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“Are you supposed to be Annie Oakely?” The guy at the Halloween party asked. Wrong era for a pencil skirt made of faux cowhide. And if I was Annie Oakley I would have a gun, since old Annie was a sharp shooter. No, I was just a generic cowgirl. Seems like people feel a need to pick specific characters for Halloween costumes. As far as I am concerned the object is to simply disguise oneself so that the demons who roam that night will not recognize the souls they have been sent to take back to the netherworld with them.
It always feels like I should be able to go back and reverse things. For the first couple of days after I make an error in judgment I always have this voice in the back of my mind telling me what I can do to make things right when I revisit the moment in time where I messed up. I actually have to tell myself repeatedly that it is water under the bridge that is already far downstream. I wonder why it is that I have this strong instinctual belief? Maybe someday I will figure out how to do it.
It would be a fair generalization to say that most of us fantasize of going back and taking a different route than we chose during at least one point in our lives. But who would I be if I had stayed in New York, or accepted that long term position at the Banff School of Fine Art that was offered all those years ago? How can I regret those lost opportunities, when it all turned out so well and I am in a happy place now? The answer is definitive. The choices were made and I am what I am.
Illegal basement apartments sustained me through many years of working in theatre. There was little choice given my paltry income. Many of them were not all that bad. There was even one at the back of a house built into a slope, that had full windows along one side where the land fell away. But even so, when I met Steve and we could to pool our money for higher rent, it was a relief to get above ground. The first morning I woke up to sun streaming in the window instead of cloying opaque darkness was a joyous occasion.
She was impeccably elegant. Delicate features framed by a stylish hat; her expensive outfit accessorized perfectly. She caught my attention on the subway car because of the aura of excitement and joy that lit up her flawlessly made up face. I had seen that look before and I searched for the evidence I was sure would show itself. Just as I thought, there was the adam’s apple. She was a he; but very well done. I guess it is my costuming background that has provided me with the ability to sniff out transvestites, no matter how well they do it.
Back in the seventies, in certain circles, there was a lot of pressure to explore every possible aspect of one’s sexuality. It was considered that you could not possibly achieve full sexual liberation until you had experimented with every position, and with partners of both sexes. Guys would insist, “you don’t know until you try.” It seemed to me, however, they were mostly interested in luring me into threesomes so they could have sex with two women at once, and spice it all up watching Lesbian sex on the side. Sorry, guys, I am very sure I knew without trying.
You give them the best you can give, what more can they expect? And every time you turn around the rules change. At one time everybody said, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Nowadays nobody believes that anymore. You cannot beat the bad out of a child. Yet people are always ready to blame the parents, even the parents themselves. I remember my mother moaning, “Where did I go wrong?” at one somewhat serious transgression I committed. I did not blame her. I knew I had made my own choice in the matter. And I learned my own lesson.
I am giving myself a backhanded compliment, but my clear skin as a teenager was just one more way I was excluded from the ‘crowd.’ Between classes the other girls would cluster around the mirrors in the washroom, moaning about their zits. Once I got one and pushed my way in, pointing it out, hoping to share sympathy with the others. All I got was derision and scorn. “You can hardly see it,” they sneered, “and have you ever had one before?” “You can probably eat chocolate all day and never break out,” they told me. And they were right.
Nowadays I see the high school phys-ed uniform is pretty much the same for both boys and girls – shorts and a top. Seems like the most practical thing to wear for most sports activities. Back in the seventies they still insisted that girls wear this ridiculous one piece thing that was like a shirt attached to a pair of short bloomers. No sleeves and a belt at the waist. It did not look good on any body type. I think that uniform was responsible for many a teenage girl deciding not to take phys-ed any longer than necessary.
The doctor frowned and made his pronouncement. “Bruises,” he said, about the hard lumps that had formed in my fledgling breasts. I was only ten years old when they arrived and therefore I was the victim of my big brother’s friends. They would never dare if I had been an older sister, but a younger sister was fair game, as far as they were concerned. Whenever they thought they could get away with it, they would ambush me and grab hard, copping a feel. When she learned the truth, my mother put an end to their game in short order.
