Thursday, July 29, 2010


Aren't the most prominent nightly news anchors and the sleaziest porn stars pretty much in the same position at this point in our warped media world? Turn on any American national newscast, morning or evening, and the female anchors seem to look exactly like any other triple-x starlet leering at you from a million and one 'illicit' websites. They both want you to tune in and shut down that part of your brain that responds to actual, complicated stimulation. Better to watch pretty people talking, no matter what it is that they are actually saying.

Who becomes a porn star? Who becomes a news anchor?

The former position, at least, has the novelty of what was once considered risque and is now deemed mainly mainstream. Performing that most intimate of acts, with strangers, for money, while being filmed, in order to be watched by other strangers. There are levels to this endeavor that form scaffolding within our psyches that wobbles whenever we try to walk across the various logistical explanations that come into play. More than money is at stake. One's soul, one's sense of self, one's relation to one's body -- all of these factors form the psychological backdrop to the face-in-ecstasy that is being faked for our pleasure. The danger involved may be fake, as artificial as the green grass on the fields within the steel domes of that other favorite American pastime, baseball, but danger is relative. The possibility of being exposed as a porn star tramp by one's own grandmother back in the generic gentility of midwestern America surely has a whiff of danger and excess that proves titillating for the most bored of transplanted California twentysomethings.

A newsanchor's job is, on the surface, bland and inoffensive. A pretty person reads the news. Who would aspire to such a position? Granted, we live in a world that does not exist outside of a screen. If you are not on it, you are not in it. The world has been reduced to that which we can flick and change at a moment's notice. Reality moves and grooves to the blunt touch of our index fingers. To be on that screen is to own a little slice of reality, no matter how fluid and impermanent such a position might be. Securing a nightly position in that world is akin to a queen sitting on her throne while her subjects listen obediently to every word.

One can never adequately enter into someone else's head, but think of the psychology of such an ambition: I want to have other people watch me talk about the news. How bizarre! To be a producer, to shape a story, to write it up and send it out -- this goal I can understand. Perhaps most CNN anchors do this nitty-gritty dirtywork as well? But to be an anchorperson, alone.

Even more interesting is the national characteristics inherent behind each pretty (or not-so-pretty-face) that smiles daily at us behind their plastic screen. In Canada, the women are usually pretty, but not gorgeous. On the BBC, the women seem as if they could be found at your local library, behind the desk, reminding you not to be late with your returns. Japanese TV personalities, I was told, often have exceptionally large ears, because that is deemed 'cute'. American anchors most often seem to have stepped off of a nudie film or the nearest plastic surgery clinic and into the comfy chair that holds their butt while they fulfill their life's ambition of being watched reporting on earthquakes and plane crashes before switching to stories about cute abandoned puppies finally having found a foam. A malleable personality bobs and weaves from tragedy to comedy with the turn of the head, the flick of the hair, the widening abyss of her smile.

In Grade 3 a teacher informed me that she could see me hosting the evening news one day. Even then, the notion baffled and perplexed me. Why would she think I would like such a role? I wanted to write, to be a motorcycle cop, to make movies. Was my true destiny to read the news?

Of course, even now, perhaps, somebody has randomly found this blog and is sitting reading these words and wondering why I think what I have to say is so desperately important that it must be read by strangers. I find that I can't answer that imaginary inquiry. All ambitions have roots in our psyche that our too tangled to unravel. YouTube channels are filled with videos of people giving comments on every imaginable topics, with insight far more substantial than these meager words.

Doubt creeps into my conscience. Who am I to scorn the dreams of others? I suddenly realize that both the anchorwoman and the adult actress are looking into cameras only asking to be seen. On a grander scale than most of us, but the intent is identical to our own daily wishes, and my own attempts at immortality: Look at me and I will know that I am alive. A face unseen is a face left dead. A shout without an echo is the saddest sound of all.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Consider a coin being tossed. One person has guessed heads. His opponent, having little choice, waits for tails. The penny or nickel, dime or quarter does its erratic dance. It rises up in an erratic, almost enigmatic arc. All eyes are waiting for its fall. Which each step as it descends, time not only seems to slow down but also fall down, as if fortune itself seemed destined to tweak time's pace and render it moot. The coin would fall at its own sweet rate, outcome be damned. The people are mere players in the object's own plan. When one's moral fortune rides on the end of a bet, theories of relativity gain force with their weight.

Between two, such a bet is a mere divergence. Imagine a flip simultaneously taking place all over the planet. Two sides (multiplied by three billion) facing each other and raising their eyes upwards. The end result will decide a bet; settle a wager; allow one to start while the other must wait?

How much money would this be, soaring through the same sky? Add up the currency and you have the concentrated input of a multitude of half-starved dreams. Who gets the ultimate balance of such hopes and desires? Which accounts will swell with the unearned pride of luck, chance's kindred soul, if not identical twin?

Shall we watch the coins fall slowly to earth? Some part of me recoils at the sight, as if they were beautiful birds whose wings' bring colours had faded and whose fate was sealed. If one can imagine all the coins in all the countries landing on all the hands stretched out to catch them, then what else can one conceive? A coin that can't stop flipping, I suppose. A coin that sways from head to tails and back again with a tempo that tempts the harshest of hearts. This luck shall be spread, such hijinks suggest. For if a coin cannot be coerced into choosing one side or the other, then perhaps time itself can be tempted to ignore its more outrageous demands.

