Writing

Pocketful of Mumbles

Be yourself, failing that, be like Cliff. The first part of that sentence is this the best advice I have ever been given, the second part I added later.

While not an old man you could tell he’d made the most of his 20’s and even more of what came after, he walked with the confidence of a man who’s never said the word ‘no’ to a potential good time. If I had to guess I’d place his age anywhere between 42 and 70 depending which way the light fell on him.

Cliff had all kinds of odd jobs throughout his life, driving trucks, digging holes, fixing stuff, breaking stuff. He never believed in just one profession and enjoyed work for what it was, something to pass the time.

Cliff was anti-long-term-employment his whole life, he made a career of it. “Ask anyone!” he’d always say.

Few would argue he had a great way of almost showing up on time every day, and nearly giving it 100%. Not much of a Johnny-on-the-spot or even a Johnny-come-lately but more a Johnny-give-’em-a-minute. No one ever seemed to mind because the work always got finished, and after all Cliff was a good guy, ask anyone.

The more we talked the more he’d reveal about his vast employment history and clearer the picture became. Never an expert, perhaps a means of deflecting responsibility, but nonetheless clearly experienced in a wide array of rough-hewn trades and pretty good at all of them, not great, ask anyone.

“Show-boatin’s for hot dogs and hand grenades!” Despite his occasional mixing of metaphors the point somehow always came across, professionally average was the name of the game. Fly just under the radar and avoid a lifetime of complication.

His real strength was with people, he knew how to talk to them. Cliff and his innate ability to tell a person exactly the right thing at the right time made him unemployment-proof and he knew it, highly proficient in the black arts of bullshitting.

Most people want to believe they’re special and in a small way they are, a very small way, a way so small that it doesn’t matter to the rest of us, especially since we’re so busy being special ourselves.

Cliff never deluded himself into thinking he was going to be middle management, more importantly he loathed the idea, a job like that was “for suckers” and had no appeal to the kind of guy whose skillset included knowing the best way to wrangle chickens onto a truck while reciting passages from East of Eden, of which he kept a copy on his person at all times, VHS of course. A simply complicated breed, ironic as he’d often detail the summer  spent on a farm in Switzerland helping inseminate horses, “the hardest job of them all” he assured.

Of all the gigs he’d managed to acquire, lose, quit and in most cases reclaim, it wasn’t until later I learned he’d spent time as a prize-fighter. Immediately, his physical features came starkly into focus; crooked nose, swollen hands, the scar above his right eyebrow. Most of his face appeared to have some remnant of what one would only hope was man-made-battle-scarring and not an erotic equine misadventure.

 

Matter of fact, the more I think about it the more I realize poor old Cliff wasn’t much of a boxer at all, far below the radar, a far cry from what he was most renowned; good enough. He proudly embodied the adage ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ and would scoff at the idea of anyone attributing any form of praise, but 0 wins in 38 consecutive fights is still a perfect record, ask anyone.

 

I’d Buy That For A Dollar!

Just the other day I bought some new sneakers, red ones. Why? Algorithm found a great deal I couldn’t afford to pass up. There were probably other deals but you should’ve seen this one! It caught me at just the right time between Twitter and Instagram, resistance was futile.

That said I’m not here to disparage the almighty, in fact I’m quite fond of it. Sometimes we’ll lay awake late at night and feed each other, I’ll click links to the latest news and often search for documentaries about a variety of tradesmen; electricians, plumbers, pizza delivery guys and of course step-sons, in exchange I receive a delicate balance of endorphins and future film suggestions. One thing I’ve found is it’s important to keep your algorithm on a diet of your favourite things, it makes regurgitating them back into our consumer feeding tubes at an inflated price much easier to swallow. Hungry algorithm does not equal happy algorithm.

Having refined our every habit and desire down to a series of keystrokes and swipes is no small task, nor should it be treated as such, algorithm is a 24/7 operation and deserves its due credit, that is until any of one of us carbon-based-shit-sacks can find an easier way to purchase things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.

There’s a level of vulnerability we all subconsciously share having willfully handed over all of our personal information, banking info and worst of all quiz results as to “What type of ham sandwich are you?” to a handful of tech giants. Google is only ever one step away from absorbing our entire fortunes, which in my case is literally tens of hundreds of dollars. Although I tend to ignore some of the darker realities of the arrangement when I realize I’m the benefactor, or so algorithm has lead me to believe. For example as it turns out there are hot singles in my area who are allegedly dying to meet me! How else would I even have access to that kind of intel without my trusty, omnipotent, pocket concierge? Did I mention the sneakers? Red.

