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.


2016 – My Year in Reading

I haven’t blogged in a long time now.  Just about a year, actually, and my last blog was also about the books I read that year, so this seems like a fitting way to return to talking to myself.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog – I have!  So many times, so many things to say.  2016 has been nothing but eventful, from Bowie to Trump, so much has happened and I’ve had so much to scream about, but I haven’t.  I can make a million excuses, but really it’s because I’ve just been doing other writing – I’m currently in the middle of three different, long pieces of fiction that will likely never see the light of day, and in a vain attempt to stay focused I decided not to blog and to instead spend my writing time on whichever one of those had the most of my attention at the time.  I don’t know if that was a mistake or not, but in retrospect I do think that it was unfair to all of the other thoughts that deserved to make their way out of my head, so I am going to make a more concerted effort in the coming year to pay more attention to my other writing and not just the wild fictions of my apparently vast imagination.

The other, and usually far more enjoyable, thing I’ve done a lot of this year, is read.  I generally read a lot, but this year I seem to have outdone myself, according to Goodreads where I’ve been dutifully logging every book and graphic novel I’ve read.  146 books this year – astounding!  Now, many of those were, as I’ve said, graphic novels, and I know that a lot of people don’t count those (which is incredibly small-minded, in my opinion, as they’re just as viable a form of literature as a novel, and sometimes superior!), so for the sake of argument let’s cut those books out of the picture for this blog, which leaves us with an even 50 novels read (although I think I’ll get in two or possibly three more before New Years, if I’m being honest – I’m doing another read-through of The Dark Tower and I’m already half-way through Wizard and Glass, and as time to read is abundant over the holidays…).

I love reading.  Always have.  Always will.  If I ever lose my eyes, just kill me; audio-books don’t cut it when it comes to bringing worlds of words into my mind.  I’ve learned more from reading on my own than I ever did in school, and I continue to do so.  The food for the mind is of the vitally important kind, and I read my feed with voracious greed.

Over the past year, I decided to challenge myself and read a couple of those more intimidating novels that I’d always avoided.  The first of those tackled was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  A lot of people love this book, and I can see why as the story-telling is incredibly immersive, to the point where you practically know not only every single thought of every single character, but also the background and reasoning behind them; immersive, but really tedious at times, in my opinion, and the copious flipping back and forth between the often unnecessary footnotes was annoying.  I liked it and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be going back for seconds any time soon.

I also faced-off against Ulysses by James Joyce this year, a tome that has beaten many a better reader than I to abandonment, so I was incredibly intimidated going into it.  What if I didn’t like it?  What if I didn’t understand it?  What if I can’t finish it?  I almost never leave a book unread once I’ve started it!  What if I failed Ulysses?   Well, I actually did finish it (that last chapter, though…), and I actually did enjoy the parts that I got, but I’m going to admit that there were some points where I honestly didn’t know what the heck I was reading regardless of how often I’d flip back to try to pick up where I’d lost the train.  One of the reviews I read for Ulysses said that the reviewer wasn’t sure that he’d actually read Ulysses, but he had certainly looked at every word on every page.  I think that’s fair, and I almost think that was the way it was intended.

The great thing about having worked through Ulysses was that it prepared me in more ways than one for what was for sure one of my Top Five reads of the year, Jerusalem by Alan Moore.  The influence of James Joyce was obvious in this book, including having his daughter Lucia appear as an incredibly important character (and has the most Ulysses-like and hilarious chapter in the whole massive book), and if I hadn’t have read Ulysses first, I know I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of Jerusalem as I did.  I have loved Alan Moore since childhood, so I went into this, the first prose-novel of his that I’d read, with great expectations, and in return I was greatly rewarded.  This is the pinnacle (so far) of all of Moore’s work, and truly a masterpiece for a writer who already has many under his belt.  I loved it so much I immediately ordered his other novel, Voice of the Fire, that I didn’t even know existed, and actually loved it even more.  Of course, that love was helped by having read Jerusalem in the first place, and so everything comes full-circle.  They may not be the first things I recommend to someone who has never read any Alan Moore, but if they’re already familiar with him then I will beat them with a shoe until they read these two great additions to his already incredible ouvre.

I’m getting long-winded here, so I will just mention two more books that I read for the first time this year that I just loved.  The first is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  I actually grabbed this on a whim.  My wife was rushing me out of the bookstore because we had to home for some important event or other that I have now completely forgotten, and this one just practically jumped off the shelf and into my stack as we walked by towards the registers.  I mean that almost literally.  We were hustling by, the cover caught my eye and the title was cool, so I just grabbed it and bought it without even reading the back.  I’d never read any Stephenson before.  I have since read six of his incredibly intelligent and well-written books because Cryptonomicon was so highly enjoyable – Who knew that WWII cryptology mixed with internet banking could lead to such high adventure?

Grabbing that book off the shelf was a whim I will forever cherish, especially because it led me to the other book I want to mention, Seveneves, also by Stephenson.  This novel sparked my imagination more than any other thing I read this year.  The premise is that the moon explodes and humanity has to deal with the aftermath of what that is going to do to the earth, and comes down to the very survival of not only our species, but all of them.  Well-researched and scenarios so plausible that the tension is palpable, without giving any spoilers, this one blew my mind.  For readers who are afraid or unfamiliar with science fiction, don’t be dissuaded.  Yes, there are some tech-heavy descriptive parts.   Read them.  It all comes together and you’ll be glad that you did, and Stephenson explains it well enough that if you pay attention, you’ll get it.  And if not, it still serves as a good bridge for setting up the next round of action.  Whatever.  My sister is not a sci-fi person and she’s currently burning through it despite the science parts that she doesn’t like, so that’s as good a recommendation I can make as any.

Okay, I’ve rambled enough for now.  It felt good.  If you want to look more into my bookshelves or see other recommendations: https://www.goodreads.com/JamieSigal

 


2015 – The Year of the Great Re-Read

After realizing how much money I spent on books in 2014, I decided last December to deem this year, 2015, “The Year of the Great Re-Read”, and have pretty much stuck to it except for a couple of books that I just couldn’t resist, namely “Fear the Darkness” by the incorrigible, adorable, and inexhorable Becky Masterman, “The Martian” by Andy Weir (had to read it before I saw the movie, obviously), Armada by Ernest Cline (I probably could have waited for this one), “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore (I’m a sucker for sequels), and The Tales of the Captain Duke by an inspiring young author named Rebecca Diem. Other than those and a couple of random graphic novels, everything else I’ve read this year has been a re-read.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that re-reading is not a very big deal. Usually about half the books I read in a year are re-reads, but this year has stuck out because I set out to do it on purpose.  I love re-reading books.  We listen to music over and over again, and we watch our favourite movies repeatedly, so I don’t really understand why more people don’t revisit their old books.  Yes, the time commitment is a lot greater than a four-minute pop-song, but so what?  It’s a book – You can pick it up and put it back down at will, whereas I don’t really see anybody doing that with music.  “Oh, I’ve just listened to the first half of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ – I’d better save the rest for later!”  I don’t think anyone in the history of anywhere has ever said those words.  When you listen to Halo, you listen right through because that’s how songs were designed.  Books are different – Most of them are broken up into chapters for exactly that reason – So that you have a stopping point when you need to finally get some sleep as opposed to reading non-stop all night until you get to the end (which, in all honesty, I am also guilty of).  Art is art – You wouldn’t go view the Mona Lisa once, limit yourself to five minutes with it, and then swear to never look at it again.  That’s not what art is for – Art is meant to be enjoyed, appreciated, analyzed, connected with, loved or loathed.

