Coal Dusters – Chapter XII – Lillian Faints

Chapter XII

Lillian Faints

Lillian was heating the small cast-iron frying pan for her uncle’s breakfast in the kitchen when the colliery whistle sounded. Three short and one long whistle was a sequence she hadn’t heard before. She had learned to recognize the morning, lunch and evening shift blasts that saved her from having worry about the time.  That and the school bell were how she organized her day.  

She had put the skillet on the stove and hadn’t broken the egg yet. Her uncle called down to her. “Was that three short blasts or four?”

“Three short Father Pat. What does it mean?”

“Trouble in the mine. An accident of some sort. Not a cave-in though. That’s four short and one long.” he called down.

The alert was sounded again.

“Will you have time for your breakfast.”

“No. Perhaps a cup of tea if it’s steeped.”

She poured him a cup. He was wearing his purple surplice that he wore only when visiting sick and probably dying parishioners. She watched as he checked his last rights box that included some small glass bottles for holy water and oil, a linen napkin, a cup, with a crucifix pinned on the inside of the lid next to a small engraving of Pope Pius XI

“It must be serious, though.” she said as he quickly gulped his tea.

“Yes. Serious enough to mean death.” 

She paled.

“Sorry Lillian. I didn’t stop to think. I’ve become used to these sort of harsh facts. Sit.” He pulled his chair away from the table for her to sit down. “I see you’ve cut my bread. Good I’ll take it along to fortify me.”

He picked up the leather travel case that held the things he’d need if he had to offer final unctions. 

“Pack some food stuffs in a basket and bring them along in an hour or so.”

“Yes, Father Pat.”

He checked his travel case again and then left.

She took the skillet off the stove. The news of death made her lose her appetite. She checked and banked the embers in the stove. If she was leaving soon she couldn’t leave it unattended.

She went into the pantry and there were two baskets there. Her uncle hadn’t said which one; or how much food stuffs she was to bring. The small one she often used when they went to the Company store to pick up staples.

The other was much larger. More of a hamper than a basket. It hadn’t been used or moved since she had arrived there. 

She scanned the pantry shelves to decide what it was she could bring. Bread. Yes, that was good place to start. She knew how to do that. She cut two loaves into slices.  Surely he didn’t mean any of the staples. Would sliced bread and butter be enough? One of the parishioners had brought them some tomatoes the day before, she sliced those as well to make simple sandwiches.

She poured the already steeped tea into a large jar, added more water and more sugar than usual. A jar of those picked onions, also one of those jars of green tomato preserves. The miners would want food they could eat now, not stuff that had to be prepared. Food to be eaten with the hands. Then the pickled eggs would be suitable too. She never cared much for them. 

Should she bring some plates? Napkins to wipe their hands on? No, the hamper was getting heavy. Some apples too though. Biscuits would be good with the tea. Surely someone else would be bringing tea. Once she was satisfied with the basket she went up to her room to change into a clean apron and a suitable dress.  

Since her outburst earlier in the week her uncle had relented slightly and the mirror was back in her room. He allowed her to keep a couple of plain dresses for public wearing. Plain, once he had her remove all ribbons and lace, had her replace the buttons with plain black or white ones. Suitable for matrons of forty but still a little more presentable than the shifts she wore to do housework. Maybe a more colorful kerchief for her hair? No. Men were dead. At least a clean one though. Dark blue.

In the kitchen it took both arms for her to lift and carry the hamper. She had to put it down outside to shut the door properly.

On the street she knew vaguely which direction to walk to get to the colliery. The priest’s house was on Upper Chestnut on the west side of Castleton Mines.  This was where the managers and other Company officials lived. Some of the houses were quite large. Theirs was one of the less ostentatious ones, it was only a little larger than the company houses the miner’s lived it. 

It sloped down to Lower Chestnut. She’d never seen a chestnut tree along the street either upper or lower. She crossed Fortune Road that went down to the harbour.

On Victoria Avenue she walked quickly past the shops on the main street. She wanted to stop to look at the hats and dresses in the window of the catalogue office at the Company Store. The bright silks of one of the dresses caught at her eye. When would she ever wear one of those again? Where? Certainly not to the church, even for one of their many social functions. 

The main street ended abruptly when she passed Carter’s carriage shop. She found herself in a maze of unnamed dirt lanes. This was what she had heard referred to as Mudside, sometimes even Orangetown because it was mainly Protestant families living here.

She knew the colliery gates were at the the end of Pitt Street. But there were no street signs to point the way. Several lanes meet at the intersection. The sun was in her eyes and she squinted to get her bearings.

The road was uneven underfoot and she found herself losing her grip on the hamper. Carrying it by the handle with one arm tired her arms quickly. It took both hands to manage it comfortably. If she merely held in front of her at waist level her knees kept bumping it, rattling the jars. She didn’t want to risk breaking anything. She knew that her uncle would see anything broken as a part of her deficiencies.

Why weren’t there even street signs on these lanes. Where she had stopped was more a back alley than a street. No sidewalks. The houses along the lanes were all the same. Mostly unpainted. Some with small patches of grass out front. Many with uneven, sagging roofs. 

As she struggled she could hear dogs barking, babies crying. Different smells assaulted her as well. Rotting food, washing, feces, someone was cooking cabbage at this time of the day? With the pervasive smell of body waste underneath it all. As if night jars had been recently slopped into the street.

She looked down to make sure she wasn’t walking in or near something disgusting. But she couldn’t see directly in front of her because of the hamper. If only she could balance it on her head as she had seen in those engravings in one of her father’s travel books.

The image of herself with the hamper carefully balanced on her head made her smile. She longed for someone to tell this to. How her brother would laugh at such a suggestion. Or would he be horrified to learn how she was living now as a common household drudge.

She stopped at another corner to get her bearings. Two young men were approaching.

One was taller than the other. He was fair, with almost red hair and a nice set to his jaw. The shorter one was dark, the grime on his skin looked ingrained. Clearly they were miners.

