My 8 Week Keto Journey

This last Christmas I went on a 13 day binge on sugar. I became sick and decided again to quit sweets for good. I was aching all over, my stomach hurt and my body was not performing. Worst of all my mind was cloudy and foggy even after coffee and getting lots of sleep. Perhaps even more unfortunately is that I’ve become used to all of those consequences from my all out sugar addiction.

It’s not fair to judge exactly that point in time because technically I had a hangover. And you know when you have one of those smokes that just makes you want to cough up a lung and quit forever? It was like that. So, I decided for about the 22nd time in my life to quit eating sweets. And I started to think about how.

I turned to ketogenic diet for the first time.

I had tried it a little bit before- using high good fat and low sugar- but I had never fully tried almost zero complex carbs such as bread and pasta, and I had also never really got my fat content high enough for it to be keto. From what I understand, eating high good fats can help with sugar cravings big time and as it turns out, it has. I looked back at my previous experiences trying to stop eating sweets, and it was often the case that I kept eating other complex carbs as well. I don’t think I ever once stopped craving sweets, though I have given them up before.

We flew to Kelowna to visit my wife’s sister, husband, niece and nephew for the rest of the holidays. On the plane ride I was working cashews into my mouth every time I wanted to eat. It was a start. Cashews, coffee and flight anxiety helped me force from my mind the thought of a sandwich. It was a long flight.

Got to Kelowna and I knew it was going to be hard. If you’ve ever met a sugar addict like me you’ll know from asking them that the best time to eat sugar aside from all day every day, is when visiting with family or friends. The cake comes out, my frown turns into a smile while my fork clinks and clanks to the bottom of my cake plate.

So not eating sugar can cause some social tension. Try saying no to a piece of pie from mom, and other such devilish tempters. Then, double that stress for avoiding flour or potatoes from people who are feeding you three times a day.

So I used the time out in BC to get it out of my system… Actually resisting the carbs when offered and deliberately forcing myself to eat other things during meals solidified my compunction to keep strong for when I would get back home. It helped that my sister in law helped make it easy with access to shakes and letting me keep my own food schedule and stuff in the fridge. With keto, my food scheduling radically changed.

So I started eating avocados, coconut oil, my own version of bullet proof coffee, nuts seeds and eggs. Meat too. So it’s not exactly the keto recommendations, which are moderate protein. I’ve eaten tons of protein.

Anyways it was really hard at first. My purpose became quite singular for that first week: stay away from sugarcane products, flour while wolfing down tons of good fats and proteins. After about two days of feeling a bit dazed and hungry I got an influx of the energy promised in the reading I was doing on the subject. As I kept going I kept getting more energy.

The hardest part was at night when my inner sugar health thief comes out, smashes daytime healthy Bob over the head with a donut- shaped cane like Mr Hyde, and falls asleep in a hypoglycaemic haze. And that thief came out bad for that first week at night, but I just stuffed myself with the food I was allowing myself to eat, and refused to answer his knock.

After I got back to Toronto I kept going. And as I’ve kept going, Ive noticed my cravings for sweets subside.

Three weeks in I was feeling as little craving for sweets as I had in 40 years, even at night. I began to study orthodox keto more and applied as much as I could. Keto folks like intermittent fasting, which is hard to do. It’s just less eating, eating less frequently or even abstaining from food. My version has been to have one solid bullet proof coffee in the morning and honestly I sometimes I don’t eat till 130 in the afternoon. Unheard of for me, and I was full of energy the whole time. No hazy, hungry, something-is-wrong-so-I’ll eat feeling.

Also, I began to lose weight. First four weeks, I actually had no weight loss, but in the last three weeks: 10 pounds. I’ve added more good fat, and got some of the protein content down. I’ve also been stepping up yoga and the gym. My work schedule has also changed for the better and I’m getting better rest. All this has added up to a more fuelled and focused me, some weight loss, and better mental energy. Those things are totally true, and some of them are related to my new way of eating.

I’ve been trying to lose the last 20 pounds of the weight I gained 9 years ago when my doctor put me onto a med to help me sleep. I was always a wiry strong 185, but after this med, I went up to 245 pounds within 6 months, ended up fighting off 30 of it, but I have struggled to get the rest down. I hope keto is a way of doing that too.

In the last 8 weeks, I have had two sugar eating episodes, late at night. One was graham crackers. The other chocolate. I also have eaten one slice of pizza, one whole pizza, and about 5 slices of toast. But other than that, no complex carbs for 8 weeks. Not bad for a food junkie that literally ate carbs at every meal his entire life, and has been struggling with sugar addiction for 40 years.

Here’s my bulletproof coffee: 35% cream, big tablespoon of organic coconut oil, smaller tablespoon of organic butter, blended, warmed in the microwave. Add strong organic coffee.

Keto bars: raw peanuts, raw almond slices, raw pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds, peanut butter, fibre-based sweetener, butter, cacao powder, flax meal, coconut oil. Combine and bake.

Shake: beets, beet greens, kale, coconut oil, peanut butter, half an avocado, egg yolk, low glycemic frozen berries, water. Sometimes I add a high quality all in one shake powder or protein powder.

 

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Is Methadone Right for My Baby?

 

Is methadone right for my baby?

I was recently at a meeting of nurses and social workers in Halton Region who met to discuss Ontario’s opioid crisis. People across the province are dying from fentanyl-poisoned drug supplies and my local healthcare system is responding. I’m glad. We are serious about opioid addiction and everyone needed to be in the loop.

Some presenters highlighted their points about the crisis by underscoring the profound challenge of opioid addiction. To do so, they used and reused a particular phrase throughout the day that has now become an informal standard in healthcare circles: opioid addiction is a “chronic relapsing condition.”

I thought the phrase was maybe being used to speak to a less than erudite group about addiction and the current crisis with street drugs like fentanyl, kind of like when you don’t know your audience well, and must assume that they know very little about something complex. After all, the phrase “chronic relapsing condition” was repeated, slowly at times, in an obvious effort to make sure we understood.

But then I realized, after a short nap under my hat, that the attendees were all healthcare workers embedded in the field of addiction and mental health. We were, perhaps more than any other audience, already familiar with the current crisis, who posses a literacy about addiction.

We outgrow simple teachings rather rudely. I began to feel bothered by the phrase as the day wore on. They kept using it. It was like health class from the nerdy teacher who barely has sex anymore. It must have been about the 20th time in the afternoon just after lunch when I thought, “why the fuck are they talking so slowly when they say that?”

It could have been the 4 half sandwiches my body’s insulin stores were fighting off, making me groggy, annoyed and suddenly want to curl up and take a nap in the corner. So I grabbed another coffee cause it always helps me calm down.

There’s no need to have to have the definition of opioid addiction patently reiterated to a bunch of nurses and social workers in the field. Had I ever heard that phrase before? Maybe. But I had never heard it sounded out like “spot goes to the farm.” Like I do in most all day meetings, I reached my proverbial wall way before the end. I began to fantasize about 430 pm, but then I had a terrible image that as each of us was dismissed, we were going to be asked to submit a signed or video confession: “Opioid addiction is a chronic relapsing condition, right Bob?”

“Yes it is.”

The sandwiches finally digesting, and with some nutrients returning to my brain, I began to wonder if the phrase was serving a less obvious purpose. It came to me: Perhaps they weren’t just defining addiction. They were redefining it.

A new stage was being set- one being set all across the province in similarly sandwich-induced-educational moments proffered especially to healthcare workers who need to get on-point for how we should hitherto view opioid addiction. This redefinition is divergent from others in that opioid addiction will no longer be considered a condition that people can arrest. It is not reversible, in any practical sense of the term. People cannot, and will not stop using their opioids. Chronic, relapsing.

Exposure to opioids, the nurses presenting went on, produces permanent changes in the brain such that the hapless patient will choose them over and over again to the detriment and even cessation of their own life.

I don’t want to imply that no solutions were offered. Let me assure you that the culmination of the day’s activities revolved around another hitherto: hitherto we are going to treat opioid addiction through the use of methadone and suboxone. That’s the answer to the opioid addict’s chronic relapsing condition. That’s the solution. That’s what Ontario is going “all in” on, and why my local health network brought me to an all day meeting about the opioid crisis.

I left feeling the weight of an ethical imperative underlying their conclusions. Stuck in traffic on the way home, I thought about the informal logic at work, the best I could see:

  1. Opioid addiction is irreversible.
  2. Opioid users will continue to use opioids, in spite of their best efforts not to.
  3. The street drug supply is tainted with extremely dangerous forms of opioids that are killing people every day.
  4. If we can prevent people from dying we should, and to not do so is unethical.
  5. Methadone keeps addicts from picking up opioids on the street.
  6. Therefore, we should prescribe people methadone as quickly as possible when they come for treatment.
  7. To not do so is unethical.

Perhaps my assessment of logic is off. I did eat at least 6 half sandwiches at lunch, plus two pastries. But there was no mistaking the air of reliability, inevitability and factualness by which methadone was touted as miraculous, life saving and simple. Addiction, a disease that is clearly understand. A terrifying crisis. A miracle drug. A new imperative. Do anything but refer an opioid addict to methadone is now framed as unethical and against best practice.

Best practice for whom?

Methadone and drugs like it are finally and proudly being enforced as the line of defense or addicts seeking help. Aside from the 7 cups of coffee, why was I all riled up? I think it’s the defeatist attitude that circled us like hungry dogs.

Ontario is enforcing methadone by making anyone who’s job depends in some way on the presentation of their client’s OHIP card, refer those people to a drug replacement therapy clinic before anything else. Part of the enforcement strategy helps itself along- I can see now- by getting the barely excited healthcare workers truly motivated to memorize the politically motivated methadone mantra, by helping us rethink addiction itself.

Addiction is a chronic relapsing condition.

Whatever you thought before, and whatever research you may have used to support your position, and between whatever enormous and minor amounts of success you have garnered in the many clients who have come to you for treatment throughout your career, opioid addicted people are going to use drugs no matter what. We need to get nice with that and provide a safe way for clients to use the opioids they seek and thus survive.

One enthusiastic even empathetically intonated that if clients are asking for opioids, should we not, from a client centred perspective, give it to them? I recalled for a moment the utter compassion used to promote voluntary euthanasia for the chronically depressed.

Remember the Maginot Line? During the 1930’s, France built a series of ill fated fortifications along the same front which they had gruesomely battled the Germans during the First World War. Their nation believed permanent concrete bunkers and gun holes would deter German invasion and make their border impenetrable. So France went all-in. The Second World War started. France was invaded. Nazi troops lit smokes as their tanks went around the French bunkers like cars weaving though light traffic on the way home from work. The Maginot Line was a bust.

Why? Way too simple. Way too World War One. Way too underestimate the power of the new industrial warfare and how fast it would expand. Way too not predict methamphetamine Nazi troops outpacing any army that ever marched. The Maginot Line was magical thinking, and I cannot say that methadone thinking doesn’t remind me of it. It may one day be considered just as feeble as a system-wide, all-in policy to the kind of crisis presented by street drugs like fentanyl.

The creators of the Maginot Line also did not consider, it seems, the radical idea of preventing a second world war. Too complex a task perhaps. Yet as Einstein said, we cannot solve a problem by the same thinking that created it. Setting up bunkers to fight more future wars does not seem to me a strategy created by people with an actual desire to stop war. In the same way, methadone as a singular strategy to prevent opioid addiction does not seem like an expression of a people who are really interested in preventing and arresting addiction.

We once believed that after ingesting opioids for a time, an ongoing deficit in natural feel good chemicals ensued within the body. It was almost like a simple plus/ minus. You take ‘em for a while, then you take ‘em away, and the user craves and craves till they are robbing pharmacies.

But others have shown that cravings for opioids are not nearly that simplistic, or caused  only by previous exposure. For example, traumatic experiencers tend to have bodies and minds contaminated by cortisol, and this produces a cascade of health detriments that opioids are only a mask for. Cortisol overproduction is one of the reasons that some people’s use of morphine feels like deep relief from suffering, when for others it does not.

