My Kid Is Off To Boot Camp

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shandad

The picture you see on the left is about twenty years old. It features a younger, thinner version of me and my then 5 or 6 year old son. The picture on the right was just last spring – I was having a beer with my son at the Great Canadian Brew House.

I remember stepping into the photo booth at the old Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth Nova Scotia where I lived at the time, though I honestly can’t recall where on earth I got that ugly shirt from. I imagine we’d just come out of the cinema because Shane and I saw a ton of movies when he was little. I would have been about 27 at the time – I’m 48 now.

It’s been a long road for my kid. He’s experienced a lot of upheaval in his life as I tried to sort my own life out. He’s been living out here in Saskatoon now since he finished high school and up until yesterday, he worked at my company as a sheet metal apprentice.

On Saturday his life is about the change forever. He’s joined up to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and his basic training starts next Monday. Three months of drill, inspections, physical training, more drill, more inspections, weapons handling and of course marching. Lots and lots and lots of marching.

He’s 25 now – he’s been through a rough couple of years as he struggled to find his place in the world. He is well liked at my company. He does very good work on everything from installing gas lines to heat runs for furnaces. (He installed the gas lines in my own house to our kitchen range and my beautiful, amazing, fabulous Weber barbecue outside on the deck) He’s a hard worker. Resourceful. He’s respectful and he has a good heart. He’s an excellent catch for the right girl once all the smoke clears from basic training and getting himself settled at his unit.

We talked early in 2015 about his joining up. As a veteran, I told him the facts as I saw them: the military isn’t for everybody but the best people I ever knew, I served with. I suggested that after surviving basic training, he would be more confident, more independent – he would become a changed man. And of course a regular paycheque, free health care and a regimented life has its benefits because you are part of something bigger than yourself. Serving in the military changed my life when I joined up at age 17. It gave me the confidence achieve whatever I set my mind to. I think it will do the same for my son as well.

His flight to boot camp leaves in 48 hours. I’ll be driving him to the airport with all the best wishes a father can offer and the confidence that comes from knowing he’s going to succeed because he’s got a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic. I’m proud of him for joining up because a lot of people his age are adrift in life and their work. I’ve seen it first-hand. I think this will give him a clear direction and a hell of an opportunity to shine. Once basic training is over, he’ll be spending the better part of 2016 at CFB Gagetown learning Heating, Air Conditioning which is better than me when I joined up: all I was qualified for was the infantry.

So go kick ass, Shane. I know you’re going to do your old man proud.  They might even have sriracha sauce at the mess hall. Onward.

 

 

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I’m 47 – Holy @#$!

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(Me & the Better 1/2 outside the Victoria & Albert Museum in London Last Year)

 

My thoughts on turning 47 yesterday:

My wife and son and I went for supper last night. Then we bought a cake. Then I put air in the better 1/2’s tire. And that’s how you do a 47th birthday.
I find, now that I’m nearing my 50’s that the little things don’t bother me as much as they used to. I also find that I tend to notice the passage of time now with a clarity that I surely didn’t when I was in my 20’s or even my 30’s. I can contextualize that, for all intents and purposes, I have now lived more years than I will continue to live and it’s a little bit hilarious while at the same time, a little bit terrifying. Because I can mark the passage of time now with the lines around my eyes, the white that appears in my beard when I haven’t shaved for a couple of days, that my son no longer looks like a kid anymore – that he too is aging. We are all growing older, and hopefully wiser.

There’s comedy in growing older. I make fun of myself a lot now in reference to aging. I often say “it ends badly for everyone” which of course, it does. So, I am continuing my journey. I have decided to complete a project for this year’s NaNoWriMo – it’s a coming of age story – big departure from the bubblegum that I usually write.

Onward.

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A story about a car, friendship and goodbyes

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1967-cadillac-fleetwood-john-james
This is the story of a car. And friendship. And time.

The car you’re looking at is a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. My best friend had a clone of that car. I met him when I was in Grade 11 – that would have been the fall of 1983. He’d transferred into my high school from another one just a few blocks away and I even remember the first thing he ever said to me – “Hey man, can I bum a cigarette?”

We were standing outside the freak doors – that’s what everyone at my high school called the set of doors up the hill from the gym. Freak doors because that’s where all the freaks would hang out. (I know, the very notion that teenagers actually used to smoke cigarettes on school property is likely foreign to anyone under the age of thirty, but I’m 46 and it was 1983.) Anyway, I can’t remember what led me to decide this guy with wild afro style hair, big sideburns and a long leather duster would be worth getting into a conversation with but there was a twinkle in his eye and an earnestness to his voice that made me decide to hand over a cigarette. I remember that he commented on my Zippo lighter and then he fished one out of the pocket of his duster. Oh … he was wearing a leather cowboy hat and he took it off – that’s how I knew he had a white guy afro.

Our talk about our lighters led to me saying that I almost lost mine when I was at Calgary’s World of Wheels auto show that spring. BOOM! A common interest. I was a classic car nut (and still am) and so was he. He told me his name and I learned that he was in Grade 12 so he was a year and a half older than me and could drive to school each day. I commented that I drove to school too and was the proud owner of a 1972 Pontiac Acadian that burned a quart of oil every week. I remember him saying, “where did you park?” and I told him. He said his car was parked in the same lot and he said, “I’ve got a Caddy.” I called BS immediately and he said, he’d prove it to me so off we went to the student parking lot and it was there that I laid eyes on this beauty of a car. Little did I know that a 1967 Cadillac, a bummed cigarette and a Zippo lighter would lead to a thirty-year friendship that has endured through our collective ups and downs.

I’m reminded now, at 46, that time is a fleeting thing you truly don’t even attempt to quantify when you’re 16. The mere notion that you’re an actual mortal doesn’t even register – particularly when you’re bombing around the streets of Calgary while riding shotgun in a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood. Dear God, what a car that was. You could sneak five people into the drive-in in the trunk of that land yacht. And Jesus, it was fast. It also didn’t burn a quart of oil a week, so that was a bonus too.

He graduated high school that year, 1984. I graduated a year later. We basically hung out together every single weekend. Driving around the city. Looking at old cars. Smoking and joking and talking about girls, metal and of course automobiles.  He helped me upgrade to a better car – a 1972 Dodge Monaco with 70K miles on it. Five hundred bucks. We popped the hood, started it up and I remember seeing his lips arch up into a mischievous smile. He said, “Sean … buy this car.” And so I did.

I joined the army in the summer of 1985. I’d just graduated from high school. There were no jobs due to the recession. My friend lived at home with his mum in Whitehorn, a new community in Calgary’s North East. I did my basic training and wound up getting posted to Calgary for the next seven years. Life continued on as it had before – we hung out together on weekends. We smoked and joked. And drank probably too much for anyone’s good. I got married. He got married. I had kids. He didn’t. I got divorced. He didn’t and is still with his wife of more than twenty years.

I got posted to Atlantic Canada for about a decade. We didn’t talk very often because I was there and he was somewhere else. I wound up back in Calgary in 2003 and we just picked up where we left off. Talking cars. Hanging out. Being friends.

But that whole time is fleeting thing has hit home in the last year. My friend is dying. He’s suffering from Pick’s disease – a neurodegenerative condition that shares many symptoms with Alzheimers. I’m losing him. His wife is losing him. I’m losing my best friend and I’m angry about it. I’m really fucking angry about it. We were supposed to be friends well into our old age. We were supposed to go fishing, wear pants up to our armpits and complain about the government. We were supposed to …  insert life experience here.

I’m angry because my friend is a good person. I mean a genuinely good person. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He would absolutely 100% give you his last ten dollars if you asked for it . Period. He is a simple person who has for all his life somehow managed to maintain that measure of childlike wonder we all lose as we grow older. He’s just plain good.

I went to Calgary last spring when I learned about his condition and I could tell that even though the disease was in its early stages, it had changed him. He walks with a cane. He’s lost sight in one eye. He can’t remember a lot of what made he and I the best of friends. The last thing he told me as I hopped into my car last Victoria Day weekend broke my heart. (It still does.) He said, “Look … Sean … I don’t know how much longer I’ve got.”

And I cut him off. I raised a hand and cut him off because I wasn’t prepared to discuss his dying. I said, “I know … just day by day, brother. Day by day.”

We Skype now. And every time I see him on my screen, I know I’m losing my best friend. It’s more noticeable now because his wife is doing most of the talking. But my friend still has that twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He’s still there … I can see it in his eyes.  I just don’t know for how much longer.

I’m going to visit him in the next little while. I’ll just sit across the living room and be there because he was there through all my trials and tribulations. He is a better friend to me than I ever was to  him and that probably makes me an asshole on a galactic scale.

I think I will take him for a drive when I go to see him if his wife gives me the all clear. We’ll bomb around the city, this time with my friend riding shotgun. We’ll look at cars in the car lots and maybe we might even catch a glimpse of a 1967 Fleetwood Cadillac. I want to do this before it’s too late. I need to do this while he still has that twinkle in his one good eye because I’ll know that he’ll know that he is my best friend … the best friend I could have ever hoped for.

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The Middle Aged Author

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Me circa 1977 age 10

poltergeeks!

Me circa 2012 age 44

 I didn’t set out to become an author. I didn’t set out to become anything, really. Sure, I had dreams of perhaps one day doing something spectacular with my life, but I can honestly say now 35 years after the picture at the top of this blog post was taken that I truly did not set out to become an author. (Those dreams included driving around in a customized van with a teardrop windows, a chain link steering wheel and freaking amazing mural. The mere fact that one could actually sleep in a van they customized was prrrrrobably the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my ten-year-old mind. The notion that shaggin’ wagons were for sex hadn’t yet occurred to me at the time.)

A bit odd because my fifth grade teacher at College Street School in Sudbury Ontario Canada encouraged me to write seeing as how I won a creative writing competition where I believe I wrote something in the way of nearly eighty stories and the closest kid to me had about thirty. There was a big chart with stars for every story each student wrote and submitted. My stars went off the cart and onto the painted cinder block wall.

I could draw, though. I still can. I think I might have wanted to become a cartoonist with my own comic strip starring my Siamese but that didn’t go anywhere. (A good thing, too – newspapers are in big trouble these days and I asked a twenty year old if they ever read the funnies. She looked at me like I was from another planet.)

I was in the army after high school. Served my time. Got married. Had kids. Got divorced. Got remarried. I was too busy with life to remember that writing mattered which is why so much of what I wrote in my spare time was of the recycle bin variety.

Anyway this blog post is maybe a bit melancholy, I don’t know. It just seems that everywhere I turn now, there’s something reminding me that I am getting older. Children growing up are obvious reminders, but there are other ones, too. Like your best friend in the entire world that you’ve known for thirty years who has been diagnosed with something that can’t be cured and will eventually take him. Like not seeing a 1979 Honda Civic in every parking lot in the western hemisphere anymore. The ones I always spotted were blue, like this one – I just loved that color.

I look around at these little reminders of the distance I’ve traveled since that freckle-faced kid in the picture above to the bald, wrinkling, achy, cranky far too often for his own good guy holding a book he wrote about a teenage witch and her dorky best friend, and I’m literally blown away by the fact that I am forty-five years old. I’ll be forty six in four months.

What.

The.

Hell.

Happened?

This whole growing older thing? Yeah … nobody and nothing really prepares you for it.

You wake up at three in the morning (or at least I do) and you stare at the ceiling in the darkness and you remember the way the sun felt against your face on that first day when you just knew that winter was truly over – you did this just before you smashed a thin layer of ice on a large puddle with the heel of your boot. You think about how summer evenings seemed to stretch on forever or that people once upon a time wore these track suits as casual clothes and you wanted one more than anything in the world and you drove your mother insane to the point where she broke down and cried because we just didn’t have the money. Then you feel like the biggest shit in the known universe – only it’s 35 years after the fact. (Mental note: call Mom and apologize for being a rotten kid.)

You think about people you once knew whose faces are still clear as day in your mind’s eye but you can’t remember their name for the life of you. (This is basically everybody I went to high school with save for two or three people. There’s all kinds of people I went to school with friending me on Facebook and I have no bloody clue who the hell they are but according to their profile they’re James Fowler High School Class of 1985. I always accept because I think that it would probably bad for a guy who is a published author to not friend someone back.)

So naturally I’m in a hurry to write that incredible mind-blowingly epic novel that will cause readers to stand up and cheer, crap their pants, give nothing but five-star ratings and land me a killer movie deal. Okay, well maybe not that massively successful, but just something that is significant. To date, I have written books that feature magic, evil bad people, a hero who can sling magic or who can bloody well fly – the reason for this is because I secretly wish I was my protagonist. I wish that life’s journey wasn’t fraught with kinds of perils that will rob you of your memories like my best friend of thirty years. I wish we could cruise around in his 1968 Fleetwood Cadillac on a hot summer night in 1984 with the absolute certainty that nothing terrible would ever happen to either of us ever, ever, ever, ever. Because when you’re sixteen in the early 1980’s, you believe this how it is meant to be.

I’m getting older. I can’t stop it and I’m trying to become wise. My son asks me for advice all the time so I figure I must possess some wisdom. I’m putting aside puffy magic for a while as I start on a project that I think is important.

I’m a middle aged author who is very lucky to have been published. I have a book coming out in three months and I’m now writing something completely different from anything I’ve ever written.

Holy crap.

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