Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Assholes . . . in space!

It’s my theory that the real assholes of the world might actually be suffering from some mild form of mental illness. I’m not talking here about people that merely get on your nerves, but those who are suddenly so out of synch with acceptable human behaviour that you’re left with nothing in common but your indignity. When dealing with these assholes, however, it’s probably best to avoid confrontation. Because the asshole that can cut in front of you without a second thought is just as likely to be enough of an asshole to punch you out if called on it.

So, just how big an asshole was I on December 7, 1979 when I joined my friend waiting for the opening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture? In my defence, I did manage to arrive by 6:30 in the morning with only 30-odd people in line, and it had been my idea in the first place; but it certainly didn’t help our case when more and then more of our friends came straggling in . . . and who then were the bigger assholes: us for letting them cut or them for expecting us to hold their place for three hours in the cold?

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I am embarrassed that I lost my cool at the dog park the other night and said, “Oh Honey, YOU have to leave!” to the bearded ignoramous attempting to clear out a platoon of dog owners and their charges so that he, his wife and his dog fearing toddler could enjoy family time on a freezing night in late November in the park during off-leash times. I should have ignored him like Rich did. He was spoiling for a fight, leading his poor child smack dab into the middle of a dog pack. Some people are just asking for it.

It’s odd with me because I’ve always had a hair trigger when I’m in the presence of bullies. I think it stems from working with lawyers, or enduring my formative years riding the bus with Zimbo Bertrand and his siblings. It’s odd because I do not like conflict and feel like throwing up after an altercation, but I can’t let them get away with it. Something clicks inside my head and I feel like I have to speak up for the underdog. Thank Christ I don’t live next to Anne Coulter. I’d probably train Nim to shit on her lawn.

Lost Words

So many beautiful words in the English language that precisely describe what I want to say. And I know a lot of them. But when I want to use them, they often will not come to me. Much of the time they are there in my head when I begin a sentence, but by the time they need to be inserted they have disappeared leaving just a ghost on the tip of my tongue. I am left interrupting my narrative, stammering and muttering “What’s the word?” Then, hours later having the word come to me, when it is too late.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Noodling around the Internet yesterday, I found myself playing with the OneLook Reverse Dictionary, which lets you describe a concept, then spits out a list of related words. I entered “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others” knowing full well that, because there’s not a single English word that can handle it, I’d likely end up with the German word schadenfreude.
     So, imagine my surprise when I was presented with a perfectly good English synonym—epicaricacy—I’d never seen before. It was like opening a Rhyming Dictionary and discovering the rhyme for orange.
     Which, by the way, is door hinge.


My goddaughter Maddie would probably argue that the minute her mother or I start wearing something, that fashion is officially over, never again to be worn by anyone under forty. The middle-aged application of trendy language has the same effect. Try saying “peeps” or “sick” or any hybridized mom dorkisms around a fifteen-year old and you will be met with rage and derision. It boils down to the misappropriation of language. My own teenaged self became indignant each time mom tried on “gross” and “it’s the pits” when she should have confined herself to cooking with gas and whistling Dixie.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I am not innocent of falling victim to trends. Some things are just too hard to resist. Such as furnishing with milk crates. They are such a great size for all sorts of storage, and you can stack them up to create bookshelves. Only to me the actual milk crates were just too ugly – usually that nowhere blue and always dingy and bashed up. So I bought the retail knock-offs that came in nice bright colours. Yeah, I succumbed to the second wave of the trend that started on the street and then moved into the comfortable bourgeois phase.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It’s not really stealing if…

I didn’t have that many records, but when my ABBA started to crowd out my mother’s Belafonte, it was time to come up with my own storage solution, and it sure looked like one of those plastic milk crates I’d noticed in the alley would do the job. I actually thought I was the first person ever to have this idea, and I brought along one of my LPs to make sure it would fit. And since someone had been using them for garbage, not milk, it’s not really stealing, if you’re stealing from the person who stole it. Right?

101 Uses for Preparation H

From Kool Aide as hair dye to condoms as drug tamales, I love the idea of repurposing items, especially if their new use varies widely from their intent. You can use pennies to clean coffee carafes and just a dab of toothpaste will banish a zit. For years a Borden’s Milk crate housed my Who LPs, packed with just enough room for a languid flip to Quadrophenia. But here’s my favorite: Savvy fashionistas always carry a stash of panty liners and manicuring scissors in their purse for custom shoe cushions. Try it and you will never again resort to band-aids.


