Wednesday, December 14, 2011


This morning's white-capped Mt.Fuji

boldy bisects the sky --

underfoot frosted grass, sprouting for its own peak.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


The homeless folk around here go down by the banks of the Tama River to die. That's what I thought. You don't see them often, but they do come out at odd times, usually underneath a Sunday afternoon's blue-sky veil. On the gray-gravel path a bicycle lazily leans against its own kickstand in a teetering balance that must last all through the night; a path made of tiny grooves in dark land leads away from the small scattered rocks and forms its own makeshift route that heads down to the dirt and cut grass arranged with what might look like some love; a few tattered green tents do their best to spite wind. I noticed all this gradually, in stages, on early-morning runs before work, when I'm still sleepy and dense. (This is my excuse.) Over a couple of weeks I started to put it all together, my own puzzle in pieces: the bike; the trail; the tent. I had thought they were all random, disconnected fragments of life that somehow collect and decay without any form or possessor.

One random morning I suddenly realized that these rusted old relics, those stone trails and ripped tents, were somebody's treasured, true things. Not talismans, but utilitarian gadgets that enabled some sway. I almost felt satisfied, the way one does after figuring out how to hook up the net after an hour full of false plugs. This was their home -- those two or three rough-looking dudes I'd seen the Sunday before last, talking in short static bursts, a warm weather laugh they'd seemed happy to share with no one each other. That was the first time I'd seen them. In the charcoal-sky before dawn, they must stay snug in their tents. I actually felt warm with my insight, like a child laying down on the living-room carpet while the sun through the window heats up his small grin.

My smug thought turned to: snug? Can a homeless person ever feel snug? I remember camping trips with my father, my dark blue sleeping-bag zipped up tight, the rain on the canvas a pitter-patter of beats that lacked a strong central rhythm. That rain was trying to arrange itself, I knew, into something consistent, almost an arc, but it was erratic, and I knew that because it lacked conscious motion it could not even recognize that this route would lead only to sad drips and slow streams of slight water. The rain always sounded that way, full of persistent dumb sorrow. It wouldn't get in. It couldn't get in. Our tent had no holes, no leaks or slight rips. I was, to be sure, snug. I doubt the homeless folk were. Snug, I mean. I had a home to return to, distant but soon. These dudes were down there for tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. I could beat the rain because I was already awaiting my exit. Homeless folk have nothing but entrances, and the rain, dumb as it is, can sneak through those every time.

Sometimes I thought: I should talk to them. Give them a bit of levity before they decay and get old. Allow them to josh with a foreigner, a raw bit of good mirth. They might get a kick out of me. A tale to tell. What the hell. Who can stay alive by themselves down by that stream for so long? Death could come for them at any moment, now that winter was close, their small camp no respite. My awkward dive into small talk might just give them a slight sense of chaos -- the 'gaijin' who came down for a chat and stayed for a drink. We all need that one bit of mad joy.

My dumb idea. One black morning I once again ran right by the bicycle, counted the stones on their path, caught a glimpse of the tent. I realized: At any point they could simply sneak away on the bike, take a jaunt for the day, find their way back down by the trail, and then crash for the night in their tent. Listen to the Tama River rustle and merge. Perhaps this is what they did, daily. The same way that I awake to my work and skededalled home when it's done. I had always assumed that they came down here to die. Now I wondered if they, like myself, were simply approaching a life.

Monday, October 24, 2011


First was the young man sprawled out face-up on the sidewalk. Staring at the stars, if he had been awake. Almost like an accident-victim, his contorted shape skewed in the pose of a man falling through air. Arms windmilling in vain, even more pathetic because his limp and spare parts were aligned on concrete. A late night, last night. More than enough to drink for one man. Best to rest on the ground by the side of the river. One can do that here, without fear of harassment from police or pickpockets. Just let them lay.

Next is the white-haired middle-aged man in a shirt the same shade, seated snug in his van, his trumpet stuck to his lips like a candy so sweet he can't bear to let go lest the sweetness dissolve in cotton-candy thin vapors. I can hear the music, his music, even through the shut door. He's not very good, is what I think. Ashamed at the thought. Who am I to judge? I played that same trumpet in high school a few decades ago. Whoop-de-do. Was even worse than him. Never once got up before sunrise to practice, let alone in a truck. There is something quite sad about soft music trapped in a car. On the road, in motion, the radio's frantic mad blare -- that's one thing. Live music practiced before work, by a man in his van. Windows rolled up. Wife at home, sleeping snug. Sneaking in a few beats before breakfast, and the lengthy train trudge into work. That's something else.

Finally: the old man strolling backwards, his strong arms rising up and then down as his path meandered behind him. What did he hope to find, walking this way? Was he trying to reverse the years in some awkward form of retreat?? Always looking ahead, but each step, receding. I've never tried it. Walking backwards for more than ten steps at a time. Takes a certain kind of confidence. Knowing that you won't be tripped up by the path that waits past your own sight. He's rewinding himself, is what I thought. Somewhere, miles away, if I just watched his slow shuffle, I'd see him gradually become forty years old, and then twenty, and then five.

They seemed almost placed there. Plucked for my own amusement and awe. I had a mad thought, as I slowly jogged past them. One of those thoughts that one has when sleep is still a cousin to dreams. I would pull the young sleeping drunk man up by his arms and slap him awake. The middle-aged musician, I might knock on the window and bond with, sharing stories of trumpets and spit-valves only waiting to be emptied. The old man walking backwards, I'd join for a small chat as we both briskly walked back to where we both started out. The four of us, together. I'd convince them to join me. We could escape this whole world before the sun even knew what was up. Go on the road. Put together some sort of a show. People would pay a few thousand yen to arise before dawn just to watch us meander around endless wide sprawls of river. I'm not sure what they might get out of it. Maybe what I did. Bemusement. An odd intrigue. Even some kind of small, morning joy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The cook at the little Indian joint right across the tracks from Nakano-shima station asked me if I could get him a Canadian visa. This was while he was making the nan that I had ordered just a moment before. He had arrived here three years ago from Bangladesh. I told him that I knew a Bangledeshi fellow who ran an Indian place not unlike this when I lived in Phnom Penh. I don't own this, he said. I'm just a cook. When I asked where he lived he smiled a sad smile and pointed to the floor up above. Travelling thousands of miles from his wife and three kids, all for the grand goal of schlepping his way through the day in a little restaurant the size of a halfway decent living room. Waiting for that sweet bread to bake, he told me that he wanted to go to Canada, with the visa via me, if possible. Could I do that for him? I smiled and nodded. That's what I do when I don't know what the hell to say. I don't know what you do.

Same thing happened a few weeks ago in the Philippines. A cab driver, hearing of my frigid home country, politely asked if I could sponsor him for a Canadian visa. This was after thirty seconds of small talk. Can you get me away from here, is what he was saying. Essentially. You are from a place that has money, and I have no money, or not enough, so please: Give me a break, pal. I smiled and nodded. (You know the deal by now, right?)

Two different countries, a few weeks apart, two different workers working gruelling, shit-paying jobs, and the same request offered to an embarrassed Canadian. One was cooking my food; the other was taking me around town.

Thinking of it in those terms, I feel an odd pinch of shame. As if they are my slaves of some sort. Cooking for me. Driving me here and there. A Bangladeshi. A Filipino. Catering to a rich Canadian.

Of course, I'm not rich (except compared straight with them, and so maybe I am?), and while the Bangladeshi cook was asking me to get him to Canada I said a little soliloquy to myself -- that I, too, am far from home, working in a strange land to pick up some small coin. Didn't work, that interior monologue. I don't know much about Bangladesh, except that it's far, far from the Mayberry-like childhood I once knew and loved. It's also poor, an offshoot of Pakistan, and crowded with millions of folks even more poor than this chap. (I also learned from this gent that Pakistan and Bangladesh are not the closest of friends. Bangladesh and every other country? No problem. Bangladesh and Pakistan? Let's not go there.)

I took my nan and paid him and said goodbye and didn't mention the Canadian visa to him again as I headed out that small door. Same way I didn't mention it to the taxi dude a few weeks ago in the Philippines when I stepped out of his car. Everybody wants to go somewhere, I tell myself. I can't carry on my shoulders a weight I will drop. I can't give you an entrance to my homeland when my own exit is cloaked in these shifting small doubts. Such are my internal whispers when asked for a leg up. (We all have to tell ourselves something to make the day fair.)

Monday, August 08, 2011


As far as I can figure out, the only real reason to read anything that anybody's ever written is to either a) learn something new about the human condition that you've never quite conceived of before in exactly those terms, or b) nod your head in recognition at a finely-tuned observation, one that you've long held for yourself, but that you never suspected others, too, might find valuable, even precious.

Here's a paragraph from presidential historian Doris Kearn Goodwin's memoir WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR, a coming-of-age story combining her bittersweet memories of both baseball and a Brooklyn youth:

...The Rockville Centre Public Library became one of my favorite buildings in town. When my mother weasn't feeling well, she would send me to the library with titles of books she wanted to read. Since I now had a card of my own, I took great pride in checking out her books as well as mine. In those days, each book had a sheet glued to the last page on which the librarian stamped the due tate and cardholder's number. It was possible to count how many others had read the same book. I liked the thought that the book I was now holding had been held by dozens of others; it made me sad for both the author and the book when I discovered that I was the only one to take a particular volume off a shelf for months or even years...

I've never been to Rockville Centre Public Library, of course, but I may as well have, for I, too, used to greedily scan that final sheet of paper glued to a book's lonely last page in my high school library at Laura Secord Secondary School. I could see into the past via that card's (usually) lonely list. I, like Ms.Goodwin, also felt a little bad for the author and book, but I was more interested in those that had read it, who'd held it, who'd sniffed its small spine and drunk in its great musk. (If you don't sniff books upon reading, frequently and with no shame, you're not a real reader to me. "You're dead to me, Fredo," as Michael Corleone tells his brother in THE GODFATHER PART II. Fine, I'm not that intense about it, but still: You should snort books. I used to believe that Country Time Lemonade was the nectar of the gods, but I think the smell of books, either brand new or quite old, comes close.) Names of students I'd never meet, now middle-aged men, were still right there in red ink, forever fourteen. Once, I even stumbled upon the name of a family friend who had attended my school in the early years of the Seventies. There he was! Just a kid, like me! He had held this same book in his hands, checked it out, thumbed through it on the bus before I had even been born. Years later, at age seven, upon learning that I, too, played the clarinet, as he did, he would give me a private lesson in my backyard. Years later, at age fourteen, I would flutter the pages of a book he had held in his youth. And in those ensuing decades, only five, six people had taken out this book. It had sat there, miserable.

Where were they, I wondered? Those kids, just like me, who had checked out this same tome? Did they make it intact into adulthood? Had some of them been lost in car crashes, or had they flunked out of school? (I couldn't decide which was a scarier fate.) Were they happy? Did they still read? I imagined choosing a name at random, looking them up in the phone book, giving them a ring:

"Hi, you don't know me, but I'm a student at Laura Secord, just as you once were, and I happened upon a copy of (INSERT TITLE HERE), and the flap at the back states that you checked this book out on February 21, 1974, and I'm wondering: Do you remember this book? Do you remember this school? Are you happy with your life?"

I never made such a call, of course. Didn't have the balls. What a weirdo, they'd think.

But I still think about all of those books that I checked out of that library's narrow walls. Are they still there, rimrod straight at attention, with that sheet of small white glued so tightly in back? Is my adolescent scrawl still quite clear? Does any teenager pick up a book I once read, look at the back, even fleetingly, and wonder why, in the early nineties, I, a mere name on a list, wanted to give that ragged paperback book a fair chance? Does he or she wonder where I, a complete stranger, am in my life, and if they, too, will make it that far?

Monday, July 11, 2011


Is there greater proof of our own finite span than a sunburn's red sting? Skin in itself, we rarely give it much thought. The occasional itch. The glance in the mirror each morning, to double check our two chins. A scab here and there, that subtle scrape and its bite. It's our own overcoat, old and unwanted. Just there, really. Only when the sun reminds us once more that we're nothing but flesh do we groan with dismay: Ah, death -- I now feel thy sly touch.

For if we are honest -- and who wants to be honest, but what the hell, let's tie one on -- the pink burn that delights is but death's lazy doorman. Surely the hesitant tilt of our head when we've kissed the sun far too long is some kind of indifferent guide to the underworld that awaits when the coffin's lids creaks its way shut. Think of it: If death is the absence of life, the destruction of comfort, a blackhead extended outwards in round steady cycles, then what better prep can we have than a slap to our skin that makes life itself but a chore? Sitting, showering, bending our knees and looking left and now right -- good God, what a pain, after a sunburn's first night. You start to resent being awake. Being aware.

The sun. The light. Give me some cold, a soft soothing touch that might still sway with a swoosh all that lies underneath. No deal, boss. No stroking here; no relief. You will crash on that couch with a groan and wish the black to come back. No more of light's brilliant booth, its cozy niche in the corner. Just give me the black, straight up, and let me be the rock.

These thoughts take me back -- a few centuries, even further. For who can imagine what it must have been like to endure such a sun when the shade had its home at the base of a tree? And only the tree? Think of that shade! What an oasis it must have seemed to the mad and the dazed and the sun-drunken pilgrims! I can go inside with some air-con, and french-kiss its cold tongue. What relief did they lack! Can I call them my own brethren, if I've not felt that red mark on each moment of time?

Perhaps there's still hope. I can discover what they might have known. Some tricks. Approaches to life, even. I could lay out on the grass, shirt off. Underwear whipped at the sky like an archer's last arrow. Quite nude. Let the sun brand itself on my skin. I could lay there for two, three hours. Two, three days. Build up some kind of resistance. Let the hurt hurt so bad that it must do nothing but morph. (Can one feel pain for so long that it becomes ecstasy's final spurt? Are they cousins, in fact, agony and great bliss?)

Quite soon I could be as red as the sun when it sets on an early spring eve. Callused, I'll be. Nothing could hurt me anymore. Impervious. Pain as both antidote and elixir. My sunburn's covert role as the lazy doorman of death might keep that door half ajar, trying to coax me to enter. Instead, I'd just lay there, sizzling.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


So exactly who is the 'I' who is typing these words, and, while we're at it, who is the 'you' that is scanning them now?

These are the questions that Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of Cognitive Science, delves into in his fascinating, kind of comprehensible book 'I Am A Strange Looop'.

To give you a taste of what he dishes up, a slight diversion:

Recently, while browsing through the new arrivals rack at my local video shop in the not-so-bustling suburb of Ookurayama, I came across a new documentary about The Doors, narrated by Johnny Depp, entitled WHEN YOU'RE STRANGE. I reminded myself to pick it up, either this week or next, and give it a go. As soon as I saw the DVD box, an enormous amount of memories and associations spiralled throughout my small brain. Not all of it conscious. None of them momentous. But mention 'The Doors', and what happens next?

A poster of Jim Morrison hanging in one of the Craddock twins bedrooms in Ridgeway, Ontario. (I can't remember which twin.) I must have been nine, ten. The music a backdrop. The Doors slightly different than my usual musical fare of The Monkees. Darker. Hinting at aspects of life that would remain somewhat suspect. Finding a copy of his biography, NO ONE GETS OUT OF HERE ALIVE, in a friend's basement in junior high. Reading about his life. Reading another book about him by the drummer, John Densmore. RIDERS ON THE STORM, that one was. Years later, the film. Oliver Stone's flick. Me, a film nut. A Stone nut. Anxious to see it. Shattered when THE ST.CATHARINES STANDARD, in its Thursday night edition, reveals that it will, in fact, be rated R. Me, fifteen, too young to look old enough to attempt a sneak-in. Vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a few weeks later, and disappointed once again to see that it's rated 'R' down there too. Catching up with it on video. Watching it a dozen times, probably. The music, the energy. The pulse. Eventually putting it aside. Life. Not thinking much about The Doors over the years. Hearing about this documentary on some film site a few years back. Seeing it at the video store. Noticing that it's narrated by Johnny Depp. As much as I loved THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER film as a kid, I wonder: Why is Depp appearing in a Lone Ranger flick next year? Good grief. Reminding myself: Rent this documentary.

All of this, from a one second glimpse at a DVD's cover.

Now, again, this wasn't all happening at a conscious, shall we say 'readable' level, but think of the neurons that fire when a name hits your brain. I say 'The Doors', and you probably have SOME kind of connection to the band, however slight. You may have heard of them, vaguely; you may know of them, dimly. You may be obsessed with them, or you may not give a shit. But that information is nevertheless stored...somewhere. You never think of it, is all. (Or so you think.)

Hofstader's book gets into the strange paradox of life -- that all of our actions are determined at a microscopic level too small to examine, with neurons and cells that make up who we are, and yet, ironically enough, we live life on the macro scale, not the micro. We eat, work, fight, fart, smile, love and groove on the surface. Because we have to. Because we don't know what's going on down there. Because we can't live life as a reaction to bio-chemical processes. We're not built that way. (Even though, come to think of it, we are, actually, built that way. It gets confusing.)

One of his most intriguing arguments has to do with the notion of a lifeform's ability to, in essence, identify aspects of life, and itself, and those relations between life and itself, and how that has a bearing on the size of its, for lack of a more concrete word, soul. A mosquito, say, doesn't have much memory, or reference -- it ain't thinking about Jim Morrison's arrest for indecency in Florida as it's buzzing around, looking for blood. A cow just chews, mostly. It probably doesn't remember yesterday's cud, or tomorrow's chance of rain. A dog or a cat has a slightly higher level of memory and association and capacity to love. Who we are depends on our ability to associate, reference, compare and reflect.

(He's hinted at this notion in regards to life, in fact, NOT beginning at the moment of conception, as there's no self-referential self existing at that particular point in time. There's no THERE there, essentially. I don't agree with him on that one, but that's another argument, for another post.)

It's one of those books, 'I Am A Strange Loop', that gives you a little bit of a jolt. A literary tilt-a-whirl. (That should have been the tagline on the back, no?) It's also one of those those mathematics or science books that I'm always suckered into buying, with the assurance by the author in the introduction that this isn't one of those HEAVY, specialized books, no; that it is, in fact, one for the masses. And the prose style is so fluid and enjoyable that I'm three pages into a chapter when I suddenly realize that I have no idea what the fuck he's talking about. Luckily, that's a small portion of the book. The greater portion does a remarkable job of illustrating the billions and billions of unconscious, sub-atomic connections that are forged by the cells underneath the sense of self that we wield.

(Did I say 'self'! Ha! Hofstader hints that the self is nothing more, in a sense, than the accumulation of cells, likening it a massive stack of envelopes he once yanked out of a box, convinced that the hard blob he felt in its centre was a marble stuck somewhere down, only to realize that the accumulation of all those paper envelopes created the illusion of hardness. All of our cells, all our synaptic firings, all of our collected connections, make us think there's a 'there' at the core of our core. He also articulates what I've always wondered for years: Why do we love our favourite things? No, really. Why is chocolate my favourite flavour of ice cream? Well, I like sweet things. Why do I like sweet things? Well, I just do. Eventually, there's no answer. It's a mystery. And if the things we hold most near and dear to us, our loves and our lusts, remain a strange septic brew, then what hope can we have to know anything well at all?)

It's interesting, is all I'm saying. This notion of connections, and links. Think of you, sitting in your chair. This may be the first time you're reading this blog. You may know me quite well. You might be bored to your gourd and wondering why you're still reading. You may have no interesting in brain surgery, or The Doors. You may be stifling a yawn, listening to Ben Folds Five in the background, thinking of a test you must take in tomorrow's wee early hours. Your crack is itchy. A billion neurons at play, right here in this moment.

I don't know what it all means, and the older I get the more I crave and draw an odd satisfaction from the questions, not the answers, but books like this one at least give me the go to give life a small poke. This morning, as I walked to the train station, the sky in its dawn was a little bit gray, mixed with a nice medley of pink. Not sure what that was all about, but it looked mighty fine.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Every so often I'll stop and think to myself: Oh, right, you're alive.

