Monday, January 31, 2011


My first big adventure to Europe came too quickly down to earth—after the overnight to Heathrow, the layover in London, and that morning flight to Düsseldorf—when I found myself in my cousin’s living room in the middle of the night, wide awake watching Canadian horror films dubbed into German, the kind of movie in which the Canadian Film Development Corporation and the Royal Bank share the production credit, where tired Hollywood stars go to pad their résumés and prepare for a comeback, or in this case where Richard Chamberlain and John Houseman co-starred in Tod aus dem Telefon.

The second part of this unique double bill was Die Stunde der Ratte in which a growth hormone is inadvertently released into the city sewers. But not only was this gem filmed in Toronto, it actually included someone I knew in the cast. My first night on the European continent, and here I was apologizing for some of the worst films ever to come out of Canada. I’d travelled 4000 miles over two days to have the first thing I saw on television be the city I’d left behind and my pal Robert Kennedy being eaten by a giant rat.

Location Is Everything

They took over Beatty for several weeks for the shooting of ‘Cinderella Man.’ The street was part of my daily bike commute and every morning I zipped past rows of antique cars, as well as big parked trailers on my way to work. I have this vanity that Russell Crowe saw me and that inspired him to try to ride a bike through Yorkville. The poor man only got a few feet before he was hounded off the road by the paparazzi. I do not envy stars the prison that is created by their celebrity. A luxurious, but inescapable prison.

We were pleased to be offered a tidy sum of money for our house to be used in a movie shoot. Exterior filming only. Two characters would fight on the sidewalk by our front gate, and one of them would then break away and run up our path to the porch. It was a delightful coincidence to discover that made-for-TV production was written by a friend of ours. Not so nice, however, to find out when we watched the movie that our place had been chosen by ‘locations’ as the home of the scumbag, lowlife bad guy in the drama.

That Bugaboo Stroller is so Gangsta

When we lived in Mimico we were constantly being filmed. Not us, mind you but Lakeshore Boulevard, where we lived. It was just skanky and dated enough to be used as an appropriate backdrop for any crime, slasher, immigrant-coming-of -age movie you could think of. It was New York on the cheap. Then we moved to Parkdale, where the gritty, crappy, crime genre remained, but the budget was bigger. And we’re used to it: trucks, lights, parking pylons just taken in stride. We saw Russell Crowe at the Starbucks, but as this is Toronto, after all, we didn’t let on.

Today The Douchebag was at the puppy rescue benefit with his girlfriend. I’ve written about him before, the guy who made scenes at a couple of local restaurants. Although he still looks like Gowan, I’m not sure if he really was the actor from Ghost Trackers. I think he runs a shoe store that features window dioramas full of penises. Who would ever think of shoes as phallic? Especially now. And like Dan’s psychotic former music teacher, since I’ve become tuned into his rhythm, I see him everywhere. Perhaps he’s writing his own blog about this middle aged stalker lady.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Summer of ’73

Lynda Day George was in town for the summer, filming what would eventually be released as the made-for-TV classic called She Cried Murder. Hot from her stint in the long-running television series Mission Impossible, she of course had top billing, even over such other notables as Kate Reid and Telly Savalas. She was the star, and had I known, perhaps I wouldn’t have done what I did, but she was awfully pretty and not at all what you’d expect from Hollywood, and so, with my friends goading me on, I moved in and picked her up, right on the set.

Thing was, she liked to hang around between her scenes and mingle with the people who’d come by to watch a movie being made. She especially liked the kids, and although I was only twelve at the time, she unwittingly taught me one of the first important things I learned about women, when us boys started showing off and bragging how high they could lift her. Because after all, we thought, how could such a lovely lady be anything but delicate and dainty? So, yes, I did try to pick her up—a few inches, maybe—but women are heavy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flushes With Fame

My friend, Myna, once found herself face to face with Leonard Cohen and had the bravado to introduce herself and the presence of mind to have somebody take a picture of them. So now she has a framed photo proudly hung up on her wall as a lovely memento and proof that she actually met the great man. Such opportunities have presented themselves to me several times, and I have always messed up by hanging back shyly, or worse, by saying something stupid. Given my luck, if I managed to get a picture it would probably be out of focus.

The star of the play actually came over to talk to me at the opening night party after the show. I cannot remember his name, but he had a significant TV presence at the time, usually as a guest supporting actor supplying comic relief on various sitcoms. I was standing at the buffet, grazing on the offerings and I was truly awe-struck that he singled me out like that. He put out his hand and introduced himself and I was so flustered that I answered with my mouth still full of half-chewed grape, which ended up gracing his lapel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Latter-Day Faints

My girlfriends and I hated the Osmonds. There was something monumentally uncool about sibling bands, mostly because the age range made the oldest creepily avuncular and the youngest just a puerile fartelberry. And this group, all twenty-seven of them with their oversized heads and untainted religious convictions were doubly odious. The prospect of catching a glimpse of them as they rode along Riverside Drive offered little incentive. Still, call it Catholic guilt, but we felt we had to participate. It was a walkathon for Muscular Dystrophy and we’d been Clockwork-Oranged by Jerry Lewis every Labour Day since we were infants.

For the first five miles Kathy put up with ill-fitting shoes. For the next three she walked in her red tennis socks. At mile nine with torn socks, blistered and filthy feet she just stopped and lie there crying. At that point the promised cavalcade of lesser Osmonds passed us, their collective teeth a sunshiney death-ray that threatened to burn the retinas of anyone who dared to look directly at them. After that we lived in fear that a future Tiger Beat would have a picture of our sobbing, prostrated friend and the caption “Canadian Fan collapses after meeting Jimmy!”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Great Airplane Race

The very first and last running of the Great Airplane Race took place on October 27, 1977. I know, because I still have my sponsor sheet. The object was to throw a paper airplane, beginning in the centre of Queen’s Park, down the middle of University Avenue, all the way to the base of the C.N. Tower. The goal was to raise money for the United Way, but deep down what I really wanted to do was throw my paper airplane from the top of the World’s Tallest Free-standing Structure, and all the better if I could make $10.35 doing so.

In spite of the success we’d enjoyed from the previous year’s Plankathon—in which teams of three tied their feet to two-by-fours and walked in perfect step down Yonge Street—our class president hated my idea of a paper airplane race, and decided instead to capture the school’s imagination with—wait for it—a bake sale . . . and, as if to prove the maturity of his judgement, took the roster of eager pilots I’d presented and tore it up. And, yes, he did go on to become a successful lawyer, but our stunt made five times more than his cookies.

Squeak Loudly

The CN Tower advertised their bar saying you could enjoy a view of the city without having to buy the expensive ticket up to the observation deck. I suggested this to Steve for a romantic date. Although many window seats were free, they wanted to seat us behind a partition that blocked the view. We were told we could visit to the observation deck after our drinks. I somewhat loudly complained that we did not take the trouble to come up to sit behind a partition. We were quickly seated, but poor Steve was embarrassed at the scene I made.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I learned this early on from my nervy mother who never shrank from speaking up for what she felt was right. There were countless incidents where I stood hunched over with embarrassment while she vented or complained to managers, teachers, or worst of all, complete strangers on the street. But I guess it rubbed off on me, probably because I observed how she effectively got her way most of the time. Now I take great pleasure in embarrassing my kids in the same way. I hope, in time, it rubs off on them, too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


There were at least two incidents in my life where I’ve appeared to be quite crazy in public. Years ago I waited, ticket-in-hand for my number to be called at a packed Bell store at the ignominious Dufferin Mall. I saw countless twenty-somethings purchase their cell phones, watched their lacquered nails coiling around their new phones, snapping them shut and peeling them open. And still the number on the wall didn’t move. Thirty minutes later I waved my little piece of paper and shouted at the top of my lungs “Seventy-two is a mythical number!” I was seen to straightaway.

I had to get some blood work done at the hospital. Settling in among the shattered and starving I took out my knitting. Twice I jumped up thinking my name was called only to be told to sit back down. Then I crossed my audience a third time to use the phone. I travelled past the clerk, beyond the elevators and through a hallway to the public telephones. Despite my circuitous route I could easily find my way back. My ball of wool had caught on the chair and left a trail across the entire fourth floor of Mount Sinai.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Lady from Shanghai

Wherever you go, the absolute number of crazy people I think remains pretty constant. It’s just that you’re unlikely to see much of them during the day. They’re diluted by all the normal stuff going on about them. They blend in well enough on a crowded streetcar or a busy street, but as the normal people disperse to their normal lives, so increases the proportion of crazy . . . riding the last subway home on a Monday night, sorting through the remainder bins on the third floor of Sam the Record Man, watching an Orson Welles double bill at the Nostalgic Theatre.
And sure, I might very well have taken her seat, but that’s where we’d been sitting all afternoon, through A Touch of Evil and now waiting for the start of The Lady from Shanghai. Even so, there were plenty of good seats left, but she was determined to sit next to me, right next to the perfect seat I’d taken from her, flicking angry bits of popcorn from her fingers all through the film, squirming and scheming, waiting for the final credits, waiting to grab her coat and dump her drink in my lap on her way out the door.

