The Myth of Zamboni

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.”


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The Baseball Metaphor

The following is an account of a dream I had in the summer of 2010, just a few days before I found out that my lovely wife, Kyra, was pregnant.


The foul ball, hurtling through the electrified air of the stadium, a low angle shot, hard and fast.

We were in the nose bleed seats, Abe and I. Good ‘ol Abe who every morning thanks God on his knees that he’s utterly infertile, incapable of impregnating even the most fecund of females, no matter how robust the discharge and regardless of whether he’s getting enough Omega-3s in his diet.

Abe, who turned to me as we passed through the turnstile and said, “What does the SkyDome remind you of, exactly? What feelings does the architecture of this grand colosseum invoke in you.”

I tilted my head toward him, and said, “Warm feelings, Abe.”

When we emerged from the arteries of the stadium, when we passed through the appropriate gate and emerged wide-eyed into the sheer being of the revealed stadium we saw a cluster of seats located behind a monolithic concrete abutment, and the thought passed between us unspoken – these tickets better not be for those seats. We didn’t stop to contemplate the absurdity of their positioning, with the extreme close-up view of a solid mass of concrete, we just knew we didn’t want to sit there. We had come to see the game after all.

Abe checked the row number of these existentially bereft seats and cross-referenced it with the numbers on our tickets. He breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Now, if I had brought my electron microscope, we could of switched seats and watched the painfully slow decay of complex carbon-based molecules.”

After a moment of silence, I responded, “The half-life of that slab of concrete is beyond our scope.”

We found our seats. We gestured to the large black man selling plastic cups of beer and we purchased four. We contemplated shelled peanuts or nacho chips with lukewarm processed cheese in the flimsy plastic container, but decided against it. We drank our beers and the innings starting falling away – “Into the vacuum,” explained Abe.

At the bottom of the seventh the hard-driven fly ball – a hard drive fouled out of play from nowhere in particular – hurtled thru the air directly towards my medium meaty palm. The moment transcended the fate-chance dichotomy and reminded me of the time my pet rabbit Arthur was struck by lightning – and lived. It approached rapidly, jet-streaming. And with a stylized kind of flourish, like a Dominican short-stop on a complex cocktail of uppers, I snagged it out of the air with my right hand.

It was a strange moment of victory – the anomalous ball in my hand, the atemporal moment of recognition, the otherness of the dense, substantial ball. And then I experienced some knee-jerk firing of synapses deep in the recesses of my lizard brain, and  I threw it back. I fired the ball back and it landed somewhere in the crowd about thirty rows down. I had no idea why I did this but the thought crossed my mind that there had been about four or five foul balls that had already landed in our immediate vicinity, and the mood was becoming surreal and carnivalesque. It was an anarchic mood of superfluity and abandon. Was I just thinking, there’s more where that came from? At the same time there was something powerful and fearsome about the foul ball and how it centred me out amidst the myriad fanatics – and maybe I was scared the way an initiate to a secret religious order gets scared when handling the sacred symbols.

The crowd roared like one massive insane organism. I winced and ground my teeth, trying to maintain separation from the rising tide of mass psychology. I bowed my head solemnly and noticed, at  the foot of my row, a series of small earthenware basins filled with wet mud. We were sitting in the bottom row of a section and there these basins were, in an area usually reserved for the free and easy movement of human beings. A woman approached and dipped her naked foot in one of the larger basins, explaining in vivid English that this was a new initiative at the ball park – the installation of mud baths for the feet in every section.

An irate couple of indeterminate ethnicity approached and starting giving me hell for throwing the foul ball back into the crowd. The man accused me of striking his wife in the head with the ball but I could tell from his tone and his gesturing, marionette-like, that he was lying. I told him that if that was what happened even though it clearly didn’t, that I was hypothetically sorry and that it’s such an anarchic game and I kind of lost my head, with all these foul balls being hit in our direction and such. He visibly calmed and handed the ball over to me, which was, strangely, elaborately swathed in an off-white gauzey material.

Abe nudged me and said, “I call my electron microscope Steve. And Steve is a reliable piece of machinery.”

Again the vacant nod, and I turned to look at the mysterious woman, blond and beautiful, standing in the basin, mud up to her ankles.

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Sloth and Awe

During my first trip to Colombia, at the Plaza de Armas in Cartagena, I saw a man with a sloth clinging languidly to his torso. The high noon sun was motionless, a massive scorching ball of fire in the dense blue sky. Ripples of heat rose from the white-washed stone of the plaza, inducing an array of vaguely stimulating visual hallucinations. I made eye contact with the sloth and it looked at me as if to say: ‘Don’t scorn me because I’ve developed the capacity to chill the fuck out.’ I was holding something radically deep fried at the time, and fry oil was dripping down my palm.

The man with the sloth didn’t appear to want money, and this surprised me somewhat. He just wanted to reveal the sloth. To celebrate the almost divine laziness, the enlightened detachment of the animal.

An American tourist in a blood-red bandana and mean looking sunglasses turned to me and said: “It has half the metabolic rate of an ordinary mammal its size.”

I nodded and said, “Yeah, it eats leaves that even the most hardened herbivore wouldn’t dream of eating. Leaves that look like they belong to the plastic plants middle-aged women buy at Walmart. Thick and waxy leaves, by definition completely indigestible.”

He gestured toward the sloth and said, “Look at him, he’s drooling.”

The statement seemed like a personal assault on the sloth – and having imperceptibly projected my own conscious state onto the creature, I found myself offended. I shot back, “You can’t call it drool, man. The concept of drool belongs to the human world, not the sloth’s.”

He kept his eyes zeroed in on the sloth and in a detached, scientific tone he said, “Drool – the accumulation of saliva in the area around the lower lip. It’s happening. The tipping point is nigh, it’s about to run down his chin.”

I took a methodical bite of the deep fried conglomeration of potato and cheese I was cupping in my right hand. I leaned in and took a deeper look at the sloth. The pool of saliva gathered in the corner of its mouth was indeed approaching a tipping point. “Chin?”, I said ponderously. “I don’t see a chin.”

And then the tipping point, and the American said, “The sloth, he’s officially drooling now.”

“Are we looking at the same animal? I don’t see a chin.”

The American lowered his sunglasses, narrowed his bloodshot eyes on me and said, “It’s a dramatically receding chin, but a chin it remains. And the rivulet of saliva flowing from his mouth, obeying the law of gravity, that, amigo, is drool.”

“Sloths don’t drool. Human beings drool. Babies, in particular, drool. It’s a concept denoting a very human activity. You’re projecting – anthropomorphizing the action of sloth saliva because you don’t actually understand what’s happening here.”

He sighed, and closed his eyes meditatively, letting a wave of anger or frustration subside. “By the standard definition of the verb ‘to drool’ – a definition, by the way, you’ll find in any dictionary – that animal is drooling.”

“Right now, that animal should be hanging upside down, unconscious, from a tree branch. Instead, he’s blinking around in wonderment at a world that isn’t his. In the sloth’s world, there is no drool,” I said, neither believing nor disbelieving what I was saying.


Earlier that day, pasty-mouthed and drenched in sweat, my being seemingly stretched over an atemporal expanse of dream landscape, I had completely forgotten what country I was in. I felt like my own country, a two-dimensional exponentially expanding disc, colonizing the antipodes of consciousness, spreading outwards in all directions – softly, militantly. The disc occasionally rotated on its axis, or tilted into bleached, scowling nothingness. One disc would unexpectedly be pulled from the field and replaced by another – like an exchange of playing cards in a hand. These were inscrutable countries of the mind, with populations and square mileage and GDPs that eluded calculation. They lie outside the crush of capitalism in a full-blown alternate dimension sort of way. And it seemed to me as I grappled my way back into consciousness, blinking dumbly at the flaking plaster ceiling, trying to reconstruct the tenuous relationship between subject and surrounding objects, it seemed to me that the real reason we travel is to discover these countries of the mind.

Encountering the sloth, I decided I wanted to return to these two-dimensional dreamscapes that preclude bipedal movement or even the existence of individuals, projections or otherwise. To travel in the countries of the mind, I needed to slow my movements down, to blink at two frames per second – I needed  to drool a protracted, profound drool.


I turned back to the American, his presence as inexplicable as the sloth’s. He wore a tight red t-shirt that read ‘The family that trucks together, stays together’, the inane phrase above a cartoon image of a family bursting from the cab of a transport truck. I said, “Their universe is a canopy that extends from here down to the southern limits of the Amazon. They move with exquisite precision, slowly and fluidly. They’re on the cusp of entering the Unified Field.”

The American nodded absently, his gaze still fixed on the sloth. He brought a cigarette to his lips, lit it and took a stylized drag, exhaling great plumes of smoke through his nostrils. He gestured towards the sloth and said, “Don’t get the wrong idea, man. Drool or no drool – I have nothing but respect for this animal. Do you see how it’s fur grows from the belly out, then down around the back – the complete opposite of any other terrestrial mammal I know of.”

