Monday, May 31, 2010

Barn Burner

“Don’t do it.” Said Jimmy in a shaky voice. He knew his brother, and once his mind was made up there was no changing it.
     “No, it’ll be okay, just watch”. Ted lit a tentative match and placed it on a small pile of grass. The barn was airless and smelled of wood and hay. In an instant the heap, no bigger than a seven year old’s fist, went up in flames and within seconds the entire barn was in flames.
     The boys escaped in time but 40,000 bales of hay were gone and the cows went without their tea.


Nicholas Lacaille kept to himself. He was good at school, not so good at making friends, and completely helpless with girls. But he had one special talent that broke through all that and even gave him a certain level of schoolyard cred: He made things burn . . . in elaborate and dangerous ways.
     So, on the beach, where most of the fire pits tended to come and go with the tide and the season, there was always one guaranteed to gather a crowd, whenever Nick happened by with the latest trick he’d discovered on the Internet or received through the mail.

Aversion Therapy

Sandy’s gramma was going dotty. She chain-smoked, but always forgot she had an open pack going. There were decks of smokes all over her house; easy to lift without her knowing. “Have one!” insisted Sandy, as they sampled the product. Joan had not really enjoyed her first smoke, but she took the pack home and hid it under her bed. A couple of days later her mother found it while vacuuming. Joan had to sit and smoke the whole pack, one after the other. Aversion therapy that did not work. In her teens Joan took up smoking with enthusiasm.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Smoking in the Boys Room

Dad had hosted a cribbage night and retired shortly before I got up on Saturday morning. I went to the basement to inspect the post-party debris. The leavings of an El Producto Corona sat in the ashtray, and although it wasn’t smoldering it was still live. I took a big draw from it, the way I’d watched Dad do and a huge jet of hot smoke went rushing into my lungs. I let out a violent cough and the butt rolled under the card table. I ran back upstairs to watch my cartoons, mildly aware that I’d done something naughty.

The Queen of Marvin Gardens

Diane had no patience for board games and would usually just go through the motions in the hope she’d be the first knocked out. Monopoly, however, presented a special challenge: it took so long to finish, and all of the losing usually happened near the end. Here she focussed on the long game, and did whatever she could to prevent people from getting the streets they needed to complete a set. Her strategy was to convince as many people as possible to hate this game as much as she, so that one day she’d never have to play it again.

Point of View

The television died. Dad said, “So be it.” He would not spend money replacing it. It did not take long for us to adjust. No doubt, that we were not teens was a significant factor. We played a lot of board games and we were lucky to live in a small town at a time when it was normal for kids to roam freely. Then it was football season. Suddenly a TV became a reasonable expense in the family budget. It was not long before we settled back into regular episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie,” and “My Favourite Martian.”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Let me tell you ’bout my best friend

The Screenager is limited to two hours per day on his PS3. The enforcement of this rule depends on a sliding scale of vigilance. If there’s company or I have a deadline then those two hours can stretch into the entire evening. And for as much as we parents whine about it, we had an equivalent. We all know the opening themes to Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family. Some even remember the more arcane Love American Style and the Courtship of Eddy’s Father. I don’t recall our parents yelling at us to get away from the television.

Get that thing out of my driveway!

After getting the estimate for a proper addition, we decided it would be cheaper just to purchase a mobile home.
     That would give our son some independence without actually forcing him out, a step out into the real world but with a guaranteed lifeline for food and water and power and poop.
     Sure, let him eat what he wants, sleep when he wants, party as loud as he can; and maybe someday, if he ever finds something he’s good at besides video games, he’ll scrape enough money together to buy enough gas and get that thing out of my driveway.

Playing House

For some reason it was the guys who moved out and got places of their own, rarely the girls. Probably because they had more access to the lucrative jobs out at The Point. They would usually rent an old farmhouse between three or four of them. The place would look like an untended dump in no time. Not only because of the sloppy habits of the guys, but also because the houses were perpetual party venues. There were always, however, willing girls happy to play house from time to time, who would whip the places into shape, at least temporarily.

The Checkers

I had a regular babysitting gig when I was sixteen years old. Several evenings a week I looked after a little girl while her mother worked the midnight shift at one of the local car plants. Of course my boyfriend Malcolm would come over and we’d play house after hurriedly getting young Kate to bed. This pattern continued until Kate’s grandparents started to drop up unexpectedly, say around eight or nine o’clock in the evening to talk with Kate’s mum, or to pick something up. And I always thought it very odd how they never knew their daughter’s work schedule.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dear Penthouse Forum . . .

Barbara had arranged with her parents for Joanne to mind their apartment while they enjoyed their vacation, and Joanne and I enjoyed some time away from her parents. This, at last, was my chance; and although I was pretty fuzzy on the logistics of such an undertaking, every day I’d map out a new strategy, and every evening we’d end up on the couch . . . kissing.
     And every night I’d hobble home to my warm little bed and my overheated imagination and regale myself with a series of increasingly fantastic escapades of what could’ve been.
     And start making plans for tomorrow.

Delusions of Rapture

Damned insistent fantasies. Joan often regretted her highly primed imagination. She could not stop her mind from fabricating complex fictions of a future life together every time she met a new guy. At the very least she set herself up for disappointment, but often these dreams themselves ended up destroying the budding relationship. The guys were scared off by her intensity. She would let slip a detail of her delusion, and a look of terror would appear in their eyes. They would stop calling. If she had never built her fantasy world, losing them would not be as thoroughly devastating.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Lainie hated Chrissy Hynde because she married Jim Kerr, thus robbing her of the delicious fantasy she’d been conjuring for several months. It didn’t matter that Jim was the front man for Simple Minds and Lainie lived in Tecumseh. My Richard would happily sleep with Keira Knightley if she came on to him at Gretsky’s but given the unlikeliness of that ever occurring, he says she’s too thin for him. I’m convinced that the reason Pete Townshend and I are not together is because he’s only seen me once, and as it was Massey Hall he was a bit preoccupied.


