We’ve just begun releasing a radio play that we’ve been working on for quite some time. It’s a slow-burner about disappearances outside a remote Saskatchewan community, inspired by many late nights when I was young staying up late reading Steven King in a tiny old cabin by a lake. You can learn more about it and listen to episodes over at Duggan Hill‘s official website.
The jean jackets hang off their lean frames as they clamber onto the #19 through the back entrance, not bothering to swipe their Compass cards as they seize the nearest seats beside me, check their flip-phones for the time. One has leather gloves for hands, calloused from ten-hour days spent in a warehouse making sure the shipments got out in a reasonable span of time (“Cause my boss can be a real prick”), the other has tattoos spilling out his shirt sleeves and stick-and-poke misfires lining his hands. Burnt-coffee breath, up-all-night eyes and a slight sag in their faces where their twenties used to be, they start talking about the perils of dating the women they meet at The Meetings:
“Cause here’s the thing, man. If you hit it and quit it, you know what’s gonna happen? You’re gonna make em feel like shit and they relapse. Or they’ll make you go crazy and then you relapse. Or you’ll both wind up in the shit. So don’t do it. It’s crazy.”
It’s crazy, but they’re thinking about it anyways, going on how they swore they’d never do it again but still contemplating it all the same, like a bottle they put away on the highest possible shelf when they know they should have sent it down the drain. They talk about the Centre, about an old friend out on parole (“Like that’ll fucking last”), about a job fair coming up that maybe they should check out (“You know how to do a resumé?”) but the conversation soon circles back to whether or not one of them should ask for her number after the next Meeting, just for coffee, just to see what she’s all about. “It’s hard, cause you already know you’ve got something in common but it’s, like, it’s the worst thing you could have in common, you know?’
They fumble for their smokes as their stop comes up, white slivers hanging from their lips and lighters flickering before they’ve even stepped off the bus, collars up, out into the rain. The plumes follow them as they slouch down Kingsway until they disappear from sight.
Get a birthday routine. Something simple, something you can pull off competently year after year without any risk of screwing it up. That way, even if everything else is falling apart and everyone is rushing for the exits, you can still have cake. For me, it’s carrot cake. Without fail, on the day before my birthday, there it is; either in a cafe on Bowen Island or down the street from your new place on Kingsway. Simple. Reliable. True.
No raisins, please.
Get your hopes up once in awhile. Sometimes it’ll kick your teeth in, but at least you know you’re still capable of that wild-eyed wonder staring down the beautiful face of What If.
Forgive yourself already. You’re gonna make more messes anyhow.
Realize that the universe’s sense of humour remains utterly implacable; it literally can’t figure out whether it’s going to dark comedy, absurdist, macabre, three-camera sitcom canned laugh tracks or some other avant-garde notion of a knock-knock joke. You’re going to get life-changing news on a crowded #130 headed to Metrotown and want to scream but you can’t because you’re literally asses to elbows with BCIT students.
Scream anyway. They’ll get over it.
Accept that some things you learned when you were younger were bullshit. Not about Santa Claus, cause he’s real as hell, but other stuff like “It’ll Get Better On It’s Own is a totally viable philosophy to have about your mental and physical health.” Your warranty’s probably run out by now, and your “immortal” twenties weren’t immortal at all; you were just putting everything on the credit card. Now ditch the pizza and hit the elliptical before therapy, dumbass.
Don’t fucking worry so much about building your “body of work,” and quit beating yourself up for the days you didn’t hit your page count. Most of those great writers you look up to were drunk half the time, you can afford an off day on your ass playing Skyrim. Some days the words just don’t come, and that’s okay cause when they do show up holy shit you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Stare into the gaping maw of Depression. Tell it to go fuck itself.
And last but not least: Get to know Age really well. It was always there, but now you notice it even more, in the cataracts in the eyes of the family dog, the shaking paper hands of your grandfather, the way you communicate better with your sister and parents. No point in trying to shove Age out the door or getting paranoid about every wrinkle and hunting for greys in the bathroom mirror every morning, so take its coat and ask if you can make it a cup of coffee.
It’s easier when you can look it in the eye.
So hello. Hey. Hi. How are you?
This time a bit more of a touristy type deal than a bedraggled zombie shuffle through the nightlife deal.
Starting off with Big Ben and Buckingham.
There’s still flowers on the bridge,
a little tension in the air.
Plenty of cops on patrol.
Big Ben towers overhead, always looks a little tilted in every photograph.
The palace itself is mobbed by travellers with selfie sticks
hoping to get a shot with the guard right as it changes.
We’re just on time to see a parade of fuzzy hats and bayonets go marching past
to the steady drum beat, striding with pride.
Next up, the National Gallery,
Rembrandts and Michaelangelos abound,
in hallowed halls, divine faces staring down at both the wide-eyed and the disinterested alike
with the same oil-on-canvas disdain.
Teenagers have to compete with arts students for a sliver of couch space.
One disappears into their iPhone, the other into her sketchbook
opting to bring back a piece of the Renaissance in pencil lines
instead of Instagram pixels.
Out in Trafalgar Square, breakdancers spar with political activist rallies
for audiences, dope beats mixing with the call
to stand up against racism and inequality.
Traffic is still difficult to reckon with
and pedestrians become sprinters at the drop of a hat.
Across the Thames, the Imperial War Museum stands tall with cannons poised outside
and a shard of the Berlin wall takes a solemn seat on the path up to the entrance.
