My Week 167: My Book, Titus Learns Some Shocking News, Beelzebub’s Elevator

Two Worlds Collide

Last week I mentioned that I’d just had my first novel published in my other, non-blogging life. In THAT life, I write Young Adult fiction and it’s very different from what I write here. I normally keep those two worlds separate, but I’ve had several people message me wanting to know more about the book. I’ve never been very comfortable with self-promotion (I was actually at Chapters Indigo yesterday to talk to them about an upcoming book signing, and I was super-nervous just to do that), but I’m going to put it out here. And please, if you’re really not interested in this, skip down to the next bit, where Titus and I have a revealing conversation. Anyway, this is my book. It’s called Smile.

Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:

“Cassandra Wilson’s life isn’t easy. She’s spent most of her teenage years taking care of her much younger brother, working to support her widowed mother, coping with high school and its pressures, and still grieving over the death of her beloved father. The smile on her face has become an easy way of disguising her true feelings and the fact that she really isn’t sure who she is anymore. Her life suddenly begins to change when she learns that her mother has been secretly dating a co-worker for months and plans to introduce him to the family. Feeling betrayed, and fearing that her mother’s new boyfriend will try to take the place of her father, Cassandra decides it’s time to start living a little herself. That impulsive decision marks the beginning of a series of suspenseful twists, turns, and revelations involving a strange cast of characters who may just help her find what she’s looking for—a real reason to smile.”

The target audience is teens 12 to 18, although my twenty-year-old roommate in Toronto read it and said she loved it (so did my Mom and Dad, haha). I finished writing it about 5 years ago, and I sent it to a couple of publishers, who rejected it. Then I sent it out again last year, and it got picked up right away by a publishing house called Bookland Press, who apparently believe in me, which is very nice of them. One of the key points in the plot is that my main character, who’s 16 years old,  starts getting harassed by a guy at her school after she rebuffs his advances, and considering what’s happening in the world right now, it’s become more timely that I ever would have thought. Of course, that’s only ONE of the things she has to deal with, but I don’t want to give away too much. It’s available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters Indigo (in-store and on-line). If you buy it, cool. If you don’t buy it, also cool. If you like it and leave a review on any of the above websites, I will buy you a drink if you ever come to Toronto. But no pressure, obviously. I’d still buy you a drink if you came to Toronto. And now back to our regular (or irregular) programming…

Titus Learns the Shocking Truth

Titus: Hey. Congratulations on that Liebster award.
Me: Thanks.
Titus: I was just offered an award too. National Dog Magazine called and said I’d PROBABLY win Biggest Stud of the Year, but they wanted dick pics so I was like “I’ll consider it.”
Me: Did you actually just say “dick pics”?!
Titus: Well, technically you did…
Me: What?
Titus (under breath): Fourth wall baby, fourth wall.
Me: Anyway, you CAN’T be Stud of the Year.
Titus: Why the hell not? I’m super-sexy.
Me: For a very obvious reason. Or should I say, TWO very obvious reasons.
Titus: I’m not seeing your point.
Me: Because…how should I put this delicately? Because you don’t have any balls.
Titus: What do you mean, I don’t have any balls?! I have balls! I have balls all over this house!
Me: I’m not talking about the kind of balls you play with—don’t give me that look, smartass. I mean you’re lacking a vital part of the anatomy necessary for “studding”.
Titus: But the ladies love me!
Me: I’m sure they do. Listen, I know it’s a difficult thing to hear. All I can tell you is that they were removed long before you came to live with us.
Titus: You know, I’ve always felt like part of me was missing. Especially every time I lick my—
Me: Stop. I don’t need to know.
Titus: Well, I hope National Dog Magazine likes the pictures I sent them. Check this out! I might not have balls but I certainly make up for it in other areas!
Me: Classy.
Titus: That’s my middle name.

(*This came up in a different font–I don’t know why and I can’t change it–weird.)

“Lifting” Experiences

I hate elevators. I have hated them irrationally ever since I can remember, yet despite that, it’s been my fate to have lived or worked in many buildings where an elevator is mandatory. I would LOVE to be one of those people who can’t wait to get in their extra “steps” by climbing the stairs, but a) I have arthritis in my feet and b) even if I didn’t, I hate stairs because they make me wheezy. My condo in Toronto is on the 34th floor and my worst nightmare is having the fire alarm go off in the middle of the night, and instead of the concierge saying, “Please wait for further instructions”, he screams wildly, “Abandon ship! Fire in the hole!” and then we all have to go down 34 flights of stairs in our pajamas. OK, dying in a fire might be worse, but stairs also suck.

