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Life is returning to a semblance of normalcy, thank God!

Dad's been transitioned into Hospice care at the lovely nursing home where he resides. My daily visits are no longer a source of stress and anxiety, but a source of strength and joy.

Dad and I were both really scared of the "Hospice" word. We're old-fashioned. The new method of delivering hospice care is really, really cool. It's just a way of providing an extra "layer" of caregivers who visit with him daily and make him comfortable. All medical oncology is now out of the picture; palliative care is what it's all about. Thankfully, the kind of cancer my dad has is not causing any pain; and the small amount of discomfort is being addressed with Oxycodone twice daily; so he's very much alert, awake, and sharp as ever.

I had the good fortune of being there when his meditation counselor came. What a wonderful soul! The lady took us both through a guided-imagery meditation for relaxation, health, and well-being. She gave me the script; and now I read it to dad before I leave, and he falls asleep with a smile on his face when I'm done.

Despite the burden that I bear, at the last minute, I decided to participate in The Nodermeet Upon Which The Sun Never Sets. Check the node for my w/u and check here for contact information. I'm hesitant to give my cell phone number out on the Internet, but I check my email very frequently.

Business is as frenetic as usual (good and bad). So therefore I've made a commitment to myself to dive back in to E2 and bask in its riches. I just need to shake off the sleep a little earlier and get the heck on-line!

I'm more upbeat now than I've been in months. A good two weeks have gone by without bouts of tears nor emotional spiking/bottoming.

I'll see you guys around - more often than in the past months!

Love and my best,


"When becoming single is bad, having a smart arse computers makes it worse."
An entry for Wordmongers' Masque - please consider this 'experimental'.

It started last night when I was meeting Jodie for dinner. She completely stood me up! We were supposed to be meeting up in town at 8. By the time it got to 10 past I'd decided it was getting a bit late, even by her standards. I tried calling, but her Agent just said she was in an important call. Doing a location request said that she was out of range and had no history for the last 24 hours. Now there's no way that's possible. This isn't the 30s! Unless she was floating somewhere in the Atlantic, in a row boat, she would have been picked up by a hotspot. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet she was blocking me. By the time I gave up I was too wound up to let the drinks give me a buzz so I just went home.

I went round this morning to say hi and find out what was up. She just said that it wasn't working out, and she need to be doing stuff on her own for a while. Cheers, thanks for letting me know before I went to out last night. I just had to go and get it out of my system and go for a drive.

When I got in the car, I switched on and put my foot down. 30kW drives on each wheel means that I don't exactly hang around. My Agent (George) complained at me saying that the wet conditions would "lead to reduced traction", so I turned the traction control off. When he complained at me again, I just had him turned off all the warnings.

I was starting to calm down by the time I hit the motorway. I'm not sure just how fast I was going when I was on the slip road but I think I saw the tyre temperature gauge flick to red. I was on complete manual control even down to the aero features, one hand setting the spoiler angle and the on the wheel. George didn't appreciated that very much. I think I'd got up to about 130 or something when the console indicated a drive fault and the car put itself into safe mode. If you've never seen that happen before, basically the software reduces the power of all the drives so you can limp to the side of the road. I just had to pull on to the hard shoulder and wait for George to put the call in to the breakdown people.

Now here's where George really surprised me. When I'd stopped the car and switched it off, he started making small talk. Now he hasn't done this since I first got him, before I had him properly configured. It was really stupid suff like "So how often does a drive fail like that? Isn't it annoying?" and then move on to "I noticed you weren't happy last night. Why was that?". Alarm bells were ringing in my head so I just asked him what was up. It turns out that Jodie's Agent had contacted him because she'd said that we'd split up in her journal. He then went into super observant mode and then consulted some public access expert system. He concluded that I might be a danger to myself. It turns out that one of the drives hadn't failed at all, he'd just switched the car into safe mode because I was driving so aggressively and thought I might hit something or someone. He probably realised that if I die, he just gets turned off.

Now that he'd got me on the side of the road and assessed the situation, he decided that I was actually alright and agreed to let me drive myself home. He did warn me not to drive so hard though, and insisted that all the safety gadgets be switched on. Where's the fun in that? When I got home there was a message from my mate Mark asking if I was alright. (George had contacted him apparently.) In the end we just decided to go to the pub and have some proper booze with our Agents safely on their charging stands.