Subway Mystic

I was new to NYC, but already aware how rare it was to find a seat on the subway. One day I was delighted to get on and find several seats! I failed to notice the wide berth people were giving them. I paid no attention to the empty paper bag on the seat beside me, thinking it was just garbage that somebody left behind. Then I heard a kind of chanting. The crowd parted and grizzled old man in grimy clothes appeared. Droning his chant he began lighting matched and tossing them, still lit, in the bag beside me.

The thing about deranged people is you have to be careful about moves you make around them. When the ‘mystic’ on the subway car began tossing lighted matches into a paper bag on the seat beside me, I sat frozen, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I breathed a sigh of relief each time a match went out before disappearing into the depths of the bag. At the next subway stop I bolted for the door. Who knows what blessing he would have bestowed if he had become aware of my presence? Maybe I missed out on great fortune?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Please Don’t Feed the Bagmen

He had the universal sign of all transients: A plastic bag turned inside out and stuffed to breaking. I sat across from him on the subway and watched as he rummaged around, carefully taking out a bit of sandwich, surveying its contents and then wrapping it up and replacing it in his bag. I was drawn to him and his Deputy Dog jowls. So before I got out of the car at Lansdowne, I placed my package of licorice on top of his bag. He looked up, disgusted, “Hey Lady, I don’t want this!” and threw it back at me.

Like those experts on Antiques Roadshow who can tell a 1902 Stieff bear from a fake, seasoned TTC riders can spot a crazy a mile away. The Smellies and Lone Talkers are obvious, but it’s the ones who look normal until you sit next to them and then start telling you about melting skeletons that present the challenge. There’s a simple rule of thumb that always works for me. It’s not their hair nor clothes. It’s their shoes. Worn heels and salt stains are a dead giveaway. And for Heaven’s Sake don’t sit next to any adult with Velcro ties.

The Better Way

Whenever the Amalgamated Transit Union goes on strike, anyone who depends on the subway or the bus or the streetcar to get around Toronto has to scramble to make other arrangements. The smarter commuters spend the time working from home for a change, but most don’t think twice about adding their car to the chaos downtown or maybe make some small effort to form a car pool at work, but mostly they grumble—a lot; and usually along the lines of legislating the overpaid bastards back to work and usually after only a day or so of such unbearable hardship.

Back in the ’70s, people seemed a lot less anxious about getting to work. Then a transit strike tended more to bring people together in the simple adventure of getting around, when on the typically uptight streets of Toronto, you had only to stick out your thumb, and someone would give you lift.
     On the way home from school one afternoon, I met a man who’d driven downtown just for the fun of it. I sat with the others on the floor of his van, and he offered me plum from a basket of fruit he’d brought along for us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rule of Thumb

Usually it was no problem getting a ride back to town from Owen Sound, but this evening we were not getting any takers. After standing with our thumbs out for almost an hour, a car stopped. And it only took us as far as Allenford. It was about 8:00 at night, but I swear the entire village had already gone to bed. We did not see lights on in any of the homes. And it was ages before another car came along. It stopped. We got in. We would have taken a ride with Freddie Krueger at that point.

For a couple of years my best friend and I hitchhiked everywhere. Sometimes just for fun, with no destination in mind. You often met interesting people. But after a couple of dodgy rides that got us thinking about safety, we gradually lost interest in it. And, in my late teens my parents bought an old beater for the kids to bomb around in, so it was no longer as necessary. My hitchhiking career ended firmly when I moved to Toronto and discovered standing by the road with your thumb stuck out was a signal that you were open for business.

I Love You to St. Joachim and Back

This summer Dan will take driving lessons. I see preparing him for his G1 as teaching an important life skill. A more practical incentive for leaving the basement than a couch fire. Being a county kid, I had my license early. I failed my first try at Windsor then opted for a second attempt at Tilbury. That time I passed and became a bonafide driver at the age of seventeen. And I was a late bloomer. Farm-girl Cathy thumbed her sun-burnt nose at the law and drove when she was fifteen. But that was just a truck full of corn.

