Ticker Tape Kings

“A time travel story unlike any I’ve read.” – Black Gate

__________________________

Time travel always has rules. These rules bend to nothing but the will of the narrative.

It is not the case in real life. In real life, I am told, time travel has one un-bending, un-breaking rule: you cannot come back.

Lawrence did his best to make sure I understood this: “We cannot come back, Lisa. We go, we are gone. We live our lives there, in the past.”

He said this with such urgency, such gravity. His usual lectures are never so pointed. When he stands before a classroom, he speaks with the rhetoric of a philosopher. He speaks like a man in love.

What he loves is the Middle Ages. He discovered this in the hall of academia, plaid-shirted and guileless in the pursuit of truth. He discovered this when we were together so long ago now.

Those years broke away in aimless reverie of that period of life that can only be called post-youth. While he grew a beard and photocopied journals, I drifted. He looked out and I looked in. Lawrence placed great symbolism in the death of Chaucer while I placed great symbolism in the memory of my first visit to a library, hand clasped inside my mother’s.

It was the day they were selling off the old card catalogue drawers. Confused my mother was for a moment, abandoned by her intentions. Together we both stood by while the librarian pointed to a computer screen. This memory would come to contextualize my vanished adolescence as the last one the western world to remember life before the internet. I have always supposed this means I will be one of the last people left alive with the knowledge of that distance, remembering what it truly is to be disconnected.

But Lawrence does not know disconnect. He finds something of himself in everything. He finds something of himself in people worlds away, in people who lived millennia ago.

He found something in me once.

I suspect now he pities me.

His face fell when I gave him my address. A studio apartment, I said: brick walls and cracking plaster, exposed pipes, sirens in the air and a metallic tingle in the water. I live on the border: one side a memory of industry marked by empty lots and cheap warehouses; the other a prophecy written by bohemian artists. They predict ten years until gentrification. The neon signs are like banner men: each faux-dive bar and restaurant a noble house of those young, educated and poor.

When he came over, I wondered how far he had to travel. I do not even know where he lives now. He stepped inside as though holding his breath. The way his shoulders sheepishly hunched forward told me he’s not proud of what he holds behind his lips.

I laughed at him as I said, “Hippie,” wanting to reach for his blond beard. But the distance between us was too vague.

“How are you?” He ignored the distance—I should have suspected—and pulled me in.

“Fine.” His body pressed quickly against me; his hand patted my back.

Moments like this remind me so starkly of our genders. When I feel a man pat my back, even a man as level and familiar as Lawrence, I remember I am a woman, in the most biological sense. Even Lawrence does this to me and he is only slightly taller than me and not stocky but lean. But his hand feels so big in the brief moment it sits against me and I cannot help but feel small. I feel weak: fashioned into an object of pity and concern, someone to be taken care of. And I hate it.

I pulled away. As I looked him up and down, it all became apparent. He’d barely slept by the looks of his eyes. That pert boyishness was gone. And that moment where I felt weak and pitiable disappeared. He looked like a child knocking on the first door of Halloween, not knowing what horror mask hides behind. “Lisa,” he said, eyes dark and sallow, “We can start over.”

#

As he sat on my sofa, sipping green tea from a china mug, I flipped through samples of the documents they had for him as if these were paint samples for a house we would build together. This first wave of artifacts—historically crafted bills of exchange, manuscripts, stamped coins pilfered from a museum cache—was like blueprints. He had everything but a Lonely Planet guide.

Months of lessons would await me if I decided to go. Or so he tells me. I would learn the language of English before a vowel shift. I would prepare a backstory. I would have to learn to wield a sword. Time travel is tedious, I thought.

Despite his insistence otherwise, Medieval London hardly feels like a place for a rebirth. I know what looms on the horizon.

Thus Lawrence’s nonchalance scared me. That rule stood out blindly: you cannot come back. The finality is terrifying, but Lawrence seemed to enjoy his idea of a one-way ticket.

Here was a man with a lingering question: who killed a Geoffrey Chaucer? So used he is to the easy answers of the Internet age that mysteries frustrate him. Some things are simply lost to history and that infuriates Lawrence.