“Hey, kid,” says Kerr. “What’s round on both ends and high in the middle?”
     And the kid, who is Thom, looks back at us blankly and says, “I dunno, what?”
     He’s new to town, and here we are, the only other boys in the neighbourhood, blocking him out of the playground, and screaming out the answer together—“O-oooooh–HI–o-oooooh!”—and laughing . . . at him, of course, not the riddle.
     But he smiles all the same. “O-oooooooh!” he says, like he’s just discovered our deepest secret, turned our joke against us, and knows it’ll be years before we figure it out.

The Corner Office

The figure skating princesses had permanently colonized one corner of the change room. They were the ones who could do the flying camel, and the perfect twirl ending in an axel jump. They talked reverently of their legendary sister who had moved on to skate in the ‘Icecapades.’ When they were not talking of her they were talking about perfecting their own performances so they could follow her to glory. The coach would walk past the rest of us to bestow her presence and wisdom on that small clique. The rest of us were invisible except for our eager ears.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Da Vinci Cookies

The Brownies held their weekly coven in the classroom next to where we, a small collection of farmers’ children and trailer park kids, waited for the afternoon bus to take us home to Pike Creek. Their hard Mary-Janes made such a racket as they skipped down the halls, a giggling blur of brown polyester and maple leaf neckerchiefs. Together they worked on their secret crafts and badges. They sang their own songs and wrote cryptic messages with their little Brownie pencils. They macraméd and découpaged. It was like the Freemasons for white girls, for Christ’s sake and I wanted in.

The Ball

As a member of Cub Scout Pack 33, I was assigned automatically to a baseball team—even though I hated baseball, because I sucked at baseball—and so didn’t give baseball a second thought until I learned we’d won it all, and that I was to be awarded . . . a baseball.
     My mother suggested I give it to Eddy, my friend, who, although he’d not been on my team, had certainly worked harder than me. Except I wanted the ball and felt, in a way, I’d done my part, because we certainly wouldn’t have won had I bothered to show up.

Bantam Brewskies

The kids were 12 or 13 years old. Joan guessed that would make them peewees or bantams. Their coach was a fat, loud old fart whose presence took over the restaurant. The team came in without reservations for their end of season celebration. What kind of an idiot would do that? But the manager cobbled some tables together at the back to accommodate them. Once they were settled Joan went to take their order. “These guys have worked hard,” said the coach, “They deserve a round of beer.” Joan laughed, and then she realized the old jerk was not kidding.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bring Your Own Salt Shaker

The distinctive smell of beer and urinal pellets greeted the patrons of the Brunswick House, the cheapest watering hole in town. You ordered vats of draft, portioned out in ridiculously tiny pilsner glasses, like petite fours at a Troglodytes’ tea party. Irene and Carla, the singer-piano player duo, were the entertainment. Irene’s bawdy version of “I’ve got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” was a perennial favorite. But Carla, ever wary, fixed a gimlet eye on the audience, fearful some drunken undergrad would fling a bottle at her forehead. This is probably why the management insisted on the tiny beer glasses.


Who knows where they drink now, but in the early ’80s, at the University of Toronto, the engineers all drank at DJ’s.
     It was located, appropriately enough, beneath a monstrous tower built for the executives of Ontario Hydro, where at the end of every working day, young men might mingle with their future selves and swear they’d take a different path.
     But this is the story of Ray, a chemical engineer, who was caught there one night with a vial of pure ethanol, and so became the only engineer I’ve known to be banned from a bar just for drinking.

The Engineers

Our local was the Cameron House, my sister and I. It was our vibe – Queen West bohemian artsy. For awhile the place flew under the radar and we could enjoy the coziness of being with people like us. There were never any problems being misunderstood. And then the Cameron became ‘known’ and the ‘others’ arrived. We were enjoying a beer one evening when four engineers suddenly mobbed us, wanting to talk about art and literature. They tossed the names ‘Picasso’ and ‘Hemmingway’ about liberally. I think they were the only examples of an artist or a writer that they knew.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More of a Budgie, really

Paul wanted to be a culture-vulture. He bought tickets to the ballet and symphony, invested in expensive art and Billy Holiday records. He took up Creole cooking when it was considered the IT cuisine. But he was fighting a losing battle. He had a brain for math, did very well at an elite engineering college in Michigan and worked as an engineer for General Motors. Worse still, he lived with other engineers. Once while leafing through his copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly he found his roommate had taped a pubic hair to the first page of an article on male purses.

Coma Berenices

Atlanta would wait until dark for her swim, her white legs slipping into the still, black water, her long amber hair flecked with stars.
     “A natural redhead,” said Hercules, smiling.
     “And you know, how?” asked Nick.
     “Nothing like that,” said Hercules. “A party by the river. She showed up late with some dude, it was really hot, and they were already drunk enough just to strip right away and dive in . . . ”
     “Can we talk about something else?”
     “. . . a remarkable sight, really, considering what most girls end up sacrificing down there for guys just looking for a little tail.”
     Anything else.
Photo by Christophe Gilbert.


