642 Things

3 of 642 things to write about: to a dying plant

weeds by the fence

Okay. Three installments in and I’m confident that we’ve reached the silliest prompt of the book. Where can we go from here? “Dress your poop in a bow tie and spats and take it to the opera”? I realize there’s no writing involved in that hypothetical. Just total class.


Hey, ficus. How’s things? I’m thinking things are not so good. Just guessing, obviously, because you don’t talk much, but given all the dead leaves and the dried-up soil in your pot, it looks like you’re dying. And that’s probably our fault. We didn’t know that ficuses don’t like hamburger but do like water and sunlight, okay? You looked like a burger sort of plant.

I’m going to give you some of that water you like so much, ficus, but first we should talk about why it’s important that you hang in there and cling to life. Life is important, okay? It’s the most — it’s the important thing there is, right. Because without it, you’d. Be dead. So choose life.

Then there’s the matter of the leaves. They’re a dried up old mess, is what they are. You’re just throwing your leaves on the floor, and they get all gritty when we step on them, and then the mice poop in all that mess. You’re attracting mice, ficus. Don’t do that.

The other thing is — this is a bit of a sensitive topic. But my wife’s depressed, okay? She’s not feeling the love lately, if you get what I mean. And what I mean is that she won’t have sex with me. I come home and she’s depressed, and then I shout sometimes because she’s depressed and that’s how I deal with my feelings, and then she won’t sleep with me. And I’d like to think that if you lived a little, just stopped with the slow-but-steady death thing you’re doing, then maybe she’d feel a little better. And I’d feel better too. Less shouting and throwing things, more sex. You see? Yeah, you see just fine.

Okay, ficus. I’m glad we had this chat. I don’t think you need water after all. What you need is some classic Wham tunes. So I’m going to put on some really early stuff — I’m talking “Wham Rap!”-era Wham — and leave you alone to think about what we’ve discussed. We’re off to Mexico for a month at an all-inclusive, so hold down the fort! Maybe her mood will improve. Just don’t drop any more of your leaves, ficus. Gross.

2 of 642 things to write about: bad thanksgiving

dollheads again

#2 in the list of 642 Things To Write About asks, succinctly but terrifyingly, “What’s the worst Thanksgiving meal you’ve ever had?”

Easy. Too easy. Back in 1993, when I was a skinny young man in my early twenties with no idea how to live, I decided that the best way to assert my independence was to move to Calgary and start looking for terrible minimum wage jobs. Looking back, I have trouble believing that I could work up the energy and initiative to do such a thing. It seems out of character for forty one year old me to pick up and move to another city with nothing but a sleeping bag (really!) and a thousand dollars to keep me from starving. But forty one year old me probably can’t survive on a diet of Drum cigarettes and mini doughnuts.

The first job I landed, through friends of friends, was in a watch repair shop in the downtown. Mostly my duties consisted of popping batteries out of watches and telling disgruntled customers that Timexes couldn’t be repaired. It was a busy job; back in 1993, people still kept the time attached to their wrists. Cellphones came in kits, and they had the look of military gear. I made six dollars an hour and that was enough to keep me in a bachelor suite in a building that seemed to be imploding in super slow-motion (as it turned out, it was one of those apartments where everyone had lived; friend after friend would walk through the door and stop short, realizing that they or someone they knew had once thrown a party there).

Before I found myself an apartment, though, I stayed with my boss. He had a tidy two-bedroom apartment, a fiancee named Rachel from a village somewhere in rural Manitoba, and a kind heart. He also had weekly prayer meetings, where he and his Christian cronies would get together and work out the mysteries of scripture over coffee. Often they concluded that Jesus was pretty great. The best moments arose when tried to out-Holy Spirit each other, and their praise would grow more effusive and ornate until the rhetorical charge overloaded their circuits, and then they’d link hands and pray. Once I saw them try to heal a persistent headache through prayer. They sheltered a woman within a circle in the living room and implored Jesus to put a “hedge of protection” around her. Then they did that humming thing, which I’m not certain they were aware of doing.

Anyway, that’s where I had the worst Thanksgiving meal of my life.

