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.

If You Build It…

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Via Rail, Canada’s national passenger railway, that the train that was supposed to take us out to the Maritimes IN AUGUST was cancelled. I was shocked—we’d planned the whole trip around the train voyage, and I’d already booked hotels, a ferry to Newfoundland, and a couple of bed and breakfasts. The vacation planning, of course, had all taken place before the great lockdown. And aren’t events around the world just doing their damn best to tell us that the end of days is nigh? There’s a plague of locusts in Africa, Murder Hornets have landed on the shores of North America, the world is infected with a terrible pestilence, and now it’s snowing in f*cking May here. If I see a horse galloping down my street, I’m immediately going to live in a cave.

Anyway, I was super disappointed that our trip had been cancelled, even though they refunded all the money and points I’d used to pay for it. “Peut être ze next year,” the Via rep said in a thick, French accent, which certainly didn’t leave me feeling very optimistic. But then I had a thought.

Me: If we have to do a stay-cation, that’s OK. We can always get a hot tub.
Ken: What?
Me: Hot tub.
Ken: Hot tub?
Me: I feel like this conversation is circular. Like this hot tub. Look…

So I showed Ken the Canadian Tire website, where they had fairly inexpensive inflatable hot tubs on sale. Now, if you’re not Canadian, you’re probably wondering why a tire store sells hot tubs. But Canadian Tire sells tires in the same way that Walmart sells walls or Winners sells lottery tickets, which is to say that the majority of things they sell are not tires. “OK,” Ken said. “Where will we put it?”

“On the back patio,” I answered. So I ordered it, and Ken went to get it. Canadian Tire was only doing curbside pickup, which meant that he had to pull up to the door, show them his order number and receipt, then go and park while someone brought it out. When he pulled into the driveway and unloaded the big box, I was super-excited, but then he said something to me that filled me with dread.

“I’ve decided to build a gazebo for it,” he announced. At that moment, thunder may have rumbled ominously in the distance, the birds may have stopped singing, and the hydro might have flickered.

“How—how long will that take?” I whispered.

“I’ll have to order the wood first,” he said cheerily.

“Just a square gazebo, right? Or rectangular? Something easy to put up?” I held my breath, hoping for the best.

“No! Octagonal!” he cried, leaping into the air and clicking his heels together.

“Aw, f*ck,” I said to no one in particular. A squirrel laughed darkly, as if to say, “You will never sit in the soothing waters of the hot tub. NEVER!!” (It wasn’t THIS baby squirrel who’s currently living in my yard, but he’s too cute not to show you.)

So THE NEXT WEEKEND, Ken and I went to get the wood from Home Depot. Once again, we had to show our receipt and order number for curbside pick-up, then park and wait. After half an hour, an elderly woman came to our window. “Would you mind pulling up by the contractor’s entrance?” she asked apologetically. “Only, there’s so much wood that I can’t push it out here myself.”

“So much wood,” I whispered, as Ken loaded it all onto our trailer.

The weather all week was gorgeous, but no sign of activity on the back patio, and no lovely warm waters to soothe my weary soul. Then on Friday afternoon after work, Ken announced that he was going to lay out the frame see how it looked. Immediately, it started to hail. I feared the worst, but Ken was determined, so he put on a parka, and began framing the base. It looks pretty good so far. And at this rate, barring a shower of frogs falling from the sky, I’ll be soaking my cares away by the time we were supposed to be on a train heading to Nova Scotia.

Just for the record, I want it known that I have no doubts about Ken’s abilities; it’s just his timelines. For years, our front door only had an overhang; here’s the porch that he put on, all by himself (with a little help from me, Kate, and my dad). It took him two summers but it’s gorgeous.

