Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Missed Party; Rudy Wiebe's Favourite Song; Rudy Wiebe's Favourite Joke

Friday night I was supposed to go to a party. It was the annual end-of-the-year celebration hosted by the English department of my university. They're usually fun. Where else can you listen to Night Ranger in a group setting?

I got lost.

The directions were simple. 921 Brant Road. I wrote it down: 921 Brant Road. I put the slip of paper in my pocket. Then I drove down to Brant Road. I stood outside of 121 Brant Road--an arts-and-crafts-style house. The place was dark; all the windows were blacked out. I figured the party was in the backyard. But there was no one there. So maybe it was in the basement.

Since no one knocks at a party, I tried to open the door. It seemed like it was locked--the handle would not turn. So I tried again. Again, no luck. I jiggled it. Nothing.

So I got in my car, ready to go back home. Pulling off Brant Road, I noticed a sign for Brant Road Crescent. Could they be two different streets? Yes. Or at least that's what I was told by the man whom I stopped and asked. So down to 121 Brant Road Crescent, a home similar to 121 Brant Road, except that it was split into flats.

I opened the door, walked up the stairs, and tried the door of Apartment 3. It was locked. I looked under the door--nothing. It was dark; no sounds from inside. A guy walked up beside me; he was going into Apartment 4--all 250 square feet of it. "Take your shoes off," he said.

We were standing in a hallway. "I'm just leaving," I told him.

"Well, take them off on the way out."

So I got back in my car, ready to go back home. And as I was turning off Brant Road Crescent, there was Brant Avenue. 121 Brant Avenue was a family home; there was a tricycle on the lawn. As I stood on their porch, peering through the window, I said, "Fuck this." And I left. Unfortunately they could read lips.

But, really wanting to go to this party, I drove around all three streets, hoping to see someone I'd recognize. That didn't happen.

So I didn't get to go to the party. I'd picked up my drycleaning, I'd shined my shoes, and I'd bought a Dufflet chocolate fudge cake. English students have notoriously poor taste in food and drink. A typical graduate party would be catered by the slightly-damaged section of No Frills. I know a PhD student who once told me that, on special occasions, her father would break out a box of Breton crackers.

Anyway, it seemed like a ruined night. But since I was in an artsy section of the city I decided to walk around and see if anything was happening in the neighbourhood. I found a SLAM poetry reading, which I figured would be good for my back. The woman performing her poem was just finishing up as I walked through the door, and in another minute she was taking questions from the audience.

"Where did you get your training," a man asked.

"In Manitoba. I went to school there."

"Oh. Did you have a mentor."

"Actually, I did. Rudy Wiebe."

"The writer?"

"Does he write?"

"I think so."

"I knew him mostly as a banjo player. He was a very musical man."

"We're talking about a Mennonite with glasses, about seventy-years-old. Grey, thinning hair."

"That's him. He taught at the university. Now that I think of it, he did write. But he was really into music. And telling jokes. He loved to tell jokes."

"What kind of music did he like?" someone else asked.

"He loved the Four Tops. He told me many, many times that, 'David Ruffin was it.'"

"Interesting. You know Levi Stubbs was the lead singer of The Four Tops. Ruffin was The Temptations."

"Yeah! That was the one."

"The one what?"

"Do you want to hear his favourite joke?"

Almost everyone clapped Yes.

"Let's see if I can remember it." She paused. "Okay, here it goes. 'Mrs Horowitz and Mr Horowitz are down on their luck. They're having trouble paying their bills. So one day Mrs Horowitz decides to go out and be a streetwalker. A prostitute. After her first night on the job she comes home exhausted and hands her husband her earnings--ten dollars and ten cents. 'Who the hell gave you a dime?!?' her husband asks?' 'Everybody!' she says.'"

That was an old one. Maybe it's just getting out West.

So it wasn't a wasted night. I even bought the poet's SLAM chapbook. It's small, and it's self-published, but it's a good read. Krafft-Ebing My Diaphragm Is A Colander it's called.

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