Friday, September 18, 2009

Expiation: Part Two

Continued from Expiation: Part One

If I'm going to maintain my DH Lawrence snake thread, we should probably return to old DH flitting about in his garden in pyjamas for the heat freaking out about a snake (hey, I just report the poems). But let's drop that and bring Zoltan back for a moment. Why not? He likes to keep busy.

A few days after our dinner, I posted the first part of this story. Recollection. Account. Whatever. Wanting to give credit where credit is due (and to thank him for installing a dimmer switch in my criminally overlit living room), I emailed him with this:

I quoted you. Dammit. “You’re a writer, you can write anything you want” actually broke my writer’s block so, er, thanks. And I'll get better beer next time.

Yah, I already know - I already read it (off a link from Elora's blog). Glad to be of service. I won't even correct the factual errors in the entry, 'cause after all, it's your piece, not mine...and a fine piece it is. Don't worry about the beer, BTW - I'm not a beer snob, it was fine. We'll get together and wire your basement.

Yeah. It's one of a series. I'm just trying to drag some...wait a second...Elora LINKED to it??? Er...under what pretences?

It read like this: "High School. It haunts, us, Precioussss. I've been written about." And Hannah left a comment saying "Good lord. He's put himself as protagonist! How cute. Well, I guess when you're the author you're permitted." So there ya go. Make of it what you will.

I had/have no idea what to make of that. Putting something onto the internet is a public act, but this blog has so few readers (present company excepted) that I was relatively sure nobody but the cast of that particular casual comedy would be reading. I received 135 hits on the day Elora linked to the story, 65 the day after. This proves a few things:

a. People need hobbies. Present company included.

b. I now have an audience of largely indifferent readers or a few web spiders. I'd started writing all this for the amusement of a few of the people involved; it's odd knowing it went out to the (alleged) masses.

c. I don't care if the unwashed throng find out that I was a jerk at the age of fifteen (it's pretty much a black hole for most people), but confirming that I'm a hack writer at forty would be both annoying for the readers and damned depressing to me.

d. Most irritatingly, now I have to finish the damn thing. DH Lawrence and all.

e. There is a point to all the Lawrence quotes, believe it or not. They'll come back. Be patient.

f. Shall we begin?

"The beginning is a very delicate time," to quote Frank Herbert's Dune. Still with me? Then maybe you're up for a fast-track from 1984 to the present day. Here's what I had planned to post:

Elora and I went to see Dune. The Lynch version. The not-so-great Lynch version. It has its defenders (I reluctantly count myself among them) because it looks like the only Edwardian sci-fi spectacular put to film. But the script is pretentious when it isn't incoherent, and the few moment of genuine all-out inspired weirdness and vision are few and far between.

I'd found the poster art and everything. The good poster, the pre-release version that I coveted at fifteen. The piece was going to be followed-up with an account of what happened post-movie. However, it all got blown to hell during a chat with Elora.

I'm trying to write about seeing Dune.

I remember Dune. Ruby had tickets to the premiere, a bunch of us went. It was on TV the other day. I recorded it just to watch Sting and that levitating fat guy.

You saw it twice. I saw it with you sans Ruby.

we sat in the front row of the balcony, right?

Uh...not sure...I think I saw it with you alone.

You date?

Sorta kinda.

Honesty? I don't remember seeing a movie with you alone. Sorry, that really sucks. I don't remember much of my high school. They are pretty buried.

They were that bad? Or were they just uh, not-there? I've lost years to not-thereitude.

A bit of both.

A gentleman never asks.

When I started high school, my mother was so excited and said "Oh, darling! These are going to be the best years of your life!" And after I survived grade 10 I thought, my god. If these are the best years, just kill me now.

Not an uncommon state of mind for anyone actually enduring high school, so I suppose in some karmic/relativist sense it's almost a relief to leave those hallowed hallways and discover that, pretty much without fail, the rest of the world can also suck. At least everyone gets it in the end. But I digress.

So my narrative's screwed, especially that running theme about how some things stick in your mind for years. I have no idea when the fiction about having seen Dune with Elora came into being. Long enough after the fact to have associated the time with the recently released flick, I guess. For that matter, maybe she's wrong and we did see it and she's the one with the fractured narrative. In the piece she's not writing.

Never mind. Skip the Dune angle. Leave it at Elora coming to my place after an evening of something-or-another. It had to have been a movie or a play, we were in the same theatre class and had to review a few shows each year for credit. I suppose that doesn't make it an official 'date' by whatever rules of purdah were going at the time. I know that I hadn't gone out with Hannah that evening because a) I'd done something to piss her off or b) she'd done something to piss me off. I remember the low-level pissy but not the cause of same.

So I was out with Elora, not as second-choice but because I liked her and she looked like she'd want to drink peppermint tea at my house before calling a cab to go home. It would have been shortly before my birthday, I was around fifteen. I think Elora was younger. It was all going to be about tea.

