lost ironies

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Month: December, 2014

making stew

mirepoix goes clang
like breaking news
and the meat has been murdered
by killing floor hitmen

someone suggests parsnips
and the room goes hush
while the children conspire
against turnips

the pan is deglazed
with Christmas Merlot
and the arrogant garlic
is empire

Finny’s warehouse

Hunter Myer heard a slight hiss through his iPhone earbuds, then a voice.

“Hunter?” the voice said. “It’s Angelo. You still there?”

“Of course,” Hunter Myer said through the mic. He was using a penlight to examine an alarm system’s secondary circuit board. The inputs and outputs were a mess, maybe on purpose. He was considering calling the whole thing off.

“There’s a Crown Vic coming your way,” Angelo said.

Angelo was in a Chevy at the end of the alley and around the corner, on lookout.

“Pigs?”

“Can’t tell, it’s unmarked.”

Hunter Myer clicked off the penlight, and turned so his back was flat against a moist and mossy brick wall. He was two stories up, suspended by a climber line and harness. There were two weedy ceramic flowerboxes on either side of him. He checked his watch. It was 2:37 a.m.

“Can you see it?” said Angelo.

“Yeah, it’s just below me.”

A dark full sized automobile slowed as it approached in the alley below.

Myer bit his lip. He might have to scramble. The only way was up, and then across an unfamiliar terrain of uneven rooftops and catastrophic fall potential. He took a deep breath and tried not to sway on the line. Then he noticed that the end of his rope was loosely coiled on the pavement below. It lead right back to him, for anyone who cared to look.

The car came to a stop below him.

“They stopped,” he said.

“Wadda we do?”

“We wait and see what’s going on,” Hunter Myer said. “And shut the hell up, unless you got something relevant to say.”

The faint hiss in Hunter Myer’s earbuds resumed.

Beneath him, the front doors of the Crown Victoria opened and two large men in expensive overcoats got out. One of them smoothing his tie over his belly, the other hiking up his pants. Hunter Myer could only see their shoulders and the tops of their balding heads in the dim backdoor light.

Cops didn’t wear expensive dark overcoats and ties at 2:30 a.m. in this neighbourhood. These were either mob boys or conventioneers. He guessed the former over the latter. He’d seen their kind round town before, kibitzing and talking hockey scores one minute, pulling someone’s nose off with a pair of pliers the next. But always dressed nicely for the occasion.

“You sure about this?” said the man on the driver side.

The passenger side man pulled a slip of paper from his shirt pocket, and said, “Backdoor of Monahan Block, 800 Clark Drive. Ba da boom, here we are.”

Driver side man lit a cigarette and said, “Where the fuck are they, then?”

“They’re late, we’re early,” said passenger side man. “It all works out.”

“You know,” said driver side man. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that.”

“’Bout what?”

“About that Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah attitude of yours. You’re bustin’ my balls with it. How’s a Mary Poppins mother fucker like you get into this business, anyway?”

“When I was young,” said passenger side man, “someone saw potential in me. Now I’m living the dream.”

“Well, tone down the Dr Seuss shit. It’s depressing the hell outta me.”

Passenger side man lit his own cigarette, and both men smoked, each occasionally tracing mysterious outlines on the wet pavement with the toes of their well shined shoes.

Hunter Myer looked up. No moon to guide him topside. It had set twenty minutes ago. He listened. Only the faint sound of water dripping. The two men below would hear him if he started to climb. He was dangling like a fool. He needed to smoke a cigarette and take a piss. A second rate goldsmith heist wasn’t worth this kind of pain.

Then there was another set of headlights, coming from the opposite direction. Hunter Myer tried to get flatter against the wall, he tried to look like moist, mossy brick.

This time the car was a silver Continental. It stopped next to the two men in the alley. Nothing and nobody moved. Then the door opened and a man stepped out. His was a splendid fawn overcoat, a nice blend of wool and cashmere that hung well off of his slender, elderly body.

There was a beep and a click, and the Continental’s trunk popped open. The man in the fawn overcoat gave a nod, and driver side man and passenger side man went to retrieve the trunk’s contents.

“Pull the bum outta there,” he said.

”Yes, Mr Santo.”

So the fawn overcoat was named Santo, probably Francis Santo. A real east end bottom feeder.

The bum in the trunk emerged dazed and disheveled, his hands held behind him with thumb cuffs. Hunter Myer recognised him.

“Holy shit,” he whispered. “It’s Finny Finlinson.”

“Who?” said Angelo.

“Finny, the fence. The guy we sell our bootie to.”

“So? Hey man, I can’t see from here. What’s going on?”

“Looks bad, whatever it is,” Hunter Myer whispered. “Shut up for a minute.”

“It’s in here, right?” Francis Santo said. “This is where you keep your shit.”

“It’s where we keep our inventory,” said Finny. “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Driver side man punched Finny in the stomach. He doubled over and fell to his knees.

“The painting,” Santo said. “The one that was stolen from me a month ago. You got in there, and I want you to open the door and let me take it home.”

“You think I bought that missing Vermeer of yours?” Finny said. He chuckled quietly and shook his head. “No one bought the Vermeer. It’s all over town that the painting’s yours. No one’s stupid enough to buy it.”

“Open the door,” Santo said, pointing to the 8X12 foot metal shutter.

“I can’t,” said Finny.

“Holy fuck,” whispered Hunter Myer. “That’s Finny’s warehouse down there.”

The location of Finny’s warehouse was the best kept secret in town. At any given time, it was filled with nearly every item heisted, burgled or snitched in the city within the past 48 hours. Before Finny and his boys turned it over at a profit.

“No way,” said Angelo. “Why are we breaking into a shitty little goldsmith shop when Finny’s warehouse is just downstairs?”

“Because we’re idiots.”

“Why can’t you open it?” said passenger side man to Finny.

“I don’t have the code,” said Finny.

“Use a key.”

“There is no key.”

“Why don’t you know the code?” said Santo. “It’s your warehouse.” He sounded incredulous.

“It’s not my warehouse. It belongs to me and my partners.”

“Which one has the code?”

“I don’t know.”

Now driver side man pulled a weighted leather blackjack out of his coat pocket, and struck Finny across the mouth. Blood and several of Finny’s teeth showered the wet pavement. He fell over onto his side.

Passenger side man crouched down and spoke into Finny’s ear: “The code.”

Finny chuckled again. “I don’t have it,” he repeated. His words were wet and slurred.

“Then who does?”

“I don’t know. I’m not supposed to know. That’s the point. The code is passed on and changed every 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours, randomly between me and my business partners. There’re seven of us. The one who’s got it, and is ready to pass it on, contacts one of us who doesn’t. Randomly, like I said. When he does, he tells whoever it is how long he’s had it – 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours. Then he walks away, and the guy who’s got it now changes the code right away. Then that guy’s the only one who knows it for however long he has it. The chances of you snagging the right guy are one in seven. I haven’t had the code for over a week. It’s how we keep creeps like you from getting in.”

“That’s a good system,” said Santo.

“Thanks,” said Finny. He struggled to get back up onto his knees and failed.

“You believe him, Mr Santo?” said driver side man.

“So why do you think I have the damn painting?” Finny said. “You should be talking to Sylvester Leonardo.”

“We did,” said driver side man.

“And…?”

“He said he didn’t have it.”

“Ha!” Finny laughed. “Did you slap him one with a blackjack?”

“Nah. He’s family.”

“He’s a fucking scumbag,” said Finny. “And you know it. And he deals in hot art. You’re the only ones in town who don’t know he’s got it.”

Santo glared at his two goons. They looked sheepish.

“Why’s a mook like you even got a Vermeer?” Finny said to Santo. “You suddenly got culture? A slob like you?”

Santo stepped up and kicked Finny in the gut. “It’s an investment,” he said.

“Wadda we do boss?”

“We visit Leonardo. And we do it right this time.”

“What about him?” Passenger side man pointed at the heap of bleeding humanity on the ground.

“Waste him,” Santo sneered. “Take him down to the inlet, and put a bullet in his head.”

“Holy shit,” whispered Hunter Myer. “They’re gonna cap Finny.”

“What’s that got to do with us?” said Angelo. “Just let it go. They’ll be gone soon. Try to stay quiet.”

“No way, man,” whispered Hunter Myer. “These wise guys are dicks and Finny’s always done alright by me.”

“Then what…?” Angelo said.

“I don’t know yet.”

Now passenger side man grabbed Finny by the collar and hauled him to his feet. Driver side man went over to the Crown Vic to open the trunk.

“Don’t you bleed on my car,” he said to Finny. Then something caught his eye. It was a length of rope that coiled on the pavement, and led up the side of the Monahan Block. He looked up and saw Hunter Myer hanging there.

“Mother fucker,” diver side man said.

“Start the car,” said Hunter Myer to Angelo. “Leave the headlights off, and get ready to drive.”

“Where?” said Angelo.

“Hey, Vinny,” driver side man said to passenger side man. “Come over here and look at this.”

“What?” said passenger side man. He dragged Finny along with him, walking over to the Crown Vic.

Driver side man pointed up, and Santo came over too.

Now Hunter Myer looked to either side of him. There were the weedy ceramic flower boxes, one on each side.

“Start driving, Angelo,” he said. “Straight down the alley. If I get this right, then there’ll be a really surprised looking old guy wearing a brown overcoat standing by himself in the alley. Run the fucker over, hard.

“I don’t get it,” said Angelo.

“Just fucking do it!” Hunter Myer shouted into the iPhone mic.

Now he took one of the heavy ceramic flower boxes, aimed and dropped it. It was a direct hit, on top of the head of driver side man. He dropped to the ground, surrounded by shards and didn’t move.

Angelo was accelerating down the alley now. He saw three men standing half a block away. A heavy object fell from above. And then there were only two. One of them, a runty beat up looking guy disappeared behind the Crown Vic and left only a surprised looking old guy in a brown overcoat standing there. Angelo floored it and hit the bastard square on. Santo flew into the air and fell several yards away in a busted up hump of cashmere and broken bones.

* * * * *

The Vermeer arrived in Hong Kong three weeks later, rolled up and hidden in a shipment of copper pipe. Payment was transferred to a numbered account. Sylvester Leonardo moved to Sicily.

prayer plant

there are Februaries
when my prayer plant sends forth no new shoots
no new leafy hands with which to pray
only the old ones and
the same old prayers from the mind of a houseplant
convinced it is exceptional in the universe
its personal prejudices
the scripture by which it will die
if need be

until it needs watering

guacamole

I remember believing in God
how He made the city translucent
the wrecking yards glow in the evening
rust in the shape of gang turf
the white face of Heaven
pockmarked from the fall &
Jesus with a nickel
looking for a phone booth
His well finned Cadillac
soaring like a bullet
in search of gravity, of
what is Holy like guacamole
or a nice spicy enchilada

snow angels

you don’t know these people

Christmas 1968

Glen walks across the centre of his backyard, using his footprints to mark a boundary in the fresh snow. On one side of the line, we can build snowmen and throw snow balls. But the other side is a no-man’s land. Glen has an inimitable aesthetic sense, even at seven years old.

“Just look at it,” he says, observing the elegant rolling shades of white he’s persevered. He stares for long minutes at a time. And I stare at him staring, wondering what the hell he sees. Then he says, “It’s beautiful.”

It’s a lesson in beauty, simplicity and fragility that I wrongly presume my friend is too young to teach and I am too young to learn. We’re kids living in a dodgy neighbourhood, where it snows only occasionally. Where beauty is uncommon.

Christmas, 1981 

I was sharing a house in east Vancouver with a couple of dealers and whoever else happened along. I’d tried dealing drugs for a living, myself, but the police were far too annoying. They never went so far as to arrest me. Maybe I was smarter than them or maybe I was too much of a lightweight. Whatever the case, the cops instead contented themselves with butting-in on me in the strangest places and at the strangest times to ask how I was doing, how business was and what the hot sellers were. It scared away the clientele. I got sick of it eventually, and got a real job.

I landed a job as a cook at the Amorous Oyster Restaurant on Burrard Street. The Oyster may have deserved its reputation, but I couldn’t see why. Seafood is easy to cook. Many of the side dishes, condiments and add-ons were more difficult. But the only real tricks to seafood are freshness and timing. And my timing was pretty good.

In other à la Carte restaurants I’d worked in, I’d been surrounded by other cooks, a chef and floor managers, all of whom lived to make my life a misery. But I was a solo act at The Oyster. It was not only a source of income, but also a source of praise from the grateful owners. My ego swelled. And when I walked out at the end of my shift that Christmas Eve, I left with the gift of two bottles of wine and an envelope filled with crispy tens and twenties as a bonus for all of my “marvellous work”.

