Library of Stories

Hello. Below are works of speculative fiction, poetry, or commentary.
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Both Sides of The End

1: With A Whimper

It was an unusually cold October evening in Calgary. Although it was only 8:45, Adam had settled in for the night. The doors were locked, windows closed, blinds lowered. He was playing music, ignoring the outside world, and editing a manual for one of his clients. Suddenly, the power shut off, dropping his apartment into blackness.

Adam saved his work and shut down his computer, but first grabbed a flashlight he kept at his desk to provide some lighting. He then retrieved a bag of tea candles he kept in his kitchen, and some matches. Within five minutes several lit candles had been placed throughout his apartment giving faint illumination. He returned to his desk. He grabbed his phone to see if he could access any updates about the power outage, as with no Wi-fi, Adam’s phone was currently the only piece of tech that could access the internet.

Except it didn’t. Adam spent several minutes searching for networks from other providers, even another Wi-Fi signal, but nothing came up. A nameless fear started bubbling up inside him as the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Thoughts of “terrorist attack” flashed into his head as he held his breath.

He then heard it – silence. Adam’s apartment building was in the middle of an inner-city neighborhood. Even on a Monday night, even at this time of the night, there should be some faint noise of traffic, sirens…human activity. But there was nothing. He stepped over to the window and peered out of the blinds. Pitch black. Adam stared for a few minutes. In a full power outage, all building and streetlights would be out. But traffic should provide some illumination on the street.

All he saw was a solid wall of darkness, no light. Adam waited and watched for a few moments, hoping his eyes would adjust and the stars would be visible. No stars. He shone his flashlight on the street below. Adam’s apartment was on the third floor, and the flashlight should have illuminated the sidewalk below.

It didn’t. Aside from the reflection from the window, no light dissipated the infinite darkness outside his window. He leaned forward and his hand brushed the window. It was cold. Winter cold, colder than it should ever be at this time of the year. He stepped back from the window and pulled the blinds and drapes tightly shut.

Adam double checked his phone, hoping that maybe emergency services would connect. Nothing. No signal.

“What?” he whispered. His phone’s battery life was at 90%. He had just fully charged it.

He stared at his phone for a moment in the silence, then a low rumble started up. The sound seemed to come from everywhere, but it was louder in his bedroom. He crept quietly to his bedroom and timidly peered through the blinds. More darkness, but now frost was growing over the windowpane. As suddenly as it started, the low rumbling noise stopped. Silence. Adam then heard a rapid beating noise, and then laughed out loud as he realized it was his heart.

He almost screamed when the skittering noise started up. It seemed to travel across the roof outside before stopping about where the door to his unit opened onto the hallway. Then, again, silence. He crept to the door and looked out the peephole. With the power out, he should have seen the emergency lights illuminating the hallways. Adam thought he saw a flicker of light, then darkness. He stood on a rolled-up towel he used at night to block light spilling into his apartment from the building hallway.

He felt it move slightly under his bare foot. He looked down and shone the flashlight he had in his hands at the towel. It appeared as if someone was trying to pull it outside but couldn’t quite catch hold of it. He crouched down and used his hands to hold the towel taut. The flashlight flickered several times, then went dark. Inwardly, Adam cursed himself for not checking the batteries more often.

As he held the towel in place, his hands and feet felt a growing cold. The tug of war stopped. He stepped away from the door and sat back on the floor and wall opposite. He exhaled a deep breath he’d been holding in. His exhalation came out as white cloud of water vapour, and Adam shivered. He quietly stood up and stepped over to the closet to grab a heavy coat.

He was flabbergasted to observe the tea candle he had placed on the floor was almost burned down. Those normally last several hours, not minutes. Adam observed the other candles were almost done. He grabbed a dozen new ones and lit them, scattering them again throughout his apartment. When he tried placing candles near his front window, he paused as he heard a low crackling noise.

He held the candle up, and its meagre light displayed curtains and blinds covered with a heavy frost. But the frost was starting to turn grey, with a few growing black spots. The window emitted a low creak noise, and Adam wondered how long before they cracked and let whatever was outside in.

He wondered if whatever was already inside.

Suddenly, the skittering noise started up again. This time the noise was quieter and seemed to split off into four different regions. Two in the bathroom, two in the kitchen. Vents…and…plumbing? he thought. It was slower, but the sound was getting closer. Like it was creeping through the building.

Adrenaline coursing through his veins, he remembered his storage room. It was in the center of his apartment, more or less in the center of the building, and furthest place possible from any windows, vents, doors and plumbing. He threw his phone, a package of batteries, the flashlight, a box of matches, a bag of candles, several jackets into his storage room. He lit a few candles and then stepped into the closet, pulling the door shut behind him. Adam shoved some rags into the space between the floor and the bottom of the door. The rest of the doorframe he sealed with duct tape.

He lit several more candles and replaced the batteries in his flashlight. It was his last refuge. He sat down on the floor and checked his phone. Still no signal, and it was definitely draining – it was at 68% and dropped to 65% while he watched. He noticed the door handle started to have a thin layer of frost building up. He tried placing candles near the door, but they burned down quickly, as if someone had sped up time 100 times faster. The skittering sound had stopped.

He sat furthest from the door. The batteries on his flashlight lasted a few minutes. Candles lasted somewhat longer, but he still had to light new ones every few minutes. His phone was almost completely drained. Ice was building up on the inside of the door, and Adam used whatever remaining illumination to confirm there were no black spots on the frost. The frost on the center of the door started to turn grey. And it was ever so quiet.

2: With a Bang

They sat down on the bench then, with Emily cuddling into Tyson. It was a perfect afternoon in late May – the kind of day where the smell of flowers danced faintly in the breeze, and while there was heat, it wasn’t quite yet the full heat of the summer sun. The dogs, still on their leashes, laid down beside them.

“I’m serious. What would you do if you found out the world was going to end?” Emily asked.

“Well. Define end of the world. Everyday worlds end. People divorce. Die. Lose jobs. Move.” He looked down at Emily and she had that beautiful smile on her face; that smile drew him to ask her out three years ago.

“End-end.”

“Okay, we’re not talking the final end of the Earth when the Sun swallows it in a few billion years. We’re talking Hollywood End of the World, big budget spectacle, right? Or something realistic?”

Emily looked off to the upper left, and for a moment Tyson thought there was something sad about how she looked. “Hmm. Realistic. Let’s say an asteroid impact. Big enough to turn the crust molten.”

“So, I’m assuming there’s no Bruce Willis or plucky band of astronauts with nukes who’ll blow it up before it hits the Earth?”

“Assume it doesn’t matter. That’s not our movie. I’m talking about you. What would you do if you knew the world was going to end? And there was nothing you could do because no one would believe you, or it’s happening too soon to warn people, or even everyone’s know for weeks, there’s been riots, looting, whatever, but this is the last 10 minutes before the asteroid impacts.”

Tyson laughed. “Damn, honey, you’re not leaving me a lot of wiggle room. Well…I suppose I’d hope I was home with you and the dogs. Just so we could hold each other. I suppose that’s all that matters in the end.

They kissed then, for a few minutes.

A wind started up, getting stronger. A sound of thunder was heard in the distance. Pulling away from Emily, Tyson looked up at the sky. “Huh. I didn’t think there was a thunderstorm in today’s forecast…” his voice trailed off as he noticed the eastern horizon was giving off an orange glow that grew rapidly. The wind got stronger and the thunder increased in volume. The dogs started to whine and yowl.

Emily held tight to Tyson with one hand and used the other to tilt his head down to hers. There were tears in her eyes as she tried to smile.

“It’s the end-end. Hold me.”

THE MISSING MENU

I sailed on cosmic winds to the far edge of this galaxy. I was so hungry. I left the last world ages ago after I had eaten my fill. Food was still abundant on that world, but they had lost hope. Despair tainted the food; it was bitter.

Going hunting on the outer edges of any galaxy means I risk hunger for longer periods. Closer to a galaxy’s center, given the greater number of planets, there are more thinking creatures. These “sentients” are usually quite simple – animal instinct, essentially. Easy pickings for which to sate my appetite.

So, why spend my precious energy when I could be safe and fed in the galactic core?

Imagine the only foods you could find were nuts, celery, carrots, lettuce, apples, and oranges. Even if the food nurtured you, even if was easy to get, you would be bored of it within a short time. Creatures with base animal instincts are the equivalent in my palate.  

Now, sentient races which evolve civilizations? Imagine someone walked into your kitchen when you were eating your meal of apples, carrots, nuts, oranges, lettuce, and celery. They stack your table with platters of roast beef, fried chicken, wild game, fish, desserts, cheeses, cookies, breads – each dish unique and more succulent than you could ever dream.

Thinking sentients are delicious. Always learning, searching, seeking. Worth the risk. They tend to evolve in systems which are stable – like those on the edges of galaxies.

I keep my…well, in your terms I guess they would be the equivalent of my eyes, ears and nose…working, looking, searching. I smelled something out here on the edges. Pausing only once many light-years away, I listened and faintly I could hear the electromagnetic radiation humanity was putting out.

Snacking on sentient races has its own pros and cons. Con – mealtime doesn’t last as long. Maybe several thousand of your years, but for me, it’s like a three-month vacation.

During that short time, there are two outcomes for a civilization. Most of the time – destruction through war or environmental damage. Meals become easy to catch, but as the civilization declines, it starts to leave a bitter aftertaste.

In rarer situations, the sentient beings evolve their civilization into a space-faring race, continuously growing, evolving. And oh, my! Succulence, but dangerous. I’ve encountered this maybe a dozen times in my very, very, long life and excruciatingly each time I had to run from the dinner table. The food was starting to realize I existed, and I like to eat my meals undisturbed.

The pros – yeah, that stuff about being fed – no, more sated. But the nice thing is that any civilization that is sentient, that lasts and has the potential to reach for the stars – you let a lot of people fall through the cracks

Remember what I told you about electromagnetic radiation? Yeah – radio waves carrying television shows, radio chatter, and now the internet. That stuff is going up and out. The earlier stuff was useful for announcing the location of the restaurant (so to speak…what a funny human term), but now as I settle on this world, your phones, internet, all that lovely technology provides a menu of those who won’t or don’t want to be found.

Even now, there are people who still vanish without a trace – those out alone. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and waiting. Usually I fold space quickly around this person so the shock kills them and then I chow down, but on occasion, I like my meals fresh. The brains of humans who are looking at an eldritch abomination taste amazing with all that adrenaline in it.

But now you’re fully seasoned, my final question for you: I’ve developed a taste for the beverage you call “wine”. What pairs well with human – white or red?

The alone plague – days 10,11, 12

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.

Evan

March 18 (Day 10)

Early this morning I spent about an hour on the phone with Dad’s sister, Aunt Joanne. Auntie Jo ranted about COVID-19 and how she had talked to Rita and told her to change their habits – well, she read Rita the riot act so to speak. We’ll see what happens. It was kind of stressful for me because it took a chunk out of my day that I didn’t have to meditate. So as a result I’m sitting here on the bus to work stressed out and that’s not helping me relax.

The news doesn’t help. This virus is so new that a lot of prevention/ cause/ effect/ recovery/ reinfection data is new. People can handle uncertainty in small amounts in their lives, but this… The federal government has said they’re going to put funding in place for people who are out of work due to the virus. There’s been some talk about a Guaranteed Basic Income being put in place, but nothing concrete. They’ll have to do something. The early forcasted number of people out of work, either temporarily or permanently is said to be around 30%.

And if you take away movies, hanging out in malls, bars, restaurants, restrict where people can go during a pandemic…they’ll be left alone with their thoughts. They may take the time to reflect about the current state of the world and realize that maybe things could be better rather than going back to normal. Whether that’s dealing with economic inequality, the treatment of women, racism, etc. etc. etc. 

[sigh] The “stressed” example here is of course, me. Speculating. Not helpful. I did have a session over the phone with my counsellor. She said I’m doing a lot of good things – a lot of positive things – then told me some tricks to do when Heather, my co-worker, starts on a negative spiral. Tell them “things suck, you get five minutes to bitch but the rest of the shift we gotta be positive”. I’m not sure how that’ll work in practice, but…

Infection rate…Calgary currently has 52 cases while Edmonton has 18. I pointed that out to Jo at one point and I said “You know, you guys should be calling me to see how I’m doing! I shouldn’t be calling you guys to see how you’re doing because we’ve got three times the cases and our airport is still open to international flights!” She apologized, but I suspect I’ll still be the one calling.

Mostly working from home now, but once a week I have to work in the office. How do I keep a positive face on? Music. Specifically, Pharrell Williams Happy and Lesley Gore Sunshine, Lollipop and Rainbows on a loop.

March 19 (Day 11)

So today’s story comes courtesy of a friend of mine, Dave. Dave is a Budtender at a local recreational cannabis store. And yes, he’s heard the Cheech and Chong joke about Dave not being here.

Anyhow, Dave said yesterday was insane. It was a constant lineup of people coming in to buy weed. But wait, there’s more!! Upper management wants staff to follow an hourly cleaning schedule of all surfaces which  customers and staff touch. Touch screen computers, card PIN pads, phones, door handles, countertops, etc. On top of that they must keep the supply restocked. And the manager has to do all the managerial paperwork which yesterday included for some unknown reason an inventory count.

And because upper management are a bunch of flaming idiots and don’t know how to promote a product which practically sells itself… sales are low than expected. They cut scheduling to make it so the majority of the time there’s one budtender and a manager on the floor.

So, fucking insanity. Dave was quite furious and said in the future if anyone bitches about retail staff only making $15 an hour as being too much, he may murder them. But for the most part all the customers are relaxed and chill. Except for one asshole who walked in the store and 5 seconds later, bleated out in the Loud Male Voice “Come on let’s get a move on!” Dave switched from Customer Service Face to Bitch Face, stopped talking and stared the guy down.

We will see this more often. Declare stores essential services? Great. “We are not putting up with your bullshit treatment of staff going forward” Dave said. Do NOT fuck with anyone working in a grocery store or any other store that’s considered “essential”. Dave told me he had a friend working at Best Buy. They’ve blocked the store off except for the front desk. They got a couple who bitched about it. Why? Oh, they just wanted to “Walk around and browse”. They were told to leave…and maybe go home and read the fucking memo about their being a pandemic currently happening.

Meanwhile, people are slowly realizing the world has changed and they have to go home and stay there. A few days ago we had pictures of cars and people all crowding into local parks, and parks in the mountains. I get it, we’re told that if we’re not sick with COVID19, it’s okay to go for a walk as long as we maintain 2 meters distancing. But for fuck’s sake people….it’s no longer just hikers and nature lovers who think “Hey, it’s nice out, let’s go for a walk/hike/hang in the park.” It’s LITERALLY every person in Calgary.

So avoid city, provincial and federal parks (I’m sure they’ll close them soon). Get gas, go for a drive. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, avoiding any areas that are normally pedestrian hotbeds.

[Today’s song – Dave Edmunds I Hear You Knocking ]

March 20 (Day 12)

Today’s song – Same River – is by Pat Metheny from his newest album. I can’t help but think that is kind of what’s going through my head right now and the heads of the smarter more compassionate people who are understanding the bigger picture of this all. We are all in the same river right now.

