In truth, coming back to school has been humbling. Since I didn’t work a work term or do anything at all IT-related this summer, I’m almost wondering which way I’m supposed to hold the mouse. Fortunately, there has been a lot of review. It makes me wonder, though, what might be possible if they didn’t have a summer break and just kept on going. I remember a lot of fundamental principles but I have to look up a lot of the nuts-and-bolts (like, I dunno, how to link an external stylesheet – I always go hunting for a file where I already did it and copy-paste the tag).
The most interesting thing we’re doing right now is probably PHP. So far, I’ve been astonished by both its power and its ease-of-use. A thing that we’re doing that most people would think would be interesting is learning to develop Android applications. But the course so far is a gong show – the teacher got into the material just this summer and is learning how to do the stuff and teach it as he goes along. The worst parts, though, are out of his control – the lab machines don’t have the Eclipse and Android packages required to code on them (and if you could install them, they’d just disappear when you logged out), so you have to do it on a virtual machine. And no matter where you run Eclipse, you end up running your little Android program in a slow-as-molasses phone emulator. And nothing is easy, either – if I gather the situation correctly, it’s not enough just to put stuff in your GUI layout and give it a / change the name (e.g. textView1) – if you want to do anything with it, you have to put a line in your main activity that goes looking for the darn thing before you can get it to do anything astonishing like change what it says. I suppose it’ll all make sense later, but right now it’s just painful. For my own part, I made the mistake of thinking Android would be easy just because a zillion people are writing apps for it. I don’t know if the logic is quite the same, but a jintillion people speak some form of Chinese, and that ain’t trivial to pick up.
OK… so… PEI. Well, in its way, that was also humbling. After this summer I went over there thinking “Wow, I’ve learned so much, I’m practically a different person now – this is going to be off the charts!” And that’s when you’re dead, when you start believing that there are good things in store for you around the corner. Well, at least of the kind that you didn’t work your ass off for.
I’m not going to tell the story of my whole time there, as a lot of it really was same-old, same-old. But I tried a few new things. I talked to more people, and I did a few things I didn’t do in the past: on the one hand, I found myself helping my family’s church deliver a service at a nursing home. On the other, having gotten encouragement from some people I talked to at trivia, I went to the Plowing Match dance.
Wow, was that ever something. It was a whole other side of the countryside that I’d never seen. Sure, I’d been out nights in Sherbrooke and Souris before, but I didn’t really grow up (full-time) in those places, and there weren’t ever so many people as there were here. If anything, it reminded me of the converted-church disco in the Polish countryside we went to when I was doing Canada World Youth. (Someone’ll get confused, so I’d better say it: CWY has nothing to do with World Youth Day except for the words “World Youth” and the reality that we were in Poland while there was a Polish Pope.)
There were a few doorknobs there, yes, but probably not much different in quantity or substance from the idiots you’d uncover in any old place. Most people were alright. A lot of people brought their friends up from Charlotteown. When I spoke to one particular such person, and she discovered that I was kind of from the Dundas area, she exclaimed “And you came back?!” LOL. No, I suppose not. I was just visiting, really.
But I told you all that to tell you this. At about the end of the (official) night, I found – or, I suppose, was found by, one of the most delightfully wacky females this side of the Perseus Arm. Fortunately, this time she did not yell “HEYYYY WESLEEEEY CRUUUUSHER!!” though this time I’d like to think I’m mature enough to be able to take a joke. (Jury’s still out, there.)
I was offered a beer and somehow I got it into me without flinging it back out. She told her friends the story of how I sang at karaoke and she dreaded I was going to be laughed at but I ended up blowing everyone away. And then it was time to go. I was going to lay down in the back of a black Ford Ranger to get a ride to Grandma’s in nearby Albion Cross. And I did it with company!
By the clock it probably didn’t last very long, but it felt like forever – in a good way. And the sky was so, so beautiful – you could see all the stars you could ever hope to see. Then the stars would start turning and you’d know you were turning – oh, there’s a silver starlit power line, too. It was magical, the night air was invigorating, and she was inspiring.
I wanted to ride like that all the way to Souris, but the driver didn’t want to get in trouble with the Mounties. It was just as well – it was kind of dangerous, anyway. So I said goodbye and went into Grandma’s house as quietly as I could. I had a sound enough but short sleep and managed to get up in time for church.
Then I saw this person a few days later and I don’t know what it was – I was probably some combination of awkward, mean, presumptuous, and small. I met her sisters and more of her friends and a whole bunch of other people, but it wasn’t karaoke, so I could only impress people with my wit, and while I think my wit is serviceable, I say this: “What do you call a misunderstood comedian? Broke.”
Why do I have to impress people? Well, you’d probably want to too, if you had the experiences I’ve had. With a lot of people I am unremarked or even downright denigrated, but once in a while I sing or act in the right place in the right way and people are astonished. And that feeling of appreciation is addictive. I need it. I need it bad.
