Saturday, July 30, 2005
The park was pretty nice. Some of the Bease locals drove down and were skating with us. It's hard to skate in the morning, and I was tired from the other four days of shredding. I think I hit my peak on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by the fertile farmland and mud at the little Milton skate park. On Thursday and Friday we hit some larger parks, and I was too worn out to try anything major. I discovered that I enjoy carving bowls. Without pads I don't try any lip tricks, but I love surfing the walls. At night, in bed, I could still feel the undulating motions of riding the transitions, like phantom gravity waves breaking in my skull.
I think the kids had a really great time, and one of the instructors told me that I did a good job inspiring them to skate and getting some of the more difficult kids to participate. It's not that hard to get kids enthusiatic about skateboarding; all you need is a little patience and a can of powdered Gatoraide. So far, the skate camp has been the highlight of my summer, and it really didn't feel like work at all. Next week is the thirteenth annual Beasley Skate Jam: a two day, homegrown skate-out that is like a big neighbourhood block party. People come from all over Ontario to bust it out. This year I should actually have my own skateboard to ride, unless I somehow break mine in the next week.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Yesterday afternoon, the weather cleared, so we went to an outdoor park that I found to be a lot of fun. On the way back, the noise in the bus was deafening. The kid sitting next to me decided to take a tour of the floor of the bus, and he resurfaced with may trophies: gum, pennies, life savers and a drinking straw, all stuck to his T-shirt as if it were some kind of modern art canvas.
Today we had great weather: sunny and cool. We went to a large park in Mississauga where the Zed team had a good time "riding the lines" as Spade-zz likes to say. Just like a little kid, I spent my bus money on ice cream, so after returning with the others to the rec centre, I ended up skating back downtown with one of the other instructors. He's a really good skater, and thought nothing about navigating the giant hill that links upper and lower Steeltown. He just jumped off the sidewalk and into one of the traffic lanes and sped down the hill while the cars whizzed by beside him.
I was much too frightened to take the hill, so I walked it until the very bottom, where a stoplight gave me the run of the road for a few moments. Part of my brain says that I could have done the hill, if only I hadn't been such a chicken, but the other part of my brain knows that I could have also easily gotten killed trying, and thrills like that just aren't my cup of tea. Still, it was impressive to see the other instructor do it, and I think he was pretty much in control the whole time, while I would have been flying by the seat of my pants.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
The counselors like the skate camp because, unlike the other five weeks of the municipal camp program, they don't have to do too much; the kids amuse themselves, skating and goofing around. The instructors like the camp because, though they don't get paid, they get to skateboard at different parks all day and the kids treat them like heroes. The kids like the camp because--duh--they get to skate all day. The only hitch is everybody has to wear a safety helmet.
Yesterday, there were only two kids who didn't seem to be enjoying themselves. One of the girls didn't know quite what to make of all the skaterboy activity, and spent most of the day holding up fences and bench warming. This morning, however, I showed her how to do some rudimentary moves, and she surprised everybody by busting out a 360 on the first or second try.
The other fellow who was struggling likes to be called Spade. He is a skinny, tallish blond-haired boy with a great deal of energy and and odd sense of humour. He spent most of yesterday following me around and making up ridiculous and un-landable new tricks all of which I was required to comment on. His frustration seemed to be partly in response to his mom sending him to skate camp with a crappie K-Mart deck that was way too small for him, and which he broke in half in a fit of rage yesterday afternoon. This morning he showed up with some new hardware which I affixed to one of my old decks.
Yesterday was viciously hot, and I went through two litres of root beer, as well as countless refills of the water bottle. I skated so much that today I had no real desire to roll, so I was relieved when, half and hour after arriving at the first skate stop of the day, it started pouring rain. The whole group piled back onto the bus, but not before getting soaked in the process, and it was a humid bus ride to the shopping mall, punctuated with much grumbling from the kids about getting rained out. We roamed the mall for a while, and then crammed back into the bus, where I realized the value of having a helmet: to protect my head from the various projectiles the kids like to lob when the counsellors aren't looking. These mostly comprised of spit balls, and maybe candy wrappers, but there was a water bottle that got tossed around as well.
As the rain didn't let up all day, in the afternoon the whole group--instructors included--got to go to the movies to see the Fantastic Four. Over a French fry lunch, Spade, another kid Conner, and I formed a skate posse called The Zed Boy--a Canadian version of the now legendary Dogtown team. Spade calls me "Pro"; so I am now Pro-zz, while Spade is Spade-zz, and Conner, whose name resists suffix-ification, is just Zzd. Before lunch, Spade-zz and Zzd had a competition to see who could ingest the most packets of Taco Bell Hot sauce. It isn't clear who won the match, but by the time it was over there was a mound of empty tinfoil packets on the table, and neither of the kids had thrown up, so I was relieved.
The movie was pretty good. I was expecting to be disappointed, and was actually pleasantly surprised; they managed to translate something of the essence of the original mag to movie form without making it too hokey. Comic books seem to be the perfect content for the dream machine grist mill of Hollywood, and I feel somewhat vindicated to see the heroes of my youth blown up on the big screen for general consumption, even if it means doing a certain violence to the subtle complexities of the original format.
Tomorrow we will be going to a couple parks I have never visited before, provided it doesn't rain. After several weeks of drought, the rain has hardly stopped all day, and the earthworms are surfacing like little terrestrial scuba creatures. Hopefully it will clear up and cool off a little for tomorrow, so the kids and instructors can do some shredding.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
So I was wondering out loud how much further the sport can progress in the street skating direction, and the fellas at the shop seemed to agree that it may have reached a kind of limit. Sort of rehashing old and forgotten tricks (a major Fakiegrind pass time), there doesn't seem to be a lot more that people can do on a skateboard. Jump the Grand Canyon maybe, but I'm sure that Danny Way has a ramp plan already in the works for that stunt.
Tonight on TV was a show about a sport called Free Running that seems a lot like skateboarding without a skateboard. This highly athletic form of locomotion involves jumping, climbing and careening off of surfaces as you sprint through the urban (or any other suitably challenging) environment. It was quite amazing to behold. The free runners moved like a cross between ninjas and circus acrobats, with Spiderman grip and agility thrown into the mix.
Watching them made me realize that skateboarders do not hold the monopoly on utilizing the urban infrastructure for ends it was never met to service. These maverick forms of locomotion are some kind of cross between dance and martial arts, and I think they have the effect of taming or humanizing our often abstract and alien urban landscapes. To see someone making his way across the roof of an arcade, or leaping down a balustrade and over some bushes onto a walkway, somehow celebrates and transforms the environment.
I think I will stick with my wheelieboard. I've already made the investment in learning how to pilot the thing, but I can see how this free running thing might catch on big, since it requires far less equipment, and perhaps a little less preliminary training than skateboarding to practice. And you can free run in areas that skateboarders normally only dream about, like shopping malls and other indoor public spaces.
I'm greatly enjoying my new skateboard deck and wheels. Today I found a paved pathway that follows the train tracks along the water, and I played the game called "dodge the goose crap" all the way to Cootes' Paradise. Tomorrow is the fist day of skate camp, so I'll be getting up early to catch a bus to the meeting point. We're just staying in town tomorrow, but it will be fun to meet all of the kids.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
He's such a happy kid, and a joy to be around, that one almost forgets he's autistic. But for the last hour he's been happily sitting in the TV room, watching the preview channel that lists what's playing on all of the other channels. This is one of his favourite things to do and if I try to change the station to something more "interesting" he will start to cry. I can hear him laughing now, in the next room, for no particular reason.
