He Worked

He worked five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 8:30AM until 4:30PM.  He arose at 6:00AM so that he would have sufficient time to groom and dress and commute.  He was out the door at 7:55AM, always on foot in summer or winter, spring or fall, and he was back in at 5:05PM.  Because he arose at 6:00AM, he went to bed at 9:35PM.  This gave him 4.5 hours of free time in the evening, Monday to Friday, when he would buy groceries, cook dinner, eat, wash the dishes, and then sit quietly, for the last hour or two, reading a book, or watching a movie, or listening to a record.  Sometimes he did nothing at all and just sat.  Work was hard and he was expected to do a lot in exchange for a very little.  He didn’t have much energy left in the evening.  It didn’t take him long to fall asleep when he went to bed.  He awoke briefly every morning at 4:00AM to pee.

They call that a forty hour work week but work dominated his days and nights.  It’s just that he was only paid for forty of those hours.

At the end of each month he paid his bills.  His rent, his internet, his phone, his hydro.  Most months, he had a little bit left over.  Sometimes he bought books or records.  Sometimes he put a little away.  That little bit never accumulated for very long.  There were always new medical or dental bills to pay as his body aged and his benefits were slowly clawed back (“our bargaining unit is just too small to compete for a better offer,” the HR Manager dutifully reported at the beginning of each fiscal year).  Poverty wasn’t a thing that bothered him although every now and again he went online and looked at pictures of faraway places and found a recording on youtube of a thunderstorm in the Amazon or of whales singing in the Caribbean or of water falling in Iceland or of waves on a beach in Fiji and he closed his eyes and imagined himself gone.

He used to tilt his head back and let the water wash over his face when he walked to work in the rain but he stopped doing this after his Supervisor reprimanded him because of his appearance.  Now, when it rains, he carries an umbrella.  It has been years since he last went out to jump in puddles.  His feet and knees and hamstrings ache at the end of the day.  He knows he should stretch more and use the instructions and colour-coded rubber bands provided by his physiotherapist but, when he finishes the dishes and  sits down to rest (“just for a minute,” he tells himself), he finds it hard to get back up again and the remaining minutes pass and then it’s time for bed.

Every quarter, he received a letter from the financial corporation handling his pension.  “If you remain on this trajectory and retire at the age of 65, you will have an annual income of $12,500.”  Most of his mail isn’t really for him.  He receives a letter every month from a furniture store telling him about a sale, all because he bought a couch there years ago and he must have accidentally checked the box that said he would like to receive offers in the mail.  Or perhaps he forgot to ask them to uncheck that box.  He isn’t sure.  Every few weeks, he receives mail from competing phone and internet providers.  He has a sign that says “NO JUNK MAIL OR FLYERS PLEASE” on his mailbox but all of these offers are addressed to him personally.

Sometimes he tries to dance his feelings.  His joys and sorrows, his little loves and little losses – although, for him, they had been plenty big enough.  If he could do it all again, he would be a dancer.  Or, at least, he tells himself he would try to be a dancer.  Because, for most of his life, there was often a gap between what he wanted to be and what he was.  He was never very good at being what he wanted to be.  For a few years here and there, perhaps, he felt that the gap had narrowed.  Mostly, though, he worked and paid his bills and sat down for a few minutes and then went to bed. And at 6:00AM he was up and off again.  But when he first heard Ólafur Arnalds’ “Living Room Songs,” he closed his eyes and drew arches in the air with his hands and lines on the floor with his toes.  He swayed and spun and bowed, and he imagined himself young and supple again.  He felt graceful and grateful and sad.  When he went to bed that night he remembered the space she used to occupy and how he would smell the skin between her shoulder blades and wrap his arms around her as the waking world faded and the world of dreams awoke.

Sometimes, in the grocery store, a woman would pass who was wearing her scent.  For a long time this was difficult.  The first time it happened, he pulled up his hood and quietly cried in the canned fruits and vegetables aisle.  Eventually, he came to appreciate it.

He stopped making plans for his weekends once he realized he was almost always too tired to fulfill them.  Old friends were always so busy.  Activities that were affordable when he was young became expensive as he aged and the price of everything went up except the price paid for the labour of those who work a forty hour work week.  He learned to enjoy sitting or strolling by the river in the day.  He knew the places along its banks where people who had nowhere else to go would congregate to share a few drinks and feel a sense of belonging.  He imagined he might join them when he retires.  On weekend nights when the moon was full, he would lie in the grass of the closest park and try to discern the stars and planets and satellites.  He was never really fully sure about what he saw or which was what although, once upon a time, she was his sun and he was her moon and, for a while, she gave him daylight and he showed her the way in the dark. He stopped going to the park after a local homeowner called the police to report a man loitering there (“I don’t know if he’s high or if he’s prowling for kids or teenagers that might come by but he looks like a total creep” the concerned citizen said to the 911 operator).  The officers who responded to the call were friendly but firm and he was never one to overstay his welcome.  Quite the opposite, in fact, because he was never sure when or where or for how long he was welcome.

