Thursday, December 10, 2009

All The Good Girls Are Home With Broken Hearts

Follow your heart, I said to him.
And so he did.
He wanted to leave, she said to me with satisfaction; with the air of one who agrees with the verdict rendered.
Those words were so painful they took my breath away, took all my words away.


Every street is dark and empty now. The quiet is profound. It is always dark. It is not just my imagination.

I fantasized that I would follow him. I am only grateful that I recognize it was a fantasy.

You wanted to leave? Is that right?
You can never come back.
I am the only living woman in the world you can never talk to again.

Truth be told, you weren’t nice to me.
I may have given away all my power. You did not have to abuse it. You abused it.

You deliberately excluded me. You made it painfully clear exactly what I was missing each and every time. You let me know what fun things you were up to, and you were clear that I was never invited. It was always understood but remained unspoken that I was not wanted. You knew that if you said that, I would go on my way. You didn’t want that. You wanted me tied to an anchor. You are the ugliest anchor.

You were not nice to me. You lied a lot.
You probably never went anywhere fun at all!

I hope you have forgotten my name, forgotten every single thing.
I just wanted a friend I could trust, but I made a mistake in trying to build anything with you. I imagine that you have totally forgotten me. I imagine that I was never born in your world. I feel best when I imagine that we never met. (You broke my heart.)

My world was meaningless to you. I am relieved that you don’t know anything about me. My world is all I have and I have to treasure it, like a fine jewel. I have to appreciate myself. I can’t just find the worthiest specimen and suffer for him. That is no way to live.
I am safe with me. I am will take care of me. I will handle it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Truth About Sex

I started working in strip clubs when I was in University. A girl I knew was asked to be a shooter girl at a seedy place on Kipling Ave. I drove her to pick up an application and before you knew it we were both working. She was nineteen so it only took her a month or so to get fired for doing too much coke during business hours. Before you knew it we were both out of work.
The last time I talked to her she was trying to break up with her boyfriend that beat her and cheated on her repeatedly. He bought her really nice Christmas presents, though. I’ve never had a boyfriend give me a watch. I’ve never had a boyfriend during any major holiday.
A year later I started at another place way up on Dixie. Since I already didn’t feel like I belonged at University, I didn’t make a habit of telling people I worked at a peeler. But it was not an unhappy secret. I walked around amongst the stuffed shirts and future leaders of this nation with a certain smirk. I know a world that you don’t talk about…I know a world that you judge as worthless, but it’s not. It’s deep and filled with the most interesting characters and most importantly it’s honest.
I’ve had a lot of jobs but I never worked anywhere where the truth about sex is practically written on the walls. My whole adult life I had to ignore my bosses/ professors when they asked me for kisses or out for lunch when their wives were gone. There is no misconception about what is bought and sold once you walk through the doors of a Brampton strip joint. After I had worked there a couple of months, I realized that a couple of professors were probably regulars at their local strip clubs, too.
The strippers themselves are unremarkable. You can not look at these girls on the street and know that they are strippers. Very few are what you would call pretty. They are fat, thin, flat chested, implanted or blessed by God. They are short, tall, black, white, blonde, brunette and in one case redheaded. They dance because they want to, because they got kids, because they are uneducated without skills, because they love the money, because they need a vocation where they can be drunk and/or high or because they just arrived from Eastern Europe (they wander around asking customers “Vant dance?”).
A few are addicts but most are merely managing an addiction and, yes, there is a difference. Some create personas: the schoolgirl (complete with braces), the dominatrix, the blonde wig. One girl even got up on stage and stripped while floating around on roller-skates. They called her “Roller Girl” from the movie Boogie Nights. All her piercings, including those in her nipples and in her clit, glowed under the black light.
They are real women. They have stretch marks, bad teeth, wrinkles. The truth about sex is written on their faces. Despite the outfits, make-up, wigs or in spite of it, they are not selling a fantasy. They are not selling an ideal. They are real live women from Oshawa, North Bay and British Columbia. They are merely selling their time. It is not vacuous sex that brings most men through the doors; it’s the promise of female companionship.
Even as a waitress, every night one of my tables asks me to sit down and have a drink. At first I tried to keep up my end of the conversation but before long I realized that wasn’t required and somehow unpleasant for them. You just smile now and then and agree or disagree depending. You don’t even have to look them in the eye. They will tell you secrets because you are a stranger. They will tell you the truth. Invariably, they will tip me afterwards, pressing tens or twenties into my hand.
“What’s this for?”
“I just wanted to talk to you”, they’ll say.

