The Silence Of The Yams

 

After an ill fated attempt at minimalist living, my wife had forged ahead and dug her heels into a newfound healthy eating lifestyle. It seemed that she had gone vegan. Just like that. The announcement came as a surprise to the entire family. “She’s gone crazy.”, one of my daughters voiced at the secret meeting we held in the backyard.

“She’s not crazy.”, I told them. “Let’s just give it a try.” Desperately hoping that this too would die a quick death, we joined her in the madness of a meatless life.

Every day she would send us pictures and recipes of meals that she found on the internet, each one captioned with “What do you think about this?”, or “Doesn’t this look good?”, in an attempt to involve as many of us as possible in the meals without meat campaign she had launched. We never responded, not one of us.

“What is this?”, I asked as we sat down to dinner.

“Portobello burger.”, she answered. “It tastes exactly like beef.” She was wrong. She was very wrong. It tasted nothing like beef, and even with all of the barbecue sauce, mustard, horse radish and onions, the taste of the mushroom still jumped up and shouted “This isn’t really a burger.”

And then, after reading an article on their health benefits, my wife discovered sweet potatoes. She figured out how to incorporated them in almost every meal. There were pies, and casseroles, and pastas. There were salads, and soups, and stews. After a few days, the rest of us were growing restless, feeling helpless against the onslaught of beans and vegetables, so when she went out with friends one evening, the rest of us headed off to Napoli Vince and dined on the meat lovers platter. There was veal, and sausage, and lamb and steak, and not a bean or a yam in sight. And it was so good! “Why can’t we do this all of the time?”, a daughter asked.

I knew why, but I didn’t want to ruin the obvious joy that illuminated my children’s faces. “Why don’t you just tell her we’re not going to eat veganese any more?” my youngest daughter asked. Why not indeed!

Upon my wife’s return I was ready for the showdown. “So what did you guys do tonight?”, she asked.

“Not much, really.”, I answered.

“How was dinner?”, she continued, as she headed into the kitchen. We all started to panic. We forgot to get rid of the meal she had left for us, sweet potato and lentil stew, in our haste to return to our primal inner carnivores. “So, what did you eat?”, she stated as she returned to the living room. My daughters left, like rabbits running from the fox, leaving me alone to face the Spanish Moroccan in a one on one battle to the death. She was already wearing her battle gear, that ‘I know you did something you shouldn’t have’ face, with those dark, unblinking eyes, arms folded across her chest, and her left leg a little turned out with the foot below it repeatedly tapping on the floor in 2/4 time. I took my position directly across from here, careful not to seem too confrontational while at the same time, demonstrating a complete lack of wrong doing. My hands were in my pant pockets, and my eyes were intentionally avoiding any eye contact with her.

“Well”, she said, “what did you do?”

“Can we sit down and talk?”, I asked.

“You can sit if you want.”, she stated, “I think I’d prefer to stand.”

“No.”, I replied. “I really need you to sit down so we can talk.” When we were both seated I realized that she looked even more upset than when she was standing, but there was no way I was going to ask her to stand up again.

“We don’t want to be vegans.”, I told her. “We just can’t live on rice, and beans, and sweet potatoes.”

“Millions of people eat like that.”, she replied. “What do you mean you can’t?”

“We don’t like it.”, I answered. “We just don’t like it.”

“Well”, she answered, “I could change a few things around, and maybe use different spices.”

“No”, I told her, “its not the seasoning or the spices. Its the lack of meat. I appreciate you trying to keep us healthy, we all do, but we have to come to some sort of compromise. You can’t just dump all of this on us at once.”

“Okay”, she responded. “I guess you’re right. It is a big change to have to deal with all at once. So what did you guys eat tonight?”

“We went to Naploi Vince’s.”, I told her.

“Did you bring me anything back?”, she asked.

“Actually, no.”, I informed her. “But there is a veal on a bun that just needs to be heated up, and its all yours if you want it.” She hoped out of the chair like a jack in the box, and dashed to the kitchen, placing the sandwich in the oven, and I swear I could hear her salivating from the other room.

“We should do this a couple of times a week.”, she said.

“We can.”, I replied.

“Its so good.”, she added, with a mouth full of food, savoring every nuance of this most perfect of sandwiches. I watched her as she continued to eat, taking in all of the sounds that indicated just how much she was loving it.

