Someone once said that it was better to tell a massive lie rather than a small one because the former stood a greater chance of being believed due to its sheer audacity. The Bible clearly tells us not to engage in this practice. There are many varieties of lies ranging from little white lies to half truths to omissions to obfuscations and onto fabrications. They are classified from black to white through all the shades of gray according to their perceived justifications. If they prevent human discomfort they are placed on the white side.
This classification structure is very logical and from it we can become very creative as we race back and forth from the public stage to our private dressing rooms. We are generally more inventive and lenient with ourselves than we are with any others, including our relatives and friends. It is an accepted practice to lie to children the world over under the twin justifications of protecting and entertaining them. Part of the behavior expressed by adolescents as they make the transition from childhood into adulthood is a quite natural rage against the lies that have been told to them. Interestingly, at this point it matters not to the young adult which shade of gray the lie is painted in. In this phase of life, there is only black and white, true and false.
Not very sophisticated or conducive to a busy social life but nonetheless pure and purely human, I might add. Our modern, civilized culture in particular exacerbates this phenomenon when held up against other more ancient cultures as well as when compared to the state of mind of young people who enjoyed privileged educations at private institutions. With an eye to the future and to providing new captains for steering the ships of state along desired courses, they are taught very different philosophies with which to complement a less propagandized sugar free curriculum, especially as regards to history.
Each generation is a living breathing chance for mankind to reach for far more practical goals than orbiting hotels, mining asteroids and devising new taxes. Each generation instead is either thrust out into the maelstrom or coddled in the basement if they have somehow escaped being diagnosed with ADD, hyperactivity, autism or depression and have managed to make some noise.
When punk music washed ashore from England onto North American shores, I hated it. In my opinion you could have used it to churn butter or strip paint. At that time, I knew not of the de-industrialization purposely carried out on that island or of Prime Minister Thatcher’s announcement in a speech that there would be an entire generation of Britons who would never see gainful employment in their lifetime. Pub hours were extended, the heroin taps were turned on and rich people chuckled about how you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.
The first few tattooed and pierced individuals I worked with in the Post Office initially repulsed me. As their numbers grew and I worked more closely with them, I came to learn that they were, in general, a very conservative bunch of people. They were very spiritually oriented and had a well defined sense of morals. At first this perplexed me until I realized that the outward appearance was a statement which served the dual purposes of protection and identification. Protection from the many evils they perceived in the world they had been handed and identification for recognition by others of that generation. A tribe, if you will.
I have noticed that this effect can be seen around the world, regardless of race or indigenous culture as places are literally hammered into the Globalist Utopia. This is being done in such a way that it appears to be a Western or a Capitalist or a Socialist trend. The keystone is the adoption of the central banking system and this is furthered strengthened by the signing of international treaties which bind large populations to vague rules enforced by non-resident tribunals. Sovereignty falls on the field of progress just after truth, while local privilege seeks safety by signing up tax payers as collateral to guarantee World Bank and IMF development loans. All the nice bits such as natural treasures, islands, nature preserves and ancient heritage sites are swapped for temporary debt forgiveness. In this way, corporations will have less interference when extracting resources in the future and something to show the world that they have protected by putting a fence around it, installing a zip-line, a tourist center and selling tickets.
If we look at Britain through the centuries and compare other countries to this model, we may get a foreshadowing of things to come if there is no change in current trends. Elderly people freezing in their own houses, young people ravaged by drugs, mass unemployment and the whole shebang caught on zillions of CCTV cameras. This is also true when looking at the symptoms manifested by the popular culture of such unfortunate places, such as dissonant music accompanied by agonizing visceral poetry screamed at unintelligible volumes. We seem to always fall short of a diagnosis or wait to be provided one by a face we trust from our local news outfit.
I saw on my local news just yesterday that there were only fourteen million households in Canada. I had recently heard on the same media that the average Canadian citizen had not enough savings to see them through any major unforeseen expense without resorting to borrowing, if they were able to qualify. It always strikes me as absurd that anyone should go homeless or penniless due to the servicing of a monster mortgage in such a vast land of resources. I was struck by the same incongruity in parts of Asia where people starve in lands that enjoy three growing seasons per year. Here at home, we are reluctant to provide door to door mail delivery for a population that would fit inside California.
I calculated the other day that I will have to draw my pension for twenty-five years in order to have been paid the same amount as the first years salary of the CEO of my former employer, Canada Post. I’m one of the lucky ones. Just as the Red Coats, Highlanders, Gurkhas and Fusiliers left their dead across the world, the American Forces were handed a false global burden after hearing rousing speeches by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and they have added immensely to the body count. In both cases, lines were drawn and redrawn on maps with little regard to the humans contained in those strategic containers. Many times over the number of the uniformed dead, civilians and non-combatants populated mass graves. Waves of displaced homeless refugees came to the shores of Britain and America.
They in turn sacrificed their sons and daughters for yet other military adventures.
