Browsing Tag

Memoir

Books, Criticism, Seen & Heard

Death By Champagne: Nanaimo Girl

June 16, 2020

“Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?”
– The Beatles

§ § §

wtgwg-nanaimo-coverPrudence Emery is the eponymous “Nanaimo Girl.”

Now in her early 80s and living on her native Vancouver Island just outside Victoria, Pru has written a memoir that is quite astonishing in its detail. While recounting events that chronicle her personal life, the reader is left with a dizzying array of interlocking stories that culminate in – if you’ll excuse the phrase – one hell of a life.

The book follows an ‘everyone is from somewhere’ thread, and this book, this woman’s life, unspools its thread beginning in “…a murky little coal town…”

“…in a lifetime of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous,
almost no one I met had heard of Nanaimo…”

wtgwg-nanaimo-baby-dancer

Pru as a young entertainer

And so her story begins, and rich and famous they were!

By her own admission, she “…behaved so badly…” as a child, she was sent off to a boarding school (twice) to learn her manners. Her first tastes of life outside the clutches of parental control gave her free reign to push envelopes and test boundaries. She was precocious to a fault, but her ‘antics’ still managed to earn her ‘black marks’ in school and scowls from her elders. Despite her rebellious ways, she graduated grade 12 in the mid-1950s with a B+ average and was promptly ‘launched into society’ as a debutante. Not bad for a girl who was once slapped by a teacher, the result of one of her escapades.

After a short stint at the University of British Columbia, Pru had had enough. She packed her belongings into two trunks, and with her best friend, shipped off to Europe.

Her decision to drop anchor in London after a whirlwind tour of the continent would serve her well for the rest of her peripatetic career, for it was here that the ‘rubbing of shoulders’ began in earnest.

Although attending art school during the day, it was during her ‘wild evenings’ in the pubs of Chelsea and Covent Garden that she met Irish screenwriter Patrick Kirwan. He gave Pru her first real job in the film business, typing a script for the musical comedy feature, “Tommy and the Toreador,” starring pop star Tommy Steele, and British stalwarts Sidney James and Bernard Cribbins. Pru and Patrick hit it off, and he soon became her mentor, a mentor with ‘benefits,’ shall we say.

Her time with Patrick was fruitful. He introduced her to the prestigious Irish Club in Eaton Square and squired her to the Royal Ascot. The connections she began making would go into a Rolodex that would soon become the foundation of her professional life.

Those early personal and business contacts, however, did not immediately help generate income. Pru remained ‘an impoverished London art student’ until she one day landed a job as a barmaid at the famous le Pétit Club Français. Not a high paying position, but her contact list grew.

wtgwg-nanaimo-sophia

Pru with Sophia Loren

In the Spring of 1962, after five years in London, Nanaimo Girl returned to Canada and decided to try her hand as a proofreader at The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto. Then she landed a job working on animated films in Ottawa for Canadian film icon, Budge Crawley. She loved the film business, and so she pursued acting, finding herself in movies directed by Irvin Kershner (who would go on to make The Empire Strikes Back) and working with actor/author Robert Shaw who still had Jaws and The Sting to add to his resume.

Her people skills were amiable and infectious, and those in high places remembered. It led to Pru being employed in Visitor Services for Expo 67. It was her job to escort VIPs around the huge Montreal site. The list of those famous people is a literal Who’s Who of the day: Liberace, Hugh Hefner, Twiggy, Haley Mills, Jack Benny, Marlene Dietrich, Glenn Gould, David Frost, and even the leader of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. But it was playwright Edward Albee and one prominent Soviet journalist who had the most impact on Pru’s life. Albee, who had already received a Pulitzer Prize for his play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would become a lifelong friend, and the reporter from the Russian wire service TASS (who may or may not have been a KGB spy) became her lover.

Pru with playwright Edward Albee

Pru with playwright Edward Albee

It’s been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. While Prudence isn’t entirely convinced of the former, she has had oodles of the latter and capitalized on it. When Expo 67 closed, she took an extended vacation back in London to relax and catch-up with old friends.

One day over a cup of tea, the father of a family friend, knowing her background, asked her if she’d like to be a press and public relations officer at his hotel. He was the Managing Director of The Savoy, one of the most luxurious and famous hotels in the world. She yes, of course, and her stories during the five years she spent as Head of PR with The Savoy are among the most entertaining in the book.

The final act of Nanaimo Girl’s professional career began with her requisite ‘rubbing of shoulders’. Back in Toronto, she was interviewed for the freelance job of Unit Publicist on a Canadian feature film. But not just any feature film. Black Christmas would eventually gain cult status and remains one of the most successful Canadian films ever made.

Although Pru would navigate many other career moves, it was filmmaking that she found herself best suited for, and it was, after all, where her contacts sent her.

Beginning in 1975, Nanaimo Girl started work as a publicist on her second film, and there was no turning back. She never accepted a permanent job again. Her work for another Canadian film icon, David Cronenberg, put her name on the map as the ‘go-to’ film publicist. Over the next thirty-five years, Pru would work as Unit Publicist on one hundred and twenty film and television productions, ten of those for Cronenberg. Her motion picture career, although based in Canada, would take her around the world several times, and allow her to work with some of the biggest names in international cinema. Her stories and anecdotes during this period are illuminating, with many falling between amusing and hysterical.

Author Prudence Emery

Author Prudence Emery

After a dizzying professional career spanning some 60 years, Prudence celebrated her 80th birthday in 2016 back home in Victoria. While she is reflective of those years ‘rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous,’ she reveals neither conceit nor false modesty in her remembrances. Even Pru’s love life that “…bobbed like a duck in a storm…” doesn’t escape her self-deprecating pen.

One of the best sections of this memoir is entitled, “Turning Eighty.” It should be required reading for anyone over the age of fifty, if only as a primer for their later years.

Memoirs, as with all forms of autobiography, are complicated animals, good ones even more so. Many historical accounts of a personal nature, written and verbal, tend to drift into ‘I went here, I saw this, I did that’ – “Nanaimo Girl” is no different. What sets Pru’s entertaining stories apart, however, is that there are so many of them. The result is that the reader finds themselves asking… Where’s she going? What’s she doing? What happens next? And of course, that’s the perfect chemistry of a page-turner.

The Beatles once sang: “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?” And play she did. What a life!

NANAIMO GIRL
A Memoir
Author: Prudence Emery
Cormorant Books
ISBN: 9781770865273

§ § §

This book review first appeared in The Ormsby Review #809 – April 25, 2020

Music, Personal, Seen & Heard

Ten In Ten

June 10, 2020

“And you’re a prima ballerina on a Spring afternoon
Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon…”
– New York Dolls

§ § §

I’m sure most of you have been introduced to the ’10 Albums In 10 Days’ meme that has been running through Faceplant for the past couple of months. This challenge of ‘life-altering’ music influences is designed to tell others all about you through your choices, I suppose, to generate some insight into your personality through your musical tastes. My issue with the whole ‘challenge’ is I’ve never really adopted ‘albums,’ per se, as a yardstick for my music appreciation. Songs, yes; individual songs from albums, usually the ones that weren’t released as singles, as it turns out. For this reason, I didn’t accept the multitude of challenges offered to me over the past months (sorry). And history has borne me out. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by…” and all that.

When Audio Dynamics released the Accutrac 4000 turntable in the late 1970s, I bought one and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was the first programmable record player. Attached to the turntable by a long cable was a silver globe marketed as a ‘wireless remote unit’ that worked in concert with its own handheld remote control. You could not only program which cuts you wanted to listen to and skip those you didn’t, but you could also play them in any order and even replay your entire ‘personal’ song list. The only feature missing was its inability to turn the record over!

napster-logoAlong comes Napster in 1999, and the world of cherry-picking what you wanted had arrived. This web app was crazy controversial, not least because stealing copy-written material – which is how it was viewed by many – was illegal. Regardless, millions upon millions of songs were downloaded to hard drives all over the world. Like it or not, Napster, and other ‘media services,’ increased sales in home computers and escalated the R&D into broadband technology exponentially. Only pornography had a more significant impact! MP3 players were soon all the rage. Consumers were impressed. Steve Jobs certainly was.

original-ipodTwo years later, Apple debuted the iPod and iTunes, with a purchase plan that allowed individual songs (or entire albums) to be downloaded for 99¢ a song. (Remember “Rip. Mix. Burn”…?) Artists like Metallica and others were incensed that their record production and sales business model was being usurped, and legal action was threatened. Record music executives and producers followed suit. Until it was revealed that Jobs had negotiated an output deal with many of the record labels that guaranteed them a big slice of the action. That guarantee was predicated on realizing big sales. Apple sold over one million individual songs the first week. The Beatles, who had a long-standing legal battle with Apple Computers over their very name (Apple Corps. Ltd.), refused to allow any of their music onto iTunes. When they buried the hatchet some years later, the band sold over two million individual songs in their first week.

To this day, individual cuts – with a few exceptions – is the way I decide on my music.

However, in transferring some new music to my iPhone recently, I discovered that, yes, there are indeed entire discs that grabbed my attention back then and even now – perhaps more so now.

You won’t find any Led Zeppelin or Allman Brothers or CS&N (with or without Y) or Elton John or any number of others who could easily be part of my personal ‘hit’ list. But these ten albums DID have a big impact on me, especially over time. And to me, they continue to be timeless.

So, all you’ll get from me is esoterica!

In no specific order of likability (only chronologically), I will begin at the beginning.

§ § §

01-santana-abraxas1 of 10 – Santana – Abraxas – 1970

Santana blew the music world apart during their appearances at Woodstock and Altamont, with this seminal album still more than a year away. They were and are legendary performances. For an album that is fifty years old, Abraxas continues to amaze, especially if played particularly loud! And danced to. A lot. There must be dancing!

 

02-carole-king-tapestry2 of 10 – Tapestry – Carole King – 1971

When this album was released it surprised just about everyone. Consumers didn’t really know who she was, and the music industry knew her only as a writer. As half of the powerhouse songwriting duo Goffin and King, she was responsible for many popular rock and pop hits during the 1950s and 1960s. Tapestry solidified her place as a talented solo singer and performer as well. A position she maintains to this day. This record was a birthday gift from a girlfriend. I’ve owned it on vinyl (twice), cassette, and CD.

