Sensitivity Training

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend who had posted something on the Twitterverse about HSP, which stands for Hyper-Sensitive Person. We were going through the list of criteria, and I have to admit that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a couple of the symptoms. For example, I hate loud noises. More specifically, I hate vacuum cleaners. Hate is maybe too mild a word. Vacuum cleaners make me want to gouge my eyes out, to the point that, a few years ago, I bought a Roomba. For those of you who don’t know what a Roomba is, it’s a very expensive robot vacuum. It’s not a badass robot with laser beam eyes and super-strength, but it WILL vacuum your carpet when you’re not at home which, at the time, SEEMED pretty badass. It was perfect for me, because that meant the rugs got cleaned but I didn’t have to suffer the torment of listening to it. Things were great for a while—I would put it in the middle of a room, turn it on, then run out the door, leaving it to its robotic devices. Then, inevitably, Ken decided that he was now in charge of the robot, like an evil robot slave master. And he insisted on running it when we were actually home. What’s the f*cking point of THAT? You might as well just use a regular, non-sentient vacuum. I would be in my bathroom, and suddenly the Roomba would grind in, like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was about to happen. This is not an exaggeration—one time, it actually attacked my feet and I ran away from it. But then it kept coming after me, and it was like one of those horror films where, no matter how fast you run, the killer just keeps on relentlessly coming and eventually catches you. I finally resorted to kicking it away when it would cruise through the room I was in, until finally, it died. I have no regrets. It was evil and alive—it was either kill it my damn self or call in a priest. Ken was sad—he loved his robot vacuum, but that’s the way things go when you want to act like a petty despot—robots get hurt.

Aside from my bizarre hatred of vacuums, here’s another reason why I might have become more sensitive as I’ve gotten older. Apparently, people who are hyper-sensitive always remember everyone’s birthday, because they get very upset with themselves if they forget. Now, for a long time, I was NOT the kind of person who wrote down important milestones in a little diary. I have, on numerous occasions, forgotten the birthdays of my parents and siblings, forgotten my wedding anniversary, and regularly get Kate’s birth year and the year I got married mixed up. But over the last couple of years, particularly after discovering how to use my Outlook calendar, I’ve gotten much better at this, at least for work. Last year, I decided to make sure I remembered all the birthdays of the people on my team. But first, I had to find out when they actually were so that I could record them in my calendar:

Me: Hey, can you do me a favour? Can you go around the office and get the birth dates of everyone on our team?
Colleague 1: What do you want them for?
Me: So I can put them in my calendar.
Colleague 1: Why don’t you just ask them?
Me: I don’t want people to think I don’t already know when they are.
Colleague 1: I think people already know that. You always seem really surprised when there’s cake.

But now, I have them all recorded, and even though we can’t have cake because we’re all working remotely, I have a JibJab account, and I can whip up a card at a moment’s notice, as I almost had to do the other day:

Colleague 2: So, yes, I think that would be a good time to meet about–
Me (looking at Outlook calendar): Oh my god!
Colleague 2: What’s wrong?
Me: It’s Donna’s birthday today! How could I not have seen that? Why did nobody say anything? What time is it?
Colleague 2: Five to 1.
Me: I’m meeting with her and the team at 1! That gives me five minutes. I need to go—I have to make a Jibjab for her!

But then, as I was frantically looking for a JibJab card template that I hadn’t already used (I think ‘Tequila’ has run its course), I happened to look at my calendar and realized that it was set on October, so I texted my colleague, who had already texted Donna to wish her Happy Birthday, to which she had replied in confusion, “It’s not my birthday” to which my colleague then replied, “Sorry, wrong person” and I think we both recovered nicely from the situation.

