Coming Soon… ‘All Mapped Out’

Today, we here at Brad OH Inc. are happy to announce that the Edmonton Writer’s Group will soon be releasing our fourth anthology, ‘All Mapped Out’.

‘All Mapped Out’ is a collection of stories by Edmonton writers, and each story is connected by the theme of maps. With approaches as varied as the writers themselves, stories cover arrivals, departures, and other life journeys.

Like our previous anthologies, all profits from ‘All Mapped Out’ will be donated to the Edmonton Public Library.

In order to celebrate this exciting new release, we will be releasing—tor the first time online—the story from our most recent anthology, ‘Edmonton: Unbound’.

This story, ‘A Good Place for a Miller’, was written specifically for the anthology, and touches on some topics that are unusually personal for my writing. It’s an anomaly of sorts, and I enjoy it for that very reason.

‘A Good Place for a Miller’ will be released in two parts. The first will be found just below, and the second will be released soon, along with updated information about where to pick up your copy of ‘All Mapped Out’.

-Brad OH Inc.

‘A Good Place for a Miller’ (Part I):

Jeremy Miller was 17 years old the only time he ever ran away from home. Slipping out the back door late in the evening, he’d passed the Youth Emergency Shelter, and loped out onto the grassy incline which fell away from the cracked sidewalk and sloped down into the cool green hills of Mill Creek Ravine. Jeremy had walked this little strip on his way to work and back many times in his short life, and had more than once contemplated taking the small step off the sidewalk and down into the valley below.

Today, he had finally decided to make that idea a reality—and not just as a detour on his way to work. Jeremy wanted to escape, to find himself, and more importantly, to find out if there was anyone else in the world feeling as desperate to get started on life as he was.

“Might not be what you’d call living exactly, but it’s half true at least, I guess.” The old man with the dirty toque scratched at his beard, and ran his index finger along a scar on his cheek.

Jeremy didn’t understand. “What do you mean? You live here, or you don’t.”

“Sometimes we sleep here, sometimes we sleep other places. Living means something different to each of us kid,” Dirty Toque spoke from the side of his mouth.

“That’s just the kind of thing I was hoping you’d say,” said Jeremy. “That’s why I came here today, to find out what life really means to other people.”

“I’ve got all I need to live right here,” said a younger man with dry, red skin and a stained plaid jacket. He held up a can of beer and burst into a chorus of dry, staccato laughter.

Jeremy had to bite his lip to avoid letting loose a sarcastic quip he might regret. Self-talk was a long-standing habit of Jeremy’s—perhaps a relic of his being an only child of two very busy parents, or perhaps more so the result of his self-imposed isolation and natural introversion. In truth, it was some combination of those, and no doubt other, more implicit reasons as well.

The older man inched his way forward—a nervous, perhaps predatory approach that made Jeremy squirm beneath his new jacket, which was admittedly too heavy for the meager, early spring weather.

“You have plenty more than you need to live by the looks of it kid,” he pulled at the sleeve of the jacket, “what are you doing down here anyways? ‘Find out what life really means’…what the hell is that about?”

Jeremy tugged away instinctively, feeling guilty about his sudden apprehension, yet unable to shake it. “I don’t live very far from here,” he explained, “but I’ve never really spent much time down in these valleys. All my life I’ve heard about the people down here, whole communities, who know and trust each other. They survive because of their connections, not despite them. You’d think that sort of thing would be more abundant out of the valley than in it,” he finished, and a shadow blew across his face even as the chill of night began to deepen.

It was true. Jeremy had often heard tales of this coven of the lost; a significant community of Edmonton’s homeless who set up makeshift shelters down in the woods of Edmonton’s River Valley—a series of park lands forming one of the continent’s largest city parks.

These gypsy-esque men and women often partied long into the night, despite their desperate circumstances. That kind of resilience had often struck a young Jeremy as brave…inspiring even. If any of it was true.

These tales had come to Jeremy through the complaints of his chagrined neighbours, whispers from children whose parents were police officers or probation workers, and the often-elaborated speculations of his rather distant academic peers—speaking of things they’d seen, or rumours they’d heard as if the River Valley was some far off and inaccessible source of fear and legend.

Mill Creek Ravine, though not a part of the River Valley proper, was close to Jeremy’s house, and he had determined it would be a good starting place.

“Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” mumbled the younger man. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Jeremy Miller, and I’d like to join you for a while, maybe have a talk. I hope it doesn’t seem rude or creepy,” this statement drew a series of inquisitive, raised eyebrows from the two men before him, “I just want to know what people live like when all is truly equal.”

“Can’t get more equal than nothing for everyone,” said the first man, with a chuckle.

“Miller, eh?” asked the second, “that’s a bit fancy for these parts, ain’t it?”

Jeremy scrunched up his face, but again held his tongue. “It’s just a joke, son,” the man with the toque cut in, “‘Miller’ is a beer, but a bit pricey for us. I’m Slick, and that there’s Lucky. Guess where he gets his name,” he finished, reaching into a bag at his side and passing Jeremy an unopened can: ‘Lucky Lager’.

It was cold in Jeremy’s hand, and heavy. “Thanks,” he said.

“So, just what is it brings you to a place like this anyway?” asked Slick.

Jeremy considered this for a moment. How could he take his whole life’s experience and present state, and sum it up for a stranger in the cold? He held tightly onto the can of beer, and pushed his finger under the tab. It popped open with a sharp crack and impotent hiss.

