LETTER SIX

The Day of Judgment (Or the Witch’s Sabbath)

 

Goddamit Henry.

For me, September is always that moment after crossing the apex of some swell in the road and the jaw dropping slope towards freezing nights and snow congested journeys home begins. October, as you might guess, is the month where your downward speed levels out and you get used to the idea that soon enough you’ll be at the bottom of some frigid valley and the upward climb out begins all over again. Repeat seventy times, if you’re lucky.

 

There’s a lot I saw and a lot I’ll forget, but Henry, I’m just going to take a moment here and to remember some of the nicer parts. There were nights in the alley behind the Horseshoe, there was some kid on the bus outta school one afternoon who craned his head trying to read the cover of some book I was reading—it’s about some hippie trying to find his lost love—and of course the subway. A girl wishing passersby Happy Thanksgiving—the Canadian Thanksgiving—in English to most, but in Farsi to those she identified as Persian. She talked to everyone who stood close enough to her, and of course, people in Toronto can be distant, but nice enough if you put ‘em in the unavoidable situation where they have to speak. Taking the subway north late at night three TTC workers ran to catch the train as the countdown cadence went off. Two of them got in, but the third was left banging on the doors as the train pulled out of the station. The other two guys laughed all the way to Rosedale, where they got off, presumably to catch him on the next train. There’s this old man I see biking around my neighbourhood. He looks worn down, but his bike is kind of nice. I thought he was biking to the grocery and back every morning, but then I started seeing him on random streets, and in obscure cul de sacs, biking in circles, always with a scarf wrapped around his face.

 

The other day I saw a ska show. It’s been years since I’ve seen a ska show. It was Thursday, two days before Halloween, and Adam’s Mind was playing, along with some bands I can’t recall at the moment. There was a synergy of nostalgia rumbling the floors of the Garrison, that night. Most of the kids were in costumes. Mimes, Raoul Duke, what have you. It wasn’t long before nights at the Big Bop came back. But honestly, who am I kidding, those Big Bop nights are such a blur. Most of my memories involve the couch and a stench of urine. Maybe the Cat Lady’s backyard off the alley behind the venue as well. So many freaky black cats in that yard. All looking you at the same with same intensity, like they’re about to mob you in a furrball of claws and yeows, ‘cept for the fact that you’re in a fit of giggles as you inhale one of those cheesy plastic weed pipes shaped like a cigarette on the sloping roof on top of some garage.

 

Stop Drop ’n Skank played there, too much I think. Fact is they went back with the owner, Dominic, a few years, and I can’t help but draw and connection between the demise of the band, in 2009, and the end of the venue, in 2010. Truth is, there is no cause-effect thing going here, just an end of a decade—end of an era? Well, Siesta Nouveaux ended in 2012, then of course there was O’Reilly’s… Gawd, I don’t know…

 

That night, at the Garrison, was bringing me back to some of those messy shows in the Big Bop. Course it was a different crowd back in the day. Back then everyone was older. People actually skanked, which is a form of dancing I’d banished from muscle memory years ago. Now everyone’s was the same age. Then of course, some band covered MGMT’s  “Kids,” which I only realized right now was released in 2008, even though I feel like it was released last October. That spring ‘09 it was still going strong, as I remember attending some group project meetup on Victoria’s day with a certain Aurelius.

 

Aurelius used to be a nerdy Asian kid in junior high. The kind of kid who’d try to bike and read fantasy novels at the same time. By high school he discovered two things that changed his life forever: rugby and pot. Soon he was listening to Sublime, getting high before games, growing muscles too. Fact, I remember that day behind the Big Bop I described earlier, on the roof in that cat lady’s backyard, was with Aurelius, which might lead you to think I spent a lot of time with him, which isn’t totally true. Guess I just have a good batting average with him.

 

On that Victoria day back in ‘09, somehow one thing led to the next, I think Aurelius needed to pick up from one of the school’s more iconic stoners, Jennings. I guess we didn’t do much school work that day, since we ended up smoking the pot with Jennings, and, one thing leading to next, playing road hockey on some suburban street, totally blitzed. Neither before nor since has road hockey been more fun.. This all comes back to me, most times I hear MGMT’s kids, as well as long summer nights working at some camp up north, where I was on maintenance staff, listening to ‘Kids’ on my mp3 player into the night.

 

This song was loaded with memories, some which I’ll never forget, but some which I might, so I’d like to get them down on paper, so I’ll know, for the record, they happened when I’m old and senile. Right now I feel young and senile, and sometimes it seems like my past is slipping through my fingers like sand, each day just another grain. Feel’s like I have Doper’s Memory, but without the benefit of being a doper.

 

Everything about this night triggered one memory or another. When I went to the washroom the fruit flies circling in the air above the toilet bowl reminded me the makeshift urinal we used at that camp I mentioned. I was on ground maintenance, and we all slept in the same cabin. Who knows who first let loose that stream of golden urine into that hole behind the cabin, but after it was done, there was no going back. We couldn’t be bothered to walk the 100 feet to the outhouse. That’s understandable. What the Joeboys—that was our official title—did instead was not sanitary. There were two doors to the cabin, one at the front, one at the back. The front was used for coming in and out. The back door served as a hinged partition between the interior of the cabin, and the puddle of urine where the Joeboys regularly relieved themselves. The stench was pungent, the mosquitos here reproduced in a fervour, but as a matter of habit, and I suppose, as a matter distinction, the Joeboys maintained this watering hole with duty and respect. It was the only cabin in the entire camp with the privilege of using its back door as a urinal, and the Joeboys would fight with teeth and nails to protect that tradition.

