Left Side 

I lost the left side of my heart today 
It effortlessly cling-clanged into the crevice of the jagged stones. In the dark ; masquerading as light. 
I could not retrieve it. I could not call it home. 
It was crumbled to bits by an unrelenting crush of moving steel. 

I still have the right half of my heart. But I was careless with the left. I was sure to confirm it was still there, yet failed to check its security; it’s fixed presence to my body. So it was lost; without warning without a whisper; without a goodbye. 

I shall nurture the half of my heart that remains and rebuild its counterpart, and affix it to my wavering half with so much love, so much gratitude, its beautiful beating strength would anchor me to you, and the blessings of your love. Always.

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Dancing with Rita

A Short Film

By

Jennifer Ellis

 

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 SUBTITLE FADE IN: TORONTO,1998

INT.HIGH SCHOOL CAFETERIA–AFTERNOON

Twelfth graders Jen and Hannah are sitting at a table eating fish and chips. Jen is tall and heavy-set, Hannah is petite and slim. The lunchtime DJ is playing “Anytime” by Brian McKnight. Jen is curiously staring over at Colby, who is tall, fair haired and typically handsome. He’s in the lunch line paying for his fish and chip lunch special.

JEN

Do you think I ever cross his mind?

HANNAH (while munching on fries)

Who, Brian McKnight?

JEN

Ugh, no…Colby. I just wonder if he ever thinks about me.

Even if it’s insignificant like “Oh that’s right, I need to get those notes from Jen for English Media.”

HANNAH

I’m sure, I mean you guys have, like what, at least two classes together, right?

JEN (smiles)

Yeah, we do. English Media, and Law.

We both chose the same electives this term, that’s got to mean something right? Do you think he will be in our group picture at formal?! Oh-my-God. He has to be in my group picture Hannah!

HANNAH (calmly, slowly sipping her iced tea from a straw, staring at Jen)

Jen, reel it in. I’m sure he will.

JEN (as if she didn’t hear Hannah)

I mean, we just get along so well, I’m always making him laugh. Remember last week when he called me at work, and we talked for like an hour?  I mean I know I did page him 911, but dude it was an emergency-I was bored and Lee had left us alone for the night. He’s too stupid to be a manager.

HANNAH(laughing)

(MORE)

Yeah, and you answered the phone saying ‘Super Clean Systems, how can I help you?’ in a British accent. I can’t wait until we’ve saved enough money for prom so we can quit that shithole.

JEN (singing; oblivious)

 “Do I ever cross your mind…anytime. Do you ever wake up reaching out for me,” This, is my song to Colby. It so totally is.  It’s like Brian tapped into my mind and wrote this song. Well, at least that line. I should get fucking royalties. Then we could take a limo to the prom!

HANNAH (laughing and choking on her iced tea)

Oh Jenny, (pronounced Jenn-ay like Forrest Gump says Jenny) I love you.

                             CUT TO:

INT WOMEN’S DRESSING ROOM – LATER THAT DAY

Jen is standing in front of her sister Becky who is sizing up the dress she is wearing.

JEN

This is the only one that covers my arms and the rest of my blubber. And it’s black, so I’m sure it makes me looks a little thinner doesn’t it?

 

Becky’s face is expressionless. She shrugs, then tilts her head to the right, then the left.

BECKY

Yeah, totally.

JEN

Ok, good.  Let’s get the hell out of here before I decide that this will be my burial dress. Because  I’m sure I’ll kill myself after I realize I’m the fattest girl who went to prom. Ever.

BECKY (picks up her purse from the ground and walks out of the dressing room)

Ok, I’ll tell Daddy.

INT Jen’s bedroom. – NIGHT Jen is sitting on her bed talking on the phone with Hannah. She’s crying.

 

Jen (sobbing)

I look like a fat opera singer. It’s a Rita McNeil dress. I’m going to Prom as Rita McNeil.

                                                     CUT TO:

INT Hannah’s bedroom. – NIGHT Hanna is lying on her bed.

HANNAH (giggling, then empathetically)

You’re crazy. Rita McNeil is an old lady. And besides she has short brown curly hair. Didn’t you say you wanted to dye your hair blonde? We can go to the drugstore tomorrow after school and get the one with the lady from Moonlighting on the box. I’ll help you! You’re gonna look so great!

JEN (gathers her composure)

Yeah, I already picked it up.

She glances over to her dresser where there is a box of Excellence with Cybil Sheppard on the cover.

(CONT’D)

Thanks for the pep talk Hanz, but I’ll just have to accept the fact that I’ll look like a blonde Rita McNeil.

 

HANNAH

(sighs) Jen, you’re beautiful honey. We’re going to have a great time, you’ll see. I’ll see you Saturday lady.

 

JEN (quietly)

Night, Hanz.

 

                                                CUT TO:

INT. LOBBY OF FANCY HOTEL – NIGHT

Music can be heard from behind large ballroom doors. Formally dressed teen guys and girls are scattered around the lobby. Some of the girls are heard complimenting each other’s dresses and hair. Some of the guys are high-fiving and laughing. Jen and Hannah walk in.

JEN (whispering to Hannah)

Did you see Colby getting out of that limo? I didn’t know he was getting a limo? Why weren’t we invited in the limo?

 

HANNAH

Because, it was couples only…

 

JEN (rolls her eyes)

Oh, I see.

HANNAH (CONT’D)

and besides we didn’t have to pay for a ride! Did you want to work another stupid shift asking people if they wanted their Ducts cleaned?

 

JEN (distracted because she’s staring at Colby as he adjusts his corsage on his dates wrist)

Look at him. Six foot four – and so beautiful. And so is she; Jen. His new girlfriends’ fucking name had to be Jen. And she’s thin and beautiful. What have I done in this life, or my past life to deserve such cruel irony?

HANNAH

Jen, chill out. Let’s go find our table.

Jen and Hannah walk by Colby, Girlfriend Jen and crew, and they all exchange waves and smiles. Jen stops for a moment to watch Colby as he puts his arm around his girlfriend’s waist and pulls her in for a quick kiss. Hannah takes her arm and opens the door to the ballroom, and Brandy and Monica’s, “The Boy is Mine” is heard blaring from inside.

                                                CUT TO:

INT. BALLROOM – LATER

Music is playing, a DJ is spinning, teens are dancing and laughing etc. Teachers are in the corner chaperoning. Jen is singing while dancing barefoot with assorted teens.

JEN

“So tell me what you want, you really really want…”

HANNAH

Jen! Pictures?

Jens eyes bulge. She smooths her hair, now sweaty from dancing.

JEN

Holy shit. Ok, go get in line. I have to talk to Colby.

They both turn their heads to the left. Colby is across the room slow dancing with his girlfriend to “All My Life” by K-Ci and JoJo.

JEN (wiping her brow and straightening her dress)

Hanz, um, can you go hold our place in line please?

HANNAH

You got it.

Hannah walks to the door and exits the ballroom. Jen approaches Colby and Girlfriend Jen.

JEN

Hey, uh Colby?

COLBY

Hey Jen! Having fun?

JEN

Yeah man, its wicked! Such great tunes!

She hesitates, as Girlfriend Jen has turned and smiles with an empathetic look.

(CONT’D)

Hey, yeah so uh Colby, would you mind being in my group photo? Hannah and I were about to go gather up some of the gang and get in line.

COLBY (looks at Girlfriend Jen and shrugs)

Yeah, sure! Just come get me when its time, kay?

JEN (grins widely)

Okay! I’ll be right back.

She lifts her dress as not to trip on it, and darts towards the door to the lobby.

 

                                      CUT TO:

 

INT. LOBBY – CONTINUOUS

Hannah and assorted teens are lined up. Flashes can be seen from the room they are waiting to enter, and the words “1-2-3 cheese” are heard in the distance. Jen joins them, looking pleased.

 

HANNAH

Hey, it’s almost our turn! Is Colby coming?

JEN

Um, yeah! He’s totally coming. I told you he would. He wouldn’t miss it.  He just told me to come get him when we were up for our turn.

The next group is assembled for their shots. Slow music is heard in the distance. Jens jaw drops. (lyrics heard) “Do I ever cross your mind, Anytime?” Jen turns to Hannah looking terrified.

(CONT’D now visibly upset)

Oh no, oh no, no-no. It’s my song. Hannah, It’s my song for Colby. And he’s dancing with her. He’s dancing with Jen. He’s dancing with Jen to “Anytime.” But that’s my song, and she’s the wrong Jen. And I have to go in there and ask him to leave Jen 2.0, to come and take a picture with big, fat, Rita McNeil, Jen.

Hannah, I can’t…

 

HANNAH (grabs Jen by her shoulders)

Jennifer Ellis. You are going to calm down. And then you, are going to walk in there and ask your friend Colby to join us for this photo.

         

JEN (tearing up)

I can’t Hannah. I can’t watch him dance with her to my song.

It’s all I have. I won’t be able to hide this stupid fat face from crying when he says “Sorry, I’m dancing with my beautiful girlfriend, get lost Rita.”

    

HANNAH

Jen, it’s almost time. You can do it. This is your fucking prom, too. Go and get him.

Jen wipes tears from her cheeks, and nods her head quickly and walks towards the door.

INT. THE BALLROOM – CONTINUOUS

Jen sees Colby and girlfriend Jen embraced, and dancing to the song.

(SLOW MOTION) She walks over and Colby and Girlfriend Jen are talking as they dance. Colby looks up as girlfriend Jen turns her head, they both see Jen. Jen stops mid step. Girlfriend Jen, looks back at Colby, and he is still looking at Jen. Girlfriend Jen walks away, and Colby reaches out his hand to Jen.

COLBY

Wanna dance?

 

Jen’s jaw drops and she places her hand on her chest, as the music rises.

JEN (slowed down voice)

Who, me?

COLBY (laughing)

Yeah, you!

Jen takes his hand and he puts his arms around her waist, she puts her hands on his shoulders and they start swaying to the music.

JEN (nervously)

I love this song. Thanks for asking me; not really anyone else here who’s tall enough to dance with me.

COLBY (laughing)

You don’t have to thank me. It’s my honor. You look beautiful tonight Jen, seriously.

JEN (looking down trying not to cry)

Thanks, Colby. You clean up pretty nice too.

She puts her head on his shoulder for the rest of the dance. The song ends and Jen’s smiling with her eyes closed, as a new slow song starts to play. Colby stops the dance.

COLBY

Hey, so is it time to take this epic photo?

She tries to hide the fact that she wasn’t caught up in the moment.

JEN

Oh, yeah of course, let’s do this!

They walk arm in arm to the lobby as the music fades.

CUT TO:

 

INT. LOBBY – CONTINUOUS

Jen, Hannah, Colby and unnamed teens are assembled for photo. Jen is standing next to Colby in the back row, rosy cheeked and grinning.

PHOTOGRAPHER

Ok kids, say cheese!

Jen and friends

Cheese!

Flashes go off.

Photographer

Great! Ok, next?

Jen turns to Colby and smiles; he smiles back and gives her a quick hug. He walks away and she almost stumbles over as if she was anticipating it would last longer. Jen, Hannah and friends exit the room and make their way back into the ballroom.

HANNAH

What took you guys so long? I almost got knocked out for holding up the line. Glad it all worked out though. Are you ok, was it just awful?

 

Jen takes Hannah’s hand to hold her back.

JEN (quietly)

Hanz, he asked me to dance. He was dancing with his Jen and when I walked in, he looked up, she walked away and he reached out for me to dance-withhim! To my song! Our song. It’s totally our song now! Hannah, my high school crush, ditched perfectly thin Jen, to dance with all-of-this-Jen (motions to her body) It was like, like something in a movie! I’m freaking out!

HANNAH (staring at Jen looking stunned)

Shut the fuck up.

JEN (nodding quickly and giddily laughing)

No, no I will not shut the fuck up, because that shit just went down. That happened to me. And I will remember it for the rest of my life. That was my movie moment. And someday, I’ll write about what happened tonight, even if Colby forgets all about me, and I never cross his mind, fat girls like me, will know that they can have movie moments. And then my story will be made into a movie, and then Colby will have to think about me all the time, because that shit made it onto the big screen baby! And you know what-

HANNAH (laughing hysterically)

Jen

JEN

Yeah?

HANNAH

Lets’ go dance!

The opening of Tubthumping by Chumbawumba starts to play, “We’ll be singing, when we’re winning”

JEN

Ok, but do you think Rita McNeil would be available, or even alive, for casting?

Hannah shakes her head and smiles. They are they both audibly laughing and talking as they walk back into the ballroom. The camera slowly starts to pan away.

JEN (barely audibly over the music)

Oh my God and he told me I looked beautiful!

Hannah puts both hands over her mouth for a moment

HANNAH (barely audibly over the music)

Oh my gaaawd!!

FADE OUT

THE END

Three Days in New York

By Jennifer Ellis

 

Hello my faithful readers! By readers I mean my friends and family and those I’ve badgered into reading this blog as l nod and smile looking over their shoulder, or assault their Facebook page with shares. It’s been a few weeks since my last post. Why you ask? Because I’m a pro at procrastination and mind writing. Yes, mind writing. When I think of some great story I’d like to share and start writing it in my mind as if some how I have an invisible typist that is connected to my brain and will dictate onto my super cute indigo laptop. Then when I realize Professor X isn’t going to be my personal secretary, it’s now almost three weeks since I’ve taken you back into the world of Little Big Girl. What can I say. You live, you learn, you forget – you fall asleep on your sisters couch with your laptop sitting on the coffee table judging you, nestled in in its nifty purple second skin. Ok I got it, enough with the self deprecation. What I’m going to reluctantly share with you is a story I wrote about my first trip to New York City. It was written six years ago. “I have grown so much as a writer since then,” she says reflecting on her current Pulitzer prize worthy work. I am sharing this particular story with you to celebrate my almost annual trip to The Big Apple; this time with my love, my boyfriend and best friend Mike ( insert love struck emoji face here) So start spreading the news people, because I’m leaving today. Seriously, we board in ten minutes.

*************************************************************

 

 

 

Prologue: In the winter of 2010 Shelley Short, one of my oldest and dearest friends, called me up just frantic. It was a pretty big emergency. Shelley got wind that New Kids on the Block had just announced that they were performing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City this summer, and she was ready to sell her first born to spend the weekend in NYC with her bestie and our boyfriends from Boston. Of course I immediately started thinking of sad stories to tell my landlord so I could pay for my ticket and book a room on Expedia. ­­As an avid fan of pop culture and movies as well, New York City had always been at the top on my list of places to visit. What would make the trip so special however, was the fact that my mother was born and raised in the city. I knew it would be an extraordinary experience for me to be in the place that she called home for much of her life. I’d had a rough spring, so getting away from my life for a little while seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. So, that was that. We left on a Thursday in June. This is my New York story.

How does it feel, to be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone? – Bob Dylan.

Bob was alone when he came to this city. We were unknowns as well when we arrived that Friday in June, but we weren’t by ourselves. The minute Shelley and I found our way out of the bowels of the Manhattan Port Authority , my mother smiled and took my hand… “Welcome ta New York” said a man wearing a reflective vest holding out the free daily. This is a timeless tradition in the city, the paper boy on the corner, doling out papers to the public as New Yorkers hurry to their jobs on Wall Street or maybe as a bell hop at the New Yorker on 33rd. It was 7:30 in the morning. Shelley and I had had maybe a good half hour of sleep on our twelve hour, overnight bus trip from Toronto.
“We’re going to Hotel Pennsylvania, do you know the way?” I asked the new age paper boy. He had a visible scar on his right cheek going all the way up to his ear.
“There’s where all the hotels are,” he says as he points down to the W Hotel.

“We need to get to 401 7th Ave.” I said as I gave him a reluctant look.
“Nah, nah” pipes in a heavy set woman sitting on a stack of news papers. “You gotta go up this street make a right onto 34th then a left on 7th.”

I smiled at her, relieved. “Thanks mommy,” I thought silently.

