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  July 3, 1999



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Pondering life's 'stuff and things'
By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun
  Three cats and a lady.

 In three big boxes.

 And a big suitcase. At the airport. Did I mention it was 4:30 in the morning? Did I mention this was the beginning of the 4th of July airport exodus in the States?

 Chicago's O'Hare airport was a zoo. It was sad that the three little scaredy cats in the big boxes may have been the most civilized creatures there. I was annoyed that no one even offered to help the lady.

 How much trouble is it, really, to just pick up an animal carrier and help move it along the line? But no one did. I was frustrated that I couldn't because I'd already walked through the point of no return and was trapped in one of those super security areas, looking through a window.

 It didn't take much to figure out that she wasn't here by choice. This wasn't just a weekend frolic with the felines. I wondered, what she was running from or to that it was worth this struggle? She was much more attentive to her buddies than her bags and from that I surmised she was a good person. After all, she was 'cat people' and cat people are special.

 If you're not one of us, spare me the Fido tales. Dogs are great too, but cats have attitude. Cats are cool. Cats don't jump when you snap your fingers, they think about it first. I'll write about dogs another time.

 I was pleased to see that the three cats and a lady got where they were going and even more pleased that where they were going turned out to be Calgary because here we still have manners and care about each other. She said she never liked Chi-town much. Too crowded and noisy and dirty. Same as New York, where she said she's originally from, but she said there are good people there too, you just have to know where to look.

 I know that's true. I have friends in the Big Apple, my mom is from there, and some of my biggest fans are there. There are still enclaves of poets and artists, navigating the concrete jungle, carving out little hidden corners of peace where, you can see little slits of sky between the brownstones. And sometimes, if you look carefully, maybe you can even see a star or two.

 Watching through a window at the airport, it brought to mind another scene I'd witnessed through a window, an urban morality play as seen from a few stories up, a few years ago.

 I'd been awakened by the sound of a cocktail party. Pulling the pillow over my head, I thought they must have had a great night to still be going at sun up, until the awakening voice of consciousness clued me in: 'You dummy, there isn't a party going on in your room! -- Or is there!? Abruptly, I sat up! Oh, all that laughing was coming from outside but hey, aren't I on the 4th floor? Maybe there's a balcony below my window. Peering out, I saw a balcony alright, but the cocktail party turned out to be a flock of birds, hooting and hollering at the dawn, launching themselves, with expert assurance, diving and soaring, silently, between the concrete canyons, while below, the awakening street vultures were circling their pray, oblivious to the silent grace in the sky.

 Their victim was a weathered old black gentlemen with a storied face who looked like he'd been in a few too many towns. He sat there, on an old suitcase, his life's possessions piled up around him on the sidewalk. The marshall's men were still carrying boxes of this man's memories out of a dilapidated building. The street urchins grabbed and picked through his things, taking apart the picture of this mans life as if scattering pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, without knowing -- or caring -- what the picture of a man's life had looked like.

 Looking closer, I saw that the dented furniture was well made and in it's day had cost some bucks. The tattered clothes had tailored lines, some looked custom made. He had known better days. Something had gone terribly wrong.

 What amazed me was that he waved and smiled at the strangers walking off with his life.

 I didn't get it. Until I went out for a walk and a coffee. Passing closer, I saw an old dog, half blind, at his side, and heard him tell one of the snatchers, "You can have anything you want, but not the dog and not the suitcase. The rest's just stuff and things."

 I asked what was in the box and he said, "Why that's my sax and my pictures. Music and memories. The rest's just stuff and things... And the dog."

 I asked how he could laugh at a time like this.

 He found the very question humorous and explained that in order to build a new skyscraper they'd paid him more money to move out than he'd had since losing a lung to cancer

 First, he thought moving out was selling out, until he woke up in the middle of the night and realized it's just stuff and things -- except the suitcase and the dog.

 That got me to thinking. Suppose it was my stuff that people were looking through, some time in the future, without knowing anything about me.

 From disjointed photographs and memories, what picture would my stuff paint of me? Or yours of you? Would it be truthful? Or can we each learn little truths about ourselves by taking a look at our own "stuff and things."

 What we hang on to and what we let go? It's an interesting question, a mind exercise that we can explore together as time goes on.

 For right now, though, I've been giving a lot of thought to more pressing questions and I've decided to share my thoughts with you Monday on Nitro.

 I'm not sure what words I'll find to express what I'm feeling and I'm probably even more curious to find out than you are!

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