More than ever, Sandy wanted to put her old life behind her, now that she had married the lawyer she met when she was going through the court case. It had been an horrific ordeal and she would never have made it through without him. Early on he had stopped to offer comfort when he came across her crying outside the courthouse. Their friendship grew so quickly, it was not long before they were engaged. And now she was not only his new wife, but as well, his office manager, thanks to the secretarial course from which she recently graduated.
It was called a typewriter, and it was full of fascinating symbols. By then I knew my letters and numbers, but these symbols were all new to me. Still, it was easy to guess what each one meant. There was ^, a straw hat like Granma wore when she gardened. ~ was the ocean. # was a checkerboard. * was the sun. And I knew instantly what > meant, for I was a smart boy, and had just seen Some Like It Hot on TV. “What could be greater than that‽” I wondered. “There’s even a symbol for Marilyn Monroe!”
Mathematicians’ tastes had been reliable. Monty Python. Escher. Fugues. And when they said “let’s go for coffee”, mathematicians meant it. Sociologists dwelt in the imaginary. Coffee might not happen. Unless they'd bring on the revolution, pleasures were guilty and idiosyncratic. A sociologist of education collected snow domes. A labour researcher collected sneakers. A feminist smoked Sobranies. An interviewing methodologist kept artisanal chocolate in her stationery drawer, behind the Post-Its. A rumpled Frankfurt School theorist admired Vivienne Westwood and shared obscure punk music like the Greater Thans. And the careful scholar of Vietnamese refugees knew far too much about Octopus Paul.
I’d been babysitting Robert and his sister for years. “Wanna see all the comics I bought?” he asked. “And I got that glass-cutting thing from TV that lets you make wine bottles into drinking glasses, but it’s pretty hard. And five big boxes of Smarties.”
“And the chattering teeth?”
“Yeah! I spread out the Smarties, wound up the teeth, and pushed them around just like the commercial.”
So, yes, there I was saving my pennies, while this eleven year-old made more working Saturday afternoons in his uncle’s framing shop than I could make in a month’s worth of Saturday nights.
We’ve bought our tickets ready for our August trip. Now begins the prepatory pre-holiday weight loss, a plan that’s becoming increasingly necessary as I move dangerously close to menopause. Christmas, Easter, any extended event involving chocolate is good for at least a thin layer of superfluous chub. Upon arrival we’ll immediately join in with the English beer and Cadbury obsession. Next, we’ll be happy enablers in Dan’s Cornish pasty obsession. Then there’s Beryl’s pies and a boozy Bristol weekend. And this time we’ll go to France, land of the serious butter-eaters. This trip to England may cost me ten pounds.
Sandy began talking as soon as the door opened and breezed into the house without letting Joan get a word in edgewise. Wedding plans were coming along great, everything was totally in order. A swatch of cloth was brought out. “This is your dress colour,” Sandy told Joan, “perfect for your complexion! And here’s the pattern, you have to go for measurements the day after tomorrow.” “Aren’t you full of energy!” remarked Joan. “It’s the diet pills,” Sandy told her. “Who knew how perfect they would be to help prepare for the wedding? …and I have lost ten pounds already!”
Franc and Mark had been put out to pasture by Kid Euro who (they grumbled) wasn’t such a hot shot. They’d never reconciled to retirement. “I miss the travel,” Mark moaned constantly; he’d once had a yen for Asia. Franc was bored too. He spent his time romancing the ladies, whom Mark dismissed as “silly old gits.” Lira, Peseta, and Drachma were always partying. Word was they’d squandered everything and might have to go back to work. “How come Sterling never had to retire?” Mark asked bitterly. Old £ was still kicking, and clearly would be well past one sixty-five.
The pound notes. It notices, with measured gaze, sugar creaming into butter. Beat in eggs, fold in flour or, for a melt-in-your-mouth sensation, beat room temp liquid ingredients into the dry. It remarks dispassionately how heavy hands thump upon a door. There might be a sharp foot note next, to no avail; followed by a shoulder note, then bars successfully broken by a stave. The pound notes whenever a three-legged dog is scooped up, its eyes searching out the windows of the City van, the wood-on-metal clang of each xylophone being seized, evidence of the licorice-sticky hands of a child.
He had even much liked her, which made it all the more surprising. They had fought as children, competed at school, and only reluctantly joined forces in their second year of college. Maybe it was the late nights in the lab or the long cold walks escorting her back to residence, but nothing had prepared him for this particular revelation. He was like a crash test dummy come suddenly to life only to discover himself already strapped in tight and heading full speed down the track. Wonder and fear condensed to a single moment. A single mark. A bang‽
Photo by Corbis.
Again the road accident that is Slice TV. I watched until 2 am last night. During that fitful period trying to pack in eight hours of restorative sleep in half the time, it occurred to me how easy it would be to disseminate anti-Western propaganda to the East. I’d gloss over any ontological differences, whip through the Crusades and the Dardanelles dust up like they never happened. I wouldn’t even bring up Salman Rushdie. Instead, I’d plunk my impressionable charges in front of an 84″ plasma screen and subject them to a marathon of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
“What!?” exclaimed Joan. “I’m getting married,” Sandy repeated, “I want you to be my maid of honour.” “No way!!!!” said Joan. “You don’t want to be my maid of honour!?!?!?” responded Sandy. “Oh, sorry, of course I want to; I just can’t believe you’re getting married! How long have you known the guy!?” The last time she talked to Sandy there was no hint of this. “Only a couple of months, but the two of us are absolutely sure we were meant for each other. I can’t wait for you to meet him.” “Me, neither,” said Joan.
My father grew up under Nazism, my mother got the best deals on the black market because she cried the saddest. Their notions of age-appropriate were hit-and-miss; their efforts to modulate our reading by placing the loftier stuff on temptingly-higher shelves, convoluted and desultory. I didn’t finish the upper-shelf Genet or de Sade. By 12, I’d torn through the lower-shelf Ian Flemings. Thunderball had a hole in the cover. James Bond got tractioned. Interrogation was torture. That Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sprang from the same pen amazed my mother. Regarding atmosphere, she was rightly interrobanged; plotwise, there was little difference.
Consider the interrobang, a composite of the question mark and exclamation point. Was there something wrong with one or the other? Do we really need another punctuation mark!? Surely this signifies the death of nuance and subtlety, our ability to make a point by slight inflection, a measured meter, a calm Churchillian cadence. Weren’t these enough?! I suppose if you text or converse in 140 character bursts there’s no time to think. Maybe you spend a lot of time e-shouting and need a QUICK WAY TO CONVEY YOUR MOOD?BUT DIDN’T WE KNOW HOW TO DO THIS BEFORE THE INTERROBANG!?
The men’s Adidas short, circa 1978, the one with the three side stripes had a little mesh liner known colloquially as a ‘nut catcher’, an ineffectual device as my girlfriends and I discovered one summer evening at Burger King. We’d just assembled over our tiny mountain of fries when we saw them. Methuselah’s testicles teetered half in/half out of his pants like indecisive cuckoos hesitating at the clock door. Couldn’t the more adventurous of the pair sense that it left the warm confines of polyester and had now rolled egg-like onto smooth orange molded plastic? Was it mostly by accident?