There are some bottles I cannot bring myself to part with. They are just too nice. And many of them prove to have further use after they are emptied of their original contents. Every once in awhile I get a bottle that would be perfect for another purpose, but I cannot get the label off because it has been glued on with some kind of super adhesive that will not budge. There should be legislation to force companies to have removable labels so their containers can be put to another use and still look nice. Re-using is better than re-cycling.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another Recycled Soldier

My first apartment had a living room that had once been a dining room, complete with panelled walls, and a plate rail that ran all the way round. It was there that I started my first collection of wine bottles, with the goal of having it too run all the way round the room, no duplicates allowed.
     I no longer recall how far I’d gotten before I had to move, but I do remember deciding to recycle the collection rather than pack it. Back then you still had to soak off the labels, and that certainly took me some time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bottle Mountain

“So I’m thinking you guys maybe drink a little?” Said Lester, the noodnik general contractor next door. I explained that we’re saving the empties for the steel-toothed lady. She scared us half to death one rainy evening when she called at the back door. She pulled a scrap of paper from her yellow slicker and handed it to Rich. The note was in English informing us that she had to go away but would be back and could we please save our bottles? We manage three bottles per week. She’s gone for seven weeks. We’ll have to drive her home.

Drinking Problem

“What’s Steve up to?” asked John, when I came to the door. At that moment Steve came around the side of the house, loaded up with beer boxes full of empties. He unloaded them into the van, then disappeared down the laneway again. We watched as he reappeared repeatedly, bringing armload after armload of empties to return to the beer store. “I can give you an email address to get help with your problem,” John called out to him. I guess there must be programs available for people who are too lazy to take their beer bottles back more frequently.

Twenty Cents a Bottle

There’s been a deposit on beer bottles in Ontario for as long as I can remember, but ever since the province started putting a deposit on wine and spirits, I’ve been tossing those in the wagon as well for the long walk back to the store. Most everyone I talk to in my neighbourhood leaves them out by the curb to be collected by the more industrious vagrants that rattle up and down the side streets with their overflowing shopping carts. These are the people I happily wait with in line, because we are talking twenty cents a bottle here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Rings of Slattern

I’ve been in a vegetative state for months, a shiftless loop of knitting and dog walking. You can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve ran. The never-ending renos are my excuse for not housecleaning. My neighbours’ kitchen extension is the reason why I haven’t gardened since August. Motherhood gets in the way of putting in a full day’s work while Wayne Dyer’s soul candy is the cause of my plateauing weight. And now I’ll have to drink more wine so that I have a stash of bottles to give to the bin-diving lady with the steel teeth.

Don’t Ask

I am a lazy cook, mainly because my dietary desires are not very demanding. Every Sunday I make a big batch of roasted vegetables that I eat for lunch the rest of the week. The selection of vegetables is based on what currently looks good at the produce market. Do not ask me for a detailed recipe. I can tell you in vagaries, but not specifics. I throw in whatever seasoning hits me – and I do not use measuring spoons. People inquire how many onions? How finely chopped? Whatever you like, I will answer. People seem to find this frustrating.

John Baxter’s Curried Chicken

There’s no room here to share the entire recipe for John Baxter’s Curried Chicken, I can’t even be sure that it’s his, although he certainly made it his own when I had him write it all down for me.
     What I like most is that you steam the chicken in Step 2, then use the resulting stock in Step 6.
     But most people prefer Step 1: “Turn on the radio such that it can be heard clearly over the din of cooking noises. Lock door to apartment/house. Pull beer from fridge. Open. Enjoy. Replace immediately upon completion of present beer.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dial 668—The Neighbour of the Beast

Mrs. Miller made the best butter tarts. She got the recipe from her mom, who quickly recorded it while listening in on her telephone’s party line:

     ½ cup butter, softened
     1 cup packed brown sugar
     ½ cup corn syrup
     2 eggs
     2 teaspoons white vinegar
     2 teaspoons vanilla
     Big pinch salt

Cream together butter and sugar; beat in corn syrup, egg, vinegar, vanilla and salt. Pour into uncooked shells (every 1950s eavesdropper worth her salt could make pastry from scratch). Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes and cool. Makes about a dozen.
     The devil made her do it.

Perpetuating the Obsolete

Interesting how we have symbols and expressions for things that no longer exist. Often in front of phone numbers you see pictographs of those long discontinued black telephones with dial faces – something that most people have not seen in years, and many young folk have never seen at all. After I key in a telephone number on my office phone system, I hit a button that says ‘dial’ when there is no dialing going on at any point. I think there are still toy phones that have dials – teaching children something they will never again experience once they clear toddlerhood.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I’d horsewhip you, if I had a horse.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Groucho Marx. Not even close. In fact, like so much of the stuff that happened before I was born, I probably got my first inkling of him from an old Warner Brothers cartoon, or maybe the tired impressions of uncountable b-grade comics, and there’s every chance I’ve never sat through a whole Marx Brothers film, but still I was flabbergasted when Nicole confessed to me that she’d never even heard of him.
     “You know those glasses you can buy with the fake nose, moustache, and the bushy eyebrows?”
     “That’s Groucho,” I said.

