Thursday, December 29, 2005

Election minute

I’m minding my own business, playing a game of Mahjong while I wait for the entire rest of the building to finish using the dryers.

And the phone rings.

“Hi, I’m Blah Blah, your Liberal candidate and you need...,” he begins in that hearty, I’m-your-best-pal voice. It takes me ten words to understand he has the temerity to interrupt my day with a recorded announcement.


Oh no, fella.

See. This is the problem, White Men in Suits. This is the exact problem with you and your counterparts (including the female White Men in Suits). You begin by assuming you know what I need. And you’re so confident that you don’t even allow for the possibility of asking. A recorded announcement? Do you know how
repellant that is?

What I need, fella, is to see decent affordable housing being built for the people I’m stepping over in the street. Now. And what I need is less than a year of waiting if I need surgery. I need to stop seeing single parents penalized by Social Assistance for trying to further their educations so they can get decent jobs. I need to see university tuitions stop putting people in lifelong debt. You could consider a few less tax grabs and a little more responsibility too, if you can find the time. And that’s just for starters, guys.

What I really need is for you to get over your pompous ass and start asking people what they think they need. What I need is to know you’ve stopped assuming and started understanding you represent my voice – not yours. I need to stop hearing, every other day, how you’ve had your manicured fingers in the collective cookie jar and how you’re sharing the cookies with all your friends. I need to hear that one of you, just once, does prison time with the other thieves when you get caught.

And if you can manage that kind of paradigm shift maybe I’ll be willing to listen to you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thank you for sharing, LJ

Wherein she makes an honest appraisal of the damages of fifty hours of sitting on her ass doing beadwork during the holiday season:

1. The waistline. Definitely softer looking. “Softer looking” is a nice way of saying “flabbier.”

2. The butt. Well. I’d have to back up to a mirror and look and we’re not going there, no, no, no. But if we were, I expect “there” would be closer to the earth than I’d prefer.

3. The pants. Someone has been taking in my pants at night while I’m asleep. And it’s just not funny.

4. The boobs. Let’s face it, the under wire bra is our friend and more than a mere fashion accessory these days.

“Have you quit going to the gym?” the Scorpio inquires, casually, as we’re taking our clothes off. The Scorpio, who has built his own gym in his own yard, and uses it regularly. Who squats 300 pounds. Whom women harass and treat as a sex object on the street. From the first moment I got an unobstructed look at him, I determined I could not compete with that kind of perfection. Or self-discipline.

And if anyone else had asked me that question while I was disrobing, I’d probably have booted the bastard directly off my balcony. But it’s him so I answer with a cheery grin.

“Yes. Are you still going to sleep with me?” He laughs.

Of course he is. Because it’s also my perfectly proportioned soul and splendid mind that he loves. Not to mention my enthusiasm.

Later he nags me about spending my money for nothing. So I explain.

“I keep paying because I do not admit I have quit going to the gym. It’s the same reason I never buy a carton of cigarettes, because that would mean admitting I’m going to smoke that many.”

Conclusion: Although I do not have the self-discipline god gave a fruit-fly and my panty line may currently appear to be embossed on my jeans, I get to keep the prize because of my vastly superior logical mind.

No please. Applause is so embarrassing.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Not what my mother told me

It’s a bright stained glass tulip with wind chimes below and the note says, “Think of me when you hear this.” He’s left it at my friend’s place, knowing I’ll be there Christmas day. I burst into tears before I even open the package.

Weedy says, “ Don’t cry. It’s okay. He just likes to give you something. He probably always will.”

“Well, I wish he’d stop.” I’m scrounging for a Kleenex. It isn’t like I don’t think of him. It isn’t like I’ve forgotten twenty years of my life.

“He’s just a good guy. It makes him happy to give you a present.”

“Yeah. A good guy I divorced.” More snotty blubbering into the Kleenex. The ghosts of marriage past are crowding into the room, sucking up all the air.

“Well. He’s okay. He’s happy. You had to divorce him so you could like him again.”

It’s true. I stop crying. Weedy has an uncanny way of hitting the most peculiar nails directly on the head.

But for the life of me, I can’t remember the story of my future being told quite like that when I was young:
Fall in love. Get married…
Divorce so you can like the guy again? I’m sure it ended another way.

And I never expected, when I switched back to the use of my maiden name, and did the insurance paperwork, that under “beneficiary,” I’d write his name and in the “relationship to you” space, “friend and ex-husband.”

I called and left a message on his voice mail.

“Hi. It’s me. I’ve changed back to my maiden name. And I left my insurance and pension to you. So, if I have the consideration to croak before I retire and you’ll get a year of my salary. If not, it’ll just be my pension. Have a nice day.”

It isn’t a Hollywood ending. But it's a love story, nonetheless.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

By request of Teri at Blueberry Pie

The original black and white photo was pilfered from the on-line archives of Library of Congress. I fall in love with faces, and who could possibly resist hers? She was a Cajun singer and I thought she looked to have a beautiful spirit. It's a hopelessly sentimental piece, isn't it? Still, I was just learning to use Paint Shop Pro and I loved working on it.

Friday, December 23, 2005


This is prompted by Teri, at Blueberry Pie, who has graciously thanked her readers.

I’d like to thank you, too. I stopped writing several years ago, but that’s like being a dry drunk. You can stop but you’re still a writer and sooner or later, you will find yourself hitting the keyboard.

It is enormously encouraging to know that people read what you write. At this point in life, I don’t give a damn about publishing. But I love the process, writing itself, and the world keeps handing me stories that seem to have a life of their own. They nag until I tell them.

Moreover, we’ve become a kind of community – more courteous and more generous than most communities I’ve experienced on the internet. I feel like I know you. I feel like you are friends. And as much as I love to write, I love to read. There are some astonishing and talented writers in this little group. Every single day I check the blogs I’ve linked to, looking forward to seeing your next entries.

So thank you to all my real-world and cyber-space friends and fellow writers. I’m truly honored that you find the time to read. I’m grateful that you share your lives and I can read your stories.

A Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. Good holidays to the atheists in the crowd. Happy Hanukkah to YC & her family. May 2006 be full of blessings for all of you.



Thursday, December 22, 2005


He tells me like this:

I hold her on my chest and talk to her. Everybody thinks that babies don’t understand what you say to them, but they do. They aren’t really sleeping. If you watch their eyelids, you can see their eyes move when you start talking. I did that with Rosa, too. It makes a bond. And I tell Rosa, “We have to look after this baby, you and me. Come sit with Poppa and we’ll hold her.”

He can’t believe that people are so thoughtless and stupid around Rosa, who is only two years old and granddaughter number one. Her Aunts come to visit and sweep past Rosa to Estrella’s crib, without a word to Rosa. She stiffens her little back and turns it to them, crosses her arms across her chest. They are offended. Why is she being such a spoiled little girl? He picks her up and holds her and admonishes the rest of them.