It didn’t matter that the costume was much too tight or that the hood made it hard to breath. Mrs. Orr was in charge of this production, and she insisted that the full body spandex suit was crucial to her vision of the play. She also insisted it be worn without underpants.
“Death,” she said, “should not have unsightly panty lines!”
And so, there stood Death in front of the entire cast, as the costume crew puzzled over this new predicament, the fabric stretched over his bony frame and his private parts splayed across his belly like a percent sign.
You could get rich and famous writing these hundred word ditties. You’d have to brand them somehow, give them a proper name, one that suggests intellectual depth, something clever like... like ‘Centimots’. Yes: a prefix and a French word! Then, you’d have to become the leading voice of Centimots, the revolutionary who charts the way, like Hemingway with his sparse, direct style. It’s risky, because Centimots are gimmicky. Novelties, without the novel, like haiku, and no one ever got rich writing haiku. You could try, but my honest gut sense is that – unlike this story – there’s no %age in it.
“There’s no percentage in doing that,” said Sandy’s mother, overhearing Joan urging Sandy to go to the police. “You can’t let him get away with it,” insisted Joan. Sandy had awakened in the hotel room to the realization that she had been slipped a mickey. The guy was long gone. “First they have to find him,” commented Sandy’s mother cynically, “and then Sandy gets to have her name smeared around the papers. I have told Sandy many times she can’t go hanging around bars like that, dressed the way she always does; they are going to blame her, not him.”
In Perl, % is the sigil for hashes. Perl, language of debutantes in long oyster satin gloves. Not spoken, but drawn through the dust keeping vigil in the powder room. The hash function maps each possible key to a unique slot function. If – and only if – one glove slithers off, leaving its debutante behind, that’s a sure tell a one-armed bandit has absconded with it, off to play the slots for double diamonds, one up on the deb. She’s waltzing alone, a glass with three cherries – how uncultured! – in the remaining glove, the other hand behind her back, fingers crossed.
Zuzanah slammed the door after her mother insisted, probably for prophylactic reasons, that she take all eight of her siblings with her. She’d never meet up with Petr, what with the boys and the twins and that baby strapped to her chest like a tick. But it didn’t matter. They’d trudged three miles in the rain to catch a bus that never came. And by now the bread was gone, consumed. The nine stood in a descending row like crestfallen matryoshkas. And all of them were empty, except for the littlest, whose heart was so big it filled him up.
Sandy did not have even an iota of strength to move. She was not sure how much longer she could hold her eyelids up. She wanted to reach over and pick up her drink. She was so thirsty. But it seemed a task so monumental as to be impossible. She looked at the guy sitting across from her. He was staring at her intently. Earlier he had invited himself to sit at her table and they had been enjoying a nice conversation. After she got back from the washroom this feeling of heaviness had hit her like a tidal wave.
Green letters, 10″ screen, a keyboard overlaid with Greek, written and compiled from right to left, and you say geeks don’t dream?
A programming language named APL for (drumroll) A Programming Language. ι, that’s a vector; ι5, there’s (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
For a Waterloo mathie, steeped in jokes like “Why can’t Typhoid Mary bear Sir Edmund Hillary’s children?”,* ι5 was a subroutine’s worth of Cobol in two characters, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis’ QED, the universe in a grain of sand. Häagen-Dazs in a tuck shop full of stale fudgsicles.
Pity the Greeks. Their economy is in tatters, they’ve lived beyond their means for years. Their alphabet has been appropriated by obnoxious frat boys and snotty sororities . . .
But I really don’t want to talk about the Greeks. I want to talk about the scourge of editorial tyranny. Did you ever wonder why your favourite columnist rambles on pointlessly on some irrelevant topic? Because his editor told him to. Thus he fills his column inches with a catchy intro, some blinding insights, a clever quip, loads of filler and a stale conclusion before deadline, although the topic matters not an iota.
Not many people are aware that Soup to Nuts, the first feature starring the Three Stooges, was based on a comedy by Aristophanes. This lost play, commonly known as The Idiots, is set in the temple of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, and instead of the familiar Larry, Curly, and Moe, follows the antics of three protagonists named Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. In adapting this classic for a modern audience, you’d assume they’d have focussed on the physical humour, but in fact much of the language translated surprising well, including, and perhaps most importantly, Gamma’s signature phrase: “Why, iota!”
When Disney released Song of the South in 1946, even the NAACP acknowledged the film’s “remarkable artistic merit,” although they were somewhat less than impressed with its idyllic portrayal of the relationship between a master and his slaves on a plantation in 19th-century Georgia.
Buried deep in this charming mess, however, you might be surprised to find the Oscar-winning, chart-topping hit “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” which depending on your temperament, might be a bit like hearing Linda Blair break into “Heart and Soul” halfway through her transformation, or perhaps rediscovering the marching band that played “Seventy-six Trombones” in Triumph of the Will.
“I will never work with that jerk again!” Nietzsche threw his editor’s proofs down onto the glass table, the sheaves of foolscap spilling onto the rug. “Shit!” He stomped to the mantle and back.
“So it says Ovenman, big deal it’s just a typo.” For a nihilist she could be a real bitch. “Besides,” she added, to get his goat, “the perfect man should cook, anyways."
“Oh very frickin’ funny, Anna.” He picked at the pile on the rug, tentatively, as if it were poised to bite him. “And read this one!”
“Dog is Dead? Oh now, that is funny, Fred.”
My brothers let me start in the middle when we played dodge Frisbee. It hurt to get hit, so I became adept at dodging, and if I caught the Frisbee, I got to trade places with the thrower. I became so good at catching that they changed the rules. You’re ready for this, they said. I beamed proudly at their praise. From then on, only one-handed catches counted to get out of the hole. When I mastered those, they tired of the game, and invented Drawn-and-Quartered, which never ended in real quartering, although they sometimes left me for the ants.
The stupid zipper on her jeans would not stay up. Joan had to constantly watch that it had not fallen, exposing the colour of her panties to everybody in the hall. She would get comments from the guys like, “Ooooh, my favourite shade of blue.” And it was just when she had gotten those jeans the way she liked them – soft and faded, the big bells frayed out with a soft fringe at the bottom. And comfortable, too – stretched out in the right places so they hugged her hips without squeezing them. She did not want to give them up.
When I do get to fly somewhere important, I want everyone to know where I’m going. To New York, for instance, they’ll tag my luggage with a JFK that can be read from the other end of the terminal. LHR still holds a certain cachet. And AKL suggests I have both the time and money to travel the world.
It’s the trip back to YYZ that gets me, landing on that grass strip at the end of the milk run, guided in by the same guys who didn’t even bother to show up the day they were handing out codes.
Sandy and Joan were waiting in line at the tuck shop on the beach. They were hankering for the tender and tasty fries for which the place was famous. Hand cut right on the spot using potatoes fresh off the farm. The people ahead were taking their time scanning the menu and making up their mind. “Don’t you have shoestring fries?” they asked. “Nope,” said the guy behind the counter. “Okay, just cokes, lots of ice,” said the customers and then left with their drinks. The server watched them leave, then turned to Sandy and Joan. “Yanks,” he said, disgustedly.
After several working visits to North Bay, I finally decided to look in on the Dionne Quints Museum. What a ridiculous leap in parenting philosophy I have experienced this week from those Rock stars that are raising a genderless child to a tour around the cabin of the most exploited little girls in the world. By the time little Marie came along their mother had birthed at least eleven children and would go on to have more. I wondered what gender-neutral names Oliva Dionne would have chosen for her babies? Kegel, Postpartum, Penury? Does Incontinentia and Prolapsia sound too feminine?
Yesterday the world ended, and I missed it. It was my own fault. I slept in. I expected somebody would herald the event. Hard to sleep through a trumpet. Can anyone tell me what happened? Things look the same, which makes me think something went wrong. I’m not questioning the numerology behind the prophecy, but maybe they didn’t interpret the code correctly. Or maybe it was the end of the world, but only for the Liberal Party.
I missed the final episode of 24, too. I miss 24 still; as I know I’ll miss the world, when it does finally—
Floating, driving, missing a flight? Common enough. Finding extra rooms? Probably the result of melancholic, maternally-guided sojourns into the sawdust of the rooms above the basement in which she’d grown up. “This would’ve been the sewing room.” (Huh? You hated sewing, Mama.) A street with beautiful shops? Her mother dreamt it too, not truly an explanation. But unique to her were the white fur-covered people. They arrived in dreams after her first Coke (age eight), and Cokes thereafter. As if her cells were deeply programmed to cry “Yeti!” whenever neroli and nutmeg, coriander and lime let slip across their campfires.
As an irredeemable nerd, I find myself unable to resist a good joke about Roman Numerals. The Frantics, for instance, had a great routine, set during the conversion to the decimal system, which included the line: “XLIV! Why don’t you just say XLIV? Who can remember forty-four?”
So, with that obscure sketch in mind, last July I told everyone I was turning “XLIX,” which if based on nothing else but the Comedic Law of Ks, was guaranteed to at least sound funny.
And yes, I can still joke about turning 49, but you know what? There’s nothing funny about L.
First of all the Windsor Catholic School board plans to do away with its libraries. Then I had an argument with my son that no, Wikipedia is not a credible source to cite in a research paper. And this morning, as a taunt, we were looking through newspapers from 1921 and I grew wistful for the wordy advertisements, paragraphs of information that people actually read. As kids we played with language, speaking in pig Latin, or reciting long poems in Donald Duck’s voice. Soon we will be clicking, grunting troglodytes lining our litter boxes with pages from Good Night Moon.
Sandy wanted to murder the instructor every time she hit the brightly painted kids’ xylophone, sounding the three-toned chime that signaled time was up on the typing exercise. ‘Ruby Lips,’ as Sandy called her because of her overly bright red lipstick, had this illusion that it made the classes more fun. But Sandy was determined to get her secretarial diploma at the community college. She had screwed up her life royally, but this time she planned to see things through. No more messing around; she had no intention of remaining a grocery cashier in nowheresville the rest of her life.
It marks the spot on maps and lips, where softly placed it is a tender spark, a harbinger of more. It is a penetrating beam of energy, illuminating in moderation, lethal in extreme. You can count with it too, but awkwardly. It is your vote. It is personification, the mark of the humble and illiterate, the anonymous. It is the identity chosen by an angry rebel who rejected a master’s legacy; and it is the symbol of a saviour who died upon its struts. Strange to be so eloquent, so useful in its brevity, yet underused, this always trailing X.
When the Battery Status Light on the handle is GREEN, the battery is charged enough to use the Whisper Lite mower you ordered from Vermont when the Canadian dollar was low. It’s the RED light that will haunt your dreams:
— A solid RED light during regular mowing means the battery’s low. Stop everything and recharge it for at least twelve hours.
— If it lights during heavy mowing, you’re pushing yourself much too hard. Slow down.
— But if starts to flash and the motor won’t start, you’ll just have to call Customer Service, and even they don’t see this too often.
Recalling the little wicker bed in Wikwemikong where once she’d lain, revisiting a wonton soup-stained copy of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Winifred felt wobbly. Though wan, why, no! She would not weep. The water wicking of her woolen waistcoat would not suffice to conceal her woe from the woad-daubed Followers of Wotan, drawing ever nearer her bivouac amidst the wisterias. Winifred sought valiantly to distract herself, whimsically Windsor-knotting a wilted Wonka Bar wrapper, but could not but wonder which was worse: that woad incorrigibly wooed weevils, or that late-night Solstice Wednesdays were somehow never assigned to Viola.
A recent article featured a couple that has chosen to raise a genderless child, at least until it picks what it wants to become. One time, I encountered these folks at a mutual friend’s home. I also met their two other children Ukulele and Beavergrass. It’s supposed to be a brave and enlightened move, this neutering. But I suspect the philosophy hails from the same scratchy ilk as those angry vegetarians who want brunch at Cowbell. Here’s what’s truly brave: Letting your boy be a princess if he wants to. And a neighbourhood that delights in his happiness? That’s enlightened.
Old Walter was never one for strong language. He swore only when he did carpentry, or when certain sensitive topics came up. These included separatists, draft dodgers, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Walter believed Trudeau to be both a separatist and a draft dodger, and only grudgingly changed his mind during the 1980 referendum. Trudeau, he concluded, was not a separatist at all – just a draft dodger. He never forgave the PM for sitting out WWII, for he recognized he had the right stuff. A spoiled, sissified college boy like Trudeau, he opined, had all the makings of a good officer.
Late August and the weather was humid and cloying. The change was in the air, however. While the sun shone and the heat rose from the sand on the beach, the lake was moody with waves biting the shore. Lake storms signaled the imminent transition in weather. Soon the air would begin to nip, as the days shrank shorter and shorter. A feeling of nostalgia for the summer not yet over took hold of Joan. Labour Day loomed ahead, when the town would empty of tourists and the permanent residents would be left to ride out the long, cold winter.
I grew up around the corner from a theatre where, for a single dollar, I could choose from one of five different films, where even as an adult, $3.50 bought me a ticket, not three blocks away, at a bona fide movie palace . . .
. . . soon to be replaced by a Pottery Barn.
Even now, I can remember more than a dozen screens within walking distance that have been reconfigured, demolished, or otherwise banished to the suburbs by greedy exhibitors who one day realized there was more money to be made selling their downtown real estate.
They, of course, blame the VCR.
Once I smelled it, I had to buy it. Its fragrance took me back twenty-six years to Corfu, where I smelled it the first time. It hung from the pension’s rafters, its white bells hanging like a chupah over our heads, and all the while Paul and I thinking we got away with something because it was October and still warm enough to go swimming. I’ll plant it in the backyard by the deck. It won’t restore me to my nubile young self, a blessing in many ways, but it will certainly cover over the occasional wafts of dog shit.
The Venetian blinds drawn, Viola dressed carefully at the vanity table. Voilà! A vintage vee-neck, vivid nail varnish, and a hat demurely veiled in voile. She seized up her vade mecum. Her vocation might lead her anywhere -- from sipping vichyssoise with a vintner at Vimy Ridge to the Venezuelan velocipede races, the vastly vacant Venusian fogs. Wherever vice could be vanquished, viruses restored securely to their vats, voles and vixens freed from smuggling vipers, and the vagina once again deployed without vituperation. She'd watched the videos. She'd taken the vows. An inner chorus of violins and vuvuzelas wailed. Volare!
