REPORT A PROBLEM
Experimenting with the power of suggestion, I once cast a spell on Jim Morand. It was grade seven and I told him that yes, I was indeed a witch and with just a light touch on the shoulder I could make him itchy for the entire day. Of course after that he couldn’t stop scratching, thus confirming my supernatural powers. This week Scotiabank Theatre audiences were wracked by the scare of a bed bug infestation. Like Jim’s spell, the bed bugs were a hoax, but I defy anyone to watch the latest Julia Roberts confection without wriggling in their seats.
My favorite seat on the Greyhound coach is usually usurped by old women: The front seat directly to the right of the driver. This is not a prize easily won as you have to beat the grannies at their own game. They have packed the night before and arrive three hours early. They have a llama-like ability to stand for long periods of time, and they know you are gunning for the same seat. Upon securing the coveted spot they’ll put their Harrods tote bag on the empty seat beside them and settle in for the milk run to Sudbury.
I was a huge fan of Mordecai Richler’s work until I watched a biography of the writer and thought he sounded like a real asshole. It’s not that he stopped writing brilliant books, I just couldn’t stick him anymore. The same thing happened after I learned that P. G. Wodehouse was a misanthrope. It ruined Bertie Wooster, and seemed as though Plum was laughing at me rather than with me. It is childish to want to like the people who provide us with our entertainment, but I can’t help it. I still wish I’d never heard Margaret Atwood read aloud.
We have a beautiful new bathroom with heated slate floors and a large shower enclosed in glass. It’s an airy space filled with reflective surfaces. But, I’ve since discovered it’s really a venue for masochists. If properly positioned in the stall I can see my reflection from three sides. If I look away, another triptych of chub greets me in the huge mirror that runs the length of the counter. Before this, when staying in hotels I used to wonder what sort of sadistic design freak sticks a mirror on the wall immediately next to the toilet. Now I know.
Rich calls it American-style dating - where someone has a Friday night date with one person, and then spends Saturday with another. Who does this? Maybe if you’re Mary Richards or The Fonz, but really? Most of us dog paddle our way through the stream of serial monogamy and we’re damn happy to have that. In fact, we are downright grateful. Ride on any form of mass transit and you’ll see that the uglier the couple, the more publically demonstrative. There they are, fresh from a Medieval-fair clinging to each other like their own perfume add for really smelly people.
Scott was my first bonafide boyfriend. I bought his Valentine’s Day card weeks in advance and filled it with romantic messages, all in a tiny crabbed hand so as to pour as much teenaged emotion as I could onto the space provided. Then I baked him a giant heart-shaped cookie festooned with M&Ms that read “I love you.” I presented him with the gifts and sat back, awaiting mine. Nothing. “Oh wait” he said and ran home. In his haste he stepped on the cookie crushing it to bits. He returned with a King Dong from his mother’s kitchen. Git.
Either G. Gordon Liddy or Timothy Leary said that the difference between Western and arranged marriages is that Western society may marry for love but spouses in successful arranged marriages love who they marry. Regardless which knucklehead said this, I’m sure he heard it from someone else. Still, wouldn’t we all like to hand pick our children’s spouses? Think of it: no tarts, no harridans, no thickies. Secretly, we’ve chosen one for Dan. And in keeping with tradition we will request the same bride price Gerry wanted for me: A Molson Canadian Pleasure Pack and a packet of El Productos.
“You’ve lost all perspective on how much things cost. ” Rich admonished me as I showed him the $6 packet of crackers I’d just bought at our local, extremely earnest Farmer’s Market. And really, he’s right. When I was growing up in Tecumseh we had farmer’s markets, but we called them ‘vegetable stands’. My friend Kathy still has one. No pinched-faced matrons buying their spawn $5 carob cookies, no ersatz hippies or reflexologists, just Mrs. Maitre waiting for Jeff to bring in the afternoon pick. I might buy stupidly expensive bread, but I won’t buy corn from a grocery store.
We used to take our son to Bat Nights at High Park. These were lovely, under marketed events where a specialist from the ROM acted as our guide and we all walked around in silence, watching as the bats flew along the tree line and listening to their distinctive click-clicking. That was until Parents Magazine advertized it as a kids’ activity and set up a marquee in the middle of the field. After that the only nocturnal beasties to show themselves were screaming babies, petrified by the dark, their older siblings Jonesing for ice cream and frustrated parents. No bats.
“Hey Laurie, got a minute?” It was Russ, dad’s neighbour, King of the Showers. For years Russ has called me over to see all sorts of things including his magic lantern slides and the personal groomer he used on his nose hairs. He finds abandoned skids, disassembles them then refashions the wood into seats and planters-all of which warrants a call-over. On this day he’d stuck a pair of skis onto one of his benches and flanked it with hockey-stick rudders. He assures me that with the proper helmet and inadequate parenting, the skid-chair craze will catch on like wildfire.
My first file as a land claims researcher for the Department of Justice took my Lawyer-Bonobo and me to Sauble Beach. It would be the only warm and fuzzy claim I was allowed to work on during my two-year tenure, and it began terribly. Mrs. Peepers came on much too strong and had only begun dictating to the Chief how she would run the claim when we were dismissed. After that all that could be heard was our knuckle-walking retreat from the room. It took us three hours to drive to the reserve and fifteen minutes to get kicked out.
That was my introduction to band politics. Even a chimpanzee couldn’t save that act. And after that I learned that if I wanted to be coddled and fawned over I was in the wrong business. This was devastating for me, an only child and a Leo. I was raised to believe that I was the smartest, my voice was the prettiest and that everyone loved me. Phenomena reinforced daily by parental encouragement. In fact, from an early age I slept with the covers over my head just to make sure that the sun really did shine out of my ass.
The young girl behind the register chewed her gum and waited for her to make up her mind. Propped up next to the Kleenex and lighters, the brown box of waxy Polish chocolates beckoned. That should have been her first warning: This item had been placed there in anticipation of a quick and thoughtless purchase. She struggled with herself, craving the candies, but mindful of her obesity and how this inner turmoil played out to onlookers. In the end she had to have them, and involuntarily sticking out her tongue, she placed the box in front of the ruminating cashier.
Regardless to what I thought of any of Dan’s teachers, I always pretended to like them. This was especially true in his early grades when I tried my hardest to win them over. His first teacher was an ancient Crone with an immunity to parental teat-suckling. At the end of the senior kindergarten year she left me with an outrageously ambiguous evaluation of my son. With her good eye focused somewhere in the ether above my head, she proclaimed “He is by far the most intellectually challenging child I have ever taught.” Some teachers were easier to like than others.
Since my pal Skiz has become an educator I’m getting a view of the proceedings from the other side. Three weeks into term and so far she has received a litany of outrageous requests from parents ranging from the relatively innocuous grilling over lost clothing to detailed instructions on how to clean their child’s bottom. This is what separates a vocation from a job. If it was me, I’d hang this warning over the door to my classroom: “Get outta my class if you can’t wipe your ass”. Of course, the parents would have to read this to their children.
“You want this?” he asked, handing me a piece of cake still nestled in its Meals on Wheels plastic container. He’d already offered me yesterday’s meatballs and today’s pork chops. Dad’s given up on most things, especially food and the suppers that are delivered by the Elliot Lake volunteers molder in his fridge. Now he eats like a toddler: tiny bowls of oatmeal, chicken soup, toast. And like a child, his refusing to eat is one of the few things left within his control. But I’m hopeful that he’ll get through this rough patch because there’s always room for pie.
I have a terrible addiction to cereal. I always have. It’s so bad that I only allow myself to eat it once a week. I’m also OCD about it: you have to put more milk into the bowl than you need, eat half - then fill up the bowl again with fresh cereal. My method works especially well with Cheerios and vanilla soymilk, and more than anything else proves that God’s alchemy is at work. A miracle occurs among those tiny Os floating in their little white sea. This perfect wet-dry balance makes my quasi-healthy breakfast taste like Lucky Charms.
On our way home from TIFF Rich and I saw a young man in a Dr. Seussian top hat balancing on top of a five foot pair of stilts. “Whoever thought this was entertaining?” he said watching the boy from our vantage point inside the College streetcar. “I think is was the same people who invented mimes.” I answered. “Ah, the bloody French.” Suddenly it all made sense to Rich. Our conversation then turned to antiquated ideas of fun, activities we now view as perverse: Punch and Judy theatre, urban zoos, circuses and the creepiest of all entertainers: The Clown.
Although I have to acknowledge a girlish affection for the Detroit-based Oopsy Daisy, my love for clowns ended there. All that face makeup and satin just didn’t register with me. There was something creepily avuncular about Bozo with his Larry Fine hair, and although technically a puppet, H. R. PufnStuf was particularly distasteful with his big yellow head and little baby voice. That theme song “H. R. Pufnstuf, who’s your friend when things get rough?” sounded the death knell to my Saturday cartoon watching. Better to be out riding my bike than subjected to Jimmy and Freddy, his talking flute.
We seniors of Ste-Anne’s Secondary School were prohibited from seeing Life of Brian. This meant that most of us hastened to a theatre to watch it. The movie was originally rated AA, but my best pal Carolyn had already turned nineteen, so we were a guilty shoe-in. Thankfully, I had given up confession after a particularly embarrassing session with Father Gary, so I really only had to deal with my own conscience. No problem. Anyone with two IQ points got the Python’s message but thirty years later, I still can’t meditate on the Beatitudes without thinking “blessed are the cheesemakers”.
Because of Monty Python and Rowan Atkinson Rich and I cannot watch any period English drama without throw away lines from the Holy Grail or Black Adder creeping into the room. In fact, nobody does historical filth quite as well as Terry Gilliam and his discerning eye for ratty clothes, spittle and dung has made most films look far too clean by comparison. If our hero doesn’t have matted hair or filthy fingernails, he has lost me. Sit through a Derek Jacobi mystery and you can almost see the orange ric-rac trim from the Butterick Pattern B4574 Merry Man costume.
I discovered Roxy Music’s Flesh and Blood at Skiz’s house. There was something about the combination of Bryan Ferry’s voice and that signature syntho-echo that could make you feel simultaneously sad and horny, ancient and hopeful. That was a terrific coming-of-age summer for me. Skiz, Roger, Gil and I spent the season together, happily taking advantage of her pool, beer fridge, barbeque and her parents’ good nature. This was 1981 and I was already nineteen, I should have had this sort of experience years before, say at fifteen, but I just cannot imagine necking on the couch to My Sharona.
I played the copy of Flesh and Blood Roy burned for me when I was driving up to Elliot Lake to see Gerry. Back in the day, I’d bought the album and made a cassette so I could listen to it in the Dodge Dart on my daily trips back and forth from Gil’s house. Two weeks ago I’d sung to “My Only Love” as I drove along highway 108, and it would be the last time I saw my father alive. Time passes so quickly. I used to sing an octave higher than Bryan Ferry, but I don’t anymore.
The trappings of Dad’s eighty-five years of life fit neatly into six bankers boxes. This was a considerable upgrade from Mom’s things which filled five garbage bags, the majority of their contents sent to Good Will or parceled out among her surviving sisters. Sure there was stuff left behind: couches, rugs, tables, kitchen things, but these held no memories for me. We gave Dad’s friend Rita everything so it’s up to her now to decide what she wants to keep and what she wants to sell. I’m not sure if that was generosity or laziness on our part. Probably both.
Odd what we keep when we’re packing up someone’s life. When Mom died, I took her knitting and jewelry. Now with Dad the entire house must go. For us we kept the ancient tortière pans, a plaster statue of St-Antoine, his Knights of Columbus sword and of course Gerry and Laurette. They are on my mantle flanked by their rosaries, flowers and sympathy cards. A candle lights their path to the next world. It rests in a sculpture made by Cec, Dad’s godfather’s daughter. From some angles it looks like stained glass. Just sacred enough. Dad would have liked that.
Like Roy and Mary, Rich and I bought our home as a power of sale. We couldn’t believe our luck - under $200 thousand for a three storey semi in a beautiful neighbourhood. The house was empty and freshly painted. It was only after we moved in that we realized why the place was so cheap: the previous owner had kept a panther and a leopard in the basement and once the paint fumes dissipated the smell of big cat was overwhelming. Our own two felines crawled around on their bellies for a month fearful of being snatched and eaten.
Happy to have normal neighbours again locals came out from everywhere to tell us tales about the previous owner and the menagerie he kept in his house. Stories varied in scale and veracity and involved any range of animals from boa constrictors to lion cubs. The best ones were from tradesmen who had actually ventured down to the basement. “Aw geese, how could I fix the guy’s furnace with that panther staring at me?” One recalled. I have never cleaned a house so thoroughly in my life. Had the stories stopped with the monkey, I’d have been a lot cooler.
For their twenty-fifth anniversary, my parents got a silver dog. Well, a dog with silver fur; a toy Schnauzer to be exact. Dad named him Brillo because of his wiry coat. He was a very sweet dog and very friendly. But the poor thing was never neutered and had developed the singular habit of self-fellation, especially after it rained. Our house backed onto a playground and Brillo’s foul-weather exhibitions delighted all the local urchins. Some people might train their pet to lie down or fetch but we, without ever trying, had the most popular dog show in the trailer park.
David Sedaris was in town on Saturday. He spoke about a place in California where couples can arrange to have their wedding rings delivered by an owl. After landing on the groom’s forearm, the bird deposits the jewelry in exchange for a live rat. To him, this was the first and only reason for he and Hugh to wed. But what if animals could symbolically act out a couple’s future? There might be cockfights and ant farms, beavers and bonobos. And at least one mongoose being slowly digested by a Vera Wanged cobra. I think I went to that shindig.
She told me that the large, foul-smelling iguana next to her desk was the college’s mascot. “He loves football! Isn’t he cute?” she purred as the thing crawled up her shoulder, its claws clambering for purchase on her brown sweater. As her question was rhetorical she continued to sing its praises, all the while peeling potato chip sized scales from its body. “What do you do with it during the holidays?” I asked. “I take Iggy home.” And then I imagined this reptile, assuming pride of place in her living room, nestled among her collections of plaster angels and Crocs.
The Tip Jar