Writing Process: Not Knowing Myself

This blog has been effective at turning over the rocks from my childhood, dreams and half-realized works. The Young Chronicles in particular has been telling as it reveals my lack of identity; I distinctly remember having clarity when I was eight years old and then none on my hitchhiking trip eleven years later.

Pretending to be confident and cool somewhere in Saskatchewan

I was always on edge, unsure of where I was, scared to camp alone, scared on the side of the road, scared of riding in stranger’s cars. I wanted to be somewhere else and, when I got there, somewhere else again.

I found vague clarity a few years later in between tree-planting seasons, camping with my cat Popo in the Gulf Islands, reading dawn to dusk, but still scared of sounds in the night and the dark waters, of being alone, but nevertheless running away from others.

My little log cabin on Ahmic Lake. Scared even there.

That’s as close to a sense of self as I have ever come.

Young Chronicles XVI: Ahmic Harbour, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Young Chronicles details my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the Toronto-Newfoundland leg, I continue west through Ontario into Manitoba.

July 3, 1983 Mileage 335 miles

Ride One: Ahmic Harbour to Parry Sound. Buick Electra (with dad and Sue). Listened to Bach and Vangelis. Pleasantries.

Ride Two: Parry Sound to Sudbury Turnoff. Rabbit. Twerp of a driver who irritated another hitchhiker in the car from El Salvador and stayed quiet throughout.

Hitchhiker from El Salvador walking ahead between Parry Sound and Sault Saint Marie

Ride Three: Sudbury Turnoff to Sault Saint Marie. Sal driving from a wedding in Toronto, despondent about splitting up with wife. Picked up his brother Paul at a marina. Listened to Stravinsky’s The Right of Spring.

July 4 Mileage: 435 miles

Ride One: Thunder Bay to Wawa. Blue Custom Chevy Van. Married guy with mustache and fancy track pants. Loves Canada and understands the power of the weather.

Long wait by Wawa sign. Graffiti underneath sign included: Wawa sucks! Fuck Wawa! Jerky Fuckwell, I slept here. Truck pulled over and then took off when I approached

Ride Two: Wawa to Thunder Bay. Silver Rabbit. Alison and Jane. Very nice and happy people. “I am so happy to be alive!” Strong belief in Socialism. Big collection of pillows in the back seat with me. Stayed at same hostel in Thunder Bay.

Alison and Jane on the road to Thunder Bay

July 6 Mileage: 29 miles

Ride One: Thunder Bay to four miles up the road. Pickup truck. Kirk Douglas lookalike.

Ride Two: Six miles up the road. VW Bug. Blonde guy going to Lakehead University.

Ride Three: Three miles up the road. Brown Rabbit. Jesus lookalike. “You have to like sitting on the side of the road.”

Ride Four: Ten miles up the road to Sunshine. Old car with California plates. Mike. “You can stay the night, if you need to.” (I did.)

July 7 Mileage: 385 miles

Ride One: Sunshine to Winnipeg. Blue Colt junker. Dave and his nephew Sean. Dealer in native art. Enjoys silence and forest fire trivia. Obsessed with sex. “You never know. Maybe I’ll get lucky.”

Dave and Sean on the Blue Colt in their Winnipeg backyard

Took me to his house for dinner (chicken, salad, baked potatoes and beer) with his wife and sister-in-law. “Now you can tell people you had dinner with Indians and they didn’t eat you!”

Young Chronicles XXV: Metis, PQ to Ahmic Harbour, Ontario

The Young Chronicles details my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the Toronto-Newfoundland leg, I continue west into Ontario.

June 26, 1983 Mileage 226 miles

Ride One: Metis Beach to Levi, PQ. Beige Subaru with a dashboard like a cockpit. Jane (forceful, elitist), Daphne (said little) and their dog Rocky (stunk of sea water).

Walked a few kilometers and took ferry into Quebec City. Sat on the boardwalk and watched a juggler get all of the attention while the flautist was ignored.

Quebec City at night

June 27, 1983 Mileage 268 miles

Ride One: Quebec City to Pont du Quebec (just across the damn bridge). Blue Rabbit.