He has always wished that the answers were like a missing set of keys: turn over enough couch cushions and they show up eventually. Time travel is just another text book to him, another primary document.

But he does not want to do it alone. Perhaps that counts for something.

While Lawrence grew his blond beard I drifted: I floated penniless across the expanse, taking up ventures Romantic and painful: picking grapes in the south of France, teaching English in Spain.

But there was always a notion of home, of a place that could be returned to if desired. Because the mind builds things into fantasies; it is naïve to think otherwise. The world becomes an impossibly perfect universe of Eiffel Towers covered in Instagram filters where no one is lonely and it never rains.

But life, the life that haunts you daily, carries on just below the surface. Other worlds are two months of culture shock and then the norm.

I tried explaining this to Lawrence as he sat uncomfortably on my sofa, picking idly at an old afghan. Stubbornly, he shook his head. “You don’t believe me,” is all he said, “You just don’t believe me.”

“You’re right,” I replied, “I don’t. But it wouldn’t change a thing. Even if this were true, what can you expect of me?”

His smile peeks out, sheepish and coy: “That you wouldn’t let me go alone.”

“Laurie—“

“Lisa,” he lowers his voice, placing his hand on my knee, at once both intimate and innocent, “You’re the only one.”

#

It took a long time for me to even consider believing him. I thought that he was playing some elaborate practical joke. Then I thought that years spent in libraries and lecture halls had melded his obsession into a waking daydream—that he’d slipped into Shakespearean madness.

At last he’d become the something to rescue. The thought of his hand, strong and commanding against my back, awoke some feeling of spite, or superiority. I would play along, I decided, and let him take me to visit the facility.

The facility is in a part of town I’d always thought full of discount textile stores and auto-body repair shops; where the rent is so cheap it feels like the early nineties.

Walking through the side streets, you could almost believe it was. A sign on a corner store was broken plastic. Fading fluorescent light bulbs shone through. Old adverts hung in the windows hawking things I remember from when I was a kid: Astro Pops and Bagel Bites.

I passed a salon. A cardboard woman, faded from the sun, had blue eyeshadow and sprayed bangs. Behind her, frail, immigrant women gossiped, giggled, and wiped their onion paper hands on their smocks.

Nothing here had changed in years, except everyone was older now than they once were.

As the corner store faded behind me, I nearly tripped over a sandwich board with the daily news. I ignored the headline as I have since Lawrence’s proposition. Nothing seemed new after that, as though the world stopped turning.

We just tell the same stories over and over and pretend we haven’t heard them before. At first, we think we’re perfecting them, as if every tales has a right way to be told and we just need to unlock it, chipping away slowly like Michelangelo discovering David.

If we ever get there, there’s barely a thing left resembling truth. It’s all about the nuance: did we get our comedic timing right? Are the details perfect? We tell it like this, and we keep telling it, over and over. The lies we applied as gloss become truths: a flourish of a brush, a slightly adjusted camera angle. We tell it over and over. We forget what is the lie and what is the truth. And after a while, the story becomes boring. It becomes a routine, just another banal circumstance of our existence.

Is this what Lawrence wants so desperately to strip away, the lacquer that hides just how boring it all is?

Perhaps I did believe something of his story after all. Perhaps I just wanted to. Perhaps the image of Lawrence as a victim sat poorly with me. Perhaps the idea of time travel became comforting, like an escape route, even.

As I arrive at the warehouse, Lawrence waits, hands stuffed in pockets, leaning against a wide hangar door. The door takes up a side of the grey building, but it is closed and locked and looks like it hadn’t been opened in years.

There is nothing to indicate a business: no sign, no mail slot, no buzzer.  Dust collected in the corners and weeds poked through the broken concrete. The sounds of the city faded: I’m not supposed to hear anything distinct anymore; it’s all ambient.

I point to the door. “It’s in here?”

He nods. “They’re so secret. Can you imagine if they weren’t?”

