Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille

Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille was a French astronomer noted for his catalogue of nearly 10,000 southern stars. He mapped great swaths of sky and defined the constellations that had once lain hidden from the eyes of the ancient world. He saw them first . . . and he gave them all unbelievably shitty names.
     In chronicalling the drama that played out each night against the celestrial sphere, the Greeks had drawn upon their culture and the world around them: a world of nature, magical creatures, and gods.
     Lacaille looked around his room and gave us . . . The Telescope, The Furnace, and The Clock.


We named our boy Daniel because it sounded good both in French and English. I wanted to name him Damase, a name that’s been passed through five generations on my mother’s side. Rich refused to call our child a name that could be pronounced Dumb-Ass. We also decided not to christen him but instead accepted our neighbours’ offer to give him a Hindu name, chosen specifically for him based on his time and date of birth. So today Daniel Patrick Deepak Haynes turns fifteen and in spite of the twenty-two hours of labour I cherish the day he was born.


Mitzi was the name that was planned for me. Then Mitzi Gaynor made a comeback. My parents did not want it to look like they were naming me after a movie star. So Mary Jo it was. A name that seemed like a curse to me as a child – nobody back then had double-barreled names. Until “Petticoat Junction.” Then I got Billy-, Bobby-, and Betty-Jo. Either that or people would take my sister’s name and tack it on, renaming me Maryanne. More often than not I get christened the more common, Mary-Jane. Nobody who knows me shortens it to Mary.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ballad of Sergeant Schultz

Rogers (Roy) was still a star
When I came on the scene,
With Charles Schulz’s comic strip
In every magazine.

But then Hogan and his heroes
Appeared on TV shortly
And brought with them a new namesake
Both incompetent and portly.

“I see nothing,” Schultz would say,
To my classmate’s jubilation.
He knew nothing, nothing heard . . .
Until their cancellation.

Then Robert Crane was murdered
And Sergeant Schultz had gone
And reruns of that prison camp
Were hardly ever shown.

So, I suppose the lesson is
To name kids carefully,
In spite of which we named our boy
After Mister Bean.

What’s in a Name?

Bill and Joe are just regular guys. John seeks out a hooker. Where I come from, crazy people acted like Mels. Or worse, if you pulled a Hector you got caught jerking off in a public washroom. Where do we get these names? Was there really a retarded Mel or a generic Bill who lacked any discernable features? Hector left an indelible impression in the prurient pea-brains of Essex County high school kids. Stan Rogers, had he lived, would have written a ballad about him. I’ll bet Hector never even did it. I’ll bet he changed his name to Joe.

The Memory of Bill

My mother often cites the metaphor of people banging their heads against a brick wall because it feels so good when they stop doing it. There is certainly a feeling of great release when long-standing chronic pain finally comes to an end. It was euphoria at the end of my labour giving birth to my daughter. I could not believe how completely stoned I felt. It was more of a gradual creeping of contentment getting over my first marriage. But I do remember the bliss of one day realizing I no longer felt tortured by the memory of Bill.

Monday, March 29, 2010

It Hurts When I Do This

Somehow, I’ve managed to bung up my wrist, and as usual my ill-advised attempts at self-medication have only made it worse.
     David would tell me to go to the doctor, but then he thrives on finding the definitive solution to these sorts of problems, while I actively avoid the time-consuming spiral of tests and referals and treatments where everyone eventually just gives up, and the problem goes away on its own.
     Plus, in this case, there’s a certain level of embarrassment, since I’d have to tell my doctor that it really hurts when I reach around to . . . wipe my ass.

Chafing Dish

Some women give up coffee, others don’t drink, but for me, the height of maternal sacrifice came when my doctor advised me to take either showers or tepid baths throughout my pregnancy. Maybe when it’s stinking hot out, but for most of the year I’m completely frozen by 11 pm and our meager dribbling excuse for a shower just adds to the discomfort. There’s nothing like stepping into water just a tad too hot and laying back hearing that thump-thump-thump as your blood pressure rises up to your ears, and you know within minutes you’ll be as warm as anything.

Fresh Baked

If our family was stranded in the woods in winter I would have been the first to go. I was the scrawniest kid and had no insulating fat whatsoever. Swimming lessons in Lake Huron left me ashen blue and gripped with shuddering shivers even on the hottest day. I would race home and dive into the tent that we kept up in the backyard all summer. It would get hot as an oven baking in the sun all morning. Nobody else could bear even a few seconds in there, but it would take me a good hour to warm up.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keeping It Dry

So much about camping is just keeping dry and keeping all your stuff dry, too, and of course finding clever ways of drying your stuff once it’s already wet in spite of all your best efforts to keep it dry. Rule of thumb: If your matches light and the salt pours freely at the end of the day, you’re probably winning that battle.
     Of course, keeping yourself warm is important, too, but more often than not just follows from the quest for dryness. I certainly don’t remember hearing anyone on a camping trip complaining about how cold and dry they were.

Camper Van Grosshoven

The thought of camping fills me with dread.  Lumpy ground, cold stinky tent. The washroom, if it exists, is filthy, with a wet, dirty floor covered in flip-flop marks, and an impressive collection of dead deer flies. Or it’s a spider-infested, shit-laden outhouse.  But is this suburban camping?  Maybe the real Tabasco can be found further afield away from loud-mouthed fellow campers and their ghetto blasters. Pitching a tent on a clear smooth rock overlooking a pristine spring-fed lake with only the chorus of loons and frogs lulling you to sleep could be both beautiful  and soul-nurturing.  For some people. 

The Raj

Whenever I see a bottle of Bombay Sapphire I think of the Raj in India, sitting on shaded verandas pickling themselves with gin and tonic during long, hot evenings. I am sure it was of the utmost necessity, in order to sleep in that sweltering climate. Much as I use the same concoction to knock myself out when I am camping. Contrary to all notions of that healthy outdoor activity, I drink the heaviest when camping because I do not sleep well in a tent. Beer or wine cause too many trips to the latrine. Gin and tonic is ideal.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Perfect Martini

Before you begin, you’ll need to set aside at least four solid days for this project. Mornings can be especially problematic.
     Pour a few generous measures of gin from a 1.14 L bottle of Bombay Sapphire.
     Top it up from a 1 L bottle of Martini & Rossi Extra Dry vermouth, shake well, and stick it in the freezer while you drink the gin.
     Once you have finished the martini mixture, start on the leftover vermouth . . . over ice, if you still have any.
     And for God’s sake, eat something! Anything. Although an olive or two is traditional.

The Cayer Guide to Fine Dining

Once on a kindergarten walkabout down Drouillard Road Sister Mary Diane chastised me for shouting “There’s my Daddy’s Vitamins!” as we passed the Brewer’s Retail. But that’s what mom told me. Salt, sugar, lard, beer and tobacco were the five food groups. What a difference from how I raised Dan. He was vegetarian until a chicken drumstick seduced him at my goddaughter’s First Communion dinner. He missed a childhood full of cheese slices, Pop Tarts and roast pork sandwiches, Cap’n Crunch and Uncle Ben’s rice. And my mother’s ever-present Benson and Hedges burning away in the background like French-Canadian incense.

No Way

If you knew me when I was a child, you would never guess I would grow up to be a vegetarian. I steadfastly refused to eat any vegetables except iceberg lettuce salad and celery sticks. I sat staring at my plate for many an hour after everybody else had left the table. “All we want you to do is try it – just take one bite,” my parents would say. No way I was going to fall for that, when in the past I had cooperated only to have my mouth flooded with a taste so horrifying it made me gag.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Invention of Circumcision

Trier-of-Stuff wasn’t bright, but the tribe depended on him. Whenever they encountered something different—a new fruit, another tribe, an inviting pool—Trier was there to dive right in. He liked the attention, certainly; but he loved all the females it brought him.
     “Hey,” said Maker-of-Things. “I’ve been looking for you.”
     “I’m sick,” said Trier. “It hurts when I piss.”
     “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Remember that cutter I made.”
     “Yeah,” said Trier. “That hurt, too.”
     “Well, I have a new idea that might help you.”
     “Don’t worry,” said Maker. “Just hand me your cock.”

Image: The Sciolist.

New Smothers

I enjoyed being a new mom, I just didn’t like hanging around other new mothers. They were mostly gals with spurious CBC jobs, bemoaning their 36 weeks maternity leave. Once, I nearly got into an argument—something I only do with friends—at an Aqua Tot’s swimming lesson. Two women were having a cat fest over a third, unconnected to our group. She had a tiny girl with pierced ears.
     “Foreign.” One of them sniffed.
     “So cruel!” Returned the other.
     After casting a final disapproving look they returned to stuffing their little boys’ circumcised penises into their respective waterproof Kushies.


I was being observed and viewed with ridicule as I edged around the cow-pies in the field. The town girl who was squeamish about excrement. One of the boys caught my eye and with a wide smile plunged his bare foot into a big soft pile. “Oooooh! Still warm!” he said, ecstatically. Later, when we were climbing trees they made a fuss about seeing my underpants under my skirt. I thought it was funny that they were so pragmatic about shit, but became delicate about seeing a piece of cloth designed to cover areas best not openly displayed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Holy Shit!

I don’t know if my family were particularly fastidious flushers, but I don’t think I saw another person’s shit until I was at least nine years old. Not only that, and likely because of the enormity of the event (not to mention the turd itself) I can remember exactly where I found it, which was the toilet of the Esso station at the corner of Martine and La Grande. It was perfectly formed and dwarfed anything I could even imagine coming from my tiny butt, and yet at that moment I realized this too must be part of growing up.


Kathy was the first girl to befriend me when we moved from Windsor to Pike Creek. She also gave me my initiation into country humour, the kind reserved for city people: She told me that her house did not have a toilet so I had to go pee in the barn alongside the cows. Unaccustomed to the locals and afraid to offend lest I end up inside a wicker effigy and burned to death, I acquiesced. I really had to go. I can still hear her laughter ring out over the cornfield as I sat, my ass blazed with straw.

Volunteer Fire Department

My cousins lived in the country. Their house was not serviced by water lines. A reservoir on their roof collected rainwater and they had to be very careful with their consumption. Toilets were not flushed unless there were solids to be disposed. Not all the guests at the family reunion that year were aware of that, and the reservoir ran dry. One of the guests worked for the volunteer fire department. He drove into town, came back with a fire truck and refilled the reservoir. Needless to say it was a memorable reunion for the cousins of the youngest generation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nurses and Firemen

Sock Monkey Wedding Cake Topper Nurse and FiremanPeter’s sister was a nurse who, when I was getting to know her, lived in a little house on Palmerston near Queen, right next to the firehall. We’d been sailing together and, at some point, I guess, she must’ve thought I was at least presentable enough to invite to a big party she was planning.
     But for some stupid reason I can no longer recall, I missed it . . . a party of nurses and firemen from the station next door.
     I missed a party full of people who actually got to be what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Sock monkeys by Waxéla Sananda.

