Category: Mental Health

Fighting For Space

The following book review of Travis Lupick‘s book Fighting For Space first appeared in Briarpatch Magazine‘s Prairie Edition, and online.

In 2002, a group of residents and advocates met at the intersection of Main and Hastings in Vancouver holding a 100-foot-long hypodermic needle made out of a giant cardboard tube, stopping traffic. They were protesting the forced closing of a needle exchange on the corner of Main and Hastings in the Downtown Eastside. Earlier, in 2001, front-line workers had distributed clean needles in a trailer outfitted with washrooms, and ensured those using in bathroom stalls didn’t overdose. Affectionately known as “the Thunder Box,” the trailer became one of North America’s first unsanctioned supervised injection sites.

These stories are among countless actions detailed in Travis Lupick’s Fighting for Space, which tells of the struggle that led to the implementation of Canada’s first official safe-injection site in Vancouver in 2003. The history of the harm reduction movement is one of direct action and protest – an “act first, ask second” attitude that was the only reasonable response to an outbreak of preventable disease and a crisis of premature deaths. Lupick focuses on the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), the groundbreaking housing non-profit that offered low-barrier housing to the city’s most vulnerable, and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the advocacy group that pushed for accessible health care and decriminalization of drug use. The two worked in tandem, with VANDU often willingly taking the heat for direct actions to protect the more diplomatic and funding-restricted Portland Hotel Society.

The history of the harm reduction movement is one of direct action and protest – an “act first, ask second” attitude.

The 1990s saw a dramatic spike in overdose deaths and high rates of HIV diagnoses in Vancouver – not unlike the current fentanyl crisis playing out across Canada. But this time the human cost is much higher, with 2017 being the deadliest year on record for overdose deaths in B.C. The strategies used by advocates on the West Coast, honed over decades of persistent work, can provide guidance for similar struggles being newly waged in neighbouring Prairie provinces like Saskatchewan, where fentanyl has killed over 40 people since 2015.

While revealing the staggering numbers of diagnoses and deaths is key to understanding the scope of the problem, it is the stories of the people who’ve lived through the harm reduction movement that makes this history real. By telling the accounts of people struggling for dignity against politicians and a public determined to dehumanize them, Lupick reinforces two basic claims of the harm reduction movement: people who use drugs are human, and all people deserve safety and health.

In one of their first organized meetings, members of the newly formed VANDU agreed that they wanted somewhere safe and healthy to spend time, a space that was free of police harassment. The Portland Hotel Society’s first residence was known as the “Hotel of Last Resort.” Simplifying their message to one of “health and safety” – one that politicians and the public couldn’t reasonably reject – has grounded all of their actions and successes in the harm reduction movement. Lupick concludes the book with an epilogue about a family — Mary, Molly, and Mikel — in a quietly triumphant story of three generations living in the Portland Hotel Society, all experiencing stability in their health and housing.

Lupick reinforces two basic claims of the harm reduction movement: people who use drugs are human, and all people deserve safety and health.

Lupick does not deify Vancouver’s advocates or their process – rather, he shows them to be people offering the simple necessities of safety and support, while working toward inclusive public health policy. He demonstrates a proven way to effectively build low-barrier health care and housing systems: through persistent action coupled with advocacy, and building partnerships with sympathetic policy-makers. Without this infrastructure, the number of overdose deaths in B.C. last year would have been much higher.

The current situation on the Prairies is nearly as dire as the one Vancouver faced in the 1990s. Saskatchewan’s HIVAIDS rates are the highest in the country, and with 79 per cent of the people newly diagnosed as HIV-positive self-identifying as Indigenous, programming must prioritize consultation with Indigenous communities. Meanwhile, harm reduction programs have been heavily stigmatized by a predominantly conservative public and openly scrutinized by political leaders. In 2009, former premier Brad Wall said his government would limit the number of clean needles handed out, despite a Saskatchewan Ministry of Health report proving the success of needle exchange programs. In 2017, The Sask. Party threatened community based organizations with a 10 per cent funding cut that would hit operations deemed not to be “core services,” like needle exchanges. Though the party eventually opted against the funding cut, when harm reduction programs are routinely among the first to be threatened, the work being done by those of the front lines is delegitimized and destabilized.

