Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Incredible Journey

            The Golden Mile Plaza has been located at 1880 Eglinton Avenue East in the Scarborough district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada since the 1950s. Added to the original Golden Mile, an industrial and commercial area developed after World War Two, the Plaza is now a combination of smaller strip malls. When I was a boy, the original mall housed a variety of shops and services, primarily a pair of movie theatres and the Golden Mile pharmacy and tuck shop. On the front face of the cinema, a huge "Golden Mile" marquee glistened through the day and glimmered with a thousand lights every night.  I had seen it many times from the back window of my Father's car, as we zipped past it on our way home from other adventures. Although a relative distance from my home, at the time, it held much promise when suggested to me as a destination for summer play.
            Tuesday, August 5th 1975 started out like almost any other summer day for me. The temperature was moderate and a cool breeze ever so slightly touched the air. With nothing to hinder our travels, my brother Phillip, and our mutual friend David Hall, all boarded our bikes and headed east towards this somewhat mythical shopping experience.  I had been convinced to accompany my hosts with the temptation of a large section of comic books in the pharmacy/tuck shop. I was sold from the get go.
            My Mom had cleared my departure earlier that morning, so without interruption the three of us sped off towards York Mills Road. We followed the way up to Victoria Park Avenue then headed south until we arrived about an hour after we had left from home. It may not have been a challenging journey, but despite traffic and the hot sun to slow us, we finally made our way. We all wore shorts and t-shirts, each one of much colour or print, a fashion trend of the day. I had on an army green V-neck, which I wore a little loose so I had room to move. My shorts were cut-offs, trimmed to an appropriate length with rough cut edges all dangly and loose. The white denim was slightly faded, but no worse for the wear. Every few inches, or so, a turtle, neck extended, sat perfectly. He carried through the entire fabric, every few inches repeating. I so loved these trunks, "my turtle shorts." I was very sad when I had to give them up.
            This one time place of wonder was a different sight up close and personal. All the drive-bys, and all the expectation, seem silly to me now. I was underwhelmed. I felt this way years later when I got off a Greyhound bus in downtown Hollywood. I suppose nothing is ever really all it's cracked up to be. We locked our bicycles behind the mall and preceded to investigate the stores. As we wandered about, suddenly I spotted it. The anticipation of all those comic books was almost more than I could stand. I started out ahead of my comrades, rushing to get inside. All of a sudden my brother stopped me, his hand on my shoulder halted any push forward. I had no idea what was going on. "Let us go in first," he said with a strange little smile.
            I stood with the bikes waiting as I had been instructed. I had no idea why they needed, or even wanted,  to go in without me but nevertheless there I was alone. It did not seem very long when they both appeared around the corner of the mall. They laughed as if in on some secret joke. When we reunited they revealed grand splendour. Chocolate  bars, chewing gum, baseball cards all flashed before me. So many treats and surprises that I could not believe my eyes. Then it hit me.
"Hey where did you guys get money to buy all this stuff?" I questioned.
"We stole it stupid." Phillip replied.
"No way, Mom is going to kill you if she finds out," I subtly threatened..
"Mom won't find out cause no one is gonna tell her," he preached.
"Now, it's your turn," David added.
            I don’t know why I followed their orders. I still refuse to take threats or duress of any kind, and I was no different as a child. Soon, however, I found my pockets full and a few comics stuffed down with Mr. Turtle and the crack of my butt. I was never really good at being discreet, at least not during a crime, and as I walked towards the exit I was confronted. He was tall, and big, like a football player or defence man on a hockey team. He kind of reminded me of Lurch, from the original Adams Family, looming over me intent on my doom. I thought I just might pee my pants.
            I was a very average sized kid for all my 10 years. I had ear length naturally blond hair, and freckles about my face and arms. I had an average build but was very athletic and fast, well trained at the art of escape from years of playing werewolves with the kids in the neighbourhood. As he stood there, arms crossed and rather stern, I made my move. I ducked to my left then cut back around to his left, easily avoiding his out stretched arm. I hit the glass exit with the fury of a madman, my body unaffected by the powerful collision. I landed on  the sidewalk with the grace of a cheetah, turning quickly towards the end of the mall. I glanced back for just a moment to make sure the coast was clear and saw him standing at the distance I had crossed, his right arm raised and shaking. I switched into high gear and roared off down the strip.