 

03-deep-purple-machine-head3 of 10 – Machine Head – Deep Purple – 1972

I went to a very large high school in grade 9 – a couple of thousand kids in a multi-building, multi-block complex in the centre of town. As such, lunch hours were staggered so as to accommodate hundreds of students in our massive cafeteria. Central to that cafe was the jukebox. And central to that jukebox was ’Smoke On The Water’. No self-respecting kid who had a turntable (and who didn’t?!) had to have a copy of this album. Many’s the day when we trudged back to class with the strains of ‘Highway Star’ or ‘Space Truckin’ blasting in the background.

 

04-new-york-dolls4 of 10 – New York Dolls – Self Titled 1st Album – 1973

The first time I heard ‘Personality Crisis’ I sank my teeth into any music coming out of New York City: The Dolls, The Ramones, The Stooges, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed… anything. I was lucky to have an independent record store in my home town that carried ‘esoteric vinyl’ – that’s what they called it. No Mantovani rubbing sleeves with Montrose in those stacks! In February 1982, I found myself in NYC on a mixed business/pleasure sojourn. I had one night all to myself, and I chose CBGB as my destination. Blondie was playing. By then they were almost the house band. No one knew it, but this would be one of the last public performances of the band before they split later in the year. What a trip! The stars were out that night. A mix of proto punk, punk, and post punk royalty: at least two Ramones, Tina Weymouth (with fleeting glimpses of David Byrne), Patti Smith, Fred Schneider (B-52s), and propped up in one corner, David Johansen. The Dolls were history, and his alter ego, Buster Poindexter, was still a handful of years away from achieving fame with ‘Hot! Hot! Hot!’. However, his songwriting and performing style kept him in the limelight, even opening as a solo act for The Who.

05-rush-21125 of 10 – 2112 – Rush – 1976

There aren’t many positive memories of growing up in Southwestern Ontario during the 1960s and early 1970s. Highway 401 leaving town in two directions might have been one of them. But fairly often another plus would raise its head. In grades 9 and 10 we had the pleasure of being the guinea pigs for an amazing rock and roll band named RUSH. The members were only a couple of years older than us, and they’d play any high school in the region that would have them – everyone did. High school dances with RUSH in attendance were always major parties. They were loud and tight, and drummer John Rutsey (pre-Neil Peart days) was a thrasher. Alex Lifeson’s guitar was amazing, and Geddy Lee’s high-pitched ‘Robert Plant-style’ vocals brought the house down. Everyone who heard and saw them up close knew they were set to explode. RUSH went from our high school gym to touring the U.S. as an opening act for some of the biggest rock names in history seemingly overnight. But when they toured much of Canada opening for KISS in their first Canadian visit they sometimes played two encores – unheard of! Their concept album, 2112, solidified their place in rock history and in the Hall of Fame.

06-al-stewart-year-of-the-cat6 of 10 – Year Of The Cat – Al Stewart – 1976

This may be the best produced album I’ve ever heard. It was blessed from the beginning by Stewart’s lilting lyrical style, expert musicianship, and overall sound. It was recorded in The Beatles old studio at Abbey Road, produced by Alan Parsons, and the album art was created by award-winning Hipgnosis (Wings, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, Genesis, ELO, and many others). It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Just play the record!

 

07-kate-bush-the-kick-inside7 of 10 – The Kick Inside – Kate Bush – 1978

This was Kate’s debut album and it serves not only as a perfect introduction for all that came later, it contains many of her best songs. I first heard ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ on the radio on a Friday. The next morning I discovered that she was the musical guest that night on Saturday Night Live (then called only NBC’s Saturday Night). After that I was hooked and I have been ever since. Desert island, the music of only one musical artist allowed = Kate Bush. In Spring 1984, I went to the UK and plunked myself down in a small apartment in Camden Town in London. Upon dropping my bags I went out for a walk and popped into a pub at the end of my street called, The Spread Eagle (I shit you not!) After a couple of pints I wandered a bit passing by a music venue of some description. Kate Bush had performed there the night before. I may have cried myself to sleep.

08-warren-zevon-excitable-boy8 of 10 – Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon – 1978

Anyone who associates Zevon with ONLY ‘Werewolves Of London’ is not only missing the point, but a plethora of other memorable, lyrically poignant songs. His songs were quirky, funny, heartfelt, painful, and indelible. I saw him in concert twice – once at the Troubadour in L.A. in the 70s, and again here in Vancouver in the 80s. Each of his records revealed a new twist in his outlook on life, never more prevalent than his last three albums, ‘Life’ll Kill Ya’, ‘My Ride’s Here’, and ‘The Wind’ all recorded when he knew he was dying. His final public appearance with David Letterman is absolutely heartbreaking. But his music still resonates. This is a great album.

 

09-joe-jackson-im-the-man9 of 10 – I’m The Man – Joe Jackson – 1979

Another one of those albums that just manages to strike a perfect note. So much talent in a classically trained musician who drifted into New Wave and then into jazz-influenced music. I saw Joe in April 1995 on a first date night with a woman who was ga-ga for him. It may have been the only thing we had in common in retrospect. He had brought his largely acoustic ’Night Music Tour’ to the Orpheum, and we had fantastic seats. He was late taking the stage and when he appeared to thunderous applause he did so with a scarf wrapped several times around his throat. He had contracted a throat infection a couple of days earlier while traveling from Calgary, his previous stop. He apologized to the sold out crowd and offered a choice – he could continue as far as he could with his voice in tatters, or reschedule for a later date. We unanimously chose the performance. A piano, a sax, and an upright bass, and one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

10-ofra-harnoy-vivaldi-cello-concertos10 of 10 – Vivaldi Cello Concertos Vol. 2 – Ofra Harnoy – 1989

Ofra Harnoy is not as well-known as she should be. An Israeli-Canadian her cello recitals are works of art, and her concerts are always sold out. She has been nominated for six Juno Awards, winning five. This album holds a special place in my heart as it was the soundtrack for a three-week romantic stay in Italy with a girlfriend. For a time we decamped at a renovated Tuscan farmhouse midway between Arezzo and the ancient fortified hill town of Cortona. Occasionally, we would venture out for coffee, dinner, shopping, or sightseeing, and this CD would be our guide. We laughingly decided one day that we would put the CD on shuffle, start the music as we hit the backroads, and stop… for the view as soon as the individual piece finished. There are 21 cuts on this album – some short, some long – so we were never sure where we would end up. Hell of a way to experience Tuscany! I highly recommend it.

Kirk out!

Personal

Holding Coffee

September 25, 2016

“That’s all I’m going to tell about.
I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all,
and what school I’m supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don’t feel like it. I really don’t.
That stuff doesn’t interest me too much right now.”
– Holden Caulfield, ‘The Catcher In The Rye’

§ § §

When I was just two days short of graduating from Grade 8, anticipating not just the end of public school, but Summer holidays and then high school life with my fellow geeks, dweebs and pencil necks, my teacher gave all of us one last assignment.

“Your life is about to change forever,” Mr. Andrews said.

Shit! If there’s anything worse than parents attempting the ‘birds and the bees’ dialectic, it’s one of your so-called elders telling you that ‘your life is about to change forever’ while they look wistfully out the window to the horizon, and you sit there praying for the bell that can never come soon enough.

“I have one last assignment for you,” he said, barely getting the sentence out before groans of ‘You’ve got to be kidding’, and ‘Give us a break’ drowned him out.

“Quiet down,” he said. “Seriously. You’ll all thank me for this when you’re older and have kids of your own.”

Oh, where’s the fucking bell?!

Mr. Andrews continued. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Okay – he had our attention now.

“Your grades are already locked, and you all passed. But I’d like you to do it. I think you’ll find it an interesting exercise.”

Futility 101 here I come.

“I want you to take a pen and a piece of paper and write the first page of your personal autobiography.”

What the…?! Excuse me?!

“Pretend you’re 30 years old,” he said. More groans. “Holden Caulfield all grown up. Looking back on your life so far… what’s your story – your story so far?”

Terry leaned over to me and whispered, “What the fuck’s Holding Coffee? What’s he talking about…?” Reading The Catcher In The Rye wasn’t compulsory and was still a few years off for some of us. I hadn’t read it, but I had a copy I’d received as a birthday present from a distant relative.

“What would that first page look like if you wrote it… looking back on a life you haven’t lived yet?” Mr. Andrews turned finally to face the dumbfounded class. He paused, looking at us, then laughed the way he always did when he said something intellectual, something he knew was above everyone’s heads.

“Let’s simplify it.” He switched into full-tilt teacher mode, marching around the room, making points with his right index finger as he spoke in teacher sentences.

“What are your dreams – now? What do you want to do? What do you want to be? If you looked back over your life, then, what do you think you’d see, now…?”

They were rhetorical questions. We were all 13 or 14 years old – we had no fucking idea who we were nor what we wanted to be. OUT, was what we wanted to be. Out of there. Running across the school yard to the river. Hanging out under the bridge and trying to guess the make of the cars by the sound they made as they traveled on the overhead snow grate.

The ‘rest of our lives’ was more than two months away. It was summer, school was over, and we wanted out. Over and out – that’s all we were thinking, that hot late afternoon in June.

The bell rang. There is a God! We all gave silent praise. But no one moved.

Mr. Andrew’s right index finger had one more point to make.

“Think about it… what was your life like? What did you do? What did you become?” He paused for effect. “What did you accomplish…?”

Susan broke the silence. “Can we… go now…?”

“See you all tomorrow,” he said, barely completing the sentence before the sound of scraping desks and stomping shoe leather drowned him out.

“LAST DAY!” he yelled after us. We thought as one: Too fucking right!

Our class joined a few hundred other kids from all grades as we ran across the school yard to the river and the bridge.

“Are you gonna write anything?” I asked Terry later.

“Naw,” he said. “If it ain’t worth anything, what’s the point?”

“Yeah,” was all I said.

Later that night I picked up my copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye and read it… cover to cover. Half of it with a flashlight under the covers so as not to awaken my two younger brothers with whom I shared the room.

The next morning over breakfast I took out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote the first page of my autobiography. My life had changed forever, and I didn’t need to be thirty-years-old to see it. All it took was a small red paperback book with gold writing on the cover.

