Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Best Donuts in Town!

We arrived in Toronto in August, 1972, back from a four-year stint in small-town New Jersey, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Our new apartment was located just around the corner from The Donut Shop, which, according to the sign in the window, sold the best donuts in town!
     My only experience had ever been limited to the shrink-wrapped suburban variety, and here I was living right next to The Best Donuts in Town!
     Except for two problems: eleven-year-old boys didn’t buy their own donuts on Yonge Street in 1972, and I had yet to realize advertisements aren’t always true.

Dollars To Donuts

With six cops on every downtown corner last weekend, it was hard not to feel oppressed. Even though, when Steve and I were on Queen West, there was little happening. People were shopping. Steve said I was lucky I spent no time in detention. I could not help myself. Upon spotting a group of Halton police I asked them how they liked the donuts in Toronto. “Haven’t tried any,” answered one of them. “Yeah, it’s easier to find biscotti around here.” I commented and walked on, snickering. But I felt a little bad. He actually seemed like a nice guy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

G20 This

The difficulty with political convictions is avoiding all the irony and inconsistencies that naturally fall in front of you. Life is so complex it is impossible for anyone to be totally true to his beliefs. Catholics use birth control. Econazis floss. We shop with hemp bags sewn by Indian children or buy organic apples flown in from Chile. We’d never hurt an animal but have Proctor and Gamble in our medicine chests. How genuine a Vegetarian was I with my leather shoes, the rennet in my cheese, or the rest of the hidden mono and diglycerides of my everyday existence?

June 19-21, 1988

Back in the good old days when Reagan was president and Mulroney was prime minister, you’d have never convinced me I’d ever refer to 1988 as the “good old days,” but that year’s G7 in Toronto was positively quaint compared to the recent G20. Security was tight but not oppressive, and the climate such that world leaders might even pass amongst us. In fact, I was working downtown when Aggie came in all excited from seeing Margaret Thatcher driving past in her limousine. Thatcher had given her a smile and a polite little wave, and Aggie gave Maggie the finger.

Glory Days

There was a time when I joined protests almost as recreation, looking for any opportunity to march. The chance to walk down the middle of major city routes, blocking traffic, having the police reluctantly guard us as we chanted together in unison for a common cause, feeling the power of numbers behind us. There are always a few bad eggs. Like at the peace march in Winnipeg where a group of Sikhs burned and violently beat an effigy of Indira Ghandi. But even though it was contrary to the message of peace, I rather enjoyed the irony of that spectacle.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Trust No One Under Forty

Richard had to work at Fort York during the G20 summit. All was pleasantly quiet unlike the sad events at Queen and Spadina where cops sent both Black Bloc morons and polar-fleeced Vegans flying. I watched it all unfold on CP24 and wondered if I am the same person who sat with the Mohawks at the Oka standoff and sent donuts to the natives holed up at the Revenue Canada building? I attended Animal Alliance meetings and sent money to pro-choice groups. I’m not sure why I’m so derisive of the G20 protestors, but it all adds up to forty-seven.

Eyes of a Stranger

Last night came the pictures of the cops rounding up protestors en masse at Queen and Spadina. The word was they had identified suspects in the crowd from Saturday’s protests, but it came out today that they were simply arresting everyone in particular areas around the city, running them through a scanner, and using facial-recognition software against the photos they’d taken the day before . . . except that the bad guys, the Black Bloc anarchists they’d spent the entire week warning us about had all worn masks, and I don’t like the odds that I might have the eyes of a stranger.

Photo © 2007 by Sarolta Bán.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Steady She Goes

There were no lights along that stretch of road, but it was the shortest way home. This time of night the darkness almost had a mass to it that closed in around us as we gingerly felt out the smoothest path with out feet, peering anxiously ahead for any glimmer to guide our way. There were noises in the bush on either side. When we would remember to bring a flashlight it would catch the glow of animals’ eyes if we shone it off the road. Usually we kept the beam locked steady on the road in front of us.

The Mystery of the Glowing Eye

As a junior Paleontologist I had my haunts around Webbwood Estates including one vaguely sepulchral pile of limestone that yielded good fossils. One time I lost my ring at the head of the pile. Cocking an eye I looked into it and saw an eye gazing back at me. I swear to God, an eye! This was how they found bodies. I thought, “Oh my God, I discovered Jimmy Hoffa!” I ran home and returned with a fellow trailer snipe and channeling our inner Nancy Drew we slowly, bravely picked away at the stones. A marble rolled out. Some caper.

Out of Place

Out of place among my careful hardware collection you’ll find a small drawer of rocks. There’s a piece of shattered shale I picked from the base of Niagara Falls when our class hosted those kids from Alberta, two chips off Mount Royal from my week in Montréal with Joanne, four pieces of the crumbling concrete Louise brought back from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a small piece of brick I picked from the street the day after they bombed the Morgentaler Clinic.
    Out of place, you’ll find all this rubble, so you might as well throw it away.

Photo ©2011 by Jim Malcolm.

Lifesaver

     “You saved my life,” said Sandy.
     “Yep,” Joan thought to herself, pulling out of the parking lot, “and not for the first time.”
     And it was usually something she felt uneasy about doing, too – like lying to Sandy’s mother that she had spent the night at Joan’s place when Sandy was sleeping with that biker guy. It should have been him who was picking Sandy up from the hospital, but he was long gone.
     “It was awful,” Sandy told Joan, “They put you in the obstetrics ward. Everybody else was having a baby, and I was getting rid of one.”

