The Lonely Winter

Last night I took a drive home. A long, isolated drive through a desolate winter world.
Upon embarking for the drive home I kissed my sister on the cheek and gave her family one last hearty goodbye, turning to make my way down their driveway to my car. It was late evening, and the first flurries of a nasty winter storm were just starting to fall. I had no desire to be caught up in it too far from home.
I turned the key in the ignition and the old beauty coughed herself awake with the vigor of an aged, faithful dog greeting it’s owner at the door after a day of absence.
I eased the car back down the driveway, mounds of shoveled snow towering over my car on either side. The winter had been harsh – record low temperatures and record high snowfalls. With another foot forecast tonight dallying on the drive would be ill-advised. Already the tree line along the road was obscured with white swirls. Snow snakes slithered and swam along the grey road ahead of me.  The riverside parkway drive was almost devoid of other drivers. It was a holiday, there wouldn’t be too many people out on the road with the Nor’easter bearing down over the city.
I drove carefully, watching the deserted streets while taking chance peeks at the void of whiteness to my left stretching out over the river. The sun swam hazily somewhere above the fog of blowing snow casting a warm, lazy glow across what I could make out of the frozen waters. There was something hypnotic about the emptiness of it. The abstract sight of that white nothingness pulled on me – I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it. The snow fell harder now – thin, fast flakes in a furious flurry chaotically darting through my high beams. My distraction was becoming dangerous.
I spied a small driveway off the road and pulled over into it. A river lookout nestled between skeletal trees. As the snow fell stronger I sat for a while and admired the stark vista.
As I watched their was a brief moment where the snow suddenly lifted, and I was struck with awe at the colours sent out through the flurries. The setting sun hung idly above the horizon, an indistinct glowing orb sending out fans of fiery flavor across the vacant waste. The clouds above mirrored the windswept snow dunes across the frozen lake – sharp, jagged angles, illuminated contours whistling of a cold harshness.
The storm closed in again and barred down on me. I knew I should leave, avoid the potential of getting stuck there or sliding into a ditch, but something kept me rooted to the sight of those frozen crags out over the river. I sat and contemplated the construct of winter around me. The dead trees reaching desperately towards an apathetic sun. The bone-like structure of the landscape – the absolutely lonely desolation of it, entranced me. I felt like something was waiting beneath it all, like the whole story wasn’t showing.
I reveled in confined comfort within that car for a long time, watching as the storm abated and night time fell, feeling a part of something larger I didn’t understand.
When I finally put the car in gear and slowly eased back onto the snow coated road darkness had taken over and I had to drive slow and careful to make it back to the city. After an hour the city buildings loomed ahead and I felt at peace with myself and the world.

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself. Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition.
~ Ruth Stout

Codswallop, Pop

“You’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
That’s what my father used to say.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”

He would pick me up after school on Tuesdays, the day when it was his turn to have me for an evening. I’d get out of class chatting with my friends and there he’d be, standing by the gate smoking a cigarette looking ragtag and forlorn, like he wasn’t really sure he was in the right place. I suppose that’s how he felt about fatherhood, in a way.

“Hi, Pop.” I would say. He’d ask me how my day was without much interest and we’d begin our walk across town together. I bantered on in that eight year old way to him about what the teachers said and did that day. Together we crossed old streets down through the small old town. We would pass candy shops and old family houses standing inches apart. We would wave at the firemen as we passed the fire station, its red garage doors standing open showing off the gleaming trucks inside. We’d pass the pubs where my father would spend the nights with the lads reminiscing about women and fishing and various other drinking nights. Then we’d start up the steep hills lined with quaint turn-of-the-century houses of various pastel colours until, huffing, we would finally get to the old train station at the top. Passing that we’d walk through the football field on the highest part of town, the slippery mud from evening rains clinging to my black school shoes and trousers. We’d walk and I would look upon this friendly man, this old, tattooed fisherman with long hair and stained jeans, and quiz him with the simple curiosity of childhood.

