November 2007

First Things First

OK, this month is a bit of a bumpy ride for two reasons. First of all, I had decided a while ago that I was going to do the next chapter of Walters’s saga.

To put your minds to rest (cause I know all three of you were really worried), I am almost ready to tell that part of the story it just isn't going to be this month like I promised.

So sue me, it's my creative outlet and I can be fickle whenever I feel like it.

The second reason is that I went and found a whole whack of things to be pissed off about. Turns out that if I spend a couple of weeks riding public transit during rush hour all of a sudden there is no shortage of things to fire up that simmering muse.

So this month was going to be a collection of C-train stories.

Which it still is, but before we can get to that, I went and stumbled upon something else that irked my irky place.

First some fast facts:

World War I Canadian Casualties


Total enlisted: 595,000 (approx)
Total deaths: 60,383 (approx)
Total wounded: 155,799 (approx)
Total Casualties: 216,182 (approx)

World War II Canadian Casualties
Total Enlisted: 1.1 Million (approx)
Total deaths: 42,000 (approx)
Total wounded: 54,400 (approx)
Total Casualties: 96,4000 (approx)

Korean War Canadian Casualties

Korean War Canadian Casualties
Total serving in theatre: 26,791 (approx)
Total Deaths: 516
Total wounded: 1042 (approx)
Total Casualties: 1,558 (approx)

*all these figures are rough figures researched on the Internet so give or take a couple of thousand here

These are just the stats on Canadian Soldiers who served, check out the Russian casulaties (who were our allies by the way). That should make your head spin more than a little.

Ok, so by know you should be able to guess what I'm about to go off on. At least roughly.

So here's my question.

What the hell is wrong with people these days?

You’d think with the world being what it is these days people would take the time to show a little respect for our veterans right about this time of year. You would think that in a city as affluent as this one, people would be able to find a few extra bucks to put in a plastic bucket and show some symbolic gratitude for the sacrifices that so many have made.

I have a standing rule that if I walk buy a veteran at one of those little tables I buy a poppy. If I don't have any cash on me I go and get some. And I thank those veterans that are STILL taking time out from their lives in order to try and improve ours.

Today I saw easily over 600 people.

And I only saw four poppies.

Are we really that far gone? Seriously?

I my not agree with a lot of the wars that go on, but here's another couple of simple facts. The vast majority of those who have served in the military have done so in a dignified and pound manner. For every 1 soldier who has behaved in a shameful way, there are thousands who have served in such an honourable and generous fashion. Here's another fact. Whether or not I agree with the reasons that we have sent our troops into combat, they have gone. They have followed their orders at the request of their country. These people have stepped up to a plate and served their country for better or worse and thousands continue to do so. The emotional and physical sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for their country over the years are far to numerous to ever try and list.

And for these sacrifices they don't ask for much in return. In fact, most of them don't ask for any recognition beyond that which is internal to the forces. Remembrance day is the one exception to that rule, and even that's a stretch, because honestly, remembrance day for me is more of a day where the military remembers and we are allowed to both mourn and be grateful alongside them. The opportunity to simply do that is a gift that we have almost entirely due to the sacrifices made by our troops and their willingness to follow our national conviction. That conviction may not always be the best, and it is certainly never unanimous, but it is heeded by these brave souls nonetheless.

And yet, there are many of us who can't be bothered to wear a poppy.

So this year, for those of you that read this, take some time to think about all the happy things that you have in your life. All your freedoms and all your luxuries and ask yourself a few simple questions...

"Are all of these things worth the trouble to drop some spare change in a plastic bucket and wear a plastic flower for a few weeks out of the year?"

"Would I rather have people I don't know doing everything in their power to kill me because someone in a suit away from the actual violence and bloodshed said that it was worth it?"

"Is my freedom and the freedom of my family and friends worth less than a small plastic flower?"

And finally, ask yourself what your life might be like if a stranger who would never even know you hadn't laid down their life in a muddy trench on the shores of Europe, or in the cold waters of the ocean. What COULD your life be like if all of those millions had simply decided that they couldn't be bothered or there was something better they could be doing with their time and money.

And get yourself a flower.

And say thank you.

Because that is truly the least that we can do to show our appreciation for our bravest and our brightest. For those that are no longer with us and for those that still are. The absolute least that we owe them is our memory. And if you can't honour them with at least that?