“Good eye,” I said. “I think it has something to do with them spending most of their lives upside down.”

He pondered a moment. “It’s the effects of gravity over the course of evolutionary time.”

We were resolving our differences, coming to some kind of agreement over the nature of the sloth, and not this particular sloth, but the sloth in general. I took another bite of whatever fried thing I was holding, and made a conscientious effort to chew slowly, to chew like the sloth would chew.

A certain unspecified amount of time passed, obscured by the vaporous high UV radiation of the equatorial sun and the metamorphic buzzing of cicadas. The American was still there, waiting for my response, the conversation still hanging in the ether. “The sloth,” I said, “confounds gravity. It persistently refuses to obey the laws of physics. It spends its life upside down, in trees.”

“On an eco-tour in Costa Rica I saw the rotting corpse of a sloth still stubbornly clinging to its branch. Upside down. Defying gravity post-mortem.”

I took a moment to conjure a good mental image of this, the sloth skeleton hanging upside down in the tree. I said, “They leave the trees only to piss and shit. Did you know that?”

He took a deep drag of his cigarette, holding the smoke in, and exhaled through the nostrils. The smoke hung in the air, motionless, an amorphous fog drawing us in. He picked a fleck of tobacco from his teeth and flicked it aside, turned to me and said, “Yep. We were told that on the eco-tour. Once a week, they climb down, dig a hole, and shit into it. How do you forget something like that?”

“You don’t,” I said. “They cover up the hole, they climb back up, they eat, they sleep.”

A crowd had imperceptibly gathered. There was now a sheepish young woman standing directly beside the Colombian man and his sloth, having her photo taken. She smiled, the man smiled, the sloth chewed, staring through the crowd into the Unified Field. The woman pulled a greasy note from her pocket, but the man refused to accept it, he held his palm out, refusing, saying something in Spanish that approximated: ‘I am not here to prostitute the sloth, Eugenio.’ And the woman had the photo now – her and the sloth, in Plaza de Armas in Cartagena. A life defining moment, depending on your perspective.

The American observed all this with stoic curiosity, and I sensed that an idea attached to a need was developing in the dark recesses of his being.

An incalculable period of amorphous tropical time passed where we just stood and stared at the sloth as it brought a leaf to its mouth – it felt like ten minutes but I couldn’t be sure. I turned to the American and said, “The sloth’s name, apparently, is Eugene.”

He said, “I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but I think I need a photograph with the sloth. A memento I can stick on my fridge to remind me …”

“Remind you of what?”, I asked.

“Well, I was in the war, so …”

“The war?”

“The war formerly known as Desert Storm. The Persian Gulf War Part One. Numero uno. Prior to the currently unfolding sequel.”

“Oh, that war,” I replied.

“Sloths don’t storm deserts. They’re oblivious of the difference between tactics and strategy. They climb and hang rather than shock and awe.”

I took another bite of the fried ball, the thing I was eating tailored specifically to an omnivorous bipedal primate of the Colombian variety. Oil was now dripping off my palm and onto my left boot. I chewed, reflecting on these words, and swallowed. “Did you say once a week? They only shit once a week?”

“They move at a pace that precludes the possibility of war or invasion or friendly fire. Hell, they even eliminate their feces in a mindful, non-invasive manner.”

I couldn’t argue with that. After the drool debate spiraled down the semantic rabbit hole, I couldn’t be bothered arguing about anything. There was the raw context, that was it. And the sage-like presence of the sloth, here to be adored and photographed – no charge.

The American continued, “We had to fire on villages – enemy soldiers hiding out amidst women and children. These were externalities.” He paused and lit another cigarette with the glowing butt of the one he just burned down.  “Sloths aren’t familiar with that concept either.”

I said, “Maybe if we only shat once a week, maybe then – we’d move slower, consume less energy. And bomb less villages.”

“Possibly, but metabolism is only part of it. Many of the great tyrants of history suffered from chronic constipation. It’s more of a perspective, a kind of inverted world view – looking down from the heights, upside down. And keeping movement to a bare minimum.”

“We need to drool like the sloth drools, is what you’re saying – granted that the word ‘drool’ can very well be replaced by any number of potentially more accurate signifiers. That what it’s doing is not necessarily drooling, but maybe something beyond drooling. Post-drooling. Transcendental meta-drooling. ”

“If that makes you happy. For me, the word drool suffices. It describes the action. It signifies the fucking action.”

