Saturday, December 30, 2006

Arts and Letters

"The issue of belief in a political leader elides into that of the nature of political leadership itself. In a democracy, does a leader follow the wishes of the people, or does he lead them through the force of his own vision? In the best of circumstances, the political leader persuades the people of the correctness of his own beliefs. This, thus far, George W. Bush has been unable to do. But to expect him, because of this failure, to abandon those beliefs may be as unrealistic as many feel the president's own deeply held beliefs are. No one should be surprised, let alone shocked, or outraged, when he turns out to be unable to do so, and chooses to stand by his beliefs to the end."

"...(Günter) Grass writes: ‘Enough evasions. After all, I have for decades refused to admit to that word and those double letters. After the war, with growing shame, I was silent about something which I had accepted in the stupid pride of my young years. But the burden remained, and nobody could make it lighter.’ During training, he heard nothing about the crimes that the Waffen SS had committed. ‘But the claim of ignorance cannot, I consider, veil involvement in a system which planned, organised and carried out the extermination of millions of human beings. Even if I can talk myself out of the charge of active joint guilt, there remains a residue which to this day has not been lifted, something all too fluently called shared responsibility.’"

"A mid-nineteenth-century English newspaper report described cholera victims who were “one minute warm, palpitating, human organisms—the next a sort of galvanized corpse, with icy breath, stopped pulse, and blood congealed—blue, shrivelled up, convulsed.” Through it all, and until the very last stages, is the added horror of full consciousness. You are aware of what’s happening: 'The mind within remains untouched and clear,—shining strangely through the glazed eyes . . . a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse.'”

Ahh...George W. Bush and the nature of 'true believers' in US politics, Günter Grass coming to grips with the fact that he joined the SS way back when, and a lively look at the bundle of chuckles that is cholera...all brought to you by the Arts and Letters Daily site, now part of the Amusing Sites menu bar to your deliberate right. Or accidental right. We don't judge here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Still Pretty

This post has nothing to do with anything, but I've never heard a trio version of this particular theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Simple and haunting.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reviewing Innocence

Working out a long-since inconsequential act of weirdness in 1994. Feel free to visit parts I, II and III and play along at home.

1987 to 1992. Let’s move on.

Want more details? There’s remarkably little. I attended York University in the film program at around the same time that I stopped thinking that the events in my life might make an interesting movie. Go figure.

I was there just before the digital revolution (we were still using linear editing suites, cutting 16mm workprints by hand and using Betacams for the most part). I did some acting in University productions (which apparently don’t count), in some Fringe and Summerworks shows (which, to some, do count), and finished up my credits at U of T taking a Philosophy of World Religion course along with the Philosophy of Sex (I figured that one course would balance the other out quite nicely). I won’t mention the fact that the Philosophy of Religion prof was later thrown out of U of T for (among other things) being a cult leader in his spare time since that would just be cheap.

University must have been a success since I graduated with the degree I wanted. Of course it was the early 90’s, the economy was still in full lousy mode. The tech boom was a few years away. The Zelda saga picks up when I was working in a well known retail chain where I introduced fellow staff members to ‘Mr. Biffy’, an aggressive sock which lived on my left hand and was my ticket to being labeled insane and thus kept in the stockroom where I would not be bothered with customers. It actually worked marvelously.

It was during the glorious T-shirt folding days (and let the record state I could cut a mean crease) when I met Zelda at a kinda-sorta high school reunion. It wasn’t a reunion proper, it just happened to be an anniversary of the start of the performing arts wing of my high school. Alumnae were invited to visit.

At the time I was convinced that it was the last thing in the world I needed, but it turned out to be very therapeutic. The post-ceremony pub evening offered the solace of shared experience. A one time musician (now sound engineer) stood up and said to the recent university grads (or non-grads):

“Okay, show of hands…who’s unemployed?”
(an impressive forest of palms)

“Looking good. Now who feels under-employed?”
(more hands, I joined their number)

(a few enthusiastic hands)

(a few resigned, if adamant hands)

“Living in sin?”
(back to the enthusiastic hands)
…and so on. Zelda was there, offered a warm hug, a few pints of beer and gave me her new address, and we were back to corresponding and meeting for coffee when she came to town.

This takes us from 1992 to 1994. I’ll skip the details of the letters but they could not be seen as intimate or even vaguely flirty. She had broken up with the high school boyfriend, was seeing a guy in Albany (where she was doing some Veterinary work) and wasn’t entirely happy with her situation.

Nor was I. I had been seeing a woman I’m going to call Louise for a long time and have nothing negative to say about her in his forum, or in any forum. Our particular story isn’t unfamiliar to the universe I’m sure - we were together for a long time. We changed. Things became difficult despite the best efforts of all involved. And that story has nothing to do with Zelda, other than the fact Zelda arrived a few months after Louise and I were no longer a couple.

I had been delivered from retail folding duties into a day job in software. I had written around 300 pages of dialogue and mission scenarios for an outer-space adventure game, and had the weird thrill of hearing my dialogue delivered by a cast of actors in a studio somewhere in California (the game, alas, was past its best-before date in technological terms by the time it was ready for release and was quietly shelved). The company had R&D money and all was well for awhile, but this R&D cash eventually ran low and the company was close to selling some products to an investor which was almost a sure thing, but wasn’t…quite…together…

…and the paycheques dropped to around half of what they were initially. It took care of the rent. And sometimes some groceries. That’s about it.

I won't blame my boss - he knew what was happening and what he was asking of his staff, and a job in software looks a hell of a lot better on a CV than retail or dragging cables on Due South or videotaping weddings. So we all bit the bullet and carried on. He was optimistic but honest when approached for dough:

Koyla, are we getting paid on the 15th?”

“Yes. On the 15th. Well, on-ish.”

“On-ish. So, the 15th-ish.”

“No no, on-ish the 15th. It’s a bit like the Amish. The on-ish.”

“How so?”

“Er…I’ll get back to you on that. On-ish the 15th or so. But let’s talk about the Amish instead. They eschew material goods, did you know that? A fine example to us all…”

And so on. Repeat until you realize that no cheque is forthcoming.

I wasn’t broke, but I was damn close to it. I was in a better mental state as a professional writer than I was as a professional t-shirt folder, but the stability/viability of the writing gig was very much up in the air. And the break up with Louise (and the firm conviction that I was not going to talk about it with anybody since it was none of their business) left me ...bitter might sum it up. Frustrated. The sense that a lot of time had been wasted and not being sure exactly what would have fixed the situation, sickeningly sure that the differences between us were decidedly irreconcilable.

I was still acting occasionally. I had appeared in and co-produced a two-hander as a benefit for an AIDS hospice the year before, and when Judy (a friend of Louise who continued to speak to me, for awhile at least, after the breakup) asked me to appear in another two-hander that she was directing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something that didn’t feel like being broke, lonely or bitter.

A good theory, at least. On the first day of rehearsal, Judy brought me a garbage bag filled with shirts, sweaters, a few books, some CDs. “Louise asked me to bring these back to you,” she said, with the distinct air of somebody who wants nothing to do with the fallout that such an act might incur.

I didn’t blame Judy but wasn’t impressed with Louise. “These aren’t mine,” I said. “I gave all these to her. She can keep them or throw them away. They weren’t on loan. They’re hers.”

Judy looked pained, and I didn’t want to put her in the middle of anything. I didn’t think that Louise or I were quite at the stage to scream something like ‘Are you telling me that these things aren’t good enough for you now that I’ve had them?’ into a telephone, but there had been a few truly awkward phone calls and that kind of response didn’t seem entirely impossible.

For that matter, the mature thing on my part would have been to quietly thank Judy for the delivery, speak of it no further and drop the bag into the nearest Goodwill box for distribution to those who required long sleeved t-shirts, heavy-knit sweaters or a copy of Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing.’ But I said “You can keep it. All of it. Or give it away to somebody who needs it. Or throw it out. It’s not mine. I can’t take it. Sorry. It's not mine.”

So much for not feeling bitter.

Judy sighed and kept some of the sweaters and probably gave the rest away. I was well on my way to deciding that I was either wrong for the part and that I didn’t want to deal with the woman she’d cast in the second role since I didn’t know her very well and had the distinct feeling that she didn’t like me very much. I wasn't fond of myself at the time, so at least we'd have something to chat about during the forthcoming cold, brittle, and seemingly pointless rehearsals.

To top it all off, after rent, phone and hydro I had around $100 to get through the month. $100 in 1994 was around as much as $100 is in 2006 in that it is not a lot to get through a month with. The only high point was being taken to a preview screening of The Age of Innocence, which is a film that’s much easier to admire than to actually enjoy.

But if you like Wharton, or have a weakness for strangled-passion films (or just for Michele Pfeiffer), there’s something wistful and beautifully sad about it. The short version - Newland Archer manages to find the love of his life and lose her due to propriety and society. And yeah, this is a rather simple reading of the book/film.

Call me a sentimentalist, the sense of longing in it is palpable, and reminded me that I was not happy at the time, and reminded me of lying around not kissing Zelda years before and getting a too-long hug from her months before and maybe…in all those letters…something was in the subtext. From either side.

Not a lot to go on.

And one of the weirder moves of my life up until then, and feeling inexplicably like Newland Archer (mostly the throttled repressed part), I sent her a letter with one of the better reviews of The Age of Innocence. I think I underlined this passage:

For him (Newland) it is a tragedy, because he has been made aware of joys anticipated, delayed, crushed. Frequently he rewrites the tryst in his mind: one moment when Ellen might have caressed him, another when she could have turned around, smiled and changed his life.

I also remember writing “You should see the movie, it’s a good version of the Wharton novel and maybe we can both relate to it.”

Let’s call the above exchange some kind of a leap. Into what, I don’t know. Maybe just the idea that Zelda would read it and understand that if there was an unspoken chemistry or attraction, maybe one of us should clear their throat and see what happens.

Oblique? Hell, yeah. I was 25. I thought that if she understood it, then maybe there was something out there worth coming to Toronto for.

Or in simpler terms, sum it up to the fact that reaching out for something that might be out there was better than being lonely. I’m not saying any of this makes sense or was the smart thing to do or was even sensible. It was what felt like sense at the time, at least as far as leaps of faith go.

And she came less than 2 weeks later, which led to an afternoon, which led me to standing at the Bus Depot wondering whether or not to go to Albany. But there’s still a lot left between point A and B. With patience, all will be revealed. And if you're lucky it might get a little blue.

Click here for part V. And it doesn't really get blue at all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And the whole Christmas thing...

Christmas 2006. Right y'all. Here we go again.

Remember the 'Christmas Kills' Morrisey-inspired t-shirts in the 80's that featured a turkey about to be beheaded? Now really, that's the season for some. I knew several Smiths fans at the time who were active carnivores and still wore the t-shirt because they (and let me see if I remember this right) agreed with the right to express such a sentiment, and were really just supporting free speech desipte the fact they were going to enjoy such a turkey themselves over the holiday. Not the same turkey on the t-shirt of course, perhaps that was a factor.

I have a townhouse with carefully out-of-reach bits of Christmas bunting, a collection of Christmas mp3s and the usual assortment of relatives, visiting, etc. And by the way, how does one get duck fat off Emile Henry? The dishware, not the dude. If M. Henry was fond of being covered in duck fat, that was his business. More importantly, how does one get duck fat off of me, since I appear to have a faint rainbow sheen upon my person this morning?

I've wanted to watch a Christmas movie. Of course, I don't like most of the 'must watch at Christmas' flicks. I've gotten away with never watching 'The Sound of Music' in this lifetime, 'It's A Wonderful Life' gets a bit old (and is surprisingly dark by the end), the 1951 'A Christmas Carol' is pitch-perfect but committed to memory long ago. Never into the whole Grinch phenomena. I did find the 'Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and remembered watching it projected in a grade 1 class waaaaay back when, complete with a Coke spot before and after the 16mm ran through the reels.

If you're sick of the holiday, you could do an anti-Christmas film festival, where the action takes place at that time of the season but isn't really a pivotal plot point. Dan Ackroyd eating stolen salmon covered in fake beard in 'Trading Places'. Andy Garcia finding a serial killer with a fondness for blind women in 'Jennifer 8' (which also has the creepiest version of Silent Night ever put on celluloid). Don't forget the first 'Die Hard'. Either version of 'Black Christmas', although really, why would you want to? If you must, do the original, at least it had the merit of some great atmosphere. 'Less than Zero' begins with a Christmas party, how about that? Or better yet, how about not?

