life, living
Tags: , , , , , ,

The watery sunlight tried in vain to filter its way through the caked smears of mud on the back window of the bus.  This of course merely increased my sense of tiredness, as I turned away to glance at the woman who was just now paying her fare prior to plumping herself down on the front seat, facing the aisle.

“Ugly”

The word was a sudden, visceral thought, clambering up from the depths of consciousness, without warning or explanation.

Since it’s rare for me to ever make such a judgement about someone merely on the basis of looks, I got curious and wondered about its origin.

True, the woman was no beauty queen, but it was still winter and no one appeared all that graceful beneath layers of puffed polyester and wool.   So why did my inner self judge her so harshly?   I sat quietly and observed her.

She was a portly woman, likely in her late forties, and she wore a dark coat which reached her knees.  When she sat down, the coat raised up, revealing a dark pair of slacks.   Her wiry hair was piled on her head, in a sort of Aunt Bee beehive style (wait!  Is that where “beehive” came from?), and she wore thick glasses. 

Her pale sickly face had a sort of a “don’t mess with me” look about it: intolerant of the world at large.   I wondered if that was her public game face:  the face many Torontonians adopt when scurrying about in the big metropolis;  designed to keep all others at bay, especially those who walk up to us with those cute little stickers that they give us, prior to begging for money “for my kids and I”.

As the bus made several stops more, I watched the woman, who seemed entirely caught up in her own little world.  She must have been, based upon what she did next.

Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to obsess over our personal appearance:  we want our friends to tell us if we have bits of celery in our teeth, or a tag hanging out of the back of our shirt.  I recall a saleslady in a store pulling me aside to remove the size tag from the front of my shirt – for which I was grateful.  And how many times have you been found walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe?

Maybe you’ll recall the Jerry Seinfeld episode, where he was stopped at a stoplight, and he had an itch at the side of his nose.   In the scene, his model girlfriend was riding in a cab which pulled up next to him, just as he was scratching the itch.  She saw his nose action and interpreted it as something a little more gross – and the story went downhill from there.

Well that’s exactly what the woman did.  Or so I thought.  She appeared to be scratching just on the inside of her nostril.  

However, all doubt was removed when suddenly she went in, knuckle deep and began to dig.

I felt myself frowning in awed disgust.   It was like a traffic accident – I could not look away.

After she was done digging, she put her hand down to her slacks, and rubbed off the residue on them.  My horrified frown deepened.

“Ugh.  That’s horrible.  At least it can’t get any worse”, I thought.

I thought wrong. 

I watched, fascinated as she used her other hand to enter the opposite nostril, and began to root around like she was looking for spare change.   This time, she pulled something out, and rolled it between her fingers.

I could feel my whole face contracting, almost in pain.

And then…..(I’m not even joking here – I’m a grown man, and don’t participate in juvenile jokes, which this was beginning to resemble)….she ran her gooey hand through her brittle hair.

The penny dropped.  The last straw hit the camel’s back.  My last nerve pinged like a broken guitar string.

I looked out of the dirty window, and nodded.   “Yup”, I thought.  “That’s about right.”

And then – I couldn’t help myself – I burst out laughing.

It was her nose.  That’s the first thing I noticed.

The night was bitterly cold.  I had debated going out into the miserable weather at all.  However, a few weeks prior I had committed to supporting a friend who was doing a comedy taping for a TV show that night.  It was a long way away in the labyrinthine streets of Toronto:  if you were going to get there by public transit, there were a few connections that were necessary to observe: bus, subway and then streetcar.  I hadn’t realized the bitterness of the night until ascending the stairs from the subway to the street.   The snow-covered slippery steps provided the first clue.  The second clue was the wind that bit sharply and suddenly at my nose as I ascended.  Halfway up, I stopped, hesitated.   “Do I really want to do this?”   I could only think of the warmth of my apartment.  So attractive, so inviting.

Guilt and a sense of missing out provoked my feet to continue the ascent.  The wind at the top of the steps made me hesitate again.   I pushed forward.  A year or so ago I had learned the value of “the flinch”:  whenever you observe an obvious moment of flinching, that’s the time you should push through it.  If nothing else, it proves that you are the author of your fate, not discomfort or the unsureness of novelty.   I flinched and pressed forward.

