Canadian nuances

Canadian nuances – Part 7: The grizzly arrival

I remember tossing and turning the night before I left Vancouver. The morning I left was a mixture of brew great coffee/pound down some Ritalin/panic slightly/jump on the bag until the zip merges.

Bad weather circles these big changes. Much like the ripple a fish makes. Will your reward be a fierce archetypal mammoth that exhausts you…or will it be an overgrown flea  – an inflated ending – that brews inside the heart of moody clouds? I digress…

I left in the rain. I paid a cab, and slowly inched towards the yellow submarine. Coffee thundered in my chest, bees and butterflies bounced inside my head like giddy popcorn struggling to get comfortable. I remember driving down Main street. It was 5:30am. The sun was asleep along with the sensible. I watched the rain give the street an unconscious hue.

This was a street I wouldn’t see for a long time. I worked on this street. I cried in the rain. Found friends. Caught snatches of banter. Felt the golden face of the old clock watch over me…an invisible parent on a drunken night. Now I couldn’t mourn for this street or myself. It seemed very far away behind the taxi window, stained with rain.

I arrived at the bus station. I stood in line. I glanced nervously at strangers hoping their story mattered as much as my own. I was leaving home after a frantic week of planning, rhythmic drinking and watered down goodbyes. The anxiety made me drunk. I wasn’t falling over…just everything was in a haze at the station. Conversations flickered past without a glance.

I weighed my bags, paid the extra cash, dragged the dead weight to bus 19. Cabins of steel lined up, perhaps they were saluting me? I think I saw at least two throw a palm over their face muttering “didn’t someone tell this dude to pack less?”

On the bus I watched a movie on my laptop, read a chapter from my book, stared at the mountains and stowed vodka into my flask to oil the joints. It’s nothing to really write home about. The chaos happened, naturally, when I was one hour away from Banff. The moment I felt chuffed about the first 13 hours, collided with a jarring thump under my seat. A passenger in front of me jumped up a minute later and scuttled towards the driver like a frightened cockroach.

We stopped. There were mutters from passengers about us hitting a deer. Planting a murky syllogism in a leader’s head only leads to more marbles dancing across the floor. The driver pulled the bus over, checked the side of the bus and didn’t see any visible signs of trauma.

He tossed a coin inside his head, and continued. Burnt mechanical popcorn crawled through 52 nostrils. Shards of worry and an warning beep drummed faster than the fear in our hearts. We pull to the side of the road for the second time. The young driver stands up to talk to us.

A sense of shame clouds him. He forgets to use the bus intercom and starts muttering something to us. I’m two thirds from the back, I can only assume the first 6 people understand him. Myself and two other passengers raise our voices and ask him to use the magical microphone. We get told there’s a problem with the brake line. We now have a 3 hour wait. A shorter version would be something like this…

The bus dies. Bad news. 3 hour wait. The air conditioner died an hour before the loud thud.  Driver gives up and turns off the engine. Silence. The Wi-Fi dies along with the electrical outlets and we can no longer charge our phones. Now the cry of the 15 month old baby punctuates the situation. Many get up to smoke. We open the emergency windows for air. I walk outside and share my mickey of vodka (neat) with a gaggle of smokers. I tell them it’s neat. No one complains. We stare at the throbbing sunlight on the mountains, the beauty seems so far away now. The vodka paints a smile on me and I hand out a couple of my granola bars like Oprah trying to disrupt that sombre stares. I fall asleep.

I get shaken. I am barely awake. The driver is busy saying too many words that I can’t process. Others ask more questions my consciousness stirs. My Québécois sidekick tells me something like “we’re getting on the rescue bus. grab your shit.” I give a slight cheer, and redemption pulls me into the new bus. Clean, leather scented, warm…all the signs of salvation. I juggle a few things and pound my bag into the overhead slot. Two elastic bars fuck with me. Drum roll please…

A new driver emerges. He’s older, something inside me relaxes. His hair looks like a burnt cigarette. We’re on our way soon. Great. The old bus has an “airlock system” and our baggage is trapped. I’m told we have to wait a few hours for it. One driver says my luggage is headed to Calgary and I must go there and get it. The rescue bus driver tells me it should arrive in Banff (my destination) a day later.

