manaboutmidnight.com

Words and Music by David King

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Songs, fiction and the occasional recipe by David King

Nicknames

I’ve always had a knack for nicknames.  Or sobriquets if you want to elevate it to an Art form.  Early in life I was given the nickname “Wilbur”, a name I rejected but that didn’t matter.  My friends called me Wilbur, anyway.  You don’t ever get a choice with nicknames. 

Wilbur was a less than inspired nickname.  It was, in fact, a name that my Mother’s Uncle suggested as my given name; but my mother wasn’t having it.  I did, however, wind up being saddled with it after my mother related the story of her Uncle Wilbur to our next door neighbour in the presence of her son, Gary who happened to be my best friend.  That is, up until he began calling me Wilbur.  Thanks, Mom. 

I had already given Gary the nickname, Nibbler.  Because of the way he would eat around the edge of a certain cookie.  He didn’t want his mouth to come in contact with the jelly centre and so he nibbled around it, leaving the jelly centre for Starboy - real name Kevin Luciak .  Kevin had requested that we call him Starboy, and everyone more or less went along with it.  Mainly because we felt sorry for him after his cat got run over.  His cat was called Star Cat.  It derived its power from the distant Star, Canopus.  Evidently not enough power to avoid being run over.  Starboy, other hand,  derived his power from jelly centres.

Everyone had a nickname, even the High School had a nick name.  Fukami High.  Sometimes it was something random that generated the idea for a nickname.  There was this guy we called the Preacher after he said he wasn’t going to preach to us about the health effects of cigarette smoking.  And I said to my buddies, “I guess we’ll call him the Preacher.”   

It could have been considered a form of bullying.  But with a redeeming creative aspect to it.  I remember Nibbler was worried that he would be stuck with that name forever.  So immediately after graduating he moved to another part of town where everyone would get to know him as Gary.   But he persisted in eating those cookies with the jelly centre and someone gratuitously described his eating technique as nibbling.  A few weeks later, Nibbler moved to France. 

   

Cry Baby

The thing that set Claude off on his crying jag was a sense of obligation cultivated over the years that required him to have a good soul-laundering sob fest every once in a while.  At first the crying was strictly mechanical, an effort to awaken the sorrow and regret that was stirring within.  Sometimes it took a while to arouse those feelings, depending on how good a day he was having.  A good day would not be spoiled by this ritual but rather enhanced by it. 

He usually did his crying in the privacy of his apartment where he could really let go a wail; but then came the knocking on the ceiling of the apartment below.   He was getting no sympathy from this particular neighbour who wore a harried expression whenever he ran into her at the elevator.  She obviously had him pegged as the crybaby.  This would drive him outside to commit his tears to the public domain. 

His weeping often elicited sympathy from others, friends and strangers alike – mostly strangers as his friends were accustomed to this purging and tended to give him wide berth when stumbling upon the spectacle of him bathing in his tears.  Women dominated the numbers of those who reached out to him.  “Would it help to talk about it?”  some would ask, perhaps hopeful that their concern alone would be sufficient.  He would generally stop crying long enough to thank them and bless them for showing compassion and they would go away relieved at not having to suffer this sack of woe. 

Men’s reactions were more along the lines of “Got something wrong with you, pal?” or “Wish I could help but I got problems of my own.”  One fellow gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and told him, “it gets better”  before continuing on his way.  His presumptuousness did not go unchallenged as Claude called out to him, “I’m not gay.” 

“Of course you’re not,” the fellow had gamely replied.

One intervener of note had his own notion as to what his crying was all about.  “Is it man’s inhumanity to man that brought you to this?  Well, you know what I say?  I say, man started it, man will finish it; and eventually man will break the cycle.”

Once he took his keening to  a nearby bridge where it would be drowned out by the traffic.  The reason he never did that again was because a passing motorist or possibly more than just one made the obvious assumption that one would make, seeing a crying man on a bridge.  Soon the Police arrived and he had to undergo psychiatric evaluation before they let him go home.

One morning when Claude was thinking about how long it had been since his last cry, he saw a notice on the bulletin board in the Glengarden Library, inviting one and all to a laughter seminar.  He fancied the idea.  He could see how that might possibly provide a balance to the weeping.

It was happening in the basement of the Unitarian Church; although it was not presented as a Church thing; perhaps the initiative of some parishioner who was into that sort of thing and who maybe had eyes to establish an affiliate assembly of like-minded people who needed a good laugh and not necessary at something intended to excite laughter.    

They all just sat comfortably on the floor and laughed mirthlessly at such strain to their bodies, it reminded Clause of basic military training which had made him cry more than once . 

Eventually the laughter facilitator, would slow the laughing down until everyone sounded off in perfect unison: ‘ Ha!’  Claude had never seen a Becket play; but if he had, he would have sworn at this moment that he was in one.

Claude was anticipating screenings of classic movie comedies, perhaps followed by some freewheeling improv; but as it turned out, comedy was never mentioned.  During a break from the perfunctory gaffawing, Claude crack a joke about two cannibals who had just feasted on a clown.  One asked the other how he it tasted and he answered “ Kinda funny”  No one laughed.  One of the men women thought it was disgusting. 

When everyone was invited back into the room, Claude chose not to be in that number.   He just wanted to go home and cry.  And for once, he had a reason.