“Food sex, right?”, I asked her.

“Uh huh.”, she said between bites. And while she continued to eat, I disposed of the lentil and sweet potato stew she had left for us. When she had finished her sandwich, we headed to bed and laying there, I heard her say “We have to go to St. Lawrence Market tomorrow morning and pick up some veal. Oh, and we should get some hot Italian sausages, and beef ribs. I want beef ribs.”

“Okay.”, I said.

“And on the way”, she continued, “we should drop off all of the bags of beans and legumes in the donation bin for the food bank.”

“Okay.”, I repeated. As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but thinking that I had just dodged another bullet, well not just me, but my kids too. I haven’t seen a sweet potato for a few months, and everyday I am grateful for that. I do however, spend some time, usually at night when the insomnia takes over and leaves me awake and agitated, wondering about what frightening idea from the lunatic fringe she will embrace next.

 

 

 

 

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Victoria Day

 

Victoria Day. A Canadian holiday honoring a long deceased Queen of Great Britain, whose reign was highlighted by an era of sexual repression despite the fact that she married her first cousin. It was better known by for us kids as fire cracker day, the day when families, friends, and neighbors would gather in a local public park and launch ‘Willows’, ‘Horsetails’, and ‘Roman Candles” straight up into the sky, creating an array of sight and sound that was met with a seemingly never ending chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’. In the time before fun and games were outlawed, we would race over to the local convenience store and purchase firecrackers, those wonderfully destructive little nuggets of joy  and set them off at will. Sometime in the early 1960s, we lived the best Firecracker Day ever.

We had been saving whatever money we could get for what seemed like forever, stock piling pennies and nickles in order to hit the stores and buy as many firecrackers as we could. The time had finally come. It was Firecracker Day. We jumped on our bikes and heading off to the local stores, stopped at the fence at Passer’s Farm. We had been coming to this spot for years, leaving our bikes and climbing over the fence. We stood on top of Passer’s Ridge, as far away from the edge as possible. When someone shouted “Go.”, we ran as fast as we could, so fast that our legs seemed to move on their own, without any thought, spinning in circles, propelling us through the uncut grass, tearing each blade like a weed whacker, until we reached the end. And then we jumped, as high and as far out as we could with arms outstretched, soaring effortlessly through the clear, blue sky, if only for a few seconds, until we inevitably landed face first into the cool water of the pond. We laughed with our hands over our mouths, afraid that old man Passer would catch us and empty a round or two of buckshot into our backsides. When everyone had a turn, we left the same way we arrived, and continued on our mission.

Mighty Midget was beyond a doubt the best damn convenience store around. Popsicles, the insanely good banana flavor, and the hard to locate white ones, that I could never identify the flavor of, could be purchased 2 for a penny. Every year, just for Firecracker Day, Mr. Simkos would have one entire lined with fireworks and firecrackers, a sort of small explosive buffet. We knew what we wanted though, as many ‘Tom Thumb’s as possible, a few ‘Five Stars’, and at least 2 ‘Smoke Bombs’. With the goods stuffed into Steinberg’s brown paper shopping bags, and the shopping bags stuffed in out shirts, we headed over to field behind The Murray House to plan our Victoria Day extravaganza. It took some thought, discussion, and debate, but a plan was spawned.

Mrs. Eisen, who lived almost directly across the road from me was one hell of a bitch. She constantly shouted at us from her bedroom window, telling us to stop playing ball hockey as she was not feeling well. Almost every time we played, she bitched. She had even gone to our parents to report that we were keeping her awake, and were often seen on her property trying to retrieve the ball. This was quite troubling for her, as she had a pretty nice flower garden that she was certain we would destroy with our wandering onto her lawn. She had threatened to call the police on us on several occasions. Mrs. Eisen was a bitch, and we hated her.

