Sunday, February 24, 2008

T.O. Story With Pictures

It's occurred to me more than once that many Americans harbor some unrealistic views about Canada. They see it as a perfect land with no crime, no accidents, free healthcare for all and the Prime Minister makes sure everyone is tucked safely into bed every night at 9:00 o'clock. Well, none of that's true except for number 3 and to illustrate (good God, a pun!) here's a true story from the late 60's:

At the time I not only had a full-time job but was attending art classes and rehearsing a play so it seems the last thing I'd want was more employment. I've never spent any time under one of those trees that money falls off and since I had a trip in mind I figured since I was young and healthy, why not take a job that began at midnight? To this day I can't remember who offered it to me but one night after rehearsal I found my way to an unmarked street door on Dundas and climbed up a long staircase to the 4th floor where I found an after hours nightclub. I'd always thought that once the clubs closed all the musicians went home to bed like everybody else but I learned a lot of them aren't the least bit sleepy and prefer to go clubbing. The place itself was more than a bit tacky with unmatched broken chairs, peeling wallpaper, permanent nicotine and beer fug, and cockroaches. Then again, few nightclubs could pass the good housekeeping standards of our mothers and that's why we like them.

The idea was that I'd stand behind a little counter at the top of the stairs and collect the admission fees until around 3am. It was a private club but only in the sense that whoever came by could just say they were a member and the Toronto police turned a blind eye to the fact the owners made their money selling drinks the same as at any other bar. Round about 1am the place would start getting busy as musicians, their girlfriends and various other night people started to arrive. Of course, there'd be a lot of jamming going on as old friends who were playing clubs like the Brown Derby and Le Coq D'or actually got to spend some time playing with each other. The music was very cool and I didn't mind the fact I wasn't getting paid much. Nevertheless, there I was with an open cash box that nobody showed much interest in and the pay really was very bad. Ross, the bouncer was also very badly paid and since he acted as my bodyguard when required I decided to amend our income directly by taking some money every night and splitting it between us.

As an example of why I might need a bodyguard I remember one night when I heard the door crash open at the foot of the stairs followed by the sounds of shouting and stomping as the new arrivals got closer to the club entrance. All of a sudden a crying woman screamed, "You're gonna hit me! I know you're gonna hit me!" The next sound was a terrific SLAP! Then the footsteps continued. On arrival, if I hadn't already suspected, it turned out to be a pimp and some of his ladies - one of whom apparently hadn't earned her keep that night and the guy was mad. The weird thing though, was that she kept describing her own punishment since the next thing she screamed was, "You're not gonna pay my way in!" So the guy said, "Pay your own way in, Bitch!" There she is all boo-hooing but out of the sobs came some fatal words, "You're gonna push me down the stairs! You're gonna push me down the fuckin stairs!" Oh dear. Everything seemed to go very quiet as he let go of one of the other girls and turned to move toward her. Next thing he'd grabbed her by the shoulders and gave a mighty push down the long stairs that had no landings. There were loud bumps, yells and finally a crash as she hit the bottom. I think I'd stopped breathing. Then a minute or so later we heard the door open at the bottom and the sounds of her still crying as she left.

The next night when I arrived the owners had left a roll of tickets that I was supposed to give half of to the customers and keep the other half in the cash box. It seemed they'd been counting the patrons and had found a discrepancy in the entrance fees. I stayed and did my shift without handing out any tickets and at the end of the night I took all the money. I gave half to Ross and kept the rest.

A few days later I ran into Ross on Yonge St. and we walked a ways together. He told me 'they' were looking for me and said I probably shouldn't go back. I wasn't planning to. The criminal was me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

local observations

Getting There (or here - depending on your point of view):

It's always interesting arriving at O'Hare and going off to look for the connection to Portland. There you are among crowds of people heading off to all sorts of exotic, perhaps even sophisticated destinations - New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Reykjavik,Vienna, Berlin, Beijing,Tokyo - perhaps even Lhasa via Delhi. Everyone tends to dress for their destination. Walking along the broad concourses of the alphabet terminals, maybe even getting to ride the underground people mover looking at the neon light show while listening to Brian Eno's 'Music For Airports', you can imagine being free to go anywhere. Where's the gate to the past you may wonder but I think it's not there to be found. Having stopped at a bathroom where the seat wrapping revolves to a fresh section the minute you finish peeing, buying some candy, rejecting the souvenir Cubs cap, buying a sandwich packaged to go, it's time to get serious about finding the gate that matches your ticket.

Without even checking your boarding pass you know you've arrived at the right place the minute you see all the backpacks with people slumping under the weight. For some reason backpacks, running shoes, baseball caps and birkenstocks are the fashion items of choice for those returning to Oregon. Sigh.. It's a nice city, perhaps even the most Canadian city in the US, but it's a little boring.