Our behavior – for better or for worse – will be our lasting testament. For each of us. Rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick, we’re facing this together. And unlike 100 years ago, with social media, mass communication, computers and data, we know how we’re behaving; we know our neighbours behavior. Yes, it’s a little big brother. But we’re also seeing who we are in the dark.

In Calgary we had a bunch of Yellow Vesters protesting in Forest Lawn. These self-centered dipshits are the playthings of bad actors on the conservative side of the spectrum. They were protesting how Prime Minister Trudeau was handling the crisis, and I swear I saw a “this is a fake virus” sign in one of the photos. Were they practicing social distancing? Ha!

The thing is, when this is all over, people will ask “What did you do during the COVID pandemic?” These guys will have on record that they were being irresponsible idiots.

So, we have to be our best selves. It’s going to feel weird for a lot of people. And it’s not about the other person, it’s about ourselves who we are as an individual, trying not to be greedy, trying not to be fearful, trying to be the best we can for ourselves and to help others because right now that’s all we can do.

I keep telling myself that between deep breaths. Some days it feels like a mantra.

Today Brad and I had a short discussion about the social experiment which is going on at the moment. Oh yes we’re calling it a quarantine but here’s what’s happening on the ground. Government is considering guaranteed basic income for citizens during this crisis. Cities are housing homeless in hotels to prevent the spread. People are dealing with a quarantine situation the likes of which most people have not encountered in my lifetime.

Some parents and grandparents remember the quarantines due to tuberculosis or polio or even as far back potentially has smallpox. For the majority of the population, that has not happened in our lifetime. We’re dealing with a virus which attacks the vulnerable first which includes a lot of seniors. Italy recently announced that they’re not going to provide any care for anyone over 60 who is caught the virus. So bye-bye Baby Boomers.

Brad told me to “consider what’s next after the pandemic.” It punches holes in a lot of arguments politicians have made on cutting services. The public will say “If, during a pandemic, you could provide a guaranteed income, if you could house the poor, if you could roll out public healthcare…why can’t you do it now?” And of course the fiscal conservatives will keep moving the goalposts. They do not want to hear the hard questions we will ask about the world and economic system we want.

Might it be a Readjustment? Yes. We might see the pendulum swing hard to the left and a lot more government social spending and even the United States might turn to a social democracy. Or fascist/authoritarian regimes could spring up worldwide. How this unfolds in a world where we have instant communication and social media makes it different than past quarantines. Of course the problem with that is that we can now watch each other worldwide freaking out over everything.

The Washroom Preacher

A few years ago at the gym, as I finished my workout, I boogied into the men’s change and washroom listening to – appropriately enough – “The Shouty Track” by Lemon Jelly. On the way in, I noticed one of the gym staff as she picked up some trash on the hallway adjacent to the changerooms. Her face had blossomed into a fine “What the Fuck” face.

As I entered the changeroom, I understood why. Some guy was wHaRRrbbLLGarRrbling and ranting about Jesus. I shrug as I’ve got noise cancelling earbuds and walked towards the urinals, but a voice in my head said “Stop. Turn around. You need to play music over this guy.” I grabbed my phone, unplugged the headphones, and in a quick panic, tried to get the damn thing to play on the built-in speakers.

It’s at this point my phone decided to play 20 questions with me….Meanwhile, it’s gone quiet for a moment. I looked up. He was closer to the door, and took the silence to catch his breath. He started up again.

Faced with hearing him try to preach in a shared area where we are also vulnerable (a changeroom for a gym), my ADHD activated a superfast situational assessment and response mode. Situation: the other men in the changeroom behaved like sheep, quiet and meek; in the hope he’d go away or something. Goddammit, people, grow a spine. Then, in response to the Washroom Preacher, I start to sing Tina Charles “I Love to Love”.

Oh, I love to love;
But my baby just loves to dance
He wants to dance, he loves to dance, he’s got to dance…

I belted this out loud enough to overpower the guy. I sang in choruses in the past as a Baritone, so I can utilize the loud male singing voice if needed.

Oh, I love to love…
But my baby just loves to dance.
Oh, I love to love…
But he won’t give ourlove a chance –
No-no, no….ooooh!

He paused as I’d thrown off his game. He then walked right up to me as an attempt at intimidation. For a split second I understood why A) guys sometimes like to stick their dick in crazy, and then UNLIKE many men, why B) it’s a bad idea. The guy was not bad looking, but the bug-eyed crazy look on his face spiked my adrenaline and the “fight” response shut down the “fuck” response. He was shorter and slighter than me. I could have fought him if needed but I usually prefer to avoid fisticuffs. He tried to engage me in Jesus talk but I told him loudly “Leave. No one wants to hear what you are saying.”

He tried to talk over me. I repeated what I just said, adding “I don’t think I’m the only guy here who wants you to shut up and leave.” He stopped for a moment as he realized not only was *I* a big guy, there were at least four other guys the same size in the room.

Finally, a staff member appeared to escort him out. Both the staff member (actually, the manager) and I repeat several times he must leave, no one wants him here. Finally it sinks in. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Washroom Preacher has left the building. [cue applause]

Afterwards, the manager tells me he didn’t know where this came from – the individual was an afternoon regular. That day, however, instead of working out his muscles, he chose to try a few reps of preaching. The manager said the Washroom Preacher had just walked in. Then as soon as he was in the changeroom, and moments prior to my appearance, he started to speak from the book of Changeroom, Chapter 2, Verses Crazy to Bizarre.

I told the manager to keep an eye on him. People normally don’t go batshit crazy like this without some repercussions, and I’d rather those repercussions be minimized if they happen at the gym.

Then I left, departing from the side door. The entire walk home I took a different route and constantly checked behind to watch for anyone following me. It was several weeks before I returned to that gym at that time of the day.

But at least on the walk home, I got to listen to Tina Charles’ “I Love to Love” in peace.

Random thoughts: covid-19 & Summer activities

So, NPR put out an article “From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities.

In the event the link goes down, here’s the ”Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL;DR) version and my thoughts below (alternately, I’ve also recorded this as an audio file; go to my Podcasts page or to Podbean):

  • BYOEverything backyard gathering with one household – Low to medium risk.
  • Eating indoors at a restaurant: Medium to high risk.
  • Attending a religious service indoors: High risk.
  • Spending the day at a popular beach or pool: Low risk.
  • An outdoor celebration such as a wedding with more than 10 guests: Medium to high risk.
  • Using a public restroom: Low to medium risk.
  • Letting a friend use your bathroom: Low risk.
  • Going to a vacation house with another family: Low risk.
  • Staying at a hotel: Low to medium risk.
  • Getting a haircut: Medium to high risk.
  • Going shopping at a mall: Risk varies.
  • Going to a nightclub: High risk.
  • Going camping: Low risk.
  • Exercising outdoors: Low risk.

The risk factors: density of people, knowledge of other people’s or a business’s disinfecting protocols, involvement of alcohol, indoors versus outdoors.

First, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Everyone, all together, inhale, and repeat after me at the top of your lungs: I AM SO FUCKING TIRED OF ALL THIS PANDEMIC PREPARATION AND NEWS AND BULLSHIT!!

Bonus points if you do this as I did it, after putting on two masks in a row where one of the ear loops snapped off, and then putting on gloves only for one of them to rip.

Okay. Finished?

Good. Now, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. You’re angry. You’re frustrated. We all are right now. Yes, chances are the majority of people will get it and it’ll feel like a mild cold. All this preparation and disinfection and physical distancing is not necessarily about you – it’s so any friends and family who could get it and get sick or even die…don’t. Or if they get it, the hospitals aren’t swamped with other patients to the point in triage, they decide this person you love isn’t going to make it and give the Critical Care bed and equipment to another patient.

Yes, it sucks. Yes, we all want things to go back to the way it was. I also want to have won the lottery years ago, or to have become a famous Hollywood actor, writer, and celebrity parrot wrangler, and I want superpowers, or at least a working Iron Man set of armor. The way things are, is the way things are. For those of you who believe it’s some kind of conspiracy, skip to the bottom of this article.

Second, this is all about creating bubbles of protection. Your house is one. Your personal space (6 feet, or almost two meters) is a portable one. Consider this a game, where your bubble can be popped by sharp objects if you get too close to others, or it bends a little bit, but keeping it that way if you stop to talk to someone or are in a confined space with other people might also cause it to pop.

This is really about collective behaviors. And it’s not new – we all agree on certain behaviors to keep society running. You agree to drive on the correct side of the road and obey the rules of the road to mitigate harm to other drivers. Generally we agree to leave others in peace if they’re out and about and leaving you in peace. So collective behaviors –  you must be aware of not just the pandemic risk reduction behaviors of you and those in your household, you also must judge those against what other households, and strangers/businesses are doing.

Do not share food, drink, or utensils. Anything other person touches or has touched becomes a risk factor. Inviting people into your house bubble is a risk. Shopping or eating at a restaurant indoors depends on good ventilation, room to spread out, and time spent indoors. Eating indoors in a restaurant is problematic as if you’re wearing a mask, you must remove it. Avoid places of worship unless they space out mass times, limit the number of people, have no singing and don’t touch shared worship items such as hymnals or potentially taking wine and communion. Whether it be Allah, God, or any other Magical Sky Fairy…well, he/she/it will wait for you. This is where you pray at home with your family. Many churches are also streaming Sunday services so that’s another option.

Watch for crowds at entry points or popular destinations. If it’s crowded, go somewhere else or go at a time when it’s not busy (mornings sometimes). Improvise. Large crowds also mean kids may be tempted to hang out and play with other kids and we know those precious little rugrats are disease vectors, so….(I keed, I keed…I love children…..cooked at 350 degrees for 2 hours with a nice sauce).

Family events – avoid if possible this year. Older relatives or relatives with health problems may feel pressured to attend, especially if you promise to make it safe. Want to make it safe? Have your wedding next summer. Public washrooms are usually designed to have surfaces that can be cleaned frequently; however smaller washrooms pose a difficulty. Look for ones that are clean and fully stocked. If using a friend’s washroom, treat everything surface in the house like it has been dipped in acid. Get in, touch as little as possible in the way of surfaces, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, get out. Hosts – besides providing the person their own towel or paper towels, after the air has cleared and the guest has left the house, go in and do a quick decontamination of high touch surfaces if you want.

Personal services such as haircuts, manicures, doctors/dentists, and massage therapy: Don’t. Unless it’s an emergency (and no, your roots showing doesn’t count, Karen…Dick, buy some clippers and shave your head). You’re in close contact with another person who’s seeing a multitude of other clients. Even if you both wear gloves and a mask, it’s high transmission risk. Even moreso for nightclubbing…don’t. Shopping…try to go at less busy times, get stuff delivered if possible, have one person from your household go, go to outdoor malls rather than indoor.

Group sports, group anything – no, no, no. Unless you can do it by video, or if it’s a no contact sport. Smaller groups are better.

Now, mitigating factors – is your area a big city? Is the rate of COVID-19 lower than another city nearby? Are you and other persons wearing masks? Yeah, that might lower your risks. Get creative or find the person in your family who is creative and ask for solutions. If you want to dance with friends, maybe have a party in your household, or with others via video conferencing, or if you live in suburbia, get together with neighbors and have a dance party where you try out each other’s music, and dance 2 meters apart.

This is not the time to stop and chat. At your barbers, at any store. Get in, get what you need, get out.  Do not, I repeat, do NOT piss off any of the staff in any store. If you have a complaint, act like you’re giving some friendly advice to your boss or someone with which you need to curry favor. This is the old “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar” rule. Retail and grocery store staff have zero patience and will not put up with any bullshit or bullying behavior.

If you need to have quiet moments when you cry, if you get angry and forgo some pandemic protection rules, well, life is all a risk, and life is happy and sad and frustrating and amazing all at once. We all have moments when we freak out. When we get angry and rebel. Shit happens. Pick yourself up, apologize where necessary, try to do better, mourn your old life, and be nice not only to family, friends and strangers, be nice to yourself.

Now. To the conspiracy nuts: OMG, you guys are adorable! You actually think that if there was a big conspiracy, none of the planners would be able to resist gossiping about it! You actually think enough humans could agree to plan and go in one direction. That’s so inspiring! Tell you what – ask anyone who’s worked in a job with a bunch of team members what happens when the job rolls out a new procedure/technology. Oh, sure one person may be in charge of training/planning this new thing, and to outsiders it looks like it was rolled out seamlessly. But for anyone who’s been involved in big projects in corporations…if you were to compile and review all the related emails, documents and meetings, you’d find that the project only got done with a lot of screaming, snitching to teammates superiors that “Natalie” wasn’t doing the work required, and often done half assed and last minute, with fixes occurring on the fly.

Now, try to run this same level of project under a veil of secrecy. Imagine not going home to your spouse and being unable to complain about the project. No gossiping with other friends in the company that “Rita is on the Project with us, and she’s fucking useless. A stapler would be more helpful.” People can’t plan surprise parties for family or friends without there always being a leak, and you think people wouldn’t take the chance to write a tell-all book or appear on network television if half of your conspiracies were true and provable?

But then again, maybe I’m part of the conspiracy.
If so, they need to start paying me, because I’m not getting rich being “Conspiracy Actor #68-CANab1s”.

the alone plague – days 8 and 9

March 16 (Day 8)

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.

Evan

To quote from Men In Black “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

Darren called me tonight. He’s still working from home. And he apparently is somebody who thinks that the COVID-19 is a government conspiracy. I was tempted to challenge him, but I think and hope this is just his way of dealing with all the shit that’s happening. Eventually, I deescalated him and then changed the conversation to other things. He’s a conservative voter, but sometimes I wish he’s put some thoughts into his philosophy.

While he was talking, at one point I wanted to shout at him, “You can have a hyper-efficient government which can plan and carry out a vast conspiracy. Or you can have a government which is incompetent. They are mutually exclusive. Also, humans suck at keeping secrets.”

Don’t believe me? Plan a surprise party for a friend or family member. Afterwards, corner the person and ask them if they found out about beforehand. I can guarantee that if the person was honest, they’d confess they figured this out weeks ago.

This is just a tiny secret – a surprise party. If you had a big secret like the moon landing being fake, the Earth being flat…well, something that juicy? Yeah, someone would eventually blab. This is not covering the fact that anyone who’s a project manager knows: trying to get everyone organized and going in the same direction is slightly more effective than herding cats.

Of course usually the conspiracy theorist responds to any criticisms by saying “Ooh you’re clearly in on the conspiracy.” It’s always about moving the goalposts so they remain the person who knows, who is special.

Life is way more complicated than that. And I get it. You’re scared. You’re angry. You’re frustrated. WE ALL ARE. You want easy answers and just because you’ve come up with a narrative you think is the true reason for an incredibly complex situation….well, It’s selfish to think you deserve more attention for whatever reason.

This first go-round – because there are second, third and sometimes even forth waves of a pandemic – is our dress rehearsal for when…not if, when…things get bad. My friend Brad said in Alberta, we need to keep the critical cases under 500 as there are only 500 ventilators or ICU beds or whatever province wide.

It’s hard keeping this in my head, staying positive. I’m sure it doesn’t help that outside of work, I’m in a perpetual haze of cannabis. I cry when I’m at home. Last night I listened to “Calling All Angels” by k.d. lang and Jane Siberry. I’m not Christian. I just want the angels to be our better selves. For once. For this crisis.