This thought, unoriginal as it is, usually arrives when I'm engaged in an act that approaches the 'difficult' -- physically, mentally, unsettling. Often when I'm running, and sweating, and spitting, and holding back the urge to piss, I'll spot a weed by the river gently being blown by a breeze. I won't feel that I am that weed, or that breeze, or even the space between both, but I will feel myself as a force, physical and tactile. How many times have I tried not to pee in my pants as I've run down a road? Hundreds? Such an urge long withweld gathers a weight all its own. From such elementary beginnings are grand notions embedded.

(So I'd like to believe. Hope to believe. Need to believe?)

When reading Japanese, my mind bends and distorts, does backflips and front-fakes. Honest and tiring, this kind of mental gynamstics. (Or is it more akin to a kind of sexless masturbation? Getting one's own intellectual rocks off to the point where the ego begins to believe that one's brain is quite bold?) I tell myself: Such exertions must mean that you're somehow still able to engage with quite alien concepts. Attack their odd foreign shapes, until, if only vaguely, I can hear through a gauze what these characters might say. If I sit there long enough, I revert. Get younger. I'm aware of myself, learning.


I can remember the moment in life where my dad took my shoelace in his hands and told me just what to do. The rabbit going around the tree, looping around the wide trunk, diving down deep into the ground.


That first drive home with my mum, learner's permit in hand, steering the wheel with both hands, my heart thumping its bump.


The first class that I taught, my student an old white-haired man, distinguished and wise, a heart doctor who put the first pacemaker in place.


Studying, turning pages, cursing, I feel myself learning, and suddenly I think with surprise: I'm alive!

For shouldn't we all be reminded that life is still here, alive in its own right, alongside our small selves that continue to believe that Time on its own is just one more straight line?

Just a few hours ago, a YOU TUBE video I stumbled upon on a whim took me right back to a point that I guess that I've never quite left. A person I'd known long before, now a small square box on a screen. Time laughed in my face. Spit in it, even. I could feel its saliva drip straight off of my nose and right down onto my tongue. Bitter and vile but also sweet with the taste of who we once used to be.

Me, thinking that we actually age, get mature, become wise. Deluded. Watching that video, the 'past' became 'now', and my 'here' became 'then', and I thought: I'm alive! (A childhood memory intruded: cracking open a cold and fresh can of that fruit drink FIVE ALIVE, pulling the metal tab, taking a gulp, burping with the kind of long belch a ten-year old enacts with great pride, saying: "Num-ber Five aliiiiive, Ste-phan-!" A ritual of sorts, every time I drank that great drink, me repeating the line from Steve Guttenberg's eighties classic, that dumb robot from SHORT CIRCUIT activating its self and its own sense of space. Now kind of close to profound.)

Life, an unlikely ally against time's nefarious means. After being surprised by that video, nothing made any more sense, true, but life had once again announced its brash self with a slap to my cheek. The thought wasn't filled with any kind of straight joy, or suffused with pure dread. I just understood: I'm here. Life is with me. Life as my buddy. Where you been, old pal?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


the urinal's edge, where I tip and then tap:

an open window invites

a morning bird's mocking tweet

Monday, May 16, 2011


the head crow and his cronies

brazenly peck at these stuffed plastic bags

my collected debris: discarded, devoured, savored.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


tiny bats thwapping balls

add an echo to shifting shoes-on-gravel --

these schoolyard sounds, receding

Thursday, May 05, 2011


this rickety train's wheezy rattle

between a baby's shriek and an old man's wail

moves me still

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


the train rockets out of the tunnel

a tiny girl shrieks into delight --

the peek-a-boo day, pouncing

Monday, May 02, 2011


the few pink flowers pinched between digits

as his hurried small steps gather time

and space, plump in my palms


through a glass clearly

the boy's insistent wave

greets myself or the dimming sun

Saturday, April 30, 2011


a dozen boys on bikes

caress baseball cap brims --

lucky rabbit-foot hopes under grey-bellied clouds

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


the ground's reluctant grind

an earth's tectonic sneeze

this midnight shift

Sunday, April 24, 2011


an April wind sneaks

in between mismatched buttons --

black chest hair, defenseless

Saturday, April 23, 2011


If Jennifer Lopez let loose a fart of epic proportions just as she was getting ready to rip into another exhausted contestant on AMERICAN IDOL, what would be the repercussions? Let’s assume that they have somebody, on post, in the control room, hovered over the control panel, ready to push that red button down the instant somebody accidentally, or intentionally, utters a profanity. Wouldn’t the same principle apply to an excess release of gas from one of their million dollar celebrities? Think about it. The next day, wouldn’t all the headlines remark upon the fact that Ms.Lopez farted, live, on national television. What the article wouldn’t say is that everybody reading that article, writer included, farts, what, twenty, thirty times a day? But nobody talks about it. Not truly. When we were kids, certainly, when such bodily emissions carried a certain weight, implied a kind of half-skewed pride, we’d joke about such stuff all of the time. And we continue to do it, in certain company. Not in public. Yet I have no doubt that such an occurrence – said incident being The World’s Most Famous Latina, Lopez, letting it rip, long and wet and loud, amplified by the microphone, further amplified by the newfangled stereo systems that people install in their homes so that they can hear whiz-bang-golly-gee sounds far removed from that of a singing star’s flatulence – would titillate the gossip pages for a good four, five days. It’s not often that the real stuff of ourselves is displayed to the world

I once stood not four feet from Jennifer Lopez, years ago, during the Toronto Film Festival, when she exited the Four Seasons Hotel and signed autographs in front of her patiently waiting limousine, and somebody offered her flowers, and she thanked them in what seemed like a sincere voice, and I remember thinking that I had never seen a more beautiful person in my entire life, a flawless beauty, a kind of take-your-breath-away beauty, which is cliché, I know, but beauty is cliché, and your breath kind of did disappear for a moment or two, and it was a kind of elemental, picture-that-comes-with-the-picture-frame-beauty far more beautiful than that which she had so far projected across any kind of silver screen, but at that moment she might very well have been holding within her a fart of David-Lean-epic proportions, and if I had known that, then, would it have made a difference to my judgement of her exterior illumination? If President Obama, or, god forbid, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were to burp or fart in the presence of the Queen, at a reception for the upcoming nuptials of the young prince, let us say, only days after Ms.Lopez committed the same heinous act on an American variety show, would the press wonder just what the hell the world was coming to? This is what I’m asking.

But we withhold stuff every day. That’s all we do. Keep stuff in. Have you ever talked to anybody recently about all the times that you flick snot out of your nose? We don’t even have a dignified word for that gunk – ‘snot’, ‘boogers’. Seriously. At least the Japanese have the good sense to call it ‘nose water’. How can we talk, with dignity, about something that has no proper certification? Or that feeling you get when you sense that the person in front of you couldn’t care less about what you’re saying, that they’re merely biding time, killing time, disentangling time, waiting for you to finish so that they can go back to thinking about what contorted images they will masturbate to later that night.

Or perhaps I’m being too judgemental. They might, in fact, be bored by what you’re saying because they were recently diagnosed with the ‘big c’, which is now an HBO series starring Laura Linney, which is just what I want, a ‘dramedy’ about how living with cancer is full of giggles and ‘life-lessons-learned-the-hard-way’, all very funny, all very earnest, undoubtedly worthy of multiple Emmy nominations, all designed to enable viewers to subscribe to HBO and thus keep the financial situation of its executives in a relatively stable state of being. They, too, have noses to pick, and one needs well-manicured nails to unearth some of those nuggets. Of course, there are undoubtedly hundreds of other people who would work on a show such as that, and, statistics would say, a fair number of them must have people with cancer in their lives. The grips, the caterers, those kinds of folks. Some of them probably think the show is exploitative, no matter how well it’s done, or precisely because of how well it’s done. Others might think it gives them exactly what they need. A few more might be so tired of dealing with disease that they couldn’t care less. (Shouldn’t we say “I couldn’t care MORE?” Wouldn’t that actually be more snidely dismissive?) Regardless of their genuine interest in a show that provides them with a paycheck on a bi-weekly basis, they still have to spend the bulk of their day keeping ‘their thoughts to themselves’, withholding farts, stifling burps, not letting anyone know that a subtle feeling of disappointment has been fluttering within them since around the age of sixteen. Maybe eighteen, depending.

I’m not saying that Ms.Lopez is the kind of person who would actually fart on TV. Don’t misunderstand me. She is a professional. She was a ‘maid in manhattan’, not in real life, not as far as I know, although she may very well have been, at one point in time, but she starred in a movie bearing that title, and anyone who could summon the stamina to work on a script of that calibre must have intestinal fortitude of the fifth degree. She wouldn’t allow inside gases to exit outside of herself, not while ascertaining the extent to which covers of Rod Stewart tunes from the 1970s constitute an original voice for this new millennium.

Must be tough, sitting there though. Her mind must wander. She must have to shift cheeks every now and then. A sight such as that must worry the guy in the booth. The one with the red button. He’s probably thinking mostly of swear words, of people muttering ‘motherfucker’ under their breath, but occasionally, I’m sure, flatulence and its (potentially) unwelcome, rank wave must wander through his bored mind. He has his own issues, but he doesn’t talk about them. And he trusts her, Ms.Lopez. He can recognize that she’s the real deal. A woman who keeps herself to herself. She knows that bodily functions have no place in prime time.

Friday, April 22, 2011


echoes of black dress shoes

rushing over grey pavement

lends slanted rain a granite edge

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


an old man's grunts

lumber yanked from a faded green truck

white cherry blossoms, lazily downward drifting

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Morning crows squawk

as my pen hovers

a haiku dictionary's plastic gloss

Friday, April 15, 2011


The other day on the bus to Kikuna I saw a girl mouth along to a voice that was fake. A recorded message, feminine and polite, always lets you know to a tee what next stop lies ahead. You can remember its tone and its words after a few round-trip rides. The girl's friend was sitting beside me. Standing, rocking slightly from side to side in that nonchalant way that young people do simply because they are young, this girl matched her lips' motion to each word that she heard. It wasn't exactly unconscious, this action, because she started to smile just a bit as she performed her small act. She and her friend then started to talk all about what all teenage girls talk about. I'm not exactly sure what those topics might be even back home, in Canada, let alone here, in Yokohama. Yet I might have a clue. So I tell myself.

