Archive for the ‘living’ Category

Elusive dreams

January 8, 2013

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I awoke from a dream that ended up in a hut in Cambodia, with me hiding behind a curtain, desperately hoping an invading group of men would not see me. Before them, a group of women and children had passed along a nearby bridge, like lemmings migrating or fleeing perhaps. There had not been a sense of danger to the first but there was to the second.

The dream was far more complicated than that, but as waking comes, so our dreams and their accuracy disappear.

I was left with an uncomfortable feeling as I lay in the dark, conscious of the warmth and safety of my current condition, It was an unnamed anxiety that I left to unveil itself by lying still, soaking up the darkness, savoring the plummy feel of the warm sheets, the crispness of the cotton, the darkness of the room. Dawn had not yet broken.

I encouraged my mind to go into free fall, hoping that in a waking dream-state, I could recapture the meaning of the dream; but it became more elusive and my thoughts became more concrete, more tangible, but drawn from my personal miasma of memory, not the from the dream.

I cannot say how I made the various connections that landed me in the domain of my past loves, past affairs and other intimate but not-so-pleasant relationships. Quickly, I was sombering into disastrous affairs from so long ago and briefly feeling the hurt and bewilderment of them again.

Why did my brain still store up these negative events, unwise decisions and embarassing moments in time? Do we remember everything we have ever done; these peccadillos sitting there somewhere deep in the chasm of memory just waiting for the trigger that will release them from the subconscious bog to the troubled surface of consciousness? Do we not all make mistakes as a part of growing up and finding our way? They are over and done with. Why to they reassert themselves?

If I did not want to spend the rest of the day beating myself up for things from a distant past, I had to flee this self-indulgent reverie-gone-wrong, so I covered my head with the blankets to block out the coming light and switched on the bedside lamp. Slowly I lifted the covers to adjust my eyes to the brittle light of day.

As I watch a dear friend suffering with depression struggle with her thoughts she cannot lay to rest I liken my fleeting struggle with hers, all the while questioning how some can escape the debilitating battle locked up in our minds and how others are drawn back into a miasmic bog they cannot escape.

Fifteen minutes into this written “capture” of my dream-wakening, the details are slithering away like a disturbed nest of wood spiders running for a bolt hole. I have sent the negative thoughts back to the bottom. I’m analyzing in a purely rational way. I’ve locked out the baddies.

How did I learn to do that? Why can some do it and others not?

Like everyone, I have made mistakes in my life that I cannot undo, cannot even atone for. I even know that, in aging,  I have not necessarily learned my lessons from them. I can still, and do still, fall back into them from time to time but with a bit more success in managing outcomes. Maybe.

It makes me more humble in dealing with my friends with troubles. I’m a wayfarer with them, not a judge, as I listen to their tales. I’m more compassionate, less critical, more empathetic.

Day has broken. Outside the window, seagulls squawk and chatter, seals come up for air after a search for breakfast, the blue heron stands stalk still waiting for fish to wash up with the incoming tide, the eagle sits glaring down from its pine tree perch. A high tide laps persistently at the gravelly winter shore. Life goes on.

I’m headed downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

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Flying

November 14, 2011

Six o’clock always comes too early. Kay had set the alarm for it, but she was awake five minutes before, nervous that she would not meet the seven forty-five train, the last morning train into Vancouver. She padded about doing her morning ablutions, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, slipping into the clothing that she had laid out the night before.

It was alway wise for Kay to set everything out the night before because her brain did not start working until ten, and by that time, she would already be in Vancouver.

At The Station in Vancouver, she found a coffee bar and ordered up a large sized misto, then sat watching the commuters stream from the train exit doors towards the street exit. Every few minutes, another train would arrive. Crowded, jostling people would obscure her view until, suddenly, there were only one or two people sauntering by, not concerned with being anywhere on time, not going anywhere special. Like Kay, for the next hour.

She took up an abandoned paper and worked the Sudoku then the crossword. Her camera lay on the table, the shoulder strap curled around her right arm. It was a poor area of town with druggies, not always recognizable. A good camera would give them a few hits in trade. It was wise to hang on to it against such an eventuality.

Just before ten, Kay rose, chucked her cup and newspaper, loaded her overnight bag onto her shoulder, lifted  the hidden handle to her valise and began to roll it towards the direction of the Art Gallery. Her old time friends – Degas, Monet, Manet, Fantin Latour, Val Jean, Pissaro,Toulouse Lautrec and others of their era were showing their drawings. It was a Gallery Blockbuster, borrowed from the Quai d’Orsay Museum in Paris, a rare thing for Vancouver, halfway around the world.

At noon, Kay left the gallery, sated with visions of Parisians and their environs, to head back to The Station and the Canada Line to the airport. At the Main airport terminal, she waited for the Shuttle bus, sitting on the bench beside a thin man smoking a cigarette, engrossed in his newspaper.

When she boarded, the thin man helped her with her valise, lifting the heavy red case with ease onto the back of the Shuttle Bus to the South Terminal. And then at two, the plane to Trail was boarding, for it was in Trail that Lizbet would pick her up.

Lizbet was moving. After thirty seven years in her small community, she was leaving to settle in retirement on the coast near Parksville.  Kay was coming to help her close up the house and to pack.

It was odd, thought Kay, that there was no security for these smaller airports. People lined up just like they used to in the ‘Sixties, walked through the doors and across the tarmac to the airplane, walked up rickety steps to the cabin and bent double going down the aisle to a seat of one’s choice. It felt archaic.

But the thought did not actually take form until, landing in Trail, everyone walked back down the rickety steps to the landing strip asphalt and walked to the exit gate.
It was a bright but cloud-covered day. There, not fifteen feet away behind a three foot chain link fence with no other sign of security, was Lizbet and her dog Heidi. They were  standing in an unmown patch of grass waiting with the others for the passengers to get their baggage and come out to them, ”

There was Heidi dog wriggling her whole body, furiously waving her tail, running in short circles at the end of her leash, emitting a high pitched squeal of delight at the sight of Kay.

“Hello!” said Kay, greeting Lizbet, then nodding to the dog who was trying to leap up to give Kay a dog’s kiss, “She remembers me!

“Ah yes, ” Lizbet replied, “She has a fabulous memory for people.”

And off they went to the car to continue on to Lizbet’s home.

“Do you realize,” said Kay, “how special that is? How unusual now, to have an airport with no need for major security, like this one, in Trail?”

“It gives you an odd feeling, of having found the original sense of security – that everything is right with the world here. Trusting, Safe. Right with the world.

Oops! And a holiday Christmas fireplace.

December 20, 2009

It’s Saturday morning and there is no reason for me to get out of this blessed hot water. I’m enjoying a soak. Trapesius, Deltoid and Latissimus dorsi ,  my back muscles, are enjoying the heat, infusing a bit of lavender and thyme oil. Ah, luxury!

Eventually the water cools and the slow, warm, Saturday awakening is at an end. It’s time to move; to dry off; to dress; to greet the day.

There I am, rubbing my hair dry, watching it spike a little now that I’ve had it cut recently, rubbing my neck and face dry when I notice that I’m wearing two necklaces.  One is the Mabe pearl that I purchased in Japan. It’s so classic, I rarely take it off. It goes with everything.

The other is a gold chain with a lattice moon pendant. I haven’t seen it for a while. It’s been packed up in boxes from the move. Here it is two and half years later and yesterday, I began to sort through the jewelry box – a 12 bottle liquor board cardboard box – to determine what will be kept and what will not. There’s a lot of drek in amongst the pearls. So I put it on. I would put it away when I went to bed, somewhere in a safe spot. Or maybe  would take off the pearl one. Sometimes there are hard decisions to be made.

But the decision had not been made and here I am staring at myself in the mirror and the only thing I am wearing are two tangled gold chains, a pearl and a gold lattice moon. There’s no way I can separate one from the other without taking one off. And so I do.

Carefully, I find the catch, one of those little circular spring rings that open up and release the other little ring that hooks onto it.  The chain comes apart. It falls straight, all in one rapid motion, like in a dream, and the pearl follows down the straight path and into the drain, as if Tiger Woods was sinking an ace shot.

I can’t put into print what I said at that point.  But there was nothing to be done. I couldn’t undo the trap underneath the sink. I don’t have the  strength in my hands and I don’t have the tools. Plumbers come at $75 per hour plus travel time and that wasn’t going to happen. I’d have to call for voluntary help.

I put a piece of dry clothing in the sink so that I would remember not to use it and I called for the kindly curmudgeon next door Mr. Stepford. I sheepishly stated my case and my request.

“Sure,” says he. “But I can’t come until tomorrow evening. We’re entertaining tonight and I’m going off to work in half an hour. It’ll have to be Sunday.

I sigh.

It’s wonderful that he will come, but I’m anxious about my precious pearl. It seems like such a long wait, and too much time for me to forget, screw up, turn on the water without thinking and flush it down the drain.

*

Downstairs, now, I’m fixing breakfast.  As Christmas approaches and I have need for a fairly empty fridge, I’m making my food choices on the basis of making the most room, “getting rid” of food that needs to be eaten up without wasting it. I reflect that this is an extraordinary state that many of us live in. I’ve had my days of poverty and hunger, wondering where my next meal would come from, wondering if it would ever end, but now I feel so blessed to have a roof of my own over my head and food enough that I never go hungry.

