Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Advice is what it’s worth

April 3, 2010

Having Nephew Hugh in Europe has given me an opportunity for texting.

Late yesterday afternoon, my computer beeps at me and Skype is flashing at the bottom row of my computer. So I open up the program and see a line of text from Hugh.

“Are you there, Auntie?”

The time stamp is 12:45 my time, and 9:45 his.  But it’s now past two o’clock  my time, and so past eleven o’clock his time.
“Is it too late for a chat?” I ask.

“Everyone has gone to bed, here. I think it might be rude to be chatting away all alone in this entry way where I get a signal, so maybe just a few lines of  text?” he writes back. He’s in a student center for a maximum one month stay.

I find texting a little disjointed and unnerving. This will not be a surprise to anyone in the younger generation, it’s so common, but for me it’s new. I write something and press enter to go into the next paragraph and OOPs, the message has already been sent. So I continue on to say the rest of the thought, being slightly distracted by a little cartoon pencil wavering back and forth over an inch of an imaginary line. I’ve learned that this means that the other person is madly writing something.  But it doesn’t occur at the speed of thought, so I press enter and the remainder of my message goes. At the same moment, up pops another message from Hugh, having foreseen where my thoughts were going and he’s answered what I just sent. Same time stamp on my send and his text message arrival.

Now who gets to go first? Is there an etiquette?

It’s Hugh’s first day free to wander. All the contacts he has been given are away for the Easter four day weekend. He’s alone in a new city, emptied of it’s citizenry, all the stores closed but for a few pizzerias. There’s not even a store clerk to try his nascent language skills upon. He’s lonely and happy for an Auntie who will chat with him; who will tickle the plastic ivories of texting in her cyberspace voice. Auntie thinks, It sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone, but Hugh wont know that reference. And she tucks the idea away.

“What’s new today?” I send back to him as the quavering pencil flickers but no message comes.

Eventually:

“I walked out to the airport and back. I’m surprised how small a city this is. I haven’t talked to anyone.  I’m thrilled with the birds. I’m surprised about that. I spent some time in the laundry room here ironing all my shirts, profiting from the fact that everyone was away and I could have the room to myself.”

“The birds? What do you mean?” I shoot back to him.

“There are all kinds of birds I’ve never seen before and they are singing in European languages. I’m just fascinated by the sounds.”

“Do you know what they are?”

“No. That’s why I think they are so interesting. And they are so pretty.”

The phone rings here, and I answer it. Before I can explain that I am elsewhere engaged, Carol is going on about Easter plans and wanting to see me and I can’t find a wedge to interrupt her with.  As I recover from my fear of multitasking, I manage to write a line to Hugh: “Be back in a minute.”

Carol is coming for tea, at least, on Sunday and maybe dinner. She’ll see. She’s broken her arm and has lost her energy and oomph in the process. If she has enough energy….

And Carol and I sign off.

The beauty of texting is that Hugh has seen none of this. It’s seamless. It could have been a doorbell that rang, a cup of tea put in the microwave, an interruption from Frank who is doing some repairs for me, or time to put off a phone call until later. All he knows is that I’m gone for an undefinable but short time away.

Less than five minutes have passed.

“What else did you do today?” I write. The conversation is back on.

The pencil seems to be furiously writing.

“I walked down to the Canadian Mission” he says. “Here, open this. It’s a long web site, but you will see the Mission.”

I open up the site that he sends and there it is, from Google Earth, the gates of the Mission to which he is attached in full view, in full detail, from outer space, right down to the precise design of the gate, to the precise size and shape of the pillars holding them in place, to the trees that surround and the car that is going through at the time of the shot. It’s fantastic. This program must have put a lot of spies out of business!

In like vein, we text on. Frank comes by to ask a question about the repairs. He’s ninety-nine percent computer illiterate and marvels at my ability to keyboard without looking at the keys.

Then Hugh mentions the things he has not brought with him and he has found but the price is way too high: a beard trimmer, toothbrushes and floss, Tylenol. “Nothing extraordinary, but very expensive here, though the tax is already added in, so that helps a bit. Maybe could you send me a care package for my birthday?” he asks.

“Just buy them there,” I advise. “Once you add postage, they become just as expensive. And get a European beard trimmer. You’ll need it there and you’ve already got one for when you are back here in Canada.”

Once again, he mentioned his alone-ness.
For Pete’s sake, I thought. He’s only been away since Monday. That’s only five days! I thought back on my own travels and the months I was away, without people I knew. I left a record of that time in paper scribblings  that are squirreled away somewhere. Father saved all my letters. Later, when I went back and forth, I saved all of Frank’s letters, which tell half of the story. I may even have the other half, since when we separated, I gathered his important papers and kept them for the day he would want them again.

But all this texting will just disappear into the vapors of the heavens, or will reside on some unthinkably mammoth-sized server until they become outdated and disappear. His first impressions will simply disappear.

The last of my messages to him was a bit of free advice. It’s something I’ve reflected upon that concerns those moments in a person’s life when the change one goes through is so great that one leaves behind the past and embarks on a whole new phase.

Often we don’t recognize it until it has come and gone. But as life evolves for me, I begin to recognize these moments and cherish them. I try to use these moments for self-growth and positive introspection. It’s a time for evaluation and adaptation.

A line of text arrives;

“I went back to that pizzeria for dinner. There was no-one there but the pizza maker. But I was smart enough to ask them to not give me a raw egg on top, like they did the first night.”

And so I said”

“I always found that when I had an excess of time to myself and nothing specific to do that I ended up reflecting on myself and on all the rattle-trap that I didn’t want to focus on. It usually resulted in me coming to terms with certain things.     Your pizza sounds a bit better. I didn’t realize it was a raw egg that you got the other night. I think I would have asked them to put it back in the oven for ten minutes!

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Endings and beginnings

March 29, 2010

Hugh is  elated. He has been appointed as an Intern to an International Mission for Canada in Europe. It’s his first job in his own field.

Kay , bursting with excitement for him, has been pointing out potential pitfalls, handing out advice that rarely meets the mark because, really, Hugh is an intelligent guy and has it all in hand. He’s  good at planning what he needs and procuring it, mostly through the Internet. Over the three years of his studies, he has carefully fostered contacts, too, and he’s been briefed before departure by a number of professors, research gurus and friendly field service officers, all of them friends.

He is nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.  Wouldn’t you know, though, he gets the flu a week before departure and it develops into a secondary infection. He’s out of commission for two days and then struggles to get his affairs in order – emptying his room to storage so someone else can rent it while he is gone; collecting his visa which is supposed to be ready at the Embassy (but isn’t); getting to the bank and arranging his financial facility; completing his taxes because he won’t be here at tax time; ordering two suits and a few good shirts so that he can present himself well; buying two pairs of dress shoes because he’s sure he will not be received well in either hiking boots or running shoes.

The comforting thing, he mollifies her, is that Skype exists now. The only difference to their twice weekly calls is that he’ ll be calling from his new posting and he’s another few thousand kilometers away.
He says, “It’s not like when you  stayed in Europe; and Skype is still for free.”

“No,” she agrees. “When I left, it would be ten months before I got back home.  Long distance phone calls were prohibitive. I wrote letters, but I wasn’t staying in one place.  I was moving around. There was no place for anyone to write me until I got an apartment just before I started school.  I felt dreadfully lonely. No one around me spoke my language except other back-packers like me. I struggled with French. I could barely speak it. My Lord! What ever got into me – going off for a year like that, all alone,  without even being able to speak the language!”

“It was six months before I found anyone to talk to, and those were a pair of Norwegian girls. I thought I would go starkers with loneliness!”

“Darned if I was going to give in, though. I started to take second-language lessons at the University and then things eased up.”

“Your aunt Lizbet was in school in Geneva that year, but there was no phone where she boarded. I couldn’t call her. She wasn’t much of a writer. She spoke the language, at least. She’d taken her Masters in the teaching of French. When finally she wrote, she too was feeling very lonely.  I suggested that she come visit me for her birthday in December and she said she would.”

“Then, in a panic, I didn’t know what to do.”

“She didn’t turn up at the train station at the appointed time when I went to meet her.  She just wasn’t there.  I turned up for every possible train and went back home after midnight, my head spinning. What had happened to her? Had she missed the train? Was the train delayed? Did I have the wrong day? Perhaps she had not been able to get a reservation for the day she said she was coming?”

“On Saturday, I went to the train station from morning to night for every possible connection just in case I had made a mistake and still she was not there; and then I knew that she was not coming.”
“Should I tell the police? Or had I gotten something wrong? She had said Friday, but what if she meant the next Friday. Had she had an accident on the way? Had she been abducted? We had both been warned about the white slave-trade .”

“I waited, each day my stomach churning and my head filled with tragic possibilities. Should I call our parents? But what could they do from there? And what if it were nothing and they came all the way from Canada to find everything was alright? The expense of travel was prohibitive. I decided to wait.”

“A good ten days later, I got a letter. Her classmates had for the very first time invited her to join them for dinner and it turned out to be a surprise birthday celebration for her. She had stayed. But she had no way of getting in touch with me.  She rationalized that I would understand; that I would get her letter of explanation in a day or two and everything would be alright.”

“It was. But I had felt ever so vulnerable, ever so sick about it, all of that time that I didn’t know.”

“Auntie, Auntie,” interrupted Hugh, ” It won’t be like that. I will have a work place. I have a rooming house already, thanks to Cousin Barb. We have Skype and if need be, the telephone. I’ll call you twice a week – maybe more because I won’t know anyone there in the first month or so; and you can always just e-mail me.”

When Kay and Hugh finished their phone call, Kay returned to her chores in the basement where she was sorting out boxes of books to keep or not to keep – boxes that had been stored for two and a half years now as she settled into the new-to-her house. While she was mechanically opening boxes, chucking books into the keeper box or the other, her mind began to dial back to that earlier time.

How thoughtless she had been. Perhaps it wasn’t so much thoughtless as ego-centric. She had never thought how her mother might have felt, her rebellious and rather naive daughter winging off to France for a year without a place to stay nor a relative to depend on, with nothing but her clothing on her back, whatever she could stuff into a backpack and a wad of American Express cheques.

It’s the way of the world for the young to leave the nest, to try their own wings.  A generation later, it was Kay herself who told her nephews that it was their time to find their own paths, to find out who they were and what they wanted from life; that they didn’t have to ask permission to go or have a fight about it. All they had to say was, “I’d like to go live on my own now.” And here was Hugh, doing it.

Not to say that he hadn’t been fending for himself all these years of University; but it was his first job in his own field; and he would be living abroad.

As Kay’s heart twinged at  his leaving, she thought back to her mother. She had been the same age or just-about as Kay was now. And then Kay remembered the last of the three summers she had come back to work to allow herself to return to France to finish her Diplome.

“I’ve met a man,” she said to her mother,” and I’m going to meet his mother this fall.”

“You can’t go with that ragged coat,” Mother had replied, eyeing Kay from head to foot. ‘I’ll buy you a new one. If you are going into a new family, you will need to show you come from a good family.”

So they went shopping and Kay selected a brown and white herring-bone coat that reached to her ankles. It had a rust-coloured leather collar and buttons to match.  With her leather boots and three inch heels, her long blond hippie hair flowing down her back, she looked like a tall, slender Russian poet.

Kay admired her figure in the mirror. She would turn heads, she thought, with smug satisfaction.

Had she said thank you, thought Kay? Not just the words, but a proper thank you? Or had she just thought it was her due – parents buy their offspring clothing – or had Kay had any idea of the the reconciliation that this gesture had been from a mother to her headstrong daughter? It had been such a concession on her mother’s part.  She was letting go, for once, without making a fuss and showed for once, a certain trust in Kay’s judgment.

Kay sighed.

It was odd how life brought these bits of wisdom to her too late. It wasn’t a regret, exactly. Mother had come from a different era. One didn’t express one’s emotions. All her longings and vicarious wishes for Kay lay under the surface, bottled, capped, bundled and wrapped in a tight explosive corner of her heart. Kay’s too, thought Kay.

Kay was grateful that time had taught her to say what she felt. Kay had not wanted to make the same mistakes she felt she had grown up with. She was determined to let the boys, these nephews of hers, know that she loved them and encouraged them.  It had worked with one but not the other. Hugh was close, but not Ron.

Kay felt especially grateful about Hugh. She would not lose him for years at a time as she had been estranged from her mother. Hugh had become a friend – a deep and lasting friend. She would have the pleasure of sharing his adventures, she knew, and wished, far too late for it ever to happen, that she had been able to do the same with her Mom.

How different the world had become in thirty years! How much smaller the world had become because of all these electronic gadgets! And how much more open had become the ways of speaking one’s emotions to the people we loved.

A day trip in the Fraser Valley farmlands

January 24, 2010

I met my  friend Jacki on my first day of teaching. She was a new (but seasoned) secretary for the high school and I was a neophyte teacher.

I was expected to collect art fees and locker fees from each student and give them a receipt, but there were no receipts books to be had.   I parked my self at the counter just in front of her desk and demanded in a most frustrated manner to know, if there were no receipt books, when would they be coming in.

She had been equally frustrated by the beginning of school and, she tells me, muttered under her breath, “Bloody snotty bitch! Who does she think she is,” and then replied in her clipped English accent in a very pointedly, over-polite tone , “We don’t have them and we don’t know when they are coming in. I’ll let you know when we’ve got them.”

I thanked her in equally over-polite words and then turned on my heel saying just loudly enough for her to hear, “Bloody secretaries and janitors! They run the bloody  schools!”

Of course, this last statement is correct. They do. We couldn’t operate without them. Instead of being bitter about it as I was that day, I came to appreciate their services even more so than the principal’s.

At some time in the second year, I moved to Richmond where she, too, lived. Memory is dim, these forty years on. Somehow she offered to drive me home and I accepted. It became a regular thing. We became such good friends that we never stopped being friends.

Sometimes there would be years in between when we no longer saw each other, like when I studied in France for four years. But when we got back together, the conversation began and never ended.

She had my number quite early. I was an innocent dropped into a wicked world. I would walk into situations where no rational person would go and somehow would walk back out unscathed.  Over the years, like any youth, I became more worldly, but always there was this obliviousness to danger, and often I would get into scrapes. So OK, maybe I wasn’t unscathed.

Jacki was always there like a safety net. She was five years older and much like an wise sister.

It has been a while since last we saw each other, maybe six months, and the previous time before was two years. She’s a Realtor and when I bought this house, she was my first visitor. I hadn’t bought the house through her because it was outside of her area of expertise, but she wanted to make sure I had done well with my purchase and she wanted to know what the place looked like so she could imagine me here when she phoned me or sent an e-mail. These latter forms of communication, I must say, are also far and few between.

Last week, we finally set a date and yesterday was it. I left the  house at one o’clock and set out to find her in White Rock. I’ve been there once before but I”m not super on directions. I had them written down but I now find it harder than before. So much has changed.

I won’t bore you with the details.  I had a couple of chores to do en route – the bank, picking up a prepaid order of toner for my laser printer at Staples and then across the river to Langley via the new Golden Ears Bridge.

All that went fairly quickly, except that Staples did not have my order ready and they had “forgotten” to give me my rebate since they guarantee that they will have toner in stock and if they don’t they give you ten dollars off your bill. Thus, it was more like two o’clock when I got down to serious driving and I was twenty dollars plus richer than I had been half an hour before.

The Number Ten Highway is way down around the border – about seventy blocks away, in this grid system of ours, and I simply headed south and knew I would run into it.

Jacki lives between Sixty-fourth and Sixty-second streets way to the west in Surrey. I could simply take a cross street that went right through and get there, it seemed to me. I never did find the Number Ten Highway and so when I came to Sixty-fourth, I took it. It’s a main road in Surrey.

What I didn’t know is that it curves onto the highway. Well, this was good.

I was blithely driving along the highway but our system of marking streets, it seems to me, is not very clear. I had driven a few miles before I saw that the highway I was on was the Fraser Highway. Was it the same thing? There was nowhere to park at the side of the road and look. Traffic was going fast. There was construction going on and the cars were funneled into a single lane with a jolly looking young woman in fluorescent yellow crisscrossed with neon red waving drivers along. I couldn’t stop.

I must have driven about ten miles before I was able to catch a few signs showing that I have arrived at Ninety-eighth Street.  It meant that the Fraser Highway was not the Number Ten and that I had begun to head north on a diagonal. I was driving away from my destination! But finally, I was in territory I knew.  I got on a westward axis and headed for Scott Road then turned due south again. This time I had thirty blocks to go. I was tired and frustrated.

“It is what it is. Jacki will understand.” I muttered to myself. There was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t brought my cell phone. The battery needs replacement. It won’t hold a charge.

By the time I arrived, I had been driving for an hour and a half. Although I had given myself lots of lead time, I was over an hour late.  To add to my driving misery, I should have turned at Boundary Gate Road, but the  sign for that street said Sunshine Gate Road and I missed it, only recognizing just after it was too late to turn, and I had this fellow behind me tail-gaiting.   Still heading south, not half a block later, I saw Highway Ten. It would have brought me within a block of Jacki’s house, had I found it at the beginning of the trip. I was there now, though,  and past it, going in the wrong direction!

I’m dense but not that dense. I realized that if I turned to “go around the block” to get myself back to Jacki’s I would be on the highway again without means of going back for a couple of miles. Instead, I went south and eventually found a way to do a U-turn.

She lives in a gated community with several monster houses divided up in to town homes. Her door is hidden behind a garage structure. The signage there is dreadful as well.  It was impossible to tell if I had arrived at the  right place. I saw a neighbour and got out of the car.

Fortunately, everyone knows everyone else in this enclave. He walked down to where I could park the car (also super-discreetly marked so as to be virtually unnoticable) and then pointed out Jacki’s home.

I had arrived.

My pent up frustrations would have made me a terrible guest. I was feeling very surly and out of sorts. I grabbed onto a suggestion she had made the day before as we planned our visit and asked if we could start by going for a walk.

There is a little lake nearby.  Really little. A pond, in normal parlance, but since Real Estate complexes laud their best features, this has become known as “the lake” – not even a half a kilometer in circumference.

There are a few ducks and a swan floating serenely on the glassy  surface. Some of the birds gather at the fence-line hoping for hand-outs. I had my camera and shot  a few pictures of them.

Jacki and I walked around twice before going back to her place.  It did me good.  The pent up frustration melted away. We chatted as we walked and shared our news and tribulations. We both have a few at  the moment.

