Before you read this, I recommend you go and read Schmutzie's tale of family and fish and victory. Okay, done? Pretty nice, wasn't it? That Schmutzie, she sure is married to me.
In the summer of 1993, having decided at twenty-two that my adulthood was at hand, I dropped out of university and moved to another city. I had never held a real job, never paid rent or bills, never bought groceries. My parents certainly didn't spoil me, but they were so tolerant of my habits that ultimately I had run out of patience with myself. I announced my plan to move out the day before my birthday, when, in a burst of irritation, I answered a casual question with the answer: "I'm moving out. Chocolate". The question had been: What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?
My mother, who had been gently pushing me out the door ever since I had turned eighteen, asked me what I planned to do if I couldn't find a job. I thought for less than a second, actually shrugged. "Go on welfare," I offered.
"Oh, don't say that, Aidan," she pleaded. Having never had to pay for my own food, I thought my mother's anxiety was funny. I had yet to be broke and jobless, credit card maxed and bank account drained, sitting around in a tilting building and living on cigarettes. That came a few years later. In the meantime, I hated the city I lived in and the university I was attending, and I wanted nothing more than to run, as fast as I could, no plans or contacts of worth, in order to hit escape velocity.
For some reason I chose Calgary. It was big and anonymous enough for my purposes, six hundred kilometres away, with a few friends to stave off loneliness. It was also just close enough to home that I could afford the bus ticket back if things got really bad. Without a plan in mind, I decided to guide myself by the Principle of Yes. Whatever came along, I decided, I would not refuse it. I would at least give it a fair chance. The universe would reveal its intentions to me if I said Yes to everything.
I discovered very quickly that the universe's intentions are not equal. For a comfortable divorcee looking into Caribbean vacation packages, the universe may intend a renewal of love and life. If you're a young man who takes a minimum-wage job and moves into a slummy building in a dodgy neighbourhood, the universe will take your measure and try and degrade you further. The Principle of Yes landed me in a Bible study group with a bunch of fundamentalist wackos for a while. It had me sitting in a roomful of pale-faced losers, all hanging on the words of network marketers in expensive but poorly tailored suits. It had me listening patiently to the entreaties of middle-aged men who had spotted me leaving the hostel and wanted to help me out with "rent, school, anything you need". Had I done the universe's bidding, I would have ended up a Bible-thumping rent boy who could sell you cleaning products on the side. Oh, and I'd be paying two hundred dollars a month for a crappy video dating service, but that's another story.
In truth, my guiding star was more the Principle of Let's Not Say No Just Yet. Until I met Lindsay, who invited me to the most terrifying and bizarre party of my life. Then it became the Principle of Get Me the Fuck Out of Here.
I met Lindsay at the Kathmandu Uptown Café, a coffee shop that was no doubt meant to cater to an affluent crowd, but had been doomed by location to become a hangout for alcoholics, the mentally ill and the terminally unemployed. Lindsay was all three of these things. Years of drinking and poverty had reduced his hair and face seemed to the same ash grey and limp texture. He had been a newspaper journalist and photographer of no small talent, but alcoholism and an inability to tolerate the increasingly cold and corporatist world of print media had driven him onto the streets, hard drinking and bi-polar. During lucid periods, which would last a few weeks at a time, he drank coffee and told stories of working in newsrooms across the country. He had no more than three or four teeth left in his mouth, which fact he would cover by raising his coffee cup to his mouth everytime he laughed or smiled, which was often, so by the end of any given evening he'd be wired on coffee, talking at high speed and excavating the memory of his newspaper days and his marriage to a poet who'd had some minor fame in the 1970s.
After a few months I could always spot Lindsay's manic phases, which would build slowly and usually culminate in his disappearance, then subsequent reappearance a week or so later, stinking drunk and covered in bruises. He would start wearing buttons on his jacket, talking elliptically about politicians and the Hell's Angels, interrupting his monologue every so often with a dark portentous laugh. When he was manic he didn't bother to cover his lips, which would draw back to reveal the stumps of canines. It gave his face wolf-like appearance. Once he showed up at my apartment, knocking on the window and scuttling in when I opened the back door. He wore an oversized tweed sports jacket covered in pins and buttons. He announced to me that "Operation Mindfuck" had begun, laughing darkly. Then he bummed a cigarette and disappeared for two weeks.
After I'd known him a few months Lindsay told me that he had a girlfriend. I had a hard time imagining this, since Lindsay always seemed like such a wreck. It was a testament to his charisma that anyone would talk to him at all, alcohol having ravaged his face and coarsened his skin. Nonetheless, Lindsay told me all about her. She was gorgeous, he said, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. From what I could gather, Lindsay had worked for this businessman or known him in a professional capacity at some point. He had hooked up with her during his last stay in the hospital. She too, apparently, had her problems, which exhibited themselves in the form of repeated spontaneous suicide attempts.
I had run into Lindsay one afternoon in a sports bar at the end of Seventh Avenue, right at the downtown terminus of the LRT line. It was the in-between hour of the restaurant day, when the place is empty, the music is off and the only light comes in through the windows. I can't remember now what either of us were doing there, but he sat down with me, talked me into ordering a plate of the hottest hot wings I think I've ever eaten (with the exception of a Jungle Jim's restaurant in rural Newfoundland, where I had to sign a waiver), and told me more about his girlfriend Sheila.
Lindsay seemed calm and personable, but every so often the portentous laugh would slip out, with that baring of fangs. He had decided that it was time for me to meet her. She was a spitfire or a firecracker, I forget which. All I can remember is the sweat beading and running down my forehead, the room practically vibrating with all the capsicum I was eating, so by the time he invited to his place for a party that Friday, I nodded helplessly, my face the colour of boiled ham.
OMG! Where's part two? It's here.