Decade

We had never met. What first attracted me to her was a photo of her on Facebook with a Telecaster and her pithy little blurbs about her day to day life. Little nothings. Bagatelles. Vignettes. We became virtual friends. Her humour and kindness made it easy to become friends. I needed friends at that time of my life and the basket I had put all my eggs into had no room for any of my friends, and by this time no room for me. The internet brought me in touch with new people, new ideas and a release from the pain of my reality.

One day the friend disappeared. All traces gone. Unbeknownst to me she had decided to take a break from her social media. No way to communicate at all. I knew from what little I knew about her that she had been a victim of a cyber bully and I figured that maybe the threats had escalated and she put herself out of harm’s way. I was concerned for her, but also had a feeling of loss. I missed her. I reached out to a facebook friend we had in common who knew her in “real life” and I asked him if he knew if she was alright? He relayed the message and Sharon was touched that someone cared. She messaged me and we resumed our playful interchanges on line. She let out that she was going to watch our mutual friend perform on the 24th of November. I was already curious to see this fellow perform his comedy and so we agreed to meet up at the venue.

At the time I was separated but cohabiting with a highly unpredictable long time partner who had grown to hate and resent me. It was a lonely time and a punishing time. It was beyond repair. Going out and doing something for myself was something new that I was just getting used to again.

I entered the nightclub and espied from behind a thick mane of wavy hair and a small woman wearing a jean jacket and I made my way towards her. I am sensate. In tune with my senses, and especially my olfactory sense. Her perfume hit me when I was several meters from her and she turned around and stood up and gave me a big, genuine hug. Cupid hit me. I am pretty sure Cupid hit Sharon as well, but she has something called “logic” and “facts” and “tangible evidence”. All things that I either espouse or ignore depending on convenience. “There’s no such thing as Cupid, stupid!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what we talked about that night, but I do remember I wanted it to continue. She confessed that she had not changed the strings on her guitar for many many years and I immediately went into rescue mode and offered to change her strings. We made a date to do just that.

The day I changed her strings was one of the happiest days in my life, and Sharon has said the same. Our time together simultaneously felt like it had been nanoseconds and years. Leaving was hard. We had agreed to meet again for coffee soon.

My memory is foggy about the exact sequence of events, but we were rapidly becoming very close friends letting our darkest secrets out in a safe space where we knew it would be honoured. We agreed to see each other again and share our experience with two particular problems. She wanted to know about Al-Anon and I wanted to know how to get a divorce. I had experience with the one, and she, the other.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- Charles Dickens

Neither of us have or will philander. We had things to settle and put in order before our relationship could continue, let alone enter a new phase. The stress and entanglement that had to be dealt with at the time could have easily destroyed either of us, but the two of us together traversed the rugged terrain and came out smiling if not unscathed or completely untangled.

Ten years since that nascent time. Ten years with different challenges as we age, the world and our priorities shift. Publilius and later Chaucer said: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. It is difficult for two people with differing ways, habits and customs and differences in diet, levels of hygiene, etc. I think contempt sets in when acceptance of the other erodes.

People usually wish and want to see that their loved one is a reflection of themselves. They become critical of things that used to be overlooked. Less tolerant of major differences. I am as guilty of this as the next person. It is human nature. I override these judgements most of the time, and I am sure Sharon overlooks so many of the fundamental things where we differ. For example; Sharon is uber tidy. I can walk over a pile of dirty laundry for weeks before picking it up. Sharon is an introvert and is happy to sit at home with a cup of tea and a book. While I am content to do that some of the time, I do like human interaction and broken routines. We have a balance when we honour these differences in each other. I pick up stuff more often, she lets things slide more often. I honour her solitude and she honours my extroversion. Namasté. I do things for her because I love her. I am willing to change and vice versa.

This is not to say “I wish he/she were more like…” is ignored or disappears, but it is the source of unnecessary and unwanted friction. The power of a couple that maintains a successful relationship is the ability to forgive, to overlook, to respect choices. When these qualities are less present, it is always purely a question of will: “I want you to do this the way I would do it!”, “I want you to react to this song the same way I would”.

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the day we met, I still feel the arrow from Cupid. It always reminds me to treat my love, my partner, truly my other half (even though we are both complete) the way I did in those first moments together.

I look in the mirror and I see me. I love me and I don’t want to see Sharon in my mirror, although her love radiates through me. I look at Sharon and I see her, she is beautiful inside and out and is not an extension of me. I love her.

Frequency

  from Nov. 2018

This is a story about frequency. Not the kind measured in Hertz, such as in the frequency of A=440 hz, or the frequency on the radio where you find your local CBC station. It’s not exactly about the other main definition either, which means “rate of occurrence”. It is about Frequency in the medical sense, which means “occurrence of urination”. 

Some of you may have already experienced the “joys” of what seems to be a shrinking bladder. 

I am a music teacher in a school, so my working day is divided up into little half hour chunks called “periods”. I am also an enthusiast of a beverage called “coffee”.  Typically I teach three periods in a row before a break such as recess affords me the opportunity to use the washroom. 

I used to be able to work comfortably for an hour and a half without leaving my classroom. Those days are over. About half way through the second period my brain receives the first gentle message from my bladder that I should relieve myself fairly soon. Message noted, but not acted upon because the class can’t be left unattended. Usually as the classes transfer, there is an opportunity to ask the other teacher in charge if they would just take over for a minute. 

Sometimes I don’t get to see either the teacher picking kids up, or the one dropping kids off which means I can’t take the time to go and the gentle messages becomes more frequent (pun intended) and increase in intensity like an alarm clock on snooze. No problem. “Mind over matter” right? A little discomfort is no big deal, I know that I will be able to go at the bell. 

