Apr 2019 24

“I’m going for a bowl of soup, Andrew. Would you like to come? But I’m buying.”

Easter Sunday evening. The phone rang, and I was asked out on a date.

“Sure. I’ll meet you.”

I wasn’t doing anything. So why not? I figure there’s a reason for everything that happens lately and I just want to go with it. Who am I to argue with the universe? I had been dodging my family all weekend and was just hanging out – to my family if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.

My date. She’s Japanese. She’s an artist who lives in her artist’s space. She’s feisty, and I really enjoy listening to her talk about her art and her Japanese background.

She’s also 83.

This is how my mom’s twin made her reappearance into my life. For those reading in February during my very strange month, I ran into a woman on the subway who was a dead ringer (shit, unintentional pun) for my mom who’s been gone for over nine years. I approached her. We had a chat, went for coffee, and said we’d stay in touch.

We’ve texted a bit since then, and now an impromptu Easter Sunday dinner together.

I won’t go into too much detail because I have yet to ask my friend if she’d mind my writing about her. So I won’t use her name.

But over wonton soup and chicken wings, we had another fascinating chat about being Japanese, my generation reconnecting with that past, and her life as an artist in Toronto since graduating in the 1950s.

Yes, despite her cool factor, she’s still a mom, and grandmom. She insisted I eat a medium bowl of wonton soup – “The small isn’t big enough, Andrew! You have to eat more. And you’re going to finish those chicken wings on that plate, too.”

But no, she is definitely not my mom other than she looks a lot like her. My mother was guarded, critical, and acerbic. My friend is wild, open, and loves a good laugh. A wild Japanese weed planted in the Canadian tundra.

“Andrew, why didn’t you text me back last night?”

“It was 2 am. I was asleep. And what are you doing up at that time anyhow?”

“Oh, I’m usually up late. Always have been like that.”

A true artist.

Afterwards, we trekked over to her studio and I was treated to a showing of work. Ceramics, silk screened scarves and wraps, and Haori Japanese shirts similar to kimonos. Six decades of experience on display for me in a private viewing.

Then we settled into some chairs in her studio with coffee for a long chat about art, life, loss, and living a true creative life.

“I think you approached me because you want to connect more with your Japanese side.”

“Well, perhaps you will help make me truly half Japanese yet.”

“You look more Japanese this time than the last time I saw you.”

“I was holding chopsticks earlier.”

I am not big on the meaning of Easter. Rebirth. But for some reason as I am going through a period of figuring out who I am and where I am heading from here, my Japanese side has come knocking.

I am still processing the events of February and March. I think I’ve put it all aside as I’ve gone back to work in advertising for a bit for practical reasons. And I feel my guardedness in my writing, and lack of it.

But when I stop and think about it… Why did my father live? Why were all those bizarre things happening to me during that time? Why did I choose to get sober right before all that happened, when I would need to be the most? Why did my mother’s twin make an appearance right when my dad was supposed to cashing out, but with a completely different personality and who wants to ‘mom’ me? And do we truly get back what we put out there?

As I write advertising from Monday to Friday, I find I actually miss the unpredictable magic of that time in February. There was a certainty and comfort in the chaos. A feeling like it was all going to work out, even if I had no idea how it would.

And it did.

I am still perplexed.

There is no knowing.

All you can do is answer the call to go for a bowl of soup when it comes and see what unfolds.

 

 

Apr 2019 23

You wake up feeling good. You wake up thinking, ‘Yah, it’s Easter Tuesday. The resurrection. Way to go, Jesus. Two days after doing a Jon Snow and coming back from the dead. What an inspiration.’

You get to the ad agency you work at thinking you can tackle anything. You’re prepared to come up with smart, simple ideas for clients and write effective copy and wittily banter with co-workers.

Then you go to the kitchen area and see some kid wearing a suit is grinding his own coffee beans with a hand-cranked machine.

Game on.

 

 

 

Apr 2019 18

The world of advertising is hogging all my words lately. While I write such scintillating copy such as ‘New Redesigned Can!’ and ‘Now more effective on coughs, colds, and flus’, I managed to squeeze out a few syllables about a recent adventure.

“Come over here, Andrew. Back here with me so you can really take it in. What do you think? You’re the one who will have to live with it.”

 

The term ‘Oriental Rug’ has always made me cringe. I guess it’s cause as a half-Japanese person, I’ve always hated the term ‘Oriental’. I’m not sure why. I’m not even sure it’s a slur. I’m guessing it has to do with old world terminology about navigation. Besides, my Asian background has been mocked by many better, and more cutting, terms and gestures for sure.

Because of this association, when I’ve consider rugs, an ‘Oriental’ was never on my radar. Truthfully, I think I’ve purchased two rugs to this point in my life – one was for Henry, my dog – so it’s not like I was faced with this decision very often.