Double Rum and Coke & the Tabasco-Flavoured Lipgloss

There is a dancer that I have nicknamed “Double Rum and Coke”. She’s eighteen out of Oshawa. She’s too young to get a drink but that doesn’t mean she’s not drunk every night. I like her, though. She’s six feet tall and her thighs are narrow like pencils. She should be modeling for Calvin Klein but instead she’s stripping three sets a night at twenty bucks a pop.
Men who come looking for sex or a reasonable facsimile and the women who provide it are a primal bunch. Phases of the moon affect our club the same way that it affects the tides or hospital emergency rooms. You can feel a night coming on. The music too loud, the air too hot, eyes too glittery, mouths show too much teeth. But a tenuous balance is always maintained. Suddenly shouts, glasses break, two men fall on the floor…and there is peace again. The same is true of control. A dancer will be a primadonna, exerting a magnitude of control over her food and drink orders never before seen. She will scream “Waitress! Waitress!” repeatedly as you serve another customer until you turn around. Then, rather than wait until you approach, she will dictate the terms under which you will serve her at the top of her lungs. These delicate birds of paradise will wail:
“Vodka and orange, make sure it’s split!”
“Two Long Island iced teas made with Malibu rum, one with two straws!”
“Six tequila silvers with lemon and salt and a glass, not a bottle, of water, no lime!”
“Ten wings, medium, make sure it’s all wings and no drumsticks…50 cents a wing, isn’t that a bit ridiculous?”
Each order is not that difficult but they sing their desires in chorus and then act indignant when asked to repeat it. Sometimes they will complain:
“This shot is watered down. Get another.”
“This tequila is cloudy” after she had obviously poured salt and other debris in the glass.
They are rude. They know it. Do it, they smirk, you want a tip, don’t you?
And they are right. They know it. I do not envy them, though. Their hauteur is somewhat diminished when I pass through the Champagne room and I see them head down, ass up having some guy stick his fingers in their pussy like it’s a science experiment, for twenty bucks a song. The scales of justice are well oiled here at the bottom of the food chain.
It’s not that nakedness or sex is undignified, it’s their sad body language. The smirk is gone. I’ve caught them and they hate me more because of it.
Double Rum and Coke came into the kitchen one night when I was on break. She found an unused pot of lipgloss on the counter and decided to put Tabasco sauce in it. She left it on the counter and when I came in the next night someone had used it. That was a good prank.
Anyway, she came into the kitchen when I was on break and asked me for a cigarette, but I was looking for one too. She asked the cook and then sat down with me to share it. It was genuinely nice. You can see why I like her. Her skirt was so short that as she sat down I could see horrible marks on her butt. I can be rude at times:
“What are those?”
“Stretch marks” proudly showing me the ones on her stomach also.
“From what?”
“I had a kid”
“When?” After all, she was only eighteen.
“When I was seventeen.” She passed the cigarette back.
“Where is it now?”
“With my ex-boyfriend, in Oshawa.”
“Why did you have it?” I couldn’t remember what I was doing when I was seventeen.
“Because my boyfriend said he’d beat me up if I didn’t, and I loved him, I was scared, I didn’t know what to do…I don’t know” she shrugged and took the cigarette.
“Why didn’t you give it up for adoption?”
“Are you kidding? I went through too much pain pushing that kid out,” she laughed. “I’m keeping it.”
It’s all about control.

Love Is Surrender

She didn’t want to be one of those women in the room. One of those sad eyed women that gazed longingly at other people’s children who toddled past. She wanted to have the air of a swinging single who enjoyed her independence and didn’t want it end; one whose last care in the world was the future.

But everyday that past was further proof that she had bet on a losing horse, and hers had been the last race of the season.

It had been very hard the first Christmas.
For a girl who was no more imaginative - or no less conservative – than to want a proposal under the Christmas tree, on Christmas Eve, this was her Waterloo. It was so difficult that she didn’t show up, taking a 3 week tour of India to compensate for the one week trip to Dominican that he had taken shortly after they met; both unspoken and without a word. He had been talking in January of the trip, he had a gorgeous tan and he had gone with another girl. There was a pain in her chest; her heart literally broke. It was awful to have your mother’s sympathy before you had fully processed the effect of devastation. It was hard to process anything in that much white noise.

She always came to the same question: Why didn’t he love me? And there is no answer.

What she knew about love was this; Love is surrender. These are bold brave words to know to be true. This was hammered out of bitterness and regret. Both of those reactions hammered to sharp points, cooled in cold water and hacked at her own bones until the tools shattered apart. The question had been, would she survive this injury that was no lesser and no greater than true love. The answer was yes, but she barely recognized the ravaged being that stood up again to be counted.

This new being had pale flesh. She was terrifying because she was no longer afraid of anything. There was nothing left to lose. Anything built after this point would have no sense of trueness to it. It was all disposable. Love was surrender.

By the following Christmas, she was prepared for the quietness of deep winter. She looked forward to it. She surprised herself by not thinking of anything greater than her small unit. Mother, friend, self. She caught her reflection in shop windows and while she did not know the woman there, it did not cause her to recite like the beating of a drum, “Why didn’t he love me?” as every action before this had done. Without this death march, her mind wandered. It thought of other things. Small things.

The couples who entered with children, be laden with obtuse armaments of family hood, caused a small explosion in her body. She wanted these children to like her, to love her, to want her as much as she wanted one of them. It was a deeply intense human longing for belonging. She felt this for only a moment before the stillness took hold again. She realized separately that this was loneliness and loneliness was to be expected, loneliness was alright.

It was then she could really hear the couples.
Said through thin lips and tight smiles, the wives complained:
“Well, if he had only married me sooner, then we would have two babies by now, and I might not be so exhausted with just one”
“Can you pull up his pants?”
“If you do that again, he will throw up”

Small shells thrown over the man’s DMZ disguised as friendly fire.

There were the fathers’ thin lips and tight smiles through which no sound would issue; that no sound ever would, like frightening silence of the father’s of her girlfriends growing up. If love was surrender, then loneliness was truly universal because everyone fought to the death.