“Pop” I’d say, “why don’t the robots just send a terminator back to the 1800’s and kill John’s Great Great Great Grandfather?”
“Dunno lad” he’d reply. “I’d watch that movie though!”
“Pop” I’d say, “how come Michael Jackson changed his skin colour? Can I change my skin?”
“He felt like it” he’d reply. “Wanna be a black man lad? You’d be a better dancer that’s for sure.”
“Pop” I’d say, “if Al is so unhappy in his marriage, why doesn’t he just leave Peggy? You left Mum easy enough.”
“I sure did boy” he’d reply. “And I’d do it again!”
My father never had much use for tact.
“Pop” I’d say, “why did you marry in the first place? Did you love her? Why don’t you now?”

My father would just ignore me when a question got too tough. Dissolve the whole thing into silence and hope it goes away. We’d stop at the end of the football pitch beside the square concrete public washrooms. It was where they set off the fireworks on Fireworks Day. Strewn about were triangular patches of dirt I supposed were designed for plants of some kind, but they always remained dirt patches.
We always stopped there on the walk. He liked to look at the view to a bit, do some reflecting, I supposed. He’d light a cigarette and breathe in the air and tell me that was his favourite spot. You could see so far from up there, all across town one way or another. You could see the houses lined up along the steep streets, little squares of yellow or blue or pink with patchwork rooftops. You could see all the way down to the docks and the fish factory and the open ocean beyond, see the big trawlers sitting in the murky waters. Rusted giants caught in nets of steel cables.

Pop hurt his back real bad on the boats a few years before. I didn’t know what happened, think maybe he got impaled by something on rough seas. You could tell he missed the work. His face creased when he looked down on those boats, or when his nose caught a particularly strong whiff of that salty, fishy aroma that never ceased to waft through town. I loved those moments with my father, standing there, waiting for him to break the spell with some inane comment.
“Well, Son, I tell ya – I gotta take a piss.”
Then he’d disappear for five minutes into the concrete block of public toilets, the stench of a hundred piss stains encroaching on my nostrils as the door swung open and closed.

This time, however, I hadn’t given up on getting an answer out of my father. Even to an eight year old “gotta take a piss” seemed like a lackluster reason to leave your wife, so after he finally appeared again and we made our way on, I pressed the question.
“Pop” I’d say, “you didn’t leave Mum to take a piss. I know. Did you love her Pop?”
“Of course I loved her, m’boy” he’d reply. “Married ‘er, didn’t I?”
“Then why did you leave her Pop?”

We turned off the field onto his street. It was a dainty new neighbourhood piled with small pink houses and little front gardens with tiny white fences. I remembered the area being brambles and bushes as far as you could see not too long before. I fell into a stinging nettle patch in there once, probably somewhere close to where my fathers new house sat.

We walked in silence a bit more. I could tell my father was still mulling the question, seeing how he could best dodge it without any follow up. The mud from my shoes left gradually dissipating brown footsteps on the new white pavement. The rainclouds above conspired to wash them away.
Finally, he broke the silence with his usual dose of profound wisdom.
“Son” he’d say, “the truth is, at the end of the day, love ain’t nothin’ but a bunch o’ codswallop. It comes and it goes. ”
He’d slap a meaty hand on my shoulder and guffaw a little. The humour of slaying part of my eight year old innocence with such a blunt statement was apparently not lost to him. The first lines on my own face came from those bitter truths he’d lay upon me when taking a piss wasn’t a good enough distraction.
“Ain’t nothin’ but gibbledigoosh and codswallop an’ you’re best off rememberin’ that.”
As a shadow fell across my young heart so too did a stony wind kick up at that moment, shaking my bones and ruffling my hair. It was one of those winds that foreshadowed the hardships of growing up that lay ahead.
“Does that mean you wont love me anymore sometime too, Pop?”
Looking back now, from across the way of how things ended up being, it’s funny to think how poignant such an innocent question can be.
My father stopped in the street and looked at me. His face was hard, as if he somehow knew the years would soon begin to pull us apart.
“No, Son” he’d say. “I will never stop loving you.”
And he really meant it.
“Why Pop?”
“Because you’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
My fathers usual approach to a difficult talk he just wanted to end.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”
I knew better than to push the topic at that point. Then, affectionately, he’d give me a ‘bloody great clip right round the ear’ as he called it, whipping my head forward. It was just one of those things. If I moaned about it I’d get another one and that would be the end of it. If I bothered to ask why I’d just gotten a clip round the ear after being told how loved I was, I’d usually get some excuse about it being “for later, when ya do something bad.”
It was hard to argue with that logic.