Also, I’m trying to improve at writing messages in cards. Just like my poor small talk skills, I’m equally bad at card small talk. Some people are capable of writing epic messages, like “He was gone before his time—remember the best parts of him as a tribute to his memory”, or “A happy marriage is a gift from the heavens—you are truly blessed.” Me, I learned a long time ago that I am NOT epic, and I usually just resort to “So sorry for your loss”, or “Congratulations”. Once, I had to write a Thank You card but instead of “We make a good team”, I wrote “We make a good time”. Then I got worried that the person might think that it was some bizarre pick-up line, and I got totally paranoid and ended up throwing the card away, because there was no way to correct THAT, except to start over again. Which is why I like JibJab cards, because you can proofread them before you send them. Still you have to be careful:

Kate: What are you doing?
Me: Making a card for my team. Look, it’s a song called Cake By The Ocean. Nice huh?
Kate: Uh…you might want to reconsider that.
Me: Too sensitive, given the whole covid thing? Because we can’t have the birthday cake at the beach right now?
Kate: NO, because “cake by the ocean” means having SEX at the beach.
Me: ‘Tequila’, it is!

I’m nothing if not sensitive.

Bad Omens

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long story short, herons are assholes.

 

Search Me

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

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

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

 

Demon Dog

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

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

 

 

 

Climbing The Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Good Kittens Make Good Neighbours

In another installment of “Weird Things I Saw For Sale”, I came across this ad the other day. When I saw the picture, I thought it was strange, because apparently you’re not allowed to sell pets on Facebook Marketplace, but then I saw the description and realized that this was, in fact, NOT a pet but a very skilled little feline who is worth every penny of his $123.00 price tag.

Now, it never occurred to me that you could use a kitten for this purpose, just like it never occurred to me that you should hold a kitten like it’s an ice cream cone, but then I gave it a little more thought. I came up with this clever quiz for you to demonstrate how much a kitten has in common with a sheep/goat fence. You need to read the items on the following list and decide whether they apply to kittens, sheep/goat fences, or both:

1) Can be used to keep out sheep and/or goats
2) Adorable
3) Comes in a variety of colours
4) Might have fleas
5) Needs lots of maintenance
6) Enjoys the outdoors
7) Potentially electrified
8) Poops in a box
9) Hisses if you try to cross it
10) Vomits on your rug
11) Kills birds and small rodents
12) Very long
13) Metal or wood

OK, let’s see how you did.

Exclusively kittens: #8 and #10. Exclusively sheep/goat fences: #13. Both: All the rest.

Now, you may be saying, “I don’t think—” but I’m going to interrupt you in order to explain.

1) “Can be used to keep out sheep/goats”. According to the ad, this kitten CAN be used to keep out sheep and/or goats, and I take the word of the expert who owns the kitten and not some blog reader who owns a sheep and/or goat farm, KEVIN. Also, the ad says it’s a TEMPORARY fence; otherwise, using a kitten as a sheep/goat fence would be very unrealistic.

2) “Adorable”. I have seen MANY adorable sheep/goat fences in my time. In fact, just the other day, Ken and I were driving around the countryside and he said, “Look at that cute fence” and I said, “We should stop and take a picture of it” and we did, because it was adorable.

3) “Comes in a variety of colours”. I mean obviously sheep/goat fences don’t come in as MANY colours as kittens, but they come in several shades of gray or brown, so that counts.

4) “Might have fleas”. I said “Might”.

5) “Needs lots of maintenance”. Fences and kittens are both high-maintenance what with their potential for rust and needing to be amused constantly.

6) “Enjoys the outdoors”. This is obviously true of both because sheep/goat fences live in the outdoors, which they wouldn’t if they didn’t enjoy it, I would hope, and kittens are always making a run for the door to get out of your house.

7) “Potentially electrified”. I said “Potentially”. Also, what do you think makes a kitten’s fur stand on end? And have you ever touched your kitten and gotten a shock? I rest my case.

8) “Poops in a box”. I don’t think sheep\goat fences defecate, and if they did, I can’t see a farmer providing them a box to do it in. Although you never know with farmers.

9) “Hisses if you try to cross it”. This one is predicated on the sheep/goat fence being electrified. In which case, it’s true of both. It’s also true of the Canada Goose, affectionately known as the Evil Lake Chicken.

