Happiness is walking down Whyte Ave with no sunglasses or hat or sunblock, sipping on a Tim Horton's iced cappuccino that somehow achieves what a dozen rattling AC machines can't. My headphones are on and I'm listening to a summer album.
A summer album, in case you don't know, is music that evokes in me memories of high school letting out for summer, sunlight, barbecues, fairgrounds, television shows and movies about students in shorts dancing on beaches. It reminds me of the best parts of high school that I never really experienced and boyfriends and high hopes and lip gloss and iced mugs of rootbeer out on the porch. In this particular case, I'm listening to Katy Perry's One of the Boys.
The sun's beating down, a summer day for summer music, and I take out my hair tie that I use to keep my hair in a ponytail. I tie it up right after I shower because I don't have time in the mornings to blow-dry it, so letting it out at the end of the day my hair is still cool and smooth and smells like shampoo. I listen to my music and imagine that boys on the street and in cars have noticed this gesture and will think nothing of it until hours later when they're out of the sunlight and they wonder why they didn't come up and say something to me. Because it's a summer day and I'm listening to my summer music and my hair is down and I'm sexy, dammit.
I walk down Whyte Ave in the heat, by myself, starting One of the Boys over once I reach the last song. Sweat collects on the inside of my right arm that is bent from keeping my Sleeping Beauty totebag on my shoulder that has a blue "I Write Books" pin attacked to one of the straps. I'm imagining plots to my novels that aren't yet written, movies that aren't yet made, Broadway plays that have yet to be produced. I'm imagining writing awards and Oscars and Tonys and my acceptance speeches with my partner (as yet unnamed and un-visualized) who will doubtless choose such a time to propose to me.
I walk by stores arranged like a child's diorama project, with wide windows showing candy-coloured wares unsold by the likes of Walmart or Old Navy - whispy dresses sewn for Asian frames, sweaters for dogs (in this heat?), musical instruments, ice cream, bars that spill music and people out onto the street even though it's only 4:15 on a Friday afternoon. I pass boys, and I'm brave enough to dare to look a few of them in the face, a half-smile on my lips from the heat and the sunlight and the summer music and mental images of me holding a gold RITA statuette in one hand and a Birk's box in the other.
I step into Lush, partly for the coolness and partly to smell all the soaps and bathbombs made with cherry blossoms, honey, and glitter. It's too hot for baths in this season, so I walk out without buying anything. The air is shattered by honking. Turkey has won a football game. I least I think it is Turkey - a cavalcade of SUVs and trucks march down the street blaring staccato messages of victory while the occupants wave fluttering red flags bearing a white star and crescent moon emblem.
I pass more boys, mothers with babies, even a few beggars - but you can never be too sure. On Whyte Ave, if you toss a few dollars into prostrate person's coffee cup you have a 50 percent chance of helping a homeless person and a 50 percent chance of ruining the decaf no-foam mochaccino of some bohemian student artist who's too busy composing his next masterpiece in his head to shave or bathe.
The air smells like grilled beef, burnt sugar, perfume, and gasoline. Every once in a while I'll pass a big-box store with its polished facade in between the shops and boutiques, a Chapters or a Le Chateau, looking for all the world like the know-it-all teacher's pet hallway monitor pretending she's maintaining order amongst all her rowdy, dirty, classmates who are running wild, heedless of her presence.
Forty minutes in the sun, and I'm still drinking in summer music and hot sun and daydreams, and I arrive at the Wee Book Inn. Amid AC-maintained chill and The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, I pick out romance novels from authors I've never read (and one I have). They're stories of Empire waists and Dukes and mansions, their covers stylized pictures of jewelry and feather quills, or else incomplete pictures of women in various states of romantic, expensive undress. I pay for them and I leave.
So now I'm back in the sun, and the Turks have come full circle and are honking their joy driving down on the opposite side of the street. I'm listening to summer music and my hair is long and cool and I'm walking down Whyte Ave by myself surrounded by boys and babies and beggars, carrying home five books I can't wait to read. It's a Friday afternoon, I have no homework anymore, and endless days to repent mistakes and make new ones and eventually get something right. I'm thirsty and tired and more than a little afraid of sunburn but I know I'm going home to rootbeer and baked potatoes and more writing.
That, is short, is what happiness is. At least for now.