The Cleaner

A couple of weeks ago, the owner of the antique market where I work came in. I was with a customer, and when I finished, he called me over. “Come here, Susan,” he said. “I need to talk to you.” I immediately went into panic mode, thinking I was going to get fired for writing a short story about the antique market (it’s called ‘Revenge of the Juggernaut’ and you can read it in At The End Of It All, which is a totally shameless plug for my new short story collection) and he must have realized that I looked like I was about to run out of the building, because he followed up with, “Don’t worry, it’s good news.”

Good news? Was I about to get a raise whilst at the same time my hours were being reduced so that I could work less and make more? Was there a secret office hockey pool that I hadn’t known I’d entered that I had just won? And if you know anything about me at all, you know that I know nothing about hockey at all, but I still managed to do incredibly well in my last office hockey pool, even though I picked my players solely on the basis of them having cool last names (I’m looking at you, William Nylander, whose name rhymes with Highlander, and as legend tells us, there can be only one). But no, I hadn’t won anything, and then I got even more nervous when he told me the news.

Owner: I wanted to tell you that we hired a cleaner.
Me: (air quotes) A ‘cleaner’?…What kind of ‘cleaner’?
Owner (befuddled): Someone to clean.
Me: Clean WHAT exactly?

Maybe I’ve watched too many mob films, TV dramas, and John Wick movies, because to ME, a cleaner is someone who cleans up, like, dead bodies and whatnot. And I was pretty sure that we only sold antiques at work, but maybe THAT was just a front for something much more insidious, which would explain why my young boss quite often gets hedgy when I ask him questions like, “What happened to that vendor on the third floor?” or “What were you doing here so early this morning?”

But the owner quickly (maybe TOO quickly, which is exactly what a mob boss would do) clarified that he had hired a person to clean the bathrooms, vacuum, mop the floors, sweep the stairs and so on, and he would be coming every Wednesday. “Isn’t that wonderful?” he said. “Now you don’t have to do it any more. Of course, there will still be weekly maintenance but the majority of the cleaning will be done on Wednesday, so you don’t have to mop the floors or scrub the toilets any more.” And he said this like he honestly thought I had EVER scrubbed the toilets. I have, however, probably once a week, mopped the floors in the bathrooms, so it was a pleasant surprise, even though I had literally just finished mopping the floors and now all I could think was “Damn, if I’d only waited until Tuesday.”

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, we were all very excited for the cleaner to arrive. Which he did. And almost immediately, one of my co-workers leaned over and whispered to me:

Co-Worker: THAT’S the cleaner?
Me: Apparently. He looks like…a cleaner.
Co-Worker: I know, right?! What do you think he cleans, when he’s not cleaning here?
Me: I couldn’t begin to say, but he definitely looks like…a cleaner.

And what we meant was, we had never seen a person who looked more like a person who cleaned up murder scenes and mob hits in our lives. If there was an epitome of someone who ‘cleaned’ for a living, that was this guy, who looks kind of like Chazz Palminteri’s cousin. We spent the morning expecting to see large white trash bags, or at least rolled-up carpets being hurried out of the building by a team of his henchman, but sadly, all he did was wash down the toilets, vacuum up all the rock salt from the carpets, mop the floors, and sweep the stairs. And he did an amazing job–almost like he was a…PROFESSIONAL.

In other news, my Canadian publisher recently sent me the cover mock-up for my new novel, the sequel to The Seventh Devil, called The Devil You Know. And I couldn’t be happier about it. The book won’t be out for a while–I just got the printer’s proofs to check, but here’s the cover if you haven’t seen it on Facebook or whatever:

The Times, They Are A’Changing; November 31st

Have you ever felt like an idiot of your own making? Because I felt that way last Sunday. I woke up, looked at my phone, and the time said 9:00 am. It was a little later than I normally wake up, but I’d been up past midnight and deserved a sleep-in. Then I went downstairs, where all the clocks (and I have A LOT) said the same thing. Ken was out, and I sat down to read other people’s blogs. It occurred to me that the clocks were supposed to be changing on Sunday night, so I looked it up. Sure enough, the time change was going to happen on Sunday at 2 am. Then I read Positively Alyssa’s blog Fight MS Daily where she bemoaned daylight savings time, and I actually posted this comment: “Our clocks don’t change until after midnight tonight–I didn’t know other places did it earlier!”

After that, I casually wandered into the kitchen, where I realized that the tea tin clock I have above the hood range on the stove seemed like it had stopped keeping time. I was just replacing the battery when Ken came in:

Ken: Oh, did I forget that one?
Me: What one?
Ken: That clock. I changed them all when I got up this morning, but I guess I missed that one.
Me: What are you talking about?
Ken: Spring forward? Daylight Savings Time…
Me: That’s not until tonight. Sunday at 2 AM.
Ken: Which was at 2 AM. This morning. Several hours ago.
Me: Time is a construct.

Then, this Friday morning, something even more amazing than time and space relativity happened. I was contacted by Cecilia Kennedy of Fixing Leaks and Leeks, a fantastic writer in her own right and author of The Places We Haunt among many other things, to tell me that she’d written a feature called “Women Writers Shaping The Future Of Horror” for Horror Tree, and I was one of the writers she listed in the article, which you can read here: https://horrortree.com/wihm-2023-women-writers-shaping-the-future-of-horror/

I was so excited that I ran outside in the pouring rain in my housecoat and slippers to tell Ken about it. Slippers and housecoat, you ask? Well, it was only 9 am. Or maybe it was 10, who knows? Time is a construct.

Finally, there’s this. Every year, my friend over at Evil Squirrel’s Nest hosts The Tenth Annual Contest Of Whatever. This year’s prompt is ‘November 31st’ and I highly recommend you participate in this fun contest–you can scurry over to the Squirrel’s site for more details. I don’t normally write to prompts but this one was too good to resist, so here’s my effort:

No Argument Here

Carol and her sister Martha never really got along. They were always at odds with each other from the time they were children, causing their parents to describe each of them as capable of starting a fight in an empty room. As adults, they maintained a distant but moderately amicable relationship, at least until Carol got married at the age of 52. Martha, who had remained single and had resigned herself to spinsterhood, felt shut out, and the drunken toast she gave at the wedding was hurtful, especially her insistence that Carol’s new husband had made the wrong choice. After a few years of cold silence between the two sisters, Martha decided it was time to turn over a new leaf and repair the familial bond, the only one she had left. She resolved that she would reach out to Carol, who was happily settled with her husband and their three miniature poodles, and no matter what Carol said to her, she would take it in stride, and prove to her sister that their relationship could begin to finally flourish. No arguing, she promised herself—no matter what. Martha drove to Carol’s house on a gloomy November day and stood on the stoop for a moment before taking a deep breath and ringing the bell.

Carol opened the door. She was momentarily speechless then her face hardened. “Well?”

“It’s been too long, Carol. Can we put the past behind us? Maybe go out for a coffee?” Martha waited for a response.

Carol’s eyebrows arched. “Let me check my calendar.” She remained in the doorway, unmoving. “I’m free on November 31st.”

Martha gritted her teeth and smiled grimly. “Fine. I’ll see you then.”

I hope you participate–I had a lot of fun with this one! And finally, let me apologize to any of my followers who’ve been experiencing frustration because your comments have been disappearing. I had no idea until my good friend Bear Humphreys, who writes a fantastic photography blog called Bear Humphreys Photo, emailed me privately to tell me that one of his comments had disappeared. I checked my spam—it was the usual nonsense, which is to say, a few random porn sites sandwiched between interminable comments about ‘Amazingness’, ‘Sensationalness’, and ‘Phenomenalness’ all posted by people purporting to represent trailers, RVs, campers, sprint vans, conversion vans, van windows/doors/trim repairs, and every possible thing that could relate to RVing or camping, as if I’d ever do ANY of that. Then I checked my TRASH folder and discovered A LOT of comments from legitimate followers that had somehow ended up there. I think I restored all of them, but I can’t be sure, because the majority of the RV-obsessed comments, aside from the ones that somehow got into my spam folder, are in the trash. And these sites are posting literally every five minutes—there were over 5 pages of trashed comments just for Thursday alone to work through! But I think what happened is that I was forced to switch from the WordPress app to something called Jetpack, and that seems to be when the comments started to get screwy. So I’m keeping my eye on things, and I’ll be checking regularly to make sure my friends don’t end up with the trailer trash. (And please please don’t use the words RV, camper, trailer, van etc. in your comments or they might end up in spam!)

Animal Cracker-Uppers, Launched

On Fridays, I go to a physiotherapy clinic for shock wave therapy. I always have to explain to people that it’s not ELECTROSHOCK therapy—it’s a jackhammer-like treatment that pounds your skin so deeply that calcium embedded in your tendons disintegrates. Or so they say. I’m not sure how exactly it works, and I tried to look it up on the internet but it basically defines shock wave therapy as the thing that it is, to wit: “Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a non-invasive treatment that involves delivery of shock waves to injured soft tissue” (Mayo Clinic). None of this is enlightening in any way, but it does help to differentiate it from having high voltage electricity pass through your brain. And here’s a slight tangent—at the physiotherapy clinic that I go to regularly, they insist on calling me Susan, no matter how many times I correct them. And the other thing is that in every room, there’s a three-shelf trolley on wheels with different kinds of equipment on each shelf. On the bottom shelf of every trolley is a sticker that says BOTTOM SHELF, and I’m pretty sure the people at the Mayo Clinic are responsible for that one as well. But my question is “Why label it?!” Is there the slightest chance that if the sticker is removed, someone is going to flip the trolley upside down and send all of the equipment flying around the clinic? The wheels would be ON TOP, THUS DEFEATING THE PURPOSE OF A WHEELED TROLLEY. And if you know me at all, you know that the real problem here is that I’m desperate to find out if the other shelves are similarly labelled, like does the middle shelf have a sticker that says MIDDLE or does the top shelf say TOP? Except the top two shelves ALWAYS have things on them. Every week, I keep hoping that the physiotherapist will suddenly exclaim, “Oh Susan, the pizza has just arrived so I need to step out!” and then I can take a peek for myself. But SHE NEVER LEAVES.

Anyway, on the way to physiotherapy, I drive by a business that has a very large sign out front, and the sign regularly says some very strange things. A few weeks ago, I did a double-take because it proclaimed, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Apparently, Napoleon said that, according to Google, which I doubt because Napoleon didn’t speak English. But still, it’s a strange thing to put on a sign. And then on Friday, I drove by and the sign read, “Private Sign: Do Not Read”. And while both sentiments are weird, the most bizarre thing about the whole situation is that the business in question is a VETERINARY CLINIC. And all I can think is what kind of f*cking veterinarian believes either of these things will draw in new customers? I could see if the sign read “Dogs and Cats Welcome” or even “Our Bark Is Worse Than Our Bite”, but suggesting that the people inside the clinic are enemies and are each hoping that the other will make a mistake, potentially on YOUR SICK ANIMAL? That’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in a while. I googled Funny Quotes For Veterinarians and found a bunch from a variety of different Animal Hospitals, and here are ten of the best ones:

1) What Do You Feed An Invisible Cat? Evaporated Milk

2) What Does A Lazy Dog Chase? Parked Cars

3) What Do Cats Do In A Fight? They Hiss And Make Up

4) What Do You Call A Pile Of Cats? A Meowtain

5) What Do You Call A Dog Magician? A Labracadabrador

6) We Like Big Mutts And We Cannot Lie

7) Why Can’t Dalmations Hide? Because They’re Always Spotted (that one’s for you, Chris)

8) Your Pets Will Love Us, We Shih Tzu Not!

9) Your Doggone Cute, I’m Not Kitten

10) Happy Mardi Gras, Show Us Your Kitties

See? It’s not hard to come up with funny sayings to put on signs that will entice people to bring their pets to you rather than terrify them. Although, to be perfectly honest, the only sign I ever want to see outside anything is this one:

In other news, last week at work, a guy came up to the counter to pay for some random computer game:

Guy: Cocaine is amazing.
Me: What?
Guy: Cocaine. It’s the best. Yummy yummy cocaine.
Me: Did you want to buy this game?
Guy: Yes. Cocaine is awesome. Did I tell you that already?
Me: Sigh. That’ll be $13.56. Have a good day.
Guy: Oh, I will.

Cocaine. Because why the hell not?

In other, other news, the book launch for my new book At The End Of It All was yesterday afternoon. Whenever I have an event, I always worry that no one will come, but people always do, and yesterday was no exception. A huge thank you to the many people who attended in support of me and my writing–it was a blast!

Creative Wednesdays: At The End Of It All Reviews

I’m feeling really great right now because there have been several reviews for At The End Of It All and so far they’ve been extremely positive! If you’d like to read some, you can go to this fantastic blog Myths of the Mirror and read what D. Wallace Peach, the well-known author and blogger had to say in her February reviews: https://mythsofthemirror.com/2023/03/01/february-book-reviews-4/

You can also read about what Gord Jones, a Bookland Press colleague and author of the novel Predators And Prey, had to say here: http://www.theworldofgord.com/2023/03/at-end-of-it-all-stories-from-shadows.html

And then of course there are Twitter reviews:

And here’s what some people had to say on Amazon:

It’s a genuine thrill to know that your writing is having an impact on people, and I thank everyone who’s left a review from the bottom of my heart!

Things Are Getting Real

I love reality shows. I’ve loved them ever since I was five years old and I was on a children’s reality show called Romper Room. It was one of the most popular shows on Ontario television, and it consisted of a different group of children each week just playing and doing activities under the supervision of a kindly, teacher-type lady. At the end of each show, Miss____ (there were several women who played the role—mine was Miss Grace) would hold up a magic mirror, and say, “I can see Johnny, and Sarah, and Ian, and….” Kids across the province would sit fixated, desperately hoping to hear their name. I don’t know why my parents decided to put me on the show, but two incidents cemented for me the fact that reality shows have only a tenuous relationship with reality. First, I kept jumping up and down, prompting the director to tell me to stop. “You’re TOO excited,” he said. But I was excited. A SUPER f*cking excited 5-year-old, and I had to stifle my real enthusiasm because it was TV. Second, they taped all five episodes for the week on one Saturday, and I kept getting into sh*t for contradicting Miss Grace when she would start the next segment with “What day is it today, boys and girls?” Everyone was supposed to say ‘Tuesday’ or whatever, but I yelled “Saturday!!” every time. Once again, the director had to talk to me about how we were only “pretending” and to just play along. Yep, that’s me—a non-conformist pain-in-the-ass from an early age.

Still, reality shows are the best, especially building shows. And I’m very lucky because:

a) There’s a renovation going on across the street from us, turning a church into a family home. And while I can see updates on Facebook, I literally have a bird’s eye view of the deconstruction AND reconstruction process from my window. Whenever I’m bored, I can just look out and it feels like I’m watching TV. And here’s where it gets really meta—the renovation is actually being filmed by a network in the States and it will be on TV when it’s done. How cool is that? Also, if you’ve read my new short story collection, At The End Of It All, there’s a story called Twist of Faith which is loosely based on the opening of the cornerstone last year at that very church.

b) I work at an antique market which could very easily be the subject of a reality show, a cross between Hoarders and Storage Wars. For example, the other day, a new vendor showed up. His name is Bob and he’s like 90 and he makes birdhouses. Bob’s Birdhouses. The intention was for him to display his birdhouses on a shelf above the till but everyone forgot to brace the shelf. So he arrived, and one of my co-workers had to immediately start cutting wood for braces because Bob was PISSED. And then my co-worker had to go find a drill. He found four of them in the basement. None of them worked. But we didn’t throw them away because if we did, the owner would dig them out of the garbage and make us put them back. Then we all—me, Bob, and Bob’s wife, watched my co-worker screw the braces into the shelf, which made him very self-conscious and irritated, especially when Bob kept inspecting the braces, and I kept saying, “You should be using a Robertson bit, not a Philips.” I know this because I WATCH REALITY SHOWS, DAN. In fact, I watch so many reality shows that I should pitch one of my own. Thus, I present to you several ideas for fantastic reality shows, starting with…

1) Cubicle Wars

Host: Hello once again, and welcome to Cubicle Wars, where each week, two co-workers compete to see who can create a stunning office space with little more than a $50 gift card to the Dollar Store and their own imaginations! Let’s meet our challengers! This is Jill, a temp worker with a fondness for frogs, as you can see by the many, many statues and stuffies that she has on her desk. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jill!

Jill: Frogs are amphibians and can speak 7 different languages.
Host: Only one of those things is even correct! Welcome, Jill! And now here’s our other contestant, Josh. Josh is an engineer, so no one knows what he actually does!
Josh: That’s not true. I—I…
Host: Exactly! Now here are your $50 gift cards. See you next week, you crazy kids!

One week later…

Host: Let’s see what Jill and Josh have accomplished. Our live studio audience will then announce the winner!
Audience (which consists of a panhandler that the host found in the lobby): Does anyone have spare change for coffee?
Host: After the show, Stinky Pete! First up is Jill!
Jill: I used my $50 to buy aromatherapy candles and placed them strategically around my cubicle.
Host: That’s it? How many candles did you buy?
Jill: 50, obviously. It was the Dollar Store.
Manager (passing by): You can’t light those, Jill. I told you, it’s a fire hazard.
Jill: FINE, STEVE! But don’t come to me when the power goes out, you fascist!
Host: All right—let’s see what Josh has done. Ooh, a tiki bar theme! Very nice! I particularly like the inflatable palm tree.
Josh: Thanks. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out, although I’ve been getting a lot of side-eye because of the torches. THEY’RE CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE, STEVE! I’M NOT A NAZI!
Host: And now it’s that moment we’ve all been waiting for. Audience, who is our winner?!
Stinky Pete: Is there any whiskey in the tiki bar? NO? Then I pick the candle lady.
Host: Congratulations, Jill. Your prize is that you get to keep all the candles!
Jill: I just want my frogs back. Marcel was teaching me French.
Host: See you next time on Cubicle Wars!

I really think this show has potential. And while I was fleshing it all out, here are some other show ideas I came up with:

2) Souped Up! (a cheaper version of Top Gear)

In this show, two guys take cheap cars and try to make them look cool. With VERY limited resources.

Host: Tell us about today’s project, boys.
Gary: It’s a 1988 Ford Tempo, base model, beige, with rust accents.
Mitch: We got it for fifty bucks at a yard sale. The upholstery smells like cheese.
Host: And what are your plans for this car?
Gary: No spoilers!
Host: Oh, sorry I asked.
Gary: No, dude—we’re not putting a spoiler on it. Spoilers are pretentious.
Mitch: You’re goddamned right they’re pretentious!

The next day…

Host: Wow! What a transformation. Tell us what you did!
Mitch: We found bigger wheels at the dump and put them on the back. Now it’s slanty!
Gary: We used duct tape to make racing stripes. I probably should have used a ruler.
Host: Um…did you put a tow hitch on the back of this car JUST so you could hang a fake scrotum ornament off it?
Mitch: You’re goddamned right we did! We made it ourselves out of two oranges and one of Gary’s granny’s old kneehighs.
Both (highfiving): Our car has balls, b*tch!
Host: All right then. Join us next week when Gary and Mitch transform a Pinto into a fancy lawn tractor!
Both: Unsafe at any speed!

3) 19 and Counting: Feline Edition

Voice-Over Intro: “Meet Meredith, a ‘cat lover’, who roams the streets of her town at night, looking for more cats. She has a LOT—maybe more than 19 but who’s counting? None of them are actually hers; she stole them all from her neighbours. Her house reeks of urine, but she insists she’s ‘not crazy’. You be the judge!”

4) Cooking With Wieners

This show is simple. It’s just hot dogs. Every week. Audience of at least one (Ken) guaranteed.

5) Flip That Port-a-Potty!

While you might be thinking that this is a decorating show where people take old portable toilets and pretty them up, you’re wrong. This show is about Bobby “Flip” Johnson, a real douchecanoe who waits until people go into port-a-potties, then he sneaks up and tips them over. He’s killed in episode 3, and the remainder of the season becomes a detective show, where a slightly Asperger’s detective and his madcap female sidekick investigate Bobby’s murder. Kind of like Jackass meets Elementary. Will we ever find out who killed Bobby? No spoilers!