London, Jet-Lagged

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.

Left and Leaving, Dollars for Names, and Pantera After Midnight

Image

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.