Posts Tagged ‘life’

Prisoner for a night

May 21, 2010

It was hot this past week.

As we stumble out of winter and into spring, bravely facing the elements in the garden to start the yearly ritual of planting so that we can sit back in the summer and watch the vegetables grow, we complain. It doesn’t matter what we complain about. We simply are in the habit of complaining.

It starts this way:

“Spring will never come. It’s so rainy! Aren’t we ever going to get some sunshine?” followed by:

“It’s too hot!” This last complaint comes after the first morning of sunshine in a week – but this time with a bit of force behind it. It’s not the weak thready sunshine of winter. No. This sunshine has some punch and it heats up up to a whopping sixteen degrees. “We’re not complaining though, ”  we follow on, but really we are.

We start to wear layers and can be seen tossing off one of them or putting one back. The sleeveless padded down vest is replaced by a fleece one. We rake up the leaf mould and put it in the compost to rot some more with kitchen  compost and the first grass clippings, mixing as we should the brown with the green.  After a few moments of such labour, off comes the sweater. It’s too hot.

Stand in the shade – it’s too cold.

On Tuesday, the sun came out in full force. It was mightily pleasant and I wore my shorts in a devil-may-care attitude although I shouldn’t be seen in shorts in public any longer. No matter! I was in my own garden and sure to be overheated if I remained in my winter fleece.

In late afternoon, I took the car to pick up some bread and milk at the grocery store. The black interior had absorbed the day’s heat with a vengeance. The black leather was ready to barbecue my tender flesh, but I had changed back into decent leggings and sat for a few minutes to let the hot air out and to soak in the delicious heat.

When I got back, both front windows wide open letting in the eighteen degree weather, I reflected that it takes a bit of time to adjust to temperatures. Normally even in winter, I only keep the thermostat at nineteen degrees throughout the house, so why was it, on this day, that I was feeling cooked while indulging in temperature that was a degree less? It’s all relative. I would have to adjust to summer one more time. For summer was surely coming. Four more days of this heat were forecast.

So as I  left the car, I opened the skylight a fraction of an inch to let hot air rise and leave and I left only one of the front windows open a wrist’s worth, not open enough for a car thief to get in, but open enough to let a breeze go through. I parked it in the shade of two grand cedar trees that surely began life in the early 19oo’s. They are easily one hundred feet tall.

Next morning, we had a mission, Frank and I. Yes, Frank has come back into my life a little bit, returned from the Far East where he wintered for a couple of months, and he phoned up to see if he could help me turn the decommissioned sauna into a storage space. That was last month.

I went on a trip of my own to Victoria to visit some friends a few weeks ago and he, knowing that I wanted some work done in the garden, asked if he could help me with that as well. He’s at loose ends and is looking for company.

It suits me. I know that he has a work ethic bar none, and that I can trust him to do a good job. That being said, if he doesn’t approve of what I want him to do, he pulls an adult tantrum and I often bend, if it doesn’t really matter to me.  I might also end up with something that he wants rather than what I asked for, another familiar manipulation that a gal learns after twenty years of marriage and ten more of on-and-off relationship.

It was in this manner that my two garden beds shifted ten feet to the west and lost their unique U shape.  He insisted that the sun I would get would be much better where he wanted them. I didn’t hold my ground (nor stick to my brand new, not yet fully paid for,  garden design). It seemed like a little concession and I could fudge the design back into looking much like it was supposed to.

All the way up until the end, we talked about the U shape. When he laid the planks out in the garden to show me where it was and for my confirmation that the beds were parallel to the fence and acceptable for my design, the U was still there. But when he called me to see his final product, somehow the little end  of garden had disappeared.

“What happened to the U?” I exclaimed is some disbelief. But with a sinking feeling, I knew what had happened. He didn’t approve of it. I wouldn’t be able to get the wheel barrow in t either end. I would have had to back in with it to roll it out forward. With both ends, I didn’t have that problem. He recognized that the design was prettier than it was practical and with out saying, just made a one-sided decision.

What was the point in protesting. If he didn’t want to do it, I would have to get someone else to do the work. It wasn’t worth the argument and the bins looked quite handsome the way they were. I let it go.

But this little detail of my story comes after my saga of the prisoner, so now I regress.

