Dear Whoever You Are (1 – 15 September 2018)


1-15 September: The Sea (Part II)

More than a quarter century later I found myself in Brittany’s historic St. Malo again sitting on a rock away from the tourists, sipping beer (no cigarettes these days), and staring out over the sea where the crocodile jaw of the English Channel opens widest and devours the Atlantic. The sun was high in a near cloudless sky. It was cool and windy, a welcome respite from the crushing heat in Paris, and the air tasted like salt and fish. The tide was out, way out, exposing broad stretches of seaweed clad ocean floor, slippery jagged avenues mined with tidal pools that led to old stone forts harking back to the days of French corsairs and peg-legged pirates. Soon the tide would be coming in at the speed of a person walking quickly and, in a couple of hours, they would become craggy island clusters and I would be under several meters of thrashing water.

How apropos seeing as I was daydreaming about pirates and the horror of drowning at sea. Specifically, my imagination, warped at the best of times and depraved at the worst, had activated an image of pirates forcing a wretched captive to walk the plank over the Mariana Trench (You don’t? It’s a hook-shaped slice of the western Pacific between Papua New Guinea and Japan which is so deep, if you dropped Mount Everest in there its peak would still be two kilometers under water). Hands bound to prevent swimming and a light cannonball tethered to the ankle to ensure delivery all the way to the very bottom, what blinding terror goes through the mind of such a condemned man bobbing at the end of the plank as large impassive waves roll by far beneath his feet?

In those last few seconds before being nudged off the end by a leering gang of rum-logged sadists, could you even contemplate the steep fall through the air, sharply filling your lungs with your last breath as the water races towards your feet, the biting cold of the terrible splash, the instant tug downwards from the cannonball, the violent futile struggle craning your neck upwards as the liquid sky overhead fades and the water gets darker and darker, the pressure that crushes that last breath from your exploding lungs, resignedly breathing water as indifferent fish flit by effortlessly, and then the limp 10-kilometer descent to rest alone forever in an impenetrable blackness occupied only by a handful of undiscovered microorganisms. Not even this ghastly prehistoric deep-sea motherfucker can make it far enough down to visit your lonely bones:

Still, I thought to myself, it would at least be a pretty quick death and once you’re dead you don’t care if your final resting place is in literally the most remote, dark, and empty place on the planet, right? Right?!* I think I would prefer it to being trapped beneath the deck of a slowly sinking ship. After a couple of agonizing hours of gradual listing, the bow sinks awkwardly lower. You and your doomed companions instinctively pick your way as far aft as possible where a bulkhead blocks any further retreat. Bone-white panicked faces pressed against the portholes now mostly underwater, you listen to the rivets in the hull groaning louder under the increasing strain. The bow finally slips under the waves shorting out the lights and the slow, steady descent begins. Anguished wailing fills the compartment as the rivets pop out like champagne corks and geysers of seawater, stronger than firehoses, flood the compartment. The ship is almost vertical and, as you furiously tread water, there are only a few centimeters of air left between your gasping mouth and the bulkhead. Pounding your fists against the pitiless reinforced steel, you’ve almost exhausted the adrenalin coursing through your egg-beating legs and you cough up your first briny mouthful. You –

“What’s going on up there?” asked my let’s-sneak-up-from-behind-and-startle-the-shit-out-of-him wife, tapping my temple with her forefinger.

“Gaaaaaa!” I shouted almost falling off my rock. “Who are you? Where did you come from? And why are you impersonating my aunt?”

“I’m done shopping and came to find you! It’s almost time to get on the ferry.”

“The fe-fe-fe-ferry. Right. The ferry. Looks pretty rough out there. Let’s wait until tomorrow.”

“What are talking about? It’s perfect weather!”

“As soon as we get on board, I’m dropping my pants, bending over, and getting a shot in the ass. With any luck, I’ll never wake up.”

“You’re making less and less sense every day!” she cried, throwing her arms skyward. “Come on, let’s go!”

“Oh alright,” I grumbled, hopping down gingerly with my busted knee. Picking my way across the moraine-like seabed I stumbled across a sodden old running shoe, so battered only a faded outline remained of its Nike Swoosh. This instantly reminded me of the single running shoes, with feet still inside them, that have been mysteriously washing ashore in British Colombia and Washington State since 2007. Conspiracy theories abound but the most likely explanation is that the feet belong to suicides who ended it by hurling themselves into the complex waterways of the Salish Sea. As it happens, human bodies that don’t succumb to predation (i.e. get eaten by some giant honking sea beast) first will naturally “disarticulate”, or come apart at the joints, hands and feet first. Because a running shoe encases the foot in a flotation device, it’s little wonder they occasionally wash up on the shore (while the feet of suicides in stilettoes, for example, are never heard from again).

“What are you doing now?!” called my wife who had marched on ahead.

“Checking for feet!” I called back as I flipped over the shoe with a stick and sighed in disappointment to see it was empty. Tossing away the stick, I trudged after my wife who was walking away fast and, for some reason, holding the front of her head in her hands as if something was imminently going to burst forth from both temples.

Having finally been wrestled onto the ferry, we were underway and bound for Jersey, a Channel Island 65 kilometers straight north off the coast of Normandy, to commiserate with a friend also sentenced to turn 50 this year. The boozy Brits were in a carnival mood, swilling cheap lager and biting into heavily battered wedges of slippery battleship-gray matter with devastated pre-orthodontics era British teeth. When Whitney Houston drifted through the pipes, my ears started bleeding and I fled to the upper aft deck. Thanks to a taut wind and dark incensed clouds, I was mostly alone and (guess what?) my mind drifted out over the waves.

And waves are what I started thinking about. Rogue waves. Unlike tsunamis which have an identifiable cause (earthquake, volcanic eruption, glacier calving, meteorite impact, etc.,) and can be tracked, rogue waves do not have a single distinct cause, are unexpected, appear out of nowhere and, with heights towering up to 30 meters (100 feet), are the suspected culprits in the sudden and mysterious sinking of countless vessels, some as large as ocean liners. In 1995, the cruise liner RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 encountered and survived a 28-meter rogue wave in the stormy dark heart of the North Atlantic. Sometime later, from the psychiatrist’s couch, her Master recounted that it abruptly “came out of the darkness” and “looked like the White Cliffs of Dover”. To stave off capsizing, the ship had to literally “surf” the near-vertical monster wave…

Alone now on the ferry’s deck (probably because I had been unconsciously talking aloud to myself about killer rogue waves) in the dwindling light, I squinted out towards the distant gloom on the horizon and could have sworn I saw a Dover-cliff-sized wave frothily materializing there. I slowly clawed at my face in dread until I realized it was just the coast of France. That terrified me even more so I fled back below decks, ordered a double from an aging bar wench whose bony structure protruding from loose clothing and splintered teeth reminded me of a praying mantis, and hid in a broom closet until we slipped past stony Elizabeth Castle’s runway of a breakwater and mercifully docked in St. Helier.

After a merry couple of days romping around Jersey, with its windswept near-empty swathes of sandy beach still wistfully guarded over by old German bunkers, we returned to St. Malo where my rock was now invisible beneath a strong hightide breaking its back against the city’s fortress walls. We rented a car and spent the next few days zipping around upper Brittany and lower Normandy.** I delighted in getting lost in the narrow country lanes (i.e. after Google Maps lost its signal, which it frequently did) lined by dense cornfields with stalks as high as those that doomed characters get chased through in the movies. We were never truly lost though because, inevitably, the rolling patchwork of chlorophyll green, bark brown, and lemon yellow would disintegrate into a yawning blue vista where the boundless sea met the boundless sky and invited us down to yet another dazzling beach.

Although the sandy sections of these beaches were littered with bloated tourists half-drowned in suntan lotion and melted ice cream, it was easy to find seclusion along the rockier bits where the ocean had excavated shady hollows at the base of monolithic striated cliffs. One clear sunny afternoon, I discarded my sandals and abandoned my wife in one of these spots to wade in the gentle surf. After much splashing around like a toddler stomping in puddles, I came upon a small spiral shell, intricately painted in deep mauves and oranges. Examining the twisting pattern, which was somehow like a murmuration of starlings, I was once again struck by nature’s artistry, the magnificence of which, in my opinion, has never been matched by any human hand.