            When I rounded the back of the mall, I screamed bloody murder. Phil and David had already prepped our getaway and the three of us tore out onto the road and down into a subdivision across the street. My head raced and my heart beat so fast I could have danced to it. I kept peddling like some exercise fanatic trying desperately to lose 5 pounds in 5 minutes. You could not have stopped me if you tried.
            It seemed to take forever to reach the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve Trail. My brother stopped first and we all then decided to take a much needed break. I was terrified, afraid I would be seized and punished. I had stolen candy before, and been caught, but I was older now and sure I would be held quite accountable. Phillip warned me that the police would be out looking for me and David suggested we stay off the main streets to avoid detection. They both assured me that if I remained out of sight and did what they told me everything would be fine. I bought it, hook, line and sinker.
            The 12 foot tall chain-link fence was all that stood between us and the park ahead. With no other area available, no spot to cheat, we knew the task we faced was not going to be easy. I climbed over the fence first, Phillip right behind me. I jumped onto the ground while he remained near the top. David raised the first bike, then another, until finally all three were caged no longer. Phillip brought each one over the fence, one-handed, then lowered them down to my waiting arms. He seemed to me a hero.
            As things calmed down, for them at least, and we all managed to catch our breath, the three of us headed into the trails. This was no longer an adventure for me; I didn't need convincing that I was in danger. We journeyed through the conservation area, on the lamb, convicted criminals trying desperately to get back home. Every once in awhile David, who was no more than 12, would try to convince me that it was my shorts which would give me away to the police. He won me over to the idea that I should discard them as soon as possible, so as not to give my identity away. I was sure that he was right.
            Phillip's birthday, later in the month, would find him 13 years old. His age mattered little to me as I placed in him my trust for safety. As we biked through the massive forest, he warned me what would happen if we got caught. Tales of juvenile hall, and foster care, filled the air like bats in a belfry once the bell had tolled. My anxiety reached full peak as we crossed under the Don Valley Parkway, and back into Don Mills. I prayed that the coast was clear.
            Back out on the street, every time either Dave or Phil thought they spotted a cop, they yelled for me to find cover and hide. Each time I almost fainted in fear. I would cower behind a tree, or a car, or a rock, begging God to help me avoid detection. When my attempts to hide in plain sight became too frequent, they decided we should get off the beaten track and cut through the Donalda - Don Valley Golf Course. Also built in the 1950s, the greens are located between Lawrence Avenue and the York Mils Road/Don Mills Road intersection. Phillip, and my older brother Alan, had both been caddies here, having told the family tales of their adventures carrying around the clubs of sport stars and business men. Needless to say, I was sure my brother knew how to keep me and make things safe. He would assure our escape.
            Without event, we travelled over the distance, undetected. We clung to the tree line, always diligent of our surroundings. If someone approached, we would simply enter the woods and disappear, only to rejoin the clear when the threat had departed. I had never been so scared in my life. As one of my companions attempted to calm me with reassurance, the other would relay caution and fear. I didn't know if I was coming or going. When I saw the bridge which crosses the Don River, I knew I was almost home.
            We exited the safety of the golf course, as we went to navigate the thoroughfare, I spotted a cruiser at the bottom of the hill. It headed up York Mills Road towards us. David yelled to find cover and Phil chose to act unassuming. When it passed, we ran with our bikes across traffic and down onto Valentine Drive. With only a short hop, skip and jump towards serenity, we made it home exhausted but relieved. The very first thing I did was to remove the evidence I cherished so much and hide them above a furnace duct for later removal. They found final rest in a deep hole near the old river bed in Grayden Hall.