March 17 (Day 9)

Alyssa messaged me this today after I spoke with her last night. Well, I told her I didn’t want to talk as I was going to cry myself to sleep.

Someday, I’m going to die. Someday, you’re going to die. Someday all your family and friends are going to die. Someday every human on this planet will die.

All we know is our time in life is finite. We get what everyone else gets: a lifetime. Worrying about death makes about as much sense as worrying about your birth before you were born. All we have is the moment. We can mentally time travel forward or into the past feeling regrets about her actions reminiscing times when we were happy, dreaming about the things to come and your hopes with it and maybe worrying about the future. But the thing is, we’re now. We exist now. And that moment is now gone. So is this moment.

And if all we truly have is a moment why not choose to make that moment happy, pleasant? Why not try to be the best in that moment?

It’s hard. And it does your head in. And it’s going to stress us all out. Especially with less distractions.

Yeah…
The city of Calgary has shut down recreational centers, gyms, and libraries. No gatherings larger than 250 people. Schools kindergarten to grade 12 have had classes cancelled. People are being told to order delivery food, keep their distance from each other, and work from home if they can.

Meanwhile, there are the occasional reports of rich people being clueless, self-centered twats. Well, moreso than usual! The Calgary Flames hockey team, like many other sports organizations, have cancelled the rest of the season. But while the managers and players keep getting paid, oh gee no money for the part time concession workers.

People got rightly pissed at that and the Flames reversed course. You know, if it takes a global pandemic to realize the problem is too many rich assholes and not enough guillotines well, hey, that’s a fair trade.

What else. They’re cancelling TV shows. Talk shows are now performing with no audience. Actors like Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have the virus. Netflix have shut down shows….I’m not concerned as I have books, I have a library card and live in a country where I can access online materials. Privileged.

I think that’s what is important to remember – many of us in North America are fortunate. Other people in other countries are not so much.

Not that there’s not some twisted black humor in it…I saw an image “supposedly” from Norway, advising their citizens not to travel to countries with poor health care systems. Like the United States.

And even when I talk with some friends online. Mary, who’s a flight attendant for WestJet said she saw someone cough into their hands, and everyone in the plane looked at the person as if he was death itself. Or as she put it so succinctly with a video from the 1978 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” people point at you and do an unearthly scream when you approach.

Okay. Maaaaaaaaaybe not that bad. Yet. Tonight, I reconnected my Christmas lights, and lit up a whole bunch of candles, wandered around the apartment listening to REM’s song “ITEOTWAWKI”.

Karenpocalypse, or dicks demise

Debra heard the sound and almost screamed. It sounded like the rattle of a thousand shopping carts. She was at the grocery store in the middle of a pandemic with her boyfriend Richard (“always Richard, not Rick, and never Dick”) which alone had already put her on the verge of a public freak-out.

When she and Richard moved in together at the start of January, things were going well. Oh, sure, this was the first time he had dated someone who was First Nations, but he seemed very open and willing to learn the world through Debra’s eyes. Then the pandemic happened, and they both ended up working from home and being around each other 24 hours of the day. This would be difficult for an established relationship; it was almost impossible for a new one. Suddenly all those annoying little idiosyncrasies couples would have months to process, accept, or improve were exposed to each other.

Debra noticed Richard acted as if he was invulnerable and didn’t understand her concerns about viral transmission. Besides the history of smallpox blankets given to First Nations tribes, Deb had an uncle who had died in the AIDS crisis back in 1993; she was somewhat knowledgeable about viral transmission and risk reduction. Debra wore gloves and a facemask in public; she kept the recommended 2 meters distance from other people. Richard….well, he washed his hands frequently, but sometimes she had to prompt him. He wouldn’t wear a facemask (“That’s silly”) and viewed social distancing as an optional requirement. Consequently, they had had several arguments about pandemic procedures. Richard said he understood but would revert to his old habits.

Debra suspected because of his upbringing – nominally Christian, male, middle class – the aura of invincibility was built into him. He never had to worry about bigotry, hate or misogyny. Oh, sure, he made a show of being “woke” but she was beginning to have her doubts. Little things like how he seemed friendly with store clerks, yet she started to realize that “friendliness” was framed in a patronizing tone. Before the pandemic, he seemed polite when retail staff told him “No” to a request. Yet…she also felt he was two seconds away from asking “May I speak to your manager?”

During the pandemic, that mask was coming off; she’d seen him lose his patience with store clerks several times when then told him they were out of the item he wanted or asked him to stand back from the counter. Debra brushed it off as frustration with the rapid changes.

However, she had started to truly hate him about a week ago. He was on a Zoom call with Karen – his co-worker – and they had made fun of the level of paranoia around COVID19. Richard and Karen had expressed their disgust at the Calgary Stampede cancelling for 2020. He stated, “Fuck it! Open the economy back up, let everyone catch it, a few will die, but life will get back to normal.”

Richard had assumed she was in the other room working, and Debra never let on she had overheard this part of the conversation. But later when he was taking a shower, she cyber-creeped his computer and social media profile. He’d made sure several of his posts were not visible to Debra when she viewed his profile from her computer, but from the posts he was following, he seemed fonder of conservative ideology than she’d thought. As well, Karen and Richard were having a lot of the same type of conversations (“This is overblown, it’s just a bad cold!” “God, when can we get back to normal life…if the conservatives had won the last federal election, we wouldn’t have had this bullshit lockdown!”). Richard occasionally whined about Debra’s overprotective nature. All this was bad enough, but Karen would frequently respond with subtle racist insults towards Debra. None of which Richard protested.

Today, in the grocery story, Debra was wearing a mask and gloves. Richard wasn’t. Where she was following the arrows on the floor, going up and down the now one-way grocery aisles, he rolled his eyes and walked down the aisle to get what was needed – oblivious to her concerns, or the presence of others.

Then they bumped into Karen. Debra took the opportunity to finish the rest of the shopping while they socialized, but the next aisle over, she’d heard the following: “…I can’t stand it…everything I do is wrong. I swear, last night she was on the verge of calling me a racist.”

“Oh, that’s terrible” Karen replied. “I warned you about her…Indian women are nothing but trouble. She’s probably got a secret stash of booze stashed away in the apartment. Do you ever smell it on her?”

Debra heard Richard’s laugh, and then the start of a denial, but by that time she was furious. She raced down the aisle and headed over to the diary section to get as far away as possible from both. That’s when she heard the loud rattling noise.

She looked around to discern the origin of the noise and noticed metal shutters slamming down on the front windows of the store. Suddenly the noise stopped, and there was an eerie silence. Then a loud ringing noise emanated from the store’s public announcement system and (curiously) Deb’s cell phone. A female voice spoke:

“Good Afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen. Despite our staff warning many of our customers, we have noticed a great deal of you not following pandemic protocols. Many of you are not wearing masks, gloves, are not social distancing, and are not following the clearly marked signs indicating the directional flow of shoppers. Consequently, in conjunction with doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, and other essential workers, we have decided to take action. We are tired of being paid just above minimum wage to do the lions share of the work. We are frustrated to have to listen to the Karens and Dicks of the world complain that we’re not worshipping the ground upon which they tread, and then to have them expect we respond to every barked order with instant compliance. We are exhausted of the rich and the politicians they bought deciding the people who do the real work can be exploited for maximum financial gain and dismissed at a moment’s notice while they sit on a pile of gold and contribute nothing to society. There is a Biblical saying The Meek shall inherit the Earth but it’s clear it’s missing a second part which would be …when they get pissed at the gross ignorance and self-centeredness of the rich and privileged and decide to rise up. We have hacked into your cell phones and social media accounts. And we have determined for the world to progress, one third of you must die. Today, in our store, that number is more like 50%.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of what Debra recognized as drones. Many drones. One dropped in front of her, and a green light flashed out from it. The voice on the PA system resumed.

“If a drone appears in front of you and shines a green light, you are safe, as you are recognized as a responsible adult, and respectful to retail staff, nurses and doctors, teachers and so on. As for the rest…”

Debra looked down the aisle towards the front of the building to see Karen running for the emergency exit, pursued by a drone. It fired off several darts and Karen dropped to the ground in a heap. There were screams in the air, but it only lasted moments. Then the silence resumed as all the drones flew away.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our staff will be removing the targeted former customers. Your patience as we clear the aisles is appreciated, so much so that we will be offering a 50% discount on all your groceries. Please continue to shop smart, shop S-Mart, purchase only the recommended amounts on any grocery items in high demand, and follow social distancing and directions for the aisles.”

A low rattling noise was heard as the shutters on the windows and doors slowly raised upwards. Debra walked up to the front of the store with her cart and saw the staff pull away bodies, including those of Karen and Richard.

She wasn’t sure if she’d like this new world order. But she thought it best not to complain.

The alone plague – Days 5, 6, 7

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID-19.

Evan

 March 13 (Day 5)

A snowstorm continues to hit Calgary. It’s – 20 with a wind chill of -31. I’m sitting here on my sofa in the evening listening to the song “Absence of Fear” by Bliss. Appropriate.

And I have to show that tomorrow when I go into work: absence of fear. I have to be calm. Because I have no one to comfort me when I come home. All of you have your family, children, you can stay at home alone with them. But I am just alone. And I have to pretend I’m strong. But I’m so tired of being strong.

I wish I was young again. Because I could have the absence of fear instead of being my age and being afraid of death. But I breathe in deep and I breathe out, and you see me and I smile and I am pleasant to you. But the warm exterior is a thin layer of makeup over a scrambled egg wash for pies.

Wait…scrambled egg wash for pies? Hahaha.

I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. I have no idea what I was even saying now because that was so absurd. I will miss this time when voice-to-text algorithms were imprecise. This is up there with the time I told Alyssa take care of yourself and voice-to-text printed out Pikachu yourself.

Maybe it’s a sign. For me to survive, I should release my inner weirdo, laughing at how absurd the world has become. That’s my way to “Whistle past the graveyard” as they say.

There are more restrictions coming – we’ll probably follow places like Italy. Stay home, no gatherings larger than 50 people or less, and only essential services operating. We’re already starting to see “temporary” layoffs. Doctors and dentists are cancelling appointments except for emergencies. Social distancing is starting to creep into the public place, but there’s been a few times when oblivious idiots wander down the middle of the sidewalk on 17th Avenue and you must duck into the entranceway of a building to avoid them.

It occurs to me if I really released my inner weirdo, I could just dance along to my music. That might work to promote social distancing. And give me an escape valve.

In the news today, the Prime Minister Trudeau self-isolated with his family because his wife tested positive for COVID-19. The World Heath Organization finally declared it’s an international pandemic. Major sports leagues have suspended or cancelled their season (as a non-sports watcher, I’m really upset about that one), the stock market and crude prices are dropping (and yet, the conservatives here in Alberta still are planning on a miracle from Oil and Gas). We are going into uncertain territory here, and only time will tell what will happen in the future.

March 14 (Day 6)

This morning I went early to the grocery store, just to get groceries. The bank finally released my funds. I pretty much have what I need for Emergency Response items such as Purell, tissue, and disinfectant wipes just from past purchases. This was just food that I needed to get. I have enough supplies to last me for a while if need be. Especially if I start dieting!

Anyhow…at 730 in the morning, the grocery store was busy. There were a few vacant shelves and in some cases I had to buy larger or smaller sizes of stuff – I’m not sure why vinegar was sold out except for the large size. That was fun carting that home. But bright side – after it’s empty, fill with water and it becomes a 20-pound home weight!

I found myself wishing the best to a man who owned a small business. When the world goes this crazy, I just know that people will look for any scapegoats. President Fucktard of the Excited States is already doing it, calling it “The Chinese Flu” instead of its official name, COVID-19.

The shop owner owns a small corner store near me. They’re going to be the hardest hit, and really, they should be supported rather than the big multinational corporations. But you know, idiots will use this time to be racist towards anyone who looks vaguely Chinese. I told him I wish the best for him and I wish for him to remember all the good because the bad always announces itself so loudly.

I told him how as a child, once a week my mother and I would buy scratch and win lottery tickets, also a small bag of Cheezies to share. It was a silly thing, but now, when I need that comfort, when my Mom is hundreds of kilometers away, I sometimes buy a lottery ticket and Cheezies.

We need that. Now. We need the small things. The quiet things. We need to share the kindness, and recognize it when things have gone this way. It’s going to get harder to do, as the economy grounds to a halt and supplies become scarce and expensive. The general public has not experienced this for 50 years. Oh sure, small groups have – I saw a hilarious post on social media paralleling how freaked out the public is and how they feel their government is dithering over this problem. The punchline was something like “gay men in the 1980s totally don’t know what you’re going through”. The unspoken sarcasm was thanks to AIDS, of course they did.

A friend Darren told me they laid off 70% of their staff. Historically, you do not want a public that’s aimless for a long period of time, especially during a time where the economy is going in the shitter. We may have to institute something along the line of a Guaranteed Basic Income to get us through. I also think the only way we’ll get through this is how the LGBTQ Community got through AIDS – helping each other. Looking around after we fall, for someone there to help, and reaching out to help…well, while maintaining physical distancing.

Today’s song – the song Don’t Look Back – again, Bliss, from the album “Quiet Letters” .

March 15 (Day 7)

The snow and the cold continue in Calgary. A beautiful white crystalline death-shroud. I spoke with a few people online and over the phone, including Jamie. I’ll get to him in a moment.

As I’m watching the snow drift downward to the pavement, I’m running everything over my head. We are now such a big society, a big social organism but we still have the panicky responses. We suck at separating Existential Danger from Real Danger. Especially when it’s a danger most of us in the West have not had to deal with for 50 years.

And eventually, we all must face the idea of death. Of ourselves, of our friends, of our family. We’ve been lucky – this type of existential threat humanity hasn’t faced since World War II.

And now we have a choice. We can live our lives in fear and maybe use the false daydream of a possible afterlife to comfort us, but in the face of this potential existential danger, those are small answers and small comfort.

But for right now…all we have is right now. To be worrying about the meaning of life, to be afraid about what comes after…seems as stupid as being afraid of what you were before you were born. The meaning of life for now IS now.

So tonight, after I’m done with this, as I lay myself down to sleep, I’m going to try to forget all that and just revel in the fact that I am alive, I draw breath, I think. The rest is just speculation. I may catch this virus tomorrow. I may catch it 3 months from now. I may be one of the extremely lucky ones and I don’t catch it at all. But that’s the same as worrying about if I cross the street today and get run over by a distracted driver.

Can’t live our life in fear.

So, Jamie. He messaged me and we set up a video call. He is climbing the walls in Toronto with his mother, day three or four of their quarantine. He’s normally the quieter of the two of us, but…he was chatty. We bounced ideas around. Mostly how in an economic system where money is traded and exists as ones and zeros on computers and in “The Cloud”, is money real? What happens when you have instantly one third of the population out of work for the foreseeable future? People will start defaulting on loans, mortgages, and credit cards. But is that debt any more real than the money? Something else to worry about…or maybe distract ourselves from COVID19? We couldn’t decide.

Okay, also Jamie was shirtless on the video call. I really hope I have a good poker face.

