Nothing, I tell you. I had lost my sense of taste. I took another bite. Still nothing. I could feel the fish in my mouth, and I had a vague sense of a spicy sauce, but no flavour. None at all.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Nothing, I tell you. I had lost my sense of taste. I took another bite. Still nothing. I could feel the fish in my mouth, and I had a vague sense of a spicy sauce, but no flavour. None at all.
Saturday, 19 December 2009
That is sooooooooooo sad! said Thea.
Sam, not surprisingly, disagreed with his sister. He thought the decoration showed that the hobo had some positive things going for him, and was therefore not as sad a sight as an undecorated shelter.
Dean wondered if it was sadder to know you had last something, or not to know.
Good question. I tend to think it's better to know things than not to know them, but in this case I wonder.
Friday, 18 December 2009
Ed goes to a Catholic high school, so I did not go to a Winter Concert last night. The Catholics are walking proud, talking loud, and calling it Christmas Concert. I don't know how I feel about that, after all the Solstice Kwanzaa Chanukah Divali (is that right?) discussions over the years.
The concert was the same. All school concerts are the same, no matter how they are billed. A few kids with real talent (including your and my children) and a bunch making noise. Nerves on the part of the performers. Smiles on the faces of the parents. Punch and home-made squares at the end.
It comes as a surprise to parents to find out that their kid is good at something. I mean, good in an adult way. Ed plays drums for the jazz band, and I panic-parented for a few seconds ... and then realised that he wasn't a baby any more. I stopped clenching my hands and worrying that he would get lost, or fall off the chair, or poke himself in the eye. I thought -- Hey, he's good. He's having fun. I actually relaxed, and hummed along with Superstition and Tequila! and a jazzed up Feliz Navidad. My applause was from enjoyment rather than a release of pent-up tension.
Not that the concert was screw-up free. There are always some mistakes, and they are often the best parts of the show. Your own kid screwing up is a tough, because you know you will have to live with it later. And you will have to lie. No, you were fine! you say. You were great! I didn't notice that your costume had come undone and that you forgot your lines. Nose bleed? Really? I didn't even see it. My favorite mistake last night was three girls forgetting the words to Silent Night. They were going fine and then -- like a car running out of gas -- coasted to a smooth and complete stop in the middle of the second verse. They handled it perfectly. One of them clutched her mouth. The other two burst into fits of giggles. All three ran from the stage.
I clapped extra hard. So did the grandma beside me. All around me I saw warm smiles. Yup, it was a school concert. You know, in a couple of years Ed is going to graduate. I am going to miss these evenings -- no matter what religious or non-religious festival they are named for.
Sunday, 13 December 2009
Man, where does the time go? A week later, I am still with the zombies, still without a financial planner. The pasta sauce is gone, as are the decadent chocolate chip cookies. Christmas looms in and out of my conscience, a pirate ship chasing me through a fog bank. I'll forget about it for a bit, then remember and panic-shop, then drift into regular work and family mode, then spot it again, nearer now, its guns run out and its crew ready to board.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the Eaton Centre with most of Toronto, and my two girls. Imo and Thea are fond of picking out presents for other people. A generous trait, and useful for me since I have no talent that way. Thea will say something like, This candle would be perfect for Aunt Julie, and I'll say, Really? How do you know? And she'll say, I just do.
Aunt Julie, if you are reading this, better prepare for warm, waxy, Christmas-type light and scent.
I was able to offer some input into my son Sam's present because he told me, very clearly, what he doesn't want. A coat, he said. If you get me another horrible coat I may explode. See, I got him a motorcycle jacket for his birthday. Something like the one in the picture there, only more retro. I thought (and still do think; and what's more one of Sam's room mates agrees with me. Thank you, Dean) that the jacket was funky and stylish, capable of being worn both straight and as an ironic gesture. Sam disagreed. Violently.
Sam, if you are reading this, don't panic. No coats were purchased in the making of this Christmas. At least, not yet. (Sam and I have an odd gift-giving relationship. Some years ago, old enough to understand my taste in music and to have developed one of his own, he bought me an Eagles cd. Thanks! I said. You hate the Eagles, don't you, Dad, he said. Yes! I said. He smiled.)
I don't know who is going to help me shop for the girls. The boys have no talent for other people's desires. I may have to fall back on the icons of femininity: flowers and chocolate, silk and sunshine and love. Of course there is always technology. Nothing says I love you like an i-phone. And you can use it to order flowers.
Sunday, 6 December 2009
Two unrelated quickies today because I have no long thoughts, and because I just this moment had a real good thought (and about effing time) for the ending of the zombie book I have been writing off and on for a year now. After the football game the not-quite-zombie gets trapped in the remote laboratory with the actual zombie, and our intrepid hero and heroine decide to climb into the house and rescue him ... but enough about that. Plot synopses usually sound stupid. (Two kids fall in love but their families hate each other, and she's supposed to marry someone else, and he kills her cousin in a fight, and they decide to run away, and a crazy priest comes up with a magic potion that'll make everything right but he doesn't tell them how the potion works and they end up committing suicide. If I were Shakespeare and someone came up to me with that story idea I'd have said, Really? No, really? You're kidding, right?)
I was in the grocery store the other day and I overheard two guys talking an aisle over. They sounded like they were sixteen or so, laughing and telling each other to shut up. No you shut up. No you.
Then one of them got serious and said, What about those? The other one said, Yeah, I don't know what do with them. And the first guy said, They're all decadent, you know.
I had been listening with half an ear as I threw peanut butter and pasta sauce into my cart, but this last exchange got all my attention. To me, decadence looks something like the picture there. Anyway, I raced to the next aisle, and found two guys in uniform unloading a giant flat of President's Choice chocolate chip cookies.
You don't like that? I thought it was funny. My second quickie was a phone message waiting for me when I got back from Toronto. Not my agent wanting the overdue zombie book, or my kids wanting to borrow the car. This was a local stranger, acquaintance of an acquaintance, who wanted to become my -- get this -- financial adviser. I've got some interesting ideas about how you can grow your fortune, Rich, he said. If you are interested please take down this number and call me .... I stared at the phone for a second, and quietly deleted the message. It reminded me of the old joke about the definintion of an optimist: an accordionist with a pager. You could add: a kid's author with a financial planner.
That'll have to be enough for now. It's all I got.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
WOMEN -- Chocolate, flowers, sunshine, love, silk.
Pretty elemental, eh? Did I miss anything? I wonder where the sexes meet? Coffee comes to mind. Maybe cocaine. Maybe Paris. And of course everyone loves George Clooney. But most of the rest of the universe seems clearly divided.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
For some reason my computer has not allowed me to access blogger.com for the last couple weeks. Another couple of websites too, but blogger is the one that matters to you. I should have addressed this problem AT ONCE, but I am not an AT ONCE kind of guy, and let the problem slide and slide. And then yesterday morning I plugged in the computer and -- on a whim -- typed in my website and hit up blogger and got in. There's a lesson there, but I don't really know what it is. Leave things alone and they'll get better, I suppose. I should have posted RIGHT AWAY but, like I said, I am not that kind of guy. Anyway, here we are, finally.
So how have you all been? It's been a while. Hope no one has died or got ill or lost their job or been turned down by someone they asked out, or spent a lot of money on a watermelon that turned out to be lousy. That happened to me a while ago, and it sent my whole day into a downward spiral.
Let's do movies. I saw two recently, and they illustrate something. I'm not sure what. Maybe it'll come to me as I type. First was Away We Go. That's the one with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph travelling across America, sampling bits and bites of culture and personality as they look for the right place to start their own family. It's a good movie. I'm not as big a Krasinski fan as my Office loving daughter, but he does a fine job. Rudolph is an even better. Together they make a totally charming loving funny couple. You want to be them. The sad and odd weirdos they meet along the way are all well conceived. The dialogue is spot on. Everything works.
You think there's a but coming, don't you. But nothing. It's a good movie, like I said.
So why did I like Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans so much more? It is a flawed movie. Nicolas Cage is out of control. The ending is wrong -- an odd mix of cop-out and kick in the head. The dialogue is not perfect by any means. Even the title is sort of dumb. I may not have it right. But damn it the movie is watchable. Cage is absolutely mesmerising as he chews the scenery. The action builds and builds. The visuals are stunning, from the opening shot of the snake swimming through filthy water to the break-dancing soul of the drug kingpin. There are drop-jaw moments - the singing iguana (that's the scene in the picture) and Cage roughing up an elderly lady come to mind right away. For all its imperfections, Bad Lieutenant is a memorable piece of film making.
Maybe that's the point I am trying to get at. Away We Go rolls smoothly along. It's a good movie. Bad Lieutenant stumbles, falls, gets back up and totters towards greatness.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Saturday, 7 November 2009
So Halloween has been and gone. My kids take it more seriously than I do. Indeed they take most things more seriously than I do. (I was reading a mystery story the other day, and one of the guys in it said that he had kids who were older than he was. I knew what he meant at once. )
Thea went to Kingston to visit Sam, and the two of them ended up at the same party. Both decided to cross dress this year. Thea went as "Babe" Lincoln, complete with beard and mole (permanent magic marker, which she had trouble getting off the next day) and Sam and his friend Simon went as the musical couple Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. Sam was Courtney Love. He has the wild blonde hair to begin with, and he wore, Thea told me, the tightest skirt she had ever seen. Gosh I am sorry I missed that, I said, not completely meaning it.
Ed worried and worried about his costume. He wanted something memorable, but not too memorable. He didn't want it to look like he'd worked at it. Cool means not trying to be cool. It's the hardest thing in the world. I think he succeeded in the end (not in not worrying -- but in not appearing to worry). His friend Mark works at McDonald's, and Ed simply borrowed his uniform and name tag, and went to the Halloween party disguised as Mark. His costume won second prize. (I can't help wondering what it would have taken to win -- maybe if he had been Mark?)