I’ve revisited and rekindled some great fictional friendships over this last year. Reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog from this side of forty was an enlightening experience – Last time I read it I was twenty-four, and although it’s the exact same story, it really was a different novel in a lot of ways from my more, um, let’s call it ‘mature’ perspective.  I still love the character Moses Herzog as much as I did when I was in my twenties, but now that love comes tempered with pity instead of awe.  Watching Catch-22’s Yossarian fight insanity with insanity seems a lot more sane from my current perspective and knowledge of war and politics (and ridiculous beaurocracies).  My understanding of Findley’s “Pilgrim” is quite different than it was when I first read that treasure about fifteen years ago because I came to it without the mystery of who Pilgrim really was, so I was able to pick out the clues and hints around it, and see it all in a new light.

I’ve re-read so many books this year that I feel almost like I’ve given myself a gift. When I’m re-reading a book, and maybe this is just me, but I’m not only going over the words, but I’m also remembering where and when I was the first (or second, or most recent) time I read it.  This happens every time.  I get to page 666 in James Clavell’s “Tai Pan” and I’m instantly transported back to a seat on a bus in Israel in 1992 when I realized that I had to keep reading because stopping on that page would clearly cause me bad luck, what with the symbolism of the page number and all, and then I remember how great that weekend trip up to Rosh HaNikra was and how much fun we had.  I’m in the middle of Tom Robbins’s “Skinny Legs and All” and I’m suddenly back floating on a blow-up chair in my parent’s pool in Florida in 1995, enjoying my mid-semester break with a book and a beer.  I’m in the middle of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and I remember the stomach ache I had the first time I read it, and how I worked so hard to ignore my discomfort so that I could race through the book before anyone spoiled it for me, and at ‘that scene’ I’m suddenly back in my bathtub crying all over again (although I’m really on the sofa trying to keep my drastically dog-eared edition of the book from falling apart as a read it).

There’s so much more to re-reading a book than just revisiting a story and some good old friends. Reading is so much more personal than any other art, in my opinion, which might be why I love it so much.  You actually need to make an effort to read – Listening to music is passive, looking at a painting is passive, watching a movie is passive – They don’t really require much effort because the work is already done for us.  Reading, on the other hand, requires a commitment, requires time, requires you to actively take part in working your way through it, and therein lies it’s beauty – The reader is as much a part of the art as the author – Maybe even moreso.  I know I’ve written many, many things that will never be read, so really, the reader is key to the art in a novel or a story!  It couldn’t exist without us, whereas a song or an image can be shoved down our throats through any one of a dozen mediums, usually through some form of advertising.  You can’t do that with a book.

I don’t really have a point to this except to write something a little less serious than my last few posts, and to remind people that re-reading a great book is never a waste of time. I love it.  I’ve got five or six new books on my to-read list right now, but I’m sticking with my pledge (even with the new John Irving that I’m literally salivating over) and not cracking a single uncracked spine until the new year.  I urge you to do the same – Take some time and visit some of your old fictional friends.  They may not have changed, but you sure have, and every time you meet them again you’ll bring something new to the relationship.  Enjoy.

And maybe visit or add me on Goodreads as I always want to know what everyone else is reading so that I don’t miss the boat on anything! https://www.goodreads.com/JamieSigal


Where Do We Go From Here?

I grew up at the height of the Cold War.  In the 1980’s complete global annihilation was just the push of a button away and could happen at any time.  Between our friendly neighbours in the United States, and the evil communist aggressors of the USSR, there were enough nuclear weapons to entirely wipe out every living organism on the planet twenty times over.  In my adolescent mind, the end of literally everything basically came down to the whim of a lone man or woman (thank you Margaret Thatcher for allowing me to say that) in a room some place that was thousands of miles away from where I lived.  The world was on the brink utter destruction every single day, yet I feel more afraid now than I ever did back then.

Ever since I flipped on the news on Friday at 4:45PM Toronto time, my mind has been aflood with the chaos and horror that has permeated throughout the news and social media with an understanding abundance as we find ourselves as a culture once again trying to make sense and to find some human comfort and solace in the midst of abject terror.  It was horrible when it happened in New York fourteen years ago because New York is our cultural home, where so many of our great novels, movies, television shows, and music soars out to a world that longs to hear what it has to say.  It’s horrible now in Paris because the City of Lights is the city of our dreams, home to art, romance, and the modern concept of freedom and liberty as an alienable right for all people.  It’s horrible nearly every single day when it happens anywhere, as it so tragically does.

Terrorism when carried out in such a brutal and evil manner as this is sickening, heartbreaking, infuriating, rage-inducing, and just plain old sad and depressing.  When this latest horror was still taking place, a friend on Facebook asked the very simple question: “What do they want?”  To which I flippantly replied: “To perpetuate hate.  That’s all that ever comes of nonsense like this.”  I meant that, and I still do.  The people who carry out such atrocious attacks on innocent people who have no pony in their race, who open fire on average people out for a nice dinner on a Friday night after a long week of work or shaking their shit at an Eagles of Death Metal concert, the vile beasts who want to take the safety, security, and enjoyment out of all the things that make our open society so incredible and send a suicide bomber into the centre of it all to spread waves of terror out among us, they are a real enemy and a serious threat, and even a staunch pacifist like me knows with unflinching certainty that something needs to be done to ensure that these types of atrocities never happen again.  I am not content to live in a world where a single child anywhere is afraid to go to the market for fear that they may not make it home again.

So, the question is: Where do we go from here?  For the first time since WWII, France closed her borders on Friday night – A reasonable and justifiable response amongst the confusion of the evening.  What hasn’t been as reasonable or justifiable are some of the responses I’ve seen in the media or on the internet, and I respectfully invite all of you who are spouting hyperbole and vitriol-fueled racism in helping to find an acceptable answer to all of this, because I don’t have one.  How does one respond to violence that seemingly has no motive other than to create chaos?