He learned contentment was one of the perks of resignation.  He learned loneliness, like sobriety, can be dealt with one day at a time.  In his dreams, he heard music – classical orchestral compositions that he did not recognize and could not recall when he awoke at 6:00AM the following day. He contentedly faded away.  His death went relatively unnoticed.  Only the folks by the river the following summer paused and wondered at his absence.  One or two poured a little out for him, half serious, half in jest.  His position at work was posted and filled within a two week period.  His replacement worked five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 8:30AM until 4:30PM.

In Which I Encounter An Old Acquaintance

(Last weekend, while doing some late night walking to clear my head, I encountered the same old man I met one night on an overpass in Sarnia.  We fell into conversation and didn’t take long to pick things up somewhere around where we left them five years ago.  I’ve tried to record some of what he said here.)

God, he said with a blink and a nod, is always playing catch up with the devil.  All these people talking about the miracle of god taking on flesh, of god becoming one of us, of god being with us, two thousand years ago in the hill country of Galilee, they forget a lot.  They forget that, thousands of years before Galilee, the devil walked into a garden and crawled out on his belly.  Not the belly of an angel or a demon or a spirit or a god, but a belly with flesh and meat and blood—a belly that rose and fell like the tides, like the stars, like civilizations.  And where were the people?  They were hiding because they could not bear to be in the presence of a god who came to them like a god.  God came in all god’s glory and the people hid.  The devil came in flesh and blood – as one creature among others – and the people spoke and ate with him.  It was the devil who taught god that you had to take on flesh if you want people to listen to you, if you want people to believe in you, if you want people to love you, instead of fear you.  This is why people who dream of becoming gods become monstrous—lightning bolts on their collars and “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles.  Don’t aspire to godliness.  Become demonic.  God still has a lot of learning to do.  And when god does catch up, he usually gets it wrong anyway.  The devil came to us with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – that’s some good eating there – but god comes fumbling around a few thousand years later trying to get in on the show and asks us to mouth his body and suck his blood.  Fuck off, man.  God is like a child abuser who expects his grown up children to toast him at his birthday party every year.  Merry Christmas and all that shit.

Besides, so far as I can tell, god comes and goes—the devil abides.  Here’s the proof of this: people call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, the comforter and counselor, but, who is it is that is always there for us when we are frightened and afraid and angry and sad and desiring and longing and hoping and wondering?  It’s always the devil.  When you are most alone and vulnerable and unsure of what to do, it’s the devil who is with you.  And it’s the same when you’re at the highest points, when you are elated, when you feel most alive, when you are standing on the mountaintop—it’s the devil who is at your elbow ready to celebrate with you.  God?  Give it a couple centuries or millennia and god might show up for the funeral or the party, and come busting in with some kind of shitty gift he picked up on the way, and when he gets there he’ll be confused and not understand why there is a desert where the city you lived used to be.

He paused to drink the rest of his beer.  But, look, I said, don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh?  Isn’t all of this a little too jaded?  Aren’t these games we play with god and the devil just the expression of an impotent cynicism?  I’m tired of being cynical.  I want something more innocent.

Innocence, he said.  Let me tell you about innocence.  Innocence is the one thing I can think of that you gain only in the act of losing it – and most of us lost it before we were even born.  I could argue that I lost mine when my father was abused as a child but, really, we could trace this back to the beginning of time.  We all lost our innocence as soon as we – us, all of this – came into being.  The fall didn’t take place in the garden.  That’s just god’s way of blaming the devil.  The fall took place as soon as god said “let there be.”  We can never go back to being innocent.  The dream of innocence is the dream of inexistence, it is a memory we carry with us from the time before time, the time when we were not.  It’s what our bodies, our cells, our genes, remember of the nothingness we used to not be.  You can never go back to being innocent because being is not innocent.  And once you are, you cannot not be.  Even the dead are not innocent.  As Euripedes said, “Never that which is shall die.”  Which is why, of course, our rituals around death are premised upon the need to try and ensure that the dead rest in peace.

What do we know of the dead or death or what comes after?

We are the dead.  We are what comes after.

And death?

Death, he said pulling another beer from his bag, is not the kind of thing about which one can speak cleverly.  Or at all.  But here’s another thing, the devil died before god.  First, the devil was demoted from the Lord of Hell to being the prosecutor in god’s law court or a transient demon without any final resting place.  The Nazis said the devil was gassed in a shower at Auschwitz and the Americans said the devil ate three bullets with his forehead in a compound in Pakistan, but I think he died long before that.  I think the devil died at Golgotha.  God has yet to follow suit.  He’s that kind of bastard.  Even when he dies he fucks it all up and resurrects himself and turns even the suffering of the oppressed into some kind of road to glory and wealth and conquest.  Streets of gold and rivers of blood.  Hallelujah.

But you said before that the devil is always there for us – for better or for worse – and now you say the devil is dead.

Some dead do not rest in peace.

