Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You are now fondling a baby-changing station

I was sitting in the cubicle at Tim Hortons. Yes, Tim Hortons - the finest purveyors of public washrooms in Canada (as long as you avoid the supplementary coffee and donut products that they offer at a significant extra charge). I was just sitting there minding my business when my eyes fell upon the diaper changing station mounted to the wall.

I found it curious that there was a large panel of Braille text embossed upon it. I found the mental image of a blind man changing a baby's diaper somewhat disconcerting. In my mind's eye the blind man was rather covered in poop. Now, as one who's never changed a baby diaper I can only theorize so let me ask those of you who have the experience:

Is it possible to change a diaper with your eyes closed and not get poop all over yourself?

I know I shouldn't dismiss the physically challenged but I'm just finding this whole scenario difficult to swallow.

Perhaps I've got this all wrong. Perhaps the Braille text merely reads:

This is a baby-changing station! The toilet is 3 feet behind you. The urinal is 4 feet beyond the cubicle door to your right. Please do not crap or piss on this baby-changing station. Thank you. The Management.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Spices are the Variety of Life

My life is pretty much turned upside down right now. I'm in the middle of a big moving and painting project. I'm on the road all the time and I'm still without some of the core kitchen accessories - such as knives, forks and plates for instance. Thus, I've been eating out a lot.

So I'm down in Hamilton to visit my 300 square foot storage unit where most of my belongings have spent the last 2 and a half years. I'm hoping to stumble upon a priority item or two to include in this load. Not more bottles from my beer bottle collection. Not more pairs of pants that I've outgrown by ten sizes. Something useful - such as knives and forks and plates for instance.

I finish loading up the mini-van I've been borrowing from mom and I've got some time to kill before it's safe to visit the hospital in Hamilton where my little buddy is a patient, having badly injured his hand in a workplace accident. I can't see him just any old time, you see. His parents are liable to be there during posted visiting hours and I must not run into them. They're a confused neurotic couple of folk - loveable in their own way, I'm sure - from an old country - across the sea. A place that is real swell no doubt except for a rampant outbreak of non-enlightenment. His folks don't know that in this new and strange country their son has been associating with - um - writers and it's important that it stay that way - for the sake of all hell not breaking loose.

Okay - sorry for the interruption. I'm in a restaurant (go figure) having breakfast as I write this. A family at the next table just got up to leave - the young boy in spectacularly spastic fashion. He knocked over his chair which bounced off my leg. A mild shock to me but I'll survive.

"Oops," said the kid.

"Did you say sorry?" asked Dad.

"I said oops," explained the kid.

And thus the matter was satisfactorily resolved - as far as Dysfunctional Family #2640071 was concerned. I think there's a book out there somewhere called Canadian Parenting in a New Age or something to that effect that has been read by everyone but myself. Chapter one, I imagine, concerns the One Question Only rule and reads:

If you ask your child a question - this is already as much parenting as the child can withstand in a single day. Cease all parenting efforts immediately - at least until the next business day. Instead, immediately return to trying in vain to be your child's friend instead of a parent. You never will succeed in that. Your child will only disrespect you for it but that's okay. It will spoil the child beyond comprehension and further them along the road to complete confusion and narcissism and shall bring us that much closer to the annihilation of all sense of accountability and the virtual oblivion of Canadian society that we all gleefully anticipate...

Unfortunately my bill is not yet paid so I have no opportunity to rush to the parking lot and ram my Grand Marquis halfway through whichever little grey import DF2640071 has climbed into. I would then of course resolve the matter immediately with a cheery 'Oops!' and be off.

"Oh, I'm sorry officer but you're much too late. I've already said oops and thus the matter is satisfactorily resolved. There's nothing you can do. Run along now, Kojak."

I think this would be a good learning experience for the boy. Don't you? Assuming he survived the impact?

Okay - I'm not really this bitter, I assure you. It just amuses me to ponder thoughts of massive violence. I'm a writer of heroic adventure after all. Swords and sorcery. Blood and guts.

Um. Where was I?

Little buddy in the hospital. Parents from hell (but at least they're trying) likely in attendance. An hour and a half to kill til the close of posted visiting hours and I'm starverating (excuse the poetic license - just had it renewed).

So naturally I head for the latest restaurant of choice. It's an East Indian buffet and the intended subject of this post and of course - I have no recollection what its bleeding name is. It's on Main Street. It was the original Don Cherry's Grapevine for years and then another happening sports bar called L.A. Bats - a staple hangout for me and my peeps at the time. And now it is a haven of tasty goodness. Curries, tandouri, buttery butter chicken. It's a taste of heaven, my friends - and only $10 for dinner!

