Friend of a Friend

Chaos in Print

If there’s one thing that frightened me about a job interview in another city, it was the fact that I was going to be alone. True, I was going to be staying with L’s folks, but, honestly, how many of you out there actually hang out with your friend’s parents? As a bit of a defense mechanism, I wanted to surround myself with as many friendly faces as possible. So, once the schedule for my whole interview in Vancouver was worked out, I sent off an e-mail to Whither about possibly getting together and hanging out for an evening.

Whither is a childhood friend of L’s whom I met just once before. Several years ago, when Chuck and L’s relationship was still new, Whither came out to Alberta to visit Chuck and L, and I made it a point to go down and meet her. What can I say? I wanted to know more about this world that L came from, and just get some assurance that my best friend wasn’t going to get burned. We all hung out for an afternoon, where I royally kicked everyone’s ass at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, and we just hung out in that way that friends do. Even when Chuck and L had to leave for their respective jobs, Whither and I hung back for a while and talked. I think she was just as eager to learn about Chuck’s world as I was to learn about L’s. At that first meeting, we were just two people looking out for our best friends. We exchanged e-mails and ICQ numbers, and as time drug on, we’d occasionally talk to each other online, but nothing more than smalltalk. I was hoping to see her when I went to visit Chuck and L back in September, but fate and circumstance prevented it from happening. So, my return trip to Vancouver, and my need to surround myself with the familiar, drove me take the initiative in trying to set up a meeting between the two of us.

Well, I’d like to think I took the initiative. It was Sunday evening. Day one of my interview had just completed, and I was trying to relax by watching Futurama. I was thinking that I’d call Whither when the show was over, but it was halfway through the show when the phone rang. L’s mother came up to me with the phone and coyly said, “It’s someone who wants to talk to you.” When I first heard the voice of a young female on the other end, I instantly assumed it was my sister, and asked in an accusing manner how she got this number. I got the somewhat obvious reply: “Uhh, because it used to be L’s number and I’d call her all the time.” That’s when I finally clued in that it was Whither. I explained my confusion. We laughed it off and began making plans for the next afternoon.

The most optimal time was to meet up after my interview on Monday morning, and then we’d spend Monday afternoon hanging out. Whither had one of two plans for us. There was this exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery that she had been dying to check out. It was all about the blending of human and machine forms. That, or, we could go see her new favorite movie The Royal Tenenbaums. It would be the fifth time for her, but she didn’t care. She loved that movie. I, naturally, chose the Art Gallery. What geek in his right mind could turn down an exhibit dedicated to funky cyborgs? The plan was set, I went back to watching Futurama and getting in the right mind-set for part two of my interview.

Monday came. I got through the interview. Then, I was in for the wait for Whither. My interview wrapped up at 10:30, and Whither was going to meet me at 11:30 at Canada Place. I passed the time by heading across the street to a McDonald’s. I was so nervous I had skipped breakfast, and with the stress gone, I was now starving. I grabbed a cheeseburger, and then checked out a few tacky tourist gift shops. I had promised my sister a tacky Vancouver souvenir last time I was out, and had forgotten to get her one. With a full belly and a tacky souvenir for my sister, I headed back to Canada Place to resume the wait.

I didn’t have to wait long, though. I soon heard a voice behind me, calling my name. I turned around to see Whither, making a grand entrance by descending the escalator from the upper levels. We exchanged pleasantries, and she instantly asked how I felt my interview went. I shared with her my strange calm and feeling of satisfaction. She smiled at this, and we then left Canada Place and began walking up the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

We must have made quite the pair walking down the mean streets of Vancouver. Here I was, still dressed in my finest from the interview. I was wearing my three piece suit, my most professional looking tie, and had a black nylon satchel casually tossed over my shoulder. To the casual observer, I was probably some young mover and shaker with his laptop, off to some lunchtime meeting. Whither was dressed much more casually, with her faded jacket, nose ring sparkling in the sunlight, and an overstuffed backpack on her back. To the casual observer, she probably looked very much like the university student that she is. I pointed out this contrast in styles to her, and she was quick to point out my shoes. I had ditched my black formal shoes that day in favor of my black sneakers. I explained to her that I did wear my formal shoes to the first part of the interview the other day, but my formal shoes are so tight that they tend to chafe my ankles. When I got home the previous night, my ankles were covered in blisters, and when I tried on my formal shoes that morning, I just couldn’t stand the pain. So I sacrificed style for comfort. I then asked the rhetorical question, “Who the hell said that all formal shoes have to be uncomfortable?” She agreed with this sentiment, and we continued up the street.