Things don’t always work out smoothly though, because there is only one male staff washroom in our school and there are several men on staff whose breaks coincide. My colleague has a class that faces the washroom and she remarked yesterday how she loves to see my reaction to whether the door is locked or unlocked. I guess you could say we get our pleasures where we can. 

Outside of school I have to gauge things accordingly. A two hour trip to Ottawa requires a pit stop about half way. I am now in the habit of going before going anywhere. 

Except yesterday. 

Yesterday I left work in a hurry because we had a staff  meeting that went long and I was left with exactly 25 minutes to drive the 25 minutes it takes to get to a private student’s home to give him a lesson. I tried the handle on the washroom….locked…. I hadn’t received the message yet, so I just drove off in order to make my lesson on time.

The music lesson was fine and we actually lost track of the time. I love teaching the theory behind chordal choices and their practical application to the guitar.

As I was leaving his home the small message from my bladder came in. It is sort of a half hour warning. I took note, and drove the 15 minutes from the Plateau to downtown to meet friends and watch my daughter perform in a jazz club. Did not factor in parking…..oy! The streets around the club were all under construction and almost all of the spaces were not open for parking. I knew that in 15 minutes the bus lane on the boulevard at the foot of the street would close and I would be able to park there. My alarms were coming more frequently by this time. I felt like an expectant mother might when the contractions are 5 minutes apart and the hospital is not in sight. If I parked before 6:30 the meters would not work, so I had to wait. 

When 6:30 finally dragged along, I went  to use the meter which wanted $7.50 to legally park until 9. I had $4 in coins, so I tried my credit card. Put it in wrong…..re-set…tried the other way….put it in wrong in the dark again(like a teen-ager trying sex for the first time…lol). I switched to coins figuring I could come back later and feed the difference. 

As I fed the first coin into the meter I received a very strong message to pee NOW!!!! I put another coin in which the machine rejected. Had to think fast….what to do? I opened the car door to see if there was any loose change on the floor (there was a two dollar coin!) and I realized that if I did not do something immediately I would pee my pants for the first time since I was a little boy and would have to miss my daughter’s show.

It was already dark and there were no pedestrians, so I opened the rear door on the passenger side and retrieved a paper coffee cup from the floor and, hidden from view between the two doors, I opened my fly and let loose into the cup. As I was peeing, I had the fear that perhaps the cup would not hold what I had to offer. It felt like I was expelling an ocean, no need to worry…it was more like a kiddie pool….. and the cup was a “Venti”

The desire to avoid wet pants and to alleviate the discomfort overrode the inhibition of being exposed in a place where I knew I shouldn’t be urinating. I was discrete and undiscovered, so I guess it was a success. I disposed of the cup and it’s contents in the proper manner and went on with the evening. Close call.

As I relievedly walked towards the club, the words of my mother demanding that I “go to the bathroom before going out” were echoing in my head as were the thousands of times I had implored my own children to do the same.

Perhaps this was my mum’s posthumous way of saying “I told you so!”

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (or so)

‘Hijack a truck” he says. “We’ll drive her across the continent and sell the cargo when we reach the coast. You do know the backroads?” Brothers Eli and Colton had hatched a plan to swap a trucker’s uppers for downers. 

This is how it started. 

At Joe’s Café the truckers would gather, swapping lies and popping the pills they got from Joey (another one, not the owner) to get in another 300 miles or so before pulling over for the night. 

The brothers saw a rig pull in hauling four brand new 1957 Cadillac Fleetwoods. The driver, Mortimer (Morty) Hassock was making his first interstate delivery and as he entered Joe’s Café there were at least four eyes watching his every move. Morty chose an empty booth and ordered from Sarah a middle-aged waitress who looked and acted like she had been a part of this Café for centuries and there was nothing new that she hadn’t already seen. As Sarah retreated into the kitchen to deliver the order, Morty made his way to the John to relieve himself. As he passed Joey’s booth just before he reached the washrooms Joey enquired in a whisper if he might need some “helpers” to help him get to his destination sooner? Morty shook his head, no, but thought some more about this as he was relieving himself and when he emerged after washing and drying his hands he agreed to buy $10 worth of amphetamines so that he and his rig could eat more pavement and he could return home to his fiancé after his delivery in time for the Friday dance.

The tiny paper bag holding the pills was very easy to swap out by Eli who came to Morty’s table and made some small talk. He drew Morty’s attention to a very comely young lady in the parking lot and not only switched the bags, but managed to slip a sleeping pill into Morty’s coffee as well. 

Morty got up after his huge “all day breakfast-$1.29” paid, and left a tip for Sarah and proceeded to the parking lot where he did stretching exercises for his neck and shoulders as he walked to his truck with Eli and Colton stealthily pursuing.

At the wheel, Morty was beginning to feel the endorphins from all those carbs and the sedative was also beginning to take effect. He popped a couple of the treats from his paper bag to counter this, and pulled out onto the blacktop.

Of course the pills had the opposite effect on him and soon Morty found himself nodding at the wheel. He pulled onto a side road and made a pillow from his jacket and spare clothing. He was out cold when the brothers pulled up behind the rig and approached the driver’s side door. Eli had a gun “just in case”, but it wasn’t needed as Morty could not be woken up. They pulled Morty out of the cab and covered him up with his jacket and left him snoozing by the side of the road. 

Colton started the rig and pulled onto the road. The idea was to follow the road to a crossroads or a place wide enough to turn around with Eli following in their car. The road was getting narrower, and there were no intersections, so Colton kept on driving for perhaps thirty miles with the occasional homestead or farm appearing every mile or so. Colton stopped and waited for Eli to catch up and they both conferred on what to do with this “hot” rig. It was decided that turning around might not be safe as Morty may have been discovered by now. It was decided that Eli, who had a map would lead the way and they would take several detours across pretty wild territory until they met with a rural route marked as a county road several miles to the south of where they were. 

There was only one problem with this road, unbeknownst to the brothers. There was a small bridge about 20 miles ahead that a car could easily traverse, but the width and weight limitations meant the truck would not be able to. 

When they reached the bridge, they knew they could progress no further. Not only that, but there was still no place to turn around. Colton backed the truck up gingerly for about 200 yards and noticed a derelict field to his left that, if he was lucky, he could finally turn the truck around. he pulled onto the field and started the wide arc to finally get the truck pointed in the right direction. He was successful, but was about to rejoin the path to the road when his brother frantically signalled him to stop. Eli had heard a car rapidly approaching while he was watching the manoeuvring and had the presence of mind to drive his car out of sight. If they were lucky the passing auto would not notice either of them. The car was a police cruiser and it zoomed past them towards the bridge. Eli knew that the car would be returning soon when the police realize the rig could not have gone that way. Colton realized it too, and backed the rig up into a copse of saplings hidden from view to any road. He parked the truck and he and Eli sat in the sedan waiting for the cruiser to return. 

The police did not see the hidden vehicles and vanished back from whence they came. Eli decided that they had to make a plan B. The truck was an unwieldy burden now and the police would be on the lookout for it. Plan B was to return home and wait a week. return to the truck and take each car singly to a town in the next state where they could be “chopped for parts”. Not the bonanza they had originally planned, but a decent payday nonetheless. 

Eli marked the site on his map and the brothers returned the way they had come. They decided to go into Joe’s Diner and grab burgers and fries before heading home. Nobody raised an eyebrow when they walked in and ordered, so the boys relaxed until they saw Morty get out of a police car in the lot. Colton nudged his brother and they both skedaddled out the back door. Better safe than sorry.

Fearful that they might have been made, Eli pulled out onto the highway and they drove above the speed limit for ten miles. On their left was a long freight train running parallel to the road and Eli decided he wanted to get on the other side of it and raced toward where he knew there was a railroad crossing. Not wanting to be stuck at the alreay flashing crossing, Eli took a chance and gunned the engine, determined to sneak through ahead of the train. The car was going very fast and was about ready to make the left turn and hop the level crossing when the car blew a tire and careened onto the tracks. 

The impact was huge and drastic. The fireball consumed both brothers and their schemes and the map. The truck was only discovered fifty years later.

internet photo that inspired this story.

Orphans

Being a music teacher, I often get asked if I know anyone that would like a piano. This happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I am not even a pianist (although I do have a piano and I do play it). Usually the request is after the piano itself has been put up for sale and no one bit despite the price eventually being reduced to zero. 

It usually fills me with sadness. Today is no exception. A piano used to be as necessary as a refrigerator in a home. I feel that these objects that used to have and hold value and could be found in most middle class homes are no longer desirable in our hurried and mobile society. Gone the endless etudes and errors, gone the singalongs round the piano. My Uncle Charlie was great at making popular songs of the war era into hilariously lewd songs. When a piano is being used, vibrations fill the house and for those moments everything is safe. Everything is warm. Everything is worthwhile. Music connects us. Many of us get similar feelings from our guitars, but it is not quite the same as having a honking big piece of furniture that demands attention.

I understand. A piano takes up space and is expensive to maintain and/or move. Learning how to play requires a considerable commitment of time and effort.  The children have grown up and no one plays it anymore. It is easier to have an electronic keyboard, etc. which has a headphone Jack for not “disturbing” others.  Downsizing is important for an aging population. 

Artwork by Alex Kaysan

To me, the feeling evoked by an unwanted piano is like the compassion I feel for an old unwanted dog that has been given up for adoption. We have two old dogs already in our home (not to mention three little birds). We also have a piano (and keyboards) so I feel the need to help in the placement, but not at my house. 

What to do with it? I have helped some get into student’s homes. My sister had a great idea and got her piano placed at their local community centre and it will be used for choir rehearsals etc. Most churches often already have two or three pianos scattered around, but churches are closing or congregations merging. More pianos to get rid of. Schools (don’t get me started…) focus less on the arts and pianos can be found in the custodian’s lair gathering dust.

I love it when pianos are placed at random street corners in the city. I have seen and heard (and played) on several. Given our harsh climate though, these oases are merely temporary until the elements reclaim the usefulness of the piano rendering it fit for a landfill.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I wonder at how different the world would be if Oscar Peterson (for example) had not had a piano in his home, or Glenn Gould……….

As musical literacy and proficiency is becoming less important in our society, I can merely hope that the void left by this societal change will be filled in other creative and beautiful ways. 

What’s In A Name?

When I taught music full time I would greet each group with a hello song. This served several purposes. The first was to refresh my memory of each child’s name. You can imagine that in an elementary school of 200 plus children that it was easy to forget names of children that I saw for a half hour twice a week at most. The second was to gauge the room. to see who was eager and who was laying back. The children were seated on the floor in a circle (campfire style) with me as part of the circle and the song had as many verses as there were people in the room. Hearing or saying your name in a song is important. It is an affirmation that you matter. You exist. You are famous! I would include aides and If there were visitors in the room I would include them as well. It was all very Pete Seeger!

The song I used most of the time was a little ditty I made up called : “J’aime Mon Nom” Which translates to “I Love My Name”. The children would “patsch” (clap thighs and hands on alternating beats) and we’d all sing: “J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom, J’aime mon nom” And then I’d sing and gesture to a child “Je m’appelle….” and the person chosen sang their name. This is a very effective way to read the room and get even the slightest effort and engagement from even the non-engaging students.

in the higher grades I would try and drop this because I already knew their names, and I had lots to stuff into the half hour together, but the children would ask for it, being lovers of routine. It didn’t hurt.

Teachable moments would arise from this according to the situation. On Hallowe’en I’d ask for the name of the character they were disguised as. Several times a child would say that they didn’t like their name so we’d change it to “Je N’aime pas mon nom”. We could use it to access different activities such as: your favourite hockey player’s name, your “girl/boyfriend” (imagine the giggles and/or horror), favourite breakfast, favourite teacher, etc. The opportunities for expression were only limited by the imagination, so, in my case, limitless.

One day, as a grade three class entered, I happened to have a rubber rat on my piano which piqued their curiosity. The reason I own a rubber rat is another short story which I will try to synopsize here.

Before teaching at the School Board I had worked for a decade as a music therapist with children with Autism, PDD, etc. Our Music Therapy room was in a basement of our school in Westmount. We were two therapists who usually worked together with small groups of children and their “shadows” (educators). One day my co-therapist wordlessly gave me the hand sign that she needed to use “the facilities” down the hall and I understood. When she returned, she was stammering and utterly speechless. I eventually made out through her gesturing the words “rat” and “dans la toilette”. She was utterly freaked out! I went down the hall and there was a small rat swimming in the toilet. I flushed, and it disappeared back into the sewers. Bye bye rat. We got some maintenance workers to install mesh and the problem was solved.

Until I saw a Hallowe’en toy at the dollar store…. A life size black rat with red eyes and a squeaker inside. OF COURSE I HAD TO HAVE IT. I bought it and when I got to work, I put it in my co-worker’s desk drawer. I was not in the room when she opened her drawer. I was upstairs, but I still heard her scream…. I got to the room and Marianne was standing outside the room making similar gestures to several days previous. I got the rat and showed her that it was a prank. The horror switched to anger and I was chopped liver for the rest of the day. The next day we were back to normal and she could laugh about her reactions. All was fine until a month later when the rubber rat “appeared” on the piano as Marianne was sitting down to play. This actually went on for months…. I even snuck it into her car!

So, that was the rat story. Back to the story at hand. The rat went into a box and followed me around to several schools and stayed in the box until I put it on my desk with the intention of “naming” it in a song.

I sat in the circle with the kids and said “I have a rat. The poor rat doesn’t have a name. Can we think up a name for a rat that has never been used before?” I sang: ” j’aime mon rat….” I named him something like “zgworrrdndillybop mc wa wa” as an example. I asked the children if they thought that name had ever been used before. As the song (and the rat)went around the circle, names like “Blackie” and “Ratty” were tried. I would ask the class if they thought those names had ever been used before. Most agreed they were not original. As we got further there were many creative examples: “George” , “Matilda”, ” Queen Rat” etc. Not original. Some children tried names in foreign tongues I would poll the class after every try and most agreed that there was a strong possibility that somewhere on earth at some point in time there was a rat that had received this name before. One kid tried “Ratatouille” and another said that was Disney’s imagination which set off even more discussion. It was all very educational and creative and fun. I then had an idea. I asked the class if they had ever heard the story of Rumpelstiltskin? To my amazement (and horror) none of them had!!!!!!!! I said “We are out of time, but I will read it to you next time. As fate would have it, I was reminded by a student that it was a double period that day as I was doing a favour to their teacher who had an appointment and it was a prep period for me. Woo Hoo!

I love stories! I love reading stories aloud to children. I was read to, I read to my own children and my nieces and nephews. I could not believe that by third grade, these children had not been exposed to this wonderful story.

I read it to them off the internet complete with “interjected lies” such as: “then they grabbed a burger at Harvey’s” just to see how attentive they were. I fielded questions throughout and I used all sorts of funny voices for the King, the girl, the imp, etc. The kids were rapt.

Their teacher arrived to take them back to their class and the kids all groaned. They told me that the story was amazing, the best class ever One boy asked where to get that story and told me that I “made the words come alive” and they never realized old stories could be so much fun. I was elated that it went so well, I saw little light bulbs lit.

Almost totally unplanned, yet hugely successful. My elation of having done a good job was tempered by a sadness that many of these kids did not have the same nurturing and opportunity and privilege that I enjoyed growing up.

Bourgeois Suffering 

Sunday evening, while on a family zoom call, my brother-in-law used a term that was new to me, but the meaning of the term was extremely familiar. 

Earlier on Sunday, while grocery shopping, I was very frustrated with my shopping list which had several items on it that I had difficulty locating. There were crowded aisles and seemingly no workers to ask, my overcoat was too warm for being inside for longer than about five minutes and the omicron numbers in our province were way up. A recipe for me to get cranky. 

I was getting more and more grumpy as I went from one failure to procure to another. Even the things I did get were not quite right. I needed to get Rolled Oats (not quick). I checked the cereals. 32 different products and none of them were just oatmeal. I figured maybe they would be in the baking section. No. Maybe they were in the display of everything baking at the end of the aisle? Nope. I returned to the cereal section and found a box that did not use the word “Quick” (it did say “fast rising” or some other synonym.) I put it in the basket. Wrong!!!! I was also asked to get large zip-loc bags. There was a huge selection. I found Zip-Loc. I found large. I put it in the basket. Who knew that there are different kinds of large Zip Locs? Not me. What I bought was for vegetables and not cookies. I tried to call Sharon and see if she had any suggestions, but she was not picking up….. 

Usually I don’t let the small stuff bother me, but it was a perfect storm for exasperation and kvetching. I did not do this in public, but  did in private. . The rolled Oats SHOULD HAVE been where I looked for them! There SHOULD NOT have been so many confusing Zip Locks to choose from. There were TOO MANY people shopping and I was TOO hot. Woe IS ME!!!!

Bourgeois Suffering. A phrase coined by the Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön.

It is sort of like “First World Problem” in that, the problem at hand is not life threatening, but an inconvenience to my entitlement. A mere blip on the radar of what is important in life.  

 I was once in line a few years ago to get a coffee at The Second Cup in Westmount. There was a “Karen” ahead of me who was freaking out on the kid barrista because the franchise had run out of Mocha flavouring. The woman was quite rude and nasty to this poor kid. I was next in line and when it was my turn, I jokingly said “I guess I shouldn’t order a Mocha then?” and the the Barrista said in all seriousness: “Welcome To My Ghetto!”. I stored that away and wrote a song about it. 

Another story from around the same time was when I was sitting in my car waiting for someone and doing a cryptic crossword when the car ahead of me backed up and hit my car. I was immediately getting all my testosterone gathered to give this person a blast of shit when he scurried toward me and I rolled down my window. He said “Please forgive me!” which blew my testosterone out of the water. “Of course!” I replied. 

When I take a step back and see how silly my attitude can be in the face of trivial problems, I reset my attitude from entitlement to gratitude and things go much better. 

On Sunday, people in my age group became eligible for the booster shot (3d vaccine) and I went on-line to book, but the site kept crashing. I’d either “time out” or the slot I was hoping for became unavailable. I got frustrated but shrugged and gave up after about 30 minutes. Sharon had two devices going trying to do the same for me and she got quite flustered as well by something she could not change. She gave up after 45 minutes. I decided to try my luck with walk-in (sans rendezvous) on Monday. I tried three locations without success.

Meanwhile Sharon got me a reservation on-line for tomorrow. 

I will probably always have the feeling of Bourgeois suffering to go with my white privilege, but I have the tools to keep it in check and stay healthy. Gotta remember that “Namasté” and “Fuck You” are opposites and the first is harder to access, but better for me.

Roll into Tim’s to win….

We didn’t have adequate milk supply at the cottage, so We visited one of the Tim Horton franchises in Lachute on Saturday so Sharon could have a latté. I placed the order via the intercom and as I approached the window of the drive-thru with five bucks in hand the Tim’s worker on duty handed me the coffee and said “la madame en avant à déjà payer ton café”! Sharon insisted I give the cashier the 5$ as a tip, which the lady tried to refuse, but ultimately accepted. Win/win, right?

Yesterday we had to return to Lachute to get a baking thermometer and my sister asked if we could pick up 2 dark double doubles for her and my bro-in-law. We saw that there was a huge lineup at the same drive through, so I said “f…. it” and we drove past and up the hill to Canadian Tire for the thermometer. There was another Tim’s there, so I drove in to the parking lot, but the lineup was very long, so I thought maybe going inside and ordering would be faster. The lineup was such that I didn’t even get inside, and in the five minutes I stood there not budging, no one came out either. Again I aborted and thought we’ll just forget about the coffees. As we retraced our trip back into the centre of town, Sharon saw that the lineup there had shrunk to only a few cars. I turned in and ordered three drinks and got to the cash where the same lady served me and said “bon appetite” in the way that some English people mangle the french language on purpose(like merci buckets) and then repeated what had happened the day before: “La madame en avant à déjà payer” only this time she closed her window as fast as my dropping jaw so I couldn’t pay her a tip. It was completely surreal. How can this rarity occur twice in a row? On the way back to the cottage Sharon and I discussed the absurdity of it all and posited several theories about what may have happened and why. I think this may be how conspiracy theories get invented. Was it a Thanksgiving thing? Did she recognize my voice and decide to repay the tip from the previous day? Was it a Tim Horton Illuminati plot that tracks Anglos in green jeeps? Maybe it was a special effort by Tim’s to make people more generous and sell more coffee, or maybe it is just that some people are just kind and enjoy surprising others. It was fun. We were surprised and thankful and it put smiles on our faces. 

Small Town,Main Street, Saturday Night.

On Saturday, Sharon and I were tasked with getting pizza for the gang (my brothers, sister and all our spouses). Our rental cottage was in the hills outside of Brownsburg which is very near the town of Lachute where I had gone to High School fifty years ago.

Lachute is a hub for the surrounding agricultural community and is a fairly large small town. When I was a teen the place to get pizza from was Princess Pizza. My exact memory of that place is gone, but when I got to Main Street I did remember another place with booths that I had gone to as well. Chez Carole was still there, so I went in and ordered three huge pizzas “to go”. They told me it would be about twenty-five minutes so I went out to wait in the car with Sharon. 

The layout of the street is somewhat like a very wide boulevard. When I visit this street, I am always reminded of 50’s era movies of American small towns and/or small town scenes painted by Edward Hopper. They used to have angled (zig zag) parking, but switched to parallel.

There is parking next to the sidewalks and on either side of the median. I was parallel parked next to the median facing east. When I got in the car after placing the order Sharon remarked on the number of motorcycles and mullets she had seen. I replied “Small town, Main Street, Saturday Night” as an explanation. Clusters of teens walking in groups, older couples looking for a place to dine out, etc. Driving up and down the street itself were several restored vintage cars and many Harley Davidson motorcycles.

We watched a couple on the other side of the median getting prepared to mount their bike. Each article of biker clothing carefully put on in a ritual dance. Chaps tightened, vests attached, bandanas adjusted helmets fastened and sunglasses donned. Then some little stretches and the rider got on followed by the driver who had an extra adjustment of his junk before straddling his hog, kicked off the kick stand and fired up the electronic ignition. They rode away slowly and deliberately showing off their leather and poise. I said to Sharon that everyone is on parade tonight.

Just then we saw two identical fire engine red Mazda convertible sports cars in tandem. They slowed and the first driver made a gesture to the following driver and they parallel parked in unison. I was amazed. It was like some synchronized swimming choreography we were watching. They backed in as if attached and then went forward about a foot and then back about half that, all in unison. The passenger doors opened as one and two former trophy brides got out and turned to watch the tops of the cars glide into place and then the two drivers struggled to get out. I recognized the effort of two large bald men with bad knees attempting to look effortless. They succeeded and rounded their vehicles to join their companions and cross toward a restaurant. It struck me at the time how unhappy they presented and I imagined that the men had probably been relevantly employed in industry, but had been cruising on their initial success for the last twenty years and now were too entrenched in their ways to be able to handle any change. The expressions on the faces of the female companions had a strange fadedness to them. Bottled blondes in clothes just a wee bit too tight and shoes that pretended to be stylish, but weren’t. 

I thought that maybe these people were former classmates of mine (they certainly could have been) disguised by fifty years. My imagination placed them in this same scenario every week-end since the mid seventies. I could see at a glance that they played golf, but probably didn’t enjoy it. 

As they walked away (still synchronized on auto-pilot) I forgave myself for being so judgemental and turned to look at Sharon and I was filled with thankfulness for her, for the week-end away, for the time with my siblings at Thanksgiving.

photo by Sharon Cheema

The Story Of Jack Gas

Chapter One

This is a story about Jack Gas, a boy who grew into his name. Jack grew up as a normal boy who did normal things and everything about him screamed normal except for his name which was an easy target for the bullies at school and at the playground. He was teased mercilessly because his name sounded a bit like “jackass”.

In 6th grade, as “the puberty” visited, Jack developed quite a nervous stomach. He quite literally grew into his name. Jack became chronically flatulent. His body began producing methane at an enormous rate. Jack needed to expel this gas very frequently to avoid debilitating cramps and severe discomfort. At first, his “outbursts” arrived every five minutes or so, which Jackie tried to disguise by lifting a cheek off his chair and manually lifting and separating his buttocks to minimize the noise. Unfortunately this had the effect of making his gas “SBD” which we all know is “Silent, but deadly!”.

For some reason the farts smelled worse if there was no noise. The snap and pop of his noisier farts dispersed with a lesser olfactory effect. It was impossible for Jack to “sneak one by”. Anonymity was not an option. Everyone knew that all smells and all rude noises came from Jack Gas. This was actually convenient for some his classmates who could fart with impunity and never be blamed. A whole new perspective on “passing” gas. Jack Gas was given credit for other people’s twinkies. 

The toll on Jack Gas’s school/social life was extreme. He became ostracized No one wanted to be seated near Jack at school, the girls all thought he was gross and the boys, although some were secretly jealous of Jack’s ability to expel air at will, played along with the girls in calling out Jack Gas for being gross. Jack was reprimanded so often by the teacher for his classroom clearers that eventually Jack Gas was given permission to leave the class discretely without raising his hand first if he felt an eruption coming on (which was frequently). 

Jack Gas’s home life also had become quite different. The constant flatulence meant that Jack ate in the kitchen at dinner time rather than around the dining room table with his family. Road trips together were also a thing of the past as Travel with Jack was quite unpleasant. Jack Gas’s only road trips were to see any one of a plethora of medical specialists who tried to get to the bottom of Jack Gas’s condition. Dieticians, internalists, allergists, just about every medical specialty ending in “ist”. Then the were the non medical “ists” and “paths”, herbalists, naturalists, mycologists, osteopaths, naturopaths, pathists, istopaths, none of whom could offer any relief. The only thing relieved was Jack Gas’s dad who was relieved of hundreds of dollars with each futile attempt to fix the problem.

Isolation began to take it’s toll on Jack Gas. He never got hugs from his parents, never horsed around with his brothers anymore. Jack Gas no longer played any team sports, didn’t go on field trips, in fact all extra curricular school activities had to be stopped. No scouts, no choir, no summer camp.

The family dog, “Pizza” didn’t mind most of Jack Gas’s smells, and only left the room for the most vile smelling ones. You knew a bad one was in the air if Pizza left the room.

Jack Gas was still afflicted by the time he had to start Junior High School. He had hoped to be better, but to no avail. His hormones were full on raging and Jack Gas started to notice girls. Girls noticed him as well, but only in order to avoid him. There was a girl he saw from time to time in the library who didn’t move if he sat down near her, and who treated Jack Gas normally. Her name was Lorna. She was what you might call “bookish”. She spent all of her spare time in the library. Jack Gas started to spend more time in the library as well now in hopes that he would somehow encounter Lorna. Even when he did encounter Lorna he had to wait until the engrossed Lorna surfaced from her reading. Jack felt like a polar bear waiting near a seal’s breathing hole in the ice for the seal to arrive. 

One day, as Lorna closed her book, she took off her eyeglasses and was cleaning the lenses when she looked up and there was an awkward moment when she and Jack Gas made eye contact. Jack nervously spoke first. They discussed the book she had just read and had similar observations about the plot and the characters. The small talk was good, but Jack had a question he was dying to ask her. He finally just blurted out “How come you don’t avoid me like everybody else?”

Lorna replied that she has no sense of smell, and furthermore, likes to be left alone to read, so  she didn’t find Jack Gas’s smells offensive, and as a bonus, no one bothered her if she sat near him. She continued by saying that she liked that Jack was respectful of her space and didn’t interrupt her reading. They started to hang out together and even walked home together as Lorna’s home was a mere block and a half away from his. 

One day, Lorna invited Jack Gas to come inside for a snack and to play backgammon. Jack balked, but Lorna reassured him that it was OK, her mum was deaf, so couldn’t hear his farts, and Lorna had inherited her poor sense of smell from her dad, Ernie “Hot Rod” Morris. Ernie got his nickname from a local hoodlum named Gary, whose only apparent skill was in giving nicknames as slurs to his neighbours. Gary had observed that Ernie was a very timid driver who drove at a snail’s pace through the neighbourhood. Ernie was not, in fact, timid, but drove slowly in the neighbourhood because of the dozens of children and pets that lived there. Jack’s nickname from Gary was: “Pepe” short for the Looney Tunes skunk Pepe Le Pew. Lorna was soon to become “Pepe Adjacent”

Hot Rod invited Jack to stay for supper. Cabbage rolls….. 

Jack Gas and Lorna became inseparable. Their friendship blossomed and seemed to be headed towards becoming a romance as well, but fate intervened. Maybe not fate insomuch as the inevitable cruelty and unfairness of life in the pitiless substrata of high school cliques. Lorna soon discovered that being Pepe Adjacent meant that she was soon unable to follow her other interests (choir, weaving, debating and puppetry) because of the gossip and cruel innuendos of her peers in these clubs. She had to decide if it was worth it to remain Jack’s friend. 

Lorna was in tears one night after she had gone to bed. Her dad had noticed she was not herself at dinner and when he heard the sniffles through her closed door, he knocked and entered. Lorna spelled out her dilemma to her father and he set himself to thinking about how to solve her problem. 

Her dad remembered years ago how out of place he had felt due to his lack of scent. His peers would put salt on his cornflakes and serve him actual dog biscuits. Could have been worse. Ernie told his dad about it and his dad suggested visiting a “word-of-mouth” man named “Ruby” who had a semi-hidden kiosk in a lane off a cul-de-sac in Chinatown. Ruby had various cures for sundry human conditions that actually worked. His ointment to destroy warts was his biggest seller, but he also had a balm for shingles, he had a pill that could give a man a 24 hour erection, and on a related note, an oil for any number of venereal diseases. Ruby had many other concoctions as well. When Young Ernie went with his dad to visit Ruby, he recalled the dimly lit, smoky hovel with deadly accuracy. When told of the problem, Ruby stroked his tiny grey beard and started to pull out several drawers and gather some ingredients together. Each ingredient was in a tiny box or vial that had icons on them that Ernie assumed were words in Mandarin. Ruby mixed seven dry ingredients that may have been herbs, or dried mushrooms or powdered bones, etc. Only Ruby knew exactly what the ingredients were, and he almost never spoke, hence these were secret recipes. When he had mixed his concoction for Young Ernie, he separated the powder into 8 piles with a razor blade and placed each pile into the centre of small brightly coloured origami papers (I know, Origami is Japanese and Ruby is Chinese). He then folded each little paper into neat envelopes that easily opened only one way and provided a natural spout to pour the powder either directly into the throat, or into a receptacle to mix with liquid. Ruby said “Good for 8 days” and “twenty dollars” and ended with “one small side effect, nothing free”. He never divulged what the side effect was, but it became clear after Young Ernie took his first dose and began smelling smells much more vividly than we ever could. It was like he got smell and taste on a level with a dog’s hearing. Ultra smell and ultra taste akin to having an operation on your eyes and going from blindness to fully sighted when the bandages were unravelled. Words like “lush”, “opulent”, “savoury” come to mind. The drawback was that each smell was like an overdose. Each taste was overwhelming and all together made for unpleasant eating. Young Ernie learned that day that living without scent and taste was not so bad as being overwhelmed by it to the point of paralysis. He flushed the seven remaining packets down the glugger.

Lorna said to her dad “I’m not asking for me…..It’s Jack’s problem.” Hot Rod said that maybe Ruby (if he’s still alive) has a cure for flatulence. Let’s go check it out. Lorna called Jack and they drove to Chinatown and parked on the outskirts. Hot Rod and Lorna walked along oblivious to all the wonderful aroma encounters available in Chinatown, but Jack was familiar with all the fried smells, the sugary smells, even the not so great stench of the trash bins behind each establishment. He bought some Sesame balls with the red plum paste inside to have later. 

Hot Rod’s memory navigated to the last lane before the cul-de-sac and he almost missed Ruby’s kiosk as it looked even more decrepit and over run than it had twenty years previous. He opened the door gingerly and squinted into the dark. Sure enough, on a stool behind the counter sat a wizened old gnome with a scraggly beard who bowed to him without speaking. Hot Rod started “you may not remember….” And the old man said: “no taste, I remember, want more?” Hot Rod  responded in the negative, the old man laughed…”side effect too much, huh?” And Hot Rod nodded.

Jack Gas didn’t need to describe his problem to Ruby. Ruby said “too many fart, yeah?” Jack shrugged. Ruby said “one minute” Ruby went about the same ritual he had done with Hot Rod twenty years earlier. Drawers flung open and shut, boxes and vials extracted, only the ingredients were different or maybe not, only Ruby knew. Ruby pulled out his mortar and pestle and began grinding ingredients in the mortar. He was humming lightly a melody that was all at once universal and unfamiliar. No words, just sounds, although to our ears a foreign language seems to be just sounds…. We don’t know if it was an incantation or just happy unrelated music. When Ruby was done, he separated the powder evenly and placed eight piles each on their paper origami paper and folded each one meticulously. He turned to Jack and said “good for eight days, no charge this time, next time forty dollar.” Ruby added: “not so small side effect, nothing free…!”

Hot Rod, Lorna and Jack returned to the car and started for home. Hot Rod suggested that Jack take the first envelope right away. Jack poured the powder down his throat and chased it with some iced bubble tea. Almost immediately Jack’s gas stopped. The relief was short lived, though as they discovered the “side effect”. Twenty minutes after ingesting the powder Jack sensed a humongous explosion building up inside of him and he knew it was going to be a ripper.

FRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR………………appppppppppppppp

I am not exaggerating when I say that from the time it started until it’s last murmur Hot Rod’s car logged 2 kilometres in city traffic. The volume and force of this particular fart might have even registered on the Richter scale. Aside from the force of it, both Hot Rod and Lorna who supposedly had no sense of smell, rolled down their windows and leaned towards the fresh air gasping. Some side effect. 

After the Guinness worthy fart, however, Jack experienced a relief that was to continue until the next day. Twenty four hours fart free. The potion worked. 

The Fourth Wall in Cottage Country

We were sitting around a campfire deep in Quebec cottage country last night, surrounded by pine and balsam trees and enjoying the crackling of the fire and poking at it occasionally to produce fireflies and fireworks. In the distance we heard some music wafting on the air from another cabin that is far enough away for us to feel private, but we were still within earshot of their music. It wasn’t all that loud, and we might have felt it intrusive but for the conversation and the memories it inspired.

I recognized the music as coming from an album (albums) I had owned and enjoyed as a teenager when my family first moved to the Laurentians.

Grand Funk Railroad was a rock power trio popular in the early 1970’s. At the time, their music appealed to me. I liked that it was bluesy, had sort of soulful vocals, fairly decent vocal harmony and lots of guitar improvising. I mail away ordered Grand Funk Live which was a double album and had extended versions of all the songs I liked except “Closer To Home”. I think I got it through the Columbia Record Club from an ad in the back of a comic book or the Saturday coloured section of the paper. 

The live album came out in 1970. I mentioned to the girls that I knew the album well and said “I bet we and that neighbour are the only people in this entire world listening to that particular album at this very moment.” They guffawed and said “no way! “, but we finally agreed that it would be highly unlikely anyone else was listening to it as it is way out of fashion and almost entirely forgotten. A footnote. A possible answer to the Boomer version of Trivial Pursuit. Unless there was some revival of the music of Grand Funk Railroad going on in the world right now that we are unaware of, or a satellite radio specialty station, probably no one else was listening at this exact moment. 

It’s most likely that the neighbour playing it is a man, French speaking, probably around my age. This music appealed more to men/boys. I was Almost certain it is the vinyl, not CD or mp3. Although I heard “Closer To Home” with flute, so maybe a playlist or maybe he had a stack of lps out of sequence.

I asked my companions (my girls and son-in-law) to invent possible scenarios for why the person would put on this particular album at this exact time. 

Maybe he comes to the cottage on weekends or vacation to let off steam and keeps his records here. Maybe he is a “local”. Someone who never left the area he grew up in. Perhaps he put the music on and conked out blotto on the chaise longue.

Has he been listening to this album often? Or is it an occasional pleasure. Maybe it is “break up” music that he plays to cleanse his psychic palette of the fresh pain and loneliness. Maybe he just bought it out of curiosity at a garage sale or flea market, maybe he found it by the curb after someone tried to sell off their lps. Could have been a recent gift from an old friend. A plethora of possible scenarios. Nostalgia, soundtrack to drama, odd coincidence. My youngest daughter had another scenario to add: maybe he is a founding member of Grand Funk who wooed local ladies to his lair with his fame and needed to hear his own music to “perform”. Highly likely, but no.

I prefer to believe that his name is Yves and he listens to this music regularly and has been doing so since he was fifteen.  Never breaking free of the mould. An eternal teenager. 

I imagine if I had stayed in that time warp for the last fifty years. Stayed in my home town, never broke out, never matured, never went to uni, never had careers, kids, never saw the world…. never progressed past Grand Funk in my listening. The human equivalent of one of those blind mules they used to put in mines whose life consisted of trudging up and down a mine shaft hauling ore and returning empty bins to be refilled. Back and forth, back and forth, always the same track, never seeing daylight,  always eating the same mash, never even a pat on the head, just doing. 

When I was fifteen,  I dressed like Neil Young, wore my hair long, wore patched jeans and flannel shirts or hunting jackets. I knew it all. 

I am kind of still like that, except my jeans don’t get patched anymore and now I know nothing. 

At that age I stayed in my room a lot listening to the same five or six lps  over and over again. When no one was around I would blast them loud as I could. 

-Traffic- Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

-Santana- Abraxas

-Grand Funk -Live

-Deep Purple -In Rock

-Steppenwolf-Monster

There were more, but these were a few of my high rotation dirty pleasures. 

These albums would also spin at “get togethers” with friends. We didn’t really have parties, or at least, that isn’t what we called them. Maybe I just wasn’t aware of or invited to any parties. These get togethers Were a place to strut, get high, drink beer, try and pair off while listening to what we believed was the coolest music ever created as we were differentiating from our families of origin.

From the vantage point of our campfire, we heard no talking, just the music. If it was a get together, it was a get together of mutes. I think it was just one guy…. passed out.

I know I could have gone over there and seen for myself, I probably would have liked the guy, maybe had a beer.

Maybe the music was a signal for anybody within earshot to come and visit and get together. Maybe it was a warning to stay away. To leave him alone.

I didn’t want to break what in theatre they call the fourth wall. He probably thought he was all alone in the country as we also had thought. It is like the “privacy” of those curtains in hospital wards. We believe that we are alone but everyone in the room knows you are getting your catheter changed. 

I had other reasons to not seek out the source of the music, one of which was in order to write a story about it. Sometimes fiction can be better than reality.