A series of coins tossed end upon end, with observers on hand to watch and to wait. Billions of us, waiting it out. And waiting. And waiting. Perhaps it is best for the coins to hold sway. If the coins do not land, then luck has no domain or dominion. If the game cannot start, the game cannot end. If we watch and we wait and refuse to buy in, then who is to say whose coin shall be best?

Friday, July 23, 2010


A convoy of light blue cars, Cadillac in tone, glide through the streets. The drivers are impartial, blank-faced functionaries wearing dark black suits and plastic smiles. Seated on top of the back seats are older men and younger women, the men bald, the women with flowing blonde hair, middle-aged in texture, turning to gray even as this day bumps forward. Everyone is smiling the smile of the bored and the glum. Glumness is squeezed out of this forced joviality like toothpaste from a tube, bit by bit. Strutting beside the cars as they inch along the roads of the tow are dozens of gleeful, almost anorexic teenage girls, confident in their newfound, safe-for-consumption sluttiness, blonder by far than their mothers and aunts who sit in the cars beside them. Metal batons are twirled and caught. Then twirled. Then caught. Everything is repeated and nothing is forced. A natural, almost magnetic flow can be detected in the force field that surrounds this annual ritual, a shared understanding of roles and duties that binds and attracts as inwardly it repels and even disgusts. The high school marching band brings up the rear while its members watch the rears of the cheerleaders in front of them, thinking of what could poossibly arrive later on tonight, once the trumpets are shelved and the pom-poms are all arranged neatly in rows on the shelves of changing rooms that stink of sweat and farts and underarm deoderant smeared with human guck.

On the sidelines, the grown-ups take pictures while the children secretly wonder what this fuss is really all for. Does the brassy bold sound of the band's blatant boom, rising and falling with predictable oomph, make up for a day absent of games? Probably not. The older children's eyes, from age eight and up, stray from the scene and stare at the sky. Ice cream is eaten by overweight mothers who wish they were young. Their husbands stare at their families and wonder why the tushes of schoolgirls intrigue them so much.

The parade keeps moving on while all stand so still. Everyone expects a grand finale, a final push, an end to the march that will elevate their energies into something grander than middle-class pride. Instead the local furniture store has a float that breaks down with the burst of an overburdened tire. A boy and his sister sit on a couch and roll their eyes at their sudden misfortune. A punctured wheel has made them the sad spectacle of their friends and their foes. The rest of the parade can't help but move on, while they wait on a sofa, picking their noses and holding in burps, watching cotton candy sticks and half-eaten cones casually fall to the ground with heartbreaking splats.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Why are we constantly at war with our bodies? Or, if such daily skirmishes are not out-and-out battles, there is still enough of a remnant of mental shrapnel lodged within our fragile psyches to make us believe that a firefight has gone on somewhere between our brains and our limbs.

This morning I awoke at what I thought was my usual time, my correct time, one that operated according to is own reliable rhythms since my alarm clock fell to the floor a few days and thus was rendered, as the Greeks say, kaput. After my run I realized, while flipping on the TV: It's an hour later. I've lost an hour. An hour has been stolen from me, by myself.

For a moment or two I felt a sense of acute violation, if not actual betrayal, the way a wife must feel when coming across an unfamiliar scent on the collar of her husband's shirt. I've always relied upon my body to wake itself when necessary; I can't remember the last time it's failed me. (This 'it' referring to a strange and squishy conglomeration of blood and cells, neurons and veins that, apparently, from what I'm told from television, makes up the sum and total of 'me'.)

Not that my day has been rendered completely moot. Nothing much has changed. True, for the first time in four months I took a train that was later than my normal departure time; the faces of the people across from me were uniform in their sleepy, reluctant gazes. My legs felt slightly sore from my early jog, and my throat thirsted for chocolate milk. These are familiar, almost welcome sensations.

But a wonderful, wicked sense of bitterness crept out of my soul and into the world. I almost wanted to punish my body for failing my pride. Not sitting down would wound my limbs. Refusing to drink would inflame the ego of my thirst. Perhaps I could teach my cheeky body a lesson, punish it for sleeping in that extra hour. Within me the spirit wants to play a dangerous game of give and take with the flesh that houses its essence.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Perhaps heat is not the antithesis of cold but rather its antagonist. Imagine, if you will, life as an element -- a brazen force of nature that emerges from an existence unknown to even itself. Alternating its state as a less-than-sentient-being with a powerful, driving extremity that precisely, almost diligently slaughters all in its path like a laser run amok. Heat and cold, light and dark, wind and snow: all arbiters of our own daily temperments. We enter into their extremes not against our will but rather against our better judgement. A sane person would do everything in his power to exist in a realm where conflict is minimized. Instead, we step out into that darker world only to hurtle down jagged slopes with hunks of wood strapped to our legs. We swim into filthy water to rise above it on equally fragile chunks of timber. Nothing stops us from pursuing our own entry point into ego and the bottomless desires of our rather bland consciousness, where 'fun' and 'folly' coexist as equal partners in our endless quest for the novel that is new without being disturbing. Is it any wonder that I wonder about nature's fiercest forces doing battle with each other while we frolic amidst their raging skirmishes, as if the elements themselves were mere obstructions to our own eventual, inevitable, entitlement?

