Planet Waves Considered

“In this age of fibreglass I’m searching for a gem”

Planet Waves

  1. Bob Dylan

I don’t know who started it or how it started but it became a tradition and a ritual. We (Dave, Robin, Frank, Norm, Paul, Al and Mike to name some of the main participants) lived in a house on the corner of 4TH Ave and Balaclava in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. They say it has become very exclusive and expensive there now. Then we had a single mother with an almost teenage daughter living next door to us. She was convinced that the RCMP (she called them “The Horsemen”) had killed her husband who had been a heroin dealer.

The tradition was turning a Saturday (if we were working or any afternoon if we weren’t) into a Tequila Sunrise or Bloody Caesar or Harvey Wallbanger day. We all supplied the ingredients if we could plus whatever beer and smoke were available, threw open the doors and windows and cranked up the stereo.

It is incumbent upon residents of Vancouver to take advantage of every sunny day there. Even the British climate doesn’t seem as depressing as the long, grey, cold, wet stretches of days and weeks which occur in Vancouver winters. Maybe it’s not so bad for natives but we weren’t natives and knew very few. Everyone was from somewhere else.

I remember Meddle and Band on the Run and Peaceful Easy Feeling blaring out across the postage stamp lawn as we played frisbee or catch with a football.

The one which was played the most on those days was Planet Waves.

It was the last time Dylan recorded in a studio with The Band. They had already toured with him as The Hawks and they toured again in support of Planet Waves. Not a bad backup band.

They honed their chops in Toronto backing up Rompin Ronnie Hawkins, The Hawk.

In The Last Waltz (1978) Robbie Robertson describes Ronnie Hawkin’s pitch upon hiring the talented teenagers as something like, “the money ain’t great, but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatry”.

The Hawk was from the southern US and had plenty of experience in small bars there where the band onstage was separated from the audience by chicken wire to protect them from missiles like beer bottles thrown their way. He says he was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t want a backup band which learned songs on stage or made a lot of mistakes. He made them practice and practice hard.

The Hawk was recently interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulis on Canadian tv about his miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer. A young healer (an underground healer, one not recognized by the established system) heard of his plight and helped him recover. Now he’s still laughing about the miracle and, as he tours, sharing his joy.

The best known song on Planet Waves is Forever Young. It’s obvious when you listen to the lyrics why Rod Stewart covered it. I don’t know whether he added some words of his own, but every parent, rock star or not, can understand the sentiment behind the lyrics of the song.

On side 2 of Planet Waves The Band whipped up one fast version with their electric jug band style, but the slow version on side 1 with Robbie Robertson’s tasty licks is one of the best rock songs ever written in my opinion.

I know some people can’t stand Dylan’s music and his voice even though it’s in key and timed properly, but anyone who admires the power of the English language has to, at least, respect him as a writer.

“Twilight on the frozen lake, North wind about to break…” are ten words which open Never say Goodbye and an instant image is conjured up in the listener’s mind.

Planet Waves also contains Going, Going, Gone which is another song created with great lyrics and the collaboration of musicians which doesn’t overpower the lyric content. It is a good example for all bands who have realized that the most beautiful music is created by individuals contributing to the song, not trying to stand out from everyone else.

There were a lot of women around that house but, unfortunately, one look at the state of the kitchen and bathroom discouraged most from living there. I have to admit that someone only making it to the kitchen sink before they threw up on a Tequila Sunrise Day was a little much. Naturally, none of us had washed any dishes for a long time and that made it worse.

The sunny days got fewer when Fall hit and gradually petered out. The occupants reached a low point in January when we watched the Superbowl on acid with no food and the sound turned up to drown out the sound of the wind and rain lashing the street outside.

Then someone got out of jail and landed there, bringing quick visits from cops when he ran outside and threw beer bottles at motorists passing by on 4th Ave. The carefree, sunny days of Planet Waves were gone.

“My dreams are made of iron and steel, with a big bouquet of roses hanging down,

from the heavens to the ground”

Planet Waves

  1. Bob Dylan

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Sailing to Philadelphia Considered

Like the bears in the zoo which plod the same circle day after day, I dutifully checked the Pynchon section of the public library. The past years of habitual checking had produced nothing but it was part of my routine.

Then, one day, there was a new book in the Pynchon section. I took it home with great expectations. Intellectual memories were blurred by time but the feeling of excitement was the same.

I had read Gravity’s Rainbow and V so many years before that I had  forgotten what they were about. But I had a strong feeling, took it for granted, that Thomas Pynchon was an important writer to me.

Life intervened and I never got to finish the book of seven hundred pages. It was called, MASON AND DIXON.

Years later when a Mark Knopfler cd came out, I bought it and listened with relish to SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA, the song. He does it as a duet with James Taylor.

Returning from three years in Europe, I spent $40 of the $60 with which I landed in Ottawa, on a concert featuring Dire Straits and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Mark Knopfler’s the only concert I’ve gone to see in the past thirteen years, since we moved to the country.

