For this week’s Story Time Tuesday I’ve decided to post a poem. Some of you may have read it before -if you’re a super online stalker. As I’ve been spending a lot of time lately hanging out on Main Street, debating if I should just find some dumb-ass serving job and remembering my days at Goldsmiths with my inspiring writing group, I figured this was an appropriate piece to post. Plus I’ve been too busy editing and rewriting my novel to write something new.
Main and Empty
one week before I got fired waiting on tables at East Van’s favorite late night eatery across from the neon light store/ drug front down from ten coffee shops in four blocks next to stores with silk screened ironic t-shirts locally made jewelry and retro records. filling my arms with local brew, sangria and the mix of the day black beans on basmati coconut milk and quinoa mango, tofu, peanut sauce large nachos the size of my torso. two guys are sitting at a back table drinking one p.m. beers one hides behind Buddy Holly glasses the other shields with a sleeve of tattoos we talk while white people with dreadlocks listen to hip hop while the smell of spray paint loiters in the alley while the new cook burns the chili and I’m shedding dreams like onion tears after three rounds they left behind torn napkins empty cigarette boxes an insulting 6% tip and a note
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
This is a short film of a poem I wrote based on something that happened few years ago. It is directed, edited and photographed by my great and talented friend Kim Buikema. We filmed this short in South London one Sunday in the summer of 2009. I’d like to thank my good friends Michelle Madsen, Jamie James and Chris Freeman for being such good sports and joining in on the fun.
Quick related story about this video:
The last time I read this poem was in December at my Master’s program’s final reading. (Note: This is the full story that was briefly mentioned two Story Time Tuesdays ago in my Lost and Found article). I was one of the lucky six people who got to read on this night and I chose to read this poem as I have found it to be quite the crowd pleaser. Knowing that my work is quite different than most of my British classmates I was nervous and began to sip only water all night until I’d finished my well-received reading then I headed straight to the free bar to have a glass of wine. A few free glasses of wine on an empty stomach later I read the wonderful comments I had received on my final portfolio: “This is such an engaging, humourous, witty, well-crafted piece of writing” and “this proves to be a publishable novel.”* Then I found out that the award I had been shortlisted for went to someone else. Oh well, more wine! Yay me! I’m a Master! This is possibly the last time I’ll ever see these people – bottoms up!
Then a group of us decided to take the party to a nearby pub. Now, I should mention that during my year in London I rarely got drunk. There were several reasons for this 1) it’s bloody expensive! 2) I was already eating so many carbs I didn’t want to drink five more pounds on to my body and 3) I’m not that big of a drinker – especially compared to the Brits – which is why I never felt like I would ever fully belong there. So, we’re at the pub and people are buying me drinks, I’m taking silly drunk girl photos with my good friends Natalie and Arleen then BLACK OUT. I mean, complete black out. I wake up 6 a.m. because I’m staying at Kim’s and I know she has to get ready for work now. I’m totally fine and then fall back to sleep. A few hours later I wake up, massive hangover, check Facebook, get a message from someone I don’t know who says he has my wallet, I freak out, luckily I’d stashed some cash in my luggage and I get in a cab to meet my father and brother who were arriving from Canada that afternoon. I send a reply to the guy who found my wallet with my UK mobile number and … later that night I have my wallet back! Total f-ing miracle!!
Perhaps reading this poem Recipe for a Lost Wallet that night was really a recipe for dramatic irony. Now because of that I’m slightly afraid of what will happen after I post this possibly-cursed poem for this week’s Story Time Tuesday. Perhaps I should leave the wallet at home today or perhaps this will serve as a reminder that you should keep an eye on yours.
* These quotes are basically what they said, I don’t have the actual text in front of me, nevertheless, Thank you Blake Morrison and Maura Dooley!
“We’re going to be neighbors,” a white haired man said to me in the balcony of the Old Vic Theatre. He took off his tweed coat and draped it on the back of his chair next to mine.
I smiled politely and nodded at him as he lowered himself into his folding seat.
“Have you been here before?” he asked in a way that did not sound like a cheesy pick-up line.
“No. Sadly. This is my first time.”
“Are you American?”
I laughed, as I had been asked this nearly every day since I’d moved to London six months prior.
“No, I’m Canadian.” I replied, restraining myself from my usual ‘make them guess’ response. Several times people answered Australian or South African then finally ending in an “Oh! Canada!” as they had forgotten that my home country even existed.
“Are you a student?”
“Yeah. I’m here getting a Masters at Goldsmiths.” I enjoyed saying that I was a MA student every chance I got. As I’d only applied to my program to get my best friend, who’d been encouraging me to go back to school for years, off my back. I was utterly shocked when I was accepted and knew I had to jump at the chance.
“Oh!” He said with the reverence of people who knew about the school. “Are you going to be the next Damien Hirst?” A graduate of Goldsmiths who is famous for putting dead animals formaldehyde and being the highest paid living artist ever.
