Life is not an easy matter...You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.
"I told him about the plan and he told me it was okay," said Marty, passing the six-foot wood plank to Richard, who in turn lowered it flat onto the earth. "He said we could use the space here to make it and told me about his super glue. This stuff is industrial grade, even a flood couldn't make it budge."
Marty held up the silver tube of glue for the others to see.
"I've never heard of it, but Ivan knows his stuff when it comes to building things," said Jordan. "I give him that."
"Yeah, but he wouldn't build it himself, not unless it benifits him directly," said the other older man dryly.
"Ah Rich, don't you think you're a tad hard on him?" said Marty.
"Oh boy," thought Richard Brewer. "This kid likes him. Ah, these Canadians, way too willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when they don't deserve it. I'd give him one month or two, then he'll know better." He sighed, wondering if this project was really worth his time. He could have be editing his latest chapter instead.
"Besides, he does benefit. He gets some of the produce," said Marty.
"Yeah, but yet he's not out here with us, is he?" asked Richard. "And besides, did he let you use his tube of glue?"
"No," said Marty, passing another six foot plank to Jordan, who placed it parallel to the one Richard had put down, giving roughly a four foot space between them. Two other wood boards were placed on the other sides, these ones each four feet long, making the basic floor-frame a rectangle in their yard. Beforehand they had cleared much of the clutter up, leaning up three big mattresses against the fence at the back, as well as putting aside an old shopping cart, mannequins, old rusted paint cans, giant water-cooler jugs, and some piles of clear shower curtains. Richard found an antique answering machine that could probably fetch a good price in one of the Junction's many vintage shops. He set it aside.
"So what, you asked if you could borrow his glue?" asked Richard.
"He told me to get my own," Marty replied, looking down at the frame.
Richard laughed. "That sounds about right."
"Okay," said Jordan before Richard could say what was on his mind. "So, we've got the frame now, what's the next step?"
"Alright, now we need to take these old sliding doors and put them down on the planks upright, but first we put the glue on," instructed Marty, taking the cap off and squeezing the tube. About half an inch of white paste oozed out of the tip and fell down flacidly along a side. Marty hopped back a bit, still keeping the tube in place with his hand.
"That glue is on the tube forever," said Richard. "At least if it's as good as Ivan says it is, which I wouldn't count on."
Marty sighed, seeming to not like Richard's negativity, then got down on his knees and released a thin line of the super glue on one of the long boards. Within a few seconds the line was done, reminding Richard dimly of good times.
"Richard," Jordan called to him, bringing him back to the present. He and Marty had already fetched the first glass door. There were a total of five of them; old things, dirty, but still uncracked. They had no idea why Ivan had been storing them. Sometimes Ivan built stuff, he was by trade a constuction worker and carpenter. He wasn't very good at it though from what Richard had seen. He had once made an ill-fated tool shed in the backyard before according to another resident of the house who had moved out a month before Marty had come in. That last man was old, a pale man with a snow white beard, a widower who had close to no money left. He only moved out because his son came to pick him up and put him in a home.
"Lucky bastard," Richard thought. He caught up with the others and helped them carry over the first door. Jordan and Marty had it leaning up vertically while Richard lifted it from the bottom and walked backwards, easing some of the paltry weightload from them. They brought it over the first board and lowered it, pressing it down so the glue set in.
"Okay!" said Marty, sliding open the glass door with a laugh, then shutting it again. "So we keep it closed."
"We're lucky we got just enough of these doors," said Jordan.
"Well, the idea came to me when I was looking out over the yard and I noticed how many doors there were, not to mention all these shower curtains. It's perfect.
"Are you sure it's going to hold over the winter?" Richard asked. He had been quite doubtful of the whole project since Marty had first told them about it the day before. Even if they succeeded in building a makeshift greenhouse, he wondered how they could keep it warm enough to grow food inside. The glass doors didn't have much by way of insulation.
"I guess there's only one way to see," said Marty, releasing a long strand of super glue up the side of the door, the side where the next door was going to occupy. Once that was done they brought over the next door, this one looking even older and rusted than the last. They fitted it in, pressing it first downward, and then sideward into the other one, fitting like a glove. Jordan, being the big guy he was, pressed his palms against both doors at once, pushing in slightly. They barely budged, sealed together as one wall.
