Category Archives: People

Uncanny Valley

I’m not sure whether I’d say that wax figures are replicas or facsimiles or tributes, just that they look like someone you may know, or at the very least represent someone (alive or dead, real or fictional, to use those terms very loosely) known. Celine Dion or Flash Gordon.¹ Virginia Woolf, Stevie Nicks, David Hasselhoff or Alf.

Those types of people from which those type of figures are made.

Not living, but life-like…actually, larger-than-life. Posed, if not poised. Fake flesh, real clothes. Shoes to match. Jewellery, sometimes. And hair, human or otherwise.

Effigies, all. Graven images? Maybe.

***

Some faces you see more than others. Some figures just dominate.

Olivia Coleman plays the Queen Elizabeth II on the series “The Crown,” and Helen Mirren played her (Queen Elizabeth II, not Coleman) in the movie, “The Queen.”

I went to a wax museum, my first, which was buried in a mountainside in Vietnam. Ba Na Hills. Inside were life and near-life wax figures of (in no particular order): Kobe Bryant, John Rambo, a very scary Micheal Jackson, a weirdly proportioned Mr. Bean and, finally, a royal tableau featuring Prince William, Kate Middleton and, standing off-side for some reason, the Queen, Elizabeth II.

Only, that queen didn’t quite look like the Queen. Yet, she did. Because, well, it seemed very much like Helen Mirren’s head – not hers but the one she wore for the movie “The Queen” – had been placed on what looked like the body of the Queen, wearing a Queen-looking (matronly?) dress and the kind Queen-looking jewellery befitting a royal (big knots of it like babies’ fists).

THE QUEEN

Or am I wrong? Perhaps I’m only seeing something I only think I’m seeing, but that’s not actually there. Like how you confuse someone for their younger, yet very similar, more familiar (you’d swear by it) brother. Or friend. Or cousin. Or whatever.

Not a double or a doppelgänger but someone like that.

***

In recent years, it appears that they’ve changed the wax figure Queen. Her face, at least, looks more Queen-like and less Mirren-esque.

Strange things happen when you go traipsing through the hollowed-out landscapes of the Uncanny Valley.

But I know what I saw, even I didn’t see it.

 

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1. For the longest time, I confused “Flash Gordon” with its soft-porn, sexploitation counterpart, “Flesh Gordon.” I thought the latter was the former, which defined the character and films for me for years. Similarly, I had always assumed I had seen “Top Gun” when in fact what I had watched and assumed was “Top Gun” was the movie “Hot Shoots.” Finally, Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid are not the same person, despite their apparent interchangeability, which honestly seems to me to be some kind of low-end superpower.

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Characters, Movies, People, Places, Travel

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

Avocado Hands

I know someone with a job I cannot do and never could do (therefore never will do). The person is a nurse, a job I tell people I’m too sensitive for. But it is a selfish thing to say, isn’t it? On my part, I believe it is.

Such stories this person could tell you about extraordinary things happening every day, at the their job, while they’re on the job.

For example, Avocado Hand.

The other day, I learned about Avocado Hand.

Heard of it? Avocado Hand: when someone accidentally stabs themselves in (more often through) their own hand when attempting to remove an avocado seed (its stone, or the pit, depending on your perspective) with a knife.

Halve an avocado, twist it apart: one side, pristine, hollow, ready for you. As for the other, well, there it is. That damn pit. Staring at you like an all-seeing eye. Something for you to pluck out, with gusto. Tout suite. Grab a knife. Use your hand.

Results Often In: Pierced, serrated, mangled flesh. Blood too. Lots. Damage a few nerves, sever a few tendons, split the sinews here, there…irreparably, maybe. But then again, maybe not. You could get lucky.

I’ve never heard of it before, Avocado Hand. But I’ve always suspected, felt its presence, its potential, in the spare moments when I prepare some extravagant toast or contemplate a nice guacamole or consider the produce on a grocery run.

What if? Press this way and that with the point of a big, solid knife. Stab it there, just right. Just hard enough to get it. Never mind going across with the side of the blade. Never mind a spoon.