Lost Causes (or civic beautification):

We have this great driveway to our place up behind the university hospitals and heading back and forth from shopping trips and various adventures we've seen some strange things. Among the strangest has been observing the fruitless activity of a group calling themselves 'The Friends of Terwilliger' (a wide street that runs below the crest but still about 400 feet above downtown Portland). For some background, I should mention that Forest Park is (perhaps) the largest city park in the country and part of the reason for that is that it's mostly mountainous and largely inacccesible to developers.. although there are some huge houses built mostly on stilts overlooking the city. The 'Friends' have it in mind to remove the English ivy from the park so native plants can return. Now anyone familiar with this kind of ivy will understand that once it gains a little bit of land it will grow forever and wherever it wants. It even grows up trees, for crying out loud. So there you have these hosers spending their weekends pulling the shit up and stuffing it in sacks. We wonder if they're searching for the 'Boss Ivy', the singular plant that when defeated, all the rest will wither and die.. 'Yo, Fred! You'll never guess what I found behind that bush! Bring the magic sword!'

Do Gooders (or please go away):

A few years ago there was a story in the local news about a man who'd been living in Forest Park with his young daughter for the previous 5 years. He actually had a job and the child was in grade school (since he could afford a post office box in a good neighbourhood). He just couldn't afford a house or apartment so opted for a nice little isolated cave and regular trips for books and food. He had a little generator for lights and music and there was a fresh stream nearby.

All was well until somebody got curious and followed him home one day. Then the police came and the social workers took the little girl away to foster care and I've been wondering every now and then what happened to them since?

Great Views (and fascinating company):

One Saturday morning on our way grocery shopping we noticed that someone had set up a rose-bedecked bower in a part of the park that overlooks the city with Mt. Hood in the background. Not everyone can afford the cost of today's scenic countryclub weddings and the young couple had made a nice choice for the event as well as the pictures. But the ceremony wasn't yet and seated on a bench nearby was a gentleman who'd obviously spent the night tucked away out of sight.

I never have a camera close when I see the things that leave the most enduring images in my mind. There are things a camera simply can't capture because they grab everything and doing so, miss the essence. I have a title for this picture never taken and it's: If I build it, will she come?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

baba and etna are pleased

to announce their choice.. which they conducted in private through a long night of reading and rereading all entries. Their moans and giggles were signal enough they were taking their critical responsibilities very seriously and when they finally appeared late this morning smiling and happy, I knew they'd come to the right decision. The winner of the 'world's ugliest scarf' is Scarlet. If you go back to the contest posts and read her tender story about young love lost I'm sure you'll be as touched as my two dear friends obviously were. Scarlet, please send me your 'realworld' address and the scarf will no longer be simply virtual.

BUT... In this contest everyone is a winner!

There will be consolation prizes for everyone who entered a story - the original drawings done for 'a true story with pictures'.. and a surprise addition in one mystery selection also chosen by baba and etna. So, fairlane, Lindsay, Zee and Gary please e-mail me your addresses - except Gary since I have yours.

For anyone who comes along and has no idea what this is all about you might just have some fun watching this:

If you never saw Joel Hodgson's MST3K you're in for a treat.... and if you did see it and collected all the episodes through long hours of videotaping like we did, you're going to be even happier that they're BACK!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

a true story with pictures

When you work as a housekeeper the second worst thing you can find when you open the door for the first time is a clean house. The worst thing is to find a clean house that's also creepy. I ran into one of those in Providence which, as you may or may not know, is one of the oldest cities in the US. At the time I got jobs from an agency and one autumn day they had a new place on their list and I went by for the key. Usually, the keys were like the ones we all carry but this key was of the big old fashioned skeleton variety.

I had a map, since I wasn't all that familiar with the city yet, and found the address on the East Side where it's mostly steep, narrow and cobblestoned. The houses are big but often built deep into the properties with narrow fronts facing the street. Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design are both in the neighbourhood as is the amazingly enormous Swan Point Cemetary. But more on that another time. Providence was also famous as the junk jewelry capital of the country (Monet, Spiedel etc.) so there were tons of little factories that specialized in watch bands, pins, belt buckles and all the associated metal work with cleaning, degreasing and polishing. Many of them were closing back then as even cheaper stuff came in from other countries.

The house turned out to be closer to the Providence River than to the ivy league schools when I finally found it and to say the neighbourhood was deserted would be an understatement.

The front door led to a dim foyer with the livingroom further along a narrow hall. Inside, everything was neat and clean but musty and dark since the inside doors were all closed and what few windows there were faced the buildings on either side. The floors were dark oak, the walls half covered in overvarnished wainscotting, and the furniture sparse but old and heavy. There was a black marble fireplace and the upper half of the walls were covered in the ugliest paper I'd ever seen.

The main floor also had a long, narrow diningroom filled with cumbersome Victorian stuff - table, sideboard, curio cabinets and chairs. It was hard to imagine more than one person fitting the space. Further along the hall was a library that looked similar to the rest.

The stairway going up was in the foyer so up I went only to find another corridor with closed doors on either side. One door was locked so I passed on that but found four bedrooms and two old fashioned bathrooms - clawfoot tubs and ten gallon toilets. The next flight up led to what had been servants quarters - tiny rooms and almost no light at all. Since it didn't look occupied I decided to dust and be done up there.

