Tuesday, 27 October 2009

an elevator ride

An odd moment on the elevator yesterday. My mom had a doctor's appointment, and my dad and I were going along for company. We were alone for most of the elevator trip. Mom and Dad were sharing comments on the downtown traffic (bad) my driving (too fast) and the state of baseball (don't ask), with sidebars into grandchildren (gorgeous) and prospects for lunch (varied). It was in short a regular family piece of argle bargle, as has been served more or less fresh for as long as I can remember. Lots of laughing on their parts because these are fun topics to riff on. Lots of laughing on my part for those reasons, and also because my folks, in their 70s now, talk loudly, think quickly, and can't hear very well.

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.

speed dating in Surrey

Spent the weekend in beautiful (not really) Surrey BC at the wonderful (really!) Surrey International Writers' Conference. A great idea, this conference -- reminds me of the Humber Summer Workshop. It links the emergent writing community (that is, wannabes) with potentially helpful mentors (me, among others - stop laughing) and also with a large number of agents and publishers. Aspiring writers sign up for pitch sessions with agents, where they have five minutes to sell their book. One guy I talked to met his agent there two years ago, and is now signing contracts worth five times more than mine. I was seriously impressed (envious).
The toughest part of the weekend for me was what they call blue pencil sessions. You sign up for these too. You go to a large ballroom with your manuscript clutched in your trembling hands. For fifteen minutes you sit opposite your selected mentor (there are tables dotted about the ballroom) who reads some of the mansucript and gives you literary advice. The bell rings, and you move to make way for the next trembling-handed writer. It's a stressful as speed-dating, which it resembles. Stressful for you, listening to home truths about your work. And superstressful for your mentor. Yikes!! I tell you, it's hard to come up with truly insightful commentary, quarter hour after quarter hour. I kept saying to myself: Find One Thing to say that will help this person. Don't be flip or funny (Have you considered a career in chartered accountancy); don't be cruel (your main character could play in a TV ad as The Least Interesting Man In The World). Be of use.
Fortunately, all the manuscripts I saw were brilliant (you never know who is going to read your blog), so my advice wasn't necessary. Usually it was a case of: Good, good, but you might want to think about doing this or that. Now get back to work.
Maybe I'll take my own advice now.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

one fine province

More from the frustrated teenaged driver front. With the testers still on strike, ten weeks now, and going strong, Ed has a new plan for getting his licence. He wants to try Manitoba. Yes, that's right. He would rather drive than live in Ontario. We talked about it last night, he and Mir and I. It started as a joke, but got more serious when he found a phone number in Manitoba, and I talked to someone from the provincial insurance agency there. She was very clear. The provincial authority would give Ed credit for the time he has already put in as a learning driver in Ontario. He would need to take the Manitoba written test, and then he could do the driving test within the week.
Ed was ecstatic, overhearing me say this. Let's go, he whispered. Let's go now!
I held up my hand in a whoa! gesture. The situation was getting complex. To take the test, the lady informed me, he would need to have a piece of ID with a Manitoba address on it.
Like what, I asked her.
How about a gas bill addressed to him?
He's 16, I said. He doesn't pay for gas.
How about a cancelled cheque?
He doesn't have a bank account, I said. The only ID he has with an address is his passport. And that was issued in Ontario.
Ed was jumping around the living room. I could open a bank account, he said at the same time as the lady in Manitoba ws saying, He could open a bank account.
Yes, I said. He could open a bank account. And hung up.
I summarized the situation when Ed had stopped bouncing off walls. In order for you to get a drivers' licence, I said, we would have to fly to Winnipeg, borrow the address of Mir's friend Carol, open a chequing account for you, and return home. When the cheques come in a couple of weeks, we would fly back to Winnipeg, take the written test, wait a week and then you could take the driving test. So all we need, I said, is Carol's good will, a hotel for a week or so, and a bunch of plane tickets. So the cost of your driver's licence is ... oh ... 4000.00
His face fell like rain.
(You could stay with Carol, Mir pointed out. That'd save a week of hotel bills.
Hey! said Ed.
She's making a joke, I said. And his face fell again.)
But what's the alternative, Dad?
Or, I said, we could wait for the strike to end ....

Saturday, 10 October 2009

oh, geezers

There are times when I feel positively youthful. Visiting hospital is not one of them (all the doctors look like Doogie Howser, or his little sister. I was in line at the St Mike's hospital coffee shop yesterday and the guy in scrubs ahead of me looked -- I swear to you -- like he was there for take your kid to work day. I was seriously creeped out). But watching 60 Minutes while visiting my mom in hospital -- and if I watched the show regularly, I would be able to tell you which evening it was -- was like a trip to the fountain of youth. The bit I saw was an editorial by a crusty old codger (this may not be enough of a clue to identify him; he also had white hair and a large oak desk. In the photo there, he'd be one of the guys in the front row) on the subject of email. I watched this elderly gent gesticulate from behind his desk ... I listened to him rant on and on about how impersonal email was, how kids today didn't understand communication, how he himself looked forward to his local postie delivering the mail and nothing but nothing could compare with the joy of receiving news of a friend in an actual letter with a stamp on it ... and my smile grew like Topsy. I felt positively boyish. What an old fart you are, I said to the TV screen. What a fuddy duddy. What a (thanks, Bugs Bunny) maroon.
Like so many opinions stated emphatically and positively, this geezer's idea of youth culture is not only wrong, it is completely false. It could not be less true. The typical youth of today is not at all ignorant of communication. She or he or they or it embraces communication, loves communication, stays overnight at communication's house and has breakfast with it. Teens and tweens today are in almost total communication all the time, as close to a state of nirvana -- oneness with the universe -- as any generation in history. My kids can simultaneously talk to one friend online or on the phone, message another, check the price/availability of a pair of boots, and answer my probing questions about the state of their homework. In the time it takes to deliver a handwritten letter to an old man sitting behind an oak desk, a young man or woman (or whatever) can experience an entire relationship from first greeting to total intimacy, maybe even including marriage and subsequent breakup. They travel fast along the road of life, the youth of today, and, though they may miss some of the scenery along the way, they cover way more ground. I applaud them. The future of communication is in their hands, and I am pleased and hopeful.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

press *&%$*#

One of my more frustrating moments today, paying a parking ticket on the phone. I hate getting parking tickets. I know that they are a part of the cost of spending time in the city. But somehow the three or four times you get away with parking under the law does not make up for the time you get caught.
Anyway, I tried to pay online but the link was down so I ended up on the phone with Impark.com. If this happens to you, make sure you pour yourself a scotch or roll yourself a serious spliff first. The call begins with you giving them your credit card number (I guess they want to weed out pranksters). Then the compu-woman on the other end of the line becomes quite nasty. All she says is,
Enter the licence plate number. For letters press the star key and wait for instructions ... And she won't listen when you yell at her.
I tried. Dear Goddess I tried. The instructions after I pressed * were complex, and involved substituting 2 for E and 3 for X and so on. Somehow I kept screwing up. The compu-woman would calmly confirm my selections when I had finished, and my licence plate would end up reading something like AP24ZXBANANA99. I don't know what I did wrong, but whatever it was I kept doing it. After a half hour I felt like hanging up, but I was committed. Among other things, they had my credit card number. To speak to a representative, press the number sign, said the compu-voice. I pressed # so fast it hit twice. I'm sorry, said the voice. That's not a valid answer.
I'm sorry too, I said. Sorry you are not a real person so I could punch you in the nose.
When I calmed sufficiently (Scottish therapy helped) to press the key the right number of times, there were no attendants available. I did not want that guy with the BANANA99 licence plate to get a freebie, so I went back to the main menu and tried to pay one last time, and and finally -- finally -- finally! -- got it right. Then I hung up, and arranged some more therapy.
Hey, I read somewhere (dentist's office? friend's bathroom? someplace like that) about slang belonging to the unempowered or minority group. No such thing as majority slang. The article's example: the MINUTE white folks started to say, You go, Girl, black folks stopped. Makes sense. So maybe my (male, empowered, mainstream, ha ha no really) using Goddess instead of God means that earnest women are going to stop using it. Right? Just wondering.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

just out of reach

What is the worst possible thing to happen to a sixteen-year-old boy? A dropped touchdown pass? A test he hasn't studied for? Nope. An embarrassing accident in front of a pretty girl? Better. But my son Ed is in an even worse situation than that.
He has wanted to drive ever since he watched the car chase scene from Bullitt, back when he was about ten. I can't wait until I'm old enough to drive, he has said, almost daily, every since. He counted down to his sixteenth birthday, and took his written test the very next day. He signed up for driving lessons the day after that. And for the last six months he has been practicing hard with anyone who will get in a car with him: me, his mom, the driving instructor, his grandparents, other people's grandparents ... After all that practice he is -- I don't mean to sound like a proud papa here -- a real good driver. When we are out together I relax in the front passenger seat, and fiddle with the radio, and think long deep thoughts about love and death and art and rice pudding (with or without raisins? it's a tough question), and generally forget about Ed. I have no doubt at all that he will pass his test on the first try.
But he can't take the test. That's his nightmare. The driving testers are on strike. Talk about tantalizing. Ed can see his driving licence, but it is just out of his reach. (That's Tantalus himself over there, if you were wondering.) Ed is all dressed up for the prom, and his date is in the bathroom throwing up. He is standing on the high diving board, and they are draining the pool. He is ... well, you get the picture.

As a parent on the receiving end of Ed's more or less constant sighing (How'd it go at school today? Ohhhhh, Dad, I had to take the bus again. How was the new Megan Fox movie? Ohhhhhh, Dad, we walked to the theater), I want to know what the folks at the ministry are doing about the problem. Where are the replacement driving testers? Where are the scabs, willing to test for less money? When will it all end?
And should rice pudding have raisins or not?