Saturday, 29 September 2012

Four Months, Two Weeks: The Nevada Kid

Our personalities are the sum total of all our life experiences combined with our natural genetic tendencies. Certainly, if you look at Calista you can see both Roni and me there physically, but as to her unique, memorable personality, I have no idea where that came from.  Neither Roni nor I would ever be described as "outgoing", "generous", "creative" or "charismatic", and yet many of Calista's close friends have used exactly those words when talking about her. Personally, I have been called "an ill mannered red-neck" while one of the more polite terms used for my lovely Roni has been "testy".  How two misfits like us produced someone like Calista is nothing short of a miracle. On the other hand, there is one thing about Calista that Roni can and should take full credit for: her sharp sense of fashion and marketing. 

Calista, Roni and I had a running stand-up comedy routine that centred around their ongoing effort to spend money and my constant grumbling about how expensive they were to keep in clothes. It was kind of "Rodney Dangerfield" meets "Lucille Ball" with lots of credit cards involved. Roni would find a sale, be it "half-off" or a "red tag" sale and I would complain loudly that if she saved me any more money I would be bankrupt within the year.  The way we carried on, you would think we were working poor living on a patchwork of rotating credit and scavenged coupons.  In truth, while our family never had much discretionary income, Roni's relatively tight control of our finances meant that neither us nor our daughter ever went without. In fact, if you wanted to point fingers at the irresponsible spendthrift in the family, you need only look at the guy with the red drop-top Mustang and the extensive collection of rare martial-arts texts. That would be me.

So maybe she did develop into a shopper

And she did a fair bit of retail therapy

Calista never really did take to retail therapy with as much enthusiasm as her mother. As a young child, Calista found shopping every bit as tedious as I did unless it was near her birthday or Christmas. Even then, the mall tours were more about the bright lights, decorations and crowds of people. In fact, keeping a young Calista under control in the malls at Christmas could be quite a challenge; the one and only time I can remember spanking her diapered butt was after a third warning not to take off running on her own impromptu explorations.  That episode taught me to never threaten a spanking unless you really intend to carry through with it. I am pretty sure I was more upset about the spanking than she was (She seemed more angry than ashamed). Really, it was not until Calista reached her "tweens" (I hate that word, but it works here) that she took much interest in playing "wing man" to her mother on one of her many trips to the mall.

Roni can whittle away the greater part of any day just "shopping" without actually buying anything. We can visit three malls and dozens of stores without a single significant purchase and Roni will consider it a day well spent.  Shopping, for her, is a form of entertainment as satisfying as any sporting event or movie.  To Roni, its all about the hunting and the finding rather than the actual buying of a new pair of boots or a nice leather jacket. Personally, I consider a root-canal without anaesthetic comparable to her speculative shopping (as in "I  speculate I might find a really good deal"), but then I am just a redneck man. Calista, on the other hand, matured into the perfect shopping companion for Roni: patient, compassionate, understanding and appropriately critical when the jeans really did not fit properly. To watch the two of them together was like watching two sisters or best friends just passing time enjoying each others company.  People often commented that they could be mistaken for sisters if you did not know them.

There was such a difference in purchases between mother and daughter. I am not sure which is more efficient, but it does make a person think.  Roni always purchases on quality. She will search for hours for the exact right product and does not mind spending a bit more to get top quality. Calista, on the other hand, seemed to shop in bulk, foregoing quality in favour of finding that certain "look". With Calista it was always about finding that exact right style. That style was not necessarily "in fashion", but it was always "her style". I once asked her about why she never seemed too concerned about quality clothing and her sensible reply was "why worry about quality when something will be out of style long before it will actually be worn-out".  When I look at Roni's wardrobe filled with expensive clothes that are unlikely to ever come back in fashion in our lifetime and I have to admit, Calista had a good point.

I eventually was excused from the whole shopping experience.   The turning point came one year after a particularly demanding expedition to Pacific Centre Mall in Vancouver.  I had spent the afternoon growling in boredom and essentially holding up the walls of the mall outside of each clothing store the girls stopped at. The mall security was getting suspicious and probably was considering evicting me for loitering. I eventually lost my cool a bit and suggested that the mall would make more money if they established a "Daddy Day Care" where wayward husbands could congregate to play games and watch Pay Per View TV, preferably ensconced in well-worn leather recliners eating toxic finger food like nachos with cheese. Calista rolled her eyes and told me that I should just stay home if I was going to act like that.  She was a bit taken aback when I jumped at the chance and agreed to just stay home from that point on.  In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I wish I had been more mature and just enjoyed the time with my two beautiful women.  Vision is always 20/20 in hindsight.

In February of 2004 I made my first trip to the Western States Veterinary Conference at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. Dollar for dollar, the Westerns are the best continuing education for a veterinarian in general practice in North America. The topics are timely, the speakers are practical and entertaining and Las Vegas is....well, over the top.  The trip itself was hard on me; I was only six weeks post-operative for the removal of a potentially malignant tumour and my father, Kelvin Orr, passed away while I was en-route to the conference. Typical of my father, he had left instructions that there was to be no funeral and his family was to continue on with their lives without pause. I stayed at the conference and even under the pall of death and disease, my daily updates home to Roni were nothing short of enthusiastic.

At the Venetian. Don't ask how
I got this picture. It involved
lying down in public. It's a

The best a cheap point-n-shoot can do of
the Strip at night. Not bad for film photos.

Las Vegas is the brightest, most gaudy and loudest place I ever have visited. After being informed of my father's death, I spent over an hour trying to find a quiet bar at which I could sit, have a cold drink by myself and just think about the old man.  It was a futile effort; I ended up buying a long-neck "Bud" and retreating to my lonely hotel room. There is no quiet place anywhere on the strip;  even McCarran International Airport is filled with a constant barrage of bells, whistles and canned music emanating from the ubiquitous slot machines. Not being a gambler (even slot machines are a bit of a mystery to me.), I never have felt the allure of the casino.  On the other hand, Las Vegas would be entertaining to anyone if all they wanted to do was people watch.  The city that Bugsy Siegal and the mob built seems to attract the most colourful people, many of whom seem to be cut right out of a comic book.  
"Bugsy" Siegal and the Princess. Bugsy
ended his life all at the hands of a Mob
hit man. Maybe my friend from the plane?

