Saturday, 27 August 2011


Sometimes I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled. A particularly daring move at an intersection will elicit my mental applause even while I am slamming on the brakes. A mean but truly funny comment at a party will leave me speechless. I would never allow myself to drive or speak that way, but my hat is off to those who do so dare. I guess I am both impressed and appalled -- impalled.

Which brings me to today's incident. I was at the Y, huffing away, adding my own internal dialogue to the soundless TV screen (a movie with Nicolas Cage and a brunette who spent part of every scene with her hand to her mouth. Her lines were easy: Mmmff, she would say. What kind of mmmff do you think I am?) when a young woman in impeccable workout gear took the machine next to mine and said, That's not all! in a loud voice.

I looked over but she was focussed straight ahead, talking on her blue tooth type phone. I know it's ridiculous, she said, punching buttons on the treadmill. But there's more.

And there was. For the next twenty minutes she spoke without stopping or moderating her voice. It had been a tough shift at her restaurant, and she had every detail fresh in her mind. It did not occur to her that we (I was not the only one in earshot) might not want to hear about the picky patrons, jealous co-workers, missed orders, lousy tips, etc. None of us told her to shut up. I think an older guy wanted to, but she didn't give him an opportunity and he was too nice to interrupt.

I have to say, I was fascinated. She was a storm, heedless and destructive but entertaining, in an awful schadenfreudey way. (Imagine living with her?) I gave up on my TV movie, which had developed a boring office plotline (What is the mmff on those sales figures, JB?) and paid attention to the totally unself-conscious public monologue. Not the incidents so much as the idea that she thought this was okay behaviour.

On and on she went, swinging her muscular arms, working the treadmill hard, and talking all the time. Nothing wrong with her cardio shape -- just her personality. She had no sense of other, no concern for the world outside her own experience. Total self-absorption. I was ... impalled.

Friday, 19 August 2011


After-dinner conversation overheard through my office window. Ed and a friend on the back porch, talking about a concert in Toronto the following night ...

ED - We're going to miss the last train home. For sure.
FRIEND - What're we going to do? I don't want to leave the show early.
ED - I know. How about staying overnight?
FRIEND - In the city? Could get expensive.
E - No man, my brother and sister and grandparents live there. I'll just call up.
F - At 2 in the morning?
E - Well, not my grandparents.
F - Cool. But there's like five of us. How big a place does your brother have?
E - Doesn't matter. There's a couch and a floor and a bath tub. Better than nothing.
F - What about your sister?
E - Maybe. But it's easier with my brother. We can just show up. Mind you, he gets up real early to go to work. He's going to be pissed.
F - You sure we can do this?
E - Totally. You don't have a brother, do you. Trust me, we can do it.
F - Oh. Okay.

A beautiful late summer evening. The breeze was picking up, carrying with it a hint of earth and cool. The boys were talking excitedly about a TV show. I smiled and went back to work.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Back from Vancouver now -- the city of shame. Everyone I talked to there referenced the hockey riot a few weeks back. They all shook their heads. They all swallowed in embarrassment. They all talked about what a change it had been from a year previously when the entire city had united in a moment of shared good feeling. Get over it, city.

An exciting trip for me, I have to say. Caught up with some old friends, talked to some very nice audiences, stayed in a hilariously sleazy district, visited a nude beach, and found time to hit two great bars. If you get the chance, visit the Alibi Room down at the eastern end of Gastown. More hoppy IPAs than you can shake a stick at. And there's a place on Commercial Drive called Bier-something that has a fantastic mussels and beer special. Don't mention the hockey riot, though. They'll apologize for hours.

All right, all right. I'll get to the nude beach. I had never been to one before. Not even as a twenty-something travelling around Europe. Somehow the opportunity never came up, or if it did I was always sick or asleep or something. My friends would go and I would listen, yawning or vomiting enviously, to the stories they told when they returned to the hostel. So when I was visiting UBC and saw an arrow pointing own and a sign -- CLOTHING OPTIONAL BEACH -- and I had a free half hour, I thought, Now is my time!

I confess to a teenaged heartlift as I approached. What kind of wonders would be unveiled? (All right, I guess I knew what kind of wonders -- but not the precise ones.) I wondered if I'd be too embarrassed to disrobe, or if people would laugh and kick sand when they saw my pathetic scrawny torso? Imagine my chagrin when I found myself part of a small but impeccably dressed group of beachers. Every one of them (and I checked) wore shorts and tops, dresses, bathing suits. There was a guy in a vest and bowler hat, for heavens' sake. Not exactly like the picture there but you get the idea. Clothing was optional, and they had all opted yes. My heart sank back down to middle-aged territory. I walked along the shoreline, totally in fashion in my shirt and rolled-up trousers.

Maybe Vancouver should be ashamed of itself after all. That recumbent couple at the hockey riot were way more risque than anything going on down at the nude beach.