My Week 130: Surrounded by Russians, Everyone Learns French

Tuesday: I live in the Kremlin

On Tuesday night, I was making dinner in my condo. I needed to defrost some soup, so I opened my pot drawer. No, not the “GOOD kind of pot” drawer, like I have a secret stash under the oven mitts and tea towels, but the drawer in which I keep my cooking pots. Although if I HAD a pot drawer, I`d have to call it something else to throw people off, because “pot drawer” would be pretty obvious—I could call it the “spider drawer” because who the hell would want to open THAT? Oh, and just for the record, I don’t smoke pot—I tried it a couple of times as a teenager, but instead of feeling mellow and whatnot, I felt super-paranoid and my skin wouldn’t stop twitching. Nothing was humorous, and everything was too real. So kind of the anti-marijuana experience. Anyhow, I opened my non-marijuana drawer, and everything inside was wet (so probably good that I DON’T keep pot in it), and I was confused. Why was my drawer full of water? This didn’t bode well, and if you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll remember a certain week when a certain woman left the kitchen sink running and ended up with a small flood. I immediately went into panic mode and pulled the drawer further out to discover that the pipe under the sink was leaking quite noticeably. How did this happen? I’d just used the dishwasher the night before and everything seemed fine. But now the pipe was dribbling into the drawer and the undercabinet. I have the number for my concierge desk pinned to a corkboard (made from real corks that I hotglued to a wooden panel and framed in barnboard—I had to drink a LOT of wine to make it and it was a terrible hardship, let me tell you) so I called down. No answer. The dripping continued and my panic increased. It was 6:30 pm and I was wearing pajamas because why the f*ck not, am I right? So I had to change back into my actual human clothes and go down to the front desk myself. I had no idea if it would help because normally a concierge isn’t trained in the plumberly arts, but Ken was 100 kilometres away and I had no tools other than a universal screwdriver, a hammer (in case there’s a fire and I have to break a window), and a sewing kit.

The three to midnight concierge is called Sergei, and my only contact with him thus far had been to say “hello” when I came in every afternoon, to which he replied “hello” back. It was an amiable, albeit succinct, relationship, but I feel like we were both OK with that. I approached the desk:

Me: Hi. Um, the pipe under my kitchen sink is leaking.
Sergei: OK. I come.

With that, he reached into a drawer (not a pot drawer either apparently), and took out a small flashlight and a tiny pair of slipjoint pliers (I totally looked that up—did you really think I know the names of all the tools?), and he came out from behind the front desk. We travelled up the elevator together, me telling him about the leak, and how it wasn’t there yesterday. He walked into my condo with the confidence that Russians seem to have, and peered into the space behind the drawer. Then he straightened up and smiled.

Sergei: Is drainage pipe only. I have pliers to turn off water but is not necessary. Contact property management company and they can fix. But don’t use sink until then. Empty drawer and put big pot under for leak.
Me: That’s a relief—I’ll do that. Thanks so much.
Sergei: Is no problem.

Then he left, and I immediately emailed my property management company and logged a ticket (which I swear to god would be the best euphemism for going to the bathroom that I ever heard—how do I make this popular?! Like, “Excuse me for a minute—I just have to “log a ticket”. Am I right?) Anyway, I got a reply back right away that I would be contacted by the in-house plumber in the morning. My roommate and I spent the rest of the night using the bathroom sink to rinse off dishes, and hoping it would be fixed before the bathtub became the dishwasher.

The next morning, I was in a meeting when my phone rang (it was on silent, because I’m not a dick), so I stepped out:

Voice with thick Russian accent: Hello. I am Alex. The plumber. You have problem with sink?
Me: Yes, the drain pipe is leaking.
Alex: I come at noon. How do I get in?
Me: The concierge can let you into the building…
Alex: No, how do I get into apartment?
Me: Don’t you have a key?
Alex: No.
Me: OK, I can meet you there at noon and let you in. OK?
Alex: Yes, is good.

Luckily I live just across the street from work, so at quarter to twelve (yes, the meeting was still going on), I said to my co-workers, “I have to step out for a minute and meet my plumber. His name is Alex.” I added that for emphasis in case they thought I was ditching them to go eat something, or “log a ticket” or something else that normal people do when they’re not in meetings that last ALL MORNING.

