Monday, February 28, 2011

A Song for My Father on his Birthday

Every time I hear the whistle of the Ontario Northlander, or a freight train as it rumbles on into Bracebridge, I say hello to my father.
He's not the engineer blowing the whistle, not now; never will be again, but I hear the lonely sound echoing off the granite cliffs of the Canadian Shield, I hear it through the confines of the brick walls where I spend my days. 
It's my daddy calling. 
He never said much, in life. Almost never said, "I love you." Yelled at me as much as anything but I mostly deserved it. At my sister's wedding reception, after the slide show I had produced, he came up to me with tears in his eyes and he cleared his throat and said, uncharacteristically formal, "I'm proud of you, daughter," and my knees buckled under the weight of the compliment.
Today when the train whistle called, I wished him a happy birthday.
I can't bake him a cake, or send him a card, or kiss his grizzled cheek. But I can play him one of his favourite songs, which is now one of my favourites, too, because Daddy, I'll always be walking the floor over you.

You left me and you went away.
You said that you'd be back in just a day.
You've broken your promise
and you left me here alone.
I don't know why you did, dear,
but I do know that you're gone.

I'm walking the floor over you.
I can't sleep a wink, that is true.
I'm hoping and I'm praying 
as my heart breaks right in two,
walking the floor over you.

Now some day you may be lonesome, too.
Walking the floor is good for you.
Just keep right on walking 
and it won't hurt you to cry.
Remember that I loved you 
and I will the day I die.

I'm walking the floor over you.
I can't sleep a wink, that is true.
I'm hoping and Im praying
as my heart breaks right in two,
walking the floor over you.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Beauty of Friendship

so small
is the world
when friends live there
a word a smile a laugh
decimate the miles
what would I do
for you my friends
what would I do
when you illuminate my world
so small now
so small
so big it crushes my chest
what would I do
what wouldn't I do?

Sometimes we all need a little help from our friends. Today I'll help you if I can, because you bring pleasure into my life. You support me. You make me laugh. You inspire me. If there's anything I can help you with, I will.
Because I have faith that when tomorrow comes, and I need help, you'll be there for me.
Me, I'm in a good spot in life financially. If my computer died, I would go and buy another one. I wouldn't be happy about it, and it would definitely strain the milk on my credit card, but I could go out and buy another one if I had to.Right now one of my fellow writers needs a hand. Not a big hand... only enough money for a new computer since her's up and died last week.
I wasn't always that lucky. I've been plenty poor on my time on earth (journalists don't make a lot of coin - my dad was always asking me when I was going to get "a real job"). There have been plenty of times when I've had to borrow money just to pay the rent or put food on the table (thanks Mom).
Right at this moment, though, I'm ok.
Mari Juniper, though, isn't ok. She doesn't have the money to go out and buy a new laptop. $500 might as well be a million. With much embarrassment she posted a Paypal plea for her online friends to help her out. I can imagine it took a lot of guts for her to do that.
While she is putting on a brave face about how the campaign is going, I don't think it's going well at all. I'm surprised she hasn't met her $500 goal. I'm surprised she hasn't exceeded it.
Mari has always been one of the nicest people on the #fridayflash circuit. So supportive of so many writers!
Not just that, Mari also held a highly successful Zombie Luv contest last summer. Many writers took part and enjoyed the boost her contest gave them.
I say, for all the times Mari has visited your blog; for all the encouraging things she's said on Twitter; she deserves your help if you can possibly help.
I know, times are tough. Which is exactly why we need to stand behind each other.
Today it's Mari who needs our help.
Tomorrow it could be you.
And I know for sure that, if it was you, and I had the wherewithal, that I would help you.
You're my friend.
What wouldn't I do for you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sudbury Saturday Night & Other Tales

Play for a little mood music!

Last weekend we went to Sudbury to cheer on Megan and the Almaguin Gazelles. That's Megan in the green hockey helmet. I think it was so smart, her parents buying her a green helmet, because you can always find her on the ice. Plus, it was on sale. Hell, her mother would have bought it if it was hot pink with magenta racing stripes if it was on sale! This was a really big tournament with teams from all over hell and gone northern Ontario. Megan's team won a silver medal with five wins and only one loss. Go Gazelles! (Ya gotta see how cute these little farts are, zipping up and down the ice like bumblebees after tasty pollen!)

We stayed at the Radisson Hotel because it had the biggest swimming pool, big enough for all the girls to swim in during their time off the ice. Unfortunately the pool was closed for renovations. Meh, no big deal. We decided to do touristy things instead. (I was frankly relieved, having been worried about looking like Jonah's whale and scaring the other swimmers. Just a coincidence that I accidentally threw a monkey wrench into the filtering system ...) One of the biggest draws is Science North. This is Angus, Dave and Sam in front of it. It was frickin cold that day. The wind howls up there like a banshee. The boys were yelling, "Hurry up, we're freezing our knackers off!" Only they didn't say knackers. I said, "Wouldn't it save us a lot of money if we just took pictures in front of all the touristy things instead of going in?" Ha, ha, they said, humouring me. We were so excited... and we were there early enough that we got a great parking spot! Well, no wonder! The place was closed. And talk about early – it doesn't open again until March!

Ever wondered where Sudbury was? I know, this question bothers you every day. Sudbury is three hours north of us and we're about two hours north of Toronto. So, it's pretty far north. Y'know, not like the North Pole but far enough that it's called Science North and not Science South. In this picture is The Big Nickel, the biggest coin in the whole world. Sudbury is famous for two things: mining nickel and copper; and destroying the landscape. Thirty years ago the area surrounding Sudbury looked like a moonscape with strip mining and pollution destroying what once was a beautiful, natural area. Things are improving though and Sudbury is looking better all the time.
Bracebridge isn't on the map but it's roughly halfway between Huntsville and Barrie. Surely to god you know where Toronto is? How about Ontario? Canada, anyone?

