Ain’t Youth Grand?

It’s a humid evening in June of 2001, when I, and my friend, Jayne, join the throngs of parents taking their children to the big NSync concert at Skydome in downtown Toronto. Our teen daughters, best friends, generate enough electricity between them to power ten city blocks of concert halls.

My own enthusiasm pales in comparison since, elected to be the evening’s chauffeur, I dread the thought of battling freeway congestion after an already long day fighting deadlines at work. I also feel rather petulant at the thought of having to fork over a sinful amount of cash for a parking spot that will no doubt still be a long hike away from our final destination.

Since the plan is to deliver the girls to their gate at Skydome and then meet up with them after the concert at a pre-selected spot outside the gate, I also wonder how Jayne and I are going to kill the next four hours without having to spend a week’s pay on designer coffees (or something stronger) in exchange for an air-conditioned place to rest our laurels.

Imagine our relief when we discover that Skydome’s Windows Restaurant has been converted into a “Parents’ Lounge” for the evening, complete with loads of couches and club chairs, a large-screen television playing music videos at one end, and overhead monitors at the other end broadcasting a variety of sporting events. It’s spacious yet cozy enough to allow tired moms and dads to deflate for the next couple of hours.

The relieved facial expressions around the room tell me that I’m not the only one here who is über-grateful. To boot, there is a refreshment station set up with an unlimited flow of complimentary coffee! Suddenly, life is just one big ol’ box of chocolates (Hershey’s rather than Lindt, mind you—but plenty good enough).

The boom-boom-booming bass vibrations that pound from the stage area beside us, and the eardrum-shattering screams of thousands of teenaged girls (proof that our kids are at least getting our money’s worth) is a small price to pay for the luxury of having a relatively comfortable place of our own to inhabit.

Of course, the stage itself is obscured from our view with a number of strategically placed tarpaulins. I suppose this is only fair, since the ninety-buck admission we were forced to pay for our kids did not extend to the ones who actually toiled for it, so I suppose it’s understandable that we should be banned from goggling at the mighty NSync through a wall of warped Plexiglas.

Securing a spot at a table that overlooks the equipment area behind the stage, Jayne and I pass the time watching a parade of roadies scuttling back and forth, back and forth. I’m aware that roadies travel and work with the band, but I’m still not sure what it is that they do exactly. For four hours, we entertain ourselves watching them pace from one corner to another. And here I thought that politicians were the only ones who’d mastered the art of appearing to do something while doing a whole lot of nothing.

I am also now convinced that roadies are mass-produced from one original roadie-mould. No matter what era we’re in, roadies never, ever change. And I mean that literally.

I think that the roadies working for NSync were somehow teleported into the present day straight from a 1970s Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin/whatever concert. They all look identical: long hair, either big and bushy or straight and stringy; stubbled chins or unkempt beards; scruffy denim jeans tight enough to emphasize the roach-clips in their pockets; sweat-stained tee shirts emblazoned with either obscenities or dumb platitudes; and frozen grins that say, “We’re cool ‘cause we’re with the band…and you’re not.”

The high point of Jayne’s and my evening arrives not a moment too soon. The tarpaulins block the front of the stage, but not the back. Our eyebrows rise at the sight of three members of NSync racing offstage and down a backstage ramp between sets! As they bound into view, roadies scatter like bowling pins and hover around the sidelines like seagulls circling a pack of French fries. The boys in the band huddle behind a stack of equipment, attempting to perform a lightning-quick costume change. I know it’s “them”— the flash and glimmer of their elaborate costumes draws our attention like lips to chocolate.

Later, Jayne and I brag to our daughters about the fact that we got to see NSync “take it all off” backstage (nah nah nah nah nah). The girls respond with “you-are-soooooo-pathetic” eye rolls, until I offer up a detailed description of the costumes we saw. There is a wide-eyed moment of silence, followed by screams. Lots of screams.

Basking in my newly acquired limelight, I proceed to boast that, although my view was somewhat obstructed, I had actually glimpsed the tighty whities of one of the four high-priced bottoms as it struggled into a very snug pair of jeans. The face hadn’t been visible, but I’d had the pleasure of observing some real-live NSync butt! This revelation elevates me to about as close as I’ll ever get to achieving celebrity status in the eyes of my daughter and her friend.

