LETTER NINE

Saturday, November 14,

Future’s, Toronto, ON.

 

Oh Henry,

 

I’m writing this at the end of a week long unplanned self-imposed vacation. My brain circuity was sparking off and smoking in all the wrong places. My nervous system was backed up and short circuiting from the charge of sustained external and internal stimuli. Like when you want to shut the TV up, but you can’t, because the bastard’s in your head and you just can’t reach the off switch—that’s when you have to pull the plug. This involves shutting my phone off and renouncing  all social media for at least a few days.

This happens to me a few times a year, always unplanned, but consistent in some ways. For instance, I never feel completely peaceful. Cutting yourself off tends to produce an element of risk. It raises the odds that you will be uninformed about a catastrophic event, for instance. The nature and scope of the event could vary. It could be an economic crash. It could be a nuclear disaster. It could be a family tragedy. Whatever the case, when you’re cut off, you are incapable of reacting quickly to the catastrophe, incapable of helping anyone until it’s too late. Except, of course, in the event that the scale is so large that everyone is effected, in which it isn’t difficult to find a role to play, if you’re one of the lucky ones to survive and you have the rare inclination to consider others. But aren’t all vacations risks in some way? I mean, if a vacation involves some kind of departure and return, don’t you always have to leave something of value behind? Something that you can’t really protect when you’re not with it? Isn’t there always the possibility of returning, and finding everything you built in ruins?

Whatever the case may be, when I return—mentally, geographically—I always feel so much better about myself and others. When this happens, it’s hard not to view such departures as a good thing.

There’s one frankly mind jolting by-product of these vacations. When I go through the motions of mental departure from my social spheres, I always feel like I’m the only person in the city. This is the exact opposite of how I normally feel. Somehow it’s like leaving the city mentally, without leaving it geographically. Without changing my physical location in space, I become completely dislocated. It’s a strange way to feel in an environment that I’m so familiar with.

Everyone else feels too distant and strange to be real. Sometimes people talk to me, and I’m startled. Their physicality, their fleshiness, their realness throws me off. The fact that I respond—sometimes naturally, sometimes not—surprises me even more. For a microsecond I’m winded, unable to find my tongue. When I respond find it and force it to create sound, sometimes I make sense, sometimes not really.

Hell, forget speaking. Hearing presents its own issues. A lot of the time I’m so sick of having to ask people to repeat themselves, that I just guess, fumble really, at whatever they meant, and reply according to the meaning I think they intended. If they respond positively, I know I’ve guessed right. If they respond with stupefaction, laughter, or anger, I know I’ve fucked up. A lot of the time all I have to go by is the tone of their voice or their body language.

 

 

Tuesday, November 24

Had to leave you there. Sophia showed up. We grabbed a coffee. Since you’ve been gone for a while, I thought I’d write down a couple details that might give you an idea what it’s like over here. There’s no particular order here. Just things I noticed.

Around two weekends ago I left town for a couple days with my mom. The country was still celebrating the Liberal victory. On the radio CBC played this song called “I See Red.” Pretty much describes all of Southern Ontario, at that moment in time.

It snowed a couple days ago. Last week I had to stop reading at Tim Hortons: I can only stand five minutes of CHFI’s Christmas mix at a time. And this is more than a month before Christmas. That means the Christmas season is almost 10% of the entire year, at least for CHFI and Tim Hortons, it’s almost 10% of the year... Extreme, if you ask me.

 

 

Saturday, December 19

I just read your last letter to me. Christmas Eve/Sarajevo. I had to listen to it to remind myself what it sounded like. I don’t know how you feel when you listen to it, but I felt like I was nine years old and playing Super Smash Bros while eating Mr Noodles soup with ice cubes in it to cool it down. Have you tried that? That was over at Jeremiah’s place, always at lunchtime.

You got me thinking about my first trip to New York. Especially that incident with the teacher and the wine. It’s memorable the little gifts people, sometimes without saying a word. When I was in NYC, I was fifteen, and traveling with the high school music band. Don’t remember too much of Manhattan itself, except the lame-ass fedora I purchased from—very posh of me—Quicksilver, at least I think that was the chain, equally popular and common in Canada at the time.