My first introduction to the wild-life of Las Vegas was on the Northwest connector flight to Las Vegas out of Minneapolis-St Paul. First Class seating seemed to be filled with well-tanned Hollywood-handsome men escorting tall, leggy women who looked like they might be dancers (they were). Passing back through the cabin there was at least two guys who looked like hard-used and past their prime Elvis impersonators (probably were not; the Elvis look just seems to be popular in Vegas) and one bone-thin rat-faced guy standing about five foot two, hair tightly greased back, eyes hidden behind wrap-around Ray-bans and sporting an expensive Italian silk suit and sharply pointed snakeskin shoes. I was not sure who he might be, but I steered clear of him since the term "Mob Hit Man" immediately came to mind.  Seated across from me was an immense mountain of a woman with artificially red hair, a thick layer of cheap pancake make-up and wearing a brightly coloured "moo-moo" dress. I saw that lady several times during my week in Vegas; she seemed to have a "moo-moo" for every day of the week.  Sometimes reality is really stranger than fiction.  Roni just had to see Las Vegas to believe it.

The Luxor: Roni's favourite. I've stayed
there 6 out of 8 years.

In retrospect I question introducing Roni to Las Vegas; it was love at first sight. There was nothing about Sin City she didn't love. The lights, the noise, the costume-clad characters ( most who didn't think they were in costumes), even the casino (though she has no use of gambling either) was a wonder for her.  The shopping was absolutely the best anywhere as far as she was concerned.  I was happy with the situation; the majority of stores in the casino malls are so far beyond our family budget that I had no fear that she could much more than look. Unfortunately I was tied up in lectures all day, so Roni was painfully lonely for much of the time. She needed her faithful sidekick for proper expeditions out onto the strip. She needed Calista.

In 2006 Calista made her first visit to Las Vegas. This time there was absolutely no pretence of any educational value to our trip. Calista was simply coming along to keep her mother out of trouble. We booked with Northwest Airlines, connecting through the hub of Minneapolis-St Paul. I like to believe Calista's first reaction to Las Vegas was mostly due to traveller's fatigue. 

While the airport at Minneapolis is very nice, there are large cities that would disappear inside it.  Making any connection in that airport usually involves a rushed pass through customs, a long jog to the rapidly moving human conveyor belts and many frantic cross-checks of your wrist watch and your gate number.  By the time Roni, Calista and I made it to our distant gate Calista was more than a little ruffled and irritable. Then we got to enjoy a three hour flight shoe-horned back in steerage, barred from view by cheap drapes lest our economy-lifestyle bodies upset the rarefied passengers up in first-class.  I never have really warmed up to Northwest Airlines, if you haven't noticed.

The eastern approach to Las Vegas takes you over the great plains which transition, for the last hour or so of the flight, into the vast, empty and barren expanse of the western desert.  Looking down, the interested tourist will see a red rock and clay desert punctuated by wind beaten mountain chains and dissected by the odd road coming from nowhere and running to nowhere. Las Vegas itself appears suddenly, exploding suddenly into view as the plane crests the surrounding high-altitude mountains. With the exception of the shiny, glowing Las Vegas Boulevard, lined with massive modern hotels, each with more lights than the next, Las Vegas is actually not terribly attractive. The city just seems to start sharply at the edge of the desert and all you can see is miles of red and grey stucco houses, condos and warehouses connected by the snake of hundreds of miles of elevated freeway. The scant few "green spaces" visible from the air usually represent exclusive country clubs, civic ball parks or soccer pitches.  I am sure there are some nice green parks somewhere there, but I have never seen one. That high altitude desert was never meant to have anything more than cactus, sage and seasonal desert flowers growing on it.

 Calista, surrounded for the most part by patriotic Americans, felt obliged to exclaim loudly as we descended into McCarran International Airport; "Dad, that is the ugliest city I have ever seen! Why would anyone ever want to live here?". Did I say somewhere here that diplomacy was never a strong suit with Calista?

The First Trip to Sin City with Mom. Outside the Monte Carlo
before they put that ugly Mexican Bar in front of it.

The youngest pirate with shopping
booty in 2006. Las Vegas was not too
ugly to shop till she dropped
Calista's first visit to Las Vegas was spent at the New York, New York Casino and Resort. The hotel itself has a distinct carnival atmosphere.  To access anything there, including the front desk, the rooms and all the restaurants you have to pass through the casino, which is always crowded and busy. There is a roller-coaster that runs twelve hours each day, rolling screaming passengers around the outside of the guest towers late into the night.  Some people may get some sleep at that resort, but for that week I got very little. I also saw very little of my family; I had to leave for the conference by 7 am and I rarely returned to the room before 6 pm. Roni developed a real taste for the massive Margarita drinks sold up and down the Strip, often in novelty collector containers. Dealing with a half-cut wife and a frustrated fourteen-year old daughter after a long day at lectures was often more than I could handle. Calista found the trip quite amusing, especially acting as an escort for her directionally challenged and periodically tipsy mother while they patrolled the strip for the entire day.  My daughter learnt the first lesson of Las Vegas on her first day in the Big Neon: wear sensible shoes. I had no idea that standard "flip-flops" could cause blisters that badly and apparently neither did she.  Subsequent trips to Las Vegas involved serious consideration of footwear for Calista. She never did learn diplomacy though. And we have never stayed at New York, New York since.
At New York, New York in 2006 looking across the foot bridge to the
Excalibur.  The Excalibur has seen better days, but the rooms are
very quiet and quite nice. Busy hotel though.