Joan just happened to look out her bedroom window late one night after getting up to pee. Elliot was walking with Wendy up the deserted street. It was winter and their breath hung around their hunched shoulders. Joan’s feet were icy, but she had to watch. Where had they been? she wondered. They stopped, turned toward each other. Tall Elliot wrapped Wendy with his arms and her upper body disappeared into the fold of the embrace. Joan got in bed. It was warm and welcoming. She imagined the pillow was Elliot’s chest and the comforter his arms around her.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yes, No, Maybe-so

At the beginning of the school year Scott took my notebook and wrote a love letter to me. His method for asking whether I accepted his intentions was to write the words “yes” and “no” over which he drew little boxes. I was expected to return the note with the appropriate box marked. Scott was a nice boy and I really did like him. I found the note in late May when I was cleaning out my papers. I added a “maybe” box, ticked it and handed it back to him. But it was too late, he had moved on.


I saw you again on the beach today, but you didn’t see me, probably couldn’t tell me from the rest of the parents and teachers and bosses that crowd all the fun from your life.
     And yet I was once the boy I saw you with, tall and strong and horny as hell . . . that young man still, but stuck inside this decrepit shell, with a quiver of middle-aged wiles—the wine and the car and the gifts that boy couldn’t ever afford—and maybe your shortcut to the grown-up world.
     Or would you rather take the long way around?

Love At First Swatch

I don’t know how I managed to charm the old Jews in the New York schmata trade. They are widely known to be the crankiest shop owners in the world. When I first started work as assistant designer in the costume department at Juilliard I was warned I would have to grovel, or I would never get my swatches. The one they said was the worst curmudgeon fell in love with me at first sight. Not only did I get my swatches, but, he would always tuck in a yard of something pretty. “Just for you,” he would say.

Cranky Birks

Last night at MJ’s, Roy commented on the antisocial cranks who run Birkenstock stores. Apparently, there is even a pecking order, as the curmudgeon who owns the Roncesvalles shop told him he thought the downtown shoe guy was a real bastard. I’ve noticed this same phenomenon with the grumps who manage used book stores and yarn shops. Maybe it’s a judgmental thing: I certainly haven’t read all those books, and I’m really not an accomplished knitter. But it might have more to do with selling goods associated with particular tastes, like being the guy who wears socks with his Birkens.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dress for Success

My first fulltime job was actually the last anyone expected me to dress up and shave, even though I had no one in particular to impress. And so, it wasn’t long before I decided to please myself and ditched the jacket that was always too hot and the cheap, hard shoes that cut at the back of my heals for a pair of white sneakers, bright shirts, and narrow ties. Come summer, I switched to sandals (that actually cost more than the aforementioned shoes) but always wore socks, which—in a nod to tradition—I chose to match my shirt.

A Certain Style

He had a scruffy beard that made him look like he spent the last ten years on a desert island. Joan assumed that he developed the look in his hippy youth and never bothered to change. Some people were like that; losing self-awareness after their crucial mating years and settling into a certain style that they never grew out of. Friends constantly urged him to spruce up his image and one day he showed up trimmed and clean-shaven, to reveal an acne-ravaged face and the almost complete absence of a chin. Better grow it back, Joan thought.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Take the Tooker

This man shows up about three times a year at my neighbour’s house. He’s riding what was once a blue bicycle but over time has Gollumed into a mobile sandwich board covered in politically-charged slogans and festooned with flags and banners written in a crabbed and crazy hand. Like his bike, his physical appearance changed over the years as he now looks like Robinson Crusoe, adrift from society with only his Schwinn to keep him company. One day we overheard him swearing a blue streak in French.
     “Don’t you dare,” cautioned Rich, when he saw the twinkle in my eye.

My First Cross-town Trip of the Season

I wasn’t looking forward to my first cross-town trip of the season, especially since the few times I’d managed to drag my bike around the neighbourhood had left me feeling that, after yet another long idle winter and the years piling on, there might be something not working quite right . . . probably the heart, because that would, of course, provide a most fitting end halfway up the first serious hill. And yet, to my surprise, I just flew along Queen and over the bridge, because sometimes it turns out all you really need is a little more air in your tires.

The X Factor

The interview was going very well. It was for a peach of a job as executive assistant to the CEO of one of the top arts organizations in the country. This was the initial phone interview and I thought I was really clicking with the woman on the other end of the line. I truly believed I was going to get the second interview and I enthused about the job, telling her it was perfect in every way – it was even great for bike commuting. “Oh, you ride a bike to work?” she responded dryly. “I’ll be in touch.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crystal Method

Sergio and Vic maintain that I was fired from the Department of Justice because I positioned my desk at a 45˚ angle. But I believe it was the crystals in my window. DOJ’s tolerance for eccentric decorating decreased as you moved up the corporate ladder. It indulged those paralegals with gee-gaw cluttered cubicles and a forest of spider plants. Corner offices, reserved for senior lawyers were expected to be pristine, allowing for only a tasteful print or a yucca plant. I had a tiny middle office and a nebulous title, so I could blur the lines, but not that far.

The Calm of Your Cubicle

It’s been so long since I’ve worked all day every day in a little box among boxes that I can barely remember how it feels to be surrounded on three sides by those warm woolly walls and yet so open behind, what it’s like to squeeze onto those elevators at least six times a day (including lunch and coffee breaks) packed so tightly into yet another tiny box, surrounded by all the strangers they bring in from the other floors just to fill in the holes so tightly that you come to look forward to the calm of your cubicle.

Image: Lunch by George Tooker, 1964, Columbus Museum of Art.