Anyway, only weeks earlier, or maybe months, I’d purchased my first and last fake ID. It’s a good question who told me where to get it—god knows I would never be able to find a place like that on my own. There’s only one reasonable explanation: That information must have been widely available within the high school community. I realize now that as individuals, everyone in high school generally sucked. But as a community that shared resources, knowledge of where to get drugs, and that helped facilitate any number of other frowned upon (or benignly tolerated) activity, it was an extremely powerful and savvy organization, probably more so than any community I’ve been a part of before or after. I didn’t even like high school that much, so when I say this, you know I’m being honest.

Somehow, without any serious research, I’d heard of this place at Yonge and Dundas that sold fake IDs for forty bucks. I probably broke the piggy bank that day. It was near Reilly’s, on the  second floor of one of the older stores on Yonge. You walk up the old wooden stairs, take a seat. They ask which province you want to be from, what name you want to have. Ten minutes later, you’re running down the stairs with one ticket to freedom, +19 concerts, and the immortal respect and admiration of everybody you know. I would be buying my peers tobacco and alcohol for years.

From then on, at least in the LCBO, I was known as Lachlan Frasier, date of birth April 23rd, 1987, from Regina, Saskatchewan. I grew up on a farm and I lived in the city. Yes, I remember the fields of wheat very, very well, thanks for asking. And no, I’m not used to the city quite yet; I still feel nothing but amazement and wonder at these tall buildings and strange people. Once this went on for more than ten minutes with a particularly suspicious cashier at the Summerhill LCBO on New Year’s Eve.

It just so happened that, in New York, I’d remembered to bring along this said Fake ID.

As people taking large groups of teenagers to one of the world’s largest cities are apt to do, the organizers of the band trip had selected the most boring place possible for us all to sleep in: Holiday Inn, remote suburbs of New Jersey. On one side of the highway was a graveyard. On the other was a parking lot with a few scattered chain restaurants. Included were one liquor store and Applebee's.

On the first night I tried the liquor store. I ordered the Canadian Rye (it was cheaper than it would have been at that time in Toronto!). I was carded immediately, and refused service. Why? I asked. The cashier shrugged, and returned my card. “Your birthday’s tomorrow. You’re still twenty years old.” I examined my card closely. Dammit, he was right. Today was April 22nd, 2008, and I didn’t turn twenty one till April 23rd.

The second night, I convinced my bunkmates to sneak out of the hotel and go down to Applebee’s. I was sleeping with three other people. David, one other person (whose name I can’t remember), and Yimbo, who didn’t speak much, since he’d immigrated to Canada only a year or two earlier from China. Around midnight, April 23rd, 2008, all four of us walked into that Applebee’s, we were seated in a booth, and I ordered a shot of whiskey.

The server looked at my ID.  “Saskatchewan?” he scratched his head. “Where’s that?”

“Canada. We’re on vacation.”

He looked at us for a minute or two longer. “Okay…” He brought me the whiskey. I’d only been able to afford buying one, so we proceeded to pass around the single oz. of whiskey for the next ten minutes, each taking a tiny sip, and handing it off, until the shot glass was empty. Finished, and unable to buy more, we left, went back to our room. We told stories and, spurred on by our illegal quarter-shot, we tried to persuade each other to streak down the hall outside our room. We played some game involving those who told the best story having to streak down the hall; or maybe it was those who told the worst story? Either way, none of us had the heart to enforce its rules, although the natural culmination of this game was achieved—Yeung and I did in fact run naked down the hall. Both of us were extremely shy and concealed our nudity from each other as much as possible.

There’s more to tell you, more to talk about, more little non-events that make up the downhill trickle of my life—which is for the record an unusually optimistic metaphor for all of this, if you think about it. Feel free to share some more embarrassing reminiscences. God knows I do.

 

Fleetingly,

Sal