I don't recall being an especially prolific writer. And my productivity has dropped off significantly over 2015. My streak of hypochondria sometimes blames Sjogren's Syndrome. If I have a disorder that causes my immune system to attack my peripheral nerves, why wouldn't it also affect my central nervous system as well? Aren't neurons neurons?
At other times, I wonder if I am suffering from a kind of crisis of ambition.
Amandi Khera visited Edmonton this summer, overlapping the Folk Festival weekend of August 7-10. I got to see her for two brief visits on either end of my shifts down at Gallagher Park in Cloverdale. Both visits were at the State&Main restaurant and bar attached to Southgate Mall.
My seat in the State&Main lounge faced the large windows on the west wall. The setting sun shone brightly, and when I couldn't find a position to avoid being blinded by it, Amandi invited me to join her on her side of the table. Once beside her, we talked about how we are.
And I think we agreed that things are not bad.
Neither of us have anything to complain about. We have steady jobs. We have nice accommodations. We garden. We are paid more money than either of us had ever imagined making.
I cannot recall her precise words, but Amandi described a personal state that sounded to me like a comfortable ennui. And I either identified with her condition, or I am now projecting it upon her as a way of describing how I am feeling. Earlier this year, Amandi and I were talking on the VOIP and after I told her how Sometimes Someone forbade me from writing about her in this blog, Amandi said, "I wish I had said something like that."
The comment surprised me; a mild kind of shock, in fact. Amandi's argument was that when she lived in Edmonton, all of the readers of this blog also had the opportunity to know her in reality rather than solely through the filter of my perceptions that shape the content of these stories. She encouraged me to give up this journalism - such as it is - and attempt a true novel.
"Write about our futures," Amandi suggested, "Instead of our past." In all of the warehouses and store shelves in the city of Edmonton there contains a three-day supply of food. That that is assuming of course that the food this city-wide cache of food is fairly and equally shared among the 1.28 million residents. Assuming there are no riots or hoarding or raiding or anything else that might result in unequal distribution. Thanks to shipping and trucking, there is continental transportation system that provides an efficient flow of foodstuffs such that this 72 hour surge zone appears to be a never-ending source of provisions. The lack of resilience in the flow of food, the ability to rapidly recover after a disturbance, is invisible. If the import of food into the city were to be cutoff for some reason, it would have to be restored within three days in order to avoid the complete exhaustion of our stores and supplies.
"We would be alright," my friends said after I told them about the finest piece of writing I had read in years. "Alberta is landlocked, and east of the mountains." I had just finished recounting the July 20th article by Kathryn Schultz in The New Yorker magazine, a scientific detective story that turns epic disaster film over the course of a long-form essay that is a pleasure to read.
The article is terrifying. In fact, I heard about the piece from a manager of mine at work who loves the City of Portland, but has vowed never again to return there after reading about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the tectonic fault line that runs from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino, California. But among the thousands of words describing the science and mystery; the lack of preparedness, warning systems, or simple evacuation directions; and the devastation, devastation, devastation, is this terrifying sentence: it will take six months to a year to restore the major highways.
Friday last was the Last Red Star Friday of Peter Rose. Also called "Rosepierre" in this blog, Peter is moving back to Toronto after two years of living and working in Alberta. The terms of his long-distance relationship were that Peter and his girlfriend would spend two years apart, but visit each other enough so that they could make a fully informed decision about who should join whom in which city when the time had elapsed. Since 2013, Peter has acquired more transferable skills as a foresight strategist which he could utilize back in Toronto. Alberta has not acquired any additional symphony orchestras which his violinist girlfriend could play in over that same time period. Consequently, Peter is returning to Ontario at the end of next week.
Earlier this year, Red Star put up a glass partition and separate entrance on the east side of the bar and named the new space, Lock Stock, a specialty coffee shop which all the written reviews I've read say is a quite a treat. At nights, the second door is locked and the Lock Stock Room becomes additional seating for the bar. On Tuesday last I stopped in at Red Star after work as spoke briefly to Rebecca who serves there along with Kenna, to reserve the Lock Stock Room for Peter's send-off on Friday night.
Wednesday was a heavy work day for both Peter and I and we decided we needed a beer that evening so we made a spontaneous visit to Red Star. Kenna was there.
"Hey guys," she said in her lyrical voice. "Long time no see." It hadn't been the longest we've gone without visiting Red Star, but it had been a little while. Kenna told us about the drink specials, but added at the end, "because I love you guys so much, you can have your first round of whatever you want at the special price." Peter asked her if she was going to be working Friday night and explained why. "I'll make sure I'm working that section and we'll make something special happen." She turned to me and asked if I had anything special planned already ~ which I didn't. "Well, I have sparklers."
