I’m spent, folks. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, and I’m struggling with coming up with the right words to express what I am thinking, not to mention untangle that from what I am feeling (besides exhausted). So, instead, he’s a little piece of creative non-fiction I wrote.
Famous People in Airports
My Dad collects famous people in airports. Rather, he collects the memories of seeing famous people in airports. And he shows them like rare artifacts for my brother and I to admire either genuinely or out of dutiful love. I often wonder about my Dad’s life before me. Doing the math, there are 14 years between the time he moved to Montreal as a bachelor and when I was born. I know there were travels, I know there were late nights drinking to excess at a bar downtown. What else? I don’t know. What of the weekend trip to London where you got sick and they stopped you at customs because they thought you were smuggling drugs? “No, I went to Vancouver for weekends. London deserves a longer stay,” you correct me. Weekends in Vancouver?
I’m writing this on a plane, bound for a place not my home and yet home for now. I wonder if this is how you felt: at home and at once homeless. You left Brandon, and you told me it saved you. I left home; it saved me. And so now it seems I keep leaving home. Each time I get home, the place I longed for, the stability, the familiarity, I get restless. When can I leave? When can I get into a car, a bus, a plane and just leave, going back again, and again, and again to places both unfamiliar and familiar, home, and yet…not?
“One time I saw Donald Sutherland in an airport, Dorval I think. He’s an actor, you know.” I roll my eyes. Please, Dad, I am not so culturally illiterate that I don’t realize that this man is more than simply Keifer’s dad. Although, at the time that this sighting was first put on display, his importance was placed mostly on the latter position. “Yeah, I saw him, and he looked just like he did in MASH. Except even scruffier, if you can believe that. Fisherman’s cap, green army jacket, beard.” There’s no context, no superlatives. It is presented as one presents what one collects: for you to admire and appreciate as you see fit. There really is no point to collecting other than the personal gratification that it brings. Such his stories are like rare coins or stamps or Star Wars memorabilia, or bobble-head dolls or Beenie Babies. On display, but mostly, primarily for his personal enjoyment.
My first trip, I don’t remember. I had just been born, and my parents when on their honeymoon to Barbados. Every day at 4 PM sharp, I would start to scream until three hours later when I would stop. Nothing would appease me. So my parents went home early. I was satisfied, and then, after a few days at home, I started up again. Thus my nature has been ever since. Get comfortable, start screaming.
My Dad takes planes less now, only if he has to. Long drives are more to his liking. He would pick me up at university whenever he could. That drive up Highway 10, going at once towards home away from home, seeing the lights of Montreal from the South Shore, just after passing Saint-Jean. Or back the other way, around the turn, with a mountain on either side of you, down a steep hill where you could no longer pick up a radio signal. “Are you in a hurry?” he would ask. Always. Running away from and towards wherever I was going.
I am more and more like my father. I sound like my Mom, I laugh like my Mom, I cry like my Mom. I grew up under my mom. I was like her: open, outgoing, laughing out loud, crying quietly. My brother was more like my Dad: quieter, shy, at times brooding and impatient. If only it were that simple. My Dad and I travel. We share planes and long car rides. Not always together, but we share the experience of airports, of traffic, of bus stations, of hotels, of the unfamiliar and familiar experiences all at once. The comfort of the safety video at the beginning of the flight, regardless of destination. The acceleration of the plane at take-off. Going somewhere, anywhere. Homelessness.
But there is the downside. The jet lag. Not knowing what time it is. Not knowing where you are when you wake up. Is this what drove the flying out of you? You were my age when you did most of your traveling. Did you wake up in the middle of the night, scared because nothing was familiar? Did you get on the last flight back home and your stomach turned, even though you were a good flyer? Did you sometimes forget where home even was, which key opened what door, who even to call once you got to where you were going, calling the wrong person? Knowing that no matter where you go, for how long you stay, how soon you come back, someone will be left unsatisfied, usually yourself? I imagine that I share these feelings with you, when you were my age.
I always travel in spurts, to make sure that when the restlessness came, I could keep it at bay with the unpleasant memories of doing too many kilometers in too short a period of time. But it’s always there, and when I can find an excuse to travel, I do. Car trips. Plane trips followed by car trips, followed by more planes and buses. A train here or there. The bus. Is this how you did it, or where you more sane in your travel plans? And the sights! A last-minute decision to go see a Salvador Dali exhibit in London. A Jeep Safari on Isla de la Margarita. Stanley Park in Vancouver. Discovering what true beauty is at the National Gallery in Washington. Never enough time, too long to travel, not enough money. But also the “little” things: Weddings, birthdays, friends, family. Getting lost in Washington. Getting yelled at in Vancouver. Figuring out the Underground. Sunsets. Boys on trips. How many memories do you have, the secret ones that you collect, that are only for you and no one else? The secret affairs abroad; I have a couple of those as well.
My Dad was always trying to get us to collect things. Started with the classics, of course: stamps and coins. Then, for my brother, it was model cars they could build together. He wanted to be able to give us something that we could share with him, something that would always remind us of him. We all seek immortality in our ways. He tried to get me to collect music boxes; the effort ended at three. He placed the importance on the tangible, which would allow him to live on in us. But what of this need in me to travel, my ability to make a home anywhere and nowhere, the love of the road and long car trips, of airports and sky and seemingly perpetual motion? I can’t sit still, I want to go, I get there, I want to go home. I get home (wherever that is), and I want to leave again. Is it from you that I get this urge to simply go away when things get bad, to disappear and be anonymous in a far away and strange place, that is at once a comfort? Is it from you? I like to think it is, and it lives on in me.
Recently, I was browsing through the bookstore at Dorval, now Trudeau, airport after my flight back to Edmonton had been delayed an hour. I was exhausted: once again, too many hours on the road, in the air, in a month. I was on my way to a still-unfamiliar home. A new life was starting, but the old one always lingers. I just wanted, for one moment, to stay in one place. I was not paying attention, frustrated by the delay, tired and annoyed at my own inability to choose a worthy piece of Can Lit. I turned a corner and literally ran into Matthew Modine. The cashiers confirmed the sighting, falling all over themselves at the experience. I smile. My collecting had begun. When I related the story to my Dad, I suffixed the story with: “He’s an actor, you know.”
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts