Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Only Subversive Act We've Got Left

It rained on Saturday, it's raining now, has been all morning, will all afternoon, like as if there never was a sun and never will be again.

I'm eating a submarine sandwich (Louisana chicken) at the Mr. Sub on Yonge [pronounced Young] street, north of Eglinton (avenue). From my hard plastic seat I can see three girls, 11?, 12?, 13? years old, sitting, swivelling on three swivel chair-stools up high at the counter by the window, the rain and grey behind them. But they aren't facing that way. They are facing me, or rather they are facing in my direction, facing the two adults in the chairs below them. I can't see the adults; their backs are to me for one and they're blocked from view sitting round and just behind the submarine sandwich making counter. Going only by the sound of their voices, then, I take the female to be in her early twenties, the man to be middle-aged.

I'm watching, listening not only cause I don't have the newspaper, magazine flat type of reading material seemingly designed for reading while eating, but also because I want to know the relationship between these five people. The adults don't seem to be married, lovers or anything of the sort. And neither seems related or parent to any of the three girls, who themselves don't seem to be any more friendly to each other than they are to the two adults. A club of some sort? But just the five of them?

A good energy surrounds them, comes out of them whatever the case.

They're telling stories. That's what I'm listening to over my attempt at a lunch under $5 (no drink, small sub, still $5.60 with tax). Stories, funny stories. They each get to tell one. It seems a kind of game one of them, the 20 something?, has organized. They take turns. One at a time. The adults and the three girls. And while one speaks all others listen. Whether teller is 11 or 47, same respect, same turn taking fairness.

The one pre-teen, blond with a kind, pale face, she's listened intently to the others, has waited patiently for her turn and when it finally comes she is smiling she is so excited. She's clearly buoyed up by the fact of just being listened to, to so raptly have the attention of all, kids and adults both. Because how often does anyone slow down enough to listen to anyone in this Blackberry answer your phone to interrupt your lunch date to say you can't talk on the phone to rush through lunch to check the emails you won't manage or remember to reply to kind of an age. And if adults don't listen, aren't listened to, how often do you think a 12 year old girl gets heard, and I'm wondering about a few sounds bites (in the CNN pathetic age of sound bites video games can't concentrate cause I watch 6 hours of tv a day duh i wonder why my children have ADD) never mind a whole anecdote being heard uninterrupted.

The story was not earth shattering. It did not change my life or anyone else's and there was no O Henry kind of a twist at the end to keep those who go to stories mostly just to tickle their brain matter buzzing. Rather, like a sweet hot chocolate fireside during a blizzard (or a very rainy day), it was nice, the story was; it slowed everything down, the way stories do, when they aren't forced to come in little milisecond nuggets.

The tale takes place when the 12 year old narrator was 8 (all those years before). Her parents were having a dinner party and she had a same age friend over. The two eight year old girls were hanging out upstairs (banished upstairs) trying to figure out what fun thing they could do while the parents had their fun below. Friend suggests they go sledding. Our narrator tells us this is hilarious because it is impossible. Our trusty narrator with honest smile and ample energy, she's forgotten to tell us when the story takes place - that it doesn't take place during winter - but no matter it's still cute, the fact that of course they couldn't go sledding, silly, there wasn't any snow on the ground. There was both exasperation and excitement in the way the blond narrator conveyed to us, her Mr. Sub listeners, how she had to tell her friend the obvious, about the lack of snow, but still with that slight knowledge that her friend might well have been aware of the fact. And indeed the friend said that snow would not be necessary. What they would do, what they did do, was to lay blankets and pillows and things all down the staircase. That's where they would do their sledding. That's where they did it. Much to to the displeasure of dinner party hosts everywhere, and to the delight of 8 year olds and adults with 8 year old souls (who still eat 5 cent sour keys from time to time).

Everyone enjoyed the sledding story, even the bespectacled bloke round the sub making counter (the one who still eats 5 cent sour keys) who was no longer pretending like he wasn't listening. So much so that he - I - had to go up to the mixed crew of storytellers and patient listeners. I had already started in asking (me who speaks as he thinks, as a form of thinking) who these five people were and how they knew each other, already started in and not able to stop even after seeing that the middle-aged man, with gentle blue eyes, that under his beige spring jacket he had on a Priest's collar. Sunday. After church. Who had wanted to go for lunch on a rainy Sunday? These four had. That was it.

And no one tried to convert me; they didn't pray for me either. They were just having lunch and it was lovely. Lovely. Doesn't that word sound so 1930s ridiculous and so difficult to pull off without irony in this age of bitter irony when you never expect to find the touch of human kindness in a Mr. Sub on Yonge Street?

This our time so afraid of religion it's more ok to ask your friend their sexual habits than to ask them if they pray.

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