We lugged our suitcases to the hotel in about ten minutes. Even at this early hour, the city was already buzzing with life. We checked our baggage in the hotel storage room until we could check in, which wouldn’t be until about three. Hotel Pennsylvania was located right across from the famous Madison Square Garden. It had an old world, regal feeling to it. The building certainly wasn’t the Ritz but it was a far cry from a Howard Johnsons. The hallways were large as well as the foyers on each floor. I think it’s safe to say that it was the biggest hotel I had ever stayed at in my life. Weak and weary we freshened up and hit the streets. Our first stop was breakfast. As we stepped back out onto 7th Ave we were bombarded once again with a sea of people, yellow cabs, vendors and a wide variety of restaurants. We ate at McDonalds. Wasn’t that the obvious choice? The Iced coffee and Egg McMuffin was however undoubtedly delicious going down, as I mapped out the afternoon that Shelley and I were to embark on. We both wanted to shop of course so naturally the first stop after breakfast would be Canal Street. We got on the number 1 train at 33rd ave. The NYC subway system looks exactly how it does on TV and in the movies. The air was thick with history standing on that platform that morning. The age of the tracks and the walls were evident. I thought about how many decades of passengers have read newspapers smoked cigars, or held hands with their lover while waiting for this train. I was silent in appreciation for where I stood and all the life that this place had carried in and out of the Burroughs.

Canal Street is where you go to get accosted by pushers of illegal knock off designer merchandise. It was so much fun! “Lady, lady you want Chanel, Coach bag? I got it! Good price!”

To say they were aggressive would be a fair assessment. Six t-shirts and one knock of Vercase purse later; we hit the sizzling summer side walk again, headed for the next stop on our first New York adventure.

The Village
A woman conducting surveys for the NYC transit system stopped us to complete a transit survey. It was funny, because Shelley and I were at that moment, working on wrappin our heads around the subway system.

“Dumb it down, and print a free tourist map for god’s sake. It’s the tourist capital of the world, why isn’t there something like that already in circulation?” I griped to this visibly weathered, middle aged woman. Her short orange hair started to stick to her forehead as she perspired in the city heat.

“Good idea” she agreed as she jotted down my suggestions.

After she handed me my Barnes and Noble gift certificate for my participation, I asked her how to get to Greenwich Village. I’d always known of the historical significance of this place but didn’t realize that my parents spent time here, especially my mother and her best friend Helen Herbert. My dad suggested me to go to Gerde’s Folk City, an iconic folk music club. Unfortunately after doing some research, I discovered the doors had closed years ago on the relic. He told me to see if I could find The Bitter End, a similar venue. Praise be to BlackBerry for allowing me to retrieve the address from the side walk! 147 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village. The surveyor racked her brain for a moment and told us to take the number one train to Sheridan Gardens. This would take us to the heart of “The Village.” My mom and Helen, two boisterous headstrong Jewish New Yorkers’ loved this part of the city, and I was looking forward to following their footsteps. According to my father the two saw this young musician perform at a coffee house one night and Helen practically booed him off the stage. “He’s a bum, get him off the stage,” heckled Helen. That bum, was Bob Dylan. His appearance at Gerde’s in the fall of 1961 was reviewed in the New York Times by journalist Robert Shelton. Some would say his career took off after this appearance and review.

My mother, according to my father, knew a lot of people in The Village. Jose Feliciano was apparently someone she had known. Next Christmas, when Feliz Navidad plays in the department stores I’ll remember that. This part of the city for those who don’t know has been recognized in American history as the place where renowned American artists got their start, like Mr. Dylan. It was a bohemian locale, and for anyone who knew my mother, my father, or Helen, they would understand why they could be found in and around these streets. It was the epicenter of all that was hip, upcoming, and revolutionary. This section of the city played a major role in the development of folk music. Bob Dylan of course being one of the most notable, but let’s not forget Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, The Velvet Underground, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and Nina Simone…and that’s just to name a few musicians. All kinds of artists, dancers, writers and poets called this place home and developed their craft here. Andy Warholl, Hans Hoffman, Maya Angelou, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas and William Faulkner put brush to canvass or pen to paper here. As I poked my head up from the damp subway stairwell, I knew I was going to be in good company. As an artist and a writer, the inspiration I was feeling was palpable.

Knowing the address didn’t necessarily mean I knew what direction it was in. We needed more assistance. Shelley and I approached this parkette right outside the station (very common in the city I will add) and to our left was a group of men sitting on a bench in wife beaters and shorts. They were sitting in that “Hey girl, wus yo name?” slouch. Maybe they were on vacation too? Perhaps? While I canvassed this small area for further direction, this white haired older fellow who had seemed to be too engrossed in his newspaper, overheard my attempts.

“Where ya wanna go?” He chimed in with his distinctive New York brogue; glasses perched on the tip of his nose. I smile and shuffle over to him eagerly waiting for him to give me a full history lesson about the Village. It was like I was Atreyu looking to Morla the turtle, or the Southern Oracle for guidance. I give him the address and a brief background as to why I want to find this place. He looked into the distance as if he was searching the corners of his mind for a visual of this place. “Ok, ok it’s definitely that way,” he proclaims. “Bleecker is this way, make a left and you’ll get there.” I thanked him and we were off.

I was eager to get started. I could immediately understand what drew my mother to this place. Suddenly it felt like I could almost feel her next to me. I’d imagined she’d be wearing a long flowing bohemian style skirt, Birkenstock’s, and her wavy golden hair would be glowing in the mid afternoon sun. She was almost like a spiritual tour guide; walking down Bleecker with me, guiding me through these historic streets. We stopped at a local cafe named The Grey Dog, after a recommendation from a friendly crossing guard. After enjoying a poppy seed bagel with locks and cream cheese and a side of pickles, Shelley and I continued down Bleecker. Soon enough we approached the address. It was right where it was supposed to be. I was so proud of my dad for remembering this place, and excited knowing that I could tell him and show him I was there. It broke my heart that he wasn’t there to see it still standing in its glory. But I wasn’t alone. My mom was there, happy as well that I had found it. I was elated that I had found my way back to her youth by way of these streets. My dad once described her as a “DO IT NOW” type of person, her New York City accent as big as the sky.” Remembering that sentiment, and knowing I’d finally made it here evoked overwhelming emotion inside me, and tears brimmed in my eyes. I quickly gathered my composure and smiled up at my mom. I started filming so my dad could in some way, join us at that moment.

Two chicks on the Hudson

It was nearing 3:00 PM and Shelley and I were eager to check into our room for a long overdue shower and nap. Shelley crashed immediately. I had a shower and attempted to nap, but I was too wired from all that already happened in the few short hours we were here. I lay down on the soft King Size bed, and drifted in and out of sleep as I plotted what I wanted to do with the rest of my short time here. The plan was to make a quick stop on 34th and 5th Ave for some shopping, then head down to the Ferry Docks for our 90 minute harbour cruise. Good luck finding which corner to stand on to catch the shuttle bus! Shelley and I seemed to be somewhat direction-ally challenged wonders that evening, standing on practically four corners on 5th and 34th to see about eight shuttle buses pass us. It seemed futile until we practically flung ourselves in front of one. We arrived at the docks, I purchased an overpriced black and white cookie, quoted Jerry Seinfeld, and we started on our excursion. It was all I had imagined it would be and more. The tiny island of Manhattan is jam packed with outstanding contemporary architectural structures, as well as 100 and 200 year old marvels of design. Each section of the city has its own distinctive character and history, Soho, Chelsea, The Upper East Side, The Village. The tour was eloquently narrated by a gentleman who taught us about the origin of the city, and the inception of the five boroughs. “Alright everybody repeat after me: “Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, (where my mother lived) and Staten Island.” Staten Island? Who knew? One of the landmarks I’d been waiting to see with great anticipation was the world famous Brooklyn Bridge. As we passed under the grand structure I marveled at its vast size and magnificent design. I was captivated. Tourists from all over the world joined us on our nautical jaunt. Folks from Denmark, Italy, Germany, and Japan were oohing and aahhing, while pointing their cameras at the wondrous city-scape. Then, almost from out of nowhere, there she stood. She was so lovely basking in the twilight. She looked so tall and mighty in all her salt-water-deposit-green glory. Suddenly my gaze was rudely disrupted.

“Get out of ze vay stooped voman” griped an older man in what seemed to be Dutch.
“Sir I’ve moved to virtually every section of this boat already. Care to give it a try yourself?”

He looked at me shocked that I hadn’t heeded his direction. I stewed angrily in my head.

“Listen buddy I don’t care if you flew all the way from Holland, Germany, or Spain or God damned Jupiter! I’ve been waiting for this moment since potty training, and you, sir, will HAVE TO MOVE TO ANOTHER PART OF THE BOAT!!” After my internal confrontation, I continued with my photo shoot of Ms. Liberty. I had taken some great shots and before we knew it we were docking at Pier 78.

