My Week 157: Monkey Butlers, and Bad-Ass Animal Hybrids

Last week, I got a very cryptic email from my mother. The subject line was VW, and the text of the message said this:

“Hi Honey: Bought you a present today to do with the above (hint) his first name is Ralph.  See you soon.  Love, Mom xxx”

I pondered for quite a while, and came up empty. I asked a colleague, “What do you think this means?” and he replied, “Maybe some kind of animal?” And I was doubtful at first, but then I had an epiphany and I wrote back this:

“Is it a monkey butler?! I’ve always wanted one of those! Also, there was nothing above except the initials V. W. Is my monkey butler’s name Ralph Van Wooster? Can’t wait to find out! Love you:-)”

I was super-pumped, and waited for a while to get a confirmation. And waited. And waited. But my mother didn’t reply back, and I got worried. There were several possible reasons why I had yet to receive a loving message about how clever I was to have surmised that my present was a simian man-servant.

1) My mother was mad that I guessed her riddle and spoiled the surprise. I could see her reading the email, and then saying to my dad in a low whisper, “How does she always know? Well, let her stew, the smartass.”

2) My mother had actually bought me a Volkswagen, and didn’t know how to let me down gently. I have to say though, Mom, that a VW named Ralph would have been almost as cool as a monkey butler, but only if it was a Beetle.

3) Someone had hacked my mom’s email, and I would eventually learn that in “exchange” for the present, I would have to send $5 000 in iTune gift cards to a Nigerian prince named Ralph Varem Wabara who’s being held captive on the International Space Station by Chris Hadley (a Canadian criminal mastermind/astronaut).

4) My mother didn’t know what a monkey butler was, and my email befuddled her, so much so that she didn’t know what to say in return. I could see her reading the email and then saying to my dad in a low whisper, “What is she on about now? I can’t even dignify this with a reply. It’s your fault she’s so weird,” and then my dad would say, “Och! Yer aff yer heid, woman!”

Number 1, of course, was the most likely scenario, so I spent the next few days feeling a little guilty for being so clever. Then my parents came by the house to drop off my gift. I had read extensively on the topic of how to train a monkey butler, and I had the guest room prepared as per the instructions on http://www.angelfire.com/crazy3/learntofly/ which is exclusively devoted to the topic of “How to Train Your Monkey Butler”—it contains pearls of grammatically incorrect wisdom like “When you have your monkey butler serve a person let him take his time and serve one person at a time so he doesn’t get confused and start to get angry, a confused angry monkey is no fun for anyone.” I highly recommend this site to anyone who might find themselves in my position.

Then Mom and Dad arrived, and I was a little concerned when I saw them coming down the walk “sans simian”. What a letdown. But when they came in the house, my mother presented me with a CD of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who, aside from Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl, is one of my favourite composers, and that really softened the monkey butler blow because the other night, Ken had tried to lull me to sleep by playing “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” only he had to find it on Youtube then he put his iPad directly on my ear so that the music wouldn’t drown out The Weather Chanel, which wasn’t very lulling and more just annoying, although he meant well. Now I could play that, and “Lark Ascending”, any time I wanted. But I was still curious:

Me: Why didn’t you answer my email? I thought you were mad.
Mom: Your email? You mean the one about the monkey butler? I would have, but I don’t know what a monkey butler is.
Me: It’s a monkey that’s a butler.
Mom: Would you really want one of those? Wouldn’t it be a lot of work to train it?
Me: Yeah. You’re probably right.

And then I realized that every time I had pictured Ralph Van Wooster in my head, he was actually wearing a bellhop uniform, and not a bespoke tuxedo, so it’s probably good that I wasn’t put in charge of training him, because then he would insist on carrying everyone’s bags instead of serving drinks.

Me: I don’t think a monkey would make a good butler.
Ken: Um, what?
Me: It would be hard to train him. I can’t even get Titus to play dead—he only plays “wounded”.
Ken: You have to make it submit. You know, like “Shock the Monkey”.
Me: If you think the best way to train a monkey is to shock him, then you don’t deserve a monkey butler. Besides, I thought that song was about a guy who pleasured himself in a sudden and rather violent way.
Ken: Um, what?
Me (whispers): Never mind. You know I’ll have to make this whole conversation up when I blog about it. Forget about training a monkey butler—I need to train YOU to be a better “humorous foil”.

At the end of the day, I didn’t get a monkey butler. But I DID get an awesome CD, AND a blog topic, so thanks, Mom—you’re the bestest!

Sunday:

I’ve been doing a lot of writing this week. I’m on Chapter 12 of my new novel, and then on Friday, my publisher sent me the pdfs/galleys of my first novel, which is about to be published, and I had to review that and give them feedback. It’s funny how much more critical you get of your own writing when you realize that other people, like, people OUTSIDE your family who might not love you, will be reading it. And now, I want to go back and do a major rewrite, but I can’t because the publisher is ready to print. Ken says that it’s fine the way it is, but he also thinks that buttermilk is the same thing as whipping cream. At any rate, I’ve been sidetracked, so to stay consistent with today’s topic of monkey butlers, here’s a throwback post for those of you who missed some of Year One:

The Best Bad-Ass Animal Hybrids

So the other day, I was driving along and I saw a guy walking a dog. As I got closer, I realized that it was a dog with the body of a large Dachshund, and the face of a Rottweiler. It was a ROTTWEINER. And then I was really disappointed, because it did NOT look badass at all. You would think that a dog with the personality of a weiner dog, all scrappy and feisty, and the body of a Rottweiler, all muscular and mean, would be the height of badass-ery. Nuh. It was just a bigger than average weiner dog with a round Rottweiler head. And it looked very awkward and self-conscious, like one of those dog-slinkies whose back end has a mind of its own. Why is it that the permutations of nature are never as cool as you hope they would be? Then I got to thinking about other hybrid animals (beause I was driving, so why not , right?) and it occurred to me that they all pretty much suck. For example, the mule. This is a cross between a horse and a donkey. Why would anyone WANT to do that? Especially the horse or the donkey? Who knows how it happens, except that apparently it’s always a union between a donkey girl and a horse boy. Which makes sense because how would a boy donkey reach up that high? Then I thought the same must be true of the Rottweiner—it had to be a boy Rottweiler and a girl dachshund, or else SOMEONE was using a step stool. Anyway, aside from the complicated logistics of these types of unions, the whole DNA component is also a puzzle. Why is it mules are sterile, but Rottweiners can go on to have little rotty-weiner babies, or even breed with another kind of dog, say, an Irish Wolfhound? Wouldn’t that be a bizarre looking beast? I actually did a little research for this (ie: I googled “Crazy Animal Hybrids”), and while there were some real disappointments, like the Sheep-Goat (it’s such a bad hybrid that it doesn’t even get a cool name like Shroat, or Greep) I discovered some pretty amazing creatures, so here are my top 3:

3) The Liger: This is a cross between a lion and a tiger. It’s the biggest cat known to humans and can be over 10 feet long and weigh 700 pounds. Also, its best friends are Heffalumps and Woozles.

2) The Grolar Bear: Created when a grizzly bear and a polar bear mate. While this seems unlikely, given that polar bears live NO WHERE NEAR grizzly bears, scientists speculate that it’s happening more and more in the wild due to global warming, and grizzly bears moving into formerly polar bear-only areas. See, global warming has its upside, which is awesome new animals. As the earth warms up and other ecosystems change, maybe we’ll also see the Pengotter (yes, this is an imaginary cross between a penguin and an otter, which I made up just now, and it would be the cutest thing to ever exist).

