Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gypsies, Tramps and Beans

Today at the dog park Henry asked if I married above my station. Of course I did. It’s not as if I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show, but really anyone who lived in a stationary house made out of bricks was a step up. If it takes three generations to make a fortune and three more to lose it, that would put Dan at the top of the line. How will he accomplish this? And with whom will he procreate to produce the useless heir who will begin the slide back to working at Green Giant?

Our son’s already remarked on how Rich and I are working all the time. This is true for Rich. When he’s not at the Fort he’s volunteering at the dojo, sweeping the floor or, given the Pontius Pilate complex he’s developed from sleeping with a Catholic, washing something. It’s not the same for me. My associate Colin does most of the work while I walk Nim. Perhaps I am the lazy third generation bent on squandering the family fortune. Will my fiscal turpitude leave Dan with only some useless RRSPs, a wool cupboard and a silver-plated Knights of Columbus sword?

Starting Fresh

They say it takes three generations for a family to become wealthy, and three more for everything to be squandered away. The theory is that the second generation after the riches have been won works a little less hard, and the generation after that is downright lazy and spoiled, with a sense of entitlement that drives them to spend on luxuries they believe they deserve. However, it seems that many in the generations after the wealth has gone still feel great pride in what their ancestors accomplished, as well as a vicarious thrill from any scandals committed by decadent generations.

For those who cannot claim past greatness in their bloodlines, there is the option of searching their past lives for anything juicy. For awhile it was fashionable to be regressed through previous reincarnations to discover the stuff of which we are made. Incredibly just about everybody who did it seemed to have once been an amazing person, or a least royalty. There seems to be a deep human need to have greatness in one’s past. Somehow it makes one feel more content to live an unremarkable life in which nothing significant is being achieved, other than surviving day to day.

Myself, I always look forward to moving ahead. My father, eager to bury any bitterness for the losses dealt him in the war, put his past behind him when he came to this country. His desire for a fresh start rubbed off on me, I guess, because I prefer to embrace the future, rather than dwell on the past. I love moving into a new house, a new city or a new job. It is an exciting adventure; meeting new people, occupying a new space – making it your own. It is too frustrating trying to hold onto an intangible past.

Kirby Misperton

For some time I’d felt I’d been born with all the snobbery of the rich, but none of their money. My mother would give me hints of wealthy ancestors and unspeakable scandals, of squandered fortunes and unscrupulous relations come to pick over the remains, but I could only wonder at how they’d spent it all so quickly and before I’d even had a chance to touch it. Near as I can tell, one day they all simply stopped doing the thing that had made them rich and settled into just being rich, until soon they weren’t rich any more.

My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Richard Harris Tindall, for instance, was the last manager of the Scarborough shipyard before the harbour silted up and they closed the place down. He had a house in town—a sizeable pile named Paradise House just down the hill from the Castle—where he could oversee the whole operation. Four generations of Tindalls had called it home, but by 1918, long before I could have any say in the matter, it was simply another asset to be liquidated. Now, it’s just flats, where for a mere £139,500 I could, if I wanted, reclaim two-bedrooms’ worth of my legacy.
My irresponsible ancestors also owned a sprawling estate consisting of eleven farms on 1,791 acres, including the manse—Kirby Misperton Hall—located among 50 acres of pleasure grounds, gardens, and lakes. This had once been the seat of the Rev. F. N. Blomberg, Chaplain to King George IV, prebendary at St. Paul’s, and rumoured son of George III; but by 1863, the Tindalls had moved in. My Great-Great-Great-Grandmother’s brother, Robert, was Lord of the Manor, as were his sons to follow, until 1903, when they basically had to sell the whole spread. Today it’s a theme park called Flamingo Land.

Photo by Discover Yorkshire Coast on Flickr. Scarborough Castle is on the top of the hill. Paradise House is the first white mansion on the left.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old Homes

For her fortieth, May asked to visit her childhood home. The present owners demurred. How mean is this? A few years ago a lady who lived in our house in the 1970s asked to look around. Touring the rooms brought her to tears, so many ghosts for such a short amount of time. She was seven years old again. I often think about going back to my old home on Hickory Road. Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep I retrace each step, down to the basement, then on to the kitchen, and finally up to my green polka-dotted bedroom.

Laurette sewed my bedspread, curtains, dust ruffle and vanity skirt all from the same fabric: mint green polka dots on a white cotton background. I loved it and I remember how happy she was to do that for me. It just occurred to me last night why: Mom’s first real room, the first one she had all to herself, away from the poverty of her life in Tecumseh, was a bedsit in a private family home. More than once she told me about the beautiful white wicker furniture and the green bedspread. Zen-like peace before people talked of such things.