She is young and gorgeous and I look like the scrawny old
chicken-necked man I am slowly evolving into.
As we left Las Vegas, in the departure lounge at McCarran, once again surrounded by patriotic Americans, my lovely daughter felt obliged to broadcast that Las Vegas had given her lots of ideas for her school essay on "Why I Love Canada" due the next week. Her meaning was not difficult to follow.

Jimmy Hendrix and her. Look
for a second theme in all the photos
I selected here.

A lot of her "looks" were very
Marilyn Munroe. She actually
had studied both Marilyn's posing
and style of the photographer's that
immortalised her. Calista had some form
of personal connection to MM.

Lady Di.  A poor rendition really if
you compare it to the photo
right behind the wax mannequin.
During Calista's teen-aged years the time just flew by. I cannot remember now if she came to Las Vegas the next year, in 2007, or if she skipped a year and came with us in 2008.  I know by the second trip to Sin City she had a plan and had come with a list of things to do and places to see....and stores to raid.  By her second visit to the Strip she had physically matured considerably, which had it's pros and cons.  On the pro side, we no longer had to escort her through the casinos since she could easily pass for 21 by that time, but on the con side we constantly had to provide picture i.d. for her to prove she could still travel on the public transit at a "junior" rate. That year I finally realised that my time with my family was running out; Calista was growing up and even then I knew that she was going to leave me sooner rather than later (Sooner and permanently is the reality). I started cutting my time at the lecture halls considerably and made a point of doing something with the family each evening no matter how tired I was. That trip was actually not just good, it was great. I took a long lunch break 3 out of 5 days and did some laps in the pool with Calista, watched on deck by Roni as she caught some sun.  We attended "O" at the Bellagio, visited Freemont Street, and Roni and Calista did a double-trip at Tussuad's Wax Gallery over at the Venetian. Now I wish I had played hooky from "Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Feline Hepatic Disease" and gone to the gallery with them; Roni still laughs (through the tears) about Calista hamming it up with the wax dummies. I laugh just looking at the pictures; half of the celebrities she posed with were dead before she was born.

Old Binions under the dome at
Freemont Street.

Freemont Street, the original "Strip" before there was a strip, is right in downtown Las Vegas, miles from the busy corridor most tourists associate with Vegas. To get there you grab "The Deuce", the public transit double-decker bus that runs along Las Vegas Boulevard and ride it to the very end of the line. Getting dropped off in downtown Vegas after dark is not for the faint of heart, especially if you are a past-his-prime middle-aged man with his beautiful wife and daughter.  The place looks like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller. Dirty, dusty empty store-fronts, sketchy lighting and more than a few very marginal characters loitering in the shadows surround you as you exit the bus.  Freemont Street itself is just a few steps away from the bus-stop thank goodness, and it is truly worth the ride.  The old centre of gambling has been closed off to traffic now and is exclusively a pedestrian walk-way. Both sides of the street are lined with the profitable old casinos and western-style bars that originally attracted the Mafia to the isolated desert town decades ago. Sometime over the last ten years the city of Las Vegas had the foresight to place a arched roof high over the entire three or four blocks of Freemont Street and this roof becomes the projection screen for an amazing light and music show once the sun goes down. I am sure it is jam packed with equal measures of gamblers, tourists and buskers during the high tourist season, but on a cool February night, Freemont Street was practically empty when we were there.  It is worth the bus fare, but don't expect to find hours of excitement there unless you really are a hard-core gambling machine with a hankering for old-school casino fun.

Calista never really warmed to Las Vegas, which was a disappointment to her mother. Roni liked to have Calista at her side every trip to Sin City, but Calista always found (usually excellent) excuses to skip the trip.  In 2009 it was some pressing concern in her last year at Leboldus, the following year it was mid-term exams at University. In 2010 Roni refused to go to Las Vegas with me since her faithful wing-man was staying home and in 2011 I missed the conference altogether.  Of course she was at college in 2012 and 2013....well that is taken care now, isn't it?  2013 was to be kind of special. I was going to take a few extra days just for the family and we were going to do a little exploring of that corner of the USA. I wanted to see the red-rock desert and maybe visit the Grand Canyon, Roni wanted just a few days in the sun away from the constant grind of owning a small business, and Calista wanted to attend a large photography conference held at the MGM Grand yearly which coincides with my veterinary conference. Las Vegas is now off limits for a few years; too many ghosts floating around on that Strip for Roni.

The Nevada Kid and her wing-man Calista probably shopped out Vancouver's Fourth Avenue between Burrard and Arbutus streets more than any other pair of tourists in the world. If you inventoried Calista's wardrobe closely, you can actually track both her changing interests and her preferred retail stores down on Fourth as she grew up.  Of course, as an infant many of her ensembles came from "Please Mom", a Kitsalano original which has since expanded over much of Western Canada. Through her teen years Calista fancied herself a surfer-girl (from Regina?) so there were many visits to the congregation of board shops at Burrard and Fourth and a subsequent collection of rash-guard shirts and surf-shorts (and many, many pairs of flip-flops). Finally Calista and Roni discovered Yoga clothes (and apparently the rest of the world, including some men and women who have no business wearing form-hugging spandex yoga pants in public). There is an entire section of Calista's wardrobe dedicated to Lu Lu Lemon, and she could tell you practically every store location in Saskatchewan and BC by memory. The Fourth Avenue retail corridor felt like home to both Roni and Calista; their discussions about the area were often mysterious and incomprehensible to me because they were able to dispense with details such as names and locations by simply referring to the product they were looking for.

That's the same "Please Mom" outfit she
 was wearing over
a year earlier. DURABLE.

 Lu Lu Lemon most likely.

