Saturday, June 24, 2006

Booby bites, donuts denied, runaway beards, pregnant men, nice cops and the curse of the "CRDS HEADER 100/PK HH"

What a dreadful title eh? So much has happened over the last 12 hours and I couldn't come up with a common theme. Maybe you can help! Submit your title idea. I shall award a prize for the winning entry!

I know. You're skeptical. You're thinking the prize will be a big wet kiss on the lips or a year's supply of haggis or something equally unpalatable. Well - as with all things in life - you takes your chances don't you?

Booby bites

So I awaken around 8 this morning - 6 hours after slurping the last dribble from a bottle of Australian Shiraz and stumbling off to bed while my pal Spooky crashed on the couch - out like a light. She wouldn't help me with the wine. Had to do it myself. She's not allowing herself alcohol while on medication. Her doctor prescribed antibiotics - a very serious dose - after she kept passing out and crumpling to the floor in the wake of the nastiest spider bite I ever seen. Got her right on the boob. I kid you not. She first told me about it Friday morning over MSN Messenger and insisted on sending a picture of it.

'Come on! What's your email address? Don't make me have to look it up!' she typed.

'' I replied.

She wasn't fooled for long. She looked up my proper address and sent me a gallery of boob-bite photos. Four of them. And - like - gag me with a spoon. The damn bite looked just like a third nipple only bigger and redder with a giant pustule instead of a - uh - whatever - you know - a nipple nubbin.

Okay - have I killed your appetite yet?

"Who wants to see pictures of a spider bite on my friend's boob!" I shouted to my office companions - which prompted an immediate chorus of "No thanks!" Not one taker. Go figure.

Okay - back to the present. I get up and check on Spooky. She appears to still be asleep. I do a bit of writing. A scene from the Elvenkind novel. At 9:30 She knocks on my bedroom door, returns some bedding. I go shower. We're out on the road at ten. Writing group starts at 11. It's a 45-minute trip to Orangeville - home of the Headwaters Writers' Guild. (Is that a pretentious name or what? I wanted to call it the Lost Apostrophe Writing Group on account of the massive confusion and disagreement over the proper placement of the apostrophe in 'Writers'. Before the 'S'... After the 'S'... None at all...)

So - 10 o'clock. Curse me and my disorganization - or procrastination - whatever. Discrastinization? Now we don't have time enough to stop somewhere for breakfast. Double dang-it. We've at least got time to stop for take-out coffees and bagels at the first coffee shop along the way. We pass by Starbucks and Second Cup without a glance but that's okay 'cause I don't think they even have bagels. Then we miss Tim Hortons which is fine with me 'cause I think they're crap anyway. We get on the highway 401 and I suddenly recall that we're totally out of gas. I'm talking the last fume.

Donuts denied

We exit the highway at Hurontario Street and hit the nearby Petro Canada. There happens to be a Tim Hortons next door so we have to hit that too. Spooky actually claims to enjoy their coffee. I can't deny her it forever. She waits in the car reading the Elvenkind piece I'd just written. I run into Horny Tim's without any inclination - without the foggiest notion - that this will be my very last time ever entering one of their establishments!

I wait in a long long line. Finally - my turn.

"I'll have a large double-double and a medium decaf, both with a shot of hazelnut. And a whole-wheat bagel, toasted with cream cheese and a 20-pack of Tim-bits - just the dutchie and apple fritter kind please." She punches all this into the Timmy-Ho's super computer and two other staff, eyes glued to their respective computer monitors, spring into action. One grabs a bagel and inserts it in the THBS (Tim Hortons Bagel Slicer). The other grabs a pair of coffee cups and heads for the THHD (Tim Hortons Hazelnut Dispensary). My gal, the origami queen, slips an apparently flat and featureless slab of boxboard into her hand and whoop-whoop-whoop, with a flurry of manual deftness and nary a glance at her hands she has turned the sheet into a fully functioning double-flapped timbit tote box (THFFDFTBTB).

I whip out my debit card - to the collective gasp of 43 staff and 181 customers.

"We don't take debit!" says the origami queen, obviously shocked. She's wondering how this foreigner could have actually made it an entire 11 kilometers from Pearson International Airport without discovering the two most important things to know about Canada. 1 - that you can't take two steps without bumping into a bloody Tim Hortons - and 2 - that they only take cash.