Maybe he is trying to say something about the nature of television. I have a sneaking suspicion that behind his silences and evasions there is a peculiar genius simmering away. Is watching news, dramas or movies for an hour or two really any different than watching the preview station? I've heard there is something about the flickering of the TV screen that stimulates the alpha waves in our brains into a state resembling deep sleep, so perhaps the particular program we watch is irrelevant.
Right now in the kitchen I'm watching Star Wars in French, comprehending little snippets here and there because I've seen the movie so many times in English (why oh why did Lucas add all that extra crap for the "special edition" re-release?). But I'm actually trying to ignore the TV so I can get some blogging, dishes and cooking completed. The radio is a much better companion for multitasking, but our CBC reception was spotty today, so I watched a lot of MTV with the sound turned off. Mostly, I just like all the video babes, but that Eminem never fails to amuse with his stupidfresh lampoons. Pimp My Ride was neat too.
Future generations are going to look back and think we were complete idiots--unless, of course, the producers of tomorrow come up with even more outlandish programming than we currently enjoy.
"Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of the Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age."
The Fakiegrind Guru, Swami Passthepastrami, claims that this line from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, if truly contemplated and unfolded in all its implications, is all the philosophy necessary to lead a mind of suitable disposition to complete enlightenment.
This is not to disparage the voluminous reflections of Kant, for instance, or Hegel's ponderous calculations, but in this age of soundbites and shortened attention spans we are living longer but seem to have less and less time, so a short, succinct summation of everything you might need to know about the mind/body false dichotomy could come in handy should you find yourself suddenly beset by metaphysical insecurities in a dark alleyway.
Blake collapses the entire dualistic house of cards in one expert stroke with this quote. Body and soul, he says, are the same thing. But this is not to reduce the mysterious inner nature or our being to the mere physicality of chemicals and biology, like some money-grubbing pill pusher for Pfizer. No, what Blake says is that our bodies are but a portion of our souls; that portion currently visible to us through the senses.
Our souls may be--and according to the accounts of the most spiritually developed traditions on the planet, are--much larger than what we know of them through the unfolding history of a single lifetime. And yet the whole of what we are is somehow also implicit and present at each moment of this life, and any other lives we might find ourselves inhabiting when the veil of time and space is shucked away like the chitinous shell of some mud-sucking, pearl-popping, sea creature.
The senses are the "chief inlets of Soul in this age", meaning that our senses are still the best shot we've got at understanding something of the ineffable in the fleeting storm of terrestrial experience. But Blake also goes on to say "A fool sees not the same tree a wise man sees" (Proverbs of Hell, #8). This echoes Heraclitus' enigmatic slogan "Eyes and ears are bad witnesses to men, if they have souls that understand not their language" (fragment 107). We can look at ourselves as bodies, but if we have understandings that are dull, we will not see the eternal energies manifest in the temporal image.
So, how in Hell is one to illuminate one's understanding and see the soul as it really is, to know oneself apart from the masks and deceptions we weave and wear daily in navigating through the Great Void? Heraclitus also said, "Nature loves to hide itself", and "You will not find the boundaries of soul by traveling in any direction". Blake's personal, romantic prescription for the transformation of one's consciousness (to see heaven in a grain of sand) is, "an improvement of sensual enjoyment." Anyone who has lived through the various chemical, sexual and material excesses of the sixties, seventies and eighties might cast a suspicious glance at this formula for enlightenemt, but perhaps it still has some widsom to offer. I, for one, enjoy rolling on my skateboard to clear the beams from out my eyes.
Whatever the path to enlightenment might be--and it is surely as different for each indivdiual as we are all unique--one thing is certain: there is an underlying hidden harmony to it all, and the path to its discovery is with you right now, and for all time, everywhere you might be given to roam. Call on Jesus, or Buddha, or Bob Dobbs to help you, if you like. In the end its you who will be doing the legwork, and should the soul decide to come a-knocking, there's not a corner of Creation in which one could hide.
Problem is, the bus I was riding had a giant advertisement for Ontario tourism covering both sides of the vehicle. You could still see through the window, but it was like looking through the screen on an old oven door--everything was cloaked in a gray halftone that dimmed the view a good twenty percent.
I thought it was quite ironic that the landscape should be obscured by its own advertisement, and I felt like a prisoner being escorted to detention in one of those vans with the tinted windows. At least I was shielded from the blast furnace of the sun, but I wondered at the justness of tampering with the view of the passengers in such a way. Maybe the coach should issue discounts in accordance with how much of the scenery is obscured by their advertisements. Of course, according to this line of thought, people sitting in the aisle seat should pay less than those by the windows, and blind passengers should get to ride free.
Maybe we carry around grayscale screens in our brains as well--halftone patterns of thought and perception that dull our views of the world and sap the intensity of our experiences. Our minds, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before its restoration, might be so layered with the smoke and soot of ritualistic devotions that once brilliant colours are dimmed, and the hands of God and man, stretched towards each other, never quite touch due to the intervening membrane of grease.
Than again, maybe the masterpiece, as some have argued, looked better that way--steeped in the accretions of history--and should have been left alone. Or maybe all we need is a pair of 3-D glasses and a tab or two of acid to better appreciate the wowness of the now, the is-ness of the biz, and all the fantastic colours. I dunno. This whole metaphor is spiraling out of control like the meandering musings of a senile metaphysical poet.
What I do know is that subliminal advertising, as described by Wilson Bryan Key in the seventies, is passé. Like the advertisement for the splendors of Ontario plastering my bus window, what used to be a dimly perceived background is now foreground, and it is the original object of perception, the world itself, that has been relegated to the subliminal realm like a great, undiscovered continent.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
You see, my brain just never shuts off or up. I lie in bed at night thinking things that don't matter, worrying about crap that will never come to pass, pondering questions that have no answer whatsoever. It's like a game of hide-and-seek, with my mind hiding out from Reality and Silence as if contact with these realms would lead to its instant annihilation...and maybe it would. This whole blog habit is just some absurd bulwark against The Void, the inescapable wisdom of which is manifest everywhere, in everything that happens and comes to pass, including these aimless words. But still I won't shut up. And I think about this and that, and what could have been or possibly should have been, and what is and isn't: it goes on and on. But last night I felt as though I might have located the source of all this empty banter deep within the folds of grey matter that insulate my inner head. Somewhere burried in there is a tiny grain of whoknowswhat, like the piece of grit at the heart of a pearl, and this insignificant spec, this gnat of naught, this pip that never fails to squeak, is the irregularity in my soul that sends up all the gaseous bubbles of irrelevant speculation and articulation.
I have dubbed this blip in the fabric of reality, "The Nerd Molecule" since it is almost certainly responsible for the gangly awkwardness with which I navigate through life. If I could just let it all go, if I cloud just chill, relax, ease into it, then I would likely be much better off; but I can't. That little piece of damnation was planted for a reason by the Great Demiurge, the Grand Artificer, the All-Knowing Architect of my soul, and there must be some reason for its percolations, even if they keep me up at night when I should be touring dreamland.
So if God made me a nerd, then I'll just stay that way. I'll just ride it out, wherever it goes, in all glory. What else can one do? In fact, it's kind of nice being a nerd. Some people could try their whole lives and never get down what comes naturally to me. And maybe someday I'll be relaxed and graceful, and full of fun and humour. Maybe someday soon even. And I'll get up on that stage with some jokes about football or marriage and bring down the house with tears and laughter. It will be a flawless performance in the annals of stand-up, but at the last moment I'll let it all drop with some awkward, unnecessary footnote, some auxiliary gesture that instantly lets everyone know they are dealing with one of God's renegade mutants, and they won't even know what to make of it as they go back to their homes and lawnmowers and refrigerators. They will try to forget the whole thing, but something will remain--some little grain of sand, pecking away at their inner cranium, itching for expression, but somehow daftly inarticulate at the same time, and then they'll know that they too have been infected with The Nerd Molecule.
Bought so many LP's my suitcase split. Synthesizer sounds and beats legit. Hanging with homies from way back. Curtis has Star Wars toys at his flat. Keri cooks freezer burn dogs from a pack. Tweaking the playlist in MP3 format.
Liberty Park like a UFO landing pad. Throwing down moves that the locals find rad. Rolling on new wheels and wood from my dad. Breaking in shoes makes my feet hurt bad. But I keep rolling, board controlling, bells are tolling for souls ufolding.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Then there’s the deer crossing signs. Somehow, the deer in silhouette on the Quebec signs looks so much more robust and happy than the dignified, aloof deer silhouette on the Ontario signs. In my still childlike imagination, the French Canadians have always seemed closer to nature, and to the native spirits of the land. It only makes sense that the deer on their signs should be happier.
I love Qeubec, and I miss living in Montreal, one of the most magical cities on the planet. It’s not just the poutine, and the steamies (long, skinny steamed hot dogs), and the endless summer festivals where the downtown streets are closed to cars and reclaimed by pedestrian hordes; it’s not just the mixture of French and English and Arabic and Yiddish that gets thrown around in the late night pizza joints and over café countertops; it’s not just the ghosts of Expo 67, Canada’s international coming of age romance, that still linger in the streets and metro stations; it’s not even that you can still catch a glimpse of Leonard Cohen from time to time, getting into a cab on St. Laurent with a couple of young ladies.
Fact is, I have no idea what makes Montreal, or Quebec such a magical place. It just is. And the fact that we have a small French nation plotting its independence in the midst of our geographically enormous federation somehow gives an edge and a hint of subterfuge to what is generally characterized as an otherwise staid and reserved, boring and cautious country. Keep plotting you separatists, but don’t you ever leave! It would be like ripping the heart out of Canada, or turning all of the beavers into hats. And I would need a passport just to get a decent smoked meat sandwich.
Monday, July 18, 2005
I lived in T-O, or "T-dot" as the homies sometimes call it, in the nineties, when I was just a young man setting off into the world. There was a burgeoning spoken word scene going on at the time, and I started hanging out with the poets. Most of these people, myself included, wanted to be Leonard Cohen, and we hung out in cafes and at open stages, reading our latest poems and trying to look morose. The only two exceptions to this rule were a fellow named Nick Beat (who wanted to be Jack Kerouac) and Cad Lowlife, who was like a cross between Jackie Gleason and Andy Kaufman.
Cad called himself a "hipster braggadocio" and even had business cards printed up with this title. He was the soul, as far as I can tell, of our whole little scene, and newcomers often didn't know just how to take him. Was he for real? A short, pot-bellied Jewish guy with a thick, New York accent, Cad would take the stage with his unabashed stories of pimpin' and "doin it" with "broads and dames". Women meeting him for the first time would usually find him repulsive, but if you spent some time with him it became apparent that behind his brash misogynistic display of ghetto sexuality was a heart of gold enwrapped in comedic genius.
Cad was something like the court jester at the Orgasmic Alphabet Orgy, an open stage for poets and musicians held every Tuesday night in a small room behind the bar at the old Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West. The hotel back then had quite a bit of mystique to it. There was rumored to be some kind of European princess who lived in the penthouse, and a Reubenesque knock-off painting hung on the wall behind the bar, to give all the unemployed cowboys something to stare at when they were drinking.
In recent years, the hotel has received a face-lift, and the neighbourhood is slowly becoming gentrified. The Gladstone is now a trendy place for hipsters from The Duke down the street to come for some post-cocktail slumming. The Orgasmic Alphabet Orgy was evicted from their dank, beatnik haven in the room behind the bar years ago. When last I visited the Orgy, it was holding court in the upstairs of a Chinese food joint on St. Clair. Cad had a talent for searching out new venues, and convincing restaurateurs that the Orgy crowd would be good for business. But the night I showed up there were only three or four of the die-hard regulars, including Cad and the host, in attendance.
The whole spoken word scene, at least as I knew it, seemed to die out sometime in the late nineties, to be replaced by some other fad. Dub-poetry? Scratch DJ comps? Monster truck rallies? I have no idea. What I do know is that Toronto was a fun place to live for a guy in his twenties who thought of himself as a poet. If I could travel, like Dr. Who, back in time and visit myself, I would probably be a little embarrassed. There's no experience like inexperience, and I had plenty of it back then (probably still do, in fact).
When I visit the city now, however, I hardly know my way around. Everything has changed. I see young people enjoying their first tastes of the kind of freedom big city life can offer, but I don't envy them. And I don't really think of myself as a poet anymore either--at least, not in the Leonard Cohen sense of the term. A crossover hip-hop blogger lyricist maybe, but poet should be a term reserved for the truly immortal wordsmiths, and these fakie musings are but a flash in the digital dark.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
It was quite muggy and humid today, almost tropical. I did some skating at the deserted tennis courts, attempting, unsuccessfully, to land some frontside varial kickflips. These days, when learning a new, seemingly impossible trick, I just remind myself of ollie fingerflips. They also seemed impossible, but now I can land them--once in a while. It was so hot, despite the thin cloud covering, that I had to stop every few minutes to rest. My shirt and hat were thoroughly drenched by the time I called it quits.
On the wall of my parent's spare bedroom is a painting I did about ten years ago, when I considered myself first and foremost a visual artist. Sometimes I still get nostalgic for brushes and paint, but I don't have the space to set up an easel. The painting my parent's have is probably my best one. A girl I used to know--a free-spirited theatre type who broke the hearts of a couple of my friends--wanted badly to buy it. I haven't heard from this person in years, but the painting is still here, and I'm glad I didn't sell it.
It's funny how art can be prophetic. This canvas is about 2'-by-1 1/4' and is a cartoonish depiction of a suburban wasteland. While there is an overall sense of harmony created by the elements of the picture, the environment itself is depicted as jagged, sharp and aggressive. The rocks on the ground are sharp little pyramids, and the sky, due to a cubist treatment, is serrated and harmful looking. A red and orange sun glares down on the scene sending sharp shadows across the bare, beige ground. There are two pieces of flora, a tree and a shrub, which are somehow holding their own in the midst of the arid environment. In the background are the silhouettes of several high-rise apartments breaking an otherwise barren horizon line.
The central (and only) figure in the painting is a stick man: tottering on two stick-legs, and held up in his precarious position by a third, Daliesque, brace or post. The man is shaped like a lollypop, and looks like he is about to fall over backwards. A brown, UFO-shaped hat is suspended in the air just above his head. Behind the man is an elbow-shaped pipe or smokestack, out of the top of which some kind of funnel cloud or whirlwind is issuing. The stick man has an appendage on his side suggesting an open pocket, out of which a key appears to be falling--or perhaps it is being sucked into the vortex created by the pipe/smokestack. It is this dramatic feature of the painting that lends it its title: Man Loses Keys.
The central conceit of the work--one that I didn't even notice until it had been completed--is that while the figure in the painting is in the process of losing his keys--having them sucked out of his pocket, as it were, by a confluence of human and natural forces represented by the smokestack and vortex--he himself is shaped somewhat like a big key.
I have been looking at this painting in a new light this summer. The picture depicts a barren, aggressive environment somehow robbing civilized man of his keys. Maybe I'm just getting older, but the sun seems hotter and more difficult to bear for long periods these days. The uncharacteristic heat wave we've been suffering may just be an aberration, a blip on the weather charts, or it might be yet another sign of dramatic changes in the global climate.