And the difference between this and a god who resurrects himself?

Is the difference between those who wish to ascend to heaven and those who choose to remain in hell.  Heaven is for the selfish.  Hell is for lovers.  And that’s why god can fly away into the clouds after flirting with our suffering, and it’s why the devil, even though he is dead, continues to haunt us.

Stories for those who sleep with the lights on

I once met a girl who could read palms.  She didn’t know that she could read palms until she was backpacking through Thailand and an old woman in a rural village grabbed her and pulled her into a hut.  The old woman told her she was marked, that she had the gift, and then, there in that hut in that tiny village, she taught this girl how to read palms (this gal was also a twin, which seems to be relevant for this sort of thing).  The problem, this girl explained to me, was that she couldn’t do it right when she was sober.  Her conscious mind got in the way too much and she overthought things or second guessed herself too much and froze up and didn’t know what to say.  On my birthday she got drunk (and so did I) and she came over and read my palms.

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Last Friday Charlie Turned Six

Last Friday Charlie turned six. I was going to write my son, Charlie, turned six, and add a bunch of other descriptors – “my beautiful, kind-hearted, hilarious, gentle, innocent…” – but I didn’t know how I would be able to end once I started. Plus, all the words – “beautiful, kind-hearted, hilarious, gentle, innocent…” – seemed to fall far short of actually describing him. Plus, he’s not even really “mine.” How can one person possess another? And how can I ever describe him? How can I ever express what I see when I see him, what I hear when I hear him, what I feel when I hold him and what I feel when he holds me back? My heart aches with love.
In the mornings, when I bundle him up and wrap him up in a blanket and carry him to school, he leans in close to me and whispers in my ear: “Want to know a secret?” “Yes, I do.” “I love you so much.” “I love you so much, too.” And I spin in circles and pretend that the hedge by the sidewalk is his school and pretend to set him down inside of it and we both laugh and when I press him close to me he sighs his happy little sighs.
The night before the birthday party, I put the kids to bed and then stayed up late (10PM is late for me now) blowing up balloons and hanging streamers and sorting treats into gift bags for all the cousins who were coming to celebrate with us. It’ll take me two pay cheques to clear my credit card from this event which, I think, is really what greases the wheels of credit-debt. A lot of us aren’t going into the hole buying things for ourselves. We’re going into the hole buying things for other people because we want them to feel love and joy and excitement and if we just spend enough, we can give these things to them.
Ruby wants it to be her birthday, too. Ruby who is smart and strong and creative and a keen observer of others and… but there I am, doing that futile thing with descriptors again. She still crawls into bed with me most nights. I wrap my arm around her and cuddle her while she sleeps. Sometimes she talks about monsters and I tell her there are no monsters at daddy’s house because all the monsters are afraid of her daddy because her daddy is not afraid of them and her daddy has never encountered a monster he has not vanquished or turned into a friend and she believes me and she falls asleep in my arms and she sleeps peacefully… while I toss and turn as she jabs an elbow into my ribs or a toe into my hip. I am grateful for nights when sleep is lost that way.
One day Ruby, my baby girl Ruby, who also is not a thing to be possessed by me or by anybody else, will be too big and old for all of this. She will grow up. And the world is waiting and daddy’s house is small in comparison to all the places she will go. God, I pray her path is not lined with monsters. I don’t really believe in “God” but I pray to any God and every God for my children because, hey, why not? I would obey every fucked-up rule in every fucked-up sacred book if I thought the gods would then keep my children safe.
Recently, I came across a story told by Jorge Semprún, a Spanish Communist Party member exiled to France and arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. He was sent to Buchenwald were he observed the arrival of a number of Polish Jews. This is Žižek’s paraphrase of Semprún’s story:

[The Polish Jews] had been stacked into the freight trains almost two hundred to a car, travelling for days without food and water in the coldest winter of the war. On arrival, all in the carriage had frozen to death except for fifteen children, kept warm by the others in the center of the bundle of bodies. When the children were emptied from the car the Nazis let their dogs loose on them. Soon only two fleeing children were left.

And here Semprún contines:

The little one began to fall behind, the SS were howling behind them and then the dogs began to howl too, the smell of blood was driving them mad, and then the bigger of the two children slowed his pace to take the hand of the smaller… together they covered a few more yards… til the blows of the clubs felled them and, together they dropped, their faces to the ground, their hands clasped.