I'd been turning lights on where I could find them but the place wasn't bright and neither did it look inhabited. There was no dust or dust bunnies; the fireplace was clean; the bathrooms unsoaped, unstained and unsullied; the bedrooms made up but unslept in. I was in serious need of some grime so it was time to go and find the kitchen. Just beyond the diningroom door were more stairs going down and that seemed the logical place to look.

Ah, kitchen! Geez! That was clean too but I went ahead and found the vacuum cleaner and other stuff in a pantry. I also found a wine cellar, another fireplace with a couch and a couple of chairs, a completely walled-in courtyard beyond some new glass doors, and best of all.. a radio which I turned on.

Have I mentioned I'd been reading H.P. Lovecraft? He lived on the East Side of Providence all his life and is buried at Swan Point. Every year on Hallowe'en an unknown group has celebrated a black mass at his sepulchre.. or at least the signs of that have been found the next day. Lovecraft is easily laughed off if you read one or two of his books at the beach but my experience was reading him while living in Providence and he was very knowledgeable about the old city and its foundations and architectural history. So when he wrote about tunnels and underground chambers inhabited by pale, slimey, slithery, sucking beasts it started to gain a subconscious hold.

So there I was in the kitchen with the lamps and the radio. The house felt heavy and portentous above me but there was a job to be done so, ready or not, I picked up the vacuum cleaner and carried it up the stairs. The lights had gone out so I turned them back on as I went all the way to the top.

I worked up there doing the usual things even though nothing looked cleaner as I worked but I needed glass cleaner so went back down to the kitchen to find some. All the lights were out on the main floor again and once again I relit them. As I went down the back stairs to the kitchen the lights went out behind me. When I got to the foot of the staircase the lights down there shut off and the radio clicked off. I stood stock still and looked all around but could see nothing different and nobody was there. I would almost have been happier if someone was there but there wasn't. I'd had enough.

One minute later I was up the stairs, down the hall and out the front door. I decided to cut through the river park on my way back to the agency to return the key. It was only later I realized a duster was still hanging out of my back pocket.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

making it up as we go

Getting ready for work this morning I told Bowser about my best friend's visit last night. I said to her, "I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle to keep me alive. If that ever happens, just pull the plug." So she got up, unplugged my computer and threw out my bottle of wine. She's such a bitch.

Speaking of getting ready for work, I was there again yesterday (and today..yawn) where the first business was attending the annual compulsory 3 hour meeting where, among other things, hospital officials come in to tell you to wash your hands and remind you that hospitals are very dangerous environments. By the time they finished lecturing us about MRSA, VRE, bird flu, tuberculosis, security threats, physical plant disasters and what not to do with the fire extinguisher, I was ready to leave and never return.

Worse still, was listening to my co-workers before the meeting and during the break. Everybody had watched or entertained for the Super Bowl the day before. Fox apparently made it a 12 hour long circus of Super Events by including Super Tuesday and Super-Duper American Idol performances. Those at the meeting not talking about the game were talking about the commercials and their favorite performers. It was depressing and more of the old 'We're number 1' shit you hear regularly from your co-workers. Once again I was reminded of why I never attend after hours office functions. I've mentioned a few times I'll only go to one of their parties if I'm paid overtime and it always gets a laugh - like I'm joking. Is it only me who works with a bunch of ignorant jerks who really don't seem to know anything at all and prefer not knowing?

Okay, it isn't everybody but the idiots are always the loudest, aren't they? Nevertheless, a lot of the quiet ones prefer not to know either. Considering the fact I happen to be employed alongside very well paid medical professionals probably does make a difference in that I'd expect a bit more compassion and understanding than I actually experience.

When are they going to learn that not only is the US not number 1, it's not even number 30? Neither the media nor any of the presidential candidates has mentioned this little fact. The country is going bust so fast that looking at the numbers could make your head spin. What we get is talk of 'economic stimulus' and to quote one of my favorite political writers, Barbara Ehrenreich, it's as though they're trying to make a porn film and not figure a way out of this mess. Do we really need stimulation when we're already fck'd?

To read about how we got here a weekend article from In These Times is very good. Called Killer Credit it pretty much tells all you need to know about exactly how far away from being number 1 or number 29 the US actually is at this point in time as well as what would have to happen in order to start a reversal of the current debt economy. When the bankruptcy laws were changed to be heavily in favor of the credit card industry it suddenly made much more sense for poor people to dump their home mortgage payments rather than miss a credit card bill. I think they'd bring back poor houses except for the fact it's cheaper for the government to let people live on the streets.. just so long as they don't sit, sleep or bother the shoppers who still have jobs.

Okay, that's enough for now. I came, I ranted (which is very rare for me) and now it's time to do something else.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

a commercial break

Can't imagine very many people ever got to see this kid but you can't watch it without laughing. I might decide to watch tv again if they ran ads half as creative as this one from France.

Meanwhile, the winter story contest continues and a couple of people have taken the time to meet the challenge. Thank you. It's been fun so far reading them.