Pops on his Death Bed

“I always thought you were a bit of an ass.” Pops looked cheery, almost completely alert.

I hadn’t expected him to be so alive; he hadn’t said a word the last time I came to visit. “Just a bit of an ass.”

“You can’t mind me saying that. You’ve had it coming with all of your nonsense.”

“Well, it’s better to hear you say that than you being dead.”

“You know what my Gramps would have called you, yeah? A real son of a bitch.”

“He did call me that.”

Pops slid down in his bed and looked off to the side. “Get me that bottle, will you?”

I looked around for a bottle of rye – that was his drink of choice – but couldn’t find anything. “I don’t see it.”

“It’s right in front of you, you idiot.”

There was only a plastic pee bottle by the sink.

“This?”

“I have to pee.” He shook his hand at me. “Can’t you see that?”

I gave it to him, but he just held it absently and then lay on his side.

“Want me to help?”

“A bit of an ass.” He closed his eyes. “More than a bit.”

He died a few weeks after that.

Travel Thursday: Paddle to the Amazon

Don Starkell documents his two-year canoeing odyssey from Winnipeg, Canada to Belem, Brazil in the book Paddle to the Amazon. This remarkable journey is full of fascinating details of the climate, water, people and animals along the way.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 17, 1982 A couple of days ago, west of Puerto Ordaz, we were trailed for over an hour by five dolphins, or toninas, whose silvery skin was blotched with pink patches and whose dorsal fins were small and soft-looking, unlike the more prominent fins we are used to. From time to time, one of them would rocket towards us on the surface and then veer away sharply as it got to the canoe, doing its playful best to give us a good splash.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 22 A while ago several of our friendly toninas gathered around our campsite, poking their noses and eyes above water to see what we were up to. We realize now some of them have been following us for three or four days. Many of them have distinctive pink blotches, so that we’ve come to recognize them as individuals. The day before,we were surprised to see one that was entirely pink.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 27 We had a magical experience as we left camp this morning. Several big toninas were swimming along in front of us, half watching us as we stroked. Every so often, one of them would break from the rest and power in toward us, jumping into the air a few feet from the canoe and doing a somersault, sending a high spray of water over us. We’ve begun to suspect that they don’t follow our canoe merely for friendship but because we tend to scare the smaller fish out from along the banks.

The Fear II: Maple Leaf Gardens

The second time that The Fear struck was on my birthday. I think my eleventh. My father gave me two tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs. A Leaf hockey game for me then was the ultimate experience. I took a friend as my father didn’t really like hockey and thought that I might be happier on my own. The seats were great – center-ice reds – and we were up on the visiting team early. And then it hit me again. It wasn’t as strong as the first time. I seemed almost to have control over it. I could rationalize it.

Why was I sitting here watching this nonsense? Who gave a damn who scored what and when? The whole thing was a farce designed to brainwash and control. Nobody cared about winning. It was the popcorn, furs and dinners, the money, being part of the scenery that people cared about. The blue leaf could just as well be a red wing. I especially hated the silence between play, the organ occasionally filling that with carnival tunes. Eventually, it passed, but the evening had been depressing. We had won, but I didn’t give a damn. I just wanted to go home and get into bed.

Some Things To Get Out

I played goal for the Canadian Women’s national soccer team in a game against Costa Rica. I made a couple of solid saves, no rebounds, and we won the game. I am still surprised that I never get any recognition for that.

I flirted with Kim Basinger when she was young and was on the verge of kissing her after my joke about expensive encyclopedias. But then I lost her in the crowd.

I went to prison or camp after I told everyone I wanted to join the student government because they got away with spanking everyone. I actually went down the stairs, yelling that I was changing my major to PoliSci.

I awoke, thinking that I could use all of this in Mina. It was all so real. I would just have to flesh out the characters in a dramatic setting. And then I realized it worked better for Aqaara as that was set entirely on a spaceship.

And then I realized, just now, that none of it worked at all.

Friday Words XIX: Inure

Defn: Accustom someone to something, especially unpleasant.

We were kids and used to goof around all the time, snowballs, street hockey and riding our banana seat bikes down to the ravine. And then, I don’t know when, he was different. He thought that he knew everything and that I didn’t. I got inured to that until I finally told him what I thought. We don’t talk anymore.

Travel Thursday: The Metaphor of It

I’m giving up on Existential Thursdays. Got tired of pushing that rock up the hill! Instead, let’s try Travel Thursday because it’s always nice to go somewhere, especially when you can’t.

In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of territories we have conquered and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them. There is a sense of emptiness that comes over us at evening.

Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and never will have.*

Excerpted from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Pandemic Accomplishments in Week Eight

Eight weeks and counting. Time to list things I have completed so far:

a. Took over 100 pictures of empty New York streets

b. Attended Zoom events with famous people including McCaulay Culkin and Joel Cohen.

c. Read this book twice.

d. Starting in Week Two, rode this machine almost every day.

Note the backwards handlebars which were not fixed until Week Six

e, Most impressively, I reached Level 371 of Fishdom

Young Chronicles III: Cochrane to Timmins

Mileage 8573

I phoned my mom last night and everybody is fine. And me and Nigel had a party last night. We had three cookies and we watched TV. Then everybody went to bed and a pillow fell on me. And we saw two mouse like in the picture.

Mileage 8638

We are arriving in Timmins and we are ahead of the two cars, Mr. Fleming and Mrs. Cohen. We went to an open pit mine. It is 4/3 of a mile long and 1/2 a mile wide and 500 feet deep. They told us they have been working for seven years and they are going to work for three more years!

Then we went on a tour of a Timmins. We got magazine called The Golden Porcupine. The weather changed and it began to rain. Then we saw a skating rink and Frank Mahovlich learned to skate there. And I got one rock for dad, one for mom, and two for my sister and two for my brother. And one for me.

Mitz Calls His Condolences

Mitz, an old acquaintance from college, called out of the blue after my mother died. I knew that his wife put him up to it. She was a sweetheart. I don’t know why she stayed with him. Mitz was a dick. Years back, he fucked my ex-wife when she was passed out drunk and pretended he was drunk too.

“So how are you doing?”

That was his opening line, and It went on like that until I finally said it for him. “You’re calling about my mother’s death?”

“Are you doing okay?”

“Fine, thanks for asking.”

“Are you in Toronto for the funeral?”

“Still in New York, Mitz. Quarantined like everyone else.”

“Oh, yeah, I don’t know where my mind is at. But you’re doing okay?”

“What about you, Mitz? What about you?”

“I’m managing this co-op. And so that’s good.”

“No, I mean, are you still fucking drunk chicks?”

He pretended not to hear, but I wouldn’t let him off the hook.

“Or did you stop doing that?”

“Okay, that’s good. I’m glad you’re doing okay.”

“Yes, Mitz, I’m doing okay. Everybody is doing fucking okay.”

But he was gone by that time, and I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel bad about that.

Friday Words XVII: Deus Ex Machina

Defintion: An unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.

The key word being ‘contrived’. In other words, fiction. One day we might even accept that the only empathetic machinery in the universe is in our imaginations.