Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simply Adequate

A brief interlude from the stress and worry of the past few weeks... The family and I did a quick overnighter in Toronto this past weekend. Since we really hadn't done much vacation-stuff this Summer, the 4 of us had planned a mini-vacation to The Big Smoke to play at being 'tourists' for a few days.

The plan: spend the inheritance on tickets to Spamalot and then cash-in a free family pass to the venerable Ontario Science Center. We'd separate the 2 events with a stay in a moderately affordable hotel (anything with a pool). Since the kids had never seen big-time theater and had never seen a taxpayer-funded tourist trap, we figured this a fresh, new experience for us all.

Spamalot was simply... adequate. Maybe it was our mental state, but the play just did not live up to its hype and price tag. The kids had a good time; laughing mightly at the killer rabbit, etc. I knew they would. Dee and I, on the other hand, just felt like it was mostly... okay. Not bad, not great; just okay. I don't really know what we expected, but it was pretty much verbatim set-pieces from the Python movie with often pitch-perfect delivery from the original. Somehow, it came off looking like bad vaudeville. I wonder if it's better for those without a rich appreciation for all things Pythonesque.

As for the Science Center, it sucked - hard. I hadn't been there in many, many years - but I sold it Big Time to the kids as a cool, hands-on experience. Alas, most of the exhibits (and I mean, like, almost 50%) were literally busted, broken, ex-exhibits. What struck me were the almost-garish marketing throughout the facility; posters, banners, floor decals, many flat-screen TVs. If the Center spent half as much on up-keep as they do on telling you how wonderful the place is supposed to be, we'd have an impressive resource. But it's anything but impressive these days. I just thank goodness we had a freebie pass instead of shelling out something like $60 to see the place (which doesn't include entry into their IMAX theater!).

On the plus side, the hotel was reasonable - and they had a great pool. The kids got to ride a subway for the first time and wander downtown TO for a bit. I think they've taken their first step towards loathing Toronto like all good non-Torontians. I'm so proud.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


It's been too long - way too long. But I have a story to tell about how the Dark Nasties hide at the edges of our world and wait for those calm moments in your life. When everything is humming along, and you think you have your shit together, these little bastards do their worst. They feed on contentment, I think.

It's been 10 days since they had their fill. This I know. 10 days previous I was on the phone with my Mom; inviting her to our home for Dee's birthday the following evening. 2 hours later my sister called. It was one of those late evening calls when you just know something is off-kilter.

"Mom's in the hospital.", she said. "They think it's a mild stroke. They're doing some tests.".

And it was a mild stroke.

The past 10 days have been harder than I could imagine. Physically, she's doing okay. A sleepy hand and a sleepy foot. Not perfect, but not bad either. The cognitive stuff ; there's another story. Phone numbers come and go. Her address is a mystery still. Numbers and letters dart back and forth on the page; familiar to her and yet not quite within reach. Questions are asked, and asked again. The past 10 days are vague.

And the question looms still. What to do with Mom? She's out of the hospital, but she needs supervision and help. We're trying as best we can for now, and we know decisions will need to be made. Not tonight, though.

More to come, I'm sure. There's so much more to tell.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What Would Seinfeld Do?

For years I've taken way too much guff from my hair. Don't misunderstand - this isn't some sort of metrosexual rant. So long as I can run a comb through my locks and have everything stay in a reasonable shape, I'm good to go. My problem is haircuts or, more specifically, finding someone who can give me a decent haircut.

Trish has been cutting my impenetrable helmut of hair for more than a few years. Until I met her I swear I hadn't had a decent haircut since I was 12. Given the thick, wavy mess that passes for My Hair, most barbers over the years have left me looking like (a) I had fallen asleep in a steambath, (b) a prison escapee, or (c) someone recovering from chemo treatments. You think I'm exaggerating? Check the photo albums.

We first encountered each other in a mall hair salon where she wielded the scissors while I sat and let her work her magic. She always did a great job and could carry the conversation where lesser stylists (is that the right term?) would clip in awkward silence. Knowing a good thing when I spot it, I made sure I hooked up with Trish every 6 weeks or so. Even when Trish left the mall and started working out of her basement studio, I stayed True Blue - even though it meant a 30 minute drive each way.

This was the routine for the past 8 years or so; but I eventually took her for granted. The hour of driving for a decent haircut began to wear on me and blinded my memories of bad barbers in times past.

I stopped going to Trish.

It was kind of easy at first. I simply neglected to make an appointment after the Christmas holidays. As 6 weeks bled into 7 and then 8, I passed the point of no return. I needed a haircut. Bad. But I was afraid to call Trish because it had been too long between visits and she'd know something was up. But I needed that haircut, all the same. And once someone else touched my locks and my 6-week Trish-fix turned into something like 12 weeks, there was no going back.

It's been over 7 months since I saw Trish. I've been slumming around this new Supercuts, and they generally have a done decent job for me. But they're all 'corporate' with their racks of salon accessories (structurizing paste? voluming gel? white grapefruit clarifying?) and their handy wall chart of assembly-line haircut styles such as The Tobias (see above), The Rib, and The Keith.

They don't care about me - it's all about the money. But they do an adequate job and so I pretend I like it there. But they're not like Trish. We had something special.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tiny Moments

There are moments in life that are small mercies in a world that has little sentimentality. Time surges forward and takes great, selfish bites out of our lives as we try to outrun the demands of jobs, families, chores; but there are those hairline fissures in time. Those moments that barely register on the clock, but insinuate themselves into our memories when all else blurs.


We recently had a pond built in the backyard. It started out as a small project, but as our imaginings materialized we found ourselves fine-tuning those initial ideas until, of course, the project grew. But it's done now. The pond has plants and fish. The fish have disappeared somewhere deep and dark and secret. The waterfall is noisy, but we're getting used to it. And, today, the smallish patch of flagstone grew 4 Muskoka chairs, courtesy of of the fine folks at Canadian Tire. One chair for each of us. This evening was the unofficial christening of our small oasis and we four sat by the pond, in the dark, listening to the rushing water, sharing a bag of Fritos, and looking, in vain, for some evidence of the Perseid meteor shower. Quiet conversation made time stand still for a little while. I must remember this.


I've started to read in bed again. Usually I'm far too exhausted for this, and it's far too convenient to thumb the remote and surf the tube until my lids grow heavy. But I decided to spend some time with Neil Gaiman. In the past 2 weeks I've devoured 'Neverwhere' and 'American Gods'. The latter is one of the novels that made me wish (desperately) that I could write. The moment.... coming home from a pub at 12:30am and staying up 'til 2am finishing that book. Just me, the quiet dark, and a novel that left me wanting more.


Speaking of Canadian Tire... An employee there - a young fellow who was obviously a part-timer - was actually helpful today. Maybe our expectations are low in a world filled with Bog Box stores staffed with people who know little about what their selling. While the shelves were devoid of stock, this fellow cared enough to 'check in the back'. He found what we wanted, he helped us through the checkout, and he helped load our purchases in the van. Afterwards I mustered all my reserves of earnestness and sincerity - difficult for a hardened cynic like me - and thanked this fellow for all his help. And the best reward; he was surprised. For a short moment in a busy parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, I think we both felt human.


Right now. It's late, I'm tired, but I'm here because I want to be. I've poured myself some Bacardi's with a splash of Coke. This is unusual because I typically self-medicate with either red wine (Wolf Blatz or Quai du Vin) or a slightly-chilled Corona. But tonight it's rum because I re-discovered that we actually have a liquour cabinet filled with....liquor. So here I am in the quite house working on a mild buzz and tapping on these buttons that form words, and the words form thoughts, and they're my thoughts. So screw the fact that the a/c in the van is dying, forget that I have to be up early (horse show....don't ask...), and nevermind that a dozen emergencies await me at work on Monday morning. Right here, I've made time stand still with very little effort.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Sweater Has Holes

The responsibilities of being married to a Northener include the occasional need to travel...well...north, to visit relatives sprinkled from Parry Sound to Sudbury. Prior to meeting my wife Dee, I was a typical Southerner who implictly believed that Ontario sort of 'stopped' at Barrie. What makes this extra odd is that I've lived in many parts of Canada that one could consider 'north', but northern Ontario was like this blind abyss for me.

Now, in daylight, a drive to Parry Sound or Sudbury (our usual destinations) can be fairly scenic - even engaging at times. Ironicly, this only happens once you're north of Barrie and away from the concrete clutches of Trawna. But do this trip after dark - as is often the case for us - and you're in a whole different ballgame.

When the sun goes down, highway 400 is simply too black to be interesting. Trees and rocks line each side of the highway. Regular bends in the road serve to obscure. All in all, this is a recipe for several hours of driving boredom. And lest anyone think that several hours of conversation with spouse and kids could fill the void, consider that (1) spouse will be sleeping in that way that just begs for photographic evidence and (2) kids will have headphones glued their ears and be plugged into either a Gameboy or DVD player.

To sum up - it's dark, it's lonely, it's boring, and there's an element of danger should I succumb to sleep. Oh, and let's not even talk about winter travel!

But there is hope somewhere on the radio dial. Whatever one's opinions might hold about our publicly-funded broadcaster, CBC Radio is nothing if not available. No matter where we are on these trips - London, Trawna, Barrie, Port Severn, Britt... - you can always tune into CBC Radio.

There was a time, many years ago, when CBC Radio was my warm, comfy sweater on these long trips. Throughout the evening I could drive, be entertained, and feel informed by the likes of As It Happens, Prime Time with Geoff Pevere, Ideas with Lister Sinclair, and more. No matter how isloated and dreary it was on the outside, there was a sense of familiarity, continuity, and intelligence on the inside.

But times has changed. Sure, we can still find CBC on the dial no matter we are. But the sweater isn't so comfy anymore. Some of the old CBC is still there, but it all feels cooler these days. Slick, derivative, and trying far too hard to be hip. Where the BBC and even NPR have an eclectic - even eccentric - personality to them, CBC Radio seeks out a mainstream that does not seem to exist outside of Toronto and Vancouver. Furthermore, the programming day seems to stop somewhere around 10pm when our country's public broadcaster sees fit to play hour after hour of blues and classical music. Why, oh why, cannot they simply repeat the day's programming overnight, or even broadcast the best of BBC (which I believe was once the case)?

Whatever the reason for their decline, I still pine for those days when CBC Radio was my familiar, old sweater as I drove those dark, lonely roads. Maybe that newfangled satellite radio has a purpose after all.