Headaches

What Nick was doing that day was even odder than his father’s fall. But it did have to do with someone falling, though Nick’s father fell a much shorter length.

Nick was walking down the street snacking on rice crackers. He forgot how much wasabi they used in rice crackers and desperately needed a drink. As he walked to convenience store two doors down from his office, a man fell in front of him. But it wasn’t as if the man simply tripped and fell while walking relatively close to Nick. It would be more apt to say the man dropped in front of Nick and when he hit the concrete, pieces of the man’s head shot out in all directions, yet somehow completely missed Nick.

As everyone else walking down the busy downtown street panicked at the sight of the man’s quick and unfortunate demise, all Nick could see was the custom hand stitched Italian suit complemented by the hand pressed Italian silk tie the man’s remains was wearing. Nick studied the man’s body for a second and looked down at himself, quickly surmising that the suit would be a perfect fit on him.

His cell phone rang in his pocket as he knelt down to start undoing the man’s tie.

“Nick, it’s your father,” his mother’s panicked voice said on the phone. “He fell and he hit his neck and head. I’m really worried about him. Can you come home and help me bring him to the hospital?”

“Absolutely mom,” he said. “I’ll be right there. I just found this great suit. Once I’m done getting it, I’ll be right home.”

It wasn’t as if Nick was a bad person who often stole things from fresh corpses. Quite the contrary. His boyfriend, Donovan, would tell you that Nick was the kindest and sweetest man he ever knew. The reason why Nick was taking the suit was simply because he wasn’t thinking of the man at that moment. Later on, after he thought a little more thoroughly about the suit in his possession, he would rationalize about how the man wouldn’t exactly be needing the suit anymore and that level of fine craftsmanship deserves to be passed down to someone who would appreciate its quality. A few people who were watching did give him a few odd looks as he stripped the man. But no one approached Nick to question what he was doing. Most actually assumed that he was simply a medical professional and he was doing something that would somehow help this poor man who fell.

Rational thought is hard to come by when people are in shock. This was true for the group of people who watched as Nick Exagrio stole a suit off of a dead body. This was also true for Nick’s father, Pavlo Exagrio.

While he was growing up, Nick and his two older brothers, Jason and Alex, were always told by their father to have someone watching you when you climb up a ladder, even if it’s just a step ladder. And this was true. And Pavlo had a stark reminder of this lesson when he tried screwing in a kitchen lightbulb, standing on a step ladder all by himself. His wife, Carmella, had cleaned the laminate floors earlier that day and the ladder slipped out from under his feet and when he toppled over, he hit his head on his new stove, leaving a deep dent in its door.

Carmella heard her husband fall and rushed downstairs to find him lying on the floor with Zeus, the couple’s golden retriever, licking his face. She noticed him not fighting back against the dog and immediately panicked inside thinking her husband was dead. She rushed to his sides and stood over him, seeing his eyes open and his breathing. The look on his face read somewhere between defeat and annoyance.

“What the hell happened?” Carmella belted out.

“I fell,” Pavlo replied.

“I can see that,” she said. “But how?”

“Off the step ladder,” he said in his typical monotone voice. “Obviously.”

Carmella’s immediate instinct was to call her three sons. She had called Nick last. For some reason, whenever she needed to call her boys, she called them in chronological order. First she called Jason and he took the rest of the day off work to attend to his father. Then she called Alex who was at home sick, but agreed to come home right away as well. Then she called Nick, who was in the process of stealing a suit off of a corpse before he came home.

Jason and Alex got home around the same time and Nick arrived at the house, the same house all three boys grew up in, about ten minutes after his brothers did. Nick wore his new suit jacket, which he wasn’t able to button up at the front. He had already ripped the pants when he tried to put them on outside of his car. Though he often changes his clothes right next to his car (no matter where is car might be parked), he never made a lot of effort to look to see if there would be anyone around to see him change. Luckily for him, no one who saw the corpse drop and saw Nick strip the man saw him try to put on the man’s suit. He left the Egyptian silk shirt behind, as it was stained beyond repair with the man’s remains. The tie was stained as well, but not as severely as the shirt. Nick knew a trip to the dry cleaners would get the tie’s stain right out.

By the time Nick got through the front door, Jason and Alex were already arguing.

“What do you mean you administered the concussion test?” Alex said.

“I asked him if he knew what day it was, what his name was, and if he remembered what happened,” Jason explained. “A standard exam from medical professionals.”

“But you’re not a medical professional!” Alex yelled.

Nick’s entering the room caught both of his brother’s attention. They looked over to their youngest brother, and Alex muttered, “Wow, nice jacket.”

To look at all three of the Exagrio boys, who were all in their thirties by this point, anyone could immediately tell they were brothers. All three had facial hair, though it was clear each of them made an effort to trim their beards as different from their brothers as they could, and thick dark hair on the tops of their heads. Only Jason’s hairline was receding, which is why he kept his head shaved. Nick had just started growing his hair longer and the back touched his shoulders. Alex kept his hair shorter on the sides and longer on the top and it was always neatly combed, even on his apparent day home sick.

“Well it didn’t take you two too long to start at it,” Nick said as he scratched the short stubble along his face.

Alex played with the soul patch on his goatee, a nervous habit he’s had since he could grow facial hair. “Dr. Fucking Doogie Howser here doesn’t think dad should see a doctor.”

“Because he’s fine!” a bit of spit dribbled onto Jason’s thick beard.

“Have you seen the dent in the stove?” Alex shot back. “It looks like it was hit by a car!”

“Stoves are made of cheap materials anyways,” Jason scoffed.

As his two brothers started arguing again, Nick went into the kitchen to look at the dent. It was in the door of the stove, which was closed. Nick figured his dad must had hit it sideways, which wouldn’t be as bad if he hit it head on, like the man did on the concrete earlier that day. It was a pretty deep dent. But Nick always did think his father had a thick skull.

“Nice to see you, Nick,” his mother’s voice said from behind him. Nick realized that he had walked right past his mother when he walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice her. She was sitting at the kitchen table, playing with an unlit cigarette.

Carmella Exagrio was remarkably slim for both birthing and raising three boys. But she also spent half of her life only eating lettuce making sure she could keep her figure. She married Pavlo very young but would never say how young. Nick heard as young as 19. This was because Carmella wasn’t Greek, and grandma and grandpa Exagrio didn’t approve of non-Greeks in the family. They especially didn’t approve of Italians. Even after his parents eloped, Nick’s grandparents still visited them, though they never said much to his mother. Pavlo always said his heritage wasn’t that important to him, but Nick thought it was funny that all three of Pavlo’s boys had the most Greek names you could give to three modern North Americans.

“I thought you quit,” he said.

“After dealing with your father today I might just take it up again,” she said.

“He won’t see a doctor?” Nick asked.

“He has an ice pack on his head and he took some headache pills,” she said. “He thinks he’s going to be fine. I think he’s an idiot.”

“I know, mom,” Nick said. “Where is he?”

“Lying in the bedroom,” she said. “You remember still which room that is? It’s been weeks since you’ve been home.”

“We were all home last week for Zeus’ birthday,” Nick said.

“Well, Donovan didn’t come,” she replied before starting to chew on the cigarette’s filter. She wasn’t wrong about that. Donovan didn’t come to a lot of the family dinners. But it was Nick who always encouraged Donovan not to come along. Nick didn’t want his family getting close to Donovan. He didn’t see the relationship lasting.

“Right,” Nick said. “Well, I remember where the room is. So I’m going to go see him.”

“You do that,” his mother said. “I’m going to the back porch to tempt cancer.”

Zeus was lying next to Pavlo when Nick walked into the room. This was the moment when Nick realized that Zeus didn’t come running up to him when he walked in the door. Zeus always tried to steal people’s shoes when they came over. Apparently he hadn’t left his dad’s side since Pavlo went to bed.

“Which one are you?” Pavlo asked, the ice pack covering his eyes. He was much smaller than his sons. All three of his boys were close to six feet tall while Pavlo never made it past five and a half feet. Nick noticed the grey patches in his father’s beard were getting larger and lighter in colour. His dad was well over sixty by this time. The image in his mind was the forty-something year old version of his father. To see him this much older almost startled Nick. It’s not as if he hadn’t seen his father in a while. But he just never noticed how old he was looking.

“It’s Nick, dad,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Go downstairs and tell your idiot brothers that their arguing is giving me a headache,” he said, cracking a smile.

Nick turned and walked out of the room. He stepped down the stairs and stopped on the third to last stair, just looking over his two brothers who were still arguing. “Dad says he’s getting a headache,” Nick said.

Alex shot a terrified glance to Nick. “You see!” Alex yelled. “You see! A headache is a clear sign of a concussion or a hemorrhage or severe brain trauma! He’s going to die of an aneurysm unless we get him to the hospital now!”

“He has a headache because the two of you won’t shut up,” Nick shot back. “He doesn’t need to go to the hospital, but a doctor wouldn’t kill him. He probably just doesn’t want to leave the house. Alex, aren’t you still dating that doctor?”

“She’s a med student,” Alex said. “And, no. That ended.”

Alex’s quarter-life crisis hit him hard. For his thirtieth birthday, he called off his engagement, quit his job, and declared he was going to write a book. Everyone’s still waiting for that book. As far as anyone could tell, all Alex did was work his few shifts at the book store and go home to drink wine. He would often ramble about plot lines and character development and what Hemingway did to write (drink) and what Kerouac did for inspiration (drink) and yet no one ever read a word he wrote. His career before his sudden literary renaissance was as an engineer, just like his father.

“Well, he needs to see someone,” Nick said. “I’m going to try and talk some sense into him and see if he’ll see anyone. In the meantime, take your arguing outside.”

Zeus still hadn’t moved when Nick went back into his father’s room. At the sight of Nick, Zeus’ tail started wagging a bit, though he stayed in place nestled next to Pavlo. “This is the most quiet it’s been since I hit the ground,” Pavlo chuckled. “I don’t know how you shut them up, but thank you.”

“To show your gratitude, you can go see a doctor about your noggin,” Nick said sitting next to his father and scratching behind Zeus’ ear.

“You’re starting to sound like Jason,” Pavlo said.

Jason was the academic of the family. He had completed his PhD a couple of years back, graduated top of his class, married one of his classmates, had a paper published, and earned a tenure at the local college. His degree was in Music History and his area of expertise was in the impact of the mid-west on modern rock, specifically pertaining to the Replacements and Husker Du. He read voraciously. His apartment didn’t even have a TV. There were books lining all of the walls and stacked on shelves to the point where the wood curved in the middle. But Nick wasn’t always so sure that Jason’s mind was that reliable. He remembered a time when Jason insisted that the medical industry was corrupted because of the prevalence of white culture seen in doctors and nurses in North American hospitals. Nick knew something was wrong with this statement. Every doctor he had ever seen was originally from India. Alex finally asked what book Jason read that fact in. Jason pulled up the book on his phone and showed it to Alex, who promptly pointed out that the book was published in the 1970s by a psychedelic collective better known for illegal reproductions of Kurt Vonnegut and Abbie Hoffman books.

“You know, one time,” Pavlo sat up and took the ice pack off of his head. “One time Jason tried to give me a lesson on bridge tensile strength. He read something somewhere about triangle shapes and curved shapes in creating bridge support, so he wanted to tell me all about it. I designed bridges for forty years.” Pavlo laughed.

Nick took the ice pack and felt that it was already getting pretty warm. He offered to go back downstairs and get the other ice pack for his father. Once he was downstairs, he saw both of his brothers on the couch staring at their phones. They didn’t look up when Nick hit the bottoms step. He went into the kitchen and grabbed the other ice pack just as his mother came back inside the house.

“Good cigarette?” Nick asked.

“Thirty years in the making,” she said. “How is he?”

“Annoyed at his children,” Nick said. “Can’t blame him. A house full of people here apparently for him and they all act like he’s not even here. Otherwise, from what I can see he’s ok. I just worry about what’s going on that we can’t see.”

“I do too,” she said.

When Nick went upstairs to give his father the other ice pack, he could hear coughing and wretching. He entered the bedroom to find his father on the floor, vomiting and a good portion of the vomit had blood in it. Nick dropped the ice pad.

“Holy crap,” Nick said. “Dad, are you ok?”

“Obviously, I’m not,” Pavlo said between heaves.

Nick paced around the room and then walked into the on suite bathroom and started rummaging through the drawers. “What are you doing,” Pavlo was able to bark.

“Looking for paper towel,” Nick said.

“Don’t!” Pavlo said through the vomit coming out of his mouth. “Call a goddamn ambulance!”

