The Surreal Trapdoor: Taxidermy and Charlie, the Lonely Sentinel

Grinning Halloween lantern vector illustration.This story is true. Strange things always happen to me.

Last Halloween, our friend, whom I’ll call Eric, invited us to a party at his place. It’s a gently decayed mansion divided into flats with high ceilings, narrow twisting corridors and connecting backstairs so that he and his friends have as much company or privacy as they want.

Eric is a software engineer by day but by night, he’s a gifted and well-known cabaret performer. His friends, whom I’ll call Fred and Mary, are musicians who play regular gigs in Toronto. 

Tommy_Wiseau
Tommy Wiseau
Me, not exactly as illustrated
Me, not exactly as illustrated

Costumes were de rigueur. Ed went as Tommy Wiseau ,  creator of The Room, possibly one of the worst films ever made. I went as a cat, aiming for so-bad-it’s-good.  We were meeting Fred and Mary for the first time so knowing Eric, I expected the unexpected.

Fred and Mary’s flat was dark and crowded with denizens of Toronto’s demi-monde. Costumes ranged from drag to burlesque to clowns. Wine glass in hand, I wandered past dimly lit museum exhibits of fossils and stuffed rodents.

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“That’s cool,” I said, eyeing one of the stuffed squirrels. “Very Halloween.”

“Oh, they’re here all the time,” said a fellow guest. “They live here with Fred and Mary.”

“Permanently?” I squeaked.

“That’s nothing. Did you see the stuffed dog?” He pointed to a shadowy lump on the floor next to a large potted plant. Sure enough, it was a remarkably life-like black and white spaniel.

Charlie the dog
Charlie the lonely sentinel

Later Fred explained how he and Mary came by Charlie. In life, he belonged to a decrepit and eccentric acquaintance down the street. When Charlie exited this Vale of Tears, the elderly man had him stuffed. And he continued walking him along the street on a set of rollers.

 “That’s creepy,” I said.

“Well, the guy came by it honestly. He ran the Toronto Explorers Club,” Fred said.

“There’s an explorers club?!” What an absurd Victorian anachronism, I thought.

“Yeah, there is. And the old guy acquired a load of stuffed trophies from the club. Legit or not, who knows? Anyway his house was crammed with them. When he died, his relatives rented a dumpster and tossed all the stuffed animals into it. Mary spotted it on her way home from work. It was really bizarre, looking inside that steel crate and seeing it full of deer heads and stuff.” 

Fred took a sip of beer. “What was really sad was seeing Charlie lying there on top of  all that. Especially since we knew him when he was alive. Mary didn’t know what to do at first, but then she decided to rescue him.  The problem was that she’d biked to work that day.  So she strapped Charlie onto the back carrier and rode home with him.”

Our friend, Eric, continued the story. “I saw Mary riding along on her bike with this cute black and white dog on the back.  I thought, ‘Wow, Fred and Mary got a dog! And boy, is he well-trained. Look at him sitting still and riding along on the bike like that.’ But when she stopped, Charlie kind of rotated and stayed sitting still in the same position.  That really freaked me out. I didn’t know what I was looking at.”

Now Charlie now stands guard in Fred and Mary’s home: the lonely sentinel.

I leave you with this clip from Monty Python about their erstwhile  mountaineering expedition.

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas, Baby Part duh!

Vegas, Baby, where even the dragons wear rhinestones!20160107_142920

 

 

It’s Chinese New Year and the casinos are set to retrieve some of the $$$ lost to off-shore manufacturing. Everywhere are displays of dragons or monkeys since 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.

Gambling is a popular pastime in China. As a student at UBC, Vancouver, I remember hearing the clatter of mah-jong parlours in the not-so-hidden upstairs rooms of popular restaurants and seeing whole families picnicking at the race track. (So what if my friend and I were betting on the same Exacto.)

One day till we storm through the exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  so I end up doing  another 20,000 Fitbit steps through this R-rated  Disneyland.

T-rex, real or pretend?
T-rex, real or pretend?

First stop, the Cosmopolitan, a newer addition on The Strip. The décor is big, bold eye candy like the silvered T-rex head above. The décor materials aren’t cheap: the two-storey chandelier bar is cloaked in real crystal, though it looks like plastic. The overall effect to my mind is vintage “Scarface”, the cult classic gangster movie starring Al Pacino.

The Chandelier Bar
The Chandelier Bar

 

My favorite casino after The Venetian has to be Paris.  Boulevard cafes crowd round the casino tables in a perpetual dusky twilight, the French signs are pure “Pepe le Pew” and the pastries look French but taste American. Even the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe outside are spotlessly sanitized.  Love it!   

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Eiffel Tower

 

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Arc de Triomphe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellagio’s and Caesar’s Palace are the high end with a string of shops outdoing Rodeo Drive.  Caesar’s was the first casino to feature Disneyland animatronics and fantasy boulevards where blue skies turned into glowing sunsets and starry nights.  Once Caesar’s ruled the strip, but now crowds shun it and it’s in bankruptcy protection. I find it hard to understand why. The food and atmosphere are still great. I sip a nostalgic Americano beside the oversized Trevi fountain.

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Bellagio’s fab Venetian glass ceiling
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Nostalgia by the Trevi fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Vegas is almost gone. Darwin is in overdrive: billion dollar behemoths crushing under smaller places, like the Imperial Palace and the Hilton, their identities obliterated by white paint to lure in time share buyers. The veteran burlesque shows like Jubilee are hanging in, but for how long?

Vegas has a sleazy, dark side. The homeless camp out on the pedestrian skyways. A van circles constantly with in-your-face T&A ads promising girls delivered to your room. And elderly Hispanic women snap hookers’ business cards in your face as you plough through the crowds.

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The A-list mingles with the B-team on the Strip, but the B-team can still be fun. My personal fav is Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood, which features, I kid you not,  a zombie burlesque and Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theatre, starring trained cats and dogs. Popovich is for children of all ages and I adored it!

And if you think cats can’t do tricks, watch this video!

 

 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Vegas Baby!

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Harrah’s hideous statue

Las Vegas: where the surreal becomes real. Where else can you eat a Nathan’s New York hot dog inside a pyramid while listening to a Mariachi band? All while deciding whether to brave the infamous Bodies exhibit or to see an actual piece of the  Titanic wreck.

What makes the surreal become real? Money, Baby! Lots and lots of money. Billion dollar hotel complexes. More high-end stores in Caesar’s Palace than on Rodeo Drive. More Venetian glass in the lobby of Bellagio than in Venice itself. And to quote Bally’s, “thousands of rhinestones  covering very little flesh”. The constant T and A does start to get to me though there are Ozzie beefcake shows for the ladies and gays. 

The myth and promise of Vegas is captured perfectly by the crass statue at Harrah’s: all that lovely $$$ will eagerly flow your way. Erm, not exactly. The odds against are astronomical and so are the prices of everything. Even Starbucks. But you will have great fun losing your money.

BTW the Harrah’s statue  gets my vote for “coyote ugly”.  For non-noir fans that means waking up the morning after with a sex partner so appalling that you chew your arm off in haste to escape your own appalling lack of judgment.

Hey, I’m just miffed because the quarter slots devoured my $6.

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Management consultant gathering

Today, like Dan Simmons’ president character in Hyperion, I wandered the worlds, passing through Harrah’s to catch the monorail and tram to the farthest point, Mandalay Bay casino.  Feeling a pang of nostalgia for management consulting, I visited its aquarium, Shark Reef. 

Set in a Disney-like temple ruin, it sports beautifully kept fish tanks and a plexiglass shark tunnel though the sharks themselves are rather small.  The guide tells us that of the 400 species of sharks only four, such as the Great White of Jaws infamy, are dangerous to humans who nevertheless are busy exterminating hundreds of millions a year of these creatures for shark fin soup.

What I really wanted to see though was the komodo dragon. Long ago, I  sketched out an adventure novel where my heroes fought off one of these giant lizards. They’re hungry buggers, aggressive, with a nasty bite that includes venom and malicious bacteria to cause your wounds to fester even if you manage to survive a biting attack.

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Lonely komodo dragon

The KD of Shark Reef does not disappoint. It resembles a good-sized crocodile though with a lizard’s head. The yellow and brown colouring matches its dried mud habitat. To my surprise, I learn that it, too, is an endangered species.

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Inside Luxor

To Luxor for my lunch of Nathan’s hotdog under the gaze of Ramses. And if you think I was kidding about the Mariachi band, the neon T & T on the right stands for “tacos and tequila”.

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Inspired by Nathan’s, I take the tram back to New York, which boasts an impressive skyline and sizeable Statue of Liberty.  Rain begins to fall.  It comes down in a clammy mist rather than a downpour. It’s the first time I’ve seen rain in Vegas.

Taking shelter inside New York casino, I’m confronted by yet another replica of the Statue of Liberty: this time in jelly beans! Running late, I return to our hotel, having clocked 20,000 Fitbit steps, nearly twice the steps I count on running days. 

More weird stuff, next blog.

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Jelly bean freedom

 

Books: WINDIGO FIRE

Seraphim Windigo Fire

Windigo FireSeraphim Editions, Sept, 2014.

A  Canadian noir thriller.

Danny Bluestone, a young Native man, overeducated and underemployed, is drawn into an illegal bear hunt to escape his stultifying hometown of Red Dog Lake in Northern Ontario.  Things quickly go violent and he must fight to survive both the killers and the wilderness.

 

Awards and Nominations

  • Finalist-400Finalist, Arthur Ellis Award, Best First Novel, 2015
  • Finalist, Unhanged Arthur, 2012 as Gunning for Bear
  • Finalist, Debut Dagger, 2009, as The Land of Sun and Fun

 

Reviews and Recognition

Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail

Well done atmosphere and a truly chilling premise. M. H. Callway is a writer to watch.

Don Graves, Crime Fiction Reviewer

A visually powerful debut, action packed, blunt and driving, set in the grandeur & frailty of Ontario’s north compounded by the cruelty of man. The writing burst with the sudden terror of fire, the terrible potential of man’s abuse and the peace that nature offers in the midst of pain. Urgent, descriptive writing polished beyond that of a debut novel. Read it and connect with the struggle of our north.

Huffington Post Canada: A Book for Book Clubs Selection, Fall 2014

Marian Misters, Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore

I was captivated with the story…the characters of Danny Bluestone and Rachel Forest, one of the kids from the camp where Danny works, are just terrific. ..There is a lot packed into the story and I was very impressed with the book. Good job Madeleine.

Toronto Poet Reviews

A fast pace, heart-racing novel…The writing makes the surreal setting seem so real as almost a documentary…Vivid complex characters, violent without being gory…A great read and highly recommended.