Saturday, January 15, 2011

U Gellin'?

Its cold out. Really fucking cold.

But not as cold as it was one evening back in December 1989.

The fall of 1989 in Toronto was an interesting one.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover caused a commotion at the Film Festival in September. After seeing it for the first time a few years later, it claimed a permanent position in the upper balcony of my personal film canon. Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Richard Bohringer, Tim Roth, Alan Howard, who long before voicing Sauron ended up being forced to eat his favourite book (Carlye's French Revolution)? Michael Nyman's sublime soundtrack. The last great film from Peter Greenaway before he became obsessed with esoterica and I could no longer follow, as hard as I tried.

In November, Cousine and I went down to what was then called the Skydome to see Jeff Beck during his Guitar Shop tour with the great Terry Bozzio behind the kit. At the time, I didn't know who this incredible drummer was yet. The drummer that started out as a kid playing "The Black Page" with the ingenious Frank Zappa. Nor did I know he was the driving force behind his vocalist wife in the mid-80s hair band "Missing Persons". Cousine and I appeared to be the only ones at the show who went to see Beck rather than the headliner Stevie Ray Vaughn. Nothing against the late Stevie Ray (playing on his last tour, as it turned out) but Beck had just emerged from his self-exile working on his classic cars in his cloistered castle in the English countryside. Back then he rarely toured. We freeway jammed downtown and back, with a few stops along the way.

After writing my exams in early December, I VIA railed down to Manotick to help Cousine move his mother's stuff to a new house in Brockville. I spent a few days at her old house, finishing off Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum which had just been translated into English. Although I haven't revisited it for over twenty years, I remember it being a remarkably entertaining satire of all that "Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" bullshit that has made hacks like Dan Brown filthy rich, and auteurs of pap like Ron Howard and Tom Hanks even filthier.

The day before the big move I went with Cousine to pick up the U-Haul, the biggest, baddest motherfucker they had. There was a lot of heaviness to be heaved. Washers, dryers, furniture -- everything. My other cousine was younger than us 20-yr-olds and for some reason couldn't contribute that much (was it the flu?), so we knew it was basically up to the two of us.

We parked the mega-UHaul in the driveway, and everything was pretty well ready to go in the morning. So we decided to take in a bit of the local scene. That meant jumping in Cousine's diesel-fueled Datsun and heading out to the "Crossroads", a nearby establishment at which adult
refreshment and adult entertainment conjoined to produce a burlesque buffet of Dionysian delights.

As usual, our intended slight diversion developed into a closing time decision to take the back roads back to Cousine's place.

The only problem with that plan was that it was one those precious -25/30 nights that are so particular to Eastern Ontario during the winter months. The journey home started out well, as we got off the beaten path and began to slide road our way back to Cousine's mother's heated house and warm beds.

Shortly however, the Odyssean nature of our wanderings would reveal itself. Cousine's Datsun was not a reliable ride at the best of times, let alone on a bone-crackingly cold night such as that. The first time the diesel gelled we had to wait about a half hour before the Datsun would start again. Then we could drive a mile or two before it stalled. Not wanting to attract any attention to ourselves as we snailed our way back home in the early hours of the morning, we repeated this ritual for the next 8 or so sleepless hours. Cousine was clad in a jean jacket, so we had to take turns wearing my winter coat as a blanket, sleep for a half hour, then dutifully wake up (assuming we slept at all) and drive a mile or two before the diesel gelled up again.

Coldest I've ever been in my life. At one point, Cousine told me, when it was his turn with the winter coat, he looked over at me. Seemingly asleep and without any means of warming myself, I was curled into a fetal position and shuddering uncontrollably. And after a few hours, the Labatt Blue anesthetic had worn off. Bad enough that the Datsun would only move periodically, but we had no regular source of heat, and significant portions of the Datsun's undercarriage were rusted out into gaping holes beneath us.

Around five minutes to 8 in the morning, we pulled into Cousine's mother's driveway.

At 8, it was time to start loading the mega-UHaul. Two full loads, there and back again down Highway 16 and the 401. Washers. Dryers. Mattresses. An entire house of domestic detail.

Its remarkable what you can do when you're 20 years old. I think we only broke one item.


  1. Classic post FE. What a great story. I think you had mentioned it before but this time it was iced over with brilliant detail. I can almost feel that frozen, early morning hang-over-hauling-a-fridge-up-a-set-of-stairs nausea, sweat and gut rot. What a testimony to the power of youth.

  2. Remarkable what we couldn't do at 20. Like blog. I looked in the mirror. I don't know what you were talking about. I don't have any nose hairs.

    The Challenge has been given.

  3. The Challenge has been given. You talk only of the sins of the flesh. Where is the post on what you want of the Square Corner? (I'm listening to Sweet Jane right now. Lou Reed and Hip play on the same night. No contest, Lou Reed)

  4. Man SC is feisty!

    Once it was so cold we had tie a rope around the gas pedal and yank it when it got stuck.

    Great story a tale of frozen youth.