Sergio’s Place

Sergio lived with three other art students in Morgantown. In preparation for our arrival they painted the third storey from floor to ceiling a dove grey. Gauzy white curtains hung in the windows and the couch was covered in yards of grey canvas and wrapped in twine. A huge industrial fan sat in the corner and made the curtains move as if underwater. It was more installation art than decorating. We descended or rather ascended on a Friday. By Sunday morning the space was ruined. But it was beautiful and all the more precious because it was over so quickly.

Lease Breaker

Their lease was not being renewed. The building had been sold and it would be torn down to build an office tower. So they had a party and invited all their friends from Art College. Bring your own art supplies. We drew, painted and carved every surface in the place. I hope somebody got pictures. Hugh rendered a very realistic, life-size door on one wall. Then he unscrewed a doorknob from the actual door and attached it to the image. After that we sat around laughing at all the drunken people who tried to go through the hoax door.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


“So,” asked Nick from the shadows. “Just how bad is it back there?”
     “Well,” said Atalanta. “The party’s over, so they say. Someone ended up smashing through one of those big coffee tables—I don’t know how—and everyone just scattered.”
     “Anyone hurt?”
     “A record body count,” said Atalanta. “. . . but it looks like you made it out okay.”
     “Well, I can run pretty fast,” said Nick. “And I’m very good in the woods.”
     “You know they’re still looking for you, right?” said Atalanta. “You might not want to go home for awhile.”
     “’I’ll build myself a fire. Don’t worry.”

Little Big Man

My son’s friend gave Dan some Cowboys and Indians action figures. This was long before years of video gaming wore down my resolve never to have violent toys in the house. Dan sat and watched me cut off all the cowboys’ rifles. “What’s this?” His little confused face scrunched into a disapproving ball as he held a tiny crouched figure the stump of its hand pointed at an unknown enemy. “The men are doing Tai Chi.” He picked up an Indian still holding his spear. “You left the weapons on the Indians.” That’s when I told him about Sitting Bull.

Ukulele Lady

I discovered the miniature guitar case in the basement when I went down to do my morning exercises. I could not resist opening it. Not a guitar, but a ukulele, left by one of my son’s friends. I passed my fingertips across the strings and it sang prettily. The memory of my mother’s old ukulele bobbed up to the surface of my thoughts. I used to love to play it as a child. Just the right size for little hands. In one of the old albums there were pictures of Mom clowning with her dorm mates, playing ukuleles.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Walking down the beach together, they found a guitar near the big fire pit from the night before.
     “Somebody told me you could play,” she said to Hermes.
     “I used to,” he said.
     But he knew it would suck out here in the sun, with the surf muffling the sound, like the lights from the pier that wash out the stars, the same old songs that can still draw us all to the fire, because they sound better there, protected there, within a tight circle of souls.
     “We’d better take this back,” said Hermes. “Somebody’s probably looking for it.”


Anyone who attended a Southwestern Ontario Catholic high school in the 'seventies and 'eighties probably was forced to make a COR weekend. Usually held in a venue worthy of a Mentos ad, COR brought folksy priests and nuns together with teenagers to rap about Jesus their personal Savior. But for most of us it was a way to get out of Grade 13 Religion class. As a final coup de grace, a heartfelt letter from your parents capped off a weekend of wholesome and guilt-laden activities. Dad, who penned mine, sent me a three-page letter evaluating my driving skills.

Cap’n Bligh

My friends are always envious when I tell them my father had a yacht and we sailed Georgian Bay every summer. They imagine the sun and crystal clear waters. I tell them they should imagine spending two teenage weeks cooped up in small spaces with their parents. And Dad was no social sailor, tying up late afternoon to do the cocktail circuit around the docks. We sailed hard until the last light of day, then to bed so we could be up at the crack of dawn. Around us we could hear the music and partying late into the night.

Norma et Regula

“You look tired,” said Atalanta.
     “Of course I’m tired,” said Nick. “They’ve got me sharing a berth with good ol’ hot-and-horny Hercules!”
     “You do know the proper term is cabin?”
     “I know what the word is,” said Nick, “but with you in your own cabin, there really aren’t enough berths to go around.”
     “Don’t worry, Nick. Cute as you are, I know for a fact it’s girls he likes . . . but whatever, maybe this’ll teach you something about yourself.”
     “Sure,” said Nick. “For instance, I’ve already learned that, given a small enough space, I can sleep standing up.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Poop Deck

Christine and I took sailing lessons on a brigantine. We also each had a fling with a sailor, both local Kingston boys. Mine had the swashbuckling handle of Mike Cross. I believe he was one of the ship’s officers. He was in the process of explaining his important job to me, with all the gravitas unique to sixteen year old males when a seagull shit on his head. It was a colossal grainy shit that clung to his black hair like plaster. At the time I was wearing his cap and I’m not sure if that was a good thing.


Donna and I reconciled our stories beforehand so that we could corroborate if questioned by the guys we would potentially meet. We were never locals because the city guys were not interested in meeting townspeople. In a resort town it is always about exotic, fleeting encounters. For that Labour Day weekend Saturday dance we decided to be Americans. I met Bill, from Detroit, and we had a carefree last blast of the summer, thinking we would never see each other again. At school on Tuesday, I heard my name called and turned to find myself face to face with Bill.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


“If I needed an excuse,” said Atalanta. “it’d be that my mother used to take me down the coast every summer on vacation, and I got so tired of being hit on by all the pretty boys that I made up a serious boyfriend back home.”
     “And at school?” asked Nick.
     “Force of habit, I guess. It’s just easier to pretend I was staying faithful to my summer boyfriend. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if a unicorn could fall asleep with his head in my lap . . . okay, technically, he could; but he’d probably wake up real grumpy.”