Chronic stress from trauma can drastically increase bodily inflammation, and novel and reproduced scientific literature has shown over and over again that chronic inflammation sets up various precursors to opioid use, such as depression, anxiety and the inability to self soothe (Khandaker, 2017). One group of authors, who conducted a 177-article meta-analysis on the very subject recently stated that,

Over the years, drug addiction has proven to be a perplexing conundrum for scientists. In attempts to decipher the components of the puzzle, multiple theories of addiction have been proposed. While these theories have assisted in providing essential fundamental information, current research recommends that a new theory needs to be presented taking into consideration the results of recent developments in the fields of neuroimmunology, genetics, and neuropsychiatry. [We found] scientific evidence supporting a hypothesis that includes a role for the innate immune system and inflammation in addictive behavior. …The following review particularly focuses on the lateral hypothalamus and its functioning in satiety, and how inflammatory processes in the brain may contribute to addiction (Harricharan, 2017).

Why were we not discussing all this research that is readily available? How is it possible to have deterministic conclusions such as “addiction is a chronic relapsing condition” that warrant long term methadone prescriptions, and long term policy involvement by the healthcare system, repeated over and over again to educated people, when other solid science is still saying that we only know very little? Why can we in Ontario not admit, like the authors quoted above, that “drug addiction has proven to be a perplexing conundrum?”

Many people do not even become opioid-addicted, in spite of short and even long-term use of drugs like morphine. They use opioids to adapt to painful circumstances. What is Ontario doing about that? Why do Ontarians have such a dysfunctional relationship to opioids and other pain killers?

 

The “all in” methadone policy for opioid addiction in Ontario does not utilize this kind of nuance in its account of the problem. Chronic relapsing condition and methadone defence are promoted irrespective of the 60-year experience and research into abstinence-based treatment, the natural tendency for addicts to want to stop, to be able to stop with the right supports, and the ethical imperative of helping them do so if they wish to try. Modalities that use psychotherapy to undergird their programs for addicts such as residential treatment have long, successful histories of recovered clients. So do programs like NA.

There’s also diet. There’s stress and trauma. There’s even the tendency of large industrialized communities to create the preconditions for wide-scale opioid addiction. All of these are strong predisposing and precipitating factors to addiction in the research literature. None of them are solved by methadone.

Perhaps you would need to be an opioid addict to know that opioid addicts very often want to stop. It’s a natural part of being addicted to an opioid. Methadone policy is just too simple, entrenched, and fortified to be able to respond to the vicissitudes and inherent desires of people to terminate the thing methadone hopes to solve. Opioid addicts will stop, whether we put them on another opioid or not. Eventually we can and will stop. If Ontario won’t provide us a way, the addict in his infinite capacity to reinvent himself/ herself, will.

Methadone is not given to opioid addicted people to get them through a tough time for a number of days, weeks or months. It’s not designed to get them to stop using opioids- simple fact. Rather drug replacement such as methadone is designed as a years long strategy for the average client. And I can assure you, that clients are left to a great degree in the dark about this.

Methadone is an intervention consisting of replacing an opioid, for another opioid, as a means of treating opioid use. The treatment lasts years to be considered complete. Behind, we are redefining opioid addiction- from something that can be stopped to something that cannot– at the exact time when our community is reeling from a crisis of dying addicts and a poisoned drug supply.

Funny thing about definitions. In the new and official language of Ontario’s drug treatment strategy, clients taking methadone will be considered “no longer addicted.” When I recently learned that, I had this image of a lieutenant watching the German Panzers roll past his bunker on the Maginot Line, handing out wine to his men to make them feel some measure of victory in what would otherwise be near complete defeat.

What the nurses presented at the meeting I was attending was the notion that we have determined- despite all evidence to the contrary- that we understand what addiction is. Like a reliable dose of methadone, I know what I’m getting but I don’t really know where it’s all going, when I’ll be able to stop, or what the long term consequences will be. I just know that we know that addiction is chronic and relapsing.

What I am certain of is that we do not have a consensus predicated entirely on the relevant research and expert opinions, and shifting definitions should acknowledge this honestly, especially to participants high on filtered coffee and cannoli and attitude problems inspired by the fuck you attitude of putting opioid addiction behind us. People like me also keep stacks of our own research, by which to conduct our daily activities. I would hope that the rest of the people in the room do the same.

Let’s start humbly, with the basic imperfection of our healthcare strategies for extremely challenging conditions like addiction, rather than pretending and putting all our confidence into silver bullets, and asking everyone to help us yank the trigger with smiles on our faces.

 

The goodness of dark, rye bread

“Wars based on principle are far more destructive… the attacker will not destroy that which he is after.” Alan Watts

“The harsh forms of control that empire uses on the outer reaches of empire, migrate back home: Wholesale surveillance, militarized police, indiscriminate use of force, and the destruction of basic civil liberties.” Chris Hedges

How do we destroy war?

The question for me is, how does one who is also a spiritual seeker, incorporate what evil exists in the world: for example the large scale manufacture of death by unnecessary wars, which part of my labor at a full time job is funding through taxation? How can I face the quality and strength of that kind of unstoppable catastrophe without at the same time being consumed by the desire to ignore it… We are not normally consumed by evil because we witness it. Most of us are buffered from the seduction of evil by an inherent desire for good, peace, and love. Yet not witnessing this kind of evil is impossible.

So the question becomes, is focusing on the good a practical solution to the bad? If focusing on what is good is the most common solution found especially amongst seekers, why does it seem not to work on the large-scale sources of evil that pervade our everyday? Wars, most importantly, may be the most pressing example showing that evil is not easy to spot, contain, or be undisturbed by. Rather the evil which wars rely upon hides. It mimics other things such as goodness. The question arises to me, that is it possible that such forces of evil are in actuality abetted by folks who are otherwise good?

Should a terrible thing be happening in my own backyard- a guest I have invited attacks a neighbour’s child- I would act immediately, and existential notions of seeking peace and goodness would hopefully be thwarted by decisive activity: Namely to stop the guest from his actions. I know I would. Most of the people I consider good- which are most of the people I know (and among them my fellow seekers) would also do the same. In fact, the seekers I know have an extra vibe of such basic morality about them, and vitality, to the extent that most of them would be fighting to break down the door, opposite which the evil guest stood.

How is it different with the wars with which I have come to be so undesirably familiar? Unfortunately, it is not any different than an evil guest at an otherwise lively party. If there is a difference between individuals committing acts of evil, and large groups of publicly funded citizens doing so, it is that I have been schooled my whole life to refuse to accept the one, while tacitly consenting to the other.

Is it even possible, I ask myself, that my very desire to withdraw attention from that which I do not like- war- which I do not want- war- which I most abhor- war- is facilitating it?

If the seeker has any place in these queries, and any influence upon the generational evils we all inherit, could it be at least in part, his or her willingness- my willingness- to engage the journey towards understanding evil? What would that entail, but partly coming to understand the qualities of my own evil? Not just learning about what is wrong about me, so that I can avoid it, but understanding as Thomas Mann once said, “That I am capable of anything.” Good and bad.

This perspective is not intent on avoiding evil, since avoidance may be one key factor in keeping it afloat though the power of unconsciousness. It also does not mean we ignore what is good. But if the notion of a higher purpose comes along, something such as the resolution of wars, would it be worthwhile to move beyond my own conceptions of what is and is not good, if doing so would bring about the resolution?  Does the seeker not at some point leave the moorings of morality behind, in order to fulfill his purpose?  Is the seeker ready to face what is unpeaceful and warring in themselves (and in the world)? It is much easier, and likely more profitable, to remain committed to chasing angels of light.

Seekers can and do stop wars. The basic attributes of seeking are described as the hero’s or heroine, which parallels an outer and an inner journey, that includes both the understanding and incorporation of one’s own quality of evil, one’s own quality of good, and how these interplay to produce an even more cogent and evolved purpose.

 

I will not

Make

One more move

To alter what is,

Until I have solved the wound I own

 

But that wound,

My wound

Is inseparable from the wound

Of the world

 

In fact, by this relationship to darkness, the seeker is invigorated and more deeply connected to the whole human truth. The incorporation of the dark- of death, violence, and our animal instincts- is what partly constitutes what Jung called the “whole making principle.” The circle encapsulating the apparent dissonant opposites of yin and yang, dark and light, good and bad, would thus be the greater good.  Focusing on one to beat the other is really a kind of shell game since it is impossible. We embody both to evolve.

This is a dark nutrition, and more fraught with uncertainty than steadfast focus on what is good. But it may be all the more effective. How is it possible, given the inherent goodness of the average person, that we have so many enemies? Why do we never seem to defeat them, or run out of new ones? How do we defeat an enemy we never stopped to understand? Is it possible that our empire is flailing against its own untenable extension and violence? These seem to me questions both relevant to the seeker, and to the worldly critic of wars and other forms of evil.

Wars, Jung might have said, are evidence of our enormous capacity to project our  internal devils onto the world, where we can fight them in order to ignore that they are in fact ours. By this perspective, the seeker’s perfectly good desire for good, and seductive admonishment to resist the dark as a means to avoid bad stuff, feeds the unconsciousness that evil requires of it’s participants. The bigger the evil- wars- the bigger the unconsciousness required upholding it.

How can we fight an evil in the world that is as shifting as the unseverable shadow of our  inward moods and moves. It eludes full detection and comprehension so marvelously that otherwise, the hero’s journey and the spiritual seeker’s aims, would be facile.

Surely it is not only by focusing on what is good, that we can achieve beauty. How do we break down the door to access and stop the evil man from perpetrating harm upon the child in our own backyard? I think I must first realize that he is my guest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Know What to Call This

I have made a deliberate effort to develop an independent thought life over the last three years, and probably without a whole lot of success. I have more often than not been repeating something someone else has said, looking down rabbit holes filled with bad water and saying things that could be even construed as offensive. Sentiments, like beliefs and the people who hold them, do become exasperated by challenge. I know this because confronting myself over the last three years has been quite personally exhausting, but it has been part of the exchange.

There have been some successes and new insights. There are three I would like to share, none of them very new. These three are more like the structure of my pursuits that my mind fully intends to utilize to continue to run its savage chariot race over my life. And though the Zen saying is, “Catch the wild horse of the mind,” I’m just being dragged along behind at this point

1. I do my own research. This has many forms, and some of them are radical sounding ways of gathering truth. For example I gather experiential information, such as when I hear someone say something. I perceive that the human mind is a truth-production-factory-warehouse, and that each individual has something unique to contribute to the overall picture of what we know, and that at any moment, the individual is liable to break into a reservoir of insight.

This also means that to me, insight developed through reflection is of the highest order of truth or knowledge, even if it is rough and raw and subjective and inaccurate. We currently have an old and rather unproven notion that information is common and systematically accessible. But what about the slob in the street? What about the mom on the bus next to me? What about the cop, the shop owner, the accused, the mentally ill? My perception is that each of these is an irreducible reflection of the whole in some way, and an exposition of the truth if I only give time to listen.

Doing my own research also means reading and investigation into subjects from more traditional sources- experts, new ideas, scientific research, history and the like. But at all costs, I have attempted to uproot the notion that one kind of information, or one kind of source, or one particular viewpoint on a subject is the legitimate one. All parties seem to be doing this at this moment in time, which means even certain subject matters have become taboo. Some of these are of course the most interesting subjects to think about and gather information about, since things do tend to become taboo as a result of their both destructive, as well as transformative properties.

The dedication to doing my own research on subjects (and disallowing as much as possible others’ opinions about what is legitimate and what is not), has been twofold in its consequence. Personal investigation produces interest and enthusiasm for just about any subject. In that way, the mind itself seems unbiased except for by the choice we make whether to expose it to one thing or another. For example when I watch NASCAR with my friend Tim, I actually enjoy it! This should be proof enough of the utility of how personal investigation affects the faculty of human interest.

There are obvious limits to me of course to this, such as exposing oneself to deeply hateful things or rabid forms of censorship. But these to me are obviously unhelpful towards the production of my own knowledge (which I believe is a way of connecting to the world), and therefore do not attract me to them.

Doing my own research gives me reach into things that a less energized effort will simply not produce. If I were to rely upon for all subjects what I rely upon for an understanding of new discoveries in math, I would never feel full-body engagement. I am perfectly willing to let experts and journalists distribute neatly packaged versions of new mathematical or astronomical discoveries.

Yet on other subjects I am only satisfied until I am fully covered in the goop of whatever it is I am looking at. I have discovered (not originally at all), that a deep connection exists between my general energy in life, and my desire to know, where the effort it takes to hunt down ideas produces one of the very best things one can have: energy and a sense of connection. Perhaps in some ways, my haphazard hunting is a rough from of Jnana yoga.