"There's a sucker born every minute." (P. T. Barnum)

            For well over a decade, no one spoke of this incredible journey. My parents did not have a clue what had happened that day. When they later, that day, inquired if we wanted to head up to the Parkway Mall, for ice cream, it was just to close to the scene of the crime. The next summer, as we drove down the 401 highway towards our new home, I smiled at the thought of escaping both the city, and my capture, forever. In spite of this new found freedom, I still wished I had my turtle shorts.
            It was not until years later that our secret came to light. Like with all good stories of old, it held no power over me and I laughed at the thought. No harm, no foul. My brother and I sat with Mom, and my sister, joking about the past.  Phillip revealed the game he and David had played with me, taking amusement in my peril. He thought I had known for years but not once did I realize I had been gaslighted. I guess it is true, sometimes things aren't all they are cracked up to be.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Little Old Lady Who?

             I may have only been 9 years old, but there was no way in hell. I didn't care who she was, I didn't care what she threatened. If she wanted me to do it, she was going to have to take me by force. I sat at the table, arms crossed, knowing nothing could make me. Short of pouring them down my throat, the Rice Krispies before me, soaked in skimmed milk, were doomed to drown in their bowl and, most certainly, not my stomach. 30 minutes into this war and they had already turned to mush and goo, sinking like a dead weight meant to make me hurl.
            In the summer of 1974, I waged this war against Kellogg's and my Grandmother Norah. She knew when she poured them into the porcelain bowl, but she did not heed my warning. I would never, had never, could never eat such vile creations. All puffy and airy, they did not meet me well on the way in or on the way down. I told her so, but she would not listen. Like an invitation for puking all over, each morsel of swollen turned to soft and disgusting, off-white mud at the bottom of the trough.   
            I had visited my maternal grandparents before, but this August something was different. I had a sense about me that I had not known before. While their dispositions still gave me pause, the fear I had towards both of them did not control me any longer. I had heard my parents discussing them late one evening as I sat on the bottom stair of our Toronto home. After this revelation, I knew my instincts about both were correct. My Grandpa Joe, a stoic and deliberate man, and my Grandma Norah, a rigid yet zealous Christian, seemed welcoming enough, but it was always on their terms. When we all sat down for breakfast, these terms became unacceptable.
            She poured each bowl with no consideration. The words "I don't like them" bounced off her as if education off an idiot. Her disregard of my opinion obvious to all around me. When my brothers and sister were excused, I went to leave the table. Her hands pressed against my shoulders as she sternly demanded I finish my meal. I echoed my dislike, again, but she paid me no due. I was instructed to stay put until I finished, to the very last drop. I knew immediately it was going to be a long day.
            For hours I sat quietly, playing superheroes in my head to pass the time. Every so often, she would walk over and remind me that I was not to move until completion. This mattered little to me, there was just no way. At lunch hour, she took supper to everyone in the backyard. They all ate their sandwiches, and drank their cola, as I swooned from boredom and consternation. I didn't want to sit and watch this now cauldron of cold rice soup churn like phlegm in a puddle, but I had no choice. I absolutely, isn't gonna happen, would not surrender to her bidding. She drew first blood.
            Her threat to lock me up all day meant nothing considering the alternative.  When she used guilt, and the Ten Commandments, I struck back with all the vengeance my almost 10-year-old mind could muster. As she pointed out the Fifth Commandment, I pointed out she was not my Mother. Of this much I was damn sure. It was almost as if the friction that had always been between us was now full fury and respect was tossed consciously to the wind. Every time she tried to intimidate me, every time she countered with the Wrath of God, I simply pushed the bowl away. All the while thinking that my Mother would be proud. Such a bitter and nasty little old lady. So much for the Joy of the Lord that she preached in Sunday School.
            The day dragged on, but I would not submit. At dinnertime, I won my first battle. Without a word, she approached the table, took hold of the swamp she had once called my breakfast and sent me to the boys' room at the back of the house. About 15 minutes had passed when she entered the room to inform me that dinner was ready. "I'm not hungry," was the only hurrah heard in round two.

"If you would civilize a man, begin with his grandmother." (Victor Hugo)

