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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