Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Cowboy at my Window

There is a crowd of us standing at my window gawking at a cowboy who has been pacing the sidewalk below for the past 20 minutes. 

Most of the group consists of unattached females who remain unattached by choice and are ostensibly proud of this choice. There is much babble about the joys of independence and not having to answer to anyone.

Yet the instant an even mildly attractive male is spotted around the building, estrogen-fueled pandemonium ensues. It starts with a pressured psst! and builds momentum until we have a situation like the one we have at the moment.

There are too many women at the window now and sooner or later some excessively eager lady, probably Myrtle from down the hall if she finds out about this, which she will for sure, will whistle or yell something lewd and draw attention to us.

Myrtle is a problem.

I have explained before how Belinda and I do not like our covert activities detected by those we watch from our window. These friggin women with their suppressed, unmet needs are not helping and Myrtle is the worst of them all.

Belinda is the first to notice the cowboy, which until recently, outside of fishing charter season when oil rig workers and other Albertans with money to spend drive their enormous gas guzzlers and boat trailers through the Rockies into BC’s recreational wilderness, were a relatively rare sight to behold in our coastal town. There is nothing to drill for here and nowhere to keep a cow or mount a horse with all the muskeg, crumbling streets and tractor-sized sinkholes.

There is, however, a natural deep-water, strategically situated port with superior access to the Asian market that industry lusts after, specifically gas and oil, at least that’s been the case lately with all the LNG buzz, hence the sudden Albertan draw and consequent increase in cowboy sightings. Even so, we do not normally see them as up close and personal as the cowboy we are currently staring at, particularly right outside our window, isolated from the herd for easy, undetected scrutiny.

Thus, because of the rarity of the situation, when Belinda initially notices the cowboy, she becomes so excited that she falls out of her swivel chair in the process of spinning around to tell me about it and injures herself. I jump up to help her, but she impatiently waves me off. Her minor injury is nothing compared to the cowboy.

“Go to the window! There’s a REAL cowboy out there! Oh my god,” she gushes, “I’m flushed!”

As I go to the window to see what all the fuss is about, Belinda pulls herself together long enough to phone Karen from a few floors up to come down immediately. There’s been a cowboy sighting.

Karen will be interested in this. She is off fishermen after being cheated on one too many times, but has a thing for cowboys because, well, who doesn’t? She also loves herself a “silver fox with good shoes”, as she is fond of saying, and is constantly on the prowl for a man, although we suspect this is more talk for the sake of an all-female audience than any real desire to “catch” a fresh one, as she hasn’t gone on a date in years. At this stage of the game, she’s come to realize the reality and the fantasy are NOT the same thing.

Nevertheless, we keep up the pretence and whenever we spot what seems to be a suitable specimen, we have a habit of notifying Karen. Plus, in this particular circumstance the three of us had just, maybe an hour beforehand at coffee, finished a “hot and bothered” discussion regarding the sex appeal of a good, old-fashioned cowboy, with Belinda breaking out in a rendition of Paula Cole’s, “Where have all the cowboys gone?” and Karen insisting Canadian cowboys are every bit as appealing as any American cowboy you can find to the south.

Belinda vehemently disagreed, saying, “If you want the real McCoy, you have to go to Montana”. I don’t know where Belinda gets her information, but I’m pretty sure she’s never been to Montana.

In any event, in light of this earlier conversation, Belinda figures Karen will appreciate the coincidence of a cowboy outside our window only a short while later. In addition to ogling strange men, we are big on coincidences, synchronicities and serendipities and keep a running tally.

“She will want to get in on the action,” Belinda tells me and I agree.

When she gets Karen on the line, Belinda is downright giddy as she repeats the bit about there being a “real” cowboy down here. But then before my incredulous eavesdropping ears she gets carried away in her description and says something about him wearing chaps and he’s built, Karen, like a scene straight out of Magic Mike!”


No, he is not in chaps.

I also don’t know what Magic Mike spoof she must be referring to, but as I take my first scrutinizing look at the spindly cowboy in question I can see why a little embellishment is necessary.

He does not hold up under careful observation.

That however doesn’t matter anymore, as intrigue has now been created and the cowboy effect, much like a bewitching halo effect, has been initiated. At this juncture, Belinda could claim he’s the cover model for a Lori Wilde romance, and regardless of what he actually looks like, no one would bat an eye; the cowboy effect is that strong.

Belinda, who by this time is completely under the control of the cowboy effect, gets off the phone with Karen and informs me, as if she’s sharing an important piece of CSIS intel, “She’ll be right down”.

We stand at the window waiting for Karen, taking in the cowboy’s tight jeans, spurred boots, tucked in western style shirt, ornate belt buckle and black cowboy hat, until the sound of Lenore’s high-pitched squeal destroys the spell. 

Belinda angrily shushes nosey Lenore who has barged in to check out what we’re looking at. She sees the cowboy straight away and turns to Henrietta who unbelievably has also appeared out of nowhere at the window and quips, “I’ll tell ya what, Henrietta, I wouldn’t be kicking him outta my bed if he farted under the blankets!”  

Henrietta snorts she laughs so hard at Lenore’s stupid joke. Belinda also chuckles, but I do not have it in me. This is not the first occasion I’ve experienced Lenore say this, and I cringe every time it comes out of her mouth. It wasn’t clever the first time and definitely not this many times. It’s too much.

I wish Lenore would stop coming into our office.