Back at her home, we collected the address for my next destination from the car and, like a mother hen, she found the map, showed me where I would be going, walked me through it step by step.I would be going back by Highway Ten. It goes, after all, in a straight line from West to East.   I now knew where to find it!

“Do you remember, ” I asked, ” that when you came out last time, you came this route and you were so excited by the drive through the farmlands?”
She nodded.

“Well, I’m sure that the Number Ten is much better than the Fraser Highway. I couldn’t believe it! There are developments lining it – strip development – covering over almost every bit of farm land!”

“How did they get away with it?” I continued. “We are supposed to have laws about taking land out of the Agricultural Reserve. I was appalled by the sheer size and extent of it. There is hardly any farm land left! The apartment blocks are massive! What do we need five story apartment blocks here for? It’s all built on spec. I bet they are hoping to sell a lot of it during the Olympics and then the investors will go away and leave the units empty. ”
“But it is so far away from anything – from shops, from services – and to go anywhere, you have to have a car! We’re trying to phase out cars, and here we are spreading out, making people captive to their “rural” setting. And for that matter, as soon as you have a five story  walk up, you no longer have rural!”

I was ranting. Was there no stop to this? Were we going to eventually pave over every bit of earth in Canada. It is so sad!!!!

Jacki joined the kvetching. She agreed. It was so ugly, and we were destroying so much of the environment that we should be leaving as protected nature.

I had to cut a lot out of this picture to bring it to you as if it were natural:

And this next one shows how those monster houses are encroaching on the grasslands. I couldn’t stop to take photos on the highway, but I wouldn’t have wanted to show you the monster apartment blocks. They are simply dehumanizing in scale. I’ve been in ones like these.  There are  miles and miles of new ones being built. The interior corridors are long, long tunnels with fire doors dividing up the length.  No one stays in the hallway, they are so depressing. There is no natural light. And there are doors, one after the other, like prison cells.

After that rant, we  had a lovely visit and talked about everything and anything. Just before I had to go she put together sandwiches so that I could eat before I went to my evening meeting. She had made home made bread, sliced it thin and spread it with a chicken salad mixture she had chopped up herself. There was a Greek salad too, done only as Jacki would, with the ingredients chopped so much finer than what one would find in a restaurant. Hers was done to aesthetic perfection with yellow and red peppers, a crumbly feta cheese and small morsels of tomatoes. It was served up in a fine china bowl.

It was dark when I left. I drove out to the Number Ten and headed back east. If I had any illusions that this other route would be any better, I was disabused of the idea very quickly.  On this route, there are automobile dealerships fit for the princes of Arabia. The buildings are glass-fronted and shinywith catherdral-high ceilings. At night, the kilowatt hours are pumping through there ina  contest of brilliance with each other. One hardly has need of car lights, it’s so illuminated – and the lots are full of shiny new cars. It goes on and on and on for miles. And all for the almighty car! The polluter of the planet. I shake my head.

Can no politician say no to development – this kind of development? Can we not build up instead of out? Do we need to have acres and acres of cars? Do we need to light up the night and make it into day? Isn’t anyone in government getting the message?

I found my evening meeting place without too much difficulty. The meeting went smoothly – my first as a new member of the artists’ cooperative. I only had one glitch in my drive home. I finally made it into my own driveway by ten-thirty and I was rarely so glad to see it. It’s eighty-six years old, sturdily built and still full of charm.

And so, when I tell you that bit by big bit, the developers are covering over the farmlands, they are making themselves rich; but we the residents, we are poorer for all that. Once the outcropping of concrete has been established in the fields, there is no going back. Malls will become obsolete. They will be abandoned, like they are in my town; and then instead of tearing down an old building down to rebuild on the spot, they simply go and build a new one on deaccessioned Agricultural reserve.

Which makes the title of this post quite ironic. Much of the farmland is gone now. And the covering over continues apace. Much of can never be restored.

Upper Main Street

December 11, 2009

Perhaps you will remember that I looked after some cats in Vancouver in September.
While I was staying in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to walk around Upper Main Street for an afternoon. It had been a long time since I had browsed along the street full of  antique and collectible shops, the vintage clothing places, funky restaurants and cafes. It’s a district with character and there are lots of things to notice and to explore.

Artists and artisan live in this area as well as middle and lower middle class people. There is a real mix of cultures and ethnic origins. It’s a lively and interesting place to go. It has the feel to it that made Robson Street famous. But Robson Street was taken over by the big name designers and it’s nothing but current fashion shopping now. The character that made if famous is no longer there.  It’s just commercial.

On the other hand, here are a few of the things you can see on Main Street in the Mount Pleasant area of town.
Mount Pleasant was one of the earliest settled areas of Vancouver. There are still lots of old buildings like this one, sitting right beside abrasively  modern construction:

The thing that interested me about this house was this window with mannikin heads sporting wigs. It’s an eerie image:

Most of the older buildings are one story; a few are two  story, and only now are they being replaced by three to five story commercial buildings. I understand the economic reality of business men wanting to make the most money possible from their little patches of city land, but I regret their need to wipe out the culture of an area while doing so.

Here’s what’s happening to the ‘scape  on Main Street:

It’s just too clinical for my taste; though I’m sure the newer buildings are easier to maintain. It just feels so depersonalized to me.

So when I see a sign like this, I just have to laugh.  It’s just the kind of humour that this area engenders.
This sign sits outside a cafe. It’s not even really an advertisement, but it’s in your face. It makes you notice and it makes you think. Maybe it even makes some think to turn inward and ask for a cup of coffee. Who knows?

And then, the City has provided some beautification such as these tree surrounds – grating that protects the roots of the tree. I’m always very happy to see when function is enhanced with excellent design. So here it is in context and then a detail of the artwork:

Then,

crossing the street and looking down an alley way just up by the former Post Office, now a community centre, roofed in red brick and topped with a copper one can delight in the mad tracery of ancient infrastructure criss-crossing from the poles to buildings cutting up the sky, the syncopated rhythm of vans, trucks, cars and waste bins; and at the end of the district, the rise of new buildings six to ten stories high:

Watching all the activity day by day is this nonchalant denizen of the Main Street walk, an outdoor cat, unphased by the constant traffic and many passers-by – browsers, strollers, street people, customers, merchants, coffee seekers, artists, dealers, shoppers, joggers and all the rest.

He sits close to the building up against a blue-painted stucco wall, cleaning between his toes, coiffing his whiskers, cleaning his ears. And when he is done? He stretches lazily, rolls over, finds himself a new position and snoozes in the sun.

So if you didn’t get out for your exercise today, I hope you enjoyed this walk with me going looking for beauty in the streets of Vancouver.

Jason’s bridge

December 8, 2009

With a slightly hurt expression on his face, Jason asked,”What took you so long?”

Heather  took her coat and hung it in the closet by the door. She may have answered but it wasn’t clear.

“I didn’t go on the hike this morning so that I could take Kay up to the bridge we are building at Holden Lake. It’s two thirty already. There won’t be enough time to get back for your choir concert; and I’m supposed to take my Photography class homework pictures up there.”

“How much time does it take to get there?” asked Kay, mollifyingly. It was unlike Jason to ever criticize. He was a man of well-practiced patience.

“Half an hour there and half an hour back. But we need at least twenty minutes for the photographs,” He replied. Kay calculated rapidly. It would be nip and tuck. He  was such a generous brother-in-law that she hated to see him miss something he had his heart set upon.

“Give me five minutes,” said Kay. “I’m not going out into the forest with you in the only good outfit I brought with me. I have to look decent at the concert tonight. I can’t risk cedar juices in the bottom of my pant legs and mud on my shoes from having tramped on wet hiking trails.”

It was agreed then that the two of them would go though the timing was tight. Heather would have a nap.

Jason looked sufficiently appeased.  True to her estimate, Kay was ready in a hurry.

It was a lovely day. After three weeks of rain, the sky was beautifully clear. Though it was early, the sun was already headed toward the horizon. The shadows were long. With the clear skies came low temperatures. Early morning frost had not evaporated in all locations and a fog was coming up between the trees as they passed a small lake. Kay questioned Jason about his photography assignment.

“It needs to be done in full light. We have to find and use the manual settings to try three different f-stops on the same subject and see what difference it makes to our results. Next, we have to use the three different metering options with someone at a distance and then mid-distance and then closer up.”

As they came to the forest company’s logging road, a large truck bearing a full load of stripped logs came towards them. Jason waited while the behemoth lumbered out of the way and then proceeded up the dirt road.

After passing several ATV enthusiasts along the forest company road, (all retired men) they stopped at a nondescript location. Jason turned his truck to a right angle across the road, dipping dangerously, Kay thought, to the shoulder of the road which dropped off into the forest at a steep angle.  She prayed that no more logging trucks were on their way. Jason then backed up, challenging the shoulder on the other side of the road. When he finished his manoeuvering, he was facing in the opposite, in the right direction, to go home,  and he parked at the side of the road on the narrow gravel border.

They got out. Kay followed Jason down the steep path into the forest, holding onto his collar to prevent herself from slipping on the steep muddy trail thus losing balance. Only when the path levelled out did she let go. Under foot, there was a thick pad of partially rotted and very wet cedar debris. It was springy like peat and about the same rich reddish brown.

A narrow path led to a narrow wooden bridge that spanned a raging torrent. It had metal grating nailed to its surface to prevent people from slipping. A narrow log railing was covered with ice on either side of the bridge. Here in the forest far from the warming sun, the temperature had not risen during the day.

“Our men’s group is starting to replace the bridge on Thursday,” he explained as he pointed out two straight trees that had been felled and stripped of their bark.  We’re taking off the one railing on the left side and those two logs are going on that support piece that you see down there at the side. When they are in place, then we will take away the next log and put in a new one. ”
Kay marveled that, even with the river raging below, the men, all retired and most of them over seventy, could replace this bridge without ever losing use of it.

Jason continued, “Last week with all the rains, the lake rose eighteen inches. All that you see on the side there was dry. Now it’s filled up with water and overflowing. There was no torrent there before – a little bit of rushing water where the big boulders  are, but not  anything like this. It’s come down six inches this week, but it’s still raging.”

They crossed the bridge, Kay tightly holding her camera and barely touching the icy rail for balance.  There were beautiful quiet pools at the edges of the bridge with smooth green and gold rocks below the shiny surface. M magnificent waters running in the middle.

White water was dashing against the stolid boulders. Looking back toward the lake, mists were rising, separating out the various layers of trees. The sun was dipping between the cedar branches. It was getting gloomy at three-fifteen even though the sun had an hour before it would set for the night. The winter shrubs were sepia-coloured and overlaced with russets. Above them, the cedar branches were a deep green and between them, the lake was black with rising mists a bluish smoky grey.

Jason set up his tripod at the other end of the bridge. His homework papers sat illogically white and brittle in this beautiful gloom, on the last step down off the bridge, as he fiddled with his tripod, his metering and his manual settings of f-stops. Kay  meanwhile explored things on her own – the pile of cedar logs for Thursdays fire to keep the workers warm and to cook the midday meal; the translucent greens in the quiet pools; the twigs that etched their signatures on the soft shapes of the mists; and the fallen leaves suspended in time in the clear still waters near the stream’s edge.

When soon the photography was done, Jason drove them back home, fingers frozen but their eyes full of the forest wonders.

Kay reflected on the curious shape of days.  A single event could make or break a day but here was a day that would give her three thrills. The octagenarian joy ride and the church luncheon had been one; this walk in the silent forest had been such an unexpected visual surprise; and there was still Heather’s choir concert to come, in the evening.

To be continued.

A free ride and a free lunch.

December 8, 2009

Mrs. Patrick waited at the stop sign as several cars passed by from either direction. As a large construction pick-up truck barreled towards her from the North,  she suddenly hit the accelerator and lurched out, turning left in front of it, narrowly missing being T-boned.

All within the same time frame, Kay whipped her arms up across her eyes waiting for the crash that never came. Mrs. P  had just made it by without so  much as a whistling wind passing to spare between the two vehicles.

With the calm and assurance of a grandmother who had seen many risky ventures of children and grandchildren play out safely, she said, “He’ll see me and slow down.”

She shouldn’t be driving!” Kay murmured to herself in shock. But how could she say anything? The ride was for free.

Kay was visiting with her sister in the small coastal town on the Sechelt Peninsula. Heather had her medical reasons for no longer driving, and anyway, her husband always had their one vehicle  which had graduated from car to van to truck over the years. Heather had lost her assurance to drive it and therefore, had become dependent on him or her friends to drive her to all her activities – swimming and exercise classes, the weaving club, choir and church events and various other things that might come her way.

Today was the day for the Christmas lunch for women of their church and Mrs. Patrick had agreed to take not only Heather and Kay but Mrs. Boop who was sitting in the front seat of the flashy new Buick. Dear Mrs. Boop  was rapidly losing her eyesight, thought Kay, or she should have equally sent her arms up to protect her face from the oncoming monster truck, but she  turned and looked calmly at Heather and inquired after her most recent trip to Nelson to see Lizbet, Kay’s other sister. No one but Kay was having this anxiety attack.  Kay admonished herself to be calm.

Mrs. Patrick then made an announcement. “I’m not going to park in the parking lot today. You will have to climb the stairs from Hudson Street. Last time I did so, Stella Smith smashed my front headlight; and I had parked there expressly to avoid the traffic on the street.”

“So I won’t park there again, ” she restated and continued: “I felt so sorry for Stella, but it was her fault, so she just paid me for it. I checked with someone else who saw it all, and they agreed it was Stella.”

“It cost her five hundred dollars because they had to take the bumper off to get at the headlight!”  Mrs. Patrick exclaimed. “It’s so very expensive now to get cars fixed. The least little thing… and now you will just have to climb the stairs and walk.”

Kay groaned. Not that she cared about climbing the stairs. It just seemed that perhaps Mrs. Patrick’s car was a giant shiny magnet for other cars and that her nonchalant attitude was too devil-may-care.  In Mrs. P’s books, others could look out for her. Kay was not at all reassured and wondered if they would actually make it to church and then home again.

At the church, Kay thanked her foresight for having eaten a sturdy breakfast of two boiled eggs and coffee. Long folding tables were set up for about eighty women.  Each table had four places set on each side and two on either end.  On each table were two large chargers filled with baked goods – date squares, Nanaimo bars, coconut creams, cherry berry thimbles, speculas, cranberry slices, nut squares, some pink moussy confections  and other Christmas sweets.

Kay marvelled at the variety and the quantity. There was a lot of sugar represented on those fancy plates, enough to keep a Cuban sugar plantation busy for a year. She looked at her waistline and prayed fervently for something more healthy, more substantial than sugar for lunch.

Having chosen a place to sit, with Heather to her right and Mrs. Patrick and Mrs. Boop across the furthermost table from the front, Kay took the time to survey the company. With a swift glance, she estimated there were four potential candidates for the under sixty club and with a sigh of come-uppance she realized that she, too, was no longer eligible for that group. Way more than half of the others were over eighty and the telling features were the colours of their hair.

Mrs. Patrick had a lovely even golden-brown colour, tastefully maintained and curled tightly in a cap, trimmed smartly at her neck. Mrs. Boop’s short, wavy hair was salt coloured with a good dose of pepper and coiffed a little looser. Across the room Kay saw three or four absolutely white heads gleaming. One of them was decorated with a pair of red felt antlers that jutted out a foot above her head and had little brown ears. She looked quite charming.

Beside her, an ash blond woman wore a jester’s cap of felt in red and green; and another to her left, was wearing a red Santa Claus toque with white rabbit’s fur.  A few ladies had tinges of pink and blue in their hair. Most had been recently coiffed for this event at the hair dresser and the tightly curled hair-dos wafted the scent of salon spray throughout the room.

One table was reserved for the ladies choir, not the church’s, but a local glee club. Each lady sported a white blouse, a necktie with a predominantly red plaid tie around the neck and a poinsetta corsage backed by a red foil doily pinned to the right bosom.

At twelve o’clock precisely, the congregation of women was called to order. An agenda was read and an apology was made that the luncheon would have to be followed by a church women’s meeting because there were cheques to be written for which the group’s approval had to be given.

Next the choir of plaid throated women sang in reedy voices. The choir-mistress introduced and welcomed their new choristers as if, in this mid-sized town, everyone should have remembered the names of the others from the previous year. There was only one young singer in the group.

The choir mistress proceeded to say that since everyone must be hungry, she would keep the regular concert  short, though we listened to Christmas hymn-classics for the next twenty minutes.  There was a solo number by the youngest member which was quite lovely. She had a trained voice and sang with a rich, clear voice.

A devotional story  followed, read by a lady standing at the back and then Grace for the food that still was not in sight was given by the Minister of the church who was the only man present. He grinned from ear to ear. Never were the odds so good for this retired and greying preacher. Eighty to one!

An hour had passed before four ladies began to bring out chargers of delicate sandwiches cut in four small triangles, two chargers per table of ten. There were egg salad and ham salad sandwiches and tuna. It was now twelve thirty and the ladies were hungry.

Mrs. P. took two quarters and announced it loudly, then passed them along. Everyone followed suit, then refilled their plates as the sandwiches were consumed.  In less than a minute the plates were empty. The ladies serving them brought more plates of sandwiches. Mrs. Boop mumbled something about having taken seven quarter sandwiches and someone else rudely muttered, “but who is counting?”.

There was no wait between  sandwiches and sweets. Heather, who was fond of chocolate, joked that all the chocolate ones were for her. This suited Kay who could not eat chocolate without getting a migraine.  Nobody  spoke to each other as the food was consumed. It was serious business.

After most of the sweets were gone, the women began to catch up on news, to introduce themselves to new attendees and to discuss the weather. The voices rose clamorously. A woman stood and called the group to order, but the ladies were absorbed in their discussions  and the noise drowned out her voice.  Kay took pity and tapped her tea cup with a spoon loudly. The voices subsided reluctantly.

“You all know Stuart McLean of CBC,” she announced. “I am sure you have heard this before, but no matter how often it it is played, it retains it’s humor. There is always something new to hear in it. It never gets old. We are going to listen to one of his best Christmas stories.”

She had before her an ancient boom box with a tape in it. She flicked the switch and Stuart began in his unmistakable voice the story of Dave having to cook turkey for Christmas dinner. There was a hush and then silence. It was true, everyone loved this story. There was not a disturbing interruption for the entire tale; and when it finished, the silence remained in the room until the hostess again rose and invited the treasurer of the group to open her fund-approving meeting.

When expenditures for Christmas hampers for the poor, a Christmas supplement for the Minister and his family, and contributions to the Haiti project had been approved with formal motions, seconding and the raising of hands to vote, the  meeting was adjourned. It was time for the singalong.

