The Great Bathroom Robbery

August 18, 2009

“Excuse.” The word fluttered in from the window. The appeal barely registered amidst the clutter of my dish-washing and the groans coming from the back room.

I shook to life theatrically once I realized someone was talking to me. As if an offstage cue had brought me, a daydreaming actor, out of a trance.

Startled, I turned towards the kitchen window. It faced out into the clutter of a quintessential and crepuscular street of the Plateau of Montreal. A skinny young man stared up at me apologetically, his lineaments distorted by the confused chiaroscuro of dusk. I squinted at him through the screen. Tiny rectangles of human flesh, bounded by the thin wires, diffused into a complete face. Then he made his questioning pronouncement: “Est-ce que quelqu’un vous voler?”

The vehicle of time seemed to accelerate. I translated and then re-translated the words to be sure that it wasn’t the translation but the actual message that was confusing me, blurring the contours of grasp on reality. Were you robbed?

In the back room, Caleb was awaking from the near-torpor of his Friday afternoon nap. A week of sleepless consulting work had reduced him to a groaning puddle of human mush. But the words from window had not escaped his attention. Still hidden in the bedroom, he voiced his own realization. “We… were… robbed?”

I was still mouth-agape, speechless, and soapy. Rapt, I followed the crescendo of sound beginning to reverberate through the bedroom wall. Finally Caleb, the burly half-Chinese rugby playing inhabitant of the back room, burst out. His eyes glowered under synclinal eyebrows. He loomed in the doorway with the angered presence of a nap-interrupted Minotaur.

With a scary dexterity usually restricted to masses weighing less than 100 kilograms, Caleb rushed over to the window. He recognized the man staring up from the sidewalk. They chattered in animated, worried French. From the flurry of words, I picked up that the kid outside the window was Caleb’s neighbor, and that the next-door apartment had been ransacked earlier that day.

There was no overt evidence that someone had broken in to our place. But once our perspective focused in it became very clear that we had been pillaged. I headed straight for my suitcase, whose contents included my newly acquired dSLR camera. I had even put the camera away under a few folded shirts that very morning as a preventative measure. It was a pretty half-assed concealment measure. The suitcase was full of clothes and an empty, camera sized space.

My self-pity (conflated with my self-loathing for actually having preordained the threat to my valuables and still having failed so blatantly to secret them) was quickly diluted by the waves of shock and patterned expletive coming from the room next to me. Patterned in the sense that Caleb would recognize something that was missing, explicitly – in a sort of yelp – refer to the disappeared item (e.g. “My ring!”, “My external hard-drive!”, “My computer!” ), and then finalize the cycle with wild imprecations ringing a la fois of disbelief and of a hateful disdain for the dregs of humanity that had taken their pick from our modest belongings.

The perfunctory call to Montreal’s Finest was followed by an equally perfunctory tour of the house by a polite but disengaged officer. Caleb bounced around the crime scene, quantifiably agitated. He pointed to sliced holes in the bathroom window screen and made conjectures about the time window the perp had had to break in the glass window. A deaf onlooker would perhaps have mistaken Caleb for a fraught housewife (of surprising girth and masculine dress) showing off his vermillion blinds to a Kevlar vested house guest.

The police suck. Can’t the boys in blue at least make a show of it? Of trying to catch the guy? They could dust for fingerprints, cordon off the alleyway with serious yellow tape, do something – anything – to assuage the helplessness masked by the silent cry for justice wringing from Caleb’s eyes?

The loss of my camera being too much to swallow, I donned a masking satirical smirk along with matching lenses. I had to muffle a giggle when the policeman asked Caleb about the tumultuous state of his bedroom. Clothes lay strewn with a vacated and chaotic violence reminiscent of a mass grave. A silver lamp with a limb-like assembly of springs and joints lay in a contorted heap in the corner. “Est-ce que ils ont mis tout les chose en disorder.”

