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The rest of the writing team I blog with took a break for August, so I wrote whatever I liked – sometimes I riffed on my prior entry / sometimes I wrote what popped to mind. The team is starting September with an extra entry I did at the end of July. That was because I was following my own agenda. I try to be a team player, but from time to time I have to break out and do my own thing. Tonight the team meets to review our process – but mostly for the excuse of having drinks on the deck.
I never went to movies when I was a small kid. We lived in Quebec where there had been a horrendous fire in a cinema filled with children and many died. So there were laws about kids under a certain age going to movies. Once we moved to Ontario I saw my first movie in an actual theatre. “Santa Clause Conquers The Martians.” I went with my brother and some other kids. My mother was not all that keen on us going. Especially because it was wintertime and flu season. She always viewed movie theatres as giant incubators for germs.
I think it was called the Green Rooster in Arthur. It was rooster something, anyway. The restaurant where the bus always stopped halfway between Toronto and Port Elgin. The driver gave you enough time to stretch, use the facilities and have a coffee. That day I ended up sitting beside the old auctioneer who was heading back to town on the same bus. Once his voice rang loud over crowds of bidders. He rasped that he had been in Toronto for one of his throat cancer treatments. A character who had loomed large in our rural community, now cruelly silenced.
You have to be a bit of a misanthrope to be able to properly observe the human condition. Those who live comfortably within mainstream society often do not notice the foibles and faults of humanity – it is all just normal to them. It is the misfits who exist on the fringes who are able to identify the irony of life and the hypocrisy of human behavior. And it takes a certain amount of guts to point such things out. Guts and gall that most ‘nice’ people do not possess. I wonder. What comes first? Living on the fringes, or misanthropy?
Oscar was one of the most confident guys Joan ever dated. They met when he simply started dancing with her at a pub night at college. He assumed she would fall for him, and Joan could not help herself; he was strangely beguiling. After awhile, though, his self-centred behavior brought her to tears. During the relationship post-mortem with Sandy, Joan happened to mention how Oscar oddly had the only mirror in his bathroom perched on the back of his toilet. “Now there’s a man who loves himself,” said Sandy. “Oh,” Joan gasped, in realization of the truth.
Being handsome, cultured and wealthy, he got away with it. He had a different woman for every night of the week except Monday, when he took a break. He told women right up front when he met them. When he lost one woman, he would find another. The newest acquisitions got Tuesday, and the others moved up the rotation. If a woman stuck around long enough she could end up in the coveted Saturday spot. After three dates without sleeping with him, women would be eliminated. Sleeping with him would be like sleeping with all the others, I told him.
Parents got a class list and instructions that no child should be left out. It is hard to convince a grade one girl that she has to sign Valentines cards for boys who torment her and she hates. Back in my day it was an exercise in humiliation. The cards were inserted into a decorated box with a slot on top. Then the teacher drew them out, announcing the names of the person on each card. Some kids made many trips and had a huge stack piling up on their desks. Others sat at their desks with a paltry few.
They met at a party and went out to a dance club. He showed her his co-op on Park Avenue, loaded with antiques. The following week they went out for dinner and the proposition was made. All that could be yours, he said, along with my influential connections in the crème of New York society. She said, let me think. They had another date a few days later. He called first – what do you think? I’m still thinking, she replied. Answer now, or the date is off, he told her. The price was too steep, she thought.
After Dad died, Mom decided to move to Toronto. The house was a lot of work, and she wanted to be closer to urban cultural activity. Although we were sad to give up our get-away destination on Georgian Bay, the change has mostly been good. It is this time of year when I miss that place most – Mom and all her neighbours had very productive vegetable gardens and at fall harvest they were always looking to unload their produce. We would be the beneficiaries of excess tomatoes, beans and zucchinis. Seems you cannot grow those things in small numbers.
There was a time when I was swayed by labels and could not bring myself to wear anything but the most current shoe silhouette. I would be feel ashamed for those women who just did not seem to care. I must admit that I still have certain standards – you will not catch me out in public wearing track pants. But I will not be dictated to by trend-setters anymore. I have come to pity those women who are slaves to seemingly misogynist designers that demand they squeeze into ridiculous garb. It is better to develop your own comfortable style.
On the road, eating in restaurants. It's pretty hard to find the right choices to eat in the first place, and it's doubly hard to resist the array of poor choices that are available to order. At home I don't have much for breakfast - a latte and an orange juice. Yesterday I had an omelet. A vegetable omelet - sounds like smart eating, but it was giant sized and came with toast AND homefries. I ate half the omelet, half the toast and had just a taste of the homefries. Not a great start for sitting in the car all day.
I watched the elderly woman pick at her meal. She ate only a few leaves of her salad and part of the slice of the pizza we were all sharing. "I just don't have any appetite left," she told us. I looked at her ample figure and wondered how she maintained that weight. Then dessert came and she managed to tuck it all away. She consumed it with such gusto, I think she would have licked the plate if she could get away with it. Well, not many pleasures left for the aged, they might as well enjoy their desserts.
I was raised on porridge for breakfast. I love the stuff. When I am a doddering old lady I can see myself exsisting on gruel. Such a dour image, but I would be happy and content. Given all that, I don't eat it for breakfast. In spite of all the advice about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, I find if I eat it I am less alert and I get hungry mid-morning. I don't think there are dietary rules that can apply to everybody. Every person should individually work out what makes them feel best.
Dad’s company had an annual Christmas party at the Cascade Inn, the most elegant venue then, in the small city where we lived. Part of the fun arranged for the kids was a film. The children would be led into a room to watch it while the adults socialized. We were not allowed to go to movie theatres and our family did not have a TV, so you would think that anything would thrill me. But every year my excited expectations were met with Larry, Curly and Moe. The Three Stooges never impressed me. I just found them tedious.
There were three partners in the firm so it was natural for the staff to draw comparisons to the various famous trios from film and literature – The Three Musketeers, The Three Amigos, and of course The Three Stooges, although it was never determined exactly which partner was Larry, Curly or Moe. Then a fourth partner came on board, although he was kind of a silent partner because, although he was considered equal in the hierarchy, his name was not added to the company letterhead. At that point we switched to the Marx Brothers, and the recent addition was naturally Harpo.
The multiplication table was my first introduction to humiliation. My fourth grade class studied it while I was ill for two weeks with bronchitis. The day of my return to class there was a test - I failed it. Before that I never even got low marks, and not passing was unthinkable. It sent me into a tailspin that had me at the doctor’s being examined for a stomach ulcer at age nine, because I was fretting over a project that had to be perfect. And - I have never been able to get the multiplication table straight in my mind.
Generally I always had good relationships with most of my teachers. In retrospect I wonder about my grade four teacher who made me take a test on a subject I had missed while away sick. I had adored her – maybe that was not reciprocal. In grade five I came head to head with a teacher who simply did not like me from the start. It was a huge eye-opener to me that I was not, for once, the teacher’s pet – and that teachers are not infallible beings on whom a person can always count for wisdom and reason.
It is pretty hard to convince kids that one of the greatest luxuries of their lives is their access to education. I point out examples of Afghan girls risking life and limb, and persevering in spite of acid being thrown at them, in order to go to school. In the space of less than a century western society has managed to transform a much-coveted goal into an instrument of torture for millions of school children. Something has gone wrong and there must be a way to change it – to rekindle the spark of inspiration and the ambition to learn.
When I see my son turning away from the opportunity to be educated it is particularly puzzling for me. If I was in the position to do it, I would not hesitate to put myself back in school – any kind of class. Right now my daughter is at an amazing school and I am envious of the classes she is taking – philosophy, dream psychology… and life drawings lessons! Maybe after the kids leave home I can indulge in some adult education. Right now, working full time and trying to run a household my schedule simply does not permit that luxury.
I could not go home for Christmas that year. US Immigration said I could not leave the country while my case was under review. Everybody else at Juilliard had gone somewhere else for the holidays and I was watching TV in my tiny room at the YMCA on Christmas Eve. Feeling very sorry for myself. The phone rang. My old college room-mate, Becky, was in town. We met up and went to see ‘Star Trek, the Motion Picture,’ together. It turned very quickly from one of the bleakest to one of the most memorable Christmas holidays of my life.
Becky came to visit me in Winnipeg where I had gone to work after graduating from Theatre Design at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where we had been roommates in the dorm. I called Bill. I thought it would be fun for us all to get together. Bill was our lighting design instructor at Banff. Becky was delighted, until she realized Bill and I were engaged. One of the reasons Becky came to visit me in Winnipeg was to pursue Bill. She was sweet on him. In retrospect it’s too bad she didn’t get him, instead of me.
For me there are few greater pleasures than to be out on the road, burning up the miles to blasting music while singing full throttle. When I discovered the van I rented to move from Winnipeg to Toronto had no radio or tape player I wondered how I was going to make it through those vast stretches of Northern Ontario. Turned out I had plenty of music in my head and no problem belting out tunes acapella to amuse myself. It was probably one of the best road trips of my life. After all I was making a new start.
It was a big enough van that it seemed to impress the truckers along the way. Funny because as far as I was concerned an automatic transmission was wimpy. But just about every time I encountered a truck on the long, lonely highway across the north of the province, the drive would salute me. And when I pulled the one-ton cube van into a truck-stop to eat, all eyes would swivel in my direction as I stepped out of the cab. True there were few female patrons, but nobody bothered me as I read my book while eating.
It was the first move where I needed a van. Before that I lived in furnished places and just shipped my few personal possessions and clothes ahead of me in a trunk - to be picked up and installed in whatever place I found. There were a few knick-knacks and posters that helped me to make each place my own, but otherwise I lived with the decor of whomever had put the place together. Often I was in a basement apartment where the furnishings were the cast-offs of the owners. I longed to decorate a place of my own.
In Winnipeg I did not have a contract, I had a job - a real position. I found an unfurnished apartment and proceeded to find what I needed to make it comfortable. Somebody at the theatre company offered some old furniture they had in their basement. I was still in the position of living with other's cast-offs, but somehow it felt different. I loved that little apartment in an older building that had character. But more than anything I got what I had been longing to have in all my footloose days of moving from contract to contract - a cat.
Hagar was the most wonderful cat. I called her a pastel calico. She was three colours, but not the dark black, orange and white of the more common calicos - hers was a mixture of pale grey, peach and cream. She was lovely. She bonded to me very quickly and was very sensitive to my moods. If I was upset she would crawl into my lap and comfort me. I was distressed to hear from my neighbours that she mewed at my door all day long while I was at work. But after awhile she calmed down and we settled in.
Hagar's world was shattered when Bill and I were married. He claimed to be highly allergic to cats. I never noticed him sniffling when he was at my place, but I was at his place more often. He had a nicer place. He forced me to give her away. A friend took her, but she had a dog and that did not work. So Hagar was passed on to another person who shared an apartment with several other people. Hagar could not settle there and ran away. I thought I saw her once when I passed by my old apartment.
Bill and I visited my parents for Christmas that first year. The house was full because my brother and sister came home for the holidays and brought friends. We were installed at the next door neighbour's who were happy to have a house sitter while on vacation. There were two cats and a dog there, and we took care of them in exchange for the use of the house. A week in a house with two cats and Bill showed no symptoms of an allergy. In retrospect I think making me get rid of Hagar was probably a control thing.
Yeah, what a marriage. I wish now that I had kept Hagar and ditched Bill. It was all over in a year and a half, then I found myself back in a lonely apartment, licking my wounds. Hagar's sensitive company would have been appreciated. I had to re-furnish because, in addition to getting rid of Hagar, I had gotten rid of all my stuff because Bill's place was fully furnished. I had to beat a hasty retreat for my own safety, and when I went to pick up the few possessions that were mine, Bill had changed the locks.
Goodness, this has been quite a trip - reliving memories long buried and best forgotten. In trying to finish up my September entries, the progression was natural from the point where I described my cube van adventure moving away from Winnipeg. I am thankful, however, that I eventually ended up with Steve, who has made life so wonderful for me that I rarely think of those traumatic days with Bill anymore. It almost seems like all that was part of another person's life. Another me that I look back on as a curiosity - when I think of that person at all.
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