It was also on this journey that Whither felt the need to apologize. That evening, she had to do an oral presentation for her ecofeminism class, and needed to drop by the library to do some research. She asked if this was OK, and I was more than pleased with that. I’m a geek. I can have fun in a library. Naturally, though, I asked what ecofeminism is. If I understood her correctly, ecofeminism is the philosophy that the human race has looted the earth and damaged it to the extent that it has because our male dominated society views Mother Earth as just another woman to be exploited. Or something like that. I don’t think I understood her correctly.

It was also on this journey that she lamented, “It’s too bad you couldn’t stay until Thursday, because that’s when I do my radio show.” Whither does a radio show on Simon Frasier University’s station, and I always felt that she’d be a natural for such work. I also felt a little envy, because the one thing I miss about university is doing my radio show. I don’t know if her lament was an invitation to sit in her station’s green room and listen, or to be special guest DJ, but either one would have been cool. Soon discussion soon came to an end, though, as we found ourselves on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

We walked into the lobby and found it strangely empty. We continued forward to the ticket office, and that’s when our hearts sank. Little did we know that the Vancouver Art Gallery is closed on Mondays. There would be no funky cyborgs in our life that day. We walked up to the locked glass doors and tried to gain some glimpse of what we were missing. We looked longingly through those windows for a few minutes, like two children looking at toys in a toy store window. As much as we stared, though, the doors did not magically open. As we turned to walk away, Whither looked at me and said, “Soooo, still want to see Royal Tenenbaums?” I love people who have a plan B. The next showing at her favorite theater wasn’t until 3, and it was approaching 1. It was time to head off to the library.

I believe I have gushed on the virtues of the Vancouver Public Library a few columns back, so I won’t bore you with further details. Except for maybe one. This movie geek got to see his first-ever movie set! Turns out they are filming a movie at the library called Ecks vs. Sever. From what I’ve gathered online, it’s based on a Game Boy game, and it follows the adventures of good spy Ecks (played by Antonio Banderas) who’s hunting down rouge spy Sever (played by Lucy Liu) and they soon learn that they are the pawns of an evil super-spy (played by Ray “Darth Maul” Park). At first, the prospect of seeing a real-live film set thrilled me, but then we got closer, and there was just a lot of people standing around. No big stars. No pyrotechnics when someone yelled “Action!” No people yelling “Action!” I actually found it to be a little disappointing. I shared my disappointment with Whither and she just sympathetically said, “Yeah, they’re all like this.” We eventually found the path around the set into the library. Turns out they get in the way, too.

I again found myself in the main promenade. Unlike when Chuck and I visited a few months ago, the library was open now, and the place was bustling. Whither hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and that cheeseburger I had for a late breakfast wasn’t holding me over much longer. Whither recommended one of the promenade’s shops for great pizza, and she headed off for a pastry. I entered the Flying Wedge, and made a selection of a slice of seafood pizza. I took off my lucky Star Trek hat (yes, I have a lucky hat as well as a pin) to wipe off the sweat from the pizza ovens, and placed my hat back on my head. The lucky hat is also one of my ultimate ice-breakers, as the cashier in the Flying Wedge and I had this brief conversation:

Cashier>> Dude! Where did you get that sweet Star Trek hat?

Me>> At a little store in West Edmonton Mall about five years ago.

Cashier>> Wow. I went to West Edmonton Mall once. It was back when it first opened, and they had all the great Oilers at that skating rink, you know, Gretzky, Messier, doing their practice.

Me>> You know, the Oilers still do that. Have their practice in the mall.

Cashier>> Cool.

Whither and I found a table in the promenade and began dining. We made that small talk that friends make, as she shared her newfound passion for accordion music and we dissected the subtleties of Kevin Smith films. She even caught me subconsciously bobbing my head in time with a song I had stuck in my head, and asked what the song was. That’s one thing I’ve really come to enjoy but don’t do much of anymore: just talk to people. Soon, Whither left me to go start her research, and I finished off my slice of pizza. I glanced at my watch. We were to meet up again in an hour. Luckily, I am a geek, and I know how to have fun in a library.

Although, I must admit that I have never been in a library as large as the one in downtown Vancouver. My strategy was simple. I’d explore a level, then head to an escalator, and go up to the next one. I did this for all the levels of the Vancouver library. I even got funny looks as I explored the uppermost level, which is the really exclusive reading room for the rarest and most valuable books. That took up about 45 minutes. For the remaining 15, I sat myself down in front of the computerized database, and began looking for books I had always wanted to read. William Shatner’s Star Trek Movie Memories was out, but Michael Moore’s Downsize This! was in. I found Downsize This! and read a chapter or two. When I glanced at my watch, I saw it was time to meet up with Whither. I headed to the front entrance, but saw she was no where to be found. I decided to go back in and look for one more book: the little known Iron Giant sequel, The Iron Woman. I found it, flipped though it, but didn’t have enough time to get engrossed in it. I charged back up the stairs and out into the promenade where Whither was waiting for me. We stopped in at one of the promenade’s coffee places so she could get a steamed milk, and from there, we were off to Tinseltown!

Tinseltown is this movie theater/mall in Vancouver that Chuck told me stories about when I was visiting, but we never got to see a movie there. Whither would just coyly tell me stories about how it was one of the coolest movie theaters ever. When I’d ask for elaboration, she’d just say, “You’ll see.” As we stood in line to buy our tickets, we both shared our disgust at Disney’s Peter Pan 2. We stared up at the huge Episode II banner. She shared her reservations about Attack of the Clones, and I, as always, tried to be defender of the faith. (On a side note, I actually know less about Episode II than I did about Episode I at this time in 1999. Just for all those people who think I’ve read every spoiler.) Finally, though, we both admitted our true reasons for wanting to see it. She’s a costume junkie, and wants to check out the costume designs. I’m a visual FX junkie, and just want to see some great eye candy. Before long, we were at the front of the line, and we had bought our tickets.

We approached the usher and expected to get into the theater with no problem whatsoever. But, the usher held up his hand to stop Whither. He pointed to her steamed milk and said, “I’m sorry, but no outside food in the theater.” Whither cited precedent, pointing out how other ushers have let her take her steamed milk into the theater before, but the usher wasn’t budging. So, she and I shuffled back out to the lobby where she tried to guzzle down her hot drink so we could get into the movie. And as I’m sure that most of you can attest to, hot drinks really aren’t designed to be guzzled. We stood out in the lobby, wondering if the guy was being so rigid because he was new, just power-tripping, or a little of both. Either way, we were both in agreement that sometimes the worst narcs are the ones making minimum wage. I wasn’t really listening, as my mind was reaching back into a childhood of James Bond movies and MASK cartoons, attempting to figure out how I could use the ultimate weapon of illusion to smuggle in the steamed milk. I thought of stuffing it into my satchel, but it was already overstuffed as it was. My gaze drifted over to the snack counter. Perhaps, if I asked the clerk nicely and oozed some of that charm I so infrequently use, I could get an empty large cup. The steamed milk could be placed in said cup and minimum wage narc would be none the wiser. As I was about to leap into action, Whither said, “Aww, screw it,” and we once again approached the minimum wage narc. Whither again pleaded her case, and this time, the narc relented. We were a little stunned at his change of heart, but that didn’t stop us from heading into the theater.

The theater reminded me a little of Silver City back in Edmonton. Large, spacious, huge screen. Whither selected the best seats, and that’s when I learned what made this theater so cool. The seats could recline. You could park your butt in that movie theater and lean back to your heart’s content. This was a cool theater. I decided to make myself as comfortable as possible. I ripped off my tie and stuffed it in my pocket, leaving my top button oh so casually unbuttoned. I took off my sports coat and tossed into the seat next to me. I unbuttoned my cuffs and rolled up my sleeves. I felt like me again. Whither took the seat on my other side and we settled in, waiting for the movie to start. As we waited, we continued our continuing conversation. This time, a mutual love of computer animation was revealed, and I did my best to fill her in on the plots of the two ReBoot movies. The conversation was cut short, though, as the lights dimmed and the projector started whirring. Whither urged me to continue, though. “Relax,” she said. “It’s just the ads.” So, I continued.

The movie soon started, and that’s when the conversation ended. The Royal Tenenbaums is a good movie, and I highly recommend you all go out and see it. It’s about a family of burnt-out, grown-up child prodigies and the havoc wreaked on their lives when their father announces that he’s dying. If I had to place it on the nib scale, I’d probably give it about a 3. Maybe a 3.5. Two hours later, as the movie was drawing to a close, I leaned back a little more, put my feet up on the chair in front of me, and prepared to look for familiar names in the closing credits. Whither asked me if I wanted to go, and I said that I like to stay to the end of the credits. She said she also likes to stay, and we stayed. When the listing of songs used in movies soon came up, though, she did ask me to move my feet. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a pad and pencil. She began writing down the names of the songs that were used in the movie but not on the soundtrack album, so she could play them on her show. I smiled a little. I probably would have done something like that, back in the days of the Scarecrow. When the credits were done, we began making our way out of the theater.