The charade can be easily seen in a study of the Korean Conflict or Police Action as it was called. These new euphemisms for war seem to have stuck with us. The back and forth from Seoul to Pyongyang and on to the Yalu after the Inchon Landing and then the scorched earth retreat back to Seoul and the subsequent firing of the 33rd degree Mason, MacArthur by the President can tell us much.
MacArthur, like Patton before him recognized a future adversary and wished as a military strategist to engage that enemy at a time and place of his own choosing. Both men were stopped in their tracks by Presidents whose loyalties slunk in the shadows. During the entire conflict, the orders came from a United Nations where Americans paid for everything and Russian Communists were aware of each new objective prior to its execution on the ground. Cities and towns were razed to the ground, waves of innocents were made homeless, brave men sacrificed their lives for naught and lucky contractors got to rebuild the mess. A bogeyman was left in place to be used as an excuse for future adventures in the region. It is a modus operandi that is clearly visible throughout history down to the present day.
It may well be that we now stand on the verge of another chapter in this ancient game. The race to privatization and monopoly affects the defense, security and detention industries just as it has the power, transportation and agricultural industries. Atlas may shrug and Sisyphus may take a nap while migrants roll his stone. Time will tell. Meanwhile we must be aware that precisely those things we do not like to hear or see, such as that awful racket coming from the independent music scene can be helpful in diagnosing some of the ills of society that certainly should be addressed. Or we could watch the brand new season of Mary Kills People while our children Tweet themselves into a coma.
One of the barriers to remediation of many of the problems we face is the fact that the truth, particularly in regards to history and politics, is so outrageous that it would scarcely be believed if its pieces were dragged from their shallow graves and laid out in the Main Streets of the world. The opposite intentioned Freedom Of Information Acts of the world ensure that at least two generations of publicly educated individuals grow up thinking the wrong things before a tiny percentage ever bother to read the declassified bits that have escaped the censor’s Magic Marker. This keeps everyone quite busy jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, carrying grudges, running interference, seeking shelter, nursing hangovers, killing time and fishing for compliments. Me and you included.
Sometimes we can easily tell when someone is lying to us. If it is a well intentioned person having a laugh at our expense, they always give visible clues, wait for the light bulb to go off in our head and give up the ghost if we don’t catch on. Like the time I asked a gas station attendant in Nanaimo how to fish for abalone. I had just moved there from North Vancouver to work at the Keg N’ Cleaver Restaurant. I had my eighteen year old wife from Nevada, my old Beaumont Acadian and not much else but a desire to pursue success and happiness.
I think it was my accent that triggered the mischief. The young man was about my age, twenty that is. As he pumped the gas, he told of a time honored complex ritual involving Honda generators, miles of extension cords, moonless nights during neap tides and several pit lamps. I followed along the instructions so far, he couldn’t stand it and confessed the ruse. The upside was that he told me of a good spot off Hammond Bay Rd. to fish for oysters. I used to keep a one gallon glass jar full of shucked meat and produced enough shell to pave the drive where I parked the Beaumont.
These oysters, unlike the small ones in the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas coast, were simply lying on a sandy bottom attached to nothing. Texas oysters had to be dredged up by strong metal hooks to break them off their ancient beds. Also, unlike Texas where you wouldn’t have been allowed to cross a waterfront homeowners property to access the beach without risking some buckshot, we could stroll right down the side yard of any house to get to the spot. I have always appreciated Queen E. for this and I hear from my cousin that it is much the same in Sweden under their Royal Everyman’s law.
I took friends and family from Vancouver and some guests from Texas out there many times. We would float a large plastic beer cooler out in front of us and dive for the treats. Each time we popped up we had one monster mollusk in each hand to plop in the box. Those evenings would be spent shucking in the back yard, reminiscing, slapping skeeters and planning the gumbo. I found out that they were very good with eggs in a local dish called “Hangtown Fry.”
Sometimes it is nearly impossible to believe the truth. This can be because we may have never confronted a particular event ourselves. When my young wife phoned me at work to tell me that objects were flying around our rented old house, I didn’t believe it. I rushed home due to her hysteria and saw what she had seen and still didn’t believe my own eyes. In due time, I had to make a bigger space in my awareness and accept something new. I have told the true story of that haunted house and it will air in two parts one day soon under the title of “Ghost Story.” Our story even made it into the Nanaimo Free Press.
I was able to experience a similar occurrence of disbelief in the face of truth from the opposite vantage before leaving Nanaimo. It happened that I became temporarily unemployed while in the ghost house and I had heard through the grapevine that I might have a chance of getting a gig as a deck-hand on the Gabriola Ferry. This is a small ferry that runs back and forth from Nanaimo to one of the many Gulf Islands off the B. C. coastline. My father had gone to sea in Montreal at age fifteen and my mother’s father had gone to sea at the age of fourteen. I figured, being twenty should make it even easier.
