My Week 104: Some Stories Should Never Be Told, A Mysterious Visitor

Wednesday: There are some stories you should never tell.

On Thursday afternoon, one of my coworkers came over to my department. “Do you want to hear a funny story?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. “I love a good story.”

“OK,” he started. “So I had this graph—“

“I’m stopping you right there,” I said. “There is NO funny story that starts with ‘I had a graph’.”

But he persisted, and it turned out that the story WAS pretty funny, involving him and an editor who disagreed on the information in the graph to the point where my colleague removed the original of the item in question and sent it back to edit. 5 minutes later, the editor came to his desk to ask him if he knew what had happened to the first copy. When he feigned innocence and said, “No”, the editor pointed to the recycling bin under his desk and asked, “Isn’t that it right there?” because he had tossed in the blue box FACE UP. His only resort was to say, in mock surprise, “How did THAT get there?!” I don’t think the editor was fooled for a second—they’re a wily bunch.

I realize that you’re probably not laughing as hard as I was when he told me the story, mostly there’s a lot that gets lost in translation between a story that you try to write down after someone tells it to you. My colleague DOES tell a good story, graphs notwithstanding, unlike other people I’ve known, including myself, who is renowned for being “just not that funny in person” as I am when I’m writing. It put me in mind of the end-of-year staff breakfasts we used to have in my previous workplace, where one of the VPs was always invited up to give his “Top 10 Funniest Moments” of the school year. They were always, without exception, anti-climactic and often lacking any discernible punchline.

VP: So we caught the young couple in the throes of amorous foreplay in the middle of the football field. The girl’s mother, naturally, was furious. So much so that we had to call Child and Family Services. I hope that group home they sent her to was nice…

VP: The young man was so high that he couldn’t stop laughing. At least until the police showed up. Then it was just tears, tears, tears…

tree-of-life

Yep. The guy did NOT know how to tell a story. Like the tattoo artist the other day that T and I went to (my fifth—the Tree of Life, and T’s first, a cool graphic he designed himself). It was a reputable parlour, but the artist himself was a little off kilter. I went first, and he regaled me with stories about his Chippendales dancing days, where he claimed that “he didn’t have the body like the rest of the guys, but he had the best moves”. I was like “Uh huh” as I was clenching my teeth. Then when he was tattooing T, he launched into this gem:

Tattoo Guy: My sixteen-year-old stepson just got his first girlfriend.
Me: Oh, that’s nice.
Tattoo Guy: Yeah, I found a condom wrapper on the floor of his room.
Me: Gosh.
Tattoo Guy: So I said, “Where did you get a condom from, anyway?” And he said, “I found it on the path.” So I told him, “NEVER use a condom that you found on the path.”
Me: Words to live by, that’s for sure.
Tattoo Guy: I know, right?

And just to cement the fact that he really was slightly off-kilter, he tattooed the top bit of T’s tattoo on an angle, noticeable enough that T has to get it fixed, much to his dismay. As T said, “He was essentially just tracing lines—how could he have f*cked it up that badly?” My response? “Just look at the US Election campaign.”

But it occurred to me after all the weird storytelling this week, that there are other storystarters that really can’t ever be funny. Here are my top 5 things which, from my personal experience, will never lead to a good laugh:

1) Here’s a funny story—you know the sound a cat makes right before it vomits…?

A long time ago, we had a cat named Chaucer who would puke on an almost daily basis. We had him tested for all kinds of things, but there was nothing discernible wrong with him. Yet almost every day, he would announce the upcoming projectile with an unearthly yowling. Then we had to race around the house looking for him, trying to put something under him before he ruined yet another carpet. We were having a dinner party once, and we were just in the middle of appetizers when the conversation was interrupted by “OWLLLLL, MEOWWWWWLLLLLL, MRONNNNNNGGGGGG !” Everyone looked terrified. Ken leapt up and ran out of the room with his napkin. I took another bite of salad and said, “It’s just the cat. He’s going to throw up. Sigh.” This went on for years, until our dog died. The same dog I wrote about last week who used to leave his food in his bowl all day. Then we got another dog who ate every piece of kibble in under 10 seconds, and miraculously, the pukefest stopped. The one day, we heard Chaucer sounding the alarm and found him next to a piece of dog kibble that had rolled under the counter. Turns out that he had been eating the dog’s food every day for years, and it made him sick every time he did it. Cats are stupid in general, but Chaucer was dumber than most.

2) Here’s a funny story—so there was no wine left…

This is always a tragedy. The only way this story will ever be funny is if it ended with you finding more wine. I was at a wedding yesterday, and there was an open bar, which sounds fantastic, but all they hard was hard liquor and pansy-assed coolers. It would have been tragic, but then I realized that there were wine glasses on the table. And at dinner, the servers all came around with multiple bottles of wine and I was overjoyed. But the white wine was a Muscat, which is supersweet and almost undrinkable, and then I was sad again. It was an emotional rollercoaster, let me tell you.

3) Here’s a funny story—I was at this strip club last night…

No. The only time I was ever at a strip club was when I went, ironically, to a Chippendales show for a friend’s stag-ette party. The guys came out, all sweaty and gyrating, and the women went wild. But then the guys starting shoving T-shirts down their sweaty pants and throwing them to women in the crowd. My OCD hygiene issues kicked in full force and I literally had to leave, running and dodging as I went. The ONLY good thing about that night was that the doorman asked me for ID. (I related this story to my tattoo artist/former Chippendales dancer and he responded with “I know. We used to be so much more classy.)

4) Here’s a funny story—it occurred to me when I was reading the Bible…

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found anything about the Bible, New or Old Testament, remotely funny. Maybe because of all the smiting and death and sh*t. And that’s a total lie, because I can find humour in everything, but people who are very Bible-y don’t have the same light-hearted attitude. I remember once writing about how I saw a billboard that said “Take Jesus on vacation with you”, and I wrote what I thought was a very funny post about what would happen if you DID take Jesus on vacation with you, like to Great Wolf Lodge. But I had a couple of readers who were devout Catholics (like there’s any other kind, haha) who were like “That’s not funny. Jesus would never go down a waterslide.” And I was like, “But all the water would be holy”, and they were like, “Just stop.” Luckily, they unfollowed me BEFORE I wrote about the high diving Jesus on the church door across the road (see My Week 63 for reference—or irreverence).

5) Here’s a funny story—I was looking at the roof and a squirrel came out…

This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. This actually happened to me when we owned a cottage. This entitled squirrel decided that she owned the place and she was super-intimidating. I started calling her “Charles Manson” until Ken pointed out that she had two rows of squirrel boobs, so I changed her name to “Squeaky Fromme”. One day I looked up at the roof, and saw her halfway in and halfway out of a little hole under the eaves. I started screaming, and she took off. Later, Ken and I were sitting on the porch—I had my back to the driveway. Suddenly, I heard a noise, like a demon muttering, and I turned around—Squeaky was actually sneaking up on me. She had taken up residence in our attic, where she had some babies who were also little dicks. We finally live-trapped them all and drove them out to the country (this, unfortunately, is not a euphemism—Ken was all like “Oh, we can’t just kill them…” and normally I would agree, but that squirrel had devil-eyes, to borrow a phrase from the great Tracy Morgan).

I’m sure you all have story starters that will never be funny—I have a lot more but Ken wants to go shopping so I have to wrap this up. As a side note, I asked Ken to think of a story starter that would never be funny:

Ken: Ummm…
Me: You can’t say ‘death’.
Ken: Oh. OK, what about “So I was in the hospital waiting room…”
Me: What did I just say?
Ken: Right.

Thursday: Mysterious visitors in my condo

When I came back to Toronto after my extended vacation/recovery from surgery, I found a rolled up piece of tinfoil on my coffeetable. I didn’t know where it had come from, but Ken had been there with me for a couple of days in August, so I asked him if he’d left it there. “Maybe,” he said. “Did it look like a chocolate wrapper?” It kind of did, so I didn’t give it more thought. Then, a couple of weeks ago, when I went back for the week, it was really hot. I’d had the air conditioning on the night before, but I shut it off before I went to work. When I came back, the air conditioning was on full force, and I got a little worried. After searching my condo, which took about 20 seconds since it’s only 600 square feet, I was still worried. But then I realized that I was probably being ridiculous—what kind of intruder waits inside your condo all day for you to come home and at some point is like. “Gosh, it’s hot under this bed—I should turn the air on while I wait”? When I told Ken, he was like, “Come on—you probably just forgot to turn it off. Don’t worry—just keep the chain lock on when you’re home.”

