It was 1973 and we were all 40 years younger, unless we weren’t born yet. I was still trying to get over Mona who was also my partner in a vain attempt to introduce a vegetarian restaurant into the Italian and Portuguese neighbourhood. Both ventures failed – the relationship and the business – mainly because Mona needed to expand both her physical and spiritual realm with a cherubic Yogi from India. I salvaged enough cash out of the wreckage to enable me to escape to Mexico for the winter in my cherished VW van, before Mona handed it all over to her Yogi to free herself (and me) from material entanglements.
I drove along the Pacific west coast, through the Redwoods in Oregon and California into Mexico. Stayed a couple of days in Mazatlan, then down to Mazanillo and Sayolita, camped on the still pristine beach of Punta Mita, drove through Puerto Vallorta, slept on the beach in Mismaloya, the movie set for ‘Night of the Iguana’ and then drove along the rugged coast all the way to Zihuatenejo, a quaint fishing village on a lovely bay. There I met Rosario who had a shop full of the most fantastic, hand woven carpets and wall hangings from Oaxaca as well as hammocks from the Yucatan. It was standing around the colourful shop when the idea of a possible retail venture first presented itself. Rosaria told me to drive up into Mexico’s volcanic Terra Alta to the pueblo magico of Patzcuaro, a lovely colonial town in Michoacan, which also happened to be a major hub for crafts and arts. I planted myself in the Patzcuaro Campground, run by the venerated local historian, Arturo Pimentel and his lovely wife Isabel.
I exhausted my savings in no time and stuffed the van full of copper wares, weavings, masks, carved mirror frames, lacquered and gilded plates, and pottery from Uruapan. Sad to leave but promised to be back, I drove straight north past Guadelajara and spent the last of my pesos on silver jewellery in Zacatecas. I had enough money left over for gas, tortillas and beans and made it to Las Vegas where I decided to risk my last $ 50.- in a casino. It was all or nothing, and I dreaded approaching my dad, who was never around when I grew up and who I haven’t seen since my mom’s funeral. But lady luck smiled on me and I won $ 400, more than enough to get me home and I quit gambling while I was ahead.
Back in Vancouver, broke but loaded with treasure, I convinced the Credit Union to lend me some money, which enabled me to rent a small storefront on Commercial Street that had the added bonus of a cozy two bedroom apartment above the store. I painted over the old sign that still said ‘HairCare’ and named my new enterprise simply ‘Leisure’.
The store featured one good size display window, beside the front door which I coloured bright yellow. I built a plywood box inside the window and filled the floor of it with white sand and painted the backdrop and sides in bright baby blue. I placed a beach chair in the sand, added a fake palm tree I found at a garage sale and strung a hammock across the whole scene. I lit this installation with a stage light that I found in a pawn shop on Hastings and added orange jell in front of it, imitating the sun. Inside the store I displayed my Mexican artefacts, hung the carpets along the walls interspersed with some Frida Kalo and Diego Riviera prints that I bought for a few pesos in a second hand bookstore in Guadelajara. The copper and pottery I displayed on the stairs leading up to the apartment. I used the rickety back stairs to my porch for access instead. The small space was nicely lit by the same old track lights left over from the hair salon. My pipe dream was that the store would finance my winters in Mexico.
On a rainy October morning Quinn walked into the front door looking for a job. I was flirting with the idea of hiring somebody to look after the store for January and February when I was planning to go south to replenish the stock, rather than close the doors. I still had to pay the rent. I also wanted some company because I was afraid I’d go mad all by myself in the mostly empty store. Not that I could afford to pay anybody. As it was, I lived on beans, rice and the odd beer. I instantly sensed that Quinn would bring something to the party and make my little business a success.
“I would love to work here, it’s almost like a sanctuary being surrounded by these exotic relaxation accessories,” she enthused. Quinn looked somewhat Mexican with her thick black hair that she tamed into two pony tails on either side of her almond shaped face, her dark, flashy eyes and eyebrows that threatened to grow together reminding me of Frida Kahlo.
“Here is the deal,” I said. “The job comes with a spare room in my small apartment above the store, in lieu of a salary and you would have to work for commission.”
Quinn didn’t argue and accepted on the spot. “When can I move in ?”
She added some much needed spark to my life and business and before long we shared not only the kitchen and work. Our relationship evolved naturally into a comfortable and passionate love. We were made for each other and complimented each other in many ways: she was quick and sanguine, pragmatic and optimistic, I was a plodder and introvert, given more to pessimism which I called realism. She loved to cook; I mixed a good margarita; she was Ying, I was Yang. We both loved reading, making love to Mexican music and riding our second hand bicycles around Stanley Park. We never questioned fate or destiny and never formally declared our love for each other but our mutual passion was boundless.
“I’ll be in touch and back in a couple of months,” I promised. We were both sad to be apart but we had agreed that this was the way it had to be. We could not afford to close the store and go south together although I wished nothing more then to do just that but not that first year. Quinn vowed to turn the store ‘into an island of sunshine’ in this drizzly, grey city.
When I returned two months later with the van jammed full of new treasures including beach wear, as well as supply contacts that promised to ship my orders, Quinn had sold most of our inventory. She also had become sort of a celebrity. She came up with the idea to plant her lovely body in the hammock or sit in the beach chair in the display window clad in a bikini with a wide brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses. She would be reading a book and when somebody entered the store she would sling on a bathrobe, dismount her perch and deal with the customer. From her unusual roost she could see the traffic up and down the street and in a short time she became an exotic fixture in the eclectic neighbourhood on Commercial Street. The curious and tantalized stopped in front of the beach window and sometimes they would talk about what she was reading and sometimes they would just stare at her loveliness. She would sit or lie still like a statue to the point where people doubted that she was real until she turned a page and startled the window gazers who would jump in surprise, which she then rewarded with a wide grin and a coy wave. More often then not they would enter the store, curious and intrigued.
It was her idea to add books – picked by Quinn – to our store inventory that we now rebranded to the ‘Leisure Emporium’, catering to all things not related to work.
In time we added a small coffee shop next door when Aito, the tiny and ancient Japanese women closed the flower shop. We also sold exotic spices like Saffron, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cardoman, Turmeric, Curries and Mexican salsa and anything that makes a bland dish into a sunny, culinary experience. Quinn in the window was replaced with a mannequin in one of those 1920’s orange and white striped bathing suits, oversized purple sunglasses and a Mexican sombrero. We rented a small bungalow on Semlin and used the upstairs apartment for an extension to the ‘Emporium’ where we moved all the pottery and copper wares and displayed our own line of leisure wear like T-shirts, shawls and lungis, designed by the multi talented Quinn and produced in Patzcuaro. We also sold beach sandals and snorkel gear.
The ‘Leisure Emporium’ became so successful that we opened a second store in Kitselano and eventually branched out to Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg. The colder the city, the more popular were the stores. We always hired young staff who loved the ‘Leisure’ environment.
We eventually traded the old VW van in for a 1988 VW Westfalia, our Westy, and Quinn and I travelled together many times back to Patzcuaro where we rented the same furnished house on Dr. Coss, a block away from the Plaza Quiroga, the central zoccola. We did quite well by it all and in 1998, exactly 25 years after I opened the original store, we sold the whole chain for a tidy sum, which enabled us to live the ‘Freedom 55’ dream and retire early.
What to do with our new found freedom and plenty of time and money to live a designer life style, unencumbered and without any responsibilities ? Live the dream, right ? The penultimate achievement of modern homo sapiens: To exist without purpose, in luxury and wealth, without a care or a worry in this modern world, and yes, for a short time we truly indulged and did all those things which later became known as ‘the bucket list’ based on a movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
We travelled the world, walked the beaches of Bali, Bukhet, Goa, Cococabana and Puha Beach, sailed on a luxury excursion to the Galapagos, took a cruise up through the inside passage and spent time in St. Barts and Curaçao. We built a house on a low bank waterfront property on the Sunshine Coast and bought a 2 bedroom condo in Whistler for those few times we went skiing or hiking. The ‘life of Riley’ as the cliché goes. Was there anything missing ? Apparently there was, as Quinn pointed out to me during one stunning sunset on Raratonga.