The hostess now invited the ladies to open the newsprint Christmas song books on their tables and join in a sing-along.

The choir’s accompanist scuttled to the piano and introduced some chords to  Jingle Bells. The first verse was terrible but as the crowd warmed to the singing, the fervor developed and a decent chorus rang throughout the church hall.

Jingle Bells was followed by Go tell it on the mountain and Christmas in Killarney, What child is this, King Wenceslas and God Rest you Merry Gentlemen, three rousing verses of each.  Finally the accompanist announced the last carol, We wish you a Merry Christmas.

It was almost over.The hostess reminded all that the Junior High students of the congregation had fostered four children in Haiti. Without  everyone’s help, that work could not continue. A collection basket would be coming around. Would everyone please be generous?  An osier basket topped with a wooden carved duck’s head came from table to table for offerings and each lady pulled out some paper money out of their purses to place it soundlessly into the basket.  Tacitly, the luncheon was finished now.

Ladies got up, chairs scraping the linoleum floor, and discreetly tried their limbs,  stiff  from too long of sitting, arthritis and other ancient aches and pains.  The women regrouped to greet friends they had not sat with.  Mrs. P began to herd her car-load towards the door and stood beside Mrs. Boop with visible Christian patience as Mrs. Boop caught up on a friend’s family doings.

It was a quarter of an hour later that Mrs P, Mrs Boop, Heather and Kay exited by the side door towards the steps and down to the waiting car.

When they were all buckled safely in with their seat belts, Mrs. P drove around the block to get back to the main road. They had not gone far before Mrs. Boop cried out, “Mrs. P! Where are you going? You are supposed to be taking Heather home.”

Nonchalantly, Mrs. P answered, “The car knows its way to my home. It just took the road to the left by itself.”  She continued on up the road several blocks when she should have been going back down to the main road and turning right towards the sea in the direction of Heather’s place.

Not to worry, Kay consoled herself. At least she isn’t driving on the road most traveled.  That would mean less chance of destructive car magnetism occurring. Worst come to the worst, Kay and Heather could walk home from where they now were.

But Mrs. P soon took a road descending towards Maple Street and at Heather’s house, thanks for the ride were given and Heather and Kay went inside. Jason, Heather’s husband, was waiting to welcome them home.

(To be continued)

Hanging out at the gym

November 12, 2009

Yesterday was a busy day and by the time I got writing down a few details, I was pretty traumatized. It took a mere 2000 words to craft the previous post. In doing so, I sloughed over the incident at the gym which I am now going to share with you. I have to go back a little in time, though.

Last year this time, I was doing a very hearty three-times-a-week workout at the gym. I rarely missed; and when I didn’t go to the gym on the days between, if the day was dry, I would go walking out into nature. I had built up a good endurance and created muscle where none had gone before. The little I had developed in my aging career of non-participation were beefed up. I slimmed down, Hallelulia. I was more fit than I ever had been.

Early in May, I went to Santa Fe and Taos with my sister. The two weeks preceding, I was too busy to get to the gym, but the weather was fine and I got out walking.  In Taos where we stayed, there was a gym in the hotel but when I tried the equipment, there was not much that suited my abilities. We had been walking all day in our tourist activities and a treadmill was out of the question. The kind of cycling machine they had was not good for my damaged knees;  and the other equipment which I don’t remember at this point, did not engage me either. Another two weeks went by and I had not been to the gym.

When I got back, it was sunny and warm. We had a wonderful summer of sunshine. I upped the walking content of my exercise program and let the gym go. Why would I want to be in a gym on such lovely days?

Fast forward till last week. Our weather has been horribly rainy. Walking on the dikes has been out of the question. For the first time since April, I went to the gym for a half hour on Tuesday.  I was not inspired. I was out of shape and knew it.

This  and last week have been very busy with meetings, preparing for a sale of art from my house, and preparing for an interview with a gallery, so I didn’t make the time to go again until yesterday.

My muscles complained over the first three minutes of the reclining bike but learned to shut up after they realized that I wasn’t going to quit. I cycled those fifteen minutes (down ten from last May, at 25) thinking about Gershwin and his impossibly difficult passages where the right hand (in piano pieces) play thirteen notes in the same time as the left hand is supposed to be playing seven. Or he might have nine against fifteen. both passages are supposed to be played evenly and together, but nothing matches up. I’m positive that Gershwin was able to rub his tummy, pat his head and play drum with his feet all at the same time.

I got to thinking that he might have spent a lot of time in a gym. He came from Brooklyn.   Boxing and European martial arts were de rigeur if a young man were to defend himself and there must have been lots of gyms, too, for them to work out in. But would he have risked his million dollar hands?

Did they have treadmills? Or are treadmills an invention of our affluent and electrical ages.

Did he spend time training to box? Would he have picked up his impossible  rhythms from someone skipping rope or from someone rapidly aiming his fists at a punching bag? Would he have concurrently been listening to them both at the same time and saying, “Wow, Ain’t that sweet, … ”

I was listening to two joggers, one going fast and one going slower, both running with their own distinct rhythms, neither rhythm matching up ever with the other’s. These thoughts kept me from leaping off my own stationary vehicle in sheer boredom.

When my time was up, I did my circuit of exercise. The gym was not very busy. My neighbour, Mr. Stepford had remarked earlier this week that a public gym was the last place he would go. Just think of the H1N1 spreading possibilities it would provide.

In fact, the gym was very aware of the potential for virus proliferation. Patrons were asked to wipe down the machines before and after using them. There was lots of disinfectant available and clean paper towels.  I resolved my dilemma about cleaning the machines – I who never do housework if I can help it.   I soaked two paper towels with the disinfectant spray and then used these to grasp the handles of each machine, the layer of towel acting so that I never touched the machines at all and therefore never had to clean them.

At the end of my work out, I spoke to the nice young lady gym attendant.  There was an in-house advertisement for the Christmas tree challenge.

“Just what is that?” I asked.

“It’s a promotional effort to get everyone to challenge themselves a little bit,” she explained.

I’m curious, so I ask “How does it work?”

She opened up a black binder containing sheets with green triangle trees on them covered with red doughnut shaped “ornaments” . There was a star at the top in yellow and little ribbon ornaments on every row of red doughnuts.

‘Here’s the star at the top. You need to pass this challenge before you can sign up. You need to do ten push-ups before you can get one of these cards. In other words, you need to be able to pick up your own body weight. ”

I let that sink in a minute before answering, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t be able to join in then,” and I started to go.

“No! No!” she said.” This is not meant to be exclusive. It’s meant to be inclusive. We can modify this if we need to. Perhaps you could do this from a standing position and do the push-ups against the wall.”

She demonstrated against the mirrored wall behind the desk making her body shape form an M then a V with her reflection for five very easy looking repetitions. I still looked doubtful though. She couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds. I was a different story.

She asked me to wait until the supervisor came by and she could check if I could participate doing some other modification of this exercise. In the meantime, she showed me the rest of the challenge.

Every  red doughnut shape represented a regular work out. After two work-outs, there was a red ribbon with either a one or a two marked on it. The participant would draw a slip of paper from a box, much like a fortune cookie, and would have to accomplish the exercise designated thereon. There were easy exercises (number one) and more difficult ones (number two).  The attendant drew a slip of paper out of the box.

Balancing ball upper torso twist” it said.

“Is that something I could do?” I asked in disbelief. “I don’t even know what it is.”  It sounded torturous.

“Oh yes,  we would show you. In any case, you would have to prove you could do it before you could go on to the next thing. Do you want to try?”

“The torso twist?” My voice was getting high pitched and defensive.

“No, I mean The Christmas Challenge,” she replied.

“I don’t think I could do that first thing. I don’t think so.”

“Look, ” she replies, “I’ll help you. After all, you’ve already got today’s work out to mark off and the first challenge is not so hard. You would already have two things ticked off on the tree.”

“But I’ve never used that machine before. I don’t even know if I can get onto it with my game knees.”

“Come, ” beckoned the Siren. I felt at once challenged and willing to meet it and at the same time foolish and ready to run.

There are pedals about two feet off the ground covered in black rubber with tread, much like that used for car tires.  I was to place my feet on these.  I did so and the pedals came down hydraulically almost to floor level.

Next I was to take hold of the handles that were eight feet above.  I had to lessen the weight on the pedals by holding the sturdy white horizontal bars at midway on the apparatus.  The attendant helped and somehow (because I cant remember this part very clearly, being more totally engaged in doing rather than in observing) I grasped the handles and hung on. Now I no longer could reach the pedals unless I could pull myself up, my whole body weight worth, with my muscular (not!) arms.

Try as much as I could, I could not move an inch in this endeavor. I pulled my knees up to my chest and the pedals rose accordingly.  In fact, I never pulled up my body with my arms at all. I hung there like a piece of game – an elk carcass, an entire bison, a bear maybe)  curing in a freezer. My arms were outstretched and my shoulder sockets were screaming at me. “This is a mistake! this is a mistake! Get us down off of here!”

The attendant was encouraging as I pulled my knees to my chest. My arms had not pulled a thing except a tendon or two.

“See! You are doing it! That’s one. That’s two. That’s three. You can do five! Six! Seven! You’re almost there. Nine! Ten! Wonderful! You have met the first hurdle of the Christmas Challenge!

“Help!” I whispered in panic. “Help me down!”
I was still holding all my weight by my wrists, unable to reach the pedals because I had lifted my knees to my chest, not at all the motion that was required.

I suppose the attendant was used to athletic guys jumping off the machine and getting themselves away from it without the least assistance. It took her at least two excruciating more seconds to realize that she had to help.  My next movements were awkward and fumbling. I managed to get a hold of that white steel bar and then slide in an ungainly manner until my feet to the floor.

“Congratulations!” she crowed. “That was wonderful. See how it is when you just do a little bit more?”

She signed me up. She ticked off the star and the first red doughnut. Her supervisor happened by.  The attendant recounted how courageous and wonderful I was and reported that they now had one more person in the contest. (There are prizes for anyone who finishes, I understand).

I left feeling quite knocked out. Dazed.

It was only later that I took time to reflect on how foolish I had been. I knew my limits and had allowed myself to get into a situation of risk where there was no possibility of achieving my goal, despite the attendant’s blandishments.

Only a year ago, I was delicately building up strained muscles on both of my shoulders by adding a pound at a time to my exercise routine.  On those machines where I pulled down weights,  I could at maximum pull sixty pounds. By multiplying that weight to muscle demand, I could easily have undone all the work I had striven to achieve so far.  And if I had fallen, in descending from the rack?

If I had lost hold and fallen in amongst all those hard surfaces of white enameled steel  and pulled a knee or hip tendon in doing so? It’s only a month since I’ve overcome the summer troubles.

I’ll be back to the gym. This hasn’t stopped my resolve to work out there. But I am going to be wiser in what I ask this aging body to perform. Those Vs and Ms at the mirror look safer. And, when it comes to the upper body torso twist. I’ll have to make an evaluation before I leap in there to do it.

I may still be hanging out at the gym, but before you will find me hanging like a meat carcass, I’ll be out of there.

A date with my banker

November 11, 2009

My banker called me up a few weeks ago and asked me out to a lecture. He’s been rather friendly lately. Maybe he’s sweet on me. A lecture was a tantalizing idea. I like intelligent men and this seemed to be a good beginning for a first date.

Just so I wouldn’t forget, he sent a little reminder by e-mail. He asked me to meet him at the hotel, and there would be some appetizers and drinks before hand and dessert and coffee after the lecture. He would look after the parking.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been invited out on a date, so I got a bit dolled up before I went. I changed my tee-shirt for a dressy blouse, wore dressy casual – or at least that’s what they call it in the business world. I rarely use make-up but this time, I put on a  little bit of lip gloss.

Normally I don’t like driving at night to a place I don’t know very well. I had intended to leave during daylight but I went to the gym in the afternoon and promptly fell asleep when I came home.  It was six when I awoke. I was late for leaving already.

Rain was falling as I left – not a hard driving rain, just suspended droplets  that gum up the windshield and force you to keep the wipers slapping away at the mist that collects there. As I turned down 128th, I made a mental note to call the municipality. The lighting was dreadful for driving, or rather, it was non-existent. Everything on three sides was black as could be but on the on-coming traffic side, the strong beams of light were blinding.

I made it onto the highway and followed it, glad to have a car in front of me to lead most of the way at reduced speed into Burnaby. Even with more lighting, the road was slick and shiny with drawings in red and white squiggles worthy of an exuberant four year old.  It was impossible to see where the lines were delineating the lanes. Even the yellow center line had become invisible.  It only took  twenty-five minutes to reach destination, but it seemed like two hours.

I drove into the hotel driveway and was ushered into a parking lot underneath one of the two twenty storey towers. There was a lot of activity going on. I feared that I might not get a spot, but way down a dead-end aisle, I finally found one. I noted my stall number on a piece of paper just in case I had to buy a ticket and get reimbursed and thought it might be helpful in finding my way back to the car. Memory-like-a sieve, my middle name, was aptly chosen.

People were streaming towards the exit. It was becoming obvious that my banker had invited me to an important event. In the lobby, there were swarms of people and my banker was not to be seen. I had a sinking feeling that I was not his only guest.

Not to be miffed by this discovery, I drifted towards the food tables; but I must have mistaken the appointed time because all that was left were carrot sticks and celery, a bit of well-carved-into cheeses and a few stray biscuits. Just as I filled a little plate with these delectable dinner appies, the lights began to flicker.  A tall man with a tinkly bell much like the little chrome jingle bells one sees at Christmas time, came breaking his way through the throng ringing away and herding people into the lecture hall.

Barely on time, I gulped down my last cracker loaded with pepper-coated goat cheese, and entered the hall to look for a seat. Only the front row was empty. It seemed a good choice since the big display screen was right in front of me and I could see the speaker without any disruptive head to block my view.

The host greeted us all and then introduced our speaker, an erudite pundit from Toronto. She proceeded to tell us how the economy was, how it seemed to be improving and where her think-tank colleagues thought it was going.  Chart after chart showed the disastrous crash of  November 2008 and a comforting return towards the previous highs of the months before.

After the nineteenth chart, my eyes began to glaze. On the twenty sixth, they closed.  I shook my head to clear it up. What would my banker think if he saw me sleeping through this fascinating discussion of the stock and commodity markets? Would he query me on specialized jargon? Would he ask my opinion on the TED-Spread*?

I don’t know if I snored. I’ve been accused of this before.  I’m always at risk when I’m forced to remain in a warm room, not moving, not participating in a conversation, in semi dark and listening to a lullaby of lecture drone. What I do know is that when I came to, people were clapping for the lady-expert and she was leaving the podium. The host banker returned to the stage and thanked her, asking us to applaud again (as if we hadn’t already been naturally polite enough to do so) in appreciation of her sharing her wisdom and knowledge with us. Dutifully, we applauded one more time.

It took me seconds to rise and turn to leave.

Perhaps I missed something in the speech or in an announcement. People were squeezing through the double-wide doorways and those who could not get through were pushing and shoving. Was there a fire? An emergency? No. That was not it at all. There were desserts. Ah yes! I had been promised my just desserts.

As I waited my turn to exit the hall, I realized why some of these people must be better investors than others. Some of them have superior abilities in the first-come-first-served principles; some are more perspicacious as to moving forward in line. Patience is not a virtue in the financial category.

Ten minutes later I had inched myself forward in line to a table dressed for dessert. (Don’t ask why I didn’t just leave at this point. For the mad-pack of people, you couldn’t get out the door.) There were forks in a basket, white cups and saucers stacked, ready and waiting, for self-serve; there were lots of serviettes and little white plates, but the large glass platters of squares and sweets were only decorated with crumbs. Locusts had passed by in a single sweep, it seemed, or pirhanas had swum though on a feeding frenzy.

I looked around me to see it there might be a less popular table. After all, this table was right beside the doorway and must have been attacked first. I saw a tiny lady with bright avaricious eyes standing beside me with a plate containing two large pieces of cheese cake, one orange coloured the other white, and four different squares – chocolate, lemon, coconut, and date, but unfortunately, her hands were full with that and a cup of coffee and she stood, a bit baffled as to how she would consume the treasure that she had garnered for herself.

One lady came up to me as I was approaching the coffee urn and pleaded, “I don’t want to get into line, I just want coffee.” Happily, I chose a cup for her and poured. She thanked me and left. In those twinkling few seconds of interchange, the person behind me had advanced four spaces in the line and now  was serving herself desserts. Obviously, at this modest rate, I would never get ahead.

At last I was before the platter. My empty white dessert plate was pleading for a sweet. ‘You poor little plate,” I thought. “All you are going to get is a date square, and I bet I make better ones at home.” It was true. There were only three pieces of anything left and  two of them were matrimonial squares. That seemed to be the only date I was going to get tonight, so I took them both.

I don’t really know what got into me. It might have been the feeling of deprivation that I had succumbed to as I stood in line, when I realized there was nothing left.  I took the decorative strawberries carved up to look like roses. I took the garnishing kiwi. I was not going to leave unfed.

I went out into the lobby and found another table mostly shorn of its delicacies. At this next table, I elbowed a little and put on a deprived look which I made sure the gentleman in front of me noticed. As he reached  for the last slice of flan, I sighed, “Oh, doesn’t that flan look lovely!”  He must have felt guilty because he gave it to me. I munched it right there and grabbed for a lemon coconut square while I was at it. His second choice was a chocolate something and I never eat chocolate so I didn’t have to cajole him out of that as well.

When that table was totally cleaned off, I went in search of another. There were only crumbs, but I took them. What was the matter with me, anyway?  Who was counting? I shouldn’t even eat this sugary stuff, but I was up to six squares already plus the flan; and here, I’d found a cup of coffee. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been fed. It was time to go.

It was raining outside. The walkway to the underground parking was well lit, and the parking lot was painted all white, gleaming with new paint. I found the car and drove off into the black night.  At the edge of the hotel grounds, the motor vehicle signage indicated that I could only turn right, but it was the wrong direction for me. On the slippery shiny streets, I headed north up the mountain to the first left turn, found a deserted street-level parking lot in a lane and turned the car around to go back southwards.

When I got to the intersection, I turned left on to the highway heading home. There was not much traffic and it was impossible to see the  road again. Rain was coming down harder, faster. Cars coming from the other direction provided glare and halo-like images around the raindrops on the windshield as they formed between the hypnotic slapping of the wipers.

Cars coming off side streets onto the highway seemed to lurch out and threaten. The road seemed to disappear before me. Oh, Lord, I prayed out loud, this is the sort of night that accidents happen. Please don’t make it mine.” I drove ten kpm s lower than the speed limit and grumbled at the cars behind me to pass me if they didn’t like it. I couldn’t see.

Then the windshield began to fog and the fan seemed no match for it. I was fiddling with the control buttons trying to get the hot air coming out on the windshield rather than down the vents by my feet  when I noticed the pre-light warning that the traffic signals would turn red. I slowed.

The other cars behind me slowed. We stopped.

In the left lane, a car coming at 80km per hour did not slow and continued right through the red light, nipping the tail end of a car proceeding across the intersection on a green light.

Bang!

The cars swung out of control. The rain began to descend in earnest. The light changed to green. There were car parts, fenders and light parts strewn across the black slick tarmac.

When I felt it was safe to proceed, I drove past the delinquent car and then parked just a few feet in front of it. The front fender had been ripped off. The hub cap sat propped against the wheel. The tire had been torn to shreds. There was no more headlight nor signal light. A woman was in the car looking dazed, staring straight ahead of her.

“Are you alright?” I yelled. Rain was pouring down my neck.

She made as if to get out on the driver’s side. I don’t know if the door was locked or bent into a shape where it would not open, or if she realized she would be in peril with cars now whizzing by on that side of the car. She began to exit from the passenger side, crawling rather nimbly over the gear shift mechanism as if nothing hurt.

“Are you alright?” I asked again. She got out and held her arms around her chest in a protective gesture as if holding her body to herself. She said she was fine, but I swear she was in shock,.  Standing in the rain, she was getting a cold-shower approach to coming out if it.

The other driver approached. This was not my business except that I had been a witness, so I left my name and number with  the other driver, the innocent-of-fault driver, and I left.

I drove even more cautiously, muttering under my breath to those following after me that I would not go faster. That they could pass me and be welcome to it. Visibility was zilch. I couldn’t wait to be home and out of this dark, stormy night. I had a word with God, while I was on my last lap of the journey.

Lord, you didn’t have to take me so literally, there.”  Had the accident been my fault? You need to be careful what you pray for. You might get it. I didn’t get smacked, but there, right in front of me, two cars had collided and I’ll bet the occupants, all four of them, feel mightily sore tomorrow.

You don’t need the details of the rest of the way home. It was much the same. I railed at he banker for luring me out on such a nasty night. I could just as easily have slept in my chair at home as sleeping in the front row of a lecture on investments.  Was I edified? Had I learned anything more? No.

I had, however, confirmed that they were willing to spend inordinate amounts of the shareholders’ money to entice their poor clients to give money so that the bank could the play the markets.

Next time my banker talks sweet to me about coming to a lecture, I’ll say no. I’m afraid pie charts are not my kind of art; nor are bar charts in all their fancy colourful glory.

p.s. The TED-spread is the difference between US Treasury bill rate and Eurodollar rate; used by some traders as a measure of investor/trader anxiety or credit quality.

November 10, 2009

Edward cherry Mercery Lane Canterbury small

Edward Cherry , late 19th c. Etching, Mercery Lane, Canterbury

This has been my first “tools down” day in two weeks. Sure, there were a few days when I was doing something different – going into Vancouver, seeing people for business, attending an opening – and a day when my sister Elizbet came through town on her way to  Tahiti. The main thrust of my activity, though, was preparing an at-home sale of art work. which meant completely changing the display of paintings in my house and cleaning. I spent a lot of time sorting out boxes stored in the basement full of old things from Mother’s house and my own collection of vases and trinkets.

My house gets so disorganized in the process that it looks like Hurricane Gustav has hit, concentrating on my location only. At the end of the two weeks, minutes before the first guest/customer walks through the door, though, it looks calm and classy. The process of getting there is erased and the illusion of neat-and-tidy is maintained for a full day.

But back to Lizbet. I must say that we had a lot of fun on our one day together. There were no garage sales to be had but we did two or three thrift stores; went for fish and chips for lunch;  then headed over to Langley to the “art candy” store where she bought a lot and I bought a little. We shared a sinful cinnamon bun at a coffee shop; went to the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley;  got lost trying to find the new Golden Ears Bridge to cross the Fraser River;  and came back home for a glass or two of wine and an easy dinner.

The next morning we had breakfast together and she left for Otto’s place. She’s gone with him to Tahiti for three weeks. Nice work if you can get it!

I came back to the house, took paintings downstairs to storage and brought a new selection upstairs. That sounds so simple but it wasn’t. The stairs are steep and I can only carry one or two at a time. I would find just the right painting for a spot, only to discover that it needed hanging hardware on the back, so I would stop and do a bit of framing; or I would find that it had been stored too long and needed a good cleaning of glass and frame.

I was doing this show with my friend Rose who also had paintings she wanted to sell. We had to coordinate paintings that didn’t really hang together. She had a beautiful framed framed batik of three zebras (which I covet, by the way) . It’s zingy and in your face, perky and fun. I had  etchings by Edward Cherry and Georges Capon, both print-makers of the classical persuasion from the early days of the 20th Century.

There were other contrasts – she had a painting of a panda sitting in a house, as hair of the dog realism as you can get; and a gorilla in another painting peering out aggressively through ferns. On this painting, too, you could see each hair of the beast. Contrast that with my own flamboyant paintings of lilies. It was quite a challenge.

On Monday, I should have issued invitations by e-mail but I didn’t get to it until Tuesday for some reason or another. By Tuesday, it was pushing the limits, expecting people to rearrange their lives for our sale. But on Saturday, we did get a few people – just enough in my case , that I don’t feel badly about the lack of sales. Rose, on the other hand only had one of her invitees turn up and then that lady bought my stuff. It’s a strain for friendships, I’d say, having been there, done that, but Rose took it in stride.

Yes, she was disappointed. but Rose has a lovely personality. She was upset but not angry at me for the little success I had. On the next day, I decided that I would try to pull my Christmas presents from the remainder. I had bought them, after all, but just not this year; and the quality of things was quite lovely for the most part.

When I say only one of Rose’s invitees turned up, I’m not counting the half hour when her entire local family turned up – all eight of them, including the baby and a very energetic two year old – and they milled around looking at things, providing moral support to my friend.

Our friend Matthew was supposed to turn up and protect us from unscrupulous shoplifters and those would-be murderers who turn up to Real Estate open-houses and cart bodies off in the trunk of cars or leave them bleeding on the newly installed interlocking laminate flooring. Since we didn’t invite any but our acquaintances, we didn’t get any of those bad people, luckily, because Matthew had other commitments by the time the actual sale started and he didn’t stay to protect us.

We were on for dinner, all three of us, though. Fish and chips at Austen’s; five-thirty on the dot.

By the time five-thirty rolled around, Rose was  deadly tired an begged off which left me alone with Matthew. He drove. I was also pretty punch drunk after two weeks of work so I appreciated the lift and I closed my eyes whilst driving up to Austen’s in the manner of a catnap so that I didn’t fall asleep on my plate during dinner.

Don’t laugh! My ex, Frank, and I used to deal in antiques in France many years ago. We’d get up at four in the morning, drive two hours to some small town with an antique fair; set out all our stuff to sell; finish at noon, pack back up  and then deliver, if needs be; then go home for another two hours driving, usually stopping at a roadside cafe or a truck stop diner for a meal. More than once a poor, exhausted Frank drooped precariously while waiting for his meal; and by the time he had eaten it, when the carb slump kicked in, his head might just touch the table and stay there until it got really embarrassing and we (me and the other antiquarians) poked and jabbed him until he came back to life. Sometimes our days were fourteen hours long with out much of a break. It may sound grueling, but it was  the most interesting job I ever had.

But that’s an aside.

Matthew and I ordered our fish and chips. We were just about finished, lapping up the last coleslaw on our plates when Rose came in the door.

“It’s Saturday night,” she exclaimed. “What am I doing home along alone on Saturday night? Don’t they say that you should pay yourself the first ten percent? Well, that’s seven dollars and I’m treating myself to fish and chips with it.” And she did.

I think we were out of there by six thirty. Matthew dropped me at home. He waited until I safely got in the door and went on his way.  I went in and got jammies on and promptly fell asleep. The next day, after all, was an important one.

When I woke up about ten that night, still dressed in jammies, I packed out paintings and drawing to the car, arranging them so that the canvases would not get dents in them and the paper would not become dog-eared before it had a chance to get framed. It was dark out but the constant rain storm that we had been going through for the last three days had abated. It was dry; and I figured no-one would see me.

Sunday was the day I would be interviewed by a nearby artist-run gallery to see if I could join their collective. There are some fabulous artists in the group and I’d like to get to know them and work with them.

Wouldn’t you know, I woke with a headache Sunday morning, already severe enough that I knew I couldn’t just wait it out. There was no way that I was going to be sick for this interview, so I popped a migraine pill.  Within a half hour, the pain abated, but rapidly, I was feeling stomachly very out of sorts.

Oh no!” I thought. “H1N1! Here it comes. Rapid onset. Nausea; chills and fever.”

By three o’clock, the ill feelings had sorted themselves out. I was still moving rather slowly, but no longer was I feeling like I was teetering, balanced on one leg like a heron,  on the turbulent edge of water. I could go to my interview and manage it, if acing it was not in the books.

I drove over early so that I could find the place in daylight. With the new bridge over the Fraser, my driving paths are no longer the same. I’m still trying to find the best way to get to the Fort. In doing so, I arrived three-quarters of an hour early, so I went for a delicious crispy crusted apple strudel and a cup of coffee at Wendell’s Bookstore and Cafe and read a book to pass the time.

It was the funniest interview I’ve ever been to. When I opened the door to the gallery, there were fifteen people sitting in a circle and I could tell they were criticizing the work on the wall, the latest exhibition that had been up for three weeks already. When I entered, no one said, “Yes, you are in the right place” nor ” please come in and sit down while we finish this critique”. I didn’t know whether to come in or back out. After a hovering awkward pause,  someone said, “Just take a seat. We will be finished in a minute.” And I did.

Two artists helped me bring my few paintings and drawings into the gallery. I was appointed as the second speaker. I fee, now, that I explained myself fairly well – my background; my exhibitions; why I wanted to join the cooperative; and how I saw my commitment, volunteering, to this artists’ organization. I think I acquitted myself well but I was just as nervous as I was thirty years ago. Somehow, all my bravado about my work fled out the window, replacing my assurance with a heavy dose of self-doubt and timidity. Nervousness reigned (whether they could see it or not). I was being judged!

I won’t know until Wednesday or Thursday what the decision is.

But going back to the ill feelings I had on Sunday morning. I panicked about the H1N1 flu. I don’t fit into any category that would give me the right to go get innoculated yet. If I got it, I’d have to ride it out. Some people were dying of it. That got me to thinking that I needed to change my will.

So this evening, I was next door to see Mrs. Stepford. Mr. Stepford, a lawyer, was not home. Mrs. Stepford plied me with some red wine. We chatted quite a while about gossipy things and reran the interview a couple of times, picking out this word or that which had been pronounced on my art work and wondering what it meant in this context.

Mr. Stepford arrived about ten with his libation of choice and a bag of hickory-smoked sticks, some kind of very salty junk food.

While Mr. Stepford was getting his jacket off and preparing to join us, he saw Mrs. Stepford put her hands on the packet of hazel smoked chips.

“Get your paws off of there!”  he bellowed. “They’re MINE!”

Mrs. Stepford put them down and smiled sweetly at him. The eyes however told a different tale. There was mischief in them.

“Don’t you touch those, now” he admonished her, and he issued a few threatening scenarios if he came back into the room and found the package was opened.

Exit left, Mr. Stepford. He has something to get from the basement.

With impish glee, Mrs. Stepford grabs the package and opens it. She holds it open to me!

Now my rule is, “If you can’t see anything is missing then there are no calories. ” Equally”, I will add, “if you can’t see that any are gone, then most likely there aren’t any gone.”  I took five or six of these very thin potato chips and popped them in my mouth.  Mrs. Stepford took a handful. I innocently stopped elbow bending towards them just before Mr. Stepford came back into the room and eyed the opened bag.

“I warned you,” he said, menacingly, though I knew he would not do anything but be gruff. He’s got a soft heart.

“I opened them for Kay,” Mrs. Stepford prevaricated.  The scapegoat tales deepened. I remained, hands in lap. Mr. Stepford looked at the two of us, then conspiratorially at me. “Thanks for leaving them, Kay,” as if I had, truly, been innocent of this deed, and he leaned over and snatched the bag from Mrs. S.

“Kay says she just took a few for medicine,” continues Mrs. S.  “You know you are supposed to gargle with salt water to attenuate the H1N1 flu. With these very salty sticks, you don’t need to gargle. The salt flowing from them is sufficient to kill off all the viruses. It’s medicine. You just chew them up and savour them in your mouth for a while. Did you bring more than one package of medicine?,” she asks saucily.

“You’re not getting any more,” Mr. Stepford says as he protectively holds the bag of Mrs. Vicker’s hazel smoked sticks to his chest. As an aside, in a much softer vein, he says, “I love these. They’re a favorite snack. Want to try them?” and he proffered the bag to me.

Of course I had to try some, looking more innocent and pure as if I’d not gotten into them myself very recently.
I had the decency to wait until I’d chewed them up a bit before I let him know my opinion.

“My, they are salty!” I exclaimed. “I’ve never tried these hickory flavor ones before. Very good.” I felt it was political to go. It was getting late and with a glass or two of the red stuff (which I had to have more of, because I’d eaten something quite salty), I was getting rapidly very tired.

Tomorrow is another day. I’ll take Mrs. S. to do her grocery shopping and I have an evening reception to attend. Otherwise the day is mine and I’m heartily looking forward to it.

Reflections on a kitchen floor

October 31, 2009

The String Quartet K458 of Mozart ran sweeping melodies through Kay’s thoughts mingled with some odd memories.

Lizbet was arriving. The kitchen floor desperately needed cleaning. There were coffee spills, coin size, around the microwave and in the corner where she prepared food.  There was the spot where some drawing charcoal had spilled. She had cleaned up, more or less, but there was a circle of grey spanning the radius of her arm-length where she had wiped it. She’d gone on with her drawing and not gone back to finish the job.  She would not want Lizbet to see that.

Kay carefully lowered herself onto her achy knees and dipped the floor cloth in the lukewarm soapy water. She began her scrubbing, concentrating on the lines of faux-tile that caught the dirt. Who, she grumbled silently, would design a kitchen vinyl flooring with ridges to catch the dirt. It was diabolical. It must have been a man who had never cleaned a kitchen floor.

She wondered if her mother was looking down on her from Heaven. If so, she might have been chuckling that it was  Kay’s little hell on earth, to be scrubbing floors, albeit her own. She might have been doing a little bit of “I told you so-ing”.

Kay had always known that her mother had vicariously wished many things for Kay without really asking whether Kay had wanted them for herself. Some had worked out well – like the music lessons. No, Kay had not become the Concert pianist her mother had hoped. (Thank God, Kay prayed silently. The life of a Concert Pianist cannot be an easy one, travelling always to cities where one has no friends, where the hotel is as cold and unwelcoming as the last one in the last city); always being reviewed by critics, always having to be on show. But Kay loved her music and played the piano almost every day That had been a huge gift in her life.

Kay had been shocked when Heather had owned up that Mother’s dream life for Kay was Wife of a University President.  As Kay swabbed her cloth back and forth, rinsing from time to time,  wringing out the cloth and recommencing, Kay’s thoughts turned to how that possibility might be.

Instead of swiping this slightly grey floor, she might be sitting at an urn, pouring tea for Faculty Women, warm in a luxurious room with fine china and polished silver.  If there were no Tea in progress, perhaps she would be in tennis whites, swinging away at a ball in practice, or chatting up some academic wife, lobbing balls across the net. No, Kay thought. She had no regrets. She had led an interesting life.  Not an easy life, but interesting.

Mozart’s violins sang sweetly with a little waltz rhythm. Kay found herself swiping the floor in time with the tune. At least it was her own floor, she opined. She wasn’t earning her living scrubbing someone else’s floors on her knees.

The only way to get a floor really clean was to get up close and personal with it. Kay had no faith in the new mop technologies nor the old. The sponges fell apart far to fast and didn’t get into the corners well. When they needed rinsing, there were awkward motions and drips of accumulated grime that spilled on the floor. The new, well advertised Spiffies promised an easier task and a cleaner floor, but they were also a disposable technology which went against the grain of Kay’s environmental sympathies. One floor cleaning and throw away the offending dirt on a handy-dandy cloth, right into the garbage bin – if only one cloth per floor was the dosage. Kay had her doubts.

Floor cleaning is not mind-engaging work and her mind continued a conversation with her mother.

“I know you wanted the best for me,” she said in an acceding gesture of atonement, ” but had you no thought that I wanted something else for my?  After all, I told you clearly enough that I wanted to be an artist.”

That hadn’t been an acceptable occupation for a young upcoming woman. The family approved choices were clear. Get a degree. Marry a professional with ambition. Raise children to an even higher level of Academia. Shoot for the stars. Support his career until he became president. Run interference with any who might aspire to the same. Promote him in all his work. Hold teas. Do charitable work. Schmooze with faculty staff and wives. Play tennis and bridge.

It has been a terrible shock for Mother when Kay had gone Hippie. A shock to find her, run away from home,  living in an industrial district while finishing University. It was a shock when she had confessed to both smoking and inhaling. And when Kay had chosen her husband, well! That was the last straw.

Kay admitted that it hadn’t been a wise choice.  The marriage had not lasted long. But Kay did not like to dwell on those early days of independence.

What she could tot up on the good side of her experience was the teaching that eventually placed her in a prestigious Art school. She would never regret the years she had spent abroad studying in Europe nor the interesting things she had done thereafter.  She had come home fluently speaking another language.  When finally she had settled down, mid-life, to a continuous job, she had risen in the ranks and taken on responsibility, for which, finally, her mother had been proud.

Now here she was, retired and on creaky knees, swabbing the decks. By this time, Kay had reached the other door of the kitchen, all the floor looking uniformly the same colour.  Perhaps it’s only uniformly grey, she mused.

She backed out on all fours, found the nearby stairs to help her rise again, reflecting on this accomplishment too. It was only July when she had been unable to walk again, from back and knee injuries; so these knees, performing – maybe not to her will, exactly , but none the less performing – form and function, were something of a success as well.

It was a good life and it wasn’t over yet. Maybe, just someday maybe, Kay would get someone to come clean her floors and she could spend that afternoon going out to tea.