Myth Busters

One urban myth promises that if you chew wintergreen Lifesavers in a pitch-black room sparks fly out of your mouth. A good myth to test with friends, as it was far more socially acceptable than setting your farts on fire and yet produced more or less the same results. I tried the candy experiment once when I worked at a daycare. I would gather small groups of kids into the closet and we’d all chew like crazy. No sparks. I got much better results in the same venue pulling apart their synthetic cot sheets after they came from the dryer.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cherry Red

Soon after we’d moved into the house, my sister fell down the basement stairs. I found her first, lying very still on the concrete floor with one perfect spot of red not far from her head. It was the exact colour and shape of the blood cells I’d seen in Life magazine, and so I was immediately worried that the impact had been so severe that it had somehow ejected this single giant cell from her brain.
     The cell turned out to be a piece the cherry Lifesaver she’d been sucking on. All she really had was a fractured skull.

Image from Red Spot II by Wassily Kandinsky.

Cherries Jubilee

Where the hell was Steve? I thought, cursing him for being late. Dealing with two toddlers after a stressful day. Then the call came from the hospital. He had been hit by a car and had a fractured skull. My mother came down to help. In the middle of the night I heard a muffled cry. I went upstairs to find her hemorrhaging cherry sized blood clots from her nose. The next day I did the rounds, visiting two patients in two different hospitals. They said if the aneurysm had been half an inch higher it would have killed Mom.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tiny Heart of Darkness

I had just broken up with a cad who recently went to Africa. As this tiny man was nowhere near trustworthy I feared he brought something back with him other than a lion-skinned codpiece. But how to tell? Lainey suggested I give blood as the Red Cross screens for STDs and she would accompany me for moral support. Once in line and swayed by the feel good sensation of collective blood-letting, Lainey too decided to donate. They tested my blood. Clean as a whistle but too low in iron. Lainey’s, like Goldilock’s baby bear, had blood that was just right.

Corvus

“But isn’t that the problem?” said Corvus, finishing another of the beers he should’ve been delivering. “No one gives a fig these days for anyone else but themselves.”
     “The real problem, “said Hercules, “is that you’re probably too drunk to be driving.”
     “Crap! If I don’t get this stuff back like two hours ago, I’m fucked.”
     “Let me think . . . how about I punch you in the face a few times, and you can say someone jumped you while you were loading up?”
     “Or . . . ?”
     “Plan B is always the same,” said Hercules. “Just do your best and tell the truth.”

Spring Awakening

The trails were still mushy in the middle after the snow melt, requiring some maneuvering to avoid muddy wet shoes. Seemed like a good idea on this hot day in early spring, but Joan and Sandy were regretting their decision to check out the party spot in the bush. The clearing was in good shape; big logs along four sides for benches and charred wood still in the firepit. In the stream nearby they even found some bottles of beer. Slightly skunky but, incredibly, still drinkable. As they settled in, Elliot and Witch Doctor showed up. Party season had begun.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sexy Beasts

Gerry and Lawrence ran booze to the local reserve. One night they hit the jackpot with a pickup full of Black Label. The job was risky but after this run they could quit the business. Then they spotted the cops. Dumping the cases, they drove on to the blind pig to tell Big Tar what had happened. And then it rained. It rained all night and into the morning. When the two men returned to recover their cache the water-sodden cardboard boxes had melted leaving 480 bottles and any hope of an early retirement to wallow in the Wallaceburg mud.

Crater

There’s a gas station just before the first bridge into town where you might hang around for a while if you get tired of walking.
     “Hey, Krebbs!” came the call from an old Buick as it pulled up to the pumps. “How old are you, really?”
     “I never get carded, if that’s what you’re asking.”
     “That’s exactly what I need,” said Corvus. “What I have is a trunkful of empties I've got to turn into fullsies. Think you can drive them into town with me?”
     “I got something to do,” said Krebbs. “ But I could use the lift.”

Brigadoon

Trying to backtrack from Loch Lomond to our friends’ place near Glasgow. Took a wrong turn and ended up in a small town where we were trapped in a loop. Every attempt to access the highway led us back into town. Finally we stopped and asked a person who was seated on a doorstep. She called over a neighbour and then another neighbour joined in. Fingers were pointed in every direction. Apparently the townspeople were not sure how to get out of town themselves. Soon I thought we would disappear into the mists to reappear in 100 years, still lost.

Your Other Left

Several times a year we drove from Tecumseh to my aunt’s place in Michigan, and each time Dad got us lost. The 1968 New Yorker transformed into a powder-blue vomit comet as the journey, which should have taken less than an hour was stretched to at least ninety minutes. Years later several forays to find York University all ended on the Arrivals’ ramp of Lester Pearson. I tell my father that it was due to his family’s retarded sense of direction that the Leclairs never made it to the treaty, and were left with only a spurious whiff of a Métis past.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sextans

“You’d expect every girl to be different,” said Hercules. “But in a way they’re all the same. Like a dream where you wake up somewhere you’ve never been but still know where everything is. A few adjustments, maybe, and you’re soon headed in the right direction. Some things are a little closer together than you remember, others further apart . . . higher or lower, a bit harder to find, more difficult to get into . . . ”
     Okay, thanks . . . but what’s there to do when you’ve still got to start somewhere with someone, and all you’ve got is not a clue where to go?

Breast Feeding

I loved that yellow halter top and wore it all summer long. It was an elegantly simple garment made from skinny rib knit cotton. All one piece so no ties to fiddle with. I thought it was adorably cute; nicely bright and summery. Paired with my cut-off jeans it was comfortable and cool. I wore it practically every day and everywhere I went I noticed appreciative looks from guys. It was not until toward the end of August that one of those guys pointed out to me how clearly, in certain lights, my nipples were visible through its skimpy fabric.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Here’s Mud in your Eye

Joyce was unlike some women who unabashedly whipped out a teat in public daring anyone to say anything. Instead she chose discrete places to breastfeed. On this occasion she sat herself down on the only park bench within sight. Two elderly women were perched on the other end.      “How disgusting.” Hissed the one closest to her, now staring in disapproval as she prepared to nurse.
     Joyce snapped. When she felt her milk coming in, all it took was a deft pinch of her right nipple and the stream of milk made a perfect arc into the old crone’s withering eye.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ursa Major

Heaven knows he was never an easy child, but from the morning I first woke to him frantically scratching my breast, I somehow knew he’d end up a crook . . . or maybe a cop.
     Perhaps it was the so-called father who disappeared before I had the chance to tell him not to make any plans for the next twenty years, or maybe later the calls from school and the interminable “anti-bullying” workshops, but at some point I figured I’d done all I could to lick the kid into shape, and it was time to get on with my life.

Hijacked

Joan looked in on the sleeping Jasmine. Compared to some of her friends’ babies, Jasmine was easy. No colic, allergies or problems with ear infections. Even so, Joan felt desperately exhausted all the time, dealing with the non-stop responsibilities of caring for a toddler. She felt as though she had completely lost the person she used to be. Her life had been stolen by this angelic-looking being; sometimes a tiny demon. If Joan had known just how comprehensively her life would change as a mother, she might not have had this baby. So much lost… but then, so much found.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mary’s Room

I often wondered if all the things we have lost over a lifetime migrate to a room, and at the point of death we could enter and revisit them. My room would contain many things including my cousin Mary-Francis. Roy wrote about a professor who designed a pair of glasses which could show the wearer everything, presumably tangible, that he had lost. Could such a thing exist for the many missing intangibles like beauty, innocence, patience, resolve? Or in the corollary, could there be a pair of glasses that showed things we had found like wisdom or discretion or empathy?

Now where did I put my glasses?

Professor Thomas Villanova, in the great absent-minded tradition, was forever misplacing things. However, unlike his hapless colleagues, he decided to do something about it and created a deceptively simple pair of glasses (incorporating a highly sophisticated neural interface) that let him see what he’d misplaced and where he had left it.
     The trouble only started when he managed to misplace the glasses themselves and then find them right away, because as he learned soon enough, they had done their job, and he could no longer leave his empty room without being crushed by the realization of all he had lost.

Sophy’s Choice

     “Either tidy your toys, or they all go in a lawn sale.”
     “Sell them!” said the defiant six-year-old.
     At the end of the sale I let her choose one toy to keep and took the rest to Goodwill. I was surprised at her choice. She let a beloved doll go, seemingly without regret.
     The next morning I found her crying, “I miss Molly.”
     “Why didn’t you keep her?”
     “You said only one thing!”
     If she had begged for Molly, I would have relented, but how could she have known?
     I pawed through the toys at Goodwill, but Molly was gone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Smarter than your Average Bear

Booboo is my cherished stuffed animal from 1964. He is now quite bald, and has had his set of pantaloons recovered more than once. Rich has his Woolley, a tiny English bear of the same vintage, cuddled to the point where it is now more owl pellet than plush toy. When Dan was three years old our neighbour Bhavnita gave him her black and white striped cat, a special toy that she loved as a child in 1988. Each Christmas the trio sit under the tree like Velveteen Rabbits reminding us that if you love something enough it becomes real.

Teddy

We’d been together since I was five months old, waking up in my crib Christmas day face-to-face with this large black-and-white bear staring down from my stocking.
     Those eyes, in fact, were the first thing to go, replaced with some crude needlepoint nubbins for safety’s sake. Other indignities would follow, but the bear endured, until eventually my mother set about to convince me that one couldn’t stitch old cloth with new thread and besides, the foam rubber was beginning to smell. Until finally, after a brief and private good-bye, I solemnly tossed fourteen years of companionship down the garbage chute.

Dangerous Wilderness

The woman was trapped in the bathroom, cut off from the rest of her house because of the bear that had innocently wandered into her kitchen, out of the surrounding woods from which the sprawling subdivision had been carved. All mod cons on the edge of the wilderness. No doubt the bear’s former stomping grounds. Fortunately for her, she had her cell phone and called her husband. He came with the police and they shot the bear.
     “Living here can be dangerous,” declared the husband, standing over the dead animal.
     Yeah, for the bears, I thought.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mange-Pas Les Cailles

After twenty years of being a vegetarian I started eating animals. Since the oceans are dying and I don’t really want to be vegan, I decided that I would eat locally-sourced, humanely raised and dispatched animals, not all the time, but once in a while. That said, and I realize that this is ethical hair-splitting, I believe there are certain animals that really don’t need to be eaten. Veal and primates top the list, of course. But then there are quails, ostriches, alligators. I mean, why eat a quail? You might as well go out and bag yourself a sparrow.

Virgo

     “And what kind of question is that?”
     “I was just . . . ” said Nick. “I mean, I’ve always assumed, since you did have a boyfriend . . . ”
     “A girl can say no,” said Atalanta. “In fact, most of the boys I meet make that way too easy.”
     “But what about Hermes?” asked Nick.
     “I like him, but no.”
     “And Hercules?”
     “God, no!”
     The fire was fading against the cold sand, and the wood was running out.
     “Okay,” said Atalanta, “so what about Nicholas Lacaille?”
     “Only you,” said Nick, looking into the coals.
     “But we haven’t even . . . ”
     “I know,” said Nick. “So . . . maybe you?”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Buried Alive

“it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy.” The House of the Rising Sun, as the song goes. And a boy was the ruin of many a poor girl, thought Joan, seeing too many of her friends sacrifice their dreams to maintain disastrous relationships with men, driven by an insane dread of being categorized as a virgin. What was wrong with having higher aspirations than caving into bodily urges? Joan knew, having watched her friends go down, one by one, that a man could bury a girl’s dreams quicker than anything. And babies but the nails in the coffin.

Maybe she was thinking of Betty

Madame Catherine, the Consecrated Virgin and choir mistress at Ste-Anne’s had the tiniest feet. I used to watch in awe as her teeny little black ballet flats flew across the pedals. She played like Veronica Lodge from the Archies, employing the tips of her toes to do all the work. The fact that Madame actually chose to be a virgin intrigued me. What woman would willingly do this? I could see it if you had one eye in the middle of your head or a debilitating skin condition, but she was reasonably attractive. Maybe she just preferred the church organ.

B.C.

Barbara was just hanging around after school with her regular girlfriends when the conversation turned to birth control and what each of them used.
     Normally, she dreaded these moments—her turn again in the world’s longest game of Truth or Dare—but in this case at least, she was happily off the hook—okay, not so happy, since everyone already knew she didn’t even have a boyfriend, but happy enough for the pass.
     Christy said she used a diaphragm, and pulled the case from her purse to show off.
     Andrea said she was on the Pill.
     And Joanne said . . . “No.”

Laundroquip

The laundromat was busy that evening. Our household was temporarily without a washer and dryer so my mother was spending the evening pushing through the weekly laundry. I cannot remember what provoked the fight. I think I wanted the car, but of course she selfishly wanted to be able to take the clothes home after they were washed. This was during ‘that’ stage of my teens, when it was daily open war with my mother. “All right,” I said loudly, “I’ll just go out and get pregnant.” “It would have to be by artificial insemination,” she retorted, even louder.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Troglodate

It was set on Mackinac Island and dripping in atmosphere. A romantic tear-jerker date movie where a couple must travel through time to consummate their love for each other. And here I was with some ass who could not shut up. Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeves finally managed to get together for a fleeting moment, a gentle embrace and then a tentative kiss…

“Oh come on, you know you WANT IT!!!” shouted my date to an unreceptive theatre audience.

I prayed he would spontaneously combust, his smoldering corpse causing enough distraction that I could escape to freedom down Riverside Drive.

Caught Up

All it took was two dates.
     The first, a week after the reunion, was a lunch that turned into dinner, the whole time talking of old friends and teachers and the things they’d once done—old movies, old music, and cars. They talked of dreams they’d shared and promises made, and laughed at fights long forgotten. And, yes, maybe things were moving too fast, but even the familiar rebuff made him smile.
     “So, why did we ever break up?” he wondered.
     Until their second date, when he discovered they’d once again run out of things to say to each other.
A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent

History

Joan and Sandy had been through a lot together. When Joan’s time came, she knew that Sandy would be very bright in the spectrum that made up the beam of her life flashing before her eyes. She wondered now whether the two of them were actually compatible. These days the bitterness and misunderstanding often outweighed the good times. Had they both changed that much? or were they always like oil and water, but just never realized it? Was it time to move on and treasure the good memories, rather than let the black cloud that hung over them gather strength?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Mary

Often I find that people do take on traits attributed to their respective zodiac signs. For example, I am a textbook Leo. The calm and frugal Richard is a perfect Taurus. Together we produced the King of the Aries. And then you have the Gemini. They are the avocadoes of the zodiac. Most of them are unpalatable; slow to mature and quick to go off. It’s very rare to find a good one, but when you do, it’s a celebration. Mary is one such fruit. Happy Birthday to you my friend and congratulations on putting the Gem back in Gemini.

Ex-licks

One more birthday is all it might take to sap the last of my enthusiasm for all the gifts and the cake and too much attention. In fact, if you’re wondering what to get me, see if you can’t find a big box of the stuff—enthusiasm, that is—because I’ve burned through most of what little I had. I mean what happened to the days when going out for dinner was exciting (instead of just expensive) and all-you-can-eat was supreme? When did the summer become such a chore? And who wants ice cream if it hurts your teeth?

Fifteen Minutes or so

It took awhile to twig into what was happening. People kept coming up and asking if I needed anything. I was standing right at the buffet, but they wanted to fill my plate for me, or get me a glass of wine. Never had I ever experienced such solicitousness from complete strangers. A photographer danced around me taking pictures. Then I realized they thought I was ‘Her’ – the star of the show for which this party was being thrown. She arrived late, so I enjoyed the attention for awhile. But it was easy to see how tiresome it could become.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Everybody Doesn't Like Something

A DJ from an American music station announced that residents in LA reported experiencing earth tremors but were relieved to find out it was just Kirstie Alley jogging. Hardy-har-har. I wish the media would leave her alone. What if she heard him say that? How funny would that be? It is perverse that such a fat country is so obsessed with losing weight. All those reality shows starring sobbing Chubbies and the succubae that chase them. The average weight for females in America today is 165 pounds. That’s a whole lotta Rosie. Or at least a whole lot of Sara-Lee.

Thank you, I said. You’ve made an old man very happy.

I’d never been asked for ID before, not because I was lucky enough to look old for my age but that I was so straight I’d never even tried to drink underage, watched with tight-assed distain as my friends got wasted, and didn’t really start drinking until well past the scrutiny of suspicious serving staff.
     But to make a long story short, I was carded for the very first time at no less a monument to alcohol consumption than the original Cheers, where everybody knows your name, but they can’t tell a 35 year-old tourist from an 20 year-old student.

Unexpected Pleasure

I am not sure how the boys managed to purchase a case of beer. They were only about fifteen at the time. The boys consumed the beer secretly in the garage, but one of them decided to take one home. His mother found it, and the boy told her he had lifted it out of our fridge to sample ‘his first beer.’ A couple of days later the mother showed up with the boy. They brought a case of beer that the boy had been forced to pay for, to make up for the alleged ‘theft.’ Steve was quite pleased.

Leave it to Beaver

Unless you’re like Ron Howard or Drew Barrymore or that guy who played Baretta, it is very difficult for child actors to make that transition to adult movie star. Our neighbourhood is loaded with film people, including child actors. There’s one nearby whose career tanked after a Quiznos commercial. Now he is reduced to a morose and slightly tubby has-been. Maybe its just adolescence, but he hardly speaks anymore. Back in the day, we used to see him as a tiny boy, enjoying a gimlet with the wait staff at Domani, his little pudgy legs dangling from the bar stool.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Poor Jan Brady

Poor Jan Brady, the middle girl in a family too large really to even wonder who the middle child might be, teased by her stepbrothers, and forever in her sister’s shadow, the prettier one and more popular at school, who for the sake of a few extra years gets to date a different boy every episode.
     Poor Jan, who, if it weren’t for the glasses and the hair and the clothes, might have been invited too.
     Poor Jan, who could maybe put up with all of this if it weren’t for these hideous freckles . . . but the lemon juice does nothing!

Patronizing

It was a BBC production. Maybe a murder mystery. Privileged people in an elegant setting pursuing leisurely living in glamorous clothes. The actress wore a sinuous gown. Backless, revealing a large swatch of heavily freckled skin. I took note, being similarly speckled, myself. You don’t see a lot of freckled actresses. From time to time the gossip rags will have a photo spread of stars without make-up revealing a few who suffer from this hideous affliction. Like Julianne Moore. But on screen the ugliness is always carefully concealed. Patronizing people, however, will always tell me freckles are cute.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wry and Ginger

At ten minutes past twelve Rebecca realized she had made a mistake by snogging with that redheaded guy. Some New Year’s Eve, she couldn’t even recall his name and now she had to slink back to her table of friends, tail between her legs and put up with their good-natured teasing. These were very upright individuals: most of them were in law school and all of them steadfast virgins or monogamous. Only Rebecca and their artist friend Paco brought new people into the fold. But not this guy, a Ginger Tosser for crying out loud. And probably a business student.

Reticulum

He wandered through the smoke and the noise and settled finally near a group he knew, more or less, with enough of them in the confusion that the sudden sight of her caught him off guard.
     He’d seen her in a swimsuit, for heaven’s sake, but something about that particular dress on this particular night made him feel as if something inside had come loose. Or was it the lipstick? Or the touch of colour around her eyes that set off the constellation of freckles that had settled upon her cheeks.
     Ten to the east and twelve to the west.

Femme Fatale

Joan pictured herself slouching elegantly in the shadowed corner, smoking a cigarette. Smoke curling up around her face; a slash of light revealing the sardonic look in her eyes. Men shuffling nearby waiting for an opening to talk to her. If they dared. “Men cluster to me, like moths around a flame,” she sung under her breath, mimicking Marlene Dietrich’s husky voice. But then there was the line, “Falling in love again, never wanted to…” Unfortunately, Joan could identify with that helplessness far more than the powerful image of the femme fatale that she would have preferred to evoke.

And Their Eyes Met Across a Crowded Room

Inviting Jim and Jane to the same party illustrated a considerable lapse of judgment on my part. Jane was a stinging nettle, an acquired taste at the best of times, but with a windbag like Jim in the room she was insufferable. Jim believed he was the most charming man alive and anyone who didn’t agree was mistaken. He started with an innocent jibe about her shoes and she took it up several notches with a comment about his bald head. They were drawn to each other, but in a way that a drunk man heads toward a pot hole.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dear Friend…

Please forgive me for trying to break the friends-of-friends barrier, but I felt I’d gotten to know Pat and Mike well enough to invite them without your permission. And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings by not inviting you, but this really was more of a couple thing and there were only two spaces left. And although I can appreciate how important you think it is to share these feelings with me, I certainly won’t be reciprocating, because the real reason I did not invite you is that I was pretty sure you’d have ruined it for everyone else.

With Friends Like That...

Every year Joan was forced to celebrate Sandy’s birthday. Not just getting together for a drink; It had to be a huge party, thrown by somebody else, often Joan, in Sandy’s honour. Joan knew impressively expensive gifts were expected. She had heard Sandy running down another friend for ‘cheaping out.’ Joan dreaded the event; she would stress for days over what to purchase for Sandy. For her 30th birthday, Joan decided people could make a fuss over her for once. The email she got back from Sandy said, “I’ve celebrated three of your birthdays with you, that is my quota.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fucked-Up Munchkins

Suzette and Jocelyn were older than their cousin and well past the doll stage. “Hey Bern, did you like The Wizard of Oz?”
     “Oh yeah,” said the little girl recalling the ruby shoes.
“Well, do you want to play it now, with your doll house?”
     This was Bernadette’s new Christmas present that her parents made from a grocery box, the tiny windows and doors and little picket fencing all hand-cut. But curiosity got the best of her so she consented.
     Shouting “TORNADO!” the two simultaneously jumped on the paper house, leaving Bernadette in a heap of tears and crushed cardboard.

Skyhook

The Cartoons had shown us that, if you attach a fishhook to the seat of your pants, you can use a rod and reel to pull yourself up by the ass and into the sky. And even though I knew Wile E. Coyote occasionally employed some pretty dodgy physics, for some reason this particular set-up made perfect sense, and I was eager to try it out . . . the moment I saw Jerry’s new tow truck. We attached the hook to the rear bumper, turned on the winch, and stepped back. Lesson learned: Always try things out first on other people’s toys.

Support

It is put away now, because it is brittle and fragile, but it was stuck on many fridges, in many places I lived through the years. A cartoon my mother cut out of a newspaper and sent me. A woman on a swing, her raised arms holding the ropes up by herself – those ropes not attached to a frame. Meant to represent how women are often their only support for themselves. That image gave me strength at times when I thought I might just have to give up. It is fitting that I it is now tucked out of sight.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sacred to Us

I have a medicine bag that I keep by my bed and I bring with me on airplanes. It contains things sacred to me including a small dream catcher, a rosary and some Catholic pins, their meanings so important to my mother but lost to me. And stones. Stones from England, from Christian Island, from Egypt. I have a beautiful black one, heavy and round. It’s the stone I hold when I need to think. We all carry some form of medicine bag around with us. A collection of coins from grandfathers or buttons from grandmothers. Our children’s baby teeth.

Stone

I found a pebble today after dropping Nola at school—small, round and grey, with nothing much to distinguish it from any of the other dull rocks you might find on the shores of Lake Ontario, except that this one was found all alone by the recycling bins, probably come loose from one of the many projects that teachers just toss at the end of the year. Then thinking of all the stuff I’d once worked so hard on and lost, I wiped off the dirt, picked off the glue, and carried it home. It felt good in my hand.

Lost And Found

Joan watched Elliot taking a leak in the field beyond the roadside picnic area, their favourite spot to park and neck. Suddenly Elliot started laughing. He stooped to pick something up and came back to the car with a wide grin.
     “Remember last week when I got all paranoid because I saw a cop car coming?”
They were smoking really strong hash and Elliot had freaked, shooting the remainder of the hash out the car window. The cops had not even slowed down; they probably never noticed Elliot’s car, parked in the shadows.
     “I just found the hash I ditched!”

The Natural

As Cada’s field had a granite erratic, it had great potential as an archaeological site. It’s human nature to love big rocks. Since we hang out on them ancient folks probably did too. But I’d yet to find anything there until cousin Peter came surface collecting with me. After I finished my pedantic lecture about what to look for, Pete got out of his truck walked right up to that rock, stooped down and plucked a perfect triangular point from the ground, “Like this?” He said. Obviously, Pete had an affinity with Middle Woodland dope smokers I hadn’t counted on.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Could’ve Been Boulder

My favourite photo of my high-school crush shows her sitting on a great big boulder.
     Even then, after years of pining, I couldn’t say I was any closer to actually being her boyfriend, but I had managed a few outings that at least felt like dates . . . and one great coup, which was to have her drive me around in her parent’s Volvo on a grand tour of the glacial features of Southern Ontario in aid of my final geography project.
     Unfortunately, all I got was a lousy A . . . and the photo, which one classmate dubbed “the erotic on the erratic.”

Rock of Ages

The rock was probably about 100 feet offshore. After the first few feet there was no place to touch bottom because the lake floor dropped off sharply. On a calm day she would poke her face under as she swam, to see the sun playing on the submerged rock beds below. And then she would come to the behemoth, looming giant in the shifting green light below the surface. She would swim under water around it in awe of its silent majesty, then clamber up its side to perch on top and enjoy its soothing warmth, baking in the sun.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ed’s Stone

When I was very young, Mon Oncle P’tit Cul brought me a fossil because he knew I liked rocks. It’s a huge black one with hundreds of brachiopods, a slice of the ocean floor from 500 million years ago. From the first I kept it close to me because it was a souvenir from my cherished uncle. I’ve carried that rock around for forty years and now Mon Oncle is a widower, like my father. The stone has its place on a shelf in our home, proof we exist for less than a second, the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.

