Category Archives: Family

Reliable Witless

One of my aunts once tried to sneak up on a peacock at the zoo, in a vain attempt to pluck one of its magnificent tail feathers, a souvenir to remember the day by. We were in the picnic area eating our packed lunch (day-old pork-chops and corn brunt on the cob); the peacocks wandered among us, free-range. Squatting on her haunches creep-creeping along, a wicked smile on her face (or perhaps a wide grimace) she extended her hand, fingers grazing a fringe of iridescent feathers of blue, green and gold. I watched. I could not not watch…

…then I realized that the memory actually occurred to me during a dream, in which I was walking through Chinatown looking for cutlery and came upon a store display with peacocks feathers for sale for a buck a piece. The memory of the zoo was part of the dream and upon waking and right now as I’m typing, I cannot say whether the memory in the dream was a real-world memory, or a dream of one. I don’t remember. I can’t distinguish.

I could ask my aunt, but if she lied I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I don’t know if she’d have any reason to lie, especially about something as seemingly harmless as this (of course, for this to be true, we’d have to set aside the peacock’s POV because I don’t imagine it would consent to such mistreatment), but confirm or deny the matter nevertheless remains, crucially, beyond me.

A memory in a dream, or a dream of a memory. It happened, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Dreams, Family, Food, Places

[CC]

My sister thinks it’s strange that I watch TV with the volume turned low and with the closed captioning on. She thinks it’s funny (not “Ha, ha” funny more, “That’s…hiLARious). I’ve never really thought all that much about it, but it occurs to me that I’ve been watching TV like this for some time now. A few years at least.

Reasons why are plenty, come to think of it:

1) We have the technology, better than it’s ever been (for the moment).

2) I live in a small place and having the TV turned up loud dominates the whole house. Really, it just takes over everything.

3) I have trouble hearing/understanding fast dialogue (i.e. Gilmore Girls), unfamiliar accents (i.e. Harry Potter movies) or languages (i.e. German as well as High Valyrian).

4) Descriptions as well as dialogue: [ominous whooshing] [boisterous chatter] [SCREAMS] [muttering] [whistle shrieks] [romantic music] [LOUD PROTEST] [softly]

5) Comparing the dialogue with the captioning, following along and seeing where they diverge or witnessing how faithful they are to one another is strangely fascinating. Closed captioning can be wildly uneven (i.e. done by people, a service, bots, in-house or outsourced; done for real-time broadcasts, live shows or streaming services) – at times it can be quite daunting to follow, let alone rely upon for transcription, interpretation, translation.

6) There are also styles of closed captions, pop-on/block (words appear in rows/complete sentences with add-on rows as you go), and roll-up/scrolling (words appearing left to right, one line at a time) being the two main ones. Depending on the method and quality, words on screen can move along with the action or ahead of it or lag woefully behind (if they appear at all).

7) Weird questions of censorship: “swear words” (however so defined by those involved, yet their intent is obvious from the proverbial get-go) left out in some places and some shows, but not others. Whose responsible for that? Why do they care? Why would they? Fucking prudes. 

All those reasons, and also, because of them, this: a vast and growing dissatisfaction with the way some shows, movies and broadcasts are, for lack of a better word, paraphrased by the closed captioning, and often badly. So badly done, actually, that it’s just wrong. Hacked-up. I can tell the difference, but then I am an abled person whose hearing is not impaired.

All those absent words, all that incomplete action, all those pieces of the story missing, gone and/or rendered completely nonsensical. Where’s the context? What’s the rhyme or reason? Where’s the nuance?

Why set out to do something if only so that you can do it wrong? Don’t be cheap. Don’t make it cheap.

Word-for-word, it matters.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Entertainment, Family, Language, Movies, Pop Culture, Television, Words

The Coyotes Have It

The City

In the place where I live there are raccoons in the streets, skunks in the driveways and possums in just about any alleyway you dare to imagine. Pigeons abound during the daylight hours, coo-coo-cooing as they bob their pigeon heads and flap their pigeon wings. There are falcons and hawks in the crooks and crannies of the skyscrapers, who swoop down from nowhere to pick off a pigeon here and there.

Coyotes creep the margins, stealing food and eating the scraps given to them by imprudent humans. They have are often believed to be the killer of pets (small dogs, the occasional cat), and then hunted down for the transgression. This is done to keep the public calm – to keep people from freaking the fuck out about something probably overblown and which in any case they have very little control over.

The coyotes are not interlopers.

No. They are not.

 

The Not-City

In the place where I used to live there are also raccoons and skunks, possums and pigeons and hawks, but not as numerous and not nearly as brazen. Country creatures to the city ones, although of the suburbs (a close and yet infinitely distant second). Furtive creatures, mostly keeping out of the way, mostly keeping to themselves.

Mostly.

