Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For Ray Binkley

Ray and his family were very kind to me when I was a child. He died suddenly on January 31st, 2007. A devout Baptist, I hope he would have liked this.

Reading Genesis to a Blind Child
Written by James Dickey

"I am hiding beside you to tell you
What the world itself cannot show,
That you walk with an untold sight
Beyond the best reach of my light.
Try as you can to bear with me
As I struggle to see what you see
Be born of the language I speak.

Claw, feather, fur, and beak,
The beasts come under your hand
As into the Ark, from a land
That a cloud out of Hell must drown,
But for you, my second-born son.
The sheep, like your mother's coat,
The bear, the bird, and the goat

Come forth, and the cunning serpent.
I am holding my right arm bent
That you may take hold of the curve
Of round, warm skin that must serve
For evil. Now, unbreathing, I take
A pin, for the tooth of the snake.
You gravely touch it, and smile

Not at me, but into the world
Where you sit in the blaze of a book
With lion and eagle and snake
Represented by pillow and pin,
By feathers from hats, and thin
Gull-wings of paper, loosed
From pages my fingers have traced

With the forms of free-flying birds;
And these are the best of my words.
If I were to ask you now
To touch the bright lid of my eye
Might I not see what you see?
Would my common brain not turn
To untellable vision, and burn

With the vast, creative color
Of dark, and the serpent, hidden forever
In the trembling right arm of your father,
Not speak? Can you take this book
And bring it to life with a look?
And can you tell me how
I have made your world, yet know

No more than I have known?
The beasts have smelled the rain,
Yet none has wailed for fear.
You touch me; I am here.
A hand has passed through my head,
And this is the hand of the Lord.
I have called forth the world in a word,

And am shut from the thing I have made.
I have loosed the grim wolf on the sheep;
Yet upon the original deep
Of your innocence, they lie down
Together; upon each beast is a crown
Of patience, immortal and bright,
In which is God-pleasing delight.

Your grace to me is forbidden,
Yet I am remembering Eden
As you sit and play with a sword
Of fire, made of a word,
And I call through the world-saving gate
Each word creating your light:
All things in patient tones,

Birds, beasts, and flowering stones,
In each new word something new
The world cannot yet show.
All earthly things I have led
Unto your touch, have been fed
Thus on the darkness that bore them,
By which they most mightily shine,

And shall never know vision from sight,
Nor light from the Source of all light.
The sun is made to be hidden,
And the meaning and prospect of Eden
To go blind as a stone, until touched,
And the ship in a greenwood beached
Nor rise through the trees on a smoke

Of rain, till that flood break,
The sun go out in a cloud
And a voice remake it aloud,
Striving most gently to bring
A fit word to everything,
And to come on the thing it is seeking
Within its speaking, speaking."

In memory.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Church Hosts Porn and Pancakes Event

Yes, you read that right. In these times of dimishing church attendence, this appears at first to be a reliable method of filling those pews every Sunday.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your habits), it's all part of a high concept evangelical thrust. As it were. The backers have even pulled out the big guns; USA Today reports that "A billboard advertisement near the church shows the words 'Porn and Pancakes' written in syrup on a stack of flapjacks."

Porn and Pancakes appears in full caps. I realize that it's the convention for billboard titles, but those capital letters could also be read as some kind of code. It implies that there's really good PORN and significantly above average PANCAKES on offer. This truly would be an occasion. One rarely finds them together.

That said, there's a venerable strip club in Toronto that allegedly has a breakfast buffet (favoured by shift-workers and cops). I can't say whether they offer pancakes or not, perhaps the strip club breakfast focuses on fruitcups and high fibre. It's safe to assume that more than one devotee has been questioned intensely by their wife or girlfriend and fallen back on the "Hey, you're the one who's always stressing the importance of a well balanced breakfast, and I think the mise en scene of the establishment is secondary to the nutritional benefits" argument. It probably didn't help.

