Being Twenty

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I unlocked the door to my suite. It was after 2 am. The door had a step down to it, from the yard behind the house. That was the step where the milkman left the milk, until the golden lab upstairs thought to attack the cartons chewing through their middle. Milk spilled over the rip onto the step. The milkman left the milk outside the gate after that.

Dishes and pans soaked in the sink. The plates looked like ketchup and mustard stained spaceships, that had veered into the sink and landed there. The mugs that once held coffee and glasses of milk, rim-side down to the right of the plates. I wondered who the aliens were that had these spaceships, where they lived and where they had gone. Maybe they had given up on both me and outer space and moved to California. Maybe they lived in Airstream trailers and bought watermelons and oranges at roadside fruit stands.

The pans were on the other side of the sink, the plates in between. I was hungry.  I missed the takeout by the time I had left the club, which was still going when I left. One minute you were inside with the loud music and people standing crowded in the dark, with their drinks, then the security opened the door and you were on the street, walking over rained on pavement, the base from the club getting swallowed up by the slam of the metal door shut behind me.  The pizza place with the big slices was shut already. The pieces would swamp a paper plate and span my hand at the crust. I wanted to go home. I couldn’t make the effort to find somewhere else. The sound of traffic on wet pavement,  faint car horns, and the sound of people talking or laughing in the distance, replaced the club noises, when there weren’t many people around, and then you see what is left, garbage blowing around the side of the street, or soaked through, sticking to the pavement, faint smells of things you wished would wash away.

I walked to catch the bus on Granville. Waited for the trolley bus with the metal arm that reached up to the wires, trapped along its path, unable to rebel and veer onto any other street that it wanted. What if it wanted to go on another route? Down Denman or over to Oak Street, or get out of the city entirely? Sometimes the metal arm would become unhooked from the wires and they would have to stop the bus and re-attach it then. Maybe that was when the trolley buses tried to escape, but never made it. Perhaps if they became free they would lose the metal arm entirely. It would eventually loosen from the roof and fall off. I stared out of the window going over the bridge and back at the downtown section I had left, one of multiplying skyscrapers, expensive shops and condos.

Despite all my dishes being in the sink, I still searched the cupboards for something to eat food out of. This would be a good time to wipe the cupboards out, since they were empty, but that wasn’t the type of thing hungry drunks with their coat still on did when they got home from the club. I did find one plate, suitable for sandwiches or toast, neither of which I was having. I was still wearing my coat. It was black and long enough to prevent any debates about skirt length underneath it.

In the fridge was a carton of eggs and nothing else. I took the carton out and opened it. Four white eggs left. One with a downy feather attached to its shell, which I blew at. I would cook two eggs. There was no bread. I took the ketchup out of the fridge as well. I looked for a frying pan and had no luck. On the bottom shelf I had a brand new wok. I put the wok on the element, added a small amount of oil, and turned on the stove, turning the power on low.

My plan was, I would take off my boots and coat, then in a minute I would add the eggs to the pan when it was warm. My reasoning was skewed of course. It might have been a couple of pints at the Rose and Thorne and then, the gin and tonics at Luvafair, the gin glistening on ice as the bartender filled them with tonic and plunked in a straw. How many times had I stood holding my glass, sipping, looking out at the dance floor, to spot friends or rejoin people I was with.  There was nothing I wanted to see at the Town Pump that night. But when I went into my room I took off my boots, and examined the left boot. I wondered how long the hockey tape I had wrapped around my black boots to fix a crack in the sole would hold up. The tape was still stuck to the leather. Someone noticed it when I was out and commented they thought it was very rock and roll. This pleased me.

I lay down on my bed, thinking I would just be there for a few seconds or so, and stared at the ceiling. The room spun, and I watched. I forgot about the wok. The citrus shades of my Town Pump posters tacked on my wall spun. I would find them outside the Pump or on telephone poles farther away, delicately trying to peel them off so as not to mess up a corner.  They spread across two walls now. Also in the spinning was the ceiling and the light. But the ceiling light looked like something important, like a comet that wasn’t moving. Boy was I drunk. Everything spun for a couple of minutes.

What if I saw something meaningful, when I looked at the ceiling, something that wasn’t really there, perhaps a calm looking person in a picture, a man in a tail suit sitting in a chair. A young girl, standing, holding a balloon. But all I saw was the turning. I then realized smoke had mixed in with my view of the spinning ceiling. Then I remembered the wok and the plan for eggs.

Outside my room the smoke had clouded the kitchen and lounge. Smoke slipping through my record collection, between the alternative section and the classic rock. Between the Crowded House and the Live Peace in Toronto 1969.

I turned off the stove, and opened the front door, making contact with the night air, slapping me for my stupidity, waving the smoke out into the dark back yard with my hands. I was hoping nobody upstairs noticed. They weren’t perfect anyway. After we had been living there a while, the man upstairs had a roommate that moved in. The next morning, we realized he had a Who song set for his alarm. Substitute. Which he never changed from then on. I wondered what the explanation for that was. The wok was charred black. A friend gave me the wok, and now I felt bad about it. I wasn’t hungry after that.

I sat down at the bench by the phone. I had written out some lyrics from Robyn Hitchcock’s Madonna of the Wasps, on a piece of yellow note paper. My roommate must have read it. She had taken a pen and written a question mark beside the words.

