Category Archives: Routines

False Alarms

On a recent road to Ottawa the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 7:00 in the morning.

I did what I think anyone would naturally do, which was assume that it was a false alarm – accepting that there was no real danger – and went back to sleep. In fact, no one staying at the motel seemed particularly concerned about the alarm: there was no running out of doors, no frantic calls to staff (or each other) about the apparent looming danger, the possibility, yes, of a suddenly close (probably painful) death.

None of that.

***

On a different trip, I was staying at the UBC dorms in Vancouver when the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. It rang and rang and rang. My roommate and I finally got out of bed when it kept on ringing. Only we didn’t know what to do after that. Call someone? There hallways were dead, no one was rushing out of the building or knocking on our door and it seemed wrong, if no one else was showing evident concern, to stir up a commotion. More than that, it seemed an impertinence.

Who does that?

I have often been called an impertinence.

When the firetruck showed up, we called down from our 4th story window. Should we leave?

Yes, the firefighters responded. You should. And please, if you don’t mind, go and knock on all the doors and tell all those people to leave too.

We did, and is it really a surprise that not everyone behind those doors decided to leave right away?

Well, was there a fire, or wasn’t there?

When there turned out to be, in fact, no fire, there was, rather then a sense of collective relief, that heavy cream feeling of having wasted everyone’s time.

All the embarrassment we weren’t spared.

How needlessly we had knocked on all those doors.

***

But the alarm was real, wasn’t it? That’s what bothers me still, that particular uncertainty, the exact definition(s) of that, and also what it could look like if looked at differently.

The alarm was real – or wasn’t it?

Real or not, it seems that the instinct to go to look and see and at least make sure that everything is OK (or not) – to confirm that someone’s been crying wolf (or not) – is suspiciously absent.

***

Suspiciously? No. Not so suspiciously. There’s certainly a kind of expediency to ignoring what is clearly a false alarm – and more than that, to ignoring the kind of alarm that straddles you with the burden of having to take some kind of dubious action on behalf of self-indulgent others, a job, frankly, that you did not ask for, and that is not theirs to foist upon you.

Who even looks up when a car alarm goes off, and who can blame them for not looking?

***

Sometimes I wonder how much it matters if the danger is real. We are told to be afraid of so many things, false alarms or no, it gets to be exhausting. It is the kind of thing that both drains and undermines you.

Another thing to do is another thing you have to do.

Another thing on top of everything.

An impertinence.

***

I am reminded of the tornado drills we used to undergo in primary school. The alarm went off (in this case it was a practice, not a false, alarm, another critical distinction), the teachers lined us up, walked us to the basement, lined us up again (this time, rather ominously, against the wall) and told us to duck, and cover.

The tornados never came. In fact, we didn’t live in an area in which tornados should have been of any real concern, except the one time they almost were.

I remember how our teacher talked us through the drills as the alarm rang out.

“Keep your heads down,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Interruptions, People, Relationships, Routines

Cold Inn Comfort

The art, such as it is, repeats itself.

Three panels on one elongated frame, hung just above the bed; each panel an abstract, non-comitial rendering of something that resembles earth-toned coffee stains overlapping each other on a hard wooden table. A kind of meek, kaleidoscopic effect (or is that affect?).

Ottawa, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Vancouver. Wherever. Whatever.

Every room the same: an unfailing arrangement of bed against wall (close to the small alcove containing the bathroom and the door), TV placed atop a chest of drawers in front of bed, desk with black faux-leather swivel chair beside chest of drawers (leading away from the alcove and door), mini fridge (possibly with an ancient microwave balanced on top), then some dead space of a few unimaginative feet, leading finally to a sliding glass door festooned with elaborate (often broken) lock, ostensibly to keep unwanted elements out.

Imagine someone. Anyone. See yourself. Staying in this room in one city or another, some capital propped up against the landscape, some small town just big enough for the chain motels to test their tepid waters. Put up a location, see what takes! Provide slightly more-than-basic cable. Serve a “free hot breakfast” (available 6:30AM – 9:30AM) that’s already been worked into the price of the room.