The move to Toronto was a rude awakening for me. Fresh from Tecumseh, and bereft of my beloved Dodge Dart I was forced to take the TTC. Or rely on the vagaries of city drivers whose predilections were to dump you at the nearest streetcar stop. Back home nobody took public transit. What’s more, nobody got marooned at a bus stop. You just drove people home, no matter where they lived. So we chose our friends wisely. A Brouillette or a St. Pierre was a fifteen-minute drive into town. Returning a Chauvin or a Menard took forty-five minutes one way.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FFFFF . . . JJJJJ . . . DDDDD . . .

When school lets out again this summer, I’m sure every child, young and old, will soon be looking forward to their first day of typing camp. That’s what my mother, the mistress of subsidized summer fun found for my last holiday before high school, two whole weeks of fffff . . . jjjjj . . . ddddd . . . kkkkk . . . Understand, we’re not talking about computers here, this was touch typing at its most basic, on massive old manual machines back when tab stops were actual metallic tabs, and it took every ounce of your strength to return the paper carriage back to the start of every line.
I maintain that those two weeks of typing camp were all it took to set me apart from all the poor hunters-and-peckers who’d be spending the rest of their lives cursing their computers and the demise of the once ubiquitous secretarial pool. Everyone would soon be doing all their own typing, and I was fortunate enough to learn what I consider the two most important typing tips ever: use your pinky to hold down a shift key and your thumb on the space bar. Everything beyond that is nothing but practice, muscle memory, and lots of looking at the keyboard.

Image from Wikipedia.

A Spoonful of Sugar

Mrs. Schlinker, my piano teacher, was a great fan of Liberace. I think he would have loved to have met her. Like him, she smiled all the time and employed his method of highly arched fingers prancing up and down the keyboard, with the ends of phrases accentuated by a flourish of the wrist. This flamboyant style of playing was enforced on all her students. I did not mind. It was fun to add such physicality to my playing, and it was a way of making sure each note was precisely defined. Later I transferred that style to computer keyboarding.

Finding ways to inject playful fun into my routine is really the only way to survive the monotony of office work. Because of my piano training I love typing. It is satisfying to fire off a section of text at the speed of a machine gun, and finish with a flourished hand on the ‘enter’ key. I also like to play number games when making my bookkeeping entries – looking for patterns in number combinations. But I have to be careful with my sense of humour. It always bubbles to the surface in serious situations, where it is not always appreciated.

Life Before Pete Townshend

My tiny record stand was shaped like a lyre and had a capacity for fifteen albums. Unless I padded it with Alvin and the Chipmunks or the Singing Nun, it would remain half-empty. Fearing reprisals from my friends who had older siblings with collections that boasted Machine Head and Brain Salad Surgery I’d frantically comb my pile looking for the least dorkey cover to place at the front of the stand. Once in a panic I settled on The Cowsills and lived to regret it. A great jettisoning of titles occurred. Except for Liberace’s Rhapsody in Blue. Coolest. Record. Ever.

William Campbell

I once got into an argument with a friend of a friend, over whether it was really Liberace in that episode of Star Trek where the crew is captured by an alien who does look a bit like Liberace. I looked up the real actor’s name and kept it in mind for months just waiting to bump into, you know, that guy who’d thought it was Liberace and the first words I said to him were “William Campbell,” which I can still recall thirty years on, even if I can’t remember the name of the guy I said it to.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Information Overload

I can never remember the names of bands, or the names of songs. I know the music, but those details will not stay in my head. Steve is always rolling his eyes when I hear a song and ask him, “Who does this, again?” Or he will name a song and I will say, “What?” Then he has to hum it to me before I recognize it. Once, I got a big laugh from a clerk in a record store when I asked for the latest album by “A Hundred Thousand Maniacs.” “Do you want ten of them?” he asked.

The Born Identity

Because she saw Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally and then soon after watched him host the Academy awards, Laurette thought there were two of him, one about ten years older than the other. She insisted on referring to them as "The Crystal Brothers" and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. And so 'The Crystal Brothers' became part of our arcane little lexicon. One will say this phrase when the other mistakenly identifies an actor. And it's usually me. I’m not good with names and don’t go to movies much. I’ve never been able to tell my Langellas from my Damons.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bill Cosby and Ben

Mark had an extra ticket to Bill Cosby’s new show and invited me along: the O’Keefe Centre downtown, a big American star, and if that wasn’t enough showbiz for one evening, Ben Vereen did a surprise walk-on just to say hi to his pal, just like they do on the late-night talk shows.
     “Great show,” said Mark at intermission. “And how about Flip Wilson just dropping in like that?”
     Ben Vereen? What the hell had I been thinking? Flip Wilson was way more famous than Ben Vereen, and I’d just blown my best chance of ever seeing him in person.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Easy Money