At the age of six, I achieved something for which my mom had waited twenty-two years: a space of my own, rendered secure by people who loved me. We all want the ability to give our children something that eluded us, or to spare them the grief we encountered along the way. They don’t ask for this. That’s something we have to remember, catching ourselves mid-sentence in the parental harangue of back in the day we didn’t get things handed to us. I’m sure our grandparents heard the same speech as they prepared to walk the ten miles to school.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Inhabited By Spirits

“That’s where my uncle’s house used to stand,” declares my mother, every time we pass that hillside on the way to Hamilton. “I remember coming out to visit the cousins.” Apparently the home was located in the optimum path for the new highway, and was expropriated and torn down to make way for it. Funny how a shelter of various building materials can become so much a part of oneself just because you have lived part of your life within it. It must feel peculiar to see an expanse of asphalt obliterating vivid memories of childhood you hold dear.

I am not one hundred percent sure, but I think every place I have lived still stands. About ten of those places are in the city of Toronto, and I pass by them every once in awhile. A good friend has a condo across from one my old apartments. When I sit out on her balcony I look across to what was once my balcony. Memories of the times when I lived there, those many years ago, come alive in my mind; they become a little more concrete just because I am near the physical presence of a past abode.

You can feel the spirits of others who have lived in a home, too, even though you never knew them. When I go to visit the old farmhouse in the Ottawa Valley that was the homestead of Steve’s ancestors, their ghosts close in around me. It is not a bad feeling, but they are definitely there. They walk the land around the farm, too, haunting the barns and the well-worn paths that lead along the river. It is fortunate to be able to hold onto places your spirit has inhabited. I, myself, have been forced to let many go.

Our Hour

This year, Earth Hour dropped right in the middle of our big night out. We read our menus by candlelight, picked through our meals in the dark, and for all of our careful planning, arrived at the theatre to learn that the second show would be starting twenty minutes later that night. Certainly the restaurants had stocked up on the candles, and we caught the neighbourhood candle parade moving south, but I really have to wonder, given that the city’s power usage dropped a mere 5% this year, if all those candles contributed more to global warming than we saved.
Even with the fate of the planet hanging in the balance, we didn’t think it smart to leave our children alone in a house full of candles, let alone tell them to turn off the computer and make their own fun. So, for this year’s Earth Hour, we gave them a pass and left on our date with the intention of at least keeping our carbon footprint as small as we could, for what little that did to offset the inconvenient truth of Rowan turning on every light in the house to scare off the drunks from down the street.

Photo by transp.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Greed and other Hobbies

Forget calling the Got Junk people. The fastest way to clear a room of its contents is to have a death in the family and call in the relatives to come and choose an item as a keepsake. We went through this with dad, but it wasn’t relatives, it was his neighbours. It’s amazing how quickly seemingly incapacitated seniors can move when a pull-out couch and a synthetic-wool blend throw rug is involved. When my own meme died my aunties reenacted the battle of Sparta just to get their mitts on a pair of china birds and some crochet needles.

It’s easy for me to scoff at the corpse-still-warm greed that sometimes possesses family members at the death of a loved one- I’m an only child and so is my son. I think it’s just a human failing to be greedy. We all have it in us. It might not be things, either. We’re piggy about food, booze, attention, free time. And as Canadians we’ve hidden behind this “Ah shucks, have a donut” hosery that belies our collective greed for land. Walk over the beautiful rolling hills along the Grand River and you’ll see why Mohawks are so pissed off.

Sure I’ve entertained all seven deadly sins: anger, greed, lust, gluttony, envy, eating animals and wearing braids after forty. And because of this, I now have a stupid hydro pole in my front lawn. Like stepping in dog shit after making a nasty remark about someone, my karma pole chides me. I’m incapable of consistently thinking pure thoughts ergo, I now have this ridiculous green, plastic phallus in the middle of my front lawn. Behold my gossiping, petulant, ego-driven albatross. It’s causing me a great deal of dukha, and the bullies at Ontario Power Generation don’t give a flying fig.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Family Ties

Barbara retired to the family cottage on the shore of Lake Huron, where she had spent her childhood summers. Her mother always kept it just so, and Barbara dedicated her time to maintaining its quaint perfection, each and every heirloom properly cleaned and dusted, and in its place. A tribute to her family’s illustrious history. When Mom visited Barbara spoke fondly of her nephew; her brother’s child who would carry on the family name. She hoped he would visit, but he had not been there since he was a child, when he came with his parents to escape the city.

