Monday, April 23, 2007

It Will Come Back to Bite You!

Sixteen years ago I attended the wedding reception of Jim Cambell to his beautiful bride Emma. We were not invited to the service as they chose to elope to the cheesiest place on earth. They wanted it to be as campy as possible and I imagine that they did not want witnesses who truly knew them in attendance, as maybe we would forever judge them on the powder blue ruffled tux,the Elvis minister or the corny promises made in some Temple of Love. But this is want Emma desperately wanted,so Jim aimed to please.

Jim, wanted to marry. Emma could have done with out it. She knew she loved Jim and she knew they were building a wonderful life together. Emma never envisioned the bridal party dream of silks and satin, she knew her heart was true and her love; her quirky love for Jim would last forever. But Emma also knew that her Jim desperately wanted to have a reception a few weeks after their elopement, after the honeymoon, and so she relented to a lavish 'Jim themed' reception to please her true love. The elopement was her gift to her shy self and the reception would be her gift to Jim to share with their friends.

But Jim, also happens to be the cheapest man on earth. He is not frugal but cheap.I would say he finds the word frugal to be too dear of a word for what he is and how he lives. He had notions of how money should be spent and how it can be saved. His notion of a wedding was having everyone together; ambiance, atmosphere and food were really inconsequential.

So with his frugality or with his firm insight as to what he wanted from his wedding reception, he chose to have his reception in a downtown food court, in a mall, on a Sunday, when all stores would be closed.

I had a second guess at the invitation and the location. I can honestly say I have never been to a food court wedding before...and I probably will go through my entire life without attending another. But there was not a mistake and a memory of a food court with orange trays will be molded in with the couple for their entire lives together. I doubt any of us will remember the food, the drink or what the couple wore. I know I will not remember any of the speeches but I think I can safely say,no one will ever forget attending the food court wedding of Jim and Emma.

Jim was so proud with the money saved on the venue and the food. He boasted at how affordable his wedding was.He even had extra money for a karaoke machine. He did not want dancing. He wanted singing.

Now, Jim did not really size up who would be attending his wedding.He did not think of all the comic book artists, and animators and their solitary lives. He could not envision that his friends would not be smitten with the notion of having of karaoke machine. He did not factor in that most of his friends were shy and reserved. He did not think of the uptight, high fashion house colleagues of Emma would not unwind on weekends with a few tunes. He could not fathom anyone not having a secret desire to belt out a few Barbra Streisand or Elvis Presley tunes.

He did not have a back up in case his plans fell a rye. His entire reception was based on the machine and he truly did not take into account of his strictly conservative, self conscious, crowd who were in attendance. No one had a secret longing to be a Broadway singer or a rock star.

But Jim did not see this at first. Jim was giggling in anticipation of all the songs his friends might sing. He had a few up his sleeve as well. He could not wait to sing a few of his songs. He was like a kid. He truly believed everyone had a song. And he was so keen on his ultimate party favour.

After the speeches he could not contain himself. He leapt up and sang a few of his songs he obviously had practiced before the fateful day. He thought his machine would have line ups. He thought there would be people clamouring to sing duets. And to his surprise everyone went out of their way to avoid the the foreboding machine. And with certainty everyone avoided eye contact with the groom as he belted out 'That's Amore' to his beautiful bride.

Everyone kept to their food court tables. No one had any desire to give their best shower song for the echoing sound of the mall and her crowds.

And since there was no entertainment, my husband and I had our table balancing spoons on our noses. And taking up challenges, from our fellow table companions of who could keep their spoon balanced on the edge of their nose the longest.

Jim tried to make eye contact with us but we firmly avoided his looks by concentrating on our spoons.

We watched as Jim began scrambling.
Jim went to a few tables where people were looking like they needed entertainment of a song but none took the bait. They were really into basking into the ambiance of the food court.

He finally made it to our table where we were all giggling at how clever we were to have spoons balanced on our noses. He grabbed my husband who dropped his spoon from his nose.
He pleaded with BoyWonder. 'Come on ya gatta have a tune you have always wanted ta saaaaang?'
A BoyWonder just answered 'Weeeellll? No!'and began to lick his spoon again.

'Comme onnn...I am begging ya here...'

Jim fell down on his knees for dramatic effect clasping his hands in prayer with the microphone and looked pathetically up at my spoon clad husband.
My husband relented. 'All right then, and you owe me BIG time!'

BoyWonder grabbed the mike from Jim who sighed a big sigh of relief and walked over to the machine to cue up the first song. My husband remained seated at our table and began to sing. Boy Wonder started off meekly, he started to sing slightly off key. But he slowly started to get a groove happening as no one seemed to be in want of the machine. And our spoon table was cheering him on.

And through just a bit of encouragement, my husband started to get a groove happening. He was living some deep, dark, dream of becoming a lead singer... He started to get a groove, he sang his best Frank Sinatra.
And then, ohhh, and then; he started to experiment with his voice, he started to impersonations, he tried a Scottish accent to 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin, followed by an East Indian accent to The Beatles 'Drive My Car'...and then topped with a Maritimer accent to 'She shook me all night long'...

I was horrified... There was no getting him off the machine. People were coming over to our table with requests.. Each enjoying the next song more that the last... I could not decide if my husband was a Ethel Merman,Tony Bennett, Don Knotts or Paul Lynde.

They, this wedding group who I hoped I would never see again became his adoring public. Swooning with laughter and in song as my husband sang through out the night. And saving Jim and Emma's food court wedding.

I was looking at him and telling him this was going to come back and bite him.

These are typical stories of living with BoyWonder. He is quick to laugh and has no problem mocking himself and all around him.

Recently I was with my daughter at a dental appointment. We had waited months and months to have an appointment with this particular dentist.He is looked upon as the best dentist in the city for children and his affiliation as the lead dentist for a world re known children;'s hospital has put me at ease as I have a fear of dentistry. I had been told that he had excellent bedside manner and this is definitely what I was looking for in my kid's dentist.

We entered the office and were greeted by our dentist. And he put the two of us at ease. He had a a great sense of humour and had my daughter in a fit of giggles through out the examination. He examined her mouth and shared her love of Ringo and suggested maybe 'branching out' and watching a few Elvis films.

And then he did it.

He started to sing. He started to sing songs that were vaguely familiar... He started to sing and it jostled somehing in my very core. it gave me shivers. I had heard these songs 16 years ago.He started to sing, and of all things, seemed to impersonate my husband while cleaning my daughter's teeth.

He couldn't have been there... How would he know Jim and Emma?

But he kept on singing sounding more and more like my husband sixteen years ago.

I looked at him. And certainly could not believe my ears.

I decided to gulp down my pride and take the strange plunge of six degrees of separation.

'Do you know Jim Cambell? ' I ask.

And with that the singing stopped. My dentist turned to look at me.

'Do I know Jim Cambell? Do I know Jim Cambell? Well, Heck! Yeah!!!' and then he laughs. 'Great guy! Cheap. But great guy...'

'Were you? Were you, at Jim and Emma's wedding?'

'Yeah.. You know Jim and Emma? They are a great, great couple... Gawd that was along time ago!'

'Yeah they are great. Haven't seen them in a while...' I retort.

Haaaa! Do you remember that CRAZY guy at the wedding? he laughs.

'What crazy guy are we talking here?' I ask hoping 'it' will just go away.

And then he got up from his chair and pulled off his mask and began to impersonate my husband, hand movements, body gestures, eyebrow moves and all. My daughter held captive in the dental chair and me sitting next to her watching and gasping in disbelief.

As the dentist was giggling and singing 'Drive My Car'.

I could feel my face turn various shades of red.

'You remember that guy? Gawd... I have been impersonating him for years!' he snorts.

'Really! Well, that guy, that guy, is my husband...'

'He's your husband? Really? You're joking! He's your dad?' Pointing to Scooter in the chair. 'That guy is 'a classic.' I have been singing his versions of songs for years!'

And with that, the dentist turned to my daughter and said 'Your dad is a genius...Sheer genius'

So sixteen years later, it has come home to bite ME. As there is no living with him.

