Thursday, June 30, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: all the old haunts

This week's Flash Fiction Friday prompt was to be happy, write a positive story.

The following scribblings may not comprise a very conventional happy story, but I like to think it ends with a happily ever (and ever and ever) after.

All the Old Haunts

He was so hungry.

He was also scared and confused and lonely as he crouched behind the counter of the abandoned 7-11, waiting for night to fall. But mostly Brian was hungry.

He had a vague memory of the Before time, when food was so plentiful and seemed so much less important. Not like the gnawing hunger that always possessed him now. A residual spark from some lone surviving neuron in his atrophying hippocampus conjured up a memory of bags of chips, strips of beef jerky, chocolate bars, lining the shelves. But the weak memory soon fizzled out and was extinguished.

It really had no meaning for him now anyway. There was just the incessant hunger, and the hazy understanding that there just weren't as many living to feast on as when he had first turned.

The others were feeling it too. He could hear them becoming louder by the day as they shuffled past the ravaged convenience store, the collective moan of the horde becoming more plaintive and desperate with each passing day. Each time one of them called out for brains, he swiveled what was left of his head toward the sound, thinking that they were calling him. Until he remembered - not brains, Brian, he was Brian.

It was this continual reminder that he had once had a name that kept him inside the 7-11, desperately trying to hold onto the rapidly depleting memory fragments of when he had stood behind the counter, selling lottery tickets and cigarettes. The memory of a name and the blurry recollection of the woman in the polka dot dress who had been with him when everything changed.

He had loved her, of this he was certain. His last thought, as the ravenous horde had broken through the barricaded windows and had descended upon them, was of her. It was her terrified face calling out for him that was his final memory before the gaping slobbering mouths ripped at his flesh. It was her final cry that burned his own name into the remnants of his brain.

And now he was so hungry. Although he was incapable of appreciating the irony, his final remaining vestiges of reason told Brian that he could not feed himself if he stayed inside the store, that the only place he would find the sustenance he needed to quell the agony of his empty gut was out there, in the ravages of the plundered streets. But he hated leaving, fearful each time that he would never find his way back to his only remaining link to his life before.

He moaned loudly, his decaying vocal chords giving voice to his anguish and his confusion and his fear.

The lone creature stumbling past the shattered store windows stopped abruptly at the sound and gave a small cry, then lurched unsteadily into the darkened shell of the building toward him. Brian swayed to his feet from where he had been crouched behind the lottery counter, ready to defend himself and his sanctuary. And then he saw the tattered clothing that the creature was wearing, the soiled and ripped remains of a polka dot dress that she had worn on the last day of her life.

They stared at each other. He staggered toward her, salty tears from long dried up ducts trickling from cavernous eye sockets. She reached out and touched his ravaged face, her gnawed fingers gently stroking where his cheek used to be. "Brains," she moaned, the parody of a smile stretching across her half-eaten face. She shook her head then, the motion jarring loose a couple of teeth, sending them scattering across the debris-strewn tiles. "Not brains ..." she gasped triumphantly, "Brian!" And before he could wrap his arms around her, she lifted a surprisingly intact arm and extended a freshly-killed and meaty thigh toward him.

And then he remembered. "Eleanor," he croaked, and they were home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

old woman yells at cloud

Years from now
when people ask me
the secret to my robust health
and longevity,
I will share with them my rules for life

1. never apologize, never explain
2. a place for everything and everything in its place
3. show up to hear the opening band and always buy the album
4. every bite counts
5. shopping is a necessary evil, not a recreational sport
6. never forego the chance to walk or to use the bathroom
7. nobody ever regretted going for a workout
8. it's more important to be heard than to be paid
9. get rid of stuff
10. sometimes you have to eat dessert first

What rules do you live by?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

notes from the island

- the tried and true strategy of leaving the sunblock at home to ensure that the sun will come out does indeed still work.
- always buy the CD. Twin Shadows still sounds pretty groovy the next day.
- walking a few extra steps to buy food off-site gets you a massive tasty falafel pita for less then you pay for a skimpy little pizza.
- the giant penis wandering through the crowd is actually quite friendly.
- manpris are still popular festival wear, but the minidress with cowboy boot combo has been replaced by the minidress with knee-high boot look.
- The Raveonettes lost a drummer at Heathrow. This could be their only conceivable reason for not playing Love Gang. Great set, if a little lacking in heart, perhaps due to the lack of banter. Or possibly that was the drummer's fault too.
- we have the coolest mayor in the known universe. The only thing that's better than a Chad VanGaalen set is a Chad VanGaalen set introduced by Naheed Nenshi (I was a bit of a nerd in school. Other kids wanted to be the drummer because they're the ones who always get the girls, but I wanted to be the announcer.)
- holy smokes Dandy Warhols! You are surprisingly awesome, tight and together for a band that I didn't even realize was still together!
- lucha libre, giant butterfly angels, pig masks, and more insane spectacle than I have ever seen on one stage - I didn't think it was possible for Of Montreal to be even more flamboyantly over-the-top than they were the last time they played Sled Island, but I was wrong.
- I have no remorse about punching that guy in the nuts, nor will I the next time someone kicks me in the head crowd-surfing. I don't care if they are on crutches.
- despite the 11:00PM noise ordinance, Olympic Plaza remains the best possible Sled Island main stage site. Provide a tank for water refills and order more toilet paper, and it's pretty much perfect.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

