Thursday, January 17, 2008

I remember a crazy motorbike ride....

Actually, I remember more than one. But this one happens in San Francisco, which makes it cooler!

It was time for a trip. I wanted to go to Europe, but I had blown all my money on French fashion magazines and extravagant parties, so I settled for buying a Greyhound bus ticket and heading south to San Francisco. My friend, I'll call her Shavonne, had invited me to come stay with her for a few weeks, said she'd show me the town.

It's a long, slow ride from Vancouver to San Francisco on a bus, but I'm good on buses. I had great chats with my seat mate, I made friends with the driver, I tried to do yo-yo tricks at every chance to stretch our legs....I was on an adventure! Oh boy!

Shavonne picked me up from the bus depot and we headed straight out to party. I don't remember what bar we went to, but we drank and drank well into the night. We met some of her friends there. One tall, black, and handsome friend started talking about his sportbike. "Oh, I love motorbikes!"

"I drive fast."

"Oh, I love to go fast!!" The ploddingly slow bus trip was mere hours behind me. The thought of speeding on a race bike sounded great!

Before I knew what was happening, I was on the back of this handsome stranger's bike. I remember having a fleeting thought that maybe we shouldn't be going so fast after drinking for such a long time, but the force of the wind as he accelerated blew it out of my mind.

It was late, so there wasn't much traffic...and that was a good thing, because he didn't stop. For anything. Not for red lights, not for other vehicles, not for pedestrians...nothing! He just drove like James Bond was chasing us, and I held on like a beautiful young spy.

I was not afraid. I was exhilarated. He was a very good driver, and there wasn't a scratch on the bike, so I knew he wasn't going to dump us as he leaned us into corner after corner. We finally arrived at his place to meet up with Shavonne and the others. I was in San Francisco! I had just gone on the fastest ride of my life in the middle of the city!! I hadn't even unpacked yet!!! I was on an adventure, oh boy!

I look back on this story, and I am amazed at the stupid risks I was so willing to take. I didn't want to die, I wasn't suicidal...but this wasn't the first time I happily put my life so completely into someone else's hands. The trust involved is staggering. Did I really think I was invincible, or did I still, deep down, believe that there was a God that loved me?

Friday, November 09, 2007

I remember keeping a promise, even though I wanted to break it...

One of the weirder jobs I ever had was co-host of a short-lived TV show here in Canada. It was called "Pilot 1", aimed at teens. We would film once a week in front of a live audience, and after the third week, we began to recognize many of the kids. We had regulars! It was a lot of fun, a live band once a week, skits, information pieces...a magazine-type show.

The thing is, the show only ran for 8 weeks. Toronto pulled the plug on the Vancouver-filmed show before we even got one season under our belts. That's life with the CBC.

Anyway, one of the boys had asked me on the last day of filming for my number. He was 14. I was impressed with his bravery, so I gave it to him. A little while later, I got a call. "Paula, would you like to get together and reminisce about the show?" How cute. I told him sure, and made plans to meet him in a public place in North Vancouver where he lived.

A few days later I got a phone call from my friend, Dennis. "Hey, Paula, the band is playing a gig in North Vancouver, right outside at the Lonsdale Quay. Come support us! You are our best fan!" It was the same day that I was meeting the kid. Rats and phooey. "I can't come, Dennis. I' a date." A date with a kid, why should I bother keeping it, why can't I do what would be way more fun?

What ended up happening was obvious, looking back on the situation. I did both. After meeting the kid at the bus stop in North Van, I suggested we go sit in the sunshine and listen to the Jazzmanian Devils at the Quay. He thought that was an awesome idea. I kept my promise and got to do the fun thing, too! We danced on the deck and had a great time. I remember at one point the band was singing "I Want You to Be My Baby", and every time they would get to that line, they'd all shout my name in unison. It was so funny, and really impressed my date.

I'll bet he remembers that afternoon, too, wherever he is now.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I remember impressing boys in Junior High...

Most of my junior high years were spent hiding from boys. They either didn't notice me, or did and abused me. I found it was best to try and stay invisible, unnoticed.

But I had one talent that could not go unnoticed or unappreciated. My tongue was (and still is) as long and beautiful as Gene Simmons', and in 1978, that was saying something. Do you remember the rumor about Gene Simmons' tongue? In our school, we heard that his tongue was so long because he had a pig's tongue surgically implanted in his mouth. I was living proof of the error in that rumor.

I'd be at my locker, and some boy would come up to me and say, "Uh, I heard that you can do that Gene Simmons thing with your tongue." I'd unfurl my tongue in the appropriate shape, and the boy would get a look on his face of wonder and amazement. "Wow. Cool." The boy would walk away, and for that moment, I'd feel proud of myself.

I had so much more to offer than my long rock-and-roll tongue. None of those boys in junior high ever found that out. Their loss.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I remember a strange moving day....

I had been living in a bachelor apartment in the West End of Vancouver. It had been a great place to live, with a friend next door and a swimming pool in the basement, but all of a sudden it was costing too much. I had lost my job and had no money. My friend, Jezebel (remember her from this post?) said I could move in with her. Great!! I would save a bunch of money and move in with a white-skinned bat-cave chick, upping my "cool" rating considerably.

I didn't have much stuff. My apartment had been almost empty, with my clothes in little piles along one wall, my stereo in the living room with my records leaning against it, and the couch that I slept on. That was about it, except for the retro dining table and chairs I had bought at a second-hand store. I decided to nab a shopping cart and load all my earthly belongings into it. Everything fit, except the couch, the table, and chairs. I decided to leave them behind--life was transitory, right?

I pushed the shopping cart into the elevator and rode the six floors down to the main floor. I felt kind of guilty about leaving without giving notice, but figured the table and chairs were a good peace offering to the sweet old landlady.

It was a short six or seven blocks to my new apartment. The shopping cart rattled loudly in the evening darkness. I couldn't help but wonder how far removed was I from the bag lady I appeared to be at that moment? No money coming in, all my possessions in one shopping was a disturbing thought, no matter how far up the "cool" rating I was moving.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I remember being seriously freaked out, and liking it...

I had a rare evening alone. My roommates, Don and Irwin, were both out and I had our place all to myself. I had just purchased a new "Tales from the Crypt" was a compilation with a whole bunch of old issues all in one edition, and I couldn't wait to read it. I took a bunch of beer upstairs, I rolled myself a few joints, and sat down in my room. It was too bright to read spooky comics! I lit some candles and turned out the overhead light...perfect.

I sat in the dim darkness and read creepy comics for a long time, a few hours at least. I finally finished the last story and put the book down. It was so dark! There were shadows in places I didn't even know my room had! It was so quiet!! I hugged my knees to my chest, freaked out good and proper. After a few moments of that, I had to laugh at myself: a young woman, not some silly teenager, full of fear after reading a comic book. It made me happy to realize I had enough imagination left to still get spooked. I cracked another beer and began to read the comic all over again, start to finish. I stayed up until at least 4 AM, relishing the delicious shivers of fear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I remember trying on gloves....

I have a 13 year old daughter, and she is often looking at some new shirt I have and saying "No fair, how come you get all the cool clothes?" and we end up sharing sometimes. I start with this to contrast it with my mother's clothes. Never once in my childhood or teenage years did the thought of wanting to wear my mother's clothing ever occur to me. Her clothing was UGLY, all polyester and fortrel, just awful!!!

Except for the gloves. My mother had a box on the top shelf of her closet, and if my younger sister and I asked nicely, we could take it down. It was full of gloves. There were little white gloves with lace around the wrist. There were long black gloves that pulled up to our armpits. There were orange gloves, green many gloves! We had never seen Mom wear these, but we knew that sometime in her past, she must have. This made her mysterious to us, because she didn't seem like the type of woman to wear something as fancy as gloves.