“Hardly. I’m a writer.”
“Good.” He smiled. “I can’t stand that crap.”
Our conversation lead into literature and then a narrative critique of the plays we’d seen that season.
“Madame De Sade was so terrible even Judy Dench couldn’t save that play.”
“I agree completely,” he replied just as the house lights dimmed hushing our neighborly banter.
We were seeing Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. A romantic tragedy where a King accuses his pregnant Queen of adultery and puts her on trial, locks her away, then orders the death of the baby. Watching Shakespeare in London had become one of my favorite joys, as I watched masterful actors show me how famous speeches ought to be performed putting my former classmates attempts, when I was starry-eyed drama school kid, to shame.
My jaw was agape as I watched Rebecca Hall utter the famous, “Sir, spare your threats” monologue. Ok, perhaps it’s only famous to young actresses who use this speech much too often in auditions; as it is one of the few powerful female speeches Shakespeare has to offer in his male dominated cannon.
At the intermission, David, as I later knew my neighbor, insisted on buying me a drink. I had a white wine while he ordered an orange juice. As he was an Englishman I had assumed he was going to have a pint, then I felt a little twinge of shame for drinking alone in the afternoon. But David never gave me a glance of judgement.
Over the course of the break, we swapped stories that brought us to the theatre today. I had received an e-mail from some student organization I was a part of where the first 20 people to reply got complimentary tickets. I was the fifth.
“I see a show every day” he said reaching into his jacket pocket producing a multiple paged spreadsheet listing dates, times, shows and theatres he had bought tickets for everyday for the next year and a half.
“See, tomorrow I’m seeing Waiting for Godot then Friday there’s a concert at the Barbican. Saturday is busy – a matinee at The Royal Court and back to the Barbican for a Japanese play.”
“Wow.” Was all I could say then the bell rang prompting us to return to our seats.
As I watched the play turn from Kings and Queens to the countryside and into a comedy focusing on a trickster character played by Ethan Hawke, my mind churned over how David was able to see so many shows, and why? Was he rich? Was he a retried actor who had ins at every theatre in town? And how was it Ethan Hawke was able to steal the show from these fine British actors? Well done crush of my 14-year-old self.
After the King, Queen and their daughter were happily reunited when a statue comes to life (true story) and the houselights came up I was about to recite my ‘nice to meet you’ speech to David when he asked if he could take me out to dinner. So I went along for a free meal, instead of getting my 14-year-old self an autograph of the moody man from Reality Bites.
David took me to the National Theatre’s dinning room and as he’d earlier told me, he knew everyone there. This confirmed David’s story about being a frequent patron of the theatre. Then over a dinner of vegetarian lasagna and mixed greens, he told me his life story.
He grew up in London was divorced, had four children, two grandchildren, and he’d worked a mundane office job until he was 65.
“I didn’t discover the theatre until I retired. My daughter took me to a show, right here in the National Theatre. From that moment I vowed that I would see as much of it as I could before I die, which I reckon will be in five years.”
“Five years?” I raised my eyebrows.
Yes, I’ve always had a feeling that I would die at 75.”
David rambled on and on about the shows he’d seen, how he spent his days and how he had a crush on this twenty-year-old Polish girl who worked at the Barbican. I wanted to ask what it was he got from theatre and why had he chosen to spend his final years in the dark of a audience listening to other’s stories instead of making his own, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
While David ordered strawberries with whipped cream for dessert I found myself resentful that David hadn’t yet asked me anything about my life. Why had I decided to move to London, what I thought about it and how was I coping with how lonely it can be? At the very least, I thought, he should ask me what my novel is about.
“Well, I should get going. I’m seeing Jude Law in Hamlet tonight. Busy day- two Shakespeares!” He said standing up and putting on his tweed jacket.
I thanked him for dinner and his generosity. I even offered to pay for my share again, despite having only five pounds in my wallet.
“No! No!” He insisted. “It was my pleasure. It’s always nice to have a dining partner.”
As we walked out to the South Bank, looking at the London Eye and the Thames river, I debated giving him my phone number or email address incase he ever wanted a theatre companion but held back wondering where that would lead. Besides he made it quite clear that he was interested in this Polish girl at the Barbican.
“Here’s where we part,” I said when we reached the Royal Festival Hall. “Thanks again. It was nice to meet you.”
David tipped his hat, “Good night. Sally.”
As I took the tube back to my cold derelict flat to crawl under my five layers of bedding and an electric blanket I thought about spending the rest of my life seeing theatre, wondering if I had an age I thought I might die at and how David at least could have gotten my name right. But who was I to complain? I was in London seeing free theatre, eating free dinners and I had another story to tell.
Note: This is a memoir in the sense it’s a true story but facts might have been muddled due to memory loss or creative license.