Gord Downie: The Best of Us.

I NEVER post mid-week, but this week, I have to. Gord Downie is dead.  I am gutted. I suppose it was silly to believe that he would survive the type of brain cancer that he had, but I’m at heart an optimist, despite my consistent obsession with worst case scenarios. I’ve spent a good portion of this evening singing snatches of his songs, and crying. I may be a little drunk right now. Here is what I wrote a few months ago, at the Canada-wide broadcast of the Hip’s final tour:

Saturday Night: The Tragically Hip

hip2

Last night was the final show of the Tragically Hip’s final concert tour. The lead singer, Gord Downie, has incurable brain cancer, and rather than fade away, he’s going out in fine Canadian style by bringing the country together. You might have seen the memes about Canada being closed for the night because our national broadcaster, the CBC, was showing the concert live across the nation for those who couldn’t get tickets to be there in person. Free. No commercial breaks. 3 hours of song. So that we could all embrace the band whose music was the soundtrack to so many of our lives. Hundreds of thousands of people watching all at the same time, some at huge parties with massive screens, some at home with the people they love, watching a man give everything he had left to the nation HE loves. It was inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. It seems incredibly unfair that Gord Downie, man, machine, poem, will soon be lost to us, just when we need him most. And when the time comes, we’ll miss him fully and completely. Just wait and you’ll see.

Here’s the link to one of my favourite Hip songs—Nautical Disaster.

Gord Downie was the best of us. I have no more words.

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My Week 160: Naptime at Bladerunner 2049, Russian Cowboys

Naptime at Bladerunner 2049

The other day, I went to see the new Bladerunner movie with my brother. He got tickets to the VIP theatre, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s like a luxury theatre where the chairs are all like giant La-Z-Boys (which, by the way, is a TERRIBLE name for a piece of furniture—after a long day, how is it lazy to want to sink into a reclining piece of heaven? It should be called a “You-Deserve-This-Goddamn-It-Boy” and then you would lie back and be like, “You’re f*cking right, I do” instead of “Did you just insult me, comfortable yet strangely passive-aggressive chair?” Anyway, I digress). The VIP theatre also offers dinner and bar service delivered right to your seat by the staff, so my brother and I ordered our usual pulled-pork poutine, and a nice bottle of wine. The movie, for some unknown reason, was in 3D. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more annoying than trying to eat pulled pork poutine in the dark WHILST wearing 3D glasses—talk about a messy proposition. So if you’re planning on seeing it, and you have to choose between regular and 3D, let me tell you that, like most movies in 3D lately, there is absolutely no reason to pay extra. Unless there are flying snakes or sharks in a tornado, the use of 3D is pretty redundant in most movies, and especially in Bladerunner, which isn’t really an action movie at all—trust me, at almost three hours running time, it’s pretty contemplative. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it—I completely did, and I had no weird questions to ask about it afterward. But the best, like the most f*cking amazing part of the whole experience, was that I managed to STAY AWAKE for the entire three hours. If you’ve read me for a while, you’ll know that I am renowned for falling asleep at the movies. You may recall that in My Week 79: Naptime at Batman Vs. Superman, I missed most of the film and woke up profoundly confused, and I was too embarrassed to ask my brother, who has a Ph.D., to explain it to me. Here’s a recap:

1) Why was Batman so pissed off at Superman?
2) Why did the angry Facebook guy want to kill Superman?
3) What was the point of two superheroes, both of whom are impervious to physical damage from the other, insisting on trying to beat the sh*t out of each other for three hours when it’s obvious that NO ONE is going to win?
4) What was with the gratuitous 15 minute scene of a shirtless Ben Affleck doing pull-ups and hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer? (Sure, he was very muscular, but also a little hairy and sweaty, and not in that GOOD way).
5) What kind of coincidence is it that Superman and Batman both have moms with the same name, and that once Batman finds out, they immediately become best friends instead of two guys trying to destroy each other? Did they have the SAME mom? Are they actually half-brothers or something?
6) How does an underground lake turn a normal, dead guy into a gigantic, disgustingly slimy superhuman who can only be killed by kryptonite?
7) Where the HELL did Wonderwoman come from and why did she look so happy to be there? And don’t even get me started on Aquaman and that weird-ass cameo where he looked like a character from Game of Thrones (not surprisingly) and came out of his little cave looking all sleepy and blinky, then stabbed the camera and swam away.
8) But the biggest question I had of all was this: Why did no one, in the entire movie, punch Jessie Eisenberg in the face? Because I sure as hell wanted to, mostly because of his bad acting (dude, you will NEVER be Heath Ledger, so don’t even try), but also because he’s just so f*cking annoying in everything he’s ever been in. At the end, Batman goes to see him in the “lunatic asylum” and he’s got his Batman brand all ready (by the way, when did Batman start branding people like cattle?), and I was like, “Please, god, just do this one thing for me,” but instead, Batman punched the wall and left.
9) And then the last scene of the movie was a zoom-in on the same bizarre painting of the same space harpies from an earlier scene, only now it was hung the other way, like it was an omen, or maybe a flashback, or maybe foreshadowing, only I was like, “I’m done. I can’t even.” And then we left the theatre:

Brother: That was great! Did you like it?
Me: Yeah, I guess. It was a little long. I was kind of bored by the end.
Brother: Bored? Really? What about the scene where…
Me: Oh yeah! That was a great scene!
Brother: And the scene when…
Me: I know, right? Talk about crazy!
Brother: I loved the part where…
Me: Me too. What a moment!

The best thing was that he seemed completely unaware that I’d been asleep for any length of time. But I had a sneaking suspicion that his inquisition may or may not have been motivated by a desire to watch me squirm, and at Bladerunner 2049, I finally got my revenge.