‘Why am I here?’ he ran the question through his head once…twice. It was a big one. Jeremy sighed, and brought the cool lip of the can up to his mouth. It tasted awful—thin and watery, with a strange, bitter flavour. He forced it down, and the aftertaste somehow brought to mind the smell of his mother’s fresh bread baking on cold winter mornings. Jeremy forced this down as well.

“I guess it’s been coming for a while now…I just needed to get out of there. I’m tired of having no control over my own life, and no ability to change anything around me.”

Slick grinned. Lucky took a long pull of beer from his own can.

Jeremy tugged on the sleeves of his jacket, self-conscious now as he gazed upon the crusty and tattered garments of his new friends. “Maybe it seems silly to you guys, I don’t know. I do everything right…I get the best grades I can, hold a job, try to be respectful around the house, but my folks still always think they know better. I wanted to go down to the States for a music festival this summer…I thought it would be a chance to figure out my place, and to experience a sense of community built around something other than common location. I’ll be on my own soon, and by then I’ll need to know how to build my own life, but I’ll never be able to do that with my parents constantly worrying about me and holding me back.”

“Doubt you’ve done much to solve that worrying bit tonight,” said Slick.

“You’ve got that right,” Jeremy agreed. “Still, I’ve never had to struggle for anything, I’ve never even known anyone who has! I don’t know how to trust strangers, or judge intentions, or what it takes to rely on anyone outside of my immediate family. In less than a year, I’m meant to be a man, and it’s high time I started acting like one!”

“So, you ran away to freeze under a bridge? Not many men I know choose that.” Slick rubbed at his scar.

“Why are you here then?” asked Jeremy.

“Not to prove a point. ‘Least ways not anymore.”

“It’s not about proving a point, it’s about being prepared,” Jeremy stared off towards the bright lights of downtown Jasper Ave, and spoke as if to himself. “When I’m out on my own, I want to be able to make a difference. I want to be able to walk amongst and understand all kinds of people, and I’ll need to do that if I want to change anything in this world. I know perfectly well that I have it easy, but that will only make it harder for me to have any real impact. I need to understand and experience all levels of society before I head out into it…how else can I know my place?”

Lucky chuckled at this, “I tried to find my place once too…ended up same place as you started. Funny, ain’t it?”

“Well,” said Jeremy, braving another sip of beer, “how did you guys end up here? Is it really like they say, is there really a whole community down in these valleys?”

Slick sighed. “Community is just any folks that can’t make do without one another kid. If I were you, I’d go back home to yours now. Be warm and happy—the choice don’t always last.”

“Go home, watch TV…be happy.” This time, Jeremy took a bigger swig of beer. He didn’t notice the taste. “What kind of happiness is it when you don’t ever know anything else? It’s placation, not peace! I want to know everything life has to offer Slick; how else can I ever know where I fit in?”

The men shook their heads vacantly, then nodded to one another. In an eerily unified motion, they tossed their empty beer cans on the ground, crunched them flat under their feet, and tucked them into a grimy plastic bag held by Lucky.

Jeremy gazed silently down to the creek below. On the far side of the little trickle of water which made up the creek was a dirty grey concrete wall—the dual struts of the bridge which shortly turned into Whyte Avenue proper. Whyte was another legendary Edmonton locale—but one which his lack of a fake ID prevented Jeremy from resorting to in his current moment of doubt.

Slick reached into his bag, tossed a beer to Lucky, picked one out for himself, then glanced up at Jeremy, who nursed his current one self-consciously. Slick smiled, and swung the bag up onto his shoulder.

“Better get moving.”

“Where are we going?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m heading to camp, I expect Lucky is as well,” said Slick. “Where you’re going, that’s up to you.”

Jeremy scrambled to his feet, nearly spilling his still near-full beer in the process. “But…can’t I come along?” he whimpered.

“Like I said,” Slick spoke over his shoulder as he walked, already turning left onto the path running beneath the bridge they’d been stationed under when Jeremy had slipped off the street and into the valley to find them, “that’s up to you.”

“So,” Jeremy rejoined, sidling up alongside the duo, “do you camp here every night?”

“Some nights I camp here, some nights I camp other places,” said Lucky.

“Different folks all got their own spots. Right now, we’ve got a lil place up by the bend in the creek. Not a whole lot, but it works,” said Slick.

“So, there are others there too?” asked Jeremy, surprised by the speed the men travelled at, and doing his utmost to keep up without seeming like he was trying to.

“Should be a few,” Slick said.

“And…they won’t mind either, if I join?”

“Not if you don’t cause trouble. The way you drink beer, you should be just fine, kid.”

“Yeah,” Lucky agreed, “leaves more for me! Haha.” …

To be continued…

‘Insight and Industry’- The Tavern Photo Project

I’m sitting here drinking a Trad and looking at these black and white photos. Jesus, how did this all get started?

I guess for me, it started many years ago. One warm summer day, I set out in a frenzy, desperate to find a place to write outside my house. The place had to be just right. Coffee shops were too bright, restaurants were too busy, and most bars were too loud. The point, after all, was to get lost in my work and let the world around me do as it would.

As my regular readers will know, I settled at last upon The Tavern on Whyte as my second home, sanctuary, and personal writer’s retreat. I’ve shared the reasons for that decision on this blog before (See: ‘My Abode’ and ‘Ode to The Tavern’), so this article isn’t about The Tavern itself, it’s about the people it impacts.

An industry bar on Edmonton’s busy Whyte Avenue—The Tavern sees its share of one-offs and curious pop-ins. Early afternoons usually had a good crowd for it’s famous breakfast menu—and stellar all-around meals—but the bar would generally remain quiet enough to get some serious writing done.

