For a brief moment I knew how the ancients felt. Our air conditioning unit coughed and wheezed its last gasp, the familiar raspy noise ceasing and the room filling with silence. I was awake, but not because of the noisy air conditioner. I could now clearly hear the summer storm raging outside. The wind howled, rattling the windows, shaking the trees and causing our old house to creak. The sounds echoed like a low growl, punctuated by the occasional roar: Smaug the dragon flying over the Victorian rooftops, lighting houses on fire and terrorizing the neighbourhood.
What do you do when the sound that keeps you awake is actually the sound of you not sleeping? The mind wanders, invents puzzles, games and ponders questions heretofore unasked or ignored, all the while replaying old sitcoms and hockey games. Suddenly you have Jerry Seinfeld, Homer Simpson and Job from Arrested Development battling for your attention with Crosby and Ovechkin. And its 4:05 AM. You’re the protagonist and an observer. You can’t really see it so much as you can sense it. It would be easier to grasp if it was playing out on TV. There’s more space than there should be, then there used to be. Is it a matter of losing the plot, reading the wrong book, selfishness or something else altogether? What if you don’t want to know?
Frustrated and ever farther from getting back to sleep, I pushed myself up slowly, the blood draining from my head felt like water dripping off your face after a swim. I arose cautiously and shuffled to the bathroom, kicking aside jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of red, Converse Chuck Taylors. The starkness of it caught me by surprise. It seemed empty, desolate and deserted. The bathroom could have been anywhere, and it left me with the feeling of being in a rundown motel somewhere in the vastness of the western United States. Perhaps the starkness was a precursor of times to come? Maybe it represented the light that had just departed and the darkness had not yet been filled with a new light that burned just as bright, but in a different colour?
I returned to my room, hopped back into bed, closed my eyes and tried to shut off my mind. What do you do when you close your eyes and its Niagara Falls? It’s an invisible path; a long road and how you got there you haven’t really got a clue. You’ve veered off the main roads, drifted and gotten lost. Everything was not okay when you went to bed, but your suit was pressed, shoes polished and you’d even bought new cuff links, so how bad could things really be? And yet, here you are: Niagara Falls.
It’s not just the majesty and might of the Falls of which I speak. Nor is it the tacky wax museums, which dominate the downtown core; or even the hypnotic, lava lamp-like, rushing of water over the falls, complete with the requisite evil urges. Undoubtedly they all play a role, somehow, but I guess what I’m really talking about is a sense of “other”. And I don’t mean in the “there’s no place like Paris” sense. If you’ve ever emerged from a cab at night in downtown Niagara Falls you’ll know exactly what I mean. Its like you’ve stepped out into an alternate universe of bright colours and garish design, but all done on a sufficiently small scale that its vulgarity could never be mistaken for the grandeur of Vegas.
The wax museums and waterfalls are too easy a cliché for being locked in a time and place with life passing you by, but there’s also a sense of unfulfilled promise, of misguided ambition and a general malaise which has allowed the rot to seep in to a point where its accepted as the way things are. There’s still beauty, still poetry, still wonder and therefore, still a spark. Or perhaps there is kindling awaiting a spark? And that gives me cold comfort in the grey recesses of my mind. Oh yeah, being drawn along, rushing forward while trapped in place, towards certain doom, with perhaps, maybe, if the planets are aligned, tea leaves encouraging and you’ve got a giant horseshoe up your butt, maybe, just maybe, you come out of the turbulent waters smiling, enlightened, energized and renewed: Bobbing along, floating above the fray. A survivor, a winner, someone who’s risked it all, been to hell and back and is now ready to reap his just rewards. Oh yeah, mustn’t forget that.
Some time between slipping back into bed, Niagara Falls and the early morning alarm I managed to fall asleep. Foolishly, I had planned on an early morning. I could feel summer slipping away and I had plenty to accomplish. Carpe Diem? Latin profanity as far as I was concerned, but today I was making an exception. My hand fumbled ever so briefly with the alarm before silencing it. I slowly eased my left arm from under where her head would have been, taking time to imagine letting her smooth, blond hair trickle through my fingers. I slipped my body from the sheets and out of the bed. The sunlight was slowly making its advance into the room and had already captured the corner.
I stole downstairs, the sun now climbing the horizon and illuminating my path, the floor cool on my feet. I fixed myself some coffee, pushed open the French doors and eased my way onto the back deck. The air felt cool and fresh. I pulled one of the Muskoka chairs into the sunlight, dragged over the side table with my foot, placed my coffee on it and sat down.
It was quiet and still and the sun felt warm on my face and bare feet. I was a cat in a corner sunbeam and I mentally stretched my back to the sky, its snap, crackle and pop explosive in the relative morning quiet. The cacophony of the usual rush hour crowd was mercifully absent on this holiday Monday. The young mothers and nannies had yet to begin their rounds and, most importantly, the renovating/home improvement faction had yet to leap into action. The sadists wielding power tools and hammers would toil away later, during the heat of the day, filling the air with the summer’s answer to white noise. Low flying planes, passing trains and children playing kick the can and soccer would all add to the mix of summer sounds, but for now there was just the birds and the wind blowing the leaves in the trees. My thoughts wandered, as they are wont to do, and the serenity had me briefly pondering digging out my never used yoga mat.
I sat silently, content in the morning sun, the nighttime bout with insomnia forgotten. No baggage, no obligations, no pressing engagements -- ever so briefly on island time in the city. I double-sipped my coffee, still quite hot, and turned my chin up to the sky. I closed my eyes, settled more deeply into my chair and waited for the caffeine to kick in.
I drained the rest of my coffee in one long gulp, laughing quietly as I spilled some out of my mouth, over my lips and onto my left cheek. I cursed under my breath and wiped the coffee away with the shoulder of my tee shirt.
With my insides warm from the coffee, I allowed the sun’s rays to envelope me, letting my mind go and slipped into a semi-conscious state – like the last few minutes before you drift off to sleep. Stretching my legs out before me I sank deeper into my chair and closed my eyes. Sometimes I lose myself in thought. Where does rational thought end and the subconscious begin? Hopefully I can sleep.