There was a knock at the door, I got up off the couch to answer it, there was Nick standing in the dark hallway, the pay laundry next to him, chugging thru another endless load. I greeted him with as much enthusiasm as I could muster and invited him in. Immediately, as if on instinct, he went for the bottle of Chivas Regal that sat on the extended ledge next to the breakfast nook, there with the few other bottles. "You mind if I take a shot of this," he asked, taking a backseat to courtesy. "No," I replied. "In fact, have two, might as well, since I can’t drink anything," I said, "not with the drugs they've got me on." His was the first familiar face I had seen in almost two weeks, since falling ill with some sort of throat infection, strep, virus, not all that sure, the old British doctor, with deep-lined Beckett face, who I’d seen earlier in the week, not offering much in the way of a formal diagnosis. Typical walk-in clinic. Look you over a moment or two, feel around where its bothering you and, having finished with formalities, write you up one prescription or another and send you on your way, next, ha! Efficient, you’ve got to give them that. For whatever that’s worth. Next thing I know, Nick’s over by the kitchen counter, dish towel in hand, cleaning up a spill made in one of the frying pans, having poured himself out a little too towering shot. I tell him as much, and he replies that it’s for sipping, then proceeding to slam it back. We talk for awhile, about nothing really, school, getting caught up on things. He didn’t have any intention of coming to visit me, necessarily, so he tells me, but was just out driving, a few runs, here and there, and then suddenly found himself near the church and realized it was my block and decided to stop in. How nice of him. But it's true, the way these roads loop around in this city, the way they tend to always be circling inward, it seems, as long as you stay within certain borders and not drift off onto the highway, you’re bound to end up going just about everywhere, the city as maze, as it were, or else you may wind up going halfway up a mountain, completely lost in some dark backwoods region, retracing the paths and roads you followed to get out there, which happens, on occasion.
Anyway after that we end up going downtown, even with the clouds and the rain, the fresh air doing me some good, after being cooped up for far too long, far too long, not even being that productive, a little bit of reading, but not much, just being sick. Isn’t it strange sometimes how after recovering from some recent illness, looking back, you realize you were a lot sicker that even you were aware of at the time, in the midst of it, thinking you would be ready bounce back anyday, as the days and weeks carry on? You need something to compare it with, I suppose, to relate it to, outside of your present condition. Yes, for the body naturally adapts to whatever set of circumstances it finds itself in, for survival. At least I was sleeping well. Downtown we stop in at a couple of the book stores. Actually three. All in a row. Well there’s the used record store, maybe not even used, and also the clothing store, some chain-brand-whatever, in between. Usually skip over those. Also while walking around, notice both the Pita Pit, the one which we often would hit up after the pub for late-night snack, and the old cool fifties style diner, where we would drive to mornings for eggs, sausage and hashbrowns to go with our hangovers, had both closed since the summer. Pity. And across the street the new city building, now fully erect and open for business, hovers over, like a great modern monstrosity, blocking out the view of the harbor. This used to be a swell street to wander down, minimal traffic, unique, artsy sorts of stores to stop in, peruse, to hang out at, dig the scene. Used to be. That’s all slowly being moved out, in favor of the mass shopping centers that are all the rage now. Maybe, but they only fill me with rage. No, not rage. Not anything, really. It all feels so unreal, so disconnected. But we adapt to it, in time, live with it. The gap widens. All you can do is run from it, hide away in little book stores, pass the time, waiting it out. In one of the stores Nick shoves a copy of Dubliners in my hands, tells me to get it, great read. Its two bucks. The price is right. Also grab Thoreau’s Walden and Other Writings for another four dollars. Meanwhile, at my urging, he picks up a modern translation of Crime and Punishment in almost new condition, ten bucks. "Including my brother's, this is the third one I’ll now own." It’s the only one you’ll ever need I reassure him, and it’s true.
After that we walk down the block and around the corner to the Thirsty Camel, one of those, how would you describe it, new-age, laidback, hippy joints, exotic eastern-pop music that greets you when you enter, with a menu consisting of things such as Indian-spiced hummus pitas, organic fruit smoothies, gluten-free cookies, and so on. The tops of the tables are all made of corkboard, with a hard plastic covering, protecting the newspaper clippings attached to them, for the patrons to read over while waiting for their orders, presumably. I don’t bother to read the one in front of me, but instead pick up a copy of some locally distributed paper/magazine, whatever you prefer, skipping over the feminist action articles and landing on a profile of the Sri Lanka/British MC, M.I.A., a promotion for her new album. I skim it over while Nick orders a chicken pita and tea. The waitress who brings over the tea is a pretty young thing, with teased shoulder-length black hair and smooth features that, at first glance, had me mistaking her for oriental. She advises Nick on proper procedure with this particular type of tea, a mate (maw-tay) full of finely ground herbs that you drink thru a metal straw. Very strong, she warns. And bitter. First you pour in some of the hot water, wait for the ingredients to rise a bit, then add the rest, and enjoy. It really is bitter, I find out, trying a couple sips Nick offers me, but not altogether unpleasant, with a bit of kick, would drink this over shit coffee any day. True, there’s decent coffee, freshly ground of course, but what bloody effort, and the buzz, the kick you get is never that satisfying, more that kind of anxious, uncomfortable feeling that gives you the urge, I fall into the second person at the mere thought, to jump into a shower, clean yourself up. Maybe not quite like that. What does it matter. I see my former neighbor, the one who used to live in the suite next to mine, attached, separated by only a thin wall, come in and place an order. His hair was a lot longer than I remembered it, but the soft-spoken, almost timid, approach, yes that’s him alright. What has it been? Eight months, since they moved out? And not a single noise complaint since. But I suppose that’s what you get for living next to a librarian, or whatever it was he did, travelled a fair bit if I recall. And his wife, where did she work? Oh yes, I remember seeing her behind the counter at one of the second-hand places. But that’s only volunteer, I think. But still work nonetheless. I’m glad I’m not working right now. School takes up all my time as it is. Or else I would find something, somewhere, try to at least. Not even enough time for that as it is. Being sick didn’t help matters. I start to get antsy sitting there, watching Nick munch down on his pita, thinking about the work I should be getting back to, soon. Still, good to get out. He takes a call from someone, having to verify his identity with them, before they will begin. They talk a few minutes, hard to pick up about what exactly, making some sort of places, then he clicks off. "That was Dave. He’s so formal over the phone, then he tries to make a joke," he shakes his head in disgust. "That guy. Anyway I’m going over there later to hang out and drink gin." "Sounds like a good time," I say, wondering for a moment if he’s going to invite me to tag along, having not seen Dave since that night at the Chrome Horse, back in the spring, before it closed, and not since he moved back into town. He doesn’t though, not even as a gesture, but it doesn’t matter anyway since I can’t drink, and would have turned it down anyway, too much work to get to. Nick starts in about how I should be drinking green tea for my illness, and just in general really, going on about all its health benefits, this from the same guy who I've always known to be constantly smoking, bumming smokes every chance he gets in fact, every opportunity that arises, on campus, or anywhere else. But to each his own. Nick decides to order us both a couple of green tea lattes, no, that wasn’t the name, but the equivalent to it at any rate, a mocha latte substituted with green tea. The cute black haired girl brings them over, Nick has a try at talking her up while I smile at her, trying to maintain interest, engaged, then finally look down, staring into the green and white frothy swirls of my drink in front of me. Two weeks without a single thought about any girl. Too much. Well, there was one girl, occasionally, but she’s a long ways away. I really should write her, soon, now that I’m finally better, after the work’s out of the way. But there’ll always be work, always in the way. At least get thru this weekend, catch up on late assignments, then maybe think about other things, people.
The latte turns out to be delicious, energizing but calming at the same time, mellow, a smooth buzz. When we get outside, not raining anymore but still beautifully dreary, I make a suggestion to go up to one of the second-hand stores, nothing but an excuse to walk around somewhere, feeling good now, energized, almost wired but not quite there. But Nick having other plans, we simply start walking back in the direction of his truck. As we approach a group of disenfranchised goth punks hanging around outside one of the shops, seeing an opportunity, Nick asks to borrow a dollar, to bum a smoke, naturally. But I don't have one, tell him to just go buy a pack, he's going to eventually, at some point, between now and whenever, later. "You don't know that," he snaps back, "nothing is certain, I'm not necessarily going to do anything." "Yeah, maybe that's true," I reply. "But based on your past actions, I would venture to say it's a pretty safe bet, odds are, you will." Then: "Twenty bucks, how 'bout it?" He declines and, with simple resignation, I say, "That's all life is anyway, a gamble." We reach the truck and start off, driving back to my apartment. On the way he points out the Conservative's election signs that have been defaced, vandalized, with red circled Vs spray-painted on all of them, all in a row, some even having the -onservative covered up with duct tape and replaced with -orrupt, brilliant! Only too appropriate, Nick agrees. As we draw closer to home, I’m suddenly filled with a weird notion, and, turning to Nick, for whatever the reason, suggest to him we both turn out to vote, forget the usual apathy, and not for the Liberals either, not NDP, but for the Green Party. Even making a whole argument for it, why it's the right way to go, the decision to make. We’ll feel better for it, I tell him, having known we’ve exercised our democratic right while avoiding contributing to the laughable bullshit party system we’re presented with, in the guise of real Democracy, yes. We can even go smoke a joint and play music or something, afterwards. When did I suddenly become so politically conscious? I must be getting old, the first signs at any rate. But whether I believe it all or not, most of the time, thinking on it now, it just gives me a headache, futile. What does it matter? Will it matter? Who knows. Once parked outside, before I get out, we make plans to meet up next week, on campus, get back into the boxing. "Sounds like a plan I can get behind," I say. As he drives off, I head towards my suite around back, back to the work.