TDYKn – Chapter 1.2
Okay, before you all start calling in to complain, I know that that was a crap song. I played it so I could complain about it. I’ve been a fan of Weatherproof for years, but this latest release stinks so bad it makes me want to go home and ritualistically destroy all of their albums. We’re used to seeing bands start out full of fight and beans, only to get all soft, mellow and vague as commercial success approaches. These guys are running in the opposite direction, getting more and more strident. But it all rings false, like they’ve totally run out of their own ideas.
I hate it when bands start trumpeting the big causes like they’re the first ones to think of them. Side one, track three – Ozone Tan. Gee, I hadn’t heard about that issue. I guess the rhythm section spends its spare time monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. And side two, track one – Disney Dream Killer. What? This multinational mega-corp isn’t run by sexless, selfless, fun-loving elves? I find that so hard to believe.
When we do finally get it through our heads that chanting Give Peace a Chance gets us nowhere. Might as well be Hare Krishna.
To top it off, they’ve got Rosa Luxemburg on both sides of the album waving a big red banner. It says Greed Kills on the front and Fight Corporate Conformity on the back. Let me tell you, fight corporate conformity all you like, it won’t even notice. It’ll just step right over you. It might break wind, but it won’t break stride.
Now I’ll shut up and play a heart-ripper of a love song, the sort of thing that takes actual guts to perform. Some are merely haunted by memories of a romance gone bad, others are visited nightly, lashed to the bed frame and thrashed without mercy. Here’s For Shame of Doing Wrong, a Richard Thompson song rendered by Yo La Tengo.
Gill Read was awakened by his alarm at five sharp. It was the wind-up type with a hammer that rattles back and forth between two brass bells. Gill stopped the hammer with his finger, then picked up the clock and turned the alarm off. He had stopped it with his finger so often that the wire that supported the hammerhead had become bent, and the hammer could only reach one bell. But even if the head fell off altogether and the wire just waved about between the bells, farmer Read would still rise at five.
He rolled from the bed and, still wearing his long johns, slipped into a pair of overalls. Past his daughter’s room, down the stairs and into the kitchen, his movements were slow and deliberate and rested – bored. Blind, his finger found the coffee-machine switch. He slipped into his gum-boots quietly, his ears tuned for confirmation that boiling water was gurgling through the grounds.
Outside, all was still and chilly. Soon there would be frost, an early winter, snow by Halloween. No sign of the sun, but dawn was on its way. The dark was fading, being erased. As he trudged toward the barn Gill missed his dogs again. The dogs hadn’t gotten on with the llamas and so the dogs had to go. The llamas paid the bills. Four seasons had passed since he had capitulated to the forces of the new economy and, like many of his neighbors, made the transition to novelty farming. At the time, the change had cost him only the measure of pride he had taken in running a traditional family farm. He could live with that. Then it had cost him his dogs, and that really stuck in his throat. As with any pact with the devil, the price kept rising long after the sale. But there was an upside, even he had to admit that – the farm was solvent, and at least he hadn’t gone in for ostriches.
Gill sucked the crisp air through his teeth and tasted the rich sweetness of hay and manure as he opened the barn door. A ruffle moved like a wave through the chickens perched on the crossbeams – they weren’t ready to venture out yet. Just as well, he had no time for an egg-hunt. There was business in town today. The hens found a new spot under the hay every ten days or so: amongst the bales, beside the grain bins, near the rear window, or as far away in the dark as possible. But if they didn’t intend to brood, why hide the eggs? Chickens made no sense.
He knew himself to be too short to hit the crossbeams, but he ducked anyway as he groped his way to the feed cans and scooped two gallons of grain and honey crumble into a bucket and made his way carefully out. He left the barn door open – the chickens would make their way when it suited them – then closed the pen gate and trudged to the trough. The heads of llamas could be seen nodding their way across the south pasture toward breakfast. Long rabbit ears and stalk-straight necks – no matter how many times he saw them on his fields they never seemed to belong, not just on his farm, but anywhere on the Canadian prairie. Gill spread the crumble evenly along the trough bottom. In two – God willing three or four – weeks he would have to lug warm water out for them as well. August, still officially summer. Officially, then, it wasn’t chilly before sun-up.
Turning back to the house, Gill noticed the cheery forehead of the sun peeking over Scott Jenkins’ ginseng fields. As winter approached, the sun did not so much grow smaller and lose its colour as go slowly bald. “You wanna see the weather coming, watch the solar hairline.” That’s what Gill advised anyone who would listen. He noticed also the warm glow peeking from behind the black drapes of Rue’s window. Maybe she had gotten up to help out; perhaps she was making breakfast for her hard-working dad. Crap. At best Gill’s daughter had dozed off with the light on. At worst, who could say?
