Goodbye - Kamloops 2006
(previously published in West Coast Line, sometime in the not so distant past)
When I go away for the weekend I say goodbye to all of my possessions. This past weekend the first thing I remember saying goodbye to was my Tinkerbell beach towel hanging in the bathroom. I bought it at the Disney Store in the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto last summer. I have an apartment very close to the Centre and sometimes, when I am feeling weary and disillusioned and I need a quick fix, I wander over to the Disney Store and just gaze at all of the animated characters. They comfort me.
A friend once said, “one of the nicest things about being a gay man is that you can buy things for yourself that were meant for teenage girls.”
Filled with so much uncomplicated life and colour, my favorite Disney characters are Tinkerbell and Pluto. I had a Tinkerbell china figurine for a few years but it was broken during a move. Her wings fell off. Years ago that sort of thing would have bothered me a great deal. My grandmother once sat and wept as she glued a broken lamp back together. I have inherited my strange love for objects from her.
I still have my apartment near the Disney Store but I've sublet. Now I live in the interior of B.C. now have moved so many times over the years that I am used to material and emotional loss and even welcome it on occasion. It can be cathartic. Like a good laxative.
I gave Tink a lovely burial and now I am fortunate to have her in unbreakable beach towel form adding life and colour to my bathroom and giving me great comfort every time I step out of the shower to greet a new day.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wander around the house an hour before departing saying goodbye to each and every possession I own. I make a general farewell to each room and its contents, and if an individual item takes my eye I look at it, smile, and say, “Goodbye sweetheart. See you soon.”
I never say goodbye to the things I store in the basement. Unless I am doing a laundry and am down there just before the airport shuttle arrives. I do have a child mannequin standing on a work table beside the washer and dryer that I used in one of my performances. I never say goodbye to the mannequin, but I often wish her love and worry about her future in such a troubled world and re-assure her silently, in my heart, that we will be on stage together again one day soon.
Her name is Trouble and she plays the son of Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton in my one-man comic response to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Pinkerton is played by a seven foot fluorescent skeleton that I bought in a Shopper’s Drug Mart at Halloween in Vancouver a year ago. He has been broken into many pieces from being moved across the country so many times. I store him in a bicycle box. I have no recollection of ever having felt the need to say goodbye to him.
Some people find all of this very odd.
Someone asked me recently, during a dinner party, what I had been traumatized by as a child, and why I insisted upon reiterating it in dark comic form in my work, and why I wasn’t over it even in middle age. I looked at them, remaining calm and sipping from a large glass of imported ice wine I had bought at the airport, duty free. I said, quite dryly, “I think it’s fair to say that people who embark upon – as teenagers - a thirteen year affair with their mother’s brother-in-law do not always come out of it refreshed and ready to party.”
And then I lifted my glass and pledged a toast. “Here’s to trauma. A loyal muse and a constant friend.”
How all of this relates to saying goodbye to inanimate objects before going away for the weekend may not be immediately obvious, but I think it will begin to come clear over the course of the next few pages. And if at this point you are feeling a little disturbed, bored, and unwilling to accompany me on the rest of my journey then just close your eyes and think of Minnie Mouse. She is also one of my favorites and I think that if you give her a chance she may be able to comfort you as well.
When my mother and I went to Disney World in Orlando in 1977, just a few months after my father was killed in a dreadful car accident, I bought two lovely china figurines of Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse snow skiing. The tip of one of their ski poles broke during a move but I glued it back on and still have them. When Tinkerbell lost her wings in a terrible crash the idea of gluing them back on seemed like such a sad, queer cliche, so I just wrapped her in tissue, sang her a farewell ditty, and tossed her into the garbage chute in my apartment corridor. Like material and emotional loss, I also find garbage chutes very cathartic – much more satisfying than lugging throwaways to a yard sale or crunching them into garbage bags and carting them out to the end of the driveway for pickup. But I am grateful to have saved Minnie and Mickey from the tempting clutch of my own form of middle class catharsis. The break in the tiny ski pole occurred near a join at the wrist of one of their china mittens so you can barely see the fault line, and they just look so sweet in their matching red and powder blue outfits and their precious little skis and toques and boots.