exit music (for a weekend)

I was rather bummed at myself for missing Lee Ranaldo's workshop at Cantos yesterday, so to fill the void, I blasted Sonic Youth during the trek to the far flung reaches of the city's northwest. The birthday party we attended turned into a hoe-down that rollicked into the wee hours, the Spousal Unit providing harmonic(a) accompaniment for the legit musicians.

Details will follow.

Today is official Sled Island day here at Zombie Central. The four-day wristbands being slightly beyond our budgets, the Resident Offspring and I opted for one-day passes to the outdoor main stage at Olympic Plaza. In true hipster fashion, we will show up stylishly late, foregoing the first two acts in favour of a more leisurely morning of coffee and pyjamas.

We are planning to rendezvous with our blipster buddies somewhere down on the festival grounds, where we will proceed to take in the musical stylings of Twin Shadow, the Raveonettes (please play Love Gang!), Chad VanGaalen (to be introduced by Mayor Nenshi), Minus the Bear, the Dandy Warhols (who, I presume, are still bohemian like me), and the always fabulous and sparkly Of Montreal.

I am planning to rely upon Environment Canada who promise no rain until after midnight, rather than the Weather Network who warn of evening thunder showers. However, with this year's elimination of the beer garden in favour of libations being allowed throughout the festival grounds, perhaps we won't even notice.

Details will follow.

Tomorrow will be a day dedicated to reminiscences and to strategizing my approach to the workshop lineup at the Calgary Folk Festival.

Details will follow.

What's on your musical agenda this weekend?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

amplifying the music

Evoking symbols of the west - grain elevators that once dotted the prairies, hoodoos that rise from the badlands - the National Music Centre, scheduled to open in 2014, will be an impressive and unconventional gateway to Calgary's East Village that is certain to generate controversy. Judging from the decidedly mixed reaction that unconventional designs such as the new Peace Bridge have previously generated amongst Calgarians, there are bound to be more than a hatful of haters hating on the National Music Centre building. Personally, I think it is exactly the sort of grand and imaginative design that is needed to house the grand scope of its vision.

Cantos Music Foundation CEO Andrew Mosker and architect Brad Cloepfil unveiled the striking design at a packed soiree at the Uptown Theatre Wednesday night. A sizable contingent of the city's music, culture, and architecture lovers milled about the Art Deco foyer of the historic theatre, noshing on deli platters and chatting above the black tee-shirted band before being ushered into the theatre proper for a break-neck paced, albeit good-natured, slide show. Despite having to forego the Wild Nothing/Braids concert on the opening night of Sled Island and despite having been given a taste of the plans at an information session at Cantos Music Foundation a month ago, I knew I also had to be present for the formal unveiling.

The National Music Centre will house performance spaces, artist in residence studios, recording studios, and exhibition spaces. The condemned King Edward hotel, which is both a historical landmark and an important piece of the city's musical history, will be restored and incorporated into the structure as a club, very much in keeping with its longtime role as a blues venue. During the design phase, acoustic engineers planned movable walls within the towers and vessels of the structure to allow for performances to be closed off into smaller spaces or to be opened to allow music to fill the entire National Music Centre.

Most importantly, the NMC will provide a physical home for Canada's musical legacy, a legacy that until now has had to reside in the hearts and the memory banks of lovers of Canadian music. I cannot be more proud that this is happening in my Calgary.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

it doesn't need to be this complicated

A sure sign that we are on the cusp of another Sled Island Festival, all those hipsters I saw in Mission today, pouring out of what looked suspiciously like well-traveled band vans. The mission in Mission was to pick up tickets from the Sled Island office for the Saturday main site outdoor concert.

Musically, the good folks at Sled Island put on a great festival, but they sure do make you jump through hoops to get to it.