“Is this the way to the colliery?” she asked setting down her basket.

The men stepped closer to her. She could smell the mines on them. She had become accustomed to this oily smell being in the air at certain times of the day. On these men it was more pungent than she had noticed it on the parishioners when she was at mass. Of course these men hadn’t spent the morning getting cleaned up for church. 

Was this how they always smelled? A mix of unwashed clothes, that coal oil smell and earth. Yes, that was it, the smell of freshly turned earth. They smelled of the grave.

As they came closer she saw that the grime on the shorter one was his beard, or rather, his unshaven face. Even though his shirt was fully buttoned and she could see that he had hair up to his throat, even the backs of his hands were covered with black hair. His unwashed smell was overpowering.

They pointed her in the direction of the mines. One even offered to help her carry the hamper but she declined. Because she didn’t recognize either of these men from services as St. Agatha’s she doubted if they were parishioner of her uncle’s. If he saw her arriving with a non-parishioner she was sure he would be enraged.

She hefted the hamper to one hip and went on her way. Why hadn’t she thought of carrying it this way sooner? 

It took her less than twenty minutes to get to the colliery entrance. There were women and children milling about waiting to hear about their loved ones. She went to the gate keeper.

“Can you direct me to Father Patrick?” she asked him “I’m Lillian McTavish, his niece and have brought some provisions he requested.”

“Good morning miss. I think he’s in the infirmary. That’s were they’ve been bringing the bodies.”

Her knees weaken.

“I’ll get one of the men to take you to him. Manny,” he shouted over her head. “Manny come here and help this young lady.”
“Yes sir.” 

A short heavy set young man separated himself from a group of other men. 

“Manny O’Dowell, ” he bowed quickly. “Miss McTavish.”

She recognized him from mass.

“I’ll help you with that.” He took the hamper. “Heavy! You been carrying this far?”

“Oh yes.” she followed him. “From the house.”

“Quite a weight for wee thing such as yourself.”

“I can manage.” His remark pleased her, bolstered her spirits. She wasn’t as useless about some things as her uncle made her out to be. 

“Father Patrick.” Manny called out when they went into foyer of the infirmary.

“He’s at the rear.” one of the aide’s said. “But … not to be disturbed.”

“Let him know Miss McTavish is here.” he put the basket down. 

“Thank you,” Lillian said.

The hospital smelled of disinfectant, vomit and human waste. Her nose curled.

“The gas makes them vomit.” Manny explained. “That’s a good thing. Gets out of their system faster.”

“Gas?” she asked. She looked for some place to sit.

“Yes, miss. The coal damp. It seeps in through the coal you see. The ventilation system clears it out so as not to harm the men but sometimes it can get trapped in a turn or a tunnel. Deadly. Kills fast.” He snapped his fingers. “You can’t even smell it.”

She was faint and reached out to the wall to keep from falling.

“You alright, miss?” Manny moved closer and she ended up leaning against him. He slipped an arm around her waist to keep her from falling to the floor.

“Yes I’m fine.” She tried to push him from her. She didn’t want her uncle to appear and find her in the arms of a stranger.

“I brought some food stuffs.” She pulled the basket towards her. 

“Ah, Lillian.” her uncle came into the infirmary foyer. “What took you so long? Let’s see what you’ve brought.” He flipped the basket open. “Good. Good. What’s this?”

He pulled out one of the jars of blackberry jam. “I hope you brought something to spread this with? If not you might as well have left it at home. Good, I see you did have sense to cut some bread for the men. Tea too. No cups though? Well I’m sure the men will have their mugs for tea. No milk for the tea?”

Lillian held back her tears. “No Father Patrick. I … I …”

“This is good.” Manny said as he bit into one of the sandwiches. “Most of us had our lunch pails with us but, well, who has had time to find them in all that’s been going on.” He opened the blackberry jam and scooped some out with a jackknife he took from his jacket pocket. “None of the men goes far without something ter eat with Father. Our hands often aren’t all that clean, you see.”

He held his left hand out for Lillian to examine.

Short thick fingers with lines almost inked in with coal dust; under his fingernails was black as coal too. She shuddered at the thought of eating anything with those hands. Yet here he was with the white bread she had cut, eating a sandwich. A bit of tomato drooled down his chin.

“Yes, I see.”

“This is excellent Lillian, my child.” Her uncle said. “What more could one expect at such short notice.”

“Have many … ”

“There were several deaths. Not all from my flock though. You don’t have to stay any longer.”

“Oh.” Lillian had imagined herself sitting at the bed side of an injured miner, holding his hand or wiping his brow with a damp white cloth as he moaned in pain. Even helping change his bandages. Or give sympathy to a grieving widow.

“I have nothing more to do here. If you’d permit I can accompany Miss McTavish back to the rectory.” Manny offered.

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Father Patrick said. “Perhaps there is something for you to do, my girl.”

“Bring that along.” Father Pat nodded to Manny and then the basket. He lead them to the shed where the Draeger men were.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. We’ve brought you some refreshments.”

Manny put the hamper on a low stool. Lillian stood behind and opened it up.

“My niece will be happy to serve you.”

“Thank you father.” Two of the men stood up.

“All the miners are up now?” he asked.

“Yes Father. All accounted for.”

“Good. That means no more rites for me to perform here today, Lillian. Once you have served these men I’ll walk home with you.” He give Manny nod to dismiss him.

Some of the men were still wearing their outer suits. Another was carefully removing his. To Lillian they were creatures shedding a skin to reveal another being underneath. 

That other being was Steven O’Dowell. 

“Miss McTavish, this is an unexpected pleasure.” He said as he hung the clumsy suit on the wall. 

“I didn’t know you worked in the mines. Mr. O’Dowell.”

“On call as a Draeger man. I was special trained during the war. There was gas there to deal with as well.”