"You've got to be kidding!" I say, slipping Mr. Debit back in his pouch and reaching for Mr. Mastercard.

"We only take cash." She says.

"That's absolutely ridiculous!" I say, clearly pissed off. "I don't have any!"

"Cancel that order!" she hollers into her headset microphone.

"I hope when cash becomes obsolete this shit-hole company goes with it!" I bark. "I'm never coming back to one of your stores again!" I turn and march away and out the door, already feeling guilty for having given her a hard time when it's surely not her fault that she works for a shit-hole company. Times are tough for some people. I'm normally not so insensitive.

Runaway beards

Now we're really running late so we get to the library's conference room at 11:10 with empty tummies and no coffee. Our mates are already seated around the big table and there's a stranger among them. He's an older man with an enormous white beard and moustache that entirely blankets his face - south of the nose, that is.

'Who the hell's this new guy?' I'm thinking. We just added two new members in the last month to make us probably the largest bloody writing group in the history of the universe - which, by the way, is no feather in our caps. Efficiency is important. Getting 5 minutes floor time per writer during a two-hour meeting is simply no good. I'm a little irked. I would later find out that no one actually invited him to join. He seems to have showed up at the library asking about us and was sent right along by whatever library worker we're gonna have to be tracking down and tying down and neatly drawing and quartering when we get a chance.

Our mates are taking turns introducing themselves and stating what kind of writing they do. I take a seat close to him and immediately it's my turn.

"Hi," I say, reaching over and shaking his hand. "I'm [FWG] and I write hard core pornography." The room erupts with laughter but none from New Guy. His eyes remain expressionless. There's no sign of a mouth anywhere on him. "I'm just kidding," I say. "I write pretty much everything but."

Eventually New Guy is asked to introduce himself. The muffled sound that emanates from behind his beard - presumably from a mouth - seems to say that his name is 'Claire' and he was a political cartoonist and now he's retired and wants to write fiction. Thus he has sought us out. Lucky us.

Pregnant men

We get down to business. We're going to start with a 10-minute prompt exercise. We explain to New Guy how the prompt activity works.

This week's leader, Anita, passes out a sheet of paper to everyone that lists 5 suggested writing topics. Item number 5 is actually just a list of a dozen-or-so words. Sometimes just the combination of two or more words can spark a creative path for a writer's pen, you see.

One of the prompts is "Believing that yourself or someone else is pregnant". Another is "I couldn't believe my eyes, looking at the reflection in the mirror".

I decide to combine these two and I write a brief story. Here it is. It's entirely true by the way.

I couldn't believe my eyes, looking at the reflection in the storefront window. I paused on the sidewalk and stared at the enormous belly, shocked to realize that it was my own, amazed to discover how far I'd let myself slide.

It hadn't escaped the notice though, of crazy Jeanette at the office - who'd long ago stopped asking me to go swimming with her.

I'd been startled when a shadow fell over my desk and I'd looked up to see Jeanette standing before me with that usual half-demented look in her eyes. She leaned toward me, bending, bringing her face scant inches from my own. My hand tightened around the stapler I'd been holding. I'd use it to protect myself if need be. She spoke very slowly, the only way she knew how.

"What are you doing about your weight problem?" she asked.

"What weight problem?" I whispered back.

"You look like you're pregnant." She stated quietly.

"But I am pregnant," I said matter-of-factly.

"Oh!" she tittered, louder now. "You're so funny!"

"There's nothing funny about it," I replied, indignant. "It's the miracle of life."

We read our little stories and finally Nancy asks New Guy if he would like to share what he wrote.

To share is not mandatory, you see - though we almost universally do. Only one time have I declined. I'd gone to a very personal place with a prompt. Still I didn't hesitate to read at first. We have an ironclad bond of trust and confidentiality within the group. I started to recite it but lost my composure and chose not to go on. Simple biochemistry I guess you'd say. It's difficult to shed tears and read at the same time - especially when your handwriting is as messy as mine is.

This happens with some regularity. We've all shared our tears together. Our writing group is as much a support group as anything.