I have heard that even if we were to drastically cut back on carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions--a step that the leading polluters on the North American continent are reluctant to take--the chemicals already in the air will take about one hundred years to break down. Since we can pretty much count on our not taking action until it is too late, it seems clear that coming generations will be the inheritors of a dramatically compromised, unpredictable, and likely dangerous global climate.
I was weaned on sci-fi stories and movies, so my consciousness is implanted with the idea that humanity will somehow persevere through the coming cataclysms, though the society in which we live may be radically altered. I, personally, see a new kind of damp in the very near future, and likely a new kind of dry as well; but who really knows? What the painting I made for myself suggests, with its central figure of a bewildered, tottering man shaped like a key, is that the resources needed for our continuing survival in the new environment are to be found not so much in all our dazzling array of scientific and technological knowledge, but within.
Kurt Cobain, (1967-1994)
Do you remember when you first heard Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit?
For me, it was 1992 and I was a freshman in high school. I had stayed the night a friend's house over the weekend. We spent the night like most 14-year olds: playing video games, eating pizza, drinking Pepsi and watching movies.
The next morning I woke up to the radio playing. We must have left the radio on all night. As I was lying there waking up, I heard the DJ introduce the next song. He talked about how this new song was climbing the charts fast.
At this point in my life, I was not really into music. I had a few cassettes, like Gun and Roses, AC/DC and Def Leopard, but what I was about to hear was going to change my life and my music collection.
The DJ played Smells Like Teen Spirit. I just laid on the floor and listened. It was SO odd. It was SO raw, SO loud, and SO angry. I had never heard anything like that. And I SO liked it.
After seeing the video a couple of times on MTV I was a fan. I remember where I was specifically when I saw new videos of theirs. I learned to play every song on the guitar, I grew my hair long just like Kurt. I learned their lyrics and cranked their CDs.
The year Kurt killed himself, I was planing to go to Sacramento to see Nirvana in concert on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, my father put a stop to that, saying it was too dangerous to be out of town on New Years. Too many drunk drivers, he said. For what it's worth, I have seen the Foo Fights and Chris Novoselic's band in concert.
Nirvana has impacted me greatly. Because of Nirvana, I learned to play the guitar. Because of Nirvana I was introduced to other bands like Sound Garden, Pixies, Alice and Chains, Pearl Jam, Jane's Addiction, They Might Be Giants, Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth.
Because of Nirvana, I now had an outlet for my anger. Nirvana gave me someone/something to idealize, they gave me words to scream, and songs to play.
Thank you Nirvana.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
As it turns out, our neighbour has a tiny tomato crop growing behind his tool shed, beside the back wall of our house, and he has taken to leaving the sprinkler running on it at night.
The back wall of our basement is about a hundred years old, made of stacked field stone and, apparently, water permeable. Coincidentally, the boxes containing the remnant of my worldly possessions happened to be stacked against the portion of wall that had turned itself into a pleasant little cascade. My stuff wasn't right up against the wall, and it was on a platform, but some of the boxes were still a little damp. The whole basement, actually, is quite humid, and I'm most worried for my record collection that is shielded only by the thin skin of garbage bags (I should have doubled them up) in another section of the cellar. I can see why the basement might have been ideal for growing a certain contraband herb, and we found the evidence for such an operation having once existed when we moved into the place. But it turns out not to have been the best of storage spaces for my stuff.
We could ask the neighbour to use less water on his plants, or to move the plants to our basement--as this seems to be where most of the water is ending up; but I fear that, as far as my possessions go, the damage has already been done. Mold and mildew spell disaster for my sensitive lungs, so anything that the garbage bags didn't protect will have to go. Even if the sleeves of my records are toast, the disks themselves will hopefully be salvageable--and for the uses I plan to put them to, it doesn't much matter about their packaging.
I've always been the kind of person who takes care of his stuff. It must be the archivist or librarian in me; I like to preserve my things and cherish them. But it looks like it is not so much rust nor moth, but mildew that hath corrupted the remnant of my worldly treasures. I only hope that whatever heavenly virtue I might have stored up is less susceptible to the corrosive influence of the elements.
The worst thing about the whole affair is that it has set back work on my Earthshaker Beat Project--a kind of giant boom-box which I had planned to use too loosen the earth around certain banks and jewelry stores, the better to tunnel my way into their vaults. But this is just a minor setback for the insuperable criminal mind of the Mole Man.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Yo! Peace to all radio free Fakiegrinders on all frequencies, in all known dimensions, beset with apprehensions, and secrets too furtive to mention, but keeping it real like a verb in declension. It's hot on the streets, pavement radiating heat, buildings wavering through ethereal sheets, and I'm rocking in the lab to counterfeit beats. But this is the way we deal in the town of steel, with air you can feel on your skin like a seal of disapproval. Tattoo removal: cost an arm and a leg, so pass me the strudel.
It's a rolling revival, curl my lip like Billy Idol, got a friend named Fivel with alliances tribal. I'm talking in jive to the hive, happy to be alive, got rhymes to contrive, an order of fries on the side. Rotating my hand-me-down wheels. This is how homelessness feels, roll me a stone, pass me a bone, guttural groan from the porcelain throne. But I'm no worker drone. Life in the shirker zone. Just a berzerker clone rocking the microphone.
In a trance to make you dance. Tapping keys on the breeze of chance. It's a bitmap romance, smashing up circumstance and disco tracks. Snippets of jigsaw jazz. Crickets spit rivets and chirp in the grass. Put the hear back in your ear, playing digital didgeridoos, sporting Spiderman Underoos. Riding trains keeping my brains in the caboose. It's the summer of no more stuff, wearing my heart on my cuff, flush in the underbrush--enough is enough!
Just rockit like a pocket full of poesy. Lips red and rosy. Girls getting cozy. Clock the record with my bionic eye socket--when the beat's ripe I drop it. Like fresh berries from the garden, gave the slip to the Warden. No longer seeking pardon just because I had a hard onomatopoeia. Verbal diarrhea. 808 made in Korea. Chilling out like Chester Cheetah. Peace! from the west unto the east until all souls shall be released. Rebel art marked with the sparks of the beast, still you know we'll never cease.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Once in the nest, the tiny bird started craning its neck and opening his beak wide so I could see right down his translucent gullet. I found a small worm in the back yard, which I cut in half and fed to him. He gobbled it down eagerly, making little peep-peep noises all the while. As I held him in my palm I could see right through his rice paper skin to his miniature rib cage. It was like a row of whiskers or filaments that heaved with each breath.
It was only later that I realized I probably should have cut the worm into little pieces--mashed it even to simulate the semi-digested worm and bug pabulum that mommy birds regurgitate for their young. Maybe this bird didn't even like worms. I'm still not sure what species it was. But eventually the bird started heaving as if he were in pain.
Possibly its stomach or another inner organ was already ruptured from the treatment of the cats, but I still felt like it could have been my fault for the bird's discomfort. I looked like it had a lot of internal bleeding, but I couldn't tell if it had started before or after I fed it the half worm. I kept the bird close by for the rest of the day, feeding it sugar water through an eye dropper. It got weaker and weaker as the hours passed, and eventually couldn't even lift up its head to sip water or eat any further pieces of worm.
Then my friend Vlad dropped by, so we went for a walk down by the water. We were out for an hour or so and, when we returned, the bird had passed away. In the morning I had been so happy thinking that the bird might make it. He seemed strong and full of will to live, and I was excited while searching the local corner stores for dew worms. The guy who sold them to me said that they have gone up a quarter in price due to the dry weather we've been having.