The Big Nickel is right outside Dynamic Earth, which is a theme park for mining. Well, not quite. It's the kind of place kids go on school trips. The most important thing about this photo is my red purse. My friend Dawn told me the other day that it matches Dorothy's red shoes in the Wizard of Oz. Other friends say it looks like a bowling ball bag. The boys are weighing rocks in this photo. Do we Websters know how to have fun or what?

One of the coolest things about Dynamic Earth is you get to wear a hard hat and go underground to explore a mine. Because with a hat like that, you can only go underground. After this I had hat-head the rest of the day. And I really, really hate hat-head. On the plus side, the hat hid my skunk stripe. 

This is my family, The Ghost Family. They have no blood because I'm always sucking the life outta them.. Look at their faces -- aren't they thrilled to be here? They don't miss the pool at all. Not one bit. Well, that's the end of last weekend. We also had breakfast at Perkin's, TWICE, and they make the world's best pancakes. Yup, even better than yours, Mom, sorry. And we took the kids to see True Grit because we got free movie passes on account of the pool being closed. Sam was like, "oh yeah, we get to see a sucky western when we should be swimming." Yup, life sucks when you're 10.

This was today. What happened in between last weekend and this weekend as this: work, work, work, writers' group, American Idol, work, shop, write Friday Flash, American Idol, work. Today we got out of the house early to go to Midland, Ontario, about an hour and a half southwest, where I grew up, actually. Dave wanted to buy an new outboard motor for our little aluminum boat. Which he did. It's a Mercury and we've been singing, "I'm gonna buy me a Mercury and cruise it up and down the river," ever since. Anyway, Midland is on Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron, and it's a big shipping port. Thus the ship in this photo. My dad worked for Canadian Pacific Railway and he engineered loads of freight from all over to the big ships in the ports at Midland and nearby Port McNicholl (nothing to do with The Big Nickel, in case you were wondering. One of my favourite stories was based on an adventure in Port McNicholl. You can read it here if you need a laugh. It's called Why Mr. Dukas Smiled.

This is the house where I lived in Midland, from about 1963 to 1970. There used to be huge spruce trees on the lot but they're gone now and new ones have been planted. See the attic window? When I was a kid I used to think the ghosts of my Grandpa Robb and my friend Kim Scott's grandmother were hiding up in the attic, looking at us from the window. When we walked by at night we gave the window our version of the hairy eyeball. Notice the window is open? In winter? What's up with that? And for all you Florida-type people who have been asking if there is any sign of spring yet, I ask you this: does it look like spring in this photo?

This is the garage for that house. It used to be white when my dad fell off it. I think he was shovelling snow off the roof. When he fell, he crashed into his homemade utility trailer and he scraped huge chunks of flesh off his legs. To the day he died he had the most outrageous scars on his one leg.

Across the road from our house is this water tower. We used to play on it all the time, climbing up the ladder and generally doing stuff we weren't supposed to do. It wasn't fenced back in the '60s. It's a good thing Dad didn't have to shovel that puppy off. Holy moly.

And this is me. Lovely, beautiful me. Notice the skunk stripe (hairdresser appointment is next weekend). I figure I haven't got an ounce of vanity left in order to post this picture. God save the queen-sized jeans.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guilt - fridayflash

My son Sam at the beach last summer.

Two friends. Eleven-year-old boys, playing video games in the den.
A mother in the kitchen, making spaghetti for supper. Listening to the boys.
“DIE, DIE, DIE!” shrieks Jason. “NO! No-no-no-no-NO-OH CRAP!”
Karen winces when she hears a controller being dashed on the hardwood floor.
“Jay-SON,” she hollers. “You know better than to treat your stuff like that!” 
He mumbles something.
“Pardon me?”
“SORRY!” he yells.
Karen shakes her head. Kid has two volumes: marble-mouthed mumbling and screaming. 
She scouts out the condition of salad supplies in the crisper and decides they’re worth throwing together. She chops up some carrots and lettuce while the canned sauce burbles on the stove.
“Almost suppertime,” she calls out. “You might wanna think about putting the game away and washing up.”
She hears Davey say, “Your mom’s nice.”
Karen smiles and listens hard to hear what her son might say next.
“I guess,” says Jason.
“She’s not mean like my mother,” says Davey.
“Sometimes she is. Remember when she wouldn’t let me go to Andy’s birthday party?”
“Yeah,” says Davey, “but it’s quiet here. She’s not always on the phone yelling at your dad, or crying and stuff. It’s wicked at my house sometimes. And wicked at my dad’s. All they do is fight. Even though they’re not even married anymore, they fight.”
“I hate divorce,” Jason says.
“Yeah,” says Davey. “I’m never getting married. Never. I’d have kids, though. Just boys. Maybe six or seven.”
“You’d have to have an even number because of games, or they’d fight ‘cause someone would have to wait their turn,” says Jason, always thinking.
Karen listens as she cooks. She’s glad she doesn’t fight with her ex the way other people do. She has always tried to get along with Rick, for Jason’s benefit. She never says a bad word about him to her son. She even has photos of Rick and his new family hanging in the hallway. She remembers when she was first separated, a psychologist saying divorce is the hardest thing a kid ever has to deal with. Harder than death, because you can understand a parent dying and leaving you, but how can you explain a parent just up and leaving you behind?
Karen left Jason behind.
She didn’t want to and she had a million reasons why. 
She had no money for a lawyer and he did.
She had a criminal record and he didn’t. (When she found out he was cheating, she hit him and he called the police.)
He had a new home, a new wife and a new baby on the way; she was renting a studio apartment in a scuzzy building downtown.
The one piece of legal advice she got was this: “You could spend $40,000 and the next 10 years fighting for Jason. And you would lose.”
Rick might have been the one screwing around but when it came time to sort out custody issues, Karen was the one who got screwed.
Years later, things are OK. Jason lives with his father and visits Karen on weekends. Rick’s not perfect, but he’s a good dad. Jason is doing well in school. He has friends and seems well-adjusted and happy. 
A day doesn’t go by that Karen doesn’t miss her son, or feel guilty about leaving him behind. She lies awake on the nights he is not there, hugging her pillow, seeing his freckled face bright in the imaginary moonlight. 
She suffers the looks of people who think, “How could a mother not fight for her son? What kind of a person is she?”
She is in a better position, financially, than when she was first divorced. Her criminal record is clear. She often thinks about going to court to get custody of Jason.
But she takes comfort in the cold light of her original reasoning. Jason is happy the way things are. He is happy. Happy! Why on earth would she want to mess with that? Just so that she can keep him close to her? Just so she can prove she’s a good mother to teachers and members of the PTA?
She puts salad dressing on the table. The milk pitcher. Some parmesan cheese. 
She is about to call the boys for supper when she hears Jason say, “You’re lucky your parents fight over you.”
Davey makes some kind of blarghing, choking sound. “You are wacked! There’s nothing good about the way my parents fight over me. You’re ka-wazy, dude!”
There’s quiet for a moment.
“Wha?” says Davey. “What’samatter?”
“Why didn’t my mom fight for me?” Jason says through tears. “Aren’t I worth fighting for?”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Victoria Day!

