Wednesday, 9 December 2015


The Boys Are Back in Town

Driving south on Alberta’s Highway 2, the province’s EdmontonCalgary connector. The landscape shifts as the snow tires rumble along the bone-dry road, the white crust covering the fields crumbles and ebbs into gold and brown stubble. The low, pale sky vaults into an intense electric blue. On the right and to the west the Rockies, still young in a relative way, begin to make their jagged selves apparent, cloud-snaring pins, points and peaks.

An ancient mix tape spools from reel to reel in the cassette deck. Rocking down the blacktop to rendezvous with my three oldest and best friends; it’s been years since I can’t remember when, the four of us being in the same room together again, a complete quorum. The new normal has been a duo or a business trip trio and a smartphone ping to the missing. The Clash is playing, Mick Jones singing a rare lead vocal: And I’ll never forget the smile on my face ‘cause I knew where you would be/So if you’re in the Crown tonight have a drink on me/Go easy, step light, stay free. Sentimental? Yes. Mawkish? No.

Our reunion has been driven by one of those middle-aged speed bumps: Jim’s getting married again. Though Tim and Marty have been in long relationships, neither fellow ever married. Me, I’ve been around the block a few times. Each one of us is or has been a father figure at various times in our lives (with varying success), but only Jim is an actual biological father. This fact may be of some interest to a sociologist studying those Catholic souls who miraculously appeared at the tail end of the baby boom.

My dear friends mock me. I will be ragged to the ends of the Earth for all of my foibles, flaws, stupidities, shames and embarrassments, but I will never be judged. And, anyway, I can give as good as I get, this is the nature of our game. High school confidential: we all smoked cigarettes back then. Jim and Marty were smart enough to dabble and then quit. Jim runs marathons. Marty still plays hockey at a high level, hikes and cross-country skiis. They should, statistically, outlive me and Tim by a decade, but we’re all old enough to know that life is rife with broken plays and deflected pucks. We accept and are comfortable with each others’ life choices; no grade nine zits these days and no one’s ballooned into a waxen dough ball.

Indulge me as I flashback. Marty and I grew up together on the same odd side of the street in Montreal, Marty’s house number was 77, mine was 111. We walked to school together for years because back in kindergarten in 1965 or ’66 he decided that the two of us had no need to ride the yellow Uncle Harry’s bus, there was a shortcut through the alley. An early 80s memory: Marty meets me in Concordia University’s Sir George Williams campus pub. We have a beer and then find his parked used gold Malibu for the drive to the west end Loyola campus. We listen to Ian Hunter on the 8-track. We share a joint well above the speed limit. We go to our respective classes.

I cannot recall how Marty and I met Tim. If I had to guess a year, I’d say 1969. Probably shinny on the outdoor ice at Mohawk Park. Maybe organized atom football. Maybe at school. All of our parents knew of each other but they were not close friends. An early 80s memory: I turn up late at my studio cockroach apartment near the Montreal Forum. Jammed into the jamb is a portion of a cigarette package, a note scribbled on it. Tim is back a week early from his summer gig as the night manager of the Cascade Inn in Banff! Where was I and why wasn’t I in!? My friend has come home! I’m staggering over the moon. Jesus, you get nauseous at this height. Best to crash on the floor and avoid the bed spins.

Marty and I hooked up with Jim through Tim in high school, maybe 1974. We were so much older then. Jim’s basement walls were covered with very stark modern wallpaper. The patterns could be mutating distractions if you were high, playing Pong on the TV and trying to sing along to the Doobie Brothers. An early 80s memory: Jim and I looking out the front window of his duplex in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. We are hungover giddy. His coffee table is still sticky from the spilt Drambuie we licked off its surface the night before. Something new and weird called a floppy disk had made a poor coaster. Below us, out on the street, his orange Beetle is being harnessed to a tow truck, the wrecker’s yard looms. A lot of hazy memories tied up in that Volks. I ask him if we should play ‘Taps’ or something. For some reason he finds my question insanely witty.

Following the ceremony, the formalities and the small talk cocktail circuitry, the four of us gravitate toward one another as other guests line up for the roast beef buffet. Our chat is deep and meaningful. Someone we all know and who is not present has a batshit crazy spouse, and the Canadiens have a decent chance of going all the way this season; please, God, fix Carey Price’s mysterious lower body injury! I want to tell you that the Stones’ ‘Happy’ was playing, but that’s too perfect, too scripted. Tim senses the moment and the photo op. The iPhones come out. Jim press-gangs the official photographer. We put our arms around our each. ‘Brothers from different mothers,’ Tim said later. We’re smiling, all together again. We’re flash frozen. Another take, let’s do it again tonight, and maybe somewhere else again down the road.

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