"Awesome," I replied. "Sparklers will be awesome." Five o'clock Friday arrived and the first five of us walked the half block north on 106 street to Jasper Avenue where Red Star occupies a space a half story below grade: Katherine Capo, Ariel M. Driver, SMF, Peter and I. Rene greeted me from behind the bar. Kenna said, hi Myles, from the back booth where she was making utensil rolls. We took our seats in the Lock Stock Room.
While we were getting comfortable, Kenna showed up at our table with a round of ice waters in tumblers, and a stack of six short collins glasses, each one filled with two fingers of a dark liquid. She handed three out on the far side of the table to where SMF, Ariel, and Peter sat. While Katherine was taking off her jacket, Kenna slide at short collins glass along the length of the table to me, "Western style!" she said. When Katherine had her drink in hand, Kenna lifted the sixth glass from her tray in a toast and said, "let's get this show on the road: to Peter!" and we all shot our drinks back.
Kenna collected the glasses and disappeared with them. Ariel stared at me in amazement - not having seen when I could have ordered that round of shots. "How did you plan that?" she asked. I just shook my head.
"It wasn't me," I confessed. "Kenna did that." The party started quickly. And it soon turned into a reminiscing game where we each tried to remember our first nights at Red Star. No one could very precisely.
Katherine and I discussed the NOT BORING night as a possible first night, but I think she and I once went just the two of us one time before. Peter suggested that the Vapourizing Sun might have been his first night. Ariel said she could remember her first night but that because there have been only a few that made it a little unfair. I asked her if she was referring to the night SMF told us about Dogme 95 and a look of surprise came over Ariel's face. She had forgotten about that one.
Three other colleagues soon joined us, and at about 10:30, Kenna led a singing procession of the wait staff while carrying a cake with "best wishes" written in icing across the top. They were singing "Best Wishes to You" to the tune of "Happy Birthday".
And again people were amazed at my planning, and I had to confess again that it wasn't me. Last Christmas I sent the first card I have ever sent to someone I know only as a server in a bar I frequent. "It is a modern fairy tale to have a place to go to that is as welcoming and fun as Red Star. Thank you for making it that way for me and my friends."
It is the Saturday after another Friday. Last night was the first Friday night at Red Star in a long while. The first since Ariel M. Driver, SMF, and Beatrice Cassidy got into a hostile argument about the role of academia in society. Hostile and personal. I don't remember the date of that fight off the top of my head. Only that it was the second time in a row that we were in Rebecca's section instead of Kenna's. And that it was a long time ago.
Beatrice and Martha With the Silent 'h' had both mentioned Red Star to me earlier in the week which was sufficient quorum for me to send up the Signal late Wednesday night. Still, turnout was low. Zowie, Rockette, and Katherine are out of town camping this weekend. SMF is fly-fishing. Ariel is at Interstellar Rodeo. So it was that, not counting my old, ENGO lawyer pal, Felix, who stayed only for a short but full of laughs time, Friday night at Red Star was only me, Martha, and Beatrice.
Still, it was awesome. I was first to arrive and Kenna sat down with me for a quick catch-up. She asked about summer holiday plans and I told her about my luxury suite reservation at the Westin on August 7 and 8 as part my enhanced Edmonton Folk Fest Experience. Kenna explained that she was out in Saskatchewan visiting family earlier, and departs for Las Vegas tomorrow for some more family time. She made a point of asking me if I was dating anyone.
"I'm not," I replied. "I'm not really comfortable with dating as a relationship strategy." I explained how I'm much more comfortable becoming friends first, and then seeing if something romantic comes of it. "You've heard of exit through the gift shop!" I asked. "I like to enter through the friend zone." I didn't have to add that No Borders was an extreme exception. Kenna asked if I wanted a Steam Whistle, but I opted for a Guinness instead. And in the time it took for Rene to pour it, Martha arrived.
Martha With the Silent 'H' is a wholly fictional character, invented for the purpose of filling the space where people who don’t want to be in this blog would have normally been.
Much to Beatrice Cassidy Adam's envy, I'm one of those self-reported people who experiences the autonomous sensory meridian response. I understand that there are entire Youtube channels that story videos that induce that neurological brain condition - people whispering, paper crinkling, comb teeth flicking ~ but the closest I've come to them is hearing Hank Green whisper his standard closing to the SciShow episode on the subject, and yes, I felt it then too.