Why do they take Halloween so seriously these days? I don't know. It isn't the candy. Is it the concept of identity, of being someone you are not? All I know is that I have not been to a costume party since seventh grade. (I was a mummy, wrapped in rolls and rolls of toilet paper that unravelled when I spilt Coke on myself. A sporty brunette named Robin, whom I rather fancied at the time, laughed her head off at me, and I ran away to the bathroom and wept the bitter tears of twelve years old.)
Geez, that took me back. You know, at that precise moment in my life I think I would have comitted a major crime to be someone I was not. Maybe my kids have the right idea. If I had climbed back into the saddle in Grade Seven, donned a pirate costume, or dressed up as Janis Joplin or Grace Jones (Ha ha, can't help laughing at that picture) maybe I would be better adjusted now. Hmmmm. Maybe it's not too late. You never know, do you? Next year?
Sigh. Sometimes you know.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
You should have gone down Bay, my dad said.
No, he shouldn't. He shouldn't have to. You should have paid, said my mom.
Paid what? said Dad.
He said Bay, Mom. Bay Street.
I did pay, said Dad. The Yankees lost and I paid. I always pay my debts.
Oh, the Yankees, said Mom. Don't get me started on the Yankees. And now what are you laughing at?
Nothing, I said. Nothing at all.
The elevator stopped, and a man got on. Rimless glasses, a white shirt, striped tie, shined shoes. He could have worn a sign saying ACCOUNTANT or perhaps SYSTEMS ANALYST but he didn't have to. He stared at us blankly, and turned away. My parents continued their discussion, managing to combine concert tickets, divorce, and automated parking in a breathtaking two-minute sequence. I wanted to applaud but I was too busy refereeing and laughing. The accountant got off, favoring me with one glance. (Can you have ice brown eyes? They were definitely chilly.) And I realized that he had not found our discussion amusing. Not at all. There had been no connection whatsoever. The door closed, and the elevator continued up.
That was a completely humorless man, I said.
I know, said Mom. Scary, huh?
Kind of. What do you think, Dad?
He shrugged. He's pretty focussed, my dad.
I still think you should have gone down Bay, he said.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Saturday, 3 October 2009
Friday, 25 September 2009
Sunday, 20 September 2009
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Monday, 7 September 2009
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
In the words of the National Geographic documentary: And so as the sun sinks slowly in the west we bid farewell to beautiful Pago Pago ... That is, we got the hell out of Dodge. Pouring rain, darkness, and the smell of ocean salt lingering on our clothes and skins and souls. Did I say Dodge? I meant Maine. Did I say souls? I meant sneakers.
My favorite memory might be the four of them climbing out of the surf on the first day's high tide, shaking their heads to clear them, smiling wide. Did anyone else notice, said Ed, that that was awesome!
My favorite memory might be the start of our day trip to Boston, getting stuck in the E-Z pass toll lane without an E-Z pass. The barrier wouldn't go up for me, and the traffic piled up behind me, and everyone knew how to use their horns. The uniformed woman who finally rescued me from two lanes over was not sympathetic character. I had had time to practice my Oops-sorry look, but it was not going over.
See what you've done! she said to me, a vinegary old lobster of a toll guard. See what you've done here!
(Great local accent she had. Here came out like heah.)
I know! I said. Isn't it amazing!?
She shook her head darkly and called me a couple of names. I was hoping for chowderhead, but had to settle for asshole. Close enough.
My favorite memory might have been later that same day, working our way through the maze that is downtown Boston to get to Fenway Park. We started at the John Hancock building. Sam was riding shotgun, and kept telling me to turn right. Onto what street? I 'd say. And he'd shrug. Doesn't matter, he'd say. I'm on Charles' Gate, I'd say. (Or Huntington, Boylston, Storrow.) And he'd frown at the map and say, I can't find any of them. Better turn right. After a half hour of U-turns, wrong-way one-ways, and slow honk-filled circling (as the picture shows, there's a lot of rerouting, and no one seems too happy about it) we achieved the on-ramp of an eastbound expressway, and I caught a glimpse of the storied ballyard in my rearview mirror. I craned around. The expressway would take us directly away from Fenway. Found it! I pointed wildly, sounding like that page boy in the Walter Scott poem. There! Of course it was too late to get off the ramp, but we took the first exit off the expressway, and a block later found ourselves staring up at ... the John Hancock building. I burst out laughing. Imo, who is good at maps, took over the shotgun position.
Favorite memory doesn't matter. Four kids in their late teens who want to hang out together and with Dad -- that's the real point.
Crossing the border into Canada the customs lady stared at my passport.
Who's this? she asked.
Me, I said. My hair was short last year.
You look older, she said.
How do you reply to that? Gee thanks? Shut up you fascist cow? The key at customs is simplicity. And no humour.
Uh huh, I said.
Thea leaned over from the shotgun seat. It's been a long week for Dad, she said to the customs lady. Who broke into a surprising warm smile. Totally transformed her face.
I bet it has, she said. And raised the barrier, letting us back into Canada.
Friday, 28 August 2009
The cottage is creepy, all right. How creepy? Bed and breakfast creepy. (Don't mean to get sidetracked here, but whenever I end up in one of those large dusty-shabby doilyful knickknacky places, with a collection of dolls staring down at me when I try to sleep, I wish I had opted for a chain hotel instead. Bland is not as bad as you think.) Anyway, our Maine cottage is like an extreme bed and breakfast, two hundred thousand years old, with broken toys, broken seashells, bleached barnwood walls, and a smell of salt and death.
The kids are one hundred percent bases full all hands on deck creeped out. They were already in freak mode, counting the cemeteries on our road into town (sixteen!). Now they are standing in the kitchen jibbering at me, arms waving, faces twitching, voices rising into the ether.
There's a baby Jesus with an arm missing!
There's a cover thing on top of the vacuum cleaner to make it look like a maid!
There's a stuffed dog!
There's spider webs everywhere!
Inside I am rolling my eyes (can you do this? Roll your eyes inside yourself, I mean) and cursing, but I smile, and try to sound like calm old reasonable old boring old Dad. There there, I say, and, I'm sure you'll get used to it, and, Spiders are our friends. Then I take them grocery shopping. Things begin to look better to all of us as we discover American junk food (You can't get that flavour at home) and an entire aisle dedicated to cheap wine. A week at a bed and breakfast, I say to myself. Not so bad.
That night I am awoken from a semi-vinous sleep by something large landing on my bed. Four somethings, I should say. My children are in my downstairs bedroom. Sam (Apache Chief, that is) turns on the light. Imo (Michilimackinac) speaks for them.
The place is haunted! she says.
There's a ghost upstairs! In my room. I can hear it. We can all hear it! Can't we, guys?
I am not quite awake. There's a what? I say.
Dad, we want to sleep here!
They all nod. They have brought blankets, I see. They curl up on the bed (fortunately queen sized) like puppies. Shivering scared puppies.
I don't know whether to laugh or pinch their cheeks. They are soooo cute! But I am soooo unlikely to get any sleep if they are all on the bed.
I try for practical. Look, guys, I know it's a creepy looking place. But it's not haunted, I say. It can't be. Come on, go back to bed.
No, they say.
You can share, I say. Girls in one room boys in the other. It'll be fun, I say.
I am yawning deeply. They shake their head, and curl up even tighter on my bed.
We're not leaving, says Ham Hock.
My will is weak. I cannot force them back to their own beds. If they won't leave, I will. Five minutes later I am upstairs in the ghost room, alone. I turn out the light and start the smooth smiling effortless drift back towards sleep. And then the rapping begins.
It's on the wall beside my head. Tap tappa tap. Then nothing. Then, after a moment, Tappa tap tappa.
I turn over.
Tappa tappa tappa tap. Tap tap.
No denying it. It isn't ghosts, but it's something. I sit up and turn on the light.
Probably animals. I pound on the wall. Which rattles a shelf full of knickknacks overhead. A thing rolls off and lands on the floor, startling me.
It's a doll. She's bald and sort of naked, with wide open eyes and a shocked expression. For a half second I wonder if I am in a Stephen King short story, where the doll will open her mouth and speak to me. I put her back on the shelf. And lie down. My heart is moving a bit too fast for sleep. I keep the light on for a bit.
It's going to be a long night.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
I write to you from America's vacationland which I was surprised to learn is Maine. I know, eh -- you would have thought Florida or California. But license plates do not lie (10 000 LAKES, MINNESOTA) and Maine is, apparently, Vacationland.
First the backstory. When I was a kid, my family vactioned in a charming beach community in southern Maine. Four or five years in a row we were there. Those memories are the meat in my childhood summer vacation sandwich (YMCA camp being the slightly soggy bread). The cottages were roomy and full of character, the lobsters were succulent, and the surf was amazing though frigid. We spent most of the two weeks on the beach. On rainy days my brother and I would play cards, build plasticene snakes, and say NO whenever my dad proposed a trip to Boston. (What if the sun comes out? we said. We'll miss the waves.) Vacationland, indeed.
So when, a few weeks ago, I came across an internet ad featuring the very same beach community I remembered, with summer cottages still for rent, I took a chance and signed us up. The kids cleared their summer work schedules, and we were off.
Maine is ten hours from Cobourg. My kids are gung ho vacationers, and time is short. We decided to do it all in a day. The first thing we'd need, they decided, was juice boxes and snacks. The second: nicknames. These developed all at once as we were driving through woodsy hilly Vermont (GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE) and perhpas for that reason several of them have a decidedly native American caste. Imo, for some reason, became Michilimackinac. Sam is now Apache Chief. Thea is Ham Hock (not particualrly native) and Ed is Buttons (not native at all). I, I am proud to say, am Sacagawea. That's me in the picture.
As we left the interstates and drove for a long time on Highway 302, through New Hampshire (LIVE FREE OR DIE! possibly my favorite license plate motto) and Maine (VACATIONLAND) the kids began to notice that there were a lot of cemeteries. A lot.
This isn't creepy at all, said Ed who had the shotgun seat.
Sure isn't, chimed Imo from the back. I like cemeteries. And see how the trees close in overhead. A nice warm atmosphere, eh?
Shut up, Michilimackinac! said Thea.
We arrived at supper time, unloaded the car, and stepped into our home for the next week. Historic Bolton Cottage. Ten minutes later I was checking out kitchen supplies, wondering what we'd need to buy, when the kids came running downstairs screaming.
Dad this is the creepiest place ever!
Dad there's a ghost, and a hundred spiders, and and it's baking hot!
Dad, can we go home?
Thursday, 20 August 2009
I am back from exercising, and feel glad. And kind of awful. Glad because of all the good fitness I treated myself to for an hour and a half. Awful because I can't really remember any of it.
Oh, I have vague memories. Snippets from the cutting room floor of my mind. I can see ... pavement, hydro poles, sun in my eyes, sweat trickling, YMCA entrance, treadmill, Roger Federer, silver machines, drinking fountain, pavement again, sun on the back of my neck, and ... and then I was home, easing off my trainers and feeling glad and awful. An hour and a half gone.
I may be fitter than I was, but I will never have that hour and a half again. I have murdered time - a horrible crime when you consider how pathetically short is the span of human life. Is this how everyone exercises? I hope not. I hope there are lots of folks out there paying attention to their workout, enjoying it, savoring every exerting moment. See the picture? Like those guys (funny video from a few years ago featuring the band, OK Go.)
I am not there yet. Right now I am treating my workout as a kind of prison sentence -- a stretch in the big house that I will feel better after. The way to get through it is to turn off mentally. Don't think of the bad man doing those bad things to you. Zone out, and think of Roger Federer. I would not normally watch tennis on a bet, but if the alternative is NOTICING what I am doing to my body, well, bring on the sweaty Swiss.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Weird night last night. I can not recall being so hot. I woke up at two and four, and couldn't think what was wrong. I actually thought I was having an attack of some kind. Then I struggled through various layers of sleep, possibly mixed with red wine, and realized that my flat was hot enough to bake bread. I don't mind the heat usually, never use air conditioning (Never? Well, hardly ever) even when it is an option. It was not an option last night. And the heat was, well, egregious. I soaked a wash cloth, put it on my face, but it offered only momentary relief. I wondered what to do.
And then the wisdom of my Macedonian grandfather came back to me. A gruff old guy, usually unshaven and with a hand-rolled cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
When you're hot, drink something hot, he used to say. Look at the Arabs. They live in the hottest climate in the world, and what do they drink? Coffee and tea.
Yes, Dedo, but the Arabs didn't have electricity, I would say. I was nine or ten.
So what, he said. If they had electricity, maybe they'd use air conditioning. And maybe they wouldn't. I tell you they didn't need air conditioning. They drank hot drinks. And wore loose clothing. Long loose clothing, all over. Not like North Americans with their bikinis.
Which generally got him started on girls today and their lack of modesty.
I had not thought of my dedo in years, but his voice came back to me last night in my feverish state. I wondered if he had had a point after all. I decided to try out his ideas. Not the long flowing robes, but the hot drink. I boiled water and made a pot of tea.
Guess what? Going down, the tea felt as hot as hell's door knob. And when it go to my stomach it felt even hotter. And then ... gradually ... over the next minute or two ... I began to experience a feeling of comparative coolness. I repeated the procedure. I felt ... better. Not cool, mind you. Far from cool. But less hot. I drank two cups and went to bed, but was only able to sleep for an an hour or so before my bladder woke me up. Drinking hot tea will in fact relieve heat prostration, but you still end up with all that tea sloshing around inside you. If my dedo were still alive I might ask him how the Arabs dealt with that.
Monday, 10 August 2009
Miriam and I had coffee and soup, and planned our route for the afternoon. The nearby table of soldiers ate together, finished together and stood up together. The old soldier signed the bill instead of paying (which perhaps explained the popularity of the place) and then they all left in a group. They might almost have been chained together. I tried to catch someone's eye as they passed our table. No particular reason except that I like to establish contact with people. No one looked my way -- they were too busy frowning and adjusting their uniforms.
An interesting little vignette, I thought. And then, a few hours later, in the middle of a beautiful sunny afternoon, we passed a white club van with a discreet and tasteful WCCS on it. Up close the letters turned out to stand for Wisonsin Correctional Center System. It was a prison van. And in it were (you guessed it) a bunch of mostly young guys, sitting so close they might have been chained together, with short short hair and uniforms that made them all look the same.
I was struck. I really was. Two groups far removed from my sloppy tolerant middle-of-the-community sphere of belonging. One dedicated to protecting society's rules, another to bending or breaking them. The two groups face in opposite moral and philosophical directions. And yet there are these similarities. I could ask deep questions about who is really in prison here, but I won't. I will note that, like the soldiers', the prisoners' faces were blank, their thoughts seemingly removed from the present. And they were scary. Man, were they scary.
I felt bad for them. Mind you, I felt bad for the soldiers too.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Sorry, sorry. I know you've been worried. I just got back from a trip, and computers were not part of the luggage. Where was I, you ask? On the road from Winnipeg to Cobourg. I'll fill you in on a couple of interesting moments over the next few days. It was a fun trip, but I am glad to be home.
We decided to go via America because it's a bit quicker than the narrow looping Trans Canada, and because I have never been to North Dakota or Wisconsin. The drive out of Winnipeg was, well, dull. I was prepared for excitement at the border, though. The Pembina Highway crossing is, I am told, peopled with the most vile collection of power-hungry petty-dictatorial customs inspectors in the country. Famous for it, apparently. They make the Niagara Falls guys I'm used to look like the Welcome Wagon.
Be careful Miriam told me. No jokes, no attitude. Answer the questions straight and quick.
Can I pay compliments? I asked.
Like what: Nice country you have here?
I was thinking more like, What a cool uniform. Or, Hey do you work out? That kind of compliment.
So as we approached the 49th parallel I was practicing my smile in the mirror. I wanted to seem friendly but not effusive. After a few false starts I thought I had it.
How's this? I asked.
Miriam looked over from the driver's seat, shook her head.
Your smile is too much like a simper, she said.
How about this?
She checked again. Now you're on the verge of leering.
Now you are leering.
Okay, now? Now?
She smiled without looking over. Try to act natural, she said.
What is it with customs inspectors? I wonder if it might be a combination of power and frustration. You want to be a cop or a soldier, keeping the world safe and blowing up bad guys, and you spend your whole life cooped up in a little booth, going through dirty laundry. That'd tick me off, I have to say. We all have our customs stories. I remember trying to cross at Detroit wearing a cowboy hat. (I was playing a game with the kids, and I forgot I had it on. ) After the fourth or fifth question -- asked in increasingly hostile tone -- I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and said: Oh my God it's the hat, isn't it? You are after me because of the hat. The customs guy asked me to step out of the car, and it all went downhill from there. Miriam has a good story about her son and a handful of grass stems.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that our guy this time was incredible. Chubby, balding, and with a real sense of humour. Totally charming. He asked what we did, smiled into the car, pumped his fist when Miriam said she was moving because of me, told a story about his wife and her mother and the moving guy that I kind of lost track of. Then he sent us on our way with best wishes and a cheery wave. What a guy! If it'd been anywhere near the end of his shift I'd have bought him a drink. I can't help wondering how he gets along with his colleagues, but as a representative of the daily thousands of people driving past his booth, allow me to say: Way to go, Mr Customs Man!
We stopped at a small town outside of Fargo, and the first thing I noticed was that everyone at the next table wore short short haircuts and camouflage uniform.
Hey, look at the army men! I said in a loud whisper.
Shhh, said Miriam, as they all looked over.
More next time.
Monday, 27 July 2009
Still on the topic of new and old: I am reading an Inspector Morse mystery. A pretty good one. And as I am puzzling my way through the investigation, sympathizing with poor Lewis and grimacing at Morse's alcohol intake, I notice that the front cover reads: THE NEW INSPECTOR MORSE NOVEL. Of course it is not new any more. It's new to me, but it's about fifteen years old. This book, towards the end of Morse's fine career, was published before my own modest one even began. And that leads me to wonder about the nature of the new.
Don't worry, this discussion is not going to get very deep. Or if so, not for long. A quick foray past the shallow end buoys, and then I'll turn around to where I can feel the bottom again.
Everything is said and we come too late, since seven thousand years, since we exist and think ... says some (I think French) guy. This new Inspector Morse novel is simply another reworking of an old old story. Humans have been killing each other and trying to get away with it for as long as we've been around. Cain? Sure, but I bet that (Christian fundamentalists cover your ears. You can skip this part) long before Cain there were murders, and lies. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the most popular stories around the fire were the ones about a body that was found in a locked cave with a flint axe in its back. (Thank heavens for Inspector Thag and his trusty henchperson, Sergeant Og)
My book does not look new. It is tattered and stained, and at least one page is missing. But at one point it was new, and that newness was real. This idea of the new reminds of ... now, dammit, which movie was it? Ivanhoe? Maybe -- or maybe something Arthurian or Robin Hoodian. I can't remember. Anyway, it was a historical drama set in an olde Englande castle with lots of gloom and dust, and everything looks old and decrepit and authentic. (Maybe not quite as decrepit as the picture there, but along those lines.) Except that it's wrong. Not authentic at all. The castle would have been bran spanking new at the time. The crumbling stones would have been perfectly smooth. Think monster home in a modern suburb, with the Duke and Duchess as medieval yuppies.
Everything new is in fact a reworking of something old. Fair enough. But remember that everything old was once new.
Friday, 24 July 2009
A productive morning. While the car was getting something expensive done to stop it from leaking power steering fluid, I walked to the mall and bought myself some socks. Yep, it's an exciting and glamorous life I lead.
I need socks because my boys keep taking mine. Only a few months ago I had a drawer full of them. Nothing fancy -- just plain gray and black sport socks. One by one (actually, two by two) they disappeared. Every now and then I'd catch a glimpse of one of them peeping out at me from the top of a shoe.
Hey, I'd say. That's my sock.
Yeah, Ed would say. (He seems to be the chief culprit.) I ran out of clean ones. I didn't think you'd mind.
And I don't mind. Except that as of a few days ago my sock drawer was empty.
I've tried buying him socks, but he hates shopping. It's easier if you buy them, and I take them from you, he says.
So this morning I dropped my car off and went out and bought nine pairs of socks from the local Zellers. They are ankle length -- shorter than the ones in the picture (which I chose because the model looks so much like me). They were on special, which made me feel pretty good. Adding to my good mood, the power steering leak did NOT require a 400.00 replacement part but only a twenty-five cent squirt of glue. That saving alone will keep me and Ed in socks for the next fifteen years.
While on the subject (and I don't visit it very often) I want to ask you: is there a nicer feeling than pulling on a new pair of socks? Mostly I like clothes that are well worn. New underwear doesn't do much for me. New shirts always feel itchy, and new shoes take some working in. But for some reason a brand new pair of sport socks makes me want to break into a buck and wing. A cheap way to feel good. I'd buy socks more often, except that I hate shopping almost as much as Ed does.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Funny and rather touching moment yesterday. Well, I think it's touching. Maybe it's just funny. Mir and I were walking along Bloor Street near University in Toronto, past the place where a guy named Greg used to sell home-made ice cream. (I remember the shop well from back when I lived in Toronto in the 90s. There were several brilliant cinnamon flavors, and one with Grape Nuts that I liked too.)
Greg's wasn't where it used to be, which was too bad. I had been kind of in the mood for an ice cream cone, and now that I couldn't get one I wanted it even more. I was wondering if Greg had gone out of business or perhaps moved, and if so where. And so I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a slightly lost expression on my face (actually, this is a pretty common look for me. You know how some people's faces settle naturally into a frown, or a smile? Well, mine settles naturally into a gormless puzzled expression -- an idiot who has lost his village) when up steamed the largest man I'd seen in a long time. Not tall -- shorter than I, in fact -- but wider than a church door, with a voice and features to match, so that he seemed even larger than he was. He pushed his bundle buggy right up to where we were standing, put his watermelon-sized head on one side, and positively bellowed at us.
WHAT'S WRONG? he asked.
Mir jumped back, a startled defensive smile on her face.
YOU LOOK LOST. DO YOU WANT SOME HELP?
I explained our situation. I have never thought of myslf as having a quiet voice, but it sure sounded hushed after this guy's.
GREG'S? WHY THAT'S EASY! he cried, his face shining with joy and sweat. HE'S MOVED DOWN THE STREET! CROSS SPADINA AND IT'S ON THE OTHER SIDE OF BLOOR. CAN'T MISS IT!
His sense of personal space was different from mine. A close talker. His bundle buggy bumped against my leg. I could see every pit and crease in his face, count the missing teeth (three) in his smile.
I thanked him for his information.
NOT AT ALL, he boomed. WE CAN'T HAVE FOLKS MISSING THEIR ICE CREAM. OFF YOU GO NOW!
He steamed away. We called our thanks after him. He waved his hand without turning around. We watched him disappear into the Saturday sidewalk crowd.
I like to think he was on the lookout for new strangers to help. Someone needing a place to stay, perhaps, or a bathroom, or directions to the Museum of Ceramic Art. Viewed this way he becomes a kind of civic hero. Wherever doubt lives, and indecision, whenever people need to know where to go but are too shy to ask, THIS GUY will show up with his booming voice and his answers.
All right, maybe it was just one odd moment in the day. But we did get our ice cream, which we wouldn't have without THIS GUY.
Friday, 10 July 2009
An odd moment this morning, after a late night last night. No, not that kind of late night. I stayed in, catching up on my editing. (The new book is in page proofs, but there are still tons of mistakes and sore spots and creases that have to be rectified, soothed and ironed out. Not just commas, either. Last night I came across a reference to a character I killed off two years ago in an earlier draft. It was like meeting a ghost. Ahh! I said. What are you doing here? I had to perform an exorcistic document search.)
Anyway, I was up til 3:00 or so drinking way too much coffee and swearing at the screen, so when I got up an hour or so ago I was not feeling perky. No, not perky at all. Getting the garbage from the kitchen to the curb was a saga of spills, mis-steps, and more curse words. But at last the quest was fulfilled, and I stood back and looked around, breathing in the new day.
I noticed that the place next to mine is for rent again. (Poor Marv can't seem to keep his tenants for very long.) I noticed a strange teenager slinking out of the crack house across the street. (I am probably libelling the good folks who live there. It may not be a crack house. But no one seems to go to work, and the building is falling down, and many of their visitors seem jittery and anxious. And the cops drop by now and then. Just saying...) And then I noticed that my car was missing.
I didn't panic. I was still groggy from no sleep. And having four teenagers means that your car is often missing. But I remembered that I had been out yesterday evening, and hadn't lent the car after that. Hmmm. Like an idiot, I went right over to my empty driveway, and peered down at the familiar oil stains. (I don't know what I was expecting to find. A ransom note? That my car was there all along but invisible through some Stealth-type technology?) Whatever, the thing was gone without a trace.
First things first. I went inside for a cup of coffee, which cleared my brain sufficiently for me to work out my next steps. Check that I had the car keys. Yup. Pour more coffee. Yup. And now call the police.
Upstairs, phone in hand, I looked across at the crack house, the big-screen-TV-guy's house (giant colourful images flash out of his livingroom window and into the street, visible day and night, winter spring summer or fall -- I don't think I have known the set to be off for more than an hour or two at a time) , and the parking lot where businesses on King Street load and unload.
And there, in the middle of the lot, was a familiar gray sedan.
Police, how can I help you? said the voice in my ear. I hung up.
The good news is that I didn't panic and put the cops to a lot of unnecessary bother. The bad news is that I have NO IDEA how my car got across the street. It's like that character in my book -- popping up unexpectedly, leftover from an early draft of my life.
Monday, 6 July 2009
Whoa! Wait a moment. Wait just a moment. That is not my memory. Sorry. I never did any of that stuff. I don't know where Smith and Jarvis is, or if the intersection even exists. Now that I am wider awake I can't remember getting up this early since my kids were little. Funny how real it all seemed, though. I could smell the dewy grass, feel the darkness wrap me like a pullover. I must have tapped into someone else's dreams. Enough to make you believe in the idea of a race memory, a collective unconscious wherein we all have a bully of a big brother, and a high school sweetheart, and an early morning paper route.
Speaking of bulllies reminds me of a funny scene yesterday afternoon. Driving through a mixed part of town -- houses for rent, small retail outlets, old folks home, rundown church -- I saw a street gang. A dozen guys and girls looking very provocative with their tattoos and cigarettes. They were hanging out in front of -- get this -- a store that does alterations. Yup, that's right. Forget the pool hall, the scummy bar, the parkette with the basketball court. Here was the disaffected youth of Cobourg, sitting astride their bicycles, dead-eyed cool, and the sign in the background said: PANTS HEMMED WHILE U WAIT. It was all just too darned cute. Almost as cute as the picture up there. I honked and waved as I went past. One of the kids looked over, a half-frown on his face as he searched his soul for a collective memory of whatever it is that I am.
Thursday, 2 July 2009
It sounded like a joke -- anything about Michael Jackson sounds like a joke -- so I didn't pay attention when my daughter told me that some of her friends had heard he was dead. Really, Dad, it said so on the internet, she told me. I gave her a hug and told her I was proud of her, and how pretty she looked in her new dress, and would she be late with the car, and all that typical post-graduation stuff.
Yup, I was at Imo's grad when I heard about MJ. I won't go into too much detail about the evening at St Mary's High School, Cobourg Ontario, since it was -- I bet -- pretty much the same as any other grad anywhere in North America. Certainly it was the same as Sam and Thea's a couple of years ago. That is to say: long, hot, charming, repetitive, long, sentimental, predictable, sweet, and long. Of course I had a mind full of memories of Imo as a newborn, toddler, camper, scrambler and little girl, all of which helped to pass the time. And of course, as Becket says, it would have passed anyway. But the evening was a long one.
Imo won a prize or two, as did almost everyone else in her graduating year. I have to say, I approve of the practice of making everyone's grad special. Hats off to the various do-gooding organizations of the town -- Rotarians, Oddfellows, Lions, Tigers and Bears -- for donating scholarships and bursaries and awards to make sure that there is an extra something to say after almost every name on the graduating list. It puts a little money in kids' hands, and a little self-esteem in their hearts, and what's wrong with that? And it gives parents something to gush about to other parents. Of course it makes the kids who did not win anything look like big losers. I made a point of clapping extra hard when they walked across the stage to accept a handshake and scroll. Life is full of hard lessons, and I suspect that this was not the first such lesson for any of these kids.