I despise summer on the East Coast. I always have. The Herald Square subway station at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue is the real-world equivalent of the hubs of hell. It’s the epicenter of NYC’s savage summer heat. It’s claustrophobic and dark down there. It reeks of spoiled garbage and urine. You’re a hundred feet below ground, surrounded by trash and darkness, yet the temperature is still as warm as a witch’s oven. Even the track rats seem to openly sweat in the Herald Square station.
But Canada was at the other end of the spectrum. Instead of rats, Vancouver has raccoons. I remember the first time I walked the Sea Wall in Vancouver’s stunning Stanley Park. There were towering trees on one side, and miles of clean, open ocean on the other. The combination of these two things made me sob. The sob ripped out of my chest like a buzz saw. I spent a couple minutes trying to compose myself.
Then I took a more zen approach and gave myself over to it. What the hell, I thought. I need this. And I let myself go.
I cried for Jill. Cried for the pals I’d left behind, like Evan and John and my friend going through the divorce in Brooklyn. Cried for Pizza Suprema at 31st & 8th Avenue. But I cried namely because I felt safe here. I was safe for the first time in years.
I’m such a delicate little goddamned flower sometimes.
A few people on the Sea Wall stopped and asked if I was OK. An old woman handed me a Kleenex. I’m fine, I told them, wiping my eyes. I’m good! A gay man gave me his phone number and told me to call him. I gave it back to him and asked him to leave me alone.
The brisk wind off the ocean began to dry the water on my face. It was dusk now. I had more crying to do, but I didn’t want to do the rest of it here. So I headed home where I could cry in private.
I ran into Jill’s mother on Robson Street. I spotted her under the streetlights, walking along the sidewalk holding a bouquet of lilies wrapped in ribbons against her chest. She looked like she’d won a beauty pageant. I was happy to see her. She hugged me, which made me tear up again.
“I wanted her to come in the worst way,” I said to her.
“I know you did,” she said.
She wished me luck. Gave me another hug. Told me that if I ever needed anything to call her. Then we went our separate ways.
What were the odds of running into Jill’s mother on my first day in Vancouver? I figured that I’d be seeing Jill’s mom on a routine basis, that this was something that happened in a city the size of Vancouver. But I’d live here for the next eight years, not more than four blocks away from Jill’s parents, and I’d never see either one of them again.
My Vancouver apartment was easily the nicest place I’d ever lived in. It was a loft, with high ceilings, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer, and central air. It had a private deck with a gas fireplace on it. These were all things that people only dream about in NYC.
My furniture was sparse. I had the bed that the relocation specialist had purchased for me, and a dining room set that Victor Lucas had loaned me. Other than that, the place was as empty as the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
At night, I found a country station on the radio. I drew a bath. I sat in the tub in the empty, strange apartment listening to mopey, melodramatic songs. Songs about good old boys and barrooms. Songs about relationships that had ended and broken hearts. I missed country music. I hadn’t listened to it in years.
There was one song that I heard every night. The chorus of the song was this: “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” I can still hear the lyrics to that goddamn idiotic song now as I type this. I couldn’t help myself; I sang along, in that bathtub, surrounded by empty rooms in that surreal apartment on the West Coast of Canada.