Monday, July 25, 2011

I Still Quit, Part 2

On your own, And I'm alone
In the shadow of what we've done.
And I can't help but think
That some day you'll be back home.
Fly away, fly away,
To your new home across the bay.
Leave your nest, oh baby leave the best
Thing that you've been.
- Quiet Riot, Metal Health, 1983

I don’t know about you, but when I realized I was dying, a wave of calm, anti-nausea floated down over me. Like cool linen sheets after the heat of a sapping July day. I felt it touch my head, my brow, coating me all the way down. Vanilla ice cream under my skin.

Or maybe it was the blood loss. But I saw my heart rate slow, the arcs of blood were heaving from my neck in fewer quarts per second.

My first aid knowledge is marginal and my on-board medical equipment was even lighter. As my vein or artery or whatever painted an abstract portrait of my death on Razor’s office wall, I went through my checklist.

Gauze? Nope, that’ll just stop the gusher from hitting the wall.
Tourniquet? Sure, if I want to die of asphyxiation rather than blood loss.

Bandaids? Geeze, c’mon idiot! Teflon suturing thread and curved number 8 needle? Too Rambo to even try.

5.5” curved lockable Kelly Forceps? ( I could clamp off the bleeder. Hawkeye and B.J. would drink a still-brewed martini to me if I could pull it off. Standing outside myself, as I write this though, it’s a ludicrous thought: forceps jutting out of my neck while I sashay down the promenade, tipping my bloodied top hat to all the ladies and ships at sea. If the CEO of my former employers hadn’t thought it a wonderful and symbolic parting gift for my “bereavement and healing leave”, I wouldn’t even have a pair of these things.
I ripped open the velcroed leg pocket and slid my thumb and finger into the smooth-edged instrument. To open it, you have to squeeze it together and then force your fore finger and thumb to move in opposite directions. Then you can pull apart like normal scissors.

I must have done it. I must have found the vein on the first shot. Klick, klick, klick. As the locking-teeth pushed over each other. The blood stopped shooting. Holy Virgin-Mary-in-a-lawn-tub, I just stopped dying!

Now I had to focus on getting out of there. Razor and his deli-slice arm-bands had gone out the door and might be rallying some troops, or the cops even. So I picked the dirt caked window. Already open, it led onto what must be one of Toronto’s last iron fire escapes.

As my feet hit the back alley’s black top, my knees buckled and the rest of my body sagged down. My face was a few inches from inhaling a used condom, a wizened mouse corpse, and several shards of beer bottle glass. It all started to fade… literally to black.

Oh right. Passing out. The Kellies had stopped the blood exiting my neck, but they were also keeping it from reaching its intended destination: my brain. 

As carefully as my palsying fingers could manage (they were already getting cold!), I unlocked the clamp and let the blood flow onto the pavement. Sharing body fluids with the condom, trying to resurrect the mummified mouse, re-filling the shattered bottle shards… and since the black stepped back, it must have replenished my thirsty brain.

A few pulses and then I re-locked the forceps in my neck. Had to keep enough blood in my limbs to make it to the car around the corner. And then?

St. Michael’s was the closest hospital. Trivia that comes with administering a medical database for pharmaceutical distribution.
As I staggered, using the building walls and lamp-posts as crutches, I pulled off the mask and helmet. Avoided eye contact, because goddammit, I didn’t want anybody to ask if I was okay. Yeah, shit-for-brains, doesn’t every Kevlar-wearing avenger have bloody forceps stuck in his throat? Just fucking move on, there’s nothing to see here, people.

I had to do the unclamp and re-clamp thing 4 more times. The last time it didn’t work. The black negligee that was being drawn over my eyeballs didn’t go away. I cracked the car into a solar-powered parking meter (How do they work at night? Where does my VISA number get stored? How fucking long did I sit in the dead car making it my casket before I threw open the door and collapsed a few meters from the yellowing plastic emergency sign at the anus end of St. Mike’s?)

The dead thick white light of the emergency sign became that light at the end of that tunnel. The so-called near death experience.

Yes, your brain gives a jerky playback of the highlights, lowlights and a few crushingly neutral moments of your life in a more or less reverse order.

