Tag Archives: Canadian

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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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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On Partisan Political Polarization

Around four in the morning, I was woken up by a light in my bedroom. It was my fiancée’s cellphone. She was reading poll numbers from the most recent American presidential election. She was terrified at the prospect of the new American President and not necessarily how it will affect us, but how it’s going to affect so many of the Americans that his campaign targeted. We talked for a while about what this is all going to mean and what we think is going to happen. She was able to fall back asleep but I was awake for another couple of hours with my mind racing.

I did the worst thing I could possibly do in this situation. I checked Facebook. A lot of the anxiety that my fiancée was feeling was reflected in many of my online friends. I stared at my phone, continued reading, and felt myself getting more and more worked up over the new leader of a country I don’t even live in. And as I kept reading posts and news stories and comment feeds on news stories, I realized that what was worrying me wasn’t necessarily the new guy in power.

The new American President in-and-of-himself is actually nothing new and his novelty is something of a misnomer. As pointed out by commentators such as Adam Conover, the new President’s crudeness is light compared to that of Lyndon B. Johnson’s bathroom meetings and recorded phone conversations discussing his private regions. Even some of the new President’s political stances, such as his hard stance on law and order, simply echo the likes of Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. There is a historical precedence with this most recent American presidential election but the precedence has less to do with the candidates and more to do with the electoral body itself.

The Republican nomination was won by a salesman. He sold himself and he sold some ideas to warrant being named on the ballot. But the ideas he sold were by-products of opportunism. He isn’t actually interested in the work that this office requires. He’s interested in the title. And to gain the title, he marketed himself initially to a base population, which then spread over time. The ideas of closed borders and racial profiling he presented during his campaign weren’t the scariest aspect of this election. The fact that the American population heard these ideas and said, “Yes, this is what a free country should look like,” is what’s actually scary.

This is where the historical precedent steps in. The population let itself be swayed by the kind of anger and ferocity that typically warrants itself to an all-caps Facebook post, and then forgotten. It was the creation of a non-existent conflict, the “us vs. them,” that made for a more hard lined voting mentality that eschewed logic and reasoning and let emotional reactions be the dominant driving force. And this isn’t to say social media itself is bad or shouldn’t be used as a forum for political discourse. But it’s not being used to its fullest potential.

The typical posts seen around any political discussion are anger based messages pointing out what’s being done wrong. The discussions that follow tend to either be in agreement of the anger or be an anger-fueled opposition. This doesn’t encompass the entirety of online political discussion, but the vast majority tends to look like this. During 2016’s Presidential race, that anger manifested itself outside of online discussions and surfaced during rallies and protests. Not since 1968 has there been so much violence directly associated with political rallying.

And this is where I start to get worried. Many of the posts I keep reading blame either side of the political spectrum for the violence, the disconnect, the crude tactics, and point to themselves and their stance as the solution. For a lot of what’s being argued, it’s all non-partisan issues. But non-partisan issues are being labeled with partisan offenders. And mostly, the non-partisan issues being blamed have more to do with common human decency than they do with any political stance. Both sides of the spectrum have a lot more in common than most people give credit for.

For a long time now, I’ve believed that the political spectrum is no longer a useful tool in political discourse. It simply no long reflects the complicated political realities. But more and more often, I’m seeing people hold on to their political affiliations as stringent parts of their identities and any challenge to their beliefs is a challenge to their character, which results in only more anger. This is something that has only gotten louder as more people adopt social media as their main course for stress relief. It often brings up the question whether we as a species are mature enough to handle the weight and responsibility of something like social media. Clearly, people read the things being posted, take them to heart, and act on them.

The social media discourse also tends to dwell on leaders as opposed to the local representatives who actions and decisions will actually directly affect people. The focus on leaders has actually developed a new level of celebrity typically reserved for the likes of the Kardashians. Watching and reading about the election has started to feel more like reading up on TV gossip than it does about the progress of politics. This is probably why qualifications and aptitude have become subservient to personality and entertainment.

The greatest frustration I personally experienced during this entire election process was witnessing everything unfold fully knowing that no matter what anyone said, the decision would remain steadfast. Nothing was going to break the decisions that the American public already made even before all of the pertinent information about what either presidency would look like was available. Great tyrants have proclaimed that reason is passion’s slave and no election has better illustrated this.

The ramifications of this election have yet to be felt. If the negative outcomes so many of us are nervously anticipating do come to fruition, the political leaders will receive the brunt of the blame. When in actuality, the American public has nowhere else to look than their own social media feeds as to why things have developed in this way.

In no way am I advocating for any sort of censorship or even abolishing the concept of social media. It exists and society has developed around it to the point where careers can be built entirely on social media platforms. What I am wondering is if we can be better with this constant open forum. Perhaps our political discussions can be more solution driven than blame driven. Instead of getting angry when things turn sour, we can use these online vehicles to discuss how things went wrong, what corrective measure can be taken, and what the hopeful outcomes can be. It’s still important to hold those in power to task for their actions. But constant open criticism and calls for impeachment over every small indiscretion does nothing for the political process except create blockades and deadlocks, completely halting the political process. And when the political process is halted, it’s the publicly funded projects, those we’ve collectively deemed essential enough to warrant government funding and oversight, that suffer.

I’m often called a misanthrope and my tendencies towards a frustration with people typically amplifies when I spent a lot of time reading through posts and comments. But my frustration isn’t actually rooted in a distaste for people. Quite the opposite. I really like people. And I have a lot of confidence in people to be kind, forward thinking, and motivated by only the best intentions. Even the results of this election, I can empathize where the American public truly think they’re working towards what’s best for them as a country. But their aim is misguided. They’ve been misdirected and a salesman saw an opportunity to take that misdirection, amplify it, and use it for his own gains. And that’s why we’re here today, reading a constant barrage of think pieces as to why things turned so ugly followed by cruel comments from people we will never meet and never interact with beyond the glow of a screen.

In a few days, I’m going to be an uncle. This addition to my family is bringing up my own questions about bringing more life into this world. On one hand, I have hope for people. That hope is illuminated whenever I read about amazing feats of engineering, breakthroughs in medical research, and imaginative discoveries about the potential of intelligent life on other planets and it gives me hope that my potential child will be a part of what drives progress forward and makes the world an amazing place. The other hand though is weighing heavier and heavier every day as I see people become so much more angry. Everything is an outrage and cause for outbursts of hate.

The American people made their choice and as a non-American I don’t have much choice but to accept their choice and hope for the best. But as I watch my own Facebook feed fill with more messages of anxiety and worry, I continually remind myself that people are capable of better. When we act out of fear and hate and anger, we make rash decisions whose consequences we can’t always anticipate. When we act out of logic and hope and compassion for each other, we make awesome decisions, leading to such cool discoveries who ramifications change the world for the better in ways we could never imagine.

I know we’re capable of so much more than this.

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