Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Unlimited Love

A baby iguana is a beautiful thing – bright green and delicate. They skurried around the courtyard of the hotel where we stayed in Costa Rica and Sophy had fun chasing them. She and the girl she befriended while on vacation also delighted in the orange and black crabs that sidled along the beach, but most of all they adored the hermit crabs. Sophy asked for a container to bring some home with her. Her friend’s parents were letting their child do that. How could I explain that I was not the cruel one, not allowing Sophy to do the same.

Sophy loved all living things. She had no problems with bugs, except perhaps mosquitoes. So the display of insects at the Exhibition drew her attention immediately. You even got to take some of the bugs out and hold them. She cupped the hissing cockroach in her hand, studying it intently. I was looking at the stick bugs when I heard the woman gasp. “Ew!” she said, and I followed her gaze to see Sophy lifting the cockroach to her lips. “What?” exclaimed Sophy, “They’re kissing cockroaches, aren’t they?” A misunderstanding has taken its place in family legend.

Lust for (A) Life

She told me that the large, foul-smelling iguana next to her desk was the college’s mascot. “He loves football! Isn’t he cute?” she purred as the thing crawled up her shoulder, its claws clambering for purchase on her brown sweater. As her question was rhetorical she continued to sing its praises, all the while peeling potato chip sized scales from its body.
     “What do you do with it during the holidays?” I asked.
     “I take Iggy home.”
     And then I imagined this reptile, assuming pride of place in her living room, nestled among her collections of plaster angels and Crocs.


Our science teacher kept snakes, a couple of boa constrictors who spent most of their days happily warmed in their private terrariums or lazily wrapped around a large branch he’d installed in one corner of the room. He also maintained a large supply of rats, nasty fat things that chewed at the wires of their cage with their sharp yellow teeth, oblivious to the cost of a freedom that would only ever come as an occasional treat for our class, when he’d pluck one from the pack by its long hairless tail and drop it in with the hungriest snake.

Photo copyright © 2013 by Xunbin Pan (Defun)

The Sacrifice

Life was good in our little village even if the gates always had to be closed. We had comfortable homes and the food was good and plentiful. All our needs were seen to daily. We snuggled together with our loved ones every night, secure in the knowledge that we were safe. Sometimes we saw the wild ones on the other side, and they sneered at our complacency, but we saw that they were scrawny and dirty and always looking over their shoulders. Our Benefactors cared for us, but they seemed to abhor the wild ones and hunted them down mercilessly.

The Benefactors came and took one of us regularly. We never knew what became of them until Bright Eyes bolted through the gate one time when it was open. She had never been satisfied within the agreeable confines of the village. Later she came back to warn us how the Benefactors offered our loved ones to a Sky Demon in exchange for shiny adornments they wore on their fingers. The adornments brought great honour to the Benefactors, but our brothers and sisters died horribly, torn limb from limb. Then we realized the price we paid for our lives of comfort.

You May Now Eat the Groom

David Sedaris was in town on Saturday. He spoke about a place in California where couples can arrange to have their wedding rings delivered by an owl. After landing on the groom’s forearm, the bird deposits the jewelry in exchange for a live rat. To him, this was the first and only reason for he and Hugh to wed. But what if animals could symbolically act out a couple’s future? There might be cockfights and ant farms, beavers and bonobos. And at least one mongoose being slowly digested by a Vera Wanged cobra. I think I went to that shindig.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

In the short time we were together, Alison never seemed entirely comfortable the fact that there were men out there with cats, and that she happened to be going out with one. I don’t know where she had found her previous boyfriends—perhaps in the personals section of Field and Stream—but most of my friends, if they had any pets at all, owned a cat; or even more likely, were still living at home with their childhood pets, which surely would’ve been a bigger deal breaker than choosing to live with an animal that doesn’t care where it shits.

She’d have been the first to deny it, but I suspect deep down she thought that owning a cat somehow made me effeminate. Which would’ve certainly been a strange complaint considering she otherwise appeared to be entirely enthralled by the homosexual lifestyle and often lamented the fact that I wasn’t nearly as fun to be around as her homosexual friends. She even made fun of my choice of the word—“homo-sets-choo-all”—as if it was the prissiest adjective I could possibly choose. She wanted a boyfriend who owned a dog, and she wanted a boyfriend who used the word “gay.”