Out on the street, I looked in the envelope and sniffed. I was too full of myself to appreciate what that amount of money meant to the owners of a restaurant verging on both greatness and oblivion. So, I stood cool and indifferent out front of the darkened premises and waited for my ride.

My ride was Gabriel. We’d been dating for about six months. She was a sadder smarter sort of girl, smarter than me. She wrote poetry and painted, had a growing collection of tattoos and read hefty books. She was also prone to long difficult silences. It was all in her eyes, I knew, and sometimes what I saw in her eyes frightened me.

She arrived that night, navigating the snowy street like a pro, in her ’78 Mustang Cobra. It was an outrageously overpowered vehicle with its huge V8 engine, four on the floor and various racing accoutrements. When we first met, I asked whatever inspired her to buy such a car. “It’s cute,” she’d said. “Ah,” I replied, as though her response to my question answered all the other questions I might have to ask her in the future.

Now she was driving me home for a Christmas Eve together, hopefully without the chemically addicted rabble we normally found there. They bored the hell out of me and they resented me for it, but I had the house’s huge master bedroom to myself where I could escape the inane and the insane.

Soon we were driving down the back alley where the house stood. It was built behind a row of storefronts on East Hastings, which made it barely visible from the main street. I’d hoped, when first renting the place, that this would keep me off of the cop radar. It didn’t. But for me the police were becoming less and less of a problem as I cultivated a new image as fully employed citizen at large. In spite of that, though, to a significant degree, the police still considered me connected to the drug scene.

“What the hell’s all that,” Gabriel said pointing at the house, now a half block away. There were half a dozen police cars in the lane.

“Shit,” I said. “Keep driving past them.”

But she didn’t. Instead she backed up into an empty driveway and turned out in the opposite direction. “They know my car,” she said. “They would have stopped us. Where do we go now?”

“Toby’s,” I said. “But park a block away.”

Toby was a burned-out vegetarian 12 stepper. This made him a serious bummer, but he knew what was going on in the neighbourhood. And he did one important thing that I never did, he listened to a police scanner. It was a habit from his criminal youth that had developed into a hobby. Now he actually belonged to a police scanner club. Life is strange.

We left the car in an abandoned garage and walked through the deepening snow to Toby’s basement suite. We knocked and Toby greeted us at the door. Agnes, his off and on common law, sat at a table in the kitchen cutting thick slabs of Christmas cake then dividing each slab into smaller pieces.

“Come in, man,” Toby said. “It’s freezing out there. Sorry to hear about Sammy, man. I know he was your best friend, and all. There’s some bad shit happening tonight. Happy Christmas, by the way. You want some Christmas cake?”

“What bad shit?” I said, accepting a piece of cake. “What happened to Sammy?”

“I can’t eat it,” Toby said of the cake. “The wife puts rum in it.”

It did smell of rum, the alcohol long baked off. It was damn fine Christmas cake.

Toby thought a moment and then he said, “The news is that the cops shot Sammy in your house tonight, dude. Radio says he came at them with a knife. Sammy’s a big boy. If he came at me with a knife, maybe I’d shoot him too.”

“Better not to have a gun, at all,” Agnes said as she cut the Christmas cake. Gabriel was helping her now. I found out later that it was going to homeless shelters the next day.

“I ain’t got no gun, my love,” Toby hummed. It was how he spoke to Agnes, almost like a song.  “Just saying ‘if’.”

“Is he alive?” I said. Sammy was a best friend and roommate. But he’d been doing some weird shit lately, all chemicals cooked up in a basement somewhere by amateurs. He’d become someone I didn’t recognise.

“At first the radio said he was alive,” Toby said. ”But then it said he wasn’t. Said he was DOA. Either way, it’s fucked up for you, man. They’re going through your stuff right now, you bet.”

I wasn’t betting on anything. Gabriel looked at me from the table where they were preparing the Christmas cake. They were wrapping it now and tying ribbons around each piece.

I caught her gaze. Maybe there was a poem in this for her. It was clear that she understood how profoundly my life had just changed. Whether I ever returned to the house or not, they’d get me. There were caches of drugs and money stashed all through the place. None of it was mine, but the cops didn’t care. They’d harass my family, friends and anybody I’d ever said hello to until they got their mitts on me.

Gabriel said, “Let’s go for a ride. There’s something I want to show you.”

“That’s a good idea,” Toby said. “Cops will be here looking for you pretty soon.”

“I’m sorry for this,” I said, knowing the police would grill him.

“Ain’t your fault, man. It’s a wicked fucking world. Besides, let the cops come. Sometimes it’s better not to be just a spectator.”

I took a couple more pieces of cake and headed for the door. Agnes and Gabriel hugged, and Gabriel followed me out. When the door closed behind us, I felt the disconnection. Among other things in that moment, I had a feeling that this would be it for me and Gabriel. She wouldn’t stay with me after tonight. Guns and knife play weren’t the domain of 18 year old poets, or were they?

By the time we got to the car, I’d begun wondering about what she had up her sleeve, how it could help me deal with the situation at hand.

“Get in the car,” she said.

We drove north on incognito streets, past dark blank working class homes. Some were hung with Christmas lights. I wasn’t paying attention. Eventually Gabriel pulled over, next to a vast field of perfect snow.

“It’s stopped,” she said, looking through the windshield. Then she said, “Recognise this place?”

I didn’t. But I continued to look out of the car at the perfectly flat, white and unblemished landscape. It reminded me of something from a long time ago.

“I know,” she said. “It looks different in the snow. C’mon, let’s get out.”

We got out of the car, and stood surrounded by acres of the undisturbed snow. It was illuminated by blue mercury vapour light. It was the east Vancouver reservoir. The snow was lying on a flat expanse concrete beneath. I looked around me. For a minute I stopped thinking of Sammy, dead and cold on Christmas Eve. And I realised that a childhood friend of mine would have truly appreciated this vision.

“Look,” I heard Gabriel shout. She was lying in the snow now, moving her arms and legs, creating a snow angel. Then she stood and jumped up and down twice, knocking the dry snow off of her clothes. She lay back down again and created a second angel. Then she stood up a second time and jumped once more.

“See,” she said. “Angels. Snow Angels, two of them. One for you and one for me. I left other Christmas gifts for you back at your place, but I guess they’re gone for good now.” She looked at her watch, “And it’s a quarter past midnight. Merry Christmas!”

