Thursday, June 30, 2005

just a good example of why i should't keep a weblog

Last week I went out and picked up out-of-town guests. Some had travelled a few hundred kilometres to get to my apartment, others had actually come halfway round the world! Imagine the specialness. Here's the guest list:

1/2 dozen Gala apples (New Zealand)
1/2 dozen oranges (California)
acorn squash (British Columbia)
seedless watermelon (California)
pears (South Africa)
bananas (Ecuador)
5 lb bag potatoes (Prince Edward Island)
2 lb bag carrots (British Columbia)
300 grams coffee (Guatemala)
1 bottle habanero pepper sauce (Jamaica)
1 bag 'Mayan Sweets' onions (Mexico)

And so on. With the exception of the bags of quinoa and couscous from the organic grocery store down the street, not a single item in my kitchen is grown or manufactured in the province where I live. Would I buy local? Heck yes. Would I be able to pay rent and clothe myself if I did? Heck no! Like the leader of the acting troupe in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, I can do rent and food without the clothes, or clothes and food without the rent, but food is compulsory. I'm aware that economies of scale, government subsidies and numerous sweet deals operate in favour of grocery store chains and the MegaAgriBiz that feeds them, but the relative cheapness of these goods still strikes me as dangerously false. How is it that apples from New Zealand run for twenty cents less per kilogram than the ones grown forty kilometres from my door? What kind of costs must be dispersed and reimbursed to maintain the monster supply chain that shuttles pieces of fruit from a tree in New Zealand to a swinging wire basket in my kitchen?

Whatever the intricacies of the system that keeps me in South African pears and Phillipine jeans, I do know that I'm living in a state of freakish historical luxury. If were to take stroll back to the the early 11th century and explain to William the Conqueror that I'd just eaten a vegetable ragout that had travelled a total of 8000 miles to get to my stomach, he'd probably turn white, shake off a few lice and hand me that newly acquired territory of his. He'd say, "What is the secret of your wealth and power, O Healthy One Without Obvious Signs of Rickets and Smallpox?" And I'd answer, "Rock oil. It's not just for lighting arrows and pouring off of battlements anymore". He'd say, "Mon dieu, c'est formidable! What vast resources do you command?" I'd say, "It's not me. There are millions of us, all living high on the hog off of cheap petroleum energy, exploiting labour in poorer countries in order to position ourselves at the termina of all supply chains". "Oh. So who's really in control?" "The companies that maintain and control the chains". "So you're a fabulously well-fed serf, then". "Well, I wouldn't put it that way". "No, of course not. I'll be taking back England now. Have a nice afternoon". "But I'm so straight of limb, bright of eye and fair of face". "Here, why don't you have an arrow for that bright eye of yours? C'est un souvenir". "Oh yeah? Here's some Mexican habanero sauce from the FUTURE, you condescending barbarian! C'est l'avenir pour vous!" "Mes yeux! Ils ont chaud!" "Yeah, that's the supply chain in action. Be glad I didn't bring a Kalashnikov".

Yeah, that's pretty much how it would it go, with me standing triumphant over William the Conqueror, clutching an uncapped bottle of Matouk's in my hand, while the Norman invader writhes at my feet in agony, clawing at his eyes. I wonder how knock knock jokes would go?

Me: Knock knock.
Will: My name is William.
Me: Yes, I learned about you in school. Knock knock.
Will: Sorry, is that some kind of insult from the future?
Me: Fuuuck.

Monday, June 27, 2005

the fifty five list (arboreal edition)

46. The recent news story about the Ethiopian lions who guarded a distressed young girl from a group of men with forced marriage on their minds has convinced me that the suggestions of children's literature are absolutely true: that in the absence of adult humans, wild animals stand on their hind legs, don waistcoats and starched collars, and lead children by the hand into their twee little forest homes. There the lucky little children gain valuable wisdom about the world and have all kinds of adventures. Fortunately the animals of the wood are respectful of dinner time, so that children are always returned home by six o' clock, faces slightly smudged but otherwise unharmed. Not all animals are to be trusted: ferrets and stoats, for example, are often in the employ of unscrupulous rats who exploit the labour of children. Bears, beavers and foxes, on the other hand, are decent sorts who will invite children to tea. Crows may steal bracelets or even a shiny earring, but once a rapport is established they make lively companions and fine scouts. Hedgehogs are truculent but dependable. Snakes are poisonous. Badgers are covered in dirt.