When harm reduction programs are routinely among the first to be threatened, the work being done by those of the front lines is delegitimized and destabilized.

For years, doctors, front-line workers, and advocates in Saskatchewan have been pushing for the province to declare a state of emergency regarding rising HIV rates. But if we continue to wait for a provincial government to take necessary action – especially as two newly elected party leaders wade in slowly, in a province where the health of First Nations people is systematically neglected — it may never happen. Prairie activists and front-line workers struggling through those bureaucracies must instead act upon their values and conscience to build systems of equitable health care and human services, regardless of whether they have been granted permission by the state.

Nicholas Olson is the author of A Love Hat Relationship, a photobook of collectable prairie hats; and a series of illustrated zines with accompanying audiobook narrations. More can be found at ballsofrice.com. He lives in Treaty 4 Territory.

 

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Ten Years

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It is ten years to the day that I started writing Balls of Rice.

If you read from the painfully embarassing first post, to the lost and meandering most recent post, you’d see how I went from proud flag-loving Canadian to dissident anarchist-in-training. You can see a public journal of mental health. Ten years later I still don’t know why I write, still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, still eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches for supper. All I know is that Balls of Rice has both saved my life and ruined it.

Naturally, the only posts worth reading were written in the last four years. The six years before that was trial and error, with more error than anything. These days there is less trial and about the same amount of error. The list below is not a list of the best writings, because reading over every single post could only end in crushing depression. But these ones are alright, I think.

Thanks to whoever has read this in the past decade for the encouragement. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be a successful engineer by now. Instead I’m a squatter in the back of a pizzeria.

Thanks for still reading, mom and dad. Oh you stopped reading it in 2012?

Yeah. Me too.

 

Notable Posts:

Realistic Ideas – August 30, 2012

Losing Faith – December 2, 2012

Cheap Attempts at Warping History – April 2, 2013

Dear Mouse, – September 17, 2014

I wasn’t shot dead in the CN Railyard – December 29, 2015

Still don’t know – July 26, 2016

Planetarium

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I’m still nauseous from the planetarium.

I went in a bout of depression to remind myself that I am infinitesimal and insignificant and that my depression is illogical. Because logic has so much to do with it. I have a friend who uses the opposite idea, that the fact that there is life on earth means that we are significant, the only discovered life in hundreds of millions of planets. Like all I needed was more pressure of being one of the few pieces of life in the universe. But now they’ve found a seemingly habitable exoplanet, and I am back to not knowing what to think.

In the first planetarium segment, Harrison Ford spoke of life outside our solar system in an already out-of-date presentation. In the second presentation, a man with a bow-tie forgot that his job was entertaining and educating children, and made a dizzy unplanned flight to the edge of the galaxy and back.

I stepped into the sunlight and ate some trailmix on a downtown picnic table. My biggest worry was not the sun exploding (because I learnt that it won’t) or finding out that life is ubiquitous (because it undoubtedly is), but how to write anything ever again when I don’t believe in anything ever at all. It’s easy to be a nihilist as a white hetero male. Because you know everything on earth sucks but you don’t have to worry about being shot in a racist province or having to stand up for your rights in order to survive. So you can get away with thinking that nothing matters.

I printed a star map for when I go camping next month. I started telling people that I was going on a self-planned writing retreat in the remote woods. Until I got scared of writing. Now I tell people I’m going camping. The only reason I’m sitting here writing this horseshit is as an experiment, to see if my chest implodes or if the world loses its orbit with the sun and flies into outerspace and we all freeze to death instantly. To show myself that my writing, no matter how good or bad, isn’t the last remaining key to sweeping social change, but that it’s just writing to make me feel human, that other humans might relate to. It is no more a noble craft than scrubbing toilets.

I’ll use the star map to point me from the Big Dipper to Arcturus to Bootes to Cygnus to pretend I can see Kepler-186f. And Kepler-186f will whisper in my ear that there are plenty of things that matter, such as advocating for social justice, and scrubbing the toilets of the known universe, also known as, writing.

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Still don’t know.

Di Fara Pizza

A man walks down a dark Brooklyn side street with his pants at his ankles, genitals flailing. I am looking for pizza. Legitimate conerns are raised about that man getting shot by police but we push on to get some garlic knots at Ganni’s at midnight.

The Republican convention wraps up and everyone I know, including myself, fears the next four years, but knows full well they’ll survive it. The man walking down the Brooklyn side street, the newly arrived Syrian refugees, the Central American blamed with stealing American jobs, don’t have the privilege of knowing the same thing. In Hedges’ 2010 book Death of the Liberal Class, Chomsky prophesies of a population that seeks out fascism because of a series of politicians beforehand who have sold the rights of the population to corporate power. All they need, he says, is a charismatic leader who tells it like it is. And now he warns this.


“How much is this one?” I ask.

“Which one?” the shopkeep asks.

“The all black one with gold numbers.”

“$10.” He pulls it out, puts it on my wrist, it fits and feels as though I haven’t wore a watch in fifteen years, which I haven’t.

“Great.” I place $10 on the table.

“This one is $15,” he says. I place five more dollar bills on the table and leave, feeling as though I have paid the 50% tourist tax necessary to create a balance in the inequality of wealth that I have benefited from my entire life. The tourist tax necessary to quell my own personal guilt for existing in a marketplace and quitting my community job to travel the world for free. The watch looks great and hasn’t died yet. It fits oddly on my bulging ulna bone.

I finish my $9 juice and sit on a bench, calling my credit union and credit card company to tell them that I am in fact in the US and that no, my cards have not been compromised, and that yes, I’d like to withdraw money from my accounts so I can spend more money on American juice.

I loosen the watch strap one notch to relieve the sweat that accumulates under it in the New York humidity in what will likely be the 15th consecutive hottest month on record. I bought a watch so I could avoid pulling my phone out of my pocket so I could avoid wrecking my pants pockets so I could avoid buying new pants so I could avoid buying pants from a hellish factory in south east asia. And so I could avoid using my phone at all. My vain attempts at personal change are conscience clearing but not effective. I still don’t know how to live a life that affects change or isn’t dripping in privilege. You think by 27.667 years of life you’d know everything there is to know in the world.

 

 

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina, Saskatchewan

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina Saskatchewan
Understanding Chronic Addiction and Responsible Public Health Practices
Nicholas Olson – Housing Support Worker – Carmichael Outreach

Background

Severe alcohol dependence is common in individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Regina, Saskatchewan. For individuals who have experienced violent or psychological trauma, alcohol is often used as a way to cope with the mental and physical pain that comes when this trauma is left untreated. Aboriginal populations overrepresent those experiencing homelessness in Saskatchewan and Canada, and many of the traumas they have experienced are directly related to unstable family settings caused by the lasting effects of residential and public schools and other programs created under colonial policy. Homeless populations have a high rate of alcohol dependence and for this reason face significant barriers to stable and safe housing, and are often unable to access shelter systems. In Regina, the few housing support programs that are willing to work with individuals with severe alcohol dependence are finding that the Housing First model is not always enough to keep individuals housed, healthy, and stable. Alcohol harm reduction is the next clear step to support Regina’s most vulnerable.

What is Alcohol Harm Reduction?

Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcoholic substances in people that are unable or do not desire to stop (International Harm Reduction Association). Harm reduction functions under the idea that all individuals deserve the dignity and respect to be treated in a manner that best supports them as a whole person, not just as an addict, and to be treated medically in a way that is understanding, empowering, and compassionate to their specific needs as a person experiencing an alcohol addiction. For many, the traditional abstinence model is unrealistic and does not take into account the desires of the individual who may not want, or be able, to discontinue use. Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to support the individual to live a healthy life regardless of whether they intend to become abstinent. This may be done by assisting them to consume healthy forms and volumes of alcohol through different programs tailored to the individual, supporting them to be safe during and after consumption, and working with them to maintain good health and, if desired by the individual, to reduce their alcohol consumption overall.

Alcohol Treatment

The development of Alcohol Harm Reduction through a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), Alcohol Swap Program, Beer Co-op, and/or Prescription Alcohol is the best practice in supporting the addictions of a marginalized population in Regina primarily between the ages of 30-55. Since individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness often have fixed or no incomes, beverage alcohol is unaffordable due to the high cost of controlled substances in Saskatchewan. This, coupled with the marginalization of individuals experiencing poverty, addiction, and mental health, has made beverage alcohol even more inaccessible because these individuals are often not permitted to enter establishments that sell beverage alcohol, and in many cases are unable to even access basic health and emergency services. Non-beverage alcohol (NBA) purchased in grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies including mouthwash, hand sanitizer, hairspray, and rubbing alcohol is being consumed in large quantities because of its potency and availability.

Non-beverage alcohol can be any form of alcohol that is not fit for human consumption. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is found in beverage alcohol and is safe to consume in moderate amounts. Denatured ethanol, or alcohol denat, found in products such as mouthwash, hairspray, and some hand sanitizers, is ethanol with chemical product added to make the alcohol unfit for human consumption. The chemical additives also allow the producer to avoid the product being designated as a controlled substance. Methanol, or methyl alcohol is toxic and has caused death when consumed through hand sanitizer (CBC). Isopropyl alcohol, found in rubbing alcohol and some hand sanitizers, is toxic if ingested as well. While it is often stated that the extremely high alcohol content in non-beverage alcohol is the most toxic ingredient, with sustained use and high dosage, serious risks are present from the other toxic ingredients in each solution. Hairspray, for example, can have long term effects such as internal bleeding, kidney and liver damage, respiratory problems and death (CBC). Each receptacle of non-beverage alcohol clearly warns of the risks of consumption and strongly advises to contact poison control if consumed in any volume (Pauly 10).

Alcohol Contents and Types

Table1.1
(costs listed are based on saskliquor.com)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
1 The LCBO is recalling four brands of sherry (LONDON XXX SHERRY INCLUDED) that tested positive for a potential carcinogen. “This is not like E. coli or botulism where you’re acutely affected. To be affected by something like this, you would have to consume it for a long time for many years, so there is no risk at all,” he said. “It’s very, extremely difficult for anyone to get cancer from this type of chemical, unless you’re consuming it on [a] daily basis and you’re drinking large amounts of it.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/lcbo-recalls-sherry-for-carcinogen-risk-1.619474)

Table1.2
(costs listed based on retail prices at given locations)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
2 Medicinal Ingredients: Eucalyptol (Eucalyptus Clobulus-Leaf) 0.092%W/V, Menthol 0.042%W/V, Methyl Calicylate 0.060%W/V, Thymol 0,064%W/V
Notice: If more than used for rinsing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control centre right away.
3 Ingredients: Aqua, Ethyl Alcohol, Denatonium Benzoate, Camphor
Notice: For External Use Only, Poison, Inflammable. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call a physician immediately. If patient is unconscious, give them air. Danger: Harmful or fatal if swallowed.
4 Ingredients: Alcohol denat, water (aqua), acrylates copolymer, aminomenthyl propanol, fragrance, octylacrylamide/acrylates/butylaminoethyl methacrylate copolymer, PEG-12 dimethicone, tritely citrate, hydrolyzed silk, hydrolyzed keratin. Alcohol content TBD but could be between 50-70%.
5 Medicinal Ingredient: 62% Ethyl Alcohol. Non-Medicinal Ingredients: Aqua, polysorbate 20, carbomer, aminomethyl propanol, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E acetate), denatonium benzoate.
Warnings: For external use only, do not ingest. In case of accidental ingestion contact your physician or a Poison Control Centre.