 

 

 

  

Sound Advice Courtesy of Sister Morphine

He was a father figure to me.  As well as being my biological father.  There were other fathers; that is, men my mother married in the hope she’d nab someone who would be as good a dad as my real one. 

He’d check in with me over the years; just to make sure there was nothing he had to apologise for; also to remind me that my mother could be an awful hyperbolist; a word he, more or less made up.  It was only when he lay there dying that he felt the imperative to offer some sound advice that might serve me well in the future, perhaps even retroactively.  Being strung out on morphine at the time might have stirred the well of wisdom within; and with the added authority of his dying breath, the good advice flowed forth:

“Do just one thing till you tire of it;  then do some other thing until that gets boring.  And then go back to what it was you were doing before and see if it’s any easier. If it is, that means you’re getting better at it and so keep it up.”     

I could see him working the morphine pump that he grasped in his boney fist, his thumb going like a piston over the release button.  I was hoping that his pain wouldn’t max out the machine.                  

 "Everywhere you go, take a good look around.  Then turn and walk away.  Then stop, turn around and see if there’s something you failed to notice.  There usually is.  Something else: plant Lavender!  Lots of it!  I always meant to but didn’t and now it’s my one regret.  And always try to look the same as how you imagine you look when you’re looking your very best.   Practice falling down and getting up again.  You’ll discover there’s a technique to it.  Why aren’t you writing this down?  What is that thing in your hand?  Oh, and for Christ sake, buy a Nurse a drink once in a while.  They’re the most real human beings you'll ever meet.   Make love to her, give her whatever she wants!"  It was nice to hear some well deserved praise coming from his lips.

 "Hold your head up high when you walk!  At the same time, be mindful of where you’re walking.  Alter your stride once in a while.  You might feel a little strange but there’s nothing wrong with feeling strange.  And whenever you find yourself all alone, do something that you would never do if there was someone there with you.  Avoid religion but learn as much as you can about all of them.  Just in case.”

 He lets the morphine pump slide out of his hand.  It was slick with his oily sweat.  He wasn't finished:

“Don’t be like that guy.  You know that guy I told you about who was his own worst enemy.  Don’t ever be your own worst enemy.  It's fine to be someone else's worst enemy but not your own.  Or better, don’t be anyone’s worst enemy.  If someone seeks to undermine you, just ask them what you ever did to them to deserve their ill will.  

If only he had told me that long ago when I was, in fact, my own worst enemy.  He could have spared me a lot of embarrassment  if he'd told me then.   

  “And the most important thing of all…”  He let his head fall back against the pillow.  I thought he might die before he could finish.  But he rallied.  “Never…tell the truth.”

I was taken aback.  I waited for him to justify that statement.  I leaned into him.  “Never tell the truth...and why exactly? "

He tried to raise his head again but couldn’t.  But got the words out nevertheless:   “Let them figure it out for themselves.” 

I was tremendously proud of him that he still had the jam to save the best for last.

   

There Goeth Pride

The first thing you feel after you stumble is confidence that you’ll recover your stride like you usually do, that your best- kept- secret agility will keep you from losing your dignity, possibly making you the focus of sirens. 

You attempt to lower your centre of gravity, which is no problem as gravity already has you pretty low.  You try to keep your head up, figuring that the rest of you will follow.  People see you hurtling towards them.  The reverse angle is a stream of breathless expressions.  One fellow offers up some empathy by going “oopsie daisy”.  Some of the younger ones turn away in relief that they’ll probably never get to live to be as old as you are. 

But you’re not down yet; you’re merely tentatively ambulatory.  If you were a quarterback, you could still get a pass away.  It’s important to know, at this juncture, that you’re not to blame.  No one has ever called you a clumsy oaf based on unflawed evidence.  It was the fault of crumbling infrastructure!  “ More people die from obsolete infrastructure than from Bubonic Plague.”  This is a stat that you just made up but you’re willing to stake your credibility on it.  You can’t wait to spring to your feet and point out the gaping pothole that some sonofabitch of a civil servant had allowed to go unfilled. 

Lowering your centre of gravity seems to have, at least, slowed you down; and that would be good, except that your knees are coming up a bit too close to your face which reminds you to keep your head up.  You feel a flash of regret at having stepped off of the curb a millisecond before the don’t walk signal thrust its rude red palm at you.  You could have stepped back; it did, indeed, cross your mind; but perhaps you were thinking of the motorists, stopped at the red light.  Perhaps some of them recognized you from a previous crossing.  Perhaps very soon, on the traffic channel, you will be flagged as an “incident on Main Street southbound”.

 Some good Samaritan offers his arm to you; but then, upon realizing that you could take him down with you, quickly withdraws it.  But you appreciate the thought.

You’re taking longer and lower strides now and appear to be walking from the squatting position with your head between your knees .  This would probably be a good time to just fall over.  Later you will hate yourself for not giving in to gravity right away.

If only you had known that you would be escalating this stumble into the realm of spectacle, assuring yourself a notoriety somewhere between anecdote and legend.

You recall the redhead seated at the window of the Coffee Shop on the corner.  She seemed to look at you long enough that she might have recognized something noble in you.  What must she be thinking now?  Perhaps that you’ve let her down and there’s just no describing her disappointment. 