I lost my shit when I read this story. I cried, like hard ugly crying, curled up on the bed beside a friend who just held me without saying anything. I see Charlie and Ruby when I think of those children – and that is who those children are – somebody’s Charlie, somebody’s Ruby, somebody’s child, somebody’s love, somebody’s reason for living. And, for the adults who froze on the train, somebody’s reason for dying.
(And what did their dying accomplish? Would it have been better for the children to have frozen to death, instead of watching all their loved ones die and then being torn apart by dogs?)
But for now the monsters Ruby fears are the kind that are under the bed or in the closet, that kind that vanish when her daddy holds her and rubs her back and tells her that he loves her. She doesn’t yet know how monstrous people can be to one another.
And me? What do I know? Well, I sometimes wonder if I’ve ever met a woman who hasn’t experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence at the hands of men so, yeah, there’s that.
But last Friday Charlie turned six. He can read bedtime stories to Ruby and I now – he reads them all by himself, turning the pages and holding them up for us to see the pictures. I had tears of joy in my eyes when he first did this – my son can read, he can read books, what a wonderful gift for him to have received. He might not need them, like I needed them to survive my childhood, but they will always be there for him now. How ‘bout that, eh?
His hands and feet are getting so big. He’s got a whole new repertoire of dance moves and he tells surprising jokes.

“Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Banana… wait, I mean Orange.” “Orange who?” “ORANGE IN YOUR EYE!” *mad cackling ensues*

He is a sensitive boy who picks up when others are sad. He obeys quickly – unlike Ruby – and sometimes this worries me.
And this is another story about another Charlie and Ruby. An elder I know told me about some of his experiences at a residential school. One day, a young girl at the school had been told to clean the bathroom but one of the toilets had overflowed and the girl did not have the cleaning equipment necessary to deal with the mess. When the supervising nun came around and saw the mess she was furious. The girl tried to explain that she wanted to clean it but lacked the supplies needed. In response, the nun grabbed the little girl, flipped her upside down, and mopped up the shit and piss with the girl’s hair.
That’s just one event of a countless multitude this fellow witnessed, not to mention the countless others that took place in residential schools (and then foster care – as foster care has increasingly been the tool the Canadian State uses to take Indigenous children away from their parents, homes, communities, cultures, values, and languages). Many kids tried to flee the physical and sexual abuse (not to mention death from preventable disease and malnutrition). This often ended disastrously. For example, on New Year’s day in 1937, four Charlies were discovered frozen to death on a lake in thirty below weather. They had fled their school and were trying to make their way home. One of the boys was in summer clothes and had one foot bare. Another boy had running shoes on with no rubbers over top of them. Only one boy had a cap on. They died about half a mile from home, after walking for eight miles. The police report described them as “little tots.” Children who chose to go out into the heart of the winter without winter clothes because that was a better option than staying where they were.
But last Friday Charlie turned six. He’s six years old and I can see his eyes sparkle when he is extra happy or excited. He’s six years old and he never got shipped off to a death camp or froze to death on a train or in the snow trying to find his way home. He never got torn apart by dogs or beaten to death while holding his sister’s hand in the snow. He’s six years old and he loves to be held or just be close to me while we do things. He’s six years old and he never got torn from his home and culture and language and had his hair cut off. He was never made to sleep alone when he was afraid, he never had his hurts ignored or met with more hurt, and he never had his head used as a mop for shit and piss. My people do that to other people and then we circle our wagons around our wealth and privilege and cake and candles and party balloons and kiss our kids good night and go to bed feeling grateful.
Last Friday Charlie turned six. I love you, Charlie. And I love you, Ruby. I love you, I love you, I love you.

A Eulogy

For a few days, there was a pretty terrible smell in the hallway by the elevator near the entrance I use to get in and out of my building.  Then the smell was gone and there was a whole bunch of furniture stacked up by the garbage bins out back.  Apparently the forensics unit had stopped by somewhere in between the disappearance of the smell and the appearance of the furniture but I hadn’t noticed them.  Or maybe I had — I often see the police here, I just don’t pay close enough attention to them to see what units are showing up.  To be honest, I didn’t even notice that the cat who is usually sitting in the window of the apartment by the entrance had vanished.  It was only when a neighbour pointed in the window that I noticed that the cat was gone and the room was half gutted.
They say she killed the cat before she killed herself.
One of my neighbours said that he once found her crying on the front steps of the building.  When he asked her why she was crying she said she was hungry and had no food.  He asked her if she had any parents who might help her out and she had told him that they wouldn’t help her anymore.  They said maybe next month.  They said she had to be more responsible.  He was appalled and put together a big box of food for her.
She wasn’t all that old.  Younger than me by half a dozen years, I reckon.  She wore glasses and had short red curly hair.  I think she had some sort of developmental disability.  She was always friendly with the kids and I.  I know another woman in the building was bullying her.  Everyone else knows this other woman.  Most, except for a few of the hardcore drinkers who are always lounging around out back, avoid this other woman as much as possible.  The last time I spoke with the girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat, she told me that this other woman had threatened her life and told her not to talk with any of the men in the building.  The girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat said that the other woman wanted all the men to herself.
I remember thinking, “Why would anybody want to bully you?  How could anybody feel threatened by you?”  And I felt sad and angry and helpless.
Sometime around the time she stopped being who she had been, sometime around the time she stopped being at all, we were laying in bed, all mixed up together — limbs and heat and breath and thoughts and silences all tangled up together — and I was tracing the lines on your face.  The curve of your brow, the dip of your temple, the line of your jaw, I was tracing you in space, when you asked me to tell you a story.  I didn’t know what story I would tell, I did not know this story until I told it, but this was the story I told:
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the forest.  He made a house out of cans he had found but every night the wind would blow the cans down.  They would fall with a crash around him and wake him up and then he would lay in the dark, exposed to the night and its creatures, too scared to move.  He would cry until the sun came up.  When the sun came up, he would set his house of cans back up and then go looking for food.  By the time he came back, the cans would have fallen down again and so he would set them back up in the evening before he fell asleep and before they fell down around him and woke him up and left him crying in the night.  And this went on and on, day after day, night after night.
Some days, he would walk to the road that passed through the woods, and ask the people who traveled on that road to help him or feed him or take him away with them.  But they never seemed to see or hear him.  They passed by him like the wind and he was less than the air the wind passed through.
Other days, when out looking for food, he would discover families of people who did not live in the forest, who had stopped in this or that clearing in order to have a picnic.  Sometimes they would throw scraps to the animals — a piece of fruit for a bird, a nut for a squirrel, bread crumbs for the ants — and he would try to snatch the scraps away.  But the people would throw rocks at him and beat him with sticks.  “This food is for the animals!  It is for the bird, and the squirrel, and the ants!  Go away!”  And he would go away, sore and hungry, and back to his house of fallen cans.
One day, he decided that he would go onto the road and follow it out of the woods.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his feet were sore and blistered from the pavement.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his blisters had burst and his feet were trailing blood.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  The sun began to set and the night, along with its creatures, began to awaken and, finally, he was unable to walk anymore.  He could not stand and so he crawled to the side of the road.  He was a long, long way from his house of cans.  But the woods were still all around him.  Night came.  The wind blew.  And he was less than the air the wind passed through.
The End.