But then here comes Marge.  She is a round, over-inflated-bouncing-ball of a woman with penguin flipper arms and a plump tomato-looking head, who at this moment decides to accompany Henrietta’s little sound-bite there with, “Oh yeah! Ride me cowboy!”


Marge can’t even ride a bicycle or sit in a chair; she just kind of rolls off of everything. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how she manages to walk. I cannot BEGIN to imagine the logistics of anyone riding her. The thought of it leaves me feeling uneasy and in combination with Lenore’s fart-themed commentary not a little queasy.   

“Good lord, Marge, get a hold of yourself!” Henrietta scolds.

Henrietta only finds Lenore funny for reasons I am not equipped to appreciate. To everyone else, Henrietta is a miserable spinster who despises “amoral” behavior and speech, yet always seems to be around avidly listening when these “amoral” conversations are going on.

She is also the self-appointed mentor of people who do not know she’s mentoring them. Apparently she’s mentoring me, for example. I had no idea until Lenore mentioned it in passing. I hate Lenore.

Both Lenore and Henrietta are single, like everyone else of course, but it seems to bother Henrietta the most.  She tends to defensively ramble on and on about all the men who wanted to marry her, but couldn’t due to a series of convoluted rationalizations that no one is interested in hearing and only Lenore can follow. I suppose that’s why Henrietta likes Lenore.

But Marge isn’t affected whatsoever by who Henrietta likes or doesn’t like and continues to drool over the cowboy with an unfortunate litany of lecherous statements I do not care to repeat.

The noise level is already becoming distinctly elevated by this point when Karen finally materializes. She is a fit, youthful woman in her late 50s with a confident stride who can be a lot of fun, but in this environment has a no-nonsense attitude. She comes storming into our office with two frightened women I’ve never seen before trailing behind her.

“I brought Betty and Martha,” Karen reports to the room, “they need to see this, too”.

Things are getting totally out of hand with this cowboy. Word of his presence is spreading faster than word of the free mammogram clinic that was randomly thrown together at the start of the day.

If they really want to attract more women to a clinic where unpleasant things are done to sensitive body parts, they really should consider inviting the cowboy as bait. Every breast in a 100-kilometer radius will surely follow.  

There are now seven of us standing at the window. This is ridiculous.

And if that’s not enough, Megan, who is 21 and has no suppressed, unmet needs, comes into the office next and asks, “What’s going on?”

Lenore, encouraged by Marge’s string of vulgarities and still vibrating from the high of her own normally well-received signature phrase, rushes to inform Megan of the cowboy, mentioning the thing about not kicking him out of her bed for the 49th time in 7 minutes.

Megan does not laugh.

She pushes past Lenore, takes one look at the cowboy, crinkles up her nose and says to the rest of us, all over 30, most over 40 and beyond, “Eww, he’s old!” and breezes out of the room as fast as she came in, leaving Lenore deflated.  

I note Lenore’s fallen expression and fight the urge to moan and roll my eyes. She looks so dejected that I don’t have the heart to openly belittle her and suggest instead she ignore Megan. I awkwardly pat her on the shoulder and say, “Don’t worry, Lenore, Megan’s young, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed, either”.

Lenore brightens and I feel like a traitor who has soiled her own soul. However, I like hurt people even less than I like redundancy, which is probably why I can’t stand myself most of the time. It makes life problematic as there is no way to get away from yourself. Wherever you go, there you are.

Anyway, the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes in the form of Myrtle. She, as predicted, has caught wind of what’s going on here and comes whistling in. She hasn’t even seen the cowboy yet and is already catcalling.

By the time she reaches the window, her presence has caused such a commotion that the cowboy senses he’s being stalked. Suspicious, he looks up to discover much to his surprise and visible terror, us, a clutch of predatory ovaries, glaring down at him.

He nervously lights what we later decide must be a Marlboro cigarette and anxiously looks around, uncomfortably glancing up every now and then and giving us a better opportunity to make out his facial features and take in the rest of his skeletal physique.

No one staring at the cowboy is a fan of smokers and there is nothing arousing about a skeleton. As a result, the cowboy effect quickly evaporates and a disappointed crowd of sexually frustrated females disperse in a flurry of renewed man-hate, which is nothing more than a defense mechanism. You malign what you can’t have even as you yearn to have it. It’s utterly absurd, but what isn’t utterly absurd?

Belinda, who is noticeably trance-free now, loses her creepy enthusiasm and addresses Karen, the only one left with us, in a flat, accusatory tone, “There’s no way THAT cowboy is from Montana. He must be one of your oily cowboys from Alberta. He looks sickly”.

Belinda’s disdain is palpable and Karen is thoroughly insulted, which is weird that she’d take Belinda’s comment so personally since Karen has never lived, worked or dated anywhere other than BC. Me? I just watch the show.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Hierarchical Stigma of Mental Uniqueness

There is stigma associated with mental illness, or if you like “mental uniqueness”, which everyone knows. Not everyone, however, knows about the stigma within the stigma. It is a confused social control system that goes on and on like an over-medicated Russian nesting doll conscripted to stay awake against her will for repetitive play and in an attempt to steal her secret, much to the consternation of those not equipped to decode the things she hides within.

It is a hierarchical world after all and this hierarchy can be seen in most anything, including the mysterious realm of the mind and the theories, data interpretations, opinions and fears regarding that realm.