When I was their age, I took the bus just like them. The Niagara Street bus. I caught another bus first, at the Geneva Street stop, and then I transferred again at a point I forget. Or did I? Did I take just the one? Forgetting my hometown's bus schedule does feel just a bit like betrayal. ("I'm sorry, St.Catharines! You still own most of my heart! But the bus lines do blur after sixteen long years away!") The important memories do tint, though the details might fade.

One morning my friend and I sat on the bus as it did its stop-and-start shuffle. We looked across the aisle at an old man who had seen better days. One assumes. He did not look like he was seeing many good days just now. My buddy looked at me and said: "That'll be me and you some day, Scott." (Or did I say it to him?) We both laughed. I even remember the point on our route where this conversation took place. Just past the mall down the street from our school 'Laura Secord'. We both laughed. Knowing it was true, that we, too, would one day be that old. Knowing, as well, that that day would not come for a good many years. Still. It was nervous laughter. Sometimes at fourteen you can surprise even yourself with a hint of a truth that you secretly suspect most adults might already know.

I think about that offhand, off-the-cuff comment two, three times a year. As I age. I thought it about the other day, three thousand and more miles away from those streets that did give me my start. Watching a Japanese girl talking to her friend on a bus as they came home from school. She wore a dark blue jacket and skirt. A brown bag with a musical note stiched right into its corner sat there at her feet like a dumb patient pet. She listened to an adult's voice on a speaker, and mockingly mouthed what it said. Then she returned to her conversation, to her adolescent concerns, in a language that bops to its own special beat. I couldn't understand everything she said. Perhaps she muttered to her friend about the old foreign man that sat right there before her. Just another day on the bus. I wondered if she and her pal might for some reason remember that ride, twenty long years from now. As they age.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


What’s unsettling about the earth shifting and shaking, bopping and quaking beneath the bed that upholds the awkward arch of your back and your head's constant swivel is not at all what you think might finally just make you break down. I've learned, over time, the most terrifying truth of life, or at least my life: You can get used to anything. Even the ground, groaning. Even yourself, bored by the monotonous length of this more than minor upheaval. No, what worries me most is a certain form of cohesion. The world can contain and uplift so much pure contradiction.

A few days ago, a quake while I slept. It lasted, lingered. I awoke, wondering if I should step right outside and watch the building sway in its bend. Instead, I lay on my back; closed my eyes somewhat tight; tried not to count in my head the long length of each shift. Soon it was done, and I could sleep a bit more. Way up in the north I’m sure a score of people did shudder. Survivors. Me, I didn’t survive anything. I almost welcomed my dreams. They would probably be but benign. I felt guilty for going right back to sleep while all those poor folks in Sendai I'm sure stayed up with their fears. But I slept. You can get used to anything.

Something else: Today, on the street, coming towards me, a young woman in black, strolling, striding, smiling. Just like that. A hell of a grin. She was in a world of her own. As we all are, but when somebody smiles just like that, I wonder in what special realm do they wander. Perhaps she was thinking of whom she might meet in a moment for hot tea and a scone. Or last night’s lover’s soft touch, a small playful taunt at her tit. Or a comedian’s punchline, its sharp wit still a pinch. She seemed to be in cahoots with life.

That earthquake’s steady rumble, and that pretty stranger’s sweet smile, somehow co-exist in this life, and that separate union confounds me. One should not share space with the other. Or do they only appear in the first place as a form of crude balance? Can we even casually grin with small joy to begin with if life holds no peril?

Perhaps she, too, was awoken, like me, by that tectonic grim burp. I doubt she was smiling then. Her thoughts, a rising wave of dread. Yet a few days in the future, a kind of happiness. Persistent, even brave. So tenacious that even I, a stranger, felt the force of its joy straight across the length of the sidewalk, a kind of life all its own, fluid and real, as tactile and invasive as the boldest of tremors.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Last night before sleep I remembered a room. Somewhere in Tokyo. Something to do with a ticket. An Air Canada office, overlooking a lake. Or a body of water at least, of that I am sure. Everything else, vague. Over a decade ago, I suppose. A minor change needed to be made so that I might be able to fly. I’m picturing green. The lobby’s colours. A deep, comforting green. Not the shade that a doctor would wear while excising some cancer. More the tone of some seaweed on an ocean’s wide floor. Exotic, almost. I remember sitting there. I remember that. Ticket in hand. Everything else, a blur. This memory saddened me a great deal, the same way in which one suddenly becomes full of odd grief while reading in passing of a stranger’s quick death. If I can remember its vibe, but not the details in full, then what good does that do me, and to what end is its aim?

At one point in my past that small room had some weight. Decisions would have to be made in between those four sheltered walls; the keys of a computer would go clickety-clack, with such rapid red force, that receptionist’s nails striking letters as a mason hits stone. My life had to be guided in that room. If that air ticket could not have been altered at all by her touch, the set paths of my course would have had to be broken. I don’t remember feeling nervous, but I do recall a sense of proportion being weighted, almost on scales. Is there anything worse than the slow pace of bureaucracy? Have a seat. We’ll be right with you. Won’t take a moment. Read a magazine, if you like. All of these dull remarks in an English that slants. The silence, full. Is there any more noise to be found than in a room lacking sound? The hum of the lights; the steps in the hall just outside the closed door; the soft snap of some gum in an overhead office. All of this, blaring. Everything had consequence.

Last night before sleep I remembered that room. Its function, perfunctory. All of that green, though. Soothing. Even if my purpose was bland, that room had some juice. I could have lived in that room, was what I thought. Not for a year, or even a month, but for a week, why not. Something to do with that dark green. Life so often evolves into gray’s oldest chum. A green such as that could lift me right up.

Drifting off, I realized that it didn’t bother me – that I couldn’t remember precisely my purpose for waiting. So what if the memory’s details had died? How many days as a whole have decided to exit my brain? This one over a decade ago has stayed in some nook of my head that is rarely swept clean. It could be one of those random days of my life that recurs like a fever one gets every year as each spring starts its swoon. Dear reader, do you, too, have memories like this one that linger half-empty? Do you wish you could crawl into their space and remember that self? Perhaps reading this post will prepare you for more – your old locker’s three digit combo, or the smell of the breath of the first person you kissed, or the sweet plume of winter on a crsip Christmas Eve from a stroll in your youth when a sung carol was king. (Do you sometimes wonder about those lips of that soul who you kissed long ago, that first brush with another? Hoping that she or he thinks of you too, during random moments at work, when the meeting drones on?) Memories emerge, don’t they. Ten years from now, or twenty, or if I’m lucky, fifty, I might still recollect that same random green room. It could act as my good-luck charm for sleep, my go-to embrace.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Where have you gone, Billy Joel? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Doesn't it? I do, anyways. Who else can make sense of this world in a way that will linger? That will allow us to sing of our horrors with a melodic fresh vibe? Only the Piano Man, who proclaimed with such verve that the fire in our lives was not lit from his flame.

Is WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE the oddest tune that's been written since all songs have been sung? A collection of names and events, linked only by eras. From the fifties to eighties, a miniature history of much that has come to define how we look at our lives.

Doesn't it? No? Am I the only one out there who wishes that all life and its options could be stripped down to a size that might fit into some song? Joel did it once; he can do it again. Think of it: decades of existence, encapsulated. Right there, in your mouth. You can lip-synch to those words and navigate down through decades. All within three minutes. A few generations' touchstones and highlights, aggressors and heroes. Beneath your tongue. Manageable. Some might argue that I love this small song because it brings back my youth. When life had a limit, three minutes and change. When history could all cram into a chorus, plus verses. When the world was as small as my own fragile hopes.

So, Billy. Please. I need someone like you to arise one more time and make life once again a song we can hum. How is one supposed to make sense of a phrase like 'Operation Odyssey Dawn'? Is that the name of a new album by BOSTON, or a military action designed to inspire a rising new day of sheer hopeful delusion? Who thinks of these slogans that align with our wars? I need Mr.Joel to make all this a ditty.

He left off with 'rock and roll the Cola Wars, I can't take it any more!' Yet he's still around, and has been, for the past two decades; he's taken it, endured, evolved. He needs to rhyme the Internet and September 11th and FACEBOOK and TWITTER; he must us give some sense that life is still just a jingle. Otherwise, I might be left with the notion that some things in our world are too large and opaque to squeeze into a single. And I'm not sure that I want to believe that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

HEART FELT: FOR PAPA (Lyman Roddick 1921-2011)

(Thinking of Uncle Lynn, Mum, Uncle Dale, Ted, Samantha, James, Leigh Ann, Faryn, family. And Nanny, of course.)

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, at my grandparents’ house on the boulevard in Fort Erie, I found a paperback copy of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE in a box of old books in the basement. This wasn’t the plain red edition that we all would read in high school; this was an older version, one that proclaimed on the cover the dangerous contents inside. Having read my fair share of Stephen King and Clive Barker, the odd profanity failed to frighten me much, but something else gave me pause: the book’s pristine condition. It looked like it had just emerged right from the Fifties through some sort of wormhole. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. After all, I had found it right there in my Papa’s small basement; he kept everything, from spare tools to old cans, and they always somehow looked more fresh than the newest of goods.

Once, when I was twenty, when they were living in Brockville, I helped my grandparents move down the road to a smaller new house. Another basement discovery – boxes of TIME magazines dating back to the thirties. Hundreds of them. Having cultivated my own collection of cardboard boxes full of a thousand and more plastic-bagged comics all throughout my childhood, I said to my Papa that his stack was quite cool. He answered: “You’re the only person who’s appreciated why I’ve kept them all these years!”

That wasn’t quite true. Papa was an eccentric, and we all knew it, even though his life at first look seemed so much like the men of his time. After growing up in small-town Ontario, he fought all over Europe during the Second World War, returning to Canada with his young British bride, inadvertently ensuring my own (and my mother, uncles, brother and cousins) very existence on earth. After retirement, instead of kicking back on the couch, he decided to build us all a new cottage; well into his seventies and eighties, he could be found climbing far up a tree that stretched straight into the sky. Even though in his sixties he’d suffered a spill from a ladder while working on the garage, I never worried he’d stumble or fall from the branch of a tree; anyone who would even attempt such a climb at his age must possess some kind of rare grace.

