Axkashi Ibuse

Azusa's father, Axkashi Ibuse, was born in Haney, British Columbia in the fall of 1940 in the infancy of World War II. As a two-year old, Axkashi was carried by his mother when, under the authority of the War Measures Act, Canadians of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes with all the property they could carry to live in internment camps in the B.C. interior. Azusa's father was moved to a camp in a town called New Denver. The youngest of six surviving children, (the very youngest had been accidentally smothered one night when an older sibling rolled over onto him) Axkashi wasn't exactly worth his weight in gold, but the fact that his mother had to carry him meant that we was certainly worth his weight in other valuables.

Internees could leave the camps if they chose to move further inland and the Ibuses wound up share-cropping on a sugar beet farm for a German landowner near Vauxhall. They worked for the farmer until he sold them the land and the five brothers were entitled to equal shares in the farm if they all remained until the decision was made to sell. Azusa's Uncle Kazi was eldest brother, and as the sons grew impatient waiting for their day of treasure, he would buy them out for whatever they could imagine. Axkashi relinquished his shares for tuition to the University of Oklahoma and a 1957 red Thunderbird convertible.

There is then, this guy

It occurred to me a few minutes ago that the only person I can legitimately write about is myself. Despite a fairly large number of people who populate the anthology of stories I’ve been writing about since 1980, no one has actually been comfortable with this particular form of attention.

There is then, this guy. Asian male. Fifty years old. Divorced. Lives alone in a downtown bachelor’s suite in a boarding house in Edmonton’s Little Italy neighbourhood. Calling it ‘Edmonton’s Little Italy’ neighbourhood is an almost euphemistic effort to avoid using the proper name of the community, McCauley, which is known for its high concentration of public housing, churches, homeless shelters, and social service missions. While there is a steady urban renewal effort underway, McCauley still isn’t the kind of neighbourhood people are impressed to hear that you live in. It is the kind of neighbourhood where fifty-year old divorced men live alone in boarding houses.

This guy, Azusa, lives in a bachelor’s suite he has named St. Mark’s after the basilica in Venice, in a boarding house that his landlord has named Gallagher House, after the original name of 109 A Avenue where the property stands. Gallagher House was built around 1912 and has that make-shift look of a building that has been maintained over the decades with whatever spare parts happened to be available at the time. The lathe and plaster and baseboards and cast iron heating vent covers are all original 1912, but the gas stoves are from the fifties; the linoleum from the seventies. The railing on the second story landing which Azusa shares with the other bachelor suite is “built-up”. The original railing was apparently deemed too short at some point in the house’s history. Instead of removing and replacing it, a second set of six-inch balusters was affixed into the old handrail, and a second handrail attached atop, bringing the whole jerry-rigged piece into compliance with the building code.

One lighting fixture in Azusa’s apartment is a T5 flourescent that looks like a piece of office surplus along with a large patch of grey institutional carpet in the living/sleeping area of his 300 square foot bachelor apartment. And enhancing the extemporary look of St. Mark’s was Azusa’s two rules for furnishing and decor. Rule one was that everything either had to be collapsible or have two uses like his folding tables and chairs, his sofa-bed, a small suitcase that you could sit on like a stool, (a Zuca Bag, they were called), and storage-box benches.  The second rule was “if you can’t fix it, make it look like it is supposed to be that way” like the cylindrical glass vase he used to catch the drips from his leaking kitchen hot water faucet. Submerged in the vessel was an action figure of Matoko Kusanagi from the classic anime film, Ghost in the Shell, as though she were in a generative protein bath.

The second story of Gallagher House isn’t a full story so the ceiling of Azusa’s apartment is steeply pitched on the west side, making the west wall only five feet high; half the height of the east. But Azusa was inspired when he first offered to move into St. Mark’s in December of 2013. He had seen the room once when it had been the landlord’s home office before being rented out as a bachelor suite that had been originally dubbed, “The Crow’s Nest”.

The fellow who first rented the Crow’s Nest was bugging out from his previous accommodations. The roommate he had moved in with was a stranger who had become increasingly strange during the few months they had lived together. So strange in fact that a secret midnight move-out was the most viable course of action when he took possession of the Crow’s Nest. Hearing the story of his predecessor’s move in made it unsurprising to Azusa that he had, in turn, moved out of the Crow’s Nest on very short notice, leaving the landlord, Beatrice Adams, somewhate desperate to rent the space as soon as possible. To encourage Azusa to take it, she granted him permission to modify the space, within reason, as he wished.

When Azusa started working on the Crow’s Nest, half of the walls were still a cerulean blue from the days when it was Beatrice's home office. A single unfinished plank horizontally bisected the wall of the kitchenette as a single, space wasting shelf. The small south-facing window was curtained with a large piece of purple construction paper.

Azusa painted all the cerulean walls in different shades of creams and beige, like the walls of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, or the cloisters where Cosmio DiMedici studied, except for a small wall where he hung the painting of three ducks on a shore that his first girlfriend gave him on this thirtieth birthday. The Duck Painting was done in colours that were pleasingly complemented by a cerulean blue wall.

For the west-side 5x10 half wall, Azua ordered a poster of the Florence skyline, a view of the Duomo as seen from the Piazza Michaelangelo with “the backcloth of the Tuscan hills” (Deborah Howard, The Architectural History of Venice, P.4) rising far in the distance. It was a cheap trompe l’oeil, so obvious in design and execution, but so effective that no one who saw the room failed to feel as though they were on a spacious Italian balcony looking far into the distance, rather than cooped up in a ten-by-ten room in McCauley.


No Toast

I bought a loaf of my favourite bread over the weekend on a usual trip to SaveOn with Hannah. My plan was to leave half the loaf in the freezer at the Main House so that I have some of my favourite bread when I am over there, and bring the other half to St. Mark's where, combined with the half a loaf I had there, it would last me the week.

But when I packed up Sunday morning to depart the Main House, I forgot to pack my half loaf of bread and had no bread for breakfast this Wednesday morning.

Pam Brinkley and I went to Red Star for a beer last night. On Tuesday nights she has a book-study group in west Edmonton and since she lives in the south end of town, it doesn't make sense for her to go home after work. We decided to make it a standing date to go out for the 90 minutes or so between the end of the work day on Baker 11 and her heading west for her study group.

It was unusual for Kenna to be working Tuesday night at Red Star. I'd overheard her say so to table next to the high-top where Pam and I were sitting, but it didn't sink in until just now. Normally, Rebecca works Tuesdays. Rebecca even said so one night. "You don't usually come in on Tuesdays," she said.

It wasn't a busy night, but Kenna didn't linger long when she served us. I imagine this is because Pam is a stranger to her, unlike Sometimes Someone with whom she will chat for as long as one possibly can when you are the only server working in a bar. Pam and I talked about the changing situation at work. We are in yet another phase of re-organization and it is starting to wear on people, even SMF and I. She commented on a recent presentation I gave at a divisional meeting about working at our branch.

"The only part I didn't fully believe was the last slide on the people," she said, referring to a slide describing "why our culture is great". I said that I knew what she meant. We both remember the first year or so that I joined our Branch and what it was like working there then. So few of us remain that the social experience has changed significantly for us.

"I realized when I was writing it," I told her, "that I was writing as much from memory as I was from the present."

Pam was time pressured by her study group and had to depart before either of us had finished our beers. "Go, go," I told her. When she tried to leave money for her beer I argued, "If we're doing this every Tuesday now, you just pay next week." And then I asked if I could finished her beer. She seemed amused by the ask because it reminded both of us of a meeting last week which I was late for and had run from South Petroleum Plaza to attend. I was parched when I arrived and asked to drink the only glass of water that was on the meeting table.

"I've already taken a drink from it," Pam had said.

"Can I drink it anyway?" I replied, and she gave it to me.