About half an hour into the movie, I realized that my brother hadn’t taken a sip of wine for a while. I took off my 3D glasses and looked more closely. Sure enough, his eyes were closed. At a certain point, his head tipped kind of sideways, and his jaw dropped open. Yes—my brother was asleep. After a while, he woke up, looked around surreptitiously, then poured each of us another glass of wine. I maintained my innocent façade until the movie was over. As we were walking out, we began to share our thoughts:

Brother: That was pretty amazing.
Me: I know, right? So beautifully shot.
Brother: A great sequel.
Me: And what about the part with the wings? Could you believe it when THAT happened?!
Brother (slight pause): I know! Such a moment.
Me: I can’t believe they didn’t play up the “wing” angle a little more. It would have made such sense.
Brother: It was a great motif, for sure.
Me: What a missed opportunity. Do you remember in the original Bladerunner at the end when Roy releases the dove in the rain? Can you imagine the parallelism if Ryan Gosling had been there in the snow, and then the wings had just opened?!
Brother: It would have really tied everything together!

Just to clarify, there are NO wings in the movie. Ultimately, I can’t tell if my brother was playing along because HE was asleep, or if he thought that I was asleep and that I’d had some weird, pulled-pork and wine-induced hallucination based on the fact that Ryan Gosling is named after a tiny goose and maybe would have wings in my imagination.

Still, the movie was great, and made total sense, unlike the original film Westworld, which Ken and I just watched on the weekend. We had seen the new series and were pretty impressed, but I wanted to see what the source material was like. Overall, it was a good piece for the 70s, with one major exception. The main villain in the film was played by Yul Brynner. Which would be fine in any other circumstance, except Westworld is about a fantasy vacation land where people can pretend to live in the Old West. In what possible universe would a short, bald Russian guy be believable as an American cowboy?! Then again, considering the state of American politics, I’m just going to leave that there.

 

My Week 159: Weird Service Calls, Thanksgiving Throwback

Last week, when the temperature suddenly plunged to around 8 degrees Celsius (about 45 Fahrenheit for anyone still using the Imperial system), I wanted to put our gas fireplace on, but it wouldn’t start. I did what I normally do, which was to utilize my incredible fireplace knowledge. In other words, I removed the screen, opened up the door at the bottom, and wiggled the wires. Nothing happened. I said to Ken, “I thought you had this thing fixed in April. Why won’t it work?” When we looked closer, we realized that one of the wires was loose. It looked all shock-y and dangerous, and Ken, who can normally do electrical work, plumbing, carpentry or generally anything trades-related, didn’t want to touch in on the grounds that “it looks weird”. So he called the fireplace people and on Friday, I had a visit from the fireplace repair guy (the actual name of the company is Lloyd’s Electric and they’re very good).

I also had to take Titus to the vet that afternoon, so I was concerned about how long the repair might take, and also a little stressed about loading Titus, the 100 pound monster-dog, into my Chevy Sonic. At any rate, the guy called at around 12:45 to say he’d be there in a couple of minutes. I hung up the phone, walked into the kitchen and realized that he was in our driveway like he’d just teleported there, and I was super impressed at his translocation skills. I had Titus safely stowed away in the back room (for reasons which will be revealed later) much to the monster-dog’s objections:

Titus: What’s with the baby gate?! I just want to say “Hey”.
Me: You “just want to” lick his pants. I know you too well.
Titus: Well, maybe they’ll taste like licorice. You never know.
Me: I can 100% guarantee that his pants don’t taste like licorice.
Titus: Why? Have you tried them?
Me: NO! Just stay back there.
Titus: This baby gate is stupid. I could knock it down just like that, you know.
Me: OK. Go ahead.
Titus (whispers): It makes a scary sound when it falls over…

Anyway, the guy came in, and I explained that the wire was loose and needed to be fixed. Then I went around the corner into my office. A couple of minutes later, he started yelling, “Hello! Hello!” and I was like, “I’m right here.”

Guy: Where’s the thermostat?
Me: Oh—just up on the right hand side.
Guy: Thanks.
Me: If you need me for anything else, I’ll just be in my office.
Guy: Oh no, that’s OK—I’m done. See—it’s working now.

Done? That was it? He explained that all he needed to do was pop the wire back into the thingy (he used a more technical term, but I was completely distracted by the flames and the warmth) and that all that was left now was to clean the glass. I actually got him to clean the glass on our other fireplace too, as well as check for carbon dioxide, because you can never be too careful, plus I was paying for his time so I might as well take advantage, am I right?

He needed to go out to his truck to get the CO2 detector, and he saw Titus, who was going crazy behind the gate, all hopped up with licorice-expectations. I asked if he was scared of dogs, and he said, “Of course not!” so he and Titus got to know each other quite intimately (at least on the dog’s end). Then the guy went back into the living room, and suddenly I heard Raven meowing in the most excited way, and I heard the guy exclaiming, “Oh my! Look at you! Aren’t you precious?!” and cooing to her in a really lovely way. We chatted for a minute more about cats (he has two—a calico and a tabby), then he was on his way.

“Why am I telling you this?” I hear you ask. Because this was the MOST normal service call I’ve ever had. Normally I hate it when repair people come to the house since I’ve had so many bad experiences. And here, for your reading pleasure, are the top four worst:

4) When we first bought our house, we inherited two beautiful claw-foot bathtubs which had been “professionally refinished” by a company called Porcelain Magic. After a couple of years, the bottom of the tub in my bathroom started to look a little pitted, with two small spots the size of a pencil eraser making themselves apparent. We had a certificate for the LIFETIME WARRANTY on the refinishing, so I called the company to come out and take a look. The guy showed up and told me he just needed a few minutes alone to “diagnose the issue”. When he called me back, the bottom of the tub looked like he had taken a chisel to it. There were giant sections of damage to the finish, like he had peeled everything back. This would be because he had. When I objected, he just shrugged and said the repair would be $600. Then he left. I called the company immediately, and I spoke to the owner, who actually said this to me:

Owner: Well, why did you leave him alone in the bathroom?
Me: He said for me to leave while he “diagnosed the issue”!
Owner: Well, if you’d stayed in the room, this wouldn’t have happened. This is really your fault, but I can give you a 20% discount on the repairs since you’re a repeat customer.
Me: NO, I’M NOT!

I went to the Better Business Bureau and reported them, but they fought it every porcelain inch of the way. Eventually, I bought a new tub at a garage sale, and gave the old one to someone in our neighbourhood who wanted to plant flowers in it.

3) Several years ago, we had a repair guy in for something—I don’t remember what exactly. The only thing I DO remember is that he was DEATHLY afraid of dogs. I had our yellow Lab locked the back room (with the same baby gate), but she barked when the guy came in. As soon as he heard her, he turned absolutely pale and started shaking.

Guy: Do you have a dog?!
Me: Yeah. She’s locked in the back. Don’t worry.
Guy: Can she get out?!
Me: What? No, it’s fine. Besides, she’s really friendly. She won’t hurt you.
Guy: I doubt that. Just keep her away from me.

The whole time the guy was in the house, he was shaking like a leaf and kept eying the back room like Saxon was some kind of rabid canine vampire. Seriously, if you’re that afraid of dogs, maybe you shouldn’t be in a profession where you have to go into houses where THERE ARE DOGS.

2) A few years ago, our dishwasher went on the fritz. It was a Kitchenaid, so we called the company and they sent someone out to look at it. “Oh, no problem,” the guy said. “I just have to order a part.” Sounds simple, right? Except for the next three month, he would call and say the part was in, then he would come to the house, open the box, and be like, “WHUT? This is the wrong part!” The first time it happened, we were very understanding, but after the third time, it was like, “What the hell? Don’t you look inside the box before you drive out here?!” In recompense, the company offered us a knife set in its own fancy butcher block. I was like, “Do you really want me to have knives right now?!” After two more repair visits, the dishwasher finally got fixed. Ironically, all the knives eventually broke from being washed in the dishwasher.

1) The absolute weirdest, creepiest experience I ever had was the time we called someone to service our water softener, which is in our really old basement. The guy who came was very chatty, in a kind of creepy way, but he went down to the basement and left me alone for a while with the dog, the same yellow Lab from the previous story, Saxon. Then suddenly he reappeared:

Guy: You’re not going to believe this! You have an old cistern down there, and it’s almost completely full of water. You should come down with me and see it!
Me: No, I’m good.
Guy: No, really—it’s so cool. Come down to the basement with me.
Me: No, that’s OK.
Guy: No. I really think you should come down to the basement and see it.
Me: I would, but my dog would be very upset. She looks really friendly, but if I leave the room, she might get violent. I wouldn’t want her to attack you or anything.
Guy: Oh. Well, fine then, if you don’t want to see it. I’ll just be going now.

And when his back was turned, I gave Saxon the signal to bark, because she would bark ferociously on command, and with that, he scuttled away. I have no idea if he actually fixed the water softener because I was too freaked out to ask.

So you can see why having someone come to the house and actually fix something quickly, and without terrifying me, is something to celebrate.

Thanksgiving:

This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and as always, I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a wonderful family, great friends, a job I Iike, food on the table, a roof over my head, and a Prime Minister who’s a pretty decent guy. So Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and here’s a throwback to Thanksgiving 2014:

Monday, when Ken and I ponder the meaning of Thanksgiving:

So we just celebrated Thanksgiving, and Ken and I were driving down to the cottage. It occurred to me that it was weird that we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans celebrate it in November, and what’s it all about anyway? And this is the conversation that ensued. Just for the record, Ken and I aren’t fussy about the accuracy of our facts:

Me: So why do we celebrate Thanksgiving in October and the Americans do it in November? What’s with that?
Ken: I don’t know—maybe their harvest is later than ours since they’re further south. They’re both just about giving thanks for a good harvest anyway.
Me: That’s not why the Americans celebrate Thanksgiving—they didn’t HAVE a harvest, that was the whole point. The Puritans came over here completely ill-equipped to survive—they were really good at praying, but not so good at gardening, apparently. They were literally starving to death, and the Indigenous people shared THEIR harvest with them, and basically saved their lives.
Ken: Oh yeah—“Thanks so much for your generosity—in return, here’s some small pox.”
Me: I know, right? “And some alcohol and genocide.” That’s gratitude for you. Do you think the Native Americans “celebrate” Thanksgiving, or do they secretly call it something different, like “The Day We Wish You’d Never Shown Up”?
Ken: All I know is that Sherman Alexie just tweeted out that in celebration of Columbus Day, he was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a time machine, so that he could go back in time and stop Columbus from finding the New World.
Me: Seems about right.

 

My Week 158: Management 101, Throwback: Titus and I Watch the National Dog Show 2015

A few months ago, I got a promotion at work. It was great for a while, but eventually these things catch up to you, and a couple of weeks ago, I got an email that said I was registered to take a two-day course off-site on Management. And I was like, “How the hell did they know? I have done NOTHING to deserve this.” I mean, it’s not like I’m not interested in being a good manager, but I’ve done courses like this before—this isn’t my first time around the management block. So I asked my Director if I really had to go, and she laughed and said, “Yep. Everyone who’s new has to take it.” When I reminded her that I was only an interim manager, she said, “Well, it’s tied to your merit pay. It won’t be that bad.” MERIT PAY? I didn’t even know I got that, let alone that I would be exploited into taking a two-day course to earn it. I’d already taken a bunch of other on-line courses on topics like “The Union Is Your Friend” (untrue), “Workplace Violence and Harassment” (I’m already an expert—see below), and “Hazardous Chemicals and How To Avoid Them” (if only the stench of egg salad was considered hazardous, my life would be SO much better). Online courses are great, once you figure out that the “quiz” you have to take at the end is a huge lie. Which is to say, the first time, I listened SUPER-carefully, and then when the video was done, I was all prepared with my notes so I could pass the test. The “test” consisted of 1 question: “Did you watch the entire video?” I answered yes, and a screen popped up that said “Congratulations! You have completed this course and it will be entered into your record.” And I was like, “WTF kind of quiz was that?! I STUDIED! If I’d known I didn’t have to pay attention to what my union dues were used for, I could have been watching Rick and Morty on Youtube.”

At any rate, I had merit pay hanging over my head, so on the Wednesday morning, I got up bright and early to get there on time, since the email notification had stated very ominously that the course started at 8:30 SHARP. After a tussle with the door (turns out it was a push, not a pull), I flew into the room and got a seat in plenty of time, next to a colleague of mine who was in the same boat so at least I had someone I knew to talk to. At exactly 8:30, the instructor, Donna, started the course. At exactly 8:31, someone started jiggling the door handle. I can forgive someone for being, like, one minute late, but this went on for the next half hour, with people arriving and struggling with the door, and the instructor stopping to go over and open it until I wanted to yell two things: a) What don’t you understand about 8:30 sharp?! and b) Jesus, Donna, can you just leave the goddamned door open?!

We finally all got settled and underway, and the first thing Donna asked was, “So how are you finding being a manager?” One woman immediately put up her hand and said, “Well, the person who was in the Acting position didn’t get the job and I did, so things have been a little uncomfortable. She won’t really talk to me.” Then Donna asked the rest of the room if anyone else had had experience being treated badly by a colleague that you supervised, and I was like, “Won’t really talk to you? Hold my f*cking beer” because, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I left my previous position because of Bob, the nutcase who wanted my job and would harass me by text, email and even call me at night:

Bob: Why won’t you answer my emails?!
Me: What? It’s 10 o’clock at night! Why are you calling my house?
Bob: I’ve sent you 6 emails. I know you’re online because at 8:47 you liked something your mom posted on Facebook. Why are you ignoring me??!!
Me: You got me out of bed. Can we discuss this tomorrow?
Bob: You’re so mean! (click)

I would have loved it if the worst thing that dude had done was “not really talk to me” instead of dragging me to the union for taking him off Facebook. Anyway, we got all the triggering stuff out of the way, and got down to the meat of management, which is of course, dealing with unions. Then the worst thing happened—Donna decided that, instead of discussing things with our table groups, with whom we had grown comfortable, we should “find someone in the room that you haven’t spoken to yet”. This, of course, is my own personal vision of hell, where you wander around, being forced to meet new people and then converse with them. I stood up—there was a rather pleasant-looking tall guy coming towards me, and he pointed, smiled and mouthed “You and me?” I nodded enthusiastically, relieved at how easy that was. Then his face fell, and I realized that he was talking to the young, beautiful blonde behind me, who had just been swooped up by the guy who worked in a prison and who had endless (I mean ENDLESS) stories about testifying at grievance hearings.

Me: Oh, is it OK if we—
Tall Guy: Actually, I was wanting to talk to HER, but…
Me: Oh. (pause) Well, I guess you can talk to me if you want to…
Tall Guy: Sigh. I suppose.

Thanks, Tall Guy. Also, nice wedding ring you’re wearing.

Overall, the course was pretty good, and I think I learned a lot about “supporting my team”, but there were a couple of things that befuddled me:

1) We were given plenty of time for breaks and lunch. On both days, the person sitting on the other side of me brought in full tubs of very spicy, pungent food, which he insisted on eating by hiding it under the table, then quickly shoveling it into his mouth when he thought no one was looking. He would have been successful if first, the food hadn’t smelled so strong, and second, if he hadn’t made really loud squeaking and squelching sounds the whole time he was chowing down. I don’t usually notice people chewing, but the noises coming out of him were bizarre.

2) Why do people use the term “buckets” to refer to categories of things, as in “I’ve put all the soft skills into the Management Bucket on the slide deck.” As a visual metaphor, “bucket” doesn’t work for me, because I always think of a mop bucket. Also, the word “bucket” is just plain silly, like “smock”. Listen: bucket, bucket, bucket, bucket, smock, smock, smock. If you didn’t laugh at that, I don’t know why. Here’s a limerick about a bucket (mostly because all the limericks I know are about a man from Nantucket and bucket rhymes with Nantucket):

There once was a man with a bucket,
Who lived in a town called Nantucket.
He wore a white smock,
And he fell off the dock,
And he dented his bucket, so f*ck it.

I never said it would be a GOOD limerick.

Another piece of “manager-speak” that always confuses me is when things get a little heated or complex, and someone says, “Let’s take this off-line.” In a face to face meeting. Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to yell, “You’re not ON-line! How can you take it OFF-line?!” Seriously people, be precise—just say “let’s speak privately about this”.

3) We were given the following scenario: You wake up late, you’re racing around to get to work, and you finally make it to your office. You’re in the elevator and someone jostles you, and you spill your coffee all over yourself. So now you’re in a terrible mood, and Marcia chooses that moment to come into your office and tell you how WELL her initiative went the day before. This is a tough situation, and it will be hard to be happy for her. How do you react?

People were answering things like, “Hey Marcia, can you come back later?” or “Jesus, Marcia, can’t you see I’m covered in coffee?” or “I’m having a bad morning, Marcia, so I’m having trouble caring about your sh*t” and so on. I was confused by all of this, and finally put up my hand and said, “I guess maybe I’m just easily distracted, but being happy for Marcia would make me forget about being late for work. Also, coffee is Satan’s brew. We should all drink wine in the morning, just like Jesus.” Ok, I didn’t say that last part, but coffee IS gross. And I don’t know if Jesus really drank wine in the morning, but if HE had to sit through two days of “Disciples Management 101”, I’ll bet he would have.

I’m superproud of you, Marcia.

 

Throwback Sunday:

Friday: Titus and I make fun of the National Dog Show 2015

Titus: Watcha doin’?
Me: Watching the National Dog Show.
Titus: Cool. (jumps up on bed) So what’s going on?
Me: It’s the Working Dogs right now.
Titus: (snorts derisively) Right.
Me: What?
Titus: That dog never worked a day in his life. His paws look all soft.
Me: And you’re Mr. Blue Collar? When was the last time YOU did any work?
Titus: Excuse me? Just yesterday, you were all like, “Where’s the Piggy, Titus? Can you find your Piggy?” And I DID. I AM a Retriever, you know. It was hard work. That pig was like all the way upstairs in the guest room.
Me: Maybe because that’s where you left it. Now be quiet so I can watch this. It’s the –
Titus: Holy sh*t, that dog has dreadlocks! WTF?!! Is that even REAL?
Me: Yes, Titus, it’s a Komondor, a real dog.
Titus: A “Commodore”? What, like Lionel Ritchie’s dog or something?
Me: Yeah, that dog belongs to Lionel Ritchie. Obviously. Now stop talking—it’s the Toy category now.
Titus: I can see why they call them “Toys”. None of those dogs are real either. That one looks like a cotton ball blew up in the microwave, that one looks like Raven coughed it up, and that one is like something out of a Japanese anime cartoon. You want to see a real dog? THIS is what a real dog looks like. Check me out.
Me: Good god.

My Week 157: Monkey Butlers; Rottweiners and Other Bad-Ass Animal Hybrids

Last week, I got a very cryptic email from my mother. The subject line was “VW”, and the text of the message said this:

“Hi Honey: Bought you a present today to do with the above (hint) his first name is Ralph.  See you soon.  Love, Mom xxx”

I pondered for quite a while, and came up empty. I asked a colleague, “What do you think this means?” and he replied, “Maybe some kind of animal?” And I was doubtful at first, but then I had an epiphany and I wrote back this:

“Is it a monkey butler?! I’ve always wanted one of those! Also, there was nothing above except the initials V. W. Is my monkey butler’s name Ralph Van Wooster? Can’t wait to find out! Love you:-)”

I was super-pumped, and waited for a while to get a confirmation. And waited. And waited. But my mother didn’t reply back, and I got worried. There were several possible reasons why I had yet to receive a loving message about how clever I was to have surmised that my present was a simian man-servant.

1) My mother was mad that I guessed her riddle and spoiled the surprise. I could see her reading the email, and then saying to my dad in a low whisper, “How does she always know? Well, let her stew, the smartass.”

2) My mother had actually bought me a Volkswagen, and didn’t know how to let me down gently. I have to say though, Mom, that a VW named Ralph would have been almost as cool as a monkey butler, but only if it was a Beetle.

3) Someone had hacked my mom’s email, and I would eventually learn that in “exchange” for the present, I would have to send $5 000 in iTune gift cards to a Nigerian prince named Ralph Varem Wabara who’s being held captive on the International Space Station by Chris Hadley (a Canadian criminal mastermind/astronaut).

4) My mother didn’t know what a monkey butler was, and my email befuddled her, so much so that she didn’t know what to say in return. I could see her reading the email and then saying to my dad in a low whisper, “What is she on about now? I can’t even dignify this with a reply. It’s your fault she’s so weird,” and then my dad would say, “Och! Yer aff yer heid, woman!”

Number 1, of course, was the most likely scenario, so I spent the next few days feeling a little guilty for being so clever. Then my parents came by the house to drop off my gift. I had read extensively on the topic of how to train a monkey butler, and I had the guest room prepared as per the instructions on http://www.angelfire.com/crazy3/learntofly/ which is exclusively devoted to the topic of “How to Train Your Monkey Butler”—it contains pearls of grammatically incorrect wisdom like “When you have your monkey butler serve a person let him take his time and serve one person at a time so he doesn’t get confused and start to get angry, a confused angry monkey is no fun for anyone.” I heartily agree and highly recommend this site to anyone who might find themselves in my position.

Then Mom and Dad arrived, and I was a little concerned when I saw them coming down the walk “sans simian”. What a letdown. But when they came in the house, my mother presented me with a CD of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who, aside from Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl, is one of my favourite composers, and that really softened the monkey butler blow because the other night, Ken had tried to lull me to sleep by playing “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” only he had to find it on Youtube then he put his iPad directly on my ear so that the music wouldn’t drown out The Weather Channel, which wasn’t very lulling and more just annoying, although he meant well. Now I could play that, and “Lark Ascending”, any time I wanted. But I was still curious:

Me: Why didn’t you answer my email? I thought you were mad.
Mom: Your email? You mean the one about the monkey butler? I would have, but I don’t know what a monkey butler is.
Me: It’s a monkey that’s a butler.
Mom: Would you really want one of those? Wouldn’t it be a lot of work to train it?
Me: Yeah. You’re probably right.

And then I realized that every time I had pictured Ralph Van Wooster in my head, he was actually wearing a bellhop uniform, and not a bespoke tuxedo, so it’s probably good that I wasn’t put in charge of training him, because then he would insist on carrying everyone’s bags instead of serving drinks.

Me: I don’t think a monkey would make a good butler.
Ken: Um, what?
Me: It would be hard to train him. I can’t even get Titus to play dead—he only plays “wounded”.
Ken: You have to make it submit. You know, like “Shock the Monkey”.
Me: If you think the best way to train a monkey is to shock him, then you don’t deserve a monkey butler. Besides, I thought that song was about a guy who pleasured himself in a sudden and rather violent way.
Ken: Um, what?
Me: Like Spank the Monkey, only–never mind. (whispers) You know I’ll have to make this whole conversation up when I blog about it. Forget about training a monkey butler—I need to train YOU to be a better “humorous foil”.

At the end of the day, I didn’t get a monkey butler. But I DID get an awesome CD, AND a blog topic, so thanks, Mom—you’re the bestest!

Sunday:

I’ve been doing a lot of writing this week. I’m on Chapter 12 of my new novel, and then on Friday, my publisher sent me the pdfs/galleys of my first novel, which is about to be published, and I had to review that and give them feedback. It’s funny how much more critical you get of your own writing when you realize that other people, like, people OUTSIDE your family who might not love you, will be reading it. And now, I want to go back and do a major rewrite, but I can’t because the publisher is ready to print. Ken says that it’s fine the way it is, but he also thinks that buttermilk is the same thing as whipping cream. At any rate, I’ve been sidetracked, so to stay consistent with today’s topic of monkey butlers, here’s a throwback post for those of you who missed some of Year One:

The Best Bad-Ass Animal Hybrids

So the other day, I was driving along and I saw a guy walking a dog. As I got closer, I realized that it was a dog with the body of a large Dachshund, and the face of a Rottweiler. It was a ROTTWEINER. And then I was really disappointed, because it did NOT look badass at all. You would think that a dog with the personality of a weiner dog, all scrappy and feisty, and the body of a Rottweiler, all muscular and mean, would be the height of badass-ery. Nuh. It was just a bigger than average weiner dog with a round Rottweiler head. And it looked very awkward and self-conscious, like one of those dog-slinkies whose back end has a mind of its own. Why is it that the permutations of nature are never as cool as you hope they would be? Then I got to thinking about other hybrid animals (because I was driving, so why not , right?) and it occurred to me that they all pretty much suck. For example, the mule. This is a cross between a horse and a donkey. Why would anyone WANT to do that? Especially the horse or the donkey? Who knows how it happens, except that apparently it’s always a union between a donkey girl and a horse boy. Which makes sense because how would a boy donkey reach up that high? Then I thought the same must be true of the Rottweiner—it had to be a boy Rottweiler and a girl dachshund, or else SOMEONE was using a step stool. Anyway, aside from the complicated logistics of these types of unions, the whole DNA component is also a puzzle. Why is it mules are sterile, but Rottweiners can go on to have little rotty-weiner babies, or even breed with another kind of dog, say, an Irish Wolfhound? Wouldn’t that be a bizarre looking beast? I actually did a little research for this (ie: I googled “Crazy Animal Hybrids”), and while there were some real disappointments, like the Sheep-Goat (it’s such a bad hybrid that it doesn’t even get a cool name like Shroat, or Greep) I discovered some pretty amazing creatures, so here are my top 3:

3) The Liger: This is a cross between a lion and a tiger. It’s the biggest cat known to humans and can be over 10 feet long and weigh 700 pounds. Also, its best friends are Heffalumps and Woozles.

2) The Grolar Bear: Created when a grizzly bear and a polar bear mate. While this seems unlikely, given that polar bears live NO WHERE NEAR grizzly bears, scientists speculate that it’s happening more and more in the wild due to global warming, and grizzly bears moving into formerly polar bear-only areas. See, global warming has its upside, which is awesome new animals. As the earth warms up and other ecosystems change, maybe we’ll also see the Pengotter (yes, this is an imaginary cross between a penguin and an otter, which I made up just now, and it would be the cutest thing to ever exist).

1) The number one best animal cross, in my humble opinion, is the Coydog. According to the article I read, the Coydog has the natural cunning of a coyote without its instinctive fear of humans, making it tremendously high on the badass scale. So it would pretend to be your best friend, and then when you were asleep, it would eat all your food and pee in your bed. Or kill you. And your Rottweiner.

Honourable Mention: Of course, the Honourable Mention has to go to my favourite mythological hybrid animal—the Zebrasus. This is a cross between a zebra and a Pegasus. I have a sculpture of a Zebrasus on the bookshelf in my office. I found it on a window ledge on the last day of school, many years ago, after all the students had gone home for the summer. I never found out who made it, but it was so awesome that I had to keep it for myself. The best thing about the Zebrasus, aside from the stripes and the wings, is that he’s smoking a cigar and wearing Mardi Gras beads. He is the Ultimate Badass.

 

My Week 156: Film Festivals Bring Out the Best In Me, Titus the Boxer

So if my calculations are correct, Week 156 represents 3 years of weekly posts, so Happy Anniversary to me and you too, faithful reader. And I say “calculations” like I’m some kind of theoretical physicist when the actual truth is that I had to do ‘156 divided by 3’ and then also ‘52 times 3’ more than once to make sure it was really three years. Also, this past week, I had to ask the math people at work how to calculate 53 out of 81 as a percentage which I’m sure most teenagers can do. They were nice enough to give me the answer (65.4%), and in return, I offered to explain a Shakespearean sonnet to them if the need ever arose.

At any rate, it’s been a great three years, and I have no plans to quit now, so here we go.

Monday: I go to TIFF

If you don’t know what TIFF is, and you think I somehow got into a minor argument with one of the many street people in my neighbourhood, let me explain. TIFF stands for the Toronto International Film Festival. Yes, every year, little Toronto is a celebrity magnet, as directors and actors, and the associated trappings of such things descend on the downtown core. Suddenly, a gathering of more than 5 people on any given sidewalk might somehow mean a famous person is in the vicinity, and people are all like, “Ooh, what’s going on over there?!” and flock to join in. Usually it’s just a group of teens from the youth shelter, but who knows if they’re actually actors in costume promoting the newest Mad Max film? Better to check it out, in case Tom Hardy wanders along.

TIFF brings out things in people that you might never have thought possible, and I certainly found myself either thinking or doing stuff that I would never otherwise consider. I didn’t get carried away, like the women last year who got into a fistfight over a prime spot to see Ryan Gosling, but I did act slightly out of character. For instance, I was sorely tempted to wander the streets in search of Benedict Cumberbatch, who was apparently in town, but I didn’t because he’s my celebrity husband, and if he wanted to see me, he SHOULD KNOW where I live. And while I was sad that, yet again, we had passed like two ships in the night, one of whom was not even aware that there was another ship, I reconciled myself to the thought that I have 216 followers on Twitter, and they’re all very cool people. I also recently got followed by an American Congressman, who was apparently impressed by the fact that whenever Donald Trump tweets something stupid, which is pretty much every time he tweets, I try to respond with “You’re an *sshole”. I use the whole word instead of asterisking it because my blog is rated PG 13, but Twitter is just a f*cking free-for-all. The biggest problem I have is that he tweets so much ridiculous sh*t all the time that I can’t keep up, so I only tell him he’s an *sshole once or twice a day.

But I digress. Other things that I did this past week that I would never normally do include the following:

I saw a film at the Ryerson Theatre. This is the theatre attached to Ryerson University. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not dirty or gross or anything, but it’s pretty bare bones. I’m used to the Carlton cinema, where you can get a glass of wine and a giant KitKat bar, or the VIP cinema where a waiter will actually bring your pulled pork poutine and a carafe of Pinot Grigio right to your giant Lazy-Boy style armchair.

After the movie—oops, I mean “film”—was over, I stood outside the back exit door in a crowd of people hoping to see the stars of the show (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and it was actually really great), and take their picture. Why? I don’t know. It just seemed de rigeur. Sure enough, when they eventually emerged, I joined in the chorus of “Sam! Over here!” and “Frances! Can we get a picture?!” I DID get a blurry shot of Sam Rockwell signing an autograph, but normally, I would NEVER stand around waiting for someone I didn’t know, just to get their picture. I’m really not a fangirl of any kind, and the only autograph I’ve ever gotten was from Eric McCormack. When I told this to one of the friends I was with, she was like “Oooh!” but then I had to clarify that it was Eric McCormack the Canadian writer, and not the famous actor from the American TV show “Will and Grace,” and I think she was slightly disappointed.

Another thing I did was tell somebody to get to the back of the line, which isn’t like me. But the line-up to get into the theatre was very long, and the seating was first-come, first-served, so I wasn’t having any nonsense. As you may already be aware, Canadians are absolutely OCD about line-up protocols, and this is the one area where we might assert ourselves in a non-polite way. So there we were, the line-up finally starting to move, and I was ahead of the rest of our group with a break in between. As we got closer to the entrance, suddenly a well-dressed couple came along and tried to slide into the line between us. I turned, pointed, and said, “The end of the line is back there. Around the corner.” And everyone else chorused in with, “That way! Back there!” so the couple had no choice but to move along, and then we were all like, “What?! Did they think we were just standing here because the view is so nice? Honestly!”

Then on Thursday night, I was at a friend’s art show opening. Her art is amazing, but there were two other artists having their openings as well, and the main room was taken up with a giant red papier-mache go-cart, a couple of large, drippy canvasses, and a lot of men wandering around looking slightly befuddled. I visited with my friend, admired her art and had a glass of wine, and then it was getting late. I was literally at the door about to leave, when suddenly, the gallery owner called for everyone’s attention, all the people in the place formed a large circle, and a woman began to speak about Iceland, and how Icelandic people are the best at, like, EVERYTHING in the world. Then it all made sense—the befuddled looking men, the disproportionate number of blonde women in the room, and the canvases that looked like there was lava mixed with the paint. Normally, I would never have left when it would have been so obvious, but I was emboldened by my TIFF line-up experience of not taking any sh*t from strangers, and I was like, “You know what Icelanders AREN’T good at? Holding my attention,” and I sidled over to the door very slowly and then snuck out. Obviously, I said that in my head, because I’m not THAT rude. But it would have been funny if I HAD said it out loud, and maybe people would have thought it was part of the art show, like some weird performance art piece, and they would have all clapped. And wanted my autograph.

Friday: Titus the boxer

Me: Hey! I’m home!
Titus: This is the best day EVER!
Me: You said that last Friday.
Titus: It’s still true. Come here for a hug!
Me: No! Don’t stand up!
Titus: Seriously, let me hug you. This doesn’t have to be awkward.
Me: But it always WILL BE. Aggh—you just punched me in the face!
Titus: This isn’t easy you know. I’m not actually bi-pedal. I’m doing the best I can. Stop moving—I can’t keep my balance—whoa!
Me: My face! Am I bleeding?
Titus: A little. Would a cookie make you feel better? Because it would sure help ME. I feel TERRIBLE about all of this.
Me: No. Do you seriously think you deserve a cookie for punching me in the face and knocking me down to the ground?
Titus: I was just happy to see you…
Me: Sigh. I know. Here—cookie for you, wine for me.
Titus: Can I have some wine too?
Me: Don’t push it.

My Week 155: The Ravings of a Madwoman, I Am Officially Bug-Free

Tuesday: The ravings of a madwoman

On Tuesday night, I fell asleep early. At some point, I started dreaming that I was having a conversation with someone. I don’t know who it was, but I was absolutely DAZZLING the person with my wit, to the point that I started to wake up, and decided that what I had been saying was so incredible that I absolutely HAD to write it down. I reached for my phone, and wrote out in my notepad what I was sure was the start of a brilliant story. I managed to get as much down as I could before I fell back to sleep with my phone in my hand, but I was sure that I’d remember everything else in the morning. Then I promptly forgot about the whole episode until late Wednesday afternoon.

“That’s right!” I said to myself. “I wrote some pretty clever sh*t on Tuesday night. Let’s see what I said.” And I was excited because the last time I had dreamed something and wrote it down, it was the beginning of the short story I wrote with dream Eric McCormack (see My Week 119: Donut Store Memories). So I opened my notepad, and this is what I wrote at 12:15 am:

And then I was like “What the f*ck does any of that MEAN? This isn’t genius—this is lunacy!”

Who exactly was I talking to in my dream that would have spawned such nonsense? An alcoholic socialist with a penchant for dirty martinis? And what the hell is a “mushroom ring of hope”? I know that sometimes mushrooms grow in a circle, and then people call it a “fairy ring”, but I doubt that it would inspire hope in people who are “left of centre”. If anything, they would just want to EAT the mushrooms, what with them being organic and natural and whatnot, or throw them at the fascists in a display of fungal rage. Also, I like olives, don’t find them hard to stomach at all, and am not convinced that people who CAN stomach olives are particularly better-equipped than anyone else to handle most things. So who knows what was going on in my brain when I wrote this stuff down, but it certainly wasn’t the epiphany I was hoping for.

But I got worried that I couldn’t remember what the random notations in my notepad meant, so I scrolled through to see what other gems I had written down. These others, of course, were transcribed when I was awake, but without context, make just as little sense. For example:

1) “Charmin on the puppy pad”.

I wrote this down at the Pearson Airport. I was waiting in line for the bathroom, because I am a woman, and woman go to the bathroom 5 times as often as they actually need to, hence the long line-ups. Also, it takes longer for a woman to go the bathroom, because first you have to hang up your purse, and if there’s no hook, you have to try and balance your purse on the top of the toilet paper dispenser or on another surface because the last thing you want is your purse touching the floor. Then, you have to line the toilet seat with toilet paper so that your skin is separated from the plastic. Or you can crouch, if you’re one of those old-school gals who still believes you can catch germs from the toilet seat, but then you spray everywhere, which makes it worse for other people, so just stop it. Personally, I always choose the special stall with its own sink and soap so that I can just WASH the toilet seat, but they’re not always available.

Next, you have to pull your pants down, or pull your skirt up, ensuring AGAIN that nothing touches any public surface. Next, the underwear comes down, just to around knee height—higher and you can’t sit properly; lower and you run the risk of it either touching the floor, or people in the other stalls being able to see it, which is a big deal if you’re wearing your old “travel” underwear instead of your pretty “on the cruise ship” panties. Finally, you can do what you came in there to do. Then there’s a whole lot involved in the cleaning up process, which I won’t get into because I already said “panties” and for some of you, that’s almost too much as it is, and finally, of course, there’s the handwashing and drying. I don’t know about the other gender, but handwashing is extremely de rigeur for women—just try walking directly from the stall to the exit without hitting the sink, and listen to the gasps of disbelief. Mothers will whisper to their daughters, “That woman is going straight to hell.” Anyway, to make a long story shorter than the wait to use the women’s bathroom, I was standing in line when a woman came in behind me with a tiny white dog. The dog was sporting a giant, pink bow, and wearing a pink tutu. I sh*t you not. The woman proceeded to pull a puppy pad out of her purse, lay it on the ground, and start exclaiming, “Peepee, Charmin—go peepee, Charmin.” Yes. The dog’s name was Charmin. She named her dog after toilet paper and was now trying to get it to pee on a pad on the floor of a public women’s bathroom. And I’m still not sure whether I wrote that down because it was ironic, or because it was disgusting. And when the dog was done peeing, NEITHER of them washed their hands. Straight to hell, people.

2) “German Pillage Festival”

When we were in the UK, we passed a sign at the side of the road, and I thought it said “German Pillage Festival”. What it actually said was “German Village Festival” but at first I was like “I thought only the Vikings did that…are they talking about the Visigoths maybe? I think they pillaged a little…but why is there a festival to celebrate pillaging? Will there be fake-looting for the kiddies? Maybe there are sacks of candy to represent all the sacking…” But then I realized it said “Village” and I assume it just meant there was lederhosen, sausage and beer, and no looting at all. Also, I just realized that I didn’t know what exactly “sacking” meant, except that pillaging is defined as “looting, robbing, sacking” and other activities, but when I looked up “sacking” on the internet, all I got was “the act of sacking someone or something; a coarse material for making sacks”, so I can offer you no insights on that.

3) “Prince of Whales”

T was telling us in the car that when he was in elementary school, his teacher was explaining to the class about how the Prince of Whales had just gotten re-married. He was confused, because he didn’t know that whales had a monarchy, and all he could picture was a giant whale wearing a crown and he was alternately baffled and amused. When he talked to the other kids after class, it turns out that ALL of them also thought the teacher was referring to a marine animal rather than Prince Charles. And it made me think about how adults make assumptions about context, which reminded me of the time when I was 7 and I asked my mom what the word “ejaculate” meant. My poor mother went into a lengthy explanation that completely confounded me, given the context. When she finally asked, “Where did you hear that word, anyway?”, I told her I’d read it in one of my books. “’Goodness me!!’ ejaculated Nan’” I read to her (I think it was a Bobbsey Twins book), and my mom was just like, “Oh. Ahem. Well, that’s different. It means she was surprised.” That seemed MUCH more appropriate than what she’d previously told me. Given the context.

So there you go. Sometimes things make sense; sometimes they don’t.

Wednesday: The ravings of a madwoman Part 2

I’ve had a small rash on the side of my nose for about 6 weeks now. It’s not super-noticeable, especially since I wear make-up during the day, but it’s incredibly itchy. I’ve tried everything—over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, moisturizer, rubbing alcohol, acne stuff—but nothing works. Then I was telling a friend at work that I was pretty sure it was some weird type of eczema, and she said that her naturopath gave her some special cream for eczema and the next time she was there, she would pick me up some. She gave it to me on Wednesday. I was dying to try it, mostly because I wanted to tear my skin off of the .5 square centimetre patch that the eczema was affecting.

As soon as I got home from work, I washed the make-up off the side of my nose, and applied the special cream, which was made with all kinds of lovely ingredients, including lavender oil and shea butter. I slathered it on; it smelled heavenly. But within 5 minutes, the itching got intensely worse to the point that it felt like I had bugs crawling under my skin. Then I had an awful thought: What if there really WERE bugs crawling under my skin??!! What if, instead of eczema, it was some kind of infestation, and the only thing this cream had done was make the bugs very, VERY angry?!

And that was when I made the fatal mistake of Googling “I think I have bugs under the skin on my face.” The internet is a wonderful place indeed, but if you ever think you have bugs under your skin, don’t try searching for it, and especially DON’T LOOK AT GOOGLE IMAGES. The internet is also wonderful for locating the nearest walk-in clinic. There was one a block away from me, and it closed in half an hour, so I raced down there.

Receptionist: Can I help you?
Me (whispering): I have this rash next to my nose and it won’t go away.
Receptionist: Well, we’re almost closed. Can you come back tomorrow?
Me (whispering): Um…I just REALLY need someone to look at it and tell me there are no bugs.
Receptionist: Sigh. I can squeeze you in. Fill out this form.

I was sitting in the doctor’s office in less than 10 minutes, something of a walk-in clinic miracle.

Doctor: How can I help you today?
Me: Can you please look at this rash and tell me that I don’t have bugs living under my skin? It’s really itchy and it won’t go away.
Doctor: Hmm. No, I think it’s just slightly infected. I’ll give you a prescription for an antibiotic ointment and some stronger hydrocortisone. You can mix them together and it should be gone in about 5 days, but keep using it for 10 just in case.
Me: So no bugs?
Doctor: Well, if you mean, like bacteria, then yes. But if you mean actual bugs, then no.
Me: Okay, cool.

Only then was I able to relax, and it was in that moment I realized that earlier, I had been cooking dinner, and I had dropped a potato tossed in olive oil and seasoning on my track pants, which were now not only baggy and old, but also stained. I had also spilled wine on my hoodie. So there I was in a pink, boozy hoodie, stained track pants, and turquoise running shoes with no socks, whispering about having bugs under my skin. Thank god I was in the heart of downtown Toronto, where no one gave me a second glance.

Now, after almost 4 days, the rash, and the itching, are almost gone. So I am officially bug-free. And the only thing left to do is figure out why I wrote the words, “Mission Middle Fingers” in my phone notepad. Genius or lunatic? You decide….