Limiting availability of these products has proven to be an ineffective means of managing the consumption of the toxic forms of alcohol, as many or all of those accustomed to drinking non-beverage alcohol regularly travel to the suburban areas of the city to purchase from larger box stores and centres where they haven’t yet been banned. When individuals don’t have to spend their energy finding their next source of alcohol and managing their withdrawal symptoms, it allows them to begin to spend that energy on developing life skills, focusing on housing, setting goals, and working on improving their overall health.

The only responsible, healthy, and compassionate way to support those who consistently consume non-beverage alcohol is to understand that in these cases abstinence is potentially a dangerous, unhealthy, and unrealistic treatment, and that reducing the harm they are causing to themselves means assisting them with the consumption of safe forms of alcohol. This can be done with Managed Alcohol Programs where individuals are given a regulated amount of alcohol at regular intervals during the day to help them deal with withdrawal symptoms and feel normal and well, Alcohol Swap Programs where individuals not necessarily receiving comprehensive housing supports can swap out certain quantities of non-beverage alcohol for beverage alcohol, a Beer Co-op where individuals are trained in proper and safe ways to brew their own alcohol for safe consumption, and Prescription Alcohol, which like a MAP, would regulate volumes and quantities based on medical assessments and administered in similar harm reduction models such as methadone. These programs, specifically MAPs, have been implemented across Canada and the US to reduce both the harms inflicted upon alcohol-dependent individuals, and the subsequent costs upon the health and justice systems.

While other potential treatments for alcohol dependence include medications such as benzodiazepines, which include diazepam, or Valium, the lifestyle and the desires of the patient must be taken into account, and for many, discontinuing alcohol use is not desired and is not a possible solution. Using diazepam as a treatment for alcohol withdrawals does not respond to the fact that many individuals would rather not discontinue alcohol use, and even with regulated and prescribed diazepam treatment, many individuals will continue to drink different forms of alcohol when it is presented to them. This would lead to an increased risk of addiction to diazepam, and a “high risk of overdose, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.”(American Addiction Centers) Benzodiazepines are also used as a short term treatment option, with only 1-2 percent of adults continuing treatment for 12 months or longer, and carry substantially higher risks of dependence and misuse in populations with a history of substance abuse (Longo). When supporting an individual living in community, monitoring all the substances that enter the home is impossible, therefore it is best to prescribe that which reduces the most risk and harm to the individual.

The harm reduction framework aims to support individuals to make healthy choices and this begins with offering assistance in managing quantities of beverage alcohol, and accessing beverage alcohol in a cost-effective manner, while at the same time being careful not to perpetuate the stigma of using non-beverage alcohols that is often present in community supports and medical services. Many populations are stigmatized even within social circles for drinking non-beverage alcohol, and this stigma is magnified in many professional health settings. Following the harm reduction framework means focusing on the needs and desires of the individual, not reducing addictions to a moral or ethical choice, and understanding the barriers that have led to less-safe alcohol consumption. It is important that harm reduction treatments are in place and practiced by health professionals, as professional knowledge is needed to create public health policy that can be safely and confidently administered by community entities.

Understanding

Each individual receiving alcohol harm reduction support will consume a different variety, style, and amount of beverage and non-beverage alcohol each day. It is important to understand what the approximate quantities of non-beverage alcohol are to ensure that the proper volume of beverage alcohol is supplied to each individual. Having a set schedule of beverage alcohol consumption would ensure that a moderated amount of alcohol is consumed, which, ideally could be lessened over time based on the desires of the individual. Clinical medical advisement through a MAP or prescription may be required to ensure that the individual is getting a safe dosage, and that an understanding of the individual’s history with addiction and their personal and traumatic history is taken into consideration. In an evaluation of a MAP in Vancouver, BC, alcohol consumption did not necessarily decline in six months for all of the participants, however the consumption of non-beverage alcohol did decline, and most participants reported improvements in mental health, social connectedness, and general well-being, and consumed alcohol in a safer setting with less harms that come from drinking large quantities at one time (Stockwell 6,7).

Below are some comparisons of alcohol contents. Though it is clear that the ethanol present in beverage alcohol is different than the types of alcohol present in non-beverage alcohol (denatured alcohol/ethanol, isopropyl alcohol) and the “high” achieved through using non-beverage alcohol would therefore be different, the comparisons below are a guideline for quantities consumed knowing that the denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol have added chemicals that are toxic for human consumption.