This isn’t like Hitler marching over Europe in the 1930’s because Hitler had a country and a military industrial complex at his back – something physical for freedom lovers everywhere to wage war against.  ISIS doesn’t have that.  They don’t have a government, and they don’t have an army as much as they have a bunch of disparate militias.  ISIS are an idea more than they are a group, and how do you declare war on an idea, especially when the believers in whatever that idea is are spread out in and amongst innocent people who are only trying to live peaceful lives?  The thing is, we’ve been trying to fight this war for decades already, and I honestly can’t look at it with any objectivity at all and not realize that it’s not working out very well for us.  To call whatever we westerners did in Afghanistan and Iraq a success in any way, shape, or form, would be akin to calling Jay Leno a funny guy – You may want to believe it because of the way it’s been packaged and sold to you, but it’s just not true.  And don’t try coming back to me with “Well, we got Bin Laden,” because we got him neither in Afghanistan nor Iraq, but hiding within the borders of our supposed ally Pakistan, and don’t dare bring “Well, we got Saddam” into the argument because, firstly, he had nothing to do with any of these terror attacks on the west, and all we really accomplished with our police actions in Iraq was to destabalize a huge region in the Middle East and allow ISIS a highway within which to speed and spread their evil throughout. From my perspective, we’ve gone in and infiltrated areas where we weren’t wanted and didn’t really have any business being in the first place, killed people, destroyed property, and then walked away and go on to actually wonder why the people’s whose lives have been trampled upon might possibly hate us.

So, again, where do we go from here?  I see a lot of people saying that this is a Muslim problem.  It’s Islam rearing its ugly, hateful head.  And yes, that’s true to the degree that the people perpetrating these crimes have been Muslims, but to say that all Muslims are evil because of ISIS is a really frightening leap to make.  There are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world.  At our estimates, there are about 40,000 people in ISIS, but by ISIS’s own boasts that number is actually closer to 200,000.  Now, keeping in mind that I’ve never been one to brag about my incredibly poor math skills, even I am able to work out that even with the exaggerated number of 200,000, that means that only .0001% of Muslims are ISIS, or one blade of crab grass on an entire eighteen-hole golf course.  Would you burn the entire fairway just to rid yourself of one weed?

But this where we seem to be coming – People are scared, we no longer feel safe, and unlike the abstract threat of nuclear winter, these terror attacks are real, visceral, and continuous.  They’re nearly impossible to stop because of the very freedoms we love and that are under attack by these extremists protect our right to privacy, and in order for our rights to remain protected, everybody’s rights must remain protected.  That is the paramount hallmark of our free society.

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is not what do the terrorists want, but rather, what do we want?  Who do we want to be in light of these attacks on our civilization?  The next logical steps, if we look at history, are to further marginalize our Muslim neighbours – We’ve already started to take steps to do this in Canada with Bill C-51, but is deeming someone a second class citizen really the smartest way to take a person who may be questioning their place in society and sway them towards the realization that democracy and freedom are better for everybody?  What are we telling them by doing this – Our way of life is better for everyone, but maybe not so much for you?  Oh, you’re already angry at a perceived racism that’s been suppressing you and impacting your psychology for years?  Well, let’s just make sure to increase that disenfranchisement for you.

Seriously, where do we go from here?  The first steps that are already being recommended already smell a little bit too much like fascism to me, and after these don’t work, where do we go next?  Do we start a Muslim Registration Act?  Make them wear silver moons on their coats so that we can easily identify ‘them’?  Do we exile them after stripping them of their citizenship, thereby creating even more refugees?  Or perhaps we should just put them in camps!  I’ve heard that worked out really well in WWII… And I’m not just talking about the Nazis, as any Japanese person living in North America at the time will heartbreakingly tell you.  And if it does come to camps, I think we all know where it goes from there…  Or, maybe you’d suggest doing what Bosnia did in the early 1990s and just rounding up all the Muslims and shooting them down indiscriminately?  Or, no, wait, we deemed that a war crime already, so clearly we can’t do that again.

I do want to editorialize for a moment and remind all of you who are spouting and preaching hate and intolerance without any semblance of critical thought applied to the subject, this is where you’re solutions are most likely to lead, so maybe think before you speak and react.  Nobody wants to look like the next Hitler or Milosevic.

So, again, I’m sadly left wondering where do we go from here?  Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, wants to pull the six Canadian fighter-jets we have engaged out of the civil war in Syria, and I can’t say that I honestly disagree.  We’ve already proven that violence only begets more violence, and it’s not like he’s pulling us out of the military effort completely – He would just rather concentrate our funds and our efforts on training Syrian ground-troops so that they can fight and win their own civil war.  What a concept, right?  Why are we blowing up neighbourhoods filled with civilians when we could be training the civilians to take up arms and protect themselves from the ISIS incursions?

Personally, if I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with you, I would like our troops to be out of Syria altogether.  There are reportedly 20,000 ISIS fighters in Syria right now.  I believe that number because they’re only holding pockets of the country right now, and I believe it even more because they haven’t attacked their sworn enemy and neighbour to their direct south, Israel, yet and risked waking a military with an actual vested interest in their destruction because they know they’d be decimated and none of the surrounding Arab militaries would have their back because they hate ISIS much as the rest of us do.  But it’s really these surrounding Arab militaries I want to talk about here.  Why are the US, Canada, Russia, et al, involved in Syria at all?  Between the surrounding Arab countries, you know, the ones who stand a direct threat from ISIS coming in and taking the minds and hearts of their citizens, they have standing armies totalling approximately five million soldiers were they to unite in a short coalition to protect their Syrian neighbours.  Five million versus twenty-thousand – Even with a strictly ground invasion, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to a month for a functioning military to secure the entire country.  We can’t do that because we’re outsiders and infiltrators in our own right, but what the hell is stopping their neighbours from helping out?

I can’t help but feel that the attacks against us in Paris, New York, London, Sydney, Ottawa, and where ever else in the freedom-loving western world are a direct result of our continually going in and flexing our military might where it has historically been not only not wanted, but not even necessarily needed, so let’s just stop.  I’m not an isolationist, and I’m not saying we need to stop helping, but let’s stop bombing and let the natural enemies take care of themselves.

