The International Writers Magazine
:Canadian Lifestories

Head Space: Green Fireplace
J.A. Billstrom

want to tell you a little poem. Let me sing you a poem. Let me hum you a poem. It’s but a jig. Let me dance it. It can also be whistled. It’s so small—I invented it while screaming.
When you whistle this poem please remember to whistle like a cat being ripped up by a coyote. And when you sing it drop a bar on your instep. If you want to hum it put a bobby pin in a light socket and hum it with your teeth buzzing. And when you dance it... jump off a bridge:

I am but a little ant
I walk in a big circle
I am but a little ant
I walk in a big circle
If I were bigger
I wouldn’t be a little ant
and my big circle
would not be bigl

I wake at ten a.m. to the painful buzz emitting from my gunshot leg.
The room is brightened through the thin curtains of the bedroom window and as I look around—the desk, the MAC computer, and the drab dresser, everything—more or less in order—I seek something to compel me into moving. There is nothing. I lay my head on the other side. Not the pulpy side. I close my eyes and open them again. It seems I can’t sleep anymore, or have I?
I check my watch. It is now eleven twenty.

It’s easy now to get up. I’m naked. I like to sleep without anything restrictive around my waist because I heard it’s not good for the constitution. I don’t know where I heard it but I believe it. When it was cold I slept in this sheet-like religious thing with little crosses around the hem. Nobody saw that, either. Now, on the third of July 1994, it is too warm for anything.

I go to the bathroom and pee like a lithium addict. In the mirror I see a man in his mid-thirties who gets the joke but just doesn’t seem to be able to laugh because there’s no set-up. Hair curled, eyes brown, broken nose, scar over right eye. At least the nose broke straight.

I put on my bathing trunks, green khaki pants over them. And then a ‘Black Slug’ T-shirt. I have a box full of them left over from the play. I sold one at the 1992 Fringe Festival. Like the play, the shirt is rife with civil unrest. In the top drawer of the dresser there are a hundred and fifty pairs of white socks. I fish around in them marveling stupidly at how many different styles of plain white socks there are. I find two the same length, their bands only slightly different. I make an exaggerated flip of the down comforter, pick up a few clothes and toss them in a plastic laundry basket. Everything is more or less in order.

I turn on the radio and a pleasant chatter fills my mind as I take out the pancake batter. Where’s that mango I saved? I find it first try in the torn black day bag and drop it on the cutting board.
For some reason the batter is lumpy. What was different? A tablespoon of butter must be essential. I put in a little extra milk and make crepes on the crepe pan. I roll the crepes up around the over ripe mango and tuck them into the oven. When it’s all ready I dribble honey over it and sample it. I burn the roof of my mouth.

I pick up the phone. There is a message from my mother and I only hear sadness. This is where I’m from, I’m thinking, this melancholy, lonely person who is just like me. Sad and lonely, sad and lonely—won’t some sweat mama take a chance on me—cause I ain’t so bad…I laugh at myself because you can be my doormat but you’ll never take that away from me. Melancholy is the name of my secret lover. People thought we split along time ago but we’ll always get together to hurt each other. Sometimes she’s too tired. More often since I got out of jail we just keep each other company.
Like a sound bite I hear Steve Miller crooning from a car stereo, "oooh life goes on—long after the thrill of living is gone". And then a burst of exhaust and it’s gone. I can still have a thrill myself. I guess almost anyone can. But that’s not what the song is about.
I phone mom: "What’s up?"
"I painted the ceiling."
"What color?"
"What color do you think?"
"The same, I hope."
"Well of course it’s the same."
"A lot of people never even think of painting their ceilings."

It makes no difference that I stayed home for months after jail and saw her just last week with my daughter. She doesn’t like ‘quiet time’. She’s still serving time since those months that I broke apart and blew into a million pieces. My car was smashed to smithereens and I’m paying for all their insanity as well as my own. And so is dear old mom. She just relied on those weekend visits of not-so-long ago. Physical presence. Somebody to make supper for. There you go. Sit in front of the tube and ride the time thief.
"I’ll see how it goes. If I don’t get a job tonight I’ll try and get the bus this afternoon. Either way—I’ll get back to you."

