Lost in Alternate Realities

I have spent as many hours as possible sitting in darkened movie theaters lost in alternate realities, and I have loved every moment of it. For a twelve-year-old boy, there was nothing better.

There weren’t many days spent in darkened theaters when I was that age. At age 12 we were living in Pointe Au Baril Station, Ontario. Our village, Pointe Au Baril Station, sits along highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury. It is a small community of 300 people.

It had, and likely still has, a couple of gas stations, a liquor store, two general stores and a few marinas and lodges scattered over the North and South shores. We also had two churches, a small school, a bank, a Royal Canadian Legion Hall, and a privately ran post office/bait shop and a community center that had a few purposes. Dance place, meeting hall, and tourist information center being a few.

For me it’s most important purpose was the Friday night movie. Not quite a darkened theater. Enter the large hall with me. Sit down on a folding chair. There are always enough chairs. The old projector comes to life. The blank wall is filled with wonder.

This is also what comics did for me. I bought my comics at Higman’s Highway Market. Kennedy’s didn’t sell comics. I made my money for comics by cashing in beer bottles. The bottles were redeemed at Wing’s Shell station. No, We didn’t drink the beer … that came later.

With a summer tourist trade estimated at about 2,000 we had a lot of empties to cash in. My brother and I also had a lucrative sideline in frogs. I delivered lunches to construction crews, cut grass, tied boats, and shoveled snow. My younger brother Troy and I sold frogs to the local pool hall owner who sold them to sport fishermen as bait.

The frogs, the bottles, the snow and such helped to fill the blank canvas of a child. A mental landscape filled with Dr. Doom, a blind attorney, a playboy millionaire, and a collection of princesses, orphans, and misunderstood do-gooders. Many of those characters, and their worlds, were given form by Gene Colan.

Gene wasn’t the first artist I admired. At first I liked the cleaner lines of Curt Swan and Dick Dillon. Kirby leaped off the page for me, and then something happened. I found art that resonated. It stayed with me. It seemed to have a depth beyond the page. It flowed. It showed me a world beyond my own, and yet was reflective of that world.

Gene’s (if I may be so familiar) art allowed me to see a bit of wonder in my own reality. I didn’t need to escape as much as search.

Thank you for that clarity.

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Conspiracy Theories: Our Quest for ‘Truth’.