I was also reminded of the Fibonacci sequence. You don’t? This 13th Century Italian mathematician stumbled upon it by accident when tinkering around with rabbit populations of all things:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233…

Each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers. Almost childlike in its simplicity, right? But there’s something else. If you divide any number by the previous number, you will get approximately 1.618 every single time all the way down the sequence to infinity. This banal enough looking number is actually much sexier than its famous relative, pi, and has been dubbed phi, or “The Golden Ratio”. Why? Because it is ubiquitous throughout nature from the microscopic to the cosmic. It describes, amongst countless other examples, the:

  • Ratio of anionic to cationic radii of all atoms;
  • 3-dimensional geometric helix shape that exactly mirrors the known ratios of our DNA molecules;
  • Ratio of females to males in any honeybee colony in the world;
  • Configuration of branches and leaves on trees and petals on flowers;
  • Proportions of human beings including height, eyes, ears, and even the relative dimensions of a woman’s uterus;
  • Relationship between the eye, fins, and tail of marine mammals;
  • Dimensions of the earth and moon and distances between the planets;
  • Structure of Saturn’s rings; and
  • Quantum mechanics of black holes.

As I stood transfixed by the shell, I remembered that the Golden Ratio of its spiral is synced with those of our fingerprints, hurricanes, and our very own Milky Way. Not to mention when a rare and unpredictable rogue wave rises up from the sea, ultimate symbol of the random dangerousness of nature, crests and breaks over a mighty container ship containing all variety of human endeavor and snaps it in half like a matchstick consigning everyone and everything on board to the lonesome deep (except for those containers with some buoyancy, perhaps stuffed with Nike shoes, that scatter and drift half-submerged along the temperamental currents of the open seas as spectral hazards to other vessels), it does so in compliance with the Golden Ratio.

There is an underlying pattern to everything.

The cliffs behind me suddenly caught on fire as the sun slung further into the west. I saw that the shade my wife was sheltering in was retreating so I plodded back to her.

“Don’t!” she snapped, straight-arming me the palm of her hand, her eyes unreadable behind bug sunglasses.

“What?”

“I don’t want to hear anything about walking the plank, drowning on sinking ships, rogue waves, or washed up feet in running shoes, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!”

“Here,” I said, pressing the shell into her hand and folding her fingers around it.

“A shell?” she asked, perching her sunglasses on top of her forehead.

“A gift from God,” I said.

~

* Near death out-of-body experiences hint at something else but that is a subject for another blog.

** Advertising pitch! When you go, you must go for dinner at L’Abri des Grèves (http://www.labridesgreves.fr/) in coastal village Cherrueix in Brittany (https://bit.ly/2PIE2jg). There you can sit on the terrasse beside the sea, spectacular Le Mont-Saint-Michel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont-Saint-Michel) looming prominently in the background, and have a huge plate of the freshest, tastiest mussels you have ever eaten washed down with a pint of the local cider for about 17.00€. Go for it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (14 – 28 August 2018)


14-28 August: The Sea (Part I)

When I immigrated to Canada, it was done the old-fashioned way: by sea. To preempt the typical sarky comments from my alleged friends, no this is not a nostalgia piece harking back to the Golden Age of Sail and yes, commercial aviation had made some advances beyond dirigible balloons. Furthermore, I was only a toddler so I actually have no recollection of the weeklong voyage. By all accounts though, it redefined the concept of a “rough crossing”.

Only at sea about half an hour after weighing anchor in England, the ship was shaken bow-to-stern by a grinding crash. It hadn’t run aground but, convinced a collision with something had occurred, the crew about-faced the ship and beelined back to port. Hours later, an inspection concluded that no collision had occurred and the ship was perfectly seaworthy. Off we went again, passengers and crew alike suppressing nagging doubts: something had traumatized this ship… we heard it… we felt it…

Three days later, the black waves of the mid-Atlantic, large and angry by nature, were lashed into erratic towering walls of spume-streaked water under a howling gale. Lacerated by lightning, the even blacker sky vomited rain on our ship, now an insignificant white fleck bobbing in the boundless churning darkness. Almost unbroken thunder boomed through the chaotic violence like a commander’s voice through the fog of war.

It was only in this aquatic hellscape the crew finally ascertained the cause of the mysterious crash three days prior: the ship’s stabilizers had broken. This meant that the ship not only lurched up and down the mountainous crests and troughs of the waves, it also simultaneously rolled back-and-forth sideways. The combination of stomach-draining seasickness and abject terror led to 90% of the passengers and crew gratefully dropping their pants, bending over, and getting a needle in the ass that knocked them out cold for the next 48 hours.

I wasn’t one of them though. Apparently, I spent the entire duration of the storm obnoxiously scampering around and shrieking with delight every time the bow pitched so insanely downwards and to the side, it seemed certain to everyone (except me) it would finally descend into the deep and Davy Jones’s Locker* for good.

Despite the fact that today I get motion sickness just from walking down the street, I wonder if this is where my enduring love for the sea was born. As a young boy, I devoured every Adventure of Tintin I could get my hands on. Not because I cared less about that sanctimonious asexual boy-scout Tintin himself, with his insufferable cowlick and kickable white mutt, but because I adored crusty old sea dog Captain Haddock, irredeemably drunken and foul-mouthed and only remotely happy when at sea. I also read C.S. Forester’s 12-book Horatio Hornblower** series about twelve times, each volume a bible codifying the rum, sodomy, and the lash traditions of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. I dug up everything I could read about the Titanic disaster and repeatedly watched the brilliant and terrifying film Das Boot. All things nautical all the time!

MY MOTHER: What are you reading about now?

ME: Cannibalism on the high seas.

MY MOTHER: What?

ME: Great stuff. Sailors lost at sea and starving to death. Had to draw straws to decide which one would get killed and eaten.

MY MOTHER: How nice. You know, most boys your age are reading the Hardy Boys.

ME: They ate everything. Skin, organs… genitals

MY MOTHER [slapping her sides]: I’m going shopping now. I may never come back.

ME: They cracked open the bones and sucked out the marrow… Raw bone marrow!

MY MOTHER [halfway out the door]: Bye!

ME [talking to myself]: And when they finally got rescued, they got charged with murder. Not fair really. What choice did they have…?

My boyhood years were also punctuated by summer trips to England which, not surprising given it is impossible to be more than 70 miles from the coast, cemented my obsession. Clambering along the jagged lichen-encrusted shoreline of East Anglia**, the steady crashing of surf over dangerous rocks and nostalgic wail of gulls under clouds pregnant with rain was like siren song to me, as mesmerizing as the ghostly merchant vessels off in the distance silently tilling the cold gray waves of the North Sea.

“What’s going on up there?” asked my aunt tapping my temple with her forefinger. “You look bewitched.”

“I was wondering how deep it is. How many shipwrecks are on the bottom? How much treasure? How many skeletons? How many people get sucked out in riptides each year? Do they get eaten? I wonder if there are killer whales out there. Or great white sharks? Or giant octopus? I wonder how many unexploded mines there still are. Do they ever sink any of those ships out there? I– ”

“Thank you for that,” said my aunt curtly and, impersonating my mother, turned on her heel and marched off through the wind-battered scrub grass.

“What?” I called after her through cupped hands, mystified. After all, back in those days there was no Google or Wiki in your pocket (in fact the Internet was an embryonic mystery known only to the U.S. Department of Defense and God) so I was forever asking myself questions only trips to brick-and-mortar libraries might answer.

“Now… never… swim… sea… no… again!” she called back over her shoulder, half her words scattered by a stiffening breeze.

Some years later, not far into my twenties, I was fecklessly bumming around Europe after graduating from university. One day, in the early evening, I found myself in a tiny Portuguese fishing village sitting on a rock sipping beer, smoking a cigarette, and staring out over the Atlantic. Although a powerful storm earlier in the day had left the shoreline looking like something ransacked, the water was now calm, it’s gently rippled surface glittering fuzzily under a yolky sun which was flattening out steadily behind a thin bank of white cloud deep in the west.

