Mak’n Sparks

Janice and I spent a month over Christmas and New Year visiting family and dog-sitting in BC. The majority of the time had us in Victoria. While we were there I contacted the Victoria Writers’ Society to see if they had any events or functions taking place during our stay.

They did: the Society’s Annual General Meeting was on the slate and the Secretary, Ms. Sheila Martindale, invited me to sign-up for their Open Mic, which, she assured me was the main activity of the evening.

So I did: reading a sightly abridged version of “Sweet Caporal at Dawn”. It was fun and Jan & I really enjoyed the various readings. Lots of grab-ya-by-the-throat poetry and some fine essay and memoir pieces.

A reading I found particularly entertaining—and relatable—was Ron Stefik’s bright, funny ramble, “Mak’n Sparks”. I’ve received Ron’s permission to share it here.

Like Conrad led us upriver into a world of winding darkness and deception, so—conversely—Ron takes us downstream, away from lives filled with confusion and dilemma.

We are brought into the quiet of the workshop: the place of washer-filled Cheeze-Whiz jars suspended by their lids from the underside of a shelf… the land of pegboard and felt pen outlines on the wall… the sanctuary of our favourite tools—their double-insulated smells, their familiarity, their loyalty, their simple ways.

But also the power tool’s growling capacity for raw, emergency room-feeding might!

“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”—Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

 

Mak’n Sparks

by Ron Stefik

I enthusiastically read the latest Canadian Tire advertising flyer that had arrived in the mail.  These are basically glossy hardware porn. The centrefold display caught my attention, the item between the stepladder with open legs and the set of socket wrenches. Angle grinders were on sale.

I have always felt a desire to own a portable angle grinder. Not an actual need, but a desire. When I had worked in the design office at Strathcona Steel in Edmonton, I would occasionally have reason to go down to the cavernous shop floor; to get a measurement, to get a progress update, or to get yelled at for not wearing safety boots. Metal shaping and welding stations were busy all around as I navigated across the factory, but those using angle grinders seemed to have the most satisfying tasks. Like Prometheus delivering fire, labourers cast long showers of fiery sparks to the howling accompaniment of their empowering device. Here be men!

Ownership of such a tool might lead to identification of a previously unrecognized daily need for such a thing, and would likely inspire a worthy addition to my story series, “The Joy of…”.  The Joy of Radial Arm Saws, The Joy of Hedge Trimmers…..The Joy of Angle Grinders…..intriguing titles like that.

Scanning the store shelves in my quest for self-worth, I suppressed a rising panic this item would be sold-out and unavailable to the remaining local angle grinding citizenry. Such disappointing ventures are reminiscent of potential dates that never show, an unfulfilled promise of a happily ever after future. Discovering my equivalent of the Golden Fleece craftily located on a lower shelf, with fevered anticipation and sweaty hands I made my selection from the inventory. I had briefly considered using some of my hoard of 5 and 10 cent Canadian Tire coupons to finance the investment, but wisely decided to maintain this bankroll for a future spending spree, such as the purchase of an electric lighting fixture to donate to an Amish charity. However, I did also acquire a 10-pack of grinding wheels. I was sure to identify many things around the house that could benefit from a good grinding. I could hardly wait to get home and start annoying the neighbours.

Alone in the privacy of my workshop, I savoured the moment of unveiling. The box included an instruction book sealed in a plastic bag. This would preserve it in pristine unopened condition for the benefit of future generations. It was tough plastic, and curiosity getting the better of me, I used the grinder to get it open. A thick booklet, it was printed in a multitude of languages, for the convenience of angle grinding Swahili bushmen and Bedouin travellers with long extension cords. Of the 32-page English section, the first thirty-one and a half pages were dedicated to safety advisories of the “never do this” variety. Such as using this power tool to open a plastic bag.

As it would happen, I had recently brought home from a neighbourhood free-pile a damaged air compressor. I did not see any need to compress air but had a vague idea of using the attached small pressure tank for a future inventive project. It was welded on. My first grinding task! Safety glasses and ear covers on, I attacked the task with suitable angle grinding élan and vigour. Electric motor whining at a satisfyingly high pitch, sparks flew as I spread destruction, Jedi warrior descendant upon a metallic foe. Within minutes I transformed a once useful piece of equipment into bits of scrap. This was progress!

Having satisfied my initial primal urge to cut through metal, I await the next necessity that will present itself to use this latest weapon in my home-improvement arsenal. That jam jar that has been getting a bit tough to open? Perhaps a bit of grinding to remove the lid is in order. Or perhaps a passerby on an electric shopping scooter will overturn in front of my home and require my rescue with a portable angle grinder to cut them free from the wreckage. One can only hope.

A Mennonite Imposter’s Discursive Rhapsody

Three Problems with Christianity: Souldierism, Heaven, and Receipts. (And possibly some of the reasons why the author maunders along in so many stories, searching out weak actors like a Red Rock Bible Camp Councillor hunting for Playboys between the mattresses.)

Problem One: Onward Christian “Soul-diers”

  • Mennonite religion (voted *Best Guilt* at Reformerpalooza) is obsessively and unabashedly built upon an army mentality.
  • Follow orders or else. It’s just that simple.
  • Those who ask questions based on some external code or sense of moral dissatisfaction are often eliminated. Shunned, excommunicated, kicked out, shit-canned… The church is governed by court-martial law, coercively presided and prosecuted by high-ranking church officials who are put in place by you-know-who (Die Owlah! An unimpeachable authority.) Just like the armed services, to disobey is to risk extreme penalties and disgrace.

So why is an organization dedicated to peace governed by the same laws, ordinances, and traditions that are used by the world’s militaries; the same rules that were in place for the fearsome armies of the Old Testament?

  • Also like the military, most Christian conventions change, but they are grindingly slow to do so. Examples of past changes I’ve seen in my own adult lifetime: Divorce (with the caveat that it is still far rougher on women then it is for men), Tight Jeans, and Rock n’ Roll. No? Just take a look around at church this Sunday, is there not at least one divorced person in your pew? Are you and others not wearing jeans that would have drawn a hair-afire rebuke in 1970? That musical menagerie: drum kit, synthesizer, and stable full of guitars up on the (ahem) stage is at the ready and is not out of place, in fact, they are the instruments of salvation and worship.

“Last one in the mosh pit is a demon!” 