Professor Plonk and Captain Vino introduced it to me not long ago. We put a serious dent in their stocks that night but they continued to deliver. Of course, after I'd loaded the last plate with more than my belly could accommodate, Plonk draws my attention to the 'green chicken', a horrid-looking affair that would normally never qualify for entrance onto my plate - based on appearance alone. Plonk raves about it. Too late for me to go re-sampling. I'm already in over my head. Days later Vino gets me by phone and brags that he has since returned to the holy land and partaken in the green chicken. He validates Plonk's claims. They have glimpsed paradise and I have not. God knows how long they'll hold this over my head. Bastards!

So I arrive at the promised land, giddy with anticipation. The diminutive host greets me at the door and leads me toward a table. I steer him instead to one that's right next to the buffet.

"Can I have a half-litre of the Yellow Tail Shiraz please?"

"No sir," says the little man. "Vee only sell dat by bottle."

"Okay - the Wolfblass then? Yellow label? Do you sell that by the half-litre or the glass?"

"No sir. Only by bottle. No half-litres. Only Ontarlio Merlot sell by glass."

I suffer a brief convulsion. A few minor twitches. I was totally primed for red wine. This is not good. I know what I must do. I must accept the proffered Merlot without knowing what vineyard it stems from - so to speak.

"What vineyard?" I ask. D'oh!

"Sawmill Cleek."

The most dreaded answer of all! Sawmill Cleek! I have a complete breakdown. He fetches me some kleenex to sop up the tears.

I order a glass of the Merlot - because I can't bear the thought of ordering a bottle of decent wine and leaving half of it behind - or of visiting little buddy while half in the bag.

I select the spiciest of dishes and overpower the Merlot - reducing it to a soulless young pansy of a drink with a hint of saline and an irritating nip at the finish. But it's just bland enough that I go ahead and order a second glass to accompany round two.

The selection of dishes is vast and hugely delicious but there is no green chicken this night. The quest lies unfinished.

Plate two is loaded to the hilt. I know I'll regret it. I'm filling up fast. It's just too good. Everything is. I'm gunning for an addiction here. I'll end up here every night and never lose weight. A grim and disturbing fate.

But wait. Perhaps a glimmer of hope. In this plate I keep running into large pieces of herb and spice that are not intended to be eaten whole. They're floaters - intended to remain in the vat-o-grub. Instead they keep ending up in my mouth. Each incident is more frightening than the last. Perhaps this is my savior. I shall be weaned from curry addiction after all.

The first intruder has the size and shape of a bay leaf and I assume that's what it is. Two others are called cloves as far as I know. Forgive me but I'm thoroughly dumbfounded when it comes to the cooking department. Another reason I eat out a lot. The first time I ever tried to cook something that called for fresh garlic I found something in the fridge that I suspected might be garlic but my darling wasn't home to provide verification. I called up a good friend and described the item (indeed I was ultimately proven correct, by the way) and asked what he thought. He never was able to provide an answer. He was seized by such a disabling fit of laughter that he collapsed into the arms of family members and had to be guided away from the phone to a chair. This was long ago, before the proliferation of cordless phones.

Another intruder doesn't make it to my mouth. At the time I spooned it from the vat I thought it to be a large long piece of meat. Upon examination on the plate it is revealed to be a very hard shell-like slab, perhaps 3/8 inch thick and curled in a half-pipe shape. In essence one half of a hollow cylinder, 2 and a half inches long, an inch in diameter, carved down the centre. I assume it is brown though it's covered in brown sauce so who knows? If anyone can name this substance - please do. I'm very keen to learn.

Another intruder was somewhat clove-like in taste and appearance. It had a sort of space station architecture to it with a lot of ugly causeways and pods emerging from it. Thoroughly unpleasant to look at but less pleasant still when unsuspecting, you begin to masticate it. Yuck.

Another resembles an insect with a ventrally prolonged head, exoskeleton, two cross-veined wing-like appendages and two bristled antennae. Oh damn. I wonder if that was a spice after all?

Another resembles a very small church and I must yank it from between my teeth where the little steeple got wedged. I can hear a gay little choir singing inside it though just barely.

Another resembles a tesseract. Alas I can not describe it to you for every time I try to move my eyes move from one of its compartments to the next, they end up viewing a different compartment altogether and from a completely different vantage point. That old lament of the three-dimensional man attempting to grasp a four-dimensional object.

Okay - I know it's time to quit when I start making shit up.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Day with the Dumases -- Part 3: Back at the Ranch

"My parents never have company!" Carrie exclaims. She still can't get over the invitation - which I accepted of course.

The old folks and the tot arrive back at the homestead well ahead of Carrie and I. As we exit the car I'm reminded that I've never made it as far as their front door.

"Um - will the dogs be okay with me coming in to the house?" I ask.

"I dunno," says Carrie.

'You don't know!'
I say to myself, exasperated. 'How does one not know such a thing about their own dog?' But then I realize. It's true. They honestly never have company. And being so far out in the boonies they don't get any door-to-door salesmen or charity boosters or purveyors of religious enlightenment. This is truly a momentous occasion. Monumental even! I'm struck by the honor.

We weave between the various standing-water traps, remaining out of leash-range of big dog #1 and we make it to the front door. The little dog - named Zorro I find out - is very friendly. Very very friendly. Not leg-humping friendly but almost. He’s a skinny little short-haired thing, significantly larger than a (oh shit - how do I spell this?) Chihouhou - but I’m told he’s a cross between that and a terrier. He looks to me like some kind of Toy Fox Terrier or Toy Manchester Terrier. He’s all ribs and tail and nervous energy.

The door opens on to the kitchen where the five of us gather - six if you include the pooch. Only then does Zorro notice that someone new is present and he wiggles and trembles and hind-legs it to reach up my leg to say hello.

“Hello pooch-dog!” I say and I grab his little noggin and ruffle him up a bit.

The kitchen is big with a high ceiling and a rooming-house feel. There’s a kitchen table of almost Waltons proportions standing in the beams of no less than six chandeliers. There are pot lights over the counters as well. This is a bright kitchen. You could film a sit-com TV-show in this kitchen - and someone probably should. Something in the spirit of The Ozbournes perhaps.

There are three full-sized fridges in here, all running. I shudder at the thought of their hydro bill. They have a massive collection of tins. You know - cookie tins and the like. They’re displayed on shelves and above cupboards everywhere you look.
We take seats around the great solid wooden table. Vanian joins us too with her little toy models of dragons and griffons and such and a few little tubs of paint with which to paint said models. I’m wondering if this toy is age-appropriate or not but dismiss the concern. What do I know about three-year-olds, after all?

The little pooch takes a seat very close to me in a small fuzzy chair that was probably Vanian’s until recently. She’s only barely outgrown it. I look down at Zorro. He’s a cute sight. I like dogs very much. He looks up and notices me and throws a tizzy. The chair falls onto it’s back as he jumps up and strikes my knee with his little paws. He seems to want up on my lap where I’m keen to have him but my somewhat cultured manners put the ix-nay on that idea. He settles for running about in circles while I right the little chair.

Nancy has previously answered my questions concerning the late Ed Wildman, the much-loved writing instructor whos kind words and deeds still inspire the veterans of our writing group. For the article to appear in the group’s web site I still need to interview Gaetan and Carrie so I start with Gaetan. Nancy meanwhile bustles around, never leaving earshot and she feeds Gaetan most of his answers. I then interview Carrie and she’s a little more assertive. She manages to get some of her own perspectives across.

I see that Vanian has tired of the dragon model and is now studiously painting the kitchen table green. I loudly ask her if she’s allowed to do that. Grandpa turns to her, now enlightened.

“Don’t do that!” he barks. She returns to painting the little model.

We all sit down to do some writing. Carrie throws out a prompt.

“That was the most difficult thing I’ve ever…”

We write. Vanian wants to take part so she’s given a small notebook and a pencil. While the adults ‘follow the pen’ the little girl draws swirls and whirls and scribbles.

Ten minutes. Time’s up. Vanian goes first and recites her ‘story’. I can’t understand a single word. I assume she does - that she’s not just making random sounds - but I never really know. Sometimes mom or grandma offers a translation but not this time. She comes to the end of her dissertation - or pauses at least. We immediately respond with exhuberant applause.

Flushed with success and the overwhelming approval, Vanian decides she hasn't had enough. She launches into a spontaneous epilogue made entirely of words the English language never dreamed of. I notice she now has smears of green paint on her otherwise pink jacket. She receives another hearty round of applause and this spawns a further curtain call at which time grandma sternly remarks that this will be the last chapter. Eventually the adults get their turn to read.

At the intermission I head for the powder room. I discover that the main floor bathroom is actually a full bathroom, remodeled to include a shower stall in an annex once appropriated from a former hallway.

The result is a room full of interesting nooks and crannies - each of which plays host to some of the most spectacular cobwebs I've ever seen. If it weren't for the seven - yes, seven - lighting fixtures in the little room, I would have sworn I was in the lair of Shelob - spider queen from the borderlands of Tolkien's Mordor.

Nevertheless I did my business quickly and left, thoughts of man-eating arachnids hastening my step.

Back in the comfort and safety of the kitchen, I say to my hosts, "You sure have a lot of lights in here."

"That's because Gaetan's afraid of the dark," states Nancy.

'But not of spiders,' I think to myself.

"I am not!" barks Gaetan.

"It's okay," I say. "All writers are afraid of the dark. We have too vivid an imagination." I then try to change the subject. "I like your house. It has a lot of character. It feels like the home of creative people."

"Well you know," says Nancy, reading my mind. "Sometimes you have a choice. You can either do housework or you can write."