Love and Death

I recently watched a documentary about a fellow who spends some time with children in an AIDS orphanage in India.  One of the boys becomes very ill.  His body becomes covered in sores and blisters that burst and stay open and seep and make him look like his skin is peeling away from his body.  The doctors say the same thing is happening to the membranes and tissues inside of him as well.  His lips look like God or the devil has taken a potato peeler to them.  A compress is kept over his eyes, blinding him, in order to try and prevent infection from spreading there.  He frequently spits or drools out blood and mucus and, I don’t know, the kind of fluid you think oozes from wounds.
He is in a lot of pain.
His name is Surya.  He is about the same size as Charlie.  Charlie, my son, Charlie, my beloved, Charlie my beautiful one whose hair smells like sunshine.  Charlie who takes me by the hand and looks up into my eyes and tells me that I am beautiful and that I make his heart feel happy and then asks if he can sit on my lap and watch a movie with me.  This Surya, he is also somebody’s son, it’s just his parents died, ya know?  He is also beloved, it’s just that the people who love him aren’t wealthy or influential or connected, see?  And I’m sure his hair also smells like the wind and childhood and earth and the wonder, and when the person who was with him got up to leave and use the bathroom, he also took him by the hand and, speaking for the first time in days, said, “No!”  This Surya, this Charlie, this boy, this beloved child, he said “No!” because he was afraid that he would die in those moments when he was alone.
I watched all of this far away from where Suryas are too numerous to count.  I watched it play out as a movie on a flat screen HDTV.  And I cried awhile, and the gal who was with me, who loves me and whom I love, she cried awhile, too, and we held each other and later that night we made love and then the next morning the alarm went off on my smartphone (which, like most things I own, is made by children like Surya who live and die like Surya) and I went off to work and she went off to school.
And life went on.
And death did, too.
A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea of referring to sex as “making love”.  Who talks that way?  If sex was transcendental, it was simply because the nearly pure physicality of it could permit sad and lonely and broken and lost and angry and weary people — people like me — to momentarily forget all of these things.  In sex, you can lose your self in touching and being touched, in giving and taking, in caressing, and in fucking.  You can give yourself away, you can become absorbed in another — just as another can become absorbed in you — and in that forgetting you can also forget that this life doesn’t seem worth living.  But, hell, all the reasons for dying seem like bullshit, too, and so, in this limbo between the living and the dead, there is, at least, la petite mort.
Funny just how much can change in a year.
In the documentary that featured Surya, the Charlie covered in sores, there was also a young girl who becomes very ill and comatose and is on the verge of dying.  The father eventually tries to rush her to the hospital — he is sitting on the back of a motorbike, holding her in his arms — she is naked but for a blanket — and they get caught on the road waiting for a train to pass at a rail crossing.  She dies then.  We see her die — her head falls back, her mouth open, everything totally limp and the father cannot close her mouth.  He takes her in his arms, the blanket falling from her body and turns and starts walking back into the night with her.  “I am taking her home.”
What was her name?  I don’t remember her name.  But the film makers thought the scene was dramatic enough that they decided to include it twice — once at the beginning, without any subtitles or talking (what better hook for those of us far way watching this movie on HDTVs, right?), and once later one within the context of the story and with a voice over.  I do remember this though: wrapped in a shroud, her body looked tiny, as did the grave they buried her in.  When she was buried, she didn’t look any bigger than my Ruby, my beloved, my beautiful girl who isn’t afraid to say, “No!” to me when I tell her it is bath time, and who asks me to be a monster so she can sit me down and bring me presents in the closet, and who want to hold my head on her stomach when she is falling asleep.  I watched the dad bury this little girl, I watched him weep and hit himself in the forehead when he looked at pictures of her, I watched him love his Ruby and lose her.  Forever and ever and ever.  And this is not uncommon.  To cite just one, from any number of possible examples, around 2000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea-related disease.  That’s two thousand Charlies and Rubies every day.  That’s more than one every minute. Gone forever and ever and ever.
Welcome to the world we live in.  Things don’t have to be this way.  We all know that.  It’s just that we haven’t wanted to love one another at least well enough to prevent the needless suffering and dying of children.  And we never will.  Things will always be this way with us.  We know this, too.
