I remember one of the last things the Beast told me the night before I left for Ottawa to attend a workshop on how to tell better stories using sound and images. I had just gotten home from work and flopped myself down on the bed with my pants around my ankles, too weak to pull them all the way off in order to get into my joggers. I said something about being frustrated with this post-TIFF 10 lb. I need to lose. And he said, “Well, can I tell you a fucking way to drop a quick five lb.?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Try getting rid of all that,” he said, motioning in a circular fashion down there.
So sweet! And so typical! How could I have possibly known that our friendly little domestic exchange in Toronto would be the last moment of normalcy that I would experience for days on end. If I’d known, I would have savoured the moment longer.
The oddities started on the plane bound for Ottawa. I haven’t been sick in well over a year, but my nose started dripping like a faucet. And then I read a New Yorker article about an American Iraq veteran who tracks down the family he harmed that the Beast told me I had to read. It took me the exact duration of the flight to finish it. And as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac, I burst into tears. Then I went to meet six strangers and my boss for the first day of our four-day workshop in an apartment with a cat and a dog, both of which I am allergic to.
That night, in my hotel room, I got a kink in my shoulder that caused so much pain that by the morning, I was laughing like a maniac on my hotel floor. I thought I would try to alleviate the feeling of vice-grips around a nerve by performing some yoga moves. But once I got down on the floor, I couldn’t get up. I thought, I am going to die down here.
The Beast wasn’t fairing all that well at home, either. He sent me a photo and a text:
The big debate: two frozen pizzas or a family-size lasagna and three days of leftovers?
At least I’d had a better dinner the night before. I took myself for a walk to a little place called Murray Street that a colleague told me about. I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered an oyster po’ boy for dinner, along with a nice glass of Falanghina. But the $16 sandwich was basically the size of a crostino. So then I ordered a little charcuterie and a glass of Montepulciano. My dinner for one came to $70. But at least I got to see the Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal on my walk there.
On Day 2, after recording audio in the market, our workshop group finished early. So I bought myself a $30 Lamy pen because I Am A Writer Who Needs It. Then I went to see Argo by myself. And then I felt really lonely. Homesick, almost. The last time I felt like this was 12 years ago. I was in Rome by myself for three days. I walked everywhere–from the forums and the Colosseum to the Villa Borghese to Santa Maria del Popolo back to Piazza Navona, where I was staying. My mom was joining me on the fourth day for a week. But my depression, in one of the greatest cities in the world with no shortage of things to do and see, was so great that I broke down into tears the night before she came and called her from a pay phone.
So after Argo, I called my mom. I was walking to McDonald’s because my Ottawa pseudo-self decided that would be a good idea for dinner. I told her about how I walked into my hotel room and immediately felt depressed because it overlooked the parking lot. But I didn’t want to ask to change rooms because even though I’m the least superstitious person I know, my room number was 215 and that adds up to eight, which is my mom’s favourite number, so duh. But the depression was washing over me so I did something I’ve never done before: I asked the concierge if I could change rooms because my current room “made me feel sad.” Those were my exact words. I would never say that in Toronto. Who am I, I thought, as he gave me a new card for my new room. And do you know what the new room number was? It was room 305. That also adds up to eight. Can you believe it?
There was a problem when I arrived at the McDonald’s: just three doors down was a Harvey’s. What the fuck was a I supposed to do now?
“Oh, go to the Harvey’s,” my mom advised.
“It seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t it,” I said. ”I mean, eating McDonald’s alone in your hotel room with a $15 bottle of Pinot Noir is fucking depressing. But Harvey’s? That sounds like a nice night.”
My mom made me promise to call her on the walk home because she was worried about me being alone. I walk alone everywhere in Toronto, including late at night. But there was something quite touching about her desire to protect me right then and there, over the phone, from London, Ont.
Back in my hotel room, I got into my joggers, poured my wine and sat on the edge of the bed to find something to watch on the television. I flipped through the following for a period of three hours: an episode of Friends, an episode of Fraser, some show on Slice about crazy women with their crazy friends and mothers shopping for their wedding dresses, Sliding Doors, Wanted in French, Napoleon Dynamite and Saving Private Ryan.
Sometime during my TV session, the Beast called me.
Foodie: Why didn’t you text me today?
Beast: I’m sorry! I don’t like being seen texting in public.
Foodie: Do you miss me?
Beast: I am lost without you. I am on my third frozen pizza.
Foodie: I just ate Harvey’s.
Beast: I fucking love Harvey’s.
Foodie: Me too! I can’t like down on my back though.
Beast: Why not?
Foodie: I think I have a pinched nerve in my shoulder. When I lie down, there’s a pain that shoots through my soul and then I can’t get back up.
Beast: What are you doing now?
Foodie: Oh, just reading.
Beast: How did everything go today?
Foodie: Good. I’m learning a lot about editing audio and doing proper field recordings. Remember how you did all those field recordings that one time at the cottage? The babbling brook, the train, the wind?
Foodie: That was a nice time. (Pause.) Ottawa is weird, man. I feel like I’m a different person here: my body is breaking down, my skin broke out, I’m eating like a teenager. I brought my running shoes but haven’t used them. And two Ottawa men have, you know, said stuff to me.
Beast: What do you mean?
Foodie: One was a repairman fixing a roof on Saturday morning. He called down and asked if I wanted to help. He said the day would go by a lot faster if I was up there on the roof with him. And then another man outside of Starbucks walked past me and said, “Daaaammmn” as he turned around to stare. That shit would never happen in Toronto.
Beast: Why not?
Foodie: I’ve got eye glasses! Look at me! And I was dressed like a Muppet character–a boy Muppet character. What’s up with Ottawa men? Are they just happy to see really average-looking women walk by? Don’t they have standards?
Beast: Well, I think you’re beautiful.
Foodie: I’m not fishing for compliments here. It’s just really odd is all. Whoa, have you ever seen YTV? There is some funny fucking shit going on right now.
Beast: I thought you were reading.
Foodie: I accidentally turned on the TV and there are these two girls dressed up like teenage boys and they are hilarious! I didn’t know YTV was funny for adults.
Beast: It’s not.
Foodie: What the fuck is going on with me? Oh shit.
Foodie: I just washed down my extra-strengh muscle and back pain relief pills with red wine and it says, “Avoid taking with alcoholic beverages.”
Beast: How many have you taken?
Foodie: I don’t know. I’ve also been popping Advils, iron pills, allergy pills, B12 pills.
Beast: Maybe that’s why you feel funny.
Foodie: What are you? A doctor now?
I wreathed around for the next two nights trying to find a position in bed that didn’t cause me to wince in pain. I fly home this evening. I wonder what Toronto will be like when I get back.