Friday, October 21, 2005

Autumn has definitely arrived. The clear dry nights carry a crisp breeze that stray tomcats turn their muzzles up to sniff at its scents. The first brown leaves try to muster a fierce tempest but only manage a clumsy waltz that scratched against the street. This afternoon the haar rushed into the city to cling greedily onto the tops of hills and the buildings. The thick grey screen flattens the castle and church steeples into black silhouettes.

Against the cold and dull day I headed to the park with a jar of Route 66 peanut butter and six or seven half smoked cigarettes. When the first dark days bring with it the inevitable low spirits, I like to cheer myself up. I am not a big fan of peanut butter despite my American heritage, but squirrels, even the Scottish ones, love the stuff.

I sit upon the bench and scoop a big dollop of peanut butter upon the butts of the cigarettes. There is no sadness in the world that cannot be melted away by the sight of three of four squirrels appearing to smoke as they excitedly nibble at the peanut butter some fool dabbed at the end of a cigarette butt. They sit on their haunches and hold the cigarette between their two front paws and happily lick away the peanut butter.

The best is when the old couples walk by in wonderment. Pointing at one of the squirrel I’ll say something like, “Look at that! It’s a crying shame. I think they learn it from teenagers.” Then I shake my head with a tsk-tsk as punctuation. The whole time I am bursting to laugh at their confusion at the smoking rodents and the weird American bemoaning their lost innocence.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

“He’s my oldest’s first born. His name is Neil.”
“How do you like being a grandma?”
“Ahh. I’ve gone off him lately. Well. Look at him. He’s a right fatty, isn’t he? They’re all cute when their babbling and dribbling on themselves, a lot like my husband, but he’s two now, and the little porker has gotten willful. If I hear ‘no’ one more time he’s going into the cupboard until his mom comes to get him.”

Monday, October 17, 2005

I know every teenage boy of a certain inclination finds "on the road". Those boys with a wanderlust not yet understood. Boys with a sense for rhythm and beauty. I know "on the road" coffee mugs and mouse pads litter the desks of those same boys grown to be dull. Maybe that's why it's easy to dismiss it as adolescent fantasy or mass marketed rebellion. I have just listened to a recording of Kerouac reading his novel. I am reassured that first excitement wasn't just the novelty. He brought back for us a taste of the sublime that we all continually seek, whether conscious of it or not. The written word is a clumsy device but to hear them from his lips returned the novel to its sacrosanct state. It touched me to listen to the rhythm and cadence of his story.

The anniversary of his death is this Thursday. Give him a thought and a prayer that he found the Christ he sought.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Some wisdom, a conspiracy theory, and a plan from Jimmy the Drunk.

“Mark my words. There is more evil done by men wearing suits than men in balaclavas.”

“Don’t be pedantic. For one, it makes out to be a twunt. Don’t be a twunt. My grammar used to be corrected all the time. I know how to talk right. I just didn’t want to sound like those pedantic twunts. Remember that.” He added a nod to ensure that titbit of knowledge stayed with me.”

“It’s getting to be like gridlock.” He motioned towards the coughing and rumbling traffic.
“Maybe it’s the council blocking the traffic on purpose as propaganda for the new tram.” I replied as a feeble joke.
“Aye. I bet your right. Good for them. Pissing cars.” His empty beer clicked off the roof of a car on the opposite side of the road. The driver looked around confused. I hadn’t even seen him throw it, but I recognized the meaning in his grin.

“I know how I’m gonna make money.”
“How’s that?”
“I gonna to open up a dojo.”
“A karate dojo?”
“Aye. It’ll be brilliant. I am going to call it, ‘Murder Karate’. I’ll put it one of those closed down sandwich shops across from the estate.” He points at the sad yellow concrete building looking over the row of Georgian flats.
“Murder Karate?” I say with an unconvinced chuckle, and in response he leaps up and makes a series of awkward punches until drops his cigarette.
“Balls.” After a refreshing drag, he continues his explanation now excited as the plan formulates in his mind. “I’ll get some Portugesey guy to teach it. Tell people he’s a Brazilian. He’ll shout a lot. All those little tracksuits monkeys will be beating down the door to learn Murder Karate.” An immediate reply to the proposal of murder karate was not forthwith but luckily I was saved by the number 22 bus pulling to the stop.
“Good luck with that.” I smile. We shake hands good-bye. He gives me a thumbs up and a wink as the bus pulls away.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My great grandpa lived most of his life in a tiny village in Missouri. Village isn’t quite accurate. It was a collection of houses that rested along the access road of the freeway. It used to be Route 66. When it was Route 66, he and his wife ran a service station and a motel. I suppose it did well but then again it doesn’t exist anymore. By the time I came into existence they were both retired and Grandpa worked a small parcel of land. Down the road was a huge cavern famous for being the hide out of the bank robber Jesse James. That’s were the dynamite comes into this story. Great grandpa had an enormous horde of dynamite taken from the federal road program that ran through that part of the country just before the Second World War. Since then grandpa’s hobby was looking for new entrances to the largely unexplored caverns by blowing up dynamite on his property. The most impressive hole I saw was roughly a thirty-meter square hole taken away from a hillside.

As a child instead of going to summer camp I was shipped up to Great grandpa and grandma’s house. I spent my days exploring and wandering. Occasionally, I would make the long trek down the freeway to buy fireworks from a “buy one get eleven free” firework stands. Usually, I tried to help grandpa or grandma around the property. For grandpa I could hand him tools when he called for them from beneath a broken piece of farm equipment. There always seemed to be wood that needed to be piled. This was a better chore than you might think as any number of snakes, rodents, or insects could be found and investigated, as is the want of a young boy. Grandma was always in the kitchen. Even when she wasn’t cooking she could be found at the table in the kitchen reading a romance novel or the newspaper. My assistance to her was preparation of some food. Grating cheese, snapping peas, measuring flour. The whole time she would chatter tales of family history. Some of the history concerned my own father or grandfather. Other times it was about our ancestors. My favourite were always about the civil war.

Unbeknownst to me grandpa’s hobby had lain dormant for many years. The concerned family convinced him of the folly of fooling about with decades old dynamite. I was told it becomes unstable and a good knock will make it go off. One of my favourite things to do was go down to the watermelon patch with grandpa. He would grab the saltshaker from the kitchen. We would go down to the patch, pick out our melons, and sit on the nearby bench eating melon and spitting seeds at the many cats my grandma had adopted. This time we made a detour. A cleared spot in the forest surrounded a three-meter gash made in the earth.
“Hold it, son.” Without explanation grandpa carefully made is way to the bottom of the pit. Soon, he made his way back out just as deliberately and carefully. The only difference was the hiss and puffs of grey smoke that now emanated from the hole.
“C’mon. This ain’t one of your firecrackers. Get your head down over here. Your Pa thought they hid all my dynamite, but I forgot about some and found a whole mess of it in the shed.” The explosion was incredible. We have all seen dynamite being used in movies and we can imagine the destructive power as we see the fire and hear the explosion, but when you actually feel the explosion’s concussion rush through your body. In concert with the awe of the sound, it actually stuns you. Our human minds have not evolved to be able to process such an unnatural violence. My grandpa gave one of his low chuckles when he looked at my face. My eyes must have been the sizes of saucers, as I looked dumbfounded at him and the whole that still had a thin cloud of dust and smoke. “Your grandpa is going be in a mess a trouble with your grannie when we get back.” He chuckled again. “So let’s eat real slow.” and with that we walked down to the garden and he answered the thousand questions that rushed to my young mind after such a spectacle.