“They say the neon lights are bright…”

Shelley and I caught the ferry shuttle up town to Times Square. We hopped off the bus into lights, people, hotels, restaurants, flashing signs, music, honking horns, yellow cabs, rickshaws, people, flashing marquees, couples, kids, grandmas, uncle Tom, Aunt Sally with her fanny pack and I Heart NY t-shirt, flashing signs, lights, artists, peddlers, lights, dogs, cats, Captain Kangaroo, lights flashing marquees, Nasdaq, Kodak, Coca Cola, UFC, The Naked Cowboy, flashing lights! We were inundated by the stimuli. It was just…so much. It was so big. So, New York. We were wiped from the twelve hour bus ride the previous night, and absolutely famished. Times Square to a tired and hungry tourist is a blur. It’s like a palate of a billion colours, so hard to decipher each one. In the distance we noticed Bubba Gump’s, a Forrest Gump themed restaurant with a line up out the door. We decided to give it a shot. Despite the long line up, we were seated in about fifteen minutes. The tables had interchangeable licence plates on them, one side reading “Stop Forrest Stop,” if you want the waiter to stop at your table, and the other reading the famous line from the film “Run Forrest Run,” if all is well at your table. I thought it was clever. Our over-enthused waiter came to the table to take our order. We struck up easy conversation with him while he made his recommendations for Bubbas far out dip and the Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp. He told us about his new life in the city. It was your typical story. Small town boy from Ohio moves out to NYC to fulfill his dreams as an actor. After hearing about his ambitions, I found myself telling him to get his life together.

“Listen,” I said. “Get yourself waiting at a better restaurant like Sardees, or the Tavern on the Green. That way you’ll be waiting on producers or directors. People, who are people, who know people. You know what I’m saying? You’ve gotta do better than Bubba Gump’s.”

I was shocked with my brazen judgments. It flowed out of me so easily. He seemed to take my advice in stride, and I sat back as he sketched us quick directions on the best way to get to the Empire State building from the restaurant. I sat back for a minute and laughed a little inside. I concluded that it was definitely my mother talking earlier, as I was scolding the unsuspecting mid-western waiter for not making a better occupational choice. I was slightly embarrassed but also kind of impressed with my candor. That’s just how she was. She could talk to anybody, with that voice “as big as the sky” just about anywhere, about anything. Be it a waiter, cab driver, teacher, politician, her cat; she had something to say about everything. She embodied the attitude of this city. I smiled in between bites of my veggie burger. I hadn’t had dinner with my mom in years. It was nice.

We hailed our first NYC yellow cab up to The Empire State building. The cabs are outfitted with live GPS tracking systems built into the back of the front seats for passengers to see which direction the cabbies are taking them. Alongside that is a screen running with advertisements and excerpts from Jimmy Kimmel or other comedy shows. The biggest surprise about the NYC Yellow cab is the price. The fare starts at $2.25, and its pennies every kilometer, versus the $4.00 Torontonians pay as soon as their tushes hit the seats. I would assume due to the volume of cabs New Yorkers’ take they can offer such a rate. We approached the iconic building in about eight minutes, and five dollars. We were once again accosted by a scrum of salesmen wanting us to buy elite packages to see the view from the top. After we refused their sales pitches, we bobbed and weaved our way out of the sea of pushers and we found our way into the lobby of the building. The staff, who welcomed us as we entered, was fully clad in uniforms designed in the era the building was erected. We started with purchasing our tickets, then waited in line for the optional “picture of you and yours with the view from the top behind you,” then of course came the line for the optional audio device that will tell you brief anecdotes about parts of the city, as you point it towards areas of interest from the observation deck. Innovative, but clearly another tourist cash grab.

“It’s only five bucks ma’am,” said a young man desperate for a sale.
“Oh alright,” I agreed, half ashamed that I swayed by his mocha skin and caramel eyes. “That’s not too bad, some of these guys are pretty insistent to sell you some overpriced things. I thought the vendors in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic were aggressive.”
“You’ve been to D.R?” he inquired as he hands us the device. His face had widened into a glorious smile, and he seemed somewhat impressed.
I looked up with a questioning look on my face.
“D.R?” I replied as if he’d stated the formula for Uranium.
“Yeah, D.R, the Dominican Republic,” he said as he glared at me. It was as if he was waiting to hear a “click” go off in my head.
“Oh yes, of course,” I replied, as I painfully tried to recover from the fact that I’d forgotten the meaning of the acronym. “Yeah I’ve been,” I said with shaken confidence. “It was beautiful.”
“Yeah, yeah it is. That’s where my family is from,” he boasted.
Of course, I figured in my head. I remember how distinctly beautiful the people of that island are. He was undoubtedly no exception.
“Oh that’s nice, you should try to get back there for a visit,” I encouraged.

He nodded in agreement and Shelley and I were ushered to the second round of elevators. Ten minutes later we were on the observation deck. What a dream come true. It was buzzing with tourists. We gazed at the massive city below. The black water of the NYC harbour was decorated by the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge. The impressive metropolis below us looked like a replica of New York from the great distance. The lights of the city and the cool breeze stirred romance into the air. I could see why a man would propose to their potential brides here. “I’m on top of the world when I’m with you,” he’d say. “Let’s take it on together.” Cary Grant and Tom Hanks were on the right track.
As midnight approached, we were getting out of cab and headed into the hotel to rest our heads. With our feet swollen from the sweltering pavement and our bodies fatigued, we were thankful for a good nights’ rest. The morning came with yet another McDonald’s breakfast and shopping on 34th Ave. I was in awe when I discovered Rainbows on 5th Ave. It was a miracle. I was sifting through racks of affordable trendy clothing that fit me, AND my skinny counterparts!! I literally hit the plus-size-shopper jackpot. After I spent virtually my last few dollars replenishing my summer wardrobe, we headed to Central Park. Thank god for Shelley footing the cab tab because our feet had still not recovered. I literally felt that my feet alone, were pregnant. We didn’t have the steam to trek through one of the largest city parks in North America. We did manage however with the help of a friendly couple, to get a shot of ourselves facing the Manhattan skyline. And, for you fellow Sex and The City fans, I’m pretty sure Charlotte and Harry had their wedding announcement photo taken in the same spot. We’d inquired about the cost of a horse drawn carriage ride that takes you around the park. Discovering that it was insanely over priced, we decided to head back towards our hotel. As we walked away from the park, I realized that we were on Central Park west. I purchased about a half dozen fridge magnets from a vendor, and noticed a familiar building across the street. I found myself staring at the legendary Plaza Hotel. I was yet again, mesmerized. I was waiting for Mick Dundee to emerge from the hotel with his big knife. I was sure I could see Eloise and Nanny entering the foyer. Maybe I’d see Penny Lane yell out “It’s all happening” from a window before she overdoses in her hotel room. Or perhaps I’d catch a glimpse of Sadie and Rose…and Sadie and Rose. I felt as if I was in a living cinema. Growing up in L.A I was raised in movie theaters. Double feature Saturdays and cheap rentals at the corner video store, took me to this famous backdrop time and again. Shelley must have thought I was medicated as I was almost struck by a wall of tourists and a cab crossing the street. I’d been trying to get a good shot of the hotel with my mug in the foreground.

Unscathed from my near death experience, we hopped in a cab and took off to our hotel. We freshened up a bit and headed out to take some shots on the impressive mass of steps of the New York City Post Office. We then decided to grab a slice of pizza at Rose’s Pizza, inside the NY Port Authority. These guys literally slung pizza. Swiftly and with great precision, they sliced and threw pies into sweltering ovens shouting out “orders up” at hungry patrons. The pizza was crispy, cheesy and delicious. It was the perfect NY pepperoni slice. After our nosh we were anxious to get back to the hotel and get ready for the concert. The concert started at 8:00 o’clock and we were down to the wire. After we dressed in our purchases made earlier that day, we ran across the street to the line up of cabs outside The Gardens. Some chick had swiped the cab we had our eye on out from under us. We were peeved. We tapped on the back of a cab in front of it, urging the driver to stop. He obliged, so Shelley and I opened up the passenger doors on each side, and hopped in. I perked up with pride and gleamed up at Shelley. I was proud of our New York savvy-ness.

” The first time was a great time…the second time…”

We arrived at Radio City to a hundreds of women queuing to get into the theatre. This was going to be an experience not soon to be forgotten. My last night in this remarkable city topped off with five of my favourite people in the world. To convey the importance of this evening I must give you some context.