The most heinous curse to visit upon a fearful parent is a fearless child. Not that Rue suffered from a wide-eyed ignorance of evil – on the contrary she had gained intimate knowledge of the harshness of the world at a delicate age. And yet she seemed maniacally intent in her pursuit of trouble to get into, needless risks to take.
Unlike the vast majority of Moose Flatters, Gill had actually left town for a spell. Despite an undistinguished performance at school, he won an agricultural scholarship and headed off to the University of Alberta in Edmonton. After two undistinguished years as an “Aggie” – the second with a grade point average significantly below the required minimum – he had come home, without a degree, but with an intelligent and pretty wife named Emily.
She spotted him in improvisational drama, his fine arts option, and saved him from wasting absolutely all of his time at university drinking with other Aggies – Smitty from Bawlf, Greg and Ted from Ardrossan, and the Pyanichuk brothers from no one ever knew quite where. She led him away from them quite literally, walking right up to his little circle in the beer gardens on the university quads and taking him by the hand. He shot a false cocky smile back at his pals and thereafter barely saw them and when he did, they called him an asshole.
There had been an enormous harvest moon that night, all bloated, ripe and ruddy. He thought it a good sign. She said it looked sunburned. That image of the moon burned by the sun became the metaphor that mutely expressed all that he came to feel for her. He was the moon, timid, nocturnal, and delicate, scarcely able to endure the blazing power of the love, vibrancy and passion that she beamed at him. Certainly no stranger to flights of lyric melancholia, Emily also cast herself as the moon, and the issue was never addressed explicitly enough for either of them to get their roles straight.
With Emily’s help Gill developed a taste for movies with subtitles, cafe lattes, Coltrane, and cheap Tuesdays at the Yarborough, a bridge club that brought in second-rate musical acts during the week. Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell moved to the back of his record collection. He still pulled them out though, when she wasn’t around, when they had had a fight, or when he preferred not to sleep but rather to dwell gloomily on his deepening attachment, vulnerability and terror.
Well before the anniversary of their first date he was tossed out of school – relegated they called it – given a mandatory six month holiday to contemplate his commitment to post-secondary education. That meant the end of his scholarship, and that in turn meant he had little choice but to return home. They married in the Moose Flats Agricom. More than half the town stood on the groom’s side. Less than ten made the trip for the bride – Emily’s father wanted to keep costs down. In his toast to the groom he jokingly expressed his gratitude to Gill for the fact that he would no longer have to put his daughter through school. Everyone laughed. She never got over the sting.
Emily loved her husband enough to give up sociology and move to Moose Flats, but not enough to be happy there. She hated the town, hated the hockey, hated the farm, hated cooking, loathed her neighbors and loved her wine, more and more each week. Once his mother passed away leaving them alone in the house, a squalid depression descended. As she sank into the bottle, Gill sank himself into the farm and pretended not to notice, even when she drank herself mean and goaded him viciously. Monthly trips to the bottle depot became a painful embarrassment.
Ultimately it was her father she hated. He had duped her, sold her short, tricked her into accepting Gill, into settling cheap and living a shitty life. Her dad was to blame, but it was Gilbert who was handy and easy to punish and Gill took it all in a sullen and mute fashion worthy of a mule.
One day in their second spring he returned from a day of planting to a particularly indifferent meal, served up with a dollop of surly condescension, and fractured her cheek with one punch. Now that she was gone, Gill found himself often wishing she was there again to hold, but given all that followed he also found within himself the wish that she was there again to hit. Emily Read had fled back to her mother. Having finally achieved the pretext that she had been trying to set up two years – that was how Gill saw it – she stayed away for six months, but that was as long as she could swim upstream. Under pressure from her parents to honour the sanctity of marriage, and upon learning that she was pregnant, Emily returned.
The arrival of Rue – so named by her mother – halted Emily’s spiral into the bottle, but hastened the process of her estrangement from her husband. Mother formed a tight and insular association with daughter from which father was emphatically excluded. Emily had the child reading at age four. She performed the tasks of a farm wife with admirable fastidiousness, but that was where she drew the line regarding her duties to her husband. There would be no more little Reads. Increasingly an unwanted alien in his own house, the house of his parents, Gill turned to his dogs for company and to reading for his pleasure – first westerns, then novels set in the American civil war, then history proper. The man dishonourably discharged from university gradually became fluent in Tacitus, Cicero and Plutarch. While his shoulders stooped and his eyes grew used to being perpetually trained on the ground, there grew within him a quiet dignity, a self-satisfaction born of knowing things. His wife continued to speak to him as if she was some sort of sophisticate and he an ignorant redneck. She took no time to notice the ongoing refinement of his character and mind.