1) The number one best animal cross, in my humble opinion, is the Coydog. According to the article I read, the Coydog has the natural cunning of a coyote without its instinctive fear of humans, making it tremendously high on the badass scale. So it would pretend to be your best friend, and then when you were asleep, it would eat all your food and pee in your bed. Or kill you. And your Rottweiner.

Honourable Mention: Of course, the Honourable Mention has to go to my favourite mythological hybrid animal—the Zebrasus. This is a cross between a zebra and a Pegasus. I have a sculpture of a Zebrasus on the bookshelf in my office. I found it on a window ledge on the last day of school, many years ago, after all the students had gone home for the summer. I never found out who made it, but it was so awesome that I had to keep it for myself. The best thing about the Zebrasus, aside from the stripes and the wings, is that he’s smoking a cigar and wearing Mardi Gras beads. He is the Ultimate Badass.

 

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My Week 156: Film Festivals Bring Out the Best In Me, Titus the Boxer

So if my calculations are correct, Week 156 represents 3 years of weekly posts, so Happy Anniversary to me and you too, faithful reader. And I say “calculations” like I’m some kind of theoretical physicist when the actual truth is that I had to do ‘156 divided by 3’ and then also ‘52 times 3’ more than once to make sure it was really three years. Also, this past week, I had to ask the math people at work how to calculate 53 out of 81 as a percentage which I’m sure most teenagers can do. They were nice enough to give me the answer (65.4%), and in return, I offered to explain a Shakespearean sonnet to them if the need ever arose.

At any rate, it’s been a great three years, and I have no plans to quit now, so here we go.

Monday: I go to TIFF

If you don’t know what TIFF is, and you think I somehow got into a minor argument with one of the many street people in my neighbourhood, let me explain. TIFF stands for the Toronto International Film Festival. Yes, every year, little Toronto is a celebrity magnet, as directors and actors, and the associated trappings of such things descend on the downtown core. Suddenly, a gathering of more than 5 people on any given sidewalk might somehow mean a famous person is in the vicinity, and people are all like, “Ooh, what’s going on over there?!” and flock to join in. Usually it’s just a group of teens from the youth shelter, but who knows if they’re actually actors in costume promoting the newest Mad Max film? Better to check it out, in case Tom Hardy wanders along.

TIFF brings out things in people that you might never have thought possible, and I certainly found myself either thinking or doing stuff that I would never otherwise consider. I didn’t get carried away, like the women last year who got into a fistfight over a prime spot to see Ryan Gosling, but I did act slightly out of character. For instance, I was sorely tempted to wander the streets in search of Benedict Cumberbatch, who was apparently in town, but I didn’t because he’s my celebrity husband, and if he wanted to see me, he SHOULD KNOW where I live. And while I was sad that, yet again, we had passed like two ships in the night, one of whom was not even aware that there was another ship, I reconciled myself to the thought that I have 216 followers on Twitter, and they’re all very cool people. I also recently got followed by an American Congressman, who was apparently impressed by the fact that whenever Donald Trump tweets something stupid, which is pretty much every time he tweets, I try to respond with “You’re an *sshole”. I use the whole word instead of asterisking it because my blog is rated PG 13, but Twitter is just a f*cking free-for-all. The biggest problem I have is that he tweets so much ridiculous sh*t all the time that I can’t keep up, so I only tell him he’s an *sshole once or twice a day.

But I digress. Other things that I did this past week that I would never normally do include the following:

I saw a film at the Ryerson Theatre. This is the theatre attached to Ryerson University. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not dirty or gross or anything, but it’s pretty bare bones. I’m used to the Carlton cinema, where you can get a glass of wine and a giant KitKat bar, or the VIP cinema where a waiter will actually bring your pulled pork poutine and a carafe of Pinot Grigio right to your giant Lazy-Boy style armchair.

After the movie—oops, I mean “film”—was over, I stood outside the back exit door in a crowd of people hoping to see the stars of the show (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and it was actually really great), and take their picture. Why? I don’t know. It just seemed de rigeur. Sure enough, when they eventually emerged, I joined in the chorus of “Sam! Over here!” and “Frances! Can we get a picture?!” I DID get a blurry shot of Sam Rockwell signing an autograph, but normally, I would NEVER stand around waiting for someone I didn’t know, just to get their picture. I’m really not a fangirl of any kind, and the only autograph I’ve ever gotten was from Eric McCormack. When I told this to one of the friends I was with, she was like “Oooh!” but then I had to clarify that it was Eric McCormack the Canadian writer, and not the famous actor from the American TV show “Will and Grace,” and I think she was slightly disappointed.

Another thing I did was tell somebody to get to the back of the line, which isn’t like me. But the line-up to get into the theatre was very long, and the seating was first-come, first-served, so I wasn’t having any nonsense. As you may already be aware, Canadians are absolutely OCD about line-up protocols, and this is the one area where we might assert ourselves in a non-polite way. So there we were, the line-up finally starting to move, and I was ahead of the rest of our group with a break in between. As we got closer to the entrance, suddenly a well-dressed couple came along and tried to slide into the line between us. I turned, pointed, and said, “The end of the line is back there. Around the corner.” And everyone else chorused in with, “That way! Back there!” so the couple had no choice but to move along, and then we were all like, “What?! Did they think we were just standing here because the view is so nice? Honestly!”

Then on Thursday night, I was at a friend’s art show opening. Her art is amazing, but there were two other artists having their openings as well, and the main room was taken up with a giant red papier-mache go-cart, a couple of large, drippy canvasses, and a lot of men wandering around looking slightly befuddled. I visited with my friend, admired her art and had a glass of wine, and then it was getting late. I was literally at the door about to leave, when suddenly, the gallery owner called for everyone’s attention, all the people in the place formed a large circle, and a woman began to speak about Iceland, and how Icelandic people are the best at, like, EVERYTHING in the world. Then it all made sense—the befuddled looking men, the disproportionate number of blonde women in the room, and the canvases that looked like there was lava mixed with the paint. Normally, I would never have left when it would have been so obvious, but I was emboldened by my TIFF line-up experience of not taking any sh*t from strangers, and I was like, “You know what Icelanders AREN’T good at? Holding my attention,” and I sidled over to the door very slowly and then snuck out. Obviously, I said that in my head, because I’m not THAT rude. But it would have been funny if I HAD said it out loud, and maybe people would have thought it was part of the art show, like some weird performance art piece, and they would have all clapped. And wanted my autograph.

Friday: Titus the boxer

Me: Hey! I’m home!
Titus: This is the best day EVER!
Me: You said that last Friday.
Titus: It’s still true. Come here for a hug!
Me: No! Don’t stand up!
Titus: Seriously, let me hug you. This doesn’t have to be awkward.
Me: But it always WILL BE. Aggh—you just punched me in the face!
Titus: This isn’t easy you know. I’m not actually bi-pedal. I’m doing the best I can. Stop moving—I can’t keep my balance—whoa!
Me: My face! Am I bleeding?
Titus: A little. Would a cookie make you feel better? Because it would sure help ME. I feel TERRIBLE about all of this.
Me: No. Do you seriously think you deserve a cookie for punching me in the face and knocking me down to the ground?
Titus: I was just happy to see you…
Me: Sigh. I know. Here—cookie for you, wine for me.
Titus: Can I have some wine too?
Me: Don’t push it.

My Week 155: The Ravings of a Madwoman, I Am Officially Bug-Free

Tuesday: The ravings of a madwoman

On Tuesday night, I fell asleep early. At some point, I started dreaming that I was having a conversation with someone. I don’t know who it was, but I was absolutely DAZZLING the person with my wit, to the point that I started to wake up, and decided that what I had been saying was so incredible that I absolutely HAD to write it down. I reached for my phone, and wrote out in my notepad what I was sure was the start of a brilliant story. I managed to get as much down as I could before I fell back to sleep with my phone in my hand, but I was sure that I’d remember everything else in the morning. Then I promptly forgot about the whole episode until late Wednesday afternoon.