Immaculate Deception

This will date me more than my 1980’s scrunchies, but back in the day we talked about a Virgin-Whore complex. It was always a good conversation starter for we head-up-our-asses graduate students and guaranteed to get a rise out of the Gender Historians among us. Tempers boiled and the fool who stirred that tautological turd was summarily chastised. Still, these gals were less radical than their Women Studies aunties who came before them, who sacrificed family and motherhood to study working class women and the evolution of speculums. Because of them both virgins and whores can attend university with impunity.

Fine Line

The difference between sleazy dressing and sexy suggestive dressing is how much a woman reveals. If you are showing off some cleavage, wear something more demure below. If you are going to knock them flat with your legs, keep your neckline more modest. Baring your midriff requires balance and discretion. Stretchy, formfitting clothing is another area where the line can be easily crossed. It is possible to break the rules and still carry it off, but only if you are sensitive to very refined nuances. You have to make the men wish they could touch you, but know they cannot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jennifer’s Nipple

Girls be warned: It’s every boy’s dream to see as much as he can of what he shouldn’t, a skill we all secretly hone from the moment we learn what to look for. It’s the way we are wired .
     And yet here’s me in class, mooning over my new secret crush, when through a fortuitous fold in her top, I catch a glimpse of breast clear to the nipple!
     Never have I had such luck . . . and wanted it so little, because it’s really her that I want, and this tawdry treat is already beginning to feel like the consolation prize.

Queen Tit

Lizette constantly trolled for male attention. She once bragged that her neighbour made a Super 8 of her boobs, just her boobs, which he entitled, “Lizette Ma Chouette”. Can you image bragging about this? My mom was her seamstress and sewed racy dresses for her out of stretch jersey. Lizette’s boobs fell out one day during the fitting of an off-the-shoulder red number. They were long and flat, like big boob tongues. It was soon revealed that the film-worthy décolletage was achieved only through an elaborate procedure of rolling and tucking, like a pink carpet runner or a cottage ham.


The phys-ed teacher informed us there was no room for modesty in the post gym class showers. We were all women and nobody was looking. That was so not true. Comparisons were definitely being made. Although I do not possess an ‘impressive rack,’ I developed early. For a brief period of time in early grade nine I was given the nickname "Boobsy." It was not long before the other girls blossomed and overtook me. But during those first few months of high school friends would call out the nickname and all the guys in the hallway would turn to look.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Douglas Clarington’s Penis

Occasionally, after a particularly strenous gym class, Douglas Clarington’s penis would arrive in the showers just a little before him.
     There wasn’t much down there to be particularly proud of. In fact, under any other circumstances, it should’ve been the subject of ridicule; but no one dared be the first to point it out, because we all knew the penalty for looking at that sort of thing, even though everyone was.
     And so, in a way, I had to admire Doug’s courage. I’d have sooner run another ten or twelve laps than walk naked past my classmates with a stiffy.

The Crocodile Wanker

Lenny Froome collected baculii, or penis bones. Most of his samples came from road kills, but once while on a tour of the Floridian everglades he spotted a dead crocodile. Slicing through the animal’s belly he tried to amputate the baculum. But the beast had been dead for sometime, so as he pulled on the bone, it refused to yield and snapped back in place. When the rest of the tour, comprised mostly of pensioners from West Bloomfield, realized Lenny was no longer with them they retraced their steps to find our hero locked in an onanistic battle of wills.

Sugar Baby

When I started to introduce solid foods to Lenny’s diet, the sweetest thing he got was uncooked applesauce I made by straining apples through a China hat, no sugar added. He never got store bought food. Gramma decided to take him for a walk to get herself an ice cream cone. She was carrying him on one hip and holding the cone in her other hand. I watched her coming toward me. She was smiling and calling hello. In that moment Lenny grabbed her wrist and pulled the cone into his face. That was the end of his healthy diet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obey this Sign

I think more signs should be like those they put up around the subway yards to keep people from hopping the fence: “Trespassers May Be Electrocuted.” Instead of just telling you what to do, it vividly describes the consequences of not doing it.
     So, in that vein, how about “No Smoking within 50 ft . . . BOOM!”
     Or “Slippery When Wet . . . CRASH!”
     Believe it or not, what’s got me thinking about this is the guy who sells ice-cream in our neighbourhood; and who, apparently, has already adopted this approach with the warning painted on the back of his truck: “Caution Children . . . SLUSH!”

Image from a photo by Toronto Type.

The Government Gives Them Everything For Free

Mohawk Industrial School was nicknamed the Mush Hole by the ‘Nishnab survivors who attended it. Mush and potatoes, that’s what Eric ate. He was a tiny child when he arrived and the other kids called him Monkey Bran because he was so hungry he would eat cow feed. Industrial schools split the day; native children as young as five, attended a half-day of classes then worked a full day in the fields, raising crops to sell to locals. This Dickensian nightmare continued on until the 1950’s and ‘60’s. A Canadian cautionary tale: starving children surrounded by a banquet of food.

Fried Mush

With a Scots streak in me, I was raised on porridge. My mother made it every morning, unless there was an occasion for pancakes or eggs and bacon. I have often heard porridge maligned, but personally I love it. I continued to make it for myself for years after I left home. We always joked about my brother who lived on it in university and would make huge batches which he kept in the fridge to warm up for a quick meal. A special treat for me is cold porridge, sliced and fried in butter, served with syrup. Fried Mush!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I’ve had but three serious relationships in my troubled romantic career.
     My first girlfriend was smart as a whip but cold in bed, hopelessly insecure, and shy.
     The second was vivacious—at least that’s what she’d claimed in her ad—outgoing and overly confident, but with a laugh that could turn heads in a noisy room.
     The third I’ll call Goldilocks, because she was just right, somehow combining the best of her predecessors while patching over the worst . . . the porridge, the chair, and the bed—everything in balance, and a welcome respite from the extremes I had come to expect.

