Cheeseburger Brown CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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Famously Sweaty
A life-like adventure from Cheeseburger Brown
Famously Sweaty, a free life-like adventure from Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by the author

I've seen David Suzuki's sister naked.

It's true. It would not be the last time I would cross paths with a Suzuki, but it would be the most memorable. On no subsequent occasion would I witness any nudity while mingling with members of the famous environmentalist's clan -- though at one time we were surrounded by cadres of semi-naked sweaty men as they grabbed and slapped at one another.

But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is that Aiko Suzuki was naked. I was nine years old. I'd never seen a nude Asian woman running through the snow before. But there it was in front of me, projected twice as big as life. Breasts, belly, beaver.

The class gasped.

On the screen Aiko was rolling around in the snow, the time-lapse photography making her appear to flutter like a trapped butterfly. "It's not cold," Aiko assured us from beside the projector; "when you come out of the sauna it feels warm to roll in the snow!"

Right. So that was Aiko's short film about visiting Finland, precursor to the big big showing of all the films we students had made over the summer. These included a movie about plasticine monsters who bled ketchup attacking one another, the story of a plasticine car that drove all around York University in search of a plasticine mate, and my own effort: almost two full reels of two aliens screaming and running away from a comparatively massive "killer" red rubber ball with a star painted on it, entitled Spaceball Strikes!

Aiko was teaching a stop-motion photography class. We shot on Super 8 film spliced and edited together by hand, the soundtrack playing from a manually synchronised cassette-tape player.

At the conclusion of Spaceball Strikes! my partner, a boy named Tadpole, launched the Spaceball prop directly into the audience from a hidden nook in the shadows beneath the movie-screen. "Spaceball is among us!" warbled the soundtrack in warning. People screamed and giggled appropriately, especially Aiko who caught the ball and brandished it menacingly at the kids sitting around her.

"That was terrific!" she said, which is what she said after everybody's film.

Another sweaty artist I once met was Ken Danby, who is kind of like a sportier, gruffer version of Robert Bateman.

It happened like this: my mother was having lunch with Ray Hnatyshyn at the Culture's in the food-court beneath First Canadian Place, and she mentioned that I was applying to go to NSCAD University as a painter. My mother was fretting over whether or not I would get in, so Ray mentioned that he was going to be having lunch with the painter Ken Danby later that week -- perhaps he could ask Ken to evaluate my portfolio.

My mother was thrilled and it was all arranged.

We met Danby in the parking lot outside of a gallery where an exhibition of his work was being arranged for an unveiling that evening. My step-father, Beurre d'Arachide, pulled up just as Ray and Ken were getting out of Ken's jeep.

Ray made the introductions right there in the parking lot. Ken's handshake was vicelike and uncomfortably lingering. I tried not to wince in the face of the burly outdoorsman, who must have stood at least seven feet taller than me. He hooked his thumbs into his belt and listened as my mother prattled on about my application for school. His attitude was one of polite but strained patience. "So," he eventually interjected, "what can I do for you, Cheeseburger Brown?"

Beurre d'Arachide opened the trunk of his aging blue BMW and hauled out a load of my paintings, which my mother then arranged in a neat semi-circle there on the asphalt. "Uh, these are the pieces I'm considering submitting," I said. "Maybe you could help me cull the wheat from the chaff."

Ken looked thoughtfully at my work, but seemed at a loss with regards to what was expected of him. I shuffled awkwardly.

"I guess the basic question is, do you think he'll make it?" my mother asked.

What she meant was "Do you think he'll be accepted into NSCAD?" but her ambiguous phrasing left Danby under the impression that he had just been asked to judge whether or not this teenaged son of a friend of a friend would "make it" as a professional artist.

A film of sweat broke out over Danby's brow as he stammered into a hesitant critique, obviously feeling that he had been put in an uncomfortable position. The naturalistic painter of scenes from life and illustrations for magazines was likely not drawn to the kind of surreal and semi-abstract pabulum produced by a teenage artist, so he found his greatest comfort on focusing on the technical failings of my work. "You rely too much on line," I remember him saying. Out of awkwardness he rambled on longer than he likely intended, repeating his criticisms swathed each time in another layer of nervous couching.

Ray, Beurre d'Arachide and my mother, Popcorn, all stood around grinning like idiots, hanging off the artist's every word. The artist and I kept our gazes riveted on my paintings splayed on the ground, each of us too embarrassed by half to look one another in the eye.

"Um, thank you Mr Danby," I must've said at some point, to end the torture.

His departing handshake was equally powerful to the introductory one, but more fleeting and moist this time around. He excused himself and went into the gallery. "We had lunch at a fabulous place," Ray said to my mother, to break the moment.

On the way home my mother opined to Beurre that she thought it was rude that Ken hadn't even invited us to come into the gallery to look at my portfolio. My step-father grunted. I just wanted to die a million times. My mother expressed regret that Ken hadn't shown any interest in "taking me under his wing", which is a regret she would express whenever I came into contact with any remotely renowned famous whom she didn't find threatening or crass, like Red Green (another story, already told) or Rick Mercer.

(Rick Mercer sweated briefly when he accidentally erased the notes for his speech at a corporate conference, but I was able to retrieve them for him using Norton Utilities. For the record, he did not say "thank you.")

One day while I was waiting at Queen's Quay for the club tender to take me across the harbour, Roy Scheider walked up to me and asked how to get to the Queen City Yacht Club. "That's the boat I'm waiting for right now. You wait right here," I told him. "Do you have a guest pass?"

"Is this it?" he asked, pulling a rumpled ticket out of his pocket.

"That's it. You're all set."

The tender chugged up to the pier and we stepped aboard. We both went out back to watch the towers of the downtown core recede. "Pardon me for saying so," I said, "but you look an awful lot like Roy Scheider."

"I am Roy Scheider," confessed Roy Scheider.

"Well, don't worry," I said, "I won't bug you. Are you here for the Festival of Festivals?"

"Yep," he said. "But today I'm going to spend the afternoon sitting on a friend's boat, doing nothing."

"Sounds good," I said.

"You don't by any chance know where the Blue Squall is moored, do you?"

"I'm sorry," I said.

We spent the rest of the trip in silence, wind whipping around us. The tender pulled up alongside the Ward's Island pier and we stepped off. Roy mopped his head with a handkerchief and remarked, "It's a hot one!"

"There's a map of all the boat moors in the office there," I said, pointing.

"Thank you," said Roy Scheider as he put his sweaty handkerchief away.

I loved him in Jaws.


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