I never had trouble with all of those ‘milestone’ birthdays where you feel you are getting old because, as far as I was concerned, I left my youth behind when I turned 20. Somehow the jump from my teens was the hardest birthday of all. One reason could be that I had a great adolescence. My mother might disagree with the former statement, but I was having a ball. Yes, there was some angst – but mainly there was freedom and fun. And ambitions and expectations of life that (it became clear as I got older) would never come to pass.
Her house was carefully decorated. She took great pride in keeping up with the trends, and creating an attractive environment for relaxing and entertaining. It seemed like every time Joan visited her, there was another embellishment to the décor. Her friend was constantly upgrading. The slightest defect in her furnishings could not be tolerated. As soon as cushions got a little frayed, they were replaced. Or a tabletop would lose its sheen and it had to be tossed. “What waste,” Joan thought. She was going to have to find out when garbage day was in her friend’s neighbourhood.
Guys think ice hockey is a manly sport, but it is wimpy compared to field hockey that girls were compelled to play as part of the phys-ed curriculum in high school. Field hockey sticks are more like clubs, and the hard rubber ball could do every bit as much damage as a puck. Yet we did not have the defence of any padding whatsoever. There we were in our skimpy little bloomers out there on the cold windblown field. Penalty for high-sticking was to run laps around the field – no sitting in a comfy box on the side.
Joan knew a guy who wore shorts until the snow fell, only then would he concede that he needed the protection of long pants. A lot of people seemed to be that way – always seeking to wear as few layers of clothing as possible. Joan welcomed autumn weather for the comfort of more clothing. Others would say, “Do I need to wear a jacket?” Joan asked, “Can I wear a jacket?” Gloves, scarves, hats - tights when she wore skirts – these provided a sense of security, like a shield against the outer world. The bareness of summer made her feel vulnerable.
The fabric piles up. Irresistible pieces from bargain bins and lawn sales; many from an interior design company where I once worked – tail ends left over winnowing their fabric store room. They are crammed from floor to ceiling into a closet in my workroom. I have no idea what I will eventually do with them. Every once in awhile I come up with a project to use a piece, but not enough to keep ahead of the incoming flow. Sometimes I cannot bear to cut into that piece once I have devised a use for it. I just love fabric.
I have always thought that the difference between crafts that are art and crafts that are simply products is perfection. The more perfect something is, the less artistic it is, as far as I am concerned. A hand-knit sweater is lovelier than a machine knit sweater because of the changes in tension and the imperfections. I remember watching a documentary on Japanese potters who would throw a perfect vase on their wheel, and then knock a dent in it on purpose to make it more beautiful. The hands of artisans must be balanced with their humanity or they become machines.
“I’d rather fight than switch!” declared the models in the ads for Lucky Strike cigarettes, with eyes blackened to prove it. The height of brand loyalty. But are the brands loyal to you? I loved Lululemon yoga pants and Steve was under standing order to get them for my Christmas gift. Then one year the fit was different and I needed to exchange them. I ventured out on Boxing Day, something I had never done before. After slogging downtown I discovered that Lululemon does not make exchanges on Boxing Day. Lululemon treated me was atrociously. I will never go back.
What else is style, but confidence? It is not what you wear, but how you wear it. If you can walk into a room with an aura of knowing you rock, other people will think you do. More important than any piece of clothing or accessory you can purchase is the ability to have presence. Dance lessons, fitness classes, anything that enhances your grace of movement will have a much more profound impact on how you are seen. You do not even have to be toned and trim, as long as you have comportment. It is like casting a spell.
The doorbell rang at 4:00 a.m. My room was closest to the entrance on the floor I shared with three student roomers in the big Annex house. Two cops stood there. One a short older guy who kept insisting they could access the upper floors to arrest somebody on the third floor by surprise. I told him repeatedly there was no access and they would have to ring the bell on the other door. He continued to badger me while the other cop, who was young and tall, made eyes at me over the old guy’s head.
Interesting how we have symbols and expressions for things that no longer exist. Often in front of phone numbers you see pictographs of those long discontinued black phones with dial faces – something that most people have not seen in years, and many young folk have never seen at all. After I key in a telephone number on my office phone system, I hit a button that says ‘dial’ when there is no dialing going on at any point. I think there are still toy phones that have dials – teaching children something they will never again experience once they clear toddlerhood.
“What’s Steve up to?” asked John, when I came to the door. At that moment Steve came around the side of the house, loaded up with beer boxes full of empties. He unloaded them into the van, then disappeared down the laneway again. We watched as he reappeared repeatedly, bringing armload after armload of empties to return to the beer store. “I can give you an email address to get help with your problem,” John called out to him. I guess there must be programs available for people who are too lazy to take their beer bottles back more frequently.
There are some bottles I cannot bring myself to part with. They are just too nice. And many of them prove to have further use after they are emptied of their original contents. Every once in awhile I get a bottle that would be perfect for another purpose, but I cannot get the label off because it has been glued on with some kind of super adhesive that will not budge. There should be legislation to force companies to have removable labels so their containers can be put to another use and still look nice. Re-using is better than re-cycling.
I am not innocent of falling victim to trends. Some things are just too hard to resist. Such as furnishing with milk crates. They are such a great size for all sorts of storage, and you can stack them up to create bookshelves. Only to me the actual milk crates were just too ugly – usually that nowhere blue and always dingy and bashed up. So I bought the retail knock-offs that came in nice bright colours. Yeah, I succumbed to the second wave of the trend that started on the street and then moved into the comfortable bourgeois phase.
So many beautiful words in the English language that precisely describe what I want to say. And I know a lot of them. But when I want to use them, they often will not come to me. Much of the time they are there in my head when I begin a sentence, but by the time they need to be inserted they have disappeared leaving just a ghost on the tip of my tongue. I am left interrupting my narrative, stammering and muttering “What’s the word?” Then, hours later having the word come to me, when it is too late.
My friend, Roy, theorizes that the worst assholes of the world are probably suffering from some form of mental illness. Considering how much we are learning about psychology – and more importantly psychoses – I think he is probably right about that. Lately there have been some studies of the adolescent brain in which it was discovered that certain sections are not fully formed, leading teens to have very poor judgment in important decision making. This has led some scientists to declare that teenagers are virtually insane – so I guess that is why they act like assholes a lot of the time.
There is no doubt I was an asshole when I was a teen. I did many things that I thought were funny, but were actually cruel. Like when my best friend and I went skinny dipping with my sister. Donna and I came out of the water first and we took Ann’s clothes up to the house. That forced Ann to have to run naked across a North Shore Road, which was luckily not all that busy. All the same it was a trick that I would not have appreciated at all if it had been played on me.
The prank played on my sister, leaving her naked in the water, was followed by more errors in judgement, typical of teenage behaviour. Donna and I also locked Ann out of the house, enflaming her rage and causing Ann to bang so hard on the door that she broke the window. Meanwhile Donna and I sat in the kitchen drinking a couple of beers that we filched from my Dad’s stock in the fridge. We were so doubled up in laughter, we did not see my mother pull into the driveway. Needless to say our hilarity ended soon after.
There was a massive blackout in the middle of the hottest part of the summer. The heat and humidity were palpable with not a breeze of relief. All the same we had the windows wide open. Probably the only difference it made was psychological. I woke to the sound of a car starting. It just sat there; fumes from running it began to seep into our bedroom. After awhile it stopped, then, just as I was drifting of it started again. This was repeated through the night. Our neighbour was sitting in her car running the AC to stay cool.
There was a massive blackout in the middle of the coldest part of the winter. Even bundled in my warmest clothes it was miserable waiting for a shuttle bus because the subway was not running. Bus after bus came, packed so full people pressed against the front window. Any cabs that came by had already been commandeered. Then a woman pulled up in front of me and beckoned me to get in her car. Three others were invited to get in her back seat. Traffic was slow but we were a cheery crowd thanks to the kindness of a stranger.
Last Sunday I got out the Advent wreath. It is really just a five candle candelabra that I decorate with Christmassy stuff. One candle was lit for our Sunday dinner, and one more will be lit each Sunday until Christmas morning when all candles will be lit. Steve derides me for hanging on to Christian traditions when I am no longer a believer. But I am pretty sure many of the traditions around Christmas are hangovers from pagan times. This time of year it is all about cheering up the darkest season. Any kind of sparkle and light will do.
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