I was armed with good intel that the Captains were suitably impressed if you came on board during a run dressed for the job and eager to show off some knot tying skills. Back then I was pretty good with clove hitches, camel hitches, bowlines and such. I had been bringing my wife to work with me prior to getting unemployed due to her inability to remain alone in the spirit-ridden house. If you are wondering why we didn’t simply move, it was because we had innocently signed a six month lease that stipulated we were to pay in full for each month early we would have vacated the premises. It was money we didn’t have and thus not an option. The landlord turned out later to confess full knowledge of a murder that had occurred there but had purposely chosen to omit this information when I signed the lease. Conversely, when I moved out six harrowing months later, he used the notoriety of the place generated by the newspaper article to rent the house quickly and easily for double the amount I had paid.
The day I set off to apply for the ferry deck-hand job, I had my wife along as usual. I pulled up to the grocery store on Front St. near the terminal, told her to wait patiently and that I would bag this job. I reckoned I would be less than ten minutes. After all, the ferry was loading, it only held a few cars and Captains were good judges of men. She wished me luck and adjusted her sun-glasses to the glare reflecting off the water.
I strode aboard and quickly found the Pilothouse after negotiating a slew of bicycles, tripods, cases, back-packs and other equipment which clogged up the deck. It was as if a group was getting ready to climb Mt. Everest judging by their gear. I glanced at the deck-hand on my way up, certain that I could do what he was doing. As I finished my introduction, hand-shaking and offer of services for a position that the company had not advertised for, the Captain tooted his horn and threw her into Back Slow. I made a tiny bit of a face and he smiled and said that it couldn’t hurt to go along one run although he didn’t know of any openings for deck-hands in the foreseeable future. I figured it was a test and held my mud.
The run to Gabriola doesn’t take too long and I knew I could smooth things out with my wife when I got back. Truly, I was Shanghaied. I would have thought the Captain would have had the decency to notify me before casting off. Anyway, the round trip was about six nautical miles and would take under an hour. I chatted a bit longer with the Captain, not showing any concern or distress. After a suitable time, I went down to talk to the deck-hand. As the Gabriola dock hove into view, I felt that wonderful ancient feeling all mariners experience when coming ashore.
The deck-hand sprang into disciplined action and soon had the few vehicles safely on their way like so many geese shooed away from a tree stump. What happened next took a few moments to implant in my brain and a few more moments to process as being real. A man and woman rode their bikes off with three children in tow.
Halfway across the gangway, the mother stopped, turned, held up a small packet and yelled, “Who wants gum?”
“I do, I do.” came an answering chorus from the youngsters and father.
It was only then I turned and saw that all the equipment I had seen earlier was set up in place behind us and a film crew was busy with the shoot. The family began to chew their Trident Sugarless Gum and giggle as they rode off the ramp and a hundred yards down the bend in the island road. I looked at the deck-hand, the film crew and the Captain grinning in his cockpit.
“Are you shitting me?” I inquired of the deck-hand.
“I shit you not,” he replied and handed me a pack of gum.
I knew I’d need it as evidence, so I didn’t chew any. I let the novelty of the situation become comfortable on the sofa in my mind and leaned against a rail to watch the cyclist come back aboard. They were swiftly stowed away and in short order we cast off. It couldn’t have been too soon for me. Due to the situation at home, my wife’s nerves were not the best. Like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wandering the Sahara after crashing his mail plane en route from Paris to Saigon, I was suffering agonies at having inadvertently caused her to worry. While I made peace with this, the ferry Captain threw her into slow Ahead and took another run at the dock. As I stood gripping a stanchion, we docked again and repeated the entire scene. I heaved a sigh of heavy relief when we were again moving astern and I felt that wonderful feeling all mariners experience when watching the land slip away.
The third time we docked I turned to the deck-hand, “Are you shitting me?”
“I shit you not,” was his calm measured reply.
The fourth time, I checked my tobacco pouch to make sure I could pass the balance of the day without mooching. By the fifth landing, I was considering asking the camera crew if I could get any cash for appearing in a cameo role. By the sixth and final repeat, I had decided I didn’t like the film business, I hated gum and I sorely missed my little wife. I tried to concoct something more believable than the truth on the way back to Nanaimo. I couldn’t. When I got to the car, in the waning light of a late afternoon, I told my poor dehydrated woman the truth and I even showed her the gum. I apologized profusely but made it clear that I admitted no guilt under the peculiar circumstances. As a back up, I added that I had been told that the commercial would be aired in six months and that then she’d see for herself.
She pointed her face to me, tilted up her sun-glasses, tossed her corn-silk hair and said, “Are you shitting me, Michael?”
“I shit you not,” I replied with the conviction of a Southern Baptist preacher.
We never did see that commercial. We didn’t own a TV during our short marriage. I honestly don’t know if my ex-wife ever believed the truth of that afternoon. Yet, there it lay like a grease stripe atop a cat’s head after it has crawled under a differential.
Today we are affected by many new and numinous maladies. When diagnosed by our medical professionals, they are merely described in Greek and Latin. The underlying causes are frequently admitted by Doctors to be unknown as are the cures. Personally, I figure this is environmental and is due to many the irritants, additives, pollutants and altered substances we ingest and absorb.
