Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A crackling of memory

I am wandering Yonge St. looking for cheap used DVDs. I can afford them new, but most times that strikes me as an extravagance and besides, there's more fun to be found stalking favorites in strange places. A dual Criterion package of "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" found in a Rogers 'Previously Used' bin for $6.99. An entire season of The Outer Limits (27hrs worth of viewing) at an Ex-Toggery for 10 dollars. The satisfaction of a collector to hold something in your hand and think "I've gotten it cheap and I found it for free."

I walk past a shop that sells both new and used discs, seeing the 20th anniversary release of the Live Aid concert in entirety. The fact that it was 20 years old was ever so slightly sobering, the sticker that said THIS DVD SAVES LIVES was a good dose of perspective.

(well, mostly- having a high-pressure migraine at the time and being in a contrary mood, I had a fleeting impulse to crack the package, snap the DVD in half and cut my own throat with it, gurgling "Not THIS copy!" before falling into that good night - but it was only a fleeting impulse)
My wife was a few doors away in another shop, a crowded and noisy one. I told her about the DVD and mentioned the THIS DVD SAVES LIVES sticker, and she looked strangely at me (and strangely amused). She smiled and said "This really is your season of great import, isn't it?"

"Not my season," I said. "It's the sticker."

"Ohh..." she said, "A sticker. I thought you were just saying 'This DVD will save lives' in a deep, true meaning of Christmas kind of way."

I was horrified. "But...wha...hey! I was being cynical, young lady! And yes, that DVD saves lives, but let the record state that I don't KNOW any of them, so how's that little missy?"

Great import...indeed. John Lennon sings 'So this is Christmas, and what have you done,' which is something to trip over, and even Do They Know Its Christmas had that line about 'Well tonight thank God it's them, instead of you.' Proof to my continued theory that Christmas can so easily become a soapbox as to what is wrong, or what you would differently, or how much you have and its sickening, or how little you have and you should have gone to the better sales.

Credit to Geldof, even 20 years later. He might have a touch of an ego, or one hell of a sense of humour. In his autobiography he mentioned that he was broke, drunk, had vomited over himself after falling down a flight of stairs and, incidentally, had fallen down a flight of stairs. And for some reason (paraphrasing) he felt touched by the divine. God looked down onto Dublin (maybe Belfast, haven't read it for years) and decided to answer the prayers or those starving in Africa. Now...clergy? Politicans? Business people? A drunk, bruised, covered in vomit fading rock star? What the hell, he'll do. Thanks, Bob.

Not a Christmas on sleeve type of person (said the web-blogger) due to the level of manipulation. Has anyone ever known a tough guy with underlings (a tough boss, teacher, scout leader) who has an underling who whispers "He doesn't want people to know but he really has a soft spot for Christmas..." or some such?

I'm desperate for some level of cynicism to balance out the overblown nature of the rest of the season - insulin to glucose - but it is easier instead to get lost at the occasional throw of something treacley that shoots under the barbed wire that I've strung from corner to corner of my being. I work downtown in what is increasingly a memory-favoured triangle, and not all memories within are favorable.

A stretch of Bay windows (literally- shop windows of The Bay) that held displays I was dragged past in cub scouts and on family visits as a child. St. James church where my mother has, and still does, serve communion Sunday mornings. St. Mike's hospital where my grandmother died at least twice (to be explained later) and St. Mike's Cathedral, which has been a good place to escape to in spiritual terms since my father's illness.

Hard to explain- perhaps size. Perhaps proximity, or lack thereof. My mother is a faithful servant of St. James cathedral and good for her, but I don't want to set foot in it for reasons of my own. Perhaps familiarity- in times of trouble (spiritual, logistic) I prefer to be alone and find a wall to back against and plan a way out. Something knows me too well at St. James. St. Mike's is a Catholic church and is larger - more space to hide - or simply easier to sit and listen to the nothing that occurs in a good church.

Less of a chance to be asked to sing. Or to dinner.

It isn't Christmas, but so much of my religious feelings can be summed up in a Thanksgiving story. I was living alone and avoiding my aunt's house for yet another burnt-turkey dinner for as long as possible. There had been a reprieve - the dinner would be held after Thanksgiving proper - so on the holiday itself I wandered into a Baptist church, hoping I could sit alone, listen to the spheres, find solace w/maker, etc.

Not a chance. Baptists (and I was raised one) are to the most part, very welcoming. 'Love the sinner, hate the sin', that sort of thing. And blessings to all involved, but they won't let you sit alone on Thanksgiving. It's also worse, when the general community is rather well knit.

Dig if you will, a picture- I am sitting alone when a late-middle-aged gentleman approaches me before the service begins.

"Are you new here, son?"
"I just came in for some quiet."
"It's a good time for quiet, for reflection...you're welcome to sit with my wife and I. Do you have family in town?"
"Uh...really...I just wanted to..."
"It's hard when your family is away. Are you fighting?"
"Wha? No. I just wanted..."
"Are you a Baptist?
"I was raised a Baptist at Spring Garden..."
"Spring Garden! I know Pastor Dalzell! WHy don't you..."
"Thanks, no, but..."
"Mary! This young man knows Gordon!"
"Does he want to sit with us?"

By the end of it I wanted everyone ELSE in the room to meet their makers on a non-refundable basis. So this might explain the Catholic tinge. I'm not Catholic so I can drift over the trappings and at least be alone in a quiet room for a few minutes to suspend and try to believe.

Try. Key word try.

And outside of all this and Christmas, one weird bit of Baptist Sunday school education returns from time to time. Not the lessons, or the Arrowroot cookies (which were rather good) or the whole Judeo-Christian thing, but the first exposure to schtick- kind schtick and in the best intentions schtick, but very much schtick. Years of hearing stories begin with a confidential tone or swiping from a rollicking yarn into a morality tale has made me very attuned to schtick, and intimately acquainted with the ability to tell, very quickly, a conversation from a sermon.


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