Pet Peaves

The dog was the deal breaker. Joan did not hate dogs, some day she thought she might get one, when she had time to give one all the attention a dog needs. But not this dog. This dog stunk. And it had this skin condition that made it scratch and bite large patches of fur off, and in those places the skin was scaly and creepy-looking. Not only that, but whenever she was at his place this dog would latch on to her leg and vigorously hump. “He just thinks you’re sexy,” Brian laughed. Joan was not going back there again.

“You’re breaking off with me because of my dog?” he asked, incredulously. “That dog loves you!”
     Joan thought - that’s supposed to change my mind? And what about Brian? Funny he did not mention anything about HIS love for her. Only the dog. And what kind of a guy would allow his dog to torture his girlfriend every time she came over? Was she supposed to find his devotion to his dog adorable? Was she supposed to feel guilty because she could not return the love of this scabrous curr?
     From now on she was dating only guys with cats.

Man’s Best Friend

For their twenty-fifth anniversary, my parents got a silver dog. Well, a dog with silver fur; a toy Schnauzer to be exact. Dad named him Brillo because of his wiry coat. He was a very sweet dog and very friendly. But the poor thing was never neutered and had developed the singular habit of self-fellation, especially after it rained. Our house backed onto a playground and Brillo’s foul-weather exhibitions delighted all the local urchins. Some people might train their pet to lie down or fetch but we, without ever trying, had the most popular dog show in the trailer park.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Like Cats and Dogs

My first girlfriend loved cats. She had two at home; but on any of our long evening walks, she seemed compelled to make friends with all the others we’d meet on our route. Even if one was sitting way up on a stoop somewhere, she squat low to the ground, put out her hand, and spend as long as it took coaxing it down the steps and along the path to the sidewalk, with me standing there like an idiot wondering if we’d ever get back to the kissing, which was what I liked best about our long evening walks.

My family was never that big on pets, and so, had I never had a girlfriend who loved cats, I probably would have never gotten around to getting one myself, and certainly not quite so soon after we’d broken up. Not long after, she visited me and in spite of her purported love of cats, made a point of letting me know that she was singularly unimpressed with mine. But by then I was stuck with my choice; and besides, as my friend Mike the vet had said, sometimes it’s nice just to have something else moving around the house.
My first girlfriend loved cats. The next one loved dogs, and got all woodgie-woodgie-coochie-coo whenever she got one up close. She owned a lovely black lab, but had left it behind at her parents’ house while she pursued her dreams from a tiny apartment in the city. We walked that dog together exactly once while her parents were overseas, but that was hardly enough for me to make the big switch from cat person to dog. We were together a year, almost, but her pro-dog arguments remained unconvincing. And so for now, barring any further romantic entanglements, no dogs allowed.

Photo by Terri Windling.

Pet Walking

Mrs. Miller’s hippy son got a monkey then took off to India, leaving his pet with her. She hired Ann and me to take care of it. You might think a small monkey would be little trouble. The cage stunk if you did not clean it twice a day and those monkeys mark territory by peeing on their paws to leave their scent on everything. As well it needed a lot of attention to keep it from going stir crazy and pulling its fur out. But we loved to take it for walks for the attention it got us.

Because we were known as animal lovers in town somebody brought us a baby raccoon they found beside her dead mother on the roadside. We raised her and she bonded with us so fully that we had no need of a leash. When we took her for walks she followed faithfully a few feet behind. People would tell us there was a raccoon following us and we would act surprised. It was a lot of fun until the vet refused to give her rabies shots. We had to release in the woods. I hope she had the skills to survive.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Lion King

Like Roy and Mary, Rich and I bought our house as a power of sale. We couldn’t believe our luck - under $200 thousand for a three storey semi in a beautiful neighbourhood. The house was empty and freshly painted. It was only after we moved in that we realized why the place was so cheap: the previous owner had kept a panther and a leopard in the basement and once the paint fumes dissipated the smell of big cat was overwhelming. Our own two felines crawled around on their bellies for a month fearful of being snatched and eaten.

Happy to have normal neighbours again locals came out from everywhere to tell us tales about the previous owner and the menagerie he kept in his house. Stories varied in scale and veracity and involved any range of animals from boa constrictors to lion cubs. The best ones were from tradesmen who had actually ventured down to the basement. “Aw geese, how could I fix the guy’s furnace with that panther staring at me?” One recalled. I have never cleaned a house so thoroughly in my life. Had the stories stopped with the monkey, I’d have been a lot cooler.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Power of Sale

We purchased our house under Power of Sale, so it was pretty much dead when we found it. No heat at all in the middle of November, and the power was off. The stove was gone, the cable cut, and someone had dumped the entire contents of the fridge before hauling that away too: a pound of butter in the kitchen sink, vodka bottles over the basement stairs, bits of their last Christmas still hanging, scraps of a life left behind. There’d been a divorce. Mary met the wife. “Why are you selling my house?” she screamed at our agent.