I looked at the snow angels and smiled. Did tears well up in my eyes? Did I feel small and ashamed, glorious and happy beyond belief? Did I see in my mind’s eye a band of honest-to-goodness angels descending to collect Sammy and take him home, now that he was free of all his confusion and prowling rage?

Yes to all of the above.

And did I see Gabriel, in a future that awaited her, strong and determined, hopeful, brilliant and gentle?

Yes.

And was I there with her? Ha! I knew better than that.

We sat on the edge of the Mustang’s hood, and I opened one of the bottles of wine from the Oyster. We had no glasses, so I took a drink from the bottle and offered it to Gabriel. She took a drink but not a second. Instead, she poured a swallow onto the ground for Sammy. It was dark and red like a bullet wound in the snow.

The snow began to fall again, and Gabriel’s snow angels vanished. They were frail things, destined to disappear. But I knew that beneath the perfect layer of white before us, there could have been millions of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the killer

3am
the killer wept at the wheel
she wanted to navigate by the moon
but the highway followed a river
dividing mountains
an American highway
fast food like faith and Bible billboards
drive-thru in remembrance of me

she was a last item on many lists
changing by the minute
except for her
she cursed the rental
for the absence of an ashtray
while above her was
a warehouse of planets
each foolish for its own vector
if a planet can’t be wise
then who can

late night radio was conspiracy and
evangelical anxiety
a second amendment confused and
sulking
cocking its weapon in shapeless temper
a nation eating hotdogs and
standing its ground
no one leaving the lobby alive
as long as there’s something to prove

the killer left bodies behind
she sees their eyes and
tunes the radio
how they changed the
surprise in their weird hush

she shifts in her seat
there were rest stops and roadhouses
exits to recession
patriots and poverty
in the houses of the zodiac

överraskning paket

He held the Ikea Allen key in his hand, and looked down upon an array of particleboard pieces and cheaply cast hardware that lay on the floor. The dim, festive candlelight made it all look sinister. In his other hand he held the assembly instructions for the mysteriously named Ikea product, överraskning paket. His wife stood at the Christmas tree, rearranging decorations. There were still presents for her to wrap.

“You couldn’t have bought her a Barbie doll?” he said.

“Tabatha needs a dresser,” said his wife. “Besides, I don’t like Barbie. And Tabatha has more dolls than any little girl in history.”

“But it’s Christmas Eve. We should be sipping rum drinks by the fire and laying out cookies for Santa, not assembling crappy pieces of fused sawdust. It was probably manufactured in a forced labour camp.”

The natural gas fireplace played silent, glowing witness, nary a piece of honest wood to snap or sizzle.

“That was in East Germany,” she said. “East Germany doesn’t exist anymore. Neither do Ikea forced labour camps.”

“Made in China, though.”

“Please.”

She’d noticed that there were too many angels near the bottom of the tree. That was their daughter’s contribution to tree decorating. She began to redistribute them higher up.

“She’s five,” he said. “Do you think she even cares? Besides, how can we impress upon her the mystery of the virgin birth and jolly old St Nicholas with the gift of Ikea furniture? Let’s put it away until next week. I promise I’ll put it together then.”

“Then she’ll only be getting a teddy bear, her stocking and some clothes.”

“It’s a $400 handmade collector’s teddy bear! And there’re enough clothes and toys under the tree to fill her closet twice over.”

“That’s why we need the dresser. Please just put the damn thing together. We’ll have some Appleton’s and eggnog after you’re done.”

“It’ll be 4:00 a.m. by then.”

“At this rate,” she said.

He threw up his hands in defeat. One of them still holding the Allen key – the iconic hexagonal twist of cut-rate steel. There must be billions of them by now, he imagined, since the dawning of Planet Ikea. In the backs of drawers or lost in the dust under the trashy furniture they helped to construct.

The Allen key was probably the only thing Ikea manufactured that had any permanence in the world, ceaselessly expelled from the hexagonal aperture of a master extruder somewhere in the cosmic centre of the Ikean universe. Allen key after Allen key, spat out, bent and dropped down a yawning hole that bottomed out in people’s living rooms on Christmas Eve. There might be an essay in that. He filed it in the dusty backend of his brain.

Now Nat King Cole sang Silent Night. One of only a hundred actual Christmas songs, he reckoned. Rehashed and re-sung over and over until no adequate therapeutic intervention was possible. They began in October, and only time could heal the spiritual and emotional damage they provoked.

He picked up the Ikea instructions. It was a transcendent pictorial of arrows, dotted lines and pieces joining serenely together, tongues fitting effortlessly into grooves and screw threads tranquilly meshing. Then he examined the hardware inventory. There were eighteen different kinds of socket screws, sleeves, Phillip’s screws, dowels and nails. And a lonely, transparent, alien-looking plastic envelope of white glue.

“You know,” he said. “We could have gone to a proper furniture store. We could have bought something already assembled by actual artisans.”

“Too expensive.”

“Too expensive for our own child?”

“She’s five. In a week there’ll be sticky fingerprints and Hello Kitty stickers all over it.”

“My parents thought like that, too,” he said.

“Not now, William.”

“Why not now?” he said, awkwardly holding a thin, trembling plastic panel with no apparent utility. “I don’t want to make the same mistakes with Tabatha that my parents made with me.”

“You’re too hard on them. They’re both dead, anyway.”

“They held back too much, supposedly in the interest of making my sister and I better people. They said they didn’t want to spoil us, ha! We grew up with almost nothing, while my father played the markets like a debauched gambler and my mother drank herself to death. He was a corporate lawyer. He married into money, for God sake.”

“…and there was no inheritance,” she said.

“Don’t make fun, Blanche.”

“I’ve heard it before, William,” she said. “You had my sympathy the first hundred times you ranted about it. But now it’s just noise.”

“He squandered a fortune.”

“It was his fortune to squander,” she said, repositioning the angels. “He put you through university. You made your choices.”

“Meaning what?” he said, testing a hole with a dowel. It wouldn’t fit.

“Meaning you could have just as easily taken a business or law degree as an English degree. But you didn’t. So, now you’re a high school English teacher who can only afford to shop at Ikea.”

“Oh, this is new,” he said. “I haven’t heard this before. Are you feeling a little discontented, suddenly, married to a mere high school English teacher?”

“No, mostly I’m very content. Until moments like this.”

“You mean moments when I risk revealing myself,” he said, “sharing my disappointments and regrets.”

“Surely, you must have other regrets,” she said. “Other than your upbringing. Something newer, fresher, easier to listen to. A girlfriend who got away, perhaps. A car you want to buy, but can’t afford. A time you could have gone off with the boys, but missed out because you have a family and responsibilities.”

He was using the Allen key now, for the first time. The socket screw threads were grinding into a corner of the dresser top, slightly off angle. There were tiny metal shavings falling onto the floor.

“What the hell…?” he said. He withdrew the Allen key from the socket screw. “It’s Christmas Eve. Why are we talking like this?”

“Perhaps it’s your obsession with the minute and inconsequential, and how it is that, no matter what activity you’re engaged in, it all comes back to money and how your parents screwed you up.”

“Inconsequential?”

“I’ll mix you a drink,” she said, heading for the kitchen. “And no more talk of lost fortunes — money in general — for the rest of the night.”

Now he had the sides attached to the laminate top and bottom of the dresser. The instructions suggested that he commence assembling the drawers while the glue dried. He compared the drawer part he held in his hands to the instructions. There was a vexatious disconnect.

“You and mommy are yelling,” said a little girl, standing at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes were sleepy, and her hair awry. She walked into the living room.

It was Tabatha. She’d come down from her bedroom, and was now climbing onto the couch with her current best teddy bear, named Walter White. Her pajamas were pink, and she wore tiny bunny slippers.

“Hello, my dear,” William said. “And just so you know, mommy and I weren’t yelling. We were just being emphatic. Can you say emphatic?”

“I don’t want to.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

He paused to adore his daughter on the couch. She was rubbing sleep from her eyes. His heart melted whenever he saw her, and then began fretting over her future in an indifferent world.

“Where’s Santa?” Tabatha said.

“He’s somewhere over Aruba right now, baby. You should be in bed, or he won’t come to our house.”

“What’s that?” She looked down at the Ikea mess, and made a face.

“A horrible accident,” William said. “I’ll have it cleaned up before morning.”

Tabatha wrapped her arms around Walter White, and hugged him tightly. Then she said, “What’s regrets?”

William hesitated before he answered, sorry that he and his wife had spoken too loudly.

“You mean what are regrets,” William said. “Remember, sweetheart, how we discussed subject-verb agreement the other day?”

“My God, William.” Blanche had arrived back from the kitchen, holding a cup of eggnog in each hand. “She’s still in kindergarten. Can’t you turn off the English teacher when you’re at home?”

Another faux pas. He was batting a thousand tonight. He sat down next to Tabatha and Walter White.

“But what’s regrets?” Tabatha said again, being emphatic now without realising.

“A regret,” William said, “is feeling sorry or sad about something you’ve done.”

“Do you feel sad, daddy?”

“Sometimes,” he said, wondering if it was really only sometimes. “Don’t you?”

“Sometimes,” said Tabatha. “Does that mean I have regrets?”

“No, you’re too little for regrets.”

“I’m not little.”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“I hope I never have regrets,” Tabatha said, wiggling closer to her daddy and snuggling against him. “They sound stupid.”

“They are stupid,” Blanche said. She’d taken an overstuffed chair by the coffee table, surrounded by rolls of wrapping paper.

“I want some eggnog,” said Tabatha.

“I’ll get it, little lady,” William said. “But you finish it fast, and then off to bed. You should be dreaming of sugar cookies right now.”

“I was dreaming about puppies before you and mommy woke me up.”

“Whatever.”

William rose and disappeared into the kitchen.

Tabatha slipped off of the couch and went over to the Christmas tree.

“Mommy,” she said, “where are my angels?”

“I moved them around, honey. You had them all in one spot.”

“But they’re supposed to be here, to keep each other company.” She pointed at the lower branches of the tree.

“Balance is important, dear. We can’t have all of one kind of ornament in one place.”

“But that’s where they wanted to be, so I could talk to them.”

“You talk to the angels on the tree, darling?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

Tabatha wondered for a moment, and then said, “Yes,” again.

“Well, then I’ll move one or two of them down later on. They’ll be there in the morning for you to chat with.”

“Can you now?”

Blanche got up, chose two angels and placed them on the bottom bows of the tree.

“How’s that?” she said.

“Not that one,” Tabatha said, pointing to a plastic angel in a red gown. “That one’s mean.”

“Okay.” Blanche replaced it with an angel made of crystal. She remembered it from her own childhood, the rainbow colours of the refracted light that passed through it.

“Thank you,” Tabatha said. “That one’s better. He sings Sponge-Bob songs.”

“What do you and the angels talk about?” said Blanche.

“About regrets.”

“Ah, do angels have regrets?”

“No, but people do. So, the angels are sad.”

“Even at Christmas?”

“Maybe more.”

“You’re very wise for someone so young,” Blanche said, and hugged her little girl.

William returned from the kitchen with a cookie and a small cup of eggnog.

“I put some rum in it, sweetheart,” he said, smiling and handing the cup to his daughter.

“No you didn’t, daddy.” She giggled and drank. Then took a bite of her cookie.

“Now she’ll have to brush her teeth again,” Blanche said.

“Don’t be silly,” said William.

“Why doesn’t Santa just send presents by UPS?” Tabatha said, cookie crumbs on her mouth and chin. “Aunt Molly sent us presents by UPS.”

“Too damn expensive,” William said.

Blanche gave him a cautioning look. “Because the sleigh and reindeer are way more fun,” she said.

“Will that be a dollhouse when it’s finished?” Tabatha said, again looking at the heap of disparate Ikea parts. “I asked the angels for a dollhouse. They said maybe.”

“A dollhouse?” Blanche said, trying to hide her surprise. She shot William a terse look of panic. “You didn’t tell us you wanted a dollhouse.”

“I told the angels,” Tabatha said. She sipped her eggnog.

“Well I hope they can pull it off,” said William. “Sometimes you have to tell me and mommy, too.”

He looked back at Blanche now, as if he had an idea, and held two unassigned pieces of Ikea particleboard together like a peaked roof that might nicely crown a little girl’s oversized dollhouse. Blanche looked at the progress he’d made so far, the outline of a small piece of half finished furniture, and saw the possibilities. William raised a cocky eyebrow.

“It’s crazy!” Blanche said, having finally given up on the idea of a dresser. “Do you think you can pull it off?”