In 1988 I fell in love with New Kids on The Block.  I was at an impressionable age. I was also in the midst of losing my mother to Multiple Sclerosis, while dealing with my expanding body. When I say this, I don’t mean trying to figure out what training bra I needed. More so trying to understand why I couldn’t find an acid wash jean skirt in the pretty plus section of Sears. It was a tough time. So, in walked these boys who were in love with every girl who loved them. Joe McIntyre, I was convinced, would be my husband some day. We were only five years four months and twenty eight days apart after all. I existed with my Sony walkman head phones glued to my head, Teen Beat in my hands, and the Hangin’ Tough Home Video on our Zenith. They were my source of unconditional fun, love, laughter, and pure hormone infused excitement. They were my smile. They held the post of security and love, when the greatest source of that for a human being was taken away. My mother died on December 23, 1989, and the New Kids were on the lips of every girl in the country at that time. After the holidays my best friend Monica came over to visit. My sister answered the door. I recall sitting on the living room floor immersed in a sea of posters and magazines. When Monica walked through the door, I promptly put my head phones on and started listening to what must have been the New Kids Christmas album. I didn’t want to hear Monica’s reaction to the news. I couldn’t deal with my own emotions at that time, much less any one else’s. They helped me cope; find some sanity. During a time when everything imaginable was just not ok, they had made things somewhat…ok.

We were stage left in the beautiful concert theater. We had great seats; roughly thirty to forty feet away from the stage. As we sat in the plush red velvet seats I took a deep breath. What a great time I’d been having. Tonight was going to be the culmination of such a memorable weekend. The house lights went down and the large monitor above the stage flickered on. Displayed was a montage of New York City landmarks, the skyline, and shots of fans holding signs and wearing New Kids t-shirts. They’d had a shot of the Please don’t go Girl video when the boys were running down the boardwalk at Jones Beach, N.Y. I was breathless. They showed a clip of the Apollo theatre and that’s when tears filled my eyes. That was the first time I had seen them in real life. I had fallen asleep on a Saturday night in the winter of 1988, while watching TV on the couch. I awoke to that song I kept hearing on L.A’s Power 106. I was convinced it was sung by the Jackson Five. The song, was Please Don’t Go Girl. There was Joe not all of 16 years old, with big Irish blue eyes and copper hair. He was among four other white teenage boys singing this soulful song as the people of Harlem cheered them on, ending their performance to a standing ovation. I literally could not believe my eyes, and thought I was dreaming. That’s when they took my hand and led me to where I was at that very moment. They were my support and my comfort when I lost my mother as a child, and now over twenty years later, they had helped me find her. The show as expected was full of energy and nostalgia. At one point they were sitting on chairs singing acoustically. Then something incredible happened…

“Let’s play something random Jordan,” Joe suggests to Jordan.
“Well nothing is random Joe…” Jordan quips.

They start to sing Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way. Now, as a New Kids fan it can be judged sacrilegious to like the Backstreet Boys, or any other boy band for that matter. Although my loyalties would always lie with the New Kids, my good friend Diane and I loved that song and we always squealed when the video came on. Before I could belt out “Aint nothin’ but heartache,” the curtains behind my beloved New Kids lifted, and to the audiences shocking delight, the Backstreet Boys had joined them onstage, singing along with the New Kids to the 1999 hit single! I was thrilled! I was in this amazing city with my favourite boys, one of my oldest and dearest friends, and my mom’s spirit beside me. It was pure magic.

We approached the hotel were met with a wave of WWE fans that were just coming out of the Gardens. We were looking for a late night nosh. I was tempted to get Tim Horton’s, but decided against it when the clerk had no idea what an Iced Capp was. Fifteen minutes later Shelley and I were eating Lebanese in our room.

As I lay my head down that last night while Shelley slept silently beside me, I felt a sense of calm come over me. I’d come to this city on the heels of an emotionally tumultuous time in my life. Gazing at the black and white framed photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge hanging on the wall, I started to think about how this bridge has stood strong for over a century. It’s held steady throughout years of natural or deliberate threats. This bridge had become a symbol of optimism and inspiration for New Yorkers. And on this night, it was mine. The whole city was my catapult into feeling even if only for a little while, at peace.

“…..I’m leaving today…”
The morning of our departure came too soon with a speedy continental breakfast and bagel to go. We hopped in our last yellow cab and headed to Penn Station.
As we drove away from the New York Times offices outside the station, I felt my heart swell. Soon enough I turned to see the skyline fade in the distance. The Brooklyn Bridge however, was a beacon on the horizon. I sighed with gratitude and silently said goodbye. I was sure I saw my mom smile, and wave right back.

Nutella and Chesterfields

By Jennifer Ellis

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A few weeks after we arrived in Toronto my dad got a job as a driver for a hardware company, and my sister Becky started grade ten at Winston Churchill Collegiate. I didn’t know what a Collegiate was but I guess it meant high school. I wasn’t allowed to go to school. Not yet, anyway. We were waiting for my school authorization to come through. Becky was born in Toronto and then almost three years later, my parents now living in L.A, had me. After my mom died I was the only one in our family who was a native U.S citizen. I proudly hung the American flag grandpa gave me on my bedroom door, and I would stare at the stars and stripes wishing it to be a magic portal like in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Only instead of Narnia I would go to the AMC 10 theatres at the Golden Mall in Burbank, and get in line to see Back to The Future Part III and decide that I would get Twizzlers and use one to replace the straw in my soda cup, like Becky’s friend Hilary did when we went to go see Pet Cemetery- the movie that has since haunted my dreams. Grab a box of Depends and Google ‘Zelda Pet Cemetery,’ and you will see why. So, even though I may have resembled Lucy from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, clearly I wasn’t in a C.S Lewis novel. I was stuck in this real life trap. I was gifted the benefit of hanging out with Grandpa until Becky returned home from school. Thrillsville. For a twelve-year-old, you’d think it would be a dream come true not to have to go to school. Sadly, when you’re forced to get up early anyway and spend the day with a Grandpa who you barely know, all the fun gets sucked out of no-school-days. So, what in the world would I do with my grandfather all day? We got started with breakfast.

It was a grey and damp Tuesday morning and I was half asleep. We walked into the carport (a garage without a door) and got into his yellow K-Car. Grandpa put on his driving cap, and he started the ignition. I buckled my seat belt and started thinking about the best place on earth to eat breakfast to perk me up.

“Are we going to McDonalds Grandpa? I really like their breakfasts,” I asked as we pulled out of the driveway.

“Bah no, were going to Harveys’. It’s just up the road at Whiteshield Plaza,” he said.

I started to panic.

“But Grandpa, I like McDonald’s breakfast the best,” I protested as he calmly drove down the streets of Scarberia. “I want to go to McDonalds!”.

I don’t want to go to this stupid Whitesheild Plaza place, I thought. My dad would often take us to McDonalds on Saturday mornings across from Luckys’ Grocery on San Fernando in Glendale. The only plaza I was happy to go to was in Eagle Rock, I mournfully reminisced. And that was gone forever.

“Jenny, you’ll like Harvey’s just fine,” he insisted.

I furrowed my brow and pierced my lips trying not to cry over this injustice. I looked out the window and I felt as bitter as the cold that blew the dead leaves off the trees. This guy isn’t like Daddy, I thought. Daddy would take me to McDonalds. And my name isn’t ‘Jenny’.

Harvey’s looked like a Burger King knock off to me. Something like ‘The Burger Barn’ you’d hear mentioned on Roseanne. Blech. My big-fat-American appetite wanted a bacon-egg and cheese biscuit, and a hash brown tucked neatly in its little paper sleeping bag. But no, Grandpa was insistent on real breakfast at Harvey’s. Becky’s school was right across the street from the restaurant. As we sat down with our breakfast I figured she must’ve been in class hating that her sister didn’t have to be in school, but she did. I was hating that I had to endure this excursion without her.

I graciously dipped my buttered toast into my eggs over easy, and bit into a crisp slice of bacon.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Grandpa questioned.

I took a sip of milk from my straw; then gave him the confirmation he was looking for.

“Yes, thank you Grandpa,” I assured.

It was nice, yes. It just wasn’t the golden arches.

One Tuesday morning in late September, Grandpa said he was he was going to take me to the Ontario Science Centre. I was elated. Finally, something to do other than watch The Price is Right and count the minutes until Becky got home from school. I couldn’t wait to explore! Maybe Grandpa was fun and he did like doing things other than listening to boring news radio programs and reading the paper.

When we got to the Science Centre, he went to the admission booth while I looked at the plant exhibits in the foyer. After a few moments, he came over to me and handed me my ticket. Then he shuffled over to a bench, took a seat and opened his newspaper.

“Aren’t you gonna come with me?” I asked as I stood there like an abandoned child, shocked and nervous.

“Bah no, you go on. I’ll be here when you’re through,” he said behind his Toronto Star.

I stood there stunned stiff in my L.A Gears. Then a warm feeling of excitement bubbled up in me at the thought of this kind of freedom. My dad would never let me wander alone around a museum in L.A. Was this what adults did in Canada? They let their children run wild in museums, traipsing through exhibits, virtually handing them over to kidnappers and pedophiles? Didn’t they watch Americas Most Wanted? Well, I suppose not; I was in Canada. They didn’t even have milk cartons in their fridges displaying the faces of poor abducted children.

As I roamed through the exhibits all alone, I noticed a few troops of kids on fieldtrips laughing and causing a ruckus; frustrating their teachers. Watching them made me feel lonesome for friends my own age. I was truly longing for that adolescent connection.

I was pulled out of my fog of melancholy when I stumbled upon a shiny new computer. There was a sign on top of the monitor displaying the familiar rainbow Apple logo with a tag line that that said:  A is for Apple! Go ahead, take a bite into state of the art technology! Back at Ben Franklin in Glendale, we had a designated thirty minutes on an Apple computer every Wednesday afternoon. We had one educational game to play: Word and Number Crunchers. I relate that experience to the times Grandma Laura would make me choose the orange sherbet at 31 Flavours, when I really wanted to have chocolate malted crunch and mint chocolate chip. Well, I was about to indulge in the sweetness of technology without a time limit and stupid education games. I sat down in the plastic orange chair in front of the terminal, and opened a blank note pad document. It was time to get wild. I typed out my name on the screen:

“Jennifer Posie…”

I hesitated for a moment and looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching. I was in the clear.

I passionately punched letters into the keyboard.

“McIntyre”

There, that looks great, I thought, with a grin so wide you’d think I had just gotten engaged. It was in black and white. Joe McIntyre and I were virtually betrothed thanks to this fancy computer. I saved the document as Mrs. Jennifer McIntyre.doc. There was no printer so my plans to forge a marriage certificate were foiled. I threw my hair into a pony with my purple scrunchie, pushed my glasses back up onto the bridge of my nose, and sought more adventure.

Aside from my virtual marriage experience, touring around the Science Centre alone wasn’t so fun. Kids get distracted. They need a teacher or some kind of adult to point out the value of a display. You need your classmates or your sister there to goof on the anatomy on the sculptures of man.

I was sitting in a replica space shuttle playing with switches pretending to be Lea Thompson from the 1986 epic Space Camp, when like a sailor to the siren song, I became hypnotized by savoury aromas floating in the air. I heard crowds of conversations and the clatter of lunch trays in the distance. I looked up to see a sign on the wall: CAFETERIA. I prayed that Grandpa would spring for lunch. Daddy and I always had the greatest talks over egg salad and New York Seltzer in the hospital cafeteria, while we waited for nurses to give my mom a bath, or come back from some kind of test. Maybe Grandpa liked egg salad too, I mused. I climbed out of the shuttle and went to go find the old man. As I reached the front entrance, I spotted him still sitting on the bench engrossed in his paper.

“Hi Grandpa, thanks, that was fun,” I chimed.

“Done already? You only just left,” he interrogated, folding up his paper.

I shrugged my shoulders as my tummy spoke for me with a growl.

“Yeah, I got the gist,” I assured him.

He slanted his eyes into a piercing glare, narrowed his lips and let out a deep sigh. He started to fold up his paper as I struggled with apprehension. The thought of asking Grandpa to spend money to feed his over fed granddaughter quickly became a task not worth executing. I knew he thought I ate too much and didn’t approve of my habits; and worse of my more than chubby appearance. Now it seemed he didn’t get his money’s worth today because I took the Coles Notes tour of the Science Centre.

When we got home I made a tuna sandwich and snuck it up to my bed room to watch Days of Our Lives, while Grandpa napped on the couch downstairs. I mindlessly devoured my tuna on white as I saw love bloom between Patch and Kayla. I put the empty plate on my end table, laid back on my bed and stared at the stucco ceiling. I was full up on sandwich and had lost interest in Days. I yearned for California days with my dad, New York Seltzer, and cafeteria conversations.

The weeks progressed and Grandpa and I became more accustomed to each other. Grandpa and I were at bus passenger comfort level. It’s the relationship you have with the person you’re sitting next to on the bus. You would much rather sit by yourself, but you know its only a few more stops until you get to the Galleria, and its ok because this person doesn’t smell and they’re not trying to make small talk, and its ok because soon you will be ordering a corndog from Hot Dog on a Stick and life will be good again.

One afternoon he had to go to Towers, a local discount department store. I was feeling lazy as usual and decided to just wait for him in the car. I sat there thinking about Toll Junior High. That was the school I would be starting first period in right at that very moment, if I were back in Glendale. My sister loved going to Toll. She talked about indulging in after school milkshakes at the campus malt shop, and scamming on the cute skaters decked out in their Vans and Converse gear who would be so brazen to board to and from classes. I got lost in thought as I ached for my ‘could’ve been life,’ that was three thousand miles away. I imagined what it would’ve been like to have a locker to put up my favourite New Kids posters. I couldn’t believe that I actually wanted to be in school. I was given an impractical freedom, and I was angered by this cruel irony. I started to sink into a deep despair as I mentally screamed “What the fuck?!” at my life. Grandpa knocked on the passenger side door, jolting me out of my head and back into my unwanted existence. I rolled down the window.

“This is the one you fancy, yes?”

He was holding an eight by ten framed poster of my one, my only – Joe McIntyre. This was one of my favourite shots. Joe stood in his confident teen idol pose; wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, black jeans, a black leather jacket; with lobs of curly brown hair, the bluest of eyes, and a smile to rival the stars. Grandpa George loved me enough to know that even though I wasn’t going to win any science awards, or rave about his Harvey’s breakfast recommendations, I did love Joe McIntyre.

When we moved to this country, a lot was left behind. But I would soon realize there was much to discover, that was ours. That included relatives. My sweet Auntie Penny with the most welcoming smile, would often come over and visit as well as invite us over to her place for delicious home cooked meals. The first time I enjoyed Canadian Shepherd’s Pie was from her kitchen.  When she spoke it was like pearls and lace floating in the air. She used traditional English-Canadian and French-Canadian terms and inflections. When she said the word been, it sounded like bean, and she replaced napkin with the term ‘serviette.’

Soon after our arrival we went to visit my dads’ brother, Bob Kane. They had different last names because Grandma Olive’s first husband, Jack Kane, died in World War 2. Uncle Bob lived in a big house, and he had four kids who were all twenty-somethings. I had never met any of the Kane’s, so going over for our first visit was a bit intimidating – I wasn’t sure if they would take to their butterball American cousins.

We were a hit. There were enough hugs, kisses and genuine smiles to light up a thousand Christmas trees with the reception we got that day. I realized that connecting with my Canadian family was such a gift. Uncle Bob and Aunt Val had musical British accents like Grandpa so I couldn’t get enough of hearing them talk. The Kane cousins would soon take the post of my closest, and only friends.

Tracey and Jacky became our unofficial tour guides. I felt super-cool hanging out with my older cousins. They spent a lot of weekends with Becky and I, taking us to the Toronto Zoo, and Canada’s Wonderland. Tracey had cool red hair and rocked the shit out of tight, white Levi’s that I only dreamed of wearing. She introduced me to Def Leopard during rides in her Honda Civic. Tracey had a six-year-old daughter, my cousin Michelle. I quickly recruited this kid into my unauthorized New Kids fan club. It wasn’t long until I decided that she would be my new best friend. I was the cool older cousin to her. I loved her; she was always so down to eat junk food and talk about New Kids. It was like having a little sister who just stuck around for the fun stuff.