Ride Two: Pont du Quebec to St. Georges. Beige Subaru (same as Jane’s). French anesthetist. Colt cigarettes, moose hunter. “The separation meant nothing.”

Ride Three: St. Georges to East Montreal. Brown Honda. Young Quebecois.

Ride Four: East Montreal to West Montreal. White Fury. Wore sunglasses, was stopped for speeding and played “Judge’s Card”. Gave me a pack of smokes. “We’re on this earth to help each other, man.” Gave me a soul shake.

Ride Five: East Montreal to Hawkesbury. Brown Rabbit. Old guy with sideburns and woman. Misdirected them so that I could get closer to Ottawa. (They were going to Lachute.)

Ride Six: Hawkesbury to Ottawa, Ontario. Fancy sports car. French guy with bushy mustache. Smoked a spliff. “All right, all right.”

Stayed with Tara (friend from Queen’s University) and George.

Tara and George in their Ottawa apartment

June 29, 1983 Mileage 268 miles

Ride One: Ottawa to Carleton Place Turnoff. White Cadillac with digital read-outs. Clean-shaven, curly haired guy. Took scenic route along the river. From a small German village.

Ride Two: Carleton Place Turnoff to Pembroke. Dark red Rabbit. Liked The Who, The Dead and David Bowie, but not a fan of “peace and love shit”. Owns a VCR and apartment.

Stayed two night with Rene Zwiegle (friend from 1982 Europe Bike Trip) and her family. Her mother (Japanese) taught in Africa and broke her family ties temporarily to marry Rene who is German. He encouraged Rene and I to go on ‘midnight walks’. Mouse turd on my desk.

Rene Zwiegle jumping in the Ottawa River

July 1, 1983 Mileage 181 miles

Waited for 3 1/2 hours.

Ride One: Pembroke to North Bay. Grey sports car. Guy in his 50s who had just retired and had worked on the Trans Canada Pipeline. Daughter going to Western University.

Ride Two: North Bay to Ahmic Habour. Brown Rabbit. Tanned guy with mustache, very well travelled because of his work in telecommunications. Constantly talked about all of “the twats he had snatched.” Hung around while I waited for my father to pick me up in the boat.

My father and I on Ahmic Lake.

Zina & the Playboy Under My Pillow

Zina was our cleaning lady throughout my childhood and teenage years. She was from a Portugal and had a family to which my mother gave hand-me-downs and other extra and leftover things. She was kind and caring, and I am sure that I was a jerk to her.

I came home one day to find my bed changed and nicely made, as Zina always did, and then suddenly realized that I had left a Playboy magazine under the pillow. I figured that Zina would have thrown it out and probably told my mother, and removed the pillow to find it still there, neatly replaced.

And of course Zina never said anything to me about it.

Zina was also the only person I remember crying at my father’s funeral. She wrapped her arms around me and sobbed. Nobody else did that. We were a stoic family and didn’t do such things.

Buying Secrets from the Past: NHL Action Players

I spend a lot of time digging into my memories. I look at pictures of me as a boy – fishing on the dock, beside the Christmas Tree, with our dog Celeste – trying to access that momentous time. I have also tried to searched out childhood things like Checkerboard Ice Cream and Pantry cookies, both of which I cherished in those days and both of which have vanished.

Modern-Day Checkerboard Ice Cream but not my brand (Not the Gluten-free notation!)

It seems somehow possible that if I could just taste them again, I would rediscover a key note to my uncluttered mind, like the magic of holding the tin or the feeling of my bare legs against the kitchen linoleum. But I have not been able to find either.

Something I have found is the NHL Action Players Book from Loblaws grocery store.

Toronto Maple Leafs page of Loblaws NHL Action Players

I collected these stickers from the Loblaws grocery store, furiously opening strip after strip to fill the booklet, trading for missing stamps, finding out who had found the un-find-able ones. There were dozens of Larry Carriere and Walt McKechnie and so few of Guy Lambert and Don Awry. It was impossible to find those.

