GEIST 7 6
FA C T & FI C TI O N
MADE IN CANADA SPRING 2010
GE IST 71 WINTE R
$6.95 CDN / $6.95 US / VOL. 17 75
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 3
www.geist.com published by The Geist Foundation publisher Stephen Osborne senior editor Mary Schendlinger managing editor Sarah Maitland publishing assistant Michal Kozlowski associate editor C.E. Coughlan executive director Patty Osborne office manager & reader services Kristin Cheung web editor Ross Merriam editorial assistant Sarah Hillier interns Jenny Kent, Becky McEachern, Chelsea Novak, Dan Post, Kate Reid administrative assistants Coriana Constanda, Allison Friebertshauser editorial board Kevin Barefoot, Bartosz Barczak, Trevor Battye, Jill Boettger, Marisa Chandler, Todd Coyne, Brad Cran, Laurie Edwards, Melissa Edwards, Robert Everett-Green, Derek Fairbridge, Daniel Francis, Erinna Gilkison, Helen Godolphin, Leni T. Goggins, Lily Gontard, Michael Hayward, Gillian Jerome, Brian Lam, Sarah Leavitt, Thad McIlroy, Billeh Nickerson, Eric Peterson, Leah Pires, Leah Rae, Debby Reis, Craig Riggs, Kris Rothstein, Norbert Ruebsaat, Jane Silcott, Paul Tough, Michelle van der Merwe, Carrie Villeneuve, Josh Wallaert, Kathy Vito, Kaleigh Wisman, Barbara Zatyko, Daniel Zomparelli accountant Mindy Abramowitz, cga advertising & marketing Clevers Media cover Steffen Quong web architects cascadiamedia.ca composition Vancouver Desktop distribution Magazines Canada printed in canada by Hemlock Printers first subscriber Jane Springer managing editor emeritus Barbara Zatyko Donate to the Geist Writers and Artists Fund: geist.com/donate
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Stephen Osborne 11 Defining Moments Sarah Leavitt 13 The Authoritative Field Guid to: Language Vermin David Albahari 14 Two Homes, One Wolf Myrna Garanis 16 World-Class Hotel Steven Heighton 17 Selected Monsters Norbert Ruebsaat 21 Ursula FINDINGS
Nino Ricci, Brad Robinson, 22 Five of a Kind, Kosmic Baseball, Savage Chickens, Cricket Spy, Doug Savage, Angus Bell, No One Except God, Branding, Nicole Markotic, Bicycle Cameo, Still a Writer, Sonny Assu, What We Know About Babies, Julie Vandervoort, 2010 Handbook for Entering George Bowering, Canada, For Uncle Dong Fei Who Patricia Young, Brad Cran, Just Keeps Going, Mansbridge on Weyman Chan, Gord Hill, Mansbridge, The Unconquered Mapuche Peter Mansbridge LOCAL LIT
Albert Butcher 38 The House on Mole Hill Antonette Rea Free Me from Anxiety Tavis W. Dodds 320 East Hastings FORTUNE COOKIE LIT
Jared Hazzard 52 Yellow Pants Jill Mandrake Lovetime Shannon Blake Fig Leaves COMMENT
Alberto Manguel 69 Karl Kraus, Everybodyâ€™s Neighbour Stephen Henighan 71 Writing Bohemia Daniel Francis 73 Canadaâ€™s Funnyman: The Flip Side DEPARTMENTS
6 In Camera 8 Letters
The Usual Gang 75 Endnotes Meandricus 87 Puzzle Melissa Edwards 88 Caught Mapping
Blood Memory 44 Instead of finding her, I invent her Lisa Wilson Every pregnant woman dreams of what her baby will be like. But babies shouldn’t have to dream their mothers.
Talent Night 48 I sang a song and Oksana performed Bruce McDougall a Ukrainian dance “I think that girl likes you,” said my dad. But my mother wanted me to play with Lydia-Jane Plunkett.
Memory Arranger 55 In these snapshots there was evidence of a Faith Moosang heavy hand How do you “read” the story told in an abandoned photo album, about women working in a potato chip factory half a century ago?
The Natural Elements 60 Women didn’t seem to realize that the Lynn Coady world was a dangerous place To think that he could end up the kind of man who wasn’t able to just do it himself—that made him sick.
COVER AND PRODUCTION NOTES
On the cover: Photographs from an abandoned photo album from the 1940s and ’50s, rescued and interpreted by Faith Moosang, in “Memory Arranger” (page 55). Cover design by Steffen Quong. Geist is printed on eco-friendly papers with vegetable-based inks, and is mailed in degradable polybags. Interior stock is Harbour 40 Offset; cover stock is Harbour 100 Cover.
On abando and ’50 Moosan XX) Co
hotography at the beginning of the twenty-first century has become so much a part of the everyday that it threatens to displace the world with a limitless bank of stored images. The ubiquitous imaging device—camera, phone, webcam, spycam— provides a set of procedures for responding to the world that consists of little else but turning on the power and pointing. The result is ready for storage and retrieval instantly, or at any time in the future: the world and our being in it is, in a manner of speaking, dismissed by the technology that promises to bring it closer. In an earlier age of analogue imaging, photography was not so near at hand; it required expertise, time and access to chemical processes. The sidewalk photographer stationed at the curb with his Electric-Photo camera could provide all of these elements as his pedestrian clients swept by on their way through downtown. The resulting photographs are midway between the snapshots that amateurs like many of the people in these photographs were used to making with their portable cameras, and the surveillance photographs produced as evidence by police officers in courtrooms and by photojournalists in newspapers. The photographs displayed here were taken by Foncie Pulice, perhaps the best known of the sidewalk photographers in Canada. Foncie operated his ElectricPhoto camera along Granville Street in downtown Vancouver for forty-five years, from 1934 to 1979. He chose his subjects as they approached, clicked the shutter and, as they passed by, handed them numbered slips bearing instructions for picking up prints the next day at Foncie’s Photo at 872 Granville. For many people Page 6 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
in Vancouver, walking by Foncie and his camera was part of an evening in the city, and Foncie’s photos became valued souvenirs as well as proof that one was there in the city, then, going somewhere. Such proof was especially valuable to immigrants who wished to send home evidence of their well-being in their new country. The curly-haired man who appears in four of these photographs is Otto Kowalski, who emigrated from the gdr in 1958, when he was twenty-seven. He made friends with Hildegarde, who appears in two of the photos and was from West Berlin, and with Mike, who was from Turkey and who moved in with Hildegarde, and they continue today in their common-law marriage in West Vancouver. Otto’s friend Marvin, from New York City, appears with him in one of the photos; he introduced Otto to the opera society. Otto became friends with
an older woman from Switzerland, whom he still refers to as Frau Greter; he recalls passing by Foncie’s camera as they carried flowers to their English tutor, a woman who, Otto told me on the telephone, helped them and many other immigrants struggling to adapt to a new culture and another language. People are slightly off-balance in sidewalk portraits. No other form of portraiture presents its subjects midstride, an often ungainly posture, as they approach the moment of the photograph and the offer (which may or may not be accepted) of a rendezvous noted on a slip of paper. These seemingly bland images remain opaque to the outsider, but to their subjects they are the site of memory and narrative, relics of the past rather than displacements of the present. —Mandelbrot
Thanks to Otto Kowalski for permission to print these photographs, and for providing a context for them. They can be seen with other examples of the work of Foncie Pulice at flickr.com in the Foncie’s Fotos group.
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 7
Geist is published four times a year by The Geist Foundation. Contents copyright © 2010 The Geist Foundation. All rights reserved. Subscriptions: in Canada: Individuals $24 (4 issues); Institutions $31; in the United States: $32; elsewhere: $32. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Correspondence and inquiries: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Include sase with Canadian postage or irc with all submissions and queries. #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Submission guidelines are available at geist.com. issn 1181-6554. Geist swaps its subscriber list with other cultural magazines for one-time mailings. Please contact us if you prefer not to receive these mailings. Publications Mail Agreement 40069678 Registration No. 07582 Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Circulation Department, #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Email: email@example.com Tel: (604) 681-9161, 1-888-geist-eh; Fax: (604) 669-8250; Web: geist.com Geist is a member of Magazines Canada and the B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and available on microfilm from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, usa. The Geist Foundation receives assistance from private donors, the Tula Foundation, the Canada Council, the B.C. Arts Council and the B.C. Gaming Branch. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program (pap) and the Canada Magazine Fund.
special thanks to the tula foundation
W RI T I NG OV ER WRI T I NG hank you for Sandra Shields and David Campion’s excellent photo essay, “Memory and the Valley” (Geist 74) on the subject of Euro-Canadian towns and spaces being superimposed on Aboriginal archaeological sites and significant places in the Fraser River valley in B.C. The text is sensitive and evocative, and the photographs are well done. The subjects seem banal—an overpass, an access road—yet knowing what lies underneath can trigger emotional reactions. One place mentioned in the article, Stave Lake, has two of the oldest archaeological sites in Canada (more than twelve thousand years old), parts of which have miraculously survived the reservoir inundation. I also found the online interview by Todd Coyne with Shields and Campion, writer and photographer, to be well worth reading. In archaeology there is a common notion of a “palimpsest,” which is borrowed from manuscript studies: parchments were scraped clean and reused, and the older writing can still be seen and read, a ghostly precursor image. Writing over writing, material culture over material culture, names over names and the living over the dead. Every time you walk across the concrete apron in front of the MacPherson Library at the University of Victoria, you walk across an archaeological site. Every time you leave the Elliott Lecture Theatre, you walk across a site. The B.C. Parliament Buildings are on a site, the Willows Beach Tea Room, the Fraser Arms Hotel in Vancouver—all superimposed, a
www.geist.com Page 8 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
collective blotting. Our feet tread the scraped parchment of the dead. —Quentin Mackie, Victoria The photo essay “Memory and the Valley” by Sandra Shields and David Campion is a fantastic article—a beautiful story that really captures the essence of the west coast landscape and the history of the Stó:lo people. —Anon, Cyberspace “Memory and the Valley” and the interview: geist.com CLOSE ENCOUNTERS hank you for “Stranger Song: How I (Finally) Met Leonard Cohen” by Ann Diamond (No. 72). I have met Leonard Cohen three times, although I was always too shy to engage him. But during his recent “endless tour,” when I joined about eight thousand souls in the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, he definitely met me. He met all of us. We left the arena a blissful flock of varied age and colour floating on the people’s prayer the whole cast had shared with us after two hours and twenty minutes of music and words. For about forty years I have been meeting him by singing his songs and leading others in singing them. I meet Leonard Cohen several times a week. I should say Leonard Cohen meets me several times a week—he comes toward me to make it easy. —Sandy Crawley, Toronto
CRAN EFFECT appreciated the poem “In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No” by Brad Cran (No. 75). My
daughters, aged six and eight, who have just started ski jumping, keep asking me why women ski jumpers were not allowed to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. My answer is that I don’t understand it either. There is no reason other than some people don’t want women to jump in the Olympics. Thanks to Brad Cran for his stand and for the poem! —Eric Everett, Lindhurst IL
ALL Y OU NEED loved the Winter issue of Geist (No. 75). “Western Girl” by Dana Mills was a photograph from any small town in western Canada, “Impatient” by Leslie Vryenhoek (first prize winner in the Geist Fortune Cookie Contest) was a jewel, “Chorus Line” by Jaynne Wellygan was to the point, edited flawlessly yet gently. But, ahem—I must now direct you to the bit of fluff on page 62, the advertisement for gift subscriptions to your magazine. The I read the poem “In Praise of Female illustration suggests that a dog would Athletes” just as my family and I were appreciate quality packing to fly to Canada, writing, whereas a cat and it was a relief. A bunch would think only of tuna. of cloud cushions Puleeze! When I suddenly growing under proffered pages of Geist our falling petrified to a number of nerves. We feel much neighbours’ dogs, the safer and far more results were a) an confident to know there immediate squat and pee, are people like you in b) a hard-nosed effort to Canada. find something to eat —Amir Azizmohamadi, Spotted on the roadside under the pages, or c) a Tehran, Iran between Condega and San The whole story, in a poem: Juan de Limay, Nicaragua: a rigorous chew. My two cats, on the other hand, geist.com gordita (fat lady) reading Geist 74. seeing me open the magazine, immediately jumped up on About Brad Cran’s poem “2010 my lap and shoulder, respectively, and Handbook for Entering Canada” gazed fondly at each and every page. (published online in February)— Occasionally the lap-cat placed a paw great piece of work. It’s too bad any on a page to stop me from turning it questions at all are asked at the before she had finished reading. An border. I feel that people who smash apology is warranted. shop windows wearing balaclavas —Madeline Hombert, Surrey BC should all be allowed into Canada to express their opinions whether it Just wanted to say how much I like Geist breaks laws or not. I don’t care if 75. There was some moving and some kids are upset or not. We hilarious and cheeky stuff in there. And should live in a world without laws or I love love love the new design! The order. Kids need to be tough. Border covers in particular are spectacular. And officers: Please don’t ask questions or the paper, and the colour, and be proud of your job. The artists of everything. Keep on keeping on. the world may get upset. —Tracy Stefanucci, Vancouver —Anon, Cyberspace Read Geist 75 online at geist.com/75/ What colour is your heart? and other digital-edition. handbook Qs: on page 32.
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 9
DARK, WET, NOI SY hristopher Grabowski’s photo essay “Land’s End,” about remote communities along the west coast (No. 73), reminded me of when I worked as a summer student at the mill in Ocean Falls, B.C., during 1963 and 1964. Oh, but it was so far away from the lights of Vancouver! Of many memories, I will share these: the weekend-visiting fishing crews who played fantastic pool on the hotel pool tables, the gulag atmosphere of the groundwood room—dark, wet and horrendously noisy, and, after more than three months of working and saving money, a flight up and into the clouds to Bella Coola and an endless trip along gravel roads to Williams Lake, in the back seat of a vw bug. —Kim Morgan, Nanaimo Ocean Falls and other towns on the edge: geist.com
WORST A ND BEST y mom passed away recently at the age of ninety, and “Sewing Cabinet” by Julie Vandervoort (No. 74) was such a strong reminder of what I went through as the primary caregiver that I was overwhelmed with emotion. I too sat in those uncomfortable places watching Mom die (ovarian cancer). I too watched the people around her in the hospital—the struggling, the anger, the anguish, the frustration that life hands to the elderly. I will always cherish Mom’s cookbook, a gift to her on her wedding day from someone who is long since gone. That one thing is much like the sewing cabinet for Vandervoort. Her story is very good—the confusion, the timeline, the flow are all very real, and they bring back the hours, days and weeks that were the worst and best of times for me. Watching my mom slowly die was the worst of times. Being with
Page 10 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
her, learning about her life before I was born, who she was as a woman and not just as my mother, hearing stories she never told before and so much more, made it the best of times. I know that what Vandervoort has put to page comes from deep within her soul, and I thank her for sharing it with us. —Rowdy Rhodes, Cyberspace A sewing cabinet full of memories: geist.com
David Clark reads Geist at the Catredal de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, in May 2009.
MEMORY PROTOCOL n response to Patty Osborne’s blog post suggesting that Remembrance Day wreaths be removed from monuments by a certain date, usually wreaths are removed by Legion members at about sunset on November 11. As for the reader’s comment about poppies that always fall out, you can remove the straight pin and fasten the poppy with one of those small Canadian-flag lapel pins that are available for sale all over and sometimes handed out on July 1. Or you can pull out the straight pin a wee bit, push it through your lapel, pierce the edge of the poppy petal with the end of the pin, then push it back into the lapel so the point doesn’t stab anyone. The poppy won’t move until you take it out. After Remembrance Day, poppies can be placed on the cenotaph or taken to the grave of a veteran. Walking in a
cemetery is good exercise and a peaceful activity, and the spirit of the veteran will be grateful to be remembered. —Jessie Hendrigan, Trail BC One of the comments on the Remembrance Day blog asked what to do about a communion wafer that has been dropped on the floor. If the question is a serious one, the serious answer is that it is to be consumed at once, by the relevant human, just as if it had not been dropped on the floor. For those of us who do take these matters seriously, this is just about as serious as it gets. —Richard Dunstan, Nanaimo, BC The Remembrance Day blog post, with piquant comments: geist.com SUBTLE DISTINCTIONS aniel Francis writes a mixed review of Michael Ignatieff’s True Patriot Love (No. 75), but Ignatieff is important as a public figure, not just a politician, because his view of society is far more expansive than most. He can speak to Canadian people and their ideas and feelings about identity, what distinguishes us overtly and subtly in the fabric of our nation. That is something that Canadians don’t always recognize, because we see ourselves as second to the United States. Ignatieff can help Canadians respect ourselves and the culture that we know, and to decide what represents us in the mosaic of Canadian culture and society. — G.K. Nicoll, Vancouver “Politics Times Two,” reviews by Daniel Francis: geist.com
HEY, TEACHER e More Controllive,” Mary Leah de Zwart’s compilation of advice
Letters continue on page 86
NOTES & DISPATCHES Defining Moments STEPHEN OSBORNE
The Olympic Winter Games left a trail of moments: a rare moment, a Canadian moment, a you moment, a me moment . . .
n the afterglow of the Olympics, when the Winter Games had been over for a day and not yet sunk into the past, newsreaders, talkers and media commentators struggled to remember what had just happened. In much the same way, we strive to recall the dream slipping away as we emerge from sleep, by grasping for the facts as they seem to have struck just now with such urgency: were there 100,000 in that crowd, or was it 130,000, 150,000? What facts yield themselves to memory: 39,000, 45,000, airport, stadium, four-hour queues at the zip line, six hours? Two hours at the beer garden? By the second day there were fewer facts and larger numbers: 22 million; 26 million; 6 billion, 1 billion, and percentages appeared for the first time: 88 percent, 73 percent, and a surprising hallucinatory detail: “4,500 gm trucks.” As the dream receded further into the realms of memory a trail of moments, photo: thad mcilroy
irreducible kernels of the eventful, lay revealed to audiences: moments personal, national, Olympian—and true: a true moment and even a moment unadorned, as in “that was a moment,” and of course a Canadian moment, a you moment, a me moment, a real Canadian moment, a rare moment, and the old standard moment of moments: a defining moment. The strangest or most exotic of facts recalled during this moment of waking up was the quantity of “drinks poured out” by police officers: 21,000 drinks, as reported every half hour on cbc Radio the day after the Olympics ended, calling up images of police officers morphing into bartenders, measuring and then pouring out drinks into the gutters of the city. The deputy chief of police supplied facts of his own: the day after the Olympics was “a great day to be Canadian,” he told reporters. “Tip of a hat to Winston Churchill,” he went on to say in another moment,
perhaps a moment of overstatement, “but never in the city of Vancouver have so many owed so much to so many.” On the first day of the Games, I had lunch at the Pho Thái Hòa restaurant on Kingsway, far from the centre of the city where the Olympic dream was taking form. Among those at the table was the poet laureate of Vancouver, who had earlier in the week denounced the censorship and anti-free speech policies of vanoc, the Moloch-like authority behind the Games. The television screens in the Pho Thái Hòa brimmed with images of smiling faces: announcers, tourists, police officers, children, citizens, athletes. Among the athletes’ faces was the face of my nephew, whom I recognized with a start although I knew that he was on the ski team and at that preliminary moment hoped to win a medal, and I too hoped that he would win. The city appeared on television to be filling up with hundreds or thousands of well-scrubbed people crowding into the centre of the frame; and as we sipped our bowls of pho we understood that another perhaps parallel, certainly more crowded, universe was unfolding somewhere down the hill. In the evening, I walked down Commercial Drive beneath the eye of a helicopter throbbing overhead, to the Kathmandu Café, where the proprietor, Abi Sharma, had just returned from a demonstration downtown at the Vancouver Art Gallery, organized by a coalition of anti-poverty and human rights groups called the 2010 Welcoming Committee, and whose fifty-seven endorsers include Check Your Head, Colour Connected Against Racism, Food Not Bombs, Citywide Housing Coalition, the Bus Riders Union, International Federation of Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 11
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Iranian Refugees, Indigenous Action Movement, Industrial Workers of the World, Student Christian Movement, Vancouver Status of Women, West End Wild Animal Alliance, WorkerCommunist Party of Iran, Work Less Party and Progressive Nepali Forum in the Americas, whose president is Abi Sharma, who managed to get a moment at the microphone on the art gallery steps to denounce corruption in the Nepal Olympic Committee. All ten members of the committee were in Vancouver at the expense of the Nepali people, he said, but the only Olympian contender in Nepal, an Alpine skier named Shyam Dhakal, would not be coming to Vancouver because he had refused to divert ioc funds to committee members (a story told on Facebook at the group Help Shyam Dhakal), who had kept him out of the Olympics and deprived him, so to speak, of the opportunity to compete against my nephew in the downhill races.
here are no television sets in the Kathmandu Café, whose walls are covered with large photographs of the alpine forests and snowy peaks of Nepal, the tiny nation of 30 million people where Abi Sharma spent much of his student life evading the political police and in jail suffering interrogation at their hands. His journey to Canada followed a convoluted path that began in Finland in 1986; having failed to learn Finnish within the time required to qualify for residency, he was forced to move on to other countries and other requirements. Twenty-five years later he opened the Kathmandu Café on Commercial Drive, as a locus for revolutionary discussion and a gathering place for those in the Nepali diaspora opposed to the old regime and the growing corruption in the new. He once said to me, as he was describing Page 12 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
the early days of student revolution: “I have seen death coming right at me, and I called to my mother.” He had marched with the several thousand anti-Olympics demonstrators from the art gallery to the police barricade at the B.C. Place stadium, where the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games would be taking place. Then it was time to go back and open the restaurant. Later he said that by opposing the Olympics, “we oppose Coca Cola, which represents to me the real enemy.” He had heard the poet laureate on the radio explaining his opposition to actions of the Olympic organizers, and he said: “I salute that man, you must tell him that I salute the poet laureate.” At the demonstration he had been most impressed by the Circassians of New Jersey. The Circassians are an indigenous people of the Caucasus, and Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is the traditional centre of their lands, from which they have been exiled since the middle of the nineteenth century. A million and half people were dispersed, killed, deported. “They are the victims of genocide,” Abi said, “and they came from New Jersey to attend the protest in Vancouver. I salute them; I salute the Circassians!” I went for a walk farther along Commercial Drive; it was a Friday night and there were almost no cars on the street and only a handful of pedestrians on the sidewalk. I passed a restaurant and a pizza joint. Inside, people were watching television. I went back to look again, and saw that on television it was opening night at the Olympics: everyone in the city was watching tv. A few days later I flew to another city, in the morning, as fighter jets lifted into the air from a distant runway and vanished into the vertical blue depths above the city. While I was away, I heard several times on the news that “200,000 people” would be arriving in
Vancouver on the weekend of my return, and indeed crowds of travellers clustered into the baggage area; as I struggled to find a place near the carousel I realized that the crowds were watching a hockey game on the television sets hung throughout the sector. The game went on and on, and by the time my bag appeared the Americans were ahead in the final period. Outside at the taxi stand there were no taxis in sight, but the line of waiting passengers extended the whole length of the sidewalk, no doubt the effect of the 200,000 arrivals predicted in the news. I decided to take the new rail service into town, and a young man in a uniform gave me directions that led me into the opening of the parkade, and then down a deserted grey hallway, which I followed all the way to the end, as he had told me, to a door that looked like it was locked but was not locked. I opened it and stepped up onto a roadway. It was dark; above me bright lights shone through glass; I stepped onto a grassy bank and kept going as the young man had directed me. There was no one around, no sign of the 200,000, no traffic of any kind. Had I been misled by the young man in the uniform? I crossed the grass with my suitcase on wheels and came out behind a concrete abutment to a paved entranceway and a set of escalators, one of which carried me, alone, to a deserted platform where a train stood waiting with its doors open. I entered a car and the doors closed. There was one other passenger. We coasted into the city in a vast metallic silence. When I stepped off the train and out onto the street, people were streaming through the intersection, and the crosstown bus was filled with passengers. I squeezed aboard with my luggage, and as the bus pulled away the passengers around me seemed to be enjoying themselves, even perhaps to be enjoying themselves
NOTES & DISPATCHES
enjoying themselves. They spoke in languages foreign to me and they seemed to be almost out of control, just barely able to contain themselves in happiness.