By the time it was diagnosed, the cancer had spread too far. Barbara only had a few months left to enjoy her peaceful retreat. Mom stopped by regularly and made sure she had a reliable nurse to care for her. Barbara still held up hope that her nephew would come to visit. She died with that hope unfulfilled. When the nurse called to let Mom know, Mom called the nephew. He did not show up to help arrange the funeral or the memorial, but a truck showed up the next day to empty the cottage of all the precious heirlooms.

Thomas James Burley

I don’t pretend to understand how things once worked among the Yorkshire gentry, but I’d like to think that all this began at a party, perhaps thrown to honour the accomplished vocalist Thomas James Burley who appeared there in Scarborough in 1872. He’d trained in Italy and sung at La Scala, but his eyes settled that evening on the lovely Priscilla Harris Tindall, heiress to the Tindall shipbuilding fortune, and by June they were married. Two of their children died prematurely, but the third would survive to become my great-grandfather, thus ensuring my children would have music on both sides.

The last I’d looked at my family tree was back in school when we all had to do it for our grade-nine history class. One girl discovered J. M. Barrie, the novelist, among her relations; and another found Mackenzie King, the tenth Prime Minister of Canada, who had actually mentioned seeing her mother as an infant in his famous diaries. I was desperate for a story worth telling, but while my mother and grandmother whispered together of a scandalous divorce long ago among the Tindalls, they’d only tell me those bits of the family history they had first carefully pruned.

It took the great-great-grandson of Thomas Burley’s brother (my fourth cousin, according to those who track such things) to blow the lid off our big family secret. My great-great-grandfather, the opera singer, was a wife-beating drunk, who carried on affairs with the servants, and drove my great-great-grandmother to the exceptional step in 1879 of divorcing the bastard, paying him off, and reclaiming her family name . . . which really could’ve been an empowering story to hear as a teenager were it not clear from the record that I am in fact descended from a long line of unfaithful husbands and failed marriages.

Photo of Thomas James Burley (AKA Senor Burleigh Tesseman)
from A Souvenir of Musical Toronto, 1898. You can read the sad end to his story here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


In 2003, when SARS made headlines, it was all I could do to keep Rich from licking the handrails at Spadina station. The ramifications of this act, he wagered, might allow him to take part in self-imposed exile. He would go to that extent to avoid people. I am the opposite. As any good Myers-Briggs corporate consultant will tell you, I get my energy from being near the people I love. Even those people that I only like a little bit will do in a pinch. Unless there’s a cat or a dog around. Then I’d rather talk to them.

Everyone knows that introverts are cooler than extraverts. But a decent gathering needs its share of the latter. Just not too many at once. Like its own fire code, the number of extraverts present in one room at any given time should be limited. And the bigger the personalities, the fewer per room. For example, perhaps one jaded television actor for three social workers or two real estate agents for each Clean Air Coalition/La Leche advocate/Nia instructor. You can invite as many musicians and movie producers as you like. They don’t talk much. But keep an eye on your booze.

Survival Strategy

I have never understood those women who insist their partners come straight home from work to be with them. My friends think I am good to let Steve ramble about. Actually I am being selfish. Probably the only way I could survive any relationship is for my partner to be absent a lot. I need time to myself. I get up extra early so I can have it. I love that precious time when the sun is coming up, and I am coming to life. I am out of there before anyone else in the family is out of bed.

The Quiet Left Behind

I’ve set myself up to be last out of bed, so whenever I make the mistake of waking early, there’s little choice but to lie still and listen to the morning unfurl. Tension builds as Rowan begins his hall-thumping kitchen-rattling routine, while I wait for the screams from his sister; and there’s certainly no hope of getting back to sleep until Mary’s finished working through each dresser drawer and returned two or three times to the closet.
     God love them all, but there are times I wonder if I wouldn’t miss them so much as the quiet they leave behind.
Photo by Moyan Brenn

Monday, March 21, 2011

Old Shoes

On his first day of daycare Dan waved, “Bye Mum, don’t forget to write!” So in one respect, it’s been easy letting go. Rich, because he’s never given me a moment’s hesitation, could go away for a year and I wouldn’t worry. And Nimoosh didn’t miss me at all when I was in Montreal. So at least one side is covered. It’ll be nearly a month before I have to travel so the barking, the snoring, the whining, the yelping and the chewing can collectively work my nerves for the next few weeks before I start missing them all again.

Cruel Mother Nature

At first I thought it was a grey, dead leaf blowing along the sidewalk. Then it righted itself and I realized it was a baby bird, struggling to stay on its feet against the wind. It offered no resistance when I picked it up; it actually snuggled into my cupped, gloved hands. It was still covered in fuzz, feathers not fully formed. I put it in a box nestled in paper towel and drove it across town to the Humane Society. There they told me it was a fledgling and needed to be returned to the place it was found.

As I neared my destination an adult starling buzzed back and forth above me. Just as the vet had assured me, the baby bird’s parents would be watching over it. All the same, I was not convinced of the little thing’s safety. How could the parents possibly protect it against a prowling cat or a speeding car? It yanked at my heart when the baby did not seem to want to leave the warmth of my hands, as I tried to put it down in a sheltered spot. It was the right thing to do, the Humane Society told me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

There’s a tiny enclave of houses just west of Ellis Avenue, where a few lucky homeowners get to wake every morning downtown to their own little piece of a postcard-perfect pond: the last of the winter ice edged with water, a pair of swans white against a background of faded reeds, and a middle-aged man in a bright yellow jacket beating them off with a stick, protecting the smaller swan he’s found them attacking, the poor thing sodden with filth, desperately trying to mount the low concrete bank that protects this paradise, its wings too wet to catch the wind.

I hadn’t known much about swans when I’d set out on my walk and certainly hadn’t anticipated spending a couple of hours that afternoon keeping one company at the fag end of that fetid pond while we waited together for Animal Services to arrive. Until then I would have never hit a bird nor wished one harm, but I ended my vigil hating the relentless pair that had tormented my new friend, feeling for the immature outsider who hadn’t known better than to wander into their territory, at first unable and finally unwilling to leave him alone to be found.

Photo by Paul Friel. Some rights reserved.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wall Flowers and Door Mats

In my awkward chubby youth, I was painfully aware of each occasion I was Odd Man Out: Sitting alongside my girlfriend at a screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, while she and her boyfriend chewed on each other’s retainers. Or at a food court, me inordinately focused on my onion rings as another friend fed her date from a plastic fork. The brutal bus rides and bike rides home. Every afternoon around 2:45, the kids from Parkdale Collegiate walk past my office window and my heart breaks for all those third wheels in this post-pubescent Tour de France.

     “Morrissey is asexual” I reminded Rich.
     “Oh, sure he is.” Such a cynic, he didn’t even look up from his paper.
     “And Stephen Fry…”
     “Not anymore.”
     Before Rich, I experienced a variation of the same gamut most people run in their search for true love: The Possessive and Crazy First. The Disinterested Rebound. The Starter Fiancé. The Clock-Stoppingly-Ugly-Brain Fling. Plus all those that fizzled out at the imagination stage. I’d have become a much better artist had I been asexual. What I could have accomplished in my youth if half of it hadn’t been wasted agonizing over some doofus.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Good Excuse

Joan did not want to be one of those women who stops hanging with her friends because a guy has come into her life. So Sandy often tagged along on dates with Elliott. Elliott did not seem to mind at first, and Joan thought it made dates more fun because it was always a laugh to have Sandy along. After a few months, however, Elliott started to balk at Sandy’s constant presence. Joan realized then that she was getting tired of Elliott. In fact, the next time Elliott objected, she used it as an excuse to break off with him.

Summer of ’82

Good for Dean for getting a girlfriend before me.
     I’m happy for him, or at least I used to be, before he started bringing her along to everything, before they got in the habit of kissing in front of me whenever the conversation starts to flag, in the line-up for a movie, on the subway platform going home, slowly nibbling away with nothing for me to do but just stand there and wait for the train to come.
     Sometimes he’ll invite another friend along—who knows why—and we can at least amuse each other with our colour commentary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Steven Slater is a Hero

Returning home from Montreal we were treated to the usual VIA 1 seat sale floorshow. A Terri Clark man-woman in a sleeveless denim bolero immediately picked a fight with a fellow passenger over storage space. She then settled in to eat her dinner with the fingers of her left hand, freeing her right for online poker. The Bonobos in front, apparently aroused beyond sensibility by the ceaseless cell phone murmurings of Ironic Plaid Trucker Hat, snogged from Dorval to Guildwood. What must it be like for the crew? Why be bilingual when simian grunts and opposable booze-pouring thumbs are enough?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Garbage In Garbage Out

I would like to see the giant patches of floating garbage that have formed in the North Pacific. It must be a truly majestic site – proof of how much humans love their planet. If it was not for the fact that air travel is so utterly damaging to our atmosphere, I would require all the inhabitants of ‘developed’ countries to be flown over these patches and witness what our culture of consumption and waste has created. I read in the paper today that, even in remote sections of the ocean, fish are being found with plastic pellets in their stomachs.