Whether a person is looking at social, political or medical issues, it is important to describe what is observed like the emo music lyrics referred to in the beginning of this essay. A description is a starting point but far from a cure. Anything administered to alleviate symptoms does not provide a lasting solution either. I am sure that cures and prevention are very difficult to attain but I am equally convinced that these are the only destinations worth aiming at regardless of where we end up.
I have found that sometimes lasting solutions to problems and their proper diagnosis can come from very unlikely sources. I experienced this last month. I had been feeling very run down, lethargic, itchy and sore for some time. The TV medical experts spewed out an endless barrage of maybes to be considered and although I don’t watch it much, it is on in my house, it is Winter and I can hear it. I puzzled over the way I felt for a considerable stretch of time. Then I paid attention to a silent partner, my cat, Mr. Dusty Bones, Esq.
He had taken to sitting on a high perch in the bedroom and staring like a sphinx at a small ventilation hole near the ceiling that most trailers have in the living room and the main bedroom. He continued this behavior for some days and nights. I was really getting fed up with feeling off kilter. So much so, I even contemplated heavy physical exercise. One morning, I woke and saw him there like a Royal Bank granite lion staring at the vent which had been cleverly blocked up with Styrofoam in order to save on the last occupant’s heating bill. I stood on a chair and smelled it immediately. Mold.
When I pried out the foam, I was treated to the sight of several paper wasp nests which had been constructed from the outside through a hole in the screen. They had subsequently become wet from condensation due to the blockage of the foam and then had molded. This was the mysterious cause of all those symptoms. I had experienced something similar in Vancouver at an apartment I rented. I removed both foam blocks, cleaned out the molded wasp nests, scoured the aluminum sills till they shone, disinfected them and replaced the screens behind the small glass louvers. All while my cat watched silently and knowingly. We cracked them open a wee bit to let the air circulate and carry away moisture and one by one all the symptoms disappeared. Maybe one day the world will learn something vitally useful from those who don’t communicate in the usual manner. Whether they stand on four legs or on two.
There are many kinds of snow. I have heard that there are dozens of words in Inuit languages to describe the many different kinds of snow and ice with incredible nuance and accuracy and this seems altogether reasonable for a people who spend most of their time in such an environment. Likely, there is a corresponding wealth of words describing sand, dunes and wind in the desert regions of the world.
This Texan knows only two kinds of snow. Wet snow or cole snass as it is referred to in Chinook jargon and the lovely delicate powder which travels great distances sideways before ever falling, which we have here in Lillooet. It can be so fine that you have to look at a light pole and block the bulb with your hand to be able to discern the crystalline shower which is revealed in the aurora.
Wet snow accumulates directly in a place like Vancouver, while here in the canyon, it drifts in the wind until anchored by an obstruction. When I first came to North Vancouver as a boy from Louisiana, it was December and the snow was a couple of feet deep in Lynn Valley. The chain link fence surrounding the elementary school was completely hidden under the combination of drifted and plowed snow. I remember the thrill of walking up and over the top with my sister in our first pairs of wellies from Zellers.
I got acquainted with shoveling snow that first winter due to having lost one too many snooker games with my apartment manager’s son. In those years, the winters were fairly consistent and by the time I reached high school and began my drivers training, there were components of that instruction specific to winter driving. A nice man would come to the front of the old Argyle Senior Secondary right after school in a small car with two steering wheels and pick up the waiting student.
My Dad had recently issued orders for me to take that driver training and to buy a vehicle from the proceeds of my night job. According to him, I was to be fully ready to leave home by the age of seventeen. While I was growing up he used to ask me from time to time how old I was and when I answered, he would subtract my answer from seventeen and say, “Well there’s only that many years left until I want you out of here.” I never figured out the significance of that number other than it was two years later than he had gone out into the wide world.
The Driving School instructor was a jolly confidant middle aged man and a very different teacher than my father. The first thing he showed me in order to relax the situation was that if I screwed up, he could steer and brake for both of us. This made me immensely grateful and he demonstrated this a few times as we cruised out of the school zone. We pulled over again and he briefed me like a pilot on the function of all the controls of that particular vehicle. When he figured I had absorbed as much as I could for the moment he did something unexpected. He told me a joke.
“A man from the Government had to go to River View Asylum to assess the progress they were making with their patients. He was to file a report which would recommend either increased funding or closure of the facility. He arrived, grabbed his briefcase and entered the massive complex. There were a few inmates outdoors on the green sward that looked over the Fraser River, apparently tending some scraggly sheep which bleated as he passed indoors."
"The Director was expecting him and greeted him before he had walked ten feet toward the reception desk. The tall balding man pumped his hand, offered him coffee and grinned like a used truck salesman. The old battleship linoleum floor had a hard wax shine that would have done justice to a bowling alley and everywhere staff members in a variety of color coded uniforms strode to and fro with the purpose of pastel Corporals delivering messages to the War Room."
