Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Cowboy at my Window

There is a crowd of us standing at my window gawking at a cowboy who has been pacing the sidewalk below for the past 20 minutes. 

Most of the group consists of unattached females who remain unattached by choice and are ostensibly proud of this choice. There is much babble about the joys of independence and not having to answer to anyone.

Yet the instant an even seemingly attractive male is spotted around the building, estrogen-fueled pandemonium ensues. It starts with a pressured psst! and builds momentum until we have a situation like the one we have at the moment.

There are too many women at the window now and sooner or later some excessively eager lady, probably Myrtle from down the hall if she finds out about this, which she always does, will whistle or yell something lewd and draw attention to us.

Myrtle is a problem.

I have explained before how Belinda and I do not like our covert activities detected by those we watch from our window. These friggin women with their suppressed, unmet needs are not helping and Myrtle is the worst of them all.

Belinda is the first to notice the cowboy, a relatively rare sight in these parts. We do not normally see them as up, close and personal as the cowboy we are currently staring at, particularly right outside our window, isolated from the herd for easy, undetected scrutiny.

Thus, because of the rarity of the situation, when Belinda initially notices the cowboy, she becomes so excited that she falls out of her swivel chair in the process of spinning around to tell me about him and injures herself. I jump up to help her, but she impatiently waves me off. Her minor injury is nothing compared to the cowboy.

“Go to the window! There’s a REAL cowboy out there! Oh my god,” she gushes, “I’m flushed!”

As I go to the window to see what all the fuss is about, Belinda pulls herself together long enough to phone Karen from a few floors up to come down immediately. There’s been a cowboy sighting.

Karen will be interested in this. She is off fishermen after being cheated on one too many times, but has a thing for cowboys because, well, who doesn’t? She also loves herself a “silver fox with good shoes”, as she is fond of saying, and is constantly on the prowl for a man, although we suspect this is more talk for the sake of an all-female audience than any real desire to “catch” a fresh one, as she hasn’t gone on a date in years. At this stage of the game, she’s come to realize the reality and the fantasy are NOT the same thing.

Nevertheless, we keep up the pretense and whenever we spot what seems to be a suitable specimen, we have a habit of notifying Karen. Plus, in this particular circumstance the three of us had just, maybe an hour beforehand at coffee, finished a “hot and bothered” discussion regarding the sex appeal of a good, old-fashioned cowboy, with Belinda breaking out in a rendition of Paula Cole’s, “Where have all the cowboys gone?” and Karen insisting Canadian cowboys are every bit as appealing as any American cowboy you can find to the south.

Belinda vehemently disagreed, saying, “If you want the real McCoy, you HAVE to go to Montana”. I don’t know where Belinda gets her information, but I’m pretty sure she’s never been to Montana.

In any event, in light of this earlier conversation, Belinda figures Karen will appreciate the coincidence of a cowboy outside our window only a short while later. In addition to ogling strange men, we are big on coincidences and keep a running tally.

“She will want to get in on the action,” Belinda tells me and I agree.

When she gets Karen on the line, Belinda is downright giddy as she repeats the bit about there being a “real” cowboy down here. But then before my incredulous eavesdropping ears she gets carried away in her description and says something about him wearing chaps and he’s built, Karen, like a scene straight out of Magic Mike!”


No, he is not in chaps.

I also don’t know what Magic Mike spoof she must be referring to, but as I take my first scrutinizing look at the spindly cowboy in question I can see why a little embellishment is necessary.

He does not hold up under careful observation.

That however doesn’t matter anymore, as intrigue has now been created and the cowboy effect, much like a bewitching halo effect, has been initiated. At this juncture, Belinda could claim he’s the cover model for a Lori Wilde romance, and regardless of what he actually looks like, no one would bat an eye; the cowboy effect is that strong.

Belinda, who by this time is completely under the control of the cowboy effect, gets off the phone with Karen and informs me, as if she’s sharing an important piece of CSIS intel, “She’ll be right down”.

We stand at the window waiting for Karen, taking in the cowboy in all his full glory, replete with tight jeans, spurred boots, tucked in western style shirt, ornate belt buckle and black cowboy hat. But soon enough the sound of Lenore’s high-pitched squeal destroys the spell. 

Belinda angrily shushes nosey Lenore, who has barged in to check out what we’re looking at. She sees the cowboy straight away and turns to Henrietta who unbelievably has also appeared out of nowhere at the window and quips, “I’ll tell ya what, Henrietta, I wouldn’t be kicking him outta my bed if he farted under the blankets!”  

Henrietta snorts she laughs so hard at Lenore’s stupid joke. Belinda also chuckles, but I do not have it in me. This is not the first occasion I’ve experienced Lenore say this, and I cringe every time it comes out of her mouth. It wasn’t clever the first time and definitely not this many times. It’s too much.

I wish Lenore would stop coming into our office.

But then here comes Marge.  She is a round, over-inflated-bouncing-ball of a woman with penguin flipper arms and a plump tomato-looking head, who at this moment decides to accompany Henrietta’s little sound-bite with, “Oh yeah! Ride me cowboy!”


Marge can’t even ride a bicycle or sit in a chair; she just kind of rolls off of everything. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how she manages to walk. I cannot BEGIN to imagine the logistics of anyone riding her. The thought of it leaves me feeling uneasy and in combination with Lenore’s fart-themed commentary not a little queasy.   

“Good lord, Marge, get a hold of yourself!” Henrietta scolds.

Henrietta only finds Lenore funny for reasons I am not equipped to appreciate. To everyone else, Henrietta is a miserable spinster who despises “amoral” behavior and speech, yet always seems to be around, avidly listening when these “amoral” conversations are going on.

She is also the self-appointed mentor of people who do not know she’s mentoring them. Apparently she’s mentoring me, for example. I had no idea until Lenore mentioned it in passing. I hate Lenore.

Both Lenore and Henrietta are single, like everyone else of course, but it seems to bother Henrietta the most.  She tends to defensively ramble on and on about all the men who wanted to marry her, but couldn’t due to a series of convoluted rationalizations that no one is interested in hearing and only Lenore can follow. I suppose that’s why Henrietta likes Lenore.

But Marge isn’t affected whatsoever by who Henrietta likes or doesn’t like and continues to pant over the cowboy with an unfortunate litany of lecherous statements I do not care to repeat.

The noise level is steadily climbing by the time Karen finally materializes. She is a fit, youthful woman in her late 50s with a confident stride who can be a lot of fun, but in this environment has a no-nonsense attitude. She comes marching into our office with two frightened women I’ve never seen before trailing behind her.

“I brought Betty and Martha,” Karen reports to the room, all business, “they need to see this, too”.

Things are getting totally out of hand with this cowboy. Word of his presence is spreading faster than word of the free mammogram clinic that was haphazardly thrown together at the start of the day.

If they really want to attract more women to a clinic where unpleasant things are done to sensitive body parts, they really should consider inviting the cowboy as bait. Every breast in a 100-kilometer radius would surely follow.  

There are now seven of us standing at the window. This is ridiculous.

And if that’s not enough, Megan, who is 23 and has no suppressed, unmet needs, comes into the office next and asks, “What’s going on?”

Lenore, encouraged by Marge’s string of vulgarities and still vibrating from the high of her own normally well-received signature phrase, rushes to inform Megan of the cowboy, mentioning the thing about not kicking him out of her bed for the 49th time in 10 minutes.

Megan does not laugh.

She pushes past Lenore, takes one look at the cowboy, crinkles up her nose and says to the rest of us, all over 30, most over 40 and beyond, “Eww, he’s old!” and breezes out of the room as fast as she came in, leaving Lenore deflated.  

I note Lenore’s fallen expression and fight the urge to moan and roll my eyes. She looks so dejected that I don’t have the heart to openly belittle her and suggest instead she ignore Megan. I awkwardly pat her on the shoulder and say, “Don’t worry, Lenore, Megan’s young, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed, either”.

Lenore brightens and I feel like a traitor to my own soul. However, I like hurt people even less than I like redundancy, which is probably why I can't stand myself half the time. It makes life problematic as there is no way to get away from yourself. Wherever you go, there you are -- a constant rival you carry with you in your head.

Anyway, the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes in the form of Myrtle. She, as predicted, has caught wind of what’s going on here and comes whistling in. She hasn’t even seen the cowboy yet and is already catcalling.

By the time she reaches the window, her presence has caused such a commotion that the cowboy senses he’s being stalked. Suspicious, he looks up to discover much to his surprise and visible terror, us, a clutch of predatory ovaries, glaring down at him.

He nervously lights what we later decide must be a Marlboro cigarette and anxiously looks around, uncomfortably glancing up every now and then and giving us a better opportunity to make out his facial features and take in the rest of his skeletal physique.

No one staring at the cowboy is a fan of smokers and there is nothing arousing about a skeleton. As a result, the cowboy effect quickly evaporates and a disappointed crowd of sexually frustrated females disperse in a flurry of renewed man-hate, which is nothing more than a defense mechanism. You malign what you can’t have even as you yearn to have it.

