Friday, December 23, 2005


Here are a couple of little stories from real life on a subject which rarely enters my fiction. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe the subject matter is just a little too real for my liking.

1. So, in my line of work it's required that I interact with a lot of Calgary's homeless. In the past, I found it too easy to paint them all with the same brush. I'd see a guy my age begging for change, perfectly healthy, and I'd say: "Why would I give him money? Has he not all the same opportunities that I do." I'd see a young woman wearing rags, high on meth, and I'd say: "Why doesn't she seek help? Are there not a dozen places in the city offering?" I'd see an old man drunk and crazy, standing on the corner, yelling at passing cars, and I'd say: "He's made his choices." Well, this is the first job I've had where I've been required to actually interact with the homeless. I work amongst them. I'm getting to know a few of them. I'm starting to understand that I don't understand at all.

A few weeks ago, I was in a busy train station in the middle of the night, when I saw a young native girl, maybe fifteen years old, sitting in the corner scribbling something on the floor with a Sharpie. Knees tucked up to her chest, a ratty backpack by her side, she could have been a student. That is, she could have been a student if it looked like her clothes had ever been washed. If she didn't look so sad. A few hours later, passing through the station again, I noticed the girl was gone, and I went over to have a look at what she wrote. It was a lot:

I'm tired of being homeless
I'm tired of sleeping on the street
in these stations
in the cold

I'm tired of being tired

I'm tired of eating



I'm tired of abusing



I'm so tired of being homeless
I don't know how to NOT be



2. Last night, I was at this same train station when I saw a rough looking homeless guy in his late thirties leaning over one of the regulars, an old man in his sixties. The old man was in even worse shape than usual, drunk on something, crying, trying to stand but unable. Seeing me, the younger guy, also very drunk, came over to chat. Turns out he's a recent addition to the homeless population due to a combination of alcohol and gambling addictions. It also turns out that he was beaten and robbed the other night while out on a bender, and was trying to get the old man to go to a shelter. "I gave him my boots and gloves," the guy said. "I just want him to be okay. He should stay warm, I think. Trying to help, that's all."

I nodded, and looked down at the younger guy's feet which were now clad in a pair of worn sneaks. "But what about you," I asked, "are you going to be okay? Surely, you'll freeze."

"I'll be fine," he said. "I've been worse off."

"But you just gave away your boots," I pointed out, needlessly.

He nodded. "But I also know that if I try, I can sober up for a couple days, work, and earn enough money for another pair. Knowing that, I'm already better off than that guy."

With that, he turned and walked back to the old man, and kneeling next to him, once more gave him directions to the nearest homeless shelter. Then, he set down a pack of cigarets, a half bottle of some amber liquid, and all the money in his pockets. Before he walked out the door into the night, he turned and waved to me. "A merry Christmas to you," he said. And he smiled. He actually smiled.

I started thinking about the thousands of dollars people spend at Christmastime to show their love. The dollars spent. Blowing the budget. The near-thoughtless purchasing of products. Rote spending, increasing year by year. I started thinking about all the numbers, and started thinking about how, maybe, this guy understands Christmas better than most people. He didn't think about the numbers. He didn't budget. He gave everything he had to someone in greater need than himself. He just gave everything, and walked away. He didn't give with the hope of getting something in return. He didn't give to look good in the eyes of another. He just gave. And he wished me a merry Christmas.


I'd like to wish a merry Christmas to those dedicated readers who still come by to check on this infrequently updated page. Your continued support is much appreciated. Here's wishing you the best in the New Year. I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

preservation (an untruth)

There's something I've got to say. And my interrogator waits. He waits for this something just as I do. He waits and grows impatient, waits and grows antsier just as I do. He sits across the table from me in this tiny room with the acrid air. He sits opposite me with his arms crossed before him on the rotting wooden table just as I do. There's something I've got to say. We both know it, but neither of us knows what the something is yet. But I've got to say it.

The chemical nature of the smell takes me back to my time in Darfur. And my work there. And the time that dog with three legs led me back to that beautiful deaf girl. Sweet and kind. Seemingly. Generous, having let me stay in her parent's guest room for awhile, allowing me a break from the detachment. She was all of these things - for a time. That summer, I spent my free hours learning sign language so that I might get to know her on a deeper level, only to find that she was irreparably crazy, hated me, and wanted me to leave her parent's house immediately. To this day, I'm stuck with the knowledge of this language - this useless chunk of data taking up precious memory - to remind me.

My interrogator waits. And beyond the darkened doorway behind him, there are the shuffling steps of the others who also wait. Kicking up dust, they wait for my words, wait for me to speak. They grow restless. The irritable furrow of my interrogator's dark brow reminds me of a little trip I took to Papua New Guinea. And my work there. And the look on the face of my mistress's father right before he chased me out of the house and down the street with an axe. It was the first time I'd been chased by someone who really, truly, wanted to kill me. It's a feeling that I will not soon forget.

Finally, I say it: "I really loved her."

I say it, and as I do so, I can feel the tension in the room break. Gasps from outside the room, from beyond the threshold of that darkened doorway. My interrogator's stony face breaks into a grin, I'm clapped on the shoulder with a giant hand, and he says something, loudly, in a language I don't understand. There are cheers. There is applause.

"I really think I loved her."

I've been trained to choose my words carefully.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

fraud automatic

Clicking links. Sitting at this desk, in this box, clicking links, ear buds in, Transplants' Haunted Cities playing. Loud. I am a responsible adult. Alone in this box, this office. I've two windows: one which looks out over a grey parking lot, and another which looks out over a grey sea of cubicles. I keep the blinds to the parking lot closed, but the blinds to the grey sea of cubicles must be kept open. Company policy. I am a responsible adult. My happenings must be kept transparent.

