Beef Ravioli. It’s quite possibly the most perfect food for today’s world. It’s all there. The beef provides the protein, the tomato sauce is there with the citric acid and fibre then the pasta brings the carbohydrates to the party, all packaged non-perishable in an aluminum can, ready to be warmed up in a quick minute and a half in the microwave. I cannot begin to tell you how well this fits into my life. I think I’ve eaten a canful for supper every night this week. Take a look in our battered old blue box, it’s full of those cans. See my skinny physique? It’s from portion controlled meal choices. See my boyish good looks? My baby-fine hair? There’s something to be said about all those preservatives in there. It’s perfect. Just perfect.
I love to eat my supper outside, on the front lawn of the house I rent with a couple other guys. There’s something about being this close to the ground, breathing the moist heat of transpiration with my plate on the grass in front of me as I sit crosslegged, shooing away ants and flies that would just love a bit of my meal. I can sit here proud and confident in the fact that no one else is doing this; having their supper on their front lawn. Everyone else in the neighbourhood looks at me and wonders before turning away, hoping their curiosity isn’t as conspicuous as it is. Some times, while I sit here by myself, I play a game I used to play with my sister, sounding out people’s license plates as they drove by. Like this Ford Escort wagon going by right now: 606 SQK. Sex, oh sex! Squeak! The funniest one I ever saw was OU812, that is until I found out it was the title of a Van Halen album. How very original. I was so let down from hanging around.
From this vantage point on my front lawn, i have a great view of the suburban neighbourhood I live in. You would think that nothing ever happens and you would be right, but it’s just a voyeuristic thrill to watch people trudge through the mundanity of their lives, in and out of their English Tudor backsplits, in and out of their Pontiac Montanas and Chevy Cavaliers. Besides, I’m taking a course in social work at Niagara and this gives me a lot of practical examples.
There, across the street, lives an older couple, not long ago having retired after fifty odd years of focus only to work just as feverishly on improving their property; that being their house, garden- whatnot. Everyday, even before I wake up, the man; still strong and fluid in his movement, will be working on something; a deck, a muskoka chair, a skylight, a fence, always adding on, always keeping on like a wasp at his nest. The woman too, is always out there, on her hands and knees picking weeds out of the lawn or garden, primming flowers, always keeping up the organic appearance of the house, always in the midst of some endless cycle of activity. I always feel guilty when I look out the window in the morning and find them on their self-imposed duty while I am here contemplating whether or not I should go back to sleep. What would happen to them if they should stop? Maybe they’ll die. Maybe they’ll fade away like Yoda after their life’s work is done.
Now there’s the scrape and ring of training wheels coming from down the sidewalk. It’s a little four year old accidental conception, waif thin and shaved head, riding his bike with a wagonful of toys tied to the back. I know he’s an ‘oops’ baby because although I see him everyday, I have no idea who his parents are. He’s out to see if his friends will come out to play with him. He darts headlong onto the street, oblivious to the possibility of oncoming traffic. There are no cars on the road this time, so his fate is still open but I’ll tell you right now, it’s only a matter of time before the screech, the thud and the hysterical wails for God, all too late. Seconds, months, years too late. But for now, precariously alive, he’s riding down the sidewalk looking for his friends. If they do come out, he will only allow his toys to be admired and not touched. He will then, after some delicious coaxing from the other kids, noisily delegate who will play with what and how the toy should be played with. If any kid transgresses, he will then snatch the toy away and return it to the wagon. Today however, his wheels scrape and ring along the sidewalk unanswered. I always think of an empty carton of milk in the fridge whenever I see him.
A thrumming intervention of noise; a lemon yellow Honda CRX with disco booming from a box somewhere deep inside it drives by. “SYKO” says its license plate (Sicko? Psycho?). From behind me, the front door of our house explodes open and Brandon, one of my housemates runs out into the street clad in nothing but a towel and soaking wet as a drowning victim. Jesus Christ. He is whistling and waving wildly for the CRX to stop, which it does, dramatically with screeching tires. Hollering over the disco music, Brandon gesticulates with one hand and holds the towel with another. Brandon looks like he may have been physically fit at one point, but now has grown a fratboy pudginess earned from too much beer and fast food. I wish I could throw a large rock at Brandon’s occipital lobe. I get up and take my dishes inside.
I put the dishes atop the mound of dishes that are already in the sink. I guess I’m going to have to wash them myself again. I’ll just do it, like Nike says. It’s not worth it to tell anyone off over. It’s not as if it would make any difference. I just don’t want to do it now. I take my ravioli can and bring it out to the blue box. I notice that it looks like a victim of domestic violence; a gaping crack along an entire side that makes the whole box sag open, barely able to hold all its contents. I have to remind the landlord to get us a new recycling box.
