Chapter 1 (of the Novel I Will Never Finish): A Day in my Life
I have no idea what is going on.
Actually, I do know a few things. I am afraid of ducks and, only slightly less so, swans. I’m wearing brand new socks. I’m sporting newly straightened hair. And I’m on a bus right now.
Not much else.
While I probably should be concerned about this, I’m not. I don’t know where I’m coming from or where I’m going to. But, I am enjoying the whole bus experience — trying to live in the present like that quack doctor advised me to (living in the past was getting way too expensive anyways). I am probably coming from home, but I really can’t be sure. I could have gone shopping or maybe I have a job….do I have a job? Do I shop? Should I have or do either? Maybe I live on this bus? No, I probably do not live on this bus, as if I did, I would almost definitely smell worse and I smell really spectacular. I don’t even want to spend one more minute contemplating the living-on-the-bus reality, although maybe in that reality I’d be taller. I have this feeling I’m on my way from something — like maybe I am running away from my fears or troubles — I’ve done that before and I’ll do it again. Or maybe I am late on my way somewhere…or if I was late, wouldn’t I take a cab?
Looking around it dawns on me that I’m currently sitting on a bus surrounded by a motley crew of weirdos. What else is new? I feel like I’ve been on this very bus a thousand times. Everywhere I go weird people find me. It is like my doctor implanted a homing beacon calling out to all weirdos when all I asked for was a informational pamphlet on nose bleeds. I wonder how I look to them? Do I appear weird? Are they moaning inside about having to share a bus with me? Or possibly I am the best thing that has ever happened to them as far as fellow, anonymous bus passengers go. I contemplate looking around and smiling and waving at them all, but I decide to dive back into my book. I’m currently reading the classic novel, Little Women — a moving book about…NORMAL-SIZED WOMEN!?!?!? what a misleading and ultimately disappointing title. I was highly anticipating a thrilling story about a group of crime-fighting tiny females who save humanity from extra-terrestrial gargoyle-type creatures who want to harvest our brains for sport. This book was sort of like that except more emotional moments and coming of age aspects. Today’s bus riders do not disappoint — they are weird.
On my left is a guy who looks like a combination of someone who was just released from a prison for the criminally insane and someone who just finished shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond. He is either speaking to an imaginary friend trapped in the window sill or speaking to himself — I’m not sure which is better for him or for me. I try to imagine what he did to get committed and how he was able to convince them he was okay. I entertain this thought for a moment until remembering that his mental health or lack there of, is completely my invention and he could be teaching sanity lessons at the local community college. I could learn a thing or two from this living-on-the-edge sort of guy. I am spellbound by the limitless dimensions of his hair which seems to be living proof of the existence of the 24th dimension. It juts off in every direction and would be cool if he was in a boy band or just finished removing his helmet after skating on a half-pipe. My senses are confused. He looks as if he should smell horribly, but instead, I am overwhelmed with the aroma of lilacs. Lucky for him, I have a thing for lilacs. Also, lucky for him, I am not hungry for lilacs — I learned my lesson years ago in our neighbour’s backyard.
I turn to my right and there is a woman who just can’t stop smiling and doing everything in her power to stifle a laugh while flipping through the magazine she is reading. I’m sorry, there is no way that Cosmo is that funny — regardless of how many overly ridiculously inaccurate lists they have on how to please your man or ways to dress for summer. I mean do they actually survey real flesh-and-blood men? And are there really 99 ways to be pleased? I’m pretty sure I only have 11 and at least three of those is “feed me chocolate”. Or possibly she is finding some of the airbrushed pictures particularly humourous? I like the ones where the female models appear to have naturally glossy skin that would be particularly useful if preparing for a slip n’ slide. I have heard of some studies that smiling and laughing is infectious. In this case, it is having the opposite effect as I want to scream or cringe or itch something. She is smiling so widely that it is almost as if she has just been to a physiotherapist who instructed her to stretch her facial muscles daily. But, who am I to critique someone else’s emotional state? I should aspire to be more like her! Why be all gloomy? Maybe I should read more Cosmo? It couldn’t hurt, unless someone like me decided to rip it from my hands and hurt me with it.