It's a big sprawling festival, so I can understand the complexities of the various types of tickets that are available. There are four-day wristbands, VIP wristbands, one-day wristbands and all-ages wristbands. There are main site tickets which you must buy beforehand and tickets to a handful of about twenty select concerts that you can buy beforehand or purchase at the door for a slightly higher price. Confused yet? That's actually the simple part.

I was trying to buy tickets to the main site concert on Saturday, which, as far as I could tell from the website, are not available for purchase at the venue. Evidently they are available for purchase in person at Sloth Records or at some men's clothing store, or they are available for purchase online. I thought the online route would be simplest.

But even though the e-tickets that I printed off stated that they were to be brought to the venue to allow access, the Sled Island website warned otherwise, stating that all e-tickets had to be exchanged at the Sled office for a different ticket. Now I understand that this is the only conceivable way to issue wristbands, I get that, but I don't understand why this is necessary for a ticket for a single event. Especially when you have just printed off a ticket with a unique barcode and your name, rank and serial number clearly on it. Especially when the Sled Island office is nowhere near the main site venue, so you can't even just drop by on the way to the concert to pick it up. A special trip needs to be made.

Inside the Sled Island office, the process gets even murkier. Feeling rather like I was applying for high level security clearance at the White House, I handed over my e-tickets plus the demanded photo identification. The volunteer Man In Black behind the table scrutinized the reams of print-offs from the ticket processing service, looking for my name to verify that the e-tickets I had just handed him were not cleverly-fashioned forgeries.

My name was glaringly absent from the list. The Men In Black were onto me; evidently that unpaid Vancouver parking ticket was coming back to haunt me.

Someone else came over and asked when I had bought the tickets and, when told it was that morning, printed off another ream of paper with names more recently gleaned from the ticket processing service. My name was glaringly absent from this list as well.

I'm still not entirely sure why my driver's license number was then required, in lieu of my name being present on this mysterious list, but I am sure that I was not the only one who could see the ludicrousness of the entire exercise by this point. When I asked the increasingly frustrated MIB volunteer what would be done with my driver's license number afterward, that it would be destroyed, right? he merely sighed, shrugged and reiterated that he was just a volunteer.

I'm pretty sure it's easier to get category one security clearance to the nuclear launch codes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

keeping her place in the arcane

Irma Voth - Miriam Toews

I admit bias; I was fully prepared to love this book.

It's no secret that A Complicated Kindness, the tale of a rebellious teenager in the familiar yet mysterious world of the Mennonites of southeastern Manitoba, ranks highly on my list of favourite novels. Nobody cheered louder than I did when it won Canada Reads a few years ago. So when I learned that Miriam Toews had set her new novel once again in this reclusive religious community, albeit amongst a handful of Canadian Mennonites who had fled to Mexico, I was enthralled. But make no mistake, Irma Voth is not A Complicated Kindness 2.0.

Stifled by the sequestered life of a remote campo near the Sierra Madre mountains, eighteen-year-old Irma Voth meets and secretly marries Jorge, only to be deserted a few months later. After being banished by her strict disciplinarian father, she maintains a covert relationship with her loving but silent mother and her younger sister Aggie, who is beginning to display signs of overt rebelliousness against their religious upbringing. When Irma is hired as a translator by a film-maker who is making an art movie about the Mexican Mennonites, her sense of belonging with the film crew, peripheral though it might be, sets her on the road to self-awareness. But it is only after Irma flees, with Aggie and their newborn baby sister Xemena, to Mexico City, that she honestly begins to confront the tragic secrets that have paralyzed her family.

Miriam Toews has a deceptively simple writing style. Unembellished, matter-of-fact, with no quotation marks to separate conversation from narrative, the writing in Irma Voth feels very much like what it is, the wry relating of events by a young woman not generally given to introspection.

This is a book with a great deal of humour in it. During the reading that Miriam Toews gave recently in Calgary, the audience laughed loudly throughout. She is a gifted storyteller.

But Irma Voth is also a strikingly poignant book. Perhaps I was lulled into a sense of complacency during the first half of the novel, in which the humourous awakenings outweigh the instances of intolerance, perhaps Irma's matter-of-fact voice tempered the brutality. But I was completely unprepared to deal with the dark secrets to which Irma finally gave voice.

Irma Voth is a powerful, funny, and haunting story of finding autonomy, peace, and the strength to forgive yourself. You should read it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

sow's ear

It either needs to stop raining so that I can get back at my outdoor projects, or I need a new indoor project. And I would like a planned project this time, not one necessitated by accidently buying a flat sheet instead of a fitted one, in a colour that just happens to be perfect for the dining room.

I'm pretty pleased with how these curtains turned out. Who needs a sewing machine when you've got bias tape and grommets?