Capitulation is not peace. There can be no peace without surrender.
Love is absolute surrender.

Peace was found in small things. The simplicity of the clean hardwood floor that met the hallway carpet. The deafening silence of an empty bedroom. The dark empty city streets at night in mid winter. Everywhere that he had feared to tread, barren of memory or sentiment was an oasis. It was proof that a greater world existed, that there would be a future, that this war would end, that it had ended and some small things had survived. She looked within and saw that she was very small. She looked without and saw that she had survived.

The Most Beautiful Girl In The World

In my office there is a girl who is tall and beautiful and six months ahead of every fashion trend. She is always listening to Prince. She spent one whole summer following his tour across North America.

That is how she met her boyfriend. Apparently he is very good looking. He is also separated from his wife and the father of a little girl.

When they go out she always pays for her portion. He doesn’t say I love you, you look beautiful or make any plans with her that don’t include going to the local hockey game. She cooks and cleans for him; buys fresh vegetables for dinner. She takes care of his daughter every second weekend, buys patio furniture for his balcony and fucks him when he comes home early and sober enough - and for these privileges she pays $700 a month. What with the alimony, child support, car lease and boozing he never would have been able to buy a condo if he hadn’t found her.

She told me that when she first started sleeping with him, she accidentally left her bra at his house. He called her from a bar and told her that he had the bra with him and that after declaring the bra size to all, no one was impressed by a 34B. She was so hurt. He has no recollection of the incident but he does think that it is hysterically funny.

His pet name for his daughter is “Baby”. His pet name for her is “Loser” and she wants his daughter’s name for herself. She says that she is not in love, that she would never get married and she believes there is nothing after death, not heaven, not hell and that she knows this with such awareness that if she thinks to long on it she starts to cry.

I Love Airplane Food

I’ve rarely ever known happiness the way that I’ve known it on an airplane. My father was a pilot of sorts and being on an airplane was probably the only relaxed time I ever knew him. The most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen is the clear blue sky above the clouds and the blinding sun shining on that entire white expanse. The most perfect idea of infinity is there and it never lasts long enough. The sun always goes down and the plane always has to land. I am choking, suffocated when being brought down to Earth. It is palatable.

But inside, before that, wrapped in the belly of the beast, this tiny little world floats over the real one, which spins around the greater one. From that distance everything is knowable and understandable and solvable and manageable.

I love everything about airplanes; the tiny loud bathrooms, the foolish seats, and the once-beautiful fight attendants. I especially love airplane food. I love the tiny compartments; their comforting warmth. The bite-size portions eaten over a bite-size Earth. Everything is just my size on an airplane. Everyone else is uncomfortable.

I have the memory of flying over a part of Italy in what amounted to a biplane in the days when you could still smoke everywhere. Even the airport security women, who checked your body wearing assault rifles and holding the leashes of German shepherds, smoked. I wrapped my arms around my knees and leaned into the window, only seeing the hilly beauty of the countryside every few miles through a break in the clouds. There is nothing in the world as pure as the clear Italian sun.

I stayed curled like that, motionless except for the smoke of the Marlboro curling around me until the Alitalia flight attendant told me to get my feet off the seat.

Widely Held

In the nursing home they are teaching her how to walk again. She can go down the hallway with a walker and the physiotherapist. She doesn’t tell us this, of course, she can’t remember our names but she is always very happy to see us. She knows we are good people. The stroke and the meds keep her emotions close to the surface. For 90 yrs she was the hardest woman you’d ever want to meet and now she tears up every time we come or go. I feel so free to talk to her, though. I feel that our relationship is really improving. Every week I tell her about my new job and I love seeing how happy she is for me. I bask in her pleasure. We have the deepest relationship we’ve ever had. Some days I ask if she knows my name and most days she doesn’t. One day she called me “Flossy Cheese” and my mom laughed at me. I got upset and Grandma waved me away with an irritated expression.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said.

After I couldn’t email P anymore, after we lost our perfect bubble, I turned to my grandmother in the hospice. She is dying, it is true, but she is made of stronger stuff and so it is taking a long time. It is awful, it is decay and it is everybody’s worst nightmare. Decay has never scared me and every second week I go out to the old converted school building with its wide hallways and perfectly manicured lawns and try and feed her some lunch, the way we used to have lunch together when she was really alive. By this stage she knows I am a friendly face but that is about it. I tell her my name every time and she will argue with me that I am not who I say I am. She always said she loved me, though, so that is unconditional, right? And ultimately that is all anyone is looking for.

It is so macabre that I have fallen in love with this limbo world between life and death. I have gotten to know some of the residents, especially those that can’t talk. I have mourned them sincerely when they died.

The resident that pesters my grandmother the most is a young woman, probably my age, who received a massive head injury when she was thrown out of a moving car. She is wheelchair-bound with a thick speech impediment now. It causes her to choose two key words and repeat them over and over until she is understood. Usually it is, “I love you, love you, love you…” moaning like a dog if one could speak. Her name is Cassandra.

