Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fragment 19: Number Ten

Like sheep, pressed together, the bodies of strangers up close, the trip down Spadina's dedicated lane.

Off at Dundas.

Stumbling forth, too many times drunk. Late nights, past fruit stands, vegetable displays, Vietnamese subs at a dollar a pop.

Cold Januaries, Februaries, 20 below,hustling in for our fix. Always a Number Ten times two.

Mere minutes later big steaming hot bowls of Shrimp Dumpling Noodle Soup.

Sometimes our own table. Sometimes communal round tables, packed with focused eaters even at 2 am. Horrid fluorescent lights blazing bright. Tacky, afterthought decor.

At some point the 134 would appear. The Chinese greens with a side of dense, salty oyster sauce.

You insisted.

I acquiesced.

Why do you have to perpetually inflict this on me, I would ask...

Took Paula there the other day.

Place had not changed at all. Even the waiters were the same.

I am older now. Much to be fair. Earlier to arrive. No longer an antidote to clubbing, now a dinner.

Two Number Tens.

A sizzling beef hot plate.

Seafood Lo Mien.

As the waiter was about to leave I reached out.

And a Number 134 please.

You would have been so proud.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fragment 18: 29 Cents

In the summer after Bryce contracted cancer we rented a cabin for a week on Silver Lake in Muskoka.

We had always wanted to buy a cottage. Figured we had plenty of time.

Bryce was, after all, only 38.

It was a perfectly picturesque little place. Down a long gravel road through thick shield trees.

They had adorned it with all the usual accouterments. Tea cloths with maps of Scotland and Ireland as window drapes. Rusty sheep shears playing at art over the fireplace. Throw rugs hiding red industrial carpeting. Long wooden stairs down rock face to beach and dock.

Michael, he said, this is just so...

We sat in what seemed abandoned deck chairs right out at the lake's edge.

Millions of mosquitoes.

Listening to late night baseball games from the west coast on the shortwave.

The tapestry of stars overhead. It is truly amazing, the band of the milky way.

I had this little digital, great camera, and I took photographs of everything.

You on the boat.

You in the canoe.

You stretched out on the sand.

On the last night you fired up the BBQ. You always loved to BBQ.

Fish, meat, chicken, the heads of Christian babies, it didn't really matter...

You always found a way to put it above burning white embers.

The steak was perfect...properly rare, hot outside but cool in the middle.

You knew how to cook a steak!

When it began to rain we played Trivial Pursuit. It was there.

I would never have guessed that you knew that Danny Kaye was the Court Jester. I still don't know what that even means.

I had recorded it all. Shot a pic a second. But I had not brought the charger. Towards week's end I had gone into town, to the local drug mart, and bought one of those godawful disposable cameras.

Frozen frames of final days.

Seventeen on you died. Michael, you had said, I am just too tired to fight anymore.

When the funeral was done...

When the service had past...

Walking home in the South Etobicoke industrial rain...

God, oh God, I had so loved you.

Three years later, I finally left. Unpacking in the new apartment. With Joseph now, happy.

It was the Monday after moving that I went back to clean up before turning in the keys. I found that disposable camera. Wedged secretly behind cereal boxes. I had long forgotten it. In the shock of your death, I guess I had never had it developed.

Turning it in, days passing, knowing, at last, lost moments recovered.

I was so full of anticipation going to pick them up.

29 cents, the cashier said.

What do you mean 29 cents?

But that was it.

23 pictures overexposed.

1 picture left.

I just had to smile though, as the damnedest thing was that it was a photo of...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fragment 17: Mount Royal

Goddamn them...

They always had that huge cross towering over that Catholic city of theirs. Projecting their grasp down the sides of Mount Royal.


For the love of fuck, why are all you religious people so fucking insecure? Was it not enough to dominate a society for three hundred years? Must we really manifest cocksize with this massive and imposing statement of oppression?

If that is what it is.

Maybe I am just angry.


Even now.

As a kid and then a teenager I had been a choirboy.

Early on I realized that I liked the other choirboys more than the girls that they seemed to like.

I was the one with the angelic voice. Ages after puberty hit. It was the '70's though. Long hair, loose jeans, sad beard.

I was unduly proud of that hair. Down to almost my waist. Thick. Wavy. Beautiful.

Even when I was eighteen I was still, despite all, enamoured with my faith. With the choir.

I knew the Pope, whatever love he may have had, had no love for what I was.

But I felt the Lord in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I felt the Lord in the joy promised from redemption.

I felt the Lord in the idea of the child who would save the world.

And I felt the Lord when Sammy and I made love. His presence in what I did. What Sammy did.

Fucking Sammy was as close to pure epiphany as I would ever get. I longed for how he was inside me and I longed for how I was inside him. He was an Expressionist painting. He was a home run. He was my hat trick. The man I wanted.

Despite the fact that we were, in the end, barely men at all.

Hard to believe. He seems, in memory a true man. Lying there with me, majestic chest, perfect ass, fine, downy hair.

He lacked all pretension. He had raw purity.

I was in awe. I would have stayed with him forever.

I suppose the Father must have known.

Approaching me one day after practice he gently asked me back to the office. He told me, peering out over spectacles that appeared lifted off some expired Crimean War soldier, that, for me, it was the hair or the choir.

There was, in the end, no more room in God's house.

I was stunned. Disoriented.

Be Thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart,

Nought be all else to me, save that Thy art...

I went to Danny's.

Sat in the chair.

As the hair fell away I could not stop the shaking.

I got that hair cut.

But I never went back to church again until Sammy's funeral in 1987.

I never saw the Father again until the scandals hit a decade later.

And I never sang again...

well, that is not quite true...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fragment 16: Descent

Flying past the front doors of the factory, new job, all decked out for the occasion, finally in management.

I was the poor boy made good. Engineering school. Wearing the ring to prove it.

No more alienation from the means of production baby! What was the old refrain...the working class can kiss my ass, I 've got the foreman's job at last!

Well...not really. I was an office man. Didn't have to deal with the plebs.

After six months on the job I put the down payment on the house. Nice two bedroom in an up-and-coming neighbourhood. Beers with the boys on Saturday nights down at the Canadianna. Foosball and checking out the short skirts. Music always a little too loud and a little too fucking old...

I had the lifestyle. The drugs, the booze, the escorts when the dates were hard to get. All placed on the plastic.

Spiralling forward, twisting, reckless...god was it ever great! Empty, maybe...but at least I wasn't one of these poor married fuckers who lived vicariously through my water cooler stories. Fuck them is what I thought.

It was a Tuesday that you started.

Who is the new girl? Latin. Gorgeous. Features...shit did you have features.


To call you statuesque would have been to give too much credit to Michelangelo.

I, needless to say, had to have you.

As we sat over very rare steaks at The Readcoat Inn, I realized, also, that I loved you. You were smart. Passionate. Committed. Opposites attracting and so on...

What an unusual feeling. Heightened pulse, confused emotion, all of the bullshit. Thought it could never happen to me.

It did.

Taking me back to good-old mom and dad. Dad was what you might expect. Reticent at first. Chilean exile with strong, though not totally modern views. It was his only girl, after all. But a few glasses of the twelve-year old Scotch I had brought later and he was prepared to marry me if his daughter did not.

She did.

Planning the wedding was the stuff of everyday. Each particular detail. Nothing left to chance. Had it rained I suppose I would have become pathetically unhinged.

Magical in pure white, dancing, swirling around the ballroom, hundreds of guests. I mean who the fuck were they all? Uncle Dickhead from Twofuck Alberta. Why did we invite this guy?

Why not I guess?

I even bought a convertible. Two door, jet black. The engine asserted itself. Made sure she was heard. We drove away through cascading waves of rice, July oppressive yet delightful, shades of amber as the sun sets, face at an angle gazing.

Was it only a year? We saw every new production, every critically acclaimed movie. Trips through Europe and North Africa. Why do too much, too soon you said? Life is long.

You changed me. Suddenly, I cared. Went to church. Worked the soup kitchens. Found some small redemption in embracing the sense of purpose I felt in you. An ephemeral connection with the beyond, the spiritual, the eternal.

When I came home that cold Sunday, you were already in terrible pain. It must be just a headache, after all. Take more of the Advil.

Looking at me with closed eyes, the hurt too intense for light, begging me to put you in the car.

St. Joseph's was only a ten minute drive, but by the time we were half way there I knew that you were not going to make it.

Later they found it had been an aneurysm. No way to detect or predict. Random.


Purposeless after all.

For many weeks I could not go back to the house. I stayed with friends. In hotels.

I was no longer able to work, and while they tolerated this for awhile, it was in April that they let me go.

Just as well. It meant nothing to me at all now.

Opening the door, trepidation, plane to Thunder Bay leaving the next day.

Pictures, letters, old bills...too much to process. But I had to.

Making my way through the past like this, however recent, however short, I was stunned to see all these moments.

The strangest thing of all, though, was the small envelope under the stacks of private papers.

Katie & Karl...

All the best to you in your future endeavours...

With Love,

Patrick Jacobs,
Pennington, Alberta

Inside the gift certificate. Somehow overlooked and forgotten. Seventy-five dollars towards promise unfulfilled. Improvements never to be made. Rendered irrelevant by circumstance.

A distant echo of past earthquakes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fragment 15: Platonia


Oh, Suzanna.

Dancer's body. Perfect face. The traffic noise of horns and streetcars clickety-clacking their way past cannot begin to diminish the deep, intoxicating tones of your voice. Stretching out towards me in that way only you can, loose top revealing just enough, College a blur of humanity in the background. But who, in your presence, could possibly notice?

Beyond you...the abyss!



Darling, have you heard about Platonia?

You, my unlikely intellectual, telling me about the abscence of time. Some scientist at some university southside says it just does not exist. Everything, in a sense, is happening now.

No Future. No Past. Literally.

Topics change. Your big bracelets trapping constantly against the surface. First the antipasto and then the mains. Fresh, rustic bread served on elongated, narrow plates with puddles of olive oil. Cheese courses. Thick espresso and heavy chocolate cakes.

To think that this was the night before our vacation...

The next morning, as we bundled the bags into the limousine and drove through the concrete hell that leads to the airport, I just kept coming back to Platonia.

What an odd idea.

The plane lifting off.

Looking down I fancied that I could see our house.

Jeff must really hope that Platonia is true. There alone in the basement. No way out.

Really...time is not otherwise on his side.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Fragment 14: South Pacific

It was back in '86 that we took the trip to Europe. Giant knapsacks with the Maple Leaf emblem. Holding hands on strolls through villages seeming on surface unchanged by modernity.

What a time it was. One day Monaco, a perfect blur of pastel. The next St. Tropez.

That night was completely still as we stood atop the famous height. The ruins behind us. The sails of the boats below like so many absolutely stiff flags. I held you from behind. Arms wrapped around your waist.

By train to Paris. Through the Gardens and along all of the grand promenades. Slow and gentle sex in the cramped confines of the cheap hotel room. How did we persuade them to rent us the single bed?

Looking out one dusk, naked but unseen, lights out, thousands, almost endless, marching by, red banners waving, fighting some ancient fight or another.

It was past eleven two days later that we stumbled on the Cafe Seine. Like a postcard it sat on one of those rounded street edges, tables under awnings outside. You looked so beautiful with your big brown eyes and your ponytail. As they brought the house red a light rain began to fall. Sonny Rollins playing Round Midnight in the background. Would that I could have frozen that moment. Made the forward march of time stop, right then. No further.