The whirring sound of the bullets. The tungsten-egg-crack of a skull bone being forcibly swung open. The mewing of “Daddy! Daddy!” as she felt the word coming out of her perfect puffy lips; playing with it like a gelatinous bubble toy. The stab of an appendix rupture, more light than pain. Not the wedding, but the walking by a store window and feeling the tug of the dress on my eyes, even though her hot hand, always moist, kept heading down the gum-dotted sidewalk. Long sweet kisses peppered by the tongues of lovers with no names. The curdling rev of a motorcycle jiggling my thighs. The stench of my mother’s unwashed panties as proof she was human. Bright bouncing balls and twinkling dinkie cars in the duvet of summer sand. Air harrumphing from my lungs as the bicycle handle-bars punched me in the gut for trying to jump it over a too flexible plywood ramp. The rash of heat around my nose and eyes, the coming of a great guilty cry, even though the yellow callused hand of my father never descended towards my frightened vulnerable butt cheeks; the crashing scream scraping out of my throat “It’s not right! It’s not fair!”, before the flood of phlegm closed it up and a blazing white yet cold light blinded all my selves’ eyes.

It began to recede, that light. There’s no after life, damn you all! It’s just the brain shutting down in reverse. Neurons and nerves. Liquids and bio-electricity. All scientifically explicable and philosophically depressing. Playing the tape one last time in the opposite order that it was recorded.
And when I woke, knowing that the afterlife was a joke, a tool, a promise that had no punchline, no purpose, no pay-off… when I woke knowing that, I knew that they were gone. My girls, whose memory made me kill, cut, and torture.

No afterlife. They were gone forever. It made all this, my last purpose, my last remaining distraction, meaningless. It no longer mattered. Wow. Again the air is hammered out of my little lungs. And I don’t feel like making the effort to inhale again.

And so I quit. Fuck it. I’ll just stay here in the life-affirming blue and beige of St. Mike’s ICU and drizzle away. The tubes can feed my veins. The nurses can sponge my flaccid cock till it bleeds. The doctors can clipboard my health and practice their bedside manner at the side of my armour-plated bed. Go ahead, heal me back to Olympic standards. 

But I’m done. I’m staying right inside here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

These Walls Are Thick

The walk to the house wasn’t long. But it felt long. She was so quiet. Once she looked behind her. Behind us.

That clichéd bit where the author tells you that the character clutched the steering wheel/cliff edge/bad guy’s wrist so hard that their knuckles turn white? It happens for real. The chords of her purse were being choked to death by her right hand. The knuckles turn white because the person is actually squeezing the blood out of them.

I felt the urge of empathy. So like the crapping urge. Once you notice it, you have to do something about it.

“You’re really quiet.”

“Sorry. Just… thinking.”


“What I should tell you. What I shouldn’t.”

And then the house was in front of us. Guess I had clamped that urge longer than I thought.

She mounted the three porch steps and unlocked the door. Inside she closed the door behind me and relocked it. Relocked one of the locks. There were four of them, made of metals in thicknesses I had never encountered before.

She saw me looking at them and told me, “The back door is the same except there’s no key hole on the outside.” She rapped on the door. It thunked thickly.

She took three steps over to the front bay window. She dragged a finger across it. She stepped away and the space left was me-sized. I entered it and dragged my finger over the glass. It didn’t feel like glass. It was slicker, almost like oil.

She took off her shoe. Flipped it over so that heel, a modest pump, became a hammer’s head.
She smashed it at the window. Angrily.

It didn’t break. Or crack. It just kind of flexed. I saw it shimmer like a jelloey ice. She offered me the shoe.
“It’s okay, I believe. Interesting selling point.”

Her smirk was addled and could only hang on her lips a half second.

My rationality immediately suggested, “Understandable when your wife and kid have been taken down by bullets.”

“I found the receipts. It’s called ‘bullet-resistant’ glass. Apparently truly bullet-proof glass is too thick or something to actually be useful.”

I nodded. Images of beached fish danced through my mind.

Fortunately, she went on. “I wanted to show you that… the door and the window. Plus I couldn’t pull this out in a café.” She was reaching into her purse. All I thought was ‘Oh shitters, she’s pulling a gun on me now.’ And my superhero reflexes kicked in.

Yep. I stood there like a spring sapling. A dumb old bovine chewing its cud, stupidly staring its slaughterer right in the eye. Told you I could never be a super-hero.

Wonderfully, it wasn’t a gun.

“I don’t know what the hell this is,” she said as she carefully unwrapped the plastic wrap from around it.
I knew what it was.

It was the mask.

Or rather it was a plasticine model that I’m sure he cast into the real thing. Cast out of some polycarbon-super-hero-substance-name.

I took these pictures of it later.

I was able to take them because she handed it over to me. That’s the real reason she had asked me out to coffee. She wanted to leave this murderous foundling on my doorstep. Like the death of her brother had left the thing on hers.

