Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pickles, Sad Stories and Fresh Air

Everyone has a sad story lurking behind their normal exterior. I talked about this with my new neighbour, who kindly brought over an armload of homemade preserves this afternoon. Beet pickles, canned cherries, bread and butters – I can't wait to dive in and try something tonight at supper.

She brought preserves, I offered her a glass of ice water (hardly a fair trade) and we shared some of our darkest secrets. Do you do that with someone you just met? Um, yeah. If you're willing to show the world your underwear in a blog it's no biggie to swap secrets with someone over a cup of joe. Conversation, after all, is just live-action blogging.

I like our neighbours. As a matter of fact, I am liking everything about Cold Lake. The air here is so fresh. So cool. It's like the man upstairs just had a breath mint and he's spitting at us.

My friends and relatives back in Ontario and the eastern seaboard are sweltering under record high temperatures and every time I talk to them on the phone all I can do is gush about how cool and fresh everything is here. "The air," I say, over and over ad nauseam, "the air is so FRESH. Did I mention how FRESH it is?" I'm pretty sure I have no friends left in Ontario but I can't help it. Every day I marvel at the lack of humidity, the brilliant blue skies and the FRESH pepperminty breezes cooling my skin.

Our asthmatic cat has never been healthier. He hasn't thrown up since we got here (knock on wood) and he's positively kittenish, prancing around the house, breathing like a regular cat instead of an old hag cat with an oxygen bottle, a wheelchair, and a lifetime addiction to Player's Plain.

This morning we had a visit from a neighbour's cat. He didn't come bearing preserves but he seemed friendly as he was peering in our front window. I don't know for sure that he's male but he was, after all, peeping, and so Tom he is.

As for sad stories, I'm sure Tom will have much to tell his catified cronies – his peeping career at our front window came to an abrupt end when Misty the Wonderdog chased him off the front porch.

Just another day at Cold Lake. No, I don't have pictures to show you. The camera thing-a-ma-jig is in the trailer somewhere and I'm too lazy to go get it. And no, I haven't come up with a new blog title yet. (The pressure, the pressure...)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Big Tony's Restaurant

It was one of those restaurants doomed to fail, but not because of the food. The food was good. Actually it wasn’t just good, it was great. Real Italian. Like somebody’s nonna spent all day slaving over a hot stove. Fresh pasta, pillowy soft. Exquisite red sauce, peasant-like, chunky. Silky cream sauce, rustic bread. The food wasn’t the problem – the location of Big Tony’s was terrible.

I thought I could help, with all the dewy idealism of any neophyte who thinks she knows better than the old guy running the place. Maybe I was full of baloney, but honestly, you should have seen the place. A garage, still used as a garage, with lawnmowers and rakes and stuff piled in the back corner and hung on the cinderblock walls. Like all the buildings downtown it was tall, long and narrow, squished between other tall, long and narrow buildings. On the east side was a dollar store, a windowless soulless place that sold crap made by toddlers in the world’s poorest countries. Sometimes I could hear bumps and low laughing sounds coming from behind the store’s cement wall. On the west side was an apartment building with windows looking into Big Tony’s restaurant. It was weird having windows looking into another building but at least they were pretty, trimmed in turquoise with pink window boxes stuffed with plastic geraniums. The apartment building was full of old people who would sit at their windows like sentries, watching what was going on in the restaurant. They didn’t say much and they rarely smiled, just watched what was going on with corpse-faced pallor.

Every day Big Tony arrived at his restaurant hours before it was scheduled to open. He went to the back of his garage, behind a curtain that led to a warren of small rooms – washrooms, a storeroom and a kitchen, where he prepped food for the evening ahead. When the pasta was made and the red sauce was settling in for an all-day simmer, Big Tony and I tried to make the dining area presentable. 

It was my job to vacuum the floor. What a job. I’d never seen such a terrible carpet. Thin, dark, musty. I’d push the antique Electrolux back and forth across the vastly empty space, dutifully trying to make the carpet better, all the while chirping in Big Tony’s ear that he needed to throw it out, get new flooring, get rid of the lawnmower, for crying out loud, who has a lawnmower in a restaurant? Big Tony would ignore me. He was busy covering up the lawnmower and other garage stuff with black velvet curtains. I tried to tell him that just because it was expensive velvet didn’t make the outline of the lawnmower less visible.

“Get rid of this junk, Tony,” I said. “Get a shed. Put it up out back. Put your lawnmower in it and your garden hose and all this crap. Then burn this carpet and install some nice hardwood, the shiny stuff. And for god’s sake, put some insulation and drywall over the dollar store wall. That place freaks me out.”

“You have such a vivid imagination,” Big Tony said. He was setting up tables and chairs, sweating with the effort.