Low Rise

In order to qualify for maternity benefits, I took a long contract with a firm on the 26th floor of the bank tower. I had other assignments in sky-scrapers before that, but this was the first time it occurred to me that it could be perilous. During high winds one day, the building swayed enough that the vertical blinds on the windows clanked against each other. And then there was the fire drill, where I had to walk down 26 flights of stairs while heavily pregnant. Years later 9/11 affirmed my vow to work only in low buildings.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

World Mini-Series

In 1993, I worked at the Department of Justice in First Canadian Place. Although the idea of holing dozens of lawyers thirty-three storeys up in the air appealed to me, I hated working so high up in the sky. After the Blue Jays won the World Series we all gathered in a corner office to watch the parade down Bay Street. A line of ants riding in teeny tiny cars. Joe Carter’s big smile was hardly visible. My hero Pat Borders, a stumpy lad at best, became barely a speck. I was watching little baseball Whos in an urban Whoville.

He’d Only Be Getting Wetter

I have always enjoyed the summer storms that come fast and hard, with thunder rolling through the busy downtown streets, the rain driving people back to the shops, and me protected behind my plate-glass perch, twelve storeys up, with a broad, treeless view of the unfolding drama below. I once saw a man, though, someone strangely out of place, like an animal walking calmly against the pull of his herd to the slaughter, walking slowly down the street even as the rain picked up, then the only person still out, walking towards his motorbike knowing he’d only be getting wetter.


That summer Joan and Sandy had one goal. To find a boyfriend with a bike. A motorcycle. They wanted to be seen, wearing halter tops and cut-off shorts, on the back of a bike, clutching a handsome guy wearing black leathers. And they decided it had to be a Kawasaki. For some reason that was the bike that held cachet for them. Unfortunately, their search for the perfect summer accessory came to no avail. None of the guys they met who owned bikes matched up to the physical qualifications they had in mind. They tended to be smelly, too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Rum Runner

Gérard ran booze using his boat rather than his truck. For one, it was easier to fool the police. But most importantly this activity thrilled his moll, and if he followed up with a smelt dinner, he was a shoe-in. But these fish came at the beginning of the season, and it wasn’t until summer that the romance of petty crime on the Detroit River truly blossomed. For gals seeking a bit of rough in the 1950s what better than a Chris Craft loaded with contraband Old Vienna and skippered by a perpetually shirtless Frenchman with an eye patch?


“I think what I need is stunt double,” said Nick. “I could still shoot off my mouth, but he’d stand in when they came looking to clobber me.”
     “Why not just buy a little helmet or something?” asked Atalanta.
     “No, there’s more. Like this trip. Suppose the script calls for you to fall overboard and I save you?”
     “But who’d save you?”
     “Exactly!” said Nick, “Because it wouldn’t be me, and there’d be no way to tell us apart . . . except, perhaps, for the scars.”
     “You do realize there’s barely room on this boat for the one of you, right?”


The Premiere’s son lived in the same residence as my brother. I already knew that. So when he brought Bob Davis home for a long weekend visit, I was impressed that Tim had made such a prestigious friend. And I was very flattered when Bob asked me out on a date. He was not really my type, I had to admit, but there were definitely bragging rights involved, and I let all my friends know about this special distinction. Tim and Bob were laughing at my gullibility behind my back. After all Bob Davis is a pretty common name.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Joshua was a Gemini, and predisposed to lead a double life. He waited tables during the week and kept an unassuming but stylish apartment. But on weekends he was a Confidence Trickster. His ability to anticipate a person’s wants made him a natural for both jobs. He discovered this fairly early on in life, as at the age of five he could mix his grandmother a perfect Cosmopolitan while simultaneously lifting the change purse from her handbag. Although he spent a lot of time with other servers his favorite people were women who couldn’t tell a real diamond from paste.

Now Playing

My first apartment was actually only half of a once grander apartment, over a store on Mount Pleasant Road. I got the kitchen and the dining room, and my neighbour got the parlour and the master bedroom. My bedroom had once been the back porch, with a window—now a built-in bookcase—left behind on the inside wall. Between the kitchen and the dining room was another small pass-through window, which wasn’t particularly useful for passing stuff through, so I put my stereo system underneath and used the tiny window sill like the Now Playing display in the record store.

Judgement Day

Joan was there only because Sandy knew the guys in the band, but Rock-a-Billy grabbed her immediately. She had never been a fan of country music, but this fast-paced, fun genre had her on the dance floor all night long. Afterwards they hung with the band members in the green room downstairs. A chemical reaction occurred between Joan and the lead singer, and they ended up taking a cab back to her place. The first thing he did was to inspect her cassette collection. “Abba?” he exclaimed incredulously, and picked up his jacket. “Well, I gotta go.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vinyl Lionel

Some berk told my friend Roy his music collection was “the febrile browsings of the bargain bin”. Why would Roy let him in his house? Never having met him, I can only imagine what he looks like. He has short black hair and his dated Van Dyke clings to him like black capris on a fat lady. He is never without his list of titles and still gets a boner when he recalls that day he scooped a Captain Beefheart bootleg at a garage sale. It is seldom played but kept in a thick plastic sleeve, in the “C” section.

The Febrile Browsings of the Bargain Bin

If you want to talk about music, that’s fine, but don’t expect the conversation to get much beyond what I like and what I don’t. The theory and practice elude me completely.
     At one of my rare house parties, someone had the effrontery to describe my CD collection as “the febrile browsings of the bargain bin,” and I had nothing with which to defend myself, except to tell him that I had, in fact, purchased most at full price.
     At another party, someone else told me that timing was more important than pitch, but I suspect he was a drummer.