As he put his equipment away he explained how they stored their gear, checked the connections for the oxygen canisters, how they refilled the canisters and how the breathing apparatus worked.

“The suits are quite heavy Miss, it takes a strong man to wear ’em for long.”

“And fearless.” added one of the others.

“Only drawback is that you can’t communicate well with one another.”

“Drawback for you Gilles. Not having t’ listen t’ you is a blessing if you ask me.” Mr. O’Dowell said.

“Not having took at yer ugly puss is something I always look f’ward to.” 

The men laughed at this.

Lillian wondered if the men were always this light hearted after a rescue, after so many had lost their lives.

“Sorry, miss. We gets a bit silly sometimes.” one of them said. “That pure oxygen can effect us in strange ways.”

“So can a pretty face, Steven?” one of them laughed.

Lillian blushed.

“Ahem.” he uncle gave a little cough. “The hamper seems sufficiently emptied. I think it’s time to take it, and you home my dear.”

“Yes Father Pat.”

Most of the jars of jam and other preserves she had brought were empty. All the sandwiches and apples were gone. She packed what remained back in the hamper. Her uncle carried it home.

“You seem to have your usual effect on the eligible young men, Lillian,”

“Mr. O’Dowell isn’t that young Father Pat.”

“That man,” He replied testily, “Is a rogue. More than one innocent girl has been comprised by him. He acts as if his bravery gave him permission to act as he sees fit and that he deserves their gratitude rather having to seek their or God’s forgiveness.”

“I have met men of his ilk in Boston.” 

She thought of when she first met David Henderson at a dinner party of her father’s. He was brash, fresh from the war with his own medals to prove his valour. Medals that swept her off her feet. 

“So I understand.” Her Uncle replied.

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Fambrough, First House and Jazz Psychedelia

Some jazz is defined by the record label. One knew what to expect from Riverside, World Pacific, Blue Note, ECM or CTI. Each presented different niches of jazz. Though sometimes there would a slight step into one another territory.

I have a stand-alones two Charles Fambrough: The Charmer; The Proper Angle both on CTI (Creed Taylor) – I bought is at a dollar store for a dollar each. I late found out that CTI went out business & thus their stock was sold off & some of it ended up in dollar stores as opposed to record stores. I also picked up some Larry Coryell as a result of this sell off. I later saw the Fambrough at full price at HMV.

Anyway the music itself is solid acoustic jazz & so has a timelessness about it. Fambrough plays bass well. His sidemen change from cd to cd but he’s working with top-of-the-line performers. Not overly challenging but definitely not easy listening either. Tasteful & good beginner listening jazz.

I have this stand-alone by a British group I’d never heard of before: First House: Erendira on ECM – there was time I’d buy anything on ECM. The label specialized in chamber jazz – slightly experimental work by the likes Keith Jarrett, Jackie DeJohnette & many many others. All of which I loved & still enjoy a lot. So I wasn’t really taking a chance on First House. The music is progressive jazz with a few dissident moments making a bit more challenging that a lot fo EMV releases. I picked up 2nd hand & am happy whenever it comes up my play rotation.

Finally some lp to cd transfer of a pair of World Pacific lps that I bought on the east coast as delete at Zeller’s or Woolco.  Eddie Fisher Quintet: The First Cup; Wilbert Longmire: Revolution. Both of these guitarists blend jazz, soul, blues, funk and a touch of psychedelia in originals & cover versions of late 60’s hits. Longmire does a sweet version of the Beatles’ Revolution. Both verge on instrumental but their guitar playing elevates them beyond lounge. Think Wes Montgomery but funkier.

Monitor

With a sweep of her hand windows around her shattered into tiny fragments. Not shards, not cracking, creaking but crumbling into a coarse ground glass like diamonds. She turned several times, fingers open wide, arm muscles bulging, the veins standing out along  her wrist and the back of her hand.

‘You see!’ she stopped as suddenly as she had started. ‘To resist is futile.’

‘To capitulate is equally as futile.’

‘Then you leave me no alternative.’

She clapped her hands together. With each clap the sound became deeper. Blood spurted from ears and noses to mix the with the ground glass.

‘I have only just begun.’ She walked a few steps to the front of the embankment. The water in the stream began to ripple faster. ‘You have no way to resist. Why not capitulate. No harm can come of it.’

‘This is harm enough. Cease or be ceased.’ A fist raised up to her. Frail and pale. The veins blue and thin under the skin. The fingers slowly opened. One by one. Each with a small creak. In the palm was a pink stone.

‘Ho ho.’ She reached out to it. ‘You have The Pink. You think that can help you.’

The stone leapt into the air before her. She reached out and crushed it.

‘You see! You all see! You have no defence against me. You have wasted your strength on useless resistance. It is hardly worth my effort now to conquer.’

She rubbed the palm of her hand against her cloak. It stung where The Pink had been crushed. Where she rubbed left a thin blood print.

‘It will not even be worth my while to monitor your obedience.’ Her breath became short.

‘What?’ She moved unsteadily toward the stream.

She stopped and spread open her palms. ‘Oh you fools! Fools. You attempt this little ploy.’

She spat on the red boundary of the crushed Pink. It became blue. The small shards of the pink danced out of her skin. her breathe became normal. She laughed.

‘Such a foe. Such a puny foe.’

Her laughter rocked through the very soil, buildings crumbled, became dust as her body floated into the air.

‘Farewell.’

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September or October but to be confirmed – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

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I Fly

As much as I miss the comfort of my little bed in Toronto leaving DC is always a little sad. I’m not sure why, as I haven’t made any real human connections there outside of the Capturing Fire clan & even those I only see during the Fire – they have busy lives & often are so into the friends they already have there’s no opening for someone they may never see again.

Final morning was my DC routine, breakfast in the room, Dupont club at 9:30. Excellent Bagel from Bagel … Etc. I’ll keep them in mind for next year. Ate that checking email. Check out at 12, but wifi off at 11 for some reason. Got packed in record time without the wifi distraction.