            He laid in that hospital bed, month after month, withering to nothing but wrinkled skin and bone. The stroke had done a lot of things, but putting him out of his misery was not one of them. I sat, Bible in hand, watching from the end of the bed. To his right, my Mother, calm and controlled, held his hand in an attempt to bring comfort. To his left, Norah stood clutching his other hand with both her hands, hanging on his broken, shallow breathing. We all knew that the time was near, they had called us to tell us to come quickly. So gathered the four of us, together for the very last assemblage.
            Each time he faded, she would call for him. Over and over he returned, as if she had summoned his very spirit. She took to the chair behind her and wrapped herself around his arm. You could tell the pain. You could smell the fear. My Mother stood next to him, wiping his brow and stroking what was left of his hair. At 80, he was a shell of the hardworking man he used to be. He had lingered here without clemency, fading slowly, day after day. It almost seemed cruel to me and I prayed he was not suffering. I couldn't take it any longer and got up and left the room.
            When I hit the hallway, I saw them. Not one turned to notice me. They just sat there unmoving, frozen like statues on bicycles. Their wheelchairs seemed an early coffin; just reward for time served. There was no banter, no conversation, just the empty drone of aged faces silently cursing this world. You could almost taste the death. I had never been exposed to this type of environment, so I was shaken by the scene before me. There must have been 20 of them, Stepford grandma and grandpa, sitting there as if clinging to life. It was an uncomfortable thing to witness.
            As I headed for an exit, cigarette already in hand, the nurse summoned me back into the room. Five months had passed since Doug had passed, and the entire situation found me wanting to escape. As I reclaimed my view of the pending departure, his final moments began. The morphine in the nurse's hand soon found itself in him, easy medicine for eventual rest. A few goodbyes and one "go to the light" from my Mom, then with one last sigh it was over. His body collapsed upon itself, as if emptied from within.
            I could feel him leaving. I could hear Norah crying. I looked at my Mother as she fell into sorrow. When the nurse asked us to leave the room, I had only one thought in my mind. I wondered what happened to him as he lay there, returning over and over to the  screams of his wife. How could someone seem to fade, then fill with life again? "Some people need permission to go," the doctor told me as I stood outside with the zombies I had met mere moments before.
            My Grandmother walked from the room alone, her arms wrapped around themselves in some attempt to block out the pain. I walked over to her, wrapped my arms around her arms and tried to comfort her. "I know how you feel," was all that left me. She stopped dead, looked straight into my eyes and said, "No you don't." I looked at her with confusion, unsure of the implication. "You don't have any idea. It is not the same," she said sternly. I shivered in spite of the mid-July sun which had creeped brightness into this dim and shadowed space. The chill she sent through me brought back every emotion, every time she had minimized me and my feelings. My whole life she had provoked me, and this was no exception. I felt frozen, but ready to crush her.
            Methodically, she dropped her position, took my arms and pushed them away from her. As she left me standing there, quite dismissed, I fought the urge to clutch her again, but only to add insult to her injury. As family came and went, I stood with Mom, another victim of her indifference. In light of the situation, any erratic statements or action was more than understandable on her part. This did little to quell the anger and bitter resentment which filled me with disdain.
            She was right. I did not know what it was like to have someone I had loved, for so long, fade away in front of me. I did not know. I did not know the chance to say goodbye to love in person rather than by proxy. I did not know what all those years of memories felt like, some blanket to keep me warm in the cold of alone. I had what I had and she had what she had. Never the twain would meet.
            Pre-Christmas 1995 found myself, and my friend Rob Miller, selling dance tickets in the hallway outside our Church sanctuary. I had not spoken to her, nor seen her, since the events of the summer. I noticed her coming down the corridor, right away, walking slowly to intensify the awkward shift in mood.  She approached the table, spied the contents of our fundraiser and then asked, "What do you think you're doing?" Somewhere a pin dropped, but no one could hear it. I looked at her and the smirk beneath her fa├žade. I got up, pushed in my chair and said, "Leaving." Then I walked away.   
            I never spoke to her again. The later onset of medical complications saw her sitting like that group of discarded seniors I witnessed on the day my Grandpa died, the trail of destruction and chaos she paved behind her no less in her absence. Mercy met her in 1998 when, like my Mother, death came quickly and with little warning. Although her heart had literally stopped, the remnants of it took years to block out.  All I was left with was a final goodbye.

"It's not that age brings childhood back again,
Age merely shows what children we remain."
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

            She had always been a villain to me, but here she was, as dead as anybody else would be. The power she exercised over me now nothing but a bad memory. Her walnut coffin lay open, an invitation to sorrow and regret. I looked at her, trying to find any feeling outside the urge to flee. My Mother stood beside me, her hand in mine, as we lingered there, lost in the act of saying goodbye. I did not feel sadness and I did not experience ruefulness. All I felt was empty.
            The procession of faces meeting her eventually ended with instruction to take our seats. One after another, her friends, and family, spoke much of her life and the accomplishments that a lifetime had known from her. They revealed her love of God. They told tales of servitude, charity and a passion for grace. They spoke softly of her family and the commitment she had brought to them. Each soul expressing the fondness and respect they held towards her throughout her life.
            I sat with my siblings and parents, spying on the message her memorial exposed. I kept looking at her box, trying to figure out just who the hell they were talking about. Their words were not of the woman I had known. I kept checking to make sure I was at the correct funeral. Denning's Brothers Funeral Home had given shelter to my Aunt Edna Grey and my Grandpa Joe, and a few other souls I had known throughout my 33-plus years. I looked around me, trying to find some sense in this confusion. I studied the faces and disposition of all the people in the room. I don’t remember anyone crying.
            They laid her beside my Grandpa, resting 100 feet from his father, my Great-grandfather and his wife. We all loomed there, like good mourners do. Slowly, but surely, each one fell away until all that remained was my Mother, and me, clinging to the hope of some closure. It never came. For a moment, I was 8 years old again, my hand in my Mother's as we bid adieu to Giuseppe, great-grandpa, in the mid-1970s. Unlike then, I still felt nothing but some form of relief that all the pain, and all the drama, would, at least, find rest with her.
            When we approached the other mourners, standing in safety mere feet away, Marjorie Quinney, her longtime friend and church associate, drew close with arms wide open. She stood with Mom talking and sharing how wonderful Norah had been to her. I thought to myself how apropos, that a stranger to our bloodline should find God in her. This was something I never could do. I watched as car after car withdrew into grief and a life without this cherished woman, evermore.
            I don't feel resentment that I never understood Norah Gardiner-Pascuzzo. Her 75 years were not lived for me. I wish things had been different. I wish I had known of her that which all those grieving souls had witnessed throughout the time they had known her. Truth be told, it was better that she was gone. For me, at any rate. It may sound uncaring, it may even seem heartless, but, apparently, she taught me well.
"Elephants and grandchildren never forget." (Andy Rooney)