I did end the conversation with Jamie on some words of wisdom. Years ago I worked for an airline helping people plan their trips. They’d often worry about what could go wrong if they’re travelling during Hurricane Season or some other thing in their life getting in the way. I reassured them and discussed the rules on changing flights, but ultimately I told them “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Plan, hope, but don’t let it consume your mind, don’t obsess on the bad. Don’t let go of the fact you’re here right now. Let Hope be the one thing that takes you over. Even if it does feel fake, forced. Yes, for me: Rip the smile off and beneath it you’ll see something along the lines of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. But all I can do for now is hope. That’s something. That’s moving forward. That’s action.

So, for now, I hope I have a good day at work. I hope I can quickly find Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and the song Conga. I hope I don’t look too spastic dancing around the apartment to it.

the sorcerer’s balance sheet

Carefully unspooling a glitter rat into the ether, Professor Warren (Warlock Emeritus) sighed in frustration. It felt like pushing a small boulder through a deep pool of gelatin. It never used to be this difficult. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t just old age creeping up on the necromancer. He didn’t get to be head of the Mystic College (Saskatoon branch) by running away from problems, but this one was troublesome.

Just then his assistant Adam Lerner burst through the door – quite literally, as Adam was still a bit wonky on the skill of phasing, and he usually ended up popping into the other side with a loud bang. The rat gave a startled squeak and exploded into glitter.

Professor Warren sighed. The Custodial Witches really hate cleaning magic glitter. He turned to address his assistant. “Adam, don’t ever go into Surveillance Sorcery. They’d hear you from a mile away.”

“Sorry Professor, but I think I know why I can’t quite master phasing…and it has everything to do with the assignment you gave me.” Adam slapped a thick folder onto the Professor’s desk. Warren raised his eyebrows. This was just a make-work project he gave Adam for extra credit and didn’t expect any serious results.

He opened the folder. The pages were written in ink. Not newt’s blood. Not the ink of the Glittering Octopi of Titan. Not even Mermaid’s Tears…it was just ink.

“That’s…unusual Adam. The ink.” He smelled the report. “And the paper’s non-magical as well. You know we have formatting requirements on reports, and this could count towards a deduction. What’s this all about?”

“Sorry, Professor, but it’s the only way I could get everything down. Any time I started writing about my findings using magical means, the ink wouldn’t stay on the page. Or the paper would explode in flames. Someone or something is binding magic. It’s why your magic has been a little harder to master than normal…” At this Warren looked up at his assistant with a hostile glare. “…Uh, and why the undergrads this year seem a little slower than usual.”

“Binding magic? How? For what purpose?” The professor tried flipping through the pages magically, but every attempt sputtered. Sighing, he resorted to manually turning the pages.

“Sir, I don’t know the how. But as to the purpose, I think it’s to remove all magic from the world.”

Silence enveloped the room. If Adam and the professor weren’t preoccupied, they would have noticed the sudden disappearance of rush hour broomstick travel in the window overlooking Mystic Freeway 506.

Warren muttered some words under his breath, but no information came from the report. “Damn…I am not reading this entire thing. What’s the prognosis? Did you get at least some conclusions? Rate of binding? How is it transmitted?”

“Professor, we need more research to answer fully all those questions. All I can tell you is that sooner or later, we’ll be in a world with no magic, indeed a word where magic never worked at all!”

“That’s impossible! I – ” Warren paused…he had the oddest sensation, like his body was trying to burp, hiccup, sneeze and fart all at the same time. He blinked, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes and looked up at his assistant.

“…so as I was saying, Adam, nice work. You’ve worked some real enchantment on your assignment, making the numbers dance.” He closed the report cover that was now titled Financial Analysis of Industries with Conservative Growth for the next Five Years. “As a reward, I’ve decided as my new TA, I’m giving you the first year Intro to Accounting course to teach. Here’s the file on the course material.” Professor Warren handed a manila folder to Adam. A speck of glitter slid off the report and vanished. “Take the rest of the afternoon off…it’s a magical day out there.”

Adam turned and walked out. For a second, the young man appeared to be walking on air. But only for a second.

Resetting, Again

“I used to think wherever I died, I would find my way to Heaven. But now? Hah!” That came from the ship’s cook. We were sitting in the mess hall, poking at food we’ve poked at hundreds…maybe thousands of times before.

“I still don’t get it…our bodies reset, our ship resets, but we keep our memories, and we stay in this bubble of strange energy” the cook continued. He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and this branch of physics wasn’t the easiest to explain. Hell, I was the ship’s navigator and with my understanding of physics, I had a hard time understanding what was happening to us. Had happened to us. Will happen to us.

We were unwitting guinea pigs for an experiment. The good Doctor Richards only explained what was necessary when he came onboard. We were told that it was “…an experimental space drive but based on our existing technology with a few additional tweaks. Nothing to worry about.”

When we activated said drive, we ended up here. Most of us. I was working with Richards in Engineering. Had I been on the bridge, well…most of the ship made it through the jump. The bridge, however, seems to be part of the weird spacetime bubble. Everything on the bridge, and everyone. It hurts to look at what’s remaining. We avoid that deck now. I was now the commanding officer on this ship of the damned.

At first, I tried moving us out with what control we had in Engineering. Nothing. Then the reset happened. Richards told me what the “additional tweaks” were. His best guess as to the result? We were trapped in a repeating slice of spacetime, cycling back every forty hours.

Death wasn’t an escape. I’ve killed myself multiple times, had the cook kill me just as many times. The next cycle, I wake up back on the ship. Alive. The last few cycles, we’ve been taking our rage out on the doctor, finding new and exciting ways to kill him. I’ve not asked him for any further theories since he told me the details of his “additional tweaks”. That was the first time I killed him. Maybe it’s time to switch to torture.

“Well it’s almost Reset” I said, getting up from the table. “Tell you what, why don’t we ask the doc himself when he comes to.” The cook got up and followed me over to another table on the far side of the mess hall. “If we keep him alive, he might be motivated to explain the situation.”

“Considering he’s the smart guy got us into this?” the cook asked. “I dunno. I’m still pissed at him.” We both looked down at the purple face of Doctor Richards as he lay on the table. We suffocated him with brussels sprouts this last time. We were starting to run out of ways to kill him.

“You got your gun handy?” the cook asked.

“Sure. But remember, keep him alive.” I handed my gun to the cook. The transition was almost complete. I was seeing ghosting images of what was and what is overlap. Richards’ skin colour began to take on a healthy pink hue.

“I was thinking, shoot him in the balls first. Then ask some questions. We like the answer, he gets some First Aid. We don’t like his answer…well, we blow off his appendages one at a time.” He licked his lips at this prospect.

Transition all but complete, the good doctor inhaled, opened his eyes, and looked up from the table we had tied him to. Who knows, Richards could keep us entertained for the next 39 hours and 55 minutes. If not, we’ll just try again. And again. And again. And again.

The Alone Plague: Day 3 and 4

This is a work of fiction – a journal of “John Maxwell” based on current events but also a serial story of love, hate, conflict, and understanding in the age of COVID19.

Evan

March 11 (Day 3)

Today’s Journal is brought to you by my dad, my older idiot sister Rita and her equally useless daughter Natalie.

So one of the things that’s been happening has been all the misinformation – in this pandemic, the news media and anyone with a social media account…basically they’re acting like complete fucking idiots posting clickbait misinformation or links.  I’m glad Alyssa talked me down and I did more research on the Corona virus – sorry, COVID19 – yesterday. The problem is now, instead of being scared, I’m furious at every single person who thinks they’re being helpful but shares information on Facebook or Twitter that is not necessarily calming the public mood of panic.

Here in Calgary on social media we’ve got local personality who goes by the handle of “7-METH-11”. Now to be fair I don’t know their family health situation. I don’t know whether they have an urgent interest in finding proper health tips, but I’m at the point now where I started to hide their posts.

You can tell they’re genuinely trying to help but at this point the only thing they should be doing is saying “Here’s a link to the most recent medical source on how to handle the virus”. And the source they linked to should be a government source. Specifically Health Canada here in our country. And that’s it. No linking to the actual government press releases, no linking to a CTV News article or Global TV video or anything else like that. Go directly to the source.

So Dad, Rita, and Natalie are all living together in one home. Now Dad’s somewhat organized but that’s Mom’s influence when they were married. Unfortunately, Rita was always the drama queen in the family: self-centered and blame everyone else for the problems she creates. Her daughter is worse, and the both of them are slobs living with Dad. These are the worst people for an 80-year-old man with asthma to be living with.

Rita and Natalie are watching all the wrong sources on the news, they’re listening to all the wrong links on social media, their friends and church (yes, they’re Evangelical Christians) and they’re taking it all in and relating it back to Dad. I just spent an hour on the phone calming him down. I wanted to give Rita a call and chew her out, but she’d just go into her “Poor me” martyr routine. I’ve given up talking to her outside of what’s barely necessary.

Meanwhile I checked in with Mom. It’s the complete opposite. Mom was very…calm about it. She said you can prepare as much as you want, but you never know when your life will end. You could survive this current pandemic and two weeks later step across the street just as a drunk driver comes around the corner and you die.

I guess…and this is where it’s hard for me…we have to learn to live life and not live in fear. No one knows how  long we’re going to get. Everybody Hurts as the band REM would say, so try to be helpful.

March 12 (Day 4)

So today I got to be the emotional support monkey for everybody. Fuck my life.

Okay. The day began like any other day, and then quickly went sideways. At work, the manager and I were going to do a health and safety inspection. Which got derailed when a large shipment came in, and I got put into service to help put away lab supplies. Meanwhile the manager goes to pieces because he finds out that his cat has got cancer. Rightfully so of course.

Now, I’m not entirely alone doing the work. Heather – my other co-worker – had to be talked off the fucking ledge because she’s freaking out about the virus. I had to calm her down and talk to her about possibilities and statistics and all keeping a calm tone even though I am just as freaked out as her on the inside. Yes, you can say the majority of the people will get the virus and it’ll be like a cold, and only less than 1% will die, but the problem is right now, the best scientists can say is “Yeah, probably. We think so.”

Today was also the day when everybody and their dog decided they needed to come in and do inspections for our First Aid site equipment, and deliver furniture for the office. So we called for the site manager to come down and give a hand. He did, but he’s as warm as a goddamn iceberg.

Next, a friend, Jamie, was texting me freaking out. He flew out to Toronto to help his Mom sell a rental property a few days ago. The airline informed him today another passenger on his flight had tested positive for COVID-19. So Jamie and his mother have been advised to quarantine for 14 days. He’s not taking it well, yet I calmed him down. I wish I could hug him. And tell him that in person. I almost told him that, but….

All through this, did anyone ask me “How are you doing?”

Nope. So when I got home, I did a long meditation, and then made some tea with a generous portion of cannabutter in it. I still had trouble sleeping, so I pulled a chair up to my living room window and watched the world outside.

Tonight there is a snowfall warning and winter storm watch for Southern Alberta. I stared out the window in a dark room as the snow fell and listened to the main theme from the old movie, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

I’m starting to understand this and see the big picture forming. This is going to impact a lot of things, people and processes in our society and economy. Some will survive, some will change, some will go away. New ideas will spring up in their places. There’s an old saying about living in interesting times. In the future, for those of us who live through this, I think we will want to be boring. But boring doesn’t take up space in the history books; we are in history now. Every. Single. One of us.

So for now: cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Keep your distance from each other. Wash your hands you dirty pigs. And shut the fuck up unless you’re a doctor with Health Canada.

The Alone Plague: Day 1 and 2 – the beginning

intro description for the Alone Plague indicating this is an account from the future of 2070

March 9 (Day 1)

I saw something yesterday in a news article which gave me pause and inspired me to start this journal. Some expert in virology had mentioned about making all the proper preparations for this pandemic. He was sympathetic that each of us has to live through this once in a hundred-year event. So, the Spanish Flu part 2 Electric Boogaloo. Or would that be “Flu-galoo?”

Anyway.

Panicking morons continue to buy up toilet paper by the truckloads. I had to ask Almighty Google why. Two different psychologists mentioned how this behavior is kind of a panic response. Even if we tell some of those people that you don’t need to do that, a shortage of toilet paper – as one unit takes up so much real estate on the shelf – is visually obvious. This creates a weird feedback loop. People will see the empty shelves and panic and want to buy some themselves.

It doesn’t help that government, the media including social media and other sources, are all giving conflicting information on how to prepare. So, the end result is squadrons of dipshit morons buying truckloads of ass wipe. When they should be making sure they have 14-day supply of food, they have cold medicine on hand, and they have tissues. Speaking of government, they are not helping by just now getting their emergency response centers set up.

Today at the gym, an attendant mentioned they will no longer have as many boxes of facial tissue on-site because the emergency response Centre for Calgary is reserving most of this item. I’m sure this is being repeated on the provincial and Federal levels; they are bulk-buying medicines, tissues, toilet paper, hand soap, soap sanitizer. Which is helping the shortages get worse.

A friend mentioned something about demographics and branding by pointing out that Calgary Coop and Safeway stores still have lots of toilet paper, while Walmart and Costco sold out first. I didn’t really follow his reasoning. I mean, they’re discount stores that sell in bulk. I think he was trying to make a point about the demographics of their customers.

The sheer volume of product purchased makes no goddamn sense. And for someone who’s waiting for the bank to release some funds for my RSP – ‘five business days”…yeah right – this is also pissing me off that I can’t get ANY regular groceries, let alone a 2-week supply. But hey, that’s the Invisible Hand of the economy! Waving the middle finger at people who don’t have any money and yelling “Fuck you all I’ve got mine.”

I worry, privately. I’ve got the song History Repeating by The Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey running through my head. Are we seeing a repeat? Then what – economic depression and then a war to distract?

I need to remember to breath. Corona virus posts are now slowly creeping into my social network newsfeeds.

March 10 (Day 2)

Today I had a bit of a meltdown. Of course the problem was having too much medical cannabis and then reading information about the virus. Even if you go through medical sites there’s just so much fear mongering on social media and other places that it just spills into this existential angst that adds to the rest of the stuff that’s going on in life.

[the sound of the author taking a deep breath is heard]

Fortunately my friend Alyssa talk me off the ledge. And she came with a good strategy too, besides taking deep breaths. A lot of these people and websites and groups that think they’re talking about the virus in a positive way still are following the media template of “If it bleeds, it leads!” so time to hide them, time to hide a lot of people on social media. I do wish sometimes we didn’t live in the era of fake news; where everybody pretends they are an expert and there weren’t grifters idiots and morons getting in the way in situations like this.

Doesn’t help having imprecise medications when it comes to the use of medical cannabis. I’m sure in five years from now, we’ll have precise dosages on the medical side, and we’ll strong and cheap weed on the recreational side. Maybe that blissful mood you get when you have just the right strain will be possible for longer periods of time

Of course not that a pandemic is a convenient time for anything, but it would help if we didn’t have politicians at all levels who are fucking numb-nuts.

I’m not just talking about the orange Menace who is in power in the White House, I’m talking about here in Alberta provincially. Here we have a poorly educated “nominally” Christian politician who’d love to fuck over everyone for having dared not vote conservative the prior election. This is horrible, and not the hallmarks of a good leader, but you look at it from a business mindset and from an authoritarian mindset and you know these people are thinking, “I’ve got mine, I’m safe in my little bunker. This will probably kill poor and middle-class folk more than my class. Yeah, it’s gonna fuck up the economy short term, but I got money, so fuck everyone else except for me and mine.”

