Canadian Godot

Oct 26, 2012 | News Item, Postings

I don’t drive at night. I barely drive at all. Then at times I feel the need to be brave.

A week or so ago I found myself on the road to Brockville, making the hour and fifteen minute journey from Ottawa to the Brockville Museum for an evening reading. A simple route, the 416 to the 401 to the second turn-off, and then down to the water.

It was pitch dark by the time I finished the reading and it was raining. An angel named Doreen guided me back through town. I followed her truck and it was a merciful sight. On my own it would have been like threading a needle in the dark. She indicated the entrance to the 401 with her turn signal and sailed off, while I turned right into the valley of death.

I had an apple. I had Leonard Cohen. I kept my mole-eyes peeled for the turnoff to the 416 and nearly missed it when I second-guessed the direction. The truth is that I can’t see when I drive at night and I can’t think. Numbers and directions shred in the hurricane of my doubts. Eventually Ottawa came into view, another merciful sight, only to disappear as I sailed on by.

And that’s when I started to rewrite Waiting for Godot in my head.

If Beckett were writing now instead of in 1948, the two tramps would be in a car on a very dark highway in the Ottawa Valley, not knowing where on earth they were or where on earth they were going, and all of this not knowing would be happening at 110 km an hour.

I was near Almonte by the time I found a turnoff. A service station; a Kitkat; a word of advice from the recent immigrant behind the counter, and I traced my way back to Ottawa on lanes narrowed by orange cones into bowling alleys from hell. When finally I got home, hungry, exhausted, nothing Mark said seemed other than patronizing and nothing I said was other than self-pitying.

In 1956, in a letter written to Desmond Smith, a Canadian interested in staging Waiting for Godot in Toronto, Beckett urges him to “see the thing primarily in its simplicity, the waiting, the not knowing why, or where, or when, or for what. The point about Pozzo, for example, is not who he is, or what he is, or what he represents, but the fact that all this is not known.”

The letter is a reply to the one he received from Smith, which Beckett characterizes this way: “I had a letter from Mr Desmond Smith asking me to explain the play to him. Canadians are queer that way.

I love Beckett. Canadians are queer. Imagine trying to eat a Kitkat without taking your hands off the wheel. Imagine discovering the next day a car seat covered in chocolate, and then going back inside and taking a long pitying look at the seat of those good black pants still hanging over the railing where you left them the night before.