Tragedy and Comedy

Back when we could control our son’s pastimes, back when he was willing to watch movies with us, we had Laurel and Hardy marathons. All the fun ones- Brats, Way Out West, The Music Box- we greedily watched right away. It developed into a weekend obsession and we worked quickly through their roster, eventually coming to their later, inferior films. If you are a Laurel and Hardy fan do not watch Utopia. It’s their last film. Both men are older, Oliver’s fatter and Stan, his body wracked by diabetes, looks like a ghost. It’s like spotting the waddle on Oopsy-Daisy.

Abuse of Power

The doorbell rang at about 4:00 a.m. My room was closest to the entrance on the floor I shared with three other student roomers in the big Annex house. Two cops stood there. One a short older guy who kept insisting they could get to the upper floors to arrest somebody on the third floor by surprise. I told him repeatedly there was no access and they would have to ring the bell on the other door. He continued to badger me while the other cop, who was young and tall, made eyes at me over the old guy’s head.

Officer Requires Assistance

Walking back to my place, along Eglinton Avenue towards Mount Pleasant, we came across the largest assemblage of police cars I’d ever seen. The closer we got to the Swiss Chalet, the more cops there seemed to be, and yet they weren’t warning us back, because as it turned out there was no danger. Apparently some poor sod had left the restaurant in a wheel chair and tried to cross the street. There down the road was what was left of his chair; and all those cops weren’t there for us, but to protect the cop that had hit him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Groovy Neighbour

From the oil paint on her smock to her eighty-odd years of wisdom, Bridget has style. She’s the coolest person I know. For years I watched her, purple do-rag on her head, tending her magnificent garden. She had quite a past: A London foundling, adopted into a posh family whom she rejected, she became an artist and married a much-younger sculptor. One night with the rest of us far into our cups she finished the tequila, adjusted her lime green glasses, looked both ways and crossed the street home. Feist now lives in her house. We’ve yet to have drinks.

The Glamour

What else is style, but confidence? It is not what you wear, but how you wear it. If you can walk into a room with an aura of knowing you rock, other people will think you do. More important than any piece of clothing or accessory you can purchase is the ability to have presence. Dance lessons, fitness classes, anything that enhances your grace of movement will have a much more profound impact on how you are seen. You do not even have to be toned and trim, as long as you have comportment. It is like casting a spell.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sophisticates at the Gate

Things seemed simple enough when we started: try to ignore the fact most everyone at school is older, and therefore better, than you, do your time, and eventually it’ll be you at the top of the heap. And yet there we sat, looking down on the throng, only to see a new wave of kids coming in, with better clothes, better hair, and better music. And since we’d only ever been children in the ’60s and never of the ’60s, we’d never really developed a style of our own. We were the barbarians, and we had nothing better to offer.

Honey, I shrunk the Blundstones

Our Lainie says the mom uniform in suburban BC consists of yoga pants, a travel mug and a ponytail. Add a French manicure and these gals could be shopping at the Vaughan Mall. Inner city folks have a different vibe involving more attitude and less hair product. That’s how we recognize each other on winery tours. So imagine our surprise when last night at Aries we sat next to a family who, mullets akimbo, went on about hockey before spontaneously bursting into a round of Wavin’ Flag. Rich suspects Rob Ford parachuted them into the neighbourhood as the New Normal.

Loyalty Rewarded

“I’d rather fight than switch!” declared the models in the ads for Lucky Strike cigarettes, with eyes blackened to prove it. The height of brand loyalty. But are the brands loyal to you? I loved Lululemon yoga pants and Steve was under standing order to get them for my Christmas gift. Then one year the fit was different and I needed to exchange them. I ventured out on Boxing Day, something I had never done before. After slogging downtown I discovered that Lululemon does not make exchanges on Boxing Day. Lululemon treated me was atrociously. I will never go back.


As a conscientious and rather cynical consumer, I try not to let myself be unduly influenced by particular brands. Sometimes I even like to think that I’m somewhat immune to their effect, but here I sit in my tiny basement office and within easy reach I have my CANON scanner and my CANON camera, my PANASONIC phone, my VIRGIN mobile, CRAYOLA markers stuck in an empty tin of SPAM, a stand I built out of LEGO to raise my monitor, IKEA everywhere I look, a SHARP calculator, HARMAN/KARDON speakers, a WACOM tablet I hardly ever use, and APPLE APPLE APPLE.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Andrew my summer student always gave me grief about my preaching edgy design yet practicing a bland urban aesthetic. Day after day he’d sit in his ersatz office in our kitchen and point out the Pottery-Barneyness of Caesarstone and KitchenAid appliances. It’s not as schizophrenic as it sounds. Mixing slick with schlump is my take on the Japanese notion of the impermanence of beauty. My sink full of dirty hand-thrown pottery, black Comrags clothes loaded with cat hair. A fridge full of organic fruit and a drawer teeming with ho-hos. It’s not really me being slovenly. It is artistic. Really.

