Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks, Grocery Store Sincerity

Thursday: We try to teach Titus a new trick

Titus is a great dog. Sure, he has his flaws, like eating anything that’s remotely edible when your back is turned. Last month, our dog sitter came in and discovered that he had eaten most of a bag of loose lavender tea that I’d left on the counter. The week before, he’d opened up a box of Tootsie Roll-flavoured hot chocolate Keurig cups, then tore the foil off each one and ate all the powder inside them. For the next two day, his poo looked metallic and chocolate-y, all at the same time. After the tea incident, which didn’t seem to bother his stomach at all (well, it was organic), we started putting anything remotely food-like on the range hood above the stove. People come into our house and wonder why there’s chicken defrosting up there, or the fruit bowl is sitting on it, but at least it’s all safe. The one thing I’m eternally grateful for, though, is that he never eats his own poo. We had a yellow lab who used to do that, and it was disgusting. And kind of a weird circle of life—you eat what you poop and you poop what you eat? But enough about the poo. Actually there might be a bit more later—wait and see.

Anyway, Titus knows a lot of tricks. He’s pretty smart in his own goofy way–or maybe I should say astute and sneaky, based on some of his behaviour. Here are some examples of his regular, dog-like tricks as well as his more mercenary side:

1) He will sit if you ask him to. The duration of the actual sitting is, however, completely dependent on what else is happening at the time. For example, if someone interesting (OK, it doesn’t even have to be someone interesting, it just has to be SOMEONE) comes into the house, he gets very excited. You can ask him to sit, but his butt will graze the ground then he’s right back to licking the person’s pants. Which is NOT a trick. Just annoying. The same goes for when people are eating, people are drinking, squirrels on the lawn, birds are on the lawn, he’s in the car, he’s in the house, and most other occasions. Ironically, the only time he will sit completely still for as long as you want, is when you put his dinner bowl full of food down. He was trained somewhere along the way that he had to sit patiently until someone told him he could eat HIS OWN food. I make him do this for a second or two just to prove that he actually understands what sitting looks like. I’m sure he’s thinking, “Why am I f-ing sitting here? Yet I can’t seem to help it…” Who knows? But it’s cool that he will actually wait until I put the bowl down and get my hand out of the way of his teeth before he jumps in.

2) He will give you a high five if you ask for one. Technically, he’s “shaking a paw”, but he’s so uncoordinated that he just flails at you, and it actually ends up looking like a very awesome high five. Or it becomes a smack in the face if you’re dumb enough to lean down for it. Seriously, his paws are a menace. He jumped up on the bed the other night really enthusiastically, and punched me in the mouth. I’m pretty sure it was accidental, but then again, it could be his revenge for having to sit and wait to be told to eat his dinner.

3) He will NOT eat poo out of the cat’s litter box if you’re right there and tell him not to. We have two litter boxes—one in my upstairs bathroom and one in Ken’s downstairs bathroom. Why two litter boxes, you ask, when you only have one tiny little cat? Because she’s a total diva. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but she likes to pee downstairs in Ken’s bathroom and poop upstairs in mine. Is this affection or disdain? At any rate, if you are IN the bathroom, Titus will not eat anything out of the catbox. But he watches and waits for his opportunity. If you leave the bathroom and forget to hook the door closed, he will bide his time, waiting until the coast is clear, then run in for a “kitty treat”. Ken likes to torture him, by letting him “help” when it’s time to clean out the litter box. He stands there, looking so sad and deprived, as Ken scoops up the “treats”, ties them in a bag and puts them in the garbage. I’m sure Titus can’t understand why humans throw perfectly good food away—it must be like a starving person watching a restaurant throw perfectly good left-overs in a dumpster.

4) He has a wide vocabulary. He understands (but doesn’t always follow) commands like “Sit”, “Stay”, “Lie Down. I said LIE DOWN!!”, “Come here”, “Stop sniffing the cat’s bum,” and so on. He also knows dinner, supper, breakfast, treat, cookie, walk, car, up, down, bye-bye, go outside, go pee, and get the ball. In other words, he’s like a 100-pound toddler. He also seems to understand the relevance of “Titus, WTF?!” and “Get off my foot!”

But that brings me to the point of this story. If you say to Titus, “Get the toy”, he will get you a toy. It will, however, be a random toy, whichever is closest. So I’ve been trying to teach him to differentiate BETWEEN his toys, and it’s hard, let me tell you. He has a gigantic stuffed bull which is called “Moosey”, because the people we got him from thought it was a moose. It obviously has completely different horns, but Moosey works better than “Bully”. He also has a smaller stuffed pig, which, surprisingly, we call “Piggy”. I always feel like a character in Lord of the Flies when I tell him to get it, but it doesn’t have spectacles, so that’s OK (yes, a random literary reference, y’all). Finally, he has a sock. We call it “The Sock”. I was actually just telling my aunt about this and here’s the conversation:

Me: I want to teach him the word “sock”.
Aunt: What?
Me: Sock.
Aunt: You want him to learn the word f*ck?
Me: No, sock. SOCK. He already knows f*ck, obviously.

At any rate, I think it’s important that he knows the difference between his toys. Last night I tried SO hard. I kept showing him the sock, and saying the word “sock”, but he wasn’t getting it. But Ken pointed out that it was dinner time and he was super-distracted (Titus, not Ken), so he probably wasn’t paying attention to any of his toys. It just occurred to me now that you might be wondering WHY he has a sock for a toy. Is he a house elf from Harry Potter, you ask? No. It became his toy when his allergies got really bad and we had to tie it onto his paw with a pretty red ribbon to stop him from chewing it. He tore it off almost immediately, but then it became a beloved toy. He likes to carry it around. That makes it a toy. Don’t ask me—it’s dog logic. Plus, you can grab the end and play tug of war with him, which makes him ecstatically happy. So it’s a toy. And one day, he will know its name.
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Friday: I have a conversation with a grocery store cashier and realize she is TOTALLY humouring me.

Girl: HI. HOW ARE YOU TODAY?!
Me: I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
Girl: I’M SUPER!! GOSH, CAN YOUBELIEVE THIS WEATHER?!
Me: No, it’s raining so hard right now, and I forgot an umbrella.
Girl: GOSH! THAT’S SO BAD!! IT’S RAINING SOOOO HARD!!
Me: Do you sell umbrellas here?
Girl: I WISH! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS RAIN!!
Me: I know. My husband’s at a soccer game in Toronto—I hope he doesn’t get soaked.
Girl: ME TOO! POOR GUY! DO YOU HAVE AN AIRMILES CARD?
Me: I do. Here you are.
Girl: THANKS! DO YOU NEED A BAG???!!!
Me: Um…sure…one would be fine. (At this point, it dawns on me that she’s not actually as sincere as she seems. It could be because of the capital letters and exclamation marks.)
Girl: OK THEN!! HAVE A GREAT DAY!!

Afterwards, I remembered when I was that age and working at a pretty mundane job. The only way to get through the day sometimes was to become a little robotic. And that’s OK. She could have been really nasty or just plain bored or disinterested, I guess. As it was, for a few brief moments, I felt like she truly cared. Thanks, grocery store girl.

My Week 34: Ken Is Sometimes Right, and Frank The Stuffed Fish

Monday: I consider the times that Ken has been right about something

Last weekend, Ken and I had a heated “debate” over whether or not to put our gigantic potted hibiscus outside for the summer. I was sick of looking at its skeletal branches, and the accumulation of dead leaves that never seemed to disappear no matter how many times I swept around it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great hibiscus. Ken’s mom gave it to us years ago, and when it blooms in the summer, it’s beautiful. The rest of the year, though, it’s ‘dormant’, which is to say that it looks like it belongs on a compost heap. Anyway, last week, I was super-stressed about how messy the house was, and wanted to do some major spring cleaning, so I asked Ken to take the hibiscus outside to the courtyard, but he said NO, on the grounds that it was still too cold, and the weather was unpredictable. “It’s the middle of May,” I said. “It’s the long weekend. You’re being ridiculous. Put the damn hibiscus outside.” But he continued to refuse, telling me that we “could still get frost” because technically, the long weekend was early this year, blah, blah, blah, until I got very pissed off and announced that he was negating my feelings, to which he replied that I was negating the hibiscus or some nonsense like that. So the hibiscus remained in the house, not because I thought Ken was right but because the damn plant was too heavy for me to carry by myself; otherwise, it would have been out on its ass. Then on Tuesday, the weather network announced that the temperatures were going down, and we were in for frost on Wednesday. So Ken was right after all. He was very gracious about it, only stabbing his fingers triumphantly at me and yelling “HA! HA!” a few times over the course of the day.
This may seem like a strange reaction, but the truth is that sometimes Ken is ‘incorrect’ about things. Case in point: at our last house, we were suddenly invaded by beavers, who started damming up our creek. When I said that I thought we should pull down the dam so they would move on, Ken got really upset. “They’re a beautiful part of the natural world,” he said, and he spent many hours taking pictures of them and marvelling at the industrious way they were taking down our trees. Eventually, however, the dam was 40 feet wide, and the neighbours upstream were getting flooded out of their backyards, so instead of taking down a very small dam until they moved on to somewhere else, we had to hire someone at our own expense to blow it up and trap the beavers, who were quite numerous at this point. The guy we hired was very efficient, AND enthusiastic. He called me one afternoon and this was the conversation:

Beaver Guy: I got some beauties today! A huge one and some babies. You should bring your little boy to see them.
Me: Are they dangerous? Are they in cages or just running around?
Beaver Guy: Heck no! They’re dead!

Apparently, you can’t ‘relocate’ a huge colony of beavers, because the other beaver colonies get mad, and then you have beaver wars and such. Needless to say, I opted NOT to take my 3 year-old to see baby animal corpses. There are many, many other examples of Ken being obstinate and ‘incorrect’ with expensive and disastrous consequences, but I realized after the hibiscus incident, that sometimes he IS actually right about things, so here’s a list.

1) “You shouldn’t wear flip flops while you’re power-washing the bricks in the courtyard with a gas-powered sprayer. Seriously—put on some shoes.”