But with a hardwood floor space that looked like it needed a little warming up, I decided an Oriental Rug was a possibility. I’ve stopped smoking dope, but I really like how you can get lost in the details of an intricate Oriental rug. As ‘The Dude’ played by Jeff Bridges said in ‘The Big Lebowski’, it can really tie a room together. Also, during my few years as an Audio Director, I always liked how a well-placed rug in a sound studio changed the mood, acoustics, and just looked fucking cool with a guitar-wielding musician standing on it.

So I started to do some research. Cause I’m a rug novice.

And I learned two things very quickly. First of all, the rugs that we traditionally refer to as ‘Oriental’ are from a belt of countries that span across Asia and aren’t exactly Chinese, Japanese, or Korean at all. Duh – you probably know this, cause you’re fucking smart and cultured and I buy rugs at IKEA. Most of the rugs I deem as ‘Oriental’ are Persian, or from Iran.

Turns out, a reputable dealer of these ‘Persian’ rugs was right in my neighbourhood. A place called ‘The Rug Club’ in Parkdale. I always thought the store was a front for some kind of drug business cause I never saw anyone go in. I wondered ‘How does a guy who just sells rugs stay in business?’. Turns out it’s because of the second thing I learned about these rugs…

They’re fucking expensive. Who knew? Oriental rugs are not a punchline at all. These suckers go for big bucks. No wonder ‘The Dude’ was so pissed about his getting wrecked.

Anyhow, I wandered in. And over the next hour, I didn’t just feel like a potential customer. I felt like I was the special guest of Mr. Mehdi Rahimzadeh. A third-generation rug expert with the family photos and stories to match, he showed me all kinds of gorgeous floor coverings from his hundreds in the shop – both within and outside of my budget. Most were outside of my budget. I seem to like the really expensive shit. The detail woven into some of these rugs is mind-boggling. You can really get lost staring into a rug.

Every time I was interested in one, he wouldn’t just tell me about the rug itself – the dyes, the process (the rug is bathed in yogurt to set the dyes) – we would go to the map of Iran on the wall and he would tell me about the city the rug was from. Its customs. What he ate when he was there. What time of day you get in on the train and where the sun is in the sky.

He travels to Iran three times a year to visit family and look for rugs to bring back. His next trip is in late May. The way he beamed about his adventures, this Indiana Jones of carpets, he made me wish I worked for him and was coming along for the trek.

I kept coming back to one carpet.

We spread it out on the floor. Mehdi removed the other rugs so we could focus on it alone, and we stared at it together.

“Come over here, Andrew. Back here with me so you can really take it in. What do you think? You’re the one who will have to live with it.”

I started to think about all the other carpets I had seen. I thought about what was trendy or bigger or more expensive or wait, maybe not even a Persian rug at all. Maybe I should go to another place.

Basically, I started to overthink it. I started to be very me.

“You know what, Mehdi” I said. “I like it. I’m taking it. It makes me feel good when I look at it.”

Basically, I told myself to shut the fuck up and be in the moment.

“Andrew”, he said. “There are many carpets here. More expensive ones but this one I like a lot. It is very special. And it makes you happy. That is the whole point! Why have it otherwise?!”

I asked Mehdi to pose for a picture on my carpet. He reclined, beaming.

There is a certain confidence and bravado projected by someone carrying a rolled up rug on their shoulder. As I walked through Parkdale on Sunday afternoon, I hope I telegraphed it properly. One kid walked past me and I nodded and smiled devilishly hoping I’ve planted the rug seed in his fertile mind.

I will lie on this carpet. I will play bass on this carpet. Dogs will play on this rug. It may even see some yoga. I will bet a Ramen noodle or two will accidentally kiss it.

Mehdi says it is over 60 years old already and from Shareza. Whenever he gets to there on his journeys, it is dinner time. And when you walk through the city, the setting sun makes the shadows tall, and at this time of year there is the scent of roses everywhere in bloom.

It is a good story. The romanticized history of a rug. True or not, I hope I will do it justice.

I rolled it out on the floor. The sun hit it and the colours came alive in a way they didn’t in the shop.

This rug makes me happy. I made the right choice.

My Oriental rug.

 

 

 

Apr 2019 10

Been a bit busy with some life stuff to write regularly. But some quick thoughts from a train ride home last night.

Some subway rides feel more electrically charged than others. This was one of them. There’s a feeling among the riders. Sort of a camaraderie of both misery and euphoria as we’re all on our way to somewhere better than wherever we spent our day.

I was jammed into the door area with my headphones on, watching people. A favourite passtime of mine. The human animal is so peculiar. At one stop, a mother and her three kids scampered onto the train, and they surrounded me. Three girls. All under 10. All Japanese, in school outfits. And all carrying stringed instruments like a violin. And very chatty with each other.

Like I said, I had my headphones on, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying but their lip movements – ya, sometimes I try to read lips, so what? – told me they were speaking Japanese. Their mother was doting on them like a happy bird with her flock. I almost wanted to join.

At the next stop, a very tall man carrying a cello case boarded and squeezed between all of us to get on. What are the odds? I think pretty low. I’m surrounded by stringed instruments and a cello just happens to get on board? C’mon.