"Alright, now we'll get the front one next," said Marty, pointing to the end facing the house's backdoor. This backdoor, Jordan's room, led out to a tiny porch that was a mere four feet of the ground. It was made of old, creaky wood. Richard never stood there, not trusting it since it was made by Ivan. To the left of the porch was a window peering into Marty's room and beneath it was a window well that went down six feet. Ivan had built this too at some point, probably digging the hole and then placing in the bricks. A tiny window to the basement was down there, in a room that was unoccupied as far as Richard knew.
"What are we going to do with the other one?" asked Jordan, motioning his hand to the other end. "We only got five doors, right? So that's two on this side, two on the other, one on this end, and what else on the other?"
"We can put one of those big flat wood boards over it," replied Marty.
"Which end then, the one facing east or west?" asked Richard, noting that the end facing the house was facing eastward.
"This one," Marty said, pointing to the one facing east.
"I'd think it would be more valuable putting the glass door on the west side," noted Richard. "Just because here on this side we got the house blocking the sunlight."
Marty raised an eyebrow. "Ah right, good call."
Jordan went over to the north side of the backyard and lifted up one of the doors. Every five minutes a train would pass by, the rail traffic especially busy this day. Richard imagined the greenhouse, completely set up, falling apart once the first train crashed on by. He went to help Jordan while Marty sprayed a line of glue on the smaller wood board.
They fitted the door on top perfectly, but there was still a slight gap on the corner between the side doors and the new one.. "What are we going to do with this?" Richard asked, putting his fingers in the half inch gap. "There's too much space; cold will get in."
"Isn't there some foam we could buy, or something?" asked Jordan. "You could probably get some at one of the Stockyard stores."
"Oh yeah," said Marty. "For sure, I'll check tomorrow on my way back from work. You know that place, the stockyard plaza over there used to be literal stockyards, just north of the railway, where they'd have pigs and cows? That's part of the reason why they called Toronto Hogtown."
"I didn't know that," said Jordan.
"Yeah, was also called Muddy York for a time," he added.
"York is in England, you guys copied us," said Richard.
"Well, yeah, we kind of copied the British in every way, that's why we have a Prime Minister and a stupid Queen on our money," Marty laughed, but then suddenly changed his tune. "Oh hey, sorry man, didn't mean to diss your country."
"My country?" asked Richard, a bit taken back at the younger man's apologies. "You mean my Queen?"
"Well, yeah, our queen technically," said Marty.
"Not mine," said Jordan, shaking his head. "I ain't Canadian, from the states."
"Oh yeah, where?" asked Marty.
"New Orleans and Atlanta."
"Don't apologize Marty," Richard brought the conversation back. "She's not my bloody Queen either. You think I give a rat's ass about the monarchy? It's all bollocks."
Marty smiled. "Well, now that that's out, I hate the monarchy too. It's absurd really, I mean that people take that shit seriously in this day and age, like it's relevent in any way. I got to say that I like the parliamentary system a lot, as in, I think it works, or at least is capable of working, even if our current Prime Minister is an dickwad. But, yeah, monarchy in this day and age? It's outdated. That's one thing I'll give Americans, they got rid of that crap ages ago."
Jordan smiled. "Well yeah, but of course my ancestors didn't so much have anything to do with that."
Richard noticed Marty pause when Jordan said that, like he wasn't quite sure what to say. "Well," he said. "Another thing you got to remember, Marty, is that the parliamentary system of democracy came through struggle against the king back in the day."
"Oh right, the English civil war right? Cromwell and them?"
"Yeah, you know your English history, aye?"
"Yeah," Marty said with a nod. "I guess I just read a lot."
"Same," said Richard, a bit impressed with the knowledge his flat-mate was showing. Jordan, he knew, was a smart guy, but not so much bookish as Richard was. Nicky, the younger kid, had once bragged to Richard about only reading three books in his life. That was just pathetic. He hardly ever talked to Nicky, feeling he had nothing to say to someone whose main interests in life were reality television and celebrity gossip.