I gave M. & M. to my niece when she was a baby but took them back when she was transferred, at age five, from her family home in Calgary to a nearby group home for severely mentally and physically challenged children. She is 28 now and has never really functioned in any way that any of us who love her can identify as something we feel is cognizant of the things that surround her. At twenty-three they expected her to go blind. I haven’t had the heart to ask if that has happened, and given her circumstances, I am not certain that the knowledge is something I need to possess. I see her once a year when I am in Calgary and I bring her fancy discount t-shirts and chat away to her in the only way I know how – incessantly.
I am trying to be politically correct as I describe the mental and physical state of my niece. Her name is Amy and I hope that I haven’t failed her. I did replace the Disney figurines with a lovely little teddy bear dressed in a miniature white lace frock with powder blue ribbon trimming the hem. I sewed it myself and always feel such love whenever I visit Amy and see that little bear at her bedside.
I have just had an epiphany about Minnie and Mickey skiing as I write this. The car accident that took my father’s life occurred on an icy road on the way home from skiing at a small resort by the name of Devil’s Elbow near Peterborough Ontario – my birthplace and home for the first 20 years of my life. There seems to have been some concern over the years that my father may have been drinking before he left to pick me up at the resort. The car accident was 29 years ago and only now does it occur to me that subconsciously I must have been searching all over Disney World for a comforting memory of skiing in order to cushion the traumatic blow of having lost my father at twenty years of age after a pleasant day participating in a much loved winter sport. The possibility that he may have been drinking was only brought to my attention 12 years after the crash. I recently called a cousin whose son was in the car with us and suffered a minor eye injury. His vision wasn't affected. She said she would have smelled liquor on my father’s breath in intensive care had he been intoxicated, and she added that she had always thought he was a very sweet man. As I approach fifty, and frequently experience mild emotional trauma regarding past tragedies, I find the memories and perceptions of others somewhat comforting.
I have had people express to me, in no uncertain terms, that they feel it was wrong of me to take back the gift I had given my niece. Some of them have even called me an ‘Indian Giver.’ Not only do I find their remark racist, I also feel that it is insensitive and unkind under the circumstances. My brother once called me an ‘Indian Giver’ when I asked him if I could have some of the LPs back that I had given him a few years before. One of them included a recording by Canadian sixties heartthrob Bobby Curtola singing a song entitled Indian Giver.
When I confronted my brother on the racist nature of his remark he responded by saying, “Well, you know, they’re sneaky. Like in those old movies when they head the cowboys off at the pass. They sneak up on you and kill you, or steal things from you. Like your cows or your horses or your women.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my brother and these were not his exact words, but I think that dialogue looks very nice in a story when it is italicized and set apart from the more dense descriptive narrative sections. So I made it up, according to how I remember it, but what you see above is basically what he said. And despite claims made in a popular song lyric from a hit Streisand film, memories may very well light the corners of my mind, but they are dark corners, and it is difficult to see everything clearly. ‘The way we were’ and ‘the way we remember’ the past depends upon so many complex emotional strategies. There are times when I prefer to forget.
I didn’t think to point out to my brother at the time that stealing things from people, in the context of a global colonialist enterprise where whole nations have been bickering and stealing and murdering amongst themselves for centuries, and that North America has come out on top over the past few hundred years, so it really isn’t a good time historically to start talking about aboriginal peoples being sneaky and always taking things back. For the love of Christ, whenever I go skiing at Sun Peaks (or shopping in Manhattan for that matter) I am just heartsick about the ways in which we white people have treated native peoples in the past present and future. And I cannot for the life of me reconcile my immense desire to see a Broadway show, or to find comfort in skiing, with the fact that Sun Peaks – the second largest ski resort in Canada after Whistler - is on native soil and that snow skiing is environmentally damaging.
But how, you might ask, did I get from saying a simple farewell to material possessions, to a tirade on colonialist enterprise and the genocidal/environmental implications of mountain resorts and downhill skiing? I have no easy answers, but I do know how to find temporary comfort in a permanently uncomfortable world.
When I said goodbye to Tinkerbell today before taking the shuttle to a small airport just outside of Kamloops British Columbia I made sure that she was folded over the towel rack so that her face and eyes were looking directly toward the lovely yellow and blue stained glass window beside the bathtub. When I shower I make sure to pull down the plastic blind in order to protect the stained glass from a constant barrage of water that occurs every time someone decides to bathe standing up. But it seems such a shame to deprive myself of such beauty while I am showering – the sunlight sifting through the panes of coloured glass and darting in and out of little folds in the glistening mildewed shower curtain (I must wash it soon).
Pulling down the bathroom blind and denying ourselves a daily play of light and colour while showering – a kind of impressionist hygiene - can be counted as one of the more superficial pleasures we must give up for the sake of a greater good.
The sunlight in Kamloops is so bright and startling that it makes me wonder what impressionism would have looked like had it been invented by Midwestern cowboys. I have only been in Kamloops a month and have already fallen in love with the landscape and the desert valley light. I find myself writing emails to friends saying that living here is like being trapped in a perfect picture postcard awaiting airmail stamps that will set me free from this earthly paradise. But for the time being I am very happy here with the few possessions I have brought along on yet another move to another province and another adventure. I could stay here forever, admiring the gorgeous low lying brown mountains, sparsely covered with evergreens and loaded with sage and tumbleweeds. But forever doesn't seem like a very long time when you're middle aged.
Tumbleweeds are my favorite thing about Kamloops. They remind me of faintly despairing scenes in films set in the American Midwest where whole families are ripped apart by poverty and domestic strife and forced to flee from one another in used cars or greyhounds bound for some unappealing destination. These scenarios remind me of all the things I should have done in my life but never seemed to get around to.
I come from a working class background and I thank God for white trash every day when I am reminded of how unfeeling and filled with upper middle class rage some wealthy people can be. Wealth is of course a relative term – my immediate family was poor but our relatives were rich.
I love to dine with rich people but sometimes find their conversations alienating. I don’t mean to privilege my associations with the poor. I only want to give them their fair share.
If I ever have to say goodbye to Kamloops for a very long time – possibly forever - I think that I will visit the spots I love best and perform small farewell ceremonies in the nude with tumbleweeds attached to my limbs in an artistic fashion. I will walk to the top of small mountains in high heeled shoes (they make my legs look just wonderful), followed by a diligent and admiring videographer – past the great Canadian superstore and the Husky gasoline depot - and all of the restaurants advertising multi-cultural lunch specials complete with a panoramic view of this spectacular part of the world.
And when I get to the top of the mountain I will remember that I am only one person saying goodbye – a single glamour mongering entity that has failed the people and the land in so many small ways in a single lifetime.
Tears will stain my cheeks and I will yodel badly and gesticulate wildly and make all sorts of impossible promises to the passing wind.
I will pay ambivalent homage to a dead uncle who performed inappropriate acts through the gaze of a distorted form of love at a time when I should have been allowed to find love elsewhere but needed desperately to find it somewhere - anywhere.
I will pledge allegiance to a form of materialism that never takes itself too seriously but always pays respect to a few ritualistic objects that comprise the ceremonial traditions of late capitalism.
And then I will think of Tinkerbell gazing mindlessly into the stained glass and I will call the airport shuttle and I will flyaway.
 Manhattan is a whole other story that needs more scope in order to include further details. Look them up yourself!
 So many people that I have met never think to wash their shower curtain. It is beyond me. Just throw them into the washer, preferably at the bottom because they tend to hold water, and they come out fresh and sparkling, no greasy mildew. Remember to never put them in a dryer. Just re-hang them wet.
 Riverside Park, the abandoned asylum by the lake, Value Village, The Desert City Casino, Players Sports Bar, the wide sunlit beaches along the Thompson Rivers, Walmart