Category Archives: Family

Won’t Amount to a Hill of These

My habit isn’t to eavesdrop on people, but I do at times catch snatches of conversations that are hard to keep to myself.

 

Yesterday, it was one about beans:

“I can’t eat so many things right now.”

“You want chicken wings? My mom can make chicken – ”

“No.”

“How about tacos?”

“With the kids? Too messy.”

“Oh.”

“You know. I can have chilli. She makes good chilli.”

“Okay! Chilli it is.”

“Problem is, I hate beans in my chilli. Can’t handle them. Especially now.”

“So we’ll ask her not to put them in.”

“Oh, please.”

“What?”

“Remember the time you mentioned you didn’t want beans and she served you a bowl of bean-less chilli and then she gave me mine and it was just full of beans? And I told her, again, that I can’t stomach beans in my chilli and she was like ‘Oh, you don’t like them?’”

“That was just a misunderstanding.”

“No it wasn’t. She hates me. She did it on purpose. Because she hates me.”

“She doesn’t – ”

“She’s crazy and she hates me.”

“Because…she puts beans in your chilli?”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO ABOUT BEANS. You didn’t have any beans in your chilli.”

 

Shortly after, it was time for their appointment. I watched as they walked out of my life, presumably forever.

Memory and conviction are odd catalysts in conversation – where they will take you and where they don’t, and what that will do to the rest of your day.

It wasn’t about the beans.

It wasn’t ever about the beans.

 

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Filed under Communications, Family, Food, Relationships, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

The Swan

“Mr. Fister,[*] Cindy wants a swan!”

“Well,” said Fister, looking directly at my face and smiling the way animals do when issuing some imminent threat, “then she can ask for one.”

The exchange was a surprise; I was hovering in the doorway of the school’s Hospitality class waiting for Dolly so we could walk home.

I was not angling for a swan, one of dozens of confectionary creations made that afternoon by the class for parents’ night.

I did not want a swan. I did not want to ask for a swan. The swans looked chalky to me, dry and especially pathetic. They looked like uneven, bottom-heavy worms that tapered upwards into a vague S-shape with two dark sprinkles for eyes and a gob of icing for a beak.

They looked like hell.

Dolly looked at me expectedly. Mr. Fister tucked his small teeth under the greying hair of his handlebar mustache.

Hell is.

“Mr. Fister, can I have a swan?”

Mr. Fister watched as I reluctantly plucked a swan at random; one from among the demented flock before me. That was probably the worst part: that despite everything, I had also brought this on myself.

I took one bite: I was right. It was chalky, dry. It tasted like stale, hollowed-out bread. And something else, far more distasteful…

The incident remains largely forgotten in my daily life. But sometimes, when I encounter ugly birds or badly-executed desserts or unseemly, overbearing men, or when Dolly again does something that particularly annoys, I remember that foul-tasting little swan, the only innocent among the four of us that day.

 

________________________________________________

[*] Was “Fister” even his real name? If it ever mattered, it doesn’t now.

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Education, Family, People, School, THE PAST

Dog Sit

Recently, my sister asked if I wouldn’t mind dog sitting.

I love dogs. Love them! So why not?

I have a dog myself: Louis, my 14 year-old dachshund. More dogs? An additional dog? Sure! Why would I mind? What would there be to mind?

Turns out, I did mind. I mind, a lot.

So much minding over so much to be minded about:

 

1. Smell

Dogs smell. Not just the ability or the power (to smell) but the fact of the thing itself (the smell of dog). Dogs. Smell. Did you know that? This dog, the one I’m dog sitting, smells. Like dog. Like a big dog, so much bigger than a dachshund, let alone a 14 year-old dachshund and his dachshund smell I’ve been smelling for so many years I don’t smell it anymore. Big dog smell. In my house. Just wafting around, riding the currents of our A/C like some rude, musky little ghost.

2. Space

I live in a tiny place with tiny furniture and this dog – with his big dog paws and big dog butt and big dog poops and big scoops of dog food that go into making the big dog poops – cannot seem to maneuver without bumping into something or knocking something down or pushing something – a carefully placed something, mind you, that brings together the room just so – totally, utterly into the worst space imaginable (i.e. to be crushed underfoot or under such garish light or harsh angle(s) as to force me on more than one occasion to question my sense of taste; my ability to see the beauty in life itself).

