An Adventure of Experience + Innocence in Amsterdam, Oct 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this strange adventure down for a couple of months but haven’t had the chance, and although it was easily memorable enough on its own, I did take copious notes right after it happened as I didn’t want to risk losing a detail.  I don’t usually post ‘parental advisories’ or ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘spoilers’ or ‘trailers’ for my stories, but although most of the action that happens takes place over the course of something less than an hour in total, please be warned that what follows contains some really awkward racism, blatant anti-Semitism, inappropriate sexual propositions, and possibly some light ageism depending on your definition of ‘old’.  Also, this will probably turn out to be a little bit long because, as you can tell, a whole lot of weirdness happened all around me over some of the sixty strangest minutes I’ve ever suffered through.  One last thing to mention in this preamble is that although I am a story-teller by nature and that usually gives rise to exaggeration or conflation, everything below is one-hundred percent true, is set down pretty much exactly as it happened, and if anything, is actually a little toned-down to keep some of the language a little bit more palatable for public consumption.

In October of last year, 2018, I set off on a trip to Amsterdam, my all-time number-one bucket-list city, to go see U2.  In my life, I’ve seen those four dudes from Dublin dozens of times in cities across North America, but for this particular tour they for some reason decided not to include a show for the first time in memory in my hometown of Toronto.  I considered going to see them in Washington where my cousin George lives, and I thought about maybe going to Montreal as I haven’t been there in years, and of course I deliberated over going to Dublin to see them on their home turf, but then I noticed that they were playing Amsterdam during the Canadian Thanksgiving long-weekend, and upon realizing that I wouldn’t have to burn too many vacation days to go see my favourite band in basically my dream city, the plans were set.  My wife had been to Scotland for a few weeks earlier in the summer with her mom, so now it was my turn for a fun adventure.  All’s fair in love and being jealous over trips to Europe.

Did I think it was weird to be going alone to a foreign country just to see a rock band?  Absolutely.  But I’ve never let being weird stop me before, so social-anxiety and neurotic self-doubts be damned, I landed on Friday morning and spent a couple of days walking the city, touring the canals, checking out many museums and art installations, and eating easily the most delicious pancakes and waffles to ever grace my taste-buds.  I found a bench just across the Singel Canal from my hotel and made it my own; I’d sit there for seemingly hours on end, enjoying a warm and refreshing caramel latte and some of the best people-watching I’ve ever had the pleasure to partake in, hilariously highlighted on Saturday by a very tall elderly couple barreling around the corner whilst crowded into the tiniest orange SmartCar I’ve ever seen, giving me what I considered to be the most perfectly ridiculous Amsterdam moment.

After an utterly jam-packed couple of days of foot-swelling sight-seeing, it was somehow suddenly Sunday, the day of the first show.  I’m not going to lie, I started to get a little freaked out.  I’m generally not a fan of large crowds to begin with, and here I was preparing to head into one in a foreign country where, although almost everyone seemed to speak English (better than most native-speakers, I might add), I don’t speak their language at all outside of ‘goedemorgen’, ‘behagen’, and ‘bedankt’.  My anxiety was getting to me.  What if something happened?  Like, something really bad?  I mean, the world has gotten a little bit crazy lately, and here I was all by myself, ready to put my head right into the metaphorical lion’s gaping maw… Was I crazy?

Seriously, freaking out doesn’t come close to describing what was going on in my head in the hours leading up to the concert.  But then I remembered that I was in Amsterdam, so I grabbed another latte, went to my bench, and did what most tourists in Amsterdam go there to do and partook in some time-tested and true herbal relaxation techniques.  Then, after a little more people watching, I went back to my room to order room-service (Dion the room-service guy at the NH City Centre, if you’re somehow reading this, you were totally right and the BLT was on the spot!), and get ready for the show.

Shortly thereafter, I went downstairs and had the concierge order me a taxi to the Ziggodome, which I just want to mention is one of the best venues I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend a concert in and the sound was perfect on both nights I went, sitting on opposite sides of the hall each night, so if you ever get the chance to see a concert there while you’re in Amsterdam, I feel safe in saying that you will likely not be disappointed.

The hotel lobby was a little busy, and when the taxi driver showed up there was some small confusion as two ladies had also ordered a cab to the venue and we got mixed-up over whose cab was whose, not helped by the fact that at first I thought the cabbie was with the ladies and was introducing himself as “Amir”, when in fact he was letting me know he was my driver and was actually saying, “I’m here.”  In my defense, it was a little chaotic and cacophonous in the lobby just then, and confession time, I don’t really hear all that well to begin with, so it was an honest (and pretty funny) mistake.  Also, coincidentally, his name actually was Amir.  True story. And we laughed and laughed.

Regardless, I ended up inviting the two ladies to share my cab since we were all going to the same place, so why not split the cost and save a couple of euros, right?  They were visiting from Israel and had also come to see the show and to celebrate the blonde gregarious one’s 50th birthday.  Now, I know I said earlier that I took copious notes about this whole night, but try as I might, I just do not remember their names.  Sorry, but I don’t.  I didn’t remember them seven seconds after they said them.  Ronit?  Irit?  I don’t know.  Blame the smoke I’d enjoyed earlier, but their names just did not register with me at all.  Sorry ladies.  Actually, not sorry.  Because remember that ‘splitting the cab’ thing I mentioned earlier?  They conveniently discovered that had no small bills with them, so I ended up paying for the whole damn thing (which I was fine with because I was planning on taking one alone anyhow so it’s not like I hadn’t already been planning on spending that money, but still!), and we agreed to meet up at the taxi-line after the show and they’d pay for the cab back to the hotel in return; we made a pact to ride back together since we were all going to the same place anyhow, so again, it just made sense.  Also, I am apparently a very naïve and too-trusting individual.

Without wasting too much time by giving you a complete review of the concert because I haven’t even gotten to the meaty part of the story yet, it was an incredible show.  It was everything I wanted and more.  A splendid time was guaranteed for all.  For reals – An exciting and well-flowing passionate set-list, and the boys were tight and on point throughout.  While most U2 concerts are raucous celebrations of love and togetherness, the Experience+Innocence narrative had a bit of an angrier feel; more of a call to action against all of the scary monsters trying to snuff out the light of love in our world and how the onus is on all of us to fight back against the looming darkness that surrounds.  It was amazing and inspirational and I left with all of my fears and uncertainties silenced by the power of music.  I really can’t give a better or more honest review than that, and in the name of brevity I won’t even try.

After the concert, hovering about six inches above the pavement from the euphoria I’d received from the band – I should clarify that the Ziggodome is a strictly non-smoking venue and I didn’t want to risk anything while inside the facility – I easily found the taxi-line and set to waiting for my new Israeli friends.  And waiting.  And waiting long enough that my feet were back on the cement and my hands were starting to numb from the cold October air.  Call me a sucker, but I stood there for forty-five minutes before deciding that I’d gone somewhere past being a good guy by waiting for so long for my two new ‘friends’ whom it was now abundantly clear were not coming to join me, and as the line of people waiting for taxis was starting to shrink to a size I considered manageable, I decided to join it and if the ladies finally showed up then I’d have a place for us in the queue, and if they didn’t, well, then I could at least tell myself with a clear conscience that I’d done my due diligence.  I think it goes without saying that they didn’t show up.

While standing in line was when things began to get interesting and the adventure part of the story I was talking about earlier commenced.  I’d been in line for only a few minutes and a couple of people had joined in behind me, but I honestly didn’t pay any mind to them short of smiling when they walked up because I was getting tired and hungry, and frankly was just not interested in talking to people right then.  Soon, a tall, skinny, dark skinned man, who I’m going to guess was an African immigrant based on his accent, approached and asked me if I wanted to save ten-euros by riding with him instead of taking a cab, but being completely unfamiliar with where I was and preferring to take what in my mind was a more trusted and official ride in a registered taxi, I politely declined and he moved down the line to the couple behind me.

At first, I wasn’t really paying attention, having turned to face forward and trying to count how many people were left in front of me before I’d get my ride, but I quickly swung back around to face behind me because things had quite quickly gotten rather loud and heated.  The male part of the couple that the prospective driver had approached was a very loud, very drunk, very belligerent, bald round Irishman who looked to be in his late 30’s and carrying a very bad attitude, whereas his female counterpart, who despite her screaming, “Feck off, and get the feck away from us!” at the top of her lungs towards the affronted black man who was only trying to offer a cheap ride to anyone who wanted one, actually looked to be an otherwise lovely woman with shiny straight chestnut hair and eyes, and an lilt to her accent that couldn’t help but make me smile despite the vulgarities emanating from her mouth.  The Irish guy was also yelling, the driver dude was yelling back at them, and some of his what I assume were his friends based on the colour of their skin and how quickly they jumped to his defense joined in around him in a wall of support, and there I was, something fewer than twenty-four inches away from where it seemed punches would very imminently be thrown.

I wasn’t sure what to do, to be honest, seeing as how I’m a complete and total chicken who has less than zero desire to ever get into a fight, but I was sort of stuck by my place in line with the words ‘innocent bystander’ starting to run frantically through my brain.  Should I have just turned around and ignored the fight that was about to break out literally less than two feet away from me?  That seemed like the smartest and safest thing to do, but just as I was about to show them my back, I noticed that the Irish fella had gotten quiet.  I don’t really know how or why, but I totally read his mind in that minute and I knew with complete certainty what he was thinking about doing, and what he was thinking about doing would have absolutely escalated this shouting match into a storm of violence without a shadow of a doubt, and I just couldn’t have that, especially because I was for sure close enough that I probably would have ended up getting hurt, and while I can’t say for sure that nobody on our fine planet wants that to happen, in that moment I for one knew that I sure didn’t!

Also, having seen a show that delivered the powerful message like the one we’d just attended, I sort of had to get involved and to stand up.  Silence equals death, or something like that, right?  It most certainly wasn’t bravery or anything like that, but rather I just did what I felt was the right thing to do in the situation.

The driver man was right in the Irish guy’s face, the Irish lady was right in the driver dude’s face, and the Irish guy was swaying drunk and wondering if he should say it, if he should say the one single thing that would be sure to take this to the next level.  I’m telling you, I literally saw the word pop into his mind.  I saw it forming on his smirking lips, sliding its nefarious way down his alcohol-swollen tongue towards the stinking blowhole of his small mouth, and I just had to intervene; these two drunken Dubliners definitely needed a babysitter in that moment and I was clearly the only one immediately willing and able to take the job.

Right as the ‘N’ sound started coming out of Irish’s mouth, I pushed between the three and said, “Hey, are you guys from Ireland?  I love Ireland!  Why don’t you two split a cab with me?  Are you going back to the city centre?  I’m going back to the city centre, so why don’t we just all go in a cab together and that way it’ll be even cheaper?”  At least, that’s what I was trying to say, but it probably came out more frantically and garbled than that.  It was a really intense moment!

Everything stopped for a second.  At the very least, I’d been successful in confusing things long enough for the electricity between them to slightly defuse and for the stumblebum Irish dude to remember that he was actually in a public place in a foreign country and to reconsider his words.  Somehow in the same instant the driver guy was gone, having taken the opportunity of my interference to do the smart thing and just walk away with his compatriots.  I, on the otherhand, quite suddenly had two very loud, very boisterous, very drunk, new best friends.  Fantastic.

Now, I have to be completely honest here and let you know that when the Irish guy was talking, I only understood about half of what he was saying despite it being spoken in mostly recognizable English, and I can’t say for sure whether it was because his accent was much thicker than the Irish I’ve become accustomed to hearing on television and in movies, or if it’s because he was so drunk he was literally slurring saliva out the sides of his lips when he spoke, but my guess is had more to do with his inebriation because I had no problem comprehending the lovely lilting utterances of his lady friend, and shortly introductions were made.

Liam and Linda were from Dublin (I had guessed correctly), were not a couple (I had guessed incorrectly), but rather had somehow lost Linda’s husband and their friends in their inebriated exit from the Ziggo.  Despite the really bad first impression that they’d made on me, they were actually quite lovely for the most part after they’d calmed down, so I started to relax into small talk with them.  What else was I supposed to do?  We were stuck in a line, they were drunk and friendly, and I had no one to distract me or help pull me away.  At least they were funny.  Well, Linda was funny, anyhow, and had a really big and friendly permagrin plastered on her face.  Liam, on the other hand, was kind in that dour part of a drunken binge night and had taken to complaining that he felt the show was a little flat, although all around us in the crowd verbally disagreed when he started yelling at the moon about it.

After a few moments of chit-chat as we moved up the queue and they got excited that I was from Toronto and I got excited that they were from Ireland and we talked about how many U2 concerts we’d seen in how many cities over how many years, etc., we finally made our way to the front and were greeted by a huge minivan for a taxi, so Linda took it upon herself to invite the four people behind us in line – a stunningly gorgeous brunette woman and her three male friends – to join in if they were going to the city centre.

We all piled together into the back of the minivan with the seats set facing each other three to a side, with the last third of the stunning lady’s male companions getting into the front next to the driver.  I hadn’t really noticed our additional riders until we got into the cab as friendly Linda had started talking to them at first while we were still in line and I was trying to understand why Liam didn’t like the show (and not doing a very good job of it), so the next thing I knew was that I was following Liam’s butt into the back of the vehicle and strategically chose to sit across from him with my seat facing towards the rear with the hope that Linda would sit next to him and I could get out of this very one-sided conversation that consisted entirely of his ranting complaints and me repeating, “What?” and “Pardon?” over and over again, or else just smiling and nodding in hopes he’d move on to a new topic, which he was obviously not in the mood to do.  Linda did end up sitting next to him, with the olive-skinned goddess settling in next to her (not that Linda wasn’t very pretty in her own right, if she ever reads this or if you as a reader feel you needed to know that she had a bit of a doll-face, but this new addition to our mix was one of those otherworldly looking women who you would think only exist on photo-shopped magazine covers or George Michael videos, and not sitting diagonally across from you in a taxi after a U2 show in Amsterdam), and the other two dudes filling out the rest of the bench I’d chosen.

Linda, having taken on the role of hostess, decided to start introductions all around, first for herself and Liam, and then speaking on my behalf to introduce me as well, maybe somehow psychologically cementing me as part of their group, I don’t know.  I didn’t really pay it much mind, though.  At this point, it seemed that Linda clearly meant well and the atmosphere was shifting into a jovial tone.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last super long.  Like, not even a full minute, probably.  The female half of my new Irish gang had clearly deduced something that I had completely missed thanks to my Liam-shaped distraction.  She turned face-on to the beautiful woman beside her and politely but forcibly queried in a still somehow impressively friendly manner: “Who are you and why do you have three bodyguards?”  Even as surprising as the words were as they came out of Linda’s mouth, I still took a moment to delight in her accent as she said them.

The cab grew silent as the energy quickly shifted to a quiet momentary tension and I felt the guy in the blue button-down shirt next to me physically turn his body into a lethal weapon, poised to strike in that very second should circumstances call for it, so abruptly did his posture and stance shift in the space to my left.  Later on, I would reflect that it was almost thrilling how quickly the tension arose and dissipated, but after those few awkward seconds, Helen of Troy’s Even Prettier Sister deigned to provide us with a response and the atmosphere immediately went right back to where it was only an incredibly brief moment before.

