BY LAURA JANE (ILLUSTRATION BY JEN)
I was meant to fly to New York on the afternoon of Ray Davies’ 68th birthday and fly home on the evening of Mick Jones’ 57th. I borrowed a light brown leather travel bag from my father that looked wrong with the strap hanging over the crook of my elbow. I knew that bag and I knew it was meant to be shoved into the back of the Jeep Cherokee we drove to a cottage in Cape Cod that wasn’t ours twenty years ago, where and when it would rest by the foot of a strong kitchen table where at seven I sprayed I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter onto Entenmann’s blueberry mini-muffins- these were things we didn’t have in Canada, treats, which felt like stickers or painkillers or stickers of the Sailor Moon girls to me- and my dad bought a bottle of root beer and a jug of milk and mixed the two of them up in a glass and called it a Brown Cow. It was something from his childhood that he passed on to me and that bag belonged to that summer.
It was an Olympics summer, the first summer I was old enough to invest myself in the goings-on of an Olympics and it was the summer of a “Dream Team.” I remember my parents getting cranky being forced to watch exclusively American Olympics coverage, laughing at the bombast of US patriotism, explaining “We’re Canadian- it embarrasses us”; I remember the Olympics summer I lived in Brooklyn remembering back to that summer and trying to explain it to my American roommate until both of our faces went red, our voices shaky from the anger underneath- I’ll never understand the way Americans feel about America.
Olympics summers stay in your memory differently. World Cup summers are even better because they happen every eight years instead of every four. Two summers ago, when for a June of our lives the world was united by its knowledge of “what a vuvuzela is,” a feeling that was born to be forgotten. Vuvuzelas blowing at all hours of the night; at first you kept thinking a deer was getting shot to death and moaning and dying outside your window but it was always just a vuvuzela and then you got used to it. The world’s relationship to vuvuzelas is one of the most interesting things that ever happened, in my opinion. I swore to myself I’d never forget about vuvuzelas and I haven’t. They are proof that nothing matters.
Alone in an airport is where and when I feel most like a child. I can’t believe that I’m allowed to exist inside of this place alone.
Airports make me want my Mommy. I want my Mommy there to help me with my documents. In life, I’m deeply afraid of interacting with documents, and do everything in my power to avoid documents as much as possible. Every document. All documents. I never met a document I liked.
The first bad thing happened right off the bat and it was a document issue, which doesn’t surprise me one bit. I printed out the wrong document from the Expedia website- my “itinerary” instead of my “itinerary receipt.” I printed it out in haste, doing my best to avoid looking at the screen and seeing a document. Documents are so physically ugly.
I wandered around the airport frantically asking people who appeared to work for the airport what I should do about my document problem. They were all such unhelpful dicks about it and went really far out of their way to not answer my question. I'm overly forgiving of terrible customer service in airports because I imagine how suicidally depressed I’d be if I had to spend that much time inside an airport and feel maybe more empathy than is necessary toward these assholes. Shitty as the job market may be, there will always be someplace to work that isn’t an airport.
Finally I found a young redhead who coldly instructed me to type my “confirmation code” into the “self check-in terminal.” I was grateful and he was so over it. It really didn’t make him feel good about his life at all, my gratitude. What’s the fucking point.
I typed in the code and it was accepted. I followed all the ensuing steps- small victories- and then the machine took me to the part about the passport. The computer prompted me to enter my passport’s expiration date, and that was when I realized that my passport had expired in April. I knew I wouldn’t be be flying to New York that day. The FAA were not going to waive the “you have to have a passport to fly to another country” rule in the name of it being my birthday in three days. They would not care that I was wearing a Clash t-shirt on the day of a night I was planning to get drunk and listen to the Clash with my friend.
I entered in a fake expiration date: July 17th, 2012, and the terminal believed me. It issued me a boarding pass, and that’s a cute little lesson in how ridiculously easy it is to outsmart a computer.
“I’m gonna give this thing all I got,” I told myself, “I’m gonna take this thing as far as it can go.”
I filled out a customs declaration and waited in line with the rest of the people. I remember a midget and a hippie guy and a rich girl wearing leopard-print harem pants that worked on her. We shared a smile, united by our both looking cool.
When I told so many people about the part that comes next their reactions predictably annoyed the fuck out of me: so many claimed that they would have fought harder. They claimed that, if they’d been me that day, they would have done it somehow. They would’ve gotten on that plane; they would’ve made it to New York. You can say anything you want about yourself and it doesn’t matter because it never happened so I kept saying “Yeah, I don’t know,” allowing them to keep believing that they are stronger or more of fighters than I am if they wanted it so badly. Truly, there is no amount of savvy you could have or hard you could fight to get yourself to another country with an expired passport. Although, what I guess those people were semi-right about is that even if there was something I could have done, I wouldn’t have done it. I really don’t care very much about being a hero and I really don’t like talking with government officials and fighting, all fighting, is unpleasant. When I’m forced to make decisions on the fly I just do whatever seems like it’ll get me to “drinking a glass of white wine” the quickest.