47. I'm hoping all this is true, because I left my cousin on a camping trip a few weeks ago, and with any luck the animals will take care of him until I return for the July long weekend.

48. Are you paying attention? My real name is Aidan. If you don't catch it now, you likely never will, so back up a sentence.

49. When I was young I knew the names of trees. They were a part of my daily life, part of what I saw and touched and used, and as such the look of the trees, their shapes against the sky, the spread of leaf and bough and the number of scratches crisscrossing forearm and palm after I jumped down from their limbs, became bound to what we called them.

50. I knew chestnut trees by the spiky green pods that they dropped to the ground. Some were intact, others were marked by a long vertical split from which the chesnut peeked like an eye. I would go out with a plastic bucket and fill it up with husked chestnuts, glossy brown like a horse's neck. The best source of chestnuts was the Anglican graveyard up the hill from where I lived, which strikes me now as slightly gruesome (Chestnuts of the Dead!). Once I brought the bucket home, I would leave them in the porch and completely forget about them. Eventually they would dry out and turn the colour of cheap chocolate. Then I would throw them out and go back for another bucketful.

51. I knew spruce trees because I loved to climb them. They shot straight up, higher than the roof of my house, and I would scramble up their sap-soaked trunks and rest somewhere close to the top, where the trunk narrowed to its untenable point and the branches grew too thin for my weight. By the time I came down I was covered in hard yellow resin and my arms were scratched all to hell. Good times.

52. Maple trees I knew for the shape of their leaves, the smoothness of their trunks and their winged seedpods, which you could manipulate into little helicopters by opening up the joined halves of the wings, climbing up to some suitable height and dropping them back to the ground. They were as green as aphids, and if you played with them at dusk the green wings would hold the light as they whirred into the darkness.

53. I recognized oaks by the way their leaves spiked at the edges, by the veins that ramified to the very tips of the spikes. Acorns littered the ground beneath but I never collected them like I did chestnuts. Although once someone dared me to chew on an acorn, and by god I regret taking that dare. And once I remember cracking open an acorn and finding a worm inside, a little brown-black grub that seemed genuinely curious at the sudden rush of light. I threw it into the ditch and ran home.

54. There were tons of trees on my parent's property: the spruce that I climbed, pines that dripped with worms on strings in the early summer, willows that grew straight or dipped over in all directions. A pear tree that grew hard bitter pears, a crab apple tree against whose fruit I was repeatedly cautioned, a couple of plum trees probably planted by a previous owner. A juniper we planted in the front yard that was so small I could jump over it (soon it grew to a height of fifteen feet). A dozen or so poplars.

55. The city where I live now is mostly elms. Tourist brochures proudly announce that every single one of the 150,000 trees here was planted by hand. In the older neighborhoods the elms in regular rows arch above and form a natural vault, so that you are in effect walking through an huge outdoor room, a natural arcade. In the newer neighborhoods widely-spaced poplars grow, where they do absolutely nothing but say I'm not pretty enough to disguise how boring and ugly this place is, so please accept my apologies.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I've been reading up on the coming bird flu epidemic, with all those birds poised to send forth their microbe minions from the exotic Orient. What amazes me is how thoroughly and minutely this is now being covered by newspapers around the globe. Bird flu found in these birds; then those birds; then some more nearby; and now in a human being. Once this plague gets legs and bounds out of Asia to kill us all, the newspapers will keep pace with it, interviewing it at regular intervals, maybe fitting the damn thing with a pager so it can check in hourly. Larry King is going to have bird flu on as a special guest, and we'll all be able to sit in the comfort of our rec rooms, dens, backyard patios etc. and watch it attack Larry King on the air. When finally the plague has run its course and every human on earth has coughed out his or her lungs and fallen face first into a pile o' lungs, the last paper in the world will run off the presses bearing only the 50 point above-the-fold headline "EVERYBODY DEAD" and that will be that. And no one will ever know how a newspaper headline bearing the news of everyone's death got printed up with everybody already dead. But at least the news will finally be interesting.

time is a number if you read it right

Nighttime again. All the windows open, hot air invading the apartment. The Palinode and The Lotus reading in bed, aware of the flaw in their window strategy but willing to wait out the warm half of night. The Lotus looks over at the clock radio on Palinode's nightstand.

Lotus: I never realized that ten o' clock looked like one thousand.

Palinode: (looks over) Oh my god. You're right. I've never noticed that. It's a thousand just sitting there.

Lotus: That's so cool.

