Pillow Fort Knox

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On the subject of my crippling refusal to leave the house today:
It’s not really so much crippling as it is comforting, like
the slippers on my feet that make kitchen floors skating rinks. I look ridiculous, but at least no one is around to see whether or not I stick the landing.
Today is hot chocolate blankets.
Today is pillow-fort-Knox.
Today will be exceptional if I manage to get the garbage out to the curb…
Nevermind. That shit has to go.
Compulsively not-leaving leads to compulsively cleaning
because what else are you going to do?
The books on the shelf are either old friends with nothing new to say
or cadavers that died on your imagination’s operating table; no pulse worth turning the pages for.
The Internet’s a fickle mistress, lulling you along with hours of funny cat videos before you accidentally click upon a five-second slip of Syrian children lining the floors of a hospital, spent dominoes.

Justification time:
It’s okay to pillage the liquor cabinet before noon because it’s five o’clock somewhere.
The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire and last time I checked Canada still had a thing for Queens
so don’t you judge my eleven-o-clock vodka shuffle and sway, this whole day was drunk from the get go,
and I can’t let go enough to not give a damn.
I woke up with morning war-breath, and if I fire myself out that door
no matter where I go, I am going to ruin someone’s day.
Better to stay in the silo.
Better to just get coffeestains on my soul
than bloodstains on my hands.
A coworker once showed me a photograph of himself
fighting in Libya, AK held high, sand between his teeth and toes.
I asked him if he was really “In the shit.”
And he was.
I’ve never been,
Probably never will be. My greatest struggle thus far is finding ways to pay a student loan and justifying underemployment.
And that’s why I ought to leave the house today.
And that’s why I didn’t leave the house today.
Some days, you just need a fortress.

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Shorts – The Skeleton

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When I lived in Victoria, I would take an hour’s worth of transit daily to get to school and back again. To pass the time on the double-decker, I would often pick out a single traveller and write their internal monologue… or at least the monologue I imagined was running through their minds. On the train today, a skeletal wraith of a man with long wisps of white hair was leaning half-asleep against the window, wearing a faded Metallica t-shirt.

I figured his name might be Dante.

“Hallelujah’s are dollar bills crumpled in the back pocket of some jeans you haven’t worn in four Saturdays. It’s forty extra dollars you were saving for a cab some rainsoaked night until your friend who was back on the wagon offered you a lift and who the hell are you to refuse generosity like that? So the two twenties remained in the jeans for nigh on a month while the bills were paid and the groceries withered in the fridge and the trees started to betray the leaves one falling yellow coward at a time. Now they’re found again, a prize Indiana Jones would’ve crawled through a pit of snakes for.

The liquor store’s not far, ten minutes there and fifteen back. I say it’s fifteen back because you have to be careful on the return trip since, you know, you don’t want to spill anything. The first can is already spent by the time you slump back in the door and kick your muddy shoes off, missing the haphazard mess of newspapers you put down to keep the dirt off the floors by the door but whatever you’ll get it in the morning.

The remote’s broken so you have to get up every time you want the damn television on, or to change the channel whenever things get dull or the commercials run on or you’ve already solved the mystery before the CSI guys have their act together and you can tell, you can just tell the killer’s the seedy-looking fellow you saw right before the first commercial break. Cause he has motive. You had motive once, a ways back, but it got lost among the lottery tickets and the girl from Alabama, the long highway nights chasing a rock band in a rusty semi towing enough amps to deafen the world. Grape-flavoured cigarillo’s, vodka-sevens in water bottles, blinding lights you held tight like wayward children and that ringing sensation in your ears every night, every night, that sang like choirs of angels so beautifully you didn’t notice you were missing a new note every morning.

Now it’s gotten awfully quiet.

But if you rest your head against the rattling windowpanes of the train just so… sometimes you can still hear them.”

On Safari: Part 2

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STUDY A

Tattooed People-Magazine-wielding Woman, seated across from me, nursing a Monster Energy Drink and a baby bump more than a few months along. She borrows a pen from me to fill out a birthday card for an unknown person. Despite the crowded bus she occupies the entire seat, sprawling out to claim her territory while she reads about the latest trials in the tragic life of Justin Bieber. Her Blackberry is old and faded, her sandals cracked in places, hair pulled back tight in a professional ponytail while her shirt informs me that, yes, in fact, YOLO. She throws a hunter’s eye to the dreadlocked wanderer with skinned knees and gravel-ravaged hands as he boards the bus at the South Edmonton Stop, but he’s not enough to fully capture her attention from the Biebs morning routines on page seven.

