“Write this down. Put it in your book,” the woman next to me says, “call me Mary or Vivienne or Roxanne. Call me what you want.” Her life story flows. Eighty years old, looks seventy, born Irish, adopted as a baby, and she loves sexy books, wants to write one. “A secret boyfriend, I have.” She flashes a smile. “He’s married but I like him…a big secret.” I take down her words; listen to a burst of notes flow from the upright bass and guitar. Across the room an artist brings an empty canvas to life. Sunrays, I think, the ocean, sea life, the colours of Barbados.
The holidays are over and I’m back in Coffee Shop. I’ve missed it. The coffee. The newspaper. The morning quiet. Being with people but, at the same time not being with people. The woman at the counter is happy to see me but not enough to give me a free coffee. I take my regular seat and open the newspaper. At first I don’t recognize the man who stops at my table. Not until he removes his toque. it’s Hat Guy. “No one puts Baby in the corner,” he says. And I think: Am I Baby? And am I sitting in a corner? I give him an itsy bitsy teeny-weeny smile. He picks up on my confusion and says, “you know Baby, Dirty Dancing.” I get it. He doesn’t want to sit at the table behind the wall. And I think: You’re not sitting here. You talk took much before nine. He walks around the room looking for someone to chat with. He’s in luck. Muffin Man sits down with his muffin and coffee. Hat Guy heads over to his table. They begin a: resolutions conversation. All about getting out more, doing more, slowing down. And I think: Are they talking about resolutions or goals? Two words that can be easily mixed up. The difference being: A goal has an end point. One either meets it or doesn’t. A Resolution is a long-term promise and usually broken. And how does one do more and slow down at the same time? I don’t know. But I have a whole year to find out.
Sheila Horne at: https://www.facebook.com/sheilahorneauthor/
Frank and his wife, the non-speaking couple, are in the coffee shop. Not much else is going on. Everyone is quiet and whispering. Maybe they realize I write about them. I open my book and stop. “This Diamond Ring,” by Gary Lewis and The Playboys comes over the sound system. And I think: Grade nine, Lamar Junior High School.
I sat next to Rhonda in art class. She was engaged to a boy who played football for Baylor University. Whenever the Texas A&M Aggies played Baylor, we all cheered for the Aggies, like everyone else in Bryan. Except for Rhonda, who sang Baylor’s pep rally song: Baylor University is going to beat the Aggies…hey, hey let’s go Baylor, over and over. She stuck her arm out in front of her and sang: This Diamond Ring. Then removed her engagement ring and ask if anyone wanted to buy it. Apparently, it no longer shone for her. I was in awe of her. She was the only fifteen-year-old girl I knew who was engaged, and not to a high school boy. I wished I had a ring to sing to, but all I had was one the nuns gave me in the convent school. It had the Virgin Mary on it. Somehow I lost that ring in the lake at Wasaga Beach in the ‘70s. But that’s another story.
I’m not sure what happened to Rhonda, if she ever married her Baylor University football player or if he broke her heart. But today, as I watch Frank trudge past my table to re-fill his coffee mug, there’s no skip in his step, not like the other day. Instead, his boots scrape on the carpet. As if he doesn’t have the energy to lift his legs. Or joy has been ripped from soul. And I think: This Diamond Ring is the perfect song for him.
The couple eat and drink their coffee without speaking to each other. They’re regulars. Not talking is normal for them. But today something different happens. Something unusual. Something interesting. The woman finishes her bagel and leaves. A few minutes later another woman walks to the table and says, “Frank?” He nods, and she sits down opposite him. He perks up. It’s the first time I’ve heard him laugh, or talk, or see him enjoy himself. They gab on and on. When he walks to the front to re-fill their coffee mugs, he has a skip in his step—an actual skip. And I think: energetic dynamo, who knew?
Two women, who I call, worker bees, are having an intense conversation. They whisper…whisper…whisper. One wearing black high heel pumps says, “she spills coffee and tea on the carpet near my desk every day.” She leans in close to the other woman and shouts, “Pisses me off.” Whisper…whisper…whisper. Their raised eyebrows and facial expressions fill in the missing details. “Exactly,” says her friend. “Know who I don’t like?” she asks. Now, they are almost nose-to-nose. Whisper…whisper…whisper. High heel pumps, says, “She’s a bitch.” And I think: bitches get things done.
The good old boys are back. No tractor talks today. It’s all about Buicks, Fords and Cadillacs, until one of them gets a call. He puts the phone to his ear. “Speak,” he says. And I think: must be his dog phoning.
Chatty woman from two weeks ago says she looks for me every day. Now she knows I hide at the back. I ask about her dating life. “Oh, you’ll never guess,” she says. She recently went on a date with a man who had a tiny head. She can’t believe Match.Com matched her with someone who looks like a squirrel. “Do I look like a squirrel?” she asks. And I think…
I walk to the counter and say, “coffee in a mug and one of the kitchen sink cookie.” The woman behind the counter frowns at me. “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?” she asks.
I nod. She turns to her co-worker and points at me, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.”
Her co-worker shouts to two people in the kitchen, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.” One of them comes out and asks, “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?”
And I think, this is turning into something from a Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. After weeks of looking at the cookie, craving it, talking about it to everyone who works in the coffee shop, I’m finally going to have it. I explain to them that I didn’t eat breakfast and now it’s lunch. Therefore I can eat the cookie and call it two meals.
“Get her the 800 calorie cookie,” the manager says. They present it to me on a plate with a napkin. I fill my mug with coffee and head to my favourite seat at the back of the room. Today, it’s packed. Two girls are drinking coffee and chatting. One says: and I like went…and he like went…and I like went. It continues right through their conversation. A boy tries the door at the back. It’s locked. I ignore him. The girls ignore him. Everyone ignores him. It’s a security thing. He walks away, and a few minutes later another boy tries the locked door. One of the girls gets up and opens the door. Whoosh…icy air floods the room. He thanks her and walks to the front to order or maybe he’s doing a walk through. And I think, hmmm….The woman across the room smiles at me then stares at the ceiling as if she has forgotten something. Something important. Something she’s supposed to remember. I open my book, sip my coffee and take a bite of the 800 calorie cookie. I am disappointed.
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I remember reading Joe Brainard’s book, I remember. It brought back so many memories that I use those universal words, ‘I remember’ as a writing prompt in my workshops. It’s an easy way to start the writing process and connects people with themselves. The trick is, to write not only the good memories but also the bad ones. I went through my notebooks and looked at my ‘remembers.’ I hope it will inspire you to write your memories.
A concrete barrier brings memories: Waves from the Atlantic Ocean splashing over the sea wall, splattering our car as we drove to the sugar estate. I remember getting wet because it was hot and we always had the car windows open.
I remember the salty taste of the air, the sweetness of sugar cane, molasses and raw brown sugar. Wide open spaces, the bluest sky, puffy white clouds and the green of trees and bushes rustling in the breeze.
I remember the house, dim when the wooden shades were closed to keep out the noon heat.
I remember the sunshine, roaming the estate with no shoes, the gravel road that poked the bottom of my bare feet. The woman, who worked in the yard, her gypsy skirts, silver and gold bracelets on her ankles and wrists. She didn’t speak English, Hindi I think.
I remember being afraid of her and hiding behind my mother.
I still remember the feeling of drowning at three years old in a flood. The sensation of spinning in a tunnel even though I was lying unmoving, face down in the water. I remember the blue dress and red rubber boots I wore that day.
I remember being scared of water for the longest time until I learnt to swim.
I remember the station wagon that picked up the estate kids. I once knew the name of the driver. I don’t know it anymore. But I remember his smell: aftershave mixed with curry. He drove us down the coast to various schools. At the end of the day, he picked us up and took us back to the country.
I remember Texas. Blue Bonnets. The mile walk to Lamar Junior High and the mile home, rain or shine. The only public swimming pool, chlorine in the air, sun beating down hard, hot concrete under our feet, and The Beatles coming from a transistor radio.
I remember school football games on Friday nights, the musty smell of the bowling alley on a Saturday afternoon. The roller rink, Debbie in her skating skirt, her face red and sweaty as she twirled.
I remember wishing someone would dedicate a song to me.
I remember Texas A&M University pool. Kate and Gloria didn’t want their teased, almost lacquered hair to get wet. While they posed at the side of the pool, I jumped from the Olympic diving board. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I remember sunlight twinkling on the water like fairy lights guiding me to the top.
I remember working at The Buccaneer after school and during summer vacations for fifty cents an hour. The way chopped onions burnt my eyes. The way grease from the grill and fryer saturated the kitchen floor, my hair and face. And I made the perfect soft ice-cream cone.
I remember nearly everyone in junior high and high school drove.
I remember my aunt let me drive when I was fourteen. I never told my mother.
I remember Judy, Darla and I driving around in Judy’s brother’s convertible Thunder Bird, our hair wild in the wind as we drag-raced boys. I remember the squeal of tires and stink of rubber on asphalt.
I remember how much I missed everyone when I moved to Canada.
I remember my first morning in Toronto, November 1st, 1966. My sister and I took the streetcar and subway. It was a new experience.
I remember the rumble and shudder of the wooden escalator in Eaton’s.
I remember starting East York Collegiate. I didn’t like it. It was too big. Ice-skating at city hall, frozen toes and fingers.
I remember in 1968 CHUM FM changed to rock and roll.
I remember my first full-time job, Double Day Publishing Company, the staleness of the old building on Bond Street and the noxious ink in the books.
I remember my next job, the insurance industry. File cabinets that clanked, adding machines that clunked and typewriters that pinged. I made sixty-five dollars a week. I thought I was on the money.
I remember turning twenty-one and moving into my first apartment—builders’ beige walls, pink kitchen cupboards, parquet floors, and green tiles in the bathroom. The second-hand couch a co-worker gave me, pots and dishes my mother no longer wanted and my large record collection. Heat from the radiators, stifling air, checking and re-checking the alarm on my clock radio to make sure I’d set it, afraid I would be late for work.
I remember waking up to Jungle Jay Nelson on Chum AM.
I remember spending all my money on an expensive stereo. The airy feeling of freedom, being able to smoke, having friends over and watching television until the stations went off the air.
I remember eating strawberry ice cream with sliced bananas, peanut butter and chocolate sauce for dinner, or not eating at all, and reading all night.
I remember running down the hill in the mornings to catch the bus to the subway. The guy who stopped and talked to me every morning. When the bus arrived, he left. We had a strange bus stop relationship.
I remember someone in Becker’s asked me on a date, said he worked for K-Tel Records. He could get me as many albums as I wanted. I remember thinking, K-Tel? Really? I told him I had a boyfriend. It wasn’t a lie.
I remember on muggy nights dragging my mattress to the living room and sleeping with the balcony door wide open.
I remember bars—smoky, body odour mixed with cigarettes, cologne and alcohol.
I remember I loved Canoe men’s cologne.
I remember I used Love’s Baby Soft perfume.
I remember my friend Diane. We covered my pink kitchen cupboards with brown Mactac to give them the appearance of wood. It turned out to be a gluey mess. I remember we laughed because it looked awful.
I remember we painted my white dresser red. We ran out of paint and left it half white and half red. It looked silly. I threw it away three years later.
I remember the macramé hanger and green lampshade with black fringe that she made me. It reminded me of something out of a saloon in the Wild West. I kept that lampshade and hanger for years.
I remember one night she showed up with a bottle of Canadian Club Rye and a marijuana joint. She started to cry. Her boyfriend had broken up with her. I cried too because I was sad for her. Someone knocked on my door. By then we were dancing and jumping around to a song. Paranoia set in. I freaked. The rye and coke squished around in my stomach. I thought I would pee my pants. The stereo was loud. We were drunk and stoned. I swore it was the police. We’d be arrested. I’d be evicted. Diane opened the door to find someone from the Conservative party—could they count on our vote. After the woman left, we turned the music back up, lit wine-dipped cigarillos and played cards-Old Maid and Go Fish.
I remember Wasaga Beach May to September—blazing sun, scorching sand, Tropicana suntan oil, and the dank cabins we stayed in on the weekends. We did that every summer for three years.
Most of all, I remember our many long conversations about everything including the meaning of life and the problem with guys. We came to the conclusion that guys were one level up from boys. Guys still lived at home with their parents and weren’t mature enough to take a relationship seriously. Their only pursuits were sex and fun. Men had their own place and were more likely to make a commitment. We were dating guys. We needed to meet men.
I remember the incredible feeling of falling madly in love and the numbness of a break-up.
I remember my second apartment, the newness of it, the recreation centre, indoor swimming pool, and Dominion grocery store. The toxic fumes of shellac on the polished floors.
I remember I bought a new couch and a lime green shag rug.
I remember when Tom, the person I dated that summer broke up with me, I said, that’s fine. After all, it was just a summer romance. He was still a guy, and the relationship had nowhere to go. He didn’t understand.
I remember hanging up the phone and thinking: yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.
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I’ve had a few cars starting with a ’73 red Datsun, bought with a Chargex card, as it was known at the time. The first weekend I had it, on a drive to Jackson’s Point, it stalled. I had it towed to the nearest garage. It was a picky car—didn’t like to get wet, shut down at red lights in the rain. I didn’t blame it; no one likes getting wet. Then came a brand new 1981 silver Citation—a lazy car. It wouldn’t wake up in the mornings, especially in the winter. It only started by putting a stick in the carburetor. It went back to the dealer many times but they couldn’t fix the problem.
