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Primal Scream

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Get out… NOW!!”

man yelling

WTH!… where is all this screaming coming from?

In reaction and haste, I try to slot the hot water sprayer back in its “holster” but miss the target and shoot a spray of steaming water onto the back of the trousers of Barb, one of the other volunteers.

She jumps in surprise but doesn’t seem scalded. She even smiles. Hallelujah!

I’m the soup kitchen dishwasher today – and turn around to see what the rowdy kerfuffle’s about in the dining hall.

Joe, one of the scruffy diners in the main eating area of the Soupateria is carrying a tattered plastic Value Village bag filled with 6 small canisters of propane.

I don’t know his why. Maybe he has a small Coleman stove he cooks his supper on in a cramped culvert pipe down by Okanagan Lake.

He’s worked himself into an infuriated lather.

Brawny Liv, the security lady that resembles Lucille Ball, is yelling at Joe to get the hell out of the building with the flammable/explosive material.

Instantly, they’re both lit, flammable and explosive.

Ear-piercing F*-Bombs are flying back and forth like shuttlecocks in a badminton match.

Other wide-eyed diners around the noisy display show a mixture of adrenalinized excitement, some fear. The anti-anxiety drugs may not be enough.

It’s just another round in a daily lunchtime set of mostly minor squabbles amongst folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

Volunteering a few days a month in a soup kitchen has probably been one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done … partly it’s because of the internal stroking I get helping to relieve the discomfort in others’ lives, but more so because of the greater perspective others – different others – out there have given me in my world.

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In many ways, the sights and sounds of this foreign world are surreal to my life’s experiences.

We all live in a rarified, kind of ignorant strata of life, don’t we?

It’s like taking a shovel and pushing into the soft earth. We lift the blade and see the layers, the various types of minerals and tiny pebbles that make up that microcosm of soil.

Then we dig in again and scoop down further and lift another strata of soil sub-structure. Now we notice that the types of minerals and composition of clay vs. sand vs. silt has changed from the first shovelful.

The world beneath us has changed in just one quarrying of the shovel.

Most of us never dig and bore in on the second or third shovelsful of humanity surrounding us. We believe that all of our world is made of the same soil because that’s all we’ve been exposed to.

We live and breathe within our own strata of life.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I believed everyone lived a similar life to my own. Didn’t every town and city have a mix of British-heritaged and Eastern-European and Italian families that loosely amalgamated as one group to work in factories that produced steel and cars and appliances with an abundance of smoke pumping out of their chimneys?

It wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I learned differently.

Thank God I had a fortuitous phone call with a job offer from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories that flung open the doors and windows inside my head. That clear chill Arctic air changed my life forever as surely as Dorothy and Toto experienced plowing down into Oz post-tornado.

It shocks me that there are so many out there who are unwilling to accept the differences that make our world a special place.

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This year… today… I’m living in this surreal space north of an unguarded, supposedly friendly border where the seemingly unbelievable is bizarre reality.

The usually amiable country to my south is like the soup kitchen, filled with a confused mixture of folks who’ve lived and felt small, maybe excluded, maybe bullied. I don’t know anything except it’s loud and angry.

There are canisters of fiery propane exploding daily with every tweet.

The fetid anger and stink is blowing across the globe like a cloud emanating from a volcanic eruption. There is one mouth, one volcanic spew that’s precipitating a sensation of global chill.

I’m disturbed and gobsmacked by the “Ice Age” that’s descended so quickly.

All of this blah blah blah above really comes down to my need for some self-soothing.

It’s childlike and its primal. My thumb is getting way too wrinkled from spending so much time suckled inside my mouth.

More soothing? Reading through some course materials in the Screenwriting course I’m just beginning brought me this short monologue spoken by the character Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the movie, The American President:

……………

You want free speech?

Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.

You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.

Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.” 

I wrap myself in a warm blanket of comfort when I spot intellectually rational, yet emotional memes and speeches that exude hope and positivity to push back against the rage and fear and ignorance.

It keeps my primal scream in check.

……………

It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of others and truly feel their pain.

