How to Find Love in Rural Ontario - or - What you Will

I wish I could say that friends set us up. I wish I could say that I bumped into him on a rainy afternoon in Paris and he carried my bags back to my lavish French apartment. I wish I could say we met in a writing class in New York and though the other writers hated my play, he thought it was brilliant and bought me a coffee. But the truth is — I met the love of my life in a sketchy little bar in Northern Ontario on Canada Day in the year 2000.

The summer of “new Millennium,” I was doing summer stock in rural Ontario. My first few weeks after classes at U. of T. wrapped for the summer were all about me and my mother’s 1987 VW Golf. In addition to the play I was performing in six nights a week, I was also rehearsing and performing The Teddy Bear’s Picnic on the wonderfully dated Waterfall Stage at Ontario Place. So, as soon as the day finished there, I would tear down the 401 in that smelly old car, roof cranked open, Q107 blaring and make my way north of the city for the show at night. I can still feel the horrifying sunburn I got from the Golf’s skylight in late June (somehow I thought that although the sun was hitting me directly, I wouldn’t get burned because the wind was blowing me cool. Smart. S-M-R-T.)

On July 1st, 2000, we had a fairly uneventful evening performance at the theatre, but for some rowdy audience members. One of the ladies in the cast had had some girlfriends come to the show who cackled raucously at all the funny bits and cheered like Poison fans during our curtain call. They planned to hit the local bar scene post-performance to trawl for men. It wasn’t really my bag, so I declined, saying that I had plans to celebrate our country’s Confederation with friends in Uxbridge, where I was living. In truth, all of my friends in Uxbridge had moved away and my plans to celebrate our country’s Confederation consisted of driving 45 minutes home to my parents’ place and drinking wine from a box until I passed out, to be startled awake by the fanfare of The Antiques Road Show theme before going to bed fully clothed.

As I was scraping off my makeup in the little dressing room behind the stage that night, I came to the conclusion that though my shut-in plans were tempting, it would be better for me to go out and have a good time. It was Canada Day, dammit! So, at the last minute I drove to the actors’ residence and joined my colleague and her enthusiastic friends.

By the time I got there, they were all jovially sloshed. I still had a long-ish trip home ahead of me, so I was sober. Yesssss. That’s fun. I thought we would never leave the apartment but around midnight, they all piled into my tiny car like drunken circus clowns and we rolled into town.

I didn’t realize until we were in the presence of what I loosely call ‘men’ that I was actually hanging with an insane pack of drunken cougars, with the exception of my friend from the theatre. While she sipped her Amaretto Sours and happily bopped to the music, they were catcalling anything in cowboy boots, howling, and one lady was humping the bar in time to Livin’ on a Prayer, which was hissing through the sound system. I went solo and made my way to the far side of the Saturday-Night-Fever-and-Nausea dance floor as Sweet Home Alabama came on. Alone, putting out my best don’t-even-think-about-it-pervert vibes, I was having a pretty good time. I thought I was looking mighty slick too. Though my upper body was a sort of nuclear red from my skylight sunburn, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in and rocking the only booty shorts I’ve ever worn (and – oh crikey - will EVER wear) in my life.

Sweet Hooooome Alabama!
Where the skies are s’ bluuuueeee! Doodlee doo…
Sweet Hooooome Alabama!
Lord da nuh nuh nuh nuh youuuuuu.

Shaggy-haired frat boys were powerless to the anti-perve deflector I had going on. Ping! Ping! Off they flung.

Sweet Home Alabama!
Where the SKIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEeeeesssrrrrr-

Near the bar, leaning against a CSI’s wet-dream of a mirrored pillar, was a man. A ma-ha-ha-haaaan. Tall and slim, with a hero’s broad shoulders and long, fit-looking runners’ legs. He was looking away, bored but dutiful, like he was waiting for someone. Before I could stop myself, I was staring, nay leering at this man, just like the cougars, but standing stock-still amidst the chaos around me. Not familiar with the pick-up protocol, I formulated a cunning plan based on my extensive high school dance experience. I’ll just go over and stand there. Maybe he’ll talk to me. Cunning.

I elbowed and kneed my way through the grinding Cool Water stink on the dance floor to the mirrored pillar as my theatre colleague by the bar waved to me. One of the pride was attempting to scale the counter and the bartender was fighting her off. The rest of them laughed and cheered. “Eeeeeeuuuuuuu!” I waved to my friend, then furtively looked away, disassociating myself with the cougar madness. I turned my head and the man I’d been admiring had leaned in to speak to me.

“Are you with those women?” he asked, pointing to the booty-shaking, high-fiving crew by the bar.

Should I say no?

