Tag Archives: Terry

Shamone (Part 2)

We had veered off the TransCanada highway ages ago, deciding instead to follow the backroads that lined the providence – a network of ragged capillaries that spread out and fed the small places that dotted the landscape.

(There’s more of them than you’d think, these places; places such as these.)

Places that could not rightly be said to compare to the big places elsewhere, but which offered a break from the monotony of the road, nonetheless.

Places whose existence by the wayside remained contingent on their ability to attract the curious, the eager and the weary, and to capture their attention for just long enough, for that crucial moment, or two.

Places whose particular claim to fame included tours of forsaken industry (mines, factories, mills), offerings of historic (or historical) points of interest (a fort, a trading post, the birthplace of some local notable, fictional or otherwise), and (my favourite) roadside attractions toting otherworldly monuments invoking hometown character or charm, standing resolutely in place and steadfastly against time. The quirky, the bizarre, the aberrant, unabashed, on full display, for all the world to see:

WITNESS! Bow Island’s orange-footed, sheriff-hatted, cartoon-faced statue of one “Pinto MacBean,” smile askance, holstered gun at the ready, gloved hand a great, keyhole-shaped oven mitt forever waving to passersby. Erected 1992 to signify “the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area” (so says Pinto’s commemorative plaque).

 SEE! The World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller. Purportedly the largest. I never verified (it’s not the kind of thing you verify). A nominal fee lets you climb the staircase embedded in this T-Rex’s fiberglass flesh so that you can peer out of her open mouth at people standing not all that far below (you can then, like Pinto, wave to them). Erected in 2000, she stands 25 meters tall and can fit up to 12 people in her mouth at a time.

 EXPERIENCE! The (slightly deranged) whimsy of the stuffed and mounted rodents at Torrington’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. The critters are plentiful, and are outfitted in cute little costumes as they engage in various hometown activities, like going to church, frequenting the local pool hall, or street brawling with animal rights activists. Admission also just a nominal fee away (two dollars, but that’s 2009 pricing). Established 1996.

 Witness! See! Experience! Between work, between school, between the responsibilities and expectations of everyday life, between us, we had all the time in the world to explore these places; places such as these where MJ had manifestly refused to materialize.

Now, though.

I found myself quietly singing along here and there as the pavement rolled on under the rusting carriage of Terry’s ancient Corolla, and there was nothing much else to do but stare up, into that enormous Alberta sky, out there, at clouds as big mountain ranges and a blue so intense it made you feel somehow flattered, and somewhat ashamed.

Stephen woke up with a start, then drifted off to sleep again. He kept doing that, never fully waking, not entirely sleeping. It got to be unnerving. “More MJ?” he asked. “Still MJ?” he breathed, then dozed.

Mae pulled back from the window and tilted her head towards the radio.

Terry drove.

No. Nothing much else to do at all but surrender to the vastness ahead and MJ’s omnipresence within, hovering over us, god-like, and with such measured indifference for all his omnipotence that always seemed to me prerequisite to being one amongst the gods.

The songs flowed, one after another as Terry flipped blithely from station to station, managing somehow to prompt no apparent break in the music, failing to rouse a voice from the ether to break the spell and confirm or deny what it was (whatever it was) that was happening.

The whole world has to answer right now, just to tell you once again,

Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man,

Cause we danced on the floor in the round,

Inside a killer thriller tonight,

A crescendo, Annie.

Celebrity, unleashed! MJ in all his glory, in all his incarnations, from Off The Wall (1979), to Bad (1987), to Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995), and on to Invincible (2001).

Thriller (1982).

We should have known.

But since we were drifting anyway, and with no particular destination in mind as the towns blurred together and it became difficult to know for certain which name belonged to which place, which attraction meant what, and to whom, it was, admittedly, kind of nice to have something familiar along for the ride.

We found the Birds of Prey Sanctuary more than we discovered it. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3. Established 1982.

The clerks inside the gift shop were friendly and politely curious. Attentive in the way that clerks are when the arrival of patrons means a long-awaited reprieve from the dusting of pristine shelves and the wiping down of spotless countertops.

