Author’s note: Part three in a series of recollections based on a trip to Sackville, NB the weekend of July 30-August 2 2010. Persons and events depicted herein are based in reality but names and details have been altered. Read part one and part two first.
I had a dream about an attempt to watch The Godfather scuttled so I could visit a fast food place with Philip, an old friend I hadn’t seen in about two years. It was ostensibly Moncton but it also seemed a little bit like we were in eastern Winnipeg. At the restaurant, Philip promptly cooked his roast beef sandwich himself for no discernible reason, as it were a completely normal thing for him to do. We then headed downtown to a gay bar. In the dream-world, the bar’s colored lights and dance floor was replaced with decor suggesting late 60s rec room with S&M apparati in the back bar, and one of the professors from Mount Allison was greeting us at the door. As we walked home from what was either a really kinky den or some weird shopping mall I realized I was missing a shoe.
Buzzing from my cell phone woke me up, and while I was trying to make sense of the dream and reading my text messages, I could see that it was late in the morning. I figured it would be a good time to finally walk to the Waterfowl Park. I usually made it a point to go there whenever I took a pilgrimage down to Sackville, and I had several vivid memories of visiting the marshland park. When Hurricane Juan passed through Atlantic Canada back in 2003, albeit a safe distance away from our town, I was there in a “hurricane party” with a couple of guys from my dorm. In the winter of my last year at Mount Allison, watching the sun come up over the marshes capped off one of the wilder nights out I had when I was writing that screenplay with Phil and trying to tap into the characters’ mindset through nights at Ducky’s.
The Waterfowl Park also was a place of solitude, of peace and quiet. Zen, almost. At the very least it would be an opportunity to get some decent pictures. I took a different path than I usually took through the park, but still saw the same level of plant life and same number of ducks as usual. Maybe it was more. Though I could faintly hear the music playing from downtown, it was too quiet to make out any discernible tune, and I cheated again by using my own iPod. I relished the opportunity to get some pictures with my new picture, but what I got just disappointed me. Everything felt too pedestrian. They were essentially remakes of the pictures I took the first time I came here and not enough changes noticeably from year to year. The number of ducks and what they’re doing at any given moment seems to be the only thing that really marks much difference from my previous sets.
Leaving the park, I turned past the festival to make my long walk towards The Bridge At The End Of The World, the eponymous bridge of “Bridge Street”: remnants of a former crossing of the Tantramar River that now crumble besides a railway bridge. It was a bit far off, especially to lug a camera and tripod there, and combined with the heat of the sun it made for an exhausting journey…but completely worth it. When you go there late at night, the place takes on an otherworldly quality and it’s an experience best shared with a few close friends and an optional small amount of a controlled substance. During the day, though, it has a completely different energy, and when you’re there all by yourself and clear-headed, it pops. This is one of those experiences I want to include in a story or screenplay but translating it into words somehow undercuts the power of what you’re seeing, and I run the risk of falling into cliché or making the experience more pedestrian than personal. It’s hard to say why I felt this way. It just happened, and I got some good pictures out of it.
I took my long trek back into town after rehydrating myself at the conveniently located convenience store and making small talk with another person I knew through mutual friends. I headed into Ducky’s, passing by the drama clique taking residence on the patio and situating myself at the bar. I noticed the bar had a new coat of paint and a new floor; further distance between then and now. They still had their “drink of the week” promotion going, and that kept some continuity. I heard another familiar voice to my right: there was Sophie. We greeted each other warmly and she regaled me with tales of working far away in Fort McMurray, one of the most difficult places to live in Alberta. I knew so many people who have taken off for there in the past few years and the stories they told made me figure out I wouldn’t stand it even for the kind of money they make, and Sophie’s anecdotes made that more concrete for me, but even without sugar-coating, her stories were told without regret. As comfortable as it was to sit at the bar and down toonie drinks all evening, I realized I had other things I told myself I wanted to do.