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Ghosts hate salt: who knew?

More cultural differences ahoy.

Monday evening I went from cheerfully diseased to morosely diseased as the sore throat + soar ears turned into a full out, achey body tired cold thingy, but with less stuffy nose and more searing throat pain. I didn't eat much at dinner and my family got worried.

The first thing they told me of course is that I should take a break from studying for my Japanese class, which I honestly would love. I take a certain pleasure in homework, I'll admit, but not this much of it. This much is just torturous. I do absolutely nothing the week long except go to school, use the internet for an hour, go home and study until bed time, interspersed by meals. Nothing else.

I gave my parents a call as I'd promised and they likewise told me that, (A) The grade I'll get in this program doesn't matter, neither to them nor to my transcript since U of C doesn't count it anyway. (B) I'm on summer vacation for goodness sake. A certain amount of vacating comes part and parcel. (C) Stop studying, go to bed, and take a break from school tomorrow. That's an order.

I was planning to go to school anyway, but the next morning I really did feel too sick to make it, so I asked my host parents to call in sick for me and slept till noon. I gradually started to feel better from there, up to feeling almost normal by the time my host mom returned from a parent teacher conference for her daughter around 3:30pm.

She made a snack for Kouichiro, my host brother, and I asked if I could have something to eat too. So she whipped out the cutting board and the vegetables and made me a soup from scratch. I was thinking more on the lines of, like, a piece of toast or something, but she was already cooking before I could protest that I didn't want to put her to any trouble.

As she cooked and I watched Kouichiro play with his food, she mentioned that today she was fairly busy. I immediately went into OMG PANIC mode and started apologizing for making so much trouble for her and worrying her and everything I could have possibly done to have made her day more stressful. See, the way I interepreted this was that she was subtly trying to tell me I was being a bit of a burden.

About half way through my apologies, she started plowing right over me and apologized to me for not being home and not taking care of me and being a bad host mother.

What what who now?

You're making me chicken soup from scratch just because I mentioned yesterday that that's what American culture dictates for sick people (she'd asked me what American mothers give their kids when they're sick) and you're calling yourself a bad host mother? So I switched tracks and praised her for everything she'd been doing and insisted that she was not a bad host mother and that I could sleep contendedly for a couple of hours while she went to a parent teacher's conference without any trouble.

Sheesh. "Bad host mother," you're making me chicken soup from scratch, o-kaasan. You're the most awesome host mother ever. The soup was delicious, by the way. A very Japanese take on chicken soup, but delicious.

I still feel like I was a real burden to my family yesterday, worrying them with what turned out to be nothing major. Earlier in the day I'd asked if she could take me to the doctor, because I wondered whether it was mono with how tired the illness seemed to be making me, and then I ended up feeling fine by the end of the day. I was embarrassed to have made them think it was anything more serious.

To mention a more obvious cultural difference, I was watching TV while my host mother was in the bath with the two kids and the doorbell rang. Of course, this being Japan, it wasn't just the doorbell, a little video screen lit up by the fax machine showing my host father standing at the door. Curious as to whether he'd locked himself out or something similar and further more curious why he hadn't been at dinner, I opened the door and said the traditional, "Welcome home."

My host father just stood there, in a dark suit and tie that he never wears, looking awkward. "Is... uh... is Mom there?" he asked.

I shook my head. "She's in the bath with the kids."

"Oh... oh. Umm. Well, you see, I... er... I can't come in."

"You can't come in?"

"Yeah... you see... I just came from a funeral for an old teacher and... umm..." at this point he looked very uncomfortable, "...if I come in, the ghosts will follow me, you see?"

"Oh. Right."

"And we don't want ghosts in the house. They'll make trouble."

"Of course."

"So, um... do you know where the salt is?"


"Could you maybe bring it?"

I suppressed my laughter until I'd gotten well out of his presence and into the kitchen, where I chuckled a little silently. Okay, I admit it, I found the situation amusing, not only because of the somewhat surreal image of him poking his head through the door, using his body to block it I guess to make sure the ghosts couldn't get through, but also because he knew I'd think this was a little weird and he was adorably uncomfortable about it.