The TV was on in the background while we were playing cards. My sister’s boyfriend made a comment about Eddie Murphy. I looked up and saw it was The Late Show. “That’s Arsenio Hall,” I corrected him. “Eddie Murphy!” he insisted. “Betcha a hundred bucks it’s Arsenio Hall.” I said, absently. “Betcha!” he returned. I thought nothing of it until a letter came in the mail a few weeks later with a one hundred dollar bill tucked into it. “A gentleman always honours his bets,” it said. A bet I never meant to be serious. Glad I was right.

Eat your vegetables or the Seal will kill you!

For children and parents that ghastly time between school and supper is mitigated by TVO Kids. We realized how much Dan was influenced by one particular program after he arranged our beer empties into circles on the kitchen floor, looked up at an imaginary overhead camera and shouted, “This is an Art Attack!” But some shows, like Pingu, were stupid, and he just had to wait them out. Until that episode with the seal. A smooth, brown disproportionate head that rose up slowly against that creepy blue background. It looked like Eddie Murphy and scared the shit out of him.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Penguin Guy

Every few months, on the way to the dentist, I’ll pass by my first apartment and wonder what the next tenant thought of the bathroom I left behind. When I first moved in, I’d enjoyed patching things up, but after a few months of plaster and paint, I was getting just a little bit potty and so, when someone told me that wallpaper would make quick work of the cracks in the bathroom, I splurged for a print of penguins kicking a beach ball around, penguins on the drinking glass to match, and with that I became the penguin guy.

A Girl’s Room

The theme for the bedroom was Winnie the Pooh. There was a Winnie the Pooh sheet set, a Winnie the Pooh comforter and matching Winnie the Pooh drapes. Winnie the Pooh prints hung on the walls. A Winnie the Pooh lamp stood on the table by the bed that was loaded with dozens of Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. She tucked herself in wearing Winnie the Pooh pajamas every night. She even had a Winnie the Pooh lunch box that she carried openly on her bus commute to work each day. Yes, we are talking about a grown woman, here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hunters and Gatherers

Serious Aspergery-collecting, like monolithic rows of albums or floor to ceiling libraries tends to be a man thing. How many of us had boys who lined their cars up in single file from kitchen to couch? It’s too deeply entrenched in their DNA to fix. But seeking out bits of dross is a completely female addiction, running from the mildly artistic vintage teak to the truly heinous plaster angel or cat figurine varieties. Junk is consumer poutine. It’s bad for us and makes our houses fat. Over time I've learned to resist stuff. Just don’t look in my yarn cupboard.

Main Street

Growing up a block or so away from the corner of Bloor and Yonge, I didn’t quite know what to make of the Main Street station on the Bloor-Danforth line. Yonge Street, after all, is one of the longest roads in the world and that particular intersection pretty much defines the centre of downtown Toronto; and so there was little doubt in my 14-year-old mind that either of those streets had a greater claim to main-ness than one I’d never even heard of until that dull afternoon I decided to spend the rest of the day underground, collecting subway transfers.

Grey Area

The last house on Main Street was on the edge of town, and the change was abrupt. Its lawn was edged by a row of trees and a fence. On the other side of the fence stood a field of corn that served as the front yard for the family whose property marked the start of farmland. Now there is literally a ‘grey area’ between the town proper and rural areas – paved over with asphalt and concrete of big box commerce. Both sides of the highway offer a mile of bleak, treeless, wind-whipped parking lots fronting huge palaces of retail.

Femme D’Affaires

It doesn’t have to be in Barrie. It could be in Sudbury or Lansing, but nothing makes you feel more like a loser than walking out of the parking lot of a Holiday Inn. Sidewalks exist only in an academic sense and as you attempt to cross the eight lanes of suburban traffic drivers view you with interest. Is she too poor to afford a Windstar? Is she just back from the methadone clinic? In reality, I am usually on my way to one of those ersatz Mexican restaurants, the kind that feature iceberg lettuce and Frank’s Red Hot sauce.