n the evening of the last day of the Olympics I went out to the House of Dosas for a dinner of vegetable pakoras and Chicken 65. There is usually a cricket match on tv at the House of Dosas, but tonight it was the closing ceremony of the Games, an event bathed in icy blue light reminiscent of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in the frozen North. I was reading an old book by Leslie Fiedler and looked up only occasionally into the icy scene, as did the families sitting at big round tables with rolled-up dosas in front of them, but no one seemed to be following the television closely. At some point the table next to me was taken by a man in a red hockey shirt and a woman in a Canadian flag fashioned into a cape. When the mayor of Sochi appeared on television beside the mayor of Vancouver, I remembered Abi’s salute to the Circassians on opening night and looked up, half expecting to see Circassians rush into the scene bearing placards. But the Sochi presentation was relentlessly Russian, and included the Russian anthem rendered loudly and drearily by a chorus clearly determined to sing to the bitter end. Toward the end of the week of waking up after the Olympics, a media studies professor from Ryerson University entered the discussion of moments on cbc Radio with an account of “moments of passionate consumption” that events such as the Olympics, at least since the Berlin Games of 1936, are likely to call forth; later the news anchor reported that Chinese visitors at the Games in Vancouver had spent an average $423 per transaction, Russians $236 and Swiss $140. Sales in local bars and pubs had increased by 130 percent and clothing sales by 98 percent, and whenever the men’s hockey
Sarah Leavitt regularly contributes writing and comics to Geist. Her graphic memoir, Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me, will be published by Freehand Books in 2010. For more, visit sarahleavitt.com.
team was on the ice, spending in the city had dropped by 41 percent. There was another Nepali athlete at the Games, Abi told me later: a crosscountry skier who lived in France, who had paid his own way to Canada to ski for his native country. Abi arranged an honouring ceremony for him at the Kathmandu Café and invited mem-
bers of the Nepali community to attend. He did not invite the Nepal Olympic Committee. Stephen Osborne is publisher and editorin-chief of Geist. He is also the awardwinning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at geist.com. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 13
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Two Homes, One Wolf DAVID A LBAHARI
The immigrant’s new home represents success and hope—doesn’t it?
ne winter morning I put my jacket on and went outside to shovel the snow, but it was so cold I had to go back into the house. I made some tea, hoping that it would make me feel warm, but it did not work. I walked through the house, down to the basement and up again. It did not help. I walked faster and faster until I was almost running, but that did not help either. And then, while I was racing down the stairs to the basement, I remembered my mother. I have not thought of her for years and now, all of a sudden, while I was almost flying down the stairs, I could think of nothing else. In my mind’s eye I saw her standing in the Page 14 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
corner, near the window. She turned to me and said that I should go outside. I replied that I’d rather stay at home. But why? she exclaimed. If a house were a good thing, the wolf would have one. I’ve heard that saying before. It was one of hundreds she knew. Nothing could surprise her: good news, bad news, births, marriages, graduations, divorces, deaths—whatever happened, she would produce a saying that was perfect for the occasion. But why did she want me to go out into the freezing cold? And why did she speak against having a house? Wasn’t she the one who adored our old apartment in Zemun, and kept it clean and
tidy as long as she could? Mother, I wanted to ask her, isn’t buying a house every immigrant’s dream? The house is the proof of success for family members back home, and it also represents the new owners’ hope that now they’ll feel they belong here. Soon after that, as I waited at the Calgary airport for my flight to Frankfurt, the man sitting next to me said, “I hate planes.” He then told me, or rather he whispered, as if he were telling me a secret, “and I am afraid of flying, but I have no choice. I cannot swim across the ocean, can I?” He spoke with a recognizable Russian accent. It sounded almost like my Serbian accent, and when I spoke, he gave me a big hug as if I were his best friend. “I knew,” he said, “that you’re one of us!” I didn’t know what he meant. “One of us,” he repeated. “You know, Slavs, Eastern Europeans, who else?” “How did you know?” I asked. He shrugged. “I didn’t. I saw you coming this way, sitting down on this chair, and something inside me told me that you’re one of us.” He looked into my eyes. “You don’t believe me, do you?” “I don’t know you,” I told him. “Why would I believe you?” “But we’re brothers,” he said, “and not only because we’re Slavs. We’re also immigrant brothers. You, just like me, have two hearts.” I touched my chest. There was only one heart beating in there, I was sure. “No two hearts in this body, buddy,” I told him. “Oh, yes,” he said, “there are two of them. You know that saying—home is where the heart is? You know it, I’m sure.” “I do,” I said. “Everybody does.” “And that’s why immigrants have two hearts,” he said with a note of triumph in his voice. “They have two homes. A new one in Canada and an old
photo: YOU’RE A LONG WAY FROM HOME, michael chrisman
NOTES & DISPATCHES
one somewhere else in the world. Mine is in Moscow, and where’s yours?” “In Belgrade,” I told him. “You see,” he said, “and why didn’t you sell it when you moved to Canada?” “How could I?” I answered. “It’s my home.” A female voice invited passengers to board the plane. Afraid that the man might try to sit next to me, I did not wait for him. I got up and joined the line of people who held their boarding passes, then found my seat, sat down, opened a magazine and hid behind it. Slowly I became aware that something was happening inside me. I touched my chest again and this time I could feel my second heart, beating like mad. So, Mother, I whispered, what should I do with two hearts, two homes and one wolf? But she did not say anything. I tried again; there was no reply. Instead, a voice asked me who I was talking to. I put my magazine down and saw an old woman sitting next to me. “I’m just trying to talk to my mother,” I said. “Oh, dear,” the old woman said. “Where is she?” “She’s up there.” “Where, in first class?” “No,” I said, “up there,” and I looked up at the ceiling. The old woman looked up as well. The plane began to move faster and faster, and we just sat there, watching the ceiling as if my mother, or perhaps a wolf, were to appear at that spot any moment now, soon.
David Albahari is the author of twenty published books in Serbian; six have been translated into English, including Snow Man (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005) and Leeches (Harcourt, 2010). He lives in Calgary. Read “Shuttle Survivors” (No. 74) and his other Geist work at geist.com. Spring 2010 • G E I ST 76 • Page 15
NOTES & DISPATCHES
World-Class Hotel MYRNA GARANIS
Eight decades apart, a flamboyant poet-performer and a champion figure skater brought excitement and a sort of glamour to the Davenport Hotel in Spokane
n the lobby of the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington, a gold plaque near the concierge’s desk states that Vachel Lindsay was once a guest here. Vachel who? A dead American poet, apparently. I’m a poet myself, a Canadian one. His name didn’t ring a bell. I did know about another Davenport guest, though—in fact, I had flown in to see him: a living, breathing figure skater named Alexei Yagudin. A few months earlier, he had become an Olympic gold champion, and now, in October 2002, he was in Spokane to perform in Skate America. I wanted to catch another glimpse of the champ as well as the other glitterazzi of the skating world. In this hotel lobby, from his seat on a couch very near some nosebleedticket–holding eavesdroppers, Yagudin announced that because of a congenital hip condition, he was withdrawing from the men’s free skate, and from any further amateur skating competition. The media had been chasing the rumour of his retirement, at age twentyone, for a while. And other rumours. His predecessors, fellow Olympians from Russia, had fallen to problem drinking
Page 16 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
after their Olympic triumphs. They still moved in and out of alcohol treatment programs. Yagudin himself had had a similar lapse before the Olympics in February, but pulled himself up with the aid of his coach and choreographer, the fur-clad, iron-handed Tatiana Tarasova. I was not staying at the Davenport, which was way beyond my budget. I was just hanging among other fans, mostly female, in the lobby, where scheduled public viewings of skating stars occurred. Tarasova was here, recognizable by her extravagant wide-swinging mink coat. Already she had a new pupil in tow, a young American skater from the women’s division, Sasha Cohen. The Davenport had been the top hotel in town for a few months, since a philanthropist couple had undertaken to restore it to its original 1920s glamour and grandeur. One of their aims was to entice high-profile visitors and potential citizens, and international figure-skating entourages. Apparently no expense was spared for the comfort of guests like Alexei Yagudin. Thick pillars rose from behind silk-upholstered
banquettes where lovers might remain cloistered, or business deals might be clinched unobserved. There were potted palms, a restored Italian marble fountain, two immense original fireplaces to linger by, and comfortable loveseats handy for listening in on other people’s conversations. All the trappings of wealth and power were in place, as they were in 1924 when Spokane city fathers had agreed to invite the poet Vachel Lindsay to come and stay awhile. The same city fathers who evicted him from the hotel and the city five years later, in 1929. It all started when a lawyer named Ben Kizer, a great admirer of Vachel Lindsay’s work, persuaded city officials and Louis Davenport, owner of the hotel, to buck up Spokane’s image from backwater town to cultural metropolis by bringing Lindsay in as a guest. At the time, Lindsay was hugely popular as a troubadour, travelling all over the United States, and well known as an author whose most famous book was Johnny Appleseed and Other Poems. Kizer assured the Spokane business community that Lindsay would be literary bait, attracting other big names to Spokane. They ensconced him in Room 1129, a suite large and grand enough for entertaining. Louis Davenport and Lindsay supporters would pay his hotel bills, and it was understood, though not so well by Lindsay, that he was to pay back the establishment by giving performances, writing pieces glorifying the city, and educating Spokane citizens on the spoken arts. Lindsay took advantage of his privileged position, spreading his entertainment entourage down to the entire main floor of the Davenport: dining room, smoking room, lobby, even the ballroom. He composed nine elegiac poems about Spokane, which were published in the city’s Spokesman-Review newspaper. They include “Under Spokane’s Brocaded Sun,” which begins with this stanza:
photo: main dining room, davenport’s restaurant, c. 1911
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Under Spokane’s brocaded sun, and her deeply embroidered moon I walk on the Rim Rock rampart put there by heaven’s hand, Long before the city came, before the ocean or the land. This Rim Rock has one eastern notch for the river to run in And the other notch is a water gate at first northwest; Then south; Grotesquely around, coils the rampart, like a hoop-snake Tail in mouth.
As a poet-performer, Lindsay brought excitement and a sort of glamour to the Davenport and to Spokane. He dined every night in the main dining room. In the grand lobby and in his rooms, he created literary games for the group who had gathered round him. One of the players was Elizabeth Connor, an impressionable twenty-three-year-old schoolteacher, who, after a short romance, married the forty-five-year-old Lindsay. The wedding was held in his suite at the Davenport. Not long afterward, Elizabeth lost her teaching job, their main source of
income. The group’s antics in the hotel lobby and elsewhere, reported diligently in the Spokesman-Review, may have had something to do with it. Gradually Lindsay’s behaviour became more bizarre and rude. He was always low on funds; his room and dining bills mounted. He wore the wrong clothes: “a raincoat . . . when others were coatless,” wrote Mildred Weston, author of Vachel Lindsay: Poet in Exile, published in 1987, “or a black shirt when black shirts were not common.” For months, he dined with life-size
Selected Monsters STEVEN HEIGHTON
for Barbara Gowdy
n Florence, circa 1460, Cosimo de’ Medici enclosed a mixed group of animals in a pen and invited Pope Pius II to attend the spectacle, which was meant to determine which beast was the most ferocious: the lion, the fighting bull, the bloodhound, the gorilla or perhaps the giraffe—an animal then known in Europe as a camelopard. “Holiness, with these monsters in close quarters we’re sure to have a brawl.” But the new Caesars lacked some Roman secret—razors in the stable straw, or a bonus bout of starvation, glass goads in the anus or a goon squad of trainers who knew how to crack a good whip. So this static, comic crPche—this flop— a Peaceable Kingdom with cud-chewing bull, ape absently wanking, lion asleep, bloodhound’s limbs twitching in some wet dream of a hind’s stotting fetlocks, and the giraffe, free of wounds,
hunched by the fence, its trembling yellow ass not enough to coax an assault. Pius cleared his throat. “The Florence heat, I suppose,” he yawned. “I’ve seen sportier feats at a Synod. When’s dinner?” Trailing hoots and loutcalls, the mob drained out at the exits, the box seats emptied, the media crews taxied elsewhere, till finally Cosimo’s bloodpit was a high-shelved archive of human refuse— handbills, tickets, peanut shells, all set to motion by a new wind, as if performing for that pen of blinking inmates, who remained there . . . still remain in the blinding empirical lens of the sun and uranium rainfall, centuries on. “At eight. Expect exotic cuts. And excellent wine.”
Steven Heighton is publishing two books in spring 2010: Every Lost Country, a novel set in contemporary Tibet (Knopf), and Patient Frame, a poetry collection that includes “Selected Monsters” (Anansi). His poems and stories have appeared recently in London Review of Books, Poetry, Tin House, Brick, Walrus and Best Canadian Poetry 2009. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 17
NOTES & DISPATCHES
French boudoir dolls and insisted that the waiters serve the dolls as if they were real people. And he failed to deliver celebrities to the city. His invitations to Carl Sandburg, Sinclair Lewis and others all went unheeded. Vachel Lindsay’s star had been on the fade before he arrived in Spokane, something Kizer had not picked up on. Lindsay’s books were no longer selling well. He was trading on the successes of his early works when the offer came from Spokane. And he was suffering from “a deteriorating mental condition, exacerbated by diabetes, petit mal epilepsy, and mid-life crisis,” according to Mildred Weston. After the birth of their first child, Lindsay and his wife were politely evicted from the Davenport. They moved to a house in Browne’s Addition, a well-established moneyed neighbourhood. Then, plagued by debts, they moved back to Lindsay’s childhood home in Springfield, Illinois. In 1931 he committed suicide by swallowing Lysol. The Davenport hotel, built near the railway station, went into decline in the 1940s, when motels became popular among the growing numbers of people who travelled more by car than by train. New owners took over in the 1950s and made cosmetic changes, probably to reflect the new era and compete with motel design. The hotel no longer attracted the customers it preferred. When Elvis Presley and his entourage came to Spokane in August of 1957, they stayed at the Ridpath, not the Davenport. By the 1970s, after more changes of ownership and more degrading updates to the decor, the hotel went into bankruptcy. It closed down in 1985, then sat vacant until the 1990s, when the Friends of the Davenport came together to save it from demolition. Vachel Lindsay is remembered in Springfield, Illinois, by a museum devoted to his pre-Spokane glory days. But all that remains of his Spokane tenure is
the plaque in the lobby of the Davenport, and a brief mention in the index of Spokane’s Legendary Davenport Hotel, a book celebrating the rebirth of the hotel—although it was hard to find anyone in the rejuvenated Davenport who could even point out the gold plaque, let alone talk about how it came to be there. Alexei Yagudin moved back to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia. After an emotional declaration of retirement, he managed to skate several seasons with Stars on Ice by simply not executing his Olympic-sized quads and triple triple jumps. He had a hip replacement late in 2007 and hoped to re-enter amateur competition. An injury in Germany dashed that hope. Though only die-hard skating fans in Spokane would remember him now, Yagudin remains a celebrity of sorts in Russia, appearing on the tv series The Ice Age. His arch-rival and teammate in 2002, Evgeni Plushenko, went on to win gold in 2006, and silver in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. These days the Davenport is doing rather well. Spokane itself is doing well, without either a poet laureate or a renowned athlete to keep visitors coming. Restorations of buildings from a rich architectural past are ongoing. The Fox Theatre has been revived, and it draws great crowds. The grand reopening of this art deco building included a performance by the troubadour Tony Bennett. The Fox had originally opened in September 1931, a couple of months before Vachel Lindsay’s death. With all the restoration activity, the city is a good candidate to host international events. After all, a dazzling performing-arts theatre will attract stars, and world-class hotels will house them, if only temporarily. Myrna Garanis’s poetry will be published in the New Quarterly, Descant and the Red Berry Review in spring 2010. Her most recent piece in Geist was “Phenomenon of Echoes” (No. 44). Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 19
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Ursula NORBERT RUEBSAAT
rsula Bainbridge was born Ursula Schumacher, in Rheinberg, Germany, in 1925. She was the oldest of three daughters, and was known as an athletic, artistically gifted child, somewhat strong-willed and rebellious—because, people said, her father, Herbert, had a habit of treating her “more like a boy.” Ursula’s teenage years coincided with the Allied bombings of German cities and towns in World War ii. She did much of her high school homework in basement air raid shelters, into which her mother, Mia, sometimes had trouble dragging her at night because Ursula slept so soundly. She passed her Abitur, high school matriculation (an uncommon achievement for girls in her generation), in 1943, and was drafted into the National Socialist Youth Labour Brigade and sent to work in a munitions factory. On March 27, 1945, in Munich, as the city was being carpet-bombed, she married Helmut Ruebsaat, a neighbour since her childhood and now a medical student. The couple had to duck into air-raid shelters for cover three times on their way from the church to city hall to collect their marriage licence. Ursula, Helmut and their two children, Norbert and Ulrike, settled in
Canada in 1952, first in Edmonton, then in the small community of Castlegar in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. Ursula and Helmut were active singers, skiers, hikers and campers, and Ursula learned cooking, bread baking, knitting and spinning from the local Doukhobor women who formed a good part of Helmut’s medical practice. Her daughter Susanna was born in Nelson General Hospital in 1953, and her third daughter, Gisela, was born in the family’s 1956 Meteor sedan (delivered by Helmut) on the highway from Castlegar to Nelson in 1956. The family moved to Vancouver in 1960, and Helmut and Ursula divorced in 1968. By this time Ursula had enrolled at the University of British Columbia and studied German literature; in the early 1970s she earned her teacher’s certificate and her Master of Arts degree. During this period she opened the family home on Pine Crescent to students, who remember her for providing a homey atmosphere and intelligent conversation. She described those years as one of the happiest times in her life. In 1971, Ursula and Gisela moved to Vernon, B.C., where Ursula taught
English, art and physical education in elementary and high schools, and later sold textbooks to schools in the Okanagan Valley. She was an active skier whose little Volkswagen bug was said to plow through the snowdrifts to Silver Star ski hill more efficiently than many large masculine vehicles. In March 1972 she married Jack Bainbridge, and over the next few years the couple lived in Vernon, Saanichton, Maple Ridge, Mission, Victoria and Gabriola Island. In three of these places they built houses, an activity they enjoyed so much that for an entire summer, while they were building the Mission house on a mountain ridge above the Fraser River, they lived in a pup tent so as to be present for all stages of construction. They travelled through other parts of B.C. as well, camping in their vw Westfalia; and when they were at home, Ursula produced beautiful weavings, knittings, paintings and pottery. While she and Jack were living on a small acreage in Saanichton, Ursula realized her childhood dream of being a farmer. She kept chickens, ducks, geese, pigs and goats, not to mention dogs. She also had a cow, into whose birth canal she one day unabashedly, and to the extreme amazement of a young friend of Gisela’s, thrust her forearm up to the elbow to help the cow deliver her calf. During these years Ursula and Jack often visited Ursula’s mother, Mia, and her sister’s family in Bonn, Germany. After Mia died, the Schumacher sisters and their husbands went on walking and canal boat tours through northwest Germany and Holland, and Ursula renewed her connection to her birth country and to her sister. Ursula Bainbridge died in October 2009, in St. Vincent’s Langara Care Home in Vancouver. All of the many people who loved Ursula as mother, sister, aunt, great aunt, grandmother, great grandmother, teacher, mentor and friend will miss her adventurous soul. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 21
FIVE OF A KIND Nino Ricci A tribute to Paul Quarrington (1953–2010), presented in October 2009, during the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, on the occasion of his receiving the Writers’ Trust of Canada Matt Cohen Award. Quarrington was a writer, filmmaker, musician and teacher, author of ten novels and many other works, and recipient of a Governor General’s Award and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. His friend Nino Ricci is the author of Lives of the Saints and four other novels, most recently The Origin of Species, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
bout ten years ago, Paul Quarrington and I started a poker circle that met every month or so in various hotel suites we would rent for the purpose. Eventually we wore out our welcome at most of the better downtown hotels and began to hold our games at a bachelor pad Paul had moved into at a point when his domestic life was, shall we say, in a state of transition. Now, anyone who thinks of Paul as the calm, Page 22 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
modest, easygoing type he is often portrayed as in the media has clearly never played poker with him. Here is how a Quarrington poker evening unfolds. We start, always, in the milling that goes on before we have fully assembled, with a Quarrington card trick. These tricks are like a cross between a 42nd Street shell game and a David Copperfield illusion, beginning with the casual air of a parlour amusement but then slipping over, at some point, into the unfathomable. A card suddenly flies from your fist and turns out to be the chosen one; an ace somehow teletransports from one side of the table to the other. These are not pastimes learned in whiling away the hours of a Sunday afternoon but the mark of an obsessive, someone who has taken pains to master the subtlest sleights of hand, who knows the best magic stores and the best magicians, who travels to Vegas not to spend long nights at the gaming tables but to attend magicians’ conventions. What these tricks tell us, beneath Paul’s casual smile, is to beware: he is a force to be reckoned with. From this initiation, which hangs over us the whole evening like a blessing and a curse, we move to the deal. If you think of Paul as a man not averse to an evening of friendly banter, you’d be wrong when it comes to poker. “If you want to chit-chat,” he says, “do it at home. Don’t bring it here.” At the table, the game is all. Talk of past games is permissible, or of future ones; also, talk of online poker or poker on tv. In exceptional cases—his own, for instance—talk of other poker circles is also allowed, though most of us regard consorting with other poker circles as a form of adultery. Much of our talk about the game centres on The Rules. Who is the Big Blind and who the little one? Should one burn a card before a flop? photo: thad mcilroy
To the uninitiated, this talk would seem equal parts simple childishness and utter nonsense, but the highest sort of metaphysics is unfolding, over which Paul sits as the final arbiter. Invariably, at some point in the evening, he poses the great question: Is it possible, in a moral universe, to have five of a kind? Much turns on this question, not only the pot Paul is about to lose, but also issues of a truly cosmic urgency. Is there some preordained shape to things, some structure that provides an absolute moral order, or is it all a matter of chance and contingencies and wild cards? Paul, a purist, abhors the wild card. He will use one if he has to, but the question always lingers: at what price? None of us ever sees it coming, but this moment of The Question is always a turning point in the evening, as if the abyss has opened up. The wild card has been played and can’t be retracted—it is every bad decision ever made and every good one too; it is every jury that has ever passed you over but also every one, against the odds, that has given you the prize. It is the whole mess of luck and unluck that makes up a life, and that no sleight of hand can unravel. Now the crack in the firmament has been revealed, and as we wend toward the boozy later hours of the evening, Paul rants and raves like Lear on the heath, throws tantrums, picks on his friends. If he is winning he bets wildly, daring us to match him; if he is losing he pulls out his Canada Savings Bonds and his old stamp collections and his children’s college fund and bets it all. Then, finally, the storm subsides, and there comes the calm. There are no bodies on the stage, not yet, at least, just scattered ashes and crumbs and a broken glass or two; and while the last rounds play themselves out, Jimmy Webb plays on Paul’s stereo, it is always Jimmy Webb. In the earlier parts of the evening there is no predicting what musical arcana or Quarrington memorabilia will make itself heard, but these little hours of the morning are saved for the dulcet tones of this man who wrote the songs we all know, though we didn’t know it. “Wichita Lineman.” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” “MacArthur Park.” Webb is the Quarrington closer, getting his due, the moral order restored, and as MacArthur Park melts in the rain we pack away our chips and our wild cards, and head for home.