(They watch the clock for a few seconds, unaccountably fascinated. You think they're stoned, but no. They're actually fascinated.)

Palinode: And you know what? When it's one minute after ten, it's going to look like a thousand and one.

Lotus: You're right. It really will.

(They go back to watching the clock, happily spooned. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the minute turns over. It's ten oh one.)


Lotus: It's a thousand and one!

Palinode: That is so great.

Lotus: Totally.

Palinode: But you know -

Lotus: What?

Palinode: When it hits two after ten, it just won't -

Lotus: It won't look like a thousand and two.

Palinode: Exactly. It'll just be a time. How does that work?

Lotus: I think it's the symmetry.

Palinode: Sure, there's symmetry, but other forces are at play here. There must be only a few times that look like numbers on a digital clock. We were lucky to catch two of them.

Lotus: What do you think the other times are?

Palinode: Good question.

(They go back to staring at the clock, but the joy has been replaced with anxiety.)

The forty-five list: subjunctives and the call of the frogman

41. The barest shelf in the cupboard of English language is the dusty one reserved for subjunctives. As a result our imaginations have gone hungry. The subjunctive mood, used to express attitudes and counterfactuals, has almost disappeared entirely from English, hanging on only in such phrases as "If I were a frogman" or "Had I gone to frogman college and become a frogman, I should be happy now" or "I demand that he give me the frogman costume and afford me due satisfaction on all frogman counts". With the subjunctive we witness language's finest hour, an inbuilt resource to the construction and habitation of imaginary worlds, opportunities to plot alternatives and live, if only in the mind, as frogmen.

42. Possible frogman examples to which we can all aspire: swimming - publishing - dissenting - just being

43. But by the Jesus don't you run afoul of this seedy bunch if you choose to be the frogman of your subjunctive dreams. I mean, check out the pose of the large frog. And then roll your mouse over it a few times. That's what they're about, oh yes.

44. Enough of the subjunctive. It has led me down a path strewn with the bodies of possible frogmen (maybe this is what the guy who made up English worried about when he was putting in the subjunctive mood, which would explain its paucity).

45. Really, that's enough.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

two fifths of a hundred (two fifths in the brain!)

The 100 list, from twenty eight with its ineluctable modality to forty with its even more ineluctable modality.

28. Put the The Iron Rose of Castille in your boutonniere and throw a Guinness down your throat. 101 years ago today in an alternate universe Leopold Bloom woke up, bought a kidney for his breakfast, read the paper on the toilet, tore up a love letter, went to the baths, took a carriage ride to a funeral, wandered into work at the newspaper, had some lunch and listened to music, suffered the insults of an anti-Semite at a pub, strolled along the beach and ogled a lame woman, attended a birth, met up with Stephen Daedalus, went to a brothel, came home, administered oral sex to his wife, fell asleep. Happy Bloomsday!

29. Finally the Catholic church across the block has made the necessary renovations to the cenotaph dedicated to those Unborn Victims of Abortion. Every day I would pass by and think When are they going to get those necessary renovations on? When is the Church finally going to spend more of their money on a monument commemorating those blobs of tissue? I bet those blobs are getting impatient in their heavenly incubators. Now, along with the mock gravestone, there's a little cobbled square about two by three feet in front of it, presumaby to make it more convenient and reverential for those who want to reflect or pray in front of the monument. They should go ahead and erect a statue of someone praying at the cenotaph. The Brain-dead Victims of Catholicism mourning the Unborn Victims of Abortion.

30. I want a monument to the undead victims of abortion as well. It's only fair.

31. Crudest example of unintentional symbolism I've ever seen: In the town of Kilgore, Texas, at one time a centre of oil production and now just another pause in the highway, a pumpjack nodded lazily away right next to a yard of unmarked gravestones. At first I thought they were drawing up oil from beneath a graveyard, which made me a bit sick to my stomach, but then I saw that the gravestones were simply for sale. If any heavy-handed polemicists out there masquerading as writers of fiction want to use this image, go right ahead.

32. Zombies are my favourite monsters, although I'm ready to admit that Buffy the Zombie Slayer would not be a very exciting series.

33. But a zombie-based version of Law & Order would be really cool. "In the world of the undead, zombies crave human brains and solve crimes. These are their stories". Starring Jerry Orbach.

34. Or you could have a show called Law & Order: Cutaways and Outtakes. "In the television production world, editors often cut footage so as to mock and humiliate both cast and crew. These are their pink slips".

