I’ve been locked down in Toronto practically since I arrived. Locked down by either funds, time or a more common combination of the two, my sole day out of Toronto was a madcap day spent driving to Deliverance, NY for an errand. Nothing would’ve been awry in speeding up the trip and applying Yackety Sax as the score. It wasn’t much in the way of a vacation, more an exercise in elation, frustration and negotiation. I did eat in a ‘murican (merkin) diner though, so not all was lost.
I have had other trips to the USA. I was lucky enough to be raised in a comfortable family environment. Very lucky. It hasn’t gone unappreciated (kidding. I live in a literal ivory tower. Kidding, I’ve only once spoken to my downstairs neighbour in person and I’m not convinced he doesn’t have a zombie chained up down there. If he does, it doesn’t do much more than snore. More like a zzzzombie. Dumb). One of the nigh infinite perks of this situation was that family holidays existed. A few of these involved the United States, one of which even involved the 50th of those states.
The trip to Hawaii was based on a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. It was decadent and to a lad of 15 or 16, righteous (which I wasn’t still saying by that point, given that it was post Y2K. That bug left us all a little shook up. Very little seemed righteous in a post Y2K world). My uncle got refused entry for some reason, which meant I had the cabin – that I was meant to be sharing – all to myself. I wasn’t old or suave enough to make adult use of it, but more than a few calls to room service (part of the all-inclusive entry) were made. Food in general was characteristically American (huge and wasteful) despite the international fare available. There was a special meal in which everything was chocolate. It might sound like the wet fever dream of a small child, but it certainly happened. Set in a ballroom, flanked on all sides by large chocolate sculptures, it was an ode to unnecessarily lavish behaviour. I mean, I enjoyed every moment of it, but that didn’t stop me from shaking my head in disbelief.
As a teenager there was no alcohol, but you had unlimited access to fountain drinks. How I avoided diabeetus on that trip, I have no idea. I do recall getting very well acquainted with a certain Gentleman Pibb. I also recall a 23 hour diner that never seemed to be open late night. No matter what time we went between 11pm-4am they’d just be closing up. Perhaps they were worried about rampant teen hooliganism and shuttered up their windows? I dunno, but I just wanted a burger with a kosher pickle. Regrets, I have a few.
I must’ve been 16, because on New Years I remember Hey Ya being played umpteen times. I know this, because somebody had it repeating on the jukebox while I tried to learn how to C-Walk. I spent the whole night learning from the more able toed members of the teen club and after endless diligence got my moves down. My feet were blistered from carpet burn and swelled beyond a reasonable level. Still, warmed by the satisfaction of hard work paying off, I slept well that night and dreamed of that sweet, sweet cultural cachet rolling on in.
Of course when I awoke in the morning I had all of the scars and none of the knowledge. Clearly I’d been hitting the suds too hard. To this day I still can’t C-Walk. Don’t I feel cripped off?
The on-board comedian (because this was a legit cruise) gave a seminar on the importance of laughter. It was easily the best thing that happened on the whole vessel. I have no idea of the veracity of his story, but to this day it stays with me. It involved a cop specialising in suicide prevention at the Brooklyn Bridge. This guy’s job was to either talk people down from jumping, or just keep them talking long enough for the catch-boat to get underneath and provide a safe landing zone. In the event that someone did jump and land safely in the nets, him and his fellow policemen would hold up small signs with numbers. Like diving judges, they’d award points for technique. Members of the public would see this display and start getting aggressive, complaining about the lack of good taste and decency. The cop would reply “You do what you need to in order to get through your day. So do I.”
The idea of recontextualising life’s occurrences in a palatable form has always remained a concern of mine. Controlling the frame with which I view life has always helped me take some modicum of control over those things that’re out of my reach. Sometimes things happen that blow me out. Left without an emotional toolkit of how to respond, I have no choice but to find the light in the darkness, no matter how dark that light might be. There’s nothing wrong with turning to tears, but humour has always been my favourite use of pain. Even if nobody else gets the joke.
Okay, terrible impromptu joke time…
Q. How does a foghorn in Hawaii laugh?
A. A low ha.