But then the other night, I got ready for bed. I turned off all the lights and put the fan on. I fell asleep, but a couple of hours later, I woke up like a shot for some reason. Then I realized that the hall light was on, and the FAN WAS OFF. I freaked out and did what any reasonable person would do—I called Ken. But he didn’t answer, being that I thought the clock said 5 minutes to 11, but it really said 5 minutes after 1. I searched the condo again, even more worried because, thanks to Ken, my chain lock WAS on, which meant that I was potentially LOCKED IN with someone nefarious who hated both the dark and cool breezes. So there I was, phone to my ear, ringing and ringing, while I flung open closet doors and threw aside bed skirts. Nothing. Finally, I just went back to sleep, still a little freaked out. Ken messaged me in the morning to ask why I’d tried calling him at 1 in the morning and I answered, “Here’s a funny story—”

My Week 103: Titus and the 5 Second Rule, Star Trek Predictability

Friday: The 5 second rule

5-second-rule

Part of the job at the secret agency where I work is to research weird and interesting stories. This week was a veritable cornucopia of bizarreness, mostly thanks to the American election campaign, where this week Trump said, among the many ridiculous things he says, that he now believes Obama is a US citizen (yes, Donald, Hawaii IS a part of the United States) and also that “they” should strip Hillary Clinton’s bodyguards’ sidearms and “see what happens”. (OK, is it just me or is this seriously illegal? I’m pretty sure that, under the law in Canada at least, if I posted on Facebook “Bob’s a liar and a crook. People should try to kill him”, I would be either arrested or sued. How does Trump get away with this sh*t? Are people, and especially the media, so distracted by the bread and circuses that they don’t see this as extremely unstable, lunatic behaviour? Yet, he still has a massive following, and if you really don’t believe that many of them fall into the “basket of deplorables” category that Clinton took so much flak for, then you haven’t read the comments section of ANY article on the US election that either dares to criticize Trump or praise Clinton. My rant is done.) Anyway, there was one article that really intrigued my work partners and me:

L: Did you read this? Apparently, the ‘5 second’ rule is now dead, according to Popular Science magazine. You should NEVER eat things that you’ve dropped on the floor. Apparently, bacteria can be attached to it in less than half a second.
K: Really? Doesn’t it depend on what the food is and where it lands?
Me: The carpet in here gets cleaned regularly…
L: Yuck!
Me: I mean, I wouldn’t eat something that had just dropped ANYWHERE. Like, if I dropped something on Yonge St., I would just leave it. And I’m not just talking about food. I mean, like a mitten, or anything.
K: Hahaha—no kidding!

So while we all agreed that you would just abandon anything that fell on the sidewalk in downtown Toronto (food, clothing, money, your grandma—pretty much everything), I was concerned about the ramifications of the article. If you’ve visited this site before, you’ll know that I have, on occasion, dropped a piece of popcorn into my scarf and proceeded to pick it out and eat it. And the other day, I dropped a Corn Pop on my kitchen floor, shrugged, then tossed it into the bowl with all the other “clean” Corn Pops. Did my ‘devil may care’ attitude mean I was in danger of contracting a deadly disease?

So when I got home last night, it was still on my mind, so much so that when I dropped a Swiss Chalet French fry on the floor and Titus swooped in, I stopped him.

Me: Whoa there! You can’t eat off the floor anymore. The 5 second rule is dead.
Titus: First of all, it’s the 5 DAY rule. Second of all, who says?
Me: Studies have shown that bacteria can attach itself to food before you have a chance to eat it.
Titus: What bacteria?! I licked that floor clean myself!
Me: Good to know. I will NEVER eat anything that I drop on it again.
Titus: Suit yourself. Now move your foot—I’m going in for that fry.

But I never worry about Titus. This is the same dog, if you remember, who ate a pound of grapes with no ill effects, and was caught chewing a dead deer jawbone that he ‘found’ in the backyard. I doubt very much if a little salmonella would slow him down—after all, he IS a Lab. It’s been scientifically proven that Labrador Retrievers have a genetic predisposition to eat until there’s nothing left. They have no shut-off valve, unlike all the other breeds of dog who will stop eating when they’re full and NOT think, “I feel like throwing up, but there’s more food!”

Case in point: Many years ago, Ken and I had a beautiful Golden Retriever named Byron. We got him because I was terrified of dogs. Now, that might not make much sense, but I was convinced that if we got a dog, I could learn to ‘read’ its signals and know when it was happy or angry, and thereby get over my phobia. So we got Byron. He was 6 and looked like a huge teddy bear (his original name was ACTUALLY “Bear” but we changed it on the premise that I would never get over my fear of dogs if he was named after something I was even more afraid of). Byron had belonged to a family who had no time for him—they both worked, had three kids, and lived in a small semi-detached home with the woman’s elderly mother—it was a tough situation for everyone, and to their credit, they decided to give him away to people who could take better care of him. He was a wonderful, laidback dog in every way, except that he HATED other dogs. It wasn’t his fault—the people who’d owned him previously had never taken him anywhere or walked him—he just stayed in their backyard 24/7 so he’d never learned how to socialize. But that was fine with us—he loved people, so we just made sure we kept him on a leash when he came out with us. We took him all over, but his favourite trip was to the drive through at McDonald’s. We’d order him a large water and a small fry, and we’d all eat in the car. But Byron didn’t have a big appetite aside from fast food—we’d fill his bowl food every morning from a red cup that we had and he’d pick away at it all day. Sometimes he finished it; sometimes not.

img_2933Byron

Eventually, Byron passed away at the ripe old age of 15, which broke our hearts, but we’d had 9 awesome years with him, and thanks to him, I’d completely gotten over my fear of dogs. A few weeks later, we got Saxon, a 3 year-old female Yellow Lab, from a family who was moving to England and couldn’t take her with them. The first day we had her, I got out Byron’s red food cup and filled her bowl. She ate it right away, then looked at me expectantly. So I gave her another cupful. At dinner time, we gave her another, then another right before bed. After about a week of this, we realized she was getting very chunky. So I called the vet to find out exactly how much we should be feeding her. “For her size, about a cup and a half per day,” he said. “How much food fits in that cup you’re using?” So I measured it—the red cup held TWO CUPS of food. We’d been feeding her about 6 cups of kibble every day. And she was happily eating it, the same way she happily ate an entire 3 pound bag of dog food one afternoon when we were out grocery shopping and forgot to shut the cupboard door. When we got back, she was waddling around and looked pregnant, but it didn’t last for long—she couldn’t digest it all and her “food baby” made its reappearance a few hours later. And I don’t think my mother-in-law ever forgave her for eating all the tops off a dozen banana muffins that she’d made from scratch and left on the counter to cool. She was sitting only about 10 feet away and never heard a thing—Saxon was like a ninja when it came to stealth eating. Aside from the food fixation, she was an all-around amazing dog, who agreed to go out in the morning and get the newspaper for us in exchange for cookies and who loved to play hide and seek. But like all other beloved pets, she too eventually passed away at the age of 14 a couple of years ago, which brings us back to Titus, our monster dog. Just over 100 pounds, and standing 28 inches high at the shoulder, he’s goofy and sweet and completely obsessed with food. And alcohol. In fact, at this very moment, he’s staring at the spot where I just spilled some wine through the baby gate that I have up to prevent Raven from coming into my office and peeing on the rug ( and that’s a whole other story).

Titus: Um…you know there’s wine on the floor, right?
Me: Yes. You made me spill it when I was trying to climb over you AND the baby gate.
Titus: Are you going to wipe it up? Or would you like me to come in and lick the floor clean for you? I don’t mind.
Me: You’re not allowed to lick the floor. We discussed this. You’re also not allowed to have any wine. It’s bad for you.
Titus: Says the woman on her second glass of Pinot Grigio. C’mon—just a little taste.
Me: I don’t start drooling like a maniac if someone gives me “just a little taste”.
Titus: I can’t help it if I have a sensitive palate.
Me: If you really had a “sensitive palate”, you wouldn’t spend so much time trying to eat out of Raven’s litter box.
Titus: But the little kitty treats are so crunchy and good…

Bottom line is that I’ve changed my attitude and after my enlightening conversation with Titus will no longer be using the 5 second rule to determine whether or not I can still eat a carrot that I dropped on the kitchen floor. Unless I’m going to boil it first.

Saturday: Star Trek is becoming predictable.

T and I have been working our way through the Star Trek pantheon on Netflix, and we’ve made it to Star Trek: Voyager, starring the gravelly-voiced Kate Mulgrew. In this version of Star Trek, the ship and its crew has been tossed into the “Delta Quadrant” by an alien known as “Caretaker”. They’re over 77 000 light years away from the Alpha Quadrant, where Earth is, and it’s going to take them approximagely 70 years to make it back. But instead of just going to Warp 9, and hightailing it, they spend their time cruising through the Delta Quadrant at impulse speed, just looking for trouble, and delaying their return home every week. We both really enjoy watching the show, but after a while we’ve come to realize that the writers have pretty much given up, and that each episode has become a little predictable.

Scenario 1: What could it be?