What I wrote then still seems like a logical place to start:

“I was born in the year of rock ‘n roll.

On April 18, 1953, while John Wayne was helping plant the American flag atop Iwo Jima, my mother was in the back seat of a ‘52 blue-on-blue Chevy Bel-Air Coupe having a cigarette and making small talk with a man she hardly knew.

Nine months later Bill Haley and the Comets released “Rock Around The Clock” and my mother went into labour – I was born the next day.

Ten pounds and a breach birth later the doctor slapped me on the ass to start me crying, and my mother slapped me across the face to make me stop. Such is life.

As the years went by, being a square peg in a round hole lost the occasional fascination of a hobby and took on the comfortable, every-day work clothes of a mantra. I’m still chanting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.”

I had good teachers.

Books, Politics

The Icebox Cometh

September 15, 2016

“It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst…
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”
– Leonard Cohen

§ § §

[Note: I wrote this for a previous iteration of my website in September of 2008. Barack Hussein Obama and John McCain were neck and neck in the polls at the time, and the outcome of that year’s presidential election was anything but certain. The Sarah Palin ‘factor’, initially thought by Liberal hopefuls to have been the GOP’s Achilles Heel, had actually raised McCain’s chances in several polls. It was ‘crazy’ time and the media was having a field day. Eight years hence ‘crazy’ has taken on a whole new meaning. It seems like an opportune time to take a look back at what was, and reflect on the life of a man who had such a significant impact on Democratic rhetoric right down to public speeches and political discourse dating back to the campaign of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his run at the White House in 1960. – REW]

§ § §

As I write this, it’s exactly 53 days to the American presidential election. Republican Senator John McCain has been basking – some would say ‘wallowing’ – in the glow that is Sarah Palin. Democrat Barack Obama, meanwhile, has been huddling with his advisors trying to decide how best to counter the effect that having a female on the GOP ticket has had on McCain’s popularity – he’s on top in almost every primary tracking poll. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

About eight months ago some low-level political media darling who added ‘pundit’ to his resume suggested that “…a refrigerator could beat McCain this year…” But it was Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee, former governor of Vermont and former presidential candidate in 2004 who said the following words on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart more than a year ago:

“The Republicans are the best campaigners. They know how to campaign – but they can’t govern. Democrats, on the other hand, know how to govern… but we have problems campaigning.”

Not a very soothing thought. Not a phrase that instills confidence in the left-leaning electorate.

sorensen_jfkWatching and listening to Senator Obama for the better part of nineteen months it’s tough to see how anyone could have launched, conducted and maintained a better-run campaign for the presidency, even if you forget the fact that he’s black and that his relatively rapid ascendancy to challenge for the highest office in the land is both historical and awe-inspiring. A comparison of his suggested policies and voting record opposite John McCain should leave no one in doubt as to who the better president would be. The last eight years alone should shave more than a few points off McCain’s chances with Vegas odds-makers.

And yet, here we are. Today’s Financial Times of London contains a banner headline, “Democrats On Capital Hill Fear Obama Fallout”. A wire story circulated to newspapers all across the United States last week stated that, privately, congressional Democrats are ‘suddenly’ concerned about Obama’s chances. Yesterday’s Gallup Poll on the congressional races was headlined, “Battle For Congress Suddenly Looks Competitive”. It would appear that the ‘refrigerator’ isn’t fully stocked. No, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

It seems so easy to have it all slip away. The brass ring, within grasp, is snagged by an interloper. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Perhaps a look back will help put some distance – literally – between the desire that was and the reality that is. Take that ‘sure thing’ and knock it off its pedestal so we can all get a better look.

counselor_sorenson_bookI’ve just finished reading Ted Sorensen’s autobiography, Counselor. Ted was President John F. Kennedy’s head speech writer, confidante, advisor, and friend. He was a policy wonk of the highest order when policy was everything. He wrote (or co-wrote) all of JFK’s speeches during his short presidency, and was on the front lines during all of Kennedy’s critical moments – the Cuban Missile Crisis chief among them. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Sorensen wrote it. Kennedy said it. America heard it and responded.

A lot has been said and written about Obama’s similarity to Kennedy, some of it even by Obama himself. There’s no question that the idealism Kennedy represented in the early 1960s is shared by the senator from Illinois almost fifty years later – the comparisons and connections are striking. And perhaps – perhaps – Ted Sorensen deserves some of the credit.

Ted was and is a proud liberal Democrat [Ted passed away in 2010. – REW] He’s been a supporter of Barack Obama from day one, and it’s been reported that he serves the campaign as an ‘unofficial’ advisor, sometimes writing sections of Obama’s speeches. During Obama’s Super Tuesday victory speech back in February – the now-famous ‘yes we can’ speech – Obama said the following:

“You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have little; who’ve been told that they cannot have what they dream; that they cannot be what they imagine. Yes they can.”

Is that pure Sorensen…?

One of the significant aspects of Ted’s autobiography is the way in which he places campaigning, specifically presidential campaigning, into context. With the media reporting on every little mistake, misplay and gaffe the candidates make during this election cycle, I found it fascinating to read Sorensen’s ‘take’ on the subject. His insight is peppered throughout the book, but two of his viewpoints are specifically appropriate, and I wanted to quote them both. I think they help in putting this election, and the way in which it is being reported, into perspective.

“As hard as it is on the speechwriter and staff, a presidential campaign is even rougher on the candidate. It is impossible for him to remember the names of all the people whose hands he shakes, to remember the time of day, the day of the week, the town in which he is speaking; to remember his own previously stated positions on issues, much less those of his opponents. But if he sounds temporarily inconsistent, the press calls it weakness; if he is ambiguous, his opponent calls him a coward. Through it all, he must appear sincere and self-assured, smile through the rain and pain, protect his hand from being crushed and his suit from being torn, freeze in an open car, perspire in a stuffy banquet hall, smile at those who curse him, listen patiently to those who repeatedly advise the obvious, and repeat his own positions until he tires of his own words, restrain his natural candor, be cautious about his humor, and exude enthusiasm about the ordeal he is enduring and every person he meets. All day, the press is outside his door and window, the rooms are full of sweat and smoke, his hand is bruised, scratched, full of calluses…. Everyone you meet wants something from you, your time, your endorsement, your support for some local project or measure; and then you move on to three more stops in three more states before you fall into bed. It is an exercise best suited to fanatics, egomaniacs and superbly fit athletes.”

From: “Counselor” by Ted Sorensen – Chapter 15
Senator Kennedy’s Quest For The Presidency – pp. 186-187

Later in the book, he admits to having given advice to many presidential candidates and would-be candidates over the years. Considering the debate that still rages between the McCain and Obama camps (and in the media) over the ‘experience’ issue (or lack of it), I found this section especially appropriate. “For those future presidential candidates among my readers who want my advice, the following is a condensed compilation of all the related memos I’ve written to would-be presidents who approached me for advice over the last several decades – including Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Mario Cuomo, Bob Kerrey, John Kerry and Barack Obama…”

To: Presidential Hopeful
From: Theodore C. Sorensen
Subject: So You Want To Be President

“…am I smart enough to be president? I suggest you review that question in three contexts: First, compare your intelligence, judgment, courage and ability to lead with those of the others who have recently held, sought, or will be seeking the presidency. Neither Jefferson nor Lincoln is running this time. Experience is relative. No office provides meaningful preparation for the unique responsibilities of the presidency.”

From: “Counselor” by Ted Sorensen – Chapter 32
My Continuing Involvement In Politics – pp. 480

No office provides meaningful preparation for the unique responsibilities of the presidency. One assumes he means previous experience as mayor, governor OR senator.

sorensen_obamaI’ve never pretended to be ‘fair and balanced’ in my political views; I dress to the left, so to speak. Were I an American I would not only be voting for the Obama/Biden ticket, but I’d also be campaigning for it. My view of American politics has been shaped by decades of watching, listening, comparing and assessing American policies at home and abroad, mostly abroad. It’s why I believe that this election is the most important election of my lifetime – the most important election in the world, for the world. I say that because American foreign policy is one of its cornerstones, and it impacts not just Americans but everyone that its policy touches regardless of country. The Republican administration of Bush/Cheney is the perfect example of how NOT to govern, and Senator Obama’s mantra of ‘change’, while simplistic, has hit fragile nerves from Bakersfield to Berlin. And yet, here we are.

I’m hoping that the addition of Governor Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket energizes the Democrats anew. That on the heels of that idealistic ‘first wave’ of ‘change’ – a mantra now co-opted by the McCain camp – there occurs a ‘second wave’. One of firm opposition, surgical confrontation, adroit campaigning and unfettered optimism in the future with a Democratic administration led by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and a laundry list of the best and brightest minds in America that becomes contagious.

Clock’s ‘a tickin’!

Personal, Travel

Welcome To The Breakfast Show

August 27, 2015

“I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain.
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!”

– ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, Rolling Stones

§ § §

I: By The Time We Got To Woodstock

Danniel (with two ‘N’s) wandered over to me beer in hand, a common sight. Barely audible over the din of the party, he yelled, “Road trip! You in…?” Here we go again, I thought, and rolled my eyes. “Hey, c’mon, man. Hear me out!” And so I did.

Danniel liked the Stones, but loved the Airplane. He knew I was a Stones fan, too, and that I loved Santana. So that night he tried to twist my arm into traveling with him to a concert to see all three. “That would be great, right?” he’d yelled. “Hard to argue,” I’d yelled in response.

But there were obstacles. It was November, and there was snow on the ground, lots of snow. And this concert was in San Francisco. “That’s California,” I’d said. “Are you nuts? That’s… that’s a thousand miles away!” More, he’d said. Fine. But then there was the issue of transportation – how would we get there?

Obstacles for sure, but there were mitigating circumstances as well. Could I be swayed…?

breakfast-show_05Danniel had recently gotten his much older girlfriend pregnant. They were getting married in June as soon as school let out, and the baby was due not much later. Everyone involved seemed okay with it, especially his father. He was so thrilled he bought Danniel a car as an engagement present. And not just any car – a used 1963 two-tone, shit-brindle-brown Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and automatic-electric everything. The beast could sleep six without popping the trunk. But Danniel was antsy. He desperately needed to get outta Dodge before his life changed forever, he’d said, and a free rock ‘n roll concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (where it was much warmer for starters) seemed like the perfect ticket. Danniel was 16-years-old.