You fail to plant your right foot at the prescribed angle to the pavement which causes you to spin horizontally and in doing so, effectively reverse the thrust of your fall from forward to backward, which could be a positive thing in terms of lessening the potential for injury, all the good stuff being in the front.  Then, amazingly, you have the presence of mine to ascertain whether or not your sideways momentum is sufficient for you to spin a half turn which could put you within reach of a 3 point landing.  That would really give them something to talk about when they got home to their families.  But your plan is shot to hell when you trip over the curb.  At least now the motorists are happy that they don’t have to worry about running you over.  Finally your left buttock brushes the sidewalk and you find yourself still in motion but looking straight up at your right shoe which is half way off your foot and if you can’t get your toe pointed upward soon it’s going to fall off your foot and on to your head.  Unless of course, you roll out of harm’s way, which you do and the shoe lands on your ear, then you roll again and continue rolling until it becomes obvious that you’re doing it deliberately and so you stop.

 You check in with your brain to see if it’s receiving any pain signals from your neuro matrix.  But you’re good and so you raise your head and force a laugh.  And when someone asks if you’re alright, you answer fast, “oh, yeah.”  Then as you get up you add, “I trained with Cirque de Soleil”  but whoever it was that asked has already left the scene.  

Little Miss Muffet Sat on a Tuffet You won't believe what happened next

So there was Miss Muffet sitting on her lavishly upholstered tuffet partaking of a bowl of curds and whey when who comes along, most impressed with himself, none other than Jack (don’t call me little) Horner.  “Say…” said Jack to Miss Muffet   “ever try whey with Salsa?  Really enlivens the taste.“ 

Before Miss Muffet could respond, Jack jumped to another topic which alluded to a recent incident that had proven to be quite harrowing for Miss Tuffet.  “So what’s your take on Spiders these days?  I, personally, take pleasure in crushing them with my thumb”.  Then he showed her his thumb which was shiny and purple, but not from spider guts; rather from some kind of fruit pudding, possibly plum. 

“Did your Mother not scold you for eating with your thumb?” 

“I see no harm in it” said Jack, sanctimoniously.  “I certainly don’t see it as a breach in table manners.  But I understand that certain people might have a problem with it.  That’s why I confine my pie eating to the corner”.  

“Yes, I’ve noticed you sitting there with your back to the room.  I always wondered what you were doing.”

“Well, I was eating pie with my thumb.  It gets uncomfortable after a while, sitting on the floor.  Sure would help if I had a tuffet as nice as yours to sit on.  I 'd be happy to sit  in the corner the whole day through.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to get your own tuffet because I shall never relinquish mine!”

Jack looked around to make sure there was no one else within earshot. “Say, you interested in checkin out a new style of rhyme?”

“Why, Jack Horner, whatever are you talking about?”

“Just something new I heard the other day.”

Miss Muffet, knowing Jack as she did, was reluctant to inquire further but she could not hold back. “Where ever did you hear this new kind of rhyme?”

Jack attempted to sit down beside her, thinking she might shift over a bit; but she didn’t budge, so he sat on the floor as was his wont.  “Way back in the woods among the evergreens.  He lives in a little cabin made of mud and wood.”

“My goodness, it sounds horrid.”

“No, it’s just the circumstances of his birth.  You can’t judge him for not being able to read or write so well.  He does something else that more than makes up for his shortcomings.”

Miss Muffet blushed in spite of herself, anticipating a ribald punch line.  “I don’t think I want to hear any more about this unfortunate boy.”

Jack continued in spite of her limp protest.  “You know what a good boy am I, don't ya?  Well,  this cat's name is Goode.  With an E at the end.”

“And in what manner does he rhyme?”

“Well, it’s not the rhyming so much as the rhythm that he lays down with his guitar.  A rhythm that was inspired by the sound of a train.”

“And how do people respond?  Do they perform a jolly dance?”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Jack.  “they kinda can’t help it.”  

“You mean you lose control?  But that’s not good.  Not good at all.”

“Well, you wouldn’t think so, but it really is.  People come to see him from all around.  To hear him play his music when the sun goes down.`

“Well, I’m sorry, Jack Horner but I refuse to put myself into a situation where my better judgement might be compromised.”

“Sure, Missy.  I understand.  I understand that you’re all about bland.”  And with that rude little rhyme, Jack strode out of the room no less pleased with himself than when he walked in.     

Miss Muffet finished her curds and whey and set her bowl down on the table just as a spider sat down beside here.  This had happened twice before, the most recent intrusion made page 3 of the local paper; but now she was not nearly as frightened.  She took a moment to observe the spider hanging from a single strand of webbing.   She leaned into the spider, took a deep breath, then blew the spider clean out of her periphery.  She then stood up, tucked her tuffet under her arm and went outside into the warm storybook night. 

Outside in the village square, there was an excitement in the air that she could not readily identify.  She passed a grocer and noticed a jar of salsa displayed in the window.  She considered going in but then thought better of it.  She had once tried sprinkling some pepper on her curds and whey, and rather enjoyed the enhancement, until she noticed people looking at her disapprovingly, and so she never was so bold again. 

As she approached the Plaza she noticed a throng of people around her own age standing in line outside the Lyceum Theatre.  She saw the name on the marquee written in lights.  It said, “Johnny B. Goode tonight.”