Every room the same. With one exception: the large framed photo by the bed. Hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed. Always different, always a photo of the place outside the room, the world surrounding the motel: the Rockies, the Sleeping Giant, the Parliament buildings.

It’s the one thing you, weary traveller, have learned you must count on.

***

Scenario 1:

A man wakes up and discovers that it is still dark outside (too early to get up, much too early to partake in the “free hot breakfast” of sugary bread, machine-dripped coffee and scrambled eggs fresh from whatever half-opened carton of liquid egg-like product that happened to be lying around that morning). He is shivering. He does not remember going to bed; he had not planned to sleep, not after this particular job.

He is suddenly reminded of the blood that still remains under his fingernails, the bruises running the length of this ribcage, marring his face. He tastes vomit – he, actually, reeks of it (and not all or even that much of it is even his). His head throbs, his temples dancing to the beat of an erratic pulse. He tells himself again that he regrets nothing and then just like that the darkness is too much for him.

He turns on the oversized lamp that is (also always) by the left side of the bed. Nothing out of the ordinary appears in the lacklustre light in provides. He breathes.

No, nothing out of place.

Until he looks up and finds the frame hung up on the wall, just by the foot of the bed, empty. A great white nothingness where a picture of the Canadian Rockies should be just manages to glow, a little, blankly, then hotly, in the darkness of the room. It is clear it is calling to him. Beckoning.

It knows.

He realizes he won’t make it to either door if he tries to escape: movement now that he has seen the frame will only serve to pull him in and snare him in its field of vision, something which he knows he must not do.

Terrified, the man realizes that his only recourse is to lie silently in bed and wait for the daylight.

It soon becomes apparent that the light, too, is conspiring against him. The lamp dies a slow mocking death, its flickering like cruel laughter. The darkness – despite what should be by now the encroaching dawn – remains.

Scenario 2:

A woman wakes up from a long nap after spending the better part of the day touring the nation’s capital. Standing on the steps of the Parliament buildings, she remembers telling her friends to expect her in the evening upon which one, a man who everyone knows had a huge crush on her in high school, handed her a polished wooden box. It fit nicely in the palm of her hand, though it weighed down her palm and tired her arm. There were etchings on it she couldn’t quite make out.

“Not now,” he said, when she began to open it. “Later, when it’s time.” He wagged a thick finger across her eyes and then stuffed the offending hand deep into his front pants pocket. Behind him, their other friends tittered loudly like a nest of drunken sparrows.

Now, sitting up in bed, the woman thinks again of the man, and her thoughts are less than fond. Actually, she remembers him being more of a friend of a friend (or someone’s brother, maybe); in any case, he was an annoyance she put up with because it made things easier among their rather exclusive group. She remembers being liked by most everyone (by everyone who counted), and as she does this, she glances idly to the spot on the wall above the foot of the bed.

The picture is of the Parliament Buildings, but it is from the year 2056. The semi-distant future. She only just recognizes the buildings from that very afternoon (there have been quite a few alterations, queer flourishes, and add-ons), and then only after reading the little inscription affixed haphazardly to the frame itself: a bronze plate with scratched-on letters.

It seems like a warning; even the ambient noises of her room now seem strange, a measured humming she can’t quite place. Yes, there is an ominous whooshing in her ears and the air tastes brittle, like tin. She reaches for her cellphone, but cannot find it in her to turn it on. What if – ?

A cursory glance of the room reveals nothing else has changed. A prank, perhaps? Or is she still dreaming? She looks again at the unassailable frame.

Reluctantly, she considers the box.

Scenario 3:

The Sleeping Giant Provincial Park isn’t quite as you remember it. It seems less pristine, more congested now, and the childhood fancy you had of the rock outcroppings being the Giant’s “spine” as you walked along them does not hold the same sense of joy (or was that whimsy?) you had hoped it would. The scale, the immensity of actually being there disrupts, undermines the fantasy for you. But not as much as you imagine it should.

Mostly, you are just tired. You realize it was a mistake to come back (you regret it so much), and you are glad you decided to spend this last night at a motel rather than at your father’s place. In the morning, you will leave them both.

