Being Here

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From You’re in Canada Now, A Memoir of Sorts, published in 2005

I’ve driven to the ICBC office in Masset to buy insurance for my truck; Irene, who sees me coming, doesn’t get the CLOSED sign up fast enough. My insurance expired on Christmas Day, but I haven’t received notification from ICBC. “It’s probably because I haven’t been here,” I say, “to check my mail.”

Irene asks to see my driver’s license. The Sidney B.C. address on my license is different from the Masset address on my truck insurance papers.

Irene says I should change the address on my insurance papers, if I don’t live here, in Masset, at least 330 days out of the year. “My truck lives here,” I say, “365 days.”

Some wag once said the difference between a comic and a comedian is that the former says funny things and the latter says things funny.  There must be a third category for someone like me who can do two things at once: say lots of not funny things in a funny (i.e. not funny) way.

Irene asks if I have been here for more than thirty days. It sounds like a trick question. “What am I supposed to tell you?” I reply, thinking myself quite the card for coming up with a trick answer.

“The truth,” says Irene.

“I got here last night,” I say. I should have left it at that. “But in the summer I was here for more than thirty days.”

“Then you should have changed the address on your driver’s license,” Irene says. She sits down at her computer and begins trying to find me in cyberspace. “The rule is, if you are living here for more than thirty days, you have to change your address.”

“How exactly do you define “living?” I ask.

She fixes her eyes on the clock above her desk – the big hand has MINUTES written on it, the smaller one HOURS.

“Does “living” mean that if I am physically here for more than thirty days, I live here?” I ask, determined to sort it out.

“It’s not up to me to tell you where you live,” Irene says.

That wasn’t what I had asked. “I’m not trying to be difficult,” I say. “It’s just that I have a problem with this. If I am just here for thirty days – I don’t live here. But if I am here for more than thirty days, I live here, and I am supposed to change my address.”

I interpret her silence as a small but not insignificant victory. She continues her search on the Internet.

“And there’s this. At what point does the thirty day period when I’m supposed to live here start? The moment I leave the other place I live or when I arrive on the Island? It took me two days to drive here, so technically I wasn’t living at my other address during that time, and I wasn’t here, either. I’m not all here and I’m not all there. It’s a – grey area.”

“I don’t care where you live, I’m just telling you,” she says, flashing me an annoyed look. I suspect she would like to tell me where to live, or at least where to go. “You bring your license in and I put a change of address sticker on it. That’s all there is to it. It’s not such a difficult thing.”

It’s not difficult, but is it – necessary? “And then when I go back – to the other place I live – I take my license to an ICBC office and they – peel the sticker off?”

“That would be common sense,” Irene says.

“What if I live in two places?” I am beginning to feel indignant. If anything, a power higher than ICBC should have jurisdiction over my choice of place of domicile. “Isn’t a person allowed to live in more than one place?”

“No one can be in two places at once,” Irene replies, now looking annoyed at her computer for not being able to locate me, either. “Not at the same time.”

Says who? Just because I have to get on a plane next week and fly my body south, doesn’t mean the rest of me leaves on the same flight. My imagination, my spirit, live on here, in the house that contains my dreams, on the banks of the Sangan River. In this timeless place, where the ravens speak in tongues as the tides rise and fall, my own life and times begins to make sense to me. What doesn’t make sense to me is why, after 30 days, I should have to change the address on my driver’s license.

“You-hoo? Hello? How would you like to pay for this?” Irene has found me in the computer, printed the paper-work, and all I have to do is sign, and write a cheque. Then we can both call it quits.

I don’t know why I have to push it, but I do. “Say, for the sake of argument, I am homeless. There is nothing to stop a homeless person from owning a car, is there, but if I were homeless, where would I say lived? I mean, would I have to change my street address every time I moved my car to a different parking spot to avoid getting a ticket? Is this what you’re saying?”

That’s when Irene looks at me as if to say I am saying a lot of not funny things in a not funny way. I sign the forms.

“Enjoy the rest of your holiday,” she says.

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