I imagine not many know this firsthand better than Lilith, who not only feels this layered stigmata to her bones, as if she’s been brought to a boil in it and now spends her life as a tainted stew simmering over a hellish fire, but has the double frustration of being wrongly identified. As a result, she walks around chained to a stigma that doesn’t belong to her like an innocent thief persecuted for something she never did.

I watch Lilith, the wrongly persecuted wooden doll, outside my window. She is waiting for a ride and looks stoic, poised and well put together in stark contrast to the last time I saw her. At that time, she was being dragged, kicking and screaming, barefoot, handcuffed and bleeding from the back of a police car. She had her glasses on and was still in her pajamas and a plush robe made of pink microfiber. Her hair looked damp as though she had recently gotten out of the bath.

It was as if they had suddenly barged into her house unannounced while she was settling in for the evening with a nice cup of camomile tea and a stack of books on her nightstand, to include probably something like, oh, I don’t know, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, or perhaps Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael or even Atlas Shrugged, which maybe she was reading more out obligation than actual enjoyment.

There, as well, might have been an old copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or a newly purchased Mean Boy by Lynn Coady, books she possibly was enjoying. I suppose it was also possible that she had beside her a small, unassuming sunset-adored hardcover of the Teaching of Buddha, which she may have unintentionally stolen from a hotel room once.

Then again, she could be a closet Fifty Shades of Grey reader, as Belinda, who stands at the window with me, suggests. I, however, disagree. Say what you want about Lilith and her sanity, she is not interested in that stupid book.

But Lilith’s reading preferences were of no concern to the cops who wrestled her into the building with such ferocity that they ripped her rope to reveal naked skin to any stranger that happened to be witnessing this degrading scene. Lilith, a modest girl with what some might call pathological insecurities, would have been mortified if she wasn’t so blinded trying to defend herself.

At one point she tripped and fell to her knees, but with her hands cuffed behind her as they were, she couldn’t get back up. Instead, she fell face-forward onto the cement and as she cried out in agony, her glasses fly to the ground, only to be trampled on by the same “peace” officers who were tasked to keep her “safe”.

I don’t know what their definition of “safe” is or when the province I live in became a fascist police state, but I’ve been haunted by this incident ever since it happened. She wasn’t even doing anything when they took her like they did. She was alone in her own home getting ready for bed. 

Her only “crime” was stopping an antipsychotic her insipid doctor with his ugly face, bald head, hoarse voice, awkward, intense stare and flat affect (she hates him) had prescribed. She stopped the vile substance not because she was exhibiting "poor judgment and a lack of insight" (as these doctors are fond of parroting), but because she didn’t like the side effects and actually felt emotionally stable off the drug, not on it. 

But the insipid doctor didn't listen to anything she said.  He knew best, as he arrogantly sat on a high chair behind his duct-taped desk, the carelessness of which  cast doubts in Lilith's mind regarding his eye for detail and thus the accuracy of HIS "judgment". He must have barely made it out of medical school, Lilith thought with disdain. Cheap bastard. She took a picture of the falling apart desk for future evidence, should the need ever arise. 

While it was true she was having some problems with insomnia and reversal of her sleep/wake cycle, she was working through it on her own terms and wasn’t bothering anyone. It was others bothering her, breaking into her house during the brief periods when she could sleep, eavesdropping on her, snooping through her things, even her personal journals, monitoring her every move, noting her every mood swing and forming uneducated opinions based on what they deemed as “bizarre” behavior and “nonsensical” musings.

But Lilith herself understood there was something not right. Of course she did. Some of the things she was experiencing were very much like being awake in a nightmare she kept telling herself wasn’t real. Rationally she knew it wasn’t “real”, yet it felt as real as the trivialities of any routine 9 to 5 workday.

She wondered then, if it “feels” real and “looks” real isn’t it actually irrational not to reconsider what is real? Maybe like the social stigmata she knew all too well or the ASMR brain tingles she’d known all her life, there were layers of conscious reality that not everybody understood because they didn’t have access to these other dimensions of reality OR the technological means to empirically measure these experiences in another. This line of reasoning, Lilith realized on some level, was not helping matters, but what human being with a functional survival instinct trapped in a nightmare wouldn’t do whatever she could to figure her way out of the scary funhouse maze she finds herself so she can wake up?

The thing is, if you rationalize something long enough, eventually you leave the head and end up at the tail where irrationality wags with such mad happy abandonment that you can’t help but want to be free from “logical” restraints and join the euphoria. It was at that moment Lilith came to the conclusion that given enough intensity of thought, rationality always leads smack into irrationality, which then takes you around and around, potentially driving you insane like an ancient mathematician trying to calculate an exact value for pi.

In any event, Lilith understood she was going through something unusual, but she also knew she would get through it if she was left alone to sail the storm into calmer weather. And it wasn’t because she had some romantic notions of “going it alone” or that she was in denial about her “psychosis”. It was only because she was the only person with intimate knowledge of the ship she drove and how to navigate it through troubled waters without destroying herself completely.

They wouldn’t leave her alone, though. They insisted on muscling their way into a chaos they knew nothing about and were understandably alarmed at what they discovered. But don’t barge into someone else’s madness when she’s still in the midst of her battle and condemn her for the mess. She’s not finished yet! Fuck you. She’s a creative mind at the height of her process and will clean up her mess when she’s done.

Unfortunately, before she’d had a chance to see the process through and sweep up the debris, it was this very type of “fuck you” defence reaction, this “aggression” as they put it, that had them justify carting her away and “securing” her in a locked rubber room.

It is hard to comprehend a system that justifies treating a person it labels as “sick” as violently and inhumanely as Lilith was treated. Should the “sick” not be treated with care? You’d never see an acutely sick cancer patient refusing chemo being treated the way Lilith was treated for noncompliance.

As if sensing my thoughts, as I watch her from my surreptitious perch, I notice Lilith rub her thigh where the bruise from being thrown around was so huge it took months to clear up and then wring her wrists where the cuffs were pulled so tight they cut into her skin causing her to bleed and scar.

Only she can see the scars now, but people have heard about her and are emphatic they can see her scars, too. They maliciously whisper, “There goes the crazy girl,” just like the commercial and like to importantly inform each other that hers is one of those dangerous psycho mental disorders, impossible to fully treat, not like the OCD every normal person with an untidy life “jokingly” wants. Not like the respectable depression of an overburdened teacher who is forced to constantly vacation, the anxiety of a helicopter stay-at-home mother who sacrificed a career to live in a gated community with her doting husband and beautiful, healthy children, or the slight hypomania of a successful workaholic drowning in wealth.

Lilith will see your bout of fatigue, your Pinterest-inspired decorative pillbox of Ativan you personalized yourself much to the praise of your 812 Facebook friends, and your lucrative spark of genius and raise you a hypnagogic hallucination so real you won’t be able to shake the feeling you were subjected to alien experimentation and the sustained suspicious that the aliens continue to analyze you without your knowledge, at least not with knowledge you can prove.

Where they aren’t being malicious, the sympathy, patronization and charity are almost worse and Lilith impatiently waves them off. Fuck you again. This does nothing to alleviate the stigma, but Lilith would rather go down with the ship than beg for help from a smug, self-aggrandizing asshole with inferior intelligence.

For their part, the smug assholes and other gossips prattle that Lilith will need medication for the rest of her life. They know this for a fact because that’s what other very intimidating people with credentials ominously shadowing their sterile walls predict.

And if you’re not impressed with their degrees, positions and reputations, these moneyed experts have research with subjective explanations, manipulated statistics and a diagnostic manual to back them up.  But most people don’t need any more proof than the word of authority or the fatuousness of popularity, especially when the thing they are being told appeals to a sense of superiority. Critical thinking is an unnecessary liability when lesser viewpoints that stigmatize other human beings predominate.

Lilith did not become aware of her own stigmatization until out of the blue in mid-life she was pummeled with a spontaneous spiritual awakening her atheistic preoccupations neither asked for nor expected. She became so overwhelmed with the euphoria of this surprise awakening – there is a god! – that she forgot about the very human concern of checking oneself and with free abandon surrendered to the experience like a gleeful toddler spinning dizzyingly out of control after being freed from a harness.

There was, as I’ve explained, a consequence to this spiritual orgy, which is what left Lilith exposed not only to stigma, but also to the confusing “objective” facts regarding her “subjective” reality as decreed by professionals who lived outside her head – people who informed her they knew more than she did about her mental state inside her head, despite her being the only one with insider information.

After her humiliation outside my window with the police, when she was made to understand they were only doing what was best for her at the time, she left their “care” with all kinds of dissonant labels littering her mind, a pit of doom in her stomach and a whole shit-load of prescription drugs to take it all away, or at least dull her spiritual exuberance to a zombified gurgle. Anything to just make her stop. The goal was to crush her soul at the exact moment she realized she had one.

Granted, the people tasked with hobbling her spirit were not aware that that was exactly what they were doing. They believed she was mentally ill, that they were helping her, whether she wanted the help or not, and they had the indisputable arm of science behind them, not to mention brute force and a legal system, if required.

Thus, after making sure she was adequately shamed and subdued, they confidently gave her their diagnoses, which varied depending on the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist’s particular bent. Next, they trialed a variety of psychiatric medications, most of which Lilith resisted, until they could settle on one that seemed to do the trick. Finally, happy that her and her symptoms were appropriately dulled, they sent her on her way with follow-up instructions.

Today, her toddler-like spiritual exuberance has grown into a kind of philosophical, wary maturity in which she tells people what they want to hear. She doesn’t like being restrained in a padded room with a camera pointed at her, all her rights suspended and nothing but a crib mattress on the floor and a thin polyester blanket that doesn’t keep her warm at night.

I can therefore empathize with why she tells them what they want to hear.

But as I watch the determined set of her jaw on this day and the shrewd squint of her eye as she surveys the people walking past her, I can’t help but wonder if underneath the façade is a wild creature in captivity, biding her time, waiting for the second the zookeeper forgets to lock the cage.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That Man is no Man

Belinda and I are standing at the window, taking a mental break. We’re watching a man sporting a buzz cut and dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals, as he assists what we assume is his significant other to their car parked directly in front of the building’s entrance. The woman is clearly in physical discomfort and leans heavily on the man as he gently guides her into the passenger seat of their Toyota Corolla. Once she’s safely buckled in, he bends down and hugs her for a long time in an extended bear embrace.

“You see? That’s the kind of man I want”, Belinda sighs. “They don’t make them like that anymore”.

I nod in agreement, “I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all”.

We continue to enviously watch this tender moment, “oohing and awing” until the man finally pulls away, heaving his rather large frame from the tight space he’s been squeezed into as he hugged his wife. Evidently he isn’t accustomed to spending that much time in a squatted position and kind of stumbles back in an attempt to get the kinks out of his legs. As he stumbles, I can’t help but notice his generous man-breasts straining against his otherwise baggy t-shirt.

Belinda also notices and shrugs, “Well, no one’s perfect and he does have his hair. Besides, looks aren’t important to me. I could tolerate a little gynecomastia for a love like that!”

I’m not so sure.

I squint my eyes and study the man a little closer. We are at a bit of a distance on the second floor so it’s not always easy to make out facial features, but the closer I look the more my doubt sets in until it dawns on me, “That’s no man”.

At first Belinda disagrees, not wanting to give up on the fantasy and goes right up to the window until she’s practically touching it with her nose.

“It’s a woman with man-hair, not a man with woman-chest,” I insist, my mind so distracted by our mistaken assumption that I temporarily forget about political correctness. When your illusions are shattered, you tend to focus entirely on the broken glass and not the torn decorative curtains that were keeping the illusion pretty.

Belinda, who also has short hair, although not as short as the woman we are currently scrutinizing in this unexpected light, whips her head at me to check that I’m not making some derogatory dig towards her own pixyish cut. I’m not. Her cropped style is lovely and suits her. I reassure her of this and apologize for my seeming insensitivity, explaining it’s just that I’m in the process of recalibrating my earlier thought about male chivalry not being dead.

Upon hearing this, Belinda steps back from the window now and reluctantly, dejectedly, agrees the man is indeed a woman.

We stew in this newfound, mildly depressing acceptance for a beat before it occurs to me, “You know, given enough time, if these guys aren’t careful with their inconsideration and misogyny, the human female may evolve to the point that she doesn’t need or want a male at all, whether for procreation, companionship, pleasure, opening a pickle jar or anything else. Just the other day I was reading about an all-female lizard species that propagates via asexual reproduction. If a lizard can figure it out, surely we can too.”

The look of dejection on Belinda’s face turns to horror as she listens to me rattle on about female-only lizards and the extinction of men, exclaiming, ”Oh my god, what are you saying??”

However, before I can elaborate, as if the goddess Sophia herself is listening in on our conversation and wants to illustrate the point, our attention is redirected to an asshole outside. He has angrily catapulted from his intrusive, older model Chevy king-cab with monster tires and the motor still running and has his fist in the air.

He and his truck are blocking the narrow road leading up to an ever-overflowing, chaotic parking lot as well as emergency vehicle access to the helipad. But he’s a self-centered asshole, as all assholes are, and doesn’t care that not only is he inconveniencing other drivers, but potentially preventing an injured person from reaching life-saving medical services. He is too concerned with madly gesticulating and yelling threatening obscenities at a female driver who is patiently waiting in her own, brand new, much nicer, way more expensive Silverado for him to move out of the way so she can get by.

We can only hear fragments of his verbal abuse from our vantage point, but we do hear and see enough to figure out that this Mensa candidate with a mullet has decided the woman is idling there, not because she doesn’t have room to get by, but because she’s a “stupid bitch” who lacks the driving skill to maneuver past him.

He jumps up and down screaming, “YOU HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH ROOM!!!!!”

She does not have enough room.

Inside, witnessing all this, we grow alarmed he might actually assault her or her truck, but thankfully before we can holler out the window (thereby giving ourselves away which we don’t like to do) or call for security, he gets back in his truck and pulls ahead as if he didn’t just act like an utter jackass. Perfectly reasonable.

Even from a distance, we can see the Silverado woman is upset by the way she’s been treated, but it looks like she’s going to take the highroad and leave this asshole in her dust and not say anything to him. I presume it’s because she thinks it will make no difference so why needlessly distress herself any further? Besides, she has the more expensive truck so she wins. Whoever has the most wins. Everyone knows this. The rich stay rich and assholes stay assholes. It’s some sort of universal law.

Nevertheless, what she doesn’t know is that there are other people watching, that even if her words make no difference in how this specific jerk conducts himself in the future or how she herself feels in the present moment, her words could have a positive effect not only on anyone watching, but later on when the story is repeated. It doesn’t matter if you throw a pebble in a puddle or the ocean, there’s always a ripple effect. You can’t predict with certainty who, what or if anything will be touched by that ripple.

This is why my heart skips a beat, bringing it from the brink of flat-lined apathy, when I catch the Silverado woman think better of it, screech her truck to a halt, roll down her window and call out to the asshole. We can’t hear everything she says, but there is something about him needing to grow up, how he’s a loser and an asshole and how he needs a therapist.

Mullet man has lit a cigarette by this point and stands there dumbly with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He gives no smartass retort, no apology, nothing. He has nothing to say for himself. Who’s the “stupid bitch” now?

Then, satisfied she’s made her disgust with him as a human being known, the woman zooms off, literally leaving this asshole in a cloud of dust and ash as the cigarette falls from his mouth and he dances around like a puppet on a string trying not to get burned.

He is not successful.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Always Look Up

I look out my second storey office window and observe the comings and goings of the people below. Most of them don’t notice me watching. If they do something they know they shouldn’t, such as light a cigarette while standing directly in front of a huge, impossible to miss “No Smoking” sign right as an emphysema patient attached to a canister of oxygen makes his way through the cloud of smoke, they will look to their left and their right, behind them and ahead, but they hardly ever look up.

You should always look up.

I never feel the need to report the people I watch, although I suppose if I witnessed someone physically assaulting a child I might be more inclined to intervene. 