‘What do they expect when they act like she isn’t there? Why do they tell her that ‘big girl’ stuff’? Why don’t they get it? They say, ‘Now you aren’t the baby anymore,” and I tell her, “You’re Papa’s baby.” I never pick Estrella up in front of Rosa without including her.”

Lately, when I ask him what his plans are for tomorrow, or the weekend, his face lights up and he says, I’m going to play with my granddaughters.

Last year, when it looked like aggressive prostate cancer might make for a truncated future, he decided that he would stay around for them. For his daughter and sons, his granddaughters. His PSA, was in the double digits then. Now, inexplicably, it’s a better than average 1.5. And although there are other indications – sooner or later it will be cancer, sooner or later, the doctors say, it will spread viciously and fast, right now, he’s healing himself, as he has always done, by loving children.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


One term, there is Eva Sherman. Eva Sherman is wearing hobnailed boots. Not shiny new Doc Matrins, but hobnailed boots. The light gleams off her shaved head. She is tiny, with an innocent baby face, dark fine eyebrows and blue eyes. She is watching everyone with alert, bird-like curiousity.

As my boss starts introductions for the library tour, I survey the new faces. Every year there’s a girl or boy next door, dressed carefully in second hand clothes, an awkward guess at art school chic. There’s a shy one or two who look away when you catch their eye. There’s one in the far corner, usually a boy, sometimes a girl, all boiling fury, lip curled in disdain. This crap is not what he/she came to art school for. This is the crap he/she came to get away from. There are a few genuine freaks, the real article. Kids so alienated, so bludgeoned by being different in some little rural town that they’ve grown chips that reach from shoulders to knees. There’s one mature student, or two, taking earnest notes and looking scared.

I pick Eva out. The Little Bald Girl. I want to know about the little bald girl.

Eva comes to the library a lot. She is shy and inept. It takes four explanations of how to use the computer catalog before I realize that, earnestly as she listens, bright as she is, she doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. Instead of annoying me, this has the opposite effect. I become kinder.

I study her from the corner of my eye or when she is reading at one of the big wooden tables. She wears the same man’s white shirt and old scruffy pants every day and the hobnailed boots. She appears to have dropped in from some distant galaxy. She seems to be furiously engaged in studying the life forms and culture. She seems to think she is invisible. She smiles at me, a real smile and I smile back. I give her extra help finding her books and speak quietly to her.

The term swings into gear, and the foundation students start to shape-shift. The shy ones laugh sometimes, or they come in on a certain Monday with a tattoo, or three Tuesdays later than that, they've cut their hair with gardening shears. The mature students are grateful for all and any help and they've begun to suspect that maybe they can do this. The student who arrived furious, ready to throw a punch, says "thank you" when you check out their books.

Eva arrives one day wearing a long blonde Marilyn Munro wig, come-fuck-me-shoes, and a tight dress. Big blue eyes wide. Little stiletto heels clacking.

“Hi Eva,” I say, “this is pretty amazing.”

“You wouldn’t believe the reactions,” she says as if she is conducting a science experiment. Yes, I would.

Later that day we wait for the elevator together. Eva, me, and some guys doing repair work on the roof. The repair guys are staring outright. When I look at them, they tear their eyes off Eva for approximately one second, and then helpless as dogs smelling meat, they look back. She is smiling her big innocent smile at me. The Little Bald Girl under the wig is still Eva. I smile back at her and hold down a giggle.

Eva comes and goes borrowing and returning dozens of books every week. Mostly she wears her big shirt and old pants. But there is a Suzi Wong dress, a long black oriental wig with bangs. She adds a secretarial outfit.

“Why?” I finally ask her. “It’s like performance art.” She explains, very earnestly, about doing gender studies.

“It’s to do with my art,” she says.

“I thought so. It must be very interesting to see the reactions.”

She nods seriously. “Yes.”

Stories circulate about Eva.

“She’s in my Post Modern class. The prof assigned us an essay on one decade and she sticks up her hand and says, ‘Excuse me. Can you tell me the easiest decade, please? I’m very busy.’ She was dead serious. She wasn’t being a smart-ass. So, you know who teaches that one, right? And he says to her, dead-pan, ‘The sixties. Do the sixties.’”

I shake my head. That’s Eva. Of course she wasn’t being rude.

Eva tells me she’s going away to another province. I wish her the best and I mean it. I like her. I don’t see her for several years.

One day she walks through the door and I think it must be a costume. Her dark hair is cut in a tidy blunt cut, chin-length. She’s wearing a little lipstick, a clean white sweater and a dark skirt. Fashionable shoes.

I ask her if she’s making art.

She looks embarrassed. She looks away.

“I have a job now,” she tells me. “This was just a stage, you know. Just a stage. I’m better now.”

Suddenly I want to hold her and cry.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Scrap of night

2:14 a.m. Steady rain. West wind. The sky is grey-pink. I open the windows and balcony door, prowl around the place on bare feet. I drink warm milk.

My nervous system has its signals scrambled. These are not sleep chemicals, brain. And it’s night. Could you check the labels in the dispensary? See what neurons are misfiring?

Awake well before dawn this morning, I’d gone to bed at 10:00 p.m. Something like sleep occurs, something like, but not exactly like dreaming occurs. Formless clamor. Random memories mill around in my brain anxiously, like dogs who need to go for a walk right now.

I suspect the wind is bearing messages, whispering something I can almost hear. Pay attention. But I can’t quite make it out.

If there’s an alpha memory dog who’s stirring up the pack, I can’t identify him.

Not even the hour of the wolf. Hour of the dogs. These are not bright dogs, motivated dogs. These are just restless dogs, mutts scratching fleas, mutts with hopeful eyes and Frisbees in their mouths, standing at the door, wagging their tails. Memory dogs with their noses open to the west wind.

And I remember a time when I took sleep for granted. Although one of the dogs is chewing the upholstery on that.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Room of the Virgins

I don’t understand my new curtains. But I am in slow-motion right now - my head is full of snot, courtesy of a sinus infection I caught by kissing the charming but infected Scorpio. There is also a virus party at Hotel Linda and the guests, from the feel of it, are frat boys.

I have time to contemplate curtains and it’s an activity that suits my current energy levels.

I’ve always longed to have one of those cool, uncluttered homes you see in decorating and architectural magazines. However, as my ex-husband put it, my own inadvertent and extremely random decorating style is, “Linda’s Curio Shop.”

I am not only a producer of curios, I am a hopeless collector. I have beautiful things: various handmade bowls (filled with stones), a fine ceramic teapot glazed in shades inspired by Monet’s paintings of his garden. My father’s landscape and flower watercolors hang on my walls, along with a vivid framed pastel of my own. I have a black & white section in my hallway – photographs of dancers mostly, from the time when I worked at a dance school. My dining “area” is full of huge plants - and nothing else except stones.