Imperfect Beauty

I have always thought that the difference between crafts that are art and crafts that are simply products is perfection. The more perfect something is, the less artistic it is, as far as I am concerned. A hand-knit sweater is lovelier than a machine knit sweater because of the changes in tension and the imperfections. I remember watching a documentary on Japanese potters who would throw a perfect vase on their wheel, and then knock a dent in it on purpose to make it more beautiful. The hands of artisans must be balanced with their humanity or they become machines.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too Crewel for School

For one of our class projects, Mrs. May made us all sew, girls and boys alike. Nothing fancy: cut two identical halves, leave a gap in the seam, turn the whole thing inside out, stuff it, and stitch up the hole. An heirloom it would never be, but at least we’d have done it ourselves. She taught us the back stitch and the overhand stitch and warned us that there’d be hell to pay if she found out we’d been using a sewing machine . . . which, in spite of all my careful work, was exactly what she accused me of doing.

Get a Room

Whenever I shell out a couple of Bordens for a bias-cut schmatte held together by two artisanal buttons, I know I should get back into sewing. Mom was a seamstress, and her mother before her. It’s genetically predisposed that I should sew, and I can, but I hate it. I feel the back of my neck getting hot just thinking about it. Mostly it’s because I have no place to sew. If I awoke one morning to my own workroom, half of it devoted to wool and the other half showcasing a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 that’d be a different story.

Fabric Hound

The fabric piles up. Irresistible pieces from bargain bins and lawn sales; many from an interior design company where I once worked – tail ends left over winnowing their fabric store room. They are crammed from floor to ceiling into a closet in my workroom. I have no idea what I will eventually do with them. Every once in awhile I come up with a project to use a piece, but not enough to keep ahead of the incoming flow. Sometimes I cannot bear to cut into that piece once I have devised a use for it. I just love fabric.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Begonia Pope

Poor Begonia Pope suffers from a rather serious case of anterograde amnesia, which means that, although she can still remember things from before her accident, she can no longer form new memories. She can’t recall what she was doing five minutes ago, for instance, but she still knows how to knit. She’ll be making a scarf, but soon forget why she started or even how far she’s gotten, yard after yard without once looking down, beautiful and eccentric creations that never fail to fetch a good price on the High Street.
     And so her family just keeps feeding her yarn.

Image based on the Original Pattern.

Muffler Queen

“Not another one…can’t you knit something that isn’t a rectangle?” Dan asked, bemused by the constant stream of scarves that chug forth from my needles. Of course I can make other things, I just choose not to. Knitting is meditation for me, and those I truly love have either received their karma scarf, or are on my mental list of future recipients. Most of the people I’ve given these to really do like them. Maybe my former boss, or Louise the evil travel agent wouldn’t wear something I designed to wrap around their necks, but I wouldn’t knit for them.

Cover Up

Joan knew a guy who wore shorts until the snow fell, only then would he concede that he needed the protection of long pants. A lot of people seemed to be that way – always seeking to wear as few layers of clothing as possible. Joan welcomed autumn weather for the comfort of more clothing. Others would say, “Do I need to wear a jacket?” Joan asked, “Can I wear a jacket?” Gloves, scarves, hats - tights when she wore skirts – these provided a sense of security, like a shield against the outer world. The bareness of summer made her feel vulnerable.


     “You’re nuts!” said Corvus. “Didn’t you hear what he did to those kids last week?”
     “He’s not so tough,” said Krebbs.
     “No, only five guys catch him alone in the wrong neighbourhood and he stares them down. I heard he just singled out the biggest and said something like: ‘I don’t care what your ugly friends do to me, but I’m going to get you. I’m going to shove my fist down your throat, and I’m going to hold it there until you’re dead.”
     “Big deal. He never even touched them.”
     “Tough and smart . . . and you’re asking for trouble.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Labours of Hercules

After hours of labour Sandra looked at Mike. “You’re what?”
     “I’m sore.” He had just played a rigorous game of squash before his wife’s water broke and was feeling the effects several hours later.
     Sandra was a natural at childbirth. While it took me twenty-two hours and as many stitches to have Dan, her two labours averaged about seven hours. Completely natural with no pain medication. Still, she couldn’t be blamed for being unsympathetic. They say the closest a man could come to experiencing the pain of childbirth would be to pass a kidney stone. An eight-pound seven-ounce kidney stone.

