Archive | September, 2011

All I Wanted Was A Bus Ticket

27 Sep

I’m standing in line at the bus station when I hear the counter attendant complaining about the speed of her debt machine.

“I’m not used to dial-up,” she says. “It’s so slow.  Hopefully we’ll get a satellite connection soon.  That’s the word anyway.  It would definitely make your wait time a little less.”

Now usually this type of simple, innocent interaction wouldn’t be anything worth noting if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve heard her say the exact same thing to me twice before, word for word.  It was almost like she was reading a script, the way she smiled as she spoke and finished her statement with a little laugh to let all of us waiting in line know she really wasn’t too upset about things, just hopeful that someday things would be different.

This got me thinking.  How many times had I experienced similar types of over-repeated rhetoric and mistook them as genuine, original attempts at conversation?  Comfort phrases designed as a means of coping with a mundane job or a strategy for public interaction.  In a way, I almost felt let down knowing that our brief, yet pleasant interaction was really nothing more than a well rehearsed, time honoured routine, undoubtedly re-enacted over and over again throughout the station attendant’s entire shift.

Admittedly, I was a bit miffed.  The way she smiled at me the first time she delivered her pleasant disapproval only added insult to injury when I discovered she was practically reading off a cue card.  But my disappointment quickly turned to the realization that I’ve subjected people to the same thing countless times without even realizing it.  Have I been unknowingly called-out for doing the same thing?

The woman’s comments about the speed of her secure-payment system, my assurance that it didn’t matter much to me if I had to wait an extra ten seconds, mixed with our pleasant parting smiles were about as original as other well known, preconceived stranger to stranger interactive phrases like “How about that weather?” or the more precise, “Hot enough for ya?”

This was a disturbing revelation for several reasons.  Not only was it a wake up call to the fact that so many pleasant customer service gestures were merely nothing more than standard operating procedures hidden behind pretty smiles or nods of approval, but it was also even more unsettling to think how many daily encounters were based around this foundation of prearranged, run of the mill, carbon copied statements, actions, reactions, and interactions.

When I stopped to ponder this revelation for a few minutes, I started to wonder just how many of these situations we encounter in the run of a day.  What’s worse is to think that it would actually be possible to go through an entire day or week or month where the only human interaction we experience is nothing short of meaningless spiel.  The ramifications from such an unfortunate existence are only hitting me now as I write this.

“Hey Matt,” someone yells, as they breeze past on a bike while I enjoy my morning coffee outside on the porch.  Did they mean it?  Was that a legitimate hey? What does hey even mean?  Would they have even made the effort to send out such mild greeting if we hadn’t made eye contact seconds before?

“What’s up?” I yell back, knowing full well they have no intention to stop and give me a detailed answer to such a riveting question.  If they did, I would have to pretend to be interested in their reply to such an open-ended, all encompassing question.  I don’t really want to know the answer because the answer could go in any direction and I was short on social time. I was simply responding to a polite gesture with and a polite gesture.  What if they told me their pet died, or they lost their wallet or that they recently contracted some incurable disease?  Maybe they just broke up with a partner and were hoping a relaxing bike ride would help clear their mind, their mindless bliss now interrupted rudely by my prying question into where they are in their life.

The worst part for me would be if they did stop to chat in any capacity.  I’m not really interested in talking during my little morning ritual of coffee and a smoke on the porch, but would then have had to fake a certain degree of interest in whatever they had to share, all the while hoping they’d continue on and give me back the few minutes from my morning they’ve just hijacked.  That’s not to say I feel that way about every hey-maker that comes by.

Back inside our apartment my partner is on her way to the shower.

“How was your sleep,” she asks.

“I slept like a log,” I say, one of several standard relies I have to that question.  I could have also answered, “Not bad”, “pretty good I suppose” or the more direct, “fine”.

It quickly became clear to me that there is a striking line between meaningful dialog and customary pleasantries that until now had gone unnoticed, at least by me.  I’m not completely naïve.  I understand that in order to simply get along and communicate with people, these gestures serve an important purpose.  They help me purchase food at the grocery store, buy a beer at the bar and as mentioned at the start of this story, purchase a ticket for the bus.

I realise that in order to go about our daily interactions with others, it would simply be impossible to commit to a serious, meaningful chat with everyone we encounter.  I guess what struck me the most was the thought that I have most likely interpreted many of these brief discussions as legitimate, honest conversations by people who were truly interested in the answers to the questions they were asking.  Maybe I am more naïve then I thought I was.

The world just got a little colder for me.  At the very least, I hope you read this with interest and not just because you read other blog posts I’ve made and therefore felt obligated.  If that is the case, you’ve just taken things to a whole new level my friend.

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A Letter from a Tenant to a Theif in the Night

25 Sep

To whom it may concern,

I’ve had everything imaginable stolen from me at one point.  My pride, my self-respect and my heart have all but been lost at one time or another. Usually I can trace the reasons for their disappearance and piece together the puzzle, but it’s the little things you’ve taken or have refused to take from me that seem to annoy me the most and often leave me with the biggest sense of bewilderment. 