35. Sometimes, when no one's around and the moon is full and high, I wander outside and curse Rapid City under my breath. Not that it needs it.

36. Last year I interviewed a South Dakota state politician (please let me know if I've written about this before). The interview took a couple of hours, during which he was polite, welcoming, charismatic and a pleasure to talk with. After the interview he showed me a photo album of himself shaking hands with the many politicians he's met over the decades. I saw Carter, Reagan, Colin Powell, Bushes Big and Little. But no Clinton. Eventually I asked why he had never shaken Clinton's hand. The man dropped his head slightly and said "I was sick the day that Clinton came through town". Then he raised his head again and said "Do you want to know what I think of Clinton?" Absolutely, I said. "Clinton is a whoremonger," he stated. "And his wife is a whore". That's when I realized that it was possible to lead a full and successful life and be batshit insane at the same time.

37. People either believe or discount global climate change, but I've yet to see anybody advocate for it. Who will take up the banner for rising oceans, ancestral virus outbreaks and massive crop failure?

38. Similarly, people either believe in or discount dire news of peak oil production, but no one's willing to stand up and speak in favour of it. Outrageous gas prices! Food shortages! World War III! The end of the industrial world! Who's with me on this one?

39. Oh sure, there's biodiesel, but I bet it's gross.

40. Themes enumerated in this installment of my 100 list include: all things uncanny, South Dakota, secular apocalypse. Law and Order. Oil.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the twenty-seven list (country music edition)

23. After having listened to a country music station this afternoon, it's clear that contemporary country is the worst popular music in the world. Nothing compares. '70s Eurovision contest music, anti-Hussein Psy-ops rap, bombastic save-the-world pop circa 1990: all come up looking good next to those performers of Rural Drag. Even Adult Contemporary has more style than this thief of bargain music bins. First I heard three Shania Twain songs in a row, each one sounding more or less like the processed technopop of the mid-eighties, with fake pedal steel standing in for fake Stax horns. After a commercial break I found out that none of the songs were sung by Shania Twain. Just a bunch of pitch-shifted girls aping the Twain formula. Next came a weird parade of musical styles, some soulful, some poppy, some folky, but none of them what I would call country. Not even that arena rock Garth Brooks style of country, which is bastardized enough.*

24. Record companies and artists have replaced the style and tradition of country with gestures: a little twang to the vocals, a few familiar chord progressions, out-of-love wailing from the dudes and so-in-love devotional chirps from the ladies. And of course, songs about good times in the non-existent country. Has no one noticed that the places celebrated by country music - the family farm and the good old small town - have rotted from the inside out? Even in Canada, which has taken slightly better care of its rural areas, towns have funnelled into cities and left their skeleton behind. In the States I've been to countless towns with centres so long dead that even the buildings seem dried out and tissue-thin, like dead seed pods dangling from the stem. What life is left in these places has sprouted up along the highway, where the predictable franchises and hotels service people from elsewhere on their way to somewhere else. Life arranged around a strip of limited-access highway doesn't provide much inspiration for an authentic pop vernacular, but it's got to be better than the asinine fantasy that country music records are pushing on us.

25. At one point a song came on that I actually liked. The melody was strong but subtle, the twang didn't sound put on, and the lyrics had a real note of wistfulness and longing, that plaintive cry for things departing that marks the best of country music. It sounded a bit like early Jackson Browne. Then I realized it was Jackson Browne. You know country music's got problems when it's borrowing songs from 1970s folk rock for its playlist.

*26. Garth Brooks fans I've met commonly defend him (without any prompting) by talking about his live show, saying "It's all for his fans that he puts on such a great show. He doesn't have to do that, you know". I never understood that: an entertainer that doesn't have to entertain? He just does it 'cause? I mean, I don't have to shit in the toilet. I could just do it on the floor. But I like to go that extra mile and aim for the bowl.

27. What is Garth Brooks doing these days anyway? Oh never mind.

Friday, June 10, 2005

the twenty-two list

Onward to some higher number. Like Mercer, pelted by stones, we ascend with him to the peak.

18. Last night was our fourth wedding anniversary. Four years! Balloons fall.

19. For our anniversary, she gave me Henry Frankfurt's On Bullshit. Should I be paying closer attention?

20. I have taken a leave of absence from the genuine world and entered into the reenactment phase of my series. I leave my life at the door and plunge into a world of script breakdowns, call sheets, phone calls that end with me saying things like "Go back there and bargain them down" and "Yeah, that's a good rate if you're looking to blow the series budget on one half of one show". This is a world of pinched budgets and squeezed tempers, sudden reversals and insane rate quotes. It is a rectangular, compartmented world, like a submarine navigating a lattice. I'll be here until February.

