Thursday, May 20, 2010
The soldier in uniform, reflecting
I recently had the opportunity to interview a former volunteer in the notorious Pooh Army, and a veteran of the Battle of the Hundred Acre Wood during the bloody Honey Wars. This is her story, verbatim. Posts about local hikes and L.A.'s subterranean lizard people will follow, eventually)
You’ve heard of people like me. You might even think you know me. You might even think you understand me. You don’t. You don’t understand nothing, unless you’ve worn this uniform. To know me, you have be like me. You have to be a soldier in the Pooh Army.
Once, I was like you. I saw the Pooh shows, the Pooh posters, I didn’t think much of them. But one day – I dunno what went through my head. I was just a baby damnit – it was an impulse, maybe I was out of my mind of mashed peas – one day, I signed up.
And here’s something they don’t tell you about the Pooh Army: one minute, you’re a baby, rolling around in a puddle of your own drool but the next, they put you in that jumpsuit, and damnit: you’re expected to be ruthless, brutal, cold. A warrior.
My squad was a small one. We all came through the same training together… roll right. Roll left. Yell. It all seemed like a game. But one day, it all came to an end. The perfessor came. Yeah, he was an owl, sure, but we knew he had the smarts, and he was General Pooh's right-hand man. Respect.
He fluttered down in front of us, told us that we were ready. Told us about how we were not in this to be proud of ourselves, or even each other. He walked up to each of us, poking each of us in the chest with his bristly wings, looking at us with those raptor eyes, and saying we were to bring honour to the uniform we wore. Then he gave us the caps.
“You see those eyes one these caps! You see those ears?” he hollered. “You think those are just something that your Mommy will think is cute? No! Those are Pooh’s eyes! Those are Pooh’s ears! And when you go out there, he will SEE what you do! He will HEAR what you say! And you had better do him proud soldier!”
And that was it. We were soldiers in the Pooh Army, the fiercest fighting force in the world.
We were led by the Rabbit. He was scared. We laughed at him behind his back, but we should have been scared too. He’d been out before. He was a survivor, and was not happy to go out with a bunch of raw recruits like us. He told us what the owl said about the eyes was a load of crap.
“The eyes on the cap are there to confuse… him. That way, he won’t know where you’re looking. Not that it will matter.”
“What do you mean?” asked Piglet – jeez, Piglet. Poor guy never knew any better. The Donkey shushed him –Ian, or Igor or something, I think his name was – a whiny guy, but hard working.
We rolled out. The target was some place called the Hundred Acre Wood. We were to retrieve as much of the honey – liquid gold, we called it – as we could. But it wouldn’t come for free. The enemy was somewhere in there, we knew: a semi-mythical man beast, idiotic and relentless. Legend had it that he traveled by boucing on his tail – all the better to keep all four of his slashing claws free.
We were on the road for what seemed like forever, poor Piglet chattering the whole way like we were on a picnic. The donkey never said much, except to mutter that he didn’t want his number to come up fighting over some honey pipeline in a godforsaken tree farm. Rabbit was in the lead, ears jumping around like t.v. aerials in a hurricane. Suddenly, he stopped, ears rigid.
Suddenly, we heard a blood freezing chortle, echoing in the trees, all around us. If I had any hair, it would have stood on end. And then, there was a flash – orange, black and “whoosh” – rabbit was gone.
Yeah… gone. Just like that – one minute, he’s in front of, scrawny little thing with bugged out eyes, next…. He was air.
What happened after that, I can’t say. I hit the ground – we all did. What else could we do? All we heard was this sound… over and over again, a sickening mechanical springing sound that no biological creature should ever make, and a thump of a tail hitting the ground like a fleshy pogo stick.
I swear to god, for the rest of my life, I’ll be hearing that sound in my nightmares.
After Rabbit disappeared, Piglet was next to go. Sproing, squeal, silence. Poor kid never did grow up to a full fledged hog like his Momma wanted. Then, that same orange and black flash in the corner of my eye – “Oh well,” said the donkey, resigned, like. Then a thump, and silence.
It was just me. I lay alone, trembling. That godawful sproinging sound drew closer, and closer. Finally, I felt a shadow over me. I felt something nudge my foot.
“Hey kid. Kid! Pay attention!”
I opened my eye.
“You know what most wonderful thing about Tiggers is? I said, DO YOU KNOW?”
I could only whimper.
“You listen, and listen good. It’s that I. AM. THE. ONLY. ONE.” he said. “You go back and tell General Pooh that. Make sure he gets the message.”
And with that, he disappeared. I looked around the clearing – my comrades were gone. Just… not there anymore. I won’t lie to you – I was damn glad I was wearing a diaper. Our supplies were all over the place, but I couldn’t bring myself to clean up – the bees were already swooping in on the broken jars. I fled – it took me days, let me tell you, living off whatever I could scrounge from the forest floor, but I had to get out of there, any way I could.
I quit the Pooh Army that day, but let me tell you, I will never forget the horror of what I saw in that clearing – Rabbit… Piglet… the donkey. My brothers. I can never forget them. But I want to… god, I would love to wipe my mind clean. Because let me tell you, to this day, whenever I close my eyes, and images of that terrible day in the Hundred Acre wood come to me, I can smell it like I was there.
Honey and sawdust. Honey and sawdust everywhere.
Naw, I'm just kidding.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
When I first moved to Montreal, many years ago, I moved into an apartment building that boasted a very attractive rent, which the proprietors kept low by running an extremely unattractive building. As such, it was filled with students, people on social assistance, and new immigrants (and roaches, but that has nothing to do with this story).
The apartment next to my greasy studio space was occupied by a family from Bangladesh – husband, wife (pregnant) and their toddler son. We didn’t speak often – partially because of the language barrier, partially because their son fell down a flight of stairs because of my stupidity (he was fine, though I’m convinced he’s been plotting to kill me ever since) and I don’t remember their names.
However, I do remember that one day, I noticed their son had gone from being the proud owner of a luxuriant mop of jet black hair, to completely bald. I didn’t have a chance to ask them why, but I mentioned it to Amynah. She explained that it was the custom, amongst South Asians, to shave their babies’ heads, in order to promote a thicker, fuller, second growth of hair.
I pointed out that I’d never had me head shaved and that, if anything, I (and most of the hairdressers that have suffered handcramps trying to deforest my scalp) wished my hair was somewhat less thick and luxurious. “Imagine how much thicker it would be if your mother had shaved it!” she replied. To that, I had no answer.
I bring this up by way of explaining that when I married Amynah several years later, I was fully-apprised that if and when we had kids, this was going to be an argument that we were going to have, and it was going to be an argument that I was going to lose. And today, the day arrived.
Through her community’s grapevine, Amynah found Rahima, a hairdresser that was willing to shave baby heads, and we made an appointment for today at noon (after first walking in unannounced two days ago, and gaining "what? are you monsters?" looks from all the other clientele when we said what we wanted). Sana was not in the best mood, but always behaves well around strangers. We stripped her down to her diaper, and Amynah put on a hairdressing robe. And Rahima set to work.
Sana was remarkably good humoured throughout – which is to say she was upset, but not the “Help! I’m being murdered” levels of upset she can reach when we’re giving her a bath, for instance.
It helped that one of the other hairdressers was there with her husband and three year old son, who was fascinated by the process and therefore willing to distract Sana by dancing and clapping for her amusement.
In any case, in twenty minutes it was all over, and we brought home our newly glabrous baby. I think she looks like Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta.” What do you think?