And then there’s the six inch stack of brightly dyed popsicle sticks, tied in flats, which raised a siren call when I walked by them in the dollar store. A rubber Energizer bunny flashlight rests on one end of my bathroom towel rack. I’m addicted to pine and wicker and the kinds of bright, saturated colors manufacturers recognize as beloved by small children. I display blue dollar store bottles and cheap paper fans with the same respect as I do the more exclusive (and possibly more tasteful) things I own. I am utterly democratic when it comes to evaluating the beauty and worth of stuff.

Back to the curtains. The blue-grey ones faded in their middles to a pink-mauve and the other day, I yanked them down. I bought paper-thin, white, gauzy cotton replacements and hung them. I opened the windows and watched them waft. I studied the view outside my window through them.

The next day, I bought two more for the kitchen window and two to hang in the door of my workroom. I needed more wafting white, it seems.

And in a sop to the season, a kind of truce between me and Christmas, I binged at the dollar store. Now, between the white curtains, there are five largish, muted silver and gold Christmas tree balls, hanging in a row at the top center of the window. Above them, I’ve taped and pinned a small arch of white, fabric poinsettias with deep green leaves. I’ve hung smaller silver balls on my umbrella leaf philodendron. No red. Red is banished. We are having an ungaudy moment here.

The room changes utterly with the curtains, especially when it begins to snow. White curtains, white snow, white flowers. And when I look down the hallway at the curtains in my workroom door, I decide that I’ll say to anyone who asks, Oh. That? That’s where we keep the virgins.

Don’t ask me, Lucas. I have NO idea where that came from.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Maybe your family will never be fit-for-prime-time or perhaps you've lost someone dear. It could be you've been laid off or diagnosed with an illness. You might be struggling with poverty, addiction or painful memories of Christmas past. For those of you who find Christmas difficult, I'm reposting an entry from several years back. I know how you feel.
Don't let the general merriment - and your lack of it - get you down. I'm thinking of you.

Let’s say her name is Adrianna. She’s wearing beige jeans and a thick patterned sweater, underneath a jacket. A natural blonde and even taller than me, she’s formidable and impressive looking, in a Celtic sort of way.

I’m sitting on the wooden bench outside the college’s metal shop. I’m shivering in the cold and smoking when she wanders over, hesitates a minute, and then sits at the other end of the bench and lights her own cigarette.

“Well,” she says, exhaling smoke and giving me a sideways glance, “I suppose I’d better be happy, seeing this is a happiness zone.” Her tone is ironic. Someone has stuck a neat, typed label to that effect on the back of the bench, and she tells me one of her friends pointed it out to her when she sat there last week. “I had the flu and I was burnt right out, and I hate this time of year. Right. The happiness zone.”

She’s a student, of course. I’ve seen her around. We’ve smiled or talked once or twice. But we don’t know each other.

I say that everybody’s burnt out right now. Tired, trying to finish studio work and study for exams. But it’s the remark about the season that grabs my attention.

There’s a comfortable silence for a minute and I tell her, “I hate this time of year too. And what’s worse is, one year someone gave me a Grinch head on a stick, and I felt like, fuck you, go ahead, knock yourself out, just stop making it mandatory for me to join you.” She nods agreement.

We smoke our cigarettes for a minute and then I turn to look at her. “I’m not asking what or anything, but is there a reason – I mean is there an emotional trigger or a memory that makes this a bad time for you?” There is for me, and I’m curious whether it’s true of most people who find Christmas a struggle.

She thinks for a minute. “I grew up poor,” she says, “I mean, people around here mostly can’t relate to what I mean when I say ‘poor.’ A lot of the winter, we ate potatoes and salt fish and game because there was nothing else.” She hunches forward.

“My mom is fifty…she’s an artist and she just went back to school and she’s trying to raise two teenage boys and she hasn’t got any money. I used to be better at it when I was young. You know, I pretended better.” She mimes opening a present. “Oh! Slippers! Thank you! I’d be able to put on the surprised, pleased look as if it was the big present. As I got older I didn’t do so well.” She sighs. “I invested a lot of energy in being negative about Christmas. I’m trying to stop.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“But you know,” she continues, “a couple years ago was a good Christmas. When I went home for the holidays, my mom said, ‘I have to make a decision. I have $200.00. Should I put oil in the tank, or spend it on food for Christmas?’ I thought about it and I told her, ‘buy food.’ So she put $50.00 into the tank and we bought a bottle of Rum and cooking supplies.

We sat in the kitchen all day, drinking rum and cooking, with the oven going, heating the house up.” She’s smiling now. “And the next morning – my mom’s room is in the attic, so there’s no insulation. It’s so cold I’m sleeping with a hat on – we wake up and she says, ‘Are you okay, dear?’ and I say, ‘I’m just fine,’ and I can see my breath as I answer her. But it was good, laying there under the covers, talking. And there was no drunk there to spoil it. My brothers got ski-jackets – the really good kind - and all day, they ran around saying they couldn’t notice the cold because the jackets were so warm. It was a good Christmas.”

She tells me her mom is studying to be a therapist. I’m not familiar with the type of therapy, so she explains that it has to do with integrating the different personalities we have. “They use affirmations,” she tells me. “I’m not altogether on side about my mother’s therapy.” Wry grin. “But sometimes I use them and maybe they help. How they do it is, I’d say, I am an intelligent woman. She is an intelligent woman. And then you look in the mirror and say, You are an intelligent woman.” I nod.

“I think most types of therapy help people, some of the time.” It’s vague and noncommittal, but as close as I can come to what I really think. She seems to understand me.

“So,” she says, with a big grin, as we get up to go inside, “I am not a nasty, cynical Christmas hater. She is not a nasty, cynical Christmas hater. You are not a nasty cynical Christmas hater.” We both start to laugh.

“What’s your name?”

“Adrianna.” She adds, pointedly, as if she’s a little insulted that I don’t know, “I’ve been here for several years.”

“Linda.” I reach to shake her hand and look in her eyes, “Yeah. But we’ve never really met.”

I am not a nasty, cynical Christmas hater, I think to myself as I head into the office grinning hugely. She is not

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Waiting for light

3:54 a.m. Yellow sleeping T-shirt, bare legs, cold air drifting in from the open balcony door off the living room. At three hours to sunrise, I’m wake and there is no hope of anymore sleep this morning. The monitor hums it’s steady noise, the keys clack as I hit them.

And this is the morning, so far:

Lucas is keeping silence this week at Jumper’s Hole to mark the 1,000th execution in the USA since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

From dreaming to waking I carry the thought that I need to set up a separate blog for Lamar Johnson, (formerly referred to as “L” at Life on Earth). Lamar is wrongly convicted of murder and serving a sentence of life without chance of parole. He has given me permission to post. Yesterday was his 32nd birthday and today it is exactly 11 years and one day since he was arraigned. It’s a long time to fight alone.

I open my email and find that Marko and Rocket Chick’s friend, Lee, has been murdered.