Well quite frankly, I don't have words to deal with that. Let's just say that for the sake of my freedom, I hope I never meet you in a dark alley.



C-Train Stories - An Introduction

I'm not sure why but this place just brings out the worst of me, it just brings out my anger like nothing else.

Packed in here the sheep with the odd wolf I almost let myself wonder which of the two I am.

Luckily I remember myself just in time and pull a third category from thin air with just enough time to save myself.

The air is so thick with lies. So many self-deceptions. I met a woman a couple of days ago who is already dead but has a good couple of decades as a trophy wife to go before she finally and quietly makes that last step into the grave with a handful of pulls and a Mickey of vodka.

I always find myself drifting into the dark and cynical places when I'm here. Good for the creativity I suppose, but sometimes the thoughts turn a little too ugly...

Even for me.

So read on, all of these were written either on the train or shortly after I escaped it.



Fourty Things To Do In Denver In A Dead Man’s Suit

I am reasonably sure that I have been running around in the clothes of a dead man for the better part of a month now. A couple of years back I was in a second hand clothing store looking for cheap Halloween costumes when I came across a rather nice looking suit that actually fit me for $10.

So I says to myself, I says, "Well if that ain't a bargain I sure don't know what is".

So I bought the suit and then I didn't think about it for, oh say about three years or so.

I do have another suit that I've had since I was 15 for the record. It's gotten me by for the last 16 years or so just fine thank you for asking.

But recently, due to a bit of a laundry shortage there was call for me to dig out that old $10 suit from the back of my closet.

Now when I finished digging it was pretty early in the morning, and I was in a hurry, so I threw it on, made sure it still fit (which it still does, thank you for asking) and bolted out the door.

I wore the suit for a couple of days before I noticed that the quality of the suit is actually quite high. As in hand tailored from scratch high. As in imported high.

Which is somewhat out of place for someone with my particular wardrobe.

Which gets me thinking.

Which is rarely a good thing.

So I ask myself, I asks, "Well how does a fine hand crafted suit end up in a goodwill thrift store for only 10 dollars?"

I mean, who gives up a barely worn, high end (for it's time, granted it might be a little bit dated) suit?

Who does that?

Well barring a crazy person (which is possible as well I suppose, but if it was donated by a crazy person, I must rethink my assumptions on the grooming habits of the clinically insane), there is only one answer.

Someone who has no idea what the suit is actually worth.

Which is clearly not the person who wore it.

And according to Occam’s razor, what is the most likely explanation for a high end, slightly dated but in pristine condition suit to be given away by someone other than the owner?

Clearly the remnants of someone’s estate being cleared up by family members who don't know any better.

Only logical explanation, right?

I know! Right?

So I've been thinking about that a lot lately.

I hope the guy who died at least got to wear it once or twice.

But the really impressive thing?

The guy must have been loaded.

Cause my high end slightly dated but pristine condition suit?

It clearly wasn't his BEST.

Otherwise I would never have had the chance to buy it.

Think about that one for a bit. You’ll get it. I promise. Don't rush yourself and it will come to you.

If you still don't get it after a couple of hours, have yourself a shower.

I always figure things out in the shower.



Can I Talk To You About Your Eternal Salvation For A Just A Moment?

So as I was making my way to the car on the way home from work (just coming off the c-train) so that should give you an idea as to my state of mind) I saw them.

Walking about fourty feet ahead of me on an interstecting path.

I know those suits. Two by two, like they were heading for the ark.

And those nametags. That's always the tip off.

They were about 40 feet in front of me and I was walking down the path at that time alone listening to some of the tracks from the live recordings when they saw me.

I watched it play out, every little last bit of the cliche. They saw me as they walked through the tntersection of the paths about thirty feet ahead of me now. One of them looked at me but quickly looked away and in a spectacularly poor display of subtlety whicspered to his friends that a target had just shown up on their radar.

So they made their move.

Which was the same move that I have seen countless dealers downtown make.

They see you so they immediately pretend that they haven't. They slow down their walk to a completely different pace than the one they had before they saw you. Then there's something that catches their eye. Maybe it's a bird, or maybe it's something in the sky, or maybe it's something on the ground, but whatever it is, it is captivating enough that all engines are brought to a full stop.

Until you get there.

Then it's all windup and pitch baby.

Dealers downtown used to just say "weed?"

These guys started with their own standard.

