My Week 61: Elf on a Shelf Rant, Titus and I watch the National Dog Show

Wednesday: I worry about the implications of the Elf on a Shelf

On Wednesday at work, we were talking about the upcoming holiday season, and a couple of people referenced the newest Christmas ‘tradition’—the Elf on a Shelf. This merry little fellow is a posable doll, dressed in a red and white elf costume, which can offer hours of fun for parents, and apparently hours of terror for children. Every morning, the child will get up and find the elf in a new position, having done something clever or naughty during the night. And during the day, there is the reminder that the elf is “watching over you” from somewhere in the house. This, from what I gathered, allows parents to apply leverage to their little ones ie: “You’d better behave—Marcel (or whatever name the parents give the tiny spy) is keeping an eye on you, and if you don’t stop poking your sister, he’ll tell Santa in his daily report!” While this may sound cute and festive on the surface, it has really insidious undertones. Isn’t it bad enough that “Santa” already knows when you’ve been “bad or good”, sees you when you’re sleeping, and knows when you’re awake? At least Santa is at the North Pole, and might be too busy to constantly monitor whether or not you snuck a green bean to the dog. But now, there’s a creeper in your own home, who stalks you every minute of the day and reports back to the Big Guy for even minor infractions like colouring outside the lines or drinking straight from the bottle or whatever. And there are hundreds of websites devoted to sharing things that people can do with their elves. I took a look at some of them and here are the more disturbing places that the Elf on a Shelf can be found. I’m not making this sh*t up—they’re all true:

1) In a Nativity Scene: These irreverent parents replaced the baby Jesus with their elf, named DJ. He towers over all the other figures like a jolly, stocking-capped god. The shepherds look terrified, and the Wise Men look pissed off, like “We came all this way for that?” Mary just looks confused.

2) Trussed up in a toilet paper roll, wrists tied together, and hanging from the shower curtain rod, having been gagged with what looks like his own collar. This might be the first clue that your parents don’t really like the Elf on a Shelf—or that they’re serial killers.

3) Lying in a drunken stupor on top of a picture frame, after having used black marker to draw devil horns and tails on a family portrait. What kind of behaviour are you trying to role model here? Satan worship or vandalism? And then you wonder why, ten years later, your teenager is playing records backwards and spray painting the neighbour’s fence with pentagrams.

4) Reading the Bible: Not that reading the Bible is disturbing, but it kind of sends a mixed message. Does God have elves or angels? Plus it adds another layer to the paranoia you’re creating in your child. Now the little tyke is being watched by the Elf, Santa, and GOD. I would just lock myself in my room and never come out.

5) In the hot tub, with three Barbie Dolls: He looks REALLY happy. Maybe because all the Barbies’ hands are under the marshmallow water. “Daddy, what are all those ladies doing to Buddy?” “Don’t worry, honey—they’re just jingling his sleigh bells.”

There also seem to be a lot of pictures of the elf defacing walls with crayon, gorging on maple syrup and candy, writing on mirrors, squeezing out toothpaste all over the counter, and writing messages in spilled hot chocolate powder, which makes me think that parents are having way more fun with the Elf than their kids are. Sure, sure, I know that kids get really excited about ANYTHING to do with Christmas, and probably get a kick out of the Elf to a certain extent, but it’s all just a little too Orwellian for me, like the Thought Police have invaded Christmastown. If we really want to draw an analogy to 1984, then Santa is Big Brother, the Elf on a shelf is O’Brien, your child is Winston Smith, and your house is the Ministry of Love (which sounds like a very nice place, but that’s where all the torture-y stuff happened, in case you never read the book). Do you really want your children to wake up Christmas morning chanting, “2+2=5”? Santa was always good enough for me, cuz I loved Big Brother. Also, my other worry is that we’re another step down the road to abandoning any actual meaning for ANY celebration, and eventually we’ll just blend Hallowe’en, Black Friday, and Christmas all together into a new festival called “Overconsumption”, where adults wearing elf costumes fight to the death in a two-month long tournament to win candy, toys, flat screen TVs and vegetable steamers for their kids. Overall though, I guess if you want to do the Elf on the Shelf thing with your kids, play up the fun, and tone down the fascism. And the sex. That’s my advice.

(As a side note, I would never have an Elf, but I DO have “Sock Monkey in the Wine Frig”. His only job is to make sure no one steals my wine.)