Monday, June 13, 2011

tender branch is gonna fall

Operation Dead Hedge has commenced and, true to form, I forgot to take any photos for the before and after shots. Not until I stood catching my breath in front of a massive pile of dead branches, holding the last mud-encrusted root ball in my hand, did it occur to me that I had missed the opportunity.

I may regret missing the photo op, but I do not regret moving forward with the plans, despite the fact that, also true to form, the project has turned me into a human Rube Goldberg machine. It's what happens when you get stabbed with a lilac branch while laying slate. When taking the hedge pruners to the offending (and also dead) branch, it's next to impossible to stop at pruning just one branch. And you thought eating just one potato chip was hard.

The lilac looks better now, but that pile of dead branches has gone from merely massive to gargantuan.

I decided against using up the old floor tiles to augment the slate slabs for this project, and opted for much larger, sturdier, and one thousandfold heavier sidewalk blocks. That waterbed bench is going to be heavy and needs a solid base on which to reside.

The Spousal Unit has offered to build the waterbed bench for me, but, not content with hand gestures and explanations like about yay long and held up by some stacks of wood or something, he insists that I provide him with some construction plans. My haphazard scrawls on the back of a grocery list will not suffice.

You don't happen to have any blueprints for a simple backless garden bench on you, do you?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: cleanup in aisle five

Prompt: Write a story using the words banana, iguana, elbow, flaming, and pogostick and make it wacky, absurd or bizarre.
They met in the bananas. She was methodically rooting through the stacks of produce, searching for the perfect seven-banana bunch, just as she did every Saturday morning. It was not a task she undertook lightly, there were rules to be adhered to, rules governing the specific length, ripeness and consistency of the bunch. And there had to be seven. It was cheating to break up a larger bunch into the correct number.
As she pulled the tape measure out of her purse to measure what appeared to be an acceptable bunch of bananas, she felt her elbow jostled. “My apologies, miss,” a smooth voice murmured in a broad Cockney accent.
She swiveled her head around to the address the speaker, but there was no one there. The closest person was the stock boy in the next aisle, arranging oranges into a neat pyramid. He was a long-armed young man, admittedly, but even without using her tape measure she could tell that there was no way those limbs could reach from that aisle, and all the way over top of the mangos on sale for 99 cents apiece, to reach her elbow.
This was not good, this was definitely not good. Not only was she hearing voices again, now she was feeling phantom nudges as well. In her distress she dropped both her tape measure and the apparently acceptable bunch of bananas onto the produce pile in front of her.
“Oof, just missed me by a hair, love,” the voice exclaimed, this time a little louder, a little less smooth, but every bit as Cockney. This was followed by a slight chuckle. “Not that I’ve got any hair to miss, mind you.”
It was an iguana. An iguana standing there on the stack of bananas, looking up at her with big dark eyes. As she stood there slack-jawed, he regarded her with a tilt of his little green head. “The name is Martin,” he announced with a slight bow, “and I must say, being nearly offed by a tape measure is a small price to pay for a chance to meet such a stunning creature as yourself.” She could swear he winked at her.
“I am not seeing an iguana!” she protested, more to herself than to the apparition in front of her.
“Oh no, see, that’s where you’ve got it wrong,” Martin asserted, throwing his arms open in protest. “Not an iguana at all, miss. I’m a gecko. Mother was a gecko, father was a gecko, although a bit of waster, he was. Brothers and sisters - all geckos. Come from a long line of nothing but geckos.”
He was indeed a gecko, she could see that now. And he looked vaguely familiar. Had they had this encounter before, or was she simply remembering one of the scenarios that sometimes ran through her head, those dress rehearsals that she sometimes confused with real life?
“Do I know you?” she offered, hesitantly. “I feel I do…”
A slight shrug of his little green shoulders, followed by a bashful smile. “You might have seen me on the telly,” he admitted, “I do a bit of acting, commercials and the like. Not that I would presume to call myself an actor.” He shook his head and waved off any suggestion that she might do just that, and reached down to pick up her dropped tape measure, winding it carefully back into its case before offering it to her with a crooked smile. “But people seem to like me well enough.”
Over the next half hour, as they chatted, she began to understand why. Martin was actually quite charming, far more charming than most of the non-reptilian gentlemen friends that she had entertained lately. Even so, she was surprised to find herself rather flattered when he admitted that he had noticed her before, on her regular Saturday morning trips to the grocery store. “How could I not notice such a lovely lady?” Martin declared, clasping his little green fingers to his heart, “especially one who rides a pogostick to the green grocers.” He flashed his crooked little smile at her. “I’ve been meaning to learn to ride one myself, for an upcoming role. Perhaps you could give me a few pointers.”
When Martin suggested that they continue their conversation over peanuts and a round of flaming sambuccas at the gecko-friendly bar at the other end of the strip mall, she agreed without any hesitation.
“I just need to buy my bananas,” she told him, giggling slightly as he offered her his arm. She picked up the apparently acceptable seven-banana bunch that she had been measuring when they met and started to put it into her grocery bag, then stopped and with more recklessness than she had ever remembered feeling in years, tore one of the bananas off the bunch and tossed it back onto the fruit stand.
She had a feeling she wasn’t going to need a banana for tomorrow morning’s breakfast after all.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