I scoffed at him when he said this, and assured him that I would be careful. What did he know, wussy that he was in his steel-toed work boots? Then I was in a tight corner, went to turn around, swiped the power wand accidentally over my toes, dropped to the ground and started screaming. Apparently, if it can take the dirt off a patio stone in a fraction of a second, it can also flay the skin off your toes almost down to the bone in the same amount of time. But he didn’t say ‘I told you so’, because he was too busy wiping my tears, gently cleaning the dirt out of my wounds, and reassuring the neighbours that I WASN’T dying.

2) “You don’t need a new car—we’ll just get snow tires.”

I’d never had snow tires in my life, and was a huge skeptic about them, believing that it was just a marketing ploy to make people buy extra tires that they didn’t actually need, as well as ugly rims that would ruin the look of my adorable sports car. But after sliding all over the road one day, and finding out that I could pay a little extra and have snow tires put on my awesome sports rims, I decided to try them. Ken was right. They work. Enough said.

3) “I don’t think the kids in this town are THAT well-supervised.”

This was in reference to the town where we have our cottage. I was going on about how happy the kids in town look, always laughing and playing together on their lawns.
“Their parents must take really good care of them—they seem so well-adjusted,” I remarked to Ken one day.
“Yeah,” he said, “except when they let them go out on the middle of the lake in small rowboats without life jackets and then the boat capsizes.”
“That’s only happened two times. Maybe three,” I said.
Then, I was driving home from the garden centre, and I saw this scene: a little boy, around 3 years old, lying on his stomach in the middle of the lawn, while an older boy, around 7 or 8, drove a full-sized John Deere front-end loader IN CIRCLES AROUND HIM. There were no adults in sight. But the kids WERE laughing in a very well-adjusted way.

4) “You need to slow down with the drinking.”

Ken doesn’t say this to me very often, since I’m pretty good at pacing myself, but when he DOES say it, I’ve learned to listen. Otherwise, I’m challenging people very aggressively to arm-wrestling contests, or calling people to find out if I was still dressed when they left my 40th birthday party.

5) “There are only 3 fish in that pond.”

Ken said this to me a couple of days ago, when I was looking in the pond and could only see three fish.
Me: No, there are four.
Ken: No, there are only three.
Me: Don’t be ridiculous. I told you yesterday that there were four. I saw them with my own eyes, all at the same time, while you were cleaning the pump.
Ken: Nope, just three.
Me: WHAT DID YOU DO?!

It turns out that the day before, when Ken was cleaning the pond pump, he happened to mention that the screen wasn’t on the pump. I told him he needed to find it and put it back on; otherwise, one of the fish could get sucked in and die. “That won’t happen,” said Ken, knowingly. So technically, being wrong about the pump made him right about the fish, which just might result in this one being cancelled out.
At any rate, he was right about the hibiscus, so this past Friday, when he finally took the damn thing outside, I didn’t scoff when he opened our big patio umbrella over the hibiscus, in a very motherly way, to protect it from any future frost or windburn.

Wednesday: I catch a fish

This past week, our town had “Large Item Pick-up”. I refer to this as “Big Junk Day”. It’s one of my favourite days of the year, aside from Christmas and birthdays, because it’s another day where you can give things to people and you can get free stuff yourself. Ken and T are NOT fans of driving around town, looking through piles of other peoples’ junk, but when there’s treasure to be had, I can be pretty manipulative. I convinced T that he needed to practice driving, so I made him take me to the gas station, then insisted that he turn right and go around the block before we went home. It wasn’t until I shouted, “Slow down here!” that he realized he was being played. “Wait a minute!” he said. “You just want me to drive you around so you can look at junk!” But we had already seen a couple of cool things, so when we got home, I convinced Ken to hook up the trailer, and we scored a china cabinet, some 2 x 8s, a vintage galvanized tub, and a garden bench. The next day, I was driving home and I saw ANOTHER china cabinet, so Ken agreed to take me down the road to get it. As we pulled up, a van pulled in behind us, kicking up gravel. Ken grabbed the china cabinet and started loading it, as young guy ran up. “Ahh, that was what I was here for,” he said sadly. You snooze; you lose, in junk-picker land, my friend. But then, he started going through a huge garbage bag and pulled out a stuffed, mounted fish. And it was awesome. I said, “You should take that—they’re very collectible,” but the guy put it back in the bag, and then drove away. Well, I thought about that fish all night, and the next day, on the way to pick up T from school, I saw its fin still sticking out of the bag. So I did what anyone would do—I pulled over and put it in the backseat. Then I was worried, because T has a habit of throwing open the back door and tossing his backpack in, and I didn’t want Frank to get hurt. This meant that as I stopped the car, I locked the door and yelled out the window, “Be careful! There’s a fish in the back!” T was with some of his friends, and they all looked kind of puzzled. Then he opened the car door, jumped back a bit and said, “Mom! What the hell!”

Me: What?
T: Why do you have a stuffed and mounted fish in the back of the car?!
Me: I found it. I’m going to sell it. His name is Frank.
T: NO ONE is going to buy a dead fish.
Me: Sure they will. Lots of people would LOVE to have a stuffed fish over their fireplace mantle.
T: Mom. Let me explain something to you. There are two types of people in this world. People who fish and DON’T hang what they catch over their mantelpiece, and people who fish and hang the fish they PERSONALLY CAUGHT over their mantelpiece. But no man should EVER mount another man’s fish….
Me: *snicker*
T: OK, yes, that sounded weird. But no one will buy it, I’m telling you.

Personally, I think T is wrong. And if you live in a small lake town which is short on taxidermists, you could very well want to mount that fish. (*snicker*)

My Week 33: Kayak Adventures and Air Miles

Sunday: We buy kayaks and I become obsessive

Last week, Ken and I bought kayaks. We’ve wanted kayaks for a very long time, since last year actually, after we got a canoe for $25. This might seem like a weird connection, but here’s what happened. Ken was buying a bowling alley floor from a guy in Cambridge (it was cut into 4 x 4 sections and we were going to use it for the floor of our barn, which we were in the process of converting into an shop for our antique business. It came from a bowling alley that I used to go to go to as a child, and it looks very cool, thanks for asking). Anyway, as he was loading up the flooring, he noticed that the guy had a 3-seater canoe on his lawn, so he asked him why it was just sitting out there. The guy said he was going to put it at the side of the road because no one in his family used it anymore. Thinking quickly, Ken told him he’d give him $25 if he DIDN’T put it at the side of the road, but waited for Ken to come back later, and he agreed. Ken’s smart like that. So we got a really cheap canoe. We were worried that it might have a hole or something and sink the second it went in the water, but for $25 it was a chance we were willing to take. When I was a kid, I went canoeing quite a few times with my dad and brother (Mom, I totally get why you wouldn’t come with us now), and I really enjoyed it, so I was thrilled at the thought of Ken, T, and me quietly paddling down an idyllic river, the still water parting for us with tiny ripples. Yeah, right. So we bought lifejackets (I already had paddles—I had a collection which stood in the corner of my office for years, and while Ken mocked them regularly, I got my own back when I pointed out that I was just “planning ahead”), and we took everything down to the mouth of the Otter Creek. Ken got into the canoe first, to steady it for me. I had a moment of doubt right as I was stepping in, and as I sat down, the canoe starting tipping from one side to the other, which turned my doubt into mild panic. Then it was T’s turn to get in, and the tipping turned into rocking. I was starting to feel REALLY anxious, and then we all realized that we were all facing the wrong way, and had to all turn around. At this point, I think I was making very quiet, keening sounds under my breath, kind of like “Ummmm….unnnnng….uhhhh”, but we all managed to turn around without capsizing. As we pulled away from shore though, my mild panic turned into full-fledged freaked-outedness, as the canoe bobbed from side to side with every slight movement, threatening to toss us all out into the mighty Otter at any moment. The “under my breath” sounds became A LOT louder, and I started to hyperventilate. At this point, Ken said, “Are you OK?” because he was behind me and couldn’t see how petrified I was. Then he realized I was shaking, and they took me back to shore before I had a total breakdown. I spent the rest of the afternoon de-stressing on the deck, until Ken called me to bring the truck and trailer down to the launch to pick him and T up.

But I’m no quitter, not by a long shot. When I told people about my experience, everyone said, “Oh, you should totally get a kayak. They’re much better and not as tippy.” I took this advice to heart and convinced Ken that we should get kayaks. I’d been watching the Canadian Tire flyers for weeks, waiting for a sale, and last week, they dropped the price on their “entry-level” kayaks by $100 apiece, making them very reasonable. So I called Ken from Toronto, and we agreed (after he refused to take time off work and go first thing in the morning because he’s just mean) that we would get them the next night when I got home from Toronto. I was worried that they’d all be sold out, but luckily we were able to get one for each of us. Then the problems started. Our neighbour in Port Burwell had had his kayaks stolen from behind his cottage, where they were CHAINED UP, so how were we supposed to retain possession of ours when they were just either sitting on our trailer or lying on our lawn? Ken didn’t share my fear of kayak thieves, which just made things worse, because he insisted on driving places with them, and leaving them unattended while we did stuff like grocery shopping or going to restaurants. And there they were, in the trailer, like shining blue beacons of adventure-ness, secured only by a rope and a couple of knots. Here’s a sample of one of the MANY conversations we had about the kayaks:

Me: We can’t just GO into Staples. We have the kayaks on the trailer. Someone could take them.
Ken: No one’s going to take them. It’s broad daylight.
Me: Some of these people look really sketchy. Don’t park next to the guy with the pick-up truck!!
Ken: Right. Because he’s going to untie the kayaks, put them in his truck, and drive away BEFORE we come back out.
Me: He looks like he enjoys water sports…What about those guys over there?
Ken: They have bicycles. What do you think, they’re going to tie them onto their bikes like a pontoon?
Me: It could happen. Stop mocking me.

You can replace the word “Staples” with “Zehrs”, “Canadian Tire”, the gluten-free bakery in Paris, and the Lighthouse Restaurant in Port Burwell, because we dragged that trailer around with us for a few days before we even put the kayaks into the water. Despite my worries though, no one stole off with them in the night. Or in the parking lot. Then on the weekend, we finally had the chance to try them out. We took them down to the same fateful spot that our canoe adventure had started, and ended, from, and carried them to the water. Once again, Ken steadied my kayak so I could get in. It wobbled from side to side and I sat there, feeling panic rising again. While Ken was getting himself sorted out, though, I tried a few hesitant manoeuvres, and started to feel more balanced. As I turned around to tell Ken I thought this might be OK, he stepped into his kayak. As he started to settle himself into the seat, the kayak wobbled one way—he tried to re-balance but overcompensated, and TIPPED HIMSELF RIGHT INTO THE CREEK. I yelled, “Oh sh*t! Ken!” but all he could do was flail around in the water, his hands on the creek bottom, trying to extricate himself from the kayak shouting, “Cold!! So cold!!” as he struggled to stand up (luckily, we were only in about two feet of water at the time). Thankfully, he had put his wallet, cell phone, and camera into a ziplock bag, but it was now floating downstream along with his paddle. “Get the bag and the paddle!” he cried, and I was like, “Me? You’re kidding, right?” I had just seen my beloved husband, who was MUCH better than me at both watersports and balancing, dump himself into a freezing creek—how was I supposed to start chasing down his stuff if it meant having to lean over the side of the kayak to get them? But then my desire to get a picture of all this chaos outweighed my fear, and I needed his camera to do that. (See, I had had no doubt that I was going to be the one who ended up in the creek, so I left MY wallet and cellphone in the truck, just in case). Anyway, he managed to get upright, and pulled his kayak out of the water. Then there was the problem of DRAINING the kayak, which was full of water. Well, I guess people must capsize this particular brand of kayak A LOT because we discovered that there was a plug in the prow, specifically designed for draining. But there was a silver lining to all of this, because while I was waiting for Ken to recover, and get all the water out of his kayak, I had a chance to paddle around and get more comfortable. Then, ironically, for the rest of the trip, it was me who kept saying to Ken, “Are you OK? Are you feeling better now?” and HE was the one who was shaking a bit—from the cold water, of course. Halfway down the Otter Creek, I felt like a pro–until a motor boat raced by us. But that’s another story.

Friday: I have a chat with an Air Miles representative

Air Miles are stupid. We’ve been collecting them for YEARS and we’ve never been able to go anywhere with them. As of right now, I don’t even have enough for a bus ticket to Kitchener. Then a new grocery store opened in a nearby town, and they give you Air Miles which can be converted into cash for groceries. When I told Ken, he tried to have our existing multitude of Air Miles transferred, but they wouldn’t let us do that. So what do I do with these stupid Air Miles? I went on their website and it was more than useless, other than to tell me that I could buy a Montblanc fountain pen for 5,000 Air miles and $125 dollars cash. Not a great deal. And I couldn’t find anywhere where it said I could get a gift card. I figured that since Rona gives you Air Miles, you MUST be able to get gift cards for there, and I had a plan for a new garden. Then I saw the Live Chat function and figured that would be easier than trying to navigate their equally stupid website. I clicked on Have a Live Chat with an Agent, and waited. Then “Stephen” came on-line.

“Hello Ken. How can I help?” I loved it. This guy thought I was Ken, and he had no way of knowing that I wasn’t. I could do ANYTHING I wanted. I explained my issue about the gift cards to him, and the notification came up that he “was typing.” Then he typed this: “Ken, I hear you.” And it kind of freaked me out. Was Stephen trying to be hip and cool, or like, comfort me or something? Then he told me he had some good news and bad news for me, and proceeded to give me some gobbledy-goop about how they’ve discontinued their gift cards etc., but I really wasn’t paying attention because all I could think about was what if he COULD hear me? What if it wasn’t a platitude, but a WARNING?!

Obviously this was a real concern, and at the end of the chat, I thanked him for the help, then asked, “By the way, can you really hear me? Because I just swore at my cat.” I didn’t really, but it occurred to me that I needed a way to verify his eavesdropping abilities. Plus, he thought I was Ken, so I was in the clear as far as any Humane Society action went. His reply, though, was, “No, I can’t Ken. Just don’t hurt your cat,” and I had a moment of terrible guilt that I had just implicated Ken in a cat abuse scandal, but then Stephen added a smiley face, which made me feel better, and more secure in the knowledge that the Air Miles people couldn’t ACTUALLY hear what went on in my house. So I responded with “Don’t worry, I won’t. She’s actually very sweet aside from peeing on my bathmat instead of her litter box which is RIGHT BESIDE the bathmat.” This is actually true, and DOES make me swear at her on occasion because it’s just illogical, and shows that she has a perversely malicious streak that no one else knows about. But he just responded with “Okay. Is there anything else I can help with Ken?” because I guess his cat empathy had reached its limit. I typed in “No, but I appreciate the help”, then he said, “Thanks for connecting with me via chat,” only for a second I thought he said via “CAT” and I started to laugh really hard. Air Miles. They might be stupid, but their reps are pretty clever.

My Week 32: Cold Dumbness and Weird Food Choices

Monday: I have a cold and it makes me stupid

Last weekend, I got a cold. Not a terrible cold, just one of those mild head colds that makes you more annoyed than anything. I was congested and my nose felt like someone was rubbing it with sandpaper, but other than that, I felt OK. The problem is that I have different reactions to being sick, depending on the severity of the illness. When I’m really sick, I get extremely grumpy, and have been known to yell at the TV or swear at random items in my medicine cabinet. But that’s OK, because when you’re really sick, you get to stay home in bed, and no one really knows how pissed off at the world you are. But when I’m just a little sick, I become significantly less intelligent than I usually am, and because I’m not sick enough to stay home in bed, EVERYONE knows how dumb I can be. Here are some examples of things that happened on Monday, which prove that colds make me stupid:

First thing on Monday morning, we were having a team meeting because we were going to be spending the next few days at our warehouse. One of my colleagues turned to me and said, “I’d really like to have my laptop with me tomorrow, but I rode my bike to work so I can’t take it home with me. Can I put it in your car?” This seems like a completely straightforward request now, but on Monday, I was having problems with pronouns apparently, because my response was “Um…my car’s a little small. You’ve seen my car—do you really think it will fit?” She looked at me with a mix of confusion and concern, and replied, “I’m pretty sure it will” to which I said, “Does it, like, fold down or something?” And bear in mind, we’re still in a meeting and at this point everyone else is listening to the conversation. When she answered, “Does my laptop fold down?” like she couldn’t believe I’d just asked that, I had a sudden revelation that the “it” in her request did not in fact refer to her bicycle, and that she wanted me to put her laptop in my car, NOT her bicycle. Which makes total sense in retrospect, because why the hell would she want her bicycle at the warehouse? We’re not even allowed to wear open-toed shoes there, so I’m guessing that riding your bike up and down the aisles is off-limits too. Anyway, all I could say was, “Oh wait–I’m so sorry! I thought we were talking about your bike. I’m having kind of a dumb moment. Of course I can put your laptop in my car today and take it to the warehouse for you tomorrow.” Then we all had a good laugh over what I thought was going to be a single occurrence of unintelligentness in a day full of shining smartness. Little did I know that I was going to being owning a lot of dumb moments that day.

Later that morning, my manager asked me if I was able to do something, and I said Yes, and explained what I thought was the process to her (because I’ve only been working there for a couple of months). She said, “Wow—you sound like you’ve worked here for two years already,” and without missing a beat, I said, “That’s because I’m really stuffed up right now.” She looked at me quizzically, smiled and said, “No, I meant that you sounded like you really know what you’re doing.” Then I was like, “Oh, thanks!” because she was complimenting me, but then later I realized that in her second statement she’d said SOUNDED, past tense, and that my bizarre response might very well have cancelled out the first statement.

Things got progressively worse in the afternoon, when we were told to change our voicemail greetings so people who called would know we were out of the office for a while. I’d never actually done this before, mostly because no one ever calls me. The only time my phone has ever rung was when an elderly gentleman pocket-dialed me. We did have a very nice conversation though—apparently this wasn’t the first time he had accidently butt-called someone and he was starting to think he should carry his cellphone in another pocket. Anyway, I asked a co-worker to show me how to change my greeting. I should let you know that I’m not very good at speaking under pressure, so I was already worried about the possibility of screwing up my greeting a couple of times before I got it right, and I needed to be very clear about the steps involved in case I had to do it more than once. We went over to my desk, and we were just about to try the phone when two terrible things happened. I felt an uncontrollable sneeze coming on, so I grabbed for a tissue, but my timing and my aim were off, and instead of sneezing into the Kleenex, I sneezed ON MY CO-WORKER. That was the first terrible thing. The second terrible thing was that, as I started apologizing, I began LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY. And while I WAS sincerely sorry, I think my sincerity was thrown into question by the tears of laughter streaming down my face. My co-worker went to wash off, then like a trooper, came back to help me with my phone. By this time, I had calmed down and realized that my reaction was pretty inappropriate, and that last week, when a random stranger sneezed on me at a conference centre, I didn’t find it very funny at all. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure as the sneez-er, I was laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing (in fact, I’m still snickering about it right now because I’m a terrible, terrible person), but as the sneez-ee, it’s just gross and pretty unfunny, and I totally get that. Luckily, I work with very forgiving people. Then, I tried to record my voicemail greeting, and it went something like this—“You have…This is…oh shit (sound of phone slamming down).” After two more tries, I told my co-worker that I should probably just do it on my own, and I think we were both happy that the ordeal, and the day, was finally over.

Thursday: I question people’s eating habits

When I was quite young, my family went overseas to visit my grandparents. We’d just gotten off the plane and we were tired, jet-lagged, and hungry. When my grandmother served us lunch, it looked really weird. I was a very picky kid, so I asked my mother what was on my plate. She gave it a funny look, but said, “Corned beef”. So I started eating it, but it tasted really gross. Turned out that it wasn’t corned beef—it was beef TONGUE. Which leads to the question—of all the parts of a cow that you could actually eat and enjoy, why the hell would you deliberately pick the tongue?! I mean DELIBERATELY? Like, I could see if you were starving and you’d already eaten the rest of the cow, and the only thing left was the tongue, and you were looking at it like, “This is going to kill me but I really don’t have a choice.” THAT I can understand. But to eat it on purpose? I don’t get that. The other night, I was out for dinner with friends to this new restaurant whose claim to fame is that all their food is burned. For example, on the appetizer list was Burnt Ends of Beef Brisket with Dipping Sauce. Hey, for $15 you can come to my house anytime and Ken can do that on the barbeque for you. (Without intending to, of course. He can also burn you a hot dog, a sausage, a steak, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza, depending on what you’re craving. He makes excellent tacos and fajitas though, and he’s a great baker). Anyway, I had ordered the Pit-Fired Pork Tacos, but one of my dinner companions ordered this: Scallops and Veal Tongue. Now, I need to say up front that I am nowhere near being a vegetarian. I totally respect people who are, but personally, I love a diet complete with non-vegetable-y components. My favourite thing to eat is a filet mignon wrapped in bacon. To me, that’s the best of both meat worlds. But I draw the line at baby animals. I think they should at least get a chance to cavort a little in the fields before they end up on someone’s plate. So I don’t eat lamb, and I sure as hell don’t eat veal. And not only was this veal, but it was baby cow TONGUES. When it came, there were three on the plate, but my friend clarified for me that only one baby cow had been killed to make his dinner because it was three slices of the same tongue. Cuz that made it better. But then, I started to wonder how it came about that we eat certain things. Like, who was the first person who said, “You know guys, I feel like we’re really wasting some good food here by not eating this cow tongue.” Or how many times did someone try to eat rhubarb before people found out that you can eat the stalks but the leaves are poison? That’s what I call trial and error. Then there were the Elizabethans, who believed that tomatoes were poisonous, and they used them to throw at people instead of putting them in salad. Then again, they also believed that women who lived alone had to be witches, and to prove if someone was a witch, they would throw her in a lake. If she sank, she was innocent, and if she floated, she was demonic. So, drowned or burned at the stake, take your pick. But people have all kinds of weird food preferences. Me, I don’t eat gluten for a variety of reasons, and sometimes I get criticized for it, but as I always remind people, Wheat Is Murder. Anyway, the bottom line is this: don’t eat babies, and don’t eat things that lick other things. Words to live by, I’d say.

My Week 31 – Exercise Peer Pressure and Extreme Clumsiness

Tuesday: I experience exercise peer pressure

I know that a lot of offices have group obsessions: some are fixated on a certain TV show, like Game of Thrones or Survivor (mostly because a lot of offices FUNCTION like Game of Thrones or Survivor, where they’re constantly trying to either stab each other in the back for control over Westeros or vote each other off the island), some have football/basketball/bowling pools where they discuss results ad nauseum, and some are relentless in their discussions about certain kinds of special diets and recipe swapping. I was never very much interested in any of these types of group activities, and I find myself in the same boat yet again. My new colleagues are lovely people, a highly professional and somewhat esoteric group, who don’t watch a lot of TV, don’t follow sports, and aren’t really the “recipe-swapping” type. But they DO have a group obsession, and unfortunately for me, it’s EXERCISE. These people exercise ALL THE TIME. They talk about exercise, they have fitness plans, they are the most physically fit people I have ever met. It puts me to shame. I have to tell you right up front that I don’t exercise. EVER. My idea of exercising is getting off the couch at a commercial break, walking to the refrigerator, and pouring another glass of wine. The closest I ever came to having an actual fitness plan was once, a few years ago, I bought a recumbent cycle. It’s the kind of exercise cycle where you can sit in a comfortable reclining position while your feet do all the work. So it’s like walking fast, but the rest of your body gets to take a break. Awesome. And the best part is that you can drink while you do it. It was the most relaxing fitness plan ever—I would pour a glass of wine, sit in my lazyboy/exercise machine and peddle away until I had burned off enough calories to offset the wine. After a while, the machine broke (I may or may not have spilled some Chardonnay on the control panel), and I moved on to a more satisfactory level of exercise, which is to say none at all.

But now I feel the peer pressure of working with people who LOVE to exercise. They all have these electronic wristband things that tell them how many steps they’ve taken in one day. How many STEPS, you heard me. Last week, after walking the perimeter of the conference centre where we were working in order to discuss plans for the day, my colleague cheerfully announced that we had just put in 3, 000 steps. I was like, whuh? And she explained that her goal was to reach 10,000 steps each day so now she only had 7, 000 to go. I wanted to ask if there was like a medal or some chocolate as a prize, because I would be all over that, but from what I gathered, it’s simply an intrinsically motivated goal, which is to say, THERE IS NO PRIZE AT ALL. Then the other day we were sitting at lunch, and they were all sharing their plans for later. One person was going to Zumba class (I thought Zumba was the name of the elephant in A Jungle Book, but apparently it’s some kind of weird Latin fusion/cardio/dance thing). Another person was going to Aquafit, which is exercise that takes place in the water. I call this “having a vigourous bath”, but apparently Aquafit is also a cardio thing for people who need low impact exercise, having blown out their knee last year doing extreme yoga. EXTREME YOGA? WTF? I can’t even sit cross-legged anymore, never mind “extreme” cross-legged sitting. Someone else was taking tennis lessons, and was gearing up for a sweaty evening on the court. The last person was “going for a run” because she needed to get back into shape for the company marathon next month. (Who in their right mind “goes for a run”? The only time I run is if something is chasing me). Then they all started reminiscing about other types of classes they had taken in the past, sharing war stories about step class, and crazy instructors who went too fast or were too demanding, and so on. Then there was a lull in the conversation, and they all looked at me expectantly. What was I going to say—“I don’t eat a lot and I have a high metabolism?” So I smiled nervously, stopped eating my cheesecake and said, “Does anyone have a good recipe for quinoa?”

Friday: I have a very uncoordinated week

I’m not usually a clumsy person—when I was a kid, I hardly ever skinned my knee or fell off things. Up to now, I’ve only broken two small bones: My baby finger, which cracked when I was on our Grade 8 trip to Ottawa and, unchaperoned, we were chasing each other in the halls—I had almost caught a very cute male classmate when he stopped suddenly and I jammed my finger into his back which caused it to snap at the base. It went numb but looked so weird and bendy that I started freaking out. All the teachers had been partying and they basically drew straws to see who had to take me to the hospital, which made me feel very special and loved. The second bone was a toe. One night when T was a baby, he woke up screaming for some reason. I panicked because he wasn`t normally a screamer, so I went running towards the bedroom door WITHOUT my glasses. Unfortunately, I am literally as blind as a bat but without the benefit of sonar, so I slammed into the doorframe foot first. Someone close to me joked that it`s lucky my feet are so big or I would have broken my nose. Ha Ha, Dad. But it`s actually true, and instead of my nose, it was the second toe on my left foot. I ended up in T`s room, crying and bleeding and trying to comfort him while Ken went to get ice and offered to take me to the hospital, which DID make me feel very special and loved, even though I was in a lot of pain.

But lately, I`ve gotten very klutzy. Aside from walking into, or cracking my knee on about 5 different tables, and ending up with brightly coloured bruises on my legs, I`ve also experienced the following acts of uncoordinated-ness:

• Over the course of the week, I dropped 3 hand-held computers, called PDAs, on the concrete floor. We use these devices to input data, and they are currently VITAL to our work. But they are all about 15 years old, with technology that`s fairly obsolete, and batteries that need to be switched on the hour. They really are on their last legs, which is why dropping one makes everyone around you gasp. The first two I dropped out of sheer lack of fine motor skills—you have to turn them one way to scan a barcode, then the other way to input data, and I just can`t seem to master that very basic skill. The third time, I dropped it because a colleague came up behind me and startled me, causing me to jump three feet and toss the PDA into the air, where it landed on the concrete to the horror of all around me. Luckily these things have extremely durable casings, or, as one colleague quipped, I would be personally responsible for the whole system crashing.

• On Tuesday, we brought in lunch from a taco place. The next morning I went to put on my ID badge, and it had a big, gross-looking blotch on it. It also smelled like garlic and spices. When I looked more closely, I realized that there was chunk of tomato wedged in between the front and back of the two pieces of paper. How the hell did I manage to drop a piece of tomato INSIDE my ID badge? God only knows, but I had to take the thing apart, and cut the stain out because it was so nasty-looking. And smelling. I really liked my ID badge, too—I was going to keep it as a souvenir of my very cool new job, but now it’s just a symbol of my slobbiness. Sigh.

• On Thursday, we went to a sushi restaurant for lunch. While I didn’t spill anything on myself, I DID walk headfirst into the neon OPEN sign in the doorway. Technically, this wasn’t my fault. My much tinier colleague went out the wrong door, and I blindly followed, not paying much attention, until WHACK! She had managed to walk under the sign, but me being taller, and oblivious to my surroundings, walked straight into it, headfirst. I didn’t realize what had happened for a minute, until I saw the sign swinging dangerously and flickering, felt my head start to hurt and put two and two together. Luckily, it didn’t break—who knows how much those things cost to replace? More than a PDA, I’ll bet.

• Friday was the ultimate in klutziness. First, I managed to get myself all tangled up in Scotch tape 4 times, while trying to label boxes to go back to our office, until I finally gave up and stapled the labels on. This is why Ken does most of our Christmas wrapping. Anyone who knows me well has had the experience of receiving a gift that looks like it was wrapped by a 5 year-old. It’s not that I don’t care, I just figure the gift inside is more important than the crazy tape job holding the whole thing together. I had a friend once who used to iron tissue paper so that when she re-used it, it still looked crisp and neat. I, on the other hand, have been known to use whatever crumply shreds of tissue paper I can find, stuffed into a gift bag that may or may not represent the occasion (ie a Christmas bag at birthday time). You can very easily convert a Christmas bag into a birthday bag by using a Sharpie to draw strings on the ornaments, thereby turning them into balloons. Huzzah!
The final crazy thing that happened on Friday was in a bathroom stall. I had hung my purse on the hook on the back of the door, which was lucky, because when I went to stand up, I lost my balance and went face first into my purse. I say lucky because I would much rather do a faceplant into a handbag than a hook. Maybe all this clumsiness is a sign that I should exercise more. Or maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t—can you imagine what trouble I’d get into trying to do Zumba?