3-Way Bets (1x2) Explained With Examples

Depression is gambling.

Depression is a real mother fucker. I had a few really awesome months going since March, and the dogs and work I do with them in my life keep me feeling like a person, but my demon is no God damn joke. my demon is so expensive it buys bottle service for cocaine. I am talking about gambling, or sports in my case.
A quick PSA that I have pertains to casinos opening again and also for myself, sports betting is finally legal in person in Detroit. Isolation made it easy to not think about betting sports. I honestly thought I was over it because it was just so easy. No sports? Nothing to bet online for me... I'm not an idiot who would play online casino (that's sarcasm - the sports book has a better house take than at blackjack). Well, it only took a mention of a new sports book and this and that when simply listening to the radio going to work with the dogs... Hadn't thought about sports in months. I took in a homeless vet and her dog for two months. I saved up 30k. I took in a 4th rescue dog. I got a new van. I got all new camping gear for the year.. I mean literally, having that feeling where life is exciting again.....
And then what the royal fuck? I am suddenly driving 38 miles downtown to a casino I've never been to. I haven't gone to a casino in ten years. I'm all online. But here I am with 15k cash going down to bet... I get down, they make me register because of any bet over 2k, and they assign me the number "007", like they don't know what they are doing. But it's really my customer number... So I bet $4k on Braves ML and then they have these machines so I put $100 ok Vegas NHL. I go home, start making a fire doing some stuff outside, I'm saying I'm not going to check the score... Well I start into a beer and then I suddenly here the game is postponed... Ugh... Vegas was a winner, so my $100 bet just won $120! What a start lol. So I call the sports book manager as I had his cell and I asked to roll the $4k bet to the Boston Red Sox as dogs at home on Friday (fyi they won 5-3).. Well, he informs me because of compliance that I have to come down... I say I can't as I'm an hr away.
So, I won $120..good enough... You would think. But, with the millions I have bet over the last decade online, there was a rush going into the casino. I can't lie. Of course, you know what happens next, right? I got in my car and I drove down there as I was only half-way between the nightly card of games.. I get down there. Cash my winner and then I add and I put it on the Raptors -1... LoL. Well, some of you know the feeling of a $4500 bet that is over 2 minutes into a sporting event. It's a rare and amazing when you're on the correct side, but from the tip off I absolutely knew I shit my pants.
I left in the first quarter and went home. I had those thoughts of death that I hadn't had in months. Not that I want to kill myself, but that I just want the feelings of worthlessness to stop.
Unfortunately, the next day did not get better as I did the incorrect thing and did not take a few days off (or quit then). I had someone cover my work shift and I went downtown this time and placed a $8k bet on the Jazz ML at +114.
I think at this point I had hit at least 10 in a row (losses that is LOL). That's how it has always been for 20 years and I think it's why I am so sick. I've had sick runs of discipline where I have run 5k to 100k+ betting 2-5 percent of my roll, I a month... So many times. Countless times making 10x my starting bankroll really quickly mmm. And then, it's always the case where it's a small bad loss or something so dumb, and it will be a cascade of night-night money. It's a sickness for sure.
I don't even really know the point of my post and it's long and probably poorly worded with lots of errors. I am not going to proof read anything I post. Maybe if I have a point it will come out below. I don't think anyone knows me here but I am a very serious compulsive gambler. I think I might be protecting my ego by giving this low number, but I would say I have racked up between 150-200k in losses net over the last 20 years, but the majority coming within the last 4 or so... As gambling escalates. If I am honest with myself, if that's the number I think, it's probabaly like $300,00. It's a blessing that I never have made a lot of money - - like literally never more than $25k a year. But an initial bank roll of 5 figures and getting it up there, I was rolling over about a million a month in sports bets.
Losing money sucks, but it is the one thing that you can repair from gambling. What can't be fixed is your brain. You will never, ever look at life the same once you have placed a large bet or lost control. You will never find joy in the same things in life. I can hardly remember the names of some of my college friends I partied with, but I remember a Stanford missed 20 yrd field goal in the first half of some meaningless game to cover my spread (Stanford crushed the game spread by double digits, but failed to cover first half of course). Do you not see the problem? Why the fuck do I or would I want to remember that? Gambling is worse than drugs in many ways. Currently, I am slowly, painfully, and expensively being killed by gambling. If I was a junkie, someone, literally anyone would see my pain and help me, but as a gambler, this pain is internal and so terrifying that we do almost everything to hide it. And then we spend our days going to work, thinking about how we can die, saving up money... Only to feel okay again months later and to relapse.
I hope I can help someone young getting into gambling to understand that the danger is not money really... But it is the damage to your brain. You will hate yourself, you will hate life, etc...there are lots of better reads on the science of gambling and what it does to your brain chemistry. It simply is not publicized more because gambling is a huge business and for some cities (like Detroit), it's how they continue to tax the poor and keep the city going. Americans are also poorly educated on odds, math, and reality. And even when we understand odds, we are often brainwashed by capitalism to think we can be one of those antedotacle stories where we strike it rich. It is all just another way to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. People with money DO NOT Gamble. If they do, they lose. If Charles Barkley and John Daly and Michael Jordan can't make money betting sports, then how the fuck do us average Joe's come up with the belief that we can make money? I've got a lot of stories, so we can always shoot the shit of how it can get worse.
If you're young and you like sports and gambling, you should stay straight as an arrow and you should get into the casino and bookmaking industry. Make some money yourself and maybe you can establish yourself enough that you can also help out those customers that truly need it.
As much as I want the stacks of 100s I blew the last 48hrs back, I would gladly sacrifice the money to bypass the months of hell I'm going to have to go through again as I try once again to kill this demon.
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submitted by Representing1984 to problemgambling [link] [comments]

[OC] [Satire] Ryan Ellis: The “Mario Lemieux of WAR”, and the Biggest Norris Trophy Snub of Our Times

WAR is cumulative, to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
The Lengthy Intro Section
WAR is of course an “advanced hockey stat”, Wins Above Replacement, that attempts to quantify most of the aspects of a player’s on-ice contributions by smashing them together into one catch-all stat. By “cumulative” (or “absolute” or whatever term you want), I mean that in a given season, WAR itself is not a /60 or /GP rate stat, even though parts of its calculation involve using /60 rate stats, statistical/machine learning techniques, etc. I think this is a common misunderstanding of the model, and it’s very important moving forward.
It’s more like goals rather than goals per game, and tries to measure the total impact of a player. Think about the Richard Trophy: it just got awarded to Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak jointly because they scored the same amount of goals, although Ovi played a couple less games so obviously he scored more per game. And Mika Zibanejad scored more per game than both of them and wasn’t even a finalist! Harsh. The creators of WAR have taken a similarly unfair route with their stat: you only get credit for the things you actually did on the ice, rather than the things you were on pace to do.
I put three basic reasonings at the end of the post (since it’s probably pretty boring to many readers!!!) for WAR being cumulative for people who want to dive deeper, because some people don't seem to want to believe it. Honestly I think one of the explanations is pretty easy to understand but if you hate that stuff, skip it. The main point here is to laugh a bit, and not to think too hard about it.
I’m only talking about one popular WAR model here, by Evolving-Wild (“home for the most advanced NHL statistics on the web!”...a little unclear if they mean “most advanced!” or “we have advanced statistics by the binful!”, but a good resource either way). I do this mostly because I have some of their data handy, but I’d imagine some other common models have some similarities. And if they don’t…well, I’ll just poke a little fun at this one. Disclaimer: I OF COURSE AM NOT REPRESENTING ANYTHING HERE AS EW’S CLAIMS IN ANY WAY besides a few pretty tame direct quotes for clarification, I’m not trying to pick on them specifically but for lots of sites it seems all the good stuff is behind a paywall these days, this is a humorous (hopefully, or this was a lot of work for nothing…) satirical article, etc. etc. The focus is more on general advanced stats and hockey stuff.
Keep in mind of course that WAR and GAR (Goals Above Replacement) are essentially the same thing, just differing by a league-wide conversion factor of how many wins a generic goal is “worth”…a ranking of players by GAR and WAR in a given year will yield the exact same results. That factor appears to be roughly 5.5-to-1 goals-to-wins if you really care. So I’m just going to use GAR for its aesthetic qualities, because it makes differences look larger, which should help with my case due to implicit biases in our brains. I shamelessly used “WAR” in the title to try to get more visibility from more casual readers. I have no regrets. But without further ado…
The Also Lengthy Semi-Intro Section
As we all know, “traditional” hockey stats such as points and +/- don’t paint a great picture of a player’s true skill. To better uncover this, you need advanced stats. If Connor McDavid were to score 150 points next year, that’s not enough to say he was the best player in the league these days. You have to break things down into many smaller factors if you really want to get it right. What’s the ice time distribution and skill level of his teammates? How many total minutes did he play? Did he get power play time? Was it 1st or 2nd PP? What percentage of points were on the PP? What percentage of points were primary vs. secondary? Were there other players down the lineup that were better per minute but just didn’t get the opportunity because the coach gives Connor McDavid a bunch of minutes for some reason? And so forth. And that’s just evaluating offense; defense, a component that is obviously completely separate from offense, is even worse to calculate. And goaltending? Well...he does do an awful lot for the Oilers, but we probably won’t have to worry about that aspect for McDavid. But for goaltenders? Forget about it. So let’s just focus on skaters here.
Unfortunately, your human brain just isn’t capable of breaking all this stuff down for every player and every game, which is why the so-called “eye test” just doesn’t work. After all, you’d have to remember literally every single event that occurred on the ice in order to make a truly informed judgment of a player. And even if it somehow WAS possible to remember all that...the brain just can’t do it objectively, due to a plethora of biases which simply can’t be overcome. Theoretically it could work if you used that little voice in your head to shout, every few seconds or so over and over, “DON’T BE BIASED!”, but the problem is that when you go to sleep, your subconscious is going to decide “this is really dumb” and stop shouting that. That’s when the bias creeps in, and just one speck of bias basically contaminates and invalidates the whole process. All of this is why we need computers a lot more than they need us.
You have probably seen news in recent years about the massive successes of machine learning techniques in a ton of fields, but particularly in learning how to play and win games. And a lot of these games are hard...Chess, Go, etc. I mean...look at who plays Chess vs. who plays hockey. So I think we can expect hockey should be pretty simple to analyze comparatively with the sophisticated methods we have available today. We live in a very fortunate time now where, through the twin majesties of mathematics and computer science, we can easily record and account for all of the various factors involved in quantifying a player’s contributions to winning. So when you see phrases like “controls for” or “adjusted for” or “accounts for” or “isolates”, what these mean is that everything’s all taken care of and you don’t need to worry about it any more. Time on ice? Controlled for. Quality of Teammates (QoT)? Adjusted for. Quality of Competition (QoC)? Accounted for. System effects due to coaching? Isolated. And so on. This is what they do in Chess too: you have to adjust for home/away, temperature in the room, etc…for example, even the best Chess computers tend to play pretty poorly away from power sources. Anyway, if you see someone who is outlandishly good or bad at something in these metrics, you might be hesitant, but you have to just accept it. The model has learned far more than you ever possibly could, and it’s getting even better every day. You’re just wasting your time digging any further into it.
The overarching point here is that we can finally say which players are really, truly “the best” with a lot of confidence. I mean, it’s tough to argue with “math” after all. So let’s summarize the main points here:
  1. GAR is based on what you actually accomplished on ice, and is not a rate stat.
  2. GAR evaluates the impacts of all on-ice contributions of a player toward winning, i.e. offense/defense/special teams/penalties.
  3. GAR is a more detailed, accurate, robust, and therefore trustworthy metric than any typical combination of “traditional” stats. It incorporates more data and uses more sophisticated techniques.
The ”Great, but what exactly does this have to do with Ryan Ellis and Mario Lemieux?” Section...or The “Where exactly is this going” Section.
Let’s all sit and think of a player who has had a season so impressive that, despite missing a significant amount of games, they still pretty clearly had the best year in the league. Who is the first player that came to your mind? It may very well have been Mario Lemieux. And he’s the easiest example, so I’ll stick with him.
Lemieux did this a number of times but arguably the most impressive was the 1992-93 season, where he played in only 60/84 games (71%) but put up 69 goals and 160 points in some of the very best per-game seasons ever for those statistics. So the voters concluded that despite Mario just up and deciding to take a two-month vacation in the middle of the season for some reason, his contributions were impressive enough that he was near-unanimous winner of the Hart (in an absolutely loaded field), and he also won the Ross, Pearson, Masterson, and the coveted Alka-Seltzer Plus Award.
Now of course there’s the fact that shot data were first recorded by the NHL only in 2008, and TOI was first recorded in 1998. These data are absolutely crucial for virtually all advanced stats, including GAR, its constituent "Expected Goals" (xG) models, etc., so unfortunately we can’t just apply our great new methods to older players. Because of this, identifying the best players in the league back then was basically just a combination of superstition, reputation, and homerism. That’s really all that was possible at the time, given the coarseness of traditional stats and the obvious issues with the “eye test”. The biases involved mean that we can’t put very much stock in people who watched Mario play routinely either, or really even gain much out of watching his old games ourselves.
However, I’ve written the name “Mario” too many times now for it to be worthwhile changing it, and since people seem to view Mario highly as a “traditional stats savant”, it fits my argument well so I’ll just keep it. But remember that because of all the reasons I’ve said so far, I’m taking a pretty big risk here by saying Mario conclusively had the best season in the league that year, or even a particularly noteworthy one. It’s the best I could do given the limitations of the data available.
The “Look, I’ve been pretty patient but you better say something about how this involves Ryan Ellis right now or I’m leaving. It’s literally in the title. Do you know how titles work?” Section
Ryan Ellis basically just had the defenseman equivalent of Mario’s 1992-93 season. That’s how impressive it was. He ranked first among defensemen in GAR, and 3rd in the entire league, despite only playing 49/69 games (71%, the exact same as Lemieux, which I TOTALLY planned) due to him also taking a vacation or something right in the middle of the season. That seems like inconvenient timing to me but I assume he cleared it with his teammates and coach first. I guess when you’re putting up that kind of a season, nobody’s going to tell you no? I know though that the biggest competitors on opposing teams, the veteran types who just “know how to win”, would secretly be really miffed if they didn’t get to play even one full game against the best of the best on the biggest stage in the hockey world. They’d find the whole ordeal a little unsportsmanlike and disrespectful to the opponent.
Using the crude stats of yesteryear, Mario won the Ross with a 12-point lead (8%) over LaFontaine, and won the Alka-Seltzer Plus Award with a +10 lead (22%) over Murphy (his teammate). Similarly, using advanced stats, Ellis outpaced the nearest defenseman, Pulock, by 3.8 GAR (20%). This converts to ~0.7 WAR (I did this based on last year’s conversion factor but it’s probably pretty close). This is incredibly impressive given all the missed games.
Now perhaps you’re saying “these GAR stats are great and all, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in the NHL’s play-by-play data such that we don’t need to get wrapped up over little differences in the values”. And this is generally true. Here is what the authors of the stat had to say about their model, in the last of their explanation posts (links are below): “The methods we used for constructing our model did not allow us to determine error estimates, and while additional research is required to lock this down, we feel a .5 Win +/- error range makes sense.” So while there may be a little potential overlap with Pulock given the ~0.7 WAR difference, it’s still a pretty sizable discrepancy that shouldn’t just be conveniently swept away. So Ryan Ellis has very arguably contributed more to his team than any other defensemen in the league this year, and pretty confidently contributed more than his teammate and actual Norris finalist Josi (~1 WAR difference). In only 49 GP!
Plus, let’s be serious for a second, it’s not like the “points and +/-” crowd that seems to run the NHL awards is looking too carefully at the “uncertainty” in the traditional metrics. I think if you’re really serious about promoting advanced stats, and hope to get them wider adoption as soon as possible, it’s your DUTY to downplay any uncertainty in these metrics. Considering many NHL awards trigger monetary bonuses in player contracts, wider usage of advanced stats would make sure funds are allocated to the correct players. Think of how much better our world would be if that were the case, of how many hearts would be warmed seeing the dispensation of true justice in such a prominent setting. So if it feels a little shady to downplay it, just shake it off and move forward. It’s for the greater good.
So how does Ellis’s phenomenal season compare with some of the other recent greats? He just tied for the 2nd-best GAR season amongst defensemen since 2013-14 at least. The best was Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s legendary 2015-16 campaign, when he actually finished at the top of the entire league, and tied with Ellis for second is Brett Pesce’s 2016-17 season, which I’m sure we all remember fondly. Both of those players, and teams, were really something those years.
But what’s maybe even more impressive is that Ryan Ellis just had the highest GAR-per-game season by far of any skater since at least 2014-15 that played even 40+ games. Ellis had an incredible 0.47 GAGP; the next-highest was McDavid in 2016-17 with 0.41, followed by Kevin Shattenkirk in 2014-15 with 0.38, and Mark Stone in 2018-19 with 0.37. Truly a breathtaking season.
You may recall that the Norris Trophy is awarded for demonstrating “the greatest all-round ability in the position”. That sounds a lot like what GAR calculates! The all-round contributions of a player, including pesky things like penalties that a lot of people tend to completely ignore. So obviously GAR should be much better for determining who’s worthy of the Norris than the old stats with their clear deficiencies.
Finally you can see now why Ryan Ellis is the biggest Norris trophy snub of our times...the past half-decade at absolute minimum. He just put up a legitimate Mario Lemieux-esque season...the best GAR season for a defenseman this year by 20%...and at absolute best finished 4th in Norris trophy voting! And for anyone thinking “but what about Josi?”...just look at the chart I posted before. Ellis contributed almost double what Josi did to NSH on a per-game basis, and a significant amount more overall regardless. I think it’s pretty obvious who was propping up who here, and who Hart voters should have recognized as "dragging" NSH to a playoff spot.
The Insightful Conclusions Section
That was a nice deep dive showing why Ryan Ellis is the “Mario Lemieux of WAR”, wasn’t it? You can bet that if Ellis had as much of a lead in a traditional stat like points as he does in GAR, he would be a clear awards contender and arguable front-runner, and this demonstrates how old-fashioned and hypocritical everyone has been about this. It also shows why he, and not his teammate Roman Josi for example, contributed the most to NSH making the playoffs, and that he contributed at a higher rate this year than arguably anyone in recent history. In fact, since advanced stats are more...advanced than e.g. points, we can actually be even more confident that Ellis’s season is actually deserving of unbridled admiration than Lemieux’s.
Every thinking person should be outraged by how little Ellis has been talked about, and by the old guard’s failure to more fully adopt advanced stats. If you’re already an advanced stats believer, you're clearly a thinking person, and I’m sure you had come to these conclusions months ago and have tried to let everyone know insistently that Ellis should be the obvious winner of the Norris despite missing the games. You were probably nodding at how obvious this all was the entire time while reading. I can’t count how many people I’ve seen claiming this on hockey, noted haven of many advanced stats experts. Kudos to you for sticking to your trust in advanced stats, and not wavering just because it may not have sat right with more “traditional” thinking. After all, if a model doesn’t give us some results that go against our preconceived notions, what was the point of even developing it?
However, even after that (I’ll just say it for everyone) brilliant and incisive writeup, I think some of you may STILL be saying to yourself something along the lines of “Ryan Ellis? He’s a really good player for sure but I guess I would’ve expected it would be somebody else having that dominant of a season, better per-game than McDavid and all”...well, there’s a good reason you’re saying that. It’s because you’re biased. We all are. Or if it’s something like “I feel like if I’d seen one of the best seasons in recent memory, I should have been able to tell”...well that’s a combination of bias, once again, and the eye test just not being good at telling you which aspects of performance are truly valuable in hockey. Or if it’s something like “maybe there’s something a little wacky with him having such low GP, etc.?”. I told you: it’s all been taken care of, don’t worry. Lay back and let the GAR just shower over you.
Appendix 1, SKIP FROM HERE DOWN IF YOU DON’T CARE: Easy, non-math stuff suggesting GAR is cumulative
First, let’s suggest that GAR is cumulative by an easy, non-math way through simply visualizing it. This link shows GAR for 5 different seasons of NHL data on the vertical axis...these are individual player-seasons, i.e. not combined over that time interval. These are the 5 years before the current one, specifically the 2014-15 to 2018-19 seasons. I don’t have access to the current one because I’m too cheap to pay...I’m doing this highly entertaining writeup for free after all! People should probably be paying me.
The horizontal axis here is GP (using TOI instead gives pretty similar qualitative results...obviously they are correlated). You’ll see that the GAR trend, as probably expected, is positive with increasing games. On the far left, you’ll see there’s also a pretty small spread around an average of (roughly) zero. So no one with few GP has very high, or very low GAR. So just from that, it’s probably not a rate statistic, otherwise analytics superstars that have missed games would have similar values as in a full season. Obviously, this isn’t the case. You can also see how, as you move right and GP increase, there is a larger spread of data around the trend. So compared to the average, “good” players will get more positive in GAR with more GP, and “bad” players will get more negative in GAR with more GP. This again implies that GAR is cumulative.
Appendix 2: A few small mathy things suggesting GAR is cumulative
If you’re interested, you’re welcome to go through the very detailed breakdowns from the Evolving-Wild folks here and here and here...which in my opinion might have benefited from more equations and less words! But I think this snippet from the Part 2 post, among other things, helps imply that GAR is cumulative:
While the RAPM models are inherently above-average on the career level, the outputs of the respective SPM models need to be adjusted to their own above-average form for each season. To do this we take the per-60 output from these models, expand these to implied impact [(SPM per 60 output / 60) * player TOI], and determine the mean of this number within the league at a per minute rate for each position. We then subtract this league average per minute rate from each player’s SPM per minute value and multiply the resulting value by each player’s time on ice. This is the same for all components.
Everybody got that? Ok good. What I gather from this is...the sub-models give you /60 evaluations of the player’s performance. But the actual impact of the player, according to GAR, involves their /60 performance being multiplied by their TOI, with some later adjustments. This makes a lot of sense of course! If you’re as good as a similar player, but you play half as much time as them...you can’t be expected to have as much impact.
Appendix 3: EW’s site definition
Evolving-Wild’s Dictionary defines Goals Above Replacement (GAR, WAR, and SPAR) as “a metric that attempts to assign a total value to each player, which represents how much that player contributed to their team in a single number.”. I may have tricked you into reading this last, so that you would think a little FIRST and be pedantic about wording SECOND. Because that’s a pretty brief statement. But there it is.
TL;DR: Some posts are not meant to have a TL;DR. Thanks to anyone who read the rest first
submitted by andontheslittedsheet to hockey [link] [comments]

