Wednesday, 24 May 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Our Gaming System

There are a number of running jokes in our house. The commonest one occurs after Ann or I encounter an uncommon word in a news story or crossword puzzle. Its number of letters and their corresponding Scrabble values are quickly ticked off on fingertips. How we both ache to play all seven tiles from a rack on a triple.

Our Scrabble games are a welcome ritual. The average two-player game should take about half an hour. Ours don’t. I usually set the Deluxe Edition rotating board up on the dining room table. The window blinds have to be adjusted so that we can watch the activities on our street from a sitting position. We take turns selecting the music for each match, three or four discs. Ann leans toward roots and Americana. I tend to spin themes: British pub rock, solo Beatles, three degrees of Ron Wood, New York City punk, reggae, Ireland; stuff we’ll both enjoy but haven’t played for a while.

We’ve adapted Scrabble’s rules to suit us. We abide by the Official Scrabble Dictionary, Merriam-Webster and Oxford’s English and Canadian editions. Anything goes. Neither of us has ever bothered to memorize the game’s acceptable two-letter words. ‘Can I check something?’ pauses play. If the word is good and we don’t know what it means we look it up together. There is no bluffing between Ann and me. We do not lie to each other.

Our games run long because beyond concentrating on the board and the tiles on our racks and those which may still be in the burgundy felt bag, there are notations on the wall calendar in the kitchen: appointments, events and obligations to be discussed. Our conversations wheel: ‘We should pull out the fridge and the stove and clean behind and underneath them.’ ‘That black infill three doors down looks like a Borg cube from Star Trek.’ Smokers both, Ann and I take frequent cigarette breaks because there’s always more to talk about with each other. Our two investigative tabbies often check the flow of play, especially the drooler.

Around this time of year, weather permitting, we like to move the competition outdoors to the picnic table on the rear patio. The games are a little shorter because since Ann and I are outside we can puff on cigarettes over the ever-evolving board, no breaks. There’s no music either except birdsong and squirrel claws on wood fences. Leaves and branches rustle in the breezes. There’s an ambient hum from the nearby freeway that shadows the winding, green river. Somebody’s always pushing a lawnmower on our street while others walk, talk and laugh. Helicopters and jets fly overhead. And there are always sirens in the city.

Scrabble is a game of skill and strategy tempered by the luck of the draw. I frequently tell Ann that I’m one letter away from greatness. I am chum to her Scrabble shark though my game is gradually improving. If I rack up 300 points, the result is no longer a happy shock. The outcome, and Scrabble itself, is a secondary function to a thoughtful, shared activity; we rarely sit passively in front of the television.

Ann and I recently vacationed on Maui with my sister and her husband. God bless them, they’d thought to pack a Scrabble game. We played on their lanai. We were sipping homemade Margaritas, fresh limes, lots of ice and good tequila. High above the palm fronds I could see Orion’s belt through the dark. I was in wonderful company with my family, my friends. I had a pretty good rack of tiles and was eying up a triple. I thought, ‘Life doesn’t get much better than this.’ Ann took my spot.

Further reading: Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis – Whoo-boy, we’re not that far gone yet.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Can We Talk Shrilly?

Most of us have strong opinions about complex ideas or issues we don’t fully comprehend. Our world is a very complicated place to navigate and so we tend to rely upon guides: mentors, pundits, artists, writers, the clergy, politicians, and the opinions opined in our circle of somewhat stable relatives and friends. And being human we examine the fruits of others’ knowledge, naturally selecting flavours and textures which align with our own ripened notions of the way things are or should be. Intellectually, most of us are ignorant cherry pickers.

The thoughtful person whose beliefs no matter how deeply ingrained and entrenched should always consider the merits of a well-reasoned counter-argument. But these are hysterical and humourless times fraught with righteous complaint, possibly perpetuated by the proliferation of social media, or at least amplified by its presence. We are deaf and dumb to civil discourse, just plain manners, and healthy discussion. It came as no surprise then that the insular world of Canadian scribblers went nuclear over the issue of cultural appropriation last week.