That old Scout’s song, The Quartermaster’s Store called it right…

My eyes are dim I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me…

But when I visit the soup kitchen, I pop on my specs and see that I’ve been “segregated” from parts of my own world that are difficult to understand.

When I travel to other countries and grasp the way others live and survive, I grow out of my ignorance.

Like any stressful period in human history, we all need to hold on and know that this moment, this challenging epoch… yes, This Too Shall Pass.

Brrrr… It’s a chilly autumn day here as I scan the grey, clouded Okanagan hillsides.

Chris, today’s chef du jour, has made 3 deliciously amazing soups for the folks in the Soupateria today: Tomato Vegetable, Bean and Bacon, and Seafood Chowder.

Why don’t we sit down together, and share a calming bowl of hot soup?

eyeglass of ignorance

 

 

 

How to Make Trump Soup

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I have nothing to put in my soup, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I’ll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a soup out of me.
I’ll put in some pepper and salt and I’ll sit
In the bubbling water–I won’t scream a bit.
I’ll sing while I simmer, I’ll smile while I’m stewing,
I’ll taste myself often to see how I’m doing.
I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your soup bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

… with apologies to Shel Silverstein

Trump Soup.jpg

Donald Trump stood in line at the Penticton Soup Kitchen (Soupateria) one morning – I think it was Thursday – this week.

It’s true. I saw him with my own eyes.

Of course, I could be mildly confused but that’s a different story for another day.

It was a sunny (-less) day without a cloud in the sky, but no obvious sun either… a fog of forest-fire grey smoke still hung throughout the Okanagan Valley like damp laundry on the line in a “No Campfires Allowed” provincial campground …

But not only is there 50 Shades of Grey haze hanging out, but there’s also a ubiquitous orange-scoured miasma that’s been persistently hanging on and blanketing the entire planet since, well, I’d have to say mid-January.

Scan the news, pick up a paper, open your ears, the stinky cloud is everywhere.

The bouquet of excrement is strong.

Anyway, I saw him standing there in the lazy, disorganized line that was gradually forming by the glass-fronted doors of the soup kitchen. There were little pockets of quiet chatter amidst the shaggy group. One or two were talking to themselves.

The Donald caught my eye with a hostile gaze as I passed by, taking a few empty cardboard potato boxes to the recycling dumpster that sits like a quiet blue elephant nearby the front entrance.

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Before I could turn away or pretend we hadn’t had a “moment”, he latched onto me and began bellowing through his rectal-pursed lips.

“Look… I’m coming into the kitchen and getting you guys organized.

It will be so simple. We’re gonna make a huge pot of my new recipe… Trump Soup.

It’s gonna be fantastic. Best ever. Everyone loves it and they haven’t even tried it yet.”

I tried to pull away and sneak in the back door but he was on me before I could close and bar the door.

There we both were, Trump vs Billy Bush-style, in the narrow back hallway, jammed between trays of day-old bread and boxes of freshly picked Sunrise apples.

Nervously, I melted away from his toxic breath. I felt afraid that he might grab me by the pussy (hmmmm, something doesn’t add up here!).

Fine!

In resignation, I lead him through the door into the main dining area set up with about 2 dozen long, blue-grey tables. Bread crumbs littered the beige vinyl floor where the sandwich makers had just finished their task.

We veered to the right and into the production kitchen. Delicious smells sifted quickly into my nose.

I reluctantly prepared to introduce him around the industrious, knife-wielding group of volunteers attired in purple and navy blue aprons.

Donald didn’t lose a step, brushing me aside with a shove of his arm, while totally ignoring all of the volunteer staff busily chopping carrots and onions.

He headed straight to the huge 35 L. soup cauldron simmering over a gas flame. A delicate vegetable broth scent rose up to meet his gaze, his interrogation of the soup.

Listening closely I heard him mumble under his breath… “Natural Gas stove, hmmmmpf… no jobs there… we’ll change it to coal.

A quick dismissive sniff and he decisively turned on his heels.

Then, raising both of his little hands and making zeros with his thumb and forefinger, he addressed the group.

