A Week of Bees

April 29, 2014

It had been a busy week for Jakob and on the morning of Tuesday, April 28th, he felt the effects of exhaustion and sleep deprivation quite acutely. The oil-pan brown coffee in his cup did nothing but mock him.

On Sunday the 20th, he’d hosted the release party for an audio cassette tape which his music label, Arachnidiscs Recordings, had endeavored to issue. This album was by a Montreal musician who calls himself Téléphone Maison. The name is a reference to the once-popular feces-shaped alien known as E.T. and his deep yearning to go home. In the age before Internet memes, the magically world wide web-free zone of the 1980’s,  the squat, brown extra-terrestrial blob helped disseminate a sense of displacement and dispossession into the hearts of a generation with his catchphrase, “E.T. phone home.”

A call to arms for every soul lost at sea from a cosmic runaway stranded on the mean streets of a middle-class Californian subdivision. Against the backdrop of tawdry McMansions still under construction, he reached out to his estranged parents to rescue him from the age of ubiquitous digital communication just on the horizon. He sensed, in a way we humans could only guess, that a churning monstrosity of information overload and homogenized culture lay in wait from which he instinctively fled, leaving his new friends behind to fend for themselves and be flattened by the steamroller of an accelerated culture.

E.T. — the Existentialist Turd.

It was with a the same simmering sense of foreboding which Jakob remembered from the ’80s—the fear of nuclear, economic or AIDS-related annihilation always everywhere, toujours partout—that he approached the event. He was convinced his friends would arrive from la belle province to an empty room (the Southern Cross Lounge at the TRANZAC club, to be specific), but such was not the case. Once again, Jakob’s pervading pessimism was proven fallible.

As if to hammer this point home, in attendance was his friend Jesse. The same Jesse who’d remarked some weeks earlier, “You always have to say something negative, don’t you?”

This was in response to some reasonable and realistic observation Jakob had made in his usual style of rhetoric, free of rosy romantic distortion and the enabling buoyancy of well-meant positivism. Though Jakob felt mildly rebuked, he knew Jesse had made the comment half in jest and that the other half of his intentions were those of kindness. Jesse is the sort of enthusiastic positivist Jakob likes to surround himself with, perhaps subconsciously in hopes that his own sharp, negativist corners might be blunted by association; that he might learn how to see opportunity in a world where any reasonable person can only see spiritual blockades and cultural death squads.

Or perhaps he secretly hopes to corrupt the rosy glasses of these open-minded optimists, and turn their lenses a deep bile green. His own intentions are never clear, even to himself, and he always fears the worst.

As he left the show, Jakob said to Jesse, “Thank you for coming out tonight.”

Jesse replied, “Thanks for doing your least favourite thing—putting on a show.”

A remark that was at once supportive and a playful critique of how Jakob had complained all evening about his dislike for being a concert promoter. Another attempt to chip away at Jakob’s protective layer of negativity? Perhaps. Or was it a more pointed bard? Had Jakob’s air of sardonic sarcasm succeeded in seducing Jesse to the comfortable ease of the negative angle? To this Jakob could only say, again, but this time not without a touch of sadness, perhaps.

In the same venue on the 24th, a much larger crowd gathered to celebrate the ruby anniversary of Joe Strutt‘s birth. It was joyous social occasion with friendly faces popping up like spring flowers everywhere you turned. So it was that a plan Jacqueline and Jakob had devised to leave the event early somehow fell to the wayside, like a McDonald’s wrapper sucked out of the backseat of a car through the rear window, unnoticed.

Due to this late evening, the following day’s roadtrip to Guelph (where Jakob was engaged for a performance of experimental guitar music under the moniker BABEL at a concert series named Silence), Jakob and Jacqueline found themselves nodding off on Ontario’s highway 401. However, no collisions occurred. Not even in the Mad Max anarchy of downtown Guelph under the thrall of a hockey game did their fenders get bendered. Though cars swarmed around them like angry hornets with a complete disregard of lanes, traffic signs and basic automobile civility, our duo arrived at the venue unscathed, physically, but the emotional exhaustion would be added to their tab.

Sunday the 27th ended the buzzing week of busyness. Another release celebration for another cassette. The audio tape in question was Clara Engel‘s latest album. The evening’s celebration took place at a vaguely bicycle-themed bar named Handlebar, at a concert series named Crosswires. The concert was the second-to-last in the series as founder Doc Pickles, a man on the edge, has put the axe to his baby.