If this is the formed-by-committee initiative that I suspect it to be, there must have been a long list of rejected titles and foodstuffs before they settled on Porn and Pancakes:

Purient Publications & Prune Danish
Hotcakes for the Hellbound Horny
Oatmeal Orgy
Belgian Waffle Bacchanalia
...and so on. Porn and Pancakes obviously proved to be the most feasible in both catering and linguistic terms. It's a title you don't forget, it guarantees free publicity across most media and dedicated bloggers. It has been designed to do so (and yeah, I've fallen into the trap). If 75% of the population rolls their eyes at it and assumes it's some kind of evangelical scam, that leaves 25% who will show up at the Porn and Pancake meetings with a hungry belly and high hopes for a recent theological shift. Most will leave well fed but rather disappointed. Others might bond to the evangelical fellowship. Come for the food, stay for the salvation.

The USA Today piece doesn't mention that the whole porn and pancakes enterprise is for men only (since women don't indulge in such things? I realize the numbers are in favour of men as users, but couldn't women make a far more eloquent case against objectification and exploitation?), and the website flogging its value is a bit vague on the topic as well. But it all seems to boil down to this:
Each Porn and Pancakes will cover different issues surrounding pornography and have different presenters. In addition to a presenter from XXXchurch addressing the issue of pornography, each event will also have some very memorable moments whether it be a clown, a hypnotist, a comedian, the horn guy, a mariachi band, an accordion player, or an ex porn producer, you never know who might show up. We promise we will never make you sing at Porn and Pancakes.
The idea of being forcefed pancakes in a Baptist church basement by a hypnotized clown alongside a comedian playing the horn (or maybe he's just really horny, but I'd hope that he's simply musical) all backed up by a mariachi band who have supplanted their porn careers with accordion just rubs me the wrong way. At least they wouldn't make me sing.

I don't want to knock it on religious terms (who am I to prevent somebody from attending the church of their choice), but the entire enterprise makes my skin crawl. There's a stench of astroturf around the organization from both the porn and church sides. Evangelists trying to look cool (which never goes over well) have paired up with pornographers who are trying to look socially responsible. Evangelists (at their worst) sincerely believe that you'd be in God's good books if you gave them a cheque. Pornographers (at their best) really think you'd be a lot cooler and less hung-up if you gave them lots of money. Cash is the common denominator. We probably shouldn't be surprised.

I'm not defending the porn industry, and I don't want to poke too vigorously at the evangelicals since they represent a great deal of fish in a very small barrel. Besides, P.J O'Rourke nailed the barrel-fish much more succinctly in a piece in Holidays in Hell. In that case, it was an expose on the still-open Heritage USA, and those particular sacred fish probably wouldn't be slaughtered by a sworn Republican ever since Bush Jr. came in with his base.

Given the choice of being locked in a room with evangelists or pornographers, I'd leap out of the nearest window and take my chances with gravity. Failing that, evangelists would at least have the King James bible around so there'd be something decent to read. As for the pornographers, well, I'm sure there'd be something we could all do together.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


There was a half-filled container of very flat champagne in my freezer. It was dry and crisp out of the bottle on a Saturday night, but we have a 16 month old child. We get tired early and (heaven forbid) there is sometimes leftover champagne.

I put it into the freezer for a future dish, it could serve as a marinade or liven up a sauce. It kept company for with the back of an once-butterflied chicken, a few uneaten chicken legs from that same entrée, and some leftover sauce from a Moroccan dish (butter, cinnamon, cayenne, cilantro) which eventually was reduced and used to fry potatoes.

The very young Matthew decided that my homemade baby food is acceptable, but not as much fun as real, grown-up food with salt and spices. So be it. Sunday is going to be a cooking day, at least two dishes. Perhaps three. Thursday evening was a wild and capricious spree at the local vegetable market (c'mon, you've gotta find fun where you can), it’s winter and we need something warm and filling that survives freezing and remains nutritious and tasty for hungry parents or baby.

It all starts on Saturday night, Abby is on the laptop creating lesson plans and watching DVDs of Futurama. Matthew's asleep after little protest. I'm in the kitchen listening to mp3s of a BBC program about Bowie in his German stage, and Christopher Lee reading ‘The Exorcist’ (which works far better than you’d think). 12 cups of Brita water go into the heavy stockpot with the built in strainer along with two onions chopped into quarters, 3 cloves of garlic sliced thin, salt and pepper, 7 or 8 cloves.

I rinse the frost off the chicken back and legs, add a few carrots cut on the bias and a parsnip cut into cubes. Turn on the heat, cover, let steep for a few hours. When it tastes like a clove-ridden chicken stock, it goes in the fridge and I go to bed.