Over the years I have had the privilege of living in a number of uniquely charming apartments, as you well know.  It may come as no surprise that the few apartments I’ve had located on the ground floor of century-old homes in the heart of the city’s downtown district have been my favourites.  Whether they had three short steps to sit on with enough room to only hold my butt and a cup of coffee, or a welcoming stoop large enough to have friends over for a BBQ and watch passersby, they’ve all been great.  You know.  You’ve seen them.  One thing I’ve learned though, whether I have a stoop or a step, you will at some point choose to explore it and take what you need when I’m not around.

The needs of others have long been fed by the contents of my various front porches over the years, but in this situation maybe need is the wrong word.  The couple who come by on Wednesday evenings with their shopping cart to collect my bottles and cans do so because they need to.  You, I’m not so sure of.  I mean, who really needs a plastic flower pot at two in the morning?  And does anyone really need one cushion from a set of four matching patio chairs?  Whether you needed the single cushion in question or not, I appreciate the fact that you were understanding enough of the inconvenience they were causing me to leave the other three cushions behind for my continued enjoyment, but that still  doesn’t make it right.  It might not have hurt as much if you’d have just taken the whole chair, cushion and all.  That way people don’t have to fight over who sits where when I have guests over.  On the other hand, it does provide me with an interesting story to kick off an evening’s conversation.  I’m not thanking you.  I’m just trying to make sense here.

I can understand you stealing my bicycle.  A bike is a great tool and I think anyone who doesn’t have one really should.  Bikes are a convenient way to get around the city’s downtown without having to worry about parking metres or missing out on the last granny space in the grocery store parking lot.  What I don’t understand is why you’d cut through my bike lock and then take the broken, sawed through pieces with you when you left.  If you’re going to steal a person’s main source of getting around, are you really that concerned with leaving a little mess behind?  I guess it makes sense if you chewed through the chain and were afraid of leaving DNA behind or something, but I doubt that was the case.

I don’t think I’ll every really understand you completely.  Come to think of it, maybe your theft of my bike was kind of my fault.  If it was, I’m sorry to put you in that position.  I mean, I did regularly chain it to the same fire escape for nearly two years.  Although I used it during most days, leaving it out at night probably just taunted you.  That wasn’t my intention.  I just figured that since it was a good location facing the street, it would be a safe place for my bike to live when not in use.  I suppose I should have known better.  When you threw that rum bottle through the back window of my car, you proved to me that a street view was not your concern.

Lately, I’ve been trying to help you.  That copy of Entering Adulthood was supposed to be a gift for you but you never took it.  Instead, you took my broom to the opposite side of the street and tossed it up onto a large elm tree branch, just out of reach.  Now I have to look at it every time I sit outside.

And that brochure for the YMCA’s yoga classes?  That was for you as well.  When I woke to find it gone, I was happy.  I was almost proud of you for a moment until I found it stuffed into the end of my car’s tailpipe along with an apple core and a plastic straw.  Thanks?

It’s not like you’re Santa Claus.  I can’t keep leaving you treats or gifts, especially if you’re not going to take them.  I know it’s just a matter of time before you get a craving for a pair of recycling boxes and a can of cigarette butts.  I’m almost amazed they’ve lasted on my porch as long as they have.  And while I don’t understand what you choose, how you choose and when you decide to choose what it is you choose, I’ve come to accept it. 

I know you probably won’t read this letter.  If you take it, there’s a better chance you’ll soak it in a puddle and paste it to my window like you did with those Wal-Mart flyers last year. I understand that.  But I also understand that people change. I’m hoping someday you will too. 

Sincerely,

The tenant

A Rat in a Sweater

12 Sep

I was sitting on the front porch sipping my coffee and enjoying a cigarette on a particularly quiet Sunday morning when I made an interesting observation. Passing my gaze up and down the deserted streets like I so often do during these calm, early morning hours of the day, I was struck by the astonishing number of fury, grey squirrels running back and forth across the power lines. Leaping from branch to branch in the tall elm trees that separate the street from the sidewalk and making the occasional mad dash from one driveway to another in a manner that can only be described as frantic and jittery.  Like the animal equivalent of a junkie strung out on God knows what, searching desperately to find that last hit of whatever it is he’s on that must have just fallen from his jacket pocket. Their quick, jerky movements indicating the pure desperation of the predicament they are currently wrestling with.

This got me thinking how odd it is that we accept these little critters into our living environment without much concern.  I mean when you think about it, a squirrel is just a rat with a nice sweater.  If they wore the animal equivalent of a ripped up Metallica t-shirt and a faded pair of jeans favoured by their sewer-dwelling, garbage eating cousins, we’d have probably called in some sort of pied piper by now to lead these clever, well-dressed rodents out to the city limits.

And if we’re going to start dealing on street vermin, I guess the same goes for racoons. Even though they come down from their trees at night to rummage though our trash to satisfy their excessive eating habits, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone recount to me how cute racoons are with their child-like curiosity, their little bank robber masks and oh what great pets they would probably make. “They’re like little bandits,” they say. “And their hands; they’re just like little people.”