 

 

My Week 159: Weird Service Calls, Thanksgiving Throwback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving:

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

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

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

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

 

My Week 130: Surrounded by Russians, Everyone Learns French

Tuesday: I live in the Kremlin

On Tuesday night, I was making dinner in my condo. I needed to defrost some soup, so I opened my pot drawer. No, not the “GOOD kind of pot” drawer, like I have a secret stash under the oven mitts and tea towels, but the drawer in which I keep my cooking pots. Although if I HAD a pot drawer, I`d have to call it something else to throw people off, because “pot drawer” would be pretty obvious—I could call it the “spider drawer” because who the hell would want to open THAT? Oh, and just for the record, I don’t smoke pot—I tried it a couple of times as a teenager, but instead of feeling mellow and whatnot, I felt super-paranoid and my skin wouldn’t stop twitching. Nothing was humorous, and everything was too real. So kind of the anti-marijuana experience. Anyhow, I opened my non-marijuana drawer, and everything inside was wet (so probably good that I DON’T keep pot in it), and I was confused. Why was my drawer full of water? This didn’t bode well, and if you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll remember a certain week when a certain woman left the kitchen sink running and ended up with a small flood. I immediately went into panic mode and pulled the drawer further out to discover that the pipe under the sink was leaking quite noticeably. How did this happen? I’d just used the dishwasher the night before and everything seemed fine. But now the pipe was dribbling into the drawer and the undercabinet. I have the number for my concierge desk pinned to a corkboard (made from real corks that I hotglued to a wooden panel and framed in barnboard—I had to drink a LOT of wine to make it and it was a terrible hardship, let me tell you) so I called down. No answer. The dripping continued and my panic increased. It was 6:30 pm and I was wearing pajamas because why the f*ck not, am I right? So I had to change back into my actual human clothes and go down to the front desk myself. I had no idea if it would help because normally a concierge isn’t trained in the plumberly arts, but Ken was 100 kilometres away and I had no tools other than a universal screwdriver, a hammer (in case there’s a fire and I have to break a window), and a sewing kit.

The three to midnight concierge is called Sergei, and my only contact with him thus far had been to say “hello” when I came in every afternoon, to which he replied “hello” back. It was an amiable, albeit succinct, relationship, but I feel like we were both OK with that. I approached the desk:

Me: Hi. Um, the pipe under my kitchen sink is leaking.
Sergei: OK. I come.

With that, he reached into a drawer (not a pot drawer either apparently), and took out a small flashlight and a tiny pair of slipjoint pliers (I totally looked that up—did you really think I know the names of all the tools?), and he came out from behind the front desk. We travelled up the elevator together, me telling him about the leak, and how it wasn’t there yesterday. He walked into my condo with the confidence that Russians seem to have, and peered into the space behind the drawer. Then he straightened up and smiled.

Sergei: Is drainage pipe only. I have pliers to turn off water but is not necessary. Contact property management company and they can fix. But don’t use sink until then. Empty drawer and put big pot under for leak.
Me: That’s a relief—I’ll do that. Thanks so much.
Sergei: Is no problem.

Then he left, and I immediately emailed my property management company and logged a ticket (which I swear to god would be the best euphemism for going to the bathroom that I ever heard—how do I make this popular?! Like, “Excuse me for a minute—I just have to “log a ticket”. Am I right?) Anyway, I got a reply back right away that I would be contacted by the in-house plumber in the morning. My roommate and I spent the rest of the night using the bathroom sink to rinse off dishes, and hoping it would be fixed before the bathtub became the dishwasher.

The next morning, I was in a meeting when my phone rang (it was on silent, because I’m not a dick), so I stepped out:

Voice with thick Russian accent: Hello. I am Alex. The plumber. You have problem with sink?
Me: Yes, the drain pipe is leaking.
Alex: I come at noon. How do I get in?
Me: The concierge can let you into the building…
Alex: No, how do I get into apartment?
Me: Don’t you have a key?
Alex: No.
Me: OK, I can meet you there at noon and let you in. OK?
Alex: Yes, is good.

Luckily I live just across the street from work, so at quarter to twelve (yes, the meeting was still going on), I said to my co-workers, “I have to step out for a minute and meet my plumber. His name is Alex.” I added that for emphasis in case they thought I was ditching them to go eat something, or “log a ticket” or something else that normal people do when they’re not in meetings that last ALL MORNING.

I ran across the street and waited in the lobby. A couple of minutes after twelve, a van pulled up, and I knew it was him because it said “Alex’s Plumbing” on the side. An elderly, tiny man got out and went to the passenger side, where he helped an elderly woman wearing a housedress, slippers, and a leather overcoat out of the van. She was clutching a handbag, and he had a utility light. I was very confused. They both came into the lobby, and I said, “Oh hi—are you Alex?” He gave me a huge smile and said he was, then they both followed me into the elevator.

Me: So…
Alex: We came from Jamaica.
Me: ???
Alex: It was good holiday, but we just came back. This is my wife, Marta.
Me: Oh hi. Did you have a good trip?
Marta: Yes, is good, but weather here is so cold now after Jamaica.
Me: Um yes, I can imagine…

As you may recall, I am super-sh*tty at small talk. Obviously. We got into my apartment and I showed him the sink, while Marta slowly wandered around the living room.

Me: Would you like to sit down?
Marta: Oh nuh, is fine. I stand. I was on airplane for six hours.
Alex: I see problem. Pipe is cracked. I get new trap pipe.

Then he left and there I was, alone with Marta, who kept commenting about the view (“I can see lake”), the size of the condo (“Is so small!”) until Alex got back.

Alex: Anyone got toonie? I need toonie.
Me: I think I might have one? Oh wait, I only have a loonie.
Marta: I have toonie. Don’t worry. Here is toonie.

I was completely befuddled at this point, as she handed Alex the toonie (loonies and toonies are one and two dollar coins, for my non-Canadian readers), but then he clarified that he needed it to “tighten pipe”, and I was like “A toonie is an actual plumbing tool?” but it seemed to work, and within 10 minutes, he was running water and checking for leaks, of which there were none.

Alex: All fixed now. No big problem.
Me: Thanks so much for coming so quickly.
Alex: We were at airport. Not too far, so they call me because I’m the cheapest.
Me: Um, OK. Well, I totally appreciate it.
Marta: Have good day.

Then they both toddled off to goodness knows where. Everything was fine, until later that day when I got an email from my property management company. My phone screen read, “We regret to inform you…” and I was like “WHAT DID THE RUSSIANS TELL YOU?!” but it wasn’t about the plumbing visit, it was that my landlord was selling my condo, which made me want to write back, “It was only a trap pipe! ASK THE RUSSIANS!” but apparently the housing in Toronto is so insane that my landlord is listing my 600 square foot, one bedroom plus den condo at $525 000 and expecting to get more. So I’m probably going to have to move. Maybe the Russians can hook me up with something.

Friday: The language of love

I came home on Friday night and was greeted with this:

Titus: Bonne soir, ma cherie
Raven: Bonjour, tete de merde.
Me: What the hell is going on here?
Titus: Oscar Wildefish is teaching us French. He says it’s the language of love. Check this out—“Voulez-vous coucher avec—
Me: Stop! No more French for you! Oscar?!
Oscar: Oui, mon petit chou?
Me: You just called me a tiny cabbage. WTF?
Oscar: It’s a term of endearment, sweetheart.
Me: Fine, but tete de merde is NOT. Why are you teaching everyone naughty French?
Oscar: Everyone should know at least one of the Romance languages, darling. When I was in Paris with Gertrude, Scottie, and Zelda—
Me: Here we go again. Do all goldfish have past lives?
Oscar: Only the good ones, honey.
Me: You weren’t in ‘Nam, were you?
Oscar: Heavens no! I’m a lover, not a fighter. That was Uncle Mishy. Oh, the stories he used to tell…
Me: Yes. I remember. Well, if you’re going to teach Titus and Raven—
Oscar: Flossy.
Me: Whatever. If you’re going to be their French tutor, keep it clean.
Oscar: Oui, oui madame. Voulez-vous coucher—
Me: Don’t be cheeky!
Oscar: Just part of my natural charm, mon amour.

Yes, it certainly is. I wonder if he also know a little Russian…

My Week 55: Sucky Real Estate, I Get A Butler

Thursday: Real Estate deals are stressful and sucky

A few weeks ago, Ken and I decided to sell our cottage. We bought it 6 years ago, after seeing it on the internet. It wasn’t my dream home, but it was super cheap, it was in a great little town close to some of our other family members, and we figured it wouldn’t take much to make it a cozy haven. I remember saying to Ken, “All this place really needs is some redecorating and laminate flooring.” Apparently, I had been watching too many “flipping” shows on HGTV, because holy sh*t, was I ever wrong. We had a home inspection, and found out that the electrical system had been put together by a 5 year-old. There was an electrical box on the wall right above where the bed would go, which looked on the outside like it had been disconnected, but was full of cut, LIVE wires. None of the outlets were grounded, and there were exposed wires everywhere, some held together with scotch tape. Our contractor said it was a miracle that the place hadn’t already burned down. We wanted to back out of the deal then, but the owners dropped the price enough that we could afford the rewiring. Once they moved out though, the real fun started, as we realized their abundance of junky old furniture, knickknacks, and Jesus paintings were covering up a lot of problems. Apparently, the previous owners were into home repairs like alcoholics are into sparkling water, and everything was done in the cheapest, sloppiest, absurdist way possible. My favourite was taking off wallpaper and discovering holes in walls that had been patched with Band aids. Or pulling up carpeting to discover 2 inches of sand underneath. And the place wasn’t THAT close to any beach—they were just slovenly housekeepers. Or maybe they couldn’t use a vacuum because the wiring kept shorting out. I had to clean the oven with Easy-Off—no, it f*cking wasn’t. There was so much build-up in there, and I got so much slime and grease on my hands that I literally almost threw up. There was the soaking wet subfloor under the sink in the kitchen which we pulled up and replaced, the toilet leaning against the bathroom wall (the bathroom was joisted with two by fours, so we had the whole thing pulled up and done to code), the doorways that had been wallpapered over, the painted masking tape disguising gaps between molding and walls, Kleenex stuffed into cracks to stop drafts—the list goes on. It took us almost a year to turn the place from a disgusting stinkbox into something habitable. Ironically, when we bought the place, the wife created a garden plan on graph paper, letting us know about all the unique and rare plants she had—we needed the plan because everything was hidden in crabgrass and weeds. Over the years, we kept on improving the place with the help of our intrepid contractor, Dale, who despite his construction prowess and our 6-year relationship, continues to call me by things other than my actual name, and just calls me names that sound similar, or start with the same consonant. But after 6 years, and a hell of a lot of hard work, the place really is a dream home.

We love our cottage, but the fact is, with me working in Toronto all week and only coming home for weekends, we’re hardly ever getting up there anymore. It’s not too far from our house, but K hates it because it has no wifi, which means she can’t play Counterhalo or League of Duty, or whatever crazy games she and her friends run around with daggers and machine guns in. So generally, she refuses to go, which means I have to choose between seeing my only child (between rounds of her killing animated characters) and having a peaceful getaway. That sounds like a no-brainer, am I right? At any rate, after a long discussion, we decided to put the cottage on the market. This is where the craziness began. After just over a month, or two weeks ago, we got word from our agent that an offer was coming in. “That’s so great!” I said to Ken, “So long as it’s not something ridiculous, like 20 grand below our asking price or something.” Well guess what? It WAS 20 grand below our asking price. And not only that, the woman wanted couches, beds, other miscellaneous furniture, all the outdoor furniture, everything in the sheds, and more, right down to personal items like a picnic basket, our Keurig, and the LINENS ON THE BEDS! Who the hell wants someone else’s old sheets as part of a house deal? I was like “forget that sh*t”, but our agent suggested we take out anything we wanted to keep, and send it back with a higher price. So we took practically everything out, and counter-offered with something a little more reasonable. Eventually, we all settled at a price we could live with, throwing in a couch and a couple of bed frames. AND the linens. She was adamant. Apparently, flannel sheets are a deal-breaker to some people. So Ken and I, with the help of my aunt, started the annoying process of packing stuff into boxes. We’d just nicely gotten the ENTIRE kitchen packed up and brought home when our agent called me to say the deal was off. According to the buyer’s agent, the house was falling down. The foundation was crumbling and the wooden frame under the floor was rotting. F*cking news to me. I was like, “Says who? Did she crawl under the place herself, or is there some more legitimate source for this information? What am I supposed to tell people? ‘Yeah, the place is about to collapse—an eighty-year-old real estate agent told me so.” (Well, she looks eighty on her business card). Our agent was also shocked but said we would have to sign the termination of the agreement, and I was like, “Hell no. Not until I see some actual proof that I’m about to fall through the floor.” This was where things started to get fun and sketchy as they refused to tell us who did the inspection, or provide any kind of report. We’re still embroiled in this sh*t right now. They’ve finally copped to having an inspection, but are demanding that we pay half the cost before they’ll show it to us. So I did what any reasonable person would do—I called Dale. Mainly because he’s the only person I know who will crawl around in a 3 foot high space underneath a cottage that may or may not be on the verge of collapse. And after this, he can call me ANYTHING he wants.

Saturday: I get ready to cruise

So right now, despite all the real estate stress, I’m SUPER excited because I’m going on my first cruise. I’ve been so excited, in fact, that I didn’t even really pay attention to where I’m going. After having several people say, “Where does the cruise go?” and me saying, “Wow, I’m not really sure,” I made my dad write it down for me so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot. This is my parents’ gift to me for reaching a “milestone” birthday—as some people might say, I am now a woman of “a certain age”, and it’s not the awesomely fun age where you get to finally drink, buy lottery tickets, play bingo, or watch porn. So yeah, an “older” milestone than all of that. Still, I’m young enough to appreciate how cool this cruise is going to be, even if Ken and K can’t come. It’s just me, my parents, my brother, his wife, their son, and her dad. I think Ken feels a little left out, but it’s not my fault that he “can’t get time off work” or whatever. K said she couldn’t miss 5 days of school because missing math would kill her, and I’m hoping it’s because she doesn’t want to fall behind, not because she loves math so much. Because let’s be honest—if you love math so much that you would miss a cruise to a tropical island…enough said. Anyway, there are two main things that I’m the most excited about, aside from the “all you can drink” alcohol package:

1) I just found out today that our suite comes with its own butler. This is the best thing EVER. Ken wasn’t particularly impressed but K totally got it.

K: His name will be Johnson.
Me: Yes! And he’ll wear a tuxedo. Even at 3 o’clock in the morning.
K: And he’ll have an English accent.
Me: Absolutely. The only thing better than my English butler Johnson would be if he was a monkey butler.

I’m probably overthinking it, and my expectations will most likely be dashed when it turns out that my English butler Johnson is a guy in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt named “Jimmy”, who will recommend Budweiser and pretzels instead of champagne cocktails and caviar. Still, a girl can dream.

2) I get to swim with dolphins. This has been a lifelong dream of mine, ever since I almost failed grade 9 science and realized that I was NOT destined to be a marine biologist. Instead, I learned how to analyze poetry, which is almost the same thing. But without the dolphins. (As a side note, it’s still really easy to get into an English program. They ask two questions—1) Do you have the money for tuition? 2) Are you breathing? The second question is just a formality. If you have the tuition, breathing isn’t really a requirement.) I never thought that I would be able to come face to bottlenose with a dolphin, but it looks like that’s going to happen. I even had to buy “biodegradable” sunscreen, so it wouldn’t harm the dolphins. It was expensive, but it’s money well-spent. And if my butler isn’t up to snuff, I can always call my dolphin “Johnson”.