I do not like fish and I am constantly told ‘but they are so healthy for you!’ These days, when I hear about all the filth in our lakes and oceans, I wonder how anybody could still believe that. I would think, given that oceans are the final repository for everything that washes off the land, down our rivers, and out of our skies, that fish would be the last thing on the earth that anybody would want to eat. But it seems that people will keep on pulling them out of the ocean until they are fished into extinction.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Like most Torontonians, I have an ambivalent relationship with my trash. Sure, I’d like to believe the department of Solid Waste Management is processing it all as best they can, but mostly I’m just happy to find the bin empty when I come home on garbage day. The alternative is to wonder what really happens after the truck pulls away from the curb, a suspicion that goes back to the days, not long ago, when the authorities insisted we carefully separate all the paper from our other recyclables and then forced us to watch as they mixed it together again.

Supposedly, though, the waste management system in Toronto has been improving, slowly, to the point where I once heard the recycling program had actually been too successful, that together we had diverted so much waste from the landfill sites, there simply wasn’t a large enough market to absorb it all, and that they had decided to store it—temporarily, we were assured—in a dump. And so I imagined myself desperately pushing through the crowded streets, like Charlton Heston at the end of Soylent Green, sharing my horror with anyone who’d listen: “Our garbage! The city’s just throwing it away!”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Green Achers

It was only after he saw the mess in the kitchen, a spectacular Jackson Pollock of a shit and his dog in the middle of it when he remembered his ex-wife didn’t use paper towels. Or anything more serious than baking soda and Tom’s Tooth Paste. He still had the keys to the flat and only dropped in to get Chippers for his weekend custody visit. But now he had to spend the next half hour cleaning the place up with only a tea towel and a tiny squirt bottle filled with organic cider vinegar and tea tree oil. Sonofabitch.

Is this why she left him? Because of his ridiculous green proclivities? In the depths of her despair, somewhere between soaking chickpeas and attending bike rallies, she thought, give me a man who knows where the Vim is kept. Someone who can scrub out a sink with bleach, eat Cheez Whiz and slap on drug-store brand deodorant without a crisis of conscience. Sure the stainless steel water flasks and the Hessian shopping bags held a certain caché, but the washed-out milk bags? The reusable sanitary napkins? Just too much work. Sometimes she just wanted a banana that wasn’t Demeter certified.

Sudden Popularity

It embittered her to see websites getting thousands of hits per day that consisted of nothing more than a webcam pointed into some tiresome adolescent’s bedroom. How could people find that so interesting and not the wonderfully useful tips on green living that she posted daily – seemingly into the void? There appeared to be nobody checking out the sage advice she provided in her blog. The world was just full of ignoramuses she decided, but continued to doggedly maintain her cherished website, full of suggestions for reducing power consumption and properly recycle waste. Maybe someday people would learn.

She added a section on crafts one could create from all that excess packaging that is so hard to avoid, even when shopping carefully. Plastic bags could be twisted and woven into doormats, perhaps a little lumpy, but perfectly serviceable. Tin cans became shiny wind chimes. She looked around her little bungalow, now pleasingly adorned with all her ideas for re-using waste. “Reduce Re-use Recycle,” she intoned. Her twenty or so cats, in particular, had benefited from her ingenuity. They had no shortage of play-toys. Now people were responding, but she thought maybe they were laughing at her.

How the Raspberry Got Its Name

Most every morning on our walk into school, I’d pass the same old car parked along Fern. Street spaces there are catch-as-catch-can, so some days it might be close to the corner, sometimes further on, and on rare occasions away on some mysterious errand. It was an old Dodge Dart, an ugly dull green, with a suction-cup, speech-bubble sign in the backseat window that said “I’d hit you, but shit splatters.” One ugly car among many, with an owner perhaps more vulgar than most, and hardly worth my attention save for the most sublime vanity plate I’d ever seen: THBTHTTT.
And so, whereas most people decide they’re going to create a cool website and then try to come up with the perfect domain, I decided that THBTHTTT was already the perfect domain, and I was going to build a site to live up to its obvious greatness. And while I was busy not doing that, and because I fancy myself a bit of a marketing guy, it just sort of became the brand for everything else I’ve been doing for the past ten years.
     That’s right, the marketing guy has a brand no one can spell and dare not pronounce.

A Boy Named Sue

When most middle-aged men are still in bed or glued to Setanta the two Richards get up early each Saturday and go to the dojo to teach tiny children karate. My Richard’s done it for seven years, the other Richard for many more. And like elementary school teachers or prison guards they can measure the length of their tenure by the naming trends of their charges. Mine can say he started with the Jacobs, Kaylas and Tylers, but the other Rich, who was there when our own son started, has experienced enough little Brandons, Ryans and Brittanys for a lifetime.

Mine is not an original name, and it is very much of its time. Like the Tracey’s and the Stacey’s, the Roberts and the Scotts. Except that it was intended to be pronounced Laurianne, in French, rather than Laurie-ANNE, as it tended to be. I shared this indignity with my cousins, especially the beloved Marie-Frances, dubbed Mary FRAN and Therèse, aka TER-EEASE-sa. So I became simply Laurie, Marie-Frances, chose the unimpeachable Mary. The Italian kids did the same thing.
Together we assumed our places among the JOHN-Marks, Danny-YELLS, ANN-thon-EEs and MOAN-Neeks of an anglicized, yet still Roman Catholic school system.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Avoiding Cliché

There is something satisfying about seeing your name in print on a novelty item. Obviously, because such things are popular in souvenir shops everywhere. I imagine people with names like Sue become jaded about it, but as a child I searched those racks in vain for a mug or a giant pencil on which Mary Jo was printed. I cursed my parents for choosing that name. But at least it is eccentric enough that it was never been turned into a cliché and I need not deal with vulgar double entendres like the Johns, Jacks and Dicks of the world.

Did I really just say “kids these days?!?”

There was a time when you could walk into a toy store and purchase a spiffy little vanity plate for your bike. And maybe you still can, but the last time I saw anything like it, I had to wonder what self-respecting child would spend his allowance on something that had so obviously given up even trying to look like the real thing. Maybe kids these days just expect all their toys to be plastic and gaudy and generic, but the only license plate I ever wanted was actually pressed out of metal and painted a dull New Jersey beige.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Patel to the Metal

Our neighbour had a vanity plate on his blue Safari that read “VINU”. As this is Ontario, the entire plate lured us with ‘VINU, Yours to Discover’. Perhaps because neither Richard nor I accepted the offer we all got along. His was a great old van perfect for carting dozens of offspring and cousins and aunties and uncles. It schlepped saris and Punjabi pantsuits and hundreds of Swiss Chalet dinners. On weekends it drove to Burlington where it nestled next to another mini van that beckoned, ‘PRADESH, Yours to Discover.’ It brought me to Emergency when I went into labour.

Misplaced Hopes

Several times I was approached by people wanting to buy my automobile licence plate, thinking it would bring them luck. Stupidly I hoped it might eventually bring ME luck -- 649 JJB -- could be interpreted as ‘Lotto 649 Jackpot Jackpot Bonus.’ Probably the best luck I could have gotten from it would have been if I HAD sold it. I wonder how much I could have gotten for it? I am willing to bet that it would have been more than all of the Lotto 649 winnings I have reaped over the year – those would amount to about $40 or so.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Actually, I Bought Five

My dentist fixed four fillings today—actually five—but said he wouldn’t charge for the fifth, because . . . I can’t remember why, because in the 25 years I’ve been under his care, I don’t recall him giving me anything more than a toothbrush.
     My second shock came with the bill: $649.
     “You should buy a lottery ticket,” said Barbara. “The 6/49 draw is tonight.”
     And so, wondering if the responsibility for booking appointments mightn’t give her some heightened sense of future events, I decided to try my luck. One in 13,983,816, precisely a fart’s chance in a windstorm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pull My Finger

It’s not quite like Fanny and Alexander’s uncle lifting his coat tails and blowing out the candles, but a brand of earthy humor has bolstered my clan for generations. It’s in our cultural make-up. For example, like the Inuit who purportedly have several words for “snow”, the Cayers draw from a varied and colourful scatological lexicon to describe the nuance and assonance of each particular variety of fart. It’s lowbrow and unseemly, but it still makes me laugh. This irritates Richard since no one in his family has passed wind since 1066. And even that they blame on the French.

Advantage Point

I have heard that curling is one of the few sports where men and women can compete pretty much equally. The skills come easily to both sexes, and brawn is not required, in fact it can be a hindrance because it is not hard to toss the stones too strenuously. They glide so easily across the ice that it does not take much to overshoot the end. Finesse is really what is required. It is when the game is over and the scotch is being poured that the men have the advantage in pure body mass to soak up the booze.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Unfair Advantage

Here’s what they told us: ten laps around the goal posts was exactly one mile; and twelve laps was equivalent to two kilometres (since our gym teacher also taught math and was supposed to be teaching us the metric system that year); and that all of this effort was in preparation for our “timed run” where we’d soon discover the maximum distance we could cover in ten minutes using nothing but our skinny, hairless legs. Except that later Tony confessed he’d spent his final lap farting, and wondered if the resulting propulsion might not have given him an unfair advantage.