Mr. Kim: Captain, I’m detecting something ten thousand kilometres off the starboard bow.
T: It’s a nebula.
Me: It’s a subspace anomaly.
T: It’s a rift in the time/space continuum.
Captain: It looks like some sort of anomaly.
T: Don’t go any closer.
Captain: Mr. Paris, take us closer.
Me: You’re going to get pulled in.
Mr. Paris: Captain, we’re getting pulled in!
All of us: Reverse thrusters!! It’s not working!!

Scenario 2: Encounters with Aliens

Mr. Tuvok: Captain, I’m detecting an alien vessel ahead.
Me: Check for life signs.
Captain: Any life signs, Mr. Tuvok?
T: Back away before hailing them. They’re probably hostile.
Mr. Tuvok: Yes, Captain—one alien life sign.
Captain: Hail them, Mr. Kim.
Me: They won’t answer. Put your damn shields up.
Mr. Kim: There’s no response, Captain.
Mr. Paris: They’re firing on us!
T: I wonder which one of the completely ineffective “evasive manoeuvres” she’ll ask for? Oh—Janeway Beta 3. Good choice but it won’t work.
Me: Can’t they just transport the alien directly to the main bridge?
T: Not if his shields are up—are OUR shields up?
Mr. Paris: Captain, evasive manoeuvres aren’t working!
Mr. Tuvok: Shields are down to 67%.
T: There you go.
Me: Just fire the damn photon torpedoes.
Captain: Fire the photon torpedoes!
Mr. Paris: Direct hit. His shields are down.
Captain: Transport him directly to the main bridge.
Me: He’s gonna have crazy hair and be really pissed off.
Alien: How dare you—!
T: Is that papier mache or salami on his head?

Scenario 3: Coming back from an Away Mission

Captain: Well, Mr. Chakotay, that was certainly an interesting Away Mission but I can’t wait to get back to Voyager.
T: Voyager is gone.
Mr. Chakotay: Captain, Voyager is not at the rendezvous location.
Me: Scan for a warp signature. They’re around somewhere.
Captain: Scan for a warp signature, Mr. Chakotay. They must be close by.
Mr. Chakotay: Detecting a faint warp trail, 1 million kilometres from here.
T: The ship’s been hijacked by either the Viidians or the Kazon.
Mr. Chakotay: Captain, I’m detecting alien life signs on board.
Captain: Is it the Viidians or the Kazon?
Mr. Chakotay: Neither.
Us: Oooh, this could be good.
T: Secretly transport on board and use the Jeffries tubes to sneak around and take back the ship.
Captain: Get us within transport range, Mr. Chakotay. I have a plan…

Scenario 4: Is it the end?

T: Should we believe that guy when he says he’ll help Voyager get home in exchange for trilithium crystals?
Me: No. It’s like Gilligan’s Island. Or Lost. No one goes home until the last episode of the last season, and we have 3 more seasons to go.
Captain: I can’t believe we were taken in by that dishonest Ferengi. Wait–is that a mysterious nebula I see up ahead?
Us: 3 more seasons! Yay!!

My Week 102: True Colours, Disappointed by the Dump

Tuesday: I get my colours done

When I got back to work after my sojourn abroad in August, I received an email notifying me that I needed to attend a mandatory True Colours workshop, seeing as I’d missed the last two and needed to “catch up” before our All-Staff meeting on Wednesday. I went to my manager and asked if I really needed to go. “I already know my colours,” I said. “I’m a Winter.” But no—this wasn’t about my wardrobe. She explained that True Colours is a personality identification system. “Well, I’m a Scorpio,” I said. “And an ISFJ—I know that because I took a 5 minute internet quiz. Also, if I was a Game of Thrones character, I would be Arya, and if I was a geological thing-y, I would be ammolite. How much more analysis do I need?!” A lot, apparently, and there was no wheedling out of the workshop. I could have scheduled another surgery, and the trainer would have come to my bedside, that’s how seriously the agency is taking it. So on Tuesday afternoon, I walked over to the hotel with all the new employees to find out exactly who the hell I am.

The first thing we had to do, according to the trainer, who was the most cheerful and perky woman I’ve ever met, was to look at 4 cards and order them according to how much I liked them. The yellow card looked like a nasty mustard-coloured quilt. I would never put it on a bed in my house, so I set it aside for the time being. The blue card looked like water going down the toilet, and the orange card reminded me of what I see when the eye doctor flashes that strong light at you and you can see what’s inside your own eye. The green card was OK—it reminded me of that really cool computer screen image in The Matrix of all the dripping numbers and lines and stuff. I love The Matrix—the costumes and special effects are amazing, the characters all have awesome names like Trinity and Cipher, and Hugo Weaving is a total super-villain. So I picked the Green card, then the Gold quilt-y one next because even though it was yellow, you could probably display with the right décor. I picked the Blue one third, because it was kind of tropical once you got past the 2000 Flushes vibe, and the Orange one last because, well, something had to be last. Then we had to rank a bunch of adjectives and assign them numbers from 1 to 4 based on how much we agreed with the words. And then we had to ADD UP THE NUMBERS. At which point, I got confused, because my numbers refused to add up to 60, mostly because I did it wrong and gave some things all 4s instead of ranking everything. So I just eyeballed the whole thing and decided that I was Green. Which meant I had to go and sit at a table with people I didn’t know and talk about myself and my feelings, because why WOULDN’T I want to do that? I’ll tell you why—because I’d rather gouge out my own laser-perfect eyes than do that. Especially since we had to, as a group, fill in columns in a chart about our Joys and Strengths and Weaknesses as the Greens in the room. But the other people at my table seemed nice, and after some very hesitant offerings, we were able to put two or three things on our chart paper. Of course, the Blues had two full pages, the Golds had everything in organized subheadings, and the Oranges, who had finished before everyone, looked restless.

Before we started sharing our answers with the whole group, the trainer told us that True Colours was totally legit, that it came from the work of Carl Jung and was based on his theories about temperament. And I was like, “Great. I just had my personality mansplained to me. Thanks, Carl Jung.” According to Jung, or whoever is making money off his theories, Greens “seek knowledge and understanding, live by their own standards, need explanations and answers, value intelligence, insight, fairness, and justice, and are non-conformists, visionaries, and problem-solvers.” I was like, “Just because I picked the Matrix card?!” But it WAS a fairly good description, especially since I’m not adventurous, overly emotional (unless my only child has just abandoned me to go off to university), or nitpicky (well, maybe a LITTLE nitpicky, but Gold is my second colour).

Then we started sharing our chart paper answers, and the trainer filled in or re-spun things if we got them wrong ie: “What the Green group means when they say they value family is that they LIKE them, but they don’t NEED them every day.” This made us Greens a little annoyed, since it was completely inaccurate, but we tolerated it because we didn’t want to come off looking all emotional and what-not like the Blues. My own feelings were more than a little ruffled though, when she told everyone that Greens are often perceived as robotic and impersonal, kind of like Dr. Spock. Plus, I SO badly wanted to yell out “MR. Spock. MISTER!” I was glad I didn’t though when, later, we read the list of Green traits and “quick to point out other people’s mistakes” was one of them. Coincidentally, I had recently done an online quiz “Which Star Trek character are you?” and I HAD gotten Mr. Spock. But only because 1) I had chosen the blue uniform because there were no black leather ones like in The Matrix and 2) I chose “Transporter” as the best invention because what is there NOT to love about being able to get from place to place in under 30 seconds? Have you ever tried to go ANYWHERE on the 401? I’ve wasted more hours sitting on that damn highway than I’ve spent taking personality quizzes.

spock_fascinating

Overall, things weren’t going too badly for me, but then the worst part of the afternoon happened when we had to also do a checklist to decide whether we were introverts or extroverts. I already know the answer to that, thanks to years of hating crowds and feeling socially awkward around everyone but my family. The trainer was circulating, and stood looking at my finished checklist, which had me at 39 Introvert points and 6 Extrovert points. Now, you’d think as a professional trainer in this sh*t, she would know better than to single out a Green Introvert, but she called out to the whole group and asked who knew me well enough to say whether they agreed with my calculations. But as I’d mentioned, the rest of the people there were either new employees or worked in different departments, and had just met me. Finally another manager said, “I thought she was probably Gold,” and I was like “Fair enough!” because I do LOVE details and lists and things, but mostly because I really needed the attention to not be focused on me. Finally, the afternoon was over, and I was awarded a binder and told to bring it to the All-Staff meeting the next day.

The following morning, our entire staff gathered together for a variety of important announcements, then we were instructed to sit at tables with other members of our “Colour” group. I found myself flanked by two psychometricians, an editor, a Math team member, and someone from Layout. I was all Sesame Street, like ‘One of these things is not like the other,” and started getting more and more uncomfortable as the morning progressed. The first activity was called “The Bear”. We had to decide what we would do if we were confronted by a bear. Now, if you visit this site regularly, you’ll know that I’m the f*cking QUEEN of Worst Case Scenarios, and I have a plan for everything, including bear encounters and bouncy castles that somehow become untethered. So I said, “Make yourself as large as possible and make as much noise as you can to intimidate the bear. Playing dead doesn’t work worth sh*t, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant can attest to. Believe me—I’ve researched this.” The rest of the group accepted my logic and wrote it down. But when we had to share with the staff, we came very close to being accused of not really being Green, because our answer was wrong and Gold-ish, apparently. Thank god the editor had added, “Resign yourself to the idea that you’re probably going to die,” or we would have been called out as frauds. Especially since the OTHER Green table was obviously trying too hard and wrote down, “Why is there a bear? Where did it come from? What kind of bear is it?” This is how Greens are supposed to react, according to the science of it all. And sure, if I ever DID encounter a bear, the phrase “Why the f*ck is there a bear here?!!” would be running through my mind as I was simultaneously screaming and trying to look bigger than I am.

After the excitement of the bear attack, which had the Blues huddling together for comfort, and the Oranges sacrificing a member of the team so the rest of them could run away, we had to write down the things that stressed out our colour and what other people could do to help us. The Blues right away were like, “It stresses us when people take a tone, or aren’t nice to us.” The trainer asked what would help them, and the Greens all muttered under their breath, “Stop being so damned over-sensitive. That’ll help.” But that was another wrong answer because the whole point of the workshop was to help us understand each other so that we could work more effectively together. That made total sense to me, and then I was like, “OK, Bob—I will try to be more understanding of your Orange-ness when you don’t have a plan and won’t stop distracting us with your jokes, mountain climbing analogies, and popcorn machine.” Sigh. It’s so hard being Green when your main stressor is “people who aren’t logical” because there’s so much illogic in the world. Take, for example, racism. I hate racism in any form, not because I’m all sad about it and sh*t, but because it doesn’t make any logical sense to look down on an entire race of people because their skin has more melanin in it, or because they believe in one God or five gods or no god at all. If we all treated each other equally, the world would have more peace than war. Quite frankly, it’s a lack of logic that makes the world such a difficult place. And bears.

Saturday: I am disappointed by the dump

Ken has spent the last few weeks building a new lawnmower shed to replace the sh*tty little metal one with the broken door that stood at the back of the patio for ages. But he had to do it in fine Ken style, which is to say that the new shed is a gorgeous rustic barnboard structure, over twice as big as the previous shed, and decorated with trim and interesting salvage materials. As you can see from the picture, It’s beautiful, and you could easily use it as a small cottage, and I’m a little jealous of my lawnmower now.

new-shed

In the process of cleaning the previous shed out, he put aside a couple of boxes of old paint and things which couldn’t go out in the regular garbage, with the intention of disposing of them once the new shed was finished, which happened last week. So on Saturday morning, he woke me up.

Ken: I’m going to the dump to get rid of that old paint and the old stereo. Do you want to come?
Me: The Dump?! Hells yeah! I love the dump!
Ken: Slow down there. It’s just the transfer station in Salford. You’re not allowed to take stuff.
Me: Then WHAT is the point of going? What if I see something I want? I can’t touch it
Ken: They’re pretty strict about that kind of thing.
Me: But that’s not logical. Why should something stay in the garbage if someone else can use it?
Ken: You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.
Me: FINE, KEN. I’m coming to the dump.

I remember when I was a kid, going to a junkyard with my dad when he needed a part for something. Dad was a toolmaker by trade, and could make you just about anything with an Allen key and scrap metal. I don’t know what he was looking for, but I remember staring in awe at all the cool junk, and wishing I was bigger and had a shopping cart. Plus, at the time, I was obsessed with a series of novels called “The Three Investigators”, whose office was a trailer in a junkyard owned by the main character’s uncle. I wanted to be just like Jupiter Jones, live in a junkyard, and solve mysteries. Unfortunately, that never happened—I can’t even solve The Mystery of the Salt in My Hair, or The Case of the Missing Earring Back. But still, a girl can dream. Then a couple of years ago, Ken and I went to a local dump, where we found a grandfather clock in a bin. We drove the car up close, and I opened the door to shield Ken from the sightline of the woman in the office while he went down into the bin and retrieved the clock. So I know that rules can be broken if you’re sneaky and careful, and I was secretly excited about the trip to the transfer station. Who knew what treasures awaited us?

None, as it turned out. The place was super-regulated, with workers EVERYWHERE. We got told to pull up to the building with the pink computer monitor (technically it was neon orange, but I’m trying to curb my Greenness and not be so quick to point out people’s mistakes), and unload our boxes. The guy said, “You don’t have to wait—you can leave.” It was heartbreaking—as we drove away, I was sure I saw an old wooden door sticking out of a bin, and I was like, “Noooo…..” as we went through the gates. I was really feeling glum and disappointed when Ken decided to take one of his notorious “short cuts” down a side road. We passed a little house set back from the road, but on the front lawn, there were two tents with tables set up. “It’s a yard sale!” I said. “Go back!”

“I don’t see a sign,” said Ken.

“Trust me. There are random things on tables, and an old guy sitting in a chair. Go back.”

And I was right. It WAS a yard sale. Most of the stuff was pretty crappy, but among the detritus, I managed to find a 19th century lavender dip-molded bottle and a turned wooden bowl. Together, they would have been $6, but the guy let me have them both for 5 bucks. And the moral of the story is “It’s all about the journey, not the destination.” Also, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” And finally, “Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness has never been to a yard sale.”

My Week 101: In The Club, Calling 911

Wednesday: I wonder about “the club”

On Wednesday, T and I were driving back from town. We’re getting him ready to go to university, and I can’t really talk about that because I’ll probably cry. But anyway, we were listening to the radio, and a rap song came on. I’m not a huge fan of the “my money/my fame/I’m a pimp/I’m a player” school of rap, but I was trying to listen, and the only lines I could really make out were “in the club”, over and over again. It occurred to me that the phrase “in the club” seems to be a mainstay of many songs these days, but as a cosmopolitan person, I was confused. I’ve lived in small towns and big cities, and I’ve certainly gotten around, but I still don’t know exactly where “the club” is. So I said to T, “Tell me—you’re 18 and fairly worldly. Where is the club? Have you been to the club? And if not, do you know anyone who HAS been? I ask merely out of a burning curiosity.”

T shook his head. “Sorry, no. I don’t know anyone who goes to ‘the club’.”

“But you’re a teenager. If not teenagers, then who? I’m 50—I don’t know anyone who goes to the club. I know a lot of people who go to “the bar”, but I think that’s different than “the club”, if modern music has taught me anything. Maybe it’s 20 year olds with a lot of free time and disposable income.”

“Maybe,” said T. “SOMEONE must go there for so many songs to be written about it.”

“I wonder what one does ‘in the club’?” I mused. We listened to the radio for a minute.

“According to this song,” said T, “you get ‘in some trouble’.”

“Hm. Doesn’t sound like much fun. There must be other things you can do there; otherwise, why would anyone go?”

So we made a list. Here are the top things so far that you can apparently do “in the club” according to people who write songs about it.

1) Get down
2) Get up
3) Get busy
4) Get on the floor
5) Throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care
6) Do business (but not while drunk—see below)
7) Party
8) Party like it’s yo birthday (a more enthusiastic style of partying, apparently)
9) Hang
10) Hold out for one more drink

I don’t know about you, but the club was suddenly sounding very tantalizing. I wanted to go there. Remember, back in my heyday I’d been a DJ, and I wondered if the club today was like clubs when I was young, with the disco dancing and all (just kidding—I’m not that old). Yet, I still had one major problem—I didn’t know where it was, and my teenaged son was no help either. So I did what any normal person would do—I asked Ken.

Me: You know how all these songs keep talking about “the club”?
Ken: Club? You mean like a speakeasy?
Me: How old ARE you anyway?