2. The second main thing I have discovered with this experiment is to take a position. Once I have done some research, developed an idea, got the goop of some subject all over me, its on my hands and in my mouth and I’m dragging it around the carpet and my wife is telling me to stop- I take a position. Probably too often. But it is also one of the toughest, personally demanding parts. Every prejudice in the world exists against us taking individualized positions, for the same reasons why the mom on the bus or the drunkard in the street are not viewed as the temples of truth and evidence that they truly are. Dogma and consensus are first cousins, and they are both rather vicious bullies at times of the individual who dares throw dirt into the sandbox of what we think we know. And to be honest, dogma and consensus almost never seem to side with ordinary people. Agreement tends to concede at every one of its meandering turns, to power. Our democracies have not produced an answer for this natural human dilemma, any more than communist, religious, or despotic nations have.

I now take information in from various sources on important subjects in an interdisciplinary approach, where a scientific paper from PubMed speaks to me of a similar subject I read about in a novel, and a philosopher repeated somewhere else. My choosing and picking and conclusions- my positions and what attracts me to them- must come from an inner impulse towards the truth. It means my weakness is a lack of being systematic. But one of the highest costs as well as highest gifts of finding positions this way, has been the loss of deeply personal beliefs, which seem to prop up as often as they die.

I have also been told how dangerous this approach is, because it is suffused with subjectivism, personal interest and opinion. I stick to my guns, though, and my roots, for some of the very best have done it exactly this way. I don’t need to mention their names.

3. I have tried to state my position. Perhaps this is the easiest step for me, but the hardest on others, especially as I am only just practicing. I am a proverbial loudmouth when I think I have something to say. I’m like your 10 year old daughter who just picked up the saxophone, and who practices every day, and who may one day with a ton of practice play something quite nicely. But for now I stinks. Loudly so.

Also, most of my ideas are nascent. I am not sure about nearly anything. I explore like an unhinged drunk looking for a soup kitchen in the cold on a Sunday morning. I deliberately express desperation in my search, since I am personally convinced of a desperate state of the truth in the environment we North Americans find ourselves. But like a fighter not seasoned until he’s had maybe 20 good bouts, so am I an adolescent in my expressions for the most part, probably quite inaccurate, and taking some serious right hands that experience would show me later I simply could have avoided. That’s part of the risk, the skin in the game, the out-on-a-ledge part, as far as speaking my truth. You have to be close enough to hit them to throw a meaningful punch, but it’s that same distance where you also get hit.

This effort of mine seems at first like a fact-finding, but has evolved more into a builder of character and conscience. I thought I had constructed, but just as often I have been destroyed. My beliefs, my storehouses of false identities.

I have attempted to live intellectually without anyone telling me what I should think or how I should do things, on the ledge of hopes of finding something more about myself and the world than was possible without the application of these three simple steps.

 

Johnny’s Coming: A Play

 

Johnny’s Coming

A Short Play

By

Robert Chuckman

 

Cast Of Characters

 

Sheila:                        25-40 years of age

Frank:                         55-70 years of age

Damon:                         A police officer 30-50 years of age

Johnny:                        25-40 years of age

 

Scene:                         An apartment belonging to Sheila.

Time:                          Tonight

 

 

AT RISE: Sheila crashes through the door laughing, Frank immediately behind. She drops a bag, while her coat slips off onto the floor. She takes another piece of crack cocaine from her pocket, bites off an end, puts in on her pipe, lights it and holds in the smoke. The rest of the piece goes onto the coffee table. Frank sits at the couch immediately begins fumbling with the rock. Music plays lightly. There’s a bottle of Pepsi on the table.

 

SHEILA

Oh my god that was hilarious.

(played orchestrated, so that they end up meeting center stage after having finished the tale.)

FRANK

That was fun I have to admit.

SHEILA

Yeah.

FRANK

We partied our faces off up in that hotel room. You said you were going to tell me what happened after I left you at the card table. I thought those guys were supposed to be like a regular thing.

SHEILA

I told you didn’t I? Johnny didn’t?

Frank

No.

SHEILA

God he’s such a vandal. How long have we been gone, by the way?

FRANK

Two days. I knew they had come over here from Detroit to buy from Johnny. That’s all you guys told me.

SHEILA

They came over to buy from us. I was already downtown.

FRANK

Yeah me too. Johnny called me and told me to head to the casino to help him out. I was like, oh dear what’s up. Course I love blackjack and it didn’t take much to convince me. Johnny said he just wanted me to sit and get these guys talking and or drinking a bit playing cards for a while, while Johnny kept them waiting.

SHEILA

Yeah Johnny called me too and told me to get down to the casino for something good, and he was like, I’ll be there in five… It’s like five what, five minutes or at 5 o’clock? (They both giggle.) So we all ended up at your blackjack table somehow.

FRANK

They were obvious, don’t you think? Three guys sitting at the table turning their heads around to see where Johnny is, completely distracted. So Johnny texts me and tells me to play them slow… I’m like in my head. ‘fine I’ll play them slow and I put a smile on my face, but when are you going to get here?’ So I start talking to them to maybe settle them down them down a bit.

SHEILA

There was no reason for them to be acting paranoid unless they were up to something. They weren’t there to buy much weight I think it was maybe like an ounce or something, just something to try and small enough to fit up their asses at the border.

FRANK

Anyhow all I know is that they’re at my blackjack table waiting and I took them for some of their money… Johnny was texting me, which kept making me paranoid that they were getting suspicious because I kept having to look at my phone. Course they were all looking their phones too.

SHEILA

And just then, I walked in.

FRANK

Then you walked in.

SHEILA

They were calling and calling Johnny, and he kept telling them that he’s looking for them around the casino but that he can’t find them.

FRANK

Those guys were big well-dressed rounder types. They have must have had a car.

SHEILA

Obviously. I mean how else would they have come over?

FRANK

From Detroit? I don’t know. The Tunnel Bus? Anyways when you sat down they were damned-near mesmerized.

SHEILA

I know. Weren’t you?

FRANK

I was just glad you were there. You did look marvelous darling. I was nervous. You smiled, I finished them off one more time, and walked away like a gentleman. Think I made about three hundred bucks.

(They clink crack pipes like champagne glasses.)

SHEILA

I got talking to them like Johnny was hoping and they were dumb enough to talk specially that white boy was into me. And they start figuring out that I’m into the d.o.p.e., and they tell me they’re at the casino scoring. I had a bit on me, so we take off down to the car garage and smoked in the car they came in. The one guy starts telling me who he is, and all the people he knows, and I know a couple of them and I’m getting a picture of these dudes. So I kind of put the idea in their head that maybe… ‘who is this person you’re meeting?’ I say. ‘Maybe… we should kinda just… rip him off.’ In so many words, only so that we can keep our little party going. But the fact is, that’s what they had been planning from the start.

FRANK

No honor.

SHEILA

None! Well Johnny’s so paranoid and high all the time it makes his perceptions higher, like a, like a…

FRANK

Like an animal…

SHEILA

Well I wasn’t going to say animal. I was going to say…

FRANK

A hunted animal…

SHEILA

Like a soldier. A merkantary, how d’you say it?

FRANK

Mercenary.

SHEILA

Yeah yeah that. Like a soldier just out there looking for trouble. It’s always enemy territ-

FRANK

A hunted animal, paranoid and dangerous like a mercenary lost behind enemy lines, lost and high in the scattershot void of crack cocaine. (Playing with pipe.)

SHEILA

Yeah well whatever you know he’s disturbed but sometimes that helps. Sometimes being crazy is absolutely the right thing to be and do. Anyways Johnny finally shows up. He was dressed right, people have a hard time spotting him for the rounder that he is… But what he did… I told him not to but he insisted.

FRANK

What did he do?

SHEILA

The only thing Johnny likes more than smoking rock and selling dope is messing people over… I told him I had them covered and we can just shut down the deal. But Johnny showed up anyway when we were coming back up from the parking lot and followed them into the bathroom, pretended not know who they were. Johnny walks into the stall between the two black guys and starts taking a piss while the other one’s outside with me all riled up and high. Johnny’s right there and those two assholes were still talking about me and how they’re gonna fuck some guy up they were supposed to meet and take his dope.

FRANK

Oh dear. That cocaine does make you want to talk. Amongst other things…

SHEILA

Ha. Very funny. So Johnny zips up and chuckles to himself, standing at the stall. Both guys finally seemed to notice him, like, who the fuck is this guy, smiling to himself with his dick out while we’re all taking a leak? Johnny’s so cocky. I was long gone at that point up to that sweet room you already got.

FRANK

25th floor overlooking the river. 300 bucks. All I know is that we partied our faces off.

SHEILA

Johnny stopped answering their texts and they wandered down to the parking lot to leave, but guess what? The 550 bucks worth of dope Johnny had planned to sell them for 1200 buck, was already stashed under their car where they’d never look cause they’re idiots and Johnny’s a smart person. He waits and watches them drive off and just like that Johnny anonymously called the Detroit side of the boarder patrol…

FRANK

Wow. He never told me that. No wonder. I can never keep my mouth shut. I know we had a lot of fun tonight.

(Considering another run at the little brick for another “sliver”)

SHEILA

I wouldn’t do that. Johnny’s coming. He’ll be here soon.

FRANK

It’s not so big.

(He plays her protector. He puts his piece onto his pipe and lights it.)

SHEILA

He’ll notice. He notices every little thing. Especially his dope.

FRANK

Where did he go?

SHEILA

He took some to sell.

FRANK

Oh. When?

SHEILA

After we left the casino. And when he walks through that door, he’s gonna wanta smoke. There better be some left for him.

(She nibbles off another piece for herself, this one bigger than the last, loading it into her pipe, encrusted with the stuff. Frank shuffles in his seat. The couch is ragged and lean, like the two of them. She blows the smoke out, looks around the room and snaps her head back toward Frank, placing her hand on his knee.)

SHEILA

Shhh.

FRANK

What is it? What is it darling?

SHEILA

Shhh.

(At least 15 seconds of full silence. A car passes outside their 2nd floor window)

Shhh. (Her head wheels, eyes on the ground, making out the noises outside.)

SHEILA

Can’t you hear?

FRANK

No… It’s nothing. It was just a car.

SHEILA

The cops have been watching me. When I walked to the store the other day I hadn’t been out in a couple of days and the exact same guy who was buying a pack of smokes there the last time I went in, was there.

(Another car slides by, ramping up speed after a stop sign.)

FRANK

Sheila you’re too paranoid.

SHEILA

Don’t call me that.

(Snapping back into the truth of her predicament.) Don’t ever call me psycho or paranoid. I’m not a bug. The cops raided Crystal’s place a week ago, arrested everyone. That’s how Billy got busted.

(She reaches for the small brick- maybe half an once of rock cocaine, breaks off an end too big for one person, and lights it up. As soon as she blows it out, she’s back to listening to the cars outside.)

Did you hear that?

FRANK

I didn’t know Billy got busted.

SHEILA

Yes…They caught him with a…

(Trails off, looking at the ground making out every little nuance of another car going by.)

FRANK

Geeze. That’s terrible. That’s awful. I had no idea. I thought Billy was a good guy.

(She has got up from her perch at edge of her seat on the couch in front of the dope. Walks into the kitchen offstage.)

SHEILA

(off)

Yeah yeah. That’s what I heard anyways.

FRANK

Really?

(Now concealing by shifting the sound of his reaching for the dope. He is quick. This is how he stays high).

Well then it must be true.

SHEILA

(off)

Don’t touch the coke.

FRANK

(Almost dropping the little piece he’s secured.)

Yeah sure. So where’s Johnny?

SHEILA

(off)

I told you he took some to sell. He goes with a 50, sells half for 60, smokes 10 dollars worth, sells the other bit leftover for another 40, buys some more. He can keep that shit rolling for days at a time sometimes.

FRANK

I wish I could do that. (Lights his piece.)

SHEILA

(off)

Yeah don’t we all. You’d probably get robbed.

FRANK

Probably.

SHEILA

(poking her head back into the room)

Are you smoking? Are you crazy? Johnny’s gonna be back any minute.

(She continues to crash around looking for something in the small kitchen.)

Hello?

FRANK

Yes yes. I heard.

SHEILA

Yeah yeah yeah yeah. Why don’t you ask your friend Crystal what happened couple weeks ago and he came back and his dope was gone?

FRANK

It’s just a sliver.

SHEILA

He notices.

FRANK

I don’t think he does.

SHEILA

(Popping head back in.)

Johnny notices everything.

FRANK

Crystal didn’t say anything to me.

