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It was just too tempting. Kimmy was dressed in her summer best for a visit to grandmother’s. Brushed hair, pink shorts and a freshly ironed shirt, she'd come by for a few minutes while her mother primped her younger sister. There she was sitting on the edge of my wading pool, the toe of her white leather sandal digging for purchase into the surrounding grass. I couldn’t help it. I pushed her in. After a few seconds of bewildered spluttering, Kimmy emerged soaked and tearful. For propriety’s sake I was spanked. But I’d do it again.
So the head of the Bank of Canada said that the recession is over. How long has it been? Nine months? Maybe a year? Fiscal fart in a wind storm. No one plummeting to his death holding a long strand of ticker tape. No tubercular children eating mock apple pie. Just credit crunch sales and zero financing on North American bangers. As children we watched situation comedies and learned very little from our cigarette-rolling, sock darning parents. Now that even global trends have the attention span of a fourteen year old, our children will learn even less from us. Twitter.
Gerard, Gouin and P’tit Gouin walk into their local to find a stranger has planted himself on the middle of their customary three stools. The interloper refused to budge after friendly but manly cajoling and the scene degenerated into a pissing match. Middle Seat suggested to Gerard that they “take the matter outside.” Gerard agreed and removed his watch. Considering his opponent’s size and the array of ball-point tattoos on his knuckles, Gerard took off his new leather jacket. They were nearly out the door when our hero, ever practical, decided to pluck out his glass eye.
Bonnie had a face like a possum, in fact everything about her was pointy. She was even pointy on the inside and liked to pick fights. Her husband Tom was a mouse. When Bonnie was at it, Tom went into the basement and read improving books. Life carried on this way, with Bonnie lashing out and poor Tom retreating. In twenty years, this rhythm was altered only twice, at the birth of their sons, one possum and one mouse. One day, Tom put down Crime and Punishment, he grabbed some stereo wire from the workbench, and went looking for Bonnie.
My son and I speak about opening a little restaurant called the Blue Fish Café. We’ll never do it, of course, but surely naming your business would be the best thing about retail. Earnest bookstores, pretentious coffee houses, earthy-crunchy yoga studios our neighbourhood has them all. But I have two favorite store names: a place in Guelph called Onan Generators, and one on Roncesvalles Avenue called Electra Furs. What more perfect place for Sugar Daddy Father figures to buy coats for their mistresses? I really hope they have a second store called Oedipus’ Home Cookin’ or King Leer Adult Video.
It is a truism that people dress to reflect their happy times. Why else would there be a plethora of women of a certain age clinging to capri pants and men sporting Magnum P.I. mustaches? I have been known to rock oversize sweaters and leggings much beyond their sell-by date and not in an ironic way, either. I wasn’t happier two decades ago, but I was certainly younger and had a thicker head of hair. Perhaps the ‘eighties offered the last fashion trend I could wear with age-appropriate impunity. Now I have to watch that I don’t look too crazy.
Yesterday, someone invited me to a party where a representative from an Austrian cloth cleaning company was going to cheerfully relieve her of $200 in exchange for a handful of cleaning clothes. It got me thinking about all the money I’ve spent stupidly in my life. I’ve always been a profligate spender and I’m quite happy to dispatch other people’s money including my husband’s, my parents’, my son’s and with a certain amount of sang froide, my inlaws’. I’ve bought useless bibelots, woolen coats with impractically short arms and artisanal Quebec cheese, but I’ve never spent $45 for toilet wipes.
Madame Catharine, the choir mistress was a Consecrated Virgin. I kid you not. It means a secular person who doesn’t marry, but devotes her life to the Catholic Church. She was in love once with a man who had a beautiful voice, but he left her for a Greek girl. One Christmas he returned to sing Oh Holy Night with her at midnight mass. Standing behind her in the choir loft I remember how her tiny shoulders tightened when they sang the passage ‘fall on your knees’. I now know why we French celebrate Ste Catharine’s day by pulling taffy.
Dolores, a retired grade school teacher, winced in mock agony when the man making the public announcements said “irregardless”. These sorts of grammatical errors bothered her. A lot. But not as much as the wanton use of infantilizing abbreviations like ‘veggies’ and ‘panties’ or onomatopoeic little pricks like ‘munch’ and ‘yummy’. These were as nonsensical as the expression ‘mix and match’. And forget about fatuous words like ‘scrumptious’ and ‘brunch’. In the past, she’s got up from the table and left a room when friends, oblivious to the torture inflicted, asked if she’d like to ‘munch’ on a noiseless muffin.
I knit on public transit because I don’t own an ipod. I keep my head down and no body bothers me. I do this out of necessity because I have one of those faces that crazy people find attractive. Not out of any great physical beauty, but because of some sympathetic quality which says, “You look like you have a great story to tell and I’m all ears.” My method is foolproof on subways, but because of my chronic motion sickness, I am prohibited from knitting on streetcars. Which is a pity, as that’s where most of them find me.
Our hillbilly family from around the corner are in the habit of collecting animals and then neglecting them. We call this family The Ducks because of their idiosyncratic gait. Usually waddling along the side walk in single file, they look like parade floats on a windy day. Sometimes Carlos, their tabby cat drops by for dinner. He is friendly, polite and well mannered and gets along with our cat Badger. One day I may bring him into the house after a prolonged flea dip and a visit to the vets which is more than I can say for The Ducks.
For me the most memorable metaphor of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is Marlow’s futile search for rivets, a task made more frustrating because they were everywhere, except where he wanted them. I think of this often, like when I need a quarter for a parking meter but have to spend a loonie, knowing I have a bowl of change back home, or when there’s no toilet paper in the downstairs loo but a surfeit of rolls stacked upstairs. Or waiting for the 47 South Lansdowne bus. It’s not like I’d be eaten by cannibals but I can still relate.
I continued to socialize with my former colleagues after I left the museum. We’d usually go out as a group, each person taking it in turn to organize the next outing. On one such evening I attended a scrap booking party, being unaware of the fresh hell awaiting me. We cut and pasted photographs, peeled theme-related stickers and quoted Maya Angelou in chunky girl writing. Once I figured out that the leader worked on commission I panicked. I had the chair furthest away from the exit, the zinfandel was long gone and she was starting to talk directly at me.
Forced to watch the vampire movie while on a transatlantic flight, thirty year old Carolyn giggled when she heard Edward say to Bella, “I’m not strong enough to stay away from you”. This is a teenager than can climb trees with a 110 pound girl on his back, and he’s not strong enough to stay away? Absolute manna to teenage girls forced to wander through the desert that is a teenage boy’s capacity for romance. Carolyn herself expended way too much time getting Tom to notice how prettily her skirt fanned out when she reached inside her locker for books.
If the Americans abandon Guantanamo Bay, they could replace it with a disused gymnasium and a platoon of fourteen year olds. It would be just as effective because there is no torture like the teenage harangue. It stems from an outrageous request: Can I download weapons for my Killface III game? Can I go to Scarborough with my under parented girlfriend? Can I pierce my tongue? The procedure will begin upon denial and lasts for hours. It loops from pleading, anger, insult, desperation then back to pleading as it speaks to you from the polite side of a bathroom door.
There’s a new ice cream man in our neighbourhood. He has the same style of truck and presumably sells the same sort of soft ice cream as Mr. Marigoudakis, our resident ice cream man, but this interloper will never be successful. Not only because he is infringing on our guy’s turf, but because he plays the creepiest music. Mr. M’s tune is upbeat and happy, but this new one is slow and played in a minor key. Picture an ice cream cone dangling by its neck and sad, nihilistic German children forced to eat it and you get the idea.
Being English Rich hated public demonstrations of joy, especially those requiring costumes and processions. The Santa Claus parade filled him with a special dread. It always came too early in the season. If it were in, say mid-December, he could gird his loins and get through it with the same stubborn determination that allowed proper Britons to hike up Ben Nevis in the middle of a hail storm, but it was November and he had to cross the road, a journey which would normally take 30 seconds meant an eternal squeeze through odious suburbanites and their cranky and underwhelmed offspring.
For kicks I swear at Emily, the computer voice behind Bell Canada’s customer help line just to hear her say, “I’m sorry, let me get someone to help you.” She’s unflappable no matter what I say to her. Or I answer an unknown caller or 800 number and hang up when the random dialing thingy connects me to a real person. Sometimes I insist I’m not home. Some I ignore altogether like the Toronto Handicapped Company, as I am too much of a coward to tell them I don’t want to buy any more light bulbs or Christmas cards.
It’s guaranteed in most action movies that some villain, in the evil accent du jour reminds our hero that everyone has his price. Our man never caves, and instead liberates the hostage or saves the town or exposes the corrupt politician. Still, it’s a fun game to play with friends: How much money would it take to get you to eat that pile of crap, etc. But a better test of an individual’s resolve is to play the How Low Can You Go? game. Personally, I would eat a bug for $50.00. I’d lick the sidewalk for $1000.
What is nicer than being the first person to walk through a drift of new snow? Or skate on a rink that has just been cleaned by the Zamboni? How about opening a fresh box of crayons? Or taking the first scoop from a peanut butter jar? My old high school chum Dino once told me that if he was rich he would wear a new shirt everyday. You feel privileged or like you’re getting away with something. Being the only person in the community pool, you’re anxious wondering how long you can sustain this bliss before its ruined.
Gerard had a serious crush on his grade eight teacher Emelina. It was back in 1938 in a one room school house in a rural village. She wasn’t much older than him, but she was an Ursuline nun, so the romance was doomed from its inception. Of course, Emelina never wavered, but she enjoyed the attention and indulged in a bit of chaste flirtation. She was never long away from him, and after he married would visit his family. When Gerard and his wife celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary Emelina came for cake and brought a papal certificate.
