Buddy awoke on the first morning of 2011 with a migraine – an acute pain diffused throughout the entire cranium. That it was simultaneously sharp and diffuse seemed paradoxical. This was the tyranny of the migraine, the mind-fuck of it all. His wife implored him to get out of bet, noting that it was now 2011, a year of hope and change and increased climate instability. It was 12 °C, roughly 14 °C warmer than the seasonal average. Buddy did a sort of quasi-athletic duck and roll out of bed – tucking his knees up to his chest and lowering his chin to his knees and arcing his mid-back convexly and rolling counterclockwise off the side of the queen size bed, part 170 pound fetus, part human bowling ball, and then landing deftly on his feet in a desperate attempt at defying the malignant migraine.
Slipping into his sinister red housecoat, he noted with that cynical glee reserved for doomers and fatalists a certain balminess in the air. He found a psychic opening in the migraine, a little empty space in which to make the necessary decisions to perform the required self-overcoming measures essential to seizing the day regardless of one’s physical condition. It was 12 °C on January 1st in Toronto, Ontario, after all. He groped and plodded his way down a narrow hallway to the bathroom, where he located a bottle of generic acetaminophen. Buddy wasn’t particularly fond of pharmaceuticals but he wasn’t one of those fundamentalist types who opt for homeopathic remedies when the metaphorical railroad spike’s been driven between one’s eyes. He knew the acetaminophen would further tax his liver after a consummate night of drinking, but in the grand balance, it was the thing to do to move the day forward. He pressed down on the bottle’s lid, turned it counter-clockwise, and as he set the lid down on the counter he took a moment to marvel at its child-proof design. He fished out two 325 mg tablets and popped them in his mouth in a robust show of world-affirming confidence. Globalism, Big Pharma and their mafioso lobby groups, dodgy drug trials in third world countries, bio-medical doctors shilling out anti-depressants like it’s popcorn at a second-run theatre – these abstract concerns suddenly seemed secondary to the need to alleviate the subjective experience of pain. And how the act of swallowing the acetaminophen only made him complicit in a diluted, indirect way to the whole shit show. It was generic, after all. The drug was derived from what, willow branches or hickory sticks. This was the Middle Way, Buddy repeated to himself, internally.
After a rudimentary assessment of his reflection, Buddy moved towards the kitchen, drawn autonomically by the smell of coffee. He poured himself a cup of joe, and sauntered over to the window. He couldn’t help but smile as he gazed bleary-eyed at the Toronto skyline, enveloped in an ominous, rapidly-moving fog.
Behind him, his wife was saying something about Chinese dumplings, about bringing in the New Year with dumplings. There were murmurings of pork and fennel, pork and dill, pork and pickled Chinese cabbage, pork and shrimp. And he thought of the word pork as he sipped black coffee out of his special mug with the psychedelic-looking mushrooms in relief – the mug his wife complains is a pain in the ass to clean, particularly the interior of the mug, whose elaborate contours are the precise inverse of the relief on the mug’s exterior. He heard his wife softly enunciate the comforting words pork and chive. He nodded vacantly, following wispy strands of mist weaving amidst the empty bank towers in the distance. There was something primordial about the scene, evoking memories of steam rising from the banks of an Amazonian tributary at dawn, crocodiles yawning desultorily, birds screeching in what seemed like profound existential pain.
“Goals for the New Year, babe.” Buddy spoke to his wife without shifting his gaze from the window. “We need to eat more porridge in 2011. More porridge. More beans.”
Based on the speed with which his head was clearing the thought crossed his mind that his initial diagnosis of ‘migraine’ had been incorrect, that in fact he was simply run-of-the-mill hungover and that he’d better sip this coffee slowly and get some porridge into his stomach to keep the nausea at bay.
Buddy opened the back door off the kitchen a crack and felt the warm air stream in. He turned to his wife and said, “I guess ice-skating is out of the question.”
“And skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, building igloos,” she said, as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Ice fishing, seal clubbing. Curling, if you’re doing it outdoors,” Buddy added.
The word ‘muck’ drifted across his consciousness. Muck and mud and melt. A dim memory of peeing in the park the previous night, and thinking how the ground looked like a cattle yard, all waterlogged and muddy and kneaded by the feet of humans and dogs. The rapid melt turned public green spaces into a microcosm of the kinds of jagged badlands he’d seen in Alberta and China’s Qinghai province. And the mud sticks to boots and gets tracked across asphalt and concrete and looks altogether depressing to individuals who are habituated to frozen earth and snow at this time of year. But it wasn’t a sensation even close to depression Buddy was feeling, the Catholic in him was taking genuine pleasure in these anomalous, quasi-apocalyptic weather conditions.