It took a moment for Nick to compose himself. He was panicking inside. He had never seen anyone throw up blood before. It shouldn’t have bothered him. After all, he had stolen a suit off of a dead body earlier that day. But it was different to see his father like this. Once he composed himself, he ran to the top of the stairs.

“He’s throwing up blood!” he called down. “Call an ambulance!”

The ambulance ride felt like it took hours, but when they arrived at the hospital Nick realized it still wasn’t even dinner time yet. With his father in an examining room, all Nick could do was to wait for the rest of his family to arrive.

His brothers came through the hall and into the waiting room first. They told Nick that their mother is just outside having a cigarette before she comes in.

“Did you tell her it was ok for her to start smoking again?” Alex prodded.

“Why would I tell her that?” Nick asked.

“Well, it’s not like she just up and decided to start smoking again after thirty years,” Alex continued.

“That’s kind of exactly what happened,” Nick shrugged.

“I really don’t think she would have just decided to start smoking out of the blue like that,” Alex said. “Something would have had to trigger this.”

“Probably dad’s fall,” Jason interjected. “Stressors like a traumatic experience such as this can easily drive a person to act irrationally.”

“Stop psychoanalyzing me,” their mother’s voice carried over them. They looked over and saw their mother standing next to one of the white waiting room chairs. She was looking through a stack of crumpled magazines. “Even a real shrink couldn’t figure me out.”

“Mom, you really shouldn’t smoke, you know the health risks involved,” Jason began.

“Shut up,” their mother muttered. “Get off your high horse. Let’s see if your father comes out of here alive. Then you can give me the health lecture.”

“Like you should be giving a health lecture,” Alex pointed a finger at Jason. “You didn’t even want dad to see a doctor. Now look at where he is!”

Nick’s two brothers started arguing again and a nurse had to step in and tell them both to be quiet and sit down or they would be escorted out. The four members of the Exagrio family sat quietly, flipping through magazines and checking their phones, for the first time quiet since they all stepped into the same room together.

Finally, the doctor came out into the waiting room and sat down with the family. “He definitely has a concussion,” the doctor said. Alex tapped Nick on the shoulder and said something about knowing the doctor. Nick noticed what Alex was saying. He didn’t remember the doctor’s name, but he remembered him being in school at the same time he was. He thought that maybe he was in the same grade as Alex was. It would explain why is accent was so light. “But we noticed something else in our exams. He actually has a small blood clot in his right frontal lobe. It’s small enough right now that it’s actually not interfering with any blood flow. But if we waited any longer, he certainly would be suffering much worse. The procedure to remove it is actually relatively simple. Our neurosurgeon will be able to operate on him tomorrow.”

The family was allowed to see Pavlo once the doctor finished explaining the procedure. No one in the family understood most of what the doctor said. Jason kept nodding his head and saying things like, “OK,” and, “Oh, I see,” and, “Yes, I understand.” But no one there really understood. All they knew was that their father, her husband, was going to have his skull opened up and his brain tinkered with because a clump of something is blocking blood from flowing. The doctor saying it was a “relatively simple procedure” didn’t help. As far as this family could tell, there was nothing simple about this.

They all stood in the room around Pavlo, who was awake now, but they all could tell he was feeling pretty weak. He could barely keep his eyes open. Everyone was silent, processing what was going to happen in the next day. No one knew what to expect. What kind of help would he need once he was out of the hospital? Would this cause any other brain damage? How long before he would be back to normal again? The silence hung like a sixth person in the room, looming over the family.

“Feels like a soap opera,” Jason said. “I’m just waiting for one of our evil twins to show up now.”

“Goddamnit, Jason,” Alex said. “This is not the time for fucking jokes.”

“Well, is it better than sitting around dead silent?” Jason asked.

“Don’t fucking say dead in here,” Alex gritted his teeth. “And yes, if it means you shut the fuck up, silence is better.”

This line of conversation was typically for the Exagrio family. If they weren’t arguing, they were completely silent with each other. They weren’t always like this. But adult life changed the three boys. Jason and Alex went to different colleges and Nick completely bypassed post-secondary education and went right into the working world. There wasn’t an instant moment where the three boys felt separated and estranged from each other. It just crumbled over time to the point where they can’t stand being around each other anymore. Which was especially difficult seeing how much their mother loved family dinners. This may have been the real reason why Nick never brought Donovan over for family dinner. Maybe Nick didn’t actually think the relationship with Donovan wasn’t going to work out. Maybe he wanted the relationship to work out and was afraid what would happen if Donovan saw Nick’s whole family together. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Jason stormed out of the room and Nick followed behind. He watched his older brother pull out his cell phone, tap something on his screen, and hold it against his face. They were out of the building before Nick could hear anything his brother was saying. “Yeah, total asshole,” Jason said. “I’m getting out of here as soon as I can. I don’t even know why I bother trying.”

He looked over and spotted his younger brother watching him. “I need to call you back,” he said as he hung up. “Why did you follow me?”

“Not sure,” Nick said. “Alex was being an asshole. He always has to be so negative about everything.”

“Yeah, well, that’s probably the most observational thing you ever said,” Jason said. “And you barely notice that water is wet, so thanks for pointing out the obvious.”

“Why are you being a dick?”

“I’m just fucking done,” Jason continued. “I’m fucking done with all of this. What kind of adult spends this much time with their family?”

“I don’t know,” Nick shrugged. “We’ve always been like this. Even when you and Alex were in school and I was still living at home, it still felt like you were always around. And then when you were around, you just became a different person each time. Like you just kept losing more and more patience.”

“Well, clearly there’s a good reason for that,” Jason said as he pulled out his keys. “I’m just fucking done. I’ll be back when dad’s in recovery. Otherwise, don’t fucking call me.”

And he walked off to his car and Nick was left standing alone outside of the hospital, watching his brother turn more and more into a stranger.

Nick decided against going back inside. Instead, he took a walk to find some food. He didn’t know this part of the city well. The hospital was connected to the local college and Nick wandered around the campus, not recognizing any building and having no clue where to find any decent food. He finally found a pub and he hoped the kitchen was still open.

Half a sandwich and a handful of fries later, Nick’s phone started ringing. Alex was calling and Nick had a serious internal debate inside, considering whether or not answering this call would be worth his time. He stared at the call screen for at least four rings before sliding his finger on the small call logo and answering his brother.

“Yeah,” Nick said.

“Where are you?” Alex barked.

“Some pub on campus, why?”

“Is Jason with you?”

“No, I’m alone.”

“Wait, did you say on campus?”

“Yeah, why?”

“How did you wander all the way over to the campus?”

“It’s not like it’s far.”

“It’s not exactly nearby either,” Alex huffed heavily. “I don’t know how you just wander like that. Aren’t you scared of walking and falling into a manhole or wandering into a bad part of town and getting mugged?”

“Not really,” Nick stuffed a few fries into his mouth. “This pub is pretty good. I had the turkey club.The bacon was really crispy. You should try it sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe I will once our dad isn’t in the hospital anymore,” Alex’s voice progressively raised louder and louder. “What the hell are you doing wandering off anyways? You should be here!”

“Dad will still be there when I get back,” Nick took a long sip of his soda.

“Yeah, well, what if he isn’t? Seriously, come back here. Mom’s been asking about you.”

“Has she been asking about Jason?”

“Oh course she has” Alex said. “She wants all of us here. It’s bad enough with dad lying in a bed plugged into machines. I don’t need mom having a stress stroke because we’re not getting along.”

Nick realized that Alex had a point. He pulled out his wallet and dropped a bit of cash on the table. “I’ll be right there,” Nick said to his brother.

An ambulance screamed by as Nick walked back to the hospital. It was pitch black out and Nick didn’t think to check his phone as he wondered what time it was. The lights from the ambulance left a red hue on everything that he looked at as he wandered past the student dorms and the all night convenience stores whose white lights almost stung his retinas.

Though he wasn’t sure how long he had been walking for. Nick figured it must have been for a while, at least a couple of hours. When he walked back into the emergency room, he saw Jason sitting in the waiting room with an intake form resting on his lap and a brace tied around his neck. There was a decent sized gash on his forehead as well, made all the more prominent by the fact he didn’t have any hair to cover the cut.

“What happened to you?” Nick asked as Jason looked up from his intake form.

“I got sandwiched between two cars,” Jason said. “I got rear-ended by one guy and my car slammed into guy ahead of me. The guy who rear-ended me took off. I’m looking to press full charges. Hit-and-run is a felony if there’s a bodily injury.”

“Where’s you wife?” Nick asked.

Jason sighed. “She had class in the morning, so she wants to keep sleeping,” he said. “It’s alright. I’m going to be fine. You’re all here, so I should be fine.”

This explanation was enough to sate both Jason and Nick. Jason understood that those early morning classes were hard, especially if you didn’t sleep a lot the night before. Nick was assured by Jason’s logic and his insistence that he was going to be fine. In theother room, Nick could hear Alex having a fit. He couldn’t completely make out the words, but he was catching phrases like, “It’s not right,” and, “This should be more important.”

Carmella came back into the waiting room through the door that Nick could hear Alex’s yelling come from. Under one arm, she had her purse tucked. Under the other arm was a bag of tortilla chips from one of the hospital vending machines. She plopped down onto the chair next to Nick and reached into her purse, pulling out a bottle of pills and a bottle of water. “I have such a headache,” she said as she popped two pills into her mouth and swallowed a gulp of water. “This day needs to end already.”

Nick waited for some condescending explanation from Jason about how the day has technically ended already ant is a new day, despite the fact none of us have slept yet. For once, Jason kept quiet.

Through the door that all of Alex’s yelling was coming from was another voice of someone trying to calm Alex down. Nick thought about how whoever was trying to calm Alex down was in for a big shock, He didn’t exactly calm down. He kind of just continues to get more and more agitated until he explodes like a hot water tank with no pressure valve. He usually falls asleep after he blows, too. Doesn’t matter where he is or what else is going on, after he explodes he always seems to find a way to fall asleep.

“What do you mean you can’t look him over for a few more hours?!” every in the hospital could hear Alex screaming this. Nick figured Alex was screaming about getting their father into some other test, maybe to avoid the surgery altogether. “He has a head injury and he’s in a neck brace. He’s obviously seriously hurt, I don’t understand why you can’t see him yet!”

The doors swung open violently, like a car had just sped through the hallway. Only it was Alex standing in the doorway, pushing his way through. Nick only saw Alex for a brief second as the door swung back into Alex’s face. He must have hit the door open significantly hard for it to swing back to hard. Once it hit Alex’s face, it knocked him off of his feet and he feel back first, feet in the air, on the hospital floor.

Jason and Nick didn’t move from where they were sitting, though both saw how hard the door his Alex’s face and, ultimately, how hard Alex hit the floor. Jason’s reason for not immediately jumping up and running to his brother’s aide was strictly medical; after all, he was just in a serious car accident. Nick’s reason for not going to his brother’s aide was less forgivable: he simply didnt know what to do.

“Get up and check on your brother!” Carmella yelled at her able-bodied son, prompting Nick to jump out of his chair and run through the door that just hit his brother’s face.

Alex hadn’t moved from the floor and the doctors and nurses were taking their time walking over to help. Nick figured they were moving about as fast as he would be moving if Alex had just been yelling at him as well. His brother had a gash on his head, very much like Jason’s gash, only Alex’s gash was a little less visible because of his longer hair. It was bleeding a lot more than Jason’s gash was bleeding. The dark trickle of blood down Alex’s face almost looked like a rogue strand of hair hanging in front of his face.

“This has been a bad day for head injuries,” Nick said.

“How very fucking insightful of you,” Alex grimaced. “Now help me up.”

“Maybe the doctor’s should check on you before you get up,” Nick said, looking up at the doctors who had actually stopped part  down the hallway and lined up at the water cooler, each with a little paper cup in their hands. “You know, when they get here.”

“I’m fucking fine,” Alex grit his teeth.

“Isn’t that what dad said too?” Nick shot back.

“Fuck off, I’ll get myself up,” Alex pushed himself off of the ground and got to his feet, stumbling a bit as tried to find his balance. One of the doctors finally made it to where Alex was standing and started asking if he was dizzy or if his vision was blurry. Nick noticed how clean shaven every part of the doctor’s face was, even the top of his head, and how the doctor’s thick accented voice was as deep and dark as his skin tone was. Nick figured the doctor was probably from Zimbabwe, mainly because that was the only country in Africa he could name. He also thought Saint Petersburg was a country in Africa, which isn’t even a country anywhere to begin with, but instead a city in Russia. The name he was mistakenly thinking of was Johannesburg, which also isn’t a country but at least if he guessed that name he would have been in the right continent.