Algorithm has worked its way into every facet and conceivable opinion in our lives and surely wouldn’t be doing so unless it were completely necessary. How else would we form opinions of our own without our beautiful bias-blending wingman? But it didn’t start with politics, it’s merely culminated there.

“Feeds me when I’m hungry

And quenches my thirst

Loves me when I’m lonely

And thinks of me first”

-Blue, Lucinda Williams, 2001

Clearly written about Deep Blue, the chess-playing super computer released in 1995, trained to beat the world’s greatest players of a board game, the original. algo’. Thanks, Kasparov!

Sometimes algorithm is too aggressive and one needs a break; it’s not you it’s me. A weekend trip to the local garage sales is a quick and easy way to reset my sense of autonomy and an even better way to score a great deal on a slightly used ashtray made completely from other recycled, slightly used ashtrays – problem solved!

Most of us will be forgotten, remembered only by our receipts and browser history, which is a hard truth to come to terms with but that’s what happens when you buy a magic 8 ball from Wish.com™️

We could all look at ourselves as a bunch of statistics and we may be right but the longer I think about it very few people have had my best interest at heart quite like algorithm. Some might say it knows us better than we know ourselves, they too may be right. At the end of the day we may as well trust it, without trust there is nothing other than a surplus of boner pills I bought on sale and need to get rid of just in case anyone is looking. My algorithm will be in touch.

 

Revenge of the Luddite

My printer is broken. That was a lie, my printer isn’t broken, it works just fine, it even has a scanner. What I meant to say is that it’s out of ink and I’ve done nothing to change that, rendering it obsolete, by choice, my choice. That is about as much control as I can realistically believe to have over technology.

As long as I’ve been alive I’ve considered myself a rather analog man in a now near-exclusively digital age. Despite my interest in gadgets and gizmos most of my favourite pieces of technology are quite old-fashioned, such as the fork, the knife, the non-iWatch and the catapult to name a few.

If you must know, the printer is sitting in a window sill collecting dust in place of what should be something more useful, flowers for instance. If I need something printed these days, I call someone with an armed and ready printer and go pick it up. It’s a rare enough occurrence that I like to make an adventure of it, “Did you print that thing I asked? Great, I’ll be by shortly.” The Indiana Jones of mundane tasks.

That’s another odd thing I do, I call someone, on the phone. None of my close friends seem to mind as they’re either used to it or from an era where it was a totally normal form of communication, they’re also good at ignoring most of my calls altogether. I’ve caught both young and older folks off guard with what they believe should’ve been a text. The Indiana Jones of interrupting dinner.

The modern technological revolution, cellular phones, the internet, carrier pigeons and the like have turned formerly revered machines, namely the laser printer into relics of days past. Of course that’s not the only appliance to fall by the wayside, the ongoing and never-ending list grows longer every day, books on tape, books on 8-Track and books on vinyl(usually pamphlets) have all suffered the same fate as my once proud office assistant and confidant.

Some products refuse to be defeated by evolution, take the leaf blower, proof you can sell a supremely useless piece of shit as long as you find a customer with no friends. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why these ever existed, their sole purpose is answering a question nobody asked “How do I show those leaves who’s boss while alienating everyone in ear shot?”

Technology is just dragging us along for the ride, which is great when it comes to important things; medicine, travel, communication, catapults, but not so great when it comes to less pressing matters, like printing things.

Those of us lucky enough to have grown up with time on our hands that couldn’t yet be filled by a smartphone may look to the younger generation in pity of their reliance and need for constant stimulation while owning the latest version of a new product, however they no doubt look back at us and wonder how we fell so far behind and how much ink was spilled along the way.

There doesn’t appear to be a correct philosophy on the matter, things are only going to get more advanced from here and we may well reach the singularity within the next few decades, an equally exciting and terrifying thing to be a part of, no matter what side of the revolution you belong.

Full artificial intelligence as some predict may be the ultimate and final undoing of our species as we know it, it may also be the key to unlocking the secrets of our existence and the known universe. The Indiana Jones of science.

Until then I’ll carry on using as much modern technology as it takes to make the gears of my analog life rotate a little bit smoother, or be ground up in them trying.

If you’re wondering about the printer, it remains on the window sill, without ink, with a new flower pot on top.

The Indiana Jones of repurposing.

Sent from my iPhone

 

Personal Growth

Today my knee hurt, I didn’t do anything to hurt it, it just hurt. My knee never used to hurt and there’s a good chance that tomorrow, for no reason, it will no longer hurt.

Sometimes I have to squint at things, my vision has never been bad but I find myself struggling once in a while to makes sense of distant images.

I’ve also been self-diagnosed with occasional-tennis-elbow-or-something-like-that, which is odd because I don’t play tennis and figured Nintendo-thumb would be the more likely disability.