An invisible wind-wiper smeared an embarrassed smile over Caleb’s face. He mumbled “c’etait comme ca…” in response. That’s the way it was before.

I was pressed to further humor myself in a kind of Odyssean way when it came to the insurance discussion and reporting phase of the post-robbery ritual. In stilted French, I started a tragic and convoluted tale of how I acquired my voluptuous dSLR camera and the resultant issues I would have finding the serial number. I gave the story up after an awkward silence during which I was trying to find the descriptive, singular French adjective for an object “bought-in-Netherlands-and-taken-to-Bolivia-and-then-sold-to-me-in-shady-personal-circumstances-by-an-acquantance-that-I-am-no-longer-exactly-on-speaking-terms-with-given-said-shadyness-cast-over-said-transaction.”

Already resigned to the low chance of any sort of insurance claim recompense, I took solace in the fact that my coveted iPod Touch and laptop had been safe by my side all day. Caleb, despite his theft insurance, had discovered (a big moment for the burly, over-analytical mechanical engineer turned financial consultant) the intangible value of the sentimental. A hard-drive gigabyted with pictures of his travels to South Africa had departed the apartment in the thief’s burlap bag.

The dark comedy continued into the few days following the theft. We both developed the expected paranoia that even to this day necessitates a triple check of the window latches and causes unrelenting doubt about whether we actually locked the front door. The cops called back to confirm my full name and status as ‘couch dweller.’ I supposed I am a suspect. Caleb posted a three page, Sharpie marker plea to the front door that advertised a $100 reward for the return of his personally prized external hard drive. A posting complete with an infantile to-scale drawing and the ‘have you seen this puppy’ pathos encapsulated by its irrational appeal to the hearts of criminals.

The landlord broke in herself the next day (break in #2) to tear it down. She said it ‘didn’t give a good impression of our neighbourhood.’ I think she was referring to the Plateau being an artsy arrondissement…



August 14, 2009

A frustrated soccer player has a moment of lucid revelation. Instead of moving up the field with ineffectual dribbling and short passes, he decides to scoop up the soccer ball into his hands and run towards the opposing team’s net. The bewilderment of his fellow players quickly mutates into anger. Rules have been broken. Their vindictiveness lets loose the primal instincts of the hunt. They give chase. Fingers claw for purchase on the runaway player’s jersey. Faces contort into grimacing masks of rage. Ominous, bellicose bellows resound across the muddy playing field. The offender is dragged to ground amidst tympanic collisions of flesh with flesh, amidst cymbal splashes of limbs into puddles.

So it goes, the apocryphal birth of the sport of rugby.

Rugby grew from a private school phenomenon in Britain to make men out of boys. The demanding physicality of the game was thought to be galvanizing, essential to the formation of proper citizens of the Empire. Its popularity exploded in three of the major colonies – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Professional leagues have emerged in these countries as well as France and England. What’s more, in North America, it was actually rugby that evolved into the sensationally popular sport of American Football. The crowning achievement in the CFL, the Grey Cup, originally crowned the top rugby team in the Canadian Nation.

From my experience, rugby has found a unique niche in the Canadian sporting world. Rugby here tends to be a sport taken on later in life, after the adolescent careers of Ice Hockey or American Football end and the dreams of a professional life in sports fizzles out. It is one of the few contact sports in Canada that continues on an amateur level into adulthood.

Spurred by my South African heritage and inspired by a visceral need of mine to hurl myself with reckless abandon into bruising contact situations, I have spent the last few years playing Men’s rugby in Montreal.

Here is an excerpt from my last game. My club, the Montreal Wanderers, defeated the 1st place St. Anne’s de Bellevue club by a score of 19-12. These two teams have faced each other in the last two provincial finals. My team was ecstatic to come out on top in this latest installment of a growing rivalry. Thanks to Craig Beemer for the video.