“What is the meaning of our lives ? What’s the purpose ? I feel like one of those beautiful empty conch shells, a husk without life, a body without soul.”
“You need a drink I believe,” I said.
“You don’t get it, do you ?”
“Get what ?”
“There needs to be more to life then what we do, float through this world like spectators from another planet, tourists in our own lives.”
“Well, I don’t see anything wrong with that. The rest of the world would make a deal with the devil himself to live like we do.”
“I think we made a bargain with the devil and now we’re trapped. Most people our age have kids and grand kids, they have purpose and meaning.”
I could see where this was leading and we’ve been there before. We valiantly tried to have kids but Quinn never got pregnant. We accepted this as our fate and never looked for the cause. I was indifferent and Quinn didn’t seem to mind. It gave us a chance to grow our business unencumbered by maternity leaves and child rearing, it made us who we were, free as birds to fly off at a whim. Young forever, that was our motto and we did our best to live up to it. Somehow middle age had snuck up on us and as the new millennium with all it’s new communication technology and jihadi terror unfolded around us we were looking down the back side of life, over the hill as the saying goes.
I had a sneaking suspicion that Quinn was now in the midst of puberty-in-reverse, a synonym for men-o-pause. She didn’t want to talk about it and bore her condition with the stoic acceptance of a martyr. Whenever I tried to broach the subject I was dismissed as someone who would never understand.
“All you men ever think of is one thing only. You guys are such primates.”
“That’s not fair Quinn. If you suffer, I suffer too, it’s just not the same.”
She gave me a dismissive look and walked away. I sat there, looking at her silhouette against the fiery sky, getting smaller as the sun dipped into the south pacific and I knew right there and then that our days as a couple were over.
We didn’t talk, we didn’t acknowledge the opening chasm between us because it wasn’t just one dramatic event or one point in time that caused this rift, as if our life raft had broken in half and we were both drifting off in different directions.
We returned home and Quinn immediately enrolled in a yoga school with the intent of becoming a yoga teacher herself. She rented an apartment in the city and I stayed back in the house on the Sunshine Coast. We sold the condo in Whistler. We didn’t fight and came to an unspoken agreement that we would respect each other’s space, meaning that I would accept her choice to move on – without me.
At first I enjoyed living on my own in the big rambling house. I could stay up all night or eat at all hours, I could come and go as I pleased. I picked up my old guitar again and tried to study my Spanish again. I swore that I would not succumb to boredom, a close relative of depression. To be bored would be the death of me. I played a bit of tennis at the local club, drank twice a week at the pub with some of the boys, dabbled in stocks for about an hour a day and actually made money. Every winter I joined some of the guys and booked into one of these all-inclusive resorts on the Mayan Riviera where we drank like fish and wasted the days. Somehow the years drifted by.
Then one day I poked myself close to the eye while pruning some of the invasive shrubbery behind the house. I examined the minor damage very close to the eye in the bathroom mirror. Suddenly I looked past the eye was confronted by the old man in the looking glass like it was somebody else. Sallow skin, bags under the dull blue eyes, hair thin and grey on top with plenty of hair growing out of nose and ears and body hair like a baboon; a bit flabby around the middle and receding gums around the teeth. Death’s earthly cousin – old age – was staring back at me and it shocked me to my core. I had wasted my life, had squandered the gift of plenty and selfishly turned into a hedonistic looser. No matter how rich I was, I felt soulless and morose. I wasn’t lonely or unhappy, just adrift and increasingly felt useless and a bit disgusted with myself, and my pointless existence.
I instinctively knew that I had one more chance at doing something useful with my life, one more kick at the can as they say, one more go around and one more opportunity to make my life count for something else but leisure activity. And therein lies the rub. I had no clue as to what I was supposed to do with my remaining years. I was still healthy, wealthy and independent, reasonably intelligent, had good humour and spoke three languages. I gathered all my spunk and energy and decided to join the new age of internet dating and I signed up with ‘Tinder’ a popular new dating app.