Elevators, on the other hand, are the devil spawn of convenience and ease, but for some reason, they scare me silly. You know how, when you’re really stressed out, you dream about certain things? Well, I always know when my stress level is getting high because I’ll start having nightmares about out-of-control elevators, like the cable has snapped and the elevator I’m in is plummeting to the ground, or it flies out of the top of the building launching me into space, or other terrifying dream scenarios. I don’t know where this deep-seated subconscious fear comes from, since I don’t remember ever having an early childhood experience with a rogue elevator, but even as a rational (well, semi-rational) middle-aged woman, I WILL get out of an elevator if it even makes a weird noise.

As a quick side note, the elevators in my building have cameras in them, which I discovered one day when I was talking to the concierge. I realized that there was a little bank of tv screens behind his desk and 3 of the screens had interior shots of the elevators:

Me: You can see what people are doing in the elevators?
Concierge (laughs): Yep.
Me: So if, for example, I was alone on the elevator, and I happened to be dancing, you could see that?
Concierge: Yep.
Me: Oh.
Concierge: Don’t worry–I don’t judge. But you might want to get a couple of new moves.

Anyway, I’m not like some people, who can’t stand elevators because they have a fear of enclosed spaces, or hate being in close quarters with other people—in fact, I’m always happier when I’m NOT alone on an elevator, because I figure if something bad happens, the other person will know what to do. Case in point: Last week, I got on the elevator at work. We have 6 of them, and there’s always one that’s out of order, or acts wobbly, or makes screechy sounds, but I can always take another one that seems relatively normal. On the day in question, I finished work late, and got on the first elevator to arrive. The doors closed. I went to push the ‘L’ button (‘L’ for lobby), but instead, I accidentally hit the button next to it, which said ‘B’, which I assume, based on what happened next, stands for ‘Beelzebub’. The ‘B’ started flashing, and I realized I’d pushed the wrong button, so I pushed ‘L’. The ‘L’ light came on, then just as quickly blinked off. The ‘B’ was still flashing. Nothing was happening. I stabbed the ‘L’ button again—same thing. It lit up then went off. I realized that we weren’t moving, and that the ‘B’ button was still flashing at which point, I got super-panicky. Suddenly, the elevator gave a shudder and started moving and, I kid you not, I actually yelled out loud in anguish, “I don’t want to go to the basement!! Not the basement!!” just as the doors opened on a young guy standing in the lobby of the 15th floor.

“This isn’t the basement,” he said.

“Thank god you’re here,” I replied. “I was stuck in the elevator. The ‘B’ light kept blinking.”

“Oh,” he said. “If you want to go to the basement, you need a key as well. You have to be authorized.”

“I didn’t WANT to go to the basement. I hit the wrong button. If you hadn’t been there, who knows how long I would have been stuck. Thank you for saving me.”

“Uh, no problem. See, now we’re in the lobby. It’s all good.”

And it was, although I’m sure the poor guy thought I was overreacting and being super-dramatic, which would not be a lie. But I can tell you this: I will never take Elevator Number 4 and its direct line to the lair of Beelzebub again. I’d rather take the stairs.

 

 

 

 

My Week 54: Back on the Train Gang, Conversations

Friday: Back on the train gang

Recently, I started taking the train to Toronto on Sundays and back home on Fridays. This has saved me an intense amount of stress from trying to figure out how to beat a rush hour that starts at noon. The trouble with the 401 is that it’s a great highway when no one else is on it. I can make it door to door in less than an hour and a half if the roads are clear. But that NEVER happens. There’s always a slowdown, for a variety of incomprehensible reasons. Here is my list of top ten favourite circumstances which might cause traffic on the 401 to come to a complete halt:

10) It’s raining.
9) It’s windy.
8) Is that a running shoe? Slow down!!
7) Look, an airplane. Coooool.
6) There’s an accident on the OTHER side of the road.
5) What a weird-looking bird…
4) That guy is changing his tire. What do we do?
3) Are those cloud shadows on the road, or is the beginning of the alien invasion?
2) A bus is on fire.
1) (And this is absolutely true). Radio announcer: Be careful out there today, folks. That sun is really shining brightly!

While a couple of these are legitimate—like a burning bus, or slowing down to avoid hitting someone at the side of the road, the rest are stupid. If people would just drive like normal humans instead of trying to break the landspeed record, none of the other things on the list would a) come as a shock and b) force traffic to a standstill. So, yes, I started taking the train, which is a much more civilized and safer way to travel, albeit not without its own quirks. For example, VIA has a policy that you have to present your boarding pass BEFORE you board at some stations, but not others. At Union Station, you have to have it scanned before you can get on the train. At unstaffed stations, like the one I arrive at, you can get on the train and a conductor will scan it at some point during the trip. If you take a chance and sneak onto the train without paying, there’s a pretty hefty fine. It never occurred to me that anyone would actually TRY this, but on Friday, here’s what happened: I was standing in line, getting ready to board. I’d been standing there for a while, and contemplating the nonsensical nature of me and all the other hundred people standing there, because we all have assigned seating, yet as soon as one person lines up, the rest of us panic and follow like sheep. And then we stand there for half an hour. Waiting. And talking about why we’re standing in line. I said to the woman behind me, “Why are we lined up?” and she said, “I don’t know. I just saw everyone else doing it, and figured I should too.” Anyway, I was standing there like the follower that I apparently am, lacking in free will and all that sh*t, when I noticed a man out of the corner of my eye. I was close to one of the columns that holds up the roof, and pretty close to the front of the line, and he had sauntered over very casually and was now standing against the column with his wheelie bag, looking all innocent. But I knew what he was up to. “Bastard!” I thought to myself. “He’s going to try and cut in. I haven’t been waiting here for almost 40 minutes so this guy can jump the queue. At least not in FRONT of me. I don’t care if he cuts in behind me. Someone else can deal with that.” So, you see, I was equally enraged AND mercenary. Then, the line started to move, and sure enough, the odious little jerk slid in right behind me. Everyone noticed, but we were all too polite, being Canadian and everything, to tell him off. But as we were getting close to the escalator and the conductor, he kept trying to pass me. So I did what any red-blooded Canadian would do—I swung MY wheelie bag out wide to slow him down, forcing him to stay behind me. But this is where things got interesting and supremely karmic. I showed my boarding pass, and got on the escalator with him hot on my heels. Then I heard a voice—“Sir! Sir! I need to scan your boarding pass!” I turned, and a conductor was climbing up the escalator towards us. The man announced, “You did already,” but the conductor was adamant. “No, I didn’t. Let me see it now, please.” At this point, the butt-er reluctantly held out a very crumpled boarding pass. “Sir,” the conductor said with a hint of anger in his voice, “you don’t have a ticket for this train. You’ll have to come with me.” The man protested, but had no choice. As he scurried back down the escalator, I shook my fist in triumph, and actually said out loud, “HAHA! I knew it!!”, much to the delight of the couple ahead of me, who had also noticed that he was up to something. We all smiled knowingly at each other with the smugness of those who had legitimately purchased tickets.

Then there are the “regulars”. Seriously, it’s like Cheers, when Norm walks into the bar. “Hey, Norm”, everyone yells, and all the non-regulars are confused, and a little jealous that they aren’t part of the gang. The first time I took the train, this happened to me. I was sitting near a group of the regulars, and it was like homecoming weekend. The conductor was supremely pleased to see them, and they were all laughing and high-fiving and sh*t. Then she asked if there was anyone who was unfamiliar with train safety procedures, because I guess it’s a requirement of the job, and they were all like “Haha, safety requirements! Right, Ellen!! HAHA.” But you know me, and my need to figure out the worst case scenario, so I was like, “Excuse me. I am unfamiliar with the safety procedures and I would like to hear more about it.” So she started telling me about what to do in case of an emergency, but the gang kept interrupting her, and she would giggle and be like “Oh, you guys!” until finally I said very sternly, “I’d actually appreciate being able to hear what you have to say.” At which point, she realized that maybe she needed to stop being flirty and do her job. So she explained to me that in case of an emergency, there was a little green hammer located next to the rear window, and that I would have to hit one corner of the window with the hammer, then hit another corner to get it to break out of the frame, then use a cushion from one of the seats to push the glass out. How is this even a PLAN, VIA Rail? The train derails, and I’m tossing bodies out of the way, looking for a seat cushion to push out the window with? The window I broke with a LITTLE GREEN HAMMER?! I have the exact same plan at home in case of fire, but it doesn’t involve pillows as much as me shattering things like The Hulk using a much bigger Thor-like hammer (there’s your random Avengers reference for the week), and not caring so much about glass cuts than SAVING MY FAMILY.  Then she was like, “Don’t worry—it’ll never happen. It’s just a precaution.” Oh really, conductor lady?! It’s called a ‘worst case scenario’ for a reason. From now on, I’m bringing my own damn hammer.

But you meet all kinds on the train. There’s the girl who walks down the aisle on her cell phone, loudly alerting all of us to her weekend party plans and spends the next hour calling friend after friend to let them know she’s “on the train but can’t wait to get smashed at Kyle’s house later”, the drunk Blue Jays fans who yell out the names of all the stops, the business men and women whose companies are too cheap to spring for anything more than “economy class”…. Me, I don’t care where I sit, as long as it’s quiet, I can have a glass of wine (hell yeah—they serve wine on the train, which is why I referred to it earlier as a civilized way to travel), read my book, and think my thoughts. This, however, did NOT happen on Friday. I was seated behind a woman and her 6 year-old daughter, who was quite possibly the most obnoxious child I’ve come across. Mainly because the mother seemed to have no idea that children can actually be taught, through patient care and a lot of work, to NOT be f*cking obnoxious. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE kids, I really do. I have a charming and well-behaved one of my own, and I’ve been successfully working with kids of all ages for over 30 years, so I have a pretty good idea of how to deal with them. The first sign of trouble came about 20 seconds into boarding, when “Cathy” began yelling, “SING SING LALA SING LALALA” over and over again. And to clarify—she wasn’t actually singing—she was yelling the words Sing and LaLa. Finally, the mother admonished her with “Shhhhhh.” “NO!!” came the reply, with a continuation of the racket, until Mom distracted her with the menu. Things went downhill from there. “I want THIS and THIS and THIS!”

Mom: You can only have one thing. You have to choose.
Cathy: NO!! I WANT EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING!
Mom: You can’t have everything. Only one. Which one do you want?
Cathy: I WANT EVERYTHING. I’m going to kick this seat until you get me EVERYTHING! (kick kick kick kick)
Conductor: Can I get you anything?
Mom: Yes, I’ll take this and this and this….

Good work, lady.

Halfway through the trip, I finally had to put my headphones on and drown out Cathy with loud music after this particular conversation:

Cathy: What does ‘technically’ mean? Mommy, what does ‘technically’ mean? MOMMY! Don’t you know? Are you stupid? Mommy, what does ‘technically’ mean? MOMMY!!

You know, I get that people are tired, and it’s really easy to let kids get away with a little cheekiness at the end of a long day, but kicking seats and calling names are a certain sign that little Cathy is going to have BIG trouble if she thinks the rest of the world is going to treat her like Mommy does. She’ll be the one trying to cut into a line, and she’ll be shocked when people like me won’t let her. That’s karma, Cathy.

But I have met some really great people on the train. There’s the kid who’s in Pre-Law at U of T, but who would give it all up to be a rock star with his band–he was visiting his girlfriend at Western and had never taken the train before so we helped each other figure out where the subway was in relation to the train station…The girl who finished a Security course and did a practicum at a northern men’s penitentiary, which taught her that she really didn’t want to be a prison guard and was now working with a pharmaceutical company…The Kinesiology student whose 8 year-old sister lives with her and goes to school in Toronto all week, then goes to London on the weekends to stay with “relatives”–she’s 18 years old but pretty much a surrogate mother, and a very good one at that, judging by the way she cares for little Hailey…The man who’s an accountant by day, but races short track with his classic car on the weekends down in Windsor in a full firesuit and helmet–his brother is his pit crew…the list goes on, and for every annoying Cathy, there are three different people with fascinating stories and lives that you can glimpse into for a brief moment, and realize that the world can be a pretty decent place if you let it. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Best elevator conversation of the week:

Guy in Elevator: Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Carol Burnett?
Me: Uh, thanks—it must be the haircut.
Guy: Kids today have no appreciation for Carol Burnett. The other night I was at a bar and I was being hit on by someone a LOT younger than me. So I said to him, “Sorry, honey—I’m Carol Burnett and you’re Lady Gaga. It will NEVER work.”

Worst elevator conversation of the week:

Guy in Elevator: Ungghh—I could sure use a big cup of coffee!
Me: Um…ok.
Guy: Wow! Look at all your rings! I really like the big one you have on!!
Me: I got that one in Spain—oh look, here’s my floor. Bye.

Best conversations with street people this week:

Me: I’m going into Loblaws. Can I get you anything?
Homeless Guy: Can I get some smoked oysters?
Me: Uh….ok…
Homeless Guy: And a Coke? Thanks.

Me: I’m going into Loblaws. Can I get you anything? Maybe some juice?
Dan: Oh…could I have a jar of Cheez Whiz? I love Cheez Whiz but I can never afford to buy it.
Me: Sure thing.
Dan: Thanks, dear.