He knew what he was seeing could be properly described as fog. But fog was such a simplistic signifier. There were words out there denoting sub-categories of fog. This was a variety of fog he wish he knew how to name, so that he could feel with confidence that he fully understood what it was he was so absorbed in.
Buddy turned to his wife, “Why do I have this image of myself peeing on the trunk of a tree over in Ludwig Simpson park last night?”
“You have this image, Buddy, because as we were passing the park last night, you suddenly asked me to pull over, declaring that you couldn’t hold it in any longer and that if I didn’t pull over and let you out of the car you would piss yourself, like right there, in the seat,” explained K. “So I pulled over, and you jumped out of the car, clutching your groin, and dashed for the nearest tree.”
Buddy took a meditative sip of coffee, swishing the dark nectar in his mouth and swallowing it in stages. He put a hand to his belly to assess the progress of the coffee’s digestion. He knew from the feeling in his mouth, the abrasive, acidic sick sweetness that emanates from the oral cavities of the significantly hungover, that his pH levels were off, and that the bitter joe, although objectively good, wouldn’t be sitting so ideally in the old gut. “When you say I was clutching my groin, do you mean that I was literally clutching my groin?”
K, displaying immunity against this nonsensical line of questioning, continued, “And as you were peeing, you looked over your left shoulder and yelled, ‘Keep driving! This is a serious piss. I’ll see you at home.”
“I actually said that?”
“Verbatim,” she replied calmly. “This is a serious piss.”
“Let me get this straight” said Buddy, slowly karate chopping the air with his right hand. “It’s like two and a half hours into 2011, I’m groin-clutching and urinating on trees and yelling into the night about the relative seriousness of my pissing while you’re waiting calmly for me in the car.”
“Don’t forget the ‘Keep driving’ bit. And the dragging of mud into the house ten minutes later, which was inevitable, I guess, given the conditions.”
Only marginally surprised by his amnesia regarding the final events of the previous night and not knowing quite what else to say on the matter, Buddy took another sip of coffee.
“You mentioned something about dumplings, babe,” was the response that seemed most appropriate to him.
Inexplicably, there was a Zamboni zipping around the rapidly melting ice-rink at Nathan Philips Square. It wasn’t so much cleaning the ice as sucking the ice-melt up into an internal holding container in a race against time and temperature. The iconic rink was more or less flooded by the time they arrived in the mid-afternoon, and as the Zamboni skirted in tight figure eights, it left a discernible wake in it’s path that conjured up juxtaposing images of water skiing or tubing.
About two dozen forlorn children with their ice-skates slung over their shoulders, wearing expressions of grave disappointment mingled with the wrinkled brow and dead eyes of irrational denial, were clustered at the south side of the rink. These were young, hopeful Canadian children sporting toques and ski jackets – recipients of the great post-Vancouver Olympic myth. Thoroughly modern parents stood by in clusters, more confused than forlorn, painfully digesting the wave of disappointment emanating from their offspring. If anyone in the crowd appeared to be actually thinking about the environmental implications of the conditions causing the rinks rapid transition from skating arena to slush pool – it was not evident from a cursory scan of the crowd. It was all narcissistic, self-pitying angst from the children and a sort of anesthetized anxiety from the parents, a sense of ‘Man it’s inconvenient when nature doesn’t facilitate my kid’s desire to skate. I hope little [insert child’s name] doesn’t think I’m a bad parent or something, because clearly I’m not’; and ‘Well, maybe my kids are actually going to get a chance to skate once the Zamboni is finished cleaning the, um, ice – maybe, hopefully, for sure.’
After several minutes of circling, the Zamboni clambered up the ramp at the south-west corner of the rink. Water sloshed and spilled from the large holding container composing the bulk of it’s front end as it climbed onto the large granite slabs of the square. There was an odd moment of suspense as the Zamboni inched a few metres away from the rink, and then a strained, hydraulic wheeze as the front end of the Zamboni tilted forward, dumping hundreds of litres of water onto the square. A massive torrent spilled forth causing Buddy and his companions, who were standing nearby, to burst out in genuinely maniacal laughter. As they belly laughed, the Zamboni driver, presumably making triple time on account of it being New Years Day, shot the group a flaccid scowl that implicitly acknowledged the ridiculousness of what he was doing. The children and their parents, however, stared at the heartily laughing crew with the sort of uniformly blank, dead pan gaze one associates with startled cattle.
