Sunday, 30 March 2008

how about mel blanc ...

F12 time here, as the zombies approach their big scene. I'm beavering away at the book and making not much sense of anything else. I know I should be paying attention to the rest of my life, but somehow the book seems bigger. My larger children's essays, my smaller children's dinners, the hygiene of my person and my apartment (I'd love to call it a flat, which sounds British in a cool way, but it's really the upstairs of a house) --- all of these are crammed into the back pocket of my mental pants. My speeding ticket is on the back burner of my mental stove. My blog is in the back forty, my workout schedule is in the backwoods, my love life is knocking on the back door ... well, you get the idea.

Hey, maybe you can help. What's happening in the book is this: the town is on its way to being overrun, and our heroine is about to realize that she has been the cause of it all ... but she has no idea how to save the day from the consequences of her own meddling. The place needs a saviour. It needs Hugh Jackman or Jack Nicholson or Nicole Kidman (gee, that was fun. Where can we go with this? Kid Rock, Rocky Balboa, Bilbo Baggins ... okay, now we're stretching) --- in short, a hero for perilous times.

But I have no hero. That's my problem. I want to finish the book and return to the rest of my life, but I can't see my way out of my hero-less state. My cast of characters includes Ryan the misunderstood zombie, Marlee the lonely girl, her Uncle Ted the preacher, Dr Malik the worried hospital exec, assorted bullies who are due to get eaten, Granny Griselda, and her son Mr Grassmore the fifth-grade teacher and part-time Ninja. I don't see a hero there. Do you? (Yes, the picture's title is Part-time Ninja.) I don't see any of those roles played by Samuel L Jackson, or Jack Johnson or John Cougar Melloncamp ....

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

and we're back together

It's been a couple days since I posted, and do you want to know why? I have been driving all the time. There's nothing like recovering something you lost to make you appreciate it. I recall the mysterious disappearence of my Hot Wheels racer when I was eight or so. It wasn't my favorite toy, until I lost it. Then, suddenly, I had to find it. I hunted everywhere for it (which to a child means under my bed and in my closet and behind the couch in the living room), and whined to my parents (they told me to pipe down) and accused my brother of stealing it (he punched me) and was generally miserable for about a week, which is a long time for an eight year old. And then gradually I forgot about it, and went back to playing with dinosaurs and American Civil War soldiers (there were some mightly unlikely reconstructions, I tell you. Pickett's Charge with Stegosaurus support. General Grant leading a troop of giant T-Rex.)
A month or so later the Hot Wheels racer turned up in the basement, and I wept with joy. Couldn't get enough of it. I lived with the thing, brought it to meals, slept next to it. My parents were concerned. But they were smart enough to wait, and in time (say ... a week) I got used to having the Hot Wheels racer back in my life, and began to ignore it again.
So with the car. Give me time, and I will go back to taking it for granted. But for now I am in the bliss of a second honeymoon.
One other reason I spend so much time in the car is that I am driving slower. Much slower. Student drivers are passing me. Old men in hats are passing me. I wave at them as they speed by, several kilometres per hour over the posted limit.
Reckless, that's what they are.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

job satisfaction

So after a week feeling naked (and not in a good way), I have my car and licence back. Saturday afternoon the DMV computer swallowed my name with hardly a burp, and then spat out my renewed licence. An hour later I was standing outside a barbed wire fence with a bulging pocket, waiting for my man. (No, this was not a Lou Reed moment. My man drove a tow truck and had keys to the wrecking yard where they were, uh, storing my car.)
I tell you, I felt truly tough. A real bad backroads criminal. Whoever writes the Highway Traffic Act must think I am someone real special to treat me the way they do. DUIs get their car back the next day, but weekend drivers enjoying a sunny afternoon -- dangerous guys like me -- have to wait a week.
The tow truck guy was nice enough, taking my money. I guess you tend to be nice when you are taking it in, rather than dishing it out. He did comment about the cops who gave me the ticket last week.
Those two are ticket kings, he said. They always work together, always at the top of the list at the end of the month.
That's great, I said, but I didn't mean it. Which is rare for me (not the polite lying part, I do that all the time), because I am usually happy to hear about people who like their work. Couple Fridays ago I ran out of my place with my hastily-filled recycling bag, and just made it to the curb as the garbage truck swung by. The guy on the back had the biggest grin on his face.
Give her here! he called, arms out to take my garbage. I tossed it, he dropped it in, and we shared an early morning thumbs-up. (Might have been a high-five if he had not been wearing the vilest gloves I have ever seen.) What I'm getting at is that he clearly loved his work, and that made me feel good.
Happy bees are one thing. Earnest, hardworking, productive, helpful. But there's something about traffic cops loving their work that's not so heartwarming. Hard to feel warm and fuzzy about happy ants, or happy mosquitoes.

Friday, 21 March 2008

equinox hangover

And we're up to Day 6 of my carless week. Purim today, time to get out the noisemakers. Or Good Friday, time to fast and abstain. Whichever of these festivals applies to you, I hope you are enjoying your day appropriately. Me, I'm a Vernal Equinox guy. Today it's time to wash off my woad from yesterday and clean the remains of the bacchanal. Nothing on the calendar until Beltane, darn. (Mind you, I'm already looking forward -- that's a Beltane celebration in the picture.)
Want to know what I miss most about having a car? That's right, the very thing I used to complain about. I miss driving the kids around. I never thought I would say that, but it's true. Driving Ed home from a soccer game or Imo from band practice, driving Thea and Sam to school -- these moments are precious. Time in the car with the kids is close time, when you can pay attention to things that matter. Not justice and war and religion (Equinox, when dawn rose on the twins your dance began!) but the things that really matter to you personally: music and sports and TV and snack foods, weird things that teachers and friends and relatives have done. The actual building blocks of a shared existence.
I don't know if I'll get my licence back tomorrow (there's a problem with the timing, since the DMV closes before my licence is officially ready for renewal) but I hope to get the car back. And I'll sit in it while Imo or Thea drives home from Peterborough, and, you know, I'll bet we don't talk about God or Iraq once. We'll talk about important things. Guitar Hero, say.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

being a sport

And we're on to day 5 of my traumatic week. Let's take a little time off from musing on speeding tickets and human frailty, to talk about furniture moving. That's what happened last night when the kids came over. There's less for them to do here than at the big house, and they get tired of eating, watching soccer and Simpsons, and playing cards, so when homework was over last night I asked them what they wanted to do and they said: Move the furniture.
Fair enough.
I thought the living room was looking pretty good -- two couches, book case, end table, TV, and some room to move around -- but Imo and Ed wanted to bring in The Big Chair. It's so comfortable, said Ed, and it is, but it takes up a lot of space. Trying to fit it into the living room would, I said, be like trying to cram more than one elephant into a phone booth. The kids looked puzzled.
(Time for a quick geezing sidebar on the vanishing phone booth. Nowadays if you need a public phone you tend to get a receiver on a pole. And it tends not to work. I wonder what college kids are cramming each other into. I wonder where Clark Kent is changing. To be honest I don't know that I miss the actual smelly dirty little booths, but I miss the idea of them. How do we express the image of a very small contained space with one function? Okay, I'm done.)
With a reasonable amount of grunting and lifting and pivoting and so on, we manoeuvered The Big Chair from the spare bedroom to the living room. It took up all the free floor space. Now there was nowhere to stand.
See what I mean? I told the kids. No room.
But they disagreed. Let us arrange it Dad, they said. So I went to the kitchen to do dishes, and when I returned, my living room looked like a cross between a furniture warehouse and the stateroom scene from A Night At The Opera.
Isn't it great? Imo called, from her prone position on the purple couch.
Isn't it great? echoed Ed from the depths of The Big Chair.
How do I get into the room? I asked. Because there was furniture everywhere. Forget wheelchair access, you had to be a bit of a steeplejack to find a seat. The kids laughed and laughed. Climb over! they cried. Come on, Dad, be a sport.
I opened my mouth to tell them put it all back the way it was -- but I could not form the words. They were having too much fun. And so I smiled and climbed the back of The Big Chair, sliding over Ed to get to the other couch. If I ever throw a party, I'll have to change things around, but for now I am happy to be a sport.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Day 4, and I am no longer reeling against the ropes. I have begun my counter-attack against the heavyweight in the black and white trunks, carrying a radar gun. I have my arms up, at least. I have hired Len and Cheryl, very calm folks with a background in law enforcement, to fight my speeding ticket for me.
They are a good team. Cheryl is sympathetic. Oh, that's too bad, she comments when I tell her my plight. She doesn't actually say much more than this, but her attitude shows that she is very much on my side. I can hear her thinking, You are such a good man, how could they have done this to you? There, there, honey, you put your head right here and let me make it all better for you.
Len is not so much sympathetic as non-judgmental. And calm. He is so calm. I can picture him on the phone with a murderer. Uh huh, he would say. And how big was the knife you used? Uh huh. With serrations? Yeah, I know that kind -- I have one at home myself. And, uh, how many times did you stab the victim? Twenty or thirty, eh? Yeah, it's tough to keep count, isn't it. Well, that's all I need right now...
It's important to have people on your side. I would not choose loyalty over competence, in this case, but I can appreciate the position of the dictator who brings in his guys simply because he can count on them. (I'd use inclusive language here but for the life of me I cannot come up with any female dictators. Plenty of tough female bosses. I'm sure Condoleezza has her guys.) Len and Cheryl are my guys

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


Day 3 -- The joys of carlessness. Yes, you'd figure this post to be a short one. Not that carful and joyful go together, but absence of something useful is seldom fun. I mean, there are lots of unhappy people out there who have the use of both their legs, but the odds are that the guy in the wheelchair is not cheering because he can't walk. Still and all, a couple of carfree moments come to mind. For instance, when I lost the car I was in the middle of farmland, and had to call a friend to pick me up. And I didn't want to stand around being snickered at by the police, so I decided to walk up the highway in the direction my friend would be coming. And after a mile or so I actually began to enjoy the walk. A sunny afternoon in early spring, moving briskly through the rolling hills of Northumberland -- not bad. (Of course I was used to moving briskly -- that was the whole problem. Maybe I should practice walking slower.) Took me back to my youth when I hiked through Europe. The sun lay warm on my back, and the rich smell of mud and water and cow rose pleasantly in my nostrils. As long as I concentrated on the moment, rather than the large picture, I was happy.
That's they key. Being carless, carfree if you like, gives me a chance to appreciate the now. Cars make time disappear. Toronto in an hour. Ottawa in three. Montreal in four. New York or Chicago in a day. You are always on your way somewhere. When you have to walk, or bike, or wait for a cab or train, you have a chance to be where you are, instead of where you are going.
And you can hear compliments. No one has ever said anything nice about my body while I was in the car (hmm, what does that say about my high-school dating career) but as I was riding away from the YMCA front door last night, proud and sweaty of my workout self, I heard a voice say, distinctly, Nice butt. I whirled round, but the door was closing on whomever had made the comment. I rode away with an absurd little smile on my face.

Monday, 17 March 2008

phantom car

Day 2 of carlessness. By far my favorite moment relating to my situation was Imo's reaction. She drove her sister over to my place yesterday afternoon, and when she saw me standing at the top of the stairs she burst out laughing. Hi dad, she called. Then she laughed some more. When she got to the top of the stairs she asked, So ... how's your weekend going? and burst out laughing again. Her amusement was so genuine it made me smile. This was clearly the best story she had heard in years. She's a funny kid, Imo, and the honesty of her response charmed the hell out of me.
You know, I've never thought about that expression before. I guess we all do carry a little hell inside us, and charm is an effective hell-remover. I picture it like furniture polish, getting rid of a water ring and leaving the table shining and clean-smelling. Of course Charm (registered tm) is a safe product, enviro-friendly and not tested on animals. Use Charm throughout the home!
Fear is a hell-remover too, but I see it more like Drano.
Off for some more coffee now, and then back to work. (Oh isn't that weird: thinking of coffee, I went on: I need more milk, so I'll just hop in the car and get some ... and then I remembered that I couldn't.) The mind is an odd imperfect mechanism, incapable of grasping a fairly simple concept all at once. You have no car, Scrimger. Is it stupidity, or a kind of phantom state, like the feeling of real pain in an amputated limb? Maybe that's it. Maybe I have phantom car. (That's the picture, by the way - someone's idea of a phantom car.) I wonder if I have to fill it with phantom gas and phantom windshield wiper goop? What time is phantom rush hour? And if I'm stuck in it will I get phantom road rage, or the real thing?
On second thought, it's probably stupidity.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Me and Martha

I feel like Martha Stewart -- not a line I get to use very often since I am casually dressed, underdecorated and generally happy in my imperfections. But I too know what it is to be spanked by the law. For the next week I am without a car.
Let me paint the picture. Yesterday afternoon was sunny and warmish -- almost glorious for Southern Ontario this winter. I was tooling along the backroads going, yes, a bit too fast -- over 100 kms/hr in an 80 zone. And in the middle of a long straight stretch the posted speed limit dropped to 50 kms/hr because a small town was coming up (I never saw the sign, but they assured me it was there), and the cops were waiting with the radar gun that said I was suddenly doing over 100 in a 50 zone.
I've never liked guns of any kind.
50 kms over the speed limit means I am guilty of what they call stunt driving (sounds cool, eh? Don't be fooled). They took my car and licence for a week, and gave me a court date for next month. I had to wait an hour by the side of the road, while the tow truck hauled away the other cars caught in this sting, but that didn't matter since I was no longer going anywhere.
So here I sit, in a small town without public transport, thinking of all the things I used to need a car for. The biggest is driving my kids around. My Dad job for the last few years has been Chauffeur. (You can track your kids' development by your job title. I've spent time as a Diaper Changer, Playtime Supervisor, Paymaster, Dictionary, and Jailer. I am still a sitting judge in the court of Not fair!) My kids who can't drive need me to drive them, and those who can need my car to drive. And for the next week they can't have either.
I'm lucky I don't have to drive to work. My commute is about forty feet -- down the hall and upstairs to my office. I'm supposed to make a speech at a school next week, but I can put them off. For most of my movement needs I can count on trains, cabs and friends. But I am letting down my kids, and that hurts.
I understand that Martha raises miniature donkeys. I wonder if she worried about them when she went to jail? More on this tomorrow -- Day 2 of my sentence.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

right and wrong and covered in milk

Just finished a bowl of cereal, and I'm sad. I don't often eat cereal for breakfast because it slows my coffee intake, but a bowl of Frosted Flakes, say, maybe mixed with granola or shredded wheat, makes a nice bedtime snack. I like mixing cereals -- one of my favorite meals is the one where you empty the ends of three or four boxes of cereal into one bowl. I enjoy the feeling of completeness and thrift -- it's a modern suburban version of the use the whole animal philosophy. I mean, I am using all of the cereal box, not just the easy to pour bits at the top. No flake or loop, no nugget or nut or shred of wheat is wasted. As a hunter, I salute the boxes as I stack them for recycling.
But I am not feeling very virtuous right now. In fact I feel guilty. I mixed the last handful at the bottom of a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch together in a bowl with the end of a bag of honey-almond granola. Two excellent cereal choices (CTC is one of Ed's favorites, along with ABs and FLs, and almond granola is way better than the raisin kind). The snack should have tasted wonderful, but it didn't, dammit. I chewed, swallowed, tried another bite, paused, chewed some more, and started shaking my head. The mixture tasted ... uneasy. As if the cinnamon flavour and the honey flavour didn't like each other. Did you ever have two friends who should hit it off, but for some reason don't? You introduce them to each other, and stand back with a big smile, only ... it doesn't work between them. No chemistry, or maybe negative chemistry. Well, it was like that with my snack tonight. Each of the cereals tastes better on its own than they do together.
And so I am guilty. I have taken two good things and made a bad thing, depleting the good karma in the universe. I suppose there's a precedent here, going back to Cain (if you figure that Adam and Eve were good, which is debatable) -- but it's nothing to be proud of. Two wrongs don't make a right, but how often do two rights make a wrong?

Saturday, 8 March 2008

dreams were your ticket out

I got up this morning and made a noise, rolling over in bed. If I was writing the noise down, putting the vowels and aspirates of the foreign language into readable Roman letters, it might look like: Unhhoahhh!!
Yes, the exclamation points are part of it. This language uses a lot of exclamation points. Translation is easy. The word means: my back hurts. That bit down at the bottom of my spine -- those vertebrae I abuse when attempting my fit teenaged son's ab workout -- is acting up.
Don't worry, this is not a Gosh aren't I getting old post. It's a bit more esoteric than that. See, I was watching a rerun of the 70's TV show Welcome Back, Kotter the other day. And in this episode Gabe wakes up with a groan, turns to his wife and says: Oh, no! That noise ... that's my father's noise. Every morning when he woke up he'd make that noise, and now I am making the same one! Gabe's entry into middle age is through the door of his father's morning ritual, and the rest of the show deals with him coming to terms with himself, his family, aging, sunrise sunset, ho hum.
My back-hurting noise this morning is not my father's noise. If that's where you thought I was going, think again. My dad is as fit as a flea. He bounds around he place exhausting his grandchildren, making the rest of us feel old. No no, my noise, that Unhhoahhh!! complete with exclamations, is -- get this -- straight from the TV show. Letter for letter, intonation for intonation. It's dead on. When I heard myself this morning, I said, Oh no! That noise ... that's Gabe's father's noise.
You expect to walk through the garden of mortality with your parents as guides. You learn from their experience, agreeing and disagreeing, changing what you can, accepting what you can't. I'm on my own with my back pain here. The only model I can look to is Gabe. Great. I wonder when those sweathogs will come by to make fun of me.

Monday, 3 March 2008

strange discussions

"Haven't you ever peed on a fire hydrant?"
I overheard this question last week, pouring coffee for myself in a staffroom in a small Ontario elementary school. I was tempted to join in, or at least hang around for the reply, but my audience was waiting in the auditorium and I had to leave. When you spend a lot of time with teachers (I was going to say strange teachers, but do not want to give the wrong impression -- teachers I do not know very well) you get to hear all kinds of things. I treasure conversation snippets like that one, or the animated debate (last year, but I still think about it) between two women on a subject I never discovered. Whatever they were, one woman was strongly in favour of pointy ones, and the other preferred them rounded. "There's more to grab onto," she said. I smiled and moved on.
Yesterday I heard part of a desert-island discussion on an unexpected subject. I like the desert-island topic. Movies, books, music -- you can bond unexpectedly with someone who shares your tastes. (A guy I had never thought much of became an instant buddy when he confessed his appreciation for The Big Lebowski .) The topic for consideration yesterday was -- get this -- creams versus deodorant. I showed up in the middle of the debate, and stared in astonishment as a table full of women got really exercised about this. "Your skin will stay soft." "But you'll smell awful." "No no, the body creams smell nice too." "But then you're using them as deodorant. What if you had to choose between a face cream and a deodorant? Then what?" They were shouting by now. "Then what, huh????"
I was -- I will confess this -- mystified. I can recall having heated discussions about the one potato chip flavour you would stock on your desert island. (Jalapeno, by the way -- speaking of heated. It used to be sour cream and bacon, but I have matured.) I have debated comic book heroines you would be stranded with (Storm? Catwoman? Betty or Veronica? So difficult to choose) and styles of blue jean (Levi 569 for me -- I like a little extra room). But I have never -- and I mean never -- considered toiletries. I'd miss a toothbrush, I guess. I'd miss soap and maybe a razor. But I'd trade in all the deodorant and cream in the world for a bag of chips. Or Julie Newmar.