(started 11:51pm EST | 07.01.02) THE AIR IS AWFUL. Thick and muggy, the object of heat, humidity and smog warnings, I can't say how much worse it's been made by the first weekend of a city garbage strike. Up at the office, the air is dessicating, superheated by the concrete and whipped into a constant stiff breeze by the wind tunnels between the office towers. Downtown, it's almost viscous, layered with a thousand residual odours - piss, car exhaust, harbour smells, construction grit, the hot metal of the streetcar tracks, mold and muck from uncovered excavations, the vinegary reek of uncollected subway trash, who knows how much more.
Back home in Parkdale, it's marginally better, thanks to the trees and the lake breezes. Walking up the street from Queen, you're overwhelmed by a sweet, cloying, almost starchy odour - the semen tree. I don't know what kind of tree it is, but it only seems to bloom this time every summer, and it fills the thick nighttime air with a smell like, well, semen. The semen tree was busy tonight, and the street was thick with its yeasty smell.
Inside it's not much better. At least two of our cats have taken to peeing on the landlord's off-white carpet, in three precise spots - by the bathroom, on the landing and, I'm afraid, by my desk. We've never caught them in the act, but the evidence is pungently obvious. I've been at it with a strong but expensive enzyme cleanser the vet sells, and it works - until they return to the spot, often within hours of applying the cleanser. The smell from the landing is the first thing that greets you when you walk in the front door. Part of my freelance cheque this month is going to a handheld carpet steam cleaner, in the hopes of keeping up. Failing that, it's colostomy bags for the load of them.
A nice long weekend, thanks to a statutory national holiday, and we spent it as quietly as we could manage. Dinner at a friend's place on Saturday night - Jean, one of K.'s church lady pals, who came here from Calcutta over thirty years ago and taught me how to make a proper curry, something I've failed at consistently for years. It's the spices, of course, and the cooking, and all the other apparently simple but alchemical properties of cooking, the precise formula for which had eluded me without fail.
Arrived at work as the big story of the day broke - American planes bombing a wedding party in Afghanistan, mistaking the customary (if insane, to our eyes) celebratory gunfire for an attack, just at they'd mistaken a Canadian training exercise a few months ago. The Afghans, of course, being civilians, didn't get off lightly - thirty dead according to the US military, 120 according to the media. The truth is unacceptable, regardless of the figure. Last week, the Canadian and U.S. reports on the "friendly fire" accident were released, blaming the pilot, which seems easy enough. Too easy.
It might have been easy to blame it on one rogue pilot - conveniently nicknamed "Psycho"; a bit of beer-bash bullshit I'm sure he regrets now - but this makes it look like there are serious flaws in the U.S. chain of command over there, a seeming recklessness that plays all to well into standard European dismissals of Americans in whatever capacity. It's all very fine to argue that "friendly fire" is in fact the cause of the majority of U.S. combat deaths in almost every military mission since Vietnam, but there comes a point when it becomes an insult as much as a feeble excuse.
You aren't supposed to kill your own troops, and the blithe trope that "civilians always suffer the most during wars" is as craven as it is heartless, especially in an age when technology is supposed to be making combat "surgical". If it isn't - if war is still as sloppy and crude as it always has been, then for God's sake can we please stop using flatulent, asshole language like "surgical" and "precise" and "next generation" and "assymetrical". Why are we so intent on ignoring the fact that our enemies have a powerful recruiting tool predicated on the appearance (too often confirmed) of our seeming disregard for their lives or well-being?
As eagerly as we might make a great show of discrediting their prejudices, their ignorance, their religion, their basketcase politics, their whole world-view, in the seemingly infinite forums that have sprung up in the last nine months, the fact remains that Afghan peasants can't read MEMRI's marvellous dissections of their state-owned media, or revel in some blogger's disdain for the eruptions of bigotry and frothing rhetoric that get re-packaged minute-by-minute for our horrified, vicarious, self-satisfied entertainment.
No, Afghanistan isn't another Vietnam; it wasn't last fall, or over the much-ridiculed "bitter Afghan winter". But that doesn't mean it can't become a Vietnam, or worse, with Hamid Karzai as Ngo Diem and some awful, avoidable My Lai waiting in the future. It's not too late, but I'm afraid only just barely. (finished 12:49am EST | 07.02.02)
- Andy Warhol: diary July 1, 1986
(started 11.57pm EST | 07.02.02) HOTTER TODAY, if it's at all possible for it to be hotter than yesterday. I wish the study of a city's microclimate were more advanced, as it might explain why Parkdale, trees and lake breezes and all, was actually hotter today than the center of the city, where a vaguely cool breeze blew up Yonge St. while I went to pick up a new pair of desert boots.
An hour later and I'm hobbling out of the subway to work, my new desert boots already blistering my heels. It's been years, and I'd forgotten about the woeful breaking-in period on a pair of authentic Clark's desert boots. Did they actually issue these things to Monty's Eighth Army? If they did, it would to a long way to explaining how you breed fighting spirit into a soldier - constant, stabbing pain, and encouraging them to transfer their hatred of the person who gave them their boots onto the enemy.
