Where Words Defy the World
Cannery Row Magazine
A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits
by Tanja Rabe
by Matthew Del Papa
by Katerina Fretwell
Poetry & Musings
by Randy Eady
Musings in Nature
by Roger & Chris Nash
by John Jantunen
by Adam McKay
by John Jantunen
by Randy Eady
by Mat Del Papa
by Rebecca Kramer
by Rebecca Kramer
by Tanja Rabe
by Senator Patricia Bovey
Born in Kingston - Made in Canada
by Tanja Rabe
Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and -fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world.
- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Pondering an editorial theme for the February edition has, admittedly, not been an easy task.
As happens to many of us this time of year, I tend to fall prey to a touch of the winter blues - re-enforced courtesy of our close frenemy, little Omicron - coupled with an aversion to frigid temperatures, and had a hell of a time committing heart and mind to the page, idling my days away between mundane chores and the screen, procrastinating like it was a profession onto itself and there was a promotion waiting in the wings.
Drawing a lethargic blank on a topic for the winter edition at the outset, it didn't take long before I'd find myself quickly overwhelmed with ideas and making a choice became the next, insidious hurdle, leading to more excuses for kicking that proverbial can down the road. And if it wasn't for a Food Basics shopping cart filled with some of its brethren parked in front of our house - abandoned in a snow drift across the road during a winter storm by the very people that our society has cast so casually by the wayside - I would likely still agonize and dither about throwing some words on the page as the deadline creeps mercilessly ever closer. So, precarious state of mind be damned, I'll just let the analogy of the cart take the lead and see where it takes me, trying my best to navigate around any figurative snowbanks along the way.
There are a few reasons why this abandoned cart - a minor inconvenience and easily remedied with a call to its corporate proprietor - keeps bothering me every time I take a peek out the front window. A few of them are rather petty, even embarrassing to admit to, such as:
Will passers-by and the neighbours think we're in such dire straits that we need to sift through the blue bins for returnables? Is someone going to come by and remove this incriminating eyesore or do we have to deal with this ourselves? And in case we do, how will the can collector react if and when he returns to claim his property that we so impatiently got rid of?
At the same time, this rather innocuous object stirs up any number of mixed feelings that reach beyond appearances into a darker place. I picture a homeless person spending - what could well be his last - hours pushing his wobbly dray around town. In no way adequately dressed to withstand the arctic bite of an extreme Cold Alert, he sifts through other people's toss-offs, only to have to give up on his hard-earned spoils in a snowbank outside our house as he gets caught in a severe winter storm that shuts down most of the city.
He struggles back to his shelter - probably one of the tents set up amidst the encampment down the road at Belle Park - fighting the elements every step of the way, half-frozen, hungry and lacking even the numbing escape into that bottle of liquor, the couple of pills or the crack for his pipe that the cart of cans promised to supply.
Huddled under an old sleeping bag within its thin plastic walls that threaten to be torn apart by the raging gusts, he's left to battle his own inner demons, the insanity fed by life on the streets often on top of any mental illness or disability that he's likely been struggling with before finding himself consigned to this dismal subsistence.
Is he going to make it through the night or will he be tagged just another John Doe after someone finds him frozen solid in his tent several days later? Will anybody miss him?
My partner, John, often heads towards Belle Park for a stroll when he needs to shake off some creative tension or sort through a story line. Yesterday, as he passed by the encampment, he noticed all but one large tent site appeared inhabited. He assumed the other 'residents' had been forced to vacate the site for the warming shelter - not a popular option amongst many homeless due to overcrowding, violence, outstanding warrants, theft, Covid, rampant parasite infestations, drug addictions, lack of privacy and restrictive shelter rules - leaving most of their meagre belongings at the mercy of human scavengers, municipal sanitation crews and the elements. (1)
There is a, somewhat unwarranted, apprehension amongst the housed population regarding encounters with our homeless neighbours. Having passed through the encampment myself on many a walk to Belle Island, I've usually felt less a potential target and more a trespasser intruding on the tent city's motley assortment of individuals who have always proven to be quite gregarious towards our presence. A friendly hello is frequently reciprocated in an almost apologetic fashion as if the residents expected hostility and disdain towards their occupation rather than empathy for their struggles. Sometimes the 'hello' would lead to a short chat about how their day's been going, ending in a gesture of goodwill as a cigarette or two - and maybe a lighter - change hands in parting.
As I frown at the shopping cart outside, it hits home painfully that, not too long ago, we ourselves faced the potential threat of homelessness by way of a so-called Renoviction after unwittingly renting a small house from a northern slumlord. Having been lucky over the years in that respect, we naively thought we could get the proprietor to keep his side of the bargain by simply being responsible tenants and, when that failed, believed the system would be on our side. This assumption couldn't have been further from the truth.
We quickly woke up to the reality that the Landlord-Tenant Board in Ontario had no power (or true inclination) to enforce repairs or address renters' concerns effectively. The onus rested solely on the tenants to somehow provide extensive proof of non-compliance and to, ultimately, prosecute the landlord in court on their own dime - not a viable option for anyone on low income and without access to the last remnants of an underfunded Legal Aid system.
In fact, all the LTB appeared to reflect - via the threat of police-enforced evictions and a contemptuous, if not downright disdainful, attitude reserved solely for tenants - were the interests of landlords in matters of monies owed and tenants removed, with little regard for how much the owners themselves were in breach of contract towards their clients. No 'Better Business Bureau' exists to represent tenants swindled by leasing out neglected residences that are in dangerous violation of basic building codes; equipped with malfunctioning appliances, antiquated, leaky plumbing and dangerously outdated electrical systems, not to mention costs incurred through inadequate insulation, pest infestations and the likes.
Any other operation run this badly would either go bankrupt or get heavily fined/shut down for non-compliance. Yet the exploitation of tenants - a new breed of second-class citizens - appears government sanctioned, if not on paper then decidedly in practice, and is quickly turning into a pipeline feeding the relentless spread of homeless encampments in every city across the country. (2)
The Renoviction notice we received came tight on the heels of a visit from a City Building Code Inspector we managed to arrange (a whole six months previous) after having been turned down, more or less apologetically, by any other agency in charge of housing or building safety. An order for repairs was shortly thereafter issued to our landlord by the authorities and then . . . silence on the other end, except for the notice to vacate in our mailbox.
Needless to say, we desperately wanted to put this stressful and anxiety-inducing situation into our rear-view mirror. Unfortunately, the first wave of Covid had just hit the planet, successfully putting the rental market in stasis, and we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place.
Little did we know what we were up against when looking for our next residence as the economy opened up tentatively a few months later and a certain level of mobility was restored. Despite virus-spurred layoffs, our financial situation had actually improved since the start of the pandemic - we're a thrifty bunch - so our relative confidence would shortly take a dive when faced with the sobering realities of the present-day rental market.
