Good Fishy Fish (in a can)

In a recent post I’ve realized that I came down rather hard on sardines. Actually, sardines are quite delicious. They are not just fish in a can.

 

So listen, I never do this, but you’ll need:

  1. A largish or smallish onion (red or yellow or white). It should remind you of a fist cupped doggedly in the hand of a steady and determined foe. Shallots will work too, in a pinch, but they should be gob-sized. Gobs of shallots, then, would be wise.
  2. Your tolerance level of red Thai chilli peppers. I recommend a smattering. A smattering is good. Yes.
  3. One can of sardines in tomato sauce. Note the brand for later. There are lots, so many out there to choose from, so please do also keep that in mind. Too many really. A ridiculous amount.
  4. Leftover rice, a good lunch portion of it (i.e. enough to fit comfortably in the a child’s sun hat or mid-size catcher’s mitt).
  5. Like, some oil (read: cooking). Anything else is between you and your god. Between you and infinity.
  6. Salt and pepper (but not really, you can skip this if you want).

Then:

STEP 1: Prime stovetop to medium heat. Spill a bit of oil into to a shallow pot or pan. If necessary, deploy gumption. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add red Thai chillies, sliced dramatically. Enhance with salt and pepper (or not).

STEP 2: Empty can of sardines in tomato sauce into pan. Reduce heat. Simmer till onion and sardine and sauce enter into an exquisite union wherein the parts do and do not make up the whole. A dance, really, and a rather intricate one at that, something at the level of a tango or Polonaise. You’ll know it when you see it, probably. You’ll feel it before you know it. Trust.

STEP 3: Drape over rice and make sure to tuck it in at the corners before it’s too late. Remember to use leftover rice so that there is that feeling of extra accomplishment.

 

There. That’s it. You’re done! Now try it and see. Hope you like it.

Don’t like it? That’s fine because it wasn’t like I was really asking, was it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And Now (And in No Particular Order) A List of Good Words*

  • Splendid
  • Redolent
  • Peccadillo
  • Ornery
  • Flotsam
  • Crux
  • Dire
  • Rot
  • Nasty
  • Jazz
  • Pluck
  • Gumption
  • Crotch
  • Sultry
  • Cracked
  • Unrepentant
  • Pit
  • Moist
  • Bum
  • Despondent
  • Junk
  • Thingy
  • Bold
  • Sallow
  • Exuberant
  • Rancid
  • Dick
  • Grotesque

 

                                                    – Etc.

 

 

________________________________________________

*Please use at will and with or without restraint.^

^Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Fish in a Can

I met my childhood best friend in the gymnasium during lunch, just after our second grade began.

During lunch, the gymnasium doubled as the lunchroom, filled with rows of collapsible picnic tables rolled in from the school storage shed, the basketball nets above folded up so as not to provide the children with yet another unwanted distraction.

I remember. No one would sit with me because of my “Chinese lunches.” According to the other children, the food my mom packed for me (leftovers from dinner and the now fashionable, but back then the as-yet-reviled bánh mì sandwiches purchased from the local Vietnamese market) – that food was so smelly and gross and simply unfit for human consumption. So go ahead and let the “Chinese” girl eat it. This went on for quite some time; longer than it should and much, much longer than seemed possible.

Then one day someone did sit next to me. A redheaded girl whose preoccupied mom began packing her sardines for lunch. I remember the heft of the can, the way the girl plunked it down at the table. No one would sit with her either, at least, not after she opened up that can of fish. She was more confused than sad about this, but then maybe her confusion just masked her sadness as it did for me.

It took a while, but we got to talking, then comparing lunches. It was a sobering exercise. Because, whatever else I had (old rice, soggy noodles, weird veggies with marinated eggs), she had fish heads. Whatever else she was, I was still the Asian girl in a mostly white school.

We were a match.

I never shared my lunch, and the girl, my eventual friend, never asked. She never ate her sardines, though she eagerly opened them every day, right after plunking that heavy tin on the table.

We smashed up the fish with her fingers, rendering them into a viscous fish-paste that fascinated (so much destruction in that particular transformation). We took the heads and spines from the sardines and threw them at boys, then girls, then whoever. We were seldom caught (not many snitches in that lunchroom and who wouldn’t appreciate some distraction?).  I was always a little proud we started with the boys, targeting them not out of malice but out of a vague sense of obligation. Anyway, it was something my friend and I never questioned.

Her mother remained preoccupied, packing her can after can of tomato-submerged fish, thinking they made a good lunch. This went on for years.

***

Bánh mì is now fashionable, so much so that non-native speakers gladly twist up their tongues trying (and failing, failing, failing) for an “authentic” pronunciation of the word, the dish. What they settle for (“Bah, bah”, “me-me-me,”) is, fortunately, often more amusing than anything else. More amusing, possibly, that it should be.

Sardines, however, remain what they are.

Still just fish in a can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood, Food, Friendship, Race, Relationships, School, THE PAST

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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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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The Blue Pill

Unless The Matrix starts with the scene with Neo evading Agent Smith, ducking behind cubicles and office furniture, desperately following Morpheus’ orders, the movie doesn’t feel real to me.

The first time I saw The Matrix I was in a car with a bunch of friends of a friend, at a rundown drive-in parking lot somewhere on the outskirts of Calgary, 1999. We got lost, arrived late. Caught the movie beginning at what reminds in my mind as that pivotal scene.

I have since seen The Matrix two more times (maybe three), and in its entirety.

Neo has an apartment? Look at those people standing there in the hallway! Trinity first speaks to him at some aboveground underground latex night club? Really.

Really?

Each time since 1999, Calgary, everything before Neo in the Office is a new movie, a different Matrix from The Matrix as I know it. I am aware that this Matrix is the real Matrix (The Matrix as it has always been, if there is in fact to be a Matrix film), but I can’t convince myself that that is so, memory and sensation in this case overriding fact.

Never mind the red pill.

***

2009. A transcontinental flight from Canada to Vietnam. Malaysian Airlines in flight movie.

The Watchmen.

It is the case that sometimes (and likely much more often than you think) countries will edit foreign films for domestic consumption. They revise the material, edit for content, blur things out, cut scenes containing, for instance, sex and/or violence (or interpreted as such…and let’s face it, hardly anyone makes cuts when it comes to violence).

Enter Dr. Manhattan.

Have you seen the film? Read the graphic novel? Then you’d know: the good doctor is naked, full frontal, a lot of the time.

Except where I was, fifty thousand feet in the air somewhere between Toronto and Ho Chi Minh City. From the hips down – way down – down past his cobalt thigh and down to his cerulean knees, there was a mass of pixels, pixels, pixels overlapping each other like crude geometric barnacles. They (the proverbial they) blurred it, and took extra just to be sure.

I found out about that extra later when I saw the North American (adult rated) release of the movie.

Imagine my disappointment; picture my surprise, however underwhelmed it was destined to be and inevitably so.

***

  1. My aunt’s house. A bootleg copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hello again, Keanu.

Whomever got to this movie before me had a grand ‘ol time with the edits they employed. Bootlegging it, apparently, was not enough to satisfy.

All sex, all whiffs of it were cut from the movie’s 128 minute runtime, as was most of its violence (again not all, I saw much blood, a few stabs and, I believe, a beheading, if not the acts that lead up to them or even followed).

The final cut made no sense or rather, it made the kind of sense you’d sense in mediocre dreams and poorly-constructed nightmares. Dialogue cut mid-sentence, absurd time jumps from one scene to another, characters that simply appeared and/or vanished without explanation. Or reason.

The whole movie was 20 minutes long, if that. And it was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of a movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It took me years before I saw the full, unadulterated movie.

And yet. Both versions remain valid, the one being so far removed from the other that they are different things entirely, things quite impossible to compare, one way or the other. No need to vouch or even speak of quality or control here.

Too much has changed. Not enough remains the same.

Hello again, Keanu.

And again, but not really.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Characters, Childhood, Movies, Places, Politics, Pop Culture, 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