Dec 2016 15

4:35 am. When you can’t sleep, it’s good to make use of your time. Like, why lie still and clear your mind for the coming day when you could be coming up with gems like this? 

Tonight’s Insomnia Idea: A fragrance called ‘Burnt Popcorn’. 

It smells just like it sounds because as witnessed in an office yesterday – there’s something about that smell in particular that brings out major anxiety in people. 

So when everyone is like “Whoa, I smell something burning. Is something burning?” and their natural ‘flee’ instinct starts to kick in, you can just kick back, look all relaxed, and emote the calm of the coolest person in the room. 

“Wow. They’re not bothered that a fire could break out at any moment. Sexy.”

Dec 2016 05

Back on the TTC commute for a month. And in an effort to escape the drivel of ‘Metro’, your free news source, worth exactly what you pay, I present the return of Subway Stories. One ride. And I try to write one thing in entirety during the commute. 

Twice Removed

“Meet your Uncle Herbert.”

“Pleased to meet you Uncle Herbert.”
 
I extended my hand, as I was told men do. He was the biggest human I had ever seen In real life. Red bushy hair and matching beard. ‘Burly’, The Fragrance, come to life. I swear he blocked the light when he stood in front of me, no easy feat in daytime Belize that close to the equator.
 
He sized-up me and all my fourteen years.
 
And knocked my hand away.
 
“You don’t shake my hand, boy.”
 
And then he engulfed me, lifted me up, in the tightest and warmest embrace I had experienced in my life, and probably ever have.
 
Even now, beyond the physical reasons, I am amazed we shared any DNA.

 

 

 

 

Dec 2016 02

 

Ra Ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Ra Ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

 

Ra Ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Ra Ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
He drank it all and said, I feel fine

 

Ra Ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They didn’t quit, they wanted his head
Ra Ra Rasputin
Russia’s greatest love machine
And so they shot him ’til he was dead

 

– Boney M. (Frank Farian, George Reyam, Fred Jay)

Nov 2016 19

If you’re not one of my three regular visitors and haven’t read ‘Bennett John’ part I, a mostly fictional memoir of growing up in suburban Rexdale, maybe check it out here, first. 

For 30 minutes a day, we earned temporary parole from learning about verbs, nouns and how to crunch numbers using long division – we were assured, a very useful future skill. Recess time. Sprung from the walls of education, we ventured outside to bond over games like handball, “assault at the hands of bigger kids” and Jamie’s innovative idea called ‘kissing tag’.

The game that day, however, was Sand Box Long Jump. Truck back about 50 feet from the sandbox, run like the wind, and take a flying leap into the sand. Longest jump wins. Who was winning, I don’t recall. I highly doubt it was me with my little legs. But Bennett gave it his all. In a blur of tastefully twilled shorts, and socks & sandals powered by gnarled sticks, he was badly-translated-from-another-language poetry in motion. He reached the edge of the sandbox and hurled himself for all he was worth. Airborne with legs stretched out below him hungry for victory. And he promptly landed with a thud in the sandbox – on his back.

It’s the first time I can recall seeing someone in anguish. Writhing around in the sandbox like a snake, he was making noises I’d never heard before.

“Gnurk… My back…. Olllalllalla… I broke my back!”

Jeffrey, Jamie and I didn’t know what to do other than stand there with amazed and stunned looks. Even now, empathy isn’t my strong suit so back then? Forget it.

“You didn’t break your back, Bennett.”

“Yes, I did. I did. I broke my back. Arrrlrlllghhhh…”

More writhing and slithering and tears. He wasn’t getting up.

And then the school bell rang out. The signal Recess was over and we had to go back inside.

“C’mon, Bennett. Get up. We gotta go in.”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

Jeffrey, Jamie and I looked at each other. We didn’t know what to do. We had to go inside. Those were the rules. Put up your hand to talk, don’t pass notes in class, and always go in when the school bell rings.

“Don’t leave me.”

But we did. We turned around and left Bennett squirming and crying in the sand.

As we made our way to the school doors as the only renegades still outside, it’s not like we were reveling in our abandonment of Bennett. Jeff, Jamie and I were conflicted. He was moving around, right? So it’s not like he could’ve been really hurt. Who writhes around like that if they’re mortally wounded? Star Wars Stormtroopers just dropped dead. There was no squirming. There were no cries of “I’ve been blastered, don’t leave me!”.