For the most part, though, I’m interested not only in the unguarded behaviors of the people outside, but by the opinions and assumptions regarding those behaviors by us watching inside, usually me and one other person, sometimes two; occasionally if the “show” is particularly lively we’ll call over a third or fourth.

If you get too many watchers, however, you run the risk of someone getting all self-righteous and wanting to do something to stop the more dismal of the behaviors we witness. This will not do if you’re interested in observing a person’s behavior in his or her normal state in an effort to try and figure them out and perhaps glean some insight about yourself in the process.

You should therefore never interfere with the object of your interest or draw attention to yourself if you can help it because you don’t want the observer effect to kick in and change your subject’s natural course of action, possibly skewing your data and invalidating your findings.

On this day, I watch a woman I am familiar with named Florence, who, according to her, successfully completed a residential treatment program and has been clean and sober for the past 4 months. She is one of these tiny, loudmouthed people with pockmarked skin and a smoker’s voice that travels easily and I can hear snippets of her steady stream of bullshit. But she is a charming bullshitter and I don’t hold it against her. When you live in the trenches of society you have to find ways to survive, ways to feed the beast. The beast doesn’t care about your morality.

She is talking with a group of people, a twitchy guy I recognize as her user boyfriend she broke up with when she went into treatment, a known “crack whore” who likes to jog around town in a bright orange bikini advertising her wares because computers are alien to her, newspaper ads are expensive and besides the local paper went out of business 5 years ago, and finally a notorious IV drug user, Troy, who, before he entered into a methadone program, financed his addiction, his beast, with petty crime.

He is also an enormous hulk of a guy with a face tattoo and an intense Asperger’s stare that makes him appear more threatening than it turns out he actually is outside the rumor mill and its fantastical fabrications.

All four of them are drinking from Tim Horton’s coffee cups and smoking in defiance of the aforementioned no smoking sign. They are talking over each other, boisterous, erupting in laughter every few minutes with a healthy dose of F-bombs, the noise of which rises up to our open window, beckoning me from my desk.

My unexpected movement piques my companion’s curiosity until she can’t stand it any longer and joins me at the window (even though earlier she vowed she would not allow me or my extracurricular interests to distract her today). Regardless, she immediately understands what has drawn me there and with an excited hiss calls in Megan, who happens to be walking by our door. Megan is one of the few we trust, other than ourselves, not to get overly excited by the show and ruin our cover.

Everyone else around here gets pretty excited when they see any of the quartet in question, but especially Troy, and rush about screaming that there’s been a Troy sighting! A Troy sighting! Lock your doors and don’t walk to your car alone at night!

I pay no mind to the hysteria and walk to my car alone at night. It helps that I don’t believe the gossip that he’s violent and also methadone makes you lazy. I can't see him heroically rolling himself off the couch, wiping the drool from his cheek and blurry-eyed forcing himself to hike the miles of hill it would take to victimize me. I have nothing of value. It would not be worth all that exertion at all. I’m sure he knows this.

However, if you ask, with disinterest I will tell you I walk alone because I have a passive wish to not exist. Bring on the drug fueled psychos. I don’t care (which I won’t tell you is bravado and not authentic indifference because I am attracted to the idea of not caring. Eventually I’ll get there. Fake it until you make it. I’m not a liar, I’m merely delaying the truth. I’ll reach my nirvana of apathy one day).

My feeling is that the universe has had its paw on my tail since the start of this dysphoric journey, and it makes no difference if I obediently sit still or flail about in a frantic effort to escape. None of it sets me free, anyway. Why waste my self-respect with compliance and my energy with making a fool out of myself when there is no hope of release? Thus, rather than allow complete dejection to set in as the world devours me, I say fuck it. Whatever. Pass me the bottle.

And this “whatever” attitude is what I feel when I witness Troy do exactly that: Pass the bottle. He furtively looks to his left and to his right, like they do, behind him and finally ahead of him through into the lobby window to make sure no one can see them through the hedge. He doesn’t look up and not for the first time I wonder if this not looking up thing is related to a loss of faith after a hard life in the trenches or is it that I’m not the only liar? If there were as many believers out there who claim to be believers, you’d think more people would look up.   

In any case, satisfied no one can see him, Troy digs into his backpack, pulls out a king can of beer, takes Florence’s cup, dumps out the contents and pours in the frothy liquid which spills over the sides, causing Florence to shriek with mischievous laughter. The other two eagerly hold out their cups for the same clandestine treatment. Troy throws the empty cans (he manages to use 6) into the hedge and the four of them clink their Tim’s cups, pleased with themselves for getting away with their rebellious acts against the social order.

The three of us silently watch this interaction until the four public imbibers stub out their cigarette butts, toss them on the grass near the discarded beer cans and disperse.

I feel mildly disappointed Florence can’t maintain sobriety or stay away from her twitchy user boyfriend in the same way I feel disappointed over the shitty ending of a movie I’ve invested nearly 2 hours of my time watching, not because I was necessarily enjoying the movie, but because I was anticipating what I assumed would be a happy, redemptive ending, ultimately restoring my faith in humanity.

It seems I’m running out of things to have faith in.

Anyway, before we too disperse back to our corporate enslavement, with renewed excitement, Megan points to Bald Beggar Bob who has appeared seemingly out of nowhere with a ratty looking garbage bag and is digging in the hedge. He looks to his left and to his right, behind him and ahead. And just as I think there’s no way he’ll look up, he does.

We lock eyes and wordlessly acknowledge each other before he redirects his attention back to his salvaging endeavors. The other two jump around screeching, “He can see us! He can see us!”

