Friday, 28 May 2010

way to go, wozniak

Whence loyalty? There I was on the goose-stepping machine at the Y, preparing my body for bathing suit season and catching up on my sports watching. Channel 24 had the NBA semi finals, Boston and Orlando in the second quarter. During commercials I clicked up to the French Open, and watched two women I had never heard of. I found myself disliking the brownette, a shorter chunkier woman with an awkward style. She had a habit of punching the air when she won a point, and reacted with disgust when she lost. Most of the time she wore a mean, grumpy, almost piggy expression. The lighter blonde by contrast was tall, slim, graceful, calm, mature, taking good fortune and bad with a small smile. They were in the decisive third set, the darker woman up by a break. Oh, well, I thought, and switched back to basketball.

When I returned to tennis, the blonde had caught up, but I was not pleased. I was horrified. Horrified, I tell you. The screen showed the full names of the players, and it turned out that the light blonde was seeded 5th or 6th, which made the brownette a serious underdog. I always like to cheer for the underdog. And she was Canadian! A Canuck doing well in the French Open. Instantly -- absolutely instantly -- my loyalty did a 180. And not just my loyalty. My whole perception of the two women changed. The Canadian was a feisty player, I saw now, with a lot of moxie and enthusiasm. She really got into the game. That's her in the picture -- don't you love her energy! The languid lifeless bland blonde princess type was hardly worthy of being in the same court. I hated that smug little smile of hers, the same way I loved the pugnacious battling grimace of the Canadian. Come on! I found myself saying out loud, as I stepped fascistically into the red zone of cardio-fitness. Come on!

I would not have called myself a strong nationalist. My heart does not beat faster at the thought of Wayne Gretzky or Terry Fox or Tommy Douglas or Margaret Atwood (well, maybe Tommy Douglas, that sexy prairie socialist). And yet the little icon on the TV set next to the name -- the red and white maple leaf -- had me cheering for a woman I had never heard of playing a sport I don't usually watch.

The girl on the machine beside me was watching the same thing on her TV set. She smiled over at me. Isn't she great! she said.

Oh yes, I said. I've been a fan for almost a minute now.

Monday, 24 May 2010

the big sleep

Thea and I were at a trendy/shlocky Kensington Market gift store the other day, buying a birthday present for a seven year old boy. (If you are interested, the Potato Gun -- a classic -- is still around, and still a winner.) We overheard a question from the next booth that made me stare, and her gag.
Do you have any children's chopsticks?
I peered around the corner. A couple of thirtysomethings, stylishly underdressed, with a young child between them, were examining a pair of regular chopsticks.
Marlowe here is too small for these, said the woman, but it's important to learn to eat with them, don't you think?
I thought she was kidding, but no. She was serious. She wanted little Marlowe -- at 4 years old or whatever -- to learn to eat with special chopsticks. I couldn't help thinking back to my own kids who, at that age, considered utensils of any kind a needless sophistication. Sometimes they didn't even use their hands, just dived in face first.
The man on the other side of Marlowe nodded earnestly. We saw them on the internet, he said.
The saleslady was cool. She did not snicker. Did not bat an eye. Just said she was sorry, and the couple left with Marlowe between them, hand in hand in hand.
When I got home I checked, and sure enough there are kids' chopsticks out there. They even have pet names: Smiling Sunshine Chopsticks, White Bunny Chopsticks, Little Chick Chopsticks ... Little eaters can use all your help when it comes to making mealtime fun and fulfilling, says the tag.
I sighed, thinking of poor Marlowe's future -- the teasing, the therapy, the unhappy relationships. He might get a gig as a Chinese restaurant stunt double, but that's small recompense for a dismal childhood. Would he ever know the feeling of power you got when you held a loaded Potato Gun?

Friday, 21 May 2010

two takes

Home from Paris now, and to answer your questions, Yes, we did get up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was the last day, and we woke up extra early. By the time we reached the Champs de Mars, long long lines were already snaking all over the base of the tower. Imo was worried when I took out the camera to snap her standing there.

Is this going to be another one of those funny vacation picture of what we didn't see? she asked.

Don't worry, I said. We aren't leaving now.

I took plenty of pictures from the top of the tower, though. In almost every direction there was some landmark we had not got to. My vacation travelogue will have plenty of material.

There was an interesting moment as we were packing. CNN in the background was talking about the ash cloud from the unpronounceable volcano delaying flights and closing airports in England, Ireland, France. The two kids turned to me at once, their faces frozen for a second like the old Greek theater masks in the picture here.