At the corner I found the streetcar shelter, and noticed immediately that it was fully occupied.  The wind picked up and I had to turn my back to it to endure it.  I could feel the cold on my arms, and my teeth began to chatter.   The value of committed friendship began to diminish.  “I won’t be the only to one to miss this” I thought, my brain struggling to rationalize my gnawing decision to turn back home.

Suddenly a couple left the shelter.  Evidently they had decided the streetcar was taking too long.   I quickly jumped into the shelter to take their place, to escape the wind.  It seemed too late though:  a chill had set in and I couldn’t see my way to warmth, not at all.  I had all but decided to head back to the subway when I saw her.

My breath stopped.  It was only a glance.  I turned away from her quickly, the way you do when you see a skittish kitten, hoping it doesn’t notice that you’ve noticed it.  The flashing glance revealed so much:  she was tiny, she had a delicate nose, her hair was blonde, and her blue eyes were wide behind gold-rimmed glasses.  For a brief moment I wanted to truly get away and go home – not because of the cold, but because she represented a challenge that I was sure was beyond me.

There it was again:  the flinch.   I had programmed myself to face the flinch and so my feet remain rooted in that cold streetcar shelter.  I faced the east, the better to keep an eye on any approaching transit vehicle, and coincidentally, to allow me to glance very occasionally in her direction.   I noticed she was be-bopping to music, and it was only then that I noticed she was wearing earphones.   She was holding a pizza box too, and was looking in the same direction for the delayed streetcar.

Another couple tried to make their way into the shelter, so I attempted to oblige them by moving to the back of the shelter, squeezing in next to the girl.   At the last moment, they decided they didn’t want to come in after all, so I stepped forward again with a puzzled shrug.  I glanced back and noticed that the girl smiled at my unconscious reaction.  I returned her smile and turned back to look for the streetcar again.   Strangely, the wind and the cold ceased to exist.

The streetcar eventually arrived, and it was packed with riders.  We all struggled to get on and to find a place.  The girl and I stood next to each other, her with her pizza held up in order to avoid hitting anyone’s head.  She was so tiny, and she had to reach so high to keep the pizza aloft.  I debated asking her if she wanted help.   The city has its own unspoken rules:  strangers tended to send up walls against each other, insulating each of us from the crazies and the creepazoids.  It was self-evident and understood:  you just don’t talk with anyone.

It was stupid too, and I was short-sighted in my unconscious acceptance of this protocol.  My mouth remained shut and I didn’t offer to help her.

A dozen blocks down the road, the streetcar driver blew into his microphone.   “Ladies and gentlemen….blah blah….need to turn at Drew St. If you want to get to….blah blah…you should get off here.”

The girl removed her earphones.  “What did he say?  Did he say something about Osslington?”

He had.  I said so.  “Yeah, we have to get off here and walk if we want to get to Osslington.  That’s where I’m going.  Are you?”

She nodded.   “I hate this system” she said.  “It’s always something isn’t it?  They always want you to get off before your stop and wait for the next subway train or the next bus.”

“Or they expect you to walk several blocks with a cold pizza” I added.   She laughed.

We got off and walked together in a companionable silence.

There was no past.  No future.  Just the present.   We talked.

She was from Cape Breton, on the east coast of Canada.  That explained her ignorance of the Toronto Protocol.  She was friendly and open.  A refreshing and welcome change from the norm.  I learned that she was taking a silversmithing course and that she was artistic.  Like me.

We only walked a few blocks when I reached my destination.  I gave her my name and she gave hers.  I said “I’d ask you for your number but I hardly know you”.  Trying to be cute and funny and achieving neither.

She laughed uncertainly and walked off to wherever she was going (I never learned the destination of that pizza).   I turned the corner, aware of a lost opportunity.

“Oh well”  I thought.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had succumbed to one final flinch.  The flinch that kept me from going back after her and saying “you know what?  I was being a doofus.  If you’re free I’d really like to get to know you better.  As cliché as it sounds – I’d love to have a coffee with you.  What do you think?”

The universe has provided second chances before.  In a city of millions of people, I’ve seen it happen before.  Maybe it will again.

I hope so.

I sat there, in the dark movie theatre, surrounded by hundreds of patrons at a sold-out playing of “Les Miserables”, squirming uncomfortably.

When you’re not used to openly showing emotion, this movie is painful to watch.

If you don’t know the story of “Les Mis” you shouldn’t read further:  spoilers abound.  Many theatre-lovers have seen the stage production at least once.  Many – like me – have seen it multiple times, which is the only reason I feel comfortable using the story to illustrate something.