New Guy has very little writing on his page. That's no surprise. Neither did I, my first time out.

"May I just talk instead?" asks New Guy.

"Of course," we say.

"Well - I chose this one - Write about something you feel very strongly about. I feel very strongly about the environment these days. And it really bothers me when people put out a lot of garbage bags at once. I thought I'd write a piece about people who put out too many garbage bags. But I don't think I could finish that in ten minutes. I'd like to take this and do it at home."

"Uh - sure," we say. "If you'd like to."

"So I'd like to ascertain the rules around this. Do I have to use all the words on this word list - Pristine, Feline, Formula, Grecian, Naked...?"

"No - no," we say. "These prompts are just suggestions. There's no rules at all. You can write about anything you want. The point is just to write for ten minutes - just following the pen - wherever it takes you. Some of us prefer to be given a starting point. That's all, Claire. These aren't serious assignments. We just like to get everyone's pen moving - to make sure that none of us fall out of the habit. It's easy to not write for a few days and then start to forget that we're writers. So we make sure to exercise the pen at every meeting - every seven days. It's just a safety net. That's all. Okay?"

New Guy's eyes betray no emotion and no sound escapes the white forest that is his face.

Later though, he speaks up suddenly. "What's this journal you guys are talking about?" he asks. It's very common for writers to keep daily journals, you see. I don't have a diary per se, but this blog serves as my journal. I think Nancy has misinterpreted the question. She holds up her large blue hardcover notebook.

"This is my journal," she says. "I prefer hardcover. What about you, [FWG], you like hardcover too, don't you?"

I look down at my black hardcover notebook. "Yes," I say. "That way I can write on my lap if need be - in case I find myself in a waiting room - or a prison cell."

New Guy has more questions about this blue journal concept.

"She has 200 of them," states Gaetan, Nancy's husband. "She orders them by the case every time she's getting low." I happen to know this is true. Nancy's handwriting is extremely large.

"Would you like one?" asks Nancy. "I've got lots to spare."

No voice or eye-signal comes from the bearded stranger. I for one am at a loss. The significance of the journal is in the intellectual process, not the format of the paper. I'm zoning out of the conversation.

New Guy suddenly rises to his feet and announces that he must be going. It's 12:30. Our meetings run til 1PM. This is highly unusual but perhaps he has other commitments. He slips out the door.

One of our mates begins to read a piece she has brought to share. We're all silent, listening intensely. Suddenly the door opens and she is interrupted.

"Um - yeah," comes the muffled voice of Treebeard. "Bring me one of them blue journals next week." Nancy smiles politely and promises that she will.

Nice cops

Meeting over, The Dumas family, Anita and myself go for lunch at the Nifty Nook restaurant. I get the Orangeville Grand Slam. It is 3 sausages, 3 thick slices of back bacon, 3 eggs, 3 slices of French toast, home fries and regular toast. I also drink 3 cups of coffee.

Next I take my car to Brian's - my mechanic - because there's a serious exhaust problem. I'm waking the dead - everywhere I drive. Pops meets me at the garage to drive me to the farm where I take Mom's van. I'll borrow it for a couple days. Brian can't look at my pipes 'til Monday.

On the drive home I take Mississauga road. Passing through the municipality of Huttonville - a thoroughly unremarkable place marked only by a pair of signs - one that reads Huttonville and one that reads Maximum 50 KPH Begins. As I come to the crest of the big hill I'm confronted by a fleet of police officers standing on the shoulder motioning everyone to pull over - the cars in front and behind me as well. By the strictest interpretation of their hand signals they seem to be asking us to run them over. I'm wise enough to disobey. I pull ahead of them and then pull onto the shoulder. While waiting for one of the officers to approach I'm busily doing some math.

12 points less the 4 that dropped off is 8 - plus the 3 from a couple months ago is 11. Plus 3 more today makes 14. Whew! Still one away from the magic number - 15.

An officer approaches. She's a young woman. We exchange pleasant hellos.

"Were you pointing at me?" I inquire, vainly hoping that my inclusion here is in error.

"Yes I was, sir,"

"Oh. Do you mind if I ask how fast I was going?"

She nods politely. "75."

