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Our children may have a congenital predisposition towards technology, but my ancient dinobrain struggles with modern things. For example, I have a cordless phone but stand no more than three feet from the carriage when I use it. It’s an atavistic umbilical link with the past that I can’t shake. Whereas Old Timers used to called fridges iceboxes, I call discs albums and ear buds headphones. I don’t know how to text message which is probably a good thing as I’m squirrelly about using my cell phone in public anyways. It’s just wrong, like clipping your nails on the TTC.
When I was around ten, I beat up Mike Harris. Nothing serious, just a little amusement for the other trailer park urchins who egged me on. In truth I liked Mike. He had a certain Huckleberry Finniness: all freckled faced and dirty nails. He also gave me one of my first epiphanies in life: that others could humour me, and not in a good way. After weeks of bullying he finally said, “Look, my ma told me never to hit girls, but you’re really bugging me.” And then gave me one huge push that sent me tumbling down a hill.
I was seven years old when I first contemplated death. Sitting in my Aunt Gladys’ living room, I watched her while she played the piano. It was a player piano that used pre-punched scrolls of music. Gladys just had to pump the pedals. I even remember the song she was playing: “Pennies from Heaven”. Maybe the title triggered my thoughts, but I suddenly felt sad because Auntie was old and probably wouldn’t be around much longer. Then my mind took the natural leap - if Gladys will die, so will I. What a shock. I’d never felt that empty before.
Last night Rich and I watched an Elvis concert and we talked about our favorite Elvis movie. Mine was Blue Hawaii. I remember when the local Detroit TV station announced it would be running the film. Mom said, “Write it on the wall, so we don’t forget.” She meant write a note and tape it to the wall, but such was my enthusiasm to witness Rockahula performed by The King, I took her literally. ‘Blue Hawaii 4:30 Thursday’ remained tattooed on the kitchen paneling, a constant reminder that time was passing and I’d better get the hell out of Tecumseh.
I don’t know if anyone else thinks like this, but when I clean out my fridge I get wistful checking the expiry dates of food. I hold a tub of yoghurt and read, ‘2009-12-14’, and think “God I wish I had all those days back, I could get so much more done.” The reverse happens as well, like when I buy a carton of cream and it’s stamped ‘2010-02-25’. I look forward to that date. Some of the winter will be over and a few of my obligations, like driving on an icy 401 to attend meetings, will be fulfilled.
In a warped way, Gary was Buddhist with money. He accepted it for itself, not for any latent power or potential pleasure that spending could bring to himself or others. It was what it was: its smell, the aesthetic appeal of the shiny security tape, the rustling sound of new bills being counted. He even let loose change accumulate in his front pocket so he could feel the pleasing weight of it against his crotch. He asked nothing of it, except that it flourish within the secure confines of his bank account, free from the dissipations of a generous soul.
Lizette Morand had a face like a pig, honest to God, just like a pig, but she was so petite and rich that when you looked at her you thought Babe rather than Arnold Ziffel. In school plays she nailed the cute roles beginning with plums like the tiniest elf or the lost kitty eventually graduating to hot hippy chick or Fonze’s girlfriend. Still, even Napoleon had his Waterloo, and what would have been a glorious prom was reduced to a tearful stint in the girl’s can regretting her choice of a white eyelet dress and a dearth of mini-pads.
Since December we have embraced dog ownership with the same evangelical spirit usually reserved for former smokers and Dysan owners. Our two tremendous cats, Badger and Willow are accepting this with mixed reviews. Badger is the more adventurous of the pair and with the exception of flipping Nim the feline bird, is content to conduct business as usual, treating the dog like a poinsettia: Once appropriate for the Christmas season, now a stale and depressing relic. Willow, on the other hand remains mostly under self-imposed exile in the basement, contemplating what part of the carpet she will pee on next.
Skiz and I have been comrades for three decades. And for most of these years we have gained and lost the same ten pounds. We are like Siamese twins joined at the bagel, each other’s bulging bellwether. Our pattern is this: at the end of the decade we become skinny and it takes a good seven or eight years for the fat to creep back to a point where we skirt the edge between pulchritudinous spouse and dumpy housewife. Now as we face our late forties we gear up for another campaign. Once more into the cabbage soup dear friends.
Our neighbours are here in Toronto for one year while the husband, an ENT specialist is doing a stint at a local hospital. Hailing from Australia, via Malaysia they have yet to endure winter. So it behooves me to be an ambassador of Canadian hardiness. I regale them with tales that begin with “Oh this is nothing, up north where my dad lives your have to plug in your car….” Or “It’s not really cold until your nose hairs stick together...” I predict that by late February they will be pining for sunny Adelaide, and really who could blame them?
My pal Mary suspects that our favorite clothing shop intentionally installed one of those skinny mirrors in its dressing room. How else could the owner sell a smock top to me, a five foot three fire hydrant? Or cropped pants? Or some heinous combination of the two? The mirror at the top of my stairs is a fat mirror and mercilessly lit by overhead halogens. More than once I’ve ran the risk of tumbling down a flight of stairs because I was doing stupid poses trying to recreate some elusive silhouette that was mine just minutes before at the boutique.
Jimmy is a lovely, vibrant 88 year old man, who gets around on his own, including riding the TTC to doctor’s appointments, climbing a steep stretch of sidewalk to get to the local grocery store and occasionally driving other friends around in his big brown car. Recently I dropped in on him when his daughter was visiting and saw him reduced to an octogenarian Lazy-boy warmer, marginalized from the conversation and cranky. It occurred to me that it’s not just us kids who detest the roles we are forced to play at family get-togethers. It’s no fun for them either.
Infantile expressions irritate me. Among the worst is “easy-peasey”, especially when it is followed by the repellent “lemon squeezy”. It is something an equally execrable Yummy Mummy would say in encouragement as her tot pulled on tiny little Uggs all by herself. “See, wasn’t that easy-peasey lemon squeezy, Addison?” Whereas the ridiculous qualifier “to be brutally honest...” is a guy thing. It’s macho yet neutered like leather driving gloves for a Prius. But really? Brutally honest? If you were brutally honest you’d say things like “I’m embarrassed by you in public” or “Your nose hairs are off-putting.” That’s brutally honest.
Rich and I work full time and constantly rearrange our schedules to accommodate orthodontist appointments and numerous kid and dog lessons. Yesterday I spent half the day driving on the 401. Weeks fly by in a flurry of everyday and maintaining our trappings leaves us in a perpetual state of exhaustion. But on Tuesday when I was making dinner an already embattled Haiti collapsed. Someone said that there is no public drinking water on the island, and they still don’t know how many people have died. Survivors are just trying to stay alive. I am ashamed of myself for complaining.
Possibly due to the derision she’d received over her surname, Mary-Beth Snatch developed her own way of dealing with high school banter. If you’d say something to her that was mildly teasing, she’d counter, and while your brain registered the utter lameness of her retort she’d immediately follow it up with an idiosyncratic three-fold movement meant to put a saucy end to the exchange: In rapid succession she’d blow a kiss in your direction, make a click noise out of the side of her mouth, then pointing her fingers like a gun, say “Got ch’ya” and pretend to shoot you.
At her first puppy class, Nimoosh stood out from the mixed pack of dogs. I’d like to say it was because she was the youngest puppy and that her exotic and feral good looks touched the hearts of all present, but that wasn’t the case. After an introductory playtime, we formed a circle, Nim, me and about a dozen other people and their dogs. As soon as our teacher Dorothy began her lesson, Nim barked and cried until she was given the dubious honour of being the first to demonstrate the heeling technique. She is now known as “The Squeaker”.
Anderson Cooper’s stylist put him in a microfiber T-shirt for his trip to Haiti. It was a sort of khaki colour: Spare and paramilitary, so it gave off the impression that the reporter was rugged and had just jumped out of a hovering helicopter to cover the disaster. But also the shirt was skintight and designed to enhance his biceps. I suspect it was one of those Man Spanx garments. Anderson remains on the island, picking his way through the dead and dying. He can’t speak French, much less Creole, but I’m sure the Haitians appreciate him just being there.
I am a professional historian who doesn’t like history. Except for the very narrow niche I work in, I find most history boring. And Canadian history doubly-so. I can’t remember dates and the thought of reading a history text for pleasure makes me laugh. I wonder how many people have this conflict in their lives? I know they are out there. I’ve encountered Customer Service types who hate customers, streetcar drivers who refuse to drive their streetcars and uncivil civil servants, so I can’t be alone. Still, when I die and go to hell, I will be reading Harold Innis.
Jimmy was a one-legged Rasta street performer in the guise of a homeless man. He got on a packed subway car at Bathurst and like cats who will sit on the cat hater in the crowd, Jimmy settled next to a stuffed shirt. Tough crowd. Then from his limited vantage point he spied a friend and leaving his crutch to guard his seat used the overhead bars to brachiate his way through, returning the same way. Still nobody acknowledged him, much less his athleticism or humour. He cleared his throat and delivered his coup de grace: “Anybody see a leg?”
My friend MJ recently wrote about a candy dish, and it reminded me of my mom’s. Laurette too, had an omnipresent candy dish on the coffee table. Hers was a glass number with a lid, usually filled with Christmas candy. By June its contents had morphed into a colourful Lego-like clump. Just by picking one you could lift the entire load right out of the bowl. Occasionally to placate her mother in law she would replace them with humbugs or spearmint leaves. Mémé, by then a tiny cranky raisin, guarded those green ones like a Chiwawa would her Snausages.
My office takes up the third floor of our house and in theory could be a very cool, loft-like space as it has high ceilings, a skylight and old pine floors. But due to the nature of my work papers and maps are strewn all over it and it rarely gets vacuumed. When my son was a baby we even had a jolly-jumper hanging from the ceiling. Now its dog stuff: smelly blanket, bones, kongs. I’ve come to the conclusion that a pristine office is like fitting into a size 6-a fleeting occurrence in an otherwise size 9 life.