I get back to the mango crepes. There are three of the little honey covered perfectos. The first was actually overcooked; the second was too thick; and the last was even thicker with pockets of powder. I get no satisfaction from this. Even the coffee I’m sipping with it is weak and flavorless.
I do the dishes, stacking them on a dishtowel like a house of cards. It looks o.k. Not exactly a home but more or less in order.
I wonder if this looks too bare. It’s all in your point of view. Once I fit the desk together in the bedroom it’ll be fine for even the most critical inadequacies.
I look in disgust at disarray in the living room then call the dispatcher.
"All ports."
"Squamish first or last?" he says. With that happy tone.
"Squamish first."
"Have yourself a good one."
I suddenly have a sense of humor. I’m thinking—I should get this guy to call my mother, and wish her a good afternoon with his friendly voice.

I throw a towel into my black day bag; check for goggles; grab thirty cents for a locker—damn why did this pool start charging thirty cents—I hate tokens. On my way out I grab a bag of garbage go out the back and squint into the brightness. As I lift the plastic lid of the dumpster I spy a dumpster diver with a hook on the end of a long stick. I really shouldn’t call the pros ‘dumpster divers’ because they recoup a lot of value. He is tanned, lean, muscular. He looks like a tax collector on vacation.

I cross beach to the Aquatic Center. There is a grassy knoll beside the pool and two young women dressed in stylish black garb are lounging, talking, saying what I don’t know and laughing. Maybe my hair’s all bunched up on one side. It’s probably something more primitive.
The pool is echoes and foamy chemical smells. The young thing who gives me my locker token blesses me with a look at those fresh, sought after features of blondness, symmetry, and muscled tone. All set-off by a perfect bite and clear blue eyes. I sign in.
"You need a locker token?’
"You need an agent?"
"No, I’ve already got one."
"Then a locker token will be fine."
"Are you an agent?"
"Yeah, sort-of."
"How can you be sort-of an agent? Either you are or you aren’t."
"I’m trying to keep it a secret."
"Why? How do you get any business?"
"I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have said anything."
"You’re an agent with a secret."
"No. I’m sorry—it’s a secret that I’m an agent."
"Very funny."
It’s very hard to make any headway when you start off like that.

I proceed down the rubber steps, past the door with the unmistakable female sign on it and then a sign of a male with an "X" over it. No males. It’s that gray part in any man’s memory when he was a toddler in the women’s washroom. From that point on you try to get that back. Parks officials know this.
But there’s that sign. Simple. NO exceptions for illiterates.

I used to wonder what they were doing in there that no men were allowed in. I was even wondering that same thing out loud one day when a friend of mine took me seriously, went into the room with the no male sign even though he was, took a dump, and walked out. He claimed he didn’t notice anything going on in there so go figure. Conspiracy theories like that go down like superman flying back to earth.
I swam, my heart hitting the one-sixty barrier. When it feels like my chest is a bowling alley I lay off.
I’m in the whirlpool and all the good jets are taken. I wonder how I got in this state. A woman did it to me, of course. But which one? Or was it a group effort. Jets. Waiting for a jet. What about that song that goes, "Benny and the Jets"—does Benny get all the jets to himself? My strength here is my research. I think about my friend, Benny. How many people know what the words are to that song? Are the jets supposed to be like the Supremes? And why is it assumed I should know that? Is it in the song? I really might be crazy after all, just for thinking about it. At least I know there was no woman involved. I was brought down by excess and maybe something to do with reality testing.

Outside, ‘Maddie’ is tied to a bike rack. He lifts his big dark eyes, shiftily checking my bag. Any dog treats in there? His boss is in the weight room. I venture closer, patting Mad’s head and he accepts this gesture though his heavy tail doesn’t stir.
"How’s the Mad Dog doin’?"
The "mad dog" silent.
This dog has such a face sometimes—I think he’s going to just come out and say something:
"Just what is the point in saying that to me? I don’t have a voice box. How could I possibly answer your question even if I wanted to."
"Whoa—Maddie", I’m thinking. "You look really pissed off."