Digging through his jacket’s pockets looking for a serviette for Alex to wipe the blood off of his face, Nick started noticing all of the strange things in he had been carrying with him since he put the jacket on: a bus ticket from Arizona, some women’s hair clips, a receipt for three dozen donuts from his favourite bakery (this very well could have been Nick’s receipt, but he wasn’t totally sure). But of all the things he found in the jacket’s pockets, not a single piece of absorbent paper.

“Why do you have all that weird stuff in your pocket?” Alex asked.

“I didn’t know anything was in the pockets,” Nick answered.

“You bought a jacket and didn’t think to check the pockets?” Alex asked. “Wait, you bought a jacket that had things in the pocket to begin with? Did you buy it second hand? I’m really confused.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly buy it,” Nick mumbled.

Alex was just about to ask what Nick meant by he ‘didn’t exactly buy it,’ when they both heard someone screaming from the end of the hallway. Both brothers looked up and saw who was screaming. It was a man, close to their ages, but looked like he either worked in a manual labour force or simply actually took the time to go to the gym every once in a while (none of the Exagrio boys had even stepped into a gym before). Upon a closer inspection, both boys realized the man was screaming at them. Alex could tell from the way the man looked at the two of them, but it took until the man quite literally pointed at Nick before he realized he was this man’s target.

“That’s my dad’s jacket!” The man screamed.

“You stole a jacket?” Alex asked Nick.

“He wasn’t exactly going to use it anymore,” Nick shrugged.

“How do you know?” Alex continued.

“Mainly because he’s dead,” Nick said very bluntly considering the subject matter.

“You stole a…” Alex tried completing his thought before the absurdity of it all actually caught his tongue and forced him to give up. “You know what,” Alex continued. “He’s all yours,” he called down the hall to the increasingly angry man. “Whatever he gets, he deserves.”

The infuriated man charge down the hallway directly at Nick. Most people would think to run or step away or try to put up some sort of fight. Nick had actually started reading the bus ticket, wondering if the man he stole the jacket from was actually from Arizona and if so we’re all Arizona residents this aggressive?

The man tackled Nick, knocking over Alex in the process, and the two men, now entangled, toppled into the waiting room, almost right to Jason’s feet. Through the tussle, the man was able to get on top of Nick and he laid in two hard punches to Nick’s face before he noticed that the man was actually off of him now, and lying on the ground next to him. He looked up to see his mother standing over both himself and the angry Arizonian. She was holding a wooden spoon. The man was holding his eye and rolling slightly on the ground.

“You crazy bitch!” he yelled. “You hit me in the fucking eye.”

Nick pushed himself off of the ground to see both Jason and Alex already surrounding the guy. Jason had pulled off his neck brace and he had the guy’s shirt bunched up in his fist. The guy was struggling and Alex was trying to hold his arms and legs so they wouldn’t hit Jason. Nick sprang over and helped his brothers hold the guys against the wall before hospital security finally broke up the fight.

The hospital coudn’t exactly kick out the Exagrio boys. After all, all three now had head injuries. They were all technically patients now. Before the boys sat back down, Nick gave back the jacket to the angry Arizonian and apologized for taking it. He decided it was best to leave the apology there and not go into stripping the guy’s dead father in the middle of the street in the middle of the day.

There was actually a shortage of ice packs in the hospital, so the three boys had to tend to their head injuries with bags of frozen peas. Nick wondered if the peas on his head would still be cooked and served to the patients.

Then Jason started laughing. “She still carries a wooden spoon in her purse,” he said.

Then Alex started laughing. “Can’t say I’m shocked about that. She still knows how to swing that thing too.”

Then Nick started laughing. “What else do you think she still carries in there. You think she still has those little candies she would give us when we behaved?”

“No, I gave up giving you those a long time ago,” their mother said.

“Any word on dad?” Jason asked.

“He’s been up and down,” she said. “Doctor won’t let him sleep more than a couple of hours, just in case. But he’s fine otherwise. Doctor keeps talking about how simple tomorrow’s surgery is going to be. I think he’ll be fine.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her bottle of headache pills. “The three of you. You’re good boys, but sometimes you give me the worst fucking headaches.”

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A Brief Justification for a Small Nuclear Holocaust

It works perfectly because I’m the last person on Earth anyone would suspect of possessing a nuclear weapon. I am a little worried though that I’ve gone past my sense of altruism and am now simply fascinated with killing that many people all at once. Like a mass evacuation from a wildfire that all emergency services completely lost control of, only no one will be sleeping in a YMCA.

The original spark of an idea came from when I read Watchmen. Okay, well, watched the movie, I never actually read the comic. I guess the comics had some weird psychic space squid kill a bunch of people. I can’t blame them from changing that to the movie. A mass nuclear explosion feels far more real. But it wasn’t the atomic explosion itself that inspired my new endeavour. Rather, why the true hero of the book, Ozymandias, decided that many people had to die.

Acquiring a nuclear weapons is remarkably easy. Well, if you watch the right documentaries, it’s remarkably easy. I watched a documentary on the Vice website and they were following some Middle Eastern arms dealers around, getting their stories and showing their relatable human side. Once such arms dealer was going to sell Osama bin Laden a nuclear bomb. Bin Laden went into hiding, and subsequently died, while this dealer was holding the bomb for him. He buried it in the garden of his back yard. He still had it when I emailed him.

The nice thing about working in information technology is that if it exists on the internet, I know how to find it. You average Netflix gawking and free porn wanking internet user wouldn’t have been able to find this guy’s contact information. Despite his appearance on the Vice documentary, I feel more comfortable giving this guy an alias. Let’s call him Walter. So, normal Google searches would never turn up Walter’s email address. But, there are a ton of websites that Google searches can’t reach. Most people call it the Dark Web and treat it like this ominous presence where only the strangest and most depraved content exists. Frankly, it’s mostly made up of conversation forums. Sure, those forums trade around some fucked up shit that either no one wants to see or will land you in jail. Otherwise, it’s pretty boring and most people who download an onion browser get bored within about thirty minutes.

Amongst the fucked up shit being traded around on some of these forums are quite sophisticated weapons. A lot of people speculate that this is how some independent research firms make extra side cash when military contracts aren’t paying enough. They also speculate that this is how said arms manufacturers dispose of weapon prototypes that their military contractors didn’t want. Speculation aside, with the right Tor browser and a few carefully placed keywords and I was balls deep in the world of international illegal arms deals.

Knowing that Walter was Arabic, I searched only Arabic forums. A buddy of mine developed a translator software that makes the Google translate app look like a Speak-and-Spell. He wouldn’t tell me how exactly he wrote it. All he would say is that it involved a lot of pirated copies of Rosetta Stone. However he put it together, it worked like a charm and the Arabic arms forums were easy to read and respond to. Everyone on the forums has a username that is 99.9 per cent of the time, not their actual names, so it’s not as if I could just search Walter’s name on the forum to find his contact info. I needed to entice him. I knew that some fundamentalist jargon would come off like an undercover cop, and mentioning bin Laden would only arise more suspicion in me. Knowing that the NSA or any other policing and security agency would never be able to trace these posts back to me, I decided just to go for it straight-ahead.

Wanted: Nuclear Weapons

That was my entire post. Anyone who saw it and had something to offer me could see my forum handle Thompson2929 (yes, I am part of the 0.1 per cent who decided to use part of his real name, but when you have a seriously common name like Thompson, there isn’t a ton to worry about not to mention it’s a name that doesn’t arise a lot of suspicion without it being a dumb name like Boneshredder6969). If you clicked my username, it would bring you to a profile page which included some secure contact information using onion email servers and encrypted messaging apps.

The forum had a few commenters making fun of my post and telling me my search is pointless and that cops like me needed to learn how to work forums better. Two days passed before I got a message from a scrambled number. The message said, “How do I know you’re not CIA?” I thought about all the cop shows I watched where the undercover had to snort a line of coke to prove to the gangsters he wasn’t a cop. That assumption that a cop would never do drugs if he was undercover always seemed so dumb to me. But it’s an assumption that creeps into the real world.

“Send me something that no cop would ever possess,” the message continued.

I’m still not proud of what I did, but I knew being this deep in I had to go all the way. I hopped back on the onion browser, found a kiddie porn forum, used some bitcoin to buy a few photos, and I sent them to Walter. The fact that it took me all of three minutes to buy those photos isn’t what disturbs me so much. It’s how many people were on those forums. Thousands, all exchanging different photos and videos. I won’t go into what I bought and sent over, but it was enough that it made me want to buy a few more nukes.

Walter bought that I wasn’t a cop. The photos did the trick and I did what I could to try and drive the image of them out of my brain. Nothing has worked to help me forget yet. We got messaging back and forth about what I wanted and he asked me if I saw the Vice documentary. I told him yes and he told me how he still has the same nuke and he’s eager to get it off of his hands.

“One million.”

I didn’t doubt the bomb was worth that much, but even on my six-figure salary I couldn’t afford that. I tried negotiating him down, but he was firm on the price.

“One million,” he wrote again. “I won’t take any less than one million dinar.”

Dinar is the Iraqi currency and even with the American dollar tanking as bad as it was, it was still worth a lot more than the dinar. A quick Google search showed me that one million dinar would be around $900. Suddenly, I felt bad, like I was ripping him off because he didn’t know any better. I even sent him a message telling him I did the calculation and asking why he didn’t want more. In short, he told me with his original buyer dead and no one else really wanting one, it was completely useless to him and was just taking up space. It was more of a burden to him now and he wanted it off his hands. Feeling bad, I sent him an even thousand in bitcoins. He was grateful and asked me for a postage address.

“Wait, you’re going to mail it?” I messaged. “How are you going to mail it?”

“What, you think there’s no post offices in Iraq?”

“No, I know there are post offices. But it’s a nuclear weapon. How do you mail one of those?”

“Just trust me. It’s a powerful weapon, but it’s actually not that big. I’ve mailed bigger.”

I wasn’t even thinking about the size of the package. I looked around at my studio apartment and down at my Fiat and panicked trying to figure out where I was going to put a nuclear bomb once it was here. I messaged Walter back asking how a package from Iraq to America was going to get through without thorough inspections. He told me he has friends all over and that he would mail it to one friend, who would then mail it to another friend, and so on until it arrived. It all has to do with safe mailing zones.

He wouldn’t give me the exact locations, but basically a package from Iraq can go to Lebanon, who can then send it to Greece, who then send it to Switzerland, who then send it to England, who then send it to the States. The distances are so short that they don’t get inspected as thoroughly and each of the previous countries are considered enough of an ally that the worry level is low. It took about four months, but the package arrived to the post office two towns over. I bought a P.O. Box there for this very package and any subsequent questionable package I might order.

Walter was right about one thing, it wasn’t that big. The box was about the size and weight of a fridge. All over, fragile stickers were pasted until there was barely any brown cardboard left. I thought for a moment about what would have happened if even a single mail carrier decided not to read the warnings.

It was pointless to bring it back to my apartment. I couldn’t imagine trying to carry it up the stairs to my studio. So I had myself already packed for my trip south. The package fit perfectly into the back of my Fiat. I had to put down the back seats, I could barely see through my back window, and I could feel the shocks on my back wheels drop, but it was in there comfortably.

In Watchmen, Ozymandias sets off his destruction in New York City. In a lot of comics, New York City seems like the centre of the universe. It just seemed too easy to me. Plus the city has such a massive population and it’s such a big city, I felt like the destruction just wouldn’t be felt as much. I even think the 9-11 attacks might have been more impactful if it hit a smaller town. Three thousand people is the entire populations of some towns in the south, and those are some of the bigger towns. New York was just too obvious.

San Antonio Texas is about 745 square miles. One megaton of nuclear explosion will have a blast radius of around eight square miles. The nuclear fallout will run for a few more miles outward depending on the wind, so I will definitely want to be completely out of the city once the blast goes off. Thankfully the bomb in the back of my car has a timer so I’ll be able to set it for long enough ahead that I’ll be out of the state before the explosion. I won’t be able to get completely home, it’s about a thirteen hour drive from my apartment to San Antonio, but I’ll be far enough out that nothing should affect me.

Is it odd that my entire thirteen hour drive I wasn’t once worried about my cargo? I mean, I was worried about being rear-ended and having the bomb go off prematurely. But the highways between states were quiet and the regular check-stops were quick to get through. I’m white, so the military patrol didn’t stop me. I’m not considered a threat to national security. I got the odd question about what was in the back of my car and I would tell them it was a refrigerator and that I bought it on a really good deal during an out of state shopping trip. Without a second question or any further inspection, I was free to go. There were plenty of cars that had been pulled out and torn apart by the military patrol. Families handcuffed with their faces in the dirt, kids with rifle barrels pressed against the sides of their heads. A few years back, there would have been outrage and protests and social media posts with graphic photos and videos. Now, it’s just Tuesday.

