[Author’s Note: This is the final part and continues directly from Part 1 and Part 2]
As previously mentioned, Max’s home was not in what the estate agents would call a “prime location”. Little more than a student ghetto, the vast majority of the houses and low-rise apartments were occupied by students. Those few houses called home by their owners stuck out due to their tended gardens and general state of good repair. Max’s house was the exception to prove this rule. The house itself was in good shape, with a new roof put on last summer (one of Max’s previous roommates, who came from a family of house builders, had been employed by his landlady to do it) and a front porch kept clear of any rubble except the pair of lawn chairs Max and Tom kept out there for their evening, after-work beer and people-watching.
But it was the front garden, a jungle which all but obscured the house behind it, that gave the false impression that the occupants of this house cared deeply for it. Mrs Perez loved this garden, even more than the one at her own house, three blocks over. Max, whose grandparents had been gardeners, knew why she so delighted in this tiny patch of land. Unlike her own home, which faced north-east, this southwest-facing lot soaked up the summer sun for almost all of the almost 16 hours of each of the extra long days that came in June, July and August in a city so northerly in latitude. As annoying as it was to have daily contact with his landlady, Max saw in her face, when she tended her crops of multi-hued blossoms, the same delight he remembered in the face of his now-departed grandfather.
It was too early, both in the day and in the season, even for Mrs Perez. Thus, Max was able to walk down the path, which would soon be crowded on both sides by the dominating and somewhat intimidating plant life, unimpeded. As he approached the street, he stopped to look at the bright blue morning sky. This city was not one that could be described as colourful, be it a literal or metaphorical description. For most of eight months per year, both the sky and the ground wore clashing shades of grey, neither of which complemented the grey concrete with which most of the city’s buildings had been constructed. The effect on most inhabitants was to colour their personalities accordingly, so that this large and populous city was filled with homebodies and recluses. But, for a short season each summer, these same hermits would emerge into the extended daylight and have fun. Every weekend held a festival or special event, often several. Residents walked the streets late into the night, even after the sun had finally set, replaced by the variable moon and the smattering of stars outshone by the barely used streetlights. Such was summer in this city and it almost compensated for the rest of the year, in which one usually went to and from home and work in total darkness.
Max climbed the hill that led toward the university, passing the vestigial remains of several mountains of snow created last winter when the snow plow, desperately seeking places to store the unceasing torrent of white hell, had piled it anywhere flat enough, especially once the city had run out of budget for its removal. An unseasonably warm May had resulted in there being little more than blackened, crusted humps on the roadside, which would likely be completely melted within days.
The trip that Max made this morning was a familiar one, one he had been making since moving into his house after his brief and miserable stint in university residence. One of the few good things to come out of that time was his friendship with Hector and, on this Saturday, as on every summer Saturday and most weekdays during the school year, Max made his way to the pub next door to the university newspaper offices, which had become almost as famous for it’s $4 breakfasts as it was for being one of the most popular hangouts for the university’s students. There was only a fraction of the school’s population that partook of this victual miracle that rivaled Christ’s feeding of 5,000 (for how could any restaurant serve a full breakfast for under $4 without a miracle or a little hocus pocus) between September and May, since most students either slept past breakfast hours or attended classes fueled solely on the lousy coffee available for next-to-nothing in the students’ centre. On weekends, though, especially summer weekends, students seeking greasy cures for hangovers flocked to this venue, forcing Max and Hector to arise extra early in order to beat the crowd.
Max approached the pub and looked in the windows for Hector, who always preferred a window seat, sometimes to the point where he’d refuse to eat if one was unavailable. This petulance was rare for Hector, and Max counted on this otherwise characteristic Saturday being free of such histrionical outbursts. Still, when Max saw Hector’s bespectacled face in the third window, eyes cast downward, unquestionably toward the morning edition of the local newspaper, he breathed a small sigh of relief, knowing that all would be calm for this meal.
Max entered the bar and made his way to the table. Hector, as always, kept reading right up to the moment that Max had settled into his chair. Max knew that he’d be treated to Hector’s verbal op-ed on some piece of news prior to getting to order his food. This was part of the morning routine and the beleaguered wait staff knew better than to interrupt before Hector had vented his spleen, usually at the federal government, usually to do with military operations abroad. Thankfully, Hector didn’t seem to mind if they poured Max a coffee during his opening rant, so while Max half-listened to Hector spew, he was very soon able to do so cradling a mug of morning elixir. Deliverance of the beloved nectar was made by Harriet, a 17-year veteran of the pub’s service, which meant that Hector merely ignored her ministrations. Had it been a new member of the staff, Hector may have engaged her (for they were always women), soliciting her opinion of the matter up for discussion. It had become a part of the hazing of new staff at the pub to have to “manage” one of Hector’s tirades.