"Suitably impressed, the Government man smiled and accepted the offer of refreshments. He was escorted into a spotless cafeteria and given a piping hot mug of coffee and a fresh bran muffin studded with fat juicy raisins. While he sipped and chewed, the Director fleshed out the work carried on at his facility with special attention given to his new initiatives that had yielded such promising results after decades of failure. It was these new initiatives that had prompted the call for increased funding and the subsequent assessment."
"After a chat, the Government man smiled and said that he would like to have a tour of the different floors and see the inmates and patients for himself. The Director said he would be delighted and proud to accommodate that request. First they walked down the hall of a lower floor. All the doors were open and there was a happy racket coming from a set of double doors. They approached and the Director pushed the panic bars open to reveal a gleaming gymnasium where about twenty adults both male and female were having games of indoor soccer. They were so obviously having a wonderful time that they didn’t even look up."
"Next, they went to the second floor where people suffering from slightly more serious forms of mental illness were housed. This hall had several medium sized rooms at the end and as they peeked into each one, it was revealed that these inmates were busily and happily engaged in playing pool, table tennis, shuffleboard and Foosball. They looked up briefly at the two gentlemen and grinned."
"At the next floor up, the room doors had little windows with sliding shutters and the Director had to use a special card to activate the elevator. They strolled down to a series of smaller rooms and peered into each one. There were people playing cribbage, chess and other board games. Most of these were elderly and the Director elaborated on his vision of using physical activity, sports and such as the way to rehabilitate the psyches of the unfortunates."
"With only one floor left to tour, the Government man followed his guide up the elevator, almost like an old friend, such was the respect that he had developed for the brilliant showing. He was already composing a favorable report in his head when the Director broke into his thoughts. He explained that they were now on the maximum security floor with the most dangerous and difficult population of the facility. With a firm squeeze on the shoulder, he steered the Government man into the corridor and added that he would likely be surprised how well his strategy had worked even there on that floor."
"The first inmate they encountered stood a few yards away down the hall and was miming the action of a man serving a tennis ball. The Government man asked if he could speak to the inmate. With no hesitation, the Director said, “Yes by all means.”
“Hi,” said the Government man. “What are you doing today?”
“Oh Hi,” said a frail old man in a stained blue bathrobe. “I’m on the sports therapy program. I’m practicing my serve. Soon I’ll go down to the lower floors and get to play in the gym. When I get out of here next year, I want to go on to be a tennis pro.”
“That’s incred…, I mean that’s wonderful!” gushed the Government man and with a grin he continued down the hall to another figure. It was a middle-aged woman. She was dressed in faded pink pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She appeared to be swinging an invisible stick and had on a huge visor cap and plastic sunglasses."
“Hi Ann, why don’t you tell our guest what you are doing today,” said the Director.
“Hi you guys. I am getting out of here in the Fall. Right now I am on the sports rehabilitation program and I am practicing my golf swing. When I go home, I am going pro, what ever it takes.”
"The Director thanked her and smiled at the Government man. His guest smiled back and said he had seen quite enough. As they strolled down toward the elevator, the Government man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and intimated to the Director that this tour had indeed changed his viewpoint on mental illness and his perspective as to its treatment. He said that he had been deeply touched in an almost religious sense. Arms thrown over each others shoulders, they walked down the tiles like brothers on a fishing pier. Over by the elevator, silhouetted by the light from a small reinforced window they saw another man."
"He was perhaps thirty, of average height and barefooted. He was wearing a pale green hospital gown turned backwards. He spun around to face the two approaching men but kept his attention focused on his own hands. He gripped a peanut, still in its shell, between his thumbs and forefingers. He held it tightly onto the tip of a massive erection."
"The Director let out a small groan when the Government man broke stride and approached the figure alone."
“Hi, friend. Can you tell me what you are doing today?”
“Sure can, dude. I’m fucking nuts and I’m going to be here for a long, long time.”
When we finished laughing, we took off and began driving lesson number one. Over the course of that Winter, my instructor took me up to the parking lot of Mt. Seymour to learn skid control and other techniques for Winter driving. He would barrel us into a skid and let me pull us out of it.
I can still hear him shouting, “Steer into it Mike, don’t hit the binders or we’re gonna be here for a long, long time.”
Just as my father had excelled at throwing mountains in my path and then ordering me to go up the slippery roads, my driving instructor showed me how to regain and to maintain control while navigating them. His other gift to me was the exposition of the power of humor by example. I just turned sixty yesterday and I still think of him.
On the final day’s road test we had been up the mountain, on the highway, into Vancouver, over both bridges and were finally coming West down Lynn Valley Road approaching Mountain Highway. I licked my lips involuntarily when I spied the Cockney Kings Fish and Chips booth up ahead. There in a small structure, the size of a generous phone booth, the man with the funny accent would fry you up two fat pieces of cod, roll a cone of old newspapers, fill it with steaming chips and deposit the beer-battered fish on top for less than two bucks. A shake of salt and a dowsing of malt vinegar and you were impervious to the cold for hours to come.