SHEILA

I’m surprised she didn’t, she loves to open her mouth. Especially with a man in the room. (They giggle.)

FRANK

Johnny knows I’m always good for it.

(Frank lights a smoke, keeps lighter lit to avoid replicating the flint strike, melts a small piece of dope.)

My cheque comes every month, and I get him back.

SHEILA

Your cheque does come every month.

(She walks back into the living room, to the couch. He’s blowing out crack smoke, trying to pretend it was cigarette).

You shouldn’t even be doing this. You’re too old.

FRANK

Don’t talk to me like that young lady.

(Old routine. They laugh hysterically for a moment. She lights some dope up and blows it out. She listens at the floor for the nothing that’s coming, for the nothing that’s there. The spell over, she races back off stage to the kitchen. Something crashes.)

SHEILA

Neither should I. Neither should anyone. Have you seen my photograph?

FRANK

What photog…

SHEILA

My photograph my photograph my photograph, my photos where my photos were, my photos are where my photos…

(Crashing around dishes upturned, cupboards clapped shut- noise no longer an issue. Frank gets up. Her distress brings out his maternal instinct, and takes the focus off the dope.)

FRANK

I’ll help you look.

SHEILA

Don’t bother. (Slam.)

FRANK

God you’re going to wake the dead.

SHEILA

Fuck the dead. (Slam.)

FRANK

You’re bad.

SHEILA

I can’t believe I can’t find it. This place is so small it’s no bigger than just a tiny little cup of tap water. I cleaned up like last week.

FRANK

I’m the one that cleaned.

SHEILA

It’s the only thing I want. It’s the only fucking thing I’m asking for and it’s the one thing I can’t find. There’s no places to look. This place is a disaster. It’s the only thing I have about her.

FRANK

What?

SHEILA

My picture.

FRANK

Of who? Oh, you’re picture of Marion!!? I just saw it earlier. Why didn’t you say? It’s in the living room.

SHEILA

It’s not it was in here. It was on the fridge with the other pictures. Johnny that asshole…

FRANK

Here it is.

SHEILA

Really?

(Sprints into the room and grasps at the bent and oily photo of her daughter from Franks trembling hand. She sits back down on the couch.)

Thank you Frank, you’re always saving me.

(Frank is almost drooling, then reaches for her hand. She withdraws in disgust without looking up from the photo. She rubs it a little clean.)

So beautiful.

FRANK

I’m sorry.

(She goes from intent looking and rubbing of the photo to putting it back into a drawer near the dope table.)

SHEILA

Don’t ever have this out when we’re smoking.

FRANK

I know Sheila.

(She smiles at him hopefully. The photo is out of the way and now she pulls the crack pipe she’s been using loads it up after breaking off a piece. Smokes, then returns to the listening routine.)

FRANK

Where is your daught…

SHEILA

Shhh.

(Moments go by, a car rolls through the tiny intersection below.)

It’s four in the morning. Where’s Johnny.

FRANK

Who knows?

SHEILA

He’s going to be here soon. When he gets here he’s gonna be pissed if that dope is gone.

(Breaks off another small piece.)

FRANK

Well then we better stop. Where’s Mario-

SHEILA

Marion’s in the states. With her father. He’s got his shit together.

FRANK

Oh. I didn’t know. (Pause.) What happened with Crystal?

SHEILA

What? Oh that. They’re at Crystal’s place and you can’t say a thing because this is serious. Mark, Ben and Johnny were there, and Johnny had a piece on him that he didn’t want to break out and those other guys knew it. So they got someone to call from the outside, who pretended to be on Wyandotte shopping for crack. Except it wasn’t a buyer, it was one of their friends… See Johnny won’t go out onto Wyandotte with a piece in his hand any bigger than an 60 or 80 cause he’s too…

FRANK

Paranoid.

SHEILA

Not paranoid, not fucking paranoid stop saying that. Just smart. He’s been busted like 8 times for dope. If he gets busted again he’s doing federal time. (There’s more than a little bit of pride there.)

FRANK

Definitely. That’s smart. To not carry dope on him.

SHEILA

Yeah well anyways getting busted 8 times isn’t smart. Neither is smoking Johnny’s shit, trying to set him up, or lying about it once you’ve been caught.

Frank

That’s true.

SHEILA

We’ve all smoked Johnny’s shit. Just admit it after. I mean he’s always got dope on him.

FRANK

That’s also true.

SHEILA

He’s like a one-man crack house but don’t take advantage. He’s too unpredictable. So anyways he puts his chunk down, runs down the stairs, and as soon as the door to that shithole apartment closes, these three pigeons start staring at the piece of dope like it’s the last bit of stale bread at the end of a day at Jackson Park. Needless to say they rip into it, maybe thinking Johnny’s not gonna come back.

FRANK

Johnny always comes back.

SHEILA

…He’ll come back and know the count down to the point what he left on the table. He always comes back… for his dope anyways. He weighs a 40 piece better than a scale with the side of his lip.

FRANK

How does he do that.

SHEILA

I don’t know. You want maybe he’ll teach you. He did that eight months last year through the summer, after he gets out…

FRANK

…you mean after you bailed him out….

SHEILA

…yeah I bailed him out sitting there doing dead time waiting for his case which had nothing to do with him, Damon and those other cops just busted him for nothing.

FRANK

They found him with three ounces of cooked cocaine sitting in his microwave.

SHEILA

And it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars anyways and that’s really why I bailed him out…

FRANK

OK.

SHEILA

Besides the point. What I’m trying to say is that he came straight home and remembered this little tiny fucking half-ball he had left inside an old Stephen King book on my shelf. We partied for couple hours.

FRANK

That’s different. (She glares.) That’s cool.

SHEILA

No it’s not cool, That’s what I’m trying to tell you. These kids were smoking on his rock that night over at Crystal’s while he was gone.

FRANK

Oh ok. Right. Not cool.

SHEILA

So of course 20 minutes later- mind you its 5 am- Johnny comes rolling back in and he’s extra pissed cause no one showed. He’s roaring up the stairs then he’s knocking at the door. No answer. He pounds up and down the hall and knocks each time he goes by the door. ‘Rapp rapp rapp, rapp rapp rapp,‘ while these people take the last few hits from the piece. And then the gig is finally up. They’ve gotta make something up, or take some kind of responsibility. But there’s nothing to make up, which means they’ve only got one option, which even there means there’s going to be some kind of violence.

FRANK

They really didn’t have much of a choice. Johnny can be crashing fucking loud. They had to let him in.

SHEILA

The noise in the hallway was the last thing these people had to worry about. Anyways Crystal finally answered the door. God I hate that bitch.

FRANK

Oh no, ok.

SHEILA

He tears in, they start their routine. Lying. They start looking for the shit they just stole. Typical crackhead stuff. Johnny finally stops them… He says if he doesn’t have what’s his back in his hand in 10 seconds someone’s going to eat it. Johnny passes for a regular guy and’s how he gets away with so much stealing and conning without getting caught. But that also means people don’t understand he’s a loony toon when he gets pissed and high and right then he got pissed.

FRANK

And he was high.

SHEILA

Of course.

FRANK

Ok so, what happened.

SHEILA

He asks slowly ‘where’s my piece?’ and then he watches. He just stands there and watches and they’re just standing there too, looking down at the ground. The high from Jonny’s dope wears off. Like the four stooges- they should have at least rehearsed or something.

FRANK

Yes. The rehearsal process really irons thing like that out.

SHEILA

There’s a kid there- the one who had been paying for the dope earlier on in the evening. Crystal got him over there in the fist place. He has no clue how damaged these people are. Anyways Johnny’s still and speechless, watching them, and right then Crystal looks up and makes eyes at this kid and he unfortunately made eyes back. Wrong moment. I blame her for what happened.

FRANK

Oh no.

SHEILA

He was from university- got into the dope you know and was into Crystal. Yeah we haven’t seen him since.

FRANK

Oh, oh no.

SHEILA

Exactly. She giggled and he giggled back like it was a joke… him and his buddies or something at his mom’s basement missing some weed. That was it. Let’s see if we can release a bit off this fully pressurized valve that’s about to explode by sharing a laugh about how white hot and swelled up the metal all looks.

FRANK

(Hands flitting towards the dope on the table.)

What did he do?

SHEILA

He slammed the kid’s head off the floor. He was in Hotel Dieu 5 days and when he got out he had to quit the school year I heard and I haven’t seen him around since. How you gonna do engineering classes and hang around an idiot like Crystal and her fucked up friends let alone smoke rock.

FRANK

Oh yeah. I know.

SHEILA

What do you mean you know? Crystal’s like your best friggin’ friend (Giggle.)

FRANK

No she’s-

SHEILA

Yes she is.

FRANK

I haven’t been over there in a wh-

SHEILA

I know you were over there earlier this week.

FRANK

How?

SHEILA

Cause her place was clean for once. I stopped by to drop something off.

FRANK

I only tidied a little.

SHEILA

Anyways that kid is gone and no one has seen him. That’s what Crystal said anyways… but you know she’s a lying you-know-what who loves the drama so who knows. The rest of it’s true.

FRANK

Oh man. I remember seeing that kid once.

(Both regard the dwindling piece of dope on the table. The notion of Johnny has hit them both. Fear and temptation are both close to the high of cocaine anyways… Frank begins to fumble with the rock.)

SHEILA

This dope is speedy.

FRANK

Really.

SHEILA

Shite…

FRANK

Why do you do this? Why Sheila?

SHEILA

Everyone’s got his or her reasons and excuses. I’m sure you have yours. I have mine.

FRANK

(Almost slathering). When Doreen died… I can’t believe she’s gone…

(She says nothing. This is what Frank wants the most. Some kind of connection.)

SHEILA

I’ll tell you what.

FRANK

What?

SHEILA

I’ll tell you why if you promise me one thing.

FRANK

Alright.

SHEILA

I’m fucking serious Frank. You need to stop. If I tell you, you need to stop. Tonight.

FRANK

Ok. I will. Doreen and I were married for 19 years. She’s gone and she’s not coming back and I- (Disingenuously throws down a piece with which he was fumbling.) So tell me, and I’ll stop.

SHEILA

We do it so we don’t have to wake up in the morning everyday.

FRANK

We are doing this to people we love.

SHEILA

I do this to myself.

FRANK

To Marion.

SHEILA

What?

FRANK

To Marion, Sheila.

SHEILA

TO her? I don’t understand.

FRANK

TO her. TO her. TO, TO, TO. What happened? What happened TO you? What happened TO you? To, Sheila, something happened To you… Because we do this TO people.

SHEILA

I don’t know what you mean by To? To who? (locating and picking back up and smoking the piece he threw.)

FRANK

We stare out windows all night. We smoke the wait for more to come. For Johnny that ass his bullshit and hopeless capers… to come back with scores. ‘Johnny’s on the way.’ We get all happy for a minute. Then it comes and there’s just nothing there. We’re stuck to this goddamned pipe like a dumb kid who got his tongue stuck on the cold metal in winter time. We used to talk, remember? Nothing happens now…. Doreen and I. We could spend hours talking.

SHEILA

We still talk sometimes.

FRANK

You stare outside all the time now… like someone’s parking their cars. Like there’s dogs and flashlights down below. Like they’re in, stomping up the stairs with their boots. It’s fantasy, Sheila!!!! No ones going to stop us. We’re begging for them to come but they won’t. They’re not coming, there’s no cars outside, and all we can hear is the sound of our own broken hearts beating out of our chests.

SHEILA

It’s this speedy racy shit dope. You really can go on by the way. And they’re watching this pl…

FRANK

No one’s coming!!

(Kind of losing it)

No one cares if we smoke crack. No one even cares if along with our dope, every person we ever loved goes up in smoke along with it… Marion.

SHEILA

I said d-

FRANK

Do we even know how long we’ve been here?

SHEILA

I don’t know. Couple hours since we got back from the casino.

FRANK

The battery’s dead on my watch. It feels like an hour. We never went outside the last three days. Three days we sat waiting for something to happen. It’s not partying. This is nothing. This is just waiting.

SHEILA

What do you mean we’re waiting. Waiting for what?

FRANK

For the birds.

SHEILA

The birds.

FRANK

Yeah the birds.

SHEILA

Ok the birds. The birds. We are waiting for the birds.

FRANK

The birds, Sheila.

SHEILA

And the leaves (Taking the mickey on Frank.)

FRANK

The leaves?