“Yes,” I say, “I imagine they’d be exposed as the frauds they are.”

Lawrence stares. I see the resignation in his eyes: the redness, the lack of sleep. “They convinced me, Lisa.” And now he wants to convince me. He wants me here to witness it too, to tell him he’s not insane. “I need you to see it too, Lisa. I need you to hear it. I need you to witness it. I need you to believe it too.”

“In time travel?” I laugh.

He takes both my hands in his. “Please.”

#

Inside the warehouse it is dark. False walls have been propped up as if to preserve a mystery. A man greets us at the door. He is tall and broad-shouldered; his eyes are near black and his skin brown. He tells us his name is James and then he leads us on. He speaks with a shrouded arrogance that leaves me sceptical, but Lawrence is impressed.

“Just follow him, Lise,” he says, gesturing up the corridor. The ceilings are low; it almost feels a tunnel: dark walls and floors. The corridor twists: we turn left, we turn right. At the end is a single door: a halo of light stretches through the cracks.

“This way,” James says. He knocks on the door, “It’s me.”

On the other side is a woman in an ochre suit. She says nothing but lets her narrow eyes drift up and down Lawrence and I. “Mr. Stone,” she says to Lawrence, “Welcome again. You’ve brought your companion at last.”

“Lisa,” Without looking at me, Lawrence places his hand on the small of my back and steers me in towards the room. Instinct digs my heels into the floor. The room is four blank walls and a single desk with a single stack of papers and two pens: one presumably for signing, the other a spare.

These people have shaky faith in ballpoint pens yet they want to send Lawrence back in time.

I say nothing and Lawrence still will not look at me. The woman starts: “Ms. McLean—“

“Stop,” I say, “How does she know my name?”

“I’ve told them about you,” he says, “I needed to clear you before you could see in here.”

The woman smiles; her lips are like earthworms curling on hot tarmac. “We have something for you to sign. Just some simple non-disclosure agreements.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then it falls on me,” Lawrence replies. At last he looks at me, his stare a plea.

And so I pick up a pen.

I only need one.

The woman dismisses James, my signature in his hand, and leads us from the room. From here on, the doors are steel. They clang as they open and close. The echoes seem designed purely for their contribution to the ambience.

Single file, we make our way down the corridor. I follow the woman with Lawrence’s hand on my back. His fingertips rest gently, only in reminder he’s there, nothing more.

For thirty seconds, no more, we walk like this and I find myself thinking this is the deepest prolonged physical contact we’ve had in years: fingertips quiet on my back. What is it as you age that makes you less easy to the simple intimacy of touch?

In college, we’d collapse against each other as nothing more than a greeting. We’d sling arms around one another, link arms on jaunts across campus, spend whole nights with limbs entwined. There’s a cavalier ephemerality to the motions of relationships at that age, because everything one imagines of permanence had yet to happen. Everything feels transition, a pathway. You’re groping along in the dark.

That path never felt like it led anywhere but one day I awoke older, aware I’d lost the pretensions somewhere along the way.

Lawrence’s fingertips disappear as we arrive at another door. The woman, whose name I still do not know, punches in a code. As the steel lurches open, I realise suddenly that those long corridors have slowly been sloping downwards. Before us is an open tract, easily three times the size of the warehouses. Spinning on her thick heels, the woman faces us; her worm lips struggle to repress an eager smile.

“Ms. McLean,” she says, “This is where it happens.”

“Where what happens exactly?”

The room is lined with glass concealing panels of machinery, like a space shuttle control room. It all seems so markedly scientific. From the ceiling hang bars and cords and lights and pathways, like a fly gallery. In the centre is a hollow, sealed chamber. All contributes to the feeling of a set designed by a grade schooler. Lawrence smiles painfully; I grimace in return.

The woman purses her lips. “The actual science would take hours to explain, days if I had to go back to elementary physics—“

“No useful, one line analogies?”

She frowns. “If you want to hear it, we can go back to the beginning. We have people who can do that.”

“Lise,” Lawrence whispers.

