Friday, July 30, 2010

I just don't do comic strips like I used to.

I guess I blame the internet.  And by extension I blame the fact that I no longer get a daily paper delivered to my house.

I was laying in bed this morning thinking fondly on the days when I looked forward to getting home and seeing what could possibly happen next in Bloom County.  Bloom County was the pinnacle.  Berke Breathed's strip was socially relevant, absurd, hysterical and his story lines would often carry the reader along for weeks.

There were others that brought me back time after time.  Calvin and Hobbes, of course; and the best single frame comic in the history of print media, The Far Side.  All three of these comics had the heart-breaking good sense to quit while they were ahead.  (Although Bloom County kinda resurfaced as the tepid Outland - which raises the question that perhaps Breahted had already peaked but no one had noticed yet.  Outland was followed by Opus which I had never read a single panel of before looking for the link to cite this sentence.)

Some other strips got read regularly along the way, but none really had the drawing (pun intentional) power of the residents of Bloom.  We used to actually talk about these comics at school - what would Bill the Cat do today?  I laughed so hard, did you see yesterday?

Today I enjoy an occsional XKCD or Dinosaur Comics and for a while I tried to follow the plot on Achewood, but the fact is that even with RSS, I just don't have patterns in my life that compel me to slavishly follow any of them with the discipline that blew Bloom County off the page and into my life six days a week.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Demetri and Fionuala's Wedding

I have been fortunate to have a large number of really great friends in my life and I think I am quite justified in not referring to any single one of them exclusively as my best friend.  The specific roster has changed and I've always exerted some degree of restraint in keeping the numbers down - I'm guessing that I've never called more than three people my best friend at one time.  But there is one unassailable point: For thirty years Demetri has always been one of them.

He got married a week ago tonight.  I was there of course - in London England for the first time.  It was a fantasic event.  I was there from the Monday onwards, but things really got going on the Thursday with the rehearsal, which was followed up by the rehearsal dinner, and then a less exclusive social drink in the atrium of a hotel where many guests were staying.
Friday afternoon Demetri took Mido (the groomsman) and myself (I was the bestman) for our wedding-party gifts.  He had his suit custom made for the wedding - his gifts to us were shirts of our choice (including the detailed, hands-on attention of the shop's proprietress... er... that sounds dirty - I assure you it was not) from the same shop.  It was quite an experience, and it is easily the best shirt I've ever had.
That evening was the pre-wedding drinks and socializing - which I wrote about in part in a previous post.
And of course Saturday was the wedding.  It was pretty awesome.  The main venues - the church, St. Ethelreda's - the oldest Catholic Church in England is really amazing.  Its not lavish and ornate, its simply grand in its history.  Its hard not to be moved by the fact that Henry VIII took confession there when he was still a Catholic.
The reception was held at the Foundling Museum (not to be confused with the Fondling Museum - a joke that kept resurfacing all weekend).  Which when I saw it the previous day struck me as a nice museumy kind of place... but when we got 150 guests in there it came alive.  Putting celebrating people in front of the paintings and other exhibits made it all suddenly seem grand.
Sunday was much more relaxed.  Jodie and I had time to go to the British Museum and see the Rosetta Stone before joining the happy couple and other guests in watching England's unfortunate World Cup route by Germany.  (There had been great relief that it had been the U.S./Ghana game that was played on Saturday, not the England/Germany game.)  Following that was yet another get together - food and drinks at a pub for all the North American guests who travelled.

It was a really great four days.  The weather was outrageously clear and warm throughout.  I'll have to include photos once I've got them posted.

But that is all set up.  Really what I wanted to do was post my Best-man's speech for posterity.  I spent about six months on this - honestly.  I thought about it many nights as I fell asleep and I made sure that I got some of my most puerile material out of the way at the stag back in March.

I had notes ready when I got to London, but I didn't do my first full draft until we had landed.  I did a second draft the morning of the rehearsal and then, because of events in the rehearsal I added more (as will be obvious - as I mention that very fact) before the day before the ceremony.  Naturally, when I actually gave the speech, this text was merely a guide and I said the words that came to me, though Jodie assures me that I was close... except for the part where I started to cry.  (I made it as far as the Gabriel Garcia Marquez quote.)  Yeah, well... what can you do?  Demetri's my oldest best friend and Fionuala (whose name I was mispelling until sat down to write this post - how embarrassing) is a wonderful lady inside and out... I am so happy for them both.

Demetri spoke before me, and as always he was a hard act to follow - which I also commented upon at the top of my speech. 
I’ve been asked to keep this under 45 minutes, so we should probably begin. I have a lot of ground to cover.

In preparation of this toast I found myself creating a new blessing. “Everyone should have a friend like Demetri.”

In the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “He is my soul’s friend.” I have known him for ¾ of my life, and even the most difficult times we have spent together have been among the most enriching of my life, and it is a proud honour to stand here for him today.

I’ve promised Demetri for over two decades that I would come and visit him here in London. I never have until now, and it seems to me that this is an extremely severe tactic he’s employed to get me across the Atlantic at last.

Indeed, from the moment I found out he was getting married, I knew I was going to come and be here with him and that was long before he asked me to play the role of best man.

I can understand that the selection of the person who will be your best man is a difficult choice, after all, you have to consider that before the occasion is over they will deliver their version on this very speech. It is important to pick someone who has known you long enough to speak from a wealth of kinship and yet, there lies the trap... they’ve certainly seen you in your least proud moments.