If you've got patience, 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' actually manages to be a very powerful peace-on-earth statement, even if it is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp with David Bowie as an Australian soldier who gets the attention (and I mean attention, wink nudge say no more) of the camp commander. Oh, and it also becomes a completely different movie for around 20 minutes, sort of a boarding school melodrama. It's very weird. It's very Japanese. Bowie gives an amazing performance. And Tom Conti's deadpanned line "He thinks he's Father Christmas" is worth the wait.

For my part...why not just call a truce with the world and read A Child's Christmas in Wales, or better yet listen to it here. In goes your mind into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea. If you're not into the season, just enjoy the prose. If it resonates, fill in the rest yourself.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


More about trying to define what stays or does not stay in one’s memory, and what parts of that memory remain relevant, if any. Why bother remembering something that doesn't matter at all? So back to the 1980’s, we’ll be leaving fairly soon. Catch up with Part I and Part II if you’re late to the party.

Zelda’s nap on my shoulder took place in early ’87. By mid-year it was the waning days of high school and I was thoroughly sick of it as an institution, a life-experience and a social scene. Early in the year I had mentioned to Alice that these were reportedly the best years of our life. She took a second before holding her flat hand over her eyebrows, gazing into the wide-reaching empty horizon and said “Where?”

The near-ending of Zelda’s story comes at the end of Grade 13 on a slow Friday night near the end of May. Her boyfriend wasn’t in town – I seem to recall that he’d gone off to University early – and I was invited over to her uncle’s house to watch movies. The fact that I wouldn’t have to deal with her weird mother was a plus, and the fact that Zelda was house-sitting her uncle’s decidedly empty place was intriguing.

Such an offer is welcome to an 18yr old boy who plans on watching movies all evening. Or even more welcome to an 18yr old boy who had no plans whatsoever related to watching movies and has a multitude of other activities planned. Use your imagination.

I’m not saying it didn’t cross my mind, but it didn’t stay in my mind. I had been invited over to watch movies, so being the literal-minded type (and a film buff) I came well armed with recently acquired copies of Blue Velvet and Out of Africa.

Yeah - one of the weirdest double-bills ever assembled. Blue Velvet had come out the year before and had very legitimately messed with my head, so I was showing it to anybody who’d watch to see if it messed with theirs (this eventually gave me a reputation for being strange – I'd told a girl in my 1st year film studies class that I’d seen it a dozen times or so, she’d been traumatized by one viewing and gave me a very wide berth for awhile before finally deciding to make out with me after a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so take from that what you will).

Out of Africa shamelessly tapped into my romantic side (I had a weakness for the narration). So it was a cinematic evening planned either by a freaky David Lynch fetishist or a shameless sentimentalist with a thing for Meryl Streep’s weird Danish/Kenyan accent, take your pick.

The lines around the evening itself get blurry as much from the time passed as from...what? Relevance? I remember which movies I brought and the fact that I took a bus to the house, I don't remember what we talked about but I remember that we never got to watch either film. I remember a pot - not a cup - of cranberry tea and a backgammon board, but don't remember playing. I remember Zelda waxing rhapsodic about her boyfriend and how they'll be together in Victoria, or at least within blocks of one another. And I remember the duvet, the one I was pinned to. I remember my face being close enough to hers that I could feel a faint breeze each time she batted her long lashes.

Anything else? I barely remember the circumstance of the pinning. It was incidental to the act itself - there was a TV and VCR in the master bedroom, so I think there was a brief discussion as to whether or not to watch the movies in there. I remember sitting on the bed, then Zelda pushing me over and rolling onto me, not giggling exactly but smiling. Glowing. If it was intended to feed my ego, it wasn't exactly working - I was more confused than anything else. She was glowing towards me, elbows on either side of my shoulders.

"Let me up," I remember saying.

"Nope," she grinned.



I paused for a few seconds and said "I'll kiss you if you don't let me up."

Admittedly, this wasn't a wise move for somebody trying to get off a duvet. And there were other girls I was far more interested in kissing at the time (mea culpa - I was 18), and something about Zelda and this was not expected. Not part of a plan, hers or my own.