Drops of rain would begin falling on my head at some point around here, just before we’d get to my fathers house. That’s how I remember things from back then. The sky was almost always overcast grey in that small seaside down, the rain always just about to fall, my memories always damp and cold.
I held his hand as we crossed the street.

It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen my father. Maybe longer. Oh, he’s still alive, in that old small fishing town with it’s smelly public pissers and muddy football fields, it’s rusting trawlers and pretty pastel houses. He sends me a message once in a while asking how I’m doing, telling me he misses his son.
But to me, it’s all a bit of codswallop really.
Gibbledigoosh and codswallop.

Translation: Procrastination

No new posts for a while. The writing world is a moving, powerful one, full of immense highs and bottomless lows of emotion. It’s also an unapologetic time hogg, demanding countless hours of hunch-backed concentration with fingers dancing spastically over the keyboard. Or poised, ready and waiting for the elusive muse like leaves holding still for a gust of wind to jolt them into life, which is usually more the case.

Unfortunately I have an affliction – I am addicted to keeping myself far too busy for  the high demands of the writing life during certain periods of time. This is one of them. Whether it’s the extra hours spent whittling away at my high tech career building lasers, or the ceaseless attempts at making beautiful women fall hopelessly in love with me, or the all important, instantly forgotten drunken conversations at the bar late into the night, there is always something to prevent the necessary input of creation. How I love and lament this addiction to busyness!

I am also an expert, nay, professional escapism artist. Or rather, I would be, if I could find someone to create the profession. You see, I have an unquenchable thirst for stories. All stories. Any stories. I believe every single piece of art ever created tells a story – that art in itself is in essence story crafting. Whether your sculpting device is a pen, or a paint brush, or a computer or a guitar or pasta and glue it is all in service of the same end result – we want to show and we want to tell. We want to share with the world something inside of us.

I want to do that. We all do to some degree. But I have a stronger urge, the urge to devour every story by everyone, no matter what it is. And so I’ll find myself standing for 20 minutes in front of a shop window at a particular piece of colorful contemporary modern art envisioning the story, or nose-to-page deep in an old-smelling book of fiction as the sun sets and rises unnoticed. I’ll scour the depths of dungeons in video games immersed fully in the unraveling woven tales, or be mesmerized by the thickening plots of my favourite TV shows and movies. I’ll even sit for hours just listening to the soulful tracks of my favourite artists and greedily lap up every emotion.

I’ll consume it all. Give me your stories. Hell maybe I’ll actually create my own some day. That is, if I ever get over this addiction to mental stimulation. This burning need to be busy, to be social or working or chasing women or lost in fantasy worlds or drinking or dancing or anything, anything it seems, other than giving my time to the writing life.

I just don’t have the time.
And procrastination is -such- a dirty word.

My Suicide Blonde

The three hits the cushion just to the left of the pocket and bounces right in, as planned. I straighten up with a smirk and walk around the table to where the white ball came to a rest beside the old cigarette burn in the cloth. I know Myles is silently impressed. I avoid looking at him.
Friday night, midnight, and the Dominion Tavern is bursting at the seams with the usual suspects. Punks with multicolored mohawks clad in studded leather jackets with missing sleeves. Hipsters in plaid sporting awkward facial hair designs or buddy holly rims. The whatever misfits – my crowd, standing around the pool tables or parked on bar stools with the usual stream of conversation over clinked beer glasses and jagermeister shots.
Feels like home.