Nights were a different scene—the bar crowded with familiar faces as live music blared, and cheap Jager flowed.

I’ll confess this bit suited me just fine as well.

Then, just as the world was re-opening and learning to operate under the ongoing threat of COVID-19, I was enjoying a breakfast when my friend and the owner of The Tavern, Tim, mentioned that they were changing out the photos on the wall.

I think I managed to hide it well, but I was worried. The photos—a series of black and white tableaus from days gone (along with an assortment of band flyers and other oddities)—were familiar. They had adorned the walls since I’d started writing there many years ago. I still had a VIP card in my wallet from 2014, and was reticent to endorse anything that could in any way change the place I’d come to love so much.

Then, Tim mentioned he wanted to include one picture of my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’, which had been written by hand at table 7. This warmed me on the idea. It felt good to imagine being a part of the place forever—or at least until the next change of photos.

As things would pan out, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Behind the scenes, new ideas blossomed, and a tiny renovation project soon became a significant artistic undertaking.

The Tavern’s regulars are not a homogenous group. Its populace includes people of all persuasions: Punks, Metal heads, Karaoke singers, Muses, (one) Juggalo, Nerds, Painters, Writers, DJ’s, Musicians, VHS Connoisseurs, Horror buffs, Hippies, Industry Folk, and more. And there’s one, Owen Armstrong, who is a photographer.

Owen began taking photos when he was working as a projectionist in London, England.  An idea started resurfacing during those hours spent working alone in a dark projection booth. It was an idea that had first appeared while he worked a previous job—assessing alcohol service in bars all around the city. He wanted to take photos of bartenders, with various themes for each shoot. The concept began to take hold, and years later the idea of ‘industry’ would become a predominant theme in his work. The aim was to reveal what people looked like when, rather than primped and posed, they revealed themselves simply and honestly as who they were during so much of their day—specifically, while they were at work.

With plenty talent for the task, Owen was a natural choice for the Tim to approach about the photos he wanted. He knew the bar, the patrons, and understood the perspective needed.

At first, the intention was simple—recreate one of the original photos with some of The Tavern’s regulars.  The photo—one which sat just to the right of my head as I did much of my writing—featured seven men enjoying a drink. I’d often looked up at it as I searched for inspiration.

With Tim uninterested in appearing in the recreations, that left Owen to gather up another 6 regulars, which was an easy enough task. It took a few beers each, a couple of takes, and a good deal of cajoling, but eventually the likeness between the old and the new was undeniable. In an effort to document the process, Owen also opted to take individual portrait photos of everyone involved.

The shoot was a success, and the picture was shared around on a newly created Facebook group. If a small job was the aspiration, this may have been a crucial mistake.

It didn’t take long for interest to blossom, and the initial sprout of idea was soon a jungle of potential. The first photo was a recreation of a ‘good ole boys’ photo, so next came the challenge of recreating the image of an old social hall.

Soon the requests to take part seemed endless. Schedules dictated groups and shooting dates. For my shoot, I was asked to bring a copy of my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’. Owen had managed to find an old typewriter, which I was set up at as Black Dog’s own Joseph Rothrock read my book at the bar. This one wasn’t based on one of the original photos—Owen was exploring a mix of candid bar shots and scripted layouts.

This approach continued with the Karaoke crowd. By popular demand, this tight-knit group was brought together to strike a pose commemorating the incredible karaoke nights the denizens of The Tavern have sorely missed this past year.

The final shoot was an eclectic gathering that captured all the remaining key faces and regulars of The Tavern interested in taking part. With this last group of familiar faces gathered around The Tavern’s largest table, Owen captured a sense of communal atmosphere. This feeling of community is not only one of the hallmarks of The Tavern, it also became one of the highlights of this project—at least for this writer.

So here I am. I’m about three Trads deep at this point, and feeling pretty good. Trad does that, of course, as does good company. It’s something more than that though—an inexplicable understanding that has been welling up ever since I was fortunate enough to be asked to take part in this incredible project.

Owen set out to capture insights into the lives of industry workers, and I believe this was a great step towards that goal. More than that however, he captured the life of one particular bar—and the interconnected lives within it.

Over the years I’ve written in The Tavern, I’d often look up at the old black and white photographs, and wonder who those people were. What did they talk about, what did they drink, where did they end up?

Now, the combined portraits of everyone that took part in The Tavern Photo Shoot are joined into a mural that will also one day hang on the wall. On close examination, you can see the weathered, joyful, and mad faces of each in turn. Stepping back though, there is a clear Gestalt effect of something more than the sum of its parts. This project was about people coming back together who had long been kept away from their chosen habitat. It was a family reunion—a consummation and confirmation of a deep-seated understanding between many—perhaps all of them—that within the red walls of this tiny bar there was a lot to be found. There was employment, there was comfort. There were connections, relationships, heartbreaks, hopes, and some damn good memories.

There is life—as complex, messy, and downright beautiful as it can get.

I can’t help but imagine that far in the future, someone may look up at the new photos and wonder who we were.

There will be new connections then—a whole new set of regulars.

Industry can be seen as a cold thing, and the bars and clubs of Whyte Avenue will go on far longer than any of their current patrons. New groups will form, and perhaps new photos will eventually go up.

For now, my last Trad is finished. I’d planned to go home once this project was completed, but I think I’ll stay a bit longer. I often do. To chat with friends, watch strangers, and enjoy the moment.

The Tavern is like a second home to many. COVID slowed things down, and even now half the tables are blocked, and bar service is halted. Still, people trickle in, bump elbows, and chat like they always have. Behind the bar, the servers smile and laugh along with the rest.

In this place, there is a sense of permanence—a feeling of community. Despite the tribulations of the year, things continue much as they always have.

I hope they always will.

To learn more about The Tavern on Whyte, please visit here.

 For more about Owen Armstrong and his ongoing photography projects, please visit:

Owen’s Website

Owen’s YouTube

Owen’s Instagram

Owen’s MixCloud

To Purchase my novel, ‘Edgar’s Worst Sunday’, click here.

Cheers,

-Brad OH Inc.

An Update from Brad OH Inc.

Already, September is upon us, and just around the edge of the calendar looms October. The season of the witch, the time of the pumpkin draws near.

To anyone inclined to paint their face, or don a non-medical mask and wander the streets in their favourite guise, this is good news, and the world waits with bated breath hoping that Halloween can go down without complications.

In a year like this, that seems like a high hope indeed.

Everyone stuck at home, and not a thing to do. It’s a strange curse for a writer…to have his time at home exponentially increased, but his office cluttered with work-from-home set ups—a sanctuary sullied by hours on other tasks.

It’s been a time of adjustment, and of growth.

But such are the times, and only a fool would deny them.

As for us here at Brad OH Inc., we’ve busied ourselves as best can be, and continue to work on some exciting projects. A new anthology is on it’s way from the Edmonton Writer’s Group, with details coming soon. I’m also continuing work on two major novels, and the season finale of ‘The Gentleman Juggalo’ will be recording soon.

While business may not be ‘as usual’, it continues as we all must.

I hope my readers are well—please feel free to connect in the comments section below and let us know how you’ve been weathering this endless storm.

Kind Regards,

-Brad OH Inc.

The Bushido of Bogney, Part IV

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampBushido: (武士道) literally meaning “the way of the warrior”, is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry in Europe. (Source)

Bogney: A tiny dog, wise for his years.

BogsToday, we once again combine the old and the new for a fresh perspective on life through the eyes of our classy canine friend. This is the daily living of a small dog. This is the extrapolated wisdom of the ages…This is the Bushido of Bogney.

-Click Here for Part I-

-Click Here for Part II-

-Click Here for Part III-

Lesson #1:

Recently, Bogney took a brave leap—from the top of a couch to the hard ground below. The decision was fearless, but foolish. With a torn ACL, Bogney stood in quiet repose, looking up mournfully at his horrified master.

I had never seen a sight so dreadful. My heart stopped and skin blanched. At this, Bogney became more upset, and limped over to comfort his loved one.

The greatest pain we must endure is watching a loved one suffer. This is true for all beings.

Lesson #2:

Ever since his accident, Bogney walks the same trails at the same speed—when he can get away with it. He does not fear to slip, and would happily leap again if he was allowed.

He walks on three legs for now, but acts as if nothing is different. In each moment, he finds joy just as he ever has. In this, there is wisdom.

Lesson #3:

Now, as he rests his tired muscles on the bed, I watch him at all times. I watch that he doesn’t jump, that he eats enough—I even read his face for signs of pain.

Sometimes he catches me, and smiles up, pleased with his master’s attention.

Sometimes, when I think he is comfortable, I get caught up in something else. Then, I often look back to find him watching me instead.

I smile as well.

At this point in our lessons, I’m afraid Bogney has become enchanted by the sound of the washing machine, and has gone to rest near its rhythmic hum. No doubt this too is well chosen, but for now I will let a sleeping dog lie.

He rests more these days, such is the way with healing. That too passes with time though, and Bogney will no doubt be back soon with more classic canine wisdom.

-Brad OH Inc.

On Cakes, Masks, and Coming Full Circle

As usual, it all comes down to ‘freedom’.

Freedom—that elusive catch-all that Americans (and others) so adore bandying about when they can’t have everything they want.

Not unlike a toddler wailing about the world’s injustices because he was sent to his room for hitting his sister, the concept of freedom is all too often used as a self-serving cudgel against the opposing needs of all other people.

Not too long ago, it was about wedding cakes. A significant group of mouth-breathing idiots felt that they were wronged for being ‘forced’ to make wedding cakes—their job mind you—for homosexual couples, because it violated their sense of religious freedom.

Well, they got what they wanted.

While there was no shortage of protests and boycotts, the general consensus was that a business has a right to serve who they see fit.

A glorious day for ‘freedom’, no doubt.

Perhaps predictably, the muddled minds of the masses have since shifted, and they now want exactly the opposite.

In the age of COVID-19, more and more businesses are opting to require customers to don a mask before entering their store.

Tyranny!

In a turn of fortune that surprised no one, the troglodytic morons are now crying that this choice by businesses is a violation of their precious freedom.

So, I suppose it goes something like this:

When it comes to baking a loving couple a cake, it is essential that businesses have the right to refuse service…because freedom.

However, when it comes to keeping the community safe and enforcing the recommended guidelines of medical professionals, businesses have no right to decide who to serve—the customer’s freedom to spread the plague through their slack-jawed maws trumps all other rights.

To be fair, maybe this isn’t really about freedom. Maybe, just maybe, it’s all about another hot-button word that gets thrown around all too often—entitlement.

There are certain groups—in America and abroad—who are not used to hearing the word ‘no’. Tragically, these are not the toddlers from our earlier example, but fully-grown adults in all but mind and temperament.

