Tuesday, 26 July 2016


Of Alternate History and Alternative Reality

My favourite John Lennon lyric is a throwaway aside in the song ‘Nobody Told Me:’ “Strange days indeed, most peculiar, mama, whoa!” Not only are there Nazis in the bathroom now, but pocket monsters too.

Last week Ann and I took the highway south, the top down and the Stones turned up: “Did you ever wake up to find a day that broke up your mind?” We spent two nights in Calgary visiting with friends before heading west into the Rockies to attend a beautifully staged wedding ceremony at a resort in Kananaskis country. I know I had fun because last Wednesday night I fell over trying to dance to ‘Mother of Pearl,’ my favourite Roxy Music song, on a balcony. In my defense, it was after midnight, six beers and 12 cigarettes past my usual bedtime. And I did not fall over the balcony, and that was good because I sometimes find great heights as seductive as watching the nightly TV news with a baseball in my hand.

My lifelong friend Tim was once the recipient of an unfortunate gift, something akin to a Midas touch of fools’ gold. His wallet is a Trump Signature model. It’s curved perfectly to his right back pocket buttock, worked in like the ultimate baseball mitt, and he cannot chisel the brand label off without wrecking it. I thought he didn’t like me anymore, never buying me a beer, but some things you just can’t tug out of your pants in public.

Most restaurants and bars are filled with television screens providing distraction from your companions and yours and their personal devices. Thursday night a group of us gathered for dinner and were glued to video footage of the American Republican Party’s Cleveland convention. The current Mrs. Trump had already plagiarized Mrs. Obama but 93-per-cent of her speech was original, and anyway, Hillary had orchestrated the conspiracy of truth (not to be confused with truthers) and besides, the would-be first family of orange-tinged buffoons had quickly trotted out a professional ghostwriter patsy who’d neglected to take proper notes and who was, like: So sorry! Meanwhile the nominee, FBI patriotic in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie, spittled venom tempered by the universal A-OK sign, the thumb and index finger forming a zero or perhaps a puckered hole, ungraciously acquiesced to the will of some of the people in the party. And, well, Jesus Christ, even a squeegeed douche like Ted Cruz appeared more dignified and presidential in comparison.

Tim, a political junkie, announced, “Since he’s the official GOP nominee the White House is now obligated to provide him with weekly national security briefings.” Our table of eight did not shout a collective “Fuck!” No, in the muted atmospheric light we were all noir shadowed Marlon Brandos playing Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now:’ “The horror, the horror…” Tim added reassuringly, “You know he’s going to fucking blab something secret before November.”

My window on the world is always distorted by the stained glass of art. The Trump candidacy makes me ponder the plight of Pink, the alienated, fascist rock star character depicted over four sides of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall:’ “Mother, should I build the wall? Mother, should I run for president? Mother, should I trust the government?” The runaway Trump machine reminds me too of ‘Watchmen’ the dystopian graphic novel set in 1985 in an America in which Richard Nixon is still president. ‘All the King’s Men’ is an American classic, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel which relates the rise and demise of a demagogue, a democratic dictator, a “southern diplomat” to lift a phrase from Chuck Berry.

While I was trying to think of more life-imitates-art examples at dinner, even profounder analogies, the conversation turned to Pokemon Go. This time, everybody said “Fuck.” Tim said, “Nintendo’s stock realized a $7-billion bump.” Somebody else said it may have been closer to nine. Nobody knew for sure. “And this,” Tim said, “for a free app.” Trump was on TV. The sound was down, but the vodka and meat shill was probably talking up trade tariffs.

Ann and I spent two days in Calgary. We walked around downtown avoiding zombies fixated by the postage stamp screens on their supercomputer waistband phones. Didn’t we know some polka-dotted pocket monster rendered in that wretchedly cute Japanese anime comic style was lurking nearby, waiting to be collected or coached? We left town.

Ann and I arrived in Kananaskis early Friday morning, too early for check in at the famous lodge, but miracle of miracles our room was ready. I put my black leather toiletry kit (a high school graduation present from 1977) in the bathroom. I jogged down the stairs to the lobby from the second storey, anxious for a cigarette. Beyond the shade of the not really rustic porte cochere and behind a chainsaw statue of a grizzly bear I found an ashtray. A guest services fellow dressed in black with an earphone plugged into his head walked over and asked me if I was Pokemon hunting. I said, “Excuse me, I’m smoking.”

The hotel boy was half my age and twice as tall as me, but stooped as if every doorway in the world only allowed for cats. He told me there were Pokemon at the main entry, that I was literally standing on one, and that there was a herd of others around the pond in the centre of the ersatz village. More lurked in the trees surrounding the resort. He said that Pokemon were around every landmark, everywhere, marketing monsters allied with Google maps. People were getting hurt but going to church too, the mentally ill would be cured. It was all good, mostly, he thought. I nodded politely and then pretended to be absorbed by the bear’s butt; I’ve been an ass most of my life.

The evening before the wedding I met a fellow guest outside the pub who was well into his second double gin-and-tonic. He physically resembled our former prime minister. He alluded that the United States and by extension Canada was run by an unelected cabal of rich and powerful figures. “It’s always about the money,” he said. “Follow the money.” Trump, he figured, understood this while the Clintons and their ilk were just compliant puppets.

An otherwise nice guy, I thought, but what’s the point of having a discussion with a loon? It would’ve been simpler talking hockey. I looked past him and watched a posse of Pokemon hunters follow their phones off a paved path into a stand of trees. Whoa, I thought, reality here in the Rockies must be pretty drab. I studied the random rock and runoff patterns streaking the monumental sheer grey face of Mount Kidd: too mundane for some. Night was falling but not the sky. Not yet.

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