Pam departed and I made some notes on my iPad while I finished our beers. Kenna asked if I wanted another Guinness but I told her I'd just finish up what we had left and she offered to bring me the bill. When she returned, Kenna was carrying the cheque folder and a to-go box.

Connected to Red Star and sharing the same kitchen is a small coffee shop, Lock Stock, which serves specialty coffees and various baked goods. Lock Stock closes before Red Star opens, and sometimes has left overs from their business day.

"Here is an apple cinnamon scone," Kenna said, patting the top of the to-go box lid. "A little something for your breakfast tomorrow."

The Difference Sleep Makes

I brought the blue sleeping bag back to St. Mark’s on Sunday on the suspicion that I haven’t been sleeping deeply or soundly because I’ve been cold. And sure enough, not only did I sleep through last night but I dreamed. I have been feeling dreamless for a long time. And from last night I remember:

  1. speeding down a steep gravel road riding a hard-shelled suitcase

  2. assembling for some kind of emergency in a shopping mall with people from work and Cam Lane telling me that my branding ideas were brilliant, specifically the idea that we need baseball-styled jackets with our Branch "colours" on them

  3. entering the back door of the decrepit house, one of the recurring buildings in my dreams from back when our old house stood, where Hannah was living, and surprising her room-mate; further, the house was being repaired.


Jimmy Carter, Cher, and Me

I remember being confused by politics as a child. I did not understand how politicians knew that some things were issues and other things were not. To me, there had to be some tangible quality, something inherent to a topic that made it an issue - the way gravity is an inherent quality of matter - otherwise it was all just arbitrary. My parents explanation that issues became issues because people thought they were important was deeply dissatisfying to me.

I remember the evening I decided to try paying attention to politics in the hope that I might come to understand it better. While I don’t recall the precise date, it was a Friday night, a week or two before November 1, 1976.

I don’t recall how long we did so, but my family would regularly gather at the television to watch The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Like all variety shows, it featured skits, songs, and special guests. It would open with a musical duet by the couple followed by a comedic dialogue and on the night in question they spoke about the looming November 1 presidential election.

They bantered about the importance of casting a your ballot and Sonny said something to the effect that he and Cher knew all of their audience was united in their support, as the two of them were, in supporting...

[spoken simultaneously]

Sonny: Gerald Ford.
Cher: Jimmy Carter.

They bantered more, and the dialogue ended with Sonny saying, “there is definitely a Ford in our future.” And Cher got the last words in, “and it will be driven by Jimmy Carter.”

On that night at age 11, I decided to start caring about - and hopefully understanding - politics by hoping, like Cher, that Jimmy Carter would win.
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Another Night at Denizen Hall

Your reputation is made up of the stories that other people tell themselves about you. Your identity is made up of the stories you tell yourself about yourself.

Edmonton feels safer to me today than it ever has. My perceptions of safety seem to have a lot to do with urban renewal. I remember being told a crime story as a child about the Park Hotel that used to stand where Bryan and Allisons No Frills grocery store is now at 104th street and 80th avenue, and I remember ducking down in our family car every time we would drive past it; peering over the edge of the car door as if surveilling that dangerous place. Now it is one of my regular grocery stores.

104th street and Jasper Avenue used to host the Cecil Hotel which was the epicentre of violent crime in Edmonton. The Cecil was an early emblem of this city's "Stabby Stabmonton" brand. Jasper and 104th is now the gateway to downtown neighborliness, the Warehouse District filled with pubs, cafes, coffee shops, and condominiums, all behind historical and faux brick warehouse facades.

Last night I met up with Daag and his girlfriend of two years, Perrin. Daag and I go way back - thirty five years now - having met in Frau Docktor Jutner's German 10 class at Harry Ainlay Composite High School. The venue was Denizen Hall, the fairly new-ish entertainment pub on the main floor of the Grand Hotel at 103 and 103, across from the Greyhound Station.

Regardless of the city, "across from the Greyhound Station" always conjures images of sketchy, run-down hotels to me; the kind that get rented by the month or by the hour, and fit easily with the Stabby Stabmonton brand. The Grand has always fit that mould so well that I still felt surprise last night, on my fourth visit to Denizen Hall, that I actually partronize the Grand Hotel.