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Friday: Titus and I make fun of the National Dog Show

Titus: Watcha doin’?
Me: Watching the National Dog Show.
Titus: Cool. (jumps up on bed) So what’s going on?
Me: It’s the Working Dogs right now.
Titus: (snorts derisively) Right.
Me: What?
Titus: That dog never worked a day in his life. His paws look all soft.
Me: And you’re Mr. Blue Collar? When was the last time YOU did any work?
Titus: Excuse me? Just yesterday, you were all like, “Where’s the Piggy, Titus? Can you find the Piggy?” And I DID. I AM a Retriever, you know. It was hard work. That pig was like all the way upstairs in the guest room.
Me: Yes, because that’s where you left it. Now be quiet so I can watch this. It’s the –
Titus: Holy sh*t, that dog has dreadlocks! WTF?!! Is that even REAL?
Me: Yes, Titus, it’s a Komondor, a real dog.
Titus: A “Commodore”? What, like Lionel Ritchie’s dog or something?
Me: Yes, that dog belongs to Lionel Ritchie. Obviously. Now stop talking—it’s the Toy category now.
Titus: I can see why they call them “Toys”. None of those dogs are real either. That one looks like a cotton ball blew up in the microwave, that one looks like Raven coughed it up, and that one is like something out of a Japanese anime cartoon. You want to see a real dog? THIS is what a real dog looks like. Check me out.
Me: Oh my god (averts eyes). What the hell is wrong with you?
Titus: Real dog. Right here, baby.
classy Titus

My Week 60: Facebook Quizzes

Thursday: Facebook doesn’t know me at all.

Have you noticed the increasing proliferation of bizarre Facebook quizzes that purport to identify different aspects of your personality with absolute accuracy? While they are, for the most part, as generic as horoscopes in telling you about what kind of person you are, they are getting more and more desperate for new topics. At first, it was TV characters, like “Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?” or “Which Bond Girl Are You Most Like?” Respectively, I got Arya Stark, and Xenia Onatopp, former Soviet fighter pilot and top assassin. This was very disappointing—I really wanted Daenerys Targaryen, Mother Of F*cking Dragons instead of a whiny little kid who makes lists about who she wants to kill instead of getting revenge by setting people on fire or getting her badass husband to pour molten gold on their heads. Also, I would have preferred Kissy Suzuki, the badass Ninja Bond Girl. Still, it was better than some of the other choices, for example Chew Mee, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, or Pussy Galore. Seriously, am I the only one who thinks that female characters in James Bond movies are named by giggly 12 year-old boys?

“Hey Danny, why don’t we name the new Bond Girl ‘Perky McBoobs’?”
“Oh my God, dude–hee hee hee–that’s AWESOME!!”
“And we’ll call the new Bond Villain ‘Dick Wanker!”
“SHHH! Here comes my mom!”

And then they high-five each other and eat cheesies. Yep, that’s how Bond characters are named. Anyway, I’ve been doing these quizzes for a while, and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. First, Facebook doesn’t know me at all. In the last few weeks, I’ve been told that my age is 24, that I will have a baby in the very near future (much to Ken’s and my collective shock), and that my favourite food is ice cream. Let me just clarify—I’m double that age, the only “baby” I currently want comes from either Tiffany’s or the Humane Society, and I HATE ice cream with a passion. I don’t want to embark on a rant, but why the hell would I want to eat something so cold that I can’t taste it? How can Facebook claim to know me if it doesn’t realize my favourite food is steak wrapped in bacon?! Which, to anyone who is not a vegetarian, is known as ‘Nature’s Perfect Food’? And now, I’m totally distracted by the thought of bacon-wrapped steak, and will have to put writing this criticism of Facebook quizzes on hold while I go to the grocery store. Well played, Facebook.

Ok, I’m back. To continue, not only are these quizzes seldom accurate, the path to arriving at a conclusion has become so random and convoluted that I swear Facebook is just making this sh*t up. Case in point: I recently took a Facebook quiz called “Which Philosopher Are You?” It sounded a little more up-scale than “Which Kardashian Sister Are You?”, so I thought I’d give it a whirl:

Question 1: What is the most overrated virtue? Ok, well this sounded somewhat philosophical. There were several options, including Honesty, Faith, and Courage, but I went with Chastity on the grounds that IT’S STUPID. That, friends, is an example of empirical reasoning. Yep, I would definitely have made a great philosopher.

Question 2: Pick a Desperate Housewife. I had NO idea who any of these women were. Would a philosopher actually watch this dreck in the first place? Again, I used my powers of mad logic, and chose a woman whose name began with ‘A’, because ‘A’ is the first letter of the alphabet. And the cool thing was that her last name began with ‘B’. Angie Bolen. A totally logical choice, even if I had no f*cking clue who she was.

Question 3: Vegetarians are…. There were several choices, mostly negative, like ‘Missing out’, ‘Annoying’, or ‘More moral than you’. I chose ‘Probably right’; the fact is, I would BE a vegetarian if it wasn’t for the whole ‘steak wrapped in bacon’ thing, which I just can’t let go of. Question—why do vegetarians eat eggs? Aren’t eggs little chickens that never got born? And now you ate them, so they’ll never have a fighting chance. I draw my own moral line by not eating lamb or veal for that exact reason. I strongly believe that animals should have the opportunity to cavort and see the world a little before…well, you know. And now, by that same logic, I have to give up eating eggs. Great. Thanks, philosophy.

