Tuesday, September 27, 2005

how I go from trash to robot vaginas in just one entry

I've been thinking about trash for the last four-five months. In that brief slice of the year when the ground isn't hiding under a foot of snow, our city is ridged with drifts of trash. Plastic bags billowing across intersections or spinning around in alcoves, slurpee cups and drinking boxes rolling around gutters, straws and chip bags and unidentifiable mulch. The trash emerges from under the snow and builds furiously until November or thereabouts, when it goes back into hibernation. Enough of it is biodegrabable and so does not drown us in our homes as we sit and wait for further episodes of Cold Case.

I was out looking at trash today - because raising my eyes means looking at fast-food huts and car dealerships - when I cut through an alleyway and passed an auto junkyard. The sights of the shells of old cars, some blooming with rust, others jacked up on cinderblocks and missing tires, made me realize that there's a useful distinction to be made between trash and junk. Junk is the thing at the end of our repeated use. It's worn, blunted, broken, bleached, chipped, scraped, scuffed, corroded, screwed up and usually kind of dirty. Junk is junk because we've exhausted it, worn out its possibilities and left it somewhere to disintegrate. But even at its most exhausted, junk is infinitely recyclable, useful to someone else. A piece of old furniture or a stained old futon usually disappears in minutes when left next to a dumpster; old scraps of metal end up in a piece of sculpture; a crib belonging to someone's grandparents gets handed down. An object absorbs the history of its use, incarnates in tiny measure the era from which it springs, and as junk it gives back that history, as a stone at evening radiates the heat of the day. Junk is valuable apart from its usefulness, as it takes on the curious aesthetic dimensions of accidental art. Sometimes junk occurs on such a scale that it suggests mystery, as in the abruptly abandoned prairie houses of the Depression, with books still on shelves, mirrors hung on walls and cutlery left in the drawers. At its grandest junk becomes ruins.

Trash is junk's evil twin. Typically, trash isn't stuff - it just contained stuff at some point. Plastic bags, coffee cups, lids and sleeves, straws, slips, receipts, cigarette packs and pinched balls of foil, bubble wrap, styrofoam chunks, cardboard and tape. Trash is almost always branded, the containers carrying the brand for whatever was inside it - a shipping box of diapers, a beaf 'n' bean burrito, a few grams of crushed ketchup chips. Trash is completely transient, meant to attract briefly and then be forgotten. It's strange that something meant to be so impermanent ends up being so persisent. Trash doesn't weather. It just moulders, loses distinctiveness, gathers at curbs and works its way into the sewers. In a city like mine that gets very little rain, it never gets washed away properly, and by autumn the roadsides are lined with a mulch of leaves, plastic and slowly decomposing cardboard. It makes you feel like you're living in a gigantic landfill.

Chip bags are the weirdest trash of all. Are they plastic or metal? They appear to be some kind of high-tech fusion of the two. An open chip bag, all shiny with grease. It's like a robot vagina. Chip bags are the future skins of cyborgs.

So in conclusion I'd like to declare September 27th to be International Robot Vagina Day. With parades, symposia, and a good old pancake breakfast.

*But not one of those patented baby-choking cribs that were all the rage in the early eighties.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

life with kyle

A moment ago I picked up the phone. I said "Hello?" (which is standard in Canada). The person on the other end said: "Yeah, is Kyle there?"


Prospective mothers everywhere: Kyle rhymes with bile. You get me? The first thing I think of when I meet someone named Kyle is a splash of puke on the pavement. Don't name your sons Kyle.