People, this soup is terrible, it’s a disaster.” Sneer.

Five or six confused helpers raised their eyebrows, checking each other out for reactions.

“We are gonna repeal and replace this soup…

… this stuff is worse than the Holocaust… and one other thing!”. 

Ceiling fans spun furiously overhead to dispel the rising heat wave sweeping the stainless steel laden kitchen. Localized global warming?

He lifted an eyebrow and angrily spat: “It’s those fruit-picking “Kweebeckoys” Frenchy kids outside with their long braids and hippie clothes. They’ve gotta go back to where they came from. And the Mexicano guys too.”

quebecois kids.jpg

“Before we open the door for lunch, we’re gonna build a wall to keep them outta here. And dammit, they’ll pay for it to be built with the money they stole from OUR local farmers.”

“Let’s put the good folks in the lineup out there to work – the ones who were born right here and not in Kenya like that other wacko President – we’ll get them back to work so fast, it will be a beautiful beautiful thing.”

“Back to good-paying jobs in the orchards picking and packing. They’ll love us. I guarantee it.”

A glow of White Nationalist pride lit his chubby face – JOB accomplished – while pink-tinged embarrassed looks shrouded my and my co-volunteers’ faces.

“Ok everyone… I’m heading back to Air Force One… I’m leaving you to make this new Trump soup… lots of stinky garlic and onions, you decide, I don’t do details… doesn’t matter … what matters is that we repeal and replace that other soup.

“I don’t care how good it is or how much people have enjoyed it for years here. Doesn’t matter.”

“And you, over there…”

He pointed and glared at John, an elderly stooped gentleman born in Poland 80 years earlier.

Good John, who has diligently helped out in the kitchen twice each week since his retirement 17 years ago.

“I like you, but I don’t think you’re contributing enough. You’re fired.”

“Thank you for your service.”

“Let’s make this soup kitchen great again!… Look I have baseball caps with that emblazoned on them for you to wear.

Course, you’ll have to pay for them.”

……………….

Hands

Friends, we’re all in this soup pot together on this beautiful blue planet.

We can cry. We can stew. We can fester. And we can laugh.

But we can’t ignore forever.

History has already written that story.

………..

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Martin Luther King

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

 

I Never Said Thank You John Z…

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Of Mice and Men.jpg

-Tell them George….

-OK… Lennie… 

Stirring in my bed in the darkness, the fragile voice of Lennie intruded through my semi-awake state.

Lennie was getting worked up like a small child on Christmas morning, excited and wanting to share his enthusiasm in the same way that he got enthusiastic about petting little fluffy bunnies, soft furry mice, and rambunctious puppies.

And –  with no harm intended – young ladies’ pretty dresses.

Lennie just liked to touch soft things.

Have you read Of Mice and Men?… John Steinbeck’s beautiful masterpiece of two itinerant Depression-era farm workers in Southern California?

Did you see coverall-clad George and Lennie in the movie? Gold-toned cinematography capturing the simple dreams, and also the difficult but loving camaraderie between actors Gary Sinise (George) and John Malkovich (Lennie)?

Heartlifting and heartbreaking… just like real people’s lives. Muffled tears melt through my heart’s lining and ooze out my pores.

As a youngster and teenager, I harboured a soft spot for the little guy, the dark troubled souls, the odd man out.

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When I read Of Mice and Men, I think of my childhood friend John Z.

I say friend, but John was really a mere acquaintance, someone I knew and said hi to while passing on the wide echoing stairs beside the music room of Glendale High.

We never hung out or did stuff together after school, although we did chatter to each other each day while sharing a bench seat on the bus trip to day camp one summer. I never went to his house or met his family.

John was a lot like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

John was big and strong like Lennie, but sweetly gentle unless provoked, just like Lennie.

He had a condition called hydrocephalus. John’s head was enlarged from fluid that accumulated in his head as a child.  His head spread out like an upside-down pyramid, narrow at the chin and unnaturally wide above the dark brown hair line, his broad forehead was intersected by eyes that were narrow slits when he smiled.

