On Saturday morning, I took a cue from a roving balloon that temporarily moored itself in the patch of unclaimed garden between my front yard and the nieghbour’s.
“Let’s Celebrate!”, it said, bobbing gently atop its long orange tail. It swirled and danced in the wind, hopping over the sidewalk, and then diving onto the grass and flopping about like a beached fish.
“Let’s Celebrate!” bumbled over into the space that is more certainly my yard, and edged towards the stairs. Perhaps it was seeking home, a place to rest, or a gathering that would echo its far-flung origins.
“Let’s Celebrate!” was untethered and curious, unbounded by conceptions of lawn and sidewalk and street. I thought of the terror that could ensue as a child tried to recapture this wandering party, or of a car swerving to avoid it. Perhaps this was too much celebration for a quiet street.
I wedged the long orange tail between two fence boards, leaving some leeway for the the nodding balloon’s face to play in the breeze. It picked up speed and raced from side to side on its newly shortened tether, an inverted pendulum swinging in protest of its assigned post. But it was held lightly, I didn’t expect it to stay, and I had a date to keep.
* * *
The Food Truck Wars at Manyfest were more of a short-lived battle. Both sides of the street were bumper-to-bumper for half a block, but each one offered much more than a meal. My chosen truck would either win or lose according to my palate and/or mood; The Walleye Wagon was only up against itself, and then I was full.
We saw friends, friends of friends, family, family friends, strolling up and down the truck-lined street and nibbling their chosen bites curbside. Some to nod and smile at, some to pass along the verdict handed down upon our respective meals. We found my brother on his bike, wearing the same boots as me but in a different colour, carrying his camera. I shared that my fish and chips was more chips than fish, but the fish was tender, crispy, and quickly devoured. The chips defeated me. He was on a bike lock mission, unimpressed by the street festival, already moving on.
The walleye settled into my stomach while we wandered through the artisan’s market. Another block full of tables and tents and shiny things, makers proud of their wares and hoping for a sale. My backpack grew heavier as I collected candles scented with rose, vanilla, and root beer (still gripping my empty Dr Pepper can, I was an easy mark).
And then we stumbled onto Giant Jenga.
There is no point in resisting its lure – if I see Giant Jenga, I play Giant Jenga. I become Giant Jenga. I draw an imaginary cone of concentration around Giant Jenga and the drama of life is reduced to a carefully balanced tower of wooden bricks. It must grow at all costs. It must grow and not topple (though we know it will always topple, we play to prolong the inevitable).
Some passers-by offered a play-by-play and seemed to be drawn in momentarily, but they were quickly pulled off towards the idea of the next spectacle with the precise Canadian 30-second attention span my busker friend had calculated. We weren’t performing, though. We were engaged in an exacting sport, a carefully calculated competition, a collaboration in suspense and measured risk.
“I can’t believe it’s barely swaying in that wind!”
“Oh no, What am I going to do here?”
“I don’t knoooooow…”
“Right, take the easy one from the top!”
I crouched at the side of the tower, squinting, watching for light slipping through the cracks, a sign that there was room to move. Block by giant block, it rose, it swayed. It was over four feet tall, maybe four and a half. The bottom third became a skeleton; the peak was a solid mass.
The end could come at any minute, or there could be no end. There was only now. Sun, wind, smiling people out on the street. Slow, gentle movement. Relax. Focus. Celebrate each small addition, each moment stolen from game over and added to what’s next.
I tapped a corner brick in tandem with the wind’s gust. The whole structure collapsed into my arms, and I laughed and let the pieces fall to the ground.
We rebuilt the tower for the next set of players and parted ways.
* * *
Stopping for a coffee on the way home, I stumbled on the Sherbrook Street Fest. I took the last empty table, a solitary island in the middle of the street, castaway from the sociable huddle shopside, on the sidewalk. I didn’t mind the spot. I enjoy the feeling of being alone in a crowd, though the best kind of alone is found in a sizeable crowd. Being alone in a scattered array of strangers feels more like a stray dog, looking into every face for possible friendship.
My pen lurked above my notebook with no real intention of making contact as I stared off into the middle distance, half watching people, half watching the flutter of the cheery banners strung up across the street. Another friend crossed my sightlines, said hello, and moved on, carrying a small book from the local anarchist library.
A mayoral candidate was talking to the CBC to my left, showing off her love for the city and this neighbourhood, this festival, the young entrepreneurs building the area up. “This is the spirit of Winnipeg!”, she exclaimed, and then behind her was my brother again, walking next to his bike. We’re like homing pigeons, he and I, tuned to the same social trajectory, drawn about the city as if we were pulled by the same magnet.
He was less impressed by the scenes than I’d been, and called it Nothingfest. “Everyone shows up, and there’s nothing!” he joked. But his spirits were soon lifted by the sight of a dog that looked like it was made of a mop, a man with a parrot on his shoulder, and a younger version of my old dog, Shadow. More animals, or less people – what was the magic ratio? I spotted a FREE HUGS sign being held above the crowd, but little Shadow saw no point in asking and just jumped in, giving me a big kiss on the lips.
* * *
I came home and found a waving blue face reminding me of the day’s mission. “Let’s Celebrate!” it asked again, but I had, and moved on to the back stoop.
I heard its constant protest from the front fence, inflated silver crinkling and bouncing against fence boards. Perhaps it would be happier among the peas and beans in the garden, I thought, so I brought it back with me and wove it into the chicken wire. Even in the still breeze, it continued its dance, nodding out a silent eulogy for the party it thought it was missing.