The border guy was sweet to me. He had an Italian last name, either Morelli or Fratelli, and a big boil on the tip of his nose that I, and I imagine everyone, spoke around.
Morelli/Fratelli looked confusedly at my passport. “I don’t… did you get an extension on this, or something?” he asked.
And maybe one of the heroes would have made up a good lie on the spot about the extension but lying never occurs to me. And if it had I didn’t want to lie. I only wanted two things: a glass of white wine, and to let all the tears out. They were burning up the bridge of my nose and starting to hurt my face. Fratelli was so nice and I felt safe to cry in front of him.
Through my sobbing I cried, “It’s my birthday, and I just want to go to New York and see my friends but I understand that I can’t-”
He had basset hound eyes and took a liking to me but it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if Fratelli likes you. Fratelli is no one.
He led me to a little room, and I checked my phone. Fratelli’s boss, a blond man, yelled at me and told me I wasn’t allowed to check my phone in that room. He started telling me about all these things involving documents I could do- he told me American Airlines were in the wrong for issuing me a boarding pass and if I filled out some forms I could get a free flight for a couple days later but first I’d have to get my passport “expedited” which would no doubt involve me filling out some more forms and making up some lies- I’d have to tell the “expediters” I was going to New York for a job or something, and and they really wanted me to do this, Fratelli and the blond man, they were weirdly gung-ho about it, but I knew I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to. American Airlines didn’t actually issue me a boarding pass; I was issued a boarding pass by my own dishonesty, and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t do any of it. I couldn’t stick around the airport with all the forms and lies for even one second longer; I couldn’t breathe that sharp stale air under grey light by stacks of Samsonites and strangers in uniform so, still sobbing I told them “I don’t care” and Fratelli asked me what I wanted and I told him “I want to go home,” and so he opened up a door and I walked out of it.
I sat outside Ka Chi eating a plate of seafood stir-fried in garlic sauce and potatoes in what I could only assume were pureed potatoes. Potatoes pureed in themselves. I tried to write out a list of “cool things I can do” over the course of my eight days off and it turned itself into the paragraph It’s a terrible thing, hating where you live. This city is my world and it’s as big as a room. Something has happened to me on every corner a hundred times. All the corners are old. I’m a writer who writes about bored people living their dull lives in the same dull city as I do and all of them hate it here because I have no insight into what it must feel like to live here and like it. I write stories about people finding beauty in the tiniest, dullest details of their dull and tiny lives and I write about the sky a lot because it’s the only beautiful thing I ever see followed by a list of names: the names of all the people I normally don’t have time to hang out with. But looking at all those names all together in a row made me realize that it had nothing to do with time. I used time as an excuse to avoid them. I avoided them because I didn’t like them.
So I crossed out all their names, and looked down at my plate. Someone had shucked all the baby mussels out of their shells, little pearls so tiny and so sweet compared to the balls of fish and whole purple octopi. I imagined “hanging out” and thought of where we would go, what we would see- it made my throat dry. I looked at the little kidneys, the mussels, and drank a spoon of straight sauce. I thought I had writer’s block but it was just that I’d forgotten what I like to write about.
I met Kritty at the corner of Bloor & Bath and she said “I’m here to rescue you!” We bought a bottle of white wine and I stopped into Hero because they have this crazy Coke machine where you can flavor your Diet Coke with any crazy flavor you want and I picked raspberry. Kritty was on her phone outside and I watched the three-quarters brown and one magenta crap waterfall rain into a paper cup I knew would be so soggy around the bottom in an hour. I felt like my life was attached to a rubber band and I could either stand in one place holding it still or let go and have it smack me in the face.
We walked to a bench outside Central Technical High School that has somehow become “ours,” although we don’t really like it. All we like about it is it’s “ours.” It’s a totally boring bench, kitty-corner to a track and to the right of a yard, a totally uneventful yard, and that school, my God… you may as well be sitting out behind a prison.
- My fingertips went pruny from my sweaty cup of soda and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get as drunk as I wanted ever again.
- Kritty picked up a branch and waved the branch around. The branch was a joke about magic; a magic wand that wasn’t. It was a solid branch with little offshoot twigs growing off its neck and the twigs sprouted baby leaves thin as tissue paper. I bopped it with my palms a couple of times to say I liked it.
- Kritty had her guitar with her. She had either her guitar or her computer or her guitar and her computer. I appreciated her being willing to trek around with me having to deal with her guitar and her computer because those are both annoying things to lug around. I think maybe it was only her computer because I’m picturing a scene from later in the night and I don’t think there was any guitars there but nope I think she was wearing her guitar like a knapsack when I met her in front of the bank. I could spend the next four thousand words of my life completely entertained by my own trying to figure out if Kritty had her guitar with her or not.
- We saw the tiniest squirrel we’d ever seen; he was both skinny and a baby. I wondered, aloud, if it was a girl or a boy. I thought it’s strange how you never know which gender a squirrel is. Or a rabbit, a raccoon, any of those little things, but with cats and dogs sometimes it’s so obvious.
We remembered it was Ray Davies’ birthday, and when I did I said “This is such a perfect thing to have happen to me on Ray Davies’ birthday”- he was chronically unlucky- “Ray Davies: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” The least relevant, the most talented.
Kritty pulled out her iPhone, and I blurred my eyes into the gummy zig-zags of her phone case as she said a few words about her phone case- it was new, and she didn’t really like it, but she kind of liked it. I half-watched her check her texts over her shoulder but then I looked away. Watching people interact with their phones, their stupid home screens and the little ways in which they’ve inadvertantly made them not their own but rather not mine is more invasive than rifling through their bathroom trash. It’s like checking the crotches of somebody’s underwear for bloodstains.
She went to the YouTube app and asked me which Kinks song we should play to celebrate Ray Davies’ birthday and I didn’t care but knew I had to answer and well because I am and will always be expected by those closest to me to have a firm take on any situation relating to either astrology or sixties rock music and if I don’t, even if it’s genuine, I’ll have to deal with a friend cocking their chin at my face like something’s wrong and I’d rather just bullshit like I care about Paul McCartney being a fucking Gemini on a day when I don’t than try to explain why I don’t to someone who believes that I must- I did it to myself, after all.
I chose "This Time Tomorrow" because it’s forlorn and I was forlorn and I wasn’t going to go and choose a happy Kinks song HA as if there are any.
Something happened to the weather. The sky went from white-blue to dark grey in a snap and the wind turned on, a cold wind that swirled through the hot still of the day in swirls and in my memory the swirls were mapped out by the leaves and the playground sand that rose up and swam through them like that craft from being a kid where you dump colored sand onto a sticky stencil and then pour it off to see the picture only the picture, in real life, is only swirls. In my memory I looked straight forward and watched the physical swirls spell out a person’s name in sand and leaves in cursive but in real life I only felt the wind and some sand got in my eyes. Kritty said something about how amazing it was but I was not in the mood to forgive Toronto for being boring just because the weather felt cool. And really the core reason why I’m too big of a scatterbrain to check up on my passport’s expiration date before committing myself to a $400 plane ticket is because I’m too busy thinking about how weird weather days are amazing and congratulating myself for caring more about the pink in the sky than the red of the tape. I sort of hoped my plane had crashed so that for the rest of my life the fact that I didn’t get on it would be a thing about me. Most people’d be hokey enough to find God in such happenstance and from there they’d find greater meaning in my being alive and I wanted to freeload off that energy.
The sky was weird and it was obvious my plane didn’t crash because a plane flying from Toronto to New York would never crash, it just wouldn’t, it’s not enough of a distance. And planes never crash anyway and I picked "This Time Tomorrow", truly, because it begins with a plane sound. Because I knew that one day this day’d get written down and that I’d want to make fun of myself for choosing to listen to the only plane-related Kinks song on the day I didn’t get to fly on a plane on the Kinks-singer’s birthday because that’s how boringly obvious of a stupid person I am. Kritty still held onto the branch. I knew she wanted the cuteness of the branch to make me happy but I thought if I were going to be made happy by any of this it would have come from her caring enough about the state of my happiness to bother with involving a branch in the situation, not the branch itself. But I’m a person, and people are too dumb to know how to make themselves happy when they’re not. And she’s a person too, and people are too dumb not to try to cheer someone up even when they know it’s impossible.
I loved us both for being human, humans, dumb as dogs. In my memory the track becomes a tennis court; I’m not surprised that I turned it into something cooler than it was. And as I looked forlornly off into a distance that never existed I hated Ray Davies on his sixty-eighth birthday more than anyone but Ray Davies could ever understand for his asking “This time tomorrow, where will we be?” on a night when the only answer I could think of was “Right fucking here, Ray.” I felt like I lived in a snowglobe, and someone had just blacked out the sides.