I select the few pieces of pre-cooked bacon, left over from the day Whistler came through on his way back to the ski town in the Kootenays where he is night manager at a hotel. We had a lovely, protein rich eggs and bacon meal to tide him along his eight hour drive. These last few pieces will make tasty sandwich with the last squished cheese bun, from the package that was taking up too much room in the freezer. I bought them too fresh and they collapsed, but they still taste very good, especially toasted.

There’s a vegetable soup ready in the fridge, made last night with the last fresh vegetables I had on hand – a huge carrot, an onion, half a bunch of parsley and a cup or two of chopped up celery stalks. There are eight or so frozen tomatoes from the freezer, rock hard red ice-balls, that I added in; and then spices – salt and pepper, of course, pulverized  rosemary, basil, thyme.  There are trailing bits in the fridge  and freezer – little containers of meat juices, a modicum of fennel that has been blended into a fine mush. Any stray bit of savory food gets chucked in the pot. It diminishes the freezer pack by at least four big re-used yogurt containers.

As I’m preparing my morning coffee and my bacon sandwich, I’m reflecting that this has been a week for things to go wrong. House things. Here’s the pearl, this morning.  Two days ago it was the house alarm.

At seven in the morning, I’m awoken by the alarm wailing loudly. I have no idea how long it has been on. I was sleeping  soundly.

It’s still dark in the house. There is a flashlight in the headboard shelving and I turn it on. If there is an intruder, there is no need to alert them that I’m awake and on the prowl. I creep silently down the stairs.

Outside, daylight is beginning to rise, to take away the shadows. At the half way mark, I stop to listen, but the alarm is too loud. If someone were stealing things, I certainly would not hear them; but there is another ringing going on. It’s the telephone. Abandoning caution, I race  for it, but, as usual, the phone is never in the room where it’s supposed to be. I dash back into the room I use for an office just as the phone stops ringing.

I go to the alarm panel to reset the alarm. I note that the zones that were triggered were the living room and the back door, but there is no sign of forced entry on the back door and the sun porch door has not been opened either.  I’m concurrently trying to assess any potential danger and trying to get the alarm to quit its nerve racking sound. The phone rings, but it’s not my land line. It’s my cell.

It too is not where it’s supposed to be. I’ve left it upstairs and I race for that only for it to swing over to the message centre just as I pick it up.  Sigh. I’m a Luddite. Getting messages from the cell phone is a challenge. I can never remember the number to telephone and I don’t know my password. I have that stored in a secret place in the house , but the alarm monitoring company will be waiting to hear from me or will be sending out the cops. I’m still in pyjamas and that would never do.

I phone using the only number I have – the one listed on the window stickers. It’s good. I identify myself. I give them my address and my password.  I explain my case but I’m talking to the wrong department.

“You had better call the false alarm section. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fine,” says the voice on the other end.

“I don’t know if it’s a false alarm,” I say with some worry. “I didn’t sent the alarm off and I don’t know what or who did. There may be someone in the house. ”

“Oh, everything is all right, ” he answers. “Someone reset the alarm now and the two zones are no longer being activated. I don’t think there is anything.”

“You can tell from where you are?” I say in disbelief, my voice rising in a querulous panic. “It was me who reset the alarm, but I don’t know if someone is here.”

I tell him about the back door not being open; about the hook on the sun room that couldn’t be reset by someone leaving the house.

“And why would the alarm go off by itself? I don’t have pets, – no cats, no dogs – so what would make it trigger? It’s the second time it’s happened. Maybe the system needs to be checked.”

And so he arranges for a technician to come. He will call me and set up a time. His name is Garrett.

At five in the afternoon, I still don’t have an appointment for him to verify the system. For all my puttering in the day, I haven’t checked my messages on the cell, so I get the telephone and check the messages. All the text ones are about how much money I have left on my account. The voice mail, though, is a different matter. I find my aide-memoire with the telephone number to call and the password.  I dial and follow through on  the instructions. Garrett had called at eleven. I’d never even heard the phone ring!

It was too late to call back. His day was over.  The rest of that story isn’t worth writing. Telephone tag on Thursday. Eventual connection.

“Monday? I am without a functioning alarm until Monday?

“Well, today is Friday.” he says, leaning on the word ‘is’.  So Monday it will be. What can one do?

Troubles come in threes, goes the saying.  I fervently hope that there isn’t one more thing to go wrong; and then I think, I was playing this telephone tag with another service man only last Monday! I’ve already had my three.

My friend Rose was here last Sunday for a cup of tea.

“Good grief, your house is cold!” she exclaims.