In fact, I'm declaring a moratorium on Kyles. My place is an official Kyle-free zone. Why? Because when someone calls me on a Saturday afternoon and asks for Kyle, I get to say "No, sorry, you've got the wrong number". I never want to have to respond this way:

You want to talk to Kyle? Yeah, dude, just a second. Hey Kyle! Yeah, you, loser! Phone for you! Get your ass away from the X-Box and come talk to your friend here! He'll be with you in a second. What? What? PHONE! Someone's on the PHONE, Kyle! Stop playing Morrowind and answer the fucking PHONE!... No, I'm not - I don't CARE if it's a portable, I'm busy over here! It's your friend, Kyle. It's YOUR friend. It's not - I'm not coming over so you can stare at the screen, asshole! Forget about it! Yeah, forget it! Hold on a sec. You're embarrasing yourself in front of your friend here, is what you're doing. Yeah, he's embarrassed for you. What's he gonna think, Kyle? You ever think how it looks when you can't even come to the phone? You know how that looks to other people? It's - what? No, you shut up, Kyle! YOU shut up for a change! He'll call you back.

Now that I think about it, I missed a great opportunity.

Monday, September 19, 2005

True stories from The Matrix

Six years ago, some time during the early days of sweater weather, on a Wednesday evening, I wandered downtown and watched The Matrix on its opening night. I sat down by myself, having heard nearly nothing about the film. All I knew was that at some point in the film, Keanu Reeves would shoot at some guy in a suit and sunglasses, and the guy in the suit would dodge the bullets. I was all up for a bullet-dodging film. But pretty quickly I realized that The Matrix was really the deranged fantasy of lonely computer nerds who read Philip K. Dick in their spare time. What if, the movie was slyly asking us, those puffy guys in the mall with the golf shirts and the security key cards round their necks were kung-fu superheroes? What if they all knew how the world worked and everybody else was just a snotty ol' lump of stupid-goo? Could it be that these doughnut-chewing code twiddlers are not only smarter and cooler than us, but are also able to kick our noses through our assholes in the time it takes us to ask for a cruller? The Matrix came back with the most terrifying response of all: Only those who know, may know.

I was very poor in '99, too poor to afford a movie and a beer in the same evening. In one of those paradoxes of poverty, being poor meant I could afford to stay up all night drinking coffee, so I went from the theatre over to a wine bar called Alfredo's. The waitresses all more or less ignored me, having figured out long ago that I was a lousy source of tips. I ran into a guy from university named Scott, who was waiting for the late show. I knew Scott through his roommate, a friend of mine and an honours English classmate. Scott habitually wore a motorcycle jacket and always composed his face in a satisfied expression that suggested the Demerol was just kicking in. His hair fell down his shoulders in oversculpted Nickelback-style blond ringlets, the sight of which always produced in me a profound irritation. Nonetheless the surrounding small towns and isolated suburbs produced a reliable stream of young women who loved his hair and would one day go on to buy Nickelback CDs, perhaps in fond remembrance of their long-ago boyfriend. We talked for a few minutes about The Matrix and then he left to see the movie.

That was the last time I ever saw Scott. True story.

In May of 2003 I saw the Matrix Reloaded with my wife (the Schmutzie) and a friend named Craig.

Craig was once Scott's roommate, and indeed, I knew Scott through Craig. A crazy connection. But it gets crazier. I asked Craitg what Scott was up to, and he told me, but within a week I had completely forgotten. Is it possible that Someone - or Something - didn't want me to know the truth?

And then, in November of the same year, on a work trip, I saw The Matrix Revolutions in Halifax with a friend.

And we thought it sucked. True story.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

i write about the cat

The Questions About the Cat

Everyone has questions when you bring a cat home. What's its name? Is it a boy or a girl? Is it fixed? Are you going to get it fixed? When are you taking it to the vet to get it fixed? How much does fixing it cost? More for a boy or a girl? Will you be there in the room when they do it? Will you wear a mask? Do you like the thought of wearing a mask in a harshly lit room while your pet gets its genitals chopped and tied? Normal questions like that. And of course, What colour is it? and Will getting it fixed change the colour of its fur?

Here are the questions I'd ask if someone else brought home a cat. What's it doing at your place? How did it get there? Don't we have doormen to keep these sorts of visitors out? Are there no prisons? Are there no catworkhouses?

