Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great McMurty (Part I)

Here is the first of three parts of my short story The Great McMurty. This isn't the first McMurty story, and won't be the last, as he's a fellow as seems to pop up at different times in different places, a soul sent back from heaven and spit out of hell, good for nothing but to be reborn and step back into the world.

I know of a man, named McMurty, who was seven foot two, and giant in a way that many never could be. His heart could love with no bounds, and his spirit was all but indomitable. He had brought his family out to the west, to Saskatchewan from Nova Scotia, where their families had lived for many generations. There was money to be made out west right then, as expansion of the national railway seemed to be moving at a lightning pace. McMurty found work laying track, and began to build a life for his family.

I knew McMurty when I was a boy growing up in southeast Saskatchewan. Back then I was always amazed at how very tall he was, especially to my ten year old self. In town he was well known and everyone liked him. Now and then he’d have a bit too much to drink, but he was a happy drunk, and never did he get mad or touch a soul when tipsy. Most harm anyone could have suffered by him in that state, is if they were to pass by just as he tipped and fell to the ground in a snoring heap. McMurty will forever stay in my mind for the kind of man he was. A great man, unlike any other, I can honestly say. He taught me a few things about people and about love.

The man loved liked no one I'd ever known. He loved his daughter, and he loved his wife, sure, and his devotion to them was unquestionable. But it went beyond that. When he stood by them walking down the road, you felt a permanence, hard like a granite slab, and you could only envy those women, the surety and steadfastness they had through him.

My mother and her women friends always said about the same thing. McMurty was kind to anyone who might pass his way, and never had an unkind word to say. He also had this way of taking the worst things in life, things so bad most men'd just crawl up into a ball and give up, and just going on like nothing had ever happened. Even when things got so bad that you just couldn’t, you knew no one couldn’t, go on any more.

* * *

The wagon shuddered as the wheels slipped back into the ruts in the middle of the road. In the back of the wagon, two shapes stirred and gave a murmur of protest, but quickly fell silent again, lulled by the rhythmic squeak of the axle springs. In the front seat of the wagon, singing softly to himself, sat a man who, were he to stand, would tower over most men living and dead. At seven foot two, Joseph McMurty was a large man. That this was true in a literal sense almost goes without saying. But some would say, were you to ask, that it wasn’t for his size that McMurty was known as a large man.

To the left and right, some twenty feet from the road on either side, were stands of hardwood trees. McMurty looked at them with a small grin. “You won’t be standin’ so tall for much longer, I think,” he said. “Things change when people come.”

He gave the reins a quick, agitated tug. McMurty glanced to his right as his daughter sat down beside him.

"Up already, eh Gladys?"

"Morning," she said, then looked calmly away, out at the countryside as it passed.

They had started out about a good two hours outside of Goodwater. Though it would have been an easy trip there to find the train, McMurty told the girls that he couldn't afford to go that way. Too many people would have known them, recognized them. So it was that they moved east, towards Kingsford, where there wasn't nobody as would know them at all.

In the back of the wagon, a second girl sat up, shaking the thick blankets aside. She rifled through a large trunk, and eventually pulled out a drinking flask. From under the blankets, where she had just been, a small squalling could be heard. The girl pulled aside the blankets, revealing a small baby boy. Then, uncorking another flask, she put it to the baby’s lips and slowly began feeding him the warm cream inside. The girl looked up at McMurty.

“How much longer?” she asked. “I think we’ll need to get some more food for Jacob soon. There really isn’t much left.”

It’ll be a few hours yet Alice,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at her. “When we get there, you and Gracy can get whatever we need. Try to figure on quite a bit.”

McMurty went quiet again, and Alice looked to the baby. Gracy, meanwhile, was still staring at the landscape. The silence was lulling, and soon Alice was asleep again with the baby in her arms. Gladys, turned so that she was facing the rear, watched Alice sleep peacefully for a while. She stared, mesmerized, by the slow rise and fall of Alice’s chest, and the strange sounds coming from the baby.

Why’d this happen to us?” she said, her words nearly lost in the clack and clatter of the horses hooves.

“I can’t rightly say, McMurty replied, "I can’t rightly say.” McMurty kept his eyes on the road as he spoke. “There are so many things in heaven and earth, I figure, that it’s to no point to try and understand them all. We’ll just…” McMurty stopped, shorts of words.

We’ll just what?” Gladys asked.

“We’ll just...go on is all. We’ll just go on.” McMurty then looked at Gladys. “Now you just go on and lay down again, and sleep for a while. Sleep has a way about it. It makes things go by a little quicker.”

She nodded and quietly moved to the back of the wagon and slipped back under the thick blankets. She didn’t fall immediately asleep, but the steady sounds of the wagon and horses, and the breeze as it swept by slowly coaxed her back into restfulness. Her hand restfully caressed Alice’s long black hair, and then Gracy's smooth cheek. Alice opened her eyes for a moment and smiled. She reached out and took her sister's hand. Holding each other this way, they soon fell into sleep, and into dreams.

Joe and the Great Canadian Hajj

Getting up in the morning
he slips on some denim
grabs his lunch, laces up
and out the door
hacking at the window ice
with a plastic axe

Once more to battle
Caressing the dash
he sings sweet promises
of gentleness and good behaviour
just so long as she goes
then twisting the key
crystalline breath hangs in the air

She says yes
He races for a fix
for his tiredness
weariness and short attention
a brew to get him going
an unquestionable daily ritual
a cultural pillar in a sense

the bright lights and spotless tables
and the writhing wyrm of stubble and plaid
debating the Leafs and the Liberals

He comes again to his mecca
this and every morning
to be reborn
as he’s often been told
“You’ve always got time”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Long Night

I've been a Catholic for years now, but I had never really known God. The truth is, to me religion was something you did, like going to the supermarket, or showing up at a family reunion. My baptismal certificate says that I was baptized in the United Church. Once a powerful force in Canada, it's been expelled from the Anglican Communion for its permissiveness, and liberality. I never really knew much about the United Church, though, because my first memory of sitting in a pew and praying to God was as a Pentecostal. Everyone was all red faced and sweaty, swaying about yelling "Lord Oh Lord!" and talking in tongues. At that age it all seemed exciting, but though I went to Christian camps summer after summer, somehow never really got what was going on.

Later in life I decided to become an Anglican. Not for any pious reason really, but because there was this girl, you see. It seemed like a good enough reason at the time. Sunday after Sunday I got a ride from her parents, holding that secret hope, that full blown crush, deep within. Only one day that little secret, those hidden feelings, slipped. Red faces, and uncomfortable expressions all made it clear that I had better find God somewhere else.

Through high school, there was a prayer group in the mornings. Sometimes they would invite me to church, but their fierce predilection towards hellfire and brimstone, and fervent stories of three-day pray-a-thons in crowded stadiums, transported by holy bliss all had me heading on, elsewhere. I distrusted that sort of fervency, preferring the safety of my books, my thousand page epics which never failed to reassure me, calm me, and transport me. I believe that the moment I knew I had to move on was when a member of that prayer group told me, in all seriousness, "just tell me your schedule, and I will find you. Wherever you are, any time, day or night, and we will pray together." I'm sure he was quite earnest in his way, but his earnestness and my willingness to have my life taken over by that earnestness were far different things. So I left.

Later, I became a Catholic. No Saul-on-the-Road-to-Damascus conversion for me. Just an Italian girl who told me in no uncertain terms that to marry her, I was going to have to convert. Being in a Catholic high school at the time, it made sense. So every week for a year I went to a meeting with my sponsor, a teacher and mentor from my school, a man who was helping me into the faith, and a man who would later briefly introduce me to the world of Amway, and stadiums filled with the faithful preaching of commerce, God, and family, in that order.

While the Amway bit just wasn’t for me, I stuck with the program, the Roman Cathloic Initiation of Adults, and when Easter arrived, standing in a church full of well wishers and worshipers, I accepted the Catholic faith. The next year I went to university, and a year later that Italian girl and I parted ways.

As my time in university wound to a close, I eventually met the girl I would marry. It turned out she was a Catholic, and would only marry a Catholic to boot. Which, in a way, seemed like nothing more than pure providence. As far as I knew, my membership in the church was still valid, so we went to mass together on Sundays, and I never failed to annoy her with my inability to remember any of the creeds, even though I could sit, kneel, and stand with the best of them.

They say that the young and the old are the most religious because they are the closest to God. There seemed truth in that to me, and being neither very young, nor very old, I couldn't say as I felt close to God at all. Until there came that dark night of the soul that changed it all.

When we had been married for about six months, we learned that our fist child was on the way. But at that time, due to visa restrictions, my wife couldn't work, and the hours at my job had been cut in half, and eliminated entirely a month later. I was scrambling for work, jumping at anything that paid, but it never was enough. We kept falling behind on everything, barley making our rent, just scraping by until the end of the line arrived. It was the 28th of the month, in the dead of winter, January, as I lay unsleeping at night, enduring a level of stress I had never experienced before in my life.

We were broke. Completely and absolutely broke. For myself, being broke was not something new. I'd begun living on my own when I was sixteen, and knew what it was to have little or nothing from week to week, or month to month. Alone, the stress of my situation would not have bothered me much, but I wasn't alone anymore, I had a wife, and a child on the way. I had responsibilities, and I was entirley failing to take care of them. As I lay there, in the dark, I found myself completely debilitated by worry. I had no idea where the next rent payment was going to come from. In fact, we had so little money left, that earlier that day I had to shamefacedly admit to my wife that I didn't even know if we could even afford bread the next day. And that night I could see it all - the car would be taken away, we'd lose everything, and probably end up on the street.