Also perilously on the edge was a young man who had spent the afternoon nursing a broken heart with a hundred dollars worth of shots. Unfortunately for him, the edge was not figurative but the literal edge of the stairwell which lead to the crypt-like washroom in the basement. The events which followed were a strong argument against washrooms in Toronto drinking establishments being crypt-like and at the bottom of perilously steep stairs.

The series of events were live-blogged by Jacqueline on Facebook.

That moment when the drunk guy at the bar falls down the basement stairs. Now he wants more dranks!

Now he says, “My ass hurts. It really hurts a lot.”

Also, “I don’t want to sound queer, but I love you.”

He’s gone now. It was a sad tale, really. His friend, who just got married had moved from Guelph to Toronto and since then, their friendship has dwindled. Drunk guy was the friend left behind, as evidenced by his small town use of Queer. I think he ended up so drunk because he was sad and out of his element and jealous of his buddy’s Toronto friend. To be honest, he was a pretty lovely drunk, aside from the small town homophobia, he kept asking to pay the tab and telling his buddy that he loved him. In my mind, I am writing a fanfic in which either they used to be lovers or Drunk Guy has been harbouring unrequited love for Buddy. It would explain a lot.

It’s devastating to be the friend left behind. I’ve been there.

For better or worse, the scene set a specific tone for the evening. Pain, emotional and physical; injuries to the heart and body that no amount of drink could hope to temper. The inebriated young man’s party left before the evening’s music began for which Jakob was thankful. He was opening the night, again performing a set of experimental guitar music, and was not sure how this would go over, given the young man’s fragile state of mind.

Blood and Snow

April 16, 2014

April has not been the cruelest month for Jakob, but it hasn’t been without its petty digs either.

With small variations to audience size and general hygiene of the room, his cynical predictions for the gig at the Comfort Zone on the 10th were shockingly accurate. The problem with being pessimistic, he realized, is there’s no joy in being proven right. Of course, the problem with being optimistic is rarely being right at all.

Significantly less than the predicted 17 patrons, there was no one in attendance save Joe Strutt, fellow performer Sexy Merlin, the abnormally surly soundman, supposedly some bar staff, and the unsung video projectionist. Even the promoters appeared to be absent from the premises, perhaps uncomfortable watching Moonwood jam for their own benefit in the vacuum of space.

And who could really blame them? The environs were less than inviting. On stage Moonwood were huddled around a puddle of some sticky red substance. The substance appeared to be either congealed blood or, possibly, raspberry jam.

Since no one could fathom how several tablespoons of jam might end up on the stage, yet any number of plausible scenarios where blood had been spilled instantly came to mind, it was assumed to be blood. Remembering the vials found at their last show in the venue, Jakob joked it was “V”—the drug made from vampire blood on the television show True Blood. Jakob made this joke as he studiously tried not to kneel in the crimson splotch while he plugged the leads into his stompboxes. Gallows humour.

The morning of Tuesday, April the 15th, saw snow fall on Toronto and in the evening there was a black-out in the west end. Neither event affected Jakob in any directly negative fashion aside from how they have given coworkers an additional excuse to make small talk.

The making of small talk, of course, unlike being left alone, is an unalienable right for some people. Especially when prompted by such an unusual event as an annual occurrence. Every year since he moved to Toronto in 2007, it has snowed in April. Yet it is, somehow, perennially unexpected for most  Torontonians. He lives, he’s decided, in a city populated with goldfish.

After the third of fourth shallow interaction based on the subject, he recalled a quote which gets hauled out of moth balls every year: 

Snow in April is abominable,” said Anne. “Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.” ~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Ingleside, 1939.

This year marks the dodranscentennial, at the very least, of Canadians being shocked to discover they live in Canada.


April 10, 2014

On the morning of Thursday, April 10th, Jakob detected only a mild foreboding upon the dark, oily surface of his espresso. The only sounds in the office were a hesitant typing several cubicles away and the pervasive hiss and thrum of ventilation fans. The day had gotten off to a quiet start for which he was thankful—the day promised to end in cacophony.

That evening his band, Moonwood, had been engaged by Reel Cod Records to perform at a club downtown called the Comfort Zone. The last time they’d played at the club, they arrived to find the dank, underground room littered with drug vials from, one would suppose, the night before. Jakob speculated the small glass containers could have been there for months, there was no evidence that broom or mop had seen the floor for some time. Nor was it the sort of environment which would benefit from a good heave-ho with the spit and polish; elbow grease would only leave another layer of oily residue on the chipped, black walls. They joked, with well-intentioned good nature, it would be better christened with the name Discomfort Zone.