That evening,that fateful evening when most of the neighborhood was waiting at Rockford Road Park for the annual fireworks display, we slipped away with our Tom Thumbs, and Smoke Bombs. We had strung rows of Tom Thumbs together, and laid them across the garden that proudly stood against the wall of the porch on Mrs. Eisen’s front lawn, and a Smoke Bomb was placed beside some rose bushes. After the countdown, and under the cover of the sound of the Roman Candles being launched at the park, we detonated the firecrackers. The resulting explosion was impressive, and quite devastating. The flower garden was gone. The only sign of its existence were the few surviving flower petals that lay discolored amid the remnants of the firecrackers in the dirt that had only minutes earlier houses an array of beautifully colored flowers of assorted varieties. The Smoke Bomb had done significant damage to the rose bushes, and while they still stood erect, the roses had been completely vanquished. There was not a trace of them. We marveled in our handiwork, and then ran like hell, returning to the park to join in the fireworks party, and hopefully, to establish an alibi.

Sadly, once the light show was complete, and everyone returned home, Mrs. Eisen arrived at my house and stood on the porch accusing me of the wanton destruction of her beloved garden. My mother informed her that she would get to the bottom of it, and have it fixed. When I heard her call my name, I knew that the jig was up. I was busted. “Give me all of your firecrackers.”, she demanded.

“I don’t have any more.”, I told her.

“I want you to go and get all of your firecrackers and bring them to me now.”, she said. “Don’t make me ask you again.” I wandered off to my room, as if in slow motion, and returned with bags of firecrackers, 2 Five Stars, and 1 Smoke Bomb, which I handed over to her. “What were you thinking?”, my mother asked. “You blew up her garden!”.

“I was thinking that she’s a mean, old bitch.”, I answered. “She deserved it.”

“You are going to pay to replace the garden, and you will replant every single flower that you destroyed.”, my mother informed me.  “And starting right now, you will not be running around with those hooligan friends of yours.”

“It has nothing to do with my friends.”, I said. “It was all my idea. I’m the one who did it.” For some reason, my father felt that he needed to get involved. I thought my mother was handling the entire situation brilliantly, however, the old man just couldn’t stop himself from offering his expertise in punishment and justice.

“You can keep your friends.”, the old man said, “but only if you get them to help you pay for and repair the garden you destroyed. If not, they’re not your friends and you will not be spending any time with them. Am I clear.”

“Yes, sir.”, I said, afraid to look him in the eye.

“Oh”, he continued. “And I have locked your bicycle up in the basement. You won’t be needing it for a while.”

“How do you feel about what you did to Mrs. Eisen now?”, my mother asked.

I had to think about it for a moment, but it really didn’t seem so bad. No money, no friends, no bicycle and working in the old bitches’ garden for free. Yeah, it was worth it.

“Pretty good.”, I answered. I completed the garden repair and replanting in record time, and in all modesty, it looked better than it did before. As I stood from my side of the street and looked across at the old bitches’ garden, I knew that I would , more than likely, do it again next Firecracker Day. And for the record, I got my bike back in about a week or so. Mighty Midget closed up shop, and was replaced by a Chinese Food Restaurant. I was pretty sure that they could help out with the firecrackers if I was stuck. Frank Passer finally gave in and sold his farm. On the site of our beloved Passer’s Ridge, they built one of those Golden Arches restaurants, a bank, and 2 or 3 high rise apartment buildings. Passer’s Pond was drained and filled. The Murray House was destroyed, and replaced by houses and apartment buildings, and Mrs. Eisen sold her home, and moved to live with her daughter Tina, the street slut who had recently given birth to a child whose father she couldn’t be sure of. On the day she left, my brother and I headed over to that fucking garden and, using firecrackers I had recently purchased from Mr. Wong at the Chinese Restaurant, blew the shit out of every single flower.

I am significantly older now, and while I have no urge to head down to Ashbridges Bay, or Ontario Place, or Wonderland to witness the incredibly sights and sounds of the professional fireworks display this city puts on, I still have a fondness for the day. Years ago my wife was warned by my mother to keep both of her eyes on me, as I am, as she said, ‘a mischievous little shit who should not be left unsupervised’. My wife has been on top of it for many, many years, but I have always been able to keep firecrackers hidden from her. And on Victoria Day, while the country celebrates the life and reign of the incestuous Queen, I will be wandering around my neighborhood in search of a suitable flower garden to detonate.