Psssst, know any good conspiracy theories?
Do people disagree or agree with conspiracy theories on principle? Do people have a knee-jerk reaction to deny or accept them? We are human, to the best of our current knowledge. As humans, we need to understand tragedy. We are hard-wired to look for answers. The search for truth is both our blessing and a curse of our biology. Looking for answers has helped us to achieve, to reach, to overreach and to build at an almost equal rate to what we destroy. When we marvel at the pyramids, we see history and we see questions. Who, what, when and why are powerful drivers in our psyche? If we’re asking where, we may have a few gaps in our general knowledge. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by ceaseless propaganda to react with Pavlovian-like predictability to the utterances of media pundits and political talking heads. Right, left and center of the political spectrum, across ethnic, racial and gender divides we are equal in our willingness to bark and slobber as the bells of propaganda are rung.
What really gets us salivating? What makes us bark and yap on Social media? Gossip.
We like mysteries. We love hidden cities, secret rooms, alternative endings. With equal fervor, we love and despise the idea that someone is hiding things. It’s why we love to gossip. People can’t keep secrets. How many family secrets get blurted out over BBQ, or posted on social media? How long can a public official keep anything private? Can the military actually plan, execute and wrap up an operation in a completely clandestine-manner? From ancient Babylon and Sparta, and through the ages up to the modern Persian Gulf, spies have changed history. The intrigues, plots, thefts and lies existed in Greece, Rome and China and up to the fall of the Russia-led soviet state. Secrets have been hidden, lost, stolen and revealed. The fortunes and misfortunes of war have been influenced by the information gathered by espionage. In the modern era, everyone is a potential spy. Potential motivation: money, power, disruption, relief of boredom.
It may be that we have always had this need to share, publicize and record events in minute detail. If phone-cameras had existed 1,000 years ago, the Doomsday book would have included selfies of the invading and defending leaders and the latest Norman fashions.
Our culture is built on ideas and on dirty secrets, or perhaps the idea that there must be dirty secrets. From stains on blue dresses to secret apartments, and then to weapon sales. From who the Queen slept with, to whom the King killed to gain power. From secret deliveries to rebel armies. From political struggles to attempted coups. From assassinations to false flags. From cocaine-funded insurrections to poison cigars. From second-shooters to hidden explosives, to ‘gilding the lily’ before a congressional committee. From a secret desire to meet people in cubicles, and sharing genitalia images, with or without permission. It’s about arms-sales, about having a secret, sharing a secret, uncovering a secret, and being privy to the dirt.
We love discovery, almost as much as we hunger for secrets. We are awed by the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Wall of China, and even by the construction of majestic cathedrals that took the efforts of generations. Were there hidden secrets in the construction of these marvels of antiquity? We will probably never know. Do the Dead Sea Scrolls offer more insight, are there undiscovered drafts of the Koran, or the Torah? Did L Ron Hubbard get miles to the gallon, or lightyears? In our modern age, could our most wonderous achievements be fiction?
Are there lies behind some of our greatest tragedies? Did we travel to the moon? Did Roosevelt know before Pearl Harbor? Did military aircraft shoot down a plane on 9/11?
It seems likely that FDR and his staff had some inkling of Japanese military plans or at least the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Hawaii. As for the Apollo mission of 1969, and the subsequent missions; could hundreds of support personnel, families, and outside contractors have faked a series of moon landings and then kept it secret? Someone would have shared it just because they had the secret. During a game of golf, a beer, and as pillow-talk. Some scraps of film, some pictures of the soundstages would have been discovered by now. Our inability to keep secrets makes modern conspiracies less likely. Not that people are less motivated to lie, to be corrupt or to cheat, just that it’s easier to discover. The larger the group keeping the secret, the more likely someone will share. In the age of Anonymous and WikiLeaks secrets are fleeting. Keeping secrets may have become an act of hubris.
People will work to undermine the goals of a group, or even their own interests. We have been conditioned to overshare, even if it makes us look bad. Just ask Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump, and OJ Simpson. For some it may be that the world is flat, that we never landed on the moon, that secret technology is being withheld, that aliens built mostly everything, and that John F. Kennedy was shot by two people, the CIA, the Mafia, the FBI, the Boy Scouts, and three aliens who worked for Lyndon Baines Johnson.
We love secrets and gossip so much that we will create events, and the ‘facts’ to support them.
Sometimes facts are massaged, and sometimes they’re twisted. Sometimes they’re created from shoes, and ships, and ceiling wax. There will always be someone who wants us to walk along as they share tales of deceit, treachery and the perverse pleasures of perfect strangers.
Private emails, secret memos, plans for Jet fighters, the formula for fried chicken and soft drinks, and private pictures have all found their way to the public-form. There are organizations and individuals who make it their business to find, steal, duplicate and sell those closely-guarded secrets. The loss of this information could seriously damage, or even destroy, a company, a brand or a carefully crafted reputation. The loss of large companies means the loss of jobs and has wide-spread repercussions in the national and global market. It should be acknowledged that some of these leaks are for publicity and some are fictions. Hitler’s diary and fake celebrity nudes are publicity-engines. Click-bait headlines and breaking news banners can turn slow news days into profitable cycles, but carefully crafted BS can be monetized and used to drive other agendas.
For now, let’s leave the possible hidden agendas and ulterior motives to your fertile and endlessly fermenting imaginations.

Here There and Nowhere

He sings the body incredulous.
Existing between never was, and never will be.
Existing without substance, yet heralding shifting bedrock.
Occupying no fixed space, filling no specific need.
Both the unexpected journey and the probable consequence.
For all his banal and baleful presence, he is neither cause nor solution.

Living in Indonesia: A Husband’s Perspective

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Vantage graphics ... accept no substitutes

For me, the stress of this crisis began on Monday, May 18th.

“You’ve been ordered to leave.” Dini’s voice was rapid and strained.

“When?’ I asked as if someone was telling me the bar was about to close.

“This afternoon. Everyone’s meeting at the Shangri-La hotel.”

Dini, from the Canadian consulate, has been a great help. She’s helped with paperwork for our marriage; she intervened with an employer, and she has been a conduit for official information. Dini is also a very professional and pleasant person. Her clipped speech and frantic tone were completely out of character.

Basically, here was the situation. The Canadian Embassy and the US Consulate General Surabaya had chartered a flight. Canadians, Americans, Germans, Dutch and a couple of Turkish nationals were going to fly to Singapore.

For this excursion, they would pay the bargain price of $500 USD. Now, if you’re a businessman or an engineer – no problem. Teachers in Indonesia make between $300 and $450 USD per month. When you have a family, with children in school, you don’t have an excess of cash. My wife Emily and I have two children, Emily’s from a previous marriage, but nonetheless – our children. The wolf may indeed have been at the door, but that sucker was going hungry tonight. My family is my life and no crisis will change that.

On Sunday night we had a family meeting. I outlined the options.

Canada: We could spend everything we have and take the family to Canada. Canada is where I have family and friends, but no job to go back to. More importantly, I don’t have a place to stay, at least for any extended period.