This is Victoria.
She isn't very old.
And she isn't very big.
But she has a whole lot of people who love her like crazy and have been worried sick about her.
Victoria is the daughter of my cousin Mandy and her husband Scott. She has been blessed/cursed with a multitude of health issues and a bounty of good looks and charm. All it takes is to meet her in order to fall in love. Her humongous smile. Her wee blonde pigtails. Her slender form. Her willingness to please.
"Kikki," as she is fondly known, was born with a hole in her heart. Some people, like my mom, can live their whole lives with such things. But the hole in Victoria's is very large. Without surgical repair, little Victoria cannot grow.
The decision to operate was a huge one for her parents. Because she is so small, her resources to withstand open heart surgery are limited. For some time now, Mandy and Scott have been trying to help Victoria gain weight, in order for her to more ably get through the operation. Without success. Finally, with input from doctors at Toronto's renowned Hospital for Sick Children, Mandy and Scott decided it was in her best interest to go ahead.
Today was the day.
All day long my e-mail was inundated with the "reply all" hopes and prayers of the people who love Victoria. You could hear their collective breath being held this afternoon as she underwent approximately five hours in surgery.
So tiny a bird, so sweet a soul, to endure so much.
The "Kiki Report" continued throughout the day with messages like this one: "I stopped every time my blackberry buzzed and said a silent prayer first."
Finally the news everyone had been waiting for came: Victoria made it through! Yes, disoriented; yes, in pain. But alive!
Victoria's grandmother, my cousin Debi, was the one who sent the "Kiki Report" from the hospital.
Her last report brought me to tears: "Mandy and Scott had Kiki propped up and blowing bubbles. She even giggled a bit... a very big day for a very brave little girl. Thank you everyone. Thank you God."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Her Dog Day's Just Begun - #fridayflash

