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.)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Scientific facts

Today’s outfit: a mile and a half of black tights, black baggy blouse, screaming gold-orange vest, rooster slippers, hair greasy with conditioner and piled into a tower on my head. And I intend to truck bags of garbage and recycling to the bins in this outfit. I’ll only have myself to blame if I am sexually harassed on the way.

The Scorpio has survived my last seduction fashion experiment with his usual amused cool. I’m tucked behind the door when he comes in, leaning out so he can see the top half of me. Candles glow in the dark, his favorite drink is waiting on the coffee table, next to a vase of white carnations.

“Whoa. You look nice….” He’s caught the grey lace bra and short, see-through silver robe. His eyes follow the robe down and he bursts out laughing when his gaze hits the rooster slippers.

“I blogged about doing this,” I explain, “I said it was my contribution to truth in advertising.” The Scorpio never reads my blog.

“Well, “ he says, “I think you just about got it right.”

“So you’re not put off then?” He smirks and reaches for me. Not likely.

Okay. Let’s try this:

“I was thinking of wearing the slippers in bed. How do you think you’d feel then?” The Scorpio gave up trying to stop me analyzing him long ago.

“I think if you did that I’d be having extremely inappropriate thoughts next time I play Sesame Street on the computer with my granddaughter.”

One of my girlfriends has a theory which she airs one day when I’m complaining loudly about the unavailability of really juicy lingerie in Halifax. Too much Baptist not enough Fredricks of Hollywood. “Oh forget the lingerie, for Goddsake! Men don’t care if you’re covered in sheep dip as long as they’re getting laid.”

I’m not sure that’s entirely right. It’s a tad extreme. The Scorpio is a very clean person and I doubt I’d get far with him if I bathed in dung. However, I have concluded that you can appear as a cartoon character and still get lucky. Jessica Rabbit move over for Big Bird.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

#3 - What I know for sure

In brief.

A downpour with wind. A forget-your-umbrella or spend all day turning it right side out again kind of day. Grey and lovely sky. Clouds in motion. If the last of the yellow leaves were audible, they’d be a thousand voice choir.

Pick up the groceries. Call a cab, plug Neil Young into my ears and enjoy the forty-five minute wait. Watch the light sparkle in puddles on black pavement while the shoppers come and go.

All day, I have been compiling and piling. The list of what-must-be-done, the hysterical refrain of no-time-to-do-it. I feel like something in a leg-hold trap and tell myself to stop it, just stop it. But it isn’t until I’m forced to stand and wait, that I do. Stop.

Home. Drag two bags and three sacks of groceries up all those stairs. Unpack.
Throw open the balcony door. Open the mail.

Letter one.

L. curses me. Three times with four-letter letter words. I am still standing outside the grocery store watching the rain hit the puddles as I read this. I am still walking down a road that leads to a prison in another rain under another sky.

L. also watches the sky and loves the rain.

The day I left, he wrote that he’d seen a plane pass overhead and wondered at how I’d “come all the way from somewhere to nowhere” to see him. He imagined I could be on that particular plane going home to somewhere.

He’s taken me off his visitors list, he says. But if I want to write again, he will answer. I will write again because of what I know and because I love him.

Letter two. Miz T writes, “A little old lady began wheezing in a bathroom stall behind me. I turned quickly to see her come out. She came out shaking, trying to get her oxygen tube in her nose. The cold of the day took her breath away. We talked for a while until she calmed down. She had taken the bus uptown to buy back a pawned ring for her friend. My heart melted. She was cold, her legs were still shaking. I did not leave her until I was sure she was feeling sound and told her to keep warm. I thought later I could have given her my scarf, but she was a little proud.”

We never land for long. Moments trying to comfort a stranger in a public washroom, an embrace in a prison visiting room, a fleeting second when someone allows you to see them when they truly inhabit their eyes. Moments drifting, crashing, caressing and floating away is what we have. Love is the only reason to touch down at all but we don't own love. Love isn't a destination, a single set of coordinates on a map.

The thing is, we are between somewhere and nowhere all the time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


(Clip adapted slightly from an email to Coyo, Summer 2002. Tonight, like Vonnegut’s unlikely hero in Slaughterhouse Five, I am feeling “unstuck in time.”)

I walk here to the Fish and Chip place...cold air...wispy clouds smearing across the twilight sky...
a blanket hung on a porch rail flaps roses, pale blue and pink, cream...
a bearded man, my age, pulls out of the gas station on a motorcycle and stares at me.
The red pigtails, I think.
L. would laugh at me, think me na├»ve to believe it’s the pigtails he’s looking at.