I left York University after three years into a Ph.D program. Becoming a history professor was just one stop in a long line of unrealistic career choices. For example, as a child I wanted to be a sailor. Not your typical Navy type, but a real swashbuckler. I’d be gorgeous and dangerous. I pictured myself swinging from yard arm to yard arm dagger clenched between my teeth, puffy white sleeves billowing in the salt air. When I turned sixteen my mother gave me sailing lessons. I spent the better part of two weeks throwing up into Lake Ontario. Some pirate.
I hate summer dressing. For me it’s the sleeveless thing. Unless you have arms like Linda Hamilton, women of a certain age should not go without sleeves. Raise your arm and wave at someone. If the upper arm swing continues long after the wrist action stops, no more tank tops for you. A similar litmus test applies to shorts: If you can’t walk a block without the inseam crawling up your leg, don’t do it. I mostly wear cuffed jeans and T shirts. My heart breaks for all those black-clad Goths sweating out a Toronto August. I feel their pain.
We would never have cable, except that my husband is a soccer nut. It allows him to watch English footy from the comfort of his basement. I rarely watch television because when I start I can’t stop. I am an indiscriminate watcher of late night junk. I have always been. When I was still in school I would stay up until 2 am watching reruns of Hart to Hart or Dynasty. Now I will happily rob myself of sleep switching between Real Housewives and Trading Spouses on the commercial breaks. But I would never watch daytime TV, that’s just trashy.
Ted Kennedy died today. I don’t remember much about his brothers. My knowledge of the Kennedy family is limited and since I’m Canadian, at least three degrees removed. Senator Kennedy's passing provides a great opportunity for the media to resurrect JFK. But you won’t hear a thing about how he tried to bully his nuclear missiles into the Canadian north. Or how the Kennedy boys did all they could to rig a Liberal victory when Diefenbaker wouldn’t play along. Oh yeah, and then the Bay of Pigs… Who would ever get in a car with these guys?
I was raised Catholic. Rich was a Methodist. We’ve raised our son to be a healthy agnostic. The most important thing we’ve taught him is that karma is real. It’s beautiful and it really does work, but indirectly, and that’s the cool part. So if you’re a jerk to someone at work, you’ll step in dog shit on the way home. If you’re mean, nothing you cook will taste good. But if you’re kind to people your husband will think you’re beautiful. It sounds like fortune cookie drivel but it’s true. And it’s sublime. Way better than going to confession.
My son is very excited about starting high school. His new school is in a wing of a much larger gothic revival style building in a leafy neighbourhood. The school has a cap of 500 students, so that with the combination of uniforms and venue I can squint and pretend it’s in England. I’m excited too, but with some reservation: The last time I enrolled him in a quaint school in a ye olde building he was three and sucker-punched one of his fellow classmates. I think it was the beeswax crayons and wooden toys that drove him to it.
Last night I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning watching a Jose Ferrer turnip called The High Cost of Loving. I was fascinated by what Ferrer interpreted as the trappings of successful 1950’s DINKs. At one point in the movie the couple list all the things they’ve bought as part of their middle class lifestyle but have yet to pay off: two cars, new twin mattresses, living room furniture, electric barbeque, cleaning lady, washer and dryer, a garbage disposal. They went through three bottles of booze, maybe four a month. They had a Sunbeam Mixmaster on the counter. Sweet.
Dan asked me today if I ever noticed that old people have a smell about them. He explained himself: “I mean, they have a sort of aura - you can feel it.” He must have developed this sensitivity through our many visits to my parents in Elliot Lake. I’d never registered anything but a minor irritating buzz at the local Tim Horton’s. Maybe he can sense the energy from the collective wisdom crackling around the Algo Mall. Or maybe it is that Old Car Smell. Maybe it’s something sacred like walking into an empty church. My son the Codgersmeller Pursuivant.
My aunties and uncles would come over on Saturday nights. The sound on the hockey game would be turned down and the fiddles and guitars would come out. We played Johnny Cash, Ma Carter, Jim Reeves and Edith Butler. It was lots of fun because most of the tunes could be played using only five chords. I know every tune Marty Robbins ever wrote, but it never translated into an enduring love for country music. After I grew up, most of the singers with their idiosyncratic hairdos and Christian overtones just creeped me out. Except for Dolly Parton. She’s dope.
We are a generation raised on fluoridated water. This means we don’t have a mouth full of fillings. It also means that dentists have to find other ways to bill us. The big money now is in cosmetic enhancements. Our dentist salivates when my husband comes for visit. Pure ambrosia: a client from the British dental system with a good insurance plan. As for me, she’d like to do a porcelain overlay on a molar. It will probably cost $2000. She has samples of these overlays to show to clients. She stores them in a Ferragamo scarf box. Cheeky monkey.
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