Cycling the Suburbs

We crossed the 401 at Keele, rode our bikes over sixteen lanes of rush-hour traffic, past acres of prime Ontario farmland now devoted to elaborate ramps and merges, dodging cars desperate to get onto the highway and those just trying to get off and get home. Out there they wonder at the people crazy enough to cycle through their suburb, that is if they bother to watch for you at all. But at least the lanes are nice and wide. And you can ride on the sidewalk if things get hairy and not have to worry about encountering a pedestrian.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Just Bumped Into Him

The car I dinged in the cramped parking lot of the movie theatre already had so many dents and scrapes that I considered just driving away. But my conscience would not allow it… and there were witnesses. I went back into the theatre and had him paged. And, to avoid any insurance claims, I agreed to pay him $50 cash if he came to my house the next day. He appeared, on schedule at my door the next morning to collect. “Can I take you out to dinner tonight?” he asked. We went out for about six months after that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Roxanne, You Don't Have to Put Out the Tail Light

My first fender bender occurred only weeks after I received my driver’s license. Drunk with the anticipation of buying a new Police album I drove the Dart to the store only to discover, Outlandos D’Amour in hand, that I had forgotten my wallet and had to return home to get it. Peeling out of the parking space I clipped the right side of a green station wagon. I did what any resourceful seventeen year-old girl would do: Reparked on the far end of the mall and phoned Daddy. After all, it would have been too ironic to call the cops.

Parent’s Night

It has nothing to do with my parents, Mr. Robb. It’s because of the Accident.
     We were starting home late from a day at the beach, and although the parking lot was empty, and the exit was way off in the corner, my father still followed the lines. I was the only one who noticed the other car coming diagonally across from the right, but all I could do was watch, because I just knew both cars were moving at exactly the right speed to meet up precisely, and they did.
     And that is why I’m so good at physics.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Danger of Short Circuit

Having observed many a dullard who came from brilliant parents and many a brilliant child who rose out of a dull family, I had already come to the conclusion that it is a person’s specific gene mixture that has a far more potent effect on the outcome of their character, than their upbringing. Then I had children and marveled how their personalities were hardwired in from day one. Possibly certain environmental factors may make a difference, but, in my opinion, we die the same person as we were born and trying to change who you are can be damaging.

What Not to Expect When Expecting

In periods of intense navel-gazing I’ve wondered if my mother hadn’t smoked a pack a day and taken diet pills and DES when she carried me, if I wasn’t raised in a trailer or enrolled in Catholic schools my entire young life, would I be more successful today? But what if this sort of prenatal nourishment and early childhood education had an immunizing effect, and I’m much stronger than if I had been spawned and raised by rich folks? Maybe. I know I’ve developed quite a resistance to bingo halls, truck rallys and Don Cherry. And I never get sick.


In Grade 3, I made the mistake of doing well on a school-sponsored IQ test, a rather stupid mistake considering how smart the test said I was, because from then on every one of my teachers would look more closely at the work I produced and invariably inform my parents that their son wasn’t “living up to his potential,” and of course I was just dumb enough to believe them, up until high school and all the way through university, to the point where I wonder now if I haven’t spent the last forty years trying to prove them right.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Significant Expectations

My earliest toddlerhood memories are of staring up at my parents, seemingly omnipotent beings, towering over me, making me feel insignificant. I railed against my ineffectual status in society. I longed to be an adult; to be in control of my own affairs and confident in my experience. Every step I made toward independence gave me great satisfaction: tying my own shoelaces; driving a car; getting my first job; moving out on my own; settling down and starting a family. I have progressed through many proud milestones. But for all that, I have never overcome the feeling of being insignificant.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It’s Not Just a River in Egypt

Sure everyone got old around me, but I thought I was hermetically sealed in my youth. Maintained. Preserved. But first it was policemen who looked younger than me, then the doctors. Suddenly people half my age became successful writers or academics. Famous. Like I wanted to be. But I never realized how much I was aging until an aerobics instructor visibly recoiled when I got close enough to ask him a question. What an eye-opener! Health, Pulchritude, Dreams and my unrealistic romantic pairing with Pete Townsend, all things to be stored away in the four canopic jars of my youth.

Welcome to Your Future

I suppose we should be thankful that aging is such a gradual process, that the day-to-day indignities build up so slowly we hardly notice the cumulative effect of all those years. For instance, I’m sure I wake up every day hurting, but I couldn’t tell you how much. It’s like a bad smell you slowly get used to so that you no longer worry about it unless you have company coming, which makes me wonder what my nineteen-year-old self might think if he were to be suddenly dropped into my 49-year-old body, what he would say after the screaming stopped.

