Monday, March 28, 2011

Crimes of Passion

Waking, drenched in blood, axe laying discarded on the bed, I realized:

Christ, I’ve killed her!

We’d been fighting, lately we were always fighting, and we’d been drinking, but had I drank enough to lose time? And I’m not a man who, black-out-drunk, would think to get the axe…

I’m not a murderer.

Am I?

Okay, okay. What did I do, and how do I deal with it?

I rush to splash water on my face, but my hands pass through the faucet and, when I look up, there’s no reflection in the mirror.


I see.

She killed me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When Alberta Banned Smoking...

When Alberta finally pulled the trigger on a comprehensive tobacco ban I was, at least in theory, in favour of it.

It is, after all, a habit both filthy and deadly, possessed of no redeeming qualities. An addictive drug as well as being the only product that, if used correctly, killed it’s user in 100% of cases.

Why was such a product even allowed on the market in the first place while other, far less dangerous, recreational substances had been long since banned? It was, everyone agreed, indefensible.

So when they debated the costs of tobacco, both in terms of human life and strain upon the health care system, I generally agreed with the points the anti-smoking coalition made. And when they banned it’s sale and use anywhere in the province, I cheered their courage in doing so.

And then I moved to Vancouver.

I was a smoker, I’m still a smoker, and I do sincerely hope some day to quit. I’ve tried a number of times in the past, but it never seems to take. As a smoker hoping to give the addiction up, I’m exactly the sort of person the law was meant to help. And it isn’t that I don’t appreciate their attempts to encourage me into a healthier lifestyle. I’m very appreciative.

It’s just that I’m a smoker, and one who’s tried to quit on numerous occasions, and I know what my moods are like when I’m in the midst of quitting smoking. And I have no interest in watching every single smoker in Alberta quit, cold turkey, simultaneously.

So; Two weeks before enforcement of the ban, I moved to Van. A decision which, in hindsight, turned out to be even wiser than I’d initially thought.

Two weeks after the ban the murder rate in Alberta tripled. It would continue increasing for the next eleven months.

Two months after the ban, the province could no longer hire new police officers, which was a problem as the cops with enough seniority to take early retirement were starting to do so, and the cops without said seniority were taking serious sideways looks at jobs in other provinces.

Four months after the ban the government fell, hounded out of office by protesters with an uncomfortable habit of turning violent. Strangely, few of them were protesting the smoking ban itself, instead they were protesting a variety of unrelated issues, that taxes should be raised or lowered, university tuition should be frozen, the provincial government did too much/too little for minority groups. The protestors had little in common, politically, but they did share a few qualities. They’d recently quit smoking, they wanted to keep busy to distract themselves from this, and they were in apocalyptically foul moods. Not the sort of people the Premier of a province wants to see chanting outside his office day after day, presenting demands that were by turns lucid and insane and then refusing to negotiate them or give up any ground.

He caught a flight to Vancouver five months after I did, two steps ahead of an angry mob. I saw him once as I was coming out of a 7-11 on Broadway, and gave him a wave. He flinched until he saw me light a smoke. Then he seemed to relax.

Political consensus by this point was to rescind the damn ban and get it over with, however without a stable government to do so this was easier said then done. And, to further complicate things, the majority of Albertans remained in favour of the ban. Even the newly ex-smokers, forced into their new, healthier state, agreed that they were going to have to quit eventually and, after months without a cig, didn’t want the temptation back in their lives.

They weren’t smoking, everyone agreed that that was good, everyone knew that it was healthy, and if they were going to do something about the constant, unchecked rioting in the streets and the breakdown of productive civilization, it would have to be something other than lifting the tobacco ban.

If only people would pause their day-to-day struggle for survival and think of something else that would work…

When things calm down a little, I’d like to go back to Alberta. It’s my home province after all, I was born in Edmonton and spent the majority of my life either there or in Calgary. But I won’t be going any time soon. Life back there is too nasty, brutish and short for my tastes at the moment and, much though I love Mad Max, I’m not well suited to live that sort of lifestyle.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about going back on the patch starting next week, so if I get snappy I apologize in advance. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 18, 2011

...and then my neighbours started screaming.

I had no idea what they were screaming about, but I heard it from three apartments over. I could only imagine what it was like for the people next door.

They were having a party over there, I suppose. Or rough sex.

Or a fight.

Or somebody’d broken in, was doing God knows what, and they were begging someone, anyone, for help. And we were ignoring their pleas because in this neighbourhood screaming’s no longer a surprising thing.

I hoped it wasn’t the latter.

I put my earbuds back in, cranked the volume, and returned to what I was doing…

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Funeral

It was not my funeral, by which I mean both that I was not up front, in the box and that I had no right to be there. I had crashed the funeral of a stranger, and I admit that that fact caused me a little trouble.

Yet somehow I had managed my discomfort, since there I was.

It was a lovely ceremony, overall. The eulogies were appropriately touching and tearful, and everyone had glowing things to say about the deceased, a peaceful-looking white man who looked to be in his mid-sixties from the view I got on my way in. I’d never met him, as I’d said, but I was never called upon to speak, so my lack of specific knowledge didn’t hinder my experience much.

Afterward there was coffee and commiseration. Vague pleasantries were exchanged, we recited the standard platitudes reserved for situations like this, said how sorry we were for one another’s losses, and how badly he’d be missed. We commented on how lively he was in life and how we still couldn’t quite believe he was gone. We talked about how much he’d affected our lives.

I was lying, of course. He hadn’t affected my life in any way, the stranger they’d put into a box and then into the ground. He couldn’t. I’d never even heard of him until that day, I’d chosen the funeral at random and was attending on a whim. And I couldn’t help wondering, as I moved among the bereaved, how many of the people gathered were lying too.

Because nobody had anything negative to say about this man, no unkind word was once spoken, and a human life can not be lived that way. If you’ve touched enough people to populate a funeral, you’re bound to have pissed a few of them off. That’s simply the way of things, it can‘t be avoided.

But, whatever sins this man had committed in life, whatever flaws and shortcomings the people who cared about him had suffered through, the act of death had washed away and, baptised in entropy, he had emerged pure, flawless. Beautiful.

Loved unconditionally by all.

And, moreover, the people gathered at his funeral had, for one day, put aside their petty grievances and gripes against one another in the spirit of the event. They clung to one another with an unexpressed desperation, aware that anyone can be lost forever in the blink of an eye, and that every moment in this life is precious. They loved each other there, over coffee and finger food, truly and deeply, and they knew that life was short, sometimes tragically short. A body in a box at the front of the room focuses the mind on such things. It brings remarkable clarity. Reminds you of what’s important.

And on my way home, I was overcome with grief that I had never known this no doubt flawed, troubled man who nonetheless brought out so much affection in so many people. I had only heard the best that people had to say about him, true, but that best was very good. He seemed the sort of man I’d like to know, and the knowledge that I’d never get that opportunity caused my faux outpouring of grief to become strangely genuine. In life, this stranger had touched the lives of a roomful of people, had changed them each in turn in some fundamental way. And in death, he had similarly touched me.

This was not my funeral, no. And no, I did not deserve to be there. But there I was, and it was beautiful.

And I will one day have a funeral.

And I can only hope my passing will have a similar impact.