I walk back home and call the dispatcher again for a job on the "Tiehess"—a ship docked at the container terminal in Vanterm. I call mom but she’s not in. I worry for a couple of minutes then forget all about her. I’ve replaced that worry with the panic of going to work.
There’s a blue rectangular bag full of cervical collars and a black bag for lunch and junk to read which I carry out the door at three o’clock.
I pass aloof men and women; a bagman sitting in his swaddling, hat out; a girl against a store front—"spare change, sir?".
In the grocery store I stand for a long time not thinking. Just staring at the small packages of salads and meats in the deli section. The problem is not necessarily a ‘catatonic’ or ‘autistic’ spell but that I’m not hungry. No desire at all for grub of any sort.

But I’ve been there before—better get something or come the nine-o’clock gun I’ll be in the crew’s quarters taking my chances on salt fish and egg foo yung. I have a hunch I’m going about this the wrong way and so I stare at the little morsels all rigged up so delicately. I pick a turkey and beef sandwich, a tomato and onion vinaigrette salad, and a ‘seafood’ salad—this looks all pink and creamy. I grab a drink and the whole story runs about eight bucks. Is this a healthful choice? Is it budget conscious? Staring didn’t seem to help.
I walk to Granville by Drake and note how the street repair is progressing and above me spy great billowy clouds—not the rain type. These clouds are only good for looking up at when averting my eyes from passing strangers and n’er do wells.

On the bus to the longshoreman’s dispatch hall I don’t bother with the paperback in my bag. My fellows on the bus and on Granville Street provide all the distraction I could want.
A young woman, maybe nineteen, is sitting in front of me. She and friend about the same age are sitting on the back side seats. When they reach their stop they pass and our eyes meet. The smiles we exchange still give me a warm feeling.

At the dispatch hall I sign out a large metal first-aid kit and lug it across the railroad tracks to berth six at Van Term. I’m early by half and hour.
The "Tiehee" is a Chinese freighter, well maintained and spotless. In the first aid room which is actually a seaman’s quarters with running water, desk, bed, and connecting toilet, I listen to the first-aid radio. There are five channels going as the containers are loaded by the gantry cranes.

In an hour or so I eat my lunch, borrowing a pair of decorative black and red painted chopsticks form the mess. When I’m finished I return with them and one of the sailors show me where to rinse them off.
The beef and turkey sandwich is too full of meat and has an odd smell to it. It knows the garbage pail. The tomato salad was fine but the fish salad was a gruesome, sickly sweet affair. I ate all of it and then quaffed back a coke to cover the memory of the fish salad. I start writing this with the vague intention of the title: "Everyday in Every Way" or "My life is more than the pathetic moments that make it happen". But I reconsider, still not sure that’s all there is to it. I decide a focus makes a hell of a lot more sense. It will not be an expository title.

At eleven-thirty a lasher came into the room with a bruised knee. We call that a ‘contusion’ in first aid or medical terms but it’s just a bruise and it seems to help if you write the thing up right away in medical terms and then read it back to him. You use words like—distal circulation and abduction and skeletal muscle. And that’s how you get his attention. You say something like: "O.K.—I hope. Your distal, lateral lest metatarsal seems to have developed an abduction precipitated by rapid vertical deceleration of an acute nature and affecting skeletal muscles." You don’t just say; "you bruised your foot".
I write it all down, the guy signs it and we’re away to the races. One o’clock comes around in no time. On the way out I stop at the first aid room on the dock. Larry is inside the dock ambulance and Dirk was outside talking to him. Dirk was grinning as usual. It’s frightening to see what can happen to people when they quit booze. Inside the first aid room is Tony, sitting in the first aid chair.
"How you ‘doin?"
"How you ‘doin?"
He looked healthy, his dark eyes sparkling for a moment. Still alive after all those kids.
"Get some holidays this year?"
He takes a deep breath. "Beautiful place there. If there is a paradise on this earth."
"Why do you come her?"
"There’s no jobs down there. Anyhow I’m born here."