Within another ten minutes the three men had the other doors on the other side as well as the rectangular wooden board over the end facing the house. Marty went inside, looking out of the glass to the other two. Richard moved forward and pressed his palm against the nearest glass door. Marty raised his hand to his, giving a mock high-five.
"Alright," he called from within. "Now all we need is a ceiling."
"What do we got for that?" asked Jordan as Marty came outside.
Marty turned about once he was out, facing the north side of the yard, and nodded his head over to the pile of junk leaning against the wall. "There's some old tempered glass, all in one piece still, under those mattresses. I saw it earlier."
"Yeah, used to be part of a patio table, I reckon," said Jordan. "I used to deliver that stuff. Tempered glass is tough. That'll be a good roof, we just need to put the foam along the sides of it too."
"And we'll tape together all the shower curtains and put it over the whole thing for extra insulation," instructed Marty, opening up the nearest glass door and poking his head in. "It'll be perfect for amplifying sunlight. And we'll put a rug down here, or a bunch of rugs."
"Ingenius," Richard commented, half sarcastic, but the other half genuinely impressed. "What are you going to grow inside?"
"What can't we grow? I mean, we'll do tomotoes, corn, beans, squash, peas, whatever we want. We got space for at least six big planters about. Hopefully by the time winter's over we can transplant some of the stuff out here."
Jordan took out his cellphone from his pocket. "I guess I got some time still. You guys want to put the roof over tonight? Maybe we can do the curtains tomorrow with the foam?"
Marty nodded. "Yeah, that's okay. I'm started to feel pretty tired too and I got work tomorrow. What time is it?"
"Alright, then, let's go get the roof, if you guys are down."
It took a while to move the mattresses out of the way. Richard was glad he was wearing an old sweatshirt that he didn't mind getting dirty. He just hoped that if there were any bedbugs in the mattress that they didn't latch onto him. He had had that problem before.The three of them managed to lift the tempered glass with ease, and after Marty put a thin layer of the super glue along the tops of the new greenhouse, they placed it over, fitting it snugly.
After that was done, and the sun had set and night taken over, they went inside. Jordan had some beers in his room so he brought out a six pack to the others in the kitchen. Richard normally would have refused, not wanting to feel like he was mooching, but the work outside had made him thirsty. "Thanks," he said. "How many beers do I owe you?"
"Nah," Jordan scoffed, waving a hand. "Don't worry, man."
"Jordan, when I'm working again, we're going to get drunk."
"Thanks guys," said Marty, taking a sip. "Good stuff. I can't wait to check out some of the local bars. You guys go to any of them?"
"Some of them." said Richard, but Jordan shook his head.
"Back where I'm from we got like one bar; okay, two, but one is so sketchy I wouldn't ever go there," Marty explained.
"Where did you say you were from?" Richard asked. He looked over Marty, guessing he was probably from Thornhill or somewhere along Bathurst.
"Up in North York, not too far from York University and the Jane and Finch area," answered Marty.
"Oh yeah?" asked Jordan, taking a swig.
"I never been up there," said Richard. "Never been north of Lawrence even, except when I used to take the highway up to cottage country with the wife."
Richard shook his head. "Divorced."
"Ah, my parents are divorced. My dad is a doctor and my mom lives in the states now with her boyfriend. No one seems to stay married anymore."
"Same," said Jordan.
"Where else did you guys live in Toronto?"
"Queen Street area," Richard said, thinking back suddenly to those days in his thirties. "And down at Yonge Street when I first got here."
"I lived in Weston for a while, just last year," said Jordan, grabbing another beer from the pack. "You guys can have another if you want. I lived in a few small towns just outside of Toronto."
"Mmm, the 905 area?" asked Marty. "Not a big fan."
"Just outside of that," replied Jordan. "Not like Mississauga or Brampton, I'm talking small towns, half of them just little corners of dirt roads off the highway."
"Oh, okay, I think I know what you're talking about," said Marty. "A buddy of mine had a house out in King City, which is more like a shire than a city really. Anyway, he had a nice house with two hundred acres, this Persian guy. He paid me to help him clean up the property. It's amazing how much open land we got out there. A lot of people, not just white people like before, are moving out to those places."