Put another way: the rain looking at an umbrella. Would the rain, if consciousness were contained within the DNA of each and every drop, tremble in senseless fear at such a device, or would its individual droplets of laughter reach such a hysterical level of uncontrollable mirth that the collective sound of a billion raindrops laughing in unison shake our sense of nature itself? Think of it! A storm execretes its forceful, prideful burst of water. We attach a flimsy barricade supported by metal (or plastic! ) as a kind of cone which will keep us dry so as not to stain or soil our precious leggings. The same rain that falls on the top of Mount Everest and eventually sinks to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, where it floats around inside of sunken ships where wartime skeletons lay so still, also must bounce off of the top of a Japanese schoolgirl as she rushes to meet her friends at McDonald's. Can we blame rain and wind, air and snow for getting bored with the frivolity of our lives! Even the elements need some lusty sexual thrust to their existence on this earth.

Which I is why I see such natural, ostensibly benign forces turning against each other -- heat resenting cold, snow sneering at sleet. Each imagining the other to be weaker in texture and frailer in tone. One can glimpse daily battles in the sky, the ground, the ocean, the field. Where apples fallen from trees have not fallen, but been pushed. (Bland brown bark fiercely jealous of the shiny red that glows so bright.)

I fear that a certain apocalypse is arriving on a daily basis. (Or perhaps it has been here since the first ray of sun angrily forced its way through the most stubborn of clouds?) One that humans, in all our useless egos, will not even suspect, let alone detect. We watch the night ram the sun into submission and think: Of course -- such is the way of life. Fall sucking summer's sweet nectar dry makes us mourn our own lost weekends, but what of summer itself? Who mourns for its complete eradication? When the wind whistles at my window tonight, I will wonder if it is taunting or pleading.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Even nature has its muses. The weed looks up to the flower. The flower admires the tree. The tree, with all its many-branched attempts at pseudo-superiority, secretly feels inferior when glimpsing the occasional plane soaring past what had once been thought of as its own private, ultimate height. (The tree is not aware that the plane exists separate and above from nature's plan. Faced with such knowledge, confronted by that metallic evidence, who could guess if an oak would topple with the unfair indignity of it all?) Even the sky sometimes seems to want something more. Can it spot outer space a world away? The creativity of the cosmos finds itself at work in the ego of the plant and the dirt, the grass and the twig. One supports the other like a teammate who covertly desires the better player's place on the team. Secretly one suspects that the strange, melodic hissing one sometimes hears in the country at night, spreadout and sourceless, is actually an accumulation of nature's envy, each blade of grass and drop of water diligently moaning against the burden they equally share in each other's growth.

Monday, July 19, 2010


When I was in high school I wrote a story about a shadow that steps away from its host and forms a life of its own. An entity that created havoc in the lives of all who dared cross its murky, ephemeral path. Much carnage ensued. Perhaps. The details are vague, and, dare I say it, shadowy in my mind. Adolescence itself often becomes a shadow from our past that cloaks itself under the black weight of its own dimness. What matters is that the shadow was evil, as shadows are often assumed to be, much the same way that a snake is a source of slithery dread, no matter how indifferent it may actually be to our nervous human lives.

Yesterday in the dazzling sunshine of a Japanese afternoon I spotted a shadow on the street, silently, blatantly stalking me, reminding me of that tale written long ago. Suddenly things became halfway clear in my memory, the way that a car at night is lit -- but dimly -- when one opens the door and sits near the wheel. I remembered my fourteen year old self walking down the long street that led to my house, the night dark and moon-free, passing under streetlamps,
seeing my shadow brilliantly lit against the night. Such a spooky sight! Thinking of it now, decades later, a country away, in daylight in place of night, only added to the eerie distance that lengthens our lives.

I suddenly felt oddly at peace with that shadow. After all, it had kept me close and held me tight for years on end, when much else had fallen aside in the inevitable refuse of time. Day or night, it slinked by my side. What could be ominous about such a loyal, cordial companion? Had its mere darkness given rise to the bigot lying at the base of my soul? It was but myself, mirrored dim. Faceless, featureless, a sideways-thin cutout that never bled solid. A benign reflection of what I always was.

But I felt my fourteen year old self's thoughts clattering around the container of my skull. Such a shadow was not to be trusted. Darkness visible led to darkness tangible. The black without mirrors the black within. There is a reason why we fear that which we cannot touch. Run!

Picking up my pace, I almost believed it could be left all behind. I could outrun my shadow, leave it gasping and panting on the sizzling grey pavement. Slice it in pieces by my quick narrow strides. What was key was what was impossible: to not check for its presence. By tilting my head and moving my eye, I was affirming its existence, and we all suck on the teat of affirmation, shadows included. As soon as it spotted my eye looking left, its force would increase with confidence and glee. I had to stare straight ahead and hope it would fall. By the time I reached my small place and shut tight the door, took off my shoes and wiped down my brow, the shadow was gone. Artificial illumination left nothing but a bulb's blatant glare, yellow and welcoming. I knew that if I stepped outside even then, the shadow might be waiting, but I was sure I'd left it to die on the street like a dog. I opened the door, a little, a squidge, to quickly glance at what might be left. I shut it before seeing anything. Some things are risks not meant to be broached. Soon night would be here and the shadow would have less places to rise.