Studying the turbulent little eddies lapping around the foot of my rock, I was distracted by a small group of women of varying dimensions and ages emerging from the lengthening shadows in the village. Gypsy-like in their colorful bandanas and floor-length skirts, they trundled towards the creaking wooden dock chattering quietly. As I watched them, one broke off and approached me with a wave.

“American?” she asked gesturing at my New York Yankees cap.

“Sure,” I said with a shrug, once again too apathetic to explain to strangers my England/Canada dissociative identity disorder.

“Cigarette?” she asked making her index and middle fingers a V in front of her brightly lipsticked mouth. She was probably still in her thirties, but the sun and wind had so prematurely seamed her face it reminded me of an old baseball glove.

“Sure,” I said handing her one with a sigh. I fumbled for my Zippo but stopped when I saw her quickly squirrel away the cigarette into one of the many folds of her skirt.

“Is okay… is for the… the man,” she said haltingly.

“What man?”

“The man man. The… how you say… husband man.”

“Ah yes, your husband. Of course. Where is he?”

“Out there,” she said turning her head, worried eyes blinking into the sun, now a defiant orange fireball drowning fast on the empty horizon. “He a…. a fishes man.”

“Right. A fisherman. Got it.”

“He come… now… he come soon… home…”

“Very nice. Lots of fish, huh? Suppertime?” I asked making eating gestures and rubbing my stomach.

“No… no fishes… no good today… not so much fishes.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and I meant it.

The sun perished and the lantern room of a crumbling stone lighthouse perched at the end of a nearby spit of land flickered to life. Under the winking yellow eye of its revolving lamp the silhouettes of three rickety dinghies, their outboard motors coughing and sputtering, were approaching the harbor. “Oh! Oh!” squeaked the woman lightly bobbing on the balls of her feet. “He come! He come!”

Without another word she scurried off, clutching at her skirt as she danced around the beach debris, to join the others huddled at the end of the dock. Buzzing in anticipation, they swung bat-length torches through the gathering darkness. In a hail of shouted greetings, the dinghies cut their engines and their rusted hulls scraped noisily against the barnacle blistered stilts of the dock. Beneath their woolen beanies, the faces of the men were downcast, strained with fatigue and resignation as a few small silvery shapes flipped around in the mostly empty nets tangled around their feet. They clambered out into the extended arms of the women who, eyes pinched closed in gratitude, bearhugged them and pecked at their bearded faces with kisses.

The reunited pack trudged back up the dock arm-in-arm, my woman’s “man man” sucking thirstily on my cigarette. By the time it occurred to me to go down and offer the group the spare packet I had in my backpack, they had disappeared into the obscurity of the village’s narrow alleys, residual voices and laughter quickly dissipating until the only sound left was the hushed lullaby of the surf, it’s soft notes my only company.

I cursed myself for wholly selfish reasons: perhaps in return for the cigarettes they would have offered me to join them in their unvarnished camaraderie which in that moment, despite their obvious poverty, I felt a tugging urge to be a part of. I had been traveling alone for some time and when I turned back and looked out over the ocean, I felt lonelier than the isolated lighthouse, it’s metronomic beam vainly sweeping an empty dial of restive blackness, vast watery cemetery interring centuries of shipwrecked hopes and dreams.

A gull cried plaintively as it wheeled overhead against the bright smear of the Milky Way. I closed my eyes and, like a marooned Odysseus yearning for Ithaca, I yearned for Montreal thousands of miles away across the deep dark sea…

To be continued…

~

* Davy Jones’s Locker: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davy_Jones%27_Locker

** East Anglia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Anglia

Rough sea

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (5 – 10 August 2018)


5-10 August 2018: Groundhog Day in Paris

Day 1 (early afternoon):

I snapped my laptop closed with a self-satisfied smirk and wandered out into the kitchen humming tunelessly. Peeling a banana, I continued to hum through the noisy mouthfuls.

“What’s going on, here?” snapped my wife, suspicious eyebrow raised.

“What do you mean?” I garbled through half-masticated banana.

“I mean, you’re smiling. You never do that. Even on the rare occasion you’re happy. So stop it, it’s freaking me out.”

“I just ordered my brand-new Kindle Whitepaper on Amazon,” I declared, holding my arms aloft like a conductor before an orchestra ensemble, my banana my baton. “Got 20% off too for doing a 30-day free Prime trial. Just after I ordered it, I got an email with a tracking link and it’ll be here tomorrow before eight in the evening. It’s already left the warehouse! Already on its way! A miracle of efficiency!” I cried, slashing away at the air merrily. “Say what you want about giant multinational Death Stars! At least the customer always comes first no matter what! A concept treading softly on an alien planet here in France! I mean– ”

“Have you already forgotten about IKEA last year?” interrupted my wife dryly, gleeful malevolence smoldering in her eyes. “Isn’t that a big multinational, hm?

My arms collapsed to my sides and the banana slipped through my suddenly trembling fingers and fell to the floor with a fleshy thwack. Immediately in the throes of the vivid flashback to angrily sleeping on the floor for days before the useless IKEA bastards finally came and only assembled a couple of pieces of our furniture before giving up and leaving at 1:00 pm on the grounds of being too tired to carry on, I threw back my head bawling a long string of ugly profanities and shaking my fist at the high ceiling upon which I was actively hallucinating the faces of my legions of enemies staring down upon me smugly, their long necks with their reedy snappable windpipes hopelessly beyond my strangling grasp.

“That’s much better,” said my wife with her hands planted in firm satisfaction on her hips. “I recognize you again!”

Day 2 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. Still, I was itching for my life-affirming afternoon jaunt to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Restless, I got online and double-checked the assurances that in my absence, the delivery would be made to a secure location on the premises (i.e. mailbox, a neighbor, etc.) Before I continue, here is a picture of my mailbox:

To be clear, there is a good 3-centimeter space for a Kindle-sized package to be dropped in. Not to mention there is also this mailbox for larger packages:

I therefore set off for the gardens with guarded confidence that my package would be delivered if it arrived while I was out. When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. I got online to check the status and almost spat on my monitor when I read that a first delivery had been attempted and another would be made the next day.

“You’ll just have to stay here tomorrow until it arrives,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I moodily stabbed at my dinner with my fork and fantasized the food on the plate was the remains of the genitals of the pillock who had failed to deliver my Kindle.

Day 3 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived and I was gnawing on the heel of my thumb desperately wanting to get outside.* Toying with the idea of playing drinking games with myself to pass the time, my phone dinged in my pocket. A message from Amazon: because you were not home yesterday, delivery of your package has been delegated to a third party who will today, if you are once again absent, ensure delivery to a secure location on the premises (i.e. a mailbox, a neighbor, etc.)

“Hooray!” I shouted, clapping my hands together and promptly setting out to the gardens. When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. Ascending the creaking spiral staircase in my building, from below I could see that on the landing something had been deposited on my doormat. Although wracked with irritation that, with the exception of the sidewalk outside, my Kindle had been left out in pretty much the most insecure place possible, I was still more relieved than anything else.

“What the fuck is this?” I muttered after tearing open the package breathlessly on the landing. The 13.00€ Kindle CASE I had ordered with the Kindle was what the fuck that was. “No, no, and no again,” I moaned softly as I banged my head against my front door until there was a squishy soft spot in the middle of my forehead not unlike a bruise on an apple.

After letting myself in, I threw myself into my desk chair with a sigh and wearily checked the online status of my Kindle: a second delivery had been attempted and a third and last would be made the next day. Another failed delivery would result in the package being returned to Amazon for refund.

“Don’t leave tomorrow even if the building is on fire,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I stared at her darkly and fantasized about hanging the delivery man tomorrow from his own intestines and leaving him out on the landing for her to come home to after work.

Day 4 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived and, in order to stave off the insidiously encroaching claustrophobia, I was entertaining the notion of seeing how many times in a row I could masturbate at the age of 50 (the highwater mark on that score being 5,687.5, set when I was around 14 years-old). Prior to commencing, I halfheartedly got online to check the status of my package and felt something from deep within my temporal lobe, about the size and hardness of a walnut, start to aggressively pulsate: a third attempt had been made and “due to technical difficulties, you must contact Amazon immediately to reschedule delivery.”

