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  • Writer's pictureWade Bell

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Wade tells Open Book about the brashest flowers, the toughest shade of orange and tiger nuts.


What is your dream of happiness?

Good love, good food, good fortune.


What is your idea of misery?

Enduring the end of a deeply-rooted love affair while undergoing chemotherapy.


Where would you like to live?

Where creativity is the currency and the air is warm.


What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Empathy.


What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Empathy.


What is your chief characteristic?

Intuitive understanding.


What is your principal fault?

Hermiting.


What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel.


What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Their foibles and fetishes.


What do you value most about your friends?

Their generosity of spirit.


What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Narrow-mindedness.


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

Chronic shyness.


What is your favourite virtue?

Kindliness.


What is your favourite occupation?

Learning.


What would you like to be?

A nineteen year old FI racing car driver.


What is your favourite colour?

Harley-Davidson motorcycle orange.


What is your favourite flower?

Big, brash, uninhibited Bird of Paradise. Also the dandelion, that bright, persistent outlaw.


What is your favourite bird?

Red-winged blackbird.


What historical figure do you admire the most?

Plato.


What character in history do you most dislike?

Any of the swollen-headed, heart-shriveled psychopathic slaughterers.


Who are your favourite prose authors?

Joyce, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Orwell, Thomas Wolfe, the early Tom Wolfe, Duras, Bolaño, Monbiot.


Who are your favourite poets?

Chaucer, Donne, Marvell, Olson, Ondaatje, John Newlove, Bob Hogg.


Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

The ardent if confused narrator of The House of the Americans. And the anti-heroes: Macbeth, Bloom, Raskolnikov, Fritz from Fritz the Cat, even Bardamu from Journey to the End of the Night.


Who are your heroes in real life?

The healers of the body and the mind.


Who is your favourite painter?

Renoir, Utrillo, Emily Carr, John Kacere.


Who is your favourite musician?

Ana Cristina Werring-Millet, singer and guitarist, of Barcelona, Spain.


What is your favourite food?

Butter tarts.


What is your favourite drink?

Horchata de chufa (made from ground tiger nuts; I have no idea what tiger nuts are but I don’t think any animals suffer from my love of this drink.)


What are your favourite names?

Julia, Jennifer, Piper, Jesse, Abbey, Sarah, Zander, Emma, Cravath.


What is it you most dislike?

Murder by man or state thought of as a solution to anything. And Saran Wrap.


What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Musical ability.


How do you want to die?

With my eyes on something beautiful.


What is your current state of mind?

As usual, overwhelmed.


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Surviving.


What is your motto?

Look, listen, write.

Also: The mind’s eye sees most clearly through a glaze.


Submitted to Open Book Toronto by Grace, June 5, 2012. View online here.

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  • Writer's pictureWade Bell

Updated: Apr 10, 2023


In high school in the nineteen-fifties I frequented the first A&W in Edmonton, maybe in Alberta.

Today it’s an antique. Then it sparkled.


Carhops, cool and good looking, expertly handled the heavily loaded trays while fending off carloads of testosterone time bombs masquerading as personable young men.


Hotrods, chariots errant zealously slaved over in Scona Comp’s automotive shop, and the stars of moonlit drag strips, paraded with outlaw-tinted glamour.


Your music blasting from somewhere, from everywhere. Tunes so bewitching that you were barely aware of a train whistling on a nearby track.


Bill Haley, Ivory Joe Hunter, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Richie Valens, on top of the world with his mega hit, La Bamba, dead at seventeen. Buddy Holly, gone at twenty-two.


For romancing the beauty beside you on the comfortable bench seat there were the artfully smooth Everly Brothers, The Platters and Fats Domino.


For two sixteen-year-olds locked onto the pull of Saturday night, the A&W was the cool place on the South Side. Cocooned in its ambience, a thrilling pulse told you that you were at the beginning of a mercurial age.


It was true, you were. And it would be intoxicating.


Your parents were doing well thanks to the oil boom ushered in by the discoveries at Leduc, a few minutes down the road. They assumed you would take part in the prosperity. A geologist. A petroleum engineer.


But what they planned for you would not survive the tumult of the sweet and sour sixties with its evolutionary ideas and fresh attitudes.


A brand-new driver’s license in your wallet and money to spend on the girl glued to your side, you approached the drive-in with trepidation but also confidence.


You knew the place was built for you. You just had to chance upon an empty slot. You circled the building tailing a lowered Mercury with rear fender skirts, purring chromed exhausts, and a spare tire kit that made it seem as long as a freight car.


A spot opened. Carefully, slowly, you nosed into it. On your left was a metallic gold ‘32 deux coupe rag top, on your right a two-tone blue and white ’57 Chevy Bel Air, just off the production line and already a star for the ages.


A carhop hurried to your window.


Savory meat and abundant condiments merging in your mouth for the first time proved richly satisfying.

The syrupy sweet but peppery root beer in frosted mugs went perfectly with the burgers.


For me, though, the most desirable items on the menu were the milkshakes. A skinny kid always feeling half-starved, I might owe my life to A&W milkshakes.


Full, mellow and happy, you exited the drive-in’s ambience reluctantly. Now where? A drive-in movie or just roaming the highways and back roads, her shampooed hair fragrant on your shoulder?


Sweet options beneath a white ghost moon in the lingering northern light.


Two things were certain. One was that childhood was falling from us like a shed skin. The second was that we would be back at the A&Dub again and again all that short and fragile northern summer long.

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  • Writer's pictureWade Bell

Updated: Apr 10, 2023


Sure, when you’re old you will recall the terrors. The waves of panic as you almost drowned. Or your foot, unruly appendage, slipping, leaving you breathless on the cold mountain ledge. Or colliding with a tree branch on a black diamond run at Slippery Slopes. Not to mention the many things you are sorry for doing or saying; that load of regrets that we carry.


But the residue of shock accompanying such ghost recollections will not subvert a mind packed with fragments of old happiness that bubble up like Yellowstone paint pots or laughter from a gilded heart.


The old have done much, seen much. They have loved and if they are lucky still love, if only those who went before.


The old paint, sculpt, sing. They play a mean guitar, a sultry sax. Knock, commandingly, a little dimpled sphere into a tin cup. Hit balls of various sizes and shapes back and forth, back and forth, on courts.


They have experienced life profoundly. Their wins and losses. The great loss that in the end no one escapes. Some write about it. Oh, how the old can write. Often grandparents understand the young better than their parents do. And they have compassion for them. They appreciate their wisdom and understand their dilemmas and fears.


The young are wary of the future. They know about plagues, about climate catastrophes. Some in their vivid imaginations visualize Earth as shaking us off like water drops from a dog after a swim.


They travel the world almost by instinct, subconsciously imitating outliers of ancient tribes who scattered in search of promising new territory. Old habits never die. They just take on different disguises.


I know seven of them. They are all in their twenties. Between them they have logged air miles from Korea to Mexico City, Iceland, Europe and the Emirates, South America, the U.S. and I don’t know where else. Who can keep up?


With gusto they take what the world has to offer and live with the contradiction, as older generations do as well: what they consume makes the world less healthy. The planet aches as it shoulders the burden of us.


What the young need is a common purpose. Greta writ large. Greta’s everywhere.

Left, right, center, politics does not divide the young as it does the older generations. They are too wise for that. They know catastrophes bring people together. And that catastrophes can happen anywhere.


For most of the twenty-somethings getting away from the daily grind is a daydream, as far from their grasp as the spy satellites overhead. For a few there is the endless supply of drugs that enrich corporations and cartels. Drugs drug. They mask pain but cause it too. Euphoria then the collapse of personality.


The threat of nuclear war, the rumblings of extremists, knifings and shooting of innocents, form part of the soundtrack to their lives.


The old recall the U.S. atom bomb tests. For protection against radiation that was expected to come north into Alberta from Nevada we practiced hiding under our desks. It was a strategy we all knew was useless.


The old recall the Cuban missile crisis. On the lip of destruction common sense saved us. Will it again? Common sense is not such a common commodity. I hope the young have more of it than their elders do.

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