KOS M I C BAS E BAL L Brad Robinson From an unpublished memoir about counterculture baseball in Vancouver during the 1970s. Brad Robinson (1942–2009) was a writer, poet, critic, teacher, deckhand and carpenter. He was the author of six published books, most recently The Walking Wife Series: A Lunch in Bangkok (2008), as well as many articles for periodicals, including the fourteen issues of his selfpublished Robinson’s Fortnightly (1977).
n 1970 I got a job writing a column for the Georgia Straight, the underground weekly paper in Vancouver. The column was called Let It Breed, and I was called Engledink Birdhumper. My boss and friend Dan McLeod thought it up, so what was a poor boy to do? The pay was fifty dollars a week and a free room at the Georgia Straight house. It was a great job despite the goatherd’s stipend. All I had to do was roam around town picking up gossip and news about local hippieunderground culture. I had a free hand and people knew who I was. The perks included lots of free tickets, invitations to gallery openings and parties and, best of all, free beers at the Cecil, the Alcazar and other bars of distinction where poets and painters hung out. Spring came in early that year, seeming to declare a long season of sun and uplifting warmth. One of my regular stops in the gossipwandering routine was an afternoon cup of coffee at Glen Toppings’s place under the Granville Street Bridge. Glen was an artist who worked with fibreglass and died much too young from working and living unprotected in a toxic environment and smoking about a dozen too many Gauloises every day. Another regular drop-by was George Bowering, who even then was known as one of Canada’s most famous baseball enthusiasts. Glen had played competitive fastball in loggers’ leagues during the years he worked in the bush, and I had a love for the game despite my rotten ball career when I was a kid. And daily the sun appeared, warm and embracing, until George could stand it no longer Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 23
Brad Robinson and Soleil.
and showed up one day with a ball and glove. “Look, there’s an island with some grass at the top of the street. Why don’t we go up there and throw the ball around?” In a flash, Glen dug out his old first baseman’s trapper, and I offered up my bare hands. Minutes later we were up on the island amid light traffic, tossing the ball around with sun warming our souls—the perfect thing to do on a spring afternoon. After half an hour or so, our arms finally refused to do our bidding and our breathing hinted at darker things, and we threw ourselves to the grass, lit our various nicotine devices and gazed at the sky while George declared, “Now that’s it! That’s spring. That is spring training!” Little did anyone know that the Kosmic League was being born at that moment. For the next week or so, the three of us spent every day up on the island throwing the ball around and yakking away, oblivious to all else as the sun beat down on us. Our arms got stronger, our throws became harder and snappier, we were actually bending over and gobbling up grounders. I had bought a glove, and to my surprise I made it work with reasonable efficiency and my ball playing seemed less dismal than I had remembered. One early evening after a glorious day, I went to Glen’s studio (by now named the Granville Grange by George, who nicknamed everything) to meet them for a beer before heading down to
Page 24 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
the Cecil Hotel for a full evening of drinking and talk, and George burst in with a wild look in his eye. “Hey guys, I just saw a bunch of freaks up at McBride Park at 4th and Collingwood practising ball. They want to play a game with us! They already got a name—Flex Morgan and the Mock Heroics. And they got four rules: no spikes, no uniforms, nine innings and only fun is allowed. Whaddya think?” “We don’t have a team, George. That’s what.” “Dah! Not a problem. I know lots of guys that’ll play.” “Can they play ball?” “Can we? Don’t matter. C’mon, let’s go. We can talk about it at the bar.” In a couple of hours, under the beer-like light of the Cecil, a team was concocted. With a Rolodex memory of the poets and artists of Canada, George, assisted by Glen, pulled up name after name. We’d talk about each one, and George or Glen would go off and make a phone call and invariably come back with a happy smile. Another sucker.
e put together a pretty illustrious team. Glen Toppings, artist, would play first base; I, scribbler, would play second; George Bowering, well-known poet (later to be named poet laureate of Canada), at shortstop; Lionel Kearns, poet who once played beisball with Fidel Castro, at third base. Gordon Payne, artist, would be our starting pitcher, and Brian Fisher, artist, formed the other end of the battery. In the outfield Dennis “Dazzy” Vance, artist, was stationed in left and later became our starting chucker, Gary Lee-Nova, artist, was to patrol centre, and his brother-factotum Gerry Nairn became the right fielder. We had a team! Out came the nicotine devices, in came another round of beer. We yakked away excitedly, making half-assed plans and laughing like Buddhist baseball saints atop a wobbly rock. “Well,” said Glen, “what are we going to call ourselves?” In the time it takes a synapse to synapse, I said, “The Granville Grange Zephyrs!” photo: bob smith
We had a team, a name and a season of baseball ahead of us.
ecause every school in the city has a baseball diamond in the playground, we quickly found our own home park, Connaught Park at 12th and Vine in Kitsilano, renamed Cricket Chatter Park by Bowering because some cricket players practised there, and that is where we had our first and only practice. To say we were godawful does a disservice to the words God and awful. But Glen, Gordon and George, who had played some baseball, instructed us in the intricacies of the game—e.g., when it came to hitting, we should swing the bat. We had an infield practice. The outfielders threw long balls to each other. Gordon and Brian “Cat” Fisher worked at pitching and catching. We ran around a bit. And then it was off to the Cecil. It is forty years since the Granville Grange Zephyrs fielded McBride Park to play the first of many games with Flex Morgan and the Mock Heroics. Who won that game? I don’t remember. Who cares? What I do remember is a lovely late April evening descending on the park, and us watching the Flexers tumble out of two decrepit cars and a pickup truck, a happy crew full of laughter, a case of beer slipped discreetly into their dugout. We made our introductions: Byron Nelson, Kelly Kiley, Alexi Humballski, Murray the K, Cousin Brucie—names that would become famous in the Kosmic League in the seasons to come. Cousin Brucie offered himself up as umpire and cried out, “Okay, let’s play ball!” Whatever we played that evening, it probably wasn’t baseball. There were so many errors, wildly swung bats, bone-headed plays, flat-out slapstick moments that the real feat was to get in nine innings before darkness fell. What was played out in that inaugural Kosmic League game was “play” itself. We were a bunch of young guys with no real athletic talent but a residue of heroic baseball imagery in our minds, and the Kosmic League gave us the blessed opportunity to play out these images with abandon. Another skin of boyhood and adolescence shifting away. When the game ended, we roared off to the Cecil for huge quantities of beer and laughter and a glow of good feeling until closing time.
Over the next week, Flex and the Zephyrs began to get phone calls. “Do you want to play a game?” “Do you want to play a game?” We weren’t the only ones who were ready to play ball, have some fun and celebrate over a few beers. Vancouver was a vibrant city, rent was cheap, we could live on Trudeau’s make-work grants, the weather was glorious, people wanted to be outdoors. Spring grew into summer and the league grew quietly as a summertime companion. In the early evening, in Kitsilano and nearby neighbourhoods, the ball parks filled with happy, crazily dressed hippiefolkie types, members of teams with names like Moose Valley Farms, the Friendly Club and Eight & A Juice, hacking away at a baseball, with a case of beer tucked away and a joint never too far from hand. Residents out for an evening stroll would stop and watch the fun, and a small fan base grew up. Bit by bit, game by game, our skills improved. I was a singles hitter because I couldn’t run fast
Sentenced From Narwhal Magazine, an online literary adventure, written by Igor Rybak. opening sentence: written while looking through a window casual sentence: written while lying down static sentence: written while sitting moving sentence: written while sitting on the bus run-on sentence: written as the bus crashes into a lamp post compound sentence: written in jail complex sentence: written in a shopping mall dynamic sentence: makes the reader’s heart explode fast sentence: makes the reader perspire slow sentence: makes the writer perspire loose sentence: about the neck of a turkey long-winded sentence: written by a writer who has no telephone, does not leave her house, has no one to visit her short-winded sentence: written by a heavy smoker who drinks whiskey, wears a fedora and writes detective novels winded sentence: written on a stormy night beside an open window winding sentence: written after drinking a triple espresso middle-of-the-road sentence: about continuous or continual lines translated sentence: spoken by a ventriloquist’s dummy closing sentence Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 25
SAVAGE CH I CK E N S Doug Savage From savagechickens.com, a blog of cartoons drawn on sticky notes. Doug Savage lives in Vancouver, works at a software compnay and posts a new toon every day.
enough to make them into doubles. Dwight Gardiner, poet, showed up in mid-season to take over centre field and he was our long-ball hitter. Rick Gomez, artist, took over from Lionel Kearns at third base. George and I became a hotshot double-play duo. Once we even executed a triple play—rare even in the major leagues. We were playing Moose Valley, I think, and there was a man on third and a man on first, no one out. The ball flew out to George and he snapped it over to me. One down. I zipped the ball over to Glen. Two down. Glen casually tossed the ball to our pitcher, Dazzy Vance. Suddenly the guy at third made a dash for home plate. We all saw it and yelled at Dazzy, who woke up and pegged the ball to Cat Fisher, and we nailed him! Triple play. From Bowering to Birdhumper to Toppings to Vance to Fisher—it was my greatest Kosmic League high. By the end of the season—glorious season!— there were about sixteen teams in the league. We played them all, and from the start, throughout the summer and to the end of the spectacular Kosmic League First World Serious, there was never an instant of antagonism or conflict. Without anybody planning it, we’d fashioned a spirit of revolutionary non-competitiveness —which is quite an idea when you think about it. Page 26 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
C R I C K E T SPY Angus Bell From Batting on the Bosphorus © 2009 by Angus Bell, published by Greystone Books: an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Angus Bell is a Scotsman who has visited forty-three countries and who now plays cricket in Montreal.
erbia’s cricket captain was an mi6 secret agent whom close colleagues described as “the classic gentleman spy.” He helped mastermind the arrest of Slobodan Miloševic and arranged an raf jet to fly the Balkan dictator to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. And during evenings and weekends he scheduled cricket matches. Let’s think about this for a second. Not m15. m16. That’s James Bond–level. I wondered if he bagged Miloševic using a cricket trap. “You available next weekend, Slobodan? Match starts at 12. ” The article went on to say that the secret agent’s email address had been leaked across the Serbian press. That explained my unanswered letters, then. His cover—running the Belgrade cricket team (very subtle)—had been
blown, and he’d since grown a beard and gone into hiding. Another thought stung me as I read this. Somewhere in my inbox was this poor man’s mobile number. Should I call him and ask where he left the kit? Best not. I searched for the email and deleted it. It was not safe to hold on to such information. Over the next two weeks, my efforts to track down Serbia’s remaining cricketers proved fruitless. I wrote to soccer clubs on whose grounds they had played. The soccer clubs laughed and told me cricket didn’t exist in Serbia. I contacted the British and Australian embassies, where I imagined cricket to be an important part of their jobs. They said they didn’t have the time to play. All the evidence suggested Serbian cricket was in tatters. A month later I received an email from a sports journalist in the city of Zrenjanin, in northern Serbia. Milos had been passed my details by the British Embassy. He wanted to found a Serbian cricket league and take his country to the London 2012 Olympics. “This is my dream,” he wrote. “For a year I am trying to organize cricket club. Zrenjanin is the city of sports, yet when I speak about cricket here, people think that I’ve gone nuts. All my efforts were useless, nobody wants to help me. So, you are my last hope!”
N O O N E E XC E PT G O D Nicole Markotic From Scrapbook of My Years As a Zealot, published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2008. Nicole Markotic has published two books of poetry, Connect the Dots and Minotaurs and Other Alphabets (Wolsak & Wynn) and a chapbook, more excess, which won the bpNichol Poetry Chapbook Award.
hen my oldest sister Ruth gave up cola, six months before deciding to move to Israel to live in a kibbutz in Jordan Valley, she made Jana and me give up cola, too. Forever and ever, Amen. Ruth preaching to Jana and me about the Angel Moroni when she turned seventeen and became a Mormon for almost two months; during that summer, she was the strictest convert ever. Then she discovered communism. Then when she got married, she converted to motherhood, and her prayers focussed on absorbent recyclable diapers. I was eight years old, and hadn’t met my best-friend-to-be Vera yet. I loved the way pop made my nose hurt the first time I tried it. Ruth, old enough to act like my mother, was strict, so that summer I drank my cola in the Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 27
BRANDING Sonny Assu
Coke-Salish Duratrans and light box 96.6 ´ 55.8 ´´ 17.7 cm Sonny Assu, 2006 Collection of Museum of Anthropology
From The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, published in 2009 by Douglas & McIntyre, an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc. Sonny Assu’s work comes from an exploration of his mixed ancestry and challenges the perception of “Indian” art. View Assu’s current work at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver until March 28, 2010, and at the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver in May. Visit him at sonnyassu.com.
backseat of our dad’s station wagon parked in the alley. No one surprised me there. Back then, no one, not even our mother, could drive except our dad. He’d just bought our first television, black-and-white, and our mom only let me watch fifteen minutes of The Friendly Giant on the mornings I stayed home sick. But once our father had settled down to watch Ironside and read a million newspapers from Europe, once he’d angled his coffee mug against the lip of the card table he used as a desk, I’d sneak his car keys from his jacket hanging upstairs. And I’d sneak a glass bottle from where I hid them Page 28 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
inside my winter boots. When I’d drained the bottle down to its cola dregs, I climbed into the front seat and rehearsed steering. Our father grew up in rural Croatia, where kids drove rural roads on their own by the time they were eight. He’d let us grab the wheel on straight highways, despite our mother’s “Ach, no!” So in the back alley, I’d hunker down in the parked car and shake the wheel so-so-slightly, yet rapidly, like real driving in the cartoons. I pretended to drive and I drank a brownflavoured pop that Ruth insisted was forbidden. No one could see me. No one knew. Except God.
BICYCLE CAMEO Julie Vandervoort A story that won Honourable Mention in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest in 2007, but wasn’t published in Geist because we lost touch with the author. A version of the story appeared in Punoqun 2007 (see wayves.ca). Julie Vandervoort is also the author of Tell the Driver: a Biography of Elinor F.E. Black, M.D. (University of Manitoba Press) and essays published in Brick, Grain and Prism International. She lives in Halifax. For more of her work, go to geist.com.
ignore the declarative text on the street sign, it’s got nothing to do with me, I just need a place to secure my bike. I go in through the side door, do the hug and greet—this is a festive day—lay out my tools. Her fingernails are short and square, I have to work on them a bit first. I paint half the thumbnail a deep red, the other half orange. Orange like a hot country. Half the index fingernail the same orange, gives way to yellow. It’s not easy to find a yellow nail polish you’d actually want to wear but it won’t work without it. Yellow to green on the middlefinger-for-anger. On the nail, rather. I’m doing a rainbow manicure and each nail needs two colours. Ring finger (hold gently to ease sadness) gets both green and blue. The smallest nail looks great, with that iridescent blue sliding into a purple as deep as the red that started this. My nails are already done, the same way. But my fingernails are longer, the sunlight shines through the tips and so the colours on me are less concentrated and intense. Not quite pastel, but not primary either. Many lesbians think of bi-girls this way. Some bi-girls do too. Bisexual women, however, are another story. If you can find that story, squarely told, in contemporary Canadian fiction, send it along. We can use it to design something for next year, maybe even a float with live music and treat bags. For now, let’s evoke Mexico, where lesbians call themselves tortilla makers. Go ahead and imagine the changing texture of the corn
masa, the over-under dance of the hands. Talk about wordplay. The label bicicleta kind of pales in comparison and my first thought when I heard it was: Oh well. I guess we’ve been called worse. But this is not about the first thing that occurs to you when you hear a word, but the second, slower thing. Bicycles are common but not always what you’d call obvious. In circulation but not the main branch catalogue. I look for those solid U-shaped locks in stories, fluorescent orange reflectors, pant-cuff fasteners. The welldesigned pannier. I listen for the changing gears. Bicicleta is a good enough (though not the last) word and I’m fond of it now. Maybe soon we’ll have a Canadian equivalent, along with protagonists. Back at the table, she stops waving her hands around, her nails are dry. The colours catch the light as we spread our three hands on the flat surface. I arc my arm up to take a photo. Can I say—can anyone—where balance comes to need momentum? I unlock my bike and we go, to join the parade. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 29
STI L L A W R I T E R George Bowering From The Box, published by New Star Books in 2009. George Bowering, Canada’s first poet laureate, is the author of more than twenty books and an Officer of the Order of Canada.
was still a writer back then. Well, I suppose that I didn’t have any more right to call myself a writer then than I do now, now that I have quit. I mean by that that I had done a lot of writing, but I had not had anything published. Except for some poems; anyone can get their poems published in this country. I had sat at my portable Underwood and written three and a half novels, mostly about growing up and trying to make it in the world. But then I decided to write a detective novel. I figured that if you can write a detective novel, you can write any kind of novel. Detective novels are strong on plot, of course, I mean ha ha, and also strong on setting and character and suspense and all those things that everyone knows you need in a story.
The Book That Lost Your Attention Book club questions from Away from Everywhere by Chad Pelley, published by Breakwater Books in 2009. What was this novel really about? Did the ending overwhelm the rest of the story? What does the title mean to you? The author contends that this novel, in part, explores “the flipside of love and the complexities of relationships.” Did this really strike you as a major element of this book? Is this true to life? In what ways is this a novel about the plasticity or instability of identity? How much of life are we not in control of? To what degree are we to be held accountable for our actions? What was the biggest lull in the book that lost your attention? Which of the characters did you like the most, dislike the most and what would you like to ask one of them? Page 30 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
I always figured that if you want to write a Western, you should go and ride a horse for a while. If you figure on a historical novel, read everything about the time and go visit the place. If you intend to write skin books, do your research. I was planning a detective novel. I decided to follow someone. I got myself one of those little green shirt-pocket notebooks with the coil and a good waterproof pen. I already had a miniature tape recorder—well, it was miniature for those days. I considered a trench coat and Humphrey Bogart hat, but decided against them. I didn’t want to look like a cartoon character. I wanted to blend in with the background, eh?
ow did I pick someone to follow? I just took a bus downtown, got off at Robson Street, and lit up a Sportsman, bending toward the matchbook flame cupped in my hands. When I looked up, I saw a guy in a dark blue suit and open dark blue trench coat. Perfect. He was carrying a furled black umbrella in one hand and a black attaché case hung from the other. It was as if I had put in an order. I let the cigarette dangle from the left corner of my mouth and with my hands in my jacket pockets, walked about a quarter of a block behind the guy. I took notes in my head so that I could transfer them to my notebook when I had a chance. They would eventually be material for my novel if I was lucky and this worked out. I was a writer following a—well, I didn’t know what he was, but he looked like a business guy, maybe in insurance, maybe in the prosecutor’s office. According to my notes he was about forty or forty-five years old, wore glasses with rims on the top only, had conservative sideburns and hair that must have been cut in the past four days. There was a blue thread hanging from the hem of his trench coat in back, and a line of light grey mud around his black leather shoes. I figured he must have parked his car in an unpaved lot. There was no music. This was real life or something to read. I hung behind him as he walked west on Robson Street, making sure I caught the walk signals he caught, then hanging back, smoking
my cigarette like a detective. He went into a little corner grocery (remember, this was back before Robson Street had become a franchise strip mall) and bought some Smith Brothers cough drops. I was close enough to see that the flavour was Wild Cherry, and wondered whether a private eye was supposed to figure out something from that, or whether it was even supposed to show up in his notes. Private eye or police gumshoe? Maybe I ought to write a spy novel, I thought. Just take notes and lurk, I told myself, make the narrative decision later. I wished that I had brought a hat so I could pull it down over my face. This following a guy was fun. He turned right on Burrard and before I knew it he was downstairs at the pub in the Hotel Vancouver, and so was I. I tried to look as if I were meeting someone, looking around and letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. I wanted to make sure that he sat down before I did. He sat at a round terry cloth table and waited for a man with a tray of beer. I did likewise, and took out the paperback book I was reading, The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene. I pretended to read it, and then pretty soon I was reading it. I hardly took my eyes off the page as I paid for my beer, and I gave only a fleeting glance to my subject, who was sipping his beer and reading something typed on a sheaf of papers. Once you start on a Graham Greene book, it’s hard to make yourself stop for a while. The waiter was asking me whether I wanted another one, and the man I was interested in was gone. I jumped out of my seat, knocking the table with my hip, and walked fast to the steps and up to the street.
didn’t see him in any direction. “Did you see a guy with an umbrella and a briefcase?” I asked a guy with a newspaper and a briefcase. “Piss off, joker,” he replied. I decided to look along Georgia Street, and it was a good thing (I thought then) that I did, because a block later I looked to the west, and there he was, waiting at the bus stop for the 444. Aha, I thought, so he’s going to the north shore. Very interesting, I said to myself. I was still cover photo: foncie pulice
trying to get into the role. I took my place at the back of the lineup. Two cigarettes later the bus was there, and I was the last to climb on board. It was packed, so I didn’t have much choice about where to sit. As it turned out I was right behind my subject. He just sat there all the way, a forty-minute ride through the park and over the bridge and back east toward downtown North Vancouver, if there was such a thing back then. He got off at the main drag, and so did I, making sure that I was the last off. And when I looked, he had disappeared. I walked back and forth, looking into stores, checking parked cars, staring as far as I could up the hill and down. I looked down eight side streets. I was out of breath, hurrying uphill and not stopping to rest. I was a spy with a panic attack. I had lost him. The free world was going to slip further into calamity. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 31
W H AT W E K N OW A B O U T BA B I E S Patricia Young From Prairie Fire, Volume 29, No. 2 (Summer 2008). Patricia Young is the author of eight books of poetry and has won several awards, including the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the B.C. Book Prize for Poetry and the League of Canadian Poets’ National Poetry Competition.
hey come from cow patties and God’s solarpowered kitchen, though we suspect the Holy Mother drops them into doctors’ bags along with wasp nests and rattlesnakes. Or the midwife will go up in a balloon to fetch a little squalling thing and bring it back to earth, swaddled in a tea towel. You can order a blue baby from the winter catalogue. Last Christmas Santa came ho ho ho-ing down a ladder and plunked them in all the empty birds’ nests. The colicky ones, well, we imagine they come from the ears of sows. Some curl inside the sticky buns you can buy in Chinatown. I know this because once
My big-boned mother tells beautiful lies but she would never lie to us about the baby she dug out of the ground along with the potatoes, we who gather around her at the basement sink, light streaming through the little window. See how firmly she holds the squirmy thing under the tap to wash away the worms and bugs and clumps of dirt.
2 0 1 0 H A N D B O O K FOR E N T E R I N G CANADA Brad Cran From geist.com, published in February 2010 during the Winter Olympic Games. Brad Cran, poet laureate of Vancouver, refused to participate in the Cultural Olympiad. Read his work at geist.com and at bradcran.com/vancouver_verse.
re you bringing any fruits or vegetables into Canada?
Have you visited a farm in the last 30 days?
I pulled apart the steaming dough and found a half formed baby sleeping in a gooey bed of jam. We don’t believe the rumours that say babies come from the torsos of many-breasted beasts. And we hope those human shapes growing inside the abandoned cars in Hagar’s Field are babies because what else could they be? They arrive
Are you now or have you ever been a member of a group that disagreed with government?
wearing nothing but wool booties and brittle bats’ wings that snap off in the first frost. They can tread water and hold their breath longer than deep sea divers though we seriously doubt angels drop the wizened ones in puddles to plump them up like gooseberries. Once, I heard a baby mew all night in a cardboard box,
Do you like my uniform?
Do you intend to ride the zip line? Do you approve of product placement in movies?
Are you bringing into Canada any currency and/or monetary instruments of a value totalling can$10,000 or more per person? Have you ever assaulted a police officer with a stapler?
but what happens to those loved briefly, then discarded, do they end up as firewood? This we know is true: the milkmen delivered one to the crazy woman on Broom Lane when her husband was at sea. We used to think the stork brought the babies but now only the gullible among us believe the frog writhing in the bird’s bill is a tiny human infant.
Page 32 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
In describing my uniform, would you say that it a) inspires respect or b) breeds contempt? Have you ever dreamed of shooting a fascist dictator off a Spanish balcony? Do you approve of John Furlong?
Can you give me an example of the words in your head and how they might be used while in Canada? Do you vote? Are you now or have you ever been a person who carries MasterCard? Were you aware of the Oka uprising, and if so, whose side were you on?
What is the total monetary value of the goods you will be leaving in Canada?
Remind me again about the zip line.
Let’s go back to my uniform for a minute, you gotta admit it’s pretty fucking awesome.
Do you read poetry?
Do you or have you ever listened to Democracy Now?
Do you believe in homelessness as a right of the people?
Can you finish the following sentence? Baby beluga in the deep blue ______________.
If you were Canadian, and if it were possible to do so, would you vote for John Furlong? Does the colour of your socks match the colour of your pants? Do your children own an effigy, stuffed or otherwise, of the Olympic mascot? Our premier rode the zip line. Did you see that? It looks awesome. Please arrange the following terms in order of preference, starting with the least important: Health Care, Education, the Environment, Homelessness, Logo Placement at Sporting Events. Do you now or have you ever owned a copy of Raffi’s Baby Beluga?
What colour is your heart? Do you believe in global warming? Have you ever purchased No Name brand products? You know, the ugly yellow ones? If while in Canada you were tasered, would you be upset or go into cardiac arrest? Do you support an international unelected and roaming fourth tier of government as set out by a non-existent charter of the ioc? If your government acted against the principles of democracy, would you be compelled to action or would you just tell your friends you are miffed? Do you ever experience emotions stronger than miffment?
Do you own a cell phone? Are you carrying any printed matter that illustrates same-sex love? Are you bringing into Canada any firearms or other weapons? Did you know that each year, more Canadians trust rbc Royal Bank® for their mortgage solutions than any other provider?
images: eve corbel
If someone you knew spoke up against your government, would you a) listen or b) think that was a little weird? Which of the following does not fit? Osama bin Laden, Louis Riel, Chris Shaw, Gordon Campbell. When asked, will you keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly? How long will you be staying?