Gill was shocked beyond words when Emily asked him to drive Rue to her first day of school. But he merely nodded the same way he would if she had asked him to take out the trash or pick up some milk. He loaded the smiling, lacy little blonde bundle into his rust-eaten pick-up and lumbered into town. The girl already had her ears pierced, nails brightly painted, and her long hair was curled and tucked up in some absurdly adult style. Gill recalled that the day was unusually bright and warm for September, and that he had wanted to tell Rue about the importance of school and of getting on well with other kids – she had hardly ever seen any – but he lacked a language in which to communicate with his daughter. He navigated the school yard, deposited Rue in the appropriate classroom and returned to find his wife hanging dead from a rafter in the barn. Emily had pinned a note to her blouse that read simply, “All that is, now was.”
In twenty-three days it would be a full decade since that day, and still the arty self-indulgence of Emily’s last act made Gill feel sick with fury. In the community Gill had the reputation of an exceptionally kind and generous, if oddly quiet, man. The truth was that with every scintilla of his ill will concentrated on the memory of his wife, he simply had nothing left over for the rest of humanity but benign sweetness and light. Of his feelings for Emily nothing remained that was in any way clean or pure, not even his anger. Grief gnawed at it relentlessly, but any pang of actual longing was immediately suffocated in a sputtering roar of indignation. When the seasons turned toward winter and the earth’s axis tilted at the moon, swelling its image and on some nights turning it red, he knew that the gods were laughing at him, but he always squared his shoulders and straightened his back to deny them any further pleasure at his expense. And he kept on living. He lived for the farm. The farm reciprocated by giving him something to do with his time.
Rue never attended school again after that first day, never formed a bond with anyone her own age. She sought the company only of adults. Aware of the tragedy that had befallen the Read household, the school authorities let her non-attendance slide until it ceased to be an issue. More recently, it had been the police who had been letting things slide – her mischief, vandalism, and bar-hopping. Gill himself could never muster much in the way of authority or intimacy. He mutely forgave his daughter all things but one; Rue resembled in no way whatever his wife so unhappily departed and whose absence he deeply though secretly mourned.
With his mug now loaded with fresh thick coffee, Gill raised his free hand and knocked at his daughter’s door. Expecting no answer, he waited only a moment before pushing his way in. The bed was tidily made and empty. The clock-radio blared.
BRRRRRRRian Brainsurgery here on the mighty and glorious CRAK FM 88.17. This is Morning Zoology 101, two hours of enlightenment and entertainment in radical unprecedented combination. Before music we have a few factoids for our agrarian audience: eggs are up, poultry is down, go figure. A whole new spin on the chicken-egg conundrum. Which comes first? Answer: That which abstract finance and state interest deign to endorse with a higher payoff. And the moral of the story is, don’t invest in chickens until they have successfully crossed the road.
In other news, the CRAK Elvis-Watch exclusive has another update. The King has been sighted again, this time peddling lakefront property on Lac La Biche. Get there quick before the deals dry up or the man moves on.
Back on the subject of conundra, how can I miss you if you won’t go away.
One of Terry’s eyelids snapped open of its own accord – the other was submerged in sweat soaked pillow. A yellow sunlight glare had flooded his room, and now poured in through his unshuttered pupil. No further claim could be laid to slumber, so he pulled himself slowly to a seated position and rubbed the heels of his hands against his temples. The crackle of frying and the smell of toast crept in from the kitchen. Whoever had shared his hide-a-bed was making breakfast. Terry drank from the glass of tepid water on the night stand and tuned his ears to the radio. Brian did a good show, in Terry’s estimation.
Unlike Earl, Brian chose music because it sounded good. He adapted his selections to suit the time slot and placed pleasing the audience above challenging their cultural and aesthetic understanding. All of this made Brian Riesling, A.K.A. Brian Brainsurgery, rare among the CRAK crew. It also served to make him Peter Sealing’s favourite whipping boy. Terry admired the way he could take as much shit as Sealing could dish and just kept smiling. He also liked him for the fact that he showed at least nodding respect for Terry’s position as programming director. The rest of them just shrugged off his advice and routinely broke the in-house rules for conduct on the air, secure in the knowledge that his power to reprimand them was next to nil. Since the crew was so small and local recruitment remained a long way from filling the gaps in the schedule, Terry couldn’t take anyone off the air regardless of what they did. Even when Peter Sealing read Lenin’s On Party Work and Party Literature over a looped tape of the Monkees’ version of I’m a Believer, disciplinary action had been vetoed. Terry held a position of responsibility without authority, always a very bad idea and further proof, as if such were needed, that he was one of life’s consummate suckers.