I was 15, and I’d already been burned once that year by a ‘road not taken’. At the time that happened I was only pissed that I’d missed hanging with Keith and Butchy for a few days south of the border. A couple of months later, when the impact of what I’d missed went global, I lost my shit.

It began like this…

On a hot Saturday afternoon, I was stuffed into a lurching school bus along with three-dozen other teenagers – all male, all about my age, all heading home. The bus was on loan to the Canadian Army from some rural Catholic parish – Our Lady of Something or Other printed in big black Helvetica on the side. The bus was transporting us from Camp Ipperwash on the shores of Georgian Bay back to the thriving metropolis of London from whence we came. I had marched, bivouacked, fought, bitched, complained, and marched for the past six weeks. To make matters worse, this was the summer of 1969, and I had the shortest hair of anyone I knew. I couldn’t wait to kick the Army-issue attitude to the curb, drop the khaki fatigues, and slip back into t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. And a hat. I was glad to be going home, but I had to wonder… how had Keith and Butchy’s roadtrip worked out…?

They had come to visit me at the camp a week earlier in Butchy’s pride and joy: a turquoise Chevy Nova. It had more bark than bite, the curse of a small block engine, but it had Mickey Thompsons, hood pins, and a giant STP sticker on a hood that we’d all painted flat black with spray cans back at the first sign of spring. Even when it was parked it looked like it was going fast. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

Cruising the drag that day in Grand Bend with the windows down and the music up, Keith and Butchy were trying to persuade me to go on a road trip they had planned for the following weekend. We’d done a handful of minor trips in the past year, mostly to The Pinery to camp out, look for girls, and get drunk. I’m pretty sure we were all still virgins at this point. Well, maybe not Butchy. The Pinery was always a great place to test those waters – the girls were just as adventurous as we were – but nothing much ever happened, so the order of priorities frequently changed.

Between Army camp and Labour Day I had only two weeks of summer left before Grade 10 commenced, and I began work on the school play. So I was all ears. I wanted to know what the master plan was. “Where ya goin’, anyways? What’s the deal…?”

“Rock and roll, baby!” Keith said, “Rock and fucking roll!” Butchy wasn’t giving this intervention his full attention. He was concentrating on a well-developed bikini on the back of a Kawasaki that had just pulled up next to us. “Ya gotta come, man,” Keith continued. “Fuck theatre arts – this is life. Besides, school doesn’t start till after Labour Day. We’ll be back long before then.”

“We’re leaving on Thursday morning,” Butchy finally said. “Cross the border into Buffalo, be at ground zero by late afternoon. Tent pitched and scopin’ chicks by dinnah tahm.”

“Pass me anuthah beah, tarbender!” Keith added. We all laughed, but Keith and I shared a knowing glance. We both knew from experience that we’d be the ones pitching the tent, while Butchy pitched himself to the ladies. “Three days of peace and music, if you catch my drift. Pure bliss, pal.” Butchy’s favourite saying. Keith just kept laughing and shook his head.

That capped it – I couldn’t go. I was at camp until Saturday afternoon. I may only have been a cadet, but the army still had fairly strict rules about going AWOL.

So that’s what I was thinking all the way home in that crowded, sweltering school bus. What was this rock and roll weekend going to be like? What was I missing?

It was August 16th, and at that precise moment I was missing Santana take the stage at Woodstock. So, yeah – you might say I had my own mitigating circumstance.

It took a couple of more conversations – quiet ones, no more yelling – and a few more beers before Danniel and I decided to piss on the pitfalls and embrace the adventure of possibility. Danniel’s parents…? His mom had passed away, and his dad had given him the Beast, so yeah – he got it. My parents…? Fuck it! We were going on a road trip!

§ § §

II: Born To Be Wild

This was the plan…

Monday after school we’d pack the car, drive to Sarnia and cross the water into Michigan, and then head south. Continuing south, we’d drive until the snow disappeared, and then hang a right and drive straight to the coast. We gave ourselves four days – plenty of time. Seemed simple enough.

Monday blew past like a Denny McLain fastball. Before we knew it the Beast’s trunk was loaded and we were ready to depart. My idea of packing was somewhat less bohemian than Danniel’s.

Me: 2 changes of clothes, 1 toilet kit, 1 blanket.
Danniel: 1 blanket, 2 two-fours of Labatt’s Blue.

Packing didn’t take long. By dinnertime we were off.

The snow persisted for more than ten hours. As the sun was coming up around breakfast time the next day, we were just within sight of the Louisville city limits. The skies opened, the sun came out, and the roads were clear as far as the eye could see. We made our pre-destined right-hand turn.

The half dozen music mix tapes that Keith had made especially for us (labeled Stuff 1 through Stuff 6) were getting heavy airplay courtesy of the Craig 8-track sound system Danniel had installed in the Beast. Marvin Gaye, Steppenwolf, Cream, Hendrix, CCR, Bowie, Sly, Zep, and of course Santana and the Stones. Music up. Cruise control on. California here we come!

Cruise control off. The break in the snowfall had been just that – a break. Approaching St. Louis we made the decision to slide on down toward Oklahoma where we serpentined our way through more snow. The white out conditions rendered any serious attempt at keeping the car on the road a 50/50 proposition at best. Black ice leading to blind ditches was a combination barely avoided on several occasions. My nerves were on edge. And I wasn’t driving.

Somewhere in Oklahoma (God knows where!) we detoured again and headed south, then west driving through the Texas panhandle, and skimming the tops of New Mexico and Arizona. We made for Las Vegas, thankful for the desert and warmer climes.

There was nothing but blackness on the highway for hours, then – BOOM! Vegas reached out of the darkness with throbbing neon fingers as we approached. Was it beckoning us to come closer, welcoming us into its grip, or warning us, waving us away? We were too tired to entertain any activities The Strip may have offered, and we were way behind schedule. We crashed at a cheap motel in Henderson. They were the first real beds since leaving Southern Ontario four days earlier.

At the first hint of light we were back on the road, blasting through Death Valley, finally on our way to San Francisco. It was Saturday December 6th. Concert day. We made the city limits around lunchtime.

§ § §

III: Go Ask Alice

A couple of days earlier, at a gasbar in Texas (maybe New Mexico, who knows) we heard a rumour that the concert at Golden Gate Park had been cancelled. Parking issues with an expected 100,000 plus fans apparently the cause. Someone else said they’d heard on the radio that Sears Point Raceway was the new venue. Regardless, it didn’t matter to us – we didn’t know where these places were anyway. We needed answers and directions and soon. And food, sooner.

breakfast-show_08We pulled off the 101 into the Mission District, and stopped into a family restaurant for much-needed sustenance, and some much-needed information. After quickly gorging on a cheeseburger and fries (his), and a Chicken Clubhouse (mine), we settled on a plan. I was still in Cadets, and I still had the shortest hair, so it made sense that the these people would be more likely to talk to me, and not Danniel, whose hair was long past dusting his shoulders. I was now the designated requester of directions.

Had I given the mostly middle-aged clientele of this eatery even a cursory look before I started grazing the tables, I would have known without asking that they were the last people in Frisco to have known or cared where the Rolling Stones were staging their free concert.

Stymied, I hit on what I hoped was a brilliant solution: The Fillmore. Fillmore West was one of those rock palace meccas that became positively iconic in the 1960s. Everyone who was anyone, especially if they were SFO-based, played the Fillmore.

On the way there, amidst a plethora of fantastic FM radio stations in the Bay area, we’d settled on KSAN (I still have the t-shirt). We were rewarded with the news that the ‘free’ concert was now underway at Altamont. Shit! Ten minutes later Danniel and I were introducing ourselves to Tulip in a messy suite of offices on the top floor of Fillmore West, and asking what and where Altamont was.

Tulip was short and cute, with long red hair in pigtails. She wore a bustier, a purple mini skirt, purple ‘Roger McGuinn’ glasses that were perched on the end of her nose, and purple go-go boots. Tulip corrected me – the go-go boots were ‘fuschia’, not purple. “Oh, most definitely,” she said.

breakfast-show_03She was surprised to see us, because no one was around. Everyone was at the Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway, she said. She was even more surprised that we’d come so far. “Wow! Canada! That’s a long way. You must be disciples or something. Groovy!” We asked about directions to Altamont. She proceeded to tell us all about the free concert issues and the seemingly constant shifts in finding a location. Then she added: “Everyone in town is trying to come to terms with the issues of the day. The persecution of young people by the ‘Man’, you know? And the oppression we feel over our entitlement to free expression and free thought.”

I could dig it, but we needed directions, not an SDS tract.

Danniel had had enough. Remembering the middle-aged restaurant clientele, he said, “Everyone? Not everyone in town can feel that way…” he chided her. “Oh, most definitely,” Tulip said.

Our window was rapidly closing. “Directions…?” I asked again. “How do we get to this race track? Where is it, exactly?”

“It’s not a race track, it’s a speedway,” Tulip said. “Cars, not horses.”

Danniel saw a stack of napkins on a sideboard, grabbed one and handed it to our flower child. “A map! Could you draw us a map?” he said, barely containing his frustration.

“Oh, sure. Just jump on the highway and head outta town. It’s about an hour east.” She took a pencil and began drawing lines on the napkin. Danniel and I looked at each other, and then he looked at his watch.

The lines, as it turned out, were practically meaningless – tic-tac-toe without the symbols. Next to those lines she wrote, “Go this way,” with an arrow pointing to the right side of the napkin. I assumed this meant ‘east’. Underneath she wrote, “Good luck. Have fun. Love always. Toolip.” The two Os were little hearts.

breakfast-show_13“Well, THAT was a fuckin’ waste of time! Jesus!” Danniel said as we jumped back into the Lincoln. He gunned the V8 and wheeled out into traffic without looking, squealing the tires and blowing smoke. I reminded him that this was the city where they shot ‘Bullitt’ and that he should be careful. “A Charger could come FLYING OUT OF A BLIND ALLEY at any moment,” I said, trying to put a smile on the deteriorating situation. Danniel wasn’t biting. He was serious, and he was seriously pissed off. I kept forgetting that he’d been doing all the driving, and the fatigue he was feeling must have been overwhelming. His crankiness had been earned.