His opinions were many, and he let them be known. Cross-talk with his brother and children over dinnertime meals always reached a decibel higher than comfortable conversation suggested. There were usually all manner of new magazines and old books scattered throughout each room of the house, Canadian history and politics in particular, a favourite lament. Once, crashed out on my bed, I was flipping through the latest issue of Macleans’, ‘Canada’s Newsweekly’, and came across a particularly opinionated letter. When I saw that the writer was ‘Lyman Roddick, Brockville, Ontario,’ I did a genuine spit-take; even far away from the table, his voice could be heard. Indeed, when I first moved to Japan, before the internet slyly invaded our lives in impersonal ways, I used to receive care packages from him -- newspaper stories and clipped-out articles of interest that he thought I might like, some passages underlined in deep red, with a wry comment alongside.

I last saw him on the day before Christmas, in his small room in the Veteran’s Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He sort of knew who I was. Time had taken him away from us. He was never the most demonstrative of men. When I was a child and even well into my teens, we always said hello and good-bye via a hardy handshake. At some point in our lives, a small shift in affection broke down certain walls, and on Christmas Eve I bid him farewell as I had done for a decade, with a short, heartfelt hug.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


In times of great loss, a huge gap must exist between what happens in life and the words that we use to describe these events -- those enormous horrors that rend us alive even as they strip down the small selves we take great pains to build up. All the familiar terms are employed to describe what we think are the wounds that we need to soothe, then embalm: ‘horrible’, ‘tragic’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘shocking’. The TV news anchors, blow-dried and tucked tight, repeat these dark words with a grim kind of relish, morose and dumbfounded, their visage of choice. We mirror their faces. Watch each report with a sigh and head shake. Again, we repeat: ‘terrible’ and ‘so sad’. Onscreen, a town is washed out in a sea of floating white cars, the odd house bobbing in place, a cartoon brought to life. Better, for us, to sigh and then moan; vocabulary tends to diminish such sights. How futile words now become when we’re faced with such truth! A mere linkage of sounds that we utter and mutter; a delusion – that they give adequate form to those feelings that live in our heart’s steady flutters. One might as well belch and then fart and proclaim such gas to be fire. All of it false, these esophogeal attempts at outlining a void.

Not that photos do better, though they certainly try. In TIME magazine, a young woman sits weeping, surrounded by remnants of life itself tossed asunder. All manner of objects, misshapen and bent, encircle her form as her face tells us voyeurs that life offers no hint of a justice for all. One could stare at this picture for days and find nothing that speaks of providential salvation. ‘Humanity’s pain at nature’s indifference’: This could be the bold-printed headline used to sell some more mags, for is nothing more pure than the media’s ravenous need to milk pain for its profit? If it all made us feel better, perhaps I’d be slightly less harsh. Yet we gorge on this display of artistic entrapment, grotesque and well-lit, another’s misery framed for maximum aesthetic pride. Does a secret cheer clap its hands when we witness such pain? I wish it were not so, but I suspect otherwise. Our own empathetic fresh sorrow somehow makes us feel human. We can be in a rut, but feel lifted by pain. Give me more news, shots, glimpses. Guilt that they are not me, that I am safe here, while they are dead there. I can now be aroused.

I retreat to my own sophistries to justify such confusion. Let’s imagine: There is a God up above who watched all this go down. He let it happen, essentially. Thousands are dead, lives dissipated, dissolved. Let’s be specific: A woman has lost her fiancée for good. Five, six years from now, she will love again. She might even feel again. Out of this union is born a small child. This girl will grow up to become that one gifted doctor who cures cancer for good. Millions will live because of her special gift. Had this tragedy not happened now, in our year of eleven, had her mother’s first love not let go of his life, she would have never been born. Still a notion.

Are twenty thousand lives lost at this moment worth the birth of this child? I wonder. It’s an argument I’ve used twice before in the past: the Holocaust, a necessity; September 11th, mandatory. Ludicrous at its strange core, and blasphemous to boot, but not having much of a faith to consider, I often lay awake in my night and consider a deity’s strange plans.

If we truly can’t know why these events must occur, then we must think of the means to allocate some dimension. Words fail to express anything more than dry comfort food; pictures stir our emotions, activate petty tears. If there must be some lord who looks down on this mess, I prefer to think that a plan is in place, that a baby exists, fifteen years in our future. This child is mere sperm and an egg not yet ripe. A woman has lost all she loves in this world; a nation is torn; nuclear threats hover high. Yet a baby’s fresh spirit is, even now, biding her time in some celestial womb. I can hear her soft confused cries. Not yet, I want to say, to soothe. Not yet. Soon enough you will arrive and destroy that disease that so needs to be gone. The world will rejoice. You will close a circle that began with a sea’s violent rumble.

Silly, I know. A strange kind of gamble, to believe that all this raw horror might give fruit to some joy. I suppose, at root, I can’t process reality. A child’s curse and great gift. An adult must focus on that which is concrete and frail. No time for outlandish odd wishes when life demands more.

And yet.

As a child, walking home from school, from my own certain pine grove, I would grab at the air to catch what we called ‘wishes’, those stray wisps of plant life that first floated, then spun. Do you remember those? Damn, I do. I haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time. Have you? Been even longer since I tried to grab one. Are they still out there? Hovering above all those uneven cracks in the earth? Even there? Especially there? If I should happen to see one of those odd angular shapes drifting through air in the bluest of skies, I will snatch it and hold it and wish, wish, wish.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


You can notice the change in the air when the bus makes its stop. The first stop. This is only ninety minutes or so outside of Baguio, but as you soon as you step down off the bus the air makes its move. Not so much a slap in the face; more of a dunk in the tub, quite sudden and shocking. You aren’t expecting this, even though you’ve been here before. The day always jumps you. Baguio at its best is warm but not hot, the air as fresh and as raw as my Canadian past in the first days of April, spring just being born, still eager and raw. Up there in the mountains, the clouds’ silky wisps kiss the peaks' frozen tips, and the air follows suit, a soft peck on your brow and your neck, refreshing and intimate. The bus is its mirror, a moving chill tomb. Why this has to be so, I always forget, in that roving trek down from the peaks to the valleys. By the time you hit the rest stop, the winding roads are now done, that circuitous descent giving way to flat roads. The air, too, is as smooth and as straight as a line stretching far. Not much character. Hot and thick. The country from here is the tropics in full. Every time I step off that bus to unkink my stiff legs, I’m surprised by the heat. It seems to shout out in its temperate voice: You’re alive, and you can come out of one mood and into another.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Probably my favourite moment in THE HANGOVER arrives when Ed Helms awakens after a night of epic Las Vegas partying and groggily takes note of a chicken wandering around his smooth mammoth suite. Such a small example of incongruous forces at play; there are, after all, few places in life where a live chicken feels right. A cognitive clash starts to ring its small bell at the back of our heads – these worlds should not mix, not the realms of a penthouse and the stride of a fowl. The five second (or so) scene is a harbinger of small sorts; surely what follows will feature even more odd intersections that cross the clear norms of what we hope our boundaries will be. It kind of sets up a buried theme of the flick, which might be: when we forget what we do, what’s done will come back. I don’t think they ever explained where that chicken came from, or how it got to be there in that room, but no matter – its mere presence was enough to ignite endless fires. And I’m here to testify that the film doesn’t lie.

The other day I came back into my room right after my run and had the fright of my life as a gift from some gods. A chicken’s soft cluck was enough to make small sounds with great pitch hurl straight from my lips. One doesn’t ever expect to find a common farm animal announce itself and its presence right there on your bed. Take it from me: THE HANGOVER’s filmmakers knew that a dissonant sight is enough to create a great panic. Chickens will do that.

It must have come through the window, which is always half-open, because I locked the door when I left only ninety minutes before. And it was not a total surprise, an inexplicable event, because there are always chickens wandering around near the house, living out their lives’ tiny span in unknowing dumb cheer. Still: To come into a room that you know is now empty and have a chicken instead as its sole occupant? Well. Obscenities might have been said. (Why the mind must reach and then grasp the worst words that one knows when in fear or great anger I’ll never quite get.) The chicken, too, seemed to blurt out its own kind of swear words. If I was scared, it was petrified; in situations like this, surely chicken-language must have its fall-back profanities. (If I’m wrong, and chickens, in fact, do not speak in grammatical phrases of their own special making, and instead are reduced to those gobbles that are indeed only gibberish, then I feel for them, those future hot wings and afternoon sandwich-bread fillers. What a way to move through life. Enunciating only sounds of pure nonsense that mean not a thing. Unlike us humans. Wait.)

You feel like a fool. An idiot, at best. Here you are, ostensibly an adult, a university graduate, respected pillar of a community (at least in your own mind), and you find yourself navigating the best way to remove from the bed a scared shitless chicken. If I had grown up on a farm, milking cows at first light, branding horses’ large hooves and feeding pigs their gross slop, a task such as this might be a chore and a bore. In my world that I’ve lived, it’s instead an example of life’s absurd turn of tides. One can plan, but existence will, without fail, at one time or the next, deliver a chicken for you to deal with, have a go, best of luck. Should I pick it up by its chest? Will it peck? Do chicken’s beaks draw blood right away? As I made a soft lunge it leaped up to the dresser and then onto the closet. Where it was stuck. Wouldn’t move. Terrified. After a few minutes I heard someone making clucking noises, which perplexed the bird more, and I realized that man was myself, and I thought: Good lord, I’m a knob.

Eventually, order prevailed. A chicken-expert arrived, and the bird was returned to its wild, not five feet from the house. How little it takes to disrupt our weak worlds! To access our dumb fears. I realized once again that life is a game that requires simple rules. Otherwise, some primal part of ourselves starts to whine ‘it’s all rigged!’ How can I contemplate Libya’s near ruin at all when I’m faced with a chicken camped out on my turf?

Certain worlds shouldn’t clash, but they do, all the time. At least we can restore our own orders with effort and time. Even a chicken’s wild flight must come to an end. The sky would not fall. Equilibrium can come to a disordered plane. That’s what I smugly believed as I sat down on my bed. I hadn’t yet noticed the light-pink oval egg perched right on top of my pillow.