“That’s right!” I said to myself. “I wrote some pretty clever sh*t on Tuesday night. Let’s see what I said.” And I was excited because the last time I had dreamed something and wrote it down, it was the beginning of the short story I wrote with dream Eric McCormack (see My Week 119: Donut Store Memories). So I opened my notepad, and this is what I wrote at 12:15 am:

And then I was like “What the f*ck does any of that MEAN? This isn’t genius—this is lunacy!”

Who exactly was I talking to in my dream that would have spawned such nonsense? An alcoholic socialist with a penchant for dirty martinis? And what the hell is a “mushroom ring of hope”? I know that sometimes mushrooms grow in a circle, and then people call it a “fairy ring”, but I doubt that it would inspire hope in people who are “left of centre”. If anything, they would just want to EAT the mushrooms, what with them being organic and natural and whatnot, or throw them at the fascists in a display of fungal rage. Also, I like olives, don’t find them hard to stomach at all, and am not convinced that people who CAN stomach olives are particularly better-equipped than anyone else to handle most things. So who knows what was going on in my brain when I wrote this stuff down, but it certainly wasn’t the epiphany I was hoping for.

But I got worried that I couldn’t remember what the random notations in my notepad meant, so I scrolled through to see what other gems I had written down. These others, of course, were transcribed when I was awake, but without context, make just as little sense. For example:

1) “Charmin on the puppy pad”.

I wrote this down at the Pearson Airport. I was waiting in line for the bathroom, because I am a woman, and woman go to the bathroom 5 times as often as they actually need to, hence the long line-ups. Also, it takes longer for a woman to go the bathroom, because first you have to hang up your purse, and if there’s no hook, you have to try and balance your purse on the top of the toilet paper dispenser or on another surface because the last thing you want is your purse touching the floor. Then, you have to line the toilet seat with toilet paper so that your skin is separated from the plastic. Or you can crouch, if you’re one of those old-school gals who still believes you can catch germs from the toilet seat, but then you spray everywhere, which makes it worse for other people, so just stop it. Personally, I always choose the special stall with its own sink and soap so that I can just WASH the toilet seat, but they’re not always available.

Next, you have to pull your pants down, or pull your skirt up, ensuring AGAIN that nothing touches any public surface. Next, the underwear comes down, just to around knee height—higher and you can’t sit properly; lower and you run the risk of it either touching the floor, or people in the other stalls being able to see it, which is a big deal if you’re wearing your old “travel” underwear instead of your pretty “on the cruise ship” panties. Finally, you can do what you came in there to do. Then there’s a whole lot involved in the cleaning up process, which I won’t get into because I already said “panties” and for some of you, that’s almost too much as it is, and finally, of course, there’s the handwashing and drying. I don’t know about the other gender, but handwashing is extremely de rigeur for women—just try walking directly from the stall to the exit without hitting the sink, and listen to the gasps of disbelief. Mothers will whisper to their daughters, “That woman is going straight to hell.” Anyway, to make a long story shorter than the wait to use the women’s bathroom, I was standing in line when a woman came in behind me with a tiny white dog. The dog was sporting a giant, pink bow, and wearing a pink tutu. I sh*t you not. The woman proceeded to pull a puppy pad out of her purse, lay it on the ground, and start exclaiming, “Peepee, Charmin—go peepee, Charmin.” Yes. The dog’s name was Charmin. She named her dog after toilet paper and was now trying to get it to pee on a pad on the floor of a public women’s bathroom. And I’m still not sure whether I wrote that down because it was ironic, or because it was disgusting. And when the dog was done peeing, NEITHER of them washed their hands. Straight to hell, people.

2) “German Pillage Festival”

When we were in the UK, we passed a sign at the side of the road, and I thought it said “German Pillage Festival”. What it actually said was “German Village Festival” but at first I was like “I thought only the Vikings did that…are they talking about the Visigoths maybe? I think they pillaged a little…but why is there a festival to celebrate pillaging? Will there be fake-looting for the kiddies? Maybe there are sacks of candy to represent all the sacking…” But then I realized it said “Village” and I assume it just meant there was lederhosen, sausage and beer, and no looting at all. Also, I just realized that I didn’t know what exactly “sacking” meant, except that pillaging is defined as “looting, robbing, sacking” and other activities, but when I looked up “sacking” on the internet, all I got was “the act of sacking someone or something; a coarse material for making sacks”, so I can offer you no insights on that.

3) “Prince of Whales”

T was telling us in the car that when he was in elementary school, his teacher was explaining to the class about how the Prince of Whales had just gotten re-married. He was confused, because he didn’t know that whales had a monarchy, and all he could picture was a giant whale wearing a crown and he was alternately baffled and amused. When he talked to the other kids after class, it turns out that ALL of them also thought the teacher was referring to a marine animal rather than Prince Charles. And it made me think about how adults make assumptions about context, which reminded me of the time when I was 7 and I asked my mom what the word “ejaculate” meant. My poor mother went into a lengthy explanation that completely confounded me, given the context. When she finally asked, “Where did you hear that word, anyway?”, I told her I’d read it in one of my books. “’Goodness me!!’ ejaculated Nan’” I read to her (I think it was a Bobbsey Twins book), and my mom was just like, “Oh. Ahem. Well, that’s different. It means she was surprised.” That seemed MUCH more appropriate than what she’d previously told me. Given the context.

So there you go. Sometimes things make sense; sometimes they don’t.

Wednesday: The ravings of a madwoman Part 2

I’ve had a small rash on the side of my nose for about 6 weeks now. It’s not super-noticeable, especially since I wear make-up during the day, but it’s incredibly itchy. I’ve tried everything—over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, moisturizer, rubbing alcohol, acne stuff—but nothing works. Then I was telling a friend at work that I was pretty sure it was some weird type of eczema, and she said that her naturopath gave her some special cream for eczema and the next time she was there, she would pick me up some. She gave it to me on Wednesday. I was dying to try it, mostly because I wanted to tear my skin off of the .5 square centimetre patch that the eczema was affecting.

As soon as I got home from work, I washed the make-up off the side of my nose, and applied the special cream, which was made with all kinds of lovely ingredients, including lavender oil and shea butter. I slathered it on; it smelled heavenly. But within 5 minutes, the itching got intensely worse to the point that it felt like I had bugs crawling under my skin. Then I had an awful thought: What if there really WERE bugs crawling under my skin??!! What if, instead of eczema, it was some kind of infestation, and the only thing this cream had done was make the bugs very, VERY angry?!

And that was when I made the fatal mistake of Googling “I think I have bugs under the skin on my face.” The internet is a wonderful place indeed, but if you ever think you have bugs under your skin, don’t try searching for it, and especially DON’T LOOK AT GOOGLE IMAGES. The internet is also wonderful for locating the nearest walk-in clinic. There was one a block away from me, and it closed in half an hour, so I raced down there.

Receptionist: Can I help you?
Me (whispering): I have this rash next to my nose and it won’t go away.
Receptionist: Well, we’re almost closed. Can you come back tomorrow?
Me (whispering): Um…I just REALLY need someone to look at it and tell me there are no bugs.
Receptionist: Sigh. I can squeeze you in. Fill out this form.

I was sitting in the doctor’s office in less than 10 minutes, something of a walk-in clinic miracle.