That night I couldn't sleep, feeling overwhelmed, and for the furst time in my life, completely at a loss for what to do. My wife, who had never been in that situation her whole life, whose parents had always taken care of things, even shouldering the full cost of her years at university, was in tears. Her parents were half a world away, in financial straights themselves at that moment, while my parents were either unable or unwilling to lend a hand.

It was just us, alone, and the raging winter winds outside our window.

As flimsy as this sounds, as Hallmark movie-of-the-week as it seems, I swear I found God that night. I began to pray, but as I prayed, I felt like a charlatan, a fake, a fraud. There were so many things, good, bad, and indifferent that I had done in my life, but what haunted my mind most was not what I expected.

When I was five years old, wanting to impress friends, I'd taken my mother's old nickels, coins from around the world that she had collected in her years at the bank. I buried them in the ground in the woods near my home, and drew a "treasure map" and made it look old. I then told my friends I'd found a map to buried treasure. We dug up the "treasure chest," and I tried to act like one of those kids from the Goonies, amazed at what I was seeing. I could sense they didn't believe a word of it, that they thought the whole thing was a pathetic scam. So I took them to the store and used my "treasure" to buy them some chocolate bars.

I remembered my time as a Sea Cadet, in an elite summer program known as PL, or Practical Leadership. Crawling under wire, through the mud, I decided to be a funny guy and make a joke about my commanding officer, standing near by. He heard and asked me what I had said. Mutely I tried to pretend I hadn't heard him. When he told me he'd heard, and just wanted me to admit it, my heart sank. In his eyes there was nothing so pathetic. All I needed to do was admit what I'd done, and he would have judged me a man. But I hadn't, and I wasn't.

Scene after scene of things petty and small, the tiny infractions that one shrugs off as beneath notice, came to me. In that dark night, wife finally asleep, winds unabated outside, those old memories of many failings loomed large before me. The guilt for things so petty almost subsumed me. I saw clearly who I was, and it was someone that I hadn't really known. I'd thought of myself as the kind of guy who tool care of things, was a stand up, straight up guy, but the evidence being paraded before me in the court of my own mind said otherwise.

Shame is what I felt. I wanted to stop praying, feeling a fool for my temerity. But hearing my wife's now steady breath as she slept, and knowing that I had no answers, no plans, no ideas left that could help us, I prayed anyway.

And he answered, or at least I like to think he did. The next day, they very next day, Revenue Canada had deposited my GST rebate in my bank account. It was a sizeable amount, more than enough to solve our immediate problems. Three months later I learned that they they had made a mistake, but we had passed out point of crisis. By then I had four jobs I was juggling, and while we we're still only treading water, we were no longer drowning.

Today, almost three and half years later, living well with a good job, two wonderful children, a third on the way, and a wife who calls me at work every day to tell me all the stories about the sorts of mischief our little ones are getting into, I realized something. I'd been a Catholic for years, but I had never really believed in God.

Now, I think I do.

Messengers and Messages

There's something to say
can’t quite
looking for the right
it’s on the tip of
in a second
it'll come back

close your eyes
don’t look
that way
open your ears
and hear

You're needed
to just

Friday, May 29, 2009


This morning, looking through old e-mails to a find a friend's address I had forgotten, I came across an item of note from last year that I'd forgotten about also. My father-in-law had been interviewed by the big newspaper here, the Gulf News, about Karama, the neighborhood we live in. A photographer had come by to snap a picture of our family, though the picture looks a little incomplete today, what with missing a second small set of feet that burns around these parts in the mornings.

The story had caused a little stir at work, as the security guards all seemed happy at knowing that one of "their" teachers was in the newspaper. Beyond that, however, nobody we knew had noticed, especially not our relatives. Though I am sure that lack of notice on their part was more on purpose than anything else. It probably would have been fun to listen to them grumble!

Stumbling across this old story has reminded me that I've been re-miss on something for some time. You see, I've been meaning to profile my neighborhood for a while, not only because I find it fascinating, but it is one of those few places in Dubai that is almost universally disparaged by whites and the wealthy. One blog I frequently read, Life in Dubai, dismissed my home as a soulless concrete jungle. To which I took umbrage, of course, but not so much that I felt compelled to write a fiery letter of protest.

So over the next little while I will explore a bit about this tiny corner of the world, which, while geographically small, is teeming with activity at all hours of the day, filled with more people from more places, living closer together than I had ever seen in Toronto, Vancouver, or other places I've lived. Yet even though these myriad groups live together, they always seem apart, preferring to congregate amongst their own kind as often as possible. The building I live in, while frequented by the odd pasty-faced British tourist who stumbles across it, is generally filled during the day with Keralites, especially those who speak Malyalam. The building next door is almost entirely Filipino, with shops run by and for Filipinos. Then there are buildings here which are almost entirely Pashtun, or Tamil, etc.

In the midst of all this mixing, there is a certain self-segregation that mirrors a larger self-segregation that exists in Dubai as a whole. When canvassing my colleagues, I found a very interesting pattern. The Muslim Arabs mostly preferred living outside of Dubai, in Sharjah, while Indians and Pakistanis seemed to prefer Al Qusais, Karama, Deira and parts of Bur Dubai, and Whites and Christian Arabs seem to overwhelmingly prefer parts of Bur Dubai, Jumeirah, or the outskirts of Dubai in enclaves like Dubai Marina, or Jebel Ali. Locals live pretty much everywhere, but there are large concentrations in neighborhoods like Rashidyah, Muhaisnah, Hor Al Anz and Zabeel.

While these breakdowns are nowhere near 100% accurate, they are still quite noticeable to anyone who passes through these areas. As a case in point, tToday I'll be taking my wife and kids to The Lime Tree Cafe, which is a bit of a landmark around these parts, and place we like to mosey on over to on Saturday mornings. One thing my wife picked up on right away the first time we entered the place was how the clientele was pretty much exclusively white. Used to frequenting establishments with a wide mixture of races and nationalities, it was a bit jarring to enter into a place that seemed to exist on a different plane. Then again, there are many other establishments we often pass by, but never seem to enter, where the same could be said about other races or nationalities. Take shisha, for a case in point. If you want to meet locals, a shisha joint is probably your best bet.

In the end, I think it would be fascinating to take real census data, if I could find any, and plot it on a Google Map just to see the larger scope of the pattern.

The Wedding Shower

Don't rip it open!
What's love got to do with it.
Then there's another tissue paper.
Why would I be crying, I know what it is.
Refrain from it?
I don't know what I'm going to do with this.
There ain't going to be any baby for some time.
I know this is from my Mom.
That's cute!
Hey! I can show my chaddies more now.
I'm scared to open things.
Oh! Now I can use this for my stretch marks.
I haven't been to the body shop to buy a new body.
That's what I was wanting.
What's the "more to come?"
Is this a cover?
I like this, it is nice.
I hope it fits me.
I think I can skip that part.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Looking Forward to the Next One

The missus and I, through the generous help of my father in law, had a rare chance to sneak away and go catch a real, honest-to-gosh movie the other day. And groan though she might, I was not to be dissuaded from seeing Star Trek, which is just ending its run here in Dubai.

Well, whatever my wife's thoughts before the movie, she came out loving it, and so did I. She mostly liked the humor, which was broad enough that you didn't need a Ph.D in Trek-ology to understand, and the movie moved at a relentlessly quick pace. It was not so fast as to make the story unintelligible, and it never really slowed down enough to get bogged down and dragged away from the main feeling of forward momentum.

I have to say that I completely agree with the screenwriter John Rodgers, who believes that perhaps the best part of the film is that the hero, Captain Kirk, has no character arc (transformative arc) whatsoever. And if that sounds bad to you, it shouldn't, because if you look at the stages of the hero's journey as defined by Joseph Campbell, there should be no transformative arc at all. There is a task, yes, and early on the job of the hero is to accept that task, but once the task has been accepted, the hero soldiers on. Others may lose faith in the hero, but the hero never loses faith in himself. This sort of arc is know as a revelatory arc, and it is the primary mode of heroic stories.

A transformative arc is called for when there is something off about a hero, or the hero is not really a hero. In the movie Iron Man, the hero goes through a transformative arc, where he falls, hits a low point, learns the errors of his ways, and then gets back on about the hero-ing business, but only because at the beginning of the story, he wasn't a hero at all. And for that story, a transformative arc was necessary. The movie Kung-Fu Panda also has the lead character go through a transformative arc, and it works for that movie also, because the hero doesn't see himself as a hero, has no confidence in himself, and nor do others have confidence in him.

But for Star Trek, and for a character like Kirk, that sort of arc, having the hero sit on the floor, tears in his eyes, vowing to be humble and donate to a tax free charity, but not before attends a save-the-Earth rally and converts to veganism, would have been ruinous. Don't believe me? Well, I have three words for you - On Deadly Ground.

Here was a movie, by an actor who had broken out of the B-List and made it fully onto the A-list of action movie stars. The film Under Siege really broke Segal's career wide open, but quicker that you can say "Save Mother Earth!", Segal destroyed all that forward momentum by creating a film so terrible, so undeniably awful, that within a few years he landed in the purgatory of direct-to-DVD, and has pretty much remained there since. And all of this was accomplished by taking a story with a hero character, one clearly needing a revelatory arc (he learns of the task, accepts the task, then kicks some ass), tacks on a transformative arc, and mashes them into a bastardized combination that serves neither the film nor the audience at all.

