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Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Epitaph Written in Bones and Skin

WARNINGThe following is a gruesome Halloween story with elements that may disturb some readers. 

Stretching forward and back and up, down, and sidewise through eternity is the infinitude of final moments, each one a surprise in the terminal instant.

Ben Nguyen's final moment came while he was returning a box of Corn Flakes to the pantry. When box met shelf, Ben lost control of his hands, which came up to his face and dug into his forehead with terrible strength, ripping the skin open to reveal the white skull beneath.

Ben staggered, blood pouring down his face, into his bulging eyes. His traitor hands forced themselves into the tiny space between skull and skin, pulling, tearing. The pressure increased, and the skin of Ben's head split down the middle, until the halves were resting gruesomely on Ben's shoulders. His naked skull wailed, bloodstained eyes rolling in exposed sockets, his tongue lolling through his awful skeletal grin.

And still his hands persisted, tearing now at the skin of his chest until glistening ribs were born, kissing air for the first time, organs spilling free like garbage pouring from a torn trash bag, splattering on the linoleum floor.

Ben's skeleton pushed down the skin over his hips as though taking off a pair of trousers, stepping free of the legs, kicking the floppy remains aside. It pulled the skin of his arms and shoulders free and hung it over a kitchen chair, then walked to the sink, leaned over it, and rejected eyes, tongue, brain, expelling them into the garburator through its eye sockets.

Ben's skeleton walked to the master bedroom, trailing bloody, bony footprints. It slid into the ensuite shower and cranked the tap all the way to its hottest setting, luxuriating in the steam, blood washing away, leaving only pristine white death.

Ben's skeleton walked downstairs and out the front door. It paused on the veranda, watching a trio of trick-or-treaters stroll by through the night, plastic buckets in hand: a devil, a princess, a skeleton. Ben's skeleton clacked its teeth together once and followed, dark chaperone. It reached out a bony hand for the devil's shoulder, and then--

--Ben's skin leapt from behind, ragged blanket of ruined flesh, tangling in the spaces between the bones, insinuating itself, flexing. Ben's skeleton danced uncontrollably, teeth clacking as Ben's skin wormed its way through the gaps, bones bending and snapping, flying through the chill night air like projectiles. The children turned and wailed as one, retreating into the safety of the darkness beyond, while skin and skeleton grappled.

In the end, Ben's skeleton shattered at the same moment Ben's skin was rent to uselessness, their terminal instants arriving with elegant simultaneity. The remains sprawled across the sidewalk, the lawn, and the lane, an epitaph written in bones and skin until the street sweeper, arriving placidly with the dawn, gathered up the remains, leaving only dark dreams behind. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography

Here is a  photo of Dad's lower legs, the horrible old back deck that the family ripped out and replaced a few years later, and an old spool for cable that we used as a table.

I'll never forget Dad's reaction when we ripped out that deck only to discover that there was a set of cement stairs sunken into the ground underneath. There was an almost elegant, outraged cacophony of "colourful metaphors," as Spock would call swearing. He immediately rented a jackhammer and smashed the old stairs to bits. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Val on Guitar (actually Walter)

I believe this is Val Head (or a close relative) playing guitar sometime in the 1960s, presumably somewhere in Manitoba. Quite a speaker setup he has there. Actually, I don't remember Val ever playing guitar, so perhaps this isn't him after all...

EDIT: Mom believes this is actually Walter Head, one of Val's brothers. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Bad Admiral Woods Photoshop

A very unconvincing attempt to paste my twentysomething head on Captain Picard's body. Many years old, thankfully. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Twin Peaks Explained?

Can Twin Peaks be explained? Do we want it to be explained? Will having things explained destroy the charm and mystery of Twin Peaks?

Will I watch this four-and-a-half-hour video to find out?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Rescue at Stantec Tower

Just after the lunch hour today, my colleagues and I at Stantec heard some light banging from the window washer platform on the side of Stantec Tower. I told my colleagues about a video I'd seen some years ago that showed a similar platform being blown all over the sky by high winds, banging into a skyscraper repeatedly. 

Not more than mere seconds after I finished my tale, we heard a tremendous crash. We rushed to the side windows and saw, just two stories below us, the window washer platform sailing through the air, with one of the workers dangling by a rope underneath. There was a collective gasp, and for a long moment I thought for certain I was about to see someone die right in front of me. After that moment passed, I saw that the worker was restrained by his safety harness, but even that knowledge didn't slow down my racing heart. It seemed like forever before emergency services arrived, but in truth it could only have been minutes. Edmonton fire rescue retrieved both men safely. 

I haven't seen it myself, but colleagues reported that at least one window on our fifth floor was smashed through, which I imagine means some of our people had to be moved to other floors. 

Today I feel very grateful for safety equipment and training and first responders. I mean, I always do, but today...especially so. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A New Twist on an Old Theme

While my expectations are low for the last (?) Star Wars film, I must say I really love this particular arrangement of John Williams' iconic theme. I wonder if he did this himself? It's majestic. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Not Quite the Darkest Timeline Yet

The 2019 federal election is over, after the least inspiring campaign I can remember. But the end result isn't so bad; at least there's a chance that the centrist Liberals might have to support some of the NDP's better ideas in exchange for support on the House of Commons. Perhaps more importantly, the alt-right People's Party of Canada took less than 2% of the popular vote and zero seats. Wouldn't it be nice to imagine that the populist tide washing over the world has already crested, and is now receding?

I can dream. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

We Voted

And we hope you have, too. Polling stations are still open across much of Canada; it's not too late to exercise your franchise. Never take these rights for granted, my friends, not in these troubling times.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Who's Watching Watchmen?

Well, Sylvia and I are watching Watchmen, and we both found the new HBO series suspenseful, compelling, and even, as Sylvia put it, "dangerous." Dangerous because the show, at least based on the first episode, is about a long-simmering race war that's ready to boil over. In an alternate Oklahoma where black people seem to be finally getting ahead, a white supremacist backlash looms. Masked vigilantes work alongside the police, who are majority black and also masked to protect their identities from racist retaliation. But that protection seems to be ending, as violence suddenly and brutally strikes a police force that has seen peace for several years...

If this sounds nothing like Watchmen--the comic book--it's because the show is using the Moore/Gibbons story as backdrop rather than having it drive the narrative. Watchmen (the TV show) is set in the same alternate history as the original work, but the foci--geographic, character, and thematic--are all new and different. Veidt, Rorschach, the Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and other characters from the comic are barely hinted at, seen in newspaper headlines or on televisions in the background. This storytelling choice delivers a fascinating look into a world that could have been, and how the people of that world are trying to come to grips with the challenges of racism, violence, and, judging by previews, human extinction--that last the plot driver of the comic. 

I was skeptical that Damon Lindelhof and his team could craft an adaptation that respects the original while seeming anything other than exploitative. So far, they've succeeded brilliantly. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Quick Take: Young Guns

Turns out mixing the 1880s with the 1980s is a bit like combining spaghetti and ice cream; they're great on their own, but not terribly palatable together. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

John Santos on Political Polarization

My friend and Alberta Legislature colleague John Santos had an article about political polarization published on the CBC website yesterday. John uses polling data to come to some interesting conclusions about how Canadians feel about other Canadians who support different political parties. Check it out, and don't forget to vote on Monday!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Quick Takes: Escape from New York

As much as I love the performances, the action, the music, and the simple but perfectly effective plot, it's the worldbuilding in Escape from New York (John Carpenter, 1981) that I find most compelling. Through production design, costuming, and dialogue, Carpenter has created a compelling alternate America, a fascist police state made mean by a cold war turned hot and a never ending battle against its own citizens. Carpenter makes it so easy to imagine this plausible alternate destiny for the United States, one that could so very easily still come to be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Spy Deterrent

Last week I had to have radioactivity injected into my veins for some medical testing. When I returned to work, I mentioned that the nurses had had to inject extra radiation, because there wasn't enough for imaging purposes the first time around. I joked that perhaps I would get super-powers, and that if I could choose, I would choose stretching abilities, since those have the most potential to annoy.

I elaborated: "For example, I could stretch my eyeballs over the barrier to Stephanie's cubicle, here, to spy on her."

"I'd spray them with Windex," she replied dryly.

A good countermeasure, I thought. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Quick Takes: Hercules in New York

Hercules in New York (Arthur Allan Seidelman, 1970) is a painfully unfunny fish-out-of-water tale, cheaply told, embarrassing in almost all respects. Even poor "Arnold Strong" (that is, Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets dubbed, robbing audiences of the pleasures of the man's outrageous accent.

This gives me an idea. I should write a film called Hercules Inn: New York. Hercules comes down from Mount Olympus to start a charming hotel in Athens. His goal is to reinvigorate the Greek economy through demigodlike hospitality, boosting tourism. The inn is a mild success, and Hercules is disappointed until an American tourist and venture capitalists suggests Hercules open a second inn in New York to promote Greek culture and serve as a "live commercial" for the authentic inn in Athens. The gods, displeased by Hercules' mercantile ways, rain down all kinds of hijinks, and to make matters worse, Hercules runs afoul of the Russian mafia. Can Hercules clean up New York, appease the gods, and save the Greek economy? Find out in Hercules Inn: New York

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Thanksgiving Gourds

What gourds are these?
That lie in wait
For this Thanksgiving dinner plate
An autumn breeze
That westward tacks
These gourds are coated in thick wax
A tough repast
For hungry souls
Feasting on fine dinner rolls

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Earl 'o the Wisps

It was raining when Sean shot this photo of me at the site of the former 8 Churchill Place, our home in Leaf Rapids in the 1970s. Several raindrops landed on the lens and marred this photo, and now I've marred it further with my attempt to turn the water spots into wills-'o-the-wisp. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Accidental Panorama

When Sean and I visited Leaf Rapids in 2009, I shot three black and white photos of the hydro station, an old CO-OP building, and the abandoned Midi Mart. I don't remember if I was consciously trying to shoot something I could later stitch into a panorama, but I just noticed the other day that the photos match up pretty well, so I gave it a quick and dirty try. It's far, far from perfect, but not bad, I think, for images shot on film without the benefit of any kind of in-camera stitching aids. All I did in Photoshop was try to equalize the light levels of each image (as you can see, I failed, but it's better than it was) and use the clone tools to try and erase the edges of the photos (again, a failure).

All told, this took me about ten minutes to pull together. I'm sure with a bit more time and practice I could create a more convincing panorama. 

Monday, October 07, 2019

A Hawaiian Shirt in Manitoba

Behold the tent that Sean put up
That Earl showcases here
A tent one size bigger than pup
2009 the year

Mere hours hence poor Sean will face
A mattress leaking out its air
Sean sinking to the hard Earth where
Stone rocks appeared in painful place

Grumbling Sean rose up 'fore dawn
And pancakes cooked upon the lawn
Earl tried to help in his own way
By snapping photos through the day

In later days stone-injured Sean
Would seize chance for revenge
Stuffing mattress in the trash
For giving him the bends

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Two Empty Lawn Chairs

There's something very relaxing about this image of the Etsell farm shot in 1973. Those lawn chairs look like they're just waiting for someone to sit with a book and a lemonade. And see how vibrant the flowerbed was...

Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Theme of Tomorrow

While I wasn't fully sold on Man of Steel (as a science fiction movie; not bad! as a Superman movie; not good!) I did really love Hans Zimmer's music. YouTuber Joseph Bennie has mashed Zimmer's Superman theme with John Williams' legendary Superman theme, and the results are pretty thrilling, at least to my untrained ear. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Saw My Own Heart Beating Today

As part of a series of tests to see why I have a persistent cough, I went in for an electrocardiogram today. But I think they also gave me an ultrasound, because the technician put a bunch of gel on my chest and jammed a wand into my ribs. I could see my heart beating and lungs working on his screen. Trippy.

The tech gave me quite a bruising with the wand, too. Ouch. On the other hand, cost to me=zero dollars, so hooray for public health care.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Beyond Meat?

I just sampled a Beyond Meat burger from A&W. while I don't think it beats a Teen Burger, it's better than I expected. I certainly support efforts to provide meatless alternatives, especially if they can match the taste of meat and meet or improve the nutritional value.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Fall 1975

Some power lines, a muddy creek, the quiet death of trees that comes undone by spring. Autumn. Somewhere. 1975. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

In Memory Yet Greenwoods'

For over a decade, I made two stops every Wednesday: I went to Warp One on 81st avenue to pick up my comics, and then walked through the back alley and went through the back door of Greenwoods' to shop for books. Both stores are gone or relocated now, but the memories of browsing through those strangely dark aisles remain.