Sunday, December 31, 2006

If God was a DJ...

I skied once, I think, while in utero, if that even counts. I mean, I know a fetus has no rights and isn't a person, but since I inhaled my mother's cigarette smoke and inherited her stupid fat calves while in her belly, I think I have a right to lay claim to the Wild Whistler adventures that she had in the months before my birth.

Little embryonic Jamie was enjoying the slopes but delightfully insulated from the cold thanks to mommy's belly fat and attractive layers of 1970's ski-bunny clothing (in powder blue). My eyelids were still sealed shut, but I was just beginning to move around (although, at about an ounce, my movements probably didn't do much to disturb my mother's equilibrium....god, what I'd give to get back to my embryonic weight).

I can only guess if I enjoyed my first skiing experience, because I sure as hell haven't been back since.

I mean, first, there's my fear of heights (or, as I prefer to say, my fear of falling from great heights, or of falling even from rather small heights, as far as that matters). I went on a ski lift post-natally, once, at Mont Cascades, because in the summer it turns into a water park. But that once time was enough to convince me that Jamie + oversized innertube + ski lift = bad was probably much akin to Jamie + poles + skis that are taller than me = just as bad, maybe worse. I also have a strong dislike of speed. I get carsick when Jason backs out of the driveway. I also have an aversion to: winter clothing, wind-blown hair, log cabins, frostbite, broken legs, wind-chapped lips....well, you get the picture.

But if all of that wasn't enough to dissuade me, I have an even better reason not to ski: God.

True story.

One night, God came to me, and he said "Jamie, sweetie, you know I think you're a great gal. You really are. You make awesome spinach dip and you have an ass that won't quit. But I have one tiny request to make. Now, you may be too young to remember this, but some time ago, oh, say, a few thousand years now I guess. Jeez. It feels like it was just last millenium. Where has the time gone? But anyway, you may have heard of this little incident I had wherein I may have flooded the earth, annihilating all creatures except Noah and the animals. Ring a bell? I know I come off kind of harsh in that story, but really it was just bad spin. I had a really bad PR guy back then. And before you even say it, yes, I do regret bringing the rats aboard. Not my finest moment. But anyway, my point is that after the waters receded, I pulled that neat rainbow trick and I told Noah that it was my promise to him, blah, blah, blah, and that I would never again "curse the ground", etc, etc. And that's how you fit in. Because, let's be honest here, babe: a girl like you should not go hurtling down a crowded mountain with sharp potential weapons in her hands, and this thing about not killing off all the people, well, I'd really like to honour that. I've made a lot of resolutions in my time, but my follow-through isn't always that great. Obviously the platypus is an animal I never quite got around to finishing, and I just got lazy and covered lots of the earth with either ice or water neither were really in the blueprints but with my deadline looming, well.... and I can't even drop a pants size ever since Julia Child got me hooked on cream sauces. Get what I'm saying? This is it for me. For the sake of humanity's safety, just stay off the slopes."

Now, normally I'm a pretty accommodating girl. If he had bought me two appletinis, I would have agreed to almost anything, and probably would have let him get to second base. But frankly, he just showed up without a hostess gift or anything. So I said "Well, God, what's in it for me?"

And he looked at me for a second, and I could tell that this was a guy used to getting his way. But let's face it: Moses was a stuttering introvert, Noah was the town drunk. These guys were just pushovers waiting to be given direction. I, on the other hand, am woman. Hear me roar.

So God said to me "What more do you want? I pretty much emptied my back of tricks when you were born: beauty, brains, wit, modesty....what is there that you don't have?"

I had to think for a moment before I answered "the perfect man."

So he sent me Mark, who was handsome and funny, and a pretty good lay.

But then I dumped him and married Jason, because what does God know about relationships? That boy is an old maid if ever I saw one.

And don't worry, I'll probably never ski anyway.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Acting Rashly.

An army of small but persistent bumps have infiltrated Ground Jamie, and have launched Operation Itch Like Crazy. Attempts to repulse the enemy with scratchy fingernails and calamine have thus far failed.

The bumps pop up unexpectedly pretty much anywhere they want, but seem to favour my neck.

I've been raking my nails over them like crazy, to no avail. I sometimes imagine myself using a vegetable peeler to grate at them, and I can see the slice of skin curling around the blade like a piece of parmesan cheese.

Instead, I sit on my hands and try to negotiate a peaceful treaty.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Losing the True Meaning

You know the feeling of warm, fuzzy, proud sense of accomplishment you're supposed to get from volunteering your time?

Well, it doesn't always work that way.

Say you're working at the foodbank of the small town where you grew up.

Pretend you've just spent 20 minutes replenishing the shelf of canned corn before opening the door of the pretend-grocery-store where non-perishable items normally costing a dollar or more per item are now priced at a nickel each, and that's just for show, because if the woman in line doesn't have enough nickels to feed her kids mac and cheese this week, you let her take it anyway.

Imagine that the town's main industry has laid off a good portion of employees just 5 weeks before Christmas, and a good many of these people, seemingly comfortably middle class last week, are now perusing the pretend-grocery-store aisle of the foodbank, trying to make their nickels stretch as far as they'll go.

Look the other way when the woman who is tearfully insisting that she has enough coin to feed her children lunch or dinner, but not both, is the exact same woman who cashed her government cheque in front of you in line at the liquor store last night.

Fake some cheerfulness as another woman counts out what she owes from a very small change purse, mumbling about the "extravagance" of some tinned ham flakes, "but it's the holidays after all."

And when your supervisor asks if you might like to take over a different assignment, you try not to seem too desperate when you shout "God yes!" because the prospect of trying to coax these shoppers into making what the foodbank deems "responsible purchases" is too depressing to even contemplate for much longer.

But don't think you're getting away with anything, or from anything.

Because your new assignment is in some ways much worse.

On this day, there is a long line snaking around the building of the foodbank, stretching past the small soup kitchen (where, perversely, the thing that bothers me most is that the patrons rarely wash their hands before digging in), and even past the thrift store selling old toques and scarred furniture.

Today is Christmas Hamper day.

Today the needy will line up to prove they are worthy of charity. If they are desperate enough, hungry enough, they will leave their dignity at home. They all look at the ground, they don't want to notice or be noticed. The amount of people lined up will break your heart. It broke mine.

Imagine how, without looking you in the eye, they tell you their secrets.

"My family hasn't had meat in 3 months."

"I don't normally like to ask for help, but..."

"I cannot afford to give my children a Christmas."

"I don't want my kids to know how poor we are."

They tell you about their situations, how they live, how they eat, how they get by.

Some are the newly poor, dying of embarrassment, almost angry at you, at the world.

Some are the chronic poor, complacent, destitute.

Many are the working poor, teetering on the outskirts of poverty, scraping by week after week, but undone by the holidays.

And every single one of them swallows their pride and asks you for help, for a Christmas Hamper that will include the fixings for a very modest meal, and maybe a couple of cheap presents for the kids. This is the best they can do, and the best you can do.

The day is dismal, and you know your shift will end before the line runs out. But not before a young woman walks in, whom you instantly recognize.

She was the very good friend of your younger sister. She spent days swimming in your pool, nights eating at your table. At birthday parties, she'd throw her fishing pole over the staircase banister chanting "Here, fishie, fishie" while you sneakily attached a prize and gave the line a tug to let her know that she'd caught a big one.

She recognizes you too, and you can see in her eyes that she is wrestling between her pride and her need, and you know that she can tell by your hot cheeks that you are wrestling too.

How can you keep it professional when you've seen her dancing around the toadstool at Brownies? What is there to say?

Well, I'll tell you.

I said hello.

She said hello.

Then she cried.

And then I cried. Because this is how I help people, by crying with them. Because I couldn't take away her poverty, I didn't know how. And I couldn't take away her embarrassment, because I shared it, and I was ashamed that I did. And I was frustrated. And I kept remembering the little girl in the party dress, and how it'd only been a few years, and would she ever get out of this way of life, and who was looking out for her, and did my sister know, and would she ever forget that I was the one, I was the one who had to hear her plea?

I marked her name on the list, so that a day or two before Christmas she received a basket that wasn't really a basket, really it was just a cardboard box, and in it was off-brand crackers, dented tins of spaghetti sauce, and maybe a turkey but maybe not a turkey. And she ate that food knowing that I know. And across town, I ate my food, knowing what I knew, and it was one of the worst meals of my life.

I'd like to say otherwise, I'd like to say that it made me grateful for what I had, that it made me appreciate the food in my belly and the gifts under the tree, and the love in the room, but it didn't, not particularly. Instead I thought of the hundreds of families who were making do with paltry baskets, of the kids who Santa didn't visit, and I felt a loss that I had never felt before.

It's different when hunger has a face.

Jason and I are not wealthy people, but we contribute to Toy Mountain, and the Adopt-A-Family program. And every time we do groceries, I buy a few extra items for the foodbank bin, but I make these donations knowing the truth: that I have taken the coward's way out. I donate food now instead of time, because the food costs us money, but the time cost me a debt that I am still figuring out how to repay.

I still think of her, I still cry for her, and though it's not usually my thing, around this time of year, I might even say a prayer for her.

Friday, December 08, 2006

What I "like" the "best" about the "holidays".

By which I mean: "hate", "worst", "stupid holidays".

1. Holiday Driving

Everyone writes the same postscript in their greetings cards - "Be sure to stop by sometime!" which is vague and passive-aggressive at best. But at the very least you have to show your mother in law that you love the reindeer-embroidered vest that she gave you (with matching dangly earrings!) and so off you go, braving the icy roads to find drivers who have thrown peace and love out the window in favour of special holiday rage and a very merry price-gouging at the pumps. Santa's magic sleigh begins to look all the more reasonable - fuel efficient, and no need for snow tired! Amen to that.

2. Christmas Kiosks

One day, midway through November when the malls were starting to crowd with waves of shoulder-to-shoulder holiday shoppers, a little boy grew tired of walking and his mother picked him up. An astute mall manager spotted this extra 4 inches of space and decided to capitalize on it by squeezing in a small cart selling Christmas Crap, and the annoying mall kiosk was born.

Around the holidays, the number of kiosks grows exponentially because nothing says "I care" like an acne kit endorsed by a pop star, or better yet, a bunch of fake hair that claims to be "real" but feels more like "real fake hair", probably made in the same factory as plastic cutlery and jelly sandals. And of course there's the calendar kiosk reminding you that you're getting older but not wiser, that you never made good on last year's resolutions, that your womb is drying up and your turkey is drying out, and by god there are only 6 more shopping days until Christmas. But my favourite by far is the Hickory Farms kiosk - every year when I'm buying love at the Sony Store, I pass the time spent in line wondering about what kind of person is keeping these guys in business. How better to say "I love you" than with questionable cheeses and an assortment of jellies never meant for human consumption?

3. Really "great" holiday music

a) I have never in my life encountered any nut roasting on any fire.

b) Nothing says Christmas like your intoxicated grandmother getting trampled to death by a herd of prancing deer.

c) My friends do not call "yoo hoo". If they did, the next line of the song would be "Stop wasting my god-damned weekend minutes!"

d) Jingle bells do not "rock" in any sense of the word.

Oh what's the point? There has not been a new Christmas song since the Era of Lawrence Welk, and quite frankly, when every song is basically propaganda for a couple of guys no one's ever seen, well, this stuff is just too easy.

4. Secret Santa

Because obviously you love your coworkers. Even the lady with the inspirational cat posters who drinks tea out of mugs with 'clever' phrases written on them like "Born to Bingo" who tells your boss that you were 4 minutes late, and even the guy who parks his car diagonally across 3 handicapped spaces and never holds the elevator, even your boss who puts his name on your ideas and who smells suspiciously of sorority vomit on Monday mornings. Clearly you want to buy them lovely things, and trust them to buy you something lovely in return, which clearly can be done for the agreed-upon $15 limit which you exceed slightly in the name of good taste, and which your secret Santa apparently took as only a suggestion when he picked up this 2-pack of car air fresheners at the gas station his morning for 67 cents.

And the best part? It's secret, so you can't even take credit for giving that great bottle of wine to the guy who never washes his hands after using the bathroom and makes creative use of the office photo copier. Good times.

5. "Delicious" Holiday Treats

Cranberries: what the hell is up with cranberries? As if they weren't annoying enough in awful juice format (slogan: even your urinary tract would prefer a glass of oj), along comes Christmas and its damn Christmas bird. Take your pick: turkey, goose, tiny little hen....either way, who was the first person to think "I think I'll plop some of this useless little fruit on top"? And then the guy after him who couldn't even be bothered to do that, but instead a tin-can-shaped blob of red stuff in a dish that we generously called "cranberry sauce" but might more accurately be named "a middling source of dietary fiber and manganese, whatever the hell that is."

Eggnog: Friends and fellow countrymen, repeat after me: egg is not a mixer.

Fruitcake: Way to take a good thing (namely, cake) and fuck it all up. I mean, it wasn't enough to put fruit on top of your meat (see above diatribe against the unholy cranberry), you had to foul up dessert as well. And it's not that I have anything per say against fruit, but fruitcake doesn't even pretend to be good. And according to wikipedia, a fresh fruitcake has not been baked since 1913, instead the same 12 have just been circulating ever since, occasionally being wrapped in new cellophane (well, I'm paraphrasing). But there's not a lot of good to be said about a so-called dessert that's primary ingredients are not about taste but about "preventing mould" (and I'm not even making that part up). Some people claim fruitcake gets better with age, but I'm betting these are the same cranks who think headcheese from a mall kiosk makes an excellent gift.

6. Santa Hats

You know who should wear a Santa hat? Santa. And even then, I would strongly suggest he switch over to a more stylin fedora, or even a cute beenie if warmth is his main concern. But every year it seems that people go rummaging through the storage space under their trailers for their grubby, tatty Santa hats so they can wear them around all December long looking like a festive hangout for fleas and other vermin. And for some reason, every single homeless person has been provided with a pre-infested Santa hat, which the homeless person then generously shares with various mangy dogs. And people still think this is a good style to copycat - I mean, obviously a big fat man wearing a red velvet jumpsuit is a fashion icon, am I right?

7. Poinsettias

You know how right before Easter there's always a public service announcement about how rabbits don't make a very good gift because you have to be prepared to care for it for oh, the rest of its life, after the cuteness of it wears off 2 days after the holiday has passed? Well, the same should be done for poor poinsettias. They're living creatures too you know, and yet they are unceremoniously dumped right after Christmas. In some parts of Mexico it is actually referred to as "excrement flower" and this surprises me not one bit.

8. X-mas

Who agreed upon this spelling? Since when does X = Christ? Is this the "new math" or some sort of old "arithmetic" from before algebra was invented? Was Jesus an X-man? Or did chat-room illiterates come up with this along with their other ridiculous acronyms and alternate spellings which I refuse to even acknowledge (and still to this day will reject the friendship of anyone who CUL8R's me). Either way, I take offense. I mean, if you believe he died for your sins and will come again to judge the living and the dead, I'm thinking you might want to take the time to spell his name correctly, eh?

9. Schmaltzy Sitcoms

Maybe it's because I grew up in the 80s, but the mere thought of a dysfunctional TV family who spends 22 minutes week in and week out airing their "hilarious" grievances with each other Tuesday night after Tuesday night suddenly banding together on a special holiday episode where for that night only they suddenly all have pianos in their living rooms, and they suddenly all burst into Christmas carols at the exact same moment (even though just last week Steve Urkel was barely allowed inside the house, let alone to put his arms around "the big guy" and croon about their hot nuts)....well, it drives me crazy. Anything with a "touching theme" or "holiday message" or "sentimental tribute" is laxatives to me.

10. Christmas Tipping

Once upon a time, a tip was a little something you gave someone out of the goodness of your heart to reward them for exceptional service. I swear it's true. And then it became expected. And then it became demanded whether service was adequate or not. And then it was requested just because a certain date on the calendar was fast-approaching, and anyone you came within a 10-mile radius of is suddenly crawling out of the woodwork, palm up, looking for a fat envelope, to which I say: scrooge you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm Getting Crap for Christmas

Welcome to Jamie's Survival Guide for the Holidays.
If you have questions of suggestions of your own, please email me.
Otherwise, no matter how or what you celebrate, good luck to you.

It's that time of the year again.

That awful time of the year when wrinkled packages sit sagging underneath a dying, be-baubled plant, and you just know they contain crap, but crap you'll have to pretend to be grateful for.

That's been my experience, anyway.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for families to gather near, but I swear, December seems to be the time that my family meets me again for the first time.

Around the first of the month, I like to ring up and reintroduce myself:

Hi, Mum. It's me, Jamie. You know, your first born, the one you named after your brother? Remember me? I slept just down the hall from you for 18 years or so. I like kitchen gadgets, literature, recycling, and Tenacious D. You may recognize me from family portraits and special appearances in the earlier photo albums. Is any of this ringing a bell? Hello? Hello?

But this rarely works. Despite my best attempts to familiarize my family with me, their gifts always seem to be the results of a last-minute dash to walmart where the first thing falling under the theme "girl, age 10-76" was purchased and labeled with my name, and if it was found on the sales table containing last year's kitsch, all the better.

So, I get crap for Christmas.

It started when I was a kid. Of course I got some lovely gifts over the years, but I also got some real head-scratchers. One year I got a puzz-3D of Cinderella's castle. Now let's consider, for a moment, that my mother had no indication that I enjoyed puzzles, or games of any kind, or castles, or Cinderella, or anything other than clothes and music. I looked at the puzz-3D, hoping it had ended up in my pile accidentally, and if against all odds it had been intended for me, that we could all move on and allow it to start collecting dust sometime very, very soon. But no, my mother insisted I at least give it a try, so I opened the box to find 8000 identical gray pieces and thought to myself Either I'm adopted, or my mother hates me. The next year my mother gave my sisters and I a joint gift, and we unwrapped a dazzling 3-storey, 4 foot tall Barbie house. I was 14 years old. As my sisters squealed in delight, I retreated to my bedroom to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins and read some Sylvia Plath. Barbie house? Hello? Do I even exist to you people? What about my Doc Martens and my 90210 posters tells you I might be interested in a Barbie house?

These days though, I would be thankful for a puzz-3D. Now that I'm an adult the window for crap is open wide and the possibilities are endless.

The kiss of death Christmas crap is no doubt stationary. Nothing says "I have no idea who you are or what you like, so I got you this inoffensive gift which was sitting conveniently in the impulse-purchase aisle for $9.99" like a box of generic stationary. I remember when I was a kid, my mother would alternate getting my grandmother (her mother in law) a brooch and a box of stationary every year, because what else do you get an old woman who has no wants or desires or personal style? But then a few years ago, I began unwrapping some stationary sets of my own. What the hell? I'm 25 years old, what the fuck do I want with paper adorned with light houses and seagulls? I'm going to write to all my white-haired, dentured, old-biddy friends to tell them which of my peers has recently died of natural causes? I don't think so.

A close second, crap-wise, is of course, the dreaded bubble bath. This again reminds me of my grandmother who always was gifted with, and as a consequence of, smelled strongly of, Fa. Apparently I do not even rate Fa; mostly I receive junk I'm pretty sure comes from the dusty shelves of the dollar store. And sometimes a capfull of the dollar store junk is missing because someone in the family has bought it, ran a bath for themselves, discovered that it smells suspiciously like burnt hair, and pawned the remains off on me, me who is apparently too dumb to notice that the seal has been broken (my sisters also gift me with clothes they no longer want, the tags cut out and the sweaters already pilling). Now, this is the same family who laughed at my hives when I came into contact with any foreign substance, who grimaced at my red eyes when they got anything as abrasive as clean water in them, who laughed when my face broke out when I so much as looked the wrong way at a jar of Noxema. The very family who ostensibly know me to be the most sensitive-skinned person in the world, and yet gift me with cheap-ass bubble bath because nothing says I love you like a bottle of crap so drying that my skin will flake off and I will be unable to self-lubricate for weeks on end! Oh the joy!

And I won't even mention the fact that I don't have a bathtub.

And how many pairs of isotoner slippers does one girl need? Answer: 0. Only old ladies wear isotoner slippers, and I'm talking long flannel nightgowns and fake teeth in a glass on the nightstand.

Two years ago I got a real piece of crap, in the shape of gold and diamonds. It was a "pendant" and it came in one of those cute little boxes from the jewelry store. And I hated it. I mean, truly, did not like it. Because am I a yellow-gold and diamonds kind of girl? No, I am not. I hate dainty. I hate anything that hangs on a "chain'. I own nothing of the sort, have admired nothing of the sort. Anyone who knows me knows I would much prefer a $10 necklace of glass or wooden beads. Anyone who knows me knows that I think yellow gold is repulsive. Anyone who knows me knows that diamond pendants don't really go with a wardrobe consisting of Ramones t-shirts and Converse. But I have long ago accepted that my mother quite simply does not know me. Sure they say it's the thought that counts, but when the thought behind your gifts seems to be "You probably won't like this, but hey, it was on sale!" and "Woops, we sure did forget about you!", then screw the thought and demand for cash.

My mother-in-law is great for that, she gives gift certificates, and even if some think them impersonal, I can tell you this: her thank-you-note is the only one that doesn't make me weep to write. My other mother-in-law seems to forget my existence every single year, and so I get something out of her "stock" pile, usually things she's bought from various candle parties over the years. I mean, how many dorky candle holders that don't match my decor (or my age bracket) can I really fit underneath my bed? Not many more, I can tell you that.

So to keep the peace, I unwrap these gifts and cart them home where I will dutifully assign them a corner space in my cupboard until I do my spring cleaning, when I will then throw out the crap with relief. And in order to survive the holidays, I have learned this:

Fake the most sincere gratitude that you possibly can, and treat yourself to the gifts you deserve.