Too Young To Be Old

People often tell me they admire my self-discipline, in terms of fitness and dietary routines. There is nothing to admire, I exercise, bike to work and eat vegetarian because it makes me feel good and I enjoy those activities. I feel better now in my fifties than I did in my twenties. Back then I often felt nauseated when I had to stand for very long; like an old woman, I could not walk more than a block because of flat feet and weak knees. I hope not to feel that way again until I am a certified senior citizen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking the Bait

Because I spent my early years breathing in the exhalations of two chain smokers I have developed a superhuman sense of smell. Blindfolded, I could tell who you were just by smelling you, or your house, or anything that came from your house. On this occasion I was sat next to Christina who gesticulated wildly with her fork, the speared flesh dangling off it as if she were fly-fishing. Only two inches from my nose. As usual, the conversation turned towards vegetarianism. She insisted that people were natural carnivores. Instead of arguing with her, I threw up on her shoes.

To My Vegetarian Girlfriend

If you’re going to take this vegetarian thing seriously, it might be a good idea to do a bit of reading first; because even I know it’s not as simple as not eating meat—you’ve got to find something to make up for the meat, and then you’ve got to eat more of that something than you’d probably ever care to. So, yes, technically, sour cream and onion potato chips are a vegetable, and you might even get a tiny bit of protein from the coating, but if that’s all you’ve been eating, you dingbat, it’s no wonder you’re sick.

Photo by Boris Hoppek.

Unpalatable Assumptions

Being vegetarian provides me with an excuse to avoid eating all sorts of questionable; or downright disgusting foods. It is hard to go wrong with vegetables and most dairy products. And things are getting easier for us vegetarians. There was a time when I would state my dietary position and get served fish or even chicken. Actually nowadays people go the extra mile and assume I am vegan. I was confident I would get pasta with cheese when pre-ordering vegetarian for our company Christmas event at an Italian place. But they had tempeh – one veggie option I truly abhor.

Nuthin’ says Luvin’

“So, are you going to eat the placenta?” This from a coworker who had it on good authority that the afterbirth should be consumed as it purportedly offered the mother a leg-up towards recovery. His informant ate hers fried up with onions. Since I am wary of any baked good, gifted or not, produced by a child under the age of fourteen, the thought of eating something after it had been attached to my son for thirty-eight weeks was right out. And forget about roping Rich into the scheme. He won’t even eat things that come out of a microwave.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why not take all of me?

I ticked the box and let it be; considered it for but a moment and then tried not to think of it ever again. Because, really, what do I care what they do when I’m gone? Hose me down and prop me up in the last suit I’ll ever own. Scoop me out and serve it all up to anyone who will take the stuff, whoever might want my fatty liver, my kiddlies, my lights—just make sure you fry up the rest so that there’s nothing left over for some cheeky soul to inflict upon me one last indignity.


My brother, who is a doctor, refers to motorcycle riders as potential transplant donors. Up until recently, when a large contingent of baby-boomers fulfilling their youthful dreams swelled the ranks of motorcyclists, bikers were usually young and therefore still had useful organs; and they died in accidents at a much higher rate than other vehicle users. There are many science fiction imaginings of how the spirit of the original owner of an organ lives on after being implanted in a recipient. Thanks to my brother I have a vivid image of getting the heart of a Hells Angels member.

Spam Filter

It was a rainy drive home from Big Sur and we were all tired. I’d been in the water the entire day. I was lean and fit, never touched alcohol and usually let things just glide past me. That is the irony of it all: I didn’t deserve to die, much less lose my cozy existence. But we didn’t anticipate the sharp bend in the road and the next thing I knew I’d lost everything. They were my heart and my soul, my eyes and my ears. Now I am just an empty vessel. I have become Steve Jobs’ liver.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


If you’ve only ever seen a few episodes of Star Trek here and there, you’re probably unaware that, in addition to the television shows and all those movies, Pocket Books has, over the years, published hundreds of novels based in the Star Trek universe. I once tried to write one of those novels. And, as if writing a novel weren’t already hard enough, I decided that by the 23rd century, the computers would all be speaking to us in verse—Onegin stanzas in iambic tetrameter, to be precise. Mister Spock would not approve, but I think Steve Jobs would understand.

Heart Smart

Watching Star Trek, I always identified with Spock. I wanted to be like a Vulcan, cool-headed, clear-minded; able to make logical, analytical decisions without being muddled by emotions. I hate the anguish that accompanies major life decisions in which the outcome could be either tremendously rewarding, or disastrously damaging. Over the years, however, I have found myself in many difficult situations in which I carefully and methodically weighed all of the information and took what seemed to be the most logical course of action. All the while my heart would be screaming, “NO!” In retrospect, my heart was usually right.