None of these are worth seeing a professional over, nor worth taking any kind of over the counter medication, matter of fact they’re barely worth talking about but that’s not the point.

Annoying inconveniences like this happen all the time, not enough to ever ruin plans but enough that it’s presence is known throughout the day. It would be easy to blame the last few months of inactivity but the truth is it’s mostly age.

These aren’t things that cross your mind growing up, they’re far too insignificant for a young mind to even process – the idea that you’ll get rusty and eventually be done in by the very thing you’ve been travelling around in your whole life. With the exception of several types of attacks, your body keeps the mission a covert operation. These days change trickles in, less of a tidal wave and more a dripping faucet.

Puberty has you discovering new developments on a daily basis, new hair, new voices, even new emotions.

In my opinion women have always dealt with these obstacles far better than men, they’re always prepared for the worst and generally seem to help each other along the way.

Men are left to figure it out for themselves, conquering your hormones alone is a rite of passage for most teenage boys.

I’ve always learned more about myself through women, they set the behavioural standard in most civil social situations. There is also no greater lesson in humility, embarrassment or resilience than being rejected by a girl. Your whole plan formulated by years of tv, movies and music laid to waste by a few simple words, a different kind of pain, doom begins to set in and before she’s had a chance to tell her friends what happened you’ve already purchased a collectors edition Dungeons and Dragons set and dedicated your remaining years to speaking fluent Klingon.

The best any male can offer in that situation is a sympathetic punch in the arm, and that’s fine.

Just like the pain in my knee, heartache also fades, for no reason other than age.

The trouble is you don’t realize this until much later, a real catch 22. In between failed attempts with women, a young man learns how to refine his approach, his grooming as well as his hand-lotion budgeting skills, thanks gals.

Eventually the road ahead becomes less foggy and we realize that most of our struggles growing up are universal and no one has all the answers. The truth is everyone experiences adolescence differently, but try being the kid who has to explain away a boner to his first dance over a Ritchie Sambora guitar solo!

 


Comeback Kid

On my daily walks I see neighbourhood kids playing basketball. Their shots and fundamentals aren’t very good but I usually watch for a minute and feel like I could take them under my wing and coach them to a glory they never dreamt possible.

At first their rebellious leader would say something like “what do you know about ball, old man?!” or something to that effect, but in time we’d grow to learn we weren’t so different after all as we come back from an impossible deficit to defeat the reigning champs two counties over.

The opposing coach, a childhood rival of mine, angrily throws his clipboard to the ground, yelling at his star player while my team of plucky misfits hoist me above their heads, “we did it coach!”

“No kids, I did it”

 


Another Great Big Pool Beside It

“Money isn’t everything”, probably. It’s hard to be sure of old sayings like this if you’ve never experienced them first-hand, phrases like “early bird gets the worm” and “practice what you preach” have always left me confused, probably because I like to sleep in and give horrible advice all the time to anyone who’ll listen, so most people take them on faith, probably.

If I had to guess, the average persons opinion on money depends on how much of it they possess. My own views have changed slightly over the years, there tends to be a correlation between adult-esque responsibility and the necessity for it. If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself disinterested in the collection of it for its own sake and more than likely using it to make more space in your life.

Money can be a touchy subject, it’s certainly revealing of a person based on how they speak of it, or don’t. For some the subject alone is considered unmannerly and to be avoided altogether. Not unlike most subjects I’m happy to speak frankly about money without getting too in-depth, although I’m fascinated by the function and enjoy its positive consequences in my life (I’ll have the LARGE fries, thank you), I’ve never found happiness in the ownership.

That isn’t always the case, some are driven strictly by the idea of having more of it than the next guy.

That’s about all I know, I’ve never had enough to keep it from entering my consciousness on a daily basis, but somehow just enough to never seriously worry about my next meal (actually, make it a small fries), a privilege I lucked into over a majority of the planet. Luckier still, I’ve never had so much that it’s caused me to disregard the well-being of myself or others.

One of the best things about being a musician is the inherent outsider culture, no one outside of the profession understands what we do and few within have much more of a clue, but one universal aspect is that we’re required to socialize with every tax bracket, despite our own.

It has become the most useable everyday skill music has given me.

A few years back I was waiting to board a flight and began talking with a man dressed far better than myself, my personal travel attire includes little more than a pair of headphones and a book of dirty limericks, most useful on commuter flights to Nantucket.

He wore jeans and a blazer, a nice one, the buttons were shiny so you know it was expensive. His wing-tipped shoes were recently polished, my Chuck Taylors had a hole in the sole but I was able to mask my existential dread that I might accidentally step in a puddle and ruin my day.