I ran across the street and waited in the lobby. A couple of minutes after twelve, a van pulled up, and I knew it was him because it said “Alex’s Plumbing” on the side. An elderly, tiny man got out and went to the passenger side, where he helped an elderly woman wearing a housedress, slippers, and a leather overcoat out of the van. She was clutching a handbag, and he had a utility light. I was very confused. They both came into the lobby, and I said, “Oh hi—are you Alex?” He gave me a huge smile and said he was, then they both followed me into the elevator.

Me: So…
Alex: We came from Jamaica.
Me: ???
Alex: It was good holiday, but we just came back. This is my wife, Marta.
Me: Oh hi. Did you have a good trip?
Marta: Yes, is good, but weather here is so cold now after Jamaica.
Me: Um yes, I can imagine…

As you may recall, I am super-sh*tty at small talk. Obviously. We got into my apartment and I showed him the sink, while Marta slowly wandered around the living room.

Me: Would you like to sit down?
Marta: Oh nuh, is fine. I stand. I was on airplane for six hours.
Alex: I see problem. Pipe is cracked. I get new trap pipe.

Then he left and there I was, alone with Marta, who kept commenting about the view (“I can see lake”), the size of the condo (“Is so small!”) until Alex got back.

Alex: Anyone got toonie? I need toonie.
Me: I think I might have one? Oh wait, I only have a loonie.
Marta: I have toonie. Don’t worry. Here is toonie.

I was completely befuddled at this point, as she handed Alex the toonie (loonies and toonies are one and two dollar coins, for my non-Canadian readers), but then he clarified that he needed it to “tighten pipe”, and I was like “A toonie is an actual plumbing tool?” but it seemed to work, and within 10 minutes, he was running water and checking for leaks, of which there were none.

Alex: All fixed now. No big problem.
Me: Thanks so much for coming so quickly.
Alex: We were at airport. Not too far, so they call me because I’m the cheapest.
Me: Um, OK. Well, I totally appreciate it.
Marta: Have good day.

Then they both toddled off to goodness knows where. Everything was fine, until later that day when I got an email from my property management company. My phone screen read, “We regret to inform you…” and I was like “WHAT DID THE RUSSIANS TELL YOU?!” but it wasn’t about the plumbing visit, it was that my landlord was selling my condo, which made me want to write back, “It was only a trap pipe! ASK THE RUSSIANS!” but apparently the housing in Toronto is so insane that my landlord is listing my 600 square foot, one bedroom plus den condo at $525 000 and expecting to get more. So I’m probably going to have to move. Maybe the Russians can hook me up with something.

Friday: The language of love

I came home on Friday night and was greeted with this:

Titus: Bonne soir, ma cherie
Raven: Bonjour, tete de merde.
Me: What the hell is going on here?
Titus: Oscar Wildefish is teaching us French. He says it’s the language of love. Check this out—“Voulez-vous coucher avec—
Me: Stop! No more French for you! Oscar?!
Oscar: Oui, mon petit chou?
Me: You just called me a tiny cabbage. WTF?
Oscar: It’s a term of endearment, sweetheart.
Me: Fine, but tete de merde is NOT. Why are you teaching everyone naughty French?
Oscar: Everyone should know at least one of the Romance languages, darling. When I was in Paris with Gertrude, Scottie, and Zelda—
Me: Here we go again. Do all goldfish have past lives?
Oscar: Only the good ones, honey.
Me: You weren’t in ‘Nam, were you?
Oscar: Heavens no! I’m a lover, not a fighter. That was Uncle Mishy. Oh, the stories he used to tell…
Me: Yes. I remember. Well, if you’re going to teach Titus and Raven—
Oscar: Flossy.
Me: Whatever. If you’re going to be their French tutor, keep it clean.
Oscar: Oui, oui madame. Voulez-vous coucher—
Me: Don’t be cheeky!
Oscar: Just part of my natural charm, mon amour.

Yes, it certainly is. I wonder if he also know a little Russian…

My Week 129: Sensitive Startle Response, We Find Oscar Wildefish

Wednesday: I live in a constant state of fear

I have an extremely sensitive startle response. No, not an actual syndrome like “Exaggerated Startle Response” where you go all stiff and can’t move (like a goat, but not as funny), nor do I have “Jumping Frenchmen of Maine” syndrome (yes, that IS a real thing involving a group of French-Canadian lumberjacks, and I realize that my attempt to elaborate on this only makes it sound weirder), or any other neurological disease for that matter—I’m just super-f*cking-jumpy. It’s annoying as hell, but it hasn’t been much of a problem until lately, when I began a new position with the secret agency. If you read last week’s post, you’ll remember that I now have my own office (complete with the awesome mini-fridge that I hauled up there myself), which is great, but also now a lot more people want to talk to me. That is also great, because my co-workers are terrific, but my desk is L-shaped and in the corner. And that means that most of the time, I’m working with my back to the door. I already had a problem with people coming up behind me in my cubicle, but I was in a fairly busy area so there was less chance of sudden noises. Also, my coworkers learned to sidle up towards me rather than suddenly appearing from around the corner of my cubicle wall, to avoid causing me to jump in the air and stifle a scream.

Now, though, I’m in a very quiet office with a door, and people come to the door without me being able to see them first, and I’ve been scared sh*tless no less than 13 times in the last 4 days, through no one’s fault but my own:

Coworker: Oh hey, can I—
Me: Agh!!
Coworker: Oh my god, I’m so sorry!
Me: Don’t be. It’s me, not you.

Of course, the best part is that my Director has the exact same startle response as me, and there’s nothing funnier (or more terrifying) than the two of us triggering each other:

Director: Oh hey, can I—
Me: Agh!!
Director: Agh!!!
Both: Oh my god, I’m so sorry!

It had become a bit of a running joke, to the point that last fall, my work partner L decided that the only thing to do, aside from making us wear bells around our necks was to buy us each a box of TicTacs that we could shake while we were approaching each other. Unfortunately, TicTacs are yummy and I ate all of mine, which kind of stymied the plan. At any rate, the one good thing is that I also now have a super-comfy office chair that has really great “give”, so when I jump three feet in the air, I land on a nice bouncy cushion and get to go “boing boing” for a minute while I’m catching my breath.

But I haven’t always had such a sensitive startle response—it’s gotten worse over the last few years for a couple of reasons I won’t get into. Anyway, here are the top ten things that now cause me to jump in the air, scream, and swoon, aside from people coming up behind me:

1) The text notification on my phone chiming.
2) The TV coming on too loudly.
3) Things dropping. (Like, literally anything—a pencil, a glass, my hairbrush…)
4) Ken walking into a room (but he does it quietly ON PURPOSE).
5) A car appearing in my blind spot (and no, it’s never a great idea to jump out of your seat whilst driving).
6) Birds. They fly by the window with no warning AT ALL because they’re dicks.
7) People sneezing. Someone in my office has a very loud sneeze and it scares the bejeezus out of me every damn time.
8) Car horns. Particularly hard to avoid in the downtown core where taxi drivers will literally honk at pigeons.
9) My alarm. I usually wake up before it goes off, then I forget to turn it off, and then it goes off and scares me. It’s a vicious cycle, and you’d think I would have figured this sh*t out by now.
10) The cat jumping onto the bed. I can always see Titus coming but Raven—she’s stealthy like a ninja.

Luckily, my coworkers are kind enough to try and help me out. On Friday, I heard a soft shuffling outside my office door that started getting louder. When I turned around, it was a colleague, who said, “I thought if I made a little noise first, it would give you some warning.” But I feel terrible that my bizarre reaction to normal human things makes THEM feel bad, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to resolve this. I can’t move my desk because it’s technically a counter that’s bolted to the wall, so I either get a mirror installed so I can see who’s coming up behind me, or I buy everyone in the office a lifetime supply of TicTacs.

Oscar Comes Home:

Last weekend, the official Quest for Oscar began. As per Mishima’s instructions, we were to seek out his nephew, Oscar Wildefish, in order that he might collect the inheritance left to him when Mishima passed away. You may recall that we had few clues, other than “he’s flamboyant, blue, and very witty”. Nevertheless, Ken and I set out to scour local pet stores. There are a LOT of fish out there, let me tell you, and while some of them were blue, none of them were particularly witty. We’d just about given up when we went into Petsmart and made our way to the fish section.

Ken: Oh look–here are some blue fish.
Me: Those are betas. Mishima was a goldfish, so…
Ken: Why couldn’t Oscar be a beta? It could have been like a mixed marriage or something.
Me: Betas aren’t witty. The last one we had was boring AF, remember? Let’s keep looking.

True to form, the blue betas weren’t saying anything. Then suddenly, I heard someone clear his throat:

Voice: Why, hello darling.
Me: Is that you, Oscar? Where are you?
Voice: Yes, ‘tis I, Oscar Wildefish. Look to your left.

And there, in a tank labelled Calico Ryukin Goldfish, was a baby blue, white, and gold fellow with delightful fins that looked like long chiffon sleeves. Definitely flamboyant.

Oscar: I’ve been waiting for you ever since I heard dear Uncle Mishy was unwell. The rumours of his death are apparently NOT exaggerated, judging by your appearance here in “Petsmart”, which is a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one. Honestly, I’m surrounded by dullards. It’s like a Donald Trump rally—non-stop complaining about immigrants every time someone new is put in the tank. I’m absolutely DYING for civilized company.
Me: I’m so happy we found you! Wait—you’re $12.99?! What kind of fish ARE you?
Oscar: Me? Sweetheart, I’m a delight, that’s what I am. And worth every penny. Now let’s go home. Adios, “Petsmart”.

So we brought Oscar home and he’s merrily preening in the reflective glass of his tank as we speak. He’s nicknamed the cat “Flossy” for some strange reason (and stranger still, she doesn’t seem to mind) and he and Titus are planning a picnic once the weather “becomes more charming”. But now, I have to go out and get him some new décor—it seems he’s not overly thrilled with the pagoda and says he’d prefer something “more glamourous”. So, new quest undertaken. I’ll keep you posted.

 

My Week 128: Quest for a Mini-Fridge, Titus is the New Zoolander

Wednesday: I buy a refrigerator

I recently got a promotion at work, and, for the first time in my career, I have my own office. Sure it’s just for a few months, but I was really excited. Not because of the office itself, but because the room is notoriously hot. My manager, who had just vacated it, having also been given a temporary promotion, said to me, “I’m leaving you the fan, because it gets really hot in there.” And I was like, “Sure, thanks,” but secretly, I will never use the giant floor fan because I’m always cold. Like freezing. ALL THE TIME. Except, in a strange twist of “middle-aged woman fate”, at night, where I can barely stand to have any covers on, and keep my condo at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, I knew I would be just fine in the glorious hot office except for one thing: she also took her mini-fridge with her. And I wouldn’t care, except that I was secretly hoping for my own fridge because the refrigerator in the office kitchen is always overflowing, and people just shove your stuff to the back to make room for theirs. So I’ll put my lunch on one of the shelves in the morning, and by the time noon rolls around, it’s like an archaeological expedition to find it again. And when I DO find it, either shoved in the back all squishy and sh*t or upside down in the vegetable crisper, I’ve had to touch several other people’s lunches, which always makes me feel weird and strangely unsettled because I don’t know where these things have been, and also I don’t remember where they were to put them back in their proper places, so EVERYTHING IS F*CKING CHAOS. This may seem like a first world problem, but imagine if Bob’s sandwich was a goat, and Bob’s goat was standing in front of my goat, and I needed my goat, so I killed Bob’s goat and shoved its corpse into the back of the lean-to where the goats live. And I NEVER want to kill a goat, so this is why I need a refrigerator.

Anyway, I was sitting in my condo on Wednesday after work, pondering the whole fridge/goat issue, when I decided I would just buy my own damn mini-fridge. I live in the heart of the city, so I googled a couple of stores and found an absolutely awesome Star Wars mini-fridge at Bed Bath and Beyond. The one I wanted featured a young Hans Solo frozen in that slab of carbonite, which seemed apropos for a refrigerator. They didn’t have any available on-line, so I decided, at 6:00 pm on a February evening, to change out of my pajamas (stop judging me) and back into my clothes and undertake the journey two blocks down to the actual human store. Because now, this was a QUEST:

Bed Bath and Beyond: None in stock. The young salesman looked them up online. The entire continent was sold out. I wouldn’t have thought there were that many Star Wars fans who wanted mini-fridges.

Eaton Centre: I tried EB Games. They had a Star Wars waffle iron. The salesgirl told me to try the Sears on-line catalogue because “they had them in the Christmas Wish Book”. No, Sears. I will not wait for you to deliver this to me. I want it tonight and I shall have it.

Canadian Tire: Jackpot! No, not a Star Wars fridge, but “Retro” Coca Cola fridges in two sizes. I decided that, for the sake of expediency, that I could make my peace with not having Hans Solo forever screaming in agony in my office. I opted for the larger Coke fridge, which holds up to 18 cans of pop. But then I realized I would have to get it back to my office. Well, hell. I’d come this far—what was 17 pounds and 1 kilometre? The cashier fashioned a handle on the box out of packing tape and plastic bags and off I went. LIKE A BOSS.

Now, you may think that I looked slightly ridiculous walking down the busiest and longest street in Canada with a giant-ass refrigerator box, but trust me—there are plenty of people in the city centre who are WAY stranger and no one even gave me a second glance. Not even the guy who had tried to attack me the other day by threatening to put his cigarette out in my face, then tried to punch me in the head. (For real—it was random and scary and I may or may not have cried a little). He was now sitting on the corner with a sign that said “Spare change for weed”, which explains a lot about his behaviour, plus if he’d tried anything, I could have hit him with the fridge. So to sum up—a middle-aged woman carrying a refrigerator is not that interesting in downtown Toronto unless she’s wielding it like a weapon. I took it straight to my office and left it there to unpack in the morning. The concierge at the desk gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up, as if to say, “Another goat saved. Well done.” I went to bed that night feeling tough and cool for carrying the fridge back all that way by myself. Then I woke up at 3 in the morning, in agony from muscle strain, and had to take 2 Advil like the out-of-shape middle-aged woman I actually am.

The next day, I got in early, and opened the box. There was an instruction manual inside that was supposed to explain all about my glorious new refrigerator. On the front cover, there was a picture of the fridge and in bold AND italics, the words “Please Read These Instructions Very Carefully Before Use!” I was suddenly worried—how complicated was this going to BE?! The unit was made by Koolatron, which sounded like a German electronic dance music duo, so I prepared myself for some mindboggling, robot-helmeted directions.

The first thing inside the cover was “MODE SELECTION”. Luckily, there were only two modes, and I quote this verbatim:

ON – Move the sliding switch to “Cold”, the unit will cool and a green light will be on.

OFF – Move the sliding switch to “Off”, the unit will be off.

Seriously. It actually took 30 words to explain that. Yet, two comma splices.

The next thing was MAINTENANCE. There were several reminders, one in particular that “small tobacco or dirt particles in the socket or plug may affect performance”. What did these people think I’d be doing in my office?! Then there were a sh*tload of cleaning instructions about how to prevent odours and stains using charcoal and bleach. Who is the normal clientele for this product—a messy, chainsmoking serial killer?!

Then on the back, there was a rider on the warranty that the product was not covered in the case of “abuse or neglect”. Did I buy a refrigerator or a goat?! What kind of abuse could I perpetuate on a Coca-Cola mini-fridge? Like putting Pepsi in it or something? And neglect? I WAS planning on mostly ignoring it, but now I feel like I have to at least say “Good Morning” to it, or it will be sad and my warranty will be voided. Despite its deceptively complicated MODE SELECTION, this fridge was turning out to be pretty high maintenance.

Still, I plugged it in, and switched the mode to ON. The green light came on, which was a good sign, and the fan started to hum comfortingly. Now, how best to ensure that it works?

Me: Hey, do you have a can of pop?
L: I’m not sure. Why?
Me: I want to check if my new mini-fridge is working, and I thought if I put a can of pop in it, I would know because the can would get cold.
L: And you don’t like to drink cold pop, so you need me to give you a can…
Me: Right. Do you have any Coke? I don’t want to upset the fridge.
L: Actually, I do. Here you go. Oh, it’s so cute—and the can of Coke totally matches it!
Me: I know, right?!
Both: *high five and stare fondly at refrigerator*
Refrigerator: *whispers* I’ve found my forever home. Now I can chill. Sigh.

coke-firg

Saturday: Titus is a fashionista

Me: Hey, guess what? A friend of mine just sent me pictures of some dog coats and I bought one for you. She’s bringing it to work on Monday, and I’ll bring it home for you next weekend.
Titus: This is the best day EVER!! Let me see…Ooh, fancy!
Me: I’m glad you like it. It’ll keep you warm on those late night walks.
Titus: And the fedora you’re going to get me to match will keep my ears warm. I’d say “trilby” but I think my head is too pointy for one of those.
Me: Fedora? What are you talking about?
Titus: You’re buying me a coat that looks like a classic tweed Burberry trench coat! I can’t rock that style without a gentleman’s fedora. What do I look like—a hippie? Oh—also, I’m going to need Raybans—I think Wayfarers will complete the look.
Me: You’re getting a coat. Be satisfied.
Titus: Well, there goes Milan. I’d make a great male model, you know. Check me out. Blue Steel!
Me: Good god.

titus-model

titus-burberry