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I've asked David to watch once again as I put things off, waiting again for the last possible moment to start my latest project, instinctively counting backwards from the deadline, subtracting the minimal time required to get the work done.
We've gone through this too many times, struggling alone for too long, then catching up again with the other's miscalculated dreams.
And the projects completed still pale in the glare of the stuff left undone, and a friendship built on twenty odd years once again comes down to a matter of minutes, a few short sentences, maybe one hundred words.
Back when I was five or so, I returned from my first trip to the top of a skyscraper determined, it seemed, to understand these structures through Lego: starting always with a low flat base for the shopping mall, the tall square tower, and a long thick antenna made from the smallest bricks I had. Back then, my first set of Lego was no more than a small box of basic bricks, a handful of windows, and a door that didn't open; but then I wanted no more than to build the same perfect building again and again.
In a country where visitors on their summer vacation arrive packing their parkas and looking for arctic adventure, I search for a restaurant that will open their patio on a warm day in March.
In a city where people might look at your strangely if you wear your summer whites past Labour Day, I'm thrilled to be wearing my shorts in October and my sandals well into November.
In a world that's warming too fast to be sure, I still can't help but look forward to a quick end to winter and all the trouble that comes with the cold.
Playing with my six year-old, he quickly lost interest in my skyscraper plans. Still I kept at it, slowly picking through looking for red bricks. A traditional start, strangely tapering off into something thin and impractically beautiful . . . taller, more elaborate (and somehow less innocent) than ever before.
A few days later, the World Trade Center was gone, but I put it off. I knew people were dead, a whole lot of people. But I missed the towers, and so finally, alone in the house and my son off at school, I carefully crafted a twin out of blue.
Rain leaves the late evening rush moving slower than usual. Still I hurry to catch a streetcar against the light and move quickly to the empty seats in back. We stop. Move again and stop . . . sitting wet and frustrated above the cars, I wipe window fog and watch people walking past, crossing the slick street ahead, blocking cars turning right. Our lane eases forward, a few feet then stop for another streetcar letting passengers out into traffic.
But slowly I'll warm up, I guess, and eventually accept my futile speed along the smooth steel tracks that always get me home.
Vince, two years now living in Phoenix, but back in town on a visit, on the road downtown, cursing the streetcar tracks pulling at the tires of his SUV, his sister's truck really, but my lift to work this morning, door to door for a change. He, worried about the decisions, directions, the attention paid piloting this broad vehicle through the fitful city traffic, while I sit back on another careless trip, passing crowded streetcar stops without pausing, thinking of the day to come, my only responsibility now for the next twenty minutes being to keep the conversation moving along.
Rowan waits for his first tooth to work loose. Behind some of his friends, he wants desperately to be a part of it, this primal rite of passage.
Because he can now push it right over, with a bit that still clings to his gums, bleeding a little. Adults cringe; they don't remember, can't even imagine the thrill of losing something they now work so hard to hang onto.
Finally, this morning, it lay near his pillow to be found, so small, but somehow too special to lose. His grin made all the broader with one missing tooth.
Comparing our tolerance for dirt, John admits to wearing underpants twice, but must start the day with a shirt that is clean. Me, given the choice, I'd wear the same clothes all month, but only double up on underwear when I discover I've completely run out. In fact, I used to count on this underwear clock to tell me when it was time to haul everything else across the street to the laundromat. Now somehow with a wife and a child, I've come detached from my natural laundry routine, and there's never an end to the clothes to be cleaned.
Travelling in New Zealand, I came across a urinal that appeared to have been fashioned from sheet metal, with a broad flat back as high as my waste, sloping slightly inwards and down to a gutter at my feet. There were no partitions and the whole thing was wide enough to accomodate three grown men side by side. But I was alone and the bar was mostly empty, and so I suppose that this toilet had been cooling a while, because as my warm stream spread, the whole thing flexed and thumped back into place, like a slow muted gong.
A song fragment heard back when I still had to get up in the morning, early, to Canadian public radio, where they still play short musical stings between items instead of commericials. Thirty seconds of melody I'd hum to myself on the way into work for the next fifteen years, doubting I'd ever learn where it came from. Then finally, watching the afternoon feature on TV, a flash of recognition, the throw-away background to a Chevy Chase comedy, rescued from obscurity by my tenacious memory and a CBC producer who, for reasons unknown, decided to purchase the complete soundtrack album.
Cycling to work, even through city traffic, keeps you in close touch with nature. Sure, the immediate concerns are always with asphalt and steel. But, from the moment you get up in the morning, more than anyone who drives or even walks, you are aware of the weather. You listen for updates on the radio, you study the forecast in the paper, but it all comes down to how far you think you can get before the rain starts again and what might be happening later this evening when it's time to come home, and the clouds roll in early.
With the low murmurs of the storm still rolling over the horizon, her happiness began to evaporate, slowly, like a summer shower from the dry, dirty street outside her window, the brief dancing rain not nearly enough to drive away the stifling sadness bearing down on her as thick and heavy as the air in her room, still hot in spite of the little fan he'd given her before leaving again. She lay naked atop her tangled bed, the sheets still damp, too tired to move, too hot to sleep or even dream of the day this heat might break.
I'm watching our bank balance go down again, like the gas gauge on a trip through the snow in the middle of winter, or caught in a ditch with just enough fuel to keep the heater running, waiting for someone to come and dig you out.
Where I thought we had achieved some sort of equilibrium, once again there is more money coming out than cheques going in, and again I am thinking of stuff we can sell, knowing full well that if we hadn't bought all this junk in the first place, we might already be home and dry.
I gave up drinking, for Lent. Not that I'm religious at all; rather because it gave me a traditional framework in which I could test myself for addiction. See, the current doctrine has me pegged as dependant, and it was important to me that I could stop if I wanted. It's hard to say if I really felt better, but at least I was never hungover, and I
saving a fair bit of money. But the biggest test came with my first drink at Easter: It tasted unpleasant, and I was worried I'd stupidly spoiled something I rather liked.
Late at night, sometimes, when my back window is open and the world outside is quiet and I am inside, alone and awake, my thoughts fly high out over the city, beyond the dull rows of houses, sleeping; and I return to a time not all that long ago, to another place where big things waited for night to happen, where the pavement was always dark and wet, where there was always music but no musicians, and the slow sad strains from their instruments would spill out of the alleys, flow through the streets, and wash against the people there.
I was two years old when Kennedy was assassinated, on my father's birthday, rattling at the gate across the door to my room, wondering at all the adults fretting around the TV. But I was almost seven when Robert was shot, and have at least some dim memory of the front page of the papers that morning. And so, goaded on by the network-news grief counsellors, I approached my six-year-old with some care, trying to explain what had happened. I showed him a plane hitting one of the towers, but he thought it was neat. He's six; he'll be fine.
While waiting for her divorce to come through that summer, she spent a lot of her time in the backyard stripping and repainting the bookcases and, in the evenings, meticulously measuring and cutting out a little paper template for every piece of furniture she owned. She was taking her two children back to Canada and needed to know she could fit all the pieces of her broken home together into the floor plan of the small two-bedroom apartment she had already rented sight unseen. Anything that didn't fit she'd take along anyway, or give it away. He would have nothing.
Sometimes it takes me a while to get it, like when the kids I hung around with were trying to gather enough money to buy a copy of
I'd never even imagined such a thing: pictures of naked women. "You mean they're cartoons?" I asked. Why would anyone want to be photographed without any clothes? Later, after my Dad caught me with it, he tried to tell me not to worry about such things; when I grew up I would get to see my wife naked whenever I wanted. But again, I couldn't understand why she would let me.
Every once in a while, some balance tips in the weather and things start to get cold. The oceans freeze, and a good part of the water blowing about in the air gets frozen together and rolling down over the land, a layer of ice one mile thick. Geologists reckon these glaciers have scraped through North America at least four times in the last million years, clearing out everything, then melting away. Except for this odd patch in Wisconsin that has never been touched. Things continue there much as they always have. Life is simple and safe from large changes.
In Kindergarten, we were told we could use the paints for our craft projects anytime we wanted, provided we cleaned everything up afterwards: the brushes, the paint pots, the water jar, and any other mess we had made. My solution to this was to not make a mess in the first place. I stopped using paint and fell back on crayons. Crayons were neater; and we each had our own set, so I could never be saddled with anyone's mess but my own. The question is: did school make me this way or did I have these hang-ups going in?
Once a year, we would each receive our official Cub Scout Pinewood Derby kit containing a few blocks of wood, some wheels, and set of regulations for the upcoming race. If one of those rules said we had to build the car on our own, it didn't stop me from dragging my dad down to the basement and watching in awe as he built it for me. He could do whatever he wanted with wood, so long as he had a model. So, I got to choose any car from my toys, and he would carve it out of pine.