About two minutes into our ‘getaway’, I consulted Toolip’s ‘map’. I knew from San Francisco’s orientation on the coast that we were paralleling the ocean on our right, so that meant we were headed south (I took my role as navigator seriously). I started to say to Danniel, “We’re headed south, so we should –”

“Fuck that stupid MAP!” he said. He grabbed the napkin out of my hand and tossed it into the back seat. “The first opportunity we’re turning left and heading east. Yell when you see a freeway.”

As we drove through an intersection, I attempted to retrieve the crumpled napkin. I noticed the sign of the cross street: Haight Street. My mind raced. “Danniel, um… that was Haight we just crossed.”

“What?!” he said. “Haight. Haight Street? Haight-Ashbury…?” Danniel looked at me with recognition. Then resignation. “FUUUUCK!” he yelled. Steve McQueen took the next right at speed, on an amber, drifting to the left. As we hurtled around the corner, I held on and secretly hoped we’d lose a hubcap, just for effect.

§ § §

IV: Do You Believe In Magic

We did NOT have time for this. But, hey… we were there, and when would we be again?

breakfast-show_10Haight-Ashbury is to San Francisco, what the Left Bank is to Paris. What Greenwich Village is to New York City. What gin is to vermouth. People who have never been to the Bay Area acknowledge the significance of the neighbourhood. Since the Summer of Love, more than two years earlier, this was pretty much ‘hippie central’. Or so we thought. As we were about to find out, by 1969 the area was barely a shadow of its former self.

Danniel and I wandered in concentric circles. We made our way to a park trying in vain to find 1967. And then, there it was, or at least the last vestiges of it. Or maybe a group of actors trying to recreate it. We wandered into the park and mingled. The whole corner of that park looked, felt and smelled like an acid-induced renaissance fair. I walked into the crowd of maybe a hundred people and immediately was swallowed by it. It was intoxicating. What a trip! I turned around with a big stupid grin on my face to see where Danniel was. Where was Danniel? I’d lost Danniel.

I turned around again and found myself face-to-face with a very pretty girl. She had long blond hair, a freshly painted flower on each cheek, and eyes as big as moons. She handed me a roach clip clinging to the tiniest of burning hash embers. A feather wisp of sweet smoke curled around her face. “Here… go ahead,” she said. I complied and inhaled. She smiled and tried her best to run her fingers through my hair. “You look funny,” she said, continuing to smile. Maybe it was the moment. Maybe it was the location. Maybe it was the ‘medicine’. I leaned forward and kissed her. She tasted like a girl. She giggled and began to move away from me, slowly fading into the crowd, disappearing into the colour of the corner. It was only then that I noticed she was naked. And pregnant.

I finally spotted Danniel on the other side of the street carrying a paper bag. He waved, and then pointed to a large sign. I looked. Golden Gate Park. How funny was that?!

Danniel was waving again. He pointed to his watch. I nodded. As I started to leave, I looked over my shoulder. Through the wrong end of the binoculars I could see what it was, what it had been, for real. People laughing, singing, dancing. Frisbees floating on air, competing for attention with soap bubbles being blown by… who knows how many people. People of all shapes and sizes… A guy with dreads sitting on the grass playing a lute. Bongos, and a recorder somewhere. And flowers… lots of flowers. Man, what was it like actually living here, I thought. As I stood on the corner waiting for the light to change I saw her. An elderly gray haired woman in a paisley pattern kaftan was sitting in a wheelchair and sucking on a makeshift hookah, her German Shepherd keeping watch beside her on the sidewalk. Haight-Ashbury, circa late 1969.

We jumped in the car and headed east.

§ § §

V: When The Truth Is Found To Be Lies

We knew the concert was already underway. That knowledge was a bitter pill. The thought of how much we had missed – how much we were still going to miss – burned. I wanted to turn the radio on, so we could at least get a play-by-play analysis of what was happening. Danniel didn’t even look at me when he said, “Don’t.”

We had lost all our enthusiasm. The whole trip had become an exercise in blending – one day into the next, one experience into the next, one distraction into the next. We were on the cusp of seriously losing it altogether, when our whereabouts suddenly was in question.

“We’re now 75 miles east of San Franscisco,” Danniel said, acknowledging what the odometer had been predicting for about ten minutes. “Where the fuck are we?!” He looked over at me.

We had driven through Livermore and were definitely headed for Tracy, but… we should have been there by then. I hastily consulted Toolip’s map again, hoping it would magically all make sense now. It didn’t. We were missing it, we were losing it, and we were fucking lost! Most definitely.

I was about to suggest we turn around when two low-flying helicopters buzzed overhead. One had large radio or maybe TV call letters emblazoned on its side. “They have to be going to the concert,” I said. “Which means Altamont is back there,” Danniel said pointing over his left shoulder, “and over thataway.”

breakfast-show_15A few minutes later we made the first left turn available, and then we saw it – traffic from hell, all six lanes of it. We made a slow curve down onto the highway becoming part of a parade of vehicles heading west. Ironically, missing the original route turned out to be a big plus. It meant we were approaching the speedway from the southeast, the opposite direction as most of the traffic. Then we heard it… a bass-reflex thumping that sounded familiar. Someone’s radio, perhaps. Maybe the stage….

We were getting close. Cars that weren’t slowing down were parked along both sides of the highway, now – nothing appeared to be getting through. A motorhome suddenly lurched out in front of us. With a loud sustained honk, and a few well-chosen expletives, Danniel quickly reversed into the spot, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. He threw the Lincoln into park, and shut off the engine. We looked at each other. “We’re here!” we said almost simultaneously.

Packing the blankets and leftover beer into a canvas bag, along with two orders of street souvlaki Danniel had scored in The Haight, I slammed the trunk shut. We crossed the highway in a slow motion dodge between motorcycles, mini buses and other vehicles that were now moving at funeral speed. Jumping a fence, we trudged through a dry field toward the speedway. Our internal compass led us to join a few thousand other stragglers on the same mission. This is what we’d come so far to be a part of. We were young refugees marching to the sound of a distant drummer that held the promise of peace and music, just like Woodstock. All of us drawn to a beacon of Daliesque rock and roll light a mile or so away, just over a hill.

The weather had cooperated all day, but the temperatures were beginning to dip. The mercury had dropped to near freezing in the Bay Area the night before, and KSAN said that there were portable heaters at the ready near the stage just in case. Some of the massive crowd that had arrived earlier – many the day before when the second change of venue had finally been widely reported – were still jockeying for position, possibly for heat, a frenetic dance of humanity against the music that had long since started. Twilight was already upon us, bringing with it friction and bad vibes mixed with the chilly air. We were dog-tired, so we gave up trying to get closer. Instead, we settled on a flat spot on a hill with a handful of hippies from Oregon about a half-mile from ground zero.

The full velocity of the music that we anticipated wasn’t there. We’d missed Santana AND Jefferson Airplane, and although the recognizable sounds of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were now apparent, their songs and harmonies were reduced to muffled acoustics. The sound was awful. Still, we were there. The great Rolling Stones ‘free’ concert. End of the tour, theirs and ours. Altamont.

§ § §

VI: Freedom’s Just Another Word

The gap between CSN&Y’s set and the arrival of the Rolling Stones on stage was long. Danniel and I drank and smoked, and did our best to enjoy the festivities, to soak it all up, to catch the party atmosphere. But it wasn’t there. It was all pretty hazy.

breakfast-show_01Later, the souvlaki was history, the warm Labatt’s Blue had been reduced to seven empty stubby bottles, the Stones’ erratic set was over, and our hippy friends appeared to be asleep. All except two of them – they were fucking.

The blankets and beers had come in handy, although we were now too stoned to mind the cold that had descended on the retreating, post-concert horde. We were also too tired to move. The weight of driving 2500 miles back to Southern Ontario after four days on the road and an anticlimactic day of seeking our own Woodstock hung heavily. We were road weary. The mechanical humping going on just to our right was at least entertaining.

Wanting to or not, I did think of the drive home. I wanted to go home. I was ready to go home. I had school – I liked school – and I had a lot to catch up on. I was going to stage-manage another play, this one a musical, and rehearsals would start a week before the Christmas break. I had a short story due in English class, and a history project worth 40% of my year was in jeopardy. What the fuck was I doing here?! Was I completely irresponsible? Was I a keener? Would a keener fuck off for more than a week without telling anybody…?

I was an “A” student with a “C” attitude, which meant I got a lot of “B”s. Life has a way of averaging out that way if you’re lucky. I still had the shortest hair of anyone in the world, but at least one girl thought I looked funny and let me kiss her anyway. See – averaging out. But what would my teachers think…? My internal conversation was filled with conflicting arguments. I was counting on the law of averages.

I thought of the drive home – the desert, the plains, and the snow. The snow that was lying in wait, waiting to rise up to fuck with us. I didn’t think of the bands we didn’t or couldn’t see, or the music we could barely decipher – I thought of the drive home.

Then I thought of my mother, my stepfather. What were they thinking? What – were – they – thinking…? What would they say? I hadn’t thought of them once during the trip, not even a flicker. I realized at that moment… I didn’t care. What would the negative results of this impromptu road trip amount to? Would there be any? I didn’t care. I sat forward on that hill, suddenly feeling very lucid, very aware… very alive. I. Didn’t. Care! Huh. Funny how some events, that may seem trivial in the moment, are recognized only much later as having left life-altering consequences in their wake. Mine did. But it would be years later before I made the connection.

I looked over at Danniel. He was watching the stream of people trudge back to the highway and the cars that would carry them home, wherever home was. He looked more than tired, he looked beaten. All the exhilaration of the past four days that had once been so present on his face had fallen away, revealing huge disappointment and failure. He looked lost. I wish I’d had some empathy at that moment, but instead all I felt was excitement. The clarity of my own feelings was crystal – command and control. Command and control of my own life. I thought of my mother and my stepfather again, just to check. Nope. I still didn’t care. I didn’t care what they would say or do. It was what I was going to say to them when I got home that I cared about.

Then, as if to signal the official end of the festivities, to our right there was an orgasm. And that, as they say, was that.