“What? I’m sorry. That just seems the easiest way to package bullshit. I think I have a right to be skeptical.”

The woman laughs; such a haughty laugh she should know does little for developing trust. “Ms. McLean, you need proof, don’t you?”

And proof she provides: enough to convince me at last.

To convince me, it did not take Lawrence’s word; it did not take examples of drafted artifacts for the life we would lead; it did not take seeing the facility; and it did not take the briefcases full of pages of ten-point type spelling out waivers and wills.

All it takes is a calico cat.

The woman holds the cat out to me, pointing out the distinctive markings, letting me run my fingers through her fur. “About six months ago, this cat appeared one instant inside the chamber, as a kitten. I don’t know if you know this, Ms. McLean, but cats have this genetic quirk. You can manipulate their DNA all you like, you can clone a cat, but you will never get the exact same markings in the fur. That is something unique to each cat alone.”

“I did know that actually,” I fold my arms, “What point that does that prove?”

The woman grins as James comes back into the room, a small kitten in his arms. “Then how do you explain this?” As she takes the kitten from him, she presents it to me: a smaller, younger version of the older cat. “This kitten was born just a few weeks ago.”

“That’s not the same cat,” I stutter.

“It is, and it isn’t,” she says, “Time is not a loop, Ms. McLean, it is a line, an arrow. When that cat came to us, we split from whatever line it came from, just as this kitten will split into another.”

I swallow as she places the kitten into the chamber, works some magic with the controls, and the kitten disappears.

“That’s why we can’t come back.”

“Precisely,” the woman says, “Time travel is complicated. In fact, ‘travel’ is a bit of a misnomer. ‘Travel’ implies coming and going. What we do, I’m afraid, is provide a one-way trip.”

I look to Lawrence and the sheepish sadness behind his eyes. “One way? So you meant it? You would never come back? You’d be gone forever?”

He swallows; behind his blond beard he could be almost a little boy again. His blue eyes twinkle. He takes my hand and I let him; it feels like years ago.

“That’s why I want you to come with me. The decision is yours,” Lawrence says, although he does not have to. Of course the decision is mine. “But I’m going anyway.”

I stare plainly at him. He avoids the hard truth of my eyes as his toes shuffle against the cement floor. “Laurie,” I insist, “This machine will kill you.”

But as I look at him, I see such excitement. I see the simplicity with which he will twist the medieval world to his will. I see how he has the great mysteries ahead of him to solve. I see him fantasizing about the world at a crux, a world in 1399 where Henry Bolingbroke showed the true way to make a ruler, where divine right dissolves in the face of strength.

I see me, at his side, no more than Cassandra. Where it feels to me a transformation, a submission, to him it is a quest, a self-actualization. He has the battle-ready glee of an astronaut. It is worth it, I think, to go to the moon if you can’t come back for the parade in your honour?

I reply: “It is impossible to ask me to choose this, Lawrence. I cannot believe you would be so selfish.”

“How is this selfish, Lisa?” he retorts, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“For you. You’ve yet to tell me what I get out of this, other than the pleasure of your company.”

He replies and I retort, and on it goes in that funny way where old patterns thought lost to the years reassert themselves, almost like time travel itself. Lawrence’s inability to realize what he is asking of me takes me back to the moment he assumed I’d move to Berlin with him for grad school, no questions asked. And that realization turns me back into a twenty-three year old.

“We can start over, Lise,” he murmurs, the quiet words of his thin lips like something from another realm.

“Laurie, please,” I whisper, “You can’t ask me to do this.”

As I step out of the room, escorted by James, the calico cat begins to purr.

#

James leads me in silence down the length of the silent grey hallways until we reach the front door. As daylight cracks through again, I turn to give him my thanks. His smile, nothing more than a polite reflex, nearly sets me to tears.

“It is all right,” he says simply, “And I probably shouldn’t say this, but you’ve made the right choice.”

I gaze up at him, at his tailored suit buttoned carefully over a crisp shirt. His eyes meet mine and hold them. “Would you ever do it?” I ask.

James gestures up to his face with a hand brown on one side, pink on the other. “What do you think? When or where would I go?” As he steps nearer to me, his voice lowers, “I am speaking in confidence now. I see all manner of men come through here, waving their cash. They think they can manipulate the world. They want to get rich on the stock market, invent the steam engine, fuck Cleopatra, throw themselves parades, be king of Europe—and maybe they will.”

“But we don’t get to do that,” I say, “you and I.”

He presses his lips together. “Nope. We certainly don’t.”

We stare at each other, James and I, a shared resentment is momentarily relieved by our mutual commiseration.

I will never see Lawrence again.

I will only be able to assume he travelled in time as promised: without me.

The past will always be so for me, but that is nothing to lament; the past is gone and I must let it go.


Originally published in the anthology Redwing: Speculative Fiction Takes Flight (December 2014).

i don’t even have the where-with-all to think of a good title (meeting the family, perhaps?)

This past Saturday night, BoyRoommateFriend met the family. (Why, that’s a premise you could shape a Ben Stiller movie around!)

My family has a remarkable way of dealing with new significant others. Mum, in particular, has a knack for staging these so-called Events. When she can’t lure you into the trap of an alleged birthday party,* she resorts to emotional blackmail.

It's like a tagline for a horror movie.

So, she invited the two of us around for a family birthday dinner on Saturday, impressing the importance of the evening with an appeal to familial bonds so simultaneously sincere and full of shit that she could rival the greatest rhetoricians.

When I finally called back the next day to confirm that BoyRoommateFriend was indeed coming, she admitted that it was not really a birthday dinner after all, but (as had been advertised to the relatives) Meet Gregg Night.

So, believing that, come Sunday morning, I would find myself either newly single and/or disinherited, I survived the dreaded anticipation by telling myself that “at least there’ll be a good story at the end of this.”

But, alas, there isn’t. It went off without a hitch.

I don’t have a great story.

Yes, I know I received texts to the effect of: “Can’t wait to read the blog post!”

So, to you all: I am sorry.

Epic Expectations. Giant Anti-Climax. It's like the evening was written and directed by this guy.

I prepare myself for the worst, not for things going well. Thus, I don’t really know what to do.

Not that there wasn’t the potential for hilarity. Half the family were hungover. The other half were drinking. Dad had a pulled muscle (tragic curling accident). The Boy stripped himself of his pants and spent dinner jumping up and down on the couch with his widgie in his hands.

These were all plot points I fully expected to tie together like a Christmas bow at the climax of the evening: the proverbial gun introduced in the first act, the delicate chess pieces shifting slowly around the board, waiting to move in for the kill.

It’s just that they came to… nothing.

You'll get 'em next time, buddy.

Nothing at all. No racist tirades. No baby sicking up all over everything. No uncle pointing out who has tiny ears or receding hairlines.

My sister even arrived late, bearing a huge flat of fruit from the zoo. It wobbled beneath her weight as she carried it up the stairs. I mean, honestly. A giant flat of fruit. If you were watching at home, by the end of the night you’d expect that fruit to be splattered all over the walls.

But nothing.

Rather, there was a frequent refrain of how nice BoyRoommateFriend was, how tall, funny, etc, etc. The word handsome got tossed around more times than I think healthy for his ego.

I honestly think they were all just shocked I’d done so well and didn’t know how to react. I honestly believe this. So, I guess if you catch them off guard, their knee-jerk response is civility.

That, or they expected I would die alone, and thus were doing their absolute best not to scare him off.

Yup.

___________

*I’m now convinced that my entire twenty-sixth birthday party was a ruse to get the family out to meet my sister’s boyfriend. (This line of thinking was also encouraged by the fact that Mum completely forgot to tell me, the alleged Birthday Girl about said party until the day before.) Sister and her Boyfriend had only known each other two weeks and he arrived in the middle of a drunken menagerie of miscreants, where, due to unfortunate circumstances delaying the end of her work shift, she hadn’t even shown up yet. In the ten minutes between his arrival and hers, he bore witnesses to a drunken Ashleigh bailing over the baby gate; the solemn, horror film-esque stares of ten silent, male relatives; a kitchen full of a dozen gossipy, drunken female relatives; a moth fluttering through the kitchen resulting in shrieks, flailing limbs, and broken glass; and, in all her glory, Mum.

for christmas one year I got a jem doll and middle-class guilt

This is the story of How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate Class Differences. I’m pretty sure most of why I grew up to appreciate Marx is encapsulated in this tiny little nugget of childhood.