  • And yet the church, just like the military, battle on in their efforts to resist LGBTQ (see below), to sustain their sadly obvious misogynistic roots, and to disavow the nativism that the church’s unholy co-combatants—far-right conservative politicians—seek to uphold.
  • In 2012, Steinbach, Manitoba’s Southland Church led opposition to a provincial law that sought to provide protection for LGBTQ students suffering from bullying. The church took the position that the Bill would promote “wrong lifestyle choices.” A petite-but-confident and charismatic high school student (not yet voting age at the time) serenely and handily took on the Steinbach Town Council, several adult congregants, a group of not-so-petite (but plenty-surly) adult members of the local ministerial association who carried NOT ON MY WATCH! placards. This latter crew had to be gavelled into silence and was threatened with expulsion from council chambers. Despite being less disruptive than the placardists, a phalanx of spear-wielding ancient Roman soldiers was prevented from entering the chambers.
    • “We want them to change it (the Bill) to say independent faith-based schools do not have to have groups that are in conflict with their beliefs,” Coun. Susan Penner told CBC News on Thursday. —https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156 (The soldiers could be heard grunting and clacking their spears in noisy agreement outside of the meeting room.)
    • At Steinbach’s Southland Church, pastor Ray Duerksen told parishioners during a (“worship”) service on Feb. 24 that God will judge those who don’t oppose the anti-bullying bill.—https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156
  • My QUESTIONS for Coun. Penner and Pastor Duerksen include: “Is it still your watch? An elected or appointed position? Both, you say?” And, “At the point when the church and the town finally change their puny positions on LGBTQ issues, what REDRESS can be expected for your irresponsible and discriminatory actions in 2012? Will this redress be financial? A public apology? Resignation? Stoning?
  • I have no questions for the placard-waving chuckleheads or the Roman soldiers. (These two represent the same fertilizer; in different piles.)
  • It is my prediction that the petite young high school student who—armed with only five smooth stones—stood up to colossal hatred in 2012. I believe she will one day be a legislator who will debate on a level battlefield. I expect she will defeat the doctrine-wielding and the spear-wielding, alike. I suspect her “watch” will be empathetic and egalitarian.

Problem Two: Heaven

  • You rent a house. The owner stresses that you—the renter—have full dominion over that house. It’s yours to use as you please. It’s almost as though the landlord told you, “I got awesome insurance so party on, DUDE!” Additionally, you rent this house knowing that you will be moving to a castle at some point in the future. You’ve taken all the necessary steps to assure your admittance to the castle. It’s a done deal.
  • My prediction, based on close personal contact with numerous rat bastards and almost as many sweet soulful brethren is that the renter is not gonna put a lot of leasehold improvements into that rental house. The renter is not gonna worry about a drywall dent here, or a busted tile there, or a swimming pool filled with empty Tim Horton cups. (Or rusted out Chevy Blazers, dirty syringes or radioactive waste, for that matter. It ain’t the renter’s problem.)
  • The renter’s carefree attitude is in high contrast when compared to their landlord-less heathen neighbours who own their abode and who intend to hand it down to their descendants… Those dumb suckers are tasked with the constant upkeep and care of their place, unlike the renter. Renters have the same rights to live in their home as the homeowners but, ‘cuz of the whole “I’m gonna move into a golden castle in the sky” thing, renters don’t really give a Norwegian rat turd about upkeep, cleanliness, sustainability or any other word ending in pollution or climate change or extinction or any words that are not “dominion over”.

Heaven appears to be an effective disincentive to take care of the earth. “DON’T BE GENTLE—IT’S A RENTAL!”

Problem Three: Receipts

Here’s a modern parable:

You run down to Anabaptist Appliances and buy a toaster. It’s fine, until one day you don’t smell burning toast. Hot under the collar, you hustle back to the store and ask to trade-in or return the toaster or to be given warranteed compensation.

“Sure, Mister Ishmael. Do you happen to have a copy of your receipt? I’m gonna need a scriptural confirmation to verify that everything you are telling me is gospel. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“Of course. But, can’t you just take my word? Have you no, uh, faith?”

“Oh bah jo! I believe everything you’ve told me—the trilogy: alternating|direct|ground… the death of the thermostat and its resurrection via the reset button… the four horsemen of the power surge… It’s just that my boss is a stickler and I really need a  proof of purchase.”

He seems insistent, this clerk. Now, you KNOW you bought the toaster—full retail price—at Anabaptist Appliances and you never abused it or changed anything or went outside of the commandments of the operator’s manual so even though you don’t have actual written proof, you say, “Look, bro. I don’t have the receipt, but my buddy James, on King Street, he can vouch for me. Will that do?”

“Sure. As long as it’s in print, on ancient, rotting scrolls, in an appropriate language not spoken on earth in centuries, and concerns only the toaster model later built in the precise triangular region delineated by i.) the old blood-letting clinic (Abe’s Arteries) on Queen up to ii.) Spadina and then back along Graffiti Alley to the location of iii.) the common pasture … we’ll accept that as gospel!”

“Sure, partner. Sounds like we have a deal. Is it okay if the written proof from James on King is filled with ambiguities about when and exactly how to prepare and eat toast, how a toaster should properly be prepared for sacrifice, the selling of a toaster into slavery, the rules governing the crucifixion of a  toaster, and the throwing of plugged-in toasters into the bathtubs of Hittite neighbours?”

“Hittites, eh? They’re the worst. It can even be co-authored by several hundred of James’s best buddies (just not too many women, eh?) and you can come on down and revise it any time you feel like it.”

  • The main trouble with the good book is that it is the product of WRITERS and EDITORS. Untrustworthy louts, by and large. And the genre—is it literary fiction, is it reportage, is it non-fiction, is it science-fiction, is it fantasy, is it non-fiction? Astrological science?  History text-book or historical fiction? Maybe foodie lit? (What Whales Love to Eat: Old Guys with Long Beards… Superbowl Munchies? How to Feed a Crowd with Just Bread and Fish.)
  • Lots of authors. Lots of (Holy) ghostwriters. Distributors and agents gettin’ their Gideon on too and disenfranchising the Midianite Book Club. It’s quite the anthology!

The Bible is kinda like the Leity high rollers (from a long time ago) assuring all us lunchpail Leity types that a Deity won the big hand except the Deity does not want to show His cards. He wants us to take it on His word that He filled His holy straight. He understands our mortal doubts though, and instructs us to have faith. He gives His Leity pals a few tools to help with the convincing; some insider info to prove what He claims. The suite may be Clubs. (But it could be Diamonds.) He may have drawn the Ten or it may have been a pat hand. Sure, His betting pattern doesn’t support it, but… if you don’t believe the Allmighty, you just might be banished to the basement—with his relative, Diablo, who sells life insurance—for the rest of eternity, so… it’s up to you, but I know what I’d do.

~

Also, you cowboy philosophers and your John Prine mix-tapes (“Jesus Christ died for nuthin'” etc.) and your medical marijuana… you can just stop pointing out that whole, “Well, doesn’t the very presence of evil prove that an omnipotent God does not exist?” thing. The man with the long white robe and the gold throne is getting pretty tired of that whole logic spiel and if you don’t want those glaciers to start melting at TURBO speed, then—verily, I say unto you—just watch it!

Conclusion: Wherein the Author Wraps Up with a “Ha! Toro!” and a Swirl of His Fadadatj

“The Holy Fool”. Another parable, of sorts.

You know the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where supposedly only those with “a perfect sense of fashion” can actually see the King’s new duds. Those peasants without the chic fashion eye cannot even see the King’s new apparel. At least that’s what the King’s advisors tell the King and his court in order to keep their ruse alive. No one dares point out the folly—they all pretend to be able to see the clothes, including the King—and it goes on and on.

Until, a person in the court, a jester perhaps, the so-called “Holy Fool” steps up and says the obvious. “The King is naked.”

Gasps and outrage follow. Slowly, the truth seeps in and then with a surge, everyone is busy denying that they see anything and the truth wins out after much subterfuge.

I sometimes feel like this “Holy Fool”; one who has no investment in the bullshit, a person who is not a part of it—not even close—and who without anything more than average insight utters the obvious, uninfluenced by the need to fall in line.

I am that fool. I cannot be sanctioned because I live a life within, but apart.

A believer may say to me, with force and indignation, that because I am nothing but a Mennonite imposter—a secular Mennonite—that I cannot and do not speak for Mennonites.

And yet,

  • My G-G-GF was Delegate Toews, born in Fischau and sent with 11 brooda to find a new home.
  • My G-GF and G-GM Toews, John and Sarah—late of the Kleine Gemeinde—were shunned from the Holdeman camp—shoed away like a pair of impertinent crows picking at a roadside deer carcass before the eagles had their fill. John and Sarah took umbrage at their unfair ouster and sued the church. The lowly corvids sued the uppity raptors. That must have sent tail-feathers fluttering!

Interesting bonafides, wouldn’t you agree? Plus I grew up in Steinbach Bakery—the floury bullseye of Manitoba’s cultural Mennonite dartboard. Add to that my uncommonly good and well-loved community treasure GrandMother Toews, despite her German Baptist (non-Menno) baptismal certificate. Also, my full-fledged adult-dunked Menno wife and one dunked daughter. (So our little family is 50-50: two wet and two dry. )

http___www.hendersonnebraska.com_wp-content_uploads_2012_04_zwieback

And now, at the end of this trail of breadcrumbs, I find myself standing in the court—not at the bench John and Sarah Toews stood before at the turn of the last century, but the aforementioned King’s court.

Sure enough, the king is naked. In fact, he’s got a boil on his butt the size and texture of an overfilled jambuster and a belly that must be schmaundtfat cuz jelly don’t shake like that!

The dude is, as we used to say, nuck bak-ed!

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. I Corinthians 6:12 (NLT)

So, hear me when I say that I may be uniquely qualified to see it all—including the ignoble and the insincere and the hypocritical—with eagle eyes and a crow’s discernment. I am a slave to none. And with familiarity and empathy and kinship and knowledge of the waymarkers and the places to stumble and those places too, where Mennonites soar.

~

And if I’m a little bit annoying and more didactic than you’re prepared to accept from a everyday guy, an former class-clown, an ex-jock with a plentiful supply of demons and not near enough angels, well… too bad, because no one gave me this job, I just damn well took it.

“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—P. Shelley

Place and Time

foc flannery place and time quote only

Ah, eternity.

My stories—and everyone else’s—spring from life. Life lived, life observed, life imagined. Life reconstructed.

A vital part of each story—and each life—is place and time. Truths from one era or one location or one moment in a given journey alter and define the future.

Driven by my own curiosity, here is a roll-call of Place, Time, and basic protagonist context from my stories:

i — “Encountered on the Shore” A university student makes an unsettling discovery in downtown Winnipeg, in the fall of 1973.

ii — “A Vile Insinuation” During the summer following, the main character from “Encountered on the Shore” considers fate and blessings at a baseball tournament in Vita, Manitoba, near the US border.

iii — “Without Reason” Now retired, the MC from “Encountered” and “Vile”, is diagnosed with cancer and he considers his plight and that of others like him. Set in his small Mennonite prairie hometown, current day.

i — “Zero to Sixty” A retired man is attacked, near Christmas in Chilliwack, BC, current day.

ii — “The Margin of the River” and the audio except, “Wide Winter River” The MC from “Zero to Sixty” considers what happened the day before and sees first hand the inequity and sorrow that is built into life. All life.

“The Rothmans Job” An odd couple set out on a dubious nighttime caper during a fierce winter blizzard in Winnipeg, during the 1970s.

“South of Oromocto Depths” A teenage boy gets into a foolish skirmish with his father on the Victoria Day long weekend in 1971 New Brunswick.

 “Nothing to Lose” A former hockey player looks back on his life and his regrets in rural Manitoba during the dusty heat of summer, in the Sixties.

“Heavy Artillery” A young baseball fan in 1962 becomes embroiled in adult suspicion and prejudice in a small prairie town — predominantly Mennonite. (The imaginary, recurrent town of “Hartplatz, Manitoba”.)

“A Fisherman’s Story” In 1970, on the Mexican Pacific coast, an elderly woman and her young daughter are dealt an unfair hand. (P.S. — the prequel and the sequel to this story appear in the trilogy “The Bottom of the Sky”. See link below.)

“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park” A trio of females on a wintery night in St. Catherines, Ontario, near Christmastime, current day.

“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker” A rainy, beery night in Hartplatz in the Sixties is the scene for a tangled yarn of deception.

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” A straight-laced Mennonite husband and wife take on danger in a dark Winnipeg alley in 1934. (Rerun on Literally Stories, Feb 17.)

“Frozen Tag” A man encounters a strange reprise from his past (at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1980) in the Chilliwack Leisure Centre, current day.

“The Business of Saving Souls”  A youth pastor in the fictitious city of Tribune, in the northern US Midwest meets challenges in the sanctuary of a gleaming megachurch, current day.