He was appalled I drank alone, and told me so. But I held my tongue as we practiced our social drinking together, and he informed me quite frankly that he drank to get drunk. Most nights it was bar draft by the pint. But to a party he'd take sherry and drink tumblers of the stuff. All the while his father, like me, was drinking at home, waiting to die in the hospital, his liver shot, his belly yellow and distended.
After that we lost touch, though I've heard he's gotten worse.
I don't know what he's heard of me.
Imagine a lethal something lying dormant for years in the dirt, disturbed once again and dispersed, waiting for that brief exposure to an unsuspecting host, specifically chosen and cultivated to infect and spread quickly, like a virus in an unprotected mind.
With all we've gone through, you'd think we'd recognize the symptoms by now and act accordingly before the fever set in. But with our defenses weakened by years of indulgence, we can only hope this new form will run its course quickly and eventually prove as untenable as the previous strains we've survived.
Then we will bury it, again.
He'd just finished a course studying the ethics of the legal profession. He wanted to be a lawyer and had been taught, he told me, that it's wrong to take on a divorce case and use information you receive from the husband to seduce his wife. Oddly enough, he told me this a week after I'd broken up with my girlfriend, and I learned a week later he'd taken all I'd told him of our disintegrating relationship and decided to ask her out. At least he knew what he was getting himself into, but I wonder if she ever did.
John came across my first girl friend's next boy friend downtown recently and finally reported back to me this evening that apparently he has gone to fat. Forget that she and I were last together more than ten years ago, now, and ignore the fact that she and the fat lawyer have lived together longer than she and I ever dated, these furtive sightings still help pass the time over Friday-night beers with my high-school friends as they tease out the small lingering pleasure I still can enjoy in hearing the details of the poor choices she made after me.
He comes from a planet where what you'd call people fall into one of three sexes. One third of the population is female -- they bear the children -- and one third is similar to men in that they fertilize the female gamete. From a human point of view, however, the third sex could only seem superfluous; but, in their evolutionary past, its members served a very important role in the sex act as . . . helpers . . . or go-betweens . . . it's difficult to describe. Civilization changed all that, and the helpers are now reviled even as the other two sexes grow farther apart.
The planet is locked in an ice age, with glaciers advancing slowly on the last patches of population. Most you'll find in the cities that once thrived in the warmer parts of their world, where now people still do what they can (and sometimes what they have to do) to keep things the way they were before the ice fields began to grow again. Civilization seems frozen at that point in the past, the people unable, or unwilling, to face the cold future bearing down from the poles, so that even as they come together, their new dependence breeds mistrust.
She stood in the foyer for what seemed like hours, staring at the old intercom panel with its columns of neatly typed tenants.
Pushing one button would put her through to the superintendant and maybe set her up in her very own apartment before her parents took her along to the new house in the suburbs. But she didn't like the building and certainly not the for-your-own-good pressure her boyfriend was putting on her, waiting by the door. And of course, once again, she was horribly scared.
He frowned as she came back outside.
"I couldn't do it," she said.
Eight months of re-branding and our bold new logo looked a lot like a capital R . . . inside a circle. Understand, the consultant explained, every other company with a registered trademark is now obliged to include a tiny version of your mark with theirs. This she called "viral," and the description seemed apt, as we flashed through the slides of competitors' logos, each with our little R already in place. But wait, cheered our CEO, as the virus kicked in. We'll put another, smaller, R next to our trademark, and another next to that! An infinite regression . . . and our diminishing returns.
McDonald's latest marketing campaign has me rethinking Charlton Heston's 1973 film,
which posits a future of environmental degradation, the obliteration of most healthy food sources, and a burgeoning population dependant on the Soylent Corporation for their bland but nutritious packages of Red and Yellow and Green. Those who can't hack the heat, the poverty, and the lack of fast-food franchises, are encouraged to suicide at government-sanctioned salons, where our hero discovers a grisly secret, overwhelmed by the crushing crowd, futilely screaming, "Soylent Green is made of people!"
Or, in my updated version, "There's a little McDonald's in everyone."
Watching him fly as a bat through the Halloween leaves, I remember back to homemade treats and apples, which I pass to my father as they fill up my pumpkin. Too soon after my tonsils, my mother decided, so no costume this year and a jacket for warmth. Then a porch light glimpse of something large among the candy, yellow and orange and black . . . a candle?! I run, excited, slip and fall on the grass, and I know right away that it's gone, still miss this thing I never saw, and marvel at how much longer it lasted this way.
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