Photo: Joana Croft, stock.xchange

Two days ago Janie had asked for the report – two days! And where the fuck was it?
That hometown booze-can with the gee-shucks facade had Janie just where he wanted her. Bosses thought he was some fucked over lost lamb and daddied him for crissakes. Oh poor little bastard, never caught a break; let’s give him a job he knows nothing about; let’s give him a raise; let’s molly-coddle the back-biting, dick-flicking little fuck. Stewart J. Johnson, slurping up to the company teat, ladling whatever petty powers he had over the repressed and the suppressed, the bottom-feeders, the Janies.
Conscientious Janie had her own report, due the next day. 
She could not get it done without a report from Stewart and yet that twerpy little dirt-bag held it back from her as long as he could. Always did. She felt like his lap dog and he was dangling a string of tired pork fat in the air, saying, “sit pretty,” and then eating it himself.
In the last few years Stewart had held off giving his report until Janie was staring down the barrel of her deadline.
If she dared to send him an e-mail asking about it, he’d forward it to just about everyone else in the company, probably even the cleaner who swabbed the office toilets on weekends, claiming harassment. Her e-mails were unfailingly polite even though what she wanted to say was, “Hey Dickface! Where’s your fucking report?” Regardless, the bosses would be like, “Oh poor Stewart, you’re so hard done by,” and Janie would get shit on. It had gotten to the point where she didn’t ask Stewart anything. She just waited for his report. And waited, while the acid taste of bile bubbled up in the back of her throat and choked whatever self-esteem she had left.
See, Janie was at the end of the line. 
The bottom of the barrel. 
The company had several departments, all of which had to get a report done by a deadline they themselves had set. Nobody wanted to do the reports so they all fucked the dog until the last minute, often well after the last minute.
Janie had no such luxury. It was her job to get the quarterly report compiled, proofread, approved and off to the printer’s on time.
Time was important, where the printer was concerned. Janie’s company wasn’t the only one needing the printer’s services; they were so busy that they had to turn people away. Those they did agree to do work for had hard deadlines. And if the deadlines weren’t met, the print job didn’t get done. This was the real world. Something her colleagues knew nothing about.
So there’s Janie, feeling deadline pressure in the throb of her forehead and the crick of her neck.
Her job was a fuck of a lot of work. It couldn’t be done in just one day. Or two. 
Fat lot Stewart cared, though. Or any of the assholes in any of the other departments. Fact is, a lot of people treated Janie like she was dirt under their precious fingernails. 
Every single one of them took some kind of perverted pleasure in making Janie’s job as hard as possible.
All this talk about playing like a team was so much corporate bullshit. Truth was, the ladder-climbing sonsabitches were plunking their asses on a wedding cake shaped toilet, with every layer shitting on the layer below it.
Janie had so much shit on her, everyone thought she was brunette. 
She brushed her platinum bangs off her forehead and tried not to panic.
She looked at the pile of work on her desk and thought, ok, if I take this home with me and work until midnight; if I come in tomorrow at six and work through my lunch; if my computer doesn’t start fucking up; and if Francine in accounting gets her report to me first thing tomorrow, I think I might get done. 
The only good news was she had sent some preliminary work off to the printer’s yesterday in order to save time. Miraculously, Stewart had approved it. 
So that was good, she thought to herself.
Just then her e-mail inbox pinged. A message from Stewart. Oh good, she thought. His report.
“Jeannie: the volume you sent to the printer’s yesterday must be revised,” he wrote. “Please change paragraphs three, five and eight on page eight. Oh, and we don’t need footnotes after all. If you do that, it’s good to go.”
What did he mean, good to go?
It was already gone!
She spent the next two hours making the revisions Stewart requested and then bending over for the infuriated printer, who only agreed to reprint the work when Janie started crying.
She just got through that mess when Stewart e-mailed back to say there was another change coming. 
Janie had to phone the printer back right away. She begged and bawled and the printer called her every name in the freakin’ book, but he agreed.
She placed the phone back in its receiver and a second later it rang.
“Hello?” she said.
“Jamie honey, it’s Francine in accounting. I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna have my report to you until after lunch tomorrow. I know, I promised morning, but hubby’s got two tickets for the Paul Simon concert tonight – it was a surprise for me! Isn’t he darling? He had to wangle some heavy duty crap to get them. How can I say no because of work?”
So. No report from Francine until at least one o’clock.
She checked her e-mail. 
No report from Stewart yet, of course, although there was an e-mail from the company vice-president saying he wouldn’t be shipping the corporate report to her until just before deadline. 
“Sorry, Junie,” he wrote.
Janie sat back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. Eyes wide.
Blood coursed through her veins. She could feel the red in her face. She could hear her own heart, hammering in her chest. Her hands shook.
“Fuuuuuck,” she said as vapid air escaped her heaving lungs.
Enough was enough.
She couldn’t take this powerless shit any fucking more.
Tomorrow, Janie was coming to work with a gun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Bernard Pivot Blogfest!

Good morning Bernard Pivot!
Who's Bernie? Last I heard he was battling stiff joints and hosting a wild weekend. But he's also a French journalist who came up with a little questionnaire to ask guests on his TV show. The quiz was made famous in North America by James Lipton on the high-brow interview show Actor's Studio.
Today it is being celebrated by blogger/author Nicole Ducleroir who has surpassed the 500 follower mark and wants to par-tay. All over blogland today people are answering the Bernard Pivot questionnaire, to make new friends and to share their pearls of wisdom with all blogdom.
I'm not promising any wonderful answers because my eyeballs are practically bleeding from too much computer, but I will give it my best college try. If you would like to see who else is taking part, click on the logo up there and it will take you to Nicole's blog with its list of participants. Drop around, say hi, maybe become a new follower and, if you're game, try the quiz on for size. 
By the way, please drop by my post from yesterday about my April Fool's Contest. All the details are here. Please, please, please take part!
Oh, and by the way, by the way, if you happen to be Canadian, do you not LOVE that Sydney Crosby commercial for Tim Horton's? Where he's a little kid and dreaming of doing what he loves every day? Sigh. Pass the kleenex...

  1. What is your favorite word? Feck. I think it's like the Irish word for the Big F but it's not quite as offensive. You can fit it in to any grammatical category with only slight embellishment. Noun: He is such a feckwad. Verb: He's off fecking around. Adverb: He's off fecking fecking around. Adjective: He's such a fecking goof. See? Such a handy word. I invite you to take it for a spin. I like to use it like this: Feck! Feckity-feck, feck! So satisfying.
  2. What is your least favorite word? Any of those stupid made-up words teenagers use. Like "nom-nom" which they use to describe eating or something delicious. No wonder the world is so fecked up.
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Ideas. Great ideas. Original ideas. Taking an idea and making it happen. Also, enthusiasm.
  4. What turns you off? Naysayers. Don't give me five reasons why you can't do something - give me five reasons why you can! 
  5. What is your favorite curse word? Um. Other than feck? Shit is pretty good. I often fall back on shit. When I hurt myself, or I'm really, really mad, I admit I call the Bad Boy into play. (If you say it kids, I swear, you'll be eating Lifebuoy.)
  6. What sound or noise do you love? Chickadees on a quiet winter day.
  7. What sound or noise do you hate? Loud, obnoxious music. Loud, obnoxious people. Coughing. Yelling. Food smacking. Kids fighting in the back seat. Oh, forget it.. just fetch me my ear plugs.
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? My own profession, graphic design for newspapers, is going the way of the do-do bird and there may come a time in the near future when I have to find a new career. But you know what? I can't imagine doing anything else. I love what I do. I hope like hell I can hang on until I die.
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Anything that requires being on my feet all day, or dealing with customers. Blech. 
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You were a good person, Cathy. Welcome aboard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

April Fool's Contest - Fun, Fun, Fun!

This is my house! Isn't it precious? I think so.
It's a wee tiny gingerbread house built of hand-hewn lumber back in 1880 and it sits under a canopy of ancient pine on the banks of the Muskoka River. It has no dishwasher and no basement. The bathtub is sized for Barbie dolls. And the kitchen counter has room for a toaster and a coffeemaker and maybe a fork.
Still, it is a wonderful place and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Which brings me to this: where do you live?
Oh, don't tell me. Not yet.
I want you to SHOW me. 
And I want other people to guess which house is yours.
That's right! I'm having an April Fool's Contest and I want you to take part!
There are bloggers you read every day and you love them. You feel like you know them. Have you ever wondered what kind of place they live in?
Of course you have!
Now's your chance to see where bloggers call home.
(It is where the heart is, after all.)
This is all you do: send me a photo of the front of your house/apartment building/igloo/yacht – wherever you hang your hat every night.
I don't want stalkers to find you or anything so try not to include any identifying information like your house number or your car's license plate, or you on the front porch, waving.
Just a photo of your abode, the kind of photo a real estate agent might take. (Only make sure it's in focus.)
Send me your photo and your name before the end of March and on April Fool's Day I'll post all the house photos alongside a list of their owners.
Then it's up to you, dear, dear readers (whom I love and adore) to guess who's house belongs to who.
The person who guesses the most right answers will win an April Fool's Day prize pack! I'll splurge and give away second and third prizes, too.
Now how much fun is that!
Just send me a photo of your home sweet home to and get your guessing skills in order.
Haven't you always wondered if Laura Eno lives in a haunted house? Can you picture Laurita Miller living in an oceanside cottage? Or Anthony Venutolo in a Jersey-styled Italian villa with tomatoes growing in the front yard?
You know you do!
So do I!
Get cracking, people!

P.S. - I was thinking that, as well as the photo and your name and a link to your blog, if you have one, send me one clue that might help people guess the house is yours. Just don't make it easy! The more obscure, the better!!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gas Station From Hell