The editor (since axed) of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s (TWUC)* Write magazine cheekily suggested in a published essay that there be a Cultural Appropriation Prize, a reward for writers who write about characters beyond their own identifiable social group (race, religion, gender… conjure anything and pick one). Joseph Boyden might qualify. From the explosion of outrage, you’d think the poor fellow had suggested using uncleared minefields for dog runs or school yards. Next, the editor-in-chief (since resigned) of The Walrus, Canada’s premier cultural journal, joined the conversation on the side of common sense, decrying the mobilization of the thoughtpolice. Cultural appropriation is a matches-and-gasoline topic, but is there a more logical forum to examine the issue than in the pages of Write?

The fallout was beyond absurd: writers censuring one another and pleading for censorship. These are activities we usually associate with threatened narrow and cheerless minds, Fahrenheit 451. Literary feuds are only fun when they’re one on one and witty. There are only two types of writing in any genre or format: good and bad. A politically correct or culturally sensitive point of view does not and cannot bestow merit on an earnest, tortuous screed. Good writing will evoke Aristotle’s tenet of great theatre, the suspension of the reader’s disbelief. Good writers will never draw marginalia around their talents because the world is a strange, beautiful and horrible place, and, goddamn, there’s nothing like people for material.

All that is apparent from this kafuffle in a kettle (Hello, Pot) is that some of our more prosaic guides have lost their way. And you gather from the torrent of Tweets that no one is prepared to pause and speak nor agree to politely disagree on a civil way forward. You can only summon Stephen Leacock’s Lord Ronald who ‘flung himself from the room, flung himself on his horse and rode madly off in all directions.’

*I have had two novels published in Canada. I am not a member of TWUC or any other writers’ association. You can probably guess why.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Broken Records

Friday in Edmonton was hotter than Maui. The warmest May 5th on record topped off a productive week around the Crooked 9. Ann and I cleared the yard and flowerbeds of debris, 10 lawn bags filled, sir. The outdoor furniture came out of hibernation. I restained the back steps, touched up the wrought iron railings front and back. I repainted the patio tables. We even coped with the Costco garden centre. The reward for work well done was an evening trip to the Empress Ale House to catch up with close relatives, dear friends.

The Empress is on the low rent portion of Whyte Avenue, beyond the CPR tracks that bisect the strip. The extensive and fluid customer demographic is an NDP pollster’s dream, all are welcome. Sometimes there’s table service, most of the time you fetch your drinks yourself. The Empress does not have a kitchen so drinkers often bring their own food; the pizza joint next door does a great takeaway business. There’s a modest performance space and televisions you don’t notice until somebody decides to turn them on.

Our group was angling for the patio abutting the sidewalk. It’s a sheltered rectangle filled with sturdy tables and benches. People share space, it’s okay to sit with strangers. We ended up with a premium vantage point for the street life serenade. High up on the wall above the door the Hip were singing ‘Bobcaygeon’ in a black box. Vintage cars, waxed and polished, paraded along the avenue. Rice rocket Power Rangers gunned their engines. The Harley boys, wearing their tattoos and Nazi regalia, rumbled their choppers. Ordinary, average cars and trucks flew military staff car Edmonton Oilers hockey pennants from their doors and antennae. City buses pulled in and out of traffic. The heat and exhaust amplified the noise making conversation difficult and eavesdropping impossible.

Most of the pedestrians and many of the Empress patrons wore Oilers sweaters. The new, not quite vile, orange home colours were predominant over the glory days’ base blue and orange striping. Some fans sported the discarded midnight blue and red-accented copper laundry (still the team’s best look) and, God help them, a few insanely loyal sad sacks actually maneuvered themselves into the horrid and mercifully short-lived Reebok makeover pajama tops. Game five of the second playoff round against the Anaheim Ducks was scheduled for 8:30 pm Mountain.

When an Empress staffer erased the chalkboard by the entry and then wrote GAME ON! EMPRESS LAGER PINTS $4, I realized we were three hours into our session. The ambient noise from inside the pub changed, it echoed the ebb and flow of the hockey game. Outside people on the sidewalk, and drivers on the road, hard-wired and radioed, added choruses, cacophony. There’s a peculiar magic in the lower atmosphere when citizens come together over something other than sharing weather and catastrophe.

When Ann and I left the Empress the game was into the third period. Edmonton, playing in California, was up three to nothing. We’d each had one of those potentially lethal ‘Oh, let’s have one more’ pints. We caught a yellow cab on the wrong side of Whyte as the pedestrian warning lights counted down the orange seconds. Our ride along the trendy strip was curious, this was what an occupation might look like: pairs of police officers in day-glo vests patrolled the ends of every block, both sides. There were no cars; parking along Whyte had been banned because guess what tends to happen to vehicles (and shop windows) if Canadian hockey fans tumble out of bars to riot either happily or angrily. Ultimately and sensibly, the police service had made it very inconvenient for drunks to drive.

Once we got home there were chores to stagger through. The tabbies had to be treated with dry and wet food and the senior one, a grumpy old bastard, required his thyroid medicine. We prepared the coffee machine for Saturday morning’s CKUA radio shows, the newspapers and our New York Times crossword puzzle session. Ann gracefully excused herself to slip away to bed. I turned on the Oilers game. They were still leading, pitching a shutout with a little more than three minutes to go. The play was mostly in their end which was worrisome but they weren’t collapsing around their net in wildlife highway panic.

I thought, ‘No drama here,’ bedtime and three heavy lidded sentences from the book on my night table.  In the bedroom, Ann asked me if the game was over yet. I said, ‘No, there’s about three minutes to go and they’re up three to nothing. Anything can happen, but it’s unlikely. Good for them, a key game.’ Especially as they’d blown a two goal lead in game four at home and went on to crater in overtime.

Well. Didn’t the Ducks pull their goalie three times during the final three minutes and score three goals? Nothing of the sort has ever happened before in a century of professional hockey in North America. The Montreal Canadiens and Rocket Richard never did it; neither did Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins, or even Edmonton’s own Oilers led by Wayne Gretzky. In my experience as a sports fan and someone who is curious about the world, I’ve learned that all in all it’s better to make history in a positive way; Anaheim did that and I’m talking about a Disney franchise created to shill Emilio Estevez DVDs.

Nobody in town will dare say this, but Friday night’s loss was an epic choke. Titanic. Colossal. The Oilers have embarked on a new era after a decade in the doldrums. The team, rejuvenated by the addition of other-worldly captain Connor McDavid, now plays in a new downtown rink amid blocks of heavy urban renewal and redevelopment, all of which the organization insists be known as the Ice District, an unprecedented experiment in civic pride generated by the marriage of private and public interests. There’s a hell of a lot more than hockey riding on the shoulders of the Oilers these days. And so you hope Friday night will not become the defining moment of Edmonton’s new world order. Game six is on television now; there is always hope until there isn’t any.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Purveyors of Filth

Upscale retailer Nordstrom made the business section of this morning’s newspaper for selling filth-encrusted jeans for US$425 a pair. There’s a matching jacket too, same price. You have to wonder who would be stupid enough to pay that much for denim in the first place, let alone with fake caked-on mud. And you have to wonder about the besotted Nordstrom buyer: ‘Do they come with blood stains? Can we get them with blood? Hey! What about spilled micro-brewed beer, French wine and lo-fat mocha latte!?’

A recurring tragedy in the modern field of marketing is its often inappropriate tendency to copy successful trends in unrelated industries. For instance, clear dishwashing liquid led to clear cola and clear beer. And you just know that the idea of clear Cheez Whiz and clear Miracle Whip occurred to some genius at Kraft. With that in mind, let’s eavesdrop on a sales meeting in a boardroom in the headquarters of the American Lifestyle Fixtures Company (ALFC).

Vice President of Marketing: Sorry I’m late! I had a task to complete.

Chief Executive Officer: That’s… Jesus, what happened to your pants? Were you foraging at the city dump? Was that your task? I know it’s casual Friday, but…

VPM: Ha! They’re brand new! Cost me nearly half a G-note at Nordstrom. These pants are part of my personal brand; they say I’m not afraid to get down and get my hands dirty, so to speak.

CEO: Really? Okay. Right. Spring is a big season for us as folks start to think about home renovations after their Christmas bills have been paid, and make decisions too about their outdoor summer lifestyles. So why don’t you walk me through our new products, our sales drivers for 2017?

VPM: Our core business has always been hot tubs. That said, at the end of the day, ALFC has always been an authentic, indeed iconic, American brand. This season I’m really excited about our new Dilettante line, beginning with the signature Patio Spa. It’s radically innovative and unlike anything our competitors offer.