America: I have friends there. Emily, my wife, has a visa. I love the country. It’s a damn expensive trip, and again I don’t have a home or a job there.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is a big, beautiful and exciting city. Emily speaks passable Mandarin and her mother is fluent in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese. The children’s Chinese is like my Indonesian: pathetic but earnest. Emily has family there. Hong Kong is impossible without money. Finding a job could be next to impossible. I want to see Hong Kong, but I’d prefer the experience to be a positive one.

Taiwan: The jobs are there in Taiwan. Many teachers have left for Taiwan. Would my family be allowed in? I can’t take the chance.

In the end, we decided to wait it out here.

With Wednesday’s impending madness (see story) almost upon us we discussed hiding out in one of Surabaya’s hotels or going out of town. We decided to wait on developments.

No one could give me a clear answer about the family. They’re Indonesian citizens, but they’re also Chinese. Even if Emily could come – as she’s my wife – what about the kids? Even if Emily and the kids were allowed, what about Emily’s mum? their Grandmother? my mother-in-law?

Do in-laws count as carry-on luggage? Don’t freak gentle reader – I love my mother-in-law. She’s a great lady. The bottom line is; I’m not leaving my family.

Norm Mcdonald from the Canadian Embassy said later that my family might be able to come out with me. On their own, Canadians have returned home. Some remain in Singapore waiting out the crisis.

Some will undoubtedly go to Taiwan or Thailand. Some will even go to Bali.

Some American friends are now in Bali, waiting.

We are now at home waiting for the situation to return to normal. Here we sit, packed suitcases and documents at the ready.

Local children are in the street. They’re playing volleyball. The ball makes a dull thud when they hit it. The balls here never seem to have enough air. They’re having fun.

Meanwhile, we sit behind our seven-foot iron fence – waiting.

Some streets, like the one directly in front of our house, are blocked by rusting cars and vans, while other streets are occupied by soldiers. The men seem decidedly less rusty than the cars and vans. The men seem to be having less fun than the children. The men are waiting.

People sit in small groups, talk, drinking and eating. Kaki Limas (five-legged men) the street merchants with their pushcarts, sell food and drink. The voices on the street are uncharacteristically low.

Sharing quick smiles, and nervous glances, hands together or resting on knees – they wait.

A young woman, eating food from a Kaki Lima, shakes her hips slowly and seductively to Ricky Martin’s ‘Maria‘. A large black rooster intrudes on the volleyball game. He exits quickly as the ball narrowly misses him. Too bad. He’s probably the noisy bugger who woke me up this morning, at three o’clock. The dancer has finished her meal and joined the game.

Young men, previously content to watch, have now joined the game. For now, they are moving, playing, and laughing. The waiting may come later.

Part Two fewnights2

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Memories of Bali

I should note that this was originally posted in 1998.

It’s good to be home.

Emily had gone to Bali a few days earlier, as she had some business and both my son and I still had school. On Christmas Eve we got to the airport and boarded our flight to Bali.

Like the song goes … “the weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew …” We made three passes over the Island of the Gods, but it wasn’t meant to happen.

The rain was buffeting our sturdy craft. It was impossible to see anything, and then the peanuts ran out.

Well, next thing you know … ol’ Wayne’s back in Surabaya. And Boy howdy, was I ever happy about that. I peppered the air with cries of gosh golly and dad burn it. I’m not happy.

Emily is waiting at the airport for me and her handphone is obviously not working. My handphone has previously given up the ghost. Now I’m using a phone card and trying to find a compatible phone. I find one, but unfortunately, it’s sandwiched between two phones occupied by men talking louder than seems necessary.

I can’t hear a bloody thing. I’m trying to explain the situation to my mother-in-law. She’s a nice lady who I communicate quite well with in person, yet her English doesn’t exist, my Indonesian is poor, the connection sucks and the surrounding noise is unbearable.

Well, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas at the top of my lungs, I compliment their country and their courtesy and I wish them on their way. My son thinks dear old Dad is ready for a new sports coat in that lovely wrap-around style.

Finally, I get through. Everybody’s okay on that side. We waited in Surabaya’s Juanda airport for an hour and a half. Finally, the plane boarded again. It was now 10:00 pm. The flight to Bali is about 35 to 45 minutes. Bali is an hour ahead of Surabaya.

We arrive in Bali at 11:40 p.m. Bali time. It’s drizzling. The taxi driver asks for Rp 40,000. I decline. We walk out to the taxi booth and buy a voucher. We pay Rp 26,000. Christmas Eve passes in the back of a taxi. We arrive.

My wife is at work preparing a shipment of fruit to Hong Kong. I am now a fruit packer. By 12:00 p.m. Christmas day the fruit is packed and on its way. We shower, eat and almost everyone sleeps.

Me, … I’m wired. The rest of our merry band has fallen asleep. The nanny and the cook are watching the kids. The next day the lost sleep will catch up with me. I take a long walk. We were in Denpasar, Bali and it’s hot. I walk for an hour and come back drenched in sweat.

Christmas night we head to Jimbaran.

Jimbaran beach is a long strip of seafood restaurants. You order your food fresh. You pick a table. On the beach, if it’s not raining, under the tents if it is. On a clear night the sound of the surf, the smell of barbecued fish and the majesty of a star-filled sky conspire to bewitch even the most cynical traveler.

The day after Christmas I sleep until 11:00 a.m. I’m still tired when my two nephews and my niece wake me. Chinese-Indonesian children do not play outside and are generally spoiled. I’ve brought some cartoons with me. The VCDs keep them occupied for half an hour.

We head to Kuta that afternoon. We don’t go to the bars or the shopping malls. We find a relatively quiet beach and play in the surf. My son, who’s eighteen, seems more interested in the spectacle of topless women frolicking close by. My head may have turned one or two times. The surf-kissed sand has been rendered almost mirror-like. The sky is a rich blue with traces of white clouds. Gradually the blue becomes purple and the sun is a descending red ball. Pale pinks and rich oranges dominate the fading palate. A tropical sunset is beautiful and abbreviated.

In fifteen minutes it is dark. The stars are brilliant. Aside from a few moments of temper, the week passes uneventfully. We watch videos on New Years’ Eve. Two days later we hop in the car and head to Lovina. We’re going to see the Dolphins.

Last episode we left for Lovina to see the dolphins.

Along the way, we pass the site of Gunung Agung’s 1963 eruption. The devastation was massive and thousands died. The Balinese believe that this was because prayers had been interrupted. Now the boulders, once part of Gunung Agung’s crown, are strewn about, but they are covered with lush vegetation. It was another example of nature’s power to repair itself.

I was reminded of a walk through Canada’s Algonquin Park.

Granted, it probably doesn’t need to be said that it certainly wasn’t similar terrain. A picture from the early years of the last century showed a devastated mountain.Trees, and earth torn away to run a rail line through. Then in the fall 0f 1995, I walked down that same path and tall, healthy trees shaded me. Waist high grass surrounded me. I was shaded by mature pines. Nature will right itself, once given a chance.

Now I stood in the lushness of Gunung Agung’s revival. Gunung is the Indonesian word for mountain, and the center of Bali is a spine of mountains. Many of them are still active volcanoes. As late as 1994 there have been eruptions. They don’t call the Indonesian archipelago the Ring of Fire because of the hot food. We arrived in Lovina. We looked at one place. They wanted RP 300,000 a night. That’s the price of a luxury hotel in Surabaya.

We found the Hotel Padma. We paid Rp 120,000 for each of two rooms, barely enough for myself, Emily, her sister Suzy, our son Adryan, Suzy’s three kids and a family friend. So, it’s guys in one room, and women in the other. The pool was clean large and warmed by the sun. We ate a large dinner and turned in. At 5:00 a.m. we were up and by six o’clock, we were in two traditional boats heading out to see the dolphins. We were about 20 minutes out when the first small pod appeared.

They surfaced, played about and were gone – only to reappear in another area. This went on for half an hour or so. Then a larger group appeared. The two groups surfaced, dived, disappeared, raced the boats and delighted their audience. It is impossible not to feel a little like an alien watcher, privileged to witness a very personal kinship with nature.

The surrounding mountains were mist-cloaked shadows at the water’s edge. The water was black in the pale early morning light, briefly disturbed by our bright-coloured boats and the sleek gray bodies that danced and dived around us.

Then it ended. We had spent almost two hours watching. It was impossible to tell who was more excited, the adults or the children.

After breakfast, Adryan and I went snorkelling.  A reef lay about halfway between the shore and where we watched the dolphins. Again, we were in a traditional boat. A narrow canoe like craft with twin outriggers, a small (5.5 horsepower) outboard motor and an inverted, triangular-shaped, lanteen sail that also serves to shade our driver/guide as he naps. We don masks and flippers and enter the now blue waters. Colors explode around us. Angelfish, rainbow-hued fish, blue neon tetras and unfortunately a few too many jelly fish. We moved location twice. Adryan managed to find a French coin. Once cleaned, it was revealed as a 1995 coin, but still a find. I had to rescue it from the pool bottom later that evening, so the excitement of discovery was obviously short-lived. We stayed two days then headed back to Denpasar.

We flew home that Saturday.