Wednesday, April 05, 2006

John, I’m only dancing

“It is important to remember: have fun…back-step, step, side-two, three…are you having fun?”

Our instructor is an intense little Eastern European named Radik, who has the smallest feet I’ve ever seen on a grown man. I suspect that Radik is really some exiled ethic cleanser in hiding. His admonishment to “have fun” wouldn’t have sounded out of context if he’d barked it shrilly through a megaphone.

“For the gentlemen, it is important that you have confidence. How can your woman follow you if you do not have confidence? I have confidence. I could lead any woman here around the floor without problem--even if the steps were wrong.”

I’m dying to say something to him about the fact that he has seven years of intense training and I have seven minutes, but I’m trying to rise above it all for her sake.

I slide my hand under her left armpit and grab her right fingers. She flinches as I try and adjust my positioning—I think I’m tickling her. We lock eyes for a second and an awkward giggle passes between us.

This is ridiculous. We’ve danced together, more or less successfully, on hundreds of occasions. What the hell is wrong with us now? This classroom setting inhibits any natural dancing impulses we both have. Suddenly, we’re both thirteen and at our first school dance. Only this time, instead of a half-baked local DJ doing spotlight dances, we have a wiry little prison guard barking orders at us.

“Back-step, step, side-to-side. Relax! Enjoy!”

Yavolt, I think as I try and get into some kind of rhythm with her. Her gaze is a million miles away. I can almost hear her thoughts: Back-step, step, side-to-side…okay now, which way do I turn? What the hell does he want me to do?

And then, something clicks and we achieve just a few—a precious handful—of graceful steps. Our eyes meet and we’re really looking at each other. She smiles and a warm gaze passes between us.

Then I turn the wrong way and crash into her. I grab her waist to steady myself and we both laugh in a strangled, frustrated way. I have fleeting thoughts about throwing her over my shoulder and running out, but it passes quickly. Deep sigh. Assume the basic stance and…

Back-step, step, side-to-side…relax, it’s only dancing.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Antbear

The sun began to set just as we pulled away from the settlement. That long colour-bar layered effect across the horizon—almost solid lines of purple, red, orange and yellow—sliding down the sky.

The frustration of the days’ exercise began to drift from my mind with the sunset: how could Hans have dragged me all the way out here without a translator? The chief must have thought I was an idiot, but he seemed kindly. Either that or his gentle smile was mocking me—hard to tell really...

I rubbed my stubble-covered head as if I could massage away the bad thoughts contained inside. It had been a fucked-up situation, but was it any more fucked-up than half of this trip? The stumbling journey of the past few weeks seemed to micro the macro of my whole goddamn life up to that point.

These thoughts began to truly drift by as the dark settled in on us. As the Toyota settled into the ruts of the dirt track that would take us back to Hans’ place, calm settled over us.

Hans and I spoke little over the next fifteen minutes…or thirty…or sixty. There was no tension between us, just the quiet that falls over contemplative travelers.

The only light for miles was the beam of our headlights picking out the empty sandy track in front of us. The only sound our engine.

Suddenly, with a shattering squawk and deep bass swoop, the largest flying bird I have ever seen in my life blew across the front of the truck—leaving an impression of whiteness. Hans and I both shouted out loud and with hearts pounding turned to look at each other.

“It’s a…a…”
Hans began before I could even get through: “What the fuck…”
“It’s a…I can not think of the English word…a ________”, the Afrikaans word he provided made no impression on me. Now, I couldn’t even guess what it sounded like.
“That is the biggest bird there is that flies,” he continued, his voice a lot steadier than before.
“Wow…that was incredible.”
“Yes…pretty scary huh”, Hans smiled just as the truck lurched with a loud thud.
“Jesus…!” I started, snapping my gaze back to the front, but seeing nothing but sand and black bushes beyond.

Hans jammed on the brakes.

“I think we have hit something”, he frowned deeply.

We jumped out of the truck simultaneously and looked back. There in the middle of the sandy road, a lump of shadow—larger than I had expected from my experience with road kill; very unlike the raccoons and skunks you see on the highways of North America. My mind immediately flooded with images from some imagined drivers education movie of bloodied pedestrians and severed heads lying in ditches.

But it was clearly an animal—roughly dog-shape and size.