Burning Fury

He was dripping with sweat by the time he finished his lengthy drum solo. He looked around the audience for approval and to Joan’s great contempt, he was getting it. Mostly from the guys. In her eyes it had been just one long, boring interruption. The moment she dreaded at every dance she went to. And bands seemed to insist on it. “What the heck?” she thought, “it is a DANCE, not a tribute to crappy drummers.” Scanning the faces illuminated by the stage lights, the drummer’s eyes fell on one with eyes lit up by burning fury.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Turn the Page

I always hoped a boy would ask me to dance during one of those long Bob Seger songs. They were even better than the glacially-paced Stairway To Heaven, because they avoided that speedy “and as we wind on down the road…” bridge where you stood there with your partner feeling every awkward minute of your thirteen years. All my girlfriends loved to dance with Mike Brecka. He made it a point to have at least one dance with each girl at the party and when he danced with you, he was in the moment. Sometimes he asked me twice.

Suddenly Slow

It wasn’t long after we’d started Grade 7 that our in-class parties took a horrifying turn.
     Till then, they had been mostly innocent affairs, all chips and cookies and an afternoon off, but suddenly they were all about dancing . . . slow dancing . . . with girls.
     It was as if the entire female half of the class had made a secret agreement with Mrs. Applebaum to allow them to humiliate the boys. Maybe one day we’d get what we wanted, but in Room 26, the girls still ran the show. They chose the music—mostly slow—and they decided who danced with whom.

Not Like That Dork

He actually had a fencing scar. It slashed sharply upward like an arrow pointing to his smoothly bald head. He took my hand and raised me from the table, leaning over to kiss me fingers. I felt like I was in a romance novel. On the dance floor he drew me towards him, but not too close. Not like the stumbling dork who had been stepping on my toes during the last dance. With just enough pressure applied to the small of my back, he guided me around the room in a swirling arc. My feet barely skimmed the floor.

Nice Day for a White Wedding

Most men won’t dance. They feel like dorks doing it and really are only willing to dance with you if they are loaded or complete horndogs. We’ve all witnessed the guy dance: thumbs stuck in front pockets, legs stick-straight as they hop insitu until Billy Idol stops singing. But then there are those old guys who learned to dance the proper way. They’re a dying breed, but you can still see them at weddings cutting a rug with their wives, their Florsheims floating above the parkay flooring. They too are half in the bag but they just want to foxtrot.

Friday, May 14, 2010


     “I’m Jason,” said the man between songs. “Can I buy you a drink?”
     “Probably not,” said Atalanta. “Unless you want to break the law.”
     “Okay then, princess, how about a dance instead? Unless there’s a law against that, too.”
     “Sorry, captain, but I already have a boyfriend.”
     “But I don’t see him here with you now.”
     “He doesn’t like to dance.”
     “No drinking. No dancing. So, what does bring you here on a night like this?”
     “A horndog with a minivan and a fistful of free drink coupons.”
     “Well played,” said Jason. “Maybe you can buy me a drink.”


Sandy leaned in to Joan’s ear.
     “That guy’s staring at you.”
     “I know.”
     Joan was avoiding eye contact.
     Now he was removing his shirt, pretending he wanted to get some sun, but Joan knew he thought he could seduce her with his body. She suppressed the urge to curl her lip, knowing he would use any reaction as an invitation.
     He was making it hard, though, as he hiked up his pants, obviously believing that she would find his bulge impressive.
     You could not tell a guy like that he was pitiful; he would think you were flirting.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Toe-hold on Propriety

How has society evolved so that it’s taboo to expose breasts, two of the most beautiful things God gave us, but acceptable for any garden-variety tree sloth to go barefoot?   I know someone who grows her toe nails extra long to make her feet look thinner.  Another has a penchant for slides yet the backs of her cankles resemble packed gravel.  And why don’t they arrest women with bunions who insist on flip flops? And the guys? Why is it unseemly if a man enjoys a beer in a public park but okay for him to parade around in Tevas?   


It was cereal again for breakfast, knee to knee in the tiny galley, and everyone else still asleep.
     “Attractive?” she said. “I don’t need you to be nice to me, Nick. What I want is your objective opinion.”
     “I was just trying to . . .”
     “Well, let’s just try again harder now, shall we? . . . starting at the bottom with these ridiculous feet, which may be great for swimming, but try to find a nice pair of shoes. My hips are too wide, my eyes are too narrow, and this beak of mine is only preposterous . . .”
     “Should I be writing this down?”


There were things she could tolerate when she first met him. She even found them endearing. Such as the absent-minded way he often left the keys hanging from the lock when he let himself into the apartment. Love is blind, after all. But, now she was getting tired of constantly having to shepherd him through life, safeguarding his every step, because his behavior could prove fatal. His personal grooming was atrocious, too. How dare he come to bed with such disgusting feet; toe-nails so long they gouged her calves when he snuggled up, so innocent of her disdain?

My Kingdom for a Pedicure

We were sitting on a blanket in High Park on a beautiful August evening. I should have been listening to the play unfolding in front of me, but I couldn’t get past her bare feet. They looked like the hulls of two boats, rusted out and hoary. Who lets their feet get so nasty? She was an archaeologist like me, for crying out loud, not some Bedouin goat-herder who hadn’t seen a sandal since the last rainy season. And there they were, covered in barnacles and docked perilously close to the egg salad.
     “What are you looking at?” She asked.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Midsummer's Night Dream

How lucky was she to have a boyfriend so cool and so confident that he didn’t care what the dullards around him might think, who had such a body that looked good in whatever he wore, and who wasn’t afraid to show it off now and then?
     So, to hell with Shakespeare in the park, and to hell with everyone staring as he picked his way down the crowded hillside. But most of all, to hell with her having to explain all the time why her boyfriend was wearing a skirt.
     “It’s not a skirt,” she sneered. “It’s a sarong.”