The American handed me the camera he had looped around his neck, and gave me the wry look of a tourist about to have his photograph taken with the exotic other – the photo you can point to and say, I was there. He approached the man with the sloth, making the appropriate gestures – the passive slouching step and the thing with the hands indicating exchange or ritual interaction – and took his position beside the sloth. He smiled and removed his sunglasses, he crouched in, leveling his dark, haunted eyes with the benign, fathomless peepholes of the sloth. He was on the verge of snuggling, his ear brushing up against the wind-swept head of the sloth. With his right hand, he reached across his torso and took the sloth’s prehistoric claw in his hand – a stylized gesture, like two high-profile Japanese business men shaking hands for a press photo. He smiled, the sloth chewed its reality-dissolving chew.

I brought the camera to my face. I adjusted the lens for a tightly crafted medium shot and pressed the button.

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Time Crunch 2010

“If we’re approaching the concrescence, defined as the ever-accelerating coming together of disparate phenomena into a kind of singularity”, Wolf said, “that means time itself is actually speeding up. Dopler Effect, Zootch.”

Wolf paused to relight a half-burned cigarette that had been stationed at the corner of his mouth for roughly ten minutes. There was something particularly jagged and feral about him today. This was due in large part to his hair – a dense, gravity defying mane that he had carved into a mohawk the night before while hopped up on beer and another substance he referred to cryptically as ‘The Great Googly Moogly’. But there was also something in the eyes, Asiatic and darting furtively in the angled, late afternoon light of a hot and clear September day.

He continued, smoke drifting from his nostrils, “And what follows, dig, is that actual productivity per actual man hour is dropping rapidly, because an hour isn’t what it used to be.”

Point, counterpoint. We were thanking god it was Friday – yielding to routine, cerebral jibber-jabber.

I countered, “But efficiency per man hour has increased on average, which sort of compensates for the time crunch. We’re under the illusion that time remains constant, because we’re getting done in half an hour what would have taken our ancestors an hour. Our half hour equalling one of their hours, you see, and feeling like an hour from our relative perspective because we’ve gotten x amount of shit done – a lot of shit – and how do you get that much shit done in a half hour?” I made a broad sweeping gesture of the imperial variety with my right hand. “It must’ve been an hour. The fucking clock, after all, still says an hour.”

Wolf raised a skeptical eyebrow and took a philosophical drag off his cigarette.

Through a billowing cloud of grey-blue smoke, he said, “You speak of productivity gains, but what are we really getting done in this day and age? How many people out there get home from work at the end of the day, crack a beer, and ask themselves, what the fuck did I actually do today?”

I said, “We’re moving faster, we’re getting more shit done, man. And you look at the clock and an hour has passed. Our systems of measurement are themselves speeding up because they exist within the world of phenomena not outside it – they’re subject to the same time-crunch that phenomenon in general is subject to. The clocks and calendars of this world are keeping pace, know what I’m saying. If we could snatch a moment of cosmological objectivity, you’d see that the hands of your kitchen clock are actually ticking away faster than clocks of the 1950s.”

Wolf continued to smoke, staring intently at a brick wall about two metres away.

He said, “You crack into that second or third beer. You acknowledge how fast you’ve been moving, and you think, for someone who has been moving so fast all day, what the fuck of import actually happened? Did you sit in traffic for three hours? Did you analyze statistics for the new strategic internal communications plan that may or may not be implemented in the year 2013?”

“It’s a strange thought to think, that the clocks keep pace with the overarching time crunch. That as we move faster, the clocks move faster, at roughly the same rate of acceleration – keeping our perception of the crunch just below the surface of consciousness.”

Wolf approached the wall tentatively – as if it was an unidentified flying object docking in his backyard, and he approached it with measured steps, hand extended, in what seemed like a benign attempt to make first contact. He pressed his index finger against one of the myriad rust-coloured bricks, an action that carried a symbolic weight incongruous with the context. It was Friday, we had successfully completed the job, we were thanking god on account of it being Friday in a similar manner that we usually thank god on each and every Friday – and here was Wolf communing with the inanimate.

“You’d think – and this is the funny thing,” he said. “That if the concrescence is really happening, like we all know it is, and that time is being crunched, which is what it feels like is happening, intuitively speaking …”

Wolf paused to run his index finger along the mortar joints surrounding the brick, which he circumambulated three times before regaining his train of thought.

