Shaving off the stubble around his goatee, Albert daydreams of languid beaches in Yevpatoriya, lying beside a scantily-clad Cloe. Probably bombed to hell by now. He aggressively clips off the longer bits of his hair. In the bachelor-suite “main room”, he looks at the few sticks of scavenged furniture that he makes do with. This can go up in smoke and nobody’d miss it. I can take a few clothes and the USBs of my files, and… Shit is it seven-thirty already? Finish later.
He slips on his shoes and heads out the door to meet Andrew. On the drive to Port Coquitlam he wonders what his former best friend wants; what he was up to; what’s “serious”. Can’t tell him what I’m doing. Andrew might still be active. Shit! What if there’s a contract out on me, and he’s… No. Not Andrew.
Albert is uncharacteristically a few minutes late. As he parks on the street near the coffee shop he and his former long-time friend had used as their favourite hangout, he sees someone in a wheelchair making his unpowered, strenuous way up the slightly inclined walkway to the front door. Albert hurries a bit to be there to open the door for the fellow.
With the door half opened he looks down at the person in the wheelchair. Dumbfounded at seeing the unmistakable eyes of his old friend, he stands holding the door half-open.
Andrew struggles to bend his neck enough to look up at Albert. “Thanks, but I might need it open more than that, if you don’t mind.”
Albert stares at the contorted grin on the face that he used to see just about every day for years, even before their time in the GRU’s Unit 74455. Snapping out of his astonishment, he pulls the door fully open. “Andrew! What the fuck…?”
“Good to see you, too, dickhead. Let me in, will you?” Albert steps back as Andrew has to push hard to wheel over the threshold, then he heads inside for a particular table. Albert has trouble forcing his legs to follow. A young couple are already sitting at the table. It has a wheelchair symbol on it. Andrew nods at the symbol as he parks aggressively at the open side of the table. The couple look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and make a point of slowly collecting their phones and cups to look for another table.
Albert shrugs apologetically as the couple leave and he takes one of the seats. He is about to start a conversation, “Andrew, I…”
“Get me an iced tea, will you? With a straw.” Andrew keeps his eyes down.
Albert notices his gaunt fidgeting hands are tightly bent in. MS?
“Oh. Sure.” Albert gets up. “Be right back.” He avoids a strong urge to put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder as he passes the wheelchair. He sees that the chair is heavily scratched and worn.
After a few minutes, Albert comes back to the table with two drinks. He puts the iced tea down in front of Andrew, turning the straw toward him. “Is that close enough, Andrew? Oh…” He pulls a few serviettes from a pocket, “…here. In case you, like, need them…”
As Albert sits down with his coffee, Andrew’s jerked movements settle down and he is able to put an arm on the table. “Can still talk, thank god. This fucking MS is going there next.” He creeps his arm in stages, closer to the cup. A finger and thumb finally capture it. Albert is about to jump forward to help, but he doesn’t. Andrew slides the cup near the edge toward himself. He uses his other arm to awkwardly roll closer to have his mouth near the straw. Albert stares in slow-motion fascination as short, barely controlled movements finally combine to have Andrew’s mouth capture the straw. He takes a satisfied slurp. A few drips escape onto his lap.
Albert slides the serviettes closer to Andrew’s hand. “Do you want me to…”
Quietly, “Fuck off, Al.”
Sitting in stunned silence at what his friend has become, Albert has trouble saying anything further. He sips his coffee, waiting for Andrew to say something.
After a few more difficult sips, Andrew works hard to focus on Albert. “Still want me to cover your back?”
“The last thing you told me was to cover your back. That game in the so-called industrial league. No contact, they said. Thought I could stick it out. Just to be… well… with a friend. Who really knows me.” Tremolo captures the voice.
Albert leans forward, “Jesuschrist, Andrew. What happened? I mean, this MS. You had it then?”
“Yeah. Got the doctor’s visit a couple days before… Floored me. Thought it had to be some secret plot to get me to spill… everything. Still don’t want to believe it. But here I am.”
“Does your mother… Well of course you told her…”
Andrew shakes his head. “Didn’t want to tell her. Right away. Burden her… But it gets worse sometimes. This is as bad as it’s been. Usually I can walk alright. Mom’s been a rock. She does everything for me. Reverted to speaking Russian…” He snaps his head around automatically to see if someone is listening. The tremolo gets more pronounced. “I can’t… can’t do this to her any longer, Al. She getting old, herself. Probably put years on her, being my… It’s getting worse. When I can’t go to the can by myself and I can’t eat anymore… what’s the use?” Andrew ends quietly.
It tugs on Albert’s heart. Tightens his chest. He can’t speak.
“Al, I want to end it. How can I end it? Can you… can you help me? Al?”
Albert is devastated. What’s he want me to do? Kill him? Push him off a cliff? “Andrew… I don’t know what to say. I really hate seeing you like… like this. But I don’t know what to do.”
Andrew hisses, “There’s only one fucken thing you can do for me goddamnit!”
Andrew slurps angrily a few more times, each one with extra drips falling down to his lap. Albert reaches over to put a serviette on his lap. He notices how much weight his old friend has lost. “Andrew, I want to help you. I’d do anything I can to help you. But… Maybe I can contact Vladi..” He shakes his head.
“Vladi for fucksake? Is that what you want? Shoot me like a fucken dog?” Andrew fidgets hard for a minute, shakes his head, then decides to leave. “Dickhead. Just fuck off. You can’t do anything for me, now. Have a good fucken life.” Andrew pushes back from the table.
Alarmed, Albert gets up to reach for Andrew’s chair as it turns, but Andrew heads aggressively for the door. A person entering holds the door open for Andrew as the wheelchair bounces past. Albert watches, helplessly, watching with a tear forming, seeing his old friend roll away. What the hell’s he want me to do!?
From a nearby table, a young woman who had been pretending to read on her phone since Albert first sat down, looks up to Albert’s face. “He’s been a sonofabitch. Comes in here almost every day and mopes at that table. Same table all the time. Gets people to buy him a drink. Bought him a couple, myself, at first. Let him go. Just let the sonofabitch go.” She taps opens her phone to actually do some reading.
In a daze, Albert takes the half-full cups from his table to the dishes tray. He walks outside, looking for Andrew but without enthusiasm. His heart feels empty. Frozen, and yet beating hollowly. But what could I do? He wants me to kill him?
Albert can’t sleep that night. He relives what he should have done with Andrew. Then Cloe’s face floats in, shaking silently, back and forth. Over the very early morning he stares at the phone’s time in twenty minute intervals, waiting for the hours to pass. Too early, he rises to get ready for his trip to Seattle. Echoing in his mind is the phrase, But what can I do for him?
Looking out his window, Mahhi sees a cherry tree that is losing its delicate white and pink blossoms. Breezes knock a flutter of them free. They float reluctantly to the carpet of browning blossoms around the tree.
“They shimmer in the sun. Give their pollen to the bees. So soon they fall. Too soon they wrinkle, to join the dust of the earth.” He pulls at his whitening beard. “As do we.”
The building beyond the tree is another condominium. Painted pale blue with a beige-yellow trim, the skin hides an old structure that was the first one on the block. The ancient cherry tree in its entrance rotunda is the sole reminder of a vast orchard that used to feed thousands with its plump apples, pears, peaches, and, of course, cherries. Where a farmhouse had once encircled an industrious family, time caught up to the children of the children until, finally, the last son decided it was too much trouble to keep bringing in workers from Central America to replace his dwindling family’s labour. The farm became a mall surrounded not by an orchard, but by condos.
Mahhi learned this after he sat one day in the mall, on a bench beside an elderly lady. He had been careful to keep his distance.
He was polite. “Do you mind if I sit here, ma’am? My leg is giving me trouble…”
She had cocked her head to better hear down the length of the bench. “What?”
Directing his face toward her, Mahhi repeated a little louder to get through his mask, “I said, do you mind if I sit here, ma’am? The other benches are occupied and my leg is giving me trouble. It’s an… old wound.”
He remembers looking at her face, her deep wrinkles, and wondering how old she was.
The old lady’s voice had the tremble of age. With an aggravated wave of her cane, “Of course you can, young man! There’s enough room for another three people…” The beginning of her rant trailed off as she looked around for someone who was going to reprimand her. Quietly grumbling, “Damned social distancing. Anti-social distancing! We’re all going crazy. Becoming robots. And I don’t care what they say.” She had looked around again suspiciously.
Mahhi had reluctantly let out a groan while sitting down, causing the old lady to glance at him. She couldn’t help noticing that his mask was slipping off his nose and he had absently pulled it down to his throat. His salt-and-pepper beard then caught her attention. “My grandfather had a beard like yours… So long ago… Better times.” She had nodded off into a daydream.
Mahhi needed to shift a few times to get comfortable. He stretched his left leg out.
The old lady did an uncomfortable double-take as she realized his left leg was a metal rod holding a shoe. She had quickly looked away and fiddled with her cane.
Amused but still annoyed by that century-old attitude, Mahhi had pointedly readjusted the pant sleeve then massaged the end of his flesh leg just below his knee. “Haven’t been able to get a comfortable replacement ‘thesis since, well, since this pandemic started.” He had turned to the old lady to see if she shivered at his handling of what some of the older generation still thought of as a taboo subject. He was pleased to see the old lady gather her inner strength to look down at his leg.
“Does it hurt?” Then she had shivered.
Empathy, he thought. I will reciprocate. “Thank you for asking, ma’am. No, it doesn’t hurt, as it did when it was blown off by a mine. I will admit to that having been painful.” Careful with the gallows humour. It may be too much for her.
The old lady surprised Mahhi. “I’m so sorry, young man. You brought forth so many memories…” Her eyes dulled as she recollected, Gramps lost his right arm in the Boer War, but we never talked about it. Then he caught that horrible Spanish Flu and suffered so much before coughing his lungs out. Which is why I became a nurse…
Brought back to the present by the noise of another passing walker, the old lady had flashed a grin at her bench companion, “My name is Lucy. I was born nearby. My family owned the farm and orchard that covered over two hundred acres of this area… Long ago…” She looked at his well-trimmed beard, then into his eyes. “Very sorry. My name is Lucy. You remind me so much of Gramps. Gramps lost his right arm in the Boer War, but we never talked about it. Then he caught that horrible Spanish Flu and suffered so much before coughing his lungs out. Which is why I became a nurse… Sorry. The memories are too fresh.” She had been playing with her cane as she spoke then finished by placing it between her legs and leaning both hands on the handle. Her pose, the colourful sweater and her cane had reminded Mahhi of the old folks who used to sit in front of the coffee-houses back home, arguing endlessly and passionately about the trivialities of life. He was certain their fate was to have been buried under the rubble of their blown-up buildings.
Mahhi had nodded at Lucy in sympathy. “That’s a solid-looking cane. I was supposed to be sent one, but I expect my request is down the list.”
Lucy had twigged to his slight English accent. “Did you… were you wounded in a war? Your accent… Sorry to be so nosy.”
He had waved his hand. “Not at all, my dear. Attended Oxford.” He had nodded at his leg. “The war was, elsewhere…” He thought it may be time to change the subject. “These days, during the few times we are permitted to socially interact, older conventions must be flung out the window. Wouldn’t you say?”
Nodding, Lucy had been eager to keep talking – to anyone. And this person’s face appears so kind, she thought. “You have a kind face, young man.” Then her old pixie had made an appearance with, “Don’t know if I’d have let you sit down if you’d been clean-shaven.”
They had both shared a grin.
Slowly, from deep behind his face, Mahhi’s thoughts started yet another spiral into the abyss. Who am ‘I’. I don’t stare at my ‘face’ so I don’t really know this thing is outside of my eyes. Does it have a beard? He had run his fingers through the beard. Raising his head to climb back out of the darkness, “So, a year ago, you would have waved your cane at me to ward me off the bench?” Mahhi wondered, Is she quick enough, still, for repartee?
She was. “Yes. But I would have used as an excuse this horrible virus thing.”
Then the Virus Chill had descended over them, with the darkness of giving up. Briefly.
She had managed to shake her cane at the slippery spiral. “Young man, you know my name…?”
“Of course! So sorry. Please call me Mahhi. My manners have become very rusty recently. Mahhi,“ he repeated, as he had seen her struggle with the name. Then he decided to open up a bit. “My leg was a casualty of the recent fighting in my home city, Aleppo. I was, had been, an archaeologist and assistant curator of one of the museums on the Euphrates River. Aleppo is the oldest city in the world and has, did have… so much history to uncover.” With the painful memories, his whole body had shrunk into the bench turning him into such a forlorn-looking man that Lucy had instinctively slid over to hold Mahhi’s hand. The shattering of social distancing protocols could almost be heard echoing off the walls of the mostly shuttered mall stores. A person who had been shuffling her walker toward the bench had stopped, mouth open in astonishment at the scene.