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 33
FOR UNCLE DONG FEI WHO JUST KEEPS GOING Weyman Chan From Noise from the Laundry, published by Talonbooks in 2008. Weyman Chan’s first book of poetry, Before a Blue Sky Moon, published by Frontenac House, won a 2003 Alberta Book Award.
ncle Dong Fei is 104, fragile in winter. He has it standing still, those shakes in his bleached red-gnarled, soaked-to-the-bone son of a laundryman’s hands— a committed Christian whose ymca-sponsored wife back in 1920 was the talk of Chinatown— and I ask him how old he is, really, and he just laughs, waters the African violets in his room and lets me feed him congee with oong-goo and mook-ngee. My father brings him a plastic cream cheese container, full of tofu jello, home-made au-foo fa. “Mm heck-uk, can’t eat so much,” Uncle Dong Fei protests, waving those thickened calluses and bleached nails. He still starches his own collars, irons and presses his 6 shirts and 4 pants on visiting days when we can watch him. His eyes brighten when the nurse brings in the iron and ironing board. Look, listen, and learn, my father seems to indicate, by the way he leans forward. Uncle Dong Fei takes a giant gulp of peppermint water and spews the finest mist cloud from his lips. A rainbow leaps up and leaves its arc. He begins ironing as the droplets fall on his sleeve, his chest pockets, the detail around each cuff button. His early shakes are stilled and purposeful, the hot iron’s prow glides over a white sea, looking for refuge, unwrinkling vastness as it goes along, and his ship never stops curving in spite of itself, and I think of rescue within rescue because there must be a point to this, and Uncle Dong Fei, Uncle Dong Fei who just keeps going.
MANSBRIDGE ON MANSBRIDGE Peter Mansbridge From Peter Mansbrige One On One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them, published by Random House Canada in 2009. Peter Mansbridge is the chief correspondent of CBC News and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2008.
had arrived in Churchill the year before to work as a ticket agent for Transair, one of the country’s leading regional airlines. I was nineteen and a high-school dropout, and I had just recently left an exciting but relatively unsuccessful stint in the Royal Canadian Navy. The Transair job looked like fun, and it quickly became just that. I was travelling around the West and the North, doing anything and everything that needed doing. I loaded planes and sold tickets. I was once even responsible for keeping the engines warm on an old but pretty reliable four-engine dc-4 that ran supply missions to isolated weather and defence stations in the High Arctic. Then one day in September, just a few months after I arrived, with a crowded passenger terminal filled with ticket holders anxious to head south, someone asked me to “announce” the flight. In Churchill that meant heading over to a microphone at the ticket counter, pushing down the Talk button, and rolling out these words: “Transair Flight 106 for Thompson, The Pas and Winnipeg is now ready for boarding at Gate One. Passengers travelling with small children and those requiring boarding assistance, please check with the agent at the gate.” Then I was supposed to dash to the gate to be that agent, but before I could get there, someone who had been standing in the crowd cut in front of me. “You’ve got a great voice,” he said. “Have you ever thought of being in radio?”
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 35
From The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book by Gord Hill, published in 2010 by Arsenal Pulp Press. Gord Hill’s graphic account portrays indigenous resistance to European colonization in the Americas. The book begins with the Spanish invasion under Christopher Columbus and ends with the Six Nations Page 36 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
land reclamation in Ontario in 2006. The events depicted in this book are taken from the histories of various indigenous groups, including the Inca, Seminole, Pueblo, Mapuche and Mohawk peoples. Gord Hill is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation. He is a social activist, comic artist and illustrator. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 37
Local Lit Winners of the Neighbourhood Writing Contest: stories about home The Neighbourhood Writing Contest was presented by the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, the Carnegie Library and the Geist Foundation in November 2009, as part of the 2nd annual Downtown Eastside Writers’ Jamboree—two days of readings, round tables and editorial consultations for residents. The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is known as Canada’s poorest postal code. It is also the site of vigorous community activism, and home to many writers.
The House on Mole Hill Albert Butcher I was in a hurry to get to the hospital, but my legs weren’t listening to me
ancouver is dotted with landmarks. So many, in fact, you couldn’t avoid them if you tried. There is one particular landmark that holds power over me. I affectionately call her “the house on Mole Hill.” On first glance, you don’t know what she is. An office building, an apartment block, a school, a modern jail? Or . . . a hospital. Tonight as I stroll down Granville, oblivious to everything around me except street signs, I glance up to check where I am. Helmcken and Granville. I slowly turn west and stare at the hill ahead of me. Although she is a few blocks away, she looks closer because of her overwhelming size. And this is a special occasion. It’s the Christmas season and the house is wearing her Christmas dress. Butterflies invade my stomach, a gulp in my throat, I walk in baby steps. Like a magnet, she beckons me, whispering, “Come to me.” I try to compose myself, to no avail. Cars whiz by and people scurry past with no reason to stop and look. I shuffle over to the newspaper box and lean on it for support. Excited, fearful, angry, proud and confused. I am awestruck by her beauty. After a few minutes, I can’t stand it any more.
Page 38 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
My eyes are getting misty, and I turn south and then west. Ducking into Starbucks for shelter and a change-up, I order a coffee with a shot of honey. And then, like exotic birds swooping in on a sanctuary for nourishment, doctors and nurses come in and ask for their favourites. They come in pairs and groups, stethoscopes, clipboards, fresh out of surgery, speaking in hushed tones and tender voices. With life and death in their hands. Clutching their lattés and Frappuccinos, they exit as quickly as they swooped in. Several minutes go by and I finish my coffee. I feel better and the summer of 1974 flashes before my eyes. Born and raised on the east coast of Canada, I dreamed of the west coast as a promised land. My dreams came true that summer, when I was twenty years old. After a night of partying in Gastown, I would flee to English Bay Beach to recover. I drank and smoked too much for one person. I also ate a lot of rich food. One morning on the beach I felt several sharp pains and a stream of vomit poured from my mouth. No sooner did I look around, than another jet stream of puke hit the beach. Some
of it graced my pant leg. Standing up wasn’t easy, and the pains continued. I spit vomit out of my mouth and asked where the hospital was. A passerby pointed down the street. I walked, ever so slowly, along Davie Street. Hunched over. I had trouble walking. I was now in a hurry, but my legs weren’t listening to me. Without my energy, I had to hold on to various street fixtures for support. Crawling on my hands and knees was easier. Not so painful and I seemed to get farther that way. I knew I was losing altitude quickly. It was just a matter of finding the right target to crash on. The distance from Burrard Street to the swinging doors of the er at St. Paul’s Hospital was about seventy-five yards but it feels like ten miles when you’re crawling. A nurse ran over and asked what was wrong. I replied, “I have pains in my stomach.” Unable to determine the problem, the doctors performed an “abdominal exploratory” operation on me. It was my appendix. They took it out. After ten days of rest and Demerol, I was proclaimed fit for the world. Looking down at the railroad track of stitches on my belly, I wondered what I would tell my friends.
The corridors of the hospital are very narrow and the spaces are tight. That’s probably why it has that homey feeling. The nurses are sweet and the doctors amazing. When it was time to be released, I didn’t want to go. The staff will help you get physically better and they are also concerned about your spiritual health. Coming from a background in construction, I have always had a love for old architecture, so I became intoxicated with the Victorian and Queen Anne homes of Mole Hill. The owners are friendly and flamboyant, and when I visit the area, I can faintly hear wind chimes, reminding me of my experience there, thirty-five years ago. I have been back to the east coast several times since, but I couldn’t find my heart there. It was on the west coast along with my appendix! Even to this day, my knees buckle when I walk past “the house on Mole Hill.”
Albert Butcher, who lives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, is a graduate of the Humanities 101 Community Program at UBC.
images: details from the photograph EVERY BUILDING ON 100 WEST HASTINGS by stan douglas
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 39
Free Me from Anxiety Antonette Rea Cabbies would take one look at me, then keep right on going 1
Forge forward in the face of anxiety, that unwelcome friend, who slides up silently. It pays me a visit way too often, as I prepare myself, with a wave of the makeup wand, to venture out Out into public places, especially during the day. Feeling timid, vulnerable and exposed, strolling through crowded shopping malls searching for shoes and clothes, busy public washrooms, fitting rooms, food courts, cafés, “Suburbia,” I’m striving to find myself again, and become comfortable with who I am. I’ve lost that protective crust, created with drugs, “come-fuck-me” outfits and attitudes, with painted faces of money-making whore lust, A cocky character I was, with a go-anywhere confident walk. Strut down the seediest and scariest back alleys at 4 a.m. in miniskirts, garters and platform heels, My purse filled with condoms and lube. My cash stuffed down my bra and hidden by my boobs. The tattooed tranny, known to many young male “hustlers” simply and affectionately as “Auntie.” Some street people will watch my back, while others hope for me to drop my guard, to give them a shot at my hard night’s cash. And I’m always on the look for the out-of-town assault. Those tranny gay-bashing bastards occupy a permanent spot in the back of my thoughts. I feel more vulnerable walking about in the burbs than anywhere in the Downtown Eastside. Whatever became of that “fuck what anybody thinks” attitude that was necessary to free Antonette in the first place? I guess I felt safer behind the drugs and the tranny whore stereotype. De-sensitized to the constant abuse, De-sensitized to the constant callous unfeeling sex, Apathetically numb, Page 40 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
A hollow existence, It’s hard to draw much satisfaction from being a great fuck, or from giving awesome head, blessed with a big mouth and deep throat. Out of touch ageless, Day after day timeless, Year after year with little hope, trapped in a “going nowhere,” “never changing,” filthy, depressing life. Dying slowly, like a flower being strangled by the weeds in some forgotten garden. Shattered and unattainable dreams, Can’t remember when I stopped dreaming, It took a couple of months without drugs before I started dreaming again. Years of drug and alcohol abuse, “Life’s a party, then you die” attitude. Trying to escape the trauma and pain, Dreaming again indicates a healing brain, convulsions of tears and invisible spears, pierce the centre of my being and awaken fears. The more often I venture out The more comfortable I will be with myself, In time, relieving me from this anxiety. 2
I’m a mature tranny, who is gaining confidence with being me, and who needs not to worry so much about passing, or being humiliated and mocked, or subjected to snickering pointed fingers, and insults,
A late-morning date was absolutely stunned. He insisted on grabbing a cab back to my place. The cabbies would take one look at me, then keep right on going. My date even went and got a cab on his own, then came back to pick me up, only to have the cab quickly pull away when I attempted to get in or refuse to move until I got out. Finally, the fifth cab we tried let me get in. It seemed a bit easier during the evening, as they wouldn’t realize I was a tranny until we were already moving. Although I can remember being dumped by a date, way out at 49th and Main (after the buses had retired), then having to walk down Main Street dressed in nothing but my little bolero jacket, white lace see-through miniskirt, G-string, garters and 6-inch heels. No cab would pick me up until I was almost at Broadway. I even tried to bribe, when passing by, any one of three or four cabbies parked at a corner, without success, as they just laughed at me and my late-night predicament. I try to reassure myself that much of the attention, hollers and hoots was because I was, with my outfits and tattoos, a recognizable and known prostitute, and not so much for the reason of being a visible male-tofemale transsexual.
or people getting up and moving when I sit down, like on the bus. In the past, I had to make sure someone else was standing with me at the bus stop, so the bus would stop and not just drive by, especially if it was the last bus. Once upon a time, when the last bus didn’t stop, This princess was so exhausted she fell asleep right there on the sidewalk and awoke minus her money and next to the pea. I was homeless at the time and had been awake, working without a break, for five days and nights, from one date to the next. I would keep working, when I had nowhere to live strolling in heels and barely clothed, from high track at night, to low track during the day through evening, then back again, until the drugs couldn’t keep me awake any longer. Eventually, I would hit the wall and pass out wherever. At times it got to be quite comical. I would fall asleep while giving head. I damn near bit the dude’s dick off a couple of times. I suddenly came to and yeeow, Thank gawd they were big fellas and buried balls deep. It was sooo embarrassing. I suppose with me, it was like putting a soother in a baby’s mouth. I finally found a rundown room to live in, because I was a prostitute and management’s greed, for their illegal 20-dollar “guest fee.”
I have a better understanding and appreciation
I wouldn’t bother trying to flag a cab during daylight.
as to what it must be like for a woman to venture out alone at night, Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 41
in what for many is still very much a man’s world, especially if she’d ever been sexually assaulted, robbed, beaten or all of the above. Experiences I’ve endured time and again, as a “working girl” on the streets and alleyways of Vancouver. Dressing more like a lady my age will help to downplay the attention and notoriety, which should help to relieve my anxiety.
after all, I came with testicles and an ovary, small breasts with perky nipples, and hip joints that move as a woman’s, for childbearing purposes (although I’m now past the safe age for having a baby). The more comfortable I become with the new me, the less I should feel any anxiety. I wonder what new adventures lie ahead, as I discover, explore and free, the new me, drug free?
I’ve backed off somewhat from the idea of going for srs (sexual re-assignment surgery), I’m becoming more and more comfortable with being seen as a bit of both,
Antonette Rea is a street poet who lives in Vancouver. She has been performing her work at poetry slams since 2008.
320 East Hastings Tavis W. Dodds Dreaming you are surrounded by people, you wake up surrounded by people
o resort to this—living on a pew at the low-barrier homeless shelter at First United Church at 320 East Hastings. In the newspaper you find the opinion that the shelters are like resort vacations for “these people.” For us people this church is a last resort. Media becomes alien. In public opinion we become “these people,” and to us people society becomes “them.” Life in this shelter is hard, especially at first. Beginners find places near the back door or in the hallway. Cold. The light always on. Heavy traffic going back and forth. It isn’t long before you learn the closer to the altar, the better the sleep. Dreaming you are surrounded by people, you wake up surrounded by people. Those first nights when you are unfamiliar with routine, they are traumatic. Feeling at home takes time anywhere. People watch out for each other. When a blanket and a place to put it is social mobility, it gets easier to set a person up in the world. Dry socks, cigarette butts, rolling papers, a meal—these are more than gold amongst us people. A lot of people are trying to work. Other shelters may be more geared toward working homeless, but if you work odd hours or overtime you can’t make the curfews. You wind up back at First United, where nobody is turned away. Page 42 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
The low-barrier shelter under the Granville Bridge that closed down in 2008 was hard for working people. It allowed dogs, which in a way created a home and security, but the trauma affects the dogs too, and they cry and bark in the night. This is the pattern: someone causes a disturbance such as snoring, another person is disturbed, which disturbs a third person, which disturbs others until what finally wakes up the last person is someone whining to God to make it stop. When I was a security guard I would call in a ud (undesirable) on any of these people. Wet pant cuffs. Too many jackets. We look like addicts and we look like mental patients because “these people” look poor. The only way through it is the struggle. Sometime each night, you doze off.
Tavis W. Dodds is a regular contributor to Victoria Street Newz. He has been arrested several times for political activity, most notably the Right to Sleep Charter Challenge (City of Victoria vs. Adams et al.) in 2008, which recognized, for the first time in Canada, the constitutional right of homeless people to sleep. He lives in Gibsons, B.C., with his two children.
She made herself call it a fetus, not a b-a-b-y No one mopped her brow, made the tea,
Blood Memory Lisa Wilson In the home for unwed mothers, as she waits for me to be born, one word in Cree is spoken over and again in her head—macitwawiskwesis, bad girl
very pregnant woman dreams of what her baby will be like. But babies shouldn’t have to dream their mothers. It’s been more than thirty years and I still struggle to quell the haunting voice at the back of my mind that urges find her find her. Instead I invent her. I want to start at the beginning but beginnings are slippery to pin down. What would hers look like? Was it the moment she realized her period was late? I can imagine the instant of understanding that her actions, up to now carefree and light, came with real consequences. Or maybe the beginning was the conception itself, when she and my father pushed the limits behind the big barn that housed the cattle in winter, the small heated calf-shack tucked into its shadow. What made her think she was immune to it all, to the fecundity of the land and animals that every day plugged her nose with pungent odours, filled her ears with bawling bleating madness? More likely, the beginning had something to do with the day the gnarly, squashed fetus (she made herself call it a fetus, to avoid thinking of it as a b-a-b-y) squalled its way into her world and she made her way out of its world—a double beginning. Each a newly released hostage, not quite believing she had survived, fleetingly grateful before moving on as though nothing of import had occurred. There’s got to be a reason why babies and mothers forget the pain of birth. I picture what she went through something like this. At the height of the ninth month, swollen like an overstuffed olive, lungs and other internal organs squeezed so tight she felt out of
Page 44 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
breath on the wide staircase of the antiseptic “home for unwed mothers” (read “institution for misfits and fuck-ups”), she tried to understand, but she could not find a reason for the mythical underwater creature swirling beneath skin stretched so thin and taut that in her dreams she popped herself with a shiny dinner fork. All the while, inside, the fetus (repeat: fetus, fetus) sank and swam in murky depths of blood memory bonding secret-identity mother to child. And a word bobbed about in the depths, tickling the tadpole. The word waited to be picked up and held in the palms of two hands, examined then crushed to the chest rubbed into arms over shoulders across the belly, the word more than a word, to be inhaled then expelled bit by bit with every breath—the word Métis. I don’t know about the home and the wide staircase; she could have been kept like an animal in a barn for all I know. But going off to a home seems the kind of thing that would have happened, back in the day. I imagine them saying she’d been sent away to live with a sick aunt after her father made an angry visit to the neighbouring farm and scared the hell out of the farmhand, who was really just a boy, while her mother got on the phone with the priest. Sent away for five months before returning deflated, with large leaky breasts, eyes swollen from lying in the back of the family station wagon and bawling all the way home. “Growing nicely,” Dr. Dubious pronounces as he measures my belly from pubic bone to top of fundus—some of the new words I’ve been learning. What about the words she learned?
Carla, Arthur Renwick, 2006. From Mask, Renwick’s exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery that runs from January 29 to April 4, 2010, presented with the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. The subjects of the photographs are First Nations authors, entertainers, artists and curators. Renwick asked them to think of the stereotypical portrayals of “Indian” identity and then pull a face in response. Carla Robinson, the subject of this photograph, is a news anchor for CBC Newsworld and grew up with Renwick in Kitamaat, B.C. Renwick’s photography has been exhibited in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Paris, France, and will be displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York from September 4, 2010, to January 16, 2011.
Not the words of a fantastic and beautiful anatomy to be revealed during the rite of passage through pregnancy and birth toward motherhood. Instead the words she learned—truly learned in their deep and hurtful meaning, maybe for the first time—those words may have been shame, wrong, bad, disgrace, words that make her cover her head and stop her ears to deflect their blows. I also learned, on my visit to Dr. Dubious, that it’s awkward to have a baby when you don’t know your medical history. Any history of heart disease? No. What about in your family? Nana died when I was nineteen, and my mother dug into herself to find the words to tell photo: courtesy of the leo kamen gallery, toronto
me her mother was dead. That is when I understood that my mother had been a daughter first. But Nana’s stroke doesn’t count for Dubious’s question—he is looking for hereditary conditions. I have nothing to offer, only a great yawning blank. I give him the only thing hereditary I know: Métis.
ot a baby, not a baby. She must have willed herself to remain blank and distant from what was right below the sternum. No picturing startled fingers, tiny heels that would fit in her palm, a dark silken bloom of hair, down-covered shoulders. Instead, a fishy eyeless globe, a silent sea monster in the well of her incubator body, gnawing at the base of the cord that attached them, Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 45
one to the other, trying desperately to escape as a muskrat will chew its own leg off to get out of a trap. She once saw her father open a ripe sturgeon, full of black eggs, and saw him lament the lost potential of those eggs, as though somehow he’d been a careless steward. But her insides only harbour a single shimmery orb shadowed by a thin stretch of tail. She imagines this thing contained, herself a container. She is filled with blue-green water, soft seaweed tendrils undulating in time with her movements, a secret underwater world like a dark aquarium. There must be a reason we’re grown in the dark, submerged in water, hermetically sealed—what is it we’re trying to keep out? She dreams of gigantic garden shears sharpened to a razor’s edge, oiled and free of catches, her hands holding the rubber-coated grips and cutting the briny cord, setting herself afloat as the fetus fetus fetus drifts lazily away like Huck on his raft, and she is laughing. In one of her dreams she finds a small blue jewellery box bobbing in the toilet. She scoops it out and holds it in her palm, wet and messy, leaking onto her bare toes. She’s afraid to open it because she thinks it is ticking. She panics and tries to hide the thing before it explodes. She blurts out mock-Latin words, cul cum id esto, grievous, faulty, in a solemn voice, flicking her fingers over the box, a magician’s black-magic flourish, léger de main, before flushing it down. I tell Dubious that I’ll have my baby at home with midwives, that my baby must remain with me at all times, particularly during those few first lucid hours when the most intense bonding is said to occur. I mention my anxieties about “attachment capabilities” and “emotional glue.” But I don’t tell him that I’m teetering on the edge of an insurmountable regret, a loss so large it threatens to smother me—the loss of what was mine by birth, a deficit that I wear like a scar. When I was a child I had two best friends— both adopted, both Native. It was as if we recognized each other’s wounds, as though we saw the pieces that hadn’t formed, the missing parts that would have made each of us whole. Instead we were left inhibited, less attached, without much capacity for love and intimacy. I turned into an angry teenager, hungry for an unnameable, Page 46 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
unknowable presence. I tell Dubious that I want the best for my baby. “All expectant mothers say that,” he laughs. I don’t tell him he’s wrong. During the last months of my pregnancy, my mind becomes watered down with the weight and change in my body. I sit for hours dreamily staring into space while the radio plays softly in another room. I relish the quiet, the peace, the opportunity to do nothing that those with experience tell me will soon end. I imagine what these months were like for her, in that home, day after day, a prisoner serving a sentence, waiting to be let free. At the home there’s a girl she’s taken to calling Mary K. Mary K is lithe and sexy, even at nine months, while she herself is puffy, toxic with high blood pressure and nauseating headaches. She can envision Mary K sitting on an older man’s lap and fiddling with his pants, toying with the idea of being taken advantage of, a spunky, sway-back, streetwise Lolita, her slippery seal’s body a horny turn-on. If she’d had something other than sex to peddle she’d be the queen of snake-oil sales. If life had dealt her a different hand she’d be driving a big pink Cadillac with vanity plates that read Mary K. As they smoke in the alley behind the home, one girl dares to confess she misses her boyfriend. The rest of them drag on their smokes and say nothing.
he days are long and bleed one into the next. The girls are not allowed out of the nuns’ sight; many resent not being free to walk and shop and pretend to live a different story than the one they do; many are from remote rural places and being on the edge of the city, only to be forbidden a trip downtown, vexes them to the point of tears. Only Mary K, looking like a malnourished, pot-bellied orphan, manages to slither out under the cloak of night to secure cigarettes. She brings back small flat bottles of lemon gin and the girls, with their skewed centres of gravity, tumble one atop the other with shrill delighted screams. The Mother Superior threatens to put them out, to call their parents. One evening at the home, as she makes toast, she looks at her bloated reflection in the chrome and dreams of being thin again. The girls can
talk of nothing else. As she reaches into the toaster with the point of a knife she knows that it’s a stupid thing to do. Would the shock throw her back onto her ass? She thinks about the pond of dew she might be standing in were it not enclosed inside her body, and how water and electricity make bad company, and what might happen to the cloudy lagoon sloshing about in her distended belly with its fragments and bits, if it were touched the way she once saw a loose live wire send a blue-white spark skipping over puddles in the barn like stones over water. I don’t know what happened, but my own mother, the one who raised me, told me what the social worker had said. There was an accident and I could have been lost. She’s told me this story as confirmation of how much I was wanted, even before they knew who I was, even before I was born. I want to be grateful, I am grateful. But still I know she wouldn’t understand my feeling that I’ve always been lost. As she completes her sentence at the home, waiting for me to be born, shameful words creep up on her. In Cree one word is spoken over and again in her head—macitwawiskwesis, bad girl. Perhaps she had a note from her mother on her birthday, expressing hope for a better year, yet between the lines she reads her mother’s desire for a good daughter, not such a bad nitanis. My heart twists, half with empathy and half with jealousy, for at least she got to know these words, difficult as they are. At least she was nitanis, no matter how bad. When my husband returns home from work I chalk up my tears to hormones and he holds me until I sleep. I imagine that all her dreams occur under water. The night she goes into labour, she floats peacefully, hair swaying about her face, hands gripping her garden shears, only to be tossed on shore by the insistent tides of her body. She gasps, lying in a puddle. Has she breached the thin membrane between dream and wakefulness, somehow exposing the netherworld to this one? She cries out with her first conscious contraction and the girl in the next bed tells her shuddup, fer fucksake. A sentimental girl might name the baby. It never occurs to her, before, during or after the birth, that it is anything other than the black-
penny-eyed tadpole of her imagination. She fills in the blanks as best she can—there are rules about these things—but no one can make her open her heart and no one can force her to leave anything behind, not even a name. I sit in my bathtub at home, riding waves of contractions, soothed by the warm water, two midwives amiably attending, prepared for the long haul that most first births are. I can’t shake the dream-world mother I’ve created. Nitanis, she whispers, as I let my head flop wearily between contractions; one midwife mops my brow with a cool cloth while the other perches on a chair and sips tea. Someone’s put soft music on, my husband warms towels in the dryer, and I can hear the excited voices of our families downstairs in the living room. My mother, real or dreamed, never had any of these things. No one whispered nitanis in her ear, mopped her brow, made the tea, warmed the towels, waited in the wings, treated my birth like a celebration. Instead, I imagine harsh words, harsh towels. Maybe a younger nun secretly attempted to mitigate the punishing experience of most births at the home. I am confused and angry over the loss of what I needed: identity, blood inheritance, to be Métis, to know where I’ve come from, something to pass on to my own child, who will be blinded when she sees all the things she lost as well. Hours later my daughter is born amid scurry and scuffle, worry and joy. I hold her next to my skin and she looks at me—looks and looks—her eyes wide and serious. And I think, This is the first and only blood relation I have. Together we will invent ourselves, she and I. She is beautiful and real.