Oh, and please note the soul-crushing, turn-over inducing  ‘dump tackle’ at 2:30 and the deft bouncing ‘grubber’ kick at 2:38 to score the game’s winning try. Small contributions by yours truly.

Fritz Scholder

August 7, 2009
Scholder Lovin

Scholder Lovin'

I’m not big on Museums. The city of Washington is though, and there is definitely no disincentive to visit museums that are both world class in caliber and gratis in price. After wandering from the Greyhound station, past Capitol Hill, through a frothing-at-the-loudspeaker, we-want-free-single-payer-health-care protest, I entered the museum of Native American History. I have to admit, I stumbled upon this museum quite arbitrarily. Admisdt the ‘monumentus’ expanse of the National Mall in front of Capital Hill, I had been unable to satisfy a desperate, migraine-inducing caffeine craving. Just before I surrendered to genuflexion and hopeless bellowing at the Gods – “A coffee! My continent for a coffee!” – I realized that the museums probably housed grossly price-inflated cafes.

So I found myself in the inverted concavity of modernist architecture that houses the surviving remnants of Native American culture. Given that much of it was destroyed, perhaps the Holocaust museum should have been combined with it. But then again, genocide wasn’t a word until Lemkin invented it at Nuremberg.
After a life-altering coffee I decided to wander up to the Fritz Scholder exhibit ( while I waited for a friend to finish work. I was blown away. The paints were for the most part vibrant, tormented abstractions of human beings. His was the kind of abstraction that seemed to be more real, even hauntingly so, than realistic works. I suppose that’s the point of abstraction. I spent hours wandering between little brass, vampiric statues and enormous canvases with names like “Indian in Car” or “Dead Indian with Snowy Owl” or “Human Nature No.1”, with images of distorted, limbless, absurdly colored but not altogether unhappy human beings.
I was intrigued by this painter, famed for his timely reinvention of tawdry Indian art. Both man and work came across to me in the poetry of paradoxical couplets. Crazed humility. Nonchalant relevance. Peaceful violence.
I especially liked his description of the artistic process, an obsessiveness I would love to employ with my blogging (haha)….”I take each work to the brink of disaster and then pull it back until it defies me to go any further, and then I know: it’s done.”
It defies me to go any further. Check out his work.

Two unlikely patriots.

Two unlikely patriots.

Zen and the Art of Bussing Greyhound

August 7, 2009
Washington Serious. (In the same sense as Bangkok Dangerous)

Washington Serious. (In the same sense as 'Bangkok Dangerous')

Greyhound bus has a special place in the hearts of my family. My sister and I have both developed neuroses about bus travel thanks to the I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-a-developed-country type experiences on has on a Greyhound bus. Maybe we just need a dose of optimism. I mean, its not really so bad to have your window all of a sudden collapse inwards on you in the middle of a blizzard. Its not a major tragedy to then be expected to perpetually hold that window closed during a six hour journey, taking turns with a Las Vegas basketball player (who, despite his towering stature and intimidating gangster speak was petrified by the snow and cold, or maybe the snow and cold was a relentless pathetic fallacy representing to him his regrettable decision to accept a scholarship to a Canadian college and leave the comforting nightlight of desert casinos for the barren tundra) to press your hands against the moist, vitreous divide between your cramped seat and the tempest beyond.