Two jetliners collided in the sky over Germany, a DHL cargo plane and a Russian passenger jet on its way to Spain. Photos of debris - huge chunks of fuselage, engines with the Rolls-Royce logo still visible, the whole tail section of the Tupolev - sitting in fields and forests. Bodies lying under tarps by roadsides, as if they were hit-and-run victims instead of having fallen from the sky. There was a moment, very brief, where terrorism was suspected, but then it was obviously an accident, and it seemed like the news services were doing a collective sigh and a shrug: "Oh, well, a Russian plane. Typical, really."
In the meantime, two America West pilots were arrested before they could take off - both apparently drunk. It's a good thing that there are plenty of financial scandals going on to take the heat off the airline industry. The loser, of course, is Amtrak, which would be in a nice position to lure people back to train travel, if it weren't a financial basketcase headed for bankruptcy before the week is over.
In our air-conditioned office - for once, thank God, the building's climate controls are working - it's easy to pay attention to the news, but back home, where the air being moved around by our fans is so superheated that you feel like you're being dehydrated, a big slice of plum tomato being turned into an ingredient for a dip, you struggle to read, to comprehend anything on t.v. or in a book, through a thick curtain of heat as dense as wool. (finished 11:20am EST | 07.03.02)
- Cynthia Gladwyn: diary July 2, 1956
(started 11:55pm EST | 07.03.02) THE HEAT WAVE HAS, apparently, begun to break - the air outside the office was only marginally furnace-like, downtown quite livable, and back home the humidity has taken on a chilled feel, like the cool air from a basement. About time, too - everything upstairs in the apartment was feeling hot to the touch, and I had a vision of the "metabolic heat exchange" that firefighters talk about when trying to keep buildings adjacent to a blaze from bursting into flames.
Went into work wearing my new hawaiian shirt - one of two I'd bought on sale at Old Navy yesterday, in desperate need of more short-sleeved shirts to make it through the heat. It was noticed at the editorial meeting. "I could never get away with something like that," said Jonathan, the sports editor. Imagine that - an age when a sports editor doesn't think he can wear a loud shirt. What is the world coming to?
I explained that I was trying to indulge my fantasy with it, that I had more in the closet at home that I'd be wearing over the course of the summer. "And what fantasy is that?" asked Jodi, the entertainment editor.
Retirement, I said.
"That's right - becoming the crotchety 80-year old Jewish man you secretly are inside," Jodi said, referring to a mutual joke. Of course, I said. My name is Irving Entenberg. I'm a retired furrier from Trenton. I live in a condo in Boca Raton, my wife's ashes are in a jar on top of the stereo console, my goddamned kids don't visit me anymore, and if you stick around I'll tell you about my hemorrhoid operation last year. We have a nice working dynamic going at the office these days. (finished 12:39am EST | 07.04.02)
"Went downstairs to sleep. Got up late. Depressed and bored; idleness, luxurious living, useless talk. It's as if cog wheels are swimming in grease, get clogged and won't engage. Sometimes the wheels don't go for lack of oil, sometimes because they are full of slush. Should one write for people like that? Why? I've a strange reluctance to write. Yesterday I thought vividly about women. A woman holiday-maker came to question me when I was mowing. The main feature about women is their lack of respect for thought, lack of trust in what it - thought - will lead to. Hence falsehood, distortion of the truth, making play with ideas and spiritual gifts generally. If men were not so bound to women by sexual feeling and the indulgence which results from it, they would see clearly that women (for the most part) don't understand them, and they wouldn't talk to them. Except for virgins. You begin to get to know women from your wife, and you get to know them completely from your daughters. These are the women whom you can look at quite freely.
(started 07.04.02 | 10:20pm EST) A BIG ANNIVERSARY TODAY, one with quite a bit of significance considering the year that's passed since the last one, a year that changed everything. One year ago, no one, least of all myself, imagined what the world would be like today, and I'm not sure if anyone would have believed it if they could. I'm referring, of course, to the fourth anniversary of the diary thing.
Four years ago, I started this journal while K. was out of town, on a slightly obsolete reconditioned laptop. It was then, as now, a World Cup year, and I was hell bent on wasting time in various bars and cafes watching games, intent on relishing my first extended "stag" period since K. had moved in with me two months earlier. Then, as now, I barely saw a minute of a game, and discovered that I was actually quite lonely, spending my stag week less as a rake than a mope. I was excited to pick up a copy of Brill's Content, hardly imagining that I'd outlast the magazine.
A year later, K. was out of town again, and I was moping, again. I was in a mood for inventory, and managed to quantify my career in the past twelve months:
"55 assignments ...1 50 rolls of film ... 00 prints ... a slow year. (I didn't know then how much slower it would get.) 22 articles, 2 food pieces, and 5 book reviews ... an average of 50 cents per word for a rough total of $10,000. (It would get worse.) 13,000 words of fiction ... 138 diary entries (I was so industrious!) ... for a total of 110,400 words. My grand total word output for the year ... 143,400 words. (Rounded to the nearest large figure, I'm sure.) ... $192.00 is ISP fees (Canadian figures, of course) ... 1100 'hits' a month (I don't know why I put that in quotes.)"
