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Out with the old, in with the new, so the saying goes. After all the warm wishes, hugs and kisses of the first week we will settle into the new year with hopeful expectations of what it will bring – as if some arbitrary date imposed on the calendar will change anything. Maybe we should ask not what the new year will do for us; but ask what we will do for the new year? Instead of waiting passively for a windfall, go out there and make a change. All the same, I hope my lottery ticket is a big winner.
We are taught that lying is a sin, but the truth is that society would fall to pieces if not for lies. Relationships would be in shreds. At the very least we rely on lies of omission; things better left unsaid. But all husbands know the pitfalls of answering honestly to “Does this make me look fat?” So much so it is a standard joke. And then, the other clichés of “Let’s do lunch soon,” and “The cheque’s in the mail.” Yet, we continue to repeat these lies to each other over and over. And believe them!
Even then the bowling alley on the beach was a relic of the past. You could see the kids who were hired to set pins scurrying around behind the back wall after the end of each round. Scores were kept by hand. It was a great way to escape the intense heat of mid-afternoon, to come in and play a few games – accompanied by the best milkshakes and onion rings available locally. Part of our youth was wrenched from us when it closed. For years it stood boarded up as a reminder of our loss. Now it is gone, altogether.
Watching Star Trek, I always identified with Spock. I wanted to be like a Vulcan, cool-headed, clear-minded; able to make logical, analytical decisions without being muddled by emotions. I hate the anguish that accompanies major life decisions in which the outcome could be either tremendously rewarding, or disastrously damaging. Over the years, however, I have found myself in many difficult situations in which I methodically weighed all of the information and took what seemed to be the most logical course of action. All the while my heart would be screaming, “NO!” In retrospect, my heart was usually right.
My brother, who is a doctor, refers to motorcycle riders as potential transplant donors. Up until recently, when a large contingent of baby-boomers fulfilling their youthful dreams swelled the ranks of motorcyclists, bikers were usually young and therefore still had useful organs; and they died in accidents at a much higher rate than other vehicle users. There are many science fiction imaginings of how the spirit of the original owner of an organ lives on after being implanted in a recipient. Thanks to my brother I have the vidid image of getting the heart of a Hells Angels member.
Being vegetarian provides me with an excuse to avoid eating all sorts of questionable; or downright disgusting foods. It is hard to go wrong with vegetables and most dairy products. And things are getting easier for us vegetarians. There was a time when I would state my dietary position and get served fish or even chicken. Actually nowadays people go the extra mile and assume I am vegan. I was confident I would get pasta with cheese when pre-ordering vegetarian for our company Christmas event at an Italian place. But they had tempeh – one veggie option I truly abhor.
People often tell me they admire my self-discipline, in terms of fitness and dietary routines. There is nothing to admire, I exercise, bike to work and eat vegetarian because it makes me feel good and I enjoy those activities. I feel better now in my fifties than I did in my twenties. Back then I often felt nauseated when I had to stand for very long; like an old woman, I could not walk more than a block because of flat feet and weak knees. I hope not to feel that way again until I am a certified senior citizen.
My earliest toddlerhood memories are of staring up at my parents, seemingly omnipotent beings, towering over me, making me feel insignificant. I railed against my ineffectual status in society. I longed to be an adult; to be in control of my own affairs and confident in my experience. Every step I made toward independence gave me great satisfaction: tying my own shoelaces; driving a car; getting my first job; moving out on my own; settling down and starting a family. I have progressed through many proud milestones. But for all that, I have never overcome the feeling of being insignificant.
Having observed many a dullard who came from brilliant parents and many a brilliant child who rose out of a dull family, I had already come to the conclusion that it is a person’s specific gene mixture that has a far more potent effect on the outcome of their character, than their upbringing. Then I had children and marveled how their personalities were hardwired from day one. Possibly certain environmental factors may make a difference, but, in my opinion, we die the same person as we were born and trying to change who you are can be truly damaging.
The car I dinged in the cramped parking lot of the movie theatre already had so many dents and scrapes that I considered just driving away. But my conscience would not allow it… and there were witnesses. I went back into the theatre and had him paged. And, to avoid any insurance claims, I agreed to pay him $50 cash if he came to my house the next day. He appeared, on schedule at my door the next morning to collect. “Can I take you out to dinner tonight?” he asked. We went out for about six months after that.