Its not so bad when the only seat left on the bus is next to a peripatetic, scurvied Newfoundlander on his way out West to make his Oil fortune who wreaks of three days of bus sweat and desperation.
At least we never had to suffer through a decapitation. Always look at the bright head-still-connected-to-torso side of things.
Thankfully, greyhound buses have received something of a cosmetic overhaul. New buses come equipped with a sleek, new, metallic cobalt exterior, Wifi, power outlets and (allegedly) new-fangled seat ergonomy. And let me tell you, there is no limit, no better distraction from the sweaty restlessness of bus travel than autistic Facebook use, iTouch application piracy and reading your old blog entries to see how far you’ve gotten towards intellectual gianthood.
So, there I was, gliding along on the four-lane bee-line highway from New York to Washington. The grey, relentlessly flat perpendicularity of highway stretched on, marshaled on either side by an explosive expanse of deciduous foliage. Leaves burst, vivacious and verdant, outwards from towering trunks. They fluttered like the comet sparks of fireworks.
It was an interesting place to meet a disciple of the Church of Now. A slightly shrunken black man clung to small hardcover book. I could make out the modest subtitle – “A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.”
Our introduction was slow but steady. We opened up to each other like timid flowers in early spring. He had a wiry quality to him, and a weathered but resilient expression on face. These clues, combined with a posh English-accent imbued introduction of himself as ‘Timbo’, gave away his status as a recent immigrant. We shared a few words about past and present danger in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leon.
We drifted into silence, then into fitful sleep. When I awoke I asked him about his book. It wasn’t long into his introduction of Eckhardt Toll and ‘The Power of Now’ that I recognized a kindred spirit in Timbo. I have always considered spirituality, psychology and philosophy as intricately implicated subjects. I have found remedy from the teleological stress of mid-20s unemployment through pragmatic, ego-dissolving, logotherapy combined with a steady, ruminating diet of Zen meditation and the cultivation of ‘Right-attitude’ . Timbo, despite his disparate circumstances – embroiled in a cross border (and probably cross-culture) relationship and his own career troubles – had turned to similar strategies. We were just two dudes on a bus who both preferred the quest for inner peace over attempts to control the big bad world and its endless vicissitudes.
Even though The Power of Now seemed a bit pseudo-religious to me, I was intrigued by the way Timbo described its tenets to me. He could distill the most fluffy quotation into a fluid of sparkling clarity.
So there I was mulling over life and Eckhardt Toll and lines like: “Enlightenment consciously chosen means to relinquish your attachment to past and future and to make the Now the main focus of your life.” when the irony of our environment hit me. It is impossible to embrace ‘Now-ness’ on a Greyhound bus. Albeit through concentration I had achieved a modicum of contentedness (especially through conversation with Timbo), it was impossible to accept the oppression of boxy chairs and twisted appendages and terrible residual music surging from crackling, nearby earphones. I itched like a base-head to get off that bus. To descend onto a sidewalk, to hear the comforting scratch of gravel beneath my shoes as I hunted down food and friends and fun in Washington.
I had a tree planting friend who would use our short breaks from work to sit cross legged and try to ‘accept’ the One-ness of himself with the frenzied cloud of mosquitoes that hurricaned around his head. He would even try and let them feed momentarily, to share his life-blood with his thirsty, buzzing, slurping brethren. He often described his travels in Nepal to me, which included making acquaintance with a Buddhist priest that inspired this bizarre approach to spiritual expansion. This priest would often stroll into the woods, disrobe, and smilingly let the bugs feed off of him for hours. My planting partner would rarely last more than a few twitching moments before bounding to his feet and howling off into the distance.
I’ve come to appreciate the so called ‘teachers’ who press themselves relentlessly into the spiritual realm. Its not exactly for me, but there are things to learn from such efforts. Not many people actually want to be Lance Armstrong. But his achievements in extremus, can make our more modest fitness goals seem that much more achievable.
But forget mosquitoes. Show me the man who can achieve inner peace on a Greyhound bus and I’ll eat my shoe.

Statement of Intent

August 7, 2009

There are those of you who have heralded my writings, lionized me as a sage and poet and renaissance wonder-boy / world-philosopher. I owe you a thanks proportionate to the hyperbole of your flattery. The modest quality volume of writing is wholly due to this sort of inspiration. Are we not symbiotes – you the reader and I the writer? Caught in a web of interdependency, a pulsing biological and intellectual cycle of mutualism?

