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Skiz and I just saw Age of Arousal at the Shaw Festival. Set in the 1880’s, it’s a play about female emancipation, sexual awakening and Remington typewriters. You’re warned when you buy your ticket that the play’s sexual content might put some people off. Quite a risky move since most of the patrons are old, pink Nibblers out for a weekend of fudge and farce. After intermission the attendance was noticeably lighter and proffered only polite applause. Imagine the Hurlburts driving back to Rochester, Bob appalled by the use of the word ‘quif’ and Diane contemplative over two women kissing.
When I first started out I did everything myself: research, writing, photocopying, schlepping. To keep from crying out in boredom I made a mental game of it: Listening to the hum of the machine, knowing the exact second I could flip the cover up and turn to the new page. At times I was truly one with the machine simultaneously centering the frame, focusing the image, printing it out and doing it again so quickly that the process never stopped. Now Colin my associate does all the copy work. I’d like to say I miss it, but that’s just bollocks.
Our Hillbilly neighbours are early risers, so on weekends there is no morning peace but only a less-offensive window of time between when their kids come out to play and when their dad knuckle-walks around to the back of their house, throws open the garage door, cranks up his radio and begins to rearrange his hoard of broken furniture and extruded plastic. Sometimes he finds wood to burn in their smoker. “Just keepin’ it real, Laurie,” my neighbour Hailey calls from two gardens away as she pulls her laundry, now redolent with the smell of smoked sardines, off her line.
Usually Melissa enjoyed her maternity leave from CBC. But today she was run off her Hunters. Between dropping little Chester off at the Montessori and taking him to Baby Signing lessons she had 120 minutes in which to pick up that special $20.00 Beavergrass from the local organic plant shop, take her Pug to the groomers to get his anal gland squeezed and order a roast from the ethical butcher. Ensconced in her Rav 4 enroute to the school she became wistful when she drove past the yoga studio, but soon brightened. “After all...” she mused “tomorrow is another day.”
A friend describes his son as an “indoor cat”. He’s not far off as there is a tendency for our children, especially boys, to stay inside. As parents we shake our heads and wax on about how we, as apple-cheeked youths roamed the village until the “street lights came on”, playing tag or building go-karts from juice cans. We remember ourselves as the Our Gang of the ‘seventies, Alfalfa riding his cool new 10-speed and Darla, the rich gal from Russell Woods with a pool in her back yard. Tanned and unshod, fishing for pumpkinseeds in the lagoons behind Webbwood.
During the 1930’s, everyone who attended St-Antoine’s in Tecumseh was Catholic and white and except for the Lacasses and Poissons, there wasn’t much money to go around, so if there was any social bullying it was between the French and the Irish kids. One incident involved Gérard, the Shanahan brothers and a cabbage. Gérard was carrying the vegetable home for supper when the siblings, after a heated bilingual exchange repeatedly snatched it each time peeling off a few leaves then rolling it down Lesperance Road. Eventually Gérard made it home, Brussels sprout in hand, and began to plot his revanche.
Julie my neighbour and fellow dog owner taught me about karma poo. If you see a turd lying there, even if it’s not from your dog, pick it up and you will be karmically rewarded. This makes sense as doing good deeds comes easy to me. It is much more difficult to keep a pure soul. My challenge is in overcoming the delight I take in the misfortune of those I don’t like. And each time I indulge in this karma-sucking exercise something comes back: I stub my toe, I break a glass or I do something stupid in public.
Nimoosh is a rescue dog from Attawapiskat where today’s high is expected to reach 22 degrees. The dog days of summer for southern Hudson’s Bay. For days here in Toronto it’s been close to 47 degrees counting the humidex. We do not have air conditioning so we stay huddled under the ceiling fans, the seasonal opposite to hobos warming their hands over oilcan fires. Poor Nim is permanently plastered to the hardwood and remains motionless except to look at us with those sad eyes as if to say, “I’m a goddamn Husky you freaks, what are you doing to me?”
It was August and Colin and I sat in the archives slowly freezing to death. First our extremities went, then simple things like filling out request slips became onerous because our hands were going. “Wow, is it cold in here.” I told the blue-faced archivist, herself wrapped in a bulky cardigan. She nodded and a shelf of frost fell from her considerable eyebrow and skittered across the desk. After four hours of this meat locker we got into the car, serendipitously parked in the sun, and defrosted like two bugs frozen solid to a tree branch awaiting the spring thaw.
It’s six o’clock Sunday morning and I still smell gas. I’ve phoned the Enbridge Emergency Hotline and was told that they’d be sending a man over to check it out immediately, but in the meantime I’m supposed to keep all the windows closed on the side where our metres are, the side where I can smell gas, and open windows on the opposite side. This is impossible in a semi-detached. So I open the garden door and wonder whose Sunday morning I’ve ruined and hope he gets here before the hillbillies spark up their smoker and we all blow up.
After Dan’s skateboard accident the two of us spent time at the St. Joseph’s fracture clinic where we took our place among the endless parade of the damaged and hobbling. Many brought their extended families to wait with them, Gameboys at full volume. Some grannies snuck out for a smoke while their grandchildren screamed at the door for their return. Bags of exotic snacks were passed around. At the first we complained: “We had an appointment at 8:30!” we’d say. After the third visit we realized that appointments were purely fictional and if we got out before noon we were lucky.
It was Lainey’s place before it became mine. An outrageously illegal basement apartment, it came cheap and boasted a large bathroom. But the walls were thin and you could hear the teenage boy grunting on the other side of the partition. “He must lift weights in there or something” she speculated. The bathroom was indeed huge, with a large claw-foot tub set to one side. One night I went into it and discovered light shining in through several holes in the wall. After a thorough application of duct tape the grunting stopped and our young neighbour took up another hobby.
A professor once advised us that the middle finger expended the least pressure out of all five and was thus the digit of choice for holding down archival documents. Who was this woman, I wondered? Perhaps she was some sort of revisionist? “This nineteenth-century legislation banning women from saloons is fucked!” she’d say and then she’d simultaneously display the offending paper and flip history the bird. Or maybe she was some freak from the conservation unit, incapable of regulating the pressure emitted by her index finger and now forced to deliver her cautionary tale at the Walter Reuther Labor Archives.
When I was growing up Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences. In this one episode three ladies surrendered their purses to Bob. He chose one item from each and the contestant had to give a reason why she had such a thing in her purse. The catch was that Bob could place any prop within the bag and still she had to convince the studio audience that this random thing did indeed come from her purse. Watching this as a ‘tween embarrassed me to no end, as I imagined each purse to be filled with orthodontic elastics and sanitary napkins.
On the rare evenings when they weren’t entertaining, Garry and Tina read through the answers on their Trivial Pursuit game. Sometimes for fun they asked each other the questions, but occasionally, especially before a big dinner party, they’d just cram. Tina studied the History, Literature and Entertainment questions and Garry, an engineer, handled the Geography, Science & Nature and Sports categories. In an impressively short time they’d worked through the entire box. When it came down to playing a postprandial game with their guests, the challenge was in affecting just the right air of uncertainty before shouting out the answer.
He wore Number One because his dad sponsored their soccer team. He also got plenty of game time because the same dad coached. He once smashed a kid’s head into a cement patio at a birthday party and after they carted the other boy away all crossed-eyed and puffy his mother consoled him saying she knew he just wanted to give the birthday boy a big hug but went a little too far. His reign of terror over neighbourhood and day care ended when he had to move near a special school for boys who liked to hug like that.
When he was dying of emphysema Pépé Joe mostly sat in his rocking chair surrounded by an oxygen tank and all the tubes, bandages and medical tape associated with palliative care. When he was close to death he started to hallucinate, so Mémé covered all the mirrors in the house with towels or bedsheets. “Le Seigneur me sauvez, je peux le voir!” he’d wheeze, imagining that he could see Satan in his own reflection. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe guilt or just maybe the Devil did come to get him. He finally breathed his last on Hallowe’en, 1972.
The Elvis tearjerker Don’t Cry Daddy sang of family solidarity and paternal stolidity belying a widower’s grief. Here, a son and his brother “Little Tommy” try to convince their dad that together they could "find a brand-new Mommy”. I hate that song. The dead mother-lost husband/son theme has been served up for years. Think Disney chocolate-covered nightmares like the Lion King and Bambi. The mother killed off so we feel sorry for the hero. If Rich and Dan went trolling for my replacement before a decent grieving period, say twenty years, I would definitely come back and pull their toes.
Mom was a divorcée before she met my father. It was a very violent relationship, one so horrible I was never told about it. Since I research for a living, it wasn’t long before I had his name and life story. Barney Cutler abandoned a wife and child for my mom’s best friend, eventually leaving her for mom. Although he was much older, he died only a couple of years before she did, at the end of what I hope was a lonely and miserable life. A skinny old man in a stained undershirt hunched over a solitary pork chop.
This summer marks the twenty-ninth year of my friendship with Skiz. Rich and I are together for twenty-four, and counting pregnancy, Dan has been with us for nearly seventeen years. The memories collected from these long-term relationships are all the more precious because they only occur through the sacrifice of time. It’s the visceral tweak we feel when we look at our teenage sons and recall kissing their perfect feet, so new they had yet to stand on their own. I try to remember this every time I trip over his size eleven boats capsized and underfoot in the hallway.
It’s a mixed blessing that our ability to see up-close weakens at the same rate that our complexion starts to deteriorate. As a teenager I fixated on every pore, every spot. I was darker than most of my friends, so I envied their white skin and hairless upper lips. Now I don’t bother because I can’t see a thing without my glasses. I couldn’t tell you how wrinkly, pock-marked or hairy I am. Instead I rely on Eva, my aesthetician, to tell me. And so she does. I can now say “big mustache”, “little beard” and “old skin” in Polish.