Something about the frame hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed catches your eye. A portrait (of sorts) of the rock formation, the Giant, who indeed appears as if reclined, as if in sleep. He is surrounded, of course, by the mighty waters of Lake Superior, and you find yourself oddly comforted by the thought, the assurance of that critical distance. You walk up to the frame, traces of a smile pulling at your lips. You put your face in real close, almost touching the glass. A challenge (and one, you are certain, easily won).

You blink.

There is a man standing, perched, on the Giant’s chin. The perspective is impossible: he is so far way and yet so very close; his features are clear but his proportions are indistinct. He must be a giant himself to stand on that massive jaw the way he’s standing on that massive jaw, that jaw that nonetheless remains in the distance, bounded by the water, all that water, of the largest, the greatest of all the Great Lakes.

You want to step back – away – from the frame, its incontrovertibility, but know that it is already much too late.

You see his face. You realize that you’ve seen that face before. More than that, his expression, the one staring back at you from the frame, is one of recognition. And anger.

You blink (you can’t help it) and the man vanishes. The hairs on the back of your neck suddenly prick at a presence behind you, looming and immense.

“Hello.”

***

Each scenario, while fantastic, is not wholly ridiculous. Not when you’re sitting in that room, not when you’ve been across the country, as I have, and discovered them all – every room – to be the same, in whatever city, whatever place you happen to be.

Every room the same, except for that one picture, the large framed photo by the bed, hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed.

It is never the same, unless the place is.

Wherever and whatever that place happens to be.

 

 

 

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Filed under Interruptions, People, Places, Routines, THE FUTURE, Travel

About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines

Open Secrets Vol. 2

– You can be kind to be cruel. It is, definitely, an option.

– Apocalypse/beauty/success is in the eye of the beholder.

– That sheer difference between luck and fate.

– She doesn’t like you.

– There are other beholders.

– Everyone: poops, lies.

– “Hideous” is a very good word.

– The facts don’t matter compared to the Truth.

– It’s not them, it’s us.

– What does, and does not, count as controversy.

– Lake —> Lake Monster.

– “Because why not?” is why.

– It also gets better before it gets worse.

– More to the point: you’re not them.

– Beyoncé. Always.

– Just make sure they’re good lies.

– Never Beyonce.

– It’s not OK. And yet.

– It’s really obvious when you don’t think about it.

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Filed under Celebrity, Music, Names, Philosophy, Relationships, Ritual, Routines

Points of Convergence (Repertoire of a 6:00AM Commute)

There was a time when my morning commute meant a pre-dawn commute before the commute. It required taking a very early bus to the subway, to another bus, and then to a station where I met up with my Work Crew for what was then another 30-to-90-minute drive to site, wherever it happened to be that day.

***

The Very Early Bus arrived at around 6:00AM and the stop was about a 10-minute walk from my house.

Now. There was my Work Crew, whom I saw every day, and then there was my Commute Crew, with whom I also had a specialized relationship (they being the first faces of the new day, which placed my Work Crew in a close, yet distant second).

 

There was really no comparison:

 

  1. Leather Jacket Motorcycle Man. The jacket was of a rich, heavy leather. It had shoulder armour (impressive!) and fit him perfectly; less like a glove and more like a second skin. I never saw a motorcycle helmet. I never saw a motorcycle. Seemed unnecessary, maybe even over-the-top.
  2. The Old Timer. He must have lived close; his stop was only one away from mine. We could have been neighbours, though I never saw him in the street. He was quite, if not rather, elderly, perhaps even venerated.
  3. Army Gent. Over the weeks I watched him go from civvies and duffle bag to full-on uniform: beret, Canadian Flag patched prominently on his camo jacket; shining, immaculate boots. And duffle bag. He looked rather dashing, set. He smiled often, and not unkindly.
  4. Mr. Hard Hat. The yellow hat was sometimes worn on this man’s squarish head or on his heavy belt and sometimes it was nestled securely in his lap. He never took his gaze off the middle distance. His hours were probably as bad (if not worse) than mine. He sat tall, and primly, regardless.
  5. Lady Grey. She and The Old Timer were friends (or maybe neighbours – there’s a difference sometimes). She helped him off the bus. She reminded me of Tea Time. She carried a big shoulder bag looped over her small torso. Sometimes it appeared heavy and overloaded, as if it were full of bricks or hard drives. Other times, it was so empty it swung chaotically around her, like a siren. Maybe she kept tea in there? It seemed full of promises. She and The Old Timer sometimes talked animatedly (though quietly) with each other, but I didn’t ever catch a word of their conversation. Why spoil a good thing?

 

The Subway was usually empty at that hour, or it was full of people still clinging to or retreating back towards the last vestiges of sleep (including me). It was warmer, roomier, quieter there: you could be totally alone. It was easy. Can you blame us?

The Another Bus was not without its charm. For example: The Man With the Scruffy Dog He Kept Inside His Jacket. For example: The Woman Who Cut Her Fingernails At the Back of the Bus. For example: The Bad Hermit. But by that time of day, the riders were more diffuse, more varied. I never kept close track of them.

The Station had the Steel Drums Man. By then, it was about an hour into my morning commute to my commute (sometimes longer if traffic was bad). Whatever time I arrived, he was there, playing away on a set of steel drums in the vast corridor connecting the buses and the subway, near but not too close to the escalators leading to daylight. The perfect spot.

After a while I realized that he was playing the same set of songs every day, day after day. I realized then as I remain sure now that it could not have been otherwise: they were nice, and he was very good at them. He made them sing. 1) Seeing the Steel Drums Man and 2) hearing him play meant that 3) I had made it (for another day at least). One more day at least. No small feat, by any measure.

***

My commute before the commute went on for months, until there came a time when work was scarce and I was laid-off from the company for the winter. In the spring, I walked to take the Very Early Bus again.

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

“Where have you been?” he cried. Each word was almost its own sentence, its own question: Where. Have. You. Been?

It felt good, if not right (not really) to be there again, with my fellow pre-dawn commuters. Sometimes you don’t need all that much to count on, and the extras you do get don’t make up for anything but themselves.

I saw Motorcycle Man, The Old Timer, and Lady Grey, though there were a few new faces I didn’t recognize.

If anyone was missing, I’m sure they had their reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Employment, Jobs, People, Places, Routines, THE PAST, Travel

Bong Go

There is one morning in recent memory where I caught my teenage neighbour out on his stoop with a giant, truly impressive bong (not unlike a really large test tube, or small palm tree).

He choked on it when I said “Hi” and I looked away so he could shove it behind him and pretend he didn’t have it. And so I could pretend I never saw it. So we could both pretend that it wasn’t, in actuality, right there, jammed between his body and the front door, jabbing him uncomfortably in the back like it was indignant.

(Wouldn’t you be?)

Then he smiled and said “Hi” back.

Then we talked about the weather for longer than seemed necessary, or possible. He shifted, fumbled, and the bong fell unceremoniously to its side. The noise it made as it did so was one of pure resignation.

Then he really smiled and I really smiled and we forgot about the weather and wished each other a nice day.

Because it’s not always about how the day starts, is it?

And the morning had really only just begun, hadn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Friends, Interruptions, Mind and Body, People, Routines

The Week’s End And Then Again

 
Mondays are inevitable.
But Tuesdays are unbearable, into the week yet with so much left to go.
Wednesdays are a compromise.
Fridays can’t not happen fast enough, and then are gone.
I always forget about Thursdays.
And the twins of weekend, Saturday and Sunday?

They are the absolute potential, for what’s to come.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Filed under Interruptions, Philosophy, Routines

A One Of Those

 
Collections horrify me, a little, sometimes.  I’m not entirely sure why.  But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because of what they imply.  Questions of what, (sometimes) how, and why always why are always implied.  The kind that tend to zero in on matters of taste, identity and (especially) pleasure and in its many, many connotations.

(Loneliness is probably in there too).

Thimbles or belt buckles, Fabergé eggs or skin flakes, the answers vary but the questions remain the same.

