Friday, 26 June 2009

autobots rule!

It was great to get another insight into the teen boy mindset today. Ed and a bunch of his friends went to see, and I quote, Oh my God, one of the three greatest movies of all time. It was, he told me, so good. Oh my God. So good. We were in the car at this point, bright sunshine and a highway unrolling in front of us, and he gestured mutely at the windshield, shaking his head, unable to express the depth of his feeling.
He was talking, of course, about Transformers 2. For those of you who are not teenaged boys, this movie (like its predecessor) pits one kind of gigantic transforming machine against another kind in a battle to save the world. There is human interaction as well -- a pleasant male actor and a luscious female actor. (What's her role? I asked Ed. She spends a lot of time running across the screen in slow motion, he replied.) The real point of the movie is not sex, but action -- lots of chasing, fights, explosions, and, well, and then more of the same. What I loved was listening to Ed tell me how great it was. His description of the plot was detailed and systematic, but when he went on to discuss the fight scenes his voice became supercharged. He was re-experiencing a kind of epiphany. I actually shouted at the screen! he said. When Optimus Prime is fighting the three Decepticons in the forest, I was, like, shouting. Oh, my God!
What about your friends? I said. They were doing it too, he said. A whole row of us, shouting at the screen! It was so intense. And when Optimus Prime

dies, the whole theater said, No!!! together.

Wow, I said.
When we left the theater we were all so excited we were jumping around, he said. I was like, I have to watch that again! I was envying the people in line to see the next show.
I asked Ed is there were many girls in the theater.
A few, he said. But they were with their boyfriends. And they weren't screaming at the screen.
I smiled at the idea of these generous girls, very possibly bored out of their skulls after two hours of mechanized mayhem, but putting up with it for the sake of their men. (The shoe will be on the other foot later this year when the next Twilight movie comes out.)
I may have to see Transformers 2 myself. If I do, though, I want to watch it with Ed.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

just missed

I nearly saw the scariest thing this evening. Out walking the dog (not mine -- watching him for a friend) I was on Spring Street heading south when two cars and two kids on bikes went past. The cars were travelling in opposite directions, the bikes both heading towards me up the street.
The first biker was maybe ten years old, kind of tough looking - one of those street kids with a perpetually dissatisfied expression. He scooted safely past me, kicking at the dog as he went by because, well, because he's that kind of kid. A casual meanie. The kind you should feel sorry for, but don't.His brother followed him. Same square face, dark hair and eyebrows, big chin -- but a lot younger. No more than five or six, and just learning to ride a bike. He was proud of himself, and excited, pedalling like mad to keep up with his big brother. His eyes flicked over me and the dog, and his expression softened briefly before he re-focussed on the task at hand.
Funny how one second, one gesture, can be enough to establish character. I liked the little brother as quickly and as easily as I'd disliked the big one.
The two cars met just behind the smaller bike. An SUV and a compact. They were the only vehicles on the street, and there was just enough room for them both. They swerved out of each others' path. The SUV headed off. But now the compact was way over at the side of the road, aiming directly at the little kid.
I saw the future in a flash. It looked awful. There was nothing I could do. The kid was going to get run over. I didn't even have time to close my eyes. I shouted. Time slowed down, and the scene got very clear, as if seen through crystal. The compact driver stood on her brakes, and the car skidded up onto the sidewalk ahead of me. The dog barked. The kid rode past me, oblivious to everything except his precarious balance and the movement of his feet. And the moment was past.
Time speeded up again. The compact driver and I stared at each other through her windshield for a few seconds. Then she threw the car into reverse, backed off the sidewalk, and headed slowly -- very slowly -- up the road. And the dog and I continued our walk.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

a life in a list

Found a piece of paper in my shopping cart yesterday. Torn from a school exercise notebook, sloppy handwriting. Being nosy, I started to read it ... and found myself unable to stop. I read the whole page twice, put the scrap of paper in my pocket, thought about it all through my shopping trip (I was so preoccupied I forgot to get a watermelon), and came back to it repeatedly through the evening. No, it was not a love letter or a suicide note. It was not a poem or a plan to rob a Brinks truck. There was no excitement, no emotional content at all. It was a list -- a series of things to buy and do. Straightforward, incredibly everyday things ... and yet not. Taken together the list can be seen to represent, well, a life. Reading it again now I am amused, sympathetic, moved -- totally fascinated. Here it is. I've kept the spelling but changed the names.
At the top are a few circled grocery items: Tide, Kleenx, air freshener, apple cider. (I guess you start with the essentials.) Then the to-do part begins.
- Get hair fixed
- hole punch shoes

- Penningtons - 3 shirts (present for
Then there's a boxed off area, a sort of side-bar. These are the must-do things:
- mark 100 on calendar for Dad
- put in ww fluid

- p/u Sue @ noon

- put in flowers 8 am

- cut dad's hair 11 am.

The list resumes:
- go out with Kathy 6 pm
- call Dougal after 10 on SUN
- order nasel spray

(That last is my favorite.)
Some more grocery items are scribbled off to one side: coffee, rice, fruit, soup, nachos, pasta, real fruit cookies, mac & cheese, water bottle, Equate, deoderent, toilet chain.
Maybe toilet chain is more hardware than grocery, but it's on the list.
The final entries seem to be more serious. They are double spaced.
- Sue - try nails
- check map account online

- Do SIN application

- sign and return Dance form - Sue

- find present for mom

- Book Dr app for me

Truth is in the details. Put enough small bits of truth together and you have a whole truth. In this case, a character. I do not know her name or address, or the colour of her skin or hair. I don't know why she is hole punching her shoes. I can only speculate as to the significance of 100 for her dad. But I get a very strong sense of her. I like her a lot, and wish her well. Her parents and friends are lucky.

Monday, 15 June 2009


Driving into Toronto I found myself behind a van with a seriously ethnic look to it. Green in colour, and covered in bumperstickers lauding all things Irish, from Notre Dame and the blarney stone to a variety of Celtic crosses and other related doodads: harps, shamrocks, Guinness logos, erin go braghs and such like. (We were on the Don Valley Parkway, moving at the speed of government reform, so there was plenty of time to take all this in.) I was admiring the consistency of the vision when the van pulled off to the side of the road so the driver could take a phone call. (So safety conscious! My Irish driving stereotype was shattered.) As I passed slowly, I took in his collar, long dark beard, and hat. Very ethnic -- but not Irish. I laughed so hard I nearly spilt my coffee. Talk about prejudging. I'd been expecting some kind of leprechaun or faerie mayden, and here was a guy looking almost exactly like that picture of Yusuf Islam, Cat Stevens as he was.
My window was open, and so was his. Did I hear the strains of Enya or Danny Boy wafting into the morning rush hour, further evidence of this guy's love affair with the Emerald Isle? No. It was a (to my stereotyping ears) generic piece of Arabic music -- an oboe type instrument working in a musical scale or mode I didn't recognize.
So I wondered how he came to be driving that van? Did he just buy it off of his good friend Paddy O'Flaherty or Biddy Connolly? (Still with the stereotypes. Except that real Irish folks would be more likely to have a rude bumpersticker and listen to Biggie Smalls.) Perhaps the van was borrowed, and my man changed all the radio settings. Poor Paddy will be so upset.
Just before I got off at my exit, a beat-up muscle car pulled past me and cut in. There was just enough room for it after I braked. The driver flipped me the pre-emptive bird before I had a chance to honk. Then she gunned the engine and took off.
Probably a Canadian.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

why didn't I call him Jesus?

