A swim in the morning

It’s 7 am and dark outside. It’s the last week of November and the first time I feel the chill of winter run down my spine as I step outside of my house. I don’t wait to cross the street because it’s still empty. I clutch my bag tightly to my chest hoping to warm myself. When I get into the car my fingertips instantly freeze when I touch the wheel. I drive fast towards the community centre. I’m not a morning person, but I love driving in the morning. I love listening to the ramblings of the radio, the obscure tunes the DJs sneak into the playlist. This morning it’s Smashing Pumpkins, 1979. I park in the lot by the elementary school the centre is attached to. When I get into the reception I’m greeted by the low hum of fluorescent lights and a tired looking man sitting behind a counter. I give him my five dollars and he points to the changing rooms. The instant I step in the waft of chlorine fills my lungs. It doesn’t bother me. It hasn’t for a long time. My childhood was spent in these type of centres. In these type of public pools. My mother was a swim coach until she switched her career when I was a teenager. Since I could remember I was brought to her practices to be looked after until I graduated to actually being part of a swim team myself. The smell is comforting to me. Pools were my second home growing up. I feel comfortable here.

Here is what I think of when I think of swimming. Overheated rooms. The faint smell of B.O and stale moisture. Pitch black early mornings in the dead of winter. Lying on warm wooden benches with my eyes closed listening to the rhythmic splashes of my mother’s swimmers. Whistles. Granola bars. Apple juice. Empty schools after hours for me to explore. Finding an unlocked gymnasium and sliding across the floor in my socks. Giant swimming parkas I would curl up into and fall asleep if practice ran late. The permanent wet spot at the bottom of my backpack from my towel and bathing suit that never had time to dry from evening to morning. Stiff blankets from motel beds when my mom dragged my sister and I to competition weekends. Later when I competed, the smell of everyone’s duffel bags in the designated area of the bleachers for our team. My hair feeling like straw. The empty pit that was my stomach after a gruelling practice and burping chlorine up. My mother’s face in the bleachers the time I got out of the pool in mid competition, my last competition, before I quit.

I put on my bathing suit and step out to the pool platform. It’s separated into 5 lanes. The first 2 house a flock of Asian elderly women gossiping loudly in their own language, while half-heartedly bouncing up and down in mock exercise attempt. Their husbands sit on some plastic chairs on the other end of the pool. They have their swimming trunks on, but don’t look like they will be going into the water any time soon. They stare at me, pale and stiff, standing at the edge of the middle lane where only one older man is splashing wildly trying to swim the butterfly. The lone lifeguard, a bored woman my age, is sitting at the other edge watching me expectantly. So are the older sitting men. I jump in, waiting for the cold to hit my body and give me shivers when it runs through my hair, but it’s pleasantly lukewarm. I stay underwater. I can’t remember the first time I went swimming. Since I could walk, I could swim. It’s one of the few ways I can ease my mind, a rhythmic movement that shuts down all my thoughts and makes me focus. My breathing. My body. They have to be in sync. I come up for air and put the palms of my hands on the tile. I count to three and push off. I stay under and let myself glide for a few meters to feel the familiar sensation of water sliding past me like silk. I start a crawl. I’m already on the other end but it feels too short. By the third lap I feel a burn in my leg and I know I’m going too fast. There is no reason for me to be going this fast.

I spent almost every day at a pool because of my mom’s job. I started associating water with play time. Hours and hours playing out every underwater sea adventure my imagination could create. I hated when she took my sister and I to competitions. I couldn’t go swimming and had to spend all day sitting in the bleachers reading or doing a puzzle. At competitions they would lock the doors of the building the pool was attached too so I couldn’t explore. Finally, the day came where my mother deemed me ready to join a swim team. By this time we lived in Gatineau and I was a pre-teen. I had grown to love water. I wanted to be in it all the time. I just wanted to swim forever. It was my safe haven. I quickly realized competitive swimming was entirely different. And I hated it. I was a good swimmer though, and was always called up for competitions for my team. One particular competition I was doing the 100m backstroke event. By my last lap, through the muffled shouts of my team and audience through the water, at the last strain in my muscles as I reached behind me to touch the wall, all I could hear in my head matching the beat of my heart was I hate this, I hate this, I hate this. Competing had taken everything I loved about swimming and turned it into something mechanical that was starting to give me borderline panic attacks as soon as I dove into the water.