Because, yes, I haven’t even mentioned yet that this is a cultural war at the heart of it all, but not a war of East against West, or Judeo-Christian values against Muslim fundamentalism as it has been painted in the media.  This is Sunni versus Shiite.  I dare say, this is the Muslim Reformation.  We cannot direct it for them.  How would the Christians have felt if the Jews stuck their noses into Martin Luther’s business?  I think we already know the answer to that, don’t we.  Let’s leave Islam to find out what it wants its identity to be in our world moving forward – I believe that if we remove the external enemy (us) from within their midst, they’ll have no choice but to face themselves and that the will of more right-minded people who just want to live their lives and raise their families and not be forced to flee their homes for fear of violence will prevail.

So, where do we go from here?  We go home.  I suggest we take measures to ensure the security of our cities, infrastructure, and borders.  Look at our internal safety.  Investigate why so many of these terrorists actually seem to be home-grown and haven’t even spent any time in the Middle East, try to discover what’s causing them to lash out, and then fix it.  I know that we can lead by example and embrace our freedoms and our liberties by enjoying every day in a society that allows for all beliefs to come together and find the common ground of togetherness and neighbourly love.  We don’t have to be colour-blind, and we’re probably not going to stop being afraid any time soon, but we don’t have to become monsters either.  All I’m thinking is that instead of continuing to hurt, we should be concentrating more on trying to help.  That’s where we should go from here.  If they want to perpetuate hate and chaos, then let us equally perpetuate love and civility.


The Fall

In September things begin to change.  People become idle and reflective.  The whole world takes on a more relaxed and contemplative view.  In September, the fall begins.  The weather begins to cool off, and life starts to carry on.  In September the calm, cool breeze is master, blowing across the lake uncaring and unforbidden.  This breeze is the coming of the fall and the return to real life after the long, hot, partied-out summer.  This breeze is the breeze of school, and work, and responsibility.  This breeze is the end of burned out summer romance and the start of something new blowing in from some blind horizon.  This breeze is the tell-tale sign that another new year is getting ready to begin.

I have always loved the fall.  For as long as I can remember I have looked forward to the coming of September and all of the great things that came with it: new people in school, a new grade to master, my birthday, and most importantly, the turning of the leaves.  My friends and I used to go sit in the ravine near my house for hours and just lounge around in the natural beauty of it all and stare at the green as it slowly started giving way to yellow, orange, and red.  Surrounded by this lush beauty we would speak of dreams and schemes and girls and worlds of our hungry imagination.  We would lie back in the thick grass and tell each other of our problems, and of how we missed the carefree life of summer with nothing else to do except just be, but all the while we were secretly content to be back in school and to have something to do.  One can only do nothing for so long before going completely off the wall.

We would sit down there smoking and laughing and watching the days grow shorter.  Bryan would swear, Jackson would complain about his love life, Barry would spout off about his views of the world and how we were in an inevitable downward spiral, I would talk of summer conquests and regrets and the many more missed opportunities, Mack would tell tales about his work as a Junior Forest Ranger in the deep north woods and his recurring nightmare of black-flies and mosquitoes as big as your mama, and poor little Kevin would complain about he’d still never even kissed a girl.  Not that he didn’t want to kiss one.  Kevin’s biggest problem was basically that no one wanted to kiss him.  Like, no one at all.  Not one single girl through all of our first three years of high school.  Kevin is a little bit strange, I guess, but I think if any girl actually took the time to get to know him that they would have to love him because he’s so great and innocent.  Kevin has the true artist’s heart: untouched and broken all at the same time.

Bobby would come down to the clearing a little while later with his guitar and we would all serenade the changing leaves as Tony would tie his hair back in a ponytail and just sit quietly.  A lot of people don’t think that Tony’s very bright because he doesn’t say much most of the time, but I tend to disagree.  I just think that he doesn’t like to waste his words on trivialities.  He’s got a lot on his mind.  He always has and he always will, and I know that for a fact.  Poor old tragic Tony.

When the sun would start to set, Stevey would always show up with a couple of the new girls – usually the best looking ones that the others of us would dare not approach – and he would bring beer with him to add to our smoke, and we would drink until we were done and then we’d sing some more.  To use a very tired and old cliché, those really were the days.

After the darkness hit, Hank would come down and tell us whatever else was going on in the world, parties, gossip, things to do on the weekend, whatever.  But let’s be serious, whatever other parties may have been happening, the real party was us and our little brotherhood in the ravine.  Hank would inevitably join our little sing-along, our lament for the summer and our welcoming of the fall, and there we were, all my friends, happy and together and getting along.  We were tight, like a clan, a tribe, and nothing could separate us.  Until age came along and butted its stub-ugly nose into everything.

It all started with me and Stevey.  His girlfriend was sick of the way that he would constantly put her second to everything else in his life (which if my math is any good would actually put her way below second), and she found her way into my arms for comfort and solace.  Or maybe it was Stevey and Bobby who would fight over every single girl they ever met from that day we all started hanging out and ever on until long after we graduated.  Or maybe it started with Bryan and Hank who could just never get along.  Maybe it was Tony and Bobby who, although both were very close friends of mine since childhood, mixed about as well as fire and ice, cracked and melting and never finding common ground.

I think now that time just kind of screws things up for people, it changes things, and once things change, (this sounds so inanely stupid but sadly so true) they can never be the same.  Whatever the reasons, our little tribe began to die.  We were being picked off one by one by invisible snipers named Time and Change.  Most of us stayed friends, or rebuilt the friendships we had let drift over some silly slight or another, but the whole tribal atmosphere of our little clan slowly peeled away and revealed the layers of individuality that inevitably came between us.  Where once there was brotherly love there was now only friendly acquaintance; where there was once side-splitting laughter there were now only slyly shared smiles; where there were once tears shared willingly and without shame there was now only cold comfort and something that resembled judgement and pity more than sympathy and caring.

If our friendship was a great tree and we the leaves that were the symbol of life for this tree, then age was our autumn and it brought about a great fall.  After high school we all went our separate ways.  I think that was a good thing.  The saying isn’t that absence makes the heart grow fungus, right?  The first summer back we were tight again, minus a couple of exceptions like Tony who just couldn’t stand the simple sight of Bobby after a year of rooming with him at college.  We would head on down into the vibrant green of the summer ravine and drink and tell each other of our adventures in life away from that sacred small spot of the earth where we’d all grown up, and we would actually laugh with each other, all prior trespasses and trials now forgotten and forgiven.  We were no longer little boys clinging to each other for a sense of security and belonging.  No, now we were men who had shared a large and monumentally important section of our lives together, who knew and respected each other like family.  Maybe not brothers any longer, but still really close cousins.

That is the best thing about the fall.  The fall is just part of the never-ending cycle of seasons, and everything always comes full circle.  We may never be amongst each other for another fall again, but hey, that’s okay.  We’ve shared our time, and we still have our love, and besides, one final trite expression here, but we all know that the leaves never fall too far from the tree.