“How do ya like your coffee?” A young female voice called from the kitchen. It brought Terry no recollections.
“Uh, just cream.”
“You’re outta luck. The cream’s lumpy and stinky, and so’s the milk.”
“Sorry. A little sugar then.”
A blonde girl leaned in through the arch that connected the front room to the kitchen. She wore a sleeveless T-shirt, a pair of Terry’s boxers, and a malicious grin. “How ya feeling, cowboy? Head bad? Bet it hurts like hell.”
“Not too bad.”
“So much for justice in the world. You were drunk as a skunk. You deserve a monster hangover.” She flashed a harsh smile and darted back into the kitchen. A pretty girl, thought Terry, but certainly no stunner. Full but shapeless lips, eyes large and round but set too closely together over a drooping nose. Even from a distance her teeth caught his eye, one on the upper right torqued virtually sideways, like a fang with wide black gaps on either side.
The girl returned bearing coffee. “I’m making scrambled eggs. Do you like them spicy, like with peppers and that?”
Terry shrugged and stared with embarrassment into his coffee. “Look, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m some kind of asshole, but I honestly don’t know who you are or how you got here.”
“Drunk as a skunk, like I said,” she cackled, and offered no further information.
“Well, what?” she gave him a look of mock innocence.
“Okay, fair enough. Could you at least tell me your name?”
“Kandy.” She chewed her lip and made a big show of thinking. “Florentine, Kandy Florentine and that’s Kandy with a K. I gotta check on the eggs.” She darted back to the kitchen and called back, “You take a girl home for the night and then have to ask her name in the morning. That makes you an asshole in my books.”
“Look, I’m really sorry, I just can’t remember much.” Nothing troubled Terry’s conscience more than the fear that he might have behaved poorly toward women. This was no sensitive man pose or ideological feminism – though he had that as well – but a concern that struck him at a cellular level. A sharp and sardonic wit on all topics, he degenerated to mush when dealing with the second sex. He quibbled, second-guessed, apologized, retracted, and drove every woman he was ever involved with running away in screaming frustration.
“Mao Zedong” served as his pet name for his penis – its arousal made him feel like a terrorist. Nearly all of his sexual liaisons occurred while drunk. Consequently he spent his life on the lam, a fugitive from complications, fleeing one disastrous circumstance while hiding himself in another. This latest disaster looked a little young but her manner was a bit slutty, and this observation went some way toward setting his mind at ease. At least she wasn’t some sweet innocent country girl who had slipped under the radar and into the orbit of his corrupt soul. But then again, she was making him breakfast…
“Apology accepted on that score,” Kandy called from the kitchen. “I guess you don’t remember telling me that you were a millionaire either? It’s pretty clear from your dump here, that that was a big fat lie. And a world-famous matador. You’re a liar and an asshole. And I suppose you don’t remember how I saved you from getting your head kicked in. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be a stain on the floor of Mickey’s.”
An unusual sound turned Terry’s attention back to the radio. A low-fi recording of a fiddle and some steel guitar warbled across the airwaves. Terry guessed the song in five notes, but he was stunned nevertheless to be hearing it on the radio – Hank Williams’ I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive. Finally someone had paid attention to what he’d been harping about for months; there is such a thing as good country music and some good country might just be the station’s salvation. There was no way of knowing for sure, but it seemed that CRAK’s listenership had started off very low and from there dropped steadily over the six months of the station’s life. Simply by lightly peppering the broadcast day with quality country they could turn that trend around, Terry felt sure of it. Nobody goes fishing without baiting their hook. If you give the people at least a little of what they want they might tune in, then they might find they like something they haven’t ever heard before and probably never knew existed. The board, led by Peter Sealing, rejected Terry’s country-and-western proposal but agreed to grant him one hour a week to showcase what Sealing had dubbed “soundtracks for wife-beating.”
Terry developed the country program, called it Wreck on the Highway and it generated more positive feedback than the rest of the broadcast week combined. The show’s very popularity convinced the board that it had been correct; Terry’s proposal pandered to the base taste of the benighted masses, and constituted a sell-out of the station’s principles. A more driven and committed man might have quit in exasperation. You can’t succeed against a metric that holds success in contempt.