NHL Action Players available for purchase on Ebay.

And then Doug Crosby, a rich and somewhat simple boy in my class, bought the completed book from Edward Etchells for $50. The class bully Andy McAlpine mocked him. “You idiot! That’s not how it’s done!”

Class bully Andy McAlpine today.

I realize that the whole thing was about the experience of collecting things, but why not do it Doug Crosby’s way? Why go through all of the hassle of bartering for the rare stickers when you could just buy the whole thing in one shot? As much as Doug seemed to have missed the point, Andy totally misses it. It’s not about scamming the system but learning from the experiences of the thing, be that finding Don Awry or eating Checkerboard Ice Cream.

Young Chronicles XXII: Fortune to Port-Aux-Basque, Newfoundland

The Young Chronicles detail my 1983 hitchhiking trip across Canada. Having completed the initial Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland leg of the journey, this section covers the return trip back across Newfoundland.

June 16, 1983 Mileage 35 miles

Ride One: Fortune to Grand Bank, Newfoundland. Old turquoise pickup truck. 23-year-old man with toothy grin. Wants to get out of Fortune.

Ride Two: Grand Bank to four miles down road. Old pickup truck. Toolbox. Nice man.

Ride Three: To Marystown. Pickup truck. Young guy, moose hunter, works on the oil platforms, six months on, six months off. Off to fish in Gander, Labrador soon.

Stayed in Mariner’s Lodge run by an old guy. “Been everywhere and know everything.”

June 17, 1983 Mileage 418 miles

Ride One: Marystown to Clarenville. Old car. Squeaky 200-pound moose hunter.

Ride Two: Clarenville to Trans Canada Turnoff. Blue pickup truck. Middle-aged guy with no right hand index finger. Electrician moose hunter. Loves screech and special mild cigarettes.

Ride Three: TCH Turnoff too Gander. Old Blue car. Old lady who told story of mongoloid children from a little red bible. “God bless you.”

Ride Four: Gander to Corner Brook. Old Buick. Young guy who took pictures and hunted moose. Quiet except about moose.

Stayed in Bridgeway Motel with two beds. Upcoming Red Rider concert advertised heavily on radio. Ate a hamburger at an old diner. Still cold. High of 24.

June 18, 1983 Mileage 137 miles PLUS ferry trip back to mainland

Ride One: To “a better exit”. Small car with a guy and girl. “I’ll show you a better exit.”

Ride Two: Corner Brook to Stephenville. Canadian army truck. Guy looked a cartoon character with lips jutting out. Moose hunter

Ride Three: Stephenville to roadside bar 25 north of Port-Aux-Basques. Three guys on a multi-day bender. Doug (groom-to-be, bearded, driver, calm, scar on cheek), Pat (married two years, former speed user), Brian (married three years drinker, mustache) and Tefel (fellow hitchhiker, insecure, loves high speed driving).

Doug, Pat, Brian and Tefel holding the spare tires that acted as back seats.

These guys are all moose poachers and have been jailed four times each. No back seat in the car. Spare tires instead. Shared bottles of beer. I had four. They took us to dump to look for bears and threw empties into the garbage pile. Left them at the bar.

Ride Four: Roadside bar to Port-Aux-Basques Ferry Terminal. Light brown sedan. Mustache and overweight. “Keep all your lanes open in music.”

Overnight ferry to Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Wave That Flag: Nostalgia is Everything

My script, Wave That Flag, details my Deadhead days back in the ’80s. Quite simply, it’s just another coming-of-age, I-can’t-believe-I-did-that, Don’t-do-what-I-do-or-maybe-do-I-don’t-care, Those-were-the-days movie. It’s all about me, a plea for attention. Me. Aren’t you amazed by the things I did? Wasn’t I crazy? No one does it like me. That’s right. Look at me.

But that’s why it works. The big theme is chasing down the music. At its essence, it is about a sound, a path as it were, and I was on it, and I went in a direction that could be so clearly understood, that everyone can understand, and it was an incredible place to be. I was astonished that I was on it, just there in the middle of magical fantastical place, through the woods and fire, where nothing but amazing things happened.