It’s as if we’ve been found after being castaways for a long time and having lost all hope of ever being discovered.

I tell them I don’t think he can in fact see us and they return to what they were originally doing, leaving me standing there still, alone. To my surprise, as I note a wet sheen form on top of his bald head and drip down his temples from the light rain that has begun to spit, Bald Beggar Bob looks up one last time. He’s retrieved the sixth can and holds it up to me as if in a toast. I smile and give him the thumbs up.

Faith restored.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Slick Evangelist & his Promises of a Gluttonous Paradise

I went to see this evangelist, Emmanuel Twagirimana, who claims to have died in the shrapnel cross-fires of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. He was dead for 7 days and as maggots began to decompose his wounded body here on earth, his soul went to heaven where he met Jesus and was shown around, including a little jaunt through hell. 

Emmanuel was then resurrected so he could return to his body in this reality and spread the message that heaven is real but so too, unfortunately, is hell (as if no one in a church had ever heard this story before). He has since written a book, produced a DVD and traveled to 154 countries. He has ministered to the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Queen of England.

Suspicious. I know.

Everyone else at the rather ghetto church I sometimes attended could not believe their good fortune and great blessing that out of all the places in the world he could have chosen, Emmanuel had chosen them to minister his message from the great beyond.

They must be special and what does the collective ego like more than feeling “special”? Nothing.

Now, up until this point, for perhaps the preceding year, I had been more open to the idea of organized religion and a spiritual realm than I had ever been in my life (mainly because of a series of bizarre personal experiences I am perpetually trying to make sense of and because I hate psychiatrists. Religious simpletons are more my speed). So I wasn’t completely closed off to hearing what Emmanuel had to say.


I still had the left side of my brain. I still had thoughts. And the blinders in logic I would have to don in order to accept what Emmanuel claimed as truth were beyond my mental capacity. Apparently my ability to suspend disbelief, despite attempts to rationalize my aforementioned bizarre personal experiences, was not as skilled as those around me.

And it isn’t necessarily because I don’t believe it’s possible Emmanuel really did have a hallucinatory out-of-body experience. But in my mind, interpretation is everything and Emmanuel’s interpretations of his delirious state are preposterous, even in the context of religiosity. More preposterous is how seemingly lucid people who haven’t themselves undergone a similar psychosis, mystical experience or paranormal encounter can so easily believe such fantastical stories, ESPECIALLY when the person peddling these stories is profiting from them.

Emmanuel’s harrowing tale sounded less like the rantings of a madman or religious fanatic and more like the flamboyant fabrications of a slick salesman, although outside his avid, religiously influenced, easily led audience, I’m not sure how “slick” anyone else would find his claims. In other words, I call bullshit.

For example, Emmanuel, a large man whose message was heavily laden with references to food and being constantly fed and satiated in the Promised Land, said that after he was resurrected and repatriated to Earth to regurgitate his uncreative, plagiarized-straight-out-of-Revelation message all over the planet, he would immediately be able to recite by rote the entire Bible without even having read it in the first place.

He furthermore would be able to repeat and interpret specific passages on command in any language without a translator, a degree in theology, Rosetta Stone, the aid of Leapfrog Phonic Fridge Magnets or anything. The only thing he had to do was eat this big ass piece of Moses chocolate Jesus gave him while the two of them were hanging out in paradise and BOOM! Instantaneous idiot savant.

So excuse me when I was a little perplexed that not only did he have to read directly from the same Bible he claimed had been magically downloaded to his brain via a stone-tablet-sized chocolate bar, but he also had to have his lovely, long-suffering wife translate everything he screamed from the pulpit because he couldn’t speak English even though he claims (lies) he can preach in ANY language.

English is a language.

But magic treats, zealous screaming, bald-faced lying, and the English language aside, everyone there was waiting to hear the nitty-gritty details of heaven and hell, such as what kind of cheeses would we eat in the celestial kingdom, would lactose-tolerance and a digestive system even be necessary, and just how big and ornate would our literal Christ-appointed mansions be?   But most curious, how exactly would the unsaved sinners be forever tortured and could we, the saved ones, watch with eternal voyeuristic satisfaction? It was why the church was the fullest I had ever seen it. So when Emmanuel spent the first 2 or 3 hours raving about the evils of divorce, a boring reality for a good many of us, it was again a little perplexing. 

The message that a person should stay in a marriage at all costs because “God said so” is a dangerous one for any spiritually confused, psychologically vulnerable person, especially a woman who is trapped in a situation where she is being slowly blood-letted of her magnificence and weakened to the point of death. The faulty beliefs instilled by the kind of punitive dogma Emmanuel and people like him peddle interfere with the “dying” woman’s survival instinct and natural right to fight off the parasitic scavengers who take advantage of her confusion.

They (the faulty beliefs) tell her to lie there and take it, that the whole purpose of her being is to nourish the sadistic gluttony of others or to be the host to a mass of unthinking, urge-driven leeches who lack the fortitude to take care of their own needs. And if that doesn’t work, if she doesn’t buy into the idea that her sole purpose for existing is to act as nothing more than a material function for someone else, they manipulate her into believing that even if she did want to strive for a higher purpose or simply be a self-sufficient, independent human being with her own thoughts, she doesn’t have the strength to stand up, shrug off her parasites and thrive on her own anyway.

