Sunday, September 28, 2008

Diaspora and return.

One time a few years ago I was driving with my father and we were speaking of his wife's family in France. She had come to Canada in the early 1970's, from Figeac in Southern France, near Albi and Toulouse. She married a musician in Toronto and had a son and a daughter with him, then split for her own reasons. I never knew the whole story, this entire 25 years. I never thought it was my business to ask and she never volunteered the information. It doesn't matter now, anyhow.

Violette met my father in Edmonton and they soon lived together.

My father had met his brother-in-law, his wife's sister's husband, when they were in Paris.
His name was Issac or something, I forget. My father's name is Joseph, Joe.
Joe Cloutier.
The Cloutier became a point of contention as "Issac" and Joe spoke of the origins of the name itself.

Zacharie/Zacharia Cloutier came to Canada in 1630, from Normandy. Issac was from Normandy, too. He asked my father why anyone would leave Normandy. Zacharie Cloutier was a carpenter and illiterate, he signed his name with an upgraded "X". It was instead two axes crossed.
The Cloutier family grew and moved and settled this country.

Issac was a man's man in France. He was a highway EMT, ambulance crew. He would tell stories about having to hold an 8-year-old girl's head together, life rushing out of her , as the ambulance careened down the highway; stories of drunk-drivers, DOA, having been ejected through the windshield and into oncoming traffic. Issac said that when he saw their bodies, those drunks, he would take the cigarettes out of the pockets of the victims, then he would smoke them and look at the bodies and shake his head at how stupid they were.

Issac told Joe that leaving Normandy was what cowards did, running away to the new country. Running from something. Joe, being Joe, sat and listened. He nodded and listened. Issac had evoked nothing from Joe other than careful listening and attention.

Joe's father, my grandfather, Leonard Cloutier, a real Francophone if there ever was one, was in the Canadian Army during WWII. Joe was born in 1943. Leonard Cloutier died in 1982. He had just come home from the RCL and was watching the Montreal Canadiens on television. He died of a heart attack, sudden and alone.

After Issac had laid out all of his reasons for people, French people, to never leave Normandy, and my father had returned to Canada, in June, 2005, Joe sent Issac a letter.
Joe's letter was beautiful, it had coloured pictures and the writing was short and straight.

It read:

"You were right about what you said, about French leaving Normandy, and how it was strange.
I have, with these pictures, included names and dates and times of French Canadians who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy to free France from Nazi occupation. We may have left in 1630, but we sure as hell came back in 1944. We came back to Normandy and we died to return it to you. Happy D-day, Issac.

-Joseph Leonard Cloutier"

I felt proud and laughed when I was driving with my father and he told me that story.
We drove in silence like that after the story, I think I understood what makes a man after that time.

It was some time ago and I forget the details, but that was the greatest story I have ever heard.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"I don't like work--no man does, but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself."

The beams were put in over the past few days. The crane would hoist them, one by one, and place them in their anchors which were bolted into the concrete. When the beams came in, the Ironworkers would guide it in with a series of hand-signals and ropes. Then they bolted the beam in place and it looked beautiful, against the morning sky. I loved the perspective and I thought that it looked like spread fingers, hand opened.

The Ironworkers started at 6 a.m. When it was coldest on that mountain, just before sunrise, those men put on harnesses and strapped themselves into the JLG to finish the ends of those beams and bolt in the remaining plates that went on the ends of every single one of them. They woke up at 4 a.m. every morning, made lunches for themselves, quietly so as not to wake the kid(s) and wife, took a thermos of coffee while stepping quietly even in steel-plated boots caked in dried cement, and they left to work. They were building an annex to a country club.
They had to wear harnesses and use a lanyard to prevent themselves from falling to certain death among the hardened concrete run-off and the exposed rebar, 15 meters below.
They did that so that rich people could have a new place to swim and run on an electric mill that kept them in place.

I had just arrived at 6:30 and still had 30 minutes to go before I began my day. I was in the pool again, but I didn't mind as I imagined myself becoming muscular and smiling slyly when I glanced into the mirror when getting into the shower. Which is funny to do, because I then will laugh at myself as I turn on the shower for being so vain. The first few cubic feet of water from the shower are cold from laying dormant in the pipe, and that usually makes me forget about the mirror and the shapes on my body.

I left early today. I told the foreman I had a dental appointment. I told the others the same when I gathered my tool-belt and headed toward my truck. We joked and talked about the price of dentistry, why it isn't part of the Health Care plan as it is generally regarded as essential anatomical equipment.

I felt guilty to tell them that I was going home to change and going onward to an interview for a government job behind a desk. I could have never told the Ironworkers that.

The interview was great. I got the job, if I want it.
I don't know if I do.

I thought about those beams stretched out like a Japanese fan tonight. Like fingers or paths. In that perspective, they spanned out in different directions, always further apart, and further, too.
I thought how my life is like those beams. All at once, in every direction and getting further from the other as it proceeds down the line of sight.
But the bolts on the beams are what I can't put in. I just can't align it level or flush.