"Okay. I see," I say sadly. I realize that's about a $150 fine and indeed 3 points.

"Did you know this is a 50-zone?"

I give her my best 'bad puppy' expression. "No. I didn't. I wasn't paying attention. I'm sorry. I guess you'll want my documents." I pop the glove box. "This is my mom's car, by the way."

"I'll need to see her ownership and insurance - and your license of course."

"Her insurance or mine?" I ask, while routing through the giant stack of roadmaps and napkins that fill the glove compartment.

"Either is fine," she says. I pull my birth certificate and insurance slip from my wallet and hand them toward her. She's hesitant to take them.

"Oh! That's not my license." I make the correction.

I have the distinct feeling that I will not find mom's ownership - that it's in her purse at home. That'll be another $150 - at least. We're at $300 and counting. I'm beginning to regret not running them over.

"My goodness. I don't know where she keeps the ownership. I wish I had a cell phone. I'd call her and ask." Ironically I had a cell phone right up until today. I'd just returned it to Mom 30 minutes ago - expecting my new home phone to be installed any day now (Gawd - there's another story that I won't go into just now...)

"If you find the ownership bring it to me. I'll be in the black car," she says. A glance in the mirror reveals a trio of police cars lined up in the parking lot of the long-abandoned retail building behind me. Two cruisers of the standard sort and one black unmarked car. A Chev Impala of course. Story of my life.

Indeed - I find no ownership. I feel a headache coming on. 'Huttonville,' I'm thinking. 'Land of two signs, one hill and a fleet of blueshirts - and nary a house in sight.' Perhaps I'll have to add this to my list of proposed municipal slogans. You see my buddy, Ben Knight once told me how he likes to make up slogans for those poor towns that have none on their roadside welcome signs. An activity to occupy one's mind during long drives through rural towns, you see. Since bringing this to my attention I've felt a lot of sympathy for those places that suffer slogan neglect. I've started to come up with my own suggestions. For instance: 'Welcome to Orangeville - The town where nothing rhymes' or this one: 'Welcome to Melville - The only village in Ontario taller than it is wide. Home of the world famous Melville speed bump. Be sure to visit the Melville Speed Bump Museum'.

Okay - I shall add this: 'Welcome to Huttonville - The hill is alive with the sound of radar guns'.

Do you have any slogan ideas for neglected towns near you? Why don't you post them here? Let's do something noble with this blog. Let's start a slogan project. They don't have to be as profound and insightful as the examples above. Don't be intimidated! They can be simple. I think Ben's tend to go something like this: 'Welcome to Oshawa: Ah-choo! Gazundheit!' See? It's easy. I hope you'll participate.

Okay - so my new friend returns.

"I want you to make sure you have the ownership certificate from now on - whenever you borrow someone else's car. Okay? We need to know that it isn't stolen. We were able to check on our computer today but we can't always." I nod my head. "I've knocked your ticket down to 60. That's only 10 over the limit. It's a $40 fine and no points."

"Thank you so much. You're exceptionally kind," I praise.

"We'd like you to slow down please - and pay attention to the posted limits."

"Oh - I will. I absolutely will."

"Have a good day."

The curse of the "CRDS HEADER 100/PK HH"

So I lower the cruise control to 19 over the limit and zip on home. Oh - but first I stop at a Home Hardware store to pick up some home hardware. I need two hooks from which to hang two plants from my bedroom ceiling. Well - one real plant - a Spider plant - and one artificial plant. I like to mix and match genuine and fake plants and keep everyone guessing.

There's a row of packages hanging from one of those little metal horizontal poles with a $2.99 price sign on the end of it. Each package holds various assortments of hook devices. I find one that contains two hooks and four screws. Two options per hook. There's the regular screw or the really long kind that has a 'pop-out' thingy on the end so that once it penetrates the open space above the ceiling it spreads out, resting on top of the ceiling. Is that called a toggle bolt? I dunno. Who cares?

Two cute youngsters are working the tills. One boy and one girl. The girl offers to help me. I lay the package on the counter and reach for my wallet. It's not in my pocket. Crap. With all that Huttonville hullabaloo I left it on the passenger seat.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I forgot my wallet in the car. I'll be right back." I take two steps toward the door and then discover there's a fiver in my pocket and a looney too. Anita had given me them at the Nifty Nook after I'd paid for our brunch on debit.