“Look at you. Sweating. You shouldn’t have to set this up every day. If you decided, once and for all, that this was a restaurant, and not a restaurant-slash-garage, you wouldn’t have to do this. You’re gonna have a heart attack some day, Tony, I swear you’re going to do a face plant right in your spaghetti sauce.”

“Bah,” Big Tony said.

He continued setting up, I continued giving him unwanted decorating tips and the old people in the windows continued to look down at us, like paintings where the eyes moved.

I never told you what Big Tony looked like, did I? Picture James Gandolfini in his role as Tony Soprano. 

And I never mentioned, until now, that this was a dream I had the other night, a dream that was so real that I missed it, yearned for it, as soon as I woke up.

I loved James Gandolfini as Tony. I had a thing for him, actually, a wee crush. I was sad when The Sopranos came to an end and, while I tried to see Gandolfini in all his roles after that, it wasn’t the same. He was born to play Tony, typecast for good or for bad, but mostly for good.

That I dreamed a dream where the two of us worked side by side in a restaurant, him steadfast and true, me yammering in his patient but put upon ear, was nice.

I can’t believe he’s dead.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Leaving Home

It wasn’t as hard as you might think, leaving home. Not the driving away part, which was  easy, requiring only a turning of the head for a last glimpse, a “good-bye house,” a few tears and “feck you, I’ve never been so glad to drive away from anything in my life.”

It wasn’t the house’s fault. Well it was, in a way. The recently discovered asbestos in the attic, discovered like the hellish opposite of finding gold at the end of a rainbow, didn’t endear me to the little log cabin on the Muskoka River. 

Neither did the flood. (Picture potential homebuyers talking to me on the front porch. They’re Chinese and English isn’t their strong suit.  “Does ever flood here?” they asked, teeth like Chiclets in ridiculously huge smiles. “No,” I replied, earnestly, because earnest is my way of bridging the language gap. Also it was the Truth. Until the potential homebuyers decided to buy the house, that is, then it rained like Heaven had flushed the big porcelain bus in the sky and the next thing we knew Canada geese were swimming in the foot of water covering our front lawn, and my earnest “no” was suddenly a big, fat lie and the Chiclets left the faces of our Chinese buyers as they fled from their offer like the receding waters of my frustrated tears.

Cats: corralled, caged, crabby and ready to roll.
It didn’t help that the last few days of packing were done on the hottest days of the year. You couldn’t even breathe without sweating and it was bloody awful trying to pack up the moving van and clean the house. I felt sorry for the nice folks who helped us with that nasty chore. Family and friends, obligated by blood, loading our earthly belongings, enough sweat pouring off them to start another flood. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

Miserable isn’t a strong enough word for how rotten the last day was. We were supposed to hit the road as soon as we woke up but there was still work to be done and after several hours of sweating by us oldies, I lost it, and started bawling. The heat was unbearable.

“Get in the shower,” Dave said, trying to help.

“No, I can’t, there’s still work to done, we’re never going to finish, it’s soooooooo hot,” I wailed.

“It’ll make you feel better,” he said, patient as Job (the bible guy, not the dead computer guy).

I cried and whined for a while longer until Dave lost it and physically put me in the shower. I was still crying for a while until I realized you can’t cry with your mouth open under a shower, not unless you want to drown, and I wasn’t that far gone ... yet. So the crying became blubbering and the blubbering became choking and eventually I just stood under the cool water until my sanity returned.

This was my rig: the Dakota loaded with, amongst other things,
boats, generators, a snowblower and a snowmobile. 
I didn’t get the house as clean as I wanted, because it was just too hot. I don’t feel overly bad, though. I mean, it would have been nice if the floor had of been washed, and the cat hair plucked from the ribs of the electric baseboard heater. Still and all, I left the house in infinitely better condition than when we found it. I’ll never forget the disgusting mess left by the previous owners, the urine-soaked mattress, the adult diapers, the beer tabs flung in every corner, the stench of piss and wet dog, cigarette smoke and spilled beer. We made 14 runs to the dump, getting rid of their junk. We painted or bleached every surface. It took us weeks to make the place liveable.

It was bloody hot while we packed up and plenty of iced tea was guzzled.
Sadly, we never got around to the renovations we knew the house needed. We bought it, and loved it, for its potential.

The people who did wind up buying our house on the Muskoka River, love it for the same reasons we loved it: the charm of a 133-year-old log cabin and the wild beauty of the river. They were planning a party for the first weekend at their new home – at my old home – and to greet their guests they were going to post a sign that read, “Welcome to Potential.”

They know about the asbestos, and the flooding. They don’t care. Love has blinded them, as it once blinded me and Dave.

We loved that house. We loved each other in that house. We had our wedding photos taken on the front lawn. In every important way, we will never forget life on the Muskoka River.

Sure, I cried as I took one last look. But just a little. The air conditioning blew cool air over my sweaty face, drying my tears as I put the truck into drive.