"So write!" I say

"Exactly," she says.

"We always wash the kitchen floor, though," says Nancy later, as I stand to leave, having thanked them for their hospitality.

"Yes, I see that," I reply, eyeing the bright white tiles. My eyes follow them toward my feet where I discover, to my mild amusement that I am standing smack in the middle of a puddle of liquid that is a distinct tint of yellow. I'm not alarmed. My shoes are on.

"Oh my," Nancy exclaims. "That was Zorro."

I stand very still, unsure of the protocols of social etiquette prescribed for such an occasion.

"That was Zorro," she says again, as if to assure me. As if worried I might be suspecting some other member of the family.

Luckily I'm only two giant steps from the door so upon Nancy's prompting I slip out without tracking too much piddle around. I thank them for the good time - which it certainly was. These are fine folk. A little eccentric but fine indeed.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Limbs - of trees and of little girls

On the subject of the "several lengths of two-inch diameter tree branches" in the trunk of my car:

This is future fireplace kindling but also a souvenir from a recent commuter incident. Making a left hand turn out of our lane-way is a hair-raising endeavor. The road is a country road, tar and chip, and bears a 70 KPH posted limit (interpreted as 90 KPH by the wise and by the insiders who realize that all Ontario limits are set 20 KPH lower than the speed said road is designed for assuming fair weather). The road features many short but steep hills. One of which peaks just to the south of the laneway, making a right-hand turn - heading north - a cake-walk but making a left-hand turn - to go south (where all the rest of civilization lies thus this is the turn of choice) 1riddled with peril. You're blind to any possible southbound traffic. My solution of choice is to make the turn when the northbound lane is entirely clear and to turn into that lane (the oncoming lane). By watching the rear-view mirror one can observe any applicable southbound traffic and safely merge into the proper lane. Now and then someone indeed flies over the hill and is probably mildly alarmed to discover me in the oncoming lane moving the same direction as they but slower. However I'm confident that for their sake this is preferable to coming flying over the hill and discovering they and their little Honda getting munched up my tailpipe. Call me crazy.

The drawback to this maneuver, I discovered recently is that with all the watching out for head-on traffic and the activity in the mirror one can miss obstacles such as debris. And on this occasion I somehow did not see a large section of tree in the centre of the road.

As I was eyeing the mirror for possible bombardiers and drifting into the right-hand lane I missed sight of the barrier until the last second - too late to avoid it. With a marvelous crunch-snap-crunch I barreled over and through it. Beyond it I slowed and pulled over, concerned by the residual 'dragging' noises below me. I discovered that the smaller branches had been snapped off but the core branch was stuck beneath the car. One end was jammed between something and another something somewhere near the rear axle at roughly the centre-point between the wheels. The other end emerged from under the front passenger door and terminated immediately behind the right front tire.

I grasped the sucker and pulled and pulled again. It was wedged good. I didn't want to pull too hard at the risk of damaging the something and the other something it was apparently wedged between. I needed to get the Grand Marquis up on a hoist to get a look at it. And no - I didn't even consider jacking it up and crawling under for a look. I'm considerably overweight. My best jacking and crawling days are well behind me (Oh dear - what an awkward sentence). I thought of my mechanic in Orangeville. He's got the hoist and he's a man of character and principle and not a scum-sucking fiend like every other mechanic on this sad Earth. That he has avoided corruption this long is spectacular considering he is clearly in his seventies - at least.

The problem is - I dared not drive around pushing the end of this spear along the road. If I were to hit a defect in the road the wrong way I would surely knock the something or the other something into next week.

So I found some twine in my trunk and tied it to the forward end of the branch. I then tied the rope to the passenger side mirror, lifting the branch safely off the ground. I made my way to Brian's shop.

On the way I stopped at a red light and suffered numerous stares from passers by. My branch, car and I probably looked like a scene from the Red Green show. Come to think of it I was wearing a beard and almost surely a plaid shirt. Had I used some duct tape and worn my old man hat I'd probably have been asked for autographs.

Brian shook his head as he gazed down at my branch.

"In 50 years I've never seen anything like this," he said.

They put it up on the hoist and the entire staff gathered around.

"Rich, you gotta come and see this," said Charlie, Brian's right-hand man. "It's a one in a million shot."

I looked. The branch had been driven through a square-shaped gap - a tunnel - through the frame. Why the gap is there I don't know. To say it was a tight fit is a vast understatement. Four sides of the branch where shaved of bark where it emerged on the back side of the frame. They used a mallet to pound it back out again. Then they cut it into 2' lengths so I could take it home for firewood.

Regarding the matter: "the subject of wounded children being no laughing matter in many houses":

Here's how I learned of this phenomena. I was at a party - probably a Christmas party - at the home of dear friends. I was in the basement at the bar having drinks with an old pal that I rarely see anymore except at such parties at this particular home.