that's no way to run a pony express

I could drive there in 14 hours and Google maps tells me I could walk there in nine and a half days, so I fail to understand why it took four weeks for a letter to get from Calgary to Neepawa, Manitoba. I guess it ties in with the fact that lately it's been taking about ten days for mail to arrive here from the Okanagan (an eight hour drive, seven and a half day walk).

Canada Post, you are doing very little to convince me that you are still a crucial and effective service, as you consider escalating your rotating walkouts into a general strike.

Odd how all those flyers still seem to arrive right on time.

I do love receiving a hand written envelope and I get a lot of joy out of sending mail to loved ones, and I even really like our letter carrier, but I am not convinced that the current system is sustainable.

When was the last time you found a hand written envelope in your mailbox?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

been training vipers

The downside of home ownership is the maintenance, especially when the required repairs are beyond your abilities/budget. We have a few too many of those scenarios here at casa del Zombie.

That's why it is so refreshing to stumble upon some home improvement ideas that are affordable and DIYable. Like the dining room curtains that I am fashioning out of the flat sheet that I bought recently, mistaking it for a fitted sheet. The colour is perfect too. It pays off to be instantly attracted to grey; everybody needs a default colour.

Next I am going to repaint the garage door - the car door, not the human door. Yeah, I realize it's a bit like putting lipstick on a pig, since the whole house and garage need to be repainted, but the garage door is within my scope.

And the project that I am most excited about involves the dead hedges that I lamented about recently. They line the front of the garage, facing the house, and in their current state provide a distinctly Hallowe'enish appearance to the back yard. Not really the look that I am going for.

I am going to dig out the deceased shrubs and, using some leftover slate slabs, extend the slate patio where the barbeque resides. Then, I plan to use the box of floor tiles that have been sitting in the basement since we moved here - left over from flooring the new bathroom in our former house - and build a pad along the garage wall where the hedge used to be. Then, using some massive wood slabs that used to be part of an old waterbed (remember those?), I plan to build a simple backless bench along the garage wall.

It won't cost me a dime and it will use up materials that have been stored in the basement for an eternity, which appeals to both my frugality (inherited from my father) and my desire to squeeze every last use out of something (which comes courtesy of my mother).

When I am finished, we can sit on the bench together, and I'll bring you a cocktail and tell you the story of my mother and the somebody-finish-this-butter incident.

Do you have any projects planned for the summer?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

the reluctant gardener

I'm a big fan of finality. I like to finish things, and it's not just for the satisfaction of crossing items off a list. I have a need to complete something before moving on to the next thing.

That's why I am psychologically unfit to be a gardener. That's why something like writing suits me far better. You sit down, you research and write your article, and it's complete. Once it's published, there is no going back and changing anything. You are free to move onto the next thing.

Gardening, I have come to realize, is the exact opposite of writing.

When I look back at old pictures of my yard, like this one from 07, I'm shocked at how decrepit my once lovely yard has become. I put a lot of work into the yard for the first few years after we moved here. I hauled soil and gravel and laid slate slabs and patio stones. I built retaining walls and established perennial beds. I planted and planted and planted.

Finally everything looked close to perfect and I was done. Or so I thought.

I knew that winter kill would take a few plants each year, but when the low-bush cranberry hedge that I so painstakingly planted was wiped out, leaving a scraggly ghost hedge lining the front of the garage, I started to get discouraged. The downward slide continued, with insects decimating the honeysuckle vines one year, the newly replaced hostas perishing year after year, and the surviving perennials taking it upon themselves to move from their designated spots in the flower beds out into the pathways, pushing over the retaining walls as they left. Who knew those plants were so forceful?

The past couple of summers, I have given up on the yard entirely, not even planting any annuals in pots. But I am starting to get tired of having my yard look like something out of Grimms' fairy tales. It would be different if the house was at least made from candy, something to distract from the half-dead shrubbery and the weird objects that I try to pass off as yard art.

I think I'll plant some cherry tomatoes in all those bare patches in the perennial beds, and call it done.