Even though I agree with both these statements, it still strikes me as odd that if an animal can clean up his or her appearance just a little, maybe shave now and then and don a cute little mask like a crook from the keystone cops or the Hamburglar for that matter, they’re no longer considered disgusting, threatening and the nuisance they’d be if they weren’t so well dressed. I suppose I have a few friends like that but to me, in the world of four-legged urban beings, this makes racoons the animal equivalent of a con man. Nice on the outside but riddled with ulterior motives and discrete deceit.

If my theory is true, this goes a long way in understanding our distastes for pigeons, many of whom look like they’ve spent the night in a ditch and are recovering from a serious bender involving far too many pizza crusts and spilt donair sauce. Even the best looking pigeons appear to be dressed in their grandfather’s hand-me-downs making them the animal equivalent of a door-to-door salesman from the 1970’s. I sometimes think they might at any moment try and offer me a great deal on life insurance or the latest and greatest liquid cure-all. 

If this were the case when I was growing up, our house would have been full of pigeon droppings since my kind-hearted mother rarely refused any visitor and seemed to take pleasure in hearing the unique and determined spiel from each and every one of them. Her curiosity only came to an end when as kids, my siblings and I fell hook, line and sinker for a vacuum cleaner salesman and his wares after he gave a rousing demonstration that would have no doubt earned him a place in The Traveling Salesman, Death of a Salesman, Son of a Salesman or any stage production involving a convincing, borderline desperate, salesman clever enough to win over the children of the household first so they’ll join his side of the sales line, affectively launching an assault on the bread-winners from two fronts. Hell, his performance could have earned him a spot in the Broadway production of Cats, despite his being a pigeon.

And speaking of cats, lets not overlook alley cats in our examination of neighbourhood critters. They’re a different breed altogether. Familiar and respectable in appearance due largely to their obsessive compulsive habits associated with cleaning themselves, these little creatures are pretty much given the key to the city but like people, it only takes a few bad apples to ruin their reputation.  Sure, they hunt the mice, rats and even squirrels on occasion and we’re fine with that. It’s the few that decide to beg for handouts far too often that have spoiled the stray cat’s reputation, like someone who always asks for spare change or a cigarette on the same city block every single day of the year. While I have nothing but compassion and respect for people hard on their luck, I must admit there have been times when I’ve felt so uncomfortable by these encounters that I’ve actually crossed the street to avoid the guilt of having to ignore or refuse a donation. The same holds true for the stray cat that once sat on the front step of my old apartment looking for whatever scrapes I might have to part with. On one occasion, I actually left through the backdoor in order to avoid having to ignore a lonely cat that must heard I once offered handouts to less fortunate felines. In this regard, alley or stray cats are the animal equivalent of an estranged uncle or sibling. In a way, we know they’re probably pretty nice people but understand that they only come by when they need something like food, beer money or a place to spend the night.

All this talk about animals started me wondering what the squirrels might say about me. From their perch high on an elm branch they look down and catch me drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and occasionally doodling in a notebook.

Sometimes while enjoying porch life, I take a few sips of my beverage and finding it has lost its edge, throw it over the porch rail and onto the grass. Other times when the night folk (possibly the human equivalent of racoons) have come by and taken away all our empty bottles, they may see me attempting to flick my cigarette butt as far as possible onto the street so as not to appear as one of my own.

From  a squirrel’s perspective, what would they think of me? A littering, unshaven creature dress in an old t-shirt and well-wore jeans who appears to always be in need of a shower, who’s teeth are stained by years of poor dietary choices and who seems to guard his front step like some territorial rodent? Excuse me while I go put on a sweater.

Untitled – Sackville, NB

11 Sep

Another shot from Sackville in early August.  I needed a little break from the music on this particular afternoon so I took the opportunity to wander around the streets.  I’ve always been a fan of train stations and was on my way to snap a few shots of this particular stop when I came across this lone wild flower.  A small bug was chowing down on the top while a spider was slowly making its way up the stem, possibly with a meal of its own in mind.  I thought this particular scene went well with a train station in the background.  I don’t really know how to put it in words but I feel there is a connection there.  These unexplainable connections happen more often than not it seems.

Shingled – Sackville, NB

10 Sep

This past August I had the pleasure of attending Sappyfest, a weekend of amazing music that takes place every year in Sackville, New Brunswick.  I think it might be one of the best kept secrets this province has to offer.  In additon to the great music and art expereinces Sappy presented, the town of Sackville itself is one of the most laid back, sleepy towns in the province.  Lots of fodder for phototaking as well.  I’ll share a few of the shots I took over the next week or so.  To start, here is the first pic. 

This shot caught my eye for a few reasons.  The beautiful sky, bright, blue and full of life made for obvious contrast when matched with an old building who’s time in the sun has come and gone.  This, and the fact that the windows on the upper floor were removed and the openings shingled over.  The best part for me was that the new shingles left the traces of where the windows once were, almost like the building lost its slight.  Blinded by age and far too many years in the sun.

Rum-pa-pum-pum

9 Sep

Here is a shot I took of my band.  I took the year off drumming last year and after really, really missing it I’ll be returning this fall.  Among several other things, a season break gave me a chance to snap this shot.

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