I assure you, Bennett’s undoubted and hoped for survival was on my mind as Jamie disappeared from my view and he hit the ground.

I looked down to see Bennett, evidently walking and healed, on top of Jamie and beating on him something furious. Jamie’s hands were up protecting his face as Bennett landed blow after blow to his head and body.

“You left me. Left me. Arrrrghghhhhhh.”

And then Jeff and I were on Bennett, kneeling on the ground trying to pry him off. And I got punched for my efforts. Right in the face by a gangly limb evidently coated in steel. I reeled away, looked down, and saw bright red splotches bursting onto the pavement and originating from my nose.

Bennett was on Jeffrey now and handling him the way wrestlers did on TV, shoving his face in the ground and banging on his back. More subhuman sounds and the rage of an animal, uncaged.

There would be no more ‘Soap on a Rope’ for Christmas. No more Bennett at my Birthday parties or him hanging around like faded curtains that no one noticed.

Bennett John had broken his back and found his spine at the same time.

 

 

Nov 2016 16

Accepting a challenge to write more regularly, I present the first part of this mostly fictional slice-of-life of suburban Rexdale of yesterday.

Other than his name, there was nothing remarkable about Bennett John. I recall him as a gangly kid. Knobbed knees were the first thing you noticed about him, which was lucky for him because he had so many other deficiencies. He weighed in at 70 pounds with 10 pounds of rocks in his pocket, and his skin held the translucent hue of papier mache paste. He told us his parents were English, which explained his fashion sense as he frequently dressed in ¾ length tartaned or plaid shorts, complimented by dress socks pulled up to below his knobs. For some unknown reason, his Earl Grey-sipping parents had found their way to the suburban multicultural low-end of Toronto in the 1980s. And I haven’t even mentioned the buck teeth.

All of us were different back then, so no one was different. Bennett wasn’t teased for his English-ness in the same equal-opportunity spirit the rest of us weren’t teased for being Korean, Pakistani, Filipino, Nigerian, or Half-Japanese Belizean. At 8 years old, we judged each other on how well you hit a baseball, how quickly could burn ants with a magnifying glass, whether you had a dog or not, and if you’d rather be Luke or Han Solo. If someone didn’t like you, you could be sure they didn’t like you for who you were as a person. A much more honest time of hatred.

Bennett wasn’t, however, lucky enough to be hated. That would mean he stood out in some way instead of just seeping into the wallpaper of life. But he was a section of wallpaper that took a liking to me for some reason. I don’t remember why. Even back then I was shallow enough to know which kids to aspire to hang with, and which were social leprosy which Bennett certainly showed symptoms of being. But his mom sold Avon products and it’s possible my mom’s affinity for buying a lot of Avon ‘Soap-on-a-Rope’ during the holiday season sparked up a chance conversation at the mall.

“Well, hello Mrs. Bradley. How is the Blue Hippo Soap-on-a-Rope treating your husband, love?”

“Greetings Mrs. John, I see you got Bananas for 19 cents a pound today as well. The soap was actually for my son’s Christmas stocking and yes, he likes it very much.”

“You have a son? Well, dove, so do I. (touches her hand for added effect – those Avon sales people knew how to seduce. Many went on to higher positions in Scientology, I bet.) We should get the lads together. Bennett does love the football and the roughhousing.”

Except as I found out, Bennett didn’t like the football and the roughhousing at all.

In fact, I remember Bennett as having no real interests at all other than me and just being around all the time. There’s a picture of me perched on my bike – one of my favourite bikes of my pre-tween years – dark cherry red with cruiser handlebars and a black banana seat for doubling friends around the neighbourhood. I’m sitting tall on my trusty steed, gazing into the lens in the name of future posterity, and there’s Bennett standing next to us. No bike. Wearing his standard issue shorts, his feet turned in towards each other and he can barely make eye contact with the camera.

Regardless of my bravado and Bennett’s timidity, perhaps there was an alchemic connection. Because soon he just happened to be around all the time. If we played Bike Taxi in the neighbourhood, Bennett was there. My birthday party meant Bennett’s buck teeth happily smeared in vanilla icing. He was soon mixing with me and my crew, Jeffrey and Jamie, even at school. In fact, it wasn’t until those days that I noticed he even went to the same school as we did.

Which brings us to that fateful recess.

‘John Bennett’ (part 2)