June 18, 2022Buildings and More, Gone Missing Like Teeth

I haven’t been sleeping well lately, but yesterday the weather was so perfect that I roused myself to do a run at lunchtime. My regular neighbourhood circuit took me past a house on Churchill Avenue where I’ve recently spent a considerable amount of time, and I immediately noted a new sign in the front yard: For Sale.

The little house is empty now; a friend who has meant a great deal to me has moved on. The small bungalow seems a likely candidate to be purchased by a developer, knocked down, and replaced by a larger, blander, more rectangular and much more expensive structure, as happens astonishingly frequently these days throughout Kitchissippi Ward in Ottawa — scarcely a week goes by without new holes appearing in the built landscape. For me, these abrupt residential vanishings always bring to mind the opening stanza in The Weakerthans’ brilliant song “Left and Leaving,” from their 2000 album of the same name: My city’s still breathing, but barely, it’s true / Through buildings gone missing like teeth / The sidewalks are watching me think about you / Sparkled with broken glass.

Though in this particular case, it feels like the house and its associated memories have already been removed, despite the fact that the physical walls are, for now, still standing.

The famous quote “he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity” comes to mind. (Curious, I investigated its origin — the phrase seems to have originated with a quip by playwright and social commentator George Bernard Shaw that Archibald Primrose, once the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, “never missed an occasion of losing an opportunity,” though variations have been uttered in various other contexts, usually in reference to the perceived failing of one political proposal or another.) Maybe — laugh-but-not-really-laugh out loud — I ought to run for office, as I seem to have already mastered the necessary shortcomings.

As mentioned in a post written a year ago this month, I’ve listened to a lot of Danny Michel’s music over the past couple years; he’s done a series of virtual “taco night dinner party” shows from his kitchen “in hopes of keeping spirits high” throughout the interminable pandemic. Of his many great songs, I’ve always considered “Sweet Things,” on his stellar 2008 album Feather, Fur & Fin, to be my very favourite. Its chorus consists of a refrain that I’m sure virtually all of us (well, probably not Donald Trump, given that he sees and thinks of nothing but the glory of himself) can sometimes identify with:

Why can’t I see the sweet things until they’re all gone?

Why can’t I see the sweet things until they’re all gone?

There’s a clever bridge section in “Sweet Things” that I especially like, when Michel switches from lamenting the present to looking back from the future: It’s ten years later now / You said I wondered about your age / I said I got IDed today / You said yeah, I get that too / It’s like we’ll never die / Just grow younger every day.

I’m sure we’ve each had that feeling of looking back at our younger selves and reconsidering what, only in retrospect, proved to be key turning or decision points. Do I go back to a summer job in Algonquin Park, or try an English teaching gig in Slovakia (or mess them both up and have to be content with what proved to be a humdrum summer of living at home and working at MacGregor Point Park). Do I not only rekindle a volatile relationship which had ended badly, but deepen it by moving overseas with her to work and live together? Do I take a potentially long-term job and put down some actual roots in Ottawa, or continue with a transient lifestyle fueled by wanderlust? Etcetera. We all have our own examples. And surely we’ve all turned that thought over in our minds — what if I’d chosen differently? What if I’d taken that other fork in the road? What if I could manage to see and fully appreciate the sweet things before they’re gone?

Thoughts of this type regularly arise, of course, during episodes of nostalgia, sessions spent raucously reminiscing over beers with pals, or quiet and solitary reflections spurred by the unearthing of a long-forgotten photo or letter.

It’s just really odd — in a discombobulating and disheartening way — to have such wistful feelings of regret in real time.

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