Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I don't know why I'm putting up this Chapter Two of my novel, Light Over Newmarket.
Probably jogged by pal Josey's need to take a January vacation.
Here is one exurbanite's prelude to The Big Vacation in January.
"Our class of people don't do this sort of thing," my wife is admonishing me. "Oh sure, it's the way the rich behave, but not us. Not we professional people."
A supply teacher of mathematics, though a frustrated painter, she looked so beautiful in the prisming light from all the varicoloured objects in my living room where we'd sat over brandy. It had been the night of Loren's middle eastern history class, sweet wife Loren suddenly turned student and I had babysat. It was the last time I'd do this. I'd already picked up my passport. I'd be leaving Toronto for Mexico within a week. Loren didn't really believe this was happening, that I was leaving, solo, abandoning her and the children to work on some nebulous scientific project of my own that would purport to put just about everything in a final perspective, a Stephen Hawking attempt to go beyond the beyond. I did realize that the whole idea seemed immature and not a little insane. Maybe I was going to Mexico to look for something else altogether. Could I really say why I was leaving? All I knew was that something had seized me in a grip and I had to go along with it.
I remember the room and the halo of my wife impressing themselves upon me. This will probably be it for us, the end of the Victorian house on the well treed exurban side street and the way we'd lived for the past ten years. This is how I used to live, here among the bric-a-bracs from all over the world, in this woody, carpeted balustraded living room, the Danish figurines, the batiks, the antique colonial furniture, the kitchen, all art nouveau ochre, with its yellow-panted antique chairs, the sun streaming through a Williamsburg-paned window, bringing up the yellow in the furniture, turning the kitchen yellow, streaming through the doorway and into the living room. Mellow yellow. And I'm leaving it all. Why?
My wife, with her strawberry hair and white patrician complexion, like that of a very young Audrey Hepburn, is adding to the light. She is tall, poised, somehow Victorian at her full age of 29 and she can make labyrinthine objects out of wire, nails and string. Quetzalcoatl Mexican snakes, medieval knights, batiks. She would have liked to have struck out as a serious artist, yet she never did. Secretly, when in her cups and not in possession of her usual presence, her good humour, she had admitted to our friends that she hates her life and her plodding statistician husband (myself and my own dream) and she is going to a psychiatrist. Like many a Toronto area woman, she is nervous, high strung, high on the Darwin scale, but temperamental as a thoroughbred. She is allergic to any number of things. She is sometimes given to fits of compulsive scratching when she's sure people aren't watching and her whole makeup, when her poise is down is that of a tall, lovely woman, the envy of anybody on the block, who is violently uncomfortable inside her own skin. Was it I who made her so?
Yet she was telling me not to go. I'd announced the news earlier. Right up to tonight, Loren didn't know how to handle it. "One more of your dreams, delusions."
Loren was shrugging things off. People didn't do the kind of thing I was announcing. That was for artists, for the unstable, for the very rich. We weren't rich, but we were very, very comfortable. But Loren knew that I was serious and she knew that secretly she had dreamt of doing something grand for some time, to leave dull old me, the two polite but energy-draining children. To just pack up, to just go.
"Kevin, you stupid ass. I'm very fond of you. Don't go."
"I have to. It's something I have to do. I can't seem to talk myself out of it either."
"You'll be sorry. I know you will be."
I sipped my brandy. We had, over the years become like brother and sister. We were very fond of each other now but the love was gone and we were both near to exploding.
"Go, for God's sake," the male colleague had said, the friend the head of the art department at my university. I'd always been partial to artists. They followed their own natures. Scientists were a little like clerks. No one cared how inept they were in any other area save for that position behind the Bunsen burners, the test tubes, the fruit fly colonies. Given the talent, the life of the scientist was quite safe and remunerative, because much of the time, no one was watching you.
Still, the art department head had found his own Mexico right where he lived, in his own community of artists, students. He was mature; he didn't need to press on the accelerator of his own life to speed him out of his own sense of emptiness, drudgery, boredom and slow death. And he the artist had been around, had been, perhaps, where I was going.
"Go. I have a friend in your condition, not a physicist, but an artist (and you might be be beginning to realize that today we are not so much different)...Hell, not one friend but at least four of them. They all reached your crisis, but failed to respond to them.