Such a desperate, overwhelming weariness pervades the world these days that my personal choice has been to avoid adding to it on this blog as much as possible. And the choice of most people, I think, is to read happier material. But I'm in a serious mood today.

Aside from manmade and natural disaster, the daily dose of corruption, inhumanity and vicious insanity that comes folded up on newsprint to my workplace each morning, there isn’t a day I can’t look around my immediate vicinity and pretend not to see where we are heading.

Deer and coyotes are roaming into my own neighborhood, ranging into the dangerous territory of humans to find food. Huge chunks of forest and habitat are being torn away to build homes most people can’t afford. People sleeping in doorways are getting younger and older and their numbers are increasing. My friend, the Scorpio, who has seen this coming a long time, is bailing as fast as he can, working with the kids in the high school system – fist fights have become knifings and brutal beatings and drive-by shootings. No one trusts our politicians anymore. Global warming sends us hurricanes, “weather bombs,” blizzards. Emergency measures urges us to keep six day’s worth of provisions on hand at all times. And we are the lucky ones – safely above sea level.

There’s the less dramatic but equally soul-diminishing struggle going on in individual lives. The grind of people working for minimum wage and living below the poverty line. The stress of those working in middle-income jobs who are working harder all the time for less. The world keeps speeding up and none of us can run fast enough to keep up. There is no place left to stand, to catch our balance. "The center will not hold."

I try to find something good each day. Some little jewel of a moment when I connect with someone or see a little miracle. At my lowest points, I try to find humor in bad days. That’s mostly what I write here.

But today I wake up and think about how this age of man is passing, and a new one has already begun. Technically, we are all grown up. Spiritually, we are spoiled adolescents who haven’t learned that the world doesn’t just revolve around us. We want what we want – and now. It’s time for us to grow up.

It is real in the consciousness of many people that violence, injustice, intolerance, indifference and carelessness with the earth we live on is a death sentence we are imposing on ourselves. These are the people seeding the next age.

For many it’s business as usual – and business old-style is going to get very, very bad.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle - struggling to be aware, not to fall back into the sleep of learned patterns.

To Marko and Rocket Chick, who are angry and grief-stricken, I offer my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of a friend. For Lamar who has unjustly served 4016 days in prison and all of his twenties for a crime he didn’t commit; for all the men, women and children who have been murdered by the state; for all of us who, in our silence or in clinging to anger or in believing the world’s problems come from somewhere other than from us, collectively, these words:

Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.

But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,

So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,

So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.

Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.

You are the way and the wayfarers.

And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.

Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.

-Kahlil Gibran The Prophet

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Monster in the laundry room

I keep thinking about the incident in the laundry room the other day. I love immigrants and have a particular soft spot for East Indian women. If I had my way, the whole country would be flooded with new arrivals from all over the world. I think we can use new perspectives and the diversity. There's lots of room. This is Canada.

You can imagine, then, that I’d feel a little chagrined at the thought of scaring crap out of someone hardly a blink away from India.

In this entry, you are not looking through my eyes.

You are a pretty, traditional East Indian woman, about five feet, three inches tall, with huge brown eyes. You’re new to the apartment building where you live with your husband and small son. You haven’t been in Canada very long. Your English is shaky and much of what other people take for granted perplexes you.

You dress for the day in your pea-green sari and scarf – draped modestly from head to toe in soft, light cotton. You are a good girl and have been taught to cover yourself properly.

You bundle up a load of washing and put it into one of the three washers in the laundry room. Four minutes later, you return to add something else you’ve forgotten. You don’t realize you’ve left the lid up and the washer is sitting there, with its digital display stuck on, “21 minutes” and nothing happening.

As you close the door behind you, another tenant enters the laundry room. She is not in a bad mood, exactly, but she’s still burning off a lot of left-over energy from an extremely trying week and she is not in the mood to tolerate fools gladly. She has three loads of laundry with her and she curses extravagantly when she sees that some yo-yo has left a washer lid up – the delay meaning that she’s going to have to do her laundry in stages. She slams the lid to start the washer running again.

Your washing is taking longer than usual. When you return to pull it out, it still has fifteen minutes to go. Another mystery, just as you think you’ve got the machines figured out. You wait 15 minutes and when you check again, there is someone else in the laundry room: a towering Amazon of a woman with bushy red hair is angrily snatching bundles of laundry from a dryer and pitching them on top of it. She is wearing what appears to be underwear – ¾ length black tights and a black top. Inexplicably, on her feet are enormous children’s slippers. She's muttering under her breath.

You quickly retrieve your things and put them in the dryer farthest from her, carefully keeping a safe distance. When you drop the first quarter in the slot it rolls straight back out the return. You try again with the same result. The big angry woman is looking at you, so you screw up your courage to ask, “Why it not work?” She comes over and tries your quarter, tipping it in very slowly. It rolls into the return. She tries tilting the machine by banging violently into it with her hip. She drops the quarter again, offers a long explanation you don’t understand and goes back to stuffing the dryer she’s just emptied. Not knowing what else to do, you keep trying – dropping the quarter over and over until the woman says, “broken,” which you understand.

But now she is watching you again. You are cornered at the opposite end of a very small room. Suddenly, she opens the only other dryer and starts flinging out someone else’s bone-dry, stone-cold load of laundry. She chucks it carelessly on top of the dryer, pulls the filter out, cleans it and replaces it. She shuts the door and looks at you.

“I can use?” you ask her very timidly.

She says another long aggravated sounding sentence, making stabbing gestures at the heap on top of the dryer. And then she stops, smiles at you and says, “You can use, yes.”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Instructions for writing a Library computer manual in one week without knowing anything

1. Attend a day & a half of training seminars. Pay close attention. Ask questions. Do all exercises, as instructed. Evaluate the workshop and trainers as “excellent” in all categories.

2. Succumb to selective amnesia as you leave the room. Ponder the fascinating fact that your brain evaluates information on a “need to retain” basis – and rejects anything taught in unconnected segments as "do NOT need to retain."

3. Admit to yourself that you have three weeks in which to use the database, train eight other people to use it, and write a manual. Do your real job for the first week, instead, while you develop a terrific case of screaming paranoia that your career is finished.

4. Go to work on Sunday with coworker. Both grumpy.

5. Open the program. Stare at it, mystified. Stare at the computer company’s bloated, unusable stack of manuals with burning hatred. Refuse to open them.

6. Click an icon. Any icon. Scan a barcode. Any barcode. See what happens. Swear heartily.

7. Figure it out. Desperation is the mother of invention. Cheer yourself along with a new mantra:
“There is no way out of doing this and if I can’t they’ll fire me and I will have to live on the street in a big cardboard box.”

8. Try to work on the manual the rest of the week while six people per minute interrupt you and everyone around you is talking at once. Lose four hours filling in for a student assistant who blows a shift at the circulation desk without notice. Try not to think about buying a high-powered rifle.