In other words, I am a Mark Knopfler fan. I even liked his instrumental duets with Chet Atkins.

James Taylor’s songs and voice and his connections to Apple Records and Jimmy Buffet and Carly Simon sent thoughts in another direction.

Then, suddenly, I heard the words to the song. I realized what the characters, each of whom had a voice, one of Mark Knopfler and one of James Taylor, were saying. They were sailing to Philadelphia to draw the Mason – Dixon line.

I assumed, at first, that it was a coincidence. Then, in an interview, Mark Knopfler said that he had respectfully distilled the 700 page book into a two minute song. He was exploring the phenomenon that is America and this was a part of it which he articulated in his own way.

Now that Pynchon ‘s 1000 page novel is about to be published, Ian Rankin discloses, in a Guardian interview on the dogmatika.com website, that he is a real Pynchon nut. He was going to do a PHD on the writer.

Ian Rankin reminds me that Pynchon dedicated Gravity’s Rainbow to Richard Farina.

I think he was married to Mimi and they played folk music. For sure he wrote a book called BEEN DOWN SO LONG, LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME which was popular. I can’t remember anything about that book but I know that it was the source of many weird names considered for rock bands of the day.

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Inarticulate Speech of the Heart Considered

If you overlook the financial calculations involved in recording, selling and buying, it becomes difficult to assess the worth of a piece of music to anyone. Music, no matter what kind, is valuable in itself. It can transcend time, language and cultures.

Van Morrison’s album, ‘Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’, is a collection of original songs which celebrates the spiritual side of people. It isn’t a bunch of songs dedicated to the description of a relationship between two people, but a demonstration of the creative spark, a recognition of the muse and a long range point of view of the human race. Not a love song to be found.

Few will go to the trouble of locating, buying and listening to the cd, alone, through to the end, perhaps in their favourite writing space, but if they did. If they did, they would find background music, muted, to create by, or upbeat songs to which to dance a jig or with which to hum along.

To each their own, choosing the music to background their writing, some preferring music with no lyrics, some no sound at all.

But for those who like a little music in the background, this album has everything. The instrumentals are similar to some of Mark Knopfler’s creations.

It would be a waste of time for me to try to describe each song in detail. That’s why Van Morrison wrote and recorded them.

In fact, the album has a release date of 1983. It’s over 20 years old and it’s the first time I’ve looked closely at it. Except for the cover which is clever and beautiful.

The songs can lighten up a room and pull one’s self out of self centred thoughts or draw one into deep contemplation. They can raise one’s spiritual eyes for a moment.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it will take two or three plays of this disc for others to appreciate it. I don’t know and delving analytically into it isn’t what I usually do. I just know that it’s nice to have it on in the background when I’m rereading what I’ve written the day before or when I’m checking out websites.

These songs which I know by heart often start me off writing before I switch to lyricless jazz.

It also helps with broken hearts, hangovers and situations of loneliness.

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The Canadian View

We were snowed in as usual. The cabin fever began to grow. There was barely room for all of us and the animals. Nothing could be left out in this cold.

The wind shrieked and howled while the snow buried our houses with us in them.

The digging started right away, of course. Those of us who were nearest the door were given shovels and plows whether we wanted them or not.

Granny sat by the wood stove. She was blind but she was knitting. There would be a long scarf for the children by the time we tunnelled to daylight.

Children howled and shrieked with joy as they buzzed through the crowded residence. Families and extended families with their neighbours and their extended families sheltered in the humble abode.

Gramps saw it once. One time, so they say, before he passed away, Gramps emerged from the snow tunnel the day before the winter snows descended again. He looked upon the homestead that day, without snow on it and never spoke another word.

Caribou jerky hung from the ceiling. Wood stoves kept the stew stewing.

We took it in shifts. We hoped, in our modest way, to make it out before the snows came again. We aimed to see what Gramps saw.

Farmyard beasts mated in the back, among the hanging furs. Birds sat in the rafters and dropped droppings as we dug for many days.

Once, it became lighter and we thought we had reached the end in record time. We were wrong, of course. A cave-in deprived many of consciousness. Lively Irish fiddle music replaced lively Scottish fiddle music which replaced lively French fiddle music. Then they reversed.

Stew and beer awaited those who participated in the digging. It wasn’t an occupation which promoted good health, but as our neighbour, Mr Clark said,

“Up, up and away! ”

Children were born, old ones passed along, the population’s size expanded and shrunk. The digging went on, but it was slow work.

We were sure to reach the end by the return of the snowstorms, but what then? Did we always have to do this? Is this what life was about?

It was in this frame of mind that I’d become separated from the main group. I don’t know how it happened.

I wandered through a shiny crystal tunnel. I was lost.

The temperature was all right but I had no food or water. A mysterious tugging kept me walking on without fear.

Then it was over as soon as it had begun. I emerged into a warm field full of sunshine and trees and grass and birds.

