exercise: N 2.9

N exercise 2.9

The bunting is still in the muggy, stagnant air. Each coloured triangle is coated with a thin layer of grit, so fine as to be practically invisible. The drooping lines of festive decorations run around the perimeter of the lot, and not one of the triangles moves. They just hang, motionless.
It’s too hot even for the birds. There must be some up there, in the trees, but I haven’t seen a one all afternoon. Sometimes their singing is so loud, so jarring in its cacophonous overlapping, that I have to bring customers into the dealership itself to be heard. Today, though, there’s no sound at all. No screeching birds, no passing cars. The sidewalk is empty, baking. The brutal sun is hidden behind a sheet of smoggy grey cloud, saving us from the worst of the heat, but it makes the world grey, too. A flat, lifeless grey, hanging over everything.
At three o’clock I’m sitting in my tiny office, reclining in my chair, my arms dangling at my sides. My computer has put itself to sleep, and the chime at the door of the dealership hasn’t tinkled in days. I peer through the slats in the window, rubbing at the grit with my shirt sleeve, to see if Mr. Masabusi is out for his daily walk, even in this heat. There’s no sign of the old man or his walker with the sliced tennis balls.
Drooping back into my chair, it seems the place has somehow grown darker. It’s not for some minutes that I realize the bulb in my desk lamp has burnt out. I wonder when it happened. I’d not noticed it flickering, even once, and yet the few assorted papers scattered across my desk are in such a murky gloom as to be unreadable. I brush them aside into a rough pile at the edge of the desk. A moment later, I sweep them onto the floor, and there they stay. I recline in my chair, close my eyes.

The bunting flaps in the warm, friendly breeze, sparkling and giving colourful life to the perimeter of the lot. Blues and reds and whites wink at the customers browsing the cars, giving the whole place a festive vibe.
Birds and squirrels fill the vibrant green trees surrounding the lot. The birds are a riot today, each little creature chirping its heart out, calling to one another. Even the squirrels seem extra chittery today, as though sharing some exciting news happening amongst the denizens of the trees. Birds and squirrels race from tree to tree, streaks of colour and sound. Their chatter nearly drowns out the voices of the customers, and my own, but we all smile and strain to speak over the chirps, laughing about the noisy creatures.
The sun shines gentle rays on the lot throughout the day, and at three, as always, Mr. Masabusi, gripping his walker, the slit tennis balls scooting across the pavement, shuffles by. He waves at me, calls out, asks how the wife is. I tell him that she’s nearly due and he grins, maneuvers his walker over to where I’m showing a hybrid four-door to a young couple, and Mr. Masabusi interrupts us briefly to shake my hand. The couple smiles at this, and we all wave goodbye as Mr. Masabusi continues on his way.
I make several sales under the golden sun, even stay late to close a deal with the young couple, who are eager to get their new hybrid home. I baby it with a fresh coat of polish just before they drive away, and the vehicle gleams in the evening sunset. As their new red tail lights disappear over a hill, I wave, a genuine smile on my face that I couldn’t get rid of if I tried. I quickly organize the outstanding paperwork on my desk and skip out into the pleasant evening, drive home with the top down. My wife greets me with a grin.

Logan Bright

exercise: N 2.8

N exercise 2.8

The library on a sunny Sunday is filled with older people in no particular hurry. Most, though not all, have a book or two in front of them, or a nespaper propped open on a knee. They flip through the pages of their books, clean their glasses, check their text messages. A guy with a black bandana hanging out of the back pocket of his jeans, wearing a Roncesvalles Ave t-shirt, checks a computer, but sees something there that doesn’t agree with him, and he walks away. There is the smell of sweat, of bodies exposed to the heat outside. The air conditioning, so weak as to be the barest disturbance of the stagnant air, spreads the smells around.
A lady in a fuchsia top pops a tic-tac and starts writing with a blunt pencil inside a spiral notebook she’s got open over the other books arrayed around her – accounting stuff, maths, a calendar. She glances around herself often, but a spark of discipline seems to take her in these moments, and she snaps back to her work for a few minutes. Somewhere in the back, by the children’s area, a boy is wailing, while another child, a girl, woops and woo-hoos. A happy-looking tree in a planter stands sucking up the rays that bounce through the big east-facing bay windows. It must be bathed every morning when the sun rises. Outside, the wind is high enough to knock a potted plant onto its side, but in here, in the library, there’s not even a gentle rustling of leaves.