9. Day five – Go to bed at 8:00 p.m. so that you can sleep off the stress. Wake at 11:45 to go to the bathroom. Don’t open your eyes because you don’t want to be that awake. Flush the toilet, return to bedroom with eyelids at half-mast. Walk into doorframe. Hard.

10. Continue trying to get back to bed while checking for loose teeth. Try to figure out why hand is wet.

11. Spit blood into sink for five minutes. Sit with ice cube on split lip for 20 minutes.

12. Day six – recover sense of humor at approximately noon. Admire reasonable facsimile of Hollywood-style collagen injected lips, while ignoring nasty bits.

13. Day seven – Time off! Run up and down three flights of stairs eighteen times, doing huge loads of laundry because you can’t (really, KD) turn your underwear inside out. More than once. Teach Nice Indian Lady in green sari how to share the building's laundry room by yanking out a load of clothes some idiot didn't retrieve from the dryer so that Nice Lady can use it. Pray for the idiot to come in and complain about her laundry being removed because you are really in the mood for apologies.

14. Day eight – Go to work Sunday with coworker. End day with both feeling mighty damn smug that you’ve pulled it off, somehow and will still be able to dish large sums of money out to your creditors.

15. Brag about it on blog.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

And that is what writing is for...

On day three of what looks like it will be a mind-numbing eight day work week, me and the Scorpio carve out a couple hours for ourselves.

We are sitting on the end of the bed, side by side, naked. He’s got his tequila, lemon slices and salt. I’ve got red wine. We are a very little bit drunk and a very big bit happy. We are munching Triscuits out of the box, talking.

“Do you know how many poems I wrote back then? Take a guess?” He loves it when I read to him, and wishes he hadn’t abandoned writing when he was young.

“A hundred?” I have no idea.

Three hundred. I sent them to publishers all over the place. They all came back. One publisher wrote back that he liked them, but he thought they were too risky. I wrote about revolution and sex and things like that.” His voice trails off wistfully. “I gave up,” he says.

I bolt off the bed like someone has hit my “on” switch and race to the living room book shelves.

“Stay there. Don’t move a muscle,” I yell as I’m running down the hall. I scramble for my copy of Rising Tides, a yellow-paged collection of women poets I’ve doggedly held onto since the seventies. “Listen, to this” I tell him and open the book. I read him my special favorites – Lucille Clifton’s “Miss Rosie,” and Nikki Giovanni. He is such an appreciative audience that I read with abandon, letting myself hear the poet’s voice like I’m sitting right inside her head. I read “Nikki-Rosa,” which goes:

childhood remembrances are always a drag
if you’re Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have
your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath
from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in
and somehow when you talk about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale
and though you remember
your biographers never understand
your father’s pain as he sells his stock
and another dream goes
And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that
concerns you
and though they fought a lot
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sisters have happy birthdays and very good
and I really hope no white person every has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll….

His hand darts out to grasp my free hand. He nods yes and smiles. His eyes are shiny with tears. For a graceful moment, we two are wrapped up and contained by the words of the poem. We hold between us, the inestimable good of the world.

I finish the very last lines…

probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Am not either

“Spoiled,” the Scorpio calls me. He’s said it twice now, both times when I’m hurt and upset. The first time he does it, it stings so badly when I’m already feeling vulnerable that I burst into tears. I can choke back a reaction once, but not twice, so this time, I protest.

“What does that mean, spoiled?” I ask him, “I hate that word. I hate you saying that. I am not spoiled.” He grins good-naturedly.

“How do you act when you don’t get what you want?”

“I’m not spoiled. I’m hurt.”

I had been having a blue spell over the lapse in connection between me and my two best male friends. Okay. I’d been feeling wounded and pissed off for two weeks. Stupid men. Why do I have to love stupid men? Why do I have to tell another stupid man about it?

“Don’t I have some right to ask a good friend for support when I really need it, a letter for godsake?” I complain to him. “I don’t ask very often and I’d try to be there for them.”

“Well. First of all, they’re men. Men. So I knew you weren’t going to get what you wanted. And when you didn’t you acted spoiled.” I could cheerfully smack him one because he looks for all the world like he knows exactly how frustrating I find this conversation and his blocked-headed insistence on calling me something you’d call a six year old brat. And he’s enjoying hell out of it. I sit there smoldering. He breaks it down for me, the way I suspect he teaches his grand daughter how to build with blocks.

“How do you feel when you don’t get what you want? What do you do?

“ I feel hurt, disappointed.” I’m staring daggers at him.


“Angry sometimes. Because I’m hurt.” Defensive.


“I give up. What else do I feel? What else do I do?” Okay genius. You tell me.

“Withdraw?” He doesn’t really mean it as a question. He’s looking at me expectantly waiting for the gestalt, smiling in amusement like some big muscle-bound Buddha.

“Okay. But what’s wrong with asking for what you need? It’s better than going around all passive-aggressive, isn’t it?”

“There’s nothing wrong with asking. There was nothing wrong with writing to them and saying it. That’s dealing with it. It’s the stuff you do before you ask – getting angry, withdrawing, sulking.”

“So that’s ‘spoiled’ is it?” I begin to realize that my lower lip is proving his point.
I withdraw the pout with as much dignity as I can muster.

“Yes!” He beams as proudly as if I’d made the big tower of blocks without it falling down. If he had a gold star to award, it would be stuck in my exercise book for How to Manage Your Emotions Like an Adult – 101.

Stupid men. I hate when they do that.

More burlesque

News of the day. Frieda Kalo is a corporation. You got it, her niece has won the legal right to turn her and her legacy of a lifetime’s paintings into a product. Products, rather - tequila, bearing a label announcing, "there's no sin in being original." Dolls, jewelry. Do I hear ashtrays, anyone? Perhaps the painful body cast she had to wear half of her life will become next year's little black dress. Maybe they could sell little packets of her ashes.

What’s wrong with that?

Before Frieda Kahlo became a Salma Hayek movie, she was a painter who needed to make art the way most of us need to eat and breathe, a communist who insulted Henry Ford at his own dinner table. After spending time with the surrealists, she thought they were lazy bums. Leon Trotsky was her house guest and possibly her lover.

You get the idea. Kahlo was a singular woman, passionate about painting, politics and the people of Mexico – Her passion and talent were so much larger than life that 51 years after her death, she is still Mexico’s most beloved painter.

And if Frieda had not been cremated, I have a feeling she’d be in her grave spinning circles fast enough to shift the earth in its orbit.

Bring out the dancing bears. Have the freak show come on stage.

And let me out of the tent.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Prisons and burlesque

KD would like to take entertainment away from her students for a few days. No computers, no TV, no movies, no books (not that they read actual books very often), no video games, no clubs, no music. She realizes, however, that they would call home complaining to their parents when they went into withdrawals – which would be severe and immediate. And then there would uproar in the Dean’s office. The Brittanys, the Joshuas, Daniels and Tiffanys are used to thinking of their particular university as a service industry in which they are privileged clients. The university, in 2000s style, is encouraging this corporate view of education.