What stood out most was his carry-on bag, it was made of leather and looked like it smelled good, another mark of high ticket items, probably. While I don’t remember what brand of bag it was I do remember that I’d never heard of it before, being of the great unwashed means these aren’t purchases to concern myself with.

As far as our conversation went, I was lead to believe he was a man of some importance in the financial sector, or maybe it was sales, I lost track while staring at the colour-matched stitching. The important thing is that I knew how to feign interest in something I had no ambition or hope of owning, and he was cordial.

After an amusing albeit lengthy explanation of where he’d purchased such a unique piece of luggage our conversation came to a close and we wished one another a pleasant trip, for in that brief encounter we’d established which of us would be eaten first in the event our plane should crash.

Probably.

 

 

I Was Just A Skinny Lad

The world used to be big, bigger at least. Most people weren’t aware of what was going on in their neighbour’s backyard and more importantly they didn’t need to know, even fewer cared.

It’d be very easy to romanticize a time before cell phones, before the internet, before social media had us trading our privacy for a hit of dopamine-laced-approval, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Being young meant a lot of time wondering what to do with your time, for some of us that didn’t change a whole lot as we got older, for better or worse.

Bills and responsibilities never went far beyond being home before the streetlights came on and how much money you could squeeze from a parent in case the ice cream truck passed through at exactly 3:22pm.

Boredom, loneliness, restlessness (anxiety hadn’t been invented yet), and any other emotion that someone older couldn’t solve or at least explain had the same solution, get on your bike and figure it out.

The streets were the wild west, and we all had our respective posses, made up of friends from school, friends from the neighbourhood, other schools and usually someone’s younger sibling slowing us down. Life’s adventures and mysteries, no matter how mundane they’d often reveal themselves to be were waiting and it was our job to discover them.

One time a kid from a rival gang claimed to have spotted a wolf in the park, or maybe it was a coyote – the most joyless and nowhere near as wily as we’ve been lead to believe of trash eating canines – it also may have been a fox, it was likely also completely made up, the point is he saw something that none of us had and unless we wanted to be remembered as losers well into our adult lives we were going to find it too, we lived dangerously.

Traversing the expansive horizons of the suburbs and beyond forced you to deal with problems whether internal or external, alone. Sure your friends would be in proximity but as a collective we had greater purpose, there was no time to waste trying to understand issues that were out of our control to begin with, treasure does not find itself.

The ability to busy myself with various interests, exciting or not, has served me well throughout my life, one of the best things some of our parents (most certainly mine) ever did, intentionally or not was leave us alone, unplugged from their concerns until it was our time to embrace what would eventually be a small world.

And that’s exactly how we had to find boxes of porn in the woods.

Book Crooks

Just re-purchased a book I loaned out to someone who I can’t remember and will probably never see again. The knee-jerk emotion is anger, not a seething vengeance-seeking anger, but a mild anger at the inconvenience to which your good deed lead. Such is the road to hell.

The book itself is something of a misnomer, it’s been years since I’ve even looked at it, it’s sharing represented something the pages within could never hope to describe, trust.

Trust in whom? Trust in my friend or acquaintance?(Please speak up if you have it, I really can’t remember)

Maybe the trust was in myself? Trust in my ability to judge or at least reasonably predict the character of another is still in tact. An ability to surround myself with people willing and able to fulfil their end of a social contract, unspoken or otherwise.

As I look inward I must also observe the potential that the new curator may have suffered a crisis of conviction in the interim. Drown in shame for having lost the book or in a not dissimilar foolishness, loaned it to another scumbag in disguise. (Seriously, just give it back, whoever you are).

Maybe they’re dead? It’s not unreasonable to think, people die all the time. If this is the case they certainly didn’t have the wherewithal to have their affairs properly sorted out and therefore the blame is back on myself for trusting such an unorganized, albeit once-living, dead person.

Moving forward these are all ghosts I’ll be forced to lie awake with until the arrival of the replacement, unfortunately one cannot place a dollar value on regret, it’s as priceless as it is torturous. (You know what? Keep the book, asshole!)

Whatever the outcome the only thing I can guarantee from this sordid tale is that my coffee table, soon, shall wobble no more.

 

Jack

Years ago a man named Jack used to frequent one of the bars I regularly played, he was a tall man in glasses.

I met Jack sometime in my twenties, my best guess is Jack was coming up on 80, he could’ve been older but you’d never know it by the way he carried himself. The world has never been overrun by men in that age group who can walk into a bar and garner the attention of everyone in earshot.

Then again maybe he didn’t? It sure seemed that way to an impressionable young man of which the word ‘cool’ was usually a synonym for ‘young and dead’. For Jack, cool meant ‘old and very much alive’, he beat the odds, he got to be cool and hang around for a while longer than most of his contemporaries.