Jakob found himself in good spirits. A pleasant surprise since he’d expected to wake with the familiar sense of dread which always accompanied the prospect of playing live. It was not, as you might expect, a case of stage fright. His nerves were in anticipation of the awkward social interactions that plague him at these events. If his misunderstood jokes and lapses in repartee were hungry, late-summer wasps, he was somehow the plate of watermelon that beckoned them to gather around in a swarm of buzzing discomfort.

No, being on stage would be a sweet reprieve from trying—and failing—to endear himself to the promoters, DJs and other musicians he’d encounter that evening. Oh, the awkward silences he’d have to endure. Oh, the shameful, glazed look on the face of someone caught in the headlights of making the determination between whether Jakob had just deeply offended them with his well-intended cynicism, or if they should risk laughing along with the wry observation and stand up to be judged alongside. Jakob felt they should be pitied to be put in such a position, yet he knew he’d be powerless to do anything other than throw them under the conversational bus.

There’d be so many opportunities to cause people discomfort during the interminably long wait between sound-check and hitting the stage in front of the sure-to-be small crowd of keeners who’d deign to witness the shame of the opening band. Always a bridesmaid, Moonwood rarely played for more than seventeen people—only those brave enough cast social convention aside and dare to arrive on time for a show. Moonwood is a band for the unhip hipsters and the unseen scenesters who will be pushed to the back of the crowd later as the better-looking denizens of the night file in to see the more popular bands.

Mired in these thoughts for too long, Jakob was relieved to discover that the forboding ping from his email inbox for once had brought him good news. He’d been slated to lead part of a planning seminar the following morning but the loathsome exercise had been bumped into the following week. A crisis avoided. Perhaps other crises would be avoided later on. Experience told him that this would be the case; it would be a fun evening. Not every bed comes with a monster hiding underneath.

Take, as an example, the absentee monster he’d expected to find hidden beneath a phone call he’d made the previous day. The recipient of the call had been his mother and the subject was his very recent engagement to his girlfriend of five years, and singer in his band, Jacqueline Noire. In his mind there’d be conflict over the inability of his grandmother, Isobel, declining in health many provinces to the west, to travel to the nuptials. Surely, his mother would push for the wedding to take place in British Columbia, not Ontario. But this conflict, it had turned out, had been a product of Jakob’s imagination. Only joy and congratulations flowed through the line. Even more joyous, no words had implied a hope that this development would finally open the way for grandchildren—a hope, Jakob assumed, had long since withered in his mother’s breast to a nugget slightly smaller than a walnut heart.

On a less joyous note, the reason for his mother’s lack of expectation that plans be changed so that her own mother be able to attend the wedding was made clear. As his grandmother’s cracked and crackled voice came on the line, it was obvious she was unsure to whom she was speaking to and what “good news” she was meant to be excited about. With a frustrated and embarrassed tone of voice, she signed off and gave the phone back to Jakob’s mother. She would not have been able to attend not matter where the ceremony was to take place. Time is in short supply for Isobel. The bad days have begun to outnumber the good.

Time is as fleeting as clichés about Time are constant. Monday marked five years and six months to the day from when Jakob and Jacqueline had met. She drove him out to the location of their first meeting—the pick-up zone at Kipling subway station—and inside the car, with tears of sentimental joy upon her cheeks that beckoned his own to make an unabashed appearance—she proposed in front a line of confused commuters who awaited for their own loves (true, or otherwise) to pull up and drive them home.


On a Series of Small and Inconsequential Failures

April 8, 2014

It was the morning of April 8, 2014, when Jakob Rehlinger, 41, antisocially hirsute and slightly overweight, sat at his desk in contemplation of his poetry blog. He decided, without regret nor relief, that yes, once and for all, he’d failed in writing one-hundred short poems within the one-hundred week time frame he’d allotted himself. He didn’t even rouse himself to check the date of that first poem. Even if it’d been written a mere seventy-nine weeks prior, he was unlikely to pick up the metaphoric quill and complete the literary quest.

His muse had abandoned him in a wordless vacuum.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, he admitted to himself as he tapped these very words onto the screen, it’d been he who’d abandoned the muse.