SHEILA

Yeah the leaves.

FRANK

The birds, Sheila.

SHEILA

The bir-

FRANK

The birds in the morning, when everyone’s getting up, feeding their kids, and getting off to work. It’s about to happen in a couple of hours. The little birds will come out and start singing.

SHEILA

Oh, now I know what you mean.

FRANK

The cardinals pierce and the night is over along with everything else we’ve missed. The stuff we only see from this room.

SHEILA

You really can go on.

FRANK

I know. So tell me-

SHEILA

-where the hell is Johnny, anyways.

FRANK

The loneliest thing in the world is the sound of those birds, Sheila. And Johnny’s dope is terrible. It’s been bad for months now.

SHEILA

Most of his dope is bunk (giggles.)

FRANK

Exactly! Its kiefe…

SHEILA

It’s bunk. It’s speedy and racy.

FRANK

No coke (they laugh). Stepped on.

SHEILA

By the time it gets to us there IS no coke…

FRANK

None! So why do we do it? Tell me…

SHEILA

(She will enact the drama of several commonplace normal social interactions which she has: CAS, the police, family. She gets up, and stalks back and forth making a playing space of the center of the room.)

I went to Children’s Aid three weeks ago. The security guard asks why I’m there. I’m there cause I have to be. That’s why I’m there. The security guard! I can’t even walk into a building without someone condemning me. Im supposed to talk to my worker I say. I haven’t seen Marion for a long time and I don’t even know where she is, I say. I’m trying to find her. I need to speak with someone and I’m trying to get to the elevator. He says my worker’s not in today and he gets up to stop me.

FRANK

(Playing, standing) Did you want to make an appointment?

SHEILA

No, no I don’t want one. I already have one for today. I have a daughter. I have a daughter named Marion. Isn’t this the CAS? She’s 7 years old. I need to see my daughter. I need to talk to my worker.

FRANK

(As guard.)

So you need to make a new appointment.

SHIELA

This is my day. I leave. I decided to walk to my sister’s house, over on Lesprence. From CAS on Riverside. Cars flying by, people going fishing or whatever and I can’t even stand being outside. Every house full of lives and privacy and people you’d want to know. I get there and I’m so grateful because I can see that she’s home. I knock.

FRANK

Hello.

SHEILA

It’s me, Sheila.

FRANK

Yes?

SHEILA

I want to see the kids. Is Carl here?

FRANK

No, he’s not.

SHEILA

Then baby Carl starts crying. I say to her, he IS there. I can hear him. That’s him crying. So he is here.

FRANK

Sheila I can’t let you in.

SHEILA

‘There’s an order on you down at the Children’s Aid,’ she says to me. ‘I’m not getting mixed up…’ (To Frank) I haven’t had an order on me at the Children’s Aid Society in three years! I tell her that. She tells me-

FRANK

Get out of here or I’m calling the cops.

SHEILA

Yeah… How did you know? So then I forgot I had probation. I’m all the way in the east end and I had to be there in an hour, and I didn’t make it on time. What do you think that lovely little interaction was like?

FRANK

A bit like the others?

SHEILA

‘Your appointment was over 40 minutes ago.’

FRANK

Your appointment was over 40 minutes ago.

SHEILA

‘Should I breach you? Are you clean?’

FRANK

Should I breach you? Are you clean?

SHEILA

I tried to explain, about going to see Carl Jr., and that I forgot and I didn’t have fare for the bus. I can’t sleep. I can’t stay awake. All I think about is Marion. I haven’t had real charges in like two years, it’s all just breaches.

FRANK

I don’t care. There is a probation order. Have you been clean? Have you been hanging around with John McMonigle?

SHEILA

Yes I’m clean, yes I’ve been… No I’ve not been hanging around Johnny. (Stated argumentatively as she moves towards Frank who stumbles back into the couch. She zones back in and looks around.)

FRANK

I’m sorry Sheila.

SHEILA

Yeah?

FRANK

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But I still need to know.

SHEILA

We do this so we can get high. So we can party.

FRANK

Where’s Marion?

SHEILA

In Chicago with her dad. Well not really cause her dad’s… whatever. She’s with his sister. She’s a good person I guess.

FRANK

You guess? You guess? This is exactly what I mean. How can you guess? How do you not know where she is, when she is, and who she is with right now? When is the last time you saw her?

SHEILA

Watch your-

FRANK

When, Sheila when?

SHEILA

Maybe 4 or 5 months.

FRANK

4 or 5. 4 or 5. 4 or fucking 5, Sheila. 4 or fucking 5. (Long pause.)

SHEILA

Where we grew up? In South Windsor?

FRANK

I didn’t know you grew up in South Windsor.

SHEILA

Like it matters. Like it’s any better. Any less different than Cataraqui and Parent. Any better than Sandwich. Any more functional than…

FRANK

I get it.

SHEILA

You do?

FRANK

I went to private school.

SHEILA

Ha! Like with the little suits?

FRANK

Yeah with the little suits. My mother sent us to be better acquainted with the well-to-do.

(They look at each other and start to laugh almost uncontrollably. Humor is what will let her open.)

SHEILA

Well none of that stopped what happened to me.

FRANK

Your mother- (catches himself.)

SHEILA

My mother’s a useless drunk you know that. We had a neighbor who moved in next to us.

FRANK

Who?

SHEILA

Our neighbor. I was 8. He was friendly and moved in next door. By the time I was 10 he was friendlier. And friendlier. Like a piece of shit, you know?

FRANK

Oh my god Sheila.

SHEILA

Yeah. We’d play baseball all the time. I was a really good player … (She shows her muscles off on her arms.)  Remember Kirk Gibson? He was our favorite. The 1984 Tigers. So anyways we played baseball and had ben talking about going to a game together, but the only time he could go was on a night game so neighbor Mike asked my mom to let me go to Detroit for a game on a Friday night, and we’d be back on the Saturday… My mother… She just didn’t have a clue. (Begins to bite off another piece of dope, which she now smokes, and keeps ripping off during the tale).  Me and Mike used to play catch all the time.

FRANK

Who?

SHEILA

Mike. The neighbor. The antagonist. The loser. The rapist. (Hit). Try to keep up.

FRANK

Sorry.

SHEILA

Cause you know ever since I was small Id hang around whomever. We’d play catch. Burbur. Pepper. All the stuff to help you get better at… But he also got me over to that Tiger’s game.

FRANK

Sheila you don’t have to…

SHEILA

So he does it

(Blows out smoke, listens at the impending street below.)

FRANK

Sheila don-

SHEILA

So he does it!! He does it! He gets me over there, I’m 12 years old he’s like what, 40, he, we, watch the game, buys me a jersey, go back to a hotel and now instead of two rooms like the plan we have one room but I’m too tired already. I was already half asleep. You see? My Pepsi. It had something. Inside it. There was something inside the Pepsi.

FRANK

How. How did you know?

SHEILA

Blood. How do you know your wife died? The blood was gone, that’s how. When something alive gets injured, it bleeds red. The dead don’t have that same kind of blood. How do I know anything? How I do I know Johnny’s going to come back? How do I know that when my doctor gave me those pills I ended up losing it? How do I know you’re a blow head and a crack head?

FRANK

You’re a crack head (they giggle). I’m sorry. Sheila. (She fingers a cigarette, Frank moves in slightly closer and lights it.)

SHEILA

(She tries but cannot weep.) Everybody asks the same thing. ‘How do you know?’ My uncle found me, listening to music in my room…. The Tigres were in a three game series against the Yanks and I hadn’t come out to watch it. I told him what happened. He asked, ‘How do you know?’ This guy did it I say. ‘Who?’ The neighbor. ‘Which neighbor.’ Mike. ‘Mike?’ Yes Mike! ‘You mean from next door?’ Yes the neighbor. The only one named Mike… You see Frank? There’s a brushfire burning up the farms that everyone should have already saw coming from miles away, and the town is running around asking each other how did it start. My uncle’s asking me what to do. Then my mother comes in. ‘What happened?’ Then my father. ‘What happened?’ By then I was too scared to tell them. Too scared for them! But I saw Mike the next day. I would watch for him from my living room window. Staring and waiting for when he would get home. Same as I did before it happened, but now I was frozen. My body still wanted to go play catch but I couldn’t anymore.  I had already memorized the sound of his car because I used to love it when he got home. There was a Saturday night when he was with some buddies, laughing up his driveway into his house, and he saw me through the drape watching him like a lonely little goldfish in my living room and he smiled. And you know what I wished? I wished we could still play catch together.

FRANK

Sheil-

SHEILA

The next day when he was coming home- his car made a whine when the wheel turned and the bumper scratched the pavement every time he pulled in and it was all scarred up at the bottom of his drive- I heard it from down the street. I ran into the kitchen where a little window above the sink made it so I could hear but not see. When his car stopped he got out but there was a long pause. I kept waiting for the sound of his front door to open, but it didn’t. I sat and waited. Part of me was hoping he would come over to say hi. I was terrified. Then I could hear the crinkle of his shoes on our front steps, his grey nylon coat sleeve reaching for our fake brass door knocker but I loved that sound cause it meant someone was coming over. That there was something to do. Someone to do stuff with. Mike called out, ‘Sheila? Sheila,’ andthe sound of his voice made that feeling of hope take off like a runaway into my spine. I put my ears between my knees and pulled in like a ball. My hands and feet got cold and the shiver that went into my back never went away.

FRANK

(Frank pulls her in, at arms length, until she moves a tiny bit closer, then a tiny bit closer, then closer and she is enveloped in his arms.)

It’s like a cold.

SHEILA

Like the flu.

FRANK

Like a nasty flu.

SHEILA

(Getting into the moment.)

A cold you just can’t shake.

FRANK

Well we can party it off.

SHEILA

Yeah. We will party it off. Hey wait, you were going to stop if it told you.

FRANK

Tomorrow. I’ll stop tomorrow. I promise.

SHEILA

Until tomorrow.

FRANK

Tomorrow.

SHEILA

Today is what counts.

FRANK

I’ll stick to today.

SHEILA

Until the birds come! (They both load up, blow out smoke and smile.)

FRANK

Until Johnny comes.

SHEILA

(Then suddenly again.) Shhhh.

FRANK

(Chuckles.) What is it?

SHEILA

Shhhh. Shut up.

(There is the unmistakable sound of footsteps outside the door to the apartment. Frank tightens up for the first time. The steps come slow and finally settle in front of the little apartment. A knock.)

FRANK

Who is it-

SHEILA

Shut up shh……

(Blowing off the heat from her pipe and sliding it into the recess of the couch, and what’s left of the dope into the small drawer with the swinging fake brass handle that she carefully, and silently opens and closes. The same one that she has already forgotten the picture of Marion in.)

Johnny?

DAMON

Damon.

SHEILA

(Sheila twists her head back to Frank with her mouth wide.) Who? What do you want? I’m sleeping.

DAMON

Yeah sure. Who’s with you? I need to come in.

SHEILA

Shhh.

(She quickly thinks, and then decides to grab Frank by the arm and walk him over to the bathroom, where she places him and closes the door).

Coming.

(Flits over to the front door, peeps through the peep hole just to make sure and opens. An air of largeness and welcoming overcomes her.)

Come in, what are you doing here? The place is just a mess.

(Damon is a cop and he visits Sheila when he’s not on duty)

DAMON

I was in the neighborhood. I’ve got to talk to you about Johnny. Is he here?

SHEILA

About what? What now? I don’t really care. (Starts fixing the place putting things away.)

DAMON

When’s the last time you saw him? (Sits on the couch, looking around.)

SHEILA

What do you mean, I don’t see him. What happened?

DAMON

Does he have his phone on him?

SHEILA

No he lost it. They never gave it back to him last weekend when he got out of the bucket.

DAMON

Uh- huh.

SHEILA

What?? (Spinning back across the room, lowering her face to his.) Who cares. You want to come in? (Flirting). Forget about Johnny.

DAMON

I thought you said you… last time he was in jail, I was right here and you said he was done and you were done and this was all over. I pulled you out of that jam, and here I am and here you are, right here doing the exact same thing.

SHEILA

It is finished. (Going back about her distracted cleaning). I decided tonight.

DAMON

It’s too late.

SHEILA

What the fuck do you mean. It’s not too late.

DAMON

It’s too far gone. I can’t do anything for you now.

SHEILA

I didn’t do shit. I’ve been here all night. What do you mean it’s too far? (Accelerating the picking of stuff up.)

