Searching For A Younger Man

I grew up in Toronto in the 60’s.  I loved folk music, especially the songs that told stories.  And the place to hear singers was Yorkville, home to maybe ten coffeehouses.  I was too young to drink but just the perfect age for consuming gallons of caffeine.

I always went to the same place on Yorkville Avenue.  On the street there was a door rounded at the top with a semi-circular awning above, then stairs down to a cramped space that held a tiny stage at one end.  So many folksingers passed before my eyes and ears.

Yesterday I was walking along Bloor Street in Toronto, one of the city’s main drags.  Along the way, I had spent time in two libraries, reading my book and joying in no agenda.  I kept heading east, watching the flow of humanity on the sidewalk.  I tried to make contact with many of them – psychically that is.  No calls of greeting or stares.  I saw they all had lives just as rich as mine.  I wished them well.  And perhaps none of them noticed me.

As I strolled, a word flashed in my mind … “Yorkville”.  I was just a few blocks away.  As I turned onto Yorkville Avenue, classy restaurants and elegant shops showed their huge windows to me.  The days of underground hippie hangouts were long gone.  Along the street, I saw three historical plaques, honouring three classic folk clubs which were no more: The Penny Farthing, The Purple Onion and The Riverboat.  I hadn’t been in any of them but I was still sad.

And then there was 90 Yorkville Avenue.  I recognized the door and the tattered awning.  But I couldn’t remember the name of the club.  A woman stood smoking on the step.  I asked if she knew the history of the building.  She didn’t.  She told me the door was locked and the space below had been used for storage for a long time.  Smiling, she suggested I Google it.  A few minutes later, I was sitting on a bench, doing just that.  I learned that Yorkville had morphed into an area boasting condos with a price tag of up to $28 million.  I became reacquainted with the names of several coffeehouses, including, at #90, The Flick.  In the 60’s it had been the refuge of folk fans but later switched to the more popular rock and roll.  Trouble was, the name rang no bells whatsoever.

I decided to find someone who knew the history of Yorkville.  Right beside the rounded door, I entered a fabric repair shop.  (That’s the only term I can come up with.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what to call such a place.  Oh well.)  The young man didn’t know history but he referred me on to someone named Emil, a real estate broker.  “He’d know.  He’s old.  His office is in the next building.”  Securely deposited in the next building, I saw no sign of Emil.  I walked into a clothier store.  “Oh, Emil.  Go back to the street, turn left, nip into the alley, and climb the steps.  His office is up there.”

Following instructions, I could find no such stairs.  (Sigh)  Into a dress shop.  “I don’t know him.”  Into a record store.  The young man behind the desk knew neither local history nor Emil.  “But you could try Fred.  He works at the back.”  I approached Fred and was pleased to see that his hair was grey (like someone else I know).  Fred smiled but noted that he was a recent transplant from London, Ontario and wasn’t up on what Yorkville was like decades ago.

I stood in front of Fred.  Another dead end, it seemed.  And then an old fellow buried in a vinyl display case raised his head.  “It was called The Flick.  I went there a lot.”

“Me too!”

We talked for a few minutes about the good old days.  I thanked him and returned to the rounded door.  I stared.  I remembered the 18-year-old kid who opened that door on many a Friday evening.  He was a good person.  He yearned to play guitar and write his own songs.  He wanted to go to festivals.  He wanted to be good to people.

***

Thank you, teenage Bruce
For planting the seeds that blossomed into sixties Bruce
It’s nice knowing both of you

Shrek and Allie

I saw a musical tonight, performed by the Grade 8 students of St. Mary Choir School.  Twice I taught a blind student there, each time for three years.  But now I don’t know any of the kids and they don’t know me.  What an eerie feeling that is, so familiar with the school, it being part of my history, but now I’m a stranger.

The kids were magnificent in their acting, singing and dancing.  The ogre Shrek seems to be rejected by nearly everybody.  Just a big green “ugly” fellow.  The beautiful princess has eyes only for the lord of the land, someone who hopefully will sweep her off her feet.  Alas, she harbours a terrible secret – a spell turns her into a disfigured green maiden every night at sunset.  How could the prince love a girl like that?

Only a kiss from her true love will transform the princess into eternal beauty.  And finally she sees that Shrek is that love.  His kiss, however, doesn’t return her to Hollywood loveliness.  She remains green but is changed within.  True beauty.

It was such a sweet story.  Let’s all be ourselves and celebrate each person’s uniqueness.

***

There’s a Part Two to my evening.  Before the show, as I was seeking my seat, I saw a girl who four years ago was a classmate of the blind child I worked with.  I’ll call her Allie.  As our eyes met, she smiled and said “Mr. Kerr”.  We hugged.  And I couldn’t remember her name.  I remembered how alive she was back then, so spontaneous, but no name came to me.  I decided to admit to her that I’d forgotten.  Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  As resilient as I guessed she was now, it’s hard to be forgotten.  She said it was okay, I found out how high school life was for her, and we wished each other well.