Hector wrapped up early this morning, likely noticing that his words were all but ignored by his breakfast companion. Thus, when Hector finished denouncing the Minister of Defence’s argument in favour of prolonged peacekeeping action in the latest hot spot halfway around the world, he immediately suffixed his speech with words as kindly as he could muster regarding Max’s obviously delicate state.
"What the hell’s the matter with you? You look like someone killed your dog then beat you with the carcass."
Despite the stinging in his gut, Max couldn’t resist a chuckle at Hector’s remark. Hector’s speech was tinged with many layers of eccentricity, being both a Maritimer and an active member of the armed forces. In fact, Hector held the distinction of being “Canada’s first marine” (self-described) for having served tours for both the army and the navy. Currently in the naval reserves while he completed school, Hector’s rank as “Master Seaman” meant he was employed in summers as an instructor at the “stone frigate”, which served as the city’s naval headquarters. Ever the recruiter, Hector had made it his long-term goal to convince Max to enlist. Max, an avowed pacifist, would have none of it.
"Yesterday was a bad day," replied Max. "Not sure how today is shaping up so far."
Hector eyed Max suspiciously. Shortly after the establishment of their friendship, Max had learned to confide in Hector, though it usually required copious amounts of alcohol. Nonetheless, it meant that Hector knew the background behind Max’s current state.
"Did she dump you? Or, was it something else?" Hector knew things about people, Max had learned. However it came to be, Hector had his finger on the pulse of the school’s gossip, which Max found amazing considering Hector’s position firmly outside all of the circles about which the gossip was generated. Max was certain that Hector was already informed about his news, though how he could have known at such an early hour on a Saturday morning when classes weren’t even in session was a mystery Max assumed he’d never solve.
Max went through the motions. “No dumping. Not yet, anyway.”
"I don’t want to say I told you so, but I did warn you about her. Did that at least soften the blow?" Hector had never made his disdain for anyone much of a secret, but least of all her, especially when Max had started seeing her. At this point, Max realized he was having trouble even thinking of her by name.
"Does it look like the blow was softened?" The remark came out more harshly than planned, but Max knew Hector would cut him some slack.
Harriet arrived with two plates. While Max and Hector didn’t always order the same breakfast (the $4 special did offer a couple of options, only enhancing its miraculous qualities) Harriet and a couple of the more experienced waitresses knew to recognize when these regulars weren’t in the frame of mind to make decisions about food, or were too deep in conversation to be disturbed. Neither of the two friends ever complained when the “Mikey’s Special” showed up on the table, Max’s with scrambled eggs, sausage links and an english muffin, Hector’s eggs over easy with extra crispy bacon and brown toast. This morning, they barely even registered that no order had been placed.
Digging into his runny yolks with a triangle of lightly toasted bread, Hector spoke without looking at Max. “I get that you’re head-over-heels about her, but she’s not worth it, you know. Not to the extent that you feel it for her. Maybe someday, when she’s grown up a little and you have, too. But right now, she’s just a screwed up kid and you’re way too sensitive for a guy in his prime.”
Hector, a few years older than Max, often took this tone when the subject of Max’s love life was on the table. It was Hector’s contention that Max was missing an opportunity to “sew wild oats”, as the expression says. While he appreciated Max’s sensitivity and knew that his young friend would never be the Lothario he believed all university lads tended be (and that was a good thing), he also knew that Max tended to waste ridiculous amounts of time pining for women who cared little about him and wanted to open his friend’s eyes to such a wasteful exercise. Besides, he actively disliked Caitlin and could not, for the life of him, understand what Max saw in her.
What Max saw in her may, or may not, have actually been there. This relationship had been an improvement over some of his previous ones. At least, this time, they’d been out on dates. He had touched her, kissed her, even woken up next to her. There’d been passion of a kind he’d never felt before. Being too young to know better, he mistook it for love. Years later, he’d realize it was just sex, the kind of mostly physical, somewhat emotional, relationship that lonely adults have with people they meet and connect with. But, for now, he had to deal with his shattered illusion.
Hector, true warrior-poet, saw the pain through which his friend suffered. In his mind, he waxed eloquent on the subject of youthful infatuation. He’d been there, at much younger age than Max, and had shut down those parts within him so as not to feel that again. Max, he suspected, would never shut down those parts, would always be almost pure emotion. Hector merely hoped he could guide his friend toward the wisdom he’d need to temper that raw current inside him and avoid the worst of the pain he’d otherwise endure.