On the morning where we were going to pick up the lumber for my raised beds,  we headed out to the car and nothing looked unusual.  It was when I opened up the driver’s side door that I was confronted with a robin-sized bird flapping with panic.  It had somehow thought that my car was a likely candidate for a summer’s nest.  That wrist-sized opening had just been enough to get into the car but the configuration of things had not been sufficient for him to get back out.

I looked him up in my bird book later. It was a fairly rare Rufous-sided  Towhee.

He must have cried for help because both rear-view mirrors were decorated with a thick layer which I imagine was deposited by two family members, one on each side, keeping the prisoner company.

Frank opened the two doors on the passenger side and I opened the back driver’s side door and the panicking bird flew off without so much as a thank-you for its liberation.

Talk about decoration! We spent half an hour getting the car cleaned before we could drive away in it. The steering wheel had made a perfect perch for the night but it wasn’t the only place to be cleaned, by any means. All the frustrated wanderings of the poor bird to discover some means of escape had been marked of the passage.

As nests go, it was spacious and luxurious – leather padded lining, plenty of wing-room, some practice-flying space but it lacked in accessibility – or should I say exitability.

In the afternoon, I spent an hour and a half re-cleaning the interior of the car and then the outside. It was a good thing.  I rarely do cleaning, not to say that anyone else does it for me, so it had become dusty and full of Sierra’s dog hair – my sister’s pet whom I had dog-sat for the month of May.

I just want to add this little bit of adventure, which relates to our search for lumber.

On the bird’s liberation day, we went to a big-box hardware store to find the wood we needed for my raised garden beds. Good grief! It was very expensive. With my green thumb which tends more to a dainty pink colour, I would never grow three hundred dollars worth of vegetables. This really was a hobby farmer’s luxury! Each two by ten by twelve was worth almost twenty dollars.

On an off chance, the day that we picked up the wood, I insisted on going to the local lumber yard /hardware store to see if we could get a better price – or even just support local business.  Wouldn’t you know, there was someone very knowledgeable who directed us to something called garden-grade lumber. It was really all that we needed.  There were some faults to it, but nothing major. Instead of twenty dollars a plank, we paid  seven. That’s a mighty savings.

Frank insisted that a six foot plank would fit into the car if we simply put the front seat down as far as it would go. He would travel back and forth in the back seat behind the driver (me).

Now if my car was a clunker, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so worried. But my car is a Lexus with black leather upholstery and I would never have had this car on my own doing if Frank hadn’t insisted that it was a bargain that couldn’t be passed up.  I would never have thought of buying a luxury car.

Last year when the prices came down on cars because of the market crash, I looked for another car, a newer one with less intrinsic faults than this one. It is, after all, seventeen years old now. But anything I drove was so heavy to drive, so clunkerish, so tinny, even though it was new.  The clincher for keeping this vehicle of mine is that the car dealers will only give me three thousand dollars for it! Some luxury! I’ll just keep the thing and run it into the ground!

But by that I didn’t mean losing the ceiling cover to some rough piece of cedar, nor scratching up the fancy leathers. I cringed at the thought.

Once again, I bent to his insistence. I did not gain my way to have the lumber delivered for fifty dollars.  We made three trips in the pouring rain (and the temperature fallen to ten degrees once more) back and forth with eight pre-cut six foot long planks piled on the passenger seat.  I admit that I prayed for the leather and was prepared to curse if anything befell it.

Frank’s smiley face at the end of the third round tells the tale. “See, I told you so” he says. “Trust me!”

So those were the adventures that surrounded my new garden beds.

I must say though, I can’t help thinking of that poor Rufous thing locked up in the clink all night, weeping and gnashing its “hens-teeth”, abetted in its frustration by two watchful friends on the rear view mirrors. Poor Towhee!

I bet his lady isn’t buying the “Trust me!” quip.

In fact, I might even have heard her saying, “I told you so!”

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Where are those keys?

April 14, 2010

My cousin writes a mass mailing to friends:
Hello All!
Once again I’ve put my keys down in a spot where I know I will find them and now I can’t locate them.  I cleaned out the van yesterday, making sure not to lock them in as I closed up.  I have checked the spot where they are to hang in the basement and the pockets of the pants I had on yesterday.  Those should be the only two spots where they should be living.
But voila, like magic they aren’t to be found this a.m.
So get out your spidy eyes…all eight…or is that legs…and watch out for them for me please.
Reward?!  Yes, a drive in the van if you’d like!

I’m miles and kilometers away. I’m not concerned by this loss of keys, but I’m very empathetic. I can have four pen on the desk and have them disappear, one after the other while I have not gone anywhere – not moved whatsoever – and still they are lost to me. Later in the day, I may find them in my jacket pocket.  It’s the desk imp who hides things for wicked fun. And so I reply to my cousin:

Dear Cuz,
Do you not remember the car-key imp? He comes and steals away things  so that you can’t find them when you need them, and then just after it’s too late, he places them before your eyes!
Frank was here for eight days while he did a lot of renos and repairs for me. You should see the outside of my house sparkle! He power washed all the siding!
I kept looking for a stud finder that he gave me – a very expensive one, he was keen to tell me – and I couldn’t find it, so that he could put up some secure hooks for my paintings in these plaster walls of mine.

He went home on Wednesday and then came back again this Sunday to put in some decent and operative taps in the main floor bathroom. I still couldn’t find the stud finder – never opened, still in it’s packaging, yellow and highly visible – even though I opened every drawer and work box where it might have been, even on an off chance.
Then yesterday, not twenty four hours after Frank had gone back home …
I was cleaning up the studio more since this guy is coming to photograph me in the studio and there, in the pile of things I was tidying up (that I had abandoned tidying because I was distracted by R’s many requests for this and that) was the stud finder. Like, five minutes more, staying at my own tasks, I would have had it and he could have pounded some nails into the walls to hold up my heavier paintings. There’s not a chance that he is coming back. He simply lives too far away.
Anyway, Dear Cuz,  I empathize. You know you had your keys at home. They can’t be far.  The car-key imp is playing a trick on you, so they will turn up. Do you have a spare?

Your ever-loving Cousin

K

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!

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.

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!

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)

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

Solzhenitsyn

November 16, 2009

I’m reading The Oak and The Calf , a memoir of Alexsandr I. Solzhenitsyn. You may remember his novels The Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward and First Circle. I think I read them in the early ‘Seventies.

When I came across this book in the thrift store, I only remembered his last name and associated it with a monumental struggle to have his work published. Then I checked out his list of publications and recognized that I had read several of his books and was deeply affected by them. They rang with truth. The stories seemed not so much stories in the sense of fabrications, made up tales, but as documentaries in novel form, to protect the innocent and the guilty.

The Oak and the Calf is a memoir about his struggles to publish after memorizing his books, one by one, without writing them down for fear of being sent back to the gulag in Siberia in which he had spent a greater part of his adult youth. Sixteen years, if I remember rightly, and being released only in his ‘Forties. Even when he finally did write them down, they were typed, single spaced, both sides so that they would be compact, the easier to hide them until they could be safely brought out.

I am always astounded at the strength of the human spirit against massive adversity and how some individuals manage, with grit and determination, to soar above the imprisoning machinations of power and evil mankind.

I’ve only read the first 110 pages so far. Solzhenitsyn has finally dared to bring out the first of his novels and his instantaneous success had been wonderful. Khruschev has appreciated his work and therefore the work is published with official consent; but then Khruschev is overthrown and Solzhenitsyn is thrown into panic to hide the remainder of his works in case he is tarred by Khruschev’s support and his own anti-Stalinist, anti-party-line writings. He prepares to go under the radar, to make himself small and unnoticeable.

He finds in his own spirit that each of these moments of adversity, there is a lesson that he must decipher about life and living. I thought this passage was quite interesting so I am sharing it with you:

Solzhenitsyn writes:

Later the true significance of what had happened would inevitably become clear to me, and I would be numb with surprise. I have done many things in my life that conflicted with the greater aims I had set myself – and something has always set me on the true path again. I have become so used to this, come to rely on it so much, that the only task I need set myself is to interpret as clearly and quickly as I can each major event in my life.

(V.V. Ivanov came to the same conclusion, though life supplied him with quite different material to think about. He puts it like this: “Many lives have a mystical sense, but not everyone reads it aright. More often than not it is given to us in cryptic form, and when we fail to decipher it, we despair because our lives seem meaningless. The secret of a great life is often a man’s success in deciphering the mysterious symbols vouchsafed to him, understanding them and so learning to walk in the true path.”)

– end of quote –

I am thoroughly enjoying this book. Although it’s a memoir, it reads like a novel written in the first person.

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.