My Week 259: Does This Answer Your Question?

So I was recently tagged for a couple of blogger awards, and I know some people don’t like this, but for me, it’s always a chance to have a bit of fun with the questions. The first award was the Mystery Blogger award, and I was nominated by Simon from Beyond The Infinite, a cool blog about science, space, and exploring the universe. As a part of this award, I’m supposed to tell you three things about myself, and then answer five questions:

3 Things

1) In real life, people think I’m a very serious, professional person.
2) I collect small jewellery boxes that are made with seashells.
3) I talk to stuffed animals, just in case.

You can never have too many.

5 Questions

1) What is the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

This ad, on a buy and sell site. It’s unsettling and at the same time, intriguing. Is it a challenge? Like, if I really want those beanie babies, am I willing to pay $200 AND defeat The Gatekeeper? And it doesn’t even say HOW MANY beanie babies there are. Who would post an ad for stuffed toys and accompany it with a picture so intimidating? Is the person selling the beanie babies against their will and this is a warning? I can just see someone taking their small child to pick up them up and being confronted by this person screaming “YOU CAN’T HAVE MY BEANIE BABIES!!!” You’d be scarred for life. This ad is strange and it really does engender more questions than answers.

2) If you could travel to any planet, which one would it be?

Uranus. Duh. Don’t you know me at all?

3) Do you ever give your cars (or other transportation) names?

No. I have a Chevy Sonic, and I call it “The Sonic”. Wait—I guess that’s kind of a name. In fact, it’s a very cool name, like a superhero name for someone who could fly faster than the speed of sound (is that actually even fast? I’m not as science-y as Simon so maybe he knows), or can destroy things with sonic waves. Wow, and I thought the coolest nickname would be Player One—now I want The Sonic, like Suzanne “The Sonic” Craig-Whytock.

4) What’s your weirdest habit?

Me: What’s my weirdest habit?
Ken: Obsessing over a piece of furniture or a vase being moved 5 millimetres from where you put it, and then yelling, ‘What the f*ck?! Why is it out of place?!’
Me: That’s not weird—it’s because I worry about ghosts, and THAT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL, KEN.

5) What are your 3 desert island must haves?

Ken, Titus, and an unending supply of white wine. I’d add my daughter, but I know she has better things to do than hang out with a drunk castaway.

I was also nommed for the Real Neat Blog Award, also by Simon, and the fact that he thought of me for both of these is incredibly kind and thoughtful, and I thank him very much. Some of these are his questions; some I just made up.

1) What was the funniest thing that you saw yesterday?

I was on the train sitting towards the back, and an elderly woman behind me got up and started walking towards the front of the car. She had a giant duffle bag slung over one shoulder and as she made her way up the aisle, she whacked everyone sitting in the aisle seat on the head with the bag. Hard. It was like something out of Monty Python, watching the reactions of each person as she hit them suddenly from behind, and her seeming obliviousness to the fact that she was leaving such mayhem in her wake.

2) What little known fact would you tell people about yourself?

My nickname is “The Sonic”.

3) Are you good at making speeches?

No. For example, last week at work, we were saying goodbye to some of our summer students, and one of my colleagues announced that I would be making a speech. I laughed and reached into my pocket to jokingly mime taking out a prepared speech but instead pulled out an actual piece of paper that said ‘chúc mừng năm mới’, which means ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese. So I said THAT. People were confused. But here’s a little background as to why there was a piece of paper in my pocket that said ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese. Several years ago, I was the principal of an International Languages site. The school had 13 different language groups who all liked to celebrate various occasions, and they each felt it was important that I, as the principal, welcomed the parents and guests in the large auditorium. Unfortunately, I don’t speak 13 languages, so they would all give me a greeting in Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, and whatnot. The MC would get up and start the show in their home language with me waiting in the wings. Then suddenly, the MC would turn and yell, “And SUZANNE!!!” I was always, without exception, taken completely unawares, and would have to rush up to the stage with my piece of paper, the greeting spelled out phonetically in my hand, and the crowd would go wild as I butchered their mother tongue.

4) Have you once again changed your favourite bathroom stall at work?

Why yes, I have. If you’ve been following along, it was initially Stall 5, but then I realized that the toilet paper in that stall ran out much earlier than all the other stalls, which meant that a great many other people had also designated it as the most desirable. I switched to Stall 2, but recently, it’s become less hygienic than I like. Stall 3 is uncomfortably in the middle and the door is usually closed, which is completely f*cking off-putting, and Stall 1, as we know, is haunted. So I’ve resigned myself to Stall 4, even though in some cultures, 4 is an unlucky number. Fortunately, the number 4 is relatively meaningless to me, like most numbers. Also, you probably know by now that if you nominate me for any type of award, there WILL be a discussion about bathroom stalls.

5) Favourite comedian?

John Mulaney. He’s hysterically clever.

6) Is that ghost still haunting your house?

I don’t think so. A couple of weeks ago, I went into the haunted room and the chandelier started flickering, so I whispered, “Shhhh. Everything is OK.” The flickering stopped and there hasn’t been an incident since.

7) What should new followers to this blog expect?

A lot of swearing, mostly.

