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Miller High Life was my beer when I lived in New York. I cannot remember why, but it probably had to do with being conveniently placed in the refrigerator case at the neighbourhood deli where I shopped. I know why I smoked Marlboroughs. They were the only cigarettes that came in a flip-top cardboard pack, as opposed to those paper pouches they had down in the States. The ones you could not close again, from which cigarettes escaped and broke apart in the bottom of you purse. Or I should say ‘pocketbook,’ as they called purses in New York.
They were pure heaven. Kettle Creek black been and garlic taco chips. Unlike the ‘black bean’ taco chips you get to nowadays that have a flavoured coating, the black beans were embedded in the tacos I think. And they were dredged with a heavily garlicked salt. First they started to be irregularly stocked, and whenever I found them I loaded up so I could weather the next drought. But then they were just gone. Kettle Creek was unapologetic and suggested I switch some of their crappy potato chips. Blech. Anything I am really crazy about generally goes out of production.
Before it became Ralph’s Highway Shoppette, the building was Mr. Wilson’s workshop, a giant space filled to the rafters with old machines in various stages of disrepair, and a squalor of parts that pushed beyond the confines of the workshop and into the living space of the attached apartment. Mrs. Wilson had given up trying to tame the clutter and settled for the small places left her. Her husband sat for meals without bothering to remove his grease-covered grey-blue overalls. She was a handsome woman with thick dark hair veiling deep brown eyes. He was handsome, too, underneath the grime.
“What a pretty colour of yellow,” said the woman, snooping over the knitting project of a companion at the senior home. “Not sure if it’s going to be a boy or a girl, the knitting woman answered, annoyed at having her concentration broken. “Well, yellow’s the colour then, isn’t it? But, it’s bad luck to knit for the baby before it’s born!” “What! You want the poor thing to go naked until I can get something knit for it?” exclaimed the knitter. “Well, it’s a superstition, you know, I’m just saying….” “Don’t!”
If I ever won a big award, the acceptance speech would surely defeat me. Either I would memorize it and sound wooden, or worse, just forget it. Or I would freeze up and stand there stuttering. Never mind dropping the F-bomb; I can imagine myself not being able to say anything at all. But, more likely, say something completely stupid that I would regret for the rest of my life having uttered irrevocable before the media. I think that is why I like to write so much, because I can shape my words before sending them out to the world.
Two little girls on of a snow bank coming home from school. “We are queens of the castle!” yelled one. “Wait, what’s that?” screeched the other, pointing to a dark object making its way along the road. It crept closer and closer, making an eerie rustling sound. The winter twilight made it hard to see clearly. Maybe some strange animal? -- and it kept advancing. The two girls clutched each other in fear, afraid to attract its attention. Finally, torn between panic and being late for supper, they bolted. Discovering, then, a harmless paper bag drifting in the breeze.
Several times I was approached by people wanting to buy my automobile licence plate thinking it would bring them luck. Stupidly I hoped it might eventually bring ME luck -- 649 JJB -- could be interpreted as ‘Lotto 649 Jackpot Jackpot Bonus.’ Probably the best luck I could have gotten from it would have been if I HAD sold it. I wonder how much I could have gotten for it? I am willing to bet that it would have been more than all of the Lotto 649 winnings I have reaped over the year – those would amount to about $40 or so.
I have heard that curling is one of the few sports where men and women can compete pretty much equally. The skills come easily to both sexes, and brawn is not required, in fact it can be a hindrance because it is not hard to toss the stones too strenuously. They glide so easily across the ice that it does not take much to overshoot the end. Finesse is really what is required. It is when the game is over and scotch is being poured that the men have the advantage in pure body mass to soak up the booze.
There is something satisfying about seeing your name in print on a novelty item. Obviously, because such things are popular in souvenir shops everywhere. I imagine people with names like Sue become jaded about it, but as a child I searched those racks in vain for a mug or a giant pencil on which Mary Jo was printed. I cursed my parents for choosing that name. But at least it is eccentric enough that it was never been turned into a cliché and I need not deal with vulgar double entendres like the Johns, Jacks and Dicks of the world.
It embittered her to see websites getting thousands of hits per day that consisted of nothing more than a webcam pointed into some tiresome adolescent’s bedroom. How could people find that so interesting and not the wonderfully useful tips on green living that she posted daily – seemingly into the void? There appeared to be nobody checking out the sage advice she provided in her blog. The world was just full of ignoramuses she decided, but continued to doggedly maintain her cherished website, full of suggestions for reducing power consumption and properly recycle waste. Maybe some day people would learn.