CEO: I’m intrigued. Go on.

VPM: The unit comes with pond scum and flakes of human skin, you know, as if someone with a peeling sunburn had been simmering in the tub. The accessories are beyond cool. The tarp is torn and beautifully faded, and the deck boards appear to be rotting. The really inspired touch is the exposed rusty nails.

CEO: Jesus. Okay, I’m building my dream home. Walk me indoors.

VPM: Louche aspirationals will drool over our companion Dilettante Complete Suite, down market luxury with a neglected panache uniquely its own. The taps and faucet come with encrusted hard water mineral residue. The sink is soap scum grey, complete with a rust stain and stray hairs, including shaven whiskers.

CEO: Uh, Jesus, what about the soaker tub?

VPM: Same as the sink, but only bigger! All kidding aside, the team in R&D worked really hard to get the mould and mildew around the jets just right. Oh, and the drain clogs. That was my idea, not to blow my own horn…

CEO: Oh, sweet Jesus. Go on.

VPM: As you know, the master powder room is a shared and intimate space. This year we’ve added an optional urinal.

CEO: Splash back has always been something of a built-in design flaw… Funny, no matter what we do…

VPM: Solved! Solved I’m delighted to inform you. We’ve added absorbent cigarette butts in a variety of fashionable filter colours with custom striping and sodden wads of facial tissue.

CEO: Jesus. Oh, sweet Jesus Christ. Uh, look, I’m running late. Sorry about this, but…

VPM: But I haven’t told you about the toilet! Have you ever seen the movie Trainspotting?

CEO: Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Oh, sweet Jesus Christ. I have to make a call, a vital one. Uh, time got away from me this morning. Can we, uh, reconvene…

VPM: My fault entirely! I was late and I know your time is valuable. My darned e-mails piled up on me and I had to arrange them in separate folders to read later and so I must apologize for being tardy.

CEO: Yeah, thanks, Jesus. Oh, hey, can you drop by Human Resources on your way back to your office?

VPM: Sure thing! Time to talk about my performance bonus, I’ll bet!

CEO: Something like that.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A FAN’S NOTES

‘Mellow’ Was a Dirty Word

Eventually I come around. Monday evening Ann and I went to hear singer-songwriter Jackson Browne at Winspeare Centre, Edmonton’s sonically perfect symphony hall. We were pretty certain we didn’t look as old as everybody else in the crowd. The show was billed as ‘mostly acoustic,’ a popular, travel light format for ageing musicians who no longer release new albums each calendar year. Ann and I have variously seen Ray Davies of the Kinks; John Hiatt; John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett; John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark and Joe Ely, on similar stripped down tours.

Like many music fans, Ann and I have been inadvertently trained to expect a live show to sound exactly like the records. When the lights go down I initially miss the fullness a complete backing band provides. However, the payoff of simplicity and intimacy is that the performance becomes a conversation. During one of his two sets Browne told us all, ‘This is like being at my house except I can’t go and make a sandwich.’

On stage was a piano flanked by umpteen guitars. Browne’s virtuoso accompanist had his own rack of guitars, mandolins, dobros and a pedal steel guitar. Unsurprisingly Browne’s first few songs were ballads. Ann and I exchanged looks, ‘This might be boring.’ As the artist and his audience got more comfortable with each other and the venue, and catalogue obscurities ceded the set list to hits, the energy began to rise a little in a laid back California way. ‘You want a happy song? I don’t write many so I have to ration them.’

During the instrument changing lull after ‘Before the Deluge,’ I realized that if the year was 1977 instead of 2017, there’d be no way I’d be sitting in the auditorium. Back then Browne was riding high with Running on Empty. Back then if an album charted and became a hit, it stuck around for months or even years. There was no escaping the title track and the segue of ‘The Load-out’ into a cover of the Zodiacs’ ‘Stay.’ The songs were introspective, with a whiff of ‘poor me’ rock star road blues, albeit more uplifting and literate than Bob Seger’s ‘Turn the Page.’