I'm glad to learn of ASMR for the same reason I was glad to read about how excess in-utero testosterone exposure made me so mental. It funny how having an explanation for something, even when it's subjective, normalizes it. What seemed like a peculiar, idiosyncratic thing, once it becomes a documented phenomenon with a science-y sounding name, it feels okay to have it.
Of course, I'm not one of those crinkly paper, comb-flicking FREAKS!
Okay, I take that back.
I have the suspicion that ASMR is connected to my peculiar tolerance for the poem, My Name Is Yon Yonsen. But for the most part, I know that ASMR is just a neuro-biological adaptation designed to create a stable environment for the rearing of children. A woman whispers sweet nothings to me and my autonomous sensory meridian response addicts me to her. It's kind of pathetic, actually.
What's worse is how I seem to be re-indexing my ASMR to different behaviours.
"It's pronounced Marta" Martha said. "The 'h' is silent."
"A silent 'h'?" Jim replied. "How many words have a silent 'h'?"
"Honest. Hour. Ghost." Martha listed. "My 'h' is silent like in Thailand." That Martha had pursued this thread of discussion this far was a clear indicator of her interest in getting to know him better. If she had been disinterested, she would have corrected Jim the once. If she had been uninterested, she would have let him go on mispronouncing her name for the short time that she was prepared to tolerate his attention. But sharing her 'h' was a clue to anyone who knew Martha well. She would be happy hearing Jim say her name right.
"Why do you have a silent 'h' in your name?" Jim asked. The two students sat beside each other on the tiered grandstand benches overlooking the track at Strathscona High School. On the sports field, a dozen members of the track and field practiced their sprint starts and high and long jumps. Martha was waiting for her best friend, Bronson, to complete his hammer throwing training session that day. Jim was there to talk to Martha.
As I was washing some dishes in my Curiosity Shoppe of a kitchen at St. Mark's it occurred to me that my use of memory might not be so surprising to Beatrice Cassidy if she also considers how is works with negative emotions. She once remarked that I have a surprising capacity to hold a grudge.
Insight lands in me in threes. It rarely comes complete. There are holes in my wisdom that get filled only when a requisite number of puzzle pieces are found and combined to create the solution key.
Beatrice Cassidy and I rode our bikes to Starbuck's Sunday night for snacks and refreshment and to catch up on what has been for us an inordinately long time without contact. This temporal estrangement was caused by two things. On June 14, she and Mississippi Malik acquired a Belgian Shepard puppy who almost immediately caught canine parvovirus the treatment of which fully occupied Beatrice's attention for weeks following; and I never call.
My habit of never calling is a behavior trait that rarely escapes notice. Diane Fairchild would occasionally complain bitterly about it. Amandi has remarked on it. And most recently, a seconded project manager at work, Anna Yein, mentioned it after knowing me ~ soley in a work setting ~ for only a few months. Daily, Anna would stop by my cubicle on Baker 11 and ask me how I was and mention some thing of interest unrelated to work. Anna's laugh was like music, and I started to look forward to these daily visits, just to see her smile. She would smile any time we saw each other, except when I would go to Anna's cubicle. When I would go visit her, Anna would look up at me from her desk with a grave expression.
Eventually, I asked Anna why it was that when I get up to see her, she "always looks at me like that?"
"It is because I know you are going to ask me something," Anna replied. "I am thinking: what is he going to ask me? Will I be able to answer it? You never come over here just to talk."
Beatrice and I returned to Mississippi Malik's townhouse and I prepared for the bike ride back to St. Mark's. As I fastened the buckle clip of my helmet, Beatrice mentioned how I never call. And somehow in the course of my response, we started talking about how I feel when I'm apart from someone.
"The feeling I have when I remember someone," I said, "is about 80% of the feeling the I have when we are actually together." I reconsidered this as soon as I said it. "Well, 80% sounds too high."
"Even if it is 50% that is astonishing," Beatrice replied. "You're saying that the feeling of remembering someone is no less than half as good as actually being with that person? And that's why you never call? Because all you have to do is think about them?"
"It varies by the quality of the memory, too," I offered. "Joyful memories are stronger."
The observations reminded me of K24: Yokozuna. Kaylyn Airey was driving from Lac La Biche to Drayton Valley on the evening of Friday, July 10 and we met for dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant. Travel pressures prevented the visit from becoming one of our usual five-hour, monster conversations, but we managed to cover a lot of ground. One of the items that stuck with me was about No Borders.