As I watched the play, I was sad.  “Do no harm, Bruce.”  And I never intend to.  I’ve prided myself for a long time in remembering people’s names but lately it’s been a struggle.  As with you, Allie.

At the end, I wanted to find her, to apologize, to tell her how she had made me smile so often back then.  After talking to an old friend for a few minutes, I went in search.  Allie wasn’t in the theatre.  She wasn’t in the lobby.  On a whim, I returned to the theatre.  Nope.  Oh well, I hope you got that I meant no harm.

Time to go.  Back through the lobby … and there she was standing with her friends.  We saw each other.  We smiled again.

“I’m so sorry that I forgot your name.  I remember your zest for life, and I’m sure you still have it.”  My eyes were watering.

“It’s not important.  There were a lot of us.”

“It is important.  It’s your name.”

Two final smiles and then the latest intersection of our lives was gone.  Fare thee well, young woman.

Gone In The Brain

Somewhere in my sheath of WordPress posts is one that detailed a memory loss.  I couldn’t remember what year it was, how old I was and where my new condo was.  It happened after I worked out on the elliptical at Wellington Fitness.  The doctor said something like “transient short-term amnesia”.  I actually can’t remember the term.

Well … here we go again.  Maybe I should just copy the earlier post.

Another elliptical afternoon, after a long absence due to surgery.  I rode the horse for an hour and did quite well for an out-of-shape human.  I was tired at the end but nothing extreme.  I tried to remember my friend at the front desk.  What a lovely human being – so full of life.  But what was her name?  After a few false starts, “Karisa” finally came to me but I wasn’t sure of the spelling.  And let me tell you, Bruce does spelling.

I’m still struggling with the name of another friend at the desk.  I think it’s Tracy.  Oh my.  Where oh where has my lovely brain gone?

After my elliptical session, I went back to my locker to get my yoga mat.  Couldn’t remember the combination.  I’ve had that lock for twenty years or so but no correct number came.  I spun and spun.  And now, hours later at home, I still can’t remember it.  Finally, Marcin, my trainer, cut my old friend off.  Later I went to Canadian Tire to get a new one and you’ll be happy to know that its combination is 36-38-32.

Before the big cutoff, in a pique of sadness and panic, I went to the front desk and talked to Karisa.  She had heard my story before.  She encouraged me although I don’t remember what she said.

Back to my locker to try a new combo.  Nope.  Then back to a bench near the front desk.  Karisa came out to sit beside me.  She encouraged me again, but again I can’t remember what she said.  But she’s my friend and that’s what matters.  I told her that this was a very special moment.  To be present when my brain couldn’t remember details.  To feel the sadness and let it be there.  To know that in the grand scheme of things, I’m okay.

When this happened to me in the summer, I was planning to go to Michigan the next day to watch a women’s golf tournament.  But my passport was in the safe and who knew what the combination was?  I woke up the next morning with 99-72-36 on my lips.

Now the next morning is tomorrow.  I already remember 99-72-36.  It’s the dead padlock combo that escapes me.  Maybe my pillow will provide as the sun rises.

Hey, this writing is pretty good so I must have intact brain cells.  I’ll take what I’m given.  And how very humbling this life is.

 

 

Day Twelve … I Can’t Remember

Before I launch into Day Twelve, I’d like an appetizer – the evening of Day 11.   I was in McBride, BC and I was hungry.  The friendly front desk clerk pointed me to the Gigglin’ Grizzly Pub down the highway.  Inside, there was a huge painting of a bear over the bar.  He looked pretty hungry and I was hoping he was looking forward to nachos, not me.

My waitress was a blossom of energy, just so happy with all her customers.  I was hoping that she’d hang around me some so we could talk but she favoured the local fellows.  One guy sure looked like a cowboy to me – a rough white shirt, shiny belt buckle, jeans and a black ten-gallon hat.  Everybody was having fun.

I sat back from the bar so I could see SportsCentre on TSN – I love the plays of the day.  A mug of locally brewed beer and a Deerly Beloved pizza (ham and pineapple) and I was all set.  I sat at a huge wooden table in a cozy black leather chair.  Ahhh.

I left the pub around 11:00.  If I turned right out of the parking lot, I could have retraced my steps back to the motel, but that isn’t as much fun so I turned left.  I figured McBride was a small place so it wouldn’t be a problem.  I just followed street lights.  That would keep me in town.  It also took me into a cul-de-sac.  I laughed.  As the song says, “There’s a motel for me. Somewhere a motel for me.”  Okay, Bruce – no more singing.  Maybe twenty minutes later, I found my way home.

Now … really Day Twelve.  I was checking out when the front desk clerk and I started talking.  Andrew is a Buddhist.  Me too.  He’s been on silent meditation retreats.  Me too.  We chatted for half an hour.  And here I sit, trying to remember what he said.  I can’t.  What I do remember is telling myself during our conversation to make note of things so I could write you about it in the blog.  But that just takes me away from the here and now, so the heck with it.  Well, having said that, can I think of anything that Andrew said? … … Still no.  Here’s a quote that I love, and it fits:

People won’t remember what you say
They won’t remember what you do
But they’ll always remember how they felt when they were with you

I felt great.