The very slender, lightly tattooed and raven-haired server cheerfully checked-in repeatedly with us as we dawdled in our menu decision-making. When she departed after finally acquiring our appetizer tray and drinks order Daag asked me if I feel fifty.

"Yes," I replied readily. "I feel fifty. I feel like I have less energy than I used to." Both Daag and Perrin nodded at that. "And I feel love differently." That latter comment needed explanation.

One of the things I learned from my 6-month (chronos-time), 55-day (kairos-time) relationship with No Borders is that I experience love like a 50-year old who has been through an 18-year marriage. I learned that I regard devotion in action much higher than devotion in feeling. And I learned that I had forgotten than I haven't always been this way.

"Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have been able to tolerate being with someone who also loved someone else," I told them. "And I would forget that No Borders and I were seventeen years apart in age." No Borders tolerated my continuing relationship with Hannah for the first few months, but she must have been imagining an eventual phase-out of her from my life. And I never got the chance to bring up Amandi Khera or Kaylyn Airey with her. I carried my feelings for them like grenades in my pockets that I would have to bring out and show No Borders one day. "I think that my being fifty means that I happily accept that there are relationships of love and devotion, and realtionships of only love. And you don't have to abandon one for the other."

Food and drink arrived, and Denizen Hall continued to build its reputation with me as serving the best traditional pub food anywhere. The appetizer platter include mini-corndogs, grilled cheese sandwich bites, chicken-wings, potato pops, popcorn, and, to my surprise, peppered chicken-skins. Excellent food.

Daag shared his signature story about me with Perrin. "This is the guy," he said, "that I had that conversation with about the cabbage-on-the-bus." Perrin and I may have looked equally perplexed. Daag enjoys the philosphical bent of many of our conversations which are best epitomized by a discussion about sentience.

"We started debating about whether only humans had rights or do we owe them to any creature with sentience. And we eventually wound up at the question: if you met a sentient cabbage driving a bus, would you say 'good-morning'?" Daag said it was one of the best conversations he's ever had. I had no independant memory of it but the story sounded true, and it made me laugh.

"Have you approached that girl at Red Star yet?" Daag asked.

"Kenna?" I asked. "Romantically do you mean?" He affirmed. I explained how the best possible outcome (without explaining why the best possible outcome is unlikely) would be that Kenna and I would meet each other's expectations of a romantic partner. "The way things are now, she so dramatically exceeds my expectations of a customer/server relationship that I get so much joy from it that I will never give that up. It is the best customer/server relationship that I will ever have." I left off my punctuating statement that I've been using recently when talking about her:"I love Kenna."

We finished off our food and drink, and enjoyed the rest of our time playing the new Star Trek pinball machine. It was a fine time.

That's Terrifying

Last Thursday, October 15th, Sometimes Someone texted over our internal chat-client the suggestion that we meet for a quick drink at Red Star after work. We sat at the two-top closest to the wall that separates the Red Star Pub from its sister venue, the Lock Stock coffee shop. Sometimes ordered Strongbow and sliders and I had a Guinness and a small bowl of nocellara olives.

I had a proposition in mind.

In July of 2014 I launched what seemed to her like a "sudden burst" of attention. Beatrice Cassidy asked me to send her a text inviting her over to Mississippi Malick's townhouse for a barbeque but Sometimes had had a comittment that evening to see a movie with someone.

"Luc Besson's 'Lucy'?" I asked randomly. She texted back that they were seeing Desolation of Smaug but added that she would be interested in seeing Lucy if we were going sometime. A week or so later, I happened upon Sometimes' OKCupid profile. Knowing that she would be receiving an automatic notification that I'd visited her page, I sent her a message suggesting that we go see Lucy in an attempt to avoid giving the impression that I was stalking her. According to my ticket stub, we went to see that disappointing Luc Besson film at 7:15pm, August 20th.