There’s no tolerating anyone who insists there’s a greater place to live than Vancouver, B.C. And even Tony admits that without a job even his paradise don’t cut it. Larry’s on the phone and Dirk has just made a mirth filled ‘goodbye’ and tiptoed past the room. We’re all the new first aid generation as all the old ones have retired, died, or done disabled themselves. And the W.O.B. wants lifers. Guess it’s time to move on. Larry and me used to pull wrenches together as many of our category became first aid attendants to get away from all the chemicals. Larry goes back to work on Tony’s leg which is afflicted by a plenty big bruise. Tony’s still working in the shop and thus the blood shed. That’s another reason to go on the band aid patrol. A sprained neck convinced me to give up on the wrenching as I drove my head into a newly welded brace.

But what can you say about this place we live where then thousand flowering trees make it the most beautiful springtime city in the universe? If there’s a way in Christendom to stay, I, You, us, will find it and defend this turf with the unlimited spending limit of our Amex cards. We see the truth, that this is just still a glorified logging town and yet we also know that it hasn’t yet reached full bloom. That is exciting. This is worth staying for.

I’m outta the first aid room. I’m on the street, over the railroad tracks.
I walk around the Waldorf Hotel to the bus stop. No more drivin’ for me, thank you very much. There was a big, friendly fat guy there that night who used to smoke the same thing.
Up the sidewalk on the other side of the street a hooker stood. She stood away from the street as soft sell as a street hooker can be. A couple of drunks approached. First one lurched out slamming the door open then another. The hooker looked tired, as though she had a couple of kids at home. They saw her figure in a black skirt which showed the full length of her stockinged legs. She was slightly stooped and had I not finally got a glimpse of her face when a cab came by and received her appraising gaze, I would only have needed to watch the reaction of the drunks to guess she was homely.

The drunks approached. The first reeled out of the bar’s side door and as he approached her she hid her face. Like a shy high school girl. When the drunk finally got close enough to see her face he stiffened. While a prettier girl would be harassed, a truly homely woman is treated with a solemn respect. It appears that compassion can make drinking a waste of time.

At last the bus comes. Thanking the fat guy for the smoke, I sit on the right side of the bus so I can see the sidewalk better. As we slide along the electric wires I get glimpses of the east downtown night life. All along there is evidence of people living on that same fast fuse I was burning a few short months ago. The excitement of real danger, interesting to watch and seemingly so pregnant with possibilities to experience. And yet of time which disappears this time which disappears this time which never really was never really goes away, mixing with dreams like color in cream paint.

The poor, the hooked, the hookers…a man grabs a woman by the shoulders, shakes her, screams at her. The bus slides by. Somebody made a deal, somebody made a threat—the whole place could be Dante’s joke. But the bus keeps moving. Sometimes I recognize the face of some poor schizophrenic, some dealer, some whore—but their faces are unimportant. They don’t remember me and I don’t remember much about their faces. The bus moves.

I get off on Granville, near the bridge. Near my daughter who’s coming up on nine and lives in Kits with her mom. Near the aquatic center, right on the femoral artery of downtown. Five minutes of walking and I reach my apartment by the back.