John was mentally “slow”.

He liked to laugh, really loudly. And when he was happy, John would yell out a boisterous “BAHOO!

I can hear his voice in my head still, all these years later.

John was a friendly fella living peaceably in a world, an era, that was mostly unfriendly to the “different” souls amongst us.

He took a lot of ribbing and ridicule from some of the hormonal teenage boys, mainly the jock crew who made mocking others their daily routine, like a sacred ritual of self-aggrandizement within their Temple of Jock’dom.

While I never joined in on the “fun” of poking jabs at John, I also never said or did anything to head off the bullies that tormented poor John daily.

I wanted to. I steamed inside, but as a small guy I was in self-protection mode, more determined to lay “low” and avoid any bullying thrown my way. There was a Darwinian survival protocol that drifted like a sweat-scented fog through the school hallways.

bullying

Today, I’m here finally… belatedly… to thank John and others like him who played a part in my early decision to make my occupational choice a “helping” career.

I was a medical lab tech for 37 years. I helped people. I hope.

The impotence I sometimes felt during those early school years were part of what motivated me to try to assist others who were struggling.

It could seem a stretch to suggest that high school bullying was what made me decide to jab needles in people’s arms, sucking out their blood and then testing the plasma and serum, seeking answers to their sicknesses and discomforts.

There are thin threads, minor rivers of connections that run through our minds.

Our daily experiences often seem meaningless or tenuous, yet they quietly mill about within our sub-conscious where the work of deeper understanding is done, weighing and parsing and figuring out what makes sense.

Those “helping” connections led me to the medical career that occupied more than three decades of my life.

It could as easily have taken me into other obvious choices such as police or firefighting, teaching or social work, a non-profit manager or an ombudsman.

And helping others can come in many less obvious forms.

The folks who pick up my garbage make my life easier and happier. The software writers that allow me to write a blog or access my bank accounts simply are heroes in my life. Truck drivers that deliver food supplies to my local supermarket keep me well nourished (and then some!).

Helping is often more subtle and broadly-based than we appreciate.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the book Of Mice and Men, as the law begins to close in, sweet Lennie heartbreakingly, unknowingly to him, meets his merciful death at the hand of his friend George.

Back in my own world, I did a Google search on my childhood friend John this week. I haven’t seen or heard a word of him since high school.

Sadly, I discovered that he died 7 years ago, 55 years old. His obituary picture looks just like the John I remember when you add in some lines and wrinkles, a few grey-streaked flecks adorning his temples.

His passing didn’t truly surprise me… but it did strike a nerve, an aching, sensitive scab was pulled back inside of me. I hurt for John then, and I hurt for John today.

John never knew it, and I’m even slow to understand it myself, but his struggles helped teach me a simple lesson: if you have a reason to get out of bed that is bigger than you, you will have a big life.

If you only help yourself, you live a small life.

Thank You John … rest now good soul…

-George?

-Shhhhh… it’s Ok Lennie… I told them…

Lennie and George.jpg

 

 

 

My Cameo as a Bully

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bully

Just once in my life I wanted to be the bully.

I’ve been thinking about bullies and bullying this past week. I’ll let you guess why.

I “accelerated” (Zoom Zoom) around Grade 3 in school.

A few others kids and I, over a period of three years, accelerated our learning pace and ended up in Grade 7 instead of Grade 6 (I guess you could call this skipping a grade).

I’m pretty sure the reason they pushed me forward was because I was the last remnant of 5 Green family kids… all previous 4 of my siblings were academically bright and skipped ahead (my oldest brother, the REALLY smart one, skipped 2 grades… CRAZY!).

They probably got lazy and didn’t even test me figuring there must have been a few intelligence genes lingering at the end of the blood line. Fooled them…

Because I was younger than most of my peers, I was smaller and less physically developed throughout my school career.

This occasionally led to bullying activities where I was the victim. Not serious stuff, but I ran home scared on more than one occasion, watching in my rearview mirror for the big kid with the big fists (and the wee little dick) who wanted to take me down.

Bullying wasn’t ever discussed in school.

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A fight would break out in the schoolyard… excited kids formed a tight circle around the gladiator bully and his weak victim as the ugly pummelling took place.

A few minutes later one of the reluctant teachers would wander out into the playground or field and break through the circle of kids enjoying the blood fest, too late to prevent the broken nose or lip dripping crimson blood, sending both the bully and his quarry to visit the principal.

The punishment for the bully couldn’t have been very severe because it always seemed to be the same few that were repeat offenders.

I wasn’t afraid of the beating part (not true, who likes pain? and blood?).

I was more afraid of the humiliation and what the cute girls in their pigtails, white tights and plaid skirts would think of me once I’d bled all over the place… or worse still…. cried. “Oh God, please don’t let me cry“. I couldn’t handle that gruesome shame, that embarrassment.

I enjoyed and was pretty good at sports and most days you’d find me and my friends playing road hockey or baseball or football in the field across from my house in front of Glen Echo School. I may have been small but I held my own with a ball or a puck.

One day, after years of being intermittently picked on and bullied I was feeling frustrated and wanted to know the amazing feeling that surely existed on the other side of the fence.

I hungered to feel the power of superiority and strength the bully stroked and caressed like a tender lover.

That day, on that football field, Paul Robinson was my poor chosen victim.

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Before we even started the game of touch football, I knew I’d take him on. I had a plan.

Paul was a year younger than me and smaller than me and weaker than me.

He was perfect bully material. I figured this all out because I was so smart and had “accelerated”.

I would wait for him to do something – anything really – that might be interpreted as remotely dirty or offensive in his play against me.

Me and the boys threw the ball and ran up and down the field and huddled like pro players and were having a great time until… until… Paul was guarding me once as I ran out to catch the ball thrown by the quarterback.

I dug in and felt solid traction in the thick grass underneath my feet.

I knew my assigned pattern and veered right to make myself clear for the catch.

Paul bumped me. A gentle bump but clearly a bump. I decided it was a “dirty” bump.

My lucky moment had arrived, my plan could be enacted, and I pounced like a raging tiger. The feeling of young boy aggression hormones flooded my system.

I acted offended, angry about the transgression, and pushed him.

Fairly feebly, Paul responded angrily back.

It was now patently obvious in my little mind that moral justification for a “fight” was present.

The scrap was on.

Honestly, I made/make a terrible bully.

I had seen enough schoolyard skirmishes to know that boxer-style full knuckle punches bring on blood and excitement for the surrounding group. Blood is key. The fight is as much for the spectators as it is for the combatants. Maybe more so.

Nope, the best I could muster in my trumped-up anger was to slap him on the face. No pugnacious knuckles, no spewing blood.

Over and over I moved in and slapped him. His cheeks and face grew redder and redder, akin to the silly “pink bellies” we would playfully inflict on our friends as a measure of our manhood.

The blood match probably only lasted a minute at most but I felt a momentary sense of glorious triumph, control, domination… and then… frankly, some personal humiliation as Paul finally came to cherry-faced tears.

This wasn’t what I expected.

The wonderfully brawny feelings of manly power and victory I had anticipated surging mightily, melted away like April snows.

Disgust replaced triumph. Self loathing replaced elation. Revulsion replaced satisfaction.

I’d crossed over to the other side and had my bully moment.

It felt harsh inside, as cruel as the moment I killed a sparrow with my pellet rifle and the sensation was more heartbroken than heart-lifting.

I quickly learned a lesson that lives on for me.

Sometimes it’s important for the oppressor to live in the shoes of the oppressed, and vice versa.

This past week of cross-border politicking has left me confused, vexed, and worried but hesitantly… cautiously… hopeful that somehow the current “bully of the moment” will find his AHA moment. Even at this late stage of life.

That somehow the enormous, heady power bestowed on him will be tempered by reason and respect and concern for the weaker opponent.

That somehow the mini life-lesson I learned on the football field at the age of 12 or 13 years of age will be understood and willed to the surface like it was for George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.

It’s never too late to shed the bully inside. I hope.

bully-free