Shush, they get to have this sort of entertainment at my expense 24/7, allow me my moment.

Anyway, I returned with the salt, probably with the remnants of a smile on my face, and he sprinkled salt on both shoulders, then brushed them off.

"Ghosts hate salt, you see," he explained.

"Oh. Okay."

And now you know. And knowing's half the battle.

Now that I think about it further, if I had just taken tea like a respectable gentleman, I would not be in this position. One week ago I had a mindless, quotidian choice between taking tea with the fellows in Post-Newtonian Physics or going back to my office to mark papers. At that time it appeared that either choice would not have any lasting effect, but as they say, appearances are deceiving.

While I was sipping tea and reading a poorly-composed précis on Marx, a courier entered my study without so much as knocking. Before I could say anything, the weathered courier (tracking mud all over my Indian carpet) placed a single oilskin envelope on my desk and left, without saying a word. The note, as it turned out, was a tersely written request for my presence in the study of one Doctor Zhivorad of Macedonia, in precisely three days.

Three days is hardly enough time to travel from London to Kumanovo, but the urgency of the note and Zhivorad's renown (he was a Most Highly Esteemed Fellow of the Royal Society) seemed sufficient reason to pillage my expense account and hire a private airship.

I vaguely remember entering the study of the professor with some degree of apprehension. The doctor, a swarthy man of maybe thirty years, sat at his desk smoking a pipe of something that smelled too sweet to be tobacco, and yet too sour to be a derivative of Cannabis sativa. Smoke filtered up through the dying light that trickled through the venetian blinds. He was smiling, well, grinning really, and made no attempt to rise. I sat down quickly and exchanged pleasantries.

"I am glad you have come," said Professor Zhivorad in an accent thick as Turkish delight, "especially on such short notice." Who calls two days' notice to travel half-way around the world short notice? "May I offer you anything before we get started? I'm afraid once I've started, I won't be able to stop until I reach the end."

"I'm fine, really. Thanks."

"Well then, where can I begin? I wish I could start from the beginning, but that would take entirely too long. You're aware of most of my research in biological phenomena, anyway, so perhaps I should start from my first meeting with Neval. I had been researching the effects of — oh, damn it; what's the scientological term for it? Röntgenstrahlen? On living tissues." At least, I think he said Röntgenstrahlen; his German was even worse than his English.

"We weren't using animals, of course, but live cultures of Escherichia coli. Neval was one of my research students, recently transfered from the Sorbonne. She was radiant, truly radiant, like a bird caged in its youth that is freed before it has forgotten what freedom is. By this I mean she was a Muslim, but of the new generation that are not so tied to tradition. Oh, you needn't look at me like that; I knew I shouldn't have gotten involved with a student but — well, as your people say, 'one thing led to another.'"

My mind wandered as he recounted the too-familiar tale of their relationship. It occurred to me that his pipe had started to smolder pitifully as its phlogiston exhausted itself.

"Of course, I didn't allow our romance to interfere with my — well, our — research. As Nevi and I repeated our experiments, we discovered the most amazing thing: using samples from the same batch of bacteria produced different results. I'm sure you're aware of your countryman Darwin's theory that predicts such things in genetic lines, but our host batch had never been exposed to the rays. There was no linear natural selection; as it were, it was as if the host culture sensed the remote death of its progeny."

Some part of me was shocked at this momentous revelation, but that part was buried under wooly blankets and tuckered up next to a fireplace. A final wisp rose bravely from the dead embers. I felt thoroughly numb.

"Then, one night, as I was completing a paper on the theory, I discovered a note in her belongings. Two words:

'ihn umbringen'

And suddenly everything fit together. Her encyclopedic knowledge of my research, my papers, despite the gaping holes in her understanding elsewhere, horribly confirmed my theory. Even the mumbling in her sleep, that seemed suddenly less Turkish and more Teutonic — Oh, I should have known. Or perhaps I did all along and just refused to admit it. She was no doubt a seductress, an assassin...!"