There is a long woman at the door trying to get in. She’s new in the building and hasn’t yet figured out the trick to the lock. But I’m thinking she might get spooked if I just come up on her so when I get to the entrance to the underground parking alcove, I speak up. There is an unmistakable tension in her look and voice but she keeps cool as I explain to her I’ve had the same problem myself once. I help her get her key out and stick my own in. "You’ve really got to get it all the way in," I say, without any allusions.
She’s dressed expensively but her sense of calm returns and now she’s aloof, holding a few boxes in one arm. I open two more doors for her, watching her sense of street smarts perk up again when she goes for the second door and I step in to do it because of her boxes. She lets me and I cut the awkwardness with a remark about how rarely I see anyone in the building. I open my own door and look across, leaving her to her own door. Over the months I realize she’s a whore. Late night cab rides in odd outfits—kimonos, all sorts of leather, whatever. I seldom see anyone else in this building as if it’s really just her and I living here. Me and the whore—‘how’s things’—‘living with a whore in the West End’. I guess I’m calling her a ‘whore’ now because since the first time I saw her and she needed my help she’s acted like a whore. Probably defensive reactions to the sight of me on the second floor—going in: coming out—I get her left side and it seems like she’s Uma Thurmon and I’m John Travolta, her hair hanging across her goth face as she leans forward on her door. Then she turns and looks at me through her hair just nodding, almost imperceptivity. She’s fast at operating the lock and there’s no more need for her to look at me, my face full of curiosity. She is a whore with a fine edge of respectability, like an unshakeable aura around her. As if she were some movie star. Every time I’ve seen her she’s made a quick piercing surveillance of the prospects or whatever the hell she’s looking for/ or not looking for. That really gives it all away—that quick look. It’s a look that takes in a lot of information of a relevant nature. But she uses that as if she’s giving nothing away when she’s giving it all away. She’s a sharp, street smart poser whore. She’s definitely on a fast burn. Once we flirted. Now the relationship has become almost non-existent and my life is dangling again like a limp fishing line. I ain’t so bad. Why don’t I mount some courage and ask her what the hell. Scaroo is on her mail box. I can just see us having an affair of the heart. I’d steer her around Stanley park on a double seated bicycle and we could take a lounging picnic on the lawn. And that would be the end of the affair part. The rest of it would be fierce arguments about something that slipped. I’m a big believer in rhythm. I just don’t have the money and the belief in the product value. It’s worse for sizzling than steak. And yet I’m lookin’ after her like a dog after raw meat. I stop myself—I’m not that big a pig so as to make such an unflattering simile, casting myself as a curr following its schnozzle. But here you go—confusion all over again just when it’s time to come to some sort of reasoned point. What am I – a dog or a pig. That’s some sort of manic problem, I’m sure.

Anyhow—I won’t hold it back anymore—some digression, eh? Yeah—I’m an editor’s nightmare—how much is bull? How much ain’t? Things are original when you never think they are. My few hard fought victories have always been prefaced by outrageous luck—good and bad. Some time I’ve had a sense of humor, sometimes I don’t. Kind of a pervasive "sometimes" when I think how it’s gone in the last few years. I think there was some kind of accident that brought me to write this. What it really was I’m not sure but somehow I got shot and there ain’t a day go by that I don’t know it. I truly hope and expect it was an accident because I don’t believe there’s any cops who’d shoot an unarmed man while he lies face-down on the highway. The Coquihalla highway, October 14, 1993—somewhere near Merritt. More than one guy was manic that night.

Just what’s going on when a guy does some sort of stunt? Stick around and I’ll put out my cigar and type it out for you right now.

Here it is three months since I was picked up by the a loose nozzle of society’s vacuum leaner, R.C.M.P. and related attachments. They hoovered me from the bloody pavement to the lock-up in Penticton. And then I spent a couple of weeks in forensic, a day or so in Richmond, and then a month in Kamloops at the provincial medium security. A very deep problem. Animals and animal law.

But now out and free again at the small cost of thousands of hours of malingering, radiating pain in my left thigh. I know what this is doing to me. So, I’m suing them, of course. Over generous use of taxpayer’s gunpowder. Very serious charge. Somebody might get transferred yet over this. But I must insist on charging full price because it’s the height of the season and all. If I run out of money I’ll just head back up to Merritt with a tail light out.

The cops laughed at me. Not all of them, just the bad apples. Maybe it was really only one bad apple, not knowing it was bad, just thinking it was funny as only a bad apple would. So it would seem I’m trying to make this new interest of the Disney Corporation out to be a sort-of Dudley Do-wrong. As unfunny as the actions are my interpretations refuse to allow them the notoriety they seek. Or are they really heroes, booting the shit out of an unarmed man, mauling him with a dog because that’s the nature of heroes?

Let’s jump along here. I was just thinking of my psychiatric assessment. You see, there was this Doctor Levey who interviewed me on several occasions, as did two others. To determine my level of delusion, they said things like: did you know this building is actually on another planet? But more to Dr.Levey who determined I fancied myself as a bit of a writer because I claim to be published, optioned, etc. "Did you know you’re famous in Europe?" I looked at him in wonderment. "For what?", I said.
"How highly do you rate your own writing?" he said to me with a personalized smile.
"Just as good as anybody else hacking it out."
"Would you say you were better than Shakespeare?"
"Is that what they say?"
"In Europe."