Another Facebook chat:

I've been trying to listen to Don McLean to write about when I wanted to listen to Don McLean. The expression 'of its time' comes to mind.

The first time I heard Don McLean was in your bedroom.

I've got to follow that one up, don't I?

It sounds far more interesting than what actually came to pass. I don't remember playing Don McLean, although I'd gotten into American Pie and Vincent a few months before thanks to a shortwave radio and very long summer nights while vacationing in a small farming town. Nothing else to do but listen to obscure radio stations who were playing a lot of Don McLean. Even in the early 80's. Go figure.

The thing is; I don't remember playing it that evening. I might have given it to her on a mix tape. Or it might have been on the mix tape that was playing on the cheap Radio Shack repeating tape deck beside my bed.

And now I've got to follow that up as well. We weren't in my bed. We probably could have gotten away with it; the peppermint tea had been drained and my parents had gone to bed offering cab fare for Elora for later (safety conscious as always) so were were alone and flopped on said bed, listening to the mix tape which was heavy on Genesis (the self-titled album). Rather like the McLean, call it of its time. Just because one can hire the horn section from Earth, Wind and Fire doesn't mean that one should.

And - as the most frequent excuse goes - we weren't doing anything. Seriously. We were just talking. Probably about movies or Jabberwocky (she knew the poem by heart) or whatever scene-study we were working on at school. Every half hour the tape deck would click loudly as it reversed and played the second side, so I was aware of the passage of time only by that sound.

It was late; we were very tired. I had my head propped up on my arm, her head was on a pillow. I didn't want to call her a cab. I wanted to stay chatting and warm and dozy with her. And then I wanted to kiss her. Which (considering I had recently been kissing one of her friends and was designated to kiss one of her other friends) was probably not a wise thing to do.

I was fifteen. I kissed her and waited to be pleasantly told not to kiss her again. Or to be hit. I had actually kissed enough girls at that point in my life without being hit to have skipped fixating on that possibility, but these things happened. I thought she was lovely and had never noticed it before and had to kiss her again.

(Somebody commented on Elora's haircut in a recent Facebook photo; she said her hair hadn't been so short since she was fifteen. Another commentor told her she'd been 'all purdy' at fifteen, she followed it up with "Not purdy. I just learned good how to Fake It™." Regardless: I realized that evening that I'd always thought she was lovely.)

The rest is a blur. We kissed for a long time, slow and drifting. I had forgotten the fact that I'd never thought Elora would want to end up kissing me. We were decidedly different people. She'd lived on kibbutz one summer, I'd attended Parkway Bible Church's youth group the summer before. By all accounts, they were very different experiences.

More time. The tape deck would click and reverse and I'd think my god it must be late or that Genesis' Illegal Alien was not a make-out song. But it wasn't a make-out tape. Just circumstance. And pretty harmless, all things considered. Two fifteen year olds lying around kissing on a cold December night.

I was shivering, despite the warm room and being so close to Elora.

I said, "I can't stop shaking."

She whispered, "Poor little boy," between kisses.

A mess of pop culture fills the rest. Genesis and Don McLean and probably the Doors' Dance on Fire live album and John Cougar Mellencamp's Uh-Huh tracks all on one mix tape. And a copy (of all things) of Brideshead Revisited on my bedside table, an early birthday present from my Anglophile sister who'd loved the miniseries. At some point I realized that kissing - really wanting to be kissing - Elora was probably going to cause some kind of trouble, but I don't remember if I actually quoted or just wanted to quote Brideshead with "Where can we hide in fair weather, we, the orphans of the storm?" wistfully.

I was a drama student, remember?

Eventually it was 4am and we were holding onto each other at my front door, still kissing, waiting for a cab. We didn't say much. The kisses seemed far more important. I didn't know if they were going to be forgotten or followed-up or kept quiet or if it was all a really a bad idea. And as previously mentioned, decades later it doesn't matter and nobody cares. Point taken. But just for amusement's sake, keep an eye on the kid at the door. If any number of after-school specials or Archie comics from his earlier youth were to be believed (and he was relatively sure they were), everything would work out okay.

What could go wrong? He'd just spent a few weeks happily kissing a pretty babyfaced girl and had just spent the evening kissing a different girl who he never knew he wanted to kiss before that evening. Unexpected, yes. But nothing earth-shattering. This'll work out fine, he thought going off to bed, warm and sleepy and intoxicated with tea and kisses.

Yeah. Right.

Continued at Expiation: Entr'acte

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meant something to somebody

It was not, as far as I could figure, about me. I’m 40. There’s grey in my beard and what’s affectionately referred to as ‘dignified grey’ around my temples. The salt and pepper look is still dominated by pepper but appears to be heading in salt’s favour.