A small man dressed in green sat with his back up against a towering oak tree. He was fingering a flute, trying out different notes by covering different holes.

I sat down in front of him and watched.

His bushy grey eyebrows flickered as he stared at his fingers in concentration.

He blew a few notes, wrinkled his nose and placed the flute in an inside jacket pocket. From this he withdrew a deerstalker pipe and tobacco.

When he had lit up and enjoyed the smoke, he smiled and looked at me.

”Well now, how are you and the Canadians you know?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt good right then, at that moment.

But how was I really? And the Canadians I knew?

This flashed through my mind in a nanosecond, but the little man’s eyes showed that he was waiting for me to catch up.

It seemed that he was reading my mind. I only had to think something and he would chuckle to himself. It made me examine every thought.

“Fine” I said.

“Fine? Fine?” he chuckled, drew a good draught on his pipe.

When I looked into his eyes I could only think of the digging. Stew, beer and digging.

It wasn’t a happy fate that awaited Canadians. The reality of it struck me in the face like a cold mackerel.

“Well, you seem to have caught me unawares, so I’ll grant you the wish you desire” said the little man dressed in green. He produced a wand and stood at the ready. He rolled his eyes, checked a pocket watch in his vest, tapped his toe, sighed and looked impatient.

I could think only of the digging as I made my wish.

The little man doffed his green fedora, pocketed his pipe and disappeared with a smile and a twinkle of the eye.

I found myself walking along the crystal corridors again, pulled onward by an unknown force.

Sounds of the digging greeted me as I joined the digging assembly line to the envious oohs and ahhs of my coworkers.

They were admiring my brand new shovel.

More stew, beer and digging.

It began to look dubious that we would reach the end of the snow tunnel before the snows returned.

We dug harder and faster to make it through.

Then,  just when things were darkest, we began to see a little light.

As we dug toward the surface, there were hoots of jubilation among the grunts of work.

The sun appeared as we emerged a year after the last snowstorm, but a snow cloud quickly hid its warmth and light.

We realized, as we looked upon the homestead, that big lump of snow, that the snowstorms had returned. We were late by a few days.

We resolved to beat the snowstorms next year as we filed back into the tunnel.

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On Getting Old

Most of the big mouths are silent…no matter how many toys they had, no matter how much security, they’re gone, dead.

Politics: When you’re old you can be a little of both; liberal and conservative. Some things, like paying to keep serial killers like Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo alive, become more unreasonable. When you’ve realized how their victims suffered, you have to admit that the conservative point of view makes more sense.

When I first thought of writing this I debated whether to call it “On growing old” or “On getting old”. Then I thought about the people I knew and the experience I was going through and it came to me clearly and simply: You don’t grow when you get old, you shrink, not grow.

The joke which life has played on us is that just when you reach old age and feel it’s time to put your feet up and relax, everyone, from family members to friends to employers, doctors, nurses and everyone else who knows you, insists that you become more active than ever. Walking, stretching, swimming, biking, climbing, jogging, isometrics, Zumba, you name it, they’ve got it available for you.

And the worst of it is that it’s all true and everyone’s motive is pure.

Philip Roth stated it baldly, “Old age isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre”. With the proviso, hopefully, that your mind, at least, has grown through its years of experience so that the reward at the end of it all is peace of mind or something satisfying.

No matter how many toys they have, how rich they are, if they’re dead and gone, they’re dead and gone. The ones left may be poorer and not have as many or maybe no toys, but they’ve survived.

I guess, in the end, the real reason for writing this is to crow a little, to laugh in the faces of those dead and gone who believed that accumulating wealth and power and toys was the most important thing.

I never held a job longer than two years and took no precautions for old age and I’m still here. Maybe they’re still here (maybe not) with more money and things than me but we’re both still here.

It’s not that you shouldn’t try. Of course you should. It’s just that it’s not as important as it’s made out to be.

Young people should be extra vigilant when an older person tells them what to do and how to behave. Some of them are worth listening to in order to survive. But remember, in a few years, they, too, will be dead.

When you get old you realize that others have encompassed and embraced ideas and concepts seemingly too big to conceive of.

Like Martin Amis in Lionel Asbro, Antony Beevor in The Second World War or Edward Rutherfurd in London.

When you get old a snowstorm becomes a huge event and all consuming of your attention

Any tendency toward hypochondria is exposed. The foolishness of youth shows up in young people as you thought it never would.

Getting old is mostly negative with a few rewards thrown in. One of the best is knowing that you were mostly right all along.

Bob Marley said it. “Everything’s gonna be all right”.

I don’t think you can teach patience. You either learn it or you don’t. Of course, you can’t get old without patience. Its very existence suggests something old, ancient, something which lasts through time. The lack of it leads many to die younger than they should. The only way to prove its existence is to live through it and see it in your own life. It’s a bit magical, a bit of a mystery, like the brain plasticity on the PBS show on TVO. It was called Redesign My Brain. An Aussie did the work and amazing results appeared.