Jacky was a hilarious bubbly blonde- reminiscent of the quintessential California girl. She would let me hang out in her colourfully decorated room and play with her black cats aptly named Black and Decker. One day she showed me something that might have been surprisingly blasphemous to my fellow Americans, but was ingenious to me.

We were having lunch at Rock n’ Diner – it was one of those fifties style diners like Ed Debevic’s in L.A. She asked the server for a side of mayonnaise that I naturally thought she would use to spread on her club sandwich. Oh no, that wasn’t why. And then it happened. She dipped a delicious hot golden french fry into the tiny bowl of mayo. My life was changed in an instant.

“French fries and mayonnaise?!” I exclaimed in disgust, with a tinge of fascination.

“Uh, yeah its great,” she flippantly replied lobbing a mayo coated fry into her mouth.

I was so conflicted. I had to try it despite my revulsion. I mean, Jacky was pretty rad, she wouldn’t lead me a stray.

“Lemme try it,” I insisted, as if I was a food critic and my judgement of this new found delicacy was law.

She chuckled and slid the tiny bowl of mayo towards my plate.

I took one of my french fries for a dip, and hesitantly put it in my mouth. I’d struck culinary gold. This was like French fry benedict, if there was such a thing. I gained a full pant size that year from Jacky’s revelation.

I loved spending the weekends at the Kane compound and tripping around Toronto with my cousins. I may have left behind my home, my friends, and my school, but I gained the extended family I never had. And of course about fifteen pounds from french fries with mayonnaise. But despite the relationships I started to build with Grandpa and the rest of my family, I still really wanted friends that weren’t genetically obligated to love me, and who were under the age of seventy-five.

One Friday afternoon in October, while lazing on the couch watching T.V I heard the familiar sound of adolescent voices coming from outside. I perked up like a prairie dog, and turned the volume down on Saved by The Bell, so I could I hear it more clearly. And there it was again, distinct pre-teen laughter. I got up and stood at my front door with my nose pressed against the glass window, and I saw her. A girl. My age. And she appeared to live across the street. She was wearing stone washed jeans and a white sweatshirt. She leapt off of her porch; her pony tail flipping in the air as she ran off to play with some younger neighborhood kids. As they disappeared up the street I could feel the pain of envy flow through my veins. I remember many after school-afternoons back on Winchester, watching Ducktales and being interrupted by a knock at the door by my best friend Monica. We would stroll over to Western Drugs variety to pick up snacks and roam the streets looking for adventure – we just had to stay south of San Fernando. Despite my grueling couch potato schedule, I was always up for it. I longed for the frolic and play and the excitement that came with being twelve years old; giggling and whispering with my friends about the cute boy in class, whom I would secretly day dream was my boyfriend, in an alternate universe where cute boys liked tall fat girls.

Her name was Shelley; Shelley Short. I found that out in November when I was finally able to start school. We started walking to and from school together. I was over the moon. I had a real friend. One morning while we were headed to school she was eager to tell me that her parents made a new purchase.

“We got a new coach!” she explained.

I turned to her, puzzled.

“You guys got a coach? I questioned. “A coach for what? Some kind of family baseball league you’re on or something?”

She stared back at me looking like she thought I was insane.

“A chesterfield,” she said attempting to give more clarity to the ignorant American.

I was reminded that I was still in the Twilight Zone. With a twinge of terror fearing that my new and only friend in this backwards country would be fed up with my ignorance and stomp away, I continued my line of questioning.

“What’s a chesterfield?” I quietly mumbled.
“A coach Jen! A sofa! What don’t you understand?!” she shouted in frustration.

I started to laugh and shake my head. I looked down at the ground as we continued on to school, amazed that we were on the same planet.

I was mentally shitting my pants that first day at Ellesemere Statton Public School. This feeling was induced by heightened anxiety and curiosity. I walked into Ms. DeCeiros classroom wearing my carefully selected outfit: pink khakis, a white cardigan, a peach t-shirt, and a velvet burgundy headband. I was 5’10’- ish, pushing 230 lbs – ready to make a splash. And that’s exactly what I did.

These seventh-grade Canucks were spellbound. The questions started to come in like the press in a scrum:

‘Did you live on the beach?’
‘Oh my God, have you ever met any celebrities?’
‘Hey, did you ever meet a gang member?’
‘Why don’t you look like Nicole Eggert from Charles in Charge?’
And the question that is still at the top of the FAQ list today: ‘Why did you move here?!’

I brown-bagged my lunch that day. I sat at a roundtable with my classmates and was suddenly caught off guard as I bit into my tuna sandwich. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This chick sitting across from me was eating a chocolate sandwich. It looked like Duncan Heinz frosting slathered between two slices of fluffy white wonder bread. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. She probably thought ‘Jesus I better get this dream-come-true-sandwich down the hatch because this broad’s about to eat me, and my lunch.’ Shelley clued me into the fact at recess that the tiny girl was eating something called Nutella, not frosting. But it was super delicious and I should try some. I was sure to tell my dad to add Nutella to our shopping list going forward.

Daddy went grocery shopping on Saturday mornings and I would make my way downstairs when he got home around noon. I’d make myself a roast beef sandwich on a Kaiser, with plenty of mayo. I justified eating this heaping sandwich because I was learning how to say ‘roast beef sandwich’ in my French class. ‘sandwich au boeuf,’ or something like that. I figured the pictures in my cahier of the lovely little Canadian girls, eating the roast beef sandwiches looked so happy; and I just wanted to be like them. Kids here ate chocolate sandwiches and dipped their fries into mayo. Things were beginning to finally fall into place.

First Day  

By Jennifer Ellis

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This story is dedicated to my Dad, Roger Ellis – and the Gypsies

 

 

 

I didn’t want to go. My sister and I were sitting on the couch silent and sullen.  I surveyed the aftermath from our Last- Night-in-California-Party as my dad packed his carry on with our passports.

“Don’t forget to bring your jackets with you on the plane,” he cautioned my sister and I. “It might be cold when we land in Toronto.”  I furrowed my brow and sunk deeper into the sofa hoping that it would swallow me whole.

I hadn’t been on a plane since the summer of 1987. My sister and I went to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my grandparents; my mother’s parents. My mom was still alive. She was deteriorating from Multiple Sclerosis, and my dad was struggling to keep it together. They all thought it would be a good idea to ship us to Florida while he figured out how to make ends meet, and take care of my mom’s medical bills. No one ever imagined that she would be dead just before Christmas 1989. On the way to the airport to leave for Florida, I’d puked all over my new tennis shoes, and all over the back seat of Grandpa Arties rental car. Almost three years later, I could still taste the bitter taste of fear and bile, as we drove away from 510 Winchester Ave. on the way to LAX.

I somehow made it on to the plane without a repeat performance of the 1987 throw-up disaster. I looked out the window for virtually the whole flight. Until we crossed the border and started to descend. I turned to my dad in a panic.

“Daddy, where are the mountains? I questioned.

“There aren’t any mountains in Toronto, Jen,” my dad gently explained. “Canada has beautiful mountains in B.C., But no mountains in Ontario.”

I turned back to the window and stared down at the foreign flat landscape. And I wondered how I could live without the familiar view and protection of the Verdugo hills.

We landed late afternoon. The line for customs stretched all the way back to the end of the room, and my patience from staring at the sterile orange tiled floor was running out. There was no escaping this room until the stone faced guy sitting behind the partition studied your face and your passport, and asked when your last bowel movement was. Then and only and then you were allowed to officially ‘enter Canada.’  Once we reached the terminal from what felt like escaping the Iran hostage crisis, I asked my dad for some change to get a drink from the vending machine. It cost a dollar ten for a can of Coke that was about the size of a juice box. What a rip off! How dare these Canadians deny my oversized American thirst? I went into the duty-free to inspect the magazine rack. I picked up the latest Teen Beat. Finally, something familiar. As I admired the latest shot of New Kids on the Block from their Magic Summer tour splashed on the cover, I noticed something under the title: “Canada’s #1 Teen Magazine.” I was officially in the Twilight Zone; and there was no hope of escape. No matter how much my surroundings seemed familiar, it was clear I was no longer in Glendale. I wasn’t even in the United States, for Gods’ sake. I was in Canada. This weird place with small and expensive cans of Coke.

My Auntie Penny greeted my sister and my dad and I with a big smile and even bigger hugs.

