There is a type of person who aspires to live in weird places.
Like, a lighthouse, say.
Or, a converted barn.
Yes me, but not just me. There are other weirdos about.
Behold the Tiny House movement.
Naturally, I would love a Tiny House.
Of course, a vintage Boler is really a kind of Tiny House.
Arlo Guthrie memorialized the cool, weird house back in the 1960s with his song, “Alice’s Restaurant” in which Alice, Ray, and Potcho the Dog lived in an old church.
My dad introduced me to the song when I was about 12. As an adult, my friend and fellow Alice’s Restaurant fan, Bamboo Guy, even owned a church that was very swoon-y. Bruce Cockburn lives there now and how cool is that?
I’ve wanted to live in a church ever since.
And, even before.
In fact, my fascination with weird houses manifested itself as a child when, with every snowstorm, I attempted to build a house made from snow.
Unfortunately, I never learned the Inuit tradition of igloos (although I tried to build one many times!)
Usually, it was just me and my sister with shovels and soggy mittens, making a hole in the snow bank at the end of our driveway and trying to pretend that the result was a cozy as a Hobbit house.
In a melty, collapse-on-your-head kind of way.
My mother was concerned (as all Canadian mothers were) that the snowplow driver would kill us, by accident, with all that gallivanting at the street side.
That meant, my other option was an old margarine container in the back yard.
I would pack the snow in the container tightly, then tip it out carefully on the ground.
Sometimes, it was that dumb sugary snow that wouldn’t hold together.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
Other times, it was close to Spring and my “bricks” had a lot of leaves and twigs in the mix.
It marred the pristine, crystalline, margarine beauty I was going for, but I tried to just pretended it was mortar.
I wonder if Frank Lloyd Wright ever had these kinds of issues?
I’d lay out the floor plan: kitchen here, library here, secret passageways there.
My projects always seemed to cover the whole back yard.
Not one able to keep to minimalism even then, no siree.
Which meant that either I got discouraged, or the snow melted before my margarine-tub-formed walls were more than about ankle height.
As an adult, I drag Practical Man around to look at every weird building I can find.
Yesterday’s schoolhouse was very fun.
Built in 1847, it counts as “very old” among buildings in Canada.
It was kind of in the boonies, of course, since that’s where country schoolhouses tend to spring up.
It still had slate chalkboards.
Be still my heart.
There were tin ceilings in what used to be the girl’s and boy’s entrance foyers. Oh yes, they were of a time:
And the original schoolhouse lights (SIX!):
Swoon-y swoon, swoon.
As you may have observed, it even had a bell tower.
Ding, ding, ding!
Minus the bell, but I’m sure we could remedy that.
Alas, it had a bidding war planned for Monday and about 10 years of hard labour involved after purchase.
Boo, hoo, hoo.
One of the things stopping me from buying some of these weird buildings (besides a usefully-practical Practical Man) is their one-room schoolhouse size.
Since we can’t usually afford the life-size ones that don’t have 10 years of hard labour, I’ve been collecting small buildings.
Fisher Price vintage ones.
I’m sure you guessed that’s what I meant, since I have no children and I’m pushing 50.
They do take up a bit of space, as you can imagine.
So far, I have a castle:
an A-frame Cottage:
and perhaps best of all,
the School house:
This Schoolhouse was the perfect price and size.
It even has a bell in the bell tower.
Practical Man often says I was born in the wrong time–that I should have been a hippy. Maybe he’s right. Case in point:
- I love Volkswagen anything (as long as it’s pre-1980).
- I have a tendency to decorate everything that doesn’t move (and even some things that do) with bohemian prints.
- 95% of the guitar music I play is 60s and 70s folk.
I would have liked being a hippy, I think. Except for the straight hair and no bangs thing.
Let’s just say that I have forehead issues.
So, I can’t truly be a hippie, now can I? First of all, I can’t even spell it. And I’m sure that hippies were more about peace, love and all that good stuff and not so much about the forehead vanity.
I know I should be thinking about pilgrims and injustices perpetrated on aboriginal peoples and green bean casseroles, but at this time of year, I can’t help it. I think about the dump and VW microbuses and a strange and mythical place called the Group W Bench.
It all started 32 Thanksgivings ago, when my dad introduced me to Arlo Guthrie’s iconic Vietnam protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“.
I learned to love it–and now, I’m learning to play it on the gi-tar–with feeling.
So far, I’m pretty terrible but, in my defence, I’m a lot older than Arlo was when he first came up with the concept of an 18 minute and 34 second song.
My fingers, not to mention my will, are weak.
What can I say, I’ve been wasting my life, obsessing about my forehead.
But, I can play the chorus:
I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain it for 5 minutes though, let alone 18 minutes +.
The point is, I’ve also been inflicting Alice’s Restaurant on as many people as possible, since I first fell in love with it as a teenager:
- In 1996 (after I was old enough to know better), a friend and I attempted to write the lyrics (all 18 minutes and 34 performance seconds of them) in black magic marker on his bathroom walls.
- I met my friend, Bamboo Guy, partly because we bonded over the fact that he lived in a church, just like Alice and Ray and Potcho The Dog, from the song.
- My dad and I saw it live in 2005 during the Alice’s Restaurant 40th anniversary tour.
And, I’m not alone in my quasi-obsession. My uncle Putt reportedly played and sang Alice’s Restaurant to countless Inuit listeners, while he was working in the Canadian North in the early ’70s. He and my aunt recently gifted me with something I’d never seen before:
The Alice’s Restaurant book!
It doesn’t have “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us”, but, it does have groovy sketches.
Soooo very groovy. I wish I could show them all to you!
Yep, as many of our southern neighbours are sitting down this weekend to what we up north call “American Thanksgiving”, I can’t help thinking of Alice and her restaurant and how one young guy took his peaceful protest on the road, way back when.
Protests go so much better with a gi-tar, don’t you think?
Although the Vietnam War and Alice’s Restaurant came about before I was born, I feel as though the past couple of weeks may have felt a little bit similar to what things felt like back then.
People feeling strong feelings.
Neighbours worried about neighbours. Or, angry at neighbours. Or, bewildered by neighbours. Or, disappointed by neighbours.
Something about neighbours.
Kinda tense, as I said.
But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about giving thanks.
That’s why I called the post, “And now, for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”
Thanks–to Arlo (may I call you Arlo?), for showing me that we could believe in something and deliver a message to people in a way that made them smile, while also making them think.
Thanks–to my dad, for sharing Arlo with me and Uncle Putt for giving me his long-treasured book. Thanks–to Practical Man for driving all the way to Stockbridge, Massachussets to visit “the scene of the crime” and for listening to me squeal my way around the countryside that led to The Church. Thanks–to Fairy Godson’s parents, who went to the ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale (accidentally) on Cape Cod and got to talk with ACTUAL Alice and then they brought me back a Christmas ornament from ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale that ACTUAL Alice used to have in her living room on her Christmas tree!
Thanks– to Arlo again, for being a role model in the never-ending sentences and segues that have become his (and, okay, you may have a point here: MY) trademark style.
And, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” and I also hope you walk into the shrink wherever you are,
Just walk in and say, “Shrink,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”
and walk out.
If one person, you know just one person does it, they may think she’s really weird and they won’t pay attention.
But if two people do it…in harmony, they may think they’re both Canadians and they won’t pay attention to either of them.
And if three people do it…can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!
And, can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day…walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?
Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT.
And, that’s what it is.
The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the gi-tar.
Like many people, I often blame my father for the person I am today.
For instance, I have inherited his (and his mother’s) earlobes.
And, we both love pickled eggs.
Our hair colour has progressed through the same blondish, darker blondish, non-descript mousy (the kind the dye commercials always show to try to entice you to jazz up your blah), and now, brown. As someone who has always identified myself as blond (and in my 30s, with a little help from some jazzing up), it’s still a little startling to notice that I now have completely natural brown hair.
Yep, it’s my Dad hair with no jazzing and I am embracing it. Next stop for me, I hope: the beautiful white of his beard and hair.
I also hold him largely responsible for my vintage leanings.
He was the person pointing out the difference between old cars like Aston (Martins) and Austin (Healeys) and bringing home strays to fix up (Triumphs, MGB, 1936 Dodge…) He was the person playing us Vietnam protest songs like Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant from the 60s, even though I was a teenager firmly in the 1980s. He was the person who said in 1999, “Wow, those new bank machine things sure are handy, aren’t they?” even though the rest of the world had been using them for a decade.
Yes, this Father’s Day, I blame my father for the person I am today. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s a big reason why I’m so odd and, of course, wonderful. And also, why I’m still using cash instead of those “new fangled” debit cards.
Today, Dad and I (and our matching earlobes) plan to spend the afternoon together at…where else? An antique car show. Except that it seems to be raining. And dad feels the same about The Nature as I do.
Maybe we’ll cozy up in his MGB with a jar of pickled eggs instead.
Love you, Vat. xoxo