Mahhi smiled at the shuffler, “My mother. She is trying to support me in these difficult times.”
The shuffler had nodded to Lucy, “Good for you, girl. These poor kids need all the help they can get.” She had carried on past them, no longer worried about making a labourious wide arc around the bench.
Lucy had grinned and patted Mahhi’s hand again.
They decided that they might each come to the mall every other day and perhaps find a bench. To talk.
That had been how Mahhi had found out the story about the orchard, Lucy’s family, and the buildings all built up on their former farm. In turn, Mahhi had told Lucy about his people who used to live on the hill overlooking the headwaters of the Euphrates.
One day, in a particularly sombre mood, Mahhi had mused, “My dear, I can see so many similarities between the history of your family farm, and what my city became… with what happened to the ten thousand years of my own people living through their many plagues and invasions and family squabbles in Aleppo. Here, in microcosm, it happens again. It makes me wonder if things ever change for humanity in significant ways. Or, are we merely reliving the same things in an endless series of different universes?”
She had thoughtfully considered his assessment. Lucy had grown found of her sometimes morose new “son”. She had made a point of asking him to help her pronounce his name correctly. “So, Mahhi. You are asking a question that a farmer does not bother with. Why is left to those who mope around the cold quadrangles of stony institutions. A farmer plants, and grows things, and places food on the table. Today and tomorrow. Here in our Farmhouse.” She had waved around at what had become their own private name for the mall, where her family farmhouse had once proudly stood.
By then, over the weeks after their first meeting, several of the regular shufflers had decided to take up positions in front of the bench. Seated on their walkers, they were more or less far enough away from each other. When one of the mall security people had come by to pass on the objections of the administration, who had received a complaint from a fast-walker who had been forced to find a wider route through the area, he was met with a chorus of “Fiddlesticks!” Or words to that effect. Later, the security guard made a point of placing tape lines the floor to mark out 2-metre sections. The next day he had stayed to listen. Then he became a regular member of what they called themselves: The Farm Family.
As the days wore into each other, some of the others added their comments or rants. Mostly, they had listened, as if watching a television show.
The devastating blow came about three months after their first meeting. For Mahhi, it was infinitely worse than having his leg blown off by the mine. Lucy had been found by a neighbour in her little room in the older condo, behind the cherry tree. She passed away next day.
It took a week before Mahhi could make himself visit the Farmhouse. By then, The Farm Family had made the bench into a flower-filled memorial. Tears flowed down into Mahhi’s beard as he stared at the memorial. He had stood unsteadily for he knew not how long until the security guard took his arm to lead him to one of the chairs that had been allowed by mall administration to be left against a shuttered window in front of the bench.
Now, a month later, he contemplated the blossoming cherry tree. “They shimmer in the sun. Give their pollen to the bees. So soon they fall. Too soon they wrinkle, to join the dust of the earth.” He pulls at his whitening beard. “As do we.”
He sees his reflection in the window. “Lucy, you saw my beard. I do not see my beard from my side of the eyes. I remember the mirror image of my face as it was for so many years before the beard. Before the pandemic. Every morning I scraped off the offending hair because that was tradition. But if it wasn’t for my beard, if it wasn’t for the virus, I would not have known your lovely wrinkled old face. Your smile creased the ages. I see you still, before me.”
He focuses back onto the cherry tree. “You blossomed, pink and white, shining in the sun. Until you became wrinkled and dried into the dust that will nourish another tree.” A car drives under the cherry and kicks up the blossoms. He adds sadly, “If you are not paved over, or covered in the detritus of our so-called civilization.”
Mahhi turns his head up to the clouds. “My face, her face, the faces of all those I knew, why do they not learn?”
His heart answers, She will tell me: Say not Why? Lucy will say: Plant, grow, put food on the table…
He shakes his head. And I still must ask, Lucy: Is this enough? Is there no better answer?
This is a lovely picture from a science site (? Science) of the covid-19 virus.
I put together a rather rough video on how the virus thinks of our bodies, and how to keep it from becoming as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu.
After we come up with a vaccine and we can escape from our fearful isolation, what are we as a world population going to do? Are we going to party as crazily as we did in the 1920s? Remember October 1929?
Twenty-six union business managers are squeezed together along a row of doubled white linen-covered tables. Across from them are twenty-seven business-suited contractors. With the width of two tables separating both sides, the echoey room has to be large. This room’s expansive windows, unlike others in the smaller meeting rooms, are covered with adjustable blinds that come from the bottom. They are set at half way up, strategically allowing the sun to shine directly into the eyes of the people occupying the far side of the tables. The faces of those near the windows, union representatives from across the province, are obscured by the bright light behind them.
The central union figure, Sandy, is a large-faced, large-bodied man dressed in his severe dark blue “negotiations suit”, red patterned tie included. He is working himself up to a rousing crescendo. His angry words are hurled, along with occasional theatrical spit, toward the smaller man opposite. Even as his face is darkened by the shadow, his redden features and neck can be seen to be bulging with emotion.
The recipient of the barrage, Clay, is wearing a sober face, though his tightly shaved mustache twitches occasionally. His mostly bald head is bracketed by a herringbone suit, which manages to have the appearance of both a newly-stiff collar and worn elbow-pads. Under the verbal onslaught, Clay slowly sinks lower into his suit in an attempt to use the lapels as earmuffs.
Sandy’s body rises with his crescendo and he suddenly pulls off a shoe and bangs it on the table, Khrushchev-like, yelling. “And we WON’T BE PUSHED AROUND ANYMORE!”
Most of his own side support the outburst. They all mumble or grunt various levels of approval as Sandy plops back down, satisfied with his performance. Sandy pulls a hanky across his face to wipe the sweat away.
On the other side, all but two of the twenty-seven contractor-representatives are startled. They quietly exchange worried looks. Clay glances to his left, checking on Henry, his “Co-Chair” and newly appointed Director of Labour Relations.
With the shoe banging, Henry is thinking, May we have a translation of that please? as he remembers the 1960s story of Khrushchev’s UN shoe-banging incident and Harold Macmillan’s dry English comment.
Henry is younger than all but one at the table. He is taller, with a thick black mustache and full head of black hair. Henry’s light, striped suit is calculated to blend in to most backgrounds. With this sun shining directly on it, the suit glares in the face of the union reps who look at him. So they don’t. Within, Henry is as concerned as the others in his group. Outwardly, he has learned to strictly control his facial muscles. They remain perfectly relaxed, because he has willed them so.
Allowing the reverberations to die down for a minute, Clay’s head rises fully above his collar. Seeing him out of the corner of his eye, Henry is reminded of a groundhog poking up in a field on his farm. Thinking, He’s more like the grizzly playfully scratching his back on a tree then suddenly taking off after you with a big mouthful of grinning teeth.
“Thank you, Sandy, for expressing your views about this clause. And, of course, we will take it under advisement.”
Sandy and Clay exchange neutral nods.
“And now, I would like to suggest that we adjourn talks for this first day. Over the afternoon we have been able to exchange our positions frankly. We have a lot to consider in caucus. Before we commit to the dates for further talks, are we agreed to reconvene tomorrow at eight?”
The young union rep from London has to get in with, “That’s a.m., right?”
Sandy’s head snaps angrily toward the newbie, who shrinks back into his seat, away from the glare of the Toronto union boss.
Ignoring the newbie’s comment, Clay looks across at Sandy and receives a nod when Sandy turns his head back to him, then both look up and down their sides of the table. No dissent.
“Fine, then. A productive day.” Clay turns to Henry, “Caucus for half an hour for our side, then freshen up and for those who want, we can meet in the bar at seven?” Clay is directing that to his people but glances at Sandy, whose nod comes at the same time as Henry’s.
Entering the bright, noisy hotel bar, Henry stands before the maître d’.
“Would you like a table, sir, or do you prefer the bar?”
Henry is new at this, freshly hired out of university with a degree in labour relations. He did very well in class and as a graduate student. Now in the real world, he fully understands that there are many different things to learn. Henry prides himself on being a sponge for knowledge. His attitude is, I am here to learn.
To the maître d’, “Not sure… I’m handling the union negotiations?…”
“Of course, sir. We have a quiet table in the back corner. How many would there be?”
“Make it a table for four, but it is likely to be just two of us. I think the others are going to be at the bar.”
He notices groups of his people and theirs, and a joint group happily and sometimes roughly partaking of the libations. Their main concentration appears to be on the hockey game being shown on two televisions above the bar.
As Henry steps to follow the maître d’, Clay arrives. He gets the maître d’s attention with a raised hand, “Hold the table for us, please, but we’ll sit at the bar for a few minutes.”
Clay heads right for Sandy, who has been alone at the bar for at least one drink so far. His tie is missing and the top two buttons on his shirt are open. Henry can’t help but notice the chest hair spilling out. Seating himself next to Sandy, Clay smiles, “Nice display.”
Sandy grins wryly, “Thanks. Needed that for… you know who.” He nods at Henry, who seats himself beside Clay. “This is new for you?”
Glancing at Clay, “Ah, yes. Very interesting.” Henry is not sure why they are speaking so openly to “the opposition”.
The bartender arrives, “What can I get you gents?”
“Ah, a screwdriver, please.”
The bartender quickly serves Clay his whiskey then prepares the screwdriver.
Henry takes his tall glass, “Thanks. Ah, please put the whiskey and my drink on my room tab? 401.’
“Of course, sir.”
The hockey game takes their attention for a minute.
Sandy then turns to Clay, patting his arm, “How’s Shirley doing?”
Shaking his head, “As well as can be expected. You know how it is. The chemo is really tough. I try to keep her spirits up, but… you know.”
Sympathetically, “Yeah. Tough. Took my Mary three months of torture… Thank you for coming to the memorial, Clay.” He pats Clay’s arm again.
Henry didn’t know about Clay’s wife. Nor Sandy’s. Much to learn.
Sandy changes the subject. “Have you filled in your new boy?”
A wry grin, “He’s a university student, Sandy. Give him time.”
“Teach him how to dance… Got to go.” As Sandy rises he leans toward Henry, “That Khrushchev was for my Ottawa guy.” He winks. “Claude still thinks he can get another two bucks plus the bump to 15 minutes break. Oh. Clay, keep away, stay away from Popovich from Sudbury. He’s spoiling for a fight.” Sandy half-nods, looking for a positive response.
“We’ll see.” Clay flashes a pixy smile on then off. “Might need to shake things up some time… Talk later.”
Sandy will not be dismissed. He puts his face close to Clay’s ear, “Fuck off. Don’t use him, for both our asses. He’s a time bomb.” Clay nods and pats Sandy’s arm encouragingly as he and Henry drop off their seats as well.
Making their way to the table, Clay lowers his voice to Henry. “The secret to construction negotiations is, it’s a dance.” He winks at Henry as they seat themselves at their table.
“A dance.” Henry takes in this next morsel of information.
Clay settles in, then leans toward Henry across the table. “It’s a dance. We all know the moves. The key is not to step on someone’s toes… Even the small fry – they can squeal every bit as loud as the others. The dance moves are already known. Everybody follows the steps. It has to be predictable, Henry. If someone screws up, there’s millions of dollars worth of projects at risk. When it comes down to it, who cares a rat’s ass about Billy’s Plumbing in Tillsonburg. But if the nuclear plant is delayed by a week, all hell’s going to break loose.”
Clay relaxes back into his seat. He looks around, satisfied that nobody is within hearing distance. “It’s not just the money on the line. If we put a crimp in the government’s pet projects, or if the public starts yelling at them, the government’ll throw some mediator at us and then cook up some artsy-fartsy legislation to threaten us and, as likely as not, the mediator’ll be clueless about what’s really going on. That would not be good for either the business managers or our major owners. Nobody wants that… Except for a couple of the old-time rabble-rousers from the bad old days who don’t know any better just ‘cause they got a commy burr up their ass. So Sandy had to make like a commy to feed them their shit… Anyway… You did well. Just follow my lead. Don’t say anything unless I ask for it… Hah! Sandy’s still fuming about the idiot from London who opened his trap. NObody speaks at the table but the two friggen speakers. If I ever ask you a question, just tell me exactly what I want to hear and then shut up…” Clay softens his tone, “Sorry. That’s one of the dance no-nos. His London guy’s your age. Still learning…” He is about to reach for papers in his coat pocket. “Here, Brian from Windsor gave me his psych notes.” Clay smiles. “Oh. You notice they’re sitting with their backs to the window?”