The dentist is dying to have us over. He, no doubt has a karaoke machine and we are in for an evening of sheer entertainment as BoyWonder is in the house.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My daughter collected the mail from our mailbox today.

She went through the pile of bills and triumphantly called out that I had received a letter.

I received a letter today. I received a letter on a cold and dreary day.

As with any letter, I receive, it causes my heart to jump a beat in anticipation on seeing my name scrawled on an envelope. A handwritten letter brings pangs of excitement, or glorious anticipation, of what ideas and sentiments are stored inside.

I always take a moment before opening a letter, as it is such an event.

I always glance at the entire envelope, taking all in, before I open my letter. Sometimes, if I am lucky, the scent of the author remains. And with this, I drink in the letter.

I glance at my letter.

It had my name addressed on it in a penmanship I was not familiar with.

It had come a long way. I can see by the stamps.

It was from South Africa.

Beautiful stamps.

I opened it.

And inside was a letter from a person I have never met. A wife of a friend of mine. A friend whom I have not seen in over twenty years. A friend who would write the most beautiful letters, on the most exquisite stationary, when the mood struck him and who I would write back with great zealousness.

For years and years, we have written each other, almost forgetting what the other person looked like or the sound of our voices. But we knew each other's penmenship. We never likened to e-mails as it would just dullen and cheapen a wonderful experience of true mail. It was a gift we gave to each other.

We both loved the ritual of mail.

But as the years passed, our letters, our gifts of words and insight into each others lives began to dwindle from every few weeks, to every few months, to Christmas letters summing up our lives in a long annual letter, answering questions from the previous Chrismas card. We would give a antidote which only the two of us would understand and love to each other's families. But our Christmas letters were certainly still cherished and most definitely anticipated, And we truly understood how busy life can be and there was always the promise of next year's letter.

She wrote to tell me how much I had meant to her husband over the past twenty years She wrote to tell me he kept all my letters in a shoe box. She wrote to tell me that he spoke of me often. She wrote to tell me that he lived a good life. And she wrote to tell me he had passed away from a massive heart attack. It took him right away. He did not suffer. She wrote to tell me how she was suffering, but consoling herself to the fact he received his wish. 'A good healthy life, lived to the max. He lived every moment'. He was loved by many and he loved all in return. And now he was gone. And she misses him terribly.

My daughter eagerly was by my side asking about my letter. Asking me all about my mail. My exotic letter. And I was short with my daughter, as I wanted a moment to just think of this letter and to think of him. To think of the last time I saw him at the airport bound for South Africa. I wanted to picture him, heed to his velvety voice and to hear his great gregarious laugh, and to be enveloped in the great bear hug he would give, before I buried him to her. I needed a few minutes.
I gave myself the time. I breathed in my memories but just as importantly, I exhaled.

And then I called my daughter back to me and re-addressed the letter. I told her of my letter and of my friend. It gave me comfort to have a wee arm around my shoulder, for her to ask me about him and truly listen to the answers. And then, when she was finished asking and she thought she 'knew' my late friend she added that she was sorry.

And for this, I am comforted.

I am sad. Sad to have lost a friend. Sad for his six children he leaves behind and so heartbroken for his widow.

And tomorrow I will go out, and purhase some exquisite stationary and I will write my late friend's wife a letter filled with memories I had shared with her husband, but most importantly to share the great loss and to keep his memory alive in my heart for a few more paragraphs and send them with a kiss on the long voyage back to South Africa.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Man of All Ages

There is an old man, he could be 76 or 96 but I prefer to think of him as a Man of Ages, living in my neighbourhood.This Man of Ages, walks through my neighbourhood and I have observed him for years. His face is old. He has deep, deep, wrinkles, a fine, weathered face, a face which is riddled with character and stories. He is bald with a bit of stubble where side burns should be, he wears horned rimmed glasses from the fifties. He is five feet tall but he seems to loom as he walks up our main strip with purpose. He wears a knapsack on his back and he always dresses in khakis either long kahakis in the winter or army shorts in the summer. He dons a desert hat, over his shaved head and his legs do not have a hair on them. He is always wears hiking boots, with wool socks when he walks. And when he walks, he bounces. His gait is long and his arms firmly to his sides. He walks with determination staring ahead with his head level and his shoulders pulled back and his chest out. He commands the space around him and beckons space ahead of him, all in a walk.