Lifesaver

As is so often the case at these stupid cottage parties, I went and lost track of all the beer I’d been drinking, although it sure knew exactly where to find me, sending conflicting signals to my brain and some strange sharp warning down deep in my gut, coming up fast, and the outhouse too far in the wrong direction.
     And still I must have stumbled off the path, because I soon found myself tripping through the spongy underbrush, my legs giving way, branches scratching at my ankles and slapping my face.
      . . . now sprawled on a floor of solid stone.

I lowered myself so carefully, hands pressed to the granite, holding it steady, this rock that hadn’t moved for millions of years, and even so, probably still passed out, cuz I woke to the sun rising through a gap in the trees, brilliant and flickering orange . . . terribly hot but with no sound at all save the roar from the fire. You’d expect screams or something, but I guess they’d all run off . . . except Thom.
     “I’ve decided to quit smoking,” he said, handing me a knapsack he’d rescued, mine.
     “You’re a lifesaver, Thom.”
     “Oh yeah?” he said. “So where’s my hole?”
Photo by Aleksander Nedić.

Nearly

“What’s Lenny doing?” asked my mother.
     I turned my attention from Sophy who had captured everybody’s attention doing spectacular jumps into the pool. Tiny at two, with no fear, throwing her limbs into an exuberant starfish. Lenny was hanging a foot below the water at the edge of the deep end, where he had slipped down the sloped bottom from where he could keep his head above the surface. His arms were flailing. Luckily he was within arm’s reach and I plucked him out.
     “Mummy,” He gasped, expelling water and vomit all over me. “I was trying to call you!”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hokem Chokem

When our son was three he choked on a hard candy. The three of us were painting my office. Rich and I were distracted with the job at hand when Dan, blue in the face came toddling over. Somehow I remembered what I read in my baby book, began the Heimlich for babies and after two fevered squeezes the killer candy flew out of his mouth, hit the wall and clattered down the stairs. “Wow! Look at that!” said Dan, his little face squeezed between the stair balusters. He returned to his Lego and I went downstairs to throw up.

CPR Dummies

Our swimming instructor had no use for CPR dummies, or maybe the school hadn’t the funds, but the upshot was that we’d be practising mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on each other, and we all knew what that could mean in a mixed class of adolescents. Or certainly Mr. N. did, because rather than spend the rest of the period listening to us giggle and groan about something we knew so little about, he had the good sense to quickly pair off the boys with each other and let us make a big show of sluicing out our mouths afterwards with pool water.

Men and Beauty

Ever notice when you ask a heterosexual male if another man is handsome, they almost always say, “I don’t know.” Is it because they are wired to notice physical beauty only in women? Or are they not sure how women judge male attractiveness, so they cannot answer that question to a female? Or perhaps, they are afraid that in noticing the good looks of another male, they will come off as gay. Maybe it is the long history of celebrating mostly female beauty in the world of art that trains men to appreciate the female form over their own.

Florentine Angel

It sounds like a cliché, but I saw the most stunning girl in the world in Florence. We were pulling out of the train station and there she was brushing a lock of brown hair out of her eyes and peering through the steam to catch a glimpse of her friend. Unlike we mortal girls, who maybe experienced a blip of pulcritude in high school or university, she was ethereal. I saw her for three seconds, twenty-five years ago and I can still remember the shape of her arms, her simple sleeveless blue dress and of course her beautiful face.

Andromeda

How’s this for timing?
     I’m walking off the effects of the last, bad, we-need-to-talk date with the worst girlfriend ever; walking the beach holding my new shiny shoes, all dressed up amongst a crowd of beach rats, watching 110 pounds of sand and fury kicking the crap from the monster of all muscle-beach boyfriends, except he’s just sitting there taking it crying, tears clearing tracks through the dirt down his face.
     And yes, that is sad.
     Except, did I mention she just happens to be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and me newly single for maybe 45 minutes?
Image of Cetus the Monster from Urania’s Mirror, engraved by Sidney Hall, circa 1825.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Overcoming Indifference

She wanted to feel some chemistry with Charlie. By all rational analysis he was Mr. Right. “Who was that cute guy you were with?” her friends would ask, when she was spotted out on a date with him. And, because he was so persistent, she did toss him a date from time to time. He spoiled her with expensive dinners and flowers. Later, after she had finally managed to shrug him off, she learned of his fortune and connections. She did not care. She wondered how those women did it; the ones who overcame indifference to wed themselves to wealth.

Friday, June 4, 2010

To Catch a Thief

He grabbed her elbow before they entered the library, “Why . . . why not me? Why him?”
     “God, I don’t know, Mike, just because.” Jess knew this was coming.
     “But he’s such a sponger . . . ” He regaled her with a litany of things Josh had borrowed and not returned. He’d loved Jess for years, ever since first-year university, and had tried for ages, with invitations to cocktails, rides home, and offers to proofread her essays. Then this prick waltzes in and effortlessly scoops her up.
     She could have told him it was because Josh had hair like Cary Grant but that was cold comfort.

iStalk

After the divorce, it was me who set her up with her own e-mail address. It was me who switched her from PC to Mac. She had started writing again, so I set up a blog and taught her to use it. She’s on Facebook because of me. She’s on Flickr and LinkedIn. I was her devoted, one-man IT department, and what did I get out of it but a one-way, hi-res view into her new perfect life with her new perfect boyfriend . . . whom she met at the Apple store, no less, so I don’t even have that any more.