I was drunk as is the tradition at this event - at least for myself and the host and one or two others. A crowd of much older people were in the same room discussing things of a sweet and precious nature. Included in this crowd was one of the perpetual drunks - the worst in fact - known for becoming delirious while he sits in a vegetative state and while pissing in his pants and on the couch. I kid you not. His wife was speaking.

"Oh!" she gasped, "I knitted a sweater for [so-and-so. Some little girl. I don't recall the name] and would you believe what I did? Oh, heavens to Betsy. I got the arms mixed up! I put the left arm on the right side and the right arm on the left! Can you imagine? Oh, Buh-jesus!"

"Well you know," I said loudly, all heads turning towards my pal and me - at the bar, "If she ever were to have an unfortunate accident where both her arms were severed, you could ask the doctors to re-attach them on the opposite sides and then your sweater would fit." Now - in hindsight - in a sober state - I realize that this is not particularly funny. Rather blase as far as good comedy goes. The woman, the wife of the couch-pisser, thought even less of my comment.

"That's my granddaughter you're talking about!" she blurted. I sensed an accusatory tone in her voice.

"Well in that case," I said, trying to make amends, "You'll be glad to know that nothing of the sort could possibly happen now. I'm no prophet, you see. For her arms to be severed after I'd made such a prediction would be far too much a coincidence. Couldn't happen. I've saved her. You should thank me."

"I think not!" barked Mrs. Couch-pisser and she and her cronies turned their backs to us.

"Remember the old days?" I said to my pal. "When everyone at these parties was our age and these parties were fun?"

"I do," said my old pal with a nod.

"What happened? Where did those people go?"

"They stopped coming I guess. Because of all the old people and the parties not being fun anymore."

"Oh," I said. I lifted my glass. "Here's to the old days."

"To the old days."

We drank.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Day with the Dumases - Part 2: East Sides

So Carrie turns in the passenger seat and peers into my back seat and frowns. In my back seat there is a box of paperback books, a 17" computer monitor, a spare winter coat, a Coca-Cola duffel bag, both of my brief cases and an old-man hat (which I wear on those days when I'm in no mood for signaling lane changes or submitting to any other driver's right-of-way). Also back there are a sun-bleached box of kleenex, a small cooler, a frisbee (a gift for my dog - a Doberman who is now far too old to chase one but still well-equipped to fully eat and digest one in a few quick bites), a few cans of Full Throttle heart-exploding energy drink (for emergencies only) and a couple empty pizza boxes. Oh and spare dress pants and two good shirts arranged on a single coat hanger behind my head. The only thing not in my back seat is a kitchen sink or space enough for someone to sit.

Thinking of her mother, Carrie says, "I hope there's lots of room in your trunk." I think for a moment. There's a camping bed, 20-to-30 litres worth of oil jugs (mostly empty), a variety of jugs of other automotive fluids, my lacrosse bag and lacrosse sticks, several spare pairs of shoes, several lengths of two-inch diameter tree branches (don't ask), spare tire, jack, emergency road kit and a couple plastic bags full of nerds, tied rabbit-ear style. Nerds - as in styrofoam packing giblets - not computer helpcentre staff.

I avoid the question.

"We'll put your mother in the trunk?" I ask, incredulous.

"No!" Carrie breaks out in giggles. She's a big time giggler. It doesn't take much to get her going.

"I think we'd still hear her from there." This breaks her up entirely. It takes forever for her to express that we'll have to empty the back seat of some of my junk to clear room for mom.

At East Side Marios - forthwith to be referred to as East Sides we land a nice big table for six. I take a short-side seat and Carrie sits near me - at my end of a long side. We look at her art and I'm impressed. There's some minute [my-noot] detail going on demonstrating a level of patience I could never achieve. I'm even more impressed to find that many of the works are engravings. She has etched the drawings on clear plastic sheets in which ink is pressed into the channels and then transferred to moist paper.

"Are you surprised with my art?"

"No. But I'm impressed." She looks perhaps disappointed.

"Most people are surprised when they see my art."

"Why? Should I have assumed you were less talented than this? I made no assumptions about your level of talent. How would I have known whether you're a hack or the next Picasso or somewhere in between? But like I said, I'm impressed. I like it. Let's get it all on the web site."