I back-step to the counter. "Here we go!" I say and slap the bill on the counter. The girl just looks at me as if waiting for something. So I pick it up and hold it right in front of her so that she doesn't have to reach for it and strain herself. "Here you go," I repeat. Her eyes shift from the bill to me, back to the bill and over to her computer monitor, which sits sideways on the counter - visible to both of us. It reads:

CRDS HEADER 100/PK HH ........... 9.99
PST.............................. .80
GST.............................. .70
Total............................ 11.49

"Oh," I exclaim.

"It's 11.49," she confirms.

"Oh. Okay. Um. I'll be right back." I fetch the wallet from the car and return. There are now 2 people ahead of me in the girl's line. I wait to the side of the line unsure whether I'll be invited in ahead of them or not. I'm standing there for awhile, debit card in hand when I realize that nothing is happening except that the girl is standing there looking at me.

"Oh - am I still up to bat?"

She nods. I step up and pay my 11.49. She hands me the receipt. I pick it up and there is that mysterious line again: 'CRDS HEADER 100/PK HH'. I can't help but think that this description is inappropriate. I wonder, shouldn't it read 'SCR HOOKS 2/PK HH' or something of that ilk?

"Am I paying for the right item?" I ask. Silently she takes my receipt from me and gazes at it for a while. I see the boy coming over. He takes the receipt from her and takes my little package of hooks and compares the two.

"No, you're not," he says. "This isn't right." He holds the package in front of the girl. "Did you scan this?" he asks. The girl does not reply verbally. She stands very still and keeps her mouth closed. Perhaps a bird has landed on my shoulder and she wishes not to scare it away? I carefully shift my eyeballs left then right. I see no bird. Perhaps she is showing us her best statue imitation. I'm not sure what this means - this statue imitation thing. Neither does the boy. "Did you scan this?" he says, now pointing at the bar code printed on the package. Now he points at the scanner on the counter and then waves his finger back and forth across the bar code. "DID YOU SCAN THIS...! DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M ASKING YOU!"

"Um. I d-" She starts, then pauses. She must be terribly confused about something though her expression and posture betray no signals that she's confused. Very mysterious - this girl. I wonder if there's a not opening your mouth event at the Olympics. If there is - we gotta send her 'cause she's a guaranteed champion at not opening her mouth. She'll kick some ass. She'll bring us home some gold.

The boy rolls his eyes and punches a few keys and scans the package. Two more transactions appear on the monitor - one is a refund. The other reads 'HOOKS+SCREWS. W/TOG....... 2.99'

"We owe you an 8.05 debit refund," he says. I hand him the card and we process it. The girl is still standing there in a daze. Maybe her dog died this morning. Maybe they should send her home. Or maybe they should put her head on that counter over there with all the other vacuums.

"Sorry for the trouble," he says - handing me a stack of little receipt papers.

"Oh - that's quite alright," I say, feeling sorry for him. "Have a good day."

Well kids, that's all for now. Don't forget your town slogan ideas!



Dave said...

OK, how about:
"Is that an extra nipple?, no snacks for you plastic boy, weird beard disappeared, baby bump boy, cop who just got laid, and just another day at Home Hardware."

I had my own Home Hardware ordeal on Saturday morning. Stopped in the local HH to pick up some stuff for work. The surly middle-aged sales bitch was walking down the aisle I was in and I said hello. She didn't even grunt. Just kept walking past me. I took my items up to the counter and waited for the sales bitch to come up to the till. She arrived. Didn't say a word. Scanned the item.
"$7.44", she grunted.
I handed her the debit card, she swiped it, handed me the keypad without a word, stapled the receipts and that was the extent of our interaction. Not a "hi", "bye" or "kiss my ass".
Right after that I went into Shopper's Drug Mart and was greeted by a clerk right when I walked in the door. Got my stuff and walked to the till.
"How are you today? Did you find everything you need? Thank you, see you again, have a great day."
The places are a few doors away, but their customer service is worlds apart.
You that this is back in my mind I think I'll write a letter to the manager of that place about that miserable cow.

Anonymous said...