Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Finger Paint

"All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call Impressions and Ideas. The difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and liveliness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into our thought or consciousness. Those perceptions, which enter with most force and violence, we may name impressions; and under this name I comprehend all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance in the soul." (A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume c. 1738)

            In the worst of times, all I have to do is close my eyes to escape. Granted, my mind always seems to take me to someplace dark or sinister, but watching the evil deeds of others, or their greatest follies, always makes me feel better about myself. When I was a child, the world of superheroes soothed my soul, but as I matured, my imagination seemed to reflect the shadows that floated about in my head. Little has changed for me in this capacity. I suppose my dreams are but a reflection of what my life has become. I am not a mutant or a vigilante, but I face death and the unknown on a daily basis. The world around me is a mystery. The questions I long to have answered take form as if visions playing out on a stage. Any revelation, I must create for myself.

“I don’t know what’s in the box, but I love it. Unopened gifts contain hope.”
(This Book Title is Invisible, Jarod Kintz c. 2012)

            When I was in the deepest part of my grieving, the theatre of my mind was my only evasion. I spent my days to myself either crying or flying. At times, I went inside myself to avoid outside myself. I have always just assumed this was a natural response given my circumstances. Using my imagination to escape the pain was primary in helping me to survive it all. Just as there is nothing better than a good dose of denial, so too the journeys we take utilizing the mind's eye can be just as effective. They can take you away. They can help you to heal. The internal dialogue we have with ourselves is an important component to mental health. So is the imagination. Consider it secret free association, so dealt but for only you. After all, "Out damn spot" they say. When you put that other place to 'paper', it tends to all bleed out. The best way to purge my feelings has always been to rid myself of them in columns, articles or studies. Writing short stories is a finer art. It can often seem like painting words with your fingers.

 “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.” 
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare c. 1596)

            Sometimes an idea or a notion wakes me up in the middle of the night. I have never had to change a word come the morning light. I am not third eye blind. Writing has become a comfort where only a business plan once stood. My mind is on fire with ideas and ripe for the picking. For me, there is purpose within my imagination. The ability to transfer one agent to another gives me great contentment and satisfaction. I have cleaned out my closet and chased away almost every ghost.  I fully realize that "the courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource" (Boorstin). Using the imagination is a survival skill. It is more important than anything we will come to know. This thing called the imagination "is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world" (Einstein). Imagination is the key to awareness and the enlightened mind. How can one "imagine all the people living for today" (Lennon), without the conception of it. Where would we be without the possibility of it? Such ideas are "salvation by imagination" (Wright).

"There's no heaven as I had known before.
It's just a great universe which is available
To be enjoyed by souls who dream about it."
(Betelgeuse Incident: Insiden Bait Al-Jauza, Toba Beta c. unpublished)

            Imagine, just imagine. The motivation behind most of our folly lies within the imagination. We want, we envy, we lust because we can imagine the object of our detection. We consider. Consider yourself in bliss. Consider the great comfort. Consider your "precious."  We create the idea within ourselves that these things will make us better if we have them. We can imagine them therefore we must make it so. I would have it so that when we imagine something, we should imagine something of value, of greater good. All fables have lessons. All legends are moral treatise. If you must say something, say something worthwhile. Much good can come through the eyes of another. Empathize, see the world in a different way. Imagine it is so. Make the choice to view "life through the wrong end of a telescope" (Seuss). Create your own happiness, then share it with others. Anyone can make themselves happy if they really want to be. You have the power to shape your world, to make things much better. In the end, what we imagine happiness to be is the standard we must live up to in order to achieve it. "Happiness," after all, "is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination" (Kant).

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott c. 1994)



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Visions of Sugar Plums

            I don't know if you believe in Christmas, but I know that I sure do. It just goes without saying that it wasn't always this way. The grand expectations, the materialism, and most of all, the religiosity of the festival always left a lump of coal in both my stockings. Even as a child I doubted. Santa was as real for me as Jesus and the Easter Bunny. I was told it was all make believe. We never got a Christmas tree and we never exchanged gifts. As I matured, I lost touch with any sense of wonder from my youth. I put childish ways behind me and I let go of any intangible ideas about Christmas. The holiday was not alone in this dismissal. Anything I deemed a fable, or illusion, or artificial, I cast aside. I allowed the world around me to dull and limit my imagination and in so doing, I lost any ability to consciously dream. I turned away from anything that I couldn't inspect, validate or touch. You see, my parents had never really tried to ingrain any cultural traditions or even religion into my thinking. There was no magic, no miracles  and God was as unknowable as the vastness of space. Myth only served its purpose in the classroom. We didn't go to Church. We didn't own a Bible. We did not believe in fairy tales. Christmas always suffered in the end.
             When my daughter was born, I hoped, for her sake, that I would be inspired to marvel and question and even consider. Her birth was all that I needed. It was a catalyst but it did me little good. With no foundation, I always floundered. With nothing to cling to, I always ended up back in that confounding and very empty hole in my head. When it comes to such things, our family is fortunate to have my beautiful wife at the reigns; Jingle bells and all. My daughter has never not known a Christmas tree on Christmas morning, or presents or egg hunts in the backyard. The contrived idea of exchanging decayed oral matter for cash has known many financial transactions in our home. When I have questioned the lasting effect these things may have on the child, I am told in the most jovial of manner, "So that she doesn't become void like you."
            The first time I stepped into a Church, I was 30 years old.  My soon to be wife was breathtaking in her gown and veil. Up to that point, any exposure to religion or dogma had always been served cold. I was expected to partake in each ritual but my heart just wasn't in it. It was not that I had dismissed the idea of the ethereal entirely, I was foreign to any application of such a complexity. A year later found little difference. When the baby came home, I just assumed things would be different but they were not. The tactile experience of holding something you created is profound but all the esoteric rhetoric left me wanting. I didn't see a gift from the universe, I simply saw cause and effect. I did not take notice of what I did have, what I didn't have was completely affirmed. I have never felt the need to search for something greater than myself. I have always found life was better viewed with realism than imagination and faith. As my little girl approached her 10th birthday, I still found myself in that void. Her baptism, then her confirmation had seemed silly to me. Every Christmas morning was more a waste of time and money than a heartfelt experience or snapshot of something to be treasured or recalled. The Bible she gave me for my 38th birthday collects more dust than our vacuum cleaner. I resolved myself to the emptiness. No matter how I tried or how often others attempted to recondition my sense of wonder, the more I recognized the dead place inside me.