Last weekend I went to my father’s wedding.  I missed the first (wasn’t born then) and the second (wasn’t speaking with him then) but I made the third.  It was a small ceremony in an old stone Anglican church with beautiful wood floors, and candles, and stained glass windows, and a pipe organ that I loved as much as all the other parts combined.  Ruby thought we were in a castle, she thought the priest — who was wearing a white robe — was a ghost, and she thought the bride was a princess.  She was pretty excited about the whole thing and stood on the pew the whole time so that she could “see the princess.”  Charlie was a lot less excited about the actually ceremony but he played games on my phone and it kept him still and quiet.
And me?  I don’t know what all I was feeling.  Or maybe I do but I don’t think I can talk about the way it felt without, in that very act of talking (or writing), retroactively changing what happened.  So I’ll say no more about that.
What a mess life is, eh?  How often we hurt when we desire to help, how often we betray when we desire to love, how often we curse when we desire to bless.  It is very hard to know what we are doing, regardless of what our intentions are.
And how often we get bogged down in our own wounds, our own cuts and scars and insecurities, and never see anything beyond ourselves.  Even now — I watched a movie and I feel things about characters therein by comparing them to my own children, whom I will continue to love in practical ways (just as I will continue to ignore or oppress the Suryas and the girls whose names I forget in practical ways), so, really, am I even seeing anything beyond myself here?
After I watched this documentary, I wanted to be more kind.  I wanted to never be angry at another person again.  I just wanted to love… and be loved, too.  I’m weary of anger and frustration and pettiness and violence, violence, violence everywhere.  But, you know, after I went to work the next morning somebody was rude to the fellow who helps me out and makes coffee in the Resource Centre I supervise and so I decided to be rude back to the fellow who disrespected my helper.  I didn’t say anything rude in words — but in my tone and in my body language, I basically told the fellow that he could fuck off and I didn’t give a shit about anything he might have to say about that.  Then, that night, Charlie and Ruby were refusing to go to sleep and I felt frustrated, even after reflecting upon Surya and the girl whose name I forgot, even after thinking how I failed that fellow at my work, even after recognizing these things in the midst of feeling frustrated… I still felt frustrated and, after sternly telling the kids to be quiet and go to bed, I went to another room and dropped a number of whispered eff bombs as I washed the dishes (in an overly aggressive manner… fucking dishes).
Do I ever learn anything at all?  Woe to me if I can watch a documentary like that and go on unchanged and unchanging.

But I will tell you a secret.  A very exciting one.  One wholly unanticipated.  One I stopped believing in a long, long time ago.  Are you ready?  This is the secret:
I have already begun to change.
Ain’t that something?  Because I was dead but I am now alive.  And that breaking process, that slow inexorable shattering that drained me of my insides and filled me up with darkness inside?  It wasn’t the final word.  My pieces are coming together again.  But I am not going back to being who I was before.  I am being made new.  I, too, have experienced the resurrection of the dead.  Here and now, I have been born again — this time from the dead.
This is what love has done with me.  How about that, eh?  I wouldn’t trade this love for anything in the world.  Not that I could trade it even if (for some unimaginably absurd reason) I wanted to do so.  This love after all, is something I am in,  not something I produce.  It is more an event and an environment than a choice.  At least for me.  Perhaps the one who loves me, who introduced me to this love in which we are now situated, perhaps for her it was a choice.  For me it was not.  The dead don’t make choices.  They’re simply dead.  I could not choose myself back alive.  I could not heal myself.  My heart felt as though it had been broken into pieces, and the pieces had been burned, and then the charred remains had been wrapped all around with barbed wire.  But when she first laid her head on my shoulder, when she first held my hand, when she first said to me, “I love you,” everything changed and the wires were cut and the ashes were swept away and the pieces came back together and, just like the motherfucking Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day… and it hasn’t stopped growing since.  I’ve got a long way to go yet, my hair still stinks like the grave and I’m a bit of a mess and sometimes old feelings or reactions still surface, but a resurrection is more like an insurrection than a makeover.  It takes times but, baby, it runs all the way up and all the way down and the fruit that it bears are a lot longer lasting than a tan and botox injections.
And the girl, the Ruby who died?  Her name is Vembadi.  I will not forget it again.  She died but our time with her has not ended.  Because we know her story now.  We are responsible for it and we our responsible for ourselves and how we will live in light of it.
Whether or not this proves to be a responsibility we can handle will be determined, I think, by whether or not we are in love.

The Pianist (A Fairy Tale)

I’ve seen her at the pub before.  She is young, especially for a place like this, and one of the first things most any fellow would notice about her is how full her lips are.  Generally she is sitting at the bar drinking with an older fellow – not the same older fellow – but different men who look almost but not quite old enough to be her father.
She doesn’t smile very much.  Her posture and her expressions remind me of the way a person drinks at a work function.
Another gal I used to drink with at this pub once told me that she is a sex worker who picks up clients here.  Perhaps it is the formality with which she drinks that led to this conclusion… perhaps it is the ever changing older and far less attractive men around her.
I don’t know if this story is true.  Maybe she’s just socially awkward and, let’s be honest, it’s pretty much only older folks who drink at this place so if a pretty young gal shows up here, there’s bound to be any number of daddies creeping on her.  And, who knows, maybe the gal who told me this story was just feeling insecure or jealous of her beauty.
But, honestly, I don’t care either way.  If a person chooses to be a sex worker, I reckon that’s no better or worse than choosing to be a social worker or a construction worker or any other kind of worker.
When she sits down beside me, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of where our conversation might go.  We are both fairly drunk – her more than me, I think, as she keeps repeating the same questions or makes the same statements multiple times.  She begins by telling me that she is a registered nurse but later states that she’s actually a nurse practitioner – it’s just most people don’t understand what a nurse practitioner is, so it’s easier to say she’s an RN.  On weekends, she goes to Toronto and is a “Bud Girl” at special events.  She does a mock performance of how she gets the fellas to buy beer from her.  She is quick to call me “honey”.  Mostly, I only like it when the older servers at the bar call me that.  They’ve spent a lifetime waiting tables, dealing with drunks, putting up with pricks and I reckon they can get away with calling people “dear” or “honey” or “sweetie.”  Whenever the younger servers pull that on me, I feel like they’re trying too hard.  Let’s not get carried away, okay?
But she calls me “honey” and she touches my arm a lot when she talks to me.  She asks me if I’m single and I say that I am.  She asks me why and I am honest and say that most everybody I meet bores me – I don’t really give a fuck about hearing somebody talking about her favourite TV shows or her favourite kind of music or the fact that she really digs guys who can make her laugh.  Wow! Who knew?  God, what a bore.  She says she understands and feels exactly the same way about the guys she has met since moving to Ontario when she was twenty-four.  That was three years ago – she came here from B.C. – and started a new life for herself.
I don’t mention that I’ve already decided that she is boring, too.
She gets excited when she learns that I play piano and have a keyboard.  Turns out she is a classically trained musician – piano and vocals.  She asks if I have all eighty-eight keys and if they are pressure sensitive.  It is imperative that they be pressure sensitive.  I say that they are but that I don’t have a full range.  She asks if I have drinks at my place and if I like to party.  I mention I have drinks but I don’t party much these days.  But, hey, I don’t care if she indulges.
She asks about going back to my place.
I say okay.
Getting into her car she says, “But we’re just doing this as friends, right?  This is just a friends thing, okay?”
I say okay.
My place is a bit of a mess from having kids for the last four days.  I tidy up quickly and mix a drink for her as she settles at the keyboard.  She plays some songs from memory and some songs from sheets that I have.  I play a few songs and she sings in the background.  She has a decent voice but she is an exceptional piano player.  When I play, she pauses to powder her nose… a few times.  And then she plays one of the most beautiful renditions of the Moonlight Sonata that I have ever heard.
When she finishes, she says thank you very much and, gosh, it’s hot in here, and I escort her to her car and say goodnight.  I smoke a final cigarette out back after she drives away and then I go to bed.
A friend tells me I should be looking to get laid.  She points out that the mock profiles I set up on an online dating site – one to see if I could get rid of an old toaster, one pretending to be a total D&D nerd dressed up like a banana, and one pretending to be a circus bear – aren’t actually very conducive to meeting people and she reminds me that, really, I should be more serious about dating or at least picking people up.  She says it’ll make things easier.
I’m not so sure.  The story of lonely people meeting in bars and going home to lose themselves in the embrace of strangers seems a little overplayed.  I met a girl at a pub.  She came home with me and played my piano and then she left.  I never touched her once.  And, that, I think, made this whole encounter much less boring than I thought it was going to be.  I was laughing to myself about it as I fell asleep.
I hope I don’t ever see her again.