This is the world we live in. And I know, it’s not that easy. It’s more complicated than that, but…[the sound of another deep breath is heard]

You do start to see it at the street level. People are starting to keep their distance. Today on the bus there’s a few of us standing because all the seats were taken, and no one wanted to sit near another person. It’s now you start to wonder….”was this my last Christmas with this family member?” “Will I see this friend again?”.

You know that statistically the odds are pretty good that all will be well. But I don’t know what is going to happen in the future to…well, everything. We’re all “Walking in the Dark” to riff off today’s song.

a kind nightmare

You hate it when it happens.

It’s not the regular dream, the scary one populated with symbols, weird images, faceless black figures with a burning cold grip dragging you down into dank suffocating mud, and you…helpless to move or fight back. Sure, you wake up sweating and panting, but you get back to sleep, the fear forgotten, because it’s just a metaphor for your life.

It’s worse. It’s that dream.

You’re seated at a dresser. Your Mom’s dresser, the one with the big mirror. A little girl sits opposite you in the mirror. She’s dressed in an angel’s outfit. You remember Mom loved that costume. She stares back at you, and shouts: “I don’t wanna be some whiney sick broke loser like you! You’re fat and ugly!”

You reach out and touch the mirror, and you’re in the life she wanted. A perfect world. But maybe this is the real world. It feels right. Good, reliable steady employment in a career – not a job – a career where you and your skills are respected. The nice big home in a trendy neighbourhood, you and Chris, married and in love, being good little consumers with regular trips to Ikea.

Oh sure. There are some minor upsets. No real worries, though – no health problems, no money problems, just a forever bright day. Here, all of your family and friends are hale and hearty, filled with fortune’s favor. Nobody’s turned away from you. No one is either dead, dying, or simply abandoning you.

Her world fades away and you’re back at the dresser, opposite the little girl. She sneers, stands up, and fades away. You sit there alone knowing you could never be that woman in that perfect world. You like the drama, too much. Everyday you’ll nail yourself to a cross, alone and helpless and always at war with a cruel world. The nightmares make it worse as they fill you with images of an ideal world you could never achieve.

And that’s when you look, really look closer at the mirror. A sliver of the kitchen can be seen in the reflection, and for a moment, you see me there. Your face, but the eyes are instead mouths clicking their fangs together:

We love to feed on your fear and anguish.
Don’t wake up….just yet.
We. Are. Ever…so hungry!

Paying dress-up

“Look, this is ridiculous. I didn’t profit from making and then wearing my Mikey Moose costume for Halloween last year. I went to a party then after we went out to a bar. I wasn’t saying I was the real Mikey. It was just me.” Del Rogers pointed back at himself.

“Mr. Rogers, as the letter discussed, due to changes made recently to International Copyright and Trademark laws, we control all images of Mikey Moose…” Daniel Pullam, the lawyer for Nisdey Studios, clicked on his e-tablet. An electronic image of a letter appeared in mid-air between the two men. The letter expanded to twice its size and the relevant paragraphs became highlighted, copied themselves and drifted down to the table in front of Del, like two leaves.

“As you see, the law covers ALL images. Had you purchased one of the official Mikey Moose Nisdey Studios costumes, you would be covered. Had your costume been constructed in such a way as to indicate it was a parody, you would be exempted.” Daniel tapped on his tablet and a 3D video display of Del dressed as Mikey Moose appeared on the table and started dancing.

“Your costume,” Daniel spoke as the dancing Mikey evaporated back into the tablet, “-was an exceptional imitation of the real costume actors wear at Mikey-World. And therefore subject to copyright infringement and all penalties therein.”

Del was quiet as he stared down at the tabletop, like a chastened child. Finally, he spoke: “Now what? Are you going to sue me for all I’ve got?”

At this Daniel put on a smile he hoped was sincere but not too creepy. “Mr. Rogers, when dealing with individuals, Nisdey Studios and Mikey-World Incorporated prefer to be…flexible.” Daniel reached down below the table and pulled up a large suitcase. He placed it on the table, opened it, and pulled out a costume that looked remarkably like a cartoon fish mixed with the body of a businessman. He hoped the folks in the Costuming department were accurate in guessing Del’s body shape and height.

“Now, as Halloween is coming up this year, then Christmas after that, you’ve no doubt heard about our new upcoming family film, The Incredible Mr. Fish…”

Left Foot, Right foot

An earlier draft of this story appeared on 365tomorrows.com from back in 2010.

A
lonely figure walked across a barren planet.

Right
foot.

The
figure – a man within an armoured suit – slowly woke. The dark fog formed
memories. A survey ship in the sky above. A planet with exploitable minerals. A
landing pod. Malfunction. Escape. Desperation. Constantly walking.

Left
foot.

Tom Jenson coalesced from out of the drug-induced fog. Minerals on the planet interfering with electronics on landing pod. Survival suit with onboard AI heavily shielded. A desert almost a thousand kilometers away. A safe site for a retrieval ship to land. Time running out. The constant walking.

Right
foot.

Lately a memory kept bubbling up to the surface when Tom woke. A time his uncle said “…the hardest thing to do most days is to put one foot in front of the other.” Of course, the topic was depression…and his uncle did kill himself, eventually. A sigh escaped from Tom’s mouth. If only the crash had killed me.

Left
foot.

Tom
shook his head and cleared away that last thought. He was starting to drift
again. Time to lower the pain meds for a while. Pain gave him some clarity of
thought. The suit’s AI protested; but in this, he had some capacity to override
its commands. As long as his mental state remained calm, he had some control.

Right
foot.

Tom
brought up the time remaining, just as the pain started in his feet. 3 days, 15
hours, 21 minutes. That’s how long his ship The Far Reach could hold
orbit and still have fuel for the trip home. The AI on his ship and the one in
his suit had formulated a solution for escape; allowing for some damage to the
mind and meat of Tom. Very thoughtful of them he mused.

Left
foot.

The
pain levelled off at a tolerable level for a moment. Tom wondered what shape
his feet were in. He understood now what his uncle meant – every fibre of his
being screamed “lay down…let it stop…just stop”. He had been walking non-stop
for one week. Or rather, the suit had been walking for a week. He gave up
controlling his body three days into the march.

Right
foot.

He
was just meat in a shell, but meat that needed to live. The trick was balance –
between travel time and the days of surviving in the shell protecting him. The
suit could run to the retrieval site in under four days, but Tom would be dead
– a sludge of ground meat, bones and excrement.

Left
foot.

After
reviewing the rescue plan the two AIs had formulated, he had them lock him out
of any but the most basic commands. Tom understood now why they recommended
this action. At least twice daily he screamed at the suit to stop, to let him rest.
That’s usually when it pumped up the meds. The survival suit was quite the
achievement – in theory it could provide him with everything he needed from the
existing resources on this planet.

Right
foot.

He could lay down. He could rest. The Far Reach could return to base and request manned assistance. Except he’d have wear the suit until help returned – which, this far out could be up to six months. Assuming he didn’t go mad from the loneliness, with only the onboard AI and the primitive lichen on this rock to keep him company. I may go insane even before I reach the drop zone, Tom thought.  

Left
foot.

A
constant walk with no stops at a pace the suit could repair the meat, as the
repetitive movement ground away at bones, skin, muscles, and his mind. Tom
would reach the drop zone with about 23 hours to spare. Better than the
original estimate of a 3-hour window. But at a constant walk with no stops.  

Right
foot.

“The
hardest thing for you to do most days is to put one foot in front of the
other.” Tom Jenson remembered his uncle telling him when he was only 12 years
old. His uncle thus described his depression, hoping to illustrate the depth of
his sadness, in a way a child could.

Left
foot.

Tom didn’t understand at the time what his uncle said – how the everyday activities wore a depressed person down, how it took a colossal effort to perform these activities. He understood now, but knew unlike his uncle, Tom had no avenue of escape. Screaming “Kill me! Kill me!” only ensured the suit would drug him into unconsciousness. How many times had he had those thoughts, the fantasy of ending his life?

Right
foot.

Pain pulled at his sanity…he’d be drugged soon. The prison of the suit, the futility of his actions and his thoughts caused him to start giggling. He struggled against the relentless marching action.He fought the dark thoughts but they fell upon him:  The med-bay on the ship will repair my body and even wipe my memories from after the crash…nothing matters, matters, matter let me die, let me free, let me breath the air let me out. He struggled against the relentless marching action.

Left
foot.

His
laughter started slowly building, turning into an inhuman yell that lasted a
moment before the suit increased the medications. Tom’s consciousness washed
away. He remembered a ship. A planet below. A malfunction. His mind slipped back
into the fog.

Right
foot.
Left foot.
Right foot.
Left foot.

A lonely figure walked across a barren planet.

Corporate Bliss – A Story Told In Emails

To: Michelle Featherstone, CEO; Xavier Chu, VP product development
From: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher
Subject: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 10:10AM

Having just concluded Human Trials of our new drug “Bliss”, what follows is the initial evaluation of the Research department and my thoughts. The full report is attached, and I strongly suggest you take the time to review the full report.

Please note this conversation is confidential and is only to be shared with members of the executive team and myself.

“Bliss” (see Appendix A for the scientific name) was designed as an anti-depressant to be used long term. We also wanted a drug which was not addictive, non-psychotropic, with limited side effects. Previous drugs have, in some cases, caused seizures, increase or decrease in appetite, sexual dysfunction, explosive anal bleeding, and in some cases, psychotic breaks in users. In addition, patients using existing anti-depressants often complained that while many anti-depressants worked, they
often rendered subjects as “emotionless robots.”

With Bliss we’ve removed the existing negative effects. The combination of cannabinoids, caffeine, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Anandamide, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and with our own proprietary chemicals (see Appendix A for full listing) has created a drug such that all users have experienced remarkable reduction if not elimination in all depressions (see Appendix B, “Patient Feedback”). There is no issue with addiction, withdrawal, or drug tolerance, patients retain full command of their mental and emotional faculties, some minor decline in sexual desire, but only the one negative (but long-term) side effect we previously experienced in lab animals.

Regarding said long-term side effect in humans. Our team has verified Bliss may slightly accelerate aging in patients. See Appendix C “Side effects” for full details; essentially patients age 1.45 to 2.45 years for every year passed – usually short-term use means shorter aging rates; extended use could mean almost 3 years aging for each calendar year passed. Similar results were spotted in rats and chimpanzee test animals – again, for the background and dosage levels over time, see Appendix C. Yet when discussed with patients at the end of the trial, many felt the tradeoff was acceptable in light of the drastic improvement in their outlook (Appendix B, “Patient Feedback”).  Admittedly, about 68% of patients will only use Bliss for a maximum of five years – it’s the severe cases among that remaining 32% who will use it for ten to twenty years (Appendix A, “Usage Statistics”).

Thoughts?


To: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher; Michelle Featherstone, CEO
From: Xavier Chu, VP product development
Subject: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 10:59AM

Well, the minor decline in sexual desire – what if we paired Bliss with a light dose of Dyxaphlopin? The two drugs are very complimentary. Truth be told the only reason we knew about the sexual disfunction is that many of the Bliss test subjects, with their mood drastically improved, are feeling more amorous.

As for the decrease in lifespan – Paula, I noticed in Appendix B that besides increased sex drive, many patients reported engaging in other physical activities (hiking, exercise, for example) and overall adopting a healthier lifestyle. If we roll it out to the medical community, we could insist “Bliss” must be taken in conjunction with a change in diet and increased physical activity. That should cover a large majority of the short-term users and even the longer-term users.


To: Xavier Chu, VP product development, Michelle Featherstone, CEO;
From: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher
Subject: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:23AM

Even if a patient becomes a personal trainer, eats organic vegetarian, they’re still looking at aging a year and a half for every year. We don’t have enough information on long term use. True, we can extrapolate based on results from both animal and human trials. A twenty-year-old subject taking Bliss for ten years on their 30th birthday will look have the body of a 40-year-old.

While I feel that point should be stressed as a potential issue in the event a person is prone to any age-related illnesses. Even if we warn the patients, a smart lawyer could come after us for said illnesses.


To: Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher; Xavier Chu, VP product development
From: Michelle Featherstone, CEO
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:30AM

I’ll set up a meeting with Legal, but as long as we’re upfront about the side effects, I am not worried.

And referring back to the usage stats – the majority includes a lot of people who are only aging 18 months for every year, the majority only will be using it for five years, and as for the rest, we can cover it with the “healthy living” advice Xavier mentioned.

We can partner with diet clinics so there’s great synergy there. Yes, for the minority of long-term users, someone using Bliss for 20 years will actually age 60. But if I recall correctly, the breakdown on these long-term users showed over half of them would commit suicide or become heavy users of illegal drugs and risk overdoses. We’re saving them and giving them years of…well, Bliss. And as they’re taking the drug, they really won’t care about the aging anyhow…that being said…

We *can* suggest not giving it to anyone older than 50 – a bonus as we’d avoid having Bliss prescribed under any government senior medication programs; that usually cuts into any profit margins. Speaking of, Xavier, what are we looking at for market price?


To: Michelle Featherstone, CEO; Dr. Paula Janssen, Head Researcher;
From: Xavier Chu, VP product development
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Executive Summary: Project Bliss Human Trial results
Date: 25/02/01 11:53AM

Well, Prozac and similar anti-depressants are currently running at $250 for a 10mg pill. Factoring in all our costs, I say we start at $1500 per 10mg pill. I’ll have to do some more research and crunch some numbers, but from Bliss alone, revenues should easily be double the previous year. I’d say $20 billion is a conservative guess. And, we’ll all be in for a nice bonus for the first few years.


15 Minute hate (ROUGH DRAFT)

“So, you got the notification yesterday…both by courier, and electronic notification?” Jackson unrolled the thin polymer sheet his son handed him. Its screen surface booted up.

“It’s now a two-part notification” said Brian as he rolled his eyes. “They’ve added this second in-person verification level for those who’ve tried to avoid the situation by claiming they never received the
electronic notice. Honestly, it’s overkill – everything is tracked electronically now. People can’t use the old Oh, I never got it excuse like in your time, Dad.”

“Yeah, but in my time, people also said whatever they wanted. If they offended someone, they suffered the consequences which were social ostracism, or often, a perverse kind of public fame.” He scanned over the notice:

Brian Parley son of Ella and Jackson Parley/ DOB: 2040AUG11 Cid#CAN40-4R567MW3

SOcial DEConstruction Announcement Notification/ Deadline/ Topic Suggestions/ Approval of Topic/ Announcement Lifecycle/ Appeals for Delays/ Family and Friend Exemptions/ Employment Considerations/ Penalties for Non-Compliance/ FAQ/ Contact Info.

Jackson tapped on Topic Suggestions. “Hmm. You know, your grandmother would have smacked me hard and washed my mouth out with soap for half of the things here that…” Jackson’s face flushed red. “Whoa.” He handed the sheet back to his son.