Jordan nodded. "Yeah man, you know the small towns. They got mostly white people, a few others, some Persians nowadays and some Italians who build houses. Usually they got a Chinese family that runs the convenience store, an Indian family that runs the gas station," he smiled. "And a black family that sells the weed."
Richard started laughing, almost spitting out his beer all over the table. He looked over to Marty, who, for a split second looked hesitant to laugh, but then started laughing anyway. "These Canadians," he thought to himself. "Always wanting to be polite." Richard felt it was the politically incorrect jokes that were the funniest.
"That's funny man," Marty said. "You should do some stand-up, serious," he added.
Jordan shrugged. The sound of the front door opening broke the moment. Jordan reached for his beers, moving his room's door open with his foot. Footfalls followed, heading downstairs instead of toward them.
"One of the downstairs guys," said Richard. "False alarm."
"What alarm?" asked Marty, looking confused. "Ivan?"
Richard shook his head. "No, the kid."
"He'd want me to share with him," said Jordan, resting the beers back on the kitchen table.
Marty nodded. "Ah," he said, then lowered his voice. "You guys don't like him?"
Jordan chuckled. "You can say that. I don't hate him, I ain't sharing any drinks with him."
"Ah, okay, well, I guess I'll see," said Marty. "Anyway, speaking of weed, you guys smoke it at all by chance?"
Richard perked up. It had actually been a few years since he had a tote. After getting married he hadn't done any drugs, save alcohol of course.
"Nah," said Jordan. "I'm good. Why, you got some?"
Marty nodded. "Oh yeah, I'm down for rolling something up. I can get a big fatty, you sure you don't want some?"
Jordan shook his head. "Thanks, but I'm good."
"I'll go with you," said Richard. "Maybe out to the park? You don't want to smoke it in here, Ivan will flip out."
Once the two of them reached Vine Park, found a wooden bench in the middle of it and sat down, Marty pulled the joint out and lit it up. The night was feeling cold, colder than any night so far, and if Marty was not seeing smoke billows coming out from his mouth, he would've seen his breath just as thick. By the time Richard was taking in a stream a train roared by.
"Lost the light," he said, his hands shaking. "Damn train."
"I guess they keep our rent low," Marty said with a shrug. "Here, pass it." He lit it and gave it back to Richard who took it in successfully this time. The end of the shrinking joint sparked a bright red. Skunky fumes escaped the sides of it like steam escaping a kettle.
Richard closed his eyes and smiled before he breathed the warmth out in a long plume. "Good..." he mumbled. "Been a long time."
Marty took the j back. "Not for me, been doing it a while now. I take breaks sometimes, when I'm doing a lot of work or back when it was exam and finals at university. But when it comes to writing, or getting ideas in general, pretty much anything creative, this is the shit."
"I know. I used to do this all the time before I got hitched."
"This should be legal, eh? It's so stupid that it's not," he asked, referring to the weed.
"I know, I even worry given that I don't have full immigration yet."
"Nah, no cops going to bug you over this, or at least won't take you in because of it."
As if on cue a police cruiser went by on Vine Avenue. Marty, even though he was a full skeptic, sometimes felt that his mouth was cursed. He passed the joint to Richard.
"What? What are you doing?"
"Don't pass that to me with the cops there!"
Marty looked back to the road, bringing the joint against his knee and placing his hand over it. The police were gone. "Sorry," he said, pulling the j out again and taking another tote.
"Ah, this shit makes me paranoid, that's why I stopped," Richard laughed.
"I can't believe I might vote for Justin Trudeau," Marty brought the conversation back. "I never would've voted Liberal, ever."
"Who'd you vote for?"
"NDP," he said, passing Richard the joint after doing a double-take on Vine Ave. to make sure the five-o were gone. "I knew Jack Layton, met him a few times."
"Ahhh," Richard sighed. "Jack. Wish I could've voted for him."
Marty was glad to hear it. For a second he thought Richard was going to say he liked the Conservatives. "Great, this guy's left-wing, or at least social democratic or liberal, not some right-wing douchebag," he thought to himself. "Yeah," he continued, thinking back to his university days. "I was very busy in that old New Democratic Party, ever since I was seventeen when I joined as a youth rep in my riding association."
"Oh yeah? Up in North York?"
Marty nodded. "Yeah, a pure Liberal Party stronghold. We'd lose everytime, both federally and provincially. But someone had to do it. I also canvassed on some downtown campaigns, got paid once for it, was pretty nice. Jack bought me a beer once at a NDP volunteer pub night."
Richard's reddened eyes opened up wide. "Really? He did that? Wow, that's bloody nice of him. Yeah, he seemed like a nice guy, at least honest as far as politicians go. We got nothing back home, though I guess I liked Red Ken back in the day."
"Ken Livingston?" asked Marty, remembering once hearing about the former left-wing mayor of London, England.
Richard laughed. "Him, yep. I mentioned him to Nicky one day and he thought I was talking about shampoo."
Marty chuckled, shaking his head. He hadn't even seen this guy more than once and he already thought he was hilarious. Marty tried not to be judgemental usually, but he could only laugh at the really superficial types. He already knew Richard was more his type of person.
"So, you're into politics?"
"I used to be in the Labour Party," the older man explained. "Back in the early nineties especially."
"No bloody way."
"Let me guess," started Marty, realizing that Richard had become disillussioned at some point. "Was it during Blair's leadership?"
He nodded back. "Yes, what else? Him and his ilk took over the party, brought in the Thatcherite reforms, and within months we were just like every other corporate party. It all started with when Blair added the word "New" into the party's vocabulary."
"There was a motion once to take the "New" out of New Democratic Party," Marty said, noting the irony in their stories.
"Oh really? The Democratic Party? Why would you want that?"
"That's what I was thinking. It was never voted on anyway, too many people were wearing buttons and pins that had a big orange N on it."
"Good, it was a stupid idea. That new guy you got in there though, what's his name? The French guy, right?"
"He's from Quebec, yeah," Marty said, thinking back to the NDP's last leadership convention. He wasn't there, but was watching it at his old place on the CBC. The moment Thomas Mulcair was elected as leader of the NDP Marty reached into his wallet and tore up his NDP membership card. "I hate that guy. He's our Tony Blair."
"Yeah, I don't like him. I haven't followed Canadian politics, especially lately, although I hate Harper."
"Well, that's a given," laughed Marty. "No one likes Harper anymore, even conservatives. And our mayor, eh? Rob Ford?"
Richard shook his head. "I knew he was a criminal the first time I say him."
Marty grimaced, feeling sickened at the thought of the mayor. "What a piece of crap. Why the hell does he get with this shit?"
"He's an idiot," Richard muttered. He passed Marty the rest of the joint, by now a blackened smoldering roach. "I think it's done."
"I can smoke this," Marty laughed, bringing the tiny end of it to his lips and sucking in.
"Damn, you're skilled."
Marty smiled, then blew out the pot trail.
"Do you do anything else?" the Englishman asked.
"Do you do anything else?" the Englishman asked.
Marty shook his head. "No. I drink of course, sometimes, but no, I don't do heavy drugs." He had done mushrooms once, but never anything more. He definately would never even think of trying anything like cocaine or heroin. Those things scared the hell out of him. He knew he would get addicted the first time he tried any of them.
"Never tried coke?" Richard asked, bringing a finger to his nose to make the gesture.
Marty grinned, choosing his next words carefully. "Cocaine is where I draw the line," he said, then nudged Richard. "Get it?"
Richard laughed slightly. "Heh, funny. Seriously though," he put his finger on his nose again. "This is the craziest shit ever. You feel energized, like you drank a hundred coffees and you can do anything."
"Nah," Marty said, shaking his head. "Not for me."
"Good thing I guess. It's a waste of money anyway. My friends and I wasted so much on it after the war."
"Oh," said Marty, glad to hear it wasn't the Iraq War. Marty himself had almost signed up for the military after high school, was down for going to Afghanistan. He was so young back then. Life was still dreamlike. Marty was so glad he never went. It would have been a terrible time, he knew it. Instead he was here, spending the last days of what was left of his youth in this new phase of his life.He couldn't help feeling anxious, but he had to stay positive and just go forward with it. In his mind it was time to hunker down and make one's mark, time to throw over the anchor, so to speak, and settle somewhere for a long time.
Richard and Marty headed home to turn in for the night. One of them had work in the morning, the other had to hunt for work.