“Old trick. It’s like who’s going to grab the baseball bat handle first. If you know how many hands it takes to get to the top… You ever play ball?”
Nodding, “Yeah. Figured that one out fast. If the bat got tossed to me, I’d take a hit on the head just to grab it at the right spot.” They both smile.
“So with the sun behind them, we can’t see their faces, their expressions. Brian is sitting off to the side and he’s really good with body language. Read his stuff.”
Clay finishes reaching into his coat pocket to pull out a small pack of sheets folded into three. He hands the papers to Henry. “Look it over. Brian also figures Claude and Poppy are the loose canons. Think about how that can be used if we ever need it. Oh, and give me your thoughts on Alexander. His company’s in trouble – lost that big pulp mill job two days ago to Fox. Don’t want him screwing us up with some behind-the-scenes deal, right? Don’t do anything yet, but give me some options. Ok?”
“Right.” Henry remembers to pull out a scrap of paper to write down his notes. “Do we use electronics – I mean, like, hire surveillance pros?”
Clay shakes his head, “Naw. Leave that shit to the unions.”
The server arrives at their table. “Have you gentlemen decided?”
Clay is amused, “Huh! With what? Didn’t bring us the menus.”
“Oh! I’m very sorry, sir! I’ll be right back…”
Clay waves a hand. “No no. I know the menu by heart. Henry?”
“Well, I have an allergy to onions. Can you recommend something?”
During their wait for the meal and over the meal itself, Clay continues passing tidbits of information about how the real world of bargaining goes, interspersed with gossip about the characters on both sides.
Henry sponges it up. “What about Sandy. You two must have crossed swords for a lot of years?”
“We don’t cross swords. We’re the medics. MASH. When anything goes wrong at our table, everyone suffers. You remember four years ago? The whole construction industry went out. Know why?”
Henry had been in third year at university. The topic had been discussed in a poly-sci class. He recites to Clay that the prof’s conclusion was that the strike had been inevitable because of the provincial political battles at the time and the black-knight attempted takeover of the major engineering firm which was bidding on the huge nuclear power station contract.
“Naw. It was mosquitoes and hunting.”
Henry is about to let a laugh escape. He turns it into a smile. “Ok. I’ll bite. What happened?”
“Ha. Ha. Bite. Ok, there was that large food plant being built in London. And the SOB business manager for the UA, the previous one. And, there was the nice sunny weather that summer. The whole f..” Clay looks around for any raging grannies, “the whole friggen industry – from the managers down – everybody’d booked their two weeks hunting vacation for the open season. So when some kid apprentice goes running to the union about there being too many mosquitoes when he was climbing the building’s outside ladders, the business manager says, Down tools! Even then, Sandy and I could have stopped it, but the boss of the project firm, who wasn’t even in London, picks up his phone, yells at both the government and the media, and we couldn’t do a damn thing. Hands tied. Two weeks later, everybody hauls back from camp with their empties and a moose or two, and we’re back to work. Millions lost. Government hopping mad. Legislation changed… ‘Course, it was that legislation that got you your job. So, good-news/bad-news, eh?”
Clay rubs his hands. “All right. I’m ready for dessert!” He waves for the attention of the server.
Time passes a bit longer than Clay wants. He is not in the happiest mood when the server saunters by.
“What pies you got?”
“Thank you, sir. Here is the dessert menu.”
Clay takes it and quickly settles on, “Pecan. Pecan pie. And not a little sliver, mind!”
It is Henry’s turn. “The apple, please.”
“Excellent choices, gentlemen. I’ll be back shortly.”
Several minutes later, the server returns and, with a flourish, deposits two large plates before them. Each plate has an elegant, almost visible circle of caramel drizzled around the perimeter. A hint of frosting has been introduced over the feature contents, which are each an engineering marvel of the thinnest slices, still standing vertically, of what must have been apple on one plate and pecan on the other.
Clay is not pleased.
“I said pie. Not a tiny sliver of pie. Mine isn’t even thick enough to have half a pecan in it sitting sideways!”
The server starts a chuckle, thinking Clay is joking, but Clay’s facial expression of anger stops him from digging a deeper hole.
“Sir. I am very sorry that our dessert chef has prepared these so, ah, thin. I will be back immediately with more substantial pieces.”
He is about to whisk the plates away when Clay catches his hand. “You didn’t understand me. When I said pie, I meant PIE! The whole damn PIE!”
Henry jumps in. “The whole pie, please.”
Well, the server does return with two whole pies. They are big ones.
Henry has to ask for a doggy box for the rest of his. Clay finishes his pie off in record time. The whole damn thing.
On his way back to his room, Henry’s stomach is not comfortable. At all. Walking into his bathroom, he mumbles, ”He may dance the soft shoe but lord help anyone this guy wants to kick in the face.”
A middle-aged man is lying on a cardboard and newspaper nest. Several papers have been opened up across the length of a green bench in the lightly manicured park. The afternoon sun dapples its way through magnificent oak trees. Butterflies move gracefully and aimlessly amongst the flower beds between some of the oaks. The bouquet rising from the flowers wafts delicately over the homeless man.
His bouquet is not so fetching. Clothing of indiscriminate style, with plaids and stripes clashing, fit loosely around his gaunt body.
He groans and shifts on his nest. “Owww.”
A passing park attendant, with the name badge “Mitch”, notices the groans. “Willie. You ok?”
“Bugger off, Mitch.”
“Listen, man. I told you we’re here to help. That bed at the Gospel Mission…”
“Leave me alone, dammit. Don’t want no holy-rollers nattering at me all fucken day.”
Willie rolls sideways carefully to get at least one ear away from Mitch.
“You can go through all the vowels you want, Willie. If you don’t want our help…”
Quietly, “Just bugger off.”
Mitch shrugs and saunters away toward Artists Circle, muttering, “Not sure they’d take the old grouch, anyway.”
From the bench, a muffled, “Heard that.”
Coming down the path from the Artists Circle, Willie hears the distinctive nattering of his arch enemies. He growls to himself, “If those damn holy-roller do-goodies stop here, I swear I’m gonna jump in the drink. I am. No fucken doubt about it…”
Three ladies come up to Willie’s bench to contemplate his back. As he tries to tighten into a fetal position, his back goes out entirely. “OOWWWW!”
He attempts to straighten his legs but spasms, and falls awkwardly off the bench. Willie’s head bounces hard against the edge of the bench.
The lead lady grimaces, “Ow, I felt that.”
Without his bidding – as he is apparently unconscious – Willie is taken in an ambulance to a clinic; he is prodded; tut-tutted over; shot up with an experimental depression drug, to which he has a bad reaction; spends the night in delirium; then, next day he is dumped surreptitiously back into the park onto a bench.
Later that day, Willie wakes up to find himself lying on a new cardboard-and-blanket nest on a different bench. His back is still sore and he now has a splitting headache; his clothes are all different and he is cold. Very cold.
Mitch comes by, holding two coffee cups, and sees someone who he thinks is Willie. His face is more drawn and grizzled than before. His body is shivering.
“Willie? Are you alright, Willie?”
With a quarter turn, Willie covers part of his exposed back. He roughly spits out, “Goddamn holy-rollers took me away again. Shot me up with something again. TELL ’EM TO LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!… Splitting headache…”
Mitch sees/smells that Willie has been cleaned up. He steps forward to pull Willie’s fresh blanket up onto his back. “Wouldn’t want the crows to peck away at your hindside, Willie.”
Showing his unappreciation for the uninvited help, Willie shifts so that the blanket falls away to uncover his back once more. As Mitch stands there for a minute, Willie begins to shiver again. He rolls ever so slowly to partially cover his back.
“What are we going to do with you, Willie? You know how I hate to load my quad with cold bodies.”
“B-b-bugger off! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! Don’t want your help!”
Mitch shakes his head in resignation. “I’ll just leave this extra coffee here below your head, Willie. Still hot.”
As Mitch walks away, Willie turns to peek with one eye to see if he is gone. Satisfied with his triumph of opposition, Willie turns to find the coffee. He captures the cup, wrapping his hand tightly around the warm sleeve. He slowly, carefully, puts one foot, then the other foot down onto the grass. The freshly cleaned blanket smells like chemicals.
“Damn holy-rollers. DON’T LIKE CHEMICALS. Kill you. KILL you, dammit! Want my own blanket.” He pulls the offending blanket off with his free hand and tosses it onto the bench-back.
He wraps both hands around the warm coffee cup. Fumbling and mumbling at the “stupid lid thing,” he pries it open enough to suck out a mouthful of hot liquid. “Too much cream. Makes it cold.”
After a while, Willie starts to shiver again. He absently reaches for the blanket and wraps it around his shoulders, then he shakes it down against his lower back, still holding the cup like a candle in his lap.
He slowly slips into a lean over his legs, then jerks back. Touching the cold bench slats, he jerks away. Willie shifts to find the right equilibrium, then slowly oscillates between the cold bench slats and leaning too far forward.
He dreams. The beach sand is sun-warmed hot. The bright blue sky stretches across the prairies forever. A hazy speck of darkness is away off on the horizon. Horses graze peacefully in a nearby meadow. Now a dark someone is racing through the grass, over the grass, scattering the horses in terror. The darkness flies right at Willie into his head and sticks inside, smashing around inside his mushy red head, smashing out all light, smashing…
Willie is shouting running between the oaks, past the dark pines, through the flowers, pounding, sweating… until he falls into a panting disorientation onto a bench.
No cardboard. No blanket.
He shivers in the shade of a dark hemlock.
Willie curls up like a withering fern into a tight fetal position.
Some time later, as the evening stars can almost be seen in the pastel sky, one of Mitch’s co-workers waves at Mitch from across the meadow. “Mitch!”
As Mitch nears, the co-worker points to a cold body curled up on the bench. “Know him?”
Mitch walks behind the bench to better see the heavily grizzled face. “Willie. Poor old Willie… Sad case.”
My sincere apologies to those who may have read some of what looks similar to this, from me, before. My Muse had placed them in a vase ready for their proper use at this time. This is a first draft of the beginning of the novel.
I use the technique of having each chapter being “owned” by one of the characters. That person’s thoughts are added in italics to the conversation. Does that work?
Warning: contains gratuitous use of the raw language use by millennials:
“Ducinda… please. Forgive me for interrupting but I have to go to the can rather badly.” CEO Kevin Ynqardi smiles at his now very uncomfortable Senior Manager of Analytics Development, Ducinda White.
She is stopped in mid-sentence, mouth open, one hand caught pointing to a bright screen full of code, head half-turned toward her notoriously flaky boss.
“Yeah, sorry, Ducinda. Do you mind very much just giving us one sentence of the findings?” He twists uncomfortably in his seat.
Titters erupt at varying amplitudes from the other eight senior managers seated around the thick-glass elliptical table.
“Ah… right… Well, simply, the generative adversarial algorithm that I was, briefly, trying to explain, has run its course. Our scrum team has gone over the options and we have…”
“How much?” Kevin squirms again.
Ducinda throws caution to the wind. “We need another two-and-a-half million…”
“Over what time period?”
“Three months.” Her shoulders sag as the bare reality is tabled without so much as a soft landing.
“It’ll take at least seven. You can have 5 million and I want reports every two weeks.” He drills past Ducinda’s pupils as she inhales sharply. “No more than half a page. One line per paragraph. Metrics to explain each assertion. If you use any trumperbolic shit you’ll be back to coding.”
Kevin smiles sweetly at her as he gets up. “There. That wasn’t hard, was it?”
At the glass door Kevin turns his head to the group. “You won’t need me for the rest of this, will you? All agreed? Good. Finish up. Wrap it tightly. Get it bloody-well DONE!”
He pushes on the exit palm-reader and the door slides open quickly.
Eagle among turkeys. Damnit. How the hell do I find some real spine! And creative brains!
He continues toward the glass-on-aluminum staircase and bounds up to the offices.
His phone buzzes. Slowing to a quick walk, Kevin reads a text then goes to a dozen emails that have piled up while he was in the meeting. Still climbing floors, he types a reply to the text.
“Ok,” mumbling as he palms through the door to his office level. “More gobbling from HR. I need a break.”
Kevin pulls his light-brown hair into place as he approaches his righthand-person, Leslee. The stand-upable desk is presently down and Leslee is hunched over his keyboard, seated on the very edge of his tan-leather chair.
“Kevin, did you text…”
“And you saw the notification from Justice…”
“Yeah.” Kevin palms his main door but only half-enters.
“Oh god. I hate that tone of yours.”
With a wry grin, “Distribute my workload, will you? Please?”
The only other raptor around here. A falcon. But definitely not a turkey.
Kevin smiles kindly, “A week. Can you give me a deciday?”