Men In Skirts

There is nothing sexier than a man in a skirt or a robe. Think Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn, or Omar Shariff in Lawrence of Arabia. And kilts! At the tartan shop in Edinburgh they offered family pictures with everybody wearing tartan. Fun, I thought, until I saw the price—close to $200 CDN. When I mentioned it to our host however, he dragged out his kilt and tarted Steve up in the full regalia so we could take a picture of him with a shot of scotch in hand. My heart flutters every time I look at that photo.

Amazing Face

Perhaps because it is foreign to my tribe, I cannot understand the lure of bagpipes. They are loud, take forever to warm up, and unless you’ve passed piobaireachd 101 you have no idea what’s going on. Also, unlike a guy playing a bass or a girl playing the cello, there is nothing sexy in it. You would never catch a French Canadian man circular breathing so he could play on his chanter and squeeze his bag at the same time. Or would he if he could? Come to think of it, kilts could be rather fetching with the right knees.

Robby Burns Day, 1989

What must the Sons of Scotland have thought of the table we had reserved for their Robbie Burns supper?!? . . . a whole table of mostly twenty-somethings in a hall full of dusty old kilts, Ed Oikawa in his tuxedo (“You’re obviously nae Scottish!”) and John proudy wearing a necktie in the Logan tartan his parents had unwittingly adopted when they’d anglicized their name.
     Poor Catherine was the only fair lassie there, and although she was happy with the swarthy lad who’d escorted her, the Sons of Scotland just assumed she’d arrived with only true Scot at the table . . . who was gay.

French Toast

She was having trouble following the animated conversation at dinner. She was okay with French, one-to-one, if the other person spoke clearly, but it was hard to distill even the most familiar words from this rat-a-tat drumroll of rippling ‘R’s. She began to drift into her own thoughts. Suddenly all the faces at the table were turned toward her expectantly. She was the proverbial deer in the headlights. Quickly she held up her glass.
     “Salut!” she proclaimed.
     A pause, then her host raised her glass in reply.
     She wished she knew what she was toasting.


“So there we were with our lawn chairs arranged in a big circle in this douche-bag’s back yard.” Tom scratched the bridge of his nose and scowled into the middle distance. He felt like an idiot for dragging his wife on a GO train to attend his co-worker’s barbeque. Life was far too short for this sort of thing.
     “And no one talked to you for the whole time?” Kim smiled, incredulous.
     “No. Nobody knew us so they weren’t interested. They just ate their hamburgers and talked about the Bass Pro Shop.”
     “French manicures?”
     “On the women, yes.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


If you find yourself at a party looking to impress someone new with some gossip you swore not to share, you might first consider the Protection Postulate, which suggests groups of protohumans instinctively lapsed into spontaneous silences so as to listen for danger.
     And speaking of danger, you might also consider your proximity to the subject of the story, who quite unexpectedly heard: “ . . . and what would you say if I told you it wasn’t the fertility treatments at all, but that his mother was fucking her doctor?”
     And who answered from across the room: “You’re dead, you little prick.”


Joan thought it would be okay to bring Sandy along for dinner. Plans with friends were already in place to try the Ethiopian restaurant when Sandy asked if she could visit for the weekend. It had been awhile since Joan had seen her old friend, who still lived back in the hometown. The food was good, and it seemed to be authentic, given the high percentage of Ethiopian patrons. The restaurant was bustling but suddenly there was one of those lulls when things go silent. At that moment Sandy piped in, “Funny how everybody here looks like Sammy Davis Junior!”

No AIDS in God's Country

I have no beef with stay-at-home-moms, unless you have nineteen children and are featured on a TLC reality show.  You know who you are, you born-again corn-pone doormat.  I just watched how, in the spirit of racial tolerance and understanding you took your Chiclet-toothed hoard to an Ethiopian restaurant.  Such bizarre food and entertaining people!  You felt like you were actually in Africa, bible in hand.  Wasn’t it funny when little Jimbo said he felt like puking?  Or when little Jambo kept rolling her eyes?  Next time, just feed one of your children to a starving family in Dolo Odo. 

Loot Bag Mary

I know I’m not first, but I curse the parent who invented the Loot Bag.
     Maybe it was a stay-at-home mom with too much time on her hands, or even the best of intentions, but she ended up creating an inexorable rise in birthday-party expectations that began in her neighbourhood and spread outward like a virus. She was Patient Zero in an epidemic of conspicuous consumption made all the more insidious because it masks itself as a kindness to children.
     I may not be the first to curse her, but I’d really like to be the first to find her.

Image from Goodie Gum Drops.

Snubbed Swag

I spotted the bag lying on the street outside the film festival party that I had attended as riff-raff. The VIP’s celebrated in a roped-off section, drinking free champagne, leaving laden with swag bags, to be swept away in waiting limos. It was one of those bags abandoned on the curb. Opening it I saw that the contents had been rifled through and were mostly gone, but a soft red scarf had been snubbed. Spoiled celebs, too good to wear rayon. The night had turned chilly and it kept my neck warm for the bike ride home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pin the Tail on the Hobo

Thinking they were just fake scimitars, I bought a half dozen as party favors for Dan’s seventh birthday. Upon discovering that they were actual knives I was tempted to ditch the pirate theme for a more politically incorrect one. I’d serve Coke and Cheetos and those really cheap hotdogs made from connective tissue and Pope’s noses. We’d watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre and then I’d send allthe little dears home with a real knife and a jawbreaker. But I wimped out and instead offered a mealey-mouthed disclaimer to each parent to chose whether little Dante brought home his killer keychain.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Fourth Cut

I own four Swiss Army knives.
     The first I bought when I hadn’t much money but really wanted a knife that could cut down a tree.
     The second—a Christmas present from my sister’s new boyfriend—fit on a keychain and, as he said, was handy for clipping your nails when you had nothing else to do.
     The third was a parting gift from my first job, the largest model available, and so should’ve been my last; but for the fourth, which I got from my girlfriend and thought . . . why don’t you know I already have three of these things?