On their last Mom and Daughter trip to Vancouver they took the trusty Smart Car down the coastal highway, trusting on the GPS to get them from Powell River to my sister's home in the Vancouver suburb of Kerrisdale.  Unfortunately I had thrown a wrench in the works by writing out directions for them to follow which conflicted with the GPS instructions considerably. By the time the two intrepid shoppers had found their way over the Lion's Gate Bridge, through downtown Vancouver and onto the Burrard Street Bridge, the GPS was switched off and stuffed into it's nylon case and they were no longer speaking civilly to each other.  It was only when Roni recognised the board shops (surf boards, skim boards, snow boards) at Burrard and Fourth that she finally understood where they had landed.  They turned to each other, sighed with relief for no longer being lost, and decided to forgive verbal transgressions with some forceful retail therapy.  More than anything else, shopping, even just window shopping, was a form of bonding for Roni and Calista.  Unfortunately, I am a pale second as a wing-man for the Nevada Kid. I will never replace Calista no matter how understanding I may be and I doubt Roni will ever find shopping much fun without her. My credit cards may be thankful, but I would prefer the debts and a happy wife.

Calista never was quite the shopper her mother is. In these last years I saw her interest shift sharply from how to buy merchandise to how to market merchandise.  During her last year at high school and through the following summer she actually worked in retail, selling clothes at "Ricci's" and "Bootlegger". While she did not actually enjoy working with the public (thankless job most of the time), she loved setting up the marketing displays. Within a few short months of taking the job at "Bootlegger" she took over all the responsibility for the store displays; her training in art and photography helped her immensely setting up the little marketing vignettes in the store and at its windows. After that year in marketing, Calista had very firm opinions on advertising and marketing, especially with regards to clothing, jewelry and make-up.  She would stop and critique a store's layout, often punctuating her comments with a derisive snort or sarcastic jibe.  She had shown an interest in starting her own little clothing store if the opportunity presented itself.

The Nevada Kid in her bandito bandanna and,
of course, her faithful sidekick Calista.
It was her keen sense of marketing that led Calista to take an interest in  product marketing photography. While Roni and I recognised her major interest for her portfolio was marketing, we did not realise quite how serious she was in her research for that interest.  A parent always worries that their child will never find their "passion" in life; we have no worries about that after cleaning out her apartment and inheriting her computer.  In Calista's apartment we found a thick scrap-book filled with advertising photos she had clipped stored with a stack of magazines she had collected as references.  Mixed in with those magazines were several advertising rags Roni and I had brought back from Las Vegas simply because they had such high quality advertising photos in them. Her computer Internet favourites file is filled with various product marketing sites and a good half of her "Facebook" contacts are marketing firms.  Heck, her favourite television series at the time of her death was "Madmen" which I guess was all about advertising executives.

Kelvin Orr's old "Rollei": one of her first
efforts at advertising photography.
Disney Couture. If you know anything about photography
you will understand how truly good this series really is.

That metal flask is tiny but very reflective. Just try to photograph
shiny metal without casting a reflection. I was there when she
took these photos; that was the day she turned professional.
I approached Disney Corp about buying these photos for advertising
for the very fair price of a donation to her scholarship fund. They
did not even bother replying to say "No Thanks". I guess typing
out e-mail with those big cartoon Mickey-Mouse hands is too difficult.

This week's journal entry was maybe a little different. Certainly it might be a bit of a surprise to realise that it was as much about Roni (The Nevada Kid) as it was about Calista. That is the point; they were closer than just mother and daughter. Calista completed Roni. You really cannot discuss one without referring to the other.  Throughout this journal I may have given the impression that I had a lot of influence on how my daughter turned out but really, in all the important ways, Roni was the major influence.  I have no doubt that Calista was heading toward marketing in some fashion and really, all those hours trading jibes with her mother while patrolling the malls of Canada and Las Vegas had to play a huge part in that.  While Calista's loss has been a near fatal blow to me, it has been a truly killer blow to Roni. Indeed, Roni is little more than walking dead now; she breathes and eats, talks and walks, but the flame has died in her eyes and there is no interest in the very things she once took great joy in. You can't have Batman without Robin, The Lone Ranger without Tonto, and without Calista, the Nevada Kid just ain't coming back.

The only thing healthy in my house anymore is my credit rating, and that does not mean much really. If you die rich you are still just dead.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Four Months, One Week: West Coast Dreaming

just because I love this picture. California Dreamin'
all the leaves are brown
and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day

I'd be safe and warm
if I was in L.A.
California Dreamin'
on such a winter's day
                                                    The Mommas and the Poppas

I know I have said before that each of us, as we pass through the seas of life, have a bow-wave that announces our arrival and a wake behind that shows we were there. The farther each of those waves gets from our vessel, the less their size and impact. Some of us are like ocean-going freighters with huge wakes and waves that break upon shores both near and distant, while others are barely dingies with practically no lasting impact whatsoever.  I like to believe my Calista was akin to the great Titanic;  the potential for waves of great impact was there but she was taken from us during her maiden voyage.  Just like the Titanic, the only way Calista can live on is for those who loved her to share her story with everyone that will listen.

When I started this journal, it was all about finding some way for Roni and I to cope with a loss that neither of us can fathom or even begin to deal with. Right now we are not "dealing" with it. We are just getting better at hiding our grief under a patina of fake smiles and vacuous small talk.

 I spent two days last week trying to find a CD Calista used to listen to when she was about 16: "The Black Parade" by "My Chemical Romance". Roni finally pointed me in the right direction but asked me why I wanted it.  I had no answer and, when I finally found the CD stashed in a non-descript box down in a dark corner of the basement I broke down completely.  Roni tried to console me, but all I had to say was "I searched for two days for this but what I wanted to find was her. I still can't find her anywhere". This journal, more than anything, has become an effort to "find Calista"; I want to write down everything I can about her before the memories start getting confused and complicated. Maybe if I share enough of Calista, somebody out there will catch a bit of her "wave" and in some small way she will live on.

Over our house in Regina at sunrise.
Some people think Saskatchewan has a subtle, understated beauty.
There is nothing subtle about "The Land of Living Skies"

I cannot actually remember when Calista started lusting after the West Coast lifestyle.  Back in '95, when we first arrived in Regina, Calista, at the ripe age of 3 and a bit, was sure that she was going back to the Yukon as soon as she could get there.  She was always proud of having been born in the Yukon (as if she had much choice in the matter) and I am not sure she ever really took to being a "flatlander". Calista never really saw the subtle beauty of the prairies, but I believe that appreciation comes with maturity, and she will, forever more, be just twenty years old. Forever young; immortal in some small way.  Her first introduction to the west coast came in May of '97 or '98 when she was in grade one.