That said, it was all the stuff they’d left behind that ultimately tipped me into home ownership, specifically that Lego spaceship on the second floor. If I buy this house, I thought, all that Lego could be mine . . . a basement full of tools and toys, a treasure trove of hardware, and an upright piano in the dining room! The house was ours in a matter of weeks, but it was some time before I realized all that junk was more of a curse than a coup. Take what you want, I’d tell my friends . . . but who wants a busted piano?

Photo by another victim of the Internet

Not Family

I never met Steve’s Grandmother. Because we were not married my mother-in-law could not bring herself to tell this devout Christian woman that her grandson was living in sin. His grandmother also went to her deathbed not knowing that she had great-grandchildren. Even so, when she died Steve’s mom bestowed on me a needlepoint handbag his grandmother had made. I guess because I sew, and would appreciate it. When I use that bag, I am touched by evidence of this phantom matriarch – a needle and thread in the lining – she was always at the ready to make a quick repair.

When Steve’s great-aunt had to be moved into a nursing home, Steve and I made the trip to Ottawa to help his mother clear out the old family abode. We were told we could have anything we wanted, but when we got there anything good had been labeled with his sister and brother’s names. Later I helped his mother clear out the nursing home room after the aunt died. Again I was told I could choose something. I liked a lovely cranberry glass vase. “Oh, no, that has been in the family for generations.” I was put in my place.

Half Way Home

The trappings of Dad’s eighty-five years of life fit neatly into six bankers boxes. This was a considerable upgrade from Mom’s things which filled five garbage bags, the majority of their contents sent to Good Will or parceled out among her surviving sisters. Sure there was stuff left behind: couches, rugs, tables, kitchen things, but these held no memories for me. We gave Dad’s friend Rita everything so it’s up to her now to decide what she wants to keep and what she wants to sell. I’m not sure if that was generosity or laziness on our part. Probably both.

Odd what we keep when we’re packing up someone’s life. When Mom died, I took her knitting and jewelry. Now with Dad the entire house must go. For us we kept the ancient tortière pans, a plaster statue of St-Antoine, his Knights of Columbus sword and of course Gerry and Laurette. They are on my mantle flanked by their rosaries, flowers and sympathy cards. A candle lights their path to the next world. It rests in a sculpture made by Cec, Dad’s godfather’s daughter. From some angles it looks like stained glass. Just sacred enough. Dad would have liked that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Moving Tale

When I finally left for my first apartment, everything I owned fit nicely into one trip uptown in a rented van . . . except for the desk, the one thing I left for my sister, but even that was more out of frustration than a lack of space. Three years on and I needed more truck, the next size up to something called a cube van. No great surprise, since I’d spent too much of that time filling my rooms with furniture, yet striking how my entire existence could still be contained in a remarkably small cube, one perfect unit of stuff.

The trick to that particular move was to collapse all my IKEA furniture back to its original form and to engage the help of three friends who didn’t much like each other. Two were in it for the promise of curry and beer, the third for the opportunity to boss us around for an afternoon, which he did very well. I’ve never seen a truck fill so fast, the stuff packed so tightly there was room left for two of my crew to sit comfortably in the back for the trip downtown, one in my wing chair, sharing a smoke.

Solo Acapella

For me there are few greater pleasures than to be out on the road, burning up the miles to blasting music while singing full throttle. When I discovered the van I rented to move from Winnipeg to Toronto had no radio or tape player I wondered how I was going to make it through those vast stretches of Northern Ontario. Turned out I had plenty of music in my head and no problem belting out tunes acapella to amuse myself. It was probably one of the best road trips of my life. After all I was making a new start.

It was a big enough van that it seemed to impress the truckers along the way. Funny because as far as I was concerned an automatic transmission was wimpy. But just about every time I encountered a truck on the long, lonely highway across the north of the province, the drive would salute me. And when I pulled the one-ton cube van into a truck-stop to eat, all eyes would swivel in my direction as I stepped out of the cab. It’s true there were few female patrons, but nobody bothered me as I read my book while eating.

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