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: You are obviously very upset, sir, but our delivery man swears he did not have the door code to your building.

ME: Open up my address on Amazon right now!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, okay. The… ere. Okay, I see it.

ME: Read out to me what it says in the field “Ajouter instructions de livraison”.

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT [voice quavering]: It says “Code d’entrée: B6821”.

ME: You’re goddamn right that’s what it says! But you’re telling me I didn’t provide the door code, right? Even though the day before and the day before that, the delivery man had the door code but was just too braindead to put the package in my mailbox!!! So, it’s my fault, right? Right?!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: No, no, sir! It’s not your fault! Of course, it’s not your fault! I’m going to tell them myself your door code so NO PROBLEM tomorrow.

ME: You remember what else you’re going to do, don’t you?

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I think you said to hang myself by my own intestines, was is?

ME [roaring]: No! Before that, you imbecile!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I’m going to tell them to put it in your mailbox because you won’t be home waiting for it.

ME: Correct! Then what are you going to do?

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Hang mys–

ME: No! Before that!!!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, yes, I remember now. I’m going to send you an email confirming all of this.

ME: YES!

“Don’t leave tomorrow even if YOU are on fire,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I paced back-and-forth in a corner, my dinner untouched, stroking a medieval battle axe I had purchased at the Clignancourt flea market earlier in the day.

Day 5 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. I was too tired and defeated to dream up some diversion from my anxiety. I expended an inordinate amount of energy just to go online and check the status of my package, my fingers leaden as I typed. My bloodshot eyes stared incredulously at the monitor: a fourth attempt had been made and “due to technical difficulties, you must contact Amazon immediately to reschedule delivery.” I felt my mind slipping away as I was tugged inexorably into Dante’s fifth circle of hell, a slimy length of drool escaping the corner of my mouth and slithering down the front of my shirt.

I opened Gmail and lethargically banged out a brief reply to the Terrified Amazon Agent’s confirmation email from the day before:

Despite your verbal promises to me on the phone and this written confirmation, I have just been notified of a fourth delivery failure due to “technical difficulties”. I require an immediate and detailed explanation for what today’s particular problem is.

Two seconds later, my phone dinged:

Veuillez noter que je suis présentement en vacances avec la famille. Je reviendrais le 30 Août. Pendant cette période, je n’aurai pas accès à mes courriels.

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: You are obviously very upset, sir, but our delivery man swears that your street in Paris doesn’t exist.

ME [through gritted teeth]: I’m emailing you a photograph right now. Here it is:

ME [cont.,]: You have it? Good. See that big fat main street that goes straight through the middle of the picture all the way to Saint Germain?!

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, sir.

ME: Do you believe that is a real street in Paris?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Of course, sir.

ME: And you don’t believe I photoshopped that street in just to fuck with you?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: No, sir. Of course not, sir. I know that street well.

ME: THAT IS MY STREET THAT YOUR DELIVERY MAN SAYS DOESN’T EXIST!!!

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I understand your frustration, sir. I promise there will be no more mistakes tomorrow. They have the address, they have the door code, and they have clear instructions to put it in your mailbox.

ME: You know that’s exactly what I was promised yesterday. You remember what happens if this promise is broken again?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: If it takes you the rest of your life, you will hunt me down and hang me by my intestines in front of my family.

ME: YES!

“But don’t you have a lunch appointment tomorrow?” my wife asked brightly later that evening as she knelt in front of the closet where I was huddled, gnawing on my toenails.

Day 6 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. Barely caring anymore, I set off for my lunch appointment. Halfway through an enchantingly good burger in quality company, my phone rang. Unknown French number. I know who this must be, I thought, as icy dread began coursing through my veins.

“He… hello?”

“Hello, sir! I have an Amazon delivery for you, but I have absolutely no idea what your door code is.”

Five minutes later I woke up lying naked on my back in the kitchen of the restaurant surrounded by alarmed staff. My friend was kneeling beside me waving his hand in front of my face, his own a mask of worry.

“What… what happened?” I murmured.

“Man, you just went totally batshit screaming ‘B6821’ over and over again. What does that mean?”

When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. Ascending the creaking spiral staircase in my building, from below I could see that on the landing something had been deposited on my doormat for anyone to swipe. Taking the stairs two at a time despite my broken knee, there indeed lay my long-awaited package. A sticky note fluttered on its surface:

Sir, here is your package delivered to your doormat as requested by you. For future reference, please consider requesting a more secure location for drop-off.

Beneath the message, the delivery man had drawn a smiley face.

A couple of hours later I woke up lying in the fetal position on the landing clutching my package as if it were a baby freshly plucked from a warzone. My wife was kneeling beside me waving her hand in front of my face.

“It finally came!” she said brightly. **

~

* I have significant claustrophobia issues, a topic for a future blog.

** I interrupted my blog on the sea (motivated by my recent trip to Jersey, Brittany, and Normandy) to cathartically write this. Stay tuned…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (15 – 20 July 2018)


15 July 2018: The Nature of Things

Not long before the kickoff of the World Cup Final, I wandered up in the steaming heat to my favorite local pub in Paris with subterranean expectations of finding my usual spot on its narrow side terrasseunoccupied. With a resigned sigh I saw that all the tables had predictably been relocated to the main terrassestretching out into the street in front of a couple of jumbo TV screens. About to turn on my heel and sulkily go home, I caught a fleeting glimpse through the swarming crowds of my little table sitting alone, almost forlorn, it’s one battered wicker chair empty.

“Hooray!” I shouted. “Out of my way!” I shouted again as I aggressively shoved and elbowed my way through the thickets of fans. The chair groaned and almost tipped over as I threw myself into it. White-knuckling the sides of the table defensively, I bared my teeth and snarled like a wolf protecting its pups.

“Are you sure you want to sit here?” asked the remarkably affable waiter. I stared at him incredulous and speechless because it was the very first time since living in France I had received immediate, friendly service anywhere. Normally you wait, and you wait, and you wait until you’re gradually infected with a nagging suspicion that you’re at imminent risk of dying of old age.

“Um… yes… absolutely,” I stammered finally. “Thank you!”

“But you can’t see the game from here!”

“I know. I don’t care,” I said with a wave and ordered my beer. I didn’t either, especially as I was inwardly siding with Croatia after the French had uniformly foamed at the mouth cheering on Croatia in its semi-final tilt with England. No, I was more interested in watching the crowd, bedecked in French flags and faces garishly painted in bars of blue-white-red, watch the game. That was the novelty I was expecting (even though I was also distracted by following a riveting Wimbledon match on my phone), i.e. studying masses of French people in a state of intoxicated joy and national pride. Who knew?

Towards the end of the match, when French victory (you rarely see those two words in such close proximity, do you?) was all but assured, I heard a radio blasting For the Love of Money.* The source was a 250,000€ hunk of elegantly chiseled red Ferrari snaking slowly through the increasingly turbulent crowd, now interminably chanting “Allez les Bleus!”, its jewel-encrusted driver insistently leaning on the horn and high-fiving people through the sunroof. Observing this intently I noticed a young man, innocuous enough at first blush, discreetly dragging a key fist along the side of the car. This act of vandalism was in vain however. The keys didn’t make so much as a scuff mark and I can only imagine that’s because Ferraris are painted with some other-worldly liquid steel emulsion which renders them immune to the slightest abrasion, even from nuclear blasts.

For some reason, as I picked my way home through the ever-accumulating party detritus and half-blinded by smoke bombs, I kept thinking about the attempted keying. What was the motivation? It wasn’t racial as both driver and keyer were white. I concluded it was simply an expression of anger and disgust directed by the keyer against an arrogant rich bastard flaunting a toy worth more than he was likely to earn in 10 years. “If I can only ever dream of driving around in a car like that then I’m going to attack the dream you have the nerve to live,” I guess the thinking goes when consumed by envy for that which is forever out of your reach.