§ § §

VII: Waitin’ On The Judgment Day

It was decided that I would drive. Well, not decided in any democratic sense, so much as through the process of elimination. Danniel had thrown me the keys and said he was going to sleep for a while. He said the cops would be too busy directing the death march of traffic out of the area between Livermore and Tracy to bother checking for valid drivers’ licenses, or even existing ones in my case. Seemed plausible.

Eight hours and two fill-ups later I pulled the Beast into a gas station outside Lake Havasu City, and Danniel took over. He drove the rest of the way home.

breakfast-show_18Two and a half days later, we pulled up at the end of my snow-covered cul-de-sac in London. I grabbed my shit out of the trunk, and told Danniel I’d see him at school. “Yup,” was all he said.

As Danniel drove away, fishtailing on the icy road, I began the slog home in the almost knee-deep snow.

At a distance I could see the curtains were open slightly, and a glow from the two floor lamps we had at opposite ends of the living room spilled out onto the drifts. It was dark and near dinnertime. “Good timing,” I said to myself, more than a little facetiously.

As I took the two shallow steps to the front door, I caught a glimpse of my stepfather lying on the couch watching television. I’d last seen him in the same position eight days earlier. I took a deep breath and entered. As I shook the snow off and began to remove my shoes, he neither stirred nor acknowledged my presence. My mother appeared in the alcove adjacent to the kitchen, spatula in hand.

“So… there you are,” she said. I smiled and gave a half-hearted wave awaiting the barrage. “Dinner’s in twenty minutes,” she said, and returned to the kitchen.

That was it. Not another word. I had been gone for more than a week, but it was good to know dinner would be ready in less than half an hour. What had she said, what had she done about dinner every night at this time over the past week?!

I had been putting up with this from my ‘family unit’ for far too long. If they didn’t want to be parents when I pulled shit like this, then they had lost the right to weigh-in anywhere or anytime else. As far as that history was concerned I was fifteen-years-old, but I could have been twelve, or eight – same shit, different day. Once someone decides to become a parent, they’re a fucking parent. They can be anything else they want as well, but parenting is 24/7, not an episodic avocation. You can’t look after your children Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, with weekends and holidays off. If that’s what they’d wanted, they should have installed a fuckin’ time clock with punch cards at the front door. Buy in, or get out. I’d made my decision.

I looked over at the still-life on the couch. My younger brother made an appearance at the top of the stairs with a wide-eyed ‘what-the-fuck’ look on his face. There was a hint of recognition from Friskie, our pet cat.

Dinner passed without comment. You guys just made this way too fuckin’ easy, was all I could think.

§ § §

VIII: Groovin’ On A Sunday Afternoon

Christmas came and went, likewise, New Years. Three weeks later I turned sixteen – the magic number. A few days after that, I met with three government social workers at City Hall. One of my teachers, Martin, had arranged for me to see them so I could detail my situation, and lay out my plan. I needed their written assessment and eventual approval to move forward. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, the usual amount of time it took for the panel to hear evidence pertaining to a petition for underage emancipation.

Two hours later we finished up. I answered all their questions, and asked plenty of my own. My presence was supported by Martin, who attended for the sole purpose of supplying confirmation about my academic standing, but he went above and beyond, and was one of the reasons this initial meeting went long.

A week later I was summoned to City Hall and presented with a paper form. I was told that my request had passed first reading, and that what was now required was signatures from both parents and a witness acknowledging my petition. There were check boxes that required ticking and initialing for each parent or guardian. One check box said ‘yes’, the other said ‘no’. The question: Do you agree to the terms of this petition? There was space to add further comments if necessary.

After dinner that night I sat both my parents down on the sofa. I handed my stepfather the form. I said, “Read it, initial it, sign it.” He read it, and then looked at me. He initialed it, signed it, and then handed it to my mother. She read it. “Are you sure this is what you want?” she eventually said. I just looked back at her. She initialed it and signed it. I took the paper back to check it – both tick boxes, ‘yes’. A neighbor who I occasionally housesat for witnessed it. Done, and done. All that remained now was the official interview the panel would have with my parents to confirm all the details, and give them one last chance to challenge the petition. They didn’t.

Two weeks later, two large manila envelopes with identical return addresses were delivered to our townhouse. I opened mine. Inside was a three-page official-looking document – Copy 1 of 3, was stamped in the lower right corner. It began,

“As of the execution date of this document, petitioner is granted…”

Blah, blah, blah. I had successfully divorced my parents.

In less than forty-eight hours it was Sunday. I piled the remainder of my belongings into the back seat of Butchy’s Nova. I waved to my mom standing in the living room window. “You got everything?” Butchy asked. “Nah. One more thing…” I said, settling into the bucket seat. “Peel out and squeal the tires!” Butchy laughed. The engine raced, the Mickey Thompsons spun, and we lost our grip fishtailing about twenty feet. Half a donut later we came to an embarrassing stop, sideways. Butchy slammed the steering wheel. “Fuckin’ ice!” Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

breakfast-show_16That day, I moved into a five-bedroom brown brick bungalow owned by Vinod and Popi, an East Indian couple. Four of the bedrooms had been turned into housekeeping suites for university students. When I interviewed with them, and said I was a student, they assumed I attended Western, and was not just merely half way through Grade 10.

Butchy helped me move my stuff into the front bedroom. We talked about all the cool parties we’d have in this great place, a place for just hanging out. And a place for girls – like I hadn’t thought of that! I wanted to unpack and settle in. I walked with Butchy back to his car. We both stood out front, looking at the house. Snowflakes falling, Christmas lights still up. The place practically screamed ‘Happy Holidays’. Home sweet home, I thought. “Pure bliss, pal,” said Butchy. It was February 22, 1970.

§ § §

IX: The Kids Are Alright

I suddenly became the most popular guy in Grade 10 – I had my own place!

Weekdays were taken up with school, of course – projects, theatre, and creative writing. But weekends were party times. Friends and I would hang out, listen to music, drink, and get small. Occasionally, there was a girl.

As the weather turned and it got warmer, I also spent a lot of time on weekends with Vinny and Popi and their friends and family (many of whom didn’t speak English), cooking and learning about East Indian food and culture. The smells escaping from the newly installed homemade tandoor in the backyard created a huge issue for the neighbours, to say nothing of the Bollywood music blasting out the windows. On those occasions, Popi’s uncle would wander outside with his ceremonial talwar and start to sing and dance. And then the police would show up. Fun times.

That summer Danniel got married and became the father of a baby girl. I didn’t see him much after that. He dropped by Casa Waldo a few times to have a beer and shoot the shit, but we never did talk about the trip to California or Altamont again. I’d heard he’d sold the Beast and bought something more ‘family friendly’. “Yup,” was all he said.

breakfast-show_19The academic standing that Martin, my teacher friend, had been so convincing about on my behalf in front of the emancipation panel, paid off again. It allowed me to alter my own curriculum so long as I continued through Grade 13, in those days considered ‘college prep’. One day at the beginning of July Martin dropped by with a six-pack of Lowenbrau. He talked to me about a new course being offered by a friend of his at a different high school – Communication Arts. You needed decent marks through Grade 10, along with a letter of recommendation to even apply for one spot in a class that was limited to about twenty students. The school was getting applications from all across Ontario. It was a two-year course (Grades 11 and 12), and at the end, provided you graduated in good standing, you received a special course certificate along with your high school diploma. He thought I should apply.

“Right up your alley,” he said. It was bootcamp for radio, television, and filmmaking. Right up my alley, indeed. “You’re running the show, now. Time to move some of those chess pieces around on the board. But don’t wait too long to make up your mind. Let me know this week, okay? I’ll write the letter.”

breakfast-show_14Before he left, Martin handed me a present wrapped in butcher paper, and tied with a string. “Gird your loins,” was all he said, and then burst out laughing.

Popping another beer, I unwrapped the package. It was an old, used hardcover book. Its faded paper sleeve was tattered and could barely hang on. “Quiet Days In Clichy” by Henry Miller. My turn to burst out laughing. Yup, I thought, that’s Martin! Inside he’d written an inscription:

“Your life’s under new management now. Don’t fuck it up! – Martin, The Year Dot.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been as moved by a gift as I was in that moment. Martin had some great books on his shelf at school, and also at his home where I’d been many times with groups of friends and students, drinking, eating, falling down. His wife, Candy, had bought him this book at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris during their honeymoon in 1966. Her inscription to him was adjacent to mine:

“A cautionary tale… not a how-to! Ha, Ha, Ha! – Candy”

I blushed because I understood the reference.

§ § §

X: It’s A Gas, Gas, Gas

I got in to the ComArts course, and emerged with the certificate and the diploma. I then arranged my last year in high school, Grade 13, with five English courses, including CanLit, Classics, and Journalism; two theatre courses including theory and stage direction; and two creative writing courses that included play writing. I was set.

That summer I got a job with a cinema rep house playing second-run films in 16mm. It was one of the most consistently popular movie theatres in London. Patrons could see a double-bill for less than the price of a single first-run feature at any of the other cinemas. I became their new projectionist. And concession stand server. And janitor. However, I also managed to put together some killer double bills that increased the theater’s attendance.

The movie house played to a mostly university and college crowd – Western and Fanshawe students accounted for more than half of our clientele. However, because it was summer, most of the students had gone home and our box office receipts had fallen off. It was thought by the theatre owner that younger talent (i.e. me) would attract, and hopefully increase the younger audience with some targeted double bills.

breakfast-show_02My double bills became the talk of the town. Marx Brothers one week, War themed movies the next, then Swedish softcore, followed by a John Waters special week featuring “Pink Flamingos”. Most of the racier films I programmed weren’t available in what was called ‘theatrical 35’. In Conservative ‘Big Blue Machine’ Ontario at the time those films would have been heavily censored, or simply banned outright. My distributors in Toronto and Montreal, however, taught me a valuable secret – most theatrical films also had 16mm copies. They weren’t categorized as ‘theatrical’, but as ‘educational’, the only other designation available. I’m sure John Waters would have pissed himself over“Pink Flamingos” being categorized as having educational merit!

On Tuesday, the first night of its run, we had a smaller than normal house. However, two plainclothes vice squad officers made their presence known about half way through the film. After interviewing the owner, his wife and me, they issued a written ‘shut down and property seizure’ notice if the scheduled six performances were ‘held over’ due to popular demand. They were aware of the loophole, but were sure to close it soon, they said. They never did.