For example, as shown in Table 2.1, one litre (1L) of Antiseptic Mouthwash has an alcohol content of 270mL, which is equivalent to 12.5 cans (4.4L), of strong percentage beer, or nearly two bottles of a strong sherry wine. Similarly, as shown in Table 2.2, it takes nearly 10 times as much strong beer to equal the same alcohol content of 449mL that is obtained through 725mL of Hand Sanitzer Gel. While the point of alcohol harm reduction isn’t necessarily to meet the alcohol content that an individual would consume drinking non-beverage alcohol, it is important for service providers and community supports to understand just how much beverage alcohol it takes to help cope with withdrawal symptoms.

 

Table2.1-2.2

Conclusions

It is clear both to the uneducated outsider and to the affected individual that the consumption of non-beverage alcohol is extremely damaging to one’s physical and mental health. By offering support to individuals in their addiction through alcohol harm reduction programs, the dignity of these individuals is upheld as they are receiving compassionate medical treatment that views them as a whole person. Through these programs, these individuals would be able to access supports that are often only accessible to less-stigmatized populations, including detoxification programs that in Regina are inaccessible to many with reduced mobility and high physical needs.

Access to inexpensive, clinically regulated and adequately strong forms of beverage alcohol is key to the physical and mental health and well-being of the individual. Regulated quantities of alcohol must be customized to each individual based on their own personal symptoms and histories. While having professional medical advice involved is clearly the best practice, disallowing access to safe forms of alcohol because of lack of confirmed policy is irresponsible and lacks the compassion necessary in the human services sector and in a responsible community.

Policy driven by the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, monitored and planned by medical professionals, delivered by community organizations, and tailored to the needs of the individual are imperative to the success of an alcohol harm reduction program, and the timely nature of its implementation is extremely important to ensure the safety, health, and survival of a large population of vulnerable people. A responsible community and health region would not allow the continued consumption of controlled poison when clear, simple, and practical alternatives exist.

Sources
International Harm Reduction Association, What is harm reduction?, http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction
CBC News, Hand sanitizer ingestion linked to 2 Ontario deaths, Oct 25, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hand-sanitizer-ingestion-linked-to-2-ontario-deaths-1.2252046)
CBC News, Hairspray abuse plagues northern town, Feb 16, 2001, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hairspray-abuse-plagues-northern-town-1.293513
Pauly, B., Stockwell, T., Chow, C., Gray, E., Krysowaty, B., Vallance, K., Zhao, J. & Perkin, K. (2013) Towards alcohol harm reduction: Preliminary results from an evaluation of a Canadian managed alcohol program. Victoria, BC: Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.
Carnahan RM, Kutscher EC, Obritsch MD, Rasmussen LD. Acute ethanol
intoxication after consumption of hairspray. Pharmacotherapy. 2005 Nov;25(11):1646-50. PubMed PMID: 16232026.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16232026?report=docsum
American Addiction Centers, Dangers in Mixing Valium and Alcohol or Drugs, http://americanaddictioncenters.org/valium-treatment/dangers/
Longo LP, Johnson B., Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines–side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2121-8. Review.,
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
Stockwell, T., Pauly, B., Chow, C., Vallance, K., Perkin, K. (2013). Evaluation of a managed alcohol program in Vancouver, BC: Early findings and reflections on alcohol harm reduction. CARBC Bulletin #9, Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria
http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/carbc/assets/docs/bulletin9-evaluation-managed-alcohol-program.pdf

Solitaire.

Brandees is a four-and-a-half-block walk from my bachelor apartment. My building, an 88-year-old three-storey brick structure called The Kenora, is equipped with bathrooms that make phantom popping sounds like peculiar lip movements of a large-mouthed old man. Plop poppop plop pup pop. And pipes that sound like a monkey is hitting them with a hammer in the basement. And pigeons that flutter and coo, waking me like the cocks of the city.

Brandees is a convenience store with a post office open until 11pm. A convenience store that at one time sold bannock in a brown paper bag. But most importantly, a convenience store that rents DVDs for $3, or two for $4.

My laptop died several weeks ago in the first month of death. My new laptop, replacing the creator of two books and countless jeering essays, is thinner than a pancake and has fewer orifices than a three-eyed human, excluding the hardware that reads any media that can be rented at Brandees.

My friend Mike once said that the only honest place left in Regina is Country Corner Donuts on the corner of Dewdney and Broad St. A sandwich as tall as a five-dollar-bill only costs four. Stan has his own corner called Stan’s Corner. It says it is open 24-hours but you get kicked out at 11pm. (Though that seems dishonest, it isn’t.) Brandees is one of those few honest places left in the city (except the one time they fined me $25 for not returning a movie that I did indeed return, but again, honesty is subjective). Brandees is a dry oasis in a city soaked in booze.

So now I count down the days until I can no longer watch Brandees DVDs on my work laptop because I will soon be fired for doing my job too well and by then I will have absolutely no way of watching movies rented from Brandees and I will probably die from irony and desperation and chest pain from losing at solitaire too many times because I can’t just double click on every card until something happens because I have to flip the cards by hand and look at a rubbermaid coffeetable instead of a screen.

Because without Brandees movies and without the internet and without the motivation to go to the library to steal the internet I have no distraction and with no distraction I have to remember that all my friends at work are dying because good people are scared at the backlash of ignorant people when those ignorant people find out that all people are actually being treated like ‘people’ and not like the ‘ideas’ that they see them to be.

I walk to Brandees instead of biking or driving or jogging. Because the four-block journey there and back, stepping over the same dead bird four times in a week, walking past the pub and through the Safeway parking lot is guaranteeably more enjoyable than the destination, especially when the destination is in the apartment listening to popploppupploping and accidentally watching a Woody Allen movie.

I guess there’s always the arcade.

 

Lyrics of the Month: April 2016 – The Weakerthans

Had one of those days when you want to try heroin,
drunk driving, some form of soft suicide.
Sitting in silence and staring at ceilings
or peeling the paint off of things to confide.

Maybe someday the lies we’ve led around
will crawl under our beds
and sleep off the years.

Teach me to wiggle my ears like that,
show me the scar that you got when you fell off your bike.
Ask me the questions you never want answers to.
We can re-write them however we like.

Maybe someday the lies we’ve led around
will crawl under our beds
and sleep off the years.

Stop the hardwood floor’s lopsided grin.
Leave the dirt and dead flowers in a brown coffee tin.
Let your hand melt a hole in the frost.
Peer out under a sky that looks just like a shirt I lost.

Someday the lies we’ve led around
will crawl under our beds
and sleep off the years.

-The Weakerthans, Fallow, Leash

Lyrics of the Month: March 2016 – Bikini Kill

I can’t say everything about it
In just one single song
I can’t put how I feel in a package
And sell it back to everyone

But wait
There’s another boy genius who’s fucking gone
I hope the food tastes better in heaven
I know there’s lots of rad queer boys up there
I hope every time they talk to you
They know they’re lucky to be yr friend

Cuz look
There’s another boy genius who’s fucking gone
And I wouldn’t be so fucking mad so fucking
Pissed off if it wasn’t so fucking wrong
It’s all fucking wrong
It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair

But no one said life was easy
Yeah, but no one said, no one said
Nothing’s supposed to happen right?
No, no one told me anything
To prepare me for fucking this

There’s another boy genius who’s fucking gone
Don’t tell me it don’t matter
Don’t tell me I’ve had three days to get over it
It won’t go away
It just won’t go away

-Bikini Kill, Reject All American, R.I.P.

Politics

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I drag my sorry ass outside in a desperation trip to the grocer. I don’t want to get groceries but I never want to get groceries, and I know that my one remaining pear won’t be enough to last me until Friday, even if I have no appetite. I forget my bike helmet in the apartment, so I risk permanent debilitation because I cannot look past the seven steps to my bedroom even though I know I may never walk again because of it. Politics.