One Possible Future

“What’s the point of even thinking about the future?” Joan remembered thinking in her final year of high school, when Ned, dumped her, “My life is over.” Several years had passed and she was back in town from the city where she now lived, working for a prestigious design company. Sandy came by to say hello. “I was out at Ned’s place the other day,” she told Joan, “he and his wife were busy slaughtering and plucking chickens.” If there was any vestige of regret left in Joan’s soul about losing Ned, it evaporated in an instant.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Take Your Stinkin' Paws Off Me, You Damned, Dirty Ape!

I have heard the song In the Year 2525 since I was an amoeba and every time I do, it creeps me out. It was written in the early ’sixties when all we had to worry about was Kennedy’s trigger finger and being overtaken by artificial intelligence. The song starts in the aforementioned year and runs until mankind has been around for 10,000 years. Sure Zager and Evans could have benefitted from a physical anthropology course or a glance at a Jewish calendar but still the lyrics are disturbing, something Nostradamus would have written if he tried the brown acid.

In the Year 2000

I wrote my very first piece of Science Fiction in Grade 6, and remember exactly how it began.
     “In the year 2000, I will be 39 years old.”
     And that’s exactly all I can remember, probably because the very idea of ever being that old just blew my prepubescent mind, and the inevitability of actually growing up and having money and freedom and pubic hair trumped the mere possibility of jet cars and video phones.
     It’s also because Miss Hudson liked my composition so much that she made everyone write one, and most of them began exactly the same way.
Psychedelic Phone Booth
Photo by Sean Mahoney.

My Kind of Domination

Keep your mysteries and your romances. My reading vice is science fiction. Not that crappy fantasy stuff, either – real science fiction with stories built around believable predictions of the future and the complications they will effect on human society and culture. I get a way better kick reading about human genetics being modified to grow gills so they can live on a sea dominated planet, than imagining being swept away by some domineering male. I got hooked on it in my early teens and have haunted the SF section in bookstores ever since – often the only female among pimply nerds.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Interstellar Bodice Ripper

The story was called Escape to Andromeda. A science fiction I penned myself. To create a buzz I wrote in parts for everyone in Mrs. Anderson’s grade seven class. And since this was puberty after all, I matched couples with specific roles. People who I thought should be together and job-sharing on this uber-cool spaceship. For example Denise and Greg, both diminutive and cheerful ran the science lab. Beefy David and Tough-gal Mary Jo were security. And the odious Zimbo was the officer who tried in vain to kill the intergalactic Targon with his puny laser but got eaten anyway.

Auriga

Andromeda was way out of his league, but tonight just drunk enough to give the poor guy a break; not too drunk to let things go too far, but just a bit slow when they did.
     “Omigod!” she screamed, pushing him off and onto the sand. “What the fuck did you just do?”
     “But they said you . . .”
     “I don’t give a fuck what anyone said, just give me your fucking towel . . . My suit! . . . Fuck! It’s everywhere! . . . You’d better just pray none of this gets inside me, you big fucking freak, because I am not having your fucking freak baby!”

Besieged

By the time Sandy got to five sons, Joan was dumfounded.
     “Were you trying for a girl?”
     “We would have stopped at two, but I kept getting pregnant.”
     “Why didn’t you go on the pill?
     “That was little Jason.”
     “Vascectomy?”
     “That was Tyler.”
     Sandy looked miserable as several of her offspring erupted into the kitchen. Within seconds the place was awash in spills, crumbs and grubby hand prints. Once fed and watered the horde moved on to wreak destruction in another part of the house.
     “We’re double protected now—both Barry and I had ourselves fixed,” said Sandy.

Orange you Glad I didn't say Orange

Ortho 7-7-7 began with a set of whites then light oranges finishing with seven dark orange pills. Being French Canadian there was always the real threat of getting pregnant just by forgetting to say your rosary, so I took my pills religiously. Once while camping I found only white ones left. I panicked, thinking I had taken the pills backwards. Not only would I be pregnant, but my child would have three arms. To my relief, I discovered that the light through the orange canvas filtered out that same colour inside the tent. I was safe to fornicate with impunity.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crunchy Noodles

Andrew and I were pretty good at plotting the route to the next stop on our bike tour, but damned if we’d ever show up in time to enjoy it. We’d start out late, dawdle along the way, and usually roll into camp just as the sun was beginning to set, at which point it was a scramble just to get the tent up before we could no longer see, and forget about searching the forest for kindling. So, granola for supper again, and maybe some Cup-a-Soup from the hot-water tap, which isn’t so bad if you like crunchy noodles.

Artsy City Folk

The conceit was that the art students at the Banff School of Fine Arts, many from large eastern cities, had no concept of wilderness survival. We were all dragged, shrugging and moaning, for a weekend of camping led by ‘experienced outdoorsmen.’ It was a wet weekend. We pitched our tents glumly, looking forward to something hot to drink afterwards. Our guides, however, were having trouble getting fires going. I rolled my eyes and went from one firepit to the next building my foolproof Girl Guide blazes for everybody. Then I smoked a cigarette with my beret pulled down for warmth.

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