“Oh my goodness, it’s so great to see you Jen!” Auntie Penny gushed.

“Hi,” I said nervously as she squeezed me hello.

I had never met her, and wasn’t sure about getting hugs from people I didn’t know. But I couldn’t help but feel a familiar warmth from her greeting, and that somewhat eased my new immigrant anxiety.

We got into a taxi and headed to Scarborough to Grandpas house. Our new home. The sky was covered in clusters of grey and white clouds as we headed down the freeway. Auntie Penny called it a highway. Highways were what you drove on heading into the dessert, I thought. I wanted to correct her and tell her that we were on a freeway. I decided to keep my mouth shut when I noticed that this freeway contrasted the chaos of L.A traffic, as we moved down the road without stopping even once. This was definitely not a freeway.

As we turned onto my grandpas’ street I noticed that the trees had stared to turn colour.  Grandpa George lived on a nice suburban street with big houses. No apartment complexes. The houses all had well-manicured, green lawns and perennials in the front gardens. I’d only seen something like that on Who’s the Boss?

As I got out of the car I was assaulted by an unfamiliar wind that seemed to permeate my sweater. I quickly followed Auntie Penny inside and dropped my luggage in the foyer. I was stunned. grandpa’s house had stairs. I remember I’d always wanted to live in a house with a staircase. I always thought it would make me feel rich. I was trying not to show how impressed I was, but I couldn’t wait to brag about my new staircase to my friend Monica. Then a sinking feeling washed over me. Monica was thousands of miles away. Telling her wouldn’t be the same as showing her. I distracted myself from the reality of my new life by imagining that Tony and Angela lived around the corner.

Grandpa received us with warm greetings and his captivating British accent. He looked like the typical grandpa. Bald on the top, white hair on the sides of his head, often donning a driver’s cap and sporting grandpa sweaters. I think he had come to California twice to visit. He bought me a Pound Puppy-which I loved. He had lost his dear Olive, my Grandmother, the same year I had lost my mother. It was a hard time for our family. Grandpa wasn’t in good health. He seemed fine, but he had a pace maker placed in his chest recently and was suffering from heart disease. I wanted to tell him I knew how he felt; that I’m sure I looked fine, but my heart was hurting, too.

That night, as my dad was setting the table for dinner, I opened the fridge to look for the milk, when I was put off by the strangest thing. At the bottom of the fridge were bags filled with a white milky substance. I was totally grossed out. I was convinced it was some kind of IV medication bag for grandpa. There’s no way that was the milk.

“Daddy, I can’t find the milk!” I shouted.

“I told you it’s on the bottom shelf,” he said.

I closed the fridge and stormed into the dining room as my Dad was setting the table.

“Daddy,” I huffed. “All I see is bags of white stuff.”

“Yeah that’s the milk. It’s in the bags,” he said casually, as he laid out Grandma Olives’ china.

My universe imploded.

“What is wrong with this place?!” I fumed.  “How the hell am I going to drink milk from a bag?”

“You’ll get used to it,” he chuckled.

I felt like the Powers That Be were trying to trick me into believing I was still in the United States. People drove in cars, wore blue jeans, spoke English. First with the mini Coke cans and now my milk in bags?  What if I got kidnapped? No milk cartons on kitchen tables so people could see my missing chubby twelve-year-old face, while eating their cornflakes.

That night trying to fall asleep I felt like I had actually been kidnapped. I was in an unfamiliar bedroom, lying in a different bed, with a different blanket. I lay there feeling completely helpless. I turned my head into my first ever down filled pillow, and cried. And cried some more. I wished I could cry enough tears to wash me away back to California, where I was sure I belonged.

Going Home

by Roger Ellis and Jennifer Ellis

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God, what a mess! It was 5:30 a.m. and I was scrambling to get ready to leave for the airport after what felt like about five minutes of sleep. The apartment was a disaster. The living room was littered with empty coke cans, half eaten slices of pizza, and half a pint of melted Bryers on the coffee table. I had let the girls have their friends over for a goodbye party. I’d grounded Becky to the apartment for the last 48 hours, to prevent her from running away with her boyfriend.  I was thankful that although Jen was unhappy about this move, at least I didn’t have to put her under house arrest. The kids were sitting on the couch, half asleep and miserable as we waited for Bob. Bob was my former co-worker, and he was going to be picking us up in about twenty minutes in the Snookies’ Cookies delivery van to take us to LAX. I must’ve put over over a hundred thousand miles on that thing. I gathered our passports, my drivers licence, and our birth certificates, and secured them in carry on.

“Don’t forget to bring your jackets with you on the plane,” I reminded the girls. “It might be cold when we land in Toronto.”

I looked down at our tickets. It seemed unreal. Three tickets: LA to Toronto. This was actually happening. I’m going back home. I didn’t really know if this was actually home. But this, where I stood; this wasn’t home anymore.

Bob helped us pile our suitcases into the van. My mind was consumed with a collage of worry. I thanked Bob, for getting us to the airport on time-one less stress for my weary mind, and the kids and I made our way to the plane. I made sure they were settled in their seats, and soon enough we were headed down the runway, and in the air. Well, there you go; just like that, we were gone. I had been living in L.A for fourteen years. I’d spent the last six of them watching Elyse slowly die from the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis. We spent the majority of those years waiting for, and riding on the bus to see her, because our car had been repossessed.  I closed my eyes and tried to meditate. If Elyse were here, she would tell me to meditate. I was really missing my wife.

“Daddy where are the mountains?” Jen nervously inquired as the plane flew over Toronto.

“There aren’t any mountains in Toronto, Jen,” I explained. “Canada has beautiful mountains in B.C., But no mountains in Ontario.”

She turned back to the to the window, looking deflated.

We landed safely in Toronto, and headed to customs. I was concerned about the litany of questions Canadian Immigration officials would ask me. I always felt like a criminal when dealing with officials because I used to look like Graham Nash when I toured with my band Edward Bear, and of course all musicians with long hair and beards were smuggling a few kilos on their way to and from gigs. The Man didn’t like us. And we didn’t like them.

The line was long as I expected, and the girls were tired and hungry. They kept asking when we would be out of the seemingly never-ending line up of people. We got out just before I thought Jen was going to crash through the barrier to look for a Snickers. I gave her some change for the vending machine as soon as we got through, so she wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown.

My next item on the worry list was what it would be like not only seeing my father, but living with him. We had a long history of not seeing eye to eye. He had developed heart disease and had been recently fitted with a pace maker. He needed someone to take care of him. And I needed a new start. I was trying to be hopeful.

As we waited for my sister Penny to pick us up, I enjoyed the crisp Canadian air in my lungs. It was literally a breath of fresh air compared to the stifling smog we were smothered in while living in L.A. Penny arrived with open arms, and we headed to my dad’s house. The carport was adorned with three flags. Canadian, American and the good old Union Jack for Britain. My entire family had immigrated from England. And here I was with my American kids, immigrating back to Canada. It was nice to see that my dad wanted us all to feel welcome. We walked inside 61 Bergen Road, and I hugged my old man. The kids sheepishly explored their new home with my sister, while my dad and I had good chat about the day’s events. Bob Rae had been elected that very day as premier of Ontario. Although my dad and I didn’t always share the same views, we could both agree that Ontario needed NDP party.

That evening as I was setting the table for dinner, Jen was demanding some answers about milk.

“Daddy,” she gasped. “All I see is bags of white stuff.”

“Yeah, that’s the milk. It’s in the bags.” I told her.

She looked like I had told her she had to drink her milk on Mars.

“What is wrong with this place?! she complained.  “How the hell am I going to drink milk from a bag?”

“You’ll get used to it,” I laughed.

There were so many new things for the kids to learn. The metric system alone was going to be traumatic enough. I also had so much I needed to do. The worry chaos was far from empty in my head. I had to get a job, quick. And I had to get the kids in school. I worried for my kids so much, it hurt. They were dealing with the loss of their friends, and all of their familiar places. They had to say goodbye to the mountains, Brand Park, and Marina Del Rey. The girls called it the beach with no waves. All of this after having to say goodbye to their mother. Yes, it was a new start, and although Elyse was with us in spirit, we carried her death with us. As I lay down that night I tried to calm the anxiety that was busy in my head. I couldn’t help but wonder, what would become of us all?  I thought, Jesus – how are we going to get ourselves whole again? Maybe I’ll know when I wake up.