It was one of those things, where one thing leads to the next thing and before you know it you’re on a one way trip to Nowheresville with a pit stop at the Gas Station From Hell.
Dave and I had dilly-dallied yesterday morning to the point where it was Saturday afternoon and we still hadn’t made like Elvis and left the building. I wanted to go buy some blue jeans in Barrie, a shopping metropolis an hour down the road from us, but it was one of those ‘wants’ that hadn’t really manifested itself strongly enough to get our butts into the vehicle. 
“Well, are we gonna go?” This from Dave at 10 a.m. 
“Sure,” I said, still lounging around in my pink muumuu nightgown, the one with funky black cats, birdcages and spilled coffee all over it.
“Are you ready to go?” Dave at 11 a.m.
“Sure,” I said. “But I have to have a bath first.”
“Have you had that bath yet?” Dave at high noon.
“Do I look like I’ve had a bath yet?” Still in muumuu only with fresh coffee stains and something that looks suspiciously like egg yolk. 
In the bath, right after that, with much lolling about and snoozing in the warm water. Then hair brushing, cat brushing, laundry folding, blow drying, then wandering out into the kitchen with fabulous hair, still in pink muumuu.
It’s 1 p.m.
“Well, are we gonna go?” I say to Dave. He tickles me into submission so I go get dressed and dutifully meet him in the Jeep.
It is gorgeous outside. Blue skies, tons of sunshine glittering off fresh snow, warm enough temperatures to get the eavestroughs dripping and the snowbanks melting down into puddles on the highway. 
“Geez it’s nice out. Why didn’t we get on the road sooner?” I say to my driver, who takes his eyes off the road long enough to glare in my general direction.
We’re heading south down Highway 11 (also known as Yonge St., the longest street in the world). It’s one of the main north-south arteries connecting Toronto to northern Ontario. As it travels through Muskoka, the cottage country area I call home, it is a four-lane divided highway cutting through the forest. The trees block the wind so, although we get more snow here than our neighbours to the south, we are protected from the blowing snow and white-outs that plague the Barrie area, surrounded, as it is, with farm fields.
I mention all this because the driving was messy. Melting snow combined with blowing snow meant the roads were slushy and nasty in some spots. We weren’t worried too much, though – besides having four-wheel-drive, our Jeep is equipped with studded tires and will take us pretty near anywhere we want to go. 
However, all the studs in the world can’t help you if you run out of windshield washer fluid. (Unless they’re a different type of stud.) 
Which we did.
And just like that, we were stuck on a snowy, slushy messy highway going 100 km/hr and unable to see anything in front of us.
“Keep your eyes open,” Dave says. “I think there’s a gas station up ahead, across from Webers.”
Webers, the Holy Grail of hamburger stands. The most popular burger joint in this whole province, bar none, and a regular must-visit for cottagers making their weekly pilgrimage from the Big Smoke to their cottage mansions on the Muskoka lakes. On any day of the summer, people are lined up outside this burger joint, lined up by the hundreds. Webers somehow keeps the lines moving, firing out burgers at ridiculous speeds, so no matter how long the line is, you’re not waiting long.
When the Ministry of Transportation divided Highway 11 in June 1981, people took their lives in their hands in order to cross the road for a Webers burger. In 1982 the ministry put a chain-link fence up to discourage people from crossing the road, but still they came. In 1983, Webers bought a chunk of a pedestrian bridge from the CN Tower in Toronto and erected it over the highway. It became the first and only privately owned bridge built over a public highway in the province of Ontario.
Those must be some amazing burgers. I don’t know because I’ve never been. I think I’m the only Ontario resident who hasn’t. Dave has and he says they’re nothing to write home about. Merely “OK,” he says.
Still, there must be something special about them to draw gazillions of people there. It really is one of the busiest pit stops along this busy highway.
Right across the road, however, is one of the quietest spots along the highway.
The Cardinal Motel, Store & Gas Bar. A rundown mom and pop operation with nary a customer in sight when we pulled in to buy windshield washer fluid.
Rundown is perhaps too nice a word for it. Scary is more appropriate. It’s the kind of gas station you see in horror movies. Right away I knew we shouldn’t be stopping there but hey, we’re not 18-year-old sex-crazed cheerleaders so I figured we’d be safe from chainsaw-wielding guys wearing hockey masks.
Besides, we couldn’t see diddly through the windshield. We needed washer fluid, no two ways about it. And Dave decided to get gas while we were there. He pumped $58 into old Bessie then headed into the store. No “pay at the pump” pumps here. These babies looked like they'd been there since the ‘70s. Even weirder, there was a pile of abandoned gas pumps piled next to the store. They looked like corpses, stacked like cordwood in the snow. 
I decided to follow Dave into the store to get a coffee. I know any coffee they might serve would probably be as old as yesterday’s newspaper but I was thirsty and, despite what you might think, there isn’t a Tim Horton’s on every street corner. 
We went through the screen door and were immediately greeted by a high-strung border collie, who was intent on escaping and getting run over on the highway. We managed to get in without facilitating his demise. There was an elderly Asian woman behind the till listening to an Asian program on her little TV. She looked like she was about 100 and she gave us a suspicious look when we went in.
The place stunk. Kinda like a combination of basement earth and Javex. Still, I was relieved to see those instant coffee machines - Keurig, I think they’re called. We have them at work and I’d love to have one at home. So I got busy putting the little cup inside the machine and finding cream and sugar, while Dave searched the store for windshield fluid, chocolate milk and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (the only thing he loves more than me). He got to the counter and handed over two jugs of fluid plus the chocolate bar and the carton of milk, plus the $58 worth of gas. 
The old woman tallied it up and said, “$78.67.”
“Really?” Dave asked. “More than 20 bucks for windshield wiper fluid, a thing of milk and a chocolate bar”
“$78.67,” the lady repeated. She sounded anxious and angry and muttered something in a language we couldn't understand.
At heart, Dave is an easy-going guy. He doesn’t like trouble. He held up his debit card, she passed him the machine. He swiped it, punched in his pin number and waited. “Approved,” read the machine display.
Dave went to put his debit card back in his wallet.
The old lady tried to grab it away from him.
“Need card,” she said aggressively. “Need to do again. No paper.”
Dave was like, wha? He was caught off guard. She reached for his card again and he held it back. 
“I need card. Didn’t go through. See? No paper,” she pointed to the machine and its lack of receipt.
Easy-going Dave was now getting angry. He said, “Just charge me for the gas. I’m putting everything back.”
I looked at him blankly. The coffee, which was finally ready, smelled incredible. But I abandoned it to the counter. Dave took the milk and the fluid back to their places and put the chocolate bar back on the rack.
He said firmly, “Just the gas.” She punched in the transaction again and he swiped the debit card.
Again, no receipt printed out. But Dave’s machine clearly said approved. He had now paid twice for the gas as well as the other things he returned.
“Need card. Still no paper,” she said, trying to grab his card.
“No way,” said Dave. “I’ve already paid twice for this gas. See? It says approved.”
“No paper. Need card,” she said angrily.
Dave crossed his arms and stood his ground. “I am not going anywhere until you give me back the money you owe me."
This is where I got all freaky. I hate scenes. Hate, hate, hate 'em. The minute things start getting ugly, I’m outta there. The old flight or fight syndrome always leans towards flight with me. Yeah, in retrospect, I should have stood by my man but I didn’t.
“I’m going to wait in the car,” I said, and I practically ran out the door, leaving Dave and the old woman to hash things out.
I waited. And waited. Twenty minutes went by. I couldn’t see through the store’s black windows and had no idea what was going on inside. I kept thinking, he’ll be out any minute, but the minutes disappeared and no Dave.
A snowmobiler pulled up to the pumps, filled up his machine and went in to pay. He came out shortly. No Dave.
I was getting scared. 
As a fan of #fridayflash, I have read way too many stories about guys getting cut up into little chunks by insane gas jockeys at lonely stations. OK, maybe I haven’t read that story exactly, but I’ve read a million just like it and I’ve got a vivid imagination to boot.
I was actually thinking that maybe the old lady had attacked Dave, or sicked her dog on him and he reacted by strangling the dog and then pounding the old lady until she was a bleeding mush, and he was, right now, stuffing her in the freezer with the ice cream and the frozen peas.
When a pick-up truck pulled in with a trailer of snowmobiles, I decided I’d go in the store when the guy went in to pay. That way if the old broad had a cleaver ready to stuff into my head, she’d get the guy first. 
He went in, I followed, and there was Dave at the counter talking to a younger Asian guy, who was plonking around with the debit machine. 
“Are you OK?” I asked.
Dave’s red face meant he was angry and his blood pressure was peaking but he looked alive and so did the old lady and the dog was still prancing around with his head on straight so I figured things weren’t desperate.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’re figuring this out.”
The old lady said, “Machine broke. No paper.”
Dave said to the pick-up truck driver, “I hope you got cash. I wouldn’t be using their debit machine if I were you.”
What had happened was she did charge him twice and was perfectly willing to charge him again and again until the machine printed out a receipt. Which wasn't going to happen anytime soon because the machine was out of paper. When Dave said no, she pointed to the store’s ATM machine and insisted he get cash out to pay her. 
Dave said he wasn’t paying her another cent and was gonna stand there until she paid him back.
Flustered, she called for back-up and a 50ish guy who looked like her son came out of the back room. As soon as she saw him she let loose with a torrent of Asian language and pointed at Dave. The guy, whose English was barely better than hers, asked Dave for his side of the story. When Dave explained what had happened, the son lit into his momma and gave her what appeared to be proper hell.
The son said to Dave, “When you get statement, you bring it to me and we’ll settle.”
“No,” said Dave. “I’m not leaving without my money.”
The guy mumbled something but called the debit machine company who told him, yes, Dave had paid twice. The lady looked defensive. Her son looked frustrated and Dave looked mad. Finally, a correction was made to the debit and Dave started to leave, without the windshield washer fluid we needed so desperately.
“You pay for coffee!” the old woman exclaimed.
Dave tossed some pocket change on the counter, picked up my cooling cup, and went outside. He scrubbed off the muddy windshield as best he could and we headed down the road. There was a Canadian Tire just a mile or so away, so we pulled in and got the windshield washer fluid without incident.
Well, I did catch hell for hiding out in the Jeep while he wrassled with the old lady. Other than that, the rest of the day went smoothly.
On the way home Dave said, “I want you to blog about that place. That guy on the snowmobile? He must live around there. He told me if he had a choice he’d go somewhere else but he doesn’t. He had the same problem with them and their debit machine so he always pays cash. Me, I’m never setting foot in that place again.”
Dave has never asked me to blog about anything. This was obviously important to him.
Considering all the things he’s done for me over the years, it seemed the least I could do.
The moral of this story is, always check your fluid levels before heading out for a trip and never, never go to the Cardinal Motel, Store & Gas Bar on Highway 11, across from Webers. If you do, take cash and a hidden weapon. Just in case. 
That old lady freaks me out.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentines in the Snow - #fridayflash

