They Used To Call Me "Space Cat " - #1 - California Scheming
Back in high school, my friends used to call me "Space Cat" - not necessarily in a derogatory way. Truthfully, I have to admit the name fit me like a glove. Not so much in the hipster sort of way of being a cat, such as "jazz cat", or "cool cat". But more like I'm a mythological cat, that prowls the unknown recesses of space, nimbly leaping from one idea to the next and always on the hunt for the kind of mental and spiritual food that satisfies the deepest hunger - creative inpiration! Of course, in order to find these new ideas in unchartered space, you have to be bold, fearless, cut the psychic embylical cord and sometimes freefloat and see what galaxy you end up in.
This all traces back to me sitting on my granddad's knee. Sounds like a folk song, but in certain ways it is. He used to read me the National Geographic and I'd ogle pictures of guys with ruddy faces, beards caked with ice standing on some frozen outpost at the South Pole. Or lanky dudes in Pith helmets riding on the backs of camels throwing long black shadows against the endless, burning dunes.Granddad was the original adventure storyteller, and he incited in me a strong desire to "touch the wild". The words, images and emotions of Grandad's stories was the green light, the OK the Space Cat needed to leap out there and hunt even deeper into the jungles of outer and inner space. OK...this all sounds really prosaic, right? Well, in actual reality my first experience played out a little differently and ended up kicking my ass.
Now, before I begin this story, I have to give a disclaimer to my mom. First, there has never been a more loving and supportive person in my life than my mom, who was also highly artistic and inspirational to me.That being said, mom, if you're reading this, you may want to stop here because I'm about to unleash the one story you dread to hear. OK, picture high school. Remember how restricted you were, with overflowing quantities of lust flowing through you? In my case this was 20 plus years ago and the lust was wanderlust. Of course, some things were different, then and some exactly the same. Specifically the fact that you are still under your parent's roof and the giant omnipresent thumb of high school - and subsequently under their control. That is exactly what lays the foundation for the following story.
One day, in the dead of Canadian winter, my buddy Hugo and I came up with the idea to travel around the world. On the weekends. Without our parents knowing about it. We were deeply inspired by the movie Dead Poet's Society, the central theme being "Seize the Day". Now reflecting back on my grandpa who fed me all those delicious stories as a child, I knew that one day I would be like him looking back and whatever we did would be OK, regardless of the consequences in real time. The first thing we did was choose a destination. We both agreed on California. Me because I was an actor in high school, studied acting and Hollywood was on my mind. Hugo probably because we were freezing and California has sun, beaches, babes...whatever. It just sounded like fun.
I told my mom that our friend in Northern Ontario invited a bunch of us up to his house to go skiing over a long weekend with Friday and Monday off. The plan was for me and Hugo to convince my mom that we were staying overnight at our friend Neil's house who lived a couple hours away. That of course was a lie. Actually Hugo and I would spend the night at the airport for an 8 AM flight on Thursday. The only obstacle was my mom's morning schedule. Why would we leave so early for school? To make it all believable, Hugo came over Wednesday night, grabbed the phone in our family room and pretended to be talking to his mom, who lived on a farm her husband (Hugo's dad) having recently passed away . Hugo said in a purposly loud voice, "What? You want Geoff and I to come over and help move some heavy stuff?" Meanwhile, knowing my mom was overhearing this I said,"Forget it Hugo, my mom would never let me go and stay over" This worked like a charm. My mom said "Of course Geoff will help..." Bingo, California here we come. Meanwhile I'm stomping around in my ski boots, and non-stop talking about pole length, parkas, anything to make this appear to be real.
Great. But there was one big problem. There was a Mom and Son luncheon scheduled at the school on Thursday. Thinking ahead, we called Neil and convinced him to ask his mother to lie and say that I was actually taking an acting class in Montreal since his mom was sympathetic to the arts. The web got thicker and slimier when his mom agreed, but at least we were covered. I also pleaded with my mom to boycott the luncheon because of the way things were being run at the school...anything I could think of to keep her from finding out via one of the other moms. We were playing my mother like a grand piano. The next day I packed up my sweater, skiis, boots but secretly had my shorts, sandles and sunblock in another part of the suitcase. Mom drove us to school and we jammed our ski stuff in the lockers.
As soon as she left to take my sister to school, Hugo and I took a cab to the airport. Thinking ahead, we had already called my friend John in LA who was set to ask his mom to pick us up at the airport. After a mostly sleepless night, we boarded the plane at 7 AM. Within a few hours I was staring down at the winding orange and red rockwalls of the Grand Canyon. There's no turning back now.
Soon we were landing at LAX, an event that made an indelible imprint on my 17 year old mind; one that persists to the present day everytime I fly into LA. Tall swaying 80 foot stems with clusters of leaves sprouting off the top. I think they call them palm trees. Bright, bright sun and perfectly clear blue sky. A little dazed and trying to wrap our minds around our newly transformed reality, Hugo and I set off for the baggage claim. Within literally minutes after arriving, blam! - the cosmic pin hit the great cosmic bubble as a voice over the PA rang out in slow motion, echoing like the incantation of a spectre from hell throughout the terminal. "Geoff Browne...pick up the white phone. Geoff Browne pick up the white phone". I froze like a gizelle with the jaws of a lion wrapped around it's neck, somehow accepting its inevitable death. We are so freaking busted!
Hand shaking, I picked up the phone. It was my LA friend John's mom! The one who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. She was totally unaware of our devious agenda and was calling to say she was late driving up from Laguna Hills. And by the way, Geoff, I tried calling your mother to tell her I'd be late. "WTF??", I thought but didn't say. But then she wasn't home. "Heeeah...whoooo",I continued internally. But her answering machine was on. "WTF????" I screamed almost out loud. Anyways, I decided not to leave a message....
We were totally relieved until we finally got to John's house, and checked in with Neil to see if anything happened at the luncheon. Turns out, his mom covered for us as agreed, but Neil ended up confessing the truth. "Geoff", I said to myself, wrenching back my shoulders and straightening up from my shrunken position, "It is time to be a man. Face the music. Pay the piper.Explain in clear, level headed tones that.... But my mom didn't give me one beat to say anything. "Where...in...GOD'S ...name...are you?!!!! she said. I have been calling everywhere...everyone...all your friends. Nobody is at the Chalet skiing.We all thought you had gone missing!" I took a deep breath and began my reply which was interrupted by my mom's lowest and sternest voice, "You are in deep shit when you get home." Then she hung up the phone.
I also hung up. Looked Hugo in the eye...took a beat and said "No defeat and no surrender!!!" Let's rock 'n'roll!!". Before long we were in the back of a pickup truck headed for Tijuana singing the Doors "Oh shooow me the waaay to tha nex whiskey baar..." Before we headed back I made a quick stop at the barber shop to get a short haircut, hoping I would look cuter to soften the blow with my mom.
Two days later Hugo and I were back in LAX, silently sipping Caronas dreading the doom that lied ahead of us as we prepared to board for the 6 hour flight back tosnowy Toronto. It was late at night as the cab crept up the long driveway of my house, the tires crackling on a fresh glaze of ice. The house was dark. No signs of life. I pictured my mom sitting in a rocking chair in the hallway with a loaded sawed-off shotgun. The door creaked open, but noone was there. The Space Cat had returned with a Mexican blanket under his arm and a necklace of Puka shells. I deftly tiptoed on rolling feet like a fox to my room, knowing that maybe in 20 years I'd be writing this story.
Were there any consequences? Well, the laws of Karma always seem to step in no matter how righteous you think you are. Besides from being grounded for 3 months, my punishment was my mom cancelling an opportunity she helped set up which would have allowed me to follow a well known director on the live set of a film being shot locally. My dream come true was shattered. The director even called me, completely exasperated that I cancelled, having set up an exciting day for me. Now I was the one who was pissed at my mom.
"Listen mom", I pleaded, "would you rather me seeking my thrills and adventures by scoring some acid at school...or spreading my wings and touching the wild?" No answer of course, but I knew that deep inside, some part of her did understand.