When the email arrived carrying a link to ‘The Gift’ I wasn’t really expecting it.
Sure, when Ian Hanchet (the gift giver) commented on my poem “If I Could...” he wrote, “I was inspired to immediately pick up my guitar and melody flowed from me. I recorded it on my phone, but I need to become more acquainted with the rhythms of your poem so that I may do each phrase justice. Too bad my life just got super busy. Maybe Next week I can return to this work of wonder.” When I read his words I thought, ‘how lovely’ and promptly wrote back to thank him and to let him know how excited I was he liked the poem that much.
And then, I let it go.
Yesterday, Ian emailed to say he’d finished the song and included the audio link.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ― Heraclitus
Aside from the gender specific reference of the above quote, it is profoundly true. I like to revisit things. Places, people, music, films, ideas, books.
Recently, I have undertaken the task of Reading “The Unabridged Mark Twain”. Many of the stories are ones I read as a boy and/or as a younger man. One of the tales is “Huckleberry Finn” which is a sequel of “Tom Sawyer” which I have also re-read (as the tome is chronological and I started at the beginning). Immediately after publication, Huckleberry Finn was banned on the recommendation of public commissioners in Concord, Massachusetts, who described it as racist, coarse, trashy, inelegant, irreligious, obsolete, inaccurate, and mindless. It is none of these, but what more temptation would a young boy need but to read a book that was banned?
When I first read Huckleberry Finn I doubt if I was yet ten years old. It is quite a compelling story of an adventure down the Mississippi River on a raft by a young boy who was around my age at the time and his friend, a runaway slave. The narrative is written in a style that imitates the language of the people of the southern United States in the mid eighteen hundreds which is pre-Civil War. Being Canadian and raised in the 60’s, my models for this style of speech would have been from TV at that time. The Andy Griffith Show, Disney movies, Gomer Pyle, etc. Perhaps I had seen Gone With The Wind as well. The tropes of southern belles, country bumpkins, gamblers, grifters, southern preachers etc. would all have been modelled in Western Movies and shows like Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, etc.
The intention behind my reading books as a child was just to follow the story. To get to the end. It never struck me as odd or unnatural or unusual that black skinned people in this book were referred to with what we now call “the ‘n’ word”. I didn’t use it myself, I didn’t hear it except from time to time on the playground at school even though my elementary schooling was in a privileged and predominately white neighbourhood and the word was meant to disparage like “fag”, “Pepsi”, “retard”. Words meant to isolate, to demean, to destroy. Thinking about it now makes me realize how little I understood things. To me, those words were just sounds that did not apply to me because I was not black, gay, or French or intellectually challenged (my sister would argue the last point. Lol). I was truly naive.
The ‘n’ word did not make my skin crawl as it does now. The social order of the story was just a description, no more, no less. I did not question it. The matter- of-fact manner in which slaves appeared in the story lacked the ominous and oppressive weight that I understand now as an adult. I had heard about and read about slaves in Sunday School. Jews enslaved in Egypt, etc. Just Stories.
The interval since I first read Twain is 50 odd years. My education and personal growth and changes since then have been vast. I have held beliefs, reversed beliefs, been entirely skeptical, entirely optimistic. Ambivalence, it could be argued, is a Canadian trait. Yet I have always had a healthy disregard for authority, always questioned yet generally adhered to the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). I have travelled. I have worked and played, loved and hated, fulfilled both dreams and nightmares.
The human body almost entirely replaces itself on a cellular level every 7 years. So At age 64, I am Ian Hanchet version 8.0. I have been regenerated roughly six and a half times since I read Huck Finn the first time. Who was that guy?
I have benefitted greatly from my White Privilege. Which I now know has been at the expense of others. I am a direct result of the colonial system living in a land that was stolen. I have been able to do things others could only dream of. It seems the world is in constant flux. Economic and Territorial powers are always in flux. I have the luxury of being able to think and not be worried where my next meal comes from. I am thankful and ashamed.
To revisit Huck after reading Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, is to uncover the degrees of subtlety that Twain infused into his writing. I googled “Twain and racism” to see if I should continue. It turns out that Twain was a champion of racial tolerance and critical social commentary and human rights. Did my world view come from him in the first place, the subliminal foundation on which I built me beliefs and non-beliefs throughout my life or am I just realizing now what has always been there? Every awakening I experience is like being freed from being a prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the cave.
Not just Huck, either. So far I have revisited: “The Innocents Abroad” which satirizes Amerocentric travellers and the revelations of places visited and the people in them as a huge hustle; “The Prince and The Pauper” where privilege and disenfranchisement trade places; At this writing, I am half way through “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” which is also a scathing yet subtle satire of aristocracy and power structure. I am at page 1,000 (about 3/4 of the way through)of the first of two tomes.