“Ten days!? Are you mad? This isn’t some mom-and-pop dime store operation, boss! What do you expect me to do – perform miracles?”
“Yes, please. Thank you, Leslee.” Kevin taps the edge of Leslee’s desk gently and enters his office, then sends over his shoulder, “Love you!” as the door zips closed.
Inside, Kevin stares blankly for a few precious minutes at the to-die-for view of the north shore mountains. His reverie is interrupted with Leslee’s coded beeps as the door bursts open.
Without turning, Kevin greets, “Sheila. Ever knock?” He continues staring at the window but now looks for the reflection of the Chair of the Board of Softdoc Inc., Sheila Hawkins.
Definitely a hawk. She won’t be caught traipsing down a fashion runway but people will turn to her first if something goes wrong. I just get the impossible tasks.
Leslee’s dark face shows in the reflection behind Sheila, shrugging his shoulders. The door zips closed, cutting off Leslee’s broad white grin.
“Kevin! Get your damn nose off that glass and turn around!”
He does turn with the intention of greeting his Chair with either a hug or at least a handshake, but she plops down into one of the comfortable chairs beside his bookcase. Sheila indicates the other chair with a firm wave. Kevin slips into it obediently.
Schoolmarm’s on the warpath. What’s got her shorts up her ass? And dressed for Tai Chi. Must have been interrupted.
Kevin reaches over to pat Sheila’s arm. “How many more millions can I make for you today, my dear?”
Sheila allows a smile to escape.
The way to her heart is through her purse.
Trying to get back to a severe expression, “I was at a meeting with old McKay…”
“I didn’t know he was into Tai Chi.”
“Kevin, the stock price over the last quarter has tanked.”
“As in, it has only risen three point eight percent over the previous quarter.”
“Right. What the hell’s going on? The atmosphere downstairs is, well, nice. You don’t get paid to keep this place contented like a herd of fucken milk-cows. They need to be tense! They need to be looking to conquer the world!” She spits it out. “Not looking like the offices of some fucken environmental NGO!”
She’s obviously never visited an environmental NGO!
Sheila gets up to take the advantage of height. “The stockholders are going to get mad as hell when they see the next financials!”
Kevin puts his fingers together delicately. “So, the eleven of us who own ninety-five percent of the stock…”
She points a finger to emphasize, “Ninety-ONE percent, NOW!”
“Sharing the wealth, my dear. The hard-working people around us in this money-factory do deserve a small part of the rewards.”
Unexpectedly to Kevin, that puts Sheila on the edge of red-faced outrage. “Sharing the wealth?! Are you out of your fucken HEAD?!” Sheila huffs several times, calming down with each puff. “Are you out of your fucken head? What do think this is – day care for, for, what did say once…? Turkeys?”
What comes around…
With an air of correctness, “My dear. Your unabashed appeal to the entitlement of the aristocracy does not become you. What is the root of your dissatisfaction? Is that little island across from Papeete too expensive this year? We can arrange…”
“Who told you about that? Damnit, Kevin! Is nothing private anymore?” She stomps away to the window. A Seabus crossing to the north shore takes her attention. She tries to parry with, “You still have that place in Samoa?”
Diversion. So, is this keeping up with the Joneses? My own diversion is in order…
“I have other interests, my dear. Trying to piece together the parts of a unique marketing campaign.”
“Like what? The last few years have pushed and blasted through all the boundaries. What else is there?”
Got me… Hmm… Oh. Games and gambling are always a good bet…
“A, ah, poker run.”
She turns to face Kevin. “That’s old hat. How can you pull that into this century?”
“Our people have come up with some pleasantly inventive ways of applying blockchain and even more advanced DLT – you are familiar with distributed ledger tech?”
Gives me time to think…
“Christ, Kevin. Do I look like a TeenyTwit?”
“Right. So, what I’m working on is a grand, ah, Rally… run by high profile, high power personalities… all using our DTL apps. The media’ll love it cause they can do their endless Breaking News shit, and it will need them to go to exotic places for the coverage.”
“Exotic places? How much is this going to…”
“Exotic for regular folks, like, ah, Whistler, Walla Walla…”
“You mean Bella Bella. Damn easterners.”
“Smella Smella – whatever. Around here. In fact, around the Island. Vancouver Island.” He gets up to pace as he thinks. “There’ll be stages of the Rally with each using different transportation modalities. Everyone gets the same thing for each Stage… The kicker is, it’s not just the old fashioned ’have to run each section at the right time’ Rally. There’ll be tough questions like, like Jeopardy at the end of each section and they get points for them as well as doing the driving. All run by our apps, and im-fucken-mutably recorded on our branded blockchain. Anyone in the world who registers – cha-ching – gets a cryptokey to see where all the points are going. It’s going to take over the twitterverse and every other ‘verse there is!”
Gotta write that shit down. Damn I’m good on my feet! Leslee should have it recorded. Text him to confirm.
As he reaches for his phone Sheila yells at him, “Put your damn phone away!…”
“Ok, Kevin. Sounds interesting. Gonna have sailing and flying in it?”
Her pet topics, recently. This is right on!
“Second and third Stages. Finishing with a bike run to, ah, Victoria.”
A brief nod and Sheila rises slowly. “Keep me posted, Kevin. Sounds very interesting.”
As she exits, Leslee’s phone dings quietly. A quick glance and he gives a thumb’s up to Kevin before the door zips closed.
Book signing Today! Simon Linkenfelder! Buy his book: My Ups and Downs in the Olympics.
The line of eager young buyers stretches out the door.
Inside, seated at a small table is Simon Linkenfelder, himself: The Wonderful One, as every sportscaster will dutifully add. Despite being an Olympian and having suffered through hours of autograph signings, Simon is not at all used to greeting so many fans while in a suit, particularly for “his” literary production.
Ghostwriter agreement should have included her doing these signing thingys for me.
His wrist is getting sore from writing the purchaser’s name and one of several designated short phrases after “To…”
His publisher’s marketing person and his designated handler, a senior lady who must have done this thousands of times, wears a sincerely pasted smile as she assists by confirming that each book presented for signing was just purchased.
Without seeing the purchaser, other than as “The Next In Line”, Simon politely says, “Which name shall I make this out to?”
This purchaser, a shy man just into his twenties, smiles sheepishly. “To David, please. And can you add To Joe, as well? He’s my dad. Late dad.”
Simon writes as bidden and decides on phrase number two for David: Reach higher and hold on tight! Then something snaps Simon out of automaton mode. He looks up at the fellow. “David? Did your father own a novelty import store off Queen Street?”
A big grin forms on David’s face. “Yes. Yes he did… Passed away last year.” The grin disappears and David bows his head.
“Oh My God! David! It’s so good to see you! And I am very sorry about your dad. I was very fond of him.”
Scenes flash by in his mind. Row of stores beside the clanging red trolleys. Joe – likeable Joe – putting boxed trinkets into a larger box to make up the order for Simon’s sister. Joe looking impish as he holds up a thicker-than-life-like nine-inch pink dildo: “Would you like I should put a few of these in, Simon? Her customers will get a kick out of them!”
Shaking his head out of the reverie, “Listen David, here’s my card. Call me, please. Later today. We can have a coffee after supper.”
David receives his signed book, places the card inside, then holds it close to his chest. “I’d love that, Simon. Sure. Can I text?”
“Of course! We’ll talk later. It’s really good to see you again!”
The rest of the lineup is a blur. All Simon can do is remember – especially that time Joe confided that he was a secret agent
For the Mossad and he had dearly wanted to fly, especially after the Yom Kippur War, but he had a heart condition that stopped him.
“Simon. You’re a pilot. I want for David to fly on his bar mitzva. Can you fly us someplace, so he can see what it’s like to be a bird in the air?”
“I’d love to, Joe. When…?”
“Next weekend. Can that be done? It would mean a great deal to me if you could do this thing.”
Markham Airport. Carrier landing. The Jeppsen said the main runway started from the edge of a cliff, and it was right on. Parked the plane – my good old white and blue Piper Clubwing – near the coffee shop. Joe and his son were outside the fence. Brought them around to my plane. Joe sat in the right-hand seat – co-pilot’s seat. I asked if David should sit up front but Joe was firm, “I need this, Simon.”
We headed for Lake Simcoe. Had to keep Joe’s heavy fingers off the dials and nav-com. “Joe.”
“WHAT? CAN’T HEAR.”
Adjusted his earphones. “Joe, why don’t you take the controls for a bit?”
“What!? I can’t fly!”
Showed him how to hold it straight-and-level in two axes. He was ham-handed. After a minute he gave me back control. “What does this do?” pointing at the Turn-and-Bank.
“It’s like a carpenter’s level. Tells me how much of a bank the airplane’s in, how level it is.” I put the plane into a thirty-degree left bank, adjusting with rudder pedals to stay straight. The Turn-and-Bank rolls to its midpoint.
Joe is fascinated. “David! See! We can see down past the wings!… Does it go further or will we fall out of the sky?”
“Sure. That was at 30. Here, this is 60 degrees.”
Joe strains in his harness, looking past me at what seems to be straight down to the ground, five thousand feet below. I hear a gurgle from David.
“David! You alright back there?”
A weak, “Yessir,” comes from the seat behind Joe.
Joe is excited. “Can it go the other way?”
“A right bank? Sure.” I more gently put my trusted Piper into a 60 degree right bank, fiddling a bit with the rudder pedals to keep it knife-edge. The view out their window is straight down.
Joe is turning red with excitement. “Isn’t that remarkable, David? Are you enjoying this airplane ride?”
A brief pause, a gulp, then, “Yes papa. Fun.”
“Good! Listen, Simon. Can you make it go up and down. Like a roller coaster?” He claps his hands in glee.
“Sure. Porpoising.” I ease into a dive and then pull up.
A sudden gurgle erupts as David nearly dumps his stomach down his dad’s back. Only the height of the seat saves Joe from the hot wet mess.
“David! Are you alright?” I turn to look but don’t want to see. “We’re heading around to Markham, Joe!”
Landed. Stopped. Joe climbs out and as he helps his son out of the back seat I say, “In piloting lingo, Joe, He what done it, cleans it.”
I come around to inspect the damage. David is wobbling toward the buildings.
Joe looks in to see what he has to do. Staring at the offensive mess he yells to David, “David! Come back here!”
A pale green David obediently returns.
Joe points at the floor where David did his thing. “David! You don’t chew your eggs!”
That was when Simon had to apologize profusely to the book purchaser into whose face he laughed loudly.
Simon meets up with David that evening at a local coffee shop on Main Street. The large room in the rear is full with individuals on their myriad devices, sipping occasionally from their favourite caffeinated beverage. With rare luck, a table for two is available in the middle of the room.
No outlets, otherwise, no seats.
David is reluctant to open up, at first. He listens with as much attention as he can muster while Simon answers the obligatory questions about the Olympics. A next-door listener fairly jumps out of his chair when he realizes this is the Simon Linkenfelder, The Wonderful One.
With a polite smile, “Not quite champion, I’m afraid. Two silvers and a bronze. But if you don’t mind, please, I am here for a quiet talk with an old friend.” He half-nods to the fan, to obtain his acquiescence.
“Oh! Ah, yeah. Sure. Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry…”
Quickly, “I was just wondering if you would mind autographing my, ah… anybody got a piece of paper?”
The fan searches desperately around until someone rips out a sheet of paper and hands it to him.
The fan almost trips on his table leg while retrieving the paper and again as he steps to Simon with it. Chuckles from a number of the others, along with many head shakes. Now everybody hunkers down to their devices, completely blind to their screens timing-out as they listen, heads averted, but with rapt attention to everything they can hear from Simon Linkenfelder, The Wonderful One.
He still has a Sharpie from the book signing and is about to ask “To whom should I sign this book”, but stops in time and just scribbles his signature-number-3 on the paper.
David is uncomfortable. He whispers, “I’m really sorry to drag you out into this public, public forum, Simon.”
Waving it off, “Not at all, David. My pleasure. Really… So tell me, if you don’t mind, David. How was your father in his last years?”
Very touchy topic, by his face.
“Oh, Simon. He suffered so much. His heart. It was torture for him. The doctors kept saving him and it only meant more torture. My mother was never the same. She spent 24 hours a day slaving to ease his pain… I couldn’t… I was at uni, up in Prince George, when he finally passed. I borrowed a friend’s old diesel and just kept the pedal to the floor for eight hours when mother called.”
Simon consoled David by holding his hand.
Was that a sob I heard? From the cold-blue hair two tables over?
“I’m so sorry, David. So sorry.”
Nods from a few tables.