3. Hair

 Everywhere. Every goddamn nook and cranny in a home full of nooks and crannies. This dog’s hair is not fur but hair, OK? Tiny little eyelash things that – while pixyish and cute upon first blush – have become a plague upon our household. They, too, ride the air currents, whirling here and there, landing where they will, be it in the corners of the room, on the stovetop or in unguarded eyes and noses and mouths. Actually, forget about simply acting as a garnish on our spaghetti or in our tea, these little hairs everywhere are now are part of the chemical makeup of every single thing to be found in our place.

4. Water

This particular dog spills about half the water he drinks out the sides of his mouth while drinking. Socks are a luxury we can no longer afford, lest they become soaked in pungent spillover dog-snot water. Thank god for the hardwood floors, though our place being as old as it is, the water tends to pool in odd places where the wood is uneven, thus forming a series of pools that somehow remind me of the surface of the moon.

 

So, you know, after all this I realized something rather crucial about myself: I may not love dogs. May never have loved them at all. Just my dog. My singular, very particular dog who himself has caused me no end of trouble. No other dogs need apply. I’m good. I’m set.

I’M DONE.

***

Recently, a friend asked to if I wouldn’t mind babysitting.

I’m still laughing.

I have not stopped laughing.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Dogs, Family, Interruptions, People, Pets

Big Blue Kazoo

My brother recently (as in a week and a half ago) decided to quit smoking and is vaping to ease the transition. His vape pen looks like a big blue kazoo.

Kazoo (noun): a small, simple musical instrument consisting of a hollow pipe with a hole in it, over which is a thin covering that vibrates and produces a buzzing sound when the player sings or hums into the pipe.

 

Simple toy, assorted history:

– As the story goes, the kazoo in its North American form was the brainchild of one Alabama Vest, a black man from Macon, Georgia. To bring his idea to fruition, Vest eventually teamed up with German-American watchmaker, Thaddeus Von Clegg, though the circumstances of their meeting remain murky. At the 1852 Georgia State Fair, Vest’s “down south submarine” was purportedly introduced to the world.

– The first documented invention of what we now call the “kazoo” appears in 1883 via a patent application undertaken by American inventor Warren Herbert Frost.

– However, mass production of the kazoo did not occur until 1916, and is said to have come about after a traveling salesman, Emil Sorg, happened upon the down south submarine at the 1852 State Fair. Or so the story goes.

– And from here on, Vest and Von Clegg disappear from the narrative. No documentation of their collaboration has yet surfaced. It’s not certain if Vest attended the fair alone, or if he had partnered up with Von Clegg for the event. It is unclear whether Von Clegg only helped to create the prototype for Vest’s invention, or whether the two worked together to come up with the first ever “kazoo.” It’s difficult to say what that first kazoo even looked like.

– There is no proof that Vest and Sorg ever met, least of all at the 1852 State Fair.

– “Alabama Vest” and “Thaddeus Von Clegg” may or may not have ever existed at all. There is only no proof that they didn’t exist.

Which leaves us with our kazoo lore. And “down south submarine.”

 

So, then: my brother recently (as in a week and a half ago) decided to quit smoking and is vaping to ease the transition. His vape pen looks like a big blue down south submarine, which is about as descriptive as I feel like being on this particular item.

 

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Filed under Characters, Family, History, Names, People, Uncategorized

To Death

At a certain indefinite point, I became, and remain, wary whenever someone invokes someone else’s name in relation to my memory of that person:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes, or no. Maybe?

“They died.”

This keeps happening: I learned my mother’s cousin died this way. I learned a friend died this way. I learned two former co-workers died this way. And another friend; they died this way.

One way or another, they died this way:

“Do you remember X?”

“They died.”

I learned a stranger’s friend died this way while she was speaking to another friend as we all rode the streetcar together:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes (in this case, yes).

“They died.”

I say wary. Wary, yes, but not offended, or indignant, or upset. Just primed now, for the inevitable.