A handful of streetlamps line the road near my home, but I would not walk under them that warm summer night. Shadows know where we walk, and prey where we move. If I was inside, and still, the shadow would fail. My high school self was right. Shadows are not to be trusted. Tomorrow I would have to leave the apartment once again, but if it rained through the night the clouds might still serve as the sun's moving buffer. Outwitting the shadows is a game I can play.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Imagine a man obsessed by collecting it all. 'All' being everything. 'Everything' being the sum of everything that has yet to be subtracted from the earth. He would wander the deserts to be found all over the globe, putting tiny golden grains in jars made of glass. Enough deserts to dry one's soul and make millions of mirages your endless true friend.

Once the deserts were emptied and the land made but barren, he could turn to oceans and rivers, seas and lakes, ponds and streams and the water from faucets. There is a limit to everything, he believed, and if he was patient enough, such beliefs would prove true. Once all of the water was put in tiny plastic bags, dwarf-size in heft, he would stand under the heavens and wait for the rain. Eventually even clouds got tired of unleashing their spew. He would outwait the weather until the weather gave in.

Pennies and peacocks, aspirin and insects, malted chocolates and craven husks of corn all twisted in shape. These, too, he would put away. Eventually, there would be nothing left but his body himself. He would turn inward. Attack the cancer that ravaged his soul. Stop those cells from dividing. Destroy them at their desperate true source.

And when the cancer was gone, he would wait for its return, its comeback, its ascent from oblivion into where it once went. Peeking into all its familiar haunts like an exile come home, he would nab those dark cells with the force of his will.

Deep inside of himself he feared this would fail. Everything physical could finally be held, but cancer itself seemed devious and sly. A shape-shifter whose intent matched its cunning black skill, ephemeral in scope, limitless in style.

Once the land was all empty and the oceans all dry, he knew the limits of failure would render him still. Immobile. Almost paralyzed. For failure was what the disease would bring forth, a tangible spring from which all else sprung high. He would have to put his physical tools to the side to begin, focusing only on the psychic descent which would let him take hold. If he could dwell in those spots where cancer was born, allow himself a comfort that others would flee, perhaps he could dig up what noone yet dared. The one single cell from which all cancers split. In a jar in his room or a room in his mind, in which all could come see, to mock and to jeer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


A pink the pink of a girl's summer dress unfolded itself across the sky just before five, and I couldn't help but wonder if otherworldly beings in alien civiliations look at their own morning skies and think similar thoughts. One would hope that not all extraterrestials are slimy, slithery green monsters intent on the destruction of all races absent their own; if other worlds have life (as I suspect they must), then such lives must reach for emotional heights as high ourselves, no?

Unless, of course, their intelligence has yet to reach our intimidating levels of insight and comprehension, which a scan of the evening news programs will tell you is neither a level nor low, but a little of both -- random facts spewed by pretty people whose content we grasp but whose meaning is unclear, swayed by whichever advertisers are aiming at the particular demographic that this network covets so fiercely, like a perpetually greedy child on an endless Christmas morn. Aliens beyond the edges of our own universe may still be slinking themselves out of the ocean and onto the beach; they may be bacteria splitting into other, uglier cells. Not even being able to dream of the day when they, too, can dress up so well to sell stuff so bland.

Easy to imagine the opposite -- that their souls have grown past the point at which ours have plateaued. Scienticially, they may have already solved the problems that vex us still; spiritually, they may have found their own spirits alive and intact, or determined forever that no soul exists.
Or perhaps they are more like us than we would like to consider. Something in between a crayfish and a celestial angel. A being that lies on the beach and stares up at the stars. One that wonders if anyone else is out there, up above, and, if they are, if that should change what they do down there, on their own daily tread.

Imagining the daily, domestic life of alien reverts the mind into sci-fi cliches -- ray guns and warp speeds, flying saucers and squeaky voices. Attempting to enter their inner lives takes an imaginative leap of logic and faith that is equal to the endeavour one would have to do to fully understand your neighbour next door. (Almost impossible!)

Should the day come when our ritualized,televised morning awakens us to the flat, high-definition sight of an alien aircraft landing in Washington, much will be made of missle defense and ploys being planned. What do they want? Why are they here? All legitimate, even essential questions. I will think different thoughts, remembering the sky from this morning, its pinkness so bright. I would wonder if similar thoughts are common to all, on this star and others.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Into our room the two of them enter, the young one and the old one both babbling away, our past and our future united as one. At first one blames the room's poor acoustics for what little is heard -- low, muffled, indistinct tones, like notes on a piano that's slowly being tuned. Gradually comes a strange sort of relief when it is clear that neither the room nor, more importantly, oneself are at fault for this lack of comprehension. The others themselves are speaking much nonsense. (Oh, how good it feels to blame someone else!)

The boy is not more than two, if even that, and his words are a motley mixture of the real and the fantastical, one syllable guffaws giving way to extended monologues only he seems to get. (And how he so clearly enjoys revelling in his own private realm. His laughs and his giggles splitting his own tiny words into two, three, even four separate parts, so that what finally emerges is a nonsensical stream of spittle and sounds.