“Where you from?” one of them asked.

Terry and Mae and Stephen answered easily. “Ottawa,” they said. “Thunder Bay.” I hesitated, and then answered “Toronto” and then we watched as the clerks’ faces changed accordingly, as if something had fallen into place for them. I suppose they took that as their right. I guess, anyway, that it was at least their prerogative. This is such a big country.

It was by now late afternoon.

Did they not know about MJ?

“Toronto, eh?”

***

We stopped at a place not too far from the sanctuary for dinner. It was famous for its Italian-Canadian fare (that’s what the guy at the gas station said), but it was particularly prized for its gigantic pizza bread: great slabs of hot dough, the rough size and heft of a decorative pillow, leaden with shredded, multicoloured cheese and finished off with a spray of light green parsley not at all unlike the trimmings fired from the backend of a lawnmower.

(The description above, I assure you, does not do justice to the taste).

We settled in, ushered to a booth by an unnamed hostess. Someone looked up.

And there he was again.

Only this time a vision dancing in perfect synchronization with his sister, Janet, in the legendary Scream video, two figures effortlessly swaying, pop-locking and pivoting in zero gravity on a screen affixed to an unassuming corner of the dining room, close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.

“Look!”

The Incomparable Jacksons. The Immaculate MJ. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3.

“Here too!” exclaimed Terry, pointing, eyes no longer heavy-lidded.

Our server, a man with a shining forehead, thick arms and little patience, may have heard the urgency in Terry’s voice. We were, if memory serves, agog. Certainly, I was and Stephen too.

“Don’t you know?” barked the server, snapping us to attention. “You don’t know?” he added more gently when he realized he had it. “He died. Michael Jackson’s dead.” He eventually left us with our food, carefully arranging it before us on the heavy, water-stained table.

“Died?” echoed Mae. “Dead?” she said, tasting the words.

Despite everything, given everything he had been and done and had become, MJ had never done that, never been that before.

It shouldn’t have been possible: Michael Jackson was dead.

Pinto MacBean, however, remained.

Remains.

Annie are you okay? Will you tell us that you’re okay?

It should not have been possible: something of the permanence of life as we knew it had shifted under our feet and left us stumbling for purchase. As sudden as it was, therefore, absurd. It was more than enough.

It was time to go home.

Time to head back and, if possible, redeem ourselves.

“I’ll drive,” Terry said finally, attempting a laugh around a mouthful of bread.

 

END

 

 

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Shamone (Part 1)

Michael Jackson was dead, though we did not yet know it.

Summer 2009. A road trip through southern Alberta had taken us across the badlands, past the mushroom-capped hoodoos in Drumheller, in rough tandem alongside the undulating trail of the Milk River, and on to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.

Our direction now, vaguely north. Back to the Calgary, toward where this whole thing began, then home again.

It had been a long time since anyone had spoken. After days spent wandering the park, after days, in fact, of traipsing through the various nooks and crannies of the province, we were dirty and tired and severely dehydrated.

I remember Terry’s bloodshot eyes as he drove on, the only one of us who knew how to drive stick and, therefore, the only one of us to do all of the driving (he resents it still). I remember Mae’s feet sticking idly out the open window, her shoes long abandoned somewhere inside the car, and I remember Stephen slouched over in the front passenger seat, snoring gently despite the hour, the rumbling of the Toyota a kind of lullaby in the afternoon haze.

Terry fiddled with the radio as he drove; mentioned something about how it was the only thing keeping him (and, therefore, us) alive at the moment.

And I remember, in strange succession, on radio stations whose frequencies seemed more like obscure mathematical formulations than simple identifiers (101.1 CIXF, 93.3 CJBZ, 90.0 CBRA), came all the classics: Bad (1987), Beat It (1983), Billie Jean (1982).

Thriller (1982).

And (my favourite), Smooth Criminal (1987).

Annie are you okay? So, Annie are you okay? Are you okay Annie?

Then came a few lesser known works, interludes between the real, genuine hits: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin (1983), In the Closet (1992), You Rock My World (2001). Underrated, perhaps, in their day (or maybe just unremarkable).