“It’ll be the damndest looking thing ever,” he said. “But I think I can.”

He picked the dresser assembly instructions up off of the floor, and balled them up for the recycling bin. There were no instructions for what he was now about build.

“Okay, cookie face,” Blanche said to Tabatha. “Back to bed. Your daddy’s got to consult with the angels.”

a snowman at Christmas

The snowman smiled. He was driving a ’72 Lincoln with the windows down and the A/C on full. He smoked Kools and drank frosty cold cans of beer. The Stones played on the eight track. It was December 24th.

The Voice was speaking to him. It had been all afternoon. It was the same Voice he’d been hearing since he’d opened his bottle cap eyes and walked off of the abandoned lot of his birth. The Voice had told him to steal the car. It was nameless. The one that whispered. Sometimes it even spoke backward, as though in tongues. Now it was saying, “Smoke, drink and drive fast, for snowmen melt sooner rather than later. We have seen the future, and you are not a part of it.”

The snowman accelerated, his wide white frosty foot on the pedal. The speedometer ticking toward 75 mph. Too fast for a snowy, winding rural road. It was 5 pm. The snow-coated dirt farms, billboards and Christmas lit road houses flew by. The crows on road kill flew off in chaotic murders. The tape deck hissed and played Tumbling Dice.

He speeded through a highway intersection where a semi had run into the ditch. The driver waved for the Lincoln to stop, but the Voice said drive on.

The landscape rolled in the gentle way of a prairie. The sky darkened. There were stars and a moon. The Stones tape ended. The snowman pulled it from the deck, and threw it out of the window. He put in John Lee Hooker. Boom Boom came bluesy over the speakers as the snowman observed for the first time an orange glow coming from over the next rise in the road. A glow that distinguished itself oddly from the expanse of cold, dark winter night.

A snowman has no word for dread. And if dread was what he felt in that moment, it was a feeling accentuated by speed, beer and nicotine.

He slowed the Lincoln as the road began to run down into a hollow where a homestead had stood next to a creek for a hundred years. A large white house in flames. He could see, as he approached, a small knot of people standing in the yard, watching. One of them, a woman, ran frantically from one spectator to another, her arms raised. Her clenched fists in her hair, pulling.

“Keep driving,” the Voice said. “We have seen what passes here, and you have no part in it.”

But the snowman slowed even more as he approached the driveway that lead off of the road. He pulled over, killed the engine and turned off the headlights. Then he lit another cigarette. He felt the uncomfortable heat of the blaze.  “That’s one hell of a thing,” he said blowing smoke.

“Drive on,” said the Voice.

The snowman’s hand was going for the keys in the ignition when he saw a man run out of a shed with a ladder. The man placed the ladder against the house beneath a window and began to climb. It was the only window not issuing flame. But as he neared it, there was an explosion of fire. The man fell two stories to the ground.

“Sandra,” the woman yelled louder. “Somebody please do something, for God sake. My daughter….”

But there was nothing anyone could do. All of the windows and doorways spewed flame. By now, it must have been the same on all sides of the house. They could only watch. The woman took a desperate run at the open door at the top of the porch, but was driven back by the heat. The others pulled her away and held her down. From far off in the distance, there came the faint sound of a siren, still a mile or more away.

The snowman stepped out of the car. He paused and watched. Someone still in the house. A child, maybe.

“Don’t,” said the Voice.

But the snowman didn’t listen. He walked slowly at first, then faster. Then he began to run toward the house.

“You’ll perish,” the Voice said. “You’ll melt before you even get to the door.”

“But there’s so much of me,” said the snowman. “I may not melt so fast.”

When he got to the people in the yard, he said, “Who? Where?”

They stared back at him, bewildered. A large, white grim-faced man of snow. But the woman stopped struggling and gasped, “Second floor. Third room on the right. My God, she’s only six. She can’t save herself.”

The snowy yard was orange and red, reflecting the colours of the firestorm. Water dripped down his forehead.

“You’re melting even now,” said the Voice.

“There’s enough of me,” the snowman said. The people saw him talking to himself. “I won’t melt all at once. If I move fast, and she is easy to find….”

“I gave you life,” said the Voice. “You’ve no business doing this.”

“Please,” the woman said.

“These people don’t care about you,” said the Voice. “Get in the car and drive. The night is cold and full.”

The snowman stopped thinking about it. He sprinted toward the house, up the stairs and into the flames through the front door. Inside everything glowed. A once decorated tree in a corner of the main room crackled and snapped. The heat was overwhelming. He felt himself melting, maybe faster than he imagined he would. He turned this way and that, and finally saw the staircase leading up. He ran for it, and ascended to the second floor. Third room on the right. There it was. He entered and saw no one. The flames were finished with the window curtains and were running up the walls and consuming the closet door. He felt himself becoming smaller. For the first time in his short existence, he felt weak and disoriented.

“Sandra,” he called. But all he heard at first was the snarl of flame. “Sandra, please. I know you’re scared….”

“Help me,” he heard a little voice say. “Help me.”

“Tell me where you are.”

“I’m under the bed.”

The bed, of course. He saw it smoking, and then turn to flame. Quickly he crouched and reached underneath. There was a tiny hand. He grasped it and pulled. A little girl with singed hair wearing a flannel nightgown came out. She held a smoking, half scorched teddy bear.

“Hey, you’re a snowman,” she said. And began to cough.

He pulled her close, stood up and ran. He was thawing fast. His legs felt weak, and there were still the stairs ahead of them. In the hall, the ceiling crumbled and fell. The girl was a small, coughing ball of humanity in his dissolving arms. The stairs gave way beneath him as he descended, and only by moving over them very fast did he avoid falling through.

The first floor was so fully engulfed, he finally knew he wouldn’t make it. Even the floor glowed a blackish charcoal red. He sprinted for the door as his legs and arms disappeared. What was left of him fell out of the fiery front door and onto the porch.

Frantically, the people in the yard rushed up the stairs, shielding themselves from the heat. They found the little girl covered in slush, grabbed her and ran, leaving behind some bottle caps, a wet book of matches and a soggy half empty deck of cigarettes.

Her mother cried and hugged her little girl.

“Did you see the snowman,” Sandra asked. Then pointed and smiled at a star falling across the sky.

The roar of flames and the sirens of the approaching fire trucks ruined the quiet of what might have been a nearly silent night.