In the living room, there is John sitting on the couch a la Al Bundy, butt half off the brow of the cushion and legs open in wide crotch display. I sit next to him and see that he is watching baseball. A player I’ve never seen before on a team I’ve never heard of before is at bat. The bar at the bottom of the screen tells me that his average is .340.
“That’s pretty good!” I say.
Saying nothing, John flips the channel to a football game. I always have a caricature of John in my mind; of bloodshot, cathode-fatigued eyes clouded with cataracts staring into that spectrum and terminal whine that always comes to the tv screen after the station signs off. John flips the channel to a fabric softener commercial and stays there. I wonder if channel flipping is even a cortical reflex for John anymore.
I’m just starting my first semester at Niagara College, taking a psychology course that’s dominated my thinking lately. Like the start of any introductory course, they give you the nuts and bolts of whatever they are trying to teach you and with psychology, that’s “The Physiology of the Brain”. They feed me the parietal lobe, the motor cortex, the central fissure and I’m supposed to know where all these things are mapped out in your gourd. I know that the frontal lobe is “the seat of consciousness” and the hemispheres deal with different opposing yet interacting things, like a yin and yang in your head. The most fascinating things are the stories that the textbook tells me. Phineas Gage, for example, had his head impaled by a steel rod in an accident yet was still able to talk and walk, though his personality went from kind and gentle to mean and ornery from that moment on. This case introduced the study of the brain and how it effects behaviour and is basically the impetus of neurology. This is the kind of thing that attracted me to psychology in the first place. I sit in my room and crack the textbook open but there will be no schoolwork right now since Brandon’s disco express has once again started detonating against my walls. The neighbours always complain about the noise, but I’ve rationalized that he never plays it before 11 pm or before 7 am, though he certainly plays it LOUDLY at all hours in between. There’s not a thing anyone can do about it and the little shit knows it.
I wonder what my fish think of all this, being in the sound conductive universe of water that they live in. I get up from my desk to drop a few flakes into the aquarium and everyone stops what they are doing to go after the vittles. No one fights over it; everyone is pretty oblivious of each other, thrashing away at whatever they can get before it’s gone. When there’s no more food to be found, they all go back to their lives as they had been living them, whether it’s nipping at the bastard that swam too close to your eggs or hiding behind a rock to get away from that big angel that’s been tearing bits from your tail ever since you got dumped into this cesspool. That’s fish culture for you.
It’s an art setting up a fish tank. You have to have the right combination of fish; not too many bullies, nothing that makes too much of a mess. Some have to be algae eaters, chlorine has to be eliminated, water has to be the right temperature; all these variables have to be considered and dealt with. If you have the right balance, you can have the perfect little fish society. It’s taken a lot of work, but I think I’ve achieved something close to that. I often sit and watch them, all their colours, all their personalities, all their conflicts and interactions, for hours and hours.
Every fish, everyone plays a role, whether they choose that role or not, and they spend their whole day playing that role. Some of the living in there is great, like if you’re the biggest fish of them all, getting first dibs on the feeders without challenge, swooping them up in your maw in one singular suck while the smallfries look on in amazement. I might think that a slothful existence though. The fear everyone has for you is like a cushion of isolation and oblivion. You could become complacent, soft-headed even and still no one would challenge you, for fear. You could rot from within, die of too good a lifestyle. Not that I’d want to be one of those nerdy little fish that are always getting picked on, literally. I’ve put fish in there that I’ve found floating belly-up in the surface tension a day later, dead from nothing else but the pure stress of living in a competitive environment. Either that, or they end up simply torn to bits, dying in the terminal shock of pain, all because of their misfortunate size. In one way of looking at it, I might think that death would be better than living your life forever violating someone’s invisible boundaries and being chased into some cold corner inhabited only by some other territorial paranoiac. I think that must have been the reason why some of their kind once long ago decided to linger past the ebbing tide and risk life on land. No, I would not like to be a fish.
The street is infested with cars. They cluster together like a collection of locusts in every driveway and curbside. Everywhere is their exhaust, their sound. The world is mapped out for the convenience of automobiles. I walk down the street and remark this to myself. Everywhere i look, there are cars or things made for cars. I often take walks at night when the air is calm and kind, but this one has a dual purpose. I’ve just brought the garbage and our pitiful blue box to the curb to be emptied tomorrow and I have to get a bag of milk from the Avondale. I’ll just take my time and make it worth my while. All around, there is noise; the hiss of the highway, the thrum of a boom car, the clatter of a skateboard and occasionally the scuff of my shoes when my tired gait misjudges the improperties of the sidewalk. I walk quickly, too quickly and remind myself to slow down though I always subconsciously pickup the pace again a few steps later. A boom car (MLE XO- Emily Kiss and Hug?) flashes and hurriedly turns the corner with its tires yelping in pain, but it doesn’t see my admonishing stare at is blurs by too fast to stop should a baby wander out of its crib, onto the street and into its path. Houses I pass are half shrouded by trees and half illuminated by the glare of their porchlights. The wind is picking up, teasing the motion detectors and setting them off with swirling debris and swaying tree branches. Through the windows of some of the houses, I can see the blue flicker of television sets; cathode homefires. It doesn’t surprise me though, when I look a little deeper, that there’s usually no-one watching those sputtering lightshows. Look at me, what a creep I am, looking into other people’s houses and making sociological judgements. I really do deserve to be alone.