I spy my shot. The seven sits in the middle of the table with a clear path down to the corner pocket. I’ll have to cut the white pretty tight past the eight, no problem. I bend over the green cloth surface, balance the cue on the knuckles of my left hand, focus on the seven and where it’s going to go. The rhythm of conversation dulls away as I steady myself, visualize the sink and stretch the cue.
Myles looms over my back, a hulking 6’4 heavyset Asian man in a long leather jacket and bright red hair. I can feel him there, feel him grinning. It’s pissing me off.
“You’re gonna miss that shot.”
I tell him politely to forcibly inject his cue somewhere inappropriate and my right arm strikes forward, perfectly connecting center-south on the white ball. There’s a clink that’s barely audible over the drone of bar chatter as the white cuts into the seven, sending it careening perfectly between three balls to the corner pocket. The seven bounces against the cushion, twice, rolls out and hits the thirteen, coming to a rest ten inches from the pocket. I straighten up and turn around. Myles smirks like a jackass, like some malevolent techno Buddha, and brings his own cue down to the table.

Echos of laughter and loud, slurred talk close back in around me. It’s a good night, although it feels just like a thousand bar nights previous. Myles sends the thirteen barreling into the pocket I’d just missed. That’s alright, he’ll miss the next shot.
I lock eyes with Hugh, my best friend, over at the bar. He gives me a stupid wide-eyed grin as if to say “Hey! This shits alright!” and goes back to talking to Shannon, his long term problem girlfriend. Surprisingly they don’t seem to be arguing about some stupid bullshit, which is great. She gives him a kiss veiled with a curtain of golden hair and I smile. My adorable dork friends.

Then Nicole walks in.
I feel her in my stomach before I see her with my eyes.
I tell myself I wasn’t waiting for her, like every other night. It’s a lie.
Resisting the urge to walk over and greet her I watch as she sweeps through the the tables by the entrance, throwing boisterous smiles and excited hellos to everyone around her. Party McKay, the big punk bouncer on door tonight, sweeps her into a sweaty bear hug. Her white blond hair sways rambunctiously around her shoulders and she screams excitedly and folds up into Party’s huge chest. Like every night. She does the rounds, saying hey to the punks and the misfits.
Myles  shoots on the table, effortlessly sinking something. I turn around, intending to lose myself in the game again, to shit-talk Myles into scratching on the eight. I know Nicole has seen me, she’ll make her way over when she’s ready.

“Oiy, Curt.” I look down. Tiny Kimi, her cute little face pointed up at me in a huff haloed with blue punker hair. She’s holding my beer, Labatt 50. I forgot I’d ordered it. I thank her and give her a 10, ask her to come back with two shots of Jameson whiskey. She agrees, and I see her look over at Nicole, then back of me with a knowing twinkle in her eye before taking a couple more orders.
Clink – Myles sinks another ball. He’s going to clean the table, the bastard.
“Curty! Hey!”
I smell her before I see her. That familiar smell of hair oils and makeup, of late nights and cheap beer. Stale cigarettes and lipstick. Leather and broken hearts.
I hate it when she calls me Curty.
Or maybe I love it.

I flash her my best cocky smile, like she just walked in and caught me by surprise, like it’s cool to see her but I’m not really affected by her presence. Like the whole reason I’m here, again, isn’t just to see her.
“How’s it going?” I ask her, with my cocky smile still plastered awkwardly to my face. She’s good. Of course she is. She’s always good. She tells me about her day. I settle in to listening, watching her enthusiastic face while she rants on about trivialities of her serving job and people I don’t particularly care for. It’s addictive, just watching her. Watching the muscles behind her snow white skin animate her features, watching her sparkling blue eyes express every word her blood red lips send my way. I touch the white hair on her shoulders, roll it in between my fingers gently while she talks. She loves it when I touch her hair.
My suicide blonde.
I tune out the words, hear Myles sink another ball on the table and laugh. It was the eight. That’s alright, I wasn’t really into the game anyway.

I spy Kimi heading our way, her tight tank drawing male attention all around the room as usual.
“Got you a present” I say to Nicole. She laughs. We take the shots from Kimi. Down the hatch. For a moment there’s just the burn. Then Nicole is tugging me towards a table in the back, a table liberally littered with our friends. Her arm entwines with my own.

For a moment there, like always, like every moment she’s touching me, my heart burns. Her boyfriend will be here soon. I’m just a stepping stone on the way to her real fun. An old friend whose attentions she can feed on, her narcissistic appetite nourished. Most of the time that’s alright. We’ve tried being more, with disastrous results. I tell myself we still are more. More than we’ve ever been. I tell myself we have a deeper connection than what she has with these people she finds, and fucks, and destroys and moves on from every few week. I tell myself ours is a genuine, lasting love. Not just a one-sided affection. That it means something.
I tell myself to shut the fuck up.