Now, I want to make something clear at this juncture.  The woman in question is an actor, and a pretty successful one at that, but not like some A-List household name.  She’s been in things and you kind of know her when you see her; she’s one of those familiar faces who plays the friend of a friend or the third cousin most of the time, and the larger films that she has had more of a leading role in are not ones I’ve personally seen.  I also, to my grand embarrassment, have to admit that I did not catch her name when she said it.  Blame the noise in the van, blame my hardness of hearing, blame the fact that I’m sadly plain old bad with names, but I simply did not hear it, and sort of just nodded along when she said it.  I did look her up when I got home, but for the sake of the story and to keep things true to my confusion at the time, let’s just call her Grace and get on with it.  I apologize if this is a disappointing turn, but it really just feels like the right thing to do.

With a healthy middle-eastern accent, she introduced herself as, “Grace who lives in Israel,” (and before you ask, the answer is “No”.  I know Gal Gadot is easily far and away the most famous actor with Israeli roots, but I assure you that it was not her.  Believe me, I would tell you if it was Gal Gadot.  I would tell everyone on Earth if I’d shared a cab with Gal Gadot. This woman is successful and famous, but nowhere near on a Gal Gadot level), and confirmed that the three dudes with her were indeed bodyguards, and offhandedly said we could just refer to them as her “Haifa boys.”

And that’s where things went wrong.  Ugh.  I don’t even want to write about this part because it just all got so incredibly awkward, but it’s pretty much one of the most important parts of this story so here goes.

A couple of things happened all at once, but with the limitations of writing it down and not having the gift of real time to reflect how it actually happened, the following is as close as we’re going to get.

Liam was suddenly sitting up straight, sober, and interested.

I said, “Israel!  I love Israel!  I’ve been there three times!”

Linda, getting right close to Grace’s face, said, “Oh, you mean Palestine.”  Just like that.  Not a question.  Not an exclamation.  Just a statement.

And all I thought was, “Oh, fuck.”

Grace turned to face Linda so that her perfectly angular nose was mere millimetres away from the snub end of Linda’s smoothly curved one, and repeated firmly but gracefully in the tone of voice only known to those truly gifted few whom are comfortably able to take command of a room on a note, “No.  I meant Israel.”

Awkward!  Everything got suddenly silent all over again, Mr. Haifa Boy next to me got all sorts of flexed-up and ready again, Liam was totally engaged with his body leaning heavily into the fray now, and I was incredibly frightened about what might happen next in our little enclosed space that was barreling down the highway at about 100 km/h.  Luckily, however, sometimes in moments of great need or dire peril, my mouth moves faster than my brain and will occasionally get me out of rotten and horrible scary situations, and this was thankfully one of those times.  I repeated what I said about having been to Israel and asked Grace what part of the Holy Land she was from, and started rambling about my cousins who live in Petah Tikva and Eilat and all types of random nonsense like that, and we all sort of started to settle down for a second, but then Liam cut in and the atmosphere grew completely disruptive again.

Directed to the Haifa Boy in blue on my left, Liam, with the biggest shit-eating grin you can imagine, asked, “So, if ye’re her bodyguards, does tha’ mean ye’re all Mossad?”  And then, to me, in an unbelievably failed attempted aside that was spoken in an extremely loud voice that he clearly thought no one else could hear, said, “They hate when yeh ask them that.  It’s their secret service, the Mossad.  They’re not allowed to talk about it.”  At least he’d sobered up enough for the moment that I could finally understand what he was saying, although it wasn’t actually anything at all what I wanted to be hearing or that I thought was necessarily even true.

To their professional credit, none of the Haifa Boys answered, and just sat silent and ready for things to go south.

I tried again, my brain finally having caught back up to my body.  Change the subject, Jamie.  Move it away from the tetchy topic of the Middle East.

“So, as an actor, we have a pretty big film industry in Toronto.  Have you ever been to Toronto?”

Clearly catching on and taking my rope, Grace replied that she’d been to Toronto many times, of course, for TIFF (the world renowned film festival), obviously, as well as a few other occasions, and that she had family there as well.  The two of us started talking about some of the sights around my city that she enjoyed, and I was hoping that would be an end to the awfulness, but Liam wasn’t done yet.

“So, then… Are all of yuh Jewish?”

Fuckin’ Liam, man.  Seriously?  Even Linda had clued in and piped down.  But, Liam?  Nope!  I guess he wanted to see where he could take this while he had a captive audience in a moving vehicle.  A really lovely situation for me, let me tell you.  Fuckin’ Liam.

Grace and all three Haifa Boys raised their hands, as did I, and I even said, sounding to my own ears like a four-year old child whose parents are giving everyone else dessert, “Me too!  Me too!”  I’ve never felt like such a dork until I heard my own voice in that moment, but I felt it should be made clear exactly where I fit into this very strange situation.  Not that it mattered in the slightest because both Liam and Linda had both clearly missed my big reveal, which will come back around to this little story shortly.

“So, ye’re all Jews, and if ye’re bodyguards, then I suppose ye’re all Mossad trained, is that right?” Liam continued to instigate.

“I was in the army, as well,” Grace said, cutting in, “And have awards for hand-to-hand combat.”  It didn’t sound like a brag to me, but rather just a plain matter of fact.

“That’s actually kind of hot,” Linda said.  In my head I agreed, but decided not to say so aloud because things were already awkward enough as it was.  Instead, I once again tried to change the subject by noting how cool it was that this entire taxi full of people had all travelled from three different countries solely to come see U2, and something about the unifying power of music, but my attempt fell into a flat silence as everyone else in the van had somehow telepathically all decided that maybe we’d be better off not talking to each other for the rest of the ride, but I somehow missed that message.  I suppose picking up on social cues while surrounded by what was starting to feel a little bit like blatant anti-Semitism isn’t one of my stronger skills.

Luckily, we had just arrived at the Central Bus Depot and the next thing I knew we were all piling out of the minivan.  Grace offered and was already moving to cover the ride for all of us, but Linda was having none of it, going off an enthusiastic rant about how Ireland and Canada can cover themselves, thank you very much.  I considered protesting because, hey, free ride!  However, I didn’t take the chance because lovely-voiced Linda could clearly be ludicrously loud when she so chose.  Whatever – What’s ten or fifteen euros between people with whom I didn’t really want to be friends?

With that, the Israeli vision of beauty and her gaggle of Haifa Boys walked off in their own direction, and I was left alone with a stumbling Liam and a somewhat petulant Linda in a place that had turned out to not at all be the place I’d been trying to go when we left the concert.  I’d said, “NH City Centre,” when we were first trying to organize our ride, but of course, they were drunk and took it to mean ‘the city centre’, where the bus depot and a whole load of hotels were.  Nuts.  My fault – I should have been paying more attention, but I guess that I just assumed ‘City Centre’ and ‘city centre’ were the same thing when we were talking about them.  That said, the fact that I was in the wrong place wasn’t even my most immediate problem.  It was that I was in the wrong place with clearly the wrong people.

The Israelis weren’t even out of earshot before Liam started in again, and this time a lot less politely than he was to their faces while we were all in the taxi.  I kind of stood there listening to him rant for maybe twenty seconds while Linda was trying to get her bearings and not paying attention to what was going on between Liam and myself, when I decided that I really needed to say something.

“Maybe you didn’t notice it when you asked in the taxi, brother-man, but I’m Jewish, and you’re being pretty wildly offensive right now, dude.”  There.  That came out in a confident, but non-confrontational way, right?  Disapproving, but because I said ‘dude’ and ‘brother-man’, it should still come across as friendly.  That was the hope, anyhow, and it seemed to take.

“Oh, don’t listen to Liam, anyhow,” Linda rejoined the conversation.  “He’s just a stumblebum drunk, is all.  He doesn’t even know what he’s saying, and he’s not going to know about it for sure in the morning.  Pay no mind at all; he’s harmless.  Now, where’s our hotel?  I’ve got to wee like never before!”

With that, Liam took out his iPhone and started screaming at Siri to tell him how to get back to their hotel.  I wish I was joking, but I’m not.  He was seriously yelling at his phone at the top of his lungs as we made our way over a short bridge towards a sidewalk that led out of the bus terminal grounds and back onto the streets, and yes, tons of people were totally looking at us like we were a gang of drunken buffoons, which I suppose the majority of our little group were, come to think of it.  I was really just trying to get to the roadway so that I could figure out where I was, knowing my hotel couldn’t be more than a ten minute walk away once I got oriented and knew which way to head.  Linda, however, had other ideas, and had decided that I was going to come back to their hotel with them and grab some food and a drink with their friends and her husband.  I was pretty hungry, so I actually considered it for a minute, but then quickly decided that I’d actually be better off finding a way to leave at my earliest opportunity as these two had provided more than too many surprises already, and I was not even slightly interested to see what happened when their group of drunken friends were added to the mix.  Things had already been weird enough for one night.  Of course, the weirdest was yet to come.

Linda and I were walking and talking, Liam howling like a banshee and swearing vividly at Siri a few paces behind us.  We were talking about work and what we did back in our respective hometowns, and at that point I made sure to mention my wife because I was starting to think that her vibe was getting a little lurid, and although we were going to meet her husband and friends, I just wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t into anything amorous or adventurous if that was what she was angling toward.  I know that sexual openness and permissiveness is one of the things for which Amsterdam is more famously known, but sorry, it’s just not my thing.  I’m cool with the drugs and the rock n’ roll, but the wanton sex part of the saying has never really been my thing.  No judgement, but my spectrum simply prefers intimate love and monogamy.  Maybe it was presumptuous of me to even think she was considering anything like that, but stranger things have happened and I just wanted to make sure that I got out in front of the situation.

Linda asked how long I’d been married and I said that we were going on to our tenth anniversary, together for fifteen, and that stopped her in her tracks.  “Shut the feck up!  You’re lying!” She said.

Confused, I asked her why she thought so, and she caught me completely off guard and left me laughing so hard that I nearly lost my last breath right there on the sidewalk when she told me that she and Liam had thought I was some lone-travelling twenty-two year old kid that they were trying to protect and make sure got home safely, which was obviously hilarious because I’m forty-five and from my perspective had been doing my best to babysit them and keep them out of trouble from the moment that we’d met.  She yelled back to tell Liam, who at this point looked like he was about to smash his phone down onto the sidewalk and start jumping up and down on it until the poor plastic thing was pulverized into dust; I guess Siri was having as much trouble with his accent as I was, which was in a way kind of a relief.

“Wait a fahkin’ minute, whaddaya mean ye’re fahkin’ farty-fahv?  Ah’m tharty-fahkin’-hate and thahr’s noowai ye’re alder than me!”  In his technology-raging state, his accent had somehow gotten worse and slurred again.

“Yup,” I replied, grinning ear to ear because, I have to admit, even with as heavily drunk as my Irish companions were, and that they were so obviously not seeing clearly because of that, being confused for someone in his twenties, much less his early twenties, was super flattering.  I’ve never really thought much about looking my age, and it doesn’t bother me that I’m getting older because to me it’s all just part of the story and there’s nothing I can do about it anyhow, but still, it was nice to hear.  That said, I know for a fact that I don’t look anywhere close to being in my twenties, and I pretty much look my age for someone who keeps in generally decent health.  “I’ve been forty-five for just about three weeks, actually.  But, I know – I don’t look a day over forty-four.  My heavy diet of loads of caffeine and far too much sugar keeps me young.”

Liam paused, and stood in front of me just staring.  Linda was to my right, looking on in interest.

Now quieter, he said, “So, ye’re farty-fahv, murried, and a Jew?”

“Well, yeah.  But my wife is Christian, if that makes any difference.”  I wasn’t sure why I had felt the need to add that.  A search for solidarity, perhaps?  Just trying to let them know that I was open to everyone?  I don’t know, but I started to go on about how I’m not religious at all anyhow, and couldn’t even remember the last time I stepped into a synagogue.  Now rambling, I began to go into my thoughts on apatheism vs. agnosticism and how I figured that I fall somewhere in between the two in my own personal belief system, but he wasn’t paying attention at all, and Linda was still just smiling along beside us, clearly interested in seeing what was going to happen next, which, as it ended up, wasn’t something that even she, having been friends with Liam for years, was expecting.

Liam muttered something again about the Mossad and about how us Jews really hated when people brought them up, which as an aside here is something I’ve never once heard in my life and I’m pretty sure that the existence of the Mossad is very much common-knowledge world-wide and they’ve probably even been a Jeopardy clue on numerous occasions, and then he looked right into my face with a gleam in his eye and asked once again, “So, ye’re a Jewish guy then?”

“All my life, my man.”

“So, that means ye’re cut, then?”

Call me stupid, call me slow, but I didn’t immediately clue in to his meaning.

“What?” I asked.

“Ye’re cut.  Ye’re peen.  They cut yer peter when yuh were a babby, didn’t they?”

“Wh-what?” I asked again, not because I didn’t understand what he was asking this time, but because I couldn’t believe he was actually asking it.

“Liam!” Linda admonished him in a tone of bewildered shock.  “Settle it down!”

“Ye’re circumcised!” Liam proclaimed with the same look of joy covering his round cherubic face that you’d see on a six-year old kid who’d just accomplished tying their own shoes for the first time, like he’s just cracked the Gordian Knot or something equally amazing.  He figured out all on his own that a Jew had been circumcised.  Eureka!

“Again, all my life, my man.  Or, all of it less about a week, according to tradition,” I said jokingly, failing horribly at shoving down the extreme awkwardness I was feeling in what was turning into a truly surreal confrontation.

The gleam in Liam’s eye got brighter, and although I’d at this point learned to expect pretty much anything from this sad-eyed, bald, round, drunkard, I was completely caught off-guard by the three words that next came out of his mouth:

“Whip it out.”

“What?  No!  Hell, no!”

“Liam!  Jesus!  Stop!”

“Ah mean it!  Whip it out!  Ah’ve never seen a cut one before!  Whip it out!”

I took a big step back at this point, and yelled: “What are you?  Bent?”  Don’t bother trying to figure out what I meant by that; I don’t know either.

“Liam!  Inappropriate!”  Did I mention that Linda said she was a teacher when we were discussing our careers?

But Liam persisted.  “Fer real, Ah’ve never seen a cut ‘un.  Just for a second!  Please?  Come on, whip it out.”

“You’ve never seen one?” I asked with dripping sarcasm heaping off of every word.  “You’ve been yelling at Siri for the last ten minutes so clearly you know what the internet is.  Google it!  Seriously!  You’ll easily get about a zillion hits!  ‘Whip it out’.  Like, what the fuck, dude?”

“Yeah, Liam!” Linda, thankfully was completely on my side, “What the feck?  That’s all a bit much even for you!”

Finally abashed, Liam started stumbling a bit ahead of us as while Linda apologized profusely for his behaviour, saying that she knew he was drunk and kind of a cunt sometimes (her word, not mine), but that this was beyond, even for him.

I let her ramble consoling words at me and in two minutes we were finally in front of their hotel.  Very suddenly, Linda stuck up her index finger and instructed Liam and I to “wait right here” on the sidewalk outside because she had to pee more than a river’s-worth and really shouldn’t have had that seventh beer before they left the concert, assuring us that she’d be right back and we could met the rest of their Irish contingent in the restaurant momentarily upon her return, and with that she bolted inside like a racehorse from a gunshot to relieve her bladder before she ruined her black jeans or stained her red sweater, and that was the last I ever saw of Linda.

Liam was left swaying on the sidewalk, and starting to stumble-mumble some senseless sounds, but his inebriated state had taken a strong hold again and while he was struggling to form his next sentence, I grabbed his hand and shook it, said, “See ya, Liam!” and speed-walked away to a taxi-cab that was sitting on the corner.