In her previous life she sold her body for drugs and when the men had “used her up” they pushed her out of a moving car. The nurse said she was lucky that cop found her, he was sitting a coffee shop and thought she was a blanket. But that story doesn’t make sense. There would have been a struggle, a sudden braking and then a screeching of tires; the cop should have instinctively known it was not a blanket being thrown out. I wonder if Cassandra thinks she is lucky that the cop found her when he did.

Over the years I have become very good at understanding Cassandra. Cassandra has two children, a girl and a boy and tells me that is the perfect combination; she is very firm that I should have a girl and a boy, too. I think that kind of compassion is very compelling. Despite this my grandmother still calls her “the Boy:” I try to explain to her the truth in the same way I try to convince her of my name but I always fail in the exact same way.

After I shoo Cassandra away, after my grandmother refuses every morsel of food on her plate because it is her last vestige of control, and after she loses her temper, for lack of coherent conversational material I lean close to my grandmother, in a way I never did when she was really alive and I whisper what is really going on in my life. Nothing to scare her of course. Her milky blue eyes belie a sharpness. I would never be surprised if she got up one day, flipped us all the bird and marched out of there. I do this to ease the burden on my heart, in the same way that I had tapped into the darkness to P. Before he became bigger than life. Before he began ignoring me. It’s awful waiting for the phone to ring. Knowing that it never will. Knowing that it won’t be what you want when it does.

I have never expected anyone to understand. That is why I whisper to someone who can’t repeat it. Someone who always says, “I love you, too” when I am finished. I know that I am looking for love. I know that it makes me feels better about myself to be there among those who are not entirely whole. And I know that is probably why my grandmother made us all swear that we would never visit here there: so she didn’t become the crutch for our failures or the reason why we never risked anything.

Reader's Note: After 8 years in the nursing home, my grandmother died at the age of 99 of complications of pneumonia on 5 JULY 2011. We were very close my whole life and everytime I approach a closed door to open it, I think of her and wonder if she will be on the other side.

This Memory Hurts to Write

D invited me to be his date for a wedding. I knew him from the strip club. I knew he had a crush on me. I was late but I made it to a beautiful hall in the middle of the worst part of Rexdale. There were more strip clubs in that area than Tim Hortons’ or McDonalds’ put together.

The bride was a stripper but I didn’t know her. I think she was Russian. She was marrying a black guy. I asked if she was going to give up stripping after she got married but no one seemed to know.

It was during the groom’s speech to his new wife that the strung-out heroin addict sitting at the last table at the back started throwing her food across the room towards the podium. I really didn’t blame her at first. We were served some tuna dish called a “stuffed tomato” that smelled like cat food. D ate mine. I noticed the food flying noiselessly through the air in the respectful silence but continued to sit quietly like everyone else. Ironically, she had a really good arm. She started with the meat and was on her third parisienne potato before someone restrained her. In the end she had to be carried out of there.

Apparently a fight broke out with a Pakistani wedding party out in the parking lot when they were trying to extract the girl. I know this because one of the guys at our table came back in with a tiny spot of blood on the collar of his cheap dress shirt. He hadn’t noticed until I pointed it out; but it was all I could look at.

I followed the girl who had eaten the least at our table to the bathroom. After she was finished snorting coke in the stall I asked if she had a pick-me-up for me, anything I could buy. I was really surprised and angry when she acted like she didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked her a couple of times because I really couldn’t believe it.

D and I danced a little but I told him I wanted to get high so we left right after the bride threw the bouquet. We headed to one of the clubs he worked and got for free off the manager. It was the best coke I’ve ever done.

Just as we were rushing D got a call from his co-worker and best friend. His girlfriend had just had a baby six days ago and something was wrong with him. The baby was in emergency surgery downtown and could D come down? Driving down there and finding the right elevator was nuts. I never want to live through that again.

We came down some kind of darkened hallway. Instinctively I knew that this room was for parents of sick babies. It was really quiet with couches and the lights off. The sense of terror and apprehension was so thick it momentarily overwhelmed my high. The couple was sitting on one of the couches in the silence and for a few short moments we were silent too. Then the mother mumbled something about blaming herself and I began to speak.

I didn’t know what to say and I was aware how dangerous this was but I felt powerful and I knew immediately that I was hypnotizing her with the sound of my voice. I said not to torture herself; that she hadn’t known how sick the baby was. That she caught it in time. That she did the best she could. That everything was going to be okay. I hope to God that everything else I said was along those lines.

It seemed to take a long time, with her mumbling how she was responsible and my voice clear and fluid like water talking her down and the men still as statues. They were not there for me, only she and I together. I hope to God she just needed noise to keep her mind from racing. If not, this is my public apology to her. If she knew I was high, that night or anytime after, I am heartily sorry and terribly ashamed.

The doctor came out. He was young and gorgeous and eager to share his good news. Everything was going to be alright. The room became filled with air again and Dave and I were dismissed, surfacing on the street as dawn arrived and went home.

Six months later I ran into one of the girls I had met at the wedding working the same club. I mentioned the scene with heroin addict for lack of something better to talk about. Her face didn’t convey any emotion as she told me that the addict’s pimp had doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. The poor soul hadn’t survived her injuries.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prayer To Persephone, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,-Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Put Your Loving Hands Out, Baby

For 28 years Dolly paid more interest than mortgage each month, dutifully, dutifully, to keep her house.