One house i see as i walk by has four blue recycling boxes full of throwaways, crowding the curb. Empty pop cans, especially. I stop and look the box over and find that there’s two bottles of Crown Royal in it, along with two bottles of Maria Christina. Cheese and macaroni, splitrun SI magazines, chicken nuggets, mayonnaise jars, Gatorade bottles, tied up bottles of the St. Catharines Standard... I pick up a couple crayon kindergarten pictures that had been blown astray by the wind and jam them safely back in the box. A paranoid motion detector lights up once again and I leave, not wanting to be seen going through someone else’s garbage.
I wake up the next morning and immediately crave coffee. This is a daily thing for me, is usually the first thing I think of in the morning- I don’t know why. I’m addicted. I know I am. So I dress, go pee, then head to the kitchen counter to do the four heaping scoops, 5 shakes of salt and 10 cold cups of water. It’s not all for me- everyone else will have a cup from this pot. It’s my responsibility that I gladly take on because I get something out of it. I get my fix. It’s another way that I take care of everybody here and by everybody, I include myself. When the percolator sighs to me that it is done, I take my first sip of the say and immediately my synapses fire up. My equilibrium makes the transfer from horizontal to vertical. I’m online. My day begins.
At the window, I see that last night’s wind has escalated to a gale force, bullying trees and toying with debris, of which there is a lot due to this morning being garbage pickup. The truck had gone by a while ago, but not before the wind had already upset tome cans and played straw hockey with their contents all over the street. The occasional car that drives by has to swerve to miss the cans that lunge at them from the curb. I love to watch the chaos a wind can create, but I notice that there is no one out there chasing them around, bringing them back. Doesn’t anyone notice? Maybe they don’t care. I go outside to collect ours and find clustered in the shrubs in our front lawn what seemed like all the empty blue boxes of every house on the street, clinging to the evergreen branches like refugees on a leaky barge. Our own junky blue box is not with them however and I look up and down the street to find nothing. I imagine that the wind had dealt it a final, merciful fatal blow and obliterated it to atoms. More than likely though, the garbage guy had taken it with all the other pieces of crap. I gather up all the boxes, except for one that I keep for myself and stack them to stand together against the harsh wind. Coming back in, I’m met by a barely awakened and dishevelled John, who had been watching me fromt he window.
“Where’d you get the blue box?” he asks.
“A whole lot of them were blown onto our yard so I just picked one of them up.”
“That’s stealin’, man.”
“As if anyone would miss one.”
I abandon breakfast to avoid this simple challenge to my own attempt at oblivion and retreat to my room.
Two weeks later, it’s recycling day again and no one has come to reclaim the blue box I’d procured. It’s sitting right there one my curb this morning full of pop cans and ravioli tins, ad flyers and macaroni boxes. I’m sitting waiting for my coffee to brew and suddenly there’s a knock at the door. A violent, repetitive bashing. Doesn’t anyone use the doorbell anymore or is the doorbell broken? Call the landlord.
When i answer the door there’s a man behind it, middle aged and slightly obese with a walrus moustache grown disproportionately on his face. I smile transparently and say hi.
“That’s my blue box.” He says flatly, pointing at the curb.
“Uh, no.” I laugh nervously. “I just bought it.”
“Fuckin’ liar. D’you think I’m stupid?”
I look at the man and hold my answer to his question to myself. I don’t know what to feel. He’s threatening me. He certainly looks ready to resort to violence over a recycling box. Do I feel threatened? Angry? Afraid? Why was he not this concerned two weeks ago when the wind plucked it off his curb and left it on mine. It doesn’t matter that I put the others back, and it wouldn’t matter to him if I told him that mine had been taken away. I should have kept them all. I should have smashed them all for trespassing in my bushes. I could have. I should have.
There is an ounce of sadness though, for this ignorant man that was too stupid to care until his possession went missing. His precious fucking recycling box. It didn’t matter where it was so long as he and everyone else knew that it was unquestionably his.
Poor stupid, lazy, angry man.
Nowhere did I feel apologetic, though. If anything, it was his own fault. For being so stupid, so lazy. Sad as he was, he evoked no sorrow in me. I felt like bouncing him out as if he were a bad drunk in a bar, sending him out tot eh street to forget what got him there and to wander eventually homeward.
“Take it.” I finally say, sounding eternally tired. “Fill it with shit for all I care.”
Before I realize what I had just said, the man goes to the box and dumps its contents onto the city grass. I let him do it, then turn away back into the house knowing full well that no one is going to clean up that mess but yours truly.