This is the second time I’ve had to write this post (as I’ve already grumbled about). Whenever such a thing happens, I try to be all self-help sentimental about it and tell myself that this simply means it will be better the second time around.

That’s probably not true. I’m pretty sure I struck gold before. This is just cheap brass in comparison.

Anyway.

If you were female and under the age of ten in the late eighties, you may remember a cartoon called Jem and the Holograms. The entire show was basically one half-hour-long toy advert. It told the story of plucky, young music producer, Jerrica Benton, who moonlights as plucky, young, pink-haired rock star, Jem. An entrepreneurial music producer and a rock star. No matter who you were in the eighties, rebel or yuppie, one of these careers greatly appealed to you.

This was also pre-Spice Girls/Hannah Montana, but post-glam rock, so I’m pretty sure Jem was just a female Ziggy Stardust.

Apparently, this is a small child's idea of a feminist utopia.

This show basically treated rock stars as superheroes. They have secret identities. They wear flashing tights. They have magic jewellery. Green Lantern had a ring; Jem has a snazzy pair of earrings which are “able to project holograms around her and [she] uses this ability throughout the series to avoid danger and provide special effects for the performances of her group.”*

Because, let’s face it, you have this amazing “holographic technology” but, rather than use it to fight crime or do something useful, you use it to put on an awesome stage show. I mean, get a fog machine or something.

There are also villains. With their own secret identities. And some of them are after the holographic technology. Some are just rival bands. My favourite were The Misfits, even though they begged a horrible comparison to the real Misfits, which I’m sure left many disappointed upon subsequent trips to Sam the Recordman or wherever else you bought your cassette tapes in 1987.

Not the same band.

One Christmas, my list of demands to the fat man was topped by a Jem doll.

THIS was my Red Rider BB Gun.

Since this was the late eighties, Mum was doing her Christmas shopping at K-Mart and had to drag me along. I shouldn’t have, but I peeked into the shopping cart. Lo and behold, what did I see but Jem. In all her pink-cardboard-boxed glory.

“Mummy,” I asked, “Who is that for? Is that for… me?”

“No,” Mum scoffed, “Remember that box we saw by the door when we came in?”

“Yeah….”

“Well, that box is for people to donate toys to all the little girls and boys whose parents are too poor to get them any presents for Christmas.”

“Oh. Okay.”

My mind was blown.

Keep in mind, I was only about four or five. I was too young to appreciate the subtleties of things like class distinctions and tax brackets. My understanding of rich versus poor had been determined solely by Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim.

Shown: a four-year-old's idea of poverty

The only people I recognized in my life that I could clearly label “poor” were homeless people, who seemed to me then as exclusively male and middle-aged. I didn’t realise that, in real life, children could be poor. The idea that there were kids who didn’t get Christmas presents caused my world to immediately grow four times in size, just like the Grinch’s heart.

That the Jem doll would go to one of these poor children seemed perfectly reasonable. Still unaware of my parent’s own fiscal limitations, I felt guilty that we weren’t buying all the toys in K-Mart to donate to these kids.

But, come Christmas morning, I indeed found the Jem doll beneath the tree.

Despite my initial elation at receiving my most-desired gift, I looked to Mum, a desperate tear in my eye. “I thought this was for the poor kids.”

“Oh,” she lied again, “It was. This one is from Santa.”

“Oh. Okay!”

But dramatic irony is a solid fist of fury. Of course the day would come when I would learn that *SPOILER ALERT* Santa was not real.

