Category Archives: City Life

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Because my driver’s licence expires in a month or so, the librarian at my local branch was only willing to renew my library card up to the expiry date on my licence.

Her reasoning eludes me still. Something about me needing to be the person I had to be, while also proving it via means beyond my own, personal power. Real means. State means. Government issued and approved.

I was told I could come back to that branch when I renew my licence – new expiry date in hand – in order to, finally, renew my library card for the full year.

Cost of renewal of library card: $0.

Cost of renewal of driver’s licence: $90 (plus a new photo, a new take on my face, to go with the new card I will be issued).

These two things are related and they are not. It seems to be that I am getting a free library card with my driver’s licence fee AND that I am getting a free driver’s licence with the $90 renewal of my library card.

Both these things are equally true, if not equally valid. The privilege of going to the library is having the power to drive and the privilege of driving is exercising the power, your power, to go to the library.

Either way, you pay.

As you should, or should at least expect to.

Either way.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, City Life, Transportation

The Very Best Humanity Has To Offer

I see people doing all sorts of things riding the subway:

  • People clipping their fingernails/toenails, often with clippers (sometimes without).
  • People fighting (usually men, and mostly with a lot of chest-beating, cussing and not all that many punches or kicks or jabs. Some food throwing, though).
  • People (usually but not exclusively couples) making out with each other, touching, groping, exchanging fluids, etc.
  • People eating outlandish food (by this I mean lidless bowls of soup or large, unwieldy sandwiches, and just today I saw a man eating from a neat pile of pistachios balanced on his crotch).
  • People sleeping, busking, crying, laughing (sometimes uproariously).

Also, this:

Three people huddled together though isolated from the rest of the riders, who backed away to give them much-needed space. A young woman with a grim-faced friend each kneeling on the floor on either side of her, an imperfect symmetry reminding me of a renaissance painting in form, composition and mood.

The woman was very sick, or extremely drunk (at a certain point, I think these states of being are rather indistinguishable, if not interchangeable). One of her friends held open a half-full plastic grocery bag under her face, which swung as the train swayed back on forth on the tracks.

The contents of the bag sloshed within, reeking and terrible.

The other friend had cupped his hands and remained in waiting, in case the woman vomited again and missed the grocery bag. His hands did the work of redirecting the flow to its proper place.

“She’ll be alright,” said the friend holding the bag. “We just need to get her home.”

The other friend said not a word, made no move to wipe up the mess in his hands.

The woman vomited again, into the hands, into the bag.

I admit. She did seem to look better after that particular volley, though I cannot say it was the same for the bag (or the hands).

They got off the subway at the next stop, the friend with the bag passing the bag to the friend with the formally cupped hands so that she could help the young woman up without getting too much vomit on her. It was a wordless exchange, and therefore wonderous.

I have no doubt they got her home.

I have no doubt they made sure she was OK before they left.

I have no doubt they remain friends still – or even if not, that it was not this incident that broke them apart.

Regardless, they will always have that perfect moment together, there in the subway.

They will always, at the very least, have that.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Food, Friends, People, Transportation

Lonesome Shoe

Every day for the past two weeks the same, sad sight: the shoe.

The lone shoe next to the sidewalk. The left shoe, one of a lost pair placed gingerly on a stone, waiting to be claimed. As if to say, “Here I am! I’ve been here this whole time, waiting like a good shoe should. Waiting for you.”

lone shoe

It is a very nice shoe, though at this point it has been rained and snowed on, at least twice. Who knows what else? Splendid still, despite everything, yet it is beginning, now, to take on the appearance of being constantly (perhaps permanently) wet.

As in sodden, soaked and sopping. And alone, to boot.

Poor shoe.

It’s still there, you know. Carried over from last year into this one, into this, the fourth day of the new year.

Poor left shoe.

Perhaps pants would be better.

Pants would be funnier, splayed out against the curb, brandished against the asphalt.

Pants, at least, are never lonesome.

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Interruptions, Philosophy

Picture of Health

The dietician called me in a half hour before my doctor’s appointment because we “needed to talk.” I say the dietician instead of my dietitian because every time I go to see the dietician for my health program they send me to a different dietician.

This dietician, was a dietician I had not yet met. She seemed solid, serious but also nervous (it was in her eyes). She sat me down in her office, equipped, I was surprised to see, with wide, generous windows and room enough for a table, functional chairs and a large desk.

(I have been in professor’s offices that were little more than storage closets, little less than repurposed cloakrooms.)