“Well, come sit here by the fire, ” I offer, and I get down on my creaky knees to light the gas fireplace.  There’s a starter that lights the little blue flame. You flick it a few times and it sparks. You hold the gas knob in until the flame gets a bit bigger and warms up the thermo-coupler. You let go. The flame has heated this safety  mechanism and then you put the gas flow to the place you want it.

Only this time, the flame gets bigger and I let go. The blue flame dies. Extinguishes. Time after time.  It won’t stay lit.

I know only too well that I need a new thermo-coupler – they go every few years. They wear out.  But do you think I can find someone to fix it? It’s too close to Christmas. They are busy. I can have an appointment on the sixth of January.

Well, I can manage this! To heck with the gas fireplace. On Christmas Day with all my dinner guests, I’ll be watching the cable TV fire place on Channel 2.

And BTW, for any of you stressing over my lost pearl, Mr. Stepford came, undid the trap under the sink and fished out my pearl. I won’t spoil this by telling you how mucky a job that was. The pearl is safe and intact.

Bless his soul!

Hello, I must be going

November 17, 2009

On Friday night, I and two friends went to the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby to see a powerhouse of a play called, Hello, I must be going.  It has finished it’s run at the Shadbolt, but it is likely to turn up again as it is on tour this 2009-2010 season. I’ll try to find out where it’s going next.

Bessie Wapp and her mother Judy wrote the play based on family letters and remembrances of growing up in Lithuania and fleeing persecution under the Czar, Alexander III. Woven into the play are heart rendering scenes of what happens to the women in the village when it is taken over by Germans in the World War II, and action that takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota where one of the family has immigrated.

Bessie Wapp plays all the parts, shifting character and generation as swiftly as she can put on an apron or cover head or shoulders with a shawl.  The stage sets are minimal and versatile. Bessie never leaves the stage, but in our imaginations, she has changed countries, changed her age, played the part of a child and then an aunt and then a grandmother.

It’s a play with a message and the message is powerful – and it’s all based on a true life experiences.   Try to see it if you can.

The web site for Twin Fish Theatre who has produced the play, is:

http://www.twinfishtheatre.ca/helloImustbegoing.html

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

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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.

Day hijacking

October 26, 2009

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I had promised myself a time for drawing in the morning, and in fact, picked up my tray of most recently used chalk pastels from last spring, six months back at least, to draw something. Anything, really. Just something to get going with. I’m have been going through such an artist’s block that it’s no longer funny. I need to do something to get myself in gear.

I chose a cream coloured piece of Ingres paper to start with and since I didn’t have any expectations of a fine drawing in the end, I chose some scraps of chalk pastel to work with. I had lots of splinters and crumbles and short pieces of various reds.

I pressed these into the paper making incoherent marks, not knowing really where this was going, just looking for some inspiration, just wanting to exercise my experimental side of drawing.

Soon I had some flow. I overlaid the bits of red marks with charcoal, still trying to work freely. I hadn’t had breakfast yet and was getting hungry. I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee, but I knew if I didn’t keep at it, I would abort and abandon the work.

Soon I was forming the charcoal layer into a heart shape. It’s one of my themes but I feared for this one because it was not being formed from some inner feeling; it was just starting as an exercise and perhaps would not achieve the substance that the other ones had done.

I didn’t like the white background and started to fill the outer edges with more dense reds.  Finally I got to a stopping point determined by my realization that if I continued on I would spoil what I had done which wasn’t too bad.  I’d have to look at it a while before I could either take another step towards another layer of chalk marks or decide that it was done and spray it with fixative. I left it up on the easel.

While I was preparing my first coffee, Mrs. Stepford’s doorbell rang. You might remember that Mr. Stepford, annoyed by my door knocker, decided to give me an electronic door bell for Christmas last year. He even installed it for me. The only glitch in the system is that their frequency is the same as mine, so when their doorbell rings, so does mine.  It might not have been important, except that in the time it takes someone to walk from their place to mine, mine rang.

I can tell the difference because, when their’s rings, it rings once. Mine rings twice.

I was fearing the worst – religious persuaders, newspaper promotions, some cocky sales agent of fixed energy payment equalization (this has been a nation wide scam since utilities deregulation). All I could see was a tall dark man’s shape through the machine lace of the front door curtain. I wished that I had gotten into the habit of at least putting the latch on the screen door.

I could see that he was wearing a tee shirt and a none too clean one, too; that ruled out the other people I was loath to see, since they usually came in inexpensive ill fitting black suits and carried clip boards or brief cases.

My fears were laid to rest when I opened the door. It was Daniel, our lawn maintenance man, all grubby from his hard labour, his open face smiling broadly.

“I’m back from Prince Edward Island,” he said. “Do you want your lawn cut?”

I looked out at my mossy green front yard. There was hardly any grass to cut. If you remember, I discovered a ninety percent ratio of moss to grass as I was pulling out dandelions by hand this summer. The moss was thriving now in this cooler wet weather. It had rained overnight and everything was still damp.