In the fall of 1995 my parents finally sold the small acreage they owned in Vernon, BC and returned to my old neighbourhood in Vancouver. Dad's Parkinson's Disease was slowly taking over his body; it was becoming obvious that the acreage was too much for my ageing parents and that dad needed much more medical care than he could access living on the small acreage miles from town in the Okanagan.  All my siblings had remarked to me how much dad had slipped over the last couple of years and the general consensus was that if we wanted the grandchildren to know Kelvin Orr, we better all make the pilgrimage to Vancouver....soon. 
5788 Cypress.  Five generations of my
family lived in that house at one point
or the other. It was big and draughty, but
it was a real home.
In the spring of '97 (or '98, I cannot remember) I was becoming progressively more depressed at my inability to visit my parents. I was starting to panic that dad would pass without me seeing him again.  Roni and I checked the bank accounts and there was no way we could afford for the family to fly out, but we did have just enough "Air Miles" stored up for two of us to do a round-trip to Vancouver over the May 24th weekend.  It was decided that Calista and I would make the trip this time and that we would make it a priority to save for one family trip out to Vancouver yearly.  She was going to miss a little school, but that was Ok because I had a plan on how we could make up for the lost classroom time.  I always seemed to have a plan.

Growing up surrounded by seas of wheat, oats, and canola, the children of the prairies understand the rhythm of the seasons but are unlikely to ever have any concept of the planetary rhythms of the tides. In the five days we spent in Vancouver my poor sister spent a lot of time taxiing us to Jericho beach to take pictures of high tide, low tide and everything in between.  I am sure it got a little bit tedious for my executive sister and her two, rambunctious little twins.  I am not sure that Calista ever really caught the drift of tides, despite numerous daddy-diagrams and charts, but I had fun doing the school project.  I think I got two gold stars from her grade one teacher.
Note the camera on Low-Tide Calista.
She probably had a groove in her neck from
all the years with a camera necklace.

That trip to Vancouver did start a life-long daddy-daughter bonding habit: Starbucks Coffee.  Kerrisdale, the small residential neighbourhood I grew-up in had two Starbucks Coffee outlets about 200 yards apart; I am pretty sure the employees can engage in food-fights across the street practically without leaving the doorways of the coffee house.  Each evening, after a long day of haunting the beach and chasing her cousins in the sand, Calista would actually ask daddy out for coffee. We would wander up the street, window shopping as we went, chatting, and generally enjoying each others company. She would have a hot-chocolate, I would have a coffee, and both of us would be restless all night with the late jolt of caffeine. Starbucks became a tradition for Calista and I; I was late to work frequently throughout her high-school years as she sweet-talked me into a trip to the coffee house before she was due at school.   That trip to Vancouver also introduced her to another family tradition: Kerrisdale Cameras. My father dealt with Kerrisdale Cameras since the family-run business opened in 1961. Calista and I did a lot of window shopping at that old store that year and every year since.  Her last camera and most of her college kit came from Kerrisdale Cameras.

Lizard on a stick. Calista and I had no
idea what they actually are for, but she
wanted to dare one of her friends back in
Regina to eat it.  I had to nix that three years
in a row.
The dragon gates as we entered China-town.

Blood Alley by Calista at fifteen. An enlargement
of this photo still hangs above my bed.

She was about sixteen. Yes, Roni, she sure
as hell was taller than you, even then.

That trip to Vancouver was the first of many as Calista grew up.  Each trip introduced her to more elements of the west-coast lifestyle.  There were just so many things she loved about the Emerald City.

 Calista insisted on visiting China Town practically every trip to Vancouver. I obliged, but I had my ulterior motives.  Vancouver's China-town lies right on the edge of what I call "the heart of the dragon"; that downtown ghetto centred around Main and Hastings inhabitted by a marginalised population of poverty stricken drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless.  I wanted to "city-proof" my girl by introducing her to the rough edges. She just ignored the rough edges and loved shopping China town.  On the other hand, something must have rubbed off on her over the years; in later years, while visiting Vancouver with her teen-aged friends Calista had a level of comfort on those rough streets while her Regina side-kicks were frequently obviously fish on the dry land.

The Vancouver aquarium was a special place for Calista. We visited it every time we landed in Vancouver and she actually slept there twice. For anyone that does not know about the "Sleeping with the Whales"  program, I heartily recommend taking your ten year old and just enjoying the wonder in their eyes as they bond with beluga whales.  I took Calista to her first urban camp-out when she was about ten.  While all the other "campers" snored away the graveyard shift, my Calista did not sleep one moment of that long night. She was glued to the window in the underwater viewing gallery for over eight hours.  At about 3 am she shook her poor old dad awake to tell me the whales were singing to her.  I thought she was hearing things until I realised the sounds I assumed were coming from the pipes above my heads were actually emanating from the head of the huge whale floating across the window about a foot from Calista. Calista practically bubbled about the adventure for weeks after that night. Roni returned with her the following year and I am pretty sure neither of them slept once again. "Sleeping with the Whales" is a fantastic experience at any age.

Brent Hayden: he would have
rated a poster on her wall like
Michael Phelps if he had one.
Good start but the winner, Brent Hayden,
had not even stepped onto the blocks yet.

As Calista aged, the excuses to visit Vancouver changed.  Of course, there was always the grand-parents, aunt and uncle and, of course, the indomitable twin cousins, but there were certainly so many other reasons to go west.  Competitive swim camp, shared with her precocious cousins, filled the time for two years when she was fifteen and sixteen.

I grew up involved in competitive swimming. My last coach before university, the man that coached me to Nationals and one Olympic trials (don't bother looking, you won't ever find my name in any record books) was Tom Johnson.  Tom had gone on and become a nationally recognised coach to many Olympic athletes (if he could get a putz like me to Nationals, the man had to have some amazing skill).  Tom actually held summer swim camps every year; I thought that the camps would gently help her back into the training grind for the fall season and it would give her a chance to bond with her younger cousins.  The camps were superb; she got to spend hours with her Olympic heroes such as Brent Hayden, she got to train in the great outdoors at the UBC outdoor pool, and she got to learn that the twins were actually pretty good guys. Calista eventually left competitive swimming behind while I will not be surprised if I see her cousins challenging for positions on the next Canadian Olympic swim team.

The first year we attended "Swim Camp" Roni stayed behind in Regina, leaving me as the only chaperon for Calista and her best friend of the day, Danielle.  I got up early each day to help prepare breakfast for Calista, her friend and her two cousins, Kieth and Colin. I am pretty sure I permanently scarred my mother's opinion of her youngest son as I played "mister-mom" to the quartet.  Luckily, my mother never learnt what I did with my time during the eight hours of the daily swim camp. I shopped for girls shoes.

Calista had told me her retail needs for the west coast visit was a pair of rainbow coloured high-top Converse sneakers.  While she did not really expect her boring, conservative father to actually be successful, there was an implication that my child-hood memory of Vancouver would give me a step-up in the quest assigned me.  I never did find those high-tops, though I did manage to find every woman's shoe store in the west side of Vancouver and a many of the shoe stores in the downtown core.  Calista finally found her beloved rainbow high-tops (go back to the picture of her shoes in "Her Favourite Things"; they are there in all their glory) down on Robson street. She almost did not buy them because "I can get a better deal on the Internet", but I, after my great hunt, I insisted she buy the damn shoes. I, of course, paid for them.
She had fun with this photograph.
I took it on my Canon Rebel, but it
was all her idea.

Probably her best ride of the day.  There was lots of thrills and spills,
and more than a little sand in places that sand should not be.

Can you get anymore coastal?

 Calista was the quintessential beach-bunny and revelled in every moment she spent on the sand.  I loved watching her experience something I grew up taking for granted.  Throughout my teen-aged years my brother and I were just as likely to be down skimming the tidal pools of Spanish Banks as we were to be in class. I never really got any good at skim-boarding, but Ivor was pretty amazing on our home made round boards made of marine plywood and many layers of thick paint and shellac. I doubt I was the person to teach her how to "skim", but dammit I tried. The only place we were more likely to be found while doing the tourist tour of Vancouver was Kits Pool, the massive salt water pool that takes up the entire west wing of Kitsalano Beach.
150 salt-water yards of heaven for any swimmer. Superb facilities.

Calista and I loved just swimming freely in the 150 yard long lap pool; a mile can slip away 12 long laps and Roni just adored sunning on the deck while looking out upon the skyline of downtown Vancouver.  Kits pool will always be a favourite of mine; Calista would log off 3 miles without pause; there was a sense of freedom in the big pool; no pace-times, no flip-turns and no finishing line, just peaceful gliding in the cool water.  After a long swim she and I would sit and daydream about her future in Vancouver. There is a modern concrete condo-complex overlooking Kits pool that she had designs on. The complex is a four-story low-rise with floor to ceiling windows across the entire front of the building overlooking the pool and park. I doubt my combined wealth at the time could have found enough money for a down-payment on the penthouse of the complex, but she had big plans and she had no doubt that one day she would afford to buy that condo as her Vancouver home when she was a famous photographer.  I am glad she had that dream; I am not sure she ever gave it up over the years between fifteen and twenty.

I think her class was actually trying to dance in snowshoes on
top of Mount Washington. She had never worn snow-shoes before,
so trying to do a two-step is asking a lot of her.

Check out the boots: skull and lips. Also
note the nervous tight-rope act. Log bridges
are not common on the prairies.

Coffee house antics. Kareen looks a little
embarrassed. Calista never was embarrassed by
anyone but Dad.

The letter that Calista wrote herself in Grade 9 to be read by her 20 year old self ( see "Ghostwriter") stated right out that she always planned to move to her beloved Vancouver.  I am pretty sure that the Comox Valley had supplanted Vancouver as her goal, but who knows what the future was to bring. I must admit that I am not sure that anyone ever embraced the west coast the way my girl did. She was going to take the province by a storm and show us all how to do it right. She was going to do everything and do it well. There was just so many things that she should have been allowed to do. Her death is a bitter pill for anyone that knew her. We all know where she was headed and it was going to be glorious.

And one last picture for everyone to laugh at. She was had the West-Coast laid-back cool attitude very young. I always threatened to trot this out for every boy-friend she brought home but I never did. I doubt she would have flinched. It is a classic. Makawao, Maui Hawaii, thank-you for this memory. If anyone ever gets to Makawao, on the side of the big volcano in Maui, find the Mexican restaurant with the old tin roof. I can't remember if the food is any good, but the rain on the tin roof is downright romantic for a young couple with their first born child.

By the time she was finished eating there was re-fried beans
everywhere. Re-fried beans are not a good choice for a thirteen
month old child, but damn they are fun.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Four Long Months: Masquerade

Halloween 2011

Most people spend the majority of their life trying to fit themselves into the role they believe society has written for them.  Personally, I have worked my entire life to be the professional that I am now. I never once questioned if that was my one true calling or if I would be happier doing something else altogether.  I just followed the lead of my parents and siblings before me and put my nose to the grindstone, buckled down and worked my life away following the dream that I was told to have. The few times I tried to break from that predetermined path, it was by half measures and I resisted the breaks as much as my family and friends discouraged them.  One will always fail if one is determined to fail. My one success was Calista; I spent a lifetime training her to follow her own path and define success by her own terms.  I truly believe she understood that happiness is defined by yourself, rather than what society tells you it should be.  A favourite line I used to say to her was "Mozart is probably the most famous musician of all time and yet he died a pauper, owing money to everyone. Don't define success by wealth".