21. A friend of mine who sends emails and expects timely replies, which I rarely give, asked me whether I was an imploder or an exploder. That is to say, do I struggle to gather myself together in the face of an urge to dissolve, or do I attempt to dissolve in order to unbind my too-solid identity? Perhaps the best way to put it is to ask: does your identity require corn starch or turpentine? Or do you like a nice starch and turpentine blend? And what do you think would happen to your laundry if you threw on a nice lather of turpenstarch? The friend who posed the question likely needs a daily soak in turpentine (and yet I mean that in a good way). I thought I'd deal with the question publicly because I spent so much time mulling it over. At first I had a long reply prepared that said I'm older now and I don't bother with such questions, I just am what I am, but that answer, I realized, had ridden in on a bullshit carrier signal (should I be paying attention?). The truth is that I need lots and lots of corn starch to keep my identity in check. Otherwise it spreads to fill whatever container it's occupying. Maybe this is why I'm the marrying kind.

22. At various points in my life I've longed for certain prostheses. For example, back between 1993-95 I lived on the sixth floor with a balcony that looked out onto a hipster-filled plaza opposite. I would sit and stare with growing resentment at the coffee sippers and emphatic gesturers, relishing the notion of scaring the living shit out of them somehow. One day I realized that I wanted a pair of leathery bat-like wings that would allow me to strafe them like an angered sandpiper (with leathery bat-like wings). I talked about those wings for months. Lately I want a metal arm with a clacky pincer, but the lack of backstory on my desire means that it'll probably pass in a few weeks.

Friday, June 03, 2005

the seventeen list

More listing of things for the pure fun of thing-listing. So let's get it on with that ordinal mania. Eight to seventeen.

8. Def Leppard is coming to play in August. Did I say play? I meant RAWK. Sorry, I meant suck.

9. Because I was hit on the head with a baseball bat as a kid, I have trouble finishing my

10. But I wrote a short story about being hit on the head with a baseball bat, which featured one character saying to another, "Ah bite me bag".

11. For the last week I've been in the office for 11-12 hours a day. I even ended up here on Sunday afternoon, palely haunting the hallways.

12. You who know me, know how lazy I am. Why work so many hours? It's a funny story involving all of my staff quitting on me within a week with notice ranging from two days to five hours. "Don't get me wrong, Mr. Node," they all said, notice in hand. "We think you're a good producer. You shielded us from a lot of bullshit here. It's the executive we don't like". So they stuck me with a series in full production, exposing me to the teeth of a howling executive body, and leaving me with their jobs to do on top of mine. Because they liked me and thought I was a good producer.

13. Currently I have a crew in Nova Scotia driving around and interviewing people. Every night I coordinate and write up questions for the next day (see 11 and 12). Once they return home I will celebrate with a bottle of Pine Sol and collapse in a bus shelter.

14. My first mascot is Evil Wizard, a plastic figurine I picked up for 99 cents at Humpty's Family Restaurant. He's dressed in a purple robe and cap, wears tiny little round sunglasses and sports a wand with a funky star glittering at its tip. He's more like a magical David Crosby than an evil wizard.

15. My second mascot is Dolphi, a perverse plastic dolphin fitted with human clothes and juggling three red balls (other Dolphi figures are similary frozen in other degrading street tricks). I nicked him from a basket in the lobby of the Novotel Mannheim. I have several photos of Dolphi posing in rural Austria. He juggles by the ancient church, he juggles in the graveyard, he juggles against the splendor of the Alps. He juggles in the Alpenglow.

16. My third and favourite mascot is Kogepan. He is my secret sharer, my homuncular twin. According to Kogepan himself, he's a red bean bun from Hokkaido who was baked too long until his skin turned dark. He ran away from the bakery when the taunts of the lighter red bean buns became too much to bear. After a nihilistic descent into smoking and drinking, he returned to the bakery of his birth to begin the arduous process of learning to be a better burnt bean bun.

17. On my first long trip, my wife (The Lotus) put a Kogepan in my carry-on bag as a good-luck charm. I have never removed him, and every so often he turns up in a search for keys or change, staring blankly up at me as if to say, "Where now, big burnt bean bun guy?"