Miras advises me to shave my beard. He says it’s not worth losing my job over. He tells me the parable of the oak and the willow in which the oak tries to resist the wind while the willow survives longer by bending to the pressure. I seem to be creating a political divide among the staff. Every day when I show up unshaven I receive praise from some and condemnation from others. I eventually lose my job at Beaver Lumber when Mr. Brown tells me not to return to work unless I have shaved.
Leroy is a regular customer in the store, always seeking me out for conversation. I finally agree to go for a ride in his car. When we are on a country road north of the city Leroy puts his hand on my thigh. I make it clear that he has misunderstood. “Then why did you agree to come for a ride?” he asks. “Because I thought you were lonely.” He asks me if I would paint him in the nude. I tell him I would not feel comfortable doing that. Leroy never visits the store again.
The store clerk at Beaver Lumber looks at me with hopeful anticipation as he names one person after another. While some names seem to tickle the fringes of my memory I am unable to recall anything concrete about any of these people. I was a boy; they were men. They bent to the pressure.
Bob advances the carousel to the next slide. Donald Judd or Lawrence Weiner or Joseph Beuys. He asks “What’s that about then?” He leans back in his chair, his hands behind his head, and he waits.
“I like that Steve Harvey guy. I spend about an hour a day watching Family Feud.”
Bob and I meet at the Richmond Hotel for a farewell drink before I move to Ottawa. He says “I have two things to tell you. One is that I am gay. The other is that I’ve been attracted to you for years.”
We talk about William Morris.
I answer the phone and the first thing Bob says is “What were you doing just now?”
I say “I was working on our database of community service organizations.”
“No, I mean specifically what were you doing?”
“I was cleaning up some data errors.”
“No, I mean the moment the phone rang, what exactly were you doing?”
“I was correcting a postal code.”
Bob walks into my room and kneels in the middle of the floor. “Can I get into bed with you?” he asks.
I hear footsteps approaching from behind me as I cross the field. Just when I expect the person to pass by me a t-shirt is thrown over my head and pulled tight at my throat. The man orders me to move into the woods. After minimal resistance his hands leave my throat. I immediately double over as I fear he is going for a knife with which to stab me. Then I hear his footsteps racing away. Acting on irrational instinct I begin to chase him as if to finish whatever narrative he has begun. Then I realize I have no desire to catch him.
When they assault Jim in the parking lot at Clarke Road he collapses on the ground like a rag doll, a defensive strategy meant to minimize the sadistic pleasure of the confrontation. Chris begins kicking Jim in the ribs. I step up and say “okay, that’s enough.” Chris seems surprised that I am there and then more surprised when he recognizes me. “Yes,” I say. “Your mom goes to my dad’s church.” Chris, feeling exposed, leads his posse away.
Carol visits me when I am shirtless, nursing a bad sunburn across my chest. I visit her in the hospital following her drug overdose.
“Justin Trudeau is at the airport hugging and kissing refugees, giving them jackets. My people can’t even drink the water. Put that bald guy in charge. I forget his name. The exchange. Some show like that. Look at our cabinet. We’ve got four turbans. What’s that about? We’ve got the best country in the world and we’re giving it away.”
After a long evening spent with the Romantic poets or conceptual artists Mike and I are eager to compare notes. Bottomless cups of coffee and sugary danish pastries fuel us into the wee hours of the morning. Art and consciousness, religion and poetry, love and sex. We end up in his orange VW Bug in my driveway wringing the last drops of insight from the day.
Accosting Debbie in the hall like a drive-by shooting. Phoning her from my parents’ kitchen like a pre-internet virus. Debbie and her girlfriends titter in the hallway while my brother and I sing in the basement. How unsettling to look across the dark, rainy street and see the socially awkward young man standing in the doorway of the Tai Hu, staring back.
Jim and I hatch a plan to sneak out into the night. He leaves a note on his bedroom window. “I’ve left the window unlocked. Don’t tap on the glass. Just come in.” I sleep through the night, fail to show up as planned. The note is found by his father the next day.
I’m at Lord Nelson Public School looking into Jamie’s backyard. The duplex is dwarfed by the enormous satellite dish. Jamie and I hide packs of Rothman’s in his basement, sneak out at night to smoke them near Janice Maxner’s house. We lift weights. He steals Drambuie from his father’s cupboard. “How’s it going, Norville?” I gaze up at the doorbell as if I expect to see him sitting there. But he’s not there.
The kids at school call Tom “Rabbit” because he gets hopping mad. We play endless hours of football, running routes past invisible defenders, even in the dead of winter, even at night under the streetlight. Colleen leaves him. His father dies. He is drinking too much. He calls me one night, clearly drunk. “I need you, man.” Awkwardly I say “I’m always there for you.” But, of course, I’m not.
Jan’s brother is struck and killed by a bus in front of his highschool.
Jan’s sixteen-year-old son has hanged himself.
Larry is killed in a car accident along with two other teen boys. His father has visited the site of the accident and is very upset to discover a piece of his son’s skull overlooked by the cleanup crew. He calls my dad about it. Dad goes there, finds the skull fragment, puts it in a pizza box he had in the trunk of the car, and delivers it to the funeral home.
I am in the church late at night typing an essay when I hear a knock on the door. I shouldn’t answer it but I do. An unkempt young man is there with a velvet bag in his hand. He tries to give me the bag. I refuse to take it. I expect to find a severed body part in the bag as if I’m in a David Lynch movie.
Sad little window in a sad little basement bachelor apartment in a sad little building.
I call Barb in Barrie. She tells me our relationship is over.
I take Barb’s plant off the windowsill and throw it out the sad little window.
I am just back from visiting Danny in the hospital for the last time. He is suffering. His belly is distended. The doctor is advising Dave and Nancy to think seriously about discontinuing treatment. Danny is desperately thirsty. They’ve been giving him little chips of ice as he’s not allowed to drink. It would only further distress his internal organs. Danny is pleading for another chip of ice. “Even just a little bit?”
Through my sad little window I listen to the delighted squeals of children splashing in the pool.