Back in town for Christmas vacation. It was amazing how much things could change in a few months. A new bar had opened and the old places now sat nearly empty as people savored the novelty of a different hot spot. Joan was dismayed; she had returned looking forward to the comfort of familiarity. The new place was flashy, featuring pop music videos on huge screens. When she asked Sandy to meet her at the Queen’s Hotel, Sandy tittered suspiciously, but agreed. At the bar, Sandy greeted Joan with a grin. Their old favourite haunt had become a strip club.
An Iranian court has ordered that a man who blinded and disfigured a woman with acid be blinded himself, a literal case of an eye for an eye. Meanwhile, a Pakistani court has acquitted most of the men who gang raped a woman to resolve a question of honour. Her brother allegedly fornicated with a girl from another clan; he was sodomized for this, but aggrieved clan members insisted on eye-for-eye punishment: illicit hetero-sex for illicit hetero-sex. His sister was seized, restrained, raped repeatedly. Now her assailants are free.
Thus it ends, and Justice, who is blind, must surely weep.
Balmuto runs a single block: south from Bloor, just west of Yonge. If you’ve lived here long enough, you might remember the queues from the Varsity in the early days of the Toronto Film Festival and the Uptown Backstage across the street; but by December 8, 2003, TIFF had moved downtown, and there wasn’t much left but the shell of the old Uptown when Priestly Demolition brought a wall crashing down on the Yorkville English Academy killing Mejia Solis, a 27-year-old accountant from Costa Rica.
It’s all condos now, but who’d want to live on such a short, sad street?
“He used me,” declared Sandy, “I was just a sex toy for him.” Joan kept silent. It was not as if she had not tried to tell that to Sandy, over and over again. But Sandy would not listen. In fact she would lash out at Joan and protest that her boyfriend was devoted to her. So after awhile Joan just gave up and watched while Sandy got sucked deeper and deeper into the abyss, dedicating her future to her to this jerk. And Sandy was using him, as well. To Sandy, the creep was her ticket out of town.
At my grade school, we laugh at youse guys. Youse Southern Ontarians. Youse take the Snow Train up to Chapleau to look at snow. We heard one a youse asked a farmer what AI meant. And we heard youse live on Yonge Street, a bad place where a shoeshine boy got killed. Shoeshine boy? At the plant where our dads work, they wear safety boots and no one shines them. Shoeshine boy, that's like out of A Christmas Carol we did in Grade 7 for the play. A girl was Tiny Tim and Scrooge was David Douville in a nightie.
“You know what I’d like for Christmas?” This was an established joke between Paula and Mark, who would reply, “Her mirror?”
Eventually this exchange became rhetorical and applied whenever they saw someone wearing a completely inappropriate outfit for his/her body type. There was a nuance to it, though, as that person must be rocking the look, otherwise their comment devolved from cheeky to just plain mean. Paula came by the quip through hard knocks, having been taken aside by her girlfriends that day in 1986 when she paired the sky blue cat suit with the lace gloves and yellow scrunchy.
She avoids mirrors and goes out only in the dark, even then covering her face. She has become a shrouded recluse, hiding behind curtains and doors, unable to bear the stares of children shocked and silenced by her molten skin, the ribboned scars congealed on ravaged flesh. Was it acid, fire, or disease? Was she born this way? They cannot imagine her Before. And now she cannot either, for she dares not think of who she was Before. Before is at an end – this is her After life. Once she worried about her nose. Now she wishes she had one.
They’re omnipresent, with their grizzly heads bent over their work, monopolizing the few reader-printers and shouting “Yay! I’ve found him!” in their rasping death rattle when they manage to eke out an Uncle Fester from the 1861 census. Bloody genealogists, I’d complain to Colin. Until I bought a license for Ancestry just for work purposes, you understand. But after a few tentative clicks I was hooked: The Cayers and Boisvins, the Vezeaus, followed quickly by the elusive but higher-evolved Leducs and Jolis. Then, the mother lode: The Lepage family tree traced back 1634. It’s Old People Crack and I’m addicted.
I logged onto the Web for the very first time in the summer of 1995 and, in an attempt to flummox the search engine, typed “Vivian Stanshall.” He, of course, was a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, but the Internet already knew that, and furthermore told me he’d just died in a fire. Today, I made the mistake of looking up the star of Eraserhead. His name was Jack Nance, and he died at the age of 52 after a fight in a donut shop. He’d been married to Dick Van Dyke’s niece, until her suicide in 1991.
During tourist season the town was an exciting place to be, but winter was deadly. Especially if all your friends had graduated and left for university. Not everybody had left. Like Sandy, there were others who did not make it through high school. With little to do during the cold months, the young people who were left behind congregated in bars or at house parties. Relationships constantly shifting as couples formed, broke up, and re-formed. Town was like a soap opera in winter. And if you weren’t living one, you were watching one on TV during the dreary winter afternoons.
The Owl chick perched on the balsam, querulously leafing through a Narnia book, notching the bark at mentions of her kind. The fluttering pages made the only sound in the yard.
Sure, everyone had heard rumours of a long-ago Chicken, who’d gone on a job and never returned. But tonight Raven, flying by an Eraserhead screening at the Crescent Drive-In, had confirmed them. “It was Chicken! Head cut off. Feathers plucked. Aliens, stuff coming out her you-know,” he croaked.
Dove looked uneasily at Swan. She had plucked most of the pinfeathers from her breast and shivered in the autumn breeze.
He realized his grasp on the technology was tenuous. Everything was HDMI; analog (which he’d understood) was dead as a dodo. The hook-up options were impenetrable, the manual no help. From cable box to TV, or through the amp then to the TV? The Blu-ray (already obsolete) had to connect somewhere, too. The speakers were wireless and needed their own power source. When everything ran it’d draw about a kilowatt – if he ever got it running.
He remembered the clock on his parents’ VCR that flashed eternal noon.
He just had to get this right before the kids got home.
Sandy came down to visit after Joan moved to the city. There was a big event at the student pub on campus and the two of them had a great time. Sunday Joan saw Sandy off at the bus depot. She saw the look of longing in Sandy’s eyes, and felt sorry for her. But Sandy had dug her own hole. Without high school, she could not get into college. After flunking out, Sandy put her hopes in her boyfriend to take her away to the city, and then he simply disappeared. Sandy settled for a cashier job in town.
As teachers go, Mr. Chiron was about as cool as they come, without it too getting weird. He had a way of talking to kids that somehow made them listen. He liked the same music, and never shied away from showing off his skills at the latest first-person shooter.
What they didn’t know, of course, was that he’d skipped a grade in high school and, even with two years of teaching behind him, still wasn’t much older then most of his students.
In fact, the other teachers bored him . . . and the girls in his classes were driving him crazy.
“Wait a sec,” said Dove, “It’s not like we’ve been serious. We’ve just been hanging out.”
“Hanging out,” Swan muttered. Or something like it; she was tearing out one of her pinfeathers with her beak.
“I’m dealing with a lot. It wouldn’t be fair. To you.”
“Fair to me would be you go fuck yourself.”
Dove felt humbled by her certainty that between a mutual loathing of the yard’s corn-Thursdays and a mutual weakness for Depeche Mode lay the makings of a life together. A vista opened up… “I’m no longer sure,” he sighed. “Of anything.”
“Oh, I am,” said Swan.
