I have a memory, if it can be called that, a moving image that bubbles up when I’m writing.
It is of a stretch of road called Marine Drive, connecting North and West Vancouver. It’s a thoroughfare, three lanes each way, thick with strip malls and autobody shops on each side.
Nothing happened there that I can remember. I just have to make a U turn. That’s the memory. I have to get back to something. Not a place, but a person, someone I left on the side of the road. And I am waiting to make that turn.
But I never make the turn because the light doesn’t change. I just wait and look at the orange and white sign for the autobody shop across the way.
I’ll tell you what I did when he died. Do you want to hear that misery? I took sleeping pills. I drank, like my father. I shut everything off. And then I was in Grand Central, waiting for the train. I had a beer. I was at the stand at Track 106. There’s a stand there. It’s called Bar Car. I had a can of Budweiser, a 16-ounce can.
I took that 16-ounce can to that old marble counter against the wall, with the brass railing, working guys talking about their wives and installers, checking their phones, and all of these people walking past, old men racing to catch their trains, little trolleys wheeled around with broken wheels, the tabloids arriving in stacks, the shoeshine girl staring out.
I had another beer, another 16-ounce can. I stood and watched. There was this crazed guy with a perfectly trimmed beard and then these lost ladies from Japan, a woman floating by, her portfolio tucked at her breast. I was completely still, drinking my beer. That was it, the moment I knew he wasn’t there. That’s when I understood, or I should say pretended to understand that he wasn’t coming back.
Cross Canada Hitchhiking Trip, Day Two: Montreal to Halifax (Mileage 344-1116)
Ride One: West to East end of Montreal; Brown bakery van. “You’ll get murdered.”
Ride Two: Across St. Lawrence River; early 70’s car. Spoke only French.
Ride Three: To Boucherville; 2-door escort. Man with crumbs on sides of mouth.
Ride Four: To Victoriaville; forgot make of car (too tired). Belgian chef who loves Canada.
Ride Five: To Quebec City turnoff; VW Rabbit. Saw a moose.
Ride Six: To St. Jean Port Joli; large old car. The driver was a woman in her late 20s with her mother and grandmother, also another hitchhiker names Clairmont. No one spoke English, but all very loving and Catholic.
Ride Seven: To Riviere Du Loup; blue Chevy van. Told stories of his hitchhiking days including “being fucked by horny broads” and the tale of hitchers on bad acid in Wyoming who ate their ride.
Ride Eight: To Hwy 17; Camper van. WWII veteran who once drove border to border across Ontario in one day.
Ride Nine: To Truro, Nova Scotia; red Mack truck. All-night drive with non-unionized driver named Ed Haggerty. Married for 39 years to woman from England who “never said boo to anyone.”
Harassed waitress at diner because she was new. Intentionally mumbled, pretended not to understand, changed his order, complained about the service and then gave her a 25-cent tip. I saw signposts turn into cyclists. I stayed in the sleeper of the truck. Ed prepared a full breakfast and then drove me into Halifax. I wandered around and then stayed at the hostel.
A Bill Murray character pitches the idea of a long-time hockey fan who comes early to his team’s games to watch warm-ups and befriends the opposing goalie before the Stanley Cup finals by talking about gladiator mentality of the goalie, the defender of the universe. He helps him sort his game sticks as he realizes an opportunity to damage his confidence and so help his team win. He takes him out afterwards to a bar and tries to get him drunk, to no avail. The goalie, Elephant, sneaks into a private club which our hero tries over and over to break in and succeeds at the end, finding friends and family inside, with Elephant. He is admonished by all, but promises that there is a plan, citing winning the lottery as the first point. No one believes him until he locks into a death stare – performed by John Turturro and Elephant – during which there is a back and forth series of accusations which makes everyone tear with laughter.
The agent loves the pitch and commissions it to his go-to – played by Tom Hanks – who sets up his work space into a giant white room like a hockey rink to begin the process. Bill Murray’s character is devastated and sets up his massive musical pitch “I am Elephant” during which a giant King Kong set arises out of the dim with the chant of “I am Elephant” as Murray holds up a placard and high-fives a series of animals – elephants, tigers, hippos, Tony the Tiger, etc. – who come out the King Kong door and then from the opposite way, as the scene devolves into chaos – llamas, sharks, emus parading past. However, the agent is sold on the pitch of the Murray character getting to write, and Tom Hanks bows out gracefully. Murray goes on to write the story in which it is revealed that Elephant the goalie actually is using the fan as part of his routine in the championships, always pretending and manipulating opposing fans to his side. Even with this revelation, they all still love Elephant who lets in the losing goal at the end.
There is nothing so humbling as to read through one’s earliest attempts:
Hasn’t the thought occured (sic) to you that I am just an apparition, just a single brain cell in a network of billions? Of course it has, your’e (sic) only trying to ignore it, aren’t you? (From Vile Illuminations, May 1982)
Beyond the gate, the door, the way in/ Lies the jasmine sea/ Efferescing (sic) the pureness of vanity,/ An offering too great to deny or even fathom/ In the light of a persistent commonology. (sic) (From A Machine-like Collage of the Obscure, Ravenous and Divine, April 1984)Going into the watery eyes of humanity, the pitiless animal can only turn its scraggled back and wander in the tangled jungle. (From Notes on a Cross Country Journey, July 1983)
The moment as the last/Continually./Provided the cats remain cats,/For there are many other creatures,/ Such as horses that/ Most certainly,/ Would not fit through the window frame. (From Window Sill Sitting Cats, December 1984)