Norah and Joe and Me
Strathroy Ontario

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Almost Skipping

            The Toronto neighbourhood where I grew up had mass appeal for me as a child. There was an Olympic-sized swimming pool around the corner, at George S. Henry High School. The Ontario Science Centre was down the hill, near where Don Mills Road and York Mills Road meet. The landscape from my youth held much distraction and seduced me with promises of escapism. The variety of choices in entertainment, found about this suburb of Greater Toronto, brought delight to the faces of kids throughout North York and the rest of the city. I was no exception. After all, in the 1970s, there was really nothing else to do.
            Before the days of Pong, during the reign of the 8-track, children did not remain inside the house for amusement. Although television was a popular destination, it held little in comparison to the programming of today. One was lucky to manage any signal, let alone one containing content worthy of a child's attention. 12 channels left much to be desired. Outside of the talking box, home was for feeding and sleeping. Life was for play and adventure, not chores or responsibility. I could not have imagined myself sitting in front of the television for hours playing games, when all around me was excitement and room for mischief. I know that things have changed for children.
            Up Don Mills Road, the Fairview Mall was but a friendly walk away, with movie theatres galore (2) and every store imaginable. Down the road was the Prince Hotel, playing host to bands like the Bay City Rollers. Large parks and baseball diamonds littered the area. Trees seemed so large, aged like giant antique ladders meant to climb. Grass went on forever, at least in the mind, and kites were your very best friend. In the winter, ice skating at Fenside Arena filled up my Sunday afternoon. Come summer, it was off  to camp with my sister. Camp "Melachaguchie" (or something resembling that name) gave two weeks of complete diversion during the long summer days and one over-night to cap it off, with no parents to be found. For a child, this was pure freedom.
            It would have been easy to catch a bus into the heart of downtown Toronto, and on occasion, I did just that (accompanied, of course). The Summerville pool, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) all were destinations throughout my fledgling years. The newly opened Ontario Place, with its snow cones, was a much anticipated outing. You could even head to the waterfront to watch the CN Tower being built. Outside of such grand things, there was little reason to head into the city, but for the spectacle of it all. Record stores, grocery stores, and all things in between were of easy access in the area, no matter where you turned. For a child, it meant a smorgasbord of options and little investment of time.
            The first meal I remember eating was at McDonald's, located near Sheppard Avenue and Pharmacy Road. Long before the days of the Happy Meal, I recall just being happy to have the meal. You could walk to fast food in all directions, then and now. Strip malls and coffee shops meant promise for Tim Horton's and mini-malls to come. I remember my  parents driving out of the city, west towards Kitchener, so we could all partake from the very first Timmie's, located near Cambridge and the African Lion Safari. The very first time I tasted a double chocolate donut stands out in my memory, an event measured equal to my first sexual encounter or first buzz from marijuana. This gastronomically thrilling visitor still greets my taste buds once a week or so. I can be a real pig for the stuff.
            If you craved time with the animals, then a quick drive to the Metro Toronto Zoo was most rewarding. A decade before Canada's Wonderland, thrills came from monkeys and elephants, not the Wild Beast or Behemoth. The Prince Edward Gardens, a lush botanical masterpiece developed in 1956, stills stands on the southwest corner of Leslie Street and Lawrence Avenue East. A gang of us would venture by bus and ravage the park with play. The entire day, the large group of kids from our neighbourhood would turn greenery and forest into base camps or wolf dens, all the while running carefree, with little concern for time marching on or what was on the television set at home.
             When we did watch TV, at least on Saturday nights, one just curled up on the floor to watch Peter Puck on Hockey Night in Canada. The game didn't really matter to me but Go Leafs Go! This was when a father seemed the most important thing in the world. My Dad would sit explaining the game until the questions became too frequent and we got rushed off to bed. One Christmas, Dad got tickets for us kids and we headed down to Maple Leaf Gardens for a party hosted by his employer. I remember sitting in this now defunct arena, staring at the ceiling in awe and counting banners hanging from the area above centre ice. Occasionally, the entire family would head down to the "Gardens" when the circus came to town. There was something magical about a travelling show. Childhood dreams of running away and joining them found glory until we left for home or, minimally, until the parade of clowns closed the show.
            Just past the Don Valley Parkway (DVP), under the pass, and past the high school sat Graydon Hall. Built in 1936, the estate, in the 1970s, consisted of a Golf and Tennis Club in the Manor, an abandoned man-made river and several venues throughout the property. The outer shell of all the buildings and exterior walls remains the original cobblestone to this day. The river may have dried up, but it served as a canvas for our imaginations. We played Werewolves, Capture the Flag and Hide and Go Seek among the rocks and secret places. We set booby-traps for those who would dare disturb our sanctum. My brother Phil stands as a testament to the power of childhood weaponry, though I'm not sure if he still bears the scar. The enormous hills found at Graydon Hall Park made for the best tobogganing I have ever known. Summer or wintertime, the entire area seemed made for fertile minds seeking adventure and frolic.
            Into the latter part of the decade, Peter Pocklington began to develop the land for apartments and condominiums. The Manor became a prestigious reception and banquet facility and high-rise towers now fill a once unencumbered view. Just over Don Mills Road lies a collection of commercial and industrial buildings, but when I was a kid, it was all ravine, a large mixture of trails, bush and wetland. This too was a favoured destination to escape from reality. Getting lost in the woods made for hours of exploration and enjoyment. It broke my heart when I saw, for the first time, a concrete jungle on top of my childhood jungle. This place was magic for me, a favourite place. Still, there was nothing that held my interest as much as the tuck shop down the street.
            While Graydon Hall had a little variety store tucked into its stone facade, the real tuck shop was right through Sandover Park, near the intersection of York Mills Road and the DVP.  Located where Sandover Drive meets the main thoroughfare, 1200 York Mills Road housed my daily guilty pleasure. Primarily used as a term throughout the British Commonwealth, "tuck shop" denotes a small retailer or canteen. There was no 7-11 or variety stores when I was but a boy, they were all known as "the tuck shop." The store remains the same as it once was, still buried beneath 16 floors of apartment living. This quaint corner shop not only carried every kind of candy one could imagine, but was my main source for comic books. The white angelfish sculpture just outside, large and bold, told of treasure to come as you approached your pleasure. It was a touchstone for children looking for ecstasy in Blackballs, Gold Rush gum, or Dipsticks. I stole 2 of those Blackball gobstoppers when I was 8 years old and got caught. I can see myself sitting in the back room waiting for my Dad. The owner banned me, a crushing blow, but that lasted only a week until I returned to buy more comics. I guess 'preferred customer' was a familiar business term even in the old days.
            When I close my eyes, I can see myself as a child in action. There are few memories I embrace from the point of view of me sitting. There was always so much to do when I was young. Back then, I didn’t think in terms of freedom, rather it was more often to escape. To escape the boredom and the reruns. To escape the chores or even my siblings. To escape school or the same old life in general. It didn’t hurt that there was plenty of selection to escape to.
            I don’t believe most people view their childhood as a source of knowledge. I know that the things which resonate most with me, from my childhood, hold some of the greatest lessons from my life. Albeit not every memory of this time delivers significance and meaning, some are just demonstrative. In that demonstration, there is always something to be learned.