DEDICATED TO MY OLDEST FRIENDS – CLANSMANSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES

AFTERNOTE

Since moving to our new place in May we relocated all of my old writing from a drawer in our closet to the shelves in my desk.  There’s not a ton in there – ancient poems full of late 1980’s teenaged angst, aborted stories, abandoned manuscripts, some of the better essays I wrote in University, dusty old journal entries… Okay, so maybe there is a ton of stuff.  But most of it deserves to be burned out of sheer embarrassment, of that I assure you.  Some of it, though, some of it makes me smile.  Some of it is actually kind of nice, and maybe even kind of good.  And none of it is saved electronically anywhere and I think I’d like it to be so that I can for sure come back and look at it later. 

This is the first of those things I’ve deemed worth saving, and hopefully worth reading.  From the date on it, this is the first or second draft I wrote in Summer Session of my Freshman year, so if memory serves this was for a creative writing class maybe taught by that wonderful old lady with the most amazing long white braid always slung over her shoulder, Dr. Patton.  She was great.  I’m not going to repeat the comments she wrote on it or the grade she gave it because that’s between her, me, and history, and besides, I never write for marks anyhow so no matter what she gave me wouldn’t have made a difference because I write whatever I write and I can’t really help whatever comes out and I’m generally not shy about sharing it no matter what it is.  Regardless, I’m sure you can figure out on your own that Dr. Patton was obviously encouraging or I wouldn’t be looking at it again here and that’s enough said about that.

Anyhow, the pages have “Draft” scribbled across the top, and it’s dated June 14, 1995, and was handed in as Essay #4.  Maybe it wasn’t for Creative Writing after all because why would I write an essay for Creative Writing and not a story?  Although this does read well as a pointless little story.  The only major difference here is that I changed a few of the names from the paper draft for this version because, hey, it’s a draft and maybe the names I liked when I was twenty two don’t work as well for me now that I’m forty-two.

Or maybe I’m just trying to protect the innocent from their younger selves.


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.


Bin Laden’s Bar Mitzvah

Like so many other East Coasters, I was at work that morning, and I’m sure my story is very much the same as all of theirs – First someone popped their head into my office and mentioned the plane, then I checked CNN.com, and then I went back to work, maybe stopping for a moment to enjoy the view of an unseasonably cool and crisp, yet still picture perfect bright and sunny South Florida day before getting back to the task of responding to the ever untold numbers of emails that had come in throughout the night.

Then the second plane hit and everything was different. I found out about the second plane from the screaming gasp of, “Oh, sweet Jesus have mercy!” from one of the girls in the office next door, and I think everybody in that moment immediately knew. We all knew. As we got called into the conference room to watch the devastation live on tv, I looked in everyone’s eyes and could see that we all knew. None of this was an accident, and every single thing in all of our disparate lives and little worlds were forever altered in under an hour by events unfolding a thousand miles away and beamed into our brains through waves of information sent into space and bounced back down to earth through the ether, unknowing and uncaring of the horrible message they brought to us in full living (and dying) colour.

I don’t remember who, and I don’t really need to, but somebody said with a hint of almost tragic pride, “This is our JFK moment.” It rang as tasteless to me in the moment, but it was oh, so right. As a generation, we’d had very little truly world altering events to define ourselves with, and we’d all heard the stories about where our parents were when they found out about Kennedy, and in a way we darkly envied their nostalgia for a nationally shared moment, and now, tragically, finally, we finally had our own, and the fact that I’m sitting here writing this today, thirteen years later, and remembering it like it was still yesterday proves it. And if that doesn’t prove it, I direct you to any news channel on the television or social media website as they are, as usual, inundating us with the story, just in case you’d dare to forget the horror or emotional displacement you felt while watching it that day.

When the third plane went down in Pennsylvania our boss sent us all home. We had offices in New York. We all knew people there. Nobody was going to be getting any work done that day, this was a time for family. I’m sure it was the same in offices all over America – I can’t even imagine what it was like for the West Coast at this point, waking up to find this on the news before they’d even had their first sip of coffee. I can’t imagine it, and at the moment, I didn’t really care. I got into my car, and from there things went from strange to surreal. Stopped at a red light, looking at the driver next to me staring blankly ahead and wondering if he knew and if that was a look of shock or dumb ignorance, wondering if the lady at the next light yapping and laughing on her cell phone was unaware or just an idiot, deciding on unaware because how could anybody be laughing right now? I remember hoping against all reason that she just didn’t know, and I almost didn’t want her to know, didn’t want her to lose an ounce of whatever joy she’d found in whatever amusing thing her friend has said to her.

At the last moment, I decided to stop at my mom’s office to say hello. It was on the way home, and even though I never visited her at work, it just made sense. It was the right thing to do. And it was. I walked up to their building and she was outside having a cigarette with co-workers and crying, and she hugged me like there was no tomorrow, which, as we’d all been witnessing on the television all morning, there wouldn’t be for so many people… So many broken tomorrows, all of them encompassed in my mother’s hug.

I didn’t stay long, but I don’t remember leaving. The next thing I knew, I was in the parking lot at Best Buy. My plan that morning was to stop there after work because the new Bob Dylan album was coming out that day and I wanted to get it, so I guess I just sort of auto-piloted myself over there as it had somehow stuck subconsciously in my mind. I didn’t want to go in and buy it, it didn’t seem clean somehow, like going to buy something, to spend money on an entertainment while so many people were suffering had a hefty price-tag of guilt and damnation attached to it, but something else inside of me was compelled. I had to buy it. I had to know that I could still do normal things. I had to know that the world wasn’t over.

It was probably just after 11AM at this point. Everything was still happening. We were in the middle of it all, and I was walking into a Best Buy in South Florida, my legs feeling light and empty, like I was stepping into a dream. The store was almost empty. The Power Rangers were beating up bad guys on their huge bank of televisions; it was almost as if the most interesting thing that they could think to watch on that fateful morning was a guy in a blue-spangled jumpsuit kicking some alien ass. It made no sense, it had no context, but then again, what really could? I grabbed the album off the rack and went up the cashier to ring out. There was no line, and we looked at each other oddly as I approached. He looked bored, I must have looked manic. Did he know? Should I tell him?   If it was all so real, why was I in a store buying a CD? Nothing made sense. I purchased the disc and left without a word. I think I said, “Thanks,” probably, but I really don’t know.

I went home, but the unopened CD down on top of my stereo, and turned on the television, and then I proceeded to sit there and watch, and watch, and then watch some more until I couldn’t take another moment and just had to collapse in a puddle of exhaustion. That was right after the smaller tower, I think it was Tower Four, collapsed under the accumulated rubble from the Twins. Maybe five in the afternoon? I’m not sure, and as this is all supposed to be memory, I don’t want to go to Google and check. Let’s say it was still before dusk and leave it at that.