Application upon application met with stoic silence, the virtual paperwork akin to applying for a mortgage: credit scores, proof of employment and history, income verifications geared towards the 'sunshine list', several references by accredited professionals other than previous landlords, bank statements, proof of tenant's insurance, illegal deposit demands . . . the bureaucratic hurdles seemed insurmountable. Coupled with being on E.I./self-employed, a hostile, current landlord (reference) and soaring rental prices, our predicament soon induced feelings of despair, deepened evermore by constant harassment from the owner of our decrepit abode, impatient for our departure, often abusive and insulting in nature. (He kindly advised us that 'if you can't afford your own home, you're just a f...ing loser!')
We did eventually manage to secure a residence in Kingston after having been ignored by every property management company we approached and still count ourselves fortunate to rent in a wonderfully mixed, downtown neighbourhood from a conscientious landlady. She simply trusted our (up-until-then) perfect rental history, a solid, previous landlord reference (thank you!) and assurances that we were responsible tenants who'd keep her house in good order and pay the rent on time; the way it used to be done.
Two months after the move, we'd find out that our previous residence had been sold 'as is' without any of the renovations executed that had been listed on the eviction notice. Obviously, we were not surprised since fake Renovictions have become the bread and butter of a predatory rental market particularly under the smokescreen of the pandemic, leaving tenants to struggle with hyper-inflated rents in addition to rising costs of living as wages have been stagnating . . . a recipe for the perfect storm as the tent cities growing in size across the country (and the world) amply manifest.
Despite barely avoiding a similar fate for the time being, the abandoned cart outside our home at times still triggers some of the anxiety we experienced in the past and recalls a less favourable narrative that could have been our future. Having escaped such a scenario seems to also impart a sense of 'survivor's guilt' that emerges whenever I come across a homeless person in the streets or walk through an encampment in the parks around town.
Several weeks ago, I passed by a middle-aged woman who'd lost both legs below the knee. Stuck in an outdated, manual wheelchair, she was sifting through a garbage bag of belongings on the main drag of town and I had a hard time reconciling how anyone, especially with a disability this severe, could be left to fend for themselves on the streets of our city.
I still can't shake her image. I realize that I feel guilty because, unlike her, I have a warm home to look forward to upon return from my walk.
I have a full fridge at my disposal - even if I habitually grumble about the grocery prices on shopping day. I'm able to pay my bills, enjoy the odd take-out and have a measure of entertainment and convenience in my life that I generally take for granted. I feel guilty because, hell, those couple of bucks or smokes, I so 'generously' dispense in town towards whoever stirs my sympathy, are just a tiny drop in a giant, leaky bucket, not in the least preventing the inevitable, but leaving me with the pretence of a clear conscience.
Part of the guilt is a feeling of helplessness and futility. Facing an issue of such social magnitude and being aware of the causes and the multitude of solutions that could easily remedy homelessness - and many other social ills - all across this wealthy country, it is beyond frustrating to know, full well, that the true obstacle to universal housing is insatiable GREED, a ruthless master and more addictive to the wealthy than a crack pipe to a junkie.
And where does unrelieved guilt inevitably lead to? Right . . . indignation and impotent anger, if only in an effort to combat the draining mental fray that threatens to suck one under. A temporary fix, at best, as outrage - akin to a sugar rush - requires constant fuel to, at least temporarily, avoid the inevitable physical and mental crash.
Now, since this kind of vicious cycle is likely common in anybody who's managed to retain an ounce of empathy towards their fellow human beings, we can safely assume that our communal sanity is on a steady downward spiral. Stress, anxiety, guilt, isolation and hopelessness on top of increasing financial struggles are burning through ever-growing numbers of people - caregivers and advocates in particular - as our system creates and disposes of more and more vulnerable citizens.
The immediate threat of homelessness is no longer consigned to a certain group of people - those who aren't able to function within societal norms due to trauma, mental illness and/or drug addiction and who've been lacking any kind of personal support system, past and present.
These days, you're just as likely to encounter a guy pushing one of those shopping carts through the streets who served you your Double-Double at the Tim Hortons not too long ago, or someone who ended up on disability due to a work accident or burn-out and couldn't make the rent on the $1100 he receives (less on Social Assistance). Many simply lose their homes as profiteering landlords take advantage of the loopholes offered by (fake) Renovictions to get around legally-allowed rent increases, aided and abetted by a steady dismantling of tenants' rights.
And it's not just renters that are affected. Many private homeowners (and businesses) are losing their residences to the banks through pandemic-related hardships (job losses, illness or death), inflated property taxes via rising assessments and surging interest rates (higher mortgage payments). As they hit the market, they are quickly scooped up by real estate conglomerates and speculators, driving housing prices and rents ever higher as they spiral towards certain collapse.
At the same time, some of our publicly elected representatives profiteer individually and collectively from this despairing scenario by using insider information, deregulation and loopholes to get in on the housing racket with personal investments, subsidized building contracts and kickbacks from real estate sharks while municipalities benefit from increased tax revenue as property values rise into the stratosphere. (3/4)
Over the past few decades, the 'welfare' of faceless corporations has taken a front seat in Parliament, banishing the social welfare of actual citizens to the ignominious back benches. Government services have been whittled away steadily over time and, rather than guaranteeing liveable wages and an adequate social safety net (basic liveable income, affordable housing etc.), it's been left to foodbanks, assorted charities and an underfunded, as well as dehumanizing, shelter system - primarily staffed by exhausted volunteers fighting an uphill battle - to shoulder the growing burden of caring for people relegated to a level that goes well beyond even destitution.
Contrary to popular opinion, the homeless are not the true drain on the system, but a scapegoat sacrificed for the benefit of wealthy corporations and individuals that exploit labour, consumers and our public funds.
Through tax evasions, subsidies, money laundering, profiteering and stock market manipulation, the top ten percent - with the help of their political lapdogs - turn even the myth of a 'trickle-down' economy into a blatant 'siphon- upwards' scenario, whilst taking standing ovations and posing at PR photo-ops for the few meagre (tax deductible) crumbs they toss downwards by-way-of questionable charities that often funnel contributions straight back into their own operations.
At the same time, many government institutions designed to help those in need actually achieve little more than diverting the majority of funds towards sustaining their own, hyper-inflated bureaucracies and the lifestyles of overpaid CEOs - an issue that's been brought glaringly to light in the management of LTC homes recently and that has been permeating the entire public welfare sector for many years.
So, when I read about more and more homeless encampments 'evicted' and 'sanitized' by cops in riot gear all over this country, I can't help but fear what we're heading for as a society. We seem well on our way to criminalizing homelessness, and ultimately poverty, as the government turns the police force against its own disenfranchised citizens, an oxymoron that makes my head spin. (5)
When people are banished from their homes en mass and even denied a tent in a PUBLIC SPACE (as in 'belonging to us all'), where are they supposed to go? Disappear into thin air? Look for an out-of the-way place to die so we don't have to be bothered with their miserable existence? (6/7)
Adding insult to injury, we seem more concerned with the rights of our pets than those of our fellow human beings. If we consider the homeless 'dependants of the State' as pets are dependants of their owners, any mistreatment and lack of care should have legal consequences for the government in charge, thus a homeless person dying from exposure would constitute 'criminal negligence causing death' by failing to supply the basic necessities for survival.