Little Miss Muffet then decided  she would rather be known by her given name.`Peggy Sue` 

 

 

Recognition

Not long ago on a clear summer morning, I left my townhouse in the city to go to work in the same aforementioned city.   Mine is the middle brownstone in a block long row of brownstones.  Not precisely the middle - that would be my next door neighbours, two tall women; one has to be 6’4” but the shorter of the two is, nevertheless, impressively tall.  Sometimes I’ll notice the two of them standing in the window,  having their coffee and looking out at the mountains.  But I try not to stare.

On the other side of them, two doors down from me, lives a fellow around my age and who, according to appearances, inhabits an overall situation similar to my own: works regular hours, five days a week; rides his bike on the weekends - a touring bike like mine; even cost about the same as mine (I looked it up).  We’ve never said a word to each other; never so much as a ‘good morning’ when we cross paths going in opposite directions to our places of work. 

On this particular day, it happened that he emerged from his abode at the precise same time as I did mine.  We closed and locked our doors in perfect unison.  I didn’t look over at him.  I thought that if I did, he would look back at me and we would have to somehow acknowledge the synchronicity of the situation and I didn’t want that and I’m sure neither did he. 

I hoped that he would start down the stairs first.  I thought if I stalled for a moment, checking my pockets to make sure I had something I was going to require, that would allow him to get to the street ahead of me so that by the time I reached the sidewalk, he would have already passed by and we would thereby avoid the awkwardness of having to ignore each other.   But then he, also chose to go into stall mode.  I didn’t look directly at him but he was within my periphery and probably I was in his.  I started down the steps as though I were in a hurry.  I looked at my watch to convey that I was only hurrying because I was late and not because I was embarrassed by the similitude of our timing.   

He took his time coming down the stairs, even whistled a nondescript tune so as to accent his nonchalance.  I would have been long gone in the opposite direction had my phone not rang.  But then it occurred to me the phone might be a useful distraction, But as I went for it, the damn thing slipped out of my hand.  I deftly caught it with my other hand and said ‘hello’ twice before I realized,  in catching it, I had inadvertently ended the call.

I stepped onto the sidewalk barely a beat after he did.  A beat was all I could manage.  I still had my phone to my ear so I used that to my advantage , speaking into it to no one on the other end: “oh, hi.  Sorry I never got back to you.” 

As he started up the sidewalk towards me, his eyes averted (as were mine), I stopped and turned to face the building, presenting a businesslike profile, in spite of there being no one on the other end of the phone.  “uh huh, uh huh”,  I spoke into it, looking up in the window of the two tall women just to see if they were there.  They were.  I guess it was their morning ritual to stand with their coffees, looking out at the mountains. 

I waited until he was well up the street before I started off in the opposite direction.  As I walked, I checked the call display to see who had called.  It was the office.  They left a voice message reminding me to bring a spreadsheet that had recently been e mailed to me.  And so I stopped and considered what I had to do: go back, find the e mail, then print out the document and hopefully it wouldn't be necessary to replace my ink cartridge otherwise I’d really have a reason for looking at my watch. 

After creating a timeline in my head that would get me to the office with time to spare, I turned around.  There he was, coming towards me!  He had obviously forgotten something and would be returning home for it.   He was the same distance as I was to the middle townhouse belonging to the two tall women.  I saw him see me.  I wondered if the expression on his face was similar to my own when I saw him.  I slowed my stride to a pace slower than what I estimated his pace to be; but that was hard to gauge being that I wasn’t looking at him. 

I saw him stop and take out his phone and look at it as if to give the impression he'd just received a text.   I quickened my stride as I’m sure he was hoping I would.  Just then, I received a text, only mine was real.   I resisted the urge to take my phone out.  I resisted again when a second text came through; then another, immediately after that -the last one must have consisted of a single digit -  I didn’t know anyone that fast with their thumbs.  

I took my phone out while maintaining a brisk cadence.  The first message was a long one and I found it difficult to read on the move.  I got as far as “congratulations, you have just won a free cruise” when I walked into a tree.   I brushed a piece of bark off my brow and cast a sidelong glance up the street to see if he had witnessed my little mishap.  He had just put his phone away and was now putting on his sunglasses. 

My sunglasses were in my pocket but I wasn’t about to put them on and appear like i was aping him.  I didn’t need them.  There was no embarrassment in my eyes I needed to shield.  I began to feel resentful. 

Someone had recently asked me if I’d ever head butted anyone.  I’d never even imagined head butting anyone.  Always seemed like a berserker kind of move.  Until now.  But the way things were going, he’d likely head butt me at the same time and we’d both wind up with twin concussions.

I thought of saying something, commenting on our matching false starts.  Then maybe we could share a laugh,  But he might be too socially awkward to even respond.  ‘What a square’ I judged.  I knew, even though we had a lot in common, we were two very different personalities.  I probably had way more friends than he did.  Perhaps befriending him would be a great kindness.  

I thought of saying ‘you again’ with a playful smirk, but he was likely too dull witted to respond.  Another move I considered was to turn and walk up his stairs before he got there.  If that didn’t make him laugh, then he would be officially dead to me.   

Our paths crossed in front of the middle townhouse.  I assumed the two tall gals were still standing in front of the window, no doubt remarking on the goings on concerning their neighbours on either side of them.  I’m sure they would have found it altogether weird.  Or it might have tickled their Amazonian sensibilities.  I decided I really didn’t care what they thought.