We started towards it very slowly. After a couple of steps I could hear it breathing raggedly. Chills ran down my spine. There was a throaty grating to its breathing—a dying rattle that immediately dragged my mind back to the sick room of my grandmother only a year ago.

“My god…” Hans began in quiet, slow voice, “That is an antbear. I have never seen one in real life before.” He stifled an awkward giggle born of tension.

We stopped very close. It didn’t really move…it couldn’t…but it did seem to look at us with wide, frightened eyes. Its chest heaved up and down with desperate exertion.

It was a mottled pink and grey with almost black patches around its lower legs. Its mostly hairless and mostly pink skin gave it an uncomfortably human-like air. Shivers ran up and down its sides and a twitching tongue flipped in and out of its long snout in erratic licks.

We stood transfixed for an interminably long time.

“Shouldn’t we…” I croaked, “Um…shouldn’t we put it out of its misery?”
Hans shrugged, “How. I have no knife or gun with me.”
“But man…look at it…its fucking suffering.”
“What do you expect me to do?” Hans half-shouted.
“Well…jesus…I don’t know…back the truck over it?”
Hans looked at me with horror. “Shit. I am not doing that!”
I held up my hands in gesture that was somewhere between pleading and exasperation.
“Look”, Hans said quite gently, “This is the bush man. A cheetah or some jackals will be by in very short time…”
He trailed off.

I nodded, resigned and turned back to the truck. Hans followed closely behind.

We started up again and in minutes had settled in to the pace of night-time desert driving. Quiet wrapped around us like a blanket, but it held no comfort. This time, there was tension in our silence.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

South of the Border

Do you ever look at your shiny new black sporty yuppie-style sedan and wonder what you might get for it in Tijuana?

Do you picture yourself cruising down that long stretch of open desert highway; arm lolling out the open window; big 70s copper shades stuck on your face? Your music is rattling the little speakers in your doors and making your grin widen into an all-out smile. The wind teases your hair playfully sending little chills down your spine. Everything you feel and see adds to your rush—you got to keep moving baby.

When you get to Mexico, you find a wiry little man with a gold tooth in a café who will purchase your car—no questions asked. You then spend half the money from the sale on blow and bus tickets to the coast. Soon, you’re ensconced in a beach hut on the gulf; dealing to the tourists for money for Tequila and hookers.

The days reel out in a series of spectacular crimson sunsets over the dark water. Ocean breezes sooth your ragged soul. You spend your nights telling stories about life in Canada—the endless snow and office politics are inconceivable to your local friends. The hookers just smile and nod at your halting Spanish.

Do you see yourself there on the white beaches in the cool gulf evenings? You’re growing grey and permanently sunburnt; with deep laugh lines. You’ve become calm and still. Do you see yourself staring out over the blue and green seas with only fond amusement at long gone cares?

Maybe it’s just me.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

New Year’s Eve in the Piano Bar at the End of the Universe

On the cusp of 2003 I wrote about transformation; about getting it together. You who have waited patiently in the dark—you who have bothered to return to this dead space; this mouldering warehouse of my past thoughts—you have not waited in vain.

Can you feel it through the screen? We’re just into 2004, you and I, and my transformation is well under way. It’s begun with the external primarily: my hearth is warm and my home safe—I am well loved. The real work has started now; deep in my brain and flesh. Put your palm against the glass and you’ll feel the buzz.

A friend of mine unwittingly provided the soundtrack for my further mutations. Just before Christmas he dropped a mixed CD on me containing “Piano Music” by Steve Reich. I often listen to it driving home from work by the river, in the cold and dark. Somewhere in the middle you lose all sense of time and place—how long have I been listening to this fucking song (hours? days?)—then it stops. The end of the track comes like night falling in winter: with a thud.

The next track begins with the rattling of alien instruments. I know now that whenever I listen to Piano Music I will expect to hear the Master Musicians of Joujouka (Moroccans…or Bedouins or something) following close behind. At least, I hope to always hear them—legend has it that if the Masters ever stop playing, the universe will end.

It is an oddly synchronous pairing: the machinelike persistence of Piano Music leading to the controlled chaos of tribal percussion. The world ends when Steve Reich switches off his reel-to-reels; but the Masters keep things spinning along.

I always feel like Piano Music is going to boil over into something else; transforming slowly into something completely new. Repetition with minor variation: the learning curve of the wheel of life. Piano Music is the soundtrack in my chrysalis. You who have waited endlessly for something to emerge:

Watch this space.