Sunday morning. Abby is off to teach people how to knit, I'm keeping up a lively dialogue with Matthew in his high chair while chopping vegetables. It's going to be a roasted vegetable lentil soup. Peppers, plum tomatoes, an eggplant, onions and garlic and yellow zucchini are quartered, drizzled with olive oil and put into the oven at 450 degrees or so. They sizzle and slowly caramelize as I take last night’s chicken stock out of the fridge. The excess fat has hardened and floated to the top, I remove it and lift the strainer. The solids to go recycling, the stock goes into knockoff tupperware and gets taken to the floor freezer downstairs.

While placing the stock, I look for inspiration. I find a solitary chicken breast and a few hot sausages looking forlorn in Ziploc. I'm convinced that they really must find a higher purpose.

I take them upstairs and drop them into a large stainless steel slow cooker. Now I’m committed. I root around the upstairs freezer and find some boneless chicken thighs. I rinse the frost off of three of them and chop roughly. There's a bag of new potatoes at the back of the fridge, I wash 7 or 8. They all go in the cooker along with carrots sliced on the bias, a few onions, the hot sausages (cut paper thin) and a yellow pepper that didn’t make it into the lentil prep. The last item is the frozen champagne, it should make a tasty sauce.

It needs something green and gets green beans from the freezer. Fresh would be better but we can’t have everything. Parsley (since there’s always parsley in the fridge) can be dropped in at the end, maybe with some chopped shallots, another burst of green to offset the yellow and orange of the peppers and carrots. I don’t add any oil since the sausages should be fatty enough to provide lots of flavour and the champagne should mellow and bring the flavours together.

Spices? Paprika. I had been thinking that the chicken, sausage, peppers and potatoes was sort of a Giambotte, but paprika will turn it into some kind of paprikash, which may or may not work with the ingredients; I remember the sausages were tasty, I don’t remember if they’d go with paprika. It might just taste like something designed to clear out the freezer. Or the slow cooking could steep all of the flavours into something new. I turn on the heat and forget about it for a few hours.

When the vegetables in the oven smell like they’re on just the right side of burnt I pull them out. They’ve browned but not blackened, the onions and garlic turned gold. I find another stock pot, add 15 or 16 cups of water and everything goes in except for the eggplant (which has to cool and have the pulp scraped from the black skin). The pot goes onto a hot burner, the water darkens around the rising sweet scent.

The young master requires lunch. I thaw a cube of Matthew's baby food (beef, zucchini and basil cooked together and run through a blender) and toss it with tiny pasta shells and a grind of black pepper. He finds the arrangement satisfactory, topping it off with the customary sippy-cup of milk. He munches on Arrowroots while I scrape the eggplant pulp and add it to the simmering stock.

Incidentally, I’m not listening to 'The Exorcist' at this point. I don’t think Matthew would understand a word of it, but anything that stuck around to come out in his first few conversations would be difficult to explain at a later date. And what toddler really needs to know the Roman rite of Exorcism or the works of Willam Peter Blatty?

Matthew seems quite content in his high chair with a board book (Go, Dog. Go!), so I start peeling potatoes. I’m going to get a caramelized leek and onion and potato soup out of today as well.

This one is the easiest. 5 large potatoes, cubed. One bunch of leeks, split and cleaned carefully. One fat cooking onion. Another stockpot, another 12 cups of water and it all cooks together at a low boil for 40 minutes or so.

On the next burner, the roasted vegetables have softened. I add cumin and cinnamon, more olive oil. I use a vegetable peeler and add long strips of carrots and parsnips which soften quickly in the hot stock.

I check out the slow cooker. The paprikash doesn’t look like a meal yet, it’s just thawing chicken and sausage and potatoes. But the onion and carrot seem to be getting along with the champagne, there’s a mild boozy scent that works with the paprika quite well and warm, sweet garlic steams out of the sausage. There’s no rush. There are literally hours to go.

The potatoes have softened and the stock tastes like leek and potato, simple and flavourful. I move it to the back burner and check out the other pot of roasted vegetables, using a hand blender to slowly puree the contents. In a few minutes the soup is thick and rich. It goes in the fridge to wait.

I drop a few tablespoons of unsalted butter into a hot frying pan and listen to it bubble as I mince onions, taking the pan off the burner just as it browns. This is a mistake, I wasn’t trying to brown the butter. In fact, the pan is so hot that I drop on the onion and it sizzles instantly. A few seconds later it’s a rich darkening brown. Lesson learned - you can quickly caramelize onions with brown butter that’s inches away from being burnt.

I let the onion cook in the butter at a lower heat until it looks deep brown and smells sweet. I take the potato leek stock out of the fridge, add the caramelized onion and puree it all together, adding a cup of milk. More pepper, a bit of nutmeg. There. Now it’s soup.

I let a pot of water boil and toss in 2 cups of brown lentils. They cook to al dente quickly (can you use al dente as applied to beans? I’m just trying to convey the fact that they’ve got a very slight chew, rather than turning to mush) and go into the pureed roasted vegetable. The second soup is done.

Both soups go into the fridge and I forget about them.

The slow cooker works on the paprikash, I take off the lid and turn up the heat. When Abby calls to say she’s on her way home, I put Matthew to bed, he casually pulls the blanet over his shoulder to say ‘that will be all’ before snoring. The paprikash bubbles and reduces, filling the house with onion and paprika. I add parsely and shallots before serving. It doesn’t taste like 5 different foodstuffs, it tastes like a meal.

Something has been accomplished. There are meals that will last for more than a week, stock for another wave of cooking. We can all eat the same dish and we’re not living on takeout and frozen pizza.

On a cold night in January it is enough.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Updated - It's the only example I know...

Sometimes you just have to do what you believe in. And over 20 years ago somebody felt it necessary to put their love of Toast to music. Everyone has an Everest, I guess.

C'mon. Name one other such musical tribute to an otherwise unsung foodstuff. Gotta admire the dedication, if not the results...

Full Stop

Having written my way into this 6 part remember-when, I have to tap-dance around the nature of memory and context and what is made irrelevant (and all that jazz) to get out of it. Parts I, II, III, IV and even V.

I never heard from Zelda again.

No calls, letters, or messages passed through mutual friends.

Geez, and after all that leadup...or not...

I’m relatively sure that she still walks the earth. Her options are many and varied. She could be respectably married. Or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aries (I don’t think she spoke Spanish or was into that kind of work, we’ll call that last supposition rather unlikely).

When it became obvious that I wasn't going to hear from her, I tried to be philosophical. Seduced and abandoned? Whatever. At least I got seduced, right? And up to a certain point in one’s development that represents at least half the battle.

I like to think that I’d passed that point a few years earlier, but I can’t honestly put a date on it without the fear of someone from my past screaming ‘Liar!’ with great conviction. So let’s just say that while the seduction part was great fun, it was not the overall objective for the day. Quite unexpected, as a matter of fact.

In the seduced and abandoned equation, the former is traditionally more fun than the latter (there are exceptions, but if abandonment turns out to be preferable to seduction, you really should have thought things out more clearly in the first place). I don't even think the label quite applies here, since I wasn't sure exactly who seduced who. It seemed mutually enthusiastic at the time. I couldn’t really claim ‘abandoned’ either, since it’s not like she took up residence in either physical or emotional terms.

I sent a few emails over the next month, pointedly harmless ones along the lines of I'm cool with whatever's happening, just let me know if you're okay, all of which were ignored. The hint was taken. I was still trying to figure out if I felt;

• Angry at being snubbed
• Guilty for putting her into an obviously unhappy state of mind
• Disappointed that a potential connection (weird as it was) had come to naught, or
• Relieved that I wasn’t expected to negotiate a long-distance relationship (which was an admittedly long shot to begin with)

I want to say that I shrugged it off, and for the most part I did. But I had gone into it in a lonely/fragile state of mind, and the radio silence left me feeling that I was being either blamed or punished for something (since it was all about me, right?), and that I at least deserved a letter suggesting that we never speak of this again. When you look forward to a letter like that, it’s easy to get petty.

And there was the voice. Something internal muttering You can't complain about something you were uncertain about in the first place. You can't feel both jilted and relieved. You can't feel guilty and slighted at once. These are contradictory emotions, don't you know anything? Categorize it and get back to work.

The voice had a point. And a Texas accent. I had seen The Fugitive a few months before and apparently my subconscious had decided that my nagging voice of reason sounded like Tommy Lee Jones. Fortunately this phenomena subsided before therapy was required.

