Being Taken For A Ride

You may or may not remember that, in the past, I’ve waxed eloquent about my love of heavy machinery, specifically forklifts. I used to think the pinnacle of existence would be to tool around my neighbourhood, rearranging picnic tables, delivering pallets, and rescuing those who had had pallets fall upon them mostly (because my stacking of said pallets wasn’t quite up to snuff because I’M JUST LEARNING). But I’m in my late 50s now and it occurred to me that I might have to give up the forklift fantasy. I was initially very sad, but then something ostensibly even better happened. Our neighbour, small engine mechanic extraordinaire and Ken’s boss (as a retirement gig, he does paperwork and deliveries for the mechanic) messaged to ask if we were interested in the John Deere riding lawnmower that he had just refurbished. INTERESTED?! I didn’t even ask how much money he wanted. I just ordered Ken to text him back immediately before he sold it to some other late-middle-aged agricultural aficionada. Ken and I were, of course, about to embark on our European adventure, so we agreed that we would take possession when we came back, which gave me plenty of time to anticipate the day I would ride the majestic Deere like the gardening guru I longed to be.

So when we got back from holidays, Ken went to work and came home later driving the lawnmower (the mechanic lives directly across the street from us), and I was a little upset because I wanted to be the first to drive it. But I forgave Ken immediately once I saw the shiny green and yellow vision ensconced on the front yard. I was dying to mount it as one would a gallant steed and carve perfect diagonal lines into my lawn; alas, rain was in the forecast for the next few days. But last Monday, it was a glorious morning, the grass was negligibly long, and we were having company, so I begged Ken to back the dear John Deere out of the garden shed where it was being housed. Why didn’t I do it myself, you ask? Because I don’t reverse well. Obviously.

The shiny new-to-me lawnmower was now perfectly positioned, facing the correct way and ready to mow. I hopped on—the seat seemed comfortable. I turned the key, with Ken looking on jealously.

Me (yelling): Holy f*ck! That’s loud!
Ken (yelling back): Do you have any headphones to protect your ears?

I hadn’t thought about that. I turned the machine off and went into the house to source some headphones, which I found tucked away in a drawer. Now, I was REALLY ready to mow. I started the engine again—the sound was nicely muffled. Ken explained how to put it in gear, lower the deck, engage the blades and whatnot, and off I went. Ten minutes later:

Ken: How’s it going?
Me (yelling because I’m wearing noise-cancelling headphones): OH MY GOD, I F*CKING HATE THIS.
Ken: Huh? Why?!

Because our lawn is lumpy and I had just spent the last ten minutes bouncing up and down on a lawnmower seat and the vibrations had caused a histamine reaction in both my butt AND my boobs, and I was so itchy I could barely stand it–that’s why, KEN. Also, I was having difficulty gauging how low-hanging our tree branches were and managed to whack myself in the face numerous times whilst simultaneously knocking my stupid headphones off.

Ken: Oh, is that why you kept screaming? Do you want me to finish the lawn for you?
Me: No, I do not. I’m a grown-ass woman and I will do it.

And I did it. Every minute was torture. The only saving grace is that when I was finished, I got off the demon machine and observed the property. There was a noticeable lack of diagonal lines; in fact, most of the lines were circular and criss-crossed each other haphazardly, but the grass was now a respectable length and everything looked quite pretty.

Ken: Did you want to do the weed-whacking as well?
Me: What do you think, KEN?

And then I went into the house and poured a glass of wine. Yeah, yeah, it was only 11 in the morning but I deserved it. And if Ken ever wants me to mow the lawn again, he’ll have to install a cup holder.

The Cleaner Part Deux

You may remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about how the owner of the antique market where I work had hired a cleaner, and he looked exactly like a ‘cleaner’, which is to say, someone who cleans up after assassins and whatnot. He’s been cleaning one day a week ever since, and he does a very thorough job, almost like he’s used to a VERY DEMANDING CLIENTELE, if you know what I mean. He doesn’t speak much, just the normal good morning, or “where do you keep the Windex” and up until now, I haven’t had any actual conversations with him, which I realized last week was probably a good thing.

I usually take my lunch around 1:30 in the small breakroom we have for staff, and last week, as I was beginning my lunch, The Cleaner was finishing his. I sat down at the table and we exchanged pleasantries. I started eating. And then he started talking:

The Cleaner: So do you think Covid is over?
Me: Huh? Oh. I don’t think so—I know a lot of people are still getting it.
The Cleaner: Do you believe that it was created in a lab overseas by the governments of the world so that they could kill off a lot of the world’s population? Because the world is very overpopulated.
Me (chewing food): Uh…no…
The Cleaner: There’s a large proportion of the world’s population who are old, and this way the government could kill them and then they wouldn’t have to pay them their pensions.
Me: That sounds like a very complicated and strange conspiracy theory.
The Cleaner: It was definitely created by the world’s governments.
Me: I don’t believe that. Anyway, do you think it’s going to rain later?

And while the conversation was bizarre, the weirdest thing was that the whole time he was talking, he was staring out the window, like he was lost in thought and musing, almost wistful. And then he smiled, and he only had four teeth.

In other news, right before Ken and I went away, I needed to buy more underwear, so I went to Winners, a fairly big department store, and wasn’t I thrilled to find not only a 6 pack of really nice underwear but the brand was LUCKY BRAND and every pair has a 4 LEAF CLOVER embroidered on it, so now every day is a lucky day.

And in other, other news, I guess the lucky underwear panned out, because I’ve just accepted the position of ‘Summer Writer-In-Residence’ for our local county library system, dividing my time between four different branches this summer, running writing workshops, hosting guests, and mentoring other writers. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and it really is a dream come true. Thanks, Lucky Brand.

There’s No Place Like Home

As I write this, I’m sitting in the lounge at the Barcelona airport, waiting to board our very long flight home, and reflecting on the last ten days. It’s been a wonderful time all in all, with really too much to capture here, but of course there were the requisite weird things. Here are some highlights:

Vatican City: It was super-crowded but we were supposed to be on a very expensive “Small Group Special Access” tour, which I had assumed meant we’d get some special privileges, like saying Hi to the pope and whatnot. We did not. We saw pretty much everything that all the other tourists saw as they shuffle-stepped shoulder to shoulder through the narrow hallways of the Sistine Chapel. We did get to tour the pope’s gardens—they were gorgeous and there were, randomly, a lot of large turtles. We also got into the Basilica without lining up for 2 hours. And the coolest thing in there was the actual corpse of some guy, an ex-pope I guess, and he was coated in wax to preserve him. Obviously I needed a picture of that—I mean The Birth Of Man is one thing but a preserved corpse?! And the best and weirdest part is the the clear case he’s lying in is BULLETPROOF. Just in case. In case of what, I have no idea. Also, we discovered that you have to read the shore excursion descriptions very carefully. For example, when it says “Gaze in wonder at the Uffizi Art Gallery where the Statue Of David resides”, it means you can look at the Uffizi from the outside but you don’t get to go in. And some of those gazes cost a pretty penny, so we learned to interpret correctly.

We toured France, Spain, and Italy. In France, nobody said anything about crime, but in Spain and Italy, every single person, from the hotel concierge, the tour guides, the bus drivers, and restaurant staff would tell us, “Keep your bag in front of you and put your wallet in your front pocket.” How bad is the pickpocketing situation when the citizens of a country are like, “These are my people but they WILL rob you blind. Trust no one, not even our children.” Strange endorsement. Ken, of course, insisted on keeping his wallet in his back pocket on the grounds that “it had a button flap”. As if that would stop a pickpocket, KEN. So I had to stand behind him all the time, guarding his butt.

Valencia. This is one of the most whack places I’ve ever been to. We took a tour called Valencia: City of Flowers, but there didn’t seem to be any more flowers there than anywhere else in Spain. And not once in the 3-hour tour did our tour guide tell us why Valencia is called that. Although apparently it SHOULD be called the City of Fires because most of the tour was him telling us about this bizarre festival they have every year where people carve giant wooden statues, some 20 storeys tall, some costing $800 000, and then at the end of the festival, THEY SET FIRE TO THEM. One of the guys on our tour asked, “Is it like Burning Man?” and the tour guide said, in a very deadpan way, “No. No, it’s not. Not at all.” Then he took us to a museum full of some of the statues because every year, the statue that’s voted the best one is saved from the fire. And if you’re thinking these statues were like Greek or Roman statues, or even Renaissance style, you’d be wrong because they weren’t and they were TERRIFYING. My particular favourite was the one of the babies all eating each other.

On the way back to the boat, we passed a park, and the tour guide said, “If you look over there, you’ll see a statue of a dog on fire. This park is very nice, for the children to come and play.” And those are two sentences I never thought I would hear back to back.

One of the best things about cruising though is that you see a lot of the same people each day, and sometimes you get to know a couple of them well enough to become friends. That happened to us with a few fellow travelers: Dee and Joe from Buffalo (she talked exactly like Joan Rivers), and Dontae and Lisa who were both in the military and were taking their first vacation in years before being stationed in Tokyo. They were our partners in the wine blending challenge and our concoction, aptly called “Dontae’s Inferno”, took second place and won us bottles of wine. And then there were Glenn and Kanya, two of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the fortune of meeting. We sat together for lunch on an excursion and immediately felt like we’d known them forever. Glenn was a trivia king, but not hardcore like some people, who took the promise of a “life-changing prize” a little too seriously and were severely disappointed when they found out it was a pop socket. The running joke became that our trivia team was called “Glenn From Vancouver” because, despite the fact that he was clearly Australian, Ken mistakenly introduced him to Dontae and Lisa as Glenn from Vancouver much to everyone’s delight. I hope we see them again one day. But for now, it’s good to be home. I know Atlas missed us–well at least one of us:

Me: Hey Buddy, we’re back!
Atlas: Daddy!!
Me: I really missed you. Did you miss me?
Atlas: Meh. DADDY!!!!

Still, it’s good to know that we can leave him in the care of our dogsitter (as well as my parents and our neighbours who helped out as well), and he’s not traumatized. And now the only thing I need to do is get over the jetlag…

I’m On A Boat

So Ken and I are on our first real vacation since before covid. Three years ago, it was our 30th anniversary and we’d booked a cruise to the Baltics. It had always been my dream to see the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, but all of that got canceled, and considering current events, I doubt we’ll ever be going to Russia before I die. So three years later, here we are doing a Mediterranean cruise with stops in France, Italy, and Spain. Notice the Oxford comma there? I’m obliged to point it out because recently Ken had a pretty brutal argument with some graveyard monument people when he insisted that his father’s grave marker should read Beloved Father of Ken, Karen, and Bruce because the monument people don’t like the Oxford comma and wanted to give the impression that Ken’s siblings were actually a couple, like “Ken, Karen and Bruce”. An argument ensued but Ken was triumphant after the funeral lady just muttered “Whatever. It’s your funeral.” Anyway, we’re now on vacation and I’m trying to write this on my phone with limited wifi so excuse the formatting errors. We arrived in Barcelona and checked into Roommate Pau which, unbeknown to us was next to a construction site. We kind of complained but the concierge offered me free wine, and the beds were so comfortable after 10 hours on planes that I was just like, “I’ll drink until I can’t hear the jackhammers.” And I did. Then the next day we got on a bus and did an all day tour of Barcelona. It’s an amazing city, full of cool architecture. And tattoo parlours.

So here’s what happened. Ken and I were having dinner at a tapas restaurant. It was a gorgeous evening, and we were sitting outside on the sidewalk patio. Suddenly I noticed a woman come out of the storefront next to us and she was sporting a new tattoo, and you could tell it was new because it was wrapped in clear plastic, and then I realized that we were sitting next to a tattoo parlour and there was a sign in the window that said, “We take walk-ins.” And I may or may not have been drinking wine but it suddenly occurred to me that the coolest souvenir of Barcelona that I could possibly get would be a new tattoo:

Me: I want a tattoo.

Ken: What? Seriously?

Me: I’m going in to see how long it’ll take.

Ken: Uh, okay I guess?

So I went in and showed the guy a picture of a crow and he was like “Si, I can do it now. It will take 40 minutes.” And so I got a tattoo in Barcelona.

It’s a very cool, good-sized tattoo to commemorate the publication of At The End Of It All. I have tattoos for all of my books now but I have another novel coming out this summer, the sequel to The Seventh Devil, and frankly, I’m running out of real estate.

Now I’m on a boat. It’s a very large cruise ship and as I write this, we’re on our way to France. Getting out of port was hilarious, mostly because the ship had to do a 360 in order to aim the bow at the exit, and Ken and I watched, along with a lot of other people who know nothing about boats but believe they are experts:

Man 1: He’s going to hit the wall! What’s he doing? Very poor seamanship.

Woman 1: Why doesn’t he just back out? You see, if the captain was a woman, we’d already be in France.

Woman 2: Does he have to keep blowing the horn like that?! It’s so loud!

Needless to say, the captain, whom I assume has done this type of thing many times, managed to get us turned around and off to sea without having to back up his big ass cruise ship, without hitting any walls, and with the requisite amount of horn blowing. We’re off to France, as I said, then Italy and back to Barcelona. Maybe if we arrive early, I can get another tattoo.