Of course, I kissed her. It lasted around .5 seconds. I at least had a 50-50 chance of finding out what the hell was on her mind depending on how she responded to a kiss. I justified it at the time as a 'ha-ha, now let's stop being silly and get back to the tea and backgammon' kind of thing. My eyes were open. Hers were shut.

Bette Davis eyes.

This was the point where she was supposed to either kiss me back with fervor (which would have led to..any ideas? no, seriously, any ideas??), or smile politely and say that this wasn't a good idea for any one of a dozen good reasons...but this didn't happen. She snuggled further onto me and lowered her lips to mine, dipping her chin to keep our lips together as I settled back on the pillow.

If I remember little else about the evening, I'm sure of the fact that we were not kissing. Our mouths were together, as if it were some kind of a cheat. As close to kissing as one could get without dipping into the dictionary definition which would get somebody (probably her) in trouble.

I waited for this to become a kiss so that I could either enjoy it or leave it.

I waited for a giggle or a sigh or even a nap to interrupt it.

Nope. Lips to lips. Soft breathing and traces of cinnamon Dentyne. The sweet waxy scent of lipstick. Some kind of perfume, I think Joy. The settling of the feathers beneath us. The click of the bedside clock.

For 45 minutes. A long limbo.

I finally moved my lips from hers and said something like I care about you a lot but this is feeling strange and I have to go. And she moved off of me like we had been simply checking the duvet for structural integrity and the kiss - the non-kiss - was a thing of the past. I refused to feel guilty either for holding it or guilty for walking away because it wasn't really there on either side. It was something undefined. Even at 18 I knew what a mind-game felt like (oh, it didn't keep me from falling for them, frequently) and all of Zelda was feeling the time.

This event would have disappeared into memory along with most of the evening, if it hadn't ended strangely. I'd called a cab to get me uptown, Zelda offered a chaste hug goodbye, we might see each other over the Christmas holiday when she was back from Victoria.

And when I looked back from the cab, she stared from the open door. Her smile was gone. There was longing in the look which followed me down the road, which perhaps galvanized part of the evening for the two of us, in the future at least if not that very evening. You can accept or deny a kiss. You can be amused and act on an infatuation, or choose to explain your way out of it, or ignore it. I hadn't expected longing, and wasn't sure if it belonged entirely to her.

We wrote letters for a few months and they were just extensions of notes in English class. If there was subtext, I missed it. And didn't write any. And the letters stopped and we lost contact until after university, with little thought to each other. Which...flips...back onto itself into yet another infuriating not-definable what-the-hell-is-going-on new thing in 1994 which led me to stand at a bus depot, wondering exactly what the sane thing to do would be.

This does get wrapped up neatly eventually. But for now, to be continued...
Click here for Part IV

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Black back tires

Further adventures of a should-I-stay-or-should-I-go mid-20's individual wondering if he's been seduced & abandoned or just part of somebody else's casual comedy. Part I is here if you're not into scrolling.

Back to the 80's. Lord knows, you can't stop it. I saw acid-wash on a model the other day and acid-wash wasn't even a good idea at the time. I'm actually more disturbed at the not-quite-dead-yet 70's revival since the 70's are far enough away to have mouldered further than the 80's. Sort of like being given a choice between a meal of a 20 day old cheeseburger or 30 day old cheeseburgers that have been found in a dumpster somewhere. One can probably catch more exotic diseases from the older cheeseburger, and the bloom of fungus will be just that much more piquant. Really, lets just get away from the whole rotting concept, since it will eventually be lunch and we don't want that ruined.

Still, back to the 80's. The brief rundown on Zelda is that we had an English class together, she had a boyfriend named Tom who went to another school who she famously (and loudly) adored, and she had a fondness for me which I thought was weird and contradicted her famous and loud adoration of Tom. She also had a rocky relationship with another girl I knew, a friend who I trusted, lusted after (I thought it was subtle) and was frankly afraid to cross. So anything Zelda did/said was filtered somewhat with the following provisos:

1) She was a bit of a drama queen. This doesn't necessarily count as a strike against her. I went to a performing arts high school. There were a LOT of drama queens.

2) She could be mean-spirited (which I never saw, or at least it was never aimed at me).

3) She was weird.