I have more faults and weaknesses than a supercomputer could enumerate but I’m extremely fortunate to have never in my life been seized by this insatiable appetite to ravenously gobble up material things, all the while coveting those I don’t have the means to acquire. Apparently having been vaccinated against this soul-destroying disease at birth, I even resented the modest car I bought out of sheer necessity to get to and from work back in the 90s. Sure, after driving it home all shiny and new, I spent about 5 minutes admiring it parked out front rubbing my hands together maniacally muttering “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.” But once I sat down and calculated that more than a quarter of my monthly take-home salary was going to be pillaged by the bank, the real owner of the car, insurance, gas, and maintenance, I found myself unconsciously making a key fist as I again stared out the window at my new possession, this time with untethered loathing.

Three years later, in ’97, I was driving a rented motorcycle across a Greek island buzzing like a junkie as I watched the dusty late-afternoon sunlight splinter through soft clouds and litter the turquoise ripples of the Aegean with shimmering globules of gold. I had quit my job, sold my millstone of a car, and run off with the proceeds for a 2-month long rampage, er I mean tour, through Europe. Now THAT was a worthwhile way to blow money. Breathtaking, unforgettable experiences. I vowed there and then to never own a car again: total hassle to maintain; shit for the environment; shit investment, halving in value the moment you drive it out of the lot; stupidly expensive; and totally unnecessary if you are willing to use the two legs God gave you and live anywhere with half-decent public transport.

Ten years later, in ’07, still steadfastly car-less but becoming increasingly sick of flushing my money down the toilet every month on rent, I became a homeowner for the first time when I purchased a condo in Montreal’s Plateau district. Unlike the car, this time my Gollum-like pride and possessiveness lasted the duration. I certainly didn’t like the taxes, the condo fees, the maintenance, and my ghoulish neighbors who would call the police if I so much as farted an octave too high after their snotty-nosed little instrument-torturing brats had been banished to bed at sundown. Nevertheless, it was my home, not some wasteful contraption to deliver me from A to B, and I adored it.

Another ten years later, in ’17, it was time to move to Paris and I sold the condo. Although that was a very tough horse pill to swallow, the profit-taking sugar-coated it plenty sweet enough to go down. I pooled the proceeds from the condo sale with those already invested in the market and realized that, over time, the returns from my portfolio would match or beat most conventional real estate investment. Not to mention I was now liberated from all the attendant hassles of homeownership. My wife and I resolved not to buy real estate again until such time arrives, if ever, that we’re done moving around and traveling and find that idyll, if it exists, to permanently put up our feet and peacefully grow old (or older in my case).

In any case, by far the most liberating process I undertook in preparation for the move to Paris was purging virtually all of my moveable material possessions. I’m not just talking about tossing the mountains of junk that inevitably pile up year after year living in the same place (yes, it is JUNK, you pack rats – you know who you are!) Realizing I had never once gone through them, I also tossed boxes full of pictures taken in the medieval era of analog photography which I had enlisted pack oxen to cart around my whole life. This included tossing all the pictures, reams of cards, letters, etc., of and from exes, the gunpowder residue of broken relationships that for some reason people, including me until then, preserve as if happy pictures and words from long ago at the bottom of a box in storage might one day sooth the painful memories that have mostly faded away anyway. It also included giving away almost all of my books because it suddenly occurred to me that, for most of us, it’s neither intellectual nor cool to build an expansive personal library. Unless you plan on reading them again, what is the use of hoarding books that do nothing but collect dust on multiplying shelves and bookcases when other people could be reading them?

As I sat on the floor of my empty condo on the eve of moving to Paris, here was the sum total of my belongings in ascending order of monetary value:

  • Small box containing my old dog’s ashes
  • About fifty old photographs
  • About ten favorite books
  • Clothes (most of which a hobo wouldn’t be caught wearing)
  • Watch
  • Phone
  • Wedding ring
  • Computer

They say that when people lose their homes and all their possessions in a devastating fire, they undergo a short-lived phase of acute grief which is quickly followed by a euphoria-inducing sense of total emancipation from not just their material things but the past itself. This is precisely how I felt but minus the grief phase as I had deliberately set my own bonfire alight and gleefully watched it burn. During those last heady days in Montreal, I felt so unencumbered my feet barely seemed to touch the ground as I Gene Kellyed my way through the streets. So much so, I resolved to maintain the high and stick to that bare minimalism for the rest of my life.

So far, I have been successful. Apart from furnishing our apartment in Paris with basic IKEA fare that will be sold or given away when we move on to the next destination, I have added nothing to the list above. I did replace my aging PC with a very expensive MacBook Pro to complement my very expensive iPhone. The computer and phone I’m willing to spare no expense on because (1) they (or rather the clouds they access) literally contain my entire life (contacts, calendar, notes, documents, photos, music… EVERYTHING) and (2) I spend most of my waking life on them when not traveling. And that is the third thing I’m willing to spare no expense on: traveling. I have no issue bleeding money to expand my repertoire of experiences, but I will not do so on things. Those bothersome, wasteful thingy-things!**

And don’t get me wrong. I love money. I’m not ashamed to say it and I’m currently enjoying my progress becoming a day trader in the stock market. I have never believed all the bullshit that money ultimately makes people unhappy.*** On the other hand, there is no doubt poverty always makes people unhappy, often violently unhappy. There’s no imperative to get rich, of course, but in the unlikely event I ever do find myself rich one day, I will never want to own a big house. Why? Because I’ll never need one, I don’t want to have to fill it full of junk (I repeat: it is JUNK, you pack-rats!), and I don’t want to have to maintain it. And I’ll certainly never buy myself a Ferrari or anything like it. Not only because I’ll never need one, it’s gangsta showing off and when you’re gangsta showing it off at the next World Cup final, someone less fortunate than you will inevitably be approaching it/you with a key fist… or worse.

~

* Old classic by the O’Jays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcrppevM46Q

** I confess I intend to add an e-reader to the list but only so I can electronically borrow books and not have to bother with physical ones any longer.

*** Not sure why I’m suddenly reminded of this classic quote from English footballing legend, George Best: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds, and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (1 – 7 July 2018)


1-7 July: Too Darn Hot

Starting last weekend, the Dog Days of summer arrived in Paris with a full-throated howl. It’s the kind of heat where sitting perfectly still is a sweaty workout and you spend half your time with your head shoved in the refrigerator. If you venture outside, the streets shimmering and warping before your eyes through heat mirages, you beeline for the nearest supermarket and loiter in the freezer section until you’re kicked out. You wake up in the middle of the night not knowing where you are until it dawns on you that, in your sleep, you have migrated to the relative coolness of the hardwood floor where you lie spread-eagled and panting on your back. Despite your discomfort, you decide to stay there the rest of the night and in your fitful sleep you wistfully dream about being a polar explorer trapped in arctic pack ice.

When the alarm went off last Tuesday, I managed to drag myself up off the floor to my knees and crawl over to the corner where my phone was charging. When the weather app informed me the heat wave was to continue on for several more days I collapsed again and, rapidly blinking at the ceiling, mulled the merits of drowning myself in the Seine.

Suffice it to say, I abhor the heat and helio-thermophiles are more mysterious to me than aliens. For example, despite the sizzling heat, my wife and I went for a walk along the Coulée verte René-Dumont* and, staring in horror down below at the hordes of sunbathers, slathered slick with lotion and sprawled out like corpses strewn across a battlefield, I could almost smell their flesh roasting; I could almost hear their melanomas metastasizing. What pleasure does anyone possibly get from that? And just how is scorched brown, prematurely wrinkled skin attractive?

Given that I have lived most of my adult life in Montreal, where to say “winter is coming” takes on an even more portentous foreboding than in Game of Thrones, people are sometimes taken aback by my almost xenophobic helio-thermophobia. If the winters, which rival Moscow’s for plunging mercury and bury the population up to their hardened nipples in snow, last the better part of 6 months then wouldn’t the heat of summer, when it finally arrives, be a sweet and blessed relief? In fact, here is a meme doing the rounds in Montreal where there was record-breaking heat last week:

This “friendly reminder”, however, fails to acknowledge that in Montreal the steamy summer heat (taking into account the damnable humidex), which has claimed 54 lives so far this year, handily beats the extremes of winter (taking into account the damnable windchill factor) at the other end of the thermometer. For years now, I have passionately argued that we have every right to bitterly bitch during summer heat waves on the grounds that no matter how cold it gets in winter, even when the mucus in your nostrils starts to freeze and your eyelashes become prettily beaded with ice pellets, there is no reason for you to die or even be uncomfortable if you have proper tip-to-toe winter clothing. And once you stagger in from the cold, there is nothing more pleasing than (in no particular order): lazily steaming the cold out of your bone marrow in the tub, tucking into a plate of hot comforting food, watching TV under thick blankets with a hot water bottle stuffed down your sweater for good measure, sitting around a roaring fire, tossing back a hot toddy, climbing into a big soft bed and slipping into a deep dreamless sleep after outrageous sex with your better half. Thank you, I’ll take that any day of the week over sleeping alone in a pool of sweat on a hardwood floor.