Shit this guy is really crazy. Just like aunt who told me there were people jumping fifty feet in the air. Human fleas. Gotta watch out for that cheap wine, I’m thinking. Christ, fifty feet! Fuck. I held out my hand. "Residuals?" Now that’s reality testing. Fame and money or at least the residue of great vats of money. That makes sense—son-a-fa-bitch, famous in Europe. But he didn’t elaborate and eventually it sunk in he’s only checking my gullibility factor. That’s how you test somebody. You tell them something that’s off the wall and if they bite…I figured it out. But how does he know I didn’t let a Swedish photographer take pictures of me that are now on the side of buses? More importantly, how did he know otherwise? Nothing would surprise me but this guy thinks that high expectations are a sign of mental illness. Now I’m scared.
"Oscar Wilde—do you know who that is?"
"He was an English scapegoat, wasn’t he?"
"He was a writer who said, ‘You always kill the one you love.’ What do you think about that?" he says.
"It’s got problems."
"This is Oscar Wilde’s quotation. Do you think you’re a better writer than him?"
"Concerning Oscar Wilde’s quote. ‘You always kill the one you love.’ What’s the problem?"
"It’s psychopathic."
"What if the one you love, loves you?"
"In that case you’d have to kill each other."
"Doctor, I know you despise me for speaking to you as an equal but in this case you picked a quote that is a simple error in logic."

Uh-oh. I blew it. It reads more like a movie review hiding behind section 16 of the criminal code which says something about giving a guy a break if he wigs out once in his life. Nope, says the shrink, he was in "psychosis not otherwise specified currently in remission","and he did not carefully consider the consequences" of "bipolar mood disorder". Well fuck me silly.

There goes Oscar Wilde again with this love killing shit like a priest on a lifeboat. If I’m psychotic how can I "carefully consider the consequences" of a psychotic act? It seems very simply a logical fallacy and I bet you two to one I could find ten shrinks would agree (at least privately). So what’s the verdict? Did I try to take myself out with a bunch of drugs or did I just fry my brain and wig out for a spell? That can only be decided by getting into these legal definitions under this putrid section 16 of the criminal code. Now it’s clear, according to another shrink, that I’m a manic depressive and have to be drugged for the rest of my life or else I’ll play "Indy" the first chance I get.
So let’s get this straight —
1) Me, the ‘subject’ was psychotic at the time and even Dr. Levy states in his summary: "there is evidence of mental illness at the time of the offence".
2) I was aware of what I was doing, knew it was wrong but "did not carefully consider the consequences".
Now let’s see what Hans says about this subject.

Hans is amiable, like Dr.Levey, they all seem amiable as old hell until you read the report they write on you. Yeah, well you can say, that’s their job but to be make a good doctor he’s gotta have a good patient. So I tried my best to be a good patient. At the time I was running on a confused senses of street smarts and illusions about aliens. Not Mexicans. Even the cops were in my illusion as if they were involved in some macabre war with a whole class of psychotic crimialia, most of whom disguise their demi-monde frustration in ill thought out criminal enterprise. Like the damned, evil at heart at heart. Those are the charges. And it’s a babysitting service as society spends its roundest dollars running the criminalia institute where it would be a hell of a lot cheaper to…ah well, forget it. There’s always an assimilation into points of contact and that’s the point. It’s those little cubicles, those stalagtites at the entrance of a cave. Those are the things that seen to fall and stick you in the back. Those are the things you gotta watch out for. Those cryptic talks in "the black hole" they like to call the cells in Penticton. People hanging their arms through the cell bars, talking for long periods of time. Taking names and dates and deeds. Wild, bone-chilling stories of torture and murder. People weren’t ‘shot’, they were ‘blown up’ or ‘capped’. They’ll even say ‘plugged’ in normal conversation like they were saying how high the daffodils grow in summer.

And yet the patrons (always in general) hold a certain affection for both their persecutors and the very bars they dared to rattle. This is the place. You hear things here you’ll hear nowhere else. This is the engine of Oppsiteland. Here everything is the opposite of the outside. A huge amount of weirdness can happen here behind these bars. This is the training ground for the New Young Fascist Brownshirts. Lumpen as possible. You never hear this much outside but it’s taken for granted joe cellblock thinks things should be a lot tougher. There’s a lot of talk about Hitler here. And Manson. There are a lot of descriptions of murder here. One guy entertained our block (this was in Kamloops) with a descriptive and emotionally charged description of cutting a throat. There was some disagreement about whether the seven pints of blood they transfused into his victim was a full body full but the young slasher liked the significance and notoriety that went along with such a vicious attack.