I gave up on the Citation and bought a second-hand 1970s Acadian. I soon found out there was a trick to starting it: put it in neutral, push it while running long side and steering then jump it turn the ignition and ram it into drive. Not safe so I moved on to a Pontiac Sunbird station wagon. A great car, no complaints about it, except the rack on the roof. For days I heard something rattling around. I finally found out what was making the noise. I had left my son’s baby bottle on the roof. It rolled back and forth between the racks. Once after a barbeque I left a paper plate with a piece of pie on top. I remembered it when I got home and hoped it didn’t smash into someone’s window shield. For some reason, I bought a blue Buick known as the Bu-ICK. Every once in awhile it hiccupped, backfired and black smoke flew out of the tail pipe. A condition that was unfixable. A Renault sounded like a good idea. Something different, I thought. Except, I had to learn to drive standard. I burnt rubber every time I drove off in first gear. My sons requested that I walk them and not drive them to elementary school. The squealing tires embarrassed them especially when I took off like a bullet at a traffic light. Once two young men thought I wanted to race them so, they revved up their engine and waved as they sped past me. That was short lived. A Ford Tempo came next. That car screamed whenever I turned it on or pressed on the gas pedal or turned a corner. No one could fix it. Like everything in life it was a good thing and a bad thing. I left the car doors unlocked, and I didn’t have to close the windows in the summer. I had a built in car alarm. If anyone stole it, they would have left it at the side of the road the minute they heard it screech. In the end, the bottom rusted away. I have to admit I felt a little sad as I watched it being towed away to the car cemetery. That’s when the red Chevrolet came into my life. For some reason no one could ever figure out, it had it’s own weather system inside the car. In the winter I drove with an ice rink under my feet in my mother’s fur coat. Sometimes it was cloudy and foggy, and it even rained and snowed from inside the roof. It eventually rusted away, and I inherited a green Pontiac Sunfire. A nice car but too low on the road for me, and the mat kept getting stuck around the gas pedal which made slowing down impossible.
Now I drive a 2012 red Yaris. I love it. I’ve had it for four years. It made a little squeal the other day. Not loud, just enough to make me panic. No way was I driving a car that screamed as it if was being murdered, not again. So, I rushed it off to the dealer. “Not to worry,” said the service technician, “we’ll fix her up.” It turned out the drive belt needed a slight adjustment. So far so good, no screeching, or hiccups or fog—I think I’ll stay with it.
Today as we gathered at the Second Cup for coffee and cake, a farewell to Avi and Tenil, I couldn’t help but remember when they first took it over. I wasn’t sure if I would like them. I’d grown accustomed to the previous owner and his cronies that took up all the tables and chairs. One day something happened that made me realize that Avi and Tenil cared about their customers. I wanted a seat so I approached a man who had taken over two tables, one for his coffee and one for his work. When I politely asked him to move his papers he informed that his files needed the table. I left. The next time I went into Second Cup the situation had been dealt with. Tenil and Avi had set a rule, one table and chair per person.
For me, today was not only about saying goodbye to two wonderful people and their staff, it was saying goodbye to the place where I wrote Sunshine Girls. I’d bought a notebook from Chapters and for a longest time I called the novel, I’m Not Here Right Now. And I wasn’t. I was back in 1973 Toronto and Wasaga Beach. Everyday I went into Second Cup bought a mug of coffee and filled pages of the notebook with words and sentences. Then I went home and typed them into my computer. Once I finished the crummy, jumbled first draft, I printed out the manuscript and took it to Second Cup. Day after day, I sat and marked the pages with a red pen, made notes and scribbled in the margins. It became a ritual. But Second Cup wasn’t just a place for me to write. Avi and Tenil allowed me to host many Words and Music events. It was my drop in where everyone knew my name. I took my class there for an afternoon of writing. “Find one person and give them a life,” I’d said. Little did they know it was an exercise in writing through noise and distraction. And it was the place to meet friends for coffee and a chat. Where I went to relax and read the newspaper.
The reason behind the closure: A new Second Cup has opened has opened a block away. I’ve been to that new one. It’s corporate and cold. It lacks the warmth of Avi, Tenil and their staff. I won’t go here. So, as I tearfully hugged Avi, Tenil, and the staff, and thanked them for everything, I said goodbye to my long relationship with Second Cup.