David looks up into Simon’s face. “Every time we talked, then, before he… He always smiled when he spoke about how he flew your airplane.” David reflects the smile. Then so quietly, others shouldn’t hear, “And, of course, the story got better each time. I went along with it. With his memories, as they changed. If you ever meet my mother, Simon, please swear that you’ll say it was you who threw up and papa had to land the plane? Please?”
David’s pleading face would have softened Caligula.
Or maybe not…
Whispering, “Sure. Of course. I will forever be indebted to your father for saving my life.” He nods, to fix that in his mind.
Another sob from the lady-of-blue-hair. Next table wipes her eyes as unobtrusively as she can.
Better write that into my Contacts.
“David. I’d like to put you in my Contacts. Here…” He taps his way to the app. “I’ll let you enter the info.”
Do I detect a few jealous scowls around me?
That is when Kevin Ynqardi’s text shows up, much to Simon’s astonished stare.
Who the hell is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my personal number… I’ll check that out later.
As they are reminiscing, Simon’s marketing person/handler can be seen at the entrance to the rear hall. Simon is not quick enough to hide his face.
Damn. Thought I could be rid of her for tonight.
She strides over to their table. Simon rises to greet her. “Hi Mary. Why don’t you join us? This is an old family friend, David. David, Mary.”
Her permanent smile is now tired but she manages a civil greeting. “Hello David. Pleased to meet you. I hope you don’t mind the company of an old lady amongst all these young…” Then she notices the fan who has continued to pay rap attention to Simon and David.
Not too quietly, “Dirty Jap!”
David is shocked. The kind of shock such as having a rapier thrust into your heart.
Simon is not sure if he heard correctly. He peers at the fan.
The fan hears the comment and rises, not knowing what to do. He stands in place, only his lips opening and closing limply. Someone reaches out, offering to steady him.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see dribbles of blood come from his mouth.
The sweet, refined, elderly lady spits it out again in his direction. “Dirty Jap.”
The over half-century of hatred has not lost its venom.
Honestly, I was going to say to her: Mary, that is not civilized. That is not the way to speak to another person in this day-and-age. To a young man who was not even born in the century in which your father’s terrible torture occurred.
I was going to expand into the philosophical realm, to remind her that humanity’s tribes have, every one, been both victim and perpetrators of tragic wrongs throughout our profoundly slow march out of raw animalism. We no longer put to the sword the children of our new mates, as do lions on the Serengeti. We strive for reasoned, respectful discussion when disputes arise.
I was going to implore her to take the harder, more obscured, civilized path to a higher culture.
But no, this ninety-one year old relic stumbled away babbling to herself, deaf to the astonished intakes of breath around her; not hearing a few who said, That’s just a blind old bitch.
I expected her to go off, find a drink and a deep chair where she would sit, her encrusted mind spinning in ever tightening circles as the internal echo-chamber reverberates, finally with no further substance other than the simple-minded hatreds she and her tribe have been nurturing for so long.
I dearly wish I could have said all this to her, but I was struck dumb by polite society.
David and Simon can no longer speak. David gets up and walks slowly to the fan, who had sunk back into his chair.
“I am really, truly sorry for what that old woman said to you. It was totally inexcusable and I am mortified to have been present when she said it. You, in no way, deserve to have been treated like that.” He turns to leave the fan in peace, then quietly says, “Can I get you a refill?”
Still in shock, the fan summons a slight smile. “Thank you. Thank you, no. I couldn’t…” Then in a pleading tone, “I’m not even Japanese. What’s she on about? … Who the hell does she think she is?” He looks around at others who are staring; some nodding.
Still standing sideways, kindly, “A bitter old lady whose mind has been forever shaped by the trauma. That is her only view of the world, now. Nothing can be done for her.”
Shaped by trauma. A wise old kid. Maybe he recognizes the effects from home. I like him.
Roselyn (Rosey), is a twenty-eight year old woman dressed in a fashionable short dress and tight sweater. Her colour choices today reflect the bright sunny days that have taken over for the summer. Her cubicle has pictures of places she had served in, while in JTF2. Rosie is lost in thought, staring at the pictures that contain no identifiable people or locations – only the landscapes.
From several cubicles away, her younger friend Elena, with a similarly coloured shirt, though in black yoga pants, comes to chat.
Rosey finishes typing and gets up. She takes her purse, confirming that her phone is inside. She and Elena head down the hall, close enough that they rub arms several times. With their outside arms, they both check for updates on their phones as they walk almost arm-in-arm toward the elevator. They have become good friends since Rosie’s first week here, a few months ago.
But first they need to hit the washroom together.
The cafeteria is loud with a hundred conversations. Pennants proclaim the monthly theme: South America.
Near Chiclayo, what was the name… Old Chapel of Jesus Eten. Peru is a world of its own. Old Spanish and so many local colloquialisms that a course in Spanish does not help at all. Swarthy stumpy local – nearly had to break the guy’s arm when he thought I’d just lay down like all his other girls. Ha! The look on his face!
Rosie smiles as she takes in the smells of spicy dishes wafting around the room. People flow slowly along the hot-foods line then disperse quickly into the large, airy room.
Rosey and Elena chat while in the food line. Rosey hears a ding from her phone and opens it to see the notification. Quickly, she appears to look away, examining closely one of the food items, in the process moving her phone away from Elena’s view. She closes her phone without further action.
Someone else who’s looking for a broken arm. Or worse.
Elena notices the move. “Who’s that? Your secret lover?” Her smile is anticipatory.
Rosey wants to shrug it off, then offers a wry grin, “El, honey, it’s just a missile from Kenney, your current flame. He wants to do us both under the totems in Stanley Park.”
“HUH!” Elena snorts loudly enough to make heads turn. “If that dim-witted nerd ever had a sensuous thought in his linear mind, it’d melt the contents of his bald head down his double throat!”
Nearby people in the line smile but keep their attention on the food options and the upcoming server at the counter.
“So why do you still have coffee with him?”
“Good question. ‘Cause he pays for my lattes?… Naw. ‘Cause he’d probably go postal if I dumped him? Maybe… How do we get ourselvesinto this shit?” Elena shakes her head.
Have to take the idiot aside for a private word. Later. Elena is still so young.
Taking their orders on trays, the two divide their attention between looking for an open table and checking out who is sitting with whom. Rosey sees Elena’s bald supervisor wink at her as he holds his phone suggestively. She automatically steers the other way, bumping Elena’s tray.
“Hey! Take it easy, Rosey. You see someone over here?”
Deliberately walking away from the winker, “No. I remember I get a cold draft from the main entrance area.”
And I don’t want to make a stink in here. Supposed to be easing quietly back into civilized society. It’s so very tempting to go over to that stupid ape and put into his place – half-way through a wall.
A more peaceful pursuit catches Rosie’s eye. “Oh! Isn’t that Shannon with the new-hire from IT? Why don’t we go over to play cupid? Or something?” They both giggle as they weave their way to Shannon’s table.
It feels delightfully decadent and immature to act decadently and immaturely.
Elena gets there first and stands beside the IT guy. She notices his couple days of facial hair growth. “Hey Shannon! You’re looking particularly glowing today.” She winks at the IT guy, who blushes and puts his head down, chin nuzzling against his white golf-shirt.
Rosey takes up a flanking position. “Ohh, I love that pink sweater, don’t you Elena? The frills add just the right touch. And I don’t think it quite exceeds his royal arseness’ rules for exposure.”
The IT guy perks his head up, briefly taking in a full view of Elena’s fulsome breasts a few inches from his head, “Royal Arseness?” He pulls his eyes up very briefly to notice Elena’s hazel eyeshadow.
Shannon feels she must rein in her friends with a few words of her own. “Oh, they’re making fun of the department manager. You know him, Billy? And, by the way, these two lovely gossips are Elena and Rosey. Rosey is new, too.”
Yeah three months new, too-full-of-yourself bitch.
Shannon nods at each in turn while an embarrassed Billy almost raises his eyes again to acknowledge them. “Billy is our new expert in Security App Installations and Troubleshooting.”
Rosey grins down at Billy, “SAIP?”
Stupid acronyms is this joint, too?
A smile and another extended perusal of Elena’s best, “Yeah. Better than Password Parsing and Totalizing.” He continues to smile at all three for a minute until it becomes clear they do not get his joke.
Elena takes a stab, “PPT?”
“No no. Passpartoot. Get it?”
Rolled eyes all around.
A nerd. Yellow-Lab-cute but not a threat. Short term, anyway.
“Shannon, honey, you’ve got your work cut out for you.” Rosey gives Shannon the eye and steers Elena to an open table nearby.
Elena glances back over her shoulder at Billy, who is following her with his eyes. Elena tosses her mostly blonde hair with a free hand. Billy gets a jab in the ribs from Shannon’s sharp elbow.
Next morning in the cubicles, Billy enters the office area shyly. He is now clean shaven and wearing a medium blue button-up shirt and grey dress-slacks. He is carrying a small briefcase.
Rosey sees everything that moves.
Neutral party in camouflage. Interesting…
Elena sees him, too, and holds her gaze on him for a while, confirming it really is the same scruffy-looking Billy she saw in the cafeteria. He sees her and makes a bee-line for her desk, negotiating the obstacle course of low dividers and plants.
Billy’s trajectory doesn’t take an extended series of logistical analyses.
A smile forms as Rosey sees the deliberateness of his approach. Still working on her computer, she continues to track Billy, and Elena’s reaction.
Non-com entering the field the battle – drawn like a bear to honey. Watch out kid, your fingers could get burned.
Billy arrives at his target. “Hi. Ah… I, ah, I’m doing a security audit. Just a random audit. And, ah, I was wondering if you have a few minutes?”
“Oh, hi Billy. Well, like, ok. If you can give me a minute so’s I can finish this off?” She nods at a spreadsheet on her screen.
In the cafeteria, Shannon is sitting with Billy. She has on another fetching blouse that might well exceed his royal arseness’ specification for skin exposure. Billy is distracted, not listening attentively to Shannon’s opinion on the outlandish cost of rentals in the city.
“Billy! I asked what you think. I hate it when you just mumble ‘Um’ at everything I say!” She is annoyed with his wandering eyes today. “Are you ok?” She leans toward him, opening up her cleavage more suggestively. “You have something on your mind?”
When a slight jiggle doesn’t capture his attention she leans back and combs a hand through her hair.
Billy continues to scan the arriving staff. As Elena and Rosey enter the cafeteria, he sits up.
Shannon deduces the object of his focused attention. “Elena and Rosey. Is that who you’re looking for? Billy?”
“Ah, yeah. I, ah, had to do a security audit this morning on, on Elena’s computer. Wanted to see if it’s still working ok.”
Shannon gives a perfunctory wave at Rosey. The line moves quickly and Rosey and Elena make their way directly to Shannon’s table.
Action places. Battle lines are quickly established.
Elena takes the chair next to Billy as Rosey and Shannon pass pleasantries.
Billy puts his nose down and munches loudly through his salad. After a minute his throat gets a message through to his brain regarding the excessive heat of the two jalapeño peppers he guzzled. “OW! AH AH WATER!”
There is no water but Elena gives him her orange juice. He grabs it and downs it desperately even as Rosey is trying to say, “You really shouldn’t. Water makes it worse…”
Bread, you dork. Has to absorb the shit, not spread it around.
Billy’s face turns a bright red as he struggles to breathe between gulps.
Shannon sits back. “Serves you right for inhaling your food like that… Are you alright, Billy?”
Rosey breaks off some of her bread and offers it to him. Billy takes it in one gulp, swallowing rather than munching.
Rosey is still holding her fingers out after his grab. “You should let the bread absorb…”
He swallows it whole. He starts to cough and choke. After an ineffectual cough, with his face changing from red toward blue, Elena slaps his back, then again, harder. Billy coughs more productively, spraying large wet bits around the table.
Friendly fire. I’ll call for a stitcher if the casualty needs it.
Shannon recoils, pulling her hands away from the table, “Oo! Yuck. Billy!”
He’ll be ok, no thanks to the bitch.
Rosey wipes a few pieces from her shirt then starts to clean up the table as Billy has more controlled coughs into his hand. “Well, never mind the mess. Clean-up in aisle three. I guess we’re not finishing lunch today.” Concerned with Billy, “Are you ok now?”
Billy nods sheepishly, wipes his mouth, then has a couple more clearing coughs. Elena has been holding him by his shoulders, all but enveloping his head in her bosom, giving a worried, motherly look.
Non-com is about to be in the line of fire.
Leaning forward, Shannon has noticed the support that Elena is giving him. She stands up and grabs his hand. “Come on honey. Let me take you to the washroom. We both need to clean up.” She flashes an angry glance at Elena. “If Elena hadn’t stuffed that bread down your throat you’d be alright.”
