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I’ve never understood some people’s compulsion towards honesty. I mean basic, karma-inducing honesty like not stealing stuff or cheating is a given. Take something that isn’t yours or hoodwink somebody and you’ll get it in the end. But I feel no need to answer the phone nor the doorbell just because I’m home. And forget about supplying my real name to the dog-park by-law officer or entering it on classmates.com. In these and in similar circumstances my handle would become Lorraine Tessier or Marie-France Gouin. They are sensible adaptations: Close enough to be believable, but far enough from the truth.
Raymond’s coffee shop is out of business. At least I think it’s so as the windows are now papered over in newsprint. As we walked by on our way to Roncesvalles we tried to remember the various incarnations of this tiny, doomed boite: Chocolate store, a cheese boutique where the owner’s wife complained to me, “Why am I doing this? I’m a yoga teacher for Christ’s sake!” Then a second cheese shop run by frenemies with creative differences. If it were my venture I’d sell Ovaltine and the New York Times. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Recently, I caught the final minutes of William Shatner’s Weird or What? It sounded like a low-brow version of Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of... The latter show was appointment viewing when I was ten. Each week I’d tune in, only to be willingly creeped-out by stories about Nostradamus or the Bermuda Triangle. Now, I love Bill as much as the next person. You simply have to. But even with his twinkle and rug, I can’t bear to watch shows with titles like “Human Popsicle”. But Bill can’t help it, either. He’s always been Norville “Shaggy” Rogers to Leonard’s Rod Serling.
It was a rainy drive home from Big Sur and we were all tired. I’d been in the water the entire day. I was lean and fit, never touched alcohol and usually let things just glide past me. That is the irony of it all: I didn’t deserve to die, much less lose my cozy existence. But we didn’t anticipate the sharp bend in the road and the next thing I knew I’d lost everything. They were my heart and my soul, my eyes and my ears. Now I am just an empty vessel. I have become Steve Jobs’ liver.
“So, are you going to eat the placenta?” This from a coworker who had it on good authority that the afterbirth should be consumed as it purportedly offered the mother a leg-up towards recovery. His informant ate hers fried up with onions. Since I am wary of any baked good, gifted or not, produced by a child under the age of fourteen, the thought of eating something after it had been attached to my son for thirty-eight weeks was right out. And forget about roping Rich into the scheme. He won’t even eat things that come out of a microwave.
Because I spent my early years breathing in the exhalations of two chain smokers I’ve developed a superhuman sense of smell. Blindfolded, I could tell who you were just by smelling you, or your house, or anything that came from your house. On this occasion I was sat next to Christina who gesticulated wildly with her fork, the speared flesh dangling off it as if she were trolling for marlin. Two inches from my nose. As usual, the conversation turned towards vegetarianism. She insisted that men were natural carnivores. Instead of arguing with her, I threw up on her shoes.
Sure everyone got old around me, but I thought I was hermetically sealed in my youth. Maintained. Preserved. But first it was policemen who looked younger than me, then the doctors. Suddenly people half my age became successful writers or academics. Famous. Like I wanted to be. But I never realized how much I was aging until my aerobics instructor visibly recoiled when I got close enough to ask him a question. What an eye-opener! Health, Pulchritude, Dreams and my unrealistic romantic pairing with Pete Townsend, all things to be stored away in the four canopic jars of my youth.
In periods of intense navel-gazing I’ve wondered if my mother hadn’t smoked a pack a day and taken diet pills and DES when she carried me, if I wasn’t raised in a trailer or enrolled in Catholic schools my entire young life, would I be more successful today? But what if this sort of prenatal nourishment and early childhood education had an immunizing effect, and I’m much stronger than if I had been spawned and raised by rich folks? Maybe. I know I’ve developed quite a resistance to bingo halls, truck rallys and Don Cherry. And I never get sick.
My first fender bender occurred only weeks after I received my driver’s license. Drunk with the anticipation of buying a new Police album I drove the Dart to the store only to find, Outlandos D’Amour in hand, that I’d forgotten my wallet and had to return home to get it. Peeling out of the parking space I clipped the right side of a green station wagon. I did what any resourceful seventeen year-old girl would do: Reparked on the far end of the mall and phoned Daddy. After all, it would have been too ironic to call the cops.
It doesn’t have to be in Barrie. It could be in Sudbury or Lansing, but nothing makes you feel more like a loser than walking out of the parking lot of a Holiday Inn. Sidewalks exist only in an academic sense and as you attempt to cross the eight lanes of suburban traffic drivers view you with interest. Is she too poor to afford a Windstar? Is she just back from the methadone clinic? In reality, I am usually on my way to one of those ersatz Mexican restaurants, the kind that feature iceberg lettuce and Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
Serious Aspergery-collecting, like monolithic rows of albums or floor to ceiling libraries tends to be a man thing. How many of us had boys who lined their cars up in single file from kitchen to couch? It’s too deeply entrenched in their DNA to fix. But seeking out bits of dross is a completely female addiction, running from the mildly artistic vintage teak to the truly heinous plaster angel or cat figurine varieties. Junk is consumer poutine. It’s bad for us and makes our houses fat. Over time I’ve learned to resist stuff. Just don’t look in my yarn cupboard.
For children and parents that ghastly time between school and supper is mitigated by TVO Kids. We realized how much Dan was influenced by one particular program after he arranged our beer empties into circles on the kitchen floor, looked up at an imaginary overhead camera and shouted, “This is an Art Attack!” But some shows, like Pingu, were stupid, and he just had to wait them out. Until that episode with the seal. A smooth, brown disproportionate head that rose up slowly against that creepy blue background. It looked like Eddie Murphy and scared the shit out of him.
Because she saw Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally and then soon after watched him host the Academy awards, Laurette thought there were two of him, one about ten years older than the other. She insisted on referring to them as the Crystal Brothers and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. And so the phrase became part of our arcane little lexicon. One will say "the Crystal Brothers" when the other mistakenly identifies an actor. And it's usually me. I’m not good with names and don’t go to movies much. I’ve never been able to tell my Langellas from my Damons.
My tiny record stand was shaped like a lyre and had a capacity for fifteen albums. Unless I padded it with Alvin and the Chipmunks or the Singing Nun, it would remain half-empty. Fearing reprisals from my friends who had older siblings with collections that boasted Machine Head and Brain Salad Surgery I’d frantically comb my pile looking for the least dorkey cover to place at the front of the stand. Once in a panic I settled on The Cowsills and lived to regret it. A great jettisoning of titles occurred. Except for Liberace’s Rhapsody in Blue. Coolest. Record. Ever.
This summer Dan will take driving lessons. I see preparing him for his G1 as teaching an important life skill. A more practical incentive for leaving the basement than a couch fire. Being a county kid, I had my license early. I failed my first try at Windsor then opted for a second attempt at Tilbury. That time I passed and became a bonafide driver at the age of seventeen. And I was a late bloomer. Farm-girl Cathy thumbed her sun-burnt nose at the law and drove when she was fifteen. But that was just a truck full of corn.
The move to Toronto was a rude awakening for me. Fresh from Tecumseh, and bereft of my beloved Dodge Dart I was forced to take the TTC. Or rely on the vagaries of city drivers whose predilections were to dump you at the nearest streetcar stop. Back home nobody took public transit. What’s more, nobody got marooned at a bus stop. You just drove people home, no matter where they lived. So we chose our friends wisely. A Brouillette or a St. Pierre was a fifteen-minute drive into town. Returning a Chauvin or a Menard took forty-five minutes one way.
Yvonne and Henry love to fly. They do it for a living. For me, the only thing more terror inducing is a night drive on the 401 in February. So this week at the airport I did my usual pre-flight ritual: Consider the fates of my fellow passengers. Are they the type of people destined to die in a plane crash? Once I finish this assessment I watch the crew. If everyone looks calm and in control, the odds of survival are in my favor. I explained this to Yvonne. “Yeah,” she said, “but they’re really good at hiding stuff.”
He had the universal sign of all transients: A plastic bag turned inside out and stuffed to breaking. I sat across from him on the subway and watched as he rummaged around, carefully taking out a bit of sandwich, surveying its contents and then wrapping it up and replacing it in his bag. I was drawn to him and his Deputy Dog jowls. So before I got out of the car at Lansdowne, I placed my package of licorice on top of his bag. He looked up, disgusted, “Hey Lady, I don’t want this!” and threw it back at me.
Like those experts on Antiques Roadshow who can tell a 1902 Stieff bear from a fake, seasoned TTC riders can spot a Crazy a mile away. The Smellies and Lone Talkers are obvious, but it’s the ones who look normal until you sit next to them and then start telling you about melting skeletons that present the challenge. There’s a simple rule of thumb that always works for me. It’s not their hair nor clothes. It’s their shoes. Worn heels and salt stains are a dead giveaway. And for Heaven’s Sake don’t sit next to any adult with Velcro ties.
There were at least two incidents in my life where I’ve appeared to be quite crazy in public. Years ago I waited, ticket-in-hand for my number to be called at a packed Bell store in the ignominious Dufferin Mall. I saw countless twenty-somethings purchase their cell phones, watched their lacquered nails coiling around their new phones, snapping them shut and peeling them open. And still the number on the wall didn’t move. Thirty minutes later I waved my little piece of paper and shouted at the top of my lungs “Seventy-two is a mythical number!” I was seen to straightaway.
I had to get some blood work done at the hospital. Settling in among the shattered and starving I took out my knitting. Twice I jumped up thinking my name was called only to be told to sit back down. Then I crossed my audience a third time to use the phone. I travelled past the clerk, beyond the elevators and through a hallway to the public telephones. Despite my circuitous route I could easily find my way back. My ball of wool had caught on the chair and left a trail across the entire fourth floor of Mount Sinai.
My girlfriends and I hated the Osmonds. There was something monumentally uncool about sibling bands, mostly because the age range made the oldest creepily avuncular and the youngest just a puerile fartelberry. And this group, all twenty-seven of them with their oversized heads and untainted religious convictions were doubly odious. The prospect of catching a glimpse of them as they rode along Riverside Drive offered little incentive. Still, call it Catholic guilt, but we felt we had to participate. It was a walkathon for Muscular Dystrophy and we’d been Clockwork-Oranged by Jerry Lewis every Labour Day since we were infants.
For the first five miles Kathy put up with ill-fitting shoes. For the next three she walked in her red tennis socks. At mile nine with torn socks, blistered and filthy feet she just stopped and lie there crying. At that point the promised cavalcade of lesser Osmonds passed us, their collective teeth a sunshiney death-ray that threatened to burn the retinas of anyone who dared to look directly at them. After that we lived in fear that a future Tiger Beat would have a picture of our sobbing, prostrated friend and the caption “Canadian Fan collapses after meeting Jimmy!”
When we lived in Mimico we were constantly being filmed. Not us, mind you but Lakeshore Boulevard, where we lived. It was just skanky and dated enough to be used as an appropriate backdrop for any crime, slasher, immigrant-coming-of -age movie you could think of. It was New York on the cheap. Then we moved to Parkdale, where the gritty, crappy, crime genre remained, but the budget was bigger. And we’re used to it: trucks, lights, parking pylons just taken in stride. We saw Russell Crowe at the Starbucks, but as this is Toronto, after all, we didn’t let on.
Today The Douchebag was at the puppy rescue benefit with his girlfriend. I’ve written about him before, the guy who made scenes at a couple of local restaurants. Although he still looks like Gowan, I’m not sure if he really was the actor from Ghost Trackers. I think he runs a shoe store that features window dioramas full of penises. Who would ever think of shoes as phallic? Especially now. And like Dan’s psychotic former music teacher, since I’ve become tuned into his rhythm, I see him everywhere. Perhaps he’s writing his own blog about this middle aged stalker lady.
Black Christmas was one of the creepiest movies of its time, and not just because it had Andrea Martin in it. It was about a psychopath who made obscene phone calls to sorority sisters unfortunate enough to be left at the dorm over the holidays. Anyone who’s heard these calls knows how unsettling they can be, even if the experience doesn’t culminate in a Saranwrap-encased corpse. I once received such a phone call, a real heavy breather, and thinking it was my boyfriend at the time, upped the ante. In the end, I’m not sure who was the most unnerved.
I’ve never been that attentive over unwanted advances, and usually realize, long after the fact, that someone was trying to harass me. Like that time in the Roman Forum. My boyfriend and I were walking through the ruins when a man said hello to me. It was a rainy day and he was holding an umbrella. I returned his greetings and we walked on. “You know, that guy had his dick hanging out.” Paul said to me. When I turned to look back at him he had vanished, probably thinking the place was going to the dogs. Too many Americans.
In one of the funniest bits of comedy I’ve seen, Roseanne Barr, Hawaiian donut in hand, described the amount of work required to reprogram one’s husband. “First,” she said while flicking off the multi-coloured sprinkles, “you have to get rid of all the things his mother did to him….” How true is this? Being a mother is such a visceral experience that it’s impossible to be objective. You have to want more for them than you had. Double the angst with an only child. I sometimes wonder who will be that lucky person to pick the sprinkles off his donut.
We’re all familiar with the term ‘jump the shark’ to describe the moment when a television show has overstayed its welcome. It’s usually accompanied by a stupid plot line. Think Cosmo Kramer or the singing Brady Brunch. My favorite example comes from the Cosby Show and its constantly rotating collection of Rudys or Rudyesque characters. As the real gal got older and fatter and thus less loveable she was replaced by a cuter, younger version. Then that one got older and fatter. Good thing the show didn’t go on much longer or they’d have had to borrow Eddie from Fraser.
Shark Jumping transcends television, and I’ve seen examples all around me. We have sartorial shark jumping, like when I realized no one under thirty wears cuffed jeans, and no one under fifty would be seen dead in pastel capris. Or, Décor shark jumping, when you buy art to match the sofa. But the most painful by far is Jumping the Love Shark. That’s the moment when you’ve outlived a relationship. It happened to Paul and me in France. By the end, even my walk irritated him. And listening to him breathe was pure torture. Like a rain stick from hell.
Near the end of Caché Daniel Auteil’s character removed his dressing gown and, all paunchy grizzle, slid naked into bed. “Oh, the French” said Rich, yet again. I’m French but I’ll never understand the appeal of sleeping without pajamas. What if you have to pee during the night? Do you then get up, and like a shivering, shaved rat scurry over to the can? And unless you want your bed to smell like bears have been hibernating there, you’d have to do laundry every other day. Forget it. I want a layer of fresh flannel between me and life’s indignities.
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