I woke up later that evening, maybe around 10PM or so, and went back to watching the news. I didn’t go to work the next day, and I don’t think I went to sleep again for somewhere between 36 and 48 hours. I also developed a short-lived crush on Ashley Banfield that day – She killed it as far as reporting went, making me feel informed and as up to speed as possible, while still being cute and attractive; she was a news producer’s wet dream for sure, I remember thinking. I wonder whatever happened to her… She sort of disappeared in the intervening years…

I didn’t go to work for the rest of the week. I’m not sure if anyone in our office did. I don’t know if I asked, and I know I didn’t care. I was obsessed with the news, and getting information was all that mattered to me that first week. We all handle our stress differently. I’m still a news junkie, even more than I was before September 11, 2001, checking the web several times a day just to make sure I don’t miss anything, even though there’s rarely anything worth knowing about.

When I did return to work, and started venturing out in public again in general, there was something different in the way people were behaving, a general change in disposition. People were being purposefully nice to each other. They were being considerate. A few years before, an elderly couple stopped and said, “You must be Canadian,” to me because I’d held a door open for them. Now everyone was holding doors, and saying thank you. Americans were acting practically Canadian!   It was crazy! And although it came from tragedy, it was amazing!

But, of course, we all knew it wouldn’t (couldn’t) last. That wave crested through Halloween, but I remember being once again, oddly, in Best Buy in mid-November, doing some early Christmas shopping, and the bubble burst. What with it being the season of retail mayhem, there were line-ups at every cash register, most of us waiting peacefully and patiently for our turn to pay for our goodies, when along came this blonde woman with an arm-full of DVDs, asking people if they’d mind if she’d bud them in line. Most people turned away, but as she got to the guy in front of me, he asked her why, implying he’d be happy to do it if there was some sort of emergency or something, but she simply said, “I really don’t want to have to wait,” and that was it. That short moment of American togetherness was over, just like that. Entitledness was back in full force. And so was anger. He smacked the stack of movies out of her hand, then threw his own stuff down and left the store. I didn’t let her take his place in front of me, if that counts for anything, but I did go home with a real sinking feeling of depression. I felt like hope had just died all over again. I felt empty, and I never wanted to be full again. Thankfully, that feeling eventually faded away, like badness and negativity always does when one has a heart that laughs honestly and without fear.

I sit here now, thirteen years later, watching President Obama with his hand over his heart, making a dedication to the memory of that day. Flags are being unfurled at the Pentagon, rebuilt from the destruction they suffered on that same morning so long ago, but never really distant. That day was a tragedy, but not as tragic as the legacy we took up in its wake. We went into foreign countries, sometimes illegally and under false-pretenses, to fight militants and terrorists, and to what end? Last night President Obama interrupted prime-time television to tell us that we’re going to fight ISIS (or ISIL or whatever the hell we’re calling them this week) and abolish their threat to an already sensitive and unstable region. If you don’t know ISIS are, they’re the terrorists that the terrorists are afraid of. Bad news for everyone, really. Also, we bred them when we indiscriminately went after al Queda and the Taliban, and invaded Iraq for no reason and deposed Hussain, and left an already unstable region in complete and utter chaos. Did we get Osama bin Laden? Yes, and they grew two more in his place.

Thirteen years later. In Jewish tradition, when a boy turns thirteen, he is Bar Mitzvah and considered a man. I guess our war on terrorism can be considered all grown up as well, now moving into its next phase. It’s like a new and improved cold war – The armed militants need to be suppressed, therefore we need to keep ourselves armed and militant. And so it goes. Mazel tov.

The Bob Dylan album, Love and Theft, still sat on top of my stereo unopened and collecting dust for months until I finally moved away from the States and up to Canada, and it remains in the same plastic-wrapped state today in a closet in my apartment in Toronto. I have never listened to it, and I never will. But I will keep it forever.


Green Skies (or You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, and What You Don’t Know Can Kill You)

When Moe was still a very small child, he asked his father what to call the colour of the sky. Moe knew what the sky was, that ever-present roof that covered all the world and told the clouds where to go, but didn’t know what to call the colour. He was, after all, only a very small child.

The problem his father faced, however, was that he didn’t know what to call the colour either.

Moe and his father had grown up in an extremely isolated village; after Moe’s mother died in childbirth, Moe and his father were, in fact, the only two inhabitants. This nameless village was located precisely in the middle and just off to the right of nowhere, and Moe’s father could no longer recall which of the colours went with which of the things of the world, and this problem was further exacerbated by the fact that Moe’s father himself was completely colour-blind, so all of the things he ever saw were perceived only in varying shades of gray.

Colours? Who needed colours when your whole life was watching a half-dozen sheep? And that was exactly Moe’s father’s response the first hundred times Moe asked the question.

“What colour is the sky, Papa?”

“Why do you need to know the colour of the sky? The sheep are white. This is all you need to know.”

“But I want to know, Papa. What colour is the sky?”

“Who cares? Sheep are white.”

Being that the two — all-knowing and all-powerful father, and ever-curious and ever-inquisitive son — were the only people that the other had to talk to, this line of questioning went on for a much longer time than can possibly be imagined by anybody who knows more than one person, and eventually, Moe’s father realized that his best course of action would be to tell his son the colour of the sky, if only to get him to stop asking questions for a minute or two, and this is where he made the mistake that would eventually cost his beloved Moe his life.

Moe’s father knew the names of the colours – his darling wife had taught him before she died, even though he couldn’t differentiate between them – but as he didn’t really remember which colour went with which thing, after some strong consideration, he put his hand on his son’s shoulder and informed him, “Moe, my love, it is green. The sky is green. Except for at night, of course, when it’s very dark gray.”

Moe looked up at the sky and considered. Green is the colour of the sky. Green is the colour of water. Green is the colour of life. Green is the colour of good.

“Papa, what colour are the leaves on the trees?”

“Go to sleep, Moe. Go to sleep and dream of sheep.”

***

Many years passed, and in that time Moe’s father went to sleep one day and never woke up, so Moe put his father’s body into the ground next to where his mother was, and he cried for a while, but the sheep needed him and shortly life went back to normal, with the exception that Moe no longer had somebody to talk to. He still had his half-dozen white sheep and the beautiful green sky, though, so Moe was content.

One day, a man named Al came upon the tiny abandoned village and, parched and sore from his travels just off to the right of the middle of nowhere, decided that this would be a good and safe place to stop for the night. Al parked himself beside the well where he had quenched his thirst, spread out his pack, and went to sleep. When Al awoke, there was a very large man squatting in the grass nearby and staring at him.

“Hello, my friend,” Al greeted the very large man. “Greetings. I am a lonely traveler who has taken water from your well. I thought this place was abandoned as there was no one about when I arrived. Is this your village? What is it called?”

Moe considered the friendly eyes of the stranger, then responded, “This is Home. It is my village. This is where I live. I am Moe.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Moe. I am called Al. Do you live here alone?”

“Yes, this is my village. I live here alone. With my white sheep.”

Al nodded slowly, sad for the very large man. “All alone with no one to talk to?”

“My father used to live here, and I used to talk to him, but…,” Moe trailed off. He didn’t know the word for death, but he knew that it was different from sleep. Finally, he said, “Now he is gone. All of the other villagers went to another encampment far to the left of the middle of nowhere many years before I was born and never returned, my father told me. Now I only have the sheep to talk to, and sure as the sky is green, they never talk back.”

Al laughed aloud, goodheartedly. “Sure as the sky is green, you say? Ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!”

Moe wasn’t sure what was so funny, but he was sure that he was being laughed at, and he did not like the way that made him feel. “Do you have a problem with what I said?” Moe asked sharply, emulating the memories of his father when he would get cross with Moe for second-guessing how to tend the sheep.

“Well, my large friend,” Al said with a smile, “Other than the fact that the sky is clearly blue, no, I have no problems. Green skies, indeed.”

Moe found himself getting angry. “My father, who knew everything about everything, told me that the sky was green. You say that it’s blue? The colour of dirt and excrement and waste? Are you calling my father a liar?”

In light of the very large man’s size, Al found himself protectively inching back towards the well where he’d left his supplies when he went to sleep. “I don’t call your father a liar, but I do call him a fool if he told you that the sky was green. The leaf on the tree, the grass on the ground, those things are green, but even the smallest child knows that the sky is blue.”

Moe considered this, and said, “I am not a small child, nor am I a fool, and I say with authority and knowledge that the sky is as green as all the water in the deep green sea, as green as your eyes, stranger, and I do not like your tone. You can leave my well and my village now, and I ask you to never return.”

“But, you’re wrong,” Al informed him with a laugh. “You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried, and even then, if you truly think the sky is green, you’d still be wrong! Your father was a fool, and he raised a fool in turn.” At this, Al produced a long blade from his supplies and said, “Now, my friend, let’s admit that you’re wrong, through no fault of your own, and then we can go together and slaughter one of those delicious fat white sheep for our dinner.”

Moe was furious! “And I assume you’re then going to tell me that the blood of the sheep is red and not yellow, or some other ridiculous lie? I think not, Al who will remain a stranger. I tell you again, leave my village and do not ever come back!”

Al thought about his long hard journey from the edges of nowhere, and he considered his long journey from here, just right of the middle of nowhere, out to the other edges, and decided he was better off where he was, even if this lumbering galoot didn’t know the colour of the sky. “I’m not going anywhere, friend. Just agree that the sky is blue, your father was wrong, and we can forget this nonsense altogether, and laugh about it over dinner.”

Moe stared at the stranger, straight into his pale blue (or, green, as Moe thought) eyes, and said, “You are a liar and you will leave my village. Now.”

Al, a well-traveled man, didn’t have much to his name. He had his pack, his supplies, a rock from his own village that his mother gave him, and the long blade that was currently in his hand, but he did have one thing to his name that he would allow none to take from him: Al had his honour, and in Al’s estimation of the world, honour was everything.

“I am no liar. You will take back your words, my very large friend. Admit that the sky is blue, or your sheep will be eating you for dinner tonight rather than the other way around.” Al proffered his blade at Moe in what can only be described as a very threatening manner.

“My father was a great man, and I am just as great! You are a liar, and you will only stay here near my well, in my village, my home, over my spilled yellow blood upon your blade.”

As mentioned earlier, Moe had grown up in extremely isolated circumstances, and had never truly been threatened before. Moe knew nothing of honour, he knew nothing of murder, he knew nothing other than that the sky was green, the sheep were white, and the world was good. And at the moment that his life ended at the end of Al’s blade, that was still all he knew.

Moe’s body collapsed to the ground in a painful heap, and he fell back with his head on the ground, eyes facing the sky, and he smiled with the knowledge of the right. “Green,” was all he said, and then he was gone, off to wherever his father and his mother before him had gone.

Al stood over Moe’s lifeless body and sighed sadly. “Your blood was as red as that of any man, and the sky is still as blue as it ever was, and now you’re dead. I hope your green sky was worth it, friend Moe.”

***

Al stayed in the village until the end of his days, and those days were many. At one point, a family of travelers came upon the village, and Al married their daughter, having traded two full-grown sheep for her hand, and they had children and prospered.

One day, many and many of years later, when Al was old and bent and could hardly lift himself from the bed that was once Moe’s, the largest storm that the world had ever seen came rolling over the hills. The air was electric and thick with ozone and humidity, causing the sky to darken and change with the energy and the moisture that was pounding through it.

Al sat up and stared out the window, and laughed to himself.

“What is it, my love?” Al’s wife asked from the other room. “What is wrong?”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Al said aloud, more to himself than his wife, “Will you look at that! The storm has turned the sky green! The sky is green!”

And with that, Al collapsed back into the bed that once belonged to Moe, and never awoke again.

 


Still Alive

This past weekend, a friend of mine asked me why I haven’t updated my blog since the last time hell froze over, so here I am, updating my blog.

I wish I was blogging more, I really do.  However, the best laid plans…  Work has been insanely and amazingly busy for me, so that takes time away from blogging, and I’ve also been writing a much larger project that keeps jumping from being a graphic novel to a prose novel to a screenplay, and then back again.  It’s big, it’s fun to write, but it’s taking up any of whatever free writing time I do get because I want to finsh getting it out of my head – I still have about a year to go at the pace I’m writing now, and that sucks, but it will feel great once it’s finished.  I don’t want to say what it’s about until I’m done, but the genesis of it was my thinking that it would be a funny idea to write a buddy-comedy about a psychic and a mime, and it kind of blew up from there.  As it developed, it turned into something amazing – Now there are Nazis involved, and a whole lot of adventure.  I hope I actually finish it on paper, because in my head it’s tragic, comic, dramatic, and a whole bunch of other words that end in -ic.

Other than that, life is good.  Short update, and really just a blog post about nothing, but there you have it.  Take it for what it is.  Or don’t. 