“To the NH City Centre, please, my fine sir,” I directed.  The driver was kind of pissed when I told him I wanted a ride that would have literally been a five minute walk down the street from where we were, but I gave him twenty euros and told him it was peace-of-mind money for helping me to escape an incredibly awkward predicament with some pretty peculiar people.

I have to admit, I do feel sort of bad for just leaving without saying goodbye to Linda, because despite our differing thoughts on Middle East politics, she was actually pretty nice.  I’m sure that Liam is probably a pretty nice guy in real life, too, but drunk Liam was simply not someone I was willing to handle for one minute more than I had to, and therefore when the opportunity to run arose, I took it.

Finally arriving safely back at my hotel, I went to my bench for a late-night smoke and to call my wife, and I relayed the entire story on speaker-phone to all of our family gathered around the Thanksgiving table at her mom’s house.  Out of the bunch of us, I’d definitely had the more eventful evening.

The next morning, as I was heading out of my hotel lobby to grab yet another caramel latte and go check out the bookstore so that I could buy a friend a gift that I’d noticed a couple of days earlier and that I knew (hoped) he was going to really appreciate, I ran into the two Israeli ladies who’d stood me up at the taxi line, thereby causing me to get into the previous night’s trouble in the first place.  They were headed to the airport on their way home and were profusely, if not completely obviously fakely, super apologetic.  I politely let them know it was okay, and that I actually ended up sharing a ride with Grace, who is an unbelievably huge celebrity in their country, so though I don’t like to admit it because I try to be a better person that this, but I was more than a little joyed at their chagrin from missing out on meeting such a huge star.  I don’t think I’m all that petty normally, but I really don’t like being stood up.  Especially when it’s a cold and gloveless autumn night in a foreign country and I’m surrounded by racist anti-Semitic drunk people.

After the next night’s show, I got into the taxi line by myself, ignored everyone around me, and took a very nice and comfortable ride back to my hotel alone.  It was a much more pleasant experience all around, but sadly doesn’t make for as good a story.  Oh!  But, I did find ten euros on the ground when I got out of that cab, so at least I’ve got that going for me.


Some Brief Thoughts on Playing Politics as a Team-Sport

Politics are often referred to and thought of as a team-sport, and I think that’s actually a pretty good comparison since in both politics and sport you have groups of people working together towards a common goal, and very often there are winners and losers of varying degrees in every outcome. I think that the problem in the current political climate is that a lot of well-intentioned people have forgotten which team they are actually playing for. I am going to use hockey to explain what I mean here, but you can really use any team-sport that you want as this is universal to pretty much all of them that I can think of.

In hockey, you’ve got a group of people who are all playing together with the thought of winning and getting their team higher in the standings so that they’ve got a chance to hoist the Cup at the end of the campaign. On this team you’ve hopefully got one or two superstars upon whom you can count on delivering, but those superstars couldn’t do anything without the rest of the team behind them. The basic structure of this team is divided into two parts – You’ve got the offense who are tasked with scoring goals and getting the points to move the team up the chain, and you’ve got the defense whose job it is to stop the other team from likewise scoring and furthering their own chances. The two halves cannot compete independently of each other – they need to work together in order for the team to succeed. It doesn’t matter how many Gretzky-level players you’ve got on your starting line if you don’t have strong defense and goal-tending to keep the puck out of your own net when the other team gets a shot, and no matter how weak the other team may be, opportunities always arise. That’s what makes sports so exciting. Point is, it doesn’t matter how many goals Matthews scores for the Leafs if Andersen can’t keep our net secure and empty as well.

Now let’s apply this to politics, and for the sake of this mid-term election day we’ll call this team America, although this applies just as easily to Canada, the UK, and every other democracy just as the sports analogy works for basketball, baseball, or football as well as hockey. On this team, you’ve also got an offense who we will dub the Blue as Liberals tend to be more progressive in their leanings, and the Red as conservatives tend to have more defensive or, um, conservative ideas about governance and try to conserve a status-quo more often than champion for social change. Please know that I am stating this without judgment, that’s just the way the two ideologies tend to work. Regardless, if it makes you uncomfortable, feel free to switch the colours around if that makes you happy, but the idea I’m trying to get across here is that we once again have two different parts of the same team who are supposed to be working towards the same goal, which in this case would be seeing America win.

The problem as I see it, however, is that in the current horrendously divisive political climate, the offense and the defense seem to have forgotten that and have started playing as their own teams, and even the most moderately capable coach or leader would tell you that a team divided can never win. I think that a lot of people have gotten so entrenched in their sides, be it offense of defense, that they’ve for whatever reason decided to ignore and neglect the fact that they’re all supposed to be on the same team, and they all have the same goal – For their homelands, the real team, to be both competitive on the world stage and prosperous within their borders. Your line can’t win unless the rest of the team is able to produce, so instead of letting our goalies hate our own wingers to the point where they won’t even pass them the puck, we need to remember that things go better when we all play together with the true common goal in mind. It’s a big world and there are a lot of other teams out there trying to get up the ladder, so if we don’t all start coming together as a team and understanding that the offense and the defense need to start playing in tandem then we’ll have no one to blame when we lose but ourselves.


Amend

AMEND (verb) –

  1. To make minor changes to (a text, a piece of legislation, etc.) in order to make it fairer or more accurate, or to reflect changing circumstances.
  2. Put right.

Stop telling me that the Second Amendment is sacred, as though written in stone like words on high given with divine providence.  Saying that – believing that! – shows that you either don’t care, don’t want to care, have no ability to critically think, or have just simply given up in defeat.  It can be changed and it must be changed, and that very needed change is implicit in the word itself.  Amend – To change; to put right.  I mean, come on!  Do I really have to spell it out here?  The Second Amendment itself is a change from the original, apparently not so Almighty Constitution, so if you can’t recognize that it’s time to amend again and pass laws that will stop this insanity from recurring, then shame on you and the world is worse from your willful blindness to see what’s right in front of your eyes.  With the current laws, it was illegal for this kid to buy a handgun, but a high-powered assault rifle is no problem?  Are you fucking kidding me?  It’s time to amend the amendment.  It’s well beyond time to make things right.

This is not directed at any one person in particular, but rather in response to far too many comments I’m seeing all over the internet today. I know I have gun enthusiasts and responsible owners amongst my friends, and I’m sorry, but your hobby kills and needs to be taken more seriously by many of your peers.  I have friends and loved ones whose kids go to that school.  I was as terrified yesterday watching the news as I was seeing the plane smash into the second tower on 9/11.  Maybe more, actually, because I had real faces and names of people I know and love to add palpably to my fear.  I still can’t come anywhere near imagining the horror my friends were going through yesterday waiting to hear if their children – THEIR CHILDREN – were going to come home from school alive.  My anxiety was as high as it has ever been, so to even try to imagine theirs?  Impossible.  None of my friends lost their children yesterday.  Some of their friends were not so lucky, and that spilled blood is on many hands.

And please don’t anyone come back at me with the bullshit about the need for an armed militia in case the government goes off the rails. Your government has weaponized drones, heavily armoured tanks, a goddamned air-force, chemical weapons out the wazoo, and the ever-loving atom bomb. Your assault rifle is a stick and a stone in comparison and you know it. And if your argument to that is that you need to be prepared to stand against your government and therefore the laws should be even looser, to put it bluntly, you’re an idiot. A dangerous idiot.  To be on even-ground with the government you’d basically need to allow anyone to own a nuclear bomb.  Anyone.  The dumbest and craziest kid you knew in school.  Your argument is foolish and moot and you know it, and the current gun laws in the United States as they stand today are flat-out insane, and you know that too.

I end this as I often do with the urging to call your representatives, local, state, and federal, and make some noise.  And if turning a whisper into a shout doesn’t work then buy a bloody megaphone.  They can’t ignore you if you don’t let them – it’s their job.  The gun lobby may have more money, but the people have more votes and the smart politicians know which one is really worth more.  Your voices will be heard if enough of us are all wailing the same thing.  Push them to make the change.

Amend.  Put it right.


Remember to Love

There seems to be so much anger in the world right now. So much frustration. So many feeling the need to lash out because so many of the things we believe to be righteous and just are being threatened and pissed upon by so many others. We’re all afraid. The very cornerstones of our society, of how we function as civilized human beings, seem to be under a relentless assault and it feels like the other-side has us all held in the ever-tightening grip of a vise, crushing, smothering, choking, until there’s nothing left to do but try to yell loud enough to be heard over the pain.
And, why? Why are we all always fighting? What do we want?

We want to make the world a better place. We want to make sure our loved ones can walk the streets safely. We want our families to grow and thrive in a world without fear, and we want the children of tomorrow to inherit a planet where they can raise children of their own to hold and endeavour toward the same or hopefully even higher ideals. We want our governments to protect our rights and allow us a chance to achieve our dreams and pursue our picture of happiness. Most simply put, we all want to live as good and nice a life as possible.

I think all of that is fair to say for around 99% of us, no matter which side of any spectrum you may adhere to. We all want a better world, and we’re all fighting for a better world. The only problem is that we don’t all agree on what that better world should look like.

Gun control, religious persecution, gender inequality, racism, global climate change, political ideology, Betty or Veronica. These are all arguments I’ve either participated in or at least kept a keen eye on over the last few days (weeks, months), and over every one of those topics, things quickly devolved away from respectable debate to personal attacks and name-calling. It’s sickening. I guess we’re at a point in our culture where we’d rather insult and attack rather than give credence to the idea that there might actually be a point to what the other person is saying, even when we disagree. Alternative facts and fake news aside, The “Us vs. Them” dichotomy has become so incessant in Western Society that I think we’re all forgetting that before there was ever a “You Against Me”, there was an “Us”.

Community. Human Kindness. Respect. Brotherly and Sisterly Love. We’re all fighting for the same things, remember? We all have the same goal. We may have different opinions on what the perfect world looks like, but how will we ever learn to work together to get there if we neglect to remember the fact that we all have similar visions of the results? We need to keep in mind that there are many more strong and fundamental things that hold us together than there are those attempting to drive us apart, it’s just that those negatives always seem to have a louder voice as we tend to take the good that comes easily for granted.

I’m not saying anybody should stop arguing, and I’m not saying debate should be quelled, and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t stand up for what they believe, nor should they stop speaking out whenever they perceive injustice. I would never say any of those things. I am saying that while we’re doing all of these very important things, we need to remember to love. We need to remember to respect. We need to remember that we’re all a lot more the same than we are different.

I’ve had a few pretty heated conversations over the last few weeks. Specifically a few that really stick out with a couple of my cousins on both sides of my family, and while we disagreed, at rather high volumes at some points, we always ended with a hug and saying “I love you”, because at the end of circular arguing we knew that out of all of the facts we had been spitting at each other, that was the only one that really mattered. Even on Facebook and over social media, the few times I allowed myself to take the bait and sink my teeth into one of these frustratingly endless exchanges of bickering right-fighting, I made sure to conclude each of the conversations with a note of respect and friendship because I recognized that feelings were starting to get hurt (mine included), and the last thing I ever want to do is to purposefully hurt someone I love, no matter how upset or angry I get. Love is supposed to be bigger than a difference of philosophies. I think we all need to keep that in mind.

Defend yourself, defend your opinions, defend your beliefs, but most importantly, defend your love. We all only need to agree on one thing in order to be able to start moving forward together towards learning how to agree about others. So please, as I try and fail not to be all maudlin and sentimental, please remember to love.


Some Quick Thoughts on International Women’s Day, The Big Bang Theory (the show, not the concept), & Pay Equity

As a man who has lived his entire life surrounded by strong and independent women who own who they are and have often shown their superiority, much less their equality, I love the fact that the world celebrates International Women’s Day every year, and I hate the fact that we have to.  I mean, the Equal Rights Amendment has been around since we were kids, right?  Almost all of my best teachers from nursery through university were women.  Most of the best bosses and managers I’ve ever had ever since I started working at age 14 have been women.  A great deal of my favourite characters and role-models from television, movies, and books, have been women.  Authors and actors, directors and doctors, I have never once thought that their work could possibly be less good just because they don’t have a penis because a penis has nothing to do with doing good work.  Women in the workplace and women in business leadership roles have been normal to me for the entirety of my existence, and I have never once in my personal career met with the occasion that I was forced to question someone’s capabilities based on their gender – Stupid decisions are gender neutral.

Yet, here we are, in 2017, still in the position where females are not paid in parity with their male counter-parts, and are for some reason still considered as ‘less than’ in the workplace and society – “Of course they’re capable of taking on executive roles in our organizations, but compensate them similarly?  Surely, you jest!”  Because why would providing equal pay for equal work be a thing?  It seriously drives me a little bonkers because there is so little sense in the way that it works right now, and there is absolutely no justification for that mentality.

Which brings me to a news story from last week that at first I celebrated, but then found myself really bothered by as the day progressed.  I don’t know if you watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS, but surely you’ve heard about it at this point as it has been on for about a decade and is one of the most successful shows in the history of television, and despite what you or the critics may think about it, it is consistently one of the most viewed shows on the small screen and therefore brings in bucket-loads of advertising dollars for the network and the producers.  Last week, there was a feel-good news story about how the four male leads of the show took pay-cuts so that their lead female co-stars could get raises up to an equal salary, which makes perfect sense since the girls on that show are just as funny (or not, depending on your taste) and important to the story as any of the guys, and definitely more-so in the case of Mayim Bialik’s “Amy” who at this point is the main driving force for pretty much all of Jim Parson’s “Sheldon’s” character development.

Nice story, right?  Co-workers looking out for each other, sticking it to The Man so that everybody can be treated equally?  But then I thought about it.  Not to take anything away from what the guys of The Big Bang Theory did because it was a marvelous gesture to give up some of their admittedly ridiculous salaries so that their female friends could have equal pay, but you know what?  No.  The fact that they felt like they had to is a real and serious problem, and instead of celebrating the kind gesture those men made, we should be raging about the fact that they were put into a position where they felt like they had to make it.  I mean, seriously – Watch the show and tell me that there’s any reason why the seven lead characters should have been making different salaries in the first place, regardless of their genders?  They’re all lead characters – it’s an ensemble show – so should they all be paid as leads?  It’s 2017 – Why the hell is this still a thing?

For the people who know me or have read my blog before, you were probably expecting a couple of bad and/or inappropriate jokes to be thrown in here, but you know what?  I don’t find this funny at all and this isn’t a laughing matter to me.  The struggle for equal rights for women has been around since before I was born, so seriously, what the fuck, society?  I love International Women’s Day and everything it stands for, but I really hope that by the time my days on this planet are over that it is no longer something we need to note or celebrate because we’ll be too equal to care.  That’s my wish, and if there is one thing I know, wishes can come true.  Let’s all work a little harder for this one, though, because the reality of the situation as it stands just doesn’t make any sense and is frankly unacceptable.  We all do the same work in the same ways and with the same outcomes, so why the hell aren’t we paid that way?


Wisenheimers – A Short Story

I decided I wanted to try to write a sad story. This is what came out.

WISENHEIMERS

The forlorn looking little boy stood near the edge of the crowded room with tears in his eyes and the old man couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen another soul who seemed so alone.