***

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn that someone’s died, but they seem to be lacking in conviction (if not intentionality):

I have some terrible news. There’s something I need to tell you. This isn’t going to be easy, but…

Maybe not conviction, then, but something closer to certitude, declaration…substantiation. Status. All of these things and not one of them.

They died.

Alternatively:

They’ve passed. They are no longer with us. They’ve been called home.

Again seems lacking; again seems beside the point.

(Are you sure?)

(“Home.” There’s that word again. Home.)

They died.

If there’s a better way to say it, I’ve not heard it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Death, Family, Friends, Language

Fish Story

1. Storm Waters

The pond was located not too far from my cousin’s house, just behind the park, close (but not too close) to the highway.

“We’re going fishing,” she said, bucket and net in hand. She was a year older than me and, therefore, wiser by ages. I was in charge of the fish food: a full canister of blue and yellow and pink flakes that we had procured from her parents’ vast inventory.

Hers was a family of fish breeders. Her parents, my aunt and uncle, breed and raised fish and showed them competitively, sold the rest. Not a profession, just a hobby. But one they took very, very, ever-so seriously.

The storm pond water was murky and littered with patches of thick-grown, brown flecked green scum that rode the motion of the overflow as the pond lapped at our flip-flops.

“Ready?” She filled the bucket with some of the water, careful not to collect too much of the scum. Then she opened the canister, popping the foil seal just so (releasing its freshness), and held the net at the ready. “Now!”

We tossed handfuls of the fish flakes onto the water’s surface, rich fragrant snowflakes among the assorted waste of the storm waters.

“Wait.”

It didn’t take long. One by one and then in groups and then in droves came the fish. Fish of all shapes and colours – anything, really, that you could imagine from your local pet store. Murky water turned a riot of gold, white, red, black mixed with blue, yellow, pink. Tails swished, fins broke the filmy surface, bodies churned the murk it into a frothy mess from which bulging, unblinking eyes glared at us like spotlights. Open mouths; so many open, toothless mouths.

Poor, abandoned creatures. Tossed away (discarded, dumped, flushed) by people who I imagine had once been enamoured by their charms, by the prettiness of their delightful hues, clever contours and cute underwater antics, which were now all rendered grotesque. Life in the storm waters had caused the fish to change, to grow to monstrous sizes and into unseemly proportions. Into ungainly, ugly masses; living breathing tumours. Absolute freaks among freaks.

“When we have enough, we can go home,” my cousin said matter-of-factly. With practiced strokes she began netting the fish, the weight of them bending the pole into a most unnatural angle.

I never asked her how much was enough. It would not have been the proper question to ask, at that time. It was a lot.

And I never asked what the fish were for, what she intended to do with them.

 

2. Over Turned Bucket

Here, catfish aren’t exactly good eating, and I remember my dad holding a particular distain for the uncouth creatures – all eyes and slick mottled skin and barbs you could not convince him weren’t somehow dangerous. But luck is a fickle thing: we caught so many fish that day, and all of them catfish. Perhaps he felt that he needed to salvage the day somehow, redeem ourselves as best we could. In perhaps the only way we could.

The garage was the only place my dad was allowed to clean and prepare the fish we caught. Mom, ever fearsome, made sure of that, and it’s hard to blame her. The stink of fresh water fish, no matter how freshly caught, no matter how much my dad insisted he’d get it all, had a way of lingering long past due.

The preparing of the fish was always a solemn affair. Dad talked little as he worked, and we either watched him or we didn’t. Talk little, work fast, that’s all that mattered. Be there with him or no, dad would do the work regardless.

I crept into the garage, careful not to make unnecessary noise. Dad was at the worktable, effortlessly sliding a big knife lengthwise through the body of a particularly girthy catfish. Its head was missing, its fins and tail soon to follow.

“Don’t get too close to the knife,” he said, not bothering to take his eyes off the fish. “Move.”

I did as told, accidentally knocking over the metal bucket I missed seeing on my way in. It hit the concrete floor with a soft bang, overturning its burden so that it was undeniable. There was no looking away from them.

The heads. That’s where dad put them. The squirming, gasping, wide-eyed heads. The twitched, they spasmed, they stared right through me as they whispered unheard words with wet fish lips. Curses, for all I know. Wicked incantations, gulping greedily at the air, seeking purchase.