A bored but authoritative voice crackles over the loudspeakers concealed in the ceiling. It tells the remaining patrons that the library will soon be closed. The lady with the tic-tacs stacks her paperwork and books – it’s a university course she’s working on, as a mature student, it seems – and funnels it all into a patent-leather purse that she shoulders with an effort. A man in a graphic tee is sitting at a table, with his hands folded and his gaze fixed upon the middle distance. As the shadows deepen in the library, he doesn’t move. He’ll have to be asked personally by security to leave, and he’ll comply without complaint. The last librarian on the premises sits down at each computer terminal in turn and puts the machines to sleep. The rolling carts for shelving books are all empty now, ready to accept tomorrow’s load.
Later, a third-party cleaning crew will let themselves in through the back door and vacuum away the scents of body odour. The sun races west and the library is left in darkness, until the next day, when the light will shine again on the happy tree, changing its leaves from grey to green.

Logan Bright

exercise: N 2.7

N exercise 2.7 objective setting of Human vs Nature

The earth swells and falls in steep grades. The roots of young trees, coursing with vitality and strength, criss-cross the tangled paths, erupting from the soil like jagged rocks in an awful harbour. Sharp stones, too, fill the trails, made of edge and corner, points jutting up from concealing earth to snag errant ankles.
Trees rise up from the soil, reaching into the atmosphere, their vivid green canopies murmurring to one another, their heights unreachable. Dark branches caress and sway together in a lurid, cosmic dance. Birds, hidden within the boughs, chitter to one another, issuing threats, seductions. Now and then, a flash of darkness as a bird takes wing, casts its blurred shadow against the fecund backdrop. Insects, too, above, buzzing. Communicating in their incomprehensible dialect, too small to see at a glance, but crawling, covering every centimetre of the forest.
Some of the greenery is poisonous, to human and animal alike. Plain-looking plants, green stalks flashing in the sunlight, delicate white flowers atop; a Latinized scientific name, and a playful, everyday one; all belie the acids coursing through each fleshy cell of these plants, so unassuming in appearance. They’re scattered throughout this place, within the meadows, under the shade of trees, poking up among the smooth rocks of the marshy river bank. There is a cure for the poison, an antidote for the vicious symptoms, but it’s not to be found in the woods.
The white noise of a rushing river filters up through the vegetation from its valley below. There, the powerful water dominates the stones and dead trunks that have fallen into its path – it cuts the very earth over which it runs. Erodes, takes it away, particle by particle, exchanging today for tomorrow.
Shifting winds bring thick grey clouds into the sky where once there was clear blue. A chill descends and the green shadows lengthen to an inky grey-black. Roots and stones slither into darkness, concealed anew. Thunder cracks like a loosened load of rubble spilling onto the ground. The rain will come soon, the forest will be transformed.

Logan Bright

exercise: N 2.6

N exercise 2.6 – a train ride

The cabin’s lit with flat white light, day and night. It reflects back at the passengers from the black and empty windows, big picture windows for taking in the landscape when there’s landscape to take in. The train car sways back and forth, rhymthic clacking of the tracks beneath, gently lulling the exhausted patrons into a hypnotic stupor as they skim editorials, pencil in sudokus, post comments on Insta. Another train, a duplicate, rushes past in the opposite direction, impossibly close, so close that it practically scratches the paint of the side of the train. It’s here and then gone in a bewildering rush of speed, a furious corridor of power, here, then not. Each cabin is just like this one, with emergency exits laid out in the right spaces, equidistant from one another – the cabin’s unique number in a simple, sans serif font, big black letters above the doors at the front and back. Yellow emergency stripping just above eye-level at each seat. The passengers face one another in two by twos, each seat part of a quad, two facing two, and though some have elevated their bags and possessions to the level of passengers and occupied seats, most are understanding enough to push their things under their seats, crammed up in the foot well with the socks, leather, and rubber.

The train’s synthetic voice speaks the names of the stops, struggling with the pronunciations of some, and that struggle is preserved in the recording that plays every time, every run of this long train, one of many in a sprawling network of commuter transit in this most densely-populated region of the country. The pale interior of each car is a far cry from the posh appointments of a Victorian-era carriage but of course it’s much more affordable for people these days than ever it was. And no coal since these beauties, all white and cream and branded green, are all electric. Roads across the region are blocked to permit the train to run unchallenged.

Logan Bright

exercise: N 2.3

N exercise 2.3 – ordinary and extraordinary

On my desk rests a perfect yellow square, except that it is not a square, for it has depth – dozens of identical perfect yellow squares lay just beneath the one on the top, holding it aloft until the next, on-deck, takes its place. The square on top has lines and curves upon its face, in red; some in shadow, some in grey light filtering through the rain, but each unmistakably red; these lines and curves are in three groupings, staggered in a staircase fashion, and together, these curves and lines, of which there are 15 – some distinct, some joined and overlapping – convey meaning. At some point the perfect yellow square with the 15 red lines and curves will be removed, discarded, and a new yellow square – even more perfect, for it won’t have the red on it – will take its place, awaiting etchings of its own.

Below my feet is a circle, except it has depth, too, if only minutely – a few millimeters are the most – and it’s wider at its diameter than three of my feet side by side. On its face, upon which I stand, is a wine-red backdrop covered with looping white patterns, calling to mind flowers and flowing water though the patterns look nothing like either of these things. They begin and repeat without end, these patterns, joining tightly at the centre of the circle / thin cylinder, the dead centre upon which my centre of gravity rests. This once was a placemat, or was intended as such when it was acquired from the home-goods shop, but now it lives as a mat to cushion my feet when standing at my desk.

Right now there are giant rocks shooting through space, and space is all around us, except for the tiny fragment of space where the environment is. We pay special attention to the environment. But there are rocks and chunks of ice everywhere; minerals agglutinated into nasty shards. They’re zooming around up there in the sky, but also down there, in the southern hemisphere’s sky, too. The sky is three-dimensional, at least.

I have a slab of plastic and glass that tells me everything I want to know, presuming I have the wherewithal to ask it. It’s inert until I touch it in its special place, and then it lights up like the dawn in an instant. It might chirp good-naturedly as a sort of welcome, a hello, had I not told it not to many months ago. Its plain black face catches the grey and grimy sun bouncing down from the buildings, reflects it back at me. Its bottom is white instead of black but of course it’s resting on its bottom – it can’t stand on its own. Or it is standing, and it stands on its bottom. There are tiny particles in there, tinier than I could see or try to draw with an end of my thinning hair, and they run the show, really. I just stand and watch and command. Sometimes I use a little wire to attach the slab to the wall and it likes that, it’s thankful, and so am I, because the wall will allow the slab to keep on moving, keep on blinking on when I touch that special place.

It’s much like the plants on my windowsill, except they don’t chirp and their wire to the wall is the sun. Sometimes I give them a drink of my tea, when the water isn’t too hot.

Logan Bright

exercise: N 2.2

N exercise 2.2

objects from my childhood home

Coke memorabilia (endless)
lamp with a ship’s wheel to turn it on and off
low-hanging ceilings in the basement
huge chest freezer
an L-sectional
a plaque of bronze reading “At this site in 1857 nothing happened”
a “Fuck Iran” button attached to the mesh of a speaker in the dining room
an oval dining room table with insertable leaf
those cubes of translucent material that are stacked in walls and whatnot and they admit light but imperfectly – it’s warped and distorted within the cube and rendered only as abstract shape and line to the eye
a combination TV-VCR in my bedroom, 13″
too many coats in the closet
a carving of a sun and a crescent moon with half-smiling faces
an ancient 7-Up branded thermometer
big-screen rear-projection TV
rectangular mirror over the fireplace (the fireplace didn’t run)
carvings of flat Jamaican faces from my folks’ honeymoon
a framed photo of my parents in front of an old car
litterbox under the basement stairs
a wide-mouthed lamp with a red bulb
a small TV in a cupboard
a used futon
a bowling-ball sized ball of rubber bands