17 hours later I get off the bus. I say goodbye to strangers, and walk into darkness. I have a laptop, coffee grinder, French press (coffee plunger), no coffee beans, a heavy laptop, the clothes I’m wearing and a lonely bag of trail mix. I sit at the bus stop to wait from my brother. My knees applaud the brisk wind. I’m wearing shorts, of course. I feel incredibly sober again.

I spot a bobbing flash-light. I’m not sure if it’s a security guard, or a tourist riding a drunken bicycle. A beaming face emerges. The beady eyes of a brother, an old friend, a bouncy critter with a deeper heart. We fling our arms around each other after four years. We laugh. We separate. Seconds stagnate and we stare. We soak up the soul that lingers behind the eyes.

We embrace again. Holding, smelling, feeling, being.

Brothers.
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poetry

the lady on the bus

fragile and foetal
death picks up the chaos
she cannot collect

her eyes hide
in the slow smoke

her hair lies between
rules and regret

a brown umbrella
decorates her day

a white hat
holds the echoes
in her speech

her son died today
in dank ditches
where spoons suffocate

eyes like a soldier
a voice so tender
it narrates the
fingers of smoke

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances, Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 7: That African Twitch

It’s cold. (Well, only 5°C but you forget…I’m a wuss with warm tropical blood.)

My backpack is crammed with groceries. It has the weight of a dying child. Each hand holds two more shopping bags. It’s around 10pm. I’m tired and starved. All I want to do is get home and throw food at my face until a gravy coloured smile emerges.

I’m walking up Yukon street and my steam-engine breath is pumping ahead of me. My eyes catch those of a girl walking towards me. She looks young. A brief guess puts her as an older teenager or in her earlier 20s.
She sees me and a train of words comes rushing out of her mouth.

“Hey, can I ask you a favour?”
“Wh-”

“Do you have a phone on you?”
I freeze for a second. My hands loosely hold the two shopping bags ready to release them. My eyes scan the road behind her. No one there. My brain blurts to the saner part… Are there two guys in the bushes behind me?

I still feel skeptical of parting with my phone on command. I ask her why. Another torrent of words hurtles towards me. She was trying to find her friend’s place blah blah blah. She was from North Vancouver, she felt lost. At this point my Canadian brain says… This chick’s too stressed out to create moving bushes.

I ask her the address. She tells me. I know it. I point to the street behind me that I had just crossed. This doesn’t seem to be enough to quell her bubbling questions. I shrug and pull out my phone. I open up Google Maps and punch in the address she gave me.
“Oh wow, you’re actually looking it up. I’m so sorry to do this to you…”

“Nah, shit happens,” I reply. The red balloon thingy mushrooms on the screen and I see where she was meant to go. Turns out she was only 250m or so away.
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I feel like such an idiot.”

A gloved hand flies up to cover her mouth. An embarrassed laugh trickles out into the night air. Within seconds she scampers away again.

I bend down, and pick up my shopping bags again. I chuckle to myself. Those goddam bushes.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances, poetry, Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 5: When the smoke clears

Vancouver. It’s the afternoon and you take a stroll downtown. You notice a certain smell. In fact it’s hard to avoid the sweet scent of marijuana. It drifts through the sunny streets like an unconscious cloud, eager to throttle addicts and adolescents. In many ways, the west coast (of Canada) is seen as a little more mellow, crammed with hippies, riddled with bohemians, gypsies and stoners…of course. You decide how rebellious you are at the end of the day.

When I first heard I was moving to Vancouver and closer to consuming some high quality Mary Jane, my ‘inner rebel’ leapt up and gave the addict an invisible hi-five. It was similar to the feeling when you may win a prize of some kind, and you hear the announcement crackling over the intercom. Now I’m going on a tangent. Lemme fast forward to my first encounter with this cloud.

I arrived in the blustery wind and rain. This was spring. The first night I booked myself into the cheapest hostel in Vancouver. Yes, you heard me. I get into this burnt out building. I walk up the staircase. The first thing that I notice is graffiti, along with a collection of gouges, scrapes and manic doodles. I get to the counter and pay for two nights. The rotund guy behind the counter doesn’t even ask for my ID, all he needs is a $10 deposit for the key to my room. I hand him the money and he gives me a brown sheet for my bed and an old, gross blanket to keep me warm. I never receive a pillow. Soon after arriving one thing has become apparent, nothing in this place is clean.