Brian looked at the notice. “Oh, Dad. That’s mild. My friend Leola said something along those lines two years ago. Hmm…maybe I’ll go old school. There’s a good one here about priests raping children.”

Jackson rubbed his beard. “I remember… when I was young…someone said in the future everyone will have fifteen minutes of…being a celebrity? Something like that. Back in the heyday of reality entertainment. Or earlier…I think.”

Brian was scrolling through the e-paper. “This about Uncle Dwayne and his time on that show…what was it, Queens Eye for the Sad Guy or something like that?”

“No, way before that, kiddo. Please tell me you’re putting me on your exemption list. I’ve no need to see how creative you can be with obscenity, threats, bigotry and hate. And how long is it supposed to last?”

There was a loud PING and then a feminine voice chimed out: “SoDecs can have varying times – most last no more than one week. All discussion of the SoDec…

“SoDec? What’s a suh-duck?”

Brian frowned and stabbed at the paper. “Sorry. Turned on the voice assist. Social Deconstruction. What we’re talking about. ‘SoDec’ is the short form. I was looking for the regulations on business sponsorship. Hmm. Well, if I get corporate sponsorship, I am allowed to do a video announcement at the company, company logos can be seen, but the announcement can’t be related in its subject matter to the company.”

“Look, son. I know your generation expresses unfavorable opinions this way, but are you ready for all the hateful things people will say? Even friends? Your Mom and I can make some of our Cosmic Cookies for you. I hear there’s a medical allowance during the uh…Sue Dick?”

“SoDec. Sew – deck, Dad. Yes to the cookies. Nah, I did some research. Usually people have exempted friends and family over during the SoDec. You’re also allowed, and encouraged to take time off from any employment activities. Our company even gives time off with half-pay if you arrange corporate sponsorship.”

“Just think. Years ago, I just had to say something offensive on Twitter to get the same effect. Except I would get fired, and be ostracized for months, if not years. Now the government took over the outrage business, everyone yells at you for a week, and then acts like it never happened afterwards. Huh. What a world.”

“What’s Titter, Dad?”

“TWIT-ter, son, Twitter.”


psychedelic Drug DMT and brain waves

A few links today…first, to a CBC “Quirks and Quarks” podcast and then a Wikipedia page, as I want to make it quick. This podcast was interesting but I did have to listen to it twice and read the condensed “transcript” on this page:

The psychedelic DMT modifies brain waves to produce ‘waking-dreams’
Wikipedia page discussing DMT

I’m more of a rationalist, so I find this interesting not only for the research discussed, but because the possible explanation it gives. Essentially you’re having a waking dream when you’re on DMT; but it also hints at the structure and activity in the brain and how our existence, our self if you will, seems to be one of balance. Too much disorder causes issues, too much order has its own share of problems

Mid-November concludes

Finally, by letter go, our hero got to the end. Oh, another book would continue his story, but this book, chapter, and paragraph was finally winding to a close. The bus arrived to take him south; that direction only being part of his new destination. As his feet left the ground and stepped up, behind him a door closed; but a new path opened before him.

The Sphinx Answers

Three donuts slid down the left wing of the Sphinx, the cherry filled one landing with a “plop” in a puddle of blood. I was hoping I’d be able to recover the donuts – among other things scattered in this room. Assuming this ancient dipshit didn’t figure out who I was first.

Love, said the Sphinx mockingly. You have no real idea what that is. I should eat you now.

“Answer the question.” I was desperately looking for a heavy object or better yet, the “Off” switch for the computer servers in the back of the room. Unfortunately, his bulk blocked any access, and as for help, well, he’d already devoured most of the programmers except for Ravinder. While she no long had a lion’s paw pressing down on her neck, she wasn’t looking too lively.

To all appearances, I was just an office clerk doing some temp work at a start-up tech shop. It was sheer luck that the book I dropped (“What is Love: Gender and Sexual Diversity in 21st Century Relationships” by Amanda Hera) gave me a question which prevented the Sphinx from coming after me. I’d really hate to have to fight him; at my age I prefer to distract someone while I shove the knife in. I whispered the final words sub-vocally, and from the corner of my eyes I notice the start of several faint glimmers in the air surrounding the monster. He flexes his wings and snarls at me.

For thousands of years, I trapped my essence in books, images, statues, paintings, and drawings the world over as I waited for Humanity to engineer my escape. Now your tasty companions and their technology have released me. And still humanity chains me to a question, but this time to answer.

Exactly what I hoped – the Sphinx is still tied to the computer code. Ultimate search engine/Artificial Intelligence or some such bullshit from what I picked up at the programmers’ department meetings. I wish I could have asked him to define cuteness and get him trapped in an endless loop of baby/puppy/kitty videos, but love was probably the best.

Answer ready. Love is the madness of the gods.

On the inside I panicked for a moment – did he recognize me? But I noticed the glimmers of light still closing in on the clueless Sphinx; I pressed on: “No. Answer insufficient. What is love?”

A song by Trinidadian-German Eurodance artist Haddaway.

I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from laughing at that one. “Try again. Answer incorrect.” The Sphinx’s eyes glowed red. He’ll give me this third answer but then go for my throat regardless of whether it’s the right answer.

Love is first widening my eyes, quickening my breath, altering my stance around the object of my desire….

He’s rattling on, but he’s not confident…need to throw him off even more. Thinking of his last answer, I reach back in my memories to a song from the 1940s. Get him pissed off so he doesn’t realize he’s surrounded and about to be dead meat. I interrupt him:

“You don’t know what love is – ’till you’ve learned the meaning of the blues. ‘Till you’ve loved a love you’ve had to lose, you don’t know what love is. How could you know how lips hurt, ’till you’ve kissed and had to pay the cost? Baby, ’till you’ve flipped your heart and you have lost, you don’t know what love is.”

The sound of a large crack echoed in the room as my spell made contact. The Sphinx screamed as he recognized his betrayer. The light in his eyes changed from red to white, becoming as bright as the sun. An instant later I was back in the room and it was all normal. No Sphinx, no dead or dying programmers, no rogue A.I. Things were just as they were minutes ago when I had pushed open the door and yelled out “snack time!” Hera’s book under one arm and the other arm carrying a box of pastries.

“Oh! Donuts! Jason Ares, you are amazing…Thanks for getting these for us!” Ravinder took the box of pastries from my right hand. As I looked at her, the lyrics of that song – which I gave away many years ago to the composer – made my heart ache for the first time in ages.

The role of “God of War” had expired with the Sphinx’s death. I had left war far behind, but the question the Sphinx failed to answer was finally mine to explore.  


Students versus Teachers – my experience

Driving a teacher insane is well established as a trope in literature and pop culture. Maybe the students are incorrigible, maybe the teacher deserves it. Breaking a teacher in real life is not as funny as in fiction. In real life, most teachers are quite durable, supportive, and tend not to put up with disruptive behavior.

I’ve experienced it twice in my life. First in Grade 5 when a substitute teacher we called “Miss Grenouille” lost it on us. That memory is unclear; at the time I was being bullied and had higher priorities.  

The second time was Grade 8 when the students removed a full-time teacher we’ll call Mr. H*.

Some backstory – I survived the Catholic School Board in Edmonton. At the time (cough – earlier than 1999) there were two elementary/junior high schools within a kilometer of one another: St. P– and St. R–. The school board decided to consolidate grades 1-6 at St. P– and move the larger number of junior high students to St. R–. So, while I attended Grade 7 at St. P–, I finished Grades 8 and 9 at St. R–. This meant there were some changes in staffing. That’s where Mr. H* comes in.

He was my Grade 8 homeroom instructor, but he also taught French and Social Studies to the other grades. Looking at the photos of the school staff, even among a small group of 11 teachers, you could spot the Jocks, Nerds, and Everyone Else. Mr. H* fell into the Nerd category – think a nebbish Dwight Schrute from “The Office”. His go-to for clothing was usually sweater vests. He was probably in his late 30s (maybe early 40s), wore glasses, and was balding with a bit of a combover. Mr. H* wasn’t a transfer from St. P–, he was a new hire. He’d been teaching elementary students for most of his career, and therein lay the problem.

(note kids! Homework time! Look up “Misplaced Kindergarten Teacher” on TVtropes.org. You’ll expected to give an oral report tomorrow on it, and if you don’t do the work, no cookies for you!)

While children can be animals, junior high is usually when the “Lord of the Flies” mentality reaches its peak. Kids are dealing with hormones and the body’s physical changes and grown spurts. Most other teachers responded to insubordination by being loud, terrifying and mean, with the occasional mind game thrown in to keep the students off-balance. This was a necessary tactic – in groups, hormone-addled teenagers can be diabolical.

Mr. H* treated us like we were still in elementary – which was probably the absolute worst strategy for class control. Grade 9 got the worst of it – these were kids roughly 14/15 years of age, with most preparing for high school. Treating them like 8-year-olds is like asking someone waist deep in gasoline to juggle flaming bowling pins. Sooner or later there’s going to be a big explosion.

There were the first sorties in this war of the wills. Mr. H* had a favorite talisman/keepsake which followed him from school to school. It was a 15cm tall Tweety Bird doll. Google image search fails me, but it was a plastic three-dimensional mold sprayed with a thin layer of felt. In some cases, they were scented and sold as air fresheners for the home. He placed it in the classroom on a high ledge; St. R– was of a cinderblock/concrete block construction, so support beams were often disguised with blocks. A 50 cm gap was left between the top of the beam and the ceiling in our classroom.

Now, if you were an elementary age student, chances are you couldn’t reach the top of this shelf, even with a chair. In junior high, many kids by age 12 had grown to their adult height – for example, I was 6 feet tall by the time I hit 13. A tall student could reach Tweety; either by standing on a chair or by getting a smaller friend to sit or stand on their shoulders.

Which is what someone in the ninth grade did to infuriate Mr. H*, and to make him appear even more frazzled. I’m sure some of his behavior was also being noted by other teachers and the administration – it turns out the new kid stands out even if he’s the teacher. Meanwhile, some of his students were talking to their parents about Mr. H*. A few of these parents were either school board trustees or friends with them.

I didn’t participate in any of this behavior – as someone who was bullied in elementary I was more concerned with just getting good marks and surviving unnoticed.

One late Winter’s morning when we arrived in our classroom, another teacher informed us Mr. H* was taking a leave of absence, and a replacement teacher was on their way. We were instructed to do some reading, and cautioned that the door was to be left open. If any noise was heard, this teacher was next door, and would appear wearing the face of death (okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much). The way she relayed the news about Mr. H* and the look on her face could be more accurately translated as “I’ve got a heavy workload as it is, you little shits have made it worse, you’re all to blame, piss me off and I will go nuclear.”

Of course, during recess and lunch the playground gossip network was in full swing. We eventually tracked down a handful of students who had the most accurate information. Apparently, Mr. H* had been given a psychiatric evaluation based on complaints. It was strongly suggested he take a leave to “recuperate”. Even at the time, while we were all happy to be rid of him, an adult consequence had appeared in our midst, and I was uncomfortable with what had happened. I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Later that day, the replacement teacher “Mr. Jock” arrived. Nice enough guy, fairly easy going, but also could be strict. I seem to remember most of the students being quite subdued and compliant for the rest of the year in classes with him. I suspect I wasn’t the only person thinking “Did we go too far?” No one wanted to talk about Mr. H* and he became a ghost that vanished in the light of day.

True, I didn’t and still don’t know the full scope of what happened. Maybe Mr. H* was having a breakdown and his removal was valid. Maybe he was doing stuff even worse of which I was unaware. Perhaps he pissed off someone in the school board and they assigned him to a junior high school to sabotage him. Or, maybe a bunch of whiney, privileged kids complained to their politically connected parents about this oddball teacher. Yet if anything shot through us like a charge of electricity, it was the realization that tormenting a teacher, unlike in pop culture, has an impact on everyone in real life. 



Panem et Circenses (iterum)

You shout into the night
Flood social media with victory chants
Sing, drink, and dance –
A few fight or discharge weapons.
Why do I not join in celebration
Your face is puzzled by my noncompliance.
What can I say so you understand?
There are greater things to cheer for
There are nobler challenges to fight
There are better activities
On which to waste your time.
Or perhaps, in a way you might grasp –
It is NOT my religion:
The dancing clown-clad millionaires
The begging thug owners
Who ransom cities for larger palaces
All sponsored by large corporations
You saw the game now buy it on Xbox!
They are not my priests
I worship not at this altar
Your saints are strangers to me.
Enjoy your Bread and Circuses
Just be quieter;
The night is late
Others have greater concerns.
Still comprehension fails you –
Instead, come the accusations
Jealousy or
I cheered for the opponents.
It’s fine – you don’t understand me
I am used to being the outsider.
So go celebrate with the mob;
Be part of the maddening throng.
I understand humans need
To release the bloodlust
But I will watch and wonder
Just what are you being distracted from.


I Do all This

I do all this:
I take the medication,
Meditate, exercise,
And put a smile on my face,
I talk to my friends and my family;
Or I read and research and I try out.
The world keeps turning
Blue skies turn to gray
Turn back to blue and then
Eventually turn to black
Only to return to light in the morning.
My sadness is not eternal
Neither is my joy;
I long for those whom I’ve lost
I dream of those whom I wish would look my way.
But this is life;
There are men (and it is usually always men)
Who wish to enslave others –
Whether economically
By ideas or by religion.
None of it matters
And in a thousand thousand years you and I will be dust.
Even love
Love is not eternal
Hate is not eternal.
Why then do I do this?
Perhaps it fills the times
Perhaps for a moment
It does make me angry
It does make me happy;
Or bring some of these emotions out in other people.
So while I sit here silently on my sofa
In my dreams my words and ideas
Build a universe of joy;
Of desire
Of dreams
Of hopes and love.
Perhaps one day bit-by-bit,
From these words and ideas
All the artists
And all the poets
And all the singers of the world
Will bring that world into ours.

Audio version available on Youtube


The Inheritance of Shame book review

The Inheritance of Shame by Peter Gajdics (pron. “guy-ditch”) published 2017 is a memoir recounting the author’s experience with conversion therapy during the early 1990s – a time when LGBTQ2S rights were still being fought for across the country. Unlike other experiences at “pray away the gay” camps, Gajdics’ experience was more personal and one-on-one; it doesn’t make it any the less horrifying.  

Gajdics was born of deeply religious parents who fled Europe after World War II. His parents brought that trauma with them; making them quick to corporal punishment. Trauma was also visited upon him at age six when he was sexually assaulted by a much older man. Unfortunately, instead of calling the police to arrest this man and getting therapy for the young victim, it was a time (circa 1970) when you didn’t talk about it.

From an early age he knew his sexuality was different, but without any positive resources, Gajdics grew up feeling he was a broken heterosexual. In his 20s, dealing with depression and anxiety, he sought mental help, and had the unfortunate fate of encountering “Dr. Alfonzo” –a psychotherapist big into Primal Scream and regression therapies (both of which have been mostly discredited today).

Without any positive familial or societal support for processing his homosexuality Gajdics felt his only choice was to consider conversion therapy. Alfonzo at first provided a kind of love, support, and family to his patients they lacked as children. The therapy soon turned creepy controlling cult-like: Alfonzo prescribed massive amounts of drugs, turning patients into compliant zombies. He made himself out to be “Daddy” and the patients the ignorant children he was healing, creating a dependent therapy house rather creepily nicknamed Styx.