STUDY B

A pack of youngblooded poli-sci majors baying on about Syria, Obama, Harper and Putin, distilling a wealth of valuable information into splitsecond soundbites thinned for maximum user-friendliness. Comparisons to Iraq and Afghanistan abound, various scenarios are suggested regarding the outcome of World War Three, and why the Greyhounds don’t bother showing movies anymore. The last film I saw on a bus was Catwoman, and it was enough to send me over to Red Arrow for a three-month period back in 2010. The future leaders of our country (or some other country if we’re fortunate) appear to be almost identically dressed in decent button-ups and well-heeled shoes, which begs the question: What the hell did they do to wind up on a southbound Greyhound with haphazard air conditioning, two wailing infants and no in-flight movie?

In my mind, they’re fleeing the long arm of the law for talking someone to death.

STUDY C

The Driver, filling out his Greyhound uniform just a bit too much, wiping the sweat off his brow in the sweltering depot as he collects tickets and tags bags, a body on autopilot. His moustache needs trimming, the creases on his forehead running rampant like California fault lines. Yes. No. Leaving In Ten Minutes. Can’t Take The Liquor Onboard, Ma’am.
He only softens for a minute when an elderly wisp of a woman, nigh on eighty or more, hobbles up clutching a ticket in a weary, paper-thin hand that reminds me so much of my own grandmother. In an instant he’s gone and a human being takes his identical place, smiling warmly, joking mildly, halting the march of passengers to usher her onto her waiting chariot. She takes a seat close to the front and, by the time I’ve boarded, will have fallen instantly asleep.
The sudden rush will last another five passengers once the Driver returns to his post, just enough to get us out the door and on the road, until he has to remind us that no, there is no smoking permitted on this bus. But if we need any adjustments to the belligerent air conditioning, let him know and he’ll see what he can do.

Scenes from a Bachelor Party, Cree Names, Weddingry

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The shenanigans start at a steakhouse mere hours after I’m off a plane from Vancouver and repacked and out the door to meet up with the gang before the Filet Mignon is ordered. The groom-to-be is already buzzed on Butter Ripple schnapps and adrenaline, and one by one the table fills up with well-wishers, groomsmen and antique faces from college years gone by.

Fully sated on slabs of meat and garlic mash, the party relocates to a nearby pub (myself and Ryan get lost along the way because he’s trusting me with directions and who the hell trusts me with directions?) where round after round of shots are ordered. Before long the Pre-Groom is smiling giddily and destroying us all at shuffleboard when a pair of ladies from the theatre school days materialize out of nowhere with a peal of joyous noise. By one in the morning the men are exhausted, drunk and ready to fall over but the Pre-Groom, ever the teddy-bear, remains chatting away about relationships and the perils and perks of Toronto living with the girls.

Retiring to the Best Man’s house on the edge of town, I’m awoken early the next morning by an unexpected lightsaber attack. Against all odds and at least a good half-dozen shots of alcohol, the Pre-Groom is as lively as ever, going full Darth-Vader. One hurried breakfast later and we’re zipping along dusty prairie highways towards Lac La Biche, where the Pre-Groom’s family home stands tall. We attack the stockpile of booze in the freshly-built shed, play board games and Cards Against Humanity until we’re too drunk or tired to focus, and collapse into hastily-assembled tents which will last another four or five hours before a poorly-planted tent peg gives way and sends half of the shelter folding in on itself.

I have to admit, that was probably my fault.

Day Three is paintball. Day Three is Pain and Suffering. The less said about that, the better.
After the battle, we retreat back to the family acreage where the Pre-Groom is tackled and shackled to a concrete ball and chain. As the realization sets in, we offer him keys to attempt to unburden himself, at a going standard rate of one key per drink. Ten keys later, he’s slightly shaky on his feet, and by key fifteen he’s down for the count but miraculously freed (the key to his freedom, of course, was never a key he could earn through a shot of schnapps. His brother, the twisted genius, had it kept safe in his back pocket until his brother was truly tapping out for the night.)

And then there are hangovers, hardy breakfasts, long treks back to civilization, a few days of home rest walking the dog and writing like mad, conversing with an agent intrigued with a TV pilot of mine, and then it’s shady bus depots and a Greyhound charging southward to Red Deer. Walking the hallowed halls of our old Arts Centre always refocuses the compass that’s been spinning like a top these past few months. The Muse picks me up a few hours later after I’ve connected with all my old professors, and after a long dinner on a windblown patio we’re off scaling down a cliff to take in a gorgeous view of the river and reminisce about hazy summers, Cree names (she was given one whilst sweating out her demons in a lodge) and the ephemeral possibility of maybe. And as the sun went down and the shadows of pine trees swallowed us whole, I felt a sense of contentment that had eluded me for half a year or more, drowned in the noise of a diabolical traffic circle I’d gotten lost in along the way.

