mardi, août 22, 2006

Mr Norton

My dad's first motorcycle was a 1969 Norton Commando He bought it when he was 23 and before he knew how to actually ride a motorcycle. He rode it up and down the ally behind British Motorcycles in Vancouver for about a month before he knew enough to ride it home.

When my mum met my father, the Norton was his only means of transportation.

The Norton was my dad's entry point to the world of (now) vintage British motorcycles. His next purchase was a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow which drew him into the community of Vincent owners in the lower mainland. A motley crew of men-Danny the tool and die maker, Tim the maritime lawyer, John and Dale the mechanics. And my dad: Gerry the hospital administrator. They met periodically to drink beer and monkeywrench. 35 years later, they still do. The best house was Jack's. Jack had named his eldest son Vincent and kept his bike on a piece of greasy carpet in the living room of his house.

My father's affinity for motorcycles gently shaped our lives.

My mum got her bike license and her own little Honda twinstar. When we moved away from the coast, my dad reluctantly sold the Norton, but kept the Vincent, mum's Honda and his own Moto Guzzi. I was about 14 before I knew that there was another way to start a motorcycle than kickstarting it. We took family holidays on the bike. I remember being wedged into the sidecar and the fierce rush of wind past my ears. We traveled to rallies: Calgary, California, New Zealand, England.

This spring my dad bought another Norton. A 1973 Commando. It is pristine, the only concession to the march of time is its electric start. I spoke to my dad the weekend after he brought the bike home, he was giddy and excited like a ten year old boy. He had ridden it around the block a few times and was planning to insure it when he came back from the California trip in June.

The bike is in the workshop in our basement. It's a room that I can hardly bear to go into.

Last week I was downtown with my friend Rhys. It was a bad day, one of the days when I want to eat sleeping pills like candy and have trouble finding the energy to brush my teeth. We came out of the cafe, and prepared to sit at one of the sidewalk tables. Rhys glanced past my shoulder, and the words, "Hey, that's a Norton" flew out of his mouth.

I turned around disbelievingly. That Rhys could correctly identify a Norton-I failed to remember that Norton is written on the tank and that Rhys is literate-and that there was actually a Norton a few feet behind me seemed far too much of a stretch in reality.

But there it was. A 1974 Commando. A year younger than the one in our basement. Like a moth to flame, I was standing beside the bike before I realized what I was doing. A lanky guy, a few years older than me, with red hair in need of a trim and the beginnings of a beard looked at me quizzically. I hadn't noticed him. This was his motorcycle.

Awkwardly, I asked about the specs of the bike and then blurted out, "My dad has one." Flushing scarlet, I realized that I had made a tactical error: he would ask who my dad was, I would have to explain that actually he died a month ago, and if possible the conversation would get more hellishly awkward. I apologized for bothering him and sprinted the 8 meters to the cafe table.

As we drank our coffee, the Norton guy put on his jacket and helmet. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him roll the bike off its center stand and balance it for a second, gauging the weight of the machine. Grasping the handlebars, he deftly flicked out the kick starter and jumped to kick it over. Nothing. He tried again. Some faint coughs from the Norton.

I cannot count how many times I have watched the same scene with a different cast and sets. I felt my heart being squeezed in a vice grip. I would lose it if I kept watching. I would lose it if I looked away.

It started on the ninth attempt. I counted.

The Norton guy opened the throttle and gently pushed his feet away from the pavement. He pulled out into traffic, looked over his shoulder at me and gave a small wave.

I closed my eyes and felt my self explode into a thousand tiny fragments.

vendredi, août 18, 2006

fame becomes me

So my brother is by far the cooler of the two of us. He's the guy with the hook-ups, the one who knows 2/3 of the interesting people in this city (while I know just 2) and the one who has the style.

Most of the time when we hang out, when we are both at the ancestral home in chach-ville, I am just along for the ride. I sit in the background, watching the entertainment, and occasionally catching Tim's eye when something funny needs shared appreciation.

A few weeks ago he came up with free tickets and backstage passes to the upcoming Hot Hot Heat concert. Something about a girl he works with being the girlfriend of the brother of the lead singer of the opening band.

I have barely heard of Hot Hot Heat, and never of the opening band but it seemed like a good way to spend a Tuesday night.

The audience at the show was mostly tanned girls between the ages of 15 and 20 in tiny tanktops and "indie boys" in tapered jeans, white teeshirts and too much hair product. There was no bar.

After the show (which was quite good, though the music was not so much to my taste) we toodled backstage with Alexandra, girlfriend of brother of guy... and met the bands. And the girls.