“Take it. I’m moving back out west. Maybe further. I want to stop thinking about it.” She pulled out a large manila envelope. How trite, how cliché… how fucking bladder draining. “He didn’t have much personal stuff. No letters, no diary…” I nodded and was thankful she wasn’t looking at my eyes when she said the word diary.

“Just these. Some receipts. I guess he burned the rest.” She looked towards the working fire-place, cleaned out of any ash. Nice, a selling point that might make people forget the bullet-resistant glass and the Fort Knoxian doors. ‘And did ya know, the former owner, my brother, was a mass-murderer who ran around in Kevlar spandex and a horned skeleton mask. Cool huh?’

She didn’t know that. And she was making sure she never would.

“Will you give me your number,” I asked, still nodding, like an apprentice carpenter being taught how he’s going to fuck up his first dove-tail joint. “Just in case?”

“No.” Flatly. Becoming serene with the knowledge that she was actually going to walk away from all this glamorous drama.

“Let’s walk around the place once, ‘kay?” Dreamily. Fugue state.

An empty house waiting for new occupants is bright and spacious and echoes horrifically. There are scuffs where the furniture set its feet. Doorknobs that were burnished by the same hands a million times. Moving out and leaving behind this old hulk that wombed you for thousands of hours. Hollowed out pumpkin-like. And left to… well, who cares? It’s not your problem anymore. They can piss in the working fireplace for all you care. Knock down the thickened supporting wall between the kitchen and living area, so that it caves in upon itself. A pumpkin on the side of the road on November 2nd. Rotting in upon itself. Curling and collapsing slowly in.

Conversationally, she mentioned that the police had found bags of blood hanging in the fridge. “Like proper transfusion bags.” They had matched the blood found in the car. Her brother’s. She was become more and more ethereal as the tour wound down to its demise.

As she locked us out of the house, she murmured, “Thanks.”

She was down the street, before I muttered, “Yeah. You’re welcome.”

Her purse swung lightly in her loose grip. A gay little dog dashing back and forth past her ankles.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Album 4: Wild & Crazy Guy

Many people come to me and the say hey Steve, what do you look for in a girl? And I tell them, I want a girl with no neck. That way, when she enters a room… every head turns. Except hers! She has no neck!
- Steve Martin, Wild and Crazy Guy, 1978

It’s over. There is no fucking afterlife. I quit.

My first day home after an all OHIP expenses paid 12 day vacation in the beautiful, recently refurbished St. Michael’s Hospital.
During my stay there, Dr. Weintraub told me that between the loss of blood and the unique way in which I managed to slash my own neck, caused my heart to stop four times. Once for as long as 3 and a half minutes. “Remarkably”, he quoth around a pen which he had mistook for a popsicle, “We don’t see any signs of brain damage.

I disagree, doc. I’m a fucking retard. Because I thought “Razor” was only a stupid machismoed nickname.

Let me go back 13 days, cue the wishy-washy flashback effect. Or is slamming, blasting light dipping to black more de rigueur?

Size does matter. I got back home and read all of Mercurio’s files in 48 hours. No sleep. I rocketed through them, cocaine up a movie star’s nose kind of speed. Every page, every mug shot, kept me tripping on to the next one. And in the end, the guy with the thickest case file had to be the guy who knew both sides the best. Knew what I had to know.

The centre of his deal was a nightclub. It had changed names several times over the past decade – Shangri La, West Enders, Serious (yeah, I’m serious), The Corporation, and most recently Righteousness. The guy who owned the place was also the owner of the throbbingly thick file. Most of his charges stemmed from, were committed at or around, or were linked to his possession of Righteousness.

I didn’t even get a chance to ask him.

I drank far too much Nigerian Dark at the Starbuck’s across on the other side of Righteousness watching various folks enter the two-storey, one-time warehouse. The aforementioned owner of the nickname “Razor” was sporadic in his appearances there. Every time I did see him though, I remember joking to myself that he had to pick a tough moniker like that because his real name was Dimitry Cokkov [Bloggist Note: to preserve the humor, the name has been changed, but the genitalia reference is still there.]

I learned differently the night I chose to go in. Night, because Mr. Cokkov’s daytime appearances may have been intermittent, but the eastern Bloc work ethic forced him there every night.

I bought shiniest, blackest clothing and shoes for the excursion. (Checked myself out in the mirror before I left; it was freakish. I remember that face. But it’s attached to the body of some troglodyte with veins on his biceps and a neck as thick as a truck tire.) I loaded up my giant duffle with my gear and layered in some old vinyl records on top. My cover song.

