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Essay #5: You Can't Go Back

(NOTE: Watch how this piece of writing sort of ran away on me at certain times and took on a life of its own.)

This is going to be a fairly short piece of writing, because I don't think I need to go on and on about things that don't really matter just to make a simple point.

Have you ever felt like a third wheel? Have you ever felt excluded? Have you ever felt upset that you were just everyone's acquaintance all through high school... lots of acquaintances, but no real friends?

If your answer to any of those above questions is 'yes', I honestly can't help you, as I am facing the same problem myself. I'm constantly faced with a situation of a zillion people from my former high school all knowing exactly who I am... while they continue to maintain their circles of friends, go on to become apartment / residence roommates, and tell their private jokes and go to parties I (almost) never hear about (not that I would really be welcome, but anyway). I am almost always the third wheel, and I'm getting kind of tired of it. I am certain that many other people face the same problem every day, but it might be even worse for them because they might not have the infamy that it takes even just to make acquaintances.

<sigh> I guess it's not so bad. "So what if everybody but you is already everybody else's best friend and you'll be on the sidelines forever?", is what I should be saying. And, in all fairness, there are a few people who try to include me among their crowds of friends; sadly, they are rarely successful.

What would make this short article an essay would be the fact that I'm trying to argue something and present evidence for it. I can't completely fulfil this obligation - even just with anecdotal evidence - because it would simply not be fair to the people I mention. And specific people don't really matter anyway; it can be almost anybody. So I can just forget the idea of mention names. Names are passé.

But I suppose I might as well tell The Ultimate Third Wheel Story to you. That's not all it's about... in fact, it's really more about my entire trip to Prince Edward Island last weekend. Since everyone is always asking me "how was your trip?", I suppose it's just about time I gave them all an answer.

Square One Shuttle

Square One Shuttle Inc. - William's preferred method of transportation to Prince Edward Island and back. $45 will take you from the Zellers entrance of the Bedford Place Mall in East-Central Bedford all the way to the Dunkin' Donuts on University Avenue in North-Central Charlottetown. A special $85 (save $5) return fare is also available. And I'm even neglecting to mention the fact that you can get picked up or dropped off at your own home if it's close to the route... ask for details about your specific location. Square One Shuttle's 'offices' are in PEI (New Dominion), and their daily runs start/end someplace in downtown Halifax, but I'm not precisely sure where. Square One Shuttle can be reached at 1-877-675-3830.

There are basically two types of trips you can embark upon aboard these minivans, a quiet trip or a chatty trip. It all depends on the personalities of the other passengers that get picked up. This time, the trips were quiet both ways. The weather was crappy on the way up Friday evening, but the funny thing is, things didn't turn slushy and misty until the moment we crossed over onto the new section of the 104, the Cobequid Pass Toll Highway. I thought that was kind of funny.

After a quick stop in Oxford, followed by another two hours or so of not being able to see the road (except on the Confederation Bridge), we finally arrive in Charlottetown.

Mildly Amusing Story

On the way to my Aunt Donna's house (don't have any pictures of her at the HQ as of December 2000, sorry) in her very comfortable (compared to the center-row, right seat in the Grand Caravan) Honda Accord, I remarked upon the fact that Prince Edward Island's traffic signals conspicuously lack 'flashing greens' (a complete, arrowless, flashing green signal that essentially means you have the right of way in all directions and do not have to worry about interference... such as, to make a left turn), and that people I've talked to (there) thought it meant things like 'stop, then proceed' or 'go left only'.

Islanders aren't really to blame for the misunderstanding... traffic lights outside of the city of Charlottetown are a relatively new invention, and Islanders simply don't get exposed to the full gauntlet of driving situations that people in other places do. People on PEI, at least a good majority, lack skills such as merging, adjusting mirrors properly for multi-lane traffic, and interchange comprehension. I had a small amount of adjusting to do myself... when I first moved here (fortunately, that was grade seven, long before I was behind the wheel!), I thought that a flashing green was the same thing as an advanced left-arrow green (which occasionally permits a two-way left turn - that is, with oncoming traffic... these things are all over PEI at virtually every traffic signal), so I was convinced for months and months on end that people who went straight ahead on a flashing green were doing something wrong. But fortunately, I soon did some reading to find out that I was the one, in fact, who was wrong.

So where is this pointless story going? It turns out that they installed a flashing green signal somewhere in Charlottetown, but it had to be taken down within days because no one knew what it meant.

Triple Threats

This is sort of a sad story. A long, long time ago, I was involved with an amateur theatre group called Triple Threats (the name meaning a group of talented performers able to sing, dance, and act with equal fervor and ability). In fact, the whole purpose of this recent visit to PEI was to attend a special "15th anniversary Alumni Day", which included a couple of productions and a dinner.

So why is this sad? Several reasons. First and foremost, while Triple Threats (ie: Brian Stevens, the director, manager, ... everything) still is reasonably successful in its (his) attempts at bringing out the best talent in children and young teenagers, the organization as a whole has come down in the world.

Picture this: A huge Confederation Centre Mainstage (exact same place they do Anne and Emily!) production of The Wizard of Oz almost ten years ago. Picture a very young and somewhat more portly William Matheson as Mayor of Munchkin City. =) But go further than this, of course... picture a dynamic, engaging cast made up of children, teenagers, and even some adults and seniors. Three words: This is big. It's sad that I didn't really see past the end of my nose while I was involved, but hey. You would have a very hard time distinguishing this from a professional production. All the elements were there... and it went great. A week's worth of good-quality productions for bussed-in schoolchildren culminated in a huge Saturday night finale. Life was fantastic.

This experience, this huge personal high of being on stage - a real stage in a real theatre for a professional-calibre production - needs to be experienced by absolutely everyone with any talent whatsoever. Maybe some people like me won't truly appreciate it until later, but it is important. If not vital.

This is not to diminish what a group of six young teens and pre-teens managed to accomplish at the Arts Guild for a small, but appreciative crowd on the Saturday afternoon I was there. Their re-working of The Legend of the Gogglebox Monster (one of Brian Steven's twenty-plus original musicals, which I happened to be in, on the Mainstage, the year following Oz) was a joy to behold even in it's relative simplicity... with Brian Stevens there playing his MIDI keyboard while these six talented young people did their best to take us all to Gogglebox land on a grassroots level. But it's just not the same. And the irony is that Brian would probably be the first one to agree with me... as important and rewarding as grassroots theatre is, it's really nice to be able to bring down the house in a place where people expect, and receive, more.

The problem is mainly financial. Time at the Confederation Centre of the Arts is expensive. And there are no discounts for charitable organizations such as Triple Threats. Another one of their problems is the recent lack of public (and parental) interest; in addition to the long-departed adult classes, the extension classes in places like Montague and Souris have passed on, presumably due to drops in attendance.

But hopefully Triple Threats will return to its former glory. By paying their dues at Farm Safety and Literacy fairs, and working their way up at small theatres like the Arts Guild, Triple Threats can claw its way back into the hearts and minds (and the media) of Islanders everywhere.

So with that neatly out of the way (on a happy note, no less), what's the other reason that the story of the Triple Threats Alumni Day is sad? The reason is personal, the reason is quite in tune with the theme "You Can't Go Back". To put it simply, I didn't really make any friends in the group when I was there. This, compounded with the fact that I had left after two years (basically because I moved over here!), leaving the rest to go on without me, basically meant that I was sitting at a table with a bunch of adults who were in Oz and happy to talk with me, while the only other people my age sat at another table and regaled themselves and told their private jokes... that doesn't bother me at all, I understand that, but wasn't anybody going to say 'hello' to me? Or share a fond memory with me? Laugh about something? Wasn't this supposed to be a reunion?

There were a couple of specific people I wanted to see... they weren't there. I had some kind of image in my head that I'd fit in with all these people in a way that happens even at CPA or SMU once in a blue moon... we'd regale ourselves and meet each other all over again... that didn't happen. I have one very pressing question: Is my high school reunion going to be like this?

Oh boy. Well, even if I didn't get to have a real conversation with any of my peers, at least I saw a few of them again. And I did get to talk to Brian at some length, which was nice. And I would be remiss not to mention my old buddy Simon, who basically saved the day for me.

Simon attended the Souris Triple Threats classes up until the point that they were disbanded. He's a few years younger than me (he's 13, actually), but we've known each other for years and years and years. His mother took us to lunch at the Seatreat Restaurant, and that combined with my podmotive explorations of downtown Charlottetown (namely, the Confederation Court Mall!) and what was positive about the Alumni Day, made the whole thing worthwhile.

Things Change

But the big part of my "You Can't Go Back" is that things change, even on PEI. It's not that I completely abhor change or anything, but PEI was sort of acting as my perpetual oasis for many years on end, and now this illusion is beginning to disintegrate around me.

Find out who your friends are. Make contact with some people you haven't seen in years. If they respond, and (this is the critical part) don't stop talking to you within a week or two, then you can rightly call them your friends. This works for both friendships and prior romantic interest... but with the romance-hopeful stuff things generally go to pot fairly quickly. I've got one remaining 'romance-hopeful' out there whom I haven't made contact with (she doesn't live on PEI, but that's probably a point in her favor).

But maybe I'll hold off trying to get in touch with that woman for a while, and if I do, I'm going to drastically change what I expect to have come out of it. For now I've learned another lesson: people (and, ergo, feelings) change. This seems like painfully common-sense advice, but it's important for me to say that just because two people are in love with each other at one point doesn't necessarily follow that it can pick up again seven years later, especially if the initial relationship wasn't really a relationship. =) More on that another time... right now the whole situation would be hard to lay out for someone, especially since I'm trying to avoid the use of names, or even places. (You wanna know why I did all that writing about Souris? It's because I never lived there, plus I really like the place.)

Here's a sad story with a happy ending: I happened to be in the area of a couple of very old friends of mine whom I knew very well a long time ago, but we hadn't seen each other for over five years. I phoned their house and asked to speak with their mother first before introducing myself (memo to self: do not do this anymore, it continues to be and always has been disastrous), and she didn't remember who I was. Naturally, expecting to hear "Why, it's William! How are you?", and instead hearing "What are you selling?", I was kind of floored.

But for some reason I got it into my head to write up a note and attach it to the videocassette I was returning, and asked my second cousin who was at the house I was phoning from to deliver the note to one of the brothers on the school bus. I left my web address on the note, almost as yet another afterthought.

Bingo. Two days later, all is straightened out, and the mother expressed that she was very sorry for not realizing that it was me at that moment, and now I'm into a regular online dialogue with the people in question. So sometimes making contact really does pay off. Or sometimes it results in even further estrangement. (memo to self: do not ask best friend of former romantic-hopeful whether or not former romantic-hopeful still has a boyfriend... well, at least remember for next time, if there is one...) I guess that's the tragedy of the whole thing.

I said that this was going to be The Ultimate Third Wheel Story. I'm kind of glad that it didn't turn out that way... anyone would be able to predict how it would turn out, and it would be more depressing than entertaining. Am I living in denial about the seriousness of this issue? I don't think so. There's enough good things going on all around that I shouldn't be dwelling on a few small misfortunes. And there are the few, the proud, the mighty... a few people who at least say I'll fare better in the future... you know, let's hope everyone fares better. Happy Holidays.

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