Yet, they remained undeniable.

“Why is he following us today?” Mae said this, feet still out the window, toes lightly kissed by the sun. She asked this more than once, as the kilometers ticked by:

“Why now?”

“Why here?”

“Why MJ?”

There was an unease in her voice that spoke to our mixed feelings towards Michael Jackson – the one and only King of Pop, the man who revolutionized music and dance and fashion as we knew it – whose status as a cultural icon remained undisputed, yet marred by garish speculation of his (apparent) eccentricities (his health, his features, his monkey) and unproven (and hence all the more lurid) talk of his dark predilections.

A tarnished idol; a fallen star.

(But an idol, a star, nonetheless.)

The fame, the scandal, the infamy: he made for a formidable apparition. That he had become our unsolicited chaperone, just as we found ourselves at a loss at what to do and where to go, made this impression of him (made him?) all the more uncanny.

 

…to be continued.

 

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Teeth (Part 2)

Have you ever had a friend with whom you could say the worst things – not about other people or even yourself, but about life, about life itself? Terry is that friend for me.

Terry slapped a hand against his cheek, the one that had been so egregiously affronted by the broken tooth. He nearly flung himself from his chair. He swore some more.

A lot, actually: “Fuck, fuck, fuck! I have nothing now! Nothing! My teeth were all I had!”

“Your teeth – ?” I began.

Terry elabourated: “When I’m an old man and I have nothing else and I’m fetid and I’m dying and my kids have abandoned me and I’ve lost all my money and all my hair, I figured at least I’d have my teeth! Now what the fucking hell do I have? Nothing, nothing. Ass.”

I looked at Mae. “You probably won’t even make it to old age, Terry,” I said. “You can die tomorrow and with your teeth busted, it’d come out the same. That’s better than it sounds, isn’t it?”

“I could have been an old man with great teeth! That would have been…More than, better then -” he lost his train of thought. “Ow!”

Stephen sipped his drink.

Vain people are everywhere: places where you look and places you’d never think to look. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault. And maybe they are not so much vain people, but people that are vain about something. Who knows?

But ever know anyone vain about their teeth? Who, for example, brushed them vigorously in the morning and at night, who, for instance, flossed so religiously it was sacrilegious, it was obscene, and who, as a matter of pure fact, guarded them as carefully as a mother hen, as a tigress does their precious offspring?

Terry was very proud of his teeth; Terry was that proud of his teeth. And I’ll admit, up until then, they had been perfect: bright, gleaming, evenly spaced, with a good tooth-to-gum ratio. They reminded me of white picket fences, of flawless, snow-capped peaks, of Freud. The impression they left was one better than that of mere possibility, or potential: it was of defiance itself.

Defiance dentata.

Understand. For Terry, losing one tooth (even a partial loss) was as bad – worse even – than losing them all.

“OW!”

Terry and I once watched Teeth (2007), a movie about a girl whose vagina dentata is first her only defence then her best weapon against her attackers; men close to her and also strangers; men who molest, assault, rape.

“The teeth,” Terry had said about it. “At least she has her teeth.”

And here we were now: a bubble tea restaurant where Terry could not say the same for himself.

Oh well. “Terry,” I said. “You might as well suck it up.”

Terry spat out each word: “Suck. It. Up?” So much for being amiable.

“Fine. Lose all your teeth, why the fuck not? Knock the rest of them out for all that they’re worth now, crumple up into the gutter ass-up and die.” I’m never sure if I’m more or less articulate when I’m mad, or approaching it.

Terry’s mouth twitched. “I can’t afford to go to the dentist. What if this ends up hurting all the time?”

Ah. “What doesn’t?”

I am now reminded of the time when I was in the fourth grade and I begged my mom to take me to the dentist because my teeth felt loose. I’d grab a tooth and wriggle and it honestly felt like my teeth, all of them, were not properly attached to the rest of me. I was terrified of losing them (again, see Freud…or maybe, actually Jung?). More: I was convinced I would lose them merely because it was a possibility. The dentist thought I was insane. My mom, who has a hard time believing allergies (read: other people’s) are real, concurred. Did she ever. A lot, actually. It hurt.