We’ve written before about what it takes to live in a society—the give and take, the respect for others, and the understanding of differences. Freedom is not the right to do whatever you please whenever you want, and if it is, then there is nothing to stop your neighbour from exercising her freedom by smashing your skull in. That’s not a free society—it’s the utter lack of a society. Society is about compromise.

Simply, you are not free to hurt others, or put them at undo risk, and if a business has a right to deny service to lifestyles they disagree with, then they damn sure have a right to deny service to selfish assholes who think only of themselves at the expense of those around them.

The mask debate was never about liberty, it’s about a lack of perspective—a failure to consider the experiences or needs of anyone but themselves. It comes from a place of privilege, an expectation that everything should revolve around them. It isn’t about God-given and inalienable freedoms, it’s a reaction to the feeling of frustration that comes with not getting their own way for once.

In short, it’s myopic, misanthropic, and fundamentally miserable.

It’s a pathetic state of affairs, but perhaps the previous analogy can still shed some light on the situation. Like the boy sent to his room for putting his freedom to hit over his sister’s freedom to be safe, perhaps a time-out from society is in order. If a person is unable or unwilling to consider the needs of others—if they are so pig-headed and paranoid that they will openly flaunt their disregard for the well-being of the society in which they live, then perhaps they don’t deserve to participate in that society at all. After all, if they are free to infect and jeopardize others, there must undoubtedly be a corresponding freedom to respond in like-kind.

The wheel never stops turning, and our actions for good or ill inevitably come back again. Just like the fight to refuse service has now come around to bite these hateful ne’er-do-wells, so too may their spite and self-focus smite them in the end.

What do you think?

-Brad OH Inc.

Re-Share: Of Pipers and Pigs

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampAs mentioned in a recent update article, this week’s post is another re-share of a previous article that is still tragically relevant.

This piece is a short story, published for the first time in full on this blog. It’s about a Police Officer’s experience at a protest, and the conflict he experiences. Suffice it to say that in light of the riots for police reform currently sweeping the globe, its due time for a good many officers to look inside and ask themselves what their values really are.

**************************************

Of Pipers and Pigs

A Short Story by Brad OH Inc.

The thin metal barricades were all that separated us from them. Judging by the press of people facing us, it was anybody’s guess how long that alone would be sufficient. I gazed down the line—right and left—to the determined men and women by my side. They stood resolutely shoulder to shoulder, as was their duty, and the resolve on their faces did much to conceal the doubt in their eyes.

I saw my own uncertainty mirrored in theirs. It wasn’t so much a question of whether the barricade would hold—such tides had an inconceivable ability to lay waste to even the most thorough plans of men—but how they would react when it did give. The answer would be different for each of them.

With a turn of my head, I brought my attention to the people before me. They were a mixed lot. They wore all manner of clothing, having come here from every walk of life. I saw furious men in fancy suits, raving college kids with gaudy t-shirts, topless folk with body paint…and cameras—so many cameras all aimed at me and my colleagues. They were as eager to judge our course of action as we were to settle upon it.  

The railing, which reached to my midsection, swayed violently against the upheaval. It threatened now to collapse in against us, then to topple over upon them. Many of the onlookers were angry—the sort of anger that occurs only in those who have known great comfort, and now perceive it being denied to them. I felt their breath against my face.

One man loomed up right before me, pushing and shoving as if vying for position on the floor of some mad rock show. Jerking and wheeling, he made his way to the fence, holding up a blindingly bright sign and seeming to scream in tongues. The letters were too close to form words, but danced before me like the disjointed stars of some unfamiliar constellation. What does he want?

A sudden surge brought the mass forward, and the metal joints of the fence screeched in distress. Instinctively, I threw my weight forward to counter the assault, and felt my efforts validated by those beside me working in perfect unison.

Amongst the crowd, some fought harder. Like dogs chasing cars, their desire for action far exceeded their comprehension of the potential results. Others retreated quickly, slipping backwards and leaving in their wake only curses, insults, and more of their kind to fill their place.

Accusations flared in their eyes, confusing me, as I was usually looked to for comfort. Wasn’t that the idea?

Upon my left breast, my fingers drifted absently across my badge, as they did so often in moments like this. It felt the same as ever—the familiar surface that read like brail ever since the day it was first given to me. Each bump and scratch brought back the words of the oath I’d taken so long ago. They would never be forgotten.

So much has changed since then.

Shouts clawed at me from beyond the barricade, but were muffled by voices resounding in my head from much, much further away in time and space.

“What are you going to do about it?” my father had asked me.

I didn’t know, and kept my silence.

“Are you afraid?”

Yes, I knew. “No.”

There was blood on my face, my shirt…my hands.

“It’s all right to be,” he said, leaning down. He was a large man, and wore a rough old wool sweater as he set me upon his lap. “Smart men know when to be afraid.” He always knew how to comfort me.

“But everybody’s blaming someone else. Evan even blames me.” My whining was piteous, but at that age the strength of another is the surest route to vulnerability in yourself.

“That’s the way of the world,” he replied with a knowing sigh. Even in my hardest days, he expected me to find the answers for myself. There was no learning in being told what to do.

“But if no one really knows what happened, how can I know what’s right?” I pleaded, hoping for any bit of inspiration to help me resolve the insignificant playground conflicts which then seemed to be the focal point of all the world’s stress.

Then I saw it. Looking up over my shoulder, I watched the wisdom fade away. The certainty and resolve I’d come to depend on flowed like ice melting in spring, and the sun of confusion shone upon his face, illuminating the deep lines and off-coloured spots of the long years he’d seen. His eyes glassed over, as with a deep recollection he would not share. “I don’t know.” He’d answered.