It was a communal thing of splendor and everything was ahead. It could never end. That was the certainty. This eternity, the whole thing laid wide open, it would go on forever.

And then it didn’t. And so, it’s really about losing that, never having it, or remembering what it was like when I didn’t know what I know now, if I know anything. So, yes, nostalgia.

Marvel Letter: Archeology of the Quest

I was 14 when I saved a copy of Marvel Two-in-One #34 with my scathing “I hate this comic” letter in my desk drawer and looked at it every once in a while.

I lost of track of it some time later, through high school, college and work, vaguely sure that it was somewhere in my mess of drafts, articles and rejection letters.

The memory of it came to me years later, but the search was always detoured by distraction and ultimately, the lack of the required energy of such a futile quest. After all it was just an eight-word letter that didn’t even approximate my original message.

It is a funny tale and works for this site and so I blogged on it five years back, working solely from memory and thus erroneously cited the comic in question as Marvel Team #31 (featuring Spiderman and Iron Fist).

It was only recently, in these pandemic days, that I decided to find the damn thing. I knew that it was from one of three comic series (Team-Up, Two-in-One or Iron Fist) and scoured through various blogs and archives for it.

I knew the issue focused on saving kids from a burning orphanage and so keyed on images of orphans and fires. I thought I had found it in an issue of Marvel Team-Up which had a collapsing building and an orphan-looking kid.

I ordered the issue on-line and several others following to ensure that I got the one with my letter too. I knew it was wrong before I even opened the issue. It looked wrong and was. I returned to my on-line search and finally noticed the burning hospital (not orphanage) in the background of Marvel Two-in-One #34 that I knew that I had found it. It was then that I realized my letter was in Issue #40 by looking at the cover.

The memory of walking through the pinewood hallway to my bedroom at the cottage came to me at that moment – the cool, dark air, a distant screen door closing, the feeling of emptiness of seeing my letter in print, edited to nothing – and then the feeling of comics not being what they once had been – a place of wonder – it all came into me like that.

It’s funny how that feeling returned again now, when I had finally found the issue again, at the end of this farcical quest. I had found it last and so what indeed? What’s next?

Young Chronicles VI: Prince Edward Island to Montreal

June 1974

We drove right to the border of Nova Scotia and Dad said, “Let’s go to Nova Scotia.” So we did. It was cool.

We came to Hartland which has the longest covered bridge in the world. So we went into the covered bridge. It was neat-o.

We had to go across the Saint Lawrence River. Montreal is on an island. Well, instead, of going on a bridge over the river, we went under it via highway.

After we watched the election – which Stanfield lost and Trudeau won (Boo! Boo! Boo!) – we changed the channel and watched The Lucy Show and Dick Van Dyke.

This morning I woke up and somebody was knocking at the door. So mom got out of bed and opened the door. It was dad with the dog in his hands. Then he said, “She was sleeping on my stomach.” So we took her and mom went to the other room with dad.

Young Chronicles V: To Prince Edward Island

Three years after going up into Northern Ontario with my school, I went on a family car trip to Prince Edward Island. It was 1974. I kept another chronicle, this one with post cards glued in. I threw that out long ago but still have a few notes.

Mom said, “One of you kids will have to come in the front seat.” So we were quiet the rest of the way.

Deadline: We are halfway to Montreal from Kingston and I just saw an old train station! End of Deadline.

Martha came out to where we were and picked up an Ajax bottle and a stick and started whamming the Ajax bottle with the stick. Soon me and Bobby went back and caught smelt. Of course we threw them back. Martha thought we ate them.

We were arriving in Charlottetown and we never got there because we never got the right course. Well, we were turning around and dad backed the car right into a ditch and there was a house right there. The man came out and told us about more accidents that have happened there. Soon the tow truck pulled us out of the ditch. It was probably easy.

It rained so-so-so-so hard that you could barely see through the windshield. It was raining so hard, some cars had to stop. But my dad kept going.

The next day, I woke up with the dog on my bed and the door was open! Well, I had breakfast.