So dead end there. Finally, I had no choice but to turn to my good friend Google. I typed in “how do I find the club?” but all I got were hits on golf clubs. And while I LOVE driving the golf cart, I’m not actually keen on the game itself. Also, I got links to a game called Club Penguin and how to find its hidden pins, and none of that made ANY sense. Perhaps the club was simply a figment of everyone’s imagination, a kind of Zen state only achieved through listening to hip hop music. Then I tried “What do I do in the club?” The first thing that came up were several lists of things NOT to do “in the club”, and they were very detailed lists which included things like ‘get drunk and try to do business’, ‘stand instead of dancing’, ‘don’t order an appletini’ (seems pretty obvious), and ‘don’t stand on the stairs’ (which seems very random, but apparently it can create ‘gridlock’, and no one in the club wants THAT, am I right?). But the number one thing, according to Google that you should never do in the club is TAKE PICTURES, especially of the DJ. Now, I couldn’t remember anyone ever wanting to take pictures of me when I was a DJ, but the kids today with the cell phones—they just take pictures of everything, so it seems. But all the lists were adamant that it was absolutely verboten. Then I was super happy that I’d done all this research, because towards the bottom of the lists was link to the club! It was called the It’ll Do Club, and it was in Dallas, Texas. Well, I’d always wanted to see Dallas and now not only could I go to the club, I wouldn’t make any stupid rookie mistakes while I was there. There was a link to a Youtube video about the It’ll Do Club and I was even more pumped to be able to go there virtually first. But wait—in the video clip, everyone was breaking ALL the rules! People were standing instead of dancing, and I’m sure I saw a couple of appletinis. But the worst thing was that half the crowd was taking pictures of the DJ! The worst thing you can ever do, according to my investigation. What the hell kind of club was this, anyway? The ANTI-CLUB? See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbbV8PThkVg

So while the DJ sounded great, I knew that my first foray into “the club” couldn’t possibly be to a place that so blatantly flaunts the status quo. I guess I’ll just have to keep looking for clues by listening to more dang rap music.

(If what you’ve just read seems a little more whimsical than usual, it’s to make up for the seriousness that is about to follow. Hope you don’t mind.)

911

Thursday: I call 911

I had to go back to Toronto on Thursday because my secret agency had a big deadline coming up. Also, I wanted to make sure that my condo was still in the same condition that I left it—I always worry that I’ll forget to close a window and I’ll be invaded by pigeons, or I’ll leave food out and it will have rotted and all my neighbours will think something died in my unit. But no—everything was just fine. I left work on Thursday, and as I was approaching my building, I could see, a couple of doors down, a man lying on the sidewalk. Now, that’s not unusual for downtown Toronto, which is weird to say, but it’s something you get used to. So I went upstairs, got unpacked, and made a grocery list. About half an hour later, I came back down, and the guy was still lying in the same position on the sidewalk, like he hadn’t moved in ages. People kept walking past, but I started to get worried, so I went over and knelt down next to him. Then I realized that I recognized him as one of the regular panhandlers in the neighbourhood. Not Mike, or John, or the guy who always asks for smoked oysters, but I’d definitely given him change and bottles of water over the last year. I shook him and said, “Hey, are you OK?” He tried to answer back but he was pretty incoherent. He was lying directly in front of the entrance to a place that does “eyebrow threading”, (which sounds and looks like NOTHING I ever want done), so I went in and said, “You know that guy lying on the ground outside your door? Has anyone called for an ambulance? I think he needs help.” The four women inside were all like “Oh…no…um…” so I said, “It’s OK—I’ll call 911.”

I explained to the dispatcher that I’d seen him around but never just lying on the ground, and that I was concerned, and the dispatcher said he’d send an ambulance right away. Sure enough, it was there in about two minutes, with two paramedics who, I’m sorry to say, seemed extremely pissed off about the whole thing. They asked me if I knew the man or knew his name, and I said again that I’d seen him in the neighbourhood but never lying on the sidewalk like he couldn’t get up. The eye rolling was so loud you could almost hear it. “What’s your name?” one of them asked him. What the homeless guy said didn’t sound like “Edward” to me, but suddenly that was his name. “OK, Edward,” said the other paramedic. “Have you been drinking today?” Edward kind of shuddered and the paramedics took it for a Yes, which started another round of eye rolling and exasperated sighs. “Ok, you have to get up now,” said one. “We’re taking you to the hospital. You’re not going to throw up on the stretcher are you?”

As one of them went to get the stretcher and the other one studied the traffic, Edward motioned to me. I knelt down again and put my hand on his arm. He reached over and took my hand in his other hand.

“Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” he kept saying over and over again.

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” I said. “These guys will help you.”

He gave my hand a squeeze. Then he gave me the finger, but it was fine, because in retrospect, I think it was aimed more towards the ambulance than me. I just kind of laughed and said, “That’s OK—you’ve had a bad day.” And it really WAS a bad day for Edward, because as the paramedics were laying a drop sheet on the stretcher, I realized that he’d also wet himself at some point.

Why am I telling you this? Because when I went over to talk to him, I was reminded of a story out of our nation’s capital from about 20 years ago that has always stuck with me. In the winter of 2000, a woman not much older than me, who’d just had knee surgery, fell on an icy sidewalk into a snowbank. She couldn’t get herself up, and slowly froze to death while people walked past her, ignoring her cries for help. So maybe Edward was drunk. Or maybe he’d had a stroke or a heart attack or had hit his head when he fell down drunk. Either way, he was going to get some help, whether he liked it or not. The takeaway from this is not that I’m some kind of hero. If I was, I would have gone over right away instead of waiting until later. No, the lesson is simply this: don’t walk by someone who is lying on the sidewalk. Be the person who stops. Because as soon as I did, the women in the eyebrow threading place gave me towels to put under Edward’s head, people on the street stopped to ask if everything was OK, a couple of really sweet university students asked if I needed them to wait with me, and the paramedics, even though Edward was urine-soaked and was looking like he might puke on them any second, still got him onto the stretcher and took him to the hospital. And that, my friends, is what happens in MY club.

My Week 100: Don’t Blame the Weatherman, Titus Can’t Catch

Thursday: Stormy Weather

On Thursday, T and I were driving back from town and the sky was really dark. Sure enough, the heavens opened up, and the resulting downpour turned roads in rivers, and parking lots into lakes. Literally. People had their basements flooded, and cars were floating in the streets. It didn’t last long, and the flooding was mostly due to backed-up storm drains, but on the news that night, the weather reporters were thrilled, having earlier predicted that a very large storm system might wreak havoc in our part of Ontario. Why “thrilled”, you ask? Because the week before, tornados had touched down in cities south of here and there had been NO WARNING from the weather people (we call them “Environment Canada”). In fact, the outcry was ridiculous, with people calling for an investigation into the most “egregious failure” of the year. Someone who describes herself as a professional stormchaser (WTF?) from Tennessee called out Environment Canada by tweeting, “Emergency personnel are being requested in mass amounts in Windsor due to an UNWARNED tornado. How does that make you feel @environmentca”. I’m not sure what “mass amounts” of emergency personnel look like, but to quote Donald Trump, I’m going to say “a lot”. And I’m sure Environment Canada feels pretty bad, thanks to all the mean tweets.

Anyway, the weather people defended themselves by claiming that 90% of our weather comes from over the border, and that Michigan hadn’t alerted us to any impending storm systems, that it had just “popped up out of nowhere”. Sure, blame the Americans. But frankly, the whole thing is silly, and is yet more proof that we’ve become irrationally obsessed with weather. The mere fact that there is an entire segment devoted to the weather on every single news show is evidence of that. And the first part of the segment is invariably reporting on what the weather was like that day. I don’t need to know what the weather was ALREADY like—I WAS THERE. Then we move to “the current forecast”, which I also know, because I’m looking out my WINDOW. Finally we get to “tomorrow” and the long-range forecast. But for all the technology, the radar, the system trackers, the low and high front graphics on the weather screen, being a weather person in Canada is a relatively simple task and these people are way overpaid, because, let’s face it—there’s not a lot of variation in the weather here:

News Anchor: So Bob, what’s the situation with the weather?
Weather Guy: Well, today it was f*cking hot. Tomorrow, it will also be f*cking hot.
News Anchor: You’re sure right there! What about the long range forecast?
Weather Guy: In a couple of months, it will be f*cking cold, with an increased chance of it getting even more f*cking cold.
News Anchor: Do your magic-y weather skills predict anything else for the near future, Bob?
Weather Guy: The only other thing on the horizon is periods of “when the hell is it going to rain?” interspersed with “when is this goddamned rain going to stop?” That’s about it, Nancy.
News Anchor: Thanks for those insights, Bob. We’ll get back to you later for a recap.

I honestly think we expect too much from weather reporters. Blaming them for sudden weather events is like blaming the sportscaster when your favourite team unexpectedly loses. You’d never do that—it would be irrational for newspapers to call the Blue Jays losing yet another pennant the most egregious failure of TSN Sportsdesk ever. Yet weather reporters get blamed for all kinds of things. For example, you’re having an outdoor birthday party and it clouds over then starts raining. Suddenly it’s open season on the weather reporter, with people running around trying to get the cake inside before it gets ruined, and yelling, “Was this predicted?! I don’t remember Bob saying anything on the weather report about rain! Now the piñata is all mushy! What the hell is this world coming to when you can’t even count on Bob for a good party?!!”

But you CAN’T count on the weather report. Weather reports are just filler in a broadcast, the same way that talking about the weather is just filler in a conversation. I asked Ken why he thought people are so obsessed with weather, and he said, “It’s something easy to talk about.” And he’s right. Consider how many times in your life you’ve had random and inconsequential conversations about the weather because you felt like you had to talk about SOMETHING or be seen as anti-social? This happens to me all the time in the elevator at work, when someone I barely know gets on. After “hello”, what the hell else is there to say, except “Can you believe the weather?” And the other person will say, “Oh, I know. It’s just terrible/gorgeous out there.” The weather is safe and quick, and makes us all feel that we’re capable of normal human interaction.

Again, though, I don’t think we need an entire network devoted to the continual reporting of the weather. An entire network, you say? Yes, because not only is every single news broadcast littered with weather teasers (“Coming up next: Sharon will have some exciting information on the current state of the weather. Find out here first!”), we also have The Weather Network, where you can satisfy your need to know about the state of the environmental nation 24 hours a day. Local forecasts, regional forecasts, national forecasts—hell, you can even find out what it’s going to be like in Madrid tomorrow (for the record—f*cking hot). My favourite, though, has got to be when, for want of anything else to talk about, there’s a “50 years ago today” segment, where the weather from the 60s is compared to the forecast today, and the reporter is like, “Can you believe it? The high on July 15, 1966 was 3 degrees lower than it is today. What a world we live in!” Even better are the segments analyzing the latest record-breaking temperature. You’d think it was the Nature Olympics, with the sun getting gold medals all the time like American athletes (or bronze medals, if the sun was Canadian). I guess if it wasn’t for global warming, there’d be even less for them to talk about, so yay climate change.

A hundred years ago, there were no weather reporters. Well, there was your crazy old aunt, who claimed her gouty toe could predict when a storm was a-coming, or the one guy in every town who hung out at the General Store chewing on a hay stalk and muttering ominously, “Pine trees are puttin’ out cones early. Gonna be a hard winter.” And they were about as accurate as weather reporters today, who, despite all the bells and whistles, still can’t always predict when a tornado will develop. I like the guy from LaSalle who said that he hadn’t heard about the tornado, but he looked out his window, saw it coming from across the field, and got his family into the basement. Then he went back upstairs and recorded the tornado with his cell phone. He predicted a tornado hitting his house better than Environment Canada did—The Weather Network should hire HIM.

Sunday: Titus can’t catch.

Every morning, I eat a bowl of Corn Pops. I do “adulting” very well, as you can see. In fact, when we were in Iceland, I couldn’t find Corn Pops, so I was forced to buy Cocoa Puffs, another very adult cereal, and would tease Ken and T by calling them “tiny bites of chocolate happiness for breakfast”. Corn Pops are actually very healthy though, containing fibre and stuff, and not as much sugar as Rice Krispies, if you can believe that. Titus also loves Corn Pops. Every morning, when he sees me get down a bowl, he comes running. It’s become part of our morning routine that I grab a few and toss them to him as a treat. The only problem is that Titus can’t catch for sh*t. I’ve never seen a dog so uncoordinated. It’s bad enough that when he gives you a high five, he’s more likely to slap you in the face then fall over—but his Corn Pop-catching skills are abysmal. This is what it’s like every morning:

Titus: Oh boy! Corn Pops! This is the best day ever!
Me: You say that every morning. Do you think you could try a little harder today?
Titus: With what?
Me: Catching them. You’re hopeless.
Titus: What are you talking about? There’s nothing wrong with my catching abilities. You’re just a crappy thrower.
Me: Are you kidding? I toss them straight at you. It’s your timing. They bounce off your face most of the time AFTER you’ve snapped your teeth at them. I’ll show you. Sit down. (tosses Corn Pops)
Titus: That one was too high…too low…are you TRYING to aim for the refrigerator?…wait, I wasn’t ready for that one…Ow, my eye!…What the—did it go under the cupboard?…You’re trying to make me miss on purpose…
Me: You’re not concentrating. Focus, for God’s sake.
Titus: Can I just play “dead” now? I’m exhausted.
Me: You don’t know how to play dead. You only play “wounded”.
Titus: But Corn Pops are sweet gems of deliciousness. If I close my eyes, I might miss one.
Me: You’re missing them with your eyes OPEN! Fine—Bang!
Titus (falls to floor): Ok, I’m good. Hit me with a Corn Pop…Oh sh*t—where did it go?
Me (sigh): I rolled it right between your paws. How could you miss it?
Titus (head under cupboard): I got it. It’s all good!
Me: I think I’ve proven my point.

titus 3

My Week 99: Jet Lag Grumpiness, The Tragically Hip

Jet lag makes me grumpy. I’ll be the first to admit that, or maybe the second, as Ken is well aware of the fact that I’ve been a little pissy this week. The poor guy has a bad cold and slept on the couch the other night because he was coughing and didn’t want to wake me up. My reaction?

Me: What the hell are you doing?
Ken: Um…whuh?
Me: How many times have I asked you NOT to use the couch cushions as pillows?! They’re expensive, and you’re making them all squishy!
Ken: But I—
Me: NO, Ken. You need to stop treating the couch like a flophouse. Use your own damn pillows. It’s not like you don’t have 6 of them all cluttering up the bed and sh*t.
Ken: *weak cough, sneeze* Sigh.

At any rate, I hope he forgives me for my pillow rant, although it’s true that he has like a thousand weird pillows on the bed that he just can’t sleep without—unless he’s on the couch. The fact is that I’m in a continual state of grogginess, thanks to the 6 hour time zone change, and as I get older, I find it harder to readjust my body clock. But Ken wasn’t the only one who felt my ire this week. I hope you’re prepared for this, because I’m about to vent. Here’s the list of 4 things that are REALLY grinding my gears this week:

1) Telemarketers who can’t even be bothered trying.

Twice in the last week, I’ve been the target of a completely uninspired, or blatantly bulls*t phone sales pitch. I’m not sure what’s going on—maybe it’s the brutal heat we’re experiencing in Canada, but people aren’t even TRYING. The phone rang yesterday. We don’t normally use our landline, but the caller ID said “C. Becker”, so I thought it might be, like, a normal human person. I answered the phone:

Me: Hello? HELLO? (sounds of talking in the background).
Guy: What? Oh hi. Mrs. __________? (mispronounces my last name)
Me: No, it’s _____________.
Guy: Haha. Right. Sorry. So….this is just the duct cleaning people calling.
Me: The duck cleaning people?
Guy: No, ducts. You know, like your furnace ducts and stuff. So, we’re having a promotion.
Me: Ah, sorry. We heat totally with wood.
Guy: No problem! Thanks!

“Just the duct cleaning people”. Is that seriously how a company expects to make money? And why the hell are their sales agents using their own damn phones? Anyway, I had his name and phone number on my caller ID, so the other day, I randomly called him back. Don’t worry; I blocked my number first. I didn’t get to talk to “Chris”, which is what I’m calling him, but I left this ominous message on his answering machine in my best Count Dracula voice: “Would you like your ducts cleaned?! Mwah hahahaha!!!” Then I hung up, turned around and realized that T was staring at me.

Me: The duct cleaning guy…
T: I condemn your actions.

But it still wasn’t as bad as the other day, when I answered the phone and a guy with a VERY heavy accent said, “Hello. My name is John Smith and I’m calling from Windows. There seems to be something wrong with your computer—“, and I said, “F*ck off” and hung up the phone. Then I felt terrible, because I’m usually really polite to telemarketers, but how stupid did he think I AM? Now I’m worried though, because when we were in Iceland, I wrote most of last week’s post on a netbook using Windows, and when we came back to Canada, the netbook crashed. All I could do was call up the post on Word, then retype the whole thing, which took me hours. So maybe that’s my karma for being all swear-y at John Smith, and now my Windows might really be f*cked up.

2) Olympic Sexism.

Like many people, I’m disturbed by the level of sexism in the current Olympics. There have been many articles written on the subject regarding women’s achievements being downplayed or overshadowed by constant references to what they’re wearing or who they’re married to. And while I agree with all that, I also think that there are a couple of sports in which women are their own worst enemies by not saying “Screw this.” The first one that comes to mind is Gymnastics. How can you seriously expect people NOT to make a distinction between the genders when you have such a different approach to the floor routine? The guys are all serious and badass and tumbling around, and when they finish a run, they take one weird swivel-y step to turn around. The women, on the other hand, look like they’re trying out for Little Miss Gymnastic Universe—they do their routines with perma-smiles, and shimmy their shoulders and shake their pre-pubescent-looking booties for the crowd in between THEIR tumbling runs. I don’t get it. At one point, I was like “Shouldn’t there be a pole somewhere on that mat?” These women are all INCREDIBLE athletes—why is it the expectation of their sport that they act like pageant princesses? Do they lose marks if they don’t look pretty and sexy? Dump the glitter and gyrating, and bring women’s gymnastics into the 21st century. And don’t get me started on the seeming necessity of the women’s Beach Volleyball team wearing bikini thongs compared to what the guys wear. They claim it’s comfortable and allows them to play better—maybe having sand in your lady parts is a great incentive to win. And just for the record, I’d have absolutely no problem with any of this if the guys were similarly dressed in thongs or glitter or whatever. In fact, it might make me MORE inclined to watch men’s Beach Volleyball.

3) Kidbashing.

This one has been making me grumpy for a lot longer than a week, but hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. Is it just me, or are other people sick as f*ck of all the childbashing that seems to be de rigeur in the last little while? My social media outlets are jampacked with “50 Reasons Why Being a Parent Sucks”, or “10 Things I Hate About My Kids” or “Why Being a Mom Is Crap”. From Twitter hashtags to nasty memes, this whole cyberbullying of our children has to stop. Being a parent is AWESOME. There. I said it. I’m deeply sorry that I don’t want to cash in by appealing to the frustrated parent in you all, but I actually LIKE being a mom. My son didn’t drive me to drink (I did that all on my own, thank you very much). He didn’t give me gray hairs (do I have any? I’ll have to ask my hairdresser), and I would never dream of embarrassing him by openly mocking what he does on the internet. Sure, I talk about him, but it’s with affection rather than mean-spiritedness. You know what he DID give me? Laugh lines. Because kids are hilarious. But you’d never know this from some of the negativity aimed towards parenthood lately. I actually read a post by someone who described being a parent as being akin to living in a barren wasteland with an empty soul. WHAT?? All I have to say to that is “Grow the f*ck up. Did you really think that your life would stay EXACTLY the same as it was before you had children? Did you think you could still ‘party with my ladies’, have your semi-annual girls’ weekend, or continue to hit the bars on a Friday night? If so, then hire a nanny and stop complaining.” I’m not wholly unsympathetic—I understand that spending time with the wee ones can be a little overwhelming at times, and when I was raising T, there were certainly occasions (few, I have to admit) where I needed to vent. You know who I vented to? My mom. Or a good friend. Or Ken. I didn’t share my thoughts and feelings with thousands of strangers on the internet where my momentary self-doubt would be archived forever, and where my negative thoughts about childrearing could be seen by my child at a future date. The worst part is that it’s making younger women fearful of becoming parents. I read an article the other day by a journalist who was considering having children, but after reading some “mommy blogs”, she was so scared off that she was re-thinking the whole thing. The most ridiculous thing I read lately was by someone who was so unhappy about being a mother, and the worst part was that her husband got to go out working and be with adults. But then he would come home and leave his underwear on the bathroom door handle, and ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, she would have to put his underwear away. My first and only thought was, “Why the HELL are you picking up after a grown man?! Did you know that after a while, if you don’t pick up after him, he’ll have no clean underwear and will be forced to do his own laundry like an actual normal human person?” And now this poor guy feels like a dick because everyone on the internet knows he hangs his underwear on a doorknob.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can rightfully complain about being a parent. It really is the best gig in the world. You get to spend time with someone who is NEVER boring, and you get to teach them all the stuff they need to know. When you repeat “Can you say Mama,” over and over again, you’re creating neural pathways and networks. When you say “No, that’s hot—danger!”, you’re developing logic and reasoning. And when you say “Play nice and share,” you’re contextualizing the social construct. You’re a f*cking scientist, that’s what you are. So start embracing your inner Ph. D.—the internet, and your children, will thank you.

4) People who try to screw you over on Facebook buy and sell sites.

Ken and I are still trying to offload a lot of the furniture we had at the cottage we sold recently. The best way has been by using local Facebook buy and sell sites, but it can be frustrating at times. Most people are great—they come when they say they will, they give you the money, and they take away your stuff. Then you get the people who take two days of constant messaging and questions like “Is it in good condition?” (no, I posted it because it’s a piece of crap) to finally arrange a time to pick up an item. THEN they suddenly want to know if you’ll take half the asking price. You say No, then they come over when you’re out and try the same sh*t with your unsuspecting husband. But he’s no dummy (because you told him what the price was and he knows better that to barter on his own) so they leave empty-handed, having wasted everyone’s time. People like that are jerks. Enough said.

5) Amid all the grumbling this week, there HAVE been some good moments. Ken and I repaired the broken down antique settee that I got a garage sale and it looks great. I made risotto for the first time and it turned out almost OK. I bought groceries and it didn’t cost me a small fortune as it would have in Iceland. I saw Lisa, my Lancome lady, and she gave me a lot of free stuff. Which brings me to the thing that made me laugh my ass off this week. I saw my parents yesterday, and I gave my mom some peach-scented foot lotion, Calvin Klein body lotion, and lipstick that I got from Lisa. She called me last night:

Mom: I hope you don’t mind, but I gave the lotion to your Dad.
Me: No, that’s fine…
Mom: He’s decided to become a chick magnet so he needs soft skin.
Me: I—what?

So ladies, beware. If you see a really cool old Scottish guy who smells like peaches, you’re in trouble.

Saturday Night: The Tragically Hip

hip2

Last night was the final show of the Tragically Hip’s final concert tour. The lead singer, Gord Downie, has incurable brain cancer, and rather than fade away, he’s going out in fine Canadian style by bringing the country together. You might have seen the memes about Canada being closed for the night because our national broadcaster, the CBC, was showing the concert live across the nation for those who couldn’t get tickets to be there in person. Free. No commercial breaks. 3 hours of song. So that we could all embrace the band whose music was the soundtrack to so many of our lives. Hundreds of thousands of people watching all at the same time, some at huge parties with massive screens, some at home with the people they love, watching a man give everything he had left to the nation HE loves. It was inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. In a year that we lost Bowie and Prince, two other icons of our youth, it seems incredibly unfair that Gord Downie, man, machine, poem, should be lost to us as well. And when the time comes, we’ll miss him fully and completely. Just wait and you’ll see.

Here’s the link to one of my favourite Hip songs—Nautical Disaster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8Fi46BFAF0

 

My Week 98: Iceland FAQs

Iceland FAQs

waterfall2

Ken, T, and I have just arrived home from Iceland. T really wanted to go back to Spain and practice his Spanish, but Ken and I were interested in a new experience. We were able to compromise, thanks to Air Iceland’s ploy to lure tourists into their country. They offer really cheap flights to Europe on the condition that you stop over in Iceland on the way there and back. This sounded like a great deal, and it satisfied everyone’s desires. So we were in Iceland for four days, then Spain for three days, then back to Iceland again for three more days. But Iceland has only recently become a major tourist destination, and if you’re like me, you probably don’t know a lot about it. It’s definitely a unique experience, but there were some questions I would have LOVED to know the answer to before we went. Therefore, I’ve decided to create a list of Frequently Asked Questions, a primer, if you will, to the Icelandic experience. Or at least from my own perspective.

First, let me say that we really liked a lot of things about Iceland. It’s very different from just about anywhere else, which is part of its charm. It’s visually stunning, and incredibly clean. You can drive around the whole island very easily, stopping just about anywhere to enjoy the gorgeous landscape. But it’s also a very quirky place, and if you plan to travel there, you definitely need to be aware of a few things. So here’s the list of questions that I would have wanted answered BEFORE we arrived:

1) OMG, should the water smell like that?!

We arrived from the airport around 11 pm, rented our car, and drove to the apartment we had booked through AirBNB. Bjorn, the owner, had left a key for us in a lockbox outside the apartment door. It was a really nice little place and we were relieved, because you never know when you’re booking things relatively sight unseen. It was late, and all we wanted to do was go to bed, so we’d be rested up for the next few days’ adventures. Ken went in the bathroom first to brush his teeth. When he came out, he said, “The water smells a little different.” I was like, “How different?” and he said, “Kind of like sulphur, but it’s not too bad.” Then I went into the bathroom and started running the hot water to wash my face. Suddenly, I was standing at the gates of the deepest part of hell, breathing in acrid fumes that smelled like someone had put a dozen hardboiled eggs in an airtight box and left them out in the hot sun. I called out to Ken, “I thought you said it wasn’t THAT bad! I’m dying here!!” Turns out the Iceland sits on top of a sh*tload of naturally scalding hotsprings which supplies 85% of the island with geothermic energy and hot water. The only downside is that it reeks. It clings to your skin for a good ten minutes after you shower, and it fills the air with what can only be described as “farts of death”. But it’s only the hot water—the cold water is just fine, and you can drink it straight from the tap. It tastes terrific and not like demonwater at all. But we didn’t know this at first, and we were really scared that there was a sewer line break or something, and that we’d end up with Icelandic dysentery. When we met our host the next morning, it was the first thing we asked him, and he explained that it was perfectly healthy and safe, finishing with, “You get used to the smell.” And it’s true—you do. In fact, it becomes kind of comforting and homey, like when your dog farts and you just look at him affectionately and say, “Oh Bowser, you’re so smelly, but I love you.” Plus, it might be nasty, but apparently the minerals in it are really good for your skin. Icelanders are EXTREMEMLY proud of their stinkwater and the best part is if YOU fart, you can blame it on the water, not the dog. Because your dog will NEVER smell that bad. It’s not everywhere you go though—some of the hotels must filter it out, which would account for the incredible cost (see question 3).

2) Will I be able to eat the food?

Well that depends on how hungry you are. Icelandic food is a little different. I don’t mean different like a little more spicy, or in a “using mayonnaise instead of ketchup on your fries” kind of way—I mean “pickled ram’s testicle” kind of different. I’m not a picky eater, but I have two problems that plague me when I travel: I can’t eat gluten (I have arthritis and it makes my joints swell) and I’m allergic to shellfish (I carry an epipen for that one). So any foreign country can pose a challenge, but I can usually find SOMETHING to eat. Iceland made it a little harder because not only do they have a LOT of seafood and bread on their menus, they feel compelled to weird it up. We finally found a restaurant in Reyjkavik called “Kol” where the menu had a couple of relatively straightforward items on it, and they brought warm bread up first. It came with some kind of spread, which was bright red and looked like pureed strawberries. Ken tried it and said, “It’s slightly sweet—try it and see if you can figure out what’s in it.” I thought it was supersalty and strange, then I got worried that maybe it had squid blood or something in it, so we asked the waitress. It was beet hummus. Why would anyone ruin perfectly good hummus by putting beets in it?! Maybe you like beets, but if you want to know how I feel about it, read My Week 48: Deathly Beets, and you’ll understand. And it’s not enough to serve your run-of-the-mill fish and meat. No, the Icelandic specialty is Minke Whale. I’m already unhappy enough that I’m not a vegetarian (screw you, bacon), but there’s no way I’m eating something that can carry on an actual conversation with another member of its species and is probably smarter than I am. Plus, don’t forget that I swam with dolphins last year, so I’m almost one of them. It would be like cannibalism.

But my favourite item had to be “Salted Cod and Deep Fried Cod Cheeks with Couscous, Carrot, Cumin, and Mussel.” Seriously, how many different aquatic forms of life do you need in ONE dish? And Cod Cheek? WTF is that? Do cods even HAVE cheeks? Wouldn’t they be really tiny and not even worth deepfrying? I know there are lots of people out there who LOVE eating talking animals, freaky vegetables, and baby sheep, and if so, then Iceland is the place for you. You weirdos. But if not, then there ARE restaurants that cater to the more timid among us, Our last night there, for example, we went to an awesome Thai place and the Massaman Chicken (yellow curry), Spring Rolls and Pineapple Fried Rice were fantastic.

Side note 1: Make sure you specify that you want your food cooked all the way through. Icelanders like to eat their fish “medium rare” and their beef while it’s still mooing. As we discovered.

Side note 2: Iceland is also supposed to be known for its fantastic hot dogs. I don’t know where this mythology developed or why. All I know is that we were all dying to try one, and when we did, they were simply pre-packaged boiled hotdogs, like any other storebought hotdog. Except they tasted kind of plastic-y. Oh well. They only cost $15 each (see question 3).

3) If I find something to eat, and it’s cooked properly, will I be able to afford it?

That depends. Did you win the lottery last week? Be warned—Iceland is unbelievably expensive, especially compared to Spain, which is often cheaper than Canada. At Kol, we had three main courses (two salmon, one steak), one glass of wine, one beer, and one milkshake. It totalled out at the equivalent of over $200 American. No appetizers—the asparagus spears that I wanted were $30—and no dessert. (Well, we got dessert but it was free to make up for the double recooking of my steak, which I had asked for to be cooked “medium” but kept being served bloody; dessert would have cost us another $60 otherwise). In comparison, on our last night in Seville, Ken and T each had homemade 14” pizzas, I had poutine with bacon and cheese, and we had wine and beer. The whole meal was not quite $25. Which is exactly what I paid for lunch at a cafeteria in Iceland which consisted of 5 meatballs, a scoop of rice, and a side of sweet potato cubes. Even the grocery stores are expensive when it comes to certain items. A block of regular cheese can run you 25 00 Krona (the Icelandic currency which makes you THINK you’re getting a lot for your money because of all the extra zeroes), which is just about $25, and a small bottle of Pepsi can run around 4 bucks depending where you are. Which just goes to show that it’s not about ripping off tourists—the cost of living there is just really high for EVERYONE.

And hotels? It’s enough to make you cry. One night’s stay at the Radisson in Reykjavik cost us $500 for a room that you might find in a Motel 6. It was the same amount that we paid for 3 nights in Spain for the three of us, or the same as one night in the most luxurious hotel in Canada. Check out Langdon Hall for a comparison. Our “hotel” near Hella was even worse. It was 43 km. on a gravel road to get to it, and when we arrived, there were three single cots; there was no TV, no wifi in the rooms, and no soap for the shower. I wouldn’t have cared if we weren’t expecting more for the price, but it was $425 for the night, and dinner at the restaurant there was $225 for three entrees, drinks, and two pieces of chocolate cake. A word to the wise—use AirBNB whenever you can, because it’s a lot cheaper than the hotels, and make sure your accommodation comes with a kitchen so you can cook your own meals and save a little that way.

hotel

4) Do Icelanders like tourists?

They seem to. But this tourism thing is pretty new to them, and they always seem slightly bemused by foreigners. It’s not obnoxious or mocking—it’s kind of charming, like they’re not entirely sure what to do with tourists, instead of taking advantage of us like other countries do. For example, most tourist attractions are free, and there are relatively few souvenir shops. The people are polite and pleasant, and almost everyone speaks English really well; in fact, they learn it in school. We were at a restaurant seated next to two elderly gentlemen—when they heard us talking, they struck up a conversation in almost fluent English with us. As Canadians, we felt very comfortable in a country that seems as friendly and polite as our own.

5) Will I have a good time?

Yes. If you appreciate beautiful scenery, unique geographic elements, and interesting things to do, then you absolutely will. It’s an amazing country. Even though I’m 50 years old and was still in recovery mode from surgery, I found myself compelled to clamber over rocks to walk behind waterfalls, hike for kilometres to touch a glacier, watch in amazement at geysers exploding (then run away when we realized the hot water was about to rain down on us), and make my way through lava fields just to touch the crystal clear water of a rushing stream. It’s a great country, and we now know how to explore it the next time without having to take out a second mortgage.

Now, here are some questions that are more particular to me:

5) Is there always that one guy who has to smoke?

Yes. You will find him at every tourist stop, standing in nature’s pristine beauty, blowing smoke into the crisp, clean air, then throwing his cigarette butt on the ground. He comes in all nationalities, shapes, and sizes, and he will annoy the hell out of you with his inability to get out of his car and NOT immediately light up.

6) If I go to a swimming pool, will someone steal my towel?

Yes. Believe it or not. This happened to us at the Blue Lagoon, the most popular tourist spot in Iceland. It’s a giant hot spring where the water is bright blue. It’s one of the few places we had to pay to visit and like everything else in Iceland, it was very expensive. The regular admission was $50 Euros (about $73) but we chose the “Comfort Package” for $75 Euros each (about $108), because it came with a rented towel. You couldn’t take your towels beyond the entry, where they had hooks and racks for them, but when we came out of the lagoon , both T’s and my towels were gone. Yes, someone jacked our $35 rented f*cking towels. The same thing happened to my brother at a public pool in Reykjavik. They had their OWN towels, and when they came out of the pool, they were all gone. He complained to the attendant, who just shrugged and said, “Yes, that happens a lot.” So maybe it’s better, and cheaper, to drip dry. Otherwise, I highly recommend the Blue Lagoon, which is superwarm and not too deep. They also give you silica mud to put on your face, and T used it to create a mustache, beard, and monocle, which made me laugh insanely, despite the theft of the towels.

7) What about those Icelandic men?

Every time we saw a guy wandering around, half-smiling and looking a little lost, you could bet he was Icelandic. A lot of men in Iceland seem perpetually baffled. By what, we were never sure, but it became a running joke with us. It started at the airport with an Icelandic man who wanted to bring two loose lacrosse sticks onto the plane with him, and seemed very confused when he was told he couldn’t. The female clerk gave him tape to wrap around them, and it took his whole family almost ten minutes to help him do it. From the airport to the city centres to the countryside, there were men who just randomly wandered around looking perplexed and a little helpless. Maybe in the same way that some women are said to have a “resting mean face”, Icelandic men have a resting “why am I here?” face. At any rate, they’re all very nice. Even if they don’t know where they are. You might not believe me about this, so go there and see for yourself. You’ll love it—if you can afford it.

NB: I didn’t say anything about Spain. Spain was as great as always, except hotter. If you want to know about Spain, you can read My Week 45: Adventures in Spain. It hasn’t changed:-)