His much elder comrade in nonsense fares not so much better. The child's high-pitched patter is substituted by the elderly man's guttural grunts, but the pitch is the same, and the pace is as quick. It is as if the old man is eager to get it all out, clarity be damned. He, too, has bubbles of spit playing games on his mouth. There is a melancholy undertone to this sloppy style. Surely he must know that what he says is not being heard; his eyes' vacant gaze suggests a deep inner wound. A long life of dialogue replaced by a monologue -- is that wound enough?

The boy doesn't mind. Something within his young sensitive mind unconsciously goads him to keep spouting forth blab, for good or for ill, at that age who cares? Eventually, all will laugh at his witty few words. Months and years of conversation await, and soon all will know what you say and you mean.

From my privileged vantage point at the side of the room, looking at the old man, I glimpse no similar voice whispering in his tired mind. While the boy is thinking thoughts that have yet to take root, the man's firm foundations of belief and intent have already been uprooted. (Time will do that, no?) He is scrambling for words that have long passed away. What's left are mere fragments that can't mesh as one. While the boy is continually adding, something, everything, is being subtracted from the man's aging soul. He would think this a tragedy if he were aware of its indifferent intent, but his mind is a mold of the sea and the plain. Raging waters are replaced by the quietest, widest flatland, like the prairies he once drove through while heading out west. Words can't help but drown in that water and get lost in those fields.

Still. In this spare room, amidst such unlikely companions, can another, larger force be detected? For words are but hints of what hearts truly want. Perhaps this underlying desire desire for communion can tell us what sloppy speech obscures.

Let me out! the boy shouts.

Let me in! the old man pleads.

A primal, potent need to be heard by both that must come from somewhere near.

Let us leave this room quietly, while they're still chatting freely. I'm sure they will part, and only one will remain. (I won't dare say who, but I'm sure you can guess.) We'll shut the door softly, and tiptoe away. Soon that young boy will start to make sense, and most of that innocent infant charm will be gone. Before long that old man will stop speaking for good. The words will have faded forever.

Perhaps some cosmic exchange is at work. The young feed the old with their knowledge and letters. In return, what is given so freely must now pay its price. A psychic system of bartering that makes humans flow. Energy exchanged never dies; it merely changes form. One withers while the other grows tall.

If we walk down the hall at a slow steady pace, we might just hear an electric undercurrent beneath their strange words, the strike of a spark that spreads a fire both will set.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Picture a boy right out of Rockwell, American in tone, Japanese in technique. Scene from the street, sitting at his desk, the window his frame. A child's messy plan sprawled out in front of him: pastels and pencils, papers pens. The bare, skeletal, fragments of a mobile something-or-other yet to be built. His tongue sticks out of his mouth in that form of universal concentration that spans across cultures and must be implanted within us from above upon birth.

Somebody should be painting this, I thought, walking by, glancing quickly. (Staring into anyone's home is an oddly intimidating moment. One feels somehow responsible for an open window and a desk too close to the edge of outside. Especially in Japan, where everything is at odds with itself and each other, people and buildings bisecting each other until humanity merges with train lines in flux.)

Would Norman Rockwell have been up to the task? That essential chronicler of a midwest America that may not exist? Or, it it ever did, such a time and quite the place it must have been! One where innocence at play and adults at work somehow coexisted in a common sense of balance and trust. To extend such a midcentury metaphor of decades gone by to the Japan of today seems somehow strained, mostly because an atom bomb from the forties inevitably enters any discussion of America and Japan, no matter how long one changes the topics and forces one's smile. (There are, after all, only so many topics to talk about. Even the trivial has its depths, eventually.)

Everything is amplified by these streets and this place, where American soldiers work less than a mile away from that little boy sketching his future with the chalk of today. Mere decades okay a big bomb went kaboom. It's not unreasonable to conceive that relatives of this budding artist or engineer felt their bodies burn quickly and their life slip away in such an explosion. And it's probably certain that Rockwell himself, or those from his clan, fought and died against the relatives of this selfsame child.

Oh, the reckless complexity of the past! Let it all stay dead and done, if you please. Let us watch a boy do a Sunday's good deed without considering all that has come and all that will follow. When Americans still occupy a land all its own, such concerns find their way to the front of the line. Race, and all its mysterious, ineffable irrelevance, makes me wonder why some are born here and others there. Why decisions decided by people long dead still make us sit up and look at her skin.

For now, I'll let the boy be, and let the questions of nations lay nestled in newsprint. If Rockwell had verve, it was in the life of the faces he drew with such care. They had a life beyond what we could imagine, and so does this boy I saw for a second. Even as I write these words, he is probably waking up and getting ready for school, downing his juice and packing his bag. The past has no concern for someone so young. He will step out of the frame that he does not know exists and enter his own little world of school play.

Monday, July 12, 2010


A young couple kissing their final goodbyes before parting is a lovely but lonely sight. When such an encounter occurs on a train station platform, we have moved from the realm of reality to that of a cinematic melodrama, but even melodrama has its roots in the rubic of life. Cliches are enacted wherever we go, and life need not be original or novel to force its effect. Watching this scene play out activates the voyeur in all of us, the original watcher that wants to observe. I pretend to be studying the schedule of trains hanging over our heads, but secretly watch as they play out a scene for which they are the stars and I am an audience.

One suspects that something is surely amiss, for lovers at rest rarely look so languid and dreamy as they loll about in one another's arms like pups at play. Trains move in and out of their station at their regular, Japanese clip, and the couple (for surely they are two) -- he, dark-haired, she, a blonde, his male to her female watch them go sadly and expectantly, for soon such a car will subtract one and leave the other behind.

They continue to hug and hang off of each other, but the tone shifts, the levity gone, their former play replaced by a desperate embrace that reminds one of mourners at a funeral wondering what will come next. She slowly rubs the back of his skull in soft little circles, as if his stomach is painful and she holds the cure. In their t-shirt and shorts they could be any young lovers going for a carefree day out in a city not their own, but their restless intimacy speaks of a sooner parting.

When the train for the airport finally arrvies, she holds him tight and kisses him deep. The doors open. She steps inside, staying close to him still. He starts to move away from the doors and the tracks, but she grins and waves him forward for one final kiss. For a long moment his face is between the railway line and her lips that are waiting. He crosses the gap. Kisses. Leans back. She smiles. I suddenly realize that they will see each other soon. There are no tears. There are no faces with the shock of one who's been slapped. Perhaps she is going back before him, or they will meet in ten days in another far land. Things seem better, somehow, as if a child that has fallen down somewhere has suddenly stood up.

The doors close, and she blows him the kiss of cliches and the truth. He watches the train leave in a rapid-fire rush, and I watch him watch. He is smiling slightly. He walks slowly away in the mid-summer heat.

I feel guilty and alone, knowing that I will write about this moment, and that whatever they are feeling will not be conveyed. I don't know their names, so that lessens any loss of pride that I feel by this breach of their privacy.

Even standing still, my shirt is scorched with sweat. I think that this entry will somehow ennoble their spirits, allowing them to represent all those who go, and all those who will stay. Absurd, grandiose thoughts.

He walks away, and I wait for my train.

Friday, July 09, 2010


When the players who take the pitch at the World Cup final in South Africa on Saturday nigtht are not wearing the flag of your particular country stitched onto the corner of their jerseys, a certain dispassionate interest, bordering on indifference, naturally takes root. This is not necessarily altogether a negative development. Since one's national pride is no longer (or had never been) at stake, one can develop a deeper appreciation or disillusionment with the game itself. One can be a North American and love soccer, or hate soccer, but surely that vast middle section of Canada and America (absenting Mexico) exists whereupon one can not work up a lather about a sport seen by so few and adored by even fewer. Thus watching the game at length during the World Cup tends to make one see why most of the planet pines for its holy structure, but such understanding inevitably leads to a disarray in one's sporting heart. Yes, the low-score creates a level of anticipation akin to a child at the circus waiting for the clowns to finally come out of their miniature car. Certainly, the no-time-outs maximizes the playing time and necessitates the absence of commercials -- no minor miracle in this advanced advertising age!

But what can one raised on hockey and baseball do with everything else about the game? Nothing specifically monotonous endgenders such lethargy. After all, one cannot play the sport for two years as I did from the tender ages of seven to eight without gaining a certain respect for the game's sense of space and time. As a halfback, I was a terrible player, as all children are, but I was the worst of the worst; I hung past the centreline and stared at the grass and thought about the oranges we would all eat at halftime. Sweet and juicy! Such was my limit of love for the game.

However, a game is a game, and all children love games, and all children grow into adults who remember that love, no matter how strongly they deny its primitive pull. So with Canada content to sharpen its blades while waiting for the winter hockey season to start, I can look forward to Spain taking the soccer world by storm, by hook, by crook. The stakes are suddenly high for me, as of late. An office pool randomly gave me Spain as my savior. More than ten dollars awaits. Has money tainted this beautiful game?

Only if I lose.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


An ambulance in motion is always a sight. Alarm bells within our souls suddenly start ringing when we hear that siren play its morbid, insistent tune. Rules are permitted to be slashed for the benefit of a life that is suspected of negligence. Traffic signals become an option for the able-bodied only, while ambulance drivers soar indifferently through colours lazily changing. Something thrilling to watch, this blatant disregard for a sacrosanct line we often don't cross. Red light, stop. Green light, go. Orange light, perhaps. Ambulance in front of all -- irrelevant. While we sit and stew and watch it go by in a blast of mortality.

And yet don't we sometimes blame the patient inside for altering the course of our own meager day? Perhaps they are to blame for their own special ill. The extra sandwich that trigged the chest to start leaking its pain. The trip down the stairs due to a distracted moment of afterglow bliss. A knife to the stomach or blow to the head can be forgiven, but our own futile natures?

An amublance at rest puts such thoughts to the side. Doors fling open. Gurneys are hastily pushed out, the people on top swaying this way and that. ('Gurney' Such an ugly, clunky word for a necessary conduit. One cannot find grace with such syntax. The very name itself implies a stodgy, ugly means of mobility. With words come emotion, and here we all fail.) A paramedic pumps one, two, three, one, two, three, while an oxygen mask lazily slips off of the mouth of a man too old to care. (Or so we would like to believe. More reassuring, is it not, to think that these last breaths of his are ones that mean naught? Until we are the ones lying inert and in pain. Watching others watching us die our little deaths. Oh, then we shall wonder how callous and cruel this species can be!)

There are dangers to living so close to a hospital. One constantly is greeted by the sad, lonely faces of people who once were so merry. Legs in casts welcome my days. Lips wrapped around cigarettes blow puffs in my face. Early morning runs bring mortality near, like a poisonous snake coiled ready to strike. And the sight of ambulances so often skirting our rules makes traffic itself seem tenuous and silly. Manmade order that masks disorder itself.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Surely silence has layers as nuanced as noise. The still in the room when a door has been opened speaks softly of loneliness and time long left out. Pauses in talks talk stronger than shouts. More can be learned from leftover air in an unopened vault. One would not think such examples could possibly compete with the shot of a gun or the snap of a finger. Abrupt, invasive sounds that stick like a pin into the skin of our lives. Our thoughts meander like wandering muses until something startles us out of ourselves and into another mode of apprehension. This shock strikes strong, but silence! Surely the sound of nothing at all can compare with the clangiest of clunks.

Were sound to be have been a manmade invention, would we have known it to hear it? A baby in the womb, shifting on its side and sleeping the sleep that only the unborn inhabit, could not wish such sounds to awaken his slumber. Ignorance of all things auditory may have been our original state. Only later, after birth, did we hear what we heard, but it may not have been in our celestial design for good or for long.

Perhaps man was not meant to hear. If the ear had developed in a different direction, sound itself would never be missed. Certainly the whisper of lovers, the tremble of fighters, the panic of the lost and the shrieks of the bereaved make our lives vital and taut, but have you ever turned off the sound of a TV and saw what was missed? Very little. Everything is clear. Nothing is absent except the extraneous. Hockey with sound is brutal and jarring; hockey in silence contains a tingle of grace. One could almost imagine that the deaf are the ultimate inheritors of God's true intent, and all of the rest of us are merely dead weight, hearing it all and listening to zilch.

To listen! Perhaps that is the point of the glut on our heads, the wings on the sides of our faces that stick out to the air like birds in a nest. Were we to wait for the rain to land in the puddle. Should we pause to tune in to the tempo of a tree's last branch as it bends and then sways and then falls to the earth. Could we but dwell in the laugh of a child's first chuckle. If such suspension were possible, then all would be music.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


One of the dirty little secrets hiding within the secret hearts of even the most dedicated of readers resides in the room designated as 'Unread Books'. Oh, the shame! To reach a certain age, to have lived a life centred around the printed word that leaps off of the page and onto our eyes and into our brains, and yet never to have sampled Remembrance Of Things Past! Or The Tempest! Or most of, the best of, Tolstoy!

Having delved deeper and deeper into Norman Mailer after an absence of a good many years, I was struck by his admiration of Tolstoy, with Harlot's Ghost, Mailer's masterwork, being deemed 'a modern day War and Peace' by one generous critic. (What the ungenerous critics proclaimed is better left silent.) Off to the bookstore I went, and out of the bookstore came me, arms stuffed with cheap editions of Anna Karenina and War and Peace and Moby Dick. (Not Tolstoy, no, but another honourable inhabitant of that 'Unread Book' domicile.)

Living in Japan often means spending the great majority of one's days standing on trains. You can either think, listen, or read. I prefer to read. One can read a lot on trains, if you get on early enough, when it's relatively isolated and empty, or in the middle of the day, when the rest of the Japanese world remains shuddered in office silence.

How odd! To be a Canadian, reading a Russian book from the 19th century, translated into English, while riding to work in Japan! And everything still somehow comes through. Across the centuries leap notions of logic and love, religion and sacrifice, that seem as modern, if not more modern, than the very relationships that prop us up at the beginning of this 21st century. Outside the second most successful economy in the world buzzes and hummes, and inside a metal tube I speed along, reading words that were written by a Russian gentlemen on pen and paper more than a hundred-odd years ago.

And how odd this is, no? I'm still amazed, if not grateful, for the mysterious nature of the written word, how one man's thoughts -- those ephemeral, intangible nothings that float about our brains! -- can somehow be rendered in little symbols that stab into my heart from across a distant time and space. Who declares telepathy mere fancy? And to have these letters than transmorphed into other letters from another language that signify something different -- but the same! -- so that the effect intended is the effect produced. I don't get it. But it somehow gets me, repeatedly.

More weeks of trainriding lie ahead, the tracks spreading out north, south, east, west, circling and enveloping and criss-crossing Tokyo and Yokohama like a wave of water that hems me in. If I can keep bringing onboard these metal contraptions my daily limit of words and paper, bound together, thoughts encapsulated and shot acr0ss time, I will remain happily trapped.

Monday, July 05, 2010


As the dazzling fireworks of the Fourth of July wind their way down to a black and crispy puddle of ash, I think of my day, Canada Day, July 1. I was here and they were there. Canadian, here, in Japan; Canadians, there, in Canada. Much beer was drunk, of this I am certain. Much exploding lights were seen across the sky, lighting and dazzling and doing what fireworks are supposed to do, while back at home, closer to the ground, level with the grass, firecrackers chased some kids and chopped some fingers.

