As of late, I have been scouring through old images (prints, negatives and slides) in search of material for my Young Chronicles series. However there is one picture I cannot find, that of a boy looking back through the gap between a bus seat and the wall. All I can find is this lesser shot of his hand.
Not being able to find the image of the boy haunts me in an odd way. I don’t know how I could have lost it and look for it again and again. To no avail.
The feeling reminds me of a fruitless search as a boy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. There had been a exhibition on the Amazon that I had loved, but it was a temporary thing and had vanished forever.
That didn’t stop me from endlessly searching the corridors and rooms, peaking behind the dioramas, looking for the secret passageway that would lead me back to that magical place. I am still looking for that.
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 push hard to get my point across and, to make that clear, write the thing again. I might write it in another way. Or maybe not. I repeat myself to make sure that my point is getting across. It is the point, as simple as that. And I have to make that clear.
This veers toward a tendency to overwrite, filling a cup well beyond its capacity, thus defeating the purpose. The trick is to find the right words and use only those.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The apocalypse isn’t a gloriously massive event, although that’s what we would like to think, with colossal tidal waves, mountains collapsing into valleys, cities vanishing into dust, the wicked witch waving her squadrons of monkeys over all.
It’s more of the hiding in a wooden teepee without walls (Lars von Trier’s Melancholia), a face buried in the dirt (Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line) or the burning of a solitary house (Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice).