Saturday, July 31, 2010

97B Yonge

I would often miss the last subway home and end up waiting for the bus they run until dawn, up and down Yonge Street, to gather the shift workers, the cleaning ladies, and the under-aged drinkers.
It was a lonely stop on a fifteen-minute schedule, one long block south of the main intersection at Eglinton, where at long last I could see the bus—my bus—pull up to the curb, empty itself of passengers, and drive away to the yards . . . another long wait, for the bus they call the Vomit Comet had once again lived up to its name.

Photo by Eyeline-Imagery.

Level Five

Waiting for the Lansdowne South bus is one of the most soul sucking experiences available to Parkdale residents. There is no queue to speak of, just a mass of the damned riding its eternal ride to Queen Street. Schedules are mythical and when the bus does appear, the tiny shelter vomits out dozens of the unwashed and unloved like some sort of ringwraithe clown car. I picture mornings in TTC hell where some senior demon, probably Scottish, metes out the day’s punishments, “Okay you bastard”, he’d say fixing a sadistic eye on a newly-condemned driver, “have fun with the 47 south.”

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Ugly American

We were in the gift shop after touring the Globe Theatre. Next on the agenda was lunch. The salesclerk was ringing my purchase through when an obviously American woman came rushing up and asked her for advice on the best place to eat in the area. The salesclerk shrugged coldly, almost rudely, answering that all the restaurants were good. Since I, too, was interested in lunch I perked up, saying, “So any place around here is fine?” To me, she smiled and recommended a specific eatery, saying, “I hate the way they always jump queue.” I knew she meant Americans.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dining with Americans

The Canadians had been sent down to Texas to work with their American counterparts. We wrote the manuals, but they had to train people how to use the equipment, so there was lots to talk about . . . and lots to learn about dining out in that part of the States. Whenever something wasn’t quite right, we’d happily ignore the problem, while they’d see it as a challenge to the free-market system and try to score a free meal. The Texans were particularly good at this game, until something in the prime rib took them out for the remainder of the season.

Strange Animal

Like the guy who whistled for Mabel to get him “another Black Label,” the idiot next to us at the sushi restaurant was a finger snapper. He was abrupt with the server and just spoke louder when she faltered with English. He had a familiar Gowan, circa 1982 vibe. I could be wrong but I think he was the host of a local teen show called Ghost Trackers, where ’tweens roam the city’s historic houses afterhours in search of hauntings. If only he’d used his parabolic microphone last night he could have heard the other diners calling him a douchebag.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reversing the Trend

I feel sorry for the makers of Black Label beer, who were no doubt mystified why their previously low profile beer had a surge in popularity in certain fringe culture bars in Toronto. I met the guy they hired to capitalize on the profits. He developed an edgy ad campaign meant to appeal to the ‘type’ of people who patronized those bars. For awhile the beer’s popularity shot up more, but then it fizzled out. He did not realize those ‘type’ of people ordered Black Label because it was not widely advertized, striving to resist being influenced by marketing.


When I was still in high school, there ran an ad campaign to convince potential employers in Ontario that the handicapped were quite capable of performing most jobs.
     Their slogan was: “Label us able!”
     Now, I have always been a pretty good speller, but there are a number of outlying words that still give me trouble, and so I latched onto this as a useful mnemonic for sorting out which of those words should end in “–le” and which in “–el.”
     The problem is that I got it all wrong and became convinced that “lable” was the way to go.

Fashion Bitch

I could never be a label whore because those tiny demons are like little ribbons of torture, itchy little hair shirts. I can feel them regardless of the material they are made from or their location on the garment and immediately have to cut them out. In fact, if I’ve forgotten to remove a label prior to wearing the item I’ll try to tear it out or bite it off. I’ve ruined many outfits this way. I’m like a dog with a piece of tape stuck to its rear, turning in circles to get that damn thing off my back.

Guerilla Costumer

As a costume designer, my eye that would zero in from the back row on the tiniest thread hanging from a hem. Nothing escaped my attention and I am sure the costume shop staff often rolled their eyes, but it was my name that was going on the programme. So you can imagine how hard it is for me to walk down the street seeing people with various garment flaws. I can imagine myself in my dotage creeping up behind people on streetcars and turning in all the labels I see sticking out of the backs of t-shirts and sweaters.

Perfect, Just Perfect!

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’ve always been quite the perfectionist, particularly with anything I buy. When I had enough money to start buying fancy electronics, one particular purchase went back twice to the store for the tiniest imperfection. And every record was listened through first for the inevitable scratch. So, thank goodness for CDs and failing eyesight. And thank goodness for Apple for doing everything imaginable to guarantee its products emerge from the box still perfect and shiny. But after that, watch out, says the man who managed to scratch his iMac with his iSight.

Big Mac

On Roy’s advice I switched my office over from PC to Mac and instantly felt cooler. The space was transformed from a pile of maps and banker’s boxes in the middle of Parkdale to an urban working oasis, humming with creative people dressed in black. The new sleek monitors and shiny surfaces made me feel ten pounds thinner. I’m still using Word, but now I feel like a creative genius. Even Colin, my beloved luddite colleague figured out how to use it. Now we just need a coffee bar and someone to bring us lunch in those little steel containers.

Fighting for Formatting

What I hate most about Microsoft products is that the tacky formatting they force on you. I am horrified by the combination of colours and fonts that Microsoft calls ‘styles,’ I can imagine nothing less stylish. I have always prided myself for formatting a document to support the material, making it both attractive and easier to understand. I have to fight Microsoft word every step of the way to embed my own formatting. Seems like most people have given up, however, because as far as I can see just about every corporate document is starting to look the same nowadays.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Picture of William H. Gates

The power of Bill Gates, I’m convinced, comes not from the vast sums of money we spend every year on Microsoft products but from the great oceans of time those products suck from our lives. Whenever a Word document gets corrupted or an Excel spreadsheet loses its external links, we lose the time fixing the problem to Bill, and drop by drop he gains his strength from our puny losses. Even waiting for Windows XP to start up, I get a good sense of how the picture of Dorian Gray must have felt at the start of each new day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Here’s Shampoo in Your Eye

My dear friend Jim insists his office run on Word Perfect. He does this because he prefers that program to Microsoft Word. He also refuses to give Bill Gates any money. He’s on to something. Better than signing petitions or carrying placards, the best thing we can do is vote with our wallets. There are a lot of people who won’t get a penny of my dough. Topping my list are Wal-Mart succubus Rosalind G. Brewer, Proctor and Gamble’s Robert McDonald and Louise my former travel agent who stiffed me $300 for a mistake she made on tickets to England.


Thrown into a temp position where computer skills were required, back when PCs were just being introduced into offices, I was flummoxed by the use of Word Perfect. “The manual is in the desk,” snapped the supervisor, impatient with my slowness. Trying to make out the convoluted instructions, written in technolese, I felt I must be the stupidest person in the world. Later, once I got to know all the ins and outs of Word Perfect, I checked out the manual again. I still could not understand a thing – even for operations I now performed on a daily basis.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hows’ (sic) it going?

I once had a manager who’d come by my cubicle every few days and literally ask me how things were going, just like that. I would say “fine” and off he would go. Honestly, it was some time before I even realized this was actually his way of asking me for a full status report on my projects and not just a social call. And so, yes, I was dumb, but surely he was dumber, and dumber still the people who had hired a manager of technical documentation who couldn’t spell let alone explain to anyone else how things worked.

Annabelle From Hell

By the time she’s thirty every woman should have experienced one idiot boss. I worked for one when I was twenty-nine. She was a senior council at the Department of Justice and having experienced a hot flash during a screening of Dances with Wolves decided she would like to practice native law. War room discussions were like reasoning with a chimp, and court days were like taking a chimp to a tea party. But I have my own company now and in retrospect she was the most important person of my early working life. God knows she would hate that.

Scary Position

It was fitting that I started that job on Hallowe’en. My new boss was so insane that Steve found it hard to believe the daily stories I brought home of his behavior. Looking back to the interview I realized that he must have been fighting to maintain a façade of reasonable humanity for the entire time. He was probably more nervous that I would detect that he was utterly psychotic than I was in trying to impress him that I was right for the position. I loved my work but dealing with him finally drove me away three years later.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

October 25th

They fired him on October 25th, but they botched the job . . . leaving him to wander the halls for a full week afterwards, like a spectre contemplating his future with a company that had taken away the department he had built from scratch and offered him shit. Even for Hallowe’en he made a point of dressing as he always had, professional to the end, until you discovered that someone had apparently plunged a large butcher knife into his back, complete with a sickeningly realistic wound that oozed blood for the rest of the day and ended up ruining a $700 suit.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pumpkin Head

At first he was a zebra,
Then a Paddington Bear
And then a little wee skunk
with faux fur hair
Once Captain Star
got a bit too grubby
When first mistaken
for a Teletubby.
Junior Kindergarten spider
Then a little red Fox
Pointy-eared Legolas
Slick Neo redux
King Arthur, a fighter pilot,
And a blue-faced Celt
Followed by a Courier de Bois
Complete with pelt
Then came the last
to be stored in our attic
A lowly Crusader
The religious fanatic
And now we are left
Just my husband and me
Missing the masquerade zebra
Our Dan used to be.


Hallowe’en is probably my favourite holiday. Partially because of dressing up. After all I was a costume designer. I have a big trunk of crazy garb at the ready. I love the idea of disguising yourself to fool the devil so he won’t take you. So deliciously pagan. Also because it is a celebration that brings people out of their houses. The neighbourhood comes alive for a few hours once a year - starting in the morning, when you see all the tots heading to class in their get-ups. I usually wear something goofy to work, too – like spider earrings.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ghost Bike

Ryan Carriere lived in my neighbourhood. When he wasn’t working on his art, he was a postman out of the Queen Street station on the other side of the underpass. He had two daughters who still go to Nola’s school, a little older I think; and a wife, Megan, who practically runs our local toy store. I didn’t know Ryan at all, but remember him well whenever I approach that crazy intersection at Gladstone and Queen, the corner where the truck cut him off, cut short that life while he was cycling home to get his girls ready for Hallowe’en.