Monday, March 07, 2011


Dustin Hoffman looks out through the glass at his Berkley so narrow. Everything that he seeks is contained in that gaze – Elaine, his future, his life as he wants it, framed in that view. As a film, THE GRADUATE is filled with a dozen shots such as this, perfect compositions that place us right there in its action. Each small moment is crafted as if life itself had some style, or a groove, or even simply a point, well-lit and soft-scored by a soundtrack that Simon and Garfunkel saw fit to give voice. At various points while watching this flick, I wanted to somehow physically find myself right there in those rooms, staring at each small window, drifting in that blue pool. Actually go there, I mean. Hunt down those filming locations, the spots where they shot. An odd obsession of mine, unfilled. (My fantasies tend to involve artforms brought to life – my life.)

Is there a medical term for this type of delusion? I have wandered inside the old stone of Japan’s ancient Buddha, and ascended the steps of Cambodia’s temples at Angkor, but I admit that the thrill was soft and quite dull when compared to the joy that I felt while entering the wide mouth of Camp White Pine’s paved parking lot, the filming location of Bill Murray’s MEATBALLS. Not far from a cottage in northern Ontario, where we leaped off the end of short docks and into our lives. A fifteen minute drive, the parents acquiescing to the kids’ whiny pleas. Around the resort, just cottages and tall trees, but there, to the right, the tennis courts where all those crazy hijinks ensued! And this path is the same one that Tripper and Rudy ran down as they trained for the young boy’s final race! Oh, the joy. To have stepped into that world, where film became life. If your own life as a child revolved around screens of wide silver, then ‘life’ as a notion needed celluloid in some form to feel tactile and real. For a few minutes, I felt that Bill Murray, camp counsellor, might somehow still be there, a raucous spirit at play, waiting for us to acknowledge his gags. I was convinced: The sweet joy of that film could be bottled and stored in my mind’s dusty basement, a firefly now trapped in a tight mental jar, if only I stayed long enough in that place, rewinding and playing all those scenes that had been filmed right there under my feet. But the filming had happened a long time ago, thirteen or fourteen years in the past, and I wasn’t the one driving. We had to go. Leaving Camp White Pine was its own small form of death. A quiet, easy exit into a kind of real world. Nothing from the past of the film was there any longer, no cast and no crew, no music or montage, and seeing the camp as it was struck a knife in my spine: I realized: This is all real; it’s the movie that’s fake.

Yet the true cinephile is a persistent strange dork, and understands that the ‘real’ world of our lives, and the ‘fake’ world of each film, must intersect at some point, a collision of collusion. Movies are, after all, made from the stuff of real life – buildings composed of hard concrete, vehicles formed of raw steel. There are remnants. Things left behind. By going to these places, standing where the actors once stood, one can link oneself to each film, insert one’s own soul into cinema. It’s almost a religious quest.

And I know I’m not alone. Scouring the net, one can find an ambitious young Canuck who has spent a day in L.A. visiting various locales from the first BACK TO THE FUTURE. Ah, now there’s a man after my own private heart! If I had my coin, I’d run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, practicing my Rocky Balboa quick jog. I’m convinced that I would find some teenage version of myself still preserved in those places, visible only to me, not hidden, but hiding.

Of course, I need not go that far. Right now, I’m in the Philippines, and weren’t PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW filmed right here in this green? And isn’t a jungle a suitable metaphor for the quest one must take to link life and the cinema? Perhaps someday soon I’ll slip on my backpack, slap some mosquito repellent on the base of my neck, and then wander away through these forests so thick still foreign, searching for my own form of Kurtz, that misunderstood madman whose own logic felt sound. I think he might even be waiting for me.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


A few weeks ago, I picked up copy of Walker Percy’s 1966 novel The Last Gentleman at a used bookshop here in Baguio, and just now, crashed out on the bed, idly reading, lazily turning the page, I came across a subway transfer receipt for Eglinton Station on the Yonge Subway line in Toronto, a line I used almost every weekend for four years while attending York University, a station I wandered through on probably more winter nights than I’d like to remember. (Is there a more lonely, windy, grimy example of life than a Toronto subway station in frost?) How many Canadians are here in this northern Philippines city? A handful, if that. The thousands of other Filipinos or expats who could have picked up this book would have overlooked this same ticket, crumpled it up straight away. Yet for me it’s a crude talisman, a link between worlds. Taking me out to another.

In secret, we think: All space and its sun revolves around us. Alone. As adults, as semi, sort of grown-ups, we tell ourselves that we are mature, reasonable, empathetic humans; we know that there are others, too, who orgasm and excrete at irregular intervals, but most of us believe that we alone are the world. How can we know what the other is thinking? We sneeze, fart, fondle, sigh. I cannot know how these acts feel for you. So we move through this life, estimating. Tangible touches, those approximate links. If I stroke your hair, tweak your nipple, smell your breath, I forget, for a time, my own beating heart. Yet humans are messy. Just give me some kind of memento to hold in my palm. A subway transfer will do.

I should keep them – all of those boarding passes and bus tickets that I find in old books. I should hoard them – these connections between strangers and countries that litter my tomes. That I throw away with indifference. Where is that person who casually stuck this faded white transfer between this book’s brittle pages? Is she taking a bath, or is he yelling at his hyper twin boys who won’t go on up to bed? Are they happy, miserable, content or confused? Did this book at one point give them what they needed so much? I would like a box of these random placeholders from paperback books. They might fill certain spaces.

Or, and this is reaching, but I’ll stretch nonetheless -- perhaps this paper transfer was mine, long ago, in my youth. It’s possible. I don’t remember reading The Last Gentleman at any point before now, but my university days began seventeen long years ago; I read a lot of books in those years, most now forgotten. Perhaps I clutched this book between frigid fingers on a February night in my just-started twenties. It might have kept me company as I rode out from North York to catch a show right downtown. If I’m not mistaken, Eglinton Station, was, for a time, the last subway stop that led to my school; at this final junction, I would have gone up the escalators, danced on two feet to fight away that fierce cold, and then hopped on a bus, fifteen minutes from there to my school and my dorm up the stairs. Casually, I’d have slipped this paper transfer between the book’s middlepages. After reading it, I might have given it away, to a used bookstore or friend. Forgotten about it. (After all, one has a lot to think about at age twenty-one.) Fifteen years later, and half a world in between, it comes back to me hardly touched, almost pristine. I hold it up to my nose. I smell it. I snort it like coke. It smells bland and indifferent. It could be anything. Belong to anyone. I want to weep. Someone before me, if not me, has used this thin strip to mark their place in some world. I hold it and rub it and wait for a genie. None comes, so I am left with its presence, its light weight in my palm.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


The month is now March, heralding the end of the ice, but the calendar insists on a warmth that is rare. Not for here; not for the Philippines. Where I come from, the Canadian winter is slowly deciding to call it a season, but this island I’m on never got with that program. Here in the north, it’s cool in the morning, cool in the night, with the random odd shower to liven the mood, but how cool can it be if t-shirts and shorts are the norm that I need? All the day long; all the year round. Something right out of a TV commercial, where ocean waves and ice tea conspire for my coin. A life where the sun’s yellow rays might be shrouded by clouds or gray skies, but exposed skin won’t freeze up after only two minutes. No silver clouds in small clusters breathed out from one’s lips. A steady stream of snot snorted up and then back, up and then back? Not here. Back home over Christmas I noticed my teeth chatter for what seemed like minutes on end, and this common facet of winter seemed rare, almost nostalgic in nature. Years since I’d felt my mouth go off in that manner. Chalk it up to the shock of the wind and the ice that gave form to my bend, greeting me with good cheer, a blunt form of face-smack. Welcome home, you’ve been missed!

Nature and nurture, indeed. Let the sociologists debate those two rigid poles of self-growth from which our minds might then sprout; a childhood in Canada offers other, more flexible angles of proof. Why don’t the academics consider the sound of a skate on the ice as it stops with a slice? You repeat that, over years, a dozen winters, let’s say, and you have an approach to the world that is clear and quite neat: The balance required to start and then halt on a frozen slick surface says more than enough about a life’s subtle needs. Or consider: the snow’s sudden melt. Spring as a bully, demanding some time. A thick sweater discarded, a thin coat your new sheath. Toques with small pom-poms replaced by a cap. Gloves stashed away in the drawer, your fingers now able to flex in the air. That first hint of warmth, when long pants are an excess. If you want to know how the human mind and its heart might react to life’s sway, a southern Ontario season could be a good start.

Now, I’m not even sure what season it is, which, believe me, is an odd place to be. Right here in my ‘fall’, the rain returned each day around three, for an hour’s shower and cleanse. Every few weeks, a typhoon might stop by for three days or four, cutting power, wreaking wrath. The skies would be dull and ash-dark for a good month or more. No winter to speak of, and now here in March summer starts in a month. I can’t figure it out. My body resists. Add to this confusion seven years in Japan (with bi-annual returns as I write), and two more in Cambodia, each nation chock full of dry and wet seasons and regional quirks that come complete with their own cliques of strong winds and deep deluges in circadian rhythm, and what do you have left? A Canadian, one who wonders, whether or not he can weather all this weather for much longer at all, this annual mishmash of seasons, this timepiece that ticks past each unbearable snowstorm and godawful rainfall, and yet each change of tide, I admit, does tend to wash in oddly shaped conks on the beach, ones that I still, more often than not, even after all of this time, dust off and inspect and hold close to my ear for what I might hear.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


The world as it is often seems too large to know. The endless depths of each ocean; a languid sprawl of rainforests; those arrogant mountain peaks, straining to scrape the sky’s blue-streaked wide bottom – each of these spans is a trap, a dead end’s final wall. Even the length of my room hides untold floorboard wood puzzles. If I can’t even guess how one brick of this house somehow mingles with mortar, what hope can I have to decipher the globe as it is?

Nevertheless, I scheme. I invent alternatives. I concoct scenarios, imaginary escapades whose fruition is doubtful, and so I blame the world as it is for their unlikely rate of success. Put it this way: I envision a day, not long from right now, when I will begin my strange quest to make all Earth my own. If life as it’s lived consists only of footsteps, left turns and backroads, quick strides and slow shuffles, then, given time and its minions, I might trod upon all the streets and byways that lead from this room to out there.