"In my solitude, many miles from men and houses, I am in a childishly happy and carefree state of mind, which you are incapable of understanding unless someone explains it to you." (Knut Hamsun, Norwegian Author)

            Although my 10th birthday was over and done, Thursday, May 15th, 1975 was the bomb for me. While the birthday cake and the Big Jeff Safari set were memorable, it was the $10.00 burning a hole in my pocket I worshipped the most. I had to wait until that Saturday before my Mom let me journey from North York to Scarborough to spend it. It might not seem like a lot of money to a 10-year-old now, but a thousand pennies went far in 1975. These days were pre-lottery, no scratch cards or Lotto draws to be found. I admit no modern winning, that I have known, has ever met the same sense of wealth that possessed me over this purple piece of joy. The gift, from my maternal grandmother, came wrapped in white with a stamp in the corner. For 48 hours, it was my closest friend.
            On the sixth day, I headed out around lunch time and walked straight through Sandover Park to York Mills Road. Heading east, North York ends just before Victoria Park Avenue. Although the distance from home to Parkway Mall may seem insignificant to a full-grown adult, for a 10-year-old boy it took forever to get to there. The bright sunny day was warm and smooth and I sauntered, with all the time in the world. I don't recall another day from my history where I felt so carefree. As I crossed the invisible line into Scarborough, and entered the large parking lot belonging to the mall, I felt as if God liked me, shining down permission to be happy for a change.
            I went from store to store, taking my time, analyzing each item I considered for purchase. By the time the giant strip mall ended, so too had my friendship with my birthday buddy. The 38 cents in my pocket was all that remained of our camaraderie. In spite of this parting, the way home found me almost skipping with delight. All the warnings from adulthood, regarding money, or "Mammon", and its effect, seem ridiculous when I recall these moments. There was a profound effect, for me, in having something of my very own, and the freedom to use it as I pleased. I never feel this way, now, when I pay my cable bill. If not for the later spring weather, I could have sworn I gave Christmas to myself.
            When I arrived home, I raced to my room and poured out my hoard. There was Laura Secord chocolates, new swimming goggles, 9 comic books and an assortment of goodies which escape me now. I took the quarter from the carcass of my pal and hid it in the seam of my Bible, also a gift from this Grandma, two years older than that day. I felt such glee because it all belonged to me. There was a freedom in it, a feeling of independence and objectification took me over, if even for a moment.
            I always had instances, growing up, of such actualization, this condition of being free. The full gamut of space and time seemed relevant to my sense of me and my environment. At my hands was everything a child could want as distraction, and I used them all. Still, for every place I ever played in, any attraction I ever visited, nothing holds a candle to my spending spree, birthday 1975. The cornucopia of joy I purchased may be lost to time, but that 1975 quarter still hides among the binding of the Word. I guess some friendships are meant to last forever. 



"Tuck Shop"
Lower Right Corner, Ground Floor
1200 York Mills Road, North York, Ontario
(via Google Earth)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Last Year