KD mentions Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. We talk a little about Buddhism and retreats too. She shares a quote which goes something like, “There are two ways to make a cage. Build a prison or build a burlesque.”
(KD please correct this quote?)

Unfortunately, she’s their professor and not Queen of the Universe (or a major cash donor to the university.) It is unlikely that the Dean would understand her point. And besides, she teaches Mass Communication - advertising, for those of us who aren’t up on the terminology. So if she could carry out this exercise, the students might discover the extent of their addictions and the actual evils wrought by the very industry where they are aiming their career aspirations. This would not be the brightest career move KD could make, even though it might wake a few souls.

I hang up the phone and begin to think of my own experiments with shutting down the circus.

In 2000, I lived on my own for the first time in over 20 years. I moved without a television, by choice. I had a radio, which I tuned to CBC 2 – mostly classical music, and that was my only entertainment. I did have a computer, and used it to write and email the coyote, who was the only person I really communicated with for the first four months. I rarely called people, not even my closest friend. I had left a marriage, I had burned a lot of bridges – and I was trying to figure out where I was in my life, and who…

Somehow, I knew this required silence. The first months were awful. I began to hear the voices in my own head – the voices we rarely listen to because something else is always distracting us or engaging our minds. The voices got loud and they got crazy. The coyote told me he’d rather leave town in a one-eyed ford than hear the voices in his head, and I can’t argue with him. It’s not easy.

It is terrifying to lose your identity. I wasn’t partnered anymore. I had thought when I left that I’d really get down to writing, and I was producing some very creative work on the subject of slowly going mad, but otherwise had a writer’s block the size of the Great Wall of China. My job was a job, hardly an identity. My ambition to do anything, start anything was at rock-bottom. I wasn’t sure I was a very good person, either. All the mirrors were gone. Nothing reflected me back to myself.

Everything felt acutely uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I missed my cat. Living with a view of another square brick building, the twin of my own, I cried for the loss of the pine tree in the back yard of my former house and the birds who visited the feeder. One day, during an afternoon nap, I dreamed I heard my husband coming up the stairs and woke up crying, knowing I would never hear that sound again. But I had chosen to leave, and I believed I’d chosen correctly.

I stuck to it, grimly. I cried every night when I came home from work and shut the door behind me. I cried Saturdays and Sundays. The coyote sent me writing exercises when I was careening off the edge of sanity. “What color are your socks? List the contents of your fridge. What sounds do you hear?” Whether he knew it consciously or intuitively, he made me practice pulling myself back into the present. Except for correspondence with him, I did not ask for help or comfort. My weight dropped by twenty-five pounds. I believe I may have cried it off.

I was fifty-two, alone, a formerly strong, ambitious person who suddenly had absolutely no idea who she was or where she was going. In the quiet of my apartment, the voices in my mind babbled and shrieked, nagged and accused, until finally, one day, some deeper, stronger “I” found the strength to tell them to shut up!

After that time, silence and being alone ceased to be bogey men. Often, after a day out in the dizzying pace and noise of the world, I could hardly wait to shut that door behind me and let the noise go away. I started to carry the silence with me, inside.

It was the closest I could come, having to work for a living, to forty days in the desert. My desert retreat took place on evenings and weekends. I stayed until I let go of most of what falsely reassured me and much of what was destroying me, as well.

Since then, I take mini-sabbaticals. Days when I don’t talk on the phone, don’t see anyone. I think of it as dropping back in on myself, finding what I’ve misplaced, misidentified, ignored or neglected.

I feel concern for people who can’t be alone. Because, sooner or later, it will happen to us all. And for all the difficulty involved, it is a great gift to know how strong you are when you lose what you think you need.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Being June Carter

As in June Carter and Johnny Cash. As in, stand-by-your-man (in the spirit of, but not to be confused with the Tammy Whynette song of the same name). As in, A Good Woman.

Marko says that’s what he needs in his life. He is offering the opinion, strictly as a friend, that while I might be other worthwhile things, I am no June. Diplomatic as I am, I do not point out that he is no Johnny Cash. And that he is married to a human tornado he has nicknamed, “Rocket Chick.”

I protest. I can do June Carter, oh yes. I certainly can.

Today, for example, the Scorpio called.

“How are you?” he asks.

“I’m good, and you?”

“I hab a sinus infection.” Oh-oh. Full-Eyore voice.

“Awwww, sweetheart!”

“Yeah. I’b taking stuff for it, but it’s not helbing.”

“The stuff won’t help, sweetheart.” (We are now at two “sweethearts” Marko. Count them.)

“Wud will?” He sounds like he’s about to start hunting for a shroud soon in the vain hope that someone will notice that he’s dying.

“You have to go to the doctor. You have to go today and get something to clear it up. All that post-nasal drip is going into your chest and it’s no good for you.”

“Yeah, id’s all going idto my chest. It’s awful. What will they gib me?”

“Antibiotics. You’ll be good as new in no time. You phone and tell them you have to be squeezed in today, okay?”

“I’ll ask theb.”

“No. Tell them. Be assertive. Be aggressive if you have to. It’ll take the doctor five minutes.”

“Okay. I’ll call theb.”

“Okay. I’m sending you big get well kisses. Big sookie kisses.” Snotty, pleased-sounding laughter on the other end of the line.

I hang up and JF says, “God. And I thought we were disgusting.” She means her husband and her.

See? I can do it. I was raised by the original Good Woman. And not only that, despite the fact that the Scorpio weighs two hundred and thirty pounds and is a great big tough hulking jock, he loves this stuff when he’s sick or really blue. It never occurred to him that I couldn’t be June Carter.

So, Marko, my slandering friend – we’ll have no more of this crazy talk.

And say hello to Rocket Chick for me, Johnny.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

3,120 days until retirement

“If I could just finish my sentence without interruption here” The babble of voices stops and my coworker, JF favors me with a look that could blight cement.
She says, icily, “Well it might just be the same as the end of the sentence I was trying to finish.
“Fine. Good. Finish. Just so long as only one of us is talking at a time.” There is a short pause, everyone glares at me and the babble escalates in volume. Well. That helped.

We’re fried, and not sunny-side up, my coworkers and me. It’s a staff meeting we don’t have time for, to discuss a project we don’t have time for and it calls for us to Imagine Big. A wish list for the new fund - raising guy. We start with practical things but soon KC would like a boat. I want an indoor garden. Then we decide the garden could be IN the boat. To hell with digital imaging and computer portals and student study areas. The meeting is seriously breaking down.

We know what our chances are of getting so much as a new doorstop (approximately nil), and the tension of trying to cope with an incoming, highly complicated new computer system, write useable manuals for it, alongside the effort to just keep the hell up with daily work, is making us crazy. I suggest buying gin and drinking it out of tea cups in the office.

Enrollment at the college is double what it was when I came there, the number of services we try to provide has quadrupled, and there hasn’t been an increase in permanent staff since 1970. The only reason the place functions at all is that we four are like sisters. We know our jobs and some of everyone else’s too.

