My girlfriend Dom and I moved to Montreal in May of 2004. My parents, who live in Vancouver, came to visit us that August. By July, I’d convinced them to stay with us instead of a bed and breakfast.
“Okay, here’s the deal: you buy us a bed, and stay with us. We need a bed, but you can use it while you’re here. The bed will set you back 200 bucks, 250 max. A week at a bed and breakfast or hotel will cost you 400, minimum. You’ll save money, and we’ll get a bed. It’s win-win!” Dad considered the proposal for a moment, and said, “Sounds good to me. It’s a deal.” I was stoked. We needed a bed. “Sweet, I’ll go get the bed today. And some breakfast.” We laughed. After all, it was funny. But then there was a moment of silence on the line. He came back on the line, cleared his throat, then said in a quiet, worried tone,
“Kyle, you’ve got a fan, don’t you?”
He had reason for concern. He was in Vancouver. Vancouver was in the grip of a “Catastrophic Heatwave”, he said, “I tried to buy a fan today, but couldn’t find one. All the newscasts say that they’re sold out everywhere. I looked all over town for one. There isn’t a single fan for sale in the entire city. Even IKEA is sold out.” What a Catastrophe. His tone of voice suggested the military was about to be called in -- the specially trained fan-carrying heatwave response unit of the Canadian Military.
I however was in Montreal. “No, we don’t have a fan.” Mom picked up the other phone, “Honey, you just make sure there’s a fan there for us when we get to town.” I tried to cool their nerves, “Chill out mom, it’s not that bad,” And then added a cocky, “Actually, it’s been a pretty cool summer out here.” I could picture her face, a comment like that would make it twist into disbelief. She snapped, “Just go out and get a fan.” My Dad wouldn’t take any of my B.S. either, but he had a different approach, “Hey, big guy, you’re a big guy now, right? Why don’t you just go out and buy a fan?” His tone of voice suggested that I would become the fan-buying man he knew I’d one day become, as if it was my destiny. I think he was just jealous I could actually go out and buy a fan easily from a nearby store. Knowing his style, I was surprised he hadn’t ordered a container of fans from China and tried to corner the red-hot Vancouver fan market. I’m sure he’d thought about it.
If you haven’t met my folks already, let me introduce them. My Dad, Ian, has done well in the import/export business, and my Mom, Colleen, recently retired from teaching primary school. Both are fervent minimalist maximalists. Their motto is: If there’s a problem, go to IKEA and buy minimalist furniture -- the more the better. They just built a new house and if you go there and can find a single item of furniture, or bedspread, or thick wooden clothes hanger, or kitchen utensil, or painting inside the entire house not purchased at IKEA, you are officially my hero. They should change their names to Bjorn and Volvo. Neither of them drives a Saab, but that’ll change the day IKEA puts them on the shelf.
Mom’s idea of me growing up is buying Scandinavian furniture in my spare time. My idea of growing up is leaving home so I can spend an afternoon strolling along the sidewalk fishing clothes hangers out of a box on the street. Metal clothes hangers. Free metal clothes hangers.
They called me with one week to go. A cool rain fell on Montreal. Within half a minute, the long-distance guilt trips began to rain down from west coast. If I was trying to be a lame-o ‘punny’ guy, I’d have said that the guilt drips started to rain down. But I was too busy deflecting bucket-filling drops of guilt for that sort of nonsense.
“Honey, you need to grow up some time. There comes a time in life when you’re old enough to buy some nice things for yourself. Why don’t you take Dom to IKEA, I bet she’d like that. I know they’ve got fans there.”
They’d gone crazy. Vancouver Heatwave 2004 was in its third week. The evening newscasts were surely onto their fourth series of hard-hitting graphics by now. The military apparently hadn’t shown up yet. The only thing on their mind was the cool rejuvenating breeze emitted by an oscillating three-speed fan.
“Mom, look, I’ll find one. This city is a gold mine for free stuff.” Now I’d much rather slit my own wrists with a rusty hockey skate blade than spend a morning at IKEA, so I told her in a tone of voice that would satisfy her, but secretly told me I’d do absolutely nothing to make it happen, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen. We will get a fan. Trust me.”
