Parties

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As I was getting my daily dose of gutcleansing caffeine,
I couldn’t help but overhear the barista’s conversation behind the bar
which went a little something like this;
Her parents were, like, on their way to, like, Seattle or something
for a, like, anniversary getaway. And she was, like, totally throwing a party
at her house in Maple Ridge.
And as she was divulging the street address in her loud and slightly-squeaky voice
to her two co-workers I wanted to say;
Stop, squeaky barista babe
have you NOT seen any films about youth and parties
in the last thirty years?
Empirical evidence shows that if you invite two people to a party
two dozen will show up, and among those two dozen
will be the somewhat sketchy yet inexplicably popular
bad boy who will invite two dozen of his equally-if-not-more-so
sketchy friends. And there will be drinking and dancing and bad music
and bad drugs and your crush will say something charming and your
bff’s will do something lame.
Again, I’m not making this up.
Empirical evidence.
It’ll be an absolute four-on-the-floor fiasco
that will undoubtedly result in something
expensive and irreplacable being lost or broken,
like your mom’s priceless vase.
Or your self respect. Sorry to be brash, but it’s true.
The most popular dance at these parties is the horizontal mambo
and yes, everyone is doing it
except you.
But to squeaky barista babe, what I want to say most of all
is: “You should savor every second of it.”
After a certain point, college-level carousing drains of it’s appeal,
and waking up in a livingroom warzone surrounded by wounded soldiers and the walking dead just seems outdated.
And somewhere along the way, the equation shifted,
and suddenly all the bacchanalian revelry eight hours before
just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. But dial the clock back four years,
before loans and grads and Thinking About The Future
we roared like lions. Lions on DRUGS,
but only because the slightly sketchy popular guy sold them to us
and I SWEAR to you he’s on the up and up.
Now we’re shuffling cell-phone shells
texting and tweeting and crowing and bleating
but not actually DOING anything, and when we do meet in revelry
there’s an overtone of sadness, of disconnect
we’re only half-here, and our other halves are on our own personal Titanics
scraping up against the ice in our glasses
Before everything was a click away
before our cell phones were worth more than some cracked ribs
and a great story
We were fools, but god
did we ever smile so wide.
So if you can, get video evidence
no matter how incriminating it might be,
at least you’ll have some record of the rampage
to crank your heart to eleven when you need it most.

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BicMan

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He’s a human Bic lighter,
sparking and scratching, metal voice rasping bout a fire
he had inside himself,
he was born upon a shelf but
sold his position for a song.
Dirty hands and coat pockets all day long
nights in the cold sparking Malboro’s and even he’s thinking
This Shit’s Getting Old.
His shine got dulled, he got passed around until some girl
carved her initials into his side with a pen knife
thought he was hers for life but then she dropped him
lost him in a crowded place
and every dent upon his face is history,
and it’s no mystery he feels lighter
every
year.
Like he’s running on fumes and nobody has the courtesy
to fill his heart but even in the dark
hungry and chilled and praying for one more spark
if he catches the streetlight just right,
baby,
he shines.

 

Scrawl

ImageThe artful sharpie scrawl on the blue bus seat in front of me states, in no uncertain terms, “Kil Cops.”

The etching on the corpse-grey bathroom stall door politely proclaims to me that Kris, with a K, has a “Huge Tool,” and for a good time, I should ring up the digits inscribed below.

And the bold billboard bellowing down from it’s highbar perch is promising me friends, laughs and life fulfillment… if I only just drank a goddamn Coke already.

These are our hieroglyphs, the caveman testament to our invented gods of weight loss, debt relief and bronzed American Idols. And since nobody, I’m told, writes a letter anymore, this will be all that remains, a mausoleum of promises we never kept, histories we never lived and tracks we autotuned until the siren songs were just singles.

When you run your hands along the grooves of history you can feel the hammer strokes, the chip, the chisel, the sweet ache of experience and the joy of breaking that freshest soil. There are no more conquistadors, this planet is all carved up and when the power goes, so too will all our palaces of powered prose, the cellular chronicles of our time, pyramids of photographs and sphinxes of secrets and all we’ll have left is bus graffiti and band posters to mark the passing of our age.