The Big Fix

And when the night is clear, and the advisory is lowered, we’ll force the door at the top of the stairwell and for a moment — with the alarms ringing in our ears — we’ll see the satellites.  We’ll put our children on our shoulders, we’ll point off into the night sky and say, “Look: the stars were like that.”
(The stars we watched from hillsides, where we held hands and kissed and laughed and spun.)
Our children will smile politely and take pictures with their augmented reality HMDs.  They’ll update their Instagram feeds.
(Their avatars will hold hands with other avatars and kiss and laugh and spin.)
Before the Environmental Health Police arrive to close the door and give us a citation, we’ll hide our disappointment.  You’ll put your head on my shoulder and I’ll make a remark about “kids these days.”  We’ll try to remember what it was like to play in the rain.  How it felt to kiss, sheltered in a doorway, our shirts pressed against our bodies, our bodies pressed against one another, water dripping off the ends of our noses.
We’ll try to imagine what it is like to be a child and never jump in a puddle.
Our children will try to imagine how anybody got by before augmented reality and will desperately hope that we don’t want to play another video of sparrows, or polar bears, or dolphins, or trees, or any other dead thing, when we go back home.

Jimmy and Charlie

Last week I got out of work a little after midnight and was heading to the SkyTrain station when something caught my eye.  I was coming out of an alley when I noticed a teenager ringing the buzzers of a building across the street and then running away.  The fellow wasn’t very well dressed — red shorts and a red Wendy’s t-shirt — and I thought maybe he was high and fucking around.  This would not be an irrational conclusion given that my work borders on the “poorest postal code in Canada” (Vancouver’s downtown eastside).
I didn’t look to closely at the young man but I did realize that we were going to cross paths.  When we did so, he was running to try and catch a bus up the street from us and I immediately noticed two things: first, he was barefoot and limping; second, I realized that he had Down Syndrome.
This immediately changed the way in which I was viewing things, “what was a handicapped kid doing running around the downtown eastside with no shoes on after midnight?”
The kid ended up missing the bus and I asked him if he needed help.  He said, yes, he was lost and was trying to get back home.  One of his feet was sore and, after he showed it to me, I saw that it was bleeding (it looked like he had stepped on broken glass?).  I was able to call 911 with him and we waited and chatted together until the emergency help arrived in order to take him home.
I’m not sure how this fellow ended up downtown or what he had with him when he arrived.  I hate to think it, but there’s a good chance that somebody stole his shoes from him.  I hope he didn’t have a wallet, because all he had when I talked to him were his shorts, his Wendy’s t-shirt and an expired bus ticket that he was hoping to use.
There were other people on the street, but nobody stopped to help him.  I wonder how long he was running around looking for help.  I think that’s why he was ringing the buzzers on the building across the street from me when I first saw him.  He was trying to get help.
This sort of thing drives me mental.  Living in a world where nobody stops to assist the handicapped sixteen year old who got lost in a sketchy neighbourhood after midnight.  Fuck me.  Would anybody stop and help if my boy was lost and alone at night?  Or would it only be the vultures and the jackals who stopped to talk with him and see what they could get from him?
I had a number of reasons for stopping to help this fellow find his way home.  For me, it was a given.  It’s what it means to be human.  However, for me it was also a part of my refusal to accept the world as it is.  I want to be a part of making the world into a place where people do things like help lost children find their way again.
Even more than that, I want to give that change in the world as a gift to my son.  As I’ve said before, I’ve thrown Charlie into a pretty fucked up place.  If I love him, if I want the best for him, then I’ve got to do what I can to make this place a little less fucked up, in whatever way I can.
This is what people fail to appreciate when they accuse me of making “causes” or “ideals” more important than my little man.  What they don’t understand is that my commitment to my “causes” and my commitment to my son are one and the same thing.  Thus, to pick just one of many possible examples, I want there to be affordable housing, not only so that all people can have a safe place to live, but also so that my son can live in the sort of world where everybody has a home.  Further, by pursuing this goal in some possibly less orthodox ways, I want to show my son another lesson we desperately need to learn.  That lesson is this: if we are willing to take risks and pay a price, we can create change in our world.  We can make the world a better place.  This, I think, is amongst the greatest gifts a father could give to his child.

There are no 'good' or 'bad' People

In the work that I have done over the years, and in the lifestyle I have tried to live, people sometimes ask me why I desire to spend my time with others who have done ‘such bad things’.  When I am asked this question, I often find myself thinking:

Hey, where are all the ‘good things’ that everybody else is supposedly doing?  If these are the ‘bad people’ what makes you so good?

Because I think most people are restricting their sense of goodness to the things they do not do — or at least the things they do not do explicitly.  Truth is, when you dig down a little, all of us are child abusers, murderers, and thieves.  All of us are walking around with the blood of others in our clothes, in our food, and in our hair.  So, as far as I can tell, it’s never been a question of hanging around with ‘bad people’ or ‘good people’.  That’s not the issue here.  There are no ‘good’ people and there are no ‘bad’ people… there are only people.  Beautiful but broken.  Longing for life and in bondage to death.  Every one of us a bastard, and every one of us beloved.  That’s all.