Trick or Treat

When he was dying of emphysema Pépé Joe mostly sat in his rocking chair surrounded by an oxygen tank and all the tubes, bandages and medical tape associated with palliative care. When he was close to death he started to hallucinate, so Mémé covered all the mirrors in the house with towels or bedsheets. “Le Seigneur me sauvez, je peux le voir!” he’d wheeze, imagining that he could see Satan in his own reflection. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe guilt or just maybe the Devil did come to get him. He finally breathed his last on Hallowe’en, 1972.


We could not have been luckier with our first neighbour when we moved to the neighbourhood. An old Ukrainian guy who was cheerful, quiet, and doted on the children. Every Christmas and Easter he would leave gifts for them at the front door. When I tried to retaliate he objected vociferously. He watched out for us. I feel I failed him. I HAD noticed his backdoor was ajar for a couple of days, but it WAS a hot weekend. My sister was visiting and I was preoccupied. When his nephew finally arrived to investigate, he had been dead some time.

The New Old Guard

We bought our house under power of sale, just as the neighbourhood was turning around. The neighbours liked us right off because, unlike our predecessors, our marriage wasn’t failing, we actually mowed the lawn, and we had a little extra money for making things nicer. Seventeen years and two children later, and the stakes are much higher. We’ve had a toilet on the front porch since March waiting for enough money to finish the bathroom, while a new, younger couple has purchased the house next door for a small fortune, with money left over for a month’s worth of construction.

The Roncesvalles Matron

Usually Melissa enjoyed her maternity leave from CBC. But today she was run off her Hunters. Between dropping little Chester off at the Montessori and taking him to Baby Signing lessons she had 120 minutes in which to pick up that special $20.00 Beavergrass from the local organic plant shop, take her Pug to the groomers to get his anal gland squeezed and order a roast from the ethical butcher. Ensconced in her Rav 4 enroute to the school she became wistful when she drove past the yoga studio, but soon brightened. “After all...” she mused “tomorrow is another day.”

The Antidote

I have always preferred to live in more working-class neighbourhoods. That is what delighted me about the Roncesvalles locale when we moved here. I was horrified when the BIA put up cutesy street-signs identifying the area as ‘Roncesvalles Village.’ Seemed like they were making a comparison with ‘Bloor West Village,’ a trendy neighbourhood that I abhor. I seek the antidote to ‘trendy.’ I seek porch-sitting and clotheslines, back alleys crammed with ramshackle garages. Recent street construction on Ronces seems to have set the ‘boutique’ businesses back. Personally I am pleased to see the process of gentrification delayed, at least temporarily.

The Capital of Cool

The Huffington Post has declared Toronto the “Capital of Cool,” without once considering the fact that I actually live here and might not agree with the author’s criteria for coolness. For instance, she praises our incessant summer festivals and our all-too-public art events, where all I see are kitsch and crowds and queues . . . and really, is there anything cool about standing in line? She says that visitors to our latest trendy neighbourhoods are “buzzing” about the overwrought restaurants, the custom-clothing boutiques, and the speciality stores, when surely they learned their lesson in high school that cool’s not something you buy.

Photo from Tourism Toronto (really).

Which way to the Art Show?

Richard’s health benefits allow us to get new glasses every two years. We both can’t wait for the two years to be up as last time, for some unknown reason we were persuaded to buy ridiculous glasses: Rich went for an electric blue Mexx number and I bought pink/grey Paul Franks. Worn together, given the penchant for black in our wardrobes, we looked like aging Liberty Village Hipsters, emerging fresh from brunch at The Drake. What were we thinking? After three false starts Rich dug out his old frames. Being Catholic I’ll suffer through with my two years of purgatory.

Ways of Seeing

In my younger days I bemoaned my need for glasses. I felt they were a huge drawback to my attractiveness. When I finally got contacts, in my 20’s, I wore them all the time. With age, my eyes began to be more sensitive and the contacts less comfortable. And my astigmatism became worse. Without correction I see things kind of squashed. My contacts do not correct, only my glasses, so when I look at myself in the mirror while wearing contacts I seem shorter and fatter. I now prefer to wear glasses because it is better for my self-image.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mary’s New Glasses

I’d only meant it as a joke when I put on Mary’s new glasses, but it scared the smugness right out of me. I’d already figured my eyes were growing dim—a stronger bulb at my bedside, a larger font in my browser—and I’d certainly seen it happen to plenty of my friends, but I’d forgotten how sharp the world once was, and it frightened me. Sure, I’d love to read easy again, but coming from a guy who can’t help but pick out the flaws in everything he sees, I don’t think I could afford the extra resolution.

Starą Skórę

It’s a mixed blessing that our ability to see up-close weakens at the same rate that our complexion starts to deteriorate. As a teenager I fixated on every pore, every spot. I was darker than most of my friends, so I envied their white skin and hairless upper lips. Now I don’t bother because I can’t see a thing without my glasses. I couldn’t tell you how wrinkly, pock-marked or hairy I am. Instead I rely on Eva, my aesthetician, to tell me. And so she does. I can now say “big mustache”, “little beard” and “old skin” in Polish.