I was proud of what I'd done - the most meticulously documented period of my life, and an important one, in the long run - but I hoped that "sudden, incredible increase in work" would force me to cut back on updates, in favour of "real" work.
On the next anniversary of this diary, K. and I were engaged, I'd just come back from Spain, she had a new job (at the paper that would, in a year, merge with its competition into what is now my own current place of employment) and we had a new cat. Money was tight and my freelance career was firmly beached:
"I've been tight for money since getting back from Spain, and K.'s been waiting for her first paycheque, so I've been making extra at dinner for her packed lunch the next day. Every morning, while she gets dressed, I put together a sandwich or a container of stir-fry, a tub of soup or some cold pasta, along with some fruit, bread sticks, granola bars and a juice box. I kiss her as she leaves, and wish her a good day. During the day, I try to work, do the dishes, feed the cats, do some laundry and field phone calls from friends of K.'s who don't know about her new hours yet. I've been renting Japanese samurai movies and fishing shows. Except for the last bit, it should be obvious that I'm turning into a housewife."
Things would get a lot worse before they got better. On the third anniversary of this diary, the wedding date was set and we were trying to figure out how to pay for it all. K. had returned to the church that winter, I'd shaved off my goatee for the first time in more than a decade, and we had a third cat. K. was doing okay, but I was desperate for work and feeling like a failure at almost thirty-seven. I can' help but read the laundry list of small and large ambitions in this entry without a pang, and the fact that it's there at all gives me the opportunity to compare today's circumstances with yesterday's wishes:
"What do I want to accomplish in the next year? I want to get married. I want to finish the book. (Not even close.) I want to build a new bookshelf or two. (Hardly ambitious, but not a nail or board went up.) I want to make a steadier, or at least more substantial income. (Done and done.) I want to take more photos. (Alas, fewer, not more.) I want to lose ten pounds. (I managed within a few months, then gained them all back with a sedentary desk-job lifestyle.)"
"I want to grow my goatee back. (Achievable, and duly achieved.) I want to pay off at least one more of my creditors... (Close, but not yet.) I want to be able to think about having a kid without breaking into a cold sweat. (On most days entirely possible.) I want to write some short stories. (Promising beginnings, and a notebook of fragments.) I want to start a second book. (Not even close.)"
"I want the two-line bio that runs under my writing to be more substantial, more specific, to read more than just: 'Rick McGinnis is a Toronto writer and photographer.' (...'and photo editor'. Okay, not what I imagined, but let's say done.) I want to get the couch re-upholstered. (Next on the list after the bookshelves.) I want to write for an American magazine. (Nope, but if David Remnick is reading this...) I want to shoot an annual report for a big corporation. (Uh-uh.) I want to find the best way to grill sardines over an open flame. (A quick lemon and oil marinade, a clean, well-oiled grill, and mere seconds a side.)"
"I want to go to Spain again. (No, and it eats at me every day.) I want to see Italy. (No, but I've bought some very lovely books...) I want to learn better web design. (I code this site by hand these days. Whether it looks better is up to you, my readers, to say.) I want to stop complaining about high school. (Did I actually write that? I hardly even think about high school anymore.) I want to wear more hats. (With my hairline, it's an excellent idea, and I have this very nice Panama.) I want a decent saute pan. (No, but I barely cook anymore, so it doesn't nag at me, really.) I want new glasses. (I've got my new prescription, and a pair of frames picked out, so when my new health plan kicks in next month...) I want to make more jam. (They way I work these days, I'm lucky if I make more coffee.)"
I'm both amazed at how few of these wants I've managed to satisfy, and how little it seems to bother me just at the moment. It's a year where I've had to confront the limit - and the practicality - of my own ambitions, some of them long-savored and enhanced by years of frustration. It's been an interesting four years - probably the most crucial of my life, which would probably explain why I've had the stamina and the sense of real stakes at hand, so as to keep a record more devotedly than I every imagines was possible, and to analyze it so publicly.
It's been a year that changed everything, both personally - a wedding, a job - and in the broadest possible sense - a horrible tragedy, a new war, a sense, sometimes real, sometimes illusory, that the stakes overall have gotten a lot higher for all of us, everywhere. Which makes a project like this one, which was begun with no apparent motivation except for vanity and the need of an outlet in a life that felt increasingly idle, assume at least a whiff of the imperative, a lunge at connecting with other strangers who might, like myself, want to know that their fears and doubts and deep unease with the sudden sensation of living through a moment in history (and not just the stagnant doldrums of the present) are being shared, somewhere, by someone. I hope I can provide that service, out here in the illegitimate and shrinking wilderness of the non-commercial web, as well as it's been done for me. Happy fourth (or fifth, now) of July. (finished 12:26pm EST | 07.05.02)
- William L. Shirer: diary July 4, 1940
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