 

It tells you something about the state of a washroom if it reminds me of that urinary receptacle.

 

The Garrison did not take care of its washroom.

 

Most of the music wasn’t ska, but some of it was, and it was nice to hear it again, sincerely. I think it’s been four years since I’ve been to my last ska show. Later on the sidewalk old bands came up, and in the way nostalgia directs the flight path of conversation on nights like these, it was no surprise that some of these old bands came up. It was surprising, though, to hear recognition in other people. Hell, one of the guys, Andy, played with Stop Drop, from 2005 to 2008. He and Erin dug in, and you might’ve choked on the dust in the air as they unpacked their memories and shook em out. Another guy started talking who used to know you and some other old friend of yours, I believe from Siesta days. Small world, no? It was the kind of show where you would meet old Stop Drop members. The ska community right now appears to be very, very small.

 

Then two days later it was Halloween. A Saturday night Halloween. I flew solo that night, which is nice to do when I can. The venue was Soybomb, at Queen and Bathurst. First I got some beer from Spadina and Bloor, and I proceeded to walk down to the venue. I hit College. A new condo’s being built on the southwest corner. I walk east. A new condo’s being built on the southeast corner. I went south, passed by the Steelworker’s, having their own Halloween club night. Strobe lights were flashing out the basement windows. I could see a DJ, some people sitting at long tables, a big empty dance floor –– it was early in the night. A witch was smoking outside.

 

I wandered through the parking lot behind the Steelworker’s hall. I figured out recently, that the parking lot backs out into the backyard of one of those student rooming houses on Baldwin. Years ago I would’ve been wearing a sombrero in that backyard on Halloween, bonfire going and everything, now I walk by and it’s empty. I feel like a new set of kids should be partying the shit out of that backyard, but it’s quiet.

 

I passed through Kensington, not by preference, but it’s too large to circumvent sometimes. Kensington has this brooding aggression east of Augusta I wasn’t in the mood for. Whatever, I went through, it was at it’s same old game. After taking a break at the Bathurst and Dundas Timmy’s, I pilot myself through some backstreets till I’m close to Queen, then I peel onto Bathurst, passing by Cherry Cola’s and same old bouncer in a golf hat. South of Queen, I heard the venue before I saw it. I climbed the stairs next to the bike shop. Paid my ten bucks at the door and slipped into the crowd.

 

It was post-hardcore night. I missed the band I’d come to see, but whatever. Moisture hung in the air as the crowd nodded their heads to the thrashing guitars, bodies motionless at this point in the night. When the set closed I went up to the roof top garden I’d heard so much about. Man, people were friendly. There I was all alone, but speaking to people was easy. Costumes help, I gotta say. I was wearing a ski mask. It was three bucks at Dollarama. Even though it was halloween, I felt awkward about wearing it. But then I thought, if there were a night and place to wear a ski mask, it would be Soybomb on Halloween. Glad I did. I really don’t think I would have had a fraction of the conversations I did without it.

 

Someone gave me a few drags off a joint, and we went back down. A new band was up.

 

They opened with the synth score from the opening sequence from Kubrick’s “The Shining,” where there driving up the mountain. Two girls in schoolgirl outfits. I think I could call them, given the context, nymphet costumes. Hell, they could scream into those microphones. As always with pot, I was hit with a series of insights, most of them gibberish. With the Shining melody, smooth way to open post-hardore horror metal set on Halloween. Plus (nerd alert), that melody is based on a 13th century monk chant describing the Day of Judgment, called Dies Irae. They couldn’t have chosen a better melody to open a set. Also it was used in Berlioz “Symphony Fantastique” for the Witches Sabbath scene. This makes the hotel in the shining the ancient site for a Witch’s Sabbath. This also means that wherever the song is played, a sabbath based on dark magic is being created. Whatever. They were a killer set. Dark and grimy. I also remember asking myself, who owns money, really? and other nonsensical questions.

 

Eventually I got this idea it was time to go. Generally, and completely not in macho terms, when I’m too drunk to defend myself from getting the shit beaten out of me, it’s time for me to go home. Walking out the door, some couple stopped me, got me to exchange numbers with them. I was talking with them a while on the roof, I think, but I had no clue, even then, what about. Like no clue, but I had a crush on the girl and I remember thinking man, I hope they both have a crush on me, that would be cool, could it lead to a sexual misadventure involving multiple parties? Being a sexual sophisticate, these sexual misadventures are to me a routine matter, of course.

 

I thought I left the venue at 2:00am, but I got home a 4:30am, which I still don’t understand. Erin says there was daylight savings, but that we saved an hour, meaning I should have arrived at like 2:30 or something. I don’t get it. All I know is I felt sleep deprived for two days after.

 

Later that night, I woke up from a vivid dream, with the words of a tall spirit still echoing in my ears: I want to fuck you with my mask on.

 

“Freaky,” I said. Yawned, curled up in a ball, went back to sleep.

 

Before I sign off...

 

School spirit? Not sure I’ve heard of it. Is that a type of ghost south of the border? Whatever it it, can’t say I saw it at my high school, which, to be honest, is an absence I’m kind of grateful for…

 

What’s that like in Columbia? would you say it has more school spirit than, say, our stomping grounds?

 

Warmth radiating,


Sal Walker