Room with a loo

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"There is nothing which has been yet contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn."
- Samuel Johnson

The ladies' room at The Ship is nothing spectacular - two stalls, invariably scarred with inane graffiti - gold-coloured walls, a built-in bench seat, sinks that have seen better days.
Last week, it evoked the most remarkable sense of deja vu.
I was at a book launch and had popped into the ladies' room to freshen up, when I was suddenly awash in history.
My own, as it turns out.
I was washing my hands when I looked into the mirror to see a face that was mine, but nearly 20 years younger.
Back in the early '90s, we were in the middle of a recession, too, but that one seemed much harsher - perhaps because I was in my twenties and earning a younger person's salary and living in an apartment in a row house on Gower.
Downtown St. John's was like a ghost town, with shops sitting empty, their bare windows staring woefully back at you when you walked by; the only thing in them your reflection.
Office space was plentiful and cheap. There were fewer signs of luxury - no Golden Tulip, no upscale shoe stores, no boutique hotels and, in fact, few boutiques.
A bunch of us - public relations people, journalists, francophone association executives, social workers, teachers, computer programmers, medical librarians, academics - would count down the last few minutes to quitting time on a Friday afternoon and hightail it to The Ship for happy hour.
(Wags out there familiar with The Ship back when the decor was decidedly more dreary will point out that "happy hour at The Ship" is an oxymoron.)
Not so many years later, when one friend lay dying of cervical cancer at age 32, she lamented how many hours we had whiled away there, squeezed into reclaimed dark-wood church pews with our bottles of Northern Light or India Ale spiked with Rose's Lime Cordial, ashtrays overflowing on the table.
I always disagreed, and find it hard to regret many of those hours - the intense, sometimes heated conversations, the music, the overwrought poetry readings, the camaraderie, the laughter.
Being there last week brought it all back.
Blasts from the past
August 1995, my 30th birthday: drinks at The Ship before dinner out. Having to push tables together to accommodate us all. My boss reading a poem he had written for the occasion, called "Frammy's Lament."
Hopping into a taxi one summer evening with a slightly older friend, who is as delighted as I am aghast that the cabbie has mistaken us for prostitutes:
"We're going to The Ship."
"What ship, my love? There's lot of ships in."
Winter nights, rushing down the slushy stairs of Solomon's Lane and briskly beating snow off coats and scarves, sliding into seats to bask in the heat of a woodstove, the air filled with Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" - along with the scent of stale beer, damp wool, musty carpet and the wet black Labrador retriever stretched out on the floor.
The comforting feel of being a regular. Of knowing the bartender's name, and that she is really an anthropologist-in-waiting, and not just a slinger of suds.
New Year's Eve, watching regular folk arrive, their ordinary clothes abandoned for leather and sparkles and sequins. Seeing a former English prof glide in all glam and glitter, wearing a feather boa and looking like a 1940s movie star. Greeting a journalist friend who has arrived, eyes sparkling, with a new beau; the sudden realization that she is in love.
Seeing the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature the following year, his head thrown back in laughter, the pints of Guinness bought by admirers lined off on the table in front of him. Your own first glimpse of local celebrities: a young Rick Mercer. Andy Jones. Andy Wells, back when he still said hello.
And best of all, last week, being there with my husband at a book launch, and seeing so many old friends after so long.
You realize then how busy life becomes and how fast the years slip by. How little time there is now for happy hour and heated arguments about who influenced his generation most, John Lennon or Kurt Cobain, Jesus Christ or Elvis.
You realize how much lives can change - have changed - in those years since you were 25 and 30. How you have become less used to hardship and more acquainted with subtle luxuries - stretching your hands out in the ladies' room at The Ship and waiting fruitlessly for the taps to turn on automatically, like the ones do at work now. Not having to avail of the two-for-one Jockey Club special.
Now, I would not want those old days back for anything, but I wouldn't surrender many of the memories, either. Fond memories, of a time when life seemed to stretch out endlessly ahead of us.
When we were no longer kids but not quite adults, and there was always time for happy hour.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Ship, Northern Light, Guinness Jockey Club

Geographic location: St. John's

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  • Sean
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Thanks for that Pam. It was a very enjoyable read. At 42 years of age I can feel where your coming from for sure.

  • Chris
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Pam,

    In middle age (cough, cough), its nice to look back at those times with fondness and remember more carefree times shared with good friends. It always brings a smile to my face.

    Where your choice of watering hole was The Ship, ours included the ''old Breezeway (where the line up started at 11 or so on Friday mornings) and the Roxy on Water Street you couldnt beat its 2-for-1 Dark n Dirty.

    While your conversations centred on poetry or politics, ours were heated discussions on the finer points of growl. God forbid if you played the wrong card. And while you may have rubbed elbows with Nobel Prize laureates, we rubbed elbows with Phantom Riders. But hey, to each their own.

    I agree with you, it was not time wasted. When I recall those times back in the early to mid 80s, I get a sly grin and sometimes laugh out loud. It makes me appreciate the friends I had then and still have today.

  • Sean
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Thanks for that Pam. It was a very enjoyable read. At 42 years of age I can feel where your coming from for sure.

  • Chris
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Pam,

    In middle age (cough, cough), its nice to look back at those times with fondness and remember more carefree times shared with good friends. It always brings a smile to my face.

    Where your choice of watering hole was The Ship, ours included the ''old Breezeway (where the line up started at 11 or so on Friday mornings) and the Roxy on Water Street you couldnt beat its 2-for-1 Dark n Dirty.

    While your conversations centred on poetry or politics, ours were heated discussions on the finer points of growl. God forbid if you played the wrong card. And while you may have rubbed elbows with Nobel Prize laureates, we rubbed elbows with Phantom Riders. But hey, to each their own.

    I agree with you, it was not time wasted. When I recall those times back in the early to mid 80s, I get a sly grin and sometimes laugh out loud. It makes me appreciate the friends I had then and still have today.