“Following your logic,” he continued, “you’d think that because the time crunch is operating on an exponential curve, at some point we’ll be getting so much shit done in x amount of time that x will seem longer than it actually is. Because the human brain is hard wired, dig, to equate a certain amount of activity with a certain amount of time passing.”

I considered this a moment, squinting in the slanted light of an ecstatically bright mid-September day.

“Like we’ve crammed so much shit into an hour that it will begin to feel like an hour and fifteen or an hour and thirty minutes,” I said.

“But this is all depending -”

“This, buddy, is when the time crunch reaches a rate of acceleration that surpasses our capacity to correlate it to what we have traditionally experienced as the rough constancy of time,” I said, with a kind of robotic flair. “This is when the clocks can’t keep pace – or they keep pace, but only superficially. We start to suspect that they’re no longer up to the task.”

“But this is all depending on whether anything actually gets done. Shit is speeding up, but what is happening, what is getting done? My brother-in-law is a strategic analyst for a management consulting firm, he’s currently working on a tactical work flow plan for a company that develops stock derivatives. He goes to the gym and plays squash in a sterile, white-walled room with a look on his face like he’s supremely pissed off about something. Without real shit getting done, are we going to experience the hour on that lagging clock like an hour fifteen or is it going to feel like the same old hour? Is it going to feel like 45 minutes even?”

Pondering his own question, Wolf shouldered in close to the wall, then pivoted, facing it squarely, his nose brushing up against the sacralized brick. He stared intently, projecting onto the brick his loose grasp of quantum mechanics, perhaps conjuring a flashback of a turn of the century mushroom trip.

“If I had an electron microscope,” he said, his voice reverberating off the unyielding surface of the wall, “I’d tell you right now that these brick molecules here are vibrating at a higher frequency than when they were laid by Italian immigrants in the 1960s. Frequencies are rising, but you finish that sixth beer at the end of the day after working on a Request For Proposal from a state-owned Chinese company looking to mine uranium in Saskatoon …”

“So what you’re saying, in effect, is what?”

Wolf was speaking directly to the brick now, he said, “This is a company looking to manage their message online in a staunchly Canadian context. The uranium is strictly for clean energy and a better tomorrow.”

“Are you saying tomorrow will be faster or slower? Or will tomorrow be what the Chinese propagandists say it will be – that tomorrow will be better than today.”

Wolf leaned slightly from the wall, arcing his head back, creating the required space between him and the wall to successfully bring his cigarette to his mouth and take a drag. He exhaled slowly, directing a steady stream of smoke against the brick, the brick that had been singled out and deified by the Wolf – a million or more microscopic collisions in the effort.

He said, “This company is grappling with major issues – there’s going to be slurry out the yin-yang as a result of the intensive nature of uranium mining. They’re going to build a series of tailings ponds in downtown Saskatoon and they’re going to have to manage the message. And the guy responsible for managing the message, at the end of the day, when he’s polishing off beer number eight, he’s going to say to himself, a bunch of shit occurred today but what actually got done?”

There was a momentary fissure in the surreal and slanted mid-September light, in the high pressure system sweeping the area, that seemed to give this conversation direct access to the upper reaches of the stratosphere.

I responded dryly, “He’ll have managed the message faster, from the perspective of the cosmological constant, than the spin doctors of the late 1990s.”

Into all that subatomic empty space in the brick he mumbled, “Tomorrow will be better.”

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Dumplings vs. Beer

We were on a rooftop above a Chinese restaurant coining new terms. A sticky note was present, stuck to Aloysius’ forehead. I held a mirror to his face when he wanted to be reminded of what we were doing there. It was June or July, maybe August. Up on this roof, overlooking the eclectic decay of the market, I questioned whether we were still firmly rooted in the developed world. We need a new name to clarify the concept. We don’t know the concept if we don’t have the name. That was our mantra.

“We’re chasing our tails,” I said. “We’re in a holding pattern of our own devising, a negative feedback loop.”

Aloysius responded, staring blankly into the middle distance, “Autonomous Lifestyle. Trans-Reality.”

“But what we’re trying to communicate is more of a do-and-deliver ethos than a do-it-yourself”, I said.

We were grasping at straws, scratching in the dirt, trying desperately to uncover the fermented concept, so we could in turn distill the name. “The Germans are far superior at this sort of thing,” I mumbled.

A grubby pigeon caught Aloysius’ eye as it alighted on the chimney of the neighbouring building. It was the kind of crumbling 19th century chimney you can dismantle with your bare hands – found everywhere all over the city, a homage to systemic, underlying decay. Directing his voice towards the pigeon, he said, “Integrated Entertainment.  Autonomous Reality.”