After the laughter subsided, Buddy took a deep breath, a deep warm breath to aid in the processing of what was clearly a scene of high absurdity. K stood closely by his side, her hand nuzzled in the crook of his arm. Accompanying them were their close friends Pablo and Jax, and the buoyant Bathsheba.
Directly overhead, rapidly rolling fog moved furtively through the soulless crowns of skyscrapers. The streets were largely emptied of car and foot traffic and had an abandoned, post-apocalyptic quality. An unnerving high frequency electromagnetic drone just out of range of the human ear hung over the city, masquerading as silence. Vacant buildings took on the mysterious, monolithic aspect of ruins of civilizations past. Was this fog or mist or murk or haze or really low moving clouds.Was it steam rising from the concrete jungle?
They stood and watched as the Zamboni plunged back into the slushy rink and resumed the Sisyphean task of sucking up the ice melt. The children stood by clutching the blades of their skates, a faint glimmer of hope in their beady, idealistic eyes, like maybe this was the last round the Zamboni would do before they could get on the ‘ice’. Their parents still staring anxiously at the ground, shifting uncomfortably in quiet little clusters away from the benches – not quite summoning the self-deception required to hope along with their children that this would be the last round of the mighty Zamboni, the symbol of all that is Canadian and good and wintry, but not willing to relay the harsh facts of reality either.
Ten minutes later the Zamboni was again clambering up the ramp and evacuating a shockingly large volume of water onto the square, and spinning around in place, and heading back into the rink to suck up more ice-melt, which wasn’t going anywhere in the 12 °C heat, and if anything, could only be said to be increasing at an almost exponential rate, because, well, what’s ice to do when it’s 12 °C?
Buddy tried to determine which part of the process was analogous to the part in the Myth of Sisyphus where Sisyphus watches the boulder roll down the hill after he has expended all that effort in rolling it up the hill; that moment of profound stillness and acceptance as he watches it roll with the full knowledge that he will promptly follow it back down the hill, locate it at the spot where it finally comes to rest, and commence heaving it back up – only to repeat the process ad infinitum. Clearly, the Zamboni was its own ode to existential absurdity and required it’s own myth, or at the very least a dramatic revision of the original myth.
There was the intuitively discernible fact, which just hit him, that the dumping of the water was the cathartic moment in the whole Zamboni cycle unfolding before them. But this moment of glory was immediately followed by resumption of the central task of sucking up the ice-melt. Immediately followed because the task is never even superficially completed because the ice simply melts at a faster rate than what the Zamboni is capable of keeping up with. The metaphorical boulder never reaches the summit – even for a few fleeting moments. Would not this whole situation, Buddy reflected, be more fulfilling if the young children could at least get on the ice for a couple of minutes, say five minutes, before the Zamboni resumed it’s task of clearing the ice? Even if there were a few precious moments to step aside and watch the ice melt before having to go back out there and hoover it up – would not that be more structurally sound, as far as myths go? Thinking these thoughts it became clear to him that humanity didn’t need The Myth of Zamboni, that such a myth in its all-encompassing, rewardless absurdity would be too depressing to serve any useful function at all.
Buddy turned to his companions and said, “It’s goddamn funny, but I’m not sure why exactly or if it should be.”
“It was definitely funnier the first time around,” Pablo said.
“Shocking and funny, and then sort of sad and only vaguely funny, like the vague funniness is our conditioned response to the sort-of-sadness of the situation,” K added.
“I only chuckled at the second dumping, and it was a bit forced, the chuckling, but I’m still overall a happier human being having witnessed this than if I hadn’t witnessed it at all,” Buddy replied.
“Agreed, there’s the blatant grimness of this entire scene but there’s also a whole lot of hilariousness going on,” Jax interjected.
“Fundamental hilariousness, which can also be quite sad,” added Bathsheba.
Pablo pointed south, to the towers shrouded in Gothic mist, and said, “Lets go check out the bronze steers at First Canadian Place.”
Buddy placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “Nothing elevates my mood like the bronze steers.”