Outside the Box (a Christmas Story)


“Happiness is for pigs and wishes are for children,” Trevor announced to all and sundry. His deep baritone cut like a foghorn through the smoke and noise at Oliver’s Pub, which is located just across from Holly’s Beach and right around the corner from our bookstore. It’s a pleasant place to conclude a day’s work over a pint or two.

“That’s not true,” said the pretty young woman who was standing at the bar, beside where Trevor straddled his favourite barstool. “Happiness is there for everybody and wishes can come true,” she declared with conviction. “Isn’t that right, Jack?”

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Shots in Paradise


 

This story took place in the seventies, long before smart phones with cameras or mandatory child seats in cars.

Travelling with a kid had its drawbacks, but it also had a lot of

advantages. The native people loved children; it was their only God given wealth, and they always helped us gladly and reverently stroked Red’s hair in open adulation, which drove him nuts. The country was poor in materials, wealthy in population. Most of the people struggled to get some food into their bellies. The rich landscape contrasted starkly with the naked poverty of the populace. But then the land didn’t belong to the people that worked it with their bare hands and primitive tools.

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Charley


 

We just spent some time on a small tropical island in the Caribbean, which is home to about 10’000 people, the size of a good size village. Pristine beaches on leeward side, rough reefs and panoramic views on the windward side. One main street, several rum shops, a couple of grocery stores, a hard ware store, the jetty where all the activity is concentrated twice a day: when the ferry docks and again a couple of hours later when it departs. The town features one football field with a track surrounding it. It gets used for sports, civic celebrations, carnival and any other official activity that requires a large space. That about sums it up.

On the first day I noticed this young man

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QUINN (a love story)


It was 1973 and we were all 40 years younger, unless we weren’t born yet. I was still trying to get over Mona who was also my partner in a vain attempt to introduce a vegetarian restaurant into the Italian and Portuguese neighbourhood. Both ventures failed – the relationship and the business – mainly because Mona needed to expand both her physical and spiritual realm with a cherubic Yogi from India. I salvaged enough cash out of the wreckage to enable me to escape to Mexico for the winter in my cherished VW van, before Mona handed it all over to her Yogi to free herself (and me) from material entanglements.

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Margarita Insights


            The sun was just dipping into the pacific ocean in a phantasmagorical display of fiery colours as only seen in southern latitudes.  Like every day since we arrived in Zihuatenejo Clare and I usually celebrate this free display of natures power and arrogance with a couple of margaritas. Today we were joined by Will, who by his own account is “a solar refugee escaping the northern rains and a couple of ex-wives.” He  is also a bit of a local celebrity, a role he gladly lives up to. His walks for miles every day along all the local beaches and can be spotted for a long ways off thanks to his canary yellow shorts, T-shirt and cap with the iconic Corona label emblazoned on everything except his sandals. He claims to be sponsored by the beer company which basically manifests itself in us always paying for his beers. Nevertheless I think it’s a great act, true or imagined. It doesn’t take away from the character he portrays with full conviction. After all everybody plays a part in the charade and parade of life, some are just more colourful than others. With his long grey hair, bushy eyebrows and pointed  Don Quixote beard, clad in bright yellow he makes quite the picture

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Dave and the Knee


I first met Dave in Spanish class in Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Although Dave’s Spanish was much superior to mine we ended up in the same group.   After class we usually strolled down to the main plaza and sat down in one of several cafés under the gothic arches of the colonial palaces surrounding the plaza. We would sip coffees, play cribbage and tell stories.

Dave and I took an instant liking to each other despite or maybe because of our completely different backgrounds. For Dave life was one big practical joke with endless variations. He was a natural story teller and most of his yarns were about his crazy family. Dave’s fantastic family history included a saint of a mom, a knife wielding schizophrenic ex-wife, a lovable, alcoholic twin brother, a golf-pro lesbian sister, three dysfunctional kids and a myriad of other odd ball relatives, all of whom he dearly loved. Dave’s family history was the modern equivalent of 100 years of solitude in Minneapolis.

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As the World Turns


“I’m in love!” – I think I am – I know I am !

None of my former relationships could stand the test of time. Infatuation and lust gave way to personality clashes and quarrels, at the root of which was usually money. I’m an artist; a pretty good one I believe; I work hard at it, but so far commercial success has eluded me.

But my life has changed in the past couple of months. Like I said: I’m in love. Fortune seems to be on my side for once. The object of my love and adoration is a real lady; rich, pretty and head over heels in love with me. There is just one minor obstacle to our final happiness – she is married to this overweight, middle aged businessman. The marriage is one sided. He is so deeply attached to her that any thought of letting her go is ludicrous.

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The Gift


We met Lukas and Germaine at a dinner party and the casual conversation took a turn into the topic of giving and receiving. Giving aid, giving presents at Christmas and even giving gifts without any expectations of receiving anything for it. Lukas and Germaine spent several years in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, he as an English professor at the University of Nairobi and she as a healthcare administrator. They lived affluent lives, well paid foreigners in a society which rewards those in the right social position very well and often their salaries were   topped up with extravagant gifts like cars or even houses.

“I want you to have my car. It’s a brand new Mercedes but I have 2 of them and you need a decent car,” the Deputy Minister of education said to Lukas during an afternoon tea at the University.