When you’re young and have no patience (either you don’t think you need it or don’t acknowledge its existence), you think it’s overrated. It’s too bad that you only learn patience’s value when you make it to old age.  If you do. The puzzler is that you can’t get old without it and there’s seemingly no way to try to get it.

Dick Van Dyke’s publisher keeps asking him for a book on old age. He says, “It’ll be short. One sentence, two words, ‘Keep moving’”.

Even though sex and death are probably the biggest motivators we human beings have, far be it from me to advise another on how to deal with them.

Art, and specifically music, but all art for that matter, moves us in the right direction. It is a bridge.

I suppose it depends on your thoughts about after death.

It seems crazy, but throwing caution to the winds is actually sensible. It’s good to take a chance. If you don’t gain all the money and power you’re supposed to have, it’s all right.

Relax.

Bob Marley said it.

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Open Letter to a Nephew

Dear Nephew,

Unaccustomed as I am to giving advice to anybody these days, I must do this: lay down some guidelines for the younger generation. It feels like an inescapable weight on one’s shoulders, a duty and obligation. Whoever said that youth was wasted on the young must have known about the principles.

The three principles which I will list and attempt to elucidate. These principles will ensure survival and success in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

From a lifetime of observation and other sources, I have gathered this wisdom and will now impart it to you, my nephew and all who know you. Even those who don’t.

1. Borrow as much as possible from family and friends. They’re usually the last ones who’ll turn on you, giving you the benefit of the doubt, holding off their fury because you’re related or know someone who knows someone.

An unfortunate corollary to this type of activity is the necessity for a packed bag and alternate identities, with pictures, if possible. In case of partners’ unfounded accusations of overspending or, God forbid, fraud.

It’s getting harder to manage in these days of everybody killing each other for various reasons, but it was always thus. The killing was just cruder. There is always a way. Always a means of obtaining a false identity.

Of course, families and friends should also be involved with you in as many business ventures as possible. This stimulates, among other things, their careful observance of your health and well being.

Once you have wormed your way in, ingratiated yourself, made yourself indispensable to them, with the least amount of work, you are an asset, a part of the company.

The corollary can also come in handy in these enterprises, if things don’t go well.

When one shakes off the impetuous dreams of youth for a moment, one can clearly see upon which side one’s bread is buttered. Business relationships with family and friends should be encouraged and manipulated with care.

2. Don’t fall for that security versus creativity stuff. Go for the security, of course. You can look like you don’t care, act like it, say it, especially when women think you’re romantic because of it, but nobody wants to starve, so, keep a back door, a way out. You won’t have time for shame when you’ve bailed out on the co-op and you’re trying to survive.

Accumulate as many toys as possible. Gather all and sundry and lock them up. Collect things, the more valuable, the better. Never too many of the valuable ones. There’ll always be a place to put them.

The creative urge is sneaky and devious. It is more seductive than the security side, but you don’t want to grow old without being surrounded by as much security as possible.

The creativity side may look attractive when you’re young. All that freedom etc., but the odds against anyone producing security out of creativity are huge. It is a foolish longshot, not worthy of a man who is serious about security.

Let the starving artists drink beer in their roach infested garrets after you’ve accumulated their creations. Exceptions are made for long legged beauties in black tights. Temporary cohabitation is permissible there.

3.Honesty is not always the best policy. In most cases it’s downright foolish. All of the great wealth has been accumulated by dishonesty of one sort or another. Things change. Perceptions of certain activities change.

Cunning, guile and deviousness have their place in the ready arsenal of a young man trying to make his way in this world. Lying hypocrites are survivors. Politicians in any age are shining examples.

Machiavelli’s wisdom is always good bedtime reading.

There can be few more refreshing pleasures, when one wakes up in the morning, than a good bullying session. A suitably inferior person can be fooled into thinking they must take the abuse which you hurl their way, thus proving that dishonesty is most often triumphant and replacing the need for a brisk walk to start one’s day.

I’ve imparted some hard truths here. I wouldn’t have bothered except that you’re my sister’s kid and my own children haven’t spoken to me for twenty years. The divorce was between their mother and me, none of their business.

After all, one must consider one’s office staff. (A specific tip here: refuse point blank, in no uncertain terms, any job offered you without a suitable office staff. Secretaries and receptionists should be young, attractive, ambitious and immoral. Attention to these details will ensure an enjoyable workplace when one has to attend)

The males of our clan always passed down the three principles before they died from the effects of their short, brutal lives.
I know what kind of a family you must survive in and what kind of world you face, so I feel compelled to tell you, though it’s bad news: they get the last laugh.

Women in this family, in general, outlive men.

After all the fussing is over, at the end, you die and they keep going.

It doesn’t seem fair, but it was always thus. There are many years to come before you’ll have to worry about it.

In the meantime, think of your old uncle and remember, cannibalism isn’t a notion which should be lightly dismissed on long flights.

Regards,

Uncle Steve

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Bull

On a pleasant autumn day, Mitch Reynolds stepped out of the Department of Agriculture, his briefcase packed with papers. He attempted to take a deep breath of fresh air, search his jacket for his bicycle clip, descend the stairs, all at the same time. He heard the door open behind him, a voice call his name. He turned, backed into a young woman coming up the stairs.

Suddenly, Mitch was stumbling, falling. The girl retained her balance but scattered her files, all over the steps.

“Oh…oh…sorry…” Mitch crawled around, helped her pick up the files. The woman stuck her silent nose in the air, resumed her climb.

Bob Fagan joined him at the bottom of the stairs, laughing at Mitch’s misfortune. They turned to watch the young woman’s behind.

“Ooh, look at that. Hey nice move, buddy. I’m tellin you Mitch, never get married”

They turned to walk toward the parking lot.

“Hey, how come you’re out early?”

“New job. I finally got an outside assignment. How about you?” Mitch  had found his bicycle clip again. Bob watched as Mitch gathered his trousers to apply the clip.

“Beth’s preggers again, I’ve got to take three of the kids to the dentist while she’s at the doctor’s” Bob waited for Mitch to unlock his bike. They walked through the parking lot.

Bob was a big man with five children. Beth was very fertile. Their brood seemed ever expanding. They parted at Bob’s van, Mitch mounted his bicycle. He took his time pedalling on the bike path, admiring the green fields in the autumn sunlight, giant trees blowing in the breeze. The path led him through the Experimental farm to the barn of The Beef Cattle Exposition.

The barn was surrounded by pens of cattle of different breeds, the office inside it. The walls of the small room were covered with posters about cattle. There was a rack on one wall which contained pamphlets, brochures and magazines about cattle.  A small desk, covered with more cattle information, stood, with two chairs, at one end of the room. There was no one around. Mitch saw a door behind the desk which led further into the barn. He stepped through it. A  stronger smell of cattle hit him.

Mitch looked down the length of the barn. He saw that most of the stalls were occupied by cattle, one, halfway down, also contained a person. Mitch made his way to it.

The sign on the open stall door read, VENUS. Walter James, the facility manager, stood leaning on one wall of the stall, beside a cow. He was a pleasant looking, balding man, much larger than Mitch, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, holding a brown, paper bag in one hand. He smiled, held out his hand.

“Mr. James?” Mitch, extending his hand.

“Walter. You must be Mitch Reynolds. Good to finally see who I’ve been talking about for the past few months” Walter James shook Mitch’s hand with his empty one. He was referring to the many conversations he he’d had with Mitch’s superiors concerning this new project.

“This here’s the star of your show” Walter indicated the cow.

“Venus”

Mitch stared at the rear end of the cow. He followed Walter toward the front of her, jumping into a cow pie, when she turned her head toward him.

Walter laughed. Mitch shook his foot in the air.

“Ha. You’ll have to watch out for that. Just scrape your shoe on some straw. Pistachio?”

Walter smiled at Mitch, offered the bag.

“Huh? No, no thanks” Mitch scraped his loafer on some straw, leaned against one wall.

“She won’t bite, but she might kick, so I wouldn’t stand behind her” Walter munched a pistachio.

“I take it you’re not really an expert on cattle” Walter watched Venus chew her cud.

“No” Mitch admitted. He was wondering at Venus’ big boned body.

“No, I could tell on the phone. I went along with all of them. Figured they’d send some poor junior clerk they wanted to get rid of, but this experiment is really dumb”

“Dumb? Is it? Why?” Mitch studied Venus chewing her cud.

“Why? Simple. We’ve already got a perfectly good breeding programme. No need for this” “Why didn’t someone mention that, in all these talks we’ve had, then?”

“Ha, we all went along with it. It’s somebody’s plan to spend all the money in the budget. You know how it is. Government. If you don’t spend it, you’ll lose it. Ce sera, sera”

They walked out of the stall, single file, Mitch following Walter, watching his step.

“Importing foreign bulls to breed ole Venus there, that’s just plain dumb. Everything’s artificial these days. She’s a grand champion, mother of five other champions. She could get hurt with this fool experiment” Walter spoke over his shoulder. He turned to let Mitch get by, shut the door to Venus’ stall.

“Hurt? You mean physically?” Mitch stopped. Walter turned to him.

“Yeah. Physically. Sometimes cows get hurt, sometimes bulls, sometimes people”

“Jeez. This sounded like such a … safe job, back at the office” Mitch didn’t want anyone, even the cows and bulls, to get hurt.

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t let them hurt her. If it gets out of hand, I’ll call it off and they can do it artificially” Walter was reassuring.

“That Texas longhorn they found in some rodeo? He’ll be here any day now. I’ll have to keep a close eye on him”

Walter answered the ringing phone on his desk. He got into a discussion about cattle. Mitch opened his brief case, put some of the papers on Walter’s desk. Walter sat down when he’d finished on the phone. He motioned, with the bag, for Mitch to take the other chair, pulled the papers toward himself. Mitch waited while Walter read through the papers.