Indiana Gil and the Temple of Jerk

I love Richard for many reasons, but one important one being that he is not Gil. When we met, Gil and I were both archaeologists in our early twenties. We both did well at university and spent summers travelling around the province working on digs. Tent sex and archaeology. Doesn’t that sound romantic? And he was a beautiful looking man, tall and dark with considerable artistic talents. Unfortunately he was evil incarnate and within two years I was reduced to chewing on valiums. It’s lucky for our husbands that most of us women have had a Gil in our lives.


I really could have used that couch – it was a nice deep sectional with lots of soft pillows to snuggle into. Technically it was mine; a birthday present from his parents. But, as with a number of things in the place, I decided to just walk away from it because it was not worth the fight. Even with all of my considerate largess, when the day came to move things out, I discovered he had changed the lock. I had to appeal to his father to make him open the apartment for me and stay to keep Bill under control.

Gold Diggers of 1986

That was the year my girlfriend gave up on any idea of completing her degree and instead seemed to be settling into her new minimum-wage job.
     “My parents actually told me they’re worried I won’t amount to anything,” she said. “But here I am, sitting in a nice apartment on a new leather couch, and I think I’m doing pretty well.”
     But it was my apartment.
     My couch.
     And although I’d never thought I’d ever make enough money to attract a gold digger, who could’ve imagined there’d ever be a gold digger who’d be satisfied with the money I make.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Carl Stankin’s Universe

“Bottled bachelor” is that smell of sour washrags, dirty socks and black leather sectionals particular to straight, unmarried, middle-aged men. It emanates from an uncle’s apartment or the office of a university professor. “Scented Spinster” is its olfactory foil—a mélange of expensive breakfast cereals and dryer sheets. But these smells are just by-products of life, actions which keep the world in balance. Where our bachelor would just pluck yesterday’s underwear from the leg of his track pants, our spinster applies Newton’s Third Law of Motion by folding her bras in half, straps neatly tucked into their nesting cups.

Legendary Chaos

He was a friend my parents had invited to a barbeque at our place. He mentioned his place was a mess and I convinced him he should hire me to clean it. I went there while he was at work and was confronted with legendary bachelor chaos. I went through the place like a whirlwind until I got down to the floor. I could not believe how caked on the dirt was. I found a knife and literally scraped it inch by inch. He was surprised I was still there when he got home. And more surprised by the bill.

The Steam Box

On their website, Dupray Industries of Montreal, Quebec, competently markets a portable Steam Box capable of directing a blast at 145psi and 378ºF which, together with its detergent injection system, makes it ideal for the removal of old chewing gum from concrete surfaces . . . all of which entirely fails to capture the magic of walking down Yonge Street at 3:00 AM towards the low pulse of machinery and the hiss of steam outside the Charles Promenade, the fat plexiglass display cases like treasure-filled bubbles floating above the clouds, the smell of exotic fruit in the air, the slightest hint of mint.

Click here to see the full image by Citatus on Flickr.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


It’s probably because I’m an only child and have a predisposition towards conceit, but I am amazed at how many sidewalks are stamped 1962, the year I was born. Maybe there was a lot of public money available that year. Or politicians were so relieved that Kennedy hadn’t blown us to bits that they decided to lash out on civic improvement. These sidewalks are the old kind with big brown pebbles mixed into the concrete. Tough as anything and able to withstand nearly fifty years of snow and ice and rain and gob and ghostly stains of gum once chewed.


My fate is to see ones on digital clocks. It might be one eleven or eleven eleven, for some reason I always managed to look at clocks when it is one of those times. Almost every night, when I turn out my lights the display on my bedside alarm clock will read eleven eleven. And very often when something significant happens I will see the time is one eleven or eleven eleven. Is it some kind of message from the beyond warning me of a dire fate I could avoid? Will I be able to decipher the meaning on time…?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is This Your Card?

Every once in a while I’ll find a single playing card, lying by itself on the sidewalk, usually face down; and I’ll pick it up to see what it is.
     Don’t you?
     For a few years I seemed to be having a run of sixes; I’d find a card, flip it over, and as if by magic another six would appear.
     And because I can’t remember ever losing any cards myself, I wonder where these could possibly be coming from. Who removes a single card from a deck and takes it with them on a walk?
     That same magician, perhaps.


Before she died, mom loved to play Pig, one of those card games best played by the very young, the very old or the very drunk. The ace and face cards of all four suits are shuffled and distributed among four players. Cards are passed face down clockwise. The first person with four of a kind signals by thumbing his nose. When players see this they quickly thumb theirs. The last to notice suffers the taunt “Pig” by the others and hilarity ensues. As always mom, oxygen hose insitu quietly signaled, waiting for the rest of us to catch on.

Pig Gun

I had a christening gift for my nephew in my carry-on bag. “What’s this?” asked the security person as I went through the gate. On the screen was the perfect outline of a pig. I wanted to say, “It’s a pig gun,” but I held my tongue; airport security people are not known for their sense of humour. “It’s a sterling silver piggy bank,” I told her, thinking that would satisfy her. She hauled my bag off the belt, pulled out the gift, and unwrapped it so she could see it was exactly what I said.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Michael’s Gun

Back when airports were mostly concerned with preventing a straightforward, fly-me-to-Cuba hijacking, it was likely the first time most of my class had ever seen an x-ray machine, and probably Mike was just caught up with the novelty of having to put the coins from his pocket into a little salad bowl when he wondered out loud if he put a gun in the bowl, wouldn’t they just hand it back on the other side of the metal detector?
     We didn’t see Mike for awhile after that, but you know what? I still think it was a pretty funny joke.

Absolutely Nothing to Declare

We Windsorites grew up going over to Mexican Village and Greektown with only a driver’s license as I.D. No matter what your real purpose was for risking life and limb on a junket to Detroit you told American customs “We’re just going over for dinner and some shopping. “ When you got back to Windsor, wearing three layers of new clothes you always said, “We were just visiting my Aunt.” The Windsor officers, usually local kids who went through the college’s Law and Security course were cool. Really, our only danger was if we got one in a shitty mood.

Radioactive Footwear

The sandals were the most she had ever paid for any footwear, but she could not resist them. The first time she wore them was to her summer job at the nuclear plant where she worked as a tour guide. At the end of the day she went through the screening and when the wand was passed over her sandals, it beeped, which meant she would have to hand over the sandals to be incinerated. “Do it again!” she demanded. It beeped again. She made them repeat the procedure until there was no beep, and walked out wearing the sandals.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Summer Nights at the WCB

I know there were plenty of nastier jobs than mine, but I’d be hard pressed to think of one so overtly dehumanizing. For seven summers I was a Computer Operator, although all I ever really did was exactly what the computer told me to do. When it needed a tape, I mounted it. When it had something to print, I loaded the forms. The room itself was lit up like the inside of an icebox and just as cold so the equipment wouldn’t overheat, and we all worked round the clock because all that expensive electronics had to keep busy.

Get Back Lo-etta

Working at Green Giant for the summer was almost as good as scoring a gig at one of the car plants. One season Mom worked there on the pea line. She befriended the woman next to her who affectionately called her a “Lo-etta”. It was warm and somehow appropriate as the name had a sort of southern corn-pone ring to it, as in “Oh look Big-Daddy, Lo-etta’s nearly finished the peas!” Before long everyone called mom by that name and weeks passed before she discovered that the Dymo label maker which printed out the nametags skipped the “r” in Loretta.

Cherry Tomatoes

I long to return to the fruits of my youth. And not poetically; I yearn to savour the quality of produce that was available then, when a tomato was deep red and fleshy all the way through and sweet as an apple. I have not had one like that in years – even from friend’s gardens. It seems like only seeds for the woody hybrid varieties that are engineered for transport are commonly available these days. I turned to cherry tomatoes for the sweetness, but they simply do not provide the same satisfaction as a nice slab of beefsteak tomato.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cherry Bomb

cherry chocolate covered meltA word of advice to the more poetic young men out there: Beware the symbols you choose to impress your young lady.
     For instance, imagine you’re both still virgins, and that you’ve done everything you can to set things up so as to remedy that situation, and that you’ve even purchased two overpriced cherry truffles to consume sometime after the culmination of said remedy . . . well, you might just want to back away from the silly symbolism, because things don’t always work out as well as you plan, and that expensive chocolate might just leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Photo by Akilah Nadia.

Nun O Rama

The Ursulines at Holy Rosary wore the full habit. I asked my mom why Sister Mary Diane wore a black veil. She thought about this for a moment, took a long pull from her cigarette, exhaled through her nose and said, “Ah, bien, that’s because she has eyes in back of her head, toi!” That night I dreamt I snuck up behind Sister Mary Diane and whipped off her headdress. To my horror she had eyes like a one-armed bandit and glared at me, multiple cherries and lemons and grapes spinning around in righteous indignation. I hadn’t gambled on that.

Unwed Mothers

It was spelled out to me in no uncertain terms that a woman could not have a baby until she was married. I thought there was some kind of biological transformation that enabled pregnancy after the wedding. The sisters also told us that the only true vocation was for boys to be priests and girls to be nuns. When I passed that on to my brother he said then there would be no more children. What about ‘unwed mothers,’ I shot back. I had heard of them and figured they were an anomaly that could keep the human race going.

The Talk

My mother took my nascent interest in Playboy magazine as her cue it was probably time for The Talk, which I must say she started quite gently by first trying to make me think about how girls are different from boys; and, although the images of all those tits were quite fresh in my mind, the best I could come up with was that girls have long hair and wear dresses. So, ultimately, it was up to Joann Murano to clue me in on the details . . . to make a baby, she said, a man has to pee inside his wife.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I don't buy orchids

By the last week of birthing classes I was inundated with images of vaginas. They came in a constant parade from discreet line drawings to ridiculously lurid diagrams. We saw charts and books full of them. The shape and nuance of each described with clinical relish by our enthusiastic birthing instructor. I had to escape and sought refuge in the ladies’ washroom until I closed the stall and there it was, ten times the size, staring back at me through the wood grain of the door. Massive and imposing, perhaps once belonging to Treebeard’s wife or Judy Chicago’s sun deck.

Separation Anxiety

I inadvertently removed a bit of my body. It was the tip of my middle finger, including a small crescent of fingernail. I sliced it off while cutting cardboard to build a set design model. It was a weird feeling looking down and seeing a piece of me now separated from the rest of my body. I wonder what it must be like to see larger, more significant parts separated from you. Funny, I had no feelings like that when interior parts, such as tonsils, were removed. Not even when I looked at the placenta after my daughter was born.