Doctor: How can I help you today?
Me: Can you please look at this rash and tell me that I don’t have bugs living under my skin? It’s really itchy and it won’t go away.
Doctor: Hmm. No, I think it’s just slightly infected. I’ll give you a prescription for an antibiotic ointment and some stronger hydrocortisone. You can mix them together and it should be gone in about 5 days, but keep using it for 10 just in case.
Me: So no bugs?
Doctor: Well, if you mean, like bacteria, then yes. But if you mean actual bugs, then no.
Me: Okay, cool.

Only then was I able to relax, and it was in that moment I realized that earlier, I had been cooking dinner, and I had dropped a potato tossed in olive oil and seasoning on my track pants, which were now not only baggy and old, but also stained. I had also spilled wine on my hoodie. So there I was in a pink, boozy hoodie, stained track pants, and turquoise running shoes with no socks, whispering about having bugs under my skin. Thank god I was in the heart of downtown Toronto, where no one gave me a second glance.

Now, after almost 4 days, the rash, and the itching, are almost gone. So I am officially bug-free. And the only thing left to do is figure out why I wrote the words, “Mission Middle Fingers” in my phone notepad. Genius or lunatic? You decide….

My Week 154: Driverless Cars, The “Good” Tea Towel

Last week, I was crossing the street at Yonge and College, trying simultaneously to avoid the taxi that wanted to run over my toes and the screaming man in the pink mini-kilt with the pigtails, when I heard a loud voice behind me say, “You know, I feel really sorry for kids these days.”

“Why’s that?” his companion replied.

I looked behind me. They were two guys in their mid-30s, wearing business suits. I braced myself for the usual bullsh*t about how today’s youth have a) no work ethic b) no social skills c) are entitled b) don’t respect their elders and so on, and got ready to roll my eyes hard enough to make that taxi back off. But I had totally misjudged the savvy pundit, who continued with “It’s a shame that, with the invention of driverless cars, most young kids today will never know the real pleasure of driving.” He continued on, reminiscing about his first car and the thrill of getting his licence until we had parted ways, me into the Tim Horton’s across the corner, he into parts unknown (but probably a very tall office tower).

I thought about it for a minute, and I was like, “Yeah, he’s so right.” Kids who are born today will never know the joy of being the ‘captain of their own ships’, in the same way that they will never know a world without the internet, or without the threat of global environmental disaster hanging over their heads in the same way that nuclear disaster hung over mine (although thanks to the assholes who are currently in charge of both the US and North Korea, kids today have to worry about THAT too. Well done.) But then I thought about it some more and started to wonder if driverless cars weren’t such a bad thing after all, and that kids really wouldn’t be missing that much. I mean, face facts—driving is a pretty dangerous business. Hurtling along at over 100 kilometres an hour (60 miles an hour for my US readers) inside a thin metal box within a few feet of other people in the same situation, it’s sometimes unbelievable that any of us survive it at all. Airplanes, which are basically flying cars, aren’t allowed to be within 3 miles of each other horizontally, and 1000 feet vertically, but I’ve got some d-bag riding my bumper on the 401 despite the signs telling you to keep at least 2 chevrons between you and the next car. When you actually think about it, driving is scary AF, and the fact that we actively encourage our children to learn how to do it and get their licences is pretty bad parenting, like “Hey Jimmy, it’s that wonderful time for you to learn how to battle the forces of humanity, nature, and fate. Hope you remember how to parallel park!”

Personally, I can’t believe the driverless car wasn’t invented sooner. I mean, cars are a necessity in Canada, where there’s a LOT of land and you have to travel pretty far to find people and jobs, and such, but where there just aren’t enough roads, so we spend A LOT of time trying to calculate the fastest route to go anywhere, and watching Google maps closely for that red line that tells you that you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I’ve written plenty about the ludicrous nature of driving back and forth to Toronto, and I could totally appreciate being able to read or surf the internet while I was stuck on the four lane parking lot known as the 401,or more affectionately, the “stupid f*cking 401”. But what I really want to know is this: will driverless cars obey the rules of the road, or will you be able to override them so that you can drive as stupidly as you do when you’re actually behind the wheel yourself? Because there’s always going to be that one guy who drives on the shoulder to pass, or cuts you off, or tailgates you, and if he can still do it while he’s watching a Youtube video, then what’s the point?

The only real requirement I have for a driverless car, aside from obeying the rules of the road, is something I like to call “Roadkill Alert”. The car should be able to sense whether there’s an animal about to cross the road in front of you and stop you, or shoot out a firecracker or something as warning. Last year, T left the house about 10 pm to drive back to his university residence. Less than five minutes later, he called the house. I answered the phone to hear him say, “I just got hit by a deer.” His voice was shaking. Ken had just taken Titus out for a walk, so I stood on the porch and screamed at the top of my lungs, “Ken! Come home! T’s had an accident!” From a few blocks over, I heard him yell, “I’m coming!” and he was back at the house in under 30 seconds. T was only a couple of kilometres away, but it felt like forever until we got there. When we arrived, there were two pickups trucks who had stopped to help, and the police were already there. I grabbed T and hugged him—thank god he wasn’t hurt—but there was a deer shaped dent in his buckled hood, and the deer itself was lying at the side of the road. It was a buck with huge horns, and all I could think was 6 inches higher and it would have gone through the windshield. I won’t go into details, but the police took care of the situation, and the local guys offered to take it away. The car was a write-off, but whatever—it’s only a thing.

Bottom line, the deer came hurtling out of the dark and T couldn’t avoid it. So yeah—make sure those driverless cars have long-range sensors on them. And I don’t want to hear any of that sh*t about “When I was a kid, we drove into deer all the time and LIKED it. These kids today are just sheltered wussies.” Personally, I’m waiting for someone to finally invent the Star Trek transporter. Then we can say, “These poor kids today will never know the real pleasure of travelling at warp speed…”

The Good Tea Towel

I have a problem. It’s not a big problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless for someone like me who’s just a little OCD. Here’s the back story: Because the new owner of my previous condo was a total dick and illegally evicted me, I had to find a new place to live. Toronto is hideously expensive, and the only place I could find close to work in the timeframe I had was a 2 bedroom place. The rent on this 800 square foot box in the sky is $2400 a month, so the only way I could afford it was to get a roommate. I did, and she was lovely, but there was one problem. She kept using the good tea towel, you know, the one that’s for show. It was white and black, in a ‘Paris’ motif, and it hung from a hook in a spot that was obviously chosen for its display properties. There was another tea towel, a plainer one, that was close to the stove and sink, and simply screamed out, “Use ME!” Yet my roommate kept using the good tea towel, until it was no longer ‘good’. I would come back after a weekend at home to find it hanging all crumply and stained. I would wash it and then replace it, and put the other tea towel in a more convenient spot, but my roommate had a penchant for using the good tea towel and I didn’t know what to do. Why didn’t you just tell her, you ask? Because that would be the most ridiculous conversation in the world, like “Can you not use this tea towel? It’s for show.” How do you say that without coming off like some weird kitchen textiles fanatic? And while this may seem like a first-world problem, imagine if I had two goats. The first goat was really stylish and it was the one that I kept to impress people about my taste in goats, and thereby advertise my savvy in the goat business. The other, less attractive goat was the one I used for milk and whatnot. Imagine now, if someone slaughtered my display goat. Am I now supposed to use the milk and meat goat to make my kitchen look pretty?

