Monday, 27 July 2009

old, new, whatever

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

cheap thrill

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.
I explained our situation. I have never thought of myslf as having a quiet voice, but it sure sounded hushed after this guy's.
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.
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

dude where's my life?

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

jung at heart

Ugh. Haven't been awake so early in years. 4:30 am. What the heck am I doing up now? Mind you, there was a time when this hour knew me well. Yes, 4:30 was part of my routine. Up with the alarm clock, dressed and shivering, run to the corner of Smith and Jarvis where the stack of newspapers is waiting for me. Take an armful into the nearest apartment and ....

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

where were you?

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.
So, anyway, Imo dropped me home and kept the car and I went upstairs and there was the news on the TV. Where was I when I heard about Elvis? Can't tell you. Hendrix, Strummer, Cobain, Harrison? Can't tell you. Sid Vicious? Can't tell you. But Jacko, maybe the biggest combo of talent and weirdness in rock (lots of competition there, and the bar is set pretty high), is forever linked in my mind with my little girl's graduation.