I don’t remember how old I was when I realised this, but I do remember that I suddenly felt a great sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What was this strange, unpleasant sensation? What happened to my secure sense of self? What was this feeling?

It was the first time I’d ever experienced middle-class guilt. It never really went away.

________

* Thanks, Wikipedia!

a hatred of clubbing that transcends generations

[liberally adapted from reality]

The house was silent save for the flickering of some distant infomercial blasting through the two am airwaves: a direct transmission of nothingness from the autocorrected perfection of the studio right into Dad’s vacant, tired eyes.

He heard me stagger in, heels clicking away across the linoleum. Each clacking step came with the dissatisfied ache of dance floor blisters. Each clacking step betrayed my feigned innocence. Each clacking step cut through the “Three! Easy! Payments!”

“And if you buy now–!” CLACK.

“You’ll also receive–!” CLACK.

“The Blenderific–!” CLACK.

“Free. Of. Charge!” CLACK.

The clacking stopped as my heels hit the carpeted floor of the living room. Were I any other nineteen-year-old and were this perhaps any time other than 2003, I might fear a reprimand.

But no. Dad and I looked at each other, both internally equivocating who sat in the worse light: me, eyes smeared with make-up, hair stringy with sweat, blood thin with alcohol; or him, nearly fifty years old and watching an infomercial for a blender at two am on a Saturday night.

“So,” he finally spoke, “How was your night out?”

He asked honestly, as if the fluorescent glow convinced him he could not be one to judge.

“Oh,” I finally spoke, “I don’t know if this whole clubbing thing is for me.”

I answered honestly, as if suddenly remembering I had once been the only kid in my junior high to own a copy of Highway 61 Revisited.

“I just don’t think I like any of this music. I hate hip hop and dance, and whatever else it’s called. It’s just….”

The night came filtering back like a distant memory. Moments picked themselves out of the fog. But everyone else seemed to be having so much fun. The realization hit bitterly. Is something wrong with me, or were they all faking it too?

“It’s just… I had a crap time. God, I hated it. So full of fake people and fake smiles, fake… everything! Overpriced drinks, sweaty assholes!”

I peeled those horrid shoes from my feet and tossed them across the living room. For just a moment, the violence felt nice.

I ranted for a while, thinking of the dreaded club as a scene from a terrible movie: poorly lit with a horrible soundtrack.

“It was terrible, Dad. Just terrible.”

Dad’s eyes rolled back to the infomercial. I could hear the years of frustration bottled beneath the surface.

He pulled the remote from between the couch cushions as if it had been lost all night and only now he remembered where it was.

“Now you know what I went through with disco.”

With that, he changed the channel.

why I don’t answer my phone in the morning

I got to work this morning with two missed calls from Mum.

Two.

Two missed calls within half an hour of each other. Surely, some strange contrivances of fate are afoot which have rendered her helpless and lame and in desperate need of my assistance.

I called her back right away even as the clock ticked over and co-workers were chirping happily around me: “Mum? Mum, what’s happened? What’s up?!”

“Oh!” she trills brightly as though she completely missed the shellack of concern in my tone, “Hey, honey!”

“You called? Twice.”

“Oh, yes. I was just wondering if you have heard that Star Wars is coming out on Blu-ray.”

Oh Jesus.

“Yes, I’ve heard.”

“Oh,” she takes on that not-so-subtle glint of secrecy, “Well, your birthday is coming up.”

“I don’t have a Blu-ray player.”

“But we do.”

“And…?”

“You could watch it over here. That’s all I’m saying.”

My coffee has not even kicked in yet. I rub my temples. My desk seems to collapse in around me. Co-workers are still chirping in the background.

“Mum. Did you call me twice this morning just to say that you and Dad want to buy yourselves Star Wars on my birthday?”

“Well, when you put it like that…”

And that’s why I usually ignore all callls before noon.

the traumatizing reason why I hate playing monopoly

To quote my mother: “Monopoly tears families apart.”

This is fact.

Yet still, Sunday night witnessed a rebirth of the Rajala Family Game Night. We used to do this often as kids, perch ourselves around the kitchen table and play a good old family game. The fun was renowned, the fights… more so.

What could possibly have made Mum think that this time would be any different? The idea that now we were all reasonable, (apparently) emotionally stable adults?

No, no, no. That only made things worse. For one, my parents no longer feel guilt in cheating us, and two, we now have the power of logic and critical thinking on our sides.

Monopoly is a blood sport.

Someone always cheats.

And the banker always wins (it is the easiest for them to cheat, is it not?).

It’s just like real capitalism!

This time we made Ryan, my sister’s boyfriend, the banker, on the naive assumption that he’s more emotionally distant than the rest of us. Yet somehow, when all was said and done, it was him and Bri wiping the blood off their hands and counting out the money.

Good thing we were drinking.

With Monopoly and I, it has always been personal. So personal it’s emotionally devastating.

It all stems from one incident, deep in the recesses of my childhood. To understand this trauma, I need to explain something about my extended family: My mom and her family are English; the stock of South Yorkshire coal miners. We have issues. Everything that comes into conflict with us might as well have the face of Margaret Thatcher. The slightest disagreement is tantamount to war. But their war is personal. War is emotional. They play the propaganda machine well. They know their enemies. They know our weaknesses. They pounce swiftly and devastatingly.

I can’t even remember what I was doing with Marvin Gardens. Was I trying to buy it from the bank? Mortgage it? I have no idea.

I was all of eight? Seven, even? Old enough to play Monopoly, but not old enough to think that my grandfather would resort to emotional landmines in the pursuit of economic triumph.

“Marvin Gardens,” I said in my plucky Canadian accent.

“MaRVin GaRDens,” Grandpa mocked, stressed those grating hard Rs, “MaRVin GaRDens?! Say it again! Say it!” I was speechless, dying a little inside. “You can’t, can you? MaHVin GaHDens, not MaRVin GaRDens!”

He proceeded to insidiously mock my accent to the point where I wanted to cry, but all I could do was tremble and pass on the lemony yellow property.

I lost the game.

I’ve been a socialist ever since.

rediscovering the boss

My first crush was on Bruce Springsteen.

I was young. Very young.

These were the days when all I wore all day, every day, was my one-size-fits-all Batman t-shirt.

My dad had Born in the U.S.A. on cassette tape and used to play it repeatedly in the car whenever we drove anywhere. Mostly because he loved it. But also because this was the eighties and everyone used to play that album repeatedly. Except for the Prince fans. And thank Christos I wasn’t raised by a pair of those.

I loved Bruce Springsteen before I even understood music.

I didn’t really listen to much “children’s music” beyond, of course, Raffi, Fred Penner, Charlotte Diamond, you know, the usual.

The music of my childhood is good ole rock and roll.  I remember “Chantilly Lace” being my favourite song for quite a while. I remember being absolutely blown away by “Rock Around the Clock.” I thought Buddy Holly was it.

As I’ve aged, I’ve remembered this youthful glee and it has given me context to appreciate how much rock and roll changed the game. I can understand teenagers wetting themselves at the sight of Elvis’s wiggling hips. I never swooned for Elvis, but I swooned for Jerry Lee Lewis. (That was a little ironic, in retrospect. I would have been just his type.)

And then I heard the Boss.

You know how some memories just stick with you?

I remember the first time I heard Springsteen.

I remember being in the car with my dad and loving the music so much that I asked, “Daddy, who is this?”

And he looked at me, with that rare twinkle in his eye: “This is the BOSS! Don’t you know who the Boss is?!”

He laughed with the joy of confusing such a young and naive little child.

But I instantly thought of my mom’s daily discussions over the dinner table, talking about her work day, talking about her… boss.

Oooooooooh, I thought with elation, Mom works for the Boss!

 

Sadly, a while later, when I discovered the awful  truth… that my mom did not work for Bruce Springsteen, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken in that way that only a melodramatic six-year-old can be.

Despite the adversity, I knew it was a love that would last a lifetime.

One day, Bruce, one day.

An extra treat: The Boss and E Street Band at their finest: