Jane salutes you from an age where to be an aficionado
is to find yourself foolishly situated in the world. Where
to care a great deal about something, no matter how implicitly
interesting it may be, is to come across as a kind
of freak. It’s interest — inordinate interest — in something
seemingly arbitrary, having little to do with you or the
context you inhabit. Beanie Babies, say, or Glenn Gould.
Jane once met a person who insisted he was “crazy about
Glenn Gould,” who owned all these rare and exotic recordings.
Called himself a glennerd, happily, smugly. Did other
Gould fanatics call themselves glennerds? Jane wanted to
know. The glennerd shrugged, didn’t care. It wasn’t about
other glennerds, Jane saw, it was only about this particular
glennerd, him and his fascination. This person was not a
musician. Didn’t listen to classical music, as a rule.
It’s that people get fixated. People take a notion in
their head. Jane, not her real name because all this embarrasses
her somewhat, once had a thing for a cartoon
called Robo-friendz. She was too old for Robo-friendz — sixteen,
she was supposed have things for men with tawny
chests, bulging crotches and leonine hair — but no, only
the Robo-friendz, for about a year or so, sent her into a
daily couch-catatonia. No one in her family was allowed
to talk to her when Robo-friendz was on. She probably
drooled as she watched, as slackly comforted — comfortably
absented — as a baby nuzzling breasts. These are the
obsessions that turn your brain somehow on and off at
once. They come regularly, each more arbitrary than the
next. Once it was mushrooms, especially the kind that
look like tiny, mounted brains. Once it was an all-male
medieval choir from Norway. Once it was a website with
a dancing hamster who sang a different show tune every
week. She checked it faithfully each Monday morning, like
a prayer to greet the dawn. It is not like alcoholism, it is not
like addiction. But it’s wrapped up with that — the pathetic
psychology of it. The everlasting need to flee whatever
there is to be fled from. Fortunately, one does not need to
dwell on this knowledge, one is discouraged from beating
oneself up in Jane’s circles. That’s good to know — you’re
permitted to comprehend and yet ignore such things —
that’s nice, that helps.
It started before the dream. A woman walks into a bar.
Starts like a joke, you see.
A woman walks into a bar. It’s Toronto, she’s there
on business. Bidness, she likes to call it, she says to her
friends. Makes it sound raunchy, which it is not. It’s
meetings, mostly with other women of her own age or
else men about twenty years older. Sumptuous lunches in
blandly posh restaurants. There is only one thing duller
than upscale Toronto dining, and that’s upscale Toronto
dining with women of Jane’s own age, class and education.
They and Jane wear black, don’t go in for a lot of
jewellery, are elegant, serious. The men are more interesting.
The men were once Young Turks of publishing.
They remember the seventies, when magazines were
run by young men exactly like themselves — smokers,
drinkers — and these men have never found one another
remotely dull — not in the least. Some of them used to be
in rock and roll bands. They wear their hair a little shaggy
around the ears, now, a silvery homage. Some of them
have even managed to remain drunks. This is something
a lady discovers quickly over lunch: which of these silver
foxes are recovered, and which are still sloshing around
down there in the dregs. Wine with lunch, Jane? Oh well,
perhaps I’ll join you. Half litre? Heck, why not a full one,
how often do you get into town? Martini to round out dessert?
Specialty coffee? At this point, both sets of eyes are
liquid, glinting friendly light.
If it doesn’t happen at lunch, she’ll go to a bar, later in
the day, after dinner. She has a sense of decorum. She can
wait until after dinner, especially when she’s on Vancouver
time, three hours earlier than this grey, weighty city.
So a woman walks into a bar. Meets a man — it’s a cliché.
The man is also a drunk, also an out-of-towner, also alone.
After the first round, they are delighted to discover they
come from precisely opposite sides of the continent. Oh,
ho ho ho. Delighted in that dumb, convivial way that drinking
people have. It’s not like it can be considered a coincidence,
being from opposite sides of the country. But, oh, ho
ho ho, they find it an inexplicable delight. To be meeting up
right here in the middle.
His accent was a giveaway from the start. His quaint,
alien accent, the way he can’t pronounce th, it’s twee, she
finds it cute. You’re not supposed to find Newfoundlanders
cute, they bristle at that. Some people are the same way
about Newfoundlanders as others are about Beanie Babies
and Glenn Gould. But his name is Ned, he’s burly, has a
beard and is a fiddler. I mean, come on.
In town to play some bars with his five-part folk/trad
outfit. They specialize in filthy songs, he tells her, dirty ditties.
Smutty traditional tunes from days gone by, baroque
with double — and sometimes single — entendres. Most
people don’t want to know that cute Newfoundlanders and
their Irish antecedents went around singing things like:
Come and tie my pecker round a tree, round a tree-o / come and
tie my tool around a tree. But, says Ned, they did, and do. Ned
bears himself up like a scholar as he tells her this. As the
evening unspools, he sings snatches from his repertoire,
and indeed most of it has to do with snatches in some way
or another. The only one she is able to remember afterward
is a song that kept ending with the refrain “bangin’
on the ol’ tin can.”
“I never heard it called that before.”
“We are a colourful people,” Ned had agreed.
Ned wanted to go home with her — to her hotel and not
his, because he was sharing his room with the accordion
player. But when that idea was vetoed by the unenticed
Jane — he was too burly, too bearded for her sleek tastes —
he recommended they at least keep in touch. So she took
his phone and email.
“If you’re ever on the Rock,” he’d offered with bourboned
From HELLGOING by Lynn Coady. Copyright © Lynn Coady, 2013. Excerpt reproduced with the permission of House of Anansi Press. www.houseofanansi.com. All rights reserved.