When I look back at the embarrassing tales I might tell about him and our exploits of the past 30 years as friends I find that I am hard pressed to shame him. He is a man of exemplary character and if anyone comes out on the embarrassing end of our hi-jinx, it is me. But I won’t bore you with those tales.

Indeed, until the wedding rehearsal, to his credit, I had thought of nothing to roast him with. But then Mido and I both noted with amusement a part of Demetri’s character that endears him to us, and if the two of us recognize it, then perhaps you do too.

I have met few people in this life who are as eloquent as Demetri. Anyone who attended his father, John’s service bore witness to Demetri at his best in this. He delivered a eulogy of deep honesty, emotion and illumination that at the same time was built upon a beginning, middle and end, complete with bookends that elevated his tribute to his father to a work of art. No doubt John would have been as proud then as today.

Yet within Demetri’s eloquence, I know no one who is simultaneously capable of putting his hoof in it in with such spectacular panache. Yesterday’s incident wasn’t even a good example of it. He merely widely mis-stated which cities some of today’s guests were coming from. It was enough to remind us though that he is capable of some extreme howlers.

I recall a day in mid-highschool where he and I went for our first appointment at the gym we’d bought membership at. Our comely instructor asked if we were still in school. Demetri snapped at bait that simply wasn’t there – accepting an imaginary compliment and informing her that he in fact had a few years before he graduated. She gave him a withering look and said “I meant is school out for the summer.”

I attribute this side of Demetri to a very special strength. A fearlessness. One which marks the earliest days of our friendship. We became friends initially through an unlikely confluence of meetings, crossing paths variously at an extra-curricular presentation our sisters were both involved in; at a movie and a class – all in the span of a few weeks. At the third encounter he met my eye and at the ripe age of ten or eleven declared “we’ve got to quit meeting like this, people will talk.” That moment is so fixed in my memory that I have used that same joke numerous times in my life, and like so many things I have shared with him, it has become vocabulary for me. To explain any of our in jokes, for instance why I can never hear the phrase “strong bones and teeth” without grinning and thinking of him would take a very long time and probably require a powerpoint presentation – which I have been denied.

And so he lives his life. Unconcerned of the scattered mis-steps. It is certainly a pattern I have noticed, but I am hard pressed to provide good examples. He knows that his slips will fade in memory and his successes will live on. We will count the hits and forget the misses- just as I have largely failed to come up with a really solid tale of Demetri’s shame. And so it should be.

But I will tell you this tale. One that Demetri may not even recall himself. When we were still in our teenage years, Demetri was on the verge of coming here to live for the first time and I was on my way to University on an Island off the wild coast of British Columbia... we had spent the night with other friends before setting out on what would be the beginnings of our adult journeys through life. In the morning we left together, but at the train we were literally headed in different directions. We stood on opposite platforms and waited for the trains to arrive. The story is as simple as that. I don’t recall whose train arrived first. But at that young age the metaphor was extremely potent for me. I know I sat on that platform wondering if that might have been the last time I ever saw the person who I had for years called my best friend.

Spoiler alert – that was a naive fear. We could credit a wealth of at that time unforeseen communication opportunities – email, skype, cellphones and deregulated airfare (which clearly I was not the one who took advantage of.) But more than anything I credit the resolve of my friend. We never lost touch, always had plans and though the rogues gallery of people I have called best friend has expanded and changed over the years, Demetri was always there and he was always there first.

In a sense, the modern symbolic duty of the best man is one of letting go. To formally pass the baton and relinquish the title of best friend. But that isn’t going to happen, we’re just hopping on a new pair of metaphorical trains, both with similar familial destinations, if different routes. Demetri as husband, myself soon to be a father. And this time I am not so naive to think that we aren’t making these trips in a tandem that I can only imagine will last us the rest of our lives, and I heartily welcome Fionuala in as part of the most rewarding collective friendship of my life.

For those here as Demetri’s friends and relations who haven’t adequately met Fionuala, I admit my acquaintance with her is also still short, but I can tell you this. When I first met her a few years ago, she was bleary-eyed from jet-lag to Vancouver and was turning into a pumpkin almost right before my eyes.

At his first private opportunity, Demetri jabbed me between the ribs and through teeth clenched out of a need for confirmation asked “Well...? So...?” And I told him the one thing that was self-evident. “Demetri, you have had some wonderful girlfriends, but for you, she is the best that has ever been.” And in the half-dozen times I’ve spent with her since she has yet to dissuade me from that position. And considering the occasion, Demetri must feel the same way.

For those of you on the other side of this union, wondering who this Demetri character is I provide you this, which as a soon to be father – biggest compliment I can imagine:

In 30 or 40 years when I first let my daughter date, I can only hope she brings home a young man (or woman) who reminds me of Demetri.

I am so happy for both of you. I can’t for the life of me figure out how two people as wonderful as you two made it this far without being snapped up. But I am so glad that it hasn’t happened ‘til now. Because your commitment to each other makes me very happy. So happy that I’ve arranged a surprise – a medley of Beatles love songs played by the National Vuvuzela Orchestra of Ghana... apparently they have more important things to celebrate.

So please drink with me in joy to Demetri and Fionuala, I love you both. This will certainly count as one of the hits – live fearlessly and put your hoof in it with panache.