Her son was no good to anyone after his overdose. He was wheeled into an ambulance in the early spring of the summer we arrived, my mother freshly divorced and me ready to start kindergarten. He was left with impeccable style and a skill at chemistry, now seemingly distasteful to him. Instead, it manifested itself as a green thumb. Dolly’s garden was rich and lush because of this. The crowning glory of the season were a row of royal purple bearded iris that bloomed like a slow motion fireworks display in the month of May. It was by far the most beautiful garden in the neighbourhood and a testament of one son’s devotion to his mother.

Dolly belonged to the Everlasting Love and Peace Church of the Redeemer, a christian revivalist sect that housed itself in unit 8A of the plaza at the edge of the suburban development. As the years passed, we would see her and her young granddaughter in the parking lot on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. They would be dressed entirely in long white dresses with big white hats complete with veils, reminding us of flowers ourselves.

Dutifully, Dutifully she would wait for the van (and Jesus) to pick them up. When Dolly got sick she went back to Jamaica to be cured through a faithhealer. Everything was fine for a few years more.

Dolly began to call us to drive her to church. Not us, really, but my mother; calling to her from the darkness of the answering machine in a slow gravelly voice. It struck us strange she should ask since it had only been the previous spring when the van, having driven all night from Ohio for a spiritual revival, crashed into the back of my mother’s car. It was like Dolly hadn’t realized my mother had a car, hadn’t noticed us at all until God drove that van right into us. There was something in that recorded voice that made my mother listen and she got up and she drove. Once I answered the phone and she asked in her low resonant voice, “Is this Susan-daughter?” Despite her failing health, the irises were tended and bloomed year after year, Glorious! Glorious!

One evening Dolly’s son came to our door and told us that we could have the iris bulbs next season and we took that to mean for Dolly, Jesus was finally coming. She called once and asked that I start picking up her cheques at the bank, that is how I came to know about her mortgage. I entered her home and realized that her son had brought down her bed from the first floor. Dolly could no longer climb the stairs. Her bed was covered in a rich red satin comforter and pillows with frills, carefully made. Dolly sat primly on the edge of the bed in fresh pajamas while I gathered her documents. I spoke to her but was interrupted by the telephone. The answering machine blasted on only to be met with another recorded voice, that of the highschool informing us that her granddaughter had yet more unexplained absences. I was ashamed to know this. Ashamed and sad because I did not blame the poor child a bit. School would seem very small if one lives and breathes with the dense flowery scent of Death.

Dolly died and we attended the funeral. We were the only white people there. Suddenly Dolly had many children! She had so many family and friends! Of course, she had also owned her own home. The family fought about money. The burial was delayed so that they could fight longer about it until the undertaker stepped in and went ahead and buried Dolly.

Nikiesha was a month shy of her 17th birthday with love bites on her neck when her grandmother died. She described her family as odd but being Irish Catholics ourselves, we weren’t surprised a bit. Nikiesha was awarded a social worker and a lawyer because her mother couldn’t return to this country due to the crime she had committed and no one knew her father anymore, but even then she didn’t last long. Soon enough, a boy known to police was coming around and he brought his friends. Suddenly she was very popular with her friends. There was a lot of activity, a flashy car with loud speakers would pull up late at night. A young family with a stroller quietly moved in and then quickly moved out. Nikiesha gained weight and started bouncing cheques. She became surly to my mother.

Toward the end, they did strange things. They took the handles off all the doors in the house, including the front door. Beautiful brass knobs, probably pawned. They cracked the same window in the same way, 3 separate times. There was a pair of kittens in a basket outside when it was still too cold. One morning we secretly fed them a tin of salmon. Then suddenly the kittens were gone. But the strangest thing of all was the faucet, broken and running full blast for God knows (but Jesus may!) how long. All for the want of a sealing washer, they never asked for help. There was always pounds and pounds of garbage on the boulevard, left on the wrong day until the property was cited.

My mother, as property manager, had to lien on the property for the garbage, the water , the window, the door knobs. After taxes and the rest of the mortgage there was surely nothing left.
Quietly and quietly, slowly and slowly Dolly’s hard-earned money was being re-distributed throughout the community. We found out the house had sold through a private sale too late. The real estate agent and buyer had got it for $30,000 less than it was worth. My mother tried to explain to Nikiesha that she had been fooled, to keep the agent’s card and come after him when she had figured out what he had done to her. Nikiesha looked straight into my mother’s eye and asked pertly, “What has he done to me?” then turned on her heel and marched away. Venomous! Venomous!

Nikiesha moved out just before the iris bloomed. The groundsman for the common area must have been hard at work last fall because there were fields of them. And the lushest blooms of all were in the parking lot, facing the spot where Dolly and her little granddaughter used to stand, the same spot where the flashy car used to pull up and where the moving van parked and eventually drove away.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Suburban Gothic

In the hot summer sun of midday the cracked and uneven pavement at the plaza took on a dusty, old timeless appearance and the high concrete curb on which she sat was molten. The only spot to sit at that hour of day was under the sparse branches of a stunted tree that was planted in the concrete. The little tree continued to exist in the boiling, littered environment choking on the fumes of the fast food joints and the exhaust of the custom-built, tricked out vehyicles that cruised that decrepit strip mall all day and all night.

