I’m rolling my head back and forth back and forth for hours at a time, sometimes against the wall, sometimes along the bed. I regard my first morning view, freezing ice frost patterns on the inside of my single window. Then it’s back to blankets awhile and rolling my head. To be free you must connect with people, withdrawing with my rocking is disappearance in my trance. But it is also liberation. I conjure up visions from the pace. My intent: to take the randomness of life and organize it, to picture by motion daily happenings and rhythm out a purpose. I spin through a back and forth reverie sweep of prairie sky, the colour and thought of the blue turning in my mind, imagine the bridge over the South Saskatchewan river, take that bridge to wilderness, to antelope leaping over the Great Sand Hills. I have $42.39. I’m 24 years old. I have a college degree. I lie on my bed and rock.
The purpose of moving to this city is to obtain a job, I thought it’d be a good locale, but a recession hit the whole country. Last year, I lived here and it was different. It didn’t seem so scattered and confusing, I met friendly people, worked at casual labour. Now I’m back and the sky’s pressing down whenever I walk, my steps not going far, yet I can’t slow up. The cold becomes a hustler for my move and reach. The winter air tingles and bites. I need to move with the rhythm of the world, the world outside my head.
Earlier this day I followed the curve of a moment, breaking out of my slum room, hoofing it downtown to Save On Foods, to pace in the aisles picking up groceries. I’d been working casual labour; my morning boss was an old cowboy who’d been booted in the face by a horse and all he did was shout “move faster, lazybones” in a blocked and jaw wired whine. We loaded beef hides onto a flatbed. I spent most of the hard-earned money on laundry, cleaning clothes caked with hide hair and remains. Maybe afterwards I should’ve kept rocking in bed, dreaming of the University girls laughing in their parkas down at the coffee shop, or Gayle, the library page who gave me her number, but I never called, because she was only 18 and I was broke.
But I lifted on my clean clothes and my special giant coat, poked into the market to buy some food and shoplift. I’d taken the bottoms out of my coat pockets, the large hollow beyond the lining an excellent locale for cheese, cookies, chocolate bars. I went to the same store every time, guess I thought it was my lucky store. All seemed well, I paid for my goods, was just out the exit when a blue eyed clerk with giant horn rimmed glasses stood in front of my way and stated “haven’t you forgotten something?” I said “No,” and she continued “Well, I saw you put a bag of raisins in your pocket.”
Now, I could’ve denied. I could’ve said “I paid for everything,” but instead reached into my huge coat hole and pulled out the raisins and handed the bag to her, “here ya go,” and she replied, “We’re going in to see the manager.”
I felt my self slip, my identity bounding away. There must be motivation to become, from within and from without. You have to become warm, because the winter will freeze you, so keep on the hustle. Within, there must also be warmth, but that must come from stillness. That stillness is being with connection and contentment, with financial security and love. I was not a still person that day.
The police held me in jail til I saw the judge. I chanted Na May Yo Ring Gay Kyo because some hipster told me that’s a Buddhist chant method to obtain what you want, in my case, freedom. The guy in the cel next to me passed an ancient playboy magazine through the bars. “No thanks,” I whispered.
I kept chanting and a big bellied guard rolled by, offered me a Big Mac. So far, I was not obtaining exactly what I asked for.
I lived in the upstairs room of a rooming house. In the night, I heard a mighty thump thump thumping. I ran out to witness a bed frame halfway down the stairs and a muscle straining guy behind the bed frame, pulling on it. I shouted “what’s going on?” and he said “I’m lifting my bed to the main floor, I can’t sleep on the 2nd, I’m afraid of heights.”
The small hunch backed girl who lived across the hall stood behind me and related “He does this most nights when he’s drunk.”
In my jail cell, I thought of that girl, how much more unfortunate she was than me. I kept chanting. “Na may yo ring gay kyo.” I heard the clink of keys, and the sheriff marched me down the hall to the adjoining courtroom. The hunched over judge asked, “how do you plead?”
“Guilty,” I said.
I came, I saw, I shoplifted. I was restless to leave, to have this over with.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” the judge asked. “You obviously didn’t need those raisins, you bought and paid for most of your groceries.”
I told him the only thing I can think of “I was depressed.”
“Well,” chuckled the judge, “You’ll be more depressed now.” He gave me a 200-dollar fine or ten days in jail.
I possessed forty dollars. Not enough, but jail, even with free meals, would not be good. Jail meant a criminal record. I picked the fine, and left court not knowing how to pay it. Then serendipity stepped in, or maybe it was the residual effects of chanting Na May Yo Ring Gay Kyo, or perhaps absolute random chance like the antelope that bounces slow motion into view as you step from your tent in the late prairie sunset after waking up from a nap to the sound of a million mosquitoes.
Serendipity was Lawrence the security guard. As I dashed from the courtroom, he stood in the atrium. A vigorous tow-headed law student, he worked nights at Midtown mall where last year I ruled for a month as Santa Claus. The mall rewarded my giving style, they hired me back in April as the Easter Bunny, and Lawrence liked me, too. We shared a mutual interest in spotting ne’er do wells, we spent time comparing notes during lunch breaks. Behind my Santa suit, I was an excellent observer.
“Wow, good to see you, Harrison,” said Lawrence. “I’m working here as a court liaison officer.”
“I’m here for stealing a bag of raisins,” I said. “I can’t pay the fine.”
“You can apply for community service work,” Lawrence rubbed his cheek. He jumped up to a desk, to search for the right papers. “I’ll vouch for you.”
To be free, you must connect with people, and this Lawrence/Harrison communication was a prime example. The kindness of almost strangers almost cancels out the crushed faced cowboys and the hard ass judges, wistfully speaking. Things were finally looking up.
An hour later, back in my room, I meditated the on dichotomies of connection, I asked myself “are people bad or good?” while I rolled my head back and forth on my frosty window facing bed, trying to vision the positive, each time the world tilted one way, then the other. With my eyes closed, I dreamed of music, a rocking meditation to light and darkness, light when I opened my eyes, and passed forth into the streets, dark when I closed them, and lived in dream retreat.
Two days later, as ordered, I checked in to the Indigenous Furniture Store to do my court mandated community service. The coordinator, Eli, a short curly haired man with big lips and very thin eyebrows, asked “are you Indigenous?”
I told him “Well, the social worker who referred me was,” and he laughed.
This coordinator mercy allowed me to pay off my shoplifting time at the Furniture Store.
Eli told me that the choices I make from here on could fix the patterns of my life. He said, “you have a college degree, you are smart, you have good social skills.”
Every day I worked at the Furniture Store to pay off my debt to society. At noon, I walked to the Friendship Charity for a free lunch with the other store employees. One day the serving lady with patches of hair sticking out from her balding scalp said, “You can help yourselves to dessert.”
We formed a big line of guys, mostly indigenous. We checked with her one more time, “You say we can help ourselves?” and she nodded vigorously “Yes, we have lots of pie today.”
So everyone loaded up. I piled three pieces on my plate. The young guy behind me stacked up three or four more. We sat chomping and munching. Another lunch staff asked, “what’s with all the pie?” and we said “They told us we could help ourselves.”
This woman started shouting. First, a slight blare. Then very loudly. “There’s mothers with kids waiting in this line! You took their desserts!” Her face, red and veiny, puffed out as she announced…
We looked behind her, noticed the mothers standing blank faced. The kids stared wide eyed at the lady’s ranting mouth. It’s the guys with all the pie I noticed most. They bent forward all round me, at various tables as the vitriol sank in, they sat motionless, with long black hair parted in the middle of their foreheads, beneath that their eyebrows slanted down. I admired their still way.
The staff lady didn’t let up. She was short, and wide, her large arms pointed over “These guys here, look at all their food. You’re taking food away from children!”
I noticed it might be practicality keeping my dining compatriots silent and low, because no one put the pie back, or jumped up angry and yelling. They ate quietly, digging in even before the lady finished her rant.
“We don’t want any pie anyways,” said one of the waiting single mothers. “These working guys need their desserts.”
And that evening I rocked my head again to try and understand. There appeared to be enough food for all, it was all over the supermarkets. Without money to buy it, you depended on the kindness of near strangers, kindness which could turn bellicose any time because these strangers had the power. I felt good stealing food, I ran away with the goods. I realized satisfaction, upon appraisal of my own stealth and cunning. But after being caught, the shame, and the consequences hit, the loss of prestige like a college degree pulled out from under me. Then I contemplated the edge, the breaking of identity, and the long diminishing. The solution, pleading guilty right away. To atone, I could’ve gone to jail. But I calculated the price, turned down the offer, and serendipity set me free. Sentence at this time, suspended.
I paid for those raisins with community service time as well as my financial liberty, for I could earn no money while tied to the Furniture Store. The greater sin appeared to be hoarding, as I viewed my acquaintances at the Friendship Inn with their apple pie desserts. Was it the staff woman’s desire to humiliate them, or was it mainly a concern for the mothers that caused her to scream? This required some meditation, and I launched into a trance as the night and the snow fell outside my room. The frost on the windows thickened. Winter whiteness drifted against the glass.
Attitude depends on how you receive the stimuli. The men at the Friendship Inn took shaming with stoicism. I thought of them and decided to do the same with my community service. This decision completed the goal of my rocking trance. By two a. m. my neck rolled twisted and sore, but my head felt clear.
The next day I walked down to the library. Gayle worked at the front. Last time I saw her, she seemed so alive and free, bobbed red hair, long limbs and energy, eager to serve at the desk, and to talk with me. I still possessed $23.07 and could take her for coffee or a small lunch. Was I too old, at 24 to her 18? In my heart I rocked like a teenager, trying to piece up the next stage of my life. One thing I definitely decided. No more shoplifting, ever. In the night, I felt stillness come from all my rhythm. My debt to society was almost paid.
The social worker visited. She said I could try a training program out at the track. “It’s working with the racehorses,” she says. “Learning to ride. It’s normally for Indigenous people but you’re maybe one eighth, eh Harrison?”
I grinned at her, with her high cheekbones and smiling, copper brown face. “More than likely,” I said.
Racehorses are long faced and high strung and they bite. They’re not like the antelope, leaping long strides, free out on the prairie under the technicolor sky. They’re in stalls, hemmed in and irritable until their release at the track. “They’ll need their freedom too” I thought. “Na May Yo Ring Gay Kyo.”
I would pace myself, find the rhythm, and rock into the meaning of it all.