The truth was, that while other people my age were starting bright, promising careers in Vancouver, I focused on seeing bands at The Town Pump and going to Luvafair.

After the cooking attempt, I shut off everything, undressed and brushed my teeth. I had a mixed tape that someone made for me with the Pixies Doolittle, which I kept on my bedside table, and I listened to that for a bit.

The nights where I would come in from the club and attempt to cook were rare and non-existent after that night. I always made things that didn’t require cooking after that. Cheese and crackers, a sandwich, or cold cereal. Another night, I had walked home from a party, along by the beach.  Raccoons were playing near the garbage cans on the green grass, which led out to the sand and then the dark sea and city lights across English Bay. It had been so long since I had last seen their faces. They were pensive, paused to look at me and assess my threat.

I hadn’t seen raccoons since growing up, when a family of them used to come up on our sundeck, a mother and her babies and we used to leave dried dog food out for them to eat. We watched them through the sliding glass door as they dipped into the small corningware dishes, and grabbed each piece of food in their fingers, chewing, as they watched us back through the glass. Now they were in the city.

Sometimes there was the type of night where you just didn’t go to bed properly.

One night the month before, I had started getting undressed, but then had collapsed on my bed distracted by sleep. I fell asleep in the night, then feeling cold and drowsy I must have clothed myself in the nearest thing to me, and drifted off. This was my leather jacket. So I woke at 20 to five in the morning, lying on top of my covers, with the light on, in my bra and underwear, but wearing my leather jacket over-top. How strange that was.

I lived in three basement suites, during that period, in my late teens, early twenties. Two in Kits, that was Kitsilano, in Vancouver, and one, eventually on Oak Street in Vancouver. This was basement suite number one.

The next basement suite was two years later. That was the one where I had the hot pants, where I used to listen to Oh Yeah, by Roxy Music. I was 22 then. My landlords there were impressed with me because I had a vacuum cleaner. Those were the days when it was easy to impress people. It was there I decided I needed to start watching some horror films because I had been avoiding them.  I made myself watch Alien and Aliens. Or I went out to buy records. There was a vinyl fair at the community centre a five minute walk away, I went there one sunny day. I bought the box set of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and a copy of the Beatles Help, some sort of collectors edition. I had three pairs of hot pants. One pair was red. Another pair was a quilted silver fabric with black dots. The last pair were black and shiny. The red denim hot pants had some opposition. I don’t know why the blame was on them. They were the bad ones though. One of the Luvafair club owners had told me whenever I wore them, I would have to wait in line like the non-regulars, instead of getting let in the side door. I tested this, and he was true to his word.

The place with the hot pants had the 1950’s fridge, that was white and rounded like a big pillow and had a silver lever handle that you opened. Once in the fridge I had a vegetable and fruit jello salad which my mother had made and brought to me. It was green coloured with bits of carrots and celery and other things.  Somebody that stayed over looked to see what was in my fridge and said “What’s that”? “It’s a jello salad,” I said. He had a puzzled look and then closed the door. Jello salads were a seventies thing, but I guess a few of them made it to 1990.

Basement suite number three was in a Jewish neighborhood. There was an excellent bakery on the corner, and I used to go in all the time and buy bagels. There was a Jewish woman who owned it or worked there, and one day she asked me if I was Jewish. I said, no unfortunately I wasn’t. I just liked the bagels. So I felt a little like a bagel eating fraudster. But I would go home and have them them with cream cheese, sitting in my lounge which was large enough to store used car parts in. I was studying at the time. At that basement suite, one night, I lay in my room sleeping in the middle of the night, I heard a scraping sound against the wallpaper so I turned on the light, and scanned the walls for what was making the noise. Above my bed up at the top, where the wall meets the ceiling, the wall paper was a little loose from the wall. I saw a long spider leg that was dangling over the paper, waving itself around, the rest of the spider still in the wall. So I went to get the Raid from under the kitchen sink and I sprayed it like my life depended on it, until the spider stopped waving its leg at me.

But back to the wok and eggs and being twenty. The memory scent of smoke in the suite almost completely gone before I went to bed.

A friend of mine had asked me what it was like to be twenty, I had just had my twentieth birthday. We were walking down the street, on a day in summer, a few of us, It always seemed to be in the summer when I saw planes fly across the blue sky, leaving a trail of white behind them. Infinite sky, infinite sunrises. And that day I saw a trail of white in the sky and a leftover rain puddle in the fore. I hadn’t seen any plane streaks in the sky either for a long time. It seemed something you saw lying on a lawn as a kid in the summer, the blades of grass awkwardly meeting your skin like nature’s acupuncture.

I said to him that I wasn’t sure yet. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to depict, or represent. I was just getting used to the ‘teen’ being missing. I guessed it seemed like a big number to me. I guess I felt old.

That night when I fell asleep I thought about fall memories I had. Of needing to turn on the lights at supper. And when you stepped outside you wondered how far away the fire was that made the smell of burning leaves, layered on the cold. Overnight the weather changed and the temperature dropped. I got up and lay a quilt my grandmother made in her youth, over my covers, and fell back to sleep. In the morning when I lifted the curtain to look out, there was the first frost, everything shimmering and painted white like it had been sprinkled with icing sugar.

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