So I take off my headphones and say to mama bird…

ME: Hey, look. A cello. Now we have a whole orchestra!

BLANK LOOK ON MAMA BIRD’S FACE, AND KIDS

ME: Cause y’know, you all have string instruments and he has a cello.

MAMA LOOKS AT ME QUIZZICALLY AND I REALIZE SHE DOESN’T SPEAK ENGLISH AND I CERTAINLY DON’T SPEAK JAPANESE

Fine, headphones back on.

The girls start whispering to each other and glancing at me, smiling. They might be making fun of me but whatever. It’s cool. I’m happy to provide some weird stranger energy.

Next stop.

A woman wearing a headscarf and with a stroller boards, and squeezes in among us.  I’m wedged up against the stroller. A baby, about 6-8 months I’d say, is in the stroller. A beautiful brown kid with big expressive eyes and goob everywhere. Clearly, a happy baby. Mom looks down at him and smiles. Big smile back.

And then the big expressive eyes are on me.

Shit, I’m having a great ride home.

So, I do what any weirdo would do in this situation.

I start to make ridiculous faces at this baby. Over the next couple of stops, I pull out every non-threatening goofy face I can muster (thankfully, already goofy face) to get this kid giggling.

The tongue wag. The bug eyes. The shifty fish lips. The shocked muppet (a patented look of mine). I’m channeling stuff I haven’t had to pull out of my toolbox since my niece was this age. I work in advertising and writing ads is easy compared to the challenge of entertaining a non-verbal baby.

And success. I see a happy, laughing baby looking up at me. Saliva bubbles of joy, and all. That’s when you know you’ve got them. They’ve lost control of their salivary glands.

The mum and I smile at each other. And then I look over, and the Japanese girls and mum are laughing at me too.

All of us are just enjoying the moment.

Without words.

Somehow in the noise and silence of rush hour among strangers, we found a universal language. Perhaps, it’s ‘dork’.

Then, my stop. I wave to my new baby friend and get off the train, saying nothing.

The doors shut behind me. The wind of the train departing flutters my coat. As I walk the platform, I turn up the music in my headphones a little louder to drown out the noise.

 

Apr 2019 03

So many people have said to me – ‘You get back what you put out there’ lately. I have started to examine what I’m putting out there. Other than pheromones past their best before date.

The topic of happy has been on my mind.

Yes, happy.

Oh, boy. Andrew’s listening to that relaxation music with the birds again. No.

But recently someone asked me what my life would look like for me to be happy.

At first I thought ‘Fuck you, what makes you think I’m not happy?’ and then realized that isn’t exactly a response a happy person would have. So I thought about it. I usually have an answer for everything right away, but I really had to think.

And then even when I started to talk, I realized I had nothing to say. Rare. I can ramble about anything usually, but this cupboard was bare.

Hmmm. Happy. I never really wondered about what that means, but what the fuck is ‘happy’, anyway?

When I was younger, the answer was easier – happy was something in the future, filled with possessions I had worked for, or events that I imagined would happen. Success at a career yet to even happen. Yes, those things would ‘make’ me happy.

Janis said it well. ‘Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz…’

And as you get older (I’m not that old yet, people) you get a little road in the rear view mirror and you see that you bought those things. You did those things. You’re making a living doing the thing you wanted to do.

And yet… did ‘happy’ happen? Hmmm.

Where is the truth in advertising? Weren’t we promised happy if we painted by the numbers?

So now I wonder, this ‘happy’, just what is it?

Part of me wonders if it is just the release of brain chemicals and their effect and a hope that the cycle continues. Happy is your brain chemistry working well. Keep in mind, I’m sober now and my brain is adjusting to this lack of generated highs and searching for the next one. So if this is the case, I’m in trouble for awhile.

What about a point in time? A destination? Can ‘happy’ be reached? “Ah, we’re here everyone. We made it.” This seems problematic too as it will always be dependant on an outcome.

Is it having a purpose? A feeling like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be and in the role you were meant to be in? That Dalai Lama looks pretty fuckin happy all the time.

An increasing number of us Generation Xers are starting to look at our lives and wonder if we’re doing this right. We still have time. I don’t know if I’d call it a mid-life crisis, necessarily. Some of us are wondering if we just made the world worse. And maybe the change has to start with ourselves.

I still don’t have an answer for the question.

But I am starting to wonder if it is the ability to look at each moment with optimism and wonder.

This is the problem for me, it seems.

Happy might depend on my own outlook on life and enjoying the moments and journey instead of only enjoying a hoped for outcome.

This would require a major rewiring. Like shock therapy. Like waking up with the brain of a happy-go-lucky dog. Like basically – not being me. Ugh.

But I’m intrigued with this topic. As a human. As a writer. As an explorer stepping out of the space capsule.

This needs more examination.

 

 

I know this. Happy. I’ve tried defining it through everyone else’s lens. Clearly, I don’t have my own definition of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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