By ten-forty-five, you would be able to hear a pin drop in the lounge, if it weren’t for the continuous boom-boom-boom-screeeeeaaaaaam-boom-boom-boom-screeeeeaaaaaam. Parents from wall to wall are slumped in their chairs, limp as overcooked noodles, chins propped up on knuckles, eyes half shut. We are all beyond fatigued.

Suddenly, without warning, an explosion of sonic magnitude rocks the lounge. As my daughter later explained, “…they do the most awesome fireworks displays.” Awesome, indeed. It is quite a sight to see 300-odd exhausted men and women awaken instantly. Jayne and I come this close to experiencing the first of many teen-induced myocardial infarctions (I’ve learned a lot from watching Grey’s Anatomy). I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ambulance attendants flooding the place with gurneys.

With my heart still skipping double-double-dutch, I have quietly resumed praying for the show to “just end now, dammit,” when those nasty little NStinkers do it again. I swear my feet actually lift from the ground for a split second. The second blast is our cue to haul it out of there and begin the trek toward our designated meeting spot.

The number of parents waiting around for their children is impressive. There are hundreds. Such a sight, you would never have seen during my childhood years. Back then, if we weren’t old enough to drive to an event on our own, our “concert experience” consisted of staring at our idol in a teen magazine while listening to his latest 45.

Finally! At eleven-thirty, our rosy-cheeked, laryngitised, starry-eyed daughters race up, shrieking with excitement. Throughout the entire ride home, their ongoing description of the show comprises only those words you’ll find in a thesaurus under “awesome.” The girls thank us over and over again. Jayne and I grin at each other. For this one night, we are their heroes. We have successfully granted the wishes of two very grateful teenaged girls. And we have also received a rare and unexpected treat in return.

The evening’s adventures have taken both of us on an emotional trip of our own, back in years, back to a long-faded time when the bigger-than-life rock stars of our dreams left us overwhelmed and suffused with such giddy excitement that we, too, screamed until we could do no more than whisper.

When my weary body finally folds itself into the welcome embrace of my bed, well past the witching hour, I can’t contain my smile as I drift off.

Ain’t youth grand?

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Why is everyone scrambling to get their hands on the fall issue of Readers Digest’s Our Canada magazine?

our canada_cover copy…Because a story I wrote is featured in the October/November 2015 issue!

The magazine—produced by the esteemed Reader’s Digest—captures the true essence of Canadian life through its compilation of interesting stories and beautiful photos contributed by Canadians from coast to coast.

You’ll find Our Canada magazine at most magazine newsstands, as well as at community libraries.

My story, Thanks for the Memories, is featured on page 59 of the October/November issue. For those of you outside of Canada, I’ve reprinted the story below.our canada_story copy

Thanks for the Memories

Today is the day I say farewell to an old girl who has been a part of my life for a long time. She has always been dependable, ready and willing to go anywhere, anytime. She expects nothing more from me than the sustenance she needs to keep her alive—the oil that keeps her old parts moving and the fuel that stokes her get-up-and-go.

Although she’s not much to look at, my old car has been a faithful companion for many years. A tug of war pulls at my heart, although I know the time to part with her has arrived. Indeed, the decision has been a long time coming. Still, my hand hovers over the phone. It feels too easy. A quick call and she’ll be gone. The lump in my throat swells as I think of the crushing end that awaits her.

So many journeys we’ve taken together. Sunday drives north of the city, cruising along ribbons of winding dirt roads, oldies playing loudly enough to make me dance in my seat. No air conditioning—instead, her windows rolled all the way down to allow the warm country air to flow in: farmland, freshly mowed grass, garden blooms and road dust—smells of summer.

She also delivered me safely through the most vicious of winter storms. Her wipers slicing through sheets of rain and sleet and snow; her heater warming away the chill as I inched along past bus stops crowded with commuters huddled and bent against nature’s wrath.

She was a companion on countless shopping trips, her trunk packed with Christmas parcels and bags, birthday surprises, wedding and shower gifts. A symbol of my freedom, taking me wherever and whenever I wanted to go.

The old girl embraced us with her seatbelts during milestone outings with my daughter, Jennifer…to purchase her first pair of school shoes; get her first haircut; enjoy her first baseball game; take part in her first dance recital; and attend her graduation ceremony. Enabling pivotal conversations to evolve thanks to the intimacy of her interior, she was a place where my daughter could crack open her aloof, adolescent shell to spill confidences normally kept secret.

My husband, Paul, and I sharing heartfelt conversations during our Sunday afternoon drives—lazy, rambling chats all too rare in our busy lives.

The makeshift refuge she offered for brief escapes…so many workday lunch hours spent curled up on her back seat with a good book, a cup of coffee and a fluffy pillow kept tucked away in her trunk. She served as a hideout, a familiar sanctuary, perfect for stealing away to be alone with my thoughts. She was a safe haven locking out the world, where I could rest my head against her steering wheel to have a good cry.

Really, she is so much more than just an old car.

It’s late afternoon when the tow-truck driver arrives. He hands me a sheaf of paperwork. I chew my bottom lip against the threat of tears, and sign. He looks tired and bored as he hooks her onto a heavy-duty chain and cranks up her front end. To him, this is just another job to complete before his workday ends. Gently, I touch her corroding paint. I turn away briefly as the driver barks a hurried goodbye and disappears into the cab of his truck.

As she fades away in the distance, I thank her for the memories—and then I move on.

There’s nothing like a good power outage to bring the old times back

twin-electric-power-linesIt was the summer of 2003, hotter than ten hells, and daily life in the GTA was whirring along in its usual frenzied state. It was midday, midweek when air conditioning overload caused a massive power outage unlike anything experienced in recent history.

Despite the lack of electricity, the air crackled with the panic of millions who no longer knew what to do with themselves in the event that life as we know it grinds to a halt and sends us spiraling backward to the golden days.

Of course, I just had to write about it.

Power Lost, Humanity Found:
The Blackout Of 2003

three-candle-flames-1431851138OtnThe entire city panicked
When the power petered out,
Everyone, that is, but I,
For I hadn’t any doubt

That this massive power mishap
Would be sure to pave the way
For my boss to shut the office down
Much earlier today.

No working traffic lights!
Drivers in despair!
Gridlock to the nth degree,
Brains impotent with fear.

traffic jamIt took two extra hours
To meander my way home
As I passed distracted drivers
Wailing into their cell phones.

Still—‘twas a lovely afternoon
And my joy was here to stay,
Since no power meant no need to cook
Or wash a load this day!

With sandwiches for dinner
And some still-cold pints of beer,
I joined my spouse and kids outside
On my reclining chair.

remoteThe luscious scent of grilling meat
Spiced the outdoor air,
Neighbors chatted over fences,
Bursts of laughter here and there.

No power meant no computers,
Radios, movies or TV,
Bewildered kids awakened
From their hazy techno sleep.

For the first time in a long time
All ages played outdoors,
Touch football, tag, hide and seek,
Just like the days of yore.

Armed with flashlights in the streetskids-playing-47
As darkness inked the skies,
The children laughed and whirled about
Like happy fireflies.

And once indoors, the blackness ebbed
To amber candlelight,
Board games were played by lantern till
‘twas time to say goodnight.

I realized as I went to bed
How tension-free I was,
My mind at peace, my eyes at rest
So blatantly because

our gangFor a day, we’d traveled back in time
To a simple life so rare,
And survived without the crutches
We’d been leaning on for years.

At first “all power lost” had
Simply meant a work vacation.
But as the lazy hours passed,
Behold! A revelation:

Our collective fixed reliance
On technology as a nation,
Has made us captive lambs
In our humbled desperation.

Progression or regression?
We’ve surrendered to the machine
And forsaken the joys of simple life,
The way things used to be.

We can never go back, too late for that,
But perhaps again someday,
We can blow the power lines again—
Return to yesterday.
courtesy of Joshua Earle of unsplash.com

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