I have a beer and Carrie has pop. I order some breaded calamari with an arriabata sauce. I've been right into the calamari lately and surprisingly - East Sides serves the best of all I've sampled. The worst - hands down - is Kelsey's. No surprise there. Kelsey's has truly sucked the big one for quite a few years now. A real shame. They were once quite competent. I normally avoid Kelsey's like the plague but we recently needed to waste 30 minutes before a theatre opened for the movie we'd bought tickets for and Kelsey's was right there in the same parking lot. We zipped in for a quick appetizer or dessert. I ordered the calamari. Not only was it gross and rubbery but there was a tremendous globule of it stuck together and when I tried to operate on it - to separate the various conjoined entities I was subjected to a scene right out of Alien - you know - where the robot guy gives birth to the baby space critter. The breading suddenly broke apart and a bunch of squid-like tentacles came flopping and squirming out at me. 'Jesus Christ!' I yelped, pushing away from the table in alarm. 'Who the hell's eating who here?' I couldn't touch it after that. Seriously. I can be a bit of a sissy now and then.

So Nancy and Gaetan arrive with little Vanian in tow. She's approaching her 4th birthday but doesn't look 4. She's very small with gorgeous red hair and green eyes and tiny button nose. She comes to me making speech-like noises that I loosely interpret as "Hi Rich". Carrie and her dad go outside to smoke cigarrettes.

Nancy wastes no time in beginning monologue #1 while Vanian kicks off her shoes and plays solo musical chairs with the 4 empty seats. At one point she is happily bouncing around on the chair opposite mine - the other 'head' of the table and suddenly her eyes go wide as she realizes her little ass has lost it's familiarity with the seat below and very suddenly those wide little eyes, along with the rest of her, plunge out of sight below the table. I believe the official term for this maneuver is ass-over-teakettle. It's wildly comical but I dare not laugh. The subject of wounded children is no laughing matter in many houses and I wish not to offend.

Grandma, however has no such concerns and splits a gut over it. The little gremlin appears again and is okay.

Upon the smokers' return Vanian takes the seat beside me - opposite her mom. All through the dinner and Nancy's monologue - which needn't have been numbered, by the way as there was only one, it turned out and boy, was it a dandy - the gremlin would kick her feet and make plenty of contact with my knees, making me glad she'd taken her shoes off. She receives a menu. I'm not sure why. She can't read. But she makes good use of it, bulldozing drinks around the table with it. I am particularly susceptible as I have quite the collection - a tall glass of water, a small wine carafe and a wine glass to shepherd around the table in response to all her tactics.

Between defense maneuverings I look at my own menu, having already decided on the Cheese Capalletti. I'm really looking forward to it because I haven't had it in a while and because I know it's a very good strategic move. It is tasty, of small size and inexpensive. This is all good because it qualifies for participation in the all-you-can eat Caesar salad and fresh bread program which is what East Sides is all about.

I need to check the menu though, before ordering as it is a new menu style and you never know if there might be changes to the repertoire. Alas, I plainly see the Asparagus Capalletti but not its predecessor - the simpler Cheese version. I voice my disappointment. Carrie points out that the Cheese version is in fact on the menu. She points to it. It's in a different section altogether.

Now - call me crazy. But if I ran a restaurant I'm quite sure I would put all the capalletti versions in the same section of the menu. Seeing as they are precisely the same thing but for one or two ingredients. But that's just me. What do I know? I place my highly strategic order and Carrie one-ups me with her mastery of the all-you-can eat Caesar salad and fresh bread program. She orders a plateful of pasta and leaves it be when it arrives. She samples some of my capalletti and goes wild on the salad and bread. The bread mostly. We went through eight or nine loaves between the six of us. Then she arranges to have her pasta, largely untouched, boxed to go. She's clever. No doubt. I take notes of course.

Twice Gaetan belches so loud the entire contingent of diners and staff can surely hear. Each time I look around, stunned, wondering if I'm on Candid Camera or not. Somehow we make it through dinner in one piece.

"Are you coming over for a visit?" asks Nancy, all casual like. Carrie is plainly shocked. Her eyes bug out of her head on springs - just like old cartoon characters did in old cartoons.

To be continued...


Monday, May 08, 2006

What in all the hells is going on here?



As I've been spending very little time at the office of late and possess very antiquated internet resources at home -- I've taken to sending my blog entries by email ever-so-precisely according to the instructions provided by Ye Olde Blogging Co.


Where are they? What in all the 667 and a half hells is going on around here?

Where is my bloggs! - cries FWG.

"I don't know," replies FWG. "I don't sees them anywhere!"

"Maybe they've been re-routed to the pentagon," says FWG

"Maybe there's been an explosion at Ye Olde Blogging Co headquarters," says FWG

"Or maybe we're just losing our little marbles," replies FWG.

"Could be, Rabbit. Could be."


My Day with the Dumases

Dumases? Dumasses? Dumai? Just what is the proper plural form of the word 'Dumas'?

I once asked the patriarch of the family - Gaetan - for the correct pronunciation of their family name.

"Dumb Ass!" he barked in response. He's very much a 'barker'. I like him. Besides barking he's a sculptor, poet, writer and electrician. His wife Nancy is a scream. She's psychic and an interpreter of dreams and of astrology. She's very spiritual in her own individual non-religious way - a quality I respect.