            The Christmas tree went up just like every other year. I had little to do with the process. I was more coerced manual labour than an active participant. We all went to the Christmas tree farm. I cut one down and dragged it back to the car. I was directed how it stood and where it finally rested in our living room. My wife and daughter did the decorating. As the house was lavished with gold and silver and fancy things, I sat watching the game on the television set in the basement. I protested that I had to hang the lights out front of our home and I resisted setting up the manger on the front yard. This was my contribution to each yuletide tradition. I had never known a Joyeux Noel, or a Merry Christmas, so no matter how much I was exposed to these things I just could not relate. One might have assumed that 10 years of Christmas deluge would have tugged at my heartstrings. I suppose I have always been more of a bass drum than some violin. The garland went up on the mantel, the wreath went on the front door and I just waited for it all to be over. The final touch, the last thing to be done, was the placing of three stockings, hung by the chimney with care. My wife has always found it amusing, granting me a place alongside her name and my daughter's. One dangles in glittered red. One dangles in glittered green. The epithet 'Scrooge' is scribbled on mine.            
            She blew the buildup of dust and residue in my face. I coughed and sternly condemned her action. I had promised to attend Christmas Eve mass, and like her mother, she was in my face regarding the matter. The leather-bound collection of both the Old and New Testament rested in her hands and her smile turned to a grimace when I chastised her. Regardless of my posturing, she handed it to me anyway. You could tell she expected I would read it all, like I should be studying for a great big test. My wife watched from a distance, tinkering with the Christmas tree. Nat King Cole was singing about chestnuts and scented candles filled the air with apple cinnamon and an almost heavenly glow. It all looked like Christmas. Thanks to Glade, it even smelled like Christmas. I tried my best, at least, to not interfere with the atmosphere, if only for the sake of the child. I agreed to go to Mass for this very reason. I even wore a tie, although I must admit this had more to do with silencing the nag than appeasing the child. I was noticeably ready to go long before either of the ladies were. I was enjoying Sports Center when my better half put me to work. I went out to the garage, raised the automatic door and turned on the car to warm up. I went back inside and started at the top moving down towards the living room. It was my duty to put all the candles out and make sure of it. I grabbed the snuffer from its place and started in the bedrooms. I navigated by each light, tipping the copper hat onto each flame. Tiny trails of orchard whispered behind me as I made my way. I asked myself why we needed all this luminescence with the lights turned on. I wondered to myself why we needed to go to Church when the we have all the  tapers in our house. Remembering the "importance of atmosphere," I shrugged it off like I had done every other year. I finally made it down to the family room and past the tree, snuffing as I went along. I proceeded around the room, when highlights of the game came on. I sat back down in front of the television in good measure. I was summoned almost immediately. I switched off the set, unplugged the tree and headed out to the car, jacket in hand. I switched the basement lights off when I exited. I didn't notice the lovely glow I had left burning near the tree. I am convinced it was the television that distracted my duty. I am sure that it was providence that had me leave on that flickering wick.     
             The second time I stepped into a Church, I was 40 years of age. As my wife and daughter each lit an altar candle in memory, I sat snoozing with my eyes wide open. My smartphone was in my wife's purse, silenced until after the service. I had no idea just how ironic the ritual would turn out to be. As they used a flame to remember the past, I used several to destroy our future. The fire spread fast. Down the wall and into the tree it moved. I'm told the place went up rather easily after that. The firemen came, the police tried to call me, and my neighbours watched in horror, praying it remained intact and far away from their abodes. It was rubble before we left for home. We saw the smoke and the lights long before we turned onto our street. A crowd had gathered near one of the fire trucks and a police officer was trying to call my phone one last time. I stopped the car when I saw the ashes and we all got out in the middle of the road. There was almost nothing left but a burned out frame and some embers. A pair of first responders were putting out the last of the flames. It was all gone. The house, the garage, everything, lost to stupidity and the daily scores. I looked over at my wife, who was holding my daughter against her. You could tell she was trying not to cry. She looked over at me and asked me if I had done what she asked of me. The police officer interrupted and informed us that it appeared the fire had started in the basement as a result of burning candles. The only thing I could think of, the thing that popped into my head, wasn't about our smouldering belongings. It wasn't even gratitude that we all were safe and that no one had been at home. All I could muster somewhere inside of my head, as I looked at my girls, was where's your Saviour now?

            I am well aware of my limitations. I am also very much aware of my responsibility in starting the fire. This did little to silence every word of the Pastor from that night, preaching in my head of God's Mercy and Love and how He lavishes Grace upon us all. The only thing that going to Church on Christmas Eve had accomplished was yet another reason for me not to believe. As I stood counting everybody else's blessings, I recognized that this was no longer a wonderful life. The flames had not only stripped us of all our possessions, it stole our home and destroyed my family. As I stood watching, my wife took my daughter into a neighbour's home and waited for her parents to arrive and carry them both away. Without a word to me, they shuffled into their getaway and left me sitting in my car at the edge of our street, staring at the charcoal remnants of my entire life. As they made an escape, I lingered on the front seat, trying to force even one tear. I supposed, in the most literal of ways, that my wife had been right all along. I was void. I was dead inside. Not even losing it all could make me feel anything but resentment and anger and despair. In that moment, I did something I had never done before. I wasn't even sure that I knew how to do it. I closed my eyes, put my head against the steering wheel and for the first time in my life, I prayed.    
            Asking a Divine creature for help was very much against my nature. Spending the night alone in a hotel room did not convince me that anything had been listening. In the wee hours of the morning, I could stand it no more. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing. I couldn't sleep. Most of the time, I felt like I could not even breathe. I got in my car and I started to drive. In the deepest, darkest part of the night, I pulled up in front of my burned down home and I got out to inspect what was left of my future. The water that had been used to extinguish my fate had frozen and formed patches of slick ice all around the property. Any snow that had melted due to the fire had joined these pieces. The entire scope of the grounds looked more like a skating rink than a place where my daughter had once played. I didn't pause for a moment, despite the yellow barricade tape wrapped around the seared trees which surround the building. I crunched threw the outer rubble, my scorched existence calling out my name. At what was once the front foyer, I was forced to stop in my tracks. I peered down into the shadows, past what used to be the ground floor. The chasm left by the flames was nothing compared to the growing space within me. I hungered for a glimpse of what had been but all I could picture was the look on my wife's face as she took my daughter's hand and abandoned me in my greatest hour of need. I turned from the place, almost slipping on a slick surface, and left my car sitting on a sheet of glass where our driveway used to be.
            I walked away, wandering past all the quaint little homes that used to be part of my neighbourhood. Every once in a while, Christmas lights called out to me, somehow mocking my disbelief. In the distance, at the 6 o'clock hour, the Church we had attended rang out and pierced the night with ding dong merrily on high. I headed in that direction. I felt pulled to journey that way. I trudged through the misery, unable to imagine a life without my girls. I told myself that there was nothing left without them. There was no life to live if it meant this feeling of loss and guilt and horror. The further I walked, the more I convinced myself it was over. I was over. Every part of me cried out that this must be the end. I couldn't go on knowing what I had done and the consequence which had left me all alone. As the dawn began to break, I arrived in town and I sat down on the front steps of the Church and I started to cry.


            The snow fell softly on Christmas morning as I sat waiting for the doors of the Chapel to be unlocked. I didn't know why I was so compelled to linger in the shadow of a God I have never known, let alone believed in. I was empty and I did not know what had brought me there. When the bells tolled at 7 o'clock, from somewhere within came the unlatching and the turning of each lock. The service, the Christmas Mass, would begin in an hour. I slowly rose to my feet, wiping off the white dust of defeat that had covered my head and shoulders. I opened the door, stepped inside and stomped away any ice which had found my feet. Inside was as heavenly as it had been the night before. The priests and altar boys shuffled about preparing for the Eucharist and Holy celebration.  I left the fount behind me, failing to make the Sign of the Cross as I passed it. I walked up the centre aisle and dropped down, almost halfway up the row of pews. I was exhausted, and collapsed on a hard wooden seat. It took little time for me to lay my arms on the back of the pew before me, resting my head in the cradle of both hands. I starting shaking at the thought of my world coming to an end. In desperation, from the deepest part of my soul I cried out for God to help me. I was sure that no one was listening.

            "You cannot search for something if you really believe there is nothing there."

            I opened my eyes and raised my head to see who had addressed me, startled by a voice and a face which had not been there mere moments before. The old man sat down on the pew in front of me, placed his black fedora on the polished seat beside him and turned to speak. His hands gripped the back rest of the pew and I noticed his heavily stained fingers, as if they had been dipped into nicotine.

            "I beg your pardon," I replied, somewhat irritated by this intrusion.
            "When one door closes, another one always opens," he relayed.
            "I don't understand what you mean. Who are you?" I asked.
            "A friend," he assured me. "A friend and an answer to a prayer."

            He was around 60 years old, dressed entirely in black and he seemed to calm my agitation simply with his presence. He looked at me as if he could see right through me.

            "Do I know you?" I questioned.
            "As a matter of fact, you do not," he stated in the same manner.
            "I'm just sitting here waiting for the Mass to begin," I pointed out in the most   obvious of  ways. "I'm just here to .."
            "To ask forgiveness before you kill yourself," he punctuated.

            I looked at him, ignoring the statement, quite dumbfounded by his insight. His face was much more withered than it originally had appeared to be. His hair was gray and thinning on top. His eyes were a blue I had rarely seen before. They glimmered in a reflection from the sanctuary lights and bounced back unto themselves with an almost eerie glow.