Ed's was the tragedy mask. Horrified, lost, deeply sad. What if we're stuck here? he said.

Imo's was the comedy mask. Beautiful, hopeful, sparkling. Oddly enough she said the same thing as her brother. What if we're stuck here? she cried.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

one girl's dream

I am writing from Paris, city of love and tourists. Pleqse excuse my typing on this keyboard:: it's enough to get by but not as good as I'd like -- kind of like my French.
Ed and Imo and I have seen a couple of the big things, but missed some too because Ed does not do line ups. Notre Dame? Non. Musee D'Orsay? Pas du tout. Pompidou Centre? Quel horreur. But we have watched jugglers and other very cool Parisians, climbed on top of walls and guns, zoomed around on the metro, and drunk many cups of coffee and glasses of beer.
Ed's favorite moments so far include the crippled accordionist at the Pasteur metro station, (Did you watch his fingers, Dad? He was Super Fast!) and wandering around Invalides (That is one big ass tomb, eh?) His life ambition right now veers between these two role models -- he wants to be really good street musician, or Naploeon.
Imo's aim seems simpler. She wants to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But will it happen? I don't know. Every vacation the kids and I fail to see something, and take a picture outside it to mark our failure. Two years ago I took a picture of them outside the Empire State Building (the line ups were around the block and Ed balked). Last year it was Fenway Park (scalper prices for a yankee game were enough to make me gag).
This year, said Imo on the airplane, can we NOT take a picture at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower?
We'll see, I said. And then the first day the crowds were horrendous. We have not been back. Tomorrow is our last chance . . .
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 3 May 2010

be prepared

What comes to mind when you think boy scout? A neckerchiefed, good-conduct-badged apple-seller? The old-lady-helper-across-the-street? All I recall from my own experience with the organization (I was a scout for three weeks) is standing in the gym, holding out my hands for a fingernail check. (Yup, a middle aged guy inspecting a hundred boys' fingernails. Creepy even for a scoutmaster. And that's saying something.)

Don't worry -- I have nothing sordid to reveal. My point was that our scoutmaster was very keen on cleanliness not for its own sake but because it meant you were prepared. He shouted that motto out at us every week after inspection. Be prepared! he said. With clean hands you can take on the world! (I know. I know.) Later, when I had kids of my own, I heard an echo of my scoutmaster in my son Ed. It took me approximately skady-eight trips to load the van for a simple weekend vacation. Then I kept having to run back into the house for stuff I had forgot. When we were finally ready to go, and I couldn't start the van because the keys were sitting on my dresser, I started to laugh. Ed frowned at me from his booster seat. Dad, he said, I have three words for you: Plan. A. Head.

So yesterday I saw a kid roller blading down Division Street in Cobourg, and wanted to applaud. Talk about planning a head. The kid -- he would have been fourteen, I guess -- carried a hockey stick and a baseball bat, and had a skateboard sticking out of his backpack. Be prepared for fun! I wasn't close enough to check the state of his fingernails, but I felt sure that my old scoutmaster would approve.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

fruit in a bag

Quickie, as I am in the middle of revising and rethinking. (I have zombies on my mind, also a world where everything is upside down.) I was at the YMCA the other day, working out on one of those machines that forces you to step high and often. Good for the heart and gluteal muscles, bad for the self image because you look like a Nazi.

I was flicking through the TV channels trying to find sports. I don't have headphones, so I watch with no sound, and sports is best. I'm not picky about what sport I am watching, as long as I can follow what is going on. I'll watch anything to take my mind off my sweating painful goose-stepping body. Anything? you ask. Anything. I have watched golf, curling, tennis. I have watched darts, snooker, bowling. I have watched poker. Poker, people. I have no pride at all.

Anyway, I was doing okay this time because there was a baseball game on, and the score was close. (For a Jays fan, a close game is all you can ask for.) And then we cut to a commercial about growing tomatoes in a bag. Have you seen this ad? Apparently you hang the bag on a hook, and water it, and the tomatoes grow out the bottom. That's one of them in the picture there.

The ad showed some quotes from satisfied customers. My favorite was from a couple who had written in to say that: One tomato was enough for both of us! Really. That was the quote. At first I thought it was a joke -- I mean, one edamame would be enough to last me my whole life. But no, there was a picture of the couple with their arms around each other, smiling at their tomato bag. I pictured them setting the table, lighting the candles, pouring the wine, then sitting down earnestly to try to get through the tomato. Made me laugh out loud. I was still smiling when we returned to the game. The Jays gave up back to back to back singles to start the inning, and my good humour died away.