True Grit

Guys think ice hockey is a manly sport, but it is wimpy compared to field hockey that girls were compelled to play as part of the phys-ed curriculum in high school. Field hockey sticks are more like clubs, and the hard rubber ball could do every bit as much damage as a puck. Yet we did not have the defence of any protective padding whatsoever. There we were in our skimpy little bloomers out there on the cold windblown field. Penalty for high-sticking was to run ten laps around the field – no sitting in a comfy box on the side.

Floor Hockey

Floor hockey was one of the few games I was any good at. The rules were pretty much the same as regular hockey, except you played in the gym, with a thick ring of felt about the size of a dinner plate and sticks that had no blade. Our puck looked official enough, but there was no money for sticks, and Mr. Mason told us that, if we wanted to play, we’d better bring in a broomstick or something from home.
     I’d like to see Mr. Mason ask my mother to give up a broom she’d paid good money for.
Photo of John “Apples” MacKay by Ed Carter, from the Earl Haig Fabulous ’50s Group.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Position Does She Play?

Rich was unfamiliar with the unwritten Canadian rule that whatever is out on the sidewalk is fair game to any passerby. So when we saw that amazing dresser just sitting there, it took some convincing. I’ve never been coy about garbage picking and have dragged home everything from 100-pound oak doors to refrigerator parts. By far my favorite is a gorgeous brass lamp that, one IKEA shade later, sits in pride of place on my dining room sideboard. Even Rich loves it. Now if I could only get him to conform to that other Canadian rule: Don’t slag Paul Henderson.

Garbage Day

The woman’s house was carefully decorated. She took great pride in keeping up with the trends, and creating an attractive environment for relaxing and entertaining. It seemed like every time Joan visited her, there was another embellishment to the décor. Her friend was constantly upgrading. The slightest defect in her furnishings could not be tolerated. As soon as cushions got a little frayed, they were replaced. Or a tabletop would lose its sheen and it had to be tossed. “What a waste,” Joan thought. She was going to have to find out when garbage day was in her friend’s neighbourhood.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Major Marmaduke Lockhart Tindall

My mother gave me a photo of her grandfather to scan for a project my cousin was putting together: Major Marmaduke Lockhart Tindall in what looks, to my civilian eyes at least, like a pretty well turned-out uniform . . . except for the belt. The major might have been fifty or so when he posed for this, perhaps a young-looking sixty, but I’d bet that with every new uniform, from his time as private, he had kept the same belt. Five holes it has, and he’s on the last, but you can still see that each was used well in its time.

The Quest for the Perimenopausal Grail

I have two years before my next milestone birthday. My failing eyesight and waning pulchritude don't bother me because all the folks I love are cresting that same hill. I’m more concerned with lost opportunities and unfinished business. Onerous stews that have simmered on the back burner for decades. So there’s a long list of things I need to do by then and the top five are: Have a paperless office, finish my PhD, become perfectly bilingual, develop enough roadside confidence to drive on the 400 in February after dark, reach Enlightenment and get crack-whore skinny. Preferably in reverse order.


I never had trouble with all of those ‘milestone’ birthdays where you feel you are getting old because, as far as I was concerned, I left my youth behind when I turned 20. Somehow the jump from my teens was the hardest birthday of all. One reason could be that I had a great adolescence. My mother might disagree with the former statement, but I was having a ball. Yes, there was some angst – but mainly there was freedom and fun. And ambitions and expectations of life that (it became clear as I got older) would never come to pass.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Big Two Oh

Nothing had prepared me for my twentieth birthday. One day I was young and healthy, and the next I awoke with an odd lump on the back of my hand near the wrist: cancer, of course, or something worse, like whatever had happened to the guy I saw that same afternoon on the way to see Blade Runner. Surely he’d caught the exact same kind of wrist cancer, and it had spread upwards, wasting the muscles and burning the skin so that his arm looked like so much cured meat stretched over the bone. That’s how it felt turning twenty.

Les Collants Rouges

Mon Oncle Frank was a moose hunter in Rouyn, Quebec. So was his wife Alice. She always got the biggest, affording even the most distant relatives like us from Tecumseh moose burgers for the better part of the winter. Ma Tante had the bragging rights as a chasseur but Frank, a professional wrestler of the Killer Kowalski variety, owned the off-season. This was the 1950’s when everyone had his gimic. Frank came by his naturally. Born with two bumps on the top of his forehead and enhanced by a saturnine temperament, Le Diable enjoyed a repute that stretched to Noranda.

Victim of Ageism

The doctor frowned and made his pronouncement. “Bruises,” he said, about the hard lumps that had formed in my fledgling breasts. I was only ten years old when they arrived and therefore I was the victim of my big brother’s friends. They would never dare if I had been an older sister, but a younger sister was fair game, as far as they were concerned. Whenever they thought they could get away with it, they would ambush me and grab hard, copping a feel. When she learned the truth, my mother put an end to their game in short order.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Julie’s Nuts

Julie was always the odd girl out. The rest of us lived in the married-student apartments, while she lived across the street in the fancy tower with her single mother and the outdoor pool. Still, she once joined the tackle football game we were playing on the narrow patch of grass behind our building, although perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, and especially so during the pile on, when someone cried out that Julie had grabbed his crotch. The first time we could chock up to happenstance; the next time less so, especially when she herself announced the nuts she’d counted.

High School Confidential

If we as girls were subjected to those heinous blue gym “rompers”, the kind with the inexplicable two-inch belt and infantilizing big white buttons, our male equivalents, had they chosen to take up wrestling, were forced to wear something resembling a backwards one-piece Speedo. These were made out of some toxic synthetic stretch fabric and were usually in the school’s colours. Our rival school, Belle River had them in green. I assume ours was in dark blue, but because the crotches of those things looked like someone découpaged over a bowl of Christmas walnuts, I was too embarrassed to look.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Deterrent

Nowadays I see the high school phys-ed uniform is pretty much the same for both boys and girls – shorts and a top. Seems like the most practical thing to wear for most sports activities. Back in the seventies they still insisted that girls wear this ridiculous one piece thing that was like a shirt attached to a pair of short bloomers. No sleeves and a belt at the waist. It did not look good on any body type. I think that uniform was responsible for many a teenage girl deciding not to take phys-ed any longer than forced to.

Mr. Mason

Mr. Mason was the only gym teacher I ever had. Until grade six, our regular teachers did the job, herding us all outside to play kickball or something, but in grade six they handed us off to Mr. Mason, who made us change into shorts—no matter the season—and run laps. In grade seven, he started teaching us all about sex and health. In grade eight, I asked him why the skin on my feet was peeling so much. He laughed and said I was probably going to die. And I decided not to take gym in grade nine.

 Photo by Manu Pombrol on Flickr. All rights reserved.

Nanny McTitleist

Like a lot of closet OCD’ers, I am a picker. Maddeningly, Rich has flawless skin, and except for a very brief, tantalizing bout of cradle cap in 1995, so does Dan. The time the three of us had chicken pox evolved into a dermatological Greek Hell myth for me: Those glorious spots were there, like big, ripe peaches straining on the vine yet I remained unsated because of the threat of scarring. Impunitous digging could only occur on my scalp. As a future crone with alopecia, I will be known as that nice cat lady with the golf ball head.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Outsider

I am giving myself a backhanded compliment, but my clear skin as a teenager was just one more way I was excluded from the ‘crowd.’ Between classes the other girls would cluster around the mirrors in the washroom, moaning about their zits. Once I got one and pushed my way in, pointing it out, hoping to share sympathy with the others. All I got was derision and scorn. “You can hardly see it,” they sneered, “and have you ever had one before?” “You can probably eat chocolate all day and never break out,” they told me. And they were right.


“Take it from me,” said the father to his son. “I popped a few pimples back in my day; and the trick is to keep squeezing until you’ve got all the stuff out, every last bit, or it’ll just come back. Squeeze till you bleed, and you’re done.”
     “The big exception to this—” and he’d been waiting most of his adult life to pass this information along “—is that spot right in the middle of your forehead just north of the nose. Fuck with that too much, and you’ll be left with a crater where your third eye should be.”

Mother (Ron) Hubbard

It’s 2:45 am and I’m awake wondering if my fifteen year old took a shower like he was supposed to. The angst is symptomatic of my slippery slope to poor parenting that began with letting him eat meat and stopped somewhere after the third hour of PS3. Wayne Dyer tells me that faith in the universal spirit will solve my problems. In an attempt to vibrate at a higher plane, I let the shower business go. This morning at breakfast I ask, “So Dan, did you take a shower last night?”

With an incredulous, “Duh?” he returned to his oatmeal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Levelling the Blame

You give them the best you can give, what more can they expect? And every time you turn around the rules change. At one time everybody said, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Nowadays nobody believes that anymore. You cannot beat the bad out of a child. Yet people are always ready to blame the parents, even the parents themselves. I remember my mother moaning, “Where did I go wrong?” at one somewhat serious transgression I committed. I did not blame her. I knew I had made my own choice in the matter. And I learned my own lesson.