Have Some Faith

 

By Fielding Goodfellow

Self doubt, like death, arrives unannounced, and settles in without any relief. Hiding in the shadows, skulking around dark corners when I needed all of my time and energy just to keep my head above water, I drifted through the rip currents and undertows of a life that seemed determined to keep me swimming against the tide. It was a fucking nightmare, populated with heroes and villains whose only purpose seemed to be jerking off amid the costumed tomfoolery that was believed to be necessary for the salvation of our civilization. I for one, really didn’t give a damn. By then, I had lost all faith in heroes, and I was certain that I was already being held in the eternal shit bucket with the villains.

And that pretty much sums up faith, an insanely confusing concept in itself. I struggled with this throughout most of my university life, confused and confounded by the idea that in order to reap the benefits of a loving and just superior being, one must blindly believe and accept. The questions, ‘why does God let this happen?”, and all of its variations diminish one’s faith. It appears though, that a believer, one with faith, does not and should not question. After all, isn’t that what religion, and the road to eternal happiness is about? Bishop Marino, the Papal presence in Presque Isle for years, who spent most of his life fucked up on acid, chasing high school girls in plaid skirts and starched white shirts, spoke candidly about his belief that Blind Faith, despite having released one hell of an album in 1969, is not the path to redemption and absolution, and it certainly should never come as easy as the high school seniors at St. Margaret Catholic School For Girls in Mackinaw. I was fortunate enough to have met the Bishop when he guest lectured for a philosophy class I was enrolled in. Following the lecture, I spoke with him about what God really wants for us. His answer was as succinct as it was surprising. “For us to be happy.”, he told me.

And for those who were unable to find any sort of happiness, religious zealots and leaders, began selling memberships to their God fearing clubs, as they stood before the masses with a bible in one hand and the keys to a Bentley in the other. You could purchase an exclusive, all inclusive membership which guaranteed your eternal happiness simply by using your credit card, debit card or paypal. For a nominal charge, you could attend one of the many religious theme parks, take a picture with the gang in attendance at The Last Supper, and purchase an autographed copy at the gift shop.  Or perhaps, enjoy a bag of Jesus Jaffa Cakes, or an order of St. Joan of Arc flaming kebabs. Despite the temptation, I sought out my happiness through other means.

In the early 1970s, during my foray into malaise and post secondary education, I found myself discussing morals and ethics with overweight, middle aged professors who frequented the massage parlor across from the university campus. With both the time and money, they were free to jump in and out of blow jobs on the way to meet and greet their families convinced that they would be offered absolution for their transgressions in exchange for feigned repentance, three Hail Marys and a contribution to the ‘help the heavenly boys choir purchase new robes’ fund.

Belief and faith are not conjoined twins. One can believe without the necessity of faith. Faith mutes the senses, leaving us blind, deaf, and basically full of shit, and sets us off on a mission to convince others to accept our beliefs as correct. Worlds have been devastated in the name of God, and frankly, I am not certain whose God wanted entire cultures reduced to rubble in order to erect a church in his glorious name. At the end of it all, nobody seems happy. The quest for conversion, redemption and absolution continue, while the priests hearing those solicited tales of sin, shame and guilt, often arrive late following the inspection of the altar boys as they tried on their new robes.

Mei-ling was a sophomore dance major who helped pay for her schooling by working part time at the massage parlor across the road from the university. We met in a Film Noir course, and shared a passion for John Huston films, hallucinogens, and sex with the lights on. We spent many hours in her dorm room watching The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre or Key Largo, and chasing the giant alligators off of her wonderfully naked body. Sex with Mei-ling was an incredible ride that often resulted in one existential crisis after another, as I tried to give some meaning to this world within worlds, hidden yet clearly visible and defined, but undetected amid all of the rhetoric and rubbish that bounced around my head like a Holier Than Thou pinball machine, resurrecting years and years of theological brainwashing. And yet, as Mei-ling dropped to her knees, I swear that I found meaning in the overwhelming pleasure that lead to my release.  And during those moments, those wonderfully satisfying moments, I am certain that I found God, I was happy, and as close to heaven as I believed I would ever be.