When Sandrina’s husband Rocco died she was still young and unprepared for this tragedy. You could tell by the outfit she wore to his wake. It was a beautifully tailored black Italian crepe dress purchased and worn for happier occasions. Her nephew, who owned a successful restaurant, did the catering. The food was spectacular and it was only out of respect for my friend’s mother that I didn’t go back for seconds. But it was all meaningless to her as she sat in a corner protected by family. I watched as this glorious food turned to ash in her mouth.
Once we overheard a blowhard say, “I remember the first time I read that in German.” Such douchebaggery was gold, so for years whenever one of us said something pompous, the other would repeat this line. Every couple has little in-jokes harvested at the expense of some unwitting putz. That’s why I squelched when a friend who had been studying dreams asked me quite earnestly and easily within earshot of the next table, “When you dreamt of your dead budgie, what was Salty trying to say to you?” I knew that that couple would dine off that line for years.
There’s a man in our neighbourhood who’s the spitting image of Bob Dylan. Our friend George observed that lately he’s let himself go and now looks more like Charles Tupper. I really believe that we all have a twin. George’s friend Andy looks like Wolverine. My dad could pass for Caesar Romero. How about Sarah Palin and Anita Bryant? They don’t just sound alike. My childhood crush was a dead ringer for Hank Aaron. In school some boy said I looked like Tyne Daly in that Dirty Harry movie. I’m also supposed to look like my grandmother. The mean one.
“Oh Honey, I can see that!” said my pal Steven when I told him that if left unchecked, my sartorial bent tends towards the costumey. My mother was a seamstress and thus an outrageous enabler. Since she could sew anything I could dream up, I went through my pirate-poet stage, with sleeves the size of spinnakers, all the way up to my Stevie Nicks phase with huge, gauzy handkerchief skirts. Even now, at the height of my Crouching Tiger cum Sprockets period I must censor myself so people will talk to me. Thank Christ I don’t work in a bank.
How many war-time housewives of middle America sat darning their stockings and pondered the question Bing or Bob? Had I been around then, I’d put myself in the Bob camp: funny, handsome enough, never top dog. Whereas Bing, with those doped up eyes and buttery voice, was just too oily for me. I am irritated by the On the Road films not just because these movies are outrageously racist but because Bob is always the underdog. If I was Dorothy Lamour I would have made a play for Bob and left Bing to sing about Jungle Love all by himself.
We are not sentimental over Daniel’s artwork or clothing or toys. But when it comes to baby shoes, we just can’t throw them out. We even repurposed his first pair of Wellies into pencil holders. Strange how visceral the mundane can be if it’s caught out of place or time. Today marks the 65th anniversary of the closing of Auschwitz. I couldn’t begin to empathize, but I cried the day we visited the Holocaust exhibit in London’s Imperial War Museum and saw a tiny pink shoe, crushed flat and missing its mate. Just one of thousands stacked against a wall.
Highway No. 2 divided St. Clair Beach from Pike Creek. It also separated the rich from the poor. On the one side were wealthy suburbanites, mostly businessmen from Windsor’s then-thriving car industry. On the other were the farming families insitu for centuries. And we, the trailer park people, were stuck in the middle. We were shunned by both sides, so we trailer kids, the children of autoworkers and hair dressers, formed our own clique. What with the highway on one side and a big storm ditch on the other you could almost say we were a gated community.
Witch, Bosco, Deedee and Zimbo had real names but didn’t use them. As a child my heart turned to ice at the sound of their monosyllabic grunting and feral howls sent from the back of the school bus. During the twenty-minute ride to St. Gregory’s, I sat mute, the only sound a faint rattle as my hands trembled against my Barbie lunch box. Zimbo, my contemporary was the last to emerge from his mother-host in a glutinous heap of hooves and horns. He may have blended in among his human victims, but I knew better and he knew I knew.
Last night we sat at dinner with some friends and talked about guilt. I maintained that lapsed Catholics having enough residual guilt in them to last a lifetime could lord it over anyone in this department. My friend countered that, being Chinese, she had on offer a special brand of ethnic guilt, something that transcended religion. Had they been there, my Jewish cousins could have weighed in with their own since they’ve been eating traif since 1979. But Rich, being the only WASP at the table, sat smugly, happy to have gotten away with only innate repression and debilitating thriftiness.
The old saying went something like, “love is never having to say you’re sorry”. Maybe, but I think that the true test of love is being able to sit next to someone day in and day out and listen to them eat. Years before Rich and I got married, I travelled around Europe with my boyfriend Paul. Smart and rich with a promising career in engineering, he would have been a great catch if it weren’t for his table manners. The cacophony of chewing, breathing and fork stabbing killed the romance well before the plane touched down at Pearson airport.
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