I slept in my car once I made it to San Antonio. I had one cop knock on my window and ask me why I was sleeping in my car. I explained to him I just had a long drive and needed some shut eye before I kept going. He asked why I didn’t stay in a hotel and I frankly I was honest with him. I told him I didn’t want to spend the money. It’s not as if I don’t have money, I just don’t like spending it. He seemed to understand. He asked about the giant box in the back of the car and I gave him the fridge story. He told me he was happy that I pulled over to sleep and that he had seen a lot of accidents from people falling asleep at the wheel. I liked this cop for a few moments. After I dropped off the bomb and I was driving out of the city, I saw the same cop with about a dozen others beating on a group of people in the middle of the street. He was using his night stick to beat on a woman and used his free hand to grab at her hijab. I don’t know if he was able to rip it off.

I picked San Antonio for a couple of reasons. It’s fairly well populated, like the seventh most populated city in America, it’s the closest major Texas city to the Mexican border and just a few miles up Highway 35 from Laredo where one of the most brutal detention centres across the Mexican border wall still sits, but the city also has one of the most emotionally charged American monuments and that’s exactly where I left the giant box in the back of my car.

The Alamo didn’t have a parking lot. But, there was some underground parking a few blocks away. I figured it would be close enough to get my points across. There was also a car rental shop just a couple blocks from where I parked my car. It was perfect. I said goodbye to my Fiat, which I did love but would eventually report as stolen and the wreckage from the blast site was so vast that nothing was recognizable, let alone a sub-compact car left in a parkade. I would get enough from my insurance from it being stolen that I could afford to buy another without dipping too much into my back account. But I did love that car.

From one car to another, I got a Volks Wagon Bug from the rental shop, left San Antonio, and drove west rather than the North that would take me home. I set enough time on the bomb that I would be far enough away by the time the blast happened. I followed Highway 10 and stopped in El Paso, eight hours exact before the bomb went off. I was sitting on the patio of a small cafe when the explosion happened. I imagined it would come on the TV news, but all I had to do was look east and I could see the mushroom could climbing upwards into the sky. I measured the bomb, based on its size, at about one megaton. It turned out to be one-hundred megatons. 800 square miles, gone in a flash. San Antonio was completely wiped off the map.

Towards the end of Watchmen, Ozymandias gives Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, and Silver Spectre an explanation as to why he wanted to kill so many people in New York City. Ozymanias wasn’t an evil person, in fact he was the smartest person on Earth in the comic. In the story, America and the Soviet Union come extremely close to complete nuclear war. A war, Ozymandias knew, would cost billions of people their lives. The two countries were perfect ideological enemies and with every inch closer they came to nuclear war, Ozymandias knew he had to make a tough decision that no one else would be brave enough to make or smart enough to conceive. He made a new enemy. An enemy that both warring sides could agree to fight against. A uniting force in the most common base language humans can understand: mass violence. That’s why San Antonio isn’t on the map anymore.

One country was attempting to marginalize and abuse people who make up a very large chunk of the world’s population. It’s not even one religion or one region’s immigrant population that they completely demonized. So many people were falling under the fist of an unjust martial law in this country and it was only a matter of time before all of these countries that America named as enemies would band together and perpetrate acts of war much worse than what I did. I made sure that none of these countries could be blamed for what happened in San Antonio. I made sure a whole new enemy was created that could unite more people together. But, as I watched the mushroom cloud in the distance, I had my first pang of doubt. What if this would create a witch hunt? What if someone tried to claim responsibility? What would media report on? What would government officials accept as truth? These were all questions I should have been asking myself before I bought a nuclear weapon. But it was too late. However history would play out from here was out of my control, but I also had to own it. I didn’t have to own it for anyone else. But I needed to own it for myself.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t watched the footage on repeat for hours on end. I would watch and wonder how many of those people who died were murderers, rapists, child killers, pedophiles, drug dealers, crooked cops, corrupt politicians, or greedy businessmen who would make sure to take the jewelry off of their dead mother before calling an ambulance. There’s something satisfying about knowing I wiped off that percentage of people off of the Earth in one fell swoop, even if it is only 0.014 per cent of the global population. It felt good, like when you eat an entire pizza all in one sitting. Just full and complete. It’s an amazing feeling. Until I remember how many decent people died right along with the horrible ones. I try to keep the thought out of my head. It kills my buzz.

To go along with my nuclear explosion, I wrote a manifesto and put it online and shared it through plenty of anonymous social media channels. It outlined that I destroy and kill for no ideology or political gain, that I merely like to watch the world burn. I am driven by nothing else but my own evil intentions and enjoy the suffering and fear of millions. People bought it fast. Within days, it had over a million hits. My onion email started receiving offers from Google Adwords it was gaining hits so fast. I made myself an invisible enemy that the world over can target. They’ll stop aiming at each other and start aiming at me.

I wrote this explanation for when they finally figure out I was behind it all. I figured that someone deserved the real story behind what happened in Texas. If whoever finds this is smart, you’ll hide it. If you’re even smarter, you’ll know when’s the right time to release this and correct the history books. As much as this needed to happen and its reasons needed to be kept on that supervillain level, there are still a lot of good people in the world who deserve a real explanation as to why so many died that day. I’m sure there’ll be a right time to tell the truth without undoing any good that would have come of this.

If you’re reading this, chances are I’m dead now. Given the same Seal Team Six treatment that bin Laden got. As innocuous and invisible someone like me tends to be, I’ll make a mistake somewhere.

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Rabbits

There were rabbits running down the street. They were slipping on the ice as they dodged the oncoming headlights. I only saw one at first. But as it darted, a second shot out from in front of one of the houses, and then a third. The car slowed down and let the rabbits scurry and change their direction before the car picked up its pace again and pulling into a nearby driveway. I found myself rooting for the rabbits. I cheered them on as they fled from the oncoming danger. I obviously didn’t cheer out loud. But in my head, I was screaming my full support for their survival.

This isn’t an odd occurrence for my evening walks. The rabbit population in my neighbourhood has been booming the past few years. This unfortunately has also resulted in a few more coyotes wandering around my block, much braver than the cowardly canines should be. One particularly brazen coyote tried digging under one of my neighbour’s fences while their pug was in their yard. Normally, a coyote would dart at the sight of a human. This one didn’t. It stared at me as I yelled at it and waved my arms. I didn’t actually want to hurt the coyote, despite the threat it posed to the neighbourhood pets. But it didn’t get the hint either that it wasn’t particularly welcome on our block.

With no immediate signs of any predators, be it vehicular or wild canine, I continued my walk assuming a safe evening for the rabbits I was watching. The wind was cold but the day had seen a warm thaw, leaving sheets of ice along most of the walkways. The majority of the walk had been a quiet and successful trek through the area until shortly after my foray as a cheerleader for three rabbits. The animals must have still been on my mind as I stepped down onto some of the slickest and smoothest ice I had ever encountered. I imagined it must have been what hockey rink ice was like, though I had never played a sport in my life – hence my severely poor coordination with something as simple as walking.

The fall itself jolted my heart and gave mine a quick shot of adrenaline, which is why I heard the crack long before I felt the crack. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t exactly feel where it went wrong. I laid on the ice for a few moments, trying to recompose myself, when I heard a collection of steps coming my way.

“Are you okay?” I heard a voice say. I looked up to see three teenaged boys, all holding hockey sticks in one hand and tied up skates in another. There was a hockey rink nearby I remembered.

“I think so,” I said, trying to sit up.

“I wouldn’t move, man, I think you’re hurt,” the same boy said. He had on a yellow jersey. He looked back to his friend in a green jersey. “Call 9-1-1, I think this old guy’s really hurt.”

Old guy is a relative term. I was thirty when I took this spill. I wanted to say something about not being that old, but I didn’t think that was top of mind for any of the young guys looking to help me at that moment. I guess I was old relatively speaking. But thee guys couldn’t have been any younger than eighteen. That’s only a twelve year difference. I wouldn’t have called a forty-two year old an old guy.

The kid in the yellow jersey kept talking to me until the ambulance arrived. The third kid, also in a yellow jersey but had goalie pads on, didn’t do much. Perhaps as a goaltender he was used to standing back and letting the forwards take care of the bigger tasks at hand. I’m sure he would have successfully blocked anyone else trying to walk by. When the ambulance arrived, the adrenaline wore off and I could feel exactly what cracked when I fell. I could also see it as the bone was sticking out from my elbow a good three inches, The EMT had a puke bucket ready for me when I saw my humerus up close.

Being called old guy bothered me the whole ambulance ride to the hospital. Once the EMT had me hooked up to the pain mess for the ride, the pieces of my elbow sticking out from my arm stopped bothering me. Worse, when the doctors left me in my hospital room, I was stuck facing a giant mirror. At thirty years old, I was pretty grey. From the hair in my beard to what was left of the hair on my head, the salt severely outnumbered the pepper.

“Mr. Logan, your son is here,” the nurse said as my boyfriend walked into the room giggling. Jason was three years older than I was but his hairline was still practically at his eyebrows, his clean-shaven face flaunted his perfected chiselled jawline, and there wasn’t a speck of grey anywhere on him. Even his grey t-shirt magically turned a darker tone when he put it on, prompting people to call it chrome or charcoal over grey.

“Well, old man,” Jason smiled, flashing his perfect teeth that I hated I’m for having so much. He never smoked. I smoked like a French filmmaker all through college and into my twenties. Walking was supposed to help me quit and stay off the nicotine. I never wanted a cigarette more in my life.

“When did I become the old one?” I whined.

“You got your father’s genes,” Jason said, and he was right. My dad was 28 when he turned grey. I literally have no memories of him with any colour in any of his hair. “Whatever, you pull off the salt and pepper. It’s hot.”

“Sorry, since the comparison to my dad, all I hear in there is you think my dad’s hot,” I said, looking back into the mirror. “And I think I’m more of a frosted donut and salt and pepper.”

My elbow required surgery to repair the immense damage a quick fall on the ice caused. The doctor informed me healing would take anywhere from six weeks to six months and I would need some intensive physical therapy afterward. He asked if my work required both of my hands, if I worked some sort of manual labour or if my work involved complicated computer work. Thankfully, my work involved neither.

For as boring as my work was, it was the whole reason I met Jason. He was running a tech startup whose books were held together with elastic bands and written mostly in red crayon. I was brought in to go through the finances and be able to present some sort of financial record that wouldn’t get him in trouble with the tax collectors. Shortly after we finished that project, we had our first official date. We’ve been living together since.

After letting the doctor know I was mostly self-employed and could do most of my work with one arm, I thought about how I met Jason and our history together. It was the most old-man and boring way a relationship could start. Even the work I did for him when we first met stunk with boring old man. I wasn’t a fellow cool tech entrepreneur helping develop the newest mobile app. That was Jason through-and-through. I was the boring accountant who made the numbers presentable. The whole drive home with Jason after my surgery, I wondered what happened to me?

The car pulled into the garage and leaning against the wall on the passenger side was my old longboard. I thought about how much I used to ride it. I remembered going on beer runs while I was in college, half-pissed and somehow balancing myself on a wooden plank with wheels while holding a twelve pack of bottles. It seemed like such an insurance liability as I thought about it standing in the garage with my sore arm in a sling. But back then, it was simple: we needed beer, my longboard was my only mode of transport, so I went.

“You’re not thinking about riding that, are you?” Jason asked.

“Obviously not until my cast is off,” I said. “But it would be nice, even just to ride along some trails during the summer.”

“They had to rebuild your elbow after you slipped on some ice,” Jason smiled. “I hate to think what you would break after falling off that.

Jason was a gym rat but found my apprehension towards physical activity cute. He would rub my belly and tell me I was the perfect pillow to lie on. But I envied Jason’s physique. It’s why I started taking long walks at night to begin with. It helped me keep my brain and it was my baby-step towards a more active lifestyle. At least that’s what I frequently read on the websites for fat guys wanting to get in shape but too lazy to actually change anything about their lives.

It would be a few weeks before I restarted my nightly ritual of long walks. I didn’t miss the physical aspect of it. Just the solitary aspects of it. It felt like unplugging from life, getting away from emails and comment-feeds and the constant noise of life for a few minutes. No light from any screens, only from the streetlights I walked under. The only noises were from my footsteps and the wind rustling through the trees. The walks were peaceful and that’s what I craved.

Physical therapy had been going well and the ice had almost completely melted off every surface I could walk along. I rationalized that I could reconvene with my walks and Jason, with some apprehension, gave his blessing to allow me some time to disconnect. He understood my need for that solitary time, despite his extreme extroverted personality. He knew my walks were good for my mental health and I had been growing stir-crazy being in the house every night.