It takes all my focus and energy to slow down. I want to swim for half an hour, if I keep this up I will be winded in 15 minutes. I think of my mother who was a swimmer that didn’t make it past The Olympic Trials for her team as a teenager in Berlin. She doesn’t like to swim. I rarely see her swim. I see her in bodies of water, but she glides around in a relaxing manner. I think of how rarely I swim. The last time I was in a pool such as this doing lengths for exercise was 7 years ago at UBC. I think of swims in between then. The time Norm came to visit, and being a former swimmer himself, we swam out between Jericho and Kits beach. We swam for almost an hour until we were so far out that we couldn’t hear the city anymore. It was the middle of the night, and we stayed out there, floating on the salt water until the sun began to rise up. Here, in this community pool, I try to enter that state of mind. I try to relax. Just because this isn’t an open body of water, doesn’t mean it can’t be relaxing. I think of the emails I have to send when I get into work. I think of what decorations I want to buy for my annual Christmas party. I keep a steady pace. Breathe in. One stroke. Two stroke. Three stroke. Another breath. Consistent. Don’t push yourself.  The old man I am sharing the lane with begins to annoy me. He doesn’t know how to swim and keeps veering in the middle part. I dive under and go to the furthest lane. The fast lane. One man is doing a great looking breaststroke. He has proper technique and I wonder what his past life as a swimmer was. He begins a crawl, but I am faster. We silently begin to compete until I feel the familiar burn in my shoulder. It feels good though. And it feels good going this fast. We keep this up for a while until blissfully, I feel every thought lift out of my brain. Before the man can notice, I swim back to the middle lane which is now empty. I watch as he stops and looks for his competitor. I admire his broad shoulders. He takes off his goggles and cap and sees me in the further lane. He dunks his head underwater and then leaves the pool.

One of my favourite swims of all time was in August 2011 on the island of Naxos in Greece. My friends who were traveling with me were lounging on the beach, sunset was approaching, but I was ready for a swim. A real swim. I didn’t want to swim out a few meters and enjoy the view. I wanted to swim. One friend called out a warning to not go too far, and in my head I smiled. Although my close friends know of my swimming past, they never understand just how long I can go, and when I’m committed to a real swim. I waded past the shallow part of the beach and began. Further and further, salt stinging my eyes, the flat rocks below me getting foggy from their depth. Slow and steady, water turning pink from the slow setting sun. I felt weightless. Like I could swim all the way back to Athens. I reached a lone buoy and straddled my legs around it. It was silent out here. I floated on my back, letting my ears dip below the water so I could feel the pulse of my body. This is how I like to swim. Swim till I feel alone and everything is quiet.

I stand in the middle lane watching the small waves of the pool. I turn my head to the large pace clock on the wall. The enemy of my youth. The hands go between intervals of 15 seconds. I eye the green hand. If I take it, I got 30 seconds before take off. I shut my eyes and calm my breathing from the races I had with the man. I don’t know why I want to compete with myself, but I do. I think of all the pools I’ve floated to the bottom, where you can stay as long as you can stand it, where your heartbeat is the only thing you hear, I focus on that silence. I look at the clock.

3

2

1

I push off. 50 m crawl. I think of holding on to my Dad’s shoulders as he did laps in a pool back in East Berlin. I think of my sister dunking my head underwater in our pool at our house in Gatineau. I picture my mother following along the pool edge at competitions yelling GO! GO! GO! I think of the salt water in Naxos. I think about the things I have lost and I go faster. The burn of my muscles feels exhilarating, and just for a second nothing else matters but this race with myself at 7:30 am in a community pool filled with elderly Asians. I touch the wall and look up at the clock.

55 seconds.

I smile and dive underwater to the deep end. I take a deep breath and let myself sink down to the bottom where it’s quiet and all I can hear is my heartbeat. My ears begin to pop. My lungs ache. Time to face the day.

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The Vancouver Of My Past

This summer I reached my 7 year anniversary of living in Vancouver. I feel like after 5 years of living somewhere you can start calling yourself a local. You’ve made some roots at certain establishments. You’ve discovered some secrets about the city others don’t know. You can genuinely complain about tourists getting in the way of your morning routine. You have a couple of indie bands that you pray stay hidden in your small club forever so you can selfishly enjoy them. With the years you accumulate though, you sometimes don’t notice the change around you, until you pass by an old store front and realize it’s not there anymore. Even scarier, you realize a whole new generation of said city won’t have any memories of it. It now only exists through you. After only 7 years, Vancouver has changed quite a bit for me since I moved here at the age of 19. Here are a few things that exist in my memories, and that I will hold dearly on to. I’m sure some will ring a bell for Vancouverites.