Still not convinced? What if you were given the unpalatable choice of either being cast out into the desert to die in the heat or cast out into some arctic waste to die in the cold? Here are the two scenarios:

Desert: First, you will undergo the process of dehydration. Beyond becoming so thirsty you would murder a child for a glass of water, you will feel agonizing pain as your kidneys send less water to your bladder and your blood becomes thick and sluggish. Your heart will start to race like a helicopter to maintain oxygen levels and your already wrinkly skin from too much dangerous sunbathing will begin shriveling up like an apple core left out on the counter. On top of that you will experience heat stroke. This will cause excruciating headaches no amount of codeine could relieve, confusion, and even dementia. Once your body temperature cracks 40° C under your beloved sun, the proteins in your body will literally start frying, particularly those in your brain (assuming you even have one considering you opted for this scenario). After your damaged kidneys stop functioning properly you will be officially dying, your vital organs commencing the slow process of shutting down. Although you will temporarily faint from time to time throughout the ordeal, you will remain conscious right up until the horrific end when you suffer a massive fatal heart attack much to the delight of the cawing buzzards that have been merrily swirling overhead for the past few hours. Not exactly a party trick. You chose poorly.

Arctic waste: It is undeniable that, initially, you will experience significant pain from being so cold. Soon though, as hypothermia sets in, your sensory organs will become numb and unresponsive. And not only that, your body will likely even undergo a “warming” phenomenon as it experiences “temperature confusion” (it is not uncommon for frozen corpses to be discovered buck naked and surrounded by discarded clothing). Although you will experience some unpleasant hunger and nausea, these will give way to apathy and sluggishness. Then you will be overcome with drowsiness and torpidly plop to the ground wherever you find yourself. Although your vital organs will also commence the slow process of shutting down, you will not be in pain and you will enjoy some trippy hallucinations that will remind you of your youth when you experimented with acid. In the end, although you will also die of a massive heart attack, you will have slipped peacefully into oblivion (i.e. a coma) well before it strikes. Not too bad, no? And no irritating buzzards either. You chose wisely.

Don’t get me wrong. When I lived in Montreal, by the end of February, a month in which weather is blamed for annual surges in suicide rates across Southwestern Quebec, I too suffered acute SAD-ness** and fled to Cuba to roast myself half to death under the iron-hard blue Caribbean sky. But it’s fundamentally different coping with oppressive heat when you’re on a short, all-inclusive vacation at a resort right on a charmed white sand beach. You spend the entire day, every day, lying under the shade of a palm frond beach umbrella. The only time you ever expend any energy is when you tilt your head down to suck greedily on the straw violating the large, hollowed-out coconut full of rum your fingers are stretched around. When it gets too hot to even manage that, you simply wade out into the bracingly cool turquoise sea and flap around in the playful waves under lovely, goosepimple-inducing breezes. Utterly refreshed, you clamber out and collapse back under your umbrella calling for another coconut.

Indulging in this kind of sun-drenched decadence in the depths of winter, especially satisfying when you sadistically imagine your colleagues still slaving away at their desks after barely staving off hypothermia getting to the office in the morning darkness, always reminded me of the heroically indolent lifestyle of male lions:

MALE LION [waking up at noon with an almighty yawn]: God it’s hot on the savanna today…

FEMALE LION [scowling]: Finally awake, are we? I’ve been up for hours chasing around after your rotten, good-for-nothing kids. Most of them aren’t even mine, you know. Little bastards.

MALE LION [rolling over on his back and stretching his massive paws up into the sky]: Good. Very good. Oh my, it’s too hot today. I think I’ll take a little nap.

FEMALE LION: You just woke up!

MALE LION [hauling himself to his feet and giving his regal mane a good shake]: Ugh, very well. Perhaps I’ll take a nice dip instead. Don’t you find it too hot today?

FEMALE LION [sarcastically]: As opposed to yesterday? Or the day before that? Or the day before that? We live in Africa!!!

MALE LION [lazily swishing his tail at the flies harassing his big swollen balls]: Yes, indeed. I suppose we do. When’s breakfast, woman? I’m starving.

FEMALE LION [shrilly]: Breakfast?!

MALE LION [cocking his ear to his grumbling tummy]: Mmmm, I fancy a bit of gazelle today for a change. Starting to go a bit off zebra all the time.

FEMALE LION [red-faced, with her paws on her hips]: Did it ever cross your mind that you could do the hunting just for once? Especially if my food is getting soooooo boring for you. You’re supposed to be an apex predator! You’re supposed to be the fucking king of the jungle?!

MALE LION [flumping back down again and examining his long, lethal claws]: Never mind. It’s just too hot today. I suppose Zebra will be fine again. Don’t forget to save a bit for yourself.

FEMALE LION [fat vein pulsing metronomically down the middle of her forehead]: Anything else, your majesty?!

MALE LION [hesitantly]: Do you think you could maybe find me one of those big hollowed-out coconuts full of rum I’ve been reading about? I’m so thirsty under this cursed sun but I can’t be bothered to go over to the pond.

FEMALE LION [turning and marching away, tail swishing furiously]: Gaaaaaa!

MALE LION [sighing wearily]: It’s tough to be the king…

So, you see how the infernal heat can even be responsible for marital strife at the upper echelons of the animal kingdom. Moreover, despite the Tweeter-in-Chief’s brainless bluster about global warming being a hoax invented by the Chinese, our planet is undeniably getting apocalyptically hotter each year.*** Not too fussed by all that? Well, then listen to this peppy Cole Porter cover from 1990, a testament to how heat even destroys sexual desire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMt8MgbXPGc

~

* Paris’s version of the High Line park in New York City and well worth checking out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coul%C3%A9e_verte_Ren%C3%A9-Dumont

** Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder

*** Here is the evidence from NASA: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (14 – 28 June 2018)


15-21 June: Ave Britannia

My trip to England, my birthplace and “home” for the first two years of my life, began last week with a short hop from Paris to London Gatwick aboard a “Vueling Airlines” flight. I know you haven’t. Clearly inspired by the phonebooth stuffing fad of the 1950s, it’s a Spanish airline that maintains rock-bottom ticket prices by regularly breaking its own world record for how many people can be crammed inside an Airbus A319. If you’re at all claustrophobic like me, before even attempting to board I strongly recommend you consume as much booze and opioids as your body can withstand without actually dying.

Not knowing this at the time, I was lamentably mostly sober when I got on the plane. Immediately seized by two flight attendants with Dali mustaches (one of whom I’m pretty sure was a woman), I was manhandled and squeezed, like an unopened tube of toothpaste, between a fat sweaty Geordie* and a fat sweaty kid who looked like his son.

“We can switch places if you want to sit with him,” I said to the Geordie praying for his aisle seat so I wouldn’t have to endure the flight with my already-injured knees unnaturally folded up to my chin.

“He’s not with me mate,” slurred the Geordie, his breath so thick with alcohol it made my eyeballs burn.

“I see,” I said, wiping away the tears. “In that case, would you mind breathing on me for a few minutes? I’m not nearly drunk enough to handle this.”

Half an hour later, as our oversized tin of sardines lumbered over the English Channel and commenced its landing pattern, I craned my neck around the fat kid’s fat head and saw through the window the ships gently bottle-necking into the Strait of Dover. I was struck by the proximity of England to France and felt a faint nationalist stirring within me: for more than a thousand years the French haven’t dared set foot on our soil but until relatively recently we have invaded and occupied them at will. I found myself starting to mouth the words of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech before the fat head shot me an unpleasant leer and I snapped out of it.