And yet this same tall, blond kid of eighteen would rage and cry in the mornings and slam the phone against the wall screaming, "Fuckin’ bitch! Fuckin bitch!" Often there seemed to be no difference between jail and the forensic institute.

Here dwelt Hand and Dr. Levey and my fastidious and comically efficient pre-sentence report man, Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang followed up my story by calling everybody I owed money to and documenting my bizarre behavior in broken English. My own doctor, a Spanish guy with links to organized coffee shops, sent a letter which Dr. Levey included in the report. In this letter my doctor explained that it would be a mistake to let me go. A mandatory something would be necessary because I didn’t realize I still had a buzz on. Further instances such as car chases would be inevitable. Hans enthusiastically endorsed this idea: "Rorschach protocol indicates a style of processing information which focuses (sic) excessively on small and/or unusual parts of the stimulus field, while neglecting more easily perceived and isolated features. Although (he) seems able to recognize some of the most commonly perceived objects on the cards, a very large proportion of his cognitive representations are either unusual or outright inappropriate. Finally, his summary states: "Several indices point to a severe disturbance of ideational processes reflecting a breakdown of reality testing and indicating the presence of a thought disorder." He even stated the "schizophrenia index" was in the critical range. Thank-you very much Hans. Well fucking put.
So what does the good doctor recommend after all this shicksoflexo? Does he realize that while a sixteen year old car thief may be running for good reason, a thirty-three year old in his own car is running under some delusion and the question of what was right or wrong was not at all clear while a pack of angry cops urging him on to oblivion, ramming his car…

While I might have made a different choice (about running), in the first place, the possibility did not seem possible after the chase began. It seemed they didn’t want me to give up in a peaceful manner at all and were making a sport of running me down. No gratitude there. For example if I put myself at risk and didn’t think twice about holding back a drug crazed man from beating an R.C.M.P. officer who was trying to arrest him from freaking out and causing mayhem and damage as well as running over a woman’s insteps with the wheels of his Ford. So much for what the hell they do call it.

My grandfather said to me once, "If you say something and it’s wrong then at least stand up for it goddamn it!" Well, I was drivin’ one night and I stopped at a gas station, gassed up and got out of the car. I looked at the gas pumps. I saw the price: $33.50. I was thinking. A few nights before I was at a restaurant and didn’t have enough money to pay. I ordered spaghetti and meatballs which is an Italian dish, but unfortunately I didn’t have the money on me to pay for the alleged meal. I did my best to convince the waiter that I would make good on any charges he could conceive on me but he failed to believe my good intention which I later proved was good when I approached the alleged restaurant and made my good restitution. I had tried to leave the owner an I.O.U. but he wouldn’t accept it as legal tender. This led me to call my good friend and confident, Peter Hathaway. Hathaway intercepted the cops and this spared me a night in jail for the crime of a nine dollar meal but now I’m on the hook to the Italian community and Hathaway is warning me of discipline.
"Jerry, are you O.K.? I mean can I trust you enough to take you home?" He eyed me suspiciously and then, finally, he slapped me on the back and gave me the O.K.
"It’s not like you getting in that sort of jam," he said. He was not overly serious but…
"Have you been taking something really…strong?"
"Everything, man."

