We met in an open air market
Fully aware of the price
We did our waltzing on water
Until one blade cracked through the ice
Don’t try to save me I’m already saved
Just save yourself and move on
Walk into the wilderness
Give the world its song
That’s what she said to me, just before we left each other for good. I decided to follow her advice and walk into the wilderness to give the world its song. I sold my belongings and moved out of my Toronto abode and hit the road to reinvent myself as a troubadour: living anywhere and everywhere to feed my art and soul. My friends dubbed it ‘The Mid-Life Crazies Tour’. Apparently, they were spot on.
Wait…let me back it up.
We actually met in a Starbucks by random chance. Her mere presence was intriguing as she typed away on her small Apple laptop writing what appeared to be a short story. She argued that writing fiction was the best form of creative expression, while I held fast to songwriting as a more refined medium. This minutia became part of the attraction.
“Hi, my name is Jay. Nice to meet you.”
“Hi, I’m Sylvia. Nice to meet you too!”
“As in Sylvia Plath?”
“I love that you know her. “
“I do. Such a sad story.
“Would you care to join me?”
Three months later we found ourselves attending book readings and university lectures offered by little-known authors and dinner parties with literary wannabees of the time. She was a short story writer of some acclaim. When we met she’d just turned down an offer to teach at an Ivy League University. She claimed the pressure was too overwhelming and her sensitive nature was at odds with these expectations. She suffered for these expectations. My English Lit degree paled in comparison to the depth of field she was playing in. I assumed she loved me for my music. I’m still not sure if she loved me at all.
As time marched forward we eventually began meeting each other’s friends and families. One particular Friday night we were invited to a dinner party with a group of her friends. We arrived at the condo and were welcomed by six seemingly friendly artistic souls all clamoring to make us feel as welcomed as possible. The condo owner was obviously attracted to Sylvia. For some reason, he reminded me of the actor James Franco. (A poor man’s James Dean). It was the first shot across the bow. His intentional dismissal of me and prolonged fawning over Sylvia became more apparent as the night went on. “Let me take your coat, Sylvia. Can I offer you a glass of wine Sylvia? What have you been reading lately Sylvia?”
I hung up my coat and made my way over to the kitchen where I was met by a mysterious goth-inspired girl dressed in knee-high Doc Martins, a Black Flag t-shirt, oversized black horn-rimmed glasses surrounded by her straight banged black hair. She seemed strangely out of place with the others.
“Are those real Doc Martins? They look like the real deal?”
That was my ice-breaker? “They look like the real deal?” What a buffoon Aymar. Why do you bother?
Without batting an eyelash, she turned to her friend and muttered something dismissive under her breath. She exercised that casual dismissive motion that only the intellectual elite can pull off. It worked.
Feeling stranded and confused I spiraled into self-doubt and secretly wished we could leave this cubicle of pretention. I mentally retreated to a place where I was surrounded by my true friends. MY FRIENDS would hang would hang up a strangers coat I thought to myself. MY FRIENDS would never overtly come on to my girlfriend. MY FRIENDS would offer a new guest a drink. MY FRIENDS would not talk Baudelaire! Wait! What?
And there it was. I wandered out of the kitchen to find Sylvia and Franco sequestered on a love seat talking about the impact Charles Baudelaire on modern film. Now operating out of fear and contempt, I boldly interrupted this conversation with what little I knew of the French symbolist movement and quipped “He had a big impact on Jim Morrison!”
Franco glared at me with disdain, “Who did?”
“Baudelaire!” I responded with trepidation.
“Excuse me but we’re talking film. Not music. I understand music’s your passion?”
“Um…yes to a degree. I’ll let you two continue. My apologies.”
Again I was met with that casual dismissive motion that only the intellectual elite can pull off. Sylvia was oblivious. She smiled and asked “Can you open that bottle of Cabernet we brought? It really should breath before dinner.”
And with that one non-gesture of defending me in that situation, I realized that Sylvia was not the one for me. As the night wore on, I slowly retreated back into my own headspace watching as the proceedings rolled on like bad Cinema Verite. The talking heads were smiling and laughing but the stilted movements of the participants seem choreographed. I was disappointed with myself for going this far into a relationship that was so obviously detrimental to my psyche. My anger with the scene and myself became so visceral that I reached for the whiskey, poured a double and steadied myself for the dreaded dinner portion of the evening.
We assembled into the kitchen to help ourselves to the catered Thai food and eventually made our way over to the dinner table. As I poured Sylvia and myself a glass of wine, our cordial host Franco decided to shape the topic of the dinner table discussion.
“I personally love round tables! A round table suggests egalitarian principles. Dining should be enjoyed equally by all at the table regardless of station.“
I could only once again retreat into my childhood happy place of Sunday dinners where my siblings and I sat a rectangular table, headed by my parents, where the pecking order was firmly entrenched. The best of our rectangular table conversations were the intentional breaking of formalities. My father would occasionally bang his fork on the side of his plate to establish order in the court, but when he spoke, it was never something as absurd as to extolling the benefits of a round table. Interruptions and sidebars were encouraged. You had to be lightning fast to get your point across. Comedy and cynicism worked brilliantly. Often it was the quiet ones of the brood who would say only one sentence yet that sentence would resonate like the wisdom of the Dali Lama for days. So when this pretentious hipster-wannabee banged his gavel and invented this lame topic of discussion, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for a long night. I was now watching Fellini’s 8 ½ and Franco had morphed into one of his clowns in a dream sequence. I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I violently downed my glass of wine then went back into the kitchen and poured myself a double whiskey. I returned for my grand entrance ready for some fun.
“Yes. I completely agree. A round table DOES represent an egalitarian position. Why should we have heads of tables? Why have heads of state? Are we not all meant to live free of these man-made constructs? If you think about it, anarchy really is the only solution!”
While these disingenuous words were leaving my lips, the goth girl who’d been seated beside me suddenly motioned toward me and smiled. Then if that wasn’t fucked up enough, I felt her hand slowly rubbing my lap beneath the table. I quickly stood up to pour myself another stiff one in the kitchen, but this time the previous few drinks had kicked in and as per usual I stumbled toward the wall. Memories of the Italian dinner party surfaced “Look at the mangiacake. He had too much of the vino!”
I made my way to the bathroom to reconnoiter. I gave myself the inevitable 30-second self-absorbed mirror stare down. “Look at you man. What have you become? Why are you attracted to Sylvia? What do you believe in?
I marched back to the table with a new found attitude. Upon returning to my chair I gave Sylvia a kiss on the cheek, establishing to both goth girl and Franco that both she and I were unattainable.
Then I went into great detail about the alternate benefits of a rectangular table.
“You see when I was a young kid in Sault Ste. Marie, I had this neighbour named Cyril. Every Sunday he’d come over with a new toy…”
And after five solid minutes of intentionally sucking the oxygen out of the room, I finished with “and that’s why I still dig rectangular tables.”
Franco was in full panic mode. He’d likely never seen a plain-spoken everyman in the flesh before.
He then did what all pseudo-intellectual douche bags do in these situations. “I’d like to propose a toast. I’d like to congratulate Slyvia for having her recent short story published in The Walrus. A brilliant story if there ever was one.”
And with that, he walked over to give her a hug and a kiss.
I turned to the goth girl beside me and murmured under my breath “It wasn’t her best work.”
Climbing Kilimanjaro is likely an easier task than making a goth girl smile, so with that victory, I filled her glass the remaining Cabernet and proceeded to check out of the conversation for good.
On the way home that night, Sylvia seemed oblivious to all that had gone on. She was proud of her little group of the intelligentsia. It was depressing. I was once again, disappointed with myself for allowing my loneliness to cloud my judgment in finding a suitable girl for me.
“Don’t forget, tomorrow we go to my parents’ place for their annual dinner party. Wear something nice.”
Where had I heard that one before? How could I go through with meeting the Fockers? I was already long gone in my mind. Perhaps this last Franco ordeal was just one bad night? Maybe I could find one last ray of hope through meeting her family?”
Her father was a doctor and her mother an accountant for the family practice. They lived in a starched white neighbourhood surrounded by golf courses and BMW’s. Her siblings were cut from the pages of a Nautica catalogue and their gentrified existence fit perfectly into the beige nouveau riche area of the city. The house sat perched over an English garden designed to appear wild in all of its perfectly manicured beauty. Luxury cars crowded the street and the driveway on our way up to the house.
Upon entering, we were greeted by the son of one of the guests who happened to be the president of a large investment bank. I’d noticed him looking through the curtains as we arrived and he’d obviously made a quick motion to the door to meet Sylvia.
“Hi Sylvia. I haven’t seen you since last year at the TSO? How have you been?”
Sylvia, now cognizant of my feelings from the previous the evenings’ events, quickly introduced me as her boyfriend, which quickly deflated Chad’s overpriced Pirelli tires.
“Oh I didn’t know you had a boyfriend?”
“Hi I’m Chad. We’re long-time friends of the family. How did you and Slyvia meet?”
“Oh randomly at a Starbucks,“ I responded.
“That’s amazing. I’ve loved this girl for years and you just swept her off of her feet at a Starbucks. You must have something I don’t!”
And with a patronizing pat on my back, he disappeared.
I whispered into her ear “Yeah, manners.”
She looked flummoxed. This was going to be another long night.
As I made my way into the house, Syvlia vanished to her old bedroom for a few minutes while her father fast approached.
“Welcome Jay. I sure hope you’re hungry? We have a great Thai chef on hand tonight who’s made enough for an army. Can I interest you in a drink?”
With that, I followed him down the hallway and into the dining room and there it was in all of its glory. A dining room table fit for royalty. Made of marble, it stretched out at least sixty feet and sat fifteen chairs on each side with two larger backed armchairs at either end for King Henry and Anne Boleyn respectively. (In that moment I was envious of her fate).
“Wow, that’s quite the table.”
“Yes, it sure is. I’ve always believed that a table should represent the household in which it sits.”
“I couldn’t agree more!”
I didn’t see Sylvia too much after that. I later discovered she had married for a while and now has two children. She never taught at Princeton. She never pursued her writing. We left on good terms.
I ran into her one night while finishing a show at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.
“Sylvia, I wrote a song about us called ‘ This Town Ain’t Big Enough’. It’s a duet. I hope you hear it someday.”
She did hear it. Then wrote me a nice letter to confess the one beautiful thing I had given her.
“You’re the only man I’ve ever met who disdained dinner parties. I laugh at that now. I look back and realize what you gave me. The freedom to dine alone in bed.”
I’ll take it.