I sprang into action. I wrote a press release and sent it to both campus newspapers. I detailed the police presence and quoted liberally from the ‘asset seizure’ notice. I then offered fifty cents off the ticket price upon presentation of a copy of the published release, good for any screening.

On the Friday night during that run I went out with some friends to celebrate, because we’d sold out three nights straight and even turned people away. More free press! But, I got drunk. Really drunk. I forgot to change the marquee for the Saturday matinee (also my job). It was a FAMILY matinee. A photograph that ran in the Saturday evening edition of the local newspaper showing moms and baby carriages lining up to see “Pink Flamingos” instead of Disney’s “Fantasia” was… awkward. More free press!

I used to receive flyers from distributors detailing new releases to the educational market. One of these flyers was devoted to documentaries. I hit upon what I thought was a terrific idea for a double bill: D.A. Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop” (produced by John Phillips and Lou Adler), backed with the Maysles Brothers’, “Gimme Shelter”, the documentary about the Rolling Stones ‘free’ concert at Altamont. Easily promotable, especially to our target audience. A couple of weeks later, the shipping canisters arrived. Obviously, I had ulterior motives for booking “Gimme Shelter”, and I looked forward to my own private screening.

breakfast-show_09It was a ritual I had followed many, many times. I took the three reels of 16mm film out of its shipping case and spliced them together onto a single one-meter aluminum feed reel. Then I spliced exactly one and a half minutes of white leader onto the head, and looped the film through the massive, clunky Hortson projector. Dimming the house lights and activating the automatic act curtain, I switched the projector on, bolted out the booth door, and ran down two flights of stairs. Rounding the corner on the main floor I had enough time to grab a bag of popcorn and a medium size Hires Root Beer. In the dark I settled into the center seat in the center aisle of this converted Salvation Army Chapel. As I popped the first kernel of butterless corn into my mouth, Mick Jagger announced to the Altamont crowd: “Welcome to the breakfast show”. Then the biggest rock band in the world launched into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

Over the coming week I watched “Gimme Shelter” six more times along with almost sold-out audiences, primarily students as I’d anticipated.

What I saw blew my mind.

§ § §

breakfast-show_22

“Well, the Rolling Stones tour of the United States is over.
It wound up with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway…
There were four births, four deaths, and an awful lot of scuffles reported.
We received word that someone was stabbed to death in front of the stage by a member of the Hell’s Angels.
Nothing’s confirmed on that. We were there – we didn’t see it.”
– Stefan Ponek, KSAN Radio, San Francisco – December 7, 1969
§ § §

Epilogue

Over 300,000 people attended Altamont. No one left unaffected, not even the bands.

Hours, days, weeks, months, years later, as its cultural impact grew and grew (in diametrical opposition to its Woodstock counterpart), the attendees would be forced to formulate a response to the question others would often pose when they discovered you had been to that infamous ‘free’ concert; the one where the black man in the lime green suit and fedora was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel. “What was it really like?” they would ask. There would be 300,000 answers, 300,000 stories to tell.

“Gimme Shelter” was NOT the Altamont I’d been a part of. Perhaps it was a matter of proximity – we’d been about a half-mile from the epicenter, and so the violence that was so raw and visceral in the movie was someone else’s violence, someone else’s experience.

The ‘adventure of possibility’ that Danniel and I had wished to embrace was far different than the one we found. But perhaps we’d found something more. I know I did. The epiphany I had on that small hill on a cold night in December 1969 in the middle of fucking nowhere was a direct result of everything that had occurred on that road trip. In the end, the possibility of leaving home and starting my life anew at such a young age became the adventure I sought. I was about to step out on my own, and for good. Would I, could I have arrived at that decision without the road trip, without Altamont?

If Altamont was my ‘beginning’, it also symbolized an ending. Some came to believe that Altamont signaled the ignominious end to the idealistic 1960s – the media still does. No news story, no documentary on the life and times of any segment of the Swinging Sixties is complete without a statement that includes the words, “…and then Altamont happened.” Altamont became the ‘fade to black’ for an entire era.

That decade affected everything.

The 1960s gave an entire generation its own music – rock and roll as a genre, a cultural phenomenon, and ultimately an art form, matured. Old, white, male politicians and lawmakers, whom, with few exceptions, adhered to old school ways and means, and perpetuated post-war ideals and policies, were put on notice. The voting age was lowered, and ultimately the bar was raised. Of course we were disaffected. The youth that asked for change, then pursued it, then protested it, and then demanded it, got it.

Every generation has its own signature event, its touchstone moment that resonates so loudly, that its cultural and personal impact becomes part of its DNA: JFK, Vietnam, Moonshot, Beatlemania, Trudeaumania, King, Bobby, Woodstock, Altamont. All 1960s.

So, maybe Altamont in December of 1969 was the smoking gun. That year – 1969 – still sticks out in my mind because it was the year, for me, that everything changed. It was a hell of a year. President Nixon began peace talks in Paris to end the war in Vietnam, while at the same time authorizing the secret bombing campaign of Cambodia; Frankenstein died of a heart attack, Brian Jones and Mary-Jo Kopechne drowned, both under suspicious circumstances, and following separate roads Dorothy finally went over her rainbow and ODed, and Jack Kerouac reached the end of his; Zodiac hunted humans in Northern California, while Charlie and his family went all ‘helter skelter’ in the City of Angels; James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan pleaded guilty to assassinating Bobby Kennedy – both would eventually recant their confessions; John and Yoko made it official, so did Monty Python; ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ got naked, Stonewall got raided, ‘Abbey Road’ got crossed, and we all learned how to get to ‘Sesame Street’; Slaughterhouse Five was read, Hee Haw was watched, and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was heard; David Bowie and Major Tom took us to space, Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 took us to the moon, and according to Arlo Guthrie we could get anything we wanted (except Alice); and on August the fifteenth, I did not go to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York with my friends for three days of peace and music.

But there were other events that pivotal year, too. One warm September evening I became ‘acquainted’ with an older woman named Candy. And that, as they say, was that.

In a bankers box at the bottom of a closet there sits an aging letter-size manila envelope. Inside, there is a set of emancipation papers with a bunch of signatures and a government seal on it; a crumpled yellowed napkin with black squiggles on it; a pristine, never been unfolded road map of the State of Oklahoma, courtesy of Texaco; and a small plastic baggie containing one (1) alligator clip. Printed in black Sharpie across the front are the words, Welcome To The Breakfast Show.

§ § §

 Note: Copyright In The Photographs Remains With The Original Owners

Travel

Test Driving The Dragon

August 21, 2015

“I’m a dweller on the threshold,
And I’m waiting at the door.
And I’m standing in the darkness.
I don’t want to wait no more.”
– “Dweller On The Threshold”, Van Morrison

§ § §

I smoked opium once. I saw God.

They say God has many faces. In this instance, she took the form of an elderly Asian woman dressed head to toe in black. She hovered above me – a face creased with age, framed with straight gray hair and punctuated with a toothy, betel nut-stained smile. Who knew how many tourists she’d led down that laneway off Jalan Alor to a day bed in a back room of her meagre food business?

In the wee hours of the morning, the indigenous muffled shuffle of Asian slippers is replaced with the polished ‘clicks’ of visiting Cole Haans and Manolo Blahniks. But the dinner jackets, designer clutch purses and sparkly cocktail dresses fail to upstage the visceral history of the dimly-lit alley. Furtive, illicit glances shared between strangers are followed by faintly perceptible, but knowing nods of acknowledgement: we each know where we’re going and where we’ve been. I was going. It was my first time.

The back room was stifling and the air was a heady mixture of candle wax, opium smoke and French cigarettes. There was a hint of Jasmine tea – it was the one smell that seemed out of place, even in this part of town that was known more for its amazing food than its prohibited pharmaceuticals.

Lying on my side, God held a long, narrow pipe to my inquisitive lips. She mimed taking a deep breath, while genuflecting with her free hand – the international symbol for ‘inhale’. I obeyed as instructed.

I smoked only a small bowl – five hits, maybe six, I have no idea. Within minutes I had seven fingers on each hand. It didn’t matter. The extra grip on the bed didn’t stop the room from moving away from me, alternating between lightspeed and molasses.

“Close eye,” God said, her whisper barely audible above the din caused by the busy propane-fired wok in the next room. Shit – I couldn’t have kept them open if I’d tried. But it wasn’t sleep that took me.

She replaced the wash cloth on my forehead with a fresh cool one. I learned later it was soaked in a mixture of rosewater and mint. I managed to open my eyes, just a sliver, and just for a minute. Salvador Dali swam over to greet me. I giggled, loudly I think. The old woman continued to smile. I tried to smile back, and maybe I did, but my brain was preoccupied with the visions, my body with the feelings.

jalan-alor-3A few hours later I found myself wandering, floating almost, back through the streets of Kuala Lumpur looking for my 5-star, basking in the afterglow buzz, the delicious sounds of the early morning hawker stalls thrumming in my ears. I discovered the city anew that night. And I ate like a pig.

When I finally returned home, I resolved to do three things. One, return to Southeast Asia and spend more time travelling the world – life is too short. Two, to heed the mantra of author Paul Bowles, and never again be a tourist, but always a traveller – life is too short. And three, remember as much of the opium experience as possible and never repeat it – life is too short.

I mention this life-altering event for one reason. Addiction.

I knew once I’d straightened out that it wouldn’t take much for me to make a return trip to see the old woman. Many trips perhaps – the experience was that amazing. I loved it and wanted more – had to have more.

Travel affects me the same way, and luckily it’s the only vice I have. Not alcohol, not drugs – travel. The desire, the need to experience what’s around the corner, around the country, around the world is the only habitual inclination I possess. I simply must travel.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

That quote is from a man who wrote eloquently about both drugs (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and travel (Treasure Island). Like many other authors who became famous for their literature, but were first and foremost travel writers – Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene among them – Robert Louis Stevenson’s fiction was a happy consequence of his real-life travels.

And so it is for me. Although my vocation is that of a media creative, my avocation is that of a traveller. It is when, on the all-too-infrequent occasions the two intersect, that I know I have arrived, and the monkey returns once again to my back – I am happy. More importantly, content. I live for those moments.