“The Preacher and His Wife” Palace intrigue, Harplatz style, throws a family into an untoward uproar in the 1960s.

“I am Otter” A shunned congregant discusses culture, power, and enfranchisement with a stranger near a lake in Manitoba, current day.

“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”  A mild-mannered Halifax, NS tourist is mistaken and mistook in drizzly London, current day.

“The Log Boom” Poignant points of view — a father, son, and grandfather in the Lower Mainland of BC, current day.

“The Peacemongers” War, bullies and knuckle justice from the perspective of a boy in Hartplatz, circa 1965.

“Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” Recalling employment, both the good and the bad in Hartplatz and Winnipeg, 1970-80.

“Graperoo” A piece of Graperoo bubblegum experiences the four seasons in rural Manitoba in the Sixties.

“So Are They All” It’s September 1961 and a young boy receives an education in loyalty and courage in his grandmother’s country raspberry patch.

“The Seven Songs” A middle-aged Canadian man meets a local contemporary at a resort in Mexico, current day.

“Fall From Grace” A boy gets stuck in a fraught adventure and learns about his father through it in the heat of a prairie summer in Hartplatz, 1963.

“Away Game” A 50-something man meets with an older family member at the side of a dreamy, summery lake in Manitoba’s boreal forest, current day.

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” The reader travels back into Canadian small-town hardball with the MC, reliving a fateful doubleheader from the Fifties.

“The Doeling” A brother and sister’s lives entwine from an east coast Canadian city to Belize and back. The Sixties to current day, various seasons.

“City Lights” A small-town “up-and-comer” gets in over his head in Toronto, current day.

“Groota Pieter” Spring softball in small-town Mennonite Manitoba is described, from the Sixties to current day.

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” On a moody Manitoba morning near a spring lake, a youngster and an older confederate fish for pickerel during the mid-Seventies.

“The Bottom of the Sky” A trilogy that follows a “pinche” cabin-boy and the ship’s captain on a fishing charter boat from 1955 Acapulco to the future in a fishing village in the Seventies. (P.S. – If you’re inclined, give this story a read and tell me if you think it could be adapted into a screenplay. I see it in flickering snatches of film in my head and just wonder if that occurs to anyone else. If you’re a screenwriter or in film, I’d love an opinion — tough love included. —mjt)

“Shade Tree Haven” An adult remembers more than he cares to as he thinks back to summers at a favourite swimming pool in the early 1960s.

“The Narrowing” A sensitive boy and his straight-ahead grandfather go through a harrowing experience in the Manitoba wilds, current day. An important secondary character in Abbotsford, BC is part of the story.

“The Phage Match” In a surreal radio broadcast from somewhere in Canada, current day, the evils of drug addiction are the backdrop for some strange characters.

“Died Rich” A high school freshman in a frigid southern Manitoba winter in 1961 struggles to endure.

“Concealment” A fledgling Manitoba business traveller gets more than he expects on a springtime trip to the Atlanta Zoo in the 1980s.

“Mulholland & Hardbar” (Novel WIP) A troubled youth experiences the four seasons in the Canadian Shield: love, friendship, deceit, and violence. 1972.

Drama: From the Greek, “to do” or “to act”

 

 

 

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 5 ~ Conclusion

Episode 5 – Our Finale – Showdown at the ¿Por qué? Corral

DANIELLE OARLESS peeked at her face in the compact mirror, snapped the clam-lid shut and placed it back in her crocodile embossed Downtown Baby Cabas bag. She moved towards her prey now with reptilian confidence, gliding silently over the cheap tiled floor as if it were ermine and she the pampered palm of a princess.

Entering the interrogation room, her shadow crossed Wade’s downcast view. He immediately looked up and demanded, “When do we get outta here?” his face a mask of annoyance.

“Soon, I promise,” the sultry Lieutenant replied, wetting her lips and sending a fast wink at the impatient man. She surveyed the room, pausing to nod at Kowalski, addressing him informally. “Alright, Shep, time to make an arrest. You may close the door if you don’t mind.”

As Kowalski stepped by her to secure the door, Oarless moved in behind Old Man Reimer and, placing her Saint Laurent on the table, set her feet like a lead-off hitter digging into the fresh sand of the batter’s box. Once she was comfortable, she raised both hands quickly, and, nuzzling the stubbly hog jowls on either side of Reimer’s neck with her large hands—she clenched handfuls of skin and PULLED!

Double-barrelled snot flew out of Reimer’s nostrils as he reacted with understandable shock, his eyes bulging like a hooked fish.

“Time to take off this mask, time to introduce the real smuggler… DIKJ WULF!” Danielle shouted, her neck corded and shoulders heaving as she strained to remove the mask. No headway, though…

Sputtering, cursing, his buttocks now several inches above the curved plywood of his chair bottom, Reimer seemed about to faint, to be decapitated, or to simply expire from the force of Oarless’s brawny exertions. Before any of these dire outcomes could take place, Kowalski’s voice cut through the din—

“Excuse me, Lieutenant, I believe it’s me you seek.” Kowalski stood behind her, a rubber mask with only black holes for eyes dangled from his hand.

Little Ben Reimer looked on from the other room, in utter dismay. The speaker crackled with the audio and he could see the action unfold as though he was watching an NFL game on a big screen TV.

“I’d never have guessed, in a thousand years,” he said to an equally-astonished Roget, “a Wulf in Shep’s clothing!”

* * *

“So, explain this again,” said Roget, “I’ll have an exposition chaser with this hoppy IPA,” he then reiterated.

“Sure,” Oarless said, draining her beer and jiggling the empty glass at the barman, Corny Süppsach, owner of the Shrieking Rooster Taproom, a former watering-hole for Danielle and her loqui abundantem partner.

“I knew all of the apparent ‘clues’ were nothing more than red herrings scattered about by the perp, or possibly Wade, who was trying to negotiate a buy-out of Old Man Reimer, or maybe even false evidence laid by Little Ben, who wanted to squeeze out his old man.”

Roget nodded, and in the quiet of Oarless’s pause, hummed with the tonal quality of a synthesizer, like the sound of a Dutch Oven lid slamming shut:

“DOON, DOON!”

“Ha, very clever, you repetitious recapitulator, you!” Oarless said, smiling her approval. “Yes, Dikj Wulf, creator of  ‘Slaw and Flounder’, CBC’s longest running cooking show. How did I know, you ask?”

“The sting from that show haunts my dreams, like the howls of the dogs of hell!” Roget admitted, somewhat off-topic.

