My Week 217: Things You Learn While Travelling

I just got back from spending a week on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean. It was great fun but I definitely learned some things about myself among other things, as one does when one is on a boat.

1) I’m not good at packing. I mean, I can PACK just fine—I’m a f*cking amazing packer. I roll everything into tight little sausages which makes them more compact AND unwrinkled. I can fit so much stuff into a small suitcase, you wouldn’t believe it. Also, I never pack until the night before, but I spend a lot of time thinking about the process and what exactly I will need. My parents actually PRACTICE packing to make sure everything will fit. They practiced on the Tuesday before we left and did such a great job that they just kept everything in the suitcase until Friday and I was like “My god, when was the last time you brushed your teeth?!” Me, I have no problem waiting until the last minute because I might end up needing something important, like what if Benedict Cumberbatch invited me to an impromptu pool/cocktail party and all my sh*t was locked inside a suitcase? So it’s not the packing itself that I struggle with—it’s WHAT I pack that’s the problem. The last time that Ken and I went away, I didn’t pack enough ‘daywear’ and had to buy a couple of souvenir T-shirts and now I will never forget where the halibut fishing capital of the world is (apparently it’s Homer, Alaska). So this time, I overcompensated but when I repacked my suitcase to come home, I realized that I hadn’t worn even half the sh*t I brought. Also, I packed twelve pairs of shoes. I was only away for 7 days.

2) Canada is a lot smaller than you think. You know how people assume that all Canadians know each other, like how people joke “Oh, you’re from Canada? Do you know Bob?” Well, it’s true. We were on a bus tour and people started saying where they were from:

Woman 1: Oh we’re from Kitchener.
My parents: So are we!
Woman 1: What part?
Parents: At the lofts at Benton!
Woman: Oh, do you know John Smith?
Parents: Yes!
Me: I’m not from Kitchener; I live in Drumbo.
Man 1: My brother’s from Drumbo—do you know Frank Jones?
Me: Yes!
Woman 2: We’re from Edmonton.
Me: Oh, we were there last summer. We stayed at the Chateau Louis.
Woman 2: Did you hear the piano player in the lounge?
Me: Yes, we did!
Woman 2: That’s Jeff—he’s my husband’s best friend! They host Blues Fest at the Chateau Louis every year and he always plays for that too!
Man 2: Oh, I think I saw him when we went there from Newfoundland last year! He was really good. We bought him a drink.
Woman 2: Wait—are you Bob?!

That’s Canadians for you—6 degrees Celsius of separation.

3) I don’t actually like monkeys. That might not seem like a big deal, but don’t forget that I have often waxed poetic about the joys of having a monkey butler. His name would be Ralph Van Wooster, obviously, and he would wear a little tuxedo with a hole cut out of the bottom for his tail. But in reality, I don’t think I like monkeys very much if my reaction to hearing that there were wild monkeys out and about on one of the islands we visited is any indication. Our tour bus driver was telling us about how people used to smuggle monkeys onto the island but then when they got older and more aggressive, they would release them into the wild, and now there were non-butler-type monkeys roaming the island and hanging around on the rooftops. And all I could think of was how terrifying it would be to wander around the botanical gardens and come face to face with a simian who was super pissed off at being tossed out onto the street and probably didn’t know how to make a dirty martini. Our tour guide also told us that people on the island ATE monkeys, and then he said, “I’ve never eaten monkey myself. I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat monkey, but if someone had some cooked monkey and it was right there, I would probably eat it” and I was like “How did it come to this, Ralph Van Wooster?”

4) Sea turtles have attitude. I got to go snorkeling with sea turtles, which was pretty awesome. The guide on that tour told us not to touch the turtles but he didn’t say anything about the turtles not touching us, and one of them slapped my dad which was a real dick move because my dad is Scottish and feisty as f*ck even in his eighties but he couldn’t fight back because he had to use two hands to hang on to his little floaty. So I also learned that sea turtles can be assholes but I guess when you’re “endangered” you get to do what you want.

Anyway, it was a great trip. We did tours of the islands, learned about spices, waded in waterfall pools, sat on beautiful beaches, and made good use of the “premium beverage package”.

Today is my birthday, but it will be a quiet one since I just got back late last night. My parents DID get me a cake on Friday night at one of the restaurants on the ship. When it came out, I started laughing hysterically. The maître d’ looked at me in confusion and said, “Isn’t your name spelled correctly?” and I said, “Not even a little bit.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said, “the pastry chef is from Thailand” and that was even more random, and made me laugh even harder. Good times, good times.

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My Week 216: Brotherly Love

I’m on a boat! Yes, mydangblog is travelling. I’ve been superbusy this week getting work stuff done and then getting packed up to go, so here’s what I have for you. You know I write this blog, and you might know that I’m a published novelist, but I also write short stories. I’ve only ever posted one (Donut Store Memories), but I thought I’d share this one with you just for fun. OK, it’s not particularly funny–in fact, it’s kind of dark, but I hope you like it. I’ll be back next week with tales of my adventures but for now…

Brotherly Love

Jackson Wills had loved Joy Wills from the first moment he’d seen her in the Stag And Horn Pub five years ago. She had come towards him, smiling, hand outstretched. Even from a distance, he could see the delicate bones of her wrist, the porcelain skin, and the fine veins beneath it. When she laughed, he could have sworn he heard tiny silver spoons tapping against crystal wine glasses. Her eyes were brown, a honey-caramel colour that he could have stared into until the end of time. Her long, brown hair was tucked behind one ear, a perfect, shell-like ear. He thought that if he could just lean in a little, he might hear the ocean in that ear. As they spoke, the world around him faded away, and the only thing in the vacuum of silence that remained was Joy. He’d felt that way 5 years ago, and he still felt that way now. There was only one problem. Joy Wills was married to Jackson’s twin brother, MacKenzie.

Mack. The outgoing one, the “fun” twin. Identical to Jack in every way physically, but as different in personality as two people could be. Jack was quiet, introspective, preferring books to people. Mack was loud, a daredevil, always surrounded by a coterie of the equal-minded and equally loud. On the playground when they were children: Jackson always on the periphery; MacKenzie always in the centre. As high school students: Mack, the captain of every team, the president of every club, never without a girlfriend, never lonely on a Friday night; Jackson, on the bench, student council treasurer, invited to parties only as an afterthought.

In university, Jack came into his own, his preference for academia making him popular with professors and to a certain extent, with women. Mack continued to be Mack, but floundered under the pressures of his program, skating just above the cut every semester, spending more time in campus bars than in class. The field of play, such as it was, had finally leveled out. Jack was happy. And then Mack introduced him to Joy.

Mack and Joy had met in a class that she was taking out of interest; he was taking it in the hope that it was an easy credit: Introduction to Sartre. Unfortunately for Mack, it wasn’t easy, and he had turned one afternoon to the beautiful girl sitting next to him in the lecture hall and whispered, “I don’t get the point of this.” She had laughed, that silver-spoon-on-crystal laugh, and replied, “Good one!” He had no idea what she meant by ‘Good one’, but he went with it as he always did, and laughed along with her. Then he asked her out. When he confessed to her that night that he didn’t actually understand what the course was about, she found him charmingly candid. He confided this to Jackson some time after the wedding, laughing at the irony of Joy’s confidence in his honesty. Jackson said nothing, the tapping of silver spoons on crystal still ringing in his ears. It surprised him that Mack even understood the concept of irony. And he continued to say nothing each time Mack asked him to cover for him. Even as an adult, Mack was never without a girlfriend; it didn’t matter that he also had a wife.

Of course, Jackson’s silence was completely selfish. The first time Mack had used him as an excuse (“I’m spending the night at Jack’s. He’s going through a rough time right now…”), he was understandably furious. He found out after the fact when MacKenzie called him, begging him not to tell Joy the truth, that he’d gone out for drinks after work, and went home with a woman in Human Resources whose name he couldn’t even recall. Jackson’s first instinct was to go straight to Joy. But then he stopped. He realized that if Joy knew the truth, she would leave Mack, and he might never see her again. He was sure of one thing, and one thing only—the absence of Joy in his life would kill him.

So, for the past five years, he had been complicit in Mack’s dalliances. But it wasn’t for nothing. Mack started “going out of town for business” which gave Jack the opportunity to spend time with Joy. They liked the same books and spent hours discussing them; they went to the movies, to concerts, and they drank wine, simply talking. As eager as Mack was to get away from Joy, Jack was equally as eager for him to be gone. It was heaven. But then Mack would come back, and everything would return to normal.

One day, it occurred to Jackson that there might be a better solution to his dilemma. Divorce was impossible—he would lose Joy forever. If she and Mack split up, there was little chance that she would want to spend time with a man who looked exactly like him. And Joy seemed to have little concern about the fact that Mack was rarely home. She had a good job herself, and friends, and Jackson, to whom she had referred more than once as her “best” friend. More importantly, when Mackenzie WAS home, she seemed happy, and gave no indication that she even suspected that he was seeing other women. Jackson would watch them together, as seemingly delighted to be a couple as they were the first time Mackenzie had introduced Joy to him in the Stag And Horn. He burned with jealousy and desire, tempered only by the plan that he was slowly and carefully formulating, biding his time until the moment was right.

Then, one Saturday night, they were all out together—Mack and Joy, and Jackson with a woman from his software firm named Kim. He spent most of the evening focused on Joy, barely speaking to his date, who eventually gave up and just ordered a double scotch. Mack was in fine form, though, subtly flirting with Kim. It had long ago occurred to Jackson that he and his brother had never once, even as children, pretended to be each other. It would have been as difficult for Mack to stay quiet as it would have for Jack to be loud. But now, as adults…

Finally, Mack excused himself to go to the restroom, and Jackson followed. Once they were both alone, he broached the topic.

“Kim’s lovely, isn’t she?” he said, as they stood facing the urinals.

Mack looked at him sideways. “Great body,” he said. “Have fun with that. I’m jealous.”

“She’s not my type. She was spending a lot of time watching you when you weren’t looking.”

“Oh, I was looking,” Mack smirked. “Too bad.”

“Well,” Jackson hesitated. “Here’s a thought….”

He carefully explained the plan to his brother, expecting that the combination of Mack’s obvious interest in Kim, combined with the fact that he was slightly drunk would make him compliant. But Mack was outraged.

“You’re a sick person, you know that?!” He jabbed his index finger hard into Jackson’s chest. “I can’t believe you! And there’s no way Joy wouldn’t realize it was you! Stay away from us, from now on!”

Jackson felt sick to his stomach. He had been absolutely convinced that MacKenzie would jump at the chance to switch places, and now—now he’d ruined everything. He’d never see Joy again, never smell the air around her, never lean close to her perfect shell-like ear in the hope of hearing the ocean. He slumped down onto the dirty bathroom floor and began weeping. MacKenzie looked at him with a mixture of concern and contempt.

“Are you OK? Jack! Come on, stop crying!”

“Just take me home, please. We can go out the back—I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” he sobbed.

He got up off the floor, and staggered out of the bathroom and into the parking lot, Mack following close behind.

“I messaged Joy that you suddenly got ill and I’m just running you home, then I’ll come back for her and Kim,” he said, his anger flaring again. “Joy’s actually worried about you. I should make you walk, you piece of shit.”

Jackson just sniffed and got in the car. Mack tossed his wallet and phone into the backseat angrily. “You know I’ve had a bit to drink. You’d better hope we don’t get pulled over.”

They started driving down the highway in silence, Mack staring straight ahead, eyes fixed firmly on the road. Jackson’s mind was racing. They were approaching an underpass. He didn’t know what else to do—he was a desperate man driven by desperate desires. He surreptitiously slid his own wallet out of his pocket and let it drop to the floor of the car. As they got closer to the underpass, he suddenly reached over and popped the button on Mack’s seatbelt. The belt flew up, and Mack looked at him, confused.

“What the hell are you—” he started to say, as Jackson grabbed the steering wheel. The car swerved sharply to the right. As it made contact with the concrete foundation of the underpass, the last thing that Jackson saw was his brother flying up over the airbag and hitting the windshield. Then everything went dark.

When the light came back, he was lying in a room that smelled like rubbing alcohol and blood. He tried to turn his head, but an explosion of pain made him groan. Someone by the bed exclaimed, “He’s awake!”

Another voice, quiet but excited, asked, “Do you know who you are? What’s your name?”

Without thinking, he replied hoarsely, “Jack.” There was a flurry of voices, and he heard someone start crying. He realized suddenly, even through the pain, that he had one chance. “Jack,” he repeated. “Is my brother Jack OK?”

Three weeks later, he was finally released from the hospital. Joy had been there every day, taking care of him, and it was the heaven he had dreamed of. It was easy to pretend to be Mack when he was in recovery—no one expected a man who’d almost been killed by his insanely jealous brother to be loud. And he played up his role, telling Joy that “Jackson” had been madly in love with her, that he’d insisted on driving and that before he drove them into the underpass, he had declared he couldn’t live without her, and that if Jack couldn’t have Joy, neither could Mack. She didn’t say much, just wiped her tears and told him she was glad that he had survived.

At the memorial for “Jackson”, he was appropriately solemn, but inside he could barely contain his excitement. This was the closure he had been waiting for, and once the ceremony was over, he could finally have the life with Joy that he’d dreamed of since the first day he met her. He delivered his own eulogy with just the right amount of gravitas and tears, trying not to giggle hysterically at the realization that Mack could never have been so eloquent. Joy sat in the front pew, tears streaming down her cheeks. It filled him with tremendous empathy for her, and the friend she had lost, but he would more than make it up to her as Mack.

When they got back to the house—HIS house now, too—Joy was quiet. She went immediately up the stairs and disappeared into the bedroom—HIS bedroom now, too. He’d spent the last few days in the guestroom at his own insistence—he still woke up in the night in pain and didn’t want to disturb her. At least, that’s what he told her. The truth was much darker and inexplicable—he wanted Mack in the ground before he silently claimed Joy for his own. But tonight, he felt as if he could conquer mountains, and she had had enough time to process her grief at the loss of a dear brother-in-law. He sat in the kitchen waiting for some sign of her. One hour passed, then another. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer. He started up the stairs, just as she was coming down. She was carrying a suitcase. They both stopped and stared at each other.

“Are you going somewhere?” he asked, looking at her and then the suitcase in confusion. “Did we have plans?” Joy continued to stare at him, her honey-caramel eyes making him weak at the knees. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“And I don’t understand how you could possibly want to stay in this sham of a marriage,” she said. “Do you really think I don’t know about all the other women? The disgust I feel for you? I was planning this weeks ago, of telling Jackson how much in love with him I was, hoping beyond hope that he would come away with me…then the accident happened, and I put it off until you were better. But now—with Jackson gone, there’s nothing left for me here. I’m leaving you.”

As she pushed past him on the stairs, he leaned in close to her perfect, shell-like ear. “I love you,” he whispered. He heard the ocean roar, and then she was gone.

 

My Week 215: Delusions Under Which I Suffer

When I was very little, I had a painful type of eczema on my hands called dyshidrosis. For some reason, the doctor became convinced that I was allergic to chocolate and oranges. This, of course, was patently untrue, as it turns out the causes of dyshidrosis are linked to seasonal allergies and stress. Go figure. But nobody knew that 50 years ago and as a result, I wasn’t allowed to eat chocolate or oranges for years in the hope that my hands would stop looking and feeling like they’d been stung by a thousand angry bees. I was OK with the chocolate, never really having had a sweet tooth. Oranges were a different matter though—I loved the tangy sweet taste of oranges, tangerines, and clementines, and I longed to be able to eat them. In my child’s mind, I coped with the deprivation by convincing myself that things that LOOKED orange actually tasted like oranges. I realized this about myself on Thursday, as I sat in my office, carefully separating a roll of Rockets into various colours and saving the orange ones for last.

Colleague: What are you doing?
Me: I like to eat the orange ones last. They taste the best.
Colleague: Rockets all taste the same, no matter what colour they are.
Me: No they don’t. F*ck off.

OK, I only said that last part in my head, because a) I like my coworkers and would never swear AT them and b) deep down, I know my colleague is right. Orange rockets don’t actually taste like oranges. Neither do orange coloured Smarties, orange coloured lollipops, orange vitamins (unless they’re Vitamin C, and then they taste slightly tangy like citrus), or most other things that are made mostly of sugar and food colouring.

I know it’s different in the States, but I’m Canadian.

Yet this is a delusion under which I suffer. It’s so deeply entrenched that when I was a kid, I used to sneak baby aspirin because it was orange. If you’ve ever tasted plain aspirin, it’s sour and acidic. So is the baby kind, but I was convinced that’s how oranges tasted. Also, it was lucky that I wasn’t accident prone because I’m sure my blood was thinner than water thanks to all the aspirin.

Now that I’m an adult, I can eat all the damn oranges I want. But I don’t, because oranges are a f*cking pain in the ass to eat. First there’s the peel. Then there’s all that white sh*t UNDER the peel. Then you have to chew through all the other bits and try not to choke on the seeds to get to the orange-y part—you might as well just drink orange juice. Or eat orange Rockets.

But this whole experience made me realize that there are a lot of other things I believe that are absolutely not true, yet I persist in believing them.

1) If I’m having trouble getting something to load on my cellphone, I hold it higher up in the air, because that makes the signal stronger. And if that doesn’t immediately do the trick, I also shake it. Ken makes fun of me for doing it, but it works. Ken also makes fun of me for wearing UGG boots, so that goes to show you how much HE knows. They’re comfortable AND stylish, Ken, so keep your opinions to yourself.

2) I’m a great singer. In the car. Nowhere else. But man, alone in the car, I can totally rock anything on my IPod. I’m like Beyoncé, if Beyoncé was a middle-aged white woman who only sang in her car. And I don’t have to worry about taking my act on the road, because my act is ONLY on the road. If I sing anywhere else, or there are other people around, I sound terrible.

3) I can predict the future. On Friday at work, we were talking about what we were going to have for dinner, and I said, “Ken will want homemade pizzas” and then I got a BBM from Ken:­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

I see pizza in our future…

I’m like The Amazing Kreskin if the Amazing Kreskin’s spouse was completely predictable and ALWAYS wanted homemade pizza for dinner. I should play the lottery more often.

4) I have many celebrity friends on Facebook. Obviously this guy is the REAL Justin Timberlake, who of course goes by a pseudonym and posts stuff like this:

It’s really Justin Timberlake. For sure.

You can see that he has lots of fans and is VERY busy. I’m also friends with Andrew Garfield, Mandy Moore, and a couple of the guys from The Walking Dead. Mandy Moore likes to post things like “Which character on this is us is youse guyses favourite?” I always assumed that Mandy Moore would be a little more articulate, but you know those Hollywood types. Andrew Garfield mostly just sends out Facebook Messenger messages with crying faces—I’m sure being famous is very lonely.  

5) Oil of Oregano can cure any kind of cold or virus. I know this is true because whenever I feel like I’m starting to come down with something, I take some Oil of Oregano and automatically feel like I might be dying, but then I drink some wine and feel better. Last month, I ran out so I bought a new bottle (of Oil of Oregano–I NEVER run out of wine), but when I took it, it tasted even more horrible than usual. I checked the label and guess what? It also had orange oil in it. Now I love the stuff.

I asked Titus if he had any favourite flavour:

Titus: Bacon, beef, fish, chicken, the hot chocolate powder inside of K cups, green beans, cauliflower, bouillon cubes,  cake, crackers, pie crust, white wine, the milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl, green peppers, red peppers, apple slices, strawberries…oh, and turkey. There’s probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten.
Me: Oranges?
Titus: Don’t be gross.
Me: You fool.