I was just crossing a downtown street and as I was approaching the curb I saw a youngish black man (maybe 25 or 30) down on one knee pointing a real camera with a big lens at a young lady who was either his girlfriend or maybe a model. I hadn’t seen her face yet, just her hair. Big beautiful hair. Like the natural version of a Diana Ross wig. To continue, I either had to walk into traffic or walk through them, disrupting their shot. Instead, I paused and watched. And when they were done I said to the young woman, with enthusiasm, “that is one beautiful head of hair”! The young man laughed and smiled, probably because he knew what a lucky guy he was. The young woman smiled brightly and laughed in a way that had I been 19 years old and in love with her, it was a laugh I would remember for the rest of my life. As it stands, I’ll just enjoy it for the rest of the afternoon.
Archives for November 2016
I bought guitar strings on Queen Street West in Toronto at Steve’s. The clerk asked me if I had shopped there before as they were continuing to create their database. I said I didn’t live in Toronto but the only guitar I still play was one that my dad bought for me there 31 years ago after he’d had a few drinks at George’s with his pals.
It was for my 20th birthday and his friend said, ya gotta buy a Martin. That’s what Gord plays. My dad didn’t know anything about guitars but he loved Gordon Lightfoot. He couldn’t believe the price but he did it anyway. A couple of Rusty Nails and the Christmas spirit can do that to you.
The clerk laughed and said their database only went back seven years. But no nod to the fact that I was playing the same guitar for thirty years. Best material gift I’ve ever received. Played it for two hours tonight.
I have to admit I was caught up in the big football game. And I was very happy with the result. But it got me thinking about the nature of pride. I’m not a proud man. I don’t have prideful feelings about much at all. If there’s anything I’ve accomplished it was invariably achieved through some combination of hard work and good fortune. Perhaps I might be pleased with the result of resilience and effort but pride seems to be an unproductive feeling.
It’s been many years since I’ve felt pride in the achievements of my favourite team or my sports heroes. I had nothing to do with their hard work. And I don’t have sports heroes anymore.
I’m not proud to be Canadian. I had no more influence on my nationality than I did on my height or eye colour. I certainly feel extremely fortunate but I find myself cheering for Slovenians or Koreans in any given Olympic event almost as often as I do for my fellow Canucks. Almost.
I can imagine that had I had a child who did some great or heroic thing and I had been some positive influence in their character development, then I might feel some pride. But that is an imaginary scenario. In this whole discussion (monologue) about pride, I’m going to make one exception. I’m proud of my wife.
In her parents’ most stressful and vulnerable times, my wife has been heroic. A rock. Relentless. A war hero. Infinitely kind, thorough, generous. Caring and without limitation. Smart. funny, beautiful. I’m in awe of her. I feel like I’m a peewee hockey player sharing the ice with Bobby Orr.
And there will be no statues or monuments. She’ll be forgotten by history. But she’s a hero.
The logical extension of this is that there are millions, if not billions of heroes that we don’t even notice. But I’m keeping this personal. Perhaps one of the only things I’m proud of is that someone of such high moral quality and beauty still loves me after all these years. Maybe that’s my greatest accomplishment.
I used to play hockey. As with so many other Canadian boys (and now girls, happily) it was almost an eventuality. Written in our genetic code, as though our free will was erased and around the time of our sixth or seventh birthday, we were being sized for shin pads and measuring our hockey sticks against our chins. I was okay. A stay-at-home defenceman in the Serge Savard mold. I played three or four years of competitive hockey and traveled a little bit but I never had any expectation of being a star or making the NHL. Some of my friends did but I sure wasn’t one of them. Eventually, as my interests diversified, I grew tired of hockey and preferred the excitement of the new frontier that was high school. And I really thought that being on the basketball team was going to be a much better strategy to attract girls than being in an arena in Clarence Creek on a Saturday morning. I was wrong.
But what I loved the most in those hockey days was the neighbourhood outdoor rink. I mean, I LOVED it. I would spend as many hours as physically possible playing shinny out there. Until my feet couldn’t take it or my mom had to come over to drag me home to dinner.
All of this is to say that every year now, I drive by my old neighbourhood around this season to see if the rink’s boards have been put up. I’ve been on skates maybe twice in the last thirty five years but I always get excited when I see the boards go up. If not for me, then for some eight year old kid who asked for a hockey stick for Christmas and hopes that the ice will be there on Christmas Day. The boards were up today. Game On!
When I moved to the neighbourhood in which I grew up in 1974, the local corner store was called Manor Park Grocery. However, every one in the hood knew it as “Nick’s”. It was run by a married couple named Nick and Lucy. I remember one of their nephews working there and maybe a younger son, eventually. But for the most part it was always Nick or Lucy behind the counter. And they lived in what couldn’t have been bigger than a two bedroom apartment above the store. The kids called them by their first names, the parents did too. We went there when we had an extra buck and wanted some chips and a coke. There were steps out front where we would sit as we gobbled down our treats and hoped for a free coupon in the bags of our Yum Yum chips. I swear I turned 25 cents into four bags of chips one summer afternoon with a great string of coupon luck.
Nick’s was a meeting place for kids. Eventually, some of us would buy cigarettes there as time marched on, being replaced by the younger kids who would take our place on the steps. Bikes laying on their sides at the foot of those steps. I don’t remember a bike lock in the group.
Nick and Lucy got a little greyer just as our parents did. And then, as to be expected, most of us moved away and depending on whether our parents stayed in the area, most of us never came back.
Tonight, I returned to Nick’s and Nick was behind the counter. Forty two years later. Again, I bought some pop from him -two cans of Fresca for my Frodkas- and it cost considerably more than 25 cents. And the guy behind me buying whatever he was buying said, “hey Nick, how are ya tonight?” Nick. Still a name in the neighbourhood that everyone knows. A life well lived and an integral part of a wonderful place to grow up. For generations.
As I felt a little down in the dumps about myself this morning, a poor bastard who didn’t have any legs got on the bus. Everyone within reach were very helpful in raising the front seat to make room for his chair. He only rode for a few stops. When he left I swear another legless guy got on the bus at the very next stop. And he took the first guy’s place. Pretty easy to stop feeling sorry for yourself when you see something like that. The courage of some people to carry on astounds me sometimes. And it’s not even winter yet. And then to crystallize the thought, it came to me that we see beautiful people and ugly people every day. All the time. And nearly always, we can’t tell which are which by looking at them. Damn me, being back on the bus is making me think too much. But it’s helped me escape my bubble. Maybe we should all ride the bus once in a while even if we don’t have to.