Wednesday, 28 March 2012

About Me, Part 47: Shake a Tail Feather

Throughout April 2006, I repainted and cleaned my west side apartment and began to pack my stuff into boxes as rhythm and blues songs from The Complete Stax-Volt Singles: 1959-1968 and the series Blowing The Fuse played on my sound system. My hair had become shaggy over the winter and I was also growing a beard, something my girlfriend liked. She had been hinting at me wearing lingerie, but with all my body and facial hair as well. That idea turned me off. I usually tried to change the subject whenever it came up.

I got rid of furniture and other old things, some of which I had bought not long after arriving in Vancouver, by giving them to thrift shops. Broken things were picked up by a junk disposal company. My last night was spend on a mattress watching Rebel Without a Cause on my TV set, now resting on the floor. The next day was bright, sunny and very warm. My girlfriend showed up in her mother's car and helped my sweep up the floor and move some things downstairs. The moving company arrived and began to remove my furniture. Bit by bit, my single life was dissolving. One of the happiest moments of my life was when my apartment was empty and clean and the moving truck had left for the east side and my girlfriend and I drove off, leaving my old life behind for good.

At her house, her mother's furniture and things were gathered in a corner in the living room to be removed once my stuff had been moved in. It was tight for a few hours while things moved in and out of the house. Finally, after lunch, the furniture was all sorted out and the moving truck left for Burnaby where my girlfriend's mother was moving. Her mother stayed behind to help clean and move her personal belongings into her car. Then, just before dinner, my girlfriend and her mother hugged and said goodbye tearfully. Her mother drove off down the back lane and out into the street. I held my girlfriend close and kissed her forehead.

For dinner, we ordered pizza from Lombardo's on the Drive. The pizza reminded me of Montreal Italian pizza. We sat in our living room eating and watching Billy Elliot on our "new" TV. The story of a dancer whose father has difficulty accepting him made me teary. Now it was my girlfriend's turn to hold and kiss me.

The next day, May 1, was another bright, sunny one. I headed to the SkyTrain station which now took a refreshing fifteen minutes by foot to get to. On the way I passed a Buddhist temple, a fire station and a school. The next few weeks were a bright blur of optimism and hope. With me working full-time and my girlfriend working regular hours doing office jobs and cleaning houses, we were able to consolidate our money fairly well.

I remember the summer of 2006, our second summer, as our best. She later told me that she preferred our very torrid first summer, but liked the stability and comfort of settling in and down with someone that I left and what a solid commitment added to our love for each other. It was the best of both worlds. And it only lasted for a short while.


While I began to fill our new home with music and shared meals, work was becoming less stressful. I began to use my newly rediscovered head space to work on my radio show demo. I booked two production studio sessions in June and one in July to record my music selections and me doing the show intro and station IDs and song intros and background ("enrichment" it was called in the radio biz). Back in January, my girlfriend and I had gone to an NA dance near Kingsway, when we bumped into another guest coming downstairs from the party for some fresh air. He was clearly having a great time. "Wooo! Shake a tail feather!" he exclaimed. That's it, I thought, that's what I'll call the show. It was originally going to be called Soul 101. Shake a Tail Feather, the name of a 1963 tune by the Chicago group The Five Du-Tones, was a classic, sung by many others: James and Bobby Purify, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Ray Charles in The Blues Brothers movie and Taj Mahal on a children's music CD called Shakin' a Tail Feather. It was official. In July, when I finally recorded my own voice on to the demo, I knew how to introduce the show.

When I finished editing the demo, I saved the digital copy in the station exec's file folder and recorded a copy on cassette for myself and to play for others. Then, I waited to hear back from the program coordinator. I did, in August. He liked it, but felt that it needed more "pep". I had been tired when I recorded my own voice. Nonetheless, he asked for my availability. Normally, new programmers filled in for others away or sick: one off spots here and there. He promised me that he would contact me when someone needed coverage. After that, as the summer continued, I heard nothing. But, my energies were elsewhere by then.


I came home one evening that summer after work to find my girlfriend home bundled up in a blanket in front of the TV. She seemed more than just tired, but depressed. I asked her what was wrong. She said that she had quit her cleaning job. I felt a slight panic as I knew our finances were delicately balanced. I asked her what had happened. Sighing, she replied that she no longer wanted to do it. She still worked temporary office jobs, but they were sporadic. Within a short time, we went from splitting the rent, to me paying most of it and sharing the groceries and other household expenses. What I found more bothersome, was that the extra time was spent hanging around at home. She became more depressed and began to question our relationship. She had stopped singing and had no plans to study it at any point, which was a shame given her voice.