Lisa Wilson works for the Gabriel Dumont Institute. Her fiction has appeared or will appear in the Dalhousie Review, Grain, Prairie Fire, New Breed and an anthology of Aboriginal love stories. She placed first in the fiction category of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild 2008 Short Manuscript Awards and was shortlisted for the 2009 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Awards. She is at work on a collection of short stories and a book for young adults that centres on Métis culture and the folklore of Rougarou. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 47
Talent Night Bruce McDougall My dad bent down. “Just ask her to dance,” he whispered. So I did.
y dad had bad feet. He was a fat old guy who smoked cigarettes and drank too much. His bones ached and his kidneys gave him trouble. Once a week he went to a steam bath beside a travel agency and a tailor shop at Bay and Gerrard, usually on Sunday, after he dropped my mother, my sister and me at church. There was always a bag of Epsom salts in our bathroom beside the tub. It looked like something you might spread on your cereal. He wore white socks all the time, because his feet reacted to coloured dye and synthetic fabric. He was also colour blind. He stopped for a red light only because he knew it was at the top of the traffic signal, and the green one was at the bottom. After dinner on summer nights, my dad and I watered the lawn. Sometimes he took me for walks down the street to the cigar store on Bloor Street to buy Black Cat filter cigarettes. On Friday nights in winter, he took me to the hockey rink behind the high school down the hill to watch industrial-league teams from National Cash Register and Dunlop Tires and Fruehauf Trailers and Gutta Percha Rubber, with about four other people in the stands, most of them married to the players. One night, my dad got on a train at Sunnyside Station at the foot of Roncesvalles and headed off for Cleveland. Until then, no one in our family had ever gone anywhere unless the rest of us went along. It was exciting to stand on the platform in the midst of a crowd of people with suitcases, watching my dad sitting at the window in the train car. After we said goodbye, my mom told us he was “going for treatment.” When I got older, I found out that my dad
Page 48 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
seldom had a steady job. He liked to gamble, and he squandered my mother’s inheritance. Sometimes my dad played cribbage in the evenings with his friend Mr. Coward. They played at the kitchen table, but I never saw them play for money. They just sat there like two old men and counted “fifteen-two, fifteen-four and a pair is six” and drank rye whisky from juice glasses. One summer, my dad sold garden plants from a vacant lot at Annette and Jane Streets. Some days he took me with him. I’d play in the back corner of the lot with my steam shovel that burned wood and blew real smoke from its chimney. Later, around the time my parents gave me my first bicycle, my dad got a job in a bank downtown. One day I rode my bike along Bloor Street past Christie Pits and Honest Ed’s to visit him at the bank. He was pretty surprised when I showed up. When he drove me home, my mother took my bike out of the trunk of the Ford and locked it in the basement for two years. Sometimes I’d go downstairs to sit on it and pretend I was going somewhere. But my mother wouldn’t let me unlock it and take it outside. When I first got that bike, I rode it all around the neighbourhood. I’d go like crazy down the big hill to the high school, leaning into the curve halfway down until I could feel my tires skidding on the cobblestones. Then I’d pick up speed until I reached the bottom of the hill and glide up the other side, past Western Tech to the street where Oksana Diakiw lived. If she was playing outside her house, I’d ride up and down her street a few times, trying to impress her with my skills as a cyclist.
The Four Vices of Man—Women, Alcohol, Horses, Gambling, Gary Taxali. From The Taxali 300, an exhibition of Gary Taxali's complete body of commercial illustration work, presented by Narwhal Arts Projects in Toronto from January 28 to February 28, 2010. Gary Taxali is an award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, GQ and McSweeney’s, among others.
One time I wrapped black electrical tape around my handlebars and told Oksana that I had a racing bike like the ones that Eddy Merckx rode in the Tour de France. Another boy, who was interested in Oksana, scoffed when I told her this. But I ignored him. Oksana touched the handlebars. Oksana’s family had come to Canada from Ukraine. Her parents ran a grocery store on Bloor Street. The porch and eavestroughs of their house were painted green. My mother said that all immigrants painted their houses green, because green paint was cheap. A lot of new
Canadians moved into our neighbourhood in the 1950s. On summer evenings, whole families walked in clusters up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. The adults were hefty and seemed sullen. The men wore heavy suits and white shirts open at the collar. The women wore kerchiefs around their heads, and the girls wore long flowered skirts and white socks. We knew they were different, because they all stared at my dad and me as we sat on our porch steps spraying water on the lawn with the hose. My mother said it was impolite to stare. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 49
[CALLOUTS] I’d ride up and down the street, trying / to impress Oksana with my cycling skills She took my bike out of the trunk and / locked it in the basement for two years
Oksana’s brother wore suspenders to school with knee-length trousers called breeks and high-topped boots like skates without the blades. When he first came to our school, he spoke no English. Our teacher gave him the task of collecting the trash every afternoon. He walked up and down the aisles between our desks calling, “Here come de gabbage,” and we’d throw scrap paper into the can as he went by. When I told my mother about him, she laughed. That weekend, when we went to visit my aunt and uncle, my mother said, “Tell us about the boy who collects the garbage.” By Christmas, the kid had learned to speak English. My mother wanted me to play with LydiaJane Plunkett. Lydia-Jane lived in a big house at the end of a blind street overlooking a gulley. Her father worked for a company that made soap, and her brother delivered the Toronto Star on his new bike. One day Oksana walked past our house with her parents and her two older brothers. We were sitting in our black Ford Fairlane and my dad was craning his neck, trying to back the car out of the driveway. “They’re dps,” my mother said. “What’s a dp?” I said. “A displaced person,” said my mother. Then, looking at my sister and me in the rear-view mirror, she said, “Don’t stare, Bruce. It isn’t polite.” “They never stop staring, do they?” said my sister. And indeed, they never did. They stared at everything around them: houses, cars, fire hydrants, telephone poles and us, as we rolled down the street in our big black car. My mother owned the car, along with everything else worth mentioning in our home. One sunny day in the middle of June, she moved my sister and me out of our house and away from our father, and had the car towed away from the garage where he had parked it. The next day, the car appeared in the driveway of our new house in the suburbs. We never saw our father again. On the day we left, he must have gone home in the evening to an empty house. My mother had taken everything but the piano. Maybe he’d paid for that with his own money. For a couple of years before my mother ditched my dad, I thought of girls and women, Page 50 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
unencumbered by feelings of guilt. I lay on the hard wooden floor of the kindergarten at nap time and peeked up the full skirt of my teacher as she passed above me. She wore high heels and nylon stockings with a seam up the back, and occasionally I caught a glimpse of her panties. At night I dreamed of Oksana Diakiw.
n grade 1, I entered the school’s talent night. I stood on the stage and sang “She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain.” Afterwards, all the performers gathered with their parents in the school gymnasium. Oksana was there. With her brother, she had performed a Ukrainian dance, wearing red boots and a white dress embroidered with flowers. Lydia-Jane Plunkett was there, too. She had recited a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Music was playing, and some of the teachers danced. My mother talked to Mrs. Plunkett, and Lydia-Jane stood quietly beside her. Her father hadn’t come. He was away in another city, at a conference, discussing soap. Oksana and her parents and brothers drank punch from paper cups and looked around the room, staring at the basketball nets and the tumbling mats that hung from hooks on the wall. “I think that girl likes you,” said my dad. “That’s Oksana,” I said. “Come on,” said my dad. “We’ll go and ask her to dance.” My dad and I walked across the gym floor. As we approached Oksana and her family, my dad held out his hand. “Hello, Walter,” he said. “Hello, Mac,” said Mr. Diakiw. My dad introduced me to Mr. Diakiw. “You sing good,” Mr. Diakiw said to me in a thick accent. I held my dad’s hand and looked at Oksana. “My son would like to ask your daughter to dance,” said my dad. Mr. Diakiw said, “Ah.” He turned to Oksana and said, “Okay?” Oksana nodded. Mr. Diakiw took Oksana’s hand and led her over to me. My dad bent down. “Just ask her to dance,” he whispered. So I did. That night, after my sister and I went to bed, my dad and my mother argued. When our parents fought, I would go to my sister’s room to
sleep in her bed. From there, we could hear them yelling. Then there would be silence, followed by more yelling and the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor. Years later, my sister told me that it wasn’t always furniture we heard. Sometimes my dad was dragging my mother around the dining room by the hair. A few days later, I sat with my father on the front porch, watering the lawn. The sun was setting, but the sky was still blue. Oksana and her family came along the sidewalk and stopped in front of our house. Mr. Diakiw left them on the sidewalk and came up to the porch. “Hello, Mac,” said Mr. Diakiw. “Hello, Walter,” said my dad. Mr. Diakiw said hello to me, too, and he shook my hand. Behind us, the front door of our house opened, and my mother called me inside. I stood up and walked into the dark hallway, and my mother closed the door behind me. Lydia-Jane Plunkett wanted to talk to me on the phone, she said. The next day, the movers came. They
knocked on the door at seven o’clock in the morning. While my dad slept, my mother got out of bed and went to the door. She told them they’d come to the wrong house. Then my dad went to work at the bank. A couple of hours later, the movers came back. My mother helped them pack up our stuff. Then she packed my sister and me into the front of the moving van, and off we went to the suburbs. A few months later, my dad drowned in Lake Ontario, near the mouth of the Humber River. The harbour police found his body floating face down in the water, dressed in an overcoat with nothing in the pockets. It took them three days to identify the body. If they’d asked me, I could have told them who he was. Bruce McDougall has written for Maclean’s, time Canada, Canadian Geographic, the Financial Post and other periodicals, and he is a former member of the Harvard Lampoon. He is also the author or co-author of sixteen books, including biographies of Ted Rogers and Edgar Bronfman, Jr. He lives in Toronto.
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 51
Fortune Cookie Lit Honourable Mentions in the Geist Fortune Cookie Story Contest, inspired by fortunes found in fortune cookies
Yellow Pants Jared Hazzard Simplicity and clarity should be your theme in dress
ellow. I have to wear the yellow pants. (breathing. breathing.) yellow pants. (exhale.) yellow pants. (reach for them.) there are other colours. there are green pants and black pants. people always like the green pants. (stomach tightening.) I feel most comfortable in black. but I always revert to black. black is evil. people will think I’m depressed. I’m not depressed. if I keep wearing black I will become depressed. don’t do this. just take the yellow pants. just choose. if I can make it outside I’ll forget about this. deodorant. left side. (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 swipes.) right side. (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 swipes.) left side. (1 2 swipes.) balance. I’m going to have to buy new deodorant soon. I should write that down. I’m going to be late for the bus. if I don’t write it down I’m going to forget and run out of deodorant when I really need it. (open computer. open shopping list. type in deodorant. save document. close document. close computer.) that was unnecessary. I would have thought about it when I put on deodorant tomorrow. what if I didn’t think about it? I’m going to be late for the bus. I don’t know when the next bus is coming. I should text 33333. the bus always comes at the same time. if I leave in 5 minutes, I can’t possibly be late for school. the next two buses can both get me there on time. what if I miss the first bus by 2 minutes, and then the next bus is late? I’ll be at least 3 minutes late for school. I can’t control traffic. I should Page 52 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
text now. even if I do, the bus might not be on time. I’m responsible to be on time for school. there are no excuses. Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. 5 P’s. if I miss one class there will be a blank spot on the attendance sheet. there will be a row of dots with one blank spot. (stomach tightening.) it will be there for the whole semester. (turn off the light. close the door. walk down the hall. turn around. walk back. open the door. check the light. check the light. close the door. open the door. check the light. close the door. walk down the hall. go outside. lock the door. check the lock. check the lock. walk to the gate. open the gate. close the gate. walk down the alley.) did I turn off the stove? I turned off the stove. I would have noticed if I didn’t. what if I didn’t notice? it will burn the house down. I always check the stove. keep moving. walk toward the bus stop. what if the bus goes by while I’m walking? I should run. I’m not going to run. I’ll start sweating. what if I miss the bus? I’ll be late for class. someone’s walking toward me on the sidewalk. I’m wearing the yellow pants. I should have worn the black pants. (stomach tightening.)
Jared Hazzard lives in Vancouver and plans to pursue studies in philosophy at the University of British Columbia. No matter what the fortune cookie says, wealth is probably not in his future.
FORTUNE COOKIE LIT
Lovetime Jill Mandrake Love is on its way
was hoping you would have hung around at least until I’d learned all the words to “Goodnight Irene” ª a guy called Murray, a friend of a friend said, “I’ve never had a romance that lasted longer than a bottle of shampoo” he said this at Shoppers Drug Mart in the Health and Beauty aisle looking for Sparkling Beauregard a brand recommended for flyaway hair ª back in grade 6, half the class had a crush on a girl called Andrea, with long brown hair politeness, brains and leadership skills. a song on the Toppermost 40 that season was “Andrea” by the Sunrays some of the lyrics were awkwardly mushy and Andrea often got razzed about it ª image: THE RED KITE, a painting by soizick meister
at the beginning of junior high the dream-song of choice on the Hot 100 was “Malinda” by Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers there weren’t any girls called Malinda to razz but actions like that were behind us by then Andrea would have heard that song I’m sure of it, she was around ª almost every year during the high school graduation blow-out weekend there would be a fatal car crash
Jill Mandrake writes strange-but-true stories, and also leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythmand-blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. Drop in: garageband.com/artist/ sisterdj. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 53
FORTUNE COOKIE LIT
Fig Leaves Shannon Blake Tonight you will be blinded by passion
he could not have foreseen that when she met him in the park (his dog, Tiresius, prophetically licking her well-defined calf ), she would be struck blind for three days. They walked from Christie Pits to College, where he betrayed the expectations of the dog by tying it to a bike post. At the Diplomatico they ate, feeling like canny students, frugal and discerning, brushing hands on the bread and smearing their fingers with olive oil. Midway through the meal they were sucking spaghetti from one another’s mouths, sauce spattering like a star in supernova, calling each other Tramp and Lady. They sauntered uphill and she told him about her theory that most popular music was based on the high school English curriculum, generously connecting Brave New World with “Imagine” and Hamlet with “Father of Mine.” He admitted that his thirteen-year-old cousin, who was valedictorian of her grade 8 class and could break boards with her feet, was his hero. She wanted to meet the cousin. Rain began to pour and they both bent left and right to secure their persons. He mentioned, casually, that his house was nearby. The dog, a permissive chaperone, retired upstairs. He knelt over her, his right arm on her left shoulder and she said, “You smell like figs. Or fig leaves. I don’t know what those smell like. I’ve never seen them before.” He was shy. “I smell like this,” he said, producing a bottle of room spray that he had once mistaken for cologne and, Page 54 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
finding women liked the scent of manicured homes, had never stopped using. She laughed and turned to spritz him, but perfumed her own face instead, searing her eyes. They rushed to the washroom as in a steeplechase, he guiding her around couch and over table. She flushed and flushed her eyes, which, when the pain subsided, clouded gently into black. He shouted at her from the phone, already overcompensating to assist her useful senses, “The nurse says that either you’re having an allergic reaction or a stroke. The allergy will clear in seventy-two hours but the stroke will clear sooner. If you’re having a stroke, you’re supposed to go to emerg.” “So, I’m supposed to hope that I stay blind?” He made her kettle corn. They thought up tests. Could she jump? No. Could she guess what word he wrote on a pad of paper, as concussion victims sometimes could? Again, no. She told him about being a child and her mother helping her with rudimentary science, making her discern apple from potato slices, by taste, under blindfold. She had insisted at the beginning of the trial that her mother give her only apple to taste. He gathered a hand of sticky corn. She ate it from his fingers though she did not need to, and later he ate from hers. Shannon Blake is a playwright who works to create theatre with street-involved people in Toronto. She is the author of The Passages of Everett Manning, Factory, Vaudeville and Wonderful. image: FLYING FISH, a painting by soizick meister
Who compiled the found photo album of women who worked together at the potato chip factory in the 1940s? The answer is in the images, but you have to know where to look
Spring 2010 â€˘ G E IST 76 â€˘ Page 55 0
forget how the photo album with these pictures in it came to me. Perhaps it was a purchase from my early forays into eBay, in which case I wouldn’t remember its provenance. For me, a collector of albums who once spent hours each week scouring thrift stores for such gems as these, eBay was like a casino where every machine paid out. I described each new acquisition by saying, “I won this on eBay.” I was gluttonous. Out of control. It is a common enough story. What do they say?—whatever happens on eBay stays on eBay. Whatever did happen, I ended up
Page 56 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
with this album: 434 images arranged within one tooled-leather enclosure, almost all of which are pictures of women who worked in the Blue Star Foods potato chip factory in Rockford, Illinois, pre–, during and post–World War ii. Women in large groups and small groups, in happy pairs and alone. Working at their potato chip machines, laughing in the lunchroom, eating cake at company picnics. And then the notso-subtle shift: the men begin to appear as they return from the war. Until they show up, it is easy to forget that they have been dying elsewhere. The joy of female companionship captured here
seems to deny that carnage. What men appear in the album during the war have a certain lack of presence: they are slight, old, even twerpy, and visually they do not intrude on the obvious matriarchy. In this album there is clear evidence of a heavy hand, not only in the grouping of the people and the taking of the pictures, but also in the assembly of the entire album. Whose hand recorded this history? Normally, a photographic album is created by one person. Normally, it is easy to discern who this person is, because not only do they appear in many of the
pictures, but also they are surrounded by changing groups of family and friends. It is the one who is prevalent and continuous that tends to be the creator. But in this collection, there was no human anchor in the endless shifting of hundreds of individuals and groups. More than four hundred images, many of them densely populated (there are over 1,800 faces in the album)—the complexities of unravelling this mystery were vast. In collecting and musing on albums, I have found that it is largely women who document their lives and the lives of their families. But with this album, an
exuberance of women, I looked for other clues. I carefully removed the images from the album, hoping that someone had annotated the backs of them. Indeed, someone had. Here existed a precise world of names, places, dates, events; people came, left, retired, married and went to war under the avid eye of this chronicler. That she (for the handwriting was feminine) was the de facto potato chip factory historian should have been obvious to me from the pictures themselves, both the number of them and the compact thematic focus—the socializing of female factory employees at work and
at factory-sponsored events. But which one was she? Early on in the album there are images of a woman who seemed to be a likely candidate: she carries a camera (indicating an interest in photography) and she takes command of the space in the photographs. In fact, her matriarchal qualities are everywhere in evidence. She seems to be the oldest woman on the factory floor, and although pictures are still, I sense that it is she who arranged people for presentation in the images. In many photos, her hand encircles the waists of the younger women, not in a friendly way but in a Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 57
“you stand here” way. Am I imagining the fear in the eyes of the younger workers? As well, in the formal group portraits taken by a professional photographer, this woman is invariably at the front, near the Sachs family, who are the owners of the factory. Perhaps she was the foreman, at a time when few men were available to supervise operations. Perhaps she was the fastest chipmachine operator. But however palpable her power, I thought she could not be the album creator because in the annotations she is referred to in the third person. Her name is Ida. My second candidate was a young Page 58 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
Greek woman named Ronnie. The pictures of her in the album are fairly intimate: they include images of her home life and her family. Then, abruptly, Ronnie is seen with her co-workers, enjoying her post-war goodbye cake. Evidently it was time for her to return to the domestic sphere. It took me a long time to study and record the information in this album. I pulled out all 434 photographs, one at a time, easing them out of their brittle black corners, which had been pasted onto the pages. I wrote down any words written on the backs, creating a schema showing what was written on
which image and then returning each one to its original location. By image number 428, I still had no idea whose album it was.
mage 429. Finally. Written hastily on the page, in blue pen: “Arlene Parker and me.” I turned the photograph over. It had been taken in August 1960 at an amusement park, which the Blue Star Foods factory had probably leased for the annual summer picnic. Two women. Arlene Parker—who shows up in numerous images throughout the album— carrying her purse, a camera and a box
tucked beneath her left arm. And right behind her, half-hidden, is Ida. I was shocked. Until now, almost at the end, Ida had referred to herself in the third person. Who does that, in something as intimate as a photo album? That she puts herself on the same level as her co-workers—Aggie, Eleanor, Hazel, Pearl—might indicate a humble nature, but visually she is anything but. There are other possible answers. Ida may have been a born chronicler and the album may be a record, created not for personal consumption but purely as totem. The album, after all, is not much concerned with home and fam-
ily. It is a sweeping record of the people working in a factory from May 1940, the year after the factory was opened by the Sachs brothers, to September 1960, when Ida either retired or died. (Indeed, one gets a sense that she literally had no life beyond the factory walls.) Perhaps she had the foresight to recognize the significance of women being marshalled for the forces of production. Perhaps she had been waiting for such a moment as this all her life. Perhaps she knew that albums outlive their creators and called herself Ida within its pages so that someone would remember her. In this vein, perhaps she had no family. Then again,
she may have kept family albums as well, and the great sea that is eBay simply did not wash them up. Or eBay did wash them up, and they slipped past my watchful eyes.
Faith Moosang is a photographic artist who works with the moving and the still image. She is also an avid collector of abandoned photo albums. A number of Moosang’s pieces have appeared in Geist, most recently “Nancy Drew Knows It’s Hard” (No. 73) and “Futile Gestures: Photo Albums and the Ecology of Memory” (No. 70). She lives in Vancouver and wishes she were as wonderful as Nancy Drew. For more, go to geist.com. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 59
The Natural Elements Lynn Coady Men left women and women left men and it was all perfectly legal—even natural
al’s daughter was always telling him what he could and couldn’t say. She kept reminding him that he was retired—unlike every single one of her friends’ fathers—therefore unacceptably old, therefore doddering around in a kind of anachronistic limbo that was deeply mortifying for those forced to live in close proximity to him. One thing he wasn’t allowed to do, she’d informed him, was to say that his tenant had a silly name. Rain was his name. “How is that spelled?” Cal asked, when he met with Rain’s wife to have her sign the lease. He couldn’t remember the wife’s name because he’d been so bowled over, when they met, by the fact that her husband’s name was Rain. “Rain,” said the wife. “R-A-I-N.” “Like rain from the sky,” said Cal. “Yes,” agreed the wife. Cal thought she looked a bit embarrassed. Cal had never met Rain. In July the couple moved into the tiny post-war house he owned (bought in 1989 for $30,000 and now with a market value, everyone kept shrieking at him, of at least $300,000). Rain had just been hired by the political science department at the university, and was never home. Cal only ever dealt with the wife. “She’s a stay-at-home wife?” demanded his daughter, Terry. “Yes,” said Cal. This new term: stay-at-home wife. How was it different from
Page 60 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
photo: CALGARY, 2007, george webber
housewife? Who had found it necessary to make the change? This was something else he was not allowed to say. “But she must do some kind of work,” insisted Terry. “Well, I don’t know,” said Cal. “Maybe she’s looking.” He stood up from the table to find the hp Sauce and paused to pet his daughter’s head a couple of times. He didn’t know how else to show affection any more. Anyway, it was instinctive with him. Her hair was so straight and smooth; it invited hands. Sometimes, petting her head, he would sigh dreamily, “I wish we had a dog,” and leap out of reach as Terry whirled to punch him. Soon she would move away from home. She wanted to go to an elite arts college in Montana to study dance. The only reason he’d held onto the house near the university for so long was so that she could live in it while she attended school in the city. “Whatareya gonna do with the house?” everybody slobbered at him. Big money! Big payoff! To own property that close to the university was, this past year, like sitting in your backyard and having the ground suddenly start to rumble and spew oil like on The Beverly Hillbillies. It was a city of Beverly hillbillies lately— everyone cashing in. But Terry still could change her mind. Surely someone out there—not him, but someone at school, some adult she actually looked up to, her band teacher maybe—would talk her out of studying dance. He’d made the mistake of calling it dancing once, in front of some relatives who’d been passing through town. “Terry thinks she’d like to study dancing.” The thinks had been bad enough. Calling it dancing, however, he still hadn’t lived down. Cal had a knack for tenants. As a rule, he didn’t rent to undergraduates. Not that he had the instinctive loathing and distrust of them that some of his property-owning neighbours did, but just because he knew that if he wanted to keep the place in decent shape for Terry he couldn’t have kids in their early twenties living there. He rented to graduate students—most often couples—or sessional instructors, or new professors like Rain. People in training for homeownership and the middle class.