Taxi to the airport was ‘interesting’ thanks to construction detours & the Capitol’s Stanley Cup victory parade. I particularly enjoyed President Trump thanking the people for congratulating him on scoring the winning goal. No one would call him a sore winner. I take taxi, as opposed to shuttle, because it is faster & cheaper. Last time I ordered a shuttle it arrived an hour late by which time I was already at the airport.

As I said everything went smoothly. Check in was longish, but such is life. The Reagan is a pretty airport. I had my annual Dunkin’ Donuts. Asked for old fashioned glazed twice & when I sat to enjoy it found that I had been given something else. The banal coffee has caffeine in it. Found my gate – it was in another part of the terminal. so had to take a shuttle there, got checked in once again & assigned a seat -18A. Jumped into another shuttle to the plane. Five minute delay there as the flight was awaiting stewardess. 

Boarded & like my flight there it was a three seat wide plane, Two on one side of the aisle, one on the other. 18A was the final seat, a single & right by the washroom – which gave me the opportunity for a sky-high washroom selfie. Flight was just over an hour. Smooth skies. Arrival was trouble free except we were at farthest of the Person terminal. the exiting the plane, walking to customs & finally exiting to arrivals took nearly as long as the flight itself 🙂 As much a love flying I hate lugging shoulder bag, carry on (with all my vital cables for recharging phone, cameras, airmac – as well as upload cables for those cameras. A day at a time I can’t wait for next year.

Coal Dusters – Chapter XI – Birk Takes A Bath

Chapter XI

Birk Takes A Bath

Birk and Clancy went into the back yard. The shed door was stuck.

“Winter does that. Sometimes when we open it in the spring there’s been red squirrels living in here.”

He gave it a hard pull to drag it open. The bottom was mired in the ground. Clancy grabbed a shovel by the door and dug away enough of the mud for the door to open.

The inside of the shed smelled of mud, oily rags and cedar. There was a wooden tool box with some hammers and screw drivers.

This’ll do it.” Birk hefted the box. “Garb that jar of nails .”

“So, Birk, you aren’t sweet on some gal?” Clancy asked as they worked on the bench. It needed a new back and one of the legs was out of place.

“Me? There’s better things for a man to do than botherin’ some frail thing.”

“Frail thing?” Clancy laughed.

“That’s what Ma says. Most women are frail things who need protecting from the needs of men. They marry sure, but only to do their duty by us. Expecting more than that isn’t Godly.”

“And what is their duty?”

“Keep the house. Bring some children into the world.”

“I see.” Clancy chuckled. “So you never look at a gal and wonder?”

“Wonder what?”

“How she might look under those clothes?”

Birk dropped the board they were nailing.

“That talk isn’t welcome here. No gal wants a man to think that! It isn’t fitting, proper. It is, what Ma would call, an insult to those who count on us to protect them from those who would think of them in that common way. If you are one of those disrespecters you won’t last another minute in our house. Ma won’t have it.” He started toward the house.

“Wait. I’m joshing you.” Clancy grabbed his arm.

“You better be.”

“You ever talk this way before. I mean about the … frails?”

“Tisn’t fit conversation for Godly people.” Birk’s face reddened.

“So you have.”

“I hear the men go on at wash up. Not fittin’ for me to say anything. I’ve heard enough in the church about not polluting yourself. It isn’t right. I know that. But …”

“What?”

“I once kissed a gal.”

“Once?”

“Yeh. A couple of years ago at the church picnic, me and Grace had been setting together. Talking about stuff. She wanted to know what it was to be in the mine and me so young. Made me feel I was a proper man to be talking to her about such things. When I showed her how strong I was and how tough the skin on m’hands is. She was feeling the calluses and almost crying then she kissed me.”

“In front of everyone?”

“No! We was by ourselves in the shade on the church steps. But my Ma saw and wailed the tar out of me. Wasn’t as if I was offering Grace any disrespect.”

“Where did she kiss you?”

“I told ya! On the church steps.”

“No! I mean, was it on the cheek?”

“Oh no. On the mouth. Sweet taste she had too. Same as the apple’s we’d been eating.” Birk touched his lips. “But I learned.” He rubbed his backside. “You have to be on guard all the time. It’s best if you don’t look at ‘em for long.”

They uprighted the bench that they had flipped over to fix the loose leg.

“Good as new.” Clancy said.

The afternoon was hot. Birk wiped at the sweat on his forehead and around his neck. He was used the sweating in the mine. It was odd not to be wiping off the grit of coal. He rubbed at his chin, this would have been a shave day after his shift.

“Don’t sweat like this in the pit.” He said to Clancy. “Flows free without that dust to hold it down.”

“True. So this is what what day light looks like? I only remember it dimly.”

His mother came out in the yard carrying Sal in her arms. Maddy carrying Sal’s doll and the A B C book.

“You men have done a fine job.” She set Sal on the bench.

Birk bent to kiss her but she pushed him away. “Go way with you! You stink of the coal.”

“He sure do.” Maddy curled up her nose.

His mother laughed. “Those girls got a better nose than me. I get used to.”

Sal sniffed at Clancy. “But he don’t. Didn’t you wash up before you came home?”

“Men was dying in the mines. Getting out alive was more important than washing up.”

She began to tear up.

“So this is the thanks we get for fixing this bench for you, m’lady. Sorry if don’t smell as sweet as some.”

He went into the house. Clancy followed him.

“She’s only a child, Birk.” he said.

“I knows that but …”

“And she is right. You do smell a bit ripe.”

“I washes up after every shift. Gets into the tub room there at the end of the week too, whether I needs it not. Then I give myself a good wash.”

“Once a week!”

“S’all Blackie or Geo did, far as I know.”

“Mrs. Franklin was pretty strict about that. She didn’t want no unwashed hooligans spoiling her sheets so we had to tub wash hot Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

“What! Even if we had a tub here big’ nuf for that, we can’t heat that much water on the stove.”