I found the spreadsheet file on my computer and printed it out.  The ink cartridge seemed to be up to the task.  I started for the door, but then I stopped, anticipating the sound of his door opening and closing.  We put off communicating for too long to start now.  We had no choice but to live out our lives in denial of each other’s existence.  I took a deep breath and hurried out the door and down the stairs to the sidewalk.  He was nowhere in sight.  I rejoiced at having broken the pattern of coincidence.  Yet I felt acutely dissatisfied with the here and now.  As I started down the stairs It was as if something was pulling me back; some action I’d neglected to carry out due to my haste.  I looked back and remembered that I hadn’t locked the door behind me.  I sprinted back, giving my head a good clout for my lapse in mindfulness.  As I ran back past the middle house, I could hear the tall women laughing.  I looked and saw the shorter of the two jumping up and down and clapping.  I gave them the finger and they laughed even harder.  I got to my front steps and I could see that my door was wide open.  I felt the weight of failure upon my shoulders, failure at having gotten my day off to its usual good start.  I fretted that this could be a downhill turning point in my life.  But I was determined to recover my pride and so I raced up the stairs.  I got half way up when, two doors down, he emerged.  Before he could plant his foot on the platform, I shouted, “Go back inside!”  I tried not to sound angry; I wanted to make it sound like it was for his own good.  I should have said “go back inside and turn on your TV!”  But it didn’t matter because he retreated back into his townhouse and shut the door. 

I closed my door and locked it.  I took my time going back down the stairs.  I kind of wished that I still smoked so that I could stop and light a cigarette before heading off to work.  I got near to the end of the block when I realized I hadn’t walked past the middle house belonging to the two tall women.  I was going in the wrong direction.  I had no choice at this point but to laugh.  As mirthless a laugh as I ever laughed in my stupid little life.  

I, Dirty Rat

To begin with, I’m generally regarded as a sweet fellow.  A mensch, even.  And that’s not something I cultivate; that’s just my nature.  But there’s an aspect of my personality that’s at war with my affable disposition.  Before you find yourself guilty of rushing to judgement, I should explain that it springs from an entirely innocuous source; namely crime movies of the black and white era. 

It’s not an identification with a particular star or film.  It’s just a style of aggression that set the tone of the day and which I prefer to the passive kind of aggression that I’ve always employed in my dealings wit people I ain’t so thrilled to be dealing wit, get me?    

What might seem like a more amped up presentation of myself is really just how I would sometimes like to talk to people, without having to be coy or nuanced in my communication or  maybe yiz thinks I’m gettin soft in the head or somethin!   

In any case, I feel that there’s a good chance I can accommodate the two streams.  Although I’m not so sure I can count on friends and bystanders to be kind enough not to take offence.  I assure you the warmth is still there if you look hard enough.  Or maybe yer needin to get some glasses! 

When I was a kid, I thought all gangsters talked liked that.  All English speaking gangsters, that is.  French Gangsters seemed to always have their noses in a book and confined their violence to the dance floor.   I allude to that misogynistic version of the tango known as the Apache Dance.  Ah, Listen ta you beatin your gums like some egg head.  

There does occur, at times, interface between the two streams, but I consider that a wholesome dialectic which can, indeed, comprise a system of checks and balances.  Not only can the two sides argue but they can also agree.       

I would be inclined to take caution not to reproduce this genre in the presence of authority, at persons functioning in some official capacity.  Lousy stinkin coppers, always tryin to pin the rap on me!  Trust me, I would never dream of filling anyone full of lead; but I could easily threaten such a thing.  I've heard right wing politicians threaten worse.   As for my standing with the opposite sex, I.E: dames, there’s only so much a woman is willing to tolerate before the joke begins to wear thin.  But then dey knew what I’se like when they met me!  Shoulda ditched me long ago!  Although I must say, most of the women I know, have found a willingness to play along when I slip them a C note and suggest they go buy themselves a fancy new dress.   

I’m also attracted to the sense of crisp urgency that drives films of that genre.  I understand that there’s a fine line between urgency and hysteria; but perhaps even a finer line between irony and hysteria.  I guess it’s a case of wait and see. 

I take no joy in being threatening.  I just like to occasionally break the tedium that tends to define polite society.   I really can’t think of anything I'd say to someone for the sole purpose of being hurtful.  Why say it when it’s easier just to insinuate it.  

 

The God Toe

I caught another man staring at my feet as I was airing them out on the patio at the One More Time Café.  I never wear socks in the summer; even into the fall, especially when I’m sporting my Louis Vuitton loafers which were a happy score at the Goodwill store in Silver Lake.

He looked up to see that I had been watching him stare and said without embarrassment “You have an impressive God Toe.” 

I repeated God Toe in my head before saying it aloud. “God Toe?”

He was nursing a large cup of Green Tea with the teabag still imparting itself in the cup.  He went on to explain, “The big toe on the left foot is known as the God Toe.

He wore a burgundy bow tie. “Who calls it that?”  I asked.

“I think the Rosicrucions.  Or maybe the Zoraroastians.” 

He wore stylish Stan Smith Tennis sneakers.  I had to know more.  “How does that particular toe earn the distinction of a God Toe?”

“The story that I was told” -  He took a deep breath and approximated a shrug.  “It’s the toe that God takes hold of to remind you that He exists. 

“How does he take hold of it?”

“The usual way I imagine.  Between thumb and forefinger.”

I took note of his dense orange hair, closely cropped.  I’m an Atheist and proud of it, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief concerning a God Toe.  “What’s it supposed to feel like when God touches your toe?” I asked, breathlessly.

