Friday, 25 March 2011

dismember me ...

Sam opened a bank account of his very own the other day. It's taken a long time, but all that talk about financial responsibility is paying off. I congratulated him on entering the nineteenth century.

Thing is, to the average idiot like Sam -- or me -- the keep-your savings-in-a-sock school of banking almost makes sense these days. (If you are a savvy commodities trader, you will know better. Mind you, if you are a savvy commodities trader what are you doing reading this? Go back to your ticker.) I remember checking the interest payments in my first bank book. Kind of a Norman Rockwell glow to that picture, isn't there? Simpler days. My kids have grown up in an age where bank interest rates hardly stay ahead of their service fees. With all the compound interest in the world it'll take most of a lifetime to double Sam's investment. His best chance for financial success might be to become a savvy commodities trader, but for that to happen he'd need to start working on it eight years ago -- and he'd need parents with different genes to pass on.

The good news is that if he loses a limb, the bank will pay him. Apparently Sam's new account comes with a penny-a-day insurance package. And what kind of insurance is most appealing to a college kid? Of course: dismemberment insurance.

Dad, I just had to get it, he told me on the phone. I laughed. No really, he said, do you realize that if I lose a finger the company will pay me 5000.00 Just for a finger! Isn't that awesome?
Awesome, I said.
So if I lost, like, three fingers that'd be 15,000.
I told him that I understood the concept. What do they give you for a leg? I asked.
There was a pause.
Dad, get serious. I don't want to lose a leg, he said. And then, Dad? Why are you laughing again?
No reason, I said. No reason at all.

All during the rest of our conversation I was picturing this smooth-talking dismemberment insurance salesman, oiling his way into college dorms and frat houses with his slide show and his box of props ...

Sunday, 6 March 2011

tant pis pour moi

So I was having a marvelous conversation in French the other day -- and by marvelous I mean that I understood what was going on. The topic itself (local rental properties, their location, cost and availability) was pretty dull, but I was working hard and catching on and basking in the radiance of my own linguistic competence ... and then it emerged that my interlocutor was an anglophone.

Quoi? I said, my bouche hanging open.
But it is the truth, he said.
You are making a blague, I said.
But no, he said, his sourire illuminating his visage.
And you speak Francais so bien, I said.
He shrugged.
He had a French name. He came from Montreal. And he looked French, if you know what I mean -- kind of darkish, with a hidden lazy power. Like Jean Reno. When he shrugged he looked more French than ever.
So we could have been speaking Anglais all this temps? I said.
You betcha, big guy. He punched me on the shoulder.
Merde, I said.

My words flowed more smoothly in English, but the thrill was gone. The conversation was dull, not marvelous. After a minute I shook Guy's (I wasn't pronouncing it Ghee any more) hand and left the rental property office.

I should not have been surprised. This has been a personal Catch 22 for me going back to a high-school band trip to Quebec City, where local girls dissolved in laughter and my initial confidence turned to blushes and stammers. I can speak French -- but not to French people. Any francophone over the age of about six is going to go too quickly and idiomatically for me. And most non-francophones have English as a second language. So my French is adequate only when there is no need to speak it. I've been invited to join a club that never meets anywhere. Merde indeed.

so I guess december is a midnight snack ...

Sam's random texts are among my favorite moments in the day. His choice of topic ranges from Aqua Velva to 100 Years of Solitude to his latest, somewhat puzzling question: What month is brunch? I took a moment to ponder this one (which goes to show you how easily distracted I am -- happy to shelve a story outline problem to contemplate something utterly ridiculous) and the pondering took on a life of its own, and here we are.

So, if the year is seen as a waking day, and if brunch is between breakfast and lunch, but tending towards lunch, then I suppose that brunch would be somewhere in late spring. May, let's say. Does that work?

What other connotations does brunch have? There is a festive quality to it, I think. It's a weekend thing, so no work is associated with the day. And it's a bigger than usual meal, with foods you do not get regularly. Bacon, pancakes, maybe roast beef and pie if you go out to a restaurant. You look forward to it all the way there. You might even dress up for it -- a colorful sweater for no real reason. Sounds like May, doesn't it -- at least in southern Ontario. The first really warm day is one of the true treats of a 4-season climate. No day in the San Diego calendar makes as many people happy as the first really warm day up here.

And this is where the May-brunch analogy breaks down. Brunch, like all festivals, has a downside, a dark aftermath stemming from excess. The day after your birthday finds you hungover and grumpy and a full year older than you were the day before. You wouldn't want another birthday any more than you want a fourth plate of roast beef. But who wouldn't want more May?

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have an outline to finish before Sam texts again.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


There's a difference between free time and time out. One seems to be more valuable than the other. As an example, take the crossword puzzle. I am not an addict (I can quit any time, really. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I need to do it), but I find it a pleasant way to start most days as the coffee perks and the bathroom waits.
But part of the appeal of the crossword -- I am frightened to think how large a part -- has to do with the fact that I should be doing something else. Instead of playing silly little word games I should be doing something worthwhile -- writing or reading or working out or phoning my mom or paying bills or making Ed's lunch or trying to solve any one of the dozens (who am I kidding -- hundreds!) of problems with my life.
It is the lure of holiday. The fifteen minutes of mental gymnastics is a tropical island away from trouble -- a place of near tranquility where only I and the compiler exist. When the puzzle is done, the day begins in earnest. And pretty darn earnest it can be. Especially at the beginning of the month when the bills come due.

I wonder what would happen if I did not have these other duties pressing on me? If I were actually on holiday, with nothing in front of me all day except self-gratification? A walk on the beach, a movie, lunch, a nap ... (Gee, this is sounding pretty good. Add a glass of wine and a couple of giggles and I'd never come home) . In this idyllic scenario, would the crossword appeal as it does now? Probably not. Which makes me wonder how much of any pleasure comes from its being stolen from things more "important"? And yet what an odd idea that is, for what could be more important than pleasure?

Sorry, this discussion seems to have got a little earnest. Time to go pay some bills.