There are also coyotes. These are ghosts, seen in passing along the periphery of one’s vision. Pets go missing thanks to the coyotes, or so the story goes. Nothing new there.

But the coyotes here are not the solitary rogues of the city. These coyotes amass, forming family groups; forming packs. They amass and they scream. So much screaming sounding in the night from the patchwork of green spaces and tumble-down woodlots scattered about the suburbs. Bloodcurdling screams that go on and on into the night, laying territory over property, calling each other home again.

 

The Non-City

Once I found a coyote den, long abandoned, in the woods. Nearby was a scattering of bones and among those, one pristine coyote skull. Here it is, I thought. Proof.

At last.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, City Life, Dogs, Family, Nature, Pets, Places

Car Trouble

1. Ontario is a province of periodic ice storms. Big ones, nasty ones, ones that come in big and powerful and loud and whose consequences linger for days on end.

Accidents are not meant to happen, but they happen anyway. From the outside looking in, watching the accident as it happens, it can sometimes seem less of an accident and more a twist of fate.

There was a terrible ice storm that hit Toronto years ago – not the one where the mayor called in the army, but one a few ice storms after that. Stephen and I had decided to drive back into the city after visiting my parents about hour or so away. The storm was gentle at first, just but a touch – a whisper really – of inclement weather that seemed innocent enough, weak enough, fleeting enough.

But then. Well.

But then it was too late.

Slowly, imperceptibly and then all at fucking once, the highway became slick with snow and ice; the highway was a waterslide, a slough of cold, wet malice. We inched along, pumping the brakes as we skidded here & there, to & fro, as side became front became side became back & front again, as we lost track of the lanes, as we lost all sense of direction and any semblance of hope.

All around us, cars, vans and trucks crashing into each other, skidding at wicked angles down wrong lanes, striking the median with their bumpers and hoods, plunging into ditches.

And yet somehow we made it. Whole, without one scratch, through the melee traffic. Not one scratch, despite the calamity, the sheer inevitably of it for everyone else, anyone else at all but us.

 

2. The bird darted out of the woods and smacked into the grill of the car so hard and so suddenly that it took a full moment to register what had happened, even as the windshield was showered by a burst of blue, white and black feathers. There was also some blood, but not as much as you might think. Just flecks. Nothing outwardly incriminating.

My field director was driving and all he could say at first was, “Huh.”

Pulling the car over to the side of the road allowed us to fully realize what had happened. It’s almost worse than I can tell: the bird had melded with the grill of the car. It was as if one had become the other. They had become inseparable, the car and, of all things, a Blue Jay. Rare enough to see one of those these days.

It could have hit any car, but it hit ours. It could have hit any car, so it hit ours.

Feathers of blue, white and black against chrome. Any car, really, there were so many out on the road that day. Or maybe even none at all. If only.

What kind of a luck is that? What events or factors or circumstances, like the planets above, had to align for that poor bird to so inelegantly thwack against a random/not so random car.

So many things.

Too many things to count, that are, finally, worth counting.

 

3. We had never had a flat tire before that flat tire, and never had one since (so far). It was summer and the drive was fine – smooth, uneventful – and then we started kind of thumping, tottering, hobbling Not exactly a pleasant sensation. Not one I’d recommend offhand.

We parked precariously on the side of a ditch. A cop stopped to ask us what we were up to (“Nothing going on here, is there folks?”), then piled back into his cruiser and drove away when it was clear the situation wasn’t any more nefarious than the changing of a flat tire. He honked, waved goodbye (“You got this.).

Neither of us had ever changed a tire before. It took us a long, long time but we managed to switch out the tire for its spare. Elated yet defeated (the plan had been to visit Stephen’s sister but we had spent too long changing the tire and it was too late), we got back on the road and turned off the next exit, homebound.

Days later my aunt told me she and my other aunt, their spouses and my cousins had passed us on the highway while we were stranded, in the ditch, attempting to change that tire.

“You looked like you needed help,” laughed her husband. They didn’t feel like stopping, it turns out, because then they would have had to take the exit and backtrack. No one wanted that. Who would want that?

Strange how a moment can bring you together or rip you apart. Funny how coincidence works itself out.

Years later, he lost all the money he and my aunt had, and they, in turn, lost their cars and their house and were forced to sell most of their things, including all their precious koi from the, frankly, undersized pond that held them.

They separated. A year later, he died.

Huh. Didn’t see that one coming, not by a long shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Death, Family, Nature, Relationships, THE PAST, Transportation

The Dogs Fault

Dogs come and dogs go.

Lou, our beloved, slightly deranged 14-year-old dachshund, will leave us soon. His health is poor; his quality of life declining with each passing day.

But this story is about mostly Toby, my aunt’s 4-year-old maltase mix. That’s 28 in dog years, for those of you contemplating the math. 28 to Lou’s 98. Quite the disparity; quite the gap to mind.

Louis and Toby lived together, as brothers, for three glorious days (or maybe the relationship was closer to great old uncle and weird little nephew). My aunt gave Toby to us because she was recovering from an illness and believed she couldn’t handle the all the work a dog entails. Dogs are, admittedly, a lot of work.

We picked Toby up from her house with Lou in tow to make sure they’d get along.

No fights. Lou remained largely indifferent to Toby, much to Toby’s disappointment.

That night, the texts and emails began.

Hello Cindy! How is Toby? Can you send me pictures? I am sure he will be happy with you because you are young and can take him to the park and for walks and things.  

Hello Cindy! Did he cry in the car on the way to your house? I hope he ate all his food.  

Hello Cindy! Did Toby sleep well last night?  

Hello! You took the dogs out walking together! Did Toby have a good time? 

Hello! Did Toby eat his food this morning? How much did he eat?

Hi! Is Toby still OK? How are his eyes?

Hello Cindy!

Hello!

Hello Cindy!

Hi!

Hello, Hello, Hello!

On and on it went. I was inundated. I have never been quite so inundated before, in my life, ever.

Finally, a phone call on the third day: “Auntie, do you want Toby back?”

She came the following afternoon, a stressful trip as I had inadvertently gave her my old house number instead of my new one and she had to stop at more than a few gas stations and ask to use their phones because she doesn’t have cell phone and didn’t have any change in her pocket but then she couldn’t reach me because my cell was acting up and didn’t receive any of her phone calls until, finally and all at once, it did.

But that is another story.

And although Toby seemed to have settled rather nicely into his new life at our place, he was as overjoyed to see my aunt as she was to have him back in her life. Lou, as ever, remained totally unaffected.

End of story.

Except.

A month later my mom told me that Toby had taken ill. Addison’s disease. He needed emergency surgery and will be on various medications for the rest of his life in order to manage this otherwise debilitating condition.

“Your poor auntie,” said my mom. “But lucky you. You see?” It was, to her, all a matter of simple fact and she let it die right then and right there.

Not so for me.

You see? See what? What did that mean, you see?

That you shouldn’t give something away unless you are sure you don’t want it back? That fate, it seems, can intervene and undermine even the best of intentions? That Mom Knows Best?

Whatever happened, it’s not the dog’s fault. The dogs are blameless. As far as I know, Toby is doing well (better, at least, then poor Lou), but the medications are expensive and my aunt is not sure how much longer she will be able to afford them.

Still, it’s not his fault. After everything, he is totally without blame, completely without fault and actually there was never a need to exonerate him, ever, was there?

He didn’t do anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Death, Dogs, Family, Pets, Relationships, Time

Numbers Game

13 is an unlucky number. Likewise is 4 inauspicious, deadly even.

5 is a good number, divisible into two plus one left over, just in case. 5 is a prepared, good-natured number.

11 stands in solidarity, no matter what.

You cannot dispute the double happiness of 88. Go ahead and try it. You can’t! My parents refuse to even entertain the possibility. The impertinence of it!

Luck can certainly turn, which is why some buildings won’t officially have a 13th floor and some house numbers skip over 4, not like it doesn’t exist but because it does. And I wonder what people have done just to ensure they get 88, ignoring the possibilities of, say, 11 and good ‘ol number 5.

Poor 5, good-natured and underrated. It’s no 42, but it could be a contender, if only.

***

My second grade teacher, fresh from teacher’s college and seemingly only a few years older than myself (13, if not 4), reprimanded me harshly for crossing my 7s – adding that little dash (-) in the middle which made it, in my mind, a more robust, reliable number.

Not apparently so.

Crossing my 7s was rude, she said. It made the 7 into a bad symbol, one of hate and ignorance.

Did I want to be ignorant? Was I hateful?

Civil 7’s for her then; anything else was savage, uncouth. Not to be borne.

Poor thing. Some people can’t handle it, the numbers game. Life, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Death, Family, People, THE PAST

The DENTIST

Do you like going to the dentist?

Does anyone?

***

I never know what to do with my eyes at the dentist. Where to look? Not at the dentist, at least not into their eyes (best to let them concentrate).

Where then? Where is the middle distance in a situation like this?

Where indeed.

Some dentists have flat screens mounted to the wall, complete with streaming services. Pick a movie or show of your choice! Stare there, OK? Tune out!

As if. I have yet to deploy that particular option. There are too many choices and I want to be agreeable, pick something we can all enjoy or at least not hate. Besides, why potentially ruin a good show or movie via association? Tricky business, that.

I’m so glad they got rid of the mirror. You know, the one that used to hover above your face so you could watch yourself, immobilized, while a near stranger dug around your exposed teeth and gums with sharp metal instruments you didn’t even know the name of (even if you wanted to know them).