We go back to about 1984 when I met him through a beautiful mutual friend. Her name was Katrina, a German Canadian, who smiled a lot and once had a letter published in the Ottawa Citizen. We were just friends then, at the time Hathaway was leading a bizarre protest against draining a mines tailing pond which was overflowing and threatening a community below. Hathaway would have none of that however, his view was all around on the high ground. Their geological information indicated the pond could easily hold more water. The solution? Open it up at a loss and start production of Moly. "You mean open up at a loss," replied Adam Zimmerman, the chairman of Norda at the time with the bottom line on the decision to keep it closed and just drain the pond into a recreational lake. Along with a few thousand pound of various menacing sounding chemicals. It was a good corporate decision, really, since the environmentalists didn’t have a chance in court while there was a question of the pond giving way. It’s those losing causes that make later meetings so much more interesting. Did you cut the mustard yet? They all wait. And you have the vague suspicion they’ll breathe a sigh of relief when news comes of your passing—"He was a man in great upheaval who hasn’t had a good nap in twenty years. Finally he gets a nap. Hallelujah amen."
"What would you do in your personal finances, Hathaway—if you didn’t have the money to pay a mortgage, would you buy a house?" Said Zimmerman. Hathaway is good though. He raises the subject to a moral question leaving the old war horse way down the hill of moral high ground.
"I just wanted you to know that the people of the area are very upset with this and would feel a while lot better if you personally, would attend a meeting this weekend…"
"I’m afraid that’s Jack Saards’s department."
"The mine manager."
"That’s right."
"Well you outa know he’s being worked over pretty good by us and he seems to be losing all kind of ground. At least morally."
"There will be a court decision on this and we’ll abide by that decision."
Yeah. We lost. But not without some pretty good sparring by that Hathaway. On the radio, on the street. Whatever.

So what do you do when you’re at the end of the line and have sunk so low as to defy a local food establishment to the tune of some majorly good spaghetti. What do you do when none of the hospitals are open and you’re starving and have been wandering around in a confused state? You hope you’ve got a friend like Hathaway in town.

We were on his front lawn. I’d already been in for some health food and general good advice from his eight year old about the state of my shoe laces being that you can get a set anywhere in the mall. Now they were were smoking Indian cigars and strolling off the big deck, around the front lawn, inspecting for varmints. At the side of the house we dwelt. I was under the impression he was either trying to figure out my state of mental well-being or tell me something but in fact he was talking about building a dividing fence to keep the dog off the street. I got the feeling he was suggesting that I dig the post holes and I offered to do them the next day, not realizing I would go on a chase, get shot, and be in jail by morning. He told me not to worry because he’s already trained the dog to dig them.
That evening seemed to crawl on. I fell asleep in the bath. It was almost cold when I woke up. Somebody, it was Peter, knocking.
"Are you O.K.?"
"Yeah. That was great."
"Suffer’s ready."
"O.K. be down tout-de-suite." Did he say suffer? What did he mean by that? No. It was just my ears.

I felt almost normal as I sat in their kitchen a plate and a spot like I’d rated since we met, the table spread with wholesome food, good manners and kindness couching any discussion. He couldn’t have said ‘suffer’. And yet he could of. He’s like me that way, dealing with crisis by way of humour.

Later that night I changed my mind again, under suspicion I’d been poisoned by the barley soup and had to leave soon after bed time which I did. My daughter was very worried anyhow, even if I was wrong about the poison. I could surprise her by coming home early. Or so I thought. And yet, something was going to happen. Sense and nonsense. I drove.
I remember the tears of her young mother when she was born. "Please talk to me about his book", she said of The Right Stuff as the caesarean guys snapped on the rubbers. The tears came when the doctor informed her that the incision had been made.
"Now, now," I said, desperately. "What happened after the plane crash." No, no, that was not the right thing to say, I’m thinking.
"Would you like to see your daughter being born?" said the Jamaican doctor.
I left her mid-sentence. I was doing no good up there anyways. What I saw didn’t immediately register with my expectations.

There was a wound which appeared to be at least a foot long but no doubt was much smaller than that and within was the exposed under half of a baby girl. In a moment she was pulled form her enclave by her ankles and her tiny features were wiped so her first marsupial protestations could be heard.
"A beautiful baby girl," they said, holding her right side up for my inspection. I had never seen anything this closely before and was completely unable to make any sense out of it. None of my film worked, though I took many pictures. What I saw before me was a small, grimacing gargolian anthropoid with a frightening aspect of familiarity, steeped in angry purple skin. This is the beginning of the newest new beginning. Do you want to believe it doesn’t hurt?
It is like grabbing an alligator to master this one. Jaws or tail will always be your choice.
J.A. Billstrom December 2005

J. A Billstrom is a Vancouver based writer. We lost his email address. Sorry.

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