She added a section on crafts one could create from all that excess packaging that is so hard to avoid, even when shopping carefully. Plastic bags could be twisted and woven into doormats, perhaps a little lumpy, but perfectly serviceable. Tin cans became shiny wind chimes. She looked around her little bungalow, now pleasingly adorned with all her ideas for re-using waste. “Reduce Re-use Recycle,” she intoned. Her twenty or so cats, in particular, had benefited from her ingenuity. They had no shortage of play-toys. Now people were responding, but she thought maybe they were laughing at her.
I would like to see the giant patches of floating garbage that have formed in the North Pacific. It must be a truly majestic site – proof of how much humans love their planet. If it was not for the fact that air travel is so utterly damaging to our atmosphere, I would require all the inhabitants of ‘developed’ countries to be flown over these patches and witness what our culture of consumption and waste has created. I read in the paper today that, even in remote sections of the ocean, fish are being found with plastic pellets in their stomachs.
I do not like fish and I am constantly told ‘but they are so healthy for you!’ These days, when I hear about all the filth in our lakes and oceans, I wonder how anybody could still believe that. I would think, given that oceans are the final repository for everything that washes off the land, down our rivers, and out of our skies, that fish would be the last thing on the earth that anybody would want to eat. But it seems that people will keep on pulling them out of the ocean until they are fished into extinction.
Joan did not want to be one of those women who stops hanging with her friends because a guy has come into her life. So Sandy often tagged along on dates with Elliott. Elliott did not seem to mind at first, and Joan thought it made dates more fun because it was always a laugh to have Sandy along. After a few months, however, Elliott started to balk at Sandy’s constant presence. Joan realized then that she was getting tired of Elliott. In fact, the next time Elliott objected, she used it as an excuse to break off with him.
At first I thought it was a grey, dead leaf blowing along the sidewalk. Then it righted itself and I realized it was a baby bird, struggling to stay on its feet against the wind. It offered no resistance when I picked it up; it actually snuggled into my cupped, gloved hands. It was still covered in fuzz, feathers not fully formed. I put it in a box nestled in paper towel and drove it across town to the Humane Society. There they told me it was a fledgling and needed to be returned to the place it was found.
As I neared my destination an adult starling buzzed back and forth above me. Just as the vet had assured me, the baby bird’s parents would be watching over it. All the same, I was not convinced of the little thing’s safety. How could the parents possibly protect it against a prowling cat or a speeding car? It yanked at my heart when the baby did not seem to want to leave the warmth of my hands, as I tried to put it down in a sheltered spot. It was the right thing to do, the Humane Society told me.
I have never understood those women who insist their partners come straight home from work to be with them. My friends think I am good to let Steve ramble about. Actually I am being selfish. Probably the only way I could survive any relationship is for my partner to be absent a lot. I need time to myself. I get up extra early so I can have it. I love that precious time when the sun is coming up, and I am coming to life. I am out of there before anyone else in the family is out of bed.
Barbara retired to the family cottage on the shore of Lake Huron, where she had spent her childhood summers. Her mother always kept it just so, and Barbara dedicated her time to maintaining its quaint perfection, each and every heirloom properly cleaned and dusted, and in its place. A tribute to her family’s illustrious history. When Mom visited Barbara spoke fondly of her nephew; her brother’s child who would carry on the family name. She hoped he would visit, but he had not been there since he was a child, when he came with his parents to escape the city.
By the time it was diagnosed, the cancer had spread too far. Barbara only had a few months left to enjoy her peaceful retreat. Mom stopped by regularly and made sure she had a reliable nurse to care for her. Barbara still held up hope that her nephew would come to visit. She died with that hope unfulfilled. When the nurse called to let Mom know, Mom called the nephew. He did not show up to help arrange the funeral or the memorial, but a truck showed up the next day to empty the cottage of all the precious heirlooms.
“That’s where my uncle’s house used to stand,” declares my mother, every time we pass that hillside on the way to Hamilton. “I remember coming out to visit the cousins.” Apparently the home was located in the optimum path for the new highway, and was expropriated and torn down to make way for it. Funny how a shelter of various building materials can become so much a part of oneself just because you have lived part of your life within it. It must feel peculiar to see an expanse of asphalt obliterating vivid memories of childhood you hold dear.
I am not one hundred percent sure, but I think every place I have lived still stands. About ten of those places are in the city of Toronto, and I pass by them every once in awhile. A good friend has a condo across from one my old apartments. When I sit out on her balcony I look across to what was once my balcony. Memories of the times when I lived there, those many years ago, come alive in my mind; they become a little more concrete just because I am near the physical presence of a past abode.
You can feel the spirits of others who have lived in a home, too, even though you never knew them. When I go to visit the old farmhouse in the Ottawa Valley that was the homestead of Steve’s ancestors, their ghosts close in around me. It is not a bad feeling, but they are definitely there. They walk the land around the farm, too, haunting the barns and the well-worn paths that lead along the river. It is fortunate to be able to hold onto places your spirit has inhabited. I, myself, have been forced to let many go.
They say it takes three generations for a family to become wealthy, and three more for everything to be squandered away. The theory is that the second generation after the riches have been won works a little less hard, and the generation after that is downright lazy and spoiled, with a sense of entitlement that drives them to spend on luxuries they believe they deserve. However, it seems that many in the generations after the wealth has gone still feel great pride in what their ancestors accomplished, as well as a vicarious thrill from any scandals committed by decadent generations.
For those who cannot claim past greatness in their bloodlines, there is the option of searching their past lives for anything juicy. For awhile it was fashionable to be regressed through previous reincarnations to discover the stuff of which we are made. Incredibly just about everybody who did it seemed to have once been an amazing person, or a least royalty. There seems to be a deep human need to have greatness in one’s past. Somehow it makes one feel more content to live an unremarkable life in which nothing significant is being achieved, other than surviving day to day.
Myself, I always look forward to moving ahead. My father, eager to bury any bitterness for the losses dealt him in the war, put his past behind him when he came to this country. His desire for a fresh start rubbed off on me, I guess, because I prefer to embrace the future, rather than dwell on the past. I love moving into a new house, a new city or a new job. It is an exciting adventure; meeting new people, occupying a new space – making it your own. It is too frustrating trying to hold onto an intangible past.
Tramps, strumpets, whores, sluts and SISTERS – we gathered at Queen’s Park this afternoon and marched to police headquarters to show our displeasure for a remark from a police officer who addressed a group of female students at York University. He told them that they would be safer from rape if they did not dress like sluts. The crowd of people who showed up for the ‘Slut Walk’ was amazing! It felt like the old days when we marched for women’s rights back in the seventies and eighties. We thought we won back then. Now we are fighting again.
I think Jane Doe was there at the march. A woman who said she had been raped in her bed gave a speech. I lived in that area where a rapist was stalking women in their own bedrooms, but it was kept silent; police hoping to lure the predator so they could catch him – Jane Doe being the final victim, unaware of the threat. Finally the news got out and an information session was held by police. We were told to keep our windows locked shut. Only sluts would keep their windows open in the middle of a sweltering summer.
Joan was sick of Elliot being stoned all the time and she called it quits. After that Elliot got even worse. One night, ripped on acid, he drove his car over a cliff. It was not a very high cliff and the car landed upright. Elliot was unharmed. Even so Elliot swore that God had saved him and told him he needed to clean up his act. He came back to Joan promising he was determined to stay straight. Her wanted her to marry him and move up north; dedicate their lives to God. Joan did not like that, either.
Joan was relieved when Elliot finally stopped bugging her to marry him. Apparently he had met a woman who was willing to follow him into the wilds, live off the land, and produce baby after baby for him. Joan kept waiting for them to leave, but they stayed around town doing the Jesus Freak thing; handing out Bible quotes and talking about being born again. After awhile it became obvious the woman was pregnant. She was in the hospital birthing their baby when Elliot came by and tried to hook up with Joan, again. He told her God wanted it.
The vet said Leona would be happy anywhere as long as she was with somebody she loved. I am sure it was a big adjustment for her, however, moving from a spacious country home to a basement apartment in downtown Toronto. Still, she seemed content even though there was now only a small backyard to which she had access through the small window over the stove in my tiny kitchen. Then one day as she got a paw caught in an element while jumping from the stove and broke her leg. She sulked for weeks in a corner, blaming me.
Leona moved with me several times while my parents were in Italy, adjusting to various circumstances with grace and tolerance. When my parents returned to Canada, she went back to them, happy to be with the other persons she loved. And they moved twice after that as well. The vet was right – cats are content to stay with their humans under any circumstances. Nobody can now tell me that cats are opportunists, seeking comfort and feeding from whomever comes along to provide it. I am glad, however, that Leona’s final place of abode was a spacious home in the country.
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