And that brings us up to now, awake at nearly one in the morning, with the Pre-Groom sleeping soundly while I camp out in his living room. Tomorrow carries in the new paradigms and promises with a roar, soaked in rum and reeling joyously into the daylight. There is no returning to the youth, there is no regression to innocence, there is nothing more than a warm embrace and a fond farewell from the past that wants so desperately to follow along.

Here’s to the both of you, you brave and bolder souls. Exchange your vows, throw open the doors and give them hell.

The Struggles of Skytrain Racists

ImageIt’s late. Everyone on this traincar is tired, half-dozing against the windows or with their head buried deep in the cellphone sand. Across from me, a tanned and timeworn longboarder sits searching through his iPod for the perfect track for this dying summer evening. I have aching feet and I’m staring down a long night of rewrites fueled by bad coffee and dire necessity.

But that’s all window dressing; the real show is about to start when Mike and Ike step onto the train. Mike is taller and burlier, wears a white shirt and sways like a sailing ship on choppy (alcoholic) waters. Ike is a little more clear-headed, wears a black tank top and sneakers two sizes too large, bounding around Mike like an overexcited puppy. In hand, without even brown paper bags to make an attempt at concealment, are the cheapest biggest beers one can possibly find at the government liquor depot.

Things don’t heat up for awhile; Mike and Ike are busy slugging back their drinks and trading stories about a girl they both know, but soon the bottles are rolling on the floor, completely spent, and Mike is pacing the train car like a bull ten seconds before the rodeo begins. His rhetoric is spiking, his aim veering from the girl he was speaking about to her acquaintances, whom he’ll only refer to with the most carefully-chosen racial epithets. Ike does his best to keep him in line, keeping the conversation veering back as closely as he can to safer topics, but he can’t keep Mike in line forever.

“Hey.”

I glance up from the book I’m reading to see Mike, now shirtless, standing in front of the zoned-out longboarder across from me. Longboard doesn’t look too impressed. Mike taps his chest in several places.

“D’you see these? Huh?”
“Nice, yeah.”
“You know what this is? You know what this means?” Mike taps his chest again, on tattoos I’m thankful not to be seeing.
“Sorry, I don’t…”
“Russian, man. Means I’m Russian. Russian.”
“Okay, that’s great–”
“And what’re you?”

Mike’s question hangs in the air, not to be brushed aside by the Skytrain’s ever-so-calm voice announcing the next station. Ike is immediately on Mike, trying to steer him back to the safety of the deserted side of the car. But Mike isn’t having it.

“Okay buddy, let’s go–”
“I’m just asking him, man, I’m just asking–”
“He wasn’t asking you anything.”
“Hey! Who stepped to who, huh? Who stepped first?”

Others in the traincar are taking notice. Students pull off their headphones, glance up from tablets. Mike’s voice is still rising, volume cranking up to be heard over his partner’s objections. Not to be dissuaded, he turns his attention back to Longboard.

“So what’re you, huh?”

Longboard smiles, engages head-on.

“Well, I’m a mix. I’m a little bit Irish–”
“Irish!” Mike cuts in, “I fucking love the Irish!”
“…and a little English.”
“Great stuff, man. Great stuff.”
“And my father is French Canadian.”
Mike stops smiling, going from seventy to zero in seconds flat.
“I’m not too big on the French.”

The tone lurches faster than the train car as things speed up. Mike’s rhetoric rears up on it’s hind legs, Ike steps in to intervene, Longboard sits stone-still. Mike insists on continuing his inquisition, stating to Ike “Who stepped to who first, huh? Who stepped to who?”
“Sit the fuck down,” Ike replied tersely, “I can’t have this, I got court in a week. And you got Suzanne.”
The mention of Suzanne deflates Mike in seconds flat. He takes a stumbling step back from Longboard, his eyes going someplace else. Maybe Suzanne is a mother, a sister, maybe even a daughter. Maybe things just get heated when you’ve had a few and monsters bubble up to the surface, and a heady blend of misguided pride and dusty ideals make you get tattoos you regret a decade later once your head’s clear of cobwebs and coke.

Mike turned his gaze to me next, half-heartedly swinging for someone else, anyone else.
“What about this guy? What are you?”
I’m leaving.