'Weird' is a very broad word. Most - perhaps all - of my friends count as weird, then and now. And once again, since this was a performing arts high school, weird was often cultivated. The weird I'm speaking of was a lower level kind of background noise, which I attributed to difference in personality and development, rather than weirdness.

If you cast your mind back to a certain type of grade 12 girl who sighs and says "High school boys are so immature, I'm looking for a mature first-year University boy," you'll also be reminded that both 'maturity' and 'immaturity' are pretty broad, context-dependant terms. Zelda's 'weirdness' was on that level. She had plotted out her post-graduation years with boyfriend Tom in alarming detail, was a New Yorker cartoon kind of gal, and was well-versed with the American classics (had a special thing for Fitzgerald). We wrote volumes of notes to each other when class got boring, and I was in a deep Gatsby stage at the time. To wit:

Zelda: I wasn't here on Friday. Miss me miss me miss me?

Me: Everyone did. They all painted their rear left tires black as a sign of mourning.

Ha ha chuckle frightfully witty to high school students who have recently read Gatsby. Hit of the season and what have you. It made sense at the time. A lot of strange things make sense at the time during adolescence. I was also very much into Eugene O'Neil when I was around 14, since I'd been so impressed by the way Jack Nicholson played him in Reds. When one is walking around, assuming the Jack Nicholson drawl, and heavily influenced by The Iceman Cometh at 14, this can at best be seen as a good idea only at the time. I eventually grew out of the Nicholson/O'Neil stage when I realized that O'Neil wasn't really a happy sort, besides, Warren Beatty got all the girls and perhaps he served as a better role model.

I did mention that I was 14 or so at the time, I hope?

Back to Zelda. She had a beloved boyfriend, but was cozy with me. Not that cozy. I wasn't interested, nor was I offered. But I a way that confused me at the time. Numerous things confused me at the time. Adolescent traits and rules that make less sense at time goes by.

My example: I was invited to watch a TV program which featured Amanda, a girl I had been dating (and was alternately played by and dumped by) a few months earlier. She was having a party of the faithful and had invited me, probably because I was still staring at her with wide cow-eyes, and Zelda probably because of the English class. The party wasn't going to be at Amanda's place, it was at Chloe's place waaay out in the Beaches.

Amanda had called me 24rs before the viewing to explain in very adult terms that she wanted to be sure that I knew that she didn't want to get back together. Or end up making out on that couch in the sunroom like that time before. And that there would probably be other guys there that she might want to talk to, so I shouldn't get hurt or pissed off if she didn't talk to me all night.

"Why are you telling me all this?" I asked.

"Well, I was hoping we'd go together. Not like a date exactly but I need a drive," she said.

I don't know if I was stupid, or just impressed that she could go through all that with a straight face. Either way I drove her and skipped the cow-eyes. I picked up Zelda as well.

The program was fine. Amanda was charming. The other-guys warning was in vain since I turned out to be the only guy there. A few of the girls asked if there was any significance in the fact that Amanda and I arrived together whenever Amanda left the room. I rolled my eyes.

Amanda and Chloe got into cheap red wine in enough quantity that Amanda decided just to spend the night at Chloe's place and Zelda had gotten into enough wine that she really needed to go home.

I drove her home, she asked me in for tea, which was not a code. Wine notwithstanding, I thought she wanted tea. We never made it. We sat on the couch and chatted, before she took a long pause and said 'Stay right there' as she leaned towards me, put her arms around my neck, swooped her legs up onto the couch to get all comfy and...immediately fell asleep with her head sinking from my shoulder to my chest as her body closed down for the evening.

I thought it was the wine talking. I stayed for around 10 minutes, watching her breathe, seeing her smile fade only slightly as REM sleep got its teeth into the drunk and the late evening. It felt like she wanted to stay close enough to me to relax, to snuggle on a couch on a Friday night outside of the adored boyfriend and maybe it was something she'd want to do without the wine. I left her on the couch and went home amused, ever so slightly warm and fuzzy. She didn't mention it for months, but the issue was raised again.

More (and hopefully some kind of point) to come later.