DAMON

It’s not about tonight. Yesterday. Last week. The weeks before that. The months the years. That’s what it is. Tonight is not the problem.

SHEILA

Well tonight is a problem cause you’re cryptic and off, and I’m just here cleaning up the apartment and Johnny’s not here and he hasn’t been here for hours and he’s supposed to come ba- (catching herself.)

DAMON

When’s he coming back?

SHEILA

I don’t know. I don’t know because he leaves and sometimes doesn’t come back for three days.

DAMON

Better for him if he does this time.

SHEILA

What?

DAMON

Better for him, better for you. Better for Marion. Johnny’s done. He’s finally done something to the one person who always avoided the fallout from his bullshit. All the people like me who’ve had the misfortune of meeting Johnny McMonigle, now Johnny is going to finally get to meet himself.

SHEILA

I don’t know anything.

(Begins to make her way to the drawer to both have another piece to smoke, and to find a better place to hide it).

DAMON

It’s worse than you think.

SHEILA

Worse.

(Repeats distracted and stops her maneuver, just waiting for the next terrible thing)

DAMON

Everybody knows it’s him.

SHEILA

No it wasn’t. Johnny was here most of the night. He just left like 15 minutes ago. It cant be him, too. Not after everything.

DAMON

There’s a lot of things Johnny didn’t do, but this wasn’t one of them. Been to your friend Crystal’s place lately?

SHEILA

That piece of shit breeder is not my friend.

DAMON

(Giggles.) You got?

SHEILA

Yeah. I have (Finishes the move to the drawer and pulls the piece out, starts loading up her pipe for him.) Now what happened?

DAMON

There was some kid they were smoking with and Johnny had nothing better to do than to make his face fall into the side of a table.

SHEILA

A table? (Grabbing the remaining little piece of dope that is left.) It’s Johnny’s stuff. He’s coming home soon.

DAMON

It really doesn’t matter. (Blows out the smoke and begins to come on to her.)

SHEILA

How does it not matter?

DAMON

He died.

SHEILA

Who?

DAMON

Who do you think? The kid. The young man Johnny assaulted… In Crystal’s apartment. Two witnesses, probably one more to come.

SHEILA

Fuck off Damon (pushes him back meekly.)

DAMON

Yeah. A week after he left his semester at school after getting out of Hotel Dieu to go back to Toronto and get rest, his parents found him in his bedroom with an aneurism.

SHEILA

How would I… (Stunned, brutalized.)

DAMON

Better to be on one side of this than the other. Sure you didn’t hear? (Making his move more fully, kisses her neck).

SHEILA

If I did I’d say. What happened what happened what happened? (Lets Damon.)

DAMON

The kid was from the U. His parents are both doctors and they know what happened. The others in the room from that night know what happened. Everybody knows. You seem to be the only one left who doesn’t. The kid had written a bunch of stuff down in a journal he was keeping, about his decent into crack addiction.

SHEILA

But I-

DAMON

Both of the other people there, Mark Bodine and some other idiot-

SHEILA

Ben Tandrige

DAMON

Yes. Ben. We tried to find Crystal but it doesn’t matter. He’s being charged…

(Shuffle sound from the bathroom.) Who’s here?

SHEILA

No one. You’re paranoid. No one’s here. Just us.

(Playfully looks up, trying to resurrect “the party.”)

DAMON

Let’s smoke.

(She uses her pipe to entice him into the bedroom. They both take hits just at the doorway leading off, and Damon begins to undress himself).

(lights lower from Damon and Sheila just as their door shuts, and exactly as it does, the bathroom door creeks open and Frank appears. He silently walks over to the couch and fishes around the couch and into the drawer, looking. He finds a pipe and starts searching for a piece of crack. He is careful and quiet. He has not heard the conversation. He starts picking up cushions. He gets to his knees and goes under the coffee table. He crawls past the table into the center of the room. From the other room, Sheila, and Damon are heard moving about. Frank looks up for a moment, then back down to his search. He suddenly finds a piece. He smiles brightly and from his knees, holds the piece up to the light like it’s a diamond in the sun. His pipe is produced, the piece goes on, is lit and inhaled. As Frank blows out the smoke, the front door smacks open against the wall behind it… Johnny…. The lights dim, but one stays up on Johnny, heaving at the door. Lights down.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Invasion

I brought home expensive wine that night before Russia. The first glass stopped halfway to my wife’s mouth, its contents trembling along with her hand. She looked up at me. “What do you mean you’re going?”

“I’m the only one that will do it,” I said.

“So what, that doesn’t mean you should.” Lisa could see it was pointless. I had that look in my eyes, that fire-like addictive substance of fear, obsession and excitement. It was the real reason I did my job. She brought the wine up to her lips, dispatched the entire glass in two gulps, got up from the table without touching her steak and went upstairs to our room. I was going to have to work harder if I wanted to get a little warm and fuzzy with the wife before I left. I finished my dinner and let things cool off for a couple of hours.

She was mad because she was scared. So was I. The reports coming into the States from Europe were from so many credible sources that our paper finally sent someone. I drew the short straw. I was a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and I was assigned to investigate stories coming from a rural Russian village about something that had crash landed in one of their fields. You may rest assured that none of us- none of the reporters assigned to the event- were very confident we would ever come back alive. There was a sense of dread… even doom. The woman who booked our travel arrangements at the paper was normally really talkative and friendly, but when I picked up my itinerary for this assignment, she wouldn’t even make eye contact. The look of stark pity on her face summed it up.

I remember that Monday morning when I first found out. My voicemail had blown up from nearly every corner in journalism. Yes, my work phone stayed in a drawer on weekends. There was an urgent message from my good friend John in Munich at the US foreign office. I called him back. “What is it?” I asked.

“You haven’t heard? Something happened in Russia, not far from Moscow. A ship landing. Not human origin.” I giggled, knowing that me and John spent many a night drinking and discussing shoddy journalism, and a growing lack of integrity in the field. “I am not fucking with you,” he went on. “There’s a blackout from the Kremlin and diplomats everywhere from Washington to Prague are trying to wet down these rumors. Check it out yourself. I have to go.” And he hung up.

I raced down to my editor’s desk and crashed through the door. He sat looking out his window, peacefully. “What the hell?” I said. I was like a badger then. I had some issues with… diplomacy.

“I know, Bob. Calm down,” he said.

I couldn’t believe it: “You know about this? Why aren’t we on it? This is huge.” He got up without looking at me and made himself a small drink from his mini fridge, taking his sweet time. He shot it down and planted his ass back into his chair.

“You know shit like this can sink a real news outlet. You chase down enough rabbit holes got nuthin but dirty water, you can bet yourself out of a job in this racket.”

He was right. I took a breath, calmed down a bit, grabbed a chair and thought about what to say next. “John Silver in Munich confirmed, plus three others from the feed all saying the same thing.”

“Fine,” he said, “you can go.” A smile broadened the concern written across his face.

“I never said I wanted to go,” which was a lie. I smiled right back

“Well you’re going anyways,” he said and poured us both a 9:30 am Remy Marin.

By seven o’clock that same evening- after my wife stormed away from the dinner table- I had phoned all my relatives, and assured my mother that all the rumors that had spread couldn’t have been anything more that a hoax, and I was simply going to debunk the whole thing. And I was lucky enough to get some goodbye loving in with Lisa- I didn’t know then that I was going to be gone for the next twelve weeks, on this crazy story.

I sat back in my seat the next morning as the plane lifted out of New York on a cool, sunny Tuesday and I went over what I actually knew. Not much: A ship of unknown origin had landed just north of Moscow. That was it, but it had got everyone talking. Some people were saying they had seen little brown aliens running around. Some people panicked, some people celebrated. I was going to see a guy named John who said he saw the whole thing. I wondered, just as my ears popped, if this was just a plane ride and a few nights in a shit hotel away from my wife. We had reached altitude.

John was my first of many interviews on this story. I first spoke with him over the phone the night before leaving. His English was very good.. He had been out walking his dog when he witnessed an airship come to a severe and sudden skid across the back of his neighbor’s long field. Curiosity pushed him past his fear. His trusty female Doberman helped too: “With one word she is ready, you understand?” he said proudly.

“I went closer to see, with my Klatchka on a short leash.” John stopped talking and I thought we had been cut off. I asked him to go on. “No,” he said. “I do not know who could be listening. I will only meet you in person.” So I went.

John’s town of Ozerestokye is about 35 miles north of Moscow. The Kremlin definitely wanted the town’s people to keep silent but none of my good contacts took that very seriously… The KGB also released a “military command” for the people of Ozerestokye to not speak to any foreign reporters- so I had to sneak around a bit to get there. Fortunately for me, the people of Ozerestokye didn’t give a damn about the Kremlin and the various things Mother Russia asked of them.

John and I met 36 hours after the incident. I got in through Ukraine. I had to drop my laptop, phone and everything, and crossed into Russia as a beet field worker to keep things under the radar. I didn’t want to miss this meeting. We met in front of his house and shook hands. John was thin and had a brisk walking pace and began immediately to talk. “This was day before yesterday, in the night,” he said, beckoning me towards his house. “I haven’t slept since.” I believed him on that at least. Whatever he needed to tell me was weighing on him, physically.

We walked around to his back yard. From about twenty-five meters, I could just make out the pit left by some force of impact. “Is that it?” I said.

“Yes,” he answered. “When it smashed down, we thought it was to explode. Klatchka and I saw the whole thing.” Dogs weren’t much of a second witness, I secretly thought.

We ambled towards the crater it had left, and as we did he whistled, summoning a massive Doberman that came out of nowhere and heeled at his side. “When Klatchka is with me, I do not even fear our local bears. Her ruthlessness is a prize. You must see it.” I nodded and smiled as if I understood ferocious canines. Lisa and I had a Morkie at home.

Unlike his neighbours who were all farmers, John was a hunter. He said that the vessels’ last few moments in the air reminded him of, “Watching an injured beast lurching and dying right in front of me.”

“What exactly did the ship look like?” I asked.

“It wobbled,” he said, as he used his hands to outline its erratic movement in the sky. “A disk, I thought. Very difficult to know shape and size…impossible speed through the air.” It looped above chaotically, he said, nearly fading from view, then returning full swing, “Like a boomerang.” It came close several times to cracking up into a stand of trees in the back of his field.

“Klatchka wouldn’t take her eyes off it. I ducked when it passed back over our heads. The air became very heavy. I cannot describe it, like a wall of warm air pushing through.” He was nearly in a trance just watching it, he said. He reported later that he had felt hypnotized by some unknown force. “Then Klatchka started barking, and it woke me up.”

The cadence of his speech became rapid and he peered down to the ground as many do who are recalling a bad memory which maybe no one will believe. “I was scared and raised my rifle. I was worried my dog would draw them to us, so I whispered, ‘Klatchka stop, stop barking. Stop now.’ But she would not.” He looked at me with wide eyes and gathered himself. “Then it stopped and fell straight down from about 10 meters up.”

We inched closer, traipsing over the knee-high troughs in in the rows of last year’s lentils. As we did, his dog drew to the ground and began to slink along behind, whimpering. “We hunt bear- I have never seen her like this,” John said.

We got to within 20 feet of the pit, which was marked off by frayed police tape, barely hanging on in the wind. On one end was the unmistakeable mark of where something had crashed: the soil there had been carved clean as if by a guillotine or large shovel. At the other end was a hill of dirt about 45 feet high, where the earth had been pushed forward like a wave. I reached down and touched the ground in front of me- it was still very hard.

John went on. “About three of the neighboring families had already arrived, and stayed back of maybe 15 meters.” They heard hisses and metallic clicks coming from the thing.

All of the other witnesses confirmed these facts in nearly identical detail. The one exception was the town’s mayor, who maintained a more diplomatic position, in spite of the fact that he had not been present for the crash landing and the drama that ensued just after it.

“These people are simple,” he said to me on the day after I met with John. “Do not believe everything they tell you. You probably do not understand Russian farmers. Have a drink with me.” We drank strong beer while the mayor smoked a small Cuban cigar. He seemed to want to position himself as the centerpiece of my story- I was used to this sort of thing and I let him go on thinking he would be. He later gave an official statement to the press that concluded, “The ship of our visitors must have been built in heaven itself, and landed gracefully upon the welcoming, cooperative and fertile soil of Russia (translation).” It was the most common tact taken by leaders from various nations in response to our newly arrived visitors. That is, before we figured out what kind of visitors they actually were…

Let me get back to John’s version, though. It was getting late and chilly and we walked back from the crash site towards his home for something to eat. “It is the first time I have eaten since all this happened,” he said. “Maybe telling someone has given me back an appetite.” He cooked us venison and potato stew and continued his story while I sat at the small kitchen table. “Everything got still for over one hour while the ship just sat there. No one said a word.”