She calls herself an introvert but she's the most extroverted introvert I've ever met. In fact she's more extroverted than any extrovert I've met if you know what I mean. But as I hate labels I insist that people at least be allowed themselves to choose their own label however they please. So if she says introvert - so be it.

Basically she rarely ever stops talking but to her credit - when she does take a rare break she really listens and remembers everything you have to say. And that's a marvelous quality. I know a slightly less extroverted extrovert who hasn't absorbed a single damn thing I've said to him in 19 years.

So I hear the same stories over and over again but that's okay. I like it. I'm trying to memorize them all so that one day I can recite them right along with her as she's doing the telling. That'll be some good fun.

I like Nancy very much. She's the informal leader of our writing group of which her husband and her daughter Carrie are also members.

So I'm driving along the country road and I see the collapsed barn that marks my destination. It amounts to a stone foundation of four foot height. It's not an uncommon sight in rural Ontario but I have somewhat of a fascination with them. It's the closest thing we have to archeological landmarks in Canada. Our native Indians were all about teepees and wigwams. They never built anything cool for us to find. No 'Chitchanitzas' or the like. I feel a bit gypped over this but of course I don't complain to the few native Americans I know. I'm a little hung up on the whole ancestral guilt thing. So I tread lightly around my native acquaintances. It's hard to know what to say sometimes.

All these barn wrecks really move me in the sense I find them symbolic of the slow and painful death of family farming in this country. I know a few independent farmers and I feel bad about it 'cause they're loveable folk but I realize that the demise is inevitable. That they're bound to extinction no matter how many protests they hold. No matter how much traffic they hamper. No matter how many people they make late for their appointments.

Good grief - what a tangent or two! My apologies. So I pull into the dirt laneway, pass between some trees and park. Now I can see their house - a large two-story 200-year-old brick affair that is starting to show its age. I can also see a two-story wooden free-standing tree-house type structure with an exterior stairway and a balcony. A playhouse that has turned storage shed with the daughters all now in their 20's and 30's.

There is also a wood pile and many miscellaneous junk items lying around - some of a curiosity or even decorative value. Some are possibly farm implements and one or more are possibly antique. There's a big cover to a cistern and three automobiles - all small and grey and perfectly roadworthy.

There's a large wooden rabbit cage on the secluded front lawn. Near it are some seemingly abandoned toys, the odd Tim Hortons coffee cup, rims rolled up of course, and curiously there are about eight large miscellaneous items - unrelated at a glance but that all adhere to a theme. Each is roughly bucket, bowl or tray shaped and flooded with standing water.

Chained to a side door is big dog #1. Chained to the front door is little dog. Neither the rabbit or the little dog require numbering as there are not more than one rabbit or little dog in the family. There are two big dogs, two cats and a multitude of fishes who also need not be numbered as they are fully interchangeable. They're all flat, wet and very poor conversationalists. Actually they might all be named Eric for all I know. I never bothered to ask. Okay, 'nuff said about the fishes.

Carrie suddenly appears half way between the front door and my car. It always happens that way. I never see her as I approach their property and never see her actually emerge from the house. She always just appears like an apparition somewhere in the wider regions of my peripheral vision. I've nicknamed her Spooky which she doesn't mind too much - being a writer of horror among other things.

I'm glad to see her though. I've only once had to go to the door to alert her to my presence and it was a failed experiment that I wish not to ever attempt again. Reason - I never know if big dog #2 is lurking around somewhere ready to come bounding over to me and start going into a schizophrenic tizzy that stems from some combination of two attitudes. One - that he's happy to see me because I'm such a swell guy and his buddy - and two - that he's happy to see me because I look downright delicious and he's quite ready to sink his teeth in and find out for sure.

So Carrie embarks and we back out the laneway and head for the restaurant - East Side Marios. One of our favorites. Her mom and dad and her small daughter Vanian will be joining us but we're taking a head start so that I can look over a portfolio of her selected artwork and poetry to explore the specifics of her pending participation in the writing group's web site.

"My mom's almost out of gas," says Carrie. "So we might have to go back and pick her up. She might call us." She holds up mom's cell phone.

I no longer have a cell phone. I misplaced it a couple weeks ago, discovered I didn't miss it and low-and-behold a Rogers Customer Service Stalker - whoops! Dear me. My Freudian slip is showing. A Customer Service Rep called me just to say hello - a courtesy call - they call it. Not a goddamn thing courteous about it of course but you know them phone pirates. It's all double-speak with them. My 2-year sentence - whoops! I mean contract - expired recently so she just called to see how I'm doing and if there's anything I need and - I confidently assume - to try to get me to upgrade my phone and start another dandy new sentence - BLAH! - contract! But I surprised her by saying I'd like to cancel my account please. This swung her right into salvage mode of course. She punched the big red panic button and her computer screen switched to the special offer menu.