"It’s gonna hurt for awhile," said Hector. "But, eventually, you’ll move on. Finding the right one is a numbers game. Once you’re done licking your wounds, you go out and try again. And, next time, it won’t be as bad. I promise."
Max knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to ask, “What if I’ve met the right one already? What if she’s the right one and I just have to try harder?” But, he knew without asking that it shouldn’t be this hard. That, fundamentally, something was missing.
That Max said nothing eased Hector’s mind somewhat. Perhaps Max was acquiring that needed wisdom faster than expected. As Hector considered this, Harriet dropped the bill on the table as she collected the emptied plates. It being his turn, Hector put the $10 on the table that covered the charge and a 25% tip.
"What’s your day look like?" Hector asked Max.
Max shrugged. “I still have that paper to write for Higginson, but my head’s not there. I have readings for my thesis, too. Maybe I’ll do those. Maybe I’ll just watch TV and drink beer.”
"Judging from the look of you, I’d say you did enough of the latter yesterday." Hector peered at Max over his glasses. "Go home, get some more sleep, then bring your books and meet me at the library at noon. I’ve got some stuff to look up before that, but then we can get down to work. We’ll get you into being productive and that will help take your mind off things."
"Okay," said Max as he stood and slipped back on his jacket. The two left the pub, waving to Harriet and the other staff as they exited. Hector confirmed with Max one more time about the plan to meet later, but assumed he’d not see Max again until their next breakfast on Tuesday morning.
As the two parted, Max watched his friend cross the intersection and walk onto campus. Once Hector was far enough away, Max turned to the nearby bus stop and sat on the bench. He pulled out his mobile and made a call.
Every morning, as Max acted out his daily routine, he was reminded of an old joke to which his father had let him in. Much of Max’s sense of humour came from his father, both the wide and thick streak of sarcasm and the predilection for arcane (and usually decidedly unfunny) jokes. This particular joke, as unfunny as most, did not even amuse Max. Instead, Max’s memory, which he often described as a “rusty bear trap” (it doesn’t always snap, but when it does, it won’t let go), had latched onto this particular phrase, for that is all that was left of the original joke in his mind. Thus, as Max stumbled to the bathroom, he thought, as he did each morning, of the three S’s: shit, shower and shave.
Only after his morning ritual was complete, usually following the prescribed order of the phrase just mentioned, would Max’s mind be both free and clear enough to begin processing the rest of his day. It was at this crucial moment that his memory would often fill the temporary void, empty for a split second while he attempted to recall of what he was to be responsible in the hours to come, with some moment of shame or embarrassment he’d endured previously. Often, these were torturous moments and Max would visibly cringe at the remembered moment of stupidity, be it something he said or did not say, something he did or failed to do. Max was unsure why he so mistreated himself or if others were so vicious in their self-criticism as to recall at such unguarded moments memories so cripplingly painful.
This morning’s memory came from the previous afternoon, in which Max learned, without any question, the true nature of the feelings for him held by the current object of his affection. That is to say, the woman that Max so desperately longed for was, to use the vernacular of the day, fucking someone else.
Max was momentarily doubled over, as if the memory of his realization had manifested itself as an assailant and kicked him in the gut. In that vain, tears welled up in his eyes, not out of sadness, but from the very real physical pain he felt. He held his breath in an almost fruitless attempt to control the hurt and, that it was only “almost fruitless” was the key as, after a minute or more, he was able to stand erect once more.
Max sat upon the bed, his head in his hands. He resisted an urge to lay back down, to close his eyes and, with luck, sleep away this most caustic of days. He knew, however, that now he was awake, he would be unable to return immediately to sleep and would, therefore, lay awake in bed with nothing to occupy his mind but the stinging recurrences dredged from the recesses of his mind. Instead, he forced himself to, again, stand. He discarded the towel that, to this moment, had been his only clothing, and clad himself in familiar, comforting wear. He did not take the time to consider what his day included, which may have affected his choice of wardrobe. Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter since no other mistake or miscalculation would ever define this day the way Max’s emotional pain would. So, wearing a well-worn plaid shirt and faded jeans, Max emerged from his bedroom and into the hallway of his house.
The hall was shared with two other roommates. Four of them shared this house, rented for a ridiculously minimal sum for the sole reason that it was a shithole in a lousy neighbourhood. It was, however, close to both the university, which all of its residents attended from September to May and not terribly far from downtown, where all but one of its residents worked. The employment status of one of Max’s roommates, Dean, took on the status of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and, for that reason as well as his nocturnal lifestyle, he occupied the house’s large basement room. This arrangement suited the other three members of the household so long as he both paid his rent and, for the most part, kept the activities which allowed that to happen from taking place in the house. Suffice it to say, though, that parties at Max’s house were well attended because they tended to be very well supplied.