Perhaps in all of those moments of hedonistic pleasure, in the throes of drug induced trips and ball busting sex, I had achieved what God had wanted for me. I was happy. I was truly happy. I was certain that I could be happy all of the time provided that I was high and getting laid. For about 18 months Mei-ling ensured that I was happy. I continued to correspond with Bishop Marino, who left the church after defrocking himself in the rectory, playing ‘hide the rabbit in the habit’ with Sister Beatrice and Sister Teresa to run Papal Radio, an international radio network broadcasting rock ‘n’ religion where he interviewed such legendary holy folksters as Peter, Paul & Mary, and notorious, hardcore Loggerhead drummer, Francis Glick, Jr., of the PolkaJacks. As for me, well, I was as determined as ever to be happy, and found myself involved in years of meaningless sex with a variety of equally meaningless women. And everytime, they would drop to their knees, I believed that I had found God, or at least happiness in the overwhelming pleasure.

 

Harland Chesterfield & The Magic Bullet

Shit happens. It almost always does. The year that should have been, never was. We had big plans. Plans that we were certain would change our lives forever. Plans to attend ten Yes concerts in 15 days during the band’s ‘Close To The Edge Tour’, but nobody had heard from Harland Chesterfield since the weather changed that September. The search for him took several days, but he was found in a motel room hours away from home, draped over the side of the tub with an empty six pack of Labbatt’s Blue and a crumpled pack of Players scattered on the floor.

Harland Chesterfield had always been one weird, little guy. He was usually hanging out at Wilmington Park in what seems like a lifetime ago, roaming around, struggling to find somewhere to fit in. He seemed a withdrawn, but  he was usually also pretty wasted.  Harland didn’t have many friends, and kept to himself most of the time. He lived his life through music, and that seemed to be the only bond he would, or could share with others. He knew his stuff though.

One Friday night, at a house party at the home of one of the many teenage tarts who prowled Wilmington Park in search of drugs, love, and sex, Harland had discovered that the best way for someone to take their own life was at a Yes concert during the ‘I get up, I get down’ section of  ‘Close To The Edge’. He thought it was absurdly brilliant. We just thought he was messed up. He had reason to be. When he was nine years old, his mother seemed to have lost her mind and stabbed his father to death in the kitchen, after he informed her that the soup she had served him was not hot enough. She looked at him, smiled, and inserted an eight inch blade directly into his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor. She was institutionalized, and Harland was sent to live with an aunt, a divorced woman who lived on my street and whose bedroom I had the privilege to visit on more than one occasion.

After the police had found him, Harland was taken to the hospital and released a few days later, apparently in good health. It seems that he had simply drank himself unconscious. The trip was back on, and we were set to depart for Waterloo the following afternoon. Harland didn’t want to talk about what happened in that motel room, and the only comment he ever made about it was simply that he had a great sleep. We attended the Waterloo show completely messed up on peyote, and  followed it with concerts in Toronto and Ottawa.  Montreal was to be the last Canadian date, before we were to set out for the second stage in Flint, Columbus, and Erie.

During the Montreal concert, dead smack in the middle of ‘I Get Up, I Get Down’, amid the dry ice and flashing lights, Harland Chesterfield fell face first onto the floor. When we couldn’t get him to move, we called security who removed him from the concert floor and took him somewhere inside the bowels of the arena. We followed the security detail, and waited outside a room they had taken him to. Paramedics arrived quickly, and they seemed to be in there for hours. Finally, the door burst open, and they rushed Harland down the hallway, strapped to a stretcher, and into the back of the waiting ambulance. Harland passed away, in fact he was already gone by the time the paramedics got him into the ambulance. He was pronounced Dead On Arrival at the hospital. An autopsy identified the cause of death as suicide by poison. Traces were found in his blood and on his hands. Harland Chesterfield had administered the magic bullet that took his life at a Yes concert, with twenty thousand fans cheering, amid the spectacle of ‘I Get Up, I Get Down’, just as he had said he would.

We didn’t finish the ten shows in fifteen days. None of us really wanted to continue. Harland’s funeral was small and short, but those who attended gave him a send off we were sure he would have appreciated. The following summer, as I dabbled around the North, neck deep in drugs and damsels in a dress, I listened to Close To The Edge every day. It continues to live on in my playlist, and everytime I hear any track by Yes, my mind drifts off to remember Harland Chesterfield.

 

 

 

 

 

The Body In The Courtyard

The view from my terrace is wonderfully tranquil. I look directly into a forested area that, in Autumn, turns into a myriad of colors that regularly takes my breath away, and a courtyard enjoyed by the 4 buildings that make up this community. But that morning, it was different. Something had happened to shatter the peace that often came with a morning on the terrace.