Since the summer of 2014, Sometimes Someone and I have gotten to know each other better. We communicate almost daily and see each other at least once per week. Except for No Borders, she has probably spent more time at St. Mark's than anyone else. While she may not know me best, she probably has come to know me the fastest.

This means that she has been exposed to my idiosyncrasies perhaps more intensely than other people. Say, to my general interest in serial killers, for example; and in Hannibal Lecter in particular. "That's terrifying," she will sometimes deadpan in relation to something that might only be a little creepy.

Hannah and I named my apartment St. Mark's shortly after I moved here. The colour of the paint and the size of the room reminded me of the Cloisters of San Marco in Florence where Savonarola and Cosmio de Medici studied. I added a simple trompe l'oeil trick to the place by hanging a wall-sized poster of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio as seen from Piazza Michaelangelo. Beatrice is always amazed at how something so simple can create such an expansive sense of space.

I love my apartment. Clearly, one of its dominant themes is Italy which permits me some latitude to make subtle references to Hannibal without appearing to out-of-place. NBC's television series based on Thomas Harris' characters expanded the characterizations of several figures that are only mentioned in passing in the movies. Will Graham's first collar, Garrett Jacob Hobbs, for example, is only mentioned by name in Manhunter but in the series we get to see not only his capture, but his family, his modus operandi, and his killing room; a hunting cabin attic filled with antlers.

Sometimes Someone and I were buying booze at the 109 Street Liquor Deport one evening this summer when something she liked caught her eye. Or rather, something Sometimes liked at first, a resin deer antler, but once she understood that it was designed to hang upside down so as to function as a wine rack, she no longer liked it. The points of the antler curl upward like two claws closing slowly around prey. As soon as I understood what it was, I liked it immediately. My rule for furnishing a place as small as St. Mark's is that everything has to either collapse, fold-up, or have two uses. A decorative piece (an antler that you hang on the wall), that is a wine rack, and is a symbolic reference used in the Hannibal t.v. series definitely fits the bill.

The Liquor Depot cashier bagged my purchase but in no time the points of the antlers had punctured through the plastic as though some creature were fighting to escape.

"That's terrifying," Sometimes Someone deadpanned when she saw the bag. That I called it my Garrett Jacob Hobbs wine rack likely did not help.

Sometimes had not yet seen Ridley Scott's film, Hannibal so we watched it together at St. Mark's one Saturday evening. The view of the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio from Piazza Michaelangelo faded in early in the movie, an identical perspective to the one on my apartment wall. "That's kind of creepy," Sometimes said.

The next weekend we watched Guardians of the Galaxy again, and the weekend after that, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. For some reason I had to open a small storage cabinet which holds a myriad of things; the house's wireless router, spare LAN cables, candles, powerbars, and knickknacks which include a mould casting of Hannah's upper and lower teeth from when she had been fitted for a bridge. When I opened the cabinet door, the casting tumbled out of the cabinet and landed, teeth up and open on the floor as if in a silent scream, in front of Sometimes Someone, vaguely suggesting that there was a collection of dismembered body parts stored through out the apartment.

"That's terrifying," she said.

I told Hannah about her teeth casting and she thought it was a very funny story. It was the kind of story that I would like to write down.

As I walked to Red Star after work on October 15th, I formulated an inquiry that I planned to pose to Sometimes Someone who had told me last winter that if I wrote about her in my blog we could not be friends. What measures could I take that would make it acceptable for me to write about things we did together?

"What if," I suggested, "what if I make them happen with someone else?" I suggested that I would write about things that we did together, but replace her in the story with another character. That way I could both comply with the rule not to write about her, but still get to write about the funny things that I experience.

In the end, Sometimes Someone said that I could write about her again. Really Large Editorial Committee rules apply.

Movies to See

Before I Go to Sleep

because Memento; 50 First Dates; Star Trek: Enterprise, Season 3 Episode 8 "Twilight"; and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.


because Gravity. And even All Is Lost.

Bridge of Spies

because Spy Game, Three Kings, The Siege, Lions for Lambs.