We Acquire the Cat

Those are good questions, but they miss the point. We actually want the cat. On Sunday we drove (actually, roped a friend into driving us) out to the Humane Society, a set of innocuous quonsets by the nearby steel plant a few miles from the city. I always wish the Humane Society were centrally located, but I imagine there's a law against setting up shop next to Safeway when your stock-in-trade is warehousing and killing uwanted animals.

The main building had one room for dogs and three others for rabbits and cats (all their cabbits were housed in a separate building under strict quarantine to keep the truth of their existence from reaching the general public). The first room contained the young and desperate wannabees yowling and batting our arms and shoulders; the second held the experienced actors, the ones in their prime who purred at your approach and rubbed up against the bars. The third room contained the has-beens, indifferent to our attention and awaiting an appointment with a trained and certified euthanist.* At first I wanted to bring all of them home. Then I wanted to pick the worst of the bunch, the most ragged, the ugliest, the oldest, the most demented, the angriest, the most injurious, the stinky one. Above all, I felt ashamed that I preferred one animal to another, that I thought oh that one sheds too much (it did) or that one scares the living crap out of me (it scratched me). I didn't want my own preferences and instinctive reactions to particular creatures to come into play. It was difficult to remind myself that we were saving one animal, not condeming thirty others.

Eventually we chose a five month old kitten, pure black except for a few strands of white on its belly and tail. He was sitting in cage 1, room 1, ignoring the ruckus as twelve year old girls floated past and cats danced in their cages to be let out. I liked him because he acted distracted but polite, extending a paw to touch my index finger out of pure courtesy. I rubbed his nose with the knuckle of my middle finger through the bars, and the texture of his nose seemed right to me, seemed somehow to indicate a degree of calm.

I was wrong. Our pet has turned out to be a yowling spoiled demon, a petulant two year old stuffed into a cat suit. One sight of human food sets off his plaintive unending siren, any surface barred to him is cause for cries. So far we haven't let him have any human food, but he appears to want everything that's ours: chips and salsa, hot coffee, madras sambar with quinoa, a vegetarian pot pie crossed with hot sauce. But I'm confident that we'll wear him out. And when he crawls up my chest and butts his tiny forehead into my face, or when I wake up in the middle of my night to find him sleeping across my neck, I just can't stay mad. A little weirded out, maybe, but not mad.

We call him Oskar.

Appendix: A List of Perilous Places in our Apartment, Together With Potential Awful Fate

open toilet lid - drowning

very heavy fireplace grille - smushing

dishwasher - extreme cleaning

bookshelves - possible toppling

basket of yarn - intestinal tomfoolery

open refrigator - fatal chillaxation

* No sites I visited would tell me how humane societies euthanise their animals. Not once in the literature of various animal shelter did the following words and phrases appear: needle, gas, incinerator, fire, Maxwell's silver hammer, chamber, club, nail gun, laudunum, ether in a handkerchief, katana, sai, nunchuk, Vibrating Palm, anvil, guillotine, deep crevasse, lonely road at night, rumble seat, weights and chains, quicklime, tar pits, front-end loader, .357, barrel, bore, bolt, pump, silencer, black gloves, 'gangland style', cap, ass, ready rock, hosepipe, exhaust, barbiturates, explosive decompression, hard vacuum, liquid nitrogen, ground glass, shiv, shank, errant multitool, aspartame, arsenic, Computer, Carousel, that laser from Diamonds Are Forever, tablesaw, skillsaw, lathe of blades, board with a nail through it, shovel, spade, military entrenching tool, systematic neglect by an uncaring adminstration unwilling to take the business of good government seriously.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

easily distracted

I came into work this morning and found a sticky note on my keyboard that read "Dan O' R". And then a street address. Nothing more. Who is Dan O' R? Don't know. What does the R stand for? Unsure. What city does that street address refer to? No idea. It could be anywhere in North America. And what does Dan O' Nobody from the continent have to do with my production? Fucked if I know, people.

So. Who wrote the sticky and stuck it on my keyboard yesterday? That one's easy. I did.