On the other hand, when I contemplate the analogy of animal shelters versus homeless shelters, I shudder to think about what happens to our abandoned pets when they've overstayed their welcome at the pound, are too old for adoption or the shelter is beyond capacity. By already having created overcrowded death traps for our unhoused citizens in a similar respect, are we well on our way - as their numbers grow - to implementing police-patrolled government camps aimed at forcefully containing them (or worse) lest they become more than a mere 'nuisance' and start revolting?
History paints a frightening picture of the path down which we are heading. Human rights have steadily turned into privileges and living in systematically imposed poverty is becoming not just a social blemish, but legally incriminating. A wealthy society such as ours is perfectly able to provide equitably for all, but continually finds itself in serious breach of most items listed in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it had, itself, a central role in creating more than 70 years ago. It's a disturbing, if not altogether farcical, document when juxtaposed with the reality of homelessness and the state of our fractured social safety net at large, and well worth a read - if only to indulge oneself in a derisive smirk. (8)
In closing, I want to apologize to my esteemed readership for unloading such bleak discourse during what is already a challenging time (and season) for many. In my defence, I pass at least part of the blame onto John, who was responsible for dumping that green shopping cart on our property in the first place in order to get it out of the snowplough's path. He once again proved the point that 'no good deed goes unpunished'.
So let this be a cautionary tale of what can happen when you choose an abandoned object as your creative muse; the outcome might be more than you bargained for.
Lastly, I'd like you to do me one favour: When passing by a homeless person asking for help, please, don't give in to those feelings of discomfort and shun them as an outcast - the least anyone can spare is a friendly word and a smile.
Gratitude, as always, to my creative team of dedicated volunteers.
Stay well, ye all, keep engaged and enjoy the Journal!
Coming Home (Tanja Rabe)
by Matthew Del Papa
There is a term called ‘man-splaining’.
For those of you unfamiliar, it refers to when men take it upon themselves to ‘explain’ things to women. Not just anything, though that’s bad enough, but things that men have no first-hand knowledge of - like how a woman should talk, dress, behave, and/or think. Most men are unaware of what they are doing. Most men aren’t trying to be condescending or patriarchal or otherwise dismissive. Most men think they're being supportive, helpful, showing that they care.
I am not ‘most men’. In fact, I am very aware of what I’m doing. But, since being an idiot is sort of my speciality, I’m going to step right into the deep end and arrogantly announce: It’s tough to be a minority. I know, it takes a lot of - let’s say confidence - for a middle-class, middle-aged, straight white man to voice that opinion. I might as well be drowning in my own privilege. But bear with me.
That word ‘privilege’ elicits a strong response, especially now. Be it ‘Male Privilege’ or ‘Straight Privilege’ or even ‘White Privilege’ - that last is thrown around in the wake of every black man killed at the hands of police. And, since few understand the term’s meaning, it comes across as an accusation and puts a lot of people on the defensive.
Being privileged doesn’t mean you don’t face challenges. We all have hardships of one sort or another. That’s just life. But for me, being a straight, forty-something Caucasian male in modern Western society, prejudice isn’t one of them. I don’t face racism or sexism or ageism on a daily basis. And the thing about bigotry, in any form, is that it is insidious, exhausting and, above all, dehumanizing.
One of my favourite authors, John Scalzi, once wrote an article positing that ‘if life were a video game’ then straight, white men in America have been ‘playing on easy mode’ (everyone else, he argued, started life with their settings on hard). He took a lot of heat for that piece. No one, it seems, wants to admit that their life is ‘easy’.
But a lot of people, smart and successful people, are unable to recognize that some obstacles are more imposing and ingrained than others. There’s a baseball-themed metaphor, ‘born on third-base', that describes the mentality of many rich white men. They are literally given a headstart in life - their family’s wealth provides security and opportunities not afforded to most - and they are unable to recognize these advantages. As far as they're concerned, they are entitled to their entitlements.
I, despite my various, unearned privileges, am not blind to the difficulties of others. That said, it did take me forty-plus years to realize that women, in general, face challenges most men don't ever have to consider throughout their lives. I’ve never thought twice about where I park or walk. Never weighed the career ramifications of getting married, changing my name and having a child. I’ve never been whistled at or faced uncomfortable, unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. I’ve never been questioned as to the ‘appropriateness’ of my wardrobe or hairstyle.
Decades of racial profiling have taken place around me and I, being white, never noticed - never had to notice. Seeing a police car in my rear-view mirror is an annoyance, not a possible death threat. Security guards do not scrutinize me unduly while I shop. And, while some people do cross the street when they see me coming, they are merely avoiding talking to me, not making fearful assumptions based on my skin colour.
These issues are huge and ever-evolving, but my space is limited. So listen to this idiot and remember: no matter our differences - be they racial, religious, or sexual - humanity is universal. Choose kindness. Prejudice solved. You’re welcome.
(The Capreol Express, 2021)
Wolf Coyote by Katerina Fretwell
by Katerina Fretwell
... is among the largest of its kind in the world.
---- Anthropocene, 62.
On tour in '93, my stunned eyes absorbed
families living on the Lisithi landfill.
Today, it's painful to see huge images of roads
ringing a city of garbage two stories high.
You, Nairobi's poor, dumpster-dive on Dandora:
a Pandora's Box of Western waste: tires, wires,
laptops, food-wraps, tractors and vials –
a Golden Globe of Toxic.
You sift daily, resell this grim reap to reuse,
miss the cancers rising in you and your kin –
how else to feed, clothe, and shelter your family?
Shed our plastic habit! Lead levels are lethal –
cadmium in your cassava, radon in rice,
Tranxene in tea, we've consumed you, DX: debris.
Scent of Place
by Randy Eady
A veil of mist drifted off the river and curled around my ankles as I knelt down and dipped my hand in the current. Slowly and with unintended reverence, I lifted a handful of water to my nose and took a deep whiff. In that instant, I was transported back to a night thirty years earlier, when I rode in the bed of an old pickup truck and crossed over the roiling Madawaska River on Highway 60 in Whitney, Ontario. It was the last leg of an odyssey, a pilgrimage of sorts, on which I’d hoped to find my place in the world. In that moment, thanks to a single whiff of crisp river air, I knew it'd been here all along.
Some rituals are born of superstition; others are meant to appease some god or another. My habit of beginning some tour days with a quiet moment at the water’s edge and 'connecting' with the river, is nothing so grand. It’s a simple ritual, evolved many years ago, from my habit of going to the riverbank after unloading the boats and splashing water on my face. When time allowed, I’d sit in the grass and close my eyes. It helped turn off the racket in my mind - the counting of boats and gear, checking the roster, planning the route, reciting things I wanted to say and when I’d say them, checking my first-aid kit. I’d turn it all off and feel the cool water running down my face and neck. It was the perfect way to ease my mind in preparation for the tour.
As I knelt by the river that morning, with my eyes closed, I was engulfed by that scent. It wasn’t bad or good - just a faint essence of the river. It was familiar and comforting, like a grandmother’s attic. But, instead of the scents of dusty photo albums, overstuffed chairs, doilies from a wedding a lifetime ago, and boxes of crisp letters written long ago by young, dream-filled hands, the images conjured by the river’s scent were of flowers, leaves and mud, birds and snakes, and every living thing I knew to reside in the forest along the river's edge and in its waters. I couldn’t isolate any single fragrance and pin it to an exact source, but I recognized the blend.
Every river has its own scent. I don’t know this from any studies and I certainly don’t know it from personal experience; I can no more identify a river by its scent than I can sniff a Chardonnay and tell where the grapes were grown. I know rivers have their own scents because it can be no other way. Every river weaves through a specific blend of habitats; soils, minerals, plants and animals, each in unique proportions. Mostly, I know it from riding top-down, accompanied by my golden retriever, Maxi. With her nose in the air, head held high, and her floppy ears slapping her head, she would erupt in an apoplectic mass of slobber and fur when we got to about a mile from the Little Madawaska River - her home turf.
Bears are even better.
When I hang a bag of trail mix from an oak limb at camp, bears within a mile downwind will hoist their muzzles. An experienced, old bruin will know he’s about to enjoy a snack of nuts, dried fruit and the sight of an annoying human scrambling into the underbrush.
The bear knows every stream in its range by its singular constellation of fragrances; the aromatic sum of its many parts. It recognizes the blend of everything along its banks and in its water, from the musty fur of the river otters to the butterweed patch and the sickening-sweet chitins of scarab beetles. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, it knows what’s blooming in the high scrub or if a beaver has stirred the muck of a spring freshet; it probably knows which beaver.
For bears living in the Algonquin forest, the air is a wild bouquet with strong elements of cypress pollen, 7000 year-old marl, squirrel turds and ottermusk. The forest marsh is a complex mix of buckeye blooms, rank golden club leaves, lipstick-scented groundnut flowers, crayfish, mollusk froth and the putrid peat muck exposed in low water periods.
But no mammal, regardless of brain, brawn or snout size, can match insects for scent detection. When a group of entomologists released sex pheromones of a female luna moth into the air, they found males - six miles downwind - could detect them. Turns out, the moth’s large, feathery antennae are not decorative, but highly adapted scent detectors making my own detector - my nose - look like a vestigial appendage relegated to holding up sunglasses. The luna's charms are wholly lost on me.
I find it less intriguing than disappointing to know I am immersed in a riot of scents that allows the bear to distinguish this river from all others. The bear's nose twitches, the moth races past with a certainty of purpose, but here I stand, somewhat deaf, dumb, blind and unaware of the true potency of surrounding smells. I want to know when to cheer on the luna. I want to smell the bear’s river.
The clock ticks. I splash another handful of the Madawaska on my face. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. I believe, I've caught the aroma of a thousand-year-old cypress, with a hint of pine and just a whiff of bear.
Did you know your skin can smell? Our body augments the smelling process of the nose by holistically absorbing the fragrant scents of the forest world! Our body’s largest organ actually plays a vital role. Recent findings have overturned the prevailing perception that most of the scents of nature are, by and large, simply a chemical conversation between plants and animals and that humans are merely eavesdroppers. In fact, in total - from the skin to lungs to even the heart - we can survey our olfactory response as much more expansive, with currently more than 150 olfactory receptors identified in the human body outside the nose.
Randy Eady is a Facilitating Therapist (focused on balance & movement disorders) who uses innovative, nature-based treatments to create a space where sensibility & sensitivity converge - opening new dimensions in perception between humans & the natural world.
'Charlie Brown' Snowman (Tanja Rabe)
Roger Nash - Poetry
Chris Nash - Photography
by Roger Nash
heavy snow falls – falls
a street of one sound only
whiter than silence
one new snow boot lost
another winter mislaid
is spring still in place?
a cloudless blue sky
nothing for thoughts to hang from
but clouds of your breath
the snowman’s shadow
shivering in the garden
a knitted red smile
at 30 below,
trains’ hoots crack into pieces
kids pick up the shards.
flakes whirling around
hard to be someone at all
drifts get ploughed deeper
our dreams are much deeper too
so what do both mean?
fish circle their bowl
a New Year begins again
fish circle their bowl
by John Jantunen
Farley had no use for keeping quiet.
Be enough of that, he’d say, when they’d tagged him John Doe and tossed him into a lime pit, or a pit anyway and then threw lime on him. He was unsure of the specifics and preferred 'lime pit' because it sounded like it meant something. They, of course, hadn’t thrown anyone into a lime pit for ages and, chances were, they wouldn’t do so with Farley either.
More than likely, they’d cremate him, maybe keep him in a Ziploc for a while - there was a thirty day minimum on unclaimed ashes, Farley had heard somewhere, like with dogs at the pound - then they’d probably just toss him out. Unless there was some kind of romantic spinster working at the crematorium - or maybe just someone who lived with a bunch of cats - and she’d smuggle the ashes out - but then she’d call them remains, all solemn-like. She’d have captain's funerals for guys with tattoos - meaning she’d stand at the edge of the pier or, her mind occupied by Little Miss Whiskers who’d wandered off that morning, just dump them into the sewer thinking it was better than nothing - or sprinkle the remains on trees for guys who'd died in the park.
Perhaps she’d lose her job because of it - Farley was sure there were regulations against such things - or, anyway, she’d be afraid of losing her job and would hide the ashes like that guy who'd escaped from prison by digging a hole and hiding the dirt in his rolled-up pants. Probably though, she’d have a purse of some sort and she’d just stick the bags of ashes in there until she’d fabricated a story to recite along with the ceremony she’d contrived, so she could maintain the belief that she was making a difference even if, really, she wasn’t.
Then again, maybe she’d just take them home and toss the remains on her driveway when the winter had iced up the asphalt. In the summer, she’d store them in her basement or fireplace until the time came when she could make proper use of them.
Possibly, and Farley was stretching it at this point - but he had to keep on going, lest the quiet that permeated the streets when he wasn’t talking became too oppressive - her neighbours might not think too kindly of the sooty mess she was making and complain like they did when she neglected to mow her lawn. They’d glean to the fact that she worked in a crematorium, become repulsed - as was their way - and call on the authorities to investigate. Protocols had not been followed and a reprimand would be swift.
By Christ, there’d be hell to pay. She’d be called into the manager’s office and maybe he wouldn’t fire her, because he too had a romantic streak, but he’d do his duty and, before she was allowed to leave, she’d have to concede that the people she was in charge of cremating were, in fact, good-for-nothings.
Anyway, that’s how Farley went on whenever he was triggered. Could have been a scowl from a passerby that set him off, or the picture of a half-naked woman on a billboard, or a driver who was too quick with the horn when he stepped into traffic. Just as likely, though, it’d be because he’d reached for the butt he liked to keep propped behind his ear only to find that he’d already smoked it.
Cigarettes were as intimately tied to his rants as a pint of Ale was to taking a piss in The Great Before. Mostly it was just a prop, something to wave around while he went off, but for those in the know, offering him a smoke was also a good way to get him to shut up because in the time it took him to light a fresh one there was a chance he’d forget what he was going off about and there’d be a gap, long enough to slip away before something else struck his ire.
There’d be the cigarette now, but - over the years - Farley had completely run out of cigarette smoking material. He’d used it up early, being a favourite topic when he was younger. And, unlike a lot of ranters and ravers plying their trade on the sidewalks and in the parks, Farley refused to repeat himself.
So many of those who’d given into the urge to make as much noise as they humanly saw fit had found solace in one routine or another, like the world wasn’t varied and offered up opportunities to go off on any number of topics, topical as they were or not. It was like they’d reached a dead-end in their lives, that the mystery of it all had suddenly run out of road and it never occurred to them to look for a new direction or just turn around.
The worst offenders were the religious, and it caused Farley no small amount of grief that his passion, and the fact that he never begged for money, got him grouped with the Jesus-freaks who, for want of a wolf to keep them in check, where swelling like deer populations in the hinterland; a sad state of affairs, for sure, he’d tell you while he searched for a match, and even persons not so in the know would see their chance and be gone before Farley’d got in his first puff.
In The Great Before, smoking went hand in hand with drinking and it was in a bar that Farley’d got his start. He’d sit quietly, drinking and smoking, smiling and chuckling at the curious things people were saying around him, his cigarette pack on the table, close enough to the edge to serve as bait.
When someone asked him for a smoke, Farley’d eye his pack, making sure he had enough to get him through the night, and pass one over. Then he’d clasp the other’s hand, squeezing it sharply, asking them to promise him something.
Most of the time they’d be game and ask, What? Then he’d line them up in his gaze and tell them to look at his face. And remember it well because all I ask in return is that, if you see me lying in the gutter sometime, and we’re not talking about the all too distant future here, you’ve got to promise you’ll spare me a smoke, two if you're not hurting too bad yourself.
This may not have been an altogether distinguished start to such a prolific career of ranting and raving, but that’s how it began. It was the bemused indifference he got from their responses, more than anything, that set him on his path. Generally, they’d laugh and then he’d grip their hand tighter.
You promise me or, by god, I’ll snatch that smoke out of your hand so fast, you’ll swear you always only had the two fingers I’ve left you with.
Sometimes the promise was made and, depending on the character of the person involved and on the number of drinks he’d consumed, sometimes it would not. Sometimes, Farley would be aching for a fight and he’d keep hammering the guy who’d merely run out of smokes, or was trying to quit, until the threat of violence loomed heavy on the other’s brow. Then the real fun would begin.
Do what you think is right, he’d yell. You don’t want me here? Then do something about it, eh punk? Do something. DO SOMETHING! Eh? Eh? Eh?
He'd keep up the 'Eh?'s until the guy’s hands were in fists, at times the size of bowling balls, others no bigger than a small bag of marbles. Then he’d segue his way into a round of 'That’s right!'s. They’d go on, until the guy'd take a swing at him and the cops or a bouncer had to be called in to break things up. Farley’d be allowed to go - it was a few years before he would spend anytime in jail - with a warning to not bother ever coming back.
Now, there might be some who’d suggest that Farley had a serious attitude problem, that he displayed antisocial behavioural patterns, and perhaps even a few who’d say that they could be traced back to his upbringing. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Farley was raised right by good and caring parents. He went to university, as was expected of him, though his mother would have preferred that he learned something useful rather than the classical studies courses towards which he gravitated.
It was there that he first heard the name Diogenes and decided, with the vain assurance of youth, that his role in life would be to test the patience of everyone he came in contact with. He was doing the world a favour - and, on this issue, disagreement with him was futile - by making sure that everyone around him knew the exact location of their breaking point. How long it would take them to snap. What kind of mettle they were made of as individuals and as a collective organism. Could they, to strike at the heart of the matter, be trusted to figure out who they were beneath the day to day and the distractions of modern life? Farley thought not and he’d tell them so, straight to their face.
Because of his calling, it had been a long time since Farley had had any friends or a job or a place to stay. That’s to say, it’d been a long time since he’d begun to take his message to the streets. He didn’t think of The Great Before, a line he’d stepped over like a blind man wreaking havoc on sand castles, nor did he ponder The Great After: what was to come.
Life for Farley was comprised of a series of events, himself at the fore, which built to a climax with enough vigour to keep his mind occupied until the next one came along to take its place. In a mish-mashed row, as ragged as cobbled stones, the accumulation of events formed a pattern and that pattern was Farley and also the world.
And what did this pattern reveal? Only that the world and Farley were pulling further and further apart but that, in the very least, he’d managed to become a fixture on these here streets. And good light post that he was, he stood his ground while the non-light-post-variety of pedestrians shuffled past, becoming well enough known that he could scream and yell all he wanted and never get so much as a flinch from any but the most frail and elderly.
Then one day, while he was rooting through the garbage can in front of a Burger King, he noticed a camera with a news logo on the side dogging his every move.
So that’s it, he thought to himself, as he bit into a half-eaten Whopper with cheese, mayonnaise spilling down his spackled beard, they got old Farley forever. No need to look at poor, old Farley now. Just press Play and, if you want to see him dance, Fast Forward. And the rest of the time, he'll be sitting on a shelf with a label glued to his spine: Man Eating From Garbage Can. Well, that’s convenient for you, but what about poor, old Farley?
Farley smoothed out the waxed paper wrap from the burger and planted it on his chest, the grease more than enough to keep it fixed in place. He smiled - his superhero costume complete - and unzipped his pants. His hands, cracked and rough, barely felt his penis and the appendage, like a garden hose cut into inches, didn’t react much either. The cameraman stood steady, only his finger moving as it pressed the zoom button. Farley thought he’d misjudged when there arose the startled yelp of a man crossing the street who had come within range of his line of fire. The man jumped back, shaking his pant leg. He stymied the curse rising to his lips, but couldn’t suppress a scalding glare.
Farley ain’t so gone after all, Farley thought and turned to the sidewalk so he could spell out his name on the cement. He only got the F-A-R done to his satisfaction, before a heavy hand clasped his shoulder and threw him up against the glass wall of the burger joint.
He spent a week in jail and, when he came out, he’d found a new lease on life. For the first time, he understood that old adage about actions speaking louder than words. If he’d been the sort to regret his past, he might have sunk into a sorrowful state of depression, thinking about all those years he’d wasted ranting and raving. Instead, he leapt at what he saw was his second chance and threw himself body and soul (but mostly body) into this, his new found vocation.
There wasn’t a wall, a window, or a light post for that matter, which didn’t come to know Farley as intimately as any lover he could conjure out of The Great Before. He went to jail a half-dozen times - there wasn’t a cop downtown who hadn’t taken their turn bringing him in - and, for a brief time, he gained some notoriety amongst those who were always looking for the next big thing. Pictures in the "Pissing-With-Farley" genre began popping up on Facebook and Twitter, until the police issued a release promising to prosecute anyone caught relieving themselves on-line.
The Mayor convened a committee to discuss the matter and, while Farley’s name never came up, he was most surely on every councillor’s mind. In a rare display of pragmatism they decided, unanimously, to issue free buckets and rubber gloves to any store owner who requested them and then turned to more pressing concerns.
Losing ground once again in the collective imagination, Farley tried his hand at public defecation but quickly decided that it wasn’t his thing.
In the years that followed, he grew quiet and sullen, going about his duty with the resolve of a man digging graves. Only he, himself, knew whether he missed the rants and the raves, the whole noisy spectacle of it and the exhibitionism of his later days, and why he began seeking out quiet alleyways to do his business, such as the one where his body was found on a day just before Christmas.
Stumbled upon by someone who’d stolen away from the crowds to relieve himself behind a dumpster, the irony surely wouldn't have been lost on Farley had he been looking down on the scene: the sudden gasp, the quick departure, a call placed to the authorities, recorded in the annals as coming from Anonymous as precisely as the time the caller had finally succumbed to pressure from a loved one or maybe to a sense of guilt.
Due to a clerical error, whether Farley was buried or cremated was not so duly noted.
What Lives Below (Tanja Rabe)
Don't Look Up
Director: Adam McKay
2021, USA, R, 2h 25min, Comedy/Disaster
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl
Streep, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchet
Netflix tends to be a hit-and-miss affair when it comes to quality film making, churning out their flicks assembly-line-style in the manner of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory so, when this title popped up on their 'Recommended For You' list, my first reaction was: Surprise! Another disaster movie.
Now, don't get me wrong. I do enjoy the voyeuristic indulgence of watching the masses struggle for survival on a grand scale as much as the next gal, all the while rooting for the underdog hero(ine) chosen to potentially sacrifice their existence for the greater good - or their loved ones - against insurmountable odds which they, miraculously, tend to beat just in the nick of time.
Extinction via big rocks from space has been a popular theme and, generally, it's a scenario that scripts all hands-on-deck: scientists racing for solutions; the (US) heads-of-state and their military entourage locked into the war room feverishly orchestrating tactical interference; the world's population, panic-stricken, stuck on deadlocked highways as they're heading for the hills/bunkers/giant arcs/spaceships in a vain effort to outrun the dreaded event . . . chaos and despair interspersed with moments of hope, resilience, unity and touching acts of kindness that serve well to restore our faith in the virtues of humankind.
Hurrah! Our species gets to live another day - until the next challenge hits the Big Screen.
Much to my surprise, Don't Look up was a seriously let-down on all those fronts. No touchy-feely stuff, no buff action heroes rescuing damsels-/kids-/pets-in-distress, and no hap . . . ups, almost spoiled the end for you there.
The general premise - an extinction-level event (comet-induced in this case) - sets the stage fairly in keeping with traditional takes on the genre, though what ensues turns the anticipated narrative quickly on its head. Not really surprising, since that's the stuff of true satire - ripping the viewer out of their comfort zone and into a reality they work so hard to insulate themselves against by escaping into the celluloid make-believe.
In this case, the primary theme is the aforementioned comfort zone, as news of the impending annihilation of humankind is met with, you guessed it, a mind-numbing level of apathy, petty squabbles, political and economic opportunism, not-to-mention outright denial.
Intentionally reflecting on common attitudes towards the climate crisis and other self-destructive ambitions of humanity, with the Comet of Doom a barely disguised analogy, the film follows a duo of meteorological scientists trying to convince an oblivious political and journalistic audience of the impending End of Days.
I shall refrain from delving too deeply into a thorough analyses of this movie since it has drawn ample attention on social media and has reviews coming out of the proverbial wazoo all along the spectrum of star ratings, though I will offer you a link to one of the more detailed and insightful write-ups I've come across. (*)
Besides the fact that it was well-acted, relevant and entertaining in regards to letting us laugh at the idiotic behaviour of our leaders, certain factions of the population and ultimately ourselves - even if it is a bitter amusement bordering on despair - the main reason I chose it for this edition's Screenshots was because of how accurately and painfully Don't Look Up mirrors our own reality as it plays out just as farcically in the world's news and politics. Over time, I've come to realise that a good movie tends to be firmly anchored in the - often inconvenient - Truth of our existence, be that past, present or future, and once again this cinematic rendition falls within the category of: You can't make this $hit up!
To illustrate this point, let me introduce you to George Monbiot, a British writer and well-esteemed journalist for The Guardian known for his fervent environmental and political activism who I came across on social media several weeks before watching Don't Look Up.
The attached video features an interview he gave on Good Morning, Britain in regards to climate protests by 'Insulate Britain' shutting down major traffic routes.
I urge you to view this (non-satirical) piece in its entirety and pay close attention to the attitudes, displayed by the show's hosts and the female co-interviewee pictured, which left me feeling nauseous and literally in tears as I watched George's quixotic battle against the current narrative of 'business as usual' and 'not in my backyard'.
Satire has traditionally been the forte of British filmmaking and the fact that there appears to be a renaissance of the genre is not altogether surprising, considering that it is tied to a certain political and social climate of disillusionment with the status quo, setting the perfect stage for sarcastic critique.
And lastly, one of my favourite satirical discoveries on social media: Honest Government Ads, a hilarious and poignant series of clips by Australia's The Juice Media, on the topic of 'Net Zero by 2050'.
We shall revisit George, our valiant underdog, in the following satirical oeuvre by British comedian Tom Walker, posing as reporter Jonathan Pie in an instalment about the COP 26 in Glasgow.
In the meantime, Don't Look Up has garnered a mere four Oscar nominations regardless of its star-studded cast and urgent topic, being left in the dust by Jane Campion's period piece The Power of the Dog (twelve runs at the trophies), a film I found disappointingly uninspiring despite its acclaimed director.
Oh well, that's the Oscars (and the media) for you in a nutshell.
by John Jantunen
While I originally wrote the short fiction piece featured in this, CRP’s seventh issue, as a tongue-in-cheek imagining of the dire turn my life might have taken if I’d ended up homeless on the streets of Vancouver circa 1995, Farley, the story itself, was inspired by a very real homeless man with whom, for a few weeks in the mid 1990s, I was engaged in a rather spurious battle of wills.
At the time, I was paying my way through a Bachelor’s degree at Simon Fraser University, working as a doorman/usher at the Capitol 6 movie theatre on Granville Street. After the last set of shows were all in, it was my job to sit watch at the box office to ensure that nobody slipped in through the front doors while one of our patrons was exiting. While the hour and half or so I spent each night 'guarding' the entrance might have afforded me ample opportunity to catch up on my homework, I wasn't - for reasons never made entirely clear to me - allowed to read on the job. Thus, I was consigned to amusing myself solely with the endless stream of foot traffic passing by ten feet from where I sat (most often, I’ll add, in the same chair from which CRP's Managing Editor, Tanja, dispensed movie tickets between six and ten pm).
I knew almost nothing about the real 'Farley', except that Farley was almost certainly not his true name - I chose it because he bore a striking resemblance to a certain Mr. Mowat - and that, for some reason, he’d decided to wage war against the Capitol 6, or at least against its row of front doors. His weapon of choice was urine and, over the course of a month or so, he’d show up several times a week and, in full view of both myself and the security camera stationed on the wall above me, proceeded to blast the glass with a geyser spray. Judging by the sheer volume of liquid released from his groin, I was pretty sure his 'attacks' were premeditated, but why he’d chosen the theatre as an enemy combatant wasn’t so readily evident. Regardless, it became my job to clean up after him, using a bucket of warm water liberally doused with cleaning solution and, after doing that a dozen or so times, I finally decided I’d take matters into my own hands.
The next time he showed up, I mounted an offensive of my own which mainly entailed slamming his chosen target open while he was in mid-stream and yelling something along the lines of, “Jesus fucking Christ, stop pissing on the fucking doors!” He hadn't seen me coming and, startled off balance, Farley stumbled backwards, his hand still clutching his shrivelled manhood and jerking upwards, the spray become an ersatz fountain, and I’ll surely never forget the gasps of mortification as passers-by fled across the street, dodging busses, to get out from under his golden shower.
Certainly not one of my proudest moments, but it did, in the very least, have the desired effect, for it was the last time, to my knowledge, that Farley ever pissed on our front doors (mind you, a few days later, while I was taking a bus down Granville Street after my shift, I spotted Farley on the sidewalk. Whether he’d spotted me too, I can’t say, but from the virulence with which he chased the bus to the next red light and then proceeded to piss all over its rear tire, I suspect he did. Though, granted, his intended target might very well have been Vancouver’s Transit Authority in general).
As I write this, I do wonder what might have happened had I, upon seeing Farley approach the Capitol 6, simply offered him the use one of the theatre’s multiple public restrooms, thus restoring a measure of dignity to a man who, after all, was only doing what comes naturally to us all (and who’s to say, if I was in Farley's place, that I wouldn’t have also vented my own ire when and wherever I could - given the misplaced, and virulently obstinate, pride so many of our cities’ officials seem to take in denying indigent populations easy access to public toilets).
I do know that, if I'd taken such a compassionate course of action, I’d have been reprimanded by my superiors in the very least, for one of the 'Golden Rules' at the Cap 6, as it is in most businesses across the 'civilized' world, was of course: BATHROOMS ARE FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS ONLY.
A few years later, Tanja and I relocated to Montreal, ostensibly because I’d been accepted into the Masters program in the Communications Department at McGill University. Having previously had to default on my student loans for reasons too numerous to bother with here, my academic aspirations would amount to nothing more than an excuse to spend ten months in La Belle Province.
The five thousand dollars we’d squirrelled away, working at my uncle’s failing restaurant in Gravenhurst during the previous summer, combined with the six hundred and fifty dollars a month I received in E.I. payments gave us plenty for groceries and rent - a mere $365/ month for a one bedroom on Rue de Rouen - with the odd pizza and two-for-one movie rental from a video store on Ontario Street a welcome bonus. It was the first time in my adult life that I had an opportunity to dedicate myself 'full-time' to writing fiction and, when searching for a little inspiration, my thoughts quickly returned to the time I’d spent out west.
Between the spring of 1991, when I hitchhiked from Bracebridge to the 'Pearl On The Pacific' after dropping out of the University Of Regina the previous winter, and the fall of 1995, when Tanja and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment together on Haro Street, I had been 'without residence' three times.
It was perhaps natural then that, for one of my first efforts, I’d want to imagine what might have happened if, by the Grace of God (or rather Tanja), I hadn’t been spared from a fate such as befell "poor, old Farley". This short story would thus become my first work of fiction to feature a homeless character based on an actual homeless person.
While I’ve never consciously endeavoured to include the myriad of homeless people I’ve met during our cross-country travels, Tanja’s editorial in this issue of CRP Magazine has given me ample opportunity to muse upon just how frequently my fictions have featured these various personalities.
Four such individuals I encountered while living back in Muskoka, post-Vancouver, rounded out the cast of my first novel, fallingoverstandingstill, while a recently released ex-con I'd met while sleeping in Regina’s Victoria Park - and who would later help me gain entrance to my ground floor bachelor apartment by means of what I thought was a securely latched window after I locked myself out - would form the basis for the lead character’s best friend, Terrence Bell, in Cipher, my second.
The precariousness of being without lodgings (albeit in a post-apocalyptic world) would fuel much of the tension in A Desolate Splendor, my next, while Rene Descartes, a central character in No Quarter, my fourth, was based on a character I’d already used in fallingoverstandingstill who was himself based on an ex-high school classmate and subsequent ex-con that Tanja and I met while taking a dip at High Falls, the best swimming hole for my money in all of Muskoka.
My next three novels are so awash with the recently unhoused that it would take a far longer piece than this to more than allude to a small fraction of them, which perhaps isn’t much of a surprise. Each of those fictions were informed by the three years we'd spend living in Ontario’s north, where the extractive industry, in collusion with a healthcare system which favours pharmaceutical interventions for workplace injuries over actual prevention and treatment, have been so stalwart in their efforts to create an ever-increasing surplus of homeless Peoples that it's hard not to suspect such has been their design all along.
And that’s without even accounting for the genocidal policies legislated against Indigenous Peoples which were, of course, expressly designed to crush their cultures so we could steal their land, making homelessness among the Indigenous as much a national imperative as it surely is a national tragedy and a disgrace.
Confronted with such a profuse wealth of characters, I felt initially inclined to attribute my fascination with those on the true margins of Canadian society to a subconscious fear, never quite departed, that our own, potential homelessness was always just one misstep, or infirmity, away from becoming part of our personal day-to-day reality.
But, as I mused further I realized that, while that’s certainly true, it’s really only a small part of the Truth, the lion’s share of which is probably quite a lot simpler: that homeless Peoples, and Peoples on the lower echelons of Canadian society as a whole, generally have much more compelling stories to tell than those in our upper and middle classes and are also much more willing, and even eager, to share them.
For this novelist that’s created an untapped, and seemingly bottomless, pool from which to draw inspiration for my fictions, even if drawing my inspiration from such a source, stigmatized as homeless Peoples are by our most-esteemed cultural curators, all but guarantees that I’ll never, say, get a substantive grant from the Canada Council nor, apparently, have any of my novels featured on CBC Books.
Still, as many authors will readily affirm, one doesn’t choose one’s muse it chooses you. And if that means I’m consigned to obscurity - at best - simply because I portray homelessness as honestly and openly as I can in my fictions, then so be it. I’d much rather write about them than Thoreau’s masses living lives of quiet desperation anyway.
Take, for instance, the young couple sharing a single chair at the terminal beside mine when one afternoon, five or six years ago, I went into the Guelph Public Library to check my email (until Covid closures forced us to get internet, our household was blissfully free from its tentacles). She didn’t look older than eighteen and was on the petite side, with a face of such an unblemished white pallor that the novelist in me would be inclined to compare it to a porcelain doll, if that wasn’t an all-too-often used cliché. A stunningly attractive young woman, by any metric I’d care to use, and he quite the opposite.
He was, I suspect, in his early twenties, a gangly six-feet-tall at least, and had a scraggly beard that did a miserable job of concealing one of the worst cases of acne I’ve ever seen. She was sitting in his lap and nuzzling her cheek into his chest, the expression of rapture on her face at stark odds with his expression of utter disbelief tinged with angst, as if he couldn't believe his good fortune and was worried that anything he might do would jinx it. I’d learn their story about thirty seconds after logging into my computer.
Another young woman, I never saw her face, called across the bank of computers to the one sitting next to me, “Hey girl, where've you been at? You didn’t come by Baker Street last night for dinner. I was worried about you.”
“I overdosed yesterday,” my neighbour responded with a matter-of-factness bordering on aloof, as if such was a common occurrence. “And I would've died too, if it wasn’t for him.”
She’d go on to explain to her friend that she’d been at a party when she’d overdosed and that, of the five other people there, her saviour was the only one who’d bothered to call an ambulance. He’d also spent the night with her in emerg, holding her hand, and ended the brief account by gazing up lovingly at the young man and calling him, “My hero.”
Her friend was apparently on her way out and, by way of a goodbye, said, “See you at Baker Street later then?”
“Oh no,” my neighbour replied solemnly. “I can’t go there. I’m trying to kick and so I have to stay away from Baker Street.”
While I can’t be entirely certain of what she meant, I’d previously heard from various sources that the person (or persons) running the youth shelter on Baker Street was not only selling drugs to their patrons, but were also actively conscripting the homeless youth who frequented the centre as their dealers.
“Good luck with that,” her friend said in reply and, while her tone plainly suggested she was being facetious, my neighbour apparently took it as a blessing and, further, as an excuse to cuddle unabashedly into her saviour's chest yet again.
Or take the Cree man I met at the North Bay Public Library a few years later who, though it isn’t his real name, I’ll call 'Corey'. I’d recently been enlisted to become a peer assessor for two Ontario Arts Council literary granting juries which required that, every day over the course of four months, I'd spend my meagre allotment of one-hour computer sessions at the library reviewing applications.
Corey was sitting on my left and one of his friends on my right. The latter was trying to figure out how to use the library’s computer to download music, apparently unaware that the computer's filters were designed expressly to prevent that. After spending a half hour unsuccessfully trying to download an album by Body Count, the metal band fronted by rapper Ice T., he gave up and told Corey he was going to find someone to bum him a smoke. I had a few extras in my case and when I offered him one Corey asked if he might bum one too.
My time being nearly up, I decided to accompany him outside to have a puff. We chatted amicably for a few minutes while we smoked and, when I learned he’d only just arrived in North Bay I asked what had brought him here. He answered that his wife was pregnant and that they had come to the city to seek help for their addictions at one of the city’s treatment centres (they were living in a nearby shelter and his wife was presently at a pre-natal class at the Native Friendship Centre which was why he was killing time at the library).
We’d inevitably end up back at our house, five blocks away, and would spend the next four hours smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee while we shared our respective stories, which is to say that there isn’t nearly enough space here for more than a brief precis of what he told me. I will mention that, at one point, I asked him about the 'Native Pride' he had tattooed on his forearm and he answered that it was the name of a gang he co-founded as an offshoot of the 'Indian Posse'.
I’d heard of the IP by way of Joe Friesen’s superlative The Ballad Of Danny Wolfe, the native gang having been co-founded by the book’s central figure. The recounting of Danny Wolfe’s life started with Danny breaking out of prison and hiking into Regina along the same set of train tracks I myself had used as a shortcut into that city after I’d fled Bracebridge under somewhat less dramatic circumstances, a three hour walk which would later inspire me to refer to Regina as a “prairie Oz on the horizon” when I came to write Cipher.
I told Corey as much and expressed an affinity with Danny Wolfe by asserting that “shared land is sacred ground”, a truth I still hold to be self-evident (and one that, on the morning I’m writing this, was echoed by Pulitzer Prize winning commentator Thomas Friedman in his February 2nd New York Times column when he wrote, "when everything becomes politics, there is no neutral, sacred ground for leaders to gather in and collaborate in the national interest").
At the end of my account, I asked Corey if he’d ever met Danny Wolfe and he replied, with a gleam in his eyes, that he’d never forget the day he did.
It occured on his first day serving time at a maximum security prison in, I believe, Saskatchewan (he’d been arrested for running contraband cigarettes by the trailer-load between Manitoba and Alberta). The very first time he went out into the yard, he saw "a bunch of skinhead motherfuckers beating on a skinny little Indian" and, without a second thought, he charged into the fray, in his words, "like a bowling ball hitting a strike". This gave Danny enough time to get back on his feet and the two of them proceeded "to kick the living shit out of those skinhead motherfuckers".
"And that’s how I met Danny Wolfe."
A minor but, I would argue, seminal event in this nation’s untold history - and one I would never have been privy to if I myself hadn’t been fortunate enough to meet Corey.
And then there’s Terry and his Pomeranian, Mia (whose real names I include here, since I also used them when Terry and Mia made an appearance during a pivotal scene in Savage Gerry). Really, to do Terry’s story justice would, like Corey’s, require an entire novel of its own, so I’ll only say that Terry, a seventy-something ex-CN rail employee, lived with his dog year-round in a tent in the woods just north of Capreol. I met him while running the Capreol Youth Centre where, during the winter months, Terry often sought shelter from the elements in the building’s front lobby. It was there I learned that a petition was circulating to have Mia put down after she'd bit a twelve-year-old boy while she was tied up outside Capreol’s public library. Terry, justifiably, was in quite a state while he explained what had happened.
Previously, he’d been allowed to bring Mia into the library with him while he used the computer to, mostly, download movies onto his phone so he could watch them later that night in his hide-out. Mia had growled at another patron some months earlier and, after the man had complained, Mia was barred. This meant, he had to leave her tied up outside and it was there she’d snapped at the boy who, Terry said, was constantly harassing the dog, throwing stones at and kicking her.
"I even saw him poke her once in the eye with his finger," he said, which is what he figured the boy was doing again when she bit him on the finger, "a little nip, not even hard enough to draw a single drop of blood." The boy in question frequented the youth centre. Knowing him as I did, there was little doubt in my mind as to whose fault it was that an otherwise sweet dog such as Mia would bite him (and my own opinion on the matter was, and still is, that it damn-well served him right.)
The short of it was that the boy’s parents began circulating a petition among townsfolk to have the dog put down, a petty act of spite which spoke more to me about how the town’s residents viewed Terry, rather than any danger Mia might have posed to their children.
Ultimately, they’d be unsuccessful in carrying out this threat - a small, perhaps even Pyrrhic, victory at best. But then, if I’ve learned anything from speaking to those among us who are consigned so far onto the margins that they’re no longer even on the page, it’s the small victories which become so dear.
And, while I’ll be the first to concede that this is mostly a result of how little hope remains for the larger, paradigm-shifting victories required, if we’re to truly align this country’s actions with its values, such a dire state of affairs makes it, in my mind, even more paramount that I continue to use the privilege conferred upon me by my publisher and by Cannery Row Press to celebrate those small victories and, more so, the Peoples who’ve fought so tenaciously to win them.
by Randy Eady
The Drachenfels (Dragon's Rock), a thousand-foot hill in the German Siebengebirge overlooking the picturesque Rhine valley, is a place of ancient myth and dragon lore. One of its most famous legends, based on the epic poem The Song of the Nibelung (Nibelungenlied - 12th century), is the tale of its hero Siegfried slaying the dragon Fafnir - that purportedly had its lair in this hill - and bathing in the serpent's blood to become invulnerable.
The ancient poem, based on oral traditions of Germanic myth that have some of their origins in historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries, spread throughout most of Germanic-speaking Europe.