Rare And Beautiful

“What do you want for your birthday?”
     “Something rare and beautiful.”
     She really did not care, as long his offering demonstrated that he paid some kind of attention to her soul. It was what she sought to do when she chose gifts – to delight and surprise with the unexpected. She refused to be like her friend, Gail, who gave her husband a shopping list of purchases to make that included directions to which stores and in which sections to find the items. Although she was not above dropping hints. Had he been listening, he would never have needed to ask.

Friday, May 7, 2010

For only a second

I was five when Mrs. Drajic gave me an Ukrainian Easter egg. I lost it immediately and was devastated. This precious thing was mine for only three minutes. I know I appeared ungrateful, but the truth was that I placed it on a hedge to admire it. The waxy egg nested there for a second, its reds and blacks glowed in the April sunlight. It looked so exquisite that only a mythical bird of the rarest beauty could have claim to it. But then it sunk to the ground and neither me nor Mr. Drajic could ever find it again.

L’Enfant Sauvage

Generation after generation, the hedges of T. S. Darling Park had grown large and hollowed out slowly by the children who played there. Our parents expected the Town of Mount Royal to provide a selection of well maintained playground equipment, but it was these grand bushes that truly excited our imagination. Over the years, they had become like little houses inside, with individual rooms, and dirt floors hard packed. In one there was even a bathroom where someone said I could go and I did, right in the middle of Montréal. I was five, and there was no taming me.

Image from the Calgary Cinematheque Society.

Avoiding Domestication

Something in his clothes made her sneeze. At first she assumed it was the detergent he used, then she decided those clothes had not seen detergent for awhile. It must be some kind of mold growing on them. Yet he was meticulously dressed to give the coolest impression possible. Somehow she knew if she accepted his invitation back to his place, the same smell would pervade. And she would look in his fridge and find containers with fuzzy food in them. Another single guy avoiding domestication until the last minute. She would not be the one to tame him.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shrunken Meds

When I was a child I loved the Fantastic Voyage. I remember those tiny doctors in their white suits, the blobby corpuscles and squelchy arteries. What would have happened if the tiny scientists reverted back to full size while they were in the guy’s body? I’m sure Stephen Hawking has the answer to that one. And how did they get out in the end? Did Raquel Welsh and the others exit out of the guy’s butt, or did they make him sneeze?
     “Tear Drop.” said Richard and went downstairs to watch the British election, a story full of imploding assholes.


“So,” asked Nick. “Can someone please tell me exactly what the fuck just happened?”
     “I’m sorry,” said Atalanta, “but I think it’s just another case of Jason Strikes Again.”
     “So, you’re telling me I should have seen this coming?”
     “Well, as mother always said, a leopard can’t change his spots.”
     “But why do something like that?” said Nick. “Why be like that? How does someone get that way?”
     “Maybe it’s like one of those stories,” said Atalanta, smiling. “How the Camel Got His Hump; How the Giraffe Got His Neck; . . .”
     “Exactly!” said Nick. “How the Ass Got His Hole.”

What’s In A Name?

A rose would smell as sweet by any other name, they say, but I have often wondered about that. I paid great attention to the meanings when I was naming my babies. I, myself, was named for two maiden aunts who raised my father because his mother was ill. I was greatly disturbed when I got old enough to look up the meanings of my name. ‘Mary’ is Hebrew for bitterness; ‘Joseph’ means ‘he shall add to.’ So, logically, Josephine would be ‘SHE shall add to.’ Did my parents curse me, and those around me, for life with that christening?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lost in Translation

I have always maintained that food sounds much better in French than in English. I‘d much rather eat a Croque Monsieur than a grilled cheese or pain doré instead of French toast. Pomme de terre sounds much more substantial than potato whereas graisse de rôtis becomes a healthier spread than lard drippings. But my favorite hands-down, is that little amuse-bouche made from left over pastry dough and preserves. Who could turn down a pet de sœur, fresh and hot from the oven, the sugary fruit filling still bubbly? But show me the cretin who would eat a nun’s fart.

Dirt Apples

Yesterday, on the ride home, I stopped off at the supermarket to buy something for dinner: a flat of sausages, a bag of bok choy, and four big dirty potatoes for baking. But since my knapsack was already pretty much full, I ended up having to cycle the rest of the way with all four potatoes hanging from my handlebars in the flimsy bag I’d snapped from the roll near the bin, wrapped around my wrist and swinging with every stroke, everything feeling just fine, almost there . . . but then suddenly feeling quite different. Like that one time the rubber broke.

Boot Envy

Joany loved Natasha’s high riding-style rubber boots. They looked better than the ones Joany’s mom bought her, and they were much better for puddle stomping. Joany’s clumsy clod-hoppers came to just above the ankle. Water always splashed in over the top. It started to pour one afternoon when she was playing at Natasha’s and Joany was in heaven when she was loaned Natasha’s boots and raincoat. The first big puddle she saw, Joany plunged her foot in. Her face went white as her leg sunk into deep mud, filling up the envied boots.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gummie Mummies

Hunter boots are verboten in Richard’s family as they tend to be worn by Poseurs rather than actual farmers. But within days of their arrival in our local shoe shop every woman with a Peg-Pérego and a SIGG water bottle was wearing a pair. Hunter boots walked out of the local video store. They were at the dog park with their pugs. They lined up for $6 organic owl-pellet bread and dozed in the hallways during restorative yoga. They have become the Crocs of the Strollertariat. Maybe they’ve jumped the sartorial shark or maybe they have found their natural habitat.


