Thursday, 24 December 2009

tastes like what?

Yesterday evening I was visited with a strong case of bad childhood memory. We were at a fancy restaurant in our small town, me and the kids, a kind of pre-Christmas I'm too tired to cook and we're spending money like water anyway celebration. General chat and giggles, making fun of Sam's bad hair and Imo's work schedule and my sniffles and Thea's taste in music and Ed's handcuff idea (long story -- another time), and working out how we would keep the tree alive and vertical. Chris the waiter came by with first courses, and I took a bite, and ... nothing.
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.

I went right back to childhood, shedding decades in no time at all. I was nine, a hearty chunky boy with a good appetite, and, at that moment, a cold in the head. Mom had cooked spare ribs, one of my faves. I picked up my first rib, slathered on some barbecue sauce, bit good and hard, and tasted ... nothing. I was horrified and indignant. I demanded to know what was going on. My parents explained how taste and smell are connected, and I ... I was devastated. I wasn't going to take this. Not on rib night! My nose was stuffed tighter than my pants (which was saying something back then; anyone who was at all chunky back in the seventies knows what I mean). I wondered how I could loosen things up -- and thought of exercise.

It was a crazy idea, but I was desperate. I left the table, and started running up and down stairs. Mom called for me to come back. You're not supposed to leave in the middle of a meal! she called. I didn't listen. Dinner without tasting it? That wasn't a meal.

Up and down I ran, until I was puffing and panting and my nose was running like a tap. I blew hard, ran to the table, and took a bite of ribs. Mom was frowning, but Dad had a bit of a grin going on. Well? he asked.

Miracle! I could taste. Oh, what a heavenly moment that was. Sadly, three bites later I had lost my sense of taste again. I needed another couple of flights of stairs before I took my next bite. And three bites later ... It took me almost an hour to eat dinner, and when I was done I was tired and I had a cramp. But it was worth it.

All these memories came back to me in a rush yesterday. Sadly, I am now too old, or socially aware, or scared, to gallivant around Cobourg's best restaurant in order to recover my sense of taste. Or maybe I don't care about food quite as much as I did when I was a kid. Whatever the reason, I ate and smiled. But inside, I was dying.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

so this is christmas

Don't know whether this was the most hopeful, or the saddest thing I have ever seen. But everyone on the car commented on it. I was driving Thea and Sam and their friend Dean along the Rosedale Valley Road through downtown Toronto. It is a ravine road, wooded hills sloping up on both sides and bridges overhead. The visible inhabitants are squirrels and raccoons, birds and hobos. Today we noticed -- all of us, at once, as we flashed by -- that one of the hobo shelters halfway up the hill was decorated. In front of the plywood and plastic lean-to stood a small lopsided Christmas tree.

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

concert time

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

Rrrr, matey!

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

short and obvious

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

guys and dolls

First off, some business. Congrats to RONI for a brilliant cover design to my new book, Me & Death. Way to go, Roni.
Now, the actual cover will not look like that. (Publishing companies are stick-in-the-muds.) But RONI's school will win a visit from me in the near future. I will keep RONI's cover on the opening page of the website for a bit, and then show the actual grown-up designed cover of the new book so you can be thinking about it for the spring. Publication date is in April.
Actually, I have to say, the book looks great. I don't know if you'll like the story, but the visual is pretty cool. Wait 'til you see it.

OK, enough about literature. Let's talk about sex instead. And by sex I mean stereotypes. Men and women. Yes, this is going to be one of those what do women want discussions. Seems that all the girls in my life are fond of chocolate. They don't all like the same kind of chocolate, but in general the flavour is a winner. I don't know any guy who thinks this way. Not one. For myself, I'll drink chocolate milk, but I can't remember the last time I bought a chocolate bar, or got excited about a box from Ferrero Rocher or Pot o Gold. So when Miriam said, sometime last week, that as long as there was chocolate and sunshine in the world she'd be happy, I was surprised. I got to thinking about basic needs of the two sexes, viewed as Homer and Barbie stereotypes, and this is what I came up with.

WOMEN -- Chocolate, flowers, sunshine, love, silk.

MEN -- Beer, sex, meat, fire, war.

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.