Aaron’s Summer of ’77 Ch. 08

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Chapter Eight – Into the Trenches

8:00AM in the morning and here I am walking into the school, my first day at Algonquin.

I discover to my dismay that the cafeteria on the Campus is comprised of seven vending machines, along with chipped, plastic laminate, mismatched tables and orange and yellow ‘sixties plastic chairs in varying states of disrepair. There are ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts on most of the tables and judging from the look of the plastic, shrink-wrapped sandwiches in the vending machines, I’m guessing that even the rats and mice would turn their noses up at them. I mean really, whoever knew that a ham sandwich could have grey meat? Fifty cents for a paper cup of coffee that looks like coloured water and then I head off to the First Year classroom in the south part of the main building to meet my fellow classmates and sign attendance for orientation.

‘Good morning, izzzn’t it”

“For those of you who haven’t met me yet, my name is Camilla. Camilla Mezaros. Most of you ‘von’t’ need to remember it though, because you ‘von’t’ be here at the end of this semester…”

Camilla spends the next ten minutes repeating her diatribe about the high attrition rate and how many drop-outs she expects by the end of November. Everyone seems to be trying to surreptitiously check everyone else out in the room to make their own judgements about who is going to survive and who will likely drop-out of the Program. “Not exactly a great way to start the first day,” I think to myself, as I scan the room and do a quick count of just how many other students are in the room with me.

I count twenty-one other students, in ages from nineteen to forty-five or so. Two other guys and the rest are all women.

“I ‘vant’ you all to tell us your name and why you ‘vant’ to be a Designer, hmmmmm, izzzn’t it,” Camilla finally says after completely depressing every single person in the room.

Out of everyone, there are only five other students who even remotely look to me that they know what they’ve gotten themselves into and who’ve piqued my curiosity. The two guys of course, since we three are clearly the visible minority males in the class and then three women, all in their early to mid-twenties. As each one of them says their name and gives a brief overview of why they decided to enroll in the Program, I write each name down so that I’ll be able to remember them. Alan Abelson, Greg McCrae, Lyne Bergeron, Robyn Weissman and Diane Payne.

Alan Abelson is the first of the five to have a chance to speak.

He’s the son of a retired Canadian Ambassador who served out his last posting in some Soviet Block region I can barely pronounce, let alone spell. Alan still works as a window display and merchandising assistant for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He’s decided to take a six month unpaid leave of absence from The Bay to decide if he wants to pursue a more challenging career in some form of creative design. I have to admit, he’s as yummy and sexy as hell. Long, curling almost black hair with a ‘Tom Sellick’ moustache and an ‘oh, isn’t it all just so incredibly boring’ way of speaking that would either intrigue or repel anyone who heard him. Somehow, I get the distinct impression he wouldn’t give a damn one way or the other whether they did or not. He’s wearing a pure white, silk shirt unbuttoned half-way down to his navel and has a well-tended forest of dark, not too thick chest hair, clearly visible and just waiting for someone to run their fingers through it. His shoulders look like they could support a steel girder. His pants look like they are molded to his thighs and I don’t dare look down at his basket, although I have to admit the thought is certainly running through my mind.

“OK, Aaron, get your thoughts off his moustache and chest hair and just pay attention to what he’s saying,” I tell myself. And then I look at his eyes, which are just as dark as mine, almost black in fact, and suddenly realize he’s directing his dialogue and making eye contact more with me than anyone else in the classroom at that moment. I’m sure I’m blushing. So, I look down and just try to listen and focus on what he’s telling Camilla and the class about himself. My ears really perk up though when he casually mentions that his parents live just east of Maitland on an old stone estate I remember well and now go right past on the bus up to Ottawa on it’s route from Brockville. His parent’s stone house with the curved stairs leading up to the front door and the adjacent carriage house is only about ten miles or so east of my parent’s house in Brockville. And, the other interesting bits of information I remember are that he only lives about three blocks away from me on Elgin Street in a pre-war, heritage-designated, three-story, walk up building with leaded, diamond-pane glass windows and that he has an Afghan Hound named, ‘Garbo.’

The next one to speak is Robyn Weissman.

I will admit my opportunities to get to know or even meet anyone Jewish in small-town English Catholic güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri and Protestant Brockville were few and far between. I’m guessing that both Alan and Robyn are both Jewish. And when Robyn starts to talk about herself and why she enrolled in the Program, every dumb stereotype assumption I was ever told by every stupid person who never, ever really actually knew anyone Jewish come back to haunt me as she speaks. Robyn talks with fast, nervous insecurity and pauses after every sentence to I am guessing, seek approval or positive reaction and affirmation before she continues on with her rambling story of how her mother wanted her to do something creative and make her proud, because she could have been a famous Designer herself, if she’d had the chance. I could see Camilla’s eyes start to roll and glaze over after three minutes of this and then she cut Robyn short and said to her, “If I’d ‘vanted’ to hear ‘vhat’ your Mother had to say, I ‘vould’ have enrolled her in the Program! You’re done now, izzzn’t it!” An audible gasp from Robyn and then she appears to visibly shrink into a pile of big, fuzzy black hair, turquoise mohair and tight, white bejewelled jeans on her drafting stool.

Diane Payne is next.

Diane was studying Political Science at Ottawa University and planning for a career in the Federal Government ranks of senior civil servants. But, she always had an interest in Interior Design and as she speaks, Camilla is quiet and paying respectful attention to what Diane is saying. I get the distinct impression that Diane wouldn’t take any abuse from Camilla. It was at this moment I decided I liked Diane very much. “If she’d had a ‘wire,’ Camilla wouldn’t be pointing at it and telling her she was meek.” I kept thinking to myself, as Diane continues on with her confident self-introduction.

Then Lyne Bergeron starts to talk about herself.

Lyne’s father is an ‘Interior Decorator’ in Ottawa and has a showroom and store in the east end of the city on Cyrville Road that sells high-end upholstered furniture and offers custom furniture reupholstery services. Lyne’s history is a little bit similar to mine in that she worked for her Dad in his store and from that experience, decided she wanted to investigate the Interior Design Program at Algonquin with the objective of becoming a bonafide professional Interior Designer to help her Dad expand his clientele base and business. Lyne is focused and I can tell just by listening to her that she has discipline and clear expectations and goals from what she wants to achieve in the Program. On top of this, Lyne is absolutely beautiful, with intense blue eyes and from her clothes, makeup and general demeanor, looks like she shops in all the most expensive fashion boutiques in Montreal.

Greg McCrae is the last to speak in the class.

Greg chose a seat as far back as he could in the classroom and sat far back on his drafting stool with his legs spread as far open as he possibly could, while pretending he didn’t notice that Camilla kept staring back at him every three minutes. Needless to say, Greg was gorgeous. Tall, with dirty blond hair and obviously straight, I’m sure that Greg’s looks have made up for any intellectual or creative shortcomings in his life up to now. I keep thinking about those people who seem to be able to cruise through life without ever actually having to work at anything to achieve success. “Even though Camilla might have moist panties looking at him right now, I just wonder how he’s going to make it through this Program if he thinks he can flirt his way through every assignment?” Then I have a bitchy, jealous thought and say to myself, “I just bet Camilla never pointed to ‘his’ cock and told him he needed to get ‘his’ wire up, even though she probably would want him to in another place and time!”

Once all of the introductions are done and we’ve been handed out a photocopy map of the Campus and assigned lockers and fixed drafting board and seat spots in the First Year English student classroom, Camilla finally begins to run out of steam and tells us to turn our stools in the other direction as the folding wall between the two classrooms opens up and we are now facing Elizabeth Mountebank, who is about to start with our first classes in Design Basics and Colour Theory.

Usually, these classes I eventually came to understand, consist of anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half of lecture and practical instruction, with the rest of the three to four hour class time devoted to individual critique sessions between the Professor and the student on whatever the assignment is for that week. Students always fought each other to get the best crit’ times and if you were forced to wait until the end of a class, you usually got stuck with a brain-dead Instructor who tended to regurgitate unoriginal and mundane design concepts and recommendations that would likely wind up getting you a ‘D’ or worse, an ‘F’ when it came time to hand in the finished work. I could see güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri that this was going to be a brutal and competitive environment. My ‘wire’ was starting to pay attention.

I was to discover later, the ‘fabled’ life story of Elizabeth Mountebank. Her chief claim to fame was that of being a nubile, young Carnaby Street, British girl in a micro mini-skirt and white go-go boots, dancing her way through the early and mid-sixties to Herman’s Hermits and the Rolling Stones. She had a clipped, posh British accent and apparently some kind of Fine Arts education that helped her land this teaching gig for her in the Design Program. I’m sure that in her mind, she is still as skinny as Twiggy and just as fashionable, wearing her op-art jewelry and traffic-stopping, bold graphic, pattern-inspired clothes. To me, she just looked like some forty year old James Bond girl wannabe in total denial.

By the end of the first day, I had two assignments dumped on me with the clear instruction from both Camilla and Elizabeth to use ‘their’ name when buying materials from Wallacks Art and Drafting Supplies. No doubt, they each either got a kick-back from Wallacks for what they were able to sell us or the Interior Design Program was benefitting financially, somehow.

Lesson One in Interior Design: Always look for a discount, never give anything away for free and always look for acknowledgement whenever giving a recommendation. I was certainly beginning to learn.

My trip to Wallacks to pick up what I needed for Camilla’s and Elizabeth’s assignments was first and foremost on the agenda. One hundred dollars later and then I head back to my apartment to start to get to work.

Camilla’s assignment deals with abstract two-dimensional planes. No, not the ones that fly, But rather, what she had told us in class about points, lines, planes and volumes, which are the primary elements of design. I had an idea about circles increasing and decreasing in size and made from thick white Bainbridge board. The idea was to use the two-dimensional planes to create a three-dimensional sculpture that could be viewed from all sides and that flowed smoothly from each viewing angle.

Cutting thick, white Bainbridge board with a geometric compass and an X-Acto knife blade became an exercise in masochism after the twentieth circle. For every perfectly cut circle, four wound up being either ruined or dirty and had to be thrown out. Camilla’s last comment to us when we left the class was that ‘craftsmanship’ and ‘perfection’ were as important as the concept we were trying to convey. I worked throughout the evening and until 4:00am in the morning just to get the circles all cut into different sizes and ready to take in to have a crit’ later on that week with Camilla.

Elizabeth’s first assignment was to have us all go out to different paint stores to pick up paint chip colour samples. We were to look for harmonious colours and then do up twelve 1/2″ x 4″ bands on a piece of Bainbridge board, using no less than three colours per strip. The final effect was to look like semaphore signals or flags or military medal ribbons. The idea was to achieve pleasing colour combinations using both similar and contrasting colours in varying degrees of size and width within the bands. And once again, craftsmanship and perfection were important for the final submission.

I visited five different paint shops to get whatever paint chip samples I could lay my hands on. This took almost as long as doing the actual assignment! It wasn’t until much, much later that I clued into what some of the other students had done, namely spending money to buy what was called an Architect’s Colour Fan deck that showed perfectly gradated colours and virtually all the colours I would need in order to complete this assignment. I really wish I had scammed a couple of those paint decks from my brother-in-law’s store back in Brockville!

In the end, I simply ran out of time to complete Elizabeth’s assignment and wound up using fluorescent colours and some really intense, bright ones like ‘safety orange, and ‘chrome yellow’ that really did not look good together. As a result, I received an ‘F’ for my very first assignment with her and an official note on College letterhead informing me that, as men were more likely to be ‘colour-blind’ than women, and in view of the assignment I had just handed in, I was to go to the College Medical Clinic to be tested for colour-blindness! As an aside, I later learned that Elizabeth was a very bitter and extremely homophobic woman because her boyfriend had left her for another younger man years before.

Camilla’s crit’ with me went somewhat better. We played around with the circles in class together and I explained to her what my thinking was. She was pleasant and receptive to what I was trying to do. Her one comment was to remember that whatever I did, time and effort were always important factors. “You may have the best idea in the world. But, if it takes more güvenilir bahis şirketleri time to achieve than ‘vhat’ your client is ‘villing’ to pay, then you must edit and not do something for nothing, hmmm, izzzn’t it?” This was her parting morsel of wisdom to me before all the student’s models were to be completed and presented in class the next week.

There were other memorable moments I took away from the rest of my classes that first week.

Gordon Goodenough, a stiff, pompous and somewhat overbearing, proper British gentleman wearing ill-fitting grey flannel pants and looking as starched and stiff as his Oxford cloth dress shirt took great delight in telling everyone that no one who was left-handed like me, would ever receive a grade higher that a ‘C” in his class as they could not draw without smearing their work when working from left to right. Then he handed out an assignment for ‘architectural lettering’ on a huge sheet of white velum that I just knew would take hours and hours to complete.

Lynda Naagy-Birdsong was as flighty as her name. Again, we got the life story of everything we never needed to know about her. Blonde, carefully coiffed and on the far side of forty, Lynda was yet another one with some obscure Fine Arts training and background. She took great pains to explain to us that yes, while married to some high-level Federal Government Deputy Minister and not needing to really work, she was merely teaching as a time-filler and hobby because she felt that her talent just simply could not go to waste and as such was compelled to share it with us, her students.

The only one out of all the Professors and Instructors who seemed to be whatever passed for normal in this Program was Alan Farside. He was in his mid-forties, had a full Ernest Hemmingway beard and a deep baritone voice and a patient, engaging manner. Out of all the first week classes and assignments handed out, I felt that his was the most valuable as he in fact actually ‘did’ have an Architectural and Design background and education and had worked for a major Toronto real estate developer doing hotel planning before he joined the Faculty in the Design Program.

“God! What the hell have I got myself into with these people! I wish I had my phone installed ‘now’ because I really need to talk to Adam and Mom and Dad!”

“Thanks for the easy-to-remember phone number,” I say to the Bell telephone clerk behind the sales counter. “My mentally-challenged sister can only remember simple numbers. So I think that 233-0330 with only three numbers for her to remember in it will work out just fine. And yes, if the installer can come later in the week to hook up my red Contempra wall phone, that would be perfect. Thursday afternoon would be great, Thanks!”

As I leave the Bell Telephone service kiosk in the Mall, I think to myself, “Thank God Adam gave me that spiel about having a ‘special-needs’ family member to score a good phone number. God, I wish he were here with me right now!”

“Heya, cookie! Ya’ got your phone installed, I’m guessin’?”

“Hi Adam, ummm, yeah, I did this afternoon and my number here is the same area code as you with the numbers 233-0330. Thanks for the advice about getting an easy-to-remember phone number. It worked out perfectly!” I say to Adam.

“Told ya’ babe, I’m not just a pretty face ya’ know!”

“Well actually you are, But I prefer your big dong and your hairy man ass and I wish they were up here right now with me, wookiee. I miss you!”

“Ah, cookie honey! I miss you too, baby.”

Twenty minutes of conversation later with Adam telling me he’s jerking his big, hairy dong off on the other end of the phone line toward the end, and then I say goodbye with a promise to meet him the following weekend at the bus stop when the bus from Brockville pulls in right after 9:00pm.

A new week and more assignments and Camilla’s class starts first thing on Monday morning. I walk into the class, only to find that Alan Abelson is now occupying the drafting stool right beside me, having bribed its occupant to exchange places with him.

“Hi Aaron, figured we cute gay guys should stick together in this class. Hope you don’t mind me sitting beside you?”

“Ummmm, no, I guess that’s OK.” I say to Alan.

“You and I live close to each other. And I know where your house is in Brockville. It’s a nice little place your parents have there. Uh, maybe we could go to the Coral Reef Club or to the Lord Elgin sometime when we don’t have any assignments to do.”

“I promised my friend, Adam that I would let him take me to those places,” I respond.

“Well…maybe some time when he isn’t around then,” says Alan.

“Uh, sure, OK. Oh we better pay attention. Camilla is coming in now.”

“Vell, good morning class izzzn’t it. Let’s see ‘vhat’ you’ve all been able to do for your first abstract assignment…”

Camilla has a pointer in her hand and is wearing that ridiculous red velvet bow tie on and Alan leans over and whispers in my ear, “Well, at least she has her lips on straight today!”

As Camilla walks up and down the long tables where each student has placed their Bainbridge board assignments, she takes her pointer and starts to smash some of them and knock them off the table, as she proceeds to the front of the classroom.

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