And why is this a problem NOW, you ask? Because my previous roommate has gone back to school, and I have a new roommate, who also seems very nice. But I just bought new display tea towels, and I still don’t know how to have that conversation with a stranger. At home, it’s no issue:

Me: See that new tea towel I just bought? It’s for show. Don’t use it.
Ken: OK.
Titus: If it doesn’t involve food, I’m pretty laissez-faire. You know me…

After 27 years of marriage, Ken understands that a) I’m weird and that b) the tea towels we actually use can just be put in the cupboard or drawer or whatever, and he can complain all he wants about the possibility of it getting “moldy”, but we both know that won’t happen, Ken. Yet I don’t know this new girl very well, and the last thing I want is for her to tell her friends, “I can use anything in the kitchen that I want, except for this one particular tea towel. Also there are five cutting boards—one for vegetables, one for meat, one for cheese…you know what? F*ck this—I’m moving out.”

Sigh. Kids today will never know the pleasure of a fancy, just for show, tea towel.

 

My Week 153: Google GaGa, Titus and the Frog

Google Gaga

So this week, Ken and I went to a Google conference. Well, I went to the Google conference, and Ken went to several wineries, craft breweries, and visited a local historic home, which was totally unfair because HE’S the one who loves technology, and I’M the one who loves wine. But it was important for work that I learn about the Googleverse since, one day, Google will own everything, including your soul.

The Arrival:

I arrived to be greeted by overenthusiastic Google people who directed me to a table where I could “decorate” my name tag with stickers and sparkles and bedazzle-y sh*t. I wrote my actual name in purple marker as a concession to being fancy, and was proud at having resisted the temptation to put “Bob” in large capital letters, like they do for me at Starbucks. I am NOT a sticker person, being grown up and whatnot, and also I was grumpy because a) I had to be around people I didn’t know early in the morning and b) Ken snored all night and I was really, really tired from constantly having to wake up and punch him. Also, the only swag was a small cardboard box. At the last conference I went to, the first thing they did was give you a tote bag with all kinds of stuff in it, including a water bottle, pen, keychain, hand sanitizer and such. All I got was a cardboard box and nothing to carry it in.
Rating: 5/10 for having stickers and no swag

The Keynote:

There was a picture of the keynote speaker on the huge screen in front of the stage. In the picture, he was wearing a really nice purple, pink, and blue plaid shirt. When he stepped out onto the stage, he was wearing the same shirt. Later in the presentation, he showed a video of himself from last year and remarked, “Gosh, that’s embarrassing—I’m wearing the same shirt today that I wore in the video.” The next morning, he introduced the second keynote speaker, and he was still wearing THE SHIRT. His speech was very entertaining and funny, but I was completely distracted by questions I desperately wanted to ask, like “Do you not own any other shirts? Or do you just have more than one of that style? Does Google MAKE you wear that shirt? Or do you just really like that particular shirt, and if so, do you wash it every night, and if so, how do you keep it looking so fresh and unfaded?” And all the time, I kept thinking about how Ken was sampling wine that he didn’t even like, while I was obsessed with someone else’s wardrobe.
Rating 8/10 for the presentation…6/10 for the shirt (only because it was a nice shirt, despite its ubiquity)

Session 1:

As an accompaniment to us sitting and waiting for the first session to start (because ironically, the wifi was down—at a TECH CONFERENCE), the presenter was playing loud music. The first song was “Rehab” by the late Amy Winehouse, and next up was “If You Wanna Be My Lover” by the Spice Girls. It was confounding, particularly at 9 o’clock in the morning. Then she started by having us follow along with a “calming breathing exercise”. Instead, I scrolled through Twitter on the grounds that if I actually focus on my breathing, I get superanxious that I’m not breathing properly, and then the breathing gets louder and louder in my head, and then I can’t get enough air…trust me, Twitter was more relaxing. The rest of the presentation, which was supposed to be on the relationship between technology and emotional intelligence, consisted of a slide deck with links to websites and apps, like “If you want some neat meditation mantras, you can go to this cool site” or “Here’s an app that puts an inspiring saying on your laptop screen when you log on….”
Rating 4/10 for bad musical decisions and forcing me to think about breathing

Sessions 2 and 3:

Both of these were pretty good. One was for Google Draw, where I learned how to search for transparent images (I didn’t know you could do that), and the other was for using different programs to make videos, both of which will come in handy at work. I also learned that if you hit ‘Control-Shift-T’ on someone’s computer, it will open all the tabs that they have minimized. So if you suspect that one of your co-workers is secretly looking at porn but shuts it down whenever you walk by, now you can just stroll over, hit those keys, and yell, “Bom chicka wow wow” when ‘Big Bouncy Boobies’ magically reappears. I have the most notes for these two presentations.
Rating: 8/10 and 9/10 respectively for being practical

Session 4:

You remember how I said the only swag was a small cardboard box? This session was about the box, which, when you put your phone into it, becomes a 3D viewer. I was with one of my colleagues and we spent the whole session riding rollercoasters, swimming with sharks, and flying around space. So I should probably go back and re-evaluate The Arrival since the swag was actually pretty sweet, but at this point, I was even more annoyed by the people whose name badges I couldn’t read because they went so overboard on the stickers, like “What the hell, Martin? You’re a grown-ass man—do you really need to dot your damn ‘i’ with a sparkly daffodil?”
Rating: 10/10 for living vicariously

Day 2:

The keynote speaker was Australian, so that was good for no other reason than he sounded like comedian Jim Jeffries. Actually his presentation was excellent, on top of the Australian-ness.
Rating: 9/10 plus one bonus point for Australia

Sessions 5 and 6:

The morning started off well. The first session was about English Language Learners, and it was good, except the presenter was only about 30 and she kept referring to things then giggling and saying, “I guess I really dated myself there” or “Gosh, now you know how OLD I am!” Frankly, there’s little more annoying than really young people talking about how old they are, when most of the room has at least twenty years on them. Also, she played us the video of the Micromachine Man and said she had to be careful, because she was really passionate about her subject and didn’t want to talk too fast like she “normally does”. Which would have been fine, except her normal speaking voice was paced more like comedian Emo Philips than Robin Williams. The other session was on making animated videos using Google Slides, and I was super proud of the 2 second short I made called “Titus Waits For Cookies” which was basically a cartoon dog sliding back and forth in front of a cartoon oven. “It’s simple, but highly accurate,” I told the instructor, who was like, “Well, that’s just super!” and I choose to believe that she was being sincere and not highly patronizing.
Rating: 8/10 for pacing and dubious complimenting

Then the day fell apart, as the next session was boring AF. I would have left, but I’m very self-conscious and that would have involved making people look at me. Also, the presenter was very nice, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So instead, I did some emails, posted some stuff on Facebook, and got into a Twitter debate with some super-racist Trump-humper, as one does. My parting shot was “The lady doth protest too much methinks” and he didn’t respond, so I WIN, because that’s one of the rules of Twitter Fight Club.

I DID walk out of the last session, which was on something called “Classcraft” and I thought it would be a cool teacher-y version of Minecraft, but no—it was a not-very-cool version of World of Warcraft. The imagery was violent and the whole game seemed like a very bad behaviour management system where you could take ‘Health Points’ away from children for infractions like “not having a pencil” or “being negative in class” until they died. In the game. I felt it necessary to clarify that, because a lot of people in the room seemed OK with it being either way. In fact, the presenter asked the room what a student might GAIN Health Points for, and one bright star said, “For sitting quietly and not talking?” Oh, hell no. As a former classroom teacher for over 25 years, I can tell you that when the whole room is quiet, that’s usually a sign that they’re plotting something. Believe me, it’s much better when they talk. Mostly because this isn’t the 1920s, and if you don’t want your kids to talk, you shouldn’t be teaching. I left the session because I was afraid I was going to say something rude like “I have a better idea—why don’t you just zap them with a cattle prod when they aren’t paying attention?”
Rating 0/10 for a bizarre punishment model

Overall though, it was a great learning experience and Ken DID buy me several bottles of very nice wine. But I got to thinking—what are some other things that Google should invent?