During On Deadly Ground, Forrest Taft first learns of his task, accepts the task, kicks some ass, but instead of ending it there, he goes on to realize that he is an evil white man who is destroying the Earth and must give in to the loving embrace of the Mother Goddess, and then sets of to lecture all and sundry about their nefarious ways, boring them to death instead of beating them to death, and caps it off with an attempt to inspire a legislative push at the Alaskan State Assembly.

If Segal had kept Forrest Taft as a simple ass-kicking hero, and had his evil oil-company stooge sidekick undergo the transformative arc, the film might have worked, and that second story line might even have been wonderfully funny if handled right. The new Star Trek splits up the story this way with Spock taking that transformative journey, but instead of bogging us down with a lot Prince of Denmark indecision and metaphysical angst, the screenwriters kick us back to Kirk, who is still kicking ass, had never stopped doing so, and and is busy continuing to do so.

That's not to say that you cannot ever combine those two arcs, because you can, and the film Gran Torino is proof of that. In Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski, like Kirk, never stops kicking ass from the word go. From staring down a bunch of punks on his lawn, to sticking a gun the face of a bunch of hoodlums hassling his female neighbor, to his final act, where he defeats the villains (the Hmong gang) and saves his neighbors at the cost of his own life, he just keeps on being awesome. But the other side of coin was how Walt came to know, like, and even respect his neighbors, starting out from seeing them as a bunch of "zipperheads" and "fishfaces" to seeing them as friends, and people he cared about a great deal, and then seeing them as family. But the catch here is that the transformative arc is relatively subtle, and occurs over the course of the film. There is no climactic moment where Walt has an epiphany and decides being a racist is bad, because he remains a racist old bastard to the very end. But he learns to accept his neighbors as people, just like himself, and that process is so gradual, and so smooth, and so realistically done, that it never jars you.

It begins when he saves his neighbors, who are Hmong, one night and scares away the gangbangers, but only does so because he likes gangbanger "zipperheads" a lot less than he likes the next door "zipperheads", and he'd just as soon shoot both, but for the moment the punks were a much more satisfying target. The next day the entire Hmong community is at his doorstep dropping off gifts to thank him, and he responds by grousing, grumbling, and dumping all the gifts in the trash, and hollering for all the "fishfaces" to get off of his property. But from there, he eventually meets one or two Hmong personally, realizes he sorta/kinda likes them, and then, at some point, he nibbles on a chicken dumpling that really does taste very good, and pretty soon he has Hmongs tramping into and out of his house, and he is even smiling at them and seeing them as friends. By the end of the movie, they are family to him, one hundred percent.

The way the two arcs were combined in Gran Torino was brilliantly done, and shows that doing this is not an impossible task. The caveat, however, is that as much as I love Gran Torino (it's now in the pantheon of my top five favorite films), it is not an edge of your seat thrill ride. It is not an action movie the way the new Star Trek is, and can afford the slower pace. Which is why, for a movie like the new Star Trek, a character like Walt Kowalski wouldn't work. And which is why the Star Trek screenwriters were smart to split the arcs up and assign them to different characters.

Overall, while I am not head over heels love the new Star Trek film, at least not they way I loved The Shawshank Redemption, or Magnolia, I think it is a film that has a lot to teach in terms of good storytelling, and I am really looking forward to seeing if they can keep up the good work in the sequels soon to come.

Reaching Away

"Get lost!"

Takes meaning from a speaker's mouth.

Insult, imperative, or inner desire,
all depending.

I want you, I want to, you want me to.

Three days left,
laying in the last bed,
a life's success can be measured
by the length of the gap
between silences.

Yet even then
this paradoxical urge,
a source of misery,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mad Men are Coming

Summer is upon us, and that means the summer television season, which has quietly become the best television viewing season of the year.

Like a number of friends and colleagues I know, one of the key highlights of the summer is the return of Mad Men. In honor of that, is a little something I penned a while ago about why Mad Men appeals to men as it does.

My measure as a man was taken long ago, given to the tailor, and returned to me as a pastel pink long sleeve shirt, to be worn at the office, but only on Wednesdays.

Like many other Canadians with limited credentials, not much talent to speak of, and a poor sense of economics that lead to a mountain of school related debt, I found myself teaching English in Japan. The funny thing is, the world depicted in Mad Men is no fantasy down in the Nihon. There it’s the stuff of everyday life.

Workaholic men who drink and party with call girls after work? Why, every day, Kohei. It's what salariman culture is all about. The vast majority of women stay at home as "defenders of the home," and raise the kids almost as if they were single parents. Then, when the kids have moved on, and the men retire from work, a surprisingly large number of housewives find they miss the freedom they had when their husbands were away. Divorce, and English conversation classes quickly follow. It’s a twisted sort system, but it does have an equilibrium of sorts, which is why this system has withstood the onslaught of first, second, and third wave feminism.

For WASP North America, that equilibrium was never found. Instead the pendulum has shifted from one extreme, that of the Mad Men era, to the other extreme, that of the modern era. The WASP North America of the Mad Men era is almost a mirror image of Japanese society of today. The key, and crucial, exception being that divorce was verboten in 1960’s North America. We see that in the show itself, in the way the other women look on Helen like she is some sort of leper. Sure they envy her seeming fearlessness and competence, but they fear it as well. The women’s movement that later followed did away with this timid mindset. Women like Helen went from being a socially awkward minority, to being representative of a loud spoken and proud majority.

Of course women yearn for the same things that benighted throwbacks like myself yearn for. The difference is that for the modern, urban, North American man, the actions of a man like Don Draper, the good and the bad, are beyond the realm of possibility. That’s why we love watching him go about his manly affairs. Sure he makes a right cock up out of half the stuff thrown his way, but we wannabes know without a doubt that if we were Don, we’d live it up and avoid the nonsense. If we was Don, we’d do it right, jefe, no doubt. But the truth is that that sort of life is long past for the modern, urban, North American man. But not for women.

Sure men still leave their wives today, marry someone younger, or, like Woody Allen, decide they’ve found true love in the eyes of their daughter-in-law. But it’s just not socially acceptable anymore. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge is gone. It’s been replaced with cheery terms like alimony, Deadbeat Dad, and “I think we’ve grown apart, honey.” Men acting in the irresponsible manner they had in the past been accustomed to acting with impunity are today treated quite punitively, for the same behavior. For women, the opposite is true.

In Jane Green’s article “Marrying Mr. Wrong,” about her upcoming boom “The Beach House,” marrying a man, having four kids with him, and having him accommodate your wants and desires for decades is as nothing next to the quest for a soulmate, for fulfillment, for the breathtaking passion that is her undeniable right, because she deserves it. As the commentary on her Times article showed, response to Green’s point of view broke down into women who totally understood, and sexist pigs who want to subjugate women and stand in the way of a woman’s destiny.

Mad Men is Sex in the City for dudes. The difference being that the former represents a world long gone, and the latter is the world that is. Sex in the City tapped into the zeitgeist, while Mad Men taps into the bitter nostalgia of a lost age, an era unknown to the modern, urban, North American man, not because it is a soulless, superficial fantasy, but because us dudes can take it with us into our rooms, and for a short time, indulge in a consequence free fantasy that we love all the more because we know it’s not real and never will be.

Or do we?

A Whispered Warning

Dawn alights upon the silent morning
Breathing relief at sight of night’s retreat
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Contradicting disastrous prediction
The day now begins with little friction
A blackened scythe swings forth in angry flight
Then pausing only with the halt of night
Dawn alights upon the silent morning

The Lord I thank with my bellowed laughter
For the great and joyous gift of after
Looking seeing naught that’s inauspicious
Ignoring the signs as superstitious
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Withhold your joy for this tenuous peace
For ‘tis only the shortest briefest lease
Over the horizon something still awaits
Acting in the stead of the three dead fates
Dawn alights upon the silent morning

We had thought to abide afar and hide
At faults divide we stood with bitter pride
Death and Famine and Plague and Pestilence
Have offered us too many precedents
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Post a watch e’en though the day is bright
Prepare in advance for the coming fight
For the stout of heart there can be no sleep
Or the cost unknown we shall surely reap
Dawn alights upon the silent morning
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Off to the Doctor

This first bit is short. I'll update it later today when I get back home, and have had to time put my thoughts into better order.

I slept in this morning, as did my wife. While I wait for her as she scrambles madly around getting ready, I thought I'd tap out a few preliminary thoughts.

It has been an interesting process, going through the pre-natal and post-natal care in two entirely different countries. This morning we're off to the hospital for the first ultrasound, scheduled out here after the first trimester, long after the first ultrasound would have occurred back home, and absent any of the tests that are mandatory in Canada, where, after 18 weeks, doctors are keen on learning whether your child to be might have Down Syndrome, or some other developmental affliction. Here you do not have that option, and as to why, I'll go into that later, but suffice it to say that the explanation is long and tied to a number of factors.

I got special dispensation to be late this morning, but the clock is still a ticking.

So we're off. I'll post an update later.

The Permanence of Place

A fiery rim upon the horizon gleams
making swift ascent
a return to glory
the reign of night is ending

Through dust eaten cloth on a silicate pane
a ray of light lances
piercing the eyes
disturbing silent slumber

Dream sand shifts amidst quickening eyes
the ears are opening
pupils start unfocused
vision confused briefly

The sound of alarm shatters the silence
heart races fiercely
startled from quiet rest
sound ceases with a flick

Awareness arrives of the bedlam surrounding
objects are obstacles
items remain hidden
one pines for blissful sleep

Haste is foiled by unfaithful memory
one cannot yet escape
with always one thing more
to remember to bring

This room is a prison upon awakening
with the sleep of morning
keeping one from leaving
lateness is fate not style

A juxtaposition of time and perception
light flees night, shadow moves forward
where once there was confusion and bedlam
there is now serenity and sleep

Not a thing

Not a destination

Only a nebulous conception

Unable to exists in the absence
of perception
as defined by time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Standing up to the Man

One little story on the Yahoo Answers board has been picking up steam online lately, and I have to say the whole thing makes me jealous.