"Take Bill Friedan. I went to art school with him. He painted for a while, then packed it in and started a furniture business. At 37 he looks 57 and he's had a vasectomy and his legs swell up, and he hates his yacht and he hates his destiny. He was going to pull out just three years ago, sell everything, slow down his scale of living and just take off, either by himself or with his wife and children if they wanted to follow.
"And while he was planning it al, his wife got pregnant (got under the wire just before the vasectomy). And soon they needed a better house and he went into the thick of business once again, working harder than ever and he died last month of a coronary."
"Why are you doing this?" says a school chum of thirty years' standing. "Going to Mexico. Some kind of spiritual Trotsky. To Mexico to write the definitive work between, sort of, politics and astronomy a sociological field theory. You'd done much the same thing back in you university years, locking yourself up in a northern cottage for a year to write what you were sure was going to be the definitive thesis on black holes. You ended up cribbing all those Nobel laureates, especially Stephen Hawking, because you weren't sure of your own research. You're not a kid any more. What are you doing?
"Here you are a university professor, after all those in the slums, $100,000 in the bank, a wife who loves you, two beautiful children and you want to go off like some sort of Bunsen burner Castaneda looking for (who knows) some sort of Indian sorcerer to apprentice yourself to. No good, old buddy."
Saint Jack., He had helped me out of the slums. The genius chain store manager who couldn't, wouldn't help himself. But he had helped others to get out. Philosophers shoot pool in the strangest places. The gods of transition and change hide everywhere, though sometimes we want to shoot them dead. Everywhere the Jackal-headed god Anubis leads you through the centre of hell, around the mountain and out. But this Saint Jack had already done the job for me, had led me out of the hell of Cabbagetown and worn brick, that famous road, to a better way of life. In our youth, in the slums, it was always Kevin and Jack against the world. Saint Jack wasn't happy with backward progress.
Remember our mutual friend Fred Egglestone? Remember how he started looking fo the holy grail at seventeen? Got tied up with a black hooker at eighteen in Vancouver and was s certified, booze-blossomy bum by 20? See the way he looks today, back in the Cabbagetown he can't even remember, the whole area now built up by the rich, trendy professionals, all of them urban activists and all of them looking like Dada storm troopers with their leather jackets and their poodles? His old haunts remain, here and there, Canada House and the Wheat Sheaf, the Queen Streets pubs. He lives there, on Queen Street West. You should see the way he looks today, down among all those philosophers, losers, thieves. The face, the skin, the bad teeth. Bad diet cheap booze. I want to know why you are opting out for bumhood."
My parents, still alive, cagey and rational. "What are you doing? Seven months in Mexico? To write some dram book on God knows what? Your father is a janitor and you're a professor and you're chucking it all away. In one month you and Loren will bypass each other, you'll end up like two different people. She will go her way and you will go yours. This will be the end of your marriage. Kevin, don't do this please."
Mother dear, how can you advise me, you who nearly cracked my collarbone that one day way back when you'd come down on my with your heavy soup ladle after I'd told you there was no God.
And Father, who, in your dreams and reveries, was incapable of crossing the street properly, trying all your life to tell me how to conduct my life, learn a trade. I have learned my trade in spades, and it isn't enough, Dad. You had no idea what lay beyond the trade, what lay beyond success and money. Still, I love you.
"Son-of-a-bitch," says sister-in-law.
"When childhood is over, the things of childhood should be put away," says the third friend, the veteran of Mexico, the eternal wanderer, Don Juan on the face of Latin America. Not a scientist, but an author, talented (he has sold three books) and Crazy Irish too. "For you, Kevin, there is only one way to go. Mexico is a sleepy, dangerous country, but that is not your problem, at least immediately. Your problem is that you will not, cannot be a hero. It is not in your traditions. You are, after all, an applied scientist, a step up from armor-maker. You're just nearing forty, and like any fairly sensitive man at that age, you are suspecting that all is not right with you as a person.
"But you will bring your problems with you to Mexico. In that sleepy, exciting, revealing country you will find that there are only two ways for you, and two ways only: a woman or a bottle. I know. I've been there. Stay in Canada where you belong. You will not find what you seek in Mexico."
Back to Title Page Chapter Three