I stepped out onto the terrace at about 5 in the morning, coffee and cigarette in hand. The lights that illuminated the courtyard below brought the entire area into view. There was nothing out of the ordinary. At 7:30, I returned to the terrace to find 6 police cruisers parked on the courtyard. There were strands of bright yellow police tape roping off an area near one of the other buildings. And there, on the ground just beside a neighboring building, was a body. It was covered with an orange tarp, and guarded by one of the officers. Several bicycle cops, dressed in the standard issues yellow jackets, and short blue pants arrived on the scene, and were relegated to directing the public away from the area. A black sedan pulled up, and 2 men, wearing suits and sunglasses got out, and walked over to the corpse. It seemed that the detectives had arrived. This was a local CSI.

They wandered around the site, and headed into the building. From my vantage point I watched as it all unfolded. I could see the detectives step onto an 11th floor terrace of a neighboring building, and, after rummaging around, peer over the edge of the terrace. Within minutes they departed the building, spoke to a uniformed officer, and left the scene just as inauspiciously as they had arrived. “Probably suicide.”, I said to my wife.

“What if he was sleep walking and fell off.”, she remarked.

“No.”, I told her. “Either suicide, or someone was high as fuck, and thought they could fly.”

“Really?”, she questioned. “Does that even happen?”

“It does to me.”, I informed her. “Many times. But usually the gargoyles wandering around the terrace keep me inside.”

It didn’t take long for the Forensics Unit to arrive. Two Officers lugging a briefcase full of evidence gathering equipment, and a camera. Pictures of the scene were taken, and the orange tarp was lifted in order to take photos of the corpse. Once completed they headed inside the building, up to the 11th floor terrace, and began taking pictures there. They returned to the scene on the ground, and rounded up what I suspect were bone fragments, and placed them in a bag. Once they were done, the Coroner’s Office arrived, in their black van, instructing the bicycle cops to keep away, and a Sergeant on the scene dispensed the short panted cyclists to other duties off the site.

The corpse was rolled and lifted onto a series of plastic coverings, and placed on a stretcher. It was wheeled to the awaiting black van, placed inside, and driven off. I looked down at the site, and noticed an enormous pool of blood. One of the maintenance workers from the complex came to wash the blood off of the concrete slabs that creating the walkway around the courtyard itself.

“I wonder if it was a man or a woman?”, my wife inquired.

“I think it was a man.”, I said. “Pretty big corpse for a woman.”

“Well that seems a little sexist.”, she stated. “There are big women, and there are small men.”

“Indeed there are.”, I agreed. “But it took three men to lift the body onto the stretcher, so I’m going to have to go with it was a man. Secondly, I am not sure that jumping to one’s death is a method women generally make when they contemplate suicide.”

“We don’t know it was suicide.”, she reminded me. “Maybe she was thrown off the terrace.”

“Well”, I added, “The detectives were in and out in about 15 minutes. The forensics team took about 30 minutes and then left. I would suspect that if foul play was suspected, there would be an investigation going on right now. I think they found a suicide note in the unit, so, that’s it.”

The Police began to remove the yellow tape, and once this task was completed, they left, like a convoy. It was 10 o’clock, and after 2 1/2 hours, the scene was completely restored to its previous pristine condition. We all seem to react to these kind of things differently, and my youngest daughter, who had been busy taking pictures of the event, began sharing them with her sister who now lived in the suburbs, informing her that there was a vacant apartment down here that was available. My wife found it completely disrespectful. My daughters found it funny. I just found it sad.

I have seen a lot of shit go on down here. There have been multiple stabbings and shootings, drug overdoses, and a serial killer stalked his victims not too far from where I live. The intentional taking of one’s own life saddens me. We still have no idea of what transpired. There was no information in any media outlets, and no one who lives in the area has any more information than I do. I suppose that we will never know what really happened. Perhaps my wife is right. Maybe some one was sleepwalking and fell over the railing. Or perhaps someone tossed the victim over the edge. I suppose, any scenario could be possible at this time. My guess, as I informed my wife, is that the gargoyles on the terrace had left, and the dude, who was high as fuck, simply wanted to fly. It happens. In any event, I hope the poor soul finds some peace now.