“Is that a hybrid of Autonomous Lifestyle and Trans-Reality?” I asked, without really asking.

Aloysius closed his eyes, shook his head. “Not a hybrid, chico. Not a hybrid. We can’t think in terms of hybrids. We’re after the utterly novel concept.”

“Put two Germans on a roof and they’d have this thing nailed down in a half hour. They’re in possession of a linguistic elasticity, an exquisitely precise vocabulary that facilitates this process.”

He looked skyward, squinting into the sun. “New Reality Television. Autonomy TV.”

“Always with the autonomy, you’re a slave to autonomy. It’s holding you back Aloysius.”

There were a hundred and twenty years of tangled wires, obsolete systems of air-exchange, piss and litter. People climbed up to this rooftop to drink and smoke and litter. The CN Tower was visible in the distance, the shimmering bank towers, the whole numbing iconic layout of the city. And yet it was a world away. I was staring at a postcard the size of my field of vision from some rooftop slum in Calcutta. Where was I? And how did I get here?

“Threshold … Threshold – something. Pedro, what am I thinking of here?”

“You’re thinking about the threshold. The in-between space that delineates one state from another.”

“Is ‘threshold’ part of the concept?”

“I can’t tell anymore,” I said.

“The word ‘threshold’ is making itself felt. But we need a modifier.”

“Modified Autonomous Threshold Television,” I uttered. “That’s precisely where we fit.”

It was the type of rooftop that junkies frequent. Strata of condom wrappers, needles and fecal matter in the south-east corner – not that I knew that for certain but one could sense a certain aura that was in turn associated with certain presuppositions. Below, on the ground floor of the building, a Chinese restaurant specializing in dumplings. I recalled with dread the last time I ate there, when that pork and shrimp dumpling squirmed out of the grasp of my chopsticks, plunged into the dipping bowl, and sent a wake of rice vinegar and chili sauce onto the front of my favourite Mexican wedding shirt.

Aloysius paced, considering my linguistic construction. “I like it, but it’s too German. Too composite. We need to convey the essence. How is this show revolutionary? How do we define this revolutionary form of entertainment?”

“We don’t define. We fuse the concept with the signifier. The word becomes indistinguishable from what it stands for.”

“You know what the fuck I mean,” he shot back.

I peered over the edge on the north side to catch a bird’s eye view of the alley, with its graffiti splatter and teeming dumpsters. I spat instinctively, in ritual self-purification. A Chinese chef covered in blood emerged from the adjacent building and threw a dripping garbage bag into one of the bins. I thought about what it would be like to set that dumpster on fire – a barrage of monosyllabic Chinese expletives sounding in the distance as the dirty smoke seeped out into the clucking mass of humanity on Spadina. I thought about what the rats would think, if I would disrupt rat families and hurt rat feelings.

After an atemporal interlude populated by phantasmagorical nuclear families of rats fleeing Chinatown with their brief cases and artisanal cheeses, I turned to Aloysius and said, “Quasi-Terrestrial Underground Lifestyle Entertainment … For the Hip and Marginalized.”

“Again, German. Fucking German. I like it, but we don’t have the context here in North America, the milieu.”

“Not that I’m committed to it, but we need to think beyond the milieu. We need to create the context. Me and you are not milieu dwellers.”

Aloysius took a step towards me, his countenance suddenly becoming quite serious, almost grave. “This ain’t no Mickey Mouse operation, Pedro. We can’t afford to be either slipshod or slapdash in our coinaging. We need the word, the phrase, whatever, by tomorrow morning.”

In the distance, a flock of pigeons took flight. They flew in trembling formation towards the building across the street, arched in unison before colliding with a mass of red brick, shot up the facade, and then circled back towards the decrepit rooftop from whence they came. There was at once an angelic and schizophrenic quality about the display.

“Threshold, threshold …” Aloysius continued to pace, his arms behind his back, his head  angling toward the sun.

“Brink. Verge.  Bound, boundary, edge – it’s all so tired. The concept has been plundered, exploited.”

I looked down at the weather-worn hot tar roof beneath my feet – with its sporadic undulations and gaping crevices, it appeared a perfect microcosm of the Gobi Desert. Desertification was happening here, as well. And I wondered, did the rooftop itself have something to do with this growing sense of nihilism that threatened our linguistic mission? Badlands are the traditional hiding places of outlaws and fringe figures, and how was this fact informing us? I looked eastward, toward the geometric eccentricities of glass and steel forming the city skyline – always so pristine and flawless from this distance – and spat, again as a form of ritual self-purification.