She leaves me at our table in the back, off to the bar to kiss the bartenders on both cheeks. I nod to the crowd of familiar faces, take a seat, and light up a cigarette. Belmont, king size. The smoke drifts lazily above the table. Beside me Bea launches into conversation, some in joke at the table I was too late to be privy to. Laughter. Shannon across the table takes a break from an argument with Hugh, to say hi and take a drink. She fliraciously flashes those big eyes my way.  Bea’s husband is absent again, I see. Hugh clinks my glass with his own and I take a sip. Myles works his way through the crowd, his head bobbing to some electronic beat only he can hear. Nicole is back, taking a seat beside me. I’m surprised. She rests her silk hair on my shoulder and breathes in the crowd. It refreshes her, enlivens her. Without the bar, the constant socializing, she practically feels physical pain.
I just feel it when she’s not around.

Our bar. Ten years of memories flash by in a second. I light another cigarette, take another sip of beer, and resign myself to falling comfortably into another round of goofy, empty conversation none of us will ever remember. It feels good.

It feels great.
I’m drunk and I don’t remember that happening.
It’s almost last call. Nicole is spreading the word, bringing the bar back to her place just like every night for the obligatory after party. Twenty-plus drunks crowded into a tiny, smoke infested apartment above the bars for another couple hours of drinking and smoking and cocaine and singing and dancing and… and I know I should just go home. I know it every night. I’ll remember none of it, I’ll feel like deaths door for hours in the morning, and I know my wallet will scream my name in hatred, once again.
But of course, that’s folly. How could I not go, and miss out on all the fun?
Miss out on just another couple hours with my suicide blonde?
We file out the doors of the bar, saying our good nights, grabbing our skateboards and jackets and girlfriends and whatever else we think to grab before we leave, and it’s on to really get the night started. I follow Nicole out the doors and onto the crowded drunk-strewn streets.

We’ve Waited Long Enough

 

There’s a girl out there, waiting for me.
I know,
I’m waiting for her too.
When we find each other we’ll know right away.
It’ll be like Christmas morning when we were kids. Discovering the presents under the tree
And rushing at them with open arms.

It wont take long to fall in love.
She’s already so lovely.
She’ll love the smell of rain, and old books, and we’ll go out together in the rain to old bookstores.
Then we’ll leave little notes in the books
For future lovers to find.

We’ll go home and cook all sorts of crazy food
And laugh about it when it goes horribly, horribly wrong.
We’ll go out to restaurants instead, arms entwined like chain link fences.
Candlelit dinners with french waiters and cobblestone patios.

She’ll be sweet with a wild side, like pop rockets.
Like little sugary explosions of delight.
And I’ll find her very pretty, even in the morning.
Especially in the morning.

And she’ll show me her world
And I’ll show her all of mine.
And somehow we’ll discover we were both only living in just half a world after all, and all the edges of our worlds will fit together.
Well, maybe not all of them. We’ll make some earthquakes and mountains in the process.
That’s falling in love, after all.

She’ll like me because I’ll never lie to her, and certainly try my best to never hurt her.
I’ll make her laugh all the time, and go through withdrawals when she doesn’t.
Her smile will be my drug.
And she’ll find me handsome and manly,
Even when I get all teared up at the sad parts in movies.
Especially when I get all teared up at the sad parts in movies.

We’ll throw snowballs at each other,
And stand on tall buildings to watch sunsets.
We’ll stroll through the woods, smelling leaves and taking pictures of mushrooms.
And in spring we’ll plant flowers all over the city, watch them grow.
Our own little secret flowers.

There’s a girl out there. She’s waiting for me.
I’m waiting for her too.
Watching the streams of rain flow down my windows.
Perhaps she’s out there today, umbrella held high, looking in shop windows.
Or maybe staying dry, filling her home with smells of fresh baking.
I don’t know where she is.
But I know she’s waiting.
And we’ve waited long enough.