“What doesn’t?”

And Terry, finally, let it go. Insomuch as someone like Terry could “let it go” at a time like that.

In any case, he stopped complaining as much (that is, as much as he could have).

“I guess I really can die tomorrow.”

It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse. Hope for the worst so that anything less than that has to be better. Sometimes that’s even more than you can ask for.

(Most times, you’re not even in a position to ask.)

Terry knows that, and so do I.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teeth (Part 1)

We found ourselves across the street from the famed Peters’ Drive-In, just off of 16th Ave, NE, Calgary, Alberta.

Peters’, “The Drive-In You Can’t Drive By.” Peter’s, the with its thick, custom-made shakes and flame-broiled burgers and “Family-Sized” fries that could easily satisfy a small battle-worn army. Peters’, a virtual institution (established 1962, though under new ownership as of 2015) – politicians eat here (on campaign stops), weddings (plural, yes) have been photographed here, birthdays (children’s, even) happen in its adjacent parking lot – Peters’, in short, THE go-to place to go to if you happen to be on that particular side of Calgary at any particular moment.

Or not.

*CASH AND DEBIT ONLY*

(Debit since 1990)

Peters’, unfortunately, only had outdoor seating and it was a blustery, grey day in the city turned cold, unfriendly evening, and this place, a bubble tea bar with à la carte snacks (fish cakes and yam fries and wings and fried dumplings) thus seemed warmer, more welcoming.

Staying at Peters’ would have meant having to eat in the car, a tiny, overpacked Corolla that would not have comfortably seated four adults let alone a box of Family-Sized fries, a couple of shakes, a burger a piece. Staying at Peters’, institution or no, meant fighting what appeared to be a mostly teenaged crowd (and a scraggly one at that) for position and territory (seating was available, but limited). Staying at Peters’ made us feel exposed.

This is not a story about Peters’.

Yet, I wonder what would have happened if we had stayed there instead of going to the bubble tea place.

***

It had been a long day in a series of long days during which time our plans to take a road trip through the province had finally been made. In a day or so, we’d be off.

Terry[1] was in a mood. He’d come out West to see if he and his girlfriend, Mae, [2] could make a go of it; try and start a new life, etc. Easier said than done and even then, the dream was difficult to articulate.

Why out West? Opportunity, maybe, but wasn’t that years ago? What was it, anyway, to “start a new life?” Was he so completely over, and done with, his last one? Was Mae? 

When does this one life end and another, the other, begin?

Terry and Mae found temporary housing renting a unit at the nearby college (it was summer, the students were long gone from that place). Just was well, since the plumbing was busted and the electricity was spotty, at best, due to construction. Terry had a couple of leads but nothing confirmed, nothing solid, in terms of work. Mae was having a harder time even finding places to interview for. The city was indifferent to their plight; the people seemed strangely withdrawn (at least compared to their counterparts out East); the moon (Terry swears it) scowled at them from above, looming large, inescapable. It had been weeks.

So, when we visited and then agreed to join them on the road trip, Terry was in a mood. He was animated as he always was, with that look about his eyes that could only be described as “dogged”; he was even amiable (for Terry), but worn around the edges, slumped, a little, at the shoulders. Frayed, picked-over Terry.

Our server set our order – a smattering of snacks and four custom made bubble teas – on the table. I think mine was Strawberry Something. Stephen had something with mango in it. Mae’s was purple (very purple). Terry brightened at the sight of our glorious repast. He reached past Mae and speared a dumpling with a chopstick, popped it into his month, and screamed.

“My tooth! My fucking tooth!”

Terry had chipped his tooth, and badly (or to hear him tell it, the fucking dumpling chipped his tooth and so very badly).

This is a story about Terry’s teeth.

 

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

________________________________________________

[1] Not real name, though he really could be a “Terry” if he wanted. Alas, “Terry” wants for nothing.

[2] Not real name. No sense veiling “Terry” if I’m going to out “Mae,” is there?

 

 

 

 

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