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The Quest


We used to work together, many years ago and we live in the same town bur we hardly ever met socially. By sheer chance we both stood side by side watching the annual Sea Cavalcade parade: the make shift floats full of kids throwing candy, the golden girls in vintage cabriolets followed by a pipe band and then, as every year, the service vehicles: Ambulance, Fire trucks, Police cruiser. We both waited for our wives who were busy. With the parade over we decided to have a pint together at Grandma’s Pub, right on the water, overlooking the government harbour. A mix of working boats and pleasure craft lined the busy docks and we could hear the mast lines dinging in the breeze.  Beyond the harbour sat the long green shape of Keats Island with it’s holiday houses, framed against the coastal mountains and the bright blue sky above. After our beers arrived we reminisced about the good old days in the movie business.

“1998 was a great year, I made lots of money. Come to think of it I make about the same now as I did then?” Carl said and took a swallow of his pint.

“Same here,” I said and added “Some things never change. I work more for less it seems.”

We laughed and clinked glasses. And then we both sat quiet, lost in our thoughts, absorbed by the pristine view.

“You want to hear a strange little story,” Carl asked, stroking his stubbly chin and without waiting for my response continued. “A couple of weeks ago Wendy, my wife, and I were browsing in a a second hand shop, I think it was a Sally Ann, in West Van, killing some time before a doctors appointment. Since I didn’t see anything useful for myself I went outside to wait, knowing full well that she was going to find something.

“Look what I found,” she gushed when she emerged from the store, and proudly held out her hand which cradled a pink heart shaped, shiny soap-dish-like object  with the word ‘Mom’embossed in silver letters across the top.

“What is this, a paperweight?” I asked. It looked and felt like it was made of some kind of polished stone or porcelain. “Let me see that.” There was a silver lid inlaid on the back side of the delicate box with the small stamped words In Memoriamon it..  I shook it and heard nothing, than I pried the lid open with my penknife with Wendy looking on intrigued.  The small vessel was full of white ashes and something that I took to be a tiny bone fragment.

“These are human remains,” I said to Wendy who took a step back. I immediately snapped the lid back in place. We both felt like we had disturbed some kind of order in the universe and I felt a discordant twang in my gut, like I’ve seen a ghost or something. We carefully put the mini porcelain urn – because that’s what it was – back in Wendy’s bag and now we were late for the appointment. We didn’t broach the subject again until we were sitting back on the ferry going home.

“Oh my God, what are we going to do?”

I knew right away what Wendy was referring to. I didn’t know but some kind of action was required.

“What did you do?” I asked, keen to hear the rest of the story.

“We took out an ad in the ‘West Ender’, hoping somebody would come forward. A son, a daughter, maybe grandkids. Momwas obviously somebody’s mother.

We waited a couple of weeks and when no response came our way, I called Martin, the local Anglican minister, for advice. We knew each other from the Legion.          “Do whatever you deem dignified, according to your religion or believe and dispose of it with respect. That’s all you can do,” was his sage advice.

Wendy and I discussed this matter as seriously as if we were somehow related to Momand I felt that indeed we kind of were bound together now. We were of the same global tribe after all and owed each other some basic things like respect, dignity and closure. We decided to take Momfor a trip up the coast in our sailboat. In fact it was the catalyst for our annual summer sail. Mombecame our quest.’

We both concentrated on our beers for a moment and then Carl continuesd.

‘We settled on Princess Louisa Inlet for a fitting resting place for Mom. The sail up the west coast took us past some of the most spectacularly dramatic landscape anywhere, rugged, rocky shores with the odd house poking out of the mantle of green trees which draped over the steep, wild and rocky country, inhospitable, but scenically beautiful. We had all the creature comforts of modern life on board as well as charts and a VHF, cell phones and cameras and we always marvelled about the explorers of old who sailed these waters without comfort and no idea where their wretched journey would lead to or end. Names like Deserted Bayand Desolation Sound, which today is one of the most coveted destinations for boaters were not dispensed with hope but with a keen sense of desperation.

We sailed past Nelson Island and tucked into Jervis inlet, motored up the Royal Reaches until we found the hidden entrance halfway up Queens Reach. We entered Princess Louisa Inlet through the Malibu rapids at high tide and emerged into a body of water about 1 km wide and 5 km long, flanked by mile high perpendicular cliffs with cascading waterfalls tumbling into the dark green water from both sides. At the end of the inlet is chatterbox falls which is a grand curtain of water in one of natures most spectacular theatres backlit by the sun which was about to fall behind the snow capped mountain tops.

We stopped short of the dock at the end of the inlet and in a moment of silence and calm we dropped the pink, heart shaped porcelain urn into the luminous water and followed it with our eyes as it descended into the deep, fading and disappearing to it’s final resting place. I felt a strange elation and peace come over me and I took Wendy’s hand and even though we are not religious, and  have no illusions about god or an after life we touched an inner place that came from the center and it made us feel good and at one with the world.”

Carl fell silent and we both sat there, looking out at the harbour and sun dappled blue water. “Nobody has quests anymore,” Carl said, draining his beer, “and it felt good to have a quest and see it through. For those few days we lived with a purpose and it gave our lives a focus that was beyond money and goals.”

It was time to finish our beers and go back to meet our respective people. I felt like giving Carl a hug but that would have been too awkward for both of us. Instead I shook his hand. I felt like he had given me a gift and I thanked him.