Friday, September 17, 2010

Novel: The Boy From The Basement

Whoa. This is a very heavy emotional ride but we're perfectly safe in Susan Shaw's hands throughout. Frightening, haunting, joyful and funny, the story is very well-written and well-told, drawing you fully into the head of it's struggling hero and stripping bare the wires that connect people together, for better and for worse.

I read the first two pages of each of a bunch of 'teen' books, looking for potential reading group candidates. But this one, I could not put down until the end.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


My volunteer schedule happened to coincide with the first day of school on September 7th.

It's odd to see how seemingly fast my young friends have changed. Faded freckles. New shoes. Longer hair. And they seemed quieter; more mature than they'd seemed as of our last meeting in June. But then, the first day of school is perhaps simply a more sombre affair than the last day of school.

I must wonder how parents perceive such observations. What is it like to have your child constantly disappear on you and re-emerge as someone else? It sounds vaguely frightening.

I stopped in Thorold on the route home to spend an evening with Skeeter Willis, kicking off the Strat-o-Matic season with a pair of one-goal losses for the Ybor City Tabaqueros. On the up-side this technically makes us the statistically most likely team to acquire Sydney Crosby in the 2011 entry draft. Always a silver lining in our world of dual perspective.

Back at the place I've never thought of as home, it's late and the man some people refer to as my dad is sitting motionless in the dark out back. He's drunk naturally and everything stinks of whatever horrifically putrid chemical concoction forms cigarettes. My presence triggers the motion-sensor spotlights.

Rather than flee to my room this night, I linger. It weighs on me that our time is almost up. Soon our colossal failure of each other shall be official. Three loads of the truck some afternoon soon and I quietly slip out of his life or lack thereof.

"Nice night," I say.

"It's cool," he says. "The way you like it." And there it is. The one and only thing he knows about me. I owe him some explanation.

I wish neither to talk nor to leave him. I step out of the light and and look up for stars. It's as good a night as you can get for it around here. No clouds. No moon. Immediately I catch a shooting star.

"Meteorite," I say.

Venus sparkles fiercely, accompanied by just a few dozen pale companions to penetrate Hammertown's hefty film of light pollution.

Eventually I give in. "I'll be right back."

I grab my cigars and a couple Guinnesses and do what one does if you can't beat 'em.

At the patio table I clip, light and pour and study the stout's hypnotic cascade. I already know that I will not be emboldened. I will not coach or lecture. I will not reveal myself and have rare truth be thought a lie. Because it's pointless. Because he's confused by things outside his little shell and he's deeply unpleasant when confused.

"I want to do things but then I don't do them," he suddenly says.

This is new.

"Like what?"

"Like stop this." He holds up his cigarette. Quit smoking, he means. "Like pulling those weeds."

The poets would say it's the devil holding you back. Or God. Same thing, I refrain from saying. Nor do I say, Your brain is managed by a floating hierarchy. The agent in charge one moment is demoted the next, in response to a laughably redundant roster of survival instincts.

"I'm losing things," I say instead. "Bit by bit. Like the capacity to perceive which are weeds and which are plants. I see green stuff fenced in the garden and green stuff coming up between the flagstones. But which are the weeds and why? Weeds are the things that evade our control?"

"Weeds are the things we don't want," he says.

Speak for yourself.

We smoke and drink and talk intermittently. I dumb myself down to avoid confusion and unpleasantness and come off sounding absurd. Just when I'm sure he can't make one more visit to the fridge without falling down he says, "Time for bed, Charlie." The little ball of fur and teeth looks up at him from his basket lounger. I stand to leave.

"Thank you," he says.

I remain motionless a long time. Finally I say, "The reason I always stay in my room; why I don't join you out here, is that I can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke. I just thought you should know that."

He brushes his fingers through the air at me. "Go to bed," he says, which means, I know that already.

"Well something's lost and something's gained in living every day."
- Judy Collins (song: Both Sides Now)