At that time in my life I was young, horny, angry and confused (I was so much older then). Browne was a don in the Los Angeles ‘mellow mafia’ of the late 70s; FM radio was dominated by him, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Sunny, catchy, jangling despair was everywhere around my dial. The music that entranced and captivated me was coming from the European coast of the Atlantic Ocean, punk and new wave. CREEM magazine and Trouser Press were reporting on interesting doings in New York City. And truthfully, a girl I liked back then was also liked by a guy named Rick who liked Jackson Browne and thought ‘Running on Empty’ was ‘heavy’ and ‘deep,’ so you can guess how that all ended.

Soon enough Browne caught the Bruce Springsteen bug, releasing the bleached LA grit of ‘Boulevard,’ complete with a deliciously crunchy Stones riff. He sat for the cover of Rolling Stone in leathers, a stretch, especially as his motorcycle jacket was aquamarine. It did not suit. These days Browne is a social activist after having reinvented himself as a political songwriter. He’s too good a lyricist to drop a real rhyming clunker, but the syllable flow in ‘Lawyers in Love’ as opposed to ‘The Pretender’ stumbles because of its urgent requirement to preach. And how qualified is anyone to talk about anything beyond their realm of expertise? Jackson Browne could not tune his own guitar Monday night; ‘Professional help,’ he quipped as the roadie did the work. Well, enough said.

I came around to Jackson Browne about 15 years ago. A lifelong friend, then living alone in a rented house, had treated himself to new set of Mission speakers. ‘You’ve got to come over and listen to these,’ Tim said. I was kicking stones between personal disasters and getting my nourishment from Petro-Canada hoagies. Years ago Tim had bought himself a pair of Mission 70s, I followed suit about six months later (I still have them). Decades down the road and in a different city I turned up at his place with beer and primed to rock out the way we did when we were preteens, teenagers and a little bit older and maybe ten years older than that. His new speakers were unbelievably skinny yet tall, worthy of worship, Easter Island totems for music nuts. I figured Tim would play Dark Side of the Moon because that album has always been the new audio equipment cliché tester, reliable since 1973.

Damned if he didn’t select ‘Doctor, My Eyes’ and maximize the volume. I sat on Tim’s couch and buckled my seatbelt. The richness of the sound and the song’s production was overwhelming. Bash those piano keys like Jerry Lee! I heard the lyrics, listened to the words for the first time: a heartfelt lament about the human condition, somewhat stoic but neither apathetic nor cynical. I knew the song but I didn’t really know it at all, three minutes to ignore on a cheap radio. ‘Just say if it’s too late for me.’ It wasn’t, it’s not. Thank you for your patience with me, Jackson Browne. Come back with a band.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL

Sunday Morning, Coming Down

‘You’re not going to have a heart attack, are you?’ Ann called to me from the shelter of our front porch.

It snowed last night, all night; it’s still snowing now. Wet and heavy spring snow, the sort you can roll from a ball into a boulder in minutes. This is snow falling to be pushed around, too dense to heave anywhere with any authority, especially with a dodgy back. And anyway, at this late date, I’m fed up.

When the snow first comes in the fall it’s a different texture, powdery, fluffy and light. I have a fine tuned clearing and piling system because I know there will be months more of it. Winter property clearing is a strategic process. Windrows along the curb hinder visitors’ parking. Too high a pile at the end of the driveway creates a blind spot for the driver of a vehicle backing out. The gardens and the lawns need insulating but ultimately the melt must be absorbed or trickle away from the foundation of the house.

Author John Updike used to sum up each elapsed American decade with a ‘Rabbit’ novel. Harry Angstrom was a deceptively speedy high school basketball star, an adulterer, a bereaved father, a Toyota dealer, an average guy who led an average life. Forty years into the saga he suffered a fatal heart attack shooting hoops on his driveway. All in all, not a bad way to go.

Death itself is nothing to fear, but we all tremble contemplating Fate’s decision as to just how exactly we will succumb, how long will it take and how much will it hurt? I’m not as young nor as fit as I used to be, so my swift and happy equivalent of Rabbit’s exit would be shoveling snow, a chore I’ve performed thousands of times and which rarely felt onerous. I’ve said to Ann a few times that I’d be more than okay with collapsing into the snow on our property. Better than cancer.

The fresh wet blanket of snow was deep enough for me to trundle down into the basement and retrieve my high winter boots which I’d put away a week ago. I girded for the outdoor task with a few cigarettes, a couple of coffees and a couple of beers. Found my gloves. Put my hat on, a cap with a brim. Zipped up my waterproof windbreaker that isn’t waterproof anymore, maybe it was always just water repellant – anyway, the tag’s long gone. I went to work.