            Up until the age of 17, I knew little of the Second Coming or the End of Days. I knew nothing of the approaching Apocalypse and Armageddon was merely a word that I heard used in bad rock anthems. It was not until my family became involved with the Pentecostal Church that ideas regarding mankind's fate first started to find form in my conscious mind. I had breezed through the book of Revelation during my earlier studies of the Bible, but any implications from a more 'conservative' reading flew over my prepubescent head. Even as a teenager, I viewed scripture like I did my comics books. I saw story as fantasy and separate from what I knew as real. As a boy, if someone had told me that one day Jesus would, literally, return to earth to punish the wicked, it would have scared the shit out of me.
            Although I understand the pathology of people who invest themselves in such prophecies, I was never comfortable with the God of the End Times or the guarantees made to believers. I have never understood why something Omnipotent needs to fight anyone, or anything, let alone creatures He created and claims to love. I could never comprehend why a benevolent and Omniscient being would loose a devil, of his own creation, upon His own children. Re-examining texts such as Revelation, Daniel and Isaiah, I started to realize the view that a lot of people seemed to have. This idea of Divine punishment, good versus evil and millennialism, quite literally, reinforced a lifetime of fear and messed my head up.             
            I got confused in all the warmongering and hatred, so I asked for guidance on the matter. Reverend Higgins, from the Pentecostal camp, did not offer his opinion when he handed me a paperback copy of Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth". This premillenial and literal approach was flavoured with 'dispensational eschatology', focusing on Biblical prophecies regarding the Last Days and Christ's return to earth. I read it quickly then read it again to clarify that what I was reading was actually what was meant. This revelation was disturbing, so I went for a second opinion.
            John Barrett was the minister at the Strathroy United Church when my Dad started working as the church caretaker in 1977. I remember sitting in the congregation when Reverend Barrett announced it one Sunday before his sermon. We were all welcomed into the fold. The United Church of Canada had always been a moderate Christian community, eventually becoming a more liberal and inclusive unit in the late 1980s. John Barrett was not from this school of thinking. His dignified demeanour never betrayed during the entire time I knew him. When I asked his opinion regarding the coming apocalypse, he chastised me for questioning scripture.
            In the early 1980s, the Christian fundamentalist movement was not exclusively Apocalyptic in its nature, but such ideas were pushed to the forefront through the use of mass media. Music, televangelists and even movies like 1980's "Image of the Beast", conveyed an urgency to all who would listen. For me, I was exposed continually to ideas regarding the anti-Christ, the false Pope and the Rapture. The tribulation was a matter of fact, not interpretation, and the four horsemen an irony which played itself out much too soon.
            During the relatively brief time my family encountered evangelicalism, it seemed the only thing people talked about was Christ's return or some wild related theory revealed to them by God, usually in scripture. Granted the social setting was exclusive in nature, but the doctrine was highly apocalyptic, teaching electivism and professing those saved as soldiers in Christ's army. It was as if they readied for war. Every sermon, every song welcomed Jesus and all His promise. Together, all those people chanted and egged on the Second Coming. They were possessed with vindication and obsessed with demonstration. I don't know what John Barrett was preaching, but come Sunday afternoon, hellfire and brimstone filled shadows on the wall of "the Elect's" sanctuary. All the while, self-proclaimed prophets declared Jesus' return was nigh.
            As I moved into my 20s, I battled the part of me that rejected God and the part of me that could not help but investigate God. Perhaps the part of me that loved superheroes, and cosmic combat, found symmetry with tales of angels, demons and all those galactic clashes involving the gods. Unfortunately, the essence of God's message was muffled behind Apocalyptic and revelatory traditions. The thrill of the war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness captured my attention, leaving behind any shred of interest in rediscovering God. Oh, the drama of it all.