Where in fresh hell was all this coming from?! Given my apoplectic rage at all things British ever since the titanic calamity otherwise known as Brexit, I was dumbfounded once again when my heart reflexively leapt at the sight of the countryside suddenly appearing not so far below. Tolkienesque little villages, rooves bristling with terracotta chimney pots, nestled in those familiar rolling hills; a patchwork of lush fields, dotted with peacefully grazing sheep and stitched together with thick green forest, as comforting as a favorite old cardigan on a cold winter’s night. I could almost smell the damp vegetation and fecund soil. And everyone down there (including the sheep) speak the blessed English tongue, I mused dreamily.

What was happening to me?! I felt a sudden urge to slap myself across the face. I hadn’t felt this way since I was a boy when I would get so distraught at the prospect of returning to Toronto (where I attempted, and mostly failed, to grow up before moving to Montreal) at the end of summer vacation in England, I actively willed the plane to crash on takeoff so I wouldn’t have to leave.

I cast a suspicious glance at the Geordie who appeared to be drinking gin from a plastic water bottle. “Do you think it’s possible you actually are intoxicating me by osmosis?” I demanded. Shrugging, he turned away, head lolling, and muttered something totally unintelligible with the exception of the word “cunt”.

By the way, if you are one of those who despair at the ever-increasing proliferation of profanity in the English language and your ears literally bleed when you hear the word “cunt” (you know who you are) do NOT, under any circumstances whatsoever, consider going to England. I know you were enchanted by the quaint and squeaky-clean language in The Crown but NO ONE (except, unsurprisingly, the anachronistic members of the royal family) talks like that. No, if you’re like me and relish eavesdropping on people’s conversations in pubs, virtually every other word you hear will be either “fuck” or “cunt” or one of their myriad variants. In fact, the big conspicuously unilingual signs at the airports reading WELCOME TO GREAT BRITAIN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! would be more accurately replaced, especially after Brexit, by ones that read: WELCOME TO GREAT BRITAIN, YOU FUCKING CUNTS!

In any case, the eerie childhood nostalgia that had been freaking me out during the flight mercifully ceded to relief once our flying crate of over-population finally landed. Because my joints had been twisted at unnatural angles for over an hour, my body felt like compressing and expanding accordion bellows as I Slinkyed down the plane’s stairs and plopped on to the tarmac. Unburdened by check-in luggage, it wasn’t long before I departed the airport and, forgetting yet again the maddening British habit of driving on the left, promptly almost got run over by my cousin as he attempted to pick me up.

During the 15-minute drive to his place near Redhill,** the car thundered so much with laughter it seemed vulnerable to tipping over as we veered through narrow arterial country roads canopied with overhanging tree branches, like organic cathedral vaults, in the shadowy fading light. This is because my cousin is the walking, talking epitome of the wicked English sense of humor. He has this enviable innate ability to convert the banal into the hilarious without so much as pausing to think about it. And “innate” is the correct adjective. I suspect humor, as well as authentic gregariousness, is somehow genetically baked into the blood of the English.

As proof of the old adage “time flies when you’re having fun,” the first three days of the trip with my cousin, his wife, and their son vanished before they started. The morning I left, the battered empty crates of beer at the foot of the staircase shabbily stood at attention as I passed by, a lazy salute to the epic late nights of laughing and drinking through thick banks of cigarette smoke. These guys are the rare types you seamlessly pick up with where you left off, without any initial awkwardness or need for ice-breaking, even if it’s been ages since you last saw each other. That said, I’m ever the outsider, with my Canadian accent and baseball hat, peering in on their quintessentially English world which, by some quantum emotional trickery, I simultaneously intimately relate to and find wholly alien.

The second three days of the trip was spent in Chichester*** with my mother and her partner. By hosting highly regarded theatre, film, and music festivals Chichester distinguishes itself from other small towns in Southern England. In common with them, it’s pretty little homes are mortgage-free and there is an almost total absence of ethnic/racial diversity. I say “almost” because when my wife and I were there over this past New Year’s, as we were walking along a canal on the outskirts of town, to our astonishment we sighted a real in-the-flesh black man walking towards us.

“So, they do exist here!” I exclaimed, as if we were walking on the surface of the moon.

“Well, there’s ONE here,” she said after the disgruntled looking black man had shuffled past. “And he doesn’t look terribly happy about it, does he?”

“No. Maybe he was run out of town by a mob with pitchforks and is coming back to try and collect his things… Maybe-”

“Andrew…”

Anyway, despite its homogenous rich whiteness, like most of the rest of the country Chichester is an exceedingly friendly place. For example, when you go into the pub, a warm feeling of welcome will spread over you when the comely bar wench asks you “what’ll it be, luv?” (sometimes it’ll even be “my dahling”) and the man standing next to you gives you a nod and “awright, mate?” Of course, the regulars around you will be calling each other “cunt” but in time you’ll realize that, at least in a social context, it too is something of a term of endearment.

Speaking of pubs, on my first night in Chichester my mother took us to one to have dinner and watch England’s first World Cup match. The typically pleasing atmosphere was especially bubbly and electrified with excitement and I spent as much time observing the crowd as I did watching the action on the TV screens. Regarding the latter, the first thing that struck me was that there are more black guys on England’s national team than there are in all of West Sussex. The irony was therefore not lost on me that a great many in this entirely white crowd, fervently roaring their support every time England took possession of the ball, were inherently racist Brexiters**** anxious to see their country rid of minorities (except, of course, the spectacular God-like footballers currently representing them on the international stage… okay, and perhaps Meghan Markle as well).

Don’t worry though! Today is not the day for my Brexit rant. I don’t yet have the heart for it (not sure I ever will, really, seeing as Brexit has mangled it beyond healing). Suffice it to say that it casts a long and dark shadow over all of my happy and loving feelings for the country and its people.

What I was dwelling on more was my relationship with “home”. As I watched the match and the avid fans in the pub, I found myself once again on the outside looking in. With the exception of the truly breathtaking athleticism, European football is in large part lost on me. It just doesn’t do it for me when a grown man, indeed a professional athlete in peak physical condition, rolls around on the ground feigning abject agony for five minutes if he’s so much as sneezed upon. Even less when, after the inevitable miraculous recovery, he’s awarded a penalty kick for doing so. This so tarnishes “the beautiful game” for me that I almost find the celebrations after goals (on the rare occasion any are actually scored), as homoerotic and acrobatic as any Cirque de Soleil performance, more entertaining than anything else. I found myself almost physically craving a Montreal Canadians hockey game: exciting, lots of scoring, sensible rules, fair allocation of points, and righteously tough and violent.

Still, when my dear mother and her partner took me to Arundel Castle, to the South Downs, to the Fishbourne Roman Palace, and to the sea, my sense of my own Englishness confusingly flowed in and drained out like a fickle tide.

Back at Gatwick airport I found myself sitting at the bar (surprise!), this time getting properly potted and doing some calisthenics in advance preparation for my Vueling flight back to Paris. Checking the departure board on my phone I ruefully noticed a flight was leaving for Montreal around the same time as mine. I felt a tug of acute homesickness and an intense desire to board that flight. This was followed by an intense desire to board a flight to Germany where I also have family and friends. This was followed by an intense desire to flee the airport and stay in England. This was followed by the most intense desire of all: get on my scheduled flight to Paris and see my wife again.

“Awright, luv?” asked the comely bar wench inquisitively.

“I’m fine”, I sighed, rubbing away the moisture in my eyes. “Fine.”

“Where’re you from, dahling?” she asked.

I searched her kind face, strangely moved by the question.

“I have absolutely no idea,” I said.

~

* Pronounced Jordi see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geordie

** South of London in the county of Surrey: https://bit.ly/2KrBDaA

*** A 20-minute drive from the English Channel in the county of West Sussex: https://bit.ly/2KxeXFX

**** Southern England, outside of London, predominantly voted Brexit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Whoever You Are (4 – 13 June 2018)


7 June: Modern Love

In the middle of the night last week, my bedroom became suddenly alive with epilepsy-inducing incandescent light crawling across the walls, a lingering preamble to the loudest and longest thunderclap I have ever experienced. The initial sky-splitting explosion virtually shook me out of bed and the uninterrupted concussive aftershocks boomed as if Godzilla was stamping away down the street, spiked thagomizer angrily swishing entire buildings aside in its wake.