I am the Walrus

I hated Track and Field Day at St. Gregory’s. I was good at shot put, but only if all the farmers’ daughters from Pike Creek were ill. Yet I stood a chance against Stacey in the 200-metre dash. She was an absolute manatee of a girl, with skin like a bag of milk. Out of the gate, I was metres ahead when I slowed, urging her to catch up. “Just Go, Laurie!” she puffed. As pacing was a foreign concept to me I could only pant and hold my side as she waddled around the goal post to claim victory.

Phantom Menace

Two little girls on of a snow bank coming home from school. “We are queens of the castle!” yelled one. “Wait, what’s that?” screeched the other, pointing to a dark object making its way along the road. It crept closer and closer, making an eerie rustling sound. The winter twilight made it hard to see clearly. Maybe some strange animal -- and it kept advancing. The two girls clutched each other in fear, afraid to attract its attention. Finally, torn between panic and being late for supper, they bolted. Discovering, then, a harmless paper bag drifting in the breeze.

The Law of Averages

For one brief moment I was top of the heap, king of the hill when Mr. Mabee posted his copy of the second-term honour roll, and I discovered that, through some mathematical fluke, I’d managed to beat out all the usual suspects. Except it felt better than that, more like an achievement than a prize, a measurement unsullied by the harshness of competition . . . until the kid I’d beaten to first took me aside to remind me our final mark would be an average of all three terms, and I should expect him to soon put me back in my place.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Immediately after she accepted the award and resumed her seat Janie felt Lily’s stink-eye burrow like a gamma ray into the side of her neck. It had always been a competition between the two: Who got the best summer job, the most lucrative teaching assistantship, the best-looking boyfriend. And now the pair of them sat side by side like two blisters on the same tongue.
     “How could you get the award?” Lily hissed, “My average was 87.”
     Janie had three marks over her, but the chance to sewer her rival’s graduation day beckoned. “Odd,” she said, “mine was 82.”

Uttered irrevocable

If I ever won a big prize, the acceptance speech would surely defeat me. Either I would memorize it and sound wooden, or worse, just forget it. Or I would freeze up and stand there stuttering. Never mind dropping the F-bomb; I can imagine myself not being able to say anything at all. But, more likely, say something completely stupid that I would regret for the rest of my life having uttered irrevocable before the media. I think that is why I like to write so much, because I can shape my words before sending them out to the world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Lifetime Goal

I’ve never particularly cared for the goal-setting cult, particularly when I’m forced to consider my long-term plans; but every once in a while I’ll give it a shot. For instance, I once announced my lifetime goal was to win a major award like a Grammy or an Oscar. I hadn’t a plan or any particular talent, but I figured if I at least hung around with the right people, I might just get lumped together with them into one of the technical categories. Failing that, I guess I’ll just wait for the Pulitzers to finally recognize excellence in technical writing.

One flew Over The Raisin Ranch

Steven tells me that Auntie isn’t coming back home. She fell last week and now will probably spend the rest of her life in a series of institutions devoted to narcotics and benign neglect. My mom had a saying that roughly translates to “Age screws you over.” And it does. Each of us needs a survival plan that extends beyond spouses and children. Mine includes a hand-picked collection of fabulous girlfriends, They are all beautiful inside and out and given the fact that they eat way less salt than me will probably out live me. That’s what I’m banking on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Yellow’s The Colour

“What a pretty colour of yellow,” said the doddering woman, snooping over the knitting project of a companion at the senior home.
     “Not sure if it’s going to be a boy or a girl,” the knitting woman answered tersely, annoyed at having her concentration broken.
     “Well, yellow’s the colour then, isn’t it? But, my dear, it’s bad luck to knit for the baby before it’s born!”
     “What! You want the poor thing to go naked until I can get something knit for it?” exclaimed the knitter, in exasperation.
     “Well, it’s a superstition, you know, I’m just saying….”

(Not So) New Gold Dream

You’d think by now Single Dad would know better than to talk of such things with his married friends.
     “Aren’t you a bit old for love at first sight?”
     But Single Dad was undeterred: “She was wearing this yellow pantsuit——”
     “So, like Miss Teen Canada 1972?”
     “No, something more. I’d dropped the kids off at school and just happened to be watching when she came out at the top of the stairs. She looked right at me, I’m sure, and the morning sun hit her just so, lit her up with a splash of gold meant just for me.”