I am going to bring some hot coffee for the Ironworkers tomorrow. They could teach me many things.

The game that plays itself

Delicate decision-making: what videogames to bring on my honeymoon? The best, most sensitive decision, the decision least likely to be greeted with howls of outrage were it discussed on a daytime talk show, would be to leave all the bleep-blorp at home, but... the hand-to-mouth nature of freelance livin' demands constant production; I had to keep working, if only half-assedly.

Then came the Facebook message: A friend has invited you to play Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures. Hey... a light RPG experience, delivered via a platform I'm going to be accessing at least once a day anyway, with that nerd-irresistible flavor of D&D branding? This could be the answer...

I have a long and loving history with Dungeons & Dragons off the tabletop, dating back through the Baldur's Gate games and Planescape: Torment, through the SSI “gold box” titles and on to the two Intellivision cartridges. These were both great carts, but while The Treasure of Tarmin dazzled with its first-person perspective and exciting lightning-bolt-throwing action, it was the earlier game – titled, simply, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – that provided what is still my all-time favorite onscreen D&D moment.

The thing about the Intellivision AD&D game was, it had no onscreen stats display, no radar or health bar or ammo counter. Everything was organic and immersive; in the highly abstracted mountain mazes you moved through, your health was represented by the color of your little adventurer dude, the proximity of enemies expressed through the sound of their moving and breathing in the darkness, your stock of precious arrows counted out by a series of clicks. There have been few situations in my life of videogaming that have given me goosebumps – I'm getting goosebumps now, just thinking of it – like the moment, standing at the threshold of a pitch-black chamber from which emanate the growls of a riled-up dragon, when I'd press the “count arrows” button and hear a single, dismal click. A wonderful expression of the mystery and terror of dungeon-delving, that was.

Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures on Facebook, not so much. You fire it up, choose your intrepid adventurer from a handful of pregenerated characters based directly on the illustrations from the pen-and-paper Players' Handbook, give him or her a name, and that's it for character creation. In fact, that's pretty much it for all meaningful player input. I'd stumbled upon the perfect game to review on a honeymoon: D&D Tiny Adventures, it turns out, is the game that helpfully plays itself.

Click on the “FIND ADVENTURE” button and select a mission, and your character moves through encounters at ten-minute intervals, with all ability checks and combat rolls taking place automatically whether the “player” (more of a “reader”, actually) is looking at the page or not. Click the button, walk away, and an hour later come back and read all about what your guy got up to in the spooky forest or dank sewers or abandoned mansion or wherever while you were taking care of important real-life business. After a little light loot management, you can just click the game's single control – FIND ADVENTURE – and start the process over again, a totally automated fantasy trip.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be unacceptably lame. This past week, though, it's been a nice little diversion. I'll wake up and send halfling rogue Boson Darkmatter (character name ripped from Google News sci/tech headlines!) on some fantastic errand, go get some breakfast with the lady, do some shopping, maybe visit a gallery or museum, and when next I open my laptop, taking advantage of the WiFi at some bar or cafe, there'll be a whole little swords-n-sorcery (well, at this point, rusty-daggers-n-potions) narrative waiting for me. More often than not, it's a narrative of humiliation and defeat – the automated die-rolling algorithm has phenomenally cold hands – but, hey... it's not my fault!

Zero effort, zero frustration. Zero input, zero attachment. Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures might just be the future, the equivalent of no-calories, no-caffeine sodas, a completely virtual game experience for busy, busy people who can't be bothered with the hassle of actually playing something themselves. It's an almost mystical experience, transcendentally empty.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


There are many decoy houses, I have noticed. Around Commercial Drive many houses stand ugly, with exteriors and yards that look quite bad. As though someone forgot about them, stopped caring when they had finished milking the mortgage from the random tenants they let to. They just stopped caring. It was sad in the day to see the paint-chipped peeling shingles.

But in the night, and long after the owners stopped caring, in the night the tenants who left their curtains open let me see that they had kept the house beautiful. The inside was painted odd colours and the art that I could see looked very interesting.
Whenever I go outside to smoke a Marlboro I stand at the gate, and lean into the fence. Just across the alley from me, when I look up into a window, it is the kitchen window, at about 9 or 9:30 p.m. I see two blonde girls doing dishes together. They are always beautiful and laughing and smiling, sometimes they are even singing together.

I want to fuck them.

I don't want to know their names or hobbies or sob-stories or ages or anything. I don't want a single word spoken. I just want to drink some whiskey one night and walk up their stairs and into their house and have them know why I am there and then I just want to fuck them, both.
I want to see them squeeze each others hand in the sink full of dish-water while I lick them and fuck them like that, bent slightly over the sink, one watching the other take the fucking, looking on in as much pleasure as jealousy. I just want to see their faces when I fuck them. I want to see those special facial muscles contract, the ones reserved for getting fucked and cumming.