As for my resolutions, I’ve managed to keep them. All of them. So far.

Erotica, Personal

Lust In Translation

October 11, 2013

“Her face is a map of the world, it’s a map of the world.
You can see she’s a beautiful girl, she’s a beautiful girl.
And everything around her is a silver pool of light…”
– “Suddenly I See”, K.T. Tunstall

§ § §

“You simply must read this,” he said, handing her a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The professor had given her the book so he could fuck her, of course. Which he did. He’d purchased many copies of Kundera during his tenure. But that was in the past.

Now, ‘she’ was preparing to sit in seat 19F, all blonde, and smiley, and freckles.

“I’m Maria,” she said.

Full of grace, I thought, but, “I’m Randy,” came out instead as I extended my hand. “Code name: 19G.”

She laughed. Pretty sure her eyes sparkled. No question about it: we had our entire future ahead of us. Life was good. Or maybe it was the mid-morning sun streaming through the ‘hospitality class’ cabin that, conversely, clouded my vision. Whatever. I was on a roll and we hadn’t even begun to taxi.

“Could you hold this for me?”

What – your hand, your perfectly shaped instep…? Ah – your book. She was reading Love In The Time of Cholera, a dog ear at roughly page 100. What did that make her? Nineteen? Twenty? Twenty-two, tops. Maybe twenty-five and newly single – nobody reads a Colombian romantic when they’re attached.

Yes, what did that make her? More than twice my age, that’s what. Hmm. Still, we were going to Las Vegas, and what happens in Vegas….

“What are you doing in San Francisco?” her freckles asked as she settled in next to me.

Oh yeah – right. Changing planes and going to Las Vegas, apparently. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“Transiting, unfortunately,” I said. “I’m going to Vegas on points. Rent a car. Drive through the desert. Clear my head, recharge the batteries, search the soul… insert cliche here. I need the break. You?”

She considered the answer. “Meeting my boyfriend. We’re having dinner tonight in North Beach.”

Ah-ha. Love In The Time of Cholera AND a boyfriend. Kids these days.

“I’m breaking up with him… actually. He doesn’t know, though.” The freckles dimmed slightly.

“I hope he didn’t pay for the flight!” It was the first thing that came to mind, I swear. The freckles went into full arrest, her right hand went to her breast and Maria laughed so loudly and suddenly everyone on the plane spun around to see who the comedian was.

Thanks – thank you very much. I’m here all week! Two shows on Wednesday. Try the veal. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“No!” she said, in a mock (I hoped it was mock) scolding manner. She regained her composure. “I’m surprising him.”

I’ll say. “Lipstick on the collar? Pictures on the Internet? The perils of a long-distance romance, perhaps?”

“No – nothing like that.” She paused and thought about what to say next. “He’s completely devoted to me. He’s charming, and sexy, and… interesting…” Sounds just like me. “But… well… he’s an older man, and…” Don’t you even think – “…he’s thirty-seven, so…” STAB!

My right hand went to my breast. “OUCH!” I said, perhaps a tad too loudly.

She placed her hand on my knee (short pants rule!) and tried to make amends for treating me so shabbily. The shoe was firmly on the other perfectly shaped instep.

“Oh no, no… I mean… I mean I’m twenty-three. I should be having fun, going to clubs with my girlfriends, meeting guys, and…” Don’t say it. Spare me, I beg of you! “Having fun. You know.” Ah, there it is: the “F” word – and not the one I had in mind, either.

“Yeah,” I said rather feebly. “The age difference… it’s an issue – I understand. Uh-huh.”

“I mean… ” She ‘means‘ a lot, this girl. “I think every young girl deserves an older man in her life at least once in her life.” She said this not looking at anyone in particular, gesturing with her hand for both punctuation and flair, part of the rehearsed speech she would be giving later. God knows I agreed with her. “And I’ve had mine,” she added, completely unnecessarily. Crash, burn, smoke, ashes.

I silently cursed the prof who’d sent her down the road to Jurassic lust in the first place. ‘Unbearable Lightness‘ my ass!

And then we were in the air.

Wait a minute, I thought. She’s had the prof, and this other geezer who’s about to get dumped. She’s already over-quota. Maybe there’s hope.

“I mean…” Here we go again. “There was this professor in college. He just wanted… All he wanted to do is ‘grade my papers’ coupla times a week, you know?” Uh-huh – I do. “But he doesn’t count,” she added. I could tell from the way she said it, he did.

We reached 37,000 feet and began to cruise south. She smiled at me, opened Márquez at page 99, and dove in. Said too much already, perhaps? She must wonder what I’m thinking. For what I’m thinking I should be punished.

Fifteen minutes later, at page 114 she closed her book. She stretched and stole a glance at my iPod to see what I was listening to. George Michael’s Freedom ’90 kicked in. Great – now she thinks I’m gay and play in the bushes! And too old! Batting a thousand.

She leaned forward reaching between her long Levi-clad legs to find her purse on the floor. The blue coloured blouse that only barely disguised the swell of her breasts opened slightly at the top and now it was my turn to steal a glance. Was it my imagination or was there a button missing? Was she taking her time…? The mix of shadow and light shifted slightly as she breathed, transforming Maria’s delicate cleavage into a dramatic – SHIT, busted! She blushed, connecting the freckles. I blushed connecting absolutely nothing of any importance whatsoever.

“All we have to see, is that I don’t belong to you, and you don’t belong to me.” George Michael said it.

I popped out the ear buds. “Red is definitely your colour.”

Thought it AND said it.

Awkward pause… a pregnant one. We just sat there looking at each other.

“Did I say that out loud? I did, didn’t I?! Sorry – that’s my outside voice.”

Maria smiled. “I forgive you. Besides, we are outside. Sort of.”

St. Jude would have been proud. Lost cause indeed – I’ve been absolved!

The first officer came on the intercom and announced we were on final approach. I wish!

I adjusted my seat belt. “You live in Vancouver?” I asked.

“Uh-huh – Burnaby, actually,” she said. “Skytrain it into town every day. Parking’s impossible.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” I said. “What is it now… a hundred bucks or more a month for reserved in some places?”

She nodded and put Márquez back into her purse. “Nuts, huh?” We were changing the subject, apparently.

“Crazy,” I said. There was that nine-month pause again.

I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve been smitten in my life. Fallen in love – multitude. Desire – constantly. But this… I done been smote.

Staggering up the Jetway and into the SFO terminal we exchanged small talk as we made our way to Baggage Claim. I was thankful I had to change airlines in San Francisco. It allowed me a few more minutes with Maria before I dashed off to make my connection, and she got swept up in the end of an affair.

Like a merry-go-round strung-out on opium, our bags became mixed in with the unclaimed luggage from an earlier flight on the conveyor. The arrivals area was packed. Nothing was moving fast.

“What – does everyone buy their luggage from the same store?! I can always find mine easily,” I said sarcastically. “It’s blue and it’s got a handle! Fuck me!” There was that laughter again.

“You know what’s going to happen here, don’t you?” I continued. “I’m going to grab someone else’s bag by mistake, because I bought it at ‘Bags R Us’, same place as everyone else, and I’m going to get to my hotel in Vegas, throw it on the bed, and open it only to find a couple of fancy frocks, some frilly knickers and a box of tampons!”

Maria gave me the ‘tits-to-toes’ look. “I don’t know. You might look quite fetching in a Betsey Johnson evening gown.”

“I’m driving through the desert. I can’t be caught wearing a dress in Arizona – it’s a Republican state, for Christ’s sake!”

As we both continued to laugh I noticed my bag emerge sluggishly from behind the rubber curtains. It was blue and it had a handle… and wheels, I forgot that part.

I left Maria’s side for just a moment, giggling in her own pool of light.

Suddenly, she was waving frantically to someone else on the edge of the crowd. It hadn’t occurred to me the geezer would pick her up… but of course he would.

She turned and looked at me as I retrieved my suitcase. For the first time I saw all of her in one look. She practically glowed, I swear.

She walked towards me in that way confident tall blondes walk. The din of a million conversations reflecting off the concrete and metal of the arrivals level muted. The monochromatic stage was punctuated by the colours of Maria.

“It was very nice meeting you,” she said.

Let’s get out of here before your soon-to-be ex-boyfriend shows up. Thought it – didn’t say it.

“Yes it was,” I said. “I mean… nice meeting you too.” Real smooth, asshole!

“It was (fun)…”

“(Fun), yeah…”

I remembered the etiquette of our first introduction and extended my hand.

She grasped it, pulled me gently to her (God, she’s tall!) and kissed me on the cheek.

“Maybe we’ll bump into each other sometime,” she said.

“That would be nice, too,” I said.

“And fun…?”

“Guaranteed.”

She didn’t let go of my hand, and I was certainly in no hurry.

She looked down. “Are you sure that’s your suitcase?”

“Not entirely,” I lied. She laughed.

“I have to go,” she said slowly, her vowels tugging at my libido. She reclaimed her hand.

“Okay,” I lied.

The airport din faded back in. Maria’s lips mimed. Bye, they said. Bye, mine said.

I extended the handle on my blue, wheeled suitcase and rolled away, heading once again for departures. I watched the geezer embrace young Maria, and young Maria kiss the geezer. I couldn’t hear the question, but his expression said ‘who is that guy?‘ I couldn’t hear the answer but her expression said ‘my next lover.

Naw – probably not.

As they walked away hand in hand, geezer looked over his shoulder at me looking over my shoulder at him.

In that single glance he understood what I already knew. He’d always known. We always know. We just never know when.

Tonight, at some tony North Beach bistro, somewhere between the Squid-Ink Pasta and the Tiramisu she’d tell him. He’d smile, take it well, not try and talk her out of it (fool!), and then order a second bottle of Montepulciano.

There’d be tears, followed by break-up sex and then more tears.

Monday morning at the office back in Vancouver she’d tell her girlfriend, ‘Yes, I broke it off‘, and ‘Yes, the sex was great.‘ The girlfriend would laugh. Break-up sex is always the best, she’d say. Why do you think I can’t commit?! They’d both laugh.

And now, for the last 30 minutes I’ve been sitting in seat 14D, flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The seat beside me, empty.

Maybe we’ll bump into each other sometime….

Hormones. They’re not just for breakfast anymore.