Monday, March 8, 2010

There’s a Bit of My Body I Want to Remove

There’s a bit of my body I want to remove, but I’ll be damned if I pay a dermatologist $200 a pop for something I figure I could do myself with the proper equipment. Okay, it’s only a few ugly moles; they’re just not ugly enough to be even potentially cancerous, which of course would make the whole process free. So I warned my doctor I might just try to burn them off with this newfangled over-the-counter liquid-nitrogen wart cure I’ve found, figuring she would freak right out; instead she actually seemed intrigued with my do-it-yourself approach to cosmetic surgery.


A red-headed girl in school had skin so translucent and pale she looked like a freckled bag of milk. People of my tribe, that is French Canadians who have been picking tomatoes under the Quebec sun for nearly four hundred years, have skin of Teflon, or so I thought. I spent ten seasons as an archeologist, resplendently and effortlessly tanned from the ankles up, my blemish-free skin an enviable mahogany. It’s only lately that I’ve developed a very close relationship with my skin specialist who periodically cuts the precancerous moles off of my body.  At least I wore a hat.

Beach Town

Growing up in a resort town I identified with beach movies as a child. Maybe it is one reason why I hated to see the end of my teens. I had already achieved my childhood aspirations. We really did hang around the beach all day and night during the summers. I worked at the tuck shop on the beach, participated in the complex relationship dance of local kids, tourist kids and life guards, and our main gathering spot was the dance hall on the beach. My most keenly remembered teenage angst was that my fair freckly skin would not tan.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Back to the Beach

This story ends sometime in the summer with my mother and me wandering in different directions on the beach at Ward’s Island.
     It begins in September, probably Grade Seven, when gym class changed, and Mr. Mason had us running laps, whatever the season, practising for our timed run around the goal posts at opposite ends of the field.
     Then back to the beach, where I saw my mom in the distance and decided to show her what I could do, and so ran all the way . . . the first time I actually enjoyed it, but the last time I did it.

Click here to read more entries in the popular Mr. Mason Suite.

Call Me Ishmael

I’ve never been one for public bathing. I know that unless I am willing to rock a 1920’s Flapper bathing costume, me and my ass will be out there. I usually hide in my clothes and from an early age hated the idea of a swimsuit. As a child I wore those aproned ones—the 1970 preserve of pregnant ladies and obese ’tweens. Then in spite of its ridiculous infantilizing name I bought a tankini. It doesn’t help the glam factor that I swim like a buffoon. After a few dog paddles I am reduced to an exhausted snotty mess.

Bathing Party

Vern Yates was known for getting into the bathtub at parties after he had a certain number of drinks, so it was no surprise when I walked into the washroom and found him luxuriating in the claw-foot tub. As I sat on the toilet talking to him I was seduced into taking off my pantyhose and soaking my feet. It felt good. I had consumed enough champagne to lose my inhibitions. Before knew it was enveloped in warm water and sandwiched between two gay men in an uptown New York apartment. The party had moved into the washroom.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Recently, Torontoist covered the artistic antics of Scott Pilgrim, who, when assigned in class to create a self-portrait, convinced a friend to photograph him streaking naked across the “scramble” intersection at Dundas Square.
     Then, as if their readers had demanded proof he’d actually done it, the editors ran a follow-up in which they teased us with a link to the full set of photos of Scott’s short, cold trip. And although these did indeed deliver on the promised nudity, I found their notion of completeness suspect . . . because, unless Scottie really has no willy, Toronto didn’t really get The Full Monty.

Circle de Bourré

We live on a beautiful tree-lined street but in typical Toronto fashion, we’re also just one over from a very dodgey area. This location provides great live theatre for those willing to breach the social taboo of sitting on the front porch. Like the time Carl, the local Souse-hound left his home wearing only blue underwear. After a few tentative wobbles he fell backwards over a wooden fence, catching the elastic from his pants on a picket and in a single graceful backflip extricated himself from his Y-fronts, landed upright and carried on down the street as God made him.


Like many mothers, mine told me my underwear should always be clean and respectable – just in case I was in a car accident. A nurse I met at a party once laughed at that idea. She said most people who are injured in car accidents soil themselves and, in any case, have their underwear cut off them – so not to worry. All the same, I like to keep my underwear wardrobe well maintained. It is guilt-free shopping provided by my mother’s imperative to always make sure I am well-stocked with pretty knickers. And affordable when finances are limited.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Plus ça change . . .

Are you sure you want to talk to me about fashion? I mean, just look at me, I wear the very same clothes every day.
     Okay, I’ll grant you that I do change my underpants daily, and I do vary things a little the rare time I’m scheduled to see the same person two days in a row. But basically I’m a sucker for not having to bother, especially in the winter when I tend to layer things up a bit, and so can remove and install the entire top half of my ensemble in one graceful and time-saving motion.

Always True to You in my Fashion

I have said before that my style, which in its extreme lends towards the costumey, has now morphed into a Crouching Tiger Hidden Sprockets look. I love the construction of Asian garments but since I cut my sartorial teeth in the ’eighties I am chained to black. It’s like I made a pact with Comrags or Carol Pope. Or both. Rich and I share a small closet and because we both dress in the same black-grey shades we cannot find a thing. Retrieving a dress shirt for the poor boy is like searching in an I Spy for German nihilists.