The New Me

When my mother moved to Toronto, I helped with her yard sale. She had in her possession some clothes I wore in my twenties. I wondered how I ever fit into them. True, I am heavier than I was then, but not all that much. Things have shifted, however. My pelvic bones irreversibly altered by pregnancy. Weight that used to sit high and firm has descended to my waist and hips. It’s a new me that looks way better clothed than not. Funny how self-conscious I was of my body back then, when it was in the peak of youth.


My memories of a 32-inch waist are based entirely on how I felt after the great jump to 34, so great that for years after I’d still look first for the rare 33-inch jeans that Levi-Strauss seemed to be making just for me, until even they finally figured out I was a firm 34. The transition to 36 was more gradual, but no less traumatic, although I still can take some solace in the 36-inch pants that gather around my waist when I tighten my belt, and the odd pair of gloriously mislabelled shorts I find in the bargain bin.

Read the exciting conclusion here. Photo from jerryonlife on Flickr.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This summer marks the twenty-ninth year of my friendship with Skiz. Rich and I are together for twenty-four, and counting pregnancy, Dan has been with us for nearly seventeen years. The memories collected from these long-term relationships are all the more precious because they only occur through the sacrifice of time. It’s the visceral tweak we feel when we look at our teenage sons and recall kissing their perfect feet, so new they had yet to stand on their own. I try to remember this every time I trip over his size eleven boats capsized and underfoot in the hallway.


Tension filled the house. My parents were behaving strangely. My mother wanted to get a job. It was the 70’s and not many wives worked outside the home. Dad was confused and angry that Mom felt this need. We heard yelling, but never in front of us. Sometimes it looked like Mom was about to cry. “If Dad and I were to separate, who would you go with?” my mother asked me. “I would probably go between the two of you and milk you both for all I could get.” I said glibly. After that, it was never mentioned again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Odd One Out

My parents were divorcing, and I was ashamed. I’d hop on my bike and ride alone to places we’d only ever been to by car, one tiny town after another, putting as many miles as possible between me and what was left of my home . . . in the end more than five-hundred miles to a big city where families could be as complicated as they needed to be, where just at my table in class, Simon’s mother and father were also divorced, Robert’s dad wasn’t even in the picture, and Walter—with both parents still married—was the odd one out.

Good Riddance

Mom was a divorcée before she met my father. It was a very violent relationship, one so horrible I was never told about it. Since I research for a living, it wasn’t long before I had his name and life story. Barney Cutler abandoned a wife and child for my mom’s best friend, eventually leaving her for mom. Although he was much older, he died only a couple of years before she did, at the end of what I hope was a lonely and miserable life. A skinny old man in a stained undershirt hunched over a solitary pork chop.


Joan ran into with Elliot by chance many years later. After he had taken off without any warning. It was in a coffee shop in Vancouver – that was where she had heard he had gone. He was at the bar huddled over a coffee; seemed like he was a regular. He looked older than she knew he was – scruffy – although still handsome. She imagined him in some spare digs close by. Obviously not being cared for by a woman. Probably still loving and leaving. She turned her head, hoping he had not seen her, purchased her take-out coffee and left.


They caught up with Hercules at the arcade downtown, holding court and pumping quarters into an old Hydra machine.
     “The girls here drive me nuts,” he boasted. “They get it into their heads somehow you might be the answer to all their problems, and who knows, maybe you will end up having a bit of fun, but you never want to get to where you’re thinking you’ve got them all figured out, because you never will.
     “So what do you do?” asked Corvus.
     “I just cut them off,” said Hercules. “Burn ’em and leave before something serious crops up.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Let’s take her home and eat Mum

The Elvis tearjerker Don’t Cry Daddy sang of family solidarity and paternal stolidity belying a widower’s grief. Here, a son and his brother “Little Tommy” try to convince their dad that “together they could find a brand-new Mommy.” I hate that song. The dead mother-lost husband/son theme has been served up for years. Think Disney chocolate-covered nightmares like the Lion King and Bambi. The mother killed off so we feel sorry for the hero. If Rich and Dan went trolling for my replacement before a decent grieving period, say twenty years, I would definitely come back and pull their toes.

Quick Replacement

His mother was sick for a long time; Greg and his father were always visiting her in the hospital. Greg also spent a lot of time at Sandy’s house because he was a good friend of Sandy’s brother, and her mom took pity on Greg’s virtually motherless state. His father was out of town ‘on business’ a lot, too. It was a relief when the suffering ended for Greg’s mother, although, of course, Greg was grief-stricken. It was a big surprise when, within only a couple months, his father introduced Greg to his future stepmother. That certainly made everybody wonder.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Court Date of Eddie’s Father

Back before I fully understood what adults were all about, I suppose I just figured that Eddie simply had no father.
     He lived with his mother in Westfield, near the tracks, with his two brothers in a big old house that they rented. I knew they hadn’t much money, and I thought maybe his father had died; but then he was back, and suddenly everyone was happy again. And what’s more, from wherever he’d been, he had brought back a puppy for the boys.
     I have no idea what Eddie’s mother got, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t like it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

That Boy Just Sparkles

He wore Number One because his dad sponsored their soccer team. He also got plenty of game time because the same dad coached. He once smashed a kid’s head into a cement patio at a birthday party and after they carted the other boy away all crossed-eyed and puffy his mother consoled him saying she knew he just wanted to give the birthday boy a big hug but went a little too far. His reign of terror over neighbourhood and day care ended when he had to move near a special school for boys who liked to hug like that.

Sore Loser

For some reason Mr. A, a parent soccer coach in the park league, was favoured by the referees from the Rec Department. However, we heard rumours that he swore at his team during practice. Mr. A was hell bent on winning. That summer my team was up against him for the championship. A handball was called, which lost us the game. There was no handball and everybody knew it. The referee called me a bad sport, but I would not let my team shake hands with their victors. For weeks afterwards kids from the neighbourhood came up and thanked me.

Matthew’s Dad

Matthew’s dad had volunteered to coach for the neighbourhood t-ball league, and since volunteers were scarce that year, of course they let him have Matthew on his team. And although Matthew’s brother was over the age limit, it was only a little bit over, and with a few more of Matthew’s friends, carefully chosen, and even a few of his brother’s friends, Matthew’s dad had soon built himself an unstoppable team so powerful that it sucked all the fun from the game for everyone else. Congratulations, Matthew’s dad, I hope that little trophy they gave you made it all worthwhile.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What was the name of Roy Rogers’ Horse?

On the rare evenings when they weren’t entertaining, Garry and Tina read through the answers on their Trivial Pursuit game. Sometimes for fun they asked each other the questions, but occasionally, especially before a big dinner party, they’d just cram. Tina studied the History, Literature and Entertainment questions and Garry, an engineer, handled the Geography, Science & Nature and Sports categories. In an impressively short time they’d worked through the entire box. When it came down to playing a postprandial game with their guests, the challenge was in affecting just the right air of uncertainty before shouting out the answer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Under Pressure

What I admire the most about successful contestants on Jeopardy (the rare times I watch it) is not their knowledge, but how fast they manage to hit the buzzer. I usually know the answer to the question, but by the time it floats up from where it lies resting in the back of my mind, one of the contestants has usually buzzed in. Do they buzz first and think later? Sometimes it looks that way. Then they have to suffer the embarrassment of looking stupid in front of millions of viewers. That risk would freeze me from the get go.

Yes, that Gene Wood.

You probably best remember Gene Wood for his voice work in such Goodson-Todman productions as Family Feud, Card Sharks, and Password. But in the early ’70s, you’d have found him in front of the camera hosting one of the many incarnations of Beat the Clock, in which he challenged couples from a studio audience to perform elaborate and embarrassing stunts for money. I remember this only because they filmed this most American of game shows in Montréal, of all places . . . probably because even then they had to leave the country to find enough contestants sufficiently healthy to handle the strain.

It Wasn’t Funny. Period.

When I was growing up Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences. In this one episode three ladies surrendered their purses to Bob. He chose one item from each and the contestant had to give a reason why she had such a thing in her purse. The catch was that Bob could place any prop within the bag and still she had to convince the studio audience that this random thing did indeed come from her purse. Watching this as a ’tween embarrassed me to no end, as I imagined each purse to be filled with orthodontic elastics and sanitary napkins.

Rule of Thumb

I have heard that, in lawsuits, mutilation of the hands has equal weight to mutilation of the face in terms of monetary reparation, because those two parts of the body are the first things put forward in social interaction. Hands are read by others, not only for fortune, but in assessing personality traits. A long time ago somebody told me that because my thumbs bend back, it means I am a liar. Ever since then I have tried doubly hard to be as honest as possible in an effort to undermine those who wish to judge me by my thumbs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Say it with Fingers

Off the top of my head, I can think of four ways you can position the fingers of one hand that could very likely get you into trouble. All these would probably be pixelated from network television, but in no particular order they are: the Middle Finger, the Shocker, the V-sign, and the Fig. And yet each is so different from the other that you really have to wonder if there isn’t some way to configure your digits that wouldn’t offend somebody, somewhere, and if it might not be better just to keep your hand in your pocket . . . you wanker.

The Acid-Free Finger

A professor once advised us that the middle finger expended the least pressure out of all five and was thus the digit of choice for holding down archival documents. Who was this woman, I wondered? Perhaps she was some sort of revisionist? “This nineteenth-century legislation banning women from saloons is fucked!” she’d say and then she’d simultaneously display the offending paper and flip history the bird. Or maybe she was some freak from the conservation unit, incapable of regulating the pressure emitted by her index finger and now forced to deliver her cautionary tale at the Walter Reuther Labor Archives.