Cities offer the gift of invisibility. It's one of my favorite things about them. Walking in the midst of a crowd, you seem to disappear. It's an illusion, of course. You never know when you might run into your Uncle Martin on the arm of a woman who is definitely not Auntie Cora, or your high school English teacher in high heels and a dress (that is not Mr Gladstone over there, by the way. His hair was much shorter. But you get the idea.) Or you will be walking along, thinking of your kids, or a story, or the Blue Jays, or the way the light hits the corner of a building, or the time when you sneezed all over your dance partner in Grade 6, and she screamed and ran to the bathroom and everyone in the whole gym stopped to stare and laugh (I think about that moment fairly often) -- and you have to stop because you are about to walk into a stranger who wants spare change, or directions to the subway. It's as though God wants you to know that you are never truly alone.
I don't mind these bits and pieces of sharing. But what makes them cool is not the connection itself but the fleeting aspect of it. Not long ago, during a home town losing streak, I was waiting for a light at a busy intersection, and the guy beside me said, Four in a row only a few seconds after I had had exactly the same thought. I turned. We shared our pain. And then the light changed and we parted. A shining silver moment. Further discussion would have tarnished it.
So what do you do when God takes off the mask? Walking along Queen West the other day I found myself approaching a figure in a wheelchair who was yelling at people. I couldn't hear what he said at first, but pedestrians were averting their heads and moving past him awfully fast. I got nearer, and we had our connection. He was middle-aged, bearded. The stump of his missing leg stuck out from the front of the wheelchair like a bowsprit. He fixed me with a glittering eye. Why don't you call me Jesus? he yelled.
I didn't know what to say. On the one hand he was probably a poor dementing guy in need of medication. On the other hand, it was a great straight line.
I tried the calming approach. I smiled and apologized. I didn't recognize you, I said. I hope I'll know you next time.
And then our moment was over. I was past him. He yelled his question at a mom and daughter behind me. And I disappeared back into the city.

Monday, 1 June 2009

talking of love ...

The new book is done! Ahhhhhh. Actually, all that "done" means is that it is off my desk until the editor gets back to me with the microsoft version of sticky notes stuck all over it. I figure I have about a week of official idleness. Then I'll get back to my default position of disguised idleness.
I was using some of my official free time to exercise this afternoon, moving up and down and around and around on my goose-stepping machine. I don't bring earphones to the Y. I enjoy watching TV with no sound. I like imagining what Dr Phil is talking about, or -- better yet -- trying to guess the secret words and phrases in game shows. Today Dr Phil was talking about the dangers of cell phones (I think -- though it'd be really funny if I thought he was talking about texting and he was actually talking about AIDS or homelessness) and I found myself watching tennis.
Wow, what drama. There was the aging star -- lots of fan loyalty, but there were a couple of wrinkles in her face, and her legs didn't have the same spring as the feisty funky youngster she was playing. The veteran was highly seeded, clearly a better player, but the kid was playing the match of her life and they were all tied going into the third set. I found myself rooting for the kid at first -- so naive, so cocky (if you can say that about a woman -- somehow vaginey just doesn't sound right), so hopeful. The veteran was tiring, and starting to look grumpy. Hurrah for youth, I thought.
And then the kid started to tick me off. Every point she won she made a fist and said, Yeah! Every point. Winner, unforced error, double fault -- Yeah! It was driving me crazy. The veteran shook her head gently at a dubious line call. The kid went, Yeah! And I changed loyalties like a gold digger. Now, instead of winded and grumpy, the veteran looked regal and self-possessed. Instead of funky, the kid looked like a brat.
Funny how we endow characters with the personality we desire. One youth/age stereotype -- fresh versus tired -- underwent a sea change in my mind to become an inversion of itself: callow versus experienced.
I left before the set ended. I don't like tennis enough to extend my workout. (I don't know the players either -- the woman in the picture is someone else.) I wonder who won. But not very hard. I have more important considerations in my idleness. Those feet of mine won't get up on the desk by themselves, you know. I have to raise them up there.