It was also the most crowded Thanksgiving I’d ever experienced. The fiancée’s grandmother and several other ancients were disinterred and transported to the city, where oxygen tanks and metal crutches seemed to keep everyone alive long enough to scowl their way through the festive evening. The dining room table started filling up with dish after dish as people brought over casserole dishes and glass platters. It was my first real experience with what people call “home-cooked farm food.”

Mostly I remember the Jell-o molds, pieces of cheap candied fruit suspended inside electric green scallops. I remember the Miracle Whip topping flecked with sugary orange shards. Specifically, I remember at least a half-dozen of those fuckers jiggling away on the extended table top. And with every new group of wizened partiers that rolled and hobbled through the door, another strange dessert or cream-drenched salad was handed over and plunked down.

The centrepiece of the meal was the turkey, a hormonal outlier of a bird that may, in the spirit of loaves and fishes, have been generating extra mass to accommodate the party. Everyone remarked, and remarked constantly, on how moist the bird was. For all I know, it may have been the most butter-permeated bird since unshod feet slapped around the shores of Galilee. I just remember mold after mold bending the overhead light, and those pitiful bits of preserved fruit trapped within.

1 of 642 Things to Write About: In a Second

As a thank-you from the gracious hosts and organizers of Blissdom Canada for being a “community leader” (that was the title on my badge and everything), we were given copies of 642 Things To Write About. The book is meant to juice the dry batteries of your spirit and get your creative radiators bubbling away with the hot water of your words (thank you, metaphor! you’ve been great!).

Generally I find myself growing tired at even the thought of these kinds of writing prompt exercises, but since my creative output has narrowed to a fine and intermittent line over the last six months (seriously, not even David Rees has the craft to sharpen a sufficiently representative pencil point), I thought I’d give it a try. Let’s see how far I get, shall we? Yes, let’s.

#1. “What can happen in a second”

Initial Thoughts: Ugh. This is the kind of prompt that pushes people into overly dramatic renditions of old people dying or having one’s heart broken. Everyone dies, and everyone picks up some heartbreak on the way to the grave. Mostly the things that happen in a second are disappointing or microscopically personal. I won’t plumb the depths of my soul for this one. My soul is just like your soul anyway, but with a beard.

Solution: Crowdsource this thing. I Googled “in a second” and looked at the related searches. I love related searches because they provide an unexpected glimpse at people’s twisted desires, idle speculations and all those dull but fascinating details of daily lives. A brief lesson to aspiring writers here: heartrbreak and death bore. An old family recipe for boot black, found in a great-grandfather’s diary, enthralls.

Here are the search phrases and the sentences I spun out from them.

In a second-grade class containing a box, a small cream-coloured box without seams or joints or openings, a smoothly contoured box with rounded corners placed up on some ignored shelf, the room will convulse and the monsters of childrens’ imaginations will step into reality, when someone, years hence, thinks of that box.

In a second post-credits scene the avengers smoke a shitload of crystal meth and go riding around on those chopper bikes, catcalling all the women and eventually ending up in a sordid drug-cushioned orgy at the Viper Room. The next day they’ll have patchy memories and a collection of bruises.

In a second you’ll be wrapped around my finger lyrics because finger lyrics are apparently a thing now.

In a second thought meaning that strange moment when, in the midst of reconsidering a decision, you reverse part of that decision within your revision, creating a suspended moment of branching possibilties, and then branches burst with blossoms and your mind becomes a towering tree so high and heavy with fruit that the Earth pulls from its orbit and yaws across the solar system, upsetting planets along the way and discombobulating random asteroids. Look at that crazy Earth go.

In a second step you find yourself closer to a place that exists in your dreams, a frozen white clearing in the woods where frost deepens into a coat of ice and a pack of slavering wolves bound across the field, their frozen breaths like a second mane, the only sound their grunts as they clear the hard snowpack again and again. In a third step you forget what you imagined and you’re just on the way to a Dunkin’ Donuts.

In a second time you were a king, and a corona of light attended your brow. In this time, though, you’re a low-leve analyst who comes up with policy solutions for reducing clinic wait times, all of which are ignored by your Deputy Minister. Instead he gives you a series of irrelevant tasks with constantly shifting deadlines. You suspect that you’re being drummed out of the department, and you’re right.

In a second thought you realize that the phrase “in a second thought” is actually “on second thought,” and that maybe you should read a book once in a while.

In a second pregnancy when will I start to show how much I regret getting knocked up the first time?