The kids who hung out at the plaza were like that tree, determinedly going through the motions of being alive. To look at the tree today, now, at this hour of day, its screams of agony were almost palpable, it needed water, grass and fresh breezes. The kids around here were the same way, but to look at their hooded and glassy eyes, they had long since given up whatever it was they had once desired. Their lives were merely commercial transactions, beginning and ending with the posted business hours of the lousy stores they wandered in and out of all day long.
Despite the hopeless depreciation of this place their lives were almost unbearably structured. The day began early for those in summer school, some made it in while others fielded calls when they were absent. She had never been to summer school, but she understood that every day held greater value than during the school year. The teacher who called that morning pretty much supplied Minx with the answer.

“What happened? Did you have a rough night?”

This a the greatest thing an adult can say to a teenager. It gives the allusion that we had a life that mattered. To which she gravely responded, “Yeah” and took a drag of her cigarette. And that was it.

Minx always had the apartment to herself. It was a natural meeting spot since you smoke there and it had air conditioning. The walls were painted a shiny white double gloss so it always seemed fresh and clean. In the cool of the morning they watched television; there was a daily, not-to-be-fucked-with schedule beginning with Maury Povich. The girl loved the “Whose the Baby Daddy?” episodes but she never let on because they sometimes touched a nerve in the group. Then The Price Is Right, then Jerry Springer or Judge Judy. Any guy in the room automatically got the remote. During the commercials there was the manic flip, flip, flip through the channels always coming to Muchmusic for one second and darting away again. They smoked and sat around quietly until summer school ended or someone got hungry or it was time to go to Kai’s.

Because of Minx, her mother had received so many eviction notices that people weren’t supposed to be in the house anymore. Of course, the girl didn’t count, no one minded or even noticed her, but if things got tight she simply floated down to visit Mia and Luis. It was less popular because their mom was always there but more fun for the girl. Mia’s mother worked at the Revlon factory and had lots of samples of products. The girl was especially fond of Fire & Ice but when her birthday rolled around, her mom couldn’t get it that week. Their cousin Hender lived on that floor, too, with his single mother and Stephanie and Travis were a brother and sister that lived a couple of floors above. But Minx was at the top and whether that determined the social hierarchy, or it was just a coincidence, it remained true all her life.


The mistakes we make in the yellow light
Haunt us in the day.
Haunt me in the dark of the night
Wordless whispers in my eyes

What I write means nothing
Just to make you laugh or cry
But you give nothing back
And it all happens again

And the music from another time
And we know not what to do with it
We pause in silent wonderment
Because we are from another time
When nothing means nothing

I will not tell you
I will not tell you
I keep saying
The nothing
I keep saying
But I cannot
You must discover me through your own eyes
Through your own experience

In the dark of the night
I write to you
You will understand.

I love it and I love it
More than I love you
Because the emptiness I feel
Is the Truth

And I know that you hurt
And I know that you hurt
But I can’t seem to be enough for you.
I don’t know what I’d do
If I was.


Here we sit
Drinking our wine
Hoping for the best
The silence so quick to follow

Here I am
Here with you
But not with you at all
The silence so quick to follow

How will I ever reach you?
How will I ever really meet you?
With this silence so quick to follow

I will never be with you
And I will never be alone
Because this silence
Our cadaverous friend
Is so quick to follow.


I know now that the loving Moon
Has taken you for her very own.
A consort to the Moon
I know now that you are up there

Why do I hate you, darling?
You, whom I have loved and hated
With equal strength and imperception
How will I ever remove your face
From my seared and blackened heart?

I pine, I wait
With halting and broken breath
I am lost to the world
I am reflected light
I merely haunt the one
You used to know

I will not push away your hungry kisses
Your steel arms to entrap me
I would let you kiss me now
I do not hate you, my darling
Please come back

The Moon who watches me
And waits up for me when I get home.
The Moon who peeks
and sometimes stares in my bedroom window.
Jealous Moon!
Those nights
I never miss you
I sense your warmth in her cold light.

The Trudi (or, Automaton)

I have been a trudi all my life. I have never been an automaton. Oh, how I wish this was different. A trudi is a modern day secretary. They have lots of different names, that’s how they manage to trick us, but they are all the same job and tragically we are all the same girl.

You start out wanting the job, any job, any money. Just get your foot in. You are so eager to start, they can smell it in the hallway. Your clothes give you away. Because you aren’t wearing any. These are lounge clothes, clothes you wear to church or out for brunch. It is not a suit and if it is, it’s cheap, the wrong colour for the season and you have only one. You wear it awkwardly, it is clear that you are both proud of it and uncomfortable to be seen in it. It is this discomfort that sidetracks you. You are not listening when they describe the job to you. The words do not make sense yet. It is corpo-speak of the worst kind. It is a different language and you willing accept, nodding your shiny hair and glowing your lineless face. They seem smiley and happy to see you. You briefly remember that Lorne Michaels said at your graduation, “You should be worried when everyone is happy to see the new guy”. You will be 30 years old before you understand the irony. And you will still be the trudi.

The woman who interviewed me was a thick-hipped, brassy blond with outdated clothing. She had an important title because she was in charge of people. She had fresh highlights that did not reach to her roots and it was distracting. She had returned from maternity leave the week before. She had a photo of an unattractive infant on her desk. She told me to always come to her with any problems.

She was a vicious viper of a woman. She dealt in fear and subversion and unreachable expectations. She patrolled the office like a cop, slapping her pen like a billy club, looking down her nose at the trudis, instilling fear. She had an overweight sidekick who followed her around so that she seemed more important. The viper would send shockingly mean-spirited emails to us, bizarre stream-of-consciousness, poorly phrased and badly typed rants outlining how we had failed to advise her that a co-worker was missing. It was hard to know that a co-worker had called in sick if they did not call you. These thinly veiled threats were designed to create paranoia, and it worked. A trudi is scared all the time. But I sat in the corner and I rarely saw her. It became clear that she hired young girls with little education. Either she was gay, or she liked that they were easy to control. I must have seemed very beautiful or very meek in the interview.

Shortly after that, she fell pregnant again. She had clearly waited to have children and now the rush was on. In the fullness of time, she was gone on maternity leave and her toothless sidekick was left in her place. I once saw her lumbering through the hallways, heavily pregnant, with a slick little man in a tight suit. He was her husband, but he didn’t touch her or hold her hand in the lunch time crowds. They were both looking in different directions, his pinched little face. I felt like they could become separated at any moment. It seemed like the closest she was going to get to intimacy. She seemed so vulnerable. It seemed like I had seen him somewhere before.

Without the viper, things were looser. The cracks in the system were in plain view. The office was like a school room and the sidekick was a supply teacher; no one was in charge. Trudis left early and had friends clock them out later. Compliance issues went unresolved. Complaints escalated, internally and from clients, and nothing was done. The animals were running the zoo. The viper had engineered this. Her finest moment would be when she returned.

In her absence, I blossomed. There was nothing I could not do. I outshone those around me. I made the cardinal mistake of all trudis: I showed up each morning with the intention of doing a good job, of doing right by my boss. I will never make that mistake again. As I uncovered and won battle after battle, as a gave as good as I got, it occurred to me that I was outgrowing my position. I knew, in the shadows, the viper was watching.

The woman who fired me was a wide-assed brassy blond in an ill-fitted black leather jacket. She complained that the room was too hot and I briefly wondered if she was suffering from hot flashes. She certainly was old enough. I was expecting the end of my job but I didn’t expect the look of disappointment in her eyes when I smiled. My smile scared her, I saw her need for human pain thwarted. I felt sorry for her and I was relieved. She waddled over and as she shook my hand I thought briefly of the summer party. I was reminded of a rumour I had heard that hot summer evening about the viper, when tongues were loose with free alcohol. I heard that she was so hated by the male Investment Advisors that they were passing around a petition to remove her. It was that night I learned where she had come from; that she didn’t have any education, that she started out as a trudi.

UPDATE: I was advised in the Spring of 2015 that this woman and her husband were investigated by the RCMP and subsequently released from their jobs with the same company. A quick Google search indicates that the husband - after an 18 month hiatus - is now working at a different company in the same industry.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Bridal Shower

Growing up next them was a strange experience and I was glad when they were gone.

The mother was a born-again Christian who preached the Bible at every turn and saw the devil in everyone and everything. It was hard to be near her. The father was a closet porn addict. He kept VHS videos in the ceiling tiles until he was discovered. When they were still using dial up internet the phone line would ring busy. His kids would call our house asking us to knock on the door, ask us to remind him that they needed to be picked up. No one in that house ever questioned what he was doing. He was a terrifying presence. He was terrifying right up until his porn was discovered. Then the mother went really crazy, then she became the terrifying presence. Pretty soon he was attending church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday nights. They moved to a gorgeous new house and the computer was on the main floor in the new house.

The son was a mystery. He had begun smoking crack in the ninth grade and the person he might have been was never seen again. He was lost in the wilderness of his own mind. He became involved in Rasta culture and believed so many different things it was hard to keep track. I would get collect calls sometimes when he was incarcerated. He never made any sense. Usually he spent the 20 minutes in silence with me until the guard who was listening disconnected the call. He was in and out of jail a lot, always just shy of making it to the penitentiary. There is a kind of genius there, a criminal art. He had 4 children the last I heard, with a woman as lost as he was, who hated his father as much as he did.

When the three of them moved to the new house, the daughter and I lost contact. Then it was regained, but I forget how. I figure she knew her boyfriend was going to propose and so it was not a big surprise that she asked me to be the maid of honour. She needed me to host the bridal shower. It was very important to her mother that I host it at their new house. She didn't mind paying for it but she wanted to see me work. I decided to do a pink tea party style that her mother agreed with. I hand wrote all the invitations and got an ice cream cake with a scanned image on the top.

The mother wanted decorations, but nothing that would ruin her paint. She wanted an invitation sent to the bride but when it arrived she ripped the envelope it came in and asked for another. She told family members that she had to leave church early to clean the house, she said "I am not the maid of honour but I have to do all the work". Those words hurt me. There were 3 other bridesmaids but I guess all of them were too busy to help because they never returned my calls.