Sunday, June 08, 2003


Light from the mirror-ball glitters off the wineglasses and candlesticks; throwing small flickering shadows on the white tablecloths. I stop in the doorway, momentarily dazed by the glitter and thoughts that this must be tacky and I shouldn’t be enjoying the sight. A quick adjustment of the, previously unknown to me, medieval torture device known as a cummerbund and I resume my progress.

My friends circle the table already. I find my seat beside one of my buddies. His ill-fitting grey suit is only marginally more acceptable than my white tuxedo and black shirt—“mob-ware”, as I have been referring to it for a couple days now. I had described to my mother a Bogart look of cream dinner jacket and black pants, and then had left her to look after the rental.

On my left is that blonde girl…what was her name again? She was a grade after me and more a friend of friends. I sit and mumble hellos to my immediate neighbours. I take a quick drink of some horrible bubbling white beverage in front of me. A deep breath and then I look up.

She’s directly across from me, deep in conversation with her best friend. She’s in a long off-white gown that holds every curve, line and angle like molten porcelain. Her dark hair spills down bare shoulders. After a brief pause she turns, feeling my eyes on her, and gives me a quick smile. That smile sends shivers down my spine. I smile back but she has already turned and resumed chatting with her friend.

My smile freezes and falls, I close my eyes involuntarily. Months of back and forth; awkward group dates; embarrassingly expensive flowers—all of it rolls over me like a black wave. I am fucking idiot, I think to myself.

This pall is lifted by a shocking sensation I’d never felt before. A soft hand is there, out of nowhere, caressing the inside of my left thigh. Warm sweet breath pours into my ear and then she speaks: “Hey, it’s okay…let it go man. It’s never going to happen. Just come and dance with me.” A smile starts at the corner of my mouth and gradually takes over my whole body. I turn and look into big, blue eyes—laughing eyes.

I gently gather up her hand and push away from the table without a word.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


Yesterday my father came very close to being killed in accident involving the felling of a large oak on his bush lot. He came within three inches of instant death. This is a man with over twenty years of experience cutting down trees—an unseen deadfall snagged the oak and spun it towards him in a heartbeat. He came away with some ligament damage and shock but will recover quickly.

I’m still processing this event in the back of my mind. Normally I don’t dwell too much on things that didn’t happen, but in this case I can’t seem to avoid the thoughts. I could hear it in his voice: the grim reaper had turned and smiled at him—a brief flirtation. I’m still not absolutely clear what this event means to me. I may decide tomorrow that it’s meaningless.

But I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking all day about people in my life, family, friends and lovers who have reached out to me in one way or another. I’ve been thinking both about the newcomers and those who make up the backbone of my past. What do these people mean to me and what do I mean to them? How long will I feel connected to all of them? Are there people out there missing me? Have I really earned their affection or is it all just circumstance?

There’s the meat of it I guess. If I was to lose someone out of this web of connections and dependencies and sympathy and similarity would I be overwhelmed with regret over real or imagined failings. Was I there for you? Have I been a good son, brother, father, friend or lover?

Did I ever really tell you all that I love you?

Thursday, May 22, 2003

T.S. Eliot

You’re probably wondering where I’ve been. At least, I imagine you have been wondering where I’ve been. But who is it I imagine you are?

In the echo chamber of a blog whom do I picture as my “audience”—through the endless and erratic monologue—obviously, I most often picture myself.

And who am I? That’s a good question. I am a Caucasian male in his 30s who writes for a living and sits interminably in front of computers. Shocked?

“And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days, and ways?
And how should I presume?”

The long pauses in postings here are the result of ongoing changes. My life is undergoing such radical and rapid change that I lately find myself with little time to reflect. Or is it? Is there a momentum to the experiences I have now or is it that I’m just entering new cycles?

“For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”

All experience is new in that each moment is different from the last, but is there a path? I sometimes feel like this part of my life has more direction than previous ones. Some days I feel like I am at the beginning of a new adventure and others at the end.

“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions, and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”

T.S. Eliot used to say that he took meaningless clerk jobs in order to free his mind for his life’s work after hours. That’s an excellent justification for clinging to stability.

How am I? I’m great. Life is comfortable and happy once again. The desperation of the recent past has left me and I have moments of peace—and yet…

I sometimes tire of always working with a net.


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