Usually whoever was moving out simply referred new tenants to Cal, which worked out well. Good tenants appreciated reasonable rent at a time when anyone living near the university was being milked like cattle, so when they moved out they recommended equally good tenants, who would appreciate it in turn. If you treated people fairly, they returned the favour. You didn’t just gouge people because you could—because it happened to be the thing to do. Cal would never forget his first landlord. He’d gone up north on his first construction job and rented a basement from one of the managers. The manager had stipulated no smoking and no drinking. “Fine,” said Cal. “No visitors,” added the manager about a month after Cal had moved in. “Pardon?” said Cal. “No visitors.” “Oh, okay,” said Cal, who didn’t know anybody anyway. “No music,” added the landlord shortly thereafter. “I’m sorry,” said Cal. “Was I playing the radio too loud? I can turn it down.” “No,” said the landlord. “You don’t turn it down. You turn it off.” Three months into the rental, Cal realized he was brooding about the landlord almost every waking moment. Gritting his teeth over the saw, whispering outraged comments to himself on his way down the hill to the site, breaking into a frustrated sweat at the thought of going home in the evenings. I hate going home, he kept thinking to himself. He has made it so I can’t stand to go home. So Cal started staying out. “No staying out past ten,” the landlord said to him one morning when Cal was on his way down the walk. Cal stopped and turned around. The landlord was standing by his Sentra, key in hand. He had offered to drive Cal to work every morning, but Cal had made excuses about enjoying the walk—the site was just down the hill. It was what had made the rental so attractive in the first place. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 61
Cal walked over and stood on the other side of the landlord’s Sentra as if he had changed his mind about the drive and was about to climb into the passenger’s side. “Pardon?” he said. “No staying out past ten,” repeated the landlord. “We can’t have you waking us up at all hours.” “That’s ridiculous,” said Cal. “Well, that’s the rule, I’m afraid.” “You can’t treat people like this,” said Cal. His armpits blasted sudden heat. The landlord looked astonished. “I own this property,” he told Cal, gesturing at the house behind him. “This is my property.” The way he made these statements—as if they were even pertinent, as if they answered for everything—stayed with Cal for years. When Cal built his own home—and then, on a whim, purchased the house near the university— he made a vow to himself with his first landlord in mind.
’m here to pull some snow off the roof,” he said to Rain’s wife. “You’re here to . . . ?” she repeated, looking worried. I should have called first, thought Cal. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have called. It’s just that it’s not good for all that snow to be piled up there.” “Oh!” said Rain’s wife. Now she looked guilty. “It’s my job to look after this sort of thing,” Cal assured her. It wasn’t really. But Rain and his wife, Cal knew, were from somewhere unspeakably cruel, considering the deep-freeze they had moved to. Santa Cruz, California. Terry had been excited by this. It was the reason she wouldn’t leave him alone about the tenants. That magic word: California. So Rain and his wife couldn’t be expected to understand the culture of cold and all it required. Moments ago when he approached the house, for example, he’d almost dislocated a hip slipping on a frozen sediment of snow that had caked up Page 62 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
on the second step. They hadn’t shovelled, and there had been some melt, and the snow had solidified into ice. “Maybe I’ll just clear your steps for you while I’m here,” said Cal. “Oh,” said Rain’s wife a second time. “You don’t have to do that.” “Well,” said Cal, and stopped himself from finishing: somebody does. “You could hurt yourself.” Cal asked her about the salt and the chipper in the basement, and once it was clear she had no idea what he was talking about, he asked if he could retrieve them himself. She backed into the foyer, saying, “Of course, of course.” Californians, thought Cal, bending over to pull off his Sorrels. You’d think Californians would be—I don’t know. More sure of themselves. Rain’s wife seemed so timid and deferential. Terry would be disappointed, to say the least. He took off his boots in the foyer and saw there was no mat nearby. Salt and grit from previous outings had discoloured the hardwood floor. “Cal,” said Rain’s wife. “Now that you’re here, could you do me a favour? Could you check out the furnace?” Cal stood there noticing two things simultaneously. The floor was cold. It was so cold, the chill was already seeping through his thermal socks. And Rain’s wife was wearing a fleece jacket over a thick wool sweater. As Cal registered this, she wiped her nose—twitchy and pink, like a rat’s—on the sleeve of it. He picked up his boots and carried them with him to the basement. It was only after he returned to deliver the space heater that she told him Rain had gone. He was leaning over, after plugging the thing in, holding his hand in front of it to make sure it worked. She leaned over to do the same. They stood there, leaning together, feeling for heat. “There it is,” said Cal after a moment. He wiggled his fingers. “It doesn’t feel like much right now, but these things are great. We used to use them on construction sites.” “It’s just that,” said Rain’s wife, “Rain is gone.” Cal straightened up a bit creakily. His hands
Y O U
A R E
S U C H
went to the small of his back. Rain’s wife was rubbing her nose on her sleeve again. “He’s not here?” “You’re—” said Rain’s wife. “I’ve been meaning to tell you. I mean, you’re the landlord. It’s just me living here now.” “Oh, I see,” said Cal. He drove home troubled.
bout how old is she, Dad?” Terry wanted to know. Cal guessed about thirty-five, unaware of the trap he’d just stepped into. “Thirty-five, Dad? A thirty-five year old girl?” Cal rolled his eyes. He mentioned that Rain’s wife had struck him as “a nice girl.” This was something else he couldn’t say. “Well, what’s she going to do?” asked his wife, Lana, as Terry guffawed over her spaghetti. “Is she moving out?” “She didn’t say,” said Cal. “She just said she’s by herself now.” “What happened to the husband?” “I don’t—Terry, will you stop?” Terry was making a big production of pounding her fist on the table, convulsed with mirth. She was at the age where she took everything too far. Actually, it seemed to Cal that she should have passed through this phase long ago. It snowed again and didn’t stop for three days. He thought of her, alone in the house. He picked up his address book and dialled the number he’d scrawled beneath the word Rain. “Hello there,” he said when she picked up. He was calling her “there” because he didn’t know her name. “It’s Cal. How are you getting along in all the snow?” “Oh,” she said, “I keep thinking I should shovel, but there doesn’t seem to be any point!” You should shovel anyway, thought Cal. The neighbours. And she seemed to have no idea it was also her responsibility to clear the sidewalk in front of the house. But he said, “No, I know. It’s, ah—it seems like an, an exercise in futility.”
S A D,
S A D
M A N
“That’s exactly it,” she said. “It’s like an insult.” “Insult to injury,” replied Cal. “Yes,” she answered faintly. Cal pictured her rubbing her twitchy rodent’s nose on the sleeve of her fleece, saying, It’s just me now. “Not like California!” he crowed, suddenly hearty. She laughed like a sob down the wire. Terry, home from school because of the snow and still in pajamas at two in the afternoon, stood in the living-room window watching him plow the walk on his ride-on. Then he trundled down the sidewalk, clearing that, and finally cleared the walks of the neighbours on either side. It took no time at all and was an easy enough courtesy. “You looked so happy,” Terry told him when he came in. “You looked like you would’ve cleared every driveway on the block if you could get away with it. That’s so sad, Dad. You are such a sad, sad man.” She flounced away with her hot chocolate.
hen the snow stopped, he loaded his plow into the back of the truck, drove north toward the university and thanked god for four-wheel drive when he turned onto the apocalyptic side streets. City hall was being bombarded with complaints, because it contracted snow-removal out to private companies, and the private companies answered to no one. They were too busy, they claimed. There was the Costco parking lot to be cleared, the Best Buy. Cal bounced over Himalayas of ice and packed drifts. Past buried cars. It was like with construction these days— too much work, too few companies. There were always bigger, more lucrative jobs. They tore holes in people’s walls, went away, and never returned. What was the good of all this money? If it made no one responsible to anyone else? If it made life not easier, but in some cases impossible? He thought this as he pulled up to the non-existent Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 63
M A N
W H O
W A S
sidewalk of Rain’s wife’s house; buried, like everything, in snow. She stood up to her kneecaps in it, stabbing wildly at the second step with the ice chipper. It made an awful, echoing clang every time it hit concrete. When it didn’t hit concrete, when it just bounced uselessly off the unyielding ice, it made an unsatisfying thuck. The sound of her helplessness dully resonating. Another insult. The furnace man had not come. Cal was incredulous. “You’re kidding.” “They’re probably so busy this time of year.” “Yes but—Jesus Christ,” said Cal. “I called three weeks ago.” “The space heater works fine,” she assured him. Cal frowned at it. She was responsible for the electricity bill. It would be through the roof by month’s end. “Listen, dear,” he said. Terry would castrate him for calling a grown woman “dear,” but he had to call her something. “Take a hundred dollars off the rent this month.” She blinked at him. She was wearing the same fleece over a thick turtleneck. Over the fleece she had draped the knitted throw that, during his last visit, had adorned her shabby ottoman. Inside, he noticed that the ottoman was nowhere in sight. The place was only semifurnished now. Rain had subtracted his things, presumably, and the room stood half nude, throwing weird echoes now that there was less furniture to absorb human voices. “Cal,” she said, softly, because she wasn’t so stupid as to dig in her heels about the rent. “There’s no—” “No, no,” he shouted, causing her to cringe a little. He just wanted the conversation with its hollow echoes to end. “It’s absurd. It’s just absurd,” he said. And went outside to finish de-icing her step, forgetting to say goodbye. Then he changed the blade on his snowplow and annihilated the layers of tramped-down snow that had caked up where the sidewalk used to be. He sat in his truck and took out his phone in Page 64 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
H E L P L E S S
order to yell at the furnace man—a man he knew, a man named Mike—but all he got was a recorded, vaguely seductive female voice, which informed him Mike’s inbox was full. He looked up at the house and Rain’s wife was staring out her window at him, just standing there, not looking off or turning away as he gazed back, as if she wasn’t aware she was doing it. “Why don’t you go home?” he said out loud. The wife was a web consultant, she’d mentioned back in July. What did that mean? Terry had told him that anything having to do with the internet meant pornography. The only people who made any money via the internet, she said, were pornographers. They were legitimate business people now, she proclaimed, not sleazy pervert types. They had BlackBerrys and took meetings and it was good business, just like anything, just like oil and gas. Some of them were even women. (Oh good, thought Cal. Terry is considering this. This is her fallback if dancing doesn’t work out.) So Cal could only assume that Rain’s wife made no money. He imagined her work as a “web consultant” to be one of those nominal jobs that stay-at-home wives sometimes had. A job that wasn’t actually meant to furnish any income other than what his mother used to call “pin money.” That was why she didn’t go back to California. Rain’s wife was trapped.
erry is too confident,” Cal told Lana one night. Lana laughed at him. “I don’t think you understand,” he persisted. He wasn’t sure how to approach this with her. It required laying out the kind of home truths women seldom liked to hear. “Confidence is good, Cal. We want our daughter confident.” Lana had stopped speaking to her own father at the age of twenty-five. She didn’t know he had died until a couple of weeks afterward, because her mother had long since passed, and her other sister didn’t speak to him either. And when she
W I T H O U T
M O N E Y
did find out, Lana gave no indication that she cared. Lana’s father had terrorized and oppressed both daughters every day of their lives. They couldn’t date, they couldn’t go out, they had to come home immediately after school, they would not be sent to college because college was the place where women behaved like sluts. “We will not be doing that to our daughter,” Lana told Cal, often. So Cal had been terrorized in turn with the idea that if he ever spoke a word of reproach to any of the females of his household, their mouths would snap shut and they would saunter out from under his roof, leaving him to age in silence, to decompose in an empty house. “She takes certain things for granted,” Cal persisted. “Like what?” “Like her safety. She’s sheltered, she’s protected. She’s lived a comfortable life, and she thinks she’s invulnerable.” “Well, let her think it.” “No,” said Cal. “She’ll be going to Montana, or wherever, next year. She knows nothing about it. The world is a dangerous place. What about all those street women who were murdered?” “What we do is,” smirked Lana, “we take precautions. We discourage the use of crystal meth, for example. I think we should take a hard line on that.” At that point, Cal climbed out of bed and put on his bathrobe all in one motion. “Cal,” said Lana, startled. “I’m not a fool,” said Cal. His daughter wrestling with him when she was little, angry that he could so effortlessly break out of her grip. She wanted him to pretend that she was stronger than he was, and he of course had obliged, bemused but also a little horrified. The blithe way women took the gentleness of men for granted. The kindness of strangers. Early in his marriage to Lana, he’d been stunned to realize how different their perception of sex was. While he was ever-aware of how protective, how careful he was being with her, it seemed she never was. This amazed and troubled him, because for
W A S N’ T
M A N
Cal, the restraint was part of the sweetness. He could have been rough with her, could have grabbed her and pushed her and maybe she would have even liked it, but he never did. It didn’t seem to occur to Lana that things could be any other way. This was the stunner: she didn’t even know. My dear, he wanted to say to his daughter sometimes, if a two-hundred-pound man wants to drag you into an alley, he will drag you into an alley. It won’t matter how well you do in school or how assertive you are with telemarketers. It won’t matter how many times you correct an old man for calling a woman a “girl.” You’re still going into that alley. It is an ugly thing to think, and to say, but there you go.
ike,” Cal said to the furnace man. “Five weeks now, Mike.” “You have no idea of our workload right now, Cal.” “This is north,” said Cal. “It’s February. People could freeze to death. Senior citizens living by themselves. . .” “No one’s freezing to death, Cal,” said Mike. “My god. Just get her a space heater, you’re the landlord.” “You are—an asshole, Mike,” Cal stuttered. He’d never said this to another man before, and he’d never hung up on anyone. It enraged him that he didn’t know how to fix a furnace in his own house. If he proposed to have people living under his roof, wasn’t it incumbent upon him to ensure that the necessities of life, such as warmth in the wintertime, were provided? Money wasn’t enough. That was the mistake men always made—assuming money was enough. To think that he could end up the kind of man who was helpless without money, who wasn’t able to just do it himself if he couldn’t pay someone else to do it, made him sick. Because that wasn’t a man. That was just another kind of asshole.
t went to forty below. When he arrived, she was outside, flailing Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 65
away at the sidewalk. She wore her hood up and a toque pulled down over her eyebrows, and a voluminous cotton scarf wrapped around everything but her eyes. She looked like one of those veiled women from the Middle East, except puffed out by her down coat, and with a gargantuan head. Nothing visible but squinting eyes. Crisp white clouds plumed from beneath the scarf and hung in the air like solid objects. “I love this,” she said to Cal as he approached. She had figured out how to use the chipper. She lodged it beneath a layer of ice and then threw her weight upon it and an enormous wedge of the ice-layer broke off and came free of the sidewalk. Cal understood her satisfaction immediately—force overcoming resistance, over and over again. He surveyed her work. She’d cleared the entire walk and had done about a foot of sidewalk. But it was a big lot. There were hours of work ahead of her, which he doubted she would finish by sunset. “That must’ve taken you all day,” he said. “It did,” she said. “I thought I would hate it, but I love it. It’s therapeutic.” “But, dear,” he said. “This temperature— you’re making it too hard on yourself. Better to wait until it warms up a bit.” “I can’t,” she told him. “I got a note from the city this morning.” This broke Cal’s heart and enraged him all at once. The city—the city who would not even clear the street—had left a note in the mailbox of his house, demanding he live up to his most basic responsibilities as a homeowner. “And the mailman left a note too,” she added. “He stopped delivering the mail.” Mail-person. Letter carrier. Postal worker. She had no idea what she was doing to Cal. “I’m so sorry,” he fretted. “About the furnace. I just don’t know when the guy’ll be out.” “Oh—” She pulled down her cotton scarf a little to wipe the condensation off her face, and he could almost feel the moisture freezing his own cheeks. “The space heater’s fine. And I started cooking roasts! I never cooked roasts before. I used to be a vegetarian.” Page 66 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
Cal could only stare at her. “It heats up the kitchen,” she explained. “Cooking roasts.” He had an image of her huddled in front of the space heater amongst her bare-bones furniture, gnawing away at a glistening slab of pork butt. Instead of dropping to his knees before her on the patch of sidewalk she’d managed to unearth, he turned and made for his truck. “Call me,” he yelled without turning his head. “Just call me if you need anything.” He did not phone to check up on her for well over a month. He had never avoided anyone out of shame before.
hen spring happened, the way it sometimes does in extreme climates. That is, it broke wildly over the city like a piñata. Sun and heat blazed down and suddenly there were rivers of melt in the streets. A new kind of chaos took over as the city overflowed. Cal knew his own basement would be fine, because he had built it himself. But he wondered about hers. He hadn’t been to her basement since a few months ago when he went down to get the salt and chipper. He tried to remember if she had anything important-looking stored down there. If she’s having any trouble, he told himself, she’ll call. And she didn’t. Terry would graduate in a few months. They still hadn’t heard back from Montana, but he had persuaded her to apply to the local university as a fail-safe, and she’d been accepted. “Whatever,” Terry had said, refolding the acceptance letter. “Whatever,” repeated Cal. “I’m getting one of the best educations in the country. I get an entire house to live in for free—whatever. Tuition has gone up another twenty percent and my education is bought and paid for. Whatever.” Lana, who had been putting away groceries with her usual impatient rush, glanced over and started moving in slow motion as if he’d pulled a gun. “All right, Dad,” said Terry, rising so as not to be in the same room with him any more.
A N Y O N E
O U T
Rents in the city had skyrocketed in the past year. A basement “studio” for twelve hundred dollars. He’d read a piece in the paper that said five Chinese exchange students had been discovered living practically stacked on top of one another in such a place. Fire hazard, said the city. The landlord denied any wrongdoing and was contesting it. These people gotta live somewhere, he told the reporters. Cal started fantasizing about calling Rain’s wife in June and telling her she had to move out by the summer because Terry needed to move in for school. It started out as a kind of masochism, taking root in his guilt and dread. But he kept coming back to the scenario, rehearsing it a little too compulsively, and after a while it became almost pleasurable to contemplate. He imagined her helpless, flailing silence. But Cal, she would stammer at last. I don’t have any money. Not my problem, I’m afraid. I don’t know anybody here. Wherever shall I go? Whatever shall I do? Frankly, my dear . . . Please, Cal. I’m begging you. I’m sorry, Rain’s wife. (No, he wouldn’t even say he was sorry. He didn’t have to say that.) I can’t help you, Rain’s wife. There’s nothing I can do for you. Absolutely nothing. You have one month. To get out. To get the hell out. To hell with you. Then, as if she had heard all this—as if the shameful echoes in his head had somehow transmitted themselves to her—she called. “It’s Angie,” she said. “What?” said Cal, even though he’d recognized her voice at once. “Angie. At the house?” “Oh, yes. Hi, Angie,” said Cal. “How are you?” she said. “I’m fine, dear,” said Cal. “Everything okay?” “All of a sudden,” she said, laughing a little, “it’s so warm!” “I know,” he said. “Strange weather.” “I see there’s an air conditioner in the basement.” It was too early for an air conditioner. And
S H A M E
B E F O R E
not nearly hot enough to justify one. She was supposed to be from California. “Oh, dear,” he said. “You have to understand about the weather here. We’re just as likely to get another snowstorm next month.” She laughed again like he was kidding. “I was going to fire it up,” she said. “But then I realized the storm windows were still up.” “Honestly, dear,” he said, “I’d keep them up for a while yet.” And how did she suppose she was going to get the air conditioner up the stairs herself? “It’s just so warm,” she persisted. “And I can’t really open the windows to get a cross breeze.” “Right,” he said. “Well, I could come by.” “Would you?” “Of course,” he said. But he put it off for over a week. Then she called again. Cal apologized. He’d been very busy. His daughter’s graduation coming up. Lots of activity. To his surprise, the fine weather hadn’t abated. He had supposed the temperature would drop again and she would see the wisdom of putting off the storm windows for later in the season. He told her he would stop by as soon as he had a moment. She was grateful. But he didn’t go until the following Wednesday, and he didn’t call to tell her he was coming.
h no,” he yelped at the sight of them. “No, no, no!” Angie and a man were in the yard, struggling to remove one of the storm windows from its hooks at the top of the frame. It had come free of one hook, but they were having trouble with the other, so the entire fiveby-three-foot pane was dangling by one corner. The man had barely the arm-span to manage it. They had dragged the picnic table, of all things, over to the side of the house and the man was standing on it, on his tiptoes, stretching to his very last inch in the attempt to hoist the window free of the hook. He didn’t have the height or the strength for this. His T-shirt Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 67
rode up and Cal registered a queasy contrast of black hair against white belly, the hair thickening considerably as it approached his crotch. This could only be Rain. Angie stood on the ground beside him, ineffectually reaching up to steady the window. It seemed only Cal was aware that the moment the thing came free of the hook, it would fall backwards, shattering on top of both their heads. Rain, face blank with exertion, glanced over as Cal scrambled up onto the table to take charge. “Let’s get it back up there,” said Cal, grabbing a side. “Get it back on the other hook so you can take a rest.” Rain grunted in agreement and the two of them managed to reattach the other corner. “This is Cal,” Angie said from somewhere behind him. Standing together on the brutalized, corpse-yellow lawn, the men shook hands. “Rain,” said Rain. He was wearing a sports jacket and black basketball sneakers and a T-shirt, which said Talk Nerdy to Me. His bushy head of hair, unlike the hair on his belly, was almost completely grey. This was a professor, Cal reminded himself. At the university. The university had hired him to teach students political science. Would Terry be taking political science? Rain tried not to pant, his grey mop soaked in sweat. Cal wondered how long the two of them had struggled with the window. The thought of them like that—Rain helpless with the oversized pane, Angie helpless on the ground beside him, both about to be grated like cheddar—made his bowels flutter. “Rain,” repeated Cal, and the name was like a mouthful of spoiled food. “Listen, that window might be rusted onto the hook up there. You just leave it to me. I’ll get a stepladder and—” at this point, had he been talking to Angie, Cal would have stopped himself— “do it properly.” “Yeah,” agreed Rain. “Thanks, bro. Seriously. Angie says you’ve been great.” “Oh,” said Cal, flustered by a near-irresistible urge to shove Rain as hard as he was physically capable of doing. “So I should get going,” said Rain. “I’d like a word with you,” said Cal. Page 68 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
Angie went inside the house and the two of them stood in the alleyway together. Cal had no idea what he would say, he only knew he wanted to talk at this man. He felt it like a sudden, stabbing hunger, when you know you’ll eat whatever’s put in front of you. He opened his mouth and listened to himself as he would an authoritative voice on the radio. “You have abandoned this girl,” Cal heard himself saying. “This is Abandonment.” He said it over and over again, hearing the capital A in his voice, as if he were charging Rain with a crime—wanting to impress upon him the seriousness of his transgression. Rain stood with his hands on his hips, gazing at the ground and shaking his head. Sometimes he shook it tightly, as if in defiance, and other times loosely, in apparent disbelief. Cal realized with disgust that Rain was never going to raise his head and look him in the eye. At the same time, Cal knew men left women and women left men and it was all perfectly legal—even natural. It was a tragedy but only in the way that all of nature was a tragedy. But there were rules, there were truths and virtues, and that was all he wanted Rain to acknowledge. The question was, what if Rain didn’t know? This is what kept Cal talking, fast and mindless, in a voice that sounded abraded and highpitched, like Angie’s chipper scraping concrete. What if Rain, who continued to stand there and shake his head with loose, angry amusement, who was from Santa Cruz, who merely wanted someone to talk nerdy to him—what if Rain had no idea what Cal was talking about? What if Rain was oblivious? What if Rain—who should have been laughable, and who instead made no one laugh—what if Rain, himself, laughed?
Lynn Coady is author of the novels Strange Heaven (Goose Lane), Saints of Big Harbour and, most recently, Mean Boy (both Doubleday), as well as a short-story collection, Play the Monster Blind (Doubleday). Her non-fiction has appeared in magazines and newspapers across Canada. She has received the Dartmouth Book Award, the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award, the CAA Jubilee Award, the Canada Council’s Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award and the Writers Guild of Alberta Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction. She lives in Edmonton.