It’s simple, as most complex plans truly are. I leave my front door, knapsack on back, water bottle in hand. One foot lifts itself up, and the other soon follows suit. Repeat. Again. Repeat. Again. You’re with me, I know. It’s nothing alien to our human instincts. All travel consists of one motion, xeroxed. That being true, what remains consists solely of intent and time, in equal good measure. We have a limited number of hours to use; the routes that we choose thus must follow such limits. If we lived all of this life on red Mars or Uranus, or on one of those planets where each day wastes hour upon hour before night finds its groove, our travels would surely consist of less forms of small grief. Here, with the ground that we have, and the daylight that we lack, we must select where we go, to limit our fallout.

Even so, my mad endeavor’s true roots have a core of discernment. How can one decide that this place over here is truly worthy of us? There’s a vanity at play in each interlude of pure wander. We expect the location to give us ourselves in some way, a reflection of hope, some excitement or thrill. Something, at least. It does not exist for itself, but as our natural mirror or twin. “It was a fabulous place!” means it got our rocks off. The earth, by itself, exists for that sly tingle – signaling: some sex might be near. We visit those waterfalls or small towns so that our palate or crotch might find a form of sweet touch.

Yet: What if we sought not fulfillment but presence? Nothing exotic; nothing startling. Just, the planet. Every road and dirt path somehow leads to each other, and I believe, without proof, that one could tread upon all of these paths that exist, if patience became our pure goal. All the paths, ultimately. It would take most of my life, but if I started quite soon, I might just pull it off. Rip the rails right from the ground and have the tracks be my feet.

You see: I want to see every street that exists in each country, the works. I would not linger; I might not even pause for one second’s small span. Only glimpse as I cruised. Time only wields certain weapons, and one must not waste their blunt force. Would I use Google Maps? Not at all. Turn it off. Shut her down. I’d instead ask the locals to tell me where each unpaved road ends and transforms into blacktop. Take a snapshot of each sign, the street names my new buds. Start here in east Asia, and walk my way counter- clockwise.

In fifty years time, I’ll slowly step into the court that holds my true childhood home, not seen since nineteen, and now my last resting place. In my backpack, a hundred notebooks or more will be filled with street names, the world cataloged and contained. Everything will have been seen by myself, underscored and processed. In a way, at that end, the world will at last have become all my own. Of course, I won’t recollect the underfoot of every swamp or quicksand that I dodged in my travels, but when I knock on my old door, I hope to hear that the footsteps approaching from inside have a familiar soft echo.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Sometimes random moments from life will return with full force. Just now. Me, in the car, age five, lounging in the backseat, flipping through a full-colour, hardcover book featuring Bert and Ernie, along with who knows how many other of their Sesame Street, plush-doll pals.. Somewhere in Niagara, near my home in St.Kitts. Beamsville? Grimsby? Driving through springtime, sunlight slicing its path through the rear window’s small square. One that I often lean against and lean into at night as I watch the moon chase our small car halfway home. The next day a Monday, me in Grade 1, at the front of the class, using this book as my show-and-tell prop. Proud that it’s a hardcover, and not soft to the touch.

Why now, this memory, as I reached for the fan to fight February’s thick heat? (Welcome to the Philippines.) I wasn’t thinking of books, of childhood; I wasn’t thinking of anything.

Alongside this stray recollection, another one soon arises: me with a Mcdonald’s Happy Meal toy, a blue plastic spaceship, a UFO shaped like a spiral, on each window a sticker, the shriek-happy faces of Ronald Mcdonald and friends. I particularly liked that peelable touch, the stickers; all of his buddies together, riding off into space. Something about them all being safe in one spot, awaiting adventure. Again, in the backseat of my car, that invasive hamburger smell perfuming the air, and me with my spaceship, imagining lift-offs.

That, too, became a show-and-tell moment – that Mcdonald’s space-shuttle, unique and short-lived. It wouldn’t be available forever. I had to flaunt its short life-span for all of my friends. Where it is now, I can’t say. That’s all in the ‘ago’.

Oh, please give me these touchstones, again, and again. Such warmth and great feeling. Such majestic emotion, a child’s one true trump card against adulthood’s grim slog. I recently finished Nobel Prize winning German author Gunter Grass’s new memoir, Peeling The Onion, in which he recounts the events of his life with a perplexed tone of candor. He can remember so much, and yet recall so damn little. Some events, crystal; others, only quartz. Opaque. He in his seventies, looking back sixty years; me, in my thirties, the early eighties my young time. The past is not only a foreign country, as a great author once said; it’s also a black hole, one that receives much raw data, but emits precious few signals. Yet still stuff leaks out, and I learn to slip through that hole, all at once, an accident.

If only show-and-tell still existed as life took away our small joys. Me, you, in a room. A small-town Ontario Legion hall all decked out. Soft drinks and hot coffee in Styrofoam cups. Folding tables lining both sides of the room. Metal chairs in neat rows. We all could take turns, the old folks starting first. Talking about the best things in our lives from the week that just passed. Flashing the odd souvenir we picked up from Sunday drives through small towns, or the latest new gadget, nabbed for half-price right downtown. Polite applause as we left the small stage.

I imagine a small kind of miracle as I take to the stage. As I begin to speak, as I open my bag, as I pretend what’s inside is a prop worthy of awe, down from the ceiling will float a blue plastic toy, all those Mcdonald’s friends in their spaceship, not lost at all but just waiting. For me and this moment. Three decades on, it will return to my hands. I will stare at those stickers, those portholes that feature Mayor McCheese in his suit and purple Grimace peeking out. An urge to hurl this ship like a Frisbee will come and then pass. Instead, I’ll clutch it tight, hug it, even fondle its ridges. Wondering if its descent is a fluke, or if it could not have come back until the memory had come first. If it will not return unless I give voice to its thrill. And if this is all true, I will tell everyone there of the joys of my past, staying still on that stage, until the book from that backseat spring drive will somehow pop up.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I used a nail-clipper for the first time in a good five, six years on my toes the other night. Watching TV, pretending to condescend to the auditions on AMERICAN IDOL, but secretly sort of enjoying the program, rooting them on to false dreams of redemption. I realized that the keychain that I twirled had a tool on its end. I flicked open the clipper, took a gander at my feet, whistled a little bit. Not the prettiest of sights, those feet, not the kind of transformative view that cause sentimental people to compose memorable poems or eulogies that might last. (But a blog post, well, what the hell.)

I’d almost forgotten how to use a nail clipper, that’s how long it’d been. Which is not to say that my toenails were swirling and conspiring against each other in a grotesque foot embrace; I didn’t look like one of those Indian holy men in the Guiness Book Of Records, those emaciated souls who always seem to hold the title of ‘World’s Longest Fingernails’ or ‘No Sleep For Ten Years’. The nails were probably shorter than average, if a little ragged. You see, I belong to that subspecies of humans who pick the nails on their hands and the ones on their feet. (I’ve been known to chew my fingernails, but not my toenails; I have standards. Not many, and they’re usually quite low, but I do have them.) If you’re grossed out, that’s your right; just remember: what you, yourself, tend to do with your body’s strange parts, when you think you’re alone, and that nobody is watching, could very well cause your close friends to freak out. (You know who you are.)

Oddly involving, clipping is. For a moment or two I felt like a young Ralph Macchio, snipping and shaping his bonsai tree to perfection. (I then realized that I am currently eleven years older than Macchio was when he filmed the first Karate Kid film, and that I’m nineteen years older than the actual character’s age. Me, almost two decades older than Daniel LaRusso? That’s a little absurd. I remember quite clearly watching that film at a theatre in Niagara Falls at age seven, the same weekend I moved from the only house that I’d known; wasn’t that just a few weekends ago, or a month, at the most? Looks like 1984 must be a bit farther back in my life than I’d like to believe) There’s an odd kind of Zen that descends when minute tasks are engaged. The tiny clicks that I heard almost felt sort of soothing. Something was getting done. Needless parts of myself were disregarded, abandoned.

Someday, someone might just figure out how to invent a similar gadget, one that is used exclusively for our soul’s excess layers. Stuff is accumulating there. I can feel it. Except here’s no Mr.Miyagi to help me wax on or wax off, to teach me the crane kick, the right kata to use. Think of it: we never see our nails growing; they edge onward, at night. During work. While we eat. Creeping, creeping. Stealthy, almost. Stuff attaches itself to our hearts the same way. Over time. Slights, grievances. Frustrations, anxieties. All of our hurts, swelling. Bruising, even. Only we can’t spot them grow; they linger, then fester, always unseen. There must be a physical means to erode all that pain.

Not a pill for the pain; not some stupor we willingly enter,then hide deep within. I’m thinking of a wand of some sort, one warm to the touch and quite soothing to stare at. Almost like a benign light sabre. When dark thoughts start to build, the kind that spread fast, one wave of that stick will release a form of good cheer. Such joy will dispel and disperse all that black useless gunk that rides rampant around our mind’s endless linked circuits. A holographic display will present ebony raindrops that fall from our heads to the ground in grand showers. All of our fears, dissolved. Like toenails, they’ll grow back, slowly, with force. Then out comes the wand, and we’ll clip them once more.

Until technology deems my warped wish viable, I guess I’ll have to stay vigilant, to keep tabs on my thoughts. Look for barnacles and growths that might someday become foul. Make my soul my own bonsai, and my will its plant-cutter. (Or, at the very least, think of my spirit as my big toe’s growing nail, and my humor, weak though it is, as its makeshift nail-clipper. That, too, might work.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I awoke with a cry from a strange and disturbing dream last night, convinced that I would remember it come morning, as its unusual hybrid of horror and hilarity unsettled something deep within me, but when sunlight emerged, the dream subsided, and I wondered if this was what would I feel like in those moments before death, the details of life forgotten completely, odd, intangible emotions the only remainder to guide me wherever it is that we go when we go.