Some of the stories in here I will be encountering for the first time. Putting my feet into a new river. Early in my teaching career I remember taking a school band by bus on an excursion from Winnipeg to Minneapolis. The bus driver announced at some point that “to our right is the great Mississippi River!” I asked him rather excitedly to stop the bus as I wanted to dip my toe in this heralded river that bisects america, rich in history, down to the Delta which is Blues country and ends in New Orleans the birthplace of Jazz. I scrambled down the embankment with my students watching on as their Weirdo Music Teacher took off his shoes and waded into what turned out to be a very polluted part of the great Mississippi River. I remember that, rather than elation I was horrified that such a great natural wonder could be so mistreated. An environmentally conscious person was newly baptized. Part of my reverence was shattered. It was restored a decade later on a trip to St. Louis where the river was cleaner and better represented the images of my youth. The literary river I just waded through was like reading it for the first time with eyes wide open. I wish I could have gleaned from it way back when what I did this time. Alas, not the same man, not the same river.
The real richesse of retirement is the amount of time I have to reflect on things, assume a mantle of wisdom and to get to projects and books I could never make the time for on the treadmill. *ironic side note… I listened to “A People’s History of America” while exercising on an actual treadmill. Makes me feel less like a chubby hamster.
I had to drive Sharon to an eye doctor appointment on Beaumont St. On the outskirts of “The Town” (as inhabitants and former inhabitants refer to Town of Mount Royal….TMR).
Coming from the West Island on the 40, I could have chosen either Rockland rd.or l’Acadie blvd to get there. I chose Rockland rd. And drove at the posted speed limit of 40 kmh. A dink in a BMW flew past me and was waiting at the next light in the “fast lane”. As I approached the red light, Sharon was quite alarmed that I was going to “burn through a red”. She was quite alarmed, but the light turned green as if by magic and we sailed through, passing the stationary, text-checking Bimmer driver while I explained to her that my dad taught me this game when I was around 11 years old. Mr. BMW Pants-Wetter zoomed out of the light and past us (obviously in a hurry to get to the next light) and we leisurely sailed past him on the inside as he screeched out as the next light changed, obviously miffed that a geezer in a Jeep could be taking advantage of him so. We made the entire length of Rockland at 40 kmh without even touching the brakes. I am guessing, but I think it was five or six sets of traffic lights. Same story each time. Maybe four lights, maybe more until we both had to stop at Jean-Talon.
When my dad showed me this game, it was before Canada went metric, so it was 30 MPH. Same principle though. He was so smug about using his math skills to beat testosterone.
Today, I was the smug one. A bit like Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady wins the race. Can you hear me gloating?
This evening, my rockstar husband and I are playing a gig at our beloved Mariposa Cafe to raise money for the St. James Drop-In Centre, a wonderful community resource that supports members who are coping with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. Our friend, Antonella, volunteers in the art therapy program there and her enthusiasm for the program and compassion for its members convinced us to support the cause.
It is less sold out closer to showtime but for a few weeks it was!
We played a similar gig nearly a year ago, selling copies of our self-funded cd of cover tunes and raising close to $1500. This year, all proceeds from the $15 cover charge will be donated to the cause.
I’ve come a long way, baby.
From music teacher Mrs. Bloomer with the chinny chin hairs and…
One of the little things I take pleasure in is giving an alias to the baristas at Starbucks when they ask for my name. I am usually buying a latte for my sweetie. I have used some such as: “The Emperor”; “Viking Banana”;”Ziggy Stardust”; “The Dude”; etc.
I also like to give the names of famous musicians as well. I have used “Frank Zappa”; “Willie Nelson” and “Bob Dylan”.
This little game usually puts a smile on the person’s face who took the order and also the person who prepares the coffee. I make a point of asking who it’s for if the barista just hands it out. If the name is really absurd I might ask them to announce it louder. It is a fun game and most of the servers go along with it. They won’t print swearing, which I understand but I find irritating. I wanted to use “corporate prick” and was refused.
One time I told the Barista I was the “Queen of Sheba” who is a biblical figure of repute. An African Queen who bore gifts of great value to King Solomon. The barista wrote “Queen of Shiva” which is a word likely known to the man who was probably jewish rather than Hindu. In Judaism, shiva is a period of mourning. In Hinduism it is a god of asceticism (deprival)…similar, but not Sheba.
My latest encounter was when I told the person taking my order that I was “Beethoven”. She complied and before I saw it she said it was “probably mis-spelled”. I asked “How can you mis-spell such a famous name?” She said “I am in Science, not music!” I told her I was in music, but I could spell “Einstein” and furthermore I asked her if “for example, you are writing a Master’s thesis on Hydrocarbons, what would happen if you got “Hydrocarbon” wrong? We agreed she would probably fail. She then exclaimed… “in my defense, I am dyslexic!” which to me is not a defense at all, but an excuse because I, too, am dyslexic and have only used that as an excuse for comedic reasons as in “I have sex daily” which is an anagram of “I have dyslexia”. (I’d rather have sex daily for the record.)
When I got the coffee and read the label on the cup I was amazed at how wrong she could have gotten it. I was tempted to ask if she was related to Donald Trump, but that would have been cruel and insulting.
Sharon and I are pleased to announce that the second printing of our CD Tumbleweed is ready to go. We can now fill orders that we were unable to fill because we sold out in the rush to reach our charity goal before Christmas. If you would like a copy, send me your address and send an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Most people paid $20.00 plus two bucks to cover Canadian postage, but paying it forward is also part of the deal, pay what you can. We will be putting the money aside in order to contribute to the St. James Drop In Centre again when we have amassed a good round number. One of the men who benefits from the services of St. James Drop-in centre bought a copy. He is homeless, does not even have a CD player, but insisted on supporting this project. Be yourself, but be like him.
Last night while sitting with friends, I watched as several people came in from the minus seventeen degrees outside to the very warm atmosphere of the café. Every one of them wearing glasses had to stop at the top of the stairs, blinded by their own eyewear.
People who have never fully experienced the kind of climate we usually can expect in January and February in my part of Canada may need an explanation of a phenomenon that happens to everyone who wears eyeglasses.
There is always water in the air landing on and evaporating from your glasses. under normal conditions, this is almost (if not outright) invisible.
When you’ve been outside in cold weather for sufficiently long, your glasses cool down, and the water that condenses on your glasses will not be warmed as much, hence the rate of evaporation decreases. Upon entering a warm building, the water vapour coming into contact with your glasses immediately condenses on the cold surface, but cannot evaporate quickly enough so the glasses fog up.
Hilarious watching patrons of the café trying to flag down the newcomers who we all know are standing there baffled and disoriented.
Fortunately the glasses will eventually assume room temperature and the condensation evaporates. This can be aided by wiping the lenses, or just removing the glasses until they become clear again.
“Not me, no how, no way, no more, I’m retired” said the cap on his head. I heard him singing under his breath as he was shuffling down the hall before and after being seen by the doctor I was waiting for. I craned my neck to read it as my eyes were all gummed up with some preparatory poison before my laser surgery. I liked this guy’s vibe. I struck up a conversation with him. I told him I loved his hat. He had a slight Caribbean accent. Not sure which Island. Maybe St. Kitt’s. I knew some elderly people from St. Kitt’s and his accent reminded me of them. He said I was too young to wear it. I told him my age (62) and he was taken aback, but still told me I was a youngster. He then went on to tell me his life story about coming to Canada at age thirty, working for thirty years at the Queen E. (local slang for the Queen Elizabeth Hotel). “Always nights!” He said. He then told me he hasn’t worked for almost as long. Now, I am no mathematician, but that adds up to a lot of years. “I’m ninety-two!” he exclaimed. He then told me he had never eaten in a restaurant (despite being at a really swank hotel preparing food for others). I suggested that maybe that was what has been key to his longevity. That, or perhaps he knows something about restaurants that we don’t I added slyly. He said “No, I just prefer to do my own cooking.” He said scoffingly that people think they are getting fresh, but they use huge microwaves that give the impression of fresh. He then told me about a macaroni pie he had made the night before. “Obviously counting carbs” I wisecracked and he wisely ignored as he continued to list the ingredients and spices (lots of spices-cumin,paprika, mustard, and so on) he used and the loosely fitting tin foil cover in order to not have the pie stick. His macaroni pie had little bits of chicken that he had cut up the size of a fingertip. He showed me his 92 year old little fingertip to demonstrate.
—–Sidetrack—-“I didn’t call it a “pinkie” because years ago when I asked my good friend Charlie Biddle when why he didn’t use his pinkie when playing the upright bass? He said “I don’t have one. Mine’s a Blackie!” I had never considered the subtle racial overtones of calling something by a name that could be offensive. Charlie wasn’t offended, but I became more aware.
Although they’d be the same age if Charlie were stillalive, my new friend didn’t remind me of Charlie so much as some of the church elders I have known. He gave off Good vibes. Kind vibes.
I hope that if I get thirty more on the planet like he has, that I walk down hallways singing, no matter what, and that I still take time to talk to strangers and never use up all the spices.