“Snowmen are damn fools,” said the Voice. But no one heard.

 

 

 

 

 

lady in the rain

If he had a car, he’d drive away to Jesus. He had never thought of Him as a person, just a destination. A roadhouse with faded awnings and a door on squeaky hinges, out on a protestant prairie where the wind hadn’t let up since the cretaceous. The parking lot a quarter acre of grit blown in off the highway where some rusty pickups park. Just inside the door, there’s a scratchy 78 of Django Reinhardt playing on the jukebox. Everyone at the counter’s smoking, except for a couple farmers who prefer a pinch between the cheek and gum. Everyone’s drinking coffee. Behind the counter, the waitress is on the phone, getting some bad news. Not for the first time. She’s a tough bit of stone, though, hard to move and slow to erode.

This is Jesus in his mind. Where he’d be if he could.

Jesus the place, the ephemeral. It comes to mind in the night, mostly. Three hundred black and white lines of jumpy resolution at 3.00 a.m., long after the medication has stopped working. But the waitress, the one across the counter on the phone, she’s in colour. Slightly over saturated. The pink glow of her uniform follows her as she refills coffee cups. Her face once fresh. She’s slim from hard work and an indifference to food. There are streaks of grey in her hair. Hair that’s been put up and out of the way, though a strand occasionally falls to lie on her cheek. She pushes that back behind her ear. That’s when he sees the pink enamel on her nails, sees that the nail of her left ring finger is broken and looks painful, that the skin around the base of her thumb is a little red and cracked. That her eyes are a little red, too. From lack of sleep, or….

He sees her other places, besides the roadhouse. In the city. Standing very still on the street as crowds move around her. Present but detached. Like a dashboard statuette. Her uniform’s gone. This time of year, round Christmas, wearing a long surplus greatcoat and worn Docs that were once red. When she sees him, she smiles. It’s hesitant. Then she looks away. Traffic passes in front of her and she’s gone.

If he could go there, he would.

* * * * * *

In honour of Christmas Eve, Elsa Street pins a small Christmas tree broach onto her hand knit tam o’ shanter. She places the hat on her head. Standing before the mirror to adjust it, she sees her mother looking back. She purses her lips and carries on, tugging at the sides of her winter coat. There are worse things than resembling your mother, dressing, walking and talking like her. Worse things, like loneliness. She walks over to the stereo cabinet and removes the needle from a vinyl Perry Como album. The last great crooner is cut off in the middle of No Place like Home for the Holidays. Elsa pulls on her black kidskin gloves and retrieves her handbag and keys from the telephone stand next to her apartment door. It snowed last night. Now it rains. Elsa remembers at the last moment and manages to grab her umbrella from the stand before the door closes.

* * * * *

He’s walked in the rain for a century of Christmases, avoiding the eight by six foot room and its swinging bulb. It’s full of ghosts, that room. All of them talking. Some bullying, some merely melancholy and calling out. All of them wanting part of him. So, he walks. The shoes on his feet wet, forever wet. Socks, a vague childhood memory. The crazy, unavoidable beard soaked and populated, like his long dirty hair. His eyes slightly crazed. He stands at a corner, hands in his holy pockets, waiting for the light to turn the correct shade of green. Sometimes this takes a very long time. Sometimes, like now, it’s better to try a different corner. Turning to walk away, he catches sight of her out of the corner of his eye. There she stands. The rain pelting down around her. Radiant, the colours of a summer mural. She smiles. This time, when a truck passes between them, she hasn’t disappeared. She remains, watching him from the opposite corner.

Once, while standing in the sandwich line of the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement, he mentioned her to Sister Daphne. Sister Daphne replied, joyously, that Our Lady is with us always. Meanwhile, at St James Social Services, the mention of her caused the mean, tight fisted Anglicans to insist his meds needed adjusting.

Yet there she was, smiling at him from across Burrard Street. Sister Daphne, the old, bucktoothed cheerleader for Christ, may have been right. But he’d never said she was Our Lady, only a lady. The same one that bites her thumbnail between orders and the shouts of cooks. There in that place called Jesus.

He steps out onto the wet asphalt. Crossing towards her, even though he’s lost track of the light’s current shade of green. In fact, it’s red. The downtown Vancouver drivers blast him with their horns. A bike courier yells and flicks a lit cigarette; a Yellow cab tags him just below the knee and spins him around. But he keeps walking. When he reaches the opposite corner, however, she’s gone. Only a dry spot where she stood, quickly disappearing in the rain. He stands there for several moments. A fat man with shiny shoes and a tight overcoat forces $2 into his hand.

A few blocks away, Elsa Street stands in a shop looking at flat screen TVs. Digital-ready, a salesgirl says. But Elsa’s obvious ambivalence sends her away. Elsa’s trusty Trinitron is obsolete. 1980s analog, fat and boxy.

It’s difficult not to be nostalgic at times like these. Retailers go for the throat. It’s essential to possess the newest things. Who are you if you don’t? She looks down at her prudent shoes. Is she really so old, so out of touch? Was it that long ago that she stood in Woodward’s Department Store holding her father’s hand, marvelling the Christmas bustle from that safe place? Perhaps she was born old. A man in her life said that once. He’d stolen money from her purse, and thought buying clothes at second hand stores made him smarter than everyone else. Elsa thought the frayed collars and missing buttons made him look cheap, and a little stupid. She’d walked away from him and never met anyone else.

Now she takes an escalator down and emerges onto Granville Mall.

She decides to walk west along Robson. At Burrard, emergency services have congregated. A knot of them, police, fire and ambulance, around a filthy, poorly dressed man seated with his back against a plate glass window. Hit by a cab, someone says. His head is rolling on his skinny neck. His eyes make great, all-encompassing arcs in their sockets. He’s taking in all of creation, yet he sees nothing at all. Elsa looks down and sees one more tragedy. She feels numbed, then slightly ashamed. She hears a cop say mental male into his two-way. She begins to look away, but not before he, the mental male, makes eye contact. She can’t help but return his stare. A firefighter shoulders through the gathering crowd, nearly knocking the umbrella out of her hand, but she holds her ground. And for the briefest moment, there is an altogether complete silence before the man on the ground yells…

“YOU.”

He tries to stand and says, “You” again. This time holding out a hand. Elsa tries to step back, but she cannot. His yelling has attracted more people. A police woman asks if Elsa knows him. She says no, but is suddenly unsure.

