in Writing

Graduating in Toronto

He was Caesar, and we, his faithful mob. We lifted him onto our shoulders, chanting his name with steely purpose. “Colland! Colland!” I screamed, my voice falling apart like brittle crust. Still, I mustered a last cry, “Colland!” as my larynx melted.

I was a clown, adorned in bright, heart-speckled genie-pants, with hair like Don King after a spin dry. “I heard that it’s legal to marry moose up there,” I joked to my fellow passengers. “Polygamy is not a laughing matter,” retorted Bear, she grinned though, and held me tighter. Aside from the Bear, there were the Brothers, riding up in the front, and Shit and his sister in the back, with us.

The story of Shit’s name is that, one time, we were all having dinner, and his sister randomly asks, “Did you know that shit floats? I know because I’ve swam next to it.” I replied with flaming wit, “Don’t call your brother shit!” Beer came frothing out of collective noses, and the name stuck like a tail onto a donkey.

We were heading from Philadelphia to Toronto in a huge Dodge Ram, shining and fearsome, a Himalayan yeti. It had green felt-like upholstery and a television in disrepair. The only way we could get a signal is by linking arms and wearing foil hats, creating an ad hoc antenna. It was an eight hour trip, but felt more like two. My head nodded up and down as I faded from asleep to awake and back again some hundred odd times. So, I slept, and, when time and I met again, we had arrived in Toronto, the jewel of Canada-that great maple nation. Our purpose was to embarrass Colland at his graduation ceremony at Toronto University-“it’s the Harvard of Canada,” he had said to us with pride.

We stepped into Toronto with tourists’ wonderment. For Bear, it was the first time she had been out of the U.S. Her eyes grew wide and she bared huge teeth seeing the titanic skyscrapers, digital billboards, and hoards of boutiques. We met with Colland and his family to drop off our belongings, arrange accommodations for the weekend, and fall dead asleep for the night.

When we awoke the next morning, we discovered Colland had left instructions for his father to take us on a walking tour of the city. Although we were not so enthusiastic about this, still feeling sluggish from our long car ride, we had too much respect for the man to argue. He led us to Chinatown, so that we could exchange our currency and take in some of the local culture. Street vendors pedaled knick-knacks and t-shirts to tourists, and earthy smells diffused from apothecaries selling traditional Chinese medicines-strange coiling roots, preserved fruits and sap, even dried bumble bees and seahorses. The smells choked me, and reminded me of my grandmother. I lived with her when I was younger. She would cook a nauseating, bitter medicinal broth that got into my clothes and skin. “It helps keep my bones from aching,” she’d said to me. I would hold my nose and say, “but it makes my nose ache.” The tour ended four hours later, to the great relief of my toes, heels, ankles, and calves. We returned to our lodgings and prepared for the next day’s ceremony.

We waited a few hours outside a tall, domed building at the University, where the graduation ceremony was in process. The campus was pristine. Cement pathways led orderly through the University, with bronze plaques and monuments dropped here and there. Freshly mowed, emerald lawns splashed the scene with life. We gambled our time and money away playing cards. I make sure I have a poker deck at all times, in case I am forced to wait for something-anything. It has prevented boredom in more than one movie theater line and restaurant-table waiting area. One of the chief curses of youth is impatience.

The over-sized doors of the building opened and throngs of graduates rushed out to meet flashes, flowers, and hugs. “Colland!” we yelled as he exited. He grinned at us briefly before greeting his parents with proud embraces. “Cheese!” “Cheese!” “Cheese!” We posed for and shot photo and photo, until we exhausted our exposures. Then we lifted him up onto our shoulders and carried him around the campus, yelling “Colland! Colland!” We delighted as his face grew a bright shade of red. Old men in suits and mothers congratulating their daughters turned with disapproving glares as we marched through the campus, but we didn’t care. We were young and we celebrated as long as we were able.