Working on digital projects with friends was a big part of my childhood for a few years. Whether we were constructing websites to share animated GIF materials (mostly frame-by-frame rips from Dragonball Z video games, used as clip-art for people to make their own animations and scenes) or building a parodic RPG or scamming the naive out of their Neopoints, the computer in the basement was the place where it all happened. It was next to the chest freezer mentioned above, and sometimes I would lie back on top of that freezer, staring contemplatively at the ceiling, hashing through ideas while somebody else was at the PC’s helm. I was there when we had our biggest score in our Neopoints scam – in which we constructed a fake but official-looking website promising to generate unlimited Neopoints as long as you gave us your account name and password, first, to which a surprising number of people, in those more innocent days of the Internet, were willing) – by nabbing a player who’d obviously been at it a long time and already had millions of Neopoints. We were elated, and changed the player’s password immediately, forever locking him or her out. Then we went to McDonald’s, a 15 minute walk away, to celebrate. Later, we went through the account and its arcane inventory of magical items and pets we’d never known existed. It was fun for a while to sell these rare items in-game for a single piece of gold, thrilling these other lucky players who received unspeakable deals. Of course, we never found out what happened to the players we scammed, and Neopets, the platform, did catch onto us more than once, but we were resilient, for a time. We had other interests in those days, too, but this was one of them.

Logan Bright

N exercise 2.1

N exercise 2.1

I grew up in a town of a half million or more, at the foot of a long escarpment that we all called the Mountain. The downtown, also at the foot of the Mountain, was reputed for its grunginess, the colourful cast of local misfits and degenerates who peopled the strip of park that ran between the two major streets. The school I attended had much the same position in the public consciousness; one might be considered rather tough just for being in its catchment area.
At one end of the city, rusting industry occupies many square kilometres of lakeside space, and it is this black and fiery behemoth that greets visitors coming over the bridge from the north. It’s the first sight of the city that many people get. Smog and stink and jets of flame spew into the sky at all hours, while tiny orange lights set within the hulk blink on and off.
The city also has a large harbour where wealthier residents might keep yachts and other pleasure craft. There’s a series of bike paths and pedestrian walkways criss-crossing through this area, and it’s a nice place for dogs. The west end gets richer, with a university renowned for its teaching of med students, and a high school where full musicals were put on with regularity, with cast members who could actually carry a tune throughout a performance. They wore uniforms there that went all the way to the belt and shoes.
The downtown and the east end are older, and it shows in both the architecture and the tenancy rate. Many empty shopfronts gone to rust and splintery wood line the main thoroughfares, and though new businesses pop up occasionally, few last. The stand-out ones, on the other hand, have been going for decades despite opposition – Steel City Video, as an example, or BBQ Chicken Pizza as another. Many other spots are papered with yellow newsprint, padlocked with chain.
The Mountain escarpment offered pockets of beauty, though – there were sets of metal stairs for people to ascend on foot or with bicycles, and trails rain through and along the ascending slope. An old railway line has become a paved bike path, bright sun filtering through the greenery for kilometre after kilometre. There are thousands of waterfalls within the city limits, of every shape and size.
Buildings are more cookie-cutter on the Mountain top – newer, pre-fab homes and big lots for 7-11s and Wal-Marts everywhere. The car is king up there with giant roadways stretching lane after lane. This is to the south. The further one went to the north, on the other hand, the grittier things got – scarred pavement, boxy trucks, bleating horns and the whir of machines. The bridges and ramps out of town were chewed up by massive rubber tires hauling intimidating machines to projects unknown. Meanwhile the downtown is undergoing revitalization by government fiat – new condos get priority and garbage collection is undertaken regularly by those enduring community service.
The diverse cast of characters of that city never fails to amaze, and though it isn’t so spectrum-crossing as the province’s capital, Steel City has a personality all its own.

There was an old greasy-spoon just a block from my high school, staffed by a matronly cook with a surly expression and a young woman that could have been her daughter. The daughter served tables under the watchful, half-lidded eye of her mother figure behind the smeared plastic sneeze-guard. Mom held a metal spoon at just about all times, upright like a scepter bespeaking high office, while her daughter sat at a barstool behind the host’s stand near the door, with a second-hand paperback novel.
The tables were plastic and the floor a cheaper, imitation version of linoleum. The colour scheme was all over from white to red to yellow-grey, and each chair had a layer of thin vinyl covering that looked like it was DIY, intended to keep clean-up to a minimum. There was a CRT TV in the corner, sitting on a rack, tuned to a news channel with scrolling text but no sound. One segment of the frame was devoted entirely to revolving shots of nearby highways and the traffic crawling along them.
The diner – Mama’s, it was called – has since closed, and many other restaurants have opened and closed their doors in that building since. It’s Mexican, now, and was Lebanese not long before. Where the mother and daughter figures are is anybody’s guess.

Logan Bright