1) Google Cat: When you install this app, a pair of eyes appears on your screen and stares at you until you throw a stuffed mouse at it. It will also randomly hiss, or press keys on your keyboard while you’re working, just like a real life cat is walking on it. There’s also Google Dog where, any time you eat in front of the screen, simulated drool obscures it.

2) Google Benedict: This program overlays the faces of any men on the screen with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face. Enough said.

3) Google Zap: Anytime anyone posts anything stupid, like “Vaccines cause autism” or “There’s no such thing as global warming” or “Donald Trump is a great president”, an electrical current will run through the keyboard, electrifying it and shocking the user. I got this idea from the last session I attended, because as much as I like it when children talk, there are a lot of adults who should just shut up.

4) Google Finger: This is an add-on for the driverless Google car. It can automatically sense when another driver cuts it off and a giant LED hand flipping the bird appears in all the windows.

5) Google Smell: It’s a really fancy and expensive air freshener. You can program it with any smell you want, like you could make your whole house smell like steak and drive your dog crazy, or make your bathroom always smell like roses, or program ‘new baby smell’ so that when your teenager hasn’t showered for three days, or keeps wearing the same damn shirt, you can close your eyes and pretend…

Titus and The Frog

Me: What the hell is wrong with you?
Titus: What?
Me: Every time we go outside, you head straight for the pond and stand staring at it.
Titus: There’s something in it. I’m not sure what it is.
Me: You mean the fish?
Titus: No—I know what fish are. We’ve had a couple in the house. One of them fought in ‘Nam—
Me: NO, he did NOT. And the other one NEVER attended a salon with Dorothy Parker. Fish are notorious liars. Wait—are you talking about the frog?
Titus: Frog? You mean that thing there? Yes! It’s driving me crazy!
Me: Why? It’s not doing anything—it’s just minding its own business.
Titus: (whispers) Yet it taunts me so…
Me: It’s not “taunting you”. It’s just doing what frogs do. Leave it alone.
Titus: But it’s so green!
Me: How the hell would you know? I thought you were colour blind.
Titus: And I thought we weren’t allowed to say that anymore.
Me: You can say it if you actually ARE colour blind. Otherwise, you have to respect all colours.
Titus: So what you’re telling me is, if it’s not hurting me, I should stop worrying about it?
Me: Exactly. Besides, one day, you might fall in the pond and that frog could save your life.
Titus: Hmm. Wait—is this one of your clever analogies? Because I think I outweigh that frog by about 90 pounds.
Me:  It IS clever, and it wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t eat so many damn cookies.
Titus: Cookies? Can I HAVE a cookie?
Me: Are you going to leave the frog alone?
Titus: Sure. I think we can live together in peace and harmony.
Me: Is that one of YOUR clever analogies?
Titus: Hey man—I’m just a dog looking for a cookie.
Me: Maybe Google has an app for that.

 

My Week 152: Trip Part Two, Bats in the Belfry, The Irony of the KKK

Wales and Scotland—the journey continues

So last week I ended with a promise that I would tell you about a couple of my favourite places from our recent trip to Wales and Scotland. There are three notable spots that I’d like to mention:

1) Stonehenge

Stonehenge isn’t in Wales or Scotland, but our boat docked in Southampton and we had to drive to Swansea. Luckily, Stonehenge was on the way. I’d always wanted to see it for myself, and despite the fact that there’s a huge fence around it and you can’t get that close, and there’s a super-touristy gift shop, it was pretty impressive. There’s a lot of speculation about why and how it was built. Historians now believe it was for ancient pagan religious ceremonies and such, and that they brought stones from as far away as North Wales. Personally, I think it was a guy who was bored and built it for fun, just because he could. Ken does that all the time—for example, he built himself a 16 by 20 workshop just because he wanted to, and he put in dormer style windows in the top. When I asked him why he needed fancy windows for a building where he would be hammering and nailing sh*t, he replied that he’d always wanted to try building something in the “Cape Cod” style. Now of course, it has corbels and architectural detailing, as well as a gazebo to one side that he created using metal that he brought all the way from Woodstock, and which sits overtop of the graves of our last two dogs. In 2000 years, historians will speculate about the purpose and design of “Fix-it Shop”, and wonder whether it was used for animal sacrifices. “It must have been a major centre for many worshippers,” they will say. “Look at the extraordinary number of hammers and screwdrivers—too many for just one man.”

2) Portmeirion

Portmeirion is a village in Wales that was built by one guy, just because he could (see above). It’s the ultimate homage to salvage and it’s absolutely beautiful. The story goes like this: Sir Clough William-Ellis bought 22 acres of land in Wales, and decided to recreate an Italianate village there by going to auctions and buying buildings, statues, and architectural pieces from other British nobles who couldn’t afford the upkeep on their property any more. It became kind of a magnet for pop stars, artists, and writers in the middle part of the 20th century when Sir Clough was still around. Now, it’s a tourist site where you can actually stay in the buildings which have been converted into guest accommodations, wander the property, and buy things at the gift shop. The best part about the place though is that it was used as the set for a bizarre 1960s series called The Prisoner. We watched a few clips of the show, and it was very cool to say, “I stood in that exact same spot!” or “That’s where the giant-ass chess board is now!” Ken and I only have an acre of property, but we do have four outbuildings, so we’re on our way to becoming a mini-Portmeirion. I’m currently in the market for a small grotto, so if you hear of any lord who’s fallen on hard times and has one to sell for cheap, let me know.

3) My own property in Scotland

As you may remember, I am now a Lady, having been presented with the title to 10 square feet of land in a nature reserve in Scotland after complaining that everyone else in the family was nobility except me. T thought it sounded kind of sketchy, but it’s actually true (well, the landownership part if not the “peer of the realm” part), and on our second last day, Ken, T, and I decided to drive up to the Duror area to visit our property. We didn’t know what to expect. We had directions from someone named Stewart, and we were told we were too late to book an actual tour, but we were welcome to come and visit the property. When we got there (down a single-track road, because that’s how you know you’re in the UK), we came out into a parking area with a small, log-style cabin. But there were other cars around, so we knocked on the door. A woman called for us to come in, and then next thing you know, we’d logged into the wifi, downloaded their GPS app, were handed personalized maps of the reserve. It was a lot more high-tech than I imagined it would be. We followed the GPS compass through the dead forest—“dead” because we were told that it had originally been a corporate logging area, and that the North American spruce trees had been planted too close together, causing them to crowd each other out so that none of them could grow properly. The 5 year plan is to take all of them down and plant native Scottish species, but currently, it’s dark and forbidding:

T: Those are like trees that had some terrible disease and died. Who would want to own THAT? It’s like a tree graveyard.
Me: Can you imagine the poor sucker who paid good money to own 10 square feet in THERE?
T and Me: I know, right?! HAHA.
Ken: Um, the GPS says to turn left in 10 metres.
Me: But that would be into the dead forest…

Sure enough, both T’s and my land were in the part of the reserve that’s going to be “rejuvenated” over the next 5 years. But we were pretty happy to discover that our property was on the far edge of the dead forest, where there was a little sunshine and some moss growing:

T: I have a mushroom on my land!
Me: You’re so lucky–I wish I had a mushroom! But I have all this lovely moss. Ooh, there’s a bird in my dead tree!

In truth, the whole place was beautiful, despite the dead trees. There are fields, and rivers, and all kinds of lovely forest creatures. And because it’s been parcelled out, it can never be developed or destroyed, so it was well worth the 85 bucks we each paid for it. T and I each buried toonies (Canadian two dollar coins) in our land so that future civilizations would know that Canadians were capable of crossing the great water. And in five years, when the whole thing has been rejuvenated, I’m coming back and building a tiny castle to oversee my estate. Just because I can.

Friday: Bats in the Belfry

When Ken, T, and I were in Wales, we visited this manor house/castle and went for a tour. The tour guide told us that the one place we couldn’t go was into the attic, because there were bats up there. Essentially, the bats sh*t all over everything, including the top side of the elaborate ceiling on the third floor with glass inserts, and you could see the bat guana, but the National Trust people couldn’t clean it until the bats “migrated for the winter” because—wait for it—“bats are a protected species”. In what possible world is a creature that’s half mouse, half insane miniature dinosaur protected from being removed from any premises without its consent? Well, the “possible world” is the UK, where bats are seen as lovely denizens of the night, rather than bitey little assholes. The tour guide even had a dead bat in a box that she insisted on showing us. His name apparently was Cecil, and I was like, “Is naming a dead bat corpse a Welsh thing?” One English guy on the tour was really up in arms, and told me that if you wanted to convert a barn into a residence but there were bats, you had to call in a special agency, who, for the cost of around 10, 000 pounds, would do a study and tell you whether or not you had to make special provisions to ensure the bats would be safe. I was like, “I’m from Canada. We just exterminate them,” and he was like, “I wish! Bloody bats!” He seemed a little over-invested, so maybe he’d been dinged with a large bat-bill from the bat conservation people. Personally, I feel bad that sometimes it’s necessary to “get rid” of the bats, but hey—I don’t go hanging around in their caves, pooping on THEIR floors, so they can just stay out of my space or pay the price. My only previous experience with bats was a couple of times one has gotten in the house, and Ken has been able to shoo it out the open door, so I’ve been a lot more sympathetic to the little creatures of the night. But then on Friday, Ken was away, and T and I were alone in the house. About midnight, I heard scrambling in the same cupboard as a few weeks ago, and I ran upstairs to T in a panic:

Me: There’s something in the chimney again!
T: It’s probably a bird. Let’s go see!
Me: Don’t you dare open the cupboard door!

We raced each other downstairs, but then when he heard the noise, he saw sense and we decided that the best plan of action was to close the door to the back room and wait for Ken to come home. The next day, Ken came back from the computer camp he was running, and after a while, I mentioned to him that there was something in the chimney again. “I’ll go look,” he said, and I hid behind the door, as one does. “Holy sh*t! It’s a bat. It’s just hanging on the inside of the cupboard door,” he said.

“Is it moving?”

“No. I think it’s asleep. Come and look.”

So I did, and there it was in all its creepy glory. “Take a picture of it,” I said.

Ken took one picture, then he tried to zoom in for another, at which point the bat stared straight at him, bared its teeth (zoom in on the picture to see how terrifying it truly is) and hissed. I didn’t know regular bats actually HAD teeth—I thought that was just vampire bats, but now I was living in f*cking Transylvania and this bat looked just like Gary Oldman only without the weird white wig.

Me: Shut the door! Get out!
Ken: I can’t shut the cupboard door—I might hurt his wing!
Me: His WING??!! Fine—don’t come crying to me when he bites your neck and turns you into the undead!

So we shut the door to the room, opened the patio doors, and hoped that the bat would be sensible and leave. Later, when I made Ken go back and look, there was no sign of the bat. So now I don’t know if it’s a) still in the chimney b) hiding in the room somewhere c) plotting its revenge.

The Irony of the KKK—a throwback.

With recent events in the news, I thought I might re-share some of my thoughts from previous posts regarding the stupidity of racists in general, the KKK, and its offshoot, the KKK lite, who are people that can’t afford bed sheets but don’t like anyone who’s not white…

…Isn’t it the biggest irony of all that David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, has a Jewish first name? All those crazy anti-Semites out there, and most of them are named after Hebrew people. I wonder if they realize that. Although from the idiocy I’ve seen and read coming from the so-called “alt-right”, I highly doubt it…

Imaginary KKK rally

David Duke: All right, white virgins—time to put on your silly hoods. Aaron, Adam, Ben—you guys are in charge of leading the chanting. Dan, Ethan, and Gabe—you can set the cross on fire.
All: Yeehaw! That’ll show those foreigners with their weird-ass names and strange, cultish behaviour.
David Duke: Look at me! Whee! I’m a wizard!

…the KKK confuses me. Are they supposed to be Christian? Cuz their leader is a male witch, and that sounds really magic-y to me. Plus, why do they burn crosses? These guys are just FULL of irony. Or stupidity. It’s hard to differentiate with the KKK…

Imaginary conversation with the KKK.

Me: Why are you dressed like a cheap-ass ghost? You know Hallowe’en isn’t until October, right?
KKK guy: I’m not a ghost. I’m a wizard. A grand wizard.
Me: Whoa there, Hogwarts. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. You haven’t done any magic yet. Can you turn lead into gold? Where’s your wand? Is it hiding under your Ikea bed sheet?
KKK guy: Ergh. Immigrants are taking all the good jobs.
Me: What job? You can’t even do a card trick. You’re a sh*tty wizard–an immigrant could do YOUR job better.
KKK guy: Please don’t punch me. Also, the bagpipe music is frightening me.
Me: As it should, you dumb f*ck.

Oh, and by the way, there’s no such thing as either “White Nationalists” or the “Alt-Left”. They are either “Nazis”, or “normal people who care about other human beings”, respectively. All we can hope for is that the former angrily inbreed themselves into extinction, and the latter keep happily standing up for humanity.

My Weeks 150/151: Travelling Dangerously on the Queen Mary 2 and Throughout the U.K.

I’m on a boat!

Well, I WAS on a boat. Then in a car, then on a plane, and now I’m back. I hope you didn’t miss me too much—it’s the first time in years that I haven’t made my weekly journey into the absurd. Even when I had surgery last year, I wrote something ahead of time, and had Ken post it for me. This past week though, anyone who could have figured out my computer and hit “upload” was actually with me. Plus, I didn’t have anything new to tell you until I got back. Which is now. So fasten your seatbelts and secure the overhead bins—things are going to get slightly humorous.

So, as you know, I like to live life on the edge. And while maybe it’s usually the edge of sanity, or reason, the fact is that I’m pretty much a daredevil when it comes to travel, which I will get to in a minute. As you may or may not know, I’ve been away the last two weeks, having taken the Queen Mary 2 over to the United Kingdom with my whole family, parents, siblings, and children included. Then we all split up and went our separate ways, with me, Ken, and T going first to Wales and then to Scotland. It was an excellent trip—let me break it down for you. First, the boat (which my dad keeps telling me is a “ship” not a “boat”, so if you’re extremely old and extremely rich, the Queen Mary is definitely the “ship” for you. Unfortunately, I am NEITHER, so it was an interesting experience to be on that particular BOAT, DAD, haha.)

Part One:

Things I liked about the Queen Mary 2:
a) Like most cruise ships, it was decorated like an upscale brothel, which made me feel very risqué.
b) The beds were comfortable and you could stay in them all day if you wanted to.
c) You could get breakfast brought to your cabin instead of having to get dressed, and it didn’t cost anything extra.
d) The food was OK. There was always bacon, and I mean real bacon, not those weird-ass slabs of pan-fried ham that the Brits think is bacon. Silly Brits.
e) There were two guys who played the piano and told jokes, and they were so funny that I saw them twice.

Things I didn’t like about the Queen Mary 2:
a) You could stay in your bed all day because there was literally nothing much else to do that was interesting or didn’t cost you a lot of extra money. The lectures were either on war, politics, or Broadway musicals, and the other “seminars” were sponsored by the Spa, as in ‘Come to our session on Botox and hear an expert talk about why it’s so great and then you can get a discount on a costly Botox treatment’, or by the Art Gallery, as in ‘Come to our session on this unknown artist and then you can buy his extremely expensive painting of emoji-faced lollipops for a significant discount’. The other activities all had costs associated with them, like the red wine tasting entitled, “Syrah, Shiraz? What’s the difference? Find out for a nominal fee of $120”. 120 bucks for a flight of 6 small glasses of wine? For that price, I can wait until I get home, buy 10 full bottles and find out for myself, so Que Syrah Shiraz to you. There were also art classes for a fee, and a variety of other things you could do that all cost extra. Why is that a problem? Because whenever there was any activity for free, it was a MOB SCENE. For example, there was a free rum tasting at the duty-free liquor shop one day, and people were rioting like it was the only Red Cross water truck in the middle of the desert. And yes, obviously I was there because it was FREE RUM. Just as I was about to get my tiny plastic cup, a guy beside me whined that he’d been waiting for twenty minutes and still hadn’t gotten any. I was like, “Here’s the line-up, mate. Try standing in it.” Because I’m CANADIAN, and we are extremely OCD about line-up protocols, which a lot of other countries aren’t and it makes me crazy. I firmly believe that the inherent understanding of how to line up in an orderly fashion is what makes a culture civilized, and the Fall of the Roman Empire can be directly traced back to their inability to queue properly.
b) The ship’s House Band was a group known as “Purple Haze.” Mostly because they covered the whole ship with a fog of Motown and cover songs. They weren’t actually bad if you like a reggae version of Justin Beiber’s ‘Love Yourself’—they were just EVERYWHERE. In the lounge after breakfast—Purple Haze. Poolside at lunch—Purple Haze. In the ballroom during afternoon tea—Purple Haze. In the very sad little disco that no one ever went to because most of the passengers went to bed at 10 pm—Purple Haze. I swear if the ship was ever sinking, it would be to the “fine musical stylings of Purple Haze”.

Overall, the good outweighed the bad. It was a very relaxing crossing, and the best part was that our whole family was together for the journey. And seeing T in a tuxedo at dinner was pretty cool.

Part Two:

I am a total f*cking badass when I’m travelling and here’s why:

1) Despite the fact that I’m severely allergic to shellfish, I wandered the beaches of Wales and collected seashells. This doesn’t sound dangerous, but the last time I did that in British Columbia, I picked up some shells then accidentally chewed on my cuticle (not so much an accident as part of an OCD thing), and then my lips swelled up. So now, if I want to collect seashells, I’m literally TAKING MY LIFE IN MY OWN HANDS, and have to consciously avoid putting my fingers in my mouth until I can wash with soap and water, or else risk having to use my epipen. I live my life on the edge, folks.

2) I am deathly afraid of heights, but I still climbed up ruined castle towers and stood on ramparts that were 100 feet in the air. Did I have a full-blown panic attack at Harlech Castle when I realized that I was on the top of a stone wall with no guardrails and at any moment some unruly British child could run past me, causing me to lose my balance and fall to my death? I may or may not have. (I did). But I still crawled back to the stairs like the daredevil I am instead of crying like a big baby.

3) I defied the tide and clambered over jagged rocks to make my way to a private little alcove half a kilometre from the main beach at our bed and breakfast in Wales (which is called Kilsaran House and it was amazing). I had no choice really—T and Ken announced they were doing it, and I had to go along or be left behind to worry about them dying. I figured if I was with them, I could scout out the worst case scenarios before one of them fell off a tippy rock or poked a jellyfish with their fingers. I spent the whole time with one eye on the ocean and one eye on the rocks that threatened to break my ankles. But we made it there, and I was glad I went with them, because who else besides me was going to shout “I forbid you to climb that cliff!” or “That crab might not be dead so don’t pick it up!”

4) I made an old man give me a chair, all by my bad-ass self. In fairness, I HAD the chair, and he tried to take it away, but I was like “Out of my cold, dead hands, elderly English dude!” I should probably provide a little context—on the “ship” (there you go, Dad), they had trivia competitions 4 times a day, and because it was one of the few activities onboard that was actually free, EVERYBODY went. Except it was held in a small pub with limited seating, so people got pretty testy about the chairs, especially since you could play in teams of 6 and the tables and chairs were arranged in groupings of 4. So this particular time, I asked a guy if he was using one of his chairs, and he said no. I was in the process of moving it when this big old man came over and pulled it out of my hands. Seriously. He was like, “Oh, I have this chair,” and I was like, “Um, I asked for it first, but whatever” and I let go. Because I’m Canadian, and a chair isn’t worth being a dick over. But my sacrificial, and slightly sarcastic attitude made him feel  bad, so he gave it back to me. Score one for the good guys.

5) Driving in the UK is enough to earn anyone the moniker of ‘madcap heroine’. Of course, I wasn’t actually driving—I was the navigator, having never learned to drive a stick shift. I mean, why have a dog and bark, am I right? But the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road (yes it is, don’t argue), and the bulk of my job was yelling at Ken “Stay to the left!” Also, the “roads” in the UK, especially in Wales aren’t really roads at all, at least not by Canadian standards. What they call a major roadway in Wales is what we call a “tractor path” here. For example, the so-called road to our first bed and breakfast went through a gravel parking lot and out the other side, then became a one-lane walking path with little spots to pull over in case someone was coming in the other direction. The directions we were given said “go past Hunter’s Fleece Cottage, then follow the track downhill for 100 yards” where there was an almost sheer vertical drop. Getting back up was a treat, with Ken gunning it in third gear and hoping to hell that no one was coming the other way. The best part was when the GPS would announce, “Take the next left onto A725” and it would SOUND like a real road, but it would be one lane, pinned in on both sides by rock walls, and suddenly there would be sheep.

I was a kick-ass navigator until the day that Ken decided to defy the GPS and plot his own route:

Ken: I took a screenshot of the way I want to go. Where do I turn next?
Me: How do I turn the Ipad on?
Ken: Push that button. Where do I turn?! I need to know now!
Me: Where’s the ‘You are here’ arrow? How do I know where to turn if I don’t know where I am?
Ken: We started from New Steddon Road. Where do I go next?
Me: The map goes sideways if I try to figure out which way is North.
Ken: I don’t need North! I just need to know where to turn! God, I forgot how bad you are with maps!
Me: I’m not bad with maps! You can’t just give someone a screen shot of some streets, not tell them where they’re starting from, and expect them to calculate your route! I’m not a GPS, you know.
Ken: Fine, just program the GPS then.
Me: OK. Where are we going again?
Ken: Sigh.
T: What’s going on?
Me: Just go back to sleep. I’ve got this covered.

Two other minor proofs of my bad-assedness: I walked through the haunted corridor of a castle. It wasn’t—I have plenty of experiences with ghosts (see My Week 69: Ghost Stories) and there wasn’t one there, despite the place being featured on some reality show where a woman swore there was electromagnetic energy and an angry ghost who wanted to strangle people. Also, I ate haggis. If you’re Scottish, you have to. I just love being descended from a culture whose national dish is so disgusting that you have to force yourself to eat it, but you’re so stoic that you do it anyway. My Scottish cousin Lynn put it this way: “I keep trying it because I want to like it, but it’s so gross”. So there you go. I’m a devil-may-care, throw caution to the winds kind of gal who’s happy to be home where I can use a hair dryer in my own bathroom and eat the best national dish of all–poutine.

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my favourite places from the trip, but for right now, I’m still kind of jet-lagged. Plus, my head thinks it’s 5 o’clock instead of noon, so time for a nice glass of wine–maybe a Syrah…