Back in high school I had a rep for earning the enmity of the school authorities for a certain political outspokenness, and a willingness to agitate and organize. There was one principal in particular who I did not see eye to eye with, and we had a certain run in that ended less than amicably. The end result being that though I won my little battle, I most certainly did not win the war, as I learned after barely avoiding several subsequent attempts to have me (unsuccessfully) removed from school, and being prevented from being the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.

Whatever issues I had, they were always small issues that blew up into big ones over time, and my cause, as I look back on it now, while not entirely laughable, would have been better served by a more thoughtful approach. What all happened, and what was done about it, I'll save for another day, but bringing it up allows me to segue into a very interesting story of rebellion, and making a stand that is being approached in the right manner.

An American high school student posting under the alias of Kat Atreides, recently reached out to ask others if their small campaign of civil disobedience was a good thing. Basically, Kat objects to the notion of a banned books list at their school, especially a list that goes for more than a few pages. In response, Kat has stuffed an empty locker with 62 books off of that banned list, and runs a small "illegal" library out of that locker, signing out books, assigning due dates - the whole deal.

In response to Kat's actions, students at the school have taken up reading as the thing-to-do, and that little illegal library is doing a roaring trade in spreading literary subversion to the normally illiterate teenage masses.

Kat is quite certain that when knowledge of the little library finally makes its way to the wrong authorities, suspensions and even expulsions may be in order. And seeing as how the Supreme Court of the United States has regularly come down on the side of school authorities where questions of free speech on school grounds are concerned (schools are mini dictatorships - there is no real free-speech protection), Kat cannot rely on a first amendment defense.

That said, I am sure that if this story makes its way to the court of public opinion, especially through the televised media, this story will become very interesting, very quickly.

Delineating Integrity

Let's get spontaneous!
Look, see that chick over there?
Check this out.


function randInt(low,high)
{return Math.floor(Math.random()*(high-low+1)+1);}

function SnagACHICK()

{n = randInt(1,10);
if (n=1) return "Hey.";
else if (n=2) return "Got the time?";
else if (n=3) then return "Need some excitement?";
else if (n=4) then return "You're looking nice.";
else if (n=5) then return "Need a man?";
else if (n=6) then return "What brings you here?";
else if (n=7) then return "I was noticing you.";
else if (n=8) then return "How about it?";
else if (n=9) then return "You, me, and let's go see?";
else if (n=10) then return "You'll do.";}


Whatever, man.
No play.
What's her problem anyway?
What gives?

I tell ya.
Ain't no point in being genuine anymore.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Deccan Rising

IPL 2 just finished with a bang, and a massive concert and spectacle that came darn near to rivaling the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony, especially considering the fact that pretty much nobody in South Africa has the wherewithal to fake all that stuff on live television.

I have to say that, while I was disappointed that my Rajasthan Royals flamed out in such an embarrassing manner in their last game, I was quite happy with how the playoffs turned out. The two teams in the finals, the Deccan Chargers, and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were the last place teams the year before, having won a combined total of six games out of 28 played. Yet here they were, this year, in the finals, attesting to a level of mobility almost unprecedented in major sports leagues.

Can you imagine the two last place teams in the English Premiere league, or the National Football League, or even the National Hockey League doing the same thing?

In the next four years, six more teams will come into the fold, with three in 2010, and three more in 2011. While this is nowhere near the size of other major sports leagues, unlike leagues such as the NFL, NBA, or the European Football Leagues, there is still incredible room for growth, not only within India, but internationally as well.

One ironic item of note is that like last year's champions, the winning team this year was also captained by an Aussie. Shane Warne led the Royals to the championship last year, and this year it was Adam Gilchrist's turn. One of the greatest spin bowlers on the world was succeeded by perhaps the greatest wicket keeper playing cricket today. A friend of mine noted that these IPL teams look a lot like companies in Dubai. Staffed by local talent, but run by expat from abroad.

For those who are fans of the 20/20 version of cricket, over and above ODI and test, this is the sort of thing that really tells the true story of how 20/20 has changed cricket and leveled the sport for all players. In test, primarily, though it is also notable in ODI, bowlers, fielders, and wicketkeepers really do take a backseat to batsmen. With time on their side, the batsmen never have to take any chances, and can afford to hit singles all day, ball by ball, playing it safe and cautious, always. But in 20/20, time is not on the batsman's side, forcing those at the stumps to take some chances, swing for the bleachers, find gaps in the field, and look for as many runs as possible. By forcing the batsmen out of their safe little cage, and forcing them to take chances, they are far more prone to make mistakes, and its the rest of the field that reaps the benefit.

You take any ten test matches, cut out all the highlights, and what you often won't find are the diving catches, the cleanly bowled wickets, the dramatic run outs, and the over eager batmsen stepping past the line and getting taken out by a lightening quick wicketkeeper. You may find the leg by wicket, or heavenward lob easily caught by a bloke in the midfield, but that's about it. In test and ODI, it's a battle of batsmen, of their patience and stamina, but little else. In 20/20, it's about cricket, about every player on the pitch suddenly becoming important, being forced to try and catch anything in the air, to sprint at full tilt to prevent boundaries, to sprint between the stumps and try to squeeze out an extra run at every opportunity. In 20/20, every action counts, and every error could be the deciding factor in games that, more often than not, end up coming down to the very last over, and almost as often, to the very last ball.

In Remembrance

All around is a quickening mire, with solid ground below.
Not a chance of going anywhere but here.

Doing anything else is unthinkable.
Some see, and stop moving. Some don’t.

On and on, the cries, yells, protests, and marches.
It’s called quicksand for a reason.

They jumped in, fools flapping where giants swam.
Braying righteousness, rights, and right.

Eventually, whatever else is said, all will be drawn in.
Going about all this foolishness serves no purpose.

It's better to watch, to listen, to hope.
Nobody remembers, with Christmas lights in October.

So what's left? Stay, and hope, and wait, and pray?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Summer Switch

Back home in the great white north, for all of the jokes on TV and in movies, there really are four seasons, and not just winter and winter with some sun. In each of those four seasons, there are a variety of activities to keep yourself or your family occupied. Skiing and skating in winter, camping in the fall, swimming and traveling in the summer, and planting gardens and fixing up the house in the spring. No matter what time of the year, there are myriad activities and options available. It was something the really surprised my new in-laws when they visited my wife and I. We took them on a road trip from Toronto to Quebec City, and later, a trip through the Niagara Peninsula. On both trips we were able to stop somewhere, pick fresh fruit off the trees, picnic in shady glades, go swimming, take long walks, and in general enjoy all the nature around us. Having just come back from Japan, I enjoyed this immensely, but not as much as my in-laws, who had just arrived from Dubai, and had not been around nature like this for a very long time.

During their stay with us that summer, my in-laws would go outside every day, go for walks, wherever, and take the bus and subway to nowhere in particular. The grass, the trees, the clean and easy mass transit were all quite a novelty for them, and one they enjoyed immensely. They even talked about how wonderful it was to just open a tap, and have clear, cold water running out of it. And you could drink it too! Without having to boil it on the stove first.

I thought this behavior was odd at the time. I mean, the bus? The subway? The TTC? Grass? Trees? Tap water? Nice, sure, but not really anything to write home about. But after having lived in Dubai myself for closing in on three years, I completely understand how they felt then.

Summer hit hard for the first time this weekend. It was 44C, but thankfully with only 24% humidity. In short order we'll be hitting 50C with close to 100% humidity.

Back home when we get to minus 30C plus windchill, it is something to brag about. It seems so harsh, and unendurable, and were I homeless or without proper clothing, it would be. But that's not the case for us in Canada, so as hard as we want to make winter sound, it really isn't that hard to deal with. Add a layer of clothes, maybe, and turn up the thermostat in you have to, but with the insane insulation factor of most Canadian homes what it is, oft times a room temperature (20C) is just fine.

Out in Dubai, 20C is often the lowest setting on the air conditioner. And insulation? What's that? When the summer hits, you can't just take off a layer of clothes, you have to find a way to get cool, and for pretty much everyone that means one of two things: find an air conditioned place, or, as any French Canadian resident of Florida can tell you, leave.

This is not to say that Dubai is not a nice place during the winter, because it is. But the problem here is that there are only two seasons - winter and summer. Winter is wonderful. Cool breezes (warm by Canadian standards), a relative lack of humidity, and relatively clear skies. Comfortable, relaxing, and calm. But then comes the summer switch, and where it was once okay to go for a stroll outside any time of the day, the same excursion needs to be meticulously planned, with the quickest route mapped out in advance, and executed only after sundown.

Sound silly? Perhaps, to most. To the guy who stands by a burning shawarma grill in the heat of the summer and yet does not break a sweat? Or the delivery men who rides a bike and then runs my order up to my flat, yet appears at my door without the slightest bead of perspiration dotting their brow? Absolutely. But for me, a fellow born just shy of the arctic circle, taken to wearing shorts until the thermostat falls below double digit minuses, it is a different story.

In the summer, my wife will often send me out to get milk, or odds and ends needed around the house. I'll walk outside, across a parking lot to the Lulu's Supermarket, and then back across the parking lot and home. That journey, a round trip that's all of ten minutes long, then necessitates a good half hour under a fan with the AC on before I cool down enough not to sweat through a new set of clean clothes I'll later put on. (And don't get my wife started on the subject of summer's one of the reasons I had to shell out a small fortune for a new space age front load washer.)