So make more marks, I say, and I say this despite the medium I’m chattering this out onto. Bind books with your rapture and chisel victory in the side of your split level, and leave more etchings in the pavement to note your passing because there are no monuments in the cloud. Because something should outlive us that isn’t easily destroyed by a failing hard drive and a server error.

Because when all this is over, can you really imagine anyone paying admission to wander around a museum reading our emails?

 

Suckers: Selling Success On the Skytrain

ImageA well travelled, well tempered blonde deep in her thirties leans across the aisle in a friendly, nervous, out-of-nowhere bout of banter to suss out our names and occupations, our coming and goings and holiday plans. Innocent enough, until she begins her sharp-nosed sales pitch pricking our greedier demons for attention.

“Don’t you want to be more successful? I’m part of a company that teaches people how to succeed. If you’re interested…”
Her voice peters out like a parade in the rain as her nerves rally and launch a tactical strike at her voice box and her social locks snap back, deadbolts sliding into the comfort zone of quiet, of just not saying anything before she gets to the free invitations to “hang out with some friends of mine” who will lock you in a living room to try to lure you into a buy-in with videos of young couples on beaches driving convertibles and drinking mojitos at whatever-time-I-please-o’clock. And my bullshitometer is already clocking well into the red cause after years of commission sales I’ve learned the fine scent of schlock and shell games. Hell, I ever played the part once before, when I got taken for a grand and some change by a “talent agent” in Edmonton selling the same old song-and-dance to any starry-eyed child that happened into her crosshairs.

And despite this, I kinda wanted to say yes, and listen to her list the benefits, the seminars, success stories in suits and sports cars strutting up, smiling and sharing The Secret but the real secret behind their perfect teeth is this: All you need to succeed are some suckers who need to be saved from themselves, lifted from the pits of their self-fashioned hells and all they really, really need is a friend.

But if you can fashion platinum from pep talks, why even pretend? You need community, not conventions, and I’m the furthest thing from an expert, but I’m not so sure life fits into steps, mantras, mottos, breakdowns, flowcharts and godawful sizzle reels.

If you want to succeed, talk to your neighbour. Break bread for the sake of it. Kindness without expectation. And for the love of everything, stop selling success.

It’s like that wine kit in your basement; it may not taste anything like what you were expecting… but damn if you didn’t earn it.

Returned to Sender

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The postal service has it out for my friends. Only half of my postcards ever seem to make their intended destination, the rest left to languish in some sort of letter-limbo until the Apocalypse. And it’s always the important ones that do, not the simple “Hey, how are you? Weather’s nice. See you later,” letters that really could’ve been sent as an email but you wanted to be charming and old-school so you packed it up and posted it expected it’s sudden arrival in their mailbox to make their whole week better.

One such letter managed to find it’s way back to me after spending a month or so in that limbo, lost and confused after failing to arrive at the flat above the shop in Toronto that my friend A. T. McKechnie lived in with a few other bohemians. The man, having just been accepted into the Soulpepper Academy, is a most excellent writer, so I thought I might ring in the New Year with a note that never reached him;

Dear A. T. McKechnie,

“Yr city’s a sucker, my city’s a creep.”
But both of us could probably stand to have better mayors. You have a Hindenburg in a five thousand dollar suit. I don’t even know who the fuck my mayor is.
Is that bad?
Yeah, that’s bad.
I hope this letter finds you and yours in good health and half-drunk spirits. You’re all a terribly brave pack, and I salute your dauntlessness in the face of Big Toronnah.
This Christmas, I’m wishing you all find that perfect line of dialogue, that final brush-stroke and that chord progression you’ve been hunting for on the subway steps, in the bottoms of the coffee mugs and the packets of cigarettes.
Find it, nail it to the floor, and then set up a red velvet rope and charge admission.
Or just set it free if you’re like that.

Merry Christmas, and good hunting in 2013.

Cheers.