‘You’re not going to have a heart attack, are you?’

I leaned on my shovel, huffing a titch. I thought about the meaty Italian sandwich in our fridge waiting to be augmented with homemade meatballs. I thought about our recent trip to Maui and how we’d got our wills, investment information and computer passwords streamlined for the survivor. I knew that financially at least I was worth more to Ann dead.

When I replied that I was good, it was all good, Ann seemed pleased. She had asked a question of concern and not one of hope. And so tonight when I go to bed a little bit stiff and a little bit sore, I’ll be able to sleep with both eyes closed.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Pacific Ocean Blues

Upside down and inside a wave my thoughts were remarkably articulate even though they were travelling faster than a digital signal in a minute fraction of time that would not register even on the most precise atomic clock. I knew that when I was eventually spit out of the breaker and thrown against the compacted sand it would have all the give of cement. ‘If I break my neck again I doubt I’ll walk away this time. How much travel insurance do we have? Where’s Ann? How’s Ann? Glad our wills are up to date.’

I like water. It constitutes a big part of me and is a key ingredient in beer. I like it from a tap or a shower nozzle.  I like wading around in it. I do not like it over my head. When Ann and I decided to spend three weeks on Maui, beach life wasn’t the hook for me. The lure was exploring a new place, a tropical place and visiting some of its history. On our first morning in Kihei when Ann and I walked the gentle arc of Charley Young Beach together, I wore socks and running shoes because the flap flap flap of flip-flops is not music to my ears and big toe loops or dividers feel icky. My one and only attempt at boogie boarding resulted in an unfortunate and painful sandwich, my right testicle somehow between me and the board. I’m not a natural seasider, no patience for hours under an umbrella with a book and a greased pelt and sand everywhere.

I landed partially on my shoulder and partially on my head. I belly-flopped and then staggered to my feet. Ann was on her hands and knees behind me, in churning foamy and sandy brown water, closer to the shore. She said, ‘Geoff, help me.’ We were both stunned. As her words began to register I realized that I had turned my back on the water. I looked behind me. The distant blue water horizon was suddenly a few yards away and higher than my eyebrows. The undertow ripped my feet from under me as I tried to dive into the cresting wave.

Ann does a brilliant impression of a seemingly distracted, dog-paddling shark, complete with a hummed soundtrack. I have to quell panic and find some sole purchase after a few seconds of treading water. Charley Young is a welcoming beach for inexperienced toe-dippers like us, benign and of no interest to big water thrill-seekers. And so the high surf advisory in the news and on the orange flagged DANGEROUS SHOREBREAK sign didn’t apply to Ann and me nor indeed Charley Young. No, it was meant for places like Makena’s ‘Big Beach,’ also known as ‘Quad Beach’ in the emergency room of Maui Memorial Medical Center. And anyway, the real shark biting months, October and November, had passed and neither of us was outfitted in day-glo, what knowing locals call ‘yummy yellow.’

Ann and I ended up sitting beside one another, both of us dazed once more by the force of the incoming tide, uncomfortable on our butts, just like our Air Canada Rouge flight. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘I think so.’ ‘Was that the seventh wave, the big one?’ ‘Who knows? When do you start counting?’ ‘Is it safe to get out of here?’ ‘Yeah, we’ll just get up and back away after this one. Incoming!’

Bob Dylan wrote and recorded a beautiful song called ‘Every Grain of Sand’ which appeared on 1985’s Shot of Love: ‘I can see the Master’s hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.’ When I hear it I’m reminded of my grade school Catholic catechism; when I listen to it I’m almost tempted to believe in God again.

That morning in the high surf the Master had had his hands all over us. The fine, fine particles of sand were in my nose and in my ears. If I wasn’t circumcised the clean up would have been a painstakingly delicate procedure. When Ann removed her one-piece suit in the shower back at our rented condo, her entire torso was encrusted, panko bread crumbs, coconut shrimp. No injuries, no damage, no scars, just millions of gritty reminders of a pair of scary moments for a couple who have grown to rely upon one another. We felt beaten up. We felt relieved. Fear is one incredible cardiovascular workout.