One of those days where starting smoking sounds like a good idea because of how it reflects inner thought.

The grocer is sad. Only one jar of peanut butter on the shelf, wrinkled limes in the fridge, no deodorant left. But it has good intentions. I still manage to spend $60. Get home, eat a few crackers and a homemade hummus that tastes like tunafish, get back on the bike to go to the hockey rink.

The ice is soft like our discussion of impotence. Existential non-boners. We play hockey on the ice anyway. Rather destroy what is left of the rink in the name of a good time than preserve it for someone who would enjoy it less.

Somehow my Spam folder knows what I dreamt about the night before.
HotH00kup Alert
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Couchsurfers from Quebec politely put up with my sad-man room and speak excitedly about their impending trips to brighter lands. The arcade is closed, the only sober thing to do in the city, so we go for a beer. We only get one beer, so it is good. Bed by ten. Not bad.

Trying to to distract myself because good people die when bureaucrats want successful track records for their resumes and political futures. Because the real world and the citizenry run in never-overlapping circles and we make decisions for the citizenry. We make decisions for the taxpayers who pay the wages. Politics.

Learning to tie your shoes at 27.

Shoelaces

“You’re tying your shoelaces wrong,” Grandpa told me after he slipped on his insulated rubber boots he wears when flooding the North Weyburn rink. I told him that he’d shown me before, thinking back to one of the other times someone tried to revolutionize my life at mid-age by teaching me more effective ways to tie shoes. Once, a Chinese student in my boarding school in grade 12 had some extremely efficient, one-motion trick he learned in the Chinese Army. The other, an employer told me that we use the ‘weak version’ of the bow knot, overhand instead of under. Neither stuck.

“You make a loop with that there, then you wrap around twice, and feed it through, and pull it tight. Then it’ll never come undone and all you have to do is pull that one to undo it,” Grandpa said. And that’s how I learned to tie my shoes at the age of 27.

We went outside, opened the valve in the pumphouse, hooked up the thick pipe to the protruding attachment sticking out of the earth five feet, insulated with foam and plastic so it wouldn’t entirely freeze through in the winter. He gave me the nozzle and I poured water over an already well-established base of ice, begging to be cut into. Get more water more in that corner, enough to melt all that snow. Don’t flood too much, that’s when you get those little hills. Close the nozzle partially, it’ll shoot further. Ice up the entranceway so the tractor doesn’t bring gravel in when we scrape. Flood between minus 5 and 15 degrees, otherwise it’ll crack. And other pieces of advice I proceeded to forget immediately after he offered them. We drained the hose of water to and left it sitting out in a ditch next to the little hill.

After mandatory microwaved morning coffee and reading a few history books about homesteading Europeans that look like the cold survivalist versions of my grandparents, they set to making seemingly overcomplicated cabinets for the church kitchen remodel, and dropped me at the pottery wheel. Pottery, the making of receptacles primarily for food purposes, is heralded as a soul-calming, primal, spiritual experience between human being and the clay from which the human being is fabled to be formed. Pottery, that terrifying experience of being so close to failure at every minor hand motion, brings about in me an anxious rage that characterizes my last few years of life. It is so easy to lose centre. The metaphor is too damn easy.

Each time I return to the humming potter’s wheel, once a year usually, I dread the guaranteed failure of destroying a pot, of a finger digging into the too-dry clay, the wheel flinging a half-made bowl across the room. I fear the re-realization of how little I know about anything in the world. But each time, I remember part of a hand motion, part of a technique, part of an idea. And the wads of clay slowly, after decades, start to resemble something more useful than a tiny bowl used for storing lint and thumb tacks. I made five bowls, all failures, simultaneously all worthwhile successes.

The night before, Grandpa slipped on his shoes without bending over, using a four-foot shoe horn. He takes them off with a hand-crafted device of similar brilliance and simplicity. I want to forever to spend my time with those who can continue to teach and reteach me how to tie my shoes and are patient enough for me to figure out that getting rid of laces altogether is the final step to enlightenment.