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone about the story of Christ and his crucifixion.  The question was specific:  why?  Why – if the story is true – did it need to happen?

Years of church-going and catechism knowledge could have provided an easy answer.  But it wouldn’t be logical – it would be rote repetition.  I think this movie brought me a little closer to an understanding.  Perhaps not all of the way though.

In “Les Mis”, Inspector Javert pursues a prisoner who has broken his parole, by the name of Jean Valjean.  The latter serves as the protagonist in the story; a man who was convicted of stealing bread to feed his sister’s children.

Throughout the story (and there are many subplots – this is only one of the main ones), Javert pursues his charge with the ferocity of the truly righteous.  There is no variance with him, no nuance.  Things are either good or evil, black or white.  There is no room for maybe, for grey, or for any other colours.  Javert is immune to the notion of mercy, or of pity.  Those who do wrong are to be despised, without exception.  He labels them confidently as gutter rats and scum.  The only motives for such despicable creatures are entirely selfish, whatever their objection, whatever their explanation.

Later in the story, Jean Valjean saves the inspector’s life.  When revolutionaries want to kill Javert, Valjean intercedes, begging permission to kill him himself.  Instead of doing so, he tells him to flee, and then fires a gun so that the revolutionaries think he’s done the deed.   Incredibly, and still full of his self-righteousness, Javert promises to hunt him down anyway.   Valjean understands and says “we’ll likely meet again”.

Meet again they do, and when Valjean asks for just an hour more, so that he can bring someone to the hospital, Javert points his gun and says “one more step and you’re dead”.  Valjean turns around and walks away with the injured man.  Javert doesn’t fire.  Instead he drops his gun.

He understands that he has shown mercy because he has been shown mercy, yet his righteousness – the thing upon which he has built his life – can’t parse it.  He can’t live with the dichotomy, and so he commits suicide – the ultimate despair.

The author has captured a truth about human nature.   How many of us, having read stories of criminal activities, have stated our heartfelt desire to visit retribution upon the miscreants?  I know I have.  This is perhaps one of the key human characteristics that separates us from the animal kingdom.  We have this keen sense of righteousness – a need to right the wrong, to achieve a balance.  We truly aren’t all that interested in fixing what’s wrong with the criminal.  What we want is payment.

It goes beyond a logical understanding.  It is visceral.  I assure you:  if anyone brought serious intentional harm to anyone I loved, I wouldn’t care what the reason was.  I’d want blood.  I’d want payment – even knowing that no amount of punishment would right the wrong, as if it never happened.  I’m guessing the same is likely true for you too.   It’s universal.  We understand it instinctively.

The thing is:  we also believe it to be true of ourselves.  We are our own harshest critics and judges.  Oprah once said that the thing all of her guests had in common was a belief that they didn’t deserve anything good in life.  Most of us know of women who continually go back to abusive mates:  the core of this is a belief that they somehow deserved the pain of those relationships.  It’s twisted and wrong, but it’s visceral again – and it takes counselling to break free of it.  Stephen Chbosky said “we accept the love we think we deserve”.  I think he’s right.

If there’s a word that describe’s Jesus’ life and teaching – other than life – it would be “freedom”.  He came to set men free (he said).  Free of what?  I think it involves freedom from the internal judge, the one that holds us back.  He said he came so that we could live an abundant life.  For years I thought he meant “after we die” – but he used the present, not future tense.

If there’s a God, and if he truly loves us as unconditionally as we love our own children, and so wants us to live according to our potential, instead of our perceived limitation, then something has to be done.  The crucifixion sort of answers that, to a degree.  Back then especially, there was a severe moral structure in place.   The old and new testaments are filled with Javert-types:  people for whom there are no shades of grey.   It was endemic in religion.

Back then, as now, people wanted to be seen as good, and so they subjected themselves to all kinds of self-inflicted punishments.  Many used whips on their own backs, not satisfied until they drew blood.  This practice still exists in places today.

I can think of no better way to bring a message of universal acceptance, where people could feel they they deserve a good life, then to set up the crucifixion story.  Jesus “paid the price” for all of our sins.  It’s pretty genius really.  If he has paid the price of our wrongs – according to our own human visceral sensibilities, which we ascribe to the universe and ultimately to God – then we don’t have to go around in abject guilt and self-recrimination anymore.