Like 90% of the working world, on a good day, we cope. Like 90% of sisters, we bicker now and then.

JF is trying to talk again and is drowned out. I am just as guilty as everyone else of participating in the pandemonium but I started this, so...

JF IS TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING,” I announce. She begins again, and we all start talking.

Our boss reaches over to her desk and grabs a large glue stick. She hands it to JF and JF makes another try. This time, when she’s interrupted, she waves the glue stick fiercely in the air and raises her voice. “I have the talking stick!”

After we stop laughing, we shut up and let her finish. Then someone else reaches for the stick, and she is allowed to talk. And we pass it along this way for the rest of the meeting. Taking turns, giggling as we pass the glue stick, but respecting the sudden power of the mighty office supply.

My boss has her moments of genius.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Of shoes and saints

Maybe it’s the wonky stone and brick pavement on Granville Street, a death-trap surface for high heels, but for sure I’m checking this shoe when I get home. After I buy a bottle of Merlot and do errands.

Up the escalator and out the other side of the Barrington Mall, down the cement steps. La la la.


Suddenly I’m sprawled on the pavement, dazed and not sure how I got there. A few seconds of time are unaccounted for. I take inventory in a disoriented, slow-motion kind of way. My left leg is clearly there stretched in front of me. My right leg is there but bent. I notice that my shoe looks odd. Then I see the 3 inch heel of my right shoe sitting on the step above the shoe.

It’s a busy street, next to where the buses stop, and it’s quitting time on a nice day in May. People are rushing by, some staring at me but most deliberately looking away. A man stops.

“Are you all right?”
“Yes. No. I don’t think so. I need a minute.”
“Okay,” he says, hesitating for a second before he walks away.

My hand is bleeding. My ankle, I notice as I hoist myself off the concrete, is sprained. My tailbone feels like it’s been hit with a blunt instrument, which in fact it has.

I gather my bags and limp painfully towards the entrance of the Delta Barrington hotel. There isn’t a cab in sight. I’m so stunned that it takes me a minute to figure out how to open the door. A doorman appears and looks at me disapprovingly.

“Yes? Can I help you?”
“I’ve just fallen down stairs and I’m hurt. Would you mind calling a cab for me?” He gestures a disgusted looking dismissal.
“There’s one right there.”

“Right there” is a good twenty-five feet up the street and dammit, he wasn’t there a second ago, but this guy is obviously no Sir Galahad, so I hobble to the cab and pitch myself into the back seat. I am not sitting so much as perching on my left hip, trying not to bleed on the upholstery.

The cab driver asks if I want to go to a hospital. No. No. Not unless I’m no longer breathing or in cardiac arrest. I give him my address. He keeps nervously glancing in the mirror and tries not to hit bumps at any great speed, and at a red light, leaps out of the car and pulls a tiny first aid kit from the trunk. He paws through it desperately only to find it contains nothing of any use and helplessly hands me a sheet of clean paper towel from the front seat.

When he drops me off, I have a chance to experiment with limp-hopping up three flights of stairs on one shoe with my lower spine suddenly making its presence known every time I breathe.

The minute I’m in the apartment, I call Weedy.
“I fell and hurt myself. Pretty bad, I think.” Now I'm shaking too.
“Oh my god. I’ll come over.”
“No. No. (I’m completely insane, you see) I think I’ll be okay. I just needed to talk to someone.”
“Well, do you need anything.”
“I was on my way to get wine. I have no wine,” I wail. It’s the only first aid supply I can think of. “I was going to get Merlot.”
“I’ll bring you a bottle of Merlot right after supper.”

And she does. Only a very good friend realizes that Merlot is appropriate for a medical emergency.

Turns out my shoulder is sprained. I figure it wanted to keep my ankle company. My hand is cut and bruised so badly I can hardly touch anything for weeks, and I’m sporting a round bruise in a fetching shade of black, six inches in diameter, on my tailbone. “Boy,” the Scorpio says when he sees it, “you’re lucky you weren’t paralyzed.”

Why am I telling you this?

Because the comments in response to my last blog started me thinking about rescuing strangers.

When something isn’t a dire emergency, I always question my motives for trying to help. Do I picture myself as some sort of St. Joan? Am I doing this to prove my worthiness as a human being? What are my ulterior motives, anyway? I come from a long line of rescuers on my mother’s side. And I know the shadow face of would-be saints too from my own experience and I am suspicious of charitable impulses – particularly my own.

But on the other hand – the one that isn’t bleeding, that is – what does it mean that people walk past a woman who has just hurtled down cement steps and is obviously injured? What does it mean when people pretend not to see a blind man, face down on the pavement – even if he does stink of booze? I don’t understand it.

I do understand it. It’s messy. You might get involved. The person could throw up on you or pull a gun or take you to court for your efforts. It’s none of your business. It’s none of mine.


But. What about these lines of Auden’s? Which I need to believe in order to take even one more step in this world (or several at a time, landing at the bottom)?

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone….

We must love one another or die.

What about that?

And while you’re about it, if you’re commenting, I’d like to know the meaning of life too? And where the other sock goes when I do laundry. If you have a minute.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Divine intervention of the lesser kind

Asking for trouble to stay up past your bedtime. Last minute trip up the road before the gas station corner store closes. Black night in my iffy neighborhood.

I’m hunched into a hooded jacket with my thrift store polar fleece vest underneath, walking fast like you do when it’s cold and dark.

“Hey, Lady.” He’s a young black kid and by the looks of him, in baggy shorts and a thin top that might have been warm enough three weeks ago, he’s possibly freezing to death. “Do you know when the bus runs?” I tell him. Likely a five, ten minute wait for the last one to come by. He looks perturbed, so I try to reassure him. “No. It’s leaving from the mall now, it’ll be here shortly, sweetie.”

Coming back, I round the corner onto my street and hear, “Lady!”
There he is, near as I can make out without my damn glasses, hopping around, trying to keep warm on the wrong side of the street, at the wrong bus stop. I come to a dead halt and squint in his direction, but he doesn’t say anything else or gesture to me. Go home. None of your business. Just go home.

It’s so damn cold. What if he can’t get home? What if he doesn’t have enough bus fare? He didn’t look a minute over 15 and he’s somebody’s kid and … I’m climbing the stairs to my apartment now. What if… Oh fuck it! I dump my wallet and quart of milk off, stick bus fare in my pocket, jam my glasses on my face and head back out.

He’s not at the stop. And then I see a silhouette, moving around right up next to the building across the road. What the hell is he doing? Dancing? He’s dancing. And then I don’t know what to do. It’s freezing and he’s trying to stay warm. He’s got his headphones on and he’s dancing where he’s probably sure he’s out of sight. And just how embarrassing would it be to know some idiot “lady” has come back out like he’s six years old, to make sure he’s alright and watched him dancing when he thought he was invisible.