“They say it’s kind of a burning sensation.”

I shifted in my chair to a more engaged stance.  “I’ve had that!  But I thought it was just angry Lymph nodes or possibly Gout.”

“That’s what I thought, too” he said, returning his gaze to my God Toe.

“The Zoroastians?”

“Now that I think of it, it might have been the Jains.

I knew a bit about the Jains.  One of the most Pacifist religions going; although I always thought they went a little too far by wearing filters over their mouths so as not to accidentally inhale tiny air born insects, bringing their already short lives to an abrupt end. 

It did occur to me that he could possibly be putting me on, but I was a stranger to him.  He wouldn’t get the same satisfaction from pranking a stranger as he would a friend.   And because he was a stranger to me, I didn’t see any harm in having him think me gullible.     

 “Do you know others who have had that toe touched by God?” I asked him.

“There are apparently only a select few whom God cares enough about to be reminded of His existence.”

“But wouldn’t He favour the devout, those who never need to be reminded?”

“He doesn’t care much for them.  From what I understand, He sees them as sycophants.  He only seeks out those whom He admires; those who devote their time serving the community not in His name but in the name of the greater good.”       

I had to say something, anything, before he asked me what I did for a living which was something I might have trouble citing the inherent virtues of.  “Well, I’ll be…” was the best I could manage. 

“They believe that worship is a barren concept and does nothing to make the world a better place,” he went on to explain in his tentative fashion.

“But why should God need to remind me that He exists if He already approves of how I conduct my life?”

“You’re asking me to psychoanalyse a God and I wouldn’t do that even if I believed in Him? 

My mind was in the clouds.  “The Jains?” 

“I really can’t say with authority.” 

It appeared that he wanted to end the conversation and so I slipped my right foot into my shoe.  But before I went for my left shoe, I took another look at my big toe!  I raised it up while keeping my other toes at ease.  I was surprised how far up I could bend it.  I drew his attention to it as I did it.   “I can almost point it straight up at the sky.”

“Can you do that with your right toe?”  he wanted to know.

With my left toe raised, I raised my right toe in the same way but I couldn’t keep my other toes on that foot flat.  “Amazing!  My right toe doesn’t have dexterity that the left one has”, I marvelled.

“Which toe do you kick with?” he asked.

“Kick what?

”Say, if you were kicking a field goal..."

“Definitely my right.”   

“You should try your left.  You might be surprised.”

Now I was getting quite excited.  I decided then and there that the next time I saw a couple of fellas throwing a football around in the park near where I live, I would ask them to pin it for me.  I would be mindful to ask then to pin it with their left hand to accommodate my left foot approach. 

Then I saw him lean forward and squint his eyes as though he suddenly noticed something that I hadn't.  I wondered what I would do if he gave it a little squeeze.  I was sure I wouldn’t know how to react.

“It looks like you have a fungal infection beneath your toenail.”

My dream of a freakish career in pro football came to a screeching halt.

“You ought to have that seen to,” he advised me.  “You don’t want God touching that.”

 

 

But I Digress

I notice that my gorgeous if-I-do-say-so-myself cursive handwriting begins to falter whenever I veer off into diatribe, eventually becoming decipherable only to me and veterans of the Bletchley Circle.  Penmanship is about the only thing in the world that triggers memories of my 3rd grade three teacher, Mrs. Fergus.  My handwriting would slow to a snail’s pace whenever I sensed her hovering nearby.   And when I wrote slowly, my script tended to get a little bumpy.  I feel safe talking about her now, knowing that she couldn’t possible still be alive.  If she were, I surely would have read about her in the annals of freakish longevity. 

My handwriting does not waver when I digress I noticed.  And I’m inclined to digress wildly whenever my memory gets cast back to when I first began to take notice of the people in my life.  It allows me to consider what I might have missed when I was having to deal with them in my day to day existence.  I surprise myself with the stuff I remember, most of which I’m surprised I was even vaguely aware of at the time.  

Mrs. Fergus had a twin sister who was also a teacher but only on a substitute basis.  They lived in a house a mere block and a half up the street from me.   They were both Mrs. even though there were no husbands in sight and how crazy would that have been anyway.  They were both stout women, as my mother would respectfully say of them; same short bobs, identical hush puppies, thick brown hosiery, there was even overlap in their given names.  Agnes was my teacher; her sister, also a teacher but only on a supply basis, was Nessie, which I came to realize was a derivation of Agnes.   

The more I remember about these women the more I feel that this is a story that must be told.   It only now occurs to me that I could well have been taught by both of them.  Agnes might have had Nessie go in whenever she was feeling under the weather.  They would have had to clear it with the office, but not with us.  “Hello, I’ll be filling in for Mrs. Fergus today; my name is Mrs. Fergus.”  We kids would have been confused to the point of tears. 

My best friend who sat across the aisle from me had very good penmanship except he wrote backhand.  The first time I saw it I thought that I would like to write like that.  But then I’d see Mrs. Fergus get after him about slanting his letters in the wrong direction.  I thought, as a gesture of support for my friend, I’d turn in an assignment in backhand.  I might have tried to persuade others to do the same but that would have been out of my range as a social activist.  

Mrs. Fergus gave me a zero on the assignment.  A zero!  And I didn’t say anything, which made me even madder.  I couldn’t wait till the bell rang so that I could go outside and let the world know that Mrs. Fergus was a miserable tub of lard.    But how do I know it wasn’t her sister who was that?