I blinked, exanimate, as the pipe fell and clattered on the desk. Doctor Zhivorad's mouth was half open, but the musculature reminded me not of a living being that had spoken a second before, but of the teaching cadavers at Cambridge. I stood, too numb to be concerned. For the first time, I saw the knife jutting out of his abdomen, covered in what appeared to be week-old blood.

I walked, dimly, out of the study. But there she was, holding the mate to the jagged kris that slayed her lover and teacher. How could Zhivorad have known she knew about his last trump card? No time for questions, I could not resist; she stabbed me through the chest. But death did not come. As I lie here in my own blood and bile, I make one last hypothesis: the recovery of emotion marks the end of Doctor Zhivorad's herbal remedy for death. And now, I feel regret at not taking tea with the post-Newtonians.

There's nothing more Victorian than a masquerade ball...

Shadows and splatters of red and wet are all that's left of my company since the last wave of devices ran through. There's not much left of you to bury when a buzzgrenade goes off at your feet. Mostly just a smell like old batteries and a layer of brown over everything.

I used to think that I'd love to get a machine gun and go share some of my happy thoughts with the pretty rich white toymakers who dreamed these little death-dolls up. If it wasn't for 30-second advertising spots in the middle of Dora the Explorer, my kids and their kids and everybody else's whining little brats wouldn't have given a second thought to the furry little lions and frogs and bunnies that “Does Everything Your Child Does” - or did. Now my children are dead because their favorite toy-walking-kangaroo-cum-Terminator got the notion to push a No. 2 pencil through their temples late one night.

Hey kids, guess what Santa brought you this year? Seven and a half pounds of metal and fur and weapons-grade semiconscious neural network. Just like a cruise missile!

I kick aside the scarlet-hot skeleton of a toy pig with my steeltoes and plunge my fingers into a pile of brown that's had enough time to cool. I get three dogtags for my efforts.

Just a bad combination. That's what the swine-faced company spokesperson said on TV three weeks ago, when the first foam-rubber Winnie the Pooh killed the first toddler with the handle of a spoon. Just a mistake in design that allowed a nineteen-year-old hacker somewhere in Jersey to upload a modified military ghost into the nanoprocessor grid of a Smart Toy. Just a bad calculation that made them decide to add a wireless interface so the toys could “play together”. Works wonders for spreading computer viruses. Not to mention battlefield coordination.

Speaking of battlefield coordination, I think I need to move my troop to a more secure location. This meat freezer is already half vaporized, and I can hear more of the furry deathballs coming now.

The most frigged-up part of the whole thing, at least in my mind, is the stuff that comes out of their mouths while they're turning you to snail fodder. Things like “Are you having fun? I think this is a lot of fun”, and “Let's all play a game!”. One thing is for sure, somebody here is having a ball.

I stick my head up over the side of the of the freezer in time to see the sliding doors way up at the front of the Wal-Mart we're bivouacked in grind open. I can see the tops of their heads – blue, green, yellow, purple, spots, stripes, shiny metal carapaces. They're sort of toddling in. Just little toy toddlers, except there's about seven hundred of them. All of them are carrying something.

For stuffed animals, these little monsters are incredibly hard to kill. After all, they've nearly wiped out the population of Denver in about 20 days. They're mostly synthetic fur and batting, with a bit of cheap wire and a brainbox to make them go. Odds are, the first three or four sidearm rounds you put into them are only going to hit stuffing. Three or four rounds to a kill is way too much; there's ten thousand of them in this city alone.

There's no way I'm going to sit here and let a battalion of stuffed seals and bears and Little Mermaids with scalpels and machetes come to me; it only took one rubber snail with a grenade to take out ten of my buddies this morning; hell knows what kind of weapons this bunch might have.

One thing is good; I've got no lack of firepower. I was able to get a few good shotguns and some hunting rifles from the sporting goods department, and something like 9,000 assorted rounds for them. The rotting corpse behind the counter didn't even run a Brady check on me.

The mixed herd of brightly colored killing machines has begun to break up and wander around the store. They seem to be forming groups by type. A row of five blue penguins waddles single-file past my aisle without looking in my direction. They are chanting, “I love you. Will you be my penguin friend?” over and over. One of them is carrying a wad of bloody, blonde hair between its flipper hands.