One, two, three…five, seven, eight. All the fish we had caught that day, though even now I could swear to you that there were so many more than that, fish be dammed.

(Later I’d learn that it was an automatic nervous/muscular response, the fact of the heads moving after decapitation).

But tell that to the child who for all I know is still there, counting heads, unable to do much else. Unable to be of much use to anyone.

 

3. The Osprey

Years later. New house, new backyard patio. A birthday BBQ featuring my dad’s famous pork chops, chicken and quail. A most sumptuous repast.

My cousin wasn’t there. We are, for all intents and purposes, estranged.

So I wasn’t thinking of her as I let my head fall back on the cushion of my chair and gazed at the impossibly blue sky.

It had been years since I’ve gone fishing with my dad. But I wasn’t thinking about that either.

I wasn’t expecting to see the bird or much, really, of anything.

Osprey are fishers. People at the dog park near the river sometimes freak out, seeing an osprey hovering above them and, more to the point, their small dogs. There is a part of me that wants to tell them not to worry, to reassure them that everything is, in fact, OK: this particular bird of prey will do no harm to them or, more to the point, their dogs. But then I wonder how much good it will do: people also do so love drama and the dog park, indeed, is a rather sleepy one.

The osprey that came into view above my head as I sat in my chair on my parents’ patio during my dad’s birthday BBQ flew low, struggling to keep hold of its massive catch.

The fish held in its talons was easily bigger than the bird by half. But then, maybe I’m exaggerating, for dramatic effect. This much is true: the poor thing gleamed gold-orange, gold-orange-gold, huge scales protruding off its belly, which was so engorged it seemed likely to explode in the heat of the sun as the fish twitched and spasmed, struggling to free itself.

Of course, we laughed: some ridiculous person in my parents’ ridiculous neighbourhood had lost their ridiculous fish from their ridiculous (that is to say, exquisitely landscaped) backyard pool.

But now I find myself thinking of my cousin and of the storm waters and wondering what, exactly, the osprey had caught, and where, and also what my dad would have done if the bird had dropped the fish in the middle of his BBQ.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Death, Downtime, Family, Friends, Pets, Places

Browbeaten (Black & Blue)

I don’t know when my dad started losing his hair, but it was early on in both our lives.

He tried many things to stymie this most unfathomable loss, but in the end had little recourse but to stop cutting it, to just let it grow and then to start, kind of, creatively sweeping it across the great expanse of his head, precious resource as it was.

He also started dyeing it the instant he found his first grey hair, to a shade I think would be rightly called “Permanent Marker Black.” Or perhaps “Sharpie Gardens” (“Bic Dreams” also works rather well).

I am not making fun: it was actually refreshing to see my dad colouring his hair as we came home from school or work; there was no furtive shutting of bathroom doors or nervous sleight-of-hand over a splotched-over kitchen sink when it came to my dad deciding on that day to annihilate his greys.

He just did it.

***

(I always thought mustaches were cool because of my dad. His was both proud and stately. Now everybody thinks mustaches are cool, but my dad had nothing to do with it.)

***

My mom despised my dad’s comb-over – how it splayed, was mucked-over his scalp – a hatred which intensified in direct proportion to the comb-over’s sheer magnificence over the years. It was an on-going Thing with them; a continual war in which battles were attained by each side, but never quite won.

A witty retort here, a scathing comment there, some handwringing, a lot of empty threats and many unmet challenges: nothing ever decisive, nothing that would bring about a lasting, peaceful co-existence. Only a kind of peace, a tepid cease-fire that freed up at least some of the day for errands and housecleaning and maybe an hour or so of prime-time TV.

That is. Until.

Until the day my dad came home from my aunt’s salon with not one hair on his head.

Not. One.

No comb-over, no mustache. No eyebrows.

I have no memory or idea about what could have precipitated this. All I remember, all I know, is that one day my dad had hair on his head, and the next, he didn’t.

And something else: “How about now?” he asked my mom on that day. That fateful day.

My mom shot him that look, a look that over time was so perfected as to be drawn on.

In fact, it was drawn on.

***

Mom came home from my aunt’s salon with her eyebrows tattooed in place one day and so long ago they have since turned blue.

Over time, black tattoos will go blue, unless you get them re-done.

But why? The tattoos, I mean, not the fact of their fading to blue.

“Because,” Mom said. Makeup costs money and this also saved time. We didn’t have much of either, in our house. It made a lot of sense, and aligned perfectly with my mom’s brutal practicality.

She did it for us.

If my dad had something to say about that, we never heard it.

***

(I always thought Mom’s eyebrows were fearsome because of my mom. I’ve not seen many people with them done, though I suspect on some level that my mom may have something to do with it. She is just that capable.)

***

The time my dad shaved off all his hair (including his mustache, including his eyebrows).

It was either shortly after or shortly before.

In fact, it was both.

***

My mom was in the ICU, recuperating, drugged. The surgery was long, but the prognosis was good. We stood there, my sister and I, hovering by her bedside, not sure of what to say. Finally, I said the I only thing that seemed worth saying in that moment: “They’ve gone so blue.”

The way her eyebrows rested on her face, the sheer blueness of them…her expression before us was one of severe, unmitigated reproach. It was as if she could hear us talking; it seemed that even in sleep she was aware, alert and admonishing.

Mom.

“Yeah. She looks super pissed off. And very blue, actually,” replied Dolly. Mom’s natural pallor, whether it was from the ordeal of the surgery or because of the weird off-color lighting of the ICU, had gone decidedly indigo. Her arched blue brows did nothing to dispel the illusion. “It’s like two sharks colliding,” Dolly remarked, matter-of-factly, and we were both reassured.

Everything would be OK.

(Dolly is excellent with the facts of matters great and small.)

The ICU nurse overheard us and said nothing. It’s not hard to wonder what she probably thought of the scene playing out in front of her. It’s not difficult to surmise that she likely kept quiet not for our benefit, but for hers. Why risk that look herself? Why ruin what, by our standards, was a perfectly good reunion? No need to impose, to interrupt.

How dare she?

My dad’s eyebrows had grown back by then, as did some of the hair on his head, but he didn’t regrow the mustache, which I think my mom always hated anyway.

The night before the surgery, in her hospital room, he bought her a flower from his garden, which she also hated (it also being rather overgrown and quite unmanaged). But she accepted the flower.

My aunt was there too, but no one mentioned the salon.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Family, Health, Relationships, THE PAST

Saving Grace

 
I see the church standing there everyday on my walk to work, at a busy intersection in the heart of Mirvish Village, and I think how miraculous.

I’m hardly in churches. My first time, I was in elementary school because, in their gratitude to some helpful and determined neighbours, my parents took me to a church for Sunday school. A show of goodwill, a polite gesture (nothing actually promised).

I remember it was dark and I remember the happy smiling triumphant faces of the neighbours, a husband and a wife, as they lead us into the church.

And I remember it being dark. Dark inside the church as we walked through the heavy wooden doors. Light filtered through stained glass, deep reds and blues I hadn’t ever seen before. There were seats like benches and a sort of fountain full of still water.

I don’t remember thinking much about the water because (I’m told) I stopped and stood transfixed at the figure thrown in contrast by the windows, nailed to a cross nailed to the wall of the church.

Thin emaciated naked save for rags strewn around his delicate waist. His face a mess of agony, blood streaming freely from the thorns wound round and round his head.

His weird muscles. And nails right through the palms of his hands. More blood. I close my eyes now and imagine dirty fingernails.

Actually, (thinking now), all nothing I hadn’t seen before.

But for that save for that beard.

My god, that beard.

I was only five, maybe six. I lived a very sheltered life, school and home and adults with no beards. None of the men in my family had beards, or attempted them. None of my teachers had been men, or had beards.

My god, that beard. Too much too far, already asking so much to begin with.

I cried and screamed (I’m told). I cried and cried and cried (I remember). Inconsolable willful desperate child! The neighours, appalled dismayed embarrassed, told my parents to take home. I was never asked back. My parents never went back. No babysitter. Oh well too bad.

And I think thank heaven for, you know.

Thank god.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Family, People, Religion, Ritual

Perfect Eggs

 
“I don’t know anybody who likes hospitals.”

Caitlin from work said this.