Karl Kraus, Everybody’s Neighbour Stupidity and the fatigue of language were bitter enemies of the writer, journalist, poet, playwright and satirist Karl Kraus
ante believed that the grand style, suited to high poetry, was ill-suited to telling the truth. Therefore, in Canto xx of the Inferno, when his master Virgil must correct his own poetic version of the founding of Mantua in the grand-styled Aeneid, Virgil reverts to a prosaic, almost unpoetic style, because what matters here is not the lyrical vision of our world but the word as immediate referent. Six centuries later, the German writer Karl Kraus (1874–1936) redefined this dichotomy: artificial verbal constructions opposed to clear-cut, grammatically precise language, the banal volutes of the Jugendstil to the sober clarities of the Bauhaus. “A phrase and a thing are one and the same,” he wrote. From the precision of language, truth (or an approximation of truth) can be told; otherwise the writer is guilty of babble, which even the loftiest subject cannot exculpate. Subjects are temporal, fashionable or not, dependent on the conventions of those interested in them; language is our humble eternity. “What lives from its subject dies with it,” Kraus declared. “What lives in language, lives with it.” I’ve been reading Karl Kraus with astonishment and gratitude. He is one of the strangest creatures of that strangest of literary bestiaries: Germanlanguage literature of the early twentieth century. He lived almost all his life, from the age of three to his death in drawing: oskar kokoschka
1936 at age sixty-two, in Vienna, where he founded his own periodical, Die Fackel (The Torch), and wrote most of the articles in it. What mattered to Kraus, above all, was language. In its defence, he was
ruthless. He attacked individuals, parties, ideas and political events, but above all bad grammar, which he saw as the root of all evil. This led him to oppose the Austrian Liberals in the early years of the twentieth century, and then their opponents, the Social Democrats, because they seemed to him “dishonest in their language.” He also berated the dramatist Hermann Bahr, the drama critic Alfred Kerr and the journalist Maximilian Harden, because they wrote badly. “The German language,” Kraus declared, “is everyone’s whore and I
make her a maiden again.” Nationalism was for Kraus a loathsome distortion of adjectives, and he vituperated: “those illiterate Prussians who think that the adjective deutsch has a comparative and superlative form.” When he chose an event in particular, it was because he could see its evil verbal roots: he wrote his “monstrous drama,” as he himself called it, The Last Days of Mankind, against the 1914–18 war, because, he said, it had massacred the German tongue. In this colossal play, Kraus reinvents the street talk of coachmen and the despised Yiddish of the ghetto, as well as the jargon of politicians and journalists and the conventional literary voice impotent to carry or combat ideas. National Socialism, when it appeared, became for Kraus the sum of all evils because its abuse of the language was proof, in his eyes, of absolute moral corruption. Language, through which we learn the world, must be defended with language. And the style through which, Kraus believed, language serves most strongly, is that of satire—mordant, unanswerable satire. “Satires the censor understands should be banned,” he advised. He had no patience with fools. There are writers whom we think of as bodies of work, such as Balzac or Borges, and others who are single books, such as Whitman or Cervantes. But there are also writers who are statements, aphorisms, brilliant one-liners. They express themselves in snapshots and begin and end in pronouncements. In the worst cases, they become dogmatists, political or religious, or inventors of commercial jingles; in the best, they become Karl Kraus, in whose blazes of lightning we can’t pretend to be fooled. There were Karl Krauses before Karl Kraus: Menander, Lichtenberg, Sydney Smith, Voltaire, Léon Bloy. But Karl Kraus surpassed them all. Kraus is a perfect writer for our time. Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 69
To read him in Sarkozy’s France, in a society that is visibly and daily sliding toward fascism, is a salutary experience. It is useful to imagine Kraus’s comments after the French minister of economic affairs, Christine Lagarde, told the National Assembly in July 2007 that “we have enough stuff in our libraries to last us for centuries to come. That’s why I tell you: think less and work more.” It is important to guess what Kraus would say upon learning that protesting French citizens are punished a priori for crimes they might one day commit (or not) and held in prison for months without a scrap of evidence (as happened to students who demonstrated peacefully against the government in Poitiers). It is illuminating to invoke Kraus’s comments on turn-ofthe-century Austria in understanding what it means for a society to drag an eight-year-old before the courts for fighting with a friend in the playground (something that took place here in France a few months ago). It is essential that Kraus give us words that will echo to us the evil nonsense of politics, of reality shows and games, of propaganda interviews, of stultifying advertisements, of the best-selling prose of summer blockbusters, of the pretentious claptrap of would-be philosophers and artists. Stupidity and the fatigue of language: these were Karl Kraus’s bitter enemies, and he continues to battle against them every time a reader turns to one of his pages.
Alberto Manguel is the award-winning author of hundreds of works, most recently The Blind Bookkeeper (Goose Lane) and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: A Biography (Douglas & McIntyre), both long essays, and All Men Are Liars (RBA Libros), a novel. He lives in France. Read more of his Geist work at geist.com. Page 70 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
n August 2009, in the Prenzlauer Berg district of the former East Berlin, 150 people squeezed into Saint Georges New & Used English Bookshop to attend a literary reading in English. Prenzlauer Berg is often described as a bohemian neighbourhood. Yet to earn this designation a district has to be more than a popular international rendezvous point: its collision of cultures must create art. Paris in the 1920s remains a
world of instantaneous communication, bohemias risk becoming dangerously self-conscious, choking off their creativity before they can produce an enduring corpus of literature. The Prenzlauer Berg writer Ralph Martin, author of Ein Amerikaner in Berlin: Wie ein New Yorker lernt, die Deutschen zu Lieben (An American in Berlin: How a New Yorker Learned to Love the Germans), introduced his read-
“incredibly dangerous” and now the city had become a soulless, overpriced financial centre; Berlin, on the other hand, was both safe and exciting. The passages Martin read about his adaptation to the city were witty and affecting. His book reflected the contradictions of Prenzlauer Berg’s bohemia: written in English, it had been published in a German translation; about two-thirds of the audience at Saint Georges Bookshop sounded anglophone, yet they bought the German edition of Martin’s book. No English edition was planned. Foreign writers in Paris, from Joyce to Asturias, may have interacted with the French, but they published in their native languages. Berlin’s bohemia, by contrast, is driven less by fleeting expatriation than by immigration. The bard of Prenzlauer
beacon because readers in different countries recall André Breton and the Surrealists, the Latin Americans who interacted with them—the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, the Nobel Prizewinning Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias—and, of course, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. In today’s
ing at Saint Georges Bookshop by comparing Berlin favourably with another contemporary bohemia: Buenos Aires. Martin, who left New York in 2003 out of love for his German girlfriend, went on to evoke the bohemian New York of the 1940s to 1970s, in which artists such as Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning flourished. Yet, he maintained, New York at its peak had been
Berg, and one of the most popular writers in Germany, is Wladimir Kaminer, a Russian immigrant who writes in German. Kaminer was born in Moscow in 1967 and settled in East Berlin in 1990. The convener of a trendy reading series, Kaminer is also a television host. Ich bin kein Berliner (I’m no Berliner) (2007) approaches the ironies of life in Prenzlauer Berg in humorous sketches that
Writing Bohemia Bohemia is a good place to grow as a writer, but is it a good place to live one’s whole life?
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 71
parody a travel guide. The title mocks that precious Cold War moment when U.S. President John F. Kennedy came to West Berlin to cement his identification with this beleaguered outpost of the Free World. Intending to say “Ich bin Berliner” (I am a Berliner), Kennedy roared, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which means “I am a doughnut!” This anxiety about misspeaking oneself in the treacherous German language, of a self-deprecating view from the ground, is central to Kaminer’s humour. Yet Ich bin kein Berliner feels overly folksy, softened by Kaminer’s duty of being “one of Germany’s best-loved writers.” His sketches had a sharper edge when he was poorer and less established. An earlier collection, Schönhauser Allee (2001), evokes post-1990 Eastern European immigrants to Prenzlauer Berg with humour, poignancy and bite.
Schönhauser Allee runs along the western edge of Prenzlauer Berg and meets Kastanienallee, the core of the district’s café scene, in a V beneath the elevated Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn station. Maxim Biller, born into a Jewish family in Prague in 1960 and a resident of Germany since 1970, has practically invented Kastanienallee as a literary territory. Some of the stories in Liebe heute (Love Today) (2007) revolve around Czech or Jewish themes; others describe romantic encounters in Kastanienallee cafés. The pivotal moment in a Biller story tends to occur when the narrator invites a young woman back to his apartment. Yet, if the plot becomes repetitive, these passing encounters are rendered with a restraint that evokes real feeling. Biller is a contentious figure. He has condemned Western liberals for romanticizing conditions in Communist East Germany, and he has accused the Israelis of not translating his books into Hebrew because, he claims, they don’t want to admit that Jewish life in Berlin is thriving again. The East German writer Chaim Noll, who emigrated to Israel after 1989, agrees with Biller: he recently observed that today it is once again possible to live a ganz normal (completely normal) Jewish life in Germany. This theme hovers over the bestknown novel in English to have emerged from Prenzlauer Berg, Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis, the Harvardand Oxford-educated daughter of the Mexican novelist and diplomat Homero Aridjis. The first-person narrator is a young Jewish Mexican woman living a life of grinding solitude amid the fervour of Prenzlauer Berg. Familiar images of Berlin abound: both Adolf Hitler and the Berlin Wall appear in the first two pages. In contrast to other immigrant protagonists, Aridjis’s diffident Tatiana comes to Berlin to escape, rather than join, a community. Book of Page 72 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
Clouds is involving and meticulously crafted, yet the past almost stifles the narrator’s present.
udith Hermann, born in West Berlin in 1970 and now living in Prenzlauer Berg, typifies a different migration: that of West Germans who, by moving to the district, have made Prenzlauer Berg one of the rare locales where East and West Germans mingle. Hermann is an impressive short-story writer. In their openendedness and use of suggestion, her impeccably constructed stories owe a debt to American models. Her characters are occupied by art, affairs and exotic vacations. Hermann’s tone has changed little since her striking first collection, Sommerhaus, später (Summer house, later) (1998), a fact that raises a question relevant to all of these writers. Bohemia is a good place to grow as a writer, but is it a good place to write about, or to live one’s whole life? An economically stagnant city cushioned by a generous welfare state can also be a city without driving themes or compelling dilemmas. With the exception of James Joyce, most of the foreign bohemians of the 1920s wrote their best books after leaving Paris. The question that Prenzlauer Berg’s new literature has yet to answer is whether an immigrant culture can generate the same enduring creative intensity as a place of temporary expatriation.
Stephen Henighan is the author of A Grave in the Air (Thistledown, 2007), stories of Germany and Eastern Europe. His translation of Mihail Sebastian’s novel The Accident will be published by Biblioasis in October 2010. To read his Geist work, including “Building Bohemia,” his first column on the subject of Prenzlauer Berg (Geist 75), go to geist.com.
Canada’s Funnyman: The Flip Side Stephen Leacock was the most successful humorist writing in the English language, but his ideas about society were not so amusing
n the autumn of 1919 the New York Times invited Stephen Leacock to write a series of articles presenting his views on the current political situation, in particular the challenge to the status quo being offered by the radical left. Leacock was writing in the middle of a “Red Scare,” a widespread fear on the part of government and the public that both the United States and Canada teetered on the verge of Bolshevik-inspired revolution. It may seem like a paranoid fantasy today, but this concern was very real to the readers who turned to the pages of the Times for information and reassurance. The revolution in Russia, which was only two years old, had established the precedent of a small group of well-organized “Reds” appearing out of nowhere to impose a radical new politi-
image courtesy of beverly fox
cal and social order. People saw conspirators everywhere, funded by Lenin’s gang of ideological cutthroats and working to spread worldwide revolution. “These are troubled times,” Leacock began his series. “As the echoes of the war die away the sound of a new conflict rises in our ears. All the world is filled with industrial unrest.” Making matters worse was the spreading “infection” of Bolshevism, he wrote. “Over the rim of the Russian horizon are seen the fierce eyes and the unshorn face of the real and undoubted Bolshevik, waving his red flag.” It is indicative of Leacock’s reputation that America’s most prestigious newspaper figured that a Canadian humorist was the best person to explain these momentous events to its readers.
At the time, he was the most popular funnyman writing in the English language. “His pieces were published in Canadian newspapers and magazines, of course, but also in New York and London,” explains the historian Margaret MacMillan in her new book, Stephen Leacock (Penguin Canada). “Publishers begged him for his latest work. Theatre producers in London suggested he write plays. Charlie Chaplin asked him for a screenplay. A young F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote from Princeton to say how much his own writing was influenced by Leacock. Audiences paid handsomely to hear his lectures.” Leacock’s occasional pieces were collected almost annually into bestselling books, such as Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures of the Idle Rich (1914), which gently satirized the foibles of everyday life. But for his articles in the Times, Leacock put on his academic hat. For as well as being a humorist, he was a trained political economist—a graduate of the University of Chicago, where he studied under the famed social theorist Thorstein Veblen, and a member of the Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University in Montreal.
acMillan, whose brief book is a sympathetic but not uncritical portrait, admits that Leacock was by most accounts an indifferent scholar with a surprisingly slight grasp of his specialty. “Humorists, it was said, thought him an economist, and economists thought him a humorist,” she writes. As she points out, Leacock did not really care that much about academia. Although he was an entertaining lecturer, beloved by his students, he preferred to address a broader public. He was, in modern parlance, a public intellectual. Business and government leaders sought his advice; Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 73
people took his thoughts on public issues very seriously indeed. So what did Leacock have to say in the Times about the “National Hysteria” (his phrase) that was gripping North America? He was sympathetic to the voices of reform. He conceded that economic inequality was rampant and inexcusable, that something had to change, that labour’s demands for a new deal were just. But he also warned that reform movements were being subverted by “the underground conspiracy of social revolution.” As a result, the forces of extremism were drowning out the voices of moderation, and society was sliding “nearer and nearer to the brink of the abyss.”
eacock, MacMillan argues, was that familiar Canadian hybrid, a pink Tory. Or, to express it in modern political usage, he was a social liberal but a fiscal conservative. He was happy enough to entertain ideas of an old-age pension, a minimum wage and a shorter workday. But socialism was a pipe dream, “a bubble floating in the air.” If people made the mistake of taking it seriously, it would lead to chaos. “The blind Samson of labour will seize upon the pillars of society,” he fulminated, “and bring them down in a common destruction.” Leacock did not oppose change, but change had to come slowly and be measured against the more pressing need to maintain social stability. In his articles in the Times (reprinted the following year in book form as The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice), Leacock reveals himself to be a man of his time, class and gender. As such he opposed equal rights for women, disapproved of immigration by Asians and Blacks, and disparaged Aboriginal cultures. It is a truism that we should not judge historical figures Page 74 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
by the ethical standards of our own day. Leacock may have been a misogynist and a racist, the argument goes, but so was everyone else; it is unreasonable to condemn him for it. Fair enough. Except that not everyone else was a misogynist and a racist. Leacock had contemporaries, men even, who supported women’s suffrage, who welcomed Asian immigrants, who did not think Aboriginals were inferior human beings. Such people may have been in the minority, but they existed and they spoke out, and Leacock was not among them. It is not holding him up to the standards of the present to point out that he could have had a better sense of which way the world was moving instead of trying to stop it. MacMillan’s book appears in a series titled Extraordinary Canadians. Isn’t someone extraordinary if they rise above the standards of their day, if they hold opinions that are not simply conventional wisdom, if they do or think something that breaks with public opinion to espouse a more progressive point of view? No question, Leacock was successful (and funny). If he’d only transcended the prejudices of his audience instead of pandering to them, I’d be more willing to admit him to the ranks of the extraordinary. But that’s not MacMillan’s fault. If the other books in this series are as sensible and well written as hers, Penguin will have performed a useful service by giving the general reader access to a set of Canadians who, if not always extraordinary, are at least provocative and important.
Daniel Francis is a writer and historian. His most recent project is an online history of coastal B.C. unfolding at knowbc. blogspot.com. To read more of his Geist work, visit geist.com.
Reviews, comments, curiosa
people who share Brett’s view that “the
FARM FOOD AND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
blessing of a small farm is that it’s not a job—like food or poetry, it’s a calling.”
Cooking), but there’s more than enough here to recommend. It is a definitive history of English potted meats and fish
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
pastes, a fond recollection of the writer Norman Douglas (they first met when
n Trauma Farm (Greystone), Brian
(Grub Street) collects sixty-two articles
she was twenty-four and he seventy-two)
Brett, poet and farmer, maps the experiences and insights gained from eighteen
written between the years 1955 and 1984 by Elizabeth David, the British “cookery
and a thorough survey (with recipes!) of syllabubs and fools.
years of subsistence farming onto the events of a single day: “an eighteen-year-
columnist” whom James Beard consid-
long day that includes both the past and the future of living on the land, tracing
ered to be “probably the greatest food writer we have” (my own ranking would put M.F.K. Fisher ahead). David has a
the path that led hunter-gatherers to the factory farm and globalization.” This seems ambitious—the past and the future
brisk, no-nonsense style of writing, and she does not hesitate to express astonishment and scorn. (Of the “cool blonde”
contained within a single day, a single volume!—but the metaphor works nicely. Brett successfully maintains a delicate
featured on the cover of the centenary edition of Mrs. Beeton, David comments: “For all the interest or animation shown
balance between broader, abstract issues: the global and historic context, and personal anecdote: the concrete, day-to-day details of operating a small farm on Saltspring Island, B.C. This particular (and symbolic) day opens as Brett sets out into darkness toward his back road, “where the cedars are six feet thick,” naked (except for sawed-off gumboots), with a mug of hot milk, and his dogs “panting at [his] side.” It is clear that Brett loves the life and the landscape he has chosen (“I’m a raincoast boy, in my element”). If the small, family-run farm still has a future (Brett himself is pessimistic: “The small farm hasn’t got an ice-cube’s chance in hell”), it is because there will always be some small number of hard-headed
by the cook she might [be] operating a switchboard or dishing out stamps at the Post Office.”) Despite references to French hotels that have probably changed hands a half-dozen times in the interim, and to restaurants whose current menus are unlikely to bear any resemblance to those described by David, even the most dated of these pieces still work as memoir, recalling a time when the typical English diet was heavy on organ meats, blancmange and overcooked vegetables, and devoid of garlic, olive oil and other Mediterranean exotics. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine may not be the best place to start exploring David’s writing (I’d suggest one of her classic titles: Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, Summer
Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table (Norton) gathers together twentysix “food-inspired recollections,” all of them originally published in the New York Times Magazine. The list of featured authors, which includes Ann Patchett, Kiran Desai, Pico Iyer and James Salter, is impressively far ranging, and it would be nitpicky of me to point out that the editor, Amanda Hesser, hedges a bit by describing them collectively as “America’s leading writers” (Pico Iyer was born in Britain and Kiran Desai in India). Whatever the national origins of the writers, their essays prove that Proust’s madeleine is not the only taste-memory to inspire literature. We have Kiran Desai remembering her failed attempt to make a soufflé while growing up in New Delhi; Yiyun Li describing a time during his Beijing boyhood when, seduced by a tv commercial, he developed an insatiable craving for Fruit Treasure (as Tang was then known in China). However, memory is notoriously undependable, as Ann Patchett discovers when she tries to recall a meal eaten at Taillevent, a Michelin three-star restaurant Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 75
in Paris. Dinner was dominated by the argument she had there with the man she later married; years later, all details of the food and wine are gone, but vivid memories of the argument still remain: “a tattoo on our relationship.”
AMONG THE GLASSY HEGEMONS Mandelbrot
ouglas Coupland’s City of Glass
(Douglas & McIntyre) is really a SimCity coated in Teflon, and, like some parts of Dubai, it tends to look like Vancouver viewed from outer space, a place devoid of people, devoid of history, but whose “relationship with trees is a big one.” Coupland in his non-fictional mode is sloppy, coy, smug and given to easy vapourizing (“Personally, I spend way too much time in airports”) about fleece, dim sum, weather and the Lions Gate Bridge, scene of the author’s “happiest memories,” driving between the airport and his parents’ house on the North Shore (the entire city of Vancouver lies between those two points). It is evident from the text that Coupland has never walked on Lions Gate Bridge, which he offers as the limit of civilization, “where time ends and eternity begins,” and beyond which lies a land of nothingness: “only more mountains, mountains until the North Pole, mountains until the end of the world.” City of Glass, re-released in 2009 in time for the Olympic Games crowds, is organized as an abc; it ends, significantly, not with zed but with yvr. The city that Charles Demers describes in Vancouver Special (Arsenal Pulp), also released in time for the Olympics, is Page 76 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
hairier than Coupland’s city, and comes with grimy alleyways, a squalid past and suitably grainy black-and-white photographs that make it seem like there is little or no daylight in the Vancouver that Demers inhabits. The text is marred by large block quotes taken from the routines of stand-up comics; these may have been funny live at Yuk Yuk’s but they’re much less so in print—in condensed bold caps, no less. But Demers explores his city thoroughly and readably; the result is textured and calls for lots of dippingback-into; its proper audience is people who live in Vancouver, rather than visitors easily hypnotized by images in picture postcards. Demers can be windy, especially when he ascends (only rarely) into Theory with a capital T and gives in to the temptation to write, for example, of when “the narrative, emotive pull of the hegemon loses some of its power.” He makes a strong claim for street pizza, especially the product found at Uncle Fatih’s on Broadway, but let the reader be warned against the advice of gourmands. For we have eaten the pizza at Fatih’s (after reading Vancouver Special) and we will not be eating it again.
NEPALI NIGHTMARE Jenny Kent
he Nepali novel Palpasa Café by the journalist Narayan Wagle (Publication Nepa~laya) addresses the civil war that plagued Nepal for ten years. Based on true events, it follows a Nepali artist, Drishya, and his encounters with a young woman by the name of Palpasa in India and Kathmandu. The prose is dense and flowery and at times its poetic zeal put me off, but I persevered, reminding
Horton Family with Dog. Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame Collection. From Tim Horton: From Stanley Cups to Coffee Cups by Don Quinlan (McNally Robinson). When Tim Horton: From Stanley Cups to Coffee Cups arrived in the Geist office, this photo caught everyone’s eye. For a young friend of mine, the photo depicts a mythical world (“I didn’t know people actually lived like that”) like the one depicted in the hbo series Madmen, and for me, a child of the ’50s, this photo looks like so many that were taken of my own family: set up the bright lights and have everyone look at the same thing (not at the camera). I had the same haircut, cotton dress and white socks as the little girl; my mother wore cotton dresses too, and pearls. Even the chesterfield could have been ours. In fact, when I see photos like this, I feel like back then we might have lived in black and white all the time. —Patty Osborne myself that something subtle may have been lost in the translation to English. The story spirals into something more heart-wrenching and meaningful when, following the massacre of the royal family, Drishya is forced out of his art gallery in Kathmandu and returns to his home village on a month-long trek with his college friend Siddartha, now a Maoist leader. The reader is spun through broken reunions, civilian deaths and disappearances, bombed police shelters, and villages emptied of children—all recruited for the
Maoist cause. (Children young enough to be in school use phrases like “Where words don’t work, bullets do.”) We see a country torn asunder by violence. (A boatman explains: “Someone will ask, ‘Why did you take that person across the river? Who was he? Why didn’t you report it?’ and one day I won’t have the right answer.”) Meanwhile, as the hills of his childhood are drenched in blood, Drishya dreams of opening a café for artists. Every room would be a gallery looking out into the mountains, and the café Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 77
would be named for the woman he loves. The story does not end happily; it does not even end in acceptance or understanding. From the outset the reader knows that Drishya will be abducted. But the stark fact of his disappearance only hits home when his story, as far as we will ever know, has ended. Amnesty International
in my middle-class suburban house, as consolations. Later, but not much later, Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume came into my hands and I experienced for the first time the astonishing sense of my body launching itself off into another galaxy. All of our books offer us portholes into others, but it is the experience of being consoled that unites
has placed Nepal at the
these two books with the book I finished
top of the list of countries
moments ago while the spaceship parked
with the highest rates of civilian disappearances,
across the street from my window and took the Spice House’s garbage away.
and this novel explores
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by
the muddy political waters that still terrorize the country. One
Muriel Barbery (Europa) consoles every part of me that has ever felt both scorn
of the few Nepali novels translated into English, it is a story about war, but it is also a story about love and how it may bring
for and satirical delight in the human world, where people tend to travel in their own orbits, defined by education,
hope through the creation of art and the preservation of memory.
vacations and other confabulations, and where we are all so afflicted by our blindness that we overlook the most incredible
HEDGEHOGGERY Gillian Jerome
he city garbage truck goes beep-beepbeep when it extends its mechanical
arm to pick up a load—it sounds like a spaceship trying to park. Only today the noise sounds more like music, because sun blazes through the slats of my bedroom blinds, it’s January 22 at 9:03 a.m., and though this quiet house rattles ever so slightly when traffic whizzes along the main street, I’ve just read a consoling book. I am remembering Brambly Hedge Spring Story by Jill Barklem, a miniature book about some mice who live in a crabapple tree with quilts, blackberry puddings, painted teacups and pots of elderflower tea—clearly aristocratic mice in an English-countryside kind of way, but at age seven I was delighted by the labyrinthine rooms of the tree house, its enormous halls and passageways and staircases, and its storerooms of honey and jams and pickles—these came to me, Page 78 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
members of our species. That is why fine individuals go about their daily lives invisible to the rest of the world, such as the Hedgehog protagonist Renee, the autodidact concierge, a daughter of farmers who has impeccable taste in Russian literature, Japanese film and French pastry. The biting humour of this novel, this stinging satire of contemporary French society, comes to us also through a suicidal twelve-year-old named Paloma Josse, who wears pink eyeglasses and can’t stand the pretentious members of her well-to-do family or the rest of her bourgie society. Somehow Renee and Paloma meet; somehow a Japanese man named Kakuro moves into their Parisian hotel; somehow, after I have imbibed their conversations with themselves and each other, while the rest of the world’s traffic whizzes by, everything about the human world feels, if only for a moment, less alien.
