REPORT A PROBLEM
The son of an old family friend from Italy was visiting Toronto and I was charged with making sure he was well-entertained. I arranged to meet him at the Bamboo Club, my favourite night spot at the time. I gave him directions to make his way over to Queen and Spadina. He was a bit late, but eventually showed up. He had been confused by my Toronto pronunciation of Spa-DIE-na, but after awhile figured out it was the street he would have pronounced Spa-DEE-na. Later I sent him a recording of ‘Spadina Bus,’ by the Toronto band, the Shuffle Demons.
My Lebanese neighbour calls me Mary Jones. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I had an Italian friend who also kept calling me Mary Jones. He never shortened it to Mary, even though he knew that Jones was a last name, because he had been previously married to a woman named Mary Jones. But then, he also always referred to her by both names, too. Perhaps that is why the marriage did not last. It would be weird to be married to somebody who called you by your first and last names at all times.
Joan was stuck in a rut. At one point she thought of becoming a librarian and she now wondered if she made the wrong choice. People were always impressed when Joan told them what she did. They were all ears for more details about her job at the prestigious design firm where she worked. When she protested that it was not as glamorous as it sounded, they chuckled ironically. Joan knew they thought it must be better than whatever mundane thing they did. The fact is, after you have been doing something for years, any job gets boring and repetitive.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven when the first typewriter came out that had the correction tape built right into it. Later when technology arrived where at the touch of a button you could erase back several lines it seemed things could not get better than that. Then a memory typewriter came out that you could set up to fill in the blanks of a form letter. Holy cow! I thought. That's incredible! … I have not had a typewriter for twenty years now and the last few offices I worked in were not equipped with them, either.
It was a double bill at the drive-In. The first movie, some cheesy action flick about a bank heist. Lots of chase scenes and car crashes. My boyfriend, Mike, and I necked through it, while his brothers in the front seat shifted their focus between rooting for Mike, and watching the movie. The second movie was ‘2001 A Space Odyssey.’ I had been waiting to see it. They were somewhat bemused by the ape scene, but once the Strauss waltz started, the brothers had enough and pulled up stakes. It was years before I saw it all the way through.
I am going it alone this month. Usually I riff on entries that my friends Roy and Laurie post on firstname.lastname@example.org but they have vacations planned for August. I just started a new job in May, so I am not eligible for time off until September. Suddenly I feel adrift. I will have to come up with ideas all by myself, rather than capitalizing on a spark of inspiration that takes hold in my mind while reading their entries. Ha! Why else do you think I am writing about this situation, rather than one of my little anecdotes?
Thursday evening, when we met at Laurie’s place, Roy brought an old cookbook he had from the eighties. One of those put out for a charity, with a collection of recipes contributed by members of whatever organization was raising money. Laurie dug another such cookbook out of her library. Exactly the same format, except a different picture on the front, put out by an art gallery where she worked. When I got home I easily found a similar cookbook. Friday morning, on my way to work, I passed by the Harbourfront School. A sign out front: Charity Cookbooks $20.
Our house is full of cookbooks. Steve is perpetually collecting them. I have contributed a few, too, from a time when I worked for a French theatre company and we entertained each other with complicated and involved dinner parties. It has been years, however, since I used a cookbook. Now that I am vegetarian, I shop for produce and dream up recipes based on what currently looks best and freshest at the store. I start with standards for various dishes such as curry or ratatouille, and improvise by adding vegetables or seasoning on whim. It makes for more fun cooking.
I always am puzzled by the response of many chefs to vegetarianism. Julia Child could not understand it; Anthony Bourdain is rudely dismissive. Bourdain thinks vegetarians are denying themselves pleasure. It is not a pleasure to eat something you do not like. I do not like meat. There are people who do not like broccoli, but I adore it. Should I judge them harshly for ‘denying themselves’ broccoli? I would have thought coming up with some really cool vegetarian options would be an interesting challenge that chefs would embrace. But the best they can usually come up with is pasta.
I did not go vegetarian on purpose. Over time I just stopped liking flesh. One by one such foods began to lose their attraction for me. Finally I could stomach only white meat chicken. I knew it was hopeless when I was on a long flight overseas. I had requested a vegetarian meal and they served me chicken, as often happened back then when caterers were obtuse about dietary choices (sometimes, I suspect, willfully obtuse). Even though I was ravenously hungry and there were no other options available, I was not able to eat the chicken. My fate was sealed.
Last weekend I visited friends in Waterloo and we went to a farmer’s market where I was able to get some nice baby potatoes, baby onions, green beans and fresh corn for a lovely meal Sunday evening. Potatoes and onions roasted together, boiled corn, and steamed beans. I tossed all the leftovers together into a bowl and I have been enjoying the mixture for lunch all week. I love this time of year when one can exist on fresh local produce. Although Sophy got into it and wiped out my lunches for Thursday and Friday. Glad she’s getting her vegetables.
Health is probably the last reason why I am vegetarian. As I wrote earlier, I stopped eating flesh simply because it became distasteful for me, although the humane issues occurred to me concurrently. Later I was happy to learn that being vegetarian reduced my environmental footprint. But the healthy aspects of vegetarianism provide me with balance against the times when I revel in destructive eating habits. Like yesterday, when my mother took me out to lunch, and I gobbled down an obscene amount of sweet potato fries, begging for an extra portion of the spicy tomato mayonnaise that accompanied them.
One of the people at work brought in lovely sweet tomatoes from her garden. It has been a great summer for tomatoes – Mother Nature gave them what they like - lots of heat and sun with a generous helping of rain. Steve loves his garden, but does not put in many edibles. He thinks they will be tainted by city pollution. Last year, for the first time, he put in tomatoes. It was the worst summer for tomatoes. At Thanksgiving I picked a basket of green tomatoes off the vines. Consequently, and ironically, this year Steve did not bother with them.
I have never been very much interested in gardening. The idea of spending hours crouched over under the burning sun digging in dirt is just not appealing to me. I count myself very lucky Steve takes such great pleasure in it and has created tiny patches of paradise in our front and back yards. The only time I ever did any gardening was one year when I was inspired to dig dozens of tulip and daffodil bulbs into the small patch of soil in front of my main floor apartment. The neighbourhood squirrels ate every single last one of them.
In the tallest towers of the densest concrete metropolis, humans are troubled by fauna that are viewed as pests – mice, cockroaches, bedbugs. In a leafy neighbourhood like ours we share our territory with squirrels, raccoons and skunks. They can wreak havoc on our lives if we are not careful to secure our property against their destructive habits. All the same it lifts my heart to encounter these tenacious beings – especially raccoons on their evening prowls. I applaud their survival as humans destroy their habitat. However, I could do without the creepy giant centipedes inhabiting the recesses of our laundry room.
On the subject of changing habitats, most likely due to human intervention, it seems we now have cardinals in the neighbourhood for the summer. Formerly this part of the world was on the cardinal’s migratory route, but now we seem to be a destination. I cannot figure that out. Weather is definitely getting warmer, so if they come north for the summer, why are they not going further north? But they are here. As soon as the sun rises they start to belt out their distinctive song. I have noticed bluejays that have stuck around for the summer, too.
Our family changed habitat much during the course of my formative years. We moved frequently as my father positioned himself in his career – so much that I am often asked if I was an army brat. I continued to move a lot after I left home because I chose a to work in theatre, which had me shuttling all over the country. When people ask me where I am from I say, ‘Canada.’ I feel strong affiliations to many places I lived. But now, after 25 years in the city, I guess I should start saying I am from Toronto.
Moving around a lot made us a tighter family. My sibs and I are close in age: less than two years between my older brother and me; and I am two years older than my sister. With such a small spread in ages we could relate to each other’s interests. In a new environment we had each other to turn to before we started to forge friendships among our peers. But now the three sibs are spread across Canada. It is hard to be separated, especially since I now have nieces and nephews I would like to see more often.
There are things about small towns that can be very demoralizing. It takes a long time for new people to be accepted. I remember taking part in a bicycling competition, sponsored by the Kinsmen, shortly after moving to one place. My brother and I both won gold medals for our age groups. At the awards ceremony a big fuss was made about how one family did so well. I thought they were talking about my family. Turned out the mayor’s children, roughly the same age as my brother and me, each took the silver medal in their age groups.
Biking is a life-long obsession for me. At age four I made my brother teach me on his bike that was so oversized I could barely reach the pedals. I was thrilled the first time I realized he had let me go and I was riding on my own. At six I finally got my own bike that was the right size for me. Once I started earning money as a teenager one of my first purchases was a ten-speed. A huge considerations when I am looking for a job is whether I can commute there by bicycle.
I toodled the neighbourhood on my bike this morning, cruising lawn sales. At one sale an acquaintance of both my daughter’s and mine showed up and, and we had fun choosing clothing for Sophy. I was thinking nothing could be more pleasant than to live in an area where people are friendly and truly networked with each other. After I was done with lawn sales I went to the little café where Sophy works for a latte. I was showing her stuff I bought for her and turned around to see the person who held that sale standing in line.
I worked for an interior designer who serviced the very top strata of society. One of our clients was on the ‘Best-Dressed’ list. She would give me the once-over whenever she came by. If she wanted to do that with her piers – fine. But I felt she had no right to judge me by her standards when a single outfit of hers would cost more than my annual salary. I, myself, disdain people who spend a lot of money on clothes. I find it more of a sartorial accomplishment to be able to look good on a budget.
When I did costumes for stage I worked with some theatre companies where I was given what seemed like endless budgets and staffs who could create whatever I designed with little difficulty. It was fun working on those productions. Other times, however, it would be just me doing both the design and construction on a budget of $500. I would beg from the closets of the cast, shop at the Sally Ann and scrounge ends of fabric from clearance bins. Those shows were a big challenge, but I look back on them with a huge sense of achievement and proficiency.
Each office I have whipped into shape has provided me with the pride of accomplishment. I view each as a creative project. I guess that is why I can feel content working as an office manager / bookkeeper, when I once had ambitions in the arts. Another thing that does not hurt is a regular healthy paycheque, along with benefits, and paid vacation. And the ability to be able to close the door on my job when I leave the office in the evening. When I was young I scorned this mentality. Age brings many surprises. Hot flashes really do exist!
I had no idea what to write about today, but as I entered the date for this post it reminded me of the ‘Halfway to Christmas’ party we had at the Banff School of Fine Arts Theatre Department every summer on this date. Somebody had their math wrong – or they were just ignoring it because in June we were all working hard getting ready for the summer repertory. By August we were ready to let loose. Those parties were so wild and unfettered that many strongly glued relationships were loosened. You never knew what would greet you the next day.
I am currently getting plans in place for a driving trip in September. My probation is up at my new job so I am now eligible for vacation. It will be the first vacation without the kids for Steve and me together – unless you count a couple of long weekends we were able to get away for in the past. I am looking forward to the change in dynamic. I am sure it will be more relaxed than when we had to cater to the kids. We are moving into the next phase of life as parents of adult children.
Without the kids around a lot anymore, the romance is back in our relationship. Steve and I get more time to ourselves in the house and the bedroom has become the boudoire once again. Also we can head out on impulsive 'dates' whenever the urge hits us. Today we will meet after work and take in the Busker Fest at St. Lawrence Market. After that we may toodle the city on our bikes. The kids are enjoying their freedom, too. Maybe a little too much. I had to let Sophy in at 4:00 this morning – she forgot her keys.
I always feel bittersweet sadness at this time of year – and the need to pack in as much summertime enjoyment as possible. Yesterday there was a nip in the air, even the early evening. I kept putting on and taking off my jacket. Steve and I rambled the city on our bikes, checking out city events, and ended up in the back patio of a neighbourhood bar where we encountered friends to sit with. I hang onto such carefree evenings greedily, in denial of the hardship to be endured soon enough when even getting dressed will be twice the effort.
I meant to have a lawn sale yesterday, but I could not find anybody to sit with me. I really did not want to be stuck out on the front porch by myself. Even though Steve wants the pile of discarded stuff in the basement cleared away, he does not want to keep me company. So I bailed. This afternoon found me gleaning unsold items left on the sidewalk after somebody else’s lawn sale. How can I resist free stuff? And nice stuff, too – a totally unused espresso pot, for instance. That’s our household – Garbage in / Garbage in.
I am planning a vacation around staying with friends in various places - a bit of challenge making the pieces fit together. It makes me think how hopeful humans are – believing they can nail things down for the future. A friend of mine recently told me she plans to live a long life. To me that is something to which one can only aspire – you cannot plan that. Too many things that cannot be controlled. That’s the spice of life, though. Imagine how boring it would be if everything went as planned. The mystery of the future keeps life interesting.
There was mystery in my life for five minutes yesterday when I came out of my office at the end of the day. I found a note clamped in the rat-trap on my bike that read, “Sexy mama, I love the way you move your bum.” I hoped it was a random prankster. Then, as I leaned over to release my lock, somebody actually grabbed my bum. Steve was smart enough to quickly let me know it was him before I elbowed him in the ribs. He got off work early and we enjoyed a sultry summer evening together.
The Tip Jar