With the patients all living together, they could support (or spy on) each other 24-hours. A restricted diet was implemented, patients had to share everything, including money. No outside contact was allowed: be it TV, newspapers, magazines, or family and friends. Alfonzo controlled where you went outside of the Styx, and any rebellion threatened with expulsion from the house.  The doctor was especially interested in Gajdics because while he did want to help “cure” homosexuality, it was more so Alfonzo could then write a book about it and become famous.

Like any cult, it’s never one big step, it’s a series of small steps until you are in deep and feel this is your life. You can’t leave, and (worst of all) anyone who criticizes this therapy is “the enemy” of your progress. Alfonzo used threats of reprisals to keep Gajdics in line when the Ketamine didn’t work. If that wasn’t bad enough, the doctor made the author carry a small vial of his own feces around. Every time Gajdics felt a homosexual attraction, Alfonzo instructed him to smell it to help create a negative association with anal sex.

Of course, every conman makes a mistake sooner or later. Alfonzo, perhaps feeling Gajdics was under his thumb, reduced the meds. He also stopped therapy sessions after the author began constantly challenging him, but still tried to keep him dependent by letting Gajdics remain in the house. As the author began to think for himself, he eventually left the Styx, accepted his homosexuality, reconnected with his family, sued Alfonzo, and finally wrote and published this book.

 It’s easy to think of the doctor as a quack, especially sitting here in 2019 and looking back on when this therapy occurred. Yet then, even as now, people faced family and community pressure to conform to the norm (i.e. heterosexuality). In an Advocate article, Gajdics said “But if my experiences taught me anything it was that a change to the ‘map’ of my identity from homosexuality to heterosexual would never change the ‘territory’ of my experience from same-sex to opposite-sex desire. A map is not the territory it represents.” It’s a timely book, at a time when regressive, authoritarian conservatives nation-wide are desperately trying to restrict any and all freedoms they feel are outside the norm. An emotional read, but a great book.



How to Feed your Monsters

It was after Todd had put Ella to bed he discovered the monster in his own closet. They both stared at each other in surprise for a moment before the monster spoke. “Uh. Oh. Shit. Oops. Hi” the monster stated, with an embarrassed look on his face. Todd blinked rapidly four times before replying, “Hi?”

He wished his wife wasn’t out of town. She’s much better at this, Todd thought. He continued to stand there. The monster stared back at Todd. Finally, he cleared his throat.

“So…” the monster began. His voice sounded like a raspier version of Todd’s.

“So…” Todd echoed. He hadn’t been drinking. Or smoking pot. He knew he was awake. He quickly poked at the shoulder of the monster to see if it was real.

“Aaoow. Bad touch!” said the monster as he brushed away Todd’s finger. Todd noted that the monster’s hand felt sort of like his. “You’re probably wondering what I am. Well, in short, I’m a closet monster.”

There’s no such thing thought Todd.

“Well….yes. There is. Oh, man…you’re sort of going into shock. Look. Sit down on the bed, deep breath…” The monster unfolded itself from the closet, and 4 sets of human arms gently grabbed and guided Todd to the bed as the bulk of his body slithered into the bedroom.

“So, telling my daughter there’s no such thing as monsters in her closet or under her bed…” Todd said between deep breaths.

“Technically true. Kids have all sorts of general fears and while it’s a nice snack, it’s not really filling. Kind of like those Cheezy Squarz you eat. By the way, did you see that news story how the cheese flavoring caused cancer in rats? No? Look it up tomorrow.”

Todd flinched at that. The monster took a long sniff with what Todd supposed was his nose. “Oh, dear lord, that one was like gravy.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. Look, everyone fears the unknown. Kids fear it generally because they lack life experience to know real fear. So, like I said, light snack. No, monsters really dine on the adults.”

Oh, god. Todd thought. He’s here to dine on me. That thought was quickly followed by a heavy smack by one of the monster’s hands on the back of Todd’s head.

“Don’t be an ass. Do you eat the ground in which some carrots were growing? No! You eat the carrots. Oh! By the way, Bunny Brand carrots you bought today may be part of that batch that were contaminated with e. coli. And Ella had some tonight…” at this the Monster placed his proboscis like nose right above Todd’s head and started sniffing heavily.

“Hey. HEY!” Todd pulled away from the monster. “What the fuck?”

“Okay, fear of harm to Ella is definitely the main course” he paused, “monsters feed on your fear, dumbass. Christ, no wonder that new hire will probably be promoted over you in six months.”

“Fine. What if I’m not afraid?”

At this the monster started laughing, a laugh that sounded like Todd’s laughter. “Adults are the worst. Hell, my brother is pulling down six figures working for Fox News, you all have so many fears that to be quite honest, it’s like a walking buffets to us. Speaking of which…I’ve an 11PM reservation for a table of 5, and as it takes you at least 30 minutes to get ready for bed…”

“You think I’m going to go to sleep now? My god…the implications…people must know!”

“No, Todd. I think you need to wake up from your nap and get ready for bed. Right. Now.” The monster snapped the fingers on 3 of his hands.

Todd woke up from where he’d laid down on his bed 20 minutes ago. Ugh he thought, I hate falling asleep before I’m actually ready for bed. I may not sleep as well now, and I need to be on my A-game for that presentation tomorrow at work.

He stood up, stretched, and began his nightly routine of undressing, brushing his teeth, and switching off all the lights. He paused in the kitchen to check his phone – he remembered something about a bacterial food alert somewhere. His heart jumped when he saw it was Bunny Brand carrots, but a few moments later he verified the alert was for grocery stores on the other side of the country. He felt jittery tonight, and worried with all the fears for the world spinning around in his head if he’d get any sleep. He wondered if couples who didn’t have any kids were as fearful of the many harms and monsters the world was breeding.

He got into bed at 1040 PM and despite his continued cataloguing of fears, was asleep in ten minutes.

An hour later, if Todd had been awake, he would have heard fives small burps coming from his closet.


Masculinity, Indigenous Men, and My experience

First off, go listen to this podcast about Indigenous Masculinity and the Impact of Colonization – it’s 40 minutes but it is worth it.

Now, as to my experience with masculinity. I was and am privileged in a way from others that I grew up with two parents, siblings, a fairly stable home life. Also, I present as White and I present as Heteronormative (there will be a brief pause while friends and former boyfriends laugh at that last comment) AND by the time I was 12 I had shot up to 6 feet so physically most people didn’t try to bully me.

But I noticed aspects of masculinity (and I suppose also social control) I found puzzling or useless: Slobbering over sports; bravado; the whole Madonna/Whore complex when dealing with women; passing off any loving emotion towards anyone other than your wife as teasing/a joke; bullying those who did not fit within some nebulous predefined role of “What A Man Should Be/Act.”

I’m not saying I was a saint. I probably used some of these behaviors myself growing up in a vain attempt to fit in. However, when you have a curious mind that seeks the truth, when you realize that you are attracted to men rather than women, when you wonder about your heritage, and you tend to NOT want to defer to authority…you realize there are things in society which are complete and utter bullshit.
And I’m still realizing that. Life is change and evolution.

There’s a part in the podcast where they mention something along the lines of pre-colonization, there were many definitions of masculinity among all the tribes (paraphrasing what was said). But then it became “You must act this way. Men are dominant, women submissive. Worship our foreign God. Accept our authority. And CUT. YOUR. HAIR.”

But there is no “one true way” to be a man. That’s like saying “to be a human you must exactly act this way regardless of differences in body types, personal expression, geographic differences, cultural differences (etc.)”.

Be nice to each other. Tell family and friends you love them. Encourage them to be healthy in body and mind, to explore the big questions (even when they’re hard and you’d rather take the easy way out). Let others be who they want to be, let them enjoy their likes as long as it’s not illegal or they’re hurting someone. You *can* discuss your spirituality with them, but don’t force it on them. If you’re a Catholic and your neighbor is a gay atheist but you like each other because you find you’re both moral, helpful, supportive people, then be friends.

And if someone is different, embrace that. Life is learning, change, and seeing all the sights, sounds, tastes, touch, smells you can before you leave this world, and not trying to nail everything down and place it in a box.

When Winter Arrives

Quinn Benson was just about to leave for his laboratory when his wife called to him from the kitchen.

“Penny wants you to finish tucking her in” Amanda said.

“Oh?” This was usually his wife’s territory.

“Yes. She’s asking about Winter. She thinks because you’re a scientist you’ll know better than me. Try not to bore her to sleep, dear” Amanda said with a smirk on her face as she poured herself some tea.

Quinn smiled and walked over to the children’s side of the apartment. The boys, being older, were still awake, no doubt messaging friends about their vacation planet-side. He quietly let himself into Penny’s room. The nightlight dimly illuminated her room with various constellations of stars.

“Hi, Daddy.” The tiny head nestled in the bedsheets whispered.

“Hi, sweetie. Your mom said you had a question for me before bedtime.” He sat down gently on the bed as it readjusted for his adult weight.

“Why do we have Winter?”

Quinn knew from the tone of her voice just what she was asking. Try not to get too scientific and dry…that loses the kids he thought. “Well” he started, “a long, long time ago…when people first moved out into habitats…things were different. They were smaller and cramped and they had to set the climate at one temperature. They lived many years like that until one day, bad things happened.”

Penny’s eyes widened in the darkened room. “Bad things…” she repeated with a hint of fear.

Idiot, don’t scare her. “Uh….yeah. People were…mean to each other.” Quinn paused, thinking of an example that was true, but not too true about the incidents. She’ll learn when she’s old enough about the murders, disembowelments, and suicides. “Like when you or your brothers get grumpy because you’re sick or tired.”

That relaxed her. “Oh, okay.” she said.

“So, they tried to figure out what made people…ah, grumpy. They took them to doctors and scientists like me and no one could figure it out. Until…” Quinn trailed off, trying to pique her interest.

“…Until?” Penny said.

“Until your Great-great grandfather Percival Benson figured out that man needed seasons. Just like the plants and the animals we see planet-side. Without a Winter season to rest, Mankind got grumpy. So that’s why we have Winter in the habitats. Does that make sense?” He looked down at Penny.

She nodded her head “Uh-huh.”

Quinn leaned down and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Okay. Now go to sleep, sweetie.”

“Night-night Daddy.”

He quietly left Penny’s room and walked down to the front entrance. His wife met him there with his Winter jacket. “It’s raining quite heavily” Amanda said as she helped him into the jacket.

Quinn sighed.

“Yes, dear, I know, but at least we don’t live in one of the outer habitat rings. They get snow there, you know.”

“Uh-huh. Well, the team should have everything under control, so hopefully I won’t be long. Don’t wait up.” He leaned over and kissed Amanda lightly on her cheek.

Quinn walked out of his apartment through the corridor and into the habitat proper. His wife was right – it was raining…heavily. He pulled his jacket up tight to his chin and activated the umbrella shield. He stepped out into the deluge, pausing momentarily to watch the water trickle down and off the transparent shield. Continuing his walk to the Sciences quadrant, he sighed and thought it may be necessary, but still…I hate Winter.

Seeds of Time

Carl had checked and rechecked all his calculations to ensure everything was accurate. The time viewer had been properly calibrated, and the machine was warming up. All he wanted to do was to go back 14 years to see the birth of his son – his now dead son.

Carl knew physical time travel was impossible, but he’d long guessed it might be possible to view past events. He found it funny that while his research ended up being the one thing which almost destroyed his family years ago, it now would allow him one last, final glimpse of his late wife and son.

A decade and a half in the past, Carl was so engrossed in spitting out theories, research papers, and being the new “Golden Boy” of the Physics world, he’d missed the birth of his son to deliver some paper at a conference. He and his wife had separated after the birth. A family friend had pointed out for all Carl’s intelligence, he was on the verge of throwing out a provable miracle in his life: people who loved him. So, he slowed down, stayed home more often, and became present in their lives.

Carl still had his formidable intellect; even while he spent more time with his family, it was quietly mapping out the formulas and possibilities. A decade passed, and his ideas lead him to a possible method to view the past. He had just started sharing his ideas with his colleagues; then the fatal accident ripped his wife and son away from him.

Had they not died his theory would have needed another decade before any testing. Grief can lead to obsession. People assumed he was diving into his work to deal with his grief. Carl was focused on building a machine that would allow him to see the moment he missed – his son’s birth.

If he couldn’t bring them back, he could at least have one last, new, joyful if bittersweet memory of his family. That’s all he had left of them. His memories.

Well, that and his wife’s parrot. Carl tolerated the beast, as it tolerated him. He let it roam around his lab – after all, it used to be the living room. He constantly shooed it off the device. He should have guessed the damn parrot had dropped some seeds into the machinery.

So that 14 years became 14 billion years, and Carl stared into the face of creation. The police later guessed he must have somehow used the machinery to blow his head off.

The parrot, on the other hand, found itself in possession of vastly advanced vocabulary skills and went on to live a life of a celebrity pet. It even learned the proper context and situation to use Carl’s last words: “Oh, shit!”

Childhood Memories Version 2.0

Mr. Walsh sat in the chair opposite me. He was a legacy customer from our buyout of the local memory bank. Considering how long it took to explain to him the new economic reality, I suspected he was going to difficult when it came to the upgrade.

“Okay…so…you ARE honoring the contract I had with MemoryTime?” he asked as he studied me with confusion written across his face.

“Yes, Mr. Walsh. That’s correct. You’ll get the final half of your two-year contract through us. In fact…” I spun around and flicked a button on my desk. Silently and rapidly a projection screen dropped from the ceiling. “As a welcome to TimeSquare – a wholly owned subsidiary of ShellDisneyMitsubishiFacebook Incorporated – we’re upgrading your product. For free.”

The projection screen flashed the company’s logo, and then displayed a sample video of the memory of Mr. Walsh’s 13th summer.

  • A comedy scene to start – a boat shoots off a launch and into a house. His mother (now slim and attractive instead of frumpy and fat) then looks out angrily from the gaping hole. She shouts The lake’s over THERE!
  • Mr. Walsh walking down the street as his best friend (now chubby, Market Research says that a chubby kid is still comedy gold) runs out of a side alleyway screaming BEES!
  • A mysterious spaceship landing in a field late at night, and the young Mr. Walsh making friends with an alien.
  • Papa Walsh (now remade as a wacky scientist) trying out some more bizarre experiments.
  • Mr. Walsh kissing his first girl.

I almost clapped my hands – the boys in Product Enhancement really pulled out the stops on this one. And the seamless way they inserted advertisers’ products into the memories would make the Marketing department ecstatic.

The screen went blank, then scrolled back up into the ceiling. I turned back to Mr. Walsh as I flip the switch to activate the memory implant machinery. Tiles on the roof slid quietly aside as the machine slowly descends.

“I don’t understand. That’s not how it happened.”

I came around the desk and primed the device hovering over his head. I watched for the slight impression on his clothes as the paralysis field activated. “No, it’s better! You’ll love this memory as if it was your own. Try it out…you’ll like it!” I keyed in the final activation sequence on the memory implant device.

“But you’re raping my CHILDHOOD!!” he cried as the device fully activated. His body relaxed and his eyes glazed over as he relived his memories. His new, improved memories.