I knew the next night was karaoke, but at first I thought the Blue Moon Festival… oh my gosh, I can’t believe something so lame got going… the guy saw The Smurfs (the 2011 movie) and was inspired. But the second full moon in a month being a “blue moon” is a modern myth. A ‘true’ blue moon is the third full moon in a season that has four. (The seasons actually relate somewhat to celestial geometry. Our calendar months are comparatively messy, and getting a ‘blue moon’ that way even depends on time zones – yuck!)
You know at Ralph’s how the announcer annoys you with “Loonies and toonies are good, but fives and tens are better”? (Or at least that’s how it was the one time I was there. That’s a story for another time.) Or how bands (like Sloan!) are always breaking up a set to hock their merchandise? Well this dude was like, all the time, “Cold beer, we’ve got coooooold beer, cooooold beer up here!” and okay, fine, whatever, but they were charging five bucks a can! They were out of their tree to be doing that considering it’s less than $2 per can if you buy a 24-pack at the liquor store. $3.50 would have been appropriate, I think. Yeah, they weren’t charging admission; I suppose there was that. The lighthouse was open too: you could go up to the top of it, which was worth doing, but once up there it was stuffy and you couldn’t really see and then FLASHOMGITSBRIGHTINMYFACE, so that only ate up a few minutes, really.
Anyway, I figured everybody would have skipped karaoke night for it, and when we got back I just settled down for the evening. I might have gone to check it out there anyway, but I figured since I wasn’t hearing anything from anybody, nobody was down there. BZZT. Wrong. The next morning I read a Facebook post to the effect of “best night evah” and I just about exploded. Fuuuuu---- why didn’t I go?! Was I lazy or just stupid? In family-friendly parlance, I could have impressed an unattached girl enough to get a date!
Next time. I’m already thinking about it.
All too soon, it was time to go home and prepare for re-entry to the gulag. As I said many times, I’m not sure what they’re in such a rush to get on with: I’m pretty sure we could wait until the second week of November and we’d be none the dumber. (Stopping at all was probably counterproductive, but once stopped we might as well stay stopped forever… for all I cared, anyway.) My friend Andy in Sherbrooke told me many times of the (then-apparent) ridiculousness of going back for a second year of IT. But still, I want to finish something. I need to finish something. I’ve been that guy teaching English overseas who had no marketable skills besides the circumstance of having been born in the anglosphere. I can’t be that guy again. It was crushing my spirit.
It’s okay – totally okay – if I end up teaching English again, and as soon as I have a few hundred dollars lying around, I’ll probably try for some kind of certification. I like people, I like teaching, and I like language. But without other skills, you’re completely helpless. (I’m not saying it’s impossible to learn a profession when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and you’re already working full-time, but it was more than I was willing to bite off then.) And I need helplessness like I need a hole in the head.
I got off-track. Kirin Ichiban is a pretty good Japanese beer... okay, well, the kind we can buy is brewed under licence in the USA or where-have-you. But still tasty. So anyway, I volunteered to help get two of that girl’s friends’ back to the mainland. The guy along for the ride was an itinerant singer and busker that we met at the bar the night I was there – I had the understanding that he’d chip in, though as soon as I heard he only had $20 to his name I realized that he never would. He probably didn’t realize the magnitude of the toll on the bridge or the fare for the ferry. I thought $30 was a reasonable contribution for a door-to-door ride from Souris to Halifax, but for some people that’s out of reach and you just sort of have to bite the bullet. It’s just life.
In Pooles Corner I stopped and picked up that girl’s old college roommate (a Newfoundlander) – they’d eaten at the restaurant there to cap off the roommate’s PEI visit.
When I pulled in, the first thing I saw was two gruffy-looking motorcycle-type dudes sitting under the awning in front of me, and one was making a neck-cutting gesture. Inside, I kind of freaked out. Was he saying “Get the fuck out of here or I’ll kill you?” Or was he saying “Shut your damn car off, we’re trying to chill!” or “Park somewhere else if you know what’s good for you!” I had no idea. I just tried to keep calm and not show my fear.
We all chatted between my car and that girl’s, and then the guys under the awning offered their admiration of the car and exclaimed that they wanted to buy it, perhaps in a right-then-and-there sort of way. Maybe even in a we’ll-take-it-from-you-now sort of way. Um… “It’s seen a lot of Nova Scotia winters. I couldn’t sell it to anyone in good conscience. Trust me, it looks prettier than it should.”
Then the guys were like, “Hey, you look like Quentin Tarantino!” And then they said “You even sound like him, too! Are you working on a movie?”
Hey, as a matter of fact, I kind of am! I told them about the idea my cousin had given me about a movie while I was in San Diego for his wedding. Okay, I wasn’t working on it just then, but it was a good story to get myself out of the situation in one piece.
“Hey, I like you. You’re all right.” Whew.
Later on the ferry we were talking about it, and the Newfoundlander said, “He probably just meant the restaurant was closed.”
Oh. “Yes, you’re right.” And I’m glad I talked about this, or I would have been left with a I-stared-in-the-face-of-Death story to tell for the rest of my life. One thing I’m starting to realize is that I often assume the entirely wrong thing from people.
There was a beautiful panoramic sunset seen from the ferry deck. I think we all felt special to have seen it. It was real. And that’s what I crave now – real experience. So much so that now I’m going to post this to my online weblog and then watch some televised football.