First I wrote down all the plusses and minuses of myself trying to be impartial and fair: “Healthy, wealthy, bored male, retired, alone, ready for adventure, looking for like minded…” I couldn’t do it. It sounded so base, so pathetic. Was I really that washed up, close to feeling self-pity; how revolting. I started over on a different tack. “Over the hill, still healthy, curious and independent. Looking for a meaningful life.” That sounded even worse and when I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, brushing my teeth, I looked at my flabby gut, my sagging man tits I decided that I needed to get into shape before I looked for any kind of companionship or meaningful engagement. I embarked on a regimen of disciplined exercise. I bought a local recreation membership and started with the pool. After some initial pains and the realization that I was indeed in poor physical shape I was able to swim one kilometre every weekday morning, then jogged for an hour and I also bought a rowing machine on craigslist. After a couple of weeks I already felt better, more alive and alert. All this physical activity started to pay dividends, evident in my reduced gut and improved self esteem. I felt ready to post a more upbeat ad and spent the evening hours doodling and tweaking my sales pitch. Because that’s what it was. I was trying to sell myself but I never got up the courage to send off anything I came up with. I reprimanded myself: What can possibly go wrong ? I was not committed to follow anything up, was I ? Commitment was that big stumbling block in my life. I tried to steer clear of it and avoided it at all costs but I could hardly put that into my Tinder profile. How about: “Old man, hates commitment, not ready to step out of his comfort zone, likes to be in control, hates whiners and prefers his own company to others.” Maybe not.
The problem was obvious. I really didn’t know what it is I wanted. Meaning ? Yes. Fun ? Yes. Companionship ? Yes. About three months after I first conceived the idea of a posting and several drinks into the twilight zone I finally screwed up enough pluck to hit the ‘send’ button on my laptop. Just one click, one click away from destiny. Here is what I finally posted:
“Timeworn male, well used but in reasonable shape with own teeth and major faculties intact, independent and ready to go, looking for same in the female version.”
I didn’t expect anything from this endeavour and was happy that I got it out of my system. It was bothering me and I listened to my friends who were always worried about me and my state of mind, I assured them all that I did indeed follow through and waited in anxious anticipation for the storm of wild offers. I got two immediate responses and both piqued my curiosity. The first one answered in the same cryptic style as my ad. “Also worn but not worn out yet, trying to get in shape, hair and teeth well looked after, ready to play.” The second answer was more formal but also more intriguing. “A bit lost myself, healthy and independent, not really looking but ready to be found. Call me if you like to meet for a cup of tea.” There was even a phone number. ‘Very much to the point’ I thought. I liked that. I was not a tea drinker but I took that reference as an euphemism of not wanting to start out with alcohol on the first date. Fine, I thought, this sounds mature and common sensical.
I followed up on the first response: “How worn are you really ? I’m 72, swim and jog every day, like football (the European kind) and am a moderate social drinker. I curse and fart, eat meat and hate all form of religion.” Click. Sent. I waited a couple of days and received no further contact from ‘Also worn out’. So much for that one.
I screwed up the nerve to call responder # 2. I slowly and deliberately dialled the number into my new smart phone and waited. 2 beeps, 3 beeps and I was just about to hang up when a strangely familiar, husky voice answered and simply said: “Hello ?”
My heart leapt into my throat and I was speechless. “Hello who is there ?” and I instantly recognized the voice. ‘This can’t be !’ I said to myself and was completely shocked and dumbfounded. I frantically pushed the red disconnect button and dropped the phone on the table like it was on fire. A couple of beats later the phone started buzzing and ringing and the same number I had just dialled flashed accusingly.
It suddenly hit me. This was a ‘now-or-never’ moment an ‘all-or-nothing’ option. If I mess this one up I would loose big time.
I pressed ‘answer’.
“Hello, did you just call me ?”
I missed that voice so much, I almost started sobbing. It had been so long, too long by far.
“It’s me Quinn,” I croaked, “Timeworn from Tinder. I would love to have a cup of tea… anytime.”
There was silence on the other end and I thought I blew it. Should have played it safe and answered the e-mail. How stupid of me, how self-serving.
“Quinn…are you still there ?” After an eternity the voice returned.
“It doesn’t have to be tea, I know you don’t like tea. How about dinner ?”