The little boy stood straight with his arms held tightly to his sides, his small hands clenched into fists, his tousled hair tossed and askew, and his wide eyes set in a thousand-yard stare, clearly taking no notice or care of the teeming masses of moving bodies thronging through the fog around him.  He was wearing his favourite pajamas, the soft fluffy blue ones patterned with a thousand tiny dancing snowmen and that had the snuggly feet for extra winter warmth, but he appeared to be feeling no comfort at all.

The old man recognized the boy, and he knew that lost look ever more well than he wished to.  A meek but cordial smile appeared on his face as he approached the little boy.

“Oh, dear me, hello little one,” the old man said in a kind voice that gave off the sense not of your wise old grandfather, but rather your grandfather’s cooler brother who is willing to share the tricks and family secrets  that your grandfather would never reveal. “I know and remember you well, kiddo, and I recollect you as being much happier than this, so tell me, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

The little boy sniffled deeply, his tears spilling over and down his cheeks as he came back to himself from wherever his wandering thoughts had stranded him. “I lost my friend,” he said softly, and dissolved into sobs as he ran to the old man and embraced him around the hips, the little boy’s pudgy face pushing warmly into his soft belly, causing the old man to absently wonder if he’d ever been that short, that small, that young, and concluded that even though it seemed impossible, he somehow must have been.  It may be impossible to remember it, but we all were babies once upon a time.

After a moment or so of comforting the child through his tears, the old man put his hands gently around the boy’s arms and moved him back so that there was enough space between them within which to make eye contact as they spoke. There were three roundish stains on the old man’s white shirt, one for each eye and one for the nose, where the boy’s tears had soaked through to his skin, and the old man couldn’t help but feel his heart break for the pain he knew the boy was suffering through.

“What do you mean, you lost your friend?  Do you need help finding her?” The old man asked, hopefully.

The tears sprung up again in the little boy’s eyes. “No. We can’t find her no matter where we look.  Daddy said she’s gone and that I can’t see her anymore, but I really, really want to!” He finished this by thrusting himself deeply into the old man’s arms and falling once again into a fit of uncontrollable weeping.  The old man gave the boy a few soft pats on the back in a vain attempt to give comfort, but he knew he wasn’t helping. This was fresh grief, and as any old man could tell you, the only thing to settle fresh grief is time.

“Do you mean you’re not allowed to see her anymore?” the old man asked, “Or, do you mean…” His voice trailed off as though he knew all the right words to say, but he’d forgotten how to say them.

The blankness came back into the little boy’s gaze. “I don’t know. They don’t tell me. And when they do tell me, they don’t tell me the truth. And when they do tell me the truth, they don’t tell me all of the truth.”

The old man’s heart wept and all of his sympathies went out to the small, lost, and confused child before him. He knew what this was now. He knew where this was going. He looked tenderly at the boy and waited for him to continue, knowing that the first step to excising an internal hurt is to bring as much of it to the surface as possible, and the only way to do that is to talk.

“You’re talking about Patricia.” The words tumbled out of the old man’s mouth bluntly with numb emotion, but the little boy’s eyes looked up at him with a fresh clarity of understanding all the same, like a dog in a desert who realizes that drinking dirty water is better than drinking no water at all.

“They took her to the Big H building, the hospital,” the little boy replied, pronouncing the last word slowly and carefully, recognizing that he had the penchant to pronounce it ‘hopsital’ when he got too excited or spoke too quickly, the word being so new to his vocabulary and his young tongue still unpracticed in shaping its sounds. “Daddy said that she would only be there for a few days before we could play again, then he said that Patricia’s daddy said it would be a week, and then today he told me that she’s not going to come home at all and I don’t know what to do!”

The old man’s heart melted like a candle whose wick was a neutron bomb and this time it was he who pulled the boy in for an embrace, a vain attempt to give succor to a confused child who couldn’t even begin to comprehend the misery he was currently drowning in.

“I’m not going to tell you that I know how you feel because I know that won’t help, but know that I do know, and that what I’m about to tell you comes from a place beyond grief, from the experience of surviving the worst of the worst and learning how to smile again,” the old man spoke the words gently and quietly into the little boy’s ear and felt the trembling in the child’s shoulders and chest subside enough to let him know that the boy was listening.

“This is the worst you’re ever going to feel, and this is not the only time you’re going to feel it. I wish I could say that it was, but it’s not even close.  And it’s just as horrible each and every time. Sometimes it’s more devastating than others, sometimes it takes longer than others, sometimes it will strike you numb, and sometimes it will drive you insane, but the one true dependable constant in life is that you will lose people, not even always to death, and it will hurt every single time.”

The boy drew back and gave the old man a look that said that the old man was clearly a crazy person if he thought his words were coming anywhere close to doing anything to help make him feel better.

“I know, I know,” the old man said tut-tuttingly with a gentle smile, “and you’ll think I’m even crazier when I tell you that the hurt you’re feeling is a good thing because it shows that person left an impression in your heart, and that’s vitally important and imperative to what you’re going to need.”

“What I’m going to need?” the little boy asked in a tone loaded to the brim with curious trepidation.

“Yes,” the old man said warmly, then leaned in conspiratorially and quietly added, “what you’re going to need, because, I’m going to tell you a very big secret.”

The boy moved in closer again and gave a small smile for the first time, saying, “I like secrets.”

“Of course you do,” the old man chuckled. “Everybody likes secrets. Until they don’t. Not all secrets are good to know, but this one is. This is a secret you’re going to like.”

The little boy looked up at him expectantly.

“You may have lost your friend Patricia,” the old man said, “but what if I told you that not all of her is truly gone?”

The little boy’s face gave a quick indication that he was puzzling this over, and just as quickly revealed that the results were not good. “But she is gone. Daddy said she’s never coming back. That she can’t come back! Believe me! I tried to convince him otherwise, to let her come over and play, but he said that he couldn’t, and he explained it to me, that gone is gone and dea…,” his small voice cut off, unable to finish that ever so short but ultimately ever so ugly final word of his sentence.

“Yes, that’s all true, but just because her body’s gone doesn’t mean that she’s all gone.”

The little boy looked first confused, then frightened. He whispered, “Do – do you mean she’s a ghost?”

The old man’s cheeks reddened with amusement as he tried to stifle his laugh; he should have expected that question, but he hadn’t. “No! No, not at all. I don’t believe in ghosts. Not that sort of ghost, anyhow. Do you?”

“Sometimes,” the little boy admitted, “but Mommy said that’s okay because I’m just a kid and I’ve got lots of imagination.”

“Well, your mother’s right, and you know what else?  It’s good that you’ve got a big imagination because that just so happens to be the other thing you’re going to need.”

The boy looked up into the old man’s eyes with great expectation for the secret that was about to be revealed.

“You see,” the old man continued, “That hurt you feel in your chest when you think about Patricia, even though it doesn’t feel good, in its own very particular way, it is good. Because that pain is a spark, a tiny little light going off in your heart, and that twinge is not only the love you feel for Patricia, but also all the love you’ll miss from her now that she’s gone. Which sounds not so great when I say it out loud, I’ll admit, but there’s more!”

Thinking of the Patricia again caused the little boy’s eyes to threaten water again, but his curiosity remained. “More?” he asked.

“Why, yes! Of course there’s more. There’s always more. Which is a secret in itself, but not the one I’m going to tell you about now,” the old man said with amusement and almost lost his train of thought, but quickly managed to find the track again. “Now, that bad pain that I said was actually sort of good, that spark, it actually has a job. It does something. That spark belongs specifically to Patricia, and every time it flares it sends a message to your imagination, and from there they get together with the most important thing you’re going to need out of them all.”

“The most important thing of all,” The little boy said with a sense of awe and a hint of wonder. It could have been a question, but it wasn’t.

“Memory,” the old man said, giving the word all of the reverence and importance it deserved. “You see, as long as you keep that spark in your heart and allow it to drive your imagination, then you can use it to see and spend time with all the people you know, all the people you’ve ever known, and all of the people who will ever touch your heart. It’s really quite an amazing gift, when you think about it.”