“Well, you make sure you get a good one, not some wimpy old fan. We need a good one. I know how hot it gets back east.” She then put on her best high-pitched first-grader ‘suggestion’ tone (She was a teacher after all): “Why don’t you go get one right now?! Just think how fun it’ll be!”
“Mom. No. Just calm down. It will happen. We’ll find one. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.”
“Okay, I trust you, but, and don’t forget this: you can’t just go around finding electrical equipment in the street. It’s dirty, and besides, it might be a fire hazard.” Guilt trip tactic number one: the fire hazard. Every mother’s secret weapon. I didn’t bother telling her we didn’t have a smoke alarm. No need to ignite a fire.
A few days later, we got Max the landlord to take 20 minutes out of his busy Tuesday to bring over a smoke detector. Naturally, I did absolutely nothing to solve the fan issue.
On Wednesday evening we picked my parents up at the airport. My Dad extended his hand, but before he let it touch mine, he hesitated, pulled back slightly, and said with concerned hope in his eyes, “So, did you get the fan?”
I bit my lip and did my best to improvise. “No, but I checked the weather and it’s supposed to be cool all week. Don’t worry.”
We left it at that. The air was cool enough to keep them quiet for the first few days.
By Friday, things started to heat up, but the apartment was bearable enough not to raise more than an eyebrow of concern from either mom or dad. By Saturday though, Montreal was headlong into a heatwave capable of generating a triple digit death toll. Sweat dripped down the walls of our apartment. On Sunday morning, after one night in the heat, my dad snapped. He came into the kitchen downright cross after a sweaty, sleepless night. He looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and anger. “Why didn’t you get a fan? You know I can’t stand this east coast humidity.”
I looked up from my cereal and said, stupidly, “Well, at least we still have fans in our stores out here.” I immediately wished I hadn’t. He looked at me, his eyes narrowed.
“What’d you say?”
I knew I’d lost. I made him an offer, “Nothing, listen, I’ll get one today.” My mom’s eyes lit up, visibly excited by the mere suggestion that we might spend a day in a retail outlet that sells both meatballs and mousepads, “Maybe we can go to IKEA?”
“Well see”, I said, and looked back down at my cereal.
“Yes, we will see”, said my dad, in a way that suggested my next move would establish his feelings towards me for years to come. What I did next would prove both my responsibility and respectability, not to just myself, but to the entire family. He quietly shook his head and walked towards the back door, on the way out for his morning run. As he stepped out into the penetrating heat, he added, “You know, Kyle, there comes a time when you have to grow up. You can’t just go through life in hope that things will just work themselves out. Obviously you haven’t learned that yet.”
45 minutes later we heard him plod up the stairs. He’s usually a pretty calm guy after a run, but we knew today would be different. He’d just followed up a night in pensioner-killing heat with nearly an hour of ‘east coast humidity.’ His son had just let him down. His eldest son. Worst of all, he was about to arrive in an apartment that could’ve doubled as a Russian steam bath. We braced for the worst.
“Look what I found!” he said, and held up the most ragged assed fan of all time. A four-foot high oscillating fan taped in the middle all crooked like, in three pieces with the safety guard off. It was the sort of fan that even the most hardened, multiple shopping cart-toting bum would pass over in disgust. It was awful, but he beamed with delight. This was his find. His pride. His baby. His fan.
Our jaws dropped.
“And guess what…it works too! I tried it out in the lobby of an apartment building down the street.”
I closed my eyes to savour the image of a mid-run, heavy-breathing, 52 year-old man crouched in the lobby of a respectable apartment building on a Sunday morning nonchalantly inserting the plug of a fan he’d just pulled from a garbage can into the wall, eyes filled with desperate hope that it might work. Sweating.
This was too good.
I plugged the fan into the wall and set it on high. A forceful blast of cool air shot from its grubby blades, instantly clearing the air. I looked over at mom and delivered the bad news.
“Sidewalk one, Sweden zero.”
Copyright © 2005 Kyle MacDonald