Suddenly, whatever organism was inside turned on some kind of loudspeaker. “Those of us gathered outside- good Russians, let me tell you- we could hear them but we could not see them.” I admit I was getting spooked. I was actually starting to believe him. I scanned the room nervously where blue-faded pictures of his relatives stared back at me from the kitchen walls; the head of a large brown bear slung over the fireplace, its glass eyes spelling out unheard warnings; a rifle case half open in the corner with a well-worn brass latch; the wood stove; and next to it, Klatchka, sitting right in front of the only door, staring outwards, whimpering and panting. “Don’t mind her,” he said and went on.

“A voice came out of the microphone- in perfect Russian by the way- and introduced themselves: The Boronstock, who roamed the galaxy, using planets for resources and entertainment.” John said one of his cousins smirked at him and whispered, “Did they say ‘entertainment?’”

“We had begun to feel a chill in our bones,” John continued, “at what this thing was saying. Even poor people like us can understand, you know. But then something changed,” he went on. “There was a rumbling in the background, and another voice. There were two of them!”

Whoever or whatever had the microphone barked at the other one, muffled though, “Like when you cover the telephone receiver for a moment. Then voices that john assured me were not Russian, German or English. “They got louder, one yelling over the other. Then even louder. Then they were almost screaming.”

The microphone must have been dropped and John said he believed they began to fight over its use. “They were arguing, there is no doubt,” he said. An object was thrown and something screeched out loud. “Whatever was inside that ship, I swear a fight took place between them that lasted at least two minutes.”

I took a breath. I tell you, this part of the story had few variations, even after I interviewed every single person present, and went over police reports. In journalism this is very rare. Yet I found myself very troubled to believe. That is of course until I eventually saw our visitors in action for myself.

John went on. “We heard crashing. Something broke like glass. It sounded like they were cursing each other.”

John said that he and the other onlookers began to shake their heads. “One of the grandmothers said “Idiotski,” under her breath and laughed, which got all of us giggling.

“Then something went off with a bang and we stopped laughing. A pitiful cry was heard, then silence.” The microphone was slowly retrieved, and the creature cleared its throat to resume its message, which began:

“To the many people of the earth before us.”

The suspension of my disbelief had reached its outermost limit and John must have noticed the look on my face. “It sounds impossible?” It had been a long day, I said and I asked John for a drink. I told him a good journalist needed to be open to anything, but also picky. I liked him and felt that I could be frank.

He continued. The organism emerged from its ship several minutes later. John and everyone else present agreed that it had an unmistakeable look of surprise on its face- though it were hard to distinguish the gestures of a thing so hideous and unseemly. There were rapid, furtive movements to its skittish black eyes. It seemed to be constantly looking about and it regularly turned its head to peer behind itself- the way a fearful person does in the street. Its nose was wet like a dogs, but shinier, and a loathsome white tongue frequently licked it with a mucous-like saliva, which ran down to its lip, only to be re-swallowed every few seconds. Their mouths curled down as if always in complaint, with thin lips. Later, when I saw one of them, their appearance reminded me of features which one generally associates with a bias towards dishonesty. It stood about four feet tall, had a long torso, short legs and wore a cream coloured gown.

It must be noted that for all its hideousness, we later came to discover that their species had a robust appetite and even crude talent for the erotic…

 

*   *   *

I Skyped with Lisa that night on an internet connection that wasn’t great. When the screen switched on at her end, I could see she was still a little pissed. But I had a sarcastic smile stretched across my face.

“What is it?” she said, and I told her about John and Klatchka. “Great, you made a new friend,” she said. I told her about the pit and the police tape. “A hole in the ground in the middle of Russia,” she retorted back. So I told her a little more about John’s story and the crash he witnessed. “Did anyone else see it?” she said.

“No, well, I mean there were other witnesses who came after it crashed…”

“Was there anything more? Or can you come home now?”

I explained the rest of the story, and told her that at least 15 other people said the exact same thing.

“You’re telling me that an organism has flown halfway across a galaxy, crash lands in a field in the middle of the night, only to end up in a fistfight over a microphone so it can give a speech to 15 Russian farmers?”

“Yes, that’s the story,” I said and smiled. She smiled too, and we had a decent little laugh. I actually felt a relief. Maybe it was just a hoax, I thought to myself. “They’ve called a press conference in the Dominican, for tomorrow,” I said and just then our connection was lost.

I attended this event, flying out of Moscow after claiming to the US consulate I had lost my passport. It didn’t matter. By now, the floodgates had opened and reporters were getting into Ozerystokye like bull sharks on prey. I admit that my story was the first that broke about John and his incredible tale. He swiftly became a bit of a celebrity.

The Dominican press conference went well except for one small detail towards the end. First off, the Dominican President could not have been more proud and he sent his very top aide to assist the creatures, whom he described as, “Our alien friends.” The Boronstock spent the afternoon on the beach and when they finally took the stage they delivered a four-hour speech in the sweltering, Caribbean spring heat. “Cronky,” was the name of their ambassador, their leader was an alien named Glotten, who was unable to make the press conference because he was indisposed at the moment.

Most of us were drenched in sweat and started to become impatient but Cronky stood up there and rambled through a history of their species, referring many times to the great degree of refinement and beauty their race possessed, “The likes of which humanity had probably never been exposed.” There were few real details, however. It seemed rather to be what my friend Able Adams from the New York Times described as, “A protracted series of self-congratulations and blustery pretensions.”

All we were thinking about that day were the plans these creatures had for the earth and its inhabitants, but when Cronky finally addressed this, it was three and a half hours in. We were done- we couldn’t take any more. I remember I had forgotten my recorder that day, and the small notepad I was using became so soaked with sweat from my writing hand, that I could make out little of what I had written. I am pretty sure Cronky said we would fall under their strict control and that everything would be explained. He said that what we needed to know now was that this was not the first time they had taken over a planet from a lesser race, and that fighting them would only make things so much worse.

Just then a smarmy little grin passed across his thin lips, but it was so hot that I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.

We were falling into heat-induced dementia, to the point where I just didn’t care what this little thing was going on about anymore. It reminded me of the three-hour Pentecostal church services my dad used to bring me to when I was a kid in west Texas. I just remember squirming and begging for it end. I know they were talking some really important stuff, but I couldn’t help it, I just couldn’t pay any more attention.

Then Cronky pulled out an overhead (which he had borrowed last minute from us) and began to place photographs onto it, which projected onto a fold out screen. They were snapshots of organisms, “From other planets.” We woke up a little, out of fear. It looked like these creatures seemed to be in various states of agony and despair- though their alien features masked their expressions to us, and so we relied on Cronky commenting on each photo. He pulled up one particular photo on the overhead that I do remember. It was brownish and faded, and reminded me of photos guys take after they’ve caught a fish. “Look at this pitiful organism,” Cronky said, “look at the pain and suffering.” I winced, partly to try to make out the details of the photograph. It appeared that the poor thing was being hung upside down by its ankles, and two Boronstock stood at either side, mugging for the camera.

Cronky pointed to one of the Boronstock in the picture, and said proudly, “That’s me, when I was much younger.” He seemed to really enjoy this. He began to giggle and kibitz back and forth with the other Boronstock who stood beside him. They were in fond memory of earlier times. To be truthful, it was crass.

They caught themselves suddenly, or else noticed that none of us were laughing, and few of us were even paying attention- it was too damn hot.

“Do not underestimate us,” he said sternly, clearing his throat and speaking English again. That was the end of the conference. He took a long gulp from a glass of brown liquid on the podium, licked his lips, looked around and tried to walk down from the stage.

This is where things got interesting. Cronky would have been fine, except that he fell on those three short steps leaving the stage, cut his knee open and nearly broke his leg. We gasped in terror. An American medic was later praised for her quick response, as she was able to stabilize the wound, and assuage the creature’s great distress. Cronky writhed on the ground uncontrollably and cried out for almost 20 minutes. We watched helplessly while the medic appeared several times- in my opinion- to try to break off the strange embrace between the two of them, though she denied this to me later when I interviewed her. Thank goodness that Cronky’s wound turned out to be quite superficial.

Two well-known papers in France immediately did humour pieces on the aliens’ apparent lack of physical coordination. Our galactic invaders immediately shot back with a press release of their own, which appeared in several major news outlets the following day. According to them Cronky had, “Tripped on his long and impressive garment, the exceptional beauty of which could not possibly be understood by such a lowly species as the human.” Someone should have been holding up the draping fabric of his gown, they said. They admitted that our lack of awareness was not at all surprising to them, so they would have mercy on us for screwing things up. Meanwhile, the world sat spellbound and confounded in front of our televisions, radios and newspapers.

Though their arrival had provoked nearly total chaos and fear amongst the people of the earth, a small anecdote from that first Dominican press conference hinted at something far less sinister: It was something that we humans could at least make sense of. You see, Cronky was drunk. The human aide from the Dominican president’s office who was assigned to coordinate the event told me later that the creature who fell off the stage that day had not tripped on his gown at all. “He was hammered,” she said. “In the hour leading up to his speech, he and his two associates must have downed at least twelve half -litre bottles of local spiced rum. I should know, I was the one who kept running out to get them more.”

They called another press conference. About a week later. I flew there too. They wanted us to convene in the parliament building in London so they could announce a list of world leaders with whom they wished to work. They wanted our help with their invasion! So we came, from around the world, and clambered into the stodgy, wooden interior of the parliament house, until every inch of every hall were filled and still we spilled out into the street. Our leaders gave speeches at their own press conferences leading up to the event, arguing why the Boronstock should pick them for the momentous task.

The day arrived for the London press conference. It was scheduled for one o’clock. Then a call from Cronky- at 1:15- Glotten was running behind they said-they would be there by two. Two came around and they still weren’t there. At 2:30 there was another call. They suggested we should all go have tea, because they weren’t ready yet, due to the immense preparation required. Five o’clock was much more appropriate, they said. So we had tea, delivered to the 5000 of us in attendance. Then five rolled around. No call, no show. Grumblings from the huge audience were heard, though everyone still waited. By 9 pm, people started to leave- we had flights to catch, and kids at home. I was supposed to Skype with my wife that night after dinner, but I didn’t get back to my hotel until well after 1:30 in the morning. They just never came.

The explanation for their absence, though heavily underreported at first, became the touchstone of a growing doubt about these creatures’ true intentions. It had turned out that the leader, Glotten, was partying in a well known brothel in London with Cronky and their other associates. They had run up a 72,000-pound tab, which they couldn’t pay. They had no money. As the owner of the establishment could no longer take the constant insults his galactic guests were hurling at him and his staff, and the poor way in which the women attendants were being handled, he called the police. In one small article left to the back of the London Herald, a female worker from the brothel had this to say: “They were the randiest creatures you’ve ever seen. They wouldn’t take their paws off us. They stayed awake for days drinking! It was awful.”

The British Prime Minister stepped in and proudly paid the brothel owner’s invoice for the party. There was a very strange picture published in one of Paris’ more liberal papers that showed this grey- suited diplomat from the British prime minister’s office shaking hands with the brothel owner and cutting him a check. The prime minister meanwhile tried to use it as an opportunity to show the Boronstock and the rest of the world what true cooperatives the Brits were and how, “We intend to be fully amicable to our new visitors and their aspirations.” I’ll be honest, as an American- as a southerner at that- I felt my stomach turn a little.

This incident was followed directly by another like it, two days later. The Parisian mayor at the time personally invited Glotten to the Opera, hoping also to dig up favours for his city and nation, and to create a nice chance for publicity. Manon by Massenet was running and everyone of importance in France would be there. I caught wind and got there just in time to witness the spectacle that ensued.

Our visitors attended in grand fashion: The world’s entertainment press photographed them as they approached the doors to the Palais Garnier. Though the mayor never admitted it publicly, a driver from their limousine, a ticket taker from the opera and one of the photographers who dared get close to her alien subject all confirmed to me that Glotten and his associate got sauced before the performance.