My first night in Vancouver I was jet-lagged, in a grimy hostel and alone. (I flew in with my parents, but they had gone to live in another part of the city). I felt like a turtle who’d been flipped on his back. I was scared and bewildered with only about $100 to my name. Another thing…who do you trust? The don’t-talk-to-strangers mantra your parents banged into your head from birth, vanishes quickly.

Anyway, in my nervous state evening approaches and the anxiety quivering inside me propels my legs forward. I search for a place to buy food. I remember this next part so clearly I can almost reach out and touch it. I walk around a local park downtown and green clouds hit me. It’s a tempting scent and my first idea is to follow the smell because ultimately every stoner gets the munchies. This plan fails because I end up at a coffee shop of sorts where everyone inside can bring their own product (i.e. marijuana, of course) and light up. Ultimately they order some cake and other sugary treats staring at the patrons behind glass doors.

After exploring the place and talking to the stoned barista, I remember I’m hungry and leave. I end up asking people too many questions and I soon arrive at a grocery store. Days after this happened a bizarre thought crept over me – it was easier to buy pot than it was to find food. I kid you not. You have to walk past a pub to see people drinking, but smelling is for free. Most days you don’t have a choice.

For those reading this, I can sense that unspoken question on your lips…have you tried it? Yup, I have. I might be more accurate if I said the weed smoked me. I prefer operating with a clear mind and I’ve stayed away from it for many months. I also find it interesting that there is a certain amount of denial that goes with every stoner. I’ll give you an example…

There are many marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver. Let me rephrase that, medical marijuana dispensaries. The deal is you first have to go the the doctor, complain about some ache or pain or symptom and receive a letter. You take that letter to certain dispensaries who will issue you with a plastic card with a picture of you and your mug on it. This becomes your golden ticket to bounce from dispensary to dispensary at your leisure.

Now where does the denial part kick in? Well, medical marijuana…ahem, er, really? That’s like the doctor prescribing cigarettes because you have a cough. Okay, perhaps not the best analogy, I admit. There are tons or dispensaries, but I don’t see many sick people. Yes there may be some medical benefits that come from this plant, although the dispensary business I see largely as a “smokescreen” for recreational users to get a free pass. I don’t get it, maybe that means I’m not a stoner then? If there’s one thing I’d indulge in, that would be copious amounts of craft beer. Chances are it won’t offend the person I’m sitting next to, and I’m more likely to find new friends.

But wait there’s more…
After being in the country for a little more than a year, a new president came to power. I’m told this was a good thing because Stephen Harper – the previous guy – was an annoying sod. So the new party in power are called The Liberals (or Liberal Party, don’t quote me because I avoid politics like the plague). In addition to them being less like Harper, they also claim to legalize pot over the whole of Canada. This time they’re pushing for the recreational use of the drug. Part of me also thought “is the law really the thing stopping [the stoners] in the first place?” Some say it takes one to know one. Hmmm.

Okay folks, it’s time to muscle up and find a conclusion of sorts. This post is looking more like an anti-marijuana rant every minute. Maybe it is? Perhaps the best way to end this is with a poem I wrote about that first filthy hostel I stayed in. Here’s it goes:

 

clouds

i turn
the doorknob
walk up old stairs
bruised and worn down
knuckles of a fighter

“the cheapest hostel in Vancouver”
the advert said
i agreed out of ignorance
i pay for two nights
the man behind the counter
slaps down a key
hands me a pillowcase
and a brown sheet

he turns to leave but stops
“you need a blanket?”
i nod and receive
something a dog slept
in for days

i walk into the tv room
a cloud of marijuana
cloaks me like bad weather
five guys stare at the screen

he darts a look at me
then back to the screen
he sips his beer and shrugs

i wave briefly
only one of them notices
a young Chinese guy
lights up a bong

a thick cloud builds up
in the glass chamber
he inhales
empties out
the unconscious tunnel

he coughs and moans
his thick red hair
too limp to dance

he stands up
fondles his bankie
like an old photograph

he wanders
out the room
looking for food

 

 

PhilosopherPoet

Standard
Rantings

Canadian nuances – Part 2: Worshipping the sun

I arrived in a miserable, rain swept country. In the first four months I was stuck in a job I took out of sheer desperation. I woke up in the dark, left on the bus at dawn, and watched the lethargic sun rise out of the horizon. I worked in a hardware store all day. Often on my lunch hour I had to wade through the angry rain and the frigid air into the toasty Tim Hortons a block away. Sometimes a single slurp of coffee and the sugary bite of a doughnut can kindle a little more life in your eyes.

