s e l e c t e d w r i t i n g
e i g h t y e a r o l d l i l y
In elementary school I was cast to play the father in the Night Before Christmas. My role called for me to lay in bed and at the appropriate time, get up, go to the window, and as the narrator described the reindeer flying past, I was to look up into the sky.
Lily, an eight-year old Chinese girl, was my wife and lay beside me. Our classmates were our children and were fast asleep. When the reindeer flew past our window I lay motionless in our bed, embarrassed by my sexuality.
t e l e s c o p e
We have a telescope at home in our hall closet. We’ve never used it. I’m not sure if it’s broken, or if I just can’t understand how to set it up. I have to admit that the idea of looking at tiny points of light, just a little bit closer, has never been that fascinating to me. My lack of interest has certainly contributed to it sitting in our closet.
The telescope was a gift for my daughter from Randy, my daughter’s mother’s boyfriend, who lived in Edmonton, with my daughter’s mother.
One morning I woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. I answered the phone. The voice on the line asked if I was sleeping. I lied and said no. (I used to do that regularly, lie about sleeping.) The voice on the line was Randy. I knew of Randy of course, but I had never spoken to him. Initially our conversation was guarded. It unfolded gradually. There was mistrust on both sides. Slowly our suspicions of one another diminished as certain common truths became apparent. Our mistrust was based on misinformation. My daughter’s mother had a tendency toward aberrant social behavior involving the fictionalization of reality that usually resulted in financial difficulty for everyone involved. This is what had happened to Randy. Despite these difficulties, he said he still loved her and wanted to help her with her problems. He defined things in terms of good and evil, describing her as though she were two distinct, separate beings. There was the woman he loved, who was good, and this other presence, which was evil. Sometimes when people talk earnestly about evil it casts aspersions on their character. Their stability, or intentions are called into question. He asked if he could send his telescope to us as a gift. Despite feeling uncomfortable I gave him our address. A few weeks later we picked up the telescope from the bus depot.
I wonder if it ever worked.
h i d d e n a n g e l
A burly man with a lazy eye came into the store where I work. He said, “How ya been? “ He said it with a degree of familiarity that threw me.
I hesitated for a moment, worried about my past, and said, “ Fine, you?”
“I’m looking for someone who wants to make six thousand dollars a week. How long have you worked here?”
I told him I had worked in the same place for over twenty-five years. He said he was sorry to hear that, really sorry to hear that.
He worked for an organization called the Hidden Angel Society. The premise of their organization was to offer a thoughtful gift of a single flower to a complete stranger. The stranger, moved by the gesture, would want to reciprocate and the Angel would ask for five dollars to buy a meal for a homeless person, or someone who was down on their luck.
He offered me his name and phone number in case I knew of anyone who would be interested.
I sure could use six thousand dollars.
t r i p
During my first trip to Edmonton I went to a lounge near my hotel downtown. The lounge was deserted except for the bartender, one woman and myself. The woman was seated maybe fifteen feet away from me and was staring at me. I was not interested in any company and her attention was making me uncomfortable. After a few minutes the woman got up and came and sat beside me. In a loud voice she asked,” Are you gay?” I replied that I was not. She was a prostitute. I was not interested. I left her and returned to my hotel room.
Twenty years later in Winnipeg an art school student did a project on missing women. On the wall I saw a photograph of that same woman and a description of her untimely death. I told several people of my connection to the woman. I reread the information, the year of her death, her age, and I tried to figure out a timeline, and I became less and less sure that it was the same woman.
c o s m o l o g y
I was in a pharmacy in the ointment section and I picked up a package of Lanacane. The graphic designer had created a series of symbols representing various skin ailments including itching. There was a symbol for cracked, chapped skin, three jagged lines. Dry skin itch was illustrated using three wavy lines. A central “V” shape with two shorter lines running parallel on either side represented vaginal and rectal itch. It seemed to me that a whole cosmology involving symbols for itching was possible and that itching, in particular vaginal and rectal itching, was a powerful metaphor for societal anxiety.
i n e s t u o u s
I was driving home with my friend and commenting on how so many conversations seem facile. What triggered this statement was, an evening spent with relatives from out of town listening to their stories about golf, and home renovations and other ways that people spend their extra time and money, if they have extra time and money to spend. I was not sure if these conversations were completely facile. It might be my understanding of both the people and the conversations that was suspect and simplistic. Perhaps there was an unspoken understanding, a subtext to everyday conversation that I was missing, and that talking about the ideas that I think of as important is unnecessary, meaningless and redundant.
My friend asked me if there really was such a word as facile.
I said that I believed that there was.
Later, I found out that the word was pronounced, “fasel“, not facile. Part of me remained convinced that the word was pronounced facile because of the final “e” rule, or perhaps there might be more than one pronunciation of the same word. Regardless, my lack of certainty discouraged me from using the word again.
In a way that I at first thought was similar, but later realized was only tangentially related, I was affected by the word inestuous. The first time I heard the word was in the song Once in Lifetime by the Talking Heads.
Same as it ever was…
Look where my hand was
Time isn’t holding us
Time is inestuous
Same as it ever was…
Contextually I had understood the word inestuous to mean without essence and I liked that. I tried to confirm my interpretation. I looked online and at hard copy dictionaries and I could find nothing. There was no such word.
I read several different versions of the lyrics and I couldn’t find the word inestuous in any of them as well. The lyrics usually read:
Time isn’t holding us
Time isn’t after us
Or in one instance,
Time isn’t holding up
Time is an asterisk
Song lyrics are often misheard. There is a term for this. It is called a mondegreen. In the song Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann, it sounds like they’re singing, she was blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night, but they’re not. Or later in the same song it sounds like, little early birdie gave my anus curly-wurly and asked me if I needed a ride, but again, this is not the case. Eventually, I had to admit that I was probably just mishearing the phrase time isn’t after us.
It was disappointing.
Months later, I found the word, it was in an on line dictionary called Urban Slang. The definition read; “marked by a continuous, constantly flowing action or feeling, an omnipresence enhanced by a unidirectional motion“. Empty was listed as a synonym. The definition then went on to cite the lyrics of Once in a Lifetime.
This was the only reference to the lyric that I have found that used the word inestuous.
Every time I type the word inestuous the word processor on the computer corrects me and changes the word to incestuous.
Same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was...
father ( this is not that )
I remember a photograph of Christmas dinner at my parent’s house. The dinner table was set up in the living room. This was the only room large enough to accommodate a table to sit eight people. The house was very small. There were mirror tiles in the living room to make the space look larger. Everyone was reflected in the mirror, including the person who took the photograph. It looked like there were fifteen people in this small crowded room.
Earlier in the day we had all been to the hospital to visit my father. We didn’t all go at once, but had visited in little groups throughout the day. My father was in the hospital dying of cancer. This would be his last Christmas. All through dinner my dad kept phoning and asking if everyone was having a good time, how he wished he could be there, and eventually breaking down in tears. It was hard to know what to say, with him being there, and us being...
I remember looking in the mirror.
I was sitting behind my Mother, massaging her neck and shoulders. My Mom was sitting in a comfortable chair, and there was sunlight streaming into the room. It was warm and quiet. It seemed like a calm oasis from all our recent turmoil. There was nowhere else I would rather be. I felt at peace with the world.
An elderly woman in a wheelchair entered the room. She was slowly being pushed by another woman, who I assumed was her sister, they made their way towards us, until the wheelchair came to rest against my Mom’s chair. The woman behind the wheelchair began poking the seat cushion beneath my Mom. I explained to her that it was just a cushion.
A frail looking woman approached us from the opposite direction. She began gesturing and speaking German, which we could not understand.
A man seated behind us started shouting, “ Bullshit! Bullshit! “ I calmly told him that it wasn’t Bullshit. I returned my attention to massaging my Mom who was alternately oblivious and hospitable to the entourage that had gathered around us.
The man behind us became agitated. He got up, came towards me, grabbed my arm and the arm of the chair and started to drag me, in the chair, across the room. I told him calmly, but forcefully, to stop. I repeated myself and told him to sit down. After he sat down I moved my chair and continued my mother’s massage.
The man started yelling, “ Call the police! Call the police!” until eventually his family came and took him to his room. As he left, he said to watch out for that ding-dong.
I remember sitting in the kitchen, staring at a plate of cold fat and gristle, retching every time I thought of putting it in my mouth. I could hear the sound of the television from the living room. I could tell my parents didn’t care about me. My mother may have. It was hard to tell. Eventually, I buried it in the garbage, telling my parents that I had finished it.
This is the earliest lie that I can remember telling.
I took off my clothes, then my glasses. I walked along a wall of showers past the other naked men. I entered a shower. A man, who was very close, turned and faced me.
He said, “This is my shower.”