In front me there is a young couple with a baby who looks about 6 days old. Why are they taking such a young child on a bus, I’m not sure? Stay at home, enjoy the peace and quiet, change a diaper or two, maybe go for a walk — don’t subject the rest of us to a never-ending stream of high-pitched crying and wailing. Impressive lungs though, I have to admit, and the shade of red that her face is turning is making me hungry for my friend Emilio’s tomato sauce. Coincidentally, he also screams like that while making his sauce, but usually due to the scalding (once because I “accidentally” stabbed him with a knife to proof a point…or was it to win a bet?) The couple, despite the crying child, is so much in love that I come close to suggesting they get a room, but I’m guessing, based on the baby, they already have…a few times. The baby abruptly stops crying and seems to fixate on my nose, which I have been told on multiple occasions, is quite nipple-like. My reactions to being told this range from anger to concern to curious and then back to anger again. But, it is so hard to be angry with a 6 day old cute baby even though I can tell, by it’s look, that it is suggesting some sort of major reconstructive surgery for my nose. Or it is just hungry. I reconsider it’s age. It is definitely not a day over eight days old, I think confidently. After a minute, I have some doubt — he may be 9 or 10 days old. Possibly he just looks young for his age.
And behind me are a couple of teenagers whining and complaining about how horrible their lives are. They are taking turns describing the depths of their sorrow and pain and suffering and it actually works out perfectly as it gives me an unforeseen opportunity to mentally rehearse my infinitely sad violin concerto that I’ve been composing for moments exactly like this. According to them, no one understands these teens (or buys them anything), but I think I do and I’m tempted to stand up and verbally shake some sense into them or orally smack them silly or just buy them a non-fat ice cream cone possibly filled with low-fat ice cream — I just need them to be quiet as they are reminding me too vividly of my own teenage angst which bled into my early twenties angst which led to my late twenties angst which naturally led to that job at the post office. Surprisingly delivering and sorting mail was the cure for my angst and I briefly debate suggesting this to these forlorn teens only to reconsider when they are hit by a fit of the giggles that surprisingly causes me more concern than the angst. Uncontrollable giggles should make me smile, but instead it makes me yawn as I am really really tired, plus the exact pitch of their high-pitched giggles makes me yearn for dog treats for some reason beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, I am carrying an unopened bag of dog treats. I divert my attention elsewhere before they start to notice my calculated stares and either contemplate reporting me or, even worse, start talking to me. The last thing I need is to be tricked into giggling right now. Not on this bus.
I still wasn’t totally sure what I was doing on the bus. I was tired and wondered if I could use that to my advantage somehow or at least not have it be the reason for being taken advantage of for a change. Why was I so tired? Why did I feel like I hadn’t slept at all in a long time? As I pondered those questions, I itched my nose, scratched my head and stretched and then did the same three things in opposite order for symmetry sake. Then I had to fight the urge to try them all at the same time, which I am pretty sure would have not only worked but may have inspired others to try as well. And then we could have broke out into a well-choreographed song and dance number. But, I quickly decided against it as I am sure I wouldn’t have been cast as the lead and I’m tired. Also, I recently made the mistake of being asymmetrical and I am working on that. How long have I been riding this bus? How long will I stay on? At some point, I thought, I should rise with confidence and get off the bus, just so no one else clues into my lack of awareness and direction. I could write a book about my lack of awareness and direction, let me tell you. If I wrote a book every time I thought about writing a book, I’d have written a couple of books by now. Maybe I should do it now? Or just get off the bus already? As I alternatively psyche myself up into making the move and fighting the temptation, I notice the ads on the bus above the windows.
Usually I sit on the bus and am oblivious to these ads, and sometimes I rant and rave in message boards online about bus ads and how they are contributing towards the moral decaying of society. For fun, I often select a random message board -those ladies on that quilting forum must have been taken by surprise. But today I focus in on these ads and maybe it’s my mood, but they really get me thinking and questioning myself and how I am living my life. Do I want a new cell phone? Especially one that comes with a plan, and not just any plan, an amazing plan that doesn’t outwardly state, but seems to implicitly imply, that it will significantly improve my life, especially in my ability to text more frequently and get more data. I knew something was missing in my life — was it more texting? Perhaps, but I was leaning towards just needing more fiber. Too bad texting isn’t also good for digestive health. And what could I do with all of that data! The possibilities are endless and I honestly don’t know what any of them are. Will I need a bigger house! Can I still hang out at the coffee shop drinking tea? Should I say goodbye to my old friends who are definitely not big data users? Should I buy a parrot? (actually I have always wanted a parrot and just thought this would be a great time to ask) Previously, I was fairly sure I didn’t want or need a new phone, but this highly glossy sign on the bus with its neon colours and large size 120 font letters is fairly convincing. I feel oddly drawn to the sign and decide after some thought, that maybe it is the actual sign that I want and not the phone. I wonder where I can buy a copy of this gloriously aggressive sign.