"Hi there friend, I'm Elder Mark and this is Elder John, how are you today?"

Now I should point out a couple of details here. Both "Elder" Mark and "Elder" John couldn't have been much more than a stones throne away from nineteen.

Seriously.

And it was the standard dynamic as well. You could tell from their body language that both Elder Mark and Elder John had been coached that Elder Mark had a slightly better way with people, and therefore should be the one who does most of the talking. If I had said "Boo!" in a loud voice I think that Elder Mark would have dropped dead then and there.

Now I've done this dance more than a couple of times. Used to be that I would have made a point of making sure that these two would have walked away not only questioning their faith but their very existence.

But for some reason, not that day. In fact I've been slipping in that regard lately. It's not that I couldn't, it's just stopped being fun. I have no idea why, it just has.

So I played it nice. I answered all of their questions politely, but strongly enough that it let them know I actually know more than they do about the history of the LDS church than they do. They backed off pretty quick once they figured that out and just stuck to small talk before offering me help with whatever I might need help with.

I thanked them for the offer and wished them the best of luck.

To be sure though, as I walked away I made a definite point of pulling the bottle of Coke that had been in my jacket pocket and finishing the bottle as they watched me walk away.

And that part, that was a little fun.



Long Way Down

I used to live in an apartment that was on the 34th floor. It was a penthouse apartment, although in an older building. Not the kind of old building that has history and lots of wood. This was the kind of old that might have been fresh in the late sixties, all concrete and wood panelling but since then, time had not been very kind.

It was probably the most unnecessary apartment I've ever lived in, but I got in before rates in this city went through the roof. I had just been evicted because I lived in a neighbourhood where all apartments had been deemed enemies of the state and were to be done away with in favour for the much more financially rewarding condominiums.

Anyways, this apartment 34 floors up had a balcony.

The first time I was in the apartment being shown it by the manager, I couldn't even bring myself to go out on that balcony. I knew that I was way, way up and that my body would get visibly tense and I didn't want to show that kind of weakness while I was trying to convince this property manager to let me have the apartment for the ridiculously low price that he was offering.

He left to go get the required paperwork and I used that small window of time to try and step out on the balcony.

I didn't even get one foot out past the sliding door rail before it started to hit me.

When I get nervous, the muscles in the back of my neck lock up. I lose control over them almost completely. This happens sometimes in conversation, but it seems to be tied mostly to my fight or flight reflex. With very few exceptions, when I get that feeling I know that things are going to go south very very soon.

Which is an apt way to describe the source of my concern, standing out on that balcony 34 stories up.

Going south that is.

The manager came back as I was standing there, one leg on the balcony one in the apartment. He simply said "quite the view hey?"

I think I said something that was an attempt at nonchalance, but fell somewhat transparent. He gave the apartment anyways.

That was one of the fun things the first couple of weeks, having people over to stand on the balcony and get freaked out. Over time, the fear/self preservation instinct started to accept that perhaps I was in fact safe on that balcony and it faded.

And now for the weird part...

I missed that feeling.

So I would get right up to the edge and look over. Straight down. For the first little while that worked pretty well. But then I got comfortable. Comfortable to the point where I would rain down Ziploc baggies full of tapwater on the drug dealers who hung out on the streets below. And I mean running wind up type launchings.

But then I found another way to get that scary feeling back.

I would go to the balcony and stand there for a couple of minutes. Then I would drop something off of it. Didn’t matter what it was, only that when it hit the ground below it had to leave a big enough splatter so that I could make the whole point of impact out.

And I would stand there, both arms resting on the balcony, staring at that spot. Staring at the spread of the splatter.

And I would imagine lifting one of my legs up on top of the balcony.

And that tense fear, that fight or flight instinct would clamp up on the muscles in my neck. I would have to go directly back into the apartment and sit down on something solid.

Usually the floor.

But after time, even that began to lose its effect.

So I would imagine a little bit more.

So I started to take the next logical step. No pun intended.

I would stand with both hands firmly grasping the railing, close my eyes and imagine vaulting over into freefall.

A bit of a disclaimer here.

I am not currently, nor was I at the time of the events described in this story in any way suicidal. I was in a place once where that seemed like a very viable option, but I was deeply traumatized at the time and full to the gills on a cocktail of a variety of prescription medications and a completely irresponsible amount of alcohol. That was a long time ago and since then I have not even once seriously contemplated suicide as an option. I was a clearly not in my right mind at the time and I’m feeling much better now thank you very much.