“You can go to her wash house, you know. Don’t cost that much to keep clean.”

“Yah, who cares? Not as if I go visitin’ the way Geo did. Sheila made him get clean. Too clean, if ya ask me. Going get dirty all over again the next day anyway. Foolish waste of time and water and money. Not to mention water. Feedin’ the family’s more important.”

“Come on! We got time.”

“Come on where? To that wash house?”

“Yeh, you can show up at the union meetin’ tonight smelling human not the way mine rat would.”

“Ah … you’re hoping that gal will be there, right? Look we’re not micks you know. She works for that priest, she won’t take no notice of you no matter how clean you be. You’ll never wash the orange off you.”

“Look, one thing my Dad taught me, was that a man who looks after himself will get looked after by life. You treat yourself like a mine rat and people will treat you like a mine rat.”

Birk grabbed Clancy by the shirt front. “Nobody treats me like a rat. You got that. You stop calling me one or you’ll be packing that bag of yours for the graveyard.”

“Yer as mad as a mine rat too.” Clancy said as he wriggled out of Birk’s grasp. “What you afraid of? Being clean won’t make you a soft arse. Is that what you think.”

“I’m not afraid.”

“I’ll spring for it. Come on.”

“Yeh, Birk.” It was his sister Maddy in the doorway.

“How long you been there?” Birk asked.

“Long enough to be tired of you stinking all the time.”

“Why you …” he stepped toward her. 

“Come on.” Clancy stopped him. “Do it for your sisters. Let them see what you hide under all that coal dust.”

“Very well then. But I’m not using any of that fancy smelling soap. You hear.”

“You got a clean shirt and under drawers?” Clancy asked.

“Course I do.” Birk started up the stairs. “Socks too, before you ask. Only wore once this week.”

“You mean that pair I smelled when I was putting my stuff away in the room.” Clancy winked at Maddy.

“Yeah. Them.” Birk stomped up the steps.

“Guess we can give them a soak too while we’re at it.” Clancy called up after him. “Bring your shavin’ gear as well.” 

Clancy followed him up to the room to get some clean clothes for himself.

The sign over the door said ‘Salon De Bain.’ Mrs. Franklin had converted the old hotel’s former stables into a wash house. It had three tubs in it separated by thin wooden panels. She had a separate boiler to make sure there was ample hot water for her boarders or for those who didn’t have a facility at home. Most of the miner’s company houses hadn’t much more than a rudimentary washroom. The wash tub used for clothes often doubled as the wash tub for family members.

“Salon de …?” Birk asked.

“Yeh, a bit for French to make a bathtub sound more fancy than it is.” Clancy explained. 

Clancy showed Birk where to hang up his clothes while the tubs filled with hot for them. Birk sniffed the various soaps that were there and picked one that had the least sweet smell to it.

The walls were decorated with pictures cut from newspapers and magazines of women in corsets, some on stage, some pulling up hose along with pictures of George V and his wife Mary. There was even one the prime minister Mckenzie King that someone had drawn a moustache over his moustache.

“You used a tub before I hope?” Clancy joked.

“Sure, the ones at the mine wash up. They aren’t much like these though.”

Mrs. Franklin’s tubs were large claw-foot tubs painted black on the outside and were gleaming white on the inside. Birk had never seen such clear water as filled the tub.

“That’s about full enough.” Clancy said stepping out the the cubical and pulling the curtain shut. 

Birk quickly shed his clothes and stepped into the hot water.

“Not too hot.” Clancy asked from the adjacent cubical.

“No. It’s fine. Perfectly fine.” Birk laid back in the tub. He could hear Clancy doing the same next door.

This was a new experience for him. He’d been swimming lots of times but the lake water was never this hot. At the mine wash up there was never enough hot water for all the miners so he’d gotten used to washing as best he could in warm or even cold water.

He ducked his head under the water then lathered with one of the wash clothes Mrs. Franklin provided. He scrubbed his feet and toes harder than he never had before. The skin was always tender between the toes.

He ducked again. When he came up he was stunned to see that the once clear water was now black. He got out of the tub, dropped his socks in it and then wrung them out and began to dry off.

“You decent?” Clancy asked.

Birk pulled on his under-drawers. “Yep.”

Clancy came in with a towel wrapped around his waist.

“You as white as a ghost.” Birk said. 

“You hairier than a sheep. A black sheep at that.” Clancy said. “Where’s yer razor?”
Birk handed it to him.

Clancy brushed the sharp end across his palm. “This the one you been usin ?”
“Yeh. Used ta be Geo’s.”

“You ever sharpen it?”

“Once in a while.”

“Couldn’t cut butter with this blade.” He sharpened it on the razor strop attached to the stall wall. “Now lather up.”

Birk used the soap there to lather his face. He reached for the razor.

“You sit.” Clancy had him sit on the chair where he had put his clothes.

He stood behind Birk and tilted his head back. “This’ll be a what shave is supposed to be.”

Birk resisted for a moment but let his head be pulled back. He closed his eyes as Clancy wielded the razor over his neck and under his jaw.

“By God there is a face under those whiskers.” Clancy joked.

It took him a few slow strokes to do the bulk of job followed by some faster ones to deal with what was left.

“Where you learn to do that?” Birk asked as he looked at himself in the mirror.

“My pa was often too drunk to shave himself. Job fell to me.” he handed Birk a small bottle. “Splash this on.”

“What’s it? Geo’s toilet water made me sick to smell it.”

“Rosewater.”

Birk patted a bit on his face. It stung then quickly soothed his bare skin.

“Not too bad.” Birk handed the bottle back to him.

“Before you get dressed you better give this a scrub too.” Clancy pointed to the tub.

