The first time I applied for a $12,000 writing grant, I encouraged my best friend to do the same. We met at the Ontario Arts Council office in downtown Toronto to hand in our submissions. Then we went to a pub down the street for celebratory nachos and beer. This is it, I thought happily. I’m living the writing life.
We both applied a few more times before she was successful. “What are you going to do with the money?” I asked. We were drinking beer on her back patio, one of the first warm days of the year.
“I’m going to buy a fish smoker.”
“I’ve always wanted one.”
“Right. Why don’t you buy us a canoe? If you pay for it, I’ll store it and transport it.”
It didn’t take long to convince her, and a few weeks later, she was handing over cash to a guy in Etobicoke in exchange for a green fibreglass canoe. At first, we called it the OAC canoe. We even joked about inscribing “OAC” on the side with maritime paint. Eventually, though, it came time to name it properly.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” I wondered.
“Long and strong, Friedman,” she said. “It’s a guy.” She named him Oscar.
The first place we took Oscar was Cherry Beach. It was a lovely summer afternoon and we floated around the lake, drank beer, and ate snacks. The second time, we went to the Humber River. I realized I’d forgotten the paddles, so we found a yacht club and asked a nice man on a boat if he could lend us his. Then the canoe nearly fell off the roof of my car, and we couldn’t stop laughing at our ineptness.
Our five-day trip to Algonquin Park with Oscar was surprisingly disaster-free, especially considering that he clocks in at 70 lbs (twice the weight of many canoes), and we spent most of the trip cursing his existence.
Oscar didn’t fare as well on a subsequent trip to the Toronto Islands. My friend Aaron and I set out from Cherry Beach to explore islands which are only accessible by boat. After tramping along some rough paths through the trees on an unnamed island, we decided to wade through the water back to the canoe. The water got deeper and turned swampy; I cut myself clambering over dead trees and Aaron lost a flip flop to the muck. An adventure! In the hopes of making the return trip easier, we decided to portage Oscar to Ward’s beach and head back to the city from there. A couple was getting married at the Island Café when Aaron zoomed past them in only one flip flop, Oscar on his shoulders. We were still pretty muddy from the swamp.
The waves were so high at Ward’s beach that we couldn’t set off from there. I walked the length of the sand to see if I could find a calmer spot, while Aaron dragged Oscar through the surf. He looked half-drowned when I returned. “It’s like the lost chapter of The Old Man and the Sea,” he panted. Eventually we found a pier, three feet above the water, and sort of pitched Oscar off it and clambered in.
Now the days are getting colder and shorter, and soon Oscar will have to go into storage for the winter. My best friend has just signed with an agent; I’m sure she’ll have a book deal soon. I’m scared of being left behind. But our friendship is more than that fear. Whenever I need proof, for now I can still look out my window at the long, strong, tarp-covered shape of Oscar.