The TV ads said that the batteries in Smart Toys never need to be replaced. A radio bulletin a few days ago clarified that to “We think the power supplies are rated to last 70 or 80 years”. Talk about a toy that will last the rest of your life.

I rise to a crouch, both of my hands full of Remington 16-gauge. I feel incredibly vulnerable with my head above the edge of the meat freezer. How many eyes are out there? A thousand? I imagine I've been seen already. I hold the weapon to my shoulder, take brief aim, and let fire. A shiny plastic elephant explodes in a cloud of blue. I pump the shotgun again, and this time I take out a cluster of bright green parrots. The last thing I hear from them before I bust their brainpans is one of them saying, “Oh look! A new friend! Can I play with your toy?” I'll have to remember that one the next time I need a dirty joke.

It only takes a few seconds to reload the dinky two-round magazine once I've done it a few times. The area around my position is littered with chunks of plastic, fur, and electronic parts. I guess some of them had a chance to radio in the good news before I disassembled them. I can see them coming at me now. They remind me of zombies.

My weapons roars again. Three more down. If I'm quick, I just might be able to keep them off until... I don't know what. I don't think they're capable of giving up. Maybe I should thin them down a bit, then run for it. It's only 30 yards to the front doors.

I'm close to the ground again, opening another cardboard box of sharp-smelling ammo when the penguins rounded the far corner of the freezer. I can't see any weapons from where I am. They're waddling in my direction now. They look like a platoon of miniature Grim Reapers.

I finish reloading my weapon, and I take out two of them in a single shot. I pump the handle and take aim to finish the others.

Robot penguin number three lifts his flippers up over his head, tips touching. I just have time to see the glint of metal there before he throws it. Quick little bugger. If I hadn't tried to jump up and move, the unfolded Swiss Army knife would have been in my chest instead of the folds of my cargoes.

No more of this bull, I thought, and ended their penguin misery with an injection of American firepower. The Second Amendment was never intended to defend us from our own toys, but I guess we're stretching it just a bit today. I'm sure Thomas Jefferson wouldn't mind.

I can hear the gibbering critters in all directions now. I can't stay here anymore. I stuff as much ammo as I can into my pockets, and tuck four of the best guns under my arms. I hope those doors don't stick.

No point in hesitating now. I'm up and running before I'm even sure I'm going to move. I can hear the thick clicking of hollowpoints and cartridge caps smacking together in the pouches on my legs.

It's incredible how far a hundred feet can be when there's shooting going on. I get about halfway before I hear gunfire behind me, and I see what's left of the glass doors shatter outward, obliterating a handful of toys standing in the arcade-vending area.

I'm not stopping now. The crumpled frames of the doors are right there in front of me. Either I'm going to get out of here or I'm not. I'm not going to volunteer to die in Wal-Mart at the hands of a toy walrus. Another volley of gunfire erupts somewhere behind me, and I drop to my elbows and skid through the mangled doorway, gouging my arms on the twisted doorframes.

I low-crawl through the arcade, ignoring the smell of rotten coke and burnt popcorn, holding my head below the level of the second doorframe. I hear a “plunk”. Oh my god. Too late to worry what's on the other side of that door. I'm on my feet and out of there in three seconds. Good thing, too, because the grenade goes off in four. I suppose I would have been turned to brown goop too if there wasn't a Pepsi machine next to the door to provide cover for me.

The buzzgrenade bursts with a dry “phump”. Heatwaves whoosh out of the open entryway, shattering car windows in the parking lot and causing the vending machine to sort of droop. I can smell my hair burning. I pat it out without thinking.

I make my way across the long front wall, keeping a foot or so away from the painted brick. Reduces the chances of being hit by a rico. I drop behind a newspaper stand to take a look around. I can't see anything important besides a bunch of burned out automobiles and a machinegun manned by what appear to be Energizer bunnies. They're beating their little drums and saying, “We keep going and going and going and going...” They aren't shooting yet; they haven't noticed me. I can move quietly when I have to...

I holler at the top of my lungs. I bend over, clutching myself and trying not to cry. A baby doll about two feet tall is standing in front of me, gearing up to kick me in the softies again.