Back in the sunlight, we looked at our watches. It was roughly a quarter to five. It wouldn’t be long before we had to go our separate ways. On our walk back to the bus stop, we passed a Chinese market, and Whither asked if I wanted to stop in and look around. When L originally took me to the Chinese market in Coquitlam, she had failed to mention it was a city-wide chain. As I was mulling over whether to go in or not, Whither and I were soon approached by a homeless man. The guy began going though his sales pitch, telling us the rates at the local homeless shelter and wondering if we might be able to spare $3 for a bed and $5 for supper. I was somewhat bemused. This was the third time it had happened to me over the two days I was downtown. Something about wearing a suit makes people think you have money. And, like with those other two homeless people, I instinctively reached for my wallet and started seeing if I had the money to spare. I gave the guy my last $5 bill, and he pointed out that he still needed $3 for a bed. So, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my change, searching through the loonies and quarters, trying to dig up $3. What can I say? I’m a soft touch. I gave the guy $3 and wished him well. As he thanked me, he turned to Whither and said, “If this man ever asks you to marry you, I suggest you say yes.” He walked away, I looked over at Whither, and suddenly the lessons learned from a hundred episodes of Ally McBeal kicked in. Whither and I? Married?

The setting sun gave Whither a somewhat heavenly glow. Out of everything we had been doing that afternoon, it had never occurred to me that others might see it as a date. Could it have been a date? Could this woman and I possibly get romantically involved? My mind was ripped open to a possibility I had never considered. I started having visions of a possible future where Whither and I had a typically awkward first date, which somehow led to a long, happy romantic relationship, ending in our wedding. This vision continued, projecting us approaching middle age and figuring out how to pay for the university education of our 2.3 kids. Not long after, I could see us riding off to some form of castle, preparing to live happily ever after. Never, ever mention marriage to a person who has learned everything about relationships from Ally McBeal reruns. This vision lasted for a fraction of a second, and I was soon able to shake it off.

I re-entered reality and again looked over at Whither. I saw a genuinely cool person. I saw a person who had taken time out of her busy schedule to give an afternoon of comfort and fun to a person she barely knew. The lessons of Ally McBeal were giving way to the teachings of the Jedi. A Jedi should live for the moment, and in that moment, I saw a friend. I smiled slightly as I began internally laughing at my so-called “vision.” Why should I go and ruin a perfectly good afternoon because of what some homeless guy said? Stupid homeless guy. Stupid Ally McBeal. Stupid overactive imagination. Our continuous conversation resumed, as we talked about the homeless guy.

“That’s what I hate about wearing this suit,” I said. “People tend to think I have money.”

“But look at it this way,” she said. “Most guys in suits probably ignore him. You just probably ruined his preconceptions about guys in suits.”

We climbed a flight of stairs, and she pointed out the Skytrain station to me. She said that if I wanted to take my beloved Skytrain back to Coquitlam, this is where I’d catch it. I was feeling somewhat adventurous, so I said yes. She gave me my instructions and what buses I’d have to take when I reached the end of the line. She would have come with me, but she had to get to her evening class at the university, and the bus she had to catch would be taking her in the opposite direction. It was time for the good-bye. I gave her a great big hug and thanked her for the afternoon. I also wished her luck on the presentation she had to give in her class that evening. I headed for the station, and she began heading to the bus stop. I turned and watched her go.

Within a few minutes, I found myself on the Skytrain’s new Millennium line, again soaring over the rooftops of Vancouver as I headed back to the safety of the suburbs. I looked out at the skyline, as the sun began setting and all the streetlights slowly began turning on. My mind couldn’t help but reflect on my afternoon. For so long, I had thought of Whither as being simply a friend of a friend. She was a part of the world that L came from, and a world I never thought I’d fully understand. The train wheels squealed as we flew over a grey industrial world. True, I would never fully understand L’s world, but that would never mean that Whither is simply a friend of a friend. Given the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that Whither is my friend, too. In the end, discovering a new friend is one of the best things one can do in an afternoon. I took one last look at the skyline and did the best I could to hold the moment.

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