At times family back home will call me while I'm doing the "cool down," and tell me to just go and have a cold shower. If only. Here, in the land that cold forgot, there is no such thing as a cold shower. There is no cold water here in the summer. The cold water tanks, which are kept on the roofs of buildings, exposed directly to the summer sun, heat up half way to boiling in the day, which means that turning on the cold water tap for a shower around noon is a recipe for third degree burns. If your hot water tank is large enough, and you have kept the power off, then you can get cool-ish water from there, but only a very limited quantity, and since the hot water tanks are fed by the cold water tanks, in the summer that means you can kiss any real chance of cold water goodbye. Until late at night, when the "cold" water becomes bearably warm, enough that you can shower without dabbing a general anesthetic on your skin beforehand.

With two small kids, travel is not as fun as singles seem to think it is, so for my crew here in Dubai, summer is a chance to get to know one another better. We spend day ofter day together throughout the entire holiday. And it's great. But it's also probably why, when the fall comes and school starts once more, their smiles are so wide, and their waves so enthusiastic as I leave to go to work again.


Another busy day.
Up six, shower six-fifteen,
dress, eat.

Time to go.

Boardroom seven thirty
four committee sub-groups
before lunch.

At a diner downstairs,
talk remains focused
all business.

By five, seven clients,
three department heads,
two managers.

Seven thirty, last meeting
for the day,
the workaday done.

Stand up
push the chair
into the desk,
on the perhiphery,
near the door,
not quite in,
or out.

Smile, wave,
but nobody is
no co-workers,
or people-who-are-known.
Probably deadlines.

Time to go.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Perversity of Copyright

This is another cross-post, but I wanted to save it before the UBC writing boards got rebooted for the upcoming year.

Cory Doctorow has gone and made some more sense in The Guardian today with an article where the title really tells us the whole story - When love is harder to show than hate.

[O]ne of the most perverse elements of copyright law [is] the reality that loving something doesn't confer any right to make it a part of your creative life.

And there's the rub. Like those little kids who loved all things Harry Potter, who probably bought every book, paid full admission for every theatre ticket, and even paid for official Harry Potter (TM) merchandise, who were then treated like base thieves for writing about what they loved and trying to be more a part of that universe themselves.

How completely messed up is that?

I myself have paid some $250 on Harry Potter books, and close to that on theatre admission, and then I paid a further $200 for the DVDs. All told, Rowling Enterprises has pulled a good $600 out of my pocket. Not a massive fortune, no, but since there are so many people like me out there doing the same thing, it adds up quickly. To the tune of over a billion for just Rowling herself.

At that level, you'd think a little magnanimity would be in order. Say, something like "I've probably earned enough quid for the next little while. Why don;t you all take this and have fun with it."

But no. It's business, and as for that $600 and what it allows me to do? I can pay that for a Playstation 3 and go online and go hog wild writing about how great the system is, designing my perfect imaginary game, and no one would blink. I could buy $600 worth of Coca-Cola, give it to all and sundry, write Coca-Cola themed stories and blog about Coca-Cola themed recipes, and all that would happen is the company giving me a thumbs up for helping out brand awareness, and maybe they'd throw a few cases in for good measure. Yet were I to wax rhapsodic on Harry and 'is chums, and maybe pen a little piece about how Harry and his pals went on a field trip on day, and 'ol J.K's pitbulls would be feasting on my kneecaps in no time.

That's some seriously messed up stuff.

Thoughts as the Ground Floats By

The decision of a moment.
Looking at a crowded street,
thinking -
how much easier it would be
to ride on the sidewalk.

No people in the way,
no cars turning right.

Cut left.

Aware of the people, obstacles,
speed up, pedal faster,
move a bit to make sure,
to stay clear,
then lean into the turn.

It was all over his face
as he whipped around,
and hit the brakes.

No signal light flashing.

In retrospect, those rear brakes?
They were far too loose.
They did not quite catch.
Unlike the front ones,
that worked very well.

Sailing by,
unencumbered by mere gravity,
a thought -
the hood of the car was forest green,
but then the sidewalk,
it was grey.

What was everyone staring at?

Nobody died.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Al Bundy is Back

Some good news on the TV front today. As it is upfronts week, all the major networks are revealing their fall schedules. Since NBC has given up on TV entirely, the other three networks have decided to pump out a significant number of series, easily twice as many new series as have been released in the past four to five years. And one of those new series being given the old test run, is "Modern Family," a mockumentary about middle class family life starring Ed...wait for it... O'Neill!

You see, I have this unorthodox view of Al Bundy as a role model for husbands and father everywhere. This thought, when spoken aloud in polite company usually brings a few sniffs and conversations suddenly shifted toward another avenue. But I always felt that Al has gotten the short shrift, so here is my take on him.

* * *

Al Bundy is a hero of our age. Long may he live on in memory.

I totally loved Married With Children when it was on, but I'll admit that back then a lot of the comedy was a bit over my head. The whole family life thing wasn't something I knew very well.

But after becoming a husband and a father, who comes home night after night, told to hand over the wallet, keep quiet, and not to embarrass anyone, I now "get" Al Bundy.

I can just see it now...fifteen years down the road, with teenaged daughters pushing me about this way and that, my wife openly mocking me in front of anybody...wait...I don't have to wait fifteens year for that!

Seriously, though. Al Bundy represented a whole sector of society that had usually been ignored on television. There are a lot of guys who go to work, day after day, to jobs they hate, bitterly resenting the loss of foolish dreams of days gone by, forced to live with the mistakes that have put their lives on mediocre paths. These same men, fully aware of their lack of talent or potential, and lacking the ruthlessness ever to grasp advantage out of the hands of others, instead console themselves to the idea that at least they are doing their duty, sad as it is. So they trudge on home, park their sad, beaten down cars, and walk through their front door, greeted by a chorus of "I need some money," "Daddy, I need you to drive me somewhere," and "How come John and Cindy can take a vacation every year, and we never go anywhere?"

Yet for all of that, there is love. A husband and a father who goes to work everyday, to a job he hates, and sticks around, day after day, letting the thrown stones and arrows roll off his back? That's love. Being there for your children, despite your limited means, and their constant disrespect and contempt for you? That's love.

Love is not merely a smile and a kind word. It's in what you do. It's in being there.

Just compare Al to the men next door. Steve Rhoades? Jefferson D'Arcy? They were both better looking, smiled more, and acted more loving toward their wives. But how did they stack up?

Steve abandoned his wife, deciding he'd rather be a park ranger. Jefferson was a former convict who refused to work a steady job, even when his wife begged him too, and who also was constantly involved in shady schemes where he would sucker Al into going along, to Al's detriment. An absconded husband and a sleazy grifter.

I think Al stacks up pretty well by comparison.

And in this new show, I really hope Ed O'Neill is going to make the transition that will convince studio execs that this is a show they want on the air.

Film Tie Tolls

Sigh Co.
A Lad In
Weir Family
Tight a Nick
Sit Us In Cane
Glad He Ate Her
Stan by Your Man
The Grey Dictator
In Depend Ants Day
The Warf, the Worlds
The Lass Pick Sure Show
Law Rents of a Ray Bee Ah

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TV and Storytelling

While I had watched TV, like everybody else I've known, since as far back as I can remember, I, like most people, never paid much attention to the TV business. And while I had favorite shows, I never really knew about cancellations, or schedule changes. If I caught an episode, or not, it was entirely dependent on luck and the TV guide. Besides, other than one or two shows, there was almost never anything on TV to get all that excited about.

But then, about a decade or so ago, TV got good. Really good.

As someone who loves reading, has confessed to having a detrimental addiction to reading, I should be the last person to admit to being a rabid TV watcher. Yet the two mediums are not entirely dissimilar. Especially when what I watch is solely scripted shows. Comedy, drama, dramedy, action, sci-fi, fantasy. And in each there invariably is a story that will suck me in. Not the disposable stories of older television, with no continuity, and no respect paid to whatever had happened previously, but real stories. TV has grown and become a true literary and storytelling medium. Some point to shows like The Sopranos, whereas I look to shows like Babylon 5, but both are illustrative of a change in the storytelling landscape that has resulted in great epic tales like Deadwood, Rome, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Life on Mars (UK), Life, Breaking Bad, Intelligence, Durham County, and so many more. And then there are shows which bring high spirits, laughs, and general good feeling whenever they're turned on, like Chuck, Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, and Corner Gas. Unlike a book, which you can only share with one person at a time, these shows can be shared with many, simultaneously. And I tell you, as much as our culture reveres the written word, the written word did not precede storytelling.

Think back to those summer camp experiences, sitting around the campfire, sharing stories. Go back before the rise of electronic media, and that was how most stories were told - aurally and before larger groups of people. Stories were communal experiences, which excited, delighted, amused, and frightened. And those reactions and emotions were shared by those sitting there, together, listening.

When the book became king, a lot of that was lost. Oh, sure, you could share your thoughts in retrospect, but there was none of the immediacy of the moment that made stories such an essential part of life. During the heyday of radio drama this immediacy was there, and it has always been there to one extent or another with cinema, but cinema has become far too pricey to be an everyday experience. But that's not the case with TV now, having become a real, true, storytelling medium, with writers and producers who actually care about the art of story.