You are the tickbird nestled in my rhinocerousean armor-plating. Oh please, do not be taken-aback by the role I have casted for you in this zoological metaphor! Do not be distracted by the ostensible link between physical size and overall importance. For it is my tribute to you, dear reader, that i am the rhinocerous. If anything, my relative largess is more closely correlated to my hulking dependence on you! Without your conscientious nibbles, I would no doubt find myself whelmed by a sea of parasitic doubt. You have saved me from the dehabilitating septicemia of nihilism (more commonly known as writer’s block). Few troubling ‘why’s’ have managed to worm their way into my blood stream. Thanks to you, nothing has been able to reduce, block, coagulate, weaken or otherwise interrupt the flow of artistic impulse through my veins or ink from my pen.
And then there is your loving, supportive, squawky criticism that often pops up on the message board, or in a personal email, or a through offhand remark during an in-person meeting. You remark with most practiced unconcern, with studied casuality, that, for example, you were confused by the apparent loss of chronology in my jumbled, recent posts but that all in all you find my work very ‘readable’, even borderline commendable. With heart-wrenching modesty, you might whisper that you have to employ a dictionary in order to confront my posts, and perhaps don’t I think that my loquacity teeters on the crumbly slate of a cliff that, although jutting nobly into the heights of literary prowess, also hangs precipitously over a sheer drop down into vacuousness? With the added, also whispered, caveat that is perhaps your favorite E-destination and when will we be spoiled with another post?
And what’s more, just as the chirp and flutter of the oxpecker can alert the lumbering rhinoceros to the sneaky aggressions of poachers and other predators, so does your commentary help me elude the deadly distractions of work, girls and 1000 page David Foster Wallace novels that threaten to saw off my figuratire horn (embodied as the figurative pen) the only defense I have against the thousands slings and arrows and hunting rifles of outrageous fortune.
“Yes, well I’m glad to see someone of our generation has, well, something to say, even if it comes across a bit jumbled at times – but don’t get me wrong, it’s ever so… readable – but perhaps you could, perhaps, exercise a petit peu more economy? Especially when it comes to your Frankensteinian metaphors that you keep trying to patch together in your work? But all in all, tres bien, tres bien, please keep it up.”
I will keep it up. I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify, as much for myself as for you, my dearest readers, the purpose, direction, vector curvature, momentum or what-have-you of this blog.
I would like take up the torch of Lochinvar on a daily basis. To try and ‘adventure’, and then write about it, forever. But I am also faced with particular duties to the more mundane (but by no means discreditable) pursuits that help to make adventures possible. So just so everyone is mis-a-jourca va dire ‘up-to-date’, I am now in Montreal starting up a strategically vague ‘writing consultation’ business. But dear readers, do not fret. Look. Just over that horizon! Yes! Over there! Further adventuring and story-telling and self-analysis and societal-analysis will continue in the gregarious, aren’t-we-all-getting-a-little-to-tipsy-to-behave-ourselves cocktail party tone of my internet blogging.
I am dreaming of Australia. I dream of a 24 speed hybrid bike fueled solely by cellular combustion, lubricated by slippery mental determination, that will carry me across the barren snake-infested deserts and expansive golden beaches of Australia. 6000 kilometers of sweltering heat. On a bicycle. In February.
So all I ask is that you cling on until then. I will, in the early New Year, return to the coherent, quotidian, cumulative writings that were the hallmark of my South America trip. Until then, I hope you can sustain yourselves on my disjointed (in time if not in purpose) but still regular writings that may include descriptive, salient moments of my personal history, essays of social and literary criticism, philosophical musings, emotional tirades, intellectual dissections of every stripe and discipline, and even the odd, if minor, away-for-the-weekend knightly adventure.
So please forgive me if for a short interim if, in my written word, I lumber around like an aimless, leathery, prehistoric beast. Please forgive me that all I can offer you are the crunchy, insubstantial, insectoid nibblings of insight and wit.
Keep reading.