This morning, the hall was dark and quiet. Max usually arose earlier than his roommates, but this being a summer Saturday, he had likely beat his compatriots to consciousness by at least a few hours. So, with all their doors closed and no other sources of natural light, it was impossible to see any detail on the movie posters that decorated the space and hard enough for Max to find his way to the stairwell. Nonetheless, find the stairwell he did and, descending slowly for both the sake of safety and the still present pain he was feeling from his mental anguish, he emerged feet-first into the house’s main floor and, more specifically, its living room.
Max had learned over the years he’d lived here to just blow through this room and into the vestibule in which, depending on the time of year, his shoes or boots and jacket or coat were kept. He’d learned this technique as a defense against getting sucked into some of the more inane conversations of his roommates. As he stood on this morning, looking at the threadbare armchair and the sofa using bricks for back legs, both sitting before a 25-year-old, hand-me-down television, Max recalled the most recent such conversation, in which one roommate, Jerry, arguing as he always did with his other roommate, Tom, asked Max whether he believed in God.
Not such an inane question, which is why Max stopped and offered an answer. “No, I don’t think I do,” Max had said. At which point, Jerry, crestfallen, queried Max, “But, if you did, do you think He’d be able to beat Superman in a fight?” Max gaped at Jerry for a long moment, then quickly read Tom’s expression to confirm his suspicion that his best friend’s involvement in this conversation was strictly an effort to infuriate Jerry. He then turned sharply on his heel and left the house.
But, this morning, no one sat in the living room to question Max’s beliefs in the Almighty or his defense against superpowers. Instead, the room was occupied solely by the detritus from last night’s impromptu party. When Max’s worst fears had been confirmed, he’d arrived at home with a case of beer to accompany the 40-ounce bottle of Jack Daniel’s he knew to be in his bedroom. Placing a beer bottle and a shot glass in each one’s hands, his three housemates shared their Friday night getting ridiculously drunk. Now, the coffee table was completely covered in empty bottles and glasses and overflowing ashtrays filled with butts of four different cigarette brands and a few, provided by Dean, that had been “handrolled”. Beside the couch rested the beer case, filled with empty bottles tossed in haphazardly, into which the four friends had become more and more unsuccessful at aiming the caps from their beer, so that more of the multi-coloured metal discs littered the floor around the box than were actually inside it.
Max hadn’t shared with the others the reason for his generosity. Only Tom was a close enough friend with whom Max would have discussed his revelation and Max was certain that, as soon as he had entered through the front door with the booze, Tom would know exactly what had happened. Such was the nature of Max and Tom’s friendship—unspoken, yet deep, mutual understanding. Max would eventually talk to Tom, would get from him the advice that comes from a man who has already met his life partner, as Tom had before he and Max had even met. But, for now, Max would delay that conversation, at least until he’d had breakfast with Hector.
Max turned from the room. He slipped on his shoes, a well-worn and beloved pair of Doc Marten’s, and his denim jacket and exited the house into the late May morning sunshine.
It was my birthday this week, the day before Canada Day. Turning old the way I did this week (‘cause at 35, I’m now on the slippery slope to 40—just writing that gives me the shivers), I was in a nostalgic mood. Thus, when I read the post linked above by my LiveJournal friend, naturelf, it got me remembering.
See, I was in grade one when “Oh Canada” became the official anthem. We had sung it for morning announcements in kindergarten, too, but when it became official, they taught us the new “ain’t Canada awesome” lyrics. Of course, at the time, I was only somewhat aware of this being our new official anthem—mostly it was just a revised version of the song we sang in the morning. But, they did a better job of cluing us into that than they did with the repatriation of the constitution two years later.
Growing up so close to Detroit, though, made me appreciate the U.S. anthem. When one most frequently compares the two songs in the build-up to a sporting event, it’s easy to see how the American anthem is way better at rousing the troops, so to speak. Which, I guess, is kinda the point. Still, the “Star Spangled Banner” always seemed to get the crowd into a more rabid frenzy at Joe Louis Arena when I was a little kid, so I thought it was way cooler. I think it was high school before I started seeing Canadians get “fired up” by their anthem the same way. I actually think that Molson Canadian rant commercial may have had something to do with that.
Oh, and just because it still makes me giggle when I see it, here’s Edge102’s version of the Canadian rant. Living in Ottawa for four years made this all the more funny.