You can beat me, you can humiliate me, you can even kill me, but you are NOT going to do that. I rip her fool head off before she knows what hit her.

I have to get behind cover before something worse happens, or my softies aren't going to matter very much anyhow. I see the burnt-out hull of a Chevy pickup parked halfway around the corner.

I slip from behind the USA TODAY machine, and gain the pickup without being noticed. It's a good thing Wal-Mart parking lots are always slanted. I grab the metal stub of gearshift and pop it into neutral. It rolls downhill, past the edge of the store, and out into the open parking lot. No bullet can penetrate fifty SUVs.

It's been three hours now. I'm hiding out of sight in the cab of the truck. I think – I hope – that I'll be able to slip off under the cover of darkness in a little while. I don't know if Smart Toys can see in the dark or not. I suppose it's my only chance.

Something taps the driver-side window. Oh gee, It's Barney the Dinosaur with an Uzi. I love you too, Barney.

Being Sunday, what seems to be the one day of the week for religion on this continent, I had planned to go to my own, almost meditative experience, Quaker Meeting for Worship. The idea is based upon spirituality and silence, and is essentially a period of extended silence with open reflections. Anyone can speak out, telling the house their thoughts, but is encouraged to keep the meeting, for the most part, quiet.

I hadn't gotten enough sleep last night, so I ditched the experience for my own meditation, in the form of sleeping late. I was pretty fucking tired, and it was quiet enough since no one was in the house. I don't mean to be sacreligious, I was just exhausted and couldn't make the trip.

Having spent the last night at my father's house, I had to make the trip back up to North York, being in Semi-downtown Toronto at the time. My father just had hip replacement surgery, so he couldn't drive. I took the Subway up.

If you're ever in Toronto, and on the subway you should know that the subway station between Castle Frank and Broadview is the most gorgeous sight for someone who's been in the underground for too long. It takes those on the train over a valley, bathing them in green. There are people jogging on paths below, a highway, railroad tracks, trees, and a view of what I believe is the scenic polluted Don River. I'm probably wrong. There's a video capture of it online - google "Broadview Castle Frank". Feel lucky.

I remember being on a train downtown with a friend, if that's what you want to call her. We passed the station, as I had before, and she was so captured that we took the train back to Castle Frank, and again to Broadview before going on our way. We saw it three times (she saw it four, because of her journey back uptown), and it never got old. I considered going back today, but decided, having had a partial falling out with that friend weeks before, that it wasn't a great idea.

Things like that short journey are things I never get the chance to do often enough. It's sad that it's too impractical to do, since the time I'd have to make for it would be too great an investment. The video just isn't the same.

That was today's semi-spiritual experience.

Apollyon's Adventures in India

back to August 26, 2006

The last day in Bombay and I need to have a sleep in after my unusual night. We go to see what we can of the Ganesh festival. People are welcoming large Ganesh statues into their homes. Some need trucks and others can be carried by hand. In ten days time they will all be carried into the nearest river to be dissolved. This must be spectacular because even this parade, which diverges sparsely from many points, is quite a celebration. Ganesh can be painted in any colour and so although he (or very occasionally she) is normally light pink or orange he can also be silver, blue or red, anything goes!

We have said goodbye to Meethil and we each gave him the best books that we could find him in India. He accepted graciously. One was an encyclopaedia on Animals and one was National Geographic's best portraits. I don’t wasn’t to give anything away but the best portraits were at the end. (It had 'Afghan Girl'; the one with the red shawl and the eyes, awesome.)

The whole trip had a fantastic feeling of coming full circle.

How do I conclude this? There is no natural ending because life just kept on going, I got off the plane and went home. There is no real story or narrative structure, nothing to overcome or resolve. (Sanket didn’t renounce his passport by the way). I have met some wonderful people, no one I met was an arsehole, and I even got along well with the people I had an argument with.
India is an incredibly stressful place. I don't think there is such a thing as a relaxing holiday but if you want one, it's not in India. Thankfully Sanket his family and his friends shielded me from most of this stress. That's what I should say, because they didn't let me say it when I was there:

I am extremely grateful for everyone’s help in guiding me around India, for everyone who gave me a roof, a meal or a scooter ride: Thank you.

Yeah, that's probably the best way to end this.

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