This of course isn’t true. She might be weakened, but she’s still a magnificent creature. She merely isn’t aware of her magnificence because it’s extremely difficult to self-realize amidst the noise and suffocation of a world in the process of killing you. 

But sometimes a person can surprise herself, and everyone else who underestimated her, and break free from that which enslaves her, whether it’s an oppressive belief system, a terrible marriage, a self-medicating addiction, or some worse hell like the chaos of her own mind.

In the blinding light of such an escape, however, there will be those who, depending on their particular bent, will attribute her initial disorientation with a mental illness, a medical condition or demonic possession. They will say she isn’t “herself” and do everything to rope her back in and return the pieces of her to the cage she has just escaped before she ever has a chance to find her bearings and patch herself back together herself.

They will watch her more closely now and if religion isn’t an effective intellectual straightjacket, they will use pop psychology, psychobabble, scientism and pharmaceuticals to restrain her renegade spirit – all vying for control of her, not because they are interested in anything she has to offer but because they want to shut her down, put her in quarantine where her “insanity” won’t bother anyone, where they don’t have to watch her so closely, and where they won’t have to think about her very much at all, until it’s time to get rid of the body, that is.

Still, even if she does manage to liberate herself without recapture, it can be lonely skies with storms yet to be weathered and a willpower yet to be mastered. She might begin to feel the tug of the cage and doubt her decision to fly away, the initial feeling of manic exhilaration faded, replaced by the cold realities of her struggle. But when she realizes that pain and suffering are predicaments to work through and not avoid, like the thorny bramble before a clearance of meadow and fresh burbling brooks, she perseveres.

She perseveres even though it hurts and even though there is absolutely no guarantee things will work out. She could fly into a mountain just as she’s getting comfortable with the flight, her wings could stop working for no obvious reason, she could get caught up in the propeller of a plane, or have some version of God suddenly appear in the clouds after a lifetime of total absence and cause her heart to stop mid-air before her feet ever reach the ground. And if external forces don’t get her, she could grow lackadaisical with her internal vigil and the demons she manages inside her head could take over and consume her entirely.

It would be tempting in such circumstances to abandon the storm and safely follow evangelists like Emmanuel Twagirimana with their promises of earthly delights in heaven, or prosperity ministries with their promise of heavenly delights on earth. 

Anyone, so goes the claim, can reach these idealized states of foolish euphoria if only one ignores intuition and surrenders her will to the guardians of absurdity and their deceivingly welcoming herds who claim to have the “absolute truth” which is absurd. Truth of this sort is relative to perspective. You say the dress is white and gold.I say it’s cornflower blue and brown. Consensus reality says it’s black and blue. I don’t know what God says.

In any event, whatever way you spin it, it’s ALL absurd.

Existence itself and everything involved with it is absurd. So why should one mob’s absurd explanation of the absurdity be more trustworthy than the absurd explanation that appeals to any single individual? Why would anyone, for instance, replace the voice in her own head with that of Emmanuel’s claiming that the need to get out of a soul-destroying, possibly abusive marriage is driven not by heaven but by hell, and that to leave such a situation is to turn against Christ and probably end up in an afterlife with Satan’s minions as sweaty work slaves delivering draught beer to the pleasantly cooled saints in paradise (which is one of his weirdo, food-obsessed claims). Thank you but I think I’ll take my chances with the minions and get out of the shitty marriage in this life. Bring on the absurdity.

But pick your poison.

You can choose, for example, to believe that if you do make it to nirvana with the aid of Emmanuel’s book and DVD, which you can buy online or in the lobby of any church he is paid to preach at (donations are a tax write-off), you will be greeted by “angelic cooks” who will happily serve you. They will literally pick the best fruit from an abundance of fruit trees that line the jewel-crusted, golden streets of heaven “like you’ve never seen on earth” and then prepare enormous fruit salads again “like you’ve never seen on earth” under their diamond-adored wings, which frankly sounds disgusting and unappetizing. Sorry, but you can keep your angel armpit hair salad.

In addition to his preoccupation with preventing divorce regardless of domestic violence or suicidal unhappiness, Emmanuel is excessively concerned with all the food you can eat in God’s kingdom, which he says “is not a kingdom of hunger”. And no, he was not speaking figuratively or metaphorically during any of this. He saw the overloaded plates himself while in he was in heaven and asked his guide (which you will remember is the actual Jesus in the flesh), “What’s with all the food?”

Jesus replied that those plates were set in preparation for the “prayer warriors”. The more these prayer warriors prayed and fasted while alive on Earth, the more their plates piled up with delicious foods in anticipation of their eventual death and heavenly ascension. I guess Emmanuel must be exempt from the fasting part, as  inferred by his monumental size, and concentrates on the praying part, only. That, and transmitting his contagious delusion around the globe as much as he possibly can before a cure is found.

No one in the church put up their hand to ask the obvious question, “Why would we have to eat so much in heaven, or at all, when we’re disembodied souls?” It seems like it should be wholly unnecessary. Personally, I’m sick of always having to feed and dress myself now not to mention all the other tedious things one has to do in order to survive in the world. Once I’m dead, I’d like to forget about all the annoying chores of physical existence. If you want to sell my heaven, give me either pure ecstatic sensation or blissful oblivion. I don’t want to have to fucking eat.

So that’s it for me. 

Emmanuel has ruined church for me and tainted what I imagined was the divine, although perhaps I can credit him for helping to unhitch me from one circle of personal hell and swinging me over to the next in a never-ending chain of mental bewilderment. Thanks for the ride asshole.