While I’m inside, I learn that one of my great-grandfathers
was gassed during the Great War.
He carried a rattle in his lungs for the rest of his days.
Finally, the West End
Art Deco Restaurants that look like you’d easily find Noel Coward writing in a corner, brandy glass in hand, dissecting his fellow diners with knife-and-fork eyes.
Dinner service before The Play That Goes Wrong, where
everyone loses their collective shit.
“If you’ve eaten the raspberry ripple ice cream during the interval,
please seek medical help immediately.”
As the play falls to pieces (intentionally).
Enough of that.
On to Scotland.
Festooned Hen Parties barrelling down crowded sidewalks yowling after taxicabs.
ELBOWS UP! in the pubs if you want to get anywhere.
Blondes in dresses giving vicious side eye to the tourist at the bar who lingers a moment too long.
The tourist is me. Naturally.
Clusters of lads lads lads around a kebab kiosk on the street corner, smells of spices and charred meat wafting past.
All the sauces belong on the kebab, according to my sister.
Inside the pub, a Noel Gallagher lookalike in a pork pie hat is telling a tale with every inch of his body,
letting his gangly limbs flail like kites in a strong breeze before he doubles over a table, barely able to contain his mirth for his own joke.
His mates oblige.
Along the bridge, across the water. Yellow-vested police officers stroll in pairs, eyes up for troublemakers.
Everyone’s a troublemaker.
The bouncer at the second pub looks at me three times, says I’ve had too much.
Don’t feel like explaining that I’ve just flown in and that my exhaustion is all dressed up as a pint too many
so we go to a pub where the doorman isn’t as scrutinizing.
The bog is a swamp.
I’m immersed in new accents at every turn.
Prowling packs of young men with sharp haircuts and groomed skin roam in artisanal torn jeans and shoes stained with vomit from the bloke round the way that couldn’t hold his kebab.
The World’s End is a hard rock apocalyptica that seems to go on forever.
The Fruity lurks in the corner, batting its lashes at anyone with some spare pounds in their pockets.
Above the clamour and din, figures in housecoats smoke on their window ledges, watching the river of people below and letting their ashes drift like spring pollen.
The steady rattle of the train is punctuated by a PSSSHTCLK!
as the man behind me starts his day off with a Lucky Lager.
There’s maybe four other souls in the car aside from me, one’s a snail
with his world on his back, pine-freshly returned
from a tour tree-planting, hallowed earth still carried
under his fingertips as he sips his large double-double,
shifts the weight of his backpack bundle sideways
and squint through the cracks in his cellphone to try and tell
what his buddy meant.
One has nails clicking like talons across tile as she
finesses ferocious missives on a Macbook,
readying a full clip fo emails to fire off the second
she’s back in WiFi. Her hair’s pulled back
tighter than tuned piano strings, her rainjacket so precision-engineered
both bullets and raindroplets would roll right off it, she looks ready
to conquer a mountain because she has to conquer one every damn day,
and god help you if you don’t leave space for her flag at the summit.
One catches ten minutes of rest, leaning against the glass
as the views of the mountains become crowded out by condos.
He was halfway into the second chapter about macroeconomics
when his 2AM texting blitz with the girl from the library
finally caught up with him, so he gives himself ten
against the windowpane, assuming his body will automatically
jolt back to full power once he’s close enough to campus
to smell the heady blend of anxiety and optimism.
And the last is the man behind me,
grinning sideways at the grey skies and the skeletal outlines of new Brentwood towers
as the station lumbers into view. He tucks the emptied can out of sight
under his seat, pulls his headphones from a bulging coat pocket
and lets whatever music he has at the ready carry him on
out of the station, out of sight, hands gently thrumming
drum solos on the seat in front of him, both serene and enlivened
before the sun even had time to get its slippers on.
The surface is as clear and smooth as glass.
This lasts until a lone vacationer on a seadoo revs his engines and cuts an azure line across the water, from west to east.
I get buzzed by a pair of hummingbirds as I take my morning coffee on the back porch, watching the water stand perfectly still and the more ambitious residents take their dogs out for walks before 9AM.
If you walk to the waters, take the longest dock to the very edge, you see clouds of minnows darting, flowing, hiding among the reeds.
When I was younger, I’d use butterfly nets to try and catch them.
I’m really not sure what for. They didn’t taste good in the slightest.
My father’s never caught a fish at this lake in sixteen years.
I’ve never gone out fishing with him here either, I was
usually too busy with comic books and teenage sulking,
never really took an interest.
The first time we went out, as he was teaching me the finer points of casting out,
he flung the five-of-diamonds lure idly off the side of the boat and was
about to start elaborating on how fast you should reel in,
when a three-pound jackfish abruptly became
more gullible than usual.
He barely looked like a meal, so my father and I
threw him back in, assuming lightning would naturally strike twice.
We spent the rest of the week pulling in nothing but seaweed
and nobody believed us (we didn’t bring the camera.)
But we knew.
That said, the size of the fish grows by about a pound each time
the story gets retold around the campfire, over Coors and cocktails and
The baritones of the CKUA radio hosts slinks
through the walls, rumbling about thunderstorms
and community events
and abbreviated national news,
the glut of details left to clickbait articles
and in-depth analysis nobody out here
has any use for.
Slowly, your eyes stop searching
for the refresh button
and the iPhone chimes are buried
under birdsong, tall shoreline reeds
played by offshore breezes
and the hundredth retelling of
your favourite ghost story.
“This one time, while I was in the woods…”