JAMIE AND I USED TO WORK TOGETHER at a big downtown record
store here in Toronto, and formed a band -- succinctly named Gut -- with
Donald, who moved out to Toronto with Jamie from Nova Scotia. They moved
back to the Maritimes years ago, after we'd looted the store of everything
we thought interesting enough to steal. I'd been fired -- for lateness
and insubordination -- while Jamie and Donald just quit, having had enough
Donald's still in Halifax, while Jamie and his girlfriend
Rachel moved to Ottawa a decade ago, where they've bought a house in some
far-flung satellite town. I ran into them in a pub in Lunenberg last Christmas,
and we've gotten back in touch. Rachel's teaching school, while Jamie works
for the ministry of health and gives drum lessons.
Gut never played live, but we recorded every rehearsal,
and that seemed like quite enough. We basically made an awful, sinister
noise; Jaime would beat out a relentless rhythm while I worried sheets
of feedback from my amp. Donald would sit at his four-track and layer on
successive dollops of this noise, while adding bleeps and bloops from his
synth and snippets of "found sound" from the trove of records and CDs we'd
pilfered from the store. I suppose today it would be called "sampling",
of the most primitive sort. It was a lot of fun, from what I remember,
though we were usually stoned out of our gourds when we deemed it time
for a "session".
Jamie still has a committment to making ungodly noise,
albeit in the framework of "improvised music", and since he was always
the most accomplished musician in the bunch, it's probably a good thing.
I was probably a better critic than a musician, in the end, while we were
both curious about what Donald -- the "brains" of the scrambled operation
-- might have accomplished. He's quite devoted to his daughter, back in
Halifax, and hasn't pulled out his keyboard or four-track in years, from
what he told me last Christmas.
We pile into Jamie's car and he takes me for a tour of
the city, which mostly involves driving aimlessly around the mansions of
Rockcliffe while making obscene, scatological comments on the inhabitants.
"It can use an enema, this town," Jamie tells me, "but I like it more than
We find a Sri Lankan restaurant Jamie thought had closed,
and tuck into a few nice plates of curry. Back in the car, we head out
into the suburbs, driving up and down the canal and through the Health
Canada complex where Jamie used to work -- a chilly, desolate landscape
of ugly office towers and squat, windowless bunkers where they used to
experiment on monkeys.
Jamie and I have always based our relationship on sarcasm,
and a mildly competitive dialogue on the sheer absurdity of the world we
live in. It was a frantic, agitated way to be, especially when we were
young and brimming with amused outrage, but we manage to mull over more
personal topics tonight -- our status as "married men", the possibility
of children, by-products of finally having found a sort of "groove" in
our lives. It's a shame, I think to myself, that so many of my best friends
live so far away these days -- payback, I suppose, for my onetime, constant
insistence on my own isolation and self-reliance.
It's a good night, though, and Jamie drops me off at the
b&b with a standing offer to stay at their place nest time I come to
MY LAST DAY IN OTTAWA was always reserved for one task
-- finding the airbase where my dad spent the last two years of the war.
It doesn't take much more than a glimpse at a map to see that Rockcliffe
Airbase is still in operation -- as a civil airport and the site of the
Aviation Museum. I pack my bags and negotiate the bus ride out there,
thank the proprietors of the b&b and make my way down Elgin to the
Less than an hour later, the bus -- after a circuitous
tour of the suburbs that takes me in a long arc around the city -- drops
me at the door of the museum, a huge, triangular white hangar in the middle
of the three runways of my father's base. I stroll past the entrance to
look at the field -- the runways still there, but the hangars, offices
and barrack buildings long gone. The civil airport, full of little one-engine
aircraft, has taken the runway parallel to the river, while the museum
sits adjacent to the tarmac that once ran past the hangars. I'm here, I
think to myself, and I head into the museum.
I pay my admission, put my suitcase in a locker, and make
my way through the exhibits. I've been obsessed with aviation, lately,
and not just the military kind -- early commercial airlines, flying boats,
and the first passenger jets make up most of the obsession, and I've picked
up a copy of a flight simulator program that I probably can't use on my
current laptop, with a plug-in program that'll let me fly a DC-3. This
is a depth of geekishness I wouldn't have thought myself capable of reaching.
The museum, needless to say, is a real thrill. I'm glad
I'm here alone -- I can't think of too many friends, never mind K., being
as willing to spend as much time scrutinizing the aircraft for as long
as I do. I find a display devoted to Rockcliffe, with the old sign than
hung above the front gate, and several photos and paragraphs that talk
about the 168 Squadron. I take a picture of the sign, and make my way out
the hangar door onto the field, where a pilot is taking visitors up in
a vintage biplane. Parked along the tarmac are several big planes, mostly
massive two- and four-engine prop models, falling to pieces in the weather
due to lack of space for them inside, or funds to put them back together.
I get a museum official to let me out past the fence, to where I can take
pictures of the C-47 -- the military version of the DC-3 -- way at the
end of the row.
It's a beautiful day, the temperature hovering just above
cool, and the sun bright. I look around me and imagine my dad walking underneath
huge planes just like these, on this same spot, over fifty years ago. When
I finally finish with the museum, I check the bus schedule and decide I've
just enough time to wander out into the long grass next to the abandoned
While I stand there taking a few pictures, a motorcycle
roars up, a guy taking his girlfriend out for a joy ride. She gets off
when he comes to a stop at the top of the airstrip, and he points the bike
down the tarmac and takes off at roaring speed. On the way back, he pulls
a wheelie -- exhuberant, pointless, dangerous behaviour. I bet he's having
a great time.
I wander to the edge of the tarmac, and look over the
spot where the hangars once stood, opposite the museum. On a day like today,
my dad might have wandered past the converted American bombers he serviced,
as they were loaded up with mail for the overseas run to the Azores, Gibraltar,
The sun would have cast the same long shadows, and he
would probably have deemed the weather just as perfect as I did. He would
have thought about my mother, and home, with a longing different from the
more than faintly sad feeling I have right now. He'd be home soon, on leave,
and then for good, while I'm standing here trying to connect with a time
long passed and a man I barely knew. I see the bus come down the long driveway,
pick up my bags and run for it, imagining for a second that my dad might
have done the same thing, half a century ago, looking forward to the train