Friday, January 12, 2007

12-9-2006 – Whitecourt, AB

“What’re you drinkin’ wine for?”

Eyes narrowed just a touch from totally friendly, smile with a bit of steel in it. Not necessarily a fight-picking face, but a face that’s seeing if there’s a fight to be picked. Family Christmas in a big one-room cabin somewhere in the unpulped forests of Blue Ridge, and I’m a stranger – a recent introduction via a recent introduction, needing to be checked out. Who am I? Will I scare? Thin hoser disguise of plaid flannel and army jacket is shredded by the truth of bottom-shelf shiraz burbling into a beer cup: I’m as White City as they come… am I some kind of fuckin’ asshole?

“Well, I guess I just feel like drinkin’ wine.”

“See, we drink whisky.” Plastic tumbler held up by example, five fingers and a thumb – a fist, really – of Jack sloshing around its knuckles of crushed ice. “Who are you here with?”

I indicate my fiancée across the room, laughing with newfound family. Half-cut eyes soften in understanding; all is explained and I’m off the hook. “Ah. That’s the prim n’ proper side of the family.”

We introduce ourselves, exchange a few pleasantries re. the value of fighting (since his last assault conviction, Jody’s got himself a good job and don’t do that much no more, though he’s proud to see his son showing a bit of two-fistedness) and I head back to the circle of prim n’ propers to guzzle my goblet of pussy city-boy Christmas Cheer in peace.

So strange a situation. This is my girl’s recently revealed birth family, people she’s known only slightly longer than she’s known me, and here we are in the middle of ancient annual tradition, speed-reading the room for maps and monuments, the lines of fault and force that bind and divide, the Albertan intricacies of race and role, position and priorities. Handshakes and hugs, turkey and cabbage rolls, liquor and cigarettes… yes. Cigarettes. Good idea!

Outside on the unrailinged deck, the kids are doing flips down into a five-foot snowbank as the smokers chuckle and chatter and create those wonder double-clouds of secondhand smoke and breath-vapor. I light up, wondering for a moment whether my fussy Dutch clove cigarettes’ll earn me the same ride my wine did. Feeling speculative, sentimental… I was born around here, too, and also adopted away; wonder if any of these laughing folk are blood cousins, kin… or… oh, shit… if my girl’s family's from around here, then maybe…?

No! No way. Now’s not the time to let my mind ride down that line, man. Just enjoy the bubblegum taste of herb-laced tobacco reacting with wine-buzz and contemplate the moon…

Oh, yeah! The motherfuckin’ moon. Hey, does anybody mind if I set aside this fuzzy family holiday tale for another time in order to talk about the moon for a second? OK. So, I just read about how NASA’s announced its intention to establish a permanent manned moonbase by 2024. Neat-o space cadet wish fulfillment value aside, this is the stupidest goddamn moneywasting idea in the cosmos.

Look, I know astronauts are cool and everything, but the only thing a human in space can do better than a robot is die. The main task of a moonbase, on a tonne-for-tonne, kilowatt-for-killowatt basis, will be keeping people alive. It will be its own reason for existing.

There is no legitimate science reason for putting people on the moon – the FIVE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS this dumbfuck space clubhouse will cost to get up and running could launch a thousand robotic probes on a thousand different missions – to Mars, to the Sun, to our own beautiful Earth -- and immeasurably enrich humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos and our wonderful, mysterious home.

Fuck the fucking moonbase; there is nothing there for us, respite what the ridiculous ‘40s-vintage helium-mining fantasies they’re spinning say. Here is a complete list of the moon’s benefits to humanity:

- It looks nice

I mean, it really, really looks nice. Hanging there, waning away, outshining the stars on a cloudless night. Its only competition is the orange glowing steamcloud of the pulp mill on the horizon.

“Come on, dad! Just do it!”

I snap back from space. Tough-guy Jody’s being goaded by the apple of his pugilistic eye into flipping off the deck. He peers over the edge like it’s the lip of a canyon rather than a six-inch drop into five feet of snow. Sense and sobriety do battle with whisky and lifelong daredevil instinct across his nervous-smiling face until his wife (or whatever; I just got here, myself) puts in her $0.02:

“For fuck’s sake, Jody! You’ve got a good job; don’t break your fucking back!”

FLOOMP into the snowbank, a perfectly cushioned backflop. Sometimes all it takes is the concern of a good woman to remind a man of his party responsibilities… and these people take their responsibilities seriously.

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