Then it was a long and winding road from McBride to Kamloops, punctuated with a series of slowly climbing motor homes.  Since I had agreed to meet my old friend Lynne at 4:00 pm, I started getting nervous.  I like being on time.  As I continued on my journey at well below the speed limit, I gradually … let go.  A tremendous sense of peace washed over me.  “Bruce, you are free.”  Indeed.  I even let go of seeing Lynne, although I dearly wanted to.  It had been 29 years.  Lynne’s assistant had told me on the phone that she had a family gathering after seeing me, so maybe she would already be gone.  It’s okay.  All of life is okay, even my pains and illnesses.

As it turned out, I was well late but Lynne and I still had two hours to talk about old times and new times.  Precious moments all.  I can’t remember what we said.

My evening and overnight was spent in the home of Luana and Larry Chamness near Barriere, BC.  They live in a log cabin without running water.  And that wasn’t important.  Sitting with them in the backyard under their giant cedar trees was.  We talked and talked about life, family, Jody and the universe.  But I can’t remember the details.  All I knew was that I was home.

“Home is where the heart is.”  My heart is travelling these days and home keeps emerging around the next bend.

Mastery of the Moment Part Three

Where is the power in all these attitude choices?  How can they make a difference right in this moment?  Let’s say someone cuts me off in traffic.  How can I hold onto my peace of mind, rather than letting that driver control my level of well-being?  Am I supposed to remember the 45 possibilities among the 22 choices and magically pick 3 or 4 that allow me to stay calm?  Let’s see … which ones would I choose?  How about Source Internal, You and Me, and Not Important?  Yes, they’ll do fine.  But how do I access them at 100 kph on the freeway?  I could open my laptop with one hand, turn it on, go to “Posts” on my WordPress page, locate “Mastery of the Moment – Part Two”, and scroll down to find the choices that seem to fit the moment.  But maybe I’d better keep my eyes on the road!

For that presentation in 1988, I laminated 1″ x 2″ yellow cards listing the attitude choices.  Do I whip one of those out of my shirt pocket?  Do I start the week thinking about only three of them, such as the ones up above?  And then bring those ones to mind as I hurtle down the highway?  I could start with three new ones every Monday.

Maybe I should use all of the choices only in retrospect.  If I have an A > B moment (see Part Two), I could analyze it later to see how I might have handled the situation differently.  Perhaps enough analysis would automatically bring A > B > C to consciousness in the future, as my neighbour’s right rear bumper slips by Hugo’s front left.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to do.  The ideas are powerful.  The trick is to harness them, like a cowboy calming a bucking bronco.  I’ll figure it out.  I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

Sweet Times

Satya gave me a massage yesterday afternoon.  She’s our massage therapist and has been rubbing Jody and me the right way for months.  I spent the whole hour reminiscing about my times on retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.  I retraced everything right from the moment I kissed Jody goodbye and set off down the driveway in Hugo.  The hills of Richmond, Ontario, the bridge across the Welland Canal in Port Colborne, talking to the border guard in Buffalo, getting lost in Buffalo and asking for directions, the American flags hanging from homes in New York State, lunch at the little cafe in Seneca Falls, the gift shop in Skaneateles, the creeping vine on the power line over the road near Bridgewater, dinner at Babe Macaroni’s in Utica, phoning Jody from the classic old train station, walking in downtown Utica after dark, dreaming of tomorrow as I lay on my bed at the Red Roof Inn, breakie at Denny’s, getting lost in Albany and asking for directions, the steep climb through the woods to the Massachusetts border, the cutesy homes of North Adams, the view and conversation on the balcony of the Golden Eagle Restaurant with the Berkshire Mountains spread all around, the winding country roads leading southeast towards Barre, eating a Rocky Road waffle cone in a little downtown park, my first glimpse of the IMS retreat centre, walking up the driveway from the parking lot, being greeted by IMS volunteers, unpacking in my wee room, eating supper with 100 other retreatants at long tables and not knowing what to say, sitting for the first time in the meditation hall, doing walking meditation on the driveway, listening to the teachers, brewing a cup of tea and sitting on a bench outside with the stars overhead, walking to my room, lying down, the moment of sleep …

And a very large etcetera

At the end of my massage, I was warm and cozy, inside and out.  Such a beautiful thing – memories.  My head has been trained to stay in the here and now, and I know that’s wise.  To fall into the moment, knowing that whatever’s happening, on one level it’s all fine.  I know that there’s danger in leaning forward in life, trying to put pleasant boundaries on a totally mysterious future.  Or taking past experiences and trying to replicate them in the present.  Still …

I think I’ll always allow myself to relive precious moments from my history.  Why exclude anything?  My lips still smack when I think of artichoke dip and pita chips, the world’s most overflowing strawberry shortcake, and a glass or two of local beer at the Golden Eagle.  Yum.