At the shower, the mother of the groom sat quietly in the corner drinking water. We played games and gave out prizes. We served lasagna and cut the cake and took pictures and opened presents. The father sat upstairs in the bedroom eating, watching television and got drunk. Halfway through he got lonely and came down to visit. At the end, the groom came and took the bride away. I remember one of the bridesmaids walked up to me at the end and suggested that we throw another bridal shower. I think I just stared at her. She seemed so young and vacant that I briefly wondered if she was on valium. When I mentioned this to the bride, she just laughed.

It was deep summer when the couple broke off the engagement. The groom had a separate life with a separate girlfriend and in this new life, he smoked. Shortly after that, the bride called me and told me that she didn't think that we could be friends anymore. She didn't think we had anything in common.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rinse and Repeat

I should have known something was up when he winked at me.

We met at a smelly Baskin Robbins on a Saturday afternoon. Too bad it was close to freezing that day. The aroma of over-cooked sugar cookie cones was overwhelming. When he walked in he was very tall. He winked at me and stopped dead. I had to get up and walk over to him. I asked if he would prefer to go to Starbucks next door. I needed a warm drink.

As we walked along, he seemed nervous. He talked but did not ask me any questions about myself. He was humourless. We talked about dogs. He said he was like a golden retriever, that he was super friendly. I was bored. When it began to rain he brought out an umbrella and held it over our heads. From a distance, we looked like a nice couple.

I was surprised when he agreed to sit down for a drink. I just needed to get out of the teeth of the gale force wind. I was even more surprised when he ordered food. The alcohol made him a bit looser. I talked a little. I could tell he didn't like it. He got red in the face and began leering and winking at me across the table. I wondered why he bothered. I felt like he was looking for a Barbie Doll. He told me that his live-in girlfriend had left him for his friend, but that he was over it.

I asked for the bill and then I asked him if he wanted to leave. He seemed to have lost all energy and motivation. We walked down the street. He offered to pay but I wanted to split it. He seemed lost when I said I was going home. He offered to drive me to the train station. Instead, he got close to the train station and dropped me at a red light. He opened his arms like he wanted me to hug him but when I got close he didn't touch me. He waved at me through the window, winking and leering. I never heard from him again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bow Down Before The One You Serve

Imagine this...

There is a young girl who is involved with the wrong crowd. She hasn't graduated from high school, or if she has, she didn't do it the regular way. She finished her work at an "alternative" school, really the back of a modified strip mall.

She has a dead end job at a camera store. She just wants to get married and move out. She smokes.

Her aunt gets her a job filing at a good company. But filing is boring. She wants to be working on the phone, like a receptionist. That would be fun. That is what she really wants to do. Instead, she takes long smoke breaks, longer lunch breaks. She takes a lot of phone calls from her friends. She spends a lot of time on Facebook. She starts telling the girl who works the phone that she wants her job. But she feels that everything she does is wrong. She feels the girl who has the job she really wants makes her look stupid. She asks the girl questions but never listens to the answer. She is always angry. She takes many sick days to avoid the filing that she really should be doing.

Her aunt becomes embarrassed with her behaviour. She tries to think of a way that she can rectify this situation. After all, she was just trying to do a favour to this girl. The girl is not her niece, the girl is related to her husband. She does not want to loose face in front of her husband.
The girl takes sick days:
Because she doesn't feel well;
Because she could not dig her car out of the snow;
Because her friend's boyfriend was deported and needs a shoulder to cry on;
Because she needed to "help her boyfriend take a shower";

The young girl often comes to work crying, usually over an argument that she had with her boyfriend. The girl runs out of sick days and begins to claim that she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She confides in the other girl, the girl who works the phone. She receives a lot of support.

Her cancer appointments all fall on Fridays, including Halloween. The girl attends a lot of concerts and drinks a lot. She comes to work wearing the same clothes. Her cancer doesn't bother her then. She works out a system to leave early and have a friend punch her out later. When her aunt finds out, she does nothing. The aunt has a meeting with the girl and modifies the girl's hours so she can leave earlier. The girl is still unhappy. She wants to work on the phone. She hates filing.

The young girl buys a fancy new car. The young girl asks for a raise. Her aunt gives her one. A short time later, she asks for another. It is explained to the young girl that she will need to complete 2 college level courses to be eligible for a raise. She attempts the courses but quickly abandons them. She asks for another raise. She is refused. This makes her angry. The other girl has completed the college level course. The other girl makes more money.

Her aunt gives her some responsibilities on the phone. But it is not enough. She wants to have the other girl's job. In fact, everything about the other girl is very interesting. She wants to know her weekend plans, she starts asking on Wednesday morning. When she learns the other girl goes to the gym, she signs up to. She even drinks the same protein drinks. She asks what she does at the gym, what exercises. When the girl is unresponsive, she finds out from her aunt what the girl does on the weekend and then asks her about it on Monday. She learns the girl has gone skydiving. She mentions she wants to do that too. She makes grand statements to the other girl that she used to manage a team of four people. She mentions that her job was so big and important that she didn't even use a pen. When she says these things, she is met with silence. The other girl knows what is coming.

The young girl begins to hate the girl who works the phone. She misses days from work. She has hate in her eyes. She lies and says she knows the answers to things. She makes bigger mistakes. She feels ashamed. She makes a complaint to human resources about the other girl. Most of what she said was a lie. Despite the fact that the other girl is more qualified, with more longevity, they have a meeting with the other girl and fire her.

The young girl has the job she wants. She is still not happy.