Birk blushed as he saw the grey sludge that coated the once sparkling white tub.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Up A DC Escalator

It was a dark and overcast morning with light rain which was a pleasant change (for me) from the oppressive humidity since I arrived in DC. Plus I finally got to use the raincoat I packed. Stuck to my morning routine, using up the breakfast food I’d bought. Maybe I’ll do a blog post on ‘how I travel.’ Hit the 9:30 Dupont meeting: topic was defiance – I realized I’m still defiant in some settings i.e. opting for ‘it’ as a pronoun.

After the meeting I went directly to Ted’s Bulletin to avoid the lunch rush. Took a pile more of photos: as if don’t have enough already 🙂 No seating issue this time. Ordered the Big Breakfast, enjoyed the pot of coffee, totally lusted for the waiter. Took more photos. Directly back to the hotel for a bathroom break & wondered what to do next.

Onto the metro & down (I think it was down as I still don’t know downtown from uptown in DC). Go figure because I can’t. Down to Union Station for this years look around. Tried to pee in one of the washrooms but it was too busy for a pee-shy guy like me. Looked in shops, nothing spoke to my wallet. Found another washroom & got a stall when I relaxed enough for relief. More looking around. Took a few pics but I have enough from past years.

Back to Dupont where I took a video of going up the escalator – a 2 minute trip – here it is – going up isn’t as vertigo inducing as going down (the elevator I mean). It is a slow carnival ride, that at one point changes angle by .5 degrees. Relaxed, meditated, waiting for housekeeping to do it’s thing so I could take a shower. Next to tart packing for my departure in the morning. I’ll be glad to sleep in my own bed.

Hair Annie Shop Chorus Dolls and The Who

I remember coming across the off-Broadway cast recording of Hair when I was living on the east coast. The lp cover included writers/performers Gerome Ragni and James Rado. I bought it & was blown away by the concept & by the sexy, brave  songs like White Boys, Black Boys & the energy of Elevator Going Down & of course the title song. My buds at the time didn’t get it & were even less impressed with them, why – sappy Cowsills had a hit with Hair. I loved that lp & played it often & it is now safe in an mp3 collection. I’ve never found this original lp in any other form, until recently, so I have an lp to cd transfer that I combined with the on Broadway cast. 

The book changed somewhat by the time it hit Broadway. Some songs were dropped, new ones introduced. The sequence of what story there was changed as well. The nude finale was part of its initial appeal. I have seen Hair on stage a couple of times. The movie has great energy but way too much story. 

Writing this post I decided to upgrade my Hair from lp to cd and found, on iTunes, a set that paired the off-Broadway & the on Broadway. sweet. I was missing so much of the sound with my transfer & these crisp versions are amazing. Reminds me of why I really loved that off-Broadway cast album. Both include songs left out due to time limits of lps. A treat you deserve. I want to meet a boy named Frank Mills 🙂 

In this song & dance mp3 collection I’ve included: Annie Get Your Gun: Betty Hutton. Anything You Can Do was one of those songs by Dad loved and bother & sisters would spend a few minutes doing anything better with him. Many of the songs are standards. Betty Hutton is fine but everyone wishes Judy Garland had done the movie. But Judy did record some of the songs for the movie & her versions are amazing & only add to the the regrets that she was dropped.

Like many of these mp3 collections this one jumps everywhere & now we land on the soundtrack to one of my favourite movies: Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. Trashy, sexy, exploitive & melodramatic & not to be missed. One of my favourite Russ Meyers film. The music is excellent too. The songs for Carrie Nations – girl group centre of the movie are real  & as on point as those in Spinal Tap. I watch Beyond movie every couple of years.

Not so with Little Shop Of Horrors – having seen it on stage the movie doesn’t capture the energy. The songs are great, the performances are good too but the mutant plant is just a little too good for this little shop. Steve Martin as the dentist is great. 

Another disappointing stage to movie was A Chorus Line – I’ve also seen this on stage. The movie soundtrack is solid but lacks energy. Plus a soundtrack to a movie in which the big focus is on dance seems a bit ironic. Though I do have ballet scores that don’t need dancers to come alive when I hear them. Tits and ass will get you far.

Finally Quadrophenia – I loved the original album, love this movie version as well in which the songs were re-recorded with a bit more soundtrack appeal, I guess. A little more synthesizer & other keyboards. Some of these were telling my story. The movie is excellent as well. I’ve been out of my mind on more than the 5:15. The real me is now seen looking for a man called Francisco Mills.

Dear Santa                          

Dear Santa:

Please bring my Mom a new stove for Christmas so she can continue to cook up lots of wonderful food for us all year long. I know she needs a new stove because my dad says he longs for something in the oven so I won’t be so lonely. The oven of our stove is broken or something so please bring us a nice new stove. 

Please bring my Dad some new socks as my mom says his taste is socks stinks, as does his taste in most things. Her food tastes pretty good to him though and he always tells her that but if you could only bring him some nice socks so his feet wouldn’t stink. And some new sweaters too. He always wears the same old ones around the house on the week-end and even I get tired of that. 

And for me I want  to be able to hide and never be found, to win at hide and seek. I always get caught so please give me the ability to hide where I can never be found out until I want to be found out. 

I’d also like a building set to make the walls around me as nice as the one my mom says my dad has around him. She says sometimes she can’t see over it, when I can’t even see the wall she sees. So maybe you could bring me the magic glasses like the ones she must have so I can see the walls around people like she does. And also the building blocks like I said so I can build those walls too, as Dad says that’s the only protection he sometimes has between him and the rest of the world. They would be a great place for me to be never found.

If you don’t have any of those building blocks maybe you could bring me a sense of self worth. I’m not sure what that is but my Dad says my Mom really needs more of it and if she does so do I. He says things would be fine if we had a more realistic sense of self worth. I guess I’m worth about as much as he thinks I’m worth so I’m not sure what all that means but please bring me some of that as I know I’ll need it to build those walls around me when I grow up to be like my Mom and Dad.

