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In Making History, Stephen Fry crafted a universe where Hitler had never been born, but in his stead a more maniacal leader succeeded in winning the war for Germany. Sort of an evil corollary to It’s a Wonderful Life. I often think that had my mom not lived on cigarettes and black coffee during her pregnancy I’d be a 5’ 10” Rhodes Scholar. Maybe that rogue blonde gene would’ve kicked in rather than that bit of DNA that made me so dark. Still, fate could have went the other way leaving me to raise my seventeen goat-haired children in Abitibi.
Unwittingly, Jennifer was a beard for two adulterous colleagues. For years the three of them travelled together. As the third person she lent a certain credibility, especially since the two women shared a hotel room. She never thought it strange that the pair was inordinately fond of poker, and that each night after work they’d insist on an evening of drinking and cards. Jen found it deadly boring but in the spirit of camaraderie, went along with it. She thought, “How could they stand hour after hour of this ridiculous game?” They thought, “Is this cow ever going to bed?”
Hunter boots are verboten in Richard’s family as they tend to be worn by Poseurs rather than actual farmers. But within days of their arrival in our local shoe shop every woman with a Peg-Pérego and a SIGG water bottle was wearing a pair. Hunter boots walked out of the local video store. They were at the dog park with their pugs. They lined up for $6 organic owl-pellet bread and dozed in the hallways during restorative yoga. They have become the Crocs of the Strollertariat. Maybe they’ve jumped the sartorial shark or maybe they have found their natural habitat.
Before emerging from my white trash cocoon, I aspired to create van art. Not that Monster Garage crap but conceptual, sensitive storyboards resplendent with mythical beings in pointy hats and billowy cloaks that cleverly hid their difficult-to-draw hands and feet. I envied the artistic genius who airbrushed the Silver Ghost, the coolest ride in the trailer park. Here, a big-busted warrior-woman in a diaphanous, nippley sheaf stared into the distance. She was flanked by a pair of wolves, rendered tame by the sheer depth of her beauty and wisdom. She was Gandalf’s trophy wife and I wanted to draw her.
I have always maintained that food sounds much better in French than in English. I‘d much rather eat a Croque Monsieur than a grilled cheese or pain doré instead of French toast. Pomme de terre sounds much more substantial than potato whereas graisse de rôtis becomes a healthier spread than lard drippings. But my favorite hands-down, is that little amuse-bouche made from left over pastry dough and preserves. Who could turn down a pet de sœur, fresh and hot from the oven, the sugary fruit filling still bubbly? But show me the cretin who would eat a nun’s fart.
When I was a child I loved The Fantastic Journey. I remember those tiny doctors in their white suits, the blobby corpuscles and squelchy arteries. What would have happened if the tiny scientists reverted back to full size while they were in the guy’s body? I’m sure Stephen Hawking has the answer to that one. And how did they get out in the end? Did Raquel Welsh and the others exit out of the guy’s butt, or did they make him sneeze? “Tear Drop.” said Richard and went downstairs to watch the British election, a story full of imploding assholes.
I was five when Mrs. Drajic gave me an Ukrainian Easter egg. I lost it immediately and was devastated. This precious thing was mine for only three minutes. I know I appeared ungrateful, but the truth was that I placed it on a hedge to admire it. The waxy egg nested there for a second, its reds and blacks glowed in the April sunlight. It looked so exquisite that only a mythical bird of the rarest beauty could have claim to it. But then it sunk to the ground and neither me nor Mr. Drajic could ever find it again.
Thinking they were just fake scimitars, I bought a half dozen as party favors for Dan’s seventh birthday. Upon discovering that they were actual knives I was tempted to ditch the pirate theme for a more politically incorrect one. I’d serve Coke and Cheetos and those really cheap hotdogs made from connective tissue and Pope’s noses. We’d watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre and then I’d send allthe little dears home with a real knife and a jawbreaker. But I wimped out and instead offered a mealey-mouthed disclaimer to each parent to chose whether little Dante brought home his killer keychain.
I have no beef with stay-at-home-moms, unless you have nineteen children and are featured on a TLC reality show. You know who you are, you born-again corn-pone doormat. I just watched how, in the spirit of racial tolerance and understanding you took your Chiclet-toothed hoard to an Ethiopian restaurant. Such bizarre food and entertaining people! You felt like you were actually in Africa, bible in hand. Wasn’t it funny when little Jimbo said he felt like puking? Or when little Jambo kept rolling her eyes? Next time, just feed one of your children to a starving family in Dolo Odo.
How has society evolved so that it’s taboo to expose breasts, two of the most beautiful things God gave us, but acceptable for any garden-variety tree sloth to go barefoot? I know someone who grows her toe nails extra long to make her feet look thinner. Another has a penchant for slides yet the backs of her cankles resemble packed gravel. And why don’t they arrest women with bunions who insist on flip flops? And the guys? Why is it unseemly if a man enjoys a beer in a public park but okay for him to parade around in Tevas?
Perhaps because it is foreign to my tribe, I cannot understand the lure of bagpipes. They are loud, take forever to warm up, and unless you’ve passed piobaireachd 101 you have no idea what’s going on. Also, unlike a guy playing a bass or a girl playing the cello, there is nothing sexy in it. You would never catch a French Canadian man circular breathing so he could play on his chanter and squeeze his bag at the same time. Or would he if he could? Come to think of it, kilts could be rather fetching with the right knees.
“So there we were with our lawn chairs arranged in a big circle in this douche-bag’s back yard.” Tom scratched the bridge of his nose and scowled into the middle distance. He felt like an idiot for dragging his wife on a GO train to attend his co-worker’s barbeque. Life was far too short for this sort of thing. “And no one talked to you for the whole time?” Kim smiled, incredulous. “No. Nobody knew us so they weren’t interested. They just ate their hamburgers and talked about the Bass Pro Shop.” “Mississauga?” “Yep.” “French manicures?” “On the women, yes.”
We were sitting on a blanket in High Park on a beautiful August evening. I should have been listening to the play unfolding in front of me, but I couldn’t get past her bare feet. They looked like the hulls of two boats, rusted out and hoary. Who lets their feet get so nasty? She was an archaeologist like me, for crying out loud, not some Bedouin goat-herder who hadn’t seen a sandal since the last rainy season. And there they were, covered in barnacles and docked perilously close to the egg salad. “What are you looking at?” She asked.
Most men won’t dance. They feel like dorks doing it and really are only willing to dance with you if they are loaded or complete horndogs. We’ve all witnessed the guy dance: thumbs stuck in front pockets, legs stick-straight as they hop insitu until Billy Idol stops singing. But then there are those old guys who learned to dance the proper way. They’re a dying breed, but you can still see them at weddings cutting a rug with their wives, their Florsheims floating above the parkay flooring. They too are half in the bag but they just want to foxtrot.
Many times I hoped a boy would ask me to dance during one of those long Bob Seeger songs. They were even better than the glacially-paced Stairway To Heaven, because they avoided that speedy “and as we wind on down the road…” bridge where you stood there with your partner feeling every awkward minute of your fourteen years. All my girlfriends loved to dance with Mike Brecka. He made it a point to have at least one dance with each girl at the party and when he danced with you, he was in the moment. Sometimes he asked me twice.
Some berk told my friend Roy his music collection was “the febrile browsings of the bargain bin”. Why would Roy let him in his house? Never having met him, I can only imagine what he looks like. He has short black hair and his dated Van Dyke clings to him like black capris on a fat lady. He is never without his list of titles and still gets a boner when he recalls that day he scooped a Captain Beefheart bootleg at a garage sale. It is seldom played but kept in a thick plastic sleeve, in the “C” section.
Joshua was a Gemini, and predisposed to lead a double life. He waited tables during the week and kept an unassuming but stylish apartment. But on weekends he was a Confidence Trickster. His ability to anticipate a person’s wants made him a natural for both jobs. He discovered this fairly early on in life, as at the age of five he could mix his grandmother a perfect Cosmopolitan while simultaneously lifting the change purse from her handbag. Although he spent a lot of time with other servers his favorite people were women who couldn’t tell a real diamond from paste.
Gérard ran booze using his boat rather than his truck. For one, it was easier to fool the police. But most importantly this activity thrilled his moll and if he followed up with a smelt dinner he was a shoe-in. But these fish came at the beginning of the season and it wasn’t until summer that the romance of petty crime on the Detroit River truly blossomed. For gals seeking a bit of rough in the 1950’ s what better than a Chris Craft loaded with contraband Old Vienna and skippered by a perpetually shirtless Frenchman with an eye patch?
In 1993, I worked at the Department of Justice in First Canadian Place. Although the idea of holing dozens of lawyers thirty-three storeys up in the air appealed to me, I hated working so high up in the sky. After the Blue Jays won the World Series we all gathered in a corner office to watch the parade down Bay Street. A line of ants riding in teeny tiny cars. Joe Carter’s big smile was hardly visible. My hero Pat Borders, a stumpy lad at best, became barely a speck. I was watching little baseball Whos in an urban Whoville.
Sergio and Vic maintain that I was fired from the Department of Justice because I positioned my desk at a 45˚ angle. But I believe it was the crystals in my window. DOJ’s tolerance for eccentric decorating decreased as you moved up the corporate ladder. It indulged those paralegals with gee-gaw cluttered cubicles and a forest of spider plants. Corner offices, reserved for senior lawyers were expected to be pristine, allowing for only a tasteful print or a yucca plant. I had a tiny middle office and a nebulous title, so I could blur the lines, but not that far.
This man shows up about three times a year at my neighbour’s house. He’s riding what was once a blue bicycle but over time has Gollumed into a mobile sandwich board covered in politically-charged slogans and festooned with flags and banners written in a crabbed and crazy hand. Like his bike, his physical appearance changed over the years as he now looks like Robinson Crusoe, adrift from society with only his Schwinn to keep him company. One day we overheard him swearing a blue streak in French. “Don’t you dare,” cautioned Rich, when he saw the twinkle in my eye.
Last night at MJ’s, Roy commented on the antisocial cranks who run Birkenstock stores. Apparently, there is even a pecking order, as the curmudgeon who owns the Roncesvalles shop told him he thought the downtown shoe guy was a real bastard. I’ve noticed this same phenomenon with the grumps who manage used book stores and yarn shops. Maybe it’s a judgmental thing: I certainly haven’t read all those books, and I’m really not an accomplished knitter. But it might have more to do with selling goods associated with particular tastes, like being the guy who wears socks with his Birkens.
At the beginning of the school year Scott took my notebook and wrote a love letter to me. His method for asking whether I accepted his intentions was to write the words “yes” and “no” over which he drew little boxes. I was expected to return the note with the appropriate box marked. Scott was a nice boy and I really did like him. I found the note in late May when I was cleaning out my papers. I added a “maybe” box, ticked it and handed it back to him. But it was too late, he had moved on.
Paul wanted to be a Culture Vulture. He bought tickets to the ballet and symphony, invested in expensive art and Billy Holiday records. He took up Creole cooking when it was considered the IT cuisine. But he was fighting a losing battle. He had a brain for math, did very well at an elite engineering college in Michigan and worked as an engineer for General Motors. Worse still, he lived with other engineers. Once while leafing through his copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly he found his roommate had taped a pubic hair to the first page of an article on male purses.
The distinctive smell of beer and urinal pellets greeted the patrons of the Brunswick House, the cheapest watering hole in town. You ordered vats of draft, portioned out in ridiculously tiny pilsner glasses, like petite fours at a Troglodytes’ tea party. Irene and Carla, the singer-piano player duo, were the entertainment. Irene’s bawdy version of “I’ve got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” was a perennial favorite. But Carla, ever wary, fixed a gimlet eye on the audience, fearful some drunken undergrad would fling a bottle at her forehead. This is probably why the management insisted on the tiny beer glasses.
The Brownies held their weekly coven in the classroom next to where we, a small collection of farmers’ children and trailer park kids, waited for the afternoon bus to take us home to Pike Creek. Their hard Mary-Janes made such a racket as they skipped down the halls, a giggling blur of brown polyester and maple leaf neckerchiefs. Together they worked on their secret crafts and badges. They sang their own songs and wrote cryptic messages with their little Brownie pencils. They macraméd and découpaged. It was like the Freemasons for white girls, for Christ’s sake and I wanted in.
Lainie hated Chrissy Hynde because she married Jim Kerr, thus robbing her of the delicious fantasy she’d been conjuring for several months. It didn’t matter that Jim was the front man for Simple Minds and Lainie lived in Tecumseh. My Richard would happily sleep with Keira Knightley if she came on to him at Gretsky’s but given the unlikeliness of that ever occurring, he says she’s too thin for him. I’m convinced that the reason Pete Townshend and I are not together is because he’s only seen me once, and as it was Massey Hall he was a bit preoccupied.
I had a regular babysitting gig when I was sixteen years old. Several evenings a week I looked after a little girl while her mother worked the midnight shift at one of the local car plants. Of course my boyfriend Malcolm would come over and we’d play house after hurriedly getting young Kate to bed. This pattern continued until Kate’s grandparents started to drop up unexpectedly, say around eight or nine o’clock in the evening to talk with Kate’s mum, or to pick something up. And I always thought it very odd how they never knew their daughter’s work schedule.
The Screenager is limited to two hours per day on his PS3. The enforcement of this rule depends on a sliding scale of vigilance. If there’s company or I have a deadline then those two hours can stretch into the entire evening. And for as much as we parents whine about it, we had an equivalent. We all know the opening themes to Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family. Some even remember the more arcane Love American Style and the Courtship of Eddy’s Father. I don’t recall our parents yelling at us to get away from the television.
Dad had hosted a cribbage night and retired shortly before I got up on Saturday morning. I went to the basement to inspect the post-party debris. The leavings of an El Producto Corona sat in the ashtray, and although it wasn’t smoldering it was still live. I took a big draw from it, the way I’d watched Dad do and a huge jet of hot smoke went rushing into my lungs. I let out a violent cough and the butt rolled under the card table. I ran back upstairs to watch my cartoons, mildly aware that I’d done something naughty.
“Don’t do it.” Said Jimmy in a shaky voice. He knew his brother, and once his mind was made up there was no changing it. “No, it’ll be okay, just watch.” Ted lit a tentative match and placed it on a small pile of grass. The barn was airless and smelled of wood and hay. In an instant the heap, no bigger than a seven year old’s fist, went up in flames and within seconds the entire barn was in flames. The boys escaped in time but 40,000 bales of hay were gone and the cows went without their tea.
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