Finally, despite priding myself as the kind of person to know when a door is shut (and not to whine about it), I blew it. I fired off a last snippy missive (at least it felt snippy at the time), that I only remember as something like Nobody tells me anything, sorry if this felt like a waste of time on your side. It sure as hell worked out that way over here. See you in seven years.

I'm not proud of the sulking. Or for my desire to put bookends around it. I walked away with the sinking feeling that this could have been avoided, and wasn't quite able to determine exactly what 'this' represented.

In the end, I liked Zelda. I was keenly aware that we might still be friends if that afternoon had stopped at a pot of coffee.

There’s a far happier coda to all this than you might expect – all points related to Zelda became irrelevant over the next few months. My life improved on most levels. The software firm was sold to a company with deep pockets and we got caught up on our paycheques. I stayed in Judy’s two-handed play and discovered that the female lead did not loathe me (she and I eventually got married and produced a child, which is another story entirely).

Any residual issues around Zelda - from 1987 to 1994 - faded. It felt vaguely embarrassing half a year later and I wondered why it had felt so important at the time. Which probably means it was all smoke and mirrors to begin with - I realized that it all felt too thin to get on a bus, Zelda felt it wasn't worth dignifying with a response. And the world goes on.

So...back to the nature of memory. Why remember anything about this, other than the fact it was the last event before everything changed for the better? That's probably enough. I think it was Freud (and if it’s Jung or somebody else, feel free to nail me) had some theory about the subconscious that said you can’t forget something until you actually remember it. You can’t throw something out from that pile of junk in your attic until you actually crawl up there and see what needs to go.

I keep stacks of letters dating back to university and high school, I’ve been threatened with death by certain friends if I ever publish the contents of anything they've written, even under pseudonym. This isn’t because they’re particularly revealing or even mildy saucy (ok…maybe a few) but because they’re over.

I keep them for the sense of perspective, aware that if I chuckle at the content sent to me I’ve got to cringe at what I sent out in the first place. Who wants to be reminded of what they thought was incredibly important 10, 15, 20 years ago? It’s this level of detente that regulates relationships with friends or lovers (especially past lovers), the tact that’s motivated by a mutually assured destruction. If you remind a good friend of that incredibly stupid thing they did six years ago (or sixteen years ago, or last weekend), they are perfectly entitled to say ‘Let me remind you about that time when you…’ and when the gloves come off, it isn’t pretty.

None of Zelda’s letters survived, although I don’t remember throwing them out. It obviously wasn’t something done with any great motivation.

The remaining snippets of Zelda linger because it's hard to figure out when the smoke and mirrors first fell into place. It doesn’t matter now. Didn’t matter much 6 months after the fact. But never knowing exactly why might be enough to keep it around, if only for the puzzle alone. For something to be there and gone, after all, it had to be there at least temporarily.

It’s that thing in a dusty box in the dark corner of that attic. You’re aware that it didn’t do you much good to start with. You don’t remember how it got there. You plan to get rid of it, but it never gets done. The thing itself remains unchanged.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Actual Happening

The case of the allegedly long-awaited activities in 1994 which were weird enough to remember. It started here, was continued here, kind of segued into this, found its way over to these here parts, and today's installment (part V if you believe it) is starting to wrap things up. We can hope, right?

So, asks the reader, what happened next? And when does it get a little blue?

A fine question. And this is a good time to seemingly leap topics and discuss the dark insidious nature of the 'dilettante'. Let's look at what the WordNet® entry at tells us about the word:

adjective 1. showing frivolous or superficial interest; amateurish; "his dilettantish efforts at painting"

noun 1. an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge [syn: dabbler]

My personal interpretation of a dilettante isn't someone who's necessarily a dabbler (not a shock coming from the former actor/film student/pianist, so feel free to whip a few stones back at this glass house as you will), but more as a manic enthusiast with an inflated sense of their own abilities and a short attention span. To wit: Waaay back when, I spent time in a small theatre company with a guy I'm going to call Kirk. At the time, he was all about the theatre, living and breathing it, not wanting to do the 'commercial' stuff (which included pretty much anything other than the back room and basement productions he was involved with).

On one occasion he led exercises for the company and pulled me out of the crowd to walk across the floor in character. And my character had to say goodbye to somebody but had no words to do it with. Okay. Maybe a bit flaky for those not used to such things, but not without a purpose.