“Anyway, I could not see any motive for our suspects to smuggle in these industrial-sized quantities of Mexican vanilla, so I had to look elsewhere.”

Roget made snaky-eyes at Danielle, pretending to understand. She continued:

“I pulled his LUDs and did some digging. After a night of drinking coffee from those awful little blue take-out cups…”

cup nyc doon doon prairie's end.png

“Oh you mean the cups with the kinda, faux Greek aesthetic—the meander graphic on the top and the picture of the amphora vase…”

“Roll up the rim, you win,” she confirmed. “Anyway, it was the cups that gave me the clues…”

“Wait! How did you get iconic New York City takeout coffee cups in Prairie’s End?” Corny Süppsach interrupted. The balding redhead had wandered over, his BiC poised over a small spiral notebook. “And what does an American TV prop have to do with a cooking show on the CBC?”

“Never mind that, how can you expect there to be no plot holes in a yarn as convoluted as this?”

“Trü,” Roget said in a dietsch accent, with a “when-yer-right-yer-right” look.

Corny just shrugged. “Yoma leid ecksai.”

“So, to continue,” she glowered at the barkeep, who hitched at his pants, Humphrey Bogart style. “I had to find the one person in Prairie’s End with a vested interest in massive quantities of vanilla. I looked at Old Man Reimer’s telephone bill and there it was!”

“1-800-PORN-R-US?” Corny offered.

“GO AWAY! Who invited you here, anyway, dü oult, roothoahrijch Tjreihohn?” Danielle yelled, now enraged at the bearded, freckled interloper.

“This expositional conclusion would go a lot smoother if the author had not inserted himself so rudely into the proceedings,” Roget said confidentially, looking directly at the reader and cracking the divide between the fictive and the fictee.

“Last chance!” Danielle said, making a threatening fist and regaining the floor. “I assumed it was Old Man Reimer, trying to make a few bucks off the books before flipping the Reimer Reindeer company to his ne’er do well stepson Ben, or to Wade,  but…” she paused, glaring at Corny Süppsach, who retreated, showing surprisingly good footwork for an old, red-haired, loudmouth rooster.

“But,” she continued, “Dikj Wulf had even thought of that and he had snuck into Reimer’s trailer and made all of the calls back to CBC Toronto, Mexico, and the Montreal Vanilla District from there. That’s why I figgered it was Old Man Reimer,” she concluded, raising her glass in a self-toast.

* * *

Unseen, in a black Cadillac parked across from the Shrieking Rooster, Juanita sat with her inscrutable leader, Randy the schinda Accounts Receivable clerk. The car idled quietly, sending a thin ribbon of white exhaust up towards the winter stars of the Northern Hemisphere. Dark tinted glass gleamed the starlight back at the sky.

“Shep Kowalski—AKA Dikj Wulf—is in for five-to-ten, Little Ben and Wade have agreed to our terms in exchange for ownership of Reimer Reindeers, and our friends at the vainilla cartel are most pleased with the way we’ve cornered the market in Canada. That just about does it, Oomtje Randy. Anything else you’d like done before Oarless and that half-wit return to the NorthWest Angle?”

Randy sat unmoving in the back seat. His neatly trimmed white hair contrasted with his dark tailored suit, and the perfect Winsor knot in his cashmere Paolo Albizzati.  After flicking a bored glance at Juanita, he inhaled with languid slowness, filling his chest with  Caddy interior air. Without moving his lips, Randy replied in perfect synthesizer pitch:

“DOON, DOON!”

 

The End… For now.

Fade to black, roll credits, playback theme music

Addendum, 11.19.18: Here’s a few lines of lyric for the theme music, somewhat reminiscent of “The Sopranos” maybe, or “Fresh Off the Boat”, wiv jus a sprinkle aw Mike Skinner innit too, oiy?

♫ All rise for Menno rap…
Praise God from whom
Yo, we’re singing the dox,
harmonizin’ the dox
All creatures here be–yooooo
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Got my oab boots on
Where’s my MAGA hat, Don?
Gonna drain that pond
from da lowlands yon
Gonna eat my schnectje–get yer own, my maun!
Ain’t no buttons!
Ain’t no buttons!
Ain’t no buttons!
HEAR THE HOOK!:
Yo, we’re singing the dox,
harmonizin’ the dox
All creatures here be–yooooo
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Yo, we sinje the dox!
And soowaut…

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 4

Episode Four: Johnny Cash Lyrics or True Confessions? or Quintana Roo’s on First?

Lieutenant Danielle Oarless looked at Juanita and inhaled deeply. She ‘inspired’, as Roget might suggest, both literally and figuratively. Rising up to her full six feet four inches, in heels, she said this:

“Ms. Juanita, I applaud you. I send kudos and sunshine your way, madam, for all that you do. I give respect for the way you ROCK that red paisley neck scarf over top of the pale silkiness of that Winners champagne blouse. I extoll your virtues to Gaia for the all-in way you have come here to stand up for your son, Wade…”

“Two thumbs up!” Roget added, gesturing appropriately with digits heavenly opposed.

“But,” Oarless broke off the accolades, slamming Wade’s briefcase down on the table with the loud slap of worn cowhide. “I’m afraid your ruse has been unsuccessful!”

Roget quickly retracted his thumbs.

“While your breath carries the distinctive scent of vanilla extract, and your slightly dilated pupils indicate you did actually imbibe, I am able to see past this. It is a rather well-conceived but nonetheless false furnishing. The true architecture of your story is revealed as follows,” Oarless prowled the floor like Hasterer, German fiction’s most formidable Prosecuting Attorney.

“ONE!” she said in a forceful voice, at which time Roget needed no further prompt and immediately raised an index finger, in digital support of her pending argument. “The presence of vanilla is simply a prop, I submit, and it profits not the bank account of your credulity.” At this point, Oarless undid a bobby pin and her hair cascaded luxuriantly about her linebacker shoulders.

“In the same way, you have brought along vanilla ice cream to support the idea that you are a ‘bean-head’—a vanilla addict—and that this condition is your MOTIVE for smuggling vanilla into Canada. Correct?”

Without removing her baleful stare from Oarless, Juanita reached into her handbag and withdrew a large slice of angel food cake. She took a cheek-bulging bite and chewed steadily, nodding once in agreement.

“Fine,” Oarless continued, pivoting on a stiletto heel to more squarely face her adversary. “Tell us, Juanita, what flavouring agent is used in French Vanilla ice cream?”

“Pure vanilla bean,” Juanita screamed for ice cream without hesitation.

