Literature allows us to expand our perceptions into other people’s reality. We may think we understand what is going on in their lives but until a writer gives us the opportunity to immerse us into somebody else world, we are truly at a loss to understand what problems and issues they may have. Jesse Gilmour has given us a detailed glimpse into Toronto’s darker side with his novella The Green Hotel.
We live in a two-floor loft a block away from Chinatown, but you can see it from the window in my room. In the day it’s depressing, figures moving too quickly, selling garbage. They strike me as the kind of people who wouldn’t help you even if you really needed it.
At night it’s pretty, though. It’s a mysterious place and even before we moved to the area I’d go there as a teenager, always at night, just to walk around and watch the people in the corridors of gambling halls and in the windows of the orange-lit restaurants. There were alleyways in Chinatown that seemed like they’d been there for hundreds of years. I’d sit in them alone and smoke cigarettes, and later on, I’d go there to drink.
Gilmour captured a bitter slice of reality with his protagonist Hayden and his suicidal father. They exist in a world of booze, drugs, and petty crime. But considering all the hopelessness that his life contains, he has small moments of profound thoughts that provide some glimmer in his life.
One night I caught her praying in the bathroom – her hands clasped over the toilet seat. I’d never seen anyone pray before. At first I thought it was a joke. Like she was going to turn around and grin and say “gotcha!”
I was bartending the lunch shift at a sports bar on College Street at the time. They had pictures of Sylvester Stallone everywhere – not movie shots, they looked like personal photographs. Sly outside of a barn, Sly next to the refrigerator . . .
It was weird.
My shift ended around the time she finished school (she was taking philosophy at York) and almost every day after work I’d step out into the street with a pocketful of money and there she’d be on the patio, her green knapsack on the chair next to her, her hair in braids, smoking a cigarette and drinking something orange and sticky and glowing. The Portuguese guys would stare at her.
We’d go all over the city. We’d go to High Park or to Scarborough – anywhere we hadn’t been before. It didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t Chinatown or Yonge and Eglinton. We’d find parks, usually. We’d find parks and kiss. She had a way of touching me that calmed things. It made me light-headed, dizzy almost.
Gilmour’s words here are both lyrical and frank at the same time. In that manner we understand both the quagmire that surrounds Hayden’s life and the beauty of what he desires. It is an easy read but one that is full of depth at the same time.
In June one night, I came home from work and her mother was standing on the front porch in a rain jacket smoking a cigarette. She looked kind of sexy, her hair matted, her eyes dim. She told me she was sending Samantha to rehab in California. The place cost twenty thousand dollars. She was leaving in three days. I asked if I could go upstairs and see her. No, she was sleeping. I had to leave, now.
I still remember the consecutive amount of raindrops vibrating through my work fleece when it hit me.
I wandered around for a little while and then I went back to my father’s. I hadn’t seen him, or spoken to him for more than a year. I passed the abandoned house on the way up my old street. Our door was open.
He was sitting on the couch in his boxers with one sock on, The X Files on television. He looked okay, he had colour in his face and the house was clean. The was a poster of Britney Spears in a schoolgirl’s uniform on the wall in the kitchen.
I told him what had happened; he nodded like he already knew.
I asked him what was going to happen to me, now that she was gone.
“Of course it’s raining, right?” he said.
I went into the kitchen and made myself a pop tart – then I went back into the living room and asked him if he wanted to paint me.
He said, as we moved into this study, that he had taken nine sleeping pills and drunk eight beers – and for the first time, in a long time, he felt really good.
The Green Hotel by Jesse Gilmour gives great insight to a reality that many of us may not be familiar with. Filled with frank and lyrical writing, it is a novella worth the read.