Passing the Blame

Louise hated the Canadian Cancer Society.
     Sure, they’d helped her through her battle with cervical cancer, but she just couldn’t get past the stuff they had to say about her particular disease, mostly because they made her feel that if she’d been even the least bit promiscuous back in the day (and maybe she had) that she’d somehow brought the cancer down upon herself.
     Just look at poor Farrah, she’d say. She’s dying of anal cancer. Which of you judgemental fucks wants to stand up in front of her family and friends and come up with a reason for that?


It was such a shame that Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died on the same day. Maybe there was a minute or two devoted to her, but the bulk of the news went to The King of Pop. For me, as a goat-haired child of the ’seventies, she had the gold standard of beauty: rake thin with straight blonde locks that took to a curling iron like a fish to water. No mustache. I think she might have also been a fine actor when given the right roles. She should have had her own day. Maybe even her own week.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Sexual Revolution

Back in the seventies, in certain circles, there was a lot of pressure to explore every possible aspect of one’s sexuality. It was considered that you could not possibly achieve full sexual liberation until you had experimented with every position, and with partners of both sexes. Guys would insist, “you don’t know until you try.” It seemed to me, however, they were mostly interested in luring me into threesomes so they could have sex with two women at once, and spice it all up watching Lesbian sex on the side. Sorry, guys, I am very sure I knew without trying.

An Acquired Distaste

Miss Hudson, every morning, would bring her coffee from the teachers’ lounge and down the hall to her class in a little open box. The box was blue, with a red and yellow pattern painted on the sides, and with room for the mug and plenty left over for . . . what? I can’t remember. All I can see is that dirty old mug full of coffee, and loaded with sugar and cream, the smell of that coffee every morning, too close to my seat, filling the room and turning my stomach. And so, I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never even tried.

The Fascinating People of Roncesvalles

I think she was being nice when she described our neighbourhood, an enclave of artists, lawyers and CBC-types, as one of ‘genteel poverty’, living as we did in our crumbling century-old homes. Her inner Margaret Mead ventured out daily to observe and interact with the charming but primitive locals, so quaint with their take-out coffees and lefty newspapers like the Globe and Mail. It was a challenge to keep her from retreating to her room, a comforting Maeve Binchy in hand. Lunch at the local Polish diner was challenging. Taking her to my Trannie-friendly restorative yoga class was right out.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hidden Style

She was impeccably elegant. Delicate features frames by a stylish hat; her expensive outfit accessorized perfectly. She caught my attention on the subway car because of the aura of excitement and joy that lit up her flawlessly made up face. I had seen that look before and I searched for the evidence I was sure would show itself. Just as I thought, there was the adam’s apple. She was a he; but very well done. I guess it is my costuming background that has provided me with the ability to sniff out transvestites, no matter how well they do it.

Purple Leather Pants

Were I as paralyzingly self-conscious as her, I’d do all I could to blend in. But here was a girl who dressed to stand out; who actively sought the attention, only to shrink from what little she got. It’s not as if I didn’t like her idiosyncratic style, and I was perfectly happy to have some of it rub off on me, but dating her felt sometimes as if I’d been cast in a remake of The Elephant Man, in which they’d given him a bullhorn so he could scream at everyone in the square not to look at him.

Dark Shadows

I think that Rich and I are closet vampires because neither or us like a lot of light. Our son is the same way and for the most part we live like moles, or rather, given the preponderance of candles in our house, Catholic moles. Except for my office, most of the rooms in our house are evening rooms, with wall colours and furniture chosen to look best after dark. I’ll admit that it is a pretty idiosyncratic style. It could be called ‘zen bordello’ or 'William Morris with glaucoma'. Potatoes last forever and houseplants only come here to die.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Some Light Sustenance

Illegal basement apartments sustained me through many years of working in theatre. There was little choice given my paltry income. Many of them were not all that bad. There was even one at the back of a house built into a slope, that had full windows along one side where the land fell away. But even so, when I met Steve and we could to pool our money for higher rent, it was a relief to get above ground. The first morning I woke up to sun streaming in the window instead of cloying opaque darkness was a joyous occasion.

There Goes the Neighbourhood

Our old neighbours, who were great neighbours, had grown too big for what was essentially a starter home. So, they were moving on up to a fully detached pile on the fancier side of Roncesvalles, leaving us behind in our modest semi to contend with the new neighbours—a young married couple plus kid—whose first order of business, before we had even met them, was to have the husband’s loud foul-mouthed friends lug sheet after sheet of drywall down the front stairs for what, in my growing depression, I could only assume would soon be an illegal basement apartment.