Things were going well until towards the end of the first intermission, when the Diva opened the curtain and came out in rare fashion, stunning the audience. She wanted to address her stupendous and galactic audience members, and a spot was proudly put up onto the box where Glotten and the mayor were sitting. But as everyone’s eyes adjusted, we could see that nearly everyone in the entire group had fallen asleep during the first act. The Parisian mayor’s wife nudged the mayor awake, and he in turn nudged Glotten, alerting him to the unexpected bath of attention.

Sensing a moment of celebrity, Glotten and his assistant stood- haplessly forgetting just how drunk they were. The full house in attendance applauded almost wildly. Glotten was steady on his feet- we learned that none of the other Boronstock could hold their liquor as well as he. His alien assistant, however, swooned under the light then teetered and lost his balance. The audience gasped and stopped clapping all at once, just as the creature fell over the handrail, 35 feet onto seats below. A woman screamed and a brief panic set in. A medic was called but it was too late. Apparently their bones were quite thin- much thinner than ours, and the poor alien had crushed his skull on the edge of the dense, 100 year old walnut seats of the Palais Garnier.

The death of the visitor sparked rumours about some kind of retaliation and people all around the world were generally in a panic. The only response from them, however, was another press release, this time lambasting the Diva of Manon for her untimely and spontaneous deviation from the show. It was our fault- again. I gathered reports- from five or six people from the orchestra pit, who hopelessly watched the creature expire: they all agreed on one thing: that the dying organism absolutely reeked of hard liquor.

The press was suddenly becoming less interested in these events. It was actually my wife who pointed this out to me, during one of our Skype calls after the Paris incident: “Bob, haven’t you noticed something?”

“What?” I said.

She smiled. “Every time they set up a press conference or something, they don’t show.” I had to admit she was right, though no one from the mainstream press had yet alluded to it. “Either that or they go on these long tirades about their species. The plan to take over the earth never gets discussed, or it always gets put off. They haven’t given us one detail and they haven’t actually done anything.” We giggled then started to laugh. It was at that moment that I remembered John from Ozerestokye, and the Russian grandmother who got everyone laughing during the Boronstock’s scuttle over the microphone. My wife was right. Nothing up to that point matched what an alien invasion should look like.

Cronky’s incident about a week later at a Cleveland Indians game was no exception to this pattern of dysfunction. Apparently the Boronstock loved gambling, as well as drinking. We found out later that Cronky had bet a huge quantity of money on the game against the Yankees that Sunday afternoon. A consortium of nations who wanted to help the creatures’ state of abject poverty had donated the money to them. Unfortunately, a large Indians lead got blown in the 8th inning by an admittedly shoddy outing from the Cleveland bullpen, and as the go ahead run rounded third, a teenage girl sitting behind Cronky began to cheer most innocently for her beloved Yanks. Perhaps it was in bad taste on her part- after all it was a Cleveland home game- but the response she received was truly unfair. The creature- drunk by that time- wheeled around to chastise her. People said Cronky was frothing at the loss of his monies and his hatred of Yankees baseball and became quite abusive. The poor girl was only 14.

The group of people near them in the stands along the third base line, casually turned to see what was up. Such incidents were not unusual for Indians games against the Yanks. But after about 45 seconds of a vicious verbal berating by this drunk little alien, the girl’s father finally stepped in and told the creature where to go. He was a big man- a New Yorker.

The over confident Cronky then turned his attention to the dad, and started into him with little thought of what he was saying. The daughter- and it must be noted that this was the very first act of human aggression against our visitors- took what was left of her hot dog and planted it directly onto the creature’s bald, brown head. She followed it with her drink and giggled at the mustard dripping down his brow. The crowd gasped or laughed in equal parts.

Everything became still. Sensing his own embarrassment, Cronky looked around at the crowd and perhaps briefly thought of controlling himself, but his temper got the best of him and he lurched from his seat and grabbed the scruff of the girl’s Yankees jersey. People began twisting to get out of the way and holding up their cameras and phones. Somebody whistled for the cops. The creature would not let go, however, and the father, unable to contain himself any longer, quickly landed two excellent right hands directly onto the creature’s poor forehead. It reeled, and for a moment nearly caught its balance, but then fell into the back of the Cleveland dugout, vomited and passed out.

We started to really lose interest as a whole. Major news outlets either stopped reporting for fear they would look like tabloids, or else tabloids were the only ones reporting these events. I suppose it was because we were less afraid, and other really important matters began come back up in world journalism.

My wife and I continued to talk via Skype as I followed these shenanigans around the country and the rest of the world. It was exhausting, and our conversations produced much-needed relief from the weariness I was beginning to feel from all the travel. It was like covering a war, but one that was only ever about to take place, and whose main aggressor seemed far more interested in getting hammered in the worlds dirtiest corners than they were interested in taking over our planet. I needed home, and just about then- twelve weeks to the day they arrived- I finally gave up full time coverage on the story.

My editor pulled me off, right after it came out that their leader, Glotton had slept with the Russian president’s wife. She and Glotton had apparently become good friends in the days after their crash landing. Her reputation for heavy drinking drink was well known and she and the alien leader became inseparable. They often drank together into the night and commonly ended up in friendly arguments about who was more intelligent- the Russians or the Boronstock. The creatures’ ship was large enough to be their home, but it was damaged in the crash and was uninhabitable. So, homeless, they had been staying in the guest- house of the Russian President, where everything took place.

As it happens sometimes in human affairs, the combination of drinking and excessive amounts of time spent together between a male and a female who have a natural liking for each other- well… you understand. Things happen. I mean, how did Svetla think it would turn out? The Russian President had been completely oblivious, until the one night he happened to come into the room where the two of them… in front of the television… it was disgusting. An aide and a security detail of three men accompanied the President during his discovery, and, knowing the story would have been impossible to contain, the Kremlin held a press conference to announce what had happened.

It was truly dysfunctional. I attended and stood at the front with the press while the President made a brief speech. His wife and Glotton stood on either side of him with doleful expressions on all of their faces- at first. Svetla was gloomy, crying and apologizing. Yet just as the Russian president was disclosing the horrific revelation of the affair, Glotton’s expression changed. A grin- I swear it was a grin, we all did- began to invade the corners of his unseemly mouth. His beady, black eyes darted back and forth. A reporter from Moskow noticed immediately, raised his hand and asked impatiently what Glotton thought was so funny about this embarrassing affair. Glotton quickly retorted that his expression was one of profound sadness and grief- not a smile at all. He added that no one understood him- especially not anyone from a race of creatures as illogical and short sighted as we humans.

He then told a long story about how he had been more poorly treated on earth than on any other planet he had visited. He went on to discuss that his job was really stressing him out right now, and that he really just needed some affection. He sobbed.

It’s really funny the things we notice or don’t notice. I Skyped with Lisa one last time before heading home. Towards the end of our conversation, she remarked, “What happened to their women? All of the Boronstock are men.” We both thought for a minute on that one, then Lisa snorted, “Maybe their women kicked their asses out of the house,” and we both howled in laughter.

I caught the red eye out of Minneapolis where Cronky had been admitted to the hospital after another fight. I got home that night twelve weeks after I had left. An alien species had crash-landed the earth, only to end up a bunch of hedonistic drunks.

I walked up the three steps to the front door that Saturday morning in July, put the key in and turned the knob. In exhaustion and gratitude, I embraced my wife. She looked up at me and her lips curved into a smile. “I’m pregnant,” she said. “It must have been that night before you left, I’m exactly twelve weeks along.”

The Boronstock stuck around. Their ship was broken, so they kind of had to. We just kept feeding them liquor wherever they went, and pretended to listen to them go on about some invasion. After all, they had done this before.

 

I love hot yoga.

Yoga has benefitted me greatly. Hot yoga has benefited me even more.

But many from the yoga industry in North America take issue on the topic of the heated yoga room. Hot yoga got real popular real quick after Bikram Chodhury created his Bikram method, which is practiced in 100+ degree temperatures. Other yoga studios and companies have followed with heat, such as Moksha Yoga and YogaFit Sweat. In the beginning of the sizzling trend, the health benefits of the temperatures were taken for granted. Bikram and his teachers touted nearly miraculous qualities of practicing in the heat- not surprising for folks who came to partake in an empire of branded hot yoga and hot yoga teacher trainings.

Since then, a pendulum shift has occurred- a swing back from the high claims made by Chodhury and other disciples of the hot yoga reformation. I find these pendulum shifts  very interesting. New camps sprout up all around us, decrying the very foundations of the work of the generation that came just before: A new US president takes office and begins immediately to undo the work of the previous eight years; new psychotherapies erupt out of the calcified ruins of what only ten years ago were considered revolutions in easing people’s psychological suffering; and yes, hot yoga has now been through it’s own 360 of sorts, with a culture-wide retraction of the claims once made about its tremendous health benefits.

Even Moksha Yoga founder Ted Grand takes up efforts in this reversal. In a recent article in Sweat Equity Magazine, Ted said that “There’s plenty of science behind sweating and detoxification, but nothing I’m aware of regarding hot yoga.” The article goes on to frame the pendulum shift as a debunking of hot yoga health benefits myths. (http://www.sweatequitymagazine.com/health18.html).

Ok, so Ted can’t claim his yoga has the same health benefits of sweating…I get it. He’s got to be diplomatic. But there’s a huge body of scientific literature supporting sweating and saunas as legitimate health practices, and tons of research into yoga. Both of these also come with thousands years practice. The only article I could find about hot yoga was one that tried to demonstrate the level of safety of Bikram Yoga, published by the American Council on Exercise (1). Yet I’m still very curious about hot yoga, and l wonder whether one day some miraculous findings might come out regarding it. I would at least expect some studies to begin to ask questions: Is yoga in the heat more healthy than yoga without heat? Does practicing yoga in the heat improve health in any way? What ways? The testimony of now millions of hot yoga practitioners-certainly a narrative form of convincing evidence- is enough signal an interest in more rigorous forms of scientific research.

Of course this pendulum shift away from yoga that is hot is understandable in another way. When a proponent of a popular thing suddenly finds themselves less than popular, people tend to start running for cover. Bikram- as most people know- has gotten into some really unpleasantly hot water over the last few years, being currently accused and sued from various people for inappropriate sexual behavior and improper firing of employees. It’s little wonder why people would want to distance themselves from the man behind Bikram Yoga and some of the less scientific claims he has made about practicing in the heat. Health trends like hot yoga sometimes ride the coat tails of their figureheads like Bikram, and when the figurehead is in some way discredited, so doubt spreads all over the trends they’ve created. But what if the trend is a highly beneficial practice?

If I was asking whether hot yoga benefits our health, I would begin by asking what we already know about similar things. For example, scientifically, we know a lot about saunas and sweating and their great benefit to human health. Sweat has been found to induce the creation of dermicidin, a powerful antibiotic peptide that is essential in our fight against disease (2). Another research article showed that, “Many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat”(3). Another found that sauna-induced sweating was a strong element in helping people overcome chronic pain. (4). And still another stated, “Symptoms such as fatigue, pain, sleep disturbance, and low-grade fever were dramatically improved after 15 to 25 sessions of thermal therapy,” and that “These results suggest that repeated thermal therapy might be a promising method for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome” (5). There are also many scientific articles into regular yoga and the miraculous-sounding ways that it can help our mental and physical health.

I wouldn’t read the extensive research into the benefits of saunas, sweating and regular yoga, and say that the hot-yoga- health- myth had been debunked. Debunk or demystify are not the words I would choose, anyways. I would choose words like curious, optimistic and even anxious to see hot yoga proven to be highly beneficial for our health- even beyond that of a regular yoga practice. There are a million questions that the research into sweating and regular yoga lead me to ask about hot yoga. The fact that there is no fully controlled double blind study yet conducted on the subject does not mean the myths surrounding hot yoga have been debunked. They simply haven’t been studied.

 

(1) ACE Study Examines Effects of Bikram Yoga on Core Body Temps. https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/expert-insight-article/47/5384/ace-study-examines-effects-of-bikram-yoga-on-core

(2) Song, C. et al., 2013. Crystal structure and functional mechanism of a human antimicrobial membrane channel. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/12/4586

(3) Genuis SJ, Birkholz DRodushkin IBeesoon S., 2011. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/12/4586

(4) Masuda A., Koga Y., Hattanmaru M.,· Minagoe S., Tei C., 2005. The effects of thermal therapy for patients with chronic pain. http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/86319

(5) Masuda, A. et al., 2005. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. http://www.scopus.com/record/display.uri?eid=2-s2.0-21344441681&origin=inward&txGid=0