“You know, Dan, I’d rather have you prune the apple tree out front. Could you do that today instead?”

Dan started visibly calculating behind his serious blue eyes.

“Yeah. I could do that.  I guess I could. Mrs. Stepford is not home so I don’t know if she want’s hers done. I was planning on lawns. But no, I could do the apple tree. ” As a non sequitur, he added, “I brought you and Mrs. Stepford a gift from Prince Edward Island. It’s been frozen all this time. You don’t need to worry about that. I brought home thirty pounds of buffalo meat all packed up by a regular butcher. I don’t know what you do with it, cook it slow, I think. ”

“How sweet of you to think of us,” I said and he blushed, a little shy at my effusive thanks.

As he turned to go down the stairs to his truck, I mentally groaned that I had given away my drawing day. I might not return to it again today and then, who knows when?

For good or for ill, help or hindrance, I always work with Daniel when he comes for a tree trimming project. These are projects I can’t manage by myself – I’m not knowledgeable  about chain saws and I’ve been warned I’m klutz enough that I shouldn’t insist on learning. “You wouldn’t want to be missing a few fingers or toes, would you?” Frank had said.

Thus it was that my drawing day was hijacked; but when I got outside to point out what I wanted done, I was not one bit sorry. It was likely the last mild day of autumn.

The sun was working hard to reverse the effects of rain and some northern cold fronts that had  spent time in our corner of the world. The grass was still filled with dew even though it was near noon. Light filtered throught the red and orange leaves of the Japanese maple; the magnolia leaves were bright yellow gamboge.

Gamboge, Wikipedia tells me, ” is most often extracted by tapping resin from various species of evergreen trees of the family Guttiferae.  The trees must be at least ten years old before they extract the resin by making spiral incisions in the bark and by breaking off  leaves and shoots and letting the milky yellow resinous gum drip out. The first recorded use of gamboge as a color name in English was in 1634. ” It’s also one of my favorite yellow pigments in watercolour with its robust yellow tending to orange.

The magnolia leaves lay like a skirt below the lightly clad tree as if it were only dressed now in a flimsy petticoat.  The colours all about were magnificent. I started to pick up beautiful leaves, not only from the maple and the magnolia, but from the Dogwood and the various nut trees deposited from neighboring homes. I soon had to stop that, or I would have carried a bushel of them into my house to paint – the painting of which I was foregoing for this beautiful day of garden work outside. On the south side of the property, I could see into Mrs. Stepford’s yard. Her sumac was one solid block of vermillion. Against the brilliant grass green, the colours just popped!

Daniel, by this time, was sawing off low branches and water-shoots on the apple tree.  That didn’t take long. It was quite surprising how much he could clear out of the tree while still standing on the ground; but there was still a lot to be brought down. Agile like a twenty-year-old, he propped his chainsaw between lower branches, grabbed two sturdy limbs and climbed up in amongst them. He grabbed his saw with one hand and continued to climb until he was in the top of this overgrown tree. He proceeded to saw away unwanted growth, then to pull these free of the branch tangles and throw them down to the lawn.

I realized it was the first time years that I had seen someone climb a tree. I searched back. My first boyfriend and I used to climb the cherry tree in his back yard to collect fruit for his mom. That was the last that I climbed a tree. Before that, we had climbed the dogwood in the back yard on 36th Avenue before I was ten and had earned a ferocious scolding from mother who was fearful of us falling. When Jason had cut back the Bing cherry in my yard,  he had used a ladder.  There had been none of this balancing between branches nor the acrobatic extensions to reach out and saw.

Daniel stayed aloft while, from the ground,  I tried to guide him to cut the right branches at the right length so that in the end, we would have a nicely shaped tree. In the end, he had taken a good six feet of height from the tree and cleared out the crossing branches.

The long part of this project is loading up the branches for the yard-waste dump.  I began dragging the smaller branches to his pick-up truck and soon had if filled with  them. He brought the bigger ones.

Undaunted by his full truck, he continued to pile on more and more, occasionally leaping up into the mess of tangled  limbs and crushing them down with his feet until he had almost all the branches in the back. Such was the entanglement that they all held together when he drove off.

He left me to watch over his tools – the saw, a leaf blower, a rake, two large orange fuel containers looking much like pumpkins in this autumn landscape, and a large green garbage bin with a plastic lid that he used to pick up smaller debris.

I couldn’t make progress on the tree while he was gone, I couldn’t leave the yard and his worldly wealth of gardening equipment, so I took the secateurs and headed for my hapless vegetable garden. There I cut the little crown cabbage heads off  the top of each stem which, by doing so, supposedly promotes the growth of the Brussel sprouts  that are  burgeoning out of the stem at the point where each leaf starts. I picked the one lone bean still growing on the vine. I pulled out the blackened tomato plants that had succumbed to the last overnight frost as had the butternut squash that had flowered but never fruited.