“I’ll figure it out,” I’d assured him, wrapping my small arms around his shoulders, and losing myself in his familiar scent.

My fingers moved back down from my badge as my gaze wandered out to my left, chasing the sudden sounds of struggle. Farther down the fence, I saw a large throbbing black shape as several officers pushed together. A shouted chant was rising up and spreading from the area, but the words were lost to me.

At the heart of the mob, I could make out Jason, my oldest friend on the force. His uniform was splashed with paint, and he was yelling loudly, pointing at one of the men in front.

Ahead of me the crowd continued to heave and push, frantic to go someplace they didn’t know, and perhaps had only dreamed of. A sudden yell brought me back to the struggle, and I saw them dragging away the protestor Jason had indicated. The man kicked and lashed out; fighting desperately to be free from what he’d so passionately sought mere moments before.

“Just hold your position,” directed one of the other uniformed men beside me. “They’ve got it under control.” I’d never met him before.

The scene was dispersing now—most officers returning to their former positions as Jason and three others carried the man away. He was docile now, smiling innocently at the flashing cameras as my friends dragged his dead weight along. Passing behind me as they went, Jason whispered, “’Right and true’, buddy.”

I felt a subtle smile force its way across my lips. “Right and true,” I mouthed, but he was beyond hearing now. With the departure of my three colleagues, the line shifted as the remaining officers spread out, widening their stances to cover the gaps. I followed suit.

“Fucking pigs!” someone yelled. It made no difference who. Tension stiffened the limbs of those standing beside me as my own spine straightened with indignation. Did they come here today just to pick fights? Many looked as if they had.

But anger was not the only emotion worn by the people before me. They yelled and chanted. They shook the railing and they held up crude signs with uncertain meanings. But as they looked back at us, I could see in them the same fear I concealed in myself, the brooding question as to how this situation would end—what an ending to it would even mean.

The anxiety on their brows told me they knew their danger as well as I did, and were entirely aware that their absent friend was not the exception—that the same could happen as easily to any one of them. Gazing upon their strange looks of apprehension stiffened with resolution, I found myself wondering if their greatest fear was not that they might be arrested today, or that the barricade would break and their flood sweep over our breakwaters. It struck me that perhaps their real concern was that nothing at all would happen; that the tide would pass, and things would remain unchanged, and that they’d need to be back here again some other day.

Each face held a secret judgement, and again my fingers flashed briefly over my cold metal badge, assuring me that I was on the right side of the line. But ‘right’ is a funny word, and with my experience, I knew how to read its presence. Beyond all the anger, beyond the anxieties and fears, beyond the trepidation and dissent, I saw the ‘right’ in every one of them—an absolute certainty, as if they held some truth which I lacked. They believed in their cause absolutely.

It’s a strange thing, that two sides can line up so neatly, and stand in opposition to men who they may have peacefully passed on the street only a day before, yet both be so thoroughly convinced of the sole truth of their own position.

Right and true… I reflected, and I remembered Jason standing proud beside me the day we’d been given our badges. He beamed as the applause took hold of him, while I stood straight and calm by his side. We’d finally made it.

Later that night, we’d sat together in solemn reflection—drinking beers and speaking of the future.

“So, now what?” I’d wondered.

“Now we finally get to begin.” Jason responded as if the path we’d been seeking was laid out before us—forever free of forks or detours.

“Yeah… begin.” I acquiesced.

“Listen,” Jason put his hand on my shoulder. He was three years older than I, and had been a mentor to me as we’d come up through training together. “We’re officers of the law now. No matter where we find ourselves, we’ve got to remember that ‘right’ is on our side.”

I smiled, certain he was correct. Still, there was unease in me, remembering conversations from long ago… people long gone. “What if ‘right’ isn’t always clear?”

Jason took a long pull from his pint glass, emptying it down to suds as he rolled his eyes. “Jesus,” he’d said. “It’s your first day as a cop, and you’re already having doubts about yourself? Shape up man; you’ve reached the Promised Land. That badge you got today—that means ‘right’. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll remember that. What’s got you so down anyway?”

It wasn’t an easy thing to describe, especially in the face of my friend’s confidence. I sat awkwardly, taking noncommittal sips from my glass as Jason stared straight through me. His focus was astounding when he was intent on a subject. “I guess the whole time I was fighting for this, I felt like it would come with some solution. They got me ready for the job, trained me physically and mentally. Yet today, when they pinned it to my shirt, it seemed so heavy.

“Now all the expectations are on me, but I’m still the same person. The same doubts, the same uncertainties, the same ability to see different sides of an argument. I thought it would come with answers…I don’t know—I just expected to be more sure of the truth is all.”

“You’re never going to find any truth outside yourself buddy,” Jason grinned as he spoke, revelling in his perceived wisdom. “But you’ve come this far because you know enough truth already. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Remember all those clowns who started with us. Where are they now? You have a great honour here man; your duty is to serve the people, to do what’s right. That’s the only truth you need.”

“You’re right,” I agreed, finishing my beer.

“Right and true!” Jason smiled.

A deep roar shattered my reverie, returning me to my post. The crowd was shifting, as if the masses were a single great beast breathing in for the charge. It swelled, pushing against the fence, testing it…seeking the breaking point.

Again I threw my shoulder against it, and again my fellow officers were there in unison. We stood as one resolute blockade, convincing ourselves together that the direction of the few could outweigh the determination of the many. Then the beast exhaled, the chants rose up again, and the moment had passed.

Straightening up, I gazed about me—the instant of reprieve allowing me to look out over the sea of humanity and take in the entirety of the scene.

