Bad Omens

Last Sunday afternoon, our new neighbours contacted us, wondering if we wanted to go kayaking with them. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so Ken and I agreed. We launched at one bridge outside of town, with the intention of getting out at the next bridge which, by car, was less than two minutes away. It was a gorgeous day, and after paddling for ABOUT AN HOUR, I said, “Hey, how long is this going to take?” because my shoulder was still not 100% despite the 4 shock wave treatments I’d had. And let me clarify for everyone right now that it’s NOT electroshock—it’s sound waves and has nothing to do with my brain at all, although if it did, I might have been able to think twice about a kayak trip that looked like it would take half an hour as the crow flies, but in fact took over two hours as the river meanders.

Anyway, we’d been on the water for a little while and it was very peaceful. Suddenly around the bend, we saw a giant bird. It was a green heron, sitting on the bank. As we got closer, Ken tried to get a picture of it, but it took off, flapping its giant wings. We were sad, but not too much farther upstream, there was another green heron. And then a blue heron. And then a WHITE ONE. And what I had forgotten is that herons are not so much a breathtaking natural wonder but a very bad omen. Once, many years ago when I was still teaching, I had a department head who was an earth mother type. She and her husband had just installed a huge pond in their backyard, and stocked it with very large and expensive koi fish. One morning, she came into our office, breathless with excitement.

“I looked out my kitchen window,” she said to all of us gathered around, “and there, shrouded in the morning mist, stood a heron. It was so majestic and wonderful!” (We were English teachers and talked like this all the time).

“Oh!” said a young ingenue. “I just looked it up and herons are a sign of good fortune and progress. Lucky you!”

Everyone mooned about the heron, all of us wishing we had one too. But then the next morning, our leader returned, dejected.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

“The heron ate all my koi,” she replied tearfully.

So herons are basically harbingers of doom, and if I’d remembered that at the time, I would have paid more attention to the obviously dire message that the string of heron sightings was meant to convey and I wouldn’t have found myself caught up on rocks in a section of rapids, with my kayak rapidly filling up WITH said rapids, screaming to Ken for help. We managed to tip my kayak and drain most of the river out of it right then and there, but the water was moving so fast that I lost my balance several times, causing both my flipflops to come off, leaving me hopping around barefoot on very sharp rocks. I spent the rest of the trip, which took ANOTHER HOUR, sitting in 4 inches of water sans shoes. Still, the weather was charming and the company was good, despite the herons and their pall of ill fortune.

And I would have been well to have remembered that on Wednesday, when I turned from my desk and caught a glimpse of something strange on our front porch railing. From where I was sitting, it looked like a large animal hunched over. My tolerance for things has become remarkably low since the lockdown started so my first reaction was, “What the f*ck is on my porch at 9 o’clock in the morning?!” I was additionally trepidatious, having already been terrorized the day before by a psychotic squirrel that had slammed spreadeagled into the window inches from my head during a meeting, causing me to jump and shriek, which in turn caused my team to jump and yell, “What’s happening?! Should we call 911? Qu’est ce qui se passe? Appelle la police!” And then I had to explain that it was only a squirrel. Outside.

So I very cautiously crept to the front door and peeked out the window to see A HERON perched on my railing. I still hadn’t put two and two together with the bad luck and whatnot, so I was like, “Cool!” I texted Ken: Come down quietly—there’s a heron on the porch.

Slight tangent: Ken and I have always owned houses with two stories, and because I don’t want to damage my voice by constantly yelling up at him, and because Ken has terrible hearing (Ken: No, I don’t! Me: What? I can’t hear you.) we’ve always had either an intercom system, two-way radios, or other means of communication between floors because—and you may be surprised to hear this—I talk a lot. Luckily now we can just text each other.

Ken tiptoed downstairs and we were both amazed at this giant bird just sitting there. We got some pictures before it suddenly spread its massive wings and took off. But then I remembered those ill-fated koi from many years ago and insisted that we go out and check our small pond to make sure the goldfish were still intact. They were. But as we were patrolling the garden, we found a tiny mourning dove with a broken wing in the bushes right below the heron’s perch. After doing some research, we discovered that herons will also attack and eat smaller birds, which explains why it was hovering like a f*cking vulture on my porch railing. Ken called a rehabilitation centre for wildlife in the next town over, and drove the dove there. We haven’t heard if it survived, but I hope so.

Long story short, herons are assholes.

 

Search Me

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, and my go-to is always Google. I mean, it’s not like I can walk into a public library and take out a stack of books, although if you know anything about me and my OCD hygiene issues, you’ll know I never touch library books anyway, especially after one of my friends told me about how bedbugs can live in library books and she puts them in the freezer for 48 hours before reading them. Google is the best for finding out stuff: Firefox is obsolete, Edge is boring AF, and Bing is Satan’s search engine, which, in retrospect, might have been appropriate. Also, there are no annoying ads on Google, although you DO get ads everywhere else related to every site you visit. It amazes me that there are people who believe that bizarre conspiracy theory about Bill Gates tracking you through microchips in vaccines when Google already knows everything about you simply based on your clicks. Once, I looked at an ad for wigs, and every site I go to now has ads for wigs. Last week I posted about kittens and now Kate Spade wants to sell me earrings shaped like kittens. And two days ago, I filled in an online request for a quote from a kitchen painting company and now my gmail keeps filling up with ads for Benjamin Moore and kitchen renos. If those conspiracy theorists were really smart, they’d stop using computers all together and share their dumbassery through Morse code instead of becoming anti-vaxxers.

Anyway, I recently completed writing my first non-Young Adult novel, called The Seventh Devil, and I had to do a lot of research at different points in the plot. And then I heard that the government monitors certain topics and I got really worried that maybe I’d raised some red flags. Here is a list of things I searched for recently—tell me if you think I should be concerned:

1) What happens when you mix salt and vinegar together?
2) How corrosive is hydrochloric acid?
3) Is it illegal to make hydrochloric acid?
4) What acid is stronger than hydrochloric acid?
5) Is it illegal to buy sulphuric acid?
6) Where in Canada can I buy sulphuric acid?
7) What type of container is best for transporting sulphuric acid?
8) What acids are more deadly than sulphuric acid?
9) What does carbon tetrachloride do?
10) How does phosphine gas kill you?
11) How do you exorcise a demon?
12) What Latin phrases are best for exorcisms?
13) How do I know if my house is possessed by a demon?
14) Why does my puppy lick the carpet?
15) Is my puppy possessed by a demon?
16) What is the largest swamp in Ontario?
17) How long does it take a body to decompose in a swamp?
18) Does the government track my Google searches?
19) What kind of vehicles do government agents drive?
20)If you see a wifi called Surveillance Van 3, is it real or a joke?
21) Does stress cause hiccups?

 

Demon Dog

Then last week, I e-transferred Kate some money for her tuition, and just for fun, I put “Thanks for the launch codes” in the message line. Yeah, I agree—I think I should be worried.

But research is important though–I learned this the hard way many years ago in university when I was doing an English Lit/Film degree. I was tasked with presenting the filmmaker Stan Brakhage to the class, so I read everything I could about him. Remember, this was in the days before Netflix, Youtube or even the internet, so I DID in fact have to go to a library. From everything I studied, the man was a genius, but there was no way I could actually see any of his films. Then, on the day of my presentation, my film professor, a wonderfully enthusiastic and eccentric man, came up to me and breathlessly announced that he’d secured a 16mm copy of Brakhage’s masterpiece, “Dog Star Man Part III” which he would play on the screen behind me while I spoke. I was thrilled too—the lights went down, the film began, and I started telling the class all about the film and how Brakhage was “obsessed with vision, and tried to capture the three dimensions of the senses…he wanted the viewer to see in a fresh way, to disregard social conventions of seeing—” and then I realized that some people in the class were laughing and some people seemed shocked, so I looked over my shoulder at the film playing behind me and there was a gigantic nipple in the middle of the screen, and then a close-up of what looked like someone peeing, and I’ve never been so mortified and so happy to be in a dark room in my life. I literally stopped my presentation and just said, “Well. That’s so interesting,” and then we all watched as it got even more porn-y and my professor launched into a treatise on Brakhage’s ‘instinctive qualities’ and his ‘incredible technique’, and he was so ecstatic about the whole thing that he didn’t even notice that I hadn’t said another word and I got an A anyway (note that his comment below was “a brief but pithy statement not only of Brakhage but also his context”). And if you want to see “Dog Star Man” for yourself, you can just google it.

 

 

 

Climbing The Walls

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not very athletic. I only run if something is chasing me, although my idea of exercise HAS evolved from drinking wine while peddling a recumbent cycle to taking a brisk walk with the dog. It’s brisk because it’s the only way I can keep up with him—he’s currently terrible on a leash. He already knows the word ‘Walk’ and goes out of his mind with joy when he hears it to the point that you can barely get the leash attached to his collar before he’s out the door and gone. I’ve tried all kinds of things to calm him down but nothing works:

Me: Heel!
Atlas: Heal what? I’m fine.
Me: NO, stay by my heel.
Atlas: Then I’ll miss that awesome telephone pole. Also, there might be some squirrel sh*t that I have to smell. Ooh, a butterfly—come on!!

Cookies don’t work—well, they work until he’s swallowed them, and then he’s right back to strangling himself with his collar. He WILL sit at the corner, long enough to earn a ‘good boy’, then he laughs and dashes away, dragging me behind him. At 5 months old and 40 pounds, he’s hard to control but at least I’m getting my cardio in. Once everything opens up, I’m definitely taking him for obedience classes, mostly because he’s been trying to drink my wine when I’m not looking.

Anyway, aside from my daily race around the block, I don’t do anything too strenuous, so the other day when Kate asked, “Hey, do you want to go rock climbing with me?” my first instinct was to say “Yes”, because I love hanging out with her, and my second instinct was to whisper to Ken, “My god, what have I done?” He whispered back, “Just climb the kiddie wall—you’ll be fine.” I found some old exercise gear in a drawer, put on some running shoes, and we set out. I should mention that my daughter has her own rock-climbing shoes, so that should tell you exactly what the differential is between us in terms of rock climbing acumen. We got to the facility and walked in. It was huge, with walls of grips going up twenty feet at least, surrounded by 2-foot-thick mats. “Where are the ropes?” I asked. “Why isn’t anyone got a rope around their waist?” Kate informed me that this was ‘bouldering’ which is basically free climbing, so there went my dream of just swinging casually from a rope like a trapeze performer (also in this dream, I’m holding a glass of wine. It was a nice dream). We got up to the counter where we were met by a perky young woman.

Perky Young Woman: Hi! Is this your first time bouldering?
Me: Yes.
PYW: OK, let’s go over some safety guidelines. First, do you know how to fall?
Me: I think so, but I generally tend to avoid it, so I’m probably not an expert or anything.
PYW: OK, well the important thing is to keep your arms crossed over your chest. Don’t stick them out or you might break something.
Me: Exactly how much falling is going to be involved here?
PYW: Haha! Also, don’t touch the ceiling or any of the ductwork when you get to the top.
Me: You’re very optimistic about that possibility.
PYW: Haha! The walls range in difficulty from Beginner to Really Super Hard Crazy Advanced. (*Note: she didn’t actually say ‘Really Super Hard Crazy Advanced’, but I can’t remember the actual name and that’s what it looked like.)
Me: Just point me at the kiddie wall.
PYW: Hahahaha! We don’t have one of those.

Meanwhile, Kate had already chalked up her hands and was raring to go on a course that was on a backwards leaning incline (see pic 1). She directed me to a VB section of wall, which is to say Very Beginner, which I regarded dubiously. “How do I start?” She showed me and then said, “You try it.” I put one toe of my rental shoe on a grip, grabbed a handhold, and was immediately immobilized. I looked to her for help, but she was halfway up another wall, kind of like Spiderwoman. “Keep going, Mom!” she called out as she scaled the wall like a professional. I persevered and managed to make it up the course, which was straight up and had substantial handholds (see pic 2). Still, I made it to the top, about 15 feet up, and got a little excited until I realized that I had to climb back down. I might have looked like a gecko but at least I didn’t fall (see pic 3). I ended up doing a couple of other sections—one was even slightly harder than Beginner, as Kate cheered me on, and then I spent the rest of the time proudly watching her. The next morning when I woke up, I was only slightly screaming from the pain in my arms. And I can’t wait to do it again.