Far too far from the sky
laying still and calm
hands forever rest
never to reach again

Windswept blades
a whispering wind
the rolling knoll
unmoving earth

A juxtaposition
past and present
future colliding
whispering farewell

Confusion converging
resolution appears
a glimpse is offered
to gaze at eternity

For the briefest moment
before dusk descended
eyes gained focus and
the mind understood

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Passed a Milestone

Almost two months ago I decided to hop on the inter-tubes and get blogging. Almost two months isn't much as far as milestones go, but yesterday I passed the big one oh oh. Over 100 posts, two a day, every day, since I began.

Now that's nothin' stuff compared to almost every other blogger out there, but it marks a bit of a sea change for me. As someone who has pursued writing relentlessly since the beginning of high school, to actually go about and do the business seriously, not as a requirement for an assignment, but for the sake of it itself, is new.

Like a lot of writers, I got used to writing sporadically, in spurts. Back in high school I took two extra credit courses, independent studies that had to be completed after school, in addition to everything else, where I wrote a series of short stories, and then a novella. In my OAC year (This was back when Ontario still had grade 13), that is, my second OAC year (I liked high school so much that I took, in effect, grade 14), I took Creative Writing, got the highest mark, an award at the end of the year, etc. This led me to decide that I'd take a B.A. in Creative Writing, which I earned at York University, which led me to take an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, which I'm doing right now at the University of British Columbia (Number 34 on the Time Higher Education's top 500 list, ahead of Berkeley! Woot!).

In retrospect, I may have made a foolish decision to pursue the course I have. I never went about writing overly seriously, but kept studying it at successively higher levels. But to what purpose? Newspapers are dying (no jobs there), publishing houses are falling (very little new talent development now), and with a full sized family at my back I don't have the luxury of scrapping it out as a lowly P.A. in the TV biz, hoping to get a shot someday as a TV writer. It's like I'm looking at a barren desert out there.

If I had been able to see the future, way back when, no doubt I'd have done something different. I would have taken a more practical view of my education, and pursued a course that streamed me into a career. I would have run for the money, just as pretty much every foreign student I knew (including my wife) had done.

But I didn't have that crystal ball, and when I think about it a bit more, I'm glad I didn't. For if I had, I wouldn't have had an education, I'd have had training. You don't need education for an occupation, you need training. After having worked umpteen jobs, and going through training for each, I know now that, for the most part, an education is wasted on a occupation, the way building the Taj Mahal is a waste if it's only something you need to keep the snow off your Jack Russell terrier.

Training is something you can do in a short period of time. You learn skills for a specific job, skills which often transfer to other jobs which you can be trained relatively quickly for also. But an education is what you need for a vocation, and it is what I needed for my vocation - writing.

I'm stuck with this thought now, and it's not an original thought by any stretch, that what I do and what I do, are two separate things. That is, what I do for money, and what I do because it is what I'm good at.

Lately I've gotten to feeling that what you do for money, your job, your profession, whatever, is important, but only in the way breathing is important, or remembering to eat breakfast. It is a necessary task for survival, but in no way constitutes living, or life in general.

But what you do because you are good at it, or because you like it, is something else entirely. That is the essence of a vocation - the expression of a talent or predilection that it either God given, or if you're a devotee of Dawkins, a result of genetic expression influenced by cultural and geographical externalities.

That's why, almost two month's in, I've realized why I stopped worrying and learned to love the blog.

Tied to the Tracks and There's No Hero in Sight

Sounds like a train, she said

That was right, it did
That loud, pulsating rhythm
No mistaking it really

What's gonna happen?, she asked

Oh God it’s a comin’
It's gonna run right through
Smash right through

So loud, she said

Goddamn right it was loud
Sweat dripping on the rail
Stuck, no way to run away

So amazing, she said

I looked at her like she was mad
The end of our lives was on its way
At a hundred-fifty beats a minute

It's gonna be so wonderful, she said

Who can say that was wrong?
I couldn't
She was right
We weren't tied to the tracks
Only me

And I could see
The train was moving
Doc’ was talkin’
But all I could see was those rails
Stretching off into the future

Maybe you're right
, I said
Picking her up
Lightly brushing that soft skin
Feeling that living heat
That quiet heartbeat.

Maybe it is.

Monday, May 18, 2009

At a Price You Can Afford

On topic with last night's post is a little rant I posted the bulletin board run UBC's Creative Writing program, where I'm doing my MFA. From time to time I cross post between here and there, mostly because I have a tendency to go on when I write, and I'm often in mortal danger of running out, not of time, but of my wife's patience. A man must know his limits.

I had to laugh at an article from the New York Times a few days ago. It's about the digital piracy of books, and it starts off with Ursula K. LeGuin feeling shocked that people may actually like her work enough to go to the trouble of stealing it.

While I really felt the writer of the article was coming at the issue like a wide-eyed neophyte (whoa, man, they pirate books now?), and that the article was pretty crummy overall, there were a few salient points that, while only obliquely referred to, were in there.

The first point, though not explicitly mentioned, was clear. As a writer, you can be a Harlan Ellison, who doesn't think twice about sending forth his lawyers to lay wrath and destruction all about the landscape, all while hiding in a dark corner, forever bitching that a bunch hacks ruined your version of The City on the Edge of Forever. Or you can be Cory Doctorow, and encourage people to read your work, while bringing out bestseller after bestseller, and getting nominated for a host of major awards.

The next point, again unmentioned other than obliquely, was the affordability of first run fiction. As Stephen King says,

“The question is, how much time and energy do I want to spend chasing these guys. And to what end? My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer.”

Right there is the crux of the whole issue, and it is something I almost never hear discussed. Oh sure, I read a ton about how people love books, love the feel of the pages on their skin as they hug novels to their chest and breathe in the earthy scent of bleached and processed paper. Or how the tactile pleasure of holding a book in one's hand is an ethereal state that approximates nirvana, or finding one's self in the presence of the almighty, basking in that eternal glory.

But I never read about how books are so bloody expensive.

Think about it. You pay $40 for a hardcover. Doesn't seem like much to the average reader, working a decent job, but with so little time to read they may only buy two or three books at most in a year. But for the avid reader, who often has far more time on their hands for any number of reasons, that's pretty steep. You know what $40 is to a lot of people? It's groceries for the week. It's a sizable chunk of the month's rent. It's almost half the cost of a monthly bus pass. Multiply that $40 by eight or ten, which is on the lower end of what an avid reader reads in a month, and instead of being a sizable chunk of the month's rent, the cost of books IS the month's rent.

So what to do? Go to the library? But wait...if you go to the library, it's a situation where one person (or institution) bought a book, and then countless people are reading it...for free!

What does that situation remind us of?

Perhaps that of an avid reader who passes on a book that is then passed on to another, and another, finds it's way into a second hand shop (no royalties there!) and into the hands of another reader, and on, &c. One copy purchased, which many read for free.

Or perhaps that of some lonely kid who reads this cool book he bought, and wanting to share it, he scans it and sends it to his friends. Again, one copy was purchased, while many read for free.

However you slice it, it all amounts to the same thing. People want to read, but they don't want to pay.

Or maybe they just don't want to pay that much?

Being the genre fan that I am, I got to reading Eric Flint's "1632" which is available for free on the publisher's site. The sequel "1633" is also available for free.

Well, I tell you, those crafty little crack dealers at Baen sure know what they are doing. When I finished the first two, I just had to read the next book, and I sure as heck wasn't going to pay $40 for it, or even $15 if I could track down a paperback. I didn't want to search through endless bookstores, or order one on Amazon and wait for weeks. I wanted it right there, right then.

I could have turned to the torrents and found it there, but there was no need. Baen wanted to sell it to me for $6. That's right. For only $6, I not only got an e-copy of the book in the format of my choice, but the perpetual right to re-download that book if I so chose, and the file itself was DRM free.

It was so easy, so painless, and entirely enjoyable. Just like the Kindle (Which, reasonably enough, is a key reason why Kindle lovers love the Kindle.

Imagine that, at a time when all these publishers are staring straight at a dirt nap, plucky, little, independent Baen, purveyors of pulp sci-fi and fantasy and awful book covers, is sitting pretty. Why?

Because of access. Not only can you buy books from them cheaply and quickly, but their entire back list is available online, including all the out of print books. And, you can get the first book or two of most series for free. Talking about getting you hooked!

Ever see a book that looked cool, but then you learn it is book 4, or something of a series? Ever tried to find book 1 on the shelf without success? Happens to me all the time, and not just with genre fiction. I have Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land" and when I started reading it, I learned that it was actually the third of a series of three novels. For two years I looked for The Sportswriter" and "Independence Day," but to no avail. Only yesterday did my local Borders call me and tell me that the copies I had requested at the dawn of time were now in and ready for me to purchase - within 7 days, or they'd ship them off into the netherworld.

Good thing I'm not on vacation this week.

But really, when you think about it, when it comes to getting and reading books you want read, why is luck even in the picture?

Doesn't make good business sense to me, nor did it to Baen.

Maybe the major publishing houses will figure that out some day.

Forty-Five Minutes an Hour

“Writing allows us to forget. Reading allows us to forget we forgot.”
- Steve McCaffery

Start with the pen,
thunder in Rym, Ram, Ruff.
A chance stray thought gives way to
the hegemony of the Canadian anecdotal free verse lyric.

Like, it’s in that place I put that thing that time?

There was this guy I saw, on the subway, on the corner, and I have to.
Lest [I] forget.

Take time in hand solo; freeze it in carbon.

Permit my thoughts across the page to lay,
to hold, to feel, to read some distant day.

I like to think of it as giving you a pot,
not to piss in, but for you to pour a
quart of puck you and a pinch of
don’t-give-a-poop and you stir and swallow while I laugh.

I sat with Catullus and talked about bitches who better be giving some poems back asking “Oh where are the ho’s of yesterbeer?”