 The Buffalo Club

This bar was on Granville Street right after Davie Street. It was completely unassuming from the front, and constantly confused if it wanted to be a music venue or a club. During the week it would run a battle of the bands of local acts, on Fridays it would feature an actual popular local act (usually a cover band singing everything from Weezer to ABBA), and Saturdays they would crank top 40 hits. This meant it was popular with young students like myself. It was one of the first bars I frequented in my first few weeks in Vancouver, and our relationship grew from there. In fact, it was where I spent my first night with Drew and Sean on a Tuesday evening where we proceeded to get hammered and a friendship was born. It closed down when I was 22 I think, and remained closed for a few years, until it was turned into a sport bar named The Forum. The Buffalo Club hosted some of my best nights in Vancouver with some of my best friends. Godspeed. Things that may or may not have happened at The Buffalo Club (and by that I mean they 100% did):

– Me making out with the lead singer of THE OPENING BAND.

– My 20th birthday where every single person in attendance made out with each other, and I was left without a birthday kiss until my Vancouver Film School classmates felt sorry for me. I was granted the lips of Brittany AND Brian.

– Dancing in cages.

– Brittany getting a shot bought for her and then straight after making out with a guy on the dance floor in 10 MINUTES FLAT.

– Steamy make-out sessions done on the back stairs on dirty carpet (shudder).

– Having a drink thrown at me.

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Night of my 20th birthday with Caely-ann and Sean.

4th Ave Graffiti

Before starting school in October 2005, I worked for a small television show who’s offices were located at 2nd and Fir. Not a bad spot to spend the first few months living in Vancouver. I discovered Granville Island and Kits Beach. Most mornings I passed by the intersection at 4th and Fir, which at the time had a huge music store with a giant mural on it that had been there since the early 90’s by an artist named Archer. It featured a slew of celebs like Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe. Since I rarely pass by there these days, I was floored when I heard the music store had shut down and had been replaced by an animal hospital, and they had painted over it! Very sad.

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The Bourbon

Oh my lord the Bourbon. The Bourbon still exists. But it is not The Bourbon. In my film school days of 2005-2006, this was still a shit hole. Since my schedule in school was out of whack, and we were conveniently located at Homer and Hastings, we had time to get acquainted with all the dive bars down there before Gastown was revamped. The Bourbon was always a choice when we were done a film lesson (sometimes building a whole set for one camera test) because it was a 3 minute walk and it was CHEAP. Old geezers sitting at the bar would watch us youngsters play pool and pound back pitchers. A few years after I graduated I ventured down there and was surprised to see that the pool tables were gone, a stage had been built for music acts, and an actual dance floor was present. They also charged 10$ cover and a DJ would be playing on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s evolved beyond that to a full blown country bar for UBC students. It features a mechanical bull to make the ridiculous cover worth it. Oh Bourbon… may you rest in peace.

*** Special mention to The Lamplighter. Before it got bought out by the Donnelly Group and turned into another club, this was hands down one of the grossest places in Vancouver. I know this first hand cause I spent a week shooting a short film in it. You do NOT want to know what the carpets looked like in day light. The bathrooms were a warzone. They never cleaned. Ever. One part of me is glad to see it has been sanitized, but I feel like a true history of Vancouver was taken away. It still had an old stage with the red velvet curtains. The historic wood covering the walls. It was an institution.

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Shooting at the Lamp before renos.

Granville Street

Granville Street looks beautiful now. No doubt. It was the bane of every Vancouverite’s existence from 2008 till the Olympics since it was under CONSTANT construction to get the new Sky Train line, and revamp the street for bigger sidewalks to accommodate the amount of people that would be downtown for the 2012 Winter Olympics. So many new stores and restaurants have opened since then. Everything looks cleaner, safer. But sometimes I honestly miss the Granville Street I first met. The fucking dirty smelly tight ass street that housed sex shops and clubs. I remember walking from school all the way up there (about 20 minutes) and just loving it. Even the bums and crazy people, loved them all. I remember stumbling out of bars on a school night on those tiny sidewalks, traffic going everywhere, buses honking, people yelling. Even though that any given Friday you will still find drunk people yelling on Granville Street, the cops are smart now and close down traffic and try to control everything. Back then, there was no control and everything was out of whack. And it was soooo dirty. But there was nothing like getting out of The Morrissey at 1 am and having the number 17 bus standing right there for me. I used to love the part where you had The Commodore, The Plaza (RIP before it became another standard club) and the Orpheum with that huge central bus stop in between them. The lights. The people. The street artists. I miss it.

Marc’s/Tomato Fresh Cafe

Back when I lived at 8th and McDonald in a big ol’ Heritage house, there was a bar within 100 m walking distance called Marc’s. There was nothing special about it, the only reason I went in there was for happy hour. As long as you were buying drinks, you got free wings. Best deal ever. It closed down and was replaced by a great restaurant called Tomato Fresh Cafe that till this day had my favourite breakfast. It was my father and I’s go to place when he would visit. I even took my sister when she came for a visit as well. Memories of Franz slurping on chocolate banana milkshakes and Caely-ann and I having Sunday breakfast are still strong. At the beginning of summer I biked by and was shocked to see it was gone. It was my place next door. Everyone should have one of those in their life.