I cruised down the hill and thought of the joy of the open road. The road was hard-packed salted frozen snow and had turned the color of ash. I eased off the gas when I judged that I was close enough to the approaching stop signal. Just as I did so, an unseen cat leaped over the snow bank on the passenger side and bee-lined for the Jack and Jill Superette across the street. The creature sprinted like a cheetah and its path, speed and angle were perfectly timed to meet my right front wheel.
There was a horrifying crunch, a small bump and then another. I kept straight as an arrow and gently braked for the red light. I remember looking in the rear view mirror and hearing my instructor say that it was surely dead. Snow had already started to cover the carcass and soon it would be frozen stiff. I immediately imagined some rarely used paper that barred me from driving in all British Commonwealth Countries, Territories or Colonies.
“I...I didn’t see it in time,” I stammered.
“Pull over after the light, Mike.”
I pulled over in the little strip mall in front of a Mac’s Milk Store. My face was white and my ears were red. The instructor told me that we were done for the day, done for the lessons and done for the test. I waited for the bad news and tried to figure out what I would tell my father. After making some marks on his clipboard, my teacher turned and spoke to me.
“Mike, listen to me carefully. You did exactly the right thing back there. On a road such as this one on this day in this weather, it would have been foolhardy to attempt to swerve or brake for such a small creature. We would have wound up in the opposite lane and maybe even the intersection itself. Now, a moose or a deer, that is a different story. I’m sorry for the poor kitty and I’m sorry for you but I would have failed you right then and there if you had swerved. Congratulations. Now take me back to the school.”
Astonished, I asked, “Should we go back and get it?” “Try to find the owner?”
“I think not, I have another test to give today and there isn’t much left but crow bait anyhow.”
When I had my paperwork in order I bought my mother’s 1957 Morris Minor and bombed around in it for several months. The engine was the size of a Singer sewing machine and the turn signals flapped out like turkey wings from the side of the chassis. I had paid 75 dollars for the piece of British whimsy and if I recall correctly, I sold it for fifty. I next bought a 1967 Beaumont Acadian from the brother of a school mate, who belonged to a gang. We settled on four hundred dollars as the price.
It was a flat silver with a matte finish as if primed and ready to be painted. The interior was hand-painted with dragons, daggers, swords, big-breasted elf maidens, gang tags and lightening bolts. It sported a Holly four-barrel carburetor and small red Christmas lights were strung through the interior for ambiance when driving at night. Almquist had thought of everything. I proudly drove it home after the Swede promised me it would make it to Texas and back with no problems.
That evening, my father forbid me to park my mirth mobile in the driveway of our rental on Kilmer Road. I asked why and by way of answer, he ordered me to keep it at least a block away from his gold Oldsmobile Delta 98. I was perplexed, especially as I hadn’t been keen on getting a car anyway. Grudgingly, I backed out of the drive and found a nice spot under some cedar trees on the other side of Kilmer and about ten houses down.
The very next morning, I was looking forward to a drive through the hood to show off my ride to the boys and girls. Halfway to the silver stallion, my knees went weak. There it stood, covered in eggs, spray paint, the tail light lenses shattered and the tires slashed and flat. One window was smashed and crystals of safety glass festooned the back seat which was also slashed. It took me a few weeks to get it up and running, paint over the graffiti with silver-gray primer, replace the tires, duct-tape the upholstery and have a new glass put in. I was allowed to park it somewhat closer to home after that but not on our side of the street.
I eventually learned that the perpetrators were a rival gang which operated in my little section of the Valley. I was always in a gang of one, so I had little time for such fraternal organizations. Besides we moved too often to make joining one a practical enterprise. Except for the Baden-Powell gang which I had become a member of in Baton Rouge, I considered them cowardly and dishonorable. Over the next year, I accidentally found a philosophical gal who liked to skip school and we spent a lot of Algebra classes in Lynn Canyon, listening to the radio, munching fish and chips and chatting about the universe while the snow fell through the cedars.
When I was a Vancouver mailman, I got very acquainted with coastal snow. In the thirty years I delivered the post, there were perhaps four exceptionally snowy Winters. On these occasions when the usual melting rain did not materialize, the snow would build up quite high, quite fast. The first day after a big snowfall caused me to rise an hour or two earlier than usual to shovel the sidewalk in front of my own apartment. Then, I would ride the bus or train until it inevitably broke down and walk the rest of the way to my station.
After a very late start sorting, we would bag out our mail only to be told by the Supervisors that the couriers couldn’t drop any bundles on side streets due to the snow. We would be encouraged to put multiple bundles in relay boxes that sat on main streets and to walk back and forth to them rather than follow the regular line of travel. This added hours of what we call in the trade “dead-walking” to an already gnarly day.