I heaped up some soil around the fennel which apparently likes this cool weather, although, novice that I am in the vegetable gardening business, I don’t know when enough is enough.  In other words, I busied myself with little garden tasks until he returned.

We finished packing the truck, raked the leaves and rotten apples that had fallen in the process, cut back main trunks from two of the flowering shrubs and he loaded my six large bags of yard waste into the truck. I added the woody stems of fireweed from the garden beside the front door since they won’t rot easily and while I was there, cut a few glorious hydrangea heads all purples and pale blues for cut flowers in the house.

It was four o’clock when I came in from our labours. He had headed down to the yard-waste dump again. He was back in an hour for his pay cheque to which I added a frozen container of apple sauce made from that very same tree that we had trimmed.

I was happy to have had some split pea soup with ham already made up. I wasn’t about to cook myself dinner after all that work. I felt invigorated but tired too. All that fresh air. All that lovely autumn colour and sensation. It was worth having the drawing hijacked… There would be another day.

Preprandial hornet

September 8, 2009

Shuswap yellow life jacket 2 small

Lizbet lured Kay to the lake with promises of fresh air, warm bathing water and a fine picnic table to set her paints upon.

Kay gathered her paint pots and paraphernalia, locked the cabin door behind her and toted her kit down to the beach. Lizbet was just coming out of the water, her wet dog dancing around her, teasing Lizbet with a stick that she would not let go.

At ankle deep, the dog shook with a mighty wiggle, radiating the lake water out four feet about her in a diamond spray as the droplets caught the sun.

“Oh,” says Liz, “I was just coming out. Are you coming in?”

“How cold is it?”

“Seventy-two degrees warm,” she replied. “They tested it this morning. It’s not bad if you go in slowly. You get your feet wet and let them freeze. When you don’t feel them anymore, you move in up to your knees and let them freeze. You keep doing that until you are in. Everything’s frozen so you feel warm” She hesitated a minute noticing that Kay was not at all convinced and added dubiously, “and there are warm pockets…”

Her words hung in the air. Kay had no intention of freezing herself for the pleasure of a two minute swim and the unlikely chance of finding a warm pocket.  She unpacked her palette, her paints and vials, her water tub and her brushes and paper until they spread over the entire table.

Looking across the lake, she saw little to paint.  Smoke still hung heavily above the water obscuring the low mountain, obscuring even where the shore and land met. The sky was grey with a pall of ocher-tinted smoke coming from the west. The Sorrento fire had grown from thirty five to seven hundred kilometers square overnight. It was unimaginably huge.

The cloud travelling east towards Seymour Arm was smoke, not moisture. Moisture in the form of rain had not been seen for a month and then, it had barely wet the surface.

There were children on the beach screeching in their high pitched voices, a band of six small boys, cousins, were building a fort from beach rock. One of their fathers was an engineer and the child was precociously instructing the boys to reinforce the bearing wall, to dig out drainage and to grout the stones with sand as the five boys piled the stones three wide and three deep.

Two toddlers were lumbering along precariously as only toddlers can, bottom heavy with diapers and top heavy with yellow life vests. Thin girls were parading in their bikinis, exhorting each other to run into the water, hitching the panties that would not stay firmly up over their skeletal hips.  When they raced back out of the water just as fast as they went in, they quickly wrapped large beach towels over their heads and about their slender frames, looking like miniature Biblical figures.

Kay watched in wonder at their insouciant sense of balance and their indifference to the rough stones that scattered the beach beneath their tender feet.

Lizbet took her leave.

“I’m going to get into dry clothes,” she said as she walked up the sandy hill to the road and from there to the cabin.

Kay shrugged. It had taken her half an hour to get down and to prepare to paint. If she didn’t find anything to paint, at least she could drink in the fresh air and watch the activity flowing around her.

It was almost an hour later when Lizbet’s voice came, proclaiming from the road, “Don’t ever say I don’t do things for you! I’ve brought you a glass of wine!”

Sure enough, she was balancing two glasses of red as she picked her way over the tufts of dried yellow grass that gave purchase on the sandy hill to the table.

Coming behind her was Heather’s husband, grinning, balancing his own glass filled with a milky brown liqueur, his libation of choice, Baileys.

Kay moved her spread of painting tools out of the way and the three of them clinked glasses and sipped away as they chatted.
Kay, absorbed in a child and its movements and continuing on with her daubings of a moored boat, payed little attention to the conversation and the wine.