The little boy had heard what the old man had said, and more, even thought that he understood it, and although his tears seemed to have gone back to wherever unspilled tears go when they’re no longer needed, the consternation in the little boy’s eyes still betrayed a longing that showed he hadn’t quite grabbed onto the concept as much as the old man had hoped.

“I know it’s hard to believe, especially coming from as young a perspective as you are,” the old man said, trying to reassure the sad child, “but, it’s true. You see, I know that this is strange, but right now we’re dreaming, and do you see all of these people around us? These are all of those people. Everyone we’ve ever met, from the pediatrician who delivered you into this world, to the new doctor I met just the other day.”  To which he then added in a slightly more sardonic tone than he intended, “Old men meet a lot of doctors.”

The little boy looked out into the crowd, noticing them for the first time as something more than a muddled mass of moving grown-ups all hurrying about their ways like grown-ups always do, and thought he might have recognized his grandfather among them.  He said, “So, if I can feel that spark in my heart to…”

“Ignite your imagination,” the old man helped.

“Ignite my imagination, then I can use my memory to see Patricia? Like, not actually see her, but sort of see her all the same, only just inside my imagination? Just inside my head?”

The old man smiled warmly at this success. “Precisely!” he said with a nod and a smile. “And what’s more, you can even talk to them if you want to, and sometimes, and this is the really great part, with the right mix of imagination and memory, in some ways, they can even talk back to you!”

The little boy backed away at this, frightened by the concept. “I don’t want my dead friends to talk to me!”

The old man recovered quickly. “I don’t mean that they actually speak to you, but sometimes, in certain situations, you kind of know what they would say, or how they’d react, and that can be both a sad and beautiful thing.”

The little boy pondered this for a moment, then said, “Sort of like if I was building a sand castle fortress for my army guys, Patricia would tell me that was stupid and that I should build a palace for her Barbie?”

The old man laughed with delight. “Sure, that’s one way. Or sometimes, for me, if I’m about to do something stupid, I can still hear Mama’s voice giving me a stern warning, but it’s more than that. Sometimes, often times, late at night, I’ll talk to my wife. I mean, I’ll have full conversations with her. I knew her so well that I know what she’d say to everything, like she was such an important person in my life, and we’d spent so much time together that she became an actual part of me. I don’t hear her voice out loud, but she speaks to me all the time. Just like sometimes you’re going to hear Patricia speak to you, and tell you that your sandcastles are stupid. Which they’re not, by the way. You can always buy a house for Barbie, but toy soldiers need a fortress to either defend or attack or else they simply have no reason to exist.”

“That’s exactly what I told Patricia!” the little boy agreed excitedly, to which the old man replied, “I know.”

They shared a companionable silence for either a moment or a month (it was hard to tell as dream-time has the propensity to behave oddly), and then the little boy once again spoke a sentence that should have come out as a question. “You really miss your wife, don’t you.”

“More than any other single thing in this world,” the old man agreed, but then looked into the crowd and pointed into the mist around them, and a beautiful lady with the loveliest smile in the universe became solid and clear despite the fog. “And look at that,” the old man said with a flourish and a grin, “there she is, just as gorgeous as she was on the day we met. That’s another great thing about the gift. When you remember someone you loved, you can remember them at their best. Like that woman there. She has all the love and experience of a lifetime together, but she looks like whatever way I remember or imagine her.” As he said that, the svelte young woman suddenly shifted into a handsome elderly lady, still wearing the loveliest smile in the universe. She blew them a tender kiss and receded back into the concealing smoke of lost memory.

The little boy reached out to hold the old man’s hand.  The old man, of course, grasped the boy’s small hand right back as they watched the faces from their life weave in and out of the moving tapestry before them.  Sensing that this dream would soon be ending, the old man began to speak, calling out the names and memories that passed before them.

“Look,” he said, “there’s brother Joe and sister Anne, oh, how we miss them so. And there’s Mrs. Wright from the Third Grade! And over there, do you see? There are Mama and Daddy!”

“I see them!” The little boy agreed excitedly, but his voice sounded faded, as though it was spoken from a great distance.

The old man persisted, desperate not to lose this moment. “And there’s Rufus, our German shepherd, and there’s Gina Marchese, the first girl I ever kissed, boy, is she ever a heart-spark!”

The old man could no longer feel the boy’s hand.  He was slipping away.

Still, the old man went on. “There’s Auntie Anna, she was always so tall, and you know how much we hate when she comes over because she always pinches our cheeks, and, hey! Look! There’s Patricia herself!”

“Patricia herself,” the old boy repeated in the same voice.

The old man was stunned.  Frightened.  He continued to look straight ahead, directly into the shrouded crowd. “And there’s cousin Albert Wise. Remember cousin Al Wise? He was always such a cut-up! Funniest guy we ever knew, right?”

Silence.

“Yeah,” the old man continued, his voice taking on a wispy quality to its cadence. “Cousin Al. He was hilarious. And he had those cousins from the other side of his family, remember? And they had an act. A real comedy act. Played the summer circuit. They were big in the Catskills, weren’t they? Remember?”

There was no boy next to the old man to respond. He was gone.

“Who was I talking to?” The old man asked himself. “What was I talking about?”

The dream was ending.

What dream?

“Cousin Al, wasn’t it? And his act with his other cousins. The twin kids from the other side of his family,” the old man tried to remind himself, but there weren’t too many straws around for him to grasp. “What did they call themselves again? Al and the Wise Guys? No.”

The wandering souls of his memory had now all receded back into the ether of his mind.

The little old man started to quietly panic. “No, that wasn’t it. Not Al and the Wise Guys. It was Al and the Wisenheimers, wasn’t it? Yes, I think so. That was it, wasn’t it? Al and the Wisenheimers? Or was it Al’s Wisenheimers? Was that it?”

His confusion was mounting. “Wisenheimers? Is that a thing? That doesn’t sound like a thing. Wisenheimers? Alz…”

The little man was tired, lost, scared, and confused. He was awake. He knew that. And he was in a room, but it wasn’t a room that he recognized.  He felt like he should know where he was, but he didn’t.  He did know that this feeling wasn’t new.

He looked to his left and noticed that there were bars on the side of his bed, presumably to keep him from falling out. On the night-table was a picture of three smiling teen-aged kids, two boys and one girl, all with curly tousled hair, and beaming behind them were whom he could only assume was their parents. The father was a sturdy enough looking fellow, but the wife was a real knock-out, with possibly the most beautiful smile in the universe. He felt like he should recognize the people in the picture, but as far as he could tell they were just pleasant looking strangers.  Probably one of those pictures that came with the frame.

But the wife’s smile nagged at him. He thought that he really ought to know who she is.  He tried to puzzle it over and figure it out.  He concentrated, but for the life of him, he just couldn’t quite connect who she was.

A forlorn look settled upon the diminished man’s face.  He wasn’t sure that he’d ever before felt so alone.  He was sure he must have.

But he couldn’t remember.


Share the World

She is running through the endless field past midnight
The sky a shining mosaic of stars against an indigo background
The soft green grass beneath her naked feet almost darkened to grey in the faint cold light of the large but waning moon
And she doesn’t mind and she doesn’t care
Running dancing prancing whirling and turning
She is free
She is wild
Hair flying out behind her like a superhero’s cape
She is happier than happy
Her brilliant smile mirrors the sideways one in the sky
As she collapses mindlessly into a pile of arms and legs with delicious delight
Upon the cool soft grass beneath her
And the moment is spoiled as her sprawled hand lands with a slight squish
A nauseating stench set loose by her careless descent
A palm full of dog shit
(Did it get in her hair?)
And she remembers once again why she hates people so ever-fucking much.
Dejected, she meanders back home thinking, “No one wants to share the world.”
While the sinking crescent moon still smiles.