This is not to say we don’t suffer guilt still.  I know that we do.  It’s just that it’s unnecessary.   Again I come back to our kids.  We watch them make mistakes, from the first time they stumble when trying to walk, to getting into fights at school.  We don’t condemn them.  We’re disappointed – but that’s a different thing entirely.  At the end of the day we understand that these are all experiences for growth.

Maybe the message of “Les Mis” is that we need to give ourselves  a break.   One thing I know for sure:  if we are merciful to ourselves (and you know I don’t mean in a narcissistic way), then we are more likely to cut others a break too.

At any rate – Merry Christmas!

Sometimes you just have to speak up.

The oldest social rule is:  “never talk about politics or religion”.

There’s a reason, obviously.  Both topics tend to bring out the ogres in so many of us.

Never has that been more evident than in the recent American election.  Liberals and conservatives were both guilty of demonizing each other.  I don’t mean mild condemnation either.  I mean full-out balls-to-the-wall judgement and condemnation.

The bright spot in all of it was the number of undecideds who adamantly refused to be pigeon-holed into one mindset or the other.

I suppose at one point I was just as prone to demonizing those who disagreed with me as anyone else.  So it’s not like I can claim purity here.

Eventually you get to realize that the world maybe isn’t as black and white as you thought.  Kind of scary, isn’t it?  Undependable.  You want your villains to wear black hats, and your good guys to wear white.   You detest those guys with the multi-coloured hats (what?  You expected grey?  Grey is muddled and muddy and undefined.  Rainbow – besides being indicative of gay – is a little more invigorating and alive)

Recently someone close to me has introduced a thinker named Miguel Ruiz – in a book entitled “The Mastery of Love”.   He talks about the fact that we are subject to a hell of a lot of guilt.  Unnecessary guilt.  It comes from so many sources too.  Religion is a big one:  both Catholic and Jewish children are subject to it.   Fundamentalist Christians (Baptists, some Pentecostalists) believe that we are born depraved and icky and pretty stinking awful and that it’s only through the grace of a benevolent being that we have any worth at all.  And those who don’t believe in that benevolent being are utterly lost and depraved forever.

It doesn’t matter if they hold love in their hearts for others.  Or if they indulge in charity or look out for strangers.   They’re lost and depraved and so very very icky.  Probably beat up their cats too.

The dichotomy of atheists’ loving attitudes and what we were taught about unbelievers always bugged me on a subliminal level.  I learned not to question it though:  my mind decided that a lot of deception was involved and so I likely wasn’t seeing them as they truly were.

My mind was right:  there *was* deception.  It was an innocent one though, and one based upon a lot of wrong assumptions.

Assumption #1:  that any one man or religion has all of the answers.

So not true.  I think the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it, has indeed created a force for curiosity.  It’s how we grow at all.  It’s how we progress in the sciences.  Curiosity – the nemesis of the complacent and rigidly correct intelligentsia.

I think that a true appreciation of reality will result in a humble realization that it’s not possible to know everything.  Such paucity of assuredness fertilizes the ground of curiosity and questing.   When your feet sink deep into the sod of uncertainty there’s a heightened expectation of wonder.  A “what’s next?” that keeps your heart racing.

Assumption #2:  that those who think differently have a devilish agenda.

This assumption is born from a belief – not a fact – that one’s experience is normal, usual.  And so anyone who’s had the same experience as us necessarily must have evolved the same way.  It’s that core.  It seems to be visceral to a great number of people.

What if you met someone who didn’t have any of those preconceptions?  What if you met someone who had joy and not a whit of judgement toward anyone else?  Someone who was excited and joyfully apprehensive, looking for something great to happen?  What if that person infected you with his or her excitement?

You wouldn’t judge him or her.  Neither would I.

In fact, you’ve met such a person.  I’m positive that you have.  I know I have too.  At the time I didn’t know whether to believe she was real.  Maybe there was a screw loose.  Who goes around so happy all the time?   But then I realized she was real.  He was real.  He was curious, so he asked questions.   And he/she invited me to the party.

I remember sitting with such people, late at night, in a condo, with the music playing quietly as we drank and talked.  It’s so clear in my mind:  the moment was magical.  It felt like anything could happen.  There were zero prejudgments about anything.  Judgement wasn’t even on the radar.  We were, in effect:  People of the Moment.

That’s certainly my desired end state, for all time.  I have no tolerance for intolerance.  *grin*

I think it’s a worthy goal.   What do you think?