I’m standing on a crowded subway train at 7:45am. I'm wearing the low-impact business-casual chinos and golf shirt most often worn by men who didn’t get any ironing done because they’ve spent the previous evening with a three year old who didn’t want to go to bed. I’m reading a PDF of the screenplay of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and listening to an mp3 of ‘Peter Cook: In his own words’ on a smartphone.

In short, I am not the portrait of malice, toughness, danger, intimidation or chip-on-my-shoulder-what-are-you-looking-at thuggery. I’m a guy propped up against the back of the subway car in pre-rush hour traffic trying not to be bored. When the train stops at Chester station, a few seats become free. I head towards an open seat just as an older guy (I’d put him at 60 or so, balding, tall, white-haired here and there) has the same idea.

We both stop. I look at him, look at the seat, decide that he probably saw the seat a microsecond before I did. I back up one half-step and offer the universally accepted ‘It’s all yours’ nod in his direction. With that, as far as I'm concerned, the transaction (which takes approximately 4 seconds) is over.

I lean back against the wall and continue reading Fear and Loathing and listen to Peter Cook answer questions about how he spent his school days (“avoiding buggery” got a big laugh from the studio audience) when the older guy says “No. This is your seat,” in my direction, far too loudly for such a simple statement. Not quite a scream but incredibly close to it.

I look at him. Everyone looks at him. Let’s just say it’s very clear that he’s perturbed, like somebody who feels deeply intimidated and is offering a little pushback. As previously mentioned, I’m the last person to intimidate anyone on the train. But it’s apparently willed where what was willed must be that I’m going to take that seat, damnit. He looks impossibly upset that I’m not sitting down and seems quite sure that the situation has to be resolved as soon as possible.

You could look at it as an almost-interesting study of group dynamics: a bunch of people in a relatively tight space, somebody raises their voice an octave too high for normal chit-chat and the whole of the situation is no longer normal. Tired and cranky people in enclosed spaces like normality. The car abruptly became a balance between people eagerly thinking ‘Is there going to be a scene?’ and those trying to disappear into their Metro newspapers and pretend nothing was happening. For a second, I wonder exactly what will happen if I don’t take the seat.

Sanity prevails: this isn’t worth any further effort. It isn’t Pelham 1-2-3 or The Incident or even a screaming match in embryo. I sit down, continue reading Thompson, return to listening to the droll Mr. Cook. The 60-year-old calms down a bit and looks around at everyone looking at him. Another division; people thinking What the hell? or All he had to do was take the seat, is that so much to ask?

45 seconds later, everyone is bored by the non-incident. He stares out the window; the locals go back to staring at their shoes. The crowds thin out at Bloor station without incident. And somewhere, some sixty-year-old gentleman is secure in the knowledge that the right seat went to the right person. Damned if I know why it was important to him. I wasn't privy to the conversation that he believed we were having.

You’re taking the seat because I’m not that old and I don’t need it. You’re taking it because I don’t take charity. You don’t have the common courtesy to look me in the eye when I’m speaking to you, take the seat. Take those godamned earphones out of your ears and take the seat. You’ll take it because I told you to. Ad nauseum.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Circus (again)

Bryant vs. Sheppard. From today's Toronto Star:

"A cadre of cyclists assembled at the spot Tuesday night, blocking traffic and screaming, 'Murder!'"

Yeah. That just helps everyone, doesn't it?

The press at large is doing pretty much the same thing. Christie Blatchford has stopped writing about her dog just long enough to write a not-uninteresting piece about road rage without pointing a finger at Bryant or Sheppard (the Globe's RSS or a clever editor linked-back to a piece by Marcus Gee about cyclists needing to obey rules of the road). Adam Radwanski has decided its a good time to discuss Bryant's Type-A personality traits and his own 'misspent Liberal youth' because, hey, there's no better time, right? Somebody has already taken a swipe at Bryant's Wiki page on behalf of the Shared Highways In Toronto group (think about it).

NOW magazine has offered a thumbnail of the case and a thoughtful (or ghoulish) link to the Dearly Departed Cyclist map for Toronto. The Rabble boards are pumping out exactly what you'd expect, with three comments that pretty much sum up the rest of the street-level speculation about the incident:

" do not keep driving down the street with someone attached to your

"What if that person 'attached' to the vehicle is actually hanging on and punching you?"

"This is the hot button to end all hot buttons for me. I couldn't sleep for wanting to torture the driver last night (as in killing would be too quick).It takes some pretty hard rational thinking for me to control this reaction."

Noise, noise, noise. Did Bryant get special treatment from the cops, or was he just smart and lawyerly enough to keep quiet and agree to a list of conditions? Sheppard had arrest warrants out for him in another province, does that have anything to do with him being hit by a car? Is this incident a good excuse to take a swipe at Miller and McGuinty? (DRDon in the Post couldn't resist).

How about this: Sheppard had friends who think it's a good idea to shut down an intersection. Bryant has pockets deep enough to get a PR firm on his side on very short notice. The rest is on surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts. Nobody knows a thing.

Present company included.

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