The muse in question had been the early-20th Century Japanese poet, Takuboku Ishikawa, otherwise known as The Woodpecker. Jakob thinks of Takuboku, quite inaccurately in fact, as  a sort of Morrissey of the Haiku (Takuboku wrote in the Tanka form). It was while reading the master’s Sad Toys collection (two different translations, in fact, one held in each hand as he compared them line-by-line) that he felt inspiration strike and wrote the first of his ill-fated one-hundred poems. It was a few months after he’d set Sad Toys down—both copies, on the shelf that holds his sweaters for some reason, and for some other reason never picked them up again— that Jakob lost the thread.

This elusive thread, he admitted to himself with his morning espresso poised midway to his lips, was merely the ability to mimic Takuboku’s twist of language and talent to see past Life’s various facades with superhero-like x-ray vision. Without constant glimpses through The Woodpecker’s wry and cynical lens, his own seemed unable to focus.

Jakob was fully aware that any poetic strength of his own was merely an inability to mimic Takuboku very well. This, he liked to believe, is from where his own “voice” originated; that in all artists, the incapacity to mimic their heroes is from where what is commonly thought of as creative genius stems. This is why he’d always been drawn to musicians who don’t know how to play their instruments properly. What were The Velvet Underground, after all, other than a group of incompetents who aimed for the hallowed moons of Phil Spector, Bob Dylan and The Beatles yet managed to land on a bright star of all their own?

The coffee in Jakob’s small espresso cup was lukewarm and a glance into the pot of his electric Bialetti Easy Caffé revealed a disheartening emptiness. If he made another pot, he would feel both sick and aggresssive later on in the day. Yet he felt he needed more coffee before he could even look at his email inbox. A possible solution occurred to him, though not one without potential pitfalls.

Yesterday, on his way to lunch, a girl who stood outside the newly-opened coffee shop in the building’s lobby handed him a coupon for a free “filter” coffee, supposedly not espresso. The coupon could alternately be used for a $1 muffin, with purchase of a coffee. He wondered which was the better offer. Unaware of the café’s relative prices on coffee and muffins, there was no way to tell. Since he’d just eaten a bowl of dry cereal, he felt a muffin was not in order and the point was, in effect, moot.

Furthermore, earlier that morning, he’d glanced in through the frosted windows of the shop and witness a man who could only be described as a douchebag, clearly the manager, gesticulate with his pudgy hands as he instructed his staff in a very managerial and douchebaggy way. The visage made Jakob queasy and thankful he was not in a position where he’d need to seek work at a coffee shop.

He needed more coffee but the thought of entering that space filled him with a mild dread. It would require personal interaction with one of those staff members and that was unacceptable. He’d use the coupon at some time before it’s due date, July 31st, 2014, but this would not be that day.

This thought of due dates reminded him of the fact he needed to renew his library books, which he promptly did online. He was relieved to discover he was not prompted to go to his branch to renew his library card in person, which he was under the impression he’d been instructed to do the last time he’d visited the website. The thought of dealing with one of the librarians was only slightly less daunting than dealing with a complete stranger in the new coffee shop. He must have already renewed his card, though he had absolutely no recollection of the act.

It was a failure of memory, but what was the failure? Had he never been instructed to renew his card, or had his mind blacked-out the experience of doing so?

The thought of either option left a sinking disquiet in his stomach. Perhaps he did not require more caffeine after all. His attention quietly returned to the problem of his poetry blog. What now? Would he return to writing journal entries under the Mr. Dapper guise? He’d recently read an infographic which illustrated that “successful” people kept a journal and “unsuccessful” people did not. He figured, if there was any truth behind the dubious assertion, it was that most successful people are undoubtedly narcissists and it’s narcissists who feel the need to document their existence, if only for themselves. Reasonable people—the unsuccessful majority—see no value in chronicling their drab and drear existence.

The notion of being unsuccessful naturally landed him at the feet of his neglected music blog, Bone Rolling ReviewsApril would be the fourth month in a row he’d ignored it. Since no one had asked him if he was going to update the blog, that was surely a sign no one had noticed and that, as ever, no one cared. He’d let it slide a little longer.

Jakob leaned back in his chair and let out a resigned sigh as he rubbed the dry skin off his bottom lip with his forefinger. He was vaguely aware of a quiet and unassuming sense of dread hovering in the corner, but he was used to that wallflower loitering on the periphery of his life and ignored it as usual.



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