"I didn't understand how she felt when we were apart," I told Kaylyn over the dinner I'd ordered for us: a Yokozuna set, assorted sushi, and tuna tataki. "When we were together, I felt happy. That happiness would carry on while we were apart and I always expected that when we saw each other next we would just pick up where we left off." Kaylyn shot me a skeptical expression. "I felt the same way when we were apart as when we were together, but she didn't."
"No," Kaylyn confirmed. "No she didn't." With some sympathy, Kaylyn said that it is a fine line men have to walk. They have to touch base frequently enough to reassure their women, but not so much as to make them feel suffocated. I must have been an extreme case to No Borders. Alone, I would replay whatever moments we had last shared, repeatedly in my memory, and they would carry me through to our next encounter nearly as happy as I had been when I last saw her. Meanwhile, she was on her end feeling hopeless and miserable. On four occasions this contrast would result in her breaking up with me the next time we saw each other, which, from my perspective, was shocking and unexpected.
Sitting on the porch step of Mississippi Malik's townhouse, Beatrice assured me that normal people do not do use memory this way.
It is a really important thing for me to know: that normal people do not do this; they do not live in their memory as though it is a viable dimension of existence.
It is Sunday, July 12, 2015. After many hot, dry days, there is rain with a smattering of hail is falling from the sky. It is welcome. The soil in the Main House garden is grey like cheap clay.
This weekend has felt like a vacation - perhaps due to my having last Wednesday and Thursday off to attend my Great-Aunty Kay's funeral service in Lethbridge. I guess having four of the last five days off will have that psychological effect. These days have been rich in social content. I haven't seen my mother's side of the family for many months, and in the case of some of her cousins, for decades.
The Buddhist priest who conducted Aunty Kay's service was an oddly endearing man. Serene-looking and well versed in his vocation, but with a touch of goofiness. The folding card-table he brought to the Mountain View cemetery had only three legs and had to be balanced on Aunty Kay's headstone in order to stand up and hold the incense burner and portable shrine. Why doesn't he get a new one? Diagonally across from Aunty Kay's plot was Denichiro Kitagawa's, my grandfather on my father's side of the family. It was neat to think of them as neighbors.
On the other side of Mountain View is a block of plots for the more recent Japanese deceased. Graves at the Lethbridge cemetery are segregated for some reason that has not been explained to me. A second cousin of mine, a white kid with nascent dread locks, thought the practice racist.
When Bob Miyagawa died in November 2010, I attended the service that was held in Edmonton, but not the internment in Lethbridge. Hannah was the only Edmonton member of my family to go, and she attended in the company of my grandmother and her two sisters, one of which was my Great Aunty Kay.
I walked the segregated, vaguely racist Japanese block of Mountain View cemetery, which I suggested to Donna-lee was the Japanese internment internment, looking for Bob's grave but did not find it despite a systematic search. I was confident that he was somewhere in Mountain View, though.
After visiting the cemetery administration office and acquiring printed directions to Bob's plot, I was pleased to find myself right back where we had started the day, in the old section where Great Aunty Kay was buried. Diagonally across was my grandfather, and another three plots over was my friend Bob. Eventually Donna-lee came over as well and she took some flowers she had earlier placed on our grand-dad's grave, split them, and put some on Bob's as well.
I recently watched a SciShow episode about autonomic sensory meridian response which, if I understand correctly, is the pleasurable feeling we have whenever we are exposed to any stimuli we find pleasurable. If that sounds circular, nonsensical and wrong, please correct me. That's the way I understand it.
Apparently people can feel it when the tines of a comb are flicked, or when someone drums their fingers on a table, or from the sound of crinkling paper, but a majority of test subjects reported that they feels ASMR when they hear whispers and receive attention from another person.
I suppose I'm glad we have a scientific name for that now. But I have to say that, as a male Marilyn Monroe fan, the phenomenon strikes me as... how should I put this? ... obvious? So, what we're saying is that it feels good when a beautiful woman with a breathy voice pays attention to me? Huh. How about that?
It does give me a neutral vocabulary to discuss why Kenna is such a potent figure in my life. I can more easily say that she is beautiful, has a deep, melodic voice, and is a superilative bar server - which easily functions as attention - with much less fear of being accused of being a sexist, dehumanizer of women. Kenna posesses traits that enable her to be successful as an ASMR-maker who serves beer on the side.
It is July 1, 2015. Canada Day. Preferably, the last Canada Day under Prime Minister Harper.
I rented a Ford Fusion for chores last weekend; a free upgrade from the economy car I'd booked since my local Budget Car Rental was out of the cheaper vehicles. Whoever drove the car last was a country music fan. When the engine started, the radio was loud and set to CISN FM, "Kissin' Country FM: Edmonton's Country Music station", the saying goes. Or at least, it used to back in the days when I lived under the same roof as my father.
