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Last night I was Boadicea. But for the faux leather and brass split-pin tunic recycled from my son’s grade five Beowulf pastiche, all the pieces for this get-up came from my own closet. Same as last year’s Voodoo-Creole-gypsy togs. All my stuff, just more of it at once. Huge layered linen top? Mine. Wrapped knee boots? Mine too. The 3-foot long braids and blue face tattoos, were off course Hallowe’en additions. Funny thing was that as I doled out candy and chatted with my neighbours, nobody said a thing about my costume. I think they were too polite to ask.
Dad’s soul has 49 days to be reborn, and this is the final week of his passage. Next Tuesday, I’ll store his ashes and plan for a spring interment. Cec’s candle returns to the windowsill and life goes on. This includes the unending renovations to our house. Last night the three of us cleaned out Daniel’s bedroom preparing for today’s tear down. “Oh my God!” Dan said as he found a small envelope among the discarded dinosaur and airplane books. It was a birthday card from his Pépé stuffed with 12 crisp $10 bills, just waiting for a rainy day.
We all muse about what it would be like to return to our youth, knowing what we know now. But in reality this would only work if everyone did it. I can’t image being back at St. Gregory’s with a 48 year-old brain and surrounded by my Nimroded peers. Or worse, what would bullies like Zimbo be like, their middle aged machinating brains forced to negotiate grade four with their tiny winkles. Nope, far better that we all age together, the lucky ones gathering wisdom along the way. Otherwise, the makers of Mike’s Hard Lemonade would be out of business.
I have no choice but to put up with our neighbour’s colossally invasive renovations. Her tiny semi will bust out to fill most of the backyard. By Christmas I will look out of our kitchen window and see brick. Our sunroom will be a sunroom only in the academic sense. The air is blue with burning diesel and vulgar machismo. But my neighbour is nice and I have to remember that. So right now I am sending over good karmic thoughts instead of sticking needles into the Suburban Kate doll I fashioned this morning after construction resumed at 7:30 am.
I think that Rich and I are closet vampires because neither or us like a lot of light. Our son is the same way, and for the most part, we live like moles, or rather, given the preponderance of candles in our house, Catholic moles. Except for my office, most of the rooms in our house are evening rooms, with wall colours and furniture chosen to look best after dark. I’ll admit that it is a pretty idiosyncratic style. It could be called ‘zen bordello' or 'William Morris with glaucoma'. Potatoes last forever and houseplants only come here to die.
I think she was being nice when she described our neighbourhood, an enclave of artists, lawyers and CBC-types, as one of ‘genteel poverty’, living as we did in our crumbling century-old homes. Her inner Margaret Mead ventured out daily to observe and interact with the charming but primitive locals, so quaint with their take-out coffees and lefty newspapers like the Globe and Mail. It was a challenge to keep her from retreating to her room, a comforting Maeve Binchy in hand. Lunch at the local Polish diner was challenging. Taking her to my Trannie-friendly restorative yoga class was right out.
It was such a shame that Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died on the same day. Maybe there was a minute or two devoted to her, but the bulk of the news went to The King of Pop. For me, as a goat-haired child of the ‘seventies, she had the gold standard of beauty: Rake thin with straight blonde locks that took to a curling iron like a fish to water. No mustache. I think she might have also been a fine actor when given the right roles. She should have had her own day. Maybe even her own week.
It’s 2:45 am and I’m awake wondering if my fifteen year old took a shower like he was supposed to. The angst is symptomatic of my slippery slope to poor parenting that began with letting him eat meat and stopped somewhere after the third hour of PS3. Wayne Dyer tells me that faith in the universal spirit will solve my problems. In an attempt to vibrate at a higher plane, I let the shower business go. This morning at breakfast I ask, “So Dan, did you take a shower last night?” With an incredulous, “Duh?” he returned to his oatmeal.
Like a lot of closet OCD’ers, I am a picker. Maddeningly, Rich has flawless skin, and except for a very brief, tantalizing bout of cradle cap in 1995, so does Dan. The time the three of us had chicken pox evolved into a dermatological Greek Hell myth for me: Those glorious spots were there, like big, ripe peaches straining on the vine yet I remained unsated because of the threat of scarring. Impunitous digging could only occur on my scalp. As a future crone will alopecia, I will be known as that nice cat lady with the golf ball head.
If we as girls were subjected to those heinous blue gym “rompers”, the kind with the inexplicable two-inch belt and infantilizing big white buttons, our male equivalents, had they chosen to take up wrestling, were forced to wear something resembling a backwards one-piece Speedo. These were made out of some toxic synthetic stretch fabric and were usually in the school’s colours. Our rival school, Belle River had them in green. I assume ours was in dark blue, but because the crotches of those things looked like someone découpaged over a bowl of Christmas walnuts, I was too embarrassed to look.
Mon Oncle Frank was a moose hunter in Rouyn, Quebec. So was his wife Alice. She always got the biggest, affording even the most distant relatives like us from Tecumseh moose burgers for the better part of the winter. Ma Tante had the bragging rights as a chasseur but Frank, a professional wrestler of the Killer Kowalski variety, owned the off-season. This was the 1950’s when everyone had his gimic. Frank came by his naturally. Born with two bumps on the top of his forehead and enhanced by a saturnine temperament, Le Diable enjoyed a repute that stretched to Noranda.
I have two years before my next milestone birthday. My failing eyesight and waning pulchritude don’t bother me because all the folks I love are cresting that same hill. I’m more concerned with lost opportunities and unfinished business. Onerous stews that have simmered on the back burner for decades. So there’s a long list of things I need to do by then and the top five are: have a paperless office, finish my PhD, become perfectly bilingual, develop enough roadside confidence to drive on the 400 in February after dark, reach Enlightenment and become crack-whore skinny. Preferably in reverse order.
Rich was unfamiliar with the unwritten Canadian rule that whatever is out on the sidewalk is fair game to any passerby. So when we saw that amazing dresser just sitting there, it took some convincing. I’ve never been coy about garbage picking and have dragged home everything from 100-pound oak doors to refrigerator parts. By far my favorite is a gorgeous brass lamp that, one IKEA shade later, sits in pride of place on my dining room sideboard. Even Rich loves it. Now if I could only get him to conform to that other Canadian rule: Don’t slag Paul Henderson.
After hours of labour Sandra looked at Mike. “You’re what?”
“I’m sore.” He had just played a rigorous game of squash before his wife’s water broke and was feeling the effects several hours later.
Sandra was a natural at childbirth. While it took me twenty-two hours and as many stitches to have Dan, her two labours averaged about seven hours. Completely natural with no pain medication. Still, she couldn’t be blamed for being unsympathetic. They say the closest a man could come to experiencing the pain of childbirth would be to pass a kidney stone. An eight-pound seven-ounce kidney stone.
“Not another one…can’t you knit something that isn’t a rectangle?” Dan asked, bemused by the constant stream of scarves that chug forth from my needles. Of course I can make other things, I just choose not to. Knitting is meditation for me, and those I truly love have either received their karma scarf, or are on my mental list of future recipients. Most of the people I’ve given these to really do like them. Maybe my former boss, or Louise the evil travel agent wouldn’t wear something I designed to wrap around their necks, but I wouldn’t knit for them.
Whenever I shell out a couple of Bordens for a bias-cut schmatte held together by two artisanal buttons, I know I should get back into sewing. Mom was a seamstress, and her mother before her. It’s genetically predisposed that I should sew, and I can, but I hate it. I feel the back of my neck getting hot just thinking about it. Mostly it’s because I have no place to sew. If I awoke one morning to my own workroom, half of it devoted to wool and the other half showcasing a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 that’d be a different story.
Andrew always gave me grief about the conflict in my preaching edgy design yet practicing a bland urban aesthetic. Day after day he’d sit in his ersatz office in our kitchen and point out the Pottery-Barneyness of Caesarstone and KitchenAid appliances. It sounds schizophrenic but really it’s just my take on Japanese philosophy. The impermanence of beauty: A sink full of dirty hand-thrown pottery, Comrags clothes loaded with cat hair, Keihls’s toiletries on my face and three weeks of roots on the top of my head. I have a fridge full of organic fruit and a drawer teeming with ho-hos.
Our Lainie says the mom uniform in suburban BC consists of yoga pants, a travel mug and a ponytail. Add a French manicure and these gals could be shopping at the Vaughan Mall. Inner city folks have a different vibe involving more attitude and less hair product. That’s how we recognize each other on winery tours. So imagine our surprise when last night at Aries we sat next to a family who, mullets akimbo, went on about hockey before spontaneously bursting into a round of Wavin’ Flag. Rich suspects Rob Ford parachuted them into the neighbourhood as the New Normal.
From the oil paint on her smock to her eighty-odd years of wisdom, Bridget has style. She’s the coolest person I know. For years I watched her, purple do-rag on her head, tending her magnificent garden. She had quite a past: A London foundling, adopted into a posh family whom she rejected, she became an artist and married a much-younger sculptor. One night with the rest of us far into our cups she finished the tequila, adjusted her lime green glasses, looked both ways and crossed the street home. Feist now lives in her house. We’ve yet to have drinks.
Back when we could control our son’s pastimes, back when he was willing to watch movies with us, we had Laurel and Hardy marathons. All the fun ones- Brats, Way Out West, The Music Box- we greedily watched right away. It developed into a weekend obsession and we worked quickly through their roster, eventually coming to their later, inferior films. If you are a Laurel and Hardy fan do not watch Utopia. It’s their last film. Both men are older, Oliver’s fatter and Stan, his body wracked by diabetes, looks like a ghost. It’s like spotting the waddle on Oopsy-Daisy.
Mrs. Miller made the best butter tarts. She got the recipe from her mom, who quickly recorded it while listening in on her telephone’s party line: ½ cup butter, softened 1 cup packed brown sugar ½ cup corn syrup 2 eggs 2 teaspoons white vinegar 2 teaspoons vanilla Big pinch salt Cream together butter and sugar; beat in corn syrup, egg, vinegar, vanilla and salt. Pour into uncooked shells (every 1950’s eavesdropper worth her salt could make pastry from scratch). Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes and cool. Makes about a dozen. The devil made her do it.
I’ve been in a vegetative state for months, a shiftless loop of knitting and dog walking. You can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve ran. The never-ending renos are my excuse for not housecleaning. My neighbours’ kitchen extension is the reason why I haven’t gardened since August. Motherhood gets in the way of putting in a full day’s work while Wayne Dyer’s soul candy is the cause of my plateauing weight. And now I’ll have to drink more wine so that I have a stash of bottles to give to the bin-diving lady with the steel teeth.
“So I’m thinking you guys maybe drink a little?” Said Lester, the noodnik general contractor next door. I explained that we’re saving the empties for the steel-toothed lady. She scared us half to death one rainy evening when she called at the back door. She pulled a scrap of paper from her yellow slicker and handed it to Rich. The note was in English informing us that she had to go away but would be back and could we please save our bottles? We manage three bottles per week. She’s gone for seven weeks. We’ll have to drive her home.
From Kool Aide as hair dye to condoms as drug tamales, I love the idea of repurposing items, especially if their new use varies widely from their intent. You can use pennies to clean coffee carafes and just a dab of toothpaste will banish a zit. For years a Borden’s Milk crate housed my Who LPs, packed with just enough room for a languid flip to Quadrophenia. But here’s my favorite: Savvy fashionistas always carry a stash of panty liners and manicuring scissors in their purse for custom shoe cushions. Try it and you will never again resort to band-aids.
My goddaughter Maddie would probably argue that the minute her mother or I start wearing something, that fashion is officially over, never again to be worn by anyone under forty. The middle-aged application of trendy language has the same effect. Try saying “peeps” or “sick” or any hybridized mom dorkisms around a fifteen-year old and you will be met with rage and derision. It boils down to the misappropriation of language. My own teenaged self became indignant each time mom tried on “gross” or “it’s the pits” when she should have confined herself to cooking with gas and whistling Dixie.
I am embarrassed that I lost my cool at the dog park the other night and said, “Oh Honey, YOU have to leave!” to the bearded ignoramous attempting to clear out a platoon of dog owners and their charges so that he, his wife and his dog fearing toddler could enjoy family time on a freezing night in late November in the park during off-leash times. I should have ignored him like Rich did. He was spoiling for a fight, leading his poor child smack dab into the middle of a dog pack. Some people are just asking for it.
It’s odd with me because I’ve always had a hair trigger when I’m in the presence of bullies. I think it stems from working with lawyers, or enduring my formative years riding the bus with Zimbo Bertrand and his siblings. It’s odd because I do not like conflict and feel like throwing up after an altercation, but I can’t let them get away with it. Something clicks inside my head and I feel like I have to speak up for the underdog. Thank Christ I don’t live next to Anne Coulter. I’d probably train Nim to shit on her lawn.
Even before I saw the ghostly image of Dan’s dislocated shoulder, I was fascinated by x-rays. As her desktop picture, my pal Shannon chose her own skull, the stud in her tongue adding a certain swashbuckling flare. And it wasn’t all work and no play for Angela during her time in med school. As a radiology intern she’d regale her friends with graphic descriptions of emergency-room mishaps. Although I never saw it, somehow I can conjure up in my mind the radiograph of that poor gentleman who was rushed into Hotel Dieu with a coke can wedged up his bottom.
My Year of Eating Animals draws to a close. Throughout these months I’ve wondered if I’d go back to just eating vegetables, fruits and scaly things, or continue as a carnivore. Dan has made up my mind since he’s announced that he will become a vegetarian. I wonder what has brought him around? Is he developing a conscience? Was it that traumatic viewing of Food Inc in last year’s geography class? Maybe it was paddling by a moose in Algonquian Park. Either way, the only thing standing between us and better karma is a freezer full of ethically tickled-to-death meat.
I realized today that I am the same age as Richard’s mum was when I started dating him. Can you believe it, his mother. Worse still, my lawyer boss at Justice was my age eighteen years ago. I think that at forty-eight she was already a QC, had been through three husbands and two BMWs and had a child that was university age. She seemed ‘way older in her black business suits and her big white hands. Much older than I feel. Sometimes I still think I’m a child. That creepy crone-child in the red raincoat from Don’t Look Now.
The Tip Jar