            I eventually lost almost all ties to Christianity, but I could not silence the call from the End of Days. I was pretty much leading a secular life through these years. As 30 approached, I was a happy guy with little time for fantasy. I even managed to give up most of my comic books. I did manage to continue my study of end day prophecy and related topics. I examined Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce and the Sweborgian movement. I started my longtime study of ancient texts. It is here I was first exposed to the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the War Scroll. The Nag Hammadi texts, including the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul, introduced me to Gnostic notions and clarified the position of the Essences, who many claim authored the Dead Sea Scrolls.
             When my first partner was sent to hell by scripturally accurate Christians, I stopped merely reading and started to absorb. Although my examination of gods and the eschatology surrounding them was ecumenical, in a sense, this inclusive examination still held an apocalyptic flavour. It was interesting to discover early Zoroastrian influences on Abrahamic traditions. The term "sons of light and darkness" found origin predating all Hebrew and Christian texts. When the year 2000 approached, I worried little when millennial angst found an audience in popular culture. After all, the real date of doom was 12 years away.
                 I have never stopped trying to understand the anthropomorphic implications of anything relating to End Days, the Apocalypse or any symmetrical prophecy. With 2012 upon us, surely the end is near. Everything about us screams that something must be done or this planet, and all the people on it, are finished. The galaxy will itself align on December 21st and hasten this doom. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar lays claim that this world (The Fourth) will also end on this date. The winter solstice has become as much a focal point for destruction as January 1st, 2000 ever was. Mayan references to b'ak'tun 13, found at the Tortuguero Monument 6 near Tabasco, Mexico foretell of this world ending in 2012. In fact, many ancient cultures outside of the Judeo-Christian influence tell of our modern peril through inscriptions, occasionally mentioning predicted future events, change or commemorations.
               Other doomsday theories are rampant on television, the internet, in print and throughout churches and temples, even mosques, around the world. 2012 was big box office. Galactic realignment on the 21st of December will spell the beginning of our end, helped along by a black hole from the center of the Milky Way. Timewave zero and the I Ching theory is a numerological formula using the King Wen sequence of the I Ching. This interpretation appears to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity's biological and socio-cultural evolution. November 2012 appears to be the end of time as we know it. Geomagnetic reversal predicts the earth's crust will shift bringing planetary calamity. The Kolbrin Bible Manuscripts claim that Planet X/Nibiru, a mysterious, mostly invisible planet, far out in our solar system, will become visible before it disrupts or smashes into Earth later in the year.  Fundamentalist Muslims bow and pray for the Imam and Evangelical Christians proclaim that Jesus is near.
It should be one hell of a year.
A last year. 

               My biggest flaw, at least from a spiritual position, is that I hold God accountable to the same rules he demands I follow. If I can't kill, neither can God. If I must forgive, then so must God. If I have to love my enemy and turn the other cheek, then so does God. It is this tool which I use to measure the validity of any spiritual claim. If that which is under scrutiny fails to live up to the same standards placed upon mankind by it, then it comes from mankind, not God.
               This world is in trouble and we all know it. Unless something changes, and fast, mankind may extinction event himself right off the planet. It seems we don't need any help bringing forth the End of Days. I believe this stage in our history and evolution does not necessarily mean the end. It most certainly doesn't have to be that way. I have noticed a quiet voice rising above the crowd. It is my hope that this growing wave of community, empathy and fairness outweighs the evil that men do. God won't need to come back or smash us all to hell.
               Having noticed that each prophecy, each prediction, and most of the commentary that comes with them is so lacking in consistency, it is hard to imagine any of them holding a candle to the truth. Judgment Day and the end of the world are not set in stone. I guess you have to ask yourself, what would God do? All I know is that history repeats. Mankind has stood in this place many times. These sorry testaments to the end of all things are taking as long as the Second Coming.

"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1, NIV)