The nurse. Avocado Hand. You know how many times they’ve seen it? Three times this summer at least. Not enough to count on one hand, but getting there, not forgetting, of course, to include that all-important thumb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Body, Food, Health, People

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

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

Big, Little

The hedge encircling our house was a world onto itself, a network of tunnels and hidden places we scurried and hid in like rabbits. It was a refuge, a hideout, our shared headquarters. It went on and on, right around the house and into forever.

That was years ago. Years and years, the kind you can put into groups of five or ten and count on off. Our house, a squat three bedroom bungalow, was at the bottom of a hill, right at the dead end street behind which the train tracks that ran. Not exactly prime real estate, but then I never minded the trains (freight, never passenger), and missed them after we moved away.

Next door was our neighbour the hunter, and his pack of three walker/beagle hounds. Across the street was the family whose kids we feuded with on and off and whose grandmother had a pug. We also feuded (again, on and off) with the next door neighbour’s kids, three girls (but not one for each dog, as I’d assumed. The dogs were their father’s dogs and his alone).

Later, the next door neighbour acquired a chihuahua, which had puppies after he “accidentally” let it out loose in the neighbourhood with my aunt’s chihuahua. There were three or four of them, I could never keep track.

He named one of the tiny dogs Rambo. He never offered my aunt any of the puppies. As mad as she was about it, she still let her dog roam the neighbourhood untethered after the fact so it’s hard to feel indignant on her behalf.

***

I check in from time to time, on the old house, the old neighbourhood, despite myself.

The hedge has been removed, pulled out from the ground, roots and all, and replaced by a sagging wire fence (maybe it wasn’t always sagging…I have just only ever seen it sagging). The space the fence occupies, once enormous, seems so small now as to have been frankly impossible. Perhaps it shrank? Or maybe it just atrophied in memory.

The bungalow – somehow even squattier now and dingy in spots (the once white brick, the once gleaming windows) where I remember it had been pristine – has been split into two (of all things, lengthwise), and has been remade into a rental property with faded patio furniture in the driveway (at last glance, three off-white plastic chairs and an overturned table).

Other things, too, have changed.

The houses up the street have been bought up by the city and are in various stages of being torn down so that the street can be widened and a new, modernized transit system can be put into place – in this case, a light rail transit system and not, as I’d initially assumed, a monorail. Pity.

Some years ago, our next door neighbour died (in his basement), as did the man across the street (in his sleep), although that one is more recent. A coma and then a recovery and then that singular twist of fate that took him out of the picture.

The dogs, naturally, are all dead too. Rambo included.

My aunt gave away her dog soon after she had children. Be it shame or indifference or something more or light banal or benign, she never mentions him. It is as if he never existed, as if none of it ever happened.

Like none of us were ever there at all.

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Childhood, Death, Dogs, People, THE PAST

Top Recs

The following: A list of things people have recommended to me, ordered according to our relationship to each other, arranged by order of importance and/or frequency of occurrence of said recommendation.

Friends:

  • Archer
  • Downton Abbey
  • Lost
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (book and movies)
  • Afternoon naps
  • Bouldering

Acquaintances:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
  • Hitchhiking
  • The one on the left.
  • All lady fight club
  • To prove it by choosing which limb.
  • Mint tea
  • Chewing gum

Co-Workers:

  • Downton Abbey
  • March Madness
  • That cute place down the street.
  • To give up the coordinates for the rest of him we swear we only want closure.
  • Vaping

Upper Management:

  • To value “experience.”
  • To treat co-workers “like family.”
  • To give 110%
  • Offal on demand.
  • Game of Thrones
  • Dystopia
  • THE BOX

Family:

  • To call more.
  • A career change.
  • A nose job.
  • The key so we can finally know what he hid in that room we found behind the fake bookshelf in his workshop.
  • To please god stop reminding us.
  • Downton Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Family, Food, Friends, Hobbies, Jobs, Movies, People, Relationships, Sports, Television

Elementary Logic

One of the first people to influence my love of books was my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Oliver.

(I’m not sure if that’s her real name, it was certainly something that sounded like “Oliver.”)

Tall, straw-haired, soft-spoken Mrs. Oliver. Quick to help you find the books you’re looking for and to suggest other books you might enjoy, sometimes very much and often for different reasons. Knowledgable and stalwart, friendly yet adamant, Mrs. Oliver.

She was very good at her job. She was, in every way that counted, perfection.