Jack had a one-liner or piece of wisdom for everything, it’d be easy to call it a symptom of time but I’d bet dollars to donuts he wasn’t much different now than he was 50 years prior to our meeting, he evolved young, something I still admire.

“How you doing, Jack?” I’d say, knowing what was coming next. “Just checking the obituaries for my name!”

It garnered a genuine laugh from me every time, he’d perfected it, it was his line whether he came up with it or not.

We’d talk about country music, Merle was his favourite and he knew all the words to ‘Okie from Muskogee’.

Meeting people in a bar is usually a guarantee you never get into the finer details, conversations are usually surface level for a number of reasons, one being that by the time most people are down to their last drink they’re either looking for a friend or a fight, I always preferred the former.

Only trouble Jack and I ever had with our chats was that they were short-lived, I suppose brevity suited the both of us just fine, I had songs to sing and he had beer to drink, by the pint of course.

I could always hear Jack clapping after every song, which was especially appreciated in what could sometimes be an unengaged room, sometimes I wonder if he felt obligated to clap out of guilt for cracking jokes and telling stories throughout my entire break, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

More often than not he was gone by the time I made it through my next set, big entrances and quiet exits, Jack was old school.

Time went on and I began to see less and less of Jack, my best guess is he faded away as even the coolest of folks eventually must do. The knee-jerk reaction to the death of a friend or even an acquaintance is sadness but with people like Jack there’s very little, mostly a smile and a thought of how he knew how to brighten a strangers day, shame I never caught his last name.

 

Summer Days

“HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?!” I laugh, standing outside, watering the lawn. The sky is blue, the clouds coast past the sun, offering only momentary relief from the heat, but soon they’ll pass and I’ll again be enveloped by a distant star.

“HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?!”, this time with only a chuckle I realize the steps leading to my door could use a sweeping, reaching for a tattered straw broom I clear the dust from the stairs. Relentless, the clouds have moved on for what seems an eternity, the sun scalds my bare shoulder, although the pain at the moment is bearable it will be no match for what’s to come.

“HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?!”, I mutter, enthusiasm dwindling, wondering if the beads of sweat dripping down my brow are due to temperature or the unanswered inquisition that remains? Panic begins to wash over, each moment is longer and only sends me deeper within, knowing there are no answers, and if there were I wouldn’t know what to do with them.

“HOT ENOUGH FOR YA?!” I cry out, crumbling to my knees in the middle of the roadway with nothing more than the hope of oncoming traffic ending the charade. 

“Hot enough for ya?!…”

Once a confident declaration has turned to a whimper, as tears continue to pour from my being, with them also goes the shattered remains of self-worth to which I’d previously clung so tightly, both drift into the same insignificant breeze usually reserved for carrying expired dandelions to a new home. 

“I HEAR THAT!!”

A voice tears through the silence – I am rejuvenated, space and time rejoin in harmony and my neighbour apologizes they didn’t hear me over their weed-whacker.

Flat Tire

Funny thing happened to me today, while sitting on my front steps I noticed the driver side back tire of my car had gone a little flat compared to the others, naturally on account of not having anywhere to go lately, I jumped at the opportunity to turn a once mundane and uneventful situation into something of an adventure. A swig of my coffee and a quick change of clothes and I’ll be on my way! 

Lacing up my beaten old sneakers and throwing on the cleanest smelling tee I could find, it wouldn’t be long before I was out among the public, or at least it’s remnants, predominantly a mixture of what have become known as ‘essential service workers’ and dog owners (yes, there are cyclists but nobody liked them to begin with). Occasionally a non-essential like myself can slip through the cracks and walk among the chosen – today is one of those days.

The circumstances society has found itself in has added a deliberateness to my course of action, something previously taken for granted not just in simple routine but in greater aspects of life. Has our daily existence always been so involuntary? Routine? Disposable? How much of ourselves can we hang onto after adding up the hours lost on the path to what we truly cared about in the first place before it’s all over? At what point does it still matter? The journey has rendered the destination irrelevant.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty is learning when our actions are the least meaningless and best intersect with the very limited time we’re given. 

Hope is simply the rotten carrot dangling in front of us all, keeping our plans of future commerce in tact. Fix the problem to go nowhere fast.

At what point does one cease to be more than an autonomous vessel, traveling through the unknown alongside billions of others just as lost, unsure and most of all scared of plummeting too deep into their belated sense of unimportance to the grand scheme of the universe and it’s shattering indifference? It doesn’t care, it never did. 