I took a moment, found my personal space, developed an emotional memory (Stan, this one's for you), and...walked across the floor, as instructed.

He took a few moments to review the material. All 17 steps of it.

"What's that Mike?" he said, not unpleasantly but with an air of patronizing disappointment. "I mean...we could work on it. But I'm just seeing Mike walking. It's all I'm getting. I'm seeing steps, Mike. Those were just steps."

Ah. I realized I was not long for this theatre company, and would either jettison myself or be asked to leave since Kirk was a jerk. Or more precisely, out of his depth. I’m not saying that my 17 steps were misjudged exactly (maybe he wanted Chekhov and I was by some unforeseen error actually doing Ibsen, right?) but if the actual director of the company had asked for the same exercise, he'd work through it step by step, explain what he was looking for, give a few examples from Grotowski's living theatre, maybe cite a little Strindberg and how an actor walking across a floor in A Dream Play might want to do it...etc.

You can call this nitpicking or pretentious (and lord knows you’d have a case), but the director would at least have a rationale. Kirk was convinced that he could discern character from those 17 steps, and if you didn’t get it, well, you just didn’t get it the way he did. He was assuming a director’s attitude without the skill or dedication. And yeah, I was full of my own pretensions then and there, but I couldn't get past the idea that Kirk’s enhanced consciousness and love for all things theatrical was, shall we say, fleeting.

This is all moot – I got lucky a few weeks later and got a part in a rare professional gig. I left the company. Kirk lingered for awhile, lost interest, and got a job a few months later sweeping up hair at one of Toronto's better salons. He told a friend of mine that he was sure he'd be cutting hair in a few weeks, since that’s how you do things; You start sweeping up hair and you end up cutting it, working your way up. Not sure if that came to pass. I seem to remember that he was into mountain biking for awhile – the real, hardcore, lifestyle-choice kind of biking – but I could be wrong.

I’m flinging the karmic boomerang wide on this one, and when it whacks me on the rebound it’s all of my own doing. But the long-winded point is in that particular reading of dilettante. Fleeting enthusiasm with a self-righteous twist. It doesn't only have to relate the arts. Or politics, fashion, diet, religion, etc. It applies with diabolical precision to matters romantic.

And what can possibly be more romantic (and impossibly idealized) that the one who got away, or the one that could have been?

And with all that in mind...Zelda arrived two weeks after The Age of Innocence reared its ugly head. Unrelated, of course. At least unspoken. Her official explanation was that she came in to see her family, and I don’t quite have the ego to think she simply came in for me.

We went to a nearby pub and complained about life. She was feeling stuck in the University post-grad world with hours of lab work and snippy professors. Her on-again off-again boyfriend was deeper into off-again territory than she wanted. I talked about my breakup and the fact I had a resume expanding job with a software firm that looked great on paper but was, in reality, broke. Zelda was decidedly not broke. Even her starving student status had a six figured profession at the end of it if she didn’t drop out, which made me feel even more broke at the time.

All things considered, I shouldn’t have felt as badly as I did, even with the painful (but very necessary) breakup smouldering in the middle distance. I shared a great house with a working fireplace in a good part of town. I had a job that was paying me (occasionally) to do something that was actually related to my degree. So what if times were tight? And so what if the house was a fire trap with mice and the housecat had a spastic colon? (he did get better) You’re allowed to live like that at 25. As far as I’m concerned you’re allowed to live like that at 35 or 45 as well as long as you don’t complain about it or compel other people to be your roommate.

And yes, there was beer at the pub, but not that much. Less beer than coffee. After taking as much time as possible over lunch, she came back to my place for her car and said she’d only come in for a few minutes before heading back to Albany.

We sat in the living room over yet another pot of coffee and I told her that she was welcome to camp out with me when she came to town if she wanted to avoid her family. She finally announced that she had to go, and I stood up to hug her as she left . We kissed gently (shades of the lips-to-lips in 1987), but that goodbye kiss stretched itself out into something longer lasting and intimate.

Tentative, but unmistakably a kiss this time.

The kisses in fact became their own conversation, feeling very much like something which was a great change of pace from feeling lonely and miserable. It finally became obvious that we were both willing to investigate what other topics might be of mutual interest in a more comfortable and intimate setting.