“Me and my brother,” said the driver, “we’re just the delivery men, if you will. Mr. Littlebear, he’s the boss—the owner and manager of Booties nightclub and bar . . . and part-time bouncer, but only because he likes it.
     “It’s a pretty new club in a pretty small town, so Mr. Littlebear brought us on to round up all the pretty boys and girls we can and help them find a better party.”
     “Do you really think a girl can find a better party at a place called Booties?” asked Atalanta.
     “Admittedly,” said the driver, “we do get more guys.”

Band Wheels

There was a big school bus parked on the beach every Friday and Saturday. Wheels for the bands that played the dance hall on weekends. Painted psychedelic colours, often with some kind of mural, and the band’s name splashed across the side. Joan longed to catch the attention of one of the bandmembers, preferably the lead singer, and be invited in. She imagined partying with the guys and being asked to travel around with them for the rest of their tour. Maybe they would let her bang the tambourine on stage. She would be the envy of her friends.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Van Go

Before emerging from my white trash cocoon, I aspired to create van art. Not that Monster Garage crap but conceptual, sensitive storyboards resplendent with mythical beings in pointy hats and billowy cloaks that cleverly hid their difficult-to-draw hands and feet. I envied the artistic genius who airbrushed the Silver Ghost, the coolest ride in the trailer park. Here, a big-busted warrior-woman in a diaphanous, nippley sheaf stared into the distance. She was flanked by a pair of wolves, rendered tame by the sheer depth of her beauty and wisdom. She was Gandalf’s trophy wife and I wanted to draw her.

Canes Venatici

No one had to tell her not to get into a car with a man she knew nothing about, but this was a van.
     Well, more like a little school bus for grown-ups.
     And in spite of the party, and the fact that her ride had run off, the man she knew nothing about was about to save her the rest of a long and dark walk home, and then . . . who knows?
     “It’s not like that at all,” he said. “It’s my job. To round up girls. For the club.”
     “Of course,” she said, putting on her shoes.


Joan closed the door behind her, leaning in, fighting the strong urge to open it and yell, ‘Come back!’ Married just three months, yet she almost succumbed to a dalliance with a man she met at a bookstore reading. He - charming and persistent. Very attractive. Kindred Spirit. She - proud she was able to resist. But touch and go until the last minute when he dropped her off. Accepting the ride no doubt taken as the message it almost was. Robert away on business. The phone rang as the latch clicked into place. His dedicated daily phone call to say goodnight.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Bearded Lady

Unwittingly, Jennifer was a beard for two adulterous colleagues. For years the three of them travelled together. As the third person she lent a certain credibility, especially since the two women shared a hotel room. She never thought it strange that the pair was inordinately fond of poker, and that each night after work they’d insist on an evening of drinking and cards. Jen found it deadly boring but in the spirit of camaraderie, went along with it. She thought, “How could they stand hour after hour of this ridiculous game?” They thought, “Is this cow ever going to bed?”

In the Cards

Even if you always manage to play your cards right, there’ll come a time, before you cash in your chips, when you’ll be dealt a bad hand.
     Sure, some will say that you’ve got play with the hand you’ve been dealt, but let’s lay our cards on the table and call a spade a spade: people like that are seldom playing with a full deck.
     Because really, even when the chips are down, you’ve probably still got at least one more ace up your sleeve, and that’s the best time to follow suit, up the ante, and call their bluff.

The Cards We Are Dealt

There are the cards fate deals us; and there is what we do with them. Like a hand of cribbage, we have only a certain number of cards that we know, and but it is up to chance how the crib will shape up, or what card will turn up in the cut. You can really only make the best of what you know you have, and hope you have done the right thing. At the end we aspire to look back in satisfaction. Ironically, it is considered a prefereable death when we have left the best life possible behind.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Black Coffee Baby

In Making History, Stephen Fry crafted a universe where Hitler had never been born, but in his stead a more maniacal leader succeeded in winning the war for Germany. Sort of an evil corollary to It’s a Wonderful Life. I often think that had my mom not lived on cigarettes and black coffee during her pregnancy, I’d be a 5′ 10 Rhodes Scholar. Maybe that rogue blonde gene would’ve kicked in rather than that bit of DNA that made me so dark. Still, fate could have went the other way leaving me to raise my seventeen goat-haired children in Abitibi.

Flag, Schmag

For a country founded at the height of the Enlightenment, America certainly came to love creating fanciful tales about its history.
      Most Americans, for instance, still believe Betsy Ross sewed the first flag. There’s even a story of how Washington’s original sketch called for six-pointed stars—like the Star of David—until Betsy demonstrated how easy it was to cut one with five.
      In my story, however, I imagine a world where they stuck with George’s design and how, through a series of subtle alterations to the timeline, this small symbol led to the landslide election of President Joseph Lieberman.

The Perfection of the Universe

What could be more compelling than the stars? It is a complex series of emotions that fills my soul when I look up at the sparkling sky on a clear night, camping up north where there is no smog or light pollution to dim the majesty of the heavens. I am overwhelmed by the depth and limitlessness, the concept of eternity. It jostles me between scary and comforting, humbling and elevating, inspiring and numbing. I tilt my head back and gaze, contemplating the perfection of the universe... but that idea is shattered when it is necessary to use the latrine.

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