Hard to believe we’ve made it to this point and even harder to imagine what to expect moving forward but after sitting here coming to terms with this for two hours my tire has completely deflated and it’s not looking good for the other three. 

I’ll do it tomorrow.

Baseball

When I was young I played a variety of sports such as hockey, basketball, soccer and baseball. Although I enjoyed baseball the least I found it the most interesting – primarily for the time I spent alone, left field to be exact. 

As society grows, time alone has become a neglected and forgotten commodity. 

Once a week on game day I would spend at least half the time alone on a well manicured piece of grass with a pocket full of sunflower seeds, wondering what becomes of a 10 year old man such as myself once little league ends?  Always ending up with more questions than answers. 

Does god exist?

What’s for dinner?

Where does a one-legged man buy shoe?

Who fucks the stork?

Occasionally I’d catch the eye of a friend in centre field, we’d give each other the obligatory wave or nod of the head to recognize we were both very much not asleep and then immediately dive back into our own private worlds, whether it be a stream of consciousness or some misguided belief the ball would be hit anywhere in our general vicinity, we were pretty well out to sea. 

At some point I began to recognize that the general absence of physical activity during a game could be used to my advantage, it was that moment I decided to become not so much a baseball player in left field but rather a left-fielder trapped in a baseball game, arguably the greatest decision I’d made in my life up to that point. 

The great American pastime could not be more aptly named, hours of thoughts lost to the wind interrupted only by brief intervals of returning to the bench for a round of mandatory high fives and eventually a win-or-lose celebratory can of Coke. 

Much of my ability to make the best of an unfortunate situation can be attributed to solitary field confinement and has served me well in adulthood, where consequences for poorly managed problems come at a higher cost. Self control, awareness, inward reflection and managing expectations were my consolation trophies, awarded for my lack of interest in ‘pop-flies’. Baseball is boring. 

Following a particularly inconsequential game it crossed my mind that maybe I was misjudging the sport and in turn denying myself an opportunity to enjoy something that so many others seemed to relish. I thought about it the entire walk home, glove in hand, the sound of my cleats clicking against the stone pathway dimly masked distant yelling and cheers from both teams still echoing in the park, fading away with every step. 

It was then I realized I’d walked home in the middle of the fifth inning and probably why my coach never let me play first base. 

Practice makes Perfect

As a child I was typically inquisitive, I wanted to know as much about the world around me as I could absorb and I’ve maintained that to this day. My parents were always up front and honest when it came to my questions, even if it made them uncomfortable from time to time. 

One of the few things my parents ever seemed to agree on was that being able to do something on a practical level was equally important as understanding the theoretical side, no matter the discipline it was necessary to have as complete a grasp on whatever it is you’re working on as possible. 

Sometimes they would really go the extra mile and let me participate or interact with things that interested me. 

Animals? A trip to the zoo! Cars? Let’s go to a race! 

Though not every question warranted an excursion, their devotion to raising a critically thinking member of society was apparent and they wanted me to be able to look at the world objectively and not believe everything I saw or heard,  particularly on television. 

A favourite lesson my father loved teaching every Wednesday was how Norm from ‘Cheers’ couldn’t possibly drink that much beer without pissing himself and getting into a fight with several cops. 

Life

No one saw it coming, but I did. The whole thing happened in slow motion and I did nothing to stop it, it had to happen, I wanted it to, needed it.

Blindsided in no small part by their own ignorance and unwillingness to think beyond their own existence. Society has made us content to not only accept but assume that everything will work out in the end – not today. The carnage unfolded before my eyes, the initial uneasiness of the wanton destruction quickly turned into pure exhilaration shot straight into my heart, humankind was not designed for this level of sensory excess but somehow I felt born for this moment, anything which came before was merely a memory of the void my life had previously occupied.

No winners, only victims. No remorse, prodigious joy.

What comes next? Does one pick up the shattered ruins surrounding the now living nightmare that only moments ago would have resembled a cold, foreign land of which you refused to believe existed? Do we run? From ourselves, from the things that once held our sanity together? What remains is the hope that we’ll one day be able, if only momentarily, to forget the bedlam that enveloped what was held dear, gone is the hope of a return to a life of peace, of still, of worth.

Needless to say this was the best blind corner grocery store cart collision I’ve seen in a while!

Party Time

Growing up I had the opportunity to hear a few reformed addicts who would travel to schools and warn us kids about the dangers of drugs, without fail they’d always devolve into a story about some depraved sex act they had to perform in order to score their next hit. Whether it was behind a dumpster for heroin, a truck stop bathroom for a line of cocaine, an abandoned train yard for crack rock, an old factory warehouse for some ecstasy, a spooky haunted house for steroids, a park bench for ritalin, a barn for some ketamine, the post office for some Colt 45, or the Bermuda Triangle for crystal meth the message became apparent to me very quickly, you can find romance and adventure anywhere!