“Dawn, outset, inception. What else, Pedro?”

“Limit, margin, starting point. The word ‘liminal’ comes to mind.”

I was suddenly overtaken by the desire to yawn. Not out of boredom, but out of a kind of primordial exhaustion – like a large predator on the savanna grappling with all the big existential problems. Then I yawned.

Aloysius snapped his fingers, “The Yawning Margin. The Enveloping Threshold.”

We were veering rapidly into irrelevant territory. “There’s dumplings beneath us, right below our feet, man. At least thirty varieties of Chinese dumplings. Boiled, steamed, fried.”

He shook his head and scoffed. “Nothing solid passes my lips right now, if we need to consume anything, it’s beer – beer and beer alone.”

“Pork and fennel. Egg, shrimp and spinach. Lamb. Straight up lamb.”

“But we’re entering dangerous territory if we start drinking,” explained Aloysius. “If you don’t catch the idea while riding that first big, expansive wave of intoxication, you’re screwed. You might as well blow soap bubbles and recite the Lord’s Prayer for the rest of the day.”

“Pork and dill. Pork and Chinese Cabbage …” I wanted to recite the entire menu of The Dumpling Empire but I couldn’t, I was stopped dead in my tracks at Pork and Chinese Cabbage.

“What we’re doing is truly revolutionary – you know that!” Aloysius raised his hands towards the heavens, supplicating a god he didn’t believe in. “We need to convey the sheer revolutionary nature of the project. We’re superimposing genres. We’re synthesizing seemingly contradictory elements. And we’re going out of our way to boggle the scrotums of the high priests and priestesses of television. They’re going to want to pigeonhole us into Lifestyle or Reality or Instructional. They want to call a guava an orange or an apple or a pear, because they don’t have the word ‘guava’ at their disposal. When we hand over the package, we need to be able to say: This, ladies and gentlemen, is a guava!”

“How many times have I heard this? Have I heard this sixty, seventy times?”

“The guava analogy is new.”

I had to assent to this. “Okay, beer it is,” I said.

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You’ve done it again, Cabano.

I’ve been working backwards since August 1977. And everything has come to this rarified moment – sitting, sipping ‘sachet cafe’ on the second floor balcony of the Motel Royal in Cabano. I never imagined such a place existed until yesterday morning. Cabano doesn’t sound like a quaint, resort-village nestled on a shimmering lake that straddles time zones in eastern Quebec. Cabano sounds like a desert pueblo in north-west Mexico – a place where one could get shot for mispronouncing the name of the local don’s chihuahua. Cabano, stronghold of the cartel, highest murder rate in North America. That’s what I think when I hear ‘Cabano’.

Which leads me to ask: How did you get your name, Cabano? Am I supposed to believe that French settlers in the 1700s arrived at this location and thought, now this place looks like a ‘Cabano’.

We have a room with a view over Lake Temiscouata, and of quasi-imposing Mount Lennox. Mount Lennox, not to be confused with Mount Lexter, which exists solely in my mind. The sun rose at around 4:00 am this morning, and it seemed like lifetimes, cycles of existence coloured by variant grades of consciousness, before I got out of bed. That was at roughly 9:30 am, but if it was the year 2087 and I was a morbidly obese Filipino toddler with webbed feet, I would have been only numbly surprised. That’s the kind of time-dancing town Cabano is. It’s so close to the Atlantic time zone you can taste it, and it tastes vaguely of coffee whitener and the edible seaweed known as dulse. And although the town is planted definitively in the Eastern time zone, it shares longitude with swathes of land and population centers that are entrenched in the Atlantic time zone. It’s real time, so to speak, is in fact New Brunswick time.  And so as I sit, squinting at the diamond light of the lake and sipping my clinical cup of joe, the whole business of measuring time strikes me as arbitrary and farcical. I think of China, 5200 kilometres wide, the whole country lying in the same, government-delineated time zone – perhaps the finest example of political time trumping the sun.

Last night, arriving in Cabano with hunger and thirst, we made our way to a hybrid tourist dive – something between a family restaurant and a sports bar. It commanded a view of Lake Temiscouata that I knew would aid digestion and transform the simple act of eating into a decade or so of nostalgia. It was there that I ate perhaps the driest burger of my adult life. It was so lacking in moisture that at one point I stood up, pressed my nose against the window, and stared longingly at the lake while I masticated with the dumb persistence of a cow. And if it wasn’t for the poutine, the furry upper lip of the waitress, and the novelty of drinking Molson M, dinner would have sucked completely.