Iris [3/3]

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 <-- You are here.
I awoke to a world without women.
I rolled off the bed into sore thighs and guilt, got up to emptiness that echoed the slightest noise, and left my wife’s clothes on the sheets without thinking that eventually I’d have to pack them into a plastic bag and slide them down the garbage chute. I felt magnified and hollow. In the kitchen, I used the stove top as a table because the actual table had my wife’s tablet on it, and spilled instant coffee. What I didn’t spill I drank in a few gulps, the way I used to drink ice cold milk as a boy. I stood in front of the living room window for a while before realizing I was naked, then realizing that it didn’t matter because men changed in front of each other at the pool and peed next to one another into urinals in public restrooms, and there weren’t any women to hide from, no one to offend. The world, I told myself, was now a sprawling men’s pisser, so I slammed the window open and pissed.
I wanted to call someone—to tell them that my wife was dead, because that’s a duty owed by the living—but whom could I call: her sister, her parents? Her sister was dead. Her father had a dead wife and two dead daughters. There was nothing to say. Everyone knew. I called my wife’s father anyway. Was he still my father-in-law now that I was a widower? He didn’t accept the connection. Widower: a word loses all but historical meaning when there are no alternatives. If all animals were dogs, we’d purge one of those words from our vocabulary. We were all widowers. It was synonymous with man. I switched on the television and stared, crying, at a montage of photographs showing the bloody landscapes of cities, hospitals, retirement homes, schools and churches, all under the tasteless headline: “International Pop”. Would we clean it up, these remnants of the people we loved? Could we even use the same buildings, knowing what had happened in them? The illusion of practical thinking pushed my feeling of emptiness away. I missed arms wrapping around me from behind while I stared through rain streaked windows. I missed barking and a wagging tail that hit my leg whenever I was standing too close. Happiness seemed impossible. I called Bakshi because I needed confirmation that I still had a voice. “They’re the lucky ones,” he said right after I’d introduced myself. “They’re out. We’re the fools still locked in, and now we’re all alone.”
For three weeks, I expected my wife to show up at the apartment door. I removed her clothes from the bed and stuffed them into a garbage bag, but kept the garbage bag in the small space between the fridge and the kitchen wall. I probably would have kept a dead body in the freezer if I had one and it fit. As a city and as a world, those were grim, disorganized weeks for us. Nobody worked. I don’t know what we did. Sat around and drank, smoked. And we called each other, often out of the blue. Every day, I received a call from someone I knew but hadn’t spoken to in years. The conversations all followed a pattern. There was no catching up and no explanation of lost time, just a question like “How are you holding up?” followed by a thoughtless answer (“Fine, I guess. And you?”) followed by an exchange of details about the women we’d lost. Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, friends, cousins, aunts, teachers, students, co-workers. We talked about the colour of their hair, their senses of humour, their favourite movies. We said nothing about ourselves, choosing instead to inhabit the personas of those whom we’d loved. In the hallway, I would put on my wife’s coats but never look at myself in the mirror. I wore her winter hats in the middle of July. Facebook became a graveyard, with the gender field separating the mourners from the dead.
The World Health Organization issued a communique stating that based on the available data it was reasonable to assume that all the women in the world were dead, but it called for any woman still alive to come forward immediately. The language of the communique was as sterile as the Earth. Nobody came forward. The World Wildlife Fund created an inventory of all mammalian species that listed in ascending order how long each species would exist. Humans were on the bottom. Both the World Health Organization and the World Wildlife Fund predicted that unless significant technological progress occurred in the field of fertility within the next fifty years, the last human, a theoretical boy named Philip born into a theoretical developed country on March 26, 2025, would die in 93 years. On the day of his death, Philip would be the last remaining mammal—although not necessarily animal—on Earth. No organization or government has ever officially stated that July 4, 2025, was the most destructive day in recorded history, on the morning of which, Eastern Time, four billion out of a total of eight billion people ceased to exist as anything more than memories. What killed them was neither an act of war nor an act of terrorism. Neither was it human negligence. There was no one to blame and no one to prosecute. In the western countries, where the majority of people no longer believed in any religion, we could not even call it an act of God. So we responded by calling it nothing at all.
And, like nothing, our lives persisted. We ate, we slept and we adapted. After the first wave of suicides ended, we hosed off what the rain hadn’t already washed away and began to reorganize the systems on which our societies ran. It was a challenge tempered only slightly in countries where women had not made up a significant portion of the workforce. We held new elections, formed me boards of directors and slowed down the assembly lines and bus schedules to make it possible for our communities to keep running. There was less food in the supermarkets, but we also needed less food. Instead of two trains we ran one, but one sufficed. I don’t remember the day when I finally took the black garbage bag from its resting place and walked it to the chute. “How are you holding up?” a male voice would say on the street. “Fine, I guess. And you?” I’d answer. ##!! wrote a piece of Python code to predict the box office profitability of new movies, in which real actors played alongside computer-generated actresses. The code was only partially successful. Because while it did accurately predict the success of new movies in relation to one other, it failed to include the overwhelming popularity of re-releases of films from the past—films starring Bette Davis, Giulietta Masina, Meryl Streep: women who at least on screen were still flesh and blood. Theatres played retrospectives. On Amazon, books by female authors topped the charts. Sales of albums by women vocalists surged. We thirsted for another sex. I watched, read and listened like everyone else, and in between I cherished any media on which I found images or recordings of my wife. I was angry for not having made more. I looked at the same photos and watched the same clips over and over again. I memorized my wife’s Facebook timeline and tagged all her Tweets by date, theme and my own rating. When I went out, I would talk to the air as if she was walking beside me, sometimes quoting her actual words as answers to my questions and sometimes inventing my own as if she was a beloved character in an imagined novel. When people looked at me like I was crazy, I didn’t care. I wasn’t the only one. But, more importantly, my wife meant more to me than they did. I remembered times when we’d stroll through the park or down downtown sidewalks and I would be too ashamed to kiss her in the presence of strangers. Now, I would tell her that I love her in the densest crowd. I would ask her whether I should buy ketchup or mustard in the condiments aisle. She helped me pick out my clothes in the morning. She convinced me to eat healthy and exercise.
In November, I was in Bakshi’s apartment for the first time, waiting for a pizza delivery boy, when one of Bakshi’s friends who was browsing Reddit told us that the Tribe of Akna was starting a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to buy the Republic of Suriname, rename it Xibalba and close its borders for all except the enlightened. Xibalba would have no laws, Salvador Abaroa said in a message on the site. He was banging his gong as he did. Everything would be legal, and anyone who pledged $100 would receive a two-week visa to this new "Mayan Buddhist Eden". If you pledged over $10,000, you would receive citizenship. “Everything in life is destroyed by energy,” Abaroa said. “But let the energy enlighten you before it consumes your body. Xibalba is finite life unbound.” Bakshi’s phone buzzed. The pizza boy had sent an email. He couldn’t get upstairs, so Bakshi and I took the elevator to the building’s front entrance. The boy’s face was so white that I saw it as soon as the elevator doors slid open. Walking closer, I saw that he was powdered. His cheeks were also rouged, and he was wearing cranberry coloured lipstick, a Marilyn Monroe wig and a short black skirt. Compared to his face, his thin legs looked like incongruously dark popsicle sticks. Bakshi paid for the pizza and added another five dollars for the tip. The boy batted his fake eyelashes and asked if maybe he could do something to earn a little more. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I could come upstairs and clean the place up a little. You two live alone?” Bakshi passed me the two pizza boxes—They felt hot in my hands.—and dug around in his wallet. “It’s not just the two of us,” I said. The boy smiled. “That’s OK. I’ve done parties before if that’s what you’re into.” I saw the reaction on Bakshi’s face, and I saw the boy’s grotesque caricature of a woman. “There’s condoms and lube in the car,” the boy said, pointing to a sedan with a pizza spray-painted across its side parked by the curb. “My boss says I can take up to two hours but it’s not like he uses a stopwatch.” I stepped on Bakshi’s foot and shouldered him away. He was still fiddling with his wallet. “We’re not interested,” I said to the boy. He just shrugged. “Suit yourselves. If you change your mind, order another pizza and ask for Ruby.” The elevator dinged and the doors opened. As we shuffled inside, I saw Bakshi’s cheeks turn red. “I’m not actually—” he mumbled, but I didn’t let him finish. What had bothered me so much about the boy wasn’t the way he looked or acted; in fact, it wasn’t really the boy at all. He was just trying to make a buck. What bothered me was how ruthlessly we’d already begun to exploit each other.
For those of us who were heterosexual, sex was a definite weakness. I missed it. I would never have it with a woman again. The closest substitute was pornography, whose price rose with its popularity, but which, at least for me, now came scented with the unpleasantness of historicity and nostalgia. Videos and photos, not to mention physical magazines, were collector’s items in the same way that we once collected coins or action figures. The richest men bought up the exclusive rights to their favourite porn stars and guarded them by law with a viciousness once reserved for the RIAA and MPAA. Perhaps exclusivity gave them a possessive satisfaction. In response, we pirated whatever we could and fought for a pornographic public domain. Although new pornography was still being produced, either with the help of the same virtual technology they used for mainstream movies or with the participation of young men in costume, it lacked the taste of the originals. It was like eating chocolate made without cocoa. The best pornography, and therefore the best sex, became the pornography of the mind.
The Tribe of Akna reached its Kickstarter goal in early December. On December 20, I went to church for the first time since getting married because that was the theoretical date that my wife—along with every other woman—was supposed to have given birth. I wanted to be alone with others. Someone posted a video on TikTok from Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront, dubbing over Marlon Brando’s speech to say: “You don’t understand. I could’a had a piece of ass. I could’a been a school board member. I could’a been a son’s daddy”. It was juvenile and heartbreaking. By Christmas, the Surinamese government was already expelling its citizens, each of whom had theoretically been given a fraction of the funds paid to the government from the Tribe of Akna’s Kickstarter pool, and Salvador Abaroa’s lawyers were petitioning for international recognition of the new state of Xibalba. Neither Canada nor the United States opened diplomatic relations, but others did. I knew people who had pledged money, and when in January they disappeared on trips, I had no doubt to where. Infamy spread in the form of stories and urban legends. There’s no need for details. People disappeared, and ethicists wrote about the ethical neutrality of murder, arguing that because we were all slated to die, leaving the Earth barren in a century, destruction was a human inevitability, and what is inevitable can never be bad, even when it comes earlier than expected—even when it comes by force. Because, as a species, we hadn’t chosen destruction for ourselves, neither should any individual member of our species be able to choose now for himself. To the ethicists of what became known as the New Inevitability School, suicide was a greater evil than murder because it implied choice and inequality. If the ship was going down, no one should be allowed to get off. A second wave of suicides coincided with the debate, leading many governments to pass laws making suicide illegal. But how do you punish someone who already wants to die? In China: by keeping him alive and selling him to Xibalba, where he becomes the physical plaything of its citizens and visa-holders. The Chinese was the first embassy to open in Xibalban Paramaribo.
The men working on Kurt Schwaller’s theory of everything continued working, steadily adding new variables to their equations, complicating their calculations in the hopes that someday the variable they added would be the final one and the equation would yield an answer. “It’s pointless,” Bakshi would comment after reading about one of the small breakthroughs they periodically announced. “Even if they do manage to predict something, anything, it won’t amount to anything more than the painfully obvious. And after decades of adding and subtracting their beans, they’ll come out of their Los Alamos datalabs like groundhogs into a world blanketed by storm clouds and conclude, finally and with plenty of self-congratulations, that it’s about to fucking rain.”
It rained a lot in February. It was one of the warmest Februaries in Toronto’s history. Sometimes I went for walks along the waterfront, talking to my wife, listening to Billie Holiday and trying to recall as many female faces as I could. Ones from the distant past: my mother, my grandmothers. Ones from the recent past: the woman whose life my wife saved on the way to the hospital, the Armenian woman with the film magazine and the injured son, the Jamaican woman, Bakshi’s wife. I focused on their faces, then zoomed out to see their bodies. I carried an umbrella but seldom opened it because the pounding of the raindrops against the material distorted my mental images. I saw people rush across the street holding newspapers above their heads while dogs roamed the alleyways wearing nothing at all. Of the two, it was dogs that had the shorter time left on Earth, and if they could let the rain soak their fur and drip off their bodies, I could surely let it run down my face. It was first my mother and later my wife who told me to always cover up in the rain, “because moisture causes colds,” but I was alone now and I didn’t want to be separated from the falling water by a sheet of glass anymore. I already was cold. I saw a man sit down on a bench, open his briefcase, pack rocks into it, then close it, tie it to his wrist, check his watch and start to walk into the polluted waters of Lake Ontario. Another man took out his phone and tapped his screen a few times. The man in the lake walked slowly, savouring each step. When the police arrived, sirens blaring, the water was up to his neck. I felt guilty for watching the three officers splash into the lake after him. I don’t know what happened after that because I turned my back and walked away. I hope they didn’t stop him. I hope he got to do what he wanted to do.
“Screw the police.” Bakshi passed me a book. “You should read this,” he said. It was by a professor of film and media studies at a small university in Texas. There was a stage on the cover, flanked by two red curtains. The photo had been taken from the actors’ side, looking out at an audience that the stage lights made too dark to see. The title was Hiding Behind The Curtains. I flipped the book over. There was no photo of the author. “It’s a theory,” Bakshi said, “that undercuts what Abaroa and the Inevitabilists are saying. It’s a little too poetic in parts but—listen, you ever read Atlas Shrugged?” I said I hadn’t. “Well, anyway, what this guy says is that what if instead of our situation letting us do anything we want, it’s actually the opposite, a test to see how we act when we only think that we’re doomed. I mean what if the women who died in March, what if they’re just—” “Hiding behind the curtains,” I said. He bit his lower lip. “It sounds stupid when you say it like that but, as a metaphor, it has a kind of elegance, right?” I flipped through the book, reading a few sentences at random. It struck me as neo-Christian. “Isn’t this a little too spiritual for you? I thought we were all locked into one path,” I said. “I thought that, too, but lately I’ve been able to do things—things that I didn’t really want to do.” For a second I was concerned. “Nothing bad,” he said. “I mean I’ve felt like I’m locked into doing one thing, say having a drink of water, but I resist and pour myself a glass of orange juice instead.” I shook my head. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. That’s how most theories ended, I thought: reason and evidence up to a crucial point, and then it gets so personal that it’s hard to explain. You either make the jump or you don’t. “Just read it,” he said. “Please read it. You don’t have to agree with it, I just want to get your opinion, an objective opinion.”
I never did read the book, and Bakshi forgot about it, too, but that day he was excited and happy, and those were rare feelings. I was simultaneously glad for him and jealous. Afterwards, we went out onto the balcony and drank Czech beer until morning. When it got cool, we put on our coats. It started to drizzle so we wore blue plastic suits like the ones they used to give you on boat rides in Niagara Falls. When it was time to go home, I was so drunk I couldn’t see straight. I almost got into a fight, the first one of my life, because I bumped into a man on the street and told him to get the fuck out of my way. I don’t remember much more of my walk home. The only reason I remember Behind The Curtains at all is because when I woke up in the afternoon it was the first thing that my hung over brain recognized. It was lying on the floor beside the bed. Then I opened the blinds covering my bedroom window and, through my spread fingers that I’d meant to use as a shield from the first blast of daylight, I saw the pincers for the first time.
They’d appeared while I was asleep. I turned on the television and checked my phone. The media and the internet were feverish, but nobody knew what the thing was, just a massive, vaguely rectangular shape blotting out a strip of the sky. NASA stated that it had received no extraterrestrial messages to coincide with the appearance. Every government claimed ignorance. The panel discussions on television only worsened my headache. Bakshi emailed me links to photos from Mumbai, Cape Town, Sydney and Mexico City, all showing the same shape; or rather one of a pair of shapes, for there were two of them, one on each side of the Earth, and they’d trapped our planet between themselves like gargantuan fingers clutching an equally gargantuan ping-pong ball. That’s why somebody came up with the term “the pincers”. It stuck. Because I’d slept in last night’s clothes I was already dressed, so I ran down the stairs and out of my apartment building to get a better look at them from the parking lot. You’re not supposed to look at the sun, but I wasn’t the only one breaking that rule. There were entire crowds with upturned faces in the streets. If the pincers, too, could see, they would perhaps be as baffled by us as we were of them: billions of tiny specks all over the surface of this ping-pong ball gathering in points on a grid, coagulating into large puddles that vanished overnight only to reassemble in the morning. In the following days, scientists scrambled to study the pincers and their potential effects on us, but they discovered nothing. The pincers did nothing. They emitted nothing, consumed nothing. They simply were. And they could not be measured or detected in any way other than by eyesight. When we shot rays at them, the rays continued on their paths unaffected, as if nothing was there. The pincers did, however, affect the sun’s rays coming towards us. They cut up our days. The sun would rise, travel over the sky, hide behind a pincer—enveloping us in a second night—before revealing itself again as a second day. But if the pincers’ physical effect on us was limited to its blockage of light, their mental effects on us were astoundingly severe. For many, this was the sign they’d been waiting for. It brought hope. It brought gloom. It broke and confirmed ideas that were hard to explain. In their ambiguity, the pincers could be anything, but in their strangeness they at least reassured us of the reality of the strange times in which we were living. Men walked away from the theory of everything, citing the pincers as the ultimate variable that proved the futility of prognostication. Others took up the calculations because if the pincers could appear, what else was out there in our future? However, ambiguity can only last for a certain period. Information narrows possibilities. On April 1, 2026, every Twitter account in the world received the following message:
as you can see this message is longer than the allowed one hundred forty characters time and space are malleable you thought you had one hundred years but prepare for the plucking
The sender was @. The message appeared in each user’s feed at exactly the same time and in his first language, without punctuation. Because of the date most of us thought it was a hoax, but the developers of Twitter denied this vehemently. It wasn’t until a court forced them to reveal their code, which proved that a message of that length and sent by a blank user was impossible, that our doubts ceased. ##!! took bets on what the message meant. Salvador Abaroa broadcast a response into space in a language he called Bodhi Mayan, then addressed the rest of us in English, saying that in the pincers he had identified an all-powerful prehistoric fire deity, described in an old Sanskrit text as having the resemblance of mirrored black fangs, whose appearance signified the end of time. “All of us will burn,” he said, “but paradise shall be known only to those who burn willingly.” Two days later, The Tribe of Akna announced that in one month it would seal Xibalba from the world and set fire to everything and everyone in it. For the first time, its spokesman said, an entire nation would commit suicide as one. Jonestown was but a blip. As a gesture of goodwill, he said that Xibalba was offering free immolation visas to anyone who applied within the next week. The New Inevitability School condemned the plan as “offensively unethical” and inequalitist and urged an international Xibalban boycott. Nothing came of it. When the date arrived, we watched with rapt attention on live streams and from the vantage points of circling news planes as Salvador Abaroa struck flint against steel, creating the spark that caught the char cloth, starting a fire that blossomed bright crimson and in the next weeks consumed all 163,821 square kilometres of the former Republic of Suriname and all 2,500,000 of its estimated Xibalban inhabitants. Despite concerns that the fire would spread beyond Xibalba’s borders, The Tribe of Akna had been careful. There were no accidental casualties and no unplanned property damage. No borders were crossed. Once the fire burned out, reporters competed to be first to capture the mood on the ground. Paramaribo resembled the smouldering darkness of a fire pit.
It was a few days later while sitting on Bakshi’s balcony, looking up at the pincers and rereading a reproduction of @’s message—someone had spray-painted it across the wall of a building opposite Bakshi’s—that I remembered Iris. The memory was so absorbing that I didn’t notice when Bakshi slid open the balcony door and sat down beside me, but I must have been smiling because he said, “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but you look a little loony tonight. Seriously, man, you do not look sufficiently freaked out.” I’d remembered Iris before, swirling elements of her plain face, but now I also remembered her words and her theory. I turned to Bakshi, who seemed to be waiting for an answer to his question, and said, “Let’s get up on the roof of this place.” He grabbed my arm and held on tightly. “I’m not going to jump, if that’s what you mean.” It wasn’t what I meant, but I asked, “why not?” He said, “I don’t know. I know we’re fucked as a species and all that, but I figure if I’m still alive I might as well see what happens next, like in a bad movie you want to see through to the end.” I promised him that I wasn’t going to jump, either. Then I scrambled inside his apartment, grabbed my hat and jacket from the closet by the front door and put them on while speed walking down the hall, toward the fire escape. I realized I’d been spending a lot of time here. The alarm went off as soon I pushed open the door with my hip but I didn’t care. When Bakshi caught up with me, I was already outside, leaping up two stairs at a time. The metal construction was rusted. The treads wobbled. On the roof, the wind nearly blew my hat off and it was so loud I could have screamed and no one would have heard me. Holding my hat in my hands, I crouched and looked out over the twinkling city spread out in front of me. It looked alive in spite of the pincers in the sky. “Let’s do something crazy,” I yelled. Bakshi was still catching his breath behind me. “What, like this isn’t crazy enough?” The NHL may have been gone but my hat still bore the Maple Leafs logo, as quaint and obsolete by then as the Weimar Republic in the summer of 1945. “When’s the last time you played ball hockey?” I asked. Bakshi crouched beside me. “You’re acting weird. And I haven’t played ball hockey in ages.” I stood up so suddenly that Bakshi almost fell over. This time I knew I was smiling. “So call your buddies,” I said. “Tell them to bring their sticks and their gear and to meet us in front of the ACC in one hour.” Bakshi patted me on the back. Toronto shone like jewels scattered over black velvet. “The ACC’s been closed for years, buddy. I think you’re really starting to lose it.” I knew it was closed. “Lose what?” I asked. “It’s closed and we’re going to break in.”
The chains broke apart like shortbread. The electricity worked. The clouds of dust made me sneeze. We used duffel bags to mark out the goals. We raced up and down the stands and bent over, wheezing at imaginary finish lines. We got into the announcer’s booth and called each other cunts through the microphone. We ran, fell and shot rubber pucks for hours. We didn’t keep score. We didn’t worry. “What about the police?” someone asked. The rest of us answered: “Screw the fucking police!”
And when everybody packed up and went home, I stayed behind.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Bakshi asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Because I have to get back so that I can shower, get changed and get to work.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“And you promise me you’ll catch a cab?”
“I’m not suicidal.”
He fixed his grip on his duffel bag. “I didn’t say you were. I was just checking.”
“I want to see the end of the movie, too,” I said.
He saluted. I watched him leave. When he was gone, my wife walked down from the nosebleeds and took a seat beside me. “There’s someone I want to tell you about,” I said. She lifted her chin like she always does when something unexpected catches her interest, and scooted closer. I put my arm across the back of her beautiful shoulders. She always liked that, even though the position drives me crazy because I tend to talk a lot with my hands. “Stuck at Leafs-Wings snorefest,” she said. “Game sucks but I love the man sitting beside me.” (January 15, 2019. Themes: hockey, love, me. Rating: 5/5). “Her name was Iris,” I said.

Iris

“What if the whole universe was a giant garden—like a hydroponics thing, like how they grow tomatoes and marijuana, so there wouldn’t need to be any soil, all the nutrients would just get injected straight into the seeds or however they do it—or, even better, space itself was the soil, you know how they talk about dark matter being this invisible and mysterious thing that exists out there and we don’t know what it does, if it actually affect anything, gravity…”
She blew a cloud of pot smoke my way that made me cough and probably gave her time to think. She said, “So dark matter is like the soil, and in this space garden of course they don’t grow plants but something else.”
“Galaxies?”
“Eyes.”
“Just eyes, or body parts in general?” I asked.
“Just eyes.”
The music from the party thumped. “But the eyes are our planets, like Mars is an eye, Neptune is an eye, and the Earth is an eye, maybe even the best eye.”
“The best for what? Who’s growing them?”
“God,” she said.
I took the joint from her and took a long drag. “I didn’t know you believed in God.”
“I don’t, I guess—except when I’m on dope. Anyway, you’ve got to understand me because when I say God I don’t mean like the old man with muscles and a beard. This God, the one I’m talking about, it’s more like a one-eyed monster.”
“Like a cyclops?” I asked.
“Yeah, like that, like a cyclops. So it’s growing these eyes in the dark matter in space—I mean right now, you and me, we’re literally sitting on one of these eyes and we’re contributing to its being grown because the nutrients the cyclops God injected into them, that’s us.”
“Why does God need so many extra eyes?”
“It’s not a question of having so many of them, but more about having the right one, like growing the perfect tomato.” I gave her back the joint and leaned back, looking at the stars. “Because every once in a while the cyclops God goes blind, its eye stops working—not in the same way we go blind, because the cyclops God doesn’t see reality in the same way we see reality—but more like we see through our brains and our eyes put together.”
“Like x-ray vision?” I asked.
“No, not like that at all,” she said.
“A glass eye?”
“Glass eyes are fake.”
“OK,” I said, “so maybe try something else. Give me a different angle. Tell me what role we’re playing in all of this because right now it seems that we’re pretty insignificant. I mean, you said we’re nutrients but what’s the difference between, say, Mars and Earth in terms of being eyes?”
She looked over at me. “Are you absolutely sure you want to hear about this?”
“I am,” I said.
“You don’t think it’s stupid?”
“Compared to what?”
“I don’t know, just stupid in general.”
“I don’t.”
“I like you,” she said.
“Because I don’t think you’re stupid?” I asked.
“That’s just a bonus. I mean more that you’re up here with me instead of being down there with everyone, and we’re talking and even though we’re not in love I know somehow we’ll never forget each other for as long as we live.”
“It’s hard to forget being on the surface of a giant floating eyeball.”
“You’re scared that you won’t find anyone to love,” she said suddenly, causing me to nearly choke on my own saliva. “Don’t ask me how I know—I just do. But before I go any further about the cyclops God, I want you to know that you’ll find someone to love and who’ll love you back, and whatever happens you’ll always have that because no one can take away the past.”
“You’re scared of going blind,” I said.
“I am going blind.”
“Not yet.”
“And I’m learning not to be scared because everything I see until that day will always belong to me.”
“The doctors said it would be gradual,” I reminded her.
“That’s horrible.”
“Why?”
“Because you wouldn’t want to find someone to love and then know that every day you wake up the love between you grows dimmer and dimmer, would you?”
“I guess not,” I said.
“Wouldn’t you much rather feel the full strength of that love up to and including in the final second before the world goes black?”
“It would probably be painful to lose it all at once like that.”
“Painful because you actually had something to lose. For me, I know I can’t wish away blindness, but I sure wish that the last image I ever see—in that final second before my world goes black—is the most vivid and beautiful image of all.”
Because I didn’t know what to say to that, I mumbled: “I’m sorry.”
“That I’m going blind?”
“Yeah, and that we can’t grow eyes.”
This time I looked over, and she was the one gazing at the stars. “Before, you asked if we were insignificant,” she said. “But because you’re sorry—that’s kind of why we’re the most significant of all, why Earth is better than the other planets.”
“For the cyclops God?”
“Yes.”
“He cares about my feelings?”
“Not in the way you’re probably thinking, but in a different way that’s exactly what the cyclops God cares about most because that’s what it’s looking for in an eye. All the amazing stuff we’ve ever built, all our ancient civilizations and supercomputers and cities you can see from the Moon—that’s just useless cosmetics to the cyclops God, except in how all of it has made us feel about things that aren’t us.”
“I think you’re talking about morality.”
“I think so, too.”
“So by feeling sorry for you I’m showing compassion, and the cyclops God likes compassion?”
“That’s not totally wrong but it’s a little upside down. We have this black matter garden and these planets the cyclops God has grown as potential eyes to replace its own eye once it stops working, but its own eye is like an eye and a brain mixed together. Wait—” she said.
I waited.
“Imagine a pair of tinted sunglasses.”
I imagined green-tinted ones.
“Now imagine that instead of the lenses being a certain colour, they’re a certain morality, and if you wear the glasses you see the world tinted according to that morality.”
I was kind of able to imagine that. I supposed it would help show who was good and who was bad. “But the eye and the tinted glasses are the same thing in this case.”
“Exactly, there’s no one without the other, and what makes the tint special is us—not that the cyclops God cares at all about individuals any more than we care about individual honey bees. That’s why he’s kind of a monster.”
“Isn’t people’s morality always changing, though?”
“Only up to a point. Green is green even when you have a bunch of shades of it, and a laptop screen still works fine even with a few dead pixels, right? And the more globalized and connected we get, the smoother our morality gets, but if you’re asking more about how our changing morals work when the cyclops God finally comes to take its eye, I assume it has a way to freeze our progress. To cut our roots. Then it makes some kind of final evaluation. If it’s satisfied it takes the planet and sticks it into its eye socket, and if it doesn’t like us then it lets us alone, although because we’re frozen and possibly rootless I suppose we die—maybe that’s what the other planets are, so many of them in space without any sort of life. Cold, rejected eyes.”
From sunglasses to bees to monitors in three metaphors, and now we were back to space. This was getting confusing. The stars twinkled, some of them dead, too: their light still arriving at our eyes from sources that no longer existed. “That’s kind of depressing,” I said to end the silence.
“What about it?”
“Being bees,” I said, “that work for so long at tinting a pair of glasses just so that a cyclops God can try them on.”
“I don’t think it’s any more depressing than being a tomato.”
“I’ve never thought about that.”
“You should. It’s beautiful, like love,” she said. “Because if you think about it, being a tomato and being a person are really quite similar. They’re both about growing and existing for the enjoyment of someone else. As a tomato you’re planted, you grow and mature and then an animal comes along and eats you. The juicier you look and the nicer you smell, the greater the chance that you’ll get plucked but also the more pleasure the animal will get from you. As a person, you’re also born and you grow up and you mature into a one of a kind personality with a one of a kind face, and then someone comes along and makes you fall in love with them and all the growing you did was really just for their enjoyment of your love.”
“Except love lasts longer than chewing a tomato.”
“Sometimes,” she said.
“And you have to admit that two tomatoes can’t eat each other the way two people can love each other mutually.”
“I admit that’s a good point,” she said.
“And what happens to someone who never gets fallen in love with?”
“The same thing that happens to a tomato that never gets eaten or an eye that the cyclops God never takes. They die and they rot, and they darken and harden, decomposing until they don’t look like tomatoes anymore. It’s not a nice fate. I’d rather live awhile and get eaten, to be honest.”
“As a tomato or person?”
“Both.”
I thought for a few seconds. “That explanation works for things on Earth, but nothing actually decomposes in space.”
“That’s why there are so many dead planets,” she said.
submitted by normancrane to cryosleep [link] [comments]

Iris [3/3]

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 <-- You are here.

- - -

I awoke to a world without women.
I rolled off the bed into sore thighs and guilt, got up to emptiness that echoed the slightest noise, and left my wife’s clothes on the sheets without thinking that eventually I’d have to pack them into a plastic bag and slide them down the garbage chute. I felt magnified and hollow. In the kitchen, I used the stove top as a table because the actual table had my wife’s tablet on it, and spilled instant coffee. What I didn’t spill I drank in a few gulps, the way I used to drink ice cold milk as a boy. I stood in front of the living room window for a while before realizing I was naked, then realizing that it didn’t matter because men changed in front of each other at the pool and peed next to one another into urinals in public restrooms, and there weren’t any women to hide from, no one to offend. The world, I told myself, was now a sprawling men’s pisser, so I slammed the window open and pissed.
I wanted to call someone—to tell them that my wife was dead, because that’s a duty owed by the living—but whom could I call: her sister, her parents? Her sister was dead. Her father had a dead wife and two dead daughters. There was nothing to say. Everyone knew. I called my wife’s father anyway. Was he still my father-in-law now that I was a widower? He didn’t accept the connection. Widower: a word loses all but historical meaning when there are no alternatives. If all animals were dogs, we’d purge one of those words from our vocabulary. We were all widowers. It was synonymous with man. I switched on the television and stared, crying, at a montage of photographs showing the bloody landscapes of cities, hospitals, retirement homes, schools and churches, all under the tasteless headline: “International Pop”. Would we clean it up, these remnants of the people we loved? Could we even use the same buildings, knowing what had happened in them? The illusion of practical thinking pushed my feeling of emptiness away. I missed arms wrapping around me from behind while I stared through rain streaked windows. I missed barking and a wagging tail that hit my leg whenever I was standing too close. Happiness seemed impossible. I called Bakshi because I needed confirmation that I still had a voice. “They’re the lucky ones,” he said right after I’d introduced myself. “They’re out. We’re the fools still locked in, and now we’re all alone.”
For three weeks, I expected my wife to show up at the apartment door. I removed her clothes from the bed and stuffed them into a garbage bag, but kept the garbage bag in the small space between the fridge and the kitchen wall. I probably would have kept a dead body in the freezer if I had one and it fit. As a city and as a world, those were grim, disorganized weeks for us. Nobody worked. I don’t know what we did. Sat around and drank, smoked. And we called each other, often out of the blue. Every day, I received a call from someone I knew but hadn’t spoken to in years. The conversations all followed a pattern. There was no catching up and no explanation of lost time, just a question like “How are you holding up?” followed by a thoughtless answer (“Fine, I guess. And you?”) followed by an exchange of details about the women we’d lost. Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, friends, cousins, aunts, teachers, students, co-workers. We talked about the colour of their hair, their senses of humour, their favourite movies. We said nothing about ourselves, choosing instead to inhabit the personas of those whom we’d loved. In the hallway, I would put on my wife’s coats but never look at myself in the mirror. I wore her winter hats in the middle of July. Facebook became a graveyard, with the gender field separating the mourners from the dead.
The World Health Organization issued a communique stating that based on the available data it was reasonable to assume that all the women in the world were dead, but it called for any woman still alive to come forward immediately. The language of the communique was as sterile as the Earth. Nobody came forward. The World Wildlife Fund created an inventory of all mammalian species that listed in ascending order how long each species would exist. Humans were on the bottom. Both the World Health Organization and the World Wildlife Fund predicted that unless significant technological progress occurred in the field of fertility within the next fifty years, the last human, a theoretical boy named Philip born into a theoretical developed country on March 26, 2025, would die in 93 years. On the day of his death, Philip would be the last remaining mammal—although not necessarily animal—on Earth. No organization or government has ever officially stated that July 4, 2025, was the most destructive day in recorded history, on the morning of which, Eastern Time, four billion out of a total of eight billion people ceased to exist as anything more than memories. What killed them was neither an act of war nor an act of terrorism. Neither was it human negligence. There was no one to blame and no one to prosecute. In the western countries, where the majority of people no longer believed in any religion, we could not even call it an act of God. So we responded by calling it nothing at all.
And, like nothing, our lives persisted. We ate, we slept and we adapted. After the first wave of suicides ended, we hosed off what the rain hadn’t already washed away and began to reorganize the systems on which our societies ran. It was a challenge tempered only slightly in countries where women had not made up a significant portion of the workforce. We held new elections, formed me boards of directors and slowed down the assembly lines and bus schedules to make it possible for our communities to keep running. There was less food in the supermarkets, but we also needed less food. Instead of two trains we ran one, but one sufficed. I don’t remember the day when I finally took the black garbage bag from its resting place and walked it to the chute. “How are you holding up?” a male voice would say on the street. “Fine, I guess. And you?” I’d answer. ##!! wrote a piece of Python code to predict the box office profitability of new movies, in which real actors played alongside computer-generated actresses. The code was only partially successful. Because while it did accurately predict the success of new movies in relation to one other, it failed to include the overwhelming popularity of re-releases of films from the past—films starring Bette Davis, Giulietta Masina, Meryl Streep: women who at least on screen were still flesh and blood. Theatres played retrospectives. On Amazon, books by female authors topped the charts. Sales of albums by women vocalists surged. We thirsted for another sex. I watched, read and listened like everyone else, and in between I cherished any media on which I found images or recordings of my wife. I was angry for not having made more. I looked at the same photos and watched the same clips over and over again. I memorized my wife’s Facebook timeline and tagged all her Tweets by date, theme and my own rating. When I went out, I would talk to the air as if she was walking beside me, sometimes quoting her actual words as answers to my questions and sometimes inventing my own as if she was a beloved character in an imagined novel. When people looked at me like I was crazy, I didn’t care. I wasn’t the only one. But, more importantly, my wife meant more to me than they did. I remembered times when we’d stroll through the park or down downtown sidewalks and I would be too ashamed to kiss her in the presence of strangers. Now, I would tell her that I love her in the densest crowd. I would ask her whether I should buy ketchup or mustard in the condiments aisle. She helped me pick out my clothes in the morning. She convinced me to eat healthy and exercise.
In November, I was in Bakshi’s apartment for the first time, waiting for a pizza delivery boy, when one of Bakshi’s friends who was browsing Reddit told us that the Tribe of Akna was starting a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to buy the Republic of Suriname, rename it Xibalba and close its borders for all except the enlightened. Xibalba would have no laws, Salvador Abaroa said in a message on the site. He was banging his gong as he did. Everything would be legal, and anyone who pledged $100 would receive a two-week visa to this new "Mayan Buddhist Eden". If you pledged over $10,000, you would receive citizenship. “Everything in life is destroyed by energy,” Abaroa said. “But let the energy enlighten you before it consumes your body. Xibalba is finite life unbound.” Bakshi’s phone buzzed. The pizza boy had sent an email. He couldn’t get upstairs, so Bakshi and I took the elevator to the building’s front entrance. The boy’s face was so white that I saw it as soon as the elevator doors slid open. Walking closer, I saw that he was powdered. His cheeks were also rouged, and he was wearing cranberry coloured lipstick, a Marilyn Monroe wig and a short black skirt. Compared to his face, his thin legs looked like incongruously dark popsicle sticks. Bakshi paid for the pizza and added another five dollars for the tip. The boy batted his fake eyelashes and asked if maybe he could do something to earn a little more. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I could come upstairs and clean the place up a little. You two live alone?” Bakshi passed me the two pizza boxes—They felt hot in my hands.—and dug around in his wallet. “It’s not just the two of us,” I said. The boy smiled. “That’s OK. I’ve done parties before if that’s what you’re into.” I saw the reaction on Bakshi’s face, and I saw the boy’s grotesque caricature of a woman. “There’s condoms and lube in the car,” the boy said, pointing to a sedan with a pizza spray-painted across its side parked by the curb. “My boss says I can take up to two hours but it’s not like he uses a stopwatch.” I stepped on Bakshi’s foot and shouldered him away. He was still fiddling with his wallet. “We’re not interested,” I said to the boy. He just shrugged. “Suit yourselves. If you change your mind, order another pizza and ask for Ruby.” The elevator dinged and the doors opened. As we shuffled inside, I saw Bakshi’s cheeks turn red. “I’m not actually—” he mumbled, but I didn’t let him finish. What had bothered me so much about the boy wasn’t the way he looked or acted; in fact, it wasn’t really the boy at all. He was just trying to make a buck. What bothered me was how ruthlessly we’d already begun to exploit each other.
For those of us who were heterosexual, sex was a definite weakness. I missed it. I would never have it with a woman again. The closest substitute was pornography, whose price rose with its popularity, but which, at least for me, now came scented with the unpleasantness of historicity and nostalgia. Videos and photos, not to mention physical magazines, were collector’s items in the same way that we once collected coins or action figures. The richest men bought up the exclusive rights to their favourite porn stars and guarded them by law with a viciousness once reserved for the RIAA and MPAA. Perhaps exclusivity gave them a possessive satisfaction. In response, we pirated whatever we could and fought for a pornographic public domain. Although new pornography was still being produced, either with the help of the same virtual technology they used for mainstream movies or with the participation of young men in costume, it lacked the taste of the originals. It was like eating chocolate made without cocoa. The best pornography, and therefore the best sex, became the pornography of the mind.
The Tribe of Akna reached its Kickstarter goal in early December. On December 20, I went to church for the first time since getting married because that was the theoretical date that my wife—along with every other woman—was supposed to have given birth. I wanted to be alone with others. Someone posted a video on TikTok from Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront, dubbing over Marlon Brando’s speech to say: “You don’t understand. I could’a had a piece of ass. I could’a been a school board member. I could’a been a son’s daddy”. It was juvenile and heartbreaking. By Christmas, the Surinamese government was already expelling its citizens, each of whom had theoretically been given a fraction of the funds paid to the government from the Tribe of Akna’s Kickstarter pool, and Salvador Abaroa’s lawyers were petitioning for international recognition of the new state of Xibalba. Neither Canada nor the United States opened diplomatic relations, but others did. I knew people who had pledged money, and when in January they disappeared on trips, I had no doubt to where. Infamy spread in the form of stories and urban legends. There’s no need for details. People disappeared, and ethicists wrote about the ethical neutrality of murder, arguing that because we were all slated to die, leaving the Earth barren in a century, destruction was a human inevitability, and what is inevitable can never be bad, even when it comes earlier than expected—even when it comes by force. Because, as a species, we hadn’t chosen destruction for ourselves, neither should any individual member of our species be able to choose now for himself. To the ethicists of what became known as the New Inevitability School, suicide was a greater evil than murder because it implied choice and inequality. If the ship was going down, no one should be allowed to get off. A second wave of suicides coincided with the debate, leading many governments to pass laws making suicide illegal. But how do you punish someone who already wants to die? In China: by keeping him alive and selling him to Xibalba, where he becomes the physical plaything of its citizens and visa-holders. The Chinese was the first embassy to open in Xibalban Paramaribo.
The men working on Kurt Schwaller’s theory of everything continued working, steadily adding new variables to their equations, complicating their calculations in the hopes that someday the variable they added would be the final one and the equation would yield an answer. “It’s pointless,” Bakshi would comment after reading about one of the small breakthroughs they periodically announced. “Even if they do manage to predict something, anything, it won’t amount to anything more than the painfully obvious. And after decades of adding and subtracting their beans, they’ll come out of their Los Alamos datalabs like groundhogs into a world blanketed by storm clouds and conclude, finally and with plenty of self-congratulations, that it’s about to fucking rain.”
It rained a lot in February. It was one of the warmest Februaries in Toronto’s history. Sometimes I went for walks along the waterfront, talking to my wife, listening to Billie Holiday and trying to recall as many female faces as I could. Ones from the distant past: my mother, my grandmothers. Ones from the recent past: the woman whose life my wife saved on the way to the hospital, the Armenian woman with the film magazine and the injured son, the Jamaican woman, Bakshi’s wife. I focused on their faces, then zoomed out to see their bodies. I carried an umbrella but seldom opened it because the pounding of the raindrops against the material distorted my mental images. I saw people rush across the street holding newspapers above their heads while dogs roamed the alleyways wearing nothing at all. Of the two, it was dogs that had the shorter time left on Earth, and if they could let the rain soak their fur and drip off their bodies, I could surely let it run down my face. It was first my mother and later my wife who told me to always cover up in the rain, “because moisture causes colds,” but I was alone now and I didn’t want to be separated from the falling water by a sheet of glass anymore. I already was cold. I saw a man sit down on a bench, open his briefcase, pack rocks into it, then close it, tie it to his wrist, check his watch and start to walk into the polluted waters of Lake Ontario. Another man took out his phone and tapped his screen a few times. The man in the lake walked slowly, savouring each step. When the police arrived, sirens blaring, the water was up to his neck. I felt guilty for watching the three officers splash into the lake after him. I don’t know what happened after that because I turned my back and walked away. I hope they didn’t stop him. I hope he got to do what he wanted to do.
“Screw the police.” Bakshi passed me a book. “You should read this,” he said. It was by a professor of film and media studies at a small university in Texas. There was a stage on the cover, flanked by two red curtains. The photo had been taken from the actors’ side, looking out at an audience that the stage lights made too dark to see. The title was Hiding Behind The Curtains. I flipped the book over. There was no photo of the author. “It’s a theory,” Bakshi said, “that undercuts what Abaroa and the Inevitabilists are saying. It’s a little too poetic in parts but—listen, you ever read Atlas Shrugged?” I said I hadn’t. “Well, anyway, what this guy says is that what if instead of our situation letting us do anything we want, it’s actually the opposite, a test to see how we act when we only think that we’re doomed. I mean what if the women who died in March, what if they’re just—” “Hiding behind the curtains,” I said. He bit his lower lip. “It sounds stupid when you say it like that but, as a metaphor, it has a kind of elegance, right?” I flipped through the book, reading a few sentences at random. It struck me as neo-Christian. “Isn’t this a little too spiritual for you? I thought we were all locked into one path,” I said. “I thought that, too, but lately I’ve been able to do things—things that I didn’t really want to do.” For a second I was concerned. “Nothing bad,” he said. “I mean I’ve felt like I’m locked into doing one thing, say having a drink of water, but I resist and pour myself a glass of orange juice instead.” I shook my head. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. That’s how most theories ended, I thought: reason and evidence up to a crucial point, and then it gets so personal that it’s hard to explain. You either make the jump or you don’t. “Just read it,” he said. “Please read it. You don’t have to agree with it, I just want to get your opinion, an objective opinion.”
I never did read the book, and Bakshi forgot about it, too, but that day he was excited and happy, and those were rare feelings. I was simultaneously glad for him and jealous. Afterwards, we went out onto the balcony and drank Czech beer until morning. When it got cool, we put on our coats. It started to drizzle so we wore blue plastic suits like the ones they used to give you on boat rides in Niagara Falls. When it was time to go home, I was so drunk I couldn’t see straight. I almost got into a fight, the first one of my life, because I bumped into a man on the street and told him to get the fuck out of my way. I don’t remember much more of my walk home. The only reason I remember Behind The Curtains at all is because when I woke up in the afternoon it was the first thing that my hung over brain recognized. It was lying on the floor beside the bed. Then I opened the blinds covering my bedroom window and, through my spread fingers that I’d meant to use as a shield from the first blast of daylight, I saw the pincers for the first time.
They’d appeared while I was asleep. I turned on the television and checked my phone. The media and the internet were feverish, but nobody knew what the thing was, just a massive, vaguely rectangular shape blotting out a strip of the sky. NASA stated that it had received no extraterrestrial messages to coincide with the appearance. Every government claimed ignorance. The panel discussions on television only worsened my headache. Bakshi emailed me links to photos from Mumbai, Cape Town, Sydney and Mexico City, all showing the same shape; or rather one of a pair of shapes, for there were two of them, one on each side of the Earth, and they’d trapped our planet between themselves like gargantuan fingers clutching an equally gargantuan ping-pong ball. That’s why somebody came up with the term “the pincers”. It stuck. Because I’d slept in last night’s clothes I was already dressed, so I ran down the stairs and out of my apartment building to get a better look at them from the parking lot. You’re not supposed to look at the sun, but I wasn’t the only one breaking that rule. There were entire crowds with upturned faces in the streets. If the pincers, too, could see, they would perhaps be as baffled by us as we were of them: billions of tiny specks all over the surface of this ping-pong ball gathering in points on a grid, coagulating into large puddles that vanished overnight only to reassemble in the morning. In the following days, scientists scrambled to study the pincers and their potential effects on us, but they discovered nothing. The pincers did nothing. They emitted nothing, consumed nothing. They simply were. And they could not be measured or detected in any way other than by eyesight. When we shot rays at them, the rays continued on their paths unaffected, as if nothing was there. The pincers did, however, affect the sun’s rays coming towards us. They cut up our days. The sun would rise, travel over the sky, hide behind a pincer—enveloping us in a second night—before revealing itself again as a second day. But if the pincers’ physical effect on us was limited to its blockage of light, their mental effects on us were astoundingly severe. For many, this was the sign they’d been waiting for. It brought hope. It brought gloom. It broke and confirmed ideas that were hard to explain. In their ambiguity, the pincers could be anything, but in their strangeness they at least reassured us of the reality of the strange times in which we were living. Men walked away from the theory of everything, citing the pincers as the ultimate variable that proved the futility of prognostication. Others took up the calculations because if the pincers could appear, what else was out there in our future? However, ambiguity can only last for a certain period. Information narrows possibilities. On April 1, 2026, every Twitter account in the world received the following message:
as you can see this message is longer than the allowed one hundred forty characters time and space are malleable you thought you had one hundred years but prepare for the plucking
The sender was @. The message appeared in each user’s feed at exactly the same time and in his first language, without punctuation. Because of the date most of us thought it was a hoax, but the developers of Twitter denied this vehemently. It wasn’t until a court forced them to reveal their code, which proved that a message of that length and sent by a blank user was impossible, that our doubts ceased. ##!! took bets on what the message meant. Salvador Abaroa broadcast a response into space in a language he called Bodhi Mayan, then addressed the rest of us in English, saying that in the pincers he had identified an all-powerful prehistoric fire deity, described in an old Sanskrit text as having the resemblance of mirrored black fangs, whose appearance signified the end of time. “All of us will burn,” he said, “but paradise shall be known only to those who burn willingly.” Two days later, The Tribe of Akna announced that in one month it would seal Xibalba from the world and set fire to everything and everyone in it. For the first time, its spokesman said, an entire nation would commit suicide as one. Jonestown was but a blip. As a gesture of goodwill, he said that Xibalba was offering free immolation visas to anyone who applied within the next week. The New Inevitability School condemned the plan as “offensively unethical” and inequalitist and urged an international Xibalban boycott. Nothing came of it. When the date arrived, we watched with rapt attention on live streams and from the vantage points of circling news planes as Salvador Abaroa struck flint against steel, creating the spark that caught the char cloth, starting a fire that blossomed bright crimson and in the next weeks consumed all 163,821 square kilometres of the former Republic of Suriname and all 2,500,000 of its estimated Xibalban inhabitants. Despite concerns that the fire would spread beyond Xibalba’s borders, The Tribe of Akna had been careful. There were no accidental casualties and no unplanned property damage. No borders were crossed. Once the fire burned out, reporters competed to be first to capture the mood on the ground. Paramaribo resembled the smouldering darkness of a fire pit.
It was a few days later while sitting on Bakshi’s balcony, looking up at the pincers and rereading a reproduction of @’s message—someone had spray-painted it across the wall of a building opposite Bakshi’s—that I remembered Iris. The memory was so absorbing that I didn’t notice when Bakshi slid open the balcony door and sat down beside me, but I must have been smiling because he said, “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but you look a little loony tonight. Seriously, man, you do not look sufficiently freaked out.” I’d remembered Iris before, swirling elements of her plain face, but now I also remembered her words and her theory. I turned to Bakshi, who seemed to be waiting for an answer to his question, and said, “Let’s get up on the roof of this place.” He grabbed my arm and held on tightly. “I’m not going to jump, if that’s what you mean.” It wasn’t what I meant, but I asked, “why not?” He said, “I don’t know. I know we’re fucked as a species and all that, but I figure if I’m still alive I might as well see what happens next, like in a bad movie you want to see through to the end.” I promised him that I wasn’t going to jump, either. Then I scrambled inside his apartment, grabbed my hat and jacket from the closet by the front door and put them on while speed walking down the hall, toward the fire escape. I realized I’d been spending a lot of time here. The alarm went off as soon I pushed open the door with my hip but I didn’t care. When Bakshi caught up with me, I was already outside, leaping up two stairs at a time. The metal construction was rusted. The treads wobbled. On the roof, the wind nearly blew my hat off and it was so loud I could have screamed and no one would have heard me. Holding my hat in my hands, I crouched and looked out over the twinkling city spread out in front of me. It looked alive in spite of the pincers in the sky. “Let’s do something crazy,” I yelled. Bakshi was still catching his breath behind me. “What, like this isn’t crazy enough?” The NHL may have been gone but my hat still bore the Maple Leafs logo, as quaint and obsolete by then as the Weimar Republic in the summer of 1945. “When’s the last time you played ball hockey?” I asked. Bakshi crouched beside me. “You’re acting weird. And I haven’t played ball hockey in ages.” I stood up so suddenly that Bakshi almost fell over. This time I knew I was smiling. “So call your buddies,” I said. “Tell them to bring their sticks and their gear and to meet us in front of the ACC in one hour.” Bakshi patted me on the back. Toronto shone like jewels scattered over black velvet. “The ACC’s been closed for years, buddy. I think you’re really starting to lose it.” I knew it was closed. “Lose what?” I asked. “It’s closed and we’re going to break in.”
The chains broke apart like shortbread. The electricity worked. The clouds of dust made me sneeze. We used duffel bags to mark out the goals. We raced up and down the stands and bent over, wheezing at imaginary finish lines. We got into the announcer’s booth and called each other cunts through the microphone. We ran, fell and shot rubber pucks for hours. We didn’t keep score. We didn’t worry. “What about the police?” someone asked. The rest of us answered: “Screw the fucking police!”
And when everybody packed up and went home, I stayed behind.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Bakshi asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Because I have to get back so that I can shower, get changed and get to work.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“And you promise me you’ll catch a cab?”
“I’m not suicidal.”
He fixed his grip on his duffel bag. “I didn’t say you were. I was just checking.”
“I want to see the end of the movie, too,” I said.
He saluted. I watched him leave. When he was gone, my wife walked down from the nosebleeds and took a seat beside me. “There’s someone I want to tell you about,” I said. She lifted her chin like she always does when something unexpected catches her interest, and scooted closer. I put my arm across the back of her beautiful shoulders. She always liked that, even though the position drives me crazy because I tend to talk a lot with my hands. “Stuck at Leafs-Wings snorefest,” she said. “Game sucks but I love the man sitting beside me.” (January 15, 2019. Themes: hockey, love, me. Rating: 5/5). “Her name was Iris,” I said.

Iris

“What if the whole universe was a giant garden—like a hydroponics thing, like how they grow tomatoes and marijuana, so there wouldn’t need to be any soil, all the nutrients would just get injected straight into the seeds or however they do it—or, even better, space itself was the soil, you know how they talk about dark matter being this invisible and mysterious thing that exists out there and we don’t know what it does, if it actually affect anything, gravity…”
She blew a cloud of pot smoke my way that made me cough and probably gave her time to think. She said, “So dark matter is like the soil, and in this space garden of course they don’t grow plants but something else.”
“Galaxies?”
“Eyes.”
“Just eyes, or body parts in general?” I asked.
“Just eyes.”
The music from the party thumped. “But the eyes are our planets, like Mars is an eye, Neptune is an eye, and the Earth is an eye, maybe even the best eye.”
“The best for what? Who’s growing them?”
“God,” she said.
I took the joint from her and took a long drag. “I didn’t know you believed in God.”
“I don’t, I guess—except when I’m on dope. Anyway, you’ve got to understand me because when I say God I don’t mean like the old man with muscles and a beard. This God, the one I’m talking about, it’s more like a one-eyed monster.”
“Like a cyclops?” I asked.
“Yeah, like that, like a cyclops. So it’s growing these eyes in the dark matter in space—I mean right now, you and me, we’re literally sitting on one of these eyes and we’re contributing to its being grown because the nutrients the cyclops God injected into them, that’s us.”
“Why does God need so many extra eyes?”
“It’s not a question of having so many of them, but more about having the right one, like growing the perfect tomato.” I gave her back the joint and leaned back, looking at the stars. “Because every once in a while the cyclops God goes blind, its eye stops working—not in the same way we go blind, because the cyclops God doesn’t see reality in the same way we see reality—but more like we see through our brains and our eyes put together.”
“Like x-ray vision?” I asked.
“No, not like that at all,” she said.
“A glass eye?”
“Glass eyes are fake.”
“OK,” I said, “so maybe try something else. Give me a different angle. Tell me what role we’re playing in all of this because right now it seems that we’re pretty insignificant. I mean, you said we’re nutrients but what’s the difference between, say, Mars and Earth in terms of being eyes?”
She looked over at me. “Are you absolutely sure you want to hear about this?”
“I am,” I said.
“You don’t think it’s stupid?”
“Compared to what?”
“I don’t know, just stupid in general.”
“I don’t.”
“I like you,” she said.
“Because I don’t think you’re stupid?” I asked.
“That’s just a bonus. I mean more that you’re up here with me instead of being down there with everyone, and we’re talking and even though we’re not in love I know somehow we’ll never forget each other for as long as we live.”
“It’s hard to forget being on the surface of a giant floating eyeball.”
“You’re scared that you won’t find anyone to love,” she said suddenly, causing me to nearly choke on my own saliva. “Don’t ask me how I know—I just do. But before I go any further about the cyclops God, I want you to know that you’ll find someone to love and who’ll love you back, and whatever happens you’ll always have that because no one can take away the past.”
“You’re scared of going blind,” I said.
“I am going blind.”
“Not yet.”
“And I’m learning not to be scared because everything I see until that day will always belong to me.”
“The doctors said it would be gradual,” I reminded her.
“That’s horrible.”
“Why?”
“Because you wouldn’t want to find someone to love and then know that every day you wake up the love between you grows dimmer and dimmer, would you?”
“I guess not,” I said.
“Wouldn’t you much rather feel the full strength of that love up to and including in the final second before the world goes black?”
“It would probably be painful to lose it all at once like that.”
“Painful because you actually had something to lose. For me, I know I can’t wish away blindness, but I sure wish that the last image I ever see—in that final second before my world goes black—is the most vivid and beautiful image of all.”
Because I didn’t know what to say to that, I mumbled: “I’m sorry.”
“That I’m going blind?”
“Yeah, and that we can’t grow eyes.”
This time I looked over, and she was the one gazing at the stars. “Before, you asked if we were insignificant,” she said. “But because you’re sorry—that’s kind of why we’re the most significant of all, why Earth is better than the other planets.”
“For the cyclops God?”
“Yes.”
“He cares about my feelings?”
“Not in the way you’re probably thinking, but in a different way that’s exactly what the cyclops God cares about most because that’s what it’s looking for in an eye. All the amazing stuff we’ve ever built, all our ancient civilizations and supercomputers and cities you can see from the Moon—that’s just useless cosmetics to the cyclops God, except in how all of it has made us feel about things that aren’t us.”
“I think you’re talking about morality.”
“I think so, too.”
“So by feeling sorry for you I’m showing compassion, and the cyclops God likes compassion?”
“That’s not totally wrong but it’s a little upside down. We have this black matter garden and these planets the cyclops God has grown as potential eyes to replace its own eye once it stops working, but its own eye is like an eye and a brain mixed together. Wait—” she said.
I waited.
“Imagine a pair of tinted sunglasses.”
I imagined green-tinted ones.
“Now imagine that instead of the lenses being a certain colour, they’re a certain morality, and if you wear the glasses you see the world tinted according to that morality.”
I was kind of able to imagine that. I supposed it would help show who was good and who was bad. “But the eye and the tinted glasses are the same thing in this case.”
“Exactly, there’s no one without the other, and what makes the tint special is us—not that the cyclops God cares at all about individuals any more than we care about individual honey bees. That’s why he’s kind of a monster.”
“Isn’t people’s morality always changing, though?”
“Only up to a point. Green is green even when you have a bunch of shades of it, and a laptop screen still works fine even with a few dead pixels, right? And the more globalized and connected we get, the smoother our morality gets, but if you’re asking more about how our changing morals work when the cyclops God finally comes to take its eye, I assume it has a way to freeze our progress. To cut our roots. Then it makes some kind of final evaluation. If it’s satisfied it takes the planet and sticks it into its eye socket, and if it doesn’t like us then it lets us alone, although because we’re frozen and possibly rootless I suppose we die—maybe that’s what the other planets are, so many of them in space without any sort of life. Cold, rejected eyes.”
From sunglasses to bees to monitors in three metaphors, and now we were back to space. This was getting confusing. The stars twinkled, some of them dead, too: their light still arriving at our eyes from sources that no longer existed. “That’s kind of depressing,” I said to end the silence.
“What about it?”
“Being bees,” I said, “that work for so long at tinting a pair of glasses just so that a cyclops God can try them on.”
“I don’t think it’s any more depressing than being a tomato.”
“I’ve never thought about that.”
“You should. It’s beautiful, like love,” she said. “Because if you think about it, being a tomato and being a person are really quite similar. They’re both about growing and existing for the enjoyment of someone else. As a tomato you’re planted, you grow and mature and then an animal comes along and eats you. The juicier you look and the nicer you smell, the greater the chance that you’ll get plucked but also the more pleasure the animal will get from you. As a person, you’re also born and you grow up and you mature into a one of a kind personality with a one of a kind face, and then someone comes along and makes you fall in love with them and all the growing you did was really just for their enjoyment of your love.”
“Except love lasts longer than chewing a tomato.”
“Sometimes,” she said.
“And you have to admit that two tomatoes can’t eat each other the way two people can love each other mutually.”
“I admit that’s a good point,” she said.
“And what happens to someone who never gets fallen in love with?”
“The same thing that happens to a tomato that never gets eaten or an eye that the cyclops God never takes. They die and they rot, and they darken and harden, decomposing until they don’t look like tomatoes anymore. It’s not a nice fate. I’d rather live awhile and get eaten, to be honest.”
“As a tomato or person?”
“Both.”
I thought for a few seconds. “That explanation works for things on Earth, but nothing actually decomposes in space.”
“That’s why there are so many dead planets,” she said.
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Iris [4/5]

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Blood, guts and bone shards blanketed the surfaces of the waiting room, making it look like the inside of an unwashed jar of strawberry jam. My wife was gone. Every woman in the room was gone. The space behind the reception desk stood eerily empty. The television in the corner was showing the splattered lens of a camera that a hand suddenly wiped clean—its burst of motion a shock to the prevailing stillness—to reveal the peaceful image of a Los Angeles street in which bloodied men and boys stood frozen, startled…
I was too numb to speak.
Someone unlocked the hospital doors but nobody entered.
The waiting room smelled like an abattoir.
My clothes smelled like an abattoir.
I walked toward the doors, opened them with my hip and continued into the morning sunlight. I half expected shit to rain down from the skies. If I had a razor blade in my pocket I would have slit my wrists, but all I had was my wallet, my car keys and my phone. Sliding my fingers over the keys reminded me how dull they were. I didn’t want to drive. I didn’t want anything, but if I had to do something I would walk. I stepped on the heel of one shoe with the toe of another and slid my shoe off. The other one I pulled off with my hand. I wasn’t wearing socks. I hadn’t had enough time to put them on. I threw the shoes away. I wanted to walk until my feet hurt so much that I couldn’t walk anymore.
I put one foot in front of the other all the way back to my apartment building, waited for the elevator, and took it to my floor. In the hall, I passed a man wearing clean summer clothes. He didn’t give my bloody ones a second glance. I nodded to him, he nodded back, and I unlocked the door to my apartment and walked in. My feet left footprints on the linoleum. A dark, drying stain in the small space between the fridge and the kitchen wall was all that was left of Pillow. She’d squeezed in and died alone. I took out a mop and rotely removed the stain. Then I took off my clothes, flung them on the bed, which was as unmade as when we left it, took a shower and laid down on the crumpled sheets beside the only pieces of my wife that I had left. My sleep smelled like an abattoir.
I awoke to a world without women.
I rolled off the bed into sore thighs and guilt, got up to emptiness that echoed the slightest noise, and left my wife’s clothes on the sheets without thinking that eventually I’d have to pack them into a plastic bag and slide them down the garbage chute. I felt magnified and hollow. In the kitchen, I used the stove top as a table because the actual table had my wife’s tablet on it, and spilled instant coffee. What I didn’t spill I drank in a few gulps, the way I used to drink ice cold milk as a boy. I stood in front of the living room window for a while before realizing I was naked, then realizing that it didn’t matter because men changed in front of each other at the pool and peed next to one another into urinals in public restrooms, and there weren’t any women to hide from, no one to offend. The world, I told myself, was now a sprawling men’s pisser, so I slammed the window open and pissed.
I wanted to call someone—to tell them that my wife was dead, because that’s a duty owed by the living—but whom could I call: her sister, her parents? Her sister was dead. Her father had a dead wife and two dead daughters. There was nothing to say. Everyone knew. I called my wife’s father anyway. Was he still my father-in-law now that I was a widower? He didn’t accept the connection. Widower: a word loses all but historical meaning when there are no alternatives. If all animals were dogs, we’d purge one of those words from our vocabulary. We were all widowers. It was synonymous with man. I switched on the television and stared, crying, at a montage of photographs showing the bloody landscapes of cities, hospitals, retirement homes, schools and churches, all under the tasteless headline: “International Pop”. Would we clean it up, these remnants of the people we loved? Could we even use the same buildings, knowing what had happened in them? The illusion of practical thinking pushed my feeling of emptiness away. I missed arms wrapping around me from behind while I stared through rain streaked windows. I missed barking and a wagging tail that hit my leg whenever I was standing too close. Happiness seemed impossible. I called Bakshi because I needed confirmation that I still had a voice. “They’re the lucky ones,” he said right after I’d introduced myself. “They’re out. We’re the fools still locked in, and now we’re all alone.”
For three weeks, I expected my wife to show up at the apartment door. I removed her clothes from the bed and stuffed them into a garbage bag, but kept the garbage bag in the small space between the fridge and the kitchen wall. I probably would have kept a dead body in the freezer if I had one and it fit. As a city and as a world, those were grim, disorganized weeks for us. Nobody worked. I don’t know what we did. Sat around and drank, smoked. And we called each other, often out of the blue. Every day, I received a call from someone I knew but hadn’t spoken to in years. The conversations all followed a pattern. There was no catching up and no explanation of lost time, just a question like “How are you holding up?” followed by a thoughtless answer (“Fine, I guess. And you?”) followed by an exchange of details about the women we’d lost. Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, friends, cousins, aunts, teachers, students, co-workers. We talked about the colour of their hair, their senses of humour, their favourite movies. We said nothing about ourselves, choosing instead to inhabit the personas of those whom we’d loved. In the hallway, I would put on my wife’s coats but never look at myself in the mirror. I wore her winter hats in the middle of July. Facebook became a graveyard, with the gender field separating the mourners from the dead.
The World Health Organization issued a communique stating that based on the available data it was reasonable to assume that all the women in the world were dead, but it called for any woman still alive to come forward immediately. The language of the communique was as sterile as the Earth. Nobody came forward. The World Wildlife Fund created an inventory of all mammalian species that listed in ascending order how long each species would exist. Humans were on the bottom. Both the World Health Organization and the World Wildlife Fund predicted that unless significant technological progress occurred in the field of fertility within the next fifty years, the last human, a theoretical boy named Philip born into a theoretical developed country on March 26, 2025, would die in 93 years. On the day of his death, Philip would be the last remaining mammal—although not necessarily animal—on Earth. No organization or government has ever officially stated that July 4, 2025, was the most destructive day in recorded history, on the morning of which, Eastern Time, four billion out of a total of eight billion people ceased to exist as anything more than memories. What killed them was neither an act of war nor an act of terrorism. Neither was it human negligence. There was no one to blame and no one to prosecute. In the western countries, where the majority of people no longer believed in any religion, we could not even call it an act of God. So we responded by calling it nothing at all.
And, like nothing, our lives persisted. We ate, we slept and we adapted. After the first wave of suicides ended, we hosed off what the rain hadn’t already washed away and began to reorganize the systems on which our societies ran. It was a challenge tempered only slightly in countries where women had not made up a significant portion of the workforce. We held new elections, formed me boards of directors and slowed down the assembly lines and bus schedules to make it possible for our communities to keep running. There was less food in the supermarkets, but we also needed less food. Instead of two trains we ran one, but one sufficed. I don’t remember the day when I finally took the black garbage bag from its resting place and walked it to the chute. “How are you holding up?” a male voice would say on the street. “Fine, I guess. And you?” I’d answer. ##!! wrote a piece of Python code to predict the box office profitability of new movies, in which real actors played alongside computer-generated actresses. The code was only partially successful. Because while it did accurately predict the success of new movies in relation to one other, it failed to include the overwhelming popularity of re-releases of films from the past—films starring Bette Davis, Giulietta Masina, Meryl Streep: women who at least on screen were still flesh and blood. Theatres played retrospectives. On Amazon, books by female authors topped the charts. Sales of albums by women vocalists surged. We thirsted for another sex. I watched, read and listened like everyone else, and in between I cherished any media on which I found images or recordings of my wife. I was angry for not having made more. I looked at the same photos and watched the same clips over and over again. I memorized my wife’s Facebook timeline and tagged all her Tweets by date, theme and my own rating. When I went out, I would talk to the air as if she was walking beside me, sometimes quoting her actual words as answers to my questions and sometimes inventing my own as if she was a beloved character in an imagined novel. When people looked at me like I was crazy, I didn’t care. I wasn’t the only one. But, more importantly, my wife meant more to me than they did. I remembered times when we’d stroll through the park or down downtown sidewalks and I would be too ashamed to kiss her in the presence of strangers. Now, I would tell her that I love her in the densest crowd. I would ask her whether I should buy ketchup or mustard in the condiments aisle. She helped me pick out my clothes in the morning. She convinced me to eat healthy and exercise.
In November, I was in Bakshi’s apartment for the first time, waiting for a pizza delivery boy, when one of Bakshi’s friends who was browsing Reddit told us that the Tribe of Akna was starting a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to buy the Republic of Suriname, rename it Xibalba and close its borders for all except the enlightened. Xibalba would have no laws, Salvador Abaroa said in a message on the site. He was banging his gong as he did. Everything would be legal, and anyone who pledged $100 would receive a two-week visa to this new "Mayan Buddhist Eden". If you pledged over $10,000, you would receive citizenship. “Everything in life is destroyed by energy,” Abaroa said. “But let the energy enlighten you before it consumes your body. Xibalba is finite life unbound.” Bakshi’s phone buzzed. The pizza boy had sent an email. He couldn’t get upstairs, so Bakshi and I took the elevator to the building’s front entrance. The boy’s face was so white that I saw it as soon as the elevator doors slid open. Walking closer, I saw that he was powdered. His cheeks were also rouged, and he was wearing cranberry coloured lipstick, a Marilyn Monroe wig and a short black skirt. Compared to his face, his thin legs looked like incongruously dark popsicle sticks. Bakshi paid for the pizza and added another five dollars for the tip. The boy batted his fake eyelashes and asked if maybe he could do something to earn a little more. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I could come upstairs and clean the place up a little. You two live alone?” Bakshi passed me the two pizza boxes—They felt hot in my hands.—and dug around in his wallet. “It’s not just the two of us,” I said. The boy smiled. “That’s OK. I’ve done parties before if that’s what you’re into.” I saw the reaction on Bakshi’s face, and I saw the boy’s grotesque caricature of a woman. “There’s condoms and lube in the car,” the boy said, pointing to a sedan with a pizza spray-painted across its side parked by the curb. “My boss says I can take up to two hours but it’s not like he uses a stopwatch.” I stepped on Bakshi’s foot and shouldered him away. He was still fiddling with his wallet. “We’re not interested,” I said to the boy. He just shrugged. “Suit yourselves. If you change your mind, order another pizza and ask for Ruby.” The elevator dinged and the doors opened. As we shuffled inside, I saw Bakshi’s cheeks turn red. “I’m not actually—” he mumbled, but I didn’t let him finish. What had bothered me so much about the boy wasn’t the way he looked or acted; in fact, it wasn’t really the boy at all. He was just trying to make a buck. What bothered me was how ruthlessly we’d already begun to exploit each other.
For those of us who were heterosexual, sex was a definite weakness. I missed it. I would never have it with a woman again. The closest substitute was pornography, whose price rose with its popularity, but which, at least for me, now came scented with the unpleasantness of historicity and nostalgia. Videos and photos, not to mention physical magazines, were collector’s items in the same way that we once collected coins or action figures. The richest men bought up the exclusive rights to their favourite porn stars and guarded them by law with a viciousness once reserved for the RIAA and MPAA. Perhaps exclusivity gave them a possessive satisfaction. In response, we pirated whatever we could and fought for a pornographic public domain. Although new pornography was still being produced, either with the help of the same virtual technology they used for mainstream movies or with the participation of young men in costume, it lacked the taste of the originals. It was like eating chocolate made without cocoa. The best pornography, and therefore the best sex, became the pornography of the mind.
The Tribe of Akna reached its Kickstarter goal in early December. On December 20, I went to church for the first time since getting married because that was the theoretical date that my wife—along with every other woman—was supposed to have given birth. I wanted to be alone with others. Someone posted a video on TikTok from Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront, dubbing over Marlon Brando’s speech to say: “You don’t understand. I could’a had a piece of ass. I could’a been a school board member. I could’a been a son’s daddy”. It was juvenile and heartbreaking. By Christmas, the Surinamese government was already expelling its citizens, each of whom had theoretically been given a fraction of the funds paid to the government from the Tribe of Akna’s Kickstarter pool, and Salvador Abaroa’s lawyers were petitioning for international recognition of the new state of Xibalba. Neither Canada nor the United States opened diplomatic relations, but others did. I knew people who had pledged money, and when in January they disappeared on trips, I had no doubt to where. Infamy spread in the form of stories and urban legends. There’s no need for details. People disappeared, and ethicists wrote about the ethical neutrality of murder, arguing that because we were all slated to die, leaving the Earth barren in a century, destruction was a human inevitability, and what is inevitable can never be bad, even when it comes earlier than expected—even when it comes by force. Because, as a species, we hadn’t chosen destruction for ourselves, neither should any individual member of our species be able to choose now for himself. To the ethicists of what became known as the New Inevitability School, suicide was a greater evil than murder because it implied choice and inequality. If the ship was going down, no one should be allowed to get off. A second wave of suicides coincided with the debate, leading many governments to pass laws making suicide illegal. But how do you punish someone who already wants to die? In China: by keeping him alive and selling him to Xibalba, where he becomes the physical plaything of its citizens and visa-holders. The Chinese was the first embassy to open in Xibalban Paramaribo.
The men working on Kurt Schwaller’s theory of everything continued working, steadily adding new variables to their equations, complicating their calculations in the hopes that someday the variable they added would be the final one and the equation would yield an answer. “It’s pointless,” Bakshi would comment after reading about one of the small breakthroughs they periodically announced. “Even if they do manage to predict something, anything, it won’t amount to anything more than the painfully obvious. And after decades of adding and subtracting their beans, they’ll come out of their Los Alamos datalabs like groundhogs into a world blanketed by storm clouds and conclude, finally and with plenty of self-congratulations, that it’s about to fucking rain.”
It rained a lot in February. It was one of the warmest Februaries in Toronto’s history. Sometimes I went for walks along the waterfront, talking to my wife, listening to Billie Holiday and trying to recall as many female faces as I could. Ones from the distant past: my mother, my grandmothers. Ones from the recent past: the woman whose life my wife saved on the way to the hospital, the Armenian woman with the film magazine and the injured son, the Jamaican woman, Bakshi’s wife. I focused on their faces, then zoomed out to see their bodies. I carried an umbrella but seldom opened it because the pounding of the raindrops against the material distorted my mental images. I saw people rush across the street holding newspapers above their heads while dogs roamed the alleyways wearing nothing at all. Of the two, it was dogs that had the shorter time left on Earth, and if they could let the rain soak their fur and drip off their bodies, I could surely let it run down my face. It was first my mother and later my wife who told me to always cover up in the rain, “because moisture causes colds,” but I was alone now and I didn’t want to be separated from the falling water by a sheet of glass anymore. I already was cold. I saw a man sit down on a bench, open his briefcase, pack rocks into it, then close it, tie it to his wrist, check his watch and start to walk into the polluted waters of Lake Ontario. Another man took out his phone and tapped his screen a few times. The man in the lake walked slowly, savouring each step. When the police arrived, sirens blaring, the water was up to his neck. I felt guilty for watching the three officers splash into the lake after him. I don’t know what happened after that because I turned my back and walked away. I hope they didn’t stop him. I hope he got to do what he wanted to do.
“Screw the police.” Bakshi passed me a book. “You should read this,” he said. It was by a professor of film and media studies at a small university in Texas. There was a stage on the cover, flanked by two red curtains. The photo had been taken from the actors’ side, looking out at an audience that the stage lights made too dark to see. The title was Hiding Behind The Curtains. I flipped the book over. There was no photo of the author. “It’s a theory,” Bakshi said, “that undercuts what Abaroa and the Inevitabilists are saying. It’s a little too poetic in parts but—listen, you ever read Atlas Shrugged?” I said I hadn’t. “Well, anyway, what this guy says is that what if instead of our situation letting us do anything we want, it’s actually the opposite, a test to see how we act when we only think that we’re doomed. I mean what if the women who died in March, what if they’re just—” “Hiding behind the curtains,” I said. He bit his lower lip. “It sounds stupid when you say it like that but, as a metaphor, it has a kind of elegance, right?” I flipped through the book, reading a few sentences at random. It struck me as neo-Christian. “Isn’t this a little too spiritual for you? I thought we were all locked into one path,” I said. “I thought that, too, but lately I’ve been able to do things—things that I didn’t really want to do.” For a second I was concerned. “Nothing bad,” he said. “I mean I’ve felt like I’m locked into doing one thing, say having a drink of water, but I resist and pour myself a glass of orange juice instead.” I shook my head. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. That’s how most theories ended, I thought: reason and evidence up to a crucial point, and then it gets so personal that it’s hard to explain. You either make the jump or you don’t. “Just read it,” he said. “Please read it. You don’t have to agree with it, I just want to get your opinion, an objective opinion.”
I never did read the book, and Bakshi forgot about it, too, but that day he was excited and happy, and those were rare feelings. I was simultaneously glad for him and jealous. Afterwards, we went out onto the balcony and drank Czech beer until morning. When it got cool, we put on our coats. It started to drizzle so we wore blue plastic suits like the ones they used to give you on boat rides in Niagara Falls. When it was time to go home, I was so drunk I couldn’t see straight. I almost got into a fight, the first one of my life, because I bumped into a man on the street and told him to get the fuck out of my way. I don’t remember much more of my walk home. The only reason I remember Behind The Curtains at all is because when I woke up in the afternoon it was the first thing that my hung over brain recognized. It was lying on the floor beside the bed. Then I opened the blinds covering my bedroom window and, through my spread fingers that I’d meant to use as a shield from the first blast of daylight, I saw the pincers for the first time.
They’d appeared while I was asleep. I turned on the television and checked my phone. The media and the internet were feverish, but nobody knew what the thing was, just a massive, vaguely rectangular shape blotting out a strip of the sky. NASA stated that it had received no extraterrestrial messages to coincide with the appearance. Every government claimed ignorance. The panel discussions on television only worsened my headache. Bakshi emailed me links to photos from Mumbai, Cape Town, Sydney and Mexico City, all showing the same shape; or rather one of a pair of shapes, for there were two of them, one on each side of the Earth, and they’d trapped our planet between themselves like gargantuan fingers clutching an equally gargantuan ping-pong ball. That’s why somebody came up with the term “the pincers”. It stuck. Because I’d slept in last night’s clothes I was already dressed, so I ran down the stairs and out of my apartment building to get a better look at them from the parking lot. You’re not supposed to look at the sun, but I wasn’t the only one breaking that rule. There were entire crowds with upturned faces in the streets. If the pincers, too, could see, they would perhaps be as baffled by us as we were of them: billions of tiny specks all over the surface of this ping-pong ball gathering in points on a grid, coagulating into large puddles that vanished overnight only to reassemble in the morning. In the following days, scientists scrambled to study the pincers and their potential effects on us, but they discovered nothing. The pincers did nothing. They emitted nothing, consumed nothing. They simply were. And they could not be measured or detected in any way other than by eyesight. When we shot rays at them, the rays continued on their paths unaffected, as if nothing was there. The pincers did, however, affect the sun’s rays coming towards us. They cut up our days. The sun would rise, travel over the sky, hide behind a pincer—enveloping us in a second night—before revealing itself again as a second day. But if the pincers’ physical effect on us was limited to its blockage of light, their mental effects on us were astoundingly severe. For many, this was the sign they’d been waiting for. It brought hope. It brought gloom. It broke and confirmed ideas that were hard to explain. In their ambiguity, the pincers could be anything, but in their strangeness they at least reassured us of the reality of the strange times in which we were living. Men walked away from the theory of everything, citing the pincers as the ultimate variable that proved the futility of prognostication. Others took up the calculations because if the pincers could appear, what else was out there in our future? However, ambiguity can only last for a certain period. Information narrows possibilities. On April 1, 2026, every Twitter account in the world received the following message:
as you can see this message is longer than the allowed one hundred forty characters time and space are malleable you thought you had one hundred years but prepare for the plucking
The sender was @. The message appeared in each user’s feed at exactly the same time and in his first language, without punctuation. Because of the date most of us thought it was a hoax, but the developers of Twitter denied this vehemently. It wasn’t until a court forced them to reveal their code, which proved that a message of that length and sent by a blank user was impossible, that our doubts ceased. ##!! took bets on what the message meant. Salvador Abaroa broadcast a response into space in a language he called Bodhi Mayan, then addressed the rest of us in English, saying that in the pincers he had identified an all-powerful prehistoric fire deity, described in an old Sanskrit text as having the resemblance of mirrored black fangs, whose appearance signified the end of time. “All of us will burn,” he said, “but paradise shall be known only to those who burn willingly.” Two days later, The Tribe of Akna announced that in one month it would seal Xibalba from the world and set fire to everything and everyone in it. For the first time, its spokesman said, an entire nation would commit suicide as one. Jonestown was but a blip. As a gesture of goodwill, he said that Xibalba was offering free immolation visas to anyone who applied within the next week. The New Inevitability School condemned the plan as “offensively unethical” and inequalitist and urged an international Xibalban boycott. Nothing came of it. When the date arrived, we watched with rapt attention on live streams and from the vantage points of circling news planes as Salvador Abaroa struck flint against steel, creating the spark that caught the char cloth, starting a fire that blossomed bright crimson and in the next weeks consumed all 163,821 square kilometres of the former Republic of Suriname and all 2,500,000 of its estimated Xibalban inhabitants. Despite concerns that the fire would spread beyond Xibalba’s borders, The Tribe of Akna had been careful. There were no accidental casualties and no unplanned property damage. No borders were crossed. Once the fire burned out, reporters competed to be first to capture the mood on the ground. Paramaribo resembled the smouldering darkness of a fire pit.
It was a few days later while sitting on Bakshi’s balcony, looking up at the pincers and rereading a reproduction of @’s message—someone had spray-painted it across the wall of a building opposite Bakshi’s—that I remembered Iris. The memory was so absorbing that I didn’t notice when Bakshi slid open the balcony door and sat down beside me, but I must have been smiling because he said, “I don’t mean this the wrong way, but you look a little loony tonight. Seriously, man, you do not look sufficiently freaked out.” I’d remembered Iris before, swirling elements of her plain face, but now I also remembered her words and her theory. I turned to Bakshi, who seemed to be waiting for an answer to his question, and said, “Let’s get up on the roof of this place.” He grabbed my arm and held on tightly. “I’m not going to jump, if that’s what you mean.” It wasn’t what I meant, but I asked, “why not?” He said, “I don’t know. I know we’re fucked as a species and all that, but I figure if I’m still alive I might as well see what happens next, like in a bad movie you want to see through to the end.” I promised him that I wasn’t going to jump, either. Then I scrambled inside his apartment, grabbed my hat and jacket from the closet by the front door and put them on while speed walking down the hall, toward the fire escape. I realized I’d been spending a lot of time here. The alarm went off as soon I pushed open the door with my hip but I didn’t care. When Bakshi caught up with me, I was already outside, leaping up two stairs at a time. The metal construction was rusted. The treads wobbled. On the roof, the wind nearly blew my hat off and it was so loud I could have screamed and no one would have heard me. Holding my hat in my hands, I crouched and looked out over the twinkling city spread out in front of me. It looked alive in spite of the pincers in the sky. “Let’s do something crazy,” I yelled. Bakshi was still catching his breath behind me. “What, like this isn’t crazy enough?” The NHL may have been gone but my hat still bore the Maple Leafs logo, as quaint and obsolete by then as the Weimar Republic in the summer of 1945. “When’s the last time you played ball hockey?” I asked. Bakshi crouched beside me. “You’re acting weird. And I haven’t played ball hockey in ages.” I stood up so suddenly that Bakshi almost fell over. This time I knew I was smiling. “So call your buddies,” I said. “Tell them to bring their sticks and their gear and to meet us in front of the ACC in one hour.” Bakshi patted me on the back. Toronto shone like jewels scattered over black velvet. “The ACC’s been closed for years, buddy. I think you’re really starting to lose it.” I knew it was closed. “Lose what?” I asked. “It’s closed and we’re going to break in.”
The chains broke apart like shortbread. The electricity worked. The clouds of dust made me sneeze. We used duffel bags to mark out the goals. We raced up and down the stands and bent over, wheezing at imaginary finish lines. We got into the announcer’s booth and called each other cunts through the microphone. We ran, fell and shot rubber pucks for hours. We didn’t keep score. We didn’t worry. “What about the police?” someone asked. The rest of us answered: “Screw the fucking police!”
And when everybody packed up and went home, I stayed behind.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Bakshi asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Because I have to get back so that I can shower, get changed and get to work.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“And you promise me you’ll catch a cab?”
“I’m not suicidal.”
He fixed his grip on his duffel bag. “I didn’t say you were. I was just checking.”
“I want to see the end of the movie, too,” I said.
He saluted. I watched him leave. When he was gone, my wife walked down from the nosebleeds and took a seat beside me. “There’s someone I want to tell you about,” I said. She lifted her chin like she always does when something unexpected catches her interest, and scooted closer. I put my arm across the back of her beautiful shoulders. She always liked that, even though the position drives me crazy because I tend to talk a lot with my hands. “Stuck at Leafs-Wings snorefest,” she said. “Game sucks but I love the man sitting beside me.” (January 15, 2019. Themes: hockey, love, me. Rating: 5/5). “Her name was Iris,” I said.

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Random Habs journalism from 30 years ago (w/brief analysis)

Last week I was poking around old Montreal Gazette articles researching a Habs topic and I thought I'd share some of what I found because maybe others find this sort of thing interesting.
Specifically, I ended up reading a bunch of articles circa 1990 by Michael Farber and Red Fisher and I was very pleasantly surprised by their quality and the enjoyment I got from reading them. Maybe you'll like their style too. With all due respect to today's Habs journalists / twitter horns... anyway, no need to get nasty, but I sincerely doubt anyone sensible ever confused Farber for an illiterate. As for Red Fisher, he was always opinionated and, to be fair, he can come across like a bit of know-it-all, but he's such a charismatic and convincing writer that he either wins you over to his side or makes you get out the old typewriter to craft a witless letter to the editor.
These guys also had genuine access to the coach and the players and not the filtered pablum they feed us now. Our local journalists might consult their own archive for inspiration on what (and how) to write about the Habs.
Anyway these articles are about Patrick Roy's old backup Jean-Claude Bergeron. I was hunting for evidence of his nickname (Jean-Clone), which only proves that forgettable nicknames have always been a thing in hockey. But it also proves that hockey journalism used to be good!
For those with access to ProQuest, here are links-- 1 2-- to the articles. I'll copy the text below for those who don't. I'd be curious to know your thoughts.
"Goalie looks good in Forum debut; But Jean-Clone needs work if Habs want steady backup"
Author: Farber, Michael ; Publication info: The Gazette ; Montreal, Que. ; 12 Nov 1990: C1.
Full text: Pat Burns knew he would have to do it eventually: rip the wrapping off Jean-Claude Bergeron and let the home crowd see him do something other than pick splinters from his bottom. After all, Patrick Roy makes $1.3 million a year, but with all the games he has been playing, it works out to about $3.75 an hour. The provincial government was going to investigate the Canadiens for possible violation of the minimum-wage laws.
The game against Minnesota last Sunday had been the teaser, the second game in two nights, a stumbling team as the opposition, seemingly the soft spot for a 22-year-old to land. Burns pondered it hard, saw Bob Gainey making his Montreal return, and changed his mind. When asked Monday if he could see a date for Bergeron, Burns shrugged and said, "Well, December is really busy."
So Christmas came early, if you'll pardon the expression, when Bergeron took his place in front of the net last night against the Quebec Nordiques. It was another Sunday tail-ender, the foe figured to be a powder puff and, gracious knows, the kid needed the work. Other than the fact Bergeron grew up in Baie Comeau and was nurtured on this Battle of Quebec stuff, you couldn't have stumbled on a better evening for a coming out party.
So what do we know?
Burns said what the hell. After 10 straight starts and 17 of 18, Roy was going to turn the keys over to his stand-in.
Now that the debut has been enshrined in the standings - a 5-4 Canadiens overtime victory - what do we know about the mystery goalie?
We know he stands up most of the time.
We know he has decent reflexes.
We know he is capable of giving up two goals when he is left to his own devices, like in the first period when the Nordiques buzzed for 16 shots and potted a pair on deflections.
We know he was as sharp on 23 days' rest as anyone could hope to be.
The situation surrounding Bergeron's first home start might have been ideal given the context, but the context is skewed. A 22-year- old neophyte doesn't need simulated game conditions with goalie coach Francois Allaire; he needs shots. He doesn't need exposure to the National Hockey League; he needs games. A Fredericton tune-up would have been perfect during Roy's Steel Nerves Tour. (Andre "Red Light" Racicot could have sat with a towel 'round his neck while the Bergeron played some minor- league games.) Brian Hayward, the recalcitrant professional was a splendid back-up goalie - despite his self-assessment as something better - simply because he could flick the flakes of rust from his shoulder and play well. Bergeron shouldn't have corrosion at this stage of his career.
He needs at least 20 games
If you accept the premise that the National Hockey League season in Montreal is an 80-game laboratory for the playoffs, Bergeron should play at least 20 games - a hedge in case Roy is indisposed. If Bergeron plays any less, there is the risk the Canadiens will never develop confidence in him and Bergeron will lose the confidence he has in himself.
"I've got to accept my situation," said Bergeron, who was touched for five goals in Detroit on Oct. 18 in his first NHL start. "It's something I've got to get used to because Patrick Roy is a great goalie, maybe the best in the league. But I'm sure with the win tonight, I'll be back in in six, seven, eight games. But my job this year is being a back-up. It's what I have to do."
Bergeron is a fine specimen for a goalie, a Roy look-alike. They are both six feet tall. Roy, at 182 pounds, is 10 pounds lighter. Both play a positional game. Both wear cage masks with dangling neck guards. Both are Libras. Bergeron even has taken to swivelling his neck like Roy, noted for his funky chicken routine.
Is it live? Or is it Memorex?
A week ago, Basil McRae of the North Stars watched Bergeron practice and wondered, "Is it live or Memorex?" The only difference is Jean-Clone has a better haircut and Roy has a couple of Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup ring.
Maybe Bergeron will have the others some day. (A bad haircut is a lock after the Canadiens hold their rookie initiations.) The reviews were good - "Good moves and follows the game pretty well," said Guy Lafleur; "He wasn't lucky," Burns said - and surely there is room for a rangy goalie with solid fundamentals and a good attitude.
"I think I did as much as I could," Bergeron said, a puck from win No. 1 at his side. "I was aggressive. I didn't lose confidence in the first period. The only thing was I had a little nervousness." Not unlike his coach.
But the end result was two points. Canadiens win, Nordiques lose - just what would have been expected if Roy had played. In the standings this morning, you really can't tell if it was live or Memorex.
"Red Wings wreck debut of Habs goalie Bergeron; Yzerman scores twice on porous defence"
Author: Fisher, Red ; Publication info: The Gazette ; Montreal, Que. ; 19 Oct 1990: F1.
RED WINGS 5 CANADIENS 2
DETROIT - What was it they were saying about Jean-Claude Bergeron?
Big kid. Quick hands. Moves well in his crease. Doesn't panic.
A clone right down to the interesting mannerisms, they were saying, of Patrick Roy, who has won everything there is to win in his special area of expertise. They were saying these things about Jean-Clone because he played so well with the big kids in Sweden and the Soviet Union. He also excelled against the Detroit Red Wings in a pre-season exhibition.
Last night, though, was for real - for the first time. His first National Hockey League game - a once-in-a-lifetime thing. What also happens once in a lifetime is for a new kid on the block to lose in his first regular-season appearance, as Bergeron and the Canadiens did last night, 5-2.
It was a night of many firsts for the pale, blond 22-year-old kid with the wondering, wet eyes. Butterflies?
"You bet," he told reporters. "My first time ... big crowd."
Disappointment over losing?
"Whenever you lose ..." he shrugged.
Thrills, too.
For example, there's the first-time thrill of stopping his first difficult shot, particularly when an old man such as Steve Yzerman, who's 25, is the shooter. There's the first-time jolt of allowing his first NHL goal on Detroit's seventh shot of the game - except that Marc Habscheid's shot wasn't one. What it really was, was a tap-in. Randy McKay, who had played 38 NHL games more than Bergeron going into the game, did most of the work for Habscheid. It was McKay who slipped around and suspiciously through Donald Dufresne midway through the first period. Then he swept in on Bergeron, who did all right going down. What he did all wrong, perhaps, was steering one- half of the puck over the goal-line with his legs, leaving himself in a somewhat awkward position and the puck loose. Unhappily for Bergeron, nobody cleared the puck.
Happily for the Red Wings, Habscheid fully extended his arms to tap the loose puck over the line. There was the first-time, close-up view of a three-way passing play by NHLers which ended with Bergeron giving up one side of the net to Gerard Gallant, whose goal midway through the second period provided the Red Wings with a 2-0 lead. Even Vezina Trophy winner Roy lets those in. There was also the thudding realization that there's a price to be paid after relinquishing any kind of a rebound behind this Canadiens defence, which doesn't clear rebounds. Such as the time he failed to close his fist around Gallant's fairly routine shot late in the second period. A short rebound - and there's Yzerman slipping the puck into the open side.
Where did he come from, eh? And where did the puck go when Sergei Fedorov squeezed it through his pads midway through the third period? Yzerman added his second of the game after yet another Bergeron rebound.
Or how about the ice-level view of Denis Savard scoring a patented Savard-type goal a little more than a minute after Gallant had provided the Rd Wings with their two-goal margin?
There he is, going around a defenceman named Bob Wilkie - and maintaining control of the puck with his left hand and then steering it along the ice between Tim Cheveldae's legs - still with only his left hand on his stick. Mike Keane scored the Canadiens' second goal with fewer than three minutes remaining in the game while the Red Wings were short two men.
The Savard goal appeared to lift the Canadiens, who had struggled through the first period with only four shots, but Yzerman cooled the fervor with his fifth goal of the season, as he so often does in this arena.
This night belonged to Bergeron, if only because it was his first, but it was a night of firsts for several others.
Detroit's Bob Probert, for example.
Once, late in the first period, and again early in the second, he was (a) high-sticked and (b) roughed up by Gerald Diduck. In both cases, Probert displayed an uncommon amount of restraint, allowing Diduck to draw minors.
"Probert doesn't have to prove he's a tough guy," said Detroit coach Bryan Murray. "He can play this game."
Another Red Wing who can play is Rick Green.
A full season away from an NHL rink has provided him with several new wrinkles, but none on the ice. He continues to play consistent, steady defence. A boring chap. He does silly things such cleaning out strangers from the area in front of his goaltender, and annoying stuff like sending Yzerman out of the Red Wings zone on a sprint which ended with the Gallant goal.
This was a night to remember for Bergeron, but not one the Canadiens, as a team, would like to retain among their treasured memories. Basically, it was an off-night for The Good Guys, particularly so soon after a night rooted in excellence in Buffalo 24 hours earlier.
They'll try again tomorrow night at the Forum, when the Philadelplhia Flyers are the visitors. Illustration Color Photo; AP; Detroit captain Steve Yzerman (left) and Habs captain Guy Carbonneau battle for puck on faceoff last night.
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