Then I notice another ad trying to convince the observer to attend the local community college. The two students (or actors posing as students as they look a little too “student-ish” in my mind to be actual students) are seen sitting in the library “studying” and have the two biggest, happiest smiles that are humanly possible. Now, I haven’t studied at that college or sat in their library myself, but there is no way they are having that much fun at that library studying. What did the director of that shot want to convey? That students studying at that college are over-the-moon happy all the time especially when studying at the library? And that, if I was to go there, it would lift me out of my sad-sack life and give me a new found optimism and a sense of humour? And what are they studying? History? Not too many laugh-out-loud moments there. Medicine? Possibly they are overjoyed with all of the money they will make one day. Or maybe she just told him a funny joke, maybe something a bit risque or overly high-brow. Maybe, just maybe, they tried a photo of them displaying other emotions like fear (“so, school is scary like I thought” people may say before running away and joining the armed forces), anxious (“if these students, the leaders of tomorrow, are that worried and stressed, I shouldn’t be relaxing on my sofa right now” people may say before looking into the logistics of cryogenic freezing), glum (“nothing annoys me more and makes me more angry than young, attractive people in ads looking sad” people may say before storming the campus with flaming torches, yelling angry slogans, attempting to rid the city of the institutions of higher learning that cloud us from the truth starting first with the libraries) or staring straight at the camera with an ultra-serious look (“are you looking at me? Oh, it’s on!” people would say before making idle threats that they were in no position to issue, especially when you consider that they were speaking to a two-dimensional advertisement that was in no position to defend itself). Regardless, I am too busy and still scarred from my previous school experience — nobody warned me that universities didn’t have playgrounds. But, I will store this info away, if I am in the neighbourhood and want a little emotional pick-me-up, I know where to go.
The rest of the ads are all public service announcements reminding me not to litter, vandalize, ride without paying or smoke. “Thanks mom”, I mutter to myself, all of a sudden,.missing my mother even though, ironically she was a habitual litterer, a constant threat to vandalize, addicted to free rides and, although she was highly sensitive to smoke, she smoked like a chimney — taking huge massive inhalations followed by an endless stream of ash and soot. People would always tell her she was doing it wrong and that she shouldn’t get so dirty from smoking, and she mostly ignored them and continued on her life work, a musical based on the unabridged dictionary. She didn’t seem to enjoy smoking or any of its perks — like the incessant coughing, the perpetually raspy voice and having a built-in excuse to take multiple long breaks at work. I always felt that her smoking was merely a result of her confusingly strong attachment to both cylinders and fire. I spent a lot of time at grandma and grandpa’s farm growing up and if I heard the story about how mom vigorously hated squares and rhombuses once, I heard it a thousand times. She was raised to love only three-dimensional shapes and had such a hard time deciding between a sphere (“kind of a like a ball, in many ways…actually, how are they different?”, she always remarked about spheres, especially when I was playing with a bouncy ball, which oddly was slightly oblong-shaped due to her leaving cartons of cigarettes pressed on top of it much of the time), a cylinder (“nothing like a long, slim, filtered cylinder to start the day off with” she would say at breakfast) and the lesser-known dodecahedron (“so many angles, so many sides, I could just sit here and get lost in your sides” she whispered to her purple 20-sided Dungeons and Dragons’ die the morning that father left with his girlfriend. Father drew the line at 10-sided shapes — who could blame him?). And fire? Mom was so caveman-like in her love for fire. She once spanked me for acting slightly nonchalant about fires and demanded a near-round-the-clock fire-appreciation mindset. That was so tough to keep up, but I tried. I tried for mom. Good old chain-smoking, cylindrical-focused, fire-fiendish mom. She was my mom, and we were always pretty concerned about her.