La Bottine Souriante

Brusati, Pane e cioccolata

The couple seated outside (a double extravagance) of a Paris café were stunning. She was perfectly accessorized and spare in her black turtleneck. Silky blonde hair tucked behind one ear revealed an exquisitely proportioned silver earring. They drank white wine, damn them, while we stood (an extravagance for us) with our coffees and coveted. The sun was setting on the Champs des Elysees and it made everything about her glow. I had stepped in dog shit and just spent fifteen minutes trying to scoop it out of a crepe sole that had detached itself from its moorings.

Handsome Couple

Before it became Ralph’s Highway Shoppette, the building was Mr. Wilson’s workshop, a giant space filled to the rafters with old machines in various stages of disrepair, and a squalor of parts that pushed beyond the confines of the workshop and into the living space of the attached apartment. Mrs. Wilson had given up trying to tame the clutter and settled for the small places left her. Her husband sat for meals without bothering to remove his grease-covered grey-blue overalls. She was a handsome woman with thick dark hair veiling deep brown eyes. He was handsome, too, underneath the grime.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Corner Store

Something was afoot in Fanwood, something so contentious that even the children were talking about how the store at the corner of Martine and South Avenue—the Corner Store, where for years we’d been buying our candy and soda—was being forced to relocate down the street, and how the town was puzzling over what one could legitimately call a corner store that no longer stood at a corner, a question that was soon answered when the store reopened with what remains the longest name I’ve ever seen: The Corner Store Where Friends Meet in the Middle of the Block.

Motor City Tipple

Can you still get Vernor’s back home? I remember driving past the bottling plant on Woodward Avenue enroute to see my Detroit cousins, carsick as usual and regretting that second bowl of Cap’n Crunch. It was a glassy mirage, seen through the haze of mom’s cigarette smoke. I craved those sneezy bubbles and soothing ginger. The stuff was everywhere. My mother kept an old bottle filled with water next to her iron. But this was before the Riots, before we Canadian crackers were afraid to shop at Hudson’s, before we white-knuckled our way onto the I-75 towards greener suburban pastures.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Heaven Denied

They were pure heaven. Kettle Creek black bean and garlic taco chips. Unlike the ‘black bean’ taco chips you get to nowadays that have a flavoured coating, the black beans were embedded in the tacos I think. And they were dredged with a heavily garlicked salt. First they started to be irregularly stocked, and whenever I found them I loaded up so I could weather the next drought. But then they were just gone. Kettle Creek was unapologetic and suggested I switch some of their crappy potato chips. Blech. Anything I am really crazy about generally goes out of production.

The End of the Rebellion

 Hundreds of rebels leave Montgomery’s 
 Tavern and march down Yonge Street 
Hey, John. Do you remember the day—how many summers ago now—that you dropped by on your way home from the CNE? I don’t think you’d been long at your new job, and I remember you started the day marching in the Labour Day parade, right into the Exhibition grounds, so they’d let you in free. 2000? 2001? We drank a couple of beers each in the afternoon shade, Upper Canada Rebellion, not long before Sleeman discontinued it. It’s not particularly important, but it was my one of my favourites, and I’d like to put a date to it.

Beer Me

Beer branding always intrigued me. We had a set of Old Vienna Pilsner glasses each with a gold overlay of a knight holding a shield. It was like drinking from the Holy Grail, only we had four of them. I was also drawn to the Molson Ale sailboat, that vestige of ancient times when Pleasure Packs were transported down the St. Lawrence in square-rigged clipper ships. And of course that new beer box smell as it rolled out from the back of the Brewer’s Retail and into my Dad’s loving arms. Better than cracking open a box of new crayons.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

They Do Things Differently Down There

Miller High Life was my beer when I lived in New York. I cannot remember why, but it probably had to do with being conveniently placed in the refrigerator case at the neighbourhood deli where I shopped. I know why I smoked Marlboroughs. They were the only cigarettes that came in a flip-top cardboard pack, as opposed to those paper pouches they had down in the States. The ones you could not close again, from which cigarettes escaped and broke apart in the bottom of you purse. Or I should say ‘pocketbook,’ as they called them in New York.

The Stubby

If you’re looking for something that truly defines the Canadian psyche, consider this: until 1984, pretty much all the beer sold in this country, regardless of the brewer or brand, came packaged in a single, standardized bottle—stubby and brown—designed to efficiently hold the requisite twelve Imperial fluid ounces and to protect the product from the negative effects that can result from exposure to light. Carling O’Keefe changed all this when they started selling Miller High Life here in a clear, long-necked bottle. It was sexy but frivolous, carefree but reckless; and worst of all, the beer was American.

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