My arm was out of the cast but I still couldn’t extend it or bend it with my arm tensing up and sharp shooting pains running through my arm and into my neck. I kept my arm as stationary as I could while I went on this first walk in what felt like years before I left the house and felt like only yesterday once I was out of the house. I could smell the dew from the melted snow on the lawns across the neighbourhood and the sky was glowing a bright pink with the sunset.

About three blocks away from my house I encountered the rabbits again. All three of them. They were darting away from a yard and into the street. I looked around for any oncoming cars, worried that I had scared the rabbits and caused them to jump out into the road and to an early end. There were no cars and I quickly learned that it wasn’t me they were running from. Chasing closely behind was a coyote, his eyes fixed on his running meal. The predator was closing the gap between itself and its meal more with every stride it took down the empty street.

I watched and thought about the last time I saw the rabbits. I remembered not just cheering them on, but feeling for them. Feeling their anxiety and fear of the danger that lies all around them. As I’ve grown older, everything started making me nervous and scared. The brazen bravery that comes with youth fluttered away and I hadn’t even noticed. Just one day, before I had time to even process it, I was a terrified rabbit hiding under bushes and running from the headlights of cars and terrified of the predators that could be lurking in the shadows all around me. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore and I wanted my fellow rabbits to survive for another day.

The coyote’s stride was steady enough that I could catch up relatively quickly. I ran after it, like I was a predator in my own right. I was no long the terrified rabbit, I was the brazen coyote chasing after my prey, only I wasn’t looking to feed. I only wanted my own kind of survive.

We ran for another two block before the coyote turned around and lunged at me. Its teeth dug into my arm and tore through the flesh ad pierced the muscle inside. I cried out and flung my arm, feeling the weight of the coyote against my forearm and the tension against the bone causing it to bend, fracture, and then break. My other arm reached out and grabbed the coyote by the scruff of its neck and I wrestled it to the ground, but its jaws were locked, it tasted blood, and it wasn’t letting go.

“Hey!” I heard someone yell out followed by a loud clapping sound against the concrete road. The coyote let its grip loose and turned to run away. I watched a tennis ball fly past me and connect with the coyote’s backside and it ran even faster off into the darkness.

I looked back to see the three hockey playing kids again. I looked down to see the arm the coyote grabbed was the same that was still healing from my last walk. My head was feeling light and my other arm had to hold me up as I sat on the road. “Do one of you mind calling me an ambulance again?” I said.

As I lay in the very same hospital room as the last time, letting the pain killers and the rabies shot and the tetanus shot run their courses through my body, I thought about Jason. He would laugh at the forty stitches needed to close up the gaping wound in my arm. I remembered once when he fell off his bike and split open his knee and he needed three stitches and we thought it was a serious wound. Mine looked like a shark-bite in comparison. I knew he would be worried about me and would want to start accompanying me on my evening walks, despite my protests of just needing some quiet time.

And I thought about our conversation after my last surgery. I really was looking forward to picking up my old longboard during the summer and remembering the sensation of travelling down the road with no protection on a piece of wood with wheels. But I doubt I would be able to muster the courage to even step on it, let along make a trek for a case of beer on it. But most of all, I wondered if the nurse would assume that Jason was my son.

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Coupland

They pulled me out and all I could think about was my wife. The sweat dripping down my face burned my eyes and I could feel my sticking along my forehead. But I didn’t remember having hair. I had just shaved my head. My hairline was receding so my wife convinced me to shave it all off, saying a bald man looked better than a balding man. Her words convincing me to shave my head and the first time she helped me with the razor cleaning off what was left of my hair gripped my mind as I pushed the rogue strands of hair away from my face.

“Coupland,” I heard a man say. “Coupland, are you with us?”

“His brain’s still submerged,” a woman’s voice said. “We pulled him out too fast.”

Everything was a blur. Like the sun was pulled out of the sky and sitting in front of my face. A glaring light blared into my eyes and it took a few moments before I could make out any shapes.

“Coupland,” the man’s voice repeated. “Coupland, focus on my voice, Coupland.”

“Who’s Coupland?” I mustered enough focus and strength to grit out between my teeth.

“You’re Coupland,” the man’s voice continued. “Coupland Wilson. That’s your name. Is that familiar to you?”

The name was ringing something in my mind. But I was also trying to hold onto the image of my wife. It was slipping. I was losing some of her features. I couldn’t remember her eye colour.

“Where’s my wife?” it was becoming easier to speak.

“Coupland, you don’t have a wife,” the man’s voice said.

“Yes, I do!” I shouted back. “We’ve been married for thirty years! We have two kids together and a grandchild on the way!”

“What’s your wife’s name?” the man’s voice asked.

I didn’t have an answer. My wife’s name, my kids’ names, even the names we were considering for our first grandchild. Or was it our second? It was all slipping. Like waking from a vivid dream and trying to remember all the small details. I was losing more and more of her every second.

My eyes adjusted to the light and I focused in on the two people standing in the room with me. One man and one woman. The man was balding but let the salt and pepper hair on the sides grow out a little. I immediately thought about my hair but couldn’t remember if I let it grow out or kept it shaved. The woman was older, maybe in her 40s, but at that point I could have sworn I was in my sixties. She was holding a clipboard. I recognized them both.

“His pupils are dilating properly,” she shined a bright light into my eyes. “He’s focussing as well. I think he’s finally fully out of submersion.”

“Coupland,” the man knelt down beside where I sitting. “Do you know where you are?”

The name came to me fast, like every important name I was losing was being replaced with the names of what I wanted to forget. “Delton Rec Labs,” I answered.

“That’s right,” the man said. I remembered his name. Michael Gartner. He was the salesperson who sold me the package. I looked to the woman and she busily scribbled notes on her clipboard. I remembered her name too. Doctor Vanessa Taryn. We were introduced just before I went in. She was the staff neurologist. She was there to make sure I came back to reality okay.

“Okay, Coupland,” Gartner continued. “Try to stand up and walk. There is a physician here if you can’t feel your legs. That’s quite common. You’ve been submerged for a while.”

“How long?” I asked.

“Just over…” Gartner’s voice trailed off as he looked at the screens hovering above me. “Three hours.”

Three hours. That’s how much time I actually spent with her. It felt like a lifetime. Dating, living together, marriage, kids growing up, her parents dying, my parents dying. I think she got sick too. Cancer was it? I remember sitting at the hospital with her. Holding her hand. I remember holding her and crying when the doctor told us she was better. I don’t remember what the doctor looked like. All I can pull from my memory is a white lab coat. Three hours. That’s all I actually had with her.

“Not the longest we’ve ever had,” Gartner smiled. “But, we’re hoping the longest without any long-term side-effects.”

Side effects. That’s how I was able to get this package. Virtual vacations were usually reserved for the exceptionally rich. I was far from any kind of wealth. But they offered free vacations for anyone willing to risk being an experiment. They could only improve and enhance the services with human subjects. Rats and dogs didn’t exactly react to the stimuli the same way humans did.

The more that came back to me, the less I wanted any of it and the more I wanted to go back to my wife.

Gartner and Dr. Taryn unhooked all of the medical readout instruments that were strapped to me and I stood up, losing my balance at first and falling to my knees. After a couple more tries, I was able to stand on my feet and I was slowly led out of the room and into another room with a single table and two chairs, one on either side.

Dr. Taryn ran through some questions with me about my life. While she spoke, I remembered filling out a questionnaire with all of the same questions. All questions about my life, where I live, who my parents were. It was all back and I could answer the questions, but some took me a while to find the answer. I had to dig through my memory, figure out what was real and what I was remembering from the vacation. A lot of it was muddling together. The more we talked, the easier it was to place what was real and what wasn’t. But there were definite moments when my real life and my virtual life became indistinguishable.

Because the experiment was a success, they gave me an honorarium. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough that I didn’t have to worry about hustling for a few weeks. I looked around the streets outside of Delton Rec Labs and tried to remember which way was my apartment. I remembered it was a short walk and I recognized a few of the alleys I would sell pills near. After about twenty minutes of wandering, I found my building. It was dark out and one of storefront windows in the building reflected back at me. I didn’t recognize my reflection at first, the dark hair hanging along my forehead, the stubble all around my face, even my eyes looked weird to me. I thought they were blue. But they looked more green to me in that reflection.

There were a lot of cards in my wallet, but the only one I wanted was my keycard to get into the building. I sorted through the credit cards, gym membership card, buyers club cards for the grocery store and IKEA and GameStop, and I found the keycard into the building. It was behind my employee ID. I worked at Delton Rec Lab. That must have been how I heard they needed test subjects. Probably posted over the urinals at the office. This is where the confusion really hit. If I worked at Delton Rec Labs, why was I selling pills?

The answer came when I got into my apartment. They forgot to warn me about the nausea. I got through the front door and instinctively ran to the bathroom, where I didn’t even make it to the toilet before I was throwing up. Most of it got into the sink and I checked the cabinet behind the mirror to see if I had anything that would help this feeling that the room was spinning and my stomach was turning itself inside out. I found nine prescription bottles. Each one was for something different: diazepam, thorazine, fluvoxamine, trazodone, lorazepam, nizatidine, cimetidine, Percocet, and morphine. There was no way I could be taking all of these. I wondered which I was selling.

After cleaning up the bathroom, I wandered around the apartment, remembering where I left everything. I didn’t have a TV, but I thought I did. Most people didn’t own TVs anymore, so I don’t know why I thought I would have had one. Maybe me in the vacation simulation had a TV. I checked out the fridge only to find bottles of beer, a Chinese food takeout box that smelled awful, and some moldy pizza. I felt like I didn’t usually let my fridge, or any part of my apartment, get this bad. Could I have been submerged a little longer than they were letting on? My coffee table had a thick layer of dust, my closet didn’t have a lot of clothes in it, I didn’t even notice a toothbrush when I was in the bathroom.

My pocket vibrated and I pulled out my phone. The call display said Sofia. I couldn’t remember if I knew anyone named Sofia. “Hello?” I answered the phone.

“Are you done playing lab rat?” a shrill voice came over phone.

“Yeah,” I answered. “Sorry, who is this?”

“The fuck?” her voice climbed high. “Did using that virtual vacation shit fuck with your brain? It’s Sofia. You’re fucking girlfriend,” she annunciated slowly. “Where are you?”

“My apartment?” I answered.

“What the fuck are you doing there?” she spat out fast enough that it could have been one word. “You haven’t been there in weeks. Your stash run dry?”

“Yeah,” I played, trying to understand what was going on. It didn’t take long to surmise she meant my pill stash. I guess I just used this place to store my overstock. “Just grabbing a couple of refills.”

“Can you grab some extra thorazine and Percocet?” she asked. “I got some eager buyers.”

Wandering again through the streets, I slowly pieced together which way was Sofia’s apartment. It wasn’t too far from my apartment, but the neighbourhood seemed drastically different. The Delton Rec Labs and my apartment building was in a downtown, urbanized area. There were tall buildings all around and neon lights glowing and LED screens blaring out advertisements for deodorant and tampons and condoms. But those few blocks to Sofia’s apartment was like crossing into a whole other continent. I felt unsafe and it worried me. My memories slowly recollected and I knew I had been here hundreds of times and that I slept more often here than I did at my own place. This time, though, was different. The broken out windows and boarded up doors along the buildings spray-painted with bright coloured tags looked completely foreign to me. The smell of human waste in the alleyways and sounds of snoring and groaning homeless only added to my unease. I thought that I wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.

Sofia’s apartment had thicker layers of dust on all her surfaces than my apartment did. There were empty bottles on the dining room table and all along the kitchen countertops. A baseball bat leaned next to the front door. A thick stench of smoke and body odour hung all around. “What took you so long?” she said as I came in through the doorway.

“Had some problems remembering how to get here,” I said.

“That shit really fucked with your brain, didn’t it?” she continued. “You make more money selling pills than you do working at that place. I don’t know why you don’t just quit, stop playing lab rat for those fucks, and hustle full time. It’s easy.”

I immediately felt repulsed by her. It wasn’t her looks, she was pretty. Her attitude, her aura, her energy, all that new-agey bullshit I never thought I would trust is what bothered me. As more memories and moments flooded back to me, I realized I was less her boyfriend and more her supplier. I had been realizing that, even before I submerged. Maybe that’s why I volunteered. A chance to get away from all of it, even if only for three hours.

“I can’t quit,” I said. “I quit, I lose my benefits, which means we lose our stash. And I don’t think either of us wants to start paying the pharmacist for these pills. Cuts into that profit margin.”