Star Search

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I was exposed to a television show called ‘Star Search’. I rarely watched it and even at a young age considered it campy and generally nothing more than a talent show for people and things that generally didn’t matter in my universe.

  For about 12 years Star Search would take performers from various aspects of show business and pit them against each other, judged by a panel and audience reception to determine their success on a 1-4 star grading system. 

  Performers each week would be required to win their respective categories in order to advance to next week’s show. Sound familiar?

  The Championship reward on Star Search was $100,000, there were no record deals, no publishing contracts or “360 deals” and little else guaranteed other than the recognition which an entertainer would have to turn into a career moving forward – still no easy task.

  Auditions and the show itself were shot in Hollywood, California at the Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Blvd. 

Contestants were required to send in an audition tape of themselves in order to be considered for a spot on the show, which would then require they made a trip to the west coast should they be selected, a costly endeavour for many.

  When I was young I knew of a very small number of families who owned a video recorder, which to my understanding weighed 300lbs and could shoot up to 13 minutes of tape before the battery died, an obstacle on the road to stardom.

  Economics alone were enough to deter those whose interest in show business was nothing more than a fantasy, stoked at the occasional family gathering or office party where a peer told them how ‘talented’ they were. “You should be on Star Search!” was used as an insult by my friends and I growing up if one of us decided to get too confident.

  The show was a phenom for a time and launched notable careers for entertainers we all know today, but it was not easy, the competition was stiff and the likelihood of success was slim.

  Originality, perseverance, sacrifice and charisma are just a few of the traits shared by many of the careers born of the show.

  Today we live in a world where there are countless versions of Star Search which require much less of the performer. Open auditions are held around the globe to any town with a venue that can support a lineup around the block to each and every guy and gal who believes their version of ‘Bobby McGee’ is going to set the world ablaze. 

The internet has nurtured an environment for those with no special skills or motivation to develop one to consider themselves worthy of the difficult and dedicated world of the arts.

  For the countless and nameless contestants to go through the machine there has only been a very, very small percentage who have had any success beyond the level of notoriety given to the winner until the next season goes to air and the whole process starts again. 

  Unfortunately for an ever-widening segment of society, these modern interpretations seem to have pushed music further into the background of day-to-day life, an add-on for whatever else it is we’re doing with our time and given rise to the armchair quarterback, simply waiting on the world to come to him.

The greatest tragedy in the current climate is the number of hard working, driven and talented people who refuse to be a cog in the gears of a system setup to benefit everyone except the artist. 

  Perhaps this is all a phase and eventually people will become so inundated with mediocrity that they’ll begin to seek out those who hone their craft not for fame or fortune but because it’s what makes them whole. The only other option is to dig up that sonofabitch Ed McMahon, cash the over $38 million in embezzled Star Search winnings and Publisher’s Clearing House cheques he was buried with and take back the industry ourselves!

Little Victories

I just drove across the city to get a specific sketchbook that no one else carries. The price was almost $10 more than what it is online but the guy at the art store was wearing a beret and had a French accent. This is not a joke.

The pricing is a major deterrent so if I decide to make another trip I’ll have to bring a witness.

I too, will wear a beret.

Except I’ll be very coy about it and maybe say something like “Cool hat!”

At that moment one of two things will happen.

Option 1: He begins to question me on where I purchased my beret. I’ll panic, realizing I didn’t come up with a proper backstory. He grows suspicious.

Next, he’ll begin to pepper the conversation with French to throw me off. I won’t take the bait but it’s becoming ever apparent he’s onto me.

In a hasty move I’ll begin to reach for my wallet to pay for my purchase and escape before things escalate.

Startled, he reaches for a broadsword he keeps behind the counter. We begin to duel.

He yells “IL NE PEUT Y’EN AVOIR QU’UN!!” which I later learn is an obvious tip of the beret to ‘The Highlander’ franchise.

Several minutes of the store being ravaged by violence as the body count increases – collateral damage is becoming immeasurable.

Our eyes lock, realizing it’s him or me I reach for a no. 4 pencil and throw it hoping to temporarily blind or at least distract him long enough to make a last ditch effort at escape.

Insulted to say the least, the move only infuriates him. Just then a small child from across the store throws me a sword of my own…

…that are also nunchucks.

The playing field levelled, berets drenched in sweat, weapon to weapon, he slips on a puddle of Prussian blue paint he was planning to use on a portrait of some fruit in a bowl but forgot to clean up.

I cut his head clean off his shoulders.

Exhausted and covered in blood I take my Moleskine sketchbook and make my way home. I’m safe for now, but it won’t last – it never does.

Option 2: He staples my receipt to my debit transaction and I go home.

Shoes

As far back as I can remember I’ve always been intrigued by people. No particular type of person, just people. Some of my favourite places to spend my free time are coffee shops, book stores and generally anywhere with a wide variety of different folks coming and going. When I was a kid I would make up stories about people who passed by, something that I still do if the mood strikes. At first my parents would scold me for staring but eventually gave up as they could see I’d clearly gone on a journey in my own mind.

I wonder what these strangers do in their day-to-day outside of the fleeting moments they cross my line of sight, not necessarily for work but what drives them or makes them tick. For the time we share the same airspace they very much become a muse, if only briefly.

Sometimes I’ll wonder how many people’s photos I’ve accidentally made it into the background of, forever in their memories as a nondescript extra in the movie of their life. Other times I’ll use someone’s public persona as inspiration for a song or even a joke. The inherent complexity of being human makes for an endless stream of diverse characters from which to draw.

A major benefit of this habit is the patience it has given me, more often than not I’ll try to find a sympathetic side to someone under the presumption that their day may not be going as smoothly as they hoped. Perspective has always been a useful tool in navigating through life.

On occasion a person will stick with me long after I’ve run through any number of scenarios for their day. There’s usually no rhyme or reason and they’re often forgotten within a day but once in a while I can identify the prolonged fascination.

 For the last two weeks I’ve been haunted by the memory of one such person. No name, not a word, not even a face, yet to this day I’m reminded of the coolest sneakers I’ve ever laid eyes on every time I poop in a public restroom.

Manners

I grew up in a household where there was a near militant value put on both manners and respect, particularly for one’s elders. My parents wouldn’t allow a conversation to move forward if I were to respond with a ‘huh?’ or ‘what?’.

As a child it was incredibly frustrating at times as the scrutiny seemed never-ending but as I matured I came to the realization that they were equipping me for the world and I’m all the more thankful for their persistence.

To this day ,’Yes ma’am’ and ‘No sir’ are indelible from my day to day vocabulary. 

What I grew up believing to be social norms now seem of a bygone era. Something as simple as assisting the infirm with their groceries or holding a door open are lost to the realm of the professionally ‘too-busy’. Regardless of the change in times, I continue to practice courtesy in any situation I find myself in – these are deeply entrenched values I’ve held dear all my life until I found out a court can try you as an accessory for giving up your seat to the guy who ended up taking a shit on the bus.

Regards,

Chris

Little Monkeys

  As a kid my parents house had a big tree in the front yard. They didn’t like my friend and I climbing it but as long we didn’t get hurt they tolerated the fact that we were going to anyway.

  One day my buddy fell out of the tree and his nose was bleeding badly but our only concern was having our tree privileges revoked.

  We needed an alibi and fast, so I suggested we say he fell in a place where we never hung out much to begin with before the adults got wise to what really happened.

  Covered in dirt, scrapes and blood we told our parents it was a fall beside the house and they forbid us to ever play there again. It worked!

  We used this tactic every time there was a mishap, injury, or any kind of trouble, tree-related or otherwise. 

Broken toe? School! Sprained ankle? The bus stop! Torn clothes? The box factory! Chipped tooth? The retirement home!

Months went by and through process of elimination we’d exhausted most of the local businesses and institutions within bicycle range.

One day we both came home smelling of cheap wine, guilt, the neighbour’s wife, covered in lambs blood and carrying the head of St. John the Baptist. Panicked one of us accidentally said we were at Church. 

That’s the day we weren’t allowed to climb the tree anymore.

 

Lunch

When I was growing up school could be a really tough place if you didn’t have many friends. There were bullies, teasing, and generally goofing on kids who didn’t fall into your social circle but there was also a collective feeling that we were all in it together, many of these moments occurred in the lunchrooms and cafeterias. One example is if a student who was unpopular was without his group of friends on any given day they would always be welcomed into our group to hang out, even if the next day meant they’d be the butt of a joke when reunited with their clique, it was still clear that there was no ill will and no alienation of anyone based on the usual preconceived notions of what made one popular. 

Another example from my elementary school years is when a student would show up to school without their lunch, whether it be from unfortunate circumstances at home or simply forgetting it. When this happened the teachers and/or lunchtime supervisors would suggest that students could voluntarily donate part of their lunch to their fellow student, without hesitation the child in need would have a lunch that often doubled the size of their usual meal – I was once a benefactor of this kindness and it has stuck with me ever since. This sense of community among young people more important than ever and had I not once experienced it first hand I would have never acquired my taste for booger and fart sandwiches.