So no worries, alright?

Anyways…

I would imagine the sensation of freefall. I would imagine the wind on my face. I would wonder if 34 floors is enough to reach terminal velocity (which I have done the math to determine, and it appears that the answer is indeed a human would reach terminal velocity, albeit just barely)

Terminal velocity is, by the way, the maximum speed that a falling object can reach due to air resistance. For the average human being that speed is roughly 220 kilometres per hour. A little educational content thrown in for you there.

One of the better games I would play with my psyche was to try and decide if I would reach terminal velocity or the terrifying realization that I would shortly impact hard concrete at a speed that is far greater than any vehicle I’ve ever driven could come close to reaching.

Depending on the events of that particular day, the answer varied.

The real kicker, the thing that always brought the scary feeling all the way to my front door with a gift basket from FTD was not what you would think.

Most people would say that it was the point of impact.

Not for me.

For me, the real scary, the moment that I would fear the absolute most was the fraction of a second before impact. That lightning fast moment where you would have no choice but to know that you are in fact about to experience the very last sensation you will ever feel. I wondered if it would hurt. I wondered if I would feel any of the impact because of the insanely high speed that everything would happen at. I wondered if I would feel the concrete unabashedly forcing my teeth down my throat and snapping my bones like dry firewood.

And I got the scary.

I would back away from the railing, walk into the kitchen and stand there for several minutes, waiting for the adrenaline to wash out of my system.

And then I would fill up another baggie and go back out there. Because if I didn’t I might actually start to be afraid of that balcony, for no good reason.

That and those dealers down on the street just plain out deserved an old fashion aerial assault. I mean, really.



You, Yeah You…

You open your mouth and I am washed away in a wave of bullshit. You pretend to be so sure of yourself but the stench of the insecurity that you're trying to hide with all of this bravado is so thick in the air I would swear that I can taste it. Like the sweaty smell of rotting meat your fear and need for approval choke me with such violence that I need to focus to suppress my gag reflex from showing visibly. All this false confidence this posturing like your some kind of bird are so transparent I'm amazed that you don't just disappear completely right in front of me.

You keep going, on and on and on and I find myself wondering who you could possibly think you're fooling. It can't be me I tell myself. I can be a pretty good actor when I need to be, but there's no hiding the screaming that's going on just behind my eyes. I try to twist my lips into something resembling a smile, but I can't convince myself that it shows up as anything other than a slight wince.

Does this ever work? Does anyone ever give you the reaction that you are so clearly begging for? If you ever found someone who fell for this line I'm sure you would wrap yourself around them so tightly that you would crush the life out of them, squeezing out every last drop. I wouldn't want to meet that person, either before or after you met them. The only comforting thought that I can find is the notion that anyone who would allow themselves to be drawn in by your overwhelming parasitic ways was never really all that much there to begin with, so there won't be that much to miss.

Maybe this works sometimes, but not on me, not today. I won't be the punching bag that you take out the frustrations of your failed life on. It's not my problem that you manage to ruin almost every opportunity that life throws your way. I'm not to blame for all the promises you broke. You might be able to make up a thousand convincing reasons that prove to yourself that you aren't the endless disaster that you are. You might be able to get close to convincing yourself that you're the victim of life, you're the good person who just catches all the unlucky breaks, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Sometimes, not often but sometimes, the truth comes for you in those moments where you truly are alone. Sometimes when there's no one around for you to try and convince that you really are someone to be admired and trusted, you know. You know that the whole disaster of your life is your own fault. You know that you hurt everyone around you because it's your special way of spreading around all that hate and disappointment that you have in yourself.

Abruptly, it stops. The soul-crushing wave of noise that was coming out of you finally crests and breaks. And you stare at me, waiting for my reaction.

I want to punch you in the face. It would be the last thing that you would expect. You would never see that coming. I want to hit you so hard that you just drop to the ground and I can drive the caps of my boots into your softer parts. I want to give you that gift. Something real, something that you can hold on to. I want to give you injuries that you will never fully recover from, so you will always have the reminder of the cost of your weakness. That would make you stronger. That would make you a much better person. I would love to give you that gift.

But I don't. I just smile.

My empty hands just hang at my side and I smile.

And I don't know why.








You know where to find me.

Nate@natepike.com