Also, as some of you know, I write short fiction and a bit of poetry, but those things are very different than this blog or my novels. I recently had a piece of flash fiction featured in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, so if you care to read it, you can find it here.

My Week 257: The Phantom Menace

Kate: Where’s Dad?
Me: He’s out on the porch.
K: What’s he doing?
Me: Spackling.
K: He’s what?
Me: Spackling. He’s spackling the railing.
K: Why do I feel like you’re just inventing words now?
Me: It’s a real word!
K: Use it in a sentence.
Me: Your dad is spackling the railings with…spackle.
K: So now it’s a verb AND a noun? I don’t buy it. Hey, Dad!
Ken: What?
K: What are you doing?
Ken: I’m using spackle to spackle the railings.
K (*rolls eyes*): You people.
Me: By the way, it’s your fault the house is haunted.
K: WHAT?!

And then I had to explain how it came to be that I was blaming my only child for the series of spooky events that had recently befallen us. Last Tuesday, I came home from work, went upstairs to change, and noticed that the linen cupboard at the back of the house was wide open. So I went downstairs and asked Ken if he had opened it. He hadn’t. And neither had I. In fact, we couldn’t remember the last time someone had taken something out of that particular cupboard. Then I messaged Kate, who also hadn’t opened it.

 

Still, there had to be a logical explanation, right? Maybe it swung open on its own, right? Except that the door is extremely tight in the frame and needs a very strong tug to move it. Then, on Wednesday, I went upstairs to said cupboard to prove to myself that the door could have quite possibly opened on its own.

The cupboard on the left.

While I was standing there and tugging, I happened to glance to my right and realized that the guest bedroom door was half-closed. Which it hadn’t been the night before when I was getting my work clothes out of the closet in that exact guest bedroom. I stopped tugging on the linen cupboard and pushed open the guest bedroom door. Guess what I saw? My eyes immediately went to the bookcase in the corner of the bedroom, whose door was now wide open, a door which had been closed tight via a magnetic latch the night before when I was getting my work clothes out of the closet. So I did what any normal person would do—I backed out of the room very quietly, backed down the hall, tiptoed down the stairs and found Ken:

Me (*whispering shakily*) The door to the bookcase in the back bedroom is now wide open.
Ken: What?!
Me: Come and see.

Ken (*staring at bookcase*) Are you sure it wasn’t like this before? Did you get a book out of there today?
Me: I took a book out a couple of days ago but I closed it. It was still shut last night. Ken, we need to search the house.

Ken didn’t argue. But after looking under all the beds, in all the closets, which was a little terrifying to say the least, thinking that some random stranger might suddenly jump out at us, we both had to admit that there was no one in the house. As Ken put it, “There’s no physical presence here.”

Which, of course, leads me to the only explanation I can think of. At the beginning of the week, Ken and Kate decided to break apart the old stone stoop in front of our house with sledgehammers to make a new set of stairs with a “better slope”. While they were merrily demolishing it, they must have released some kind of spirit, who flew into the house after years of captivity, and whose only desire was to snuggle up in flannel with a good book. When I mentioned it to both of them yesterday in what some might call an accusatory tone, Ken’s immediate reaction was, “It was Kate’s idea!” Kate, of course, had a better explanation, that the sledgehammering had shifted the house slightly and gravity had caused all the doors to move. We went upstairs to try out the theory—the linen cupboard, if not closed properly, WILL swing all the way open. The bookcase door WILL NOT.

I’ve told a couple of friends about this and the advice has ranged from ‘put salt in all the corners of the room’ to ‘install motion sensor cameras’. But there haven’t been any more incidents since Wednesday, so maybe it was just a fly-by-night phantom. Fingers crossed.

I’m keeping my eye on this one.

My Week 244: The Need To Exorcise

Sometimes it seems like I’m just a weird magnet. And by that, I don’t mean you can stick me on your fridge where I will proceed to talk only to your dog and demand wine; I mean that I seem to have the uncanny knack of attracting all the weird things.

On Thursday, I was sitting on the train, minding my own damn business as one does, when a well-dressed young girl around 20 years old sat down next to me. She reeked of perfume to the point that I was almost gagging. Now, I’m not ALLERGIC to perfume—in fact, I rather like it, but being enveloped in a napalm-ish cloud of it was death to my sinuses. Unfortunately, the train was packed and there was nowhere else to go. Out of the corner of my watering eye, I saw her put down her seat tray and place her cell phone on it. Then she pulled a red velvet pouch out of her purse. I was initially impressed, like, ‘Hmm—what a great idea for making sure your headphones don’t get all tangled up with the other sh*t in your purse’ and I was mentally doing a walkthrough of my belongings at home and wondering if it would be too pretentious to keep earbuds in a Tiffany’s or Pandora pouch because I didn’t have a plain one on hand, and I spend INORDINATE amounts of time unravelling my earbud cord and getting my fingers all caught up in it and whatnot. Then the girl patted her forehead and her chest with the pouch, and I moved away slightly because maybe the heavy perfume was covering up the fact that she was REALLY SWEATY, and I’m never sure whether things like that are airborne and her sweat could somehow get on me, and I have enough trouble being locked in a hurtling tube with 100 other people and all their germs in the first place.