“WRONG!” Lieutenant Oarless screamed back into the reverberating confines of the observation room. “As any true bean-head would tell you, French Vanilla is a faint replica, made using egg custard. Only a trace amount of vanilla is present!” With that conclusive pronouncement, Oarless whirled, winked twice at Roget and pointed two hooked horns with bedazzled nails at Juanita. “Two!” she hissed.

Her engine revving, Danielle Oarless spoke with her back to Juanita. “Tell us, Juanita, where do the beans orig—in—nate? Madagascar, perhaps?”

Juanita stuck out her cake-coated tongue at Oarless, squinted her eyes and said, “Mex—ee—co!”

“Easy one. But, Juanita, which province in Mexico?” Oarless replied, whirling around, eyes aglitter.

While Juanita squirmed in her chair, Oarless slid her fierce scrutiny over to Little Ben. He too seemed to be sitting on a bed of hot coals and fidgeted in his seat.

“Anything wrong, Senor Ben?” she asked, smirking. “Any idea which ‘province’ is home to the contraband in question, the van-eee-yah? Eh, Little Ben?”

mexico-map

“Stop it! STOP IT, IN THE NAME OF VERACRUZ STATE, the home of Vanilla planifolia!” after which dramatic correction, Ben proceeded to confess his seemingly inculpatory knowledge of vainilla and gave support to the Lieutenant’s theory that Juanita was more likely covering for someone else, rather than offering a true confession.

“But, I was not part of the conspiracy, I just love vanilla, that’s all!” Ben pled. “I’m no more guilty of el trafico del sabor than you, or Kowalski, or Wade Oswald!”

Juanita, meanwhile, had grown bored and was cleaning her purse out. Fresh angel food crumbs covered the floor and spilled out in fragrant abundance into the hallway.

Standing back against the wall where she could observe the prisoners through the glass, Oarless toggled the intercom switch and spoke: “Kowalski, open the door for a minute, would ya, please?”

Kowalski, giving her a perplexed pout through the one-way mirror, stood and swung the door open. Oarless watched the reactions of the three as she flipped the intercom back to the “Record Audio” setting.

In a minute, she could see a clear difference in the men. Wade and Old Man Reimer sat unaffected by the vanilla-scented air while Kowalski was clearly agitated and behaved like a dog that just caught a whiff of barbequed steak. She watched the unmistakable response as he sniffed repeatedly, nostrils flaring on the intake and his eyeballs swimming in near-swoon.

“I think we have our bandido de vainilla!” she said, tenting her fingers and resting a satisfied gaze on the guilty party.

Next: Showdown at the ¿Por qué? Corral

Interview with a Mennonite Imposter

http://bit.ly/MennoTOEWSba

Writer interviews can be kinda boring. This is a little more in the Mennonite wiseguy range of the register, but still—you know—predictably boring. And great fun to do, especially with such an engaging set of questions! My thanks to Editor Erin Unger.

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 3

Overshare: I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences doing the polka in my head with their work boots on. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, and the area is cordoned off with police tape, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

Roll, Reimer Reindeers, roll…

Episode Three: Everything must come to an end. Except for farmer sausage, that has two ends. (869 words, about an eight-minute read)

“Let’s put them in the penalty box,” Deputy-Inspector, Detective Lex Roget, Oarless’ partner said to the desk officer at the Prairie’s End Police Station.

“Ahh, gonna interrogate them, eh, Inspector?” the officer said, winking. He punched his palm with a clenched fist.

“It’s not what you think,” barked Roget, a cigar stub jammed into the corner of his expressive lips, “and by the way, Kowalski, it’s Detective Roget! Got it?”

“Yes, SIR! Detective Roget, sir. I’ve got it.”

“That’s good. In fact, it’s of benefit. Meritorious, even,” Roget said.

Old Man Reimer and Wade Oswald were cuffed, their hands behind their backs. Kowalski steered them and Randy the Accounts Receivable clerk ahead of him towards the Interrogation Room. They followed Danielle down the hallway. She carried Wade’s briefcase and commented to no one in particular, “Things ain’t changed a bit around here.”

Kowalski smiled at Roget and clucked his tongue. “Same old Danielle!”

“Same old, same old, or equally antiquated, you could also say,” Roget replied.

Little Ben sat in the observation room, one knee jackrabbiting spasmodically. He tapped fingertips on the tabletop in nervous counter-rhythm, waiting to see his father and Randy Randall, the despicable Accounts Receivable clerk, appear through the one-way glass.

* * *

“Thank you for your information, Mr. Reimer,” Lieutenant Danielle Oarless had said to him when he appeared in the Pembina, ND field office a few days earlier. The younger Reimer swore a deposition and provided powerful evidence to Oarless and Roget.

“Illegal transport of baking supplies is a scourge. It depletes U.S. stocks of vainilla negra extract, plus the VAT and income taxes that Canada loses to this flavour trafficking is significant too. Our agency normally puts more emphasis on illegal drugs, but the vainilla cartels are a growing problem. She pronounced it, “van-eee-yah,” enunciating with great care. Reimer took no notice, knowing this was, in fact, approximately the correct pronounciation, en español.

20181112_215326 vainilla vanilla

“Van-eee-yah? What is van-eee-yah? We’re talkin’ about the same stuff, eh? Vanilla extract, right? The brown stuff you put in whipped cream?” Roget asked, vexed. Oarless nodded, passing an odd, angry look at Roget as she did so.

It made no difference to Little Ben Reimer. Drugs, vanilla, or vainilla—his end game was purely to see his father go to jail. The fact that it was for the illegal importation of flavouring agents, el tráfico saborwas fine with him: crime is crime, was the way he looked at it. If he could get his old man out of the way, the path was clear for him to take over the company and show everyone what he could do.

“It’s always gonna be, Mr. Reimer, no more ‘Little Ben’!” he said under his breath as the two Border Patrol agents argued about something in hushed tones.

“I felt it was my duty to reveal the scheme,” Reimer said, adding a thick coat of verbal varnish.

“The trucks have false fenders,” he continued. “Bottles of extract, mostly vanilla—vainilla—but also some Almond and the occasional Mint from Quintana Roo and Guanajuato are hidden in bladders inside the wheel well,” he explained, speaking clearly into the recorder microphone. “The contraband is shipped into our Toronto terminal for Canadian distribution.”

“Ingenious,” Oarless muttered.

“Shrewd!” Roget said.

“And tattooed!” said the mildly hard-of-hearing Lieutenant.