I’d also like to have one of those magic sleep pillows I see on TV that give people nice dreams of running though fields of flowers. My dreams are never like that, in colour and with such pretty music. So if you can find me one or two of those pillows. I know life isn’t a dream ‘cause my dad says that a lot and I don’t expect it to be but if  I could  have some nice dreams at night I know I would be a better little boy in the day time. Dad doesn’t know what gets into me sometimes and neither do so please bring me one of those pillows because I know if can have some nice dreams get into me during the night then I would be much better in the day time.

The last thing I want is a way out of all this. We all want that. My Mom and Dad keep asking one another if they can see a way out of this. I say look there’s the door and my Mom laughs and says that to my Dad. She shows him the door but he doesn’t want to leave that way. He says she’s not getting out that easy either so please bring a way out that isn’t a door. I don’t know what that might be but I’m sure you do. Cause if you can find a way into our house without a chimney than then there must be another way out that isn’t a door.

thank you for every thing

Jimmy

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http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

September or October – feature – The Art Bar, Free Times Cafe

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From CupCakes to Pride Parades

A full day of presentations, workshops, a cup cake and a Pride parade – what more could one ask for 🙂 I sometimes try to pace myself – no back to back sessions but this year I did four in a row starting at 11:15 & finishing around 6:15. with no real lunch break either. I was pleased with myself for getting from the Fairfax to the Woolly Mammoth with no trouble at all. The route I worked out was shorter & faster than the one suggested by Google maps. So there!

Of course I did a Starbucks stop to get a little jolt of energy. First stop at Mammoth was the washroom for a piss & a washroom selfie. Next up was a presentation of poetry as theatre – three artists gave sample song their poetry to stage work. All very different & all very effecting. One saw that process challenges a poet to build a piece that can sustain itself beyond the slam time limit of 3.10 minutes. What if there was 10 minute slam? hmm.

Next was a presentation on Dangerous Art that started with a bit of art history & finished with some readings from Essex Hemphill & wrapped with some poets sharing their dangerous work. What was once considered dangerous by say Botticelli is now pretty safe stuff compared to Mapplethorpe.

Another brief lull and the session I hosted on geriatric writers over the age of 40. A fair turn out & some amazing work was shared. Clearly age doesn’t diminish but sharpens anger. I presents some of the Terra Cotta pieces & my transformation from comic queer to fuck you queer has been accomplished, though the comic hasn’t been abandoned.

Another longer lull & I got out for some sweltering weather, photos & a cup cake. Finally took in an actual hands-on writing workshop. Challenging exercise to write from the point of view of a randomly picked body part. I picked wrists. Then was partnered off with someone who had picked eyes & written about that. Then, this is a bit confusing, we each were to write a piece from our body part to their body part. I loved it.

This brought us up to after 6. I headed back to the hotel & exited into the DC Pride Parade in full swing. How f-ing long is this parade? Pushed through the clouds of rainbows to the Fairfax. Had some water then had to go out to get to CVS for juice & a salad for my supper. Usually CVS is step out go around the corner, cross the street & I’m there. But the streets were blocked so I had to do a circuit around & back. Lots of rainbow eye-candy – but nothing under that rainbow for me. Hey! There’s the start of a new piece – nothing under the rainbow 🙂

ages  names

44 44 58 37 49 47 50 40

 

Selim Esen

Abdulbasir Faizi

Majeed Kayhan

Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam

Andrew Kinsman

Dean Lisowick

Soroush Mahmudi

Skandaraj Navaratnam

 

all men

old enough

adults

not teen-age runaways

not ‘I’ll live forever’ twenty somethings

men

one commentator said

‘who should know better’

 

all men

all found dead

two white

6 missed

2 not missed until found dead

1 unnamed even when found dead

 

7 found online

all looking for love

that isn’t clear

all looking for sex

that isn’t clear

some seeking asylum

acceptance

finding limits pushed

but not expecting

to be pushed beyond limit

 

most so fearful

of discovery

they took what they could get

without … I want to say complaint

but no one knows

no one can know

what they were looking for

what they expected

we know what they got

death

 

a talking head on TV said

‘they learned their lesson’

what lesson

that homosexual men

are all sadistic murderous predators

a cliche

once more proved valid

or

dating apps aren’t to be trusted

that searching for sex

deserves to be punished with death

that they got what they deserved

 

they deserve better

than some talking head on TV

shifting blame

from perpetrator

to the dead

Glitter Reflections at #CapFire18

Friday I opted to do nothing – no tourist jaunts to conserve my energy for the Fire start later in the day. After hitting the DuPont club I went over to Ted’s Bulletin on 14th for their big breakfast. After a 10 to 15 minute wait for a table turned into 25 I left – clearly Friday is not a good day for someone wanting a single booth. Busboys & Poets was near by so I had a great burger there.

Rested at hotel. Selected the right shirt for the show. Left around 4:30 to give myself time to get lost finding the venue. Metro was simple enough as I get used to it. I got off at Chinatown/Gallery & even found the right direction on 7th. The maps all made Woolly Mammoth appear to close to 6th & D corner – where in fact it was nearly on the corner for 7th. A bit of walking in circles & I found it 🙂

Got my copy of the Stoked Words anthology. Lots of restaurants to choose from as this was centre of the theatre district. Chicken caesar & back to Woolly. Lots of familiar faces & the same old story. People starting conversations while looking over your shoulder for someone more compelling to talk to. I didn’t even bother trying to respond tho ‘how are you’ knowing full well they wouldn’t stay long enough to hear my response.

One poet asked what pronoun I preferred – which I think is great – but they were offended when I said ‘it.’ Rather than engage they rushed off to hug & chat with fiends who where less ‘challenging.’ It was great to see the Toronto crew though Charlie – in the demanding role of Slam Coordinator; D’Scribe in the demanding role of themself 🙂

The book launch was a true lesson in diversity, voice, style and world-view. With nearly 30 poets – or was it more, I lost count – I felt washed, baptized, sanctified & blessed. I also was reminded that the deeper the suffering the greater the authenticity. I don’t suffer enough, in my writing, to be considered authentic.

