It’s two o’clock on a Saturday as the regular crowd settles in. There is an elderly couple sitting next to me, waiting for the show to begin. They say, “Son can you recite me a memory, we’re not really sure how it goes, but it’s funny and sweet and we both knew it complete, when we were in our cottaging clothes.”
“Tell us a story Mr. Cottage Daze, weave us a tale today, we’re all in the mood for some silliness, so make sure you get us feeling happy and gay!”
I suddenly realize I have zoned out in the middle of my book reading. A restaurant full of diners stare at me, probably wondering what I’m doing standing up here. Silence has fallen over the place – unlike the general ruckus that was going on as I was trying to read. I wonder how long I’ve been lost in my daze. I think I was in the middle of a story about frogs, when I started daydreaming, picturing myself as the supreme entertainer, a crowd full of patrons hanging on my every word, greeting me with thunderous applause as each witty tale drew to its brilliant conclusion.
I’m thinking, “How do I get talked into these things?” It’s the Art in the Heart festival in Bracebridge, and somehow I’ve been coerced into reading some cottage stories in a crowded downtown restaurant. At most fine dining establishments around the world you might have some soft piano music playing in the background, a guy named ‘Sam’ on the keyboard, or some French guy hovering about the table playing some romantic tunes on his violin. Heck, in Mexico you might have some mariachi band bothering you as you eat. Here in Muskoka, as you savour your chicken Caesar salad and sip a pint of local brew, you have some guy in the corner rambling on about his cottage.
Then I hear the table in the back chanting at me, “Tell the wiener story! Tell the wiener story!” Oh, nice, I am thinking, some adoring fans familiar with my writing. Then I recognize it as a table of family and friends. They’re eating and drinking and having fun heckling me – and I’m sure I will pick up the tab. Well, I had wanted to make sure somebody was here to listen to me! I read the story about setting my shirt afire, so that they can have a good laugh at my expense.
I can’t help but notice the group of men sitting around the bar in the back, notebooks at the ready. I recognize them as dads, all of them … fathers of teenage daughters who have come to hear my story about how to rid the cottage of pesky boyfriends. I give them what they want and they scribble down ideas. I feel a little like Cottage Daze is Muskoka’s Dear Abby!
I am forced to shout as I read, and avoid waitresses who spin here and there, trays laden with lunches and drinks. A table of people from England seem to be enjoying themselves, likely thinking that this is a regular occurrence at Canadian eateries during the lunch rush. Fellow Muskoka writer, the talented Bracebridge historian Gary Denniss, hides in the dark shadows of a corner table chirping me: “Do you know the history of this place?” he shouts.
The usual questions come my way.
“Where is your cottage?” (Why, are you a stalker? I’ve always wanted to have a stalker, but actually I pictured someone a bit younger and sexier. Oops, bye, have a good day!)
“How do you get over writer’s block?” (I have a deadline.)
“Where do you get your ideas?” (I’m getting one now – I feel like Billy Joel’s The Piano Man …)
It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the owner gives me a smile, because he knows that it’s me they’ve come here to see, to laugh about life for a while.
And the restaurant has the feel of a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer, (because it actually is a beer – I’m just pretending it’s a microphone),
And they sit in their nooks and buy all my books, and say “Man what are you doing here?”
“Mr. Ross,” the waitress is shaking my arm, waking me from my daze. “Mr. Ross! Everybody has left; it’s time to go home.”
Cottage Daze Lists the Good the Bad and the Ugly of Doing a Reading at a busy downtown restaurant!
3. A beer microphone.
2. Patrons drinking many pints of local brew – laugh at all my stories, including the sad ones.
1. My 93 year-old Aunt from Whitby shows up to hear my stories, and I didn’t know she was coming – Doesn’t even heckle me!
3. Had to shout to be heard – but, thankfully, have been well tutored in voice projection by my darling wife during face to face lessons.
2. Food Fight! Child at closest table flings food at me during reading.
1. My own family sits in the back and chirps me, while at the same time leaving me with the lunch bill!
1. I steal fries off plates when waitresses drift to close – then read with mouth full!
A special thanks to the staff of The Old Station House in downtown Bracebridge!