“…he calls himself Stan but his real name is Constantine,” Kandy continued to chatter over the clatter of plates. “If you call him that he goes totally apeshit. It’s a good thing you didn’t know that because you weren’t doing yourself any favours. He started it, but he probably woulda just picked on you for a while and made ya sweat, then gone away. But then you said something like, ‘Wow, a ten word vocabulary. You don’t often see that in a Neanderthal.’ I thought Connie was gonna shit his pants or burst a blood vessel or something. He couldn’t believe you were that stupid. Neither could I. And that was…” she appeared in the entrance again, this time holding two plates, “that’s when I decided to save you. You wanna eat here or in the kitchen?”
Terry gestured for her to come forward, then abruptly flipped his hand around and signaled her to keep the plate away. “Listen,” he hissed with anger in his throat.
“What?” The gesture startled her and her cocky pose slipped a bit.
“Nothing. That is the sound of nothing. It’s dead air.” The Hank Williams tune had ended and nothing had followed. Terry spun his legs out from the covers, snatched up the phone and angrily punched in the number for the on-air booth.
In silence the girl shifted awkwardly, appearing a little uncertain. She set herself lightly down on the foot of the bed and nibbled the corner of some toast. After twenty rings Terry gave up. “Probably out for a smoke,” he muttered, reaching for his plate. “Amateur fucking tin-pot organization.” In a glance he noted the discrepancy between Kandy’s breakfast and his. “You don’t eat eggs?”
“Nah, won’t touch chicken either. I’m not a vegetarian. It’s just that poultry makes me puke. I spent too much time around chickens to want to eat them.”
“How about ostrich? It’s pretty big around here.”
“Does that count as poultry? Anyway it gives me the creeps. You know, I figured you were one of those radio guys.” She handed him breakfast. “Everybody hates you, ya know.”
“Well, that’s good news, I didn’t think we’d been noticed at all.”
Kandy laughed. “Oh yeah, you’ve been noticed all right. I listen a lot, whenever I get stuck out at the farm.”
“Do you like what you hear?”
“Not all of it. There’s this one guy, I think it’s Wednesday afternoon, calls himself Posterior Deltoid. He’s such an ass. He just drones on and on. It would be okay if he could talk and had something to say but he doesn’t. One time – this is really funny – he actually sneezed on the air. That’s what’s great about CRAK, you just don’t hear stuff like that anywhere else.”
“No,” Terry agreed, greatly amused. “I guess you don’t get a lot of sneezes on proper stations.” He studied her closely for the first time. She was prettier than he’d first thought, younger, and ballsy too, meeting him stare for stare: a predatory girl guide. “You know that I do Posterior Deltoid, don’t you. It’s the name of the show, not the host.”
Impishly, Kandy flashed her snaggletooth, then stuck out her tongue and wiggled it.
Terry grinned, but the silence emanating from the radio gnawed at him. A screw-up on the control board might mean a minute of dead air, a mis-timed smoke break might mean several minutes. But Brian wouldn’t have put on a three-minute country song if he wanted to step out for a smoke. For at least fifteen minutes CRAK had been dead in the water and with virtually every soul in the broadcast area getting up, out, and on their way to work, this was prime radio time, the most important part of the broadcast day. Terry picked up the phone again and dialed the home number of the station manager. Spatz wasn’t home and it was only the machine that answered.
“Martin, it’s Terry, it’s about eight-thirty and we’ve got dead air. Brian is supposed to be on – he was on, but we’ve been D.I.W. for about twenty minutes. I figure it’s a technical problem, maybe that stupid electro-static board you insisted was good enough has crashed again. If we stay dead for much longer I guess I’ll head over, but I’d really rather not, so if you get this in time, please call.”
“You aren’t going anywhere, cowboy.” Kandy snapped and snatched away his empty plate. She scurried to the sink and back. “You were good for nothing last night. Since I rescued you and made you breakfast, I think it’s only fair that I get something in return.” Without ceremony she stuck a hand into his crotch and gave him a playful tug.
Terry shrank into his pillows, took a gulp of air and vented a concern that had troubled him since he had first enjoyed a close look at the girl. “Umm, Kandy, how old are you? I mean, uhh, you’re not still in school?”
She frowned momentarily then bared her single fang. “No, don’t worry, I don’t go to school any more. You might want to get rid of that first though.” Terry’s face shot through with crimson as he realized that he still wore last night’s condom, wrinkled up and crusty like a dunce cap on the head of the Chairman.