Arts and Culture

Americanface, Episodes 13-16

All this week's episodes rolled into one.

By Andrew Struthers 13 Nov 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew Struthers is a filmmaker and writer in Victoria.

13: Standstill

My split lens dilemma came to a head when the couple who ran the hippie bakery in town asked if they could borrow my cabin for a romantic anniversary evening on the beach. The weather was good, so I just bedded down in the lea of a giant cedar log that lay at the edge of the salal bushes.

Around three, I snapped awake. I had been stashing my cook's wages in a box in the oven, which I never used, because I ate at work to save money. If my guests preheated the oven without checking inside, my African or Asian adventure would be over before it began. But what were the chances they would use the oven? Pretty good, actually. They were the town bakers.

I ran up the path to the cabin. Utter silence. I wanted to bang on the door, but I couldn't. What kind of lunatic lends you his cabin for a romantic evening then crashes in at 3 a.m. hollering "Did you bake anything? Did you bake anything?"

So I lay and watched the cabin until dawn. It was as if there were two cabins. One contained my summer's labour, and my trip to Africa or Asia, curled snugly in the box in that form of congealed energy we call cash; the other contained only ashes.

At first light I heard their car start. I tore into the cabin. The box sat on the oven rack uncharred, and later I found out the oven didn't even work. But I moved the box under my bed to be safe.

14: Wealth

In those days Tofino shut down for the winter, and the pub sat like a struck stage set until spring. Suddenly rudderless, and with a big box of cash under my bed, I began to party, mostly at the house of Barry Grumbach, a logger-turned-crab fisherman who had a shooting range in his basement. It comforted me to hear guns going off.

My only direction came from working my way through John's books. He had highlighted reams of quotes and passages in yellow. At first I found it annoying, like someone was constantly tapping me on the shoulder while I was trying to read. But slowly I noticed a running thread. John had been on the trail of something big.

The setup reminded me of a TV show called Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, wherein a group of cartoon scientists follow the trail of mysterious Norse loner Arne Saknussemm to the planet's core.

Saknussemm left markers in the form of his initials, AS, inside a circle, with an arrow pointing in the right direction. Perhaps because those are also my initials, I became obsessed with the show. I believed I was destined to find the centre of the earth, until my big brother told me it was actually molten rock all the way down, and nary a dinosaur or tribe of cavemen to be seen. Bummer.

John had a whole shelf devoted to the Norse Gods. In one book, a quotation about Ygassril, the giant ash tree that supports the cosmos, was highlighted and also had a big spidery yellow star next to it:

For a tree's branches to reach heaven
its roots must reach to hell

Makes sense. Otherwise the tree would fall over. But I didn't want to start thinking that way. I was trying to outrun my evil thoughts, not broker a deal with them.

15: Humility

The day before my jump the newspaper ran this headline:

MYSTERY CHUTIST KILLED IN STUNT

Down in America some trickster dressed in a tuxedo had suddenly stood up and leaped out of a plane, to the surprise and terror of the other passengers. Search and rescue found his body a day later, but I never found out what he was up to because I left the continent.

The headline seemed like a bad omen. But my jump was all about restoring my faith in science, and bad omens are not scientific. They stem from a confusion between connection and coincidence, or at best, between correlation and causation.

For example, you hear a certain song on the radio every time you bump into a friend, as if it's his theme tune. Before you know it, your friend's character is coloured by the lyrics of the song, which unfortunately is Sympathy For The Devil.

The rational explanation is that the song is a hit, it's playing all the time, and you only notice when you run into your friend. But on average there is only one skydiving death per year worldwide. What are the chances that it would occur on the eve of my very first jump?

Apparently, 100 per cent.

16: Enthusiasm

Gwen's plane left about 10 hours before mine, so I wept and slept and when I woke up, my knee was so swollen it wouldn't fit down the leg of my jeans. I had to cut them open.

My original plan was to walk to the airport, because I had read in one of John's books that "even the longest journey begins with the first step." But the pain in my knee was so bad I had to take a bus.

I couldn't even make it to the bus station. I had to call a cab.

I couldn't even make it to the cab. The cabbie had to come upstairs and help me out of bed.

Thus began my journey.  [Tyee]

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