She popped open a yellow bottle and popped a couple of pills and swallowed them dry. “Right,” she said after she finished swallowing. “Definitely need that. It’s too bad. We could fuck all day and hustle all night.”

“Right, romantic,” I said, reaching into my pocket and handing her the pills she asked for.

“What the fuck’s gotten into you?” she took the bottles. “If I suggested that yesterday, or fuck, even this morning, you would have been all over that and trying to rip my clothes off.”

A sudden urge to ask something I had never asked anyone before suddenly came over me. “Do you want to go to the beach?”

“The beach? Are you fucking kidding?” she chuckled. “There’s no beaches around here. I can’t even name where there is a single beach. Who the fuck are you? Are you still fucking dreaming or something?”

No beaches. Somewhere in me, I could still smell the salt water in the air, feel the sun on my bare arms, hear waves running up along the shore. Had I never actually been to the beach before? I looked outside the window and watched the neon lights flicker against the grey sky and wet concrete. These signs never turned off. All night the glow of advertisements breaking through the window, waking people up to enticement of cheap sex, bad food, and useless junk that would be collecting dust or at the bottom of a landfill in just a few days. I didn’t want any of this. I wanted the beach.

My phone rang and I saw the name Gartner on the call display. “Hey, Coupland,” Gartner began. “We noticed some very interesting things on your brain scan and we’d like you to come back for some further experiments. I know this is sudden and unexpected, but we can schedule these tests whenever works best for you.”

I took another look around the apartment, at Sofia, the pills in her hands, I played with the bottle of pills still in my pocket. “How about right now?” I asked.

“Are you sure?” Gartner replied. “I mean, this is highly irregular. Typically we need a week between submersions. But your scans are showing no long term defects or hazards, so we won’t say no so long as you’re sure.”

“Completely sure,” I said, hanging up the phone. I reached into my pocket and threw Sofia my keys and the other bottle of pills. “It’s all yours,” I said. “I don’t want this anymore.”

“You’re breaking up with me?” her eyes didn’t show sadness. They showed anger. We had no emotional connection. I was her hook up. She was my physical outlet. I didn’t like that anymore. I didn’t want that.

“Something like that,” I said, walking to the door. “Take whatever you want from the apartment.”

“What, you’re abandoning it?”

“I guess so,” the truth was, I didn’t want her finding me after this. Whatever would come after my next submersion, I wanted to make sure I didn’t go back to this life. It showed me something. I could be something else. I may have once wanted this kind of life and revelled in it, but something awoke and I knew I needed to find something else.

“So you’ll just live in your fantasy world forever now?”

“Yeah,” I said, walking through the doorway. “Something like that.”

I took a brief physical before sitting back into the chair. The same medical monitoring devices were hooked up to me. I thought that maybe the last time I did this, I would have been nervous. But this time, I was relaxed. I was excited. I was happy.

“So, are we uploading the same program file for my submersion?” I asked.

Gartner smiled. “I was hoping you would ask that,” he said. “There was no program in your submersion. We didn’t simulate or implant anything. That’s what the real experiment was. We wanted to see what would happen if we stimulated your own mind to create what should have been your vacation. In your case, from what it sounded like, you created a whole new life for yourself. That was especially interesting to us. We had never seen that before. Everything you experienced was from your own mind.”

I open my eyes and we’re lying on a beach. The warm sand under my back and scrunched between my toes tells me it’s morning. We fell asleep here. I sit up and watch the water for a moment. Its calm and the waves are slow. The smell of salt water fills the warm air and the sun is beaming down on us.

She rustles a bit and opens here eyes and the peer directly at me. She smiles and I smile back, and we both yawn, stretching our arms still sticky with sweat and caked with sand.

“I can’t believe we slept here all night,” she says. And she’s perfect. Everything about her is absolutely perfect.

“Are you even real?” I ask. “How can someone so… perfect, be real?”

Her eyebrow raises and she chuckles. “What’s that supposed to mean? You think you’re dreaming? Or I’m a figment of your imagination?”

“No…” I trail off, staring at the water again. “I don’t know. Just a weird feeling I guess.”

I lie back down and she rests beside me. Her head nestles in her favourite spot, right where my arm meets my shoulder. “Reassure me this isn’t a dream,” I say. “What’s your name?”

She sits up and looks at me. “What?” she’s smiling. It’s like she never isn’t smiling and I never want her to stop smiling. “You are so weird sometimes.”

“Just humour me,” I continue. “Tell me your name.”

She leans in and kisses me on the check. And, into my ear, she gently whispers her name.

 

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Jesus works in a Coffee Shop

“Will that be French-press or drip?” the son of god asked. I almost forgot my order. Not because I was standing in front of the second coming of the messiah. But because I could see crumbs in his beard. He was eating a scone as my wife and I walked in the cafe.

“Uh, drip,” I answer. “And I need a cappuccino as well.” My wife was sitting at the table. It was hard to find a seat at this cafe. Not because Jesus himself was making the coffee. But because it was in a trendy part of town, the only cafe that served fair-trade coffee, and offered almond milk as a cream substitute.

“You got it,” he smiled, punching in my order. As he told me my total, I noticed the praying hands tattoo on the side of his neck. Most of his tattoos were bad, but I thought that one was too ironically self-referential.

The image of Christ from church growing up popped into my head as I carried the coffees to the table. Every painting and dramatic re-enactment always had a pasty-white, blue-eyed, and sometimes blonde guy. But as I looked back to the man who just made my coffee, I realized how wrong those images were.

His long black hair was pulled back into a greasy ponytail, his deep brown eyes were barely hidden by his thick round rimmed glasses, and the black outlines of all of his tattoos still showed despite his natural dark complexion. The sleeves to his flannel were rolled up, showing off the prison-drawings of crosses, wings, halos, and sheep on his arms.

“Oh, how funny,” my wife chuckled as I handed her the cappuccino. I looked into her cup and saw our holy barista drew an Our Lady of Guadalupe in the foam. I was always impressed when the other baristas drew flowers in the foam. There was even one who could draw a sailboat. I had seen images of the virgin Mary in cups of coffee on click-bait articles my evangelical aunt shared on Facebook. This was the first time I had seen an intentional virgin Mary in a cup of coffee.

“Kind of, I don’t know, cheeky, don’t you think?” I asked my wife.

“Cheeky?” she looked up at me and laughed. “Are you an old British man now?”

“You know what I mean,” I blushed a little. “Like, he thinks he’s so cool and wants everyone to pay attention to him. But he works in a coffee shop.  If he’s so great, why isn’t he off saving the world?”

“Last time he tried that, they nailed him to a fucking tree,” my wife sipped her cappuccino. “Probably has some residual resentment from that.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, staring back at the son of god as he took another bite of his scone. “Or maybe he was a little overhyped and all the miracles he performed were just like, you know, drawing shit in the foam.”

My wife took a long sip of her cappuccino. “Yeah, but his coffee is nothing short of divine. The baristas here are good. But no one makes a cup of coffee like Jesus does.”

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The Fallacy of Focusing on National Figureheads

Vitriol is an odd thing. And I hate being the guy who writes about the “social media age” like it’s this thing that appeared in the last couple of years. Even before Facebook, early adopters of online communication remember the glory days of website forums, chat rooms, and other social media sites that existed long before we had the term social media (most people remember Myspace, fellow Edmontonians remember Nexopia). But, despite sounding like a clueless blogger, the social media age has reared an excessive amount of vitriol from the public. I’ve covered this before in other essays and it seems to be a topic I’m fixated on. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on it. Early adopters of forums can remember the all-caps ranters and trolls long before it became a topic of social media etiquette. It’s the focus and targets of this vitriol that’s fascinating me today.

The current US leader is obviously on the receiving end of a lot of this online aggression and that’s quickly becoming old news (though a lot of what’s going on around him continues to be fascinating), so I want to focus on my homeland of Canada, and specifically the current hate-campaigns towards our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my last open letter, I brushed on the fact that public opinion of him has been dropping. The online comments towards him and his activities have been looking more and more, well, American as of late. But he’s also been the target of some odd criticism.

One thing I’ve noted that he’s been criticized a lot about has been his international presence. The fact that he’s been an active diplomat for Canada has resulted in this odd argument that he doesn’t actually care about Canadians and he’s doing nothing for us. This is very odd for a lot of reasons. The first being that a major part of the job of Prime Minister is having that international diplomat presence. A world leader has to interact with the world.

The second odd thing about this is this assumption that if the Prime Minister is working on something international, then he’s clearly doing nothing domestic. The Federal Government is made up of a lot more people than just the Prime Minister. In fact, as of 2016, 258,979 people have been employed in some sort of Federal Public Service and 197,354 people are employed in that core administration of Federal Public Service. That’s a lot of people and believe me not all of them are working on the same international missions that Trudeau has been publicly working on. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that a very large majority of these 197,354 core administration and 258,979 Federal Public Service workers are focused on domestic issues.

There’s one very specific online incident that this brings to mind. There was a story that came out about a financial pledge Trudeau made for an international issue (what the issue was escapes me and at this time I’m having difficulty finding the exact story that was cited). The individual who posted about it expressed that the money that was being pledged for this international effort would be better used domestically for homeless issues. This would be a valid argument, if the current Federal Government wasn’t the first Federal Government in many years to be developing a national housing strategy. In fact, only weeks before this post came across my social media feed, the Federal Government released $12.6 billion to municipal foundations for affordable housing. Edmonton organizations alone received $18.2 million. Yet, this significant amount of funding wasn’t mentioned once during the entire social media based debate. All that was focused on was the fact that the Trudeau government was giving funds to other countries.

I could speculate endlessly about why important information about an issue that this individual obviously cares about would be so blatantly missed. It got plenty of news coverage, both online and on television, and plenty of elected officials took part in major public announcements. But, none of those elected officials were Prime Minister Trudeau.

Are we treating world leaders the way we treat celebrities now? Think about the way most people watch movies. The focus is placed on the major star power driving the film’s cast. Sometimes, we focus on the directly. Rarely, we focus on the writer. Sometimes there’s even a focus on the special effects studio. But never do we focus on set designers, make-up artists, production assistants, editors, grips, camera technicians, or the hundreds of other critical roles that go into a film. The same is becoming true for government. All we can see are the leaders, totally forgetting how much more goes into any governmental body.

If you’re looking to leaders to represent your interests, you’re looking in all the wrong places. Further, we don’t need leaders. We need representation. And this is how our governmental system is actually set up. Unless the leaders are picking fights with other countries or moving on motions that will drastically change the organizational structure of a country, the actions of the leaders are typically highly inconsequential.

The motions and activities that the government tends to move on stems from the local representatives: the Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament (MP), and on the provincial level the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Even the City Councils can have some sway with the Federal Government. That $16.2 billion being released for affordable housing organizations was a major ask by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is Chaired by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Leaders don’t typically make unilaterally decisions on motions and Acts.

Everything that goes through government stems from motions drafted by MPs and MLAs, which reflect the interest of their constituents. With this in mind, it can be argued that yelling at the Prime Minister or the Premier or the President over Facebook is kind of an utter waste of time. If you want to see real change being made in government, contact your local MLAs, MPs, and even City Councillors. They are the voices in the ear of governments and they are the one who actually spur change. Not the leaders.

I would argue something similar for our southern neighbours. By no means am I going to say something like, “Just give the guy a chance, he might be really good.” But, what I will stress is that you shouldn’t focus your attention on trying to get his attention. Instead, look to your back yard. Who is your senator? Your governor? Who represents you in Washington? Those are the questions you should be asking and those are the elected officials who you should be focusing your attention on. The guy in the White House will never hear you, never pay attention to you, and frankly does not care. But your local elected officials do care and they will hear you. Get your local governors and senators on your side and you can do a lot more in Washington than you ever could by criticizing anyone on Facebook.

Again, we don’t need leaders. We need representations. And that’s how our government is structured. But we keep forgetting that. If you want to create social change, stop looking to leaders and start looking in your back yard.

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An Open Letter to Kevin O’Leary

Dear Kevin O’Leary,

Just… Don’t…

Just… Fucking… Don’t…

Just… What the fuck are you doing? Seriously… What the fuck… Just… Fucking Don’t.

Okay, now that’s out of my system, I can get into my rhetorical analysis of you framed as the start of a dialogue that I know you’ll never actually respond to.

Have you seen the show Ascension? It was broadcast on CBC, the channel that made you (in)famous through its Dragon’s Den reality series. And I stress that it was Dragon’s Den that propelled you into the public spotlight, and not Shark Tank for two reasons. The first being your rivalry with Arlene Dickinson, which has apparently followed you into your new political life. The second being, and I may be going out on a limb with this, no American who watched Shark Tank still has any idea who you are or what you do. And I focus on CBC because the typical conservative of your ilk tends to believe that the CBC needs to be defunded and shut down.

