Sweeping up between the acts

Many years ago I met a sad, shambling fellow in Brandon, Manitoba. He was custodian of a large arena complex. He pushed a wide broom and was clearly out of place, like the long-shoed circus clown who shuffles out to clean up between acts.

There was something about him that made me curious – something nautical, I thought – and I struck up a conversation. At first he just talked about how today’s youth didn’t know anything about work. But that led him to talk about how pulling your weight could mean the difference between life and death at sea.

We drank coffee in a staff room. All through that winter’s night the giant arena shuddered with mighty gusts of wind. His broom lay forgotten near the door. So vividly did he paint life aboard the HMCS Bonaventure, Canada’s last aircraft carrier, that I’ve forgotten what he was doing sweeping floors back home in Manitoba. I wonder sometimes if he stayed, the prodigal son returned, or if he’s long since found some other port. He wasn’t an old man when we met.

I only gradually realized that he and I weren’t very different. There’s not much to look at, but we can tell you a story.

Yet there was also an important difference between us. Writers seldom do the things that you read in stories. Those are the actors. We get to hang out with the actors, and sometimes travel with them to new places. But in the end we just watch the show, then sweep up the pieces and take them away for sorting. I’ve reached a point where I want nothing more than to be able to do that well.

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Bruce Wishart
Whimsies. Sometimes about writing.
Sometimes about folklore. Sometimes
about the sea, or life on the coast.
And sometimes not.