Elena is blindsided, “Huh? I didn’t…”
Really is a bitch.
Shannon shuffles Billy away.
Elena looks for support from Rosey, pleading, “I didn’t give him the bread.”
“Of course not. I did. It wasn’t the bread. It was the double dose of jalapeños. Don’t sweat it, El. Shannon is like that.”
“Well, why’d she accuse me…?”
“Listen, El. You were getting too close to her prize. You know that Billy’s family owns property in the west end?”
“Huh? What’s that got to do…?”
“Come on, kid. He was panting for you like a puppy. What do you expect her to do?”
“Like, besides not yelling at him for getting sick with those peppers? Poor guy. Didn’t think she was like that.”
Back at work, next morning.
Office noises – one-sided conversations with clients on the phone, chairs creaking – all under the bright lights of too many fluorescents and creeping bands of sunlight from wide windows on the south side.
Rosey stretches up from her chair and decides to take her mid-morning break. Elena joins her in the washroom.
As Rosey is washing her hands, Elena is in front of the mirror. This surprises Rosey.
“You usually leave that for the weekend battles.”
Elena is now self-conscious. She corrects a smudge with more powder on her left cheek. “Just… you know, being a little more presentable… Is it too much?”
“Don’t ask me, El. I’m not the target.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Elena is getting agitated.
Step more carefully. She is now in full brainless mode.
“You look lovely, El. You really do.”
Elena calms down, checking her profile in the mirror.
It elicits a smile from Rosey. “Billy coming to do another security check?”
Elena stops, collects her accessories into her purse and asks testily, “So what if he is?”
“Nothing at all, dear. Nothing at all.”
As Elena turns to leave, Rosey can’t help mumbling to herself, “May the best woman win.”
At a bistro, that weekend…
Talk about brainless mode. Well, anyway, that’s what I need to do. Forget the real world.
Loud music, yelling conversations, lights flashing, gyrating dancers on the floor, small groups and twosomes more-or-less conversing at tables and on couches around the dance floor. Some are drinking, some are taking other forms of mind-altering chemicals. Much smiling and nodding.
Everybody is stoned one way or another.
Elena is dressed in a knock-out bright tangerine and neon blue combo that mostly contains her ample figure. Rosey is, in her own way, more subtly attractive in a light green and tan dress. They are both wearing high heels.
Elena’s heels look weaponized. God! I don’t know how long I’ll be able keep my feet in these things. A drink – a medicinal drink!
Occupying a white leather couch, their drinks are on a low table in front. An already empty glass sits behind Elena’s current drink. Elena is being unusually flamboyant with her arm gestures, attracting many appreciative glances and stares from nearby male dancers.
Shannon comes arm-in-arm with Billy as she leads him into the room. Her outfit is bright, tight and revealing but she is on edge. Billy is not at all comfortable in this environment.
That black golf shirt and dark grey slacks might have been appropriate a generation ago, Patrick Swayze.
Billy looks around for a corner to hide in.
Poor guy. He needs a one-bum foxhole.
The crowd is more dense in front of Elena, so she does not notice Billy and Shannon right away. Her sensors, however, are in high tension so when she does catch a slight glimpse of Billy, Elena rises immediately. Bending back down to speak to Rosey, she has to hold her breasts under cover. Yelling, with a bit of a slur, “I’m going to resupply. Want another one yet?”
Recon done. The battle is engaged.
Shaking her head, Rosey shows her half-full glass. Elena downs her own drink with a glug and heads for where she last saw Billy.
There will be fireworks. Confirm the exits.
Meanwhile, Shannon’s defensive antennas are in tune. She has detected the gathered crowd, presumed it to be around Elena, and instinctively steers Billy to the far side of the bar area.
Getting the attention of a bartender, she yells, “Two red wines, please. Large glasses.”
As Shannon pays for the drinks, she is dismayed to discover that Elena is already zeroing in on Billy. Elena’s approach takes her, rather aggressively, through the dancers. One of the guys objects to Elena’s drunken bump and turns to yell at her. She bats her eyelashes and deflects his anger with an air kiss and a forward lean. Elena swings unsteadily past the now-smiling dancer to resume her attack.
Meanwhile, Shannon has moved with Billy into a defensive position behind a couch. She places Billy with his back to a large light fixture that blocks the path to the other end of the couch, then pats the top cushion for Billy to sit on. Positions established, she smiles down to greet the couch’s mostly-oblivious occupants. The wall, a meter and a half behind the couch, is mirrored so it affords good 360o visibility.
As Elena approaches the couch, Shannon pretends to ignore her, while tracking her movements in the mirror. Shannon continues to keep Billy occupied with random yelled questions.
From the other side of the room, Rosey has stood up to better reconnoitre. She sees that Billy is being overwhelmed by the mass of datapoints hitting every sensor.
Billy is breaking through the wire and about to enter the minefield.
All Billy perceives is Shannon’s flapping mouth. Billy falls into a panic attack and pushes past Shannon, through the dancers. He bumps into the previously bumped dancer who yells at him. Billy starts to put his hands up to his ears to shut the world out but receives a quick uppercut from the angry dancer. A nearby dancer, seeing the unfairness of the attack, tries to get between Billy and his attacker. The Good Samaritan has to duck another swing from the now enraged attacker, who believes a group is after him. Meanwhile, Billy is on the floor, crawling away desperately from the developing brawl.
Back at the couch, Shannon takes the opportunity to blindside a distracted Elena, sending her down onto the couch occupiers.
Rosey sees the punch and rushes over to her friend, narrowly avoiding the shoving dancers.
Just help El. No Rambo shit.
Getting to a woozy Elena, who is being petted in various parts of her body by the four people she landed on, Rosey starts yelling at Shannon as the music is turned off. “YOU” music off “BITCH!” Quieter, “You took a swing at her when she wasn’t looking! What’s got into you?”
The ambient noise, devoid of booming speakers, gets louder as everyone starts yelling at each other. This has the effect of encouraging the fights to go on. Some bystanders are commenting on the action. From a few plaintive voices, “Will you all please just calm down?”
Someone turns the lights on to a dazzling brightness. Lasers no longer flash. The uncomfortable exposure suddenly stops most of the aggressive shoving. People begin to exit the field of battle, then the dribble becomes a general push for the exit.
The crowd erupts onto the darker street, lit only by orange streetlights, prompting a few to carry on the grudges they had developed in the bistro. A siren is closing in …
Company cubicles, Monday.
Elena arrives off the elevator to start her day with a smile. Already there, Rosey greets her cautiously with a whisper.
“El, that bruise is fully covered up. Just saying. Your kiddy grin might start to wrinkle the makeup, though.”
What do you call the opposite of ptsd?
“Yes, a lovely day, isn’t it? And how are you doing this fine Monday morning, Rosey?”
She got it bad, masta.
“Elena? Is that you?” Rosey takes Elena’s hands to hold her down from floating up to cloud nine.
“Don’t be silly, Rosey. I didn’t put that much makeup on, did I?” Suddenly concerned, she reaches for her mirror.
“No no. I mean, like, you hate Mondays. Did Shannon give you a concussion or something?”
With a touch of bemusement, “Shannon? Shannon who?”
“Ok. So, do you remember Billy?”
Elena starts to melt into a sugary creampuff. “Oh, Billy’s fine. Just fine.”
She starts to focus on Rosey, “He called me Sunday morning. He was sooo sweet. Wanted to apologize and all that so I said, like, ‘Let’s do lunch and you can pay and tell me all about what happened last night’. He came out of his shell. Totally. He said all it takes to get him comfortable is to, like, have lunch at the Sylvia. So we stayed and had supper, too. He talked forever. All about his parents, who he adores, and about sailing. Do you know what a baggywrinkle is?”
Elena eyes the stars dreamily, “Billy says it’s like a long mop-end that stops the chafing of a line next to a yard.”
Stifling a laugh, “Gotta remember that if my jeans get too tight.” Rosey looks up at the digital clock. “Off to work we go.”
She takes Elena’s hand with some concern. “Listen, kid. I know you’re in a zone, but this place is not that zone. Wake up, or his Nibs’ll be standing over your desk. Ok?”
Still in dreamland, “Fine.”
That’s when Rosey gets the text from Kevin Ynqardi.
Who the hell is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my personal number… I’ll check that out later.
“A year ago, working for the land south of the Great White North…”
Canada is not particularly great but they tell me it’s bigger than America (yeah, I’m American! Damn right!) “I had a stroke. The stroke was a surprise, needles to say, and I guess more to my friends and family.”
The well-muscled former Navy Seal, Lawrence (Lance) Patrick is speaking as much to himself as to the cabbie. It was going to be an hour-and-a-half drive to downtown Vancouver, so Lance wanted to pass the time. He leans forward onto the front-passenger seat most of the way, speaking at the cabbie and keeping a close eye on the trip in from the Peace Arch Border Crossing. Fortunately, the cabbie doesn’t understand Lance’s accent very well so all he does is smile and nod at Lance in the mirror. It was going to be a treasure of a trip, even with a (legally, anyway) deadhead back to White Rock.
“Don’t drink more than a few glasses of beer a year and I’ve never smoked. So it seems the regular boxes of donuts from CreamyCrisp are the problem.”
Still are. But who’s to bloody-well know?
“Had the stroke on Monday, alone, while, ah, digging a deep hole.”
Entrenching in a snipper position in eastern ‘Ghan.
“That’s when, WHAM! It happened!”
The cabby is startled and stares in the mirror at his rough-looking passenger.
“Looking up from the, ah, floor, it was bloody frustrating that my whole left side had suddenly decided to go on strike. I used to climb ropes without a problem and now here I was in the dirt and I couldn’t even pull my damn body up to the, the top.
“Got bruises all over my back when I fell, then again when I crawled on my back to the sat-phone.”
Lance looks at the cabbie.
Shithead isn’t listening so it doesn’t really matter.
“Those bruises looked a lot worse later, ‘cause of the blood thinners they gave me – something called tPA.
“So there I am on my back, and I finally figured it must be a stroke. Me! How the hell do I get a friggen stroke? So then the only way to get help was to push on my back with my right arm and one live leg. I pushed against the shallow part where my phone was sitting up on top. With only one side working I pushed so friggen hard I scratched a bloody rut down my back against a rock. Couldn’t believe how goddamn hard it was!”
Still got no idea how I did it!
“Finally got high enough to reach the phone with my good hand. Called it in and it took almost as much trouble to tell the bastard on the other end that I was really having a friggen stroke!
“Then I had to flop back down without hitting my head, to, to get ready for the medevac to come.”
And find my weapon and get a signal light for the chopper to see my position as it flew overhead.
“The, ah, paramedics went through the stroke protocol.”
Every-friggen-stitcher I saw for a week goes over the same shit: “Where are You? How many fingers? Can you move this? Can you move that? I was ready to shoot the bastards!
“The the paramedics called it in right away. Some doc back in his office says, shoot him up with the wonder drug they took with them.”
Some kind of super blood thinner, I found out later. How the hell were they so sure it was the right kind of stroke? Found out later I would have bled to death from every pore in my head if it was the other kind of stroke… Well – better than a wheelchair.
“They evaced me and next thing I know there’s a crowd of doctors and nurses prodding and poking every part, and I mean every damn part of my body. Found out they cut open the main vein from my leg at my crotch and stuck in a filter to catch more of the little globs migrating up from the DVT. That’s deep vein thrombosis. Got that from flying around the world for years in the tiny seats they give you in airplanes.”
Jesus – maybe he is listening. Moving his legs like he has DVT.
“Gave me CAT scans and DOG scans and everything but frizzing my hair with x-rays.”
Gotcha. You’re smiling.
“As they wrapped me up on the operating table, the doc finished by saying, ‘Hold up your left arm and wave.’
“I did, and he says, ‘Take that picture! This guy’s the poster boy for what needs to be done right!’
“They kicked me out in a week. Nothing wrong with me after all that. Nothing. If those guys didn’t shoot me up with the super blood thinner by 2 to 3 hours I’d be in a wheelchair right now.”
Sent those stitchers a box of chocolates each – and a thousand dollars with it.
Lance smiles with the memory. “They didn’t want to say it was ‘cause of my years of airplane hours so they looked everywhere when I got back to Germany. HAH!”
The cabbies jumps and involuntarily swerves the car over the lane, then quickly corrects.
“Haha! Sorry, man. Was just thinking about the young newbie who had to ultrasound my cojones!”
The cabbie looks quizzically in the mirror.
“My nuts! Here she is taking my nuts and rolling the ultrasound thing around each one! HAH!”