“Hm. Yeah” Walter nodded his head with a knowing smile.

Mitch watched him. He didn’t look normal with the flimsy papers in his big hands. The granny glasses made him look even bigger.

“So, what we have to do is make sure that Venus gets bred by these foreign bulls”

“That’s it“ Mitch was happy with this job, away from the office politics.

“So you just take my results and make a report” Walter dug into the bag of pistachios. “Pistachio? Wife made me quit smokin. Now I can’t stop eatin”

Walter opened a shell with his teeth.

“And when she gets pregnant, we’ll wait and get another bull, when it’s time” Mitch could see this job lasting for years.

Walter gathered the papers together, opened a drawer in his desk, placed them in it. Mitch stood up to go.

“Don’t you worry. We’ve seen ‘em all here. Every crazy experiment they think of, it usually ends up here. Lots of  ‘em end here too. Don’t worry about it. Keep in touch”

Mitch pedalled home with the satisfaction of knowing that his project was in good hands. Entering his house, on a west end street, he could hear the sounds of The Dating Game reruns. Mandy, Mitch’s fellow lodger, watched from the couch.

“Ok, now, Willie, the audience has met our three eligible bachelor girls. Now it’s your turn…go ahead with your first question…” the tv dominated the living room.

“Hi” Mitch passed through to the kitchen. He noticed that Mandy had an empty pizza box open on the couch beside her. He didn’t hear a reply, opened the refrigerator door.

“If I were the last man on earth and we were marooned on a desert island with just a little food left, would you give it to me so that I would make mad, passionate love to you or would you keep it for yourself and do without sex forever?” Sounds drifted into the kitchen.

Mitch searched through the fridge. He opened cupboards, looked in drawers. The tv audience applauded.

“I’d eat it and then take advantage of you, when you were weak”

Mitch gave up searching, entered the living room.

“Where’s all the bread?”

“Duane made sandwiches” Mandy stared at the screen.

“Sandwiches. That was my bread. Where is he?” Mitch, outraged.

“I’d give it to you and then murder you in your sleep. That way, you’d be fatter and I could live off you longer”

“Toronto. He’s gone for two weeks”

“Great. Why didn’t he buy his own bread? Did he pay his third of the rent?” Mitch was fed up with Duane. This was the last straw.

“Oh, yeah. This came today, too. The hydro bill”

Mandy held up an envelope.

“I’d just ask you to sleep with me, first. I’m sure that you’d beg me to share your food, after that”  “There’s nothing to eat. We share the house, we split the rent. Why can’t he understand that we’re supposed to buy our own food?”

Mandy wrinkled her forehead, sipped her soft drink through a plastic straw. She leaned over to pick up the tv remote.

Mitch was on a mission. He headed into the shopping mall to buy some groceries and a lock. If necessary, when he had his talk with Duane, he would give him an ultimatum. One more chance, that was all. If Duane didn’t buy his own food and keep his hands off of Mitch’s, he’d lock it up. A lock, a simple hasp and a few nails would get the message across.

Mitch pulled over to pick up two female hitch hikers. They giggled in his passenger seat until they alighted outside of The Haybale, a country bar. Mitch pulled away, their heady mix of perfume lingering in his car. They were young and cute, with tight jeans.

Mitch saw another female hitchhiker going his way. He pulled over to pick her up. She was Jasmine, a small, delicate yoga instructor who recommended yoga to him, gave Mitch her card. She said that yoga was good for everything, that she read in his aura that he was troubled. Mitch thought about Jasmine all the way home.

Mandy was sitting on the couch with a cigarette and a Coke when Mitch got home. He had a book in the grocery bag, in one hand, the lock, hasp and screws, in a bag, in the other.

The book was about success with women. It recommended the go – getter attitude to men who really wanted to score.

“I don’t see how you can just lay around all day” Mitch passed through the living room.

“Bite me. You don’t do anything besides work and drive in your car and whatever it is that you do in your bedroom” Mandy removed her eyes from the t.v. screen long enough to give Mitch a disdainful glance.

“You just don’t know. I’m out there making things happen, don’t worry”

Mitch got the call from the barn, packed his briefcase, mounted his bike. Nearing the Beef Cattle Exposition, he passed a truck going the other way. It had a stars and stripes logo on the door, a big bovine passenger in the back.

Walter sat at his desk, talking on the phone. He had a red welt below one eye, a bandage on top of his head. Walter gingerly extracted jellybeans from a bag which he offered to Mitch.

“Yeah, ok, tell him I’ll talk to him when he wakes up”

Mitch shook his head to the jellybeans. He looked at Walter’s eye.

“What happened, Walter?”

“Well, like I said on the phone, that Texas longhorn arrived, but he nearly killed my best hand. He’s ok, but he’s in the hospital. Had to save Venus from the damn thing. Big, ole Texas driver just laughed and loaded him back on the truck. We couldn’t control him” Walter pointed to his wounds. There was dirt on his shirt, scrapes on his forearms.