We'd put on the gloves, tie a scarf in our hair, and pretend we were rich. I'd put on the sparkly silver gloves, find some sunglasses, and pretend I was a movie star. Pam would put on the long black gloves and pretend to be a grieving widow....we would take them on and off for hours, pulling them off with our teeth like some vamp in an old movie.

I don't know where the outfits went that matched all of those glamorous gloves. I'll bet they weren't ugly. I'll bet I would have wanted to borrow them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I remember being unable to look away...

One of my special treats is taking myself out for lunch. I love eating by myself. I bring a book, I bring my journal, I watch people. This is one of my favorite things to do.

One day I was at a little cafe that used to be above Scratch Records in Vancouver. I was seated in the window with a great view of the street below and the Cambie Hotel right across from me. I was drinking my coffee after my lunch, watching the people walk by, more interesting than waves on the beach. Because of the area, the mix of people was wonderfully strange, business men in expensive suits, drunks, punks...quite a mix of society ebbing and flowing past me.

I leaned back in my chair, and my eye was caught by what was happening in the top window of one room in the Cambie. There were two old looking men with greasy grey hair sitting at a rickety table right in the window. The one man rolled up his sleeve, nice and neat, way above his elbow. As he picked up a rubber tube and began tying it around his arm, the other man lit a match and held it to a spoon.

They were preparing to shoot heroin, right in plain view of me at my shiny table in the neat cafe with a third cup of strong coffee. There was nothing to do but watch or look away, and I found I could not look away. They both injected the drug, then sat at the table nodding. I watched for a long time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I remember wondering if the smiles were real....

When I was 11, we went on a family vacation to Disneyland. All six of us piled in the car and we pulled the trailer all the way from Alberta. It was a grand trip, with lots of laughing and singing and goofing around. My older sisters were 21 and 19, so this was probably the last time all of us would spend a vacation together, and we all knew this, so we were milking it for all it was worth.

Disneyland was like an impossible dream come true. We were not a rich family, so my younger sister and I would have never pestered our parents to take us there. I remember the line-ups, I remember the heat, but it didn't matter...we were in the Magical Kingdom!

One thing struck me, though. All the people that worked there, they all had smiles plastered to their faces. The pimply teenager sweeping the grounds, the old lady in the gift shop, the man helping us climb into Captain Hook's ship...everyone in uniform had a big smile on their face. I found it eerie. I may have been 11, but I knew that nobody smiles all the time. I made a mental note to never apply for a job at Disneyland.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I remember the rain falling sideways....

Travel back with me to Nebraska, 1985. I am selling books. It is Sunday, the one day of the week where we don't have to knock on doors from 7:59 AM until 9:30 PM. It is the day where we meet at the local hotel for our business meeting, which lasts for hours.

We arrive in the parking lot, none of us too anxious to rush inside. It is hot, hotter than usual, and the air is completely still. We all notice it. "Glad I'm not knockin' on doors today!" We are herded inside to one of the windowless banquet rooms for the meeting, leaving the opressive stillness behind.

I don't know how long into the meeting we are, but sometime after the motivational songs are over and sometime before the weekly testimonials, there is a frantic knock at the door. It is a worried looking hotel employee. "Uh, everyone, there is some extreme weather outside, tornadoes or something, and everyone in the hotel has to move to a safer place NOW."

Tornado? I know where they'll lead us, I've read Little House on the Prairie, I've read Wizard of Oz, and I know we'll be taken to the basement where we'll be safe as the winds do their worst. "Which way to the basement?" we ask cheerily. We are booksellers, prepared for anything. We'll probably spend our time in the basement telling jokes and singing songs.

"This hotel doesn't have a basement."

I look to my right as this statement sinks into my mind for a glimpse out of the hotel doors. The first thing I see is rain, rain shooting by like bullets in completely horizontal lines. Then I notice the cars parked by the curb...the wind is scooting them, lifting them a little, then dropping them a few inches farther down the pavement, hop-hop-hop. The sideways rain is whipping by so thickly that I cannot see past the hopping cars. It is a sobering sight.