Our library was small but serviceable, the books arranged according to grade level as well as alphabetically. Lower grades (kindergarten to grade 3) on the lower shelves. Higher grades (4 to 6) on the higher shelves. Easy peasy. A very workable, easy-to-understand system.

I read widely and largely ignored this system. The “fact books” (i.e. “Facts on Dogs,” “Facts on Trucks,” “Facts on Trees,” “Facts on The Breeze”… your basic all-purpose non-fiction for beginners) located on the fourth shelf from the bottom – the shelf meant for the older students and not second-graders like me – were a particular favourite. I read them often, even checked a few out using our self-check-out system (back then, a sign-out sheet with matching card placed in an envelope glued to the inside jacket of the books).

I did this for weeks. I did it for months and months.

***

This is a true story:

One day, as I reached for the fourth level self, Mrs. Oliver appeared and, gently but firmly, stopped me.

“You can’t take those books out, I’m afraid. They’re for the older students only.” She pulled the book from my hands and put it back in its place on its shelf. From then on, she watched me whenever I was in the library, making sure I would not access books above my grade. Making sure the system, the whole system, in its entirely, worked, and was therefore perfect.

She was always still and in every other respect, the one and only Mrs. Oliver.

By the time I reached the fifth grade, and was therefore able to take out almost any book I wished, Mrs. Oliver was gone, replaced by someone whose name and face I definitely do not remember.

But I do remember thinking, the day she took the book away from my small hands: “Oh, Mrs. Oliver. You just did it, didn’t you?

You made an enemy for life.”

Let me repeat.

For life, Mrs. Oliver.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Childhood, Education, People, School, THE PAST, Words

Lay of the Land

Some people are landscapes, and I catch myself staring at them so that I can take them in; their vistas, outlines and curves and bends. Each and every one of their distinguishing (and distinguished, depending, frankly, on the face) features.

It’s something I’ve done since as long as I can remember.

(And I remember getting into more than one schoolyard fight for “staring hard” at other kids and, once, as a first grader, getting into it deep a sixth grader whose prominent brow, delicate nose and permanently puckered mouth was like staring into the very depths of a suddenly de-randomized, nearly cogent universe…I feel like I was very close to something then, even if that something ended up chasing me back to the little kids’ side of the schoolyard, fists like cinder blocks raised in semi-righteous anger, puckered mouth ruining itself like a torn suture as they raged on at me).

It’s true, though: sometimes they catch me, the people do, staring at them. Taking them in. My options then are very limited. 1) Ignore and break away, or 2) Keep right on staring. Very little needs to be said in the moment.

Look. It’s not personal. You just have an interesting smile, a striking pose, an odd jawline, great limbs, a kind expression (or a monstrous one).

These are not compliments or criticisms or facts.

Just me, taking in the lay of the land and then moving on so we can both get on with the rest of our lives.

Now doesn’t that sound nice – isn’t that OK – if not totally one hundred percent reasonable?

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Hobbies, Mind and Body, People, School, THE PAST

100% of the Ones You Don’t Take

The professor’s face was set amongst pleasantly rounded features – stub nose, soft cheeks spread across the gentle slope of his jawline, topped off by a pat of fine ginger hair and a pair of affable eyes that rested lazily under slightly-smudged and overlarge glasses.

We had been discussing my future as a graduate student. I mumbled something along the lines of “kind of” to one of his inquiries about my academic intents and ambitions.

“‘Kind of?’” he responded, laughter pulling those features into sharp, fine lines. “You’re either pregnant or you’re not.”

That sentence haunted me for a really long time. Months, weeks and so on. Even today, I think about it still.

That, and my response, which was simply a listless and non-committal, “Yeah.”

God. Damn. It.

So many other things that could have been said in that seconds after “you’re not.” So many things that should have been. Among these:

  • “Only if I don’t know who the father is.”
  • “Schrödinger’s pregnancy!”
  • “Sir, I am pregnant until I’m not. And I’m not until I am.”

Glorious, no?

***

I think I have finally realized what happened, way back then. I missed it.

I had missed my shot.

Other people had said similar things to me since.

But it’s not the same.

Besides, the universe is not to be trusted when it comes to do-overs.

So many regrets in this life. In the end, what’s one more?

One more yeah.

 

 

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Filed under Education, People, Relationships, THE FUTURE, THE PAST