I gaze out at the cold grey sea. At the grey walls of the cubicles, and the robots occupying them. At the black domes housing the cameras above their heads. Surely, one of those cameras points my way. That's not paranoia - it's just the way things are. I am a responsible adult. Wasting company time and money beneath the watchful eye of corporate security. But I've fitted my monitor with a privacy screen which makes it impossible to read anything unless looked at head on. I cover my tracks. To keep my happenings as opaque as possible.

It's a game. I know that they know, but they knew I was smart when they hired me. They'd have been aware that I would know all about the game, know the rules, and know how to break them. I am a responsible adult. Engaging in psychological warfare with individuals I've never met. Oh, I've seen them. Rats scurrying through the maze of their glass cage. Shuffling papers. Compiling information. Staring into monitors, beady eyes shrinking further. My identification card was fabricated there. By them. If you normally wear glasses, be sure to wear them for your photo. If you normally have facial hair, be sure that it is present for your photo. So I shaved off my beard and put on a pair of fashion glasses just for the occasion. I am a responsible adult. Faking it.

Clicking links. Sitting at this desk, in this box, wasting company time and money. Plotting against those who attempt to keep me in check. I gaze out at the cold grey sea. I wish I were one of them. A robot. No need to feel special. No need to feel superior. No need to feel. Just do your job beneath the obvious gaze of Big Brother, guided by his hand, and go home at the end of the day. Hourly wage: your job is done when the workday is. Salary: your job is done when the work is - which is never. I am a responsible adult. Filled with disdain. I am a responsible adult. Feeling the effects of last night's drinking binge. I am a responsible adult. The effects of last night's psilocybin ingestion just now wearing off. I am a responsible adult. Wearing the disguise of a responsible adult. Posing, just like everyone else.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005


Off-white is now white. Everything just a little brighter. The names of colours come slowly, now. The brown of your leather chair. An island. The honey of your hardwood floor. Slowly rotating. The yellow from the bulb above your head. Divine light. Words wiggle, vibrating madly, before breaking free, jumping from the page, and easily overtaking your crawling brain. You don't understand them. Can't concentrate. Numb. You stare at the floor past your book. Stare through the planks of hardwood to the plywood beneath that. And beyond. That, or you're staring just one millimetre in front of you - you can't tell.

Your attention loiters, stands around, idling. There is no past. There is no future. There is only the present, boiled down, and brought to this exact instant. And it moves, ever fleeting. Oily bubbles blown from a child's bubble wand, popping on the floor. Smoke rings blown from the lips of a drunk, dissipating in air. Blown. Like your mind. Shadows mingle high up in the corners of the room, whispering to one another, conspiring. Smudges on the window come together to form images of something greater. You find the corner of the bookcase intensely fascinating.

Coffee growing cold, and tomorrow growing ever closer. Sleep comes like smoke from a cigaret left smouldering in the ashtray. There is no choice - it just comes. The fire burns, and what is left is ash. You, curled in your bed, cocooned in a mess of duvets, twitching to the rhythm of your unconscious. Yes, sleep comes, and it is deep. You walk through a world every bit as rich as the one you just left; a whirlwind of words, a tangle of colour. Off-white is now white. Everything just a little brighter.

Thursday, December 1, 2005



"Red," you said. "Reminds of the sunset in Punta Gorda."

Aloud, I had wondered how long it would take to drive there.

"I've two weeks off," you said.

The next day, we had filled the van with clothes, shoes, and bedding, and set out on the road. It took six days of driving, and we pulled in just in time to see the sun set. The Gulf of Honduras was dyed red beyond the beach. We dug our feet into the sand.

"You're not going to make it back on time for work," I said.

You shrugged. "I would if we left tomorrow."

At this, we both laughed before speaking in unison: "But we're not leaving tomorrow."

Right there, we buried those words in the sand, hiding them to be dug up, discovered, by the next travellers.


"Red," you said. "Reminds of the fire which ripped through gran's bookshop in Northampton."

We used to play there as kids when our folks would send us to visit during those long summers between school years. Running through the isles. Hiding behind the counter. Exploring the darkened basement. All day, we'd play until something brought the play to a halt. Either me with a skinned knee and a rip in my corduroy trousers, or you with a bee sting and tears in your eyes, something always brought the play to a halt. One evening - the last evening of play in that store - it was a raging fire which forced us out of play.

Even now, everything's a blur. There was an alarm. A lot of smoke. Flames. Somehow, gran got us out of the store. I guess she was younger then. We stood around outside crying for awhile, huddled close to gran while she patted our heads and told us it was all going to be okay. At one point, the entire building was ablaze. Half the block. The sky, too, seemed to be aflame. Everything was red. The firemen were there with their trucks, the water seemingly doing little good. Lights flashing. Gran was calm.

"There was nothing good in there, anyway," she said. "Hasn't been a decent book written in forty years." I think the word is stoic.

Now, every time the subject is brought up around gran, she just smiles and says: "That's the kind of thing memories are made of, right?"


"Sis, what's your favourite colour? I've known you all your life and still I don't know this."

"Red," you said. "The colour of a ladybug's back. The colour of dear mama's oven mitts. The colour of apples fallen from aunt Nell's tree. Red. Without a doubt, red. Reminds of the trees out east, their leaves turned in the fall. Remember that? How red they'd turn?"

"Yeah, I do, sis. Yeah, I do."