The Neighboor

I have no choice but to put up with our neighbour’s colossally invasive renovations. Her tiny semi will bust out to fill most of the backyard. By Christmas I will look out of our kitchen window and see brick. Our sunroom will be a sunroom only in the academic sense. The air is blue with burning diesel and vulgar machismo. But my neighbour is nice and I have to remember that. So right now I am sending over good karmic thoughts instead of sticking needles into the Suburban Kate doll I fashioned this morning after construction resumed at 7:30 am.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Am What I Am

It would be a fair generalization to say that most of us fantasize of going back and taking a different route than we chose during at least one point in our lives. But who would I be if I had stayed in New York, or accepted that long term position at the Banff School of Fine Art that was offered all those years ago? How can I regret those lost opportunities, when it all turned out so well and I am in a happy place now? The answer is definitive. The choices were made and I am what I am.

Do Over

The first stop on my trip back through time found me talking to my younger self as he was leaving for work on October 25, 1996.
     “Stay home today,” I told him. “Or better still, take a trip somewhere nice. They can’t fire you if they can’t find you.”
     February 9, 1980: “Listen, you are going to try to kiss her on the way home tonight, so you might want to practise a little first.”
     June 11, 1974: “When that Grade 8 girl asks you if you’re going to the dance today, it means she wants you to take her.”
Photo by Thomas Leuthard.

It’s a Wonderful Life

We all muse about what it would be like to return to our youth, knowing what we know now. But in reality this would only work if everyone did it. I can’t image being back at St. Gregory’s with a 48 year-old brain and surrounded by my Nimroded peers. Or worse, what would bullies like Zimbo be like, their middle aged machinating brains forced to negotiate grade four with their tiny winkles. Nope, far better that we all age together, the lucky ones gathering wisdom along the way. Otherwise, the makers of Mike’s Hard Lemonade would be out of business.

We Have The Ability

It always feels like I should be able to go back and reverse things. For the first couple of days after I make an error in judgment I always have this voice in the back of my mind telling me what I can do to make things right when I revisit the moment in time where I messed up. I actually have to tell myself repeatedly that it is water under the bridge that is already far downstream. I wonder why it is that I have this strong instinctual belief? Maybe someday I will figure out how to do it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


To teach us all she knew about combustion, our science teacher filled a tiny aluminium pie plate with granulated sugar and held it over a flame as it slowly turned brown and bubbled, then smoke, then flame until there was nothing left but a brittle black crust.
     But then, instead of explaining to us that all combustion—and indeed most of creation—is essentially a one-way street to maximum entropy, she promised an A to anyone who could find a way to reverse the process, a problem I’m sure one us would’ve cracked eventually had the school board not intervened.


Dad’s soul has 49 days to be reborn, and this is the final week of his passage. Next Tuesday, I’ll store his ashes and plan for a spring interment. Cec’s candle returns to the windowsill and life goes on. This includes the unending renovations to our house. Last night the three of us cleaned out Daniel’s bedroom preparing for today’s tear down.
     “Oh my God!” Dan said as he found a small envelope among the discarded dinosaur and airplane books. It was a birthday card from his Pépé stuffed with 12 crisp $10 bills, just waiting for a rainy day.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Are you supposed to be Annie Oakely?” The guy at the Halloween party asked. Wrong era for a pencil skirt made of faux cowhide. And if I was Annie Oakley I would have a gun, since old Annie was a sharp shooter. No, I was just a generic cowgirl. Seems like people feel a need to pick specific characters for Halloween costumes. As far as I am concerned the object is to simply disguise oneself so that the demons who roam that night will not recognize the souls they have been sent to take back to the netherworld with them.

What are you supposed to be?

Peter is not a large man, but this did nothing to stop his daughter from coercing him into dressing up for her Halloween party as one of Marvel Comics’ largest superheroes. He painted his face and hands green and wore tattered black pants plus a matching green jersey for the chest over layers and layers of undershirts in an attempt to give the ensemble an illusion of muscle and bulk . . . for all the good that did.
     “What are you supposed to be?” asked Mary looking down at him. “A Little Green Man?”
     “I am trying to be The Incredible Hulk!”

Mrs. Dressup

Last night I was Boadicea. But for the faux leather and brass split-pin tunic recycled from my son’s grade five Beowulf pastiche, all the pieces for this get-up came from my own closet. Same as last year’s Voodoo-Creole-gypsy togs. All my stuff, just more of it at once. Huge layered linen top? Mine. Wrapped knee boots? Mine too. The 3-foot long braids and blue face tattoos, were off course Hallowe’en additions. Funny thing was that as I doled out candy and chatted with my neighbours, nobody said a thing about my costume. I think they were too polite to ask.

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