Belinda, who is noticeably trance-free now, loses her creepy enthusiasm and snaps at Karen, the only one left with us, “There’s no way THAT cowboy is from Montana! He must be one of your oily cowboys from Alberta. He looks downright sickly”.

Belinda’s disdain is palpable and Karen is thoroughly insulted. Damn cowboys.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Always Look Up

I look out my second storey office window and observe the comings and goings of the people below. Most of them don’t notice me watching. If they do something they know they shouldn’t, such as light a cigarette while standing directly in front of a huge, impossible to miss “No Smoking” sign right as an emphysema patient attached to a canister of oxygen makes his way through the cloud of smoke, they will look to their left and their right, behind them and ahead, but they hardly ever look up.

You should always look up.

I never feel the need to report the people I watch, although I suppose if I witnessed someone physically assaulting a child I might be more inclined to intervene. 

For the most part, though, I’m interested not only in the unguarded behaviors of the people outside, but in the opinions and assumptions regarding those behaviors by us watching inside, usually me and one other person, sometimes two; occasionally if the “show” is particularly lively we’ll call over a third or fourth.

If you get too many watchers, however, you run the risk of someone getting self-righteous and wanting to do something to stop the more dismal of the behaviors we witness. This will not do if you’re interested in observing a person in his or her natural state in an effort to try and figure out why people do the things they do and perhaps glean some insight about yourself in the process.

You should therefore never interfere with the object of your interest or draw attention to yourself if you can help it because you don’t want the observer effect to kick in and change your subject’s normal course of action, possibly skewing your data and invalidating your findings.

On this day, I watch a woman I am familiar with named Florence, who, according to her, successfully completed a residential treatment program and has been clean and sober for the past 4 months. She is one of these tiny, loudmouthed people with pockmarked skin and a smoker’s voice that travels easily. I can hear snippets of her steady stream of bullshit. But she is a charming bullshitter and I don’t hold it against her. When you live in the trenches of society you have to find ways to survive, ways to feed the beast. The beast doesn’t care about your moral judgments.

She is talking with a group of people, including a twitchy guy I recognize as her no-good user boyfriend she claimed to have broken up with before she went into treatment, as well as a known “crack whore” who likes to jog around town in a bright orange bikini advertising her wares. If I wanted to encourage her, I'd suggest a webcam might not only be safer, but more lucrative. However, I do not want to encourage her and she has no idea who I am anyway so she'd probably just tell me to fuck off. The final member of the group is a notorious IV drug user and thief named Troy, who, before he entered into a methadone program, financed his addiction, his beast, with violence and petty crime.

He is an enormous man with the stature of a monster, a face tattoo and an intense Asperger’s stare that makes him appear more threatening than it turns out he actually is outside the rumor mill and its fantastical fabrications.

All four of them are drinking from Tim Horton’s coffee cups and smoking in defiance of the aforementioned no smoking sign. They are talking over each other, boisterous, erupting in laughter every few minutes with a healthy dose of expletives punctuating their speech. The noise rises up to our open window, which is what originally beckons me from my desk.

My unexpected movement piques my colleague Belinda's curiosity until she can’t stand it any longer and joins me at the window (even though earlier she vowed she would not allow me or my extracurricular interests distract her today). Regardless, she immediately understands what has drawn me there and with an excited "psst" calls in Megan, who happens to be walking by our door. Megan is one of the few we trust not to get overly riled up by the show and ruin our cover.

Everyone else around here gets pretty excited when they see any of the quartet in question, but especially Troy, and rush about screaming that there’s been a Troy sighting! A Troy sighting! Lock your doors and don’t walk to your car alone at night! Troy's near the building!

I pay no mind to the hysteria and walk to my car alone at night. It helps that I don’t believe the gossip that he’s as violent as they say, and besides, most of the time these  "sightings" turn out to be a false alarm. Also, methadone makes you lazy. I can't really see Troy heroically rolling himself off the couch like a dopey Dark Knight whose agility has been severely retarded from too much "orange juice", wipe the drool from his cheek, and blurry-eyed force himself to hike the miles of hill it would take to victimize me. I have nothing of value. It would not be worth all that exertion at all. I’m sure he knows this.

However, if you ask, with feigned indifference I will tell you I walk alone because I have a passive, albeit fleeting, wish to not exist. Bring on the drug-fueled psychos, I don’t care (which I won’t tell you is bravado and not authentic indifference because I am attracted to the idea of not caring. Eventually I’ll get there. Fake it until you make it. I’m not a liar, I’m merely delaying the truth).