Richard’s health benefits allow us to get new glasses every two years. We both can’t wait for the two years to be up as last time, for some unknown reason we were persuaded to buy ridiculous glasses: Rich went for an electric blue Mexx number and I bought pink/grey Paul Franks. Worn together, given the penchant for black in our wardrobes, we looked like aging Liberty Village Hipsters, emerging fresh from brunch at The Drake. What were we thinking? After three false starts Rich dug out his old frames. Being Catholic I’ll suffer through with my two years of purgatory.
At first he was a zebra, Then a Paddington Bear And then a little wee skunk with faux fur hair Once Captain Star got a bit too grubby When first mistaken for a Teletubby. Junior Kindergarten spider Then a little red Fox Pointy-eared Legolas Slick Neo redux King Arthur, a fighter pilot, Then a blue-faced Celt Followed by a Courier de Bois Complete with pelt Then came the last to be stored in our attic A lowly Crusader The religious fanatic And now we are left Just my husband and me Missing the masquerade zebra Our Dan used to be.
By the time she’s thirty every woman should have experienced one idiot boss. I worked for Annabelle when I was twenty-nine. She was a senior council at the Department of Justice and having experienced a hot flash during a screening of Dancing with Wolves decided she would like to practice native law. War room discussions were like reasoning with a chimp, and court days were like taking a chimp to a tea party. But I have my own company now and in retrospect she was the most important person of my early working life. God would she would hate that.
I could never be a label whore because those tiny demons are like little ribbons of torture, itchy little hair shirts. I can feel them regardless of the material they are made from or their location on the garment and immediately have to cut them out. In fact, if I’ve forgotten to remove a label prior to wearing the item I’ll try to tear it out or bite it off. I’ve ruined many outfits this way. I’m like a dog with a piece of tape stuck to its rear, turning in circles to get that damn thing off my back.
My dear friend Jim insists his office run on Word Perfect. He does this because he prefers that program to Microsoft Word. He also refuses to give Bill Gates any money. He’s on to something. Better than signing petitions or carrying placards, the best thing we can do is vote with our wallets. There are a lot of people who won’t get a penny of my dough. Topping my list are Wal-Mart succubus Rosalind G. Brewer, Proctor and Gamble’s Robert McDonald and Louise my former travel agent who stiffed me $300 for a mistake she made on tickets to England.
On Roy’s advice I switched my office over from PC to Mac and instantly felt cooler. The space was transformed from a pile of maps and banker’s boxes in the middle of Parkdale to an urban working oasis, humming with creative people dressed in black. The new sleek monitors and shiny surfaces made me feel ten pounds thinner. I’m still using Word, but now I feel like a creative genius. Even Colin, my beloved luddite colleague figured out how to use it. Now we just need a coffee bar and someone to bring us lunch in those little steel containers.
Despite my childish anticipation by which I envisioned a potlatch of perfectly-chosen gifts, a balance between clothes and toys and craft items, my birthday celebrations were low key and over in about two hours. Typically, mom gave me $5 and I’d go to Woolco and buy either some doll clothes or a new Maddie Mod, the poor-girls’ version of Barbie. She had an oversized head and legs that wouldn’t bend but she cost only $2 and that left me some scratch for an outfit. Back home for a tuna sandwich and Kool Aid and that was that until next year.
Like the guy who whistled for Mabel to get him “another Black Label”, the idiot next to us at the sushi restaurant was a finger snapper. He was abrupt with the server and just spoke louder when she faltered with English. He had a familiar Gowan, circa 1982 vibe. I could be wrong but I think he was the host of a local teen show called Ghost Trackers, where ‘tweens roam the city’s historic houses afterhours in search of hauntings. If only he’d used his parabolic microphone last night he could have heard the other diners calling him a douchebag.
Waiting for the Lansdowne South bus is one if most soul sucking experiences available to Parkdale residents. There is no queue to speak of, just a mass of the damned riding its eternal ride to Queen Street. Schedules are mythical and when the bus does appear, the tiny shelter vomits out dozens of the unwashed and unloved like some sort of ringwraithe clown car. I picture mornings in TTC hell where some senior demon, probably Scottish, metes out the day’s punishments, “Okay you bastard”, he’d say fixing a sadistic eye on a newly-condemned driver, “have fun with the 47 south.”
We never baptized Daniel, so instead of a Christian name he was given a special Hindu name by our neighbours. Not only was this a way to yet again thumb my nose at my Catholic roots, but it also gave him a very cool handle: Daniel Patrick Deepak Haynes. When he got older he could choose any combination from the lot. D. Patrick Haynes the academic, Paddy Haynes the fiddler or Daniel Patrice Leclair the French oceanographer. If his fledgling band makes it big and my son plays bass for a living he could be known simply as The Deep.
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