What defines a sacred space and who gets to claim it as his own? Why is it acceptable that any western religion can, simply by getting its Pooh-bah to invoke a few incantations, magically fashion a patch of consecrated ground while Anishinabeg and Confederacy people have to rattle out an entire ochre-dipped ossuary before theirs receives the same courtesy? Some people will attend churches in strip malls next to Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets yet its too broad a leap of faith to see how a small spot in the woods overlooking Lake Ontario might bring you closer to the Creator.
I snuck in at fifteen. Victor dared me to walk in, plug the juke and chose the sappiest song I could find, then leave through the back entrance. But when I got inside I froze. There was no Barry Manilow. So what was sappier, “All Out of Love” by Air Supply, or one of those falsetto numbers by the Bee Gees? I felt everyone’s eyes on me. I had to decide. I dropped the coin in the slot, punched a button and slipped out as “You Should be Dancing” began to play. “Hey! Whadzat crap?” someone shouted behind my back.
Sandy waved her hand in front of Joan’s face; flaunting the ring her boyfriend had just given her. “It’s a real Sapphire, set in gold!” she said, “Isn’t it gorgeous?” Joan was rankled and said hotly, “if he had enough money for this, why didn’t he help pay for the abortion?” Joan loaned Sandy part of the funds for Sandy’s crisis. She doubted she would ever see that money, again, and she could little afford it. “Oh,” replied Sandy just a tiny bit hesitantly, “well, he stole it.” Joan was unsurprised that Sandy considered this to be a reasonable explanation.
I’ve had this desk organizer since I was nine, a perfect piece of pressed walnut-grained plastic that has lasted me through forty years of desks and that perfectly holds my stuff.
Well, most of it, because although the organizer is a perfect fit for its current drawer, the one thing it cannot hold is my favourite 15-inch ruler; and to make things worse, whenever I put the ruler in front, it invariably slips underneath . . . and yet I will continue to defend the organizer, because although the ruler may be hard to get to, I still always know where it is.
“So you think you can just spend the past forty years being a jerk and then just walk through these gates?” Gabriel pored over the notes on his clipboard, shrugging both wings and shoulders in disbelief.
“Well, most of those . . . ” Jack pointed to the black marks, “ . . . those were from law school—“
“And these?” Still more black spots.
“Oh . . . I think that was Amway.” His finger, shaking a little now, tapped the column.
“Dude, this is no time to lie—“
“Alright, it was the time I bought stocks in BP, okay?” and in desperation added, “but I didn’t inhale!”
“We’ll build the first subdivision over there,” Romulus said, indicating the Palatine Hill.
“It’d be better over there,” Remus suggested. He’d always liked the way the morning light illuminated the slopes of the Aventine. Knowing his brother’s commercial bias, he added, “We can get three thousand a square foot for a view like that. There’s water up—”
“I have to take this.” Romulus accepted a scroll from a sweaty messenger, frowned and dictated a reply. Only then did Remus learn his brother had already chosen a name for the development.
I always get the hind teat, Remus thought bitterly.
Joan’s cousin offered her cabin for the long weekend because she would be away, so Joan invited Sandy. Joan imagined the two of them having a fun adventure, spending time by the lake and exploring the area. Before Joan knew it, Sandy had invited several other people. Sandy insisted it would be all right. Joan was afraid she would never be able to look her cousin in the eye again. Even if the cabin survived the party that was sure to happen, the neighbours would report to her cousin. Sandy had no qualms about these things, but Joan sure did.
It wasn’t fair. Quail was “timid”, while Dove got away with “sensitive”. What a phony! Yet Raven, Cardinal and the other cool birds flocked around Dove – even Swan, who in the last few months had really changed. Quail felt betrayed.
Quail’s remaining friends were not cool. Robins 1 and 2 worked hard but didn’t have much personality, and everyone stared at their breasts. Pigeon was stupid. Crow was brainy, but totally obsessed with Raven – her beady eyes followed him everywhere. But Loon could be fun, even crazy sometimes. She had that annoying laugh but overall she was a good egg.
Eve barely knew what a rib was and here one had come and gone already. She knew pounds, okay, so ribs? Like barbecue, she supposed. Two cents? Neither sense or scent-related unless, like her friend Maggie, she began to like Liv Tyler’s Very Irrésistible Givenchy L'Intense, costing upwards of $80, out of range for an Early Childhood Education student. Eve had this feeling there’d be children, two – like the cents, and it wouldn’t end well because of the bad penny. It’d be something to blog about if she ever stopped getting >200 emails a day about that apple thing.
Getting back on was a whole other part of the game, jumping on and pulling yourself inward against the spin and up through the others, keeping low until you found a place you could stand without falling down, just standing there spinning, and laughing at the other kids flying off the edge.
I tried not to think too much before jumping, myself, that is if I ever thought through it at all; but a smarter kid would’ve looked for the perfect opening and worked to get his timing just right. Still, like I said, we all have to start somewhere.
She had a reputation of being distant, but she was always nice to me. I found her stunningly beautiful, an Ethiopian princess, tall and lanky with slow, feline moves. She spoke in purrs and I’d often lose my train of thought because I’d focus on the cadence of her words rather than their meaning. I’d watch the way her hands moved across the page, instead of reading the memo. Impeccable in habit, her desk was the tidiest, her packed lunches perfectly healthy and sparse. Her clothes sleek and well pressed. She didn’t last too long in that office of dog-lovers.
At first it was very slow and I didn’t notice it: Maybe I couldn’t read the fine print on a bottle of aspirins. Then other challenges presented themselves like reading shampoo bottles, or coloured printing in magazines. And forget about anything in a size 10 font. Now my tub literature is restricted to just looking at the pictures in National Geographic. But yesterday when we were driving through Mississauga I read Sawmill Valley Creek as Small Willey Creek and realized it is high time to have my prescription checked. Life’s too short to see small willies where they don’t exist.
The brightly painted cabin was at the very end of the winding Beach Road and its only neighbours during the cold winter were uninhabited, boarded up summer cottages. Mars and Uranus got the shack off-season for rock-bottom rent. With the tourist season about to begin, they would have to be out soon. The place was already a shambles, having endured months of sheltering two young men as tenants. It was about to suffer one final humiliation. The words, “party at the Pink Palace,” started as a whisper, and then became a roar making their way along the grapevine in town.
Now that you bring it up, I can remember only two times someone actually puked in school: Timmy Waugh, probably because he was in the library sitting right across from me and because it was white; and Donna Lariviere, throwing up in front of the entire class, and probably because it was pink. I can even recall thinking how appropriate it was at the time that a girl should throw up pink, although I now realize it was probably only because her mother had plied her with Pepto Bismol that morning so that she could get on with her day.
They’re just too precious, these foods that demand an accent or some obscure letter. Why say “hors d'œuvres” and “pâté” when “cheese and crackers” and “mystery meat” get the message across perfectly? (And don’t get all hoity-toity over pâté. Think about cat food next time you slather foie gras on a Ritz.)
It’s all über-pretentious, yet it’s de rigœur to nibble crudités at cocktail parties and prattle on derisively about middle class tastes. I want none of empty pretension or dainty finger food. Give me a hearty smörgåsbord any day, with a frosty Maßkrüge of Hasseröder to wash it down.
jane is jane
what were the parents thinking
the rain falls on the plain
the solid and unblinking
ann is an
a suitcase without tags
a promise from a profligate
a message washed in sand
my waiting room confederate.
ann is an historian
the past pluperfect at her hand . . . but trickling
through the ampersands, evading
ann’s aligning hand, grains drift
upon her planking floor in
sighs of ans, in
of a knife-green and undulating strand of vast beguiling
continent, where corals reef and plankton
roar out: atlantis!
(or a glimpse of it)
“Wrong one, Asshole” I heard him say to his girlfriend after she erroneously threw garbage in the recycling bin. She only gave him a sideways glance, leaving me to wonder how, at the age of seventeen, he could’ve reached such a vaulted state of douchebaggery? You can’t blame it on “that generation” like some might when the old fart down the road makes his wife shovel the walk. It wasn’t a ‘cultural thing’, as this dude bore a striking resemblance to Dudley Dursley. Which begs the question why she’d be walking around with this fat Muggle in the first place?
Oh, I don’t know, I suppose that Ohio’s a good place to start, as good a place as any in a story like this—or maybe back in the city, the old playground, where we’d all crowd together on the merry-go-round, and then around again to where you’ll find some of us sitting as close as
we can to the centre, and the rest pulling hard on the rails, spinning us faster and faster until somebody slips and rolls off the edge and into the dust to join everyone else, laughing.
“You’ve got to stop,” I cry. “I’m gonna puke!”
An overture. An orange peel. The ocean’s opalescent eels. The onerous drains. Auteurial games. The au courant says au revoir when, au début, it thought of you – now ordinary, then so strange. The open windows overlook an oleander’s opaque scent, the aubergines loll on the vine, a two-hand nocturne skips a beat. Occasionally, a table stands, an oval whorl tipped to its feet. A heap of books slips slideshod off and Dover Beach falls to the oak – Opa! Olé! Oohs and ah, love, let us be true. The table sways, tiptoes a ways, again it sits, again to sleep.
Juno and Genie were approaching. “Don’t look,” Emmy hissed to Tony. “They drive me crazy with their ‘oots’ and ‘aboots’ and ‘ehs’. Why are they even here?”
“I get tired of the same old crowd,” Oscar said, winking at Tony.
Tony saw Dora approaching and smoothly turned away. She wandered off, stricken.
“B-listers,” Emmy snorted. “Look, there’s Bafta! What kind of name is Bafta? And what is she wearing?”
Emmy sighed. She had loved Oscar once, but his interests always came first. If he was hooking up with Bafta now, there was something in it for him.
“Once,” said Sandy, “It was only the one time, when he didn’t have a rubber on him. What shitty luck.” She sat slumped in the passenger seat as Joan drove her home from the hospital in Owen Sound where she had gone for blood tests. Sandy begged a ride over there from Joan to avoid seeing her family doctor. “Maybe it will come back negative,” Joan offered, hoping to disperse the grim mood that thickened the air in the car. “Yah, and maybe I will stop throwing up every morning and I’ll finally get the curse after missing it twice.”
Each child muttered the same mantra to himself, “Not me.... not me..... please not me....” She was calling pairs out for the class field trip and nobody wanted to be matched with the red faced goat-eyed boy. They were too young to exclude on looks alone so their collective reaction was instinctual. Still, the boy received his buddy in turn, and took his place in line. Next, the teacher instructed her charges to hold hands and walk toward the waiting bus. That’s when he dug his nails into his partner’s flesh stopping only after he made four little bloody half-moons.
In my dream, I’m looking out over our tiny backyard and—although it’s nighttime and this window looks north—through the trees I see something bright like the sun, but rising too fast. An explosion, perhaps . . . or a spaceship, apparently, since one of its drones is now floating over the flowerbeds, leaving a girl behind as some sort of emissary, and I think, in my dream, if only there were time to reboot my computer, maybe together we could figure out which star she’s from, and isn’t it funny how, even in my dreams, I’m still shackled to my desktop.
“I went by the hair,” Dove continued, “but it wasn’t Jackie Earle I'd met, just his stand-in. Sparrows said the guy had this ‘thing’ for birds. Can’t perform without us. I wanted to go home and take all my diet pills. But right that second, I saw Kate Winslet –”
“Kate, or her stand-in?” Swan interrupted, surprisingly sharply.
“In a newspaper. Blowing by. Geez! Saying she accepts her body. Herself. I realized: this is a koan.”
“A teaching, Flamingo says. Ever since, I’ve been clean.”
“I trusted you. You lied,” Swan hissed. “And my kind mates for life.”
According to her, he had Neanderthal views, and he shrewdly learned to be careful with them or risk a diatribe, or a hurt, pitying look and a withholding of certain affections until he saw the light. Thus he remained silent when she suggested that women were inherently peacemakers, or that communism had never really been attempted. She assumed he agreed with her blanket indictments of pornography, beauty pageants and boxing.
There were times when greater guile was necessary. Whatever his true opinion, he answered “No!” when asked if paisley made her hips look big. All politics, he realized, is local.
“Nifty!” said Joan. “Nifty?” asked Mars, “Who says ‘nifty’ anymore?” Once again, Joan felt like a dork. Mars was so cool and worldly. Joan was just a small town girl. She was smitten with Mars from the moment she met him, but he had that daunting girlfriend from the city - Angie – so beautiful and confident, always dressed just right and saying the right things. It made Joan ache to see them together. Now it looked like Mars and Angie were breaking up. But Joan knew she would never be hip enough for Mars. “Hip?” she thought, “Who says ‘hip’ anymore?”
“Hey, Mr. Wizard!” came the call from the doorway. “Everyone else is long gone.”
Nicholas looked up slowly from his slides to the empty classroom, as if hoping the girl might be wrong.
“You know,” she said. “No matter how much extra work you do, it couldn’t get much worse than having Mr. Chiron trumpet that perfect midterm of yours.”
“Actually, this is a personal project,” said the aspiring teenage biologist, impressing no one. “Why aren’t you at lunch?”
“They don’t have anything I want . . . So, Nick, are you going to the party tonight?”
Speaking of experiments in teenage biology.
Not sure if it works the other way, but most women like their men a little duffed-up. At the risk of crossing some Oedipal line of good taste, I’ll say that I came by this preference honestly. Dad had two fingers blown off after literally playing with dynamite. I was so used to an eight-fingered father figure I never trusted anyone with a full set of digits. As a teenager I preferred the farmy and scarred Pike Creek boys to those St. Clair Beach corduroy toffs. Maybe not prison ballpoint pen tattoo dirty, but certainly Viggo Mortensen as Aragon dirty.
Late night at the Pink Palace. The party was winding down, and munchies took over. Too late for the drive-in. “Kraft Dinner!” exclaimed Uranus from the kitchen. Sandy went in and put a pot of water on to boil but it was taking forever on the hot plate, so she put the noodles in when it got just steaming. Only half enough milk in the fridge, so she topped it with water. Joan lost her munchies at the first taste of the plate of paste that was put before her. She smiled at Uranus eating his, trying to be polite.
She planted the magnolia when they bought the house, insisting (over his objections) that it go beside the deck. She mulched, fussed, and watered it assiduously during droughts. Every spring she rhapsodized over its pink blossoms. She drew comfort from that tree, and during her final illness she sat on the deck beneath its boughs, warm beneath a blanket, sun dappling sunken cheeks.