The sky is almost uniform violet now. The cars travel with headlights on.
My friend C. said, "I can't keep up," and she means with me, with my life. I laugh and fire back a funny reply but there's a twinge of feeling not-enough because I am too much.

Funny how it goes - no words at all, spells of muteness when words seem as aimless as leaves in the wind and other times the words are wind itself - blowing until it stops. Wind bearing loneliness, love, the fading roses on a drying blanket, the news of my Aunt Betty's impending death. Wind gusting through, messing up the pictures drawn in sand, blowing away stories, the chatter of events, old and current history, the touchingly exposed neck of a young boy sitting at the table in front of mine.

Human human human, like a beating heart, a hollow drum.

The streetlights glow orange, blurry glasses on the table, a sizzle of food hitting grease, my pigtails trailing across cold French fries on a white plastic plate, a ringing phone...orders for pizza, Lebanese accents, men with hairy arms toiling over pits of hot grease.
Amen. Amen.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Who's cock of this walk?

I dislike Christmas. And (in case you're considering it) Grinch jokes about people who dislike Christmas. But there is one good thing to be said for the entire season -

They put out the joke slippers for big people and I am addicted to those slippers. They are feet puppets, pet-substitutes who never incur vet bills.

My gorillas are matted and, well, a little smelly. Besides, my friend Weedy says they scare the shit out of her every time she comes in. The cows that started this, fuzzy acrylic beauties with horns and big brown eyes, long ago departed for that great slipper yard in the sky.

Today I bought roosters. I plan to wear something a little sleazy the next time the Scorpio comes to call. Something black and lacy with impractical (or no) underwear beneath it and I’ll sport my roosters, complete with their little blue vests and combs, their yellow beaks and red wattles.

I think of this outfit as my contribution to truth in advertising.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lost or found

Somewhere in the cosmos, there sits an old-fashioned switchboard, the kind with long cords and plugs. The operator is not quite sane in the way we humans might choose to interpret the word. But she’s creative and I expect she has her reasons.

Over twenty years ago, she pulled the connection between me and Val, me and Anjum. Val, with her husband and boys, began country jumping the way some people change neighborhoods. Val didn’t want her kids to grow up thinking North America accurately represented the planet Earth.

One cord out.

Anjum, who was the third corner of our contented triangular friendship, returned home with her husband to Kashmir. “I’ll come to see you in India some day,” I promised. I so wanted to see her in India. I longed to walk in the places and meet the people of her endlessly mesmerizing stories. I wanted to see what kind of place could produce a person of such grace, intelligence and warmth.

I wrote to her and the letters never arrived. I know this because finally, she charmed a Canadian visitor to India and forwarded a letter to me, via tourist, to be mailed in Canada. There she is. I’m looking at the picture she sent right now: Anjum, a few years later, kneeling beside her little brown-eyed son. A boy as breath-takingly beautiful as his mother. But as I examined the letter back then, I realized that I couldn’t make out the return address.

Two cords out.

Over the years, I think of Val and Anjum. Whenever there is unrest of some kind in India, I worry about Anjum. When the earthquakes came, I wondered if she was there, if she was alive, if she was alright.

Today, the phone rings at my desk and it is my ex-husband with a message. Val has called and left a number. She and Anjum have been trying to find me for a long time. She says to tell me she is with Anjum and Anjum is flying to India today. She has cancer and it’s bad. “I’m sorry, “ my ex says, “to have to call with such bad news.”

I dial and the operator connects those long discarded plugs. Anjum and I talk over each other at first – both so eager we can’t hold on. The cell phone has an echo and a delay. Finally, she says “I’ve been thinking about you for weeks.” And I blurt, “Anjum, I never forgot you. I couldn’t read your return address. I couldn't write back.” She tells me the doctors have done what they can and now she’s going home. I try not to cry and I fail, utterly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she says, “I’m sorry too." Then she brightens a little. She sounds like yesterday to me. Surely we saw each other yesterday. "I’m not giving up. I’ll see you two in India.”

Val calls back a few minutes later. She’s driving around Long Island on no sleep and she’s an emotional wreck. She’s trying to do errands – change US dollars for Anjum, buy things they need before they go. She’s lost in a strange city and she’s trying not to weep too. It’s been 3, 4 years since they diagnosed our Anjum. She’s had the full meal deal – all the horrors medical science can offer as salvation – surgery, radiation, chemo. “But the hope is gone from her eyes,” Val says, “It’s the first time I’ve seen the hope gone.”

I’ll see you in India, Anjum. I’m already there waiting, sweetheart.