10) “Vomits on your rug”. This could never be true of a sheep/goat fence because you wouldn’t have one in your house with access to a rug. Unless you also keep sheep and/or goats in your house, and then it would be like a baby gate or something, and I still can’t see it vomiting on the rug, although the sheep and/or goats might. But if you’ve ever owned a kitten, you know they do this all the damn time, and especially when you have company over for dinner, and right as you start eating, the kitten comes in, makes an unearthly yowling sound, and pukes on the rug. Kittens have impeccable timing, which they also have in common with sheep/goat fences. I should have put that on the list.

11) “Kills birds and small rodents”. This is also predicated on the sheep/goat fence being electrified. It also depends on the voltage. Ken has touched electric fences before but he’s not home right now, so I’ll ask him later if he thinks it could electrocute a field mouse. Update: Ken says that the voltage probably wouldn’t kill them but would give them a good jolt, so I’m changing 11 to “Wounds birds and small rodents”.

12) “Very long”. I’ve seen long kittens. Fight me.

13) “Metal or wood”. There’s no way I can stretch this to make it apply to kittens, at least not the living kind, so I’m giving number 13 to sheep/goat fences.

Overall, as you can see, kittens and sheep/goat fences DO have a lot in common, so I think the person who posted the ad should be asking a hell of a lot more than $123.00. A much better deal than the ad for used rocks at a dollar a piece.

(On a personal note, I woke up on Tuesday morning to an email telling me that I’d been nominated for a Best of the Net prize for my story in the Ekphrastic Review titled ‘Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus’, which you can read here if you’d like, although a lot of you already have. It was as unexpected as a kitten being used as a sheep/goat fence, but it made my day.)

Driving By The Numbers

I’ve picked up several new followers lately, many of whom are NOT vitamin bloggers (but if you are, I take a LOT of vitamins so welcome!), and I thought it might be time to let you all know what to expect when you follow this blog. Today’s entry is short and sweet because I’m one chapter away from finishing my new book—it’s the denouement so it needs careful thought and a few solid hours of writing time, which I’ll be doing the second I wrap this post up.

So this is me.

In 2015, I bought a cute little car. It was a 2013 model but it had only been used for car shows and demos, so it had very low mileage; in fact, I think when I got it, the odometer (I just googled “thing on car that tells you mileage” in case you were thinking I was super-knowledgeable about cars) was below 2 000 kilometres, which is like 10 000 US miles or something, and I thought that was really cool. As I was driving it places, I would look at the ODOMETER every once in a while to see if I’d hit a mileage milestone and if I did, I would pull over and take a picture. Here’s the first one I took at 11 111:

Here’s 12 345 from a few months later:

There was a lull in my odometer fascination for a while, but then I reached this milestone:

All those 4s look really cool, I think. Although the number 4 is apparently unlucky to some cultures, it isn’t to mine—I’m half English and half Scottish, so 4 is simply the time we have more tea and haggis.

Then I reached a more scary number—notice that I didn’t drive the extra 5 kilometres to round out the shot, on the off-chance that it might stir up some kind of negative universal energy (as an aside, I participate in a Zoom group occasionally and the password for the room is 666, and whenever I see that number, my first instinct is to yell, “Ah! The number of the beast!” But I don’t do it out loud, just in my head and usually to an Iron Maiden song. The first time I entered the password, I was worried that I would be transported into one of the 9 circles of hell, but no, it was just a group of friendly Asian people, so Dante was way off there).

Anyway, last week I was driving and I realized that my odometer read 79, 972. “That’s so close to 80,000,” I said to myself. “Only a little more than a thousand kilometres to go and I can get another cool picture.” And if right now, you’re saying to YOURSELF, “I think the math is really, really wrong here,” you would be absolutely correct.

So I got to my destination, glanced at the odometer and gasped in dismay to see that it read 80, 007 and my first instinct was to yell “What the f*ck!” And I did that out loud, not in my head. I was well and truly furious with myself for once again being completely stymied by mathematical calculations, and I drove home in a snit. At least for the first 5 minutes, because my odometer, as you can see, is digital. The 8 looks like a capital B, and the zeros look like capital Os, and the 5 looks like a big-ass S and I realized, with a sudden thrill, that if I waited another seventy-some-odd kilometres, I could spell out the word BOOBS and that made me smile all the way home.

So, to sum:

I’m terrible at math.
There will sometimes be swearing.
I’m a 54 year-old woman with an adolescent sense of humour.

Welcome to my world.

(Update: I finished my new novel, The Seventh Devil, yesterday. 177 pages and 51, 370 words. Now those are some numbers!)

I Beg To Differ

This has been a week full of epiphanies, some good and some downright disturbing. For the last several months I’ve been suffering—and it’s no exaggeration to say ‘terribly’—from some kind of shoulder affliction. It got worse during lockdown, what with being at the computer all day long with little reprieve, to the point where I was having trouble sleeping, writing, and couldn’t even work in the garden without suffering the consequences. I’d seen my doctor, Dr. Monteith (not his real name), he of the dickish bedside manner, at the beginning of the year; with minimal examination, he pronounced it tendonitis and recommended physiotherapy. Then everything closed—physiotherapy isn’t much help virtually, which I’ve written about before, and I’ve never been good at following through on things like “stretch with this weird rubber band 5 times a day”. Next, I got a prescription for an anti-inflammatory that made me woozy and didn’t help the pain. Then the world started to open up again, and I could see my massage therapist, but that didn’t help a lot either, even though under normal circumstances she’s magical and wonderful. Finally, I called the doctor’s office at the end of my wits—in a fateful turn of events, my regular doctor was on holiday, and his replacement immediately ordered an X-ray and ultrasound. ‘Immediate’ turned into a month though—apparently there were a LOT of people waiting for appointments and I had to wait until July 31 to get it done. Three days before, I made the dreadful mistake of googling “shoulder pain and cancer” just to see if there was anything to be concerned about, and I ended up crying hysterically when I read about something called a Pancoast tumour:

Me (sobbing): That’s it. I have all the symptoms. I’m going to die.
Ken: You don’t have all the symptoms. It says here the key one is weight loss.
Me: (stops crying): Your POINT?
Ken: It’s been months—you haven’t lost any weight. Weren’t you saying just the other day that you couldn’t fit into your shorts from last sum–
Me:
Ken: Well, one of us is going to die now.

It DID make me feel a little better that I hadn’t wasted away to a shadow thanks to some rare tumour, but that still left the mystery of the incredible pain I was experiencing. I got to the clinic on the 31st and, despite the crowds, I was seen almost right away by the ultrasound technologist who was very dour:

Me: By the way, I have a latex allergy.
UT: Uh, OK.
Me: It says on the sign at reception that I’m supposed to notify you.
UT (rolls eyes): OK.

Despite her attitude, it was a real treat to have an ultrasound that I didn’t have to drink gallons of water for and then have to hold it in while someone pressed down on my bladder. When she was done, it was off to X-ray, where the technician was slightly more pleasant. Then the waiting began. It was the Friday before the long weekend, so I wouldn’t get any results until at least last Tuesday. And that meant several days of worrying. Finally, on Wednesday morning, the doctor’s office called. My regular physician was back, apparently, and had seen the results:

Nurse: Dr. Monteith says you have calcific tendonitis.
Me: OK, what does that mean?
Nurse: He says you should get shock treatments.
Me: Get what? Won’t that be painful and somewhat brain damaging?
Nurse: Hang on. Sorry, shock wave treatments. You can get it done at a physiotherapy office.

So, epiphany number 1: Calcific tendonitis, which means that I have calcium deposits grinding around in my tendons and muscles, which accounts for the pain. Shock wave therapy is supposed to break them up and help your body reabsorb them.

The second epiphany came on Thursday when Ken picked up the radiologist’s report from Dr. Monteith’s office so that I could take it to my shock wave treatment next week. It says, and I quote: “Calcific tendinopathy involving the subscapularis and supraspinatus tendons, calcification protruding through the humeral head, otherwise unremarkable.”

 

“UNREMARKABLE”?! Excuse me?! It was signed M. Rooney, and all I can think is it’s Mickey Rooney and this is some kind of joke. Does M. Rooney not know about my outstanding colon AND the lifetime achievement award I received for my last mammogram? I was PERSONALLY CONGRATULATED by the Chief Health Officer for both of those! Well, M. Rooney, you’ve poked the bear in the worst way possible. From this moment on, I VOW to be nothing less than completely f*cking remarkable in everything I do. And if my dentist is reading this—you better get ready for the whitest, most cavity-free remarkable teeth you’ve ever seen in your whole goddamn life.

And speaking of remarkable, my good friend Paul, he of the Notes From The Avalon blog, has just started a new blog called The Desert Curmudgeon. One of the things he likes to write about are weird Canadian TV shows, and even though he’s American, I’ve awarded him honorary Canadian citizenship. His new focus for commentary is on the short-lived 1970s Canadian sci-fi series The Starlost, and he asked me to write an intro to his first hilarious installment, which you can read here. I highly recommend him, and hope you pop over and maybe give him a follow.

It’s A What?

Last month, Ken and I decided to rent a booth in an antique market owned by a friend of ours. You may be surprised by this, but years ago, Ken and I had an antique business called Washington House Antiques. It’s a fancy name—perhaps you were thinking we aspired to the Oval Office—but let me assure you the name came about because we lived in a house in Washington, Ontario and I’m the kind of person who named my stuffed animals Teddy or Rabbit or Koala. We had a store on our property, I had a booming eBay business, and we had booths in several markets. But then I started working full-time, and Kate got older and life just got too busy. Recently though—in fact, it was right after Big Junk Day—I looked around the house and realized I could be one step away from being featured on Hoarders. It would be an upscale episode where the psychologist would question my desire to hang on to 40 pieces of Beswick Art Pottery from the 1920s, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my family being brought in, ‘intervention-style’:

Mom: Honey, let them go. You haven’t even dusted them in months.
Dad: Och! They’re neither use nor ornament, lassie. Gi’ ‘em up!
Brother: Speaking as someone with a PhD, you could earn good money with those. Let me see the contract with the antique market. 10% commission? Not bad.
Ken (whispers): Don’t let them into my office!

At any rate, I had a lot of things in the house and sheds that I could use to stock a booth, but at a certain point, I ran out, and now I have to find other sources for things to sell. Which brings me to the internet and more specifically Facebook Marketplace, where the average person can list their absolutely weird stuff for free. Here’s a small sample of things that I’ve seen over the last little while that made me do a double-take:

There are many words that begin with the letters ‘sm’. Smell, smooth, smack, small, sment…SMENT? This is an ad that I actually saw a couple of months ago and I’ve thought about it every day since then. It’s a small statue of a boy holding a large misshapen bowl. The caption for the listing says “Sment boy”. Two things are noticeable about this ad. First, THE BOY IS NOT EVEN CEMENT. It looks like some kind of pottery or plaster that the person has painted with acrylic paint. Second, the paint brushes are standing in a jar labelled “Cayenne Pepper”. How the f*ck do you know how to spell “Cayenne” but not “Cement”?! Maybe the person was being really clever, like “I know it’s not really a cement statue, but if I call it Sment then no one can sue me for trademark infringement. Kind of like that Mickey Mouse/Mighty Mouse thing.” At any rate, it’s not very appealing, and I did NOT buy it.

This one looks very innocuous, but the real weirdness is in the description. This is a cat scratching post made of cardboard and fabric. The reason the person is selling it is because his cat is “too cool for it”. So I guess if you have a cat who’s nerdy or awkward, this is the perfect gift for them? Personally, I think the reason the cat doesn’t use it is because cats are notoriously lazy, and have no interest in walking all the way across a room to use a scratching post when they can just scratch the arm of the chair they’re lounging about in. I speak from experience.

Right now it’s July, 5 months into the middle of a global pandemic, and this charming display is being sold. It’s being advertised as a “Coffin shape diorama”. I can’t tell how big it is since the pictures of the measuring tape are all blurry. I’m just praying it’s not life-sized, because there are several disembodied arms and legs in there. To be honest, I can see a market for something like that around Hallowe’en. OR if you have neighbours who insist on having large parties with no social distancing or masks, I think this would be great to put on their porch as a warning.

This one boggles my mind. Why on earth would you want a pool thermometer with a large bowel movement attached to it like a handle? Seriously, if you’re willing to pay $17 for something like that, I will come to your house every day with one of Atlas’s poops and throw it in your pool for free. AND tell you if the water is warm.

I was scrolling through Marketplace when I saw this picture, and my first thought was, “Who’s selling that weird, sad-looking dog?” and then I read the description, which said “Antique Scarf”, and my second thought was “WTF? EWWW!” It’s a dead animal. I’m not wearing that around my neck no matter how ‘antique’ it is. Basically what you’re selling is a very old, very deceased—possum? Sorry, I’m not that familiar with the types of animals people drape across their shoulders these days.

Finally, I leave you with an enigma that will haunt me for the rest of my days. This is something my mother brought me last week. At first glance, it’s just a couple of bottles of essential oil. They’re both listed for medicinal use. One smells like peppermint and the other smells like cinnamon. The one that smells like peppermint is called “Peppermint”. The one that smells like cinnamon is called…“Thieves”.

(After having a couple of people explain what Thieves Oil is made of, I googled “Why is it called Thieves Oil” and the answer was “Its name was inspired by the legend of four French thieves in the 15th century who wore a special blend of rosemary, clove and other botanicals while they robbed the dead and dying.” ROBBED THE DEAD AND DYING? They probably wore those antique animal scarves too.)

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

A long time ago, I used to be a high school teacher which meant I got summers off. Of course, I never REALLY got the summer off—I was either taking courses, getting ready for the new year, or for the last few years before I switched jobs, I was a Summer School principal (you can search “Summer School Stories” if you want to know more). Now that I work for the secret agency, I get 21 days for the entire year, plus statutory holidays. These days are like gold, and I try to ration well because they have to see me through from January to Christmas. I took a few random days at the beginning of the year. And this past week, I took 5 days in a row. That is the extent of my summer holiday right now because I thought I needed to bank the rest for later. I had set another five aside for a cruise in December, but then everything went to sh*t and we had to cancel it—who wants to be on a floating can of plague? Maybe there’ll be a cure soon though, and then I might need them, so better to be safe than sorry. Anyway, I had five days right now and needed to be as productive as possible. Here’s what I accomplished:

1) I taught my puppy to stop biting me

He’s a fantastic little guy, except for one thing. He was biting ALL the time. My arms looked like a war zone—I couldn’t sit down on the couch for five seconds before he was jumping all over me and chewing the sh*t out of me. We tried several tacks, based on what I read on the internet:

Me (squeals very loudly): ‘OW!’
Atlas: You’re a terrible actress. We both know I didn’t bite you that hard. (Bites me again).

Me: Gentle. Be gentle. BE GENTLE.
Atlas: I have no frame of reference for that. (Bites me again).

Me: Here! Chew on Teddy instead!
Atlas: Teddy tastes like sawdust. On the other hand—on both your other hands–you’re delicious.

Finally, I’d had enough. I said to Ken, “None of this crap is working. From now on, if he bites, I say “No” and walk away. If he’s good, he gets a cookie.” See, I’d forgotten that he was a Lab and that the sole motivation for the breed is food. So on Monday, I sat down on the couch with a jar of little treats. Every time he got nippy, I said “No” and took my hand away. When he was calm, I gave him a little piece of his kibble and praised him.

Me: You’re a very nice boy.
Atlas: I AM a nice boy. And this food tastes even better when you handfeed me.

It took two afternoons of focused training, and he hasn’t bitten me since then. As long as I keep dog food in my pocket, I’m golden.

2) I wrote three and a half chapters of my new novel

I’ve been working on a new project for a little while, and at the beginning of July, I sent the first ten chapters to my current publisher to see if they had any interest in it. They do, and now I have a mid-August deadline to get the bulk of it complete. According to my plan, it will top out around nineteen chapters, which means about five and a half to go. Good job I still have some vacation days left. The new book is called The Seventh Devil. Here’s the synopsis:

“20-year-old Verity Darkwood and her mentor Gareth Winter travel across Canada in an old pickup truck and fifth-wheel trailer, exorcising ghosts and demons for people who’ve answered their ad in The Echo: A Journal for Lovers of the Macabre, edited by the eccentric Horace Greeley III. All the while Verity continues the search for her younger sister Harmony, who disappeared when Verity was 14. As she gets closer to discovering what happened to her sister, she and Gareth cross paths with the mysterious and dangerous John Berith. A confrontation becomes inevitable if Verity ever hopes to see Harmony again.”

I’m excited about it. If you have any good book cover ideas, let me know.

3) I watched Ken work on the gazebo

He finally finished the roof, and started working on the railings, benches, and stand-up bar this week. I now have the most ostentatious mansion for my blow-up hot tub possible. You’d expect something with this much architectural splendor to house the Statue of David or something, but no, it’s just a large vinyl container of hot water. Still, it’s glorious.

4) I went clothes shopping for the first time since March

My office in the city is right across the street from the best Winners store in Canada. I was over there at least once a week, because they always have fantastic clothes, a great clearance section, and it’s the only place I can buy the good vegetable spice. This spice is made by Gourmet Kitchen, and during the worst of the plague, I tried to order it from Amazon. I normally pay 6.99 for a jar at Winners; Amazon wanted thirty-five dollars US, which is around fifty Canadian. My potatoes would have to roast naked for that price. But there’s also a Winners about 20 minutes away from my house. It’s not at the same level as the downtown store, but still…And not only was I able to get the good spice, I bought three tops. Obviously, I don’t need to buy pants until I’m working in an office again instead of doing virtual meetings where people can only see me from the shoulders up.

5) I discovered that we get a channel called A&E. A long time ago, this channel used to show almost exclusively BBC series and documentaries. Now, it’s like the National Enquirer. On Mondays, you can watch marathons of Hoarders, which is the most insane show on the planet. On every episode, one of the psychologists says, “This is the worst hoard I’ve ever seen” but the next episode is ALWAYS WORSE, like the old man who slept in a tiny nest of garbage in his living room surrounded by mountains of more garbage, or the woman who had 117 cats—43 of them were alive and the rest were in her refrigerator. One episode had a guy who had stacks and stacks of magazines in one room, which hit close to home:

Me: See that? It reminds me of your office. You’d totally be a hoarder if it wasn’t for me refusing to let you keep crap like that.
Ken: Says the woman who has 27 clocks that don’t work and 12 seashell jewelry boxes with NOTHING IN THEM.

On Friday nights, you can also binge watch a weird show called Storage Wars. The premise is simple—we follow a group of *ssholes as they try to outbid each other on storage units so that they can make a profit on the junk inside. And they really are *ssholes, whose sole motivation is to screw each other over. Every episode, at least one of them says, “I don’t want this unit but I’m going to bid on it anyway to drive the price up so that Barry has to pay more than it’s worth.” None of the people on this show have anything likable about them, and I don’t understand why I watched 6 episodes on Friday night.  Oh well—I’m on my holidays.

I’m Ready For My Close-Up

On Monday, I received a FaceTime call. The only person who normally tries to call me on Facetime is my 6-year-old niece, Cecile, so I answered, thinking that a lovely exploration of the topics of Minecraft or slime would ensue. She’s a remarkably blithe conversationalist; for example:

Me: So what would you like for your birthday?
C: I’m not sure. I like the Galaxy, stuffies, and my favourite colour is blue.
Me: What’s ‘the Galaxy’? Is it a game?
C (laughs): No, Aunt Suzanne. It’s like the stars and stuff.
Me: So would you like a telescope?
C: Actually, a telescope would be great. My cousin Gio has one, but we literally never go over there.

Telescope it is. But the Facetime call wasn’t from Cecile, who has picked up a lot of her vocabulary from watching Youtube videos of Jojo Siwa. No, the call was from Jamaica, but I didn’t realized that until I answered, and saw an older woman who looked at me blankly. “Sorry,” I said. “I think you have the wrong number.” She seemed a little confused and put out, but apologized and hung up. Then I looked at the name and realized that it was Shane’s mom. If you don’t remember “Blayz For Dayz Shane” from previous posts, you can look him up–start here if you’d like. I was worried, of course, that she might be upset with me over that whole forklift situation from a couple of weeks ago—had I ruined yet another of Shane’s chances at honest work? (the first time was the warehouse heist from last year, and I still regret not being given the opportunity to go all in on an Oceans 8 type scenario). At any rate, there were no further repercussions, and I comforted myself that at least I looked good, her having caught me early enough in the evening (6-ish) that I was still wearing make-up and normal human clothes.

The very next day, it was well after 6, and I had lounged in a nice hot bath, washed my face, slathered it with night cream, and put on some cozy PJs, when an alert on my phone went off. I looked at it and gasped. It was a reminder that in 15 minutes, I was due to attend my good friend Susan Richardson’s book launch and poetry reading. It’s an amazing collection of poetry, and her first published compilation, and I was so excited for her when I was invited that I immediately put the evening’s festivities in my calendar. And then I immediately forgot what day it was. Which is why I put stuff in my calendar in the first place—I have a memory like a sieve when it comes to important events, as Ken will tell you:

Ken: Happy Anniversary!
Me: Whuh?
Ken: It’s our 30th anniversary. Today.
Me: I KNOW that. Here. I bought you a puppy.
Atlas: Put me down. Why do I feel like I’m an afterthought?
Me: I have a JibJab card for you. Just give me a few minutes to “find” the link.

Anyway, the alert on my phone went off and, as I said, I gasped. What was I going to do? I looked in the mirror at my greasy face and comfy PJs. This would not do. I was not going to appear at an important event looking like something the cat dragged in. So I wiped off the night cream, got out the make-up kit, and carefully reapplied the make-up I’d removed literally ten minutes before, and when I say ‘carefully’, I mean as carefully as I could given the clock counting down. I finished, threw on a fancy top (keeping on the PJ bottoms because no one would be able to see my pants), and sat down in front of the computer, just in the nick of time. And there was lovely Susan. She was glowing, and I’m assuming it was for a different reason than me (a combination of wine and running down the stairs to get to the computer). She smiled and said, “Hi!”

“HI!” I said back enthusiastically, and waved. I couldn’t see anyone else in the meeting yet, so I said, “How are you? You must be so exci—” and she launched into an introduction and then started reading the first poem. I assumed that my camera and mike were off, and I was worried she wouldn’t know I was there, so I looked and realized that there were no icons. NONE. And I discovered something new that day—Facebook Live Video is a one-way street. All my efforts were for naught—no one could see me and no one would have cared if I’d arrived naked, let alone with a bare face. But there was a chat function, so I was able to congratulate her and applaud her wonderful reading. And I looked good doing it:

Ken: Did you make it on time?
Me: Apparently, on Facebook Live, no one can see or hear you.
Ken: Well, you look pretty.
Me: Aw. Happy Anniversary.
Ken: That was last week.

If you want to see Susan reading poetry from her collection Things My Mother Left Behind, you can go here. In other news, here are some things that my puppy barks at:

The toilet
A piece of celery
The spray bottle that sprays him for getting too bitey (we call it Mr. Spray Bottle and he hates it with a passion. If I say, “Uh oh, time for Mr. Spray bottle”, he loses his sh*t. It’s hilarious.)
My daughter, because she changed her outfit
His reflection in the window
My reflection in the window
Ken’s reflection in the window
A bird. It was flying overhead
The ball he was playing with the day before
The rake
The broom
The hoe
My mom, because she got her hair cut
My dad, because he didn’t
The stairs (he’s at the age where we expect him to at least try to go up and down on his own, but he wants to be carried)
The hot tub, especially when we turn the dreaded bubbles on

He’s barky but adorable.