“How many polyesters died to make that shirt?” we used to taunt people who wore synthetic clothes. But who could blame people back then? I remember it was my constant lament trying to find clothing made with natural fibres. Even t-shirts in those days were 50% polyester. That was the early seventies – polyester and brown. My other never ending search was trying to find cool black clothing. If I ever came across a black garment I snapped it up immediately. Now, ironically, I am trying to get away from black. But it is such an easy colour to wear.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Looks Good Enough

Any scientist would consider himself lucky to even be on the payroll of a lab responsible for an important discovery, and yet here he’d personally made two in one afternoon.
     The first was the result of his search for an economical alternative to FD&C Red No. 3—for use in food, drugs and cosmetics—and wasn’t so remarkable for the way it looked but for the effect it appeared to have on his normal inhibitions. The second occurred the moment he plopped a spoonful  of the stuff into his mouth, and he knew it was going make them all rich.

Turd Candy

When I was growing up around Pike Creek, we would all go to Lyle’s store, each of us so packed with loose change we sounded like human rain-sticks. For us trailer park kids, the store was far enough to warrant a bike ride, but so close you could pedal bare feet. It wasn’t more than a shack surrounded by a dirt parking lot, but it had every candy within our limited means: Jars of mojos and pixie stix, cinnamon lips and caramels. And that grape flavored gum that looked like a purple cat turd. I still wonder who bought that.

General Store

Somewhere in the world there are still places where old men still sit on stoops and shoot the breeze. It used to be on the sunny porch of the general store, back when I was growing up in rural Ontario. Even by then there were modernizations to the cliché. The pickle barrel had been replaced by a soft drink machine. But then, in less than a generation, the general store was gone. Any that have survived have become cutesy tourist traps selling oversweet fudge and jars of “homemade” jam with frills of calico covering the lids.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

No Country for . . .

I swear, the more we get together, the more Tony and I start to sound like a couple of old men just shooting the shit. We reminisce about our school days as if we’d boarded together at Eton. We talk about our campaign work with the NDP like two veterans of the Winnipeg General Strike. And we complain about our random maladies as if our bodies might soon return to the soil.
     The problem, I think, is that neither of us got to watch our fathers grow old, and so we haven’t a clue how work through our middle age.

Le P’tit Cul et Gérard

When dad turned 80 we drove him from Calgary airport to Trail, British Columbia to see his brother Edward. Part of the deal was that Gerry had to endure four days at the Royal Tyrrell Museum so our son could finally get his dinosaur ya-yas out. And in exchange we would stay a week at Ed and Madeline’s. It was sheer bliss for the two men, both retired electricians, and they spent their entire week sitting side by side on a bench. Their speech was quiet, almost telepathic and conveyed much more than their opinions on rheostats and voltage limiters.


I love to drive. And since I hate post-9/11 airports we have done mostly road trips since then. To Nova Scotia, to the Grand Canyon, to New York. The feeling of the country-side slipping by beneath the wheels of the car is seductive. But from time to time I would love to be a passenger. Steve was just getting his licence at age 30, when I met him. He creamed the transmission in the car I had at the time. Since then he has christened every vehicle we have owned with a dent. Generally, I insist on taking the wheel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In the Passenger Seat

I don’t drive, never have; and so for the last 37 years or so, at least since my parents divorced, I’ve spent the bulk of my car time in the front at the right; except for that month Mary spent driving us all over New Zealand, where they drive on the other side of the road, and the so-called “death seat” is on the left, and the hillside roads are fast and narrow, and Rowan, who had just turned one, would invariably wake up in the middle of all this locked in his carseat and quickly work himself into frenzy.

Vigilante Gerry

My father went through what I would call his Charles Bronson phase in 1967. It all began one night at The Temple, dad’s local watering hole. His shift at Chrysler’s finished, he just entered the place when he witnessed an old man being robbed by five thugs. He tried to intervene and got a colossal shellacking. But being the urban vigilante he was, got them all back in turn. Each one, mano a mano. I remember kneeling on the passenger’s seat of dad’s 1956 black Dodge, my tiny hands clutching the dash board when he ran over the last one.

Tiny Driver

Christiane is very diminutive, you could easily believe she is one of the faery folk. So it was surprising when she showed up driving a huge boat of a car she had bought off some farmer on a country road near Winnipeg. Even perched on a cushion her eyes just barely cleared the steering wheel. One day I borrowed her car to go to town. “It does not go over 75 kliks,” she cautioned. I took it to 100 with ease. Then we realized it was because her legs were not long enough to fully depress the gas pedal.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Small World

Dating Laurie was my introduction to a world very different from the one I’d grown up to. I was a good eighteen inches taller than her, so to me she seemed quite small, and lived what I assumed to be a life typical of most small people. She drove a small car. She lived in a small house. But the thing that struck me most was her kitchen: the top shelves of the cupboards were all empty! She couldn’t reach them, so she didn’t use them. If I was small, I think I’d at least buy myself a little ladder.

Thrushed with Pride

Our English relatives often send us greeting cards with pictures of robins. The English robin is a much smaller bird than our Canadian variety, ours being more of a thrush. The birds are indicative of the general size differences between our countries. Houses, tomatoes, cars, roads and pop cans all are larger over here. There’s something precious about their diminutive bottles of dish washing liquid and tiny toothpaste tubes. I might also say that Canadians are fatter but from what I’ve witnessed it’s a close race. It could be because pints of beer and chocolate bars are the same size.

Good Omens

I am pretty sure I saw a robin yesterday. It was across the back laneway, but I swear I could see the red breast. It flew off, landing in another tree where its round-belly silhouette looked right for a robin. The earliest I have seen a robin. And it was in a tree. Rachel Curry, our cleaning lady when I was a kid always said it was good luck if the first robin seen in spring was in a tree. Yes, I am positive it was a robin. Or maybe I am just desperate for any sign of good luck.

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