Memoirs of a Sand-Castle Builder

A lot of people sit and wonder at the sky, and I look at them wondering, and I think, man isn’t it wonderful that people wonder at the sky. But then a truck usually comes along and smacks us from our reverie, but hey that’s what I get living beside the hog-rendering plant.

I live by the rail tracks too; a real archetypal locale, just oozing with literary allusions and significances, like you know ‘Blood on the Tracks’ or ‘I’ve been working on the railroad’ or ‘Hell yeah, I’m having a rail good time, even for a trainsvestite’ which is actually a pun but then again art is what we make of it, kind of like brunch or yahtzee.

But enough about trainyards in west-end-midtown Toronto; more about my research into the nature of blood sugar, and sugar cane, and other types of sugar. Which where I hope to lead you, that my conclusions will be sweet like honey.

I was born on a farm in Haiti, which produced (and still does) a lot of sugar, and that product grew to be the only thing that was traded, due to IMF policies urging us to grow only cash crops for trade instead of focussing on a domestic food supply initiatives like they did in Cuba after the collapse of communism, but hey Castro wasn’t built in a day.

Besides free trade economics I was told many other lies as a child. Among the worst line fed to me was ‘never build your house on sand’. That’s about the worst possible advice you could give to future International Champion of Sand-Castle Building, which is what I became. Five years running my edifices towered over Wasaga Beach on Ontario’s Georgian Bay, and they withstood the assault of seabirds, waves and trouble-making nine-year-old Filipino boys (the sand-castle grounds were beside Camp Manila, a way-station of wealthy Catholic troublemaking children from the Philippines). Life and adolescence was full of delicious ironies. A house built on sand indeed. Clearly I was preparing myself for a lifetime of pain. And grit-stained sandals. For I was a champion of sand castles, and life for the champion entails the dedication of misery, defiant self-reliance and lone-wolfish independence that only the elite can know.

In my youth, as the luscious Caribbean air flowered me into manhood, when sun set over the skyline of Port-au-Prince, back in Haiti, I never imagined that I would end up in Toronto one day, writing my memoirs, but then life for a sugar farmer was idyllic, simple, and never extended beyond the realm of ‘what’s for dinner’, ‘who’s winning the football match?’ and ‘how do I escape this all-encompassing dread?”

Soul-smothering, mind-blackening dread was common in Haiti in those days, ie early 1993. But I was champion undiscovered, my sand castles were destined take me far, and I would soon discover what it meant to taste a North American all-beef hot dog, on a sunny Ontario beach, and be lent a tube of sunscreen to block out the sun’s harsh rays, which was entirely redundant, for years of Haitian sun had given me a hide like a rhinoceros.

My thick skin was entirely physical, for underneath lurked my vulnerable memoir-writing poet’s breast; breathing at 60 beats per minute were my artistic lungs and kidneys, and also, my heart, a poetic device so delicate they would one make cinnamon-sugar candies in its likeness and mass produce it for Valentine’s Day, when lovers and delicateness were superimposed on the calendar like a brothel owner coaxing the unwitting into a dirty and sordid affair du Coeur, ie the dance of infatuation they called love.

Love was my minx and my harlot, my soul and my breath, my water and wine, and my sizzling, heart-stopping bacon at the grand breakfast of fools. Or was it champions. I was a champion fool, and I had read a lot of Vonnegut, who wrote Breakfast of Champions, but I was not nearly so cynical.

I was full of life, emitting possibilities like a 24-hour commercial-free radio broadcast. I came from Haiti to Canada on a dare: my friend Pueblo had bet I couldn’t swim to the New World. Now Pueblo is my confidante soul mate and true best friend even to this day, though he is with God. I told him ‘being Caribbean, we’re already in the new world’ but, poor Pueblo, he didn’t understand a word of English. But still he tried so hard to understand me, and my dark sand-castle ways. Often Pueblo would burst into honest tears that only the good people, salt of the earth can bring forth. I remember my grandmother Tika told me that the tears of the very poor were what made the sugar grow, and the reason that there are so many poor people is that God loves them best. And that’s not bad theologizing for a filthy Marxist I thought, and impatiently hung up my cell phone. I soon cut off all communication with grandmother, until my departure for Canada, because she was voodoo witch too, and quite dangerous. Instead I focussed all my love and affection on Pueblo, who was in fact a true archetypal manchild.

Pueblo had a leathery face, piercing black eyes and wingspan of near eight feet. He was not, in fact, a gigantic parrot, but despite his appalling lack of English he could mimic, parrot-like very well, a true champion; indeed Pueblo was to mimicry what I was to sand-castle building. That’s how good he was. I know that somewhere up there Pueblo, God rest his soul, is enjoying himself on the Wasaga Beach of Mimicry, up there in heaven.

Pueblo died on a Tuesday night. He was in attendance at the football match when the terrorists set off their bombs. I had eaten a lot of canned beans that evening, and so when I heard the low rumble followed by the gaseous explosion, I thought little of it. Then grandma came running in from the sugar cane and cried in broken Spanish-Italian “Il Football! El Pueblo – e morto!” Clearly the news was too shocking for mere French. I could eat nothing for a week, until after the funeral. Then one evening at a boathouse while the radio played a Beethovean dirge I heard one phrase ‘Canada – go to Canada’ - ringing in my ears. It was the posthumous disembodied voice of Pueblo. My best friend had loved me, it seemed even beyond the grave. I got down on my knees, fearing the wonder and might of the Maker, and so happy that finally Pueblo had learned to speak a bit of English. That night I gorged myself on tacos, thinking of Pueblo’s soft floury tortilla-like hands as I did so.

I would set sail on a pineapple barge the very next morning. Canada at last. And so what if I would lose my swimming dare to Pueblo – I was not a great swimmer, and it would be funnier that way. Yes Pueblo could take a joke, like that time I threatened to eat his sister, who was it must be admitted, quite a tasty dish, but only in the magazine centrefold kind of way. The joked hinged on an allusion to cannibalism, which is funny no matter how poor you are.

So the pineapple barge, yes, I took that, bound for Halifax by way of Miami and Norfolk. It was a 4 week journey, and the sea was bound to be rough. I took an extra lifejacket in case I accidentally forget one of them on a bench or picnic table or something. I was always prepared for disaster, which helped me out with my sand castles: with sailing as with sandcastles, complete destruction is always just one large tide swell away…

(unfinished of course)

And the rest as they say, is memory.

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