Click here for Part III

High Jumping, Gold Hatted

(first geek to get the title reference without resorting to the search engine of your choice wins the people's ovation)

I was heading to (considering heading to, at this point really) Albany, New York based on an either long-awaited or entirely unexpected fling with a high-school friend (a good 8yrs after graduation), after a slow and painful breakup with an entirely different woman and a very different story. But back to the bus depot, and my provisions - I had a good book (which I think was Raymond Carver's All Of Us) shoved into a well-packed travel bag with a change of clothes and some sundries, a relatively unchained VISA and nothing to do for the weekend. The fling had caught me unawares, and I wasn't sure if it was out of curiosity, desire for thrills or simply loneliness which was leading me to Albany. I know that it had led me at least as far as the Toronto Bus Depot.

I had reasoned that if nothing else, I'd have 2 days in Albany. I could pick up a dog-eared copy of Ironweed and get the full Albany experience (or at least get a good view of it in the 30's). I was sure that there'd be some kind of motel near enough to the bus station that even I could afford. If upon arrival she (and why not call her Zelda?) met me for coffee and said that our, let's say encounter was a bad idea, there would at least be bookends around the whole situation and I'd get to appreciate the best that Motel 7 had to offer the lonely traveller. Perhaps there would be cable TV.

If Zelda fell into my arms, that would be lovely. Or scary. Not knowing which condition would result was what was aiming me towards Albany. I didn't know if it would get me onto the bus.

Confused? It is a bit weird. I had written Zelda a letter a few weeks before citing The Age of Innocence, but I think blaming Edith Wharton will only go so far. I can bring Scorsese into the mix for his movie of the same same which is long and slow and subtle (boring is another oft-used title, but I personally would label it with subtle instead), which for some reason made me thing of Zelda, who I was lonely for after a bad breakup. Not Zelda in romantic terms, Zelda in intellectual terms because she'd always been smart. I didn't think the romantic terms were there outside of a tumble in 1987 which I pointedly left because it was...weird.

And tumble is the word for it. When one is pinned on a duvet at the age of 17 by a girl with Bette Davis eyes, one will either tumble further onto the duvet or out the door. I chose the door. It took 45 very slow minutes to do so, but the door was the final choice.

The rest was relative radio silence for 5 years, then 2 years of correspondence, then the aforementioned encounter. Then...but that would be giving things away. If you have to write about the odd resonance of things past (and I guess I don't have to, but it's better than writing about my father and Christmas and lack thereof which makes me sad), you'd better at least hit the touchstones and let the reader know what meant something at the time, if not now.

And 12 years later, the ratio of 'meant something' is very, very low. But the statement 'this will be funny in 10 or 15 years or so' muttered under one's breath will eventually come back to bite you. Whether it's funny or not has yet to be delved.

So why not leap back to the bus depot? And what was a confused 26yr old to do? Curiosity, enthusiasm and loneliness (rather than lust, believe it or not) were vying for attention, and curiosity seemed to be the one which was carrying the others. Is curiosity worth a bus ticket and access to upper New York State?

If I just wanted out of Toronto and away from the memories of an ex-girlfriend and dealing with a job which was paying half-paycheques at the time (and God knows I did want away from all that) I had a good friend in Guelph. I could arrive at his doorstep for less cash than the ticket to Albany was costing, and I knew that

a) he was a good cook,
b) would have a ready supply of beer and
c) was at a stage where target-shooting with air pistols in his apartment at 2am was an acceptable evening's entertainment.

Good times. Low budget gonzo.

It was was a bit lower than Albany on my list of priorities however, since Albany could have been a trip that defined the edges of whatever Zelda was on about, or at least let me out of the trees to peek at the forest that I'd either been in for a few years or had just entered. I was balancing the ideas that Zelda might meet me, might never speak to me again, might suggest that the whole fling had been the result of a bet gone wrong (in which case, I wanted to meet the winner of that bet and have some words with them), or she might want...something...which I may or may not want have wanted to deal with.

And if that looks cryptic, I think confused would say it better. I don't know why she kissed me urgently in 1994. Or 1987 for that matter. So let me put it - all of this far-past angst - into a package (since everything - everything - has to be catalogued and verified, no?) and wrap that package into something I can describe a bit later. For now, consider the conundrum at the bus depot in 1994. Stay or go? Shades of age of innocence or acting on old (perhaps unwise) impulses clean as New York snow.

Click here for part II.

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