How did our marriage ever go so wrong?

Twenty years later, a Friday, and I ran into you again. Well, I guess I heard you. I was with her at Balfours. It was crowded, as it always is, and yet I could instantly recognize your laugh, your purr. I didn't want to turn around, but I couldn't stop myself.

Red dress, great curves, you saw me right away. Greg beside you was looking at one of the big screens behind the bar.

Eyes locked for a instant, and then an instant more.

And you smiled.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fragment 13: Constitution

When I was 19 years old I met George.

Tall and handsome. A soldier.

He seemed so...well so exciting.

It was a dance at the Port Credit Academy Hall. Stairway to Heaven and heavy petting. I still think I stopped breathing when he lifted the skirt I was wearing and ran his fingers under the top of my underwear.

It was two months later that I was pregnant. George was fine at first. Then it was off to Nova Scotia. He promised he would be back, but in the end it was only a few cheques and the death notice when he somehow got himself killed ten years later in a stupid, distant place.

I secretly hoped that he had had time to think about it all after that roadside bomb ripped off half of his head.

Probably not.

His son was always a runt. Poor Job. Brilliant yet sickly. Short with glasses. While his classmates wanted to be the next hockey all star, my little Job wanted to memorize the atlas.

Never any friends. Always buried in his books.

When Job was seven I met Scott. He was much older than me. At first, he seemed so romantic. So new. So different.

Then...well then he seemed like what he was. An asshole. Dominating, possessive, mean-spirited.

Still, you know at heart I was a kid. I thought he knew best. I thought at least he came home every night. Or...anyway...most nights.

Scott was always hard on Job. He told him he was sickly. He told him he was a wimp. He told me that a boy like that would never go anywhere in life without discipline. He hated that Job was small, skinny and, frankly, not his.

Last summer Scott wanted to go up north. My parents had just bought a property on a lovely little lake near Gravenhurst. We all drove in his Volvo. A bright and hot Saturday afternoon.

In town we went for dinner and walked along the promenade. Job saw it first. Right up front in the window. It was a scale die-cast model of a Constitution Class starship. Never have I seen him more excited. It was like he could picture Worf on the bridge.

Seventy-five dollars.

Do what you want, Scott said, but tell me how he deserves anything like this at all.

I remember that I could feel Job's sadness as we drove to the cabin. Alone, as always, in the backseat.

It was two days later that it happened. We were all down on the dock. Job wanted to go out swimming. I wanted him to wear the jacket, but Scott just looked at me with that inimitable contempt of his and said well you want to raise a fag don't you.

To this day I don't know why, but I actually listened to Scott.

I suppose at some point I must have drifted off. Scott fled up from the beach to the driveway. In all likelihood to smoke dope in the car.

I awoke to Job's cries. He had drifted far out into the lake. He was clearly struggling.

And I could do nothing. To my great shame, I couldn't swim. And Scott, well I guess it had not mattered to him to stay and watch out.

I could see my son was going to drown. Swim, Job, Please Swim. I screamed at him. I begged him. But he seemed to drift further and further out.


It was as if Job decided to live. There he was, glasses still on, swimming as hard as he could.

Swim, swim, goddamn you swim.

I was most terrified when he got near to the dock. He was obviously swallowing so much water, and he was crying and I thought to myself Please, please don't let him sink now...not now, so close...

I had the oar and when I knew he was within reach I threw it out.

Once he was on the dock he vomited out so much liquid. I still felt like he was going to die.

And finally, out of nowhere, there was Scott, yelling, ranting at Job. You really are a fucking idiot kid. Do you have any fucking idea how much you scared your mother and I? and on...and on...

The next morning, early, I slipped quietly out of bed and went to Job's room. Asleep with his little history of Rome. He was so tiny.

I carried him to the car and only woke him when we were in town.

I bought him that starship.

And when we got back to the lake, I told Scott that he could go fuck himself.