“The reckoning!” I spluttered nasally (I was suffering from a bad head cold), leaping to my feet and running to the window.

“Jesus, I told you not to put so much chili sauce on your dinner,” murmured my wife groggily before rolling over and promptly falling back to sleep.

“That’s it,” I thought to myself as I watched the sour expression on my face reflected in the window pane melt like candle wax under sheets of rain so thick I may as well have been looking through a windshield in a car wash. “I’m sick. This weather is an atrocity. Tomorrow can and will be a lazy movie day.”

Checking the movie listings the next morning, I was heartened to see that Solo: A Star Wars Story was playing just around the corner. Catching the first screening at 12:55, it was just me and a couple of teenagers playing hooky in the theatre. Nice, but my expectations were low. I thought Rogue One was mostly crap and I had read Solo was tanking at the box office. Nevertheless, as the lights went down, I still prickled with excitement just as I did as a boy when the original trilogy came out.

Recounting the early years of Han Solo, including how he comes to know Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, and flew the Kessel Run “in less than twelve parsecs” in the Millennium Falcon, this movie does not disappoint. Penned by Lawrence Kasdan* & Son, the story is simple and uncluttered with interesting, morally ambiguous characters. Director Ron Howard delivers some of the most relentlessly engaging action sequences I’ve seen in a long time and Alden Ehrenreich(me neither) is so convincing as a swaggering young Han, you’ll forget it’s not Harrison Ford you’re watching. The rest of the cast is solid, especially Woody Harrelson, fast becoming one of my all-time favorites, who nails it as Tobias Beckett, a struggling criminal and Han’s mentor. Best of all, the love story is mercifully ancillary, understated, and devoid of any groan-inducing cheese.

Movie review over but, coming back to the love front, the openly flirtatious exchanges between Lando and his leggy droid, L3-37, caught my attention most. Sure enough, when I got home, I discovered the Internet alight with discussion over Lando’s pansexuality, a neutral orientation that leaves wide open the possibility of robot-human sexual relationships. A few more Google searches confirmed that in the near future, after a robot has poached your job, you’ll at least be able to go home and angrily fuck an all-too-human one in any manner you see fit. Yes, the “sexbot” is, very controversially, also on the rise and if you don’t admit you’re curious, I have no problem calling you a liar.

Although not quite there yet, the technology is on a trajectory to deliver a female sexbot whose orifices (which can be swappable with dozens of variations) will not only be anatomically accurate, they will also be equipped with adjustable self-lubricating and heating systems. The neck will be designed so the head can rhythmically move up and down and side to side and its other flexible joints will allow it to engage in intercourse in more positions than you’ll find in a Kamasutra sex guide. Their faces and bodies will be fully customizable. For example, you will be able to select from an exhaustive menu of swappable racial characteristics, not to mention hundreds of nipple variations. Not only will its skin be lifelike and capable of simulating sweating in the heat of action, it will also be able to authentically simulate toe-curling orgasms better than Meg Ryan. And of course, with the galloping advances in AI, your sexbot will soon be able to talk to you like a real companion and presumably, as it gets to know you better and better, indulge you in all your naughty perversions.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the anal beads now or would you like to eat dinner off my chest first?”

Now ladies (and gay gentlemen), before you go hoarse howling in outrage, the male sexbot is also coming and it will have all of the anatomical authenticity and customizability of its female counterpart. Its arrival is going to be a bit delayed however but only because, somewhat understandably, it’s considerably more of a technological challenge to accurately mimic a man getting it up, performing in all the positions, and ejaculating a warm simulated semen (presumably this will be optional) upon command. Make no mistake though, it is coming, swappable cock and balls, nipples, racial attributes, you name it, all at your disposal.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the ribbed 10-incher now or would you like to sip chardonnay from my navel first?”

Implications? Obviously legion. Proponents argue that sexbots will help treat impotence as well as garden-variety sexual anxiety, provide meaningful sexual gratification to the millions of singles weary of striking out online and/or at the bars, reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (sexbot prostitute, anyone?) and, more interestingly, dramatically reduce the saturating prevalence of sex crime. How? Violent sexual fantasies acted out on sexbots are victimless crimes. Aware of this, manufacturers of next generation sexbots are already planning on offering a “rape mode” (no “safety words” required…) I can answer your next dark question: yes, rather than vainly attempting to punish or rehabilitate their ungovernable aberrant sexual impulses, it is already possible for pedophiles to acquire primitive child sexbots. All of this to say that soon enough you will be able to buy a highly advanced child sexbot, family member sexbot, celebrity sexbot, dead person sexbot, and of course, for those into the farmyard scene, one must assume that it is only a matter of time before animal sexbots make their debut as well.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Woof! Woof!”

Detractors warn of the desensitizing consequences of sexual relationships with sexbots. The fear is that acting out all your sexual fantasies on a totally compliant and unharmable sexbot will erode your relationship with “reality” and generate stratospheric expectations from the real, and limitlessly harmable, human beings you subsequently endeavor to have sex with. A particularly scary thought when applied to the pedophile.

I’m not sure I buy the argument though. It is the same one that links pornography to increased objectification and violence towards women. There is no meaningful evidence that supports this, especially in porn-loving Japan where cartoons depicting young girls being raped by multi-tentacled aliens do not so much as raise an eyebrow and sexual violence is almost zero. Not to mention that ever since vast libraries of porn migrated to the Internet, where they can be consumed for free and in private, women too have flocked to them in droves. Same goes for claims, also unsupported so far, that violent video games and movies glorify and encourage real-life violence.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of us can clearly distinguish between fact and fantasy. Those who cannot are extremely dangerous regardless of whether or not they use sexbots, look at porn, or play Grand Theft Auto night and day. I suppose it’s possible that sexbots, like porn, could encourage sex addiction but that’s like condemning bars for encouraging alcoholism. Addicts will be addicts and they arguably indulge more when the source of their addiction is sanctioned, e.g. 13 long years of Prohibition in the United States were barely remembered due to alcoholic blackout.

I lean towards welcoming the advent of sexbots. But not just as fantasy-facilitators that promise to keep it clean and off the streets. I can imagine sexbots assisting the millions of human couples who are in floundering relationships. What if your partner, still very much in love with you but suffering from extreme relationship fatigue, finally snapped and vented it all out for one long and torrid night with a sexbot? Even if it was a protracted “affair” with a sexbot, would the sense of betrayal even approach what it would be if it had been conducted with a human? Would you even rank it as infidelity at all? Perhaps you’d even be curious to watch your partner go at it with the sexbot? Perhaps you’d even take notes? Perhaps you’d even join in? Perhaps you’d even purchase your own sexbot so you could ratchet up the spice with foursomes?!

Okay, perhaps not. But I do see potential for some significant therapeutic upside for individuals and society once sexbots become mainstream.** Of course, the existential threat to human-on-human relationships, as AI races towards the singularity finish line, is that we find we actually fall in love with our sexbots and unload our human companions altogether. After all, not only will they be better in bed than any human could possibly hope to be, because they will come to know us inside and out (literally), they could very likely also morph into our best friends.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“I’m so happy to see you! Go relax and watch the football game. I’ll be there in a minute after I’ve swapped in my football night vagina.”’

“Aw, I love you.”

“And you always will…”

*Responsible for The Empire Strikes Back, hands down the very best of all the Star Wars movies.

**These things promise to be prohibitively expensive, but I predict that even people of very limited means will find the money one way or another. Just look at how many panhandlers have an empty coffee cup in one hand and an iPhone in the other…

~

Too speechless to rant about the Tweeter-in-Chief this week but this is worth being reminded of:

Why, oh why, didn’t Clinton hammer away at this over and over again during the election campaign? Why is it not regularly trotted out now to expose this master manipulator and liar?

This is probably the most honest thing the man has ever said in his life and it is so infrequently invoked to utterly discredit him. Gaaaaaaaa!

~

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment