I am not there, or I am a cameraman. There is a reporter in front of me. He is speaking, I may or may not understand. The visuals are enough, should be enough for anyone at home watching this.

This a different world, red and blasted. We are on a beachfront. It is a warzone. They emerge from the water. They are dinosaurs, all of them. There are Tyrannosaurs and Triceratops, and they are warring, with other Tyrannosaurs and Triceratops. Thousands. Living tanks, all. It is a war between factions. Territorial? The fighters rush at each other, are gored, bitten, slashed. Blood is everywhere, pours in tiny rivers. Do you remember watching hosewater down a driveway back home? It leaks into the red dust, feeding it.

We are losing.

---

Hope is not lost. Reinforcements have arrived, they are long-necked and long tailed, and their bulbous stomachs are cut into vertical sections along the side. Each slice swings individually as the sidle to the front. These cuts are not injuries, they allow them their function. They bear the pain with pride, that much is evident. The lungs inflate in barely controlled gasps, but the eyes see with terrible clearness. The impression is of single-minded purpose. The commander demonstrates this purpose now, a swerving locomotive towards the wounded. A minor explosion bursts the already-perforated stomach, opening it further. Deft hands work quickly, reaching inside to replace the organs of the fallen fighter with his own. He finishes his work and falls. The soldier comes to consciousness and rises. Others now rush out. The camera pulls back. We see the battlefield as a whole, suicide medics rushing out in every direction, crimson bursts staccato across the landscape.

I turn my camera back towards the reporter. He is gesturing wildly and excitedly. This is what he was here to see. This is novel, the peak of their technological progress, the new secret weapon. One has the impression that all of their technology is like this - wildly and voluntarily self-sacrificial. I regret my purpose as soon as it becomes clear. The reporter and I are propagandists. This is our side.

---

There has not been one gunshot throughout this battle, only the clash of muscle and bone. It is a matter of pride for them, seeing us, that their civilization has never known metal. I throw up.

Anyone who knows me knows I love this place. Every day I wake up and laugh at life and death and earth and everything in it. It is colourful, gives me some joy, alright? For all the infinite gray one sees in the life of a city, I see many vibrant hues. I love this place and can laugh at the rain.

I have always laughed at the unimportant, the half-seen, the true and the real. I laugh because I am happy in a world that could perhaps use more happy, and I am glad to do it. If someone you knew closely dies, someone you treasured dearly and if I knew them too, and from the back row of the church, you hear a stifled snort, followed quickly by a throaty, smoker's hack and laugh, please do not take it personally. I probably saw something shiny. I saw something shiny and it reminded me of not too long ago when I crushed grass in my hands to feel the texture of life between my fingers. Maybe I laughed because your oh-so-important loved one told me a joke some time ago. I am sorry for your loss, maybe, but I am happy they've escaped to see the next beautiful place. Death doesn't scare me as long as there's jokes to tell and songs to sing in the afterlife (granted there is an afterlife, and wouldn't that be the ultimate joke on me).

So it came as something of a complete shock to my system, about two weeks ago, when a close friend of mine exited this fair blue ball of ours, way sooner than he should have. Out of respect for his family I have omitted both his name and the manner of his passing. I think it necessary to point out that I would not have omitted anything if he, you know, had died peacefully in his sleep.

I've had very little experience with death, but as we get older and the sun spins around our skies, I have been constantly aware that the survival rate for everyone drops to zero on a long enough timeline; indeed, this idea has never been far from my thoughts. The longer I am here, with every song I sing, I know that it's one less song I will ever sing. Our lives are all a series of various countdowns: your next day of work is one less that you'll ever have to do. The next time you have sex with your spouse (or your spouse's sister) is one less chance you have to do it. When a person commits suicide they shorten these countdowns permanently. When a person gets struck by a public transit vehicle on their way back to work from lunch, through no fault of their own, their countdowns are gone. When a person is murdered in the street, they've been robbed of opportunities. I have no idea how to deal with this, no experience to draw from, no frame of reference, and it's fucking me up.

Oh, sure, it's not the first death I've ever heard of I suppose. I guess the difference is that this person has had a singularly profound effect on my life, and while never the closest friend, he was indeed a friend whose substance colour my existence in a very positive way. Specifically there are two reasons, which I'll share.

I taught this young man to play Behind Blue Eyes way back in high school. Days earlier he'd played Jeremy by Pearl Jam for the people so that I could display my considerable vocal talents. He was not shy about himself or about anyone else: he knew my singing would elicit favourable response and had devised a way for me to be seen. Knowing that I had no ego to bruise, I guess he thought I'd impress people. What I've learned from this experience is that not only do I have a gift which I should hone and improve, but that it is alright for me to share it with others, so that they can also improve it.

The second reason is a little more difficult for me to relate. We were sitting in the field next to my school. Many other friends had left for class, or video games, or marijuana. I sat smoking. I had just been interviewed on the news for something (it was on a French station and being that I'm bilingual I was the obvious choice). The news person left. My friend asked me, "Was that the strangest thing that's ever happened to you?" I said no, but it was definitely close. The interviewer had asked us questions about teen pregnancy and teen sex. I told my friend that I'd had pre-marital sex many times and it wasn't weird, but talking about it certainly was.

He proceeded to relate a story to me about a party/get-together/social outing that he'd been on, not weeks before, and he'd met a boy--my friend was bisexual, at least at the time--and they'd hit it off. My friend and his new acquaintance had proceeded to make love under the stars, he told me, and it was sweet and good, the touch of flesh, whatever. He went into borderline obscene detail, but he spoke with a sort of vehement love, a passion which I'd never heard before, in anyone. Also I don't think I'd ever heard anyone use the words "make love" before that day, and I don't think I've taken it seriously since.

I grew up around family of an older generation, a family where women were for cleaning and fucking. I grew up in a family where there were kikes and niggers and spics, people who were below us genetically. I was raised in a family where it was taught--strictly--that faggots were godawful sinners, ill-fated deviants. Why, taught my grandfather, did a man have to fuck a man? Obviously he didn't keep his wife in line, or something. Always there were people who were not white-skinned French-Canadians, fucking up our lot, our holy place on this good earth. The racial epithets and ethnic bias didn't really faze me much: even as a little guy I understood that if you bashed in my grandfather's face with a nine-iron, the same grayish goop would ooze out if you did this to someone who was Jewish, or of African descent, a First Nations person. My mother shielded me as much as she could but you can't shield everything.

However I could come up with no such explanation for homosexuality as a child, probably equally because I'd been sexually abused as a child and understood little of it, but perhaps also because these people in my family--who hated without provocation any ethnicity that wasn't their own, any minority--claimed to be good Catholics, as befits anyone of French descent in the part of Canada that I lived. Basically what I'm saying is that while I had no particular bias towards homosexuals I'd always seen them as something of a waste of time, and effort, even into my teen years, until I'd met this young man who's just died.

He told me this unabashed story of his sexual theatrics without any filter, without any toned-down voice for those who may be listening, and without shame or fear of my, or anyone's retribution, and through this, my previous fears and judgments regarding homosexuality were forgotten. I realized that my friend had killed my presuppositions with a simple story of sexual frivolity. When he first started talking I remember thinking, "Whoa, too much information," but by the end of his story he was speaking with love, with joy and the heat of his young age, and what was more, he knew it was his youth speaking, and that his experiences were but one brief page in a tale still being written.

It is exceedingly rare that we meet people of this sort, who speak what's truly in their mind and heart and spirit, without fear of being slandered or abused for it. It's also rare to meet a person who truly wishes to hear about you, and not relate stories about themselves. It's difficult to not use the word "I" when telling stories, but my friend was one of those, and it's a pattern I've attempted to emulate, and fail at daily.

Even though the circumstances of my friend's death are gruesome, he would want to know that I laugh every day, that I still find the same joy in this world irrespective of his passing. Sometimes when I walk I say, where are you little spirit? Are you there? Are you listening? I have things to say today.

He would want to know that while I mourn his passing I do not cry and weep like some sissy, I've done the right thing: I split a bottle of bourbon with a mutual friend and told stories. At the end we broke out the guitars and played songs, but we didn't play the hurtin' songs. We played the fun ones that make you dance. Here I sit while the earth still turns and my friend returns to the ashes from which he was created: soon enough he'll be in my blood. Sure, the world's a little emptier but Jesus Christ is the sunrise beautiful this morning, and I wonder how much my friend has to do with that.

While reading the (usually) good Arts and Letters Daily, I happened upon an item that ascribed the boom in ultra hot sauces and the like not to changing and more adventuresome tastes in America but to Baby Boomers' aging taste buds. Old people can't taste as well, they say, so they're demanding more flavorful foods. (Never mind that most senior citizens' menus have all the spicy piquancy of gruel.) Fully eighty per cent of all capisicum-heavy sauces are sold to men over forty, the news stated, and already food companies have been working on more extreme versions of their usual packaged foods to cater to the aging American population.

I don't know about you, but this just seems to be one of those pieces of non-news you read more and more often these days -- state a passing social phenomenon or odd behavior, link it, ever so tenuously, to some quirk of physiology, and you have a nice, tidy "blame the brain" generalization factoid that may not hold up tomorrow -- until another article crops up that states just the opposite is true because genetically (or physiologically, or sociobiologically)...blah, blah, blah.

The reason I think hot sauces are now popular among late-middle-aged men is the fact that there are more older men cooking than ever before, and very few of them would like to admit it.

Time was, people stayed married. A man of fifty or so was likely to have a wife, who cooked for him. The food was likely to be, well, homestyle: after thirty or so years of marriage, the repetoire of recipes was pretty well honed, unless she unaccountably started watching Julia Child or Graham Kerr in the middle of the day while the kids were at school. Cooking, for most men, was confined to grilling the occasional hot dog or hamburger over a tempermental charcoal grill or an elaborate stew or chili, made into just enough of a performance as to be mighty impressive to all onlookers but not something you'd want dear old Dad to do every day. A man who paid a lot of attention to food, either as a gourmet or cooking, was regarded as eccentric at best and downright effeminate at worst.

Nowadays, many men under forty or so have faced up to the fact that they might at some point have to do some things for themselves (pick out clothing and furniture, clean house, cook) that used to be outsourced to a stay-at-home-wife. Also, the metrosexual phenomenon means that a good many younger men feel comfortable with such subjects as living and eating mindfully, well, and dare I say it, with a bit of creativity and expertise. Not so with many older men, who still feel antsy in a produce aisle and need directions to find out where the cinnamon is kept. (It's right next to the sugar and flour, on the spice shelf under "C", guys!) They'd love to claim expertise (after all, Real Men know everything) but would like to do so in a way that doesn't make them feel like Nero Wolfe. Hot sauce, and its conoisseurship, covers up a multitude of sins.

For one thing, it takes all the guesswork out of seasoning anything. Since you "like it hot", you don't need to wonder whether you should have added fennel to the spaghetti sauce or nutmeg to the steak relish: just lay on a shake or two of liquid heat and any question of flavoring is moot. In fact, you don't need to be much of a cook at all! Whether you actually intended the steak to be well-done to the point of being dry and grey or the chicken to have pink spots is not a problem when your romantic dinner companion is sobbing for a bowl of yogurt (the ultimate compliment to the chef, in hot-sauce terms). Flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, even juice and chocolate can benefit from this treatment -- why learn to cook when you can buy a shortcut?

Secondly, hot sauce love can be an interest in itself: older guys love hobbies where look like experts just by buying stuff. Setting aside actual flavor, hot sauce comes in all kinds of interesting bottles with intreguing names on them (mostly cartoon guys saying things like "Arrgggh!", skulls, devils, and other manly themes). While it's debatable whether you actually need more than two or three varieties to use day to day, having a huge rack (or tray) of hot sauces makes your kitchen look less like a place where you microwave your Stouffer's and more like you actually spend time there. Whether you simply buy a few bottles from the local megamart or go so far as to collect all five of Blair's AM Reserves, plus his Limited Edition 16 million Scoville capisicum extract vial, you can have an impressive shelf of sauces that will have everyone convinced you're an expert cook -- without having to...well...

Best yet, this carries utterly no taint of effeminacy: anyone who eats food this hot has to be a man, or at least pretty tough. (Along with old men, I would belive that the major consumers of XXX-Treme Microdinners would be frat boys and 'lads' everywhere.I can see them having eating contests with them...of course, being young, they have delicate taste buds...) Eating food drenched in hot sauce is the corollary to the flashy cars, the expensive home entertainment systems and the huge power boats often indulged in by men too proud to use Viagra: even though they might not be good in bed any longer, and are unfit for any sport more ballsy than say, jogging, they can still prove that they're MEN, by ghod! Boy howdy! All the kudos of being a Real Cook without the sodomy! Only in America!

And that is why old men love hot sauce.


In closing, I realize I've been pretty tough on some people..I myself have used Tabasco from time to time, to the extent that my own mother has wondered why I keep buying so many bottles of it (her own bottle, which she recieved at a bridal shower, served her well over forty years of marriage). I even own a bottle of Dave's Insanity Sauce and even like tiny slivers of habenero now and then on my tongue. What I mean are people who don't know how to cook. And don't want to know how.

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