She loaded her brush with blue and carefully drew it along side of the boat she was painting. A few strokes of the same blue over the first wash served to describe some reflection and water movement below the boat.  Then she picked up her wine glass and savored two long sips of wine.

It’s one of those things. You don’t really look at what you are doing. You are focusing on one thing and doing another. Beach-side multi-tasking. Out of  peripheral vision, a movement catches your attention. Your brain is slow to register; it does not compute the image; the pattern slowly emerges; an alert comes far to late for the registering message to be heeded. There was something black in the red liquid contained in her glass that she had just freely drunk from.

“EWWWWW!

She almost flung the glass from her. There was a great black insect in the bowl of it drunkenly swimming in the red wine. It was wearing white and black striped swimming trunks and she had narrowly missed ingesting the ugly beast!

Kay touched the glass gingerly by the stem, pushing it away from her. It was a very large hornet. She dumped the glass to make it go away, but the hornet was not interested in leaving. The hornet climbed swayingly to the rim of the glass and fell helplessly back into the residue of wine. He licked his angular legs and rubbed his mandible and antennae. Oh wine! How Divine!

Kay closed her eyes and said a powerful prayer of thanks. She had narrowly missed ingesting that ugly besotted, black striped beast.

The insect, like many a drunken fool, proceeded unaware of Kay’s repulsion. He continued to wobble and sway about the rim and down again into the cup, bewildered that his drinking partner had cut off his supply.

Kay packed away her kit and headed back to the cabin to make dinner.

When Lizbet and Heather’s husband came in for dinner, Lizbet was laughing.

“He misses you! He’s still down there drunkenly calling your name. Jason gave him a droplet of Baileys as we left, but it just wasn’t the same. I distinctly heard him cry, “Sauvignon, Sauvignon, my beauty, where are you!”

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Excuses and the green alien

August 19, 2009

I’ve found a variety of excuses  for not doing all the things I put off until the summer, pleading the need for hot weather to dry the wood so I could do the exterior painting. The interior painting is another of those things. If I were to paint inside, it needed to be warm enough to leave the doors and windows open so that the paint would dry quickly and the smell would go away. But when summer came, it got too hot, and the smell and the heat would have overwhelmed me, so I put it off to cooler, drier  days; but then it rained.

Two years ago when I took over care and handling of this lovely house, I found the decor reasonably to my taste and jokingly referred to the previous matron of the house as my personal decorator. There was little I wanted to change.

I had to paint the girls’ room because it was to become my office and I couldn’t have blue teddy bears swinging from the moon as my office decor; I had to paint the basement because it hadn’t been painted since Methusala was born and I needed to see where the spiders and their cobwebs were. All the rest of it could be put off until better days.

But slowly I became irked by a few things. The upstairs bathroom had been given a few new pre-sale gleaming fixtures – bath towel racks, a toilet paper holder and some new chrome towel hooks.  When they had been installed, the walls had been patched but not painted. It was unfinished; unaesthetic. Every time I soaked away the garden dust while lounging in the tub, my eyes would be on level with these unsightly patches and I vowed to repaint these spa-room walls.

It took me a year to ponder the colour I wanted. A pale new leaf green, I thought, would be a cheery uplift to this small room. Where else could I make such a colour statement and live with it for twenty years? And if I tired of it, it was a small room to repaint. It would only take an hour or two, n’est pas?

When it came right down to it, though,  I lost my nerve about the choice of green and I decided on a neutral warm colour. I searched amongst the rows and rows of paints left to me by the former owner and the ones that I had brought from my mother’s house.

There was a robin’s egg blue; a Tuscan sun, a desert sable and many other exotically named colours, but only two tins of paint promised the durability of kitchen and bath paint. One with a rusty lid and a spot of pale yellow colour was marked “kitchen” on it. The other was an equally messy tin with “dining” noted on the top, containing a pale peach that just would not do. Neither was enough to paint the small bathroom in any case. It was a perfect excuse to not paint the bathroom. I had no desire to go out to the paint store and buy more paint. Where would I put  the leftovers? I was running out of shelf space for more paint.

Then, in a brilliant flash of environmental conservation, I wondered what would result if I dumped one into the other and stirred it.  Et, voila! I took the two tins, wrestled the lids off and poured the peach into the yellow, complete with a bit of iron oxide dust from the lid. Amazingly, the colour was acceptable and the iron oxide just blended in like a pure pigment that it was. After a vigorous stirring, not a speck of it was to be seen.

Bonus! I had an empty paint pail to send down to the paint recycling depot.

The choosing of paint and reorganization of half-filled paint pails had exhausted me. I had been at it for at least a half an hour.

I found my tools – the paint tray, roller and brushes;  a few rags,  a pile of newspapers a hammer to close the pail when I was finished and an old ice cream bucket to wash my brushes into afterward. I took the things up to the main floor, set them on the bottom step to upstairs. All that effort deserved a cup of coffee.