Spock Was The Smart One

Recently, I caught the final minutes of William Shatner’s Weird or What? It sounded like a low-brow version of Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of... The latter show was appointment viewing when I was ten. Each week I’d tune in, only to be willingly creeped-out by stories about Nostradamus or the Bermuda Triangle. Now, I love Bill as much as the next person. You simply have to. But even with his twinkle and rug, I can’t bear to watch shows with titles like “Human Popsicle”. But Bill can’t help it, either. He’s always been Norville “Shaggy” Rogers to Leonard’s Rod Serling.

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Bowled-ly Go

In 1973, four years after NBC had cancelled Star Trek, an artist named Franz Joseph published what would become the definitive blueprints of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a little more than three years after they had broadcast an episode called “The Naked Time,” in which everyone on the ship loses their minds to a mysterious contagion brought on board by the landing party, and Ensign Kevin Riley, having taken control of the bridge, orders a formal dance to be held that night in the bowling alley . . . and so, of course, you will find that bowling alley on Sheet 11 (Deck 21).

It Once Stood as a Reminder

Even then the bowling alley on the beach was a relic of the past. You could see the kids who were hired to set pins scurrying around behind the back wall after the end of each round. Scores were kept by hand. It was a great way to escape the intense heat of mid-afternoon, to come in and play a few games – accompanied by the best milkshakes and onion rings available locally. Part of our youth was wrenched from us when it closed. For years it stood boarded up as a reminder of our loss. Now it is gone, altogether.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Little Shop of Horlicks

Raymond’s coffee shop is out of business. At least I think it’s so as the windows are now papered over in newsprint. As we walked by on our way to Roncesvalles we tried to remember the various incarnations of this tiny, doomed boite: Chocolate store, a cheese boutique where the owner’s wife complained to me, “Why am I doing this? I’m a yoga teacher for Christ’s sake!” Then a second cheese shop run by frenemies with creative differences. If it were my venture I’d sell Ovaltine and the New York Times. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wai Lai?

I didn’t like Henry and trusted him less, but when he suggested we all go for Japanese, I figured it might go some way to getting along a little better with someone I had to work with every day. Hell, I even made a point of riding with him, through the twisty suburban streets, to what he claimed was one of his favourite restaurants: a bustling place with fast service and good food . . . so good, in fact, that when I asked him the next week for the address, rather than tell me, he said it had gone out of business.

Society’s Glue

We are taught that lying is a sin, but the truth is that society would fall to pieces if not for lies. Relationships would be in shreds. At the very least we rely on lies of omission; things better left unsaid. But all husbands know the pitfalls of answering honestly to “Does this make me look fat?” So much so that it is a standard joke. And then there are the other clichés of “Let’s do lunch soon,” and “The cheque’s in the mail.” Yet, we continue to repeat these lies to each other over and over. And believe them!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Off-white Lies

I’ve never understood some people’s compulsion towards honesty. I mean basic, karma-inducing honesty like not stealing stuff or cheating is a given. Take something that isn’t yours or hoodwink somebody and you’ll get it in the end. But I feel no need to answer the phone nor the doorbell just because I’m home. And forget about supplying my real name to the dog-park by-law officer or entering it on In these and in similar circumstances my handle would become Lorraine Tessier or Marie-France Gouin. They are sensible adaptations: Close enough to be believable, but far enough from the truth.

Happy Birthday! Never Mind.

If you gathered all the people I know who were born in 1961, at the front of the line would be my poker buddy and reluctant Facebook friend, Marc Egan. He claims he signed up only to see some photos another friend had posted, and so there’s never been much to his profile but for the single delightful fact that he was born on New Year’s Day, which today would’ve made him the first of us to turn 50, except that, when I wished him the Happy Birthday I’d been saving all year, he confessed he had faked the date.

A Lotto Hope for the New Year

Out with the old, in with the new, so the saying goes. After all the warm wishes, hugs and kisses of the first week we will settle into the new year with hopeful expectations of what it will bring – as if some arbitrary date imposed on the calendar will change anything. Maybe we should ask not what the new year will do for us; but ask what we will do for the new year? Instead of waiting passively for a windfall, go out there and make a change. All the same, I hope my lottery ticket is a big winner.

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