Many houses here may have external damage, but looking in, at those blonde girls across the alley, makes me happy and shy and even hard in my jeans as I imagine the inside of their house.

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

I remember seeing a picture once of the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In this picture there was young woman tenderly holding a baby and smiling. The woman had on loose, flowing clothing. She had beautiful and long chestnut hair. The baby in the picture was just small and mostly covered by a white blanket. Maybe the baby was smiling, too. They sat together like that the smiling woman and the baby on a carpet or shawl or scarf, or some fabric like that. Directly behind them was the side of a maroon van with the side door open. It looked like an Econoline.

There was a tarp erected from the side of the van outwards, to provide shade for the woman and the baby seated in the sun of the Kill Devil Hills, that small desert. Smiling.
That photo was taken in the summer of 1973, two years before the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.
I was four months old in that picture. My mother and I were waiting for my father, who was sailing off of the dunes, hang gliding. I loved that picture but I can not find it anymore.

I had just finished my second day of eight hours
straight-armed-hauling, no pulley, five-gallon pails of wet pea-gravel up a 12 foot wall and then dumping it behind me, on the other side of the frame. We were building a swimming pool at a country club in West Vancouver. We had finally met grade and were done. But it was funny because I imagined that I was a slave in ancient Egypt, building for life. It made things seem more interesting as I envisioned a large statue of Horus, and my blood and sweat and strain and loss would make that statue. I also imagined how the pool would look in one year, with aqua-yoga classes, or whatever. But I also thought of when I was a boy and loved the pool at Kinsmen in Edmonton.

The country club is on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver. The land is beautiful. In the morning I love the smell when I am standing by the tool trailer. It isn't construction, but the smell of the cool air rushing down the mountain as the sun rises. It smells like 5 a.m. camping, before the fire. It makes me feel new, too.

I like the work. I am on a roof, there, framing, chipping concrete, zip-disking rebar and sometimes smoking a Marlboro.
I get to look out over the mountainside and down to the water. I see the ships go out and the birds are curious as the trees stand close to me, dwarfing me even when working on the second floor.

After the last bucket of pea-gravel had been filled, lifted and dumped, I carefully stood on the top of the frame at the deep end of the soon pool. Above the pool there is a large circular window that looks North up the mountain. I did my best to lean back a little without falling and out of that window I saw the para-gliders coming off of the peak of the mountain. They flew beautifully and seemed to just keep catching the same updraft as they flew from side to side. I didn't watch for too long because I was tired but at the same time I wished I was there, too. It made me think of that picture in Kill Devil Hills.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"In that moment, Govinda realized that his friend was leaving him and he began to weep."

It had been four years of constant farewells. I think that is something that can not translate very well. After leaving my friends and family the last time, again, the feeling was subtle and numb. Not that it was without sadness, it had just become routine; the hugs and back patting, the see-you-soon.
In Edmonton it was sweet and warm and drunk while old friends felt joy together again. Sometimes it was sad, too, to see things which had been missed so achingly, to do things which used to make me feel like a man. The sudden wave of being liked and loved and invited was almost overwhelming. I had not felt that way in a very long time.
The only time it rained while I was in Edmonton was on the morning I was loading my truck. I chose to use ratchet straps, which were tighter and more assuring than rope. A good trick is that they need to be given a full turn so that there is a visible twist in the strap. The wind on the highway will make a straight ratchet strap flutter and hum loudly. It might even begin to wear on the integrity of the strap itself. The rain made the loading and tarp-strapping unpleasant and counterproductive, as the rain would pool in wrinkles on the tarp and when I shifted the tarp the water would dump onto the cardboard boxes.
That morning it rained. The three weeks previous had been clear and hot and the Alberta sky was huge, dizzying to follow from horizon to zenith to horizon. It was delightful to escape the heat by simply slipping into the shade. The humid summers of Japan were heavy and relentless. Even the air conditioned rooms, when there was one, were foes. The danger was always catching a chill after being outside and sweating profusely. August in Alberta was easy and casual. It only rained once while I was there.

Friday, September 19, 2008


August was good and the sun was high and bright for the long days. It only rained once in Edmonton. The trip South was on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail. You can see the mountains from 22 about 160km South of the Yellowhead Trail, West of Edmonton. The Rockies, coming in from Alberta, are sentinels. The vast golden plains give way to awkward crags and hills where the wind bends the trees on the hills and the distant mountains loom until suddenly you are upon them, immense. Driving was hypnotic, which posed little threat, as the road was flat and straight and there were no cars to be seen in either direction; only the Rockies on the skyline. I drove like that with my windows rolled down so I could smell the sweetgrass and horses and hear the birds. Especially the birds. Sometimes I would pull into the entrance of a ranch field, park the truck and just listen. For four summers I had not heard a Chickadee even once. It was strange to realize that.