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.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dear Douglas Coupland

You are a self-referential (reverential) asshole.

No matter how many books you write, you will never succeed in convincing me that your Generation X is cool. You were born the same year as my mother, the woman who buys her jeans from walmart, and hems them 2 inches above the ankle, revealing socks decorated with cats batting around balls of yarn.

You try to trick the reader into thinking you're cool by peppering your stories with incoherent Simpsons references, when anyone with a half-decent cable package could tell you that Apu doesn't sell milkshakes, he sells Squishys.

And you've somehow managed to write a whole book about geeks without any reference to myspace, ipods, or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Way to stay in touch.

You can jkissmyass.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Iron Chef Finds Nemo

While salsa dancing may have been a bit too quick for us, pottery making was much, much too slow. Would we ever find a happy medium?

Well, with the help of a little sticky rice, I thought yes. I thought I'd found the perfect date for Jamie and Jason, involving both food (Jason's favourite), and the making of food (Jamie's favourite). The raw fish part was just the element of surprise to keep things interesting (and possibly parasitic).

Jason and I are sushi snobs. Well, maybe not snobs. We don't think we're too good for sushi, we're just afraid of dying from painful intestinal implosions.

We were immediately put at ease when we found our way into the instructional kitchen - there was one "stage" kitchen, and then 6 smaller work stations spaced around the room. Each island had counter space, a sink, a cutting board, a set of knives - all things that I could name. If relief was a perfume, I would have been doused in it. Jason and I snagged a station in the back. A mother and daughter team had arrived early to ensure the front spot. They wore matching sweater sets and pearls (hand to god, it's true).

The rest of the couples seemed normal enough, and they all filtered in on time, which was great. Then we could all stand around together, waiting for the teacher, wondering what some of these implements were, and trying to avoid eye contact with the mother\daughter team who had introduced themselves without anyone having asked -

"I'm Theresa!" the mother had just suddenly shouted into the room.

"I'm Theresa2!" the daughter had quickly followed.

Well, maybe she might have said Theresa too, but it doesn't really matter since I wasn't calling either of them Theresa in my head.

And then the door swung open dramatically, and a small man turned out all the lights except the pot-lights directed at the kitchen. Idiot1 and Idiot2 started clapping like they were on a game show, and the greasy little man jogged across the room to his stage kitchen with his arm raised, acknowledging the enthusiastic applause of the Idiots (and the reluctant, tepid, confused applause of the rest) before taking a bow.

"Welcome to my Greek Fat Big Kitchen!" he said in his Greek fat big accent.

I choked a bit before laughter blew out of my mouth. I'd tried to keep it in, I swear.

To cover the fact that I was laughing at him, I shouted "Oh, just like the movie!" and hoped it would seem that I was just laughing at his joke (which he had botched, which was why I was laughing. Oy.)

So this was the guy, in his lovely peach-coloured blouse and his pointy-toed Beatle boots, who would teach us to make sushi.

Okay then.

Jason was sent up to the front to retrieve our tray of ingredients out of the fridge, but on his way back I thought he'd taken the wrong one – he appeared to have a tray containing oddly-coloured blobs of jello. But once he got closer, the smell confirmed it was indeed fish (though to be fair, it was only a faint smell - high grade fish doesn't smell as much as you'd think).

Mr. Greek (he asked us to call him that) got to work. He was wearing a microphone, which is thoughtful, except that his peach blouse crinkled so much we couldn't decipher a single word he was saying. Luckily, there was a big mirror angled on his cook station from up above, and we followed along with that.

The first thing we did was take rough pieces of ugly-patterned wallpaper, and put them on our bamboo mats. I think I heard that the wallpaper was actually dried-seaweed, but it looked like it had recently been peeled off my grandmother's dining room walls. Anyway. Then we took some rice out of the rice cooker and mixed it with a bit of vinegar before making a small slug of rice on top of the wallpaper. Then we learned how to slice raw fish with funny-looking knives, and put slivers of the orange jello on top of the rice slugs. Then we added some green goop (could this be wasabi?) and were encouraged to wet the ends of our wallpaper so that the "glue" would stick – anyone going to tell me that it's not wallpaper now? Then, judging by Mr. Greek's mirror, we were supposed to use magic to roll up the wallpaper. I gently rolled one end of my bamboo mat up to meet the top, and ended up with a dark phallus in front on me, which Mr. Greek licked his lips at lustily before pronouncing "You put in mouth now!" Jason, on the other hand, ended up with an inverted mess. His wallpaper didn't roll at all, but somehow he ended up with the whole thing upside down, orange jello on the bottom, and wallpaper on top. We wiped that shit into the garbage before Mr. Greek could notice. But we did slice mine up, and each had a piece. It Fucking OHMIGOD steam coming out of my ears hot. So we were spared having to actually taste the wallpaper or orange jello but got a strong dose of the green goop. My tearducts did not calm down for 3 whole hours. This, my friends, is Maki sushi (so said the little card Mr. Greek placed in front of his, like it was a museum piece. We all gazed at it lovingly).

Then we shook off our successes and failures (one guy had rice on his shoe, which we pretended not to notice, and the Idiots were smacking their lips and calling their sushi "divine") and prepared for round 2.

First we had to wash our hands in watery vinegar. Then we were supposed to take some rice and roll it into an oval shape. Apparently I can't do ovals, but I can do lumpy balls, which I deemed "good enough". Jason's rice wouldn't ball up at all, so instead he just made a small mountain using spoons and willpower, which I felt was cheating. Then we were supposed to to apply the green goop again, which I did very sparingly this time, just a hint of green, actually, because you won't catch me lighting my own mouth on fire twice in one night. Then we sliced up some of the red jello (tuna, maybe?) and arranged that artfully on top. And that's it. That's it? Yeah, that's it. Tasting time came all too quickly this time around, and lo and behold, my chopsticks lifted up my proud little lump and deposited it directly into my mouth, which is when I panicked and thought If I don't chew, I won't taste it, and then followed that gem up with If I don't chew, I am likely to choke to death, and some poor autopsy guy will find red jello in my throat. So I chewed. And it wasn't bad. Of course, due to the burning-to-the-crisp of my taste buds, it felt as if I was chewing cardboard, but to me, cardboard is favourable to raw fish, so I was pleased with the result. Jason, however, attempted to pick up his pile of rice with his chopsticks and ended up scattering the whole thing on the floor (although some of the rice stuck persistently to his sweater).

So if you're keeping score, that's Sushi: 2, Jason: 0.

And that's what they call Nigiri. God, now that I think of it, I hope that these are actual sushi names and not just the pet names that Mr. Greek has for his fish. Maybe I should have looked that shit up.


Last one. We cut up the remaining jello into bite sized chunks (I recognized salmon, abalone, and according to the squirmy arm movements of Mr. Greek, I'm thinking we had some squid or eel or something in there too). Then we prepared a sauce using soy sauce and ginger and the green stuff, which we were then encouraged to dip our fish into. This is sashimi, apparently, the lazy man's sushi, for those days when you just can't wait to start eating raw sea creatures. I selected the nicest, whitest, least-scariest piece of fish, bathed it generously in the sauce, and put it in my mouth.

8 minutes of chewing later, I was able to swallow the thing (maybe you're supposed to just let it slide down your throat?). I was still unable to taste a thing. Jason selected a piece of his own, dipped it in sauce, and put it in his mouth. I saw him chew. I saw him turn green. I saw the panic in his pretty brown eyes before he casually leaned over the sink and spit as if his life depended on it.

Final score: Sushi 3, Jason 0.

Mr. Greek shook hands with us as we left and said "Hope to see you back very, very more faster". And honestly, we might go back. We had fun. But we have fun no matter what we're doing together.

We went out for martinis afterwards to cleanse our pallet. We ate our olives with chopsticks, and we toasted our success: we may not be top sushi chefs, but at least we sucked together.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How to Watch a Scary Movie 101

I have patently refused to watch 'horror' movies for many years. I think they're sad and degrading to the human spirit. Jason, however, thinks that watching a human being be ruthlessly tortured before being systematically slaughtered is 'fun' and 'entertaining'. Those he watches alone.

But I haven't found a way to wiggle out of all scary movies yet, so instead, I've patented a scary movie survival technique that I am willing to share with all of you.

The first weapon in a scaredy-cat's arsenal is a blanket. It can be thick or thin, flannel or quilt, the point here is that size DOES matter. Your blanket must be big enough for you to hide behind.

The second thing you'll need is a form of distraction, preferably involving the hands. All too often, I resort to food. Grapes are a favourite for me, and popcorn works well for others. You may think that chips and dip are even better because the dipping action definitely takes you away from the gore on screen, but if you dare to try it, I can guarantee you this: somewhere between to the generous dipping and your mouth, something scary will happen, you'll jump, and the dip will land somewhere unpleasing. And believe me, once you've had dip in your hair, you'll never live it down. Non-edible options I've tried and enjoyed include correspondence, my colouring book (shut up. crayons are soothing), and painting my nails.

The third thing you need is to have someone braver than yourself in the room. This should be a person you're very comfortable with, because you will soon be squirming all over their body. It works best if they can sit behind you and then wrap their arms and legs around you. This position says "No worries, no one can sneak up on you from behind" which is a very reassuring position. It's also handy because when something particularly awful is happening, you can take their hands and place them over your eyes (never rely on your own hands for this). If it's something truly awful that you don't want to miss, you can slightly part their fingers and watch the movie through the cracks. Everything feels safer when viewed from behind someone's fingers.

Additionally, another way to help you get through the scary scenes, is to do the finger thing, and then partially obscure your vision with the blanket, and then get the person behind you to describe the scene in a calm, and monotonous voice. "He's going to the door. He's opening the door. He's going inside the room. The carpet is an awful shade of dusty rose" - see? It totally diffuses the situation and breaks it down into bits you can swallow.

The last thing you need is a song. I know it sounds weird, but it works. When I am all tensed up and ready to scream, I sing. The song's chorus goes like this:

"La, la, la, I am singing because nothing bad can happen when you're singing, so everything's all right and I'm not scared because nothing bad can happen when you're singing."

And then the rest of the lyrics are up to you. I like to keep them relevant, like:

"Won't somebody please get these poor kids a kleenex, du, du, du?"

"Oohhhh it sounds like that chain saw could use a little greeeease"

"Jack Nicholsooon, you don't scare me with your pretty little ax, falalalala"

It totally relieves all the tension in the room.
Of course, it may or may not ruin it for everyone else, but who cares? They're the ones that made you watch it in the first place, so the deserve it.

Go forth, and be scared no more.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween: Now

The first time I attended a Halloween party that was not sponsored by the Brownies, I was in high school and dating a much older man who, embarrassingly, had gone to high school with my mass communications teacher. I did jello shots until I couldn't stand, at which point I switched to my first-ever shots of Goldschlager, which if you don't know, is a liqueur with tiny slivers of pure gold swimming in it. Unfortunately, I didn't know, and in my jello-shot-state of inebriation, I was led to believe that they were in fact tiny fishes, that were now alive and swimming lustily in my stomach.

The next Halloween Jason and I signed up for a Haunted Tour of Ottawa - basically, a guide wearing a silly cape (drama students, all of them, you can be sure) walks you through the city, by light of a lantern (I know, can you stand it?) pointing out all the spots where ghosts are said to reside and recounting the "spooky" sightings - more basically, 90 minutes spent trying not to pee my pants. At each site, the group would stand in front of the building (one of which was Friday's Roast Beef House - I mean, what the fuck is scary about roast beef, besides the obvious?), and we would all squint trying to make out the ghosts in the upper windows (ghosts never hang out on the first floor) and we would all become hyper-conscious of the hairs on the backs of our necks, which is the only real way to detect the presence of a supernatural being, despite what you may have been lead to believe by the Ghost Busters.

The Halloween after that we were invited to a party, and though we are not accustomed to turning down an invitation, we strongly considered it since this one was extended with a caveat - you must wear a costume. Good gravy. No, I am not an adult enjoyer of costumes. But we went to a big box store in Gloucester anyway, in an effort to appease our hosts, where we encountered what I can only describe as The Thing That Is Most Wrong With Society Today. As I flipped through the catalogue of potential costumes, this is what I saw: sexy nurse, sexy cop, sexy angel, sexy devil, sexy maid, sexy cheerleader, sexy witch, and then a whole section entitled pimps and hos. A fine example of the human spirit, if you will. Clearly, Halloween has become a misnomer, and should henceforth be called "The Trampiest Day of the Year".

And so that's when I quit Halloweening.
Except Jason has this delusion that he's hosting a party tonight that will involve beer drinking and scary-movie-watching. I'm not normally what you would call "anti-social", but if it involves anything scarier than say, The Lion King, then count me the fuck out.

The End.

Halloween: Then

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Well, goodish, anyway.

1. Katie got a place of her own this weekend. It's a very cute little apartment; nearly half the windows face something other than a brick wall, and the orange tiles blend nicely with the gold appliances. She and I mostly busied ourselves hanging curtains and reorganizing her spice rack while Jason did the more "labour-intensive" (but less intellectual, so it all evens out) work, such as actually strapping a couch to his back and lugging it up 3 flights of stairs. He's awesome like that. Now, Katie has a get-out-of-moving-free card for giving birth, and I'm just plain lazy, so this division of labour struck us as incredibly fair. Plus, Jason tends to be over-protective of my back, which, 4 surgeries later, is no longer actually in need of any protection. But after that many encounters with a scalpel, you can imagine the mess of mutilation we call "scar tissue" is - something that Jason gets a nice, graphic reminder of every day in the shower, while I, not having eyes in the back of my head (yet), am able to mostly forget. So actually, nothing bad happened during the move. The baby was her usual non-fussy self, and I was my un-usual non-droppy self, so we were all feeling pretty proud of ourselves, but very tired, by the time Jason and I returned home and I somehow managed to projectile-fall down an entire case of stairs (13 of them). I don't remember slipping, I didn't have that half-second of impending-doom realization. No, I just suddenly said to myself "Self, you appear to be flying", quickly edited to "Shit, self, you appear to be falling!" And without once grazing any 13 of those stairs, I nose-dived directly onto the concrete floor below, where I sprawled impressively, but quietly. Not to worry, though. I'm all bandaged up, and my knee is back in its socket where it belongs.

2. Jason comes home the other night with a ticket. From a cop. So right away I think that obviously some new law has been passed, deeming powder-blue vehicles no longer worthy for the road (secretly, I tend to agree, but missed seeing this in the papers). I assume that this is why Jason has been ticketed because Jason is the most conscientious, safe, law-abiding driver on the road, bar none. When the cop behind him turned on his lights, Jason politely maneuvered to the side to let the police car pass, so imagine his shock when the cruiser pulled up behind him. Apparently, since the Toronto Police Services have nothing better to do, and since Jason was exhibiting such dodgy behaviour as re-filling his wife's prescription, a certain officer decided to run a check on the tags on Jason's plate, which admittedly, were good through the month of October, but. BUT, having run this check, he discovered that Jason's birthday was last week, and even though the tags are good for the whole month, he really should have renewed his license 5 days ago (on the national holiday during which the DMV is most decidedly closed to the public), and according to the officer who obviously had some quotas to fill, it's "technically" a ticketable offence, to the tune of $110. When Jason handed me the ticket, I cried. And as he patted my back and reminded me that I hadn't cried when I cracked my head open on the cement, I couldn't help but feel how unfair the world can be. That there are never any police around when people speed through our residential neighbourhood, how they're not around when I'm kept awake because a rash of burglaries means every second house and car alarm is blaring down the road, how the cops aren't finding the missing little girl, or the rapist, or the woman who killed the pedestrian in a hit-and-run the other day, but they're stopping guys like Jason who spend their days helping new mothers move and broken wives get better.

3. My friend Andy apparently lurks here more than he admits to, because when many of you urged me to give salsa dancing a second chance, he called me up and insisted I accept his invitation to some bar that I'm sure has a name, but I've forgotten it, but was described to me as "Toronto's premiere gay latin dance club", so thanks a lot, guys. In an effort to not duplicate the panty fiasco, I bought a new dress, Verrrrrry sexy, said Andy, who rolls his Rrrr's unnecessarily. And I thought what better way to enjoy my new dress than with some luxuriously soft legs. As you may remember, I have a hate\hate relationship with my razor. Even so, I have resisted the lure of waxing because, well, it's waxing. First, it has a terrible reputation*. True, it's become over-used slap-stick in far too many chick-flicks, or worse, "man attempting to understand women" movies, but still, this reputation is apparently not undeserved. But second, it involves a stranger applying oddly erotic unguents to the most intimate parts of my body, only to then rip out tiny hairs by their roots, thus witnessing my inherent weakness (and probably, some rather foul language). But I went anyway. And clearly, I shouldn't have. After I stoically withstood two flaming, merciless abuses by wax, the woman frowned down at me and said "No good" and left the room. I thought this message to be a bit cryptic, and so I laid there perhaps a bit longer than I should have, waiting, and trying to decipher, until I deciphered that at the very least, she wasn't coming back, and I put my pants back on. In doing so, I caught a glimpse of my poor right leg, which looked as raw and burnt as it felt, if not more. It was covered in tiny, angry red bumps, which gave the effect of a persistent and outrageously contagious rash. It was the receptionist who finally filled me in and sent me home. Apparently I was "the worst case ever", my skin was "violently sensitive" and the entire salon thought me an incredible fool for bringing my "unspeakable" legs to them in the first place. At home the rash had developed into welts and blisters, and worse still, I was unable to take a razor to the rest of my leg because my skin was so broken that it oozed and bled just from having the water hit it. Andy, however, thought that hairy legs were not a good enough excuse no matter how revealing the hemline of my dress was, so luckily I later threw myself down a staircase, dislocating my knee, which makes for a much better opt-out.

4. Jason gets one of those dreaded calls at work the other day - the manager on duty had better get himself to the ladies' fitting room, and quick. These calls are not uncommon, and so he braces himself for the usual outcome: some brassy-haired lady is going to scream her onion-stinking breath at him because her fat ass doesn't fit into their jeans, or some other really good reason for yelling at the poor guy who doesn't even make the jeans, just takes the blame for them. But there is no pear-shaped woman, or there is, but she's not riled up yet, instead, there is a mystery package in the corner of one of the change rooms, and it's exactly this reason why Jason makes as much money as he does. His job, by his own admission is 95% looking handsome and delegating, but there's that tricky 5% that you wouldn't envy for all the paycheques in the world. Today, a woman has taken a dump in his change room. It was evidently a rather orchestrated affair. As she tried on her clothing, she must have had the urge, and so, seeing how the public washroom is within plain sight of the change room, she instead decided to reach into her bag, and remove an ordinary piece of white paper, which she laid on the floor, squatted over, and shat onto. She then wiped herself with the tissues she evidently carries around for just such an occasion, and then she placed a second sheet of paper on top of her nice little pile. And then she took her clothes, and went to wait in line to pay. Now, if for whatever reason you just took a dump in a fitting room, you might be embarrassed, and say, leave the store. But not this woman. No, she left her pile, and stood calmly in line, apparently oblivious to the many employees now crowded around two very unordinary pieces of paper. There is really no hasmat training that prepares you for poop-origami, so Jason had to improvise (or rather, he gave some gloves and implicit instructions to someone else). But he took care of it nonetheless. And then he came home and had more beers than usual before dinner, because after a day like that, he deserves it, goddammit.

*Not that shaving does not. I mean, really, if you aren't familiar with my infamous shaving accident, read about it here. But I was prejudiced against razors even before fact, ever since a friend of the family once described to me how she nicked her nipple while shaving her armpit. Ouch.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Halloween: Then

Oh the excitement of bolting down our hotdogs almost unchewed so that we could get out to the business of collecting candy all the quicker. My sisters and I each took a pillow case around our plentiful suburban neighbourhood, and once the first pillow case became too heavy for our little arms to carry, we exchanged it for a second one. Chocolate and chips were favourites, but the motherlode of treats was a can of soft drink (preferably orange crush). True, a soft drink dropped into the pillow case would crush almost all the little bags of chips as it sank to the bottom, but there was nothing better than getting 2 or 3 cans, and lining them up in the fridge to enjoy an aluminum parade of bright colours and tooth-rotting goodness (my sisters and I weren't really allowed soft drink until we were the age of majority).

We usually started the trick-or-treating before the sun had officially set, shortly after 5pm. The kid across the street, Andre, was always the first to make the rounds (his father was anal that way), and once he'd rung our bell, it was a free-for-all.

Our costumes, if they can be called that, were nothing special. Poverty meant no store-bought costumes, so we were never anything recognizable, like cartoon characters or movie stars. Every year my mother would drag a dilapidated cardboard box out of storage and have us salvage costumes from its contents. There were no actual costume pieces in this box, mostly just discarded clothing of my grandmother's, so inevitably one of us would dress up as "old lady". Year after year we recycled the same costumes, never winning any prizes at school, not even any pity prizes. And each costume had to be short enough to fit a 6 year old, but wide enough to fit a 400lb woman (Canadian Halloween meant being able to stuff a snow suit under your costume). Inevitably, our neighbourhood would be overrun by fat witches, tubby princesses, chubby cowboys, and so on.

Personally, the whole point of Halloween was not the dressing up or the candy, but the exciting organizational process that would take place later on. I loved to dump out all of my candy, and after reveling in the sheer abundancy, I would take inventory. I would group them into categories: gums, chips, chocolates, salty, sweet, chewy, melty, hard, soft. I would carefully extract all purple candy, and dump it in the garbage. Then I would remove the candy corn, raisins, tootsie rolls, rockets, and grandma's fudge. These were a waste of valuable candy sac real estate, as far as we were concerned. Shame on all of the houses that gave out such crap (it was pretty much only my grandmother who gave out grandma's fudge, of course). And I would donate these items to my father, who apparently would eat anything. Then I would arrange my grouped candy into ascending order of goodness and badness.

Sometimes my cousin would join us, and she would always confess that after eating 4 or 5 pieces of candy, her bag would get pushed to the back of the cupboard, forgotten, until it was found months later and thrown out. At my house, that was never the case. My sister and I ate every damn piece of candy that came in the front door, even if it killed us, which it very nearly did. In fact, that first night I'd say nearly half the candy was consumed on the spot, which is an amazing feat for 4 little girls. But the fact is, we did not often get treats at our house. If my parents had bought one chocolate bar, they would have to buy 4, and 4 chocolate bars were beyond their means. We did get cheesies on occasion (usually as a bribe to be good when a babysitter was coming over), but one bag of cheesies to share amongst 6 people means your fingers don't even turn orange. So Halloween was a delicious anomaly to us, one that we took advantage of, belly aches be damned.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


It's such an unsatisfactory word, estrangement. It's so hollow, so impersonal.

It lacks the emotional gravity to convey the loss, the loneliness, the rejection.

It doesn't accurately describe the reality of being motherless.

It doesn't express the ache of the 652 days that you've spent not talking to her, not belonging, not loved.

It doesn't tell us about the desperation of the day you learned that unconditional love is just another fairy tale that doesn't apply to you.

It doesn't effectively communicate how it feels to be told that she used to think she had room in her heart for all 4 daughters, but now she knows she doesn't, and you're the one to go.

It doesn't imply the heart break or the bitterness, or the strength it takes to move on. It simply suggests that two people have become strangers, perhaps indicating that they were once close, but no longer are.

Except that in our case, we never really were.

And it leaves me wondering, if it was so easy for her to stop, did she ever really love me in the first place?

I rage against the failure of the English language because it's easier than saying this:

my mother doesn't love me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Shellac It Like That

You may remember that last week our maiden date night was a little too high-impact for our strict enjoyment (we found it tough to be romantic while sweating like racehorses). This week I had 2 main criteria for planning our date: 1. rest our tired tuckuses; 2. keep my panties to myself.

I thought pottery would be the perfect solution. I mean, picture for a moment the delectable Demi Moore, sexy in her overalls, intimate with her pottery wheel, the sensuous squishiness of clay slipping between her fingers as Patrick Swayze nuzzles her neck from beyond the grave. Romantic? Mais oui. I thought I might like to share a potter's wheel with my own lover.

So Jason and I paid our dues at the art studio and bought sexy smocks that would not be revealing no matter how enthusiastically I twirled, and away we went.

Sherri was our "clay interpreter", as she called it. About 20 minutes later, we would call her "crazy."

"Clay is like, this magical stuff that's like, just clay, but then you add your essence and you turn the clay into this magical stuff."


With this vital information imparted upon us, she took a break to peel an orange. After we watched her eat a few segments, I put my hand in the air.

Our eyes met. She seemed to eat her orange more menacingly.

"Mmm?" she barely enquired.

"When do we start?"

"Start? We've already started. We are creating art!"

Jason and I exchanged glances with our fellow students. We all seemed equally dubious. None of us were creating anything other than pained expressions.

"Well, when do we get to use the wheel?" I asked, ever the expert prompter, meanwhile I find myself humming something about a hungering touch and godspeeding love.

"The wheel?"she gasped. "The wheel is for advanced students only," she told us, clearly surprised that I could be so stupid as to not know this, disgusted that I thought I might put my grubby, unworthy hands on her precious wheel.

Apparently, the exorbitant studio fee included a lump of clay, a cubby hole to store this lump of clay, and the privilege of sitting in the same room as the Exalted Wheel.

So we were given our lumps of clay. We were shown the tools and techniques for "building" our masterpieces, but the only thing I managed to do was to poke holes into my lump using my thumbs. After about half an hour of "creating art", I had a lump of holey clay that rather resembled a mouldy potato. Jason did much better - his looked like a healthy, edible potato.

And that's where we ran into problems, because here's what they neglect to tell you in the glamourous, glossy studio brochure: pottery drags ass.

It takes weeks, months, to create anything! First you shape the thing, then you leave it to dry, and next week you fire it in the kiln, then the next week you glaze, then the next week, re-fire. You have to have the patience of...of...of a potter to put up with this crap! You don't bring home the finished product until weeks after you've already forgotten about it. It's excruciating.

So I scrapped the pottery-potato, and headed to the "ceramics" portion of the studio. To me, "ceramics" appear to be finished pottery, but to Sherri the clay interpreter, ceramics are a second-class citizen. But ceramics are a short attention span's wet dream. You grab someone else's creation, splash on some garish paints, and you're done. I mean, it's no potato, but still.

Jason did a bowl, I did a plate; we adorned them with atrocious portraits of each other. On the backs, we painted our initials (JET) and these dishes are now destined for a Salvation Army somewhere in the GTA, where we can only hope they will be found and loved and maybe one day they'll be excavated from a dusty old trunk and make an ironic appearance on Antiques Roadshow. One can only hope.

So it's a toss-up as to which was the bigger disaster, salsa or pottery, but thankfully since we did have fun spending time together, even if we simply bonded over our mutual incompetencies, I'd say date night was not a complete bust. And pottery may not have been the aphrodisiac that I'd imagined, but the truth is, we were high on glaze fumes, and that ain't bad.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Update City

I know, I know, I've been sadly remiss in keeping up to date, but sometimes my fabulous life just gets too frantic. Between weekends in Belize, getting pierced below the belt, and peeling potatoes, I just can't seem to keep up. So here are just a few of the things that have been sitting on my shelf for far too long.

1. The Run for the Cure: did I or didn't I (finish, that is...or frankly, start, or franker still, survive)?

2. Could the incompetent monkeys at UPS possibly find my missing computer?

3. Jason celebrates his 26th, pirate-style.

4. Janie continues to hog the blankets, and the attention, but mostly we still love her.

5. And the question that's on everyone's mind: am I feeling better yet?

I'm trying to post pictures also, but blogger is being a bitch.

Like you haven't heard that before.

Katie and Baby Negative Father Plus Grandmother Minus Grandmother Plus Jamie and Jason make 4.

How is the baby doing?

How is the baby sleeping?

How is Jay dealing with all the attention the baby's been getting?

These are the questions that everyone seems to be asking lately, so much so that at times, I have to pause just to remember that "the baby" has a name. At what age do people start referring to her as Janie instead of just "the baby"? Poor thing is going to have an identity crisis!

Actually, we're all having a bit of an identity crisis lately. Katie has become, of all things, a mother. Weirder still, I myself have become the friend of a mother. And the roommate of a mother. And thusly, a roommate of a baby. A stinky, sleepy, cry-y baby. Named Janie. And she's an angel.

Janie and Katie are temporarily homeless, but it's not as desperate as it sounds. Katie's lease on her too-small-for-a-baby apartment was up, and she chose not to renew. Unfortunately, this lease expired about a week after she gave birth. Fortunately, she saw it coming, and was prepared. She had packed up all of her belongings, and then thanked Jason in advance for transferring all these boxes to a storage container across the city. Jason was obliged to be happy to oblige. And happier still when he saw that some of these boxes were marked Destination: Jay's house. And these boxes were filled with things that were unfamiliar to Jason because of their inherent tininess and pastel hues.

So Katie and Janie have been alternating between our spare bedroom and her mother's guest suite, which is different from a spare bedroom because it has drapes and frills and potpourri. Happily, though, Katie and Janie will be moving into a home of their own on the first of the month. Technically, this also is a 2-bedroom apartment, but the second one is neither a spare room nor a guest suite – no, this one will be referred to as a "nursery", which is different from a spare bedroom because it has a baby in it, I guess.


All that to say that we've had an exhilirating month filled with sleepless nights, cramped car sex, and more laundry than I know what do with. I've helped my close friend to pump food out of her basooms, I've narrowly avoided heart attacks when Jason decided that Janie should have "baby's first turkey" the ripe old age of about 16 days. And by golly, I've even listened to my music on low, even though I think it's a travesty, and even though the baby does not extend me the same courtesy when I'm the one trying to sleep.

So yes, they're doing well. We're doing well. We're a weird family. People are already assuming we're polygamists. Fun times.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Traffic Report

You know when you're feeling absolutely crummy, and you're all huddled up on the couch with the flannel blankets and you realize that you hear panting?

Are you familiar with the panting?

You know it's not a dog, because you don't have a dog. And you hope it's not a burglar, because in your weakened state the best you could hope for is to play dead. But then you have to admit that the panting is coming from you.

For days you have turned your red-rimmed eyes on unsympathetic passerby, pleading with them to feel your glands. Anyone duped into actually feeling your glands had better declare them to be at least the size of volkswagons, or else. And as if you haven't suffered enough, you've now been turned into a mouth-breather.

A pathetic, panting, mouth-breather.

Your nose is like the DVP during rush hour - it's a traffic jam, all right; nothing's getting in, and nothing's getting out. You look longingly at the kleenex box that's just out of reach, but you're tired. Very tired. So tired that breathing seems less important than staying under your 7 firm layers (plus socks).

So you just lie there, making strange huffing noises, until someone either notices you, or you suffer a brain aneurysm. And quite frankly, you don't care which.

Finally, miraculously, you have kleenex in hand. This is such a momentous occasion you actually sit up for it, and to get into better blowing position.

This is going to be good.

But then it's not good.

It's the most disappointing blow in the world. You honked, you wheezed, you snorted, and nothing happened. Nothing at all. Except now the traffic is backed up all the way, deep into your brain's sinus cavity, and the motorists are all honking their disapproval, and the exhaust fumes are thick, and you're fairly certain that no one has ever suffered this much in the history of the world, and you'd much rather die than draw breath from your raw throat once more.

Well, that was my week.
Literally. And figuratively.

How was yours?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

You'll never guess what happened to me today while I was sitting still and being quiet.

I was in the car, waiting for Jason, and I thought, He'd better hurry, it's going to rain soon.

And in a matter of seconds, there were swollen rainsplotches wetting up the windshield. I felt proud for a second, like maybe I had caused the rain with my mind. It probably wasn't my mind, though; there was probably some other climatic explanation, but you never know. You just never know.

I looked out the smudged window, searching for the sight of Jason's brown linen shirt hurrying toward me. Instead, I saw something traveling through the air, many somethings, many tiny somethings traveling through the air, aiming slantingly for the ground.

It wasn't rain.

It was thicker than rain, and more opaque. It was lighter than rain, and it was whiter than rain. Quite possibly it was even righter than rain, but I wasn't able to ascertain this for sure.

No, not pollen.
No, not dust, you idiot.
Confetti? A trick of the light? Vision problems? Tiny invading aliens in tiny clever disguises?
Please let it be something else...anything else...just not...not....


deep breaths

Frantic with the need to find any kind of proof to the contrary, I rolled down my window and stuck out my hand. For a fraction of a second, a tiny crystal sat in my hand. They say that every single one in the whole wide world is unique in some way. Every one. But they have short life spans. Soon it was nothing more than a very small puddle sitting at the exact place where one thatched line of my palm intersects with another. Then the puddle spread, subtly following the lines of my hand, and it wasn't long before it had disappeared completely into my thirsty skin, the way much larger puddles will leach into the soil.

Fucking snow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Not For the Mild At Heart

I convinced Jason that we needed a date night - not just nights where we go out on dates, but planned activities on a certain night of the week. Jason thought this was pretty silly, but he didn't know how silly until I announced that I'd booked us salsa lessons.

I put on some strappy shoes and a twirly skirt and let him escort me by the elbow. He was worried, of course. Jason dances about as well as other big white men. But the dance studio promised we'd be swinging in Toronto's latin clubs after just 3 lessons - guaranteed, or your money back.

We live in a portion of the city that is mainly asian (white people are the minority, the english language is the minority). There are plenty of east asians (chinese, korean, japanese, etc) but the majority seems to be south asian -(indian, etc) with a few west asians (middle easterners) mixed in for good measure. Of course, that's just country of origin. We're all Canadians now - some with varying degrees of newness. Some of us were born here, some just arrived. Some of us speak without the canadian accent, others are not quite discernible yet. It makes for interesting living, but it makes for particularly interesting dancing.

Now, the south asians seemed to be smart enough to stay home. This class consisted of Jason, Jamie, and the mostly koreans. Including the teacher. The teacher was so tiny I nearly stepped on her, but she had a genuine smile, and so I trusted her. I trusted she knew what she was doing even when she weaved between the couples doing what I could only call the backstroke, but out of water.

She danced around calling "one, two, tree, one, two, tree" over and over, but I could never tell discover a rhythm. She may as well have been reading the Gettysberg address over house music, because the truth about salsa music boils down to this: there are 3 steps, and 4 beats. 4 beats! 3 steps! I did the math in all my usual creative capacities, but I never did find out where that 4th beat was lost or hidden. So instead, I internalized the elusive fourth - I did step, step, shudder, step. The shudder made it look like I was repulsed by salsa, but at least it allowed me to keep my mind. Jason was not so successful. But eventually we replaced the "one, two, tree" with actual music - but that music runs at 180 beats per minute! Per minute! I mean, that's not as fast as my heart was going after just a few bars of this, but still. That's damn fast.

Jamie's feet: step, step, shudder, step, step, panic, recover, step, shudder, fuck, step, step, shudder, look around frantically, step, step, shudder, shudder, give up completely.

Jason's feet: clonk, clump, trip, trip, stop.

And that's the "basic step." Soon we were moving on to more advanced techniques.

First we learned the underarm turn - where sexily, I get to "flow" clockwise under Jason's armpit - you know, the one that is now dripping with exertion. I don't think he would be sweatier if he had just run the ironman.

And then came the casino rueda where our "embwace" rotates counterclockwise 180 degrees at lightning speed, Jason and I switching places.

And finally, the enchufla where we turn around completely as a whole and then have some sort of cross-body lead, and switch places in the end.

So as Jason and I contort ourselves trying to do these, the teacher scowls at us and yells "glide! arch your back!" until we were basically touching at the hands and pelvises only, stumbling around the room blindly, trying to make it look as if our groping was on purpose.

Then the teacher says we've had enough practice, it's time to dance (!). On comes the insanely fast music again, and we're supposed to string all of these moves together into an elegant but sexy sequence.

It goes something like this: step, step, shudder, stomp, shimmy, bump, bump, step, overstep, clockwise, woops, the other clockwise, change hands, under the armpit, step, step, shudder, pant a few seconds, try to sneak a break, twirl, twirl, twirl.

As the music ended and Jason and I clung to each other for structural support, the class around us erupted in applause. Funny, I thought, it felt like a disaster, but maybe we pulled it off. And then, finally getting his breath back, Jason leaned down and whispered in my ear When you twirl, everyone can see your panties.

So I'm pretty sure we'll be forfeiting the rest of our lessons, and that next week's date night will be a little slower-paced. Euchre, anyone?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Yaaargh, Happy Birthday, Matey.

Jason turned 26 on Thanksgiving.

A long weekend.

72 whole hours of turkey-filled club-hopping at the end of which my belly was bloated, the underside of my eyelids felt gritty, and Jason got even older than he already was. Whew.

Normally, I think receiving flowers at work is one of the best parts of a birthday. Jason doesn't really get off on that stuff though. He prefers lavish gifts of the edible kind. So he smacked my bottom and put me to work in the kitchen baking him a birthday cake that any (2)6 year old birthday boy would squeal with delight over.

He loved it. He wasn't even embarrassed that I sent him birthday hats to match.

For his real actual birthday though, I made him the birthday dessert of his choice, which ended up being margarita cheesecake, which I think he chose because I don't eat cheesecake, so the more for him. Which is okay, because it's his birthday. And it's kinder to my hips.

He also wanted a special birthday brunch (which would hopefully be digested before his Thanksgiving supper) consisting of a special birthday smoothie and a special birthday manly quiche with 2 kinds of breakfast meat (sausage and if there was any question).

All in all, I'd say we had a very festive 3 days, 3 days that we hope to be recovered from sometime before I attempt to turn 26.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mashed Potato Gravy Time

The first time I ever cooked a turkey, I was 19 years old. It was a gift from work, and it rode the bus home with me, a chilly companion who rolled gently between my legs.

I rather bravely dealt with the giblets, and my knees only buckled once or twice trying to heft it into the oven. I'm pretty sure that damn bird outweighed me, and it certainly had a nicer complexion once I got done slow-cooking it to a goldeny-brown perfection. I'm pretty sure I over-basted that first year, but the over-basting produced such an incredibly moist and delectable turkey that I have adopted it as my new (and only) turkey tradition.

I don't know how many equally perfect turkeys I've turned out since (last Christmas alone I cooked 5 - I for us, and 4 for a homeless shelter), especially considering that I refuse to regard turkey as sacred holiday fare. I have often made turkey and all the trimmings just for the sheer extravagance of it. I mean, there's something about shopping for this meal that makes me a little punch-drunk: 1 heaving grocery cart, 300 dollars, 2 bellies, 1 day. Where else do you get those kinds of logistics?

But as much as I adore delighting Jason with more food than our modest dining table can support, my fondness for preparing the traditional fare is often compromised by the itch to always try something new.

I remember the first time I interrupted my Nanny's impressive holiday spread with the dreaded "something new." I brought dessert, or rather, a dessert selection. I do damn good desserts, or so anyone who'd ever eaten them had been telling me for months, so I thought I had a sure thing going. But when my Nanny's tried and true dinner was over and my desserts presented, I heard grumblings to the tune of "Where is Nanny's apple pie?"

Now, I will be the first to admit that Nanny's apple pie is very good. Maybe even the best. But the fact remains that we have had this pie at every Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving since time immemorial. And not just at holidays, but at any given Sunday dinner, any casual visit, or any time she visits you. In fact, I would wager that right now, every single one of my relatives, including my uncle out in Vancouver, has no fewer than 4 of my Nanny's frozen apple pies sitting in their chest freezers right now. So it's not like there's an apple pie shortage.

But that was the year I learned that there is a very fine line between tradition and boring.

Nanny's 'traditional' holiday meal includes, and does not deviate from: turkey, ham, meatballs, tourtiere (meat pie), mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, carrots, and dinner rolls. She usually has a platter with her homemade pickles and beets, and of course, cheese. There is usually one "grab bag" item - a chicken dish made expressly for my finicky sister - to Jason's amusement, it has often been a bucket of KFC, but can also be chicken pot pie or "crowd pleasing" dish.

Nanny is a cook of the variety of "plain but good." And I mean that in a flattering way. Plain, but good. But plain. But still good. But still plain. I don't even think she seasons things.

So, I brought "Nanny alternatives" to family functions and learned that to them, variety was the same as family tension. Oh sure, they ate my "hip" frozen desserts, the kids loved my beautifully iced cakes, people cried over the cream cheese frosting on my incredible carrot cake, and they inhaled my sumptuous cheesecakes like they hadn't just collectively eaten 24 pounds of turkey. And then they divided up the leftovers to take home and enjoy all over again. But they didn't like it.

Oh no, they didn't like it.

So it wasn't until I moved away from the family thing and started putting on the whole holiday myself that I really got to play around with things. Not only do I mix up the menu, but some holidays I stray from it completely. Last Easter I made a Greek feast, complete with rack of lamb. I'd never had lamb before, neither had Jason (he comes from similar non-imaginative white bread stock). It was to die for. This Thanksgiving (that is, Monday), I was going to eschew the whole turkey thing and make ribs and lasagna instead (these being Jason's favourite foods, Thanksgiving doubling as Jason's birthday this year). But Jason mulled it over, looked deep inside his heart, and decided that turkey would hit the spot.

So turkey it is. But not with mashed, we dare to make sweet potatoes. Now, if this sounds less than shocking to you, congratulations. But up until 9 months ago, neither Jason nor I had so much as laid eyes on such a thing. Imagine our surprise when they were...well, good! And get this: instead of the ubiquitous corn, we're having asparagus (in bacon-cheese sauce, at Jason's request). Asparagus is among my favourite veggies, but again, no asparagus had ever passed through my lips until I moved away and started cooking for myself.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: what is tradition anyway? To me, tradition is not just the thing that you always do. That's called a habit. To me, tradition needs to have some sort of significance, or meaning.

But now that I have my own family and my own holidays, I realize that we have no real traditions to carry forth - we have no culture, no religion. Maybe all we ever had was Nanny's apple pie, and maybe we only had that because it's all she knew how to make.

But who needs tradition, anyway? Is it an antiquated concept? Is it mandatory for successful holidays? And if so, how do you go about making traditions, anyway? Is simply liking something enough to call it a tradition?

Last Christmas Jason and I drank champagne in bed all morning. It was good. I can see doing it again. If we do, is that a tradition? Do 2 consecutive years qualify for instant tradition status? Or do we have to wait 20? And what if next year we decide we'd rather have coffee spiked with Godet white chocolate? What happens then? It's not really tradition unless you commit to doing in the same way over and over - and to tell the truth, "same" is not really a concept I'm comfortable with.

But if we have no tradition, are we really celebrating? Are we doing it wrong? Are we being disrespectful? Is having turkey enough to call it Thanksgiving, or do we have to make horn-of-plenty centrepieces and watch football to call it a holiday?

Everyone who breaks off and starts a family faces this same problem: follow old traditions? make new ones? scrap it all and go to Chuck E Cheese? Are traditions even still relevant, or do you have to know someone from "the old country" for them to mean anything? But are these celebrations just shallow and perfunctory without tradition? Can our generation even tell the difference? And if the turkey is good enough, does it even matter?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I've Got A Strange Disease: Her Name is Jay.

A guest post by Jason.

I knew before I nailed her that Jamie was something else. I knew she was probably the funniest, smartest and loopiest person I would ever meet, and most of the people around her seemed to know it too. We all wanted to be close to her back then; we were all just there for the ride.

And what a ride it was.

Of that time, I remember how all the boys were in awe of her, and afraid of her at the same time. She dated mostly older men. I didn't think too much about why she scared the lesser men away. I didn't think too much about anything other than how much I wanted to touch her freckled shoulders. In retrospect, I'm glad I was such an ignorant fool.

If I had considered for one moment what life with Jamie would be like, I might have shied away.

Man. That's tough to say. But it's true. I doubt that I would have had the confidence in myself. I might have thought it too hard, I might have wished for her a stronger man.

But thank God for the stupidity of youth - when I got my chance, I rushed right in, not thinking about anything beyond those first 5 minutes: the proximity of her pink lips, the candy smell of her shampoo. She made it easy for me - I never thought about the future because we had none. She made it clear we were just friends having an extra special good time, and that the affair was short-term. I believed her, but I fell in love anyway.

I loved the storms of her emotions, I loved being the guy with a pen when she had a fit of brilliance, I loved being the one she called when she wanted to feel grass on every inch of her skin. I fell in love with this unknown entity because it made my life feel more exciting just to live it next to hers. And I'm glad now that that my heart left no choice for the rest of me - I was in over my head from the start.

Living with Jamie is like living in an alternate universe. It's definitely worth it - she's worth it - but it's the hardest thing I will ever do, and I'm still learning, and I think I always will be. I've had bad moments. I wonder if I can take it, if my nerves are up to it. Once, shortly after our engagement, a friend of mine took me aside and told me not to marry her. Forcefully told me not to marry her. But that's the thing with Jamie, you either love her, or you hate her. And after many years of careful, intimate study, I still have no idea what makes her tick, I have no idea what she'll come up with next, I don't even know where she is right now, but I can predict with stunning accuracy those who will love her, and those who will hate her.

In fact, I have a pretty good idea of what the people who read her blog must be like. They're not necessarily like-minded people; Jamie prefers people who can argue rather than agree. She hates fence-sitters. Curse the day when I don't have a firm opinion for something that Jamie is ranting about - then I'll get a lecture on both sides of the issue and learn enough about them to be an expert panelist on a game show that doesn't exist. I wonder if she always leaves long-winded, preachy comments on other people's blogs, or if she shows some restraint (no, that's not likely). Anyone who reads this on any basis is probably more of a free-thinker, and more than likely artistic in some way. I feel so ordinary compared to lots of her friends - she gravitates toward people who are driven to create, and they obviously pick up the same vibe on her.

She doesn't believe in conventionality, but she doesn't disbelieve in it either, because she doesn't believe in disbelieving in things. Every single aspect of life is a story. She tells it like it is - without embarrassment, but with embellishment. She drives me absolutely crazy with her contradictions. Some days I feel like I will never really know her because seems to exist on some form of hopped-up evolution that exists only on her own frequency.

She is absolutely manic sometimes. I'd have to become a speed freak to even come close to keeping up. She has highs that I think most humans are incapable of replicating, but to be fair, she has lows lower than anyone should ever sink, too. It's hard to see her like that, it's hard to wake up in the middle of the night to a sobbing woman who is crying "Because" - and those eyes of hers implore me to understand, to instantly agree that yes, because. And there's nothing I can do to soothe her because I have never in my life come close to feeling things as deeply as she does. She is so sensitive, and so passionate, and so sympathetic. She is moved to tears daily. I have to keep those tissues with the lotion built in around because otherwise, her little nose gets raw. But she's not afraid of sadness. To her, real sadness, great sadness, is just as good as great joy. As long as she feels strongly, it's a good experience to her.

That baffles a lot of people, including myself sometimes. She's just not afraid of emotion. All the things that the rest of us ignore, or suppress, or hide, she displays. It's remarkable that even the bad ones - the ones that we're not supposed to admit to having, the ones that cast her in a bad light - those are right there for all to see as well. Every flaw she has, she magnifies, and she magnifies so she can embrace it. I have a hard time understanding it, but she often says "I'm a bitch, but I love that about myself," or "(fill in the blank), but I love that about myself. Even the worst parts, she cherishes. How can she do that?

I was so proud of her for joining my gym. She could have gone to the women's club across the street, but she didn't, and I know she worried that people would look at her, and judge her. But in reality, there's my Jamie, singing "Shout!" on the treadmill, and playing air drums on the stationary bike, and of course people are looking at her, and judging her. And she doesn't care. She is comfortable in her world, she is oblivious to anyone else's opinion, and she head bangs on the stair master without a shred of self-consciousness. But if you hold her up to normal societal standards, she starts to itch, it's not her comfort zone. It's not even in her universe. But the truth is, even at the gym, my gym, she shows me up. Did you know that she can pres 333 lbs with her legs alone? Do you have any idea how much that is? Can you imagine the awesome things that woman can do with her thighs?

The other day, I asked an innocent question: "What did you do today?" You know what she did? She spent it dreaming/worrying about the inevitability of inorganic nanobots violating their rules of self-replication and literally eating us all alive. That's what Jamie did on Tuesday.

On Wednesday I asked her for a striptease (shut up, it's almost my birthday, I'm allowed). And you know what she did? She gave me a striptease. Of all the sultry, sexy songs she could have chosen, she picked ACDC's If You Want Blood, and then proceeded to put on a fucking rock & roll show in our bedroom. I mean, we're talking strutting and pursed lips, the whole damn thing. And yeah, she ended up naked in the end, but I just kept thinking, where the hell did this come from? It pretty much violated any notion of stripteases that I've ever had, but it was the greatest, sexiest thing I have ever seen. But where does it come from?

And last week, I spent an hour of my life dressing her. It's a somewhat common occurrence in our house: Jamie will insist she doesn't want to leave, and thus, refuses to dress, prohibiting us from leaving. So she lies inert on the bed while I try to force clothes on her body, and she'll wriggle like a baby, and eventually overtly fight me, and we'll end up wrestling for an hour and she'll end up no more dressed than when we started. For 6 years of our relationship, I have had major guilt over these episodes. I hate to be so contrary. But recently, I've learned that this is one of her favourite games, a good way to get attention and have me touch her. Leaving and dressing have nothing to do with it. Imagine my surprise! This discovery literally changed my life. But that's the thing with Jamie - she loves to push my buttons, and I have never met anyone who is more adept at finding your buttons than she is. But then I asked her in passing if I "looked okay" -meaning gray pants with a cranberry sweater - and evidently, this pushed one of hers. She started crying, and crying, and crying. And finally choked out that she wasn't crying because what I was wearing looked bad, but just because I was wearing it. Because "there are 3 whole days left of summer!" and my wearing a sweater was apparently my attempt to rush the seasons and not appreciate each moment for what it is. So, a quick change into a t-shirt and gray skies are going to clear up, it is once again a happy day.

You know, all things considered, this is an incredible life she has, and I get to be a part of it. Sometimes I wonder if we're secretly being watched, if we'll end up in the history books, if she isn't maybe surreal. I suspect that I have a national treasure, or the missing link, or the secret of the universe, right here in my home...but if that's the case, I hope to keep it under wraps for just a little while longer. I don't know what I ever did to be a part of this, but I can't help but want just a little while longer of having her to myself.

Jay - I know you won't like this post. I know you'll want to delete it like you've deleted so many others. But I also know that if only I can distract you for 30 seconds, our lives will go hurtling down a completely different path, and maybe, just maybe, this small truth will slip out.