It is spring now and she is gone, but her magnolia is resplendent once again. He is waiting until its flowers wilt. Then he will cut it down and plant a proper shade tree in its place.
“It’s not you,” Dove said, “it’s the weeping willow. I think I’m allergic.”
“That’s the best you can do?”
“This is our future. If you loved me, you’d take Benadryl.”
It was the first time the L-word had passed between them. Dove felt a strange foreboding. “Too sleepy-making,” he said, after too long a pause.
“Claritin, then.” She was getting hissy.
“Maybe,” he said, “I need some me-time.”
Swan’s magnificent wings flared, catching Dove upside the head. “I did not just do that,” she said, slamming her beak bitterly into the willow trunk.
“It’s not you,” Dove said. “Listen…”
The lake was a constant backdrop to their lives. If not for the lake it would just be another sleepy little farm town. Instead they had exposure to exotic tourists and summer romances. Not like those inland towns where there was nothing to do and the kids were all so dorky and straight. The lake was a life force and an entity that had its own special personality. Joan loved to watch its mood changing from calm and blue to angry and grey with giant waves crashing. Joan had visited all the Great Lakes, and thought Huron was the best.
Understand that, at eleven years old, Robert was by far the most mature friend I had, and that by mature, I’m not necessarily talking about the outward signs of puberty—although he did possess a remarkable quantity of pubic hair—but that he was confident, too, and dressed well, and cared about things I’d barely begun thinking about.
And so, although we were only going to pretend to have dated those girls I was telling you about, when he suggested we take them those lilacs we’d picked and let them in on the scheme, it seemed like a good idea.
The Ford Nation is in our neighbourhood. Residents are being ticketed for every parking infraction, rolling stop and rogue pet snagged along Sorauren Avenue. But city revenue must come from somewhere. After forcing Ryan Russell’s bereaved wife and son to be the pin up family for G20 Amnesia, Toronto’s finest are now the highest paid force in Canada. But on the positive side, it’s becoming more multicultural. So now Mrs. Nguyen will understand why she’s facing a $200 speeding ticket for going 40 kilometres through High Park. It will only take her 19.51 hours of Nannying to pay it off.
Jackie Earle’s Academy Award nomination rekindled the yard’s debate. Flamingo maintained that, as the tinfoil swan in the car masturbation scene, Dove had manifested a delicate butoh sensibility. “Props!” scoffed Raven. An Owl chick snickered. Dove hung his head.
“Always the toilet paper ads for me,” Swan now murmured beside him,“never a dark night of the soul.” He had been noticing her silences, sensing in them not so much envy as an inchoate yearning to smash through boundaries of her own.
He looked up.
She twined her neck appraisingly. “Wanna come over, watch La Femme Nikita?”
Raven watched them go.
Sandy was desperate. “He’ll drown them if I can’t find homes for them,” she pleaded. Sandy’s uncle was too cheap to have his barn cats ‘fixed,’ but he liked them around to keep the rodent population down. However, past a certain number he would dispatch them ruthlessly. Joan’s mother had already given in to three kittens, who were most likely half siblings from different pairings of the various feral cats who roamed that farm. Joan would beg but she suspected that, as far as her mother was concerned, they had already exceeded the optimum number of cats in their home.
Shahna had a job waiting tables . . . and a well-known soft spot for homesick spacemen.
“On Earth,” this one said, “we select our own mate, someone we care for.”
The uniform suggested an officer with the United Federation of Planets, but there was dirt on his face and his tunic was torn. “You’re bleeding,” said Shahna. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“It is the custom of my people to help one another when we’re in trouble,” he cooed while Shahna wondered how, in an infinite universe, this was the fifth earthman she’d met in as many weeks named James T. Kirk.
Janice saw that giant Tootsie Roll Butch or Belinda (pronounced Ba-LIN-dee) received for their sins as a single hunk of candy, a sugar-packed turd of a prize, so big and dense it could have been laid by the Colossus of Rhodes’ pet cat. It probably was just filled with little, individually wrapped pieces, but she wouldn’t know, would she? Because in spite of sitting up nice and quiet as instructed by Mr. Ringmaster, she wasn’t picked. Not for the plucky sidekick, nor as a well-mannered participant for either the balloon popping game or the coveted beanbag toss. Nada. Dammit Bozo.
“Shooting the blooper reel with Kate Winslet tonight!” Dove lied, winging giddily over the yard. Oddly, humans couldn’t tell the bird talent from hoi polloi, so tonight, he could rove the Little Children set freely. Watch. And dream.
Below, a mess of cameramen surrounding a grey car! Dove trod air. A short-haired man got out, holding — weird! — a tinfoil swan. The car squealed away, the very squeal Dove had heard yesterday, squashed inside his tinfoil façade. “Cut!”
Dove flailed to earth.
“Whuh?” He nudged a sparrow.
“Jackie Earle Haley.”
They’d reshot Dove’s big scene. Desperation clutched his heart.
Travis refused to travel outside of the country, determined never to wake up in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney, like the friend of a guy he knew. Likewise, he would not visit New York City, where the sewers teemed with alligators, where poisonous snakes slithered up pipes and into toilets, where the government might launch another attack on a skyscraper at any moment. Anything might happen these days, what with a president who wasn’t even born in America. Yes, Travis was seeing the big picture about a lot of things, now that he was watching Fox News.
It’s not until almost halfway through The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary that we finally learn the identity of the heretofore nameless quadruplets: Jack, James, Jerry, and Joe. Way back on page four, they invited us all Along on their alphabetic adventures, and we’ve followed them faithfully through all their Bell ringing and Cap wearing, but we’ve had to wait until J for the formal introductions. Even so, I still cannot tell them apart and still suspect that P. D. Eastman only gave them those particular names because he couldn’t come up with enough J words before deadline.
Next month, we will drive back home to Tecumseh and bury my folks at St. Anne’s in Mémé and Pépé Leclair’s grave. Hopefully everyone in the plot will approve: For one, the men liked each other. And I’ve made sure to put a French inscription on the stone so Mémé Jeanne’s Anglophobic ectoplasm won’t start up and force us, right before the ceremony, to hunt for the marker somewhere in the O’Rourke section. But most importantly, if eternity at the foot of her mother-in-law gets on her nerves Laurette can visit her own mother, who’s just a few yards away.
Dove pinched himself. (Or tried. He’d lost an epic three ounces since the call.) “Loved your work in Bad News Bears,” he offered. Jackie Earle Haley seemed shy, his now-middle-aged old-soul eyes intent on the Little Children props guy.
“Here’s the thing,” Jackie Earle was explaining, “That tinfoil swan? It’s cheap. Sheila’s always denting it in the car. The mood is gone.”
The props guy shrugged. “I guess.”
Chin up, Dove nodded earnestly. Weren’t Jackie Earle’s struggles, after all, his own? The props guy said, “Hold still,” stuck a straw into his beak, and took out a roll of tinfoil.
Jumping rope was what brought them together and cemented their friendship when they first met in grade two. Sandy noted Joan’s skills and knowledge of many rhymes for skipping games and actively pursued Joan as a friend. Being new in town Joan was glad to accept Sandy’s friendship because Sandy seemed to know everybody. After that the two of them dominated the playground at recess. Nobody could turn rope or jump double dutch like Joan and Sandy. Over the years the skipping fell away and other interests took over, but Joan and Sandy remained tied together by those jumping ropes.
“Why doesn’t Jesus have to stay in this Section?” Julius Caesar asked Joan of Arc.
“Because,” she began primly, “He sitteth at the right hand of—”
“It’s nice to see Judas so cheerful. Ever since he started seeing Jezebel he—”
“He’s weak. Impressionable. Men like that flock to strong people.” Caesar eyed Joan. Not bad for a Gaul. When she looked up at the sky her eyes shone appealingly. “Besides, guys like pushy broads.”
She was oblivious to flattery. Maybe he could transfer to C Section. Cleopatra was there, and Antony seemed happy enough in A.
I bought Rich a Nano for his birthday, along with a runner’s armband and a set of fancy ear buds. Now he won’t have to hum the theme to Last of the Mohicans whenever he’s out jogging. It’s also an attempt to drag ourselves out of antiquity and into our teenager’s technological world. I hope it will not go the way of our blu-ray player. Here we are lost, marooned on our couch until Daniel comes to our rescue. He presses the correct buttons on his controller, pats us on our heads and then leaves us to our Poirot mysteries.
If you look closely, you might notice a bit of a gap in my alphabet scrapbook. Every week, my first grade teacher would announce a new letter, and we’d fill a page with pictures we brought from home. That particular week, for B, I found a handbag, a baby with a dog, a teddy bear, and a whole lot of other things I can’t recall, because the letter
that week was, in fact, P. I was inconsolable, until dear Miss Crawford taught me my first lesson in improvisation. The bag became “purse.” The dog became “pet.” And the bear became . . . ?
Joan was surprised to see Sandy at her door that first warm, spring day. The thing was that Sandy could not bear to sit in that classroom, knowing Joan had the day off because she was exempted from writing the exam. So Sandy ditched the exam. It was puzzling because Joan knew how much Sandy was itching to get out of town. How was she going to do that if she did not graduate high school? But another burning itch over-rode the drive for future plans – that was the itch for the drive along country roads with the windows down.
Indians used to be “Indians” but that’s not acceptable among the politically correct, and its offensive to Ind—
Whoops . . . What can we call those people? “Amerindian”, “native Canadian”, “native”, “aboriginal” – each alternative is objectionable to somebody, and “First Nation” is just plain unwieldy. Try fitting “member of the Kashechewan First Nation” into that blank on the census form. (Besides, “member” surely offends some women.)
In order to move on to other weighty issues, I’ve invented an inoffensive variant on “indigenous”: Indigenian. Problem solved. Now, headlines like “Tainted! Boil-Water Advisory Continues on Indigenian Reserve!” can offend no one – white or Indigenian.
Jüri had thought himself lucky. Fresh off the boat—as Americans like to say—and he’d already got a job at the Button Up novelty company. Tedious work, sure, but there was always new product coming in, and their “funky” style even helped a little with the English nobody taught you at school. December 1970, but by spring he’d already come nose to nose with the ugly yellow face of Capitalism, when they decided to turn all production over to the Happy Face, bucket after bucket, day after day. And only five short storeys to the pavement of West 46th.
Hazel taught me to knit. She also showed me how to make popcorn over the stove. Mieka passed along her methods for line-drying clothes. These are now activities I consider integral life skills. Then there are the delicacies too delicious not to be enjoyed regularly: Anna’s pimento moida, Yvonne’s marinated broccoli, Marcel and Randy’s preserves. Without these morsels meals would be a recurrent dirge of chickpeas and spaghetti. And what of Jacquie and Mary’s navigations through the nooks and crannies of closeted cheese shops and trunk shows? One keeps the other in check, and both activities appropriated as my own.
The amphetamines weren’t helping, Dove had gained another ounce, and here Raven had stopped at a Timmy’s on the way home from some voicework.
The phone in the yard jingled. “Don’t you want to get it?” asked Raven silkily. Everyone knew for the last forty days, Dove’s agent hadn’t returned one call. Let alone sent a Christmas card. Dove shook his head, mired as it was in the cherry-filled. Raven sashayed over to the phone.
He came back salt and peppered with dander. Dove's amphetamine-laced heart skipped. “The set of Little Children,” Raven said. “I said yeah, you were resting.”
The engineers at my university held an annual “forty beers” contest, completion of which bestowed great prestige. The first few refreshing ales slid down easily. Nothing to it. The next few were a little harder. Then it became very challenging indeed. Don’t try it at home folks, it is not safe. The human body cannot accept such punishment. Alcohol aside, you can overdose and die from that much fluid.
Which brings me to writing a hundred words a day. It’s harder than you’d think. If only they’d invent a Viagra for writers. But wait – they already have. It’s called “Readers”.
Even though Joan felt that Sandy pushed her into doing things she often thought better of, she knew it was not a one-sided relationship. It was that pushing that forced Joan to take risks that expanded her boundaries; and Joan’s innately reticent personality kept Sandy’s impetuous nature in check. The yin and yang of their friendship helped develop qualities in each other that encouraged them both grow. They were two halves that complimented each other almost perfectly. Without Sandy, Joan could have been too careful, cautious and conservative. Without Joan, Sandy could, quite possibly, not have survived to adulthood.
Colin and I look forward to tuning into CBC during lunch. Yesterday he suggested we listen to a podcast about the impending Rapture. The beginning of the end apparently starts on May 21, 2011, and like the garage sale at the corner of Sorauren and Wright, will continue on until October. Personally, I am waiting for enlightened aliens to take me to an alternative universe where beings are actually kind to one another. Until then, I will just go about my business unlike the American Atheists who will be hosting an anti-Apocalypse barbeque. I think that’s just asking for it.
“I fought them in life,” Geronimo said, adding a log to the heavenly campfire, “and now their warriors call my name as they jump through the air.”
“Into the air?” Pontiac asked.
“From the air. They jump from something called an airplane. Sitting Bull heard it from a new guy.”
“Huhhm,” Pontiac grunted, unimpressed. “One of their war chiefs named something called a company after me. I never even fought this man. His name was General Motors.”
Their companion poked the fire, a sour look on his face. “And you, Montezuma,” Geronimo said gruffly. “What did they name after you?”
The thing about Sandy was that she could sweet talk anybody, which made Joan feel like she was not the only big sap. Sandy had a way of looking you in the eye, leaning forward and seeming to be truly, earnestly interested in you. It made you feel special - and as though there was an instant bond between you and Sandy. So people did things for Sandy that they probably would not do for other people. Joan developed this gift by osmosis after years of observing her friend. But she could never really bring herself to use it so blatantly.
The green-screen shoot took an eternity. “Think benevolent,” the director had insisted. Two hours later, “Amidst the cherubim. Not above.” Dove stuck his chin out and tried resentfully for pious. He wanted his lunch. “Chin down, dammit!”
“The years have been unkind to Dove,” said one reviewer; another drew a downright mean comparison to William Shatner. One of the CGI artists called to commiserate. “We tried to make the cherubim plumper so you’d look...”
At dinner, Raven pushed the largest millet pellets Dove’s way. Dove refused food. He was gonna get himself on amphetamines and become thin, like a ghost.