They stretched back as far as I could see. There were people of every imaginable ethnicity, all ages and backgrounds. They all stood packed together in a sprawling, sweaty mass. Some were pressed so close to others they seemed barely able to speak or move, but remained as a number—one amongst many—and that was enough for them.

The square was packed from end to end; the traffic had been redirected well in advance. Somewhere in the distance I heard the beating of drums and tambourines, banging and clanging not with the heavy rhythm of an army on the move, but sounding more like a folk festival; a strange, displaced cultural jamboree tearing down the ritualistic order of our city.

In odd corners and assorted empty pockets amid the human sea, tents had been erected, and here and there circles of protestors danced with looks of joy on their faces, as if oblivious to the chaos around them.

Many held signs, each made by hand and bearing its own unique interpretation of the mob’s intent. I read them skeptically, trying to glean some idea of what exactly that intention was.

Some bore only curt slogans about change, while others featured well known logos and images of public figures, each altered and contorted to share their intended messages.

One logo I spied was instantly familiar. It came attached to my family’s healthcare receipts—the ones which got accepted at any rate. Another one, though it was partially covered with bright red lettering, I recognized to represent the corporation in charge of my pension. I’d heard they weren’t doing so well.

High up all around the square, the same logos—pristine and fresh—looked down accusingly at the scene. Each promised its own deliverance from the daily grind: ‘Fresh Food at Cheap Prices’, ‘Cars to Suit Your Class’… special offers to ‘Buy $100 Now for $120 Later’. Many of the biggest billboards bore bank logos so common amongst the signs of the crowd that it was easy to forget their actual origins.

A scuffle to the right stole my attention, and looking, I saw a ragged protestor in a dull fleece sweater trying to wrestle his sign back from the hands of two of my colleagues. Though torn and bent, on it I could distinguish the defaced countenance of the man who signed my paycheques.

Right and true. The words echoed in my ears, seeming as naturally fitted to one another as polar ends of a magnet…as ‘Us and Them’. I was surprised to feel my fists wrapping themselves around the metal railing before me. It had none of the old etchings of my badge, yet still my fingers clung to its sleek bars as my mind raced.

The uncertainty in the faces squaring off against each other was the only visible balance. I stared at the people beside me, then at those in front of me. Each group stood upon their respective side of the metal barricade, looking to one another as if to ensure the plan hadn’t changed.  Everyone had come here with some expectation, but all stood patiently now, just wondering how it was going to end.

The railing jerked under my hands.

Right and true were sundered by doubt, and the smooth surface of the shifting rail assured me that I was as guideless as the rest—left to draw my own conclusions…though there was still the badge. All lined up beside me, my fellow officers remained strong, doing their duty. Each had undoubtedly reached this position with intentions similar to my own. What are they thinking now?

A sudden urge took me, and I felt my body turn. There was a hand upon my shoulder, though I couldn’t tell if it belonged to an officer or protestor as my vision turned away from the bustling mass behind me and settled upon the ornate building now in front. It stood on our side of the barricade, fenced entirely by my friends and colleagues as suited men passed in and out unhindered.

Your duty is to serve the people, to do what’s right. That’s the only truth you need. Jason’s words rang through my mind as a tremor passed down my spine. I turned back around, and set my shoulders squarely in line with the fence.

The chants and screams were growing louder now, and the heads of the people beyond me drifted side to side wildly as the crowd surged about like boats unmoored against a rising storm.

My right hand drifted towards my chest once more, closing around the cold metal over my heart. My left remained upon the railing as it jockeyed wildly about, threatening to fail at any moment. Which way will I face when it does?

Right and true. I felt all things at once now: the barricade before me, the badge upon me, the gun at my side, and the surging mob pushing towards me. The fence bounced and jostled—the frail division line between us ready at any moment to collapse upon itself. Then we’ll all stand together.

I imagined the protestors struggling over the wreckage of the barricade, pondered the responses of my fellow officers…and of myself. ‘Right’ was a hollow spot in my chest, and ‘true’ was but a taunting memory. There was a lump in my throat I could not swallow, and I found my thoughts settling ultimately upon my own family at home, wondering what they’d expect of me.

Still the fence held, though I knew that whether here and now, or later and elsewhere, it had to break in the end. There were questions to be answered, and when the tides of society shifted, there was no barrier sufficient to stand against the flood.

I straightened my back and waited, knowing I had a decision to make.

-Brad OH Inc.

Re-Share: ‘Politics’ is Not a Dirty Word

As mentioned in a recent update article, this week’s post is an re-share of a previous article that is still tragically relevant.

This piece examines the concept of ‘not talking about politics’. What does it mean for an issue to be political, and when is it OK to talk about these issues?

**************************************

Another day, another tragedy. Presently, it’s the Las Vegas massacre on my mind, or the recent terrorist attack in Edmonton. But depending when you’re reading this, I have sorry little doubt there will be some fresh new event to use for context. Nothing will be different if we use another example, so it doesn’t really matter anyways. Inevitably, you will be told that “this isn’t the time to get political.”

“Let’s not politicize this.”

“Can’t we just have a day to grieve?”

There are a million ways to say it, but it always boils down to the same idea—“Let’s not go using the government to solve problems…that’s not what they’re for.”

It happens after all the most political events. We are told not to get political, not to examine issues and causes. Just be sad.

Pray…if that’s your thing.

Just…don’t try to do anything about it.

They can’t afford real change. They won’t.