They both have a good laugh.
“And there was this guy in the hospital in Germany who was my chauffer in the hospital. He takes me on gurney rides through all the back halls to get from one station to another. The guy has enough shards of metal and tattoos poking out of every part of his body that I can see! He could’ve been the willing victim of a low-velocity hand grenade! Hah!… Great guy, though.”
That’s when Lance gets the text from Kevin Ynqardi.
Who the fuck is Kevin Ynqardi? And how did he get my burn-phone number. This is fucken weird.
Lance texts back forth a few times; then, “Cabbie? How far is Whistler?”
from Dr. Michael Catchpole, author of Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It:
The brain is not really a computer. This is merely a convenient analogy.
The key point I want readers of Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug it to understand is that the brain is a physical entity composed of neurons and neurotransmitters. These are things one can touch and feel. The mind however, in my view, is metaphysical and thus cannot be held in one’s hand. It is nonetheless just as “real” as the brain.
Cognitive neuroscience is the field (along with philosophy) that attempts to bridge the gap between the physical brain and the metaphysical mind. The former, the study of how our brain works, is the discipline of neuropsychology. The latter, the study of how our mind works, is cognitive psychology. To date the gap between these two sub-fields of psychology is narrowing but remains very, very large. We do now know that the physical brain and the metaphysical mind have significant influence upon each other.
In terms of this bi-directional influence, drug companies look solely at the way drugs affect neurotransmitters, which then affect the mind. They have had some partial successes with this approach and certainly have derived remarkable profits from doing so. Importantly, however, and this is my central thesis of my book, simply drugging the brain, be it with medications or for that matter psychedelics, has proven a failure in treating the vast majority of mental disorders drug advertisements and media hoopla to the contrary.
My own view is that influence in the other direction (that the metaphysical mind can affect the physical brain and more importantly that it can be trained to fix itself ) has been much neglected perhaps in part because resultant treatments cannot be patented or monetized. To return to my point, “reprogramming” a mind (via CBT) is certainly more effective for the anxiety disorders than is drugging brains, though the latter approach is occasionally a good adjunct. Also it is true that changes in the physical brain that result from CBT may help solidify CBT treatment gains.
Others’ thoughts on this topic would be most welcome.
opioid crisis had several causes. The primary cause was the rampant
greed expressed by Big Pharma, as detailed in the cases against Johnson
& Johnson, and Purdue Pharma. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter,
supported by 48 other attorneys general, has taken on Big Pharma and
Even so, the people behind the corporations like the Sacklers are
twisting and turning to try to hold onto their billions of blood money.
The loud voices of the people must be heard saying, “That is enough!”
The deaths of thousands is enough! The suffering of hundreds of
thousands is enough!
Suckering the medical community into the role of shills for Big Pharma must stop!
Spreading addiction, destroying families, creating zombies of honest people must stop!
While opioids could have a place for alleviating suffering caused by
certain diseases, opioids and benzodiazepines have been unwittingly
prescribed for things like anxiety-related disorders. These are of the
mind, not the brain. The brain may be treated with invasive measures but
the mind should not be. That would be like taking a scalpel to a
thought. That is not the way it works. Books such as Anxiety: Debug It
Don’t Drug It, by Dr. Michael Catchpole explain the difference.
Send your support to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter by signing this petition. Help him carry on the fight for reason.
It was inspiring. It had drama. The audience truly were provoked to tears, and laughter. And there was some anger.
John Napier-Hemy read from his delightful memoir, Evacuee.
John is a young boy in the middle of WW2, in Victoria and far away from the action:
In addition to having my pockets stuffed with conkers, pellets, elastics, speargrass and blades of grass, I had a small bag of marbles. My best marbles had a red or yellow spiral embedded in the glass, but they were hard to get because of the war. Most of the time we had to put up with marbles that were a murky mixture of green, blue and brown. The worst marbles were called “doughboys”. They were made of baked clay and painted. They cracked almost as easily as our conkers did. The very best were the “steelies”. These were ball bearings that had been purloined from one of the shipyards. They had to be the right size. The small ones were practically useless. The big ones were impressive but impractical, but if you were lucky enough to have one just the right size you had an unbeatable shooter. I felt guilty when I had a steelie in my possession because they were supposed to be important to the War Effort. To play marbles you drew a circle in the dirt, put your marbles inside the circle, and then began by shooting from outside the circle. The boys who were really good at it knew just how to place a spin on their shooters so that they stayed exactly in place after hitting a marble out of the ring. If you knocked a marble out of the ring you were allowed to keep it. Try as I might I never learned how to place a spin on my shooter. Because I had to kneel to play marbles my knees were dirty and bleeding much of the time. This annoyed my mother who had to remove the gravel from my knees with a washcloth before she applied boracic acid and iodine. “For goodness sakes. Stay off your knees or you’ll wear them out altogether,” my mother said. “And don’t keep picking at your scabs. You’ll get an infection and anyway it’s disgusting.” I listened to my mother politely but I never changed my behaviour. How could I possibly play marbles without getting down onto my knees?
Evacuee, pp 63-65
Next, Ben Nuttall-Smith had the audience by the heart with his readings from Margot: Love in the Golden Age. The book is his homage to his partner of the past 16 years, “the best years of my life”. Here is a prescient poem by Margot called Kayaker:
Splashes near my feet. A half-crescent of sparkling sea. The webbed claw and feathered corpse of a sea bird whose spirit is here in the sea-smells.
Dried sea-weed mounds And lovely jeweled light shedding small waves revealing myriad colours on brightened stones. Sun warms my fleecy jacket – But the breeze is cool.
The lap/splash sounds get louder. The hollow woof of the curving water finds my attention. I love this moment. I treasure its fleetingness. I long to hold onto it. This is all I want!
A crab carapace rolls against the bird’s body. Seaweed wraps both dead things.
Not a bad place for a burial! I’m being splashed! I don’t want to move but the beach-space is being eaten by the incoming tide.
Stay here forever. Die here! Like the sea-bird and crab. Roll me in seaweed! Let the tide take me to the forever and ever. My spirit would be so grateful!
My bones rolling with currents My bones becoming sand – being swum over gracefully by fish.
Finally my minerals becoming the sea splashing on many shores, floating sea-birds, reflecting sunlight, being wind-blown into giant, roaring and crashing waves – thundering in praise of the beauty of the Earth.
Margot, pp 15-17
Dr. Michael Catchpole’s Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, was the serious part of the readings. He spoke of the inappropriate use of prescriptions for anxiety-related disorders. While anger was seething below, he professionally explained the causes of anxiety and PTSD, then gave two examples of the cure that is used by registered psychologists. Here is one of the examples of PTSD treatment he read from his book:
A recent (highly modified) example of the latter was, let’s say, a firefighter I had treated, successfully, for PTSD about 10 years ago. He had attended at a very bad fire that tragically included dead children being discovered at the scene. Recently this person came by to see me at my college office (I am retired from clinical practice but continue to teach university courses). He was concerned because his nightmares about the original incident had unexpectedly returned a couple of months ago. He had been to his family doctor who had prescribed Prazosin, an anti-hypertension medication also thought to help with nightmares. However the medication was not working and he wondered if I had any recommendations. My own view is that the nightmares were an effort by his mind (not his brain) to deal with what was a not unexpected re-flare up of his PTSD “mental malware”. I suggested that he might try backing off the medication under his physician’s guidance and instead re-do some of the exposure steps he and I had done when I saw him originally. Ultimately this would include re-visiting the location of the fire. We agreed that he would drive toward the fire site and when his anxiety got to a 7/10 level pull over and wait there for his anxiety response to drop. He would proceed with this series of steps, perhaps over a few days (each provoking anxiety in the 7/10 range) until he could actually stand at the fire scene and have his anxiety not rise above a 3/10. Subsequently, he reported back to me that the re-exposure was tough but that his nightmares had now resolved. While at the fire location, and not unexpectedly, he reported that he cried, which of course also is helpful. While people cannot always re-visit the locations where they acquired a trauma I do note with interest recent work with military combat veterans with PTSD indicating that “re-visiting” PTSD-inducing combat via virtual reality goggles also can replicate the therapeutic benefit of in vivo exposure.
Anxiety, pp 176-177
George Opacic spoke about the book he co-authored with Ron M. Craig, In a Cloud of Sails. He mentioned the series of remarkable adventures that the skipper and crew endured on their way across the Pacific to Australia. The one incident that had a few hairs rising on people’s necks was about Myrt, fortune-teller:
The day before the Consul General visited, and without any clue whatsoever of the existence of the Australian, Ron had, in some desperation, made a decision. He had handed Jeff $200 with instructions to purchase charts to Panama and into the Caribbean for at least as far as Jamaica. Jeff later said that he had no idea what possessed him that day. In a bit of a daze, Jeff had set off to buy the Caribbean charts as instructed. Carrying back his newly purchased charts, he realized in astonishment that what he was carrying was an armload of basic charts for the Pacific, out to Australia! With that realization, he stood on the sidewalk literally gobsmacked. Confusion rattled around his mind. His only rational explanation was to remember the time last year, between his initially shipping out on the Monte Cristo and later becoming skipper. Jeff was working on a dockside project called the Explorer:
In Bremerton, Washington, I had experienced the inexplicable. I had heard from the daughter of the Explorer’s owner that there was a fortune-teller in Bremerton who supposedly possessed amazing powers. I am not by nature a mystical or philosophical person and am certainly not superstitious, other than following the established seagoing customs of never, if possible, sailing on Fridays, always putting a gold piece under a mast before it is stepped, and never whistling up a wind. These rituals are kept more as tradition than from fear of consequences if defaulted. Cheryl, the owner’s daughter, convinced me that I might like having a reading from Myrt, the seer… Myrt invited me in and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. As soon as she said that, she corrected herself. “Oh yes, you drink tea, don’t you,” she stated. She returned presently with the cups on a tray and told me, “You’re a sailor, but not the type we have around here. You’re a real sailor. One who sails sailing ships.” I replied that I was not sailing on any sailing ship at the moment, but wanted to someday. “You will, within two months,” she predicted. “You are going on a long trip,” she said. Here we go, I thought. The next thing she will tell me is that I will meet a dark stranger who will make me wealthy. That should be in the script. I asked her to expand on this. I admitted that a ship I was interested in was planning to sail to the Caribbean to charter there. “No, it’s not going to the Caribbean. You are going to take her to Australia.” Australia? Nobody had mentioned Australia to me before. “You’ll be greeted by thousands of people including heads of state and royalty,” Myrt predicted. “You’ll have difficult times, naturally, but everything will be all right in the end.” I thought the prediction about heads of state and royalty a bit over the top, but it made a great way to spend the afternoon. If nothing else, I was getting my money’s worth… I thanked Myrt and said that maybe I would see her again. No, she told me. She had intimations of her own mortality… She died shortly after that. And her predictions about me were eerily correct, for reasons I cannot explain.
Perhaps Myrt had been instructed by Captain Cook. Indeed, the mysterious appearance of the Pacific charts were to become very useful.
“First, you have to be able to afford
to retire,” mumbles Ian, an almost-retired businessman.
Ian is seated on a lichen-encrusted rock
beside the trail that leads to Elk Falls Bridge. The chain-link sides of the suspension
bridge still glisten with dew in the morning. Rushing water from the river below
provides overpowering music for the idyllic area. Ian closes his eyes as he
takes in a deep lungful of pine forest air.
Ian is alerted by scuffling noises from up
the trail. He sees a thin eighty-year-old in light shorts, white tee-shirt with
a small pack bouncing on his back, using jogging sticks to propel himself toward
the bridge and past Ian’s rock. Giving a quick glance in Ian’s direction, without
slowing down the jogger holds his sticks up while striding down the bridge’s
slope. A lone woman tourist who has been standing quietly in the middle of the
bridge looks up in annoyance at the bouncing caused by the jogger. Then the
watcher is caught in fascination, seeing the athletic gent, older than the
watcher by at least ten years, bearing down on her until he squeezes past and
works his wiry legs quickly up the far side to disappear down the path.
The watcher stands with both hands gripping
the top of the chain-link barrier, staring at where the jogger had so briefly
A large plastic cup of fruit and a muffin
are half-consumed on the large rock next to Ian. Absently taking his metal fork
in hand, he keeps his eyes on the bridge: the jogger’s bounces have become slow
sways; the watcher turns her head to stare back down at the rushing water below
the bridge; a raven calls nearby; the watcher shakes her head slightly then
takes her blue baseball hat and tosses it into the water.
Without registering what he is actually
seeing, Ian continues taking in the scene as the watcher stretches a stiff leg
up to try to put it over the chain-link barrier. It won’t quite reach.
Ian suddenly finds himself beside the watcher.
The bridge is still bouncing from Ian’s headlong
Puffing a bit, Ian tries to be nonchalant. “Breathtaking
view, isn’t it?”
The watcher lets her inflexible leg back
down while holding on tightly because of the bouncing bridge.
“What view?” The watcher drops her gaze. “That
water is rushing almost as fast as time.” She shakes her head, “No time left…” She
leans against the hard chain-link, wanting to drop over.
Ian touches the watcher’s shoulder. “My
name is Ian…”
“Bugger off, Ian.” The watcher continues to
press against the metal fencing.
Just wanting to keep talking, Ian searches
for something to say. “Can’t bugger off, I’m afraid. Part of the human race… As
are you. Have to stick around. Part of the contract.”
The watcher half shakes her head but turns
annoyance into a polite retort. “Ian. I’m not with that bunch anymore. Not
human. Your contract doesn’t apply to me. Thank you anyway, but… bugger off.
They stare at each other for a quiet minute.
Ian sees a generation of yellow-tinged wrinkles that make up the watcher’s face;
hollow eyes that used be blue, perhaps, but are now corroded gun-metal grey;
salt-and-pepper hair that is uncombed and lies limply against her shoulders;
her clothes have been unwashed for months.
“I’m an addict. Used to be just a drunk.
There’s nothing left inside. Nothing to save… Leave me alone and go back to
your nice life.”
Still at a loss for words, “I can’t pretend
to know how you feel…”
“My god, I hope you never know how I feel,
Ian. It would kill you, too.” The watcher turns away to stare at the river
below. “Used to have a family, a house. No dog. Wanted one. He didn’t… Had a
car accident. Can’t even remember it much. They say I hit someone. I remember a
slice of a picture of me hitting the other car after that. Woke up in hospital
and they starting stuffing needles into my good arm and leg. It was a good blur
after that. For a few hours. Then I cried for more… Kicked me out and said I
should see a shrink. And a lawyer. She hated me. Said I killed…”
The watcher’s eyes well up and her face writhes
“The shrink gave me needles and then pills.
They made my mind into a tub of molasses, only not sweet. Just thick and grey.
But I needed more. More pills. Then more needles. Then everyone left me.” Her
now ugly face turns to Ian. “The human race walked away from me!”
She shakes the chain-link fence, cutting her hand on the sharp edges. She absently licks the blood.
Following an older minivan down a rough paved road in the northern part of Vancouver Island. We pass endless trees growing close to the road, held away by ditches on either side. The drive is marred by clearcuts and fire-kill that rape the low hills, scarring the land for generations.
The minivan driver’s head can be seen nodding aggressively to heavy metal that could be heard if I left my window open. I keep it closed to shut out that and the motorcycle’s racket from behind me. It has been following on my bumper for an hour, refusing to pass, just droning endlessly.
Heading toward a slight bend in the road, the minivan driver’s
nodding has become quiet. He wakes up just in time to lose control as he plummets
down the near bank, does a lovely pirouette along the far bank, then rolls back
down into the centre of the ditch, bouncing, and finally ending upside-down in
the wet weeds.
As I slam to a stop on the narrow shoulder ahead of the
minivan, the motorcycle screeches hard behind me and overcontrols, sending that
driver into a high flip over his bike which lands him half into the ditch ahead
I get out in a panic and decide to rush over to the motorcyclist. He is lying in a spread-out heap with his neck at a gut-wrenchingly weird angle. Not wanting to move his neck in case it is broken, I figure out how to carefully raise his helmet visor. Blood is dribbling from his mouth into his beard and his eyes are shut. His chest is not moving.
Since the motorcyclist is, at best, beyond my ability to
help him, I turn away to slip down the ditch to reach the overturned minivan.
Through the cracked windscreen I can see the back of a very corpulent
man sprawled out on the inside roof behind the front seats, incongruously collecting
things and putting them into a large kitbag.
As he sees me try to open the passenger door he violently waves me away. Confused, I back off. The driver continues, more quickly, to grab small pieces of paper from around him and stuff them into his kitbag. As he rolls over to reach across his bulbous chest, I see blood pouring down the side of his forehead. At this time, his head slumps fully against the floor, with his thick tattooed arm plopping off his chest to slide beside his body.
I grab the door handle and, after a couple hard pulls, yank it open. The strong smell of weed is even more prominent than it was outside. The driver remains still but I am encouraged to hear a low groan.
There are crumpled twenty and fifty dollar bills scattered everywhere inside the minivan. A pistol lies near the driver’s feet. Hairs begin to rise on the back of my neck. I think about just backing away from this scene.
Shaking my head, I take one of the bills and use it to wrap around the barrel of the pistol, tossing it out the door behind me. With several clean tissues I had stuffed into my pocket while getting out of my car, I gently wipe the blood from the driver’s eyes. He opens them and I can see that he is focusing on me. I don’t know why I notice that tissue bits have collected in his stubble.
“Take it easy – are you hurt anywhere else?”
He puts his free hand up to his head. It comes away with
blood all over his fat fingers. I give him the wad of tissues. He awkwardly
wipes away more blood.
“You should apply pressure to the cut… Hold the
tissues tightly against…”
He twists away but then slumps back down, out again.
I take the tissues from his hand to apply gentle
pressure to the head wound. A few minutes pass. He rolls his head away from my
pressure but I leave the tissues on the cut.
“Don’t pull the tissues off yet. It’ll start bleeding
The driver raises his hand up to the tissues then decides to
Twisting his head with difficulty, he stares directly at me. “Who are you? You a cop?”
Smiling, I shake my head, “No. I was driving behind you
when I saw you roll. It looks like the airbags stopped you from going through
the windshield. Are you ok, other than the cut on your forehead?”
The driver thinks for a bit, moving his free arm then his legs. “Help me turn over. I, ah, have a lot of cushioning.”
I pull on his shoulder and hip to get him flat on his
“Left arm. Feels… Shit. Something wrong with my
He lifts up his left arm and tries to flex his hand. “Goddamnit!
Can’t move my hand.” Then he remembers his kitbag and the bills. He grabs
my arm in a powerful grip with his right hand. “Put back everything you
took! Or I’ll…”
He looks around for his pistol.
Calmly, “Take it easy, friend. I didn’t touch your
money. Let me help you outside. Oh! There was a motorcyclist who flipped
right after you did. Let me help you out then I’ll see if he’s… He
didn’t look good.”
“Well, his neck looked broken…”
“Good. Leave the fucker there. Was tailing me.
Help me get to my knees. Have to…” With that, the driver’s eyes go blank
and he slumps back down.
Confused, I feel his grip on me release so I back out of
the minivan. The pistol is just outside the door. Making a decision, I
take a tissue from my back pocket, pick the pistol up with it, then, still
wrapped, I stuff the pistol into my back pocket with other tissues.
Waiting a minute to think, I see the driver wake up once
more. He touches the tissues on his wound but leaves them. With enormous
effort, he rolls onto his right side then uses his good arm to get to his
knees. Ignoring me, the driver once again starts collecting the loose bills
around him and pushes them into the kitbag with one arm. It gets
overflowing-stuffed. Absently watching the scene, I make up a number, mumbling
under my breath, “Two hundred thousand?”
The driver stops and grins at me. “Close. You’re a cop, right? No problem. With Shitface dead, I’ll give you some of this if you drive me to the ferry… No questions. No fuss. Just free money. I can disappear and you can do what you want with… shall we say, ten grand? Ten big ones and all you have to do is drop me off at the ferry. You can be my Uber driver.”
He resumes collecting bills then reaches for another bag.
The driver doesn’t raise his head as he adds, “Make up your mind
before someone else comes along.”
It is tempting. I pat the pistol in my pocket then shift it,
feeling through the cloth, so that the handle is up.
Slyly, “You got the gun. What’s to worry about. Here,
take this full bag and zip it for me while I finish off in here.
As he rises to swing the kitbag out awkwardly with his good
hand, he hits the ceiling/floor of the minivan. “OW! DAMNIT!”
The tissues fall off his forehead and the cut opens up
again. It doesn’t pour out as quickly as before but it still needs to be
staunched. With my last few tissues from around the pistol, I reach in to
help the driver. He tries to grab my arm again. I back off.
Throwing the tissues at him into the minivan, I back off. “Clean yourself off, this time. If you can’t trust me I guess I’ll have to go report the accident.”
“Wait!” The driver leans onto his left elbow
and holds his right hand toward me. More quietly, “Wait a minute. Not
in any shape to argue.” He smiles, “And here you are trying to
help a fat old accountant while I… Listen. You got all the cards. All I
got is some money. You say you’ll help me for twenty thou and that’s the
deal.” He bends his thick neck enough to look me in the eye.
“What do you say?”
What would YOU do?
(adapted from a narration of an incident by John Wilson)
The article starts with this paragraph: “Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.”
Should these prescriptions even be given?
Any medication that punishes the body when one tries to stop taking it needs to be prescribed with extreme caution. The current and tragic opiate crisis is a direct result of such caution not being exercised. As I explain in my book Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, published by Rutherford Press, the next shoe to drop will be the massive over-prescription of benzodiazepines (“tranquilizers”) for anxiety. Many people say these drugs are even harder to give up than opiates. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a proven track record as being far more effective for treating anxiety than do these medications, especially over the long run. Both the rationale for CBT’s application as well as a step-by-step process for enacting it also are outlined in my book. :Dr. Michael Catchpole.
This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.
To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”
To which “mgr” wrote:
Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.
Where are we going?
For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.
The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.
It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.
There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan
– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species
I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual
who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung
for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common.
Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.
In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.
Proposition A: a person of science will develop a
theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.
Proposition B: observations will be seen to have
apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those
observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each
other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments;
assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support
the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be
developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still
supported by new evidence.
Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on
a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical
deduction or reasoning.
Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I
will refer to them a group.
Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.
Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.
Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.
A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by
evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested.
If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would
quickly invalidate that “theory”.
When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).
A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.
“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”
We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)
One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in
charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8
plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time
Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence
residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component
could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and
over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers
at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a
subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code
on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely
different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can
carry over 200 lives on board. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)
Trust in Science
Is trust in science misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a
replacement for deeper understanding?
Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism,
a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective
facts was not an effective strategy:
Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]
Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything
that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.
A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved
instructive. Here are the main highlights:
Trust in science and health
Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.
from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth
of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes
140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a
May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those
numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit
questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:
Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.
Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or
coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the
realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that
certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions?
Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article
on translation: all the right words – absent depth?
The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.
Human Rights or Social Permission
Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject
to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was
explored by Kenan Malik:
So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.
How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.
The Science of Skepticism
For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a
theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever
evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the
right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning,
evidence, clinical, proven…
No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence
which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence;
the belief that a belief is a blindfold…
Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and
their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes.
They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people
are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to
say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore
discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.
The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of
discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born
in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded
away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may
wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to
keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.
Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard
by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.
Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism
is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.
The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated
reasoning from healthy skepticism.
To lovers in their latter years, the prospect that one will leave
before the other becomes increasingly evident. Yet, no matter how prepared we
think we are, the shock and resultant loneliness reach far beyond any
Seniors become accustomed to caring for one another in ways younger
couples seldom dream of. Such intimacy and dependency deepen love far beyond
the heart-fluttering romances of younger years.
Despite the annoyances of age such as loss of hearing and the
inability to control certain body functions – flatulence, bladder control – we
tend to become more forgiving and considerate of the other.
The excitement of sexual activity gives way to back and neck rubs, intimate conversations and the simple joys of being in one another’s company.
We tend to favour the comfort and happiness of our partner, far
above our own. Love reaches its full potential.
Within the walls of the Nautilus in the delightful back room of Port Alberni’s Steam Punk Cafe, how could one be anxious?
Shane – who did literature review for Dr. Catchpole – and Shane’s mother, Tammy, look to be in good spirits, and Dr. Catchpole certainly is relaxed. In between signing over 20 books, he kept telling us of his upcoming fishing expedition into the wilds of Oregon.
So many of the folks coming in for his book, Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, expressed their sincere gratitude for the special perspective it gave them when real anxiety started to interfere with their lives. From the book:
My third and final career goal has been to convince the public, and more directly in this book, to prove to you that it is no longer necessary for you to live with or be bullied by distressing levels of anxiety…
…“Anxiety-related Disorders have been beaten”. All these disorders are now proven to be treatable, and the success rates… are outstanding.
And, critically, the treatment does not include drugs!
No subsequent addictions, terrible withdrawals, zombie side-effects or paying your life’s fortune to some heartless pharma corporation (nor a street drug dealer).