He is standing now. The ambulance crew moves off, allowing the police to move in. He’s gotten to his feet faster than anyone would have believed. “It’s you,” he says. “Don’t go. Please don’t go this time. Stay and talk to me, just once.” A pair of cops step in while a police woman takes Elsa’s arm.

“No,” Elsa says. “It’s okay. I….”

Again, the policewoman says, “Do you know him, ma’am?”

“No.”

“Then move on. He’s delusional. He’s not going stop until you go.”

“PLEASE,” he yells, now holding out both hands. He can hear the scratchy opening bars of Django’s Honeysuckle Rose. It’s coming from somewhere outside of his head. The two officers attempt to restrain him, but there’s very little of him to hold onto and he’s slick with rain. He takes three steps toward Elsa as one of the officers draws a weapon. In unison, the crowd backs off. The officer shouts, “Taser.” The other cops look confused, but there’s no time for discussion. As the emaciated man comes close enough to grasp Elsa’s lapels, there’s a brief hissing sound and he stands frozen with his hands out. Elsa sees the grime beneath his nails, the bulbous knuckles of his starved fingers, and then looks up to see his wet, stunned eyes. The dark network of red around the pale hazel irises. They implore, and are resigned. They tell their entire story in the time it takes to gasp.

He drops to the concrete, and the ambulance team is on him. Rolling him over, checking for vitals, tearing his shirt open. No pulse. Everyone seems surprised. They’re pumping his chest now, creating an airway. Elsa feels a hand on her elbow. It’s a policewoman coaxing her away. No, she won’t go. Inexplicably, she’s been called to witness this thing. To breathe deep the troubling scent of its finality and wrongness. Is he really dead? Is it possible to be so profoundly unwell? To die so easily on such a grey, ordinary day?

Looking up, Elsa sees her reflection in the plate glass.

* * * * *

For a while, he stood observing the gentle but persistent wind move the fields of prairie grass. Planets and stars. Then he walked in off the shaded porch, past the faded Orange Crush and Copenhagen ads, and sat at the counter. These were remembered eyes, he realised. Eyes he’d once looked through before it had all come down to a choice between flat affect or psychosis.

“Coffee, stranger?” the lady in the pink uniform asks. She smiles, and he sees some creases round her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. The kind that don’t come freely; the kind a woman earns.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah.”

She poures. “Menu?”

“Nah,” he says taking a deck of Players out of his shirt pocket, like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do. “Bacon and eggs, I guess, with biscuits and gravy.”

“That’s a mighty big plate in this joint, mister. You hungry?”

“Awfully,” he says. Then quieter, “Awfully hungry.”

“Cream?” she says, writing up the order.

“Yes, cream.” He could have cream in his coffee. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Say, you got some nickels?”

He pats his jeans pockets. There’s something there. “Uh huh.”

“Do a girl a favour and drop some in the juke. Nothing worth a damn on the radio this morning.”

Outside, a pickup pulls in. The country twang on the vehicle’s radio dies and both doors slam shut. There’s some good-humoured chatter coming up the stairs. The voices of happy people who meant no harm.

“Gonna be a damn fine day,” she says.

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – The Christmas 2014 Edition

don’t forget to read them all?

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Well Christmas is almost here, Fire Sign. And ain’t that swell. Do you still have fond memories of all those snowy festive times in your childhood when your parents would spend every last dime they had so you could have presents on Christmas morning, but then you were all disappointed because you didn’t get a Captain Nemesis action figure with the patented Kamikaze Grip made by slave child labour in China so that you could use it to strangle your sister’s Ken doll with it? And now that disappointment affects you as an adult and that’s why you’re a man who lives alone and wears dresses? Oh hang on, that’s me.

For Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) Okay, let’s get this straight first. I don’t like doing Earth Sign horoscopes. It’s like, ooohhhh, look at Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. They’re all so grounded, and just naturally recognise the difference between the tangible and the spiritual, while everyone else just stumbles around like a bunch of irreligious zombies and end up joining the Church of Scientology and suing the ass off anyone who criticises L. Ron Hubbard and his secret TIE Fighter and light saber. And isn’t that just the excessively litigious spirit of the holiday season, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or any other wacko religious or cultural tradition? God! I’d rather eat Christmas cake with pins in it than write that horoscope.

For Air Signs® (Gemini®, Libra®, Aquarius®) Well, there you are, Air Sign®. Stuck in a shopping mall surrounded by thousands of other Air Signs® and it’s ten minutes to closing time on Christmas Eve®, and you haven’t purchased one damn thing for the people you love, because that’s the way Air Signs® are and the Muzak® is playing the Barry Manilow® version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer® for the ten thousandth time since April, when the retail Christmas® shopping season begins and your wife ends up with a crappy gift basket from the Body Shop® filled with all those cheap humectant based skin creams and glycerin soaps that smell like a chemical spill on the New Jersey Turnpike in mid-August and each of your kids gets a teddy bear even though they’re all in their twenties and really just want some Peace® on Earth® and an iPhone® 6. And tomorrow, on Christmas Day®, you’ll sit in the living room by the Presto Log® fire drunk as hell and wondering what the hell happened with your life and why Christmas® canes are so popular – they’re really just cheap peppermint candy that leaves a really gross aftertaste in your mouth, aren’t they? Or are they really an NSA® surveillance plot? And then you find the note your wife left you only ten minutes ago before she left you Forever® and took Everything® except the Body Shop® gift basket. Phew! Well, there’s always 2015®.

For Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life, and whether that life has any meaning, purpose, or value. Well merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Water Sign – wondering if you really exist and whether anything has any significance. And aren’t you really the one responsible for your philosophical quandary? Wasn’t it you who used the word Xmas on everything this year, instead of Christmas? Your Xmas cards and Xmas presents and Xmas tree and Xmas cake and your Xmas party where you put your hands all over your now ex-secretary who’s filing a sexual harassment complaint through the union so that you’ll have an ex-job and an ex-wife come 2015? And isn’t that extra special? Maybe you could have used the word Christmas just once, to even things out and not seem so anti-Jesus. Not that Jesus gives a damn, he’s got a cushy gig. But it’s karma you gotta watch out for, baby. And remember what Soren Kierkegaard, the first existentialist philosopher, had to say: There’s no place like home for the holidays, unless our dominant thoughts reveal in us that which can only be discovered by living out of an abandoned car under a bridge and eating No Name Spam.