            "I don't mean to be rude," I lied. "I have just experienced a personal tragedy and if you don't mind I would appreciate it if you left me alone."
            "Do you not feel alone already?" he inquired. "Just because you think that you have lost everything does not mean you have to abandon everything else altogether."
            I looked at him slightly astonished. What he said didn't really even register in my head.
            "May I make an observation?" he asked.
            "Why stop now?" I affirmed. He, apparently, didn't take the hint and shrugged me off.
            "The obvious fact that you are sitting in a place of worship would indicate to me that you already believe in what you are seeking. You could have chosen anywhere else. It doesn't matter where you have come from, it only matters that you are here now." He smiled at me. "You may believe your world is over but I am here to inform you that even the saddest sorrow can turn into the sweetest fate."

            I watched him push himself up, forgetting his hat, and he proceeded over to the altar candles. He reached for an oversized match, lit one, and walked back towards me. One single flicker raised out of the lifeless and empty display. He walked down the centre aisle and approached me gently. He reached down, clutched his hat and smiled at me again.

            "Love can make beauty from ashes," was the last thing he shared.  

            He breezed past me as if he was floating mere inches above the path. I turned to watch him leave and he was already gone. I looked about in an attempt to find him but there was no one. I was truly sitting by myself. The only other life in the place was the flame of that one candle. It danced and it waved and seemed to say hello. It convinced me that he had not been a figment of my imagination. What if everything he had observed and stated was the truth? If I had come looking for God, then I must believe in God. In trying to find something Holy, I forgot that seeking must come first. What if God had been with me all along? Blood raced to my face and I felt flush. My mind turned over and over and it started to throb. I grew weary. I grew weary of thinking and weary of feeling. I placed my head back onto the pew in front of me and closed my eyes to ponder what had been said. The smell of apple cinnamon woke me.  
            I don't know if you believe in Christmas, but I know that I sure do. The greatest gift I have ever received was a glimpse of what life could be. I opened my eyes and my world had been returned to me. The TV whispered, the tree shone bright, those damn candles flickered where I left them. I was back in my space, in my home. It must have been a dream. All of it was a dream. When my wife called out that I had left the car running in the garage, I knew that all was well. I was flabbergasted and quite bewildered. It had been so real. I pounced from my chair and ran to the candles sitting like demons near the spruce. I grabbed both, puffed them out and walked directly into the downstairs bathroom. My daughter found them in the morning, each submerged at the bottom of the toilet bowl. I stormed up the stairs like a giddy schoolgirl and grabbed my wife. I kissed her full on the mouth, hugged her with even more zeal and whispered "I Love You" in her ear. "What's gotten into you?" was all she had to say.
            It was strange to sit in the very spot where I had been approached in my dream. For the first time, I didn't fall asleep during the service. The priest's words had new meaning for me. The place had new meaning as well. As the congregation began to splinter and head home for the holiday, I looked about me for the man in black. He was nowhere to be found. It must have been a dream after all. As we walked towards the exit, it struck me. There was something I could just not forget. I left my wife quite confused and my daughter calling after me. I walked up the side of the pews, took a match and lit an altar candle. I almost skipped on my way to the car.
            The snow had been falling. The car needed warming. I scraped the front window and then the sides and finished with the back. As I opened the driver's door, the Church bells once again rang out of joy to the world and peace, goodwill to man. It was now Christmas Day. I looked into the night sky and I thanked whatever it was that had saved me. Across the street, standing in the heavy flakes of snow as they lingered, I saw the man in black standing on the sidewalk. He tipped his hat to me. I called out "Merry Christmas," and then he was gone. We left for home. I turned the Christmas tree off, checked for burning candles and locked all the doors. I crawled into bed and I held my wife close. It was not long before I drifted off to sleep. There were no flames to put out, no stranger to behold, just visions of sugar plums that danced in my head.




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Little Old Ladies

           Judith Hammond spent much of her time alone. The tiny apartment she had just moved into a few weeks before was certainly not as large as the one she had shared with her husband, but it fit her tastes much better and allowed for a lighter load.  It had been over a year since she found Vincent struggling for air on the living room floor. By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late. She laid him to rest and began the chore of sorting through fifty-eight years of wedded bliss. She often told herself that ridding her estate of unnecessary things would make it easier for her family when her time came. At eighty-seven years of age, she had convinced herself that her children and grandchildren would thank her for sorting and allotting what goes to who. No one had to wait for their inheritance, Judith gave almost everything away. In a primal sense, she just wanted it all gone. The couple had sold their home and moved into the Applegate apartments when Vincent first started to weaken. It made things easier that way. The recent change from the third floor to the eighth was not hard to justify. With Vincent long gone, Judith no longer needed the space that a two bedroom unit gave her and the little possessions she kept for herself fit well in her almost studio apartment. She made sure she was ready to go. Despite her age, she was vibrant and fully functional. Her thirst for knowledge drove her inquiring mind. She was a tiny woman but only in a physical sense. Judy loved to communicate, to chat, and she did it well. Every day, after the dinner hour, she would board the elevator and find herself in the lobby, waiting for her friends.