When it became apparent the bird wasn't going to make it, and that it might have been partly my doing (for feeding it the still wiggling worm), I got sad. I was too cowardly to try to put it out of its misery (though I was bravely cutting up worms--unnecessarily it turns out), and I didn't want to give it back to the cats as they would likely only maim and kill it slowly. So I sat with the little creature and tried to make its last hours as comfortable as possible. Life is so mysterious, incredible and melancholy at the same time. The will to live will live forever, but no single creature can contain it for that long.
This heat really is like nothing I've ever experienced. Coupled with the smog, I think that a great many people are suffering--myself included. My housemate's son, however, is sleeping soundly on the bed behind me. He's part African (the first Afro-Polish Highlander in existence, my housemate likes to boast), and perhaps constitutionally more equipped to deal with the heat. Since I was there at his birth, I feel a special bond with this child. My housemate was under sedation, so my hearing his first cries through the door of the hospital room was the first that anyone who personally cared experienced of him ex utero .
He is utterly lovable. His autism makes him quite undemanding; long, quiet walks where he stares at cars and lights, and singing songs he recognizes from television cartoons, coupled with regular feeding and diaper changes make him the happiest boy you would ever meet. But I worry about his future, how he will develop and make his way through the world. My housemate is doing everything she can to give him a fighting chance.
But this is the kind of neighbourhood we're living in: when it's deadly hot someone gives us a free air conditioner. When I wanted to shave my head, our other neighbour lent me his clippers and gave us a bottle of strong, homemade Portuguese wine to boot. Complaining of the heat to my other neighbour, she offered to lend me her tent so I could sleep in the back yard. Arnie across the way gives us loaves of bread he gets from his church, and the neighbourhood kids often come around to play with the box of spare action figures I leave by the back porch.
I don't really know what I have that I could give back to anyone. Sometimes I feel so cold and detached, even in the midst of this heat wave. Our neighbours, the Bease crew, the people at church have all been extremely hospitable. I feel undeserving but grateful. And you, dear readers, who take time to read these postings, what could I ever say that is worth the inestimable value of your attention? I guess all I could say is thank you.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The weather has been way too hot and my foot has been sore, so I took my bicycle to the meeting. When I stopped at the Bease on the way back home some out-of-towners were there, and a raging session was developing. These guys were good riders, skating with an aggressive energy that showed no mercy to the new grinder box that everyone agrees was built just a little too high. Every skater's style is different, but one fellow in particular had a focused animality--an intensity to his stare that wasn't so much frightening as sublime, like watching some kind of bird of prey alight upon water to snatch up a fish.
I was glad to be boardless and part of the cheering section. No sense trying to prove myself in the midst of a fray where I couldn't have competed anyway. The game of SKATE that ensued was instructive: all the latest flips done with ninja precision--and then some. I'm still strange, but not so much a stranger now at the park. It was good to just chill out and watch instead of being caught up in the raptures of The Zone.
Lately I've been contemplating the beauty of tricks that have no name, of tricks that meld into each other in a seamless flow of skate-i-tude. There is no real name, for instance, for a kickflip-and-a-half to casper, but it's a rude move (and bad for the shins if you miss). The same goes for G-turns on the nose that turn into 306s on the tail. You don't even expect to do it, but centrifugal momentum and the counterbalance of the spinning Earth just set it up that way and you follow the lines, wherever they go.
An image in a mirror,
Or the reflection of the moon in the water.
Contemplate the mind as formless
Yet bright and pure.
Not a single thought arising,
Empty, yet perceptive,
Still, yet illuminating,
Complete like the Great Emptiness.
This is the beginning of a poem called Contemplating Mind by the seventeenth century Ch'an (Japanese, Zen) Master Han-Shan. As Master Shen-Yen writes in his book On Getting the Buddha Mind (1982, Dharma Drum Publications):
He (Han-Shan) exemplified the bodhisattva ideal of developing wisdom through meditation, study and compassionate action. In the spirit of his times, he did not make a strong distinction between the sects of Buddhism and was eclectic, incorporating elements of Confucianism. His style was a fusion of the austerity of Ch'an with the inclusive view of the Hua-Yen sect. To this day his undecayed body remains intact in the monastery of the Sixth Patriarch on mainland China.
I find both Han-Shan's poem and Master Shen-Yen's book to be religiously instructive and marvelously poetic at the same time. For instance, I am somewhat anxious about the skateboard camp I will be helping to instruct at the end of the month. I've been trying to keep in shape, but still have a fallen arch in one foot, and my joints are pretty sore and unresponsive in this heat. When I start telling myself that I'm too old to be skating, or that I'll never make it through five straight days of being an instructor, I think about Han-Shan's poem and it reminds me not to worry so much about my physical person.
The Buddha Mind, Calligraphy by Shen-Yen
Skateboarding is always, ultimately, a leap into the Great Emptiness. You can train and practice to perfect your skills but the act itself remains a spontaneous interaction with the environment. And in those moments when the mind is empty, with not a single thought arising, and you bring a backside G-turn around to perfect rotation, there is no difference between yourself and the environment.
Welcome aboard, Rock-Steady! Please keep an eye peeled for his lyrical postings, and venture forth into MP3 land to track down his suggested tracks, if you can.
Happily, I thought to bring the Fakiegrind Spycam with me, so instead of shopping for items, I was actually hunting pictures, as these take up far less space in our already crowded quarters.
This morning brought in several typewriters, beautiful to behold:
I was tempted to purchase this plastic battering ram:
But I held myself back. Then I made it to the record section:
This is where it all goes down.
I broke my resolution to buy No More Stuff, when I saw this irresistible disk:
(Meco:Encounters of Every Kind)
It proved to be a good buy. I was down in the lab this very afternoon, mixing it up on the Wheels of Steeltown, and testing the limits of my record stylus.
Man, but it's hot tonight. Hope I didn't incur any divine wrath with my church lurking. Can't a guy speak his mind anymore without bringing on a heat wave? We'll figure all these things out, one of these days.
Monday, July 11, 2005
go to sleep you little baby
when you wake, you shall have cake
and all the pretty little horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
all the pretty little horses
hmm, and mama loves, daddy loves
oh they love their little baby
when you wake, you shall have cake
and all the pretty little horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
all the pretty little horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
coach and six white horses
way down yonder, down in the meadow
lies a poor little child
the bees and the flies are pickin' out its eyes
the poor little child crying for its mother
oh, crying for its mother
hush-a-bye, don't you cry
go to sleep you little baby
when you wake, you shall have cake
and all the pretty little horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
coach and six white horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
all the pretty little horses
blacks and bays, dapple and greys
all the pretty little horses
-Calexico- All the Pretty Horses
Calexico, a Tucson collective of musicians focused around Joey Burns and John Convertino, forged an eclectic identity through their exploration of Southwestern culture. Composer Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Westerns as well as Portuguese fado; Afro-Peruvian music; and '50s and '60s jazz, country, and surf music all factored into Calexico's music.
I find that this band is great for reflections. The southwestern influence
and Spanish guitar is gentle and soothing on hot evenings. While listening to the song, it is easy to imagine yourself in a little Cantina, with no air condition, sipping a cold margarita or perhaps a Corona.
The joy of this band is their use of instruments. The instrumental songs
explode with flavor and variety. Like the most delicious fruit salad, but instead of flavorful fruits, you get acoustic guitars, Spanish guitar, electric guitars, horns, keyboard, bass, and drums.
Fakie readers, if you're looking for music to add to your collection that is rich in culture, or for something that will provide a romantic background music, I suggest treating your ears to Calexico.
But I can't seem to find a church I feel comfortable attending regularly.
Last night I went with my neighbours to their church on the outskirts of town. It was of the sing-song variety, complete with rock band, overhead lyric sheets, and a charismatic guest preacher with testimony galore. It was a "feel good" kind of service, and I could see that it filled a spiritual need for the people who were attending. The music was quite nice, and I was glad to have an air-conditioned space where I could sit and read the good book, but I started getting tired after the second hour of song and sermon.
The church I have been attending, the one that I actually joined--thus damning myself in a certain sort of way--is more of the "feel slightly bad now, so you can feel better later" variety. But at least the services are focused on a scholarly presentation of scripture, and an earnest attempt to transform one's life through revelation. I enjoy the poetry and metaphor of scripture, and try to ignore the other stuff. But it builds up in my system like a poison, and so I ultimately have to remove myself from its influence and "detoxify" to feel sane again.
Sometimes I marvel at the way spiritual messages make their way into churches despite the outlandish contortions of theology and dogma. It seems that whenever I go to a church, any church, I hear something illuminating, even if it is repeated ad nauseum. At the same time, spiritual messages are broadcasting all the time, from every quarter, if one is so inclined as to tune one's ear to their frequency.
There is a kind of paradox about western religion. Without churches, dogmas and systems the Bible would never have been preserved and propagated throughout the nations; yet the Messianic message points to the ultimate futility of doctrines and systems. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple of the religious tradition in which he was trained, but I wonder if the religion that has developed in Jesus' name would be any more to his liking or not. I wonder if any church could really get it right, or if there even really is a "right".
Thank God there are churches and people who go to them: ardent believers praying for the sins of themselves and others, who look to the coming Kingdom and the return of the King with a sometimes strained but ever sustaining faith. And thank God I am not one of them. But then again, maybe I am one of them. I hardly even know any more.
On the one hand, I am greatly moved by the Christian vision of the City of God, to which all civilization is aspiring--though I doubt I would ever want to see any such vision installed anywhere within visiting distance of my front door (just read Plato's Republic to see what I'm talking about). But I'm of the persuasion that we already live in the City of God (though perhaps we're not always its best citizens), that it really is spread or scattered all around us, whether we see it or no.
There is a Zen saying that sums up the angles of this problem:
The world is perfect, with infinite room for improvement.
I'm an impatient guy, and can't be waiting around for the Son of Man to show up. The City of God is right here, but it requires continual recreation in our hearts and lives in order to remain a mainifest presence. I guess that everyone has to figure it out for themselves, and if we can manage that well enough, then maybe Jesus won't be too pissed if he ever finally does make his way back into the picture. 'Till then, I'll keep lurking in whatever sacred spaces present themselves.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
The beat of your heart is the pulse of a clock.
We move together building dreams against the shores of reality.
The people are always hungry to fill the void,
so we toil for we are void.
Haven't had much time for anything outside of work lately.
That's good because I need the money.
As I stagger towards a weekend where I'll spend most of my time sleeping off the demands of the week I wonder for how many years can people do this.
I mean, there's a comfortable numbness that settles in when you consistently get way less sleep than you need. When the physical demands stop you from thinking all together. You don't have energy for spiritual pursuits, art, or even much recreation ie. TV.
But at what price?
Is there any real cost for this? If you say that all things "art" are inherently unnecessary and "spiritual" synonymous with imaginary then we aren't really missing anything.
Am I alone in feeling there is something more? Am I just imagining something to give this hollow existance meaning?
"...and whoever's hippo eats the most marbles, wins!"
It might seem hard for any extreme sports enthusiast to top Way's feat of daring and bravado, but sometime next year, skate legend Biff Burtbinder, backed by an undisclosed philoanthropist, will attempt to become the first person to skateboard in outer space.
When asked about the technical difficulties of trying to skateboard in a zero-gravity environment, Biff answered, "Dude! I've got a whole medicine cabinet full of gravity. No case of heartburn is going to stop this spaceman!"
As for Maid Marion, she done up and left--or maybe the Sheriff has her locked away in one of his dungeons. But we're hoping to hear from one or two new Fakie Agents in coming days.
So, in the immortal words of Buck 65, "Keep your eyes wide open".
Saturday, July 09, 2005
It hardly matters what the stuff is, most of the time, just so long as it's new (to me). I don't even have a proper room anymore, but I'm still out there looking for more stuff. I've got two boxes of records I haven't listened to yet, and a stack of books I might never read. So what's up with that?
It's time to stop the madness. If I start feeling the need to hit the thrift shops, I'll just content myself with some of the treasures I've already accumulated. Or better yet, I'll grab the Thomas Moore book that I picked up for a quarter the other day, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, and head down to the waterfront to do some reading.
As far as this Flatlander is concerned, I'm just going to say,
Enough is enough when it comes to more stuff.
No ants were harmed in the making of this photo.
Part of the appeal of my toys is that they bring back happy memories of childhood, of playing in the garden or basement and creating my own miniature world of fantasy and adventure, of transforming the couch or the flower garden into a volcano or tropical jungle, and just generally having a good time. Another part of the appeal of these toys is that they have aesthetical design elements that are pleasurable to behold in their own right.
But I've also long suspected that my toys could be something of an entanglement or distraction--at least when they start receiving too much of my attention and creative energies. For instance, there are the dreams--likely common to compulsive collectors in general--of stumbling into an enchanted grotto, garage sale or discount store, finding an untold wealth of rare and exotic, endlessly fascinating, toys, and wanting to take home more and more and more of them. I've had many variations of this dream over the years.
Last night I dreampt the following:
I am in a room that looks much like my childhood bedroom. There are a couple of boxes stacked on the counter, full of my toys, and a colony of ants has made a nest in them. There is a hole in the top of the top box, and the ants are carrying my G.I.Joe figures (just the bad guys) in and out of the nest in a strange and amusing kind of pantomime. The insects go through a certain routine several times, bringing the different action figures into their nest in certain combinations, and I am trying to discern some sort of meaning in the pattern. Then I pick up one of the toys to find it is covered in a thin, sticky film. I find this even more startling and amusing than the dance, and I go to show my friend. He looks concerned, and says, "It looks like you've got an infestation of Prairie Ants." We go together into the room and jostle the boxes, which causes the ants to swarm out of their nest. There is now a cloud of them flying around and my friend and I are scurrying to get out of the room, but the door has closed.
How fascinating, Mr. Flatlander. Now tell me about your father.
I wasn't shopping for anything, just taking a leisurely walk through the air-conditioned mall with my housemate's child who still doesn't talk because of his autism. So I got to thinking about just what the term Godly Obedience could mean. Since Godly is used as an adjective, it could mean "God-like Obedience", or that obedience was making these people more like gods. But then I remembered the Garden of Eden story, and how Yahweh kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden specifically because he wanted to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life and becoming like unto gods. So I ruled out that interpretation.
Everybody knows what obedience means; it means the ability to follow rules or orders. Dogs are famous for obedience, and soldiers are trained to be obedient, and cats are generally know for their disinclination to obey anything beyond their own whimsy. The etymological roots of the word come from Latin "ob audre", to hear or listen. So obedience has to do with listening.
After ruling out the possibility that these people were becoming God-like through obedience, I could only assume that the catch phrase was celebrating one of the attributes of God Himself. What their name tags were saying was, "God has perfect obedience, and that's cool".
But then, if God is the Supreme Being, to what could He possibly be obedient? To Himself, that's who. Godly obedience means that God is listening to, and obeying Himself, and I was happy to see so many well dressed people all gathered together to celebrate this theological principle. To extrapolate some, I guess this also means that cats are more Godlike than dogs, since the felines have perfected the art of listening to themselves, and they don't care what anyone thinks about it.
As to the question of whether dogs have Buddha nature, the answer is
Friday, July 08, 2005
Skateboarding, like the great mother ocean that our surfing brethren love so much, comes and goes in waves. In the forty-odd years since skateboarding's origins, it has gone in and out of style at least four or five times, and I'm wondering if Danny's attempt to clear the wall could be another high water mark, signifying a coming plunge into obscurity for the sport.
I suppose it will partly depend on whether Danny pulls off the stunt or not. Here's hoping that he does. But even given a successful run, the attempt has something of an air of desperation about it. Perhaps for skating to survive, the industry will have to ease up on the "extreme sport" image they have been pushing for the last decade, and return to the fun, wholesome, rollin' down the street and hopping curbs image that attended the sport's inception.
How about a "Top of the Great Wall Flatland Skateboarding Tour"?
If you like sugar as much as I do, then you'll love these tasty summer Jello treats. I used Strawberry Jello (real and artificial flavouring), but any reddish variety, such as cherry, will do (for the "bleeding" effect).
Despite actually being a vegetable, and consisting of 92% H2O, watermelons were ranked the second most healthy fruit by a recent study (the most healthy was Guava[!]). Chop up some of that luscious pink pulp (kinda looks like gums, don't it?) and fill your glass receptacles about half full of the veggiefruit.
Fill the glasses up with the Jello, leaving a little space at the top for the miniature marshmallow "teeth".
Let chill for a suitable length of time and--Presto! You've got yourself a refreshingly cool batch of Bleeding Gum Jello Treats. Don't forget to brush afterwards. You also might want to include a strand of (peppermint) dental floss at the bottom of each cup--as a friendly reminder to floss. Enjoy!
It's strange, because I don't really follow baseball, and I've seldom ever played the game. In public school I was chewed-out by a gym teacher for throwing the bat after hitting a ball. I wasn't angry, just excited that I had finally made a hit. So I didn't get to run to base, and I think that the incident discouraged me (in the same way that farting in the middle of my first Judo class made me too embarrassed to ever go back).
It was so satisfying to have that big leather glove on my hand.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
--against my will." -Bob Dylan
When we first moved into this house it was a real dump. My prognosis was to tear it down and start over from scratch, but my housemate had a vision. Two years later it is almost complete. We had to rebuild a foundation wall, tear out rotting floor joists, remove aluminum wiring, old insulation, and hundreds of those antique square-top nails. The house was built in 1889, and there is a whole history of renovations visible in the basement. The floors slope and shake when the trains pass, and there was a precariously poised unused chimney in the attic--a kind of appendix to a long gone hearth--that we had to remove piece by piece.
At one point, lake Ontario would have been very close to our back yard; now it is half a kilometre away, with artificial extensions made to the shoreline to accommodate the factories and piers. The north end itself was once a satellite harbour town to the main city, and there were wild parties, bootleg liquor runners (smuggling hooch into the States across the lake) and gangsters using the bay as their personal clandestine morgue. Something of that energy remains and gives this part of town its particular feeling of being a place to lay low, to hide out, and a solidarity that is both generous and wary of strangers.
We moved in at the beginning of winter, 2002. The house had been empty for several months, and it had a haunted kind of feel--even after we ripped out the moldy carpets, cleaned the child's crayon of the walls, and replaced a flimsy bathroom door that someone at some point had attempted to kick in. Half of the house was uninsulated, and we spent a cold, drafty first winter huddled in the kitchen (where a tree was in the process of growing through the wall), drinking tea and trying to keep warm when we weren't in the basement buttressing the crumbling foundations.
I found some photos. Note the strange bedroom shower installaion we removed from the corner.
The following summer, my housemate's seventy year old mother came from Poland to visit and help out with things. She was just recovering from treatment for cancer of the eye, but this didn't stop her from digging a long trench for a wall that needed to be built under the kitchen, carrying the earth up out of the basement, bucket by bucket. She was also up laying shingle when the new roof was being done, and won the admiration of our neighbours, who were so impressed by the old woman's fortitude that they came over, unasked, and helped with the clean-up. My housemate's mother doesn't speak much English, but she transmits a spirit of warmth and openness that transcends any language barriers.
It was at this point that the neighbourhood started accepting my housemate. For me it took a little longer. It's only really been this summer that I've started to get to know the people who live around us, but I'm truly happy that I have. The whole place has come to flower for me this year, and I no longer feel like a stranger. I remember seeing the area for the first time, during a particularly cold spell in November or December, 2002. I had come to Steeltown on my own, without my housemate, to try to install some temporary heaters and prevent the pipes bursting from the cold. The gas furnace was in the process of being replaced, and I was unsuccessful in even finding the proper valve to turn off the water supply to the house. I found an icy pay phone out front a corner store and called my housemate to tell her of my failed mission. In the grey light of dusk, under all that snow, with those smoking factories in the distance, the whole place seemed so alien and forbidding. Now it feels like home. I've spent two years thinking how I just want to get out of here, and the time may be drawing nigh, but I'm not sure now that I really want to go.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
It seems the wasps are sleeping in the shed where we keep the beer. Are the ones clinging to the outside guards? Emma across the way says Murphy Murcurio was in her garden this morning, stalking the birds, and that she will feed him anti-freeze if he keeps it up. She has moments of rage, but is actually a really great neighbour. Murphy is a lovely cat, and I hope nothing untoward happens to him, as happened to Pearl the cat a couple years ago.
In the middle of a small waterside square, there is a pair of bronze statues of a naked woman and man, slightly larger than life in scale, postured heroically on one knee and holding representations of the sheets of a giant sail made out of steel tubing. It's not a horrible statue, though I think it has a slight tinge of kitsch about it. The kids were perched on the bronze man and steel tubing, watching me like a flock of seagulls while the statue wavered slightly under their combined weight. A large man in a wheelchair was sitting in the shade, talking to a friend and swearing occasionally.
Later, one of the kids caught a big turtle and put it in a tupperware container to bring home. I tried to persuade them to let it go, but the kids were too enamored with their new find. Matthew, whom I just met today, was climbing dangerously high into the "rigging" of the sail, and I had to tell him to come down several times. He deftly slid down the last few feet of the metal tubing on his sneakers, like an animated young Tarzan from Disney. Matthew is a daredevil, and wiped out on my skateboard several times, skinning his knee.
On my way back, there was an older woman sitting in the shadow of her SUV with a large tub of colourful plastic beads. They shimmered in the sun like jewels and I asked her if she was making some necklaces.
"All for the glory of God," she said, "but I won't be making anything resembling a bracelet or necklace. The market is flooded with those things, so I need to make something more original. I don't think God will mind if I make a little money while using the gifts He gave me"
"What he seems to have given you is an awful lot of beads!" I said, but not in a sarcastic way. Just then her husband or boyfriend appeared, a fishing rod in hand from which dangled a rainbow coloured plastic fish-shaped lure.
I talked for a little while longer with the woman, who repeated several times her desire to glorify God. She was sorting out the beads, putting them into a variety of emptied pharmaceutical containers that God had provided for her earlier that day. Sometimes it feels like everything is charged with metaphorical meaning and significance, even (especially?) strange old ladies by the waterside.
On a side note, the city has half a million dollars allocated to build a new skatepark, but they can't settle upon a location. Allot of skaters and councillors seem to be pushing for a location "on the mountain"--meaning the escarpment, but I think the waterfront park is the logical place for it. It's sufficiently remote to avoid annoying any homeowners, parents would have a pleasant environment in which to bring their kids, and the adjacent Marine Heritage Museum and Coffee Shop would flourish. As for the argument being made against the waterfront by one skateshop owner: that he likes to skate in the morning, and if the park is by the waterside it will be covered in slippery dew; this seems to be a case of "the needs of the one outnumbering the needs of the many". Who the heck skates in the morning, anyways?
I'm setting up a primitive recording operation featuring my Candle turntable and a couple of tape recorders. Having read Yes Yes Y'all, an excellent account of the beginnings of hip-hop, I discovered that some early pioneers like Grand Wizard Theodore (the inventor of scratching) was making music mixes on one turntable only, by picking up the needle and moving it to different positions on the record. I was up all last night working on this technique, and it takes considerable skill. Luckily, skateboarding experience has taught me to persevere. I only hope I don't break my needle because I'm not sure you can buy replacements for such an old machine.
However, sometimes you come across a gem, something that I would actually pay good money for in a record store--if I had any money. Like the 1979 Rapper's Delight 12" I found today, scuffed and missing its sleeve, but still playable. Rap music simultaneously was born and died with that record, so it's good to have a copy. Today records were on sale, five dollars for a bag, so I was busy scooping up all the disks I've been eyeing for a while, but never got around to buying because I didn't want to pay fifty cents for them.
The lady with the daughter who liked punk was specifically looking for Blondie. Strangely, the woman said her daughter hated disco, but I guess that Debbie Harry is something of a crossover artist. While I was busy contemplating an odd German pop organ recording, the woman pulled out a pristine copy of the 1984 K-tel Breakdance compilation from one of the bins that I had already been through. How could I have missed it?! This is the record that includes The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel, the track that first opened my ears to the wonders of hip-hop so long ago.
In hindsight, I should have said to the lady, "That's a disco record. Your daughter will hate it." Instead I said, "Wow! That's a great album!" Actually, I already have a copy of the album, but mine is all scratched while the one the woman found looked like it had never been played. Furthermore, I checked it out and the record still had the original instructional breakdancing wall poster with directions on how to do "the wave" and "the moonwalk"! Well, I already know how to do these moves, but I would have liked to have the poster anyways. Still, I kept my cool and told the woman that if her daughter didn't like the record, she should sell it on Ebay. I pretended to be above the whole situation, while really I was dying inside.
On the upside, I got some other excellent records, like a 1965 Bongo Rock collection, scratched but still fabulous to hear. This record was pointed out to me by a strange European man who told me a long story about how he was ripped off by a Reader's Digest record club for thousands of dollars. He pulled the record out, said it was scratched but had a neat cover, and then stuck it back into one of the piles. I tried to listen politely to the man and his rambling story for several minutes, but all I really wanted to do was dive for the record he had just shown me.
When I got home, I couldn't stop thinking about the Breakdancing album, and how silly I was not to even ask the woman if she really wanted it. Fixating on bygones is a bad habit of mine. I've discovered you have to find a way to outsmart yourself. I remembered that at the beginning of the Grandmaster Flash song on the Breakdance album, there is a ten or twenty second clip of Blondie mixed in, from her song Rapture. Blondie is what the woman had been looking for in the first place, and maybe her temperamental punkster daughter will get a kick out of it. Occasional close (but no cigar) calls with your heart's desire are part of collecting. A similar thing happened to me last year with a Dead Milkmen record, but I guess this is just the way things go from time to time.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
I heard through the grapevine that another of my friends saddled me with the title of one of Douglas Adams' books: Mostly Harmless. While I'm still curious as to the context in which the last comment was made, I more or less felt honoured to be seen as a gentle, considerate "nice guy" even if that means finishing last (another concept in which context counts for everything).
But the fact is, I do have an aggressive, vindictive, vengeful, malicious and Machiavellian side, though any half-serious study of the writings of Machiavelli will show that, like the Marquis deSade, he was really not as bad as the popular press makes out.
When the weather gets too hot, as it has been lately, I start to swear. Mostly at the television, but sometimes at my housemate, at cars, mosquitos, and at the dog turds that the girl who rents out the front of our house lets lie on the lawn for days, attracting flies and the errant sneakers of hapless kids or mail deliverers.
I try to cultivate an air of detachment toward my wrath. Turds, after all, are just turds, and flies may be the spies of God. I try to laugh at myself for my folly; self-reproach just doesn't seem to be a path to freedom, though I indulge in it often enough.
Guilt, as Neitzsche pointed out, is another useless emotion. I've been feeling guilty most of my life, and when I don't have a clear reason to do so, I make one up.
Karla Homolka, the wife and accomplice of serial killer Paul Bernardo is someone who has a clear reason to feel guilty. She is being released from prison today and the media is abuzz with the story. In a television interview she said that even though she is free from jail, she will likely never be free from the prison of her own mind. She spoke in passable French, which she must have learnt in prison, and I doubt that many people will look for any kind of wisdom her words, but I found something compelling in them.
The world is full of all kinds of prisons; both physical and mental. Is there any way to be truly free? I'm so glad that in moments of wrath, delusion and confusion I have never killed anyone, or seriously harmed or injured another. I think that through carelessness, ignorance and willfull mischief I have sometimes hurt people's feelings, and I'm sure that the karmic balance will bring opportunities to make good on some of my misdeeds.
And I'm sure as well that I'll make a thousand more mistakes before the round is through. Is there a meaning to it all, some great end toward which we all must strive? To say that the journey is the meaning is a hopelessly tired cliche, but some questions are like the threshold before a void at which all words turn back.
Monday, July 04, 2005
My housemate found this cluster of timberfly nests in the shed the other day. It looks like two of them are still sealed, meaning that the larval insects might still be growing inside. I put the whole thing in a plastic container with air holes punched in the lid. I'm not sure if they will hatch or not, but I'll keep you posted.
Here's a toast to my homeland's interdependence with our neighbours to the south, without whom we would probably be part of Russia.
Last night I went to a friend's housewarming party and was talking about records with a woman. She told me she had a large collection of Ramones albums and t-shirts, and I was delighted to find that she also liked and collected albums by the Forgotten Rebels, another southern Ontario early punk band whose songs fueled the skateboarding of my friends and I, back in the day.
Like Teenage Head, the Rebels are still rocking after almost thirty years. Lead singer Mickey deSadist can allegedly still sometimes be seen walking these Steeltown streets--when he isn't busy touring Europe with his band. I tried, but was unsuccessful to get a Rebels song nominated for the list of the 50 essential Canadian tracks recently composed by the CBC national radio corporation. While the classic Vancouver punksters D.O.A. did make the list, others like Teenage Head, Forgotten Rebels and the Dayglo Abortions were absent.
The streets, clubs and record stores of Steeltown are heavily laced with the spirit of Punk. When we moved in to this house, I found a gnarley old Metallica flag in the basement (featuring a Pushead illustration from the pre-Enter Sandman era). When our neighbour moved out--a friendly, older lady who, it turns out, had a metallic blue pet tarantula living in a terrarium in the kitchen--I inherited a collection of Ramones cassettes from her. I'm not actually that crazy about the Ramones, being more of a Velvet Underground sort of guy when it comes to the early punk sound, so I sold the albums.
A couple years ago, the local label Sonic Unyon re-released the classic proto-punk album Cyborg Revisited by Simply Saucer. This band was a Canadian version of The Velvet Underground, lacking only an Andy Warhol, and a sympathetic audience to champion their sound.
homemade t-shirt c.1988
I'm still an undercover punkster, and I was heartened to meet someone who knew some of the same, obscure Forgotten Rebel tunes that still delight me when I give them a spin. Steeltown may be lacking in decent bookstores (any bookstore larger than the sickly Coles chain would be nice), but where else are you going to run into people with ears corroded enough to appreciate the adrenaline and drug fueled punk dirges of the seventies and eighties, the likes of which seem to have died with Kurt Cobain in the nineties?