But ‘politics’ is not a dirty word, and must not be treated as such if there is ever to be any real progress in this sad world of ours. To turn any political discussion into a taboo subject is to actively waste the opportunity for learning and growth. Further, to claim that political discourse over a tragedy is disrespectful to the victims is not only unhelpful, it’s pigheadedly ignorant.

If we want to prevent tragedy, we must learn from those that occur, and improve our society to prevent future occurrences. That’s what politics is. Anything else—any claim of respect, or timing, or taboo is obstruction of politics. It isn’t kind-hearted, or even well-intentioned. It’s intellectual dishonesty, and in any such instance, you can be damn sure someone is being well paid to convince you that scoffing at the chance to fix things is somehow the moral high ground.

Yes, this is about informed gun control policies.

At least today.

It could also be about systemic racism.

Or police brutality.

Or climate change.

Or money in politics.

Or dozens of other important debates which have been put off for far too long.

These aren’t inappropriate subjects, and they are absolutely the business of politicians and citizens alike. What they are not, is the business of corporations and lobbyists, and yet those are the only ones who seem effective at turning it into their business—specifically, profit.

Shame on them, and shame on anyone who resorts to such hair-brained, nihilistic diversions as ‘let’s not make this political’.

Avoiding civil discourse creates a gap in our understandings, and feeds the ever-widening divide in our nation, and our world. It is uncouth to discuss who you vote for. It’s provocative to talk about the ecosystem during a hurricane. It begins to feel anti-social to make any attempt to discuss our world, when it should be incumbent upon every citizen to do so.

Sadly, when this happens, it usually quickly devolves into attacks like ‘snowflake’, ‘libtard’, ‘hack’, or ‘radical’. This inevitably kills any drive towards honest engagement, and prevents us from truly exploring our values and examining the facts to dream up a better world.

The truth of the matter is that at the end of the day, just about everything is political—especially if it has the potential to affect another living thing without their direct consent. That may seem like a heavy qualification, but there’s an easy litmus test to use for those of you too jaded to do your own research.

Is a great deal of money being spent to convince you something is none of your business?

If so, it’s probably directly affecting to you, your family, and the world you live in.

So, talk about it.

Scream if need be.

If that fails, act.

Make them hear you.

Leave them no choice.

You still have power—never forget that.

-Brad OH Inc.

COVID Contemplations

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampIt’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog. Strange times are upon us, and the slow spiral of the world down the drain seems to accelerate.

For four months, the world has been in the heavy grip of COVID-19, yet with the best medical and scientific knowledge in the world at our fingertips, people balk at the request to make even the slightest changes to help prevent disaster.

It’s nothing new, of course. It never is. The same apathetic attitude permeates efforts to implement sensible gun laws, to curb climate change, and most presciently, to reform the brutal, racist policing in the United States and beyond.

In what may be the most teachable moment in the last several generations, America stands poised to learn absolutely nothing. As soon as they got out of quarantine, the hopped merrily back to the killing of black citizens in the streets, the intentional misunderstandings of science, and the distrust of anything claiming to have the truth.

It’s a maddening age, and it of any writer with a passion for political commentary or dystopian futures is likely to find themselves dumbfounded by the world’s ability to defy the plausible and mock the logical.

As for myself, I’ve been working on two novels, which are coming along nicely. I’ve also written several short stories, one of which will soon be published in the Edmonton Writer’s Group Fourth Anthology of Stories. More news on that to come.

In the meantime, I remain at a loss of what to say here—and thus divert my attention elsewhere. What is missing? Is there any topic or situation you the reader would like explored? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page, or by e-mail (link on the homepage).

Until then, when the future dries up, many tend to glorify the past. And when the world seems to play ceaselessly at the same silly games, the past is as good an indicator as any.

In light of that, over the next few weeks I’d like to re-share a couple of articles which are—sadly—as relevant today as they were then.

The first will be about the concept of ‘not talking about politics’. What does it mean for an issue to be political, and when is it OK to talk about these issues?

The second is a short story, published for the first time in full on this blog. It’s about a Police Officer’s experience at a protest, and the conflict he experiences. Suffice it to say that in light of the riots for police reform currently sweeping the globe, its due time for a good many officers to look inside and ask themselves what their values really are.

I hope you enjoy these posts over the next couple week.

Your friends,

-Brad OH Inc.

The Gentleman Juggalo: The Wraith: Hell’s Pit

The Gentleman Juggalo Podcast just released its ninth episode, ‘The Wraith: Hell’s Pit’. We’re also happy to share that ‘The Gentleman Juggalo’ is now available on Spotify!

In this episode of The Gentleman Juggalo, Brad and Scott discuss the second half of the sixth Joker’s Card, The Wraith’s exhibit of Hell’s Pit. They discuss a return to ‘insanity’, what makes ICP work for Scott, and request input from listeners about what they’d like to hear going forward.

Check it and other episodes out at The Gentleman Juggalo!

mcl,

-Brad OH Inc.

The Gentleman Juggalo: The Wraith: Shangri-la

The Gentleman Juggalo Podcast just released its eighth episode, ‘The Wraith: Shangri-la’. We’re also happy to share that ‘The Gentleman Juggalo’ is now available on Spotify!

In this episode of The Gentleman Juggalo, Brad and Scott discuss the first half of the sixth Joker’s Card- The Wraith’s exhibit of Shangri-la. They discuss Brad’s first Gathering, why Scott isn’t a Juggalo, and ask listeners for their stories about hearing The Wraith for the first time.

Check it and other episodes out at The Gentleman Juggalo!

mcl,

-Brad OH Inc.