Why? Why? Why?

I have tendencies that lead me to collect but I try not to collect, despite myself.  I don’t always succeed.  Being broke helps less than you may think, but it helps. Sliver lining.

Sometimes, though, collections are thrust upon you.  They just happen.

I am having a collection thrust upon me happening.

It started with this:

Jealous of the dog.  That's a new one.

This is what a dog’s life looks like. If he’s doing it right.

It – he – is a wirehaired dachshund (as far as I can tell and just to simplify everything already).   Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, came more.  And then they came at intervals: Christmases, birthdays especially.

And more.  So much more.

Not pictured: the one-foot chocolate dachshund that Stephen’s mother gave us one Easter, every birthday card from the last seven years with a dachshund on it (in other words, almost all of them), and the book I got for Christmas about the lady detective agency that had a picture of a dachshund on the back cover.

Perhaps eventually it will become a tradition.  A bon-a-fide ritual coming at me from the outside, needing really only my tacit permission in order to do what it is doing to me.

Am I complaining?  Not exactly.  But the next time I move, I’ll wonder, you know.  I’ll wonder about these all these little dogs and whether I have truly become a One of Those people:

  • A Dog Lady
  • A Dachshund Enthusiast[1]
  • A Doxie Lover
  • The Weiner Dog Girl
  • Der Hund Frau auf der Straße!
  • The Hot Dog Queen[2]

I’ll admit it is shaping up to be a quite handsome collection.  Beyond that, what to say about it, my/The Collection?  Does it give me a sense of pride or any kind of satisfaction?

Actually, I’m kind of flattered, which is probably closest to the truth.

 


[1] In particular I’d be a dachshund enthusiast, but more generally this would make me a “breed person”.  Not just a dog lady but a one of those people who for whatever reason(s) attach or devote themselves (sometimes entirely) to certain breeds of dogs, nicknames (i.e. “Doxie”, “American Gentlemen”, “Merry Cocker”) and all.  At a dog show I attended one time, there was this contingent of retried people who were all West Highland Terrier enthusiasts whose aim, as far as I could tell, was to psych out the competition with their incessant cheers and catcalls (HA!).  Actually, thanks to them, I’m kind of put-off “Westies” having conflated the two in my head.  The bastards.

[2] My favourite.

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Filed under Dogs, Routines

A Delicate Dilemma

How do you ask more of nice?  Right?  It’s tricky.

See.

Stephen likes to greet me with a cup ‘o joe when I get up in the morning.

You know:  java, café, brew, mud.

GO JUICE!

Foucault is my homeboy.

Nothing beats a cup of cojones in the morning.

And.

Even though, for me, “the morning” is defined as those first few hours I get up during the day, whenever that is (there are days when I wake up to the sounds of children coming home from school, to their parents, with their Filipino nannies, and days when I simply cannot tell just by looking at it whether the sun is setting or rising), my cuppa is always there.  Regardless.  So, too, is the milk that I like to put in my coffee.

What service!

And yet…

…and yet

and yet

No spoon.  No stirring implement of any kind! Not even the left side of a pair of chopsticks.

So.

What to do?  Going to the kitchen for a stir stick after so nicely being presented with effortless beverage seems ungrateful – a critique, a rebuff, a mean undermining of a kind and unasked for gesture – and using what’s available on my work desk strikes as slightly toxic.  There is no casually bringing up the issue – this hitch – outside of the situation (“Want to go see Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance?”/”I NEED A SPOOOOOON!”), which is exactly what is preventing me from doing so in the first place.

There is no doing without the milk.

My stomach can habour the sweet, sweet burn of up to four raw habaneros (it can!), but it rebels at a single drop of unadulterated black coffee.

So I add the milk, wait for it to settle a bit and just kind of…swish it around, much like a wine connoisseur does to impress himself at parities.  There’s no getting an even blend this way, so I sip and swish and sip and swish and sip and swish and try not to get anything on the keyboard.

I mostly succeed.

Stephen doesn’t know about the shadow routine attached to our shared ritual.

But he does read my blog.

Problem solved?

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