I like to believe that Calista's infatuation with fashion statements and costumes mostly stemmed from her effort to constantly redefine "Calista".  "Calista" was not one constant person, Calista was an constantly evolving character who never felt bound to fit into anyone's peg hole. Calista was independent without being contrary. She did not feel obliged to flow against the tide or march to the beat of a different drummer just to to be "different". When Calista followed her own current it was because it served her own sense of destiny. She also never really felt obliged to drag anyone along with her. She was neither a leader nor a follower, she was just Calista.

I know we dressed her
this way, but that outfit was
really a favourite for years.  That
"Please Mom" stuff was pricey
but durable.

Holidays were always a big deal around our house. Not so much from my end of things, but Roni really liked to go overboard on the seasonal decorations. Christmas was a six week affair with every form of decoration imaginable filling every corner of the house. It was as if I had my own little North Pole elf who dedicated her life to making my home into Santa's work-shop.  Easter was no different, nor was Thanksgiving.  We have several very large, very full Rubbermaid Totes for every season filling our basement.  Halloween was not overlooked by any means; we have ghosts and ghouls, tombstones and bats and, yes, numerous costumes collected throughout the years. Even quiet and demure little Roni has a few costumes packed away, some of them really quite questionable for public consumption (her "Loreena Bobbit" costume was always a big hit with women; not so much men though). Calista looked upon Halloween as her special day; she could wear anything she wanted without anyone so much as blinking.  She took full advantage of that nearly every year right into adulthood.

Halloween in Regina is always a difficult celebration to plan. Typically the winter snows hold off until November, but the sub-arctic cold that comes with the prairie winter usually strikes just before Halloween. October 24th you can be outside comfortably in shirt sleeves and Halloween night it can be minus fifteen degrees Celsius with a blistering North wind that takes the wind-chill to minus twenty or lower. There is precious little loitering outside done on Halloween; "Trick or Treat" campaigns are more of an exercise in physical endurance than fun. One thing a parent learns in the prairies: always have two costumes planned: one for school or parties and one that fits over a snow-suit for doing the neighbourhood rounds. Lots of kids just surrendered to the cold and traipsed about dressed as "Skidoo Racers" (read that: just put on the bulky snow-suit and a helmet, grab a handy pillow case and run before the little kids get all the candy). We quickly followed suit once we learnt the "Tricks and Treats" of Halloween in the prairies. Of course, sometimes it was hard to separate costumes from regular clothes with Calista; there tended to be a lot of overlap with that girl.
Not a costume: she dressed
herself this way
Hats were always to be worn
sideways, Gansta-style. For years.
That smile: it was always there
Sometimes with more teeth,
sometimes with less teeth.
The fetish for cheap sun-glasses started
Road-warrior Calista. Escaping the Yukon
in December 1995.


Roni found this one.
Note the winter cover-alls on me.
It was minus-fifteen Celsius with the
wind chill that year.
Disney-couture junior-sized.
Some of the costumes we put together were more elaborate than others, and I am afraid some of them were more about helping Uncle Walt Disney make a profit on his latest video release than they were about being creative.  One year "Esmeralda" of "The Hunchback" fame was very popular. The difficulty that year was not getting her into the costume; it was getting her out of the darn thing.  She wanted to wear it to school before and after Halloween and I think she actually was caught dancing around the house as "Esmeralda" into the new year.  I think that was the period during which she was sure she could sing: gypsy tambourines and off-key singing was oft heard in my house for months after that.  Calista never could carry a tune, nor did she ever have much sense of rhythm; all those years at the dancing academy were pretty much a bust.
One Halloween was particularly memorable, if only because Dad got overly involved that year and tried to ruin it for everybody. 
Anyone that knows me understands that periodically I will get a bit obsessively creative and just start some massive artistic project with little or no planning and absolutely no capability. My wife has learnt to just tolerate my "Mr Toad" moments over the years, but I know a few people along the way who have thought me just a little mad at times.
One Halloween it crept into my head that I could build a pair of angel's wings for my girl that would be so far over the top that the neighbourhood would talk about it for years.  My inspiration came from the John Travolta movie "Michael"; I thought I could do at least as well as Hollywood when it came to giant angel wings. I didn't actually consult either Calista or Roni if they thought it was a good idea; I just ran out and started gathering supplies...without a clear plan on what I was doing.
First thing I did was build a frame out of heavy-gauge (number 9) wire. My angels wings were going to be 4 feet high and wide. I ignored the fact my child was barely four foot two at the time (or I more likely I did not even think about it).  I then started layering the best quality paper-mache mix from "Michael's" with stolen newspapers ( I hope my neighbours did not notice the missing recycling stacks from their garage).  I managed to build up a pretty impressive set of wings over several sleepless nights hidden away in the basement.  Once I had the basic form completed, I contoured the wings so they had an arch to them. I thought they were pretty darn cool at this point. It was about this time that Roni and Calista caught me puttering away at my creation down in the dark recesses of the basement.  They immediately started finding problems with my creation.

Roni's first criticism was that wings usually have feathers; my wings had paper-mache and white painted newsprint. The second thing Roni pointed out was that the wings weighed a minimum of twenty-five pounds and stood four feet tall. Calista at this time was only about sixty pounds and about 4 foot 2.  Calista then asked how I planned to mount them on her back.
Well, I am usually a reasonable person, but when I am in one of my obsessively creative moods, you just cannot discourage me.  The plumage was a minor issue as far as I was concerned; nothing that a few bags of craft feathers from "Michael's" and twelve hours with a glue gun would not cure. The weight and height issue was waved off as "minor"; my Calista was far stronger than she looked. The mounting issue was the fly in the ointment.  How to get those suckers to stay on Calista's back.  She declined my offer to just staple them on.
I finally settled on butchering a perfectly good nylon back-pack to make a harness for my wings of glory and I conquered the height issue by mounting the wings really high on her back so the tips did not drag as she made her rounds.  Roni solved the feathers issue by giving up a night's sleep to glue about ten thousand pink feathers onto my paper and wire monstrosity.  Needless to say there were very few smiles coming my way for about two weeks.
Before the angel fell.  I was just a little out of control \
that year.
The costume would have been a great success if the weather had held for just one more day. Unfortunately that brutal north wind coming howling down on Regina about 5 o'clock Halloween night, clocking in at about 50 kmh with gusts up to 100 kmh.  Who would have thought that a 60 pound child with a four foot wing-span could fly that far on one gust of wind?  We only made it half-way around the neighbourhood that night, most of it dressed as a "Fallen angel" because one of the heavy wings broke during a particularly lusty winter gust.  I was lucky the cold wind kept the trick or treat crowds to a minimum that year; we ended up with lots of left-over candy to compensate Calista for her practically empty pillow case.
 That was the last year I was allowed to get creative for Halloween