FICTIONAL FANTASIES Kris Rothstein
antasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks
(Lyons Press) is a quest, just like a game of Dungeons & Dragons or a lifetime of World of Warcraft or the plot of Lord of the Rings or any of the other fantasy narratives discussed in the book. The author, Ethan Gilsdorf, woke up in his forties and had to accept that he still loved the geeky stuff of his teen years that he’d left behind to become a serious journalist and a normal, grown-up member of society. So he decided to combine the two and write about why role-playing and video games and reading about elves are so important to so many people. He explores the early days of d&d (he just missed a chance to meet Gary Gygax, the founder, before his death), takes in several conventions, visits all the New Zealand locations from the Lord of the Rings movies, and wonders if he can ever really make things work with his non-geeky girlfriend. It’s a wild and entertaining ride. But Gilsdorf tries too hard to justify the fantasy and gaming—they help disabled people interact like everyone else, they give courage to shy people, they help people through tough times—rather than simply accepting geeks for who they are. He makes great arguments, so he doesn’t need to struggle so hard to convince us. Holding Still for as Long as Possible (Anansi) is Zoe Whittall’s most readable and intelligent work to date. The novel takes place in a recognizable Toronto but not the familiar setting of most literary depictions of the city. Josh is a dedicated paramedic who used to be a girl. He lives with the perfect and privileged Amy, the kind of girl who is always impeccably Spring 2010 • G E I ST 76 • Page 79
groomed. They used to be in love but
EYE OF THE TIGER
now they can’t stand each other, and Josh is immediately attracted to Billy, who
lives with his best friend. A former tween pop superstar, Billy is now a paranoid student barely able to function from day to day. Whittall creates a backdrop of a complex
ast fall, when I had finished reading
every article on the internet about h1n1 while sweating out chills and fever at home, I picked up a young-adult book
and realistic lesbian sub-
I had bought at the recent Vancouver Public Library book sale: Tiger Eyes, by
culture, something that
Judy Blume (Bradbury Press). I read this
was too manufactured and in-your-face in her previous book,
book many years ago and remembered virtually nothing about
Bottle Rocket Hearts. These characters
the plot, but everything
really grow, and even though there isn’t much of a plot, their desires and needs
about the cover illustration of a girl with sad
are strong and credible enough to propel the story. Holding Still is subtle and captivating, and even the overly dramatic end-
eyes, which I loved. The
ing rings true.
main character in the story is Davey, a teenager adjusting to life in
didn’t expect to be so absorbed by The Virgin Spy (Douglas & McIntyre), a
Los Alamos after her dad gets killed working at a 7-Eleven in Atlantic City. Los Alamos is an isolated community high in
debut collection of stories by Krista Bridge. But I was immediately drawn in by bold opening lines like “as a girl, I
the mountains of New Mexico and home to one of the largest nuclear weapons laboratories in the U.S., which most of the
was a spy” and “your father’s New York mistress was the one you met.” A girl
characters in the book are connected to in one way or another. As Davey deals with her grief, her mom falls into depression and Davey is left to answer to her aunt and uncle, who view Los Alamos as a safe bubble from the violence and misfortune that lie in wait out in “the real world.” Davey would make a great role model for the demographic for which this book was intended: she volunteered at the hospital, tried out her mom’s therapist, spent lots of time outdoors, challenged her uncle’s myopic opinions and confronted her friend about binge drinking. I would definitely recommend it to all young adults, if I knew any. Tiger Eyes was listed on the 100 Most Commonly Challenged Books in the U.S. during 1990–2001 (a “challenge” is a formal request that the book be removed from shelves because of content) thanks to its themes of “alcoholism, suicide, anti-
looks for acceptance at home despite her boyfriend’s “shiny Christian face.” A pre-teen becomes obsessed with spying on her friends and neighbours, collecting knowledge instead of experience, but as she grows older her habit becomes sad and malicious. In “A Matter of Firsts,” a girl comes to love Ella, her father’s exotic mistress, whose candour is a revelation. A few of the stories fail to develop, or seem flat, but the others more than make up for them. Bridge’s prose is precise and her outlook on the world is naïve, twisted and comic. These are long, engaging stories with real arcs and moments of genuine insight. Page 80 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
intellectualism, and violence.” For me, the three hours I spent rereading Tiger Eyes was a much- needed respite from h1n1 hysteria. It also gave me a peek into what seem to have been simpler times— although now I see that living in Los Alamos during the early 1980s may not have been simple at all. I guess every generation has its defining issues to deal with, be it the threat of nuclear war or a viral epidemic.
SECRET LIVES Kristin Cheung
hen I think of Victoria, I picture a place where senior citizens take
afternoon strolls through Beacon Hill Park and soccer moms pick apart the malls while their kids are at school. But through M.A.C. Farrant’s essays in The Secret Lives of Litterbugs (Key Porter), people do a lot more than that: going out on a condom run (two hundred, to be exact) for your son who’s just about to move out, throwing wild parties in waterfront homes in Sidney Skidney, dating older boys from Victoria even though you’re from the boonies (Cordova Bay). These stories from her youth are like a sitcom set in Victoria that makes me feel like I live there too, and after reading them, I felt connected to her as if she was an old friend who has told me dozens of amusing stories through the years. I went to the library to get her previous books and ordered the first M.A.C. Farrant title available—Girls Around the House. Some of the essays in Litterbugs were published there first, so once more it was like being with an old friend and hearing some of the familiar stories over and over again.
Spring 2010 • G E I ST 76 • Page 81
This year, Geist turns 20! Celebrate this milestone with us by making a founding donation to the GEIST WRITERS AND ARTISTS FUND. Donate $20—one loonie for each year of Geist—or any amount you like to help Geist develop new works by Canadian writers, artists and photographers.
Details: geist.com/donate Support Canadian writers and artists. Donate today.
hired, the latest high-tech digital film
THE CURIOUS AND THE DEAD
toys (motion-capture and cgi) are used whenever possible, and then the finished
product has the hell marketed out of it at
mong the Special Features in the
two-disc edition of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher (Criterion), is the standard Making-Of documentary, which I found more absorbing than the feature film itself. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes a wisp of a tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald and runs it through the Hollywood Blockbuster
expanded and rewritten to touch more firmly on universal themes—Love, Loss, Redemption—and then it is relocated from Baltimore to New Orleans so that Hurricane Katrina can become a timely plot element. Some A-list actors (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton) are
Page 82 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
Oscar time. The result is a film of surfaces, with an emotional flatness that cannot be blamed entirely on Mr. Pitt et al. For the first third of the film the body of Benjamin Button (chronologically a child, but physically an old man in his seventies) is played by three different actors in sequence, with a cgi re-creation—a computer model—of Brad Pitt’s head spliced onto each neck in turn. As Mr. Button ages in reverse we eventually find Mr. Pitt playing the character with only the standard pancake makeup to assist him; toward the end we get a Button played by a Pitt whose face has been given a
rigorous digital slimming (courtesy of a
that wordless moment so that it becomes
software package named Lola) that has un-furrowed his brow, de-bagged his
the silent heart of the entire quiet film, and we, too, are wholly caught up in it.
eyes, de-wrinkled the skin around his
The film was not released on dvd until
mouth, then overlaid the entire Pitt facade with a dewy glow beyond the
November 2009. It was—and is—a worthy capstone to Huston’s career of nearly
reach of even the most advanced cosme-
tics. What a shame that Lola was unable to work similar wonders with the film’s narrative.
The interviews contained in The Paris Review Interviews, IV, edited by Philip
James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” is a
Gourevitch (Picador), the latest volume in the series, run chronologically from
compact beauty, the final—and best, I
William Styron (1954) to Marilynne
think—story in his collection Dubliners. The events of the story take place during
Robinson (2008) by way of fourteen other writers, including three who hap-
and just after a gathering on the evening
pen to be personal favourites of mine:
of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) in 1904 Dublin, at the home of two spin-
Jack Kerouac (1968), E.B. White (1969) and Paul Auster (2003). Together with the three previous volumes, these inter-
ster sisters; anyone who has read the story will certainly remember the final sentences, in which the central character, Gabriel Conroy, experiences his own epiphany as his wife, Gretta, describes her first love as a young girl in Galway. The film critic Pauline Kael described John Huston (age eighty, and suffering from emphysema) directing his film version of The Dead “from a wheelchair, jumping up to look through the camera, with oxygen tubes trailing from his nose to a portable generator.” The Dead (Lionsgate) was released in theatres in 1987, just a short time after Huston’s death. I first saw it then, and twenty-two years later could still recall a moment near the end of the film, as Donal McCann (playing Gabriel) looks up at Gretta (played by Huston’s daughter, Anjelica), who has paused on a staircase in mid-descent. She is caught up in the memories evoked by a piece of music heard faintly from the other room, and he finds himself deeply moved by something in her expression. Huston extends
views are an invaluable source of inspiration, encouragement and advice for practising (and would-be) writers. Some of this advice will seem self-evident: in discussing the importance of discipline,
ARTISTS I N THIS I SSUE
Michael Chrisman photographs the modern landscape. His photos of a tiny slide viewer appeared in Geist 73 (“Toronto Views”). See more of his work at chrisman.ca. Stan Douglas is a Vancouver artist whose work explores historical narratives. He created the photo Every Building on 100 West Hastings, which measures 16¢ ´ 3¢, by photographing each building and then compositing the individual prints to achieve the impossible perspective. Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) was an Austrian Expressionist painter and writer. Soizick Meister is a Swiss-Canadian artist and illustrator who lives in Vancouver. The images that accompany “Fortune Cookie Lit” are from The Red Thread Collection at the Jacana Contemporary Art Gallery, an exhibition based on the Chinese belief that an invisible red thread connects people who are destined to meet. Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing analyst and consultant who always carries a digital camera so he can capture moments in Canadian publishing history, such as the post-Olympic state of Vancouver. Visit him at thefutureofpublishing.com. George Webber’s work has appeared in Geist several times, as well as in many other Canadian magazines. His most recent book is People of the Blood: A Decade-long Photographic Journey on a Canadian Reserve (Fifth House) and his work can also be seen at georgewebber.ca.
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 83
for example, E.B. White comments that “diversion or no diversion, in the end a man must sit down and get the words on paper, and against great odds.” But even the most obvious points carry greater weight when they’ve been printed up and bound—or, more important, when they come directly from the lips of a writer whom one admires. Sometime early in 2005, the Paris Review flirted with the idea of making all of their interviews available for free via their website, but they seem to have backed away from that noble goal (although a sampling of the interviews are available as pdfs at parisreview.com/literature.php). In the meantime we’ve got these four volumes, and I’d be willing to bet that there are more to come. I was introduced to my first digi-novel™ the other day—the world’s first, in fact: Level 26: Dark Origins (Dutton), “from the visionary creator of
you in the action and putting you inside the twisted mind of a serial killer” named Sqweegel. He is a dapper fellow who favours a white latex bodysuit so tight that he needs four and a half sticks of butter to get into it (you can’t make this stuff up, therefore it must be true). Each Cyber-bridge is “a three-minute motion picture scene with A-list actors you’ve seen in blockbuster films and awardwinning tv shows” (apparently “the visionary creator of CSI” believes that a modern reader’s imagination needs help—“a rabbit punch to the visual cortex,” to briefly adopt the writing style of Level 26 ). Well, if this is the future of literature, then I am in desperate need of a time machine, destination: the past. Perhaps if we act quickly we can drive a stake through the heart of the digi-novel™, and let those A-list actors go back to their blockbuster films.
Anthony E. Zuiker with Duane Swierczynski.” Evi-
the front flap (yes, a digi-novel™ still retains some of the attributes of that artifact, the old-fashioned novel): “Level 26 takes the best features of books, film, and interactive digital technologies and rolls them all into a raw, dark, and intense story-
telling experience.” We’re following an international team of investigators led by Steve Dark, “the ultimate crimescene tactician on the tail of a killer so brutal law enforcement has invented a new classification of evil to account for him.” Every few chapters we are encouraged to visit a companion website, and there to unlock a “cinematic Cyber-bridge” that will “take the experience to the next level, immersing Page 84 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
supposed to enhance the story by offering new information or character development. At first it is fun and exciting to dash from couch to computer every twenty minutes, but soon the novelty wears off and it becomes apparent that Zuiker has fallen short of the well-rounded experience he was aiming for. The brief clips are poorly acted and fail to add anything to the story; they often just summarize events that the reader has already been through, taking much of the imagination out of reading. I respect what Zuiker has done, though. By thinking outside the box, he has triggered new possibilities for supplementing the reading experience with digital content. For instance, the website doubles as a forum where readers can converse about plot analysis and critique, inventing a new kind of interactive book club. With Level 26, Zuiker has launched a fledgling genre with dark origins. And even more uncertain than its future is its answer to the old debate: what’s better, the book or the movie?
dently the printed page cannot contain the boldness, the daring, the sheer digi-ness of a digi-novel™: to quote from
can enter online to view videos that are
SECOND OPINION Dan Post
THE GIFT OF RE-GIVING Sarah Maitland
he digital revolution has divided the literary world into two camps: those who are eager to see what can happen, and those who mask their anxiety with a call for tradition and integrity. Enter Level 26: Dark Origins, a digi-novel that dares to integrate the reading experience with digital technologies by infusing its continuing storyline with online video content. Anthony E. Zuiker, the writer, has not done this timidly. Rather, his ultra-gothic story of a serial murderer and the gritty detectives who track him purposely make you feel uneasy, playing on the anxieties that surround the creation of a new genre. How it works: roughly every four chapters, the linear reading experience is interrupted and you are given a code word you
he Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House) by
Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows, came up in conversation four times in one week. Since my father grew up in the Channel Islands during World War ii, and that’s what the book is about, I figured the synchronicity was a sign that I should read it. The authors wrote the book in the form of letters, which allowed them to describe life during the German occupation at length without anything really happening—apart from a weak love story and a foiled literary heist. As I tried to finish the book on the flight home at Christmas so I could pass it off as a present for my parents, the woman in the next seat said, “Isn’t that
just the greatest book? I read it with my book club and we all loved it.” I didn’t know how to answer; certainly not with
hate tattoos on Robert Mitchum’s knuckles (from The Night of the Hunter, 1955). But the many illustrations, and the
one of the book club
sidebars, which give basic facts about
questions at the back of the book, like “What
each movie, leave less
truly makes someone a ‘great catch’?” So I said it was boring and she changed the subject and two minutes later we discovered we knew each other. When my parents opened the book on Christmas morning, they told me they already had a copy they hadn’t read, so we re-gifted it to my Gran.
space for actual writing: just three paragraphs or so per film, which was insufficient to convince me of the merits of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). The closer I examined this list of 1001 “must see” movies, the more I questioned the selections. How many movie buffs, I wondered, would choose to
TO SEE, OR NOT TO SEE? Michael Hayward
watch Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (a trashy exploitation film from 1965) from their deathbed? or Wes Craven’s The
n estimated fifteen million individual film and tv credits are docu-
Hills Have Eyes (“a relentless chronicle of violence against and within the bourgeois family unit” from 1977)? The book’s dust
mented in the imdb.com database, and dozens of new feature films are released each week in theatres and on dvd. Where
jacket reveals that Steven Jay Schneider, the general editor for the volume, has written or edited five separate books on horror
can budding film buffs turn for pointers to the very best of these? Of course one
films and violence in the cinema—which might explain an apparent bias toward these genres.
man’s Casablanca is another man’s Ishtar, and there is no shortage of movie guidebooks and Top 10 lists for moviegoers to consult. But even these require some sort of meta-guide; imdb.com’s Top 250 list (imdb.com/chart/top) is notoriously vulnerable to ballot-box stuffing. (The Shawshank Redemption in the No. 1 position at time of writing, ahead of The Godfather? And The Dark Knight at No. 6? C’mon . . .) In search of guidance I turned first to 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Barron’s)—a title with a nice apocalyptic ring to it: a memento mori seasoned with a dash of the imperative. You might call this the snack food of movie guidebooks; it’s fun to flip through the heavily illustrated pages until something catches your eye: Tom Cruise looking cocky with his Top Gun (1986) pilot’s helmet; the love and
David Thomson’s Have You Seen . . . ? (Knopf) is another massive guidebook to the movies; it comes saddled with the verbose subtitle A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films, including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures, and classics (with just a few disasters). This guide is much less visually appealing than Before You Die (no illustrations at all, and no fact-filled sidebars), but it does offer movie watchers a lot more written substance for their money: a full page on each film. David Thomson is a British-born film critic and historian who writes on film for the New York Times and the Guardian, among other publications. Each of his “introductions” to these thousand films is a compact and well-considered essay rather than a review, and I liked having one person’s opinions Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 85
Letters, continued from page 10
and perspectives to measure against my
WOLVES AT SEA
own (as contrasted with Before You Die’s scattergun cast of seventy-three contributors). Other differences: Have You Seen . . .? organizes the films alphabetically, and does not include an index (a big mistake, in my opinion); Before You Die includes both a
lmost everyone has heard of The
Sea-Wolf, the 1904 bestselling novel by Jack London featuring the irascible
director index and an index by genre
Wolf Larsen. Not many know that Lon-
(ninety-nine films are
don modelled Larsen on a real person, the notorious Cape Breton adventurer, mari-
listed under Horror) but awkwardly presents the
ner and sealer Alexander MacLean, the
films in chronological order. For me the
subject of the biography Captain Alex MacLean: Jack London’s Sea Wolf by
clincher came when I
Don MacGillivray (ubc Press). (Full dis-
discovered (courtesy of Wikipedia) that David Thomson’s list of
closure: I am the author’s niece.) MacGillivray takes us on a scholarly journey,
his ten favourite films includes Celine and
following MacLean from east coast ports
Julie Go Boating (1974), an obscure French film that I’ve enthused about for more than thirty years (and written about in Geist: see
in New England during the 1870s, around the Horn and into Pacific waters during the 1880s. MacLean’s skill at sailing, and
geist.com; so in the end it is Thomson— obviously a kindred spirit!—and his omnibus that get my vote.
his propensity for drink and dubious legal activities, as well as his involvement in politics and the brutal and dangerous pelagic (open-sea) sealing industry, elevated him to the status of folk hero. His achievements and fascinating adventures while sailing in the Pacific Northwest took him to Victoria, B.C., where he based his fleet, and where his wife and daughter settled. During this time, contentious sealing interests from five countries—Canada, the United States, Britain, Russia and Japan—created serious diplomatic disputes and set the stage for one of the first wildlife protection treaties, although the agreement probably had more to do with protecting corporate and national monopolies than conserving wildlife. MacLean was an exceptional mariner and a memorable individual. His biography will appeal to anyone interested in maritime and sealing history, the Pacific Northwest, international relations or environmental politics.
Page 86 • G E IST 76 • Spring 2010
for teachers by grade 10 students (No. 74), reminded me that I too had a lot of suggestions for improving school when I was that age. Was my advice equally unimaginative as this? Equally disastrously misspelled? That’s not cute in a tenth-grader. The problem is systemic. Mine was an ordinary middle-class public school, but the kids drank and smoked like crazy. One might assume it was common sense: fifteen-year-olds having to sit still for eight hours while being force-fed information unrelated to their passions or to any life outside a bureaucratic suburban future. The deadening lack of creativity of the place! The white walls! The intolerable classmates! The treacle of the adults! I’m not too old to remember how much I hated it. —Andrea Coates, Victoria Irresistible advice from grade 10s: geist.com OOPS n the Magazines Canada Friends ad in Geist 75, the url listed was incorrect. To receive your free digital edition of a Canadian magazine please sign up at magazinescanada.ca/friends.
SEND YOUR LETTER S TO:
The Editor, Geist firstname.lastname@example.org, Fax 604-669-8250, #200 – 341 Water Street Vancouver BC, v6b 1b8 Letters to Geist may be edited for clarity, brevity and taste. Authors of published letters will receive a Geist Map, suitable for framing.
The GEIST Cryptic Crossword
Prepared by Meandricus Send copy of completed puzzle with name and address to: Puzzle #76 GEIST 341 Water Street, #200 Vancouver, B.C. v6b 1b8 The winner will be selected at random from correct solutions received and will be awarded a one-year subscription to Geist or—if already a subscriber—a Geist magnet. Good luck! ACROSS 1 Don’t be afraid of that formless gold bird—it’s supposed to be delicious (2) 7 Let’s fry or pickle it in that little Austrian town 8 Don’t bid too many on that underground Irish guy, he’s not good for you (2) 11 Waffle receptor can carry hard-to-handle but top-notch product 12 You can send the signal from the host country out to other countries now (abbrev) 13 She sang about her favourite agent weekday afternoons 15 Sweet, the blue ones in the asterism are gone. Isn’t that ignorant? 19 According to his pitch, it sounds like it meets all our requirements (2) 20 Don’t take a samovar to this Ukrainian place 21 Royal observers can be nasty at noon in England (abbrev) 22 So msg combines gas particles and water particles and can sometimes smell bad? 24 Don’t laugh when they would bar me from eating sweets 29 Kurds think saucy French-Irish delicacy good to tie up on a plate 31 Avoiding the issue can get you down 33 That dishy doll will criticize everything, won’t she? 35 That girl in the mail-order movie made it a real page-turner 36 That little hockey player is sweet enough to eat, isn’t he? 39 The comic one never manages to get the goods 40 One of those smelly necklaces (2) 41 Don’t take offence to an inquiry about copper in your section (abbrev) 42 If you want my opinion, you should get yours in but make sure they’re connected to the craft in some way 44 Do the ironing, son, and then we’ll change the bulb, listen to the phone, and eat something fried (2) 46 At 22, the Chinese girl felt she needed some chemical enhancement (abbrev) 47 Ms. Witherspoon’s crazy paste container is sweet, isn’t it? (2)
DOWN 1 Little orange Canadian things are crunchy, but not in the States. 2 Sometimes consuming gets into your guts 3 No, no, don’t get high then 4 He’s crazy about threading that seedy metal doohickey 5 She had a ball playing with Lou at her gig 6 Obsolete tapper who used to be a writer still works with words 8 His nose can tell a long story 9 Bloody hell, those trials are driving me to the hospital 10 Delivery guy is so cool, he really slays me 11 Metal one could terminate in the closet 14 In the us, sixteen can be preventative, while in Britain they would have cost only one 16 Singular but swell inflamation is contagious 17 One of those common receptacles that are wasted in England (2) 18 Meat and tomatoes to start will guarantee good flavour 23 The Metis sometimes get a glimpse of those items 25 One of the three is essential to bees 26 In Canada, that Norwegian shape-shifter has a heavy unit 27 Red balls of goodness found over there on the polders below the sea 28 When Erin went there she learned Ukrainian dancing 30 She’s enjoying this crossword so much she’s consuming it (2)
32 British inspector got signal, sent out message in an acorn 33 About that brilliant move: we’ll need to be reimbursed 34 Tom took one look at her and paid his taxes immediately, then went to Coventry 36 Those seamen are on the road with the rats all the time 37 No cards in this united book depository scheme (abbrev) 38 What Paddy the Irishman eats keeps him from being a little guy (2) 43 We have one to digest but his sticks out (2) 45 That’s a lie—and it smells bad too The winner for puzzle #75 is Bill Kummer of Newmarket, ON, and he filled it in with pen! Congratulations. S T A S R E E S C A U C H A C H I P T H P E O C G K P I R A O I I N F R F N T I S
I M P E R I A L I S T
B E E R L L I N W I A L L E N E O N T D U N D I A
R A I D I E E D G A I S O A M B E S T E R L S
C L A S P
E W E L A I M L E L I N O L R F O S O N H C R A U M O A R D E D T I R A S I N I N N A K E
B A R B E D W I R E
G O D
Spring 2010 • G E IST 76 • Page 87
Too Good to Be True t h e c a n a d i a n ma p o f l o f t y p r i n c i p l e s by Melissa Edwards
modified Geistonic projection
For more Geist maps and the Geist Atlas of Canada, visit geist.com. Page 88 • G E I ST 76 • Spring 2010
GEIST 7 6
FA C T & FI C TI O N
MADE IN CANADA SPRING 2010
GE IST 71 WINTE R
$6.95 CDN / $6.95 US / VOL. 17 75