Looking for a Little Bit of Peace on Earth

Every single year my wife asks me what I want for Christmas, and every single year I give her the same response: “Nothing. I’m Jewish.”  Then she tells me to be serious, so I reply: “Peace on Earth.”  Every year, the exact same conversation, verbatim.

While many or most (or all one of you who actually reads this) may think I’m joking or being facetious, I am not. That is 100% what I want for Christmas this year, next year, and every other year.  I want World Peace, and while it’s fun to joke about it, I am completely serious.  Day in and day out, I look at the news and all I see is misery, violence, heartbreaking heartache, legislated and legitimized insanity, and then, of course, a filler story about Pussy Riot or a monkey in a designer coat to distract me from how depressing the rest of the world really is.

I look at Israel and Gaza and I want to weep.  I see Syria imploding all because a megalomaniac refuses to see how his own selfish whims and wishes are destroying a generation of his citizens.  Drug Cartel wars in Mexico leaving scores of innocent citizens dead on the streets.  Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Congo, and Sudan… People fighting and dying for any number of conflicts or reasons, all over the world, and for what? So that those who are in power can stay in power.

A citizenry with a defined enemy will band together in solidarity, and therefore ignore the internal problems of their governments and lands.  This is a propaganda trick that has been going on basically since the idea of government formed – If we give them an enemy to be afraid of and feel threatened by, they will have no choice but to ignore the enemy within.

The US government used this tactic most artfully immediately after Sept 11, 2001, pushing through some of the most criminally questionable legislation to steal away the American right to privacy, and they were applauded for it all in the name of security.  “Oh, you want to steal my rights and my expectation to privacy?  Please do, and take some cookies on your way out!”  People were out of their minds with fear.  People were angry at this Other, in this case Islamists, who attacked them.  People needed to protect their kids, their livelihoods, themselves.  The enemy was everywhere, the enemy could be anyone, maybe even your next door neighbour!  In the name of safety, we have wire-tap the whole lot of you, read your e-mails, use whatever you say in private and personal conversations against you, all in the name of making peace.  Mind you, no peace was made – Instead two wars, one a very bad idea that was poorly planned, and one that was entirely 100% illegal and had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, came out of all of that.  But that was okay – we were safe, and we were going after the bad guys.

So, how did that work out for the US?  Hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and countless lives maimed, ruined, or ended, and nothing has changed.  Sure, Saddam is dead, but what did he have to do with September 11th?  Weapons of Mass-Destruction – Oh, look! Another lie used to scare us into supporting the supplantation of a tyrant, and yes he was a tyrant, but he was no threat.  Iraq was just an excuse to spend a lot of public money so that a few private corporations could earn a windfall, and even after that all finally came to light, nobody apologized to those of us who decried that war as dirty and illegal from the beginning. Lives were lost, how dare we ask them to admit they were wrong, that their profits were made off of the backs of soldiers who will never see a dime, and are all but forgotten once they return home, emptied shells of the people they were before they went away to kill in the name of God and country?

We are a very selfish species, but more than that, we’re also stupid.  We are ignorant, most of us purposefully so.  We choose which news stories to talk about, and which to ignore.  Pussy Riot is a legitimate news story in Russia, but on the day those women got arrested for their publicity stunt, dozens of miners striking for their rights were slaughtered indiscriminately in South Africa, all for sticking up for their human rights to work in safe conditions and earn a livable wage.  Guess which story took over the internet that day?  The one with the relatively attractive ladies and the word Pussy in it, of course.  Who cares if a bunch of black people in South Africa got slaughtered – Charismatic people are going to jail in Russia for disrupting and disrespecting a church service!  Honestly, the only reason Pussy Riot became a household term, even if just for a few days, was because the news producers thought it would be entertaining to make their anchors say the words Pussy Riot over and over again on live TV without cracking up.  Don’t believe me?  Ask a news producer.  Outside of Russia, it was a non-story, other than their funny name, and anybody who understands how news programs are made will tell you that’s the truth.  Well, they might not tell you on record, but they know.  The word Pussy sells more ad space than a bunch of dead Africans.  People are interested in Pussy, whereas Africans die violently all the time.  We live in a lovely world, don’t we?

Wars cost us all a lot – The lives of our soldiers is obviously the biggest cost, in my opinion, but then there are also the tax-dollars, the increased prices for goods and services during time of national instability (oil companies, I’m looking at you on this one), the families broken because one or both parents have to go far away to fight a bunch of strangers who most likely had nothing to do with whatever caused the war in the first place…  Humanly, financially, spiritually, the price of war is staggering to the point of being incomprehensible, and why?  For what?

Greed.  Piggishness.  Control.  We willingly let our governments lie to us.  We willingly allow them to prop scarecrows up before us so that we can tear them down and feel better about it.  If the Israelis are all forced to hate the Palestinians, then the infighting between the ultra-Orthadox and the non-secular Jews gets thrown to the wayside in the name of a common enemy.  Same thing for the Palestinians – If they’re busy hating on the Israelis, they are therefore actively ignoring the crimes perpetrated against them by their own government – A citizenry kept in poverty while the lucky few drive around in bullet-proof SUVs and live in armoured fortresses.

Last week, after the NRA in the US made their statements about putting more guns into the hands of the people as a response to Newtown while at the same moment a nut went walking along the highway in Pennsylvania, randomly shooting people, I posted a link to the story with a “Deep, deep sigh” on Facebook.  Immediately, one of my friends, a gun enthusiast, came down on me for blaming the NRA, which I was not doing, but we’ve all become so defensive of our opinions from having the other side attack us so blatantly, ad nauseum, that he had a knee-jerk reaction, and I don’t blame him for that at all.  But, once we got the conversation on gun control going, it sincerely became one of the best experiences in Social Networking I have ever had.  Unbelievably, and unlike our politicians, there was held a very balanced and respectful debate over gun laws and gun control, and guess what?  Once we put our political affiliations and right or left leaning tendencies aside, a very healthy and fruitful conversation was had, and you know what else?  Pretty much everybody realized that we were all arguing for the same thing.  We couldn’t see that because we had all of these man-made political divisions until all of that was put aside and we got to the crux of the matter – Nobody, gun enthusiast or not, thinks kids should die, or that potentially violent mentally ill people should be allowed to legally get their hands on a weapon.

Until we learn to question our governments, to speak up when we know something isn’t right, to not be bullied into acquiescence out of fear, there is no hope for peace.  Until we learn not only to speak, but to listen, to respect, to stop calling each other names and pigeonhole ourselves with labels, to fight with logic and thoughts for the greater good, to hold each other up instead of tearing each other down, there will be no peace.

So, what do I want for Christmas?  World Peace.  And it’s in your power, dear reader, to give it to me.

Thank you, and bless you all.  Especially if you read this whole thing!

Peace!