It was always a blessed relief to be out in the bracing air, however. After the stuffiness of the depot’s monoxide, wet paper and moldy woolen smells, it was medicine. The first job on the route was the breaking of the trail. This consisted of stomping big boot prints and connecting drag lines through the hundreds of front yards and doing the same for the yet to be shoveled steps. In this way, a person could follow easily on the next day, burning far fewer calories.
Because we carried our sandwiches with us, this was important if one was to have enough gas to get through the slog without burning out. Those few times when it snowed each night for three or four consecutive days, the trail breaking had to be repeated each new day. By the third day, I used to pack two massive meat sandwiches, two frozen apples, two oranges, two liters of salted water, a quarter pound of chocolate and a half dozen Jägermeister sausages. I had no room in my two overflowing pouches for this feast, so I rigged a mesh bag to the back hasp of one of my satchels.
Once I fell on some ice and clattered down a flight of concrete steps. Usually in such a situation I would be up and swearing faster than a German soccer player prior to the 1990s. This time I lay for a while staring into the snow globe scene and trying to wiggle all my parts before attempting to rise. Across the street, I saw a man pulling on his boots and gloves and doing the old man shuffle to cross over to where I was prone. His wife peered through the kitchen window with a dish rag in her hand. He waddled over just as I regained my footing and was doing some stretches to lessen the pain that was sure to follow that night and the next morning.
“My wife saw you, Mike. You OK? She said that you usually get back up quicker and that I should check you out.”
“Thanks, man. I’m OK. She’s right you know. That’s the longest I ever stayed down.”
There was one house that I delivered to for about five years that got buried in snow one particularly bad winter. It was on a side street with no snow removal and the properties were set back from the road with large front yards. This house had a big Alpine style balcony which fronted a master bedroom upstairs. Every day, I would see a huge man in his striped gray and black pajama bottoms standing there, regardless of the weather. He never wore a shirt. There was no need. He was one of those individuals you come across from time to time when you attend a spa or mineral water bath with your wife or girlfriend. Hairy as a sasquatch. He could have parted the hair on his shoulders with a comb and they paled in comparison to his back.
He would make a sour face, glance at his watch through the fur of his wrist and remind me that according to his schedule, I was late. After a year or two, I got used to it. I never liked it but I got used to it. I heard through the grapevine that he was the very man who had begun one of Vancouver’s first successful pizza franchises. He had sold the company and retired at a very young age and in very comfortable circumstances. He was a Greek. The reason he wore pajamas all day was the same as that of a Chinese stock trading customer of mine. Because he could.
One terrible wet Winter a few days before Christmas I kicked my way into Shaggy’s yard and stomped across the drifted snow that hid his driveway, walkway and steps. I glanced up just in time to see him check his watch and give me the face. I folded the wad of mail in two and pressed the bundle through the slot with some effort and as it clunked on the hardwood floor I turned and picked my way along my old footprints.
As I neared the street, he beckoned in a booming bass, “Hey Buddy! My wife wantsh to talk to you.”
I stopped, turned and began to trudge back to the door, wondering what the woman I had never seen was going to complain about. I knocked crisply on the door with numb knuckles. The door swung open and a pretty woman in a checkered apron adjusted her graying hair and asked me to wait a minute. She padded off to the kitchen and returned swiftly with a metal tray, which she held in mitts. On top were four of the most beautiful spanakopitas I had ever seen.
“I made thish for you. Itsh khold out there.”
I thanked her profusely and she closed the door against the chill wind. I stood for a moment deciding what to do. I turned about, marched into the front yard and made a snow table and bench. I sat the tray on the snow where I could face the balcony and began to devour the sumptuous green manna in its cigarette paper thin flake pastry. I looked up at the sasquatch and thanked him heartily and gave a thumbs up. He stared for a moment and then went inside and slid the door closed. When I was done, I returned the tray to the front door and forgave all mankind for all the sins ever committed, happier than a porpoise.
Many years went by and I met another Greek man on a different route. He was a widower and was raising his daughter alone. Sammy the Barber’s nephew rented the basement. I never met the college aged daughter but the old man would chat once in a while if he happened to be home when I passed by.
He was a friendly guy and from what I could tell, a great father. Their house sat on a corner with a view of the back-side of Grace Hospital. After about a year, it happened one Spring that I heard a wonderful lusty singing coming from the little bathroom window that communicated to the front yard. I had permission of the old man to use their steps for a lunching platform and I was entertained by the mystery male vocalist many times. Sometimes it was country western but mostly top 40 songs.
One day after this had been going on for several months I was greeted in the yard by the old man, who rushed out and asked me if I could stay to have my lunch on the steps that day and do him a favor. I said of course I could. I sat on the concrete steps and rolled a smoke. There was an intoxicating aroma wafting out of the house and washing over me. I was just about to put my finger on it when the old man and a young woman came out of the house carrying metal trays with mitts. They each placed a tray on the stoop. His tray had small spanakopitas and hers had large ones.
“Thish my daughter. You never shee kher. She go to khallege. Look, she gonna get married in a khople weeksh. Her mother passh away before teach kher to khook. If you will be sho khind, would you pleashe try theshe spanakopitas and tell kher the trute khwat you tink. She will be the khook for the wedding.”