I bring up Ascension as an example of a Canadian version of something that simply doesn’t measure up to what we typically consume for media produced by our southern neighbours. The show sort of starts out like CSI in space, but does move into some interesting territory as the mini-series progressed. It doesn’t have the cult following that similar shows like The Expanse has, and many would point solely to the fact that Ascension is a Canadian program as to why it didn’t perform as well as it could have. Even being broadcast on Syfy didn’t bolster the show the way other space operas (and in my opinion, sub-par space operas) like Killjoys and Dark Matter have been. There’s something about Canadian content that feels like Canadian content and we automatically assume it isn’t as good because it’s Canadian content.

Kevin-O (can I call you Kevin-O? I going to stick with Kevin-O.), are you at all worried about being the Canadian content equivalent of the current state in American politics?

I mean, the comparisons are obvious. You’re a venture capitalist eyeing politics with the messaging that strong business practices are what could save the country. You practically stole the speaker notes (which apparently is also becoming common political practice). Many Canadians are furiously flocking to social media to stress that we are not Americans and we shouldn’t do things like Americans. The problem is, we keep trying to copy Americans, as seen in much of our Canadian content. And when we try to copy Americans, that’s when we tend to fail.

Even you, Kevin-O, are actually far from the archetype of the American tycoon. Your net worth is much less than most Wall Street bankers, which might be part of it, but your attitudes I’ve always found different. Yes, you’re a hard capitalist, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t think the outward image you conveyed on Dragon’s Den at all reflects the real Kevin-O who goes home at night. While drafting this letter, I literally had to look up the company you co-founded (software developers SoftKey), but I could rattle off all the charity and philanthropic work you do. You’re big into entrepreneurship and financial education. You actively helped look for solutions to reverse climate change with Discovery Channel’s Discovery Channel Earth. Think about how many American politicians don’t think climate change is even real. Think about how many American politicians don’t trust the data from scientists who have been studying the effects of climate for decades. You literally worked with television’s biggest science channel to address the realities of climate change and look for solutions.

This is the Kevin-O who needs to run for public office. Smart business practices are important but when it comes to government, serving the individuals is far more important than balancing the books. Government is such a different industry from hard business that not all of hard business’ practices translate. This isn’t a simple transition from one to the other. You will have 35 billion people riding on your decisions, not just a board of investors.

If we look at the trend in modern Canadian politics, we can call Stephen Harper our George W. Bush, and Harper’s national isolation tactics and fear based (and frankly racist) domestic policy ideas are what caused him to fail. We can look at Justin Trudeau as our answer to Barrack Obama and even I will admit that Trudeau is starting to shit the bed a bit in public opinion. Was Jean Chrétien our Bill Clinton? I would argue that Bill Clinton was America’s Jean Chrétien and that Chrétien was Canada’s last truly great Prime Minister because he was distinctly and unapologetically unlike anything else going on in politics at the time. He followed no trends and the Canadian vote wasn’t a reaction to what was going on anywhere else. Canada needs to stop comparing itself to other countries and following the leads of others and instead look at itself, look at the world, and logically decide what’s the best course of action.

If we look at the case of Ascension or Heartland or Republic of Doyle or any of the other CBC programming that causes a chorus of groans from regular television watchers, we get a sense that Canadian content copying American content doesn’t really work. When we look at cases like Orphan Black, Kids in the Hall, Degrassi, Kenny versus Spenny, Are you Afraid of the Dark¸ and even Mr. Dressup, television shows with strong cult followings and set new standards for what content can do, you fully understand that Canadian content is at its utmost best when it stops trying to copy American content.

The Canadian political landscape is no different. We are at our best when we stop trying to take cues from south of the 49th parallel. I’ll agree that when Canadians describe themselves as “not American,” it cheapens the Canadian identity and experience. But at the same time, the Canadian identity is such an obscure construct that outside of waxing philosophical, it’s hard to describe. All you can do is look at the reality of the 35 billion people who call this set of borders home, look at how we can help things on the international front, and strategize from there.

So when I say, or rather beg (or maybe groan in frustration) to “Just fucking don’t.” What I mean is, don’t be that guy that so many Canadians expect you to be. Don’t be the guy south of the border, don’t be the guy howling at bad investment ideas. Be something better. You want to be an alternative? Be a real alternative. Don’t just copy what you saw work on TV. Work from a stronger and smarter plan. Don’t spew rhetoric about bad business and putting Canadians first. Explain reality and do what the best politicians always did best: help the greatest number of people. Period.

Don’t be the cheap Canadian version of something going on elsewhere. Set the standards and be something better.

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Garrison and the Pub

He patted the old red brick wall, as if someone on the other side might hear and open a secret door that no one else can see. “I swear, it was right here,” Garrison said as he stepped back and looked all around at the aged building, looking like he’s taking stock of every brick. “There was a door here, and it opened to a stairwell. There were maybe a dozen steps and at the bottom of those stairs, that’s where it was.”

“The pub,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “The one where you swear you saw an elf?”

“Are you sure it wasn’t…” Tillie hesitated to finish her thought. “It wasn’t just a little person?”

Garrison looked back to my girlfriend. He rubbed the stubble on his face and used his hand to comb back his dark, greasy hair that grew long enough to cover most of his forehead. “Little person?” he questioned. “You’re thinking of Santa’s elves. Elves are actually tall and slender.”

“You mean Tolkien elves,” I interjected. Garrison and I both loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We met in an English lit class and we worked on a group project studying the Tolkien mythology in the context of the 1960s. Through that project, I got the sense that he liked Tolkien a lot more than I did. And maybe took it a bit too seriously. “Remember, there’s plenty of European mythology with elves who were tiny.”

“Yeah, I know!” Garrison barked. “But I’m not talking about those elves. I’m talking about sharp blue eyes, pale skin, and pointed ears.”

“Okay, so you think you saw Elrond at a pub last night,” I continued. The building we were standing in front of was maybe four stories tall and quite old. I couldn’t tell quite how old, but all the buildings around Camden looked like they might have started pretty old but had some work done for the tourists. There were plenty of pubs around Camden, so it didn’t surprise any of us when Garrison told us we had to find this one cool spot he visited the night before. But when he dragged me and Tillie into the alleyway where he swore the door to the pub was, I had to question how much he drank last night.

“It wasn’t Elrond,” Garrison said. “More like Arwen, and I need to find her again.”

It had been a long time since Garrison met a girl he liked. Tillie and I were starting to think maybe he was asexual. We met plenty of people while at Camden University who came out as gay, bisexual, and asexual. It was never a big deal to any of us and Garrison always seemed quite curious about these other orientations. Maybe it was just to explore his options.

University was tough on him. It should have been the best, party-fuelled years of his life. Instead, he spent most of the parties drunkenly embarrassing himself trying to talk with pretty well any girl who hadn’t already rejected him. Being his flatmate wasn’t easy through those years. There were a few times I was certain he killed himself in the bathroom. He would lock himself in all night throwing up whatever he drank and smoked and dropped and snorted. No substance was off limits for Garrison and I was certain his heart would give out at any time. When he tried telling us he met an elf at a basement pub in the Camden party district, I thought his mind gave out before his heart did.

“Okay, let’s say this pub exists,” Tillie began in her completely wonderful rational sort of way. She was good at talking to Garrison, especially while he was on edge. I always told her she missed her calling as a social worker. But I also knew she was living her passion designing the kinds of buildings that give cities their skyline shape. “We should retrace your steps, make sure this is actually where you found the door.”

“I know this is where I found the door,” Garrison said. “I remember walking out of the same door and stopping for a shawarma at the counter right across the street.”

Garrison pointed to the falafel takeout counter. We walked out of the alleyway and jogged across the street to the closed eatery. Tillie pressed her face against the glass door to look inside. I stared up at the grey sky. It was another cloudy day. I missed the regular sun this time of year back home in the Okanagan. Garrison and I both moved back after we finished our degrees at Camden, the same degrees we could have got at UBC, but decided we wanted to add a worldly adventure to our formal education. That’s where I met Tillie and she moved back to Canada with me, though we made regularly pilgrimages across the pond to visit her family and stop in at our old favourite watering holes.

“This place does keep late night hours,” Tillie said as she moved away from the glass door. “Do you have a receipt from your late night snack?”

Garrison reached into his khaki pockets and then into his windbreaker’s pockets. He pulled out a single, small piece of paper and looked down at it. “I think this is it,” he said. “I paid cash, so all I have is a till receipt showing I paid six pounds. No time or address.”

“The register inside does look old,” Tillie said. She looked down either side of the block. “And you’re sure you had to go through an alleyway to get to this pub?”

“Absolutely,” he answered. “Maybe I just can’t see it because it’s daylight. I need to come back at night to find this place.”

Tillie wrapped her blue cardigan tighter to herself as a cold wind blew by. She kicked some of the street water off of her brown boots and looked over to me. “Shall we pub crawl tonight?”

It was after dark when we finally left the hotel to retrace Garrison’s steps. He hung out in our hotel room the whole time and even ordered room service for us all. Despite having his own room just next door, he didn’t want to leave us. I guess he didn’t want to be alone.

The streets of Camden were as busy as I always remembered them. My finishing school didn’t slow down the party scene and plenty of college-aged kids were still out, drinking until they were slurring their words and walking like they can feel the world around them spinning.

Garrison was taking long swigs from his mickey of whisky as he marched us to his first stop from the night before. As we moved through the night before’s stops, Garrison started blending more with the young college crowd roaming the streets. His walk turned to a shuffle and a stumble. His words made less sense and he needed to repeat everything at least twice. I hadn’t taken a single drink that whole night. I grew past that, started to find it boring and pointless. Garrison was still right in it. This discrepancy between us didn’t dawn on me until we walked through those streets together.

“I don’t fucking get it,” Garrison mumbled, staring again at the blank brick wall. “It was here. We walked exactly what I walked last night. I retraced all of my steps. The fucking shawarma place is even open. Where the fuck did it go?”

“Maybe it’s time we accepted that the pub doesn’t exist,” I said. “Maybe you stumbled into somewhere else and you don’t remember. I don’t doubt that you met someone last night –”

“Yes you do!” Garrison shoved me. “You do fucking doubt it. You doubt everything with me. I don’t even know why you hang out with me still. Why you bring me on these fucking trips, just to rub in my face you have someone else now you get to travel and do cool shit with. And I have fucking no one. I’m not your fucking charity case! I don’t need you to bring me along to shit because you feel sorry for me!”

“I never said I felt sorry for you!” I screamed at him, my fists clenched.

“You don’t need to say it,” he spat back. “Everything about you says that. Well fuck you! I don’t need it. I’ll find this fucking place on my own!”

Garrison walked off. A light drizzle came down and I could feel water dripping through my hair and down my forehead. Tillie hugged me and said, “Why don’t you head back. I’ll keep an eye on him. He didn’t mean what he said. He just needs to blow off some steam.”

“You heard what he said,” I pointed to him. “He doesn’t want us around.”

“He doesn’t want you around,” she stressed. “You know I can talk to him better than anyone else. He’ll open up to me. I’ll get him to calm down, we’ll come back to the hotel, crash, and find some breakfast in the morning and it will be like nothing has changed.”

“I think that’s the problem,” I quipped. “He hasn’t changed.”

“Despite your composed outer exterior, you haven’t changed much either,” Tillie quipped back. “You’re still condescending, conceded, arrogant –”

“Then why are you with me?” I asked, maybe a little too harshly.

“Because,” she looked up at me. “Because despite all your flaws, you’re a good person with a good heart. And I get to see that every time you’re with Garrison. He’s your best friend. And you need him, and he needs you, just like I need you. I’m going to talk him down over a pint and in the morning, things will be fine. I promise.”

I kissed her the way I hoped to kiss her on our wedding day and walked back to the hotel. With my wet clothes still stuck to my body, I fell into the bed and instantly asleep.

The daylight through the window woke me and I saw Tillie sitting on a chair, staring out the window. It was the first bit of sunshine we had seen since we landed and she watched it the way I’ve seen old people sit by the lake and watch the waves crash in and out. She looked to me and smiled.

“So, where are we going for breakfast,” I asked.

“I have something to tell you,” she began. “It was about last night.”

“What is it?” I sat back down on the bed, worried something terrible happened to her or to Garrison. “What happened? Is everyone ok?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she smiled. “You won’t believe it, but, we found it. We found the pub.”

She told me how talking over a single pint suddenly turned into talking over many pints and shots. She couldn’t even remember which pub they were at, but they fell out and decided to try and find the door one last time. And there it was. Exactly where Garrison said it was.

Just like Garrison’s story, there was a stairwell, maybe a dozen stairs, and a basement bar. Tillie went on about all the strange people at this bar and how she had never seen any people who looked like that before. She described small men with large hairy feet, hooded figures with bows and quivers of arrows strapped to their backs, armoured men with swords hilted at their sides, and beautiful pale people who were tall, thin, and had pointed ears.

I started to assume that she had even more to drink last night than she had let on and maybe even someone slipped something into her drink. But she insisted she saw all of these things, ripped right from the books Garrison and I studied in university and Garrison continued to obsess over after we finished school. She even said she saw the elf girl.

Tillie’s account was that Garrison had wandered off once they were in the pub and as she stumbled around for a bit trying to catch up, she finally found him in the corner of the bar, talking to the beautiful woman. But not just casually talking, but instantly talking passionately with her. Like they had been talking for hours by the time Tillie found them. He was leaning in, his hands on the table illustrating a story. She had her hand on her check, and she was giggling and mesmerized by every one of Garrison’s words. Tillie had never seen Garrison talk to anyone like that before, let alone a woman who he was obviously drawn to.

“Where is he now?” I asked. “Did he come back last night?”

“When I was ready to leave, I asked him what he wanted to do,” Tillie explained. “He smiled and he said he was going to stay a while. I’d never seen him smile like that before. I think he was actually truly happy.”

He didn’t come back to the hotel. He didn’t make it to the flight back to the Okanagan. He wasn’t there when I proposed to Tillie or on our wedding day. He was gone. My best friend was gone and for a while, it bothered me. Tillie was right, I did need him. But as time wore on, I realized that despite needing him, I would be ok. I had my memories with him. I could always recount a story of one of our drunken nights together running around the streets of Camden. I thought I was being a bad friend at first by leaving him behind. But, the way Tillie told the story, leaving him behind was the best thing I could have done. What he found in that pub made him truly happy and there was nothing more in the world that I ever could have wanted for my friend Garrison.

 

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Ever the Optimist

This idea for an essay all started when I had a long conversation with someone at my office one day about, of all things, people. In a very large and general sense, people and where their motivations lie and if people, in the construct of a mass group, actually have any motivation driven by virtue as opposed to self-interest. She was a bit younger than me, 24 to my 30, not many years on paper but a lifetime to live through. And not to discredit her position based solely on her age, but much of what she said sounded very familiar to me. It reminded me of my own youthful pessimism.

This might be an odd construct, typically youth is paralleled with idealism and age tends to follow realism and pessimism closely behind. My growing up experience was different, especially while I was in college. Living off a healthy diet of Propagandhi records and Henry Rollins books, I was a ball of over-academic rage who wrote open letters to Glenn Beck and Thomas Lukaszuk, convinced these public figures with differing opinions of me were my mortal enemies and were cowardly for not engaging in intellectual debate.

Teeth clenched and knuckles white from tight fists, I devoured hours of MSNBC during the Wisconsin protests when Governor Scott Walker tried to make unions illegal, when Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona, and during the Republican Party primaries. With consuming this much media, it’s easy to understand why my view of people, especially people in masses, quickly deteriorated. My optimism grew during the Occupy months, but when I started hearing the oratory rhetoric of some of the self-claimed leaders of the sit in, I quickly realized this demonstration grew directionless and became a self-parody, and once again I was left questioning the motives and virtues of people.

This is where this particular individual was at the time of this conversation. She was still angry. And this anger fed into her views of people. And worse, when I tried to counter her argument, pointing out all the good and amazing things people are capable of, she called me naive.

I don’t think my optimism is grounded in any naivety. I’m far from a well-versed expert on the world and even farther from the kind of person whose wisdom stems of years of experience. I haven’t even been out of university for that long. But my university writing life had me exploring the failings of so many prevalent aspects of society: the failures of truly supporting the arts, the failures of big-agriculture, the failures of luxury commodities that I as a true writer and artist would never be able to afford. My post-university writing life has me exploring the small seeds of social change being planted into the ground and slowly growing to seamlessly create new standards and normals in western culture. From my magazine internship, through my freelance career, and into my current career working with not-for-profits, I’m faced every day with individuals and groups working off of a crazy notion that what they do might make things better for someone else.

Hearing about the awesome things people are working on is kind of rare. Good news stories aren’t all that sexy and people are more drawn to the kinds of stories where someone is murdered, someone is arrested, or someone is the centre of a scandal. Those are the kinds of stories that garner clicks and earn online publication advertising revenue. I was impressed when Metro newspaper put out an all positive edition of their press across Canada to battle against the influx of click-bait news headlines and may be the start of a different approach to print and online publications. That’s not to say that online publications who focus on more positive outlooks to news stories don’t exist, but the old adage about news stories, “if it bleeds, it leads,” despite being a gross stereotype, still resonates for a reason.

This idea about the kinds of news stories that tend to garner the most attention I also find stands with online comment feeds in the stories. I usually take the time to read the comments, even from online news sources that I know is biased and slanted. I want to know what people think and how they react to things. Especially in my role as a professional communicator in my real job, knowing how people approach and will respond to stories and information is fascinating to me. At the same time, though, I have to question if comment feeds are the best places to be gauging public discourse. On the surface, it seems like the best place to view the activity of the masses. But, I have to question, what proportion of the masses do the comment feeds represent?

After reading through so many comment feeds, you start to see recurring names and recurring messaging. Spam bots are commonplace nowadays and it doesn’t take much to program a system to automatically comment on certain newsfeeds. This is why you see CAPTCHA fields as a part of some news sites’ comments requirements. Those without the CAPTCHA fields are obvious with comments from anonymous users either trying to sell Oakley sunglasses or repeating certain politically slanted messaging on multiple stories.

From my own explorations of comment feeds, once you filter through the robots, I realized that those who sit on online news stories, placing controversial comments onto stories and anxiously waiting for the replies they can refute with name-calling and reductions to political affiliations, represent a very small proportion of people involved in public discourse.

My optimism points pushes me to believe that the vast majority of people don’t comment on stories or share news stories to their Facebook feeds looking for arguments simply because they are far too busy working to make the world a better place. They don’t have time to sit on online news stories. They don’t care what other people think about their political views. But, they do occasionally read what others post and this can skew their viewpoints. I empathize with these people, though. Because they approach things with only the best of intentions.

I pride myself in being culturally inclusive and open and curious. I try to go out of my way to ask questions rather than pass judgments. This approach has led me to a lot of really great conversations and learning experiences I carry with me to this day. I’m from perfect and it took a lot of embarrassing and shameful moments on my own part to help me develop this philosophical approach to cultural aspects I don’t understand a lot about. Not everyone approaches things this way, and by no means is this the best approach for everyone, but not asking questions is what creates things like confirmation bias and can create an air of xenophobia that can cause a lot more damage than good.

When you consume media and you only see small snippets of things that seem foreign and unknown to you, it can be scary. When people are scared, they rationalize odd things. But at the end of the day, this fear is coming from a genuine place of care and concern. They care and are concerned for their children, their community, their country, so they react fearfully and, often times, aggressively to the unknown. It’s a misinformed reaction that could be quelled by an open mind and a willingness to ask questions as opposed to blurting out opinions. But it being misinformed doesn’t change that it comes from a place of genuine concern and care.

Even with all the hateful rhetoric and actions I frequently see through news stories and in comment feeds, I try to stop myself from my own fearful reactions and force myself to ask why. Why is this person saying this? Why does this person think this way? What information could this person use to help ensure that he is forming the best informed opinion possible? And I know I can’t be the only one asking myself these questions.

I am ever the optimist about people. I don’t know if this person from my office will ever let go of her anger and pessimism and it’s not particularly my place to judge either way. I do hope she sees all the amazing things in the world that I see. In my own attempts in working to make the world a better place, I’m going to keep asking questions, trying to understand everything I possibly can and try to foster dialogue and discussion over forming opinions and drafting diatribes. Because I know the vast majority of people come from good places with everything that they do.

I don’t think the archetype of the super villain who wakes up each morning to plot their evil and hostile takeover is nearly as prevalent as the amateur political pundits on comment feeds would have you believe. I think people are continually scared of an ever-changing world that leaves them confused as to what to think. Even my own essaying now is really just a tool to help me sort out my own thoughts, redirect me, and refresh my path. It helps to remind me to continually approach everything, and especially people, with the utmost understanding and optimism.

On Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Address

It’s not often that I want to chime in on current affairs that already have a deafening amount of noise surrounding them. But it’s that level of noise that actually made me want to chime in. It seems like this is one of those scenarios where everyone wants to yell something, but everything being yelled is being muddled by the collective uproar on both sides on the controversy. By this line of reasoning, it seems apt to use this forum as a means to express a few more ideas about this scenario while hopefully cutting through the noise and having a clear message make its way through the chaos.

The controversy I’m jotting down ideas about is Meryl Streep’s address at the Golden Globes. But, not so much the address itself as the public backlash that followed. Some are cheering loudly. Others are resorting to pointing out her age and physical features as a means to under credit her stance. What I want to know is why is there a backlash at all? And further, much of the backlash has to do with the fact that Ms. Streep is an actor and that celebrities should leave politics out of their public appearances. This also seems to only be an argument used when said celebrity seems to disagree with your political stance. So, why should celebrities be barred from using their public platforms as a means to direct political messaging, even if the message can be boiled down to something as simple as, “please be decent to each other.”

I have to wonder if Ms. Streep were a writer, would she be receiving the same backlash? Obviously, it’s a writers job to perceive, interpret, reflect, develop ideas, and share those ideas through language. Many of those ideas being shared have to do with the political sphere, and as such it’s a generally accepted view that part of a writer’s job is to comment on the politics of the day, especially if they are columnists or essayists for publications with a focus on politics. But it’s even generally accepted that fiction writers use their craft as a means to reflect society and the politics that help shape society. We generally accepted this from writers such as George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, and even JK Rowling. The question remains, if Ms. Streep were a writer, would her comments be more accepted as a legitimate political stance?

There is some difficulty for me separating actor from writer. They have vastly different jobs on the surface, and there is a very odd preconceived notion that actors are generally very dumb people, but when you boil down what both creative professions do, you simply land on what the role art has to play in the world. Actors have to create characters, convey those characters, and place themselves in situations that generally they have never experienced before. Those characters they are larger reflections of society, including the political sphere that influences society, and as such create connections with the viewers. This is why we find movies and television entertaining. We see ourselves in the characters portrayed by actors. In much the same way we identify with stories and arguments put forward by writers, we identify with character, which gives them their reflective weight as an entertainment medium.

With that being said, it takes the same skillset of perception, interpretation, and reflection that a writer exercises to be a good actor. It’s the same understanding of people and what influences people to act and react that helps an actor create a believable character that reflects and connects with us. Therefore, we can accept that to be an actor, especially an actor of the calibre as Ms. Streep takes a great deal of intelligence.

So, if we can accept that an actor like Ms. Streep is intelligent, why not use her public platform as a means to convey her political ideas? Many of the current celebrities who do support the current political direction that the United States is taking aren’t often told to keep their political opinions to themselves from either side of the debate. Those who support actually encourage those celebrities to keep expressing their favour for the 2016 election results. Those who oppose simply express their opposition and may even go as far as to boycott the celebrities’ products. But it’s rare to see an argument from that opposition that would suggest the celebrity shouldn’t use their status to convey their ideas.

This is also something often seen in the current political correctness backlash. The argument is often made that “PC culture” has gone too far and that it’s a part of freedom of speech to be able to say objectionable things. This is true. But it’s also part of freedom of speech to be able to call out those who say objectionable things and point out why they’re objectionable. It’s not a form of censorship. It’s a dialogue. It’s exercising that freedom of speech has to be able to go both ways and that those who say objectionable things need to be accountable for their words and subsequent actions that those words may spur.

If we accept freedom of speech, we have to accept celebrities using their status to convey political ideas on any side of any argument. We can then respond to their opinions and if their opinions are highly objectionable we have the ability to boycott as a means of protest. But this is how dialogue is created and it’s through dialogue that collaboration is created, which then feeds into activity. This is why some governments fail. They refuse dialogue. They hold themselves to ideals and labels and refuse to collaborate and negotiate. This was clearly seen during the last American administration when the speaker of the house decided that his entire purpose as a politician was to block any motion set out by the President. All that does it creates an ideological stalemate, which in the end benefits nothing except the egos of the individuals.

What I found most curious in much of my reading around this topic is the inherent hypocrisy of many of those who criticized Ms. Streep. Many either actively voted for or expressed some support for the new American administration, which is headed by a celebrity who used his status to gain the highest office in the United States. Yet this fact seems to completely escape them and they turn their fury instead to the other celebrity who dared challenge their belief system.