 

Cowboy-Coffee-Confidential

Lions DenWhile I waited in an all-day brunch cafe for my play’s director to saunter over from yoga, a reed-thin urban cowboy sat across from me, putting away a tall cup of black Columbian while he scowled and stared at his laptop screen. Eventually, as the other diners evaporated into the afternoon air, he migrated to a table closer to the window, jacked in a pair of headphones and started up a Skype call with (from what I could deduce) was a once and, just maybe, future lover.

His voice rasped and rattled like tin cans on a gravel road as he spoke; he couldn’t have been more than thirty-five but he carried more weight on his shoulders and in his throat than folks I’ve met at fifty or sixty. The conversation veered sharp right away as he railed against the “scene” he found himself in, a session musician surrounded by all the vices he was railing so hard against after five solid years of subservience to them. The mention of a friend’s girlfriend bringing blow to a party set off the unseen second party to this conversation and he spent the better part of ten minutes calming her down and laying out promise after promise that no, goddamnit, he didn’t touch the stuff cause it just wore him out and never gave him that rise anymore. He needed an out, a solid start, and at times his rough-hewn tones almost cracked when past mistakes rolled into the spotlight of their debate. Shoulda been you, he kept repeating, long after the coffee had dried up and his battery decided to give up the ghost, leaving him with nothing but hurried goodbyes, hasty promises and a moment of silence, something shared onscreen for only him to see and the rest of us to guess at. Then the battery kicked out and that was that, story over. My director friend had long since showed up and we were well into our bacon and eggs, but one of my ears had been locked onto the cowboy whenever possible as he growled and limped his way through a laundry list of struggle, perseverance and temptations nipping at his heels.

I didn’t want him to go, because he was one of the few people in Vancouver that actually spoke. People-watching in Edmonton was easy enough, street scenes popped up more often than potholes there, a constant push and pull between concrete and chrome and the snippets of humanity playing out against them without paying rent on the performance space. The simple act alone of asking for a cigarette can trigger a three-act autobiography, complete with funny voices for the different characters… if you ask the right smoker.

Out here, though, the stories are the same but the audience feels diminished. Everyone’s passion plays are muted, secretive affairs, as if they’re sworn to secrecy on the subway and in shopping malls. This ragged cowboy’s computer confessional was probably the most honest, earnest thing I’ve seen since I’ve arrived in Vancouver proper… and it made me miss home.

Just a little.

On Train Travel

 

She was a bluegrass princess with chaotic curls, eating a green pepper the size of a softball in the seat across from me on the overnight train through the Rocky Mountains. I thought it was odd that someone would eat a green pepper like it was an apple, but I didn’t want to say anything for fear of coming across as odd myself. While she was unburdened save for the traveling pack and the guitar stowed in it’s battered case in the luggage train, I was weighted down with laptops, suitcases, boxes bound with packing tape; all the trappings of a life in relocation. I was film-school slick with an ear for dialogue but lacking the stomach to stand in front of the camera, and so I chose to linger behind the scenes, furnishing the pretty people with words that didn’t sound like they were pulled from a hatful of cinematic cliches. I was bound for the Coast to take an empty room in my uncles apartment while I chased after agents or producers or whomever saw potential in my pages. She was headed that way to play a show, record with friends, surf from couch to couch and take a few shifts working with her brother laying ventilation ducts in new buildings because money was tight those days and tighter still for a traveling musician like herself.

We broke the ice with cross-aisle banter when the train shuddered to a halt shortly after leaving the Jasper snack stop. “Do you suppose the train is lost?” I asked, met in return with a wry smile and a chuckle. The back and forth continued on through the afternoon as the train resumed it’s plodding trek through the mountains. Her name was exotic and she had wisdom written in sanskrit across her right wrist, my name was ordinary though my middle name was Scottish thanks to my grandfather, but I had nothing in the way of tattoos because needles always bothered me. She was a tumbleweed from the East, blown about for years with a keyboard strapped to her back, formerly engaged to a fella right out of highschool but That’s All In The Past Now. We decided since the train trip would be long and contact with the outside world limited that a murder would inevitably occur during the night, thrusting us into the spotlight as detectives of exceptional ability who would solve the case before the train arrived in Vancouver. From there on, I was known to her as Sherlock Holmes, and she to me as Miss Marple.

As the afternoon wore on the banter turned to facts and details, old stories crackling like weathered records back and forth as the sun slowly dipped into the mountain valleys. I came from the stark suburbs in Oil County, and had resisted the pull to flock north like many young men I’d known that had joined the Black Gold Rush and sunken neckdeep in easy money and bad habits. In the place of hockey and trucks and country music I’d found theatre and bicycles and dusty vinyl records belonging to my father, and opted for four years in a prairie college learning how to speak and move and which way the camera ought to be pointed. This amused her, as she had never considered the classroom past highschool, having been on the piano bench since the age of three and learning her trade without having an old hand grade her accordingly in exchange for hefty tuition fees; she simply was, and it was enough.

We took dinner together in the meal car; lamb shank with gravy and wild rice and greens, far better than I had expected train fare to be, but then again I was used to the prepackaged plasticky meals found on airplanes, force-fed to captive diners because it’s not like they have much choice in the matter. We stayed long after the other guests had cleared away back to their seats and bunks and we ordered coffee while she recounted her days on the road, sweeping across the United States playing every roadhouse that would have them. I had never undertaken any such journeys, only limited sorties with family to Disneyland and a brief expedition out to Montreal to apply for a school that would not have me. To me, the road was an uncertain place, a limbo I had been brought up to disdain, but she was unafraid to hitchhike across the miles and rely on the kindness of strangers and her own fortitude, and she said there was nothing to fear; the world might be up in arms and petrified of what cannot be mapped by a travel broker, but there was no reason the wilderness should be seen as malignant and foreboding. She said she dreamed of owning a ranch, an unruly piece of land she could reign over with a horse, a dog and a gun, making manifest all the desires that lay heavy in the songs she wrote and sang in pub shows and at festivals and fairs and on the sidewalks of The Coast, where she had lived for many years until it just wore her out and the glass towers had to give way once again to prairie plains.

By this time it was well into the dark hours and the majesty of the passing mountains outside was hidden from our eyes, so we returned to the economy coach and said goodnight, and while she slept in comfort thanks to the foresight she had to bring pillows and blankets I tossed and turned across the aisle, wrestling with the unyielding seat trying to find some way to arrange my gangly form in a position comfortable enough to fall asleep in, bundling spare clothes into an impromptu pillow and covering myself in my heavy peacoat to keep warm. It was nearly impossible, only a few hours of sleep were to be had, and when I thought to text my friends back home in the hopes they might still be awake I found nothing but a “Searching For Signal,” on the screen; for the first time in years, maybe even a decade, I was completely cut off, isolated on all sides, in perfect solitude save for the constant drumming of the train wheels. The outside world was, for that brief moment, hushed, and it was good.

The next morning we took an early breakfast and went up to the observation car, taking in the passing rocky vistas as dawn spilled over the crags and into the wooded valleys the train tracks cut across. The valleys gave way to farmers fields, and farmers fields to suburbs, and soon the sprawl of civilization was upon us, highways swooping overhead, commuter trains surging past, a skyline of crystal towers jutting out like teeth sinking into the flesh of the Pacific, and then we were there.

As we collected ourselves and prepared to depart she tossed me a CD across the aisle, an assembly of raw highway tales and outlaw odysseys wrapped in clarion chords and ivory keys, and I had nothing to give her in return but that was alright, I could make it up to her someday. And then we were off the train hauling our lives on our backs, collecting the scraps from the baggage carousel and out into the world where she stood to savour a long-delayed smoke while I threw everything into the back of my uncles waiting truck.

And there was a smile and an au revoir, an inside joke and a notion to meet up again when things were more settled. And then she was gone, and that was that, wouldn’t see her again for the better part of a couple of years. But if there was one thing she did do for me, it’d be that she set the tone for the adventure that would follow, my first few tentative steps in new shoes in a new city. It was going to be odd, it was going to be unexpected… but when you got to the heart of the matter, there was never anything to fear.