I shook hands with the dark haired lass as we were introduced and said that it would be my honor and a privilege. She stood nervously clasping her hands to her checkered apron as her and her father watched me like doctors waiting for a patient to regain consciousness after a particularly sketchy surgery. I ate a small one slowly. Then I ate another a little faster. They asked me to try the second tray. I did so.
“Well, khwat do you tink?” asked the old man.
“I think your daughter is an exceptional cook. The second tray, the bigger size ones, are the best. The seasoning is exact. The smaller ones have too much pastry and don’t feel right in the mouth. No offense. Not enough spinaka. I can also tell you that the bride groom is a nice boy and very much in love. He sings like a canary.”
“I told you Papa,” said the young woman. “The big onesh are IT. They are the pomb, jusht like Mama’sh!”
We all sat on the steps and gobbled them up and talked of marriage and life. I told them how I had gotten married for the third time in a Greek restaurant which I had purposely chosen for its spanakopitas. I told them of my wife who could cook Italian, Chinese, Western and Filipino cuisine.
“I told you khirl, food ish very important,” said the old man to his daughter.
The other day I was watching the snow blow like icing sugar out my office window. Dusty Bones was playing soccer with a walnut on the floor. Those times and places I have spoken of came to mind like a parade. At length I decided to distract myself with a little Google search for an obscure piece of music. Somehow, I found myself viewing a taped live session of eN-Kriya. This is a modern brand of old Vedic traditions concerned with awakening the Kundalini. A young guru in a saffron robe with a leopard print vest and massive gold necklace spoke for quite some time to a rapt audience of European and North American disciples.
He wore a beatific smile and had an array of facial expressions and voice tones that ranged from a doting mother to a stern grandfather. Using these voices and the corresponding expressions he explained in glacial detail how to do breathing exercises that are very similar to those taught in Pa Kua. In one nostril and out the other. After a set of these, some deep breaths which are held and slowly released. The empty lungs are held and then slowly refilled.
Next came the Sat Nam. This was basically, a rhythmic, forceful pulling in and up of the diaphragm, which serves to physically massage all the internal organs. There are some further breathing techniques employed afterward as well as a chanting and a visualization of the Master, who ever that was, showering one with his Holy energy. This gift of energy was now to be shared out to all the world in the minds eye. At the end of the lesson, the camera man panned the audience of devotees.
They were mostly middle-aged women with a sprinkling of bald younger males. They were all Caucasian and were seated in the lotus position on old mattresses likely borrowed from the Tantra classes. The guru now spoke of levitation. I had just replaced the old kitchen chair I used at my desk with an adjustable computer chair from the Canadian Tire Store in West Bank and I worked the lever and slid up a few inches as I watched.
After forty-five minutes of meaningful pauses peppered with admonitions that it was indeed possible, the guru said he would give the class a chance to try levitating. First, he said, he wanted to tell them a story.
“There vas vonce an old voman”, he began. “Her family vas no longer able to take care of har at home because abry von vas busily vorking many jobs. They decided to all chip in and pay for her a nice room in a care facility. Understand. The daughter found a suitable place and the sons negotiated a fair price for the sarvices after carefully inwestigating the company. They drove the old voman there next day and settled her into her room. It vas small but clean and comfortable. After many tears they left her and told her they vad be bek next morning to make sure the staff var treating her very good and kind."
"That afternoon as the old voman sat at her chair by the vindow looking the beautiful flowers outside, she began to lean over slowly to the right side. The narse on duty passed by her room and as all the doors were kept open as a policy, she noticed the old voman tilting in har chair. The narse came in quickly and gently sat the lady up straight in har chair, combed har hair and left again."
"After ten minutes, the nurse passed by again. The old voman vas now leaning very far to the left side. Understand. The dutiful narse came in again and straightened the poor old voman in the chair and massaged har shoulders for a moment and asked har vat she vanted for her suppar."
"The vary next day, as they had promised, the family arrived to check on their Mom. They all went to har room and found her again by the vindow in har chair. The daughter asked har Mom if the narses var kind to har and if the food vas OK.”
"The old voman turned slowly to har daughters face. “Yes,” she said, “They are vary kind to me here and the food is vary good.” Abry one smiled. “There is only bon problem”, said the old voman. “They von’t let me fart!” Understand. Now you may try to levitate.”
The camera man turned away from the guru and panned across the devotees who were in deep rapt concentration, over oxygenated and likely undernourished. None were laughing. One fellow that looked like the manager of a mid-west shoe store was using his lotus-folded knees to spring repeatedly into the air a few inches and the bounce of the mattress to keep it going. A woman who looked like a bookstore owner from Portland began to emulate him and soon dozens were popping up and down like amputated frogs, each one expecting to be the one to stay aloft.
“Steer into it, baby,” I thought out loud, “Or we’re going to be here for a long, long time.”
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.