We are led, along with everyone else in the hotel, into the innermost hallway. This is apparently the most structurally sound part of the building, but none of us are convinced as we listen to the wind howling and raging outside. There are no jokes, and none of us sing. We all feel very small and powerless, and sit with our backs against the hallway wall, hugging our knees in silence.


I don't remember how long we sat there. Apparently there were five or six tornadoes fighting it out in the air, though none of them actually touched down. When the storm was over, everyone ran outside to survey the damage, which was amazing and extensive. All the proud American flags were hanging in shreds and tatters. The giant MacDonald's sign had been torn free from its thick metal post; we found shards of the yellow and red plastic embedded in car tires, having sliced through the rubber like razors; one of the inch-thick iron bolts that had held the sign up was bent in half like a noodle and thrust through the center of a car's windshield. We ran to and fro in the parking lot marveling at the destructive power of mere air.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I remember a nice woman on a rainy day...

During the summer of 1985, I sold books door-to-door with the Southwestern Book Company. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead of a boring summer job selling hamburgers or something, I would travel to Nashville for sales school, then they would send our team to some undetermined territory in the USA to sell books all summer. I had never been to Nashville! The adventure of the job grabbed my imagination.

The reality of the job was somewhat different. All I saw of Nashville was the inside of the sales school. Our "undetermined territory" was Nebraska, not at all as romantic as I was hoping. And our schedule...we would start knocking on doors at 7:59 AM, and we wouldn't stop knocking on doors until 9:30 PM, six days a week. On the seventh day God rested, but we had a sales meeting. This grueling schedule was exhausting and monotonous. Our bodies did as our brains told them, but they revolted in any way they could...none of us girls on the team menstruated all summer long. There was no energy to spare.

On one horrible day that will forever remain branded in my memory, the rain poured down in sheets. I kept walking from door to door, knocking like an automaton, droning in a monotone: "Hello, I'm talking to all the folks in the neighborhood with school-age kids, showing them these educational tools..." I was soaking wet, from my head to my book bag to my squishy shoes. Nobody let me in. Nobody. I just kept walking and knocking, walking and knocking for hours in the rain.

It was about four in the afternoon. I had been fruitlessly knocking for eight hours. I knocked on the door in front of me. A woman with a round face and square glasses answered the door. Before I could even begin droning my introduction, she began talking with exclamation marks. "I don't know what you are selling, but you look like a drowned rat! Get in here and dry off!!" and she swept me into her entry way, had me in a fluffy bathrobe with my clothes in the dryer and a mug of hot chocolate in my hand before I even realized what was happening.

Her home was decorated in dark wood and leather, and there was a massive cage in the living room with two very colorful macaws. "My husband is away on a photo safari in Africa, so I'm tending the fort right now!" There were tribal masks on the wall, trinkets from all over the world sitting on shelves and coffee tables. "We don't have any children, but these dumb birds keep me from getting lonely!" she beamed with obvious good nature. "So, show me what you are selling!"

It was the last thing I wanted to do. She was so nice, and I did not want to hit her with the sales pitch, which seemed so fake and rehearsed to me. I just wanted to talk. "I can show you the books, but they are for people with kids, so I don't think you'll want them."

"Show me anyway! You can practice your sales talk!"

I went through the sales presentation, feeling kind of silly as I sat there in her bathrobe. When I was done, she said, "Well, I'll take four sets of the Volume Library, and I need six sets of those Learning to Read books, and you might as well throw in a few of those cookbooks, too!"

My jaw dropped. I mean it. My mouth hung open in utter shock. "Really?" I squeaked.

"Yeah! I have batches of nieces and nephews, and they all have birthdays, and these books look good! Write it up!"

I had to borrow a calculator. I had never made such a big sale. I hadn't even sold that much in a week before, and here I was making the sale in one rainy afternoon.

Once my clothes were dry, I put them back on and headed back out into the rainy day, but it didn't matter anymore. The rain didn't affect me! I had just experienced a true miracle, and I knew it. I kept knocking on doors until 9:30 that night, knocking in the rain, thanking God for that nice lady who talked in exclamation marks and had such a big heart.