I keep thinking of a little boy, in a small apartment, near where I went to school. York University, in Toronto, not far from Jane and Finch, probably the most crime-covered section of Canada (if you believe what you read, which I usually do -- to my detriment). He is probably black, an immigrant from the Caribbean, or the son of immigrants from somewhere else. Haiti, perhaps. Or he could be Vietnamese, or Chinese, or Thai. Lots of those folks there, too, in that cheap housing. Never seen much outside of Toronto, this kid. Never been north, to cottage country. Never been south, to the States. He's seen concrete and steel his whole life, even living near Yonge and Steeles, as if he needs any more affirmation that his world is a sterile one.

What does he make of his country, my country? I've been gone a long time; sometimes I wonder what to make of it, too. Does he know where we is? Does he get the country the way that I think I do? Are his dreams of lakes and waterskis, gangs and guns, a little bit of both, a whole bunch of neither? Should I care? Does it matter?

While America does what it does, Canada did what it did on July 1, and now has moved on. Hot dogs and burgers, pop and beer, chips and blunts. A day to chill and forget the rest of your life. What did that little boy in that rundown apartment do on such a day? And what will he do on each of the days from here on out?

Friday, July 02, 2010


Words! A puny arrangement of letters. Words! Sounds that link to other sounds that are thereby supposed to link to something that dwells downward within us. Words! Mere utterings of disgust and glory that somehow give a facile sense of self to the otherwise shifting currents of our psyche, that flowing river from which we can not ever cease to drown slowly but certainly as the banks of the current of our lives sit impassively watching.

Another arrangement of meaning needs somehow to be certified by the Human Enforcement Division of the Spiritual Faculty, because words are not enough. Words are futile. Words erect barriers against the protests that lodge within our souls like houseguests who refuse to leave an agreeable arrangement. Within our stomachs dwell instincts and outrages that need to be unleashed, but the closest compromise we can concoct with the darker forces within is this bargain of vowels and verbs, consonants and connecting phrases, poor substitutes indeed for the grammar of the heart that demands some form of empathy and instead is left with slogans and sales pitches. A pity, too, that I need words to express that which cannot be expressed. I am forced to use a paper and pen, a keyboard and screen, to rage against the limits of the psyche. Would that music suffice as a form of communication, perhaps we could all hum a little ditty that would put Balzac to shame.

Even learning another language does little alleviate such anxieties, for upon such education one is gradually made aware of the prisons that are erected in the linguistic territories of all states, not merely one's own. Everything is approximate. There is no 'rock', 'whale' or 'gadget', only sounds and symbols that conspire to give us a shadowy facsimile of the original. To study another language is to delve into the mystery of language itself, but once we climb our way back through the dirt and up the rabbit hole and into the fresh blue sky of our original tongue we realize that the gig is up, the game has been rigged, the jury paid off. Multiple folds of meaning do, indeed, give us creases in our consciousness, but the end result is a paper airplane made from stronger stock that nevertheless falls from the air just as quickly as your average five-year old's attempt at foolscap aviation. What remains on the ground after the crash is merely another pile of words, different from our own, but words nevertheless, while primitive growls within us rage against the gods that leave us one step removed from the animals we secretly suspect we still are.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


A small white arrow set against a light blue background. Pointing north. Or ahead. Or in the general direction of that which lies in front of me. (Trying to follow directions has always hindered my sense of proportion and offended my inner balance.) A sign to direct those who need direction. At the same as the sign is seen a black cat dashes across the street in front of me. Out of a movie and into our lives, such are the cliches that continue. If I go ahead, I follow the sign; if I move forward, I cross that path which the black cat has streaked in my (dis)favor.

The question then becomes one of belief, options, alternatives -- all the alliterations that enhance and frustrate our existence. To believe in a black cat is no more rational than believing that an eternal old man lives up beyond the sky, or that our lives are truly and actually our own, to do with as we please, others be damned (or blessed). Yet what sway superstitions have over our rational minds! I immeditately reconcile the irrational fears dwelling in the base of my stomach with the notion that that particular black cat is the beloved member of a Japanese family, who feed it and pet it and ignore it on a daily basis, and what misfortune has ever befallen them? (Should you know this particular family, kindly don't answer. I do not wish to know.) If one lives amidst the most basic of black magic, than such sorcercy ceases to wield any evil intent. This is what I would like to believe, so it is what I choose to believe. Black cats are members of families. Hence, therefore, ipso facto, they cannot, in our modern world, be the harbingers of a dark and dastardly doom.

(Unless it is an orphan, this cat. Cast aside simply because of its wicked, wicked glare, and all that that evil gaze signifies.)

So the sign is what remains, the white arrow on blue background. Is it metal? Plastic? I'm suddenly embarrassed not to know what street signs are actually made of, as if, at any moment, a young child will pop out of the darkness and ask me why the sky is blue, and where we go when we die, and what, or what, my distinguished elder, are street signs made of? To refuse to answer would be the anecdotal equivalent of slaughtering Santa Claus with an already-bloodied machete before the young lad's wide, innocent eyes.) Can one actually proceed when one does not know where one is going, nor what one's indicator actually is composed of? Better to brave the black cat and all its (possible) misfortune by turning 'round and heading home?