That was a hard sight to see. Hard to avert the eyes from that.

Out of sight, out of mind?

***

What’s worse is the tongue. What to do with the tongue while the dentist or (more likely) the hygienist in in there poking around with their instruments and fingers and thumbs? The tongue is definitely worse.

To the left? To the right? Up, down, side to side…?

But that’s the thing about tongues.

They are uncouth.

***

My aunt’s dentist sells Botox and other “injectable fillers.” Not such an odd combination of services, once you stop to think about it.

No free samples there, unfortunately. Not even the customary complimentary toothbrush, travel floss and/or sample toothpaste once your appointment is finished. Nothing of that sort. Just simple professionalism, whatever you come in there for.

Habit breeds expectation, after all. Fix your teeth, rejuvenate your face.

Smile pretty!

***

If I were a dentist, or ran a dental office, I would deal in teeth and manicures. My office would be called “Tooth and Nail.”

I imagine I would have to turn a lot of people away who come expecting Botox and other “injectable fillers.” I also imagine that some would come expecting a pub of some sort, but in that case would be covered: I would, naturally, locate the office near a good pub, maybe even next door to one that plays live music on Wednesday nights.

I would do it all for them, the people.

At least then they would know where to go; have a good notion of what to do with themselves, given the options, teeth or no teeth, dentist or no.

Really. It would be the least I could do.

***

Dentists used to be barbers. Or was that the other way around?

But no sense there, you know, in splitting hairs, etc.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Body, Family, People, Television

Rent or Buy

There was a rule in our house about movies: you could only rent or buy movies you hadn’t seen. Renting or buying movie you’d already seen was a wanton waste of money, precious resource that it was, stupid.

So, what happened? Nothing but the inevitable: we watched the rented movies that we liked as much as possible before returning them (ostensibly forever; never to see them again), and we bought a lot of movies we only watched maybe once, maybe twice.

There is a sense here of wasting time as well as money. Yet, my parents remained firm. If you saw something once you never needed to see it again, did you? It’s been spent, over and done with. Rent or buy.

(There was no room here – no accounting for taste).

It was like they wanted to eat their cake and have it too, but also not have it to eat it.

Actually, it feels like it was a kind of test, which we failed, miserably.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we surpassed all expectation, if only because there was really no accounting for taste, no reason for or against it.

Waste not, want not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Entertainment, Family, Movies, THE PAST, Time

Good White Shirt

Someone stole Stephen’s white dress shirt from the communal laundry room.

We liked to call that shirt his good white shirt. Now the shirt is gone, gone, gone.

Nothing else was taken, even though there were other, what we also call “good” shirts in that particular load of laundry. Blue ones, a purple one. One in cascading shapes like fish and birds.

I sometimes wonder about that shirt. The good white shirt.

Why just that shirt?

 That shirt and nothing else?

In my more generous moments, I like to think that whomever took that shirt really needed it. For a job interview or custody hearing; a night out (someplace nice or at least, nicer) or a funeral (paired with a black jacket, or navy blue one depending on the shade).

In my not so generous moments, I like to remember how the sleeves of that shirt are just a little longer than you’d think, how the cut of it is specific and on most non-Stephen-shaped bodies would hang loosely and weird, like a strand of wilted fronds over an undersized fence or a full dead skin draped over a stranger’s lap.

Most times, I don’t think of that shirt at all. But then again…. it’s not like we are made of shirts (good shirts).

Why just that shirt?

That shirt and nothing else?

It’s a pickle, it is. Not the shirt, but the situation.

But you know what I mean.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Fashion, Interruptions, People, Work

Favourite

I have an aunt who would ask me all the time, “Am I your favourite?”

I have a lot of aunts. She wanted, it seems, to stand out distinguished among them.

(Though there are a lot of aunts, they are not interchangeable, but the issue seems to be hers exclusively.)

As time passed, the questioned changed:

“Who’s your favourite?”

And changed again:

“I’m your favourite, right?”

Until, finally:

“Tell them who your favourite is.”

“No,” “Why,” “I don’t know” did not deter her from asking her question, and neither did “Yes.”

“Yes,” as you can see, was what led to further questions until the inevitable “tell them.”

(NOTE: “I don’t have a favourite,” was met with disbelief and scorn, and also the equally predictable demands for a “real” answer. Demands for “the truth.”)

The truth is this: I no longer speak to that aunt. Not anymore than I have to, anyway. Which is to say not a lot. Which is to say not much.

Funny now, looking back on things. Funny the lengths we go through, the trouble and expense, to define something for others on behalf of ourselves.

Among other things, “favourite” means “chosen”, “preferred”, and “cherished.”

No longer speaking to my aunt is my choice, it is my preference and something I have come to cherish.

My favourite.

 

 

 

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