            Ilene Partridge never married and never even considered having children. She never really saw any point. At eighty-four, she remained an independent woman in every way. She had resided in the same one bedroom Applegate apartment for almost twenty years and required little to keep her occupied. It was a brief ride from the fourth floor to freedom. Her books and three cats kept her company when she felt alone. It was a feeling she had grown accustomed to over the years. Her lifestyle, her financial security and her academic pursuits all seemed to bring her great comfort. Historically, she was one of the first woman to declare the modern idea that happiness could be found outside of matrimonial bliss and any resulting offspring. She stood as a self-made woman and knew her choices had been the right ones for her. She did not linger in the land of regret. For her, such things were but a waste of time and energy. She had much better things to do with her day. Ilene was intelligent, well-educated and sharp as a tack. This tough old broad was even wicked if you got her going. When her hip gave out the year before, she took to a walker, cursing it every time she needed to go out. Time had not been kind to her aging form, but she never let it get in the way of a good shot of whiskey, a day at the salon and a bitch fest with her Applegate pals. Every day, after the dinner hour, she took the elevator down to the lobby to meet up with her friends. 

            Martina Kuusk escaped the approaching Nazi storm in 1938. With her family, she fled Austria and eventually settled in a small Swiss village. Martina moved to Canada in the early 1950s and found a new life, a new husband and three children in under a ten year span. When she divorced in the mid-1960s, it was just a matter of time before she was left all alone. Her children got married, or moved to the west coast, and she found herself struggling to establish a new way of life. She was one of the very first tenants to move into the Applegate apartments. She liked it. For the first time since childhood, she actually felt like she was home. In her opinion, life had been far too hard on her and she deserved some peace of mind. It was a challenge for her to maintain it. Sadness always seemed to seep back into her thinking. As a result, she became a bonafide curmudgeon. Her path was paved with gravel and so was her voice. She had always been a fair sized woman but age and gravity had pulled her down a few inches. She was a heavy smoker, her teeth and fingers revealed for just how long. Her glasses were simple and so was her approach to life. She didn't believe in God. She didn't believe in democratic freedom. She didn't believe in anything but her friends. Every day, after the dinner hour, she left the second floor for the lobby to spend time with her comrades.

            When you live in the same building as someone for years and years, eventually you become familiar with them. These three little old ladies slowly became accustomed to each other in passing. Salutations aside, it took some time for the friendship between them to form. One thing led to another, 'hello' turned into 'how are you?' and the lobby became a common ground for these blossoming relationships. Over the months and years, the trio became inseparable, thankful for the company and companionship. They went to market together, shopped together, and every day after the dinner hour, they sat together like true friends would. Meeting in the lobby was more tradition than anything else. It was here that these three women first formed as a group. All that time acknowledging one another throughout the building evolved into brief visits, coffee trips and cemented the lobby as the best place for them to gather together. They felt more alive in each other's company when in this certain place. Whether it was kismet, or providence, there was an energy whenever they assembled there. They almost seemed revitalized whenever they got together, but only in this space. It was the strangest thing, but it did not seem unnatural. Other residents of the building referred to them as the Coven. 

            It did not take long for the occupants of the Applegate to discover that George Christian was not a very good superintendent. In fact, he was as lazy as his wife Sheila turned out to be. These staunchly conservative religious folk had been hired for their high moral standards and capable nature, but actions always speak louder than words. It did not take much time for the tenants to realize this sad state of affairs. The building itself was not the only victim of this casual disregard of obligation. The tenants quickly experienced a new state of ill repair. In secret, the maintenance allowance for the building could easily be siphoned. One could claim for the work being done when no work was done whatsoever. The Christians, it appeared, were not immune to the ways of the world. The appearance of the building began to suffer. The grounds outside and the lobby inside looked more like public housing than a private building. The elevators and plumbing were granted only basic repair. Walking through the place, one would have assumed there was no manager or staff on duty, ever. When the complaints started, George and Sheila hired an assistant, who was fool enough to do all their work for them but at half the price. Even then, the constant lack of care was much more than noticeable. In fact, hiring help only meant less money for maintenance.
            The owners of the Applegate building were flooded with constant appeals to make things right. For over a year, it seemed as if nothing was done regarding the unacceptable superintendents. The building suffered and so then did the tenants. When it was discovered that the Christians were hired through their Church, the reason for them not being fired became crystal clear. People registered complaints with the housing authority but to no avail. When one resident sued the management for failure to do their job, it was clear the staff did not follow the tenets of their faith. Lies flowed like milk and honey, all validated by the owner and his legal representative. It became abundantly clearer that the only way to fix the problem was to move out. This was something the three little old ladies did not want to do. When confronted person to person, or discussed in front of prying eyes and ears, George and Sheila did what any good religious person would. They stowed away in their apartment for weeks, even months at a time. Ignoring the problems somehow never made them go away. The tension, the aggravation was only made worse when the Coven, from the lobby, made a unified assault. Together they waited for George to come out. They meant to gang up on him. They banded together and they almost pounced on him.
            George Christian had been having an okay day when the octogenarian trio confronted him, face to face. Denial fell like manna from heaven. St. Peter would have been proud. Nothing that any of the group said made a difference. He disappeared rather quickly into the utility room, abruptly halting the conversation. The three sat down in their proper places and waited for him to return. He re-entered the room with a fluorescent bulb and a ladder, positioning himself beneath the ailing light in front of the elevators. This was the first actual work any of the ladies had seen him do in months. They sat in their circle, desperately trying to appeal to his sense of fair play and spiritual conviction. He completely ignored them. As he climbed the ladder, the three grew angry that he had chosen to act as if they were not even there. As their anger grew, so did the energy in the room. Like a crescendo, you could feel the growing flow of rage and hatred from the three women. Suddenly, the light bulb burst, cracking into a million pieces. It flooded over poor George like a white wash. He just stood there, propped up on the ladder, lost in disbelief. It was like a wave of resentment then burst from the trio. The ladder fell straight out from under him and he landed hard on the faux marble tiles. The girls sat quietly, waiting for him to rise. When he shuffled away in defeat, they realized what had happened. They had all witnessed the surge which had come from them. They could see the ripple of emotions as they joined together and shoved the man down.
            As time passed, the little old ladies learned to control their newfound powers. Practice always makes perfect. They quickly recognized that these abilities only worked when the three of them sat together in the lobby. They had tried different scenarios and different areas but it was always to no avail. They didn't know why they were granted this gift, as they called it. They barely even questioned its origin and why they had been chosen to wield it. They only knew that as a collective, when as one in the main floor foyer, they possessed this strange ability. It grew strong as they learned to control it.
             As a unit, if they concentrated, they could summon an energy and a great deal of force. It wasn't telekinesis or hypnosis, it wasn't a spell or witchcraft. Together, they could tap into something base in nature. The earth gave up its soul in bursts and ripples. They could feel it as they conjured more and more. The result found them more alive indeed. Judy's mind became keen and more aware. Ilene was able to abandon her walker. Martina, on occasion, even smiled for the right person. They went from spending around an hour after dinner visiting, to hovering for most of the day and evening in their new favourite place. George and Sheila Christian did not like it one bit.  
            The longer the women spent on the ground floor, the less work got done all around them. The dust was thick on the tacky plastic plants that Sheila thought looked classy in the front windows. The rug was heavily stained with muddy track marks and no attention. The faux marble tiles that had welcomed George's rump were covered in layers of this and that. No one vacuumed, no one swept. No one bothered to consider anyone else who lived in the building. Even the maintenance assistant was banned from any  tender care, at least until the gang of witches dispersed. In less than three months, the Applegate went from maintained to grim and dismal. For George and Sheila, things went from bad to worse. They initially failed to suspect that the old ladies were behind their newfound karma. He fell on the ice when there was no ice and sprained a wrist. She slipped on a dry tile and knocked herself silly. The apartment they maintained on the same floor as the lobby in itself became a hazard. New pipes broke for no reason. The ceiling crashed on both as they slept during their office hours. Windows cracked, fires started and people immediately got sick if they entered their home. Of course, neither took the time to see the consequence of their behaviour. They simply told themselves it was evil and that their God would protect them from it. 
            Anyplace on the ground floor was within the reach of the Coven. They quietly relished every bump and beat. They had no agenda, they did not wish to bring anyone harm. They simply wanted what they paid for. There was never an intention. They used their gift as a means to an end, not to bring anyone to their end. Of course, things do not always work out the way we think they should. The best laid plans are usually fruitless. Month after month they lounged in the lounge, waiting for the object of their inspection. Whether it was George, or Sheila, or some innocent who was with them, the three little old ladies made life as difficult as they could for their victims. All the while, George and Sheila plotted in secret to have the space invaders removed. Legally each had paid for the right to use the lobby, but no one ever mentioned to the Christians that constant use of it would become an issue. They felt persecuted and spied on. They convinced themselves that all the "accidents" were a result of the evil which had manifested out in the building's front room.

            The winter came in the most inopportune way. It was harsh, deeply cold with little breaks in the downpour. For those too old to drive themselves in such conditions, it was like a trap had been set around the building. The lack of snow removal, in a timely manner, did not help most residents of the Applegate. The rear entrance was deep with snow. Quite often, the surrounding drifts were intentionally shoved in front of the exits. It was early afternoon before anyone even bothered to clear the way out front. Ice built up under baked snow and over time it became rather dangerous for those unsteady with age to navigate the way. The Christians took great pleasure in the suffering of the tenants. Watching 80 year-old women struggle through frozen piles of dirty white gave them a sense of justice and validation. Revenge was best served quite cold. They believed their choices were approved by the god they claimed to worship. They believed the righteous would be justified by that same deity. It wasn't long before a tragedy. It wasn't long before an innocent was hurt. It wasn't long before the authorities paid a visit. Ruth Hampton was simply trying to get to the bank when she slipped on the icy walk heading out to the street. Her hip shattered in several different places. When the ambulance took her and the police finally left, George and Sheila walked through the lobby and laughed right in the faces of the injured women's friends. The trio sat silently and like George and his wife, they crossed the last line..      
            They sat together like they always did. They sat and they waited. The night before, they had decided that today would be the end of it all. What had happened to Ruth could well have been one of them. They figured if they had all these powers, then they should put them to good use. It wasn't like they could run the streets prancing like 30 year-old superheroes. The best they could do was to work within what life had brought before them. Whether it was moral or not was beside the point. The snow was particularly heavy this winter's morn and by noon, as with most days, the piles made from wind and storm had gathered inconveniently about the exits of the building. Large and deadly icicles hung above each doorway, looming, waiting to be called into service. The Christians were nowhere to be found. Their assistant was busy with the plumber and a frozen pipe in the sub-basement. This was something the snoozing managers should have looked after themselves. Three little old ladies rested there, all prim and proper. They had come in their best Sunday dress. Martina made it clear she could wear it anytime she wanted.
            The snow continued to fall and drifts loomed across the entrance to the garage. The roundabout, for drop-off at the front entrance, disappeared under a dense blanket. Eventually, the street plows came and made things even worse.  The ladies could almost smell the Christians when they finally decided to come down the hall and see to the building. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, it was about damn time.
            George grabbed the shovel from the entrance and pulled on a bucket of salt from the corner of the room. He pushed hard against the door, shoving the built up snow out into the circular lane. He grunted and turned to look at the little old ladies, dainty and pretty, and at least in George's mind, not close enough to their final resting place. Getting away with almost everything but murder made him into a cocky and ego driven ass. His wife fared not much better; they believed they were untouchable. As he began to shovel in the most pathetic of ways, she sprinkled some salt here and some salt there. After clearing only a small path to the sidewalk, they folded up their dignity and turned to go inside. George flipped the shovel over his shoulder and glared through the window at the trio. The shovel hit the icicles and the icicles fell down hard. They were enormous. It was almost ironic when the very danger he had ignored for so long then confronted his face. One plunged deep into his left eye and he fell limply to the ground. On his way down, the metal shovel flew into the air and landed sharply, striking Sheila on the head. It stuck in its newfound place. You could almost hear the thud when each one met the ice and snow. They just laid there, finished, and no one really cared. When the building assistant entered the scene, he called 9-1-1 and tried to bring both the bodies inside. A group of tenants gathered in the lobby and joined the three little old ladies in their distance. Pleas for assistance were met with excuses. After all, how was an 80 year-old woman or a 90 year-old man supposed to lift such obese carcasses?

            By the time any help had arrived, it was way too late. When the ambulance left and the coroner left, there was little left for the police to inquire about. No one in the crowd owned a cell phone or mobile device. Not one was able to step outside on the inch-thick layer of ice and offer assistance. Any ability to aid with the morbid scene had been striped from them all long ago. All they could really do was watch. What a calamity to be killed just feet from the safety of inside. What misery, so sad, to fall prey to your own premeditated inconsideration. All the witnesses, and the feed from the security camera, guaranteed there would be no cause for suspicion.  It was such  a tragic accident. If they had only maintained the entrance better. What a horrific act of God. 
            For the first time in forever, the three old gals stayed away from the lobby. In fact, it took almost two weeks before they dared to journey near the Christians' final resting place. They slipped in and out of the mail room and through the back door. They planned to avoid each other until the coast was clear. They did not hang out. They did not meet in private. They did not say a thing until the all rang well. No one said a thing when the building assistant was hired on in a full-time capacity. Not a 'told you so' was offered when management got hold of the building's books. Quietly, they viewed the changes that were made to the landscape and the structure. They watched as the building came back to life. It was clean again. It was finally repaired.  It was almost as if their world went back to normal. It was almost as if those terrible people had never existed, never invaded the lives of the tenants at the Applegate.
            Snow was melting from the winter sun and the day was bright and warm, relatively speaking. It was a lovely scene from the lobby window. Sometime around noon, Judy called Ilene and Ilene called Martina, and they all agreed to meet in the lobby just after three. They knew this time of day brought the least amount of traffic to the area. As each filtered down to the ground floor, they noticed the difference. The world was right once again. Judy took her place first and then Ilene showed up in a few more  moments. Martina pulled up the rear, appearing from out back where she had just  finished a smoke. They began their dance like any Coven would. Each took their place like they always had. They closed their eyes and each focused. They reached deep inside and found the gift once again. This had not changed. It was still with them. The oldest took the lead and broke the silence.
            "I can't believe you did that," said Judy to the oblivious Ilene.
            "Did what?" Ilene inquired.
            "You know," she added. "The shovel? The icicle?"
            "I didn't do it," she rebuffed. "I thought you did it."
            "I didn't do it," Judith maintained.
            "I wish I had done it," Martina added, quite pleased.







Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Wild Blue Yonder


            The moment I became aware, I knew that I was in heaven. The clouds all around me were a dead giveaway. Everything looked so clean. Dropping dead on the streets of New York was a messy experience, from what I can remember. I know I landed in a pool of something far beyond the definition of puddle. This was all so white and so fluffy. For as far as the eye could see, it was all I could see. Where was the welcome wagon and St. Peter? Where were the embracing hands and greetings from my loved ones? Where was Jiffy, the Poodle I had as a boy? High into heaven, even more clouds hung from a ceiling, a ceiling of more clouds and then more clouds. As above, so below.  Somehow I could walk on them, run on them. They were barely even there but I stood firm and safe on a mat of puffy white. I was alone and I soon realized that I had no idea what to do. Which way is the right way to go when all ways are the same?
            I half expected the Pearly Gates to pop up out of nowhere, but they didn't. I waited and waited for a guide or an angel or even a direction sign to tell me where I was supposed to go. Eventually, although I had no physical need, I sat down on a patch of heavy cirriform clouds and I began to ponder the situation. If this was heaven, was I the only one that was ever allowed in? Where was Jesus? What about Joan Rivers? I even looked around for Vladimir Putin, but I guess he hadn't arrived yet. He was really the only person I desired to see in this state, but I suppose he belonged someplace else. It gets boring sitting on the side of the clouds with nothing to do but think. I asked myself so many questions, I ruminated with much speculation, but there was nothing but marshmallow after marshmallow staring me in the face. Although I was sure I no longer needed to eat, I didn't even have a match for roasting. I concluded that heaven looked like the Stay Puff marshmallow man had dropped a few pounds all over the place. As I waited, my thinking process corrupted itself.
            It was stark and grim to linger. I even wondered if I was in Limbo or Abraham's bosom. I was uncomfortable with the idea. To be forced to spend eternity surrounded by fluff was almost as bad as having to watch an episode of The Bachelor. As what I thought was time passed, I realized how screwed I really was. Fortunately, certain more mammalian traits had been left behind. I didn't need to go to the bathroom. I tried to sleep several times, but I guessed that this was something I had also discarded. I was never hungry or thirsty even though I really could have used a drink. I'm unsure whether my ability to procreate had been affected as I decided not to look. All the primal, all the tactile experiences of being human had become irrelevant. There were no mirrors to confirm it, but I could tell even I looked different. I hadn't had that much hair on my head since public school. The major scar on my foot had just disappeared. As I pointed out, I neglected to examine my centre square, but I suddenly felt au naturel. Slowly, I could feel myself lightening. I seeped like a balloon would, but you couldn't smell anything. It was as if the wind within was released in tiny breaths. The longer I sat, the more I returned to my life on earth. It was like reading from a book that flipped page after page in my noggin. My life passed before my eyes and I never once had to take a pee break.  
            It's strange the things you remember when memory is all you have left as a form of entertainment. You remember both the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. You also see things clearly, without the emotional attachments one had as a human being. It started as vision from when I was a lad. I saw the death of my Great-Grandfather and the moment that vicious dog attacked me. It was like I relived falling down that flight of stairs with my new 450 pound metal friend.  I saw the entire time I was in high school, rehashing every mistake I made, every error in judgment. I saw the blood flow and the pills consumed and I saw myself wake up every time. I witnessed my days at college and university. I met my wife all over again, for the very first time. I watched her die again, for the very last time. I had to stop myself from reeling only to notice even now she was nowhere to be found. I could see my second wedding and have much hope that you will be alright. I saw such awful, despicable things that I did but I also saw the wonderful, lovely moments that I knew. The beauty of a sunset over Sandbanks beach and the pristine climate for a sunrise at the Big Sur. My first memory of my mother and my last memory of my father. I heard all the laughter, the joy I often took for granted in my mortal form. I saw the pain, the confusion, the knowing I was not good enough in God's eyes. I remembered telling myself that I was somehow beyond forgiveness.
            I always thought of dying as a trip into the wild blue yonder. There was no blue here, not a speckle of color, only all the white. I started to consider that hell may be painted over in oyster or chalk. The sky had never been and the ground below was gone, if it was ever there at all. I was left all alone in an endless weave of only me and these tufts of rain yet to be. The isolation, the desperation all painted over any sense of joy that came with me. At one point, everything started to twist in my head. The flashes started to speed up, each zipping past my mind's eye like a Madonna video. I became sad at all I had left behind. I was more concerned that there seemed nothing else ahead. I stood frozen as the pictures moved faster and faster right in front of my face. These were not only the grand moments, in fact they were things not even worth the mention on an ordinary day. Every mundane experience raced together to fill in all the spaces. The time I spent sleeping, or going to the bathroom, or watching television, were strung together without a musical bed. At one point, I had seen more than enough and I tried to turn it off. I couldn't turn it off, it just went on and on in a constant motion. When it finally did cease to play, I was met with a sense of completion. Every part of me had been exposed.
            At times it was like dancing on the clouds. At times it was hollow, depressing and uncomfortable. I wasn't sure how long the journey was which had been cast upon me. I wasn't even sure that time applied in this place. All I know is that I saw it all. Everything was clear and concise. In a way, it became more like watching one very long movie than flipping through pages in a book. It was like a puzzle coming together, each piece seemed to find its proper place. The best part was there were no commercial breaks. The worst part was there were no commercial breaks. From the day I tried to join my first wife to the day my second wife walked off that train and into my life, I finally understood the path I had lived. I had spent the latter part of that life examining me, but I never was able to really see. Now I stood before myself. I was wicked and careful and kind. I was cursed and I was blessed and I just was. Somehow, some way, I still was. I still existed. Nothing had been able to take that away from me.   
            I don't know what eternity feels like but I sure have a good idea. The process to re-examine my life seemed to take longer than my actual life did. Most of it was rather boring, a feat I always failed to achieve during my humanity. The longer I sat waiting, the more benign I began to feel. My shell hung on me, I experienced it, it was heavy and harsh. I was overcome with such grand emotions. It was bittersweet to have to say goodbye. There were no voices to usher me forward but I swear I could hear them. Somewhere in the everlasting white came a sense of pulling, a draining of everything I ever was or should have been. For the first time in my existence I was whole, every part of me ready to face this new day. At this point, I started to disappear.
            Softly the clouds appeared to draw towards me. Gently they whipped around my frame, caressing me, touching me and calling me. I looked down and my feet began to melt into white. My flesh turned into gossamer which began to circle my calves and then my knees. I did not collapse under my weight as there was little weight left of me. My waist, my hands then my chest morphed into cotton balls of heavenly bliss. Each stretched out and blended with the others. I became one with the swirl until I swirled about myself. Soon, there was nothing left of my human remains, nothing but the mind that speaks to you now. My last effort was to reach out and try to help you understand. My last thoughts are of you. I pray that somehow this reaches you.
            The last thing I can tell you, the very last thing I have to share, is not from a tale of woe ending badly. Underneath this blanket of snow, there is love and beauty in all I have seen. This is the voice and I now follow. I am floating here, drifting on by. Remember, we all are clouds and on the other side, the blue.  


In memory of
Joan Rivers (1933-2014)