Zero is like getting no desert.  Not because there is no desert but because you did something you were warned not to and that calls for some kind of punishment.  And if the insolence occurred at the dinner table, desert and not getting any would be a convenient punishment.  Of course the degree of harshness would depend on what the desert was.  My Auntie Faith would threaten to withhold desert.  She was my mother’s older sister, probably the one who did all the household work when she was growing up as it would have been an outlet for her nervous energy.   My Mother likely didn’t have to work as hard because she was a beauty queen and somehow that was contribution enough.  Auntie Faith would fill in for my mom whenever my mom was feeling that child rearing was just not her thing. 

Auntie Faith wasn’t a happy woman.  The was evident in her handwriting.  She sometimes write letters to my mother while holidaying in some foreign country where everyone did everything all wrong, at least by her standards.   Her script was tiny.  Probably an 8 in terms of today’s fonts.  As well, it was all bumpy as though Mrs. Fergus was hovering nearby.  

Whenever Aunt Faith cracked a joke, she’d look at us pleadingly; but I could never force a laugh.  I’d throw back my head as though I were about to laugh but then I’d notice how clean the ceiling was, up there where we kids were not allowed to walk and I would forget about the egg on her face.  If she were alive today, I’d try and write something for her, guaranteed to excite laughter.   I’d be careful to write it in my best handwriting so she could appreciate the authority that excellent penmanship imparts.      

 

   

Except There are no Chickens

So I did it.  Yeah.  Finally.  I went there.

That place the homo-saps always joke about

That they call

The ‘other side’

But that we chickens call

‘Downtown’. 

What a laugh. 

I felt like Galileo.

Of course I know Galileo

All information trickles down the food chain.

What do you think that squawking is all about?   

Why Galileo?  I guess because I knew

Intuitively

That there was a better punchline to that joke. 

So you're all dying to know what it was like

Venturing into the unknown. 

I’d like to be able to tell you it was special. 

And it was 

But for no other reason than I was venturing into the unknown. 

At no time was I afraid.  Why should I be afraid of the unknown? 

What fate is more frightening than the one I know to be my own. 

As far as my life is concerned. the unknown is a day at the beach.

So you ask why?  Why I came back?   

Well, maybe it was because I missed all you cluckleheads. 

Sure, we have at each other from time to time. 

But we all share the same fate

And we tough it out together. 

Except for Swifty over there.  Have you heard him crow lately?  

Where’s the urgency that he used to impart? 

What?  Is he depressed?  What’s he got to be depressed about?   

At least he’s got some responsibility. 

I hear Buddy got the axe while I was gone. 

I heard he was running around a bit afterwards 

Running around like…you know

Did he think he might find his head and put it back on

And everything would be as it was?

Didn’t he know that would be a source of amusement to the homo-saps? 

We should all go out like Max!  Ass in the air, head in the dirt. 

I loved that cocksucker.

Oh, and for all the homo-saps who are dying to know why

Why I crossed that pretty little road

t was just because I had to know

What it was like 

And in so far as that goes

It’s pretty much the same as here. 

Except there are no chickens.  

Keith Moon

I was reminded of Keith Moon when I saw a kid who looked like him at the Shawarma place.   The kid was only ten or so and he already looked like Keith.  Probably by the time he turns eighteen he’ll look even more like him.  I asked the kid’s mom if he knew who Keith Moon was.  She answered, “No.  Should I?"  I couldn’t tell if she was flirting with me or getting ready to humiliate me somehow.  I just said, “nevermind” and took my shawarma home with me and ate it on my balcony on what had to be the hottest day of the summer.   

When I was six years old I fell out of a tree.  Well, I fell out the window of my second story bedroom first.  The tree broke my fall, but then the branch I landed on broke and I fell all the way to the ground and was in a coma for six years and so I missed the whole British invasion thing.  But I’ve read a lot about it since coming out of the coma.  And I’ve checked out the many bands from that era on You Tube.  A while back I saw a video of The Who.  I was astounded by the drummer, Keith Moon.  He was nothing short of electrifying.  If I hadn’t fallen out of the window I probably would have taken up the drums, instead of sitting out the decade in a coma.   But seeing the video of him inspired me to that same end.  At the time I was forty eight years old.    

Moon was widely reported to be a man of excess; did too much of everything that’s bad for you.  I imagine there’s a huge responsibility that comes with being a rock star.  Excess is the obvious way out of that responsibility.  If the fans are going to stop buying their records because of it, then they were never true fans.  I, myself, could never carry on in that fashion, mainly because it's just not age appropriate.  If I were famous, I could see myself trashing a hotel room just to see what it felt like; although guilt would likely compel me to leave a hefty tip for the chambermaid.  I would certainly feel obliged to clean up my own vomit. 

After I emerged from my coma, people asked me what it was like; but it wasn’t like anything.  It was like I went to sleep and when I woke up, instead of it being six hours later it was six years.  I remember that my first words after I got home from the hospital were “we got new furniture.”  

I couldn't remember dreaming anything. My dreams since I came out the coma have hardly been worth noting.  That is, until recently.  I find the world of my dreams of late to be one which I am able to inhabit to the extent that I have a measure of control over them.  Not unlike real life, I suppose.  And it could very well be that I had them before, when I was in my coma.  These are the dreams I never had the opportunity to remember.  They must have got stored away somewhere like old VHS tapes.