Abruptly, I stand making an unnecessarily big production out of it drawing the attention of a number of other passengers. Their focus on me is fleeting. Once they see that I am not going to break into song, ask for money or attack them (you always have to be on guard for those solo-belting, currency-focussed, knife-wielding maniacs on our city’s buses) they go back to what they are doing (probably plotting their own plans to either sing, ask for money or attack the others). Why did I stand? Am I leaving this rectangular, metal “home” that seems to be rocketing towards some unknown destination that was not of my choosing? I want to leave, but the doors seem really far away. After a moment standing there, I realize that the far away doors are actually quite far away, but they aren’t the doors on this bus, instead they are the doors to an apartment building across the street — I have always been confusing doors in my life — an odd, and ultimately quite debilitating problem. I pause, standing there, contemplating my next move. Do I sit again? No! That would be announcing my submission, my defeat, my clear need to add more squats to my currently non-existent workout routine. Do I commence a yoga-like stretching routine? I mean I do need to stretch right now and I recall the advice from my counsellor — “live in the present”. I was never quite sure what she meant and I should have asked if I was giving off the impression that I was living in the past due to my wearing an outfit from another time complete with a hat with adorned with a beautiful feather. I want to stretch very badly — check that — I yearn to stretch, but I don’t. Maybe stretching is exactly what “they” want me to do. (my counsellor also wants me to stop worrying about these other people I always refer to as “they”, for many reasons — “they” may have really peculiar tastes, “they” may not have my best interests at heart, “they” may not actually care nor exist — I have an inkling that she is trying to push me towards realizing the latter, but I am just not ready to take that step in my therapy, mostly because I like my therapist and am trying to see her more often. Not to ask her out, but to slowly try to reverse our roles so that one day, seamlessly, I can become her therapist and she, my patient, and then I will push her towards asking me out. I haven’t decided if I will say yes). I decide to leave. Yes! I want to leave and leave I will. Then I wonder how I should approach the rear doors — confidently? (could be a good call — it would give the illusion that I know where I am going not just now, but in life) — non-confidently? (would be hard to display this and have it appear different from hesitatingly and I just don’t feel like appearing hesitatingly any more today) Since I am unsure how to proceed, but am certain I need to leave immediately, I get up and race towards the doors and trip on the top step which catapults me into the air end-over-end. I’m not sure how this happened, but I ended up completing two complete flips and sticking my landing causing the entire bus and all of the pedestrian on the street to break out into a standing ovation. While I enjoyed their applause, I quickly started to worry about next time as it would be really hard to match or surpass that.
I walk a few blocks receiving tons of high fives and slaps on the back along the way. Finally I find some peace and quiet and sit on a park bench next to a busy tennis court where a dad is trying to teach his young girls to play tennis. In the part of the lesson I am watching they are learning how to make bone-rattling grunts and how to incorporate gymnastic-style tumbling maneuvers into their tennis game. I feel that this dad is either a crackpot or on to something, but I can’t decide so to take mind off the tennis I take out a small handheld mirror I always carry with me in my bag and look at myself (an overly macho friend once commented that this mirror is so small, it is really a compact and that maybe I “needed a purse” to carry it in, so I went out the next day and bought a purse and he hasn’t talked to me since). I love looking at my reflection in the mirror and could do so for hours almost as if attempting to memorize the size and placement of each freckle (and possibly naming them much as stars have been named by astronomers — the big one near by right shoulder I always wanted to call “Cancer”, but was talked out of it by my overly cautious dermatologist who thought that the name was tempting fate a little too much, so I settled on “Benign Tumor”, which he liked slightly more). I tried to limit my self mirror watching to my home as doing so publicly is generally frowned upon for reasons I’ve never been sure about. Is it because it is “nicer” to look at others? Or possibly I’m supposed to share my mirror with all of the sad sacks around me who either don’t own their own mirrors or are just very forgetful? Or maybe my looking into the mirror makes it seem that I “love” myself and that I should be more “normal” and less “strange”. “Thanks Ms. Pinter” I always say whenever I think those thoughts in my head, which is strange because the actual Ms. Pinter was my grade 5 teacher who taught every lesson looking into a large mirror instead of directly facing us students, which meant that we learned from the reflection of Ms. Pinter who I had a massive crush on (I was often a bit confused if I preferred her right side to her left side and which side that actually was seeing as it was her reflection). Oddly, my school-boy crush didn’t extend to the actual Ms. Pinter. Her reflection helped me so much that year — I have been looking for a motivating, attractive reflection to fill that void ever since.
I also love playing facial games in the mirror. My favourite, by far, was exercising my eyebrows, an exhausting, hilarious way to waste away the afternoon which had the upside of utilizing my Grouch Marx-sized eyebrows that I super-glued to my face and making my forehead quite a bit more muscular and strong which could come in handy one day. I prided myself upon being ready for just about any situation and having a stronger than average face seemed to be a good idea — I mean it couldn’t hurt unless a situation called for a weak face. I’d like to have a face that can not only withstand all types of weather and being tar and feathered (I know this doesn’t come up much and may not even be used any more) but can also be that face that can adorn posters and pamphlets and help the masses see that there is so much to live for and that there is good in the world and maybe, just maybe, my face could inspire and motivate people to exercise their faces as well (could be some money in this for me).
The park I was in was very serene and I was taking huge, deep breaths of the fresh air which caused the person sitting three benches away to get up and leave — it wasn’t as if I was trying to use all of the air or anything! Weirdo! My goal this week is attempting to be kinder to people. I have a weekly goal and spend Sunday evenings either with a huge celebration or a few hours of constant berating and humiliation based on how I have done in regards to the previous week’s goal. In anticipation of the celebration I bake an elaborate cake adorned with motivational slogans. In the event I succeed with accomplishing my weekly goal, I sit down to a huge plate of congratulatory cake and if I am not able to succeed, I end up crying profusely, all the while mashing the cake with my fists. Since success feels so much better than failure, you would think I’d steer away from hard to achieve goals and settle on super simple ones, but I don’t. I learned that the hard way. It was only Wednesday, and I hadn’t done a great job so far, so I decided then and there to stand on the street corner smiling, waving and saying whatever kind thing first popped into my head about the stranger (in some cases this was hard as the first five to ten random thoughts were definitely NOT kind and had to be discarded or saved in case a future goal involved being unkind to people). Being kind to strangers feels good inside and after a few hours of this I was both exhausted (that was a lot of smiling) and much happier. “I am a good person” I thought and wished my ex-girlfriend who always claimed that I was “such a loser” could be here right now, so I could stick this in her face for old times-sake.
The whole goal setting thing came about mostly out of boredom and wanting to avenge the tragic death of my pet mouse (at first he seemed to be enjoying the boat ride in the toilet) and the death of my second pet mouse who sat too close to the fireplace (actually, I sort of “threw” him in when he wouldn’t share his cheese tray that was WAY too much cheese for him to eat by himself anyways. I did feel horrible about it, but also kind of justified as sharing was explicitly stated as the number one rule in the house when he first came home from the pet store) and the demise of pet mouse number three who “somehow” ended up in my famous chicken noodle soup when my parents came to visit (the story goes like this — I promised my parents that I would make the soup that they loved and then realized I didn’t quite have enough chicken and was just too lazy to go tot the store to buy some more. Look, I’m not happy about it either and if there is such a thing as mouse-hell, I know I’m heading there someday). I also thought that the setting of goals “sounded good” in nearly any social setting and if nothing else may help me find a few more people to help me in times of need (not sure how those two dots are connected, but next time I am trapped at the bottom of the well — don’t ask, it’s happened a number of times — maybe one of those people exposed to my goal setting may happen to wander by and either take pity or randomly decide to help — you just never know).
I walk all the way home mostly to avoid a repeat of the morning’s experience on the bus. I alternate between walking very slowly and speed walking depending on what song is playing. Then the music shifts abruptly to classical and I start to “dance” my way home like I am at a grand ball. One particularly long song with a very slow, meandering opening that is building towards the “meat” of the song comes on and I decide to sit cross-legged on the sidewalk until the tempo picks up. A guy across the street sees me and comes over and sits next to me. I’m not sure why — maybe he is listening to the same song? Or perhaps he thinks I’m protesting something and wants to join in for the cause? Has a couple of screws loose? I momentarily close my eyes and upon opening them there is a long line of people sitting on the sidewalk with me and this guy. I want to ask questions and then I notice that they are all very attractive. Like really attractive. So much so that I feel like I am hogging up all of the ugly, again. After a few minutes sitting in silence with all of these beautiful strangers wondering what we should do together (tag? a choreographed dance number? cheerleading?) a huge gust of wind blows by and I find myself alone again. Did that actually happen? Were those people actually here a minute ago and gone the next? Maybe I missed an ice cream truck a block away that they all ran off to? Or possibly they all jumped really high when I looked and they landed and then ran off after I looked away. Maybe they suddenly became two-dimensional? Can that actually happen? Or possibly I’m still on the bus. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten those five long-expired yogurts this morning as I had given in to my odd craving for bacteria. But hey, at least this hallucination didn’t try to steal my pants.
I arrive at my house and sit on the steps.
As I breathe in and out, I contemplate the complexities of life.
It is fairly clear — I have no idea what is going on.