Flipping Fracture

Seems like we have strong bones in our family. Twice doctors have suspected Lenny had broken bones, due to the pain and the nature of his falls, but after enduring the fracture clinic at St. Joseph’s for x-rays, it turned out his bones had held up. The worst break I ever had was when I cracked my middle finger in a skiing wipe out. I was in my early twenties and got a big kick out of having that iconic finger hard-fixed into the flip-off position. I was almost disappointed when the doctor decreed I could remove the splint.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Their Greatest Hits

Whenever I find myself yet again in the Fracture Clinic at St. Joe’s—or as I like to call it, the Break Room—I’m inevitably slotted right next to someone in worse shape than me. I might walk in with the simplest of cracks and nothing to set, but still they compel me to pass through their gory gallery of shattered bone, steel plates, and uncountable screws . . . a mere week or two in a cast and yet each visit guarantees some fresh horror. They must bring the worst x-rays out of storage just for me. Their greatest hits . . . and runs.

Fractured Fairy Tales

After Dan’s skateboard accident the two of us spent time at the St. Joseph’s fracture clinic where we took our place among the endless parade of the damaged and hobbling. Many brought their extended families to wait with them, Gameboys at full volume. Some grannies snuck out for a smoke while their grandchildren screamed at the door for their return. Bags of exotic snacks were passed around. At first we complained: “We had an appointment at 8:30!” we’d say. After the third visit we realized that appointments were purely fictional and if we got out before noon we were lucky.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I had already outgrown my early parental jitters by the time I learned the answer to beating the triage system in the emergency department. Many times I sat for hours waiting in outrage at being overlooked, concerned my child was on the verge of death. I had become blasé and happy to wait for the next day to see a doctor, except the night when Sophy had a high fever and complained of a headache and a sore neck. When I mentioned those symptoms, possibly meningitis, I was whisked immediately in to see a doctor. Turned out Sophy was alright.

Come Quickly

     At home, if you want them to come quickly, tell them you smell gas.
     At the hospital, tell them you have chest pains to the tips of your fingers, and they’ll wheel you right on past the longest queue.
     Head injuries, too.
     Just tell them you can’t even remember being thrown from your bike . . . out like a light, if just for a moment. When they ask you the date, get it wrong. But be careful, because the moment they figure you’re going to be fine, there’ll be no one there to help you pick the gravel out of your elbows.

Sunday Gassy Sunday

It’s six o’clock Sunday morning and I still smell gas. I’ve phoned the Enbridge Emergency Hotline and was told that they’d be sending a man over to check it out immediately, but in the meantime I’m supposed to keep all the windows closed on the side where our metres are, the side where I can smell gas, and open windows on the opposite side. This is impossible in a semi-detached. So I open the garden door and wonder whose Sunday morning I’ve ruined and hope he gets here before the hillbillies spark up their smoker and we all blow up.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Just There

What shapes one’s fate? We were under that tree at Afrofest and we decided to get something to eat. It took awhile to fight through the crowds to get to the food concession area, so who knows what the timing was? We withdrew to a secluded grassy area off to the side to eat and saw the flashing lights of the ambulances through the crowd. Maybe somebody collapsed in the heat, I thought. We stopped to see a marimba band, then circled back to where we had been. A giant branch had fallen, and some people had been badly hurt.

Good Intentions (and Asphalt)

The heat finally broke last night while I was in still in the bar, drinking it up with Maury’s friends and the last of yesterday’s air. Inside was stuffy, but the ride home was brisk, cycling through the crazy maze of construction along Bloor, past the intersection where just last summer another cyclist, likely not that much drunker than me, made the mistake of picking a fight with a Saab.
     He was dead before the light could change and the driver, with his powerful connections, was exonerated in less time than it has taken them to finish paving things over.

Friday, July 9, 2010


It was August and Colin and I sat in the archives slowly freezing to death. First our extremities went, then simple things like filling out request slips became onerous because our hands were going. “Wow, is it cold in here.” I told the blue-faced archivist, herself wrapped in a bulky cardigan. She nodded and a shelf of frost fell from her considerable eyebrow and skittered across the desk. After four hours of this meat locker we got into the car, serendipitously parked in the sun, and defrosted like two bugs frozen solid to a tree branch awaiting the spring thaw.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cruising For Catastophe

Vegas flies in the face of Mother Nature, defying her to wipe it out. They claim that their fountains reuse water, but considerable amounts must evaporate in the desert heat. And remember how your mother used to tell you off for heating the outdoors when you left the door open? In Vegas they actually air condition the outdoor patios, blowing gusts of freezing air out over the diners. When we were there I woke up shivering in the mornings, in spite of a thick comforter. I had to go downstairs and sit on a bench outside the hotel to warm up.

So Much Meat

Think of your body as so much meat. It takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool down; and the more meat you’ve got, the longer it takes. You’ll notice this when you leave your air-conditioned office on a day like this and wonder what everyone’s been fussing about . . . until you defrost. You can even apply this principal before going to bed, by soaking in a bath of the coldest water you can bear. The longer the soak, the longer you’ll sleep. Or, if you’re really lucky, you might even drift off in the tub.