There were a number of girls just hanging around. We weren't sure if they came with the bands or were plucked from the audience, but the number of tiny tank-tops fluttering around the band members makes me suspect the latter.

A plan was formulated. We would head to a bar downtown and wait for the bands to finish packing up their stuff.

By the time the bands arrived at the bar, it was past last call (because in this city, last call on a Tuesday in the summer comes at 11:45) and the only place to get alcohol was at the strip bars.

Heading off to the strippers with my younger brother, his friends, and some marginally famous rock bands didn't weird me out as much as you may think it would. The early closing of bars in this town means that the bro and I have found ourselves with friends at the rippers rather more times than I like to admit.

The bar is fairly typical. Beer and dancing naked ladies. The lead singer of HHH is blatantly making out with a girl who I previously saw flirting with the bassist of the opening band, and later the drummer of HHH. The principle of upward mobility is rarely so easily observed.

Everyone was pretty loaded.

Suddenly, the song changes from random 50Cent to the most famous song by The Killers. The one that goes "...somebody told you... looks like my girlfriend... last summer..." Anyways.

The HHH singer surfaces at the opening chords of the song.

"Hey, this is the Killers," he comments to nobody in particular. "We toured with them last year."

Whipping out his mobile phone, HHH singer proceeds to text message the lead singer of the Killers.


You know you've made it when...

samedi, août 12, 2006

Random Saturday

I was on Vancouver Island at my grandfather's house for a week and a half, planning, executing and recovering from an onslaught of relatives and the funeral itself. That the internet chez grand pere closely resembles two coffee cans and a piece of twine made anything more than checking emails a seventeen hour enterprise only to be undertaken whilst fortified with copious amounts of gin.

Nan died after a prolonged illness at the age of 82. She had been living in a nursing home for four years prior to her death. Still, it was strange to see the uncles standing around in the kitchen, leaning on the edges of countertops. Had Nan been there, they'd have been shooed out into the already packed living room to make room for the plates and plates of food coming out of the oven, going into the oven...

I'm home now. Well, back at my parents' house. (I cannot yet refer to it as my mum's much of it is my dad's.) There so much to do: little jobs like keeping up with dishes and laundry, and big jobs like thinning the trees around the house, selling the 55 Ford sitting in the driveway, and deciding how to proceed with probating the will. On top of the actual energy required to accomplish these tasks, the real kicker is the energy required to think about them and decide how to proceed.

I keep almost saying, "We should wait until Dad gets back..." So far I have managed to check my motormouth before it rolls off my tongue.

To add to the general state of confusion and chaos, I am leaving for England in three weeks. In the week following my dad's death, I was offered a position as researcher and writer with a magazine published by the UNEP. It is exactly the job I have longed for. And it is in Cambridge. Which is Very far away from my mum and brother. Sometimes things balance out in strange ways. Lately, everything does.

On the one hand, it is a really phenomenal opportunity that will open far more doors, career-wise, than I can even imagine. A job like this does not exist in the city I grew up in and where my mum currently lives. If I stayed here, I would be waitressing or tutoring, living at home, and mostly marking time until we were all "ok enough" for me to take off again. I have two friends here, and it would be all too easy to become (more of) an anti-social depressed recluse.

On the other hand, I haven't worked in an academic environment for at least a year. My research skills are terrible at best, and I have serious doubts about my abilities as a writer. I don't want to leave my mum and brother. I don't want to stretch myself and have adventures. I don't know if I can pull off being a functioning member of society, let alone holding down a job.

I think I am selfish for running away. I think I will regress into a neo-conservative evangelical with permed hair who wears oversized teeshirts printed with cats and who works the checkout at Saveonfoods if I stay.

Finally, in happier news... I finished the legwarmers. The pattern seems to be designed for people with pipe-cleaner legs, and I have, in my grand father's words, "shapely pins." Some aggressive blocking may help matters. They are black and green, and as soon as my camera gets fixed I may torment all of you with photos.

One of the benefits of going to the Island, was an excuse to take an afternoon to wallow in the Yarn Porn Store. A small fiber shop so stuffed with amazing yarn that hard core knitters have been known to pass out from sheer ecstasy. I can't remember exactly how it all went down, but I have a hazy recollection of diving head first into a pile of Noro, of my normally very pragmatic mother shoving six skiens of fuschia Manos Del Uruguay down my shirt, and something about hand-dyed sock yarn. Also, and this part is crystal clear, I remember the staff lady's lilting voice telling me that all knitting yarn was 20% off.

The rest, as I am sure you have guessed, was history.