Singing Mom: Red Light District
My daughter and I were lying in bed the other night, asking each other questions;
What is your favourite animal? Cookie? Movie?
“I know your favourite colour Mommy,” she said.
“What do you think it is?” I asked.
“It’s red!” she said excitedly. “You LOVE red!”
“I do love red,” I admitted. “It’s a very bold colour. It’s the colour of passion and vigour and love and life…” And just like that, I was flooded with this memory…
I bought my first house in Guelph when I was in my mid-twenties.
I was already living there at the time, with members of my then band Sharon Said. The lease on our band-house was about to expire, coincidentally so was the romantic relationship between the drummer and me. The band had come to a crossroad, and in the end, we all decided, amicably, to go our separate ways. Moving out of that house on Fountain Street marked the end of a formatively creative time in my life. I was sad yet equally excited as I looked forward to new beginnings. With help from a close friend and a buying partner, I secured my first mortgage and entered the real estate game.
I worked a ton in those days. I maxed out my waking hours with three jobs, gigs, tours, writing, renovations… you name it. It was a busy, busy time, but I was young, and I had boundless amounts of energy. I was scraping together every penny I could because I had gone on to buy out my co-investor, giving me sole reign over that quaint little 1.5 storey wartime house. My neighbourhood, or “The Ward,” was rapidly changing. Homes were selling fast and then sold to artsy types like me, young families were moving in, and it had become a desired hotspot for shared student housing.
The streets were under repair, the parks cultivated, and the surrounding neighbourhoods born anew. I loved living there, and I wanted to slow down a bit and enjoy some of what I had worked so hard to acquire. I needed something to help take the financial burden off. Roommates. I needed roommates.
I imported my sister Anna from out west (more like begged and pleaded and called her every day until she relented), and then I added my bandmates to the mix. The bass player, the drummer, and the percussionist/keyboard player all moved in, some with girlfriends, some with cats. My then-boyfriend was a full-time student; who would make bi-annual appearances and stay for a few months at a time. All to say, this was a full-house; I think we counted 14 of us living there one summer. It was piercings, tattoos and a rainbow of hair colours, oh-my. We were a motley crew for sure, and it was glorious.
Many of us smoked tobacco (and its wacky cousin), so the covered front porch became the meeting place. People were always coming and going. It was a neighbourhood hang place, and we had a 24-hour-everyone-is-welcome-
One morning, my sister poked her head in my room and said
“Hey uh… Ams?? There is some guy at the front door asking a ton of weird questions.”
“About what?” I thought. I went out to the porch to find a guy forcibly huddling himself inside the inner smoking circle and speaking in a low voice.
“Hello!” I boomed, almost majestically. “Can I help you?”
“I live in the neighbourhood he muttered quietly. “So uh…,” he stammered on… ”Do you guys all live here?”
“Yes,” I said maternally, holding my arms out, encircling my housemates.
“Why are you asking exactly?”
I half expected him to pull out a clipboard and pen and say, “So, you are the owner then? Ok, I’m Ken, and I’m here from the gas company, and I need to see your meter…. blah blah blah.”
“You girls are all so pretty, he finally whispered.”
“Thanks?… What do you WANT?” I said impatiently.
“What do uh… what do you guys offer here?” he stammered.
“What do we what?” I prompted, absolutely bewildered. I must not have heard him right I thought.
“What do you guys offer here?” he probed. ”Drugs, girls?”
“Drugs?” I thought. I mean, I probably have an old half-smoked joint somewhere on my dresser, but I think maybe he is asking about something different…? So I sat there looking at him: befuddled.
All of a sudden, my mates on the porch stood up together, puffed out their chests and in their deepest, manliest voices chorused,
“Git! Go on!! Git out of here!”
The quizzical fellow turned (scared as the first day in hell, I imagine) and sped away as though his tail was on fire.
After the chatter and laughter subsided, I pondered allowed, “What do you think that was about?”
“I think it’s the light bulb,” my sister said, pointing up to the light fixture. “The light bulb?” I said, following her gaze.
A few weeks before, I had noticed that the green floodlight, which had illuminated the front porch for years, had finally blown itself out. Not wanting to leave our meeting place unlit, I went to the shed and absentmindedly grabbed the first bulb I could find; a red floodlight. “I do love red,” I likely thought to myself.
So for the weeks following, we had been unknowingly (perhaps more, naively) basking in the red-hot glow of our bawdry beacon. A scarlet radiance shone down on the front door, night after night, after night for all the neighbourhood to see and wonder about… and question.
And while I will often attach a musical piece of my own as a score of sorts to these entries, this time around I could think of no better soundtrack than what I leave you with here. Sing it Gordon.
AMBRE McLEAN : The Singing Mom
Ambre McLean is professional singer/songwriter. The Singing Mom is a collection of writings by Ambre dedicated to stories about her kids, and what life is like being a singing mom.