Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

The Rust River Swimming Hole

December 8, 2016

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(dedicated to my mother)

Grover McToll moved to Rust River – a comfortable suburb of Steel City – after it had been mostly filled up with bungalows and lawns. So the neighbors looked at his arrival as one-more-car and one-more-lawnmower noise. They hated him before even meeting him.

He built his large bungalow in eyeshot of the Rust River swimming hole, a private waterfront lot whose owners allowed their immediate neighbors to swim there when they weren’t using the beach themselves.  They didn’t tolerate outsiders though.

Grover himself never went swimming there or let his kids swim there either. He was way too aspirational middle class for something so savage and white trash. But perhaps to prove his value to his neighbor-a-phobic neighbors, Grover used to police the water hole, especially at night, to make sure no non-neighbors used it. Now, there are no waterside public parks in Rust River whatsoever, so the stream of teenagers looking for a place to smoke a joint and go swimming kept him and his police friends very busy. He saw himself as a kind of property value protector whose target was savage teens smoking dope. And trust me, most of the teens in our suburb were savage.

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My best friend at the time, Jimmy McPiper, never learned to swim. Neither did his brothers or sisters. His family were too poor to go to the beach, there were no public pools, no swim programs at our schools, and there was nowhere in Rust River where you could swim for free even though all of Rust River is, at most, a ten-minute bike ride from the swimming hole. There were actually no natural parks of any kind in Rust River, the “green” of Greenwood Drive was found on the lawns and in the money wasted on trampolines and board games.

I sometimes wonder if suburbia was created to make sure no one got to enjoy nature.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011

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(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

U.S.S. Enterprise

May 13, 2009

uss enterprise 2

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Farfour and Bananarama have been standing on hot asphalt for over an hour waiting to get onto the USS Enterprise ride at Canada’s Wonderland.

A young boy eating a clodhopper ice cream notices the smiling mouse and his three female companions, and slowly approaches them, eying Farfour carefully. The celebrity mouse seems to be the only one who is dressed age-appropriately.

“Excuse me, aren’t you that activist mouse on Palestinian TV?” asks the little tike as he clutches a yellow Tonka truck in the kangaroo pocket of his name-brand hoody.

“Yeah! You must be Nourdine, the boy from the embassy. Am I ever glad to see you!” Farfour had called the Palestinian Embassy in Ottawa as soon as he found out his flight to Hebron with Bananarama had been diverted from London Heathrow to Canada.

“So,” Nourdine asks between licks of the nougat in the candies that punctuate his cone, “why are you in Toronto and not in Hebron for the concert?”

Bananarama’s North American corporate connections have already dispatched an army of emergency PR people to Toronto to clear up the spin mess that came out of their flight being rerouted. The No-fly lists are getting out of control; Bananarama find themselves on it for scheduling a charity concert in the same venue that Hamas holds its annual karaoke night.

“Well, they told us there were technical problems on the plane, and that we’d be safer coming to Toronto for a special routine maintenance check up. In a few days, we’re gonna fly directly to Beirut, and then connect to Hebron and do the concert a week later than scheduled. So far, there’s only been a 5% cancellation rate,” Farfour calmly explains. He hasn’t heard about the political reasons for the rerouting of his plane, and blissfully imagines that things are happening exactly as they should.

Meanwhile, the girls are signaling for Farfour to hurry up and get his furry little mouse ass onto the friggin’ ride! Sara is sitting in the front, while Siobhan and Keren sit behind her, patting the second-place spot for Farfour, as if he were a dog. Time for the shy little mouse to ride the Enterprise with his celebrity girl-singer heroes from England!

The USS Enterprise is a vintage amusement park ride that has been recovered from the CNE’s old fairground when the CNE was closed down to free up some prime downtown land for more metallic condo towers.

This thrill-ride is composed of a flat, horizontal wheel, with hinged missiles hanging along its circumference, each missile holding three or four passengers.

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As the wheel accelerates, the missiles swing outward until they are in a completely horizontal position, held there by centripetal force. Then the entire 20m-diameter wheel begins to slowly rise until completely vertical. When it is at its vertical apex, the missiles at the top are completely upside down. They call this part of the ride “the change loosener” and it brings big tips to attentive carnies. The entire ride usually lasts 2 to 3 minutes.

Farfour and Bananarama spin around and around for their three minutes of total acceleration in the vertical wheel position. But as the wheel begins to make its decent back down to horizontal, something snaps and the entire wheel, loaded with dozens of spinning-upside-down passengers flying around in circles at high speed, suddenly slips a few meters off its decent with a loud and jerky thud. Scared riders begin to scream loudly and constantly, and the operators below scramble with cellphones and monkey wrenches to raise the wheel back up to the vertical position so they can – maybe – repair it and spare the lives of Bananarama, Farfour, and the regular schmoes in the other missiles.

The girls are in hysterics. The ride isn’t stopping! Ever! They’re just going around and around and around… Siobhan’s stomach gives out, and she projectile-vomits all over Farfour’s ears and Keren’s freshly permed black hair.

If they ever get off this thing, Sara swears, there’ll be no more carnivals and zaniness for Bananarama, no more decadent thrill-seeking and silly videos full of half-naked dancers. They’re off to Palestine to belt out a few disco tunes and maybe – just maybe – to bring some sunshine into the lives of a few unhappy children.


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