Human Meat Chart by Madame Doe Design

Mr. Peepers

It was Lainey’s place before it became mine. An outrageously illegal basement apartment, it came cheap and boasted a large bathroom. But the walls were thin and you could hear the teenage boy grunting on the other side of the partition. “He must lift weights in there or something” she speculated. The bathroom was indeed huge, with a large claw-foot tub set to one side. One night I went into it and discovered light shining in through several holes in the wall. After a thorough application of duct tape the grunting stopped and our young neighbour took up another hobby.

Crossed Wires

The basement apartment was freezing and there was no way I could cope. I called the landlord and he came by with a heater.
     “Great," I said, ”now my electricity bill will sky-rocket."
     “It’s okay,” he said, “Plug it into this outlet, here, and you won’t pay a thing.”
     The heater definitely made the place liveable. After I had been living there a for awhile I got to know the other tenants in the house. The woman upstairs from me remarked, “It’s weird, suddenly a couple of months ago my Hydro bill shot up, and I can’t figure out why.”

30A vs 30C

There’s nothing like knocking a couple of bare wires together to discover that your entire apartment runs on a single 30-amp fuse in the basement of the corner variety store downstairs, which closes at 11:00, and that short of replacing that fuse with a penny or something, you’d be pushing your luck every time you turned on that air conditioner you were planning to buy, stuck in the dark by the tiniest window in the still stifling air with nothing to do but to suffer through a long summer day’s worth of heat seeping slowly through the flat, tar roof.
House At Dusk, 1935, Edward Hopper

Hot Dog

Nimoosh is a rescue dog from Attawapiskat where today’s high is expected to reach 22 degrees. The dog days of summer for southern Hudson’s Bay. For days here in Toronto it’s been close to 47 degrees counting the humidex. We do not have air conditioning so we stay huddled under the ceiling fans, the seasonal opposite to hobos warming their hands over oilcan fires. Poor Nim is permanently plastered to the hardwood and remains motionless except to look at us with those sad eyes as if to say, “I’m a goddamn Husky you freaks, what are you doing to me?”

Puppy Love

“I guess dog owners can be as blind to their pets’ shortcomings as parents are to their children’s,” thought Joan, as the overweight pug sat wheezing on her lap, embedding short coarse hairs into the weave of her black dress. The dog’s guardian cooed, “Oooh, he likes you!” As if it was a special fortune for Joan to have this smelly gargoyle friendly up to her. She surveyed the expanse of cream carpet in the woman’s living room, dotted here and there with yellow or brown stains. And in the corner a turd that had not yet been cleaned up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dirty Work

Once every morning and again after work I used to walk around the block and back to that big ugly reno up the street. There I’d take out a small jar of urine and carefully pour it onto their lawn, splash some into the bushes; then dump a single, solid turd from a sealed plastic bag and onto their grass, wait a moment and use the same bag to pick it back up. And, really, the only reason they’re not in this cell with me now is they got that damned dog of theirs to their dirty work for them.

Frau Schauden Freude

Julie, my neighbour and fellow dog owner taught me about karma poo. If you see a turd lying there, even if it’s not from your dog, pick it up and you will be karmically rewarded. This makes sense as doing good deeds comes easy to me. It is much more difficult to keep a pure soul. My challenge is in overcoming the delight I take in the misfortune of those I don’t like. And each time I indulge in this karma-sucking exercise something comes back: I stub my toe, I break a glass or I do something stupid in public.

Bitter Revenge

‘What goes around comes around’ is not always true. I always see people repeatedly getting away with murder and never suffering any repercussions. An old rival - somebody who purposely mortally wounded my career in theatre - seemed to have all the luck come her way. I heard through the grapevine, however, that she was dealing with an abusive husband who made life hell for her. When I thought about I realized whenever I saw her it looked like she had aged another ten years. I could not help feeling gleeful. Then I immediately felt guilty; and sorry for her.

To exact your revenge, follow these steps:

You wouldn’t think a lowly technical writer would have much opportunity to exact his revenge, short of providing detailed instructions for destroying the product. And don’t think that hadn’t occurred to me, except that most companies are smart enough to wait until new manuals have gone through their final review and are ready to print. Some companies, in fact, are so efficient that they can have you packing and out the door before the release party, but not so clever to realise that party might not be the best place to announce that your last manual just won an award.

Cornered Grief and Cabbage

During the 1930s, everyone who attended St-Antoine’s in Tecumseh was Catholic and white and except for the Lacasses and Poissons, there wasn’t much money to go around, so if there was any social bullying it was between the French and the Irish kids. One incident involved Gérard, the Shanahan brothers and a cabbage. Gérard was carrying the vegetable home for supper when the siblings, after a heated bilingual exchange, repeatedly snatched it each time peeling off a few leaves then rolling it down Lesperance Road. Eventually Gérard made it home, Brussel sprout in hand, and began to plot his revanche.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Benevolent Master

He was a huge man. Joan wondered what his skeleton looked like in comparison to the average person. Were the bones that much thicker? He had ugly amateurish tattoos covering both forearms, and he had that look in his eye that made one tread carefully around him. Tiny Sandy looked like a child beside him and when he was with her he was tender and fatherly. A gentle giant. Joan knew Sandy felt safe and protected; nobody bothered her when he was around. Nice now, thought Joan, but what would happen when Sandy decided to it was time to leave?