There was a long line-up for the Old Man Luedecke show in the United Church. Luedecke is actually a 30ish man with a banjo and gift for some of the best folk music in the country, and it was at Sappyfest two years ago that I saw him lead the crowd in a rendition of his anthem “I Quit My Job”. That was a song that stuck with me as sort of vicarious wish-fulfillment because I was already burnt out on stupid questions from callers at that point. But yet the two following years, I was still working at the job, which had become even more stressful, more oppressive in the micromanagement, and more of a dead-end. I had originally wanted to go to see him and knew he would be a highlight of the weekend, but as I saw people standing end-to-end in a snake going from the church doors, around the parking lot and onto York Street, I didn’t feel up to enduring that long a wait and gave up after about two minutes.
With a little time to kill, I ended up going back towards the University, and took a turn to go down the hill where my old residence was. It really hit me that the first time I was here was almost ten years ago. I felt myself spirited to the time one night when after a less than enjoyable night out, I decided I needed to call a cab out to the Big Stop in Aulac for some alone time and clarity to help me plug away at yet another overdue essay. As I waited outside for it to take me outside the Sackville bubble, Philip came up to me and asked if he could come along with me. I obliged, and we ended up at the 24-hour truck stop about 15 minutes later. When he noticed my discman and Sigur Ros CD, I let him borrow them for a little while, and he left the restaurant while I finished my Billy Bacon Cheeseburger and milkshake. When he came back, he looked like he had seen the face of God. It was the first song on the CD, he explained, and the audio stimulus combined with the atmosphere of isolation just off from where the truck stop was combined into a profoundly stirring experience for him. A few years later when I went back to the same truck stop the first time I went to Sappyfest, I killed time waiting for a cab in a similar manner, but listening to XTC’s Skylarking. I could feel hints of the same experience, but I wonder how amplified it would have been with more ethereal and dirge-like music.
After a solo meal at a Chinese restaurant in the present day, it was time to go back downtown. The Sadies were ostensibly the headlining act of Sunday Night’s mainstage line-up, but the festival’s worst-kept secret was that Sloan was going to show up afterwards to run through their mid-90s “Twice Removed” album. As the now middle-aged band members took the stage, something finally clicked with me with regards to the pictures I was taking, and for once they started coming through just right. Being around other people didn’t seem to take a lot out of me anymore. It was as if all the potential for the entire weekend had waited until that very moment to realize itself.
After Sloan’s set, there was the customary festival denouement soiree at George’s Fabulous Roadhouse, where a band worked its way through covers of AM gold from the 1970s. The place was packed to capacity. Julie Doiron was right next to me at the bar while I was getting my beer (actually a particularly mundane occurrence in this town). I found myself getting some air every so often by going outside on the smoking deck, conversing with Brent and his girlfriend. I’m not sure if the slight whiff of a controlled substance in the air made any difference but I could feel the music and celebration follow me as I slowly trudged back to the dorms after closing time. My legs ached and I took my time getting back, but I tried to soak in the joy all the way.
Waiting for the bus back home is always my least favorite parts of trips to Sackville. You meet up with it at the gas station near the Trans-Canada, and I always feel the wait is longer than it actually is. This is probably because I didn’t want to go back to Riverview, and back to my job that I had to beg permission to get a late start. I think I remember listening to Sonic Youth this time around. There were no sudden waves of overwhelming emotion like the last year, when The Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring” suckerpunched me through my ear buds and I had to keep from crying. There were no last-minute run-ins with friends. There was nothing left but me trying to gauge why I didn’t have such a good time the first two nights I was here.
I skipped Sappyfest last year, partially mindful of the disappointments of the previous year, and partially because I was hoping to save a little money to get back into civilization after spending the year at home. I was no longer at the job I hated, but I felt like any diversions and trips that weren’t related to finding a new city to live in would have been a waste. I regretted not going after hearing Arcade Fire were the “mystery guests”, but more for the chance to get out of the city I’m in and relax.
I’m planning to be back this summer. I don’t care if the line-up has anyone I recognize or not, and the streets are overrun with pseudo-hipsters ten years younger than me. If there’s a chance I can see some old friends, I’m sold. I hope to not be as morose as I was that weekend, though.