Mitch made sympathetic sounds, consulted a paper from his briefcase.

“So, the next one is Spanish? Yeah, he’s being shipped from Spain to Mexico and stopping on the way”

“Whatever “ Walter snorted.

“If he don’t behave properly, like we want him to, I’ll send him packin too”

Mitch stared at Walter’s closing eye.

Mitch glanced at the date on the Playboy calendar beside his bed, finished reading about success with women. Getting off the bed, looking into his mirror, he smiled a winning smile. He got a box from his closet from which he extracted a new pair of cowboy boots. They matched his new western shirt and jeans. He slapped some Lariat shaving lotion on his cheeks.

The Haybale was quiet when Mitch arrived. He asked for a Blue, at the bar, while he surveyed the scene. A girl was singing a country song on the stage with a guitar. She was surrounded by  band equipment, sang to an empty room.

Mitch climbed onto a stool at the bar, a few away seats from a single woman. He assumed the same position as the woman, back to the bar, facing the stage. He intertwined his new cowboy boots with the stool’s legs and spokes.

The woman finished her drink, put her glass on the bar, applauded the singer. Mitch applauded too, though he really didn’t like country music. He leaned over to the woman.

“Howdy, want a refill?”

The young woman switched her attention to Mitch. She gave him an appraising look, nodded, with a smile.

“Sure, two Black Russians, please”

Mitch relayed the request to the bartender who gave him a funny nod. When he turned back to the girl, she was standing, locked in a passionate embrace, with the singer. They accepted Mitch’s gift, toasted him, moved to their own table.

Mitch finished his beer, worried that he was in a gay bar. He rose to leave, his cowboy boot heels caught in the legs of the stool, he fell. He rolled in front of the bar as he fought to get free.

Mitch approached the barn on his bike, the next day. He saw a truck leaving the barn with a Spanish name on it’s side. He could hear Mariachi music coming from the cab. The back of the truck held a large, dark occupant.

“Oh, he’s such an angel”

“He’s so knowledgeable about breeding.” he heard two female voices.

Mitch locking his bicycle, saw two good looking girls load a camera and a tape recorder into a small car.

Walter sat at the desk in his office. He had a black eye, a cast on one arm. Mitch sat down, shocked.

“Walter, what happened?”

Walter offered a brown bag. Mitch declined.

“Peanut? They sent that Spanish bull. He was a fighter all right. He was trying to climb into Venus’s stall, so I waved my jacket at him. It was a red jacket, he busted my arm. Damn fightin bull. Just shipped him outta here”

“Who were those girls who just left?”

Walter picked up a paper, read aloud.

“Semi formal gala. Radisson Hotel. 8 PM Saturday, if you want to go. They’re makin a film about breeding cattle or something. Cute little things. I don’t go to stuff like that. Me and the missus watch hockey or wrestling on Saturday nights”

Mitch took the paper from Walter. He looked at it, put it in his briefcase.

“So the French bull’s next, the Charolais?”

Walter extracted a peanut from the bag. He cracked the shell with his cast.

“Hm. She better be gettin a visit soon, she won’t be in season forever”

“Season? What?”

Walter got up from behind his desk. He moved to the wall where he looked through some brochures in the rack. He selected one, gave it to Mitch.

Mitch looked at the brochure, followed Walter through the door, into the barn. They stopped at a stall with HENRY painted on the door.

“See, that describes the basic process. Venus is in season like a dog or cat gets in heat. You know?”  Walter pointed at the diagrams in the brochure.

“See, what they need to do, is breed her with a nice bull like Henry, here. Not get all starstruck with these foreign bulls. Henry’s a grand champion himself, a real gentleman. He’s local. An Ottawa Valley Hereford. Good natured, as bulls go. Hmph. All these foreign bulls are no good for Venus. She’s local too”

Mitch laid on his bed reading about success with women. He reread the pamphlet Walter had given him about the reproduction of cattle. When it was time, he picked out a tie and jacket to go with his trousers.

A group of people hid the sign beside the door in the hotel which announced the Gala for the National Film Board, but Mitch was certain he was in the right place. He had just seen the girls from Walter’s office enter before him. They looked even better dressed up.

The people Mitch followed in, were dressed like him, talking about the National Film Board. He didn’t see many farmers but he thought anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of cattle reproduction would be welcome here. They might even be a celebrity.

Mitch took a glass of champagne from a waiter. He made for the group which contained the two attractive girls from Walter’s. He joined the circle who were listening to a distinguished gentleman hold forth. There were two older, expensively tailored women in the group as well as Mitch and the girls.

“I mean we need to get rid of this old process. We know the fertility’s there. All we need is the seed…” the distinguished looking chap spoke with fervour.

Mitch interrupted him.

“Yes, I was just thinking about this the other day. It’s all in the testicles, of course. We all agree on that” Mitch paused for his pronouncement to have the desired effect. He couldn’t decipher the looks on everyone’s faces, but was sure he had got their attention, especially that of the two girls.  “Hormones from the pituitary give you those nice, big, full sized testicles” Mitch spoke with emphasis, remembering the tips in his book on women.

The older women looked shocked and amused. The distinguished looking gentleman’s jaw seemed to be dropping. The girls looked surprised. Mitch figured he’d keep going.

“We know that with one ejaculation of five cc.’s we can preserve six hundred doses of semen.” Mitch addressed the group with a modest smile. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the distinguished chap’s upper plate fall out of his mouth, into his drink.

“Now, in the female, it’s the anterior lobe of the pituitary, of course. Gives you that good, healthy mammary gland and that nice tone in the reproductive tract”

Mitch finished, rubbed his hands together, looked up. The group had scattered. The girls were giggling, walking away.

Mitch had been at lunch when the office got the call from Walter.  He sat with a black eye, a bandage on his head, a cast on his arm and a pair of crutches leaning on his desk. He offered a brown bag to Mitch.

“Walter. You ok? What happened?” Mitch, eyeing the crutches. He shook his head to refuse the peppermints.

“Peppermint? French bull, Charolais got here in the middle of the night. Had to try him out with Venus right away, so I put them together. Damn French bull wasn’t interested. Couldn’t get him to mount her at all. Tried everything. Finally, I sat down for a rest. The damn bull looked like his mind was on other things. Wasn’t Venus‘ fault. In fact, that’s how I got this.” Walter placed his cast covered lower leg on the desk.

“The French bull?”

“No. Venus got sleepy. She laid down on me. I couldn’t get out of her way. Broke my leg.” Walter sucked a peppermint.

“What’ll we do now?” This job didn’t look so long lasting to Mitch, anymore.

“Dunno. No doubt, the powers that be’ll have another brainwave”

“So, this is it?”

“Probably. Venus was up for it, this last time. She’ll be out of season any time now, though. Probably go back to the artificial programme. I guess you’ll be goin back to the office. We’ll kinda miss you around here. I think Venus liked all that attention. Me? I’d like to see you stick around, no offence meant, but I’d probably be a little safer, you know, if we did some other kind of experiment”

Mitch walked down the stairs from his room, through the living room to the front door. He wore a t shirt and loose fitting pants. He paused at the door.

“How can you just sit there all the time?”

Mandy was sitting on the couch, watching tv with an open bag of cookies.

“Bite me” Mandy stared at the screen.

Mitch wiped a towel across his red face, limped along beside Jasmine. They had just finished a yoga class. Everyone else seemed to gain something as the class went along. Mitch got a cramp at the very beginning. He struggled to concentrate on the exercises with all the female flesh stretching around him. He wasn’t sure that yoga was his thing, but Jasmine was cute. She had given him her card, said to drop in. He had.

“…and because the cause of all suffering is desire, we meditate to free ourselves of desire…”

Jasmine was explaining some of the intricacies of yoga to Mitch. Her eyes were bright blue.

“I seem to get distracted easily when we meditate”

“I know. It was hard not to be distracted when I was in Poona”

“Poona?”

“Mmhm, kundalini yoga” Jasmine wore a serene smile.

“Kundalini?” Mitch was absorbed in Jasmine. They walked down the sidewalk together.

“Mm, sexual yoga. It’s hard to ignore desire when you have some of the unions you can get in kundalini.” Jasmine looked over at Mitch who walked into a street sign.

Jasmine helped Mitch up, brushed him off. A motorcycle stopped behind her. She turned, waved. When the driver of the bike held out a helmet to Jasmine, Mitch saw skull rings on his fingers, tattoos on his arms. A bearded face smiled at him, Jasmine climbed on, they were gone.

On the way home from Jasmine’s class, Mitch parked his car at the Beef Cattle Exposition. He entered the barn from the back. He opened Venus’ stall first, then approached Henry’s.

“There you go, Henry, remember to be a gentleman, now”

He opened the door to Henry’s stall, made for his car.

Mandy sat watching tv with a Coke. Mitch entered the house with a large brown bag.

“Grasshopper, what have you seen?” the tv spoke.

“What’s that, Chinese food?”

“Yeah, want some?” Mitch looked at the screen, sat on the couch, placed the bag on the coffee table.

“Sure, whatcha got?” Mandy, sitting up, eyes locked on the screen.

“Master, I have seen desire”

Mandy opened the bag. She placed the containers around the coffee table while Mitch retrieved plates and cutlery from the kitchen. She watched him walk across the living room.

“And what did you learn of desire, Grasshopper?”

“Duane always tries to get me to go to bed with him. Why don’t you, Mitch?” Mandy filled a plate with fried rice.

Mitch hadn’t realized. He took some sweet and sour chicken balls from a container.

“Master, I have learned that desire is blind”

“I guess I never thought about it” Mitch glanced in her direction.

“Well, are you thinking about it now?” Mandy stared at the tv.

“Ok, after Kung Fu, then?”

“Sounds good, it’s a date”

“Pass the rice, please”

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