My feeling is that the universe has had its paw on my tail since the start of this unpleasant journey called life and it makes no difference if I obediently sit still or flail about in a frantic effort to escape. None of it sets me free. Why then waste what little self-respect I do have on going after a dangling carrot that there's no chance I'll ever reach, or on unquestioning subservience to the status quo? 

Still, I don't like the idea of totally giving up either, so rather than allow complete dejection to set in as the world humiliates me into submission before devouring me altogether, I say fuck it. Whatever. Pass me the bottle. I'll just sit here and wait it out watching everyone else make fools of themselves, let them amuse me while I wait.

And this “whatever” attitude is what I feel when I witness Troy do exactly that: Pass the bottle. He quickly glances to his left and to his right, like they do, behind him and finally ahead, over the hedge and through into the lobby window to make sure no one can see what he's about to do. He doesn’t look up and not for the first time I wonder if this not looking up thing is related to a loss of faith after either a hard life in the trenches, or a pampered life in the gilded cage where mortals are made to feel like gods, thereby rendering true divinity wholly unnecessary. OR, more likely, there really are only a few genuine believers out there, i.e. believers who have faith as opposed to believers who were simply indoctrinated, desperate or heard something that appealed to their ego. If there were as many believers who claim to be believers, you’d think more people would look up.

Troy, satisfied he's done an adequate check and that no one is watching, digs into his backpack. He pulls out a king can of beer, takes Florence’s cup, dumps out the contents and pours in the frothy liquid which spills over the sides, causing Florence to shriek with laughter. The other two eagerly hold out their cups for the same clandestine treatment. When Troy's done, he throws the empty cans (he manages to use 6) into the hedge and the four of them clink their Tim’s cups, pleased with themselves for getting away with their rebellious act against the social order.

From the window, the three of us silently watch this interaction until the four imbibers stub out their cigarette butts, toss them behind the hedge near the discarded beer cans, and disperse.

I'm left feeling mildly disappointed Florence can’t maintain sobriety or stay away from her twitchy user boyfriend in the same way I feel disappointed over the shitty ending of a movie I’ve invested nearly 2 hours of my time watching. I hold on, not because I was enjoying the movie, but because I was anticipating what I hoped would be a happy, redemptive ending, ultimately saving the film in its eleventh hour from making a permanent home on my hate list, and restoring my faith in all humanity. It's a ridiculously tall order for a bad movie, I realize.

It seems I’m running out of things to have faith in.

But sometimes hope prevails, and before we too can disperse back to our corporate enslavement, I notice Beggar Bob. He is a "prominent" homeless man around town whose real name no one knows, so we've taken to calling him Beggar Bob. I've been admonished by my still idealistic younger sister, a social worker with a shiny new degree, that it is insensitive to call Beggar Bob a beggar. 

That may be, I tell her, but I think Bob would laugh at wording meant to be "sensitive" to his plight by a society that in every other way dismisses him as unworthy of their respect, attention and coinage. 

Bob is the last person pretending to be something he's not. He's a survivor, tough as nails, believer in the doctrine of grace, and willing to face the judgment of man with a smirk and a shrug of his shoulders.

Thinking this makes me smile despite myself. It's weird how Bob seems to appear out of thin air with a tattered garbage bag wherever someone has discarded something they decide is trash, but he recognizes as prophet profit.

As I watch Bob digging in the hedge, I notice him look to his left and to his right, behind him and ahead. And just as I think there’s no way he’ll look up, he does.

We lock eyes and acknowledge each other with a slight nod of the head before he redirects his focus back to his salvaging endeavor. The other two jump around screeching, “He can see us! He can see us!” 

I disagree and tell them I don’t think he can in fact see us. For some reason I decide to keep Bob's acknowledgement of us watching him to myself. I feel almost protective towards him. I don't know why, other than perhaps I've built him up into some sort of legend inside my head.

As for Megan and Belinda, they aren't plagued with fanciful musings in the same way I am and soon lose interest in Bob.  They return to what they were doing and I'm left standing alone at the window still watching my imaginary prophet. 

It has started to rain, and I can't help but notice that the wet sheen that's taken shape on top of his bald head kind of resembles, I'm sorry to say, a halo (next he'll sprout wings).  

But of course he doesn't sprout wings and instead looks up at me one last time. He’s retrieved the sixth can and lifts it up as if in a toast. I smile, once again despite myself, and give him two thumbs up.  It seems Bob has brought the trust out in me.

Faith restored.