I never listen to the radio so I have no idea why I left it on. Blaring loud. The announcer had a American mid-western accent which I couldn't decide if it was real or put on. He introduced the next song, Radio by Darius Rucker. I'm thinking a lot about the way I'm living my life. The tricks of mind that I play on myself. The capability of using memory as material for creating current thought ~ as though past experiences are still happening. I think the strangest post I have ever written, about the sign at the Hugh's Petroleum gas station on 95th street, is the perfect example of this.
The Quality of the Light There is a Hugh's Petroleum gas station at the corner of 95th street and 102nd avenue that I often pass en-route to St. Mark's from the Main House. It is just a gas station. I've purchased gas there once, a transaction remarkable only for the fact that the cashier gave me a 3-cents per litre discount for no reason whatsoever.
I have been thinking about this post for what feels like a long time now. I passed the Hugh's Petroleum after nightfall a few weeks ago and something about the quality of the fluorescent light illuminating the station reminded me of passing through Kingman, Arizona on a night drive to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon with Amandi Khera, May 5th, 2010. Four years ago, nearly to the day.
There really are no similarities between this Edmonton gas station and that anonymous place alongside Historic Route 66 where we pulled in for a smoke break and coffee. By the time we got there, Amandi and I must have exhausted our conversation for the day as weren't discussing anything memorable. Everything I can remember talking about on that stretch of our road trip I've already chronicled in various posts in The Ephemeral Tourist.
But something about that blue-white light in the darkness put me in the mood I was in when I parked our rental car and glanced across the highway at a truck stop, while Amandi ambled across the asphalt smoking a cigarette.
All I have to say is that we were there together.
That post strikes me as very strange.
It is an example of my taking some current meaningless thing (a nondescript gas station), overlaying it with idiosyncratic significance, and then publishing it as though it deserves an audience. I do that kind of thing often. On my kitchen table is a piece of tractor tire that dropped off the end of a conveyor belt and bounced randomly from the recycling facility's tire-shred surge pile to roll to a stop at my feet while I was on a tour. It seemed to me that I was supposed to have that piece of tire, and I have kept it for nearly ten years now. From where I sit writing this post, I can see all manner of ephemera: decks of cards, a ticket stub to the Candela Restaurant and Bar in Oaxaca, stones, figurines, matchbooks, the head of a Barbie doll, dice, hotel key cards, pressed pennies, and more. I could tell you what it all means. I'm not sure if I could tell you that it matters. CISM FM played while I drove south from downtown towards the Main House were I was going to clean up the back yard in preparation for Reverend Master Andou's arrival from Dragonflower Mountain in BC. Reverend Andou will be visiting Edmonton for about a week.
I'm not even sure I was listening to Darius Rucker sing his latest single until the chorus came on:
Ridin' down the highway Who wants to be the DJ I'll find a spot on the side of the road You find somethin' on the radio Like a feel real good song We'll know it when it comes on Didn't have no money, no place to go All we needed was a radio
And even though the song had yet to be written back in May 2010, it syncretized in my memory with night driving Route 66 towards Kingman and on to Las Vegas while Amandi played with the stereo tuner and found Arizona radio station KLUD - The Cloud. The memory came back clearly to me as though it was recent experience.
When the song was over, I turned the radio down while noticing that I felt happier. As though I had just done something that I enjoyed - an actual thing - not just driving another segment of a commute that was already underway. There it was again: using memory as though it is current experience.
It also startled me to reckon how that memory was more than five years ago now. I wondered again if I live too much in the past. I pulled the Fusion into the parking area behind the Main House, easing as close as possible to the Manitoba Maple tree by the alley in order to shade as much of the black car with the black leather interior from the Edmonton summer sun as I could. The temperature was in the high twenties.
Hannah had a sleepy look about her when she greeted me at the back door. She had been resting after not sleeping very well the previous night. We set about our chores and tasks, making the Main House monk-ready for our distinguished guest's visit. It was all valuable work which I was glad to do. And as I did it, sometimes I would note to myself, "This is creation. I am making something real right now for other people. What I did in the car was re-creation. It did not make anything for anyone except, perhaps, for myself."
It was valuable work which I was glad to do. But it did not feel the same way as remembering.
Drivin' down the highway You take a turn as the DJ I'll find a spot on the side of the road You walk around while you have a smoke Another feel real good song We know 'em when they come on We'll shoot some dice then we'll see a show But for now all we need is the radio