Which reminded me…

The white walls. The echoing hallway. The bleach smell and the urine smell hiding just under the bleach smell. That unfiltered light.

Gran wasn’t waiting for us after school like usual. We waited on the porch, not knowing what to do. My sister sat on the stairs with her head in her hands. It seemed like a long time before my dad pulled up by the house, bringing the car to a sudden stop in the driveway, sending Mr. Corn’s husky dog, Panda, into a fit, froth forming at the corners of his black mouth as he choked himself on the short chain that kept him on his side of the driveway, barking his head off.

Then, those walls, that bright, flat light. My dad ushering us through the corridor and my mom standing there, waiting for us. Or maybe she appeared from around the corner. Or from behind the double-push doors.

She pulled the both of us into a hug. She was crying, had been crying, and when she pushed herself away from us she grabbed me by the shoulders with both of her hands.

“Your Gran has a hole in her heart,” she sobbed.

Then, all of us as we waited, sometimes sitting on the floor. My cousin, the oldest of the kids, got up after a long time and went into the closet. He pretended to sob, cried at the top of his squeaking vocal chords, banged and scratched on the door, stomped his overgrown feet and then came out with a smile so full of teeth it was obscene. He stood there and said nothing, bracing himself against the dingy wallpaper, smiling all the time. No one said a thing.

I remember his hanging stomach and him fingering the exposed bellybutton peeking out from just above his sweatpants.

Then, the room, everyone around the bed looking, some crying. And there was Gran with a sheet pulled up to just under her neck. Her eyes were closed.

She was cold.

Then, the eggs.

“Eggs have too much oil,” said my uncle.

“Your Gran ate a lot of eggs. Too much,” said my aunt.

“Eggs are bad for the heart. No more eggs,” said my mom.

Then, for years and years, no eggs. Eggs in other things, for cooking and baking, but not on their own. Never. Eggs were off limits, taboo. Eggs became unmentionable.

Years and years then slowly, with time, they were back again.

Boiled only.

Then, scrambled.

Then fried, sunnyside up.

And finally as another everyday thing, just another option in the fridge, next to the cheese and carrots.

At breakfast the other day, I made soft boiled eggs. It took a few tries, but I finally got the method down perfect.

An inch of water. Boil for one full minute and 15 seconds. Then, perfect eggs.

I carefully peeled back the delicate shell and dug into the softness inside; yolk overfilling my spoon, warm and golden. I was running late but still took the time to make the eggs and eat them without hurry. So good, so good!

So good, I wondered why on earth we hardly ever had eggs growing up.

And then I remembered.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Family, Food

Time, And Time Again

 
“You’re sadder about your dog dying than you are about your grandpa dying. It’s a little messed up.”

My friend said this to me as we walked across campus, on our way home from Political Thought and Theory.

It was winter. A wet grey day. His words echoed in my head, but all I said was “well…”

Well what?

When my parents got my dog for me, I was 9 and she died when I was 22.

Seizures, loss of motor function, dead before my final midterm that semester.

My grandpa also died when I was 22, a few months after my dog died.

Cancer, very advanced, dead before the end of that weekend.

It was a hard year.

It is a crime of nature that dogs do not live as long as we do, and when they die the loss is so immediate, so exquisite.

The loss of a person, though…in a way, it’s harder to conceive, and accept.

A whole other person, and a person no longer. A whole other universe of possibilities gone, snuffed out.

When my grandpa died, it was hard enough to try to come up from under the loss and stay ahead of it somehow.

We talked, but not often. I would have liked to get the chance to know him better.

But even that…no more!

Wrap your brain around that.

It was when my friend’s girlfriend’s parents’ dog died,[1] a few years after my dog died, a few years after my grandpa died, that I got to watch the unexpected tears well up in his eyes, the sudden bursts of sorrow, the excuses he made to leave the group and grieve in private as he tried in the weeks and months that followed her death to cope.

He loved that dog.

I loved my dog…and I loved my grandpa.

And there were so many moments during his mourning period that I almost said something to my friend, who today probably doesn’t even remember what he said to me on that grey and useless day.

Maybe now, I almost said, you know.

How easy it is to grieve for dogs.

 
 


[1] Yes.


 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Dogs, Family, Philosophy