The Cambie is wooden tables, cheap drinks and a ragtag army of backpackers and downtown denizens packing in and shouting over everyone else while burly bloodied men whale away at each other on five different televisions. The drinks are well enough (because it can’t be easy to botch a rum and coke) but the food, I am advised, is something I should steer well enough away from. The Cambie doesn’t have a lot of things going for it but what it does have in ample measures is SPACE; in the span of a few hours twenty people have materialized through the doors and past the portly bouncer to bid fond farewells to my roommate, who embarks on his own Odyssey in a few short days; across the mountains, back to Calgary, and soonafter across the borderlines to New York City where a spot at the New School awaits him. It’s a highly-sought-after chance of a lifetime which he secured despite having to audition via Skype, of all things, and the fact that he managed to land this coveted opportunity without even being in the room for his big callback speaks volumes to his acting ability.
The program itself, which I know little of, is said to cost a staggering amount, which my roommate will have to somehow secure over the summer through a mix of loans, grants, private investors and convenience-store robberies. Three years will pass before he leaves with his equivalent of a masters degree, a thickened skin from three years of surviving the Big Apple, and a mountain of debt I would not envy.
Do we place too high a value on the institutions that shape us? How much moulding do we really need and how much is just safety blankets? Some institutions are more prestigious than others, may have better facilities and wise, well-vetted instructors, but are any of them truly so staggeringly elevated above the rest of the pack that they can call for tens of thousands of extra dollars in tuition fees? Admittedly, the notion of paying a little extra for a name-brand is far from foreign; we do it all the time, paying that few cents more for one bottle of ketchup over the other. The Big Name on a resume can open doors, but I’m not sure open doors are ideal for someone who cut himself off at the knees.
In any case, I raised a glass in honour of my roommate’s departure into the unknown, rolling out on his odyssey which will return him to us, three or five or ten years down the road, forever and irrevocably changed. After congregating at the Cambie we relocated down the block to the Funky something or other, a hardcore metal bar with a karaoke machine where they would spend the rest of the evening murdering old standards to the amusement of the three metalheads that happened to be there on a Monday night, wearing plaid and print shirts and looking very unmetal until they took to the stage to shred their vocal chords with Pantera after midnight.
Catching up from last night, where after slashing through five hours of rehearsal we collapsed, exhausted, back home before making the trek down for materials for tacos and mojitos because it was going to be a damn long night and an even longer day. Darren stuck to his computer because he had roughly five hundred photographs from the day’s process to sift through, banishing the ones that were too soft or too unflattering to the trashbin while Jameson reminisced about days and times gone by and theatre school and how all our old friends were walking the aisle and saying the vows in short order, with my friend Dennis being the next to take the plunge this coming September. I set about fixing a kilo of lean beef and all the other necessaries for tacos while fielding phone calls and texts from our producer, Curtis, who was busy putting out some minor last-minute fires because really, it couldn’t possibly stay this easy for long.
Being the in the rehearsal space felt like coming home, especially before we even got to the bank. The Harbor Center Dance Studio brought back flashbacks of my first two years in post secondary, the nostalgia only accented when Starlise the choreographer sent us through the eight Laban movements to help us find and define our characters. By the end of the day we were running all the choreography in the space itself, and as the whole host of our performing company tried clawing their way out of the bank vault despite the protestations of their Pharaoh, I reckoned we might be onto something.
Of course, rehearsal is merely theory, just spinning a plate.
Today, we add in three other plates and a chainsaw.
On the 2nd of March I fired off an email to Curtis, a producing-type fellow around town, who had recently come across a million-dollar-looking space for a song. He’d only sent me four quick snapshots of the interior, but they were enough to grab my interest. I sent him a spoken-word piece I’d been rolling around in my brain for a long while, a little one-off about greed called “Pyramids” and sent it his way.
Cut to a little more than two months later, and we’re sitting at day one of a multidisciplinary film project, bringing together spoken word, dance, movement, music, all contained in the walls of this old heritage building now existing somewhere between it’s old life as a bank and it’s new life as a nightclub (to be named “The Permanence.”) The piece has at least ten dancers (depending on availability), a camera crew pulled together with favours and goodwill, and forty-eight hours to make it all happen.
Though this be madness, there’s method in it.
Back in a few.
Because no-one is ready to think of their father like beachfront property in the path of Katrina,
I wanted to shout fireworks in the food court when the prognosis flew in from Alberta,
declare it a National Holiday
and plaster the walls with copies of that MRI report.
Because I’m used to opponents I can see and feel and outwit and doubledeal and the growth on his kidney has a Berlin Wall pokerface.
I can’t read you,
which is fitting, since the man that carries you
has a similar penchant for silent suffering
and raw tenacity, so much
that his guts have guts, but
it took him a long time to tell us
how he almost died on the operating table
during that first skirmish
Because I’d unsealed the storm shelter in my mind again
stockpiling canned goods just like the last time
he’d opened up the walls of our suburban splitlevel
gotten a lungful of history and nearly
became it himself. Now the shelves are spilling over
with safeguards and rations and measures of maybe
that I won’t need.
“I guess I can go buy green bananas,” he says,
already cracking jokes mere hours after the report
not missing a beat, carrying on about the weather
and the barbecue.
We talk about things without talking about things,
circling the heavies with small talk
and the occasional blunt strike when it’s needed most,
but today, it’s plainspeaking straight smiles.
I’ll settle back down to my dry Chinese food
and the balance of my eight-hour shift
and try to keep from sounding off like a rattling old foghorn
across the bay.
When she comes in, I leave my customer
to wrap her in a Roman Candle firework
exhale relief, be a happy earthquake
just for thirty seconds or so,
that’s all I need for now.