I parked the car around the corner. $20?! Because they knew some young, dumb, full-of-come night clubber from the ‘burbs would pay it.

I walked past the line of radiantly undressed youngsters who were all waiting to fuck, be fucked, or get hammered and live lives unfettered by hang-overs, aging and responsibility.

Straight to the seven foot tall 400 pound bouncer who was checking me out, because I was actually thicker than him.
The noise, sorry, "music" was oozing out of the cracks in the building. I shouted over the din, “The DJ forgot some of his shit!” Mr. Seven Footer cocked a neanderthallic eyebrow at me. I unzipped my duffle part way, enough to reveal a few discs. “His records! The fucking idiot forgot some of his records,” I acted (I hope) like I was pissed off at a prima donna, “Can you believe that shit?”

Apparently he could believe that shit, because he smirked and opened the door for me.

I think there were more woofers and tweeters in the place than there were people and there were a lot people. A tired looking shooter girl saved me a lot of looking. She asked if she could get me anything. “Dimitry!” I screamed. She couldn’t quite make out what I was saying. “Where’s RAY-ZOR?” I hefted the duffle again, this time with the zipper shut. “I got his shit!”

“Oh, he’s up in the office,” I lip read from her gigantic glossy pout. She pointed up through the smoke and mirrors and seizure-inducing light show.

It took three minutes for me and my duffle-shaped dance partner to squeeze through the grind stoned human beings and to get to the door marked “Employees Only”.

I ducked into a bathroom to do my Superman in a Phone Booth routine. I wound up in the handicapped stall (more room there) listening to a couple of “employees” in the next stall. Either they were fucking their brains out, or they really enjoyed watching each other use the toilet.

Even with parts of the outfit on underneath my civvies, it still takes about 12 minutes to suit up. The duffle and my clothes are disposable; no I.D. and as DNA empty as I can make them. (I’ll be caught eventually. In fact, it might be the only way to finish what I’d started.)

Athletes talk about a switch that goes on when they play. And those over-paid boobs are only selling themselves for money. My switch is the lowering of the helmet and mask. The infra-red goes on, the mini-hyperbolics start feeding my ears everything from mice farts on up. It’s not my heart that pops first. It feels deeper, somewhere underneath my kidneys. Lower than a vomit precursor, but it bubbles up the same way. Rippling up through my diaphragm, kick-starting the heart, playing soccer with my larynx. Shuddering into the deepest chords of the muscles of my limbs. Sudden dog-panting heat.

I can’t help but smash the stall door open. It popped off as easy as Cheerios in a kid’s mouth.

Two people saw me in the hall on the way to the door at the end. Even high on E or drunk, their hesitant smiles – I’m in a Halloween costume for fuck’s sake – drip off their faces. Maybe it’s the way I walk. Maybe they’re sad cuz the skeleton-faced man won’t do a happy jig. They flatten against the hall walls. My shoulders feel ten-miles wide.

The door was reinforced aluminum but the frame was wood. I planted a boot right next to the door knob. At a hundred miles an hour, cheap cedar exploded. The door cracked off the back of a black fellow’s ass and skull. I jammed a G-10 under his ear – I don’t remember unsheathing it – and pulling down hard. I felt his liquids soaked through my chromium knuckled gloves.

A ridiculously stubbled lackey on a leather couch actually got his six-shooter out. The G-10’s aren’t made for throwing, but he flinched as it whirled in his direction. His big brother must have picked on him when he was little. With my empty hand, I grabbed his gun hand; the ex-KGB guy who runs a place north of Scarborough spent three solid days teaching me that when you pull on somebody, their instinct is to pull back. So you use that. Give them what they want.

I gave him his own gun muzzle under his rib cage… Squeezed his hand and made him shoot himself, twice. One of the bullets must have ricocheted off a back rib; it blazed up behind his clavicle and punched him in the jaw. I heard his neck snap; a thick wet pop muffled in jello.

I finally got to set eyes on Dimitry “Razor” Cokkov. Him I need to be able to talk.

He’s a lanky squid. Long and pale. His big Russian forehead made even more bulbous because he’s got his greasy dark hair pulled back in a pony-tail. But his most distinctive fashion faux-pas are the thick, long leather bracelets, Conan the barbarian style. Thin, cheesy metal striping on each.

His body guards dead or bleeding out, Razor cuts for the door.
I dive into his knees. I think one of them momentarily bent the wrong way. He goes down like Crumplestiltskin and I’m sitting on his gut. Just like my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor instructed. Ready for the ground and pound.

Or in my case, ready for the mask to dip down and begin the interrogation.

That’s when I learn why he’s called Razor.

It’s not that he’s a sharp dresser. Or excessively quick witted. It’s those Conan forearm bracers. Those thin strips of metal weren’t decoration.

They were actually razor blades mounted into the leather.

Me, idiot that I am, hovering over him, giving him a shot, or a slice, at my most vulnerable spot. My neck. He doesn’t punch. He’s been here before. He hammers his elbow into my throat and then pulls back.

My body is telling me something’s wrong, even before I feel the heat of blood being where it’s not supposed to.

Then I see it. The blood actually jetting, as far as a 16 year old’s ejaculate, in triple time. In time to my heart beat.

And even over the deafening heartbeat of the music below, I can hear it. My own juice hitting the wall, the floor, in such amounts… spattering like pregnant rain drops. A pre-tornado downpour hitting the moss-eaten roof of my grand-father’s farm.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Coffee With A Dead Superheroes Sister

All those little icebreakers that are barely comfortable in a normal conversation… the weather, what do you do for a living, I just saw… (insert name of recent, inoffensive mainstream blockbuster) and I really… (choose one: liked it, thought it was too long, couldn’t get over the price of the theatre tickets). Those clichéd bits of inroad…

With her, they felt like a balloon that’s managed to go unpopped for seven months. Wizened and discomfiting to be around. A homeless Tourette’s victim who picks the streetcar seat next to you.

This one time, it was less uncomfortable to cut to the chase. To actually talk about the dead body lying in the middle of the room.

“I did the star 69 to get your number.”

I nodded, and sipped the black coffee. Noisily because it was hot.

“And I know you said that you couldn’t remember seeing him. How long have you been in the neighbourhood?”

“Um, about 8, 9 years I guess.”

She nods, holding her cup close to her mouth, but not drinking. The steam tendrils around her nose, which is foundationed slightly. I feel flattered. And the flattery makes me feel guilty because I’m married. “Yeah, that was right around the time.”

“The time?”

A big inhale before she let’s the carpet-roll of story come out. A familiar pattern to her that makes a difficult thing easier to lay on someone’s floor. “His wife and his little girl. And him too actually. They were caught in a gunfight. The crossfire. They died. He just withdrew. From everyone, everything.”

I had to feign a reaction. I already knew all this. Hiding behind my own coffee, I knew more than she did.

“Here in Toronto?” I asked.

“Yeah, can you believe it? Maybe because of the other incident that happened that day, it just got pushed a few pages back in the papers.” Her eyes wandered out through the front window to Queen Street.

It was that feeling you get when you get a phone call or attend a meeting and the person who’s done the calling isn’t telling you why they called it. That eye-rolling irritation, with a timid flutter. 

I push into her. “That must have hit you hard.”

A smile crawled over her mid-thirties face. “I guess. I had gone to B.C. for school. He stayed here and kept his life going. Y’know, finished computers at school, started climbing the IT ladder. Married his high school sweetie, well sort of. The house. A kid.”

Her eyes’ focus bounced around me, blue bumble bees buffeted by an emotional summer wind. Prelude to thunderheads.

“Funerals without a body, they’re like birthdays without cake.” Rain coming as tears, form on her lower lids. “Except opposite of course. But they’re both unfinished.”

She sniffed back the crying snot that was threatening to honey down out of her nostrils. Her hair was a standard: Not Excruciatingly Blonde by Clairol with Rather Mousey Roots by Mother Nature. She looked up to the ceiling and shook her head. That big inhale again. This time matched by a settling exhale.

As her eyes came down, she put her palms on either side of her cup and saucer. When her eyes reached me… No, when she leveled them at me, she had decided to go through with the why.

“At the estate sale, I didn’t put everything up for sale.”

“Oh no?” My secret identity – if I could have possibly been a super-hero – would be befuddlement. I hoped it was more convincing than Clark Kent’s appearance-mogrifying nerd glasses.

“The place – their house – is sold, but the transfer isn’t till Monday. I still have the keys.” She reached to the back of her chair, the strap licorice-dangling, leading to a purse, with house keys, no doubt.

I nodded and started counting out change for the coffees. Maybe on the way there, she’d divulge the other why’s: why she hadn’t told the corpse-desperate cops what she was about to show me and why she picked me as a confidante.

I had my own why’s. Why me? Why was I agreeing to go? And was I, no why was I actually feeling horny?