 

By the time all the poets had read I was exhausted to the point where I couldn’t hear anymore. Not that I was deaf but I wasn’t able to absorb any more poetry. I made my weary way back to the Fairfax. slipped more than my shoes. Checked my email. Laid down & fell asleep instantly. My sleep was deep and authentic.

on of my pieces in the anthology – not quite as it appears there as I tweaked it while waiting to perform 🙂

Oogie Inferno

if you’re thinkin’ I’m too cool to boogie

boy oh boy have I got news for you

I love the sweaty potential of the dance floor

the solid mass of men mobile  shifting

eagerly crammed     crowded by the bass line

the righteous revival fever of a contralto

everybody here tonight must boogie

let me tell ya’ I was no exception to the rule

the heat was on (burnin’),

rising to the top, huh!

eyes closed    hands open

 

shirtless strutters in sweat soaked satin shorts

muscles      bloated bellies

a guy spinning in circles in his wheelchair

no one cares

as flesh wound around   pulled by the driving

boogie oogie oogie

 

an endless moment of contact high

thigh to thigh contact

the heat was on, rising to the top

where the keyboard was underfoot

put your feet to the beat

peak after peak of solid state sweat

turn this beat around

no voice heard that wasn’t amplified

no time to waste

let’s get this show on the road

listen to the music and let our bodies flow

yowsa yowsa yowsa      dance dance dance

shame shame shame

we were shimmering glittering

ready to take on the future

beep beep toot toot

 

I love the moment of stepping into the mass

the sooner I begin the longer I’ve got to groove

listen to the music and let bodies move

make a space for myself

get approving once overs

then not care who’s lookin’

but when my spark got hot

I heard somebody say

Burn baby burnin’ the house down

gonna boogie oogie oogie

till you just can’t boogie no more

 

I love the blur as I am transported

out the body    out of the mind

satisfaction (uhu hu hu) in the chain reaction

released from all sense of self

except for the one caught       immersed

push push in the bush bush

lost for hours

boogie oogie oogie

 

taking a breather wet glistening

asked what are you on

having my answer of nothing disbelieved

as if the music and testosterone

aren’t enough for me to

burn that cocksucker down

because have I got news for you

this could be the last dance

everybody here tonight must

boogie oogie oogie

The Sadness Zoo

One day 2 – I slept in to 6 a.m.! The room was quiet & the bed comfortable as I had unmade it properly the night before. Checked email, ate my ‘healthy’ breakfast: yogurt with kiwi; milk & cereal; juice & tea. some meditation, readings, washed up & out to Dupont Circle club for a morning meeting. Back to The Fairfax for sunblock. Found that, despite my instructions on check in – my bed had been made. All I ask is to leave the bed unmade – why is that so difficult for them to understand. I called the front desk & made that request again. But I digress 🙂

Walked up and up and up Connecticut to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Sprawling and nicely organized &, gasp, crawling with children & tour groups. Paths were well marked & everything was inviting. No one seems to realize that many animals sleep in the day so many where there but hard to see in the shady comfort of their shelters.

I had no agenda – ooh I have to see the …. It was interesting enough to see zebras, gnus & such. The elephant habitat had Indian, African & Asian elephants. I got a few okay pics. I went through the ‘small mammal’ house & the kids were imitating the lion something monkeys that pop their heads out of their houses to stare at people staring at them. Reptile House was not that creepy – snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators, crocodiles. I didn’t know there were Philippine crocodiles. 

The orangutang, gorillas & other monkeys have their own ‘house.’  This is were the sadness of the zoo was most apparent to me. These animals were lifeless or belligerent and far from content. They were too unhappy for me too want to photograph them. I wondered if this was true of the bison, the zebras that were in captivity here. They weren’t merely, for the most part, docile but were clearly depressed.

Stopped at the endangered species carousel for a snack & water & some pictures of the carousel. After two hours I’d had enough sad animals so skipped the seal, the pandas, & the big cats. After buying some tee-shirts (which made me happy) I headed back to the Fairfax to relax in the cage I was paying for.

More Picture of my Visit to the Zoo http://topoet.tumblr.com/post/174645459628/a-visit-to-the-zoo-toronto-washington.

Lost In Space

Thursday, Day 3, started the same way as Day 2. Routine morning at hotel, over to DuPont Club for a meeting, back to hotel to freshen up. Double checked route to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Transit to Union Station. Bought a bottle of water & started walking & walking & walking.

I didn’t realize that there were two First streets 😦 one NE the other NW – so I went east instead of west.I did get to see parts of the city I never would have seen. It took me an hour to get turned around in the right direction. Let me tell you I nearly gave up & called a cab to take me back to the hotel.

Yet I persisted & finally found it. First stop washroom – blasting my piss into space – well maybe not – I think they missed an opportunity there. History of Air on one end, Space Travel on the other. After watching a doc on the Cosmonauts I was pleased to see some of the Russian rocketry there. Along with Yuri Gagarin’s flight suit – it was hung in such a way that it made him appear a foot taller than he was.

The place, much like the zoo, was swarming with matched tee-shirt tour groups of children/teens. People blocking one another views to take photos. If they could aha they would have been climbing into the cockpits of the suspended planes. It was fascinating.

The history of air wasn’t as interesting. Lot sou planes suspended. Jets. Bi-planes, even a hot air balloon. A little too much of the science & not enough of, say, the history of airliner washrooms or flight crew uniforms. Worth seeing though. Of course my final stop there was the gift shop. Where, amongst other things, I bought an amazing 24 ounce travel mug for my next return trip home to Mars.

more pics: A Visit to Space

http://topoet.tumblr.com/post/174677421493/a-visit-to-space-1-russian-space-rocket-with-big