Yep, those frogs of old must have thought, doesn’t this terrain remind you of that village in north-west Mexico we stopped in en route to Quebec, that austere little silver mining town full of people worshipping the Angel of Death? What was the name of that place again? Oh yeah, Cabano.

I calculate the remaining hours of my vacation. I estimate how many of those hours will be spent conscious, how many unconscious or semi-conscious or in a liminal, transpersonal state. I do the existential math – I arrive at a fixed quantity, a phantom signaling that yes, I will experience substantial down time on this trip . If I was in a city I would begin counting down the minutes right now – the measurement tools, the incentives, the neurotic ether, would be ever-present.

Roughly sixty minutes pass, no one seems to be stirring, my fellow travelers are not waking up. That’s the two-hundred and fortieth hour, fucking done.  And I’m going to lose another once I cross the Quebec/New Brunswick border. That’s the line, the superimposed abstraction dictating the loss or gain of time. Contemplating this, I have a sudden hankering for tacos el pastor.

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Filed under Rumination, Travel

Horse Jam, Tubed Mustard and the Disruption of Global Capitalism

Horse Jam: The Movie, when it was finally released, was rumoured to be ‘The biggest thing since tubed mustard’. A ground-breaking story of Being and Non-Being, it was hailed by Roger Ebert as ‘A phenomenon unlike any other phenomenon that has ever been told or even vaguely conceived of before’. The seed of this story, it is purported, was snagged in the great fishing hole of the psyche at about five in the morning on a Tuesday in early March, 2008. Horse Jam screenwriter, Aloysius J. Lupini, could hardly believe the integrity of the story arc his inscrutable fever dream possessed. And this arc, the ‘spine’ of the story, defiantly withstood the bright light of waking consciousness. It remained absolutely intact as it was lashed by reason and subjected to the ruthless superimposition of the ‘creative structures’ of cinematic adaptation. Yet the internal logic of the story was radically alien in its novelty. It seemed to belong to a different species or dimension, fundamentally different from our own but strangely familiar on an intuitive, quantum level. The old archetypal forms had been inverted and reanimated, given new life and a new sense of purpose. Critics were baffled and speechless. Reviews would generally be laconic to the point of ridiculousness, often containing no more than an ambiguous headline, such as ‘No words to describe Horse Jam’, and an irrelevant photograph – the news print equivalent of grunting. It seemed that a new language, or at least a new lexicon of jargon, had to be developed to even discuss Horse Jam.

The story was everything and nothing. It was at once universal and cryptically idiosyncratic. Audiences left theatres stunned –  their mouths agape, squeezing their noses, massaging their temples. The absolute disregard for the established paradigms of story-telling left viewers in a sort of pre-linguistic haze for up to two weeks. At first, this was interpreted as a positive development. A necessary interim stage of general bewilderment as individuals embarked on the new evolutionary path of psychic development that Horse Jam had cut through the dense jungle of tired preconceptions and washed up cultural values.

And when people emerged from this state, they generally seemed happier, their perspectives vastly broadened. Individuals commonly reported experiencing a residual transcendence that allowed them to ‘hover over language’ as it were. Consumption patterns shifted. Sales of tubed mustard went through the roof – an unforeseen twist on early predictions. Not only was the film ‘bigger than tubed mustard’, it coincided with a startling spike in demand for the conveniently dispensed condiment. And then the masses started demanding that other condiments, such as mayonnaise, relish and horseradish, be packaged and sold in tubes, as well. The link between this trend and Horse Jam was tenuous and highly speculative, but in the absence of any empirically validated cause, many fingers pointed at the enigmatic film. Naturally, paranoia and distrust set in, particularly amongst politicians, bureaucrats, bankers, and corporate executives – anyone with an entrenched interest in the prevailing structures of global capitalist society. The threat of tube technology taking over the entire condiment market was simply too disruptive. Strings were pulled at the upper rungs of power, and after three record-smashing months in theatres, Horse Jam was yanked.

A month later, lobby groups in North America, the EU and China pushed through aggressive legislation that has effectively banned the film on grounds that it is an ‘insidious propaganda tool affecting mass-hypnosis and irrational consumer behavior’. There will be no DVD release. Pirated downloads previously available online have been largely blocked. The memory of Horse Jam still lives on in tens of millions of minds, but only as a distant, ineffable series of images telling a story that existed at the threshold of the comprehensible.

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Filed under Art, Film, Short Story