After six months I began to realize the reason Canadians love their coffee. It feels like a weapon in the cold weather. A swig of magic potion to banish the evil spirits swirling in the wind. I quickly started to figure out that using coffee shops as landmarks helps you learn the layout of a city. Another thing I figured out…winter was miserable.

Some say that hindsight is perfect sight. Looking back at myself in the first Vancouver winter, part of me thought “Oh shit, this is forever.” I’m now writing this in my second winter and the fondest memories I have were sitting outside in the sun on my lunch break. I remember my step mother sending invisible prayers into the sky, asking the sun to come back. Ok, she wasn’t actually praying, although I could feel the urgency in her voice whenever she spoke of it.

For some reason I denied missing the sun at first. Perhaps, I felt stress from too many other areas in my life. Now that the sea of stress is slowing down to a trickle, I can process more of the details that were so bewildering to me in the beginning. I can be a little more honest with myself at the same time. Ladies and Genitals, here it is…I crave the sun.

Allow me to rewind the storyline a little… I’m from Durban, South Africa. For those unfamiliar with the place it has amazing weather. The sun is as plentiful there as the rain is in Vancouver. It’s not the safest city in the country, but if you took away the crime it’s very close to being a warm, balmy, idyllic one. You have very warm and wet summers, and cool dry winters. The summers were way too hot and humid for me, but one thing I now realize is the sun was always around.

The sun (in South Africa) felt like an angry mother-in-law. In comparison the sun in British Columbia feels like an excitable nephew. In Durban if you stayed outside for too long in summer you’d often get burnt, maybe even garner a few blisters in the process. In Vancouver you stay out too long…the most you’ll get is a bigger smile on your face.

My advice to other immigrants can be summed up in three words…it gets better. It really does. In my second winter I no longer feel hopeless because I now have the radiant memories of summer swimming inside me. I have fantasies of lying in the sun, soaking it up again. While I write this and have multiple sun-fuelled braingasms, I’m reminded of a memory…

It happened last summer. Having just arrived home from work I took the graphic novel I had been reading and took a short walk to the local park, about 5 minutes away. Once there I sat in the balmy sun and read for a bit. It turns out my brain was too weary to read a great deal, so I closed my book and lay down on the grass. I closed my eyes and began to listen to the fragments of chatter all around me. It seemed like I lost track of time after a while. It must’ve been about an hour I was lying there. What stuck me afterwards was that “half sleepy half calm” feeling that seeps down into your bones. Some memories are worth listening to, this is one of them.

Standard
poetry

scenes from a memory

echos spin through
the dialect of the street
peoples feet shimmer and
evoke the stones of cold motion
the rapids of incense
churn through
treacle trusses
of a stoners song

clouds are sewn into the sky
a slow rope of saliva falls
from a pitbull
his jaw opens and closes

two hands of lovers clasp
and dance away into
suburban sunlight
absorbed in supple scents
and a growing gravitas

 

 

PhilosopherPoet

Standard
poetry

clouds

i turn
the doorknob
walk up old stairs
bruised and worn down
knuckles of a fighter

“the cheapest hostel in Vancouver”
the advert said
i agreed out of ignorance
i pay for two nights
the man behind the counter
slaps down a key
hands me a pillowcase
and a brown sheet

he turns to leave but stops
“you need a blanket?”
i nod and receive
something a dog slept
in for days

i walk into the tv room
a cloud of marijuana
cloaks me like bad weather
five guys stare at the screen

one darts a look at me
then back to the screen
he sips his beer and shrugs

i wave briefly
only one of them notices
a young Chinese guy
lights up a bong

a thick cloud builds up
in the glass chamber
he inhales
empties out
the unconscious tunnel

he coughs and moans
his thick red hair
too limp to dance

he stands up
fondles his bankie
like an old photograph

he wanders
out the room
looking for food

 

PhilosopherPoet

Standard