I rayse the prayse of hir commendacion, with wordes that
fle from me, wich once did [I] seeke.

O God forgive this weed, but I know flies in milk.

Per ardua surgo, Sum ergo cogito,
write, then shout
Illigitimi Non Carborundum and take that!

Thyse shitte be funne.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Racket Protection

I've been reading a number of really thought provoking posts recently, all about the issue of intellectual property, specifically the nature of information piracy. While I am firmly on the side of those advocating free and open standards, since obscurity, as Cory Doctorow is always quick to point out, is the writer's true enemy. And while this is true, it may not always be true, or at least that is the argument I've recently come across.

Peter Wayner's recent op-ed in the New York Times looks at the issue of piracy and its effect on the world of non-fiction publishing, specifically the world of academic or niche field related publishing. As Wayner says,

The kind of book I write, thick with equations that play to computer lovers, is also the first to be pirated. It’s a canary. O’Reilly Publishers, one of the top technical presses, reported that in 2008, the computer book market was the only segment to lose sales. According to the company, the category sold 8 percent fewer titles in 2008 than 2007.

It is an interesting argument, and pretty convincing in and of itself, but what Wayner does not mention is that until now, authors like him have essentially had a monopoly on a captive market. In fact, you can't even call it a market, because markets are open. In reality it's a racket.

Is there a truly legitimate reason that educational publishers will bring out a new edition of textbook every year or two years? Perhaps. But why is it that university courses usually specify the latest edition of a book where the content has never been significantly altered from edition to edition? University bookstores benefit. Educational publishers benefit. Textbook writers and contributors benefit. But do the students benefit?

Authors like Wayner have made their living depending on the fact that countless students often have no choice or option but to buy the latest shrink wrapped version of their latest epic tome. His readers, more often than not, did not shell out $50 or more per book because they wanted to, or were just dying to read the timeless jargon that only a Peter Wayner could so eloquently produce. No, they shelled out $50 per book because they were required to, and when a quick search for a used copy on Craigslist turned up empty, had to high-tail it on down to the university bookstore and pick up a shiny new copy.

I think the most telling statement Wayner makes, which entirely undercuts his argument, is the blase way he affirms the intrinsic value of his work. As Wayner says,

It’s hard to sue the students who read my books, even though I think the prices are a huge bargain. While $50 seems like a lot to pay for a book, the universities can charge up to $5,000 for a course that often touches upon half of the material in a book.

$50 seems like a lot to pay? While I think he's low-balling the amount most people pay for an average textbook ($150 was the median price in my day), even if every textbook were $50, what Wayner is saying is that his book is actually worth far more. For such a smart fellow, he sure seems oblivious to chasm sized holes in that logic.

Unlike an author, whose only expense is time, and coffee, universities have to pay for tenured faculty, utilities, administration, maintenance, and a whole host of other expenses. Running a university is an expensive proposition. Printing a few more copies of a book is not.

Even that aside, $50 is a sizable chunk of cash for most people. And saying that at $50 we're getting a smokin' deal? In miniature, it's the same attitude I encountered when reading CEO profiles where overpaid execs justified their insane salaries by claiming that they were somehow worth every penny, that they were worth whatever the market could bear, and even then they would be a smokin' deal.

I can only imagine how consumers would react to a fiction author jacking up the price of their books and then claiming that readers were actually getting a deal. Not only would there be a laugh riot, but the author in question would quickly learn an unforgettable lesson on how markets operate.

But for guys like Wayner, whose sinecure, so long unchallenged and secure, now stands under assault from the power of digital technologies, this lesson has not yet sunk in.


Eventually, all things
come to an end.

It's a tired cliché,
but with some ring to it.

Unspoken, the eventually
usually brings an understanding.

Each thing, in their,
or its, own time.

But the Jester, he
does things his own way.

while saying -

"Actually, all
at the same time."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Things Were Better Then (Part V)

This is the fifth and final part of my short story "Things Were Better Then."

Sunday morning at Church, Jojo was dressed in his nicest clothes. His father wasn’t there because his father went to the Presbyterian church, and never came with Jojo to St. Francis. And, since Jojo’s mother was away doing business again, he came alone again. Jojo didn’t mind this because he would sit in a different place each week, and see new people. For some reason, which he could never figure out, it was as if people always chose to sit in the same seats week after week. It was a routine, a habit that they couldn’t break. Jojo sat beside a man who always wore a white suit, was a bit too fat, and who had a sweaty bald head he always wiped.

There were the readings, then the sermon, and finally came the offertory. Jojo always like singing along, and since they sang mostly the same songs each week, he never had to open the hymnal. The Ms. B’s stood up with their baskets attached to poles, and they went to each pew take money from everyone at mass. When it was Jojo’s turn to put in his offering, he saw the Agnes Ms. B smile at the fat man in the white suit, and talked to him for a moment, like she did every Sunday.

“Nathan, good to see you. Anything for the church today?” Agnes looked at Jojo as he reached over and fut his two dollars and sixty cents in the basket. “Why thank you Jojo,” Anges said. “And how about you Nathan?”

Nathan took out a small box wrapped in brown paper, with a nice ribbon around it and put it in the basket. “For the good father, my dear. I hope he enjoys it.”

“I’m sure he will, God bless you,” Agnes said and went to the rest of the pews to collect the offerings.

After the offertory, Jojo shared the peace of Christ with everybody, and got ready as Father Francis started preparing for communion. It was then when eight policemen walked through the doors. Everyone stood and turned, and Jojo had to get on the back of the pew to see over their heads. While everyone was looking at the policemen, the police men were looking at everyone else. Their faces turned from happy pride to confusion. Jojo turned his head and looked towards the altar and saw the back of Father Francis’ head as he slipped out the side doors to the rectory. Then the two Ms. B’s started running after Father Francis, and as they crossed in front of the altar to get to the side door, they slipped on the spilled wine that was all over the floor. They both fell with a thud on the hard marble floor, and a pair of dentures flew up from one of them and landed on the steps of the altar. Jojo laughed, climbed down, and walked over towards the altar, where a group of people were already gathering around the Ms. B’s and talking worriedly.

Jojo stepped past them and picked up the cracked wet teeth which dripped with spilled wine. He walked over to the crowd, got on his hands and knees, and scuttled under the legs of one adult. He looked at the Macy Ms. B, who was shaking her head and moaning, and he held out the dentures in his hand.

“Want your teeth back?” Jojo asked. Macy Ms. B didn’t seem to hear him or see him, so Jojo shrugged and crawled out from the crowd and walked out of the Church to go home and see his father who was still sick from eating the muffins Jojo gave him a few days ago.

* * *

One Sunday, when all the police came back to mass, the priest, I can’t remember his name, ran out the rectory. Later he said he did it because he thought they were coming to lynch him for being a Catholic. And the two old Bernier sisters who chased after him said they thought the same thing too. Not much happened after that, until a couple of years later when the Berniers both died of a sudden, and the priest, yes Father Francis, I remember his name now, had some sort of nervous breakdown shortly after. That ws around the time my mother left us for a city executive, and my father decided enough was enough and he took me from then on to St. John’s on the other side of town.

I still remember how pure and good things used to be back then. There were no problems like today. Now when you’re in church, you’re as likely to hear a cellphone ring as hear a prayer. And nobody cares what religion you are. They don’t even care what you are period, what with all the different marriages and such going on now. No sir, Norton just doesn’t feel like a town no more. No spunk, no spazz. Just people locked inside their homes. Back then you could talk to your neighbors. Things were better then.

The Picnic Table War

Apple pie falls from the sky, shakes the ground around
Bits of apple tumble out, ready to be found
A soft breeze blows, passing by and shifts direction
From the grass, where pie fell, to a far location

Deep inside a mountain, there begins a stirring
Small shapes move, up outside, ready for a finding
The first arrives at the crust, grabs a massive load
Fifty times its weight, it moves down a scented road

From where it fell, to far away, to a brand new home
Piece by piece the pie moves by, buried in the loam
More arrive, retrace their steps, ready for some fun
The second run, things change, as many move as one

First to get, was first to go, first to start again
Triple strong scent leads the way, there and back again
Piece by piece pie disappears, in an earthen vault
When a shadow marks the ground, the line doesn't halt

Perched on the picnic table far above, the bird's menacing gaze watches. Seeing riches flowing by, it moves - a darkling shadow blotting out the light for those below. Hitting the ground, the impact knocks the scuttling shapes about. A beak darts out and separates apple and crust. Bits and pieces fly in all directions. When the big bits are gone, the beak darts out, for every other crumb. The broken, dark, and moving line keeps going, but the buffet doesn't get away. In remorseless syncopation, as the beak darts forth, bit by bit, holes open in the line. Soon all that's left is a scattered mess, and small shapes fleeing in all directions. In anger at some unknown violation, the bird lashes out, and casts down a tiny mountain. Its domination complete, the bird moves on, to search out wealth it in other realms it can swoop down and snatch away.

A lone dark shape, fearing death, runs far out away
Along the scent, strong with fear, others come that way
Darkness comes, sun comes up, the new day like before
Once more pie falls from the sky - they begin once more

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things Were Better Then (Part IV)

Jojo walked along until he got to the Church, where he saw a large crowd of women, and a few men, all milling around tables filled with baked goods. Every Wednesday was Cake and Muffin day, and both churches got together and sold baked goods to raise money.

Jojo walked in and around the different tables, barely noticed by the people working them, and he found it convenient to get around crowds by crawling under some of the tables. A few times he was given a kick and yelled at, but for the most part people left him alone. When he got to the table with the Ms. B’s, Macy and Agnes Bernier, selling tarts and cookies, Jojo was feeling tired so he sat and rested. He scooted under the table, leaned against a table leg and looked at all the different pairs of legs swarming around outside.

“It’s five cents a cookie and ten for a tart or muffin, dear.” Macy or Agnes repeated the same line over and over. Everyone seemed to think the price was fair, and so she kept selling and selling her treats. A few times she ran out of something and reached into a box, only a foot or two away from Jojo, and grabbed another plate of one thing or another. Eventually Father Francis came over, and Jojo had to hold his own hand from reaching out and pulling down on Father Francis’ robe.

When others had walked away, Father Francis started chatting with the Ms. B’s. “How are you selling?” He asked.

“It look as if we’ll be selling out shortly. We made, oh, almost thirty dollars between the two of us.” Agnes walked off, saying she was going to get some water, and Macy kept talking with Father Francis.

“So, how about those special treats? Any sales.” Father Francis, bent down to tie his shoelace, and Jojo was sure he would be spotted, but Father Francis never looked his way.

“Enough,” Macy said. “More than last week. Ever since we started those Sunday night tea and cake to-dos, we’ve been selling more and more.”

“You wouldn’t happen, by chance, to have any samples of that fine cooking here, now would you? You know how I enjoy it.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have five dollars to pay for that sample, would you Father?”

“Hey,” Father Francis said, his voice getting angry, “You two wouldn’t be able to get along as you do if I didn’t let you, so how about a little appreciation? I, at least, shouldn’t have to pay.”

“Everyone pays, Father. Everyone. And you can talk all you want, and threaten us all you want, but if you do anything, anything at all like that, I’ll make sure everyone in the Diocese knows what you’re about.”

“Hey, hey, easy. I didn’t mean anything by that. You know I’m with you all the way here.” Francis moved his feet agitatedly, up and down, up and down, as if he was walking in the same spot. Jojo started to giggle, but put his hand in his mouth to keep anything from getting out. “it’s just that,” Father Francis continued, “I’d sure like to taste one of those nice Lemon Poppyseed cakes.”

“Oh, really? The sweetgrass muffins not good enough for you anymore?” Agnes asked this last question as she came back to the table. “What’s wrong with my muffins?”

“The good Father was just telling me it’s been quite a while since he’s gone on a trip.” Macy said.

“A trip you say?” Agnes replied. “You mean on a magic swirling ship?” The two Ms. B’s laughed together, and Father Francis grumbled that he didn’t think they were very funny. “Oh all right, you blighted beggar. We’ll give you a bit, but don’t expect it for free on Sunday night.”

“Oh, no problems there, Agnes. I assure you, I’ll pay my dues like everybody else. It’s just that my nerves are a little jangled today.”

Jojo saw a wrinkled old lady hand reach under the table and pull out a wicker picnic basket. The lid opened, and Father Francis thanked them and walked away.

“He’s lucky we had some extra left over. I thought for sure we’d run out by now. Is Nathan going to be at Mass?” Macy asked.

“He said he was. Don’t worry, we’ll get everything when we do the collection.”

The basket came back and rested under the table, and the Macy Ms. B walked off saying she was going to the bathroom, while the other Ms. B went to another table to talk with some ladies there. Jojo, seeing that no one was around, reached into the picnic basket to get some treats that Father Francis had seemed to like so much. He pulled out four muffins, but they looked like the bran muffins his father ate, and Jojo hated Bran. Jojo started to put the muffins away, but thought instead he should bring them back to his father, in case he did something else today that might get himself in trouble.

Jojo climbed from under the table and started walking away, but felt bad about taking the muffins and not paying, so he pulled out his money, and remembering that one of the Ms. B’s has said muffins were ten cents, he pulled forty cents out and left it on the table. Like always, none of the adults seemed to know Jojo was even there.

* * *

Nowadays there aren’t any real big town meetings, where everyone would come down and show their face about, except for maybe Hi-Ho Day, when we all get in the ice arena and buy old clothes and books and the like that were donated to the hospital. But back then, back then the town met all the time. They met at games, at socials, at the bowling alley, and at the legion. On most Sunday nights, people would go to the old Bernier sisters place and have tea and cakes. It was supposed to be an invitation only thing, and the way people talked about it then, it was all supposed to be a whole lot of fun. I remember that a few Catholics went down, but mostly it was the Presbyterians who came over. It was refreshing, as I remember, to see the people from both sides so happy together, like they didn’t have a care. As a boy I would hang outside the house with some other lads, and we’d try to see what it was all about, but all we ever saw was a lot of laughing, some dancing, and people walking funny when they left later on at night. It was no different than what you’d see at the Legion most nights.

Astra, Bill, & Stella (XII of XII)

-The highest of low art , the lowest of high art-


a Jimmy O’Fool Production:

Astra, Bill, & Stella in “Roy's Barbershop Quartet : A Small-Town Love Quadrangle”

A Sonnet Cycle

Astra loves Bill...
Bill loves Stella...
Stella loves Astra...
and Roy...
Who knows what he’s up to?


"Did you see that, Roy? Did you? Holding hands!"
"Bill, yesiree I did see, like I said -
she don’t want a guy, she had other plans."
"But what will I do, my love is now dead?"
"What we need Bill, is to get you to bed.
I got one in the back that you can use.
Good, that's good. Take off this shirt, rest your head.
Now let your pal Roy take care of those blues."
"Roy! What's hap-? , what are-?. Was it all a ruse?"
"Hush, there, my Bill. Close your eyes and lie flat.
Forget about her. Let's take off your shoes.
Well, what have we here, Bill, just what is that?"
Stella got Astra, which was quite a thrill.
But now I can say that I got my Bill.


That there's the end, there’s no more to see
So y'all just get on, and leave us be.
But I hope there’s one thing
you’ve learned of my store -
Come to Roy's Barbershop...
...for haircuts and more!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things Were Better Then (Part III)

I got a ton of stuff on my plate to write about. Today the muse didn't just whisper in my ear, she set up a Spinal Tap amp and cranked it to 11. So I'll be getting down to some writing, but for the nonce I have a story in play, and this story ain't done. Here's part III of my short story "Things Were Better Then."

After lunch, Jojo’s father marched up the stairs and walked into Jojo’s room. He was still wearing his morning bathrobe with undershirt and plaid sleeping pants. His hair was still tousled and his big mustache still slightly uncombed. When he walked through the door, he saw Jojo, fully dressed with his shoes on, lying on his belly on his bed, quietly reading Huckleberry Finn, kicking his feet absently in the air. Seeing the shoes and the play clothes, he gave a snort and shook his head.

“Funny boy, funny boy, “ Jojo’s father said. “You expect me to believe you’re reading that? Huckleberry Finn? And that you’ve been reading it all morning? Do I look stupid to you? I could barely read that when I was twelve!”

Jojo looked at his father, smiled, and nodded his head. He held up the book, and read a paragraph out loud.

“Fine, fine, enough! Smartpants boy. You can go out. Just be back before dinner. I have to fix up the balcony and I don’t want you running around doing God knows what.”

Jojo didn’t need to hear anything else, so he bolted past his father, downstairs and outside. As he went out the front door, he could hear his Father’s muted yell to not be late for dinner.

Jojo ran down the road from his house to the park that was between the two elementary schools. There were a bunch of kids there, some playing soccer, some playing tag, but Jojo passed these by and went straight to the ones playing marbles. He took out a small bag from his pocket, and picked a larger one out, which he called a bank, and dropped it on the ground. Where it landed, he dug a hole in the gravel with his heel, and stood and waited until someone came over to play him.

Jojo didn’t have to wait very long as most of the kids knew him, and a few of them hurried up to finish their games so they could get in on whatever game Jojo was going to play. A few minutes later, while Jojo was taking some practice tosses to warm up, a couple bigger boys came over and challenged Jojo.

Within an hour, most of the kids in the park were gathered in a circle around a game between Jojo and Frank Bourno, who was a big Italian boy two years older than Jojo. They were placing bets on who would win, wagering everything from sticks of gum, comic books, to baseball cards. The only thing they didn’t bet was marbles, as it was the unspoken rule that marbles were only to be played for.

When the game finished, Frank had lost it all, even including the worthless ordinaries he bought at the store for a few pennies. He looked as if he was going to take his marbles back whether Jojo liked it or not, but the crowd grumbled their disagreement with that plan, and Frank quickly decided to settle things another way.

Five minutes later, Jojo walked from the park minus everything he had won, but up three dollars in his pocket. Frank had bought back what marbles he could afford from Jojo, at the inflated gouging prices Jojo charged, and the other boys in the crowd, most of them down a few because of Jojo, had bought the rest.

* * *

It is a singular fact of nature that, though never acknowledged by scientists, there is one thing that remains irrevocably true nonetheless -- science may say that there is nothing that travels faster than the speed of light, but those scientists who say that, I believe, have never paid due attention to the intricacies of the grapevine. Before Brown had even finished speaking and hung up the phone, scuttlebutt had traveled halfway around the town and had landed into the ears of Officer O’Shanahan. and Officer O’Leary, both of whom were hardened hell-bound papists. Upon hearing that Brown was no longer their God-for-all-intents-and-purposes, and that they would no longer have to fear His wrath by stepping foot in the house of Mary and the Pope, they wasted not a moment’s breath hurrying over to mass.

On the way, they decided to take a detour to St. John’s, to tell the rest of the lads who had a mind to get away from the Protestants the good news about Brown’s departure. As they left St. John’s on their way to St. Francis Xavier’s, they managed to snag six other fellow Catholics to bring along.