Our bedroom life became strained. I saw settling down with a little less frequency, but more cuddling and sweet things as ideal. She wanted more activity. Neither of us were wrong. We knew that, but we struggled with it, even by experimenting with role playing somewhat.

For the Canada Day long weekend, we drove to the Tsawassen Ferry terminal and went to Victoria for a few days, staying at the Coach House B&B in the charming and quaint James Bay neigbourhood. We stayed in the old coachhouse which had been remodeled into a split level room with a bath/hot tub and loft bedroom. We had lunch with our mutual friend, who had introduced us, at a Mexican restaurant not far from the wax museum. My girlfriend and I ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant and had one of those old west style photos taken as a souvenir. We did a lot of walking and spent Canada Day night watching the fireworks over the inner harbour. We then hurried back to the B&B as a riot broke out in front of the Empress Hotel. We took a lot of photos of ourselves around town, in Fan Tan Alley and, on our last day after lunch at Paggliacci's, as we drove around the coast line to Oak Bay Beach. We spent a couple of hours there before heading for the Schwartz Bay Ferry Terminal. It was the high point of a high summer. But, just like the rest of the summer, it had its tensions. On our last night at the B&B, we had watched an old VHS copy of Mississippi Massala. We talked about the attractiveness of the two lead characters; soon, we were having an argument about why I found the leading lady attractive. I had meant nothing about it, but my girlfriend seemed to sense that I might be losing interest. As far I could see, I had not.

Our politics had always seemed complimentary. We shared some progressive values. But, her father had been a very bigoted man (he was deceased), and he had left his mark on most of his family. We had sympathized with the BC teacher's union when the went on strike the previous fall (I had done some picket duty for them); she had been out of town that time. But, when it came to racial issues, we had some disagreements. Ever since college, I always commemorated Black History Month by educating myself about current issues and reading up on civil rights history. I would watch documentaries on PBS. In August of 2006, I took Roots out of the library to watch it again for the first time in years. Some of this alienated my girlfriend, but I was always careful to remind her that I was only trying to remind myself that ordinary people had stood up for themselves, so could we. I am not sure that it ever got through. I did not blame her for anything, it was just something that I needed to do. I encouraged her to celebrate her own Irish roots which she refused to do. She was not proud of them, I think because they were linked to her own family history. I was content to leave the issue, but it would not be the last of it.


During the last week of August, we spent an evening at the PNE roaming around eating donuts and playing for stuffed animals. We then sat in front of the main stage to watch that evening's entertainer. Once home, we began to plan for my folk's arrival the following week. The reason why they were coming was because of an announcement my girlfriend and I had made a couple of weeks earlier. We were engaged. I gave my fiancee my mother's ring which I had kept in my safety deposit box. Soon, our families knew, my co-workers knew and my friends knew. We hosted a housewarming that month in which my bi friends and a colleague of mine along with her partner, who lived a few blocks away, attended. It was a lively potluck. It was great how we all got along.

My father and stepmother flew out the day before my thirty-sixth birthday. We spent a week all getting acquainted. My folks bought us a juicer and a rice cooker as engagement gifts. They met my fiancee's mother. My fiancee met my relatives in White Rock. During that week, I felt as if I was finally welcoming her into my family, both sides. One night, my folks made a pasta meal; when we were in White Rock, we ate the kind of meal my Barbadian grandmother would have made. I was honoured to welcome her in. We spent an evening at the Richmond Night Market.

But, there were secrets to keep as well. My fiancee bought me lingerie for my birthday and gave it to me when my folks were downstairs in the kitchen. When my fiancee had an NA meeting, I did not tell my folks where she was going; I feared their judgement. I know now that I should not have. However, when my folks flew home after a week in town, I still felt that all of our relationships were on the mend. I began to feel my family finally loosening their over-protective grip.

The next day, my fiancee started work at a downtown cafe/sandwich shop. I turned on the TV to see that a shooting had happened at my old college back in Montreal. Dawson College was in lock down. The same campus I used to attend all those years ago.


During my second week of vacation, I got an email from CITR. They wanted to give me a regular weekly spot, Fridays from 10:00 pm to Midnight. I could start that week. I phoned my fiancee to tell her. She was jubilant. I emailed my folks to tell them. They promised to listen to the live internet stream (three hours ahead for them) when I was on.

My fiancee and I took the bus to UBC that Friday night and waited in the station lounge. When I finally went on air for the first time (the first song was "The Whole World Is a Stage" by The Fantastic Four), I was very nervous, but played a vast number of songs, beginning with a feature on soul divas of the 60s and then switching to a Chicago soul spotlight. The two hours flew by. I dedicated the show to my fiancee who sat blushing in the lounge. My dream, thanks to her, thanks to music and to all the years that it had moved me, my dream of sharing my dream with others had come true.

To be continued ...

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