Always have two costumes. This
was a simple outfit for a school party
on the infamous "wings of glory" year.
She stopped doing the "trick or treat" rounds
quite young. It was always about the costume and
never the candy for her.  She answered the door dressed
like a neon purple witch one year.

Before I give you the impression that Calista in costumes was just about Halloween, I should move right along to high school.  What would high school be without costumes? It would be just a routine education, and there was never anything routine about Calista.

Calista really embraced her years at Martin Leboldus Catholic High School. I think she was on student council three out of four years, dedicating much of her time to elevating school spirits by...wearing crazy clothes?  Some of the best pictures Roni and I have of that kid involve something termed "decades week".  It was a real blow to Roni's ego when her closet was raided for "vintage" clothes for a costume.  Roni never quite saw her wardrobe as memorabilia.  That being said, Calista really seemed to be in role when she was dressed to mimic those big-hair days of the eighties.  I guess Roni had all sorts of "eighties" memorabilia (of course neither she nor I consider the eighties all that long ago; I guess that ages me.)  One thing I really have to emphasise here: Calista never considered herself to be "too cool" to jump right into whatever was going on at school with both feet. Her absolute rabid zest for living life fully started to come out during those four years. There is a lesson here;she showed us all that it is better to act and live with the consequences that to sit idle and live with regrets of what could have been.  I doubt she ever regretted much of anything (though that God-awful pink rubber wig left much to be desired when it came to tasteful decoration).
future Calista.  I'm not
sure why the pink rubber wig, but
it got lots of laughs.
Super-hero Calista. I guess cat's-eye glasses
and a cape make you "super"
Don Johnson and his posse during 80's week. Big hair Calista
was aided by the queen of big hair, Roni.

Easily my favourite picture from her high school years. I think this
was supposed to be a "hippy costume", but this was, again, one of those
areas were reality and fantasy blurred.


"Jackie-O" Calista.  I'm not sure this was actually
a costume. There was always a fine line between dressing
and dressing-up.

We still have this mask stuffed in a box in the basement.
Just another piece of flotsam and jetsam from a life cut
One year, when she was in Grade 11, Calista became convinced that one of their proms should be a masquerade ball along the line of a Venetian celebration with masks and everything. She already had an elaborate Venetian mask, feathers and all, on her wall and I must admit I thought it was a superb idea. Unfortunately her colleagues on the student council did not share her vision. Some of her choice comments about the affair had to deal with a "control freak vice-president"; I kind of thought the term "control freak" was a little like the pot calling the kettle black at that time in her life, but smart fathers know when to keep their mouth shut.

It was with great pride that I read one comment in Calista's high-school year book the other night: she was voted the girl with the most unique fashion sense in her graduating class.  In this progressively more bland world where independent thinkers are often pounded down by the logo-covered  homogeneous masses, ``my unique`` girl was applauded. Her honour roll diplomas were not nearly as satisfying.

I know it's not a costume, but
doesn't she look like some Hollywood
starlet.  Very Marilyn Munroe.
In the scant three years she survived after high school, her sense of "self" changed dramatically.  Without the peer pressure of grade school constantly chipping away at her individuality (we all remember those horrid years of high school; the bullies back then were most likely to be wearing designer jeans and wearing only this year's colours), Calista started to blossom into a person who could and did get away with wearing truly original outfits.  That line between dressing and "dressing-up" was fading with each passing month.  I wish I could have seen the final result; Hollywood stars would have been impressed.

Marie Antoinette.  She painted a red "cut here" line on
her neck.  And I am pretty sure she did not bend over
often in that dress; it was very short. Dad was not there to
council on proper dress length. Not that she would have listened.
A self portrait while she was putting together
her "pin-up girl" look.

Roni and I still cannot figure out how she did
this by herself. That is all her own hair. She did it
because she could.  You have to love a girl who
would do something so silly "just because".

Just to show you two things: costumes are for
everyone and I have the easiest going cat
in the world.  Calista did this just to show me
she could. Merry Catmus.
I believe that Calista was more than just a girl who liked dressing well and dressing up. I could see a maturation process happening, especially over that last pivotal eight months. I am positive she had embraced the concept that you create your own reality and you define your own happiness.  She tattooed "Believe in the Impossible" on her left shoulder and she was certainly trying to live that way.  Calista was  destined to be successful but not necessarily because we (society) saw her that way, but because she defined her own success. As one of her friends so epically tattooed on her left side in bold letters "Life is too short to be anything but happy``. She certainly seemed happy. And her life was short.
The seasonal decorations will stay in storage now. Originally we started the decorating for our daughter and she loved it. As she matured the decorations became part of the family tradition and, for Calista, coming home for the holidays meant coming home to decorated ambiance.Unfortunately, for us, home is where our daughter is and the decorations will just underscore her absence.  Lots of things are stored in our house these days. The remnants of an entire life actually.
She was about fourteen. I took this with my old Canon Rebel with a telephoto while sitting at Spanish-West in Vancouver. I loved this picture and still do. It sat above my desk at work for years. You can almost see her West-Coast Dreaming.