* * *

And now the dominoes had begun to fall. Little Ben watched with predatory intensity as his father, Randy, and Wade Oswald sat in the sparsely furnished room, guarded by Kowalski. Oarless and Roget joined Little Ben in the observation chamber.

“What’s he doing here?” Little Ben demanded.

“Who?” Roget asked.

“Oswald! He’s the company accountant and it’s supposed to be his day off,” Little Ben said, then quickly added, “at least, I think so, anyway—not sure…”

Oarless and Roget exchanged a look.

“Like you say, he’s the accountant. You’d think he’d have to know about the smuggling, right? Anyway, we’ll find out soon enough if he’s dirty or not,” Danielle said, eyes narrowing below her unibrow.

“Good cop or bad cop?” she continued, looking down at Roget.

Bad, nefarious, irremediable,” Roget replied.

“Okay, Lex, old buddy,” Danielle said, “You’re up, as we used to say in Angle Inlet. Get in there and make them sweat!”

“Well, people say that just about everywhere. I mean, onomatologically, ‘You’re up’—that’s pretty common, it’s not geographically specific—” Roget stammered, but was interrupted (thank God!) when Juanita burst into the room, her mascara running in Tammy-like streaks down her cheeks. She posed dramatically, arms raised, and shouted,

“Stop! Hold yer damn horses!”

She paused with dramatic effect, her breath coming in heaving sobs as she looked lovingly through the glass at her cherished boy, Wade. Her teeth gritted, and the two trained law enforcement agents immediately noticed the brownish tinge on the enamel. In her hands she held a pint container of Blue Boy French Vanilla ice cream and a gleaming tablespoon, sparkling as only a recently licked spoon can…

“I did it,” she said in a wavering soprano. “I smuggled in the FREAKING VANILLA! It was me!” She threw the spoon down with a jangling clamour. “Plus, I shot a man down in Juarez, just to see— him— die!”

Next: Johnny Cash Lyrics or True Confessions?

or

Quintana Roo’s on First?

Please stand by: Episode Four will DROP on Friday @ 5:55 a.m. and Danielle is in NO MOOD to be messed with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 2

Overture: I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences doing the polka in my head with their work boots on. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!

We continue…

Episode Two: The Stampede is Ont (1,100 words, about a nine-minute read)

The trucking company was called, “Reimer Reindeers” and the company logo had been created by the owner’s diffident step-son, Benjamin, or “Little Ben” as he was known in Prairie’s End.

The garish logo showed a herd of galloping reindeer, antler-to-antler in a frenzied dash across the map from Eastern Manitoba to Toronto. Spinning, smoking wheels replaced legs and hooves. A bold, swooping font declared,

“THE STAMPEDE IS ONT!”

It had started out in Ben’s mind as, “The Reimer Stampede is on!” This was just at the time when the federal government decreed that all provinces would go from three or four-letter acronyms to computer-friendly, consistent two-letter identifiers. Thus, Manitoba went from Man. to MB, Alberta from Alta. to AB and so on.

Little Ben thought that since the Reimer company only trucked between its terminals in Kenora and Toronto, all within the province of Ontario, or ON, that a clever, meaningful slogan could be made. “The Reimer Stampedis ON!” set on a map graphic would tell people that Reimer was an Ontario carrier. Besides, he liked the herd of charging reindeer. “Tres Canadien,” he thought.

Unfortunately, Big Ben, or Old Man Reimer as he was known in Prairie’s End, thought that the two-letter names were a temporary inconvenience. “That will never LAST!” Based on this viewpoint, and in the dubious interests of saving decal material, he ordered the graphics company to create a shorter, less clever slogan, “The Stampede is ONT!”

* * *

Wade walked up to the three-step wooden porch hung on the side of the construction trailer. REIMER REINDEERS – OPERATIONS was stencilled onto the corrugated sidewall and a busy cluster of alien-looking antennae poked up into the pale blue Manitoba sky from the flat roof. A radio tower was bolted to the end of the trailer and it stood erect, a lone 40-foot weed in a field of alfalfa.

That’s quite an impressive erection, he thought.

Checking his briefcase just before he entered, Wade ensured that he had all of his paperwork, the contract documents, the bank draft and the Non-disclosure agreement. He paused on the porch, striking an improbable Superman pose before he entered, to steel his nerve.

Inside, as always, sat Mr. Reimer at a desk made from sawhorses and a sheet of cabinet plywood. A (crude) oil rendering of a stampeding herd of reindeer was screwed to the buckled panelling behind his desk. CB radios sat in a clustered congregation behind him, little green bands pulsing brightly, indicating that the drivers were accessible, should he need to speak to them. A tangle of microphone cords spilled onto the ground – a brimming cornucopia of coils.

“Nice of you to drop in on us this afternoon, Wade,” Reimer said without looking up.

The clock read 7:53. “Yes, sir. My pleasure.”

Reimer looked up quickly, his normally stern, heavy-jowled countenance now made even grimmer by a pouting grimace. “Eh?” he grunted, glancing sideways at a young man a few feet away at a small wooden desk. “Accounts Receivable” was written in felt pen on a scrap of two-by-four standing edgewise on the desktop.

The fellow seated there—he was maybe twenty or so—glanced up at Wade, then over at Reimer. The boy shrugged, tossed the blonde hair out of his eyes and tapped his watch. “Tap-tap-tap,” said the Timex.

Schinda, Wade thought to himself, taking care to register no emotion or concern.

“It’s my day off, sir. Remember? Besides, I start at eight, so…” Wade replied.

“So, why are you here den?”

“Well, Mr. Reimer, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” Wade said, peering down and fishing around in the briefcase. He pulled up a clutch of papers like he was retrieving a stringer of perch.

“You’re gonna hafta wait a minute. Wade a minute, eh?” He grinned a wide, toothy smile towards the skinny boy behind the Accounts Receivable two-by-four. The boy smiled back and then spat a full mouthful of sunflower seeds into a white foam cup on his desk. He transferred the contents from the cup to a round, grey metal wastepaper container at his feet. The metal pail was half full of wet, spent seeds.

No wonder his hair’s so yellow, Wade thought to himself. He’s turning into a sunflower.

“Is it possible we could have a private conversation, sir?” Wade asked. He shuffled sideways, scraping his feet to indicate that the ribbon-headed AR clerk could sidle by him and out the door of the crowded trailer. Reimer’s wooden chair creaked.

“About what?” Reimer said, leaning back. The schinda clerk did not move. He watched Reimer like a cat staring through window glass at a bird feeder. If he had a tail, it would have twitched.