I leaned in close to his right ear and whisper “Now, Mr. Walsh, who told you
our secret company motto?”

The Way of the Dragon

For all his “training”, he was no match for me. Our fight was over in a split-second. I nudged his paralyzed body as it lay crumpled on the floor. A low moan was his only response.

“Huh.” I said. “You’re also wearing more of a Karate type uniform than a Kung-Fu uniform, dumbass.”

I looked around his office. If you didn’t know anything about Kung Fu or martial arts, you might be fooled into thinking this man was some kind of expert. Books on different fighting styles, books on Feng Shui, and various books which in one way or another discussed finding the “inner warrior.” All crap.

Yet my eyes were drawn to the dragon on the shelf behind his desk. I stepped around the man and over to the shelf. A large jade dragon, about 60 centimeters in length. I touched it and a small electric shock quivered down my finger. It was like the response I got when I stepped into the man’s dojo. I grab the dragon and throw it in the satchel balanced on my hip. I feel it warmly pulsing through the fabric. I walked back to the man, and crouched down by his head.

“I’m somewhat impressed…for all of your lies, you found a genuine artifact and it gave a little bit of…magic to your pathetic dojo.” I stroked his head as if he were a small child. “However, you really don’t understand how it all functions together. You put the dragon, various crystals and other items throughout this building, as some kind of protection. They aren’t meant for that. If you had some real martial arts skills, along with knowledge of the history behind it all, you’d understand they work to strengthen the sense of work, accomplishment, and honor.”

“However, in your dojo, you teach lies. You steal from your students”. I began sloughing off my clothes and disguise. “When you do that, your little protection trinkets sing out to real dragons.”

The look fear and confusion in his eyes gave way to a look of sheer terror. He tried to fight my venom coursing through his veins as my body pulled and stretched to its full dimensions.

My voice becomes a low, mocking hiss. “And we can be very hungry when wakened, little Sensei!

I Suck At Flirting – Straight Edition!

SEPT. 03, 2010–Today, while walking on 17th Avenue, a woman tried to catch my eyes. She wasn’t unattractive, but unless she magically transformed into a sexy male stud, yeah, no. It was weirdly funny because her flirting was so obvious even *I* noticed it (for context, I was probably wearing sunglasses and listening to music through earphones, so in “do not disturb” mode).

Anyhow, at one point we’re waiting for a light to change on the same corner. She stood beside me and a little in front, all the while doing subtle things like looking back at me, tossing her hair, etc. I looked away and listened intently to my music. When the light changed, I crossed the street in a hurry and walked into the Shoppers Drug Mart. I had a packaged to be mailed.

While in Shoppers, there’s two ways to get to the post office. Picture a large square room with aisles, and the post office is located diagonally from the entrance. I’m in front of Little Miss Flirt, and I’m walking at a fair speed. I walked gaily forward from the entrance and then turned left. She went left from the entrance.  

Now, just as I’m coming around the final aisle, from the other direction she zips in front of me. Ah… so she went left and then straight…and apparently did a bit of a jog in order to be in front of me I think. Then while in the lineup in front of me, she again did the “are you noticing me noticing you?” look, and added in the “aren’t I cute while I play with the long ringlets in my hair?” tactic.

I was this close to saying “Girl, I’m gay. Stop it.”

Yeah, I suppose I should be flattered…overall, while I was a tiny bit annoyed, I was mostly amused. Also, I suspect if I called her out on her behavior, she’d either get offended (“Um, no!” or “I’m not flirting”) or it would get much worse: “Omigod, you’re gay? I love gay people! They are, like, my bestest friends!!”

So, sometimes the best policy is not to engage at all and put on a bored face with the vacant stare. She seemed to get I wasn’t interested. I just wish it had been Mr. Big Stuff instead, but hey…it was free entertainment and an interesting window into the world of heterosexual flirting rituals.

Watch the Waterfowl

The patient and the doctor were nearing the end of their session.

“So, Doctor Drake…you think you can cure my Anatidaephobia?” the patient asked, nervously fidgeting with one of the buttons on her sweater.

“Yes, I can” he answered. “Although yours is an unusual case – as a child, you never had any traumatic encounters with any type of waterfowl. However, I believe with counseling, medication and of course, time, you will conquer your fear.” Drake leaned forward and offered the patient a slip of paper torn from a small pad, “…our time is up for today. Here’s your prescription. Make an appointment with Cheryl on the way out, practice those exercises I gave you, and we’ll see you in a week.”

The patient rose from her seat. “Thank you…thank you doctor. I’ll see you soon.”

The patient left the room and the door clicked shut behind her. Dr. Drake sat at his desk for a few moments, lost in thought. He then reached down and touched a switch under his desk. The sound of the door locking echoed in the quiet room. A few seconds passed, then a holographic display of a humanoid shape appeared directly over the desk, slowly coming into focus.

“Report” barked the hologram, which now looked suspiciously like a cross between a fully-clothed man and a duck.

“We may have to call off the invasion” Drake spoke to the hologram. “Somehow, they know we’re watching.”

Versus the Mind-Reader

Mr. Sampson, as my associates have told you, you can make this so much easier for us if you simply tell us. Ah, “I’d rather die first?” Very well, then.

Oh, don’t look so surprised. Yes, I’m a telepath. Was it the voice in your head and the fact my lips aren’t moving that gave me away? Or how I seem to be one move ahead of you?

Oh, really, now, Mr. Sampson… “You Can Ring My Bell”? You think an earwig song like that will stop me? That’s a myth. Honestly…the public has no real idea how telepaths function. Let me explain. Oh, go on singing…you’re just annoying me, but you won’t stop me. People think being a telepath is similar to being able to walk into a bakery and pick up whatever tempting morsel you desire. That’s wrong.

You see – oh, and you should be feeling some pain right about now, by the way, there goes your grade school memories – that’s not how it works. It’s like reading a book someone else is reading at the same time. If you had been agreeable, I’d ask you to think about the information we want, and then get the details. You’d flip back to that chapter, we’d read it together, then you could go back to the chapter you were working on. No harm done, we’d let you go, you’d go on with your life. I’d even wipe our encounter from your mind.

But fight me…well, imagine two people fighting over a book…pages get torn (like your first kiss), the book spine is broken (by the way, try to move your feet…you can’t), and all sorts of other damage happens. In the end, I still get the information I want, but you end up a vegetable.

Ah, there it is…let me write this down…oh, you were a chef too…let’s see…ah, here’s a good recipe for supper tonight. Excellent.

Thank you, Mr. Sampson. You had an interesting mind. If only you hadn’t fought me.

Just another Airport story

“Donna, you sure you don’t got a Valium or a Xanax in your purse somewhere?” my Mom asked for the fifth and probably not last time.

“No, Mama…you know they don’t allow you to take that for the flight. Here…” I said, as I reached down to my small carry-on, “I can get you some water…”

“No thanks, sweetie. Oh, I wish the bar was at least open.” She stared down into her e-reader again.

Strangely enough, alcohol consumption was the one thing allowed, indeed recommended. Unfortunately, the seat sale was for an early morning departure. I should have gotten Mama rip-roaring drunk. She’d be happy, and the flight would go easier.

Mama jostled me on the arm and leaned in.

“Honey…look…over there…the bridge over there. It’s what’s-her-name…the singer.”

It was some celebrity I vaguely recognized. Mama knew her – her addiction to all those celebrity websites.

“Bet she ain’t flying coach.”

I looked over at her. “Oh come on, Mama…coach isn’t that bad.”

“Oh really? Well, Loretta Turner said her cousin knew someone whose sister’s husband flew coach. They forgot to pressurize the cabin just right and the poor man’s head blew off – God rest his soul.”

“Mama” I said, trying not to roll my eyes, “That’s an urban myth. It’s safe as houses.”

“Well” she huffed, “don’t come crying to me if you end up splattered over the interior of the cabin.”

I sighed.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN” the public address system blared, “WE ARE NOW READY FOR GENERAL BOARDING OF PASSENGERS ON DELTA PLANETARY FLIGHT M737 SERVICE FROM DALLAS, TEXAS TO GRAND VALLEY, MARS.”

“C’mon, Mama…that’s us. Don’t worry…I’m sure Jason will be happy to see us, decompression splatters ‘n’ all.”

If Hell is Other People, What’s Heaven Like?

I look down and notice I’ve set the table for two tonight. I’m not sure how he does that, but regardless…I know Gene is coming. He used to pop in every day at first, but when he saw I had no intention of returning things to the way they were, eventually he dropped off in frequency.

Gene – not his real name, a nickname I gave him – appeared at the doorway with a bouquet of flowers. He’d been trying a soft tactic for the past two visits.

“Oh, roses. Lovely.” I said, taking them from him. “Well, come on in, supper should be ready in a bit.”

He stood there. “I was going to bring French pastries, but Paris is burning.”

I sighed and dropped the roses into a vase. So much for the soft tactic, he’s gone right to guilt. “Well, I eat healthy now, so that would have been wasted.”

“You don’t miss them? Ah, pastries, that is?” He was sitting at the table now. I had to turn around to continue our discussion.

“No. Besides which, anything I want I pretty much can make with all the supplies I have.”

This was true. I’d read about this eco-lodge several years ago. It was constructed so any power comes from solar, thermal and wind sources on site, and had been designed not only to be energy efficient, but to be incredibly durable. I had several secure sources of water, and the empty rooms in the lodge I’d converted to storerooms for food and household items, spare tools and equipment. It was a quiet, peaceful life.

“So. You won’t change your mind and return things to the way they were? Even if I said it didn’t count?” He looked at me pleadingly, his grey eyes glowing like two lights in the darkness of his skin. Gene was pulling out all the stops tonight – even trying that thing with his eyes. I knew what this meant. Usually he’d wait until near the end of the night to ask me that question.

“No, Gene. I’m happy. It’s peaceful. The world is finally at peace. Why would I change that?”

He sighed and dropped his head. I turned back to the salad I had been preparing. When he gets this way, I know his meal will go to waste. He stood up and walked to the door. “I’m going to see what’s left of the world of Man as it fades away.” He vanished in a puff of smoke.

Eventually I know I’ll have to do something with those final two wishes, but for now I’ll enjoy the first wish the Genie gave me: world peace, or as he saw it, a world without humanity. Unfortunately for him, this time he got someone upon whom the irony was not wasted.

I Love You, But…

Some “poetry” or random words I did for an Instagram post. Click to enlarge.

Time Traveling Using Music

I just pulled up a listing of Billboard top 100 songs of each year from 1968-1978 and put them on a playlist for a family member.

Now, while we haven’t developed the technology to actually time travel, in some ways we already do that in our minds (“oh my…I haven’t heard this song in years…it reminds me of…” “whoa…this is an oldie…this came out the summer I graduated and moved away to university” etc. etc.). My theory is that songs that stick in your memories the strongest are those you heard when you were in your mid-teens/ mid-twenties.

While this time period is not reflective of my years (I’m not THAT old), because of older brothers and sisters, and because of the history of the LGBTQ2S community I recognize a lot of songs from that time period (Gloria Gaynor, The Village People, Disco Tex and the Sex-o-lettes).

In its own way, it’s like walking through a neighborhood that was built in that time…you spot the architecture and it makes you think of times past – the people that have lived in that spot. With the music, you remember the emotions and whatever personal history or pop culture history attached to it.

With that being said, here’s a link to a YouTube playlist I made a while back. It’s based off a lot of the songs that were played on the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati but because I’m a good Canadian, I added some Canadian Artists. I usually keep it up to date and replace videos when removed. Dance if you want to, enjoy always.

Profanity is a F***ing Limited Resource

Warning: strong language and Adult concepts below. You’ve been warned.

A while back a Facebook friend posted this status update:

I wish my friends would not use the “F” bomb & curse so much. Facebook is like being in a movie theater or bus. Our Moms, Grammas, nieces & nephew & kids are with us. I know my intelligent friends have the vocab to find other words. Double dare you to use this in your status.

Most adults swear more than we think we do. But stop with the “intelligent cultured people don’t use the F-bomb”. It’s just wrong. There’s been some studies which indicate intelligent people may drop the Notorious F.U.C.K. more than the rest of the populace.

Also, it’s JUST a word. A versatile word. When anyone whines “oh, be creative, don’t use that word” my response is “Really. Creative. You DO know fuck can be used as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, interjection, noun, and can be used as pretty much any word in a sentence and make sense (“fuck those fucking fuckers”). It can be used as an infix (absofuckinglutely). The word is quite fucking incredible. If you can do half as fucking much as the word “fuck” well, then I’ll let you win on the creative argument.

Think of the children and grandparents! First off, your Grammy knows the word. That’s how you got here. As for the kids, well, freaking out and putting a metaphoric electric fence around a word just increases the taboo factor for children.

Yet for all that, we should stop overusing the “F” word. For the future.

Wait, what? Think about it. Today, fuck is used in movies, in songs, (rap is rife with fucks). The argument continues – abstainers state it’s a BAD WORD while those fuckers on the pro-fuck side fucking love to use fuck because it fucking annoys the abstainers.

My point for both sides: IT’S A LIMITED RESOURCE.

If we go on the way we’re going, eventually we will hit Peak Fuck. At that point, “fuck” will lose its shock value. In the year 2058 when I’m really, really, really old, I don’t want to be in a shop, drop my wallet, mutter “fuck” as I have to bend down to pick it up, only to hear the 18 year-old store clerk tittering because “fuck” is (in 2058) considered as quaint a swear as “dang” or “heck”.

So preserve Fuck. Have Fuck-free days. Learn to say Fuck in different languages (“tabarnac!!”). Just Fucking quit overusing it. Oh flip! I’ve used it so much, I’m all fudged out. Dang.

Little Sparrow V2.0

Rewrite, original version from January 2009

Ever since I started keeping birds as companion animals, I find I’ve noticed birds more often.

Years ago, I was at the Vitamin Shop on my coffee break. It was on the 3rd Floor TD Centre beside the elevator and on the way to the Plus 15 pedway to Bankers Hall. Across from the Vitamin Shop is George’s Cookies, and on beside either store there were entrances to the Devonian Gardens. Besides flora, the Gardens also had fauna – some deliberate (turtles, gold fish) and some accidental (sparrows). It turns out the turtles may have been abandoned pets. After the renovations, I believe they kept the fish but found new homes for the turtles. As for birds…apparently the sparrows are still finding ways to get inside.

Normally the sparrows survive on the food dropped in the gardens by people as they have their coffee or their lunch. At that time, the Gardens were closed down as the mall butchered the hell out of it did some renovations to the area. I wasn’t too worried about it; I figured if the birds found a way in, they could find a way out if times got desperate.

Their “out” as it turns out…well, the sparrows found their own entrances to the mall from the Gardens (probably made easier during the reno work). And, bold as brass, these little buggers were swooping down between people, picking up crumbs, and then flying back up and into the Gardens.

Now, while I liked watching this, I was also pragmatic about their existence. Yeah, the birds should not have been there, they’re not exactly sanitary, and no doubt they’ll starve or otherwise die. But still, I found it amusing. Birds aren’t as stupid as some people think. Mind you, the sparrows are no seagulls snatching crisps, but still…neat.

All works and words ©Evan Kayne unless otherwise indicated.