Nocturnal Nuisances

I started about twelve dozen tomato plants from seed in my basement this winter. They included beefsteak, yellow plumb, cherry tomatoes and more. I gave some to my mother and other dear friends and family whose past patience was more than deserving. My plants have done well and others have reported the same. One friend was foolish enough to agree to a friendly bet about who would have the first ripe tomato. I won a few days ago as I swallowed several cherry tomatoes. (or so the lie went)

As satiated as I am, my tomato growing has turned tragic. My dog was the first to trample stems in pursuit of a toilet. I staked them back up and removed her evidence. About a week later the same area looked like someone had pitched a tent on top of my plants. The dog denied responsibility and I cast blame on the community raccoons. This past week I keep finding rather plump green tomatoes on the back stairs and balcony railing. My dog again denied responsibility as I swung my foot in her direction. “I didn’t leave a damn tomato on the railing, let’s be reasonable,” she seemed to say.

I was awash in disappointment and a danger to be around. A gardener with a grudge. As the blood returned to my face I brandished blame on anything I don’t take to the veterinarian; raccoons, skunks and squirrels. There is a six story walnut tree at the rear of the property. I can only assume the squirrels in the area are afraid of heights as even without my glasses I can see seemingly similar green orbs plentifully scattered among the plethora of walnut branches. If I had a ladder I would pick a bushel of walnuts and pummel the beady-eyed brats anytime they ventured on my veranda.

I haven’t seen any sign of squirrels on my property minus the half eaten tomatoes that make my eyes tear. I attended college to learn about fish and wildlife management, but I must have been absent the day they divulged that these creatures eat green tomatoes. I’m convinced tomatoes are not part of their natural diet and I can only hope they all get the shits.

I don’t mind sharing tomatoes as my friends will confirm but these creatures are clearly uncouth. Do they not realize there are people starving in the world? Even I don’t have the gall to leave half eaten tomatoes strewn about my stairs. It is in fact a health hazard. Some child might ingest one of these chewed morsels or worse, I could slip on one. The jig would be up if I couldn’t water their green gems because of the cast on my leg.
The more disturbed I become the more desperate I get. This morning I checked on the plants that held my prized and largest tomatoes. All were missing. I searched the area for evidence and remnants as even I would need two hands to carry them. They may have swallowed them whole but my suspicion is that these vermin are also responsible for the stolen shopping carts from the neighbourhood grocery store. How else does something that walks on four legs cart off a prize winning tomato? Possibly they have an arrangement with the grocery store manager. “Hey Stan, loan me that shopping cart and this idiot will be forced to purchase your overpriced, tasteless tomatoes.” Squirrels and raccoons can’t talk so I am more inclined to think it is theft. This would also explain why so many of these grocery carts end up in the Thames River. After they ravage my garden they pile in the cart and head for the wastewater outlet from the local brewery. Party animals.

Screw them all! I have started to harvest my tomatoes green. They might be as tasteless as those on the grocery shelves but they are free. The next time these nocturnal nuisances come in my yard with a cart they can fill it with walnuts.

Aside

I received my final grade 12 credits at an adult learning centre in St. Thomas. I was in my thirties and living on a forensic rehabilitation unit. I had been to college for a year but somehow without my grade 12. I don’t remember it being my idea to go and I found it tiring but it was good for me in many ways. I saw faces that were different and met some great staff and students.
It was a little awkward being a student who was locked up at night. The big white vans we travelled in were familiar to the community. They gave us bagged lunches which I never thought much of figuratively and literally. A young woman who was friendly to me commented on the sawed off juice containers they included. “Where do you get those, they’re cute.” They didn’t give us Costco cards or I’d have flashed one. I should have mumbled something about my aunt who was either in hospital or worked in one.
We would sometimes have to take a taxi back to the hospital. One day a fellow patient and I were in one together. When we got back to the hospital he asked me if I knew I was supposed to sit in the back. I would sit in the front when I was alone or not. That’s where the view was. I might not have had my grade 12 but I wasn’t stupid.

Tomato

When I was allowed off the forensic unit I lived in, one of my accompanied destinations became the greenhouse. It was always a pleasure to be in the greenhouse. It was connected to the hospital so it was like Eden at the end of a hallway. I`m not sure how I didn’t bump into anything on early occasions as I glanced through windows each with a new view. New horizons. I tended many plants and grew many of my own. I can recall the warmth of the area and the light but some of the experience was lost on me. In some sense of reality the dimensions of the building itself added considerable square footage to my world. I don’t recall the scheduling of visits but I wouldn’t be surprised if I mentioned to my therapist that the plants were due for some water.

I could forget myself there without the cameras and as a good friend might say avail myself of meaningful and fulfilling occupation. I was doing something that didn’t have to be shuffled and dealt. I was blind to the balm but can remember the face of the staff member who applied it.

In the spring we reclaimed an area of weeds and weeds. I planted some tomatoes there that I had started from seed. I remember one sunny day taking the shortcut across the grounds as we were only there for tending the tomatoes outside. There were three of us. A clinician and a female patient who was newer to the unit. She seemed a little bewildered and was very quiet. There was one ripe tomato and I held it long in my hand like a hungry man and handed it to this woman. I watched her tear into it like an apple. It is a little hard to enjoy a tomato from three feet away but in this case it was a little hard not to. I smiled as she devoured it. I wanted that tomato and it may have even been a first but I`m glad I gave it away. Before I gave it to her I didn’t know her hunger.

Mustard

The media perpetuate stigma because the stories they posses and seek are the sensational. As consumers of media we are part of the problem. We don’t care much about the mayor of Calgary; we want to see the mustard on Mayor Rob Ford.

I was at a restaurant with friends and our seats were elevated next to a window looking down on patrons eating outside. I was glancing out at their plates as I was somewhat seized with hunger. A table with pasta belonged to a man in a tie and the back of a woman. On a future glance my friend looked out with me and sighed at the fact this man was eating alone. My friend is not wrong for the assumption; they simply do not possess enough information to draw an accurate conclusion. The conclusions we are given by the media contain the history of our appetite for the sensational.

We make conclusions because they keep us safe but they are not all factual or complete. We make mental shortcuts and apply the smallest of information to anything of resemblance. Not Criminally Responsible is likely about three images for many people. The term for some draws only information from the media.

Guilt is not the act but the act of knowing. When someone is found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder it is because experts have found that they could not appreciate the nature of the act or omission. They are not sentenced according to a code of punishment but are placed under forensic mental health care. Forensic mental health facilities are secure, humane, progressive and therapeutic. Interdisciplinary teams were used for my progression through my rehabilitation and treatment. These facilities are hospitals and not jails because Not Criminally Responsible offenders are not criminals they are patients. They require not our judgement or fear but rather our assistance.

It is not a chosen path so it makes no sense to punish the traveler for being where they are.

It is difficult for many to reconcile illness with atrocity. It needs to be kept in mind that without the illness there may have been no crime. We recognize the defendant but we cannot see the culprit. The culprit is mental illness.

Not Criminally Responsible in my case was not a chosen defense. If I had my way I would have been a brilliant lawyer at my own trial. It was a defense of default for me. I was incapable of any other defense. The courts and medicine intervened to protect justice and my mental health. If we are to be merciful it is imperative we do not punish illness. It is pointless and cruel.

If it is an eye for an eye, Christ`s words were wasted.

The Dance of Decay

I enjoy wood turning. I learned a few skills in the basement workshop at the hospital I lived in. It was a reason to get out of bed when I most wanted not to. I use different chisels these days but it is a similar passion. My mother was a potter so I grew up watching things spin. I think what most impresses me is how pressure from one point affects the entire sphere in an instant.

I have shown people my wood turningImage skills and most cower in the furthest corner as I tame a lopsided piece of wood that due to speed and momentum is capable of walking a six hundred pound lathe across the floor. I recently had a rather large piece break through the ceiling and I suddenly considered my teeth.

Most days I turn rotten bowls and vessels. I am humble enough to admit that some of this is my fault but in fact I often start with rotten wood. Some of my disasters are due to the weaknesses in the wood itself. When a piece rolls across the garage floor I curse the monkey with the tool in his hand but I am seldom surprised. As often as not, it is just as things are going well; the final cut, the last grit of sandpaper.

I am learning but it is a fool’s pursuit. One day I only walked away with one of six attempts. The rest is special firewood. One would wonder at my brains or laugh at my skills if they looked only at my failures. I have gained skills on each bowl that flew past  my face shield. Without my failures I would in many ways be less.

I should have learned on some easier wood but there is magic in the dance of decay. The struggle creates brilliant colours, lines and patterns. Nothing I could do with the best lathe and no tool in a (wo)man’s hand could copy, match or compete with what nature itself does. I attempt a pleasing shape and burn my fingers sanding out my gouges but all I really do is uncover the dance of decay.

Can You Feel The Spinning Top?

I have been turning spinning top toys on my wood lathe. I am planning on taking an assortment West when I visit my niece and nephew.   My nephew is quite young and considering distance and exposure I am probably more stranger than kin. West is a plane trip so there are few visits.

In my mind I only met my great-grandmother once. I can still picture the rocking chair and sense the dimness of the corner she was near. What I recall most were her hands on my young face. She was blind for much of her life but I see lessons only a disability could teach.

I have learned that each face is different but we all feel the same. Rough, cold, smooth, sticky, hot and sharp feel the same to us all. Hunger, sadness and laughter are common experiences as well.

When I spin a top I can’t take my eyes away other than to glance at my watch as I time the odd good throw. I smile somewhere deep inside if not outwardly. I hope what I have shaped with my hands will touch my niece and nephew the same way. I hope they smile. Several of the tops are made from a discarded but well loved railing post. I picked it up for free and knew I wanted to use it for making tops. I told the woman who gave me the post that many hands would continue to touch this piece of wood.

I learned that we touch more than we see. The things we do and words we convey, even a simple gesture may seemingly touch only one person but like my great grandmother’s hands or the railing post how we make someone feel spins in perpetuity.

I hope to leave some sort of impression on my young niece and nephew. They won’t carry my picture or remember the words I have spoken to them but if I can connect them to the magic, suspense, and laughter that fly from a spinning top I think it might be like me running my hands over their faces.

“Shotgun”

I remember when I was finally transferred from jail to the forensic hospital. As I exited the jail handcuffed and shackled I was at first struck by the open space. Being transferred is usually pleasant and a little like watching a movie. You see and hear things you are unaccustomed to. Green grass or the sound of tires on pavement. There were several jail nurses sitting at a table outside on break. I bowed my head and thanked them. They did what they could.

I climbed into the kennel of the transfer van. It was basically like being a bean stuck to the inside of an empty tin can. I didn’t have much of a view and can recall no landmarks. I knew I was heading to St. Thomas but did not recognize the fact until we parked.

After I left college and my lifelong dream of being a Conservation Officer, I applied to several police forces. At that time there were many more interested in police work than were ever hired. I did have one interview. It was with the St. Thomas Police Force.

I should have been more specific when I prayed to ride in a police vehicle in St. Thomas. I should have specified it was the front seat I was interested in. I’m pretty good at reading people and I sensed that the two officers who transferred me would be unappreciative of me yelling “Shotgun.”