"Eeeeeuuuuuuuu!" Came another mating call from the pack.

I could say no. He wouldn’t know. If I say yes, what will he think? I looked at my colleague with her Amaretto Sour giggling at her friends and having a great time. She had invited me, the loner, out on a night where I’d have been alone and depressed, to come and have a blast with her crazy friends. Suddenly I felt I owed her something.

“Yes?” I said, trying to judge his response.

“Right.” I detected a sort of British accent. Squeeee! Dreamy! Then I thought, wait a minute, I bet this is just some douchey local guy putting on an accent to pick up chicks (though I wouldn’t have used the term ‘douchey’ because I didn’t know ‘douchebag’ was back in yet.)

Skeptical but cocky (that I could detect his accent), I said “How did you end up in rural Ontario, from England?” Time to get creative, FAKER! I waited for the response that would out his little antic.

“I… sort-of… well I work out of the airport.” The little town had its own very small airport, which I’d driven by dozens of times and forgotten about.

“You’re a pilot?” I inquired excitedly, my voice 12 octaves higher than usual (dogs all over the countryside must have been like “Whoa, man! What the hell was that?”) I had visions of stripes and captains’ hats and all kinds of uniform fetishes dancing in my head.

“Well… yes,” he said sheepishly. “I teach other people how to fly, or at least I risk my life on a daily basis while students try to kill me in small aircraft.”

I knew in the way that he, embarrassed, told me about his super-cool job, that he was unique. Most guys in that situation would have definitely worked the pilot angle to their advantage. “Yeaaaah baby, let’s go flying. I’ll take you wherever you want to go,” and all that crap.

“And I’m not actually English,” he added “I’m Irish.”

In the film of my life, this is where I grab the nearest bottle of Molson Canadian, take a giant swig, pour the rest of it down my pants and calmly continue the conversation.

“Ooooh, you’re Irish. An Irish pilot in rural Ontario. Hm. Interesting.” It was all I could utter with visions of stripes, captains' hats, uniforms — and now poetry, fiddle music, and he and I running down an emerald hill hand-in-hand in my head.

I spent the rest of the evening shouting over the music, trying to get to know the Irish pilot while his friends teased and taunted him. They were all pilots too, working and teaching at the tiny airport, having come to do so from all over the world.

The French pilot kept winking, pointing to his watch and saying “Eh, you get ‘er phone NUMber yet?” The other, an Englishman, was a “nudge, nudge” type, who just raised his eyebrows and grinned like a character out of a silent movie and drank his beer.

After last call, I realized I had lost complete track of my wild posse; they had vanished and I was alone. I also realized that in my haste to get the cougars out of the Golf, earlier in the evening, I had taken the easiest parking spot I could find and left the car in an alley by the theatre. A dark alley.

Something about the Irish pilot was very safe and even protective. I felt like I’d known him longer than just a few hours. I’m sure my mother would have freaked if she knew that a strange man I met in a bar was going to walk me down a dark alley to my – well – her car. But he did. And he was a gentleman. We exchanged phone numbers and the rest, as they say, is history... uh, herstory... no, ourstory.

Eight years, a dozen trips back and forth from the U.K. to Toronto, many tears and two permanent residence cards later, I married him. And in the end, I did and do owe that colleague of mine something for asking me to come out with her and that insane cougar posse that Canada Day night in the year 2000. Geez, I should really look her up on Facebook, eh?

What I learned from this: Wear sunblock. Even in the car. Wind won’t save you from a badass sunburn. Also, you don’t need Paris or New York to find love. It’s exactly where you don’t expect it; leaning on a mercilessly fingerprinted mirrored pillar, just off a sticky light-up dance floor, in an unmentioned sports bar in rural Ontario.

5 comments

  • Bea Quarrie
    Bea Quarrie
    Loved your story, and all your stories to come!! Hugs Bea

    Loved your story, and all your stories to come!!
    Hugs
    Bea

  • Debbie Fleming
    Debbie Fleming Toronto
    OMG!! Such a captivating, BRILLIANT writer - and not only of songs and music!!! You GO girl! I'm a huge fan!

    OMG!! Such a captivating, BRILLIANT writer - and not only of songs and music!!! You GO girl! I'm a huge fan!

  • Carolyn Dawe
    Carolyn Dawe The Rex
    Fuuunn-neee! I snorted my gingerale out my nose!!

    Fuuunn-neee! I snorted my gingerale out my nose!!

  • Keith
    Keith
    :)

    smile

  • Lynda
    Lynda Uxbridge
    i knew it when you were eight, you'd pick him up in a bar.

    i knew it when you were eight, you'd pick him up in a bar.

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