Wednesday, April 27, 2005

When trouble calls

My home town offered nothing to keep kids out of trouble, so they were forced to be as creative with their trouble as possible. Some was more benign than others. I recall skinny-dipping in the Atlantic ocean - not a soul within kilometres, save for the bones of the dead that had been washed into the bay by a notorious hurricane decades ago. My imagination created an element of risk where there was none.

Other kids weren't so easily amused, so they took advantage of what natural resources were available. Muddy boys caught fish each summer evening to watch them flop until their inevitable end. A slow death is anticlimactic, though, so they soon upped the ante by chanting an age-old children's song usually reserved for dandelions. When they arrived at the final line: "Momma had a baby and its head popped off!", they stomped the fish. The dull squishing sound of its decapitation was mercifully smothered by their laughter.

A sensitive child, I'd observe from the sidelines, a witness to fish death after fish death, and scream through my tears, "How would you like it if I did that to you!?" Many, many years passed before I realized I was part of their game.

The kids in the adjacent town had more resources for self-entertaining than the kids in my little village: a pay phone. This was during the golden age, when pay phones not only received calls, but the number was posted on the dial. Installed just outside the only convenience store, the pay phone offered kids purpose and anonymous guidance - a ringing oracle in the night.

They gathered around the battered, lighter-burnt oracle, amused themselves and, on parting, spit in the change return dip for the first poor, unsuccessful caller the next day. The simple tool of communication provided lasting amusement for both loiterers and prank callers. It is a sad reality that now that I live in a city of millions, with thousands of pay phones, the golden age of receiving calls on public phones has passed. Except for this one...

Like a beacon in the night, it rings, summoning passers-by to lift its lighter-burnt receiver to hear the words of a chosen few. We don't share the number. We argue about who gets to do the calling.

The pay phone is downtown, near a park. There are several stores across the street from which the respondents may be observed. The same person never answers twice.

It is surprising how many people are willing to look in the garbage for something a strange old man or junkie on the phone claims to have "accidentally lost". How kind of them to sully their hands and return to the phone to apologize for not having found "it".

It makes me happy for all the good that still exists in the world. People are still kind. Even when I am not.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Could've been the whiskey...

I desperately want to explain what prompted the powder junkie at the party on Saturday to scream, "Get her out of here" when he saw me peek in the door to summon my friends to leave. I want to explain why I thought I could wrestle him into the refridgerator in the first place. But, for it to make any sense at all, I'd have to get into the progressive degeneration of the evening, from the first cheers at 5 p.m., until the hair-of-the-dog the next afternoon.

I'd mention something about hauling band gear in the rain, dancing with umbrellas, thieving antlers, wet-willying and attempting a wedgie on a stranger who, to my great disgust, was not wearing underwear. I'd justify why I thought playing truth-or-dare was a good idea. And, express surpise that people were so kind when I crawled on their backs or chugged their drinks while looking them in the eye - why my friend screamed "Duck!" when I vaulted the soda bottle at the junkie. But then, you see, we'd just be back where we started...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


As a little girl...

(Yes, I realize a lot of my stories begin this way. But, I believe in history repeating, in patterns and themes and formative years, so please, bear with me.)

As a little girl, I was personally haunted. The ghosts in my house would follow me to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Fear of them, more than once, led to my peeing of the bed. The trap door to the attic was located in the ceiling directly outside my bedroom, and the threat this posed trumped even the security of having my parents' bedroom right across the hall.

Under my bed lived an arm attached to a horrible hand that would blindly sweep from the darkness to grab my ankles. My closet was prime habitat for a number of beasts and was host ongoing paranormal activities. My drafty window, from which I could watch the wind rock the fishing vessels tied to the dock, provided only a thin shield of warped glass from the spirits of those lost at sea. Past residents of the house had scratched their names into the glass, somehow managing smooth cursive letters, and I was certain they'd never left.

As an adult, I am still a little haunted. Late at night, sometimes I still get spooked, although I no longer pee the bed. I swear. These days I have a new set of ghosts that get me out of bed more often than they keep me in.

Are the curtains too close to the electric heaters? Is the door locked? What's that noise? Did I set the alarm properly? Did you turn the heat down? What is that shadow through the curtains? Are people fighting outside again?

In the middle of one night, not long ago, I had one of those feelings. Something wasn't quite right. Despite the city cacophony, I detected unfamiliar sounds, rustling and dull, hollow bumps-in-the-night. I pulled back the covers and moved from window to window to discreetly observe nocturnal urban dwellers under the glow of yellow streetlights from the darkness in my home.

I saw a junkie desperately digging through his bag, and scavenging the ground around him for something imagined or lost. Assured that this was the cause of my uneasiness, I walked back to my bedroom, outside of which there is a large second-story balcony.
My reflection in the glass of the patio door was most unflattering, I mused.

Immediately following that thought, I realized it wasn't my image moving behind the blinds. I dropped to the floor not wanting this ghostly urban dweller to see me. I shook my significant other, who'd been snoring while I'd been ghost-hunting, to scare the trespasser away. While he rose in panicked confusion, I watched the man outside consider stealing a candle holder my sister gave me. Faced with the angry eyes of my elected protector, the trespasser dropped the item and jumped to the ground.

By the time we opened the window and ventured outside to take stock of what had happened, he was gone, and my heart was pounding. I didn't sleep well that night, which is unfortunate, because I had to get up early the next morning for work. I checked to make sure the alarm was set properly and tossed until daylight.

Feeling a little violated, a little less safe all day, I decided to treat myself to some comfort food on the way home. And, there he was. The ghost was sleeping on a bench in front of the cafe. The warm sun fell on his bronze, matted hair and further weathered his leathery skin. His pores were black and his clothes smelled of urine and alcohol. He was old. Seeing him so vulnerable, I realized I shouldn't be frightened of him. Instead I wondered how he managed to jump from such a height without hurting himself.

Nevertheless, I didn't want him trying it again, so I wrote him a note. Because he looked crazy, I thought it best to give the message a blasphemous higher-power slant (in both French and English of course, this is Quebec):

"I watched you last night my child. I know what you stole. You must repent and take your evil elsewhere, or I will never forgive you.

--Sincerely, God."

I taped the note to his chest, and walked a little lighter all the way home, glad to have the "exorcise".

Friday, April 01, 2005


On damp grey mornings, I feel as though the whole world is sleeping, and that I have been granted a respite from my duties---that no one will notice I am daydreaming about spring, and doing little else.