Monday, July 5, 2010


It wasn’t until the end of Grade 7 that I picked up my first bona fide bully—not the day-to-day taunting that I’d learned to ignore, but my own personal tormentor, an indefatigable Butch attracted to the sissy scent of my Alfalfa-like pretentions.
     The original Little Rascal would move on to play such redemptive roles as Jimmy Olsen in Atom Man vs Superman, but I was pretty sure, from the moment I saw that knife drop from his pocket, that my bully could only ever end up in jail . . . and that I definitely had to find a new route home.

Huckleberry Trailer

A friend describes his son as an “indoor cat.” He’s not far off as there is a tendency for our children, especially boys, to stay inside. As parents we shake our heads and wax on about how we, as apple-cheeked youths roamed the village until the “street lights came on,” playing tag or building go-karts from juice cans. We remember ourselves as the Our Gang of the ’seventies, Alfalfa riding his cool new 10-speed and Darla, the rich gal from Russell Woods with a pool in her back yard. Tanned and unshod, fishing for pumpkinseeds in the lagoons behind Webbwood.

Free The Kittens

The kittens were free. Following the directions Joan made her way along the road that curved through a tidy suburban subdivision. As she came around the bend she was confronted by a home that had two wrecks of cars on the front lawn. The woman who came to the door told her to go around the back where the yard was a labyrinth of rusting machine parts. Inside the dark doorway Joan saw newspapers stacked shoulder height with a narrow path cutting a canyon through them. She had heard of people like this before but thought the stories were exaggerated.

The Dog People

It’s not as if we didn’t try to be friendly, but our neighbours were dog people and we favoured cats. They were territorial animals who, because they were too lazy to walk to the park, filled their backyard with shit, while we filled our boxes with the fanciest litter we could find and deposited the waste, carefully wrapped, in our green bin. They would challenge us whenever we dared venture out, and so we became indoor cats, looking through the window at the brutes next door, barking and biting . . . and besides, who really wants a friend that can kill you?

Painting by Balthus.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Parkdale Hillbillies

Our Hillbilly neighbours are early risers, so on weekends there is no morning peace but only a less-offensive window of time between when their kids come out to play and when their dad knuckle-walks around to the back of their house, throws open the garage door, cranks up his radio and begins to rearrange his hoard of broken furniture and extruded plastic. Sometimes he finds wood to burn in their smoker. “Just keepin’ it real, Laurie,” my neighbour Hailey calls from two gardens away as she pulls her laundry, now redolent with the smell of smoked sardines, off her line.

Friday, July 2, 2010

After The Downpour

Joan stepped out the back door, feeling the humidity cling to her skin. The rain had not cooled things down at all, and it felt steamy. A rich aroma rose from the moistened soil of the garden, an earthy smell Joan could never decide if she liked. It mingled with the perfume of flowers and the scent of cat pee wafting from the neighbour’s yard. Some kind of shrub that smelled that way when it got wet. So the neighbour claimed. But she had several cats. Joan brushed water droplets off the chair on the deck, settling in for cigarette.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Garden Ignominies

I am responsible for denuding my neighbours’ back yard. Angela is away until August and in a passing word to Jerzy the landlord I mentioned how overgrown the garden was and that I would help them clean it up before she came back. Not wanting to trouble me, Jerzy and his wife completely cleared it: currant bushes, butterfly bushes, mulleins and dozens of other perennials ripped out along with the weeds. Now only scrubby grass, three hostas and two apple trees are left. The rest is hardpan. My cats, having lost their oasis are appalled and won’t speak to me.


Until the rents on Roncesvalles got too high and their landlord got too greedy, I could depend on Galaxy Donuts for the occasional cheap and filling breakfast. The donuts, I felt, were a bit of a rip-off compared to the sheer mass of dough (plus the few shreds of fruit) I got with their apple fritter. One dollar, plus tax, and it would easily last me till lunch.
     Now, on those rare days I don’t skip breakfast entirely, I stick more to the Pączki from the Polish bakery. Show up at 9:00 and the prune filling will still be warm.

Tim’s Folly

Friday was office donut day. I always picked up two dozen from the nearest Tim Horton’s. They used to have them in neat little boxes that looked like houses, in which the donuts were lined up on end. They fit nicely into my bike carrier. Then they changed the design to these huge shallow boxes in which the donuts lay flat. A stupid design copied from Krispy Kreme donuts. Why would an illustrious Canadian donut company emulate a cheesy American one? The boxes no longer fit in my carrier. Nobody else wanted to pick them up. Donut day was done.

I am a Canadian, Free to Dunk Without Fear

On July 1, 1960 Dief the Chief delivered his famous “I am a Canadian” speech, praising Canada’s inherent freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom to govern. The words are beautiful and as a child I had a poster of the speech, a freebie from the Big V drug store. But Diefenbaker should have added “freedom to donut ”. We all know that Tim’s is the gold standard for these places, but Galaxy and Country Style coexist to service both smokers and the less fortunate. Where else can you make a butt and a maple-dip last all morning? Sweet.

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