Oh my goodness! That woman reeks, thinks Annie Breyer. She burrows her offended nose into her turtleneck sweater and tries not to think about the old lady standing next to her in the card aisle of the Bracebridge Rexall. 
Even through the fabric softener fresh scent of her handmade sweater Annie gets whiffs of sour wine and caesar salad. Yucky! The woman is right beside her, rifling through the For My Husband valentines. It’s exactly where Annie wants to be. There’s nobody in the whole aisle, nobody but her and the stinky lady, both crammed together looking at the same valentines.
Annie perseveres. This is her first Valentine’s Day as a married woman and she wants to get the mushiest card she possibly can. She’s so excited. The diamonds on her ring finger sparkle under the pharmacy’s fluorescent lights. She plucks another card from the rack, pushes her long blonde hair behind one ear and smiles broadly as she reads “To My Darling Husband,” in golden raised script, on a background of red roses and scarlet hearts. 
“Since I met you
I have fallen in love with you
a thousand times
in a thousand different ways.
As each day passes
I find a thousand new reasons
to fall in love with you all over again.
My husband, my heart, my love, my life.”
Annie presses the card against her chest, sighs happily and closes her eyes. It’s perfect, she breathes, perfect! And with that breath the sour smell of wine and garlic assaults her again and she giggles and glances at the old woman, who gives her a look as sour as her winey breath. 
“Sorry!” Annie blurts out and she lifts her shopping basket off the floor and hurries to the till. She’s got a bottle of Diet Pepsi, some of the toilet paper that’s on sale and a bendy-fresh package of strawberry licorice for Derek, the kind he likes best. And the valentine, of course. She digs through her coin purse for the $14.71 that the bored clerk requires of her. She says please and thank you and have a nice night, and she waltzes out the front door and into the purplish snowy dusk of a Thursday evening in February.
“Oh geez it’s cold!” she says out loud, shivering and fumbling through her purse, trying to find her keys. The wind gusts hard and she winces as she puts the key into the lock, throws open the driver’s door and tosses her stuff inside.
“Brrrrrrr!” she says, settling her self behind the wheel and praying her little Sunfire will decide to start. “Please, please, please, please,” she cajoles, the tip of her pink tongue poking out from between her cotton candy glossed lips. The car starts, but not without complaint, and Annie does up her seat belt and guides it through the parking lot and onto Manitoba Street.
It’s snowing hard and it’s everything Annie can do to see through the windshield. She putters up the big hill and decides to turn in at KFC. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the valentine on the passenger seat but she thinks it would be nice to splurge and pick up a bucket of chicken for Derek for supper. She is always trying to surprise him. It’s what drives her, this simple, guileless desire to make him as happy as he has made her.
She orders some chicken and his favourite macaroni salad and takes a seat to wait the 10 minutes or so the waitress says it will take to fry up a fresh batch. She unbuttons her pink coat and looks out the window as traffic fights its way through the storm.
A harried mother and three young boys come through the door in a flurry of stomping boots and blowing snow. The waitress takes her order as the boys scuffle and argue about what size the fries should be and what pop to buy. Annie watches them with a smile. She imagines what her and Derek’s children will look like. She wants four or five. Derek wants three. They talk ceaselessly about saving up for a bigger house and starting an education fund.
The wail of an ambulance stops the boys’ tussling. They go to the window, press their faces against the glass, and watch the lights of the paramedics’ vehicle light up the snowy night. The waitress and the mother watch silently. Annie does, too. It’s a small town and a rushing ambulance is a rare enough thing that everyone stops to watch.
Annie thinks immediately of Derek, hoping he is alright. He works in a body shop in Port Sydney, 15 minutes north. Not much of a drive, not normally, but it can be nasty on bad nights like this one. 
Annie feels worry creep over her. She immediately pictures Derek in the back of that ambulance, and a police cruiser in her driveway, with an officer waiting to tell her bad news. 
“You always think the worst.” This is her mother’s voice, in her head.
It’s true. She always does. If there’s a worst case scenario, Annie has no trouble imagining it. While she waits for the chicken her fear grows.
But then the three boys resume their roughhousing and their mom and the waitress strike up a conversation about the hockey game on TV tonight, and Annie lets the warmth of the restaurant and the smell of frying chicken melt her burgeoning panic.
It’s a winter wonderland out there, she thinks. Pedestrians with shopping bags, heads bent against the wind. Streetlights ringed with halos of falling snow. She relaxes. Her naturally buoyant happiness surfaces and by the time the waitress calls her over to pick up her order, she is smiling again.
“Drive careful, now,” the waitress says as Annie steps into the howling wind. Her little Sunfire complains again but starts and she heads for home, thinking of the valentine she has picked out for her husband – husband, how she loves that word – and what he’ll say when he reads it.
Annie doesn’t have to worry about Derek. His four-wheel-drive pick-up cuts a swath down the highway. He’ll be a little later than usual but it takes more than a snowstorm to slow him down at suppertime.
Unlike his young wife, Derek never thinks the worst. Which is why he doesn’t give his wife’s trip home a second thought. Not until he turns onto their street and sees a police cruiser in their driveway.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Red Legend

The rec room
red indoor/carpet with black flecks
The old green couch, nubbly,
pine tongue-in-groove panelling
the RCA colour TV.

ABC's The Wide World of Sports
broadcasting from Buffalo,
the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,
popcorn in a bowl, the family gathered around
to watch a sporting event.
Unheard of,
in the house in the Toronto suburbs.
Nobody watched sports at our house.
No Hockey Night in Canada.
No Stanley Cup, no Grey Cup,
no Bowling for Dollars.

The Kentucky Derby, though,
brought us together like it was Christmas.
It was 28 years before another horse won the race in less than two minutes.
When it was over, the red horse was still accelerating.

The Preakness Stakes,
he started last (he always started last).
Mud on the Canadian jockey's face, a fact of life
in the fast lane.
Ron Turcotte, our hero, a star as big as Bobby Orr,
a fearless giant in a cloak of small.
From last to first in a heartbeat, a huge beating heart,
with no challengers at the blazing finish.

June 9, 1973
The Belmont Stakes
Our breath catches in our throats,
our hearts race. We watch, we can't watch,
we chant his name, we wait,
we wait only 2:24 minutes.
He starts in the lead, he wants it, he keeps it.
Red flanks tear by, too fast to see,
Turcotte crouches down, fingers twisted in mane,
hanging on for his life as the cheering world screams by.
The lead widens, stretches, lesser horses, lesser men, fall behind
in dust from the great horse's winged hooves.

In the rec room,
the popcorn bowl tumbles over as we jump to our feet
and scream his name:
Secretariat! Secretariat! Secretariat!

February 9, 2011
The Disney movie tells the tale
many people never knew.
There are tears, sure.
Tears spilled in the memory of a red horse
a legend, a hero
and the memory of cheering him on
As a family.
In our rec room,
in his finest hour.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Which Idol Are You?

This is me, being mature: after realizing that my story would not be included in 100 Stories for Queensland, I punched out Suck, Suck, Suck on my laptop, blew off some steam on Facebook, then laid on the bed and cried for half an hour.
One of the reasons I was so upset was that I am constantly looking for affirmation that I am terrible at what I do and, when I find it, it doesn't matter how many people had nice things to say, it's the rejections I believe.
Yeah, I know. Twisted.
More than that, though, is the fear I'm gonna wind up like one of the worst auditions on American Idol. The ones we all laugh at. The ones where the guy has been told his whole life that he's a great singer. His friends, his family, his overpaid music teacher – "they all told me I could sing! What do YOU guys know," he throws tearfully at Randy Jackson as he stomps out the door.
And I'm watching him, thinking, really? No one told you can't sing your way out of a wet paper bag? No one told you your voice is flatter than all that ironing Tomara Armstrong does? (Heartfelt congratulations, Tomara, on getting your story included in 100 Stories... it was a rocking good tale and well deserved! Congratulations to all my other friends who made the cut! Way to go, guys!)
Every time I see a guy like that, bawling his fool eyes out for being rightfully rejected from the Idol audition process, I ask myself, "how could he possibly not know he sucks?"
Being a writer is a lot like being a contestant on American Idol.
Your friends and family tell you you're the best writer since, I dunno, Stephen King. Or sliced bread. Or even the cat's pajamas. They're your friends and family... of course they're going to say nice things. If they don't, you should consider getting new friends and family.
And then there's your writerly friends, who also say nice things because their egos are almost certainly just as fragile as your own and most are nice folks who say nice things because, well, they're nice. They certainly don't want to be the ones to crush your dreams by saying, "You suck! Stop writing!"
Besides, if they support poor writers, their own good writing will look great in comparison. (!)
The only time you get real, unbiased feedback on your writing is when you send it out, hoping for publication.
Then, finally, your work is being judged on its own merits.
I know, I know... sometimes it's not your work's fault that it was rejected. Maybe it wasn't what the publisher was looking for. Maybe it was too long or too short or too funny or too serious or had too many clowns. Maybe the judge/publisher was PMSing and hated any story being written by people with a name starting in C. Maybe the publisher had published enough good stories that month and was now publishing bad ones and yours was therefore too good to be included.
Your brain can come up with a lot of reasons why your work wasn't chosen.
Usually none of those reasons is because the story wasn't good enough.
That is a very hard reason to accept.
But what if it is true?
What if you're that guy on American Idol who just plain shouldn't be singing? Shouldn't you accept the fact that Simon says you're a talentless bum? Or do you want to embarrass yourself further and audition again next year?

So this is what I pondered today: which Idol contestant am I?

Am I the person who can't sing but thinks I can and am roundly disappointed and cry when Idol judges tell me to keep my day job?

Am I the person who can't sing and knows it, but dresses up in a funny costume and tries out anyhow because, hey, it's national TV?

Or am I the real deal, a genuine talent, who just hasn't caught a break?

I've been pondering. Still haven't made up my mind.
In the meantime, I'm curious: which Idol are you?