But she put the pouch down on her lap, and pulled out a long string of something, and I was thinking, “Those are the strangest earbuds I’ve ever seen” when I realized it was a string of beads. She gathered them up in her hand, closed her eyes, and started fingering each bead in turn. She was praying. And then I had a terrible, sudden thought that maybe she knew something I didn’t know about the train, and I was like, “OMG are we going to crash??!!  Is her weird bead-worship the only thing standing between me and a fiery derailment?!”

This went on for over almost half an hour, her in silent contemplation of the divine and me in silent worst case scenario mode. I had located the emergency hammer and definitively concluded that if we DID crash, I was jumping over her perfume-y ass to get out of the train, when she opened her eyes and put down the rosary. She started swirling her hands around her head like she was fake-washing her face, and I moved even further away in case she wanted to wash mine too–I was having a particularly good mascara day, so hard pass. When she was done with the air-grooming, she patted herself with the bag again, and I realized that she was, in fact, crossing herself with it. Then she put her hands in her lap and stared straight ahead for the next half-hour until we arrived in Toronto and I didn’t know whether to thank her for saving us all with her “Severus Snape at the Quidditch Match” level of concentration, or tell her to ease off on the Ysatis.

This event was simply the cherry on top of all the weirdness that I’ve been experiencing lately. Last week, I came downstairs in the morning, and there was a lovely, tiny origami frog/butterfly type of thing right smack in the middle of the kitchen counter.

“Aw,” I thought. “I didn’t know that Ken knew how to do origami. How sweet!” So when he came down, I thanked him, and he said, “I didn’t do that—I thought YOU made it.” And after the Mysterious Case of the Mouthguard on the Landing, which was NEVER solved, by the way, you can only imagine how I reacted to this, which was to insist that we search the house for an intruder with fine motor skills and bad teeth.

But wait—it gets worse. The other night, my mom was away so I invited my dad for dinner. I was running a little late so I called Ken and suggested that he go and get some Swiss Chalet take-out. I was close to home, so I said, “You can either take Dad with you or leave him at the house—I won’t be long.” So about 15 minutes later, I pulled into the driveway. From my car, I could see someone in the kitchen—it looked like he was pouring a glass of wine. But by the time I got through the door, he was gone. “Dad! I’m home!” I started yelling, but there was no answer. Maybe he was in the bathroom. I wandered around downstairs, Titus dogging my steps, but there was no sign of him anywhere. So I did what any normal person would do—I went out on the porch and I called Ken:

Me: Um, is my dad with you?
Ken: Yep, he’s right here!
Dad: Hi!!
Me:
Ken: What’s wrong?
Me: There’s someone in the house! I saw a man in the kitchen–it looked like he was pouring a glass of wine and now he’s gone. I’m staying out here until you get back.
Ken: It’s just your imagination. Your mind EXPECTED to see your dad standing at the counter pouring a glass of wine because that’s what he ALWAYS does.
Dad: Hey!
Me: It WASN’T my imagination!
Ken: Go back in and look around. If Titus isn’t worried, I doubt there’s anyone in there.
Titus (from inside): I’m a terrible guard dog! Don’t rely on me!

Anyway, I went inside and got my pepper spray and a glass of wine (like father like daughter), then sat in my office with my back to the wall so I could see anyone sneaking up on me, waiting for them to get home. And now I’m wondering if that girl on the train was really praying, or maybe she was trying to perform an exorcism.

The other weird thing that happened last week isn’t so much unsettling as it just made me go “Huh?” I pulled into the train station parking lot and there was a truck bed camper up on blocks next to the dumpster.

A Clockwork Camper?

It hadn’t been there the day before, and I didn’t pay too much attention until suddenly, the door swung open and a guy stepped out. He stretched and looked up at the sky. And that’s when I realized that he was dressed EXACTLY like the main character from A Clockwork Orange, from his bowler hat to his white outfit to his cane. He started kind of skipping across the parking lot, swinging his cane (I’m guessing in time to the song ‘Singing in the Rain’), then he disappeared. I wonder if he knows origami?

Exactly how he was dressed.

My Week 235: Home Alone

For the past few days, Ken was at a conference in one of our western provinces, and I had to come home early to take care of Titus, which meant being in the house by myself, something I despise. Even in Toronto, I have a roommate because I hate being alone at night (also, the rent is outrageous and I couldn’t afford to live there without her). When I first moved to Toronto, my condo was paid for by my company because I was on temporary contract, so I didn’t have a roommate, and it was awful. I came home from work every night and literally searched the entire condo, which didn’t take long because it was only 600 square feet. Still, I would call Ken while I looked in the closets, under the bed, and behind the giant column in the corner where only a very thin robber could squeeze. I don’t know what I thought would happen if I actually DID find someone—put Ken on speakerphone and have him sternly order the intruder out? Say “You’ll be sorry when my husband gets here–in two hours”?

It’s even harder at home because we have a very large, late 1800s Victorian house with a full walk-up attic, and searching it would take a really long time. There are 6 doors leading to the outside on the main floor alone, and a balcony door upstairs, although I doubt a burglar would bother climbing up to the porch roof when there are SO MANY DAMNED ACCESS POINTS ALREADY. Before I go to bed, I make sure ALL of them are locked, and that all the outside lights are on. And then I’m locked IN the house, which creaks and makes weird sounds. Oh, it’s not haunted though—I used to live in a house that was haunted and this one definitely isn’t, which is one good thing at least, and if you’re interested in the haunted house, you can read all about it in My Week 69: Ghost Stories.

I was talking to one of my aunts last night, and she hates being alone in the house too.

Aunt: Is everything locked up?
Me: Yes. I double-checked. And I can lock myself in the bedroom now—there’s a hook on the inside of the door.
Aunt: What kind of weaponry are we talking about?
Me: A baseball bat in the bedroom, another one by the toilet in the ensuite, and a hammer on the window ledge.
Aunt:
Me: Too much? I know it sounds crazy.
Aunt: Oh no—I was just wondering why you didn’t mention the pepperspray.
Me: Damn! I left it in Toronto.
Aunt: I keep mine in my bedside table.
Me: Ooh, good thinking.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one in the family who is well-armed.

But wait, I hear you say—you’re not BY YOURSELF; you have Titus. Well, let me relieve you of any delusion you may have had that Titus can be counted on in a crisis. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that he has no problem with intruders in the house—our doorstep has been crossed by bats, birds, squirrels, raccoons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and he has batted nary an eyelash. In fact, the last time a squirrel got in the house, I was convinced it was a burglar, and as I was creeping towards our family room with a giant knife in my hand, trembling with fear, he lay on the living room couch and barely lifted his head when I shrieked in horror at the sight of the tree rat climbing my wall. In fact, the only time he DOES lift his head is when we’re lying in bed all locked in and cozy, and suddenly he pretends to hear a noise and jumps off the bed:

Me: What?! Why are your ears up?
Titus: I thought I heard something.
Me: Like what?
Titus: Oh, uh, like a…hey, open the door and I’ll go see.
Me: Don’t lie. I’m not letting you out of here.
Titus: But I’m bored!
Me: It’s 3 o’clock in the morning!! How are you ‘BORED’?! Go the f*ck to sleep like a normal dog.
Titus: OK, ok, I’ll stay in here. Can you at least put Netflix on?
Me: Fine, but no cooking shows—I don’t want you drooling on the bed.
Titus: Is there any wine left?
Me: What do you think?
Titus: Lush.

Who’s the lush?

As you can see, he’s not much use in the watchdog department. For all his formidable size—100 pounds of extra-tall black Lab—and intimidating bark, he’s pretty much a big suck. But I’m sure if there WAS someone in the house, he’d be all over them. Especially if they had wine.

Here’s a quick, funny story for you:

Once, when I was teaching, my class was studying Lysistrata by Aristophanes. The students were seniors and it was an academic class, so the kids decided they wanted to act it out. Authentically. If you know anything about early Greek theatre, all the parts were played by men, and they differentiated between the sexes using masks, and because this was a comedy, the ‘men’ were also identified with exaggerated fake phalluses and the ‘women’ with exaggerated fake boobs. So on the day of the performance, the students all dressed up, with the girls taking the male roles and vice versa, just for fun. So there they were, all wearing togas made out of bedsheets, Hallowe’en masks on their faces, the girls swinging long balloons and pool noodles strapped around their waists and the boys strutting with balloons and basketballs tied to their chests. Just as the largest boy in the class said his line in excellent falsetto, “Indeed, I believe I could—I practice the kick-dancing!” and demonstrated thusly, the classroom door opened and my new principal walked in. She stopped and stared:

Principal:
Me: We’re doing a play.
Principal:
Me: It’s Greek…
Principal: I needed to talk to you about something but it can wait.

She left, and as soon as the door shut, the whole class erupted in laughter. I didn’t know what would happen next, but when I saw her again, her only comment was, “It looked like they were having a good time.” I mention all of this now, because I was reminded of it last week when I yelled the word “Herpes!!” across the aisle to a colleague just as one of the big bosses was walking by. She also stopped and stared, and I explained that it was something I was reading. I showed her and she laughed, kind of like “Ah. Ha ha ha” and walked away. Sigh. At least I didn’t say ‘penis’ again.

My Week 232: The Mystery of the Tip Sheet on the Table

Something very strange happened to me this week, a mystery worthy of Nancy Drew, and if you’re familiar with the intrepid young detective, you’ll be happy to note that, just like Nancy, I was wearing pearls, and my handbag matched my pumps. Because nothing screams “I can solve crimes better than the Hardy Boys!” like wardrobe coordination. If you come here often, you’ll know I’m quite frequently beset by mysteries—there are so many, including The Mystery of the Mouthguard on the Landing (still unsolved), The Mystery of the Box of Porn on the Porch (it was the wife of the local church deacon—who’d have thought?!), The Mystery of the Salt in My Hair (we’ll never know), and more recently, Who The F*ck Is Daniel: A Netflix Original.

But this one? This one is freaking me out more than all of them put together. Here’s the scenario:

On Wednesday, I was working late, trying to create one Excel spreadsheet by cobbling together the information from about three others. I was having a terrible time so I wandered out of my office and found that there were a couple of people on our floor. I asked the first woman if she knew anything about copying and pasting into Excel, and she replied, “Mais non, pas vraiment—I tink you jus’ ‘ighlight de cell and right-click” (she’s very French, as you can see). I made my way back to my office but on the way, I realized that one of my team members was still working, so I asked her. She was a little more familiar with the hidden ways of Microsoft so she came back to my office with me and we kind of stared at it for a while, and then she said, “I really tink you jus’ ‘ighlight de cell and right-click comme ca” (she’s also French, obvs), and she did it, and the cell moved. So I thought I was all set, but ultimately it didn’t work for reasons which will bore the sh*t out of you, and this preamble is already too long. I finally resorted to individually copying and pasting each of about 150 cells. Then I went home.

The next morning, I opened my office door, and there, right smack in the middle of my table was a “2013 Excel Tip Sheet”. And I was like, “Aw, I work with such nice people!” I went to thank the first colleague and she looked puzzled. “Non, it was not moi,” she said. Then my team member arrived and I brought the Tip Sheet out and said, “Thank you so much for this—it was very thoughtful” and her brow furrowed and she said, “It was not moi.” And then another team member said, “Don’t you lock your office when you leave? How did someone get in there to put it on your table?” and I had a sudden epiphany that made my blood run cold. Someone HAD been in my office! But it was still locked when I arrived on Thursday morning, so how could this have happened?!

The evidence.

And it was terrible because, first and foremost, I LOVE my office. It’s my sanctum sanctorum, my beautiful refuge. It’s bright and airy, and big enough to hold team meetings in, and I have plants and a mini-frig and assorted antique boxes and my signed Gary Numan poster on the wall. It’s the best office of all of them, except for the senior exec. offices. It’s a fact, although sometimes it sounds like I’m bragging. For example, the other day, a new manager started. We needed to have a joint Skype meeting with our director so we had to decide whose office to use:

Me: So do you want to use yours or mine?
New Guy: It doesn’t really matter.
Me: We should probably use mine. It’s big and it has a window. You can see the CN Tower.
Other Colleague: Haha—are you bragging?
Me: No! It’s just that mine is really bright and comfortable. I have 3 screens and those nice wheely chairs…
Other Colleague: So braggy…
Me: No, I…
New Guy (looks around his own small office with no windows and only two screens): Sigh. Yours is fine.
Me: Do you like cappuccino? I have a Keurig.

But now, my office had been violated and I was beside myself. And to make matters worse, we all decided that the only way anyone could have known about my Excel problem was if my office was also BUGGED. Someone has heard all the crazy things that happen in there, which is mostly me having fairly mundane meetings, me singing off-key, me swearing at the computer, and me whispering, “Math…so much math” under my breath (which is a story for next week). And while the idea that we have an office spy and I need a cone of silence seems outlandish, it’s more logical than any of the other solutions I can think of:

1) My office is haunted by a software-savvy ghost. This is highly doubtful because I was given no assistance whatsoever with the Adobe debacle of 2017.

2) I’m being anonymously gaslit (or is it “gaslighted”?). Again, doubtful. I’ve been gaslit before, and it wasn’t anywhere NEAR this helpful:

Bob: I never said that.
Me: You said it to my face yesterday.
Bob: No, I didn’t. You’re imagining things. What are you going to accuse me of next? Telling everyone you suck at Excel?!
Me: You did that last week…
Bob: Maybe you shouldn’t have taken me off FACEBOOK!!

3) The only person who has a key to my office is someone on the cleaning staff. Could it have been a helpful custodian who also moonlights as an IT trouble-shooter and overheard me swearing at my computer? But if that was true, wouldn’t there have also been a cheery sticky note attached to the Tip Sheet that said, “Have an Excel-ent day!”?

But I’ve formulated a secret plan. I have an antique cheese box on the table that contains individually wrapped chocolate squares. I keep it filled in case any of my co-workers are in need of a quick pick-me-up, and I can use this to my advantage. No, I am NOT going to poison the chocolates—I’m a detective, not a serial killer. Instead, I’ve carefully counted the number of chocolates in the box. When I get to work on Monday, we’ll see if any have been taken over the weekend. And if the spy happens to be reading this—do you have anything on how to do a Google Hangout?

My Week 78: I’m Not an Intellectual, Another Haunted Bathroom

Tuesday: I am NOT an intellectual

On Tuesday morning, I discovered, to my horror, that I had made a mistake. It wasn’t an unfixable mistake, and I’d caught it before it caused a problem, but still, it was a mistake. I pride myself on being very meticulous and careful, and it made me feel suddenly like I didn’t know my own mind anymore. Two of my wonderful colleagues saw that I was upset, and comforted me. “It’s happened to all of us,” said one. “You should feel good that you found it before it was too late.” “Come for sushi with us,” said the other. “It will make you feel better.” Oh, the irony. So we went to a local sushi place, them so that they could keep discussing a meeting they’d been to that morning, and me so that I could drown my sorrows in teriyaki and seaweed. I should tell you right up front that I have a severe shellfish allergy, so when I ordered, I asked for the vegetarian rolls with my chicken instead of the California rolls. “You know it’s not real crab in the California rolls, right?” said one colleague. “Real crab is too expensive—it’s probably hake.” Well, I didn’t know what that was either, and I wasn’t willing to risk my epipen finding out, although both of the other women jokingly thought it might be a fun experiment. Then, while we waited for the food, they began debating. Both women have Ph.Ds, so right away, I was feeling a little intimidated by their knowledge and experience, having only two Bachelor’s degrees and an incomplete M.A., so I stayed quiet. Then the food came, and I discovered to my horror, for the second time that day, that I had made a mistake, because the vegetarian rolls contained not only cucumber, but also avocado. WTF, Sushi Star?! I know that some people “like” eating avocado, in the same way I imagine that some people “like” natural childbirth—which is to say, it’s a totally masochistic thing to do, and there’s no medal waiting for you when you’re finished, although you think you deserve one. (This, of course, is just my opinion. If you can have a baby without drugs, or eat avocado without gagging, then go for it. Just don’t be all braggy and sh*t.) Anyway, I decided to try one roll, just to see if I could stomach it. The answer was a clear NO. And just in case you think this is just me being bizarre, here’s a link to an article that I found called “20 Pieces of Proof That Avocadoes are the Worst and Should Be Stopped”

(http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/entertainment/a38880/20-reasons-avocados-worst/)

Let me remind you at this point that the conversation was still swirling around me—I believe the topic at this point was “how do we really define homogeny?” But I can’t be sure, because I was more focused on how to get the avocado out of the next sushi roll without the whole thing falling apart. I tried poking it out with my chopstick, but the damn stuff was so soft that my chopstick just went right through. And then I had the secondary issue of having avocado-slime-covered chopsticks, and I had to scrape the green paste off against the side of the bento box. I couldn’t just bang it out of the roll, so finally, I resorted to trying to push it out with my finger. Which only resulted in getting avocado all over my fingers, and my sushi rolls falling apart into a heap. So there I was, up to my elbows in pasty, slimy avocado. Obviously, this was the moment I decided that it would be a good time to engage in the conversation, which had turned to “Name one country that is truly homogeneous.” Distracted by my predicament, staring at my hands and wondering where the napkins were hiding, I blurted out “China.” The conversation stopped dead. My two colleagues turned to look at me, probably for the first time since the whole avocado debacle had begun. “What?” said one. “There are at least 14 different dialects spoken across 8 distinct regions of China!” (I’m making those numbers up—I was still too distracted by my predicament to really pay attention). The lecture on Chinese culture continued, and I was beginning to regret my sad, Dormouse-like contribution when the other woman countered, “No, she’s absolutely right. This adds a whole other layer to the issue–how do we differentiate between the political will to create the perception of homogeny, and true diversity?” and in my head, I was like “Hell Yeah! I win, stupid avocado!” Apparently, they were so embroiled in the debate that neither of them had noticed my dissected lunch, or the fact that I was trying to scrape green goo out from under my fingernails. At least that’s what I thought until later. One of the women invited me over for dinner, and when her husband told us enthusiastically that he had put avocado in the salad, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t worry—you can pick it out.” Avocado – 1, Intellectualism – 0.

avocado

Thursday: I encounter yet ANOTHER bathroom ghost

Bathrooms have always been a source of anxiety for me. Mostly because of the ghosts. If you’ve read My Week 69: Ghost Stories, you’ll know what I mean. First, there was the ghost in my own bathroom, then there was the ghost in the bathroom at The Keg. Sure, I have other anxieties about bathrooms, especially public ones, like flushing no matter what I’m doing so that no one will hear me, or worrying about someone going into the stall right after me and judging me harshly. In fact, I’ve been known to say to a co-worker who’s just come in, “You might want to avoid stall 5”. I never know if that’s more awkward than just letting the person go in and hope they have a cold or something—either way, bathrooms stress me out. And now, I have another reason to fear the bathrooms at work, since I had a close encounter of a ghostly kind.

On Thursday afternoon, not long after lunch, I walked down the hall to the bathroom. Things were pretty quiet, it being a snow day and everything, so not a lot of people were around. I took the time to stop and congratulate the receptionist, a lovely younger woman, on her recent engagement. We chatted for a bit, then I continued on my way. I opened the outer door to the facilities, and then pushed at the inner door, at which point I realized that the motion-sensitive lights were off. As they began to come on, I heard the most terrifying noise—it sounded like someone in the first stall was freaking out and slamming the toilet paper dispenser. I could see a shadow flickering, and thought for a second that it was the building’s custodian replacing the roll or something, but then I realized that there was NO ONE IN THE STALL. Without even thinking, I tore out of there like a bat out of hell and ran around behind the reception desk, shaking. “What happened?!” asked the receptionist.

“There’s something in the bathroom!” I said, hyperventilating.

“What are you talking about? What’s in the bathroom?! I thought I heard banging—what was it?!” she demanded.

“I don’t know, but there’s definitely something in there!”

I described to her what happened, and after a minute, she agreed to go back in with me and check it out. This was NOT a decision that either of us took lightly, and we tiptoed to the door, and very cautiously re-opened it. “Where was the noise coming from?” she asked.

“The first stall,” I answered. “Oh my god, not the first stall!” she exclaimed. “That stall is haunted! The receptionist who used to work here told me that!”

At which point, we both ran out of the bathroom back to the reception desk. “I can’t go back in there,” I said. “What am I going to do? I really need to go.”

“Use the one downstairs,” she said. “Here’s the code.”

So I went downstairs, but it was almost as bad, maybe because I was still shaken up. But the door creaked like someone crying, which freaked me out, and there was a dark room at the back with a couch in it that I had to check first to make sure no one was hiding in it.

The rest of the afternoon was stressful. My work partner had left to visit her parents, and I needed to use the bathroom one more time before I got on the train, but there was no one to come with me. I wandered past reception again, hoping that I could catch someone going in the ‘bathroom of death’ and wander in behind her. I was in luck—another co-worker was chatting with the receptionist.

“You wouldn’t happen to be on your way to the ladies’ room?” I asked.

“I was…why?” she asked suspiciously. “What’s going on?”

I was looking hedgy, and the receptionist was giggling. “Oh, nothing. I just had something weird happen earlier, and it freaked me out a little.”

I explained to her what happened, and she said, “Oh, I know what that was!”

We went into the bathroom, and without fear or hesitation, she opened the door to the first stall. “See the automated sanitary dispenser? It’s broken. When the overhead lights come on, it triggers the sensor in the lid, and it flaps up and down like crazy. Makes a terrible noise.” She demonstrated, and sure enough, that was what I heard. I sagged in relief, then we both looked at each other and started to laugh hysterically. We went back out to the reception area and told the receptionist what had happened.

“Oh, no,” she said. “That’s not what the other woman used to say. She said that the door to the stall would swing open and shut all by itself.”

My co-worker and I looked at each other nervously. “Must just be the wind,” I said, and we all agreed to agree.

 

 

My Week 69: Ghost Stories, A Sudden Loss

On Wednesday, a group of us from work went to The Keg on Jarvis St. in Toronto to celebrate a colleague’s retirement. I love The Keg (a steakhouse chain for anyone who has never been there) for many reasons, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know it’s mostly because I believe that steak wrapped in bacon is nature’s perfect food, and The Keg always cooks it to perfection. Ken and I go to the local Keg on occasion, and of course, Ken always orders salmon. To me, this is like going to Red Lobster and ordering a hamburger. He had a terrible incident a few years ago, when restaurants had somehow all bizarrely decided that salmon should be cooked slightly rare. Because who doesn’t like to eat undercooked fish? What’s next? Medium rare chicken with a side of salmonella? Anyway, he got quite ill, so now he always asks for his salmon completely cooked, which seems weird that you actually have to specify that.

But I digress. Most Kegs are in fairly modern buildings with new fixtures and stone fireplaces—kind of ski chalet chic. But this particular restaurant on Jarvis St. is known as The Keg Mansion—it’s an enormous and beautiful castle-like structure built by members of the McMaster family and then owned by the Massey family (of Massey Hall fame). The best part about the whole business is that the Keg Mansion is also known as “The Haunted Mansion”, because apparently there have been numerous sightings of ghosts, spirits, and other presences over the years (there are articles all over Google if you’re interested in the specifics).

keg mansion

Call me crazy, but I LOVE ghostly type things, so I couldn’t wait to go there. As we were finishing our dinner, two of the women I was sitting with started talking about the second floor bathroom being haunted by a presence of some kind. We may or may not have been drinking a little, so we decided to make a visit to the ladies room to check it out. Up we went, giggling like schoolgirls and found the haunted bathroom. We were expecting something amazing, like the bathroom in Harry Potter where the ghost of that crazy-ass Myrtle chick comes out of the tap, but we were sadly disappointed. It wasn’t even a very NICE bathroom—kind of industrial beige and a bit grubby. We hung around for a bit, but nothing happened so we went back downstairs to our table. “Well,” I said, “that was nothing like the ghost in the bathroom of the house where I used to live.” Heads all turned. “What ghost?!” they wanted to know. So I told them the story I’m about to tell you now. And it’s all true…

I’ve always been a little sensitive to what I call “places that feel icky”, which is the very technical term for “bad mojo”, which is something scientists say. For example, in New Hamburg, we lived in one side of a 100 year-old “twin home”, which is like a semi-detached house. The old basement didn’t LOOK creepy but it felt that way, like someone was watching you, and I avoided going down there like the plague. After a couple of months, we moved into the OTHER side of the house. Same layout, same type and age of basement, only I had no problem going down there at all. No bad vibes whatsoever. A few years later, we bought a house in Washington (Ontario, not DC). It was a huge old Georgian-style place, built in 1863, and pretty run down, having been empty for almost two years after the 80 year-old owner had passed away. We started renovating right away, and started with the upstairs bathroom, which had been built into a back bedroom which became K’s room,  and was clad in pressure-treated boards. It had a wall sink, a clawfoot tub, and a swag lamp for lighting. Totally creepy, dark, and dingy. After redoing the walls with board and batten, painting the whole thing white and updating the fixtures (including a new medicine cabinet), it was much more livable. For me AND for the obnoxious poltergeist who occupied it. Yes, I said “poltergeist”, and it was one with a very juvenile sense of humour. It wasn’t long before things started flying out of the new medicine cabinet. And I don’t mean “falling out”, I mean a kind of forceful lobbing. If I had a dollar for every time I got hit with a hairbrush, or my toothbrush flew into the toilet (or my birth control pills ended up in a bathtub full of water), I’d be a rich woman. There was a built-in cupboard in the corner with upper and lower doors—sometimes if you bent down to get something out of the lower cabinet, when you went to stand up the upper doors would be suddenly open and you’d crack your head on them. Every so often, I’d get really pissed off and yell, “Cut it out, stupid ghost!!” and for a week or two, there would be no incidents. Of course, Ken was totally skeptical, having his own POLTERGEIST-FREE bathroom on the main floor. “Maybe the gravity is just weird in there,” he’d say. “Or maybe the walls are on an angle or something.” But there were two other notable incidents that made me believe that it was more ghost than gravity:

1) One night, I woke up around 1 in the morning. Ken was still up somewhere, and as I was lying there, I could hear sounds coming from the baby monitor. K, who was about two at the time, was talking to someone. I yelled “Ken! What are you doing? It’s one o’clock in the morning—why are you in K’s room?” No answer. I called a couple of more times. I could still hear K talking and a man’s voice, so finally I got ticked off and went into her room. There was no one there. K just kind of looked at me, then closed her eyes and went back to sleep. I totally lost it, and went running around the house (it was a really big old house) looking for Ken. I finally found him in the family room downstairs. “There was someone in K’s room!” I said, and told him what happened. He grabbed a baseball bat, and we searched the house, but we didn’t find anyone. After we calmed down, Ken got all rational. “There are two possible explanations,” he said. “Either you were still asleep and dreamed it, or there’s another baby monitor in town and ours was picking up someone else’s frequency.” Neither of those worked though—first, I was wide awake, and second, K was the first baby in the community in about 12 years, so nobody else had a baby monitor for miles. I know a lot of people are creeped out by baby monitors—there’s a good reason for that as far as I’m concerned.

2) We had a guest bedroom next to K’s room that every once in a while smelled like cigarette smoke, even though we’d repainted it , and no one in our family smoked. One night, I had a really bad cough and, not wanting to disturb Ken, I decided to sleep in there. I woke up coughing around 3 in the morning, and as I was lying there, I heard the distinct sound of the baby gate at the top of the stairs being opened. It was a super-secure gate, and to open it, you had to push down hard on the handle, slide it back, then swing it open. And that was the exact sound I’d just heard—click, slide, swing. I lay there, paralysed with fear, thinking that someone had broken into the house, and waited to hear footsteps before I started screaming (the floorboards were very old and creaky, so if anyone was upstairs, I’d know it in a second). I waited—nothing else happened. The dog didn’t wake up either, so after a while, I just kind of fell back to sleep. But in the morning, I went out into the hall, and the baby gate was wide open.

Now, you might think this was all in my imagination but there are two reasons why I know it wasn’t. Reason one is that a few years later, we moved down the road to the town where we still live. One summer Saturday morning, we were having a garage sale, and a very elderly man drove up. He struck up a conversation with us, said that he’d lived in our area all his life and that he knew the woman who used to own our new old (1906) house quite well. I told him we used to live in Washington in the “big, red house on the corner.”

“I know the place,” he said. “My uncle Len lived there for most of his life, before the people you bought from. He was over eighty when he died. He got really ‘funny’ towards the last part of his life—a real practical joker. His favourite trick was to put on a devil’s mask, then sneak up to the church when the ladies’ choir was practicing. He’d peek in the windows and just about scare them to death, then run away laughing! Of course, it was the cancer that got him in the end—he was a chain smoker, you know.” Yeah, we know. You owe me about twenty toothbrushes, Uncle Len.

Reason two is even creepier. One night a few years ago, I was sleeping and in my dream, I could hear the song “Hey ho, the witch is dead” from The Wizard of OZ, like it was playing on a music box. Just as I woke up, I could still hear the music playing, then it started to wind down slower and slower until it stopped. I freaked out and did what any reasonable person would do—I woke up Ken. “Oh,” he said, “this is just like that baby monitor thing in Washington. You were asleep the whole time. There’s nothing in our room that could have been playing “Hey ho, the witch is dead”—you just dreamed it.” But then I was talking to my mom later that afternoon, and I told her what happened. “That’s strange,” she said. “But wait—didn’t I give you a Hallowe’en snowglobe with the characters from the Wizard of Oz in it a few years ago? I’m sure it played that song when you wound it up.” I ran upstairs and started ransacking the room. Sure enough, I found the snowglobe at the bottom of a drawer in a desk across the room. I wound it up, and guess what it played? Yep. How the hell it had suddenly become wound up and started playing in the middle of the night, I didn’t even want to contemplate. I threw the f*cker into a garbage can on the back porch. But if I didn’t imagine THAT, what does it tell you about the baby monitor? Who knows what secrets the universe holds? Two hundred years ago, if you’d shown someone a television or cell phone, they would have burned you at the stake for being a demon. Or Uncle Len.

A sudden loss

You might have noticed, if you visit this site regularly, that this week’s edition isn’t as funny as usual. Good call. I just didn’t have that much to laugh about this week. My Uncle Gary died very suddenly on Monday night, and we’ve been dealing with this unexpected loss to our family for the last few days. You didn’t know Uncle Gary, of course, but you should have. Everyone should know a man like Gary. He was warm, kind, generous, and told a great story. Sometimes you never knew where the story was going to end up, but it was always worth the wait. Much love, and Godspeed, Gary. We’ll miss you.