Question 4: Pick a condiment. I was torn between soya sauce and salsa, but I went with salsa, because if these questions have ANY bearing on what philosopher I’m most like, I’d rather be Che Guevara than Confucius.

Question 5: Worst thing you’ve ever done? I wasn’t copping to anything except Gotten Drunk or Stolen Sweets. I picked stealing candy, because aren’t ALL philosophers alcoholics? Drunkenness will not define my philosophy. I stand by that statement. Also, once when I was 4, I took a piece of bubble gum from the variety store. My mom found out and made me go back and apologize to the store owner. It was so mortifying that I pretty much avoided anything illegal from that point on. In fact, I once got caught going through a red light and went to court just so I could tell the judge I was sorry. She reduced my fine—I call that karma. There I go, being all philosophy-ish again.

Question 6: Pick a teen drama. The only one I’d ever seen was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe this was setting me up to be Vlad the Impaler or something. Was he a philosopher? I’m sure he had a reason why he impaled all those people. Or maybe not. Sometimes philosophy is so f*cking enigmatic.

Question 7: Your ideal Saturday night? I was too distracted at this point by the sidebar headline: “Miley Cyrus wore a prosthetic penis on stage last night”, so I randomly picked cooking. I hope to hell Julia Child was NOT a philosopher.

Question 8: Which European city would you live in? My first reaction was ‘Why isn’t Glasgow on this list?! WTF is up with that? Scotland had to have at least ONE philosopher. So I googled it. There was a list, but I didn’t recognize any of the names. Then I saw a picture of Steve Carrell (the American actor) next to someone named Michael Scot, and got suspicious that this site was also run by Facebook.

Question 9: You promised to hang out with your Grandmother tomorrow. What do you do? Some of the options were ‘Cook for her and her friends’, ‘Cancel at the last minute’, or ‘Grin and bear it’. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away a couple of decades ago, so I chose ‘Look forward to catching up’.

Question 10: Right now I am…. At this point, I had no idea how any of these random and absurd questions could lead to any particular philosopher except for Jean-Paul Sartre, so I chose ‘Confused’.

The program calculated my responses and came up with this: “You got: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although you believe in individual freedom, you think that social contracts are necessary in order to allow society to function in a rational, non-impulsive way.” Close enough, Facebook, and in true philosophical fashion, I have logically concluded that it was my choice of Angie Bolen that led to this revelation.

I still had a little time to kill so I did the next quiz on the page which was “What Fossil Are You?” I went through the series of questions: Pick a vacation plan (visit a castle), pick a pattern (psychedelic), pick a moment from Drakes’ Hotline Bling video (WTF? Random.), pick a Greek goddess (Athena), pick outdated 90s slang (Aight), pick a moustache (Old West saloon keeper), pick a geologic time period (Ordivician, because it sounds Illuminati-ish and cool). I got this:

“You are just like an ammonite! These awesome looking sea-critters were everywhere back in the day, but not much is known about their behavior. Like them, you are elegant as fuck, but also seductively mysterious. People have been known to frame ammonites’ likeness on the walls of their majestic mansions and palatial villas and the same will be certainly be said of you one day.”

“Elegant as fuck” and totally philosophical. Yep, that’s me, all right.

(Ken commented that he was confused by the fact that I normally put an asterisk in the middle of a swear word to keep this site a little more PG 13, but I used the F word twice at the end without an asterisk. I reminded him that they were direct f*cking quotes, so it was OK.)

My Week 59: Real Christmas vs, Magazine Christmas, My Demon Spawn Vaccuum

Real Life Christmas versus Magazine Christmas

I love decorating magazines. I have subscriptions to at least three different ones, and every month, I pour through the pages for ideas. I’m a visual learner at heart—I can read text very quickly and easily. Currently, I’m making my way through David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks, which is approximately 500 pages, but about 200 pages too long. It was an interesting read until the second last chapter, when the rather regular narrative suddenly turned into Harry Potter, with characters having some kind of poorly explained magical battle, thusly:

“I aimed my pschycosoteric mind laser beam at Lord Pfenninger’s subterranean psychic temple. He responded with a sonic blast from his hypcampus, while his minions snickered and began laying down suppressing mind bullets. I waved my magic wand and disapparated…”

Ok, I’m paraphrasing, but it got pretty ridiculous, and frankly J.K. Rowling does it much better. Anyway, back to decorating magazines. Christmas is coming up, so all the current editions are focused on Christmas decorating and festive parties. As I was gleefully devouring up the images, it suddenly occurred to me how absolutely unrealistic it all was. Sure, I know that everything’s staged, but this year it seems that every single house is owned by people who have no children, pets, food, and who apparently never sit down, judging from the fact that everything is WHITE. White walls, white furniture, white carpets, white Christmas trees, white deer heads hung above white fireplace mantles. What the hell is going on here? Magazine editors have become so intensely out of touch with how REAL people live that I started to view everything with an extremely critical eye. Here are some of the more bizarre statements and ideas that I came across:

  • A designer on his Christmas room design challenge: “I arrived upon this magical masculine scene by mixing patterns and textures with eclectic objects. While the palette and the furnishings are traditional, the vignette feels fresh, thanks to whimsical organic touches like the felt bird ornaments…and the pompom tree skirt.” Let me translate: “Nothing matches”. Also, “men like magicky things, and pompoms”. Someone should clue in this designer that real birds are organic; felt birds are things that kindergarten children make. Runner-up to this designer’s statement: “I like to mix traditional with modern, and pair maximalist notions with more restrained sculptural items.” Again, nothing matches, but this time it’s JUSSSST CRAZZZZY!
  • A page devoted to “choosing the perfect tree”. I don’t need a page of tips. This is how we pick a tree at my house:
    Ken: That one over there looks nice.
    Me: It’s too cold to walk that far. This one’s fine.
    Ken: But it’s missing half its branches.
    Me: That side can go against the wall. Hurry up, I’m freezing.
  • A decorating article on “Wrapping Pillows like a Present” to create a holiday feel. Screw that—I can’t even wrap PRESENTS like presents, let alone stupid accent pillows. If you’ve ever gotten a present from me, you might have thought at first that a toddler wrapped it. But the torn paper and scotch tape all over the place just reinforce how much I LOVE you. NOT that I’m super-uncoordinated and have unwieldy manhands.
  • “Fun Things To Do With Your Elf On A Shelf”. Here’s the most fun thing I can imagine—put it in the toilet and watch it grin maniacally as it tries not to drown. Keep swimming, Bjorn!
  • “Decorative pieces should change with the season”. Seriously? Who the hell has time to redecorate their entire house “with the season”? I think if you’ve got the kind of time to put everything in storage to make way for your holiday sh*t, then put all that away in January and completely redecorate AGAIN, you’re most likely neglecting other areas of your life. Like your children. Or personal hygiene.
  • A designer on a recent dinner party disaster: “Go with the flow. My copper garland broke, so I placed the beads across the dining table, and they looked pretty. ..it was a happy accident.” Absolutely. The next time I break a Christmas ornament, I will definitely strewn the dining table with the shards. Yes, my guests love to eat dinner amidst broken glass. Happy, happy.
  • Party tip a): “Always have a signature drink ready for your guests and hand it to them as they arrive.” We have a signature drink in my house—it’s called “alcohol”. When you arrive, you can have some of this tasty signature drink, or I can try to hunt you down a can of tonic water from the back of the bathroom closet. Party tip b): “The Fabulous 4-step appetizer”. I can do you one better—the Tasty 2-step appetizer. Step one, take a piece of cheese. Step two, put it on a cracker. For the adventurous, I also have the Throroughly 3-mendous Appetizer, where you can add a piece of kielbasa from the plate on the counter before the dog sneaks in and eats it all. Party tip c): “Consider your guests dietary restrictions.” I am the f*cking master at this. I can create a veritable feast for people who are gluten-free, vegetarian, piscaterian, lactose intolerant, who only eat chicken, who can’t eat spicy food, and who refuse to eat human food like rice, pasta, or most green vegetables because they (Dad) are just plain picky. I do this because I love them all so much. Which brings me to my last point:
  • Magazine cover: “128 Ideas for an amazing Christmas”. Here’s the deal—you don’t need 128 ideas. You don’t even need 1 idea. All you need is the people you love the most—dietary restrictions and all. Christmas isn’t about how beautiful and pristine your house is—it’s about the people in it.

My Dirt Devil is Demon Spawn

This week, I decided it was time I got a small vacuum cleaner. I’m a pretty good housekeeper, sweeping the floors and using a Swiffer wet mop when necessary, but face it—I like to do things the easy way. For example, I use Windex to clean just about every surface in my unit, but it’s a little too labour-intensive to spray window cleaner onto paper towels, so I buy the pre-soaked wipes. I’m putting crap into the landfill either way—why not give myself a break? So it occurred to me that if I could get a little vacuum, I could clean the floors AND the carpets all in one easy shot. Most of my condo is hardwood, but I have a couple of throw rugs, and both bedrooms have broadloom that, sad to say, have not been cleaned since the previous tenants moved out, and are looking rather lint-y. Canadian Tire was having a sale (because when is Canadian Tire NOT having a sale, which begs the question: How much do Lagostina pots ACTUALLY cost to make, if the regular price is $400, but they’re on special for $49.99?), so on Wednesday, I headed into Canada’s favourite department store. Or, the store named after Canada—and tires. I was planning on getting something very small, but the sale was so good that I convinced myself that a larger upright on sale for 50% off was the best choice. It was a Dust Devil. The very name should have sent up red flags that there might be issues. A series of problems ensued, the first of which was that the vacuum cleaner box was very large and heavy. I had to walk several blocks back to my condo, and I’ll be damned if I was going to pay $12 for a taxi to take me less than a kilometer. The cashier waved me over though, and said she could make me a handle out of plastic bags and duct tape. Red Green would have been proud (for my international readers, he was a character on Canadian television who, in keeping with proud Canadian ingenuity, could fix anything with duct tape). Handle created, I carried the box out of the store. 20 feet later, I realized that I had made a serious miscalculation in the box weight/arm strength ratio. But, by changing arms frequently, stopping to rest every 100 feet or so, and occasionally dragging the box along the sidewalk, I got back to my condo.

When I regained feeling in my arms, I opened the box and discovered that the vacuum needed several stages of assembly. I got out my magnifying glass to read the instructions, and after trying to follow the obscure illustrations for about 10 minutes, I just went with my gut instinct and slammed it all together with intuition and a Philips screwdriver. Finally, I was ready to clean. Little did I know that the Dirt Devil was indeed possessed by demon spawn.  I turned it on and it took off—after a few seconds of maneuvering it around, I realized that there were dents in the floor that hadn’t been there a couple of minutes prior. I got really nervous that the beater bar was trying to eat the floor, so I steered towards the Persian rug under my coffee table. Immediately, the fringe of the rug got sucked in and when I finally got the carpet extricated from the jaws of Satan, the binding and fringe were shredded. I was pissed off, but the thought of having to disassemble and return it was too daunting. I decided that if it could at least clean the broadloom in the bedrooms, I could justify keeping it. It took off on the bedroom rug like there were souls under the bed, sucking in the bedskirt at the same time. Then, when I swooshed it into the walk-in closet, it somehow managed to suck up the bootlace on one of my Doc Martens, and almost chewed the entire boot up in its devil jaws. I’d had enough. I turned it off, rescued my boot, and cast the damnable thing into the dark pit of my hall closet. My head was spinning (in that mentally exhausted way, not in that crazy Linda Blair/Exorcist way) from my demon battle. Maybe I should call a priest, just in case.

My Week 58: Hammering Serial Killers and Secret Santa Flashbacks

Tuesday: Hammer Time

When I first moved into my condo last February, I almost immediately had an issue with the noise level. No, I don’t mean that I could hear someone’s TV, or their children running around, or fun party music. I mean, I had an issue with the upstairs neighbour hammering. Not “hammering”, like a metaphor for something else—actual f*cking hammering. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if the construction efforts were happening while I was at work, or making dinner. No, this hammering was taking place at 2 o’clock in the morning. The night I moved in was peaceful enough; in fact, it exceeded my expectations regarding what living in tiny, stacked houses would be like. Then came the second night. Around 11 pm, it sounded like someone was bouncing a very heavy basketball on the floor above my living room. Bouncing it once, then letting it continue on its own, as in BOUNCE, Bounce, bouncbouncebounce, if you can understand what I mean. This went on for about an hour. After an hour, I started banging on the vents—I couldn’t bang on the ceiling because it’s sprayed with that popcorn stucco, which is very sharp and will fall into your eyes if disturbed. However, because the building is SUPPOSED to be soundproof, it had little effect. Then, shortly after midnight, the hammering began. Hammering all over the place at first, then becoming localized above my bedroom. What the hell was this guy doing? Installing a floor in the middle of the night? It was insane. It would stop for brief intervals, but every time I started to doze off, the noise would begin again with renewed vigour. It was like the way the CIA tortures terrorists by playing Death Metal music non-stop. Then it occurred to me—what if it WAS a government agency, trying to determine my stamina? After all, I had just taken a government job and had sworn an oath of secrecy, as well as an oath to the Queen. Could CSIS be upstairs? By this time though, I would have given something really important, like my favourite shoes or my last bottle of wine for the Death Metal to begin. Anything but the damned hammering. Finally, at around 5 am, the noise stopped. Of course, I had to get up at 6:30, so I went in for my first official day of work feeling like a sleep-deprived prisoner.

When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t too worried, figuring that it had to be a one-off—I mean, who in their right mind spends all night, every night renovating their condo? Each unit is only around 600 square feet, so there couldn’t possibly be a single thing left to hammer. And that’s when the sawing started. Sawing. With an actual saw. Right above my bedroom. I stood in the walk-in closet, and it sounded like the person was trying to cut a hole through the floor. Then I suddenly had a terrible thought—what if my upstairs neighbour was a serial killer who was building a false wall in his condo in order to conceal the presence of his latest kidnapped victim? This may sound farfetched in retrospect, but I had just seen an episode of a crime show where a very-innocent looking record producer had done JUST THAT in his recording studio—the investigators had cleverly discovered the hidden room by looking at blueprints. The sawing finally stopped around 3 am, while I cowered in bed, praying that someone wouldn’t rappel into my closet with murderous intentions and wondering how I could get my hands on a floorplan. I was now completely fed up, so after work, I decided to talk to the night concierge. I explained what was happening but her English wasn’t very good:

Me: The person in the unit above mine is hammering in the middle of the night. It’s keeping me awake. What should I do?
Concierge: Ammering? What is this to mean?
Me: (hammers on counter with fist) HAMMERING. Like this.
Concierge: Someone is ammering in your unit?
Me: No, in the unit upstairs! At 2 o’clock in the morning. I can’t sleep.
Concierge: Why would someone be ammering at the middle of the morning? It’s not sense.
Me: Yes, this is all pretty nonsensical. What should I do if it keeps happening?
Concierge: You call me and I go to upstairs and see what is the problem.

This sounded very promising, despite it also sounding fairly incomprehensible. Sure enough, not long after midnight, the hammering resumed. I immediately called down to the front desk, reminded the concierge about our earlier conversation, and gave her the unit number where the noise was originating from. She promised to go up and see what was going on. Unbelievably, about ten minutes later, the noise stopped completely. Blessed silence. It was like that all night, and I had my first good sleep since coming to Toronto. Over the next several weeks, there were still a lot of bizarre sounds coming from Jeffrey Dahmer upstairs, but they always stopped before 11 pm—the concierge must have reminded him about the noise bylaws. By late spring/early summer, the upstairs unit was completely silent. Then last Monday, I happened to be talking to my aunt. She asked, “Have you had any more issues with the person upstairs?”

“No,” I said. “That all seems to be in the past now.” Could I have been any more cavalier to tempt fate in such a brazen way? I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right—finally, at 1:45 am, I’d had enough. I called down to the night concierge (a different one this time, but with equally poor English skills) and explained that someone had been hammering on the floor of the unit above mine for the last two hours. “OK, no problem—I go talk to them,” he said. I had my doubts, but the noise stopped shortly after. Here’s to hoping that the renovations—or ‘victim cage’—are finally complete, knock on wood. But I have to admit, I’m burning with curiosity—what the hell is really going on up there? I’ll probably never know—and maybe it’s better that I don’t.

Friday: Secret Santa Flashbacks

Friday, at lunch, a group of us were sitting around talking about upcoming social type company events, because I work for a great company with supernice, professional people. Suddenly, someone said, “We should do something like a Secret Santa, you know, where we choose names and give each other cute little gifts.” My back immediately went up, because I’ve had more than my fair share of the short end of the Secret Santa stick. Luckily, the conversation moved on to simply making charitable donations or adopting a needy family, because we all acknowledged that we already had enough ‘stuff’. Still, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth from my last Secret Santa. Mostly because I got things that tasted bad.

It happened in a previous workplace. We pulled names—I got someone I knew quite well, but I didn’t know who had MY name, which apparently is all part of the ‘fun’. I’d never done a Secret Santa before, and I was really excited about finding things for MY person that matched what she had put on her list of likes and dislikes. On my list, I had put the following: under “likes”, I listed the colours black and purple, hot chocolate, white wine, any kind of book (but preferably funny), and a couple of other things which I can’t remember now. I wasn’t being demanding—this was all in accordance with the instructions, as in “colours you like to wear, food you like to eat, alcohol you like to drink”, etc. On my dislikes, I simply put dark chocolate and coffee. I also mentioned that I was unable to eat gluten.

That weekend, I went shopping for my person, and was thrilled to find a handknit scarf, a book of short stories, a little box of specialty teas, and a couple of other things she said she liked, all staying fairly well within the $10 budget. I had a bottle of wine for her Friday gift which put me slightly over, but hey, it was Christmas, and it was apparently a traditional for the last day’s gift to be alcohol. On Monday, I got there early and put her first gift in her mailbox with a cute note. There was nothing in MY mailbox. (I should probably clarify at this point that MY Secret Santa was NOT the same person that I was giving gifts too.) By lunch, there was still nothing in my mailbox. Partway, through the afternoon though, I was downstairs, and I saw something sticking out of the slot. I reached in and was a little dumbfounded—it was a single, crumpled package of hot chocolate with a broken candy cane scotchtaped to it. It looked like it had been shoved into the mailbox rather hastily. Well, it was the thought that counted, and it was hot chocolate that I liked. In fact, I had an ENTIRE BOX of the same hot chocolate on my office desk. There was no note—but it was only the first day. Maybe the rest of the week would prove to be more Santa-y and cute. Despite my optimism, I was a little let down:

Tuesday: A small package of two pieces of VERY dark chocolate. The box said, “Compliments of Jackson Triggs”. That isn’t a person’s name—it’s a winery. I couldn’t eat the chocolate, but it occurred to me that if I was getting old chocolate from a winery, perhaps there was a bottle of well-aged wine not far behind. I gave the chocolate to a colleague who reported that it was ‘rather stale’. So maybe REALLY well-aged wine. Still no note.

Wednesday: Partway through the afternoon, I discovered what seemed to be a Christmas placemat, rolled up and secured with an elastic band in my mailbox. It looked as if it had been used previously, judging from its wrinkled aspect and what appeared to be a gravy stain on the corner. Oh well, I could toss it in the laundry and then use it…somewhere. Still no note.

Thursday: A small bag of coffee, such as you might find in a hotel room. It occurred to me that maybe my Secret Santa had recently gone on a wine tour and had stayed at a cheap hotel. Well, my parents drink coffee—I could always give it to them.

At this point, I started wondering who exactly my Secret Santa was. At first, I had a very stereotypical thought that it had to be a man, given the lack of cutesy notes, and the apparent indifference to my list of like and dislikes. But then I remembered the last time that Ken had been a Secret Santa, and the way he went above and beyond to make his recipient feel special. I knew it had to be someone from a different department—if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that the people I worked directly with in my previous workplace were very unpleasant, and if it was one of them, it would have gone something like this:

Colleague: This is for you.
Me: A lump of cold poison. Thanks?
Colleague: Are you being sarcastic? Oh my god, could you TRY to be a little nicer? You’re so passive-aggressive!
Me: But you gave me cold poison.
Colleague: I don’t believe you. Just wait until I tell EVERYONE how you just acted.

Two days later:

Mediator: I’ve asked you here today because you hurt Bob’s feelings over your “I don’t like cold poison” attitude. You should try to be less authoritative and kinder.
Me: But he gave me cold poison and then told the rest of our colleagues that he was hoping it would make me very sick.
Bob: You don’t want to be Facebook friends with me. You’re so mean. If Steve had given you cold poison, you would have been nice to him.
Me: What?! That doesn’t even make any—
Mediator: I think you need to respect Bob’s social boundaries and not provoke him. Now let’s hug it out.
Me: Oh my God, I can’t even.

So, no, definitely not an immediate colleague. Which only left around 60 people. Guess I was going to have to wait for Friday. Then Friday came and went, with nothing in my mailbox. Other people were ooh-ing and aw-ing over their gifts—alcohol mostly, by the looks of the smiles on their faces. I felt sad and a little neglected. But on Monday morning, I went to my mail box, and lo and behold, there was a little bottle with a note attached to it! My Secret Santa hadn’t forgotten me after all. I put my reading glasses on. The note said, “Enjoy!” Then I looked at the bottle carefully. It said “Margarita Mix”. I asked the person next to me, “What is this?” and he replied, “Oh, you add it to tequila to make a Margarita. They attach them to the necks of the tequila bottles at the liquor store as an added bonus. It tastes really good.”

“Do you want it?” I asked.
“Sure! Thanks!” he replied. “Merry Christmas!”

I never did find out who my Secret Santa was, but I learned a valuable lesson, based on my colleague’s reaction to the Margarita mix–it’s better to give than to receive.

 

My Week 57: Hallowe’en Horrors!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Wednesday:

Hallowe’en is a bizarre time of year. People seem to get super-excited about it and spend inordinate amounts of time planning costumes, fixating on candy, making crafts and “fun” Hallowe’en foods—and that’s the adults. Never mind the kids who are throwing tantrums because the costume store sold the last Elsa outfit, and now they have to be Cinderella—“No one will know who I AM, Mom! It’s not fair!” It’s also the time when it becomes socially acceptable to denigrate females in any profession—“Let’s see…what do I want to be this year? Sexy Nurse, Sexy Librarian, Sexy Teacher, Sexy Doctor, Sexy Astronaut, Sexy Physicist—gosh, I JUST can’t choose!” And for men, apparently it’s holiday that lets them REALLY express their inner selves. I was on the streetcar last week, having a WONDERFUL time listening to the driver and one of his work colleagues (who was just standing next to him the whole way for some unknown reason) trash talking their “shop steward”, which I assume is like the union leader or something, because of course, there’s nothing more pleasant than listening to two grown men acting like 12 year-old girls. Then a man got on the streetcar and sat down next to me. He was probably in his late sixties, very portly, sporting a bushy, grey mustache, and carrying a plastic bag. After about 30 seconds he turned to me and said, “I’m so sad right now.” I hesitated, but what the hell, right? So I asked, “Why?”

“Well,” he said. I’m supposed to be going to a Hallowe’en party tonight, but it’s raining so hard that my costume would have been ruined, so I decided not to wear it.”

“Is it in your bag?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” he laughed. “But it was a great costume.”

“What were you going to be?” At this point, I figured ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, and it was better than listening to “Chrissy” and “Madison” griping about how Frank wouldn’t drive in from Brampton at 10 o’clock at night to see how badly the streetcar system was backed up. Anyhow, I thought, judging by the looks of the man next to me, that he was going to say “Scarecrow”, or “Witch”, but it turns out he was more the “Dorothy” type.

“I was going in drag,” he announced. “I do it every year. My friends will be so disappointed. Here, let me show you what I was going to look like.” With this, he pulled out his cell phone. And if you think things were a little weird up until now, just wait. He opened up a picture of himself, standing in front of a full-length mirror, dressed in a black wig, a colourful dress, full make-up, and high heels. “Very nice,” I commented. Then, as he was trying to zoom in on the wig, which he seemed to be particularly proud of, he accidentally (oh God, please let it have been accidentally) flipped to the previous picture, which was the “before” picture—that is to say, a full-length shot of him wearing nothing but a pair of bikini briefs. Then he got flustered and tried to change the picture back, but he flipped the wrong way, and before I had a chance to avert my eyes, I’m pretty sure it was the “before Before” picture—ie: BEFORE he put on the bikini briefs.

“Gosh, these phones,” he giggled, and put it back in his pocket, while I tried to recover from the shock of seeing all that portliness in its natural glory. Then he began regaling me with tales of previous Hallowe’en costumes, including his first foray into the world of drag. “I dressed as Nana Mouskouri, but everyone thought I was a hooker. I thought I looked just like her—I even blackened my mustache to match my wig.”

We spent the rest of the ride with him talking and me smiling and nodding, still unsure if I had been flashed on purpose or not. We were getting off at the same stop, and when we finally exited, he said, “It was lovely talking to you, dear. Have a Happy Hallowe’en!” and with that, he disappeared into a sketchy-looking bar.

Thursday:

A group of us were reminiscing about Hallowe’en as we’d experienced it as children. The general consensus seemed to be that we had two common experiences; first, that no matter what your costume was, it had to fit over a snowsuit. There’s a wonderful picture of my brother and I when we’re about 8 and 6 respectively. I’m wearing a snowsuit and a Frankenstein mask, and he’s wearing a snowsuit and a tiger mask. Costumes today are so much more season-appropriate. When T was little, it was fake fur animal costumes, which looked cool and were also very warm, so I was never the mom who ruined Hallowe’en by saying, “You’re not going out as a Sexy Ballerina—you’ll freeze your tutu off. Now go find your snowsuit.” My favourite Hallowe’en memory of T was the year he wanted to be a shark. Very badly. The problem was, I couldn’t find a shark costume to save my life. So I found a dolphin costume, cut out teeth from a piece of white cardboard, and stapled them to the dolphin’s mouth. He was never the wiser, but we were all hysterical at the sight of this deranged porpoise toddling up to people’s porches.

The second rule of thumb for kids of my generation, and this is, sadly, still true today, was if there was anything unwrapped or homemade in your loot bag, your mom threw it away on the grounds that someone might have put a razor blade in it. I understand that it’s statistically EXTREMELY rare that anyone has ever tried to hurt a child by putting something nasty in their candy, but it’s also statistically true that there are crazy people in this world, sometimes in your very own neighbourhood, and you’d never know it until your child is all glassy-eyed from the hash brownie they just ate.

Saturday: The Day Arrives

On Saturday, I finally started to feel a little bit excited over Hallowe’en, as the time approached for the trick or treating to start. We live in a small town, and our house is set quite a bit back from the sidewalk, so I was worried that no one would come. I got a little obsessive, but Ken was just being mean, and refused to find our Christmas floodlights, so we could shine them on the house and let the kids know we were open for business. At around 6:00, it was getting pretty dark, and we’d only had two kids. I was getting desperate. Then I heard voices going past our gate. “We have candy in here! Come to our house!” I yelled out the door. In retrospect, maybe it was a little more like “luring” than “encouraging”, but I hadn’t carved a pumpkin for nothing. (In fact, I hadn’t carved a pumpkin, but I’d used a Sharpie to draw eyes and a mouth on one, and it looked GREAT.) The voices stopped, the group of people came up our sidewalk, and I was thinking this was a super plan. Then Ken came downstairs:

Ken: Was that you yelling at people to come to our house?
Me: Maybe.
Ken: Are you going to do that all night?
Me: Well, I don’t see any FLOODLIGHTS, Ken. How else will people know we have candy?

But despite my best efforts, we still only had 14 trick or treaters, and it was like the devil sent them to taunt me.

Little Ninja: How many people have you had tonight?
Me: Oh, a few.
Ninja: MY mom had a bowl with ONE HUNDRED bags of chips in it, and they’re all gone now!
Me: Shut up, demon child. (OK, that last line was in my head. What I really said is, Gosh, that’s a lot! Have a happy Hallowe’en.)

My favourite moment of the night: a little brother/firefighter and sister/princess came to the door. I gave him a KitKat and a sucker. I gave her an Aero bar and some rockets. As they were about to leave, she turned back:

Princess: Um…can I have what you gave him?
Me: Oh, you want a KitKat too? Sure.
Princess: (whispers) And the other…?
Me: The sucker? Of course, sweetie. Here you go.
Their mom (mortified): Sorry…
Me: No worries—I have a LOT of candy.

Most random occurrence: 3 kids and their parents came to the door around 7:15. The kids yelled Trick or Treat, then they held out their hands. I said, “Oh, don’t you have bags?”

“No,” said one of the dads. “Just give them the candy and they can put it in their pockets.”

Then Hallowe’en was over for another year. And I know this for sure, because I was in a store this morning, and they already had their full Christmas inventory on display.