“A business matter, ” Wade said, then cleared his voice and restated his case, “a very important business matter. Urgent, as a matter of fact.”

“It can’t Wade?” the sunflower/cat/boy said, one clinging black seed giving him a Jack-O-lantern grin. Bobby Clarke, 1969.

Reimer snorted out a guffaw, and then said, almost in one word, “Randy, get outta here for a while.”

Randy shut his ledger, grabbed a handful of seeds from a near-full dish and went out a door behind him, grabbing his jacket as he left.

“Welllll,” Reimer said, dragging a chair to the side of his desk for Wade to sit. “When yer accountant says he has urgent business, then I guess you gotta take a minute and listen.” He reached to the other side of the desk and plugged in a kettle. A jar of instant coffee sat open on his desk. “Prips?” he asked, motioning at the coffee.

“No, thanks,” Wade said. He sorted the papers in his hands like he was alphabetizing them, stalling for time. Sitting upright on the hard plastic seat, his chair was almost tipping forward. Is the offer enough? It’s three times the value of the rolling stock, parts, and the buildings. His receivables run at only 50K, so that’s easily covered. What if he counters? Of course, he’s gonna counter, Brainiac—just go already. It’s a shitload of money and he’s gotta retire soon! He can pay off his house, get that big fishing boat he always talks about.

“Mr. Reimer, I’ve come here this morning to make what I consider to be a very…”

Before he could finish, there was a crash and a tall, muscular body filled the open doorway. Square shoulders blocked the sun – an impenetrable silhouette, an amorphous Rockem-Sockem black shape.

And there too, hopping and bobbing from behind the imposing hulk, trying to see inside, Wade spotted Little Ben’s balding, cue-ball-white head.

In a twinkling of bedazzled-nails, the shadowy figure held up a gold badge and in a dark brown voice, she said, “DANIELLE OARLESS! U.S. BORDER PATROL. YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!”

Next: “Everything must come to an end. Except for farmer sausage, that has two ends.” (Airs Nov 13, 5:55 am)

 

 

 

The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

The Rothmans Job
By Mitchell Toews

A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”

#

Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.

#

Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.

#

“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.

“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”

“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.

#

Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.

#

Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”

Ink and Virtual Ink

I write every day. It’s a reliable and productive way to do the job and besides, I am an obsessive sort, given to 15-year spurts of sometimes/usually idiotic fervour.

Entering now my second full year of devotion to fiction only somewhat interrupted by the needs of my splintered 67-year-old cottage, I now appreciate that “writing every day” has strata and graduations.

Yesterday, for example, I did a lot of “real writing”; top strata stuff. I wrote about half a story — a tale of logging in the temperate rainforest in British Columbia. Next, I refined and polished an existing 2300-worder that is quite new and in which I have a lot invested. It has been shit-canned (declined) a few times but I think it’s getting close. I redid the ending and the opening sentence – hard stuff, there. Neat. No rocks or mix. After polishing, I submitted it to a site that I am excited about and hope to get my second base hit in as many at-bats with them.

That almost covers the pale; writing, re-writing & editing, polishing, blogging, tweeting.

The first four are production. The last two are sales and marketing. Those two major divisions–production | marketing–are similar to the disciplines in which I spent, respectively, much of my work career. The first sixteen years making things out of wood; the next 21 making things out of thin air. Well, words and pictures, anyway.

Like everyone else, when I made the jump to hyperspace and gave myself freely to the gods of fiction, it was with the belief that I would be writing. That’s it. I’d write stories. People would read them. Various levels of mutual satisfaction and progress would ensue.

I had no notion that there would be various levels or that I’d be like every cop character on every crime drama on TV, ever — I would love the real police work (ie. writing) and detest the ignoble job of “paperwork” (ie. promotion). Ironic, since I spent the last two decades trying to persuade people to buy stuff. I was a brass-knuckled, bull moose promoter.

So, to recap: the item you are reading right now is blogging. This level of writing is without doubt, not pure art. Nor is it pure fluff. It’s somewhere in between and would take a far stouter mind than mine to reckon where on the entertainment vs enlightenment scale it falls.

A few days back I had TWO short stories launching on one day. Two distinct stories on two distinct sites. A good day. (June 5 – buy a lottery ticket next year. Trust me.) So that day was spent in the throes of persuasion and proclamation. I had written two stories, sweated the shit out of them and put my bloody, beating heart into them. Risked ridicule. Banished doubt – if only long enough to press SEND. I had been rewarded by two smart, discerning, educated and deadly serious editors with two separate acceptances. (Take THAT, Duotrope statistics!) So, you have to agree, having put all that soul into the scribblings, I owed it to myself to see to it that a few readers learned of these acceptances – these hallowed, hard-won publications. 

Can I get an AMEN?

But. Yeah, “but.” The fly in the proverbial colloidal gel is that all that time I spent being glib and puntastic on twitter and Niume and FlipBoard and whatever-the-hell-other intercapped literary promo web sites you got… was time spent–all together now–NOT WRITING.

Yes, instead of writing the first half of that lumberjack story or finishing one of the other dangling dirty realities I have on my artiste’s workbench, I twiddled and twaddled and twittered. I blithered and I blogged and the fork ran away with the spoon.

So, in the final analysis, promo is just part of the job. The writer’s job. There’s no doubt. Pipsqueak writers like me, afloat in the immense literary ocean, splash and wave and try to flash a mirror in the eye of the hoards of readers and literati who sail by. Big shot authors have their people* do all the promo stuff, BUT they have to make the rounds. They have to dress well, be literate beyond the “How about those Canucks?” level and speak intelligently and with the appeal of the celebrity class about their writing; other writing; all writing; art; and LIFE.

Life, Goddamnit, life.

So, I had better get used to it. (Again.) Back to the promotional coal mines. Back down–like Vincent Van Gogh and the children of Borinage–into the pitch black of the coal mine of sales, marketing, advertising. Back to the banalities of brand, the anal obsession with attributes, and the diatribe of differentiation.

Toews short stories: “Great Taste!” “Less Filling!”

“One third fewer adverbs per page!”

“Read, WOMEN WITHOUT BONNETS for raw, unbridled Mennonite dance party descriptions, ripped from the lives of ditt sied!”

I think I will just let my inner smart-ass take over the marketing department and, you know, let the F-bombs, the arcane references, and the obscure puns fall where they may. Who knows? That may be the best marketing plan of all.

allfornow – Mitch

(*They have people, don’t they? I want them to have people.)