And what possesses me to do these things? L. told me once after I’d written him about a lovely dog I met when I was walking, “One of these days, you keep holdin’ your hand out to stray dogs, you gone pull back a stump. And don’t come cryin’ to me when it happens.” I am prone to greeting unleashed dogs like long-lost friends and it is L’s contention that I can’t tell which ones would bite me.

More likely, the dog would be only too glad to permit a hug and I would come home with fleas. I know this from past experience.

Once, in Toronto, when I was working at a modern dance school, one of the board members gave me a lift home from a performance. Driving through Cabbage Town, I saw a man sprawled, bloodied face down, with a white cane beside him. Pedestrians hustled on about their business skirting around him. I yelled to the driver to stop and let me out. He muttered that someone else would do something and kept driving so…I opened the door of the car. While it was moving. And that persuaded him to stop.

I helped the poor man to his feet and put his cane in his hand. He was barely upright before the fumes told me he was not only blind, but blind, puking drunk. I half carried, half dragged him to the nearest bus stop and in gratitude, he kept trying to grab my ass.

It’s my belief that friendly angelic beings protect me from being bitten by stray dogs and stray people. But the little bastards aren’t above having a good chuckle at my expense every now and then. Hey everybody! She’s doing it again! Watch this!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Halifax. Canada's Ocean Playground."

The weather is so…Halifax. Which is to say, shitty. It’s raining and the everlasting wind is gusting at blow you off your feet velocity. Think Scottish Highlands kind of weather. And yes, it was very scenic in Braveheart but let’s put it this way – living in it gives me valuable insight into why the Scots are referred to as “dour.”

I make three trips on the dreaded number twenty bus today. The first is serene enough. I gaze out at the last of the brilliant yellow leaves, no one heavily perfumed or unwashed sits beside me and I get a seat that doesn’t force my knees to rest under my chin. I am listening to Neil Young sing “Helpless, Helpless, Helpless” on repeat play…which is an excellent song for a Scottish Highlands kind of day. It’s a turn around trip. A peaceful little wait by Spring Garden Park, a picturesque Victorian Garden and I’m on my way home. The wind is whipping wildly but it’s warm. My, this is going well, I’m thinking.

And then the rain begins for real. By the time I get off the bus, a quarter block from home, the sky is gushing rain and the wind is ambitiously blowing sideways. Picture stepping into your shower, fully dressed, with a coat on and a wind machine set to “high.” Soaked to the skin in under two minutes.

Well, that’s fine. Because at least I can promise myself the treat of having a tooth yanked out of my head later.

It beats reading the news though, doesn’t it? Yes, indeed.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My Father's Stones

Picture this: A man in his early seventies, six foot-four. A big man with blue eyes. Put him in a plastic raincoat with a drawstring hood and draw the string too tight, so that the hood plasters tight to his head and sits too low on his forehead. He is walking down a suburban street just after sunset. It is windy and pouring rain. Now, give him a cane, on which he leans heavily. See the wind tugging at the legs of his pants and his raincoat. He has lost a shoe. His mouth is hanging open, his eyes look vacant.

“I had to phone,” Vanessa, my father’s wife, my friend says. She’s laughing shakily, the way you might laugh as someone pushed you over Niagara Falls in barrel. “He looked like that painting, “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch. I absorb this and try to refrain from platitudes. I understand the horror and sorrow of it. There is no suggestion I can make that will help. “I had to phone someone,” she says. Yes. I would have had to phone someone too.

My father has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from the after-effects of a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage, a kind of self-repairing aneurysm. His knees don’t work. He falls. Down cement steps smashing his head to the pavement, into walls, off chairs. The falls have caused further brain injury. His hearing is nearly gone. His memory cuts in and out. He has a heart condition but his bowel and prostate cancer are in remission. The look on his face, that windy, rain-soaked night, is called Parkinson’s Mask.

My father: painter of trees and landscape, carpenter, cook, planner and builder. A man who loves to sing. My father asks me, on the last visit, “Did you ever marry, dear?” I smile at him. “Yes, Dad.” Three times. I don’t say it aloud.

My father, collector of stones. The wooden deck in back of his new house is edged with a double row of stones that progress from the size of large grapes to the size of melons. They are uniformly oval or round, gray, rose, yellow, and he has picked them up for years. He pocketed them when he went to the woods to paint his beloved landscapes, when he used to go camping with Vanessa and the kids, my half-sister and brother, Jason and Yolanda. Small perfect treasures.

The stones sat in bowls around the house, or were carefully placed by ornaments for years. Now, four hundred and eight-nine of them surround the deck, resting neatly between strips of wooden dowel.

Vanessa had called me when she discovered the stones. She’d looked out from the bedroom window on the second floor and there they were. It must have taken him hours to arrange them in size order. It shocked her. The obsessive order of it, perhaps. Why? She couldn’t figure out what neurons fired in his brain, directed him to suddenly surround the deck with stones.

“He used to have such a good sense of composition. An artistic way of arranging things.”

When you live with someone who has changed so greatly, become so diminished, things like this are frightening, another sign of deterioration. Later, she will see them as beautiful, but now they are just one more reason to feel panic.

When I see the stones, I marvel at them. Easy enough for me, who lives a thousand miles away and doesn’t wash urine-soaked sheets each morning, doesn’t have to catch him when he is determined to take out a chain-saw and prune trees to death. Easy for me who doesn’t contend with fits of stubborn determination to climb life-endangering ladders or to descend stairs that inevitably hurl him to the bottom landing, bruised and bleeding.

I marvel at them. I tell my father they are beautiful, and that I’ve counted them. He is pleased. He agrees they are lovely and tells me how he’s picked them up, one at a time, choosing them for their hues and shapes. “I put them in my pocket,” he says. “Yes, Dad, I know.”
“I spotted this one I especially love,” I tell him.

“Oh? Which?”

I pick up a flat round stone small enough to fit in the center of my palm. “It’s the color,” I explain, “look how yellow it is. I love this one.” I turn to him with the stone in my hand. “Do you think I could have it? As a keepsake?” He considers a moment and said, “Yes. If you put the rows back in order and find one in the house the same size, to replace it. And don’t lose it.” I nod agreement to the terms and curl my fingers tight around the stone. “Thanks, Dad. I love you.”

When my father died, I stuffed as many of the stones as I could manage to carry in my suitcase. Of all the mementos I have – his paintings, his old robe, his favorite hat – the stones are my favorite. I have begun to pick up stones myself. They sit in bowls all over my apartment, but I always keep my father’s stones together, in a circle, arranged by size and shape, with the yellow stone at the front. I didn’t lose it, Dad.

[This piece was written in 2001. I was thinking about my father after reading "Special Secret Veteran's Day Post." (I'd like to recommend the blog this post appeared on - particularly that entry.There is a link to Mr. Head's House of Dread on the right hand side of this page. Thanks to Mr. H. for a very memorable and moving entry.)