Legends of Myself 33

Posted on December 1, 2011

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Continued from Legends of Myself 32

33. Vancouver, 1958:  Lost Coats and Parachutes

Three Minute Eggs.  I suppose I walked more than once along Pender Street—the route I took to school on that first school morning after moving to the Butler Hotel—but I don’t particularly remember it.  I do remember eating there with my father.

Pender in Chinatown is an eminently practical street, serving a range of customers:  the Chinese themselves, tourists, locals, working people.  Among establishments appointed in red and gold for the tourist trade, and unpretentious dining halls where menu items are translated into English only as an afterthought, are other restaurants which are essentially greasy spoons, serving Canadian and Chinese food.  They have booths, tables, napkin settings and a laminated countertop fronting a row of stools, much the same as you would find in any number of towns in British Columbia.  Sometimes for breakfast my father and I were accustomed to go to one such, a place where they knew my father’s name.

I remember liking to dip strips of bread into a soft-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and pepper.  They served the egg in eggcups which I always suspected—although I was never really sure—were simply the glasses they used for ice cream floats turned upside down.

On one particular occasion I remember requesting a three-minute egg.  I vaguely recall previous to that morning hovering around the edges of some adult conversation where a fellow had insisted that three minutes was the perfect amount of time to boil an egg.  I suppose if he said so… But when the restaurant served my egg back to me runny enough to make me gag, I complained.

My father said to me, “Well, that’s the way you ordered it.”

Which was all very true but annoying to have him point out.

Lost Coat.  I remember my route back home from school took me customarily along Jackson Avenue.  Where Jackson crosses Hastings, a block down from the school, there was a candy store.  I suppose my father was well-employed then, because I always had a nickel or a dime in my pocket.  The store was fully-provisioned in all sorts of candy, but I particularly remember Turkish Delight, Pep Chew, Life Savers, Wagon Wheels, candy cigarettes with Popeye on the cover, and the one I took with me, Eat-More.

Another block past Hastings, Jackson met Oppenheimer Park.  The street that edged the north side of Oppenheimer blended a few blocks west with Alexander Street, becoming at that point Water Street where I lived.

At one corner of the park, there was a baseball diamond, with bleachers raised up behind it.  One afternoon on the way home I stopped at the park to play, as I suppose I did regularly, and that day left my coat behind on the bleachers.  It was a brand new coat; my father had bought it the day before.  When I got home and my father saw I didn’t have it, we returned to the park in a desperate walk to see if it was still there.

It wasn’t.

Aside from no longer having a new coat, there were no further consequences of losing it that I can recall.  The grim walk back to the park was my punishment—for people who like to think in terms of punishment.

My father was upset, and I have never forgotten it.

Parachute.  The candy store on Jackson was not the only one I went to.  I distinctly recall it was a different store where I bought the toy parachute for a dime.  I was straying in another direction after school with a friend, I suppose.

That first parachute must have been somehow perfectly constructed to catch the wind.  It was just thread, a patch of plastic and a marble, but when I tossed it in the air it hovered in the slightest breeze and glided away.  To give it room to fly I went down to the strip of no-man’s-land north of Strathcona, between that neighbourhood and the railway yards, the same strip which I had explored from the other direction when I was living near Clark Drive.  The last I saw of that parachute, it was gliding off on the wind and dropping down out of sight.  I searched among the bushes but could never find it again.

The next day I returned to the same candy store and a dime bought another parachute.  I remember climbing up the fire escape on the outside of the school and dropping it down.  But the second parachute didn’t catch the wind like the one I’d bought the day before.  The marble merely fell, dragging the patch of plastic behind it.  No matter how I tried to adjust it, no matter what kind of breeze was blowing, that’s all it did.

Maybe that’s all it was supposed to do.

I remember trying to recreate that parachute for years afterwards, using thread and handkerchiefs, with the nut from a nut and bolt as a weight, for instance, but I never again found or achieved the perfect balance which allowed that first toy to fly.

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Continued @ Legends of Myself 34

Posted in: autobiography