I sat on the couch and turned on the news. It wasn’t long before the coffee was gone and I was settled comfortably into the cushions, two propping my head gently as  I dozed off to sleep for two hours. I had dreams of procrastination and perfectly new-leaf green walls but when I awoke, startled, to an extra loud commercial of some sort, I was only too aware that the paint pot was sitting on the bottom step and not one drop of paint had been married to the wall upstairs.

It must have been time for dinner. I had a blind craving for something to eat. I couldn’t start painting on an empty stomach, now could I? I made a cup of coffee and then a chicken sandwich with crab apple pickle, one of my home preserves. As I was rummaging through the fridge returning the pickle, I came across some fresh nectarines and brought one out for dessert. I snitched a few fresh blueberries from the blueberry bowl while I was at it.

They would taste a lot better with a tiny bit of ice cream, I thought; and I chopped up the nectarine and an apricot I found sitting out on the counter. I added the bit of ice cream and settled myself down in front of the television to watch the news.  I hadn’t heard a bit of it all day.

Three soldiers in Afghanistan had been killed by a bomb. A refugee had been expelled from Canada, having lost all right of appeal. A recent immigrant had been returning to Canada and had not been allowed to re-enter because her passport photo had not been clear. There was a follow up on a Vancouver murder and an exposé of a door-to-door scam. The last of the aggravating car insurance ads for that half-hour came on loudly and I suddenly remembered the upstairs bathroom and my intentions to paint it this summer. It’s late August. I’m going away on holiday. It was tonight or nothing!

By eight o’clock, I’d cut in all the corners and the tops and bottoms of the walls where the roller couldn’t go. I had unscrewed all the shiny new fixtures and set them aside. I had put away all the towels and the regular array of bathroom counter stuff – toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand lotions, soaps, shampoo, mirror, reading material, the clothes hamper and the scale . It was time for a coffee.

It just so happened that a favorite program was on. Couldn’t miss that, could I? Besides the paint had to dry before I put on the next coat. The next program was good too.

I went back up to finish rolling up everything. On the north wall, high up in the corner, there was a patch of green that wasn’t there before. I climbed my step stool to see what it was and encountered a bright green little man with antennae. He was complaining in a low clicking sound:

“When I booked this hotel, they promised that it would be freshly painted before I came and they promised that it would be in my camouflage colour. Here I find the painting is not all done and I can’t hide anywhere.”

He wasn’t nervous at all.His stolid complaints annoyed me. I tried to dislodge him from the very corner I wanted to paint. I got rather close to him with the roller but he wasn’t backing down. He was asserting his rights.

He complained further. “It’s bad enough that I had to pay a huge fee for the astral travel, but this takes the cake! I’ll lodge a complaint with the travel agency. You’ll see. ”
“I want something done right away.”

It was getting late. This little alien creature had more mouth than it did sense. Where else would he stay? Obviously the Martian travel agency was running  as scam. That didn’t mean I had to fall for it. I found a  glass that was nearby and captured him underneath it. He had no earthly street smarts; he never even suspected I might take him prisoner. He didn’t budge.

I put him on the bathtub shelf enclosed in the glass, and he calmly went to sleep, or so it seemed. Perhaps he felt better in a glass bubble. Maybe that’s the way they operate in Martian space.

I pondered the ability of Martians to divine my intentions to paint in leaf green as I continued to paint, rolling up the four walls with the creamy blend of scrubbable paint. I vowed to photograph him when I was done with painting.

At midnight, I surveyed my progress. It was looking good, but all the cut in edges had to be done again – the first coat hadn’t covered, but it couldn’t be done until the paint dried.

Reluctantly, I admitted that I would have to finish it in the morning.  I wrapped my brushes in a plastic bag and put the roller in a tube just like a tennis ball tube so that I wouldn’t have to clean up twice. I put myself to bed and slept soundly.

In the morning, I arose and cut in the corners again before I even had coffee. I put the  towel racks back up and the holder for the toilet tissue. I protected the brushes so that I could wash them up later – much later. I put all the sundries back in  place and the towels back on the racks.

It looked wonderful.

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I got out my camera and photographed this alien creature. I had never seen one of these before and I still have no idea what he is. When finally I released him to fly away outside, he clung like fury to my wild shaking of the glass mug.  I ended up having to poke a stick into the glass mug to encourage him out. But he didn’t want to go.  I can imagine that, as a tourist not speaking the language well, he would be fearful of finding a safe hotel on his own without that exterrestial travel agency. But out he went. I wasn’t keeping him – he complained far too much and he was so insistent on green.

Well, he must be staying in my garden somewhere. There’s lots of green for him there.