“We’re here today because your husband emailed us on your behalf.” There were, she went on, issues he wanted me to discuss with the dietician, a dietician, which today was this dietician. The whole thing was wildly conspiratorial, especially since I know my partner did not (and would not) go behind my back and rat me out, least of all to the/a/this dietician. Anyone.

Whoever that patient was, she was not me, a patient but not the patient under scrutiny.

I asked the dietician to check my file again.

I was right: I was not the patient she thought I was.

She took a closer look at my file.

“You’re doing great!” Then before she could stop herself: “Why are you even here?”

Why? Indeed!

I was then shuffled over to the doctor’s office (not so big or generous of windows, but it had a better view and a larger desk), and was told by this doctor (there are two) that she was “actually not too unhappy” with my progress.

I was then sent on my way, back out to the ether only to have to come back to see them again in a few weeks.

Them, they, whomever they happen to be that day.

Wonder who I will be?

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Health, People, Relationships

Encounters Both Mundane & Strange (a.k.a. Midnight Neighbours)

Stephen and I have taken to taking late-night walks because the dog cannot (possibly will not) walk in the ungodly daytime summer heat.

Over the course of these past weeks and months, I’ve come to notice certain neighbours: Midnight Neighbours, who seem to only come out at night to do their various neighbour/nighttime things.

(Midnight being, of course, a name. I don’t always see them at Midnight, and they do come out at other times of the day. Midnight just sets the context and is specific to my POV).

(Also: “Midnight Neighbours” seems both descriptive and cool).

(Doesn’t it?)

 

1. Green Bin Hilda

Her name may not be Hilda. I don’t know for sure what her name is, but I once heard someone call out to her from her bungalow and the name sounded something like “Hilda.”

Lit up by the awful yellow streetlight, GBH’s seemingly disembodied head can be seen hovering in the corner of the front window facing the street. She watches. She’s a watcher.

She is also a rummager.

Twice now on garbage days, after Stephen, the dog and I walked well past her house, GBH rushed outside and across the street so that she could take a peek inside the green bins left out in the night for pick up in the morning.

(Mind you, the city’s green bins are built to deter raccoons: to open them, you have to grab a black handle that juts out from top and turn it just so.)

I watched the watcher. She scanned the contents of the bins, moved an item or two around, nodded approvingly, shut the lid and then walked back across the street and into her own house.

We’ve never spoken about it, GBH and I, and us. We’ve never spoken, GBH and I, and us, and eye contact has been spotty at best.

Still: why?

Why those bins, Hilda? Just those bins, Hilda? I have so many questions, though I admit they are only variations of the same.

Why, Hilda? How come?

Oh. And also: Hilda, would you ever approve of the contents of my green bin?

Could you?

 

2. The Sculptor

The Sculptor is a rather affable guy decked out in ripped jeans who plays one-man street hockey with a tennis ball and a makeshift stick that is too short for his tall frame, causing him to chase the ball with a practiced hunch and shuffling gait. He never falls.

I have never encountered him sober. He typically has a Bud Light in hand and, when he is not busily engaged in street hockey, he will raise it to toast you as you pass his property, which a lot of people must do because it lies on a direct path to transit.

Other times, he is working.

There are elabourate rock “sculptures” strewn all about his otherwise overgrown front yard: squat objets d’art of stacked river rocks that strike me somehow as being a gathering of disenchanted “rockmen.” A union meeting perhaps? Or maybe some sort of townhall meeting for sexist quartz and granite. Whatever is going on, The Sculptor can often be seen moving the rocks/men here and there; adding to them, taking things away or incorporating the occasional wind-chime or hubcap among their accumulated masses acquired from who knows where.

Once, while I was checking my phone in front of his house, he yelled at me from somewhere inside:

“NO PICTURES. DELETE! DELETE!”

He must have seen the light against the darkness of the streets. Or maybe he too was a disembodied head in a the window. Hard to tell, because the streetlamp by The Sculptor’s house is busted.

I wonder what my face must have looked like, illuminated by the screen of my smartphone.

It has never occurred to me to take a picture of the rockmen, though I admit it does not surprise me that he would get riled up at the prospect of anyone doing that. The Sculptor’s sculptures are his and his alone.

 

3. Basketball Shorts

Basketball Shorts is not young, not small and not an athlete. His clothing is merely more of a uniform consisting of an assortment of tank tops and the same pair of basketball shorts, the kind that just skim the tops of his the crooked domes that make up his kneecaps.

His primary function seems to be that of sitting in front of his house, on a too-small faded plastic chair, making intense eye-contact with passersby. He lives 2 streets across and down from us and I appreciate the distance, truly.