"May I ask why you wish to cancel your account?" She's thinking I've been flirting with a competitor 'Two timing bastard,' she's thinking. She's ready to play ball. Ready to tease and tantalize me with special offers.

"I've discovered that a cell phone doesn't enrich my life," I said. "I was happier before I had one. I find I'm wasting an awful lot of money on something that just annoys me." She immediately gave in and offered to put me through to the cancellation department or some damn thing. I'm sure these are the people with the special key that allows them access to the Most Very Special Of All The Special Offers menu screen. But I was growing bored with this game and promised to call back later instead.

Oh dear. This post is getting terribly long. Let's pick it up tomorrow, shall we?

To be continued...


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Me and 'The Firm' - we're radioactive


Long time - no see.

Hopefully this message makes it to the blog. I'm attempting to send it by email. I'm on vacation from work - where I publish the entries - on account of my home computer being older than god and not compatible with these newfangled blogger web sites. At home all I can really do online is visit really antiquated sites like the Piffelburg's family web site featuring the Fluffy the Cat picture gallery. I like the one where she lies on her side and lifts one leg way up into the air. Like some kind of feline ballerina.

Bell Sympatico can't even provide email for me any more - not that any of their customer service staff could ever possibly figure that out. It was left for me to decipher after endless phone calls that had everyone in the department running around like keystone cops, bumping into one another and falling down. Exact same experience I had when looking for telephone support and again when looking for Bell Expressvu satelite support and also when looking for web hosting support. The resolution every time after hours of mind-numbingly useless consultation has been to give up and suffer. One ingenious internet support person literally had no idea there was such a thing as a password associated with internet accounts. Brilliant. Not only had the jackass been given little or no training but he must not have even had an internet account of his own at home. I can imagine the job interview.

"Sir, your name is Harold Bing. Is that right?"


"Do you know what internet means?"


"Do you have an internet account at home?"


Okay. You're hired. Here's your desk. This is a phone. A nice man will come and show you how to use the phone. At the end of your shift the nice man will show you to the door and make sure you get on the bus okay. Oh, and here's some kleenex. Try not to get too much drool on the phone.

How Bell Canada has so efficiently cornered the market on the world's dullest minds is a wonder.

So anyways...

I do apologize for the unexpected hiatus. It was terribly rude of me. Things are looney crazy in my life right now. I was very ill and out of commission for a while and now I'm in the process of moving. I took possession of this very cool apartment in downtown Streetsville yesterday - me and some guy named Steve - and I'm smack dab in the middle of a painting/moving experience from the lowest plane of hell. I have stuff at the folks' place still to pack. So far I've moved in one set of shelves, one aquarium stand (for which I have no aquarium), One chest of drawers - sans two of the drawers - perhaps they'll go today. Oh - and one wok, one stereo, all my CD's and about ten boxes of books. Good start, eh? I still have the bed and desk to move (today) and a score of minor nick-nackery and another 30 or 40 boxes of books. Then there's all my real furniture to be moved out of my 300-square-foot storage locker including two dining room suites and 17 metric tonnes of crap which I have no use for. The remnents of years of unchecked ratcatching.

With the help of friends I've painted two coats of lodge brown on the living room walls and - okay. Did I just say "ratcatching"? What on earth am I talking about? What in all the 739 hells am I talking about? Ratcatching is not the word. I can't even think of the word. I've lost it. Really. It must be the radiation poisoning. I'm radioactive you see. I'm certain of it. My snot is florescent yellow. I wouldn't kid you about something like that. I'm pretty much over the illness. The only symptom - and this is new for me - is that I must blow my nose regularly or else I get a terrible post-nasal drip going on and then I have to cough it all up. Terribly sorry for the imagery but this is important. The strange thing is there is no sensation that things are accumulating up there. I feel no sinus discomfort whatsoever. No sniffling. No congestion. But I must remember to honk regularly or else I pay with the dreaded drip. Strange. And with the honking comes a load of 'goop' literally the colour of a yellow highlighter marker. I swear it's true. My snot glows in the dark. Fascinating.

So - two coats of Lodge Brown in the living room plus I've sponged on a layer of Truffle Oil - just on the one wall. It's about 18' wide and 9' high, this wall. It took me all bloody evening to do it and I'm not sure whether I hate it or not. I'd never sponged before and frankly I don't know what the f--- I was thinking. Mind you there's a third layer to follow. "Dapper Tan" or something ridiculous. Anyways I'm in a terrible funk over this. I've decided to let the painting project lie for a bit and reconsider the plan. Perhaps we need to change tack. I'll concentrate on the moving for a while.

Captain Vino, if you're reading this, do consider dropping by for a visit some time soon! Could really use your advice on this whole decorating project. I know you have a flair for that sort of thing!