Saturday, December 10, 2011

Things Past

A Facebook friend request comes in from Benny Stud. I'm wondering why a gay porn star has decided to 'friend' me out of the blue before that nickname crawls back into my consciousness from junior high school; Benjamin Stuyvesant, referred to briefly as Benny Stud for reasons that were hysterically funny in Grade Eight but have been lost to the ages to all but Benjamin himself. I haven't seen him for decades but he was a decent enough guy in the days of the Reagan administration and I have yet to find somebody to maliciously 'friend' me on Facebook. I chalked it up to nostalgia or networking on his part. I was right about the former: 

Hey Benny - I thought you were a renegade gigolo. How goes?

Yo Mike. Goes fine. What you been doing for 23 years or so?

Just like everyone else; got a job, got married, got a kid, got old. Yourself?

Same deal.

Onto you as to us all, right?

Yeah, like that.

This might read as a lament or something sentimental, but was actually a strangely comforting exchange. Benny could be a wiseass at 12, that might still be the case. I don't even want to remember what I was like at the same stage (although there are no lack of people to remind me) but at least it's the same distance away. That distance provides the perspective to review what mattered, what was simply of it's time, and why none of it matters 20-odd years later.

Everyone gets older. It doesn't necessarily mean that everyone changes, but you can at least can find yourself in the same context. And my beard is more grey than black and I feel impossibly young for that to have happened, but here we are.This phenomena is getting more and more amusing over time; it beats the alternative of being literally dreadful (the rising dread of time passing) or steeped with regret. You review the events that bring you to where you are, and occasionally find drop-ins from stories you believed that you'd withdrawn from years before.

The sentiment of 'back in the day' from people around me feels spread rather thickly of late. It isn't exactly negative nor positive, it's simply the accumulation of days taking shape, reminding you, occasionally clearing their throat and making themselves known.

My present job (since anyone who's been let go from a large corporation considers subsequent employment to be tenuous for a very long time) puts me squarely in old stomping grounds and a lunchtime stroll takes me into Conundrum, a used bookstore that has taken my money for a good 20 years or so. Weekends required a review of the used or remaindered books that came in on a weekly basis; I'd buy with glee and sell those same copies back months later when I knew I was done with them (or was simply broke) and always got a fair price both ways.

I didn't know that Calvin was working there until recently; we'd been friends in University and had a falling out (I thought he was being weird and aggressive; I think I'd been labelled as dismissive and patronizing) for reasons pretty much irrelevant five years after the fact and utterly irrelevant now. When I buy something, Calvin looks at my stack of trade paperbacks and children's books on the counter and adds up the bill at a glance, rather than from the cash register. He'll knock off the tax or a few bucks off of each copy.

This isn't unusual for the store; one of the reasons I was a regular was that Jack, the owner, offered the same favour to me from time to time years ago. They both might just do it for every customer as a good business practice, but they don't have to and it's always appreciated. I started going back to Conundrum a few months ago, hadn't seen Jack for years and the discount still applied. Calvin carries it on, doesn't need to and I would never ask. But back in the day has some traction. I'll say thank you and mean it, I'll hear you're welcome in the same tone and I owe him a favour if he wants it and he can charge me full price when he wants to and there's an equilibrium and all is right in the world.

A few months ago, I picked up a reprint of an old book of Italian film reviews. Jack saw me in the store and carefully asked if he might borrow it, there were some essays he'd want to photocopy since there was only one copy in the store "And you got it, you bastard" offered with a smile. I told him I'd bring it in.

He looked awkward for a second and reached into the till to take out a 10 dollar bill, handing it to me before explaining it. "For've gotta find it and bring so, just know..."

I was just as awkward handing it back. "Don't worry about it. You..."

"No! No, please. You're doing me a favour, so..."

"You don't owe me a thing, don't worry about it. It's a good book, you've always been ...and...uh...yeah. You owe me nothing. I'll just bring it in."

He took the money back. He made his copy a few days and didn't owe me 10 bucks. His offer was polite. Hopefully, my refusal matched it. You don't owe anything from back in the day, taking or giving.

I've known Jane since I was 12 when we were in a drama class together. I put a bedframe up for sale on Craigslist and up for free on Facebook to anyone I know well enough on that list. Jane was building a house and needed a new bed, she accepted it gratefully:

Friday night is a good time to pick it up. And I guess at the age of 41 I'm too old to tell people that "Jane's been in my bed, if you know what I mean," sotto voce with Groucho Marx eyebrows...right?

One is never too old for such hoary jokes. Never....

Excellent. It'll mean I have a wealth of material into my sunset years.


Another piece of furniture, a small rolltop desk put onto Facebook with the same rules, given to Clea who once sent me a tape with the Flying Pickets' Only You in 1989 after I'd told her I couldn't find a copy and how old the song felt to me then - it had been a favourite early in high school (only five years earlier, but the duration between 16 to 21yrs old felt thick and concentrated at the time). I found the letter she'd sent me then with the tape in a box of old letters in my basement (occasionally purged) and told her about it before she picked up the desk. She remembered:

I do remember sending you the tape. I also remember putting up signs in the residence asking anyone and everyone if they might have the Flying Pickets' acapella version of Only You. It has always been one of my favourite songs and you told me you were looking for it. I started that quest in January of 1989, so yes, one could say that this really did begin 21 years ago. Finally someone found one and they came knocking on my door close to April Fools' Day and I thought they were joking, but no, there they had it in their hand. The cassette was white and the spool was super-short; only three songs, fado-like, were recorded on it.

Sitting at my window in the residence, watching the mist rise off the damp streets into a hazy April sun, wanting to be outside in the air. I gave you my copy of Van Gogh's letters: the one with the yellow spine (and bought another one for myself in the summer with a blue spine). My psyche was a bit too close to his for comfort.

I thought of you playing the piano and receiving the tape (no YouTube then) and getting a kick out of the surprise of it, and the memory of it - that I had remembered. And so that was good to me.

I liked Clea but hadn't known I'd made that much of an impression. I kept the tape for years until enough CDs came out that I could find the track and the rest became memory and a chat over an old desk.

The fee from an old friend for graciously (and skillfully) putting down marble tiles in my bathroom; a pub lunch, a promised evening out and a blu-ray of 2010: The Year we Make Contact. Not a great movie nor a great sequel, but held in high regard back in the day. Worth nodding to years later with a smile.

December, 2011


Patti said...

Just to add another layer to this post ... the last time we went to Jane's, she was gleefully touring us through, stories attached to everything, of course. And then she stopped, realized the "small world moment" that was about to happen, and pointed - "That bed is from Derbecker."

So I've been in it too.

Mike D. said...

Goodness...people will talk! Well, not after they've read all this.

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