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Proof Marc’s existed – drunk Jordan and Drew enjoying happy hour and befriending a German man in 2006.

Richard’s on Richards

This one will tear at anyone’s heart from Vancouver. One of the best music venues the city has ever had. I’ve enjoyed bands here before they got to their next level of fame (which meant graduating to The Commodore). From Band of Horses on a memorable Canada Day, to introducing my friends to Cold War Kids. I also had a 5 hour dance party to Hey Ocean on a week day once. Fun fact, Courtney Love bared her boobs there, but she wasn’t playing, it was a Lemonheads show.

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The Marine Club

To be honest, I only went here once. But it was one of those old dirty haunts that downtown Vancouver did so well I had to include it. I also keep it close to my heart because the night I went was one of the funniest/worst/random nights of my life. I was at school till 10 pm supervising my classmate Natalie editing my short film I had directed. The first screening for teachers was tomorrow so everyone was freaking out. I decided we deserved a drink so we met up with other people up the block at Malones. I got a text from a friend who’s first gig with his band was at the Marine Club. I had promised to come out for support so I took my half drunk daiquiri (it was the drink special. I was a broke film student. We made due) and made my way up there. Oh The Marine Club. It’s basically a rec room that smells like an ashtray. I watched the gig which ended up being hilarious only because my poor friend was so nervous and it showed. His other friend and I ended up heckling him with things like “PLAY PANAMA”. By the time I went back to school to put my film on tape for the screening it was 2 am and I was tipsy. And of course the fucking tape deck wasn’t working. I passed out on one of the couches till 6 am. I went outside to get a muffin, only to discover my bike had been stolen. I ended up losing my shit on my producer who was late for the screening in the lobby phone.

“CODY YOU BETTER GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW. I SPENT 3 HOURS THIS MORNING GETTING THIS THING ON THE FUCKING TAPE AND MY BIKE GOT FUCKING STOLEN AND I’M HING OVER. THE ONE TIME I FUCKING NEED YOU, YOU DECIDE TO NOT BE HERE.”

All this was done in front of students who were getting their first day tour. Film school is fun kids!

A & B Sound

This two floor music shop is now occupied by super club 560. But back in the day I would spend time in between classes looking through albums to kill time. When it closed I wasn’t surprised, just nostalgic to my teen years when visiting a record store was a normal occurence. When HMV finally closed on Burrard and Robson as well, it was the final nail in the coffin. Digital music has taken over. First time in my life I felt old.

98 B-Line

This express bus used to run through downtown and all the way to Richmond. It was the only line that went to Richmond. It was the one bus you could take to get your ass to the airport if you had no friends with cars, or enough money for a taxi cab. Considering I fly all the time, the 98 and I got real cozy. Having to drag my giant suitcase on it was always a good time. Also not a good idea? You and your hung over roommate dragging a new Ikea dining table on it. Worst idea Franz and I ever had. The 98 was taken out of commission once the new Canada Line Sky Train was completed.

The Hollywood Theatre

Just like Tomato cafe, this theatre was located right by my house in my Kitsilano days. I loved that it still had the old time ticket box in the front, and smelled like thousands of memories when you entered. There was something so cozy about sitting in this theatre, it made me nostalgic for all the movies in the 40s and 50s. You could see a double bill there for 7$. It was wondrous, and a great place for movie buffs. After 75 years, it was closed in 2011, and it was really, really sad.

Weird Random Building

To complete this list, is something only I probably noticed. From the time I could remember, any time I crossed the Granville Street Bridge from downtown, there is a building (probably somewhere on 5th and Fir) facing downtown that ALWAYS has it’s light on in the two upper rooms on the last floor. Since the wall is all window, you can completely and clearly see the inside of both offices. One was painted all bright blue, the other yellow. It was my light home. Ah yes, there is the office. It was like a greeting. “On your way home Julia?” Even lying on the bridge after my bike accident, there they were, looking down at me, offering light and clarity. I always wondered what happened in those offices during the day. Who worked there? Why did they never turn off the lights? This summer on a bike ride home, I almost braked in the middle of the bridge. THE WALLS HAD BEEN PAINTED. The colourful rooms had been replaced by stark white walls and new furniture. Why this affected me so much, I have no idea. But the lights were still on. The day those lights turn off I feel like I will have to move. My time in Vancouver will be officially done.