And we did. Here's the point where it gets a little blue if you squint hard enough. Feel free to fill in your own details (you probably won’t be far from the truth), but it didn’t feel as lurid as all that. For a while at least, everything in that small sphere verged on the silent and beautiful.

And shortly thereafter, it all went to hell.

Zelda looked up at me after a long silence, wide-eyed and blank. “Michael, I feel so guilty,” she said.

This was the unwelcome Naked Lunch moment where you see exactly what is at the end of the fork, which in this case was Zelda looking scared and decidedly not happy to be where she was. God knows what she saw at the end of her fork. She had either decided that I was one hell of a mistake on her part (and really, who could argue?), or that the off-again boyfriend wasn’t as off-again as was previously reported. Or maybe a lovely combination of the two. The reasons didn't appear to be forthcoming just then, I didn't think it wise to press the issue.

Staying for dinner was apparently not an option. As she collected herself to leave, I tried to tell her that if the afternoon turned out to be that frantic tumble and a shy goodbye that you hear about in showtunes, that was fine. Drive back to Albany and if it isn’t too much trouble call me or write me in a few days and let me know what the hell is going on.

And for some reason she still found it wise to indulge in a lot of hot steamy kissing on the way down the stairs, despite that frightened look in her eyes. Which was a little scary in itself. By the time we reached the front door, I think that I said something like This seems to happen every seven years or so. If nothing else, explain it to me next time around, with tongue firmly in cheek (not hers).

She went around the back to get her car, and after a driving incident worthy of a silent movie (the alley between my house and the office next door was narrow, she’d decided to back out for reasons I can’t fathom), she drove away without the longing stare in my direction this time. I went back to bed a touch bewildered but not unhappy, relatively secure in the knowledge that I’d receive some kind of missive along the lines of ‘this changes things’ or ‘it was great fun, but…’ in a few days. Or weeks. Or sometime. No rush. Patience of crocodiles, me.

After all, we both knew what were doing. Consenting adults and all. Nouns notwithstanding.

Dilettante - noun 1. an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge [syn: dabbler]

3 days later, I’m at the Bus Depot, considering the Greyhound schedule to Albany. I hadn’t heard from Zelda, but what’s more joie de vivre than the pop-in? I wasn’t going to show up at her doorstep, I was going to get a Motel 6 room and announce my presence, we could meet or not as she pleased.

No guts no glory, right?

Methodical sort that I am, I wanted to know exactly why I would board that bus. Long-lost love? No, nothing that purple. Cheap thrills, maybe? Decidedly not. Genuine cheap thrills are only deceptively cheap (we all pay eventually), and if I was really in that state of mind I could probably have found cheap thrills among those I knew in Toronto with considerably less effort than crossing the 49th parallel. I weighed the possible scenarios:

• I check in to the motel, call Zelda. She meets me somewhere, explains that it was all a mistake, I spend a few days wandering Albany re-reading Ironweed.

• There's been some kind of convention and the motels are booked. Zelda doesn’t answer the phone. I shiver in the bus depot for 24hrs before coming back to Toronto with ‘loser’ tattooed on my forehead, having done nothing in Albany but shiver and visit a very disreputable tattoo parlour while under the influence of bad American beer.

• She falls into my arms (and motel room) for some more of the silence and all the trimmings that occurred on that rainy afternoon 3 days earlier.

• I stay home and wait to see what happens from the Canadian side.

For around 5 minutes, I considered flipping a coin.

And that was the tipping point.

I realized that if I was leaving this to a coin toss, it revealed a certain ambiguity on my part. And that was reason enough to stay home. It also pointed out the fact that I was primarily looking forward to a Motel 6 bedroom and a 3.5hr bus ride through upper New York state simply because it wasn’t Toronto.

I did not get on the bus.

I went to the late lamented Lindy’s for chopped steak with gravy on the side, fries and (very) canned peas, 2 dinner rolls, 2 pints of Heineken, 2 cups of coffee and a slice of coconut cream pie. A suitably David Lynch dinner to conclude the whole affair. Stuffed with 1950's food, I went home for the sleep of the just.

Just something, at least.

Zelda and I would or would not get in touch with each other. There was something between us, or was not. Simple as that.

Very simple, as a matter of fact.

We're almost done. The next part closes this book.

Click here for part IV, aka Full Stop.

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