Something to do with Germany. Something to do with children, two of them, a boy and a girl. Blonde-haired, the both of them. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare involving a golden, curly-haired boy, and a black, mammoth, sponge-like creature that swallowed me whole, again and again, nightly, and perhaps this dream from last night was a sequel of sorts. A reckoning.

And that's it, essentially. No details, no plot, no narrative thread of any kind whatsoever -- all of it, gone. All that I'm left with is vague and quite primal. Fear, basically. That kind of low, lingering dread that builds in your stomach and rises like vomit. I've yet to watch a film, or read a book, or listen to a song, or argue with a friend, and be left with the kind of terror and panic that a bad dream can build.

They start somewhere else, beyond our own skulls. These dreams. If an afterlife exists, if we've all been here before, and might come back once again, I'm slightly convinced that our dreams do emerge from that place, or one of its offshoots. They do not peek their way past waking life's mortared bricks. Emotions in dreams are stronger than those lost in life. There's something wondrous and frantic about such a blunt supposition. This might imply that we live our strongest felt selves while asleep on our pillows. Think of it! If we're lucky, seven or eight hours a night, with drool leaking from lips, our farts and soft moans unheard and ignored, and this is the state that arouses our most intense forms of touch. Not physical, but the force that one feels when a lightning storm starts its crackle. Sex, spite, tender, torment, ecstasy, despair, a motley arrangement of humanity's pulse. Can we get that from life? Intermittently, I suppose. But we need sleep and our dreams to relish these vices. And I think they may drift into our nights from those voids that await us all after death.

Even the bad dreams I often want to keep close. Don't go, I think. Stay, I plead. Give me all your details, and I'll cherish them so. Of course, this is not the means by which nightmares are enshrined within our soft psyches. They must exit forever, so that their power endures. All of our books and our movies are nothing but grasping attempts to recover those visions that move us in slumber. Imagine a dream that would last for long months and then years: Would its power be dimmed, or else would it rise and then build like an endless orgasm? Unbearable, or exquisite precisely because of its lack of release?

We let them go, though. I suspect we must. Imagine remembering each of your dreams for all time, from birth unto death! Surely a waste, no? I often consider our nighttime reveries as nothing more than stray junk, the mind's masturbation, their meanings all moot. Other times, usually at night, often when I can't sleep, I reverse my own theory, and declare that these dreams are gifts from those gods that we can't see or perceive when daylight burns bright. Or perhaps they are a small present I give to myself. My sleeping self is a self quite apart from the "Scott" that roams through waking life. He tempts me to loiter in dreams, embrace their strange moods, and upon waking I wonder: Which existence, which weight, has more burdens to bear?

Friday, February 18, 2011


“Yellow or blue?”

An overheard question, aimed not at me. Between kids. Those children who play outside the small school in the church that I pass every day as I walk up the hill to the highway. In small groups, the boys over here, the girls over there. A natural division – not unlike amoebas that split, a sheer physical proof of instinct’s enigma. Not always separate, they often join forces to play versions of games I might know if I stayed in one spot and studied their moves, but what kind of a man would pause for such sport? One can’t watch children at play anymore without creating suspicion. So I quickly move on, content to let their raw laughter relay their good will. And sometimes I hear stray words in their cheer that first linger, then echo, a stray phrase of English, my past brought up front.

“Yellow or blue?”

Referring to what, I’m not sure, for recess forms it own subtle world. I suddenly recall from my past small hands clutching paper, ten hidden fingers merging and moving together as a voice counts out -- slowly, in rhythm -- the numbers I gave him. This paper looks like a fake flower, the size of one’s fist, with separate folds as its petals, small symbols on each. These are numbers, crude drawings, colours. The kid holding that paper tells me I must give him a number, from one straight through ten. If I say ‘four’, he will count quickly out loud, as his hands shift and bob, the paper opening and closing like a fish on a dock gasping one final breath. (“One-two-three-four.”) I must choose again, another number. (“One-two-three-four-five-six.”) Another number. (“One-two.”) A final choice. (“One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-NINE.”) The game is over already. The folds are unravelled. Something is written in ink underneath that last petal. A joke? A lewd sketch? What did we get for our stake in this game?

So many moments, clouded. How can I forget what once brought me such mirth? Even back then, I could never quite get how that paper was shaped into something so layered; I could never do it myself, manipulate those few separate folds into one common unit.

In class, when the teacher’s head faced the blackboard (which in truth was dull green), someone would slip out that geometric time-waster, and off we would go. Don’t make me fold it myself; just ask me to play. But what was its point? How did we win, or lose, or were those terms not the point? All I can remember is not wanting to choose, worried about what I might find, that the colour I chose might betray my own instinct and leave me with naught.

Other games, at recess: hopscotch, played with a pink plastic puck of some sort, and marbles, always marbles, the purple wine bags loaned to us from our parents the cloak that contained all our gems, those small orbs and pure gems. These games I recall, with uncanny clear vision, but the details and rules have slipped right away. Hopping on my right foot over chalk patterns on pavement that lay outside my homeroom’s side window, or getting down on one knee to line up my marble’s one chance to roll straight on to schoolyard’s faint glory. (Save the Steelie for that one, that giant silver of power, five Gobstopper’s in size.) Mini-movies that my mind can replay with clear vision, Blu-Ray in clarity, the picture just perfect. But the actual restrictions we followed to determine a winner? Gone, if they were ever there at all.

“Yellow or blue?”

So simple: choose a colour, on that paper, and all will be opened. The folds will be made flat. Sometimes I think that if I could figure out the exact rules of that makeshift toy’s easy game, other gates might be opened. If someone offered me the chance to play that same game at my present old age, it might unlock certain doors that are now firmly shut. I would recollect how to keep score on a hopscotch’s small court; I might be able to kneel with my marbles and know now for certain just who got to shoot first. These inconsequential moments from age ten and under would suddenly return, vivid and actual. I could collect them like comics, stuff them away in sheer plastic. “Oh, that’s how we did it,” I’d mutter, those small moments I’d once feared lost and forever now back with a gloss that gives me my sheen.

If I hesitated way back then, that final crayon-coloured small fold a source of pure fear, I would not do so right now, knowing all that’s at stake. I want to see what awaits me, when the paper unfurls. A joke or a sketch, each would be ecstasy. But who would suggest such a game at my age? I can’t think of a soul.

I almost pause on some mornings, to stop at that school and join in their games, to tell them: Please remember quite clearly how each one is played, for soon you’ll forget, and what is lost can’t be found once you give up the search.

I don’t say anything, though. I let them play. I fear they would not understand the intent of my words, the spirit that’s offered. In the end, it’s almost unfair to interrupt anyone’s recess, so short is its span.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A black iron gate, open no more than a nudge, leading up and away from a winding paved road: an entrance or exit? Such a path could be used to get in or get out, but let’s up my own ante and imagine a gun, loaded and cocked, the tip of its barrel quite cold and intense against your soft secret scalp. You have to make a choice: Is this gate designed, at its core, to let someone in, or keep someone else out? You cannot split hairs, or else the gun on its own will do a fine savage job of splitting your own greying hairs with a force that will render yourself as a being considerably moot. You have to answer, definitively: Is it, primarily, at its core, an entrance or an exit? A simple question, ostensibly. All questions are simple, essentially. They simply pose varied thoughts. It’s the answers that give us such diverse forms of grief.

Perhaps a scenario or two might provide some relief. Imagine yourself out for a nice walk in the country on a night with no moon, while a car with no headlights hunts you down to your death. One can presume its intent, for the car is revving and grinding and moaning behind you, a mad beast in great heat, its prey none but you. Everything is dark, including your hope. You can feel its approach the way you would a great love who might soon lick your ear. A part of you almost craves this encounter with cold twisted metal, savage and brief, if only to compare its brute smash with your love’s slender tongue. A touch is a touch. That side of your shape is small enough to stay deep. The other lines of your rectangle recognize this great doom. For some reason or other, you soon might be dead, so it’s better to flee, or at least find a small haven. On your left as you sprint, you spot a gate open quite wide. The golden light from the lanterns that shine from the black spokes of the gate give you a glimpse of a road leading nowhere but up. To a house? A private club of some sort? If you try a sly dash and run right through that gap, you might soon reach a home, a school or convent. If you entered right now, would that car call your bluff?


Another situation, only this time you find yourself anxious to reach a wide road, two lanes or more, just down some stone steps from your house on a hill. Something is going on in this house. Something has always been going on in this house. This house is your home, but lately this home is also a grave freshly dug, awaiting your coffin just as grass prays for rain. The past few months have unleashed memories deep from within. They bubble up in your brain, just like fizzy froth in cold glasses poured from pop cans freshly popped. (Something to do with fathers and mothers and touches so wrong. And were those brothers of yours on guard duty as well? Did they man the lookout, awaiting their turns, while evil acts were shyly performed with the fondest of slaps in closed fists? Awful, intense moments, refreshed.) You decide you must leave, and at only fourteen, if that! Thirty-six steps to the gate, not one more nor one less. You have skipped down these large stones all your life with such glee. Now you focus not on your stride, but on that gate so damn close, cracked a few inches wide. If you do make it out, life will be wide, not subtle nor strident. Everything will be open. You think, as you start your descent, that you can hear the voice of your father, calling your name, anxious and angry. Thirty-six, thirty-four, thirty-two. (Two at a time, two at a time.) The smell of fall taunting your nose. Thirty, twenty-eight, twenty-six. (Two at a time, two at a time.) Your mother’s voice now, fading, but still shaded so dark with that skewed tone of joy. Twenty-four, twenty-two, twenty. (Two at a time, two at a time.) The gate always remains unlocked in the day, but for some reason you fear that this day might be different. (Two at a time, two at a time.) You can now see sections of pavement through the gate’s iron bars. (Two at a time, two at a time.) If you reach that highway, you can flag down a car, hop in and be off. Everything will alter.


An entrance or exit? One can’t have it both ways. There are priorities in life, choices to make, regrets to endure. These examples, I know, are extreme in their tilt, but is your life and its slant so different in angle? Eventually, you have to choose. You must decide, perhaps daily, what is more important and vital: to enter, even dwell, through those gates up that hill; or that you must, for your life, elude and escape, down those steps, to the road.

Everything else in this life, if not an entrance or exit?

An epilogue, almost.