The last house on Main Street was on the edge of town, and the change was abrupt. Their lawn was edged by a row of trees and a fence. On the other side of the fence stood a field of corn that served as the front yard for the family whose property marked the start of farmland. Now there is literally a ‘grey area’ between the town and rural areas – paved over with asphalt and concrete of big box commerce. Both sides of the highway offer a mile of bleak, treeless, wind-whipped parking lots fronting huge palaces of retail.
The TV was on in the background while we were playing cards. My sister’s boyfriend made a comment about Eddie Murphy. I looked up and saw it was The Late Show. “That’s Arsenio Hall,” I corrected him. “Eddie Murphy!” he insisted. “Betcha a hundred bucks it’s Arsenio Hall.” I said, absently. “Betcha!” he returned. I thought nothing of it until a letter came in the mail a few weeks later with a one hundred dollar bill tucked into it. “A gentleman always honours his bets,” it said. A bet I never meant to be serious. Glad I was right.
The theme for the bedroom was Winnie the Pooh. There was a Winnie the Pooh sheet set, a Winnie the Pooh comforter and matching Winnie the Pooh drapes. Winnie the Pooh prints hung on the walls. A Winnie the Pooh lamp stood on the table by the bed that was loaded with dozens of Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. She tucked herself in wearing Winnie the Pooh pajamas every night. She even had a Winnie the Pooh lunch box that she carried openly on her bus commute to work each day. Yes, we are talking about a grown woman, here.
I can never remember the names of bands, or the names of songs. I know the music, but those details will not stay in my head. Steve is always rolling his eyes when I hear a song and ask him, “Who does this, again?” Or he will name a song and I will say, “What?” Then he has to hum it to me before I recognize it. Once, I got a big laugh from a clerk in a record store when I asked for the latest album by “A Hundred Thousand Maniacs.” “Do you want ten of them?” he asked.
Mrs. Schlinker, my piano teacher, was a great fan of Liberace. I think he would have loved to have met her. Like him, she smiled all the time and employed his method of highly arched fingers prancing up and down the keyboard, with the ends of phrases accentuated by a flourish of the wrist. This flamboyant style of playing was enforced on all her students. I did not mind. It was fun to add such physicality to my playing, and it was a way of making sure each note was precisely defined. Later I transferred that style to computer keyboarding.
Finding ways to inject playful fun into my routine is really the only way to survive the monotony of office work. Because of my piano training I love typing. It is satisfying to fire off a section of text at the speed of a machine gun, and finish with a flourished hand on the ‘enter’ key. I also like to play number games when making my bookkeeping entries – looking for patterns in number combinations. But I have to be careful with my sense of humour. It always bubbles to the surface in serious situations, where it is not always appreciated.
Usually it was no problem getting a ride back to town from Owen Sound, but this evening we were not getting any takers. After standing with our thumbs out for almost an hour, a car stopped. And it only took us as far as Allenford. It was about 8:00 at night, but I swear the entire village had already gone to bed. We did not see lights on in any of the homes. And it was ages before another car came along. It stopped. We got in. We would have taken a ride with Freddie Krueger at that point.
For a couple of years my best friend and I hitchhiked everywhere. Sometimes just for fun, with no destination in mind. You often met interesting people. But after a couple of dodgy rides that got us thinking about safety, we gradually lost interest in it. And, in my late teens my parents bought an old beater for the kids to bomb around in, so it was no longer as necessary. My hitchhiking career ended firmly when I moved to Toronto and discovered standing by the road with your thumb stuck out was a signal that you were open for business.
I was new to NYC, but already aware how rare it was to find a seat on the subway. One day I was delighted to get on and find several seats! I failed to notice the wide berth people were giving them. I paid no attention to the empty paper bag on the seat beside me, thinking it was just garbage that somebody left behind. Then I heard a kind of chanting. The crowd parted and grizzled old man in grimy clothes appeared. Droning his chant he began lighting matched and tossing them, still lit, in the bag beside me.
The thing about deranged people is you have to be careful about moves you make around them. When the ‘mystic’ on the subway car began tossing lighted matches into a paper bag on the seat beside me, I sat frozen, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I breathed a sigh of relief each time a match went out before disappearing into the depths of the bag. At the next subway stop I bolted for the door. Who knows what blessing he would have bestowed if he had become aware of my presence? Maybe I missed out on great fortune?
The CN Tower advertised their bar saying you could enjoy a view of the city without having to buy the expensive ticket up to the observation deck. I suggested this to Steve for a romantic date. Although many window seats were free, they wanted to seat us behind a partition that blocked the view. We were told we could visit to the observation deck after our drinks. I somewhat loudly complained that we did not take the trouble to come up to sit behind a partition. We were quickly seated, but poor Steve was embarrassed at the scene I made.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I learned this early on from my nervy mother who never shrank from speaking up for what she felt was right. There were countless incidents where I stood hunched over with embarrassment while she vented or complained to managers, teachers, or worst of all, complete strangers on the street. But I guess it rubbed off on me, probably because I observed how she effectively got her way most of the time. Now I take great pleasure in embarrassing my kids in the same way. I hope, in time, it rubs off on them, too.
My friend, Myna, once found herself face to face with Leonard Cohen and had the bravado to introduce herself and the presence of mind to have somebody take a picture of them. So now she has a framed photo proudly hung up on her wall as a lovely memento and proof that she actually met the great man. Such opportunities have presented themselves to me several times, and I have always messed up by hanging back shyly, or worse, by saying something stupid. Given my luck, if I managed to get a picture it would probably be out of focus.
The star of the play actually came over to talk to me at the opening night party after the show. I cannot remember his name, but he had a significant TV presence at the time, usually as a guest supporting actor supplying comic relief on various sitcoms. I was standing at the buffet, grazing on the offerings and I was truly awe-struck that he singled me out like that. He put out his hand and introduced himself and I was so flustered that I answered with my mouth still full of half-chewed grape, which ended up gracing his lapel.
They took over Beatty for several weeks for the shooting of ‘Cinderella Man.’ The street was part of my daily bike commute and every morning I zipped past rows of antique cars, as well as big parked trailers on my way to work. I have this vanity that Russell Crowe saw me and that inspired him to try to ride a bike through Yorkville. The poor man only got a few feet before he was hounded off the road by the paparazzi. I do not envy stars the prison that is created by their celebrity. A luxurious, but inescapable prison.
We were pleased to be offered a tidy sum of money for our house to be used in a movie shoot. Exterior filming only. Two characters would fight on the sidewalk by our front gate, and one of them would break away and run up our path to the porch. It was a delightful coincidence to discover that made-for-TV production was written by a friend of ours. Not so nice, however, to find out when we watched the movie that our place had been chosen by ‘locations’ as the home of the lowlife bad guy in the drama.
Things have changed since Steve and I met. We are different people. For instance, back then Steve used to sleep on his back with his hands folded on his chest, never moving at all during the night. Now, because of the various infirmities that age inflicts, he shifts position more during the night – because of his back or his shoulder starting to ache. Plus he snores more. This bothers me, however I tolerate it because I am still very happy in our relationship. But, I wonder what bothersome things I have started doing, and if they are tolerable to Steve?
From the beginning Steve did things I would not tolerate in other human beings, but they did not bug me at all when he did them. Or they bugged me, but I thought them worth enduring. Moving in together was incredibly stress free, we simply made room for each other in our lives. Currently we are each staking new territory in areas previously occupied by parenting concerns that have been freed up. So far, the give and take on that front has been successful. The next test will be whether we can stand being around one another when we retire.
I reconnected with Franco when my parents moved to Italy. I met him in New York years before, and I still had his address in Rome, so I looked him up when my sister and I went to visit them at Christmas. We enjoyed being shown around town by a Franco and his friend Francesco, and getting to see things of which the average tourist would not be aware. I had a photo of the four of us posed on a sunny afternoon at the Piazza Navona framed and it brought back warm memories every time I looked at it.
Admittedly I had a bit of a fling with Franco that time in Rome. He was charming, handsome and hard to resist, but I had ambitions to pursue back in Canada, and Franco’s lifestyle did not fit well with mine. Franco was distant history and I had a two-year relationship with another guy before I met Steve. When we moved in together I put the picture on a bookcase in the living room, more for the memory of Rome than the memory of Franco. Months later I found out it was a source of simmering jealousy for Steve.
I loved the camels in Lawrence of Arabia that had fringes of dangling pompoms that swayed as they walked. I especially liked the one of top of which Omar Sharif sat…. because he was on it. He took my breath away in that movie, in his elegant black robe. His velvety accent and dark handsome looks are enough to make me melt, but in this movie he wears… those outfits. For me there is nothing sexier than men in robes or skirts… like kilts! More men should wear kilts. And no, it has nothing to do with what dangles beneath.
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