I imagine there are two levels to the coma state.  One of which is deep sleep where time ceases to exist and the other is like in these recent dreams where I’m constantly in motion and time exists but it’s not a pressure I ever feel I'm up against.  In the first dream that really made me pay attention to what was going on, I was riding a bicycle through a leafy tunnel with strands of sunlight poking through, gliding along a smooth two lane blacktop that I had all myself.  I didn’t have a care in the world.  And when I felt myself get tired, I stopped beside a stream that I could drink from with confidence.  And when I longed for human companionship, it was handed to me, first in the person of Ruthie who told me that she was also in a coma; but as I was controlling the dream narrative, I might have made her say that.  And on that satisfying note I would fall into the deeper sleep where time didn’t exist. And when I woke up into the dream again, the two of us we’re riding in a golf cart down a grassy lane, eventually arriving at an outdoor music festival where there were plenty of kids around our age and a band playing the happiest music I had ever heard.  I really had heard nothing like it before.  I asked Ruthie who they were and she said it was her favourite band and they were called the Lovin Spoonful.  I since saw film footage of that same outdoor concert on You Tube.  I thought I saw Ruthie but I couldn’t be sure, but I didn’t see me there at all.  I remembered that after the concert she went off with the drummer but I didn’t mind.  I just ran really fast across a meadow until I came to a lake at which point I took off into the air and fell asleep while flying as the band played ‘Darling Be Home Soon.’        

I drum in a band now with some guys around my own age.  One of the guys writes pretty good songs, and the folks seem to really like us but mostly when we play covers.  I doubt if we’ll ever quit our day jobs.  I’m resigned to never be as great a drummer as Keith Moon, but I manage to keep a steady beat like good old Charlie Watts.  Most drummers create a solid foundation for a tune.  Keith built a nest; which, incidentally, is the thing that’s I was reaching for when I fell out the window.  Not that I see any significance in that.  I just felt it was worth mentioning.

 

Impossible Dreaming

The End.  Dream big!  That’s what I say.  I know I’m not the first to say that, but I’m probably the first to shout it at the top of his lungs on a crowded bus.  I could write a book about all the things I dream of doing.  Or, at the very least, a tidy manifesto.  Perhaps the biggest dream I’ve dared to dream is to start my own church, a church that offers devotees a chance to walk in the clouds with Jesus, or if the skies are clear, go with Him to the beach.  Some of the things I’ve dreamed of doing are things that I maybe should have already done; for instance, take a picture of my girlfriend riding a Unicorn so that I can prove to all my friends that I really do have a girlfriend.  Plans?  I got plans,  Big plans!  Take a look at my calendar, first Saturday in August I have pencilled in: Beach Picnic with Wu Tang Clan.  Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  I’ll let you know.  And would it be too much to dream that someday I’ll play in a band with Paul McCartney and it’ll be me who everyone refers to as the cute one.  I also harbour dreams that I’ve already realized like beginning a written work with ‘The End’.  Done and Done.  Time to dream on.  Dream of a world revolution after which I’ll retire to Florida; or if that’s too square, move to the Yukon and have a big old Lesbian for a best friend.  Time travel, anyone?  First stop 2003 where I intend to foil the plot to assassinate George W Bush so that he could go on to become the greatest American President ever.  Then I’ll go back further in time to kill Hitler’s barber who apparently put all those crazy ideas in his head.  And who doesn’t dream of being a Hollywood Movie Star?  I see myself playing a compassionate hit man who, before dispatching his victims assures them that “this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”  I’d also direct.  Why not?  And have Sarah Bernhardt play the love interest (see time travel).  I’m pretty much resigned to never being a great athlete unless I’m abducted by aliens who, just for laughs, pump me full of alien vitamins that make it possible to jump higher than anyone has ever jumped.  Too bad my favourite sport is football and not basketball.  But imagine the havoc I could wreak as a running back.  I may not be fast but defenders would have to get on each other’s shoulders to bring me down.  But let me come down to earth and dream a humble dream like getting a job on a road crew as a flag person; and when I’ve had enough of that, I’ll just stick out my thumb.  Or perhaps honour the dreams of my grandfather by just making it through another day.  Too much to ask?  If yes, fuck you.  And on a more selfless note, dream the dream of a better world or, at the very least, a fresh start in an alternate universe.  Wu Tang Clan, consider yourselves on the list.  Dear reader.         

People I Don't Know

Well, now I don’t normally talk to people I don’t know.  Because you just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.  I prefer to be properly introduced by someone I know and trust.  That’s just the kind of fellow I am. I can’t conceive of any reason that a total stranger would talk to me other than to take advantage of me somehow.  I’m not saying that’s what you have in mind.  I’m just saying that any other reason is beyond my comprehension.   I don’t go to many parties.  I don’t get invited and that’s just fine with me.   I’m more comfortable at funerals as I’m more likely to be with people I already know.  And those I don’t know I can find a commonality with in knowing the deceased.  I suppose you could argue there will be more and more funerals as I get older and there will be fewer and fewer people that I know.  Well, there’s really nothing I can do about that now is there.  Perhaps you ought to ask around for someone who knows me and who might be willing to introduce you to me.  That’s what I would recommend.  That way nobody gets taken advantage of.