The other night, at around 11:15PM, we passed him walking our dog as he was walking his, a tiny Yorkie. He continued on his way and we on ours, walking past his house, to the corner and then turning to go down the opposite block. Stephen and I were far along down the block, many large houses away, when we paused in our conversation at the sound of some distant babbling.

A man’s voice – B.S. on the corner, at the intersection we had left as we turned away from his block. We couldn’t see his face. We could barely make out his form, but as his outline is quite distinctive I’m sure it was him, there, in the flesh. Him and no other. He no longer had the dog (or at least, I didn’t see it).

To get to where he was, he must have backtracked, gone past his home to end up at that corner.

He was frustrated – angry even – and talking to…who?

Us?

We were far enough away from him by this time that we would be little more than vague figures on a dark street. Had he gone out looking for us (because he would have had to, not knowing our intended path)? I didn’t see anybody else there, in his general vicinity, but then why talk at somebody’s back from a distance if you’re trying to make a point to them, whatever that point may be?

“I saw you…you moved the pylon! I know where you live! This is ridiculous! Pylon there – You moved…pylon! Pylon! Ridiculous!”

Code? These peculiar words were carried to us by the wind, and were the only ones to reach us from his remote though incessant chatter. Although, to his credit, there are some pylons set up around his block due to some city work being undertaken there this summer. He had something there at least.

Know where you live? A threat? I doubt very much he knows where we live, have never seen him on our street, though in addition to living 2 streets across and down from us, he also appears to live in moments like these.

Or perhaps not. His voice had the quality of a broken reed jammed into the mouthpiece of a rusted saxophone: it sounded thin, out-of-practice, forced. He, being the most able (or willing) of our Midnight Neighbours to wander the furthest from his house, seems also, unlike Green Bin Hilda and The Sculptor, to be the most unsettled because of it.

Another possibility: he wasn’t talking to anyone – no one – at all. Maybe that, in the end, is where he really lives, speaking of bringing things home.

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Dogs, People, Relationships, Routines

Little Fallen Kingdoms

1. The Flower Man Cometh

Summers in the city mean patio dinners in the evenings; the sultry air, the cool breezes, the relaxed conversations – the city, for once, forgetting to take itself so seriously. A good time to catch up; reconnect with old friends, meet new ones.

Eat & drink. Be merry. Etc.

Then there are those who don’t (or can’t?) get into the swing of things. Those who fail to keep the hard-earned peace. Those who seem determined to spoil it, everything, for everyone.

Know who I mean?

His stories were boring, which would have been fine if not for his demeanour: the way he demanded attention, adoration, even, for this startling mediocrity. The way he was convinced (and tried to convince) that he deserved it. The way he interrupted if not speaking, or spoken to.

You know who I mean.

We all saw the Flower Man from across the empty street, one from a fleet of flower peddlers who roam the city’s summer’s night, flitting from patio to patio, selling puckered roses. Pressuring people to buy them or, lo, forsake love – reject it completely as a concept, never mind a possibility, forever. A hard bargain.

No one really ever wants a flower from the Flower Man.

But it was he who called him to our table, waving empathetically like a drunken sailor come off from the docks: a desperate fool. A fucking cliché.

Only $5 a rose? He bought one for his girlfriend, pulling out the sweaty bill from his front pants pocket which such flourish I wondered if he even noticed (or cared) that the flower was already wilted, already halfway dead.

Probably not.

Rose installed in his girlfriend’s waiting hand, he turned to us expectantly. The Flower Man turned to us, expectantly.

Follow the leader.

The people around us looked away, some cringing, knowing that they would surely be next. The Flower Man can be most persistent, and unforgiving. Who counts as a couple and who does not? The Flower Man decides, apparently. He alone knows love’s bounds. The roses have no say in it whatsoever, poor things.

“Pretty flower for a pretty lady?” The Flower Man asked my partner.

“We’re not together,” I said, gesturing to myself and Stephen.

“We’re not together.” Three small words that did just the trick, banishing the Flower Man from our table.

Now.

Do you believe it magic? Because those words spread like wildfire – engulfing the patio, cleansing the night.

“We’re not together.”

Every table with a purported couple, each having one speak for the other:

“We’re not together.”

No more roses sold that day. Not at our patio, at least. Whatever became of them it at least wasn’t that.

 

2. Punchline Botanical

Flowers are a joke, aren’t they?

You buy a bouquet of flowers. You put them in a vase. You watch them die. They die sl-o-o-owly.

I bought some the other day on a whim (as a joke for Stephen) and we giddily put them in a used pickle egg jar, installed them in the corner of the living room, and forgot about them.

What else is there?

IMG_8403

Except. Now, I catch myself, looking at the flowers and thinking…nothing in particular. I realize this is because I have nothing to add. Nothing whatsoever. They are dying, and doing it slowly, but that seems so far away from the present moment – and they are more than pretty; they are lovely in their resilience, their pomp and glamour – that what does it even matter that that’s the truth?

It’s not a lie, or a denial, the fact of the flowers. Their presence is irrefutable.

What sorcery is this?

 

(2.5 How Does Your Garden Grow?)

(I planted a garden this year, out back behind the house. I figured just a plant or two. I was convinced I would grow bored and abandon them before summer’s end. They’re plants, after all. Easily replaced by more of the same. Or not. Who cares?

And yet. I spend hours at a time out there. In the garden. Tending to the plants (so many plants), fulfilling their needs. Basically, making sure they are OK – and more than that, thriving – and no matter what havoc the sun is wreaking on my skin; no matter how my already tender back hurts. No matter the rain or the shine.

They have a power over me I can’t yet explain, or account for. Something that brings me out there with purpose, if not a real sense of time going.

And it does not matter that they, the plants, do not care one whit about me, and never will.

Don’t they?)

 

3. Flower. Power.

Dr. Ellie Sattler saved the day (T Rex notwithstanding). She did what needed doing, and she did it well.

It does not seem all that obvious at first, does it? Salvation from a paleobotanist (more plants, dead plants and long dead plants at that), especially when there are dinosaurs around, some of them bloodthirsty. A few, perhaps, out for revenge.

But that’s what happens when you underestimate power & presence. When you misjudge, devalue, miscalculate.

“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

Stop. Smell the roses.

(But mind the puckered ones).

 

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Filed under City Life, Hobbies, Interruptions, Places, Plants, Pop Culture

Plant Life of Varied Assorted Types

So far, in my garden, I have planted a tomato plant, a jalapeño plant, a butternut squash plant and two mystery plants I got from the store: they were not labelled, and I didn’t ask what they were because it didn’t seem to be anybody’s job to tell me.

The store isn’t one where you’d expect plants (to be there for sale), a varied assortment of which were plopped down by an unused register. The register seemed not to be being used so that a small collection of mystery plants (a varied assortment of which) could be plopped down by it.

Red price tags glared from the plants: $1.99 they flashed.

The mystery plants varied, from ones with board, squash-like leaves to ones with pointed bits and ends to ones that were little more than scraggily vines. Some looked edible, others did not, a few…who knew? Probably.

It wasn’t like it was anybody’s job to tell anyone else, including me. That’s how it is with plant life of varied assorted types sold in a store not specifically geared to selling plants.

What more can you possibly ask for?

I bought the plants with the board, squash-like leaves: 2 @ $1.99 (plus tax). They are very green, very strong, likely edible.

Feels like a bargain. Feels like the price of admission, willingly paid. How often does that happen?

The cashier placed the plants in a see-through plastic bag and gently handed them to me.

That, too, was not unexpected.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Food, Hobbies, Jobs, Plants

Alien Screech, Robotic Bleats

The way I figure it, you can’t blame a place any more than fault an individual for their mutual incompatibility.

People sometimes ask me why we moved back to Ontario after spending only a year or so out west, in Alberta.

It’s a hard question, with many answers.

Mostly, I tell them about the cicadas.

The alien screech of those delicately-winged insects, eyes set far apart on a squat, almost dumpy body, has a way of bypassing common sense. I only realized later that I never noticed it until I wasn’t there to hear it: that screech, that electric buzz rattling off the treetops, sounding off the frenzy of new life.

It was the white noise of childhood summers, and now provides a semblance of nostalgia for an admittedly scattered adulthood. That wretched, wonderful screech suddenly as gone, as removed as I became and then replaced by the robotic bleating my new city’s ubiquitous magpies.

You hardly ever see a cicada unless its dead, after having spent itself at last in the trees and then having fallen unceremoniously to the ground from the branches way up above. It is quite the journey, emerging from underground, taking flight, mating and dying. It is everything.

I never heard the cicadas in Alberta. They remained an unfulfilled promise of a rather unremarkable summer. My memory of that time is rather blurred and indistinct. I did see magpies, though, and almost every day.

Bleat-Bleat-Bleat!

Some cicadas emerge from the dirt in 13-or-17-year-cycles (and only in 13-or-17-year-cycles), in numbers so immense as to betray the mathematical import of the cycle itself.  These cicadas, obviously, cannot be divided among themselves. They are prime.

SCCcCccRRRRreeeEEEEEEeeEeEEEeEeEeEEEEEEee!

You can’t always go back. But eventually we did move back because we could. That privilege was ours; the opportunity presenting itself just so. Nothing special, the difference between luck and fate remaining as firm as ever.

We drove across the country on rough roads and, inevitably, through a late-season blizzard, a five day journey in which the dog got sick, the Jeep lost all its heat and my succulents died, arriving in Ontario at end of March.

I heard the cicadas that summer. It was an odd sensation: I was struck by a feeling not so much of being, finally, home (because the notion of “home” has always seemed too neat, too trite to be of any good use), but of something’s stubborn having finally been shaken loose. The summer was no longer incidental.

We had gotten away with something, I just knew it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Insects, Places, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Children, City Life, People

Teeth (Part 1)

We found ourselves across the street from the famed Peters’ Drive-In, just off of 16th Ave, NE, Calgary, Alberta.

Peters’, “The Drive-In You Can’t Drive By.” Peter’s, the with its thick, custom-made shakes and flame-broiled burgers and “Family-Sized” fries that could easily satisfy a small battle-worn army. Peters’, a virtual institution (established 1962, though under new ownership as of 2015) – politicians eat here (on campaign stops), weddings (plural, yes) have been photographed here, birthdays (children’s, even) happen in its adjacent parking lot – Peters’, in short, THE go-to place to go to if you happen to be on that particular side of Calgary at any particular moment.

Or not.

*CASH AND DEBIT ONLY*

(Debit since 1990)

Peters’, unfortunately, only had outdoor seating and it was a blustery, grey day in the city turned cold, unfriendly evening, and this place, a bubble tea bar with à la carte snacks (fish cakes and yam fries and wings and fried dumplings) thus seemed warmer, more welcoming.

Staying at Peters’ would have meant having to eat in the car, a tiny, overpacked Corolla that would not have comfortably seated four adults let alone a box of Family-Sized fries, a couple of shakes, a burger a piece. Staying at Peters’, institution or no, meant fighting what appeared to be a mostly teenaged crowd (and a scraggly one at that) for position and territory (seating was available, but limited). Staying at Peters’ made us feel exposed.

This is not a story about Peters’.

Yet, I wonder what would have happened if we had stayed there instead of going to the bubble tea place.

***

It had been a long day in a series of long days during which time our plans to take a road trip through the province had finally been made. In a day or so, we’d be off.

Terry[1] was in a mood. He’d come out West to see if he and his girlfriend, Mae, [2] could make a go of it; try and start a new life, etc. Easier said than done and even then, the dream was difficult to articulate.

Why out West? Opportunity, maybe, but wasn’t that years ago? What was it, anyway, to “start a new life?” Was he so completely over, and done with, his last one? Was Mae? 

When does this one life end and another, the other, begin?

Terry and Mae found temporary housing renting a unit at the nearby college (it was summer, the students were long gone from that place). Just was well, since the plumbing was busted and the electricity was spotty, at best, due to construction. Terry had a couple of leads but nothing confirmed, nothing solid, in terms of work. Mae was having a harder time even finding places to interview for. The city was indifferent to their plight; the people seemed strangely withdrawn (at least compared to their counterparts out East); the moon (Terry swears it) scowled at them from above, looming large, inescapable. It had been weeks.

So, when we visited and then agreed to join them on the road trip, Terry was in a mood. He was animated as he always was, with that look about his eyes that could only be described as “dogged”; he was even amiable (for Terry), but worn around the edges, slumped, a little, at the shoulders. Frayed, picked-over Terry.

Our server set our order – a smattering of snacks and four custom made bubble teas – on the table. I think mine was Strawberry Something. Stephen had something with mango in it. Mae’s was purple (very purple). Terry brightened at the sight of our glorious repast. He reached past Mae and speared a dumpling with a chopstick, popped it into his month, and screamed.

“My tooth! My fucking tooth!”

Terry had chipped his tooth, and badly (or to hear him tell it, the fucking dumpling chipped his tooth and so very badly).

This is a story about Terry’s teeth.

 

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

________________________________________________

[1] Not real name, though he really could be a “Terry” if he wanted. Alas, “Terry” wants for nothing.

[2] Not real name. No sense veiling “Terry” if I’m going to out “Mae,” is there?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Food, Friends, Holiday, Interruptions, People, Places, THE PAST