Out West

I told you I was going out West to make things right
Said don’t worry, they said the land
has enough for everyone, we just
have to shake it out.
We cracked her open like an egg and then
for good measure
we cracked the whole carton
because what good’s the yolk in the shell, you know?

I told you I was going out West to make things right
Sent you back everything you’d ever need
No hungry lullabies, no rent-cheque bruises
We were never going to wait in the Wednesday line again,
never have to bum a dart, never have to let go.
And your mom, god, how her face turned
when we took all she ever said about me
fed it right back to her.
“He’s done good,” you said,
“He’s done so good.”

I told you I was going out West to make things right
and I made things right, kept my nose
cleaner than your kitchen counters,
never missed a day,
never crossed those lines we talked about
and then
they all called us into the big room,
gave us the news in asphalt tones,
some fellas started crying.
Never seen a fella so big
cry so hard.

We go any further West,
we might fall into the Pacific.
So what now?
So where next?

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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.

On the Subject of Prairie Storms

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Thing about a prairie storm is that you can see it coming for miles away, billowing blues bearing down on you like a freight train right when your leg’s stuck in the metal of the tracks and you don’t particularly have the means or inclination to chew your own leg off. The air picks up the scent and carries warning shouts into your nostrils, you can even go so far as to say you can taste it, a lingering metallic tinge on your tongue that mutters “I can’t believe I left my umbrella in the goddamn car.” The birds pick up their paces like flustered students who just know they’re going to be late for class, and the plastic bags and scraps of paper in the street start that sweeping dance as the trees lean just a little lower, the leaves picking up pre-show jitters like an ingenue on opening night.

Thing about a prairie storm is that you can’t get away from them. Even if you’re safe inside under a thick slab of concrete ensconced deep in the U of A or the monolithic Mall, you can feel that torrent blasting away, slicing through the parking lots and parks and side streets like a scythe through the grass. Newspapers graduate into one-shot hats, textbooks to shields and everyones best hair to a soggy, windblown morning-after throwback. And no matter how many layers you have between yourself and the torrent you can still feel the pressure changes, the sudden ecstatic release and shift as the lightning jousts with power lines and any trees that dared to grow particularly high.

Thing about a prairie storm is that it’s that one thing that’s completely out of your control; you can throw an infinite geyser of oil money at any problem save for this. Buy off tracts of guilt, bigscreen TV’s broken by coke habits and alimony payments and pave your way over the voice of any bearded, hempwearing naysayer chaining himself to a tree, you can drown ducks and pour decades of dollars down to tame the tarry soul underneath your feet but you can’t do a damn thing about his angry older brother who rolls into town with no notice, no patience and no apologies.

Thing about a prairie storm is that despite the calamity it brings it’s just as natural as drawing a breath of dusty August air, a shouldercheck to rattle your heart that comes around in the height of summer not because we deserve it, but because we need it. When a prairie storm bears down on a small town somewhere in the gut of Alberta and you’re stuck at a red light near a half-forgotten strip mall watching the giant lope in overhead, it draws out that fearful, primal edge in every human being that realizes the car and the day job and the split-level and the next contestant voted off the island are all vignettes and shorts compared to a colossus like this.