I have been in the park on occasion and have observed him cycling on a ten speed. He wears the unitard and the proper cycling cleats, he is out of his khakis and in a cycling uniform with a cycling cap and no helmet. I have seen him cycle with young whippersnappers in their twenties. I have heard him yell at them in Polish as they whoosh by training together.
I have heard him belt out 'Faster!Faster!' in English as they trail him.
I have heard him use his age as a taunt. I have heard him say' I am an old man, you can not let an old man beat you! Have pride!' He is challenging the young men to keep the pace. To keep his fast pace, and not for one lap, but for twenty uphill. And I stand holding my breath in amazement.

I have never had the opportunity to talk with this man, this Man of Ages, who is so part of the walking scenery in which I live. I have often asked my other friends and neighbours if they had ever noticed 'my' man in hopes of getting an introduction to him. But when I describe him, they draw a blank. They have never seen my man or at least taken note.

I find it odd, as I think he takes up the street, he is a defining person of the neighbourhood in which I live, he commands the world when he bounces by and I find it peculiar that he has gone unnoticed by my group. I think he is king of the world, but apparantly only in my world. A world in which I wished to know part of his story, for there had to be a few good stories in the leathery markings on his face.

The opportunity arose innocently enough this past week. I had the opportunity to talk with 'my' man. I walked into a dollar store to pick up a bottled water,and to my surprise I saw my man at the counter talking with the store owner. I must have looked shocked, maybe, I even blushed, at seeing him, so anchored to the counter, so at ease, and me so unprepared to see him upclose and not at my comfortable distance to observe. He drew me into in the store with a joust.

'Come in ! Come in! Don't be shy, Come in!' he blurts.

And with his comment suspended in the air, I am jostled to my reason for entering the store.

I hear, My Man, call for me at the back of the tiny five and dime store.

'Miiiissis, Miiiissis... This man here, dis store owner is such a lovely man, he is...' he belts out.

And as I approached the counter with my water I agreed with a smile toward the owner.

'Miiiissis, do you know where he is from?'

And I was flabberghasted as it seems like an innocent question enough, but I had not thought of the shopkeeper as anything other than a shopkeeper... A one dimensional, stationary, being... And I have embarassed myself with my lack of knowledge and prejudice in my wee village of a street.

I look at him, my shopkeeper,and have never thought of his accent, never thought of his travels, never thought of him anywhere besides behind the counter.

I then try and save face by stammering out a reply of 'India?'

Miiiissis, he is a long way from where he started...He is from from Kenya.

And with that the shop owner smiled modestly.

Miiissis, Kenya is one of the most beautiful places on earth... And her people? Ohhh her people, are some of the loveliest to walk the planet...

And the shop owner smiled in accordance.

And with that I ask him, my Man of Ages, how he knows this information.

Well, Miiisusssss, I was a mapmaker for the UN. I miss Africa so much, so very much. Such a beautiful beautiful, country. I lived there for a very longtime, a very longtime. And the language? 30 different dialects of Swahili. Oh it is so beautiful to listen to. I come here to talk with my friend, here, and just listen....I owe dis man, dis man, so much, as he brings de winds of Kenya to me. He is a very good man, a very good man.

And with that he, my Man of Ages, and the Shopkeeper took me, dear blogger on a marvellous taste, of an adventure through Africa,but most importantly though Kenya.

And as I finished my bottled water, my ole man, my traveller, mapmaker extrodinaire who speaks many languages, and has no name and no age laughed and said 'You must be going I see.'

And I reluctantly said I did have a few errands ...

And he says with a wink' Do not tell your husband about me, I wouldn't want to make him jealous... And for him to beat me up. I am an old man, afterall.'

And somehow, that comment made me smile all day...As I finally had the chance to meet 'My' man, My Ageless Man, the man with many, many stories to tell...

I can not wait until I have the chance to talk with him again! And maybe it will be with my husband, but hopefully I am alone, as I truly want to listen and hear Kenya and her winds calling.