Being Mr. Bean

I was thinking about Mr. Bean the other day while pouring myself a glass of water. I’d taken the carafe from the fridge and was filling up a glass when suddenly, it overflowed all over the kitchen floor. I also make a mess watering my house plants. And at those moments I always think, just stop it. Because, I don’t like the Mr. Bean side of myself. The one that can occasionally miss her mouth while taking a sip. But the uncoordinated of the world often misjudge the size of the glass, or the situation.

Like Mr. Bean, there are moments when no foot is too big for my mouth. I travel through life with the same goofy, good humor, but also with the tendency to say the wrong thing from time to time. Like Lady Catherine de Bourg from Pride and Prejudice, I can raise thoughtlessness to a whole new level. 

But there is something that saves me from my role as the crass, uncoordinated being bouncing off the walls in my own house. And that’s spending time outside. I believe this is true for everyone, especially those struggling with Mr. Bean syndrome. ie: Feeling like a loser. 

When I’m kayaking in the summer, or skiing, walking or snowshoeing in the winter, I feel very differently. It’s not that I’m particularly good at those things. But being outdoors is like receiving a back pat from God in the self esteem department. Even on the occasion when I’ve turned too quickly while lifting my kayak, thus bashing a dent into my car, I still feel okay. Because overall, I’ve had a successful outing. I didn’t drown, fall in, or even worse, stay home. I went, I saw, I paddled. It’s the same in the winter. However slowly you move, as long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other and taking in the view, you’re one hell of a success story. That feeling goes a long way toward thwarting the ‘turkey on the head’ feeling of being Mr. Bean. 

There are those of you who go through life smoothly. You are the Cary Grants of the world…suave, coordinated, well spoken. Then there’s the rest of us. The ones who fear that dementia in old age is the fallout from all the times we banged our heads on something. You know you’re being Mr. Bean when you haul too many things at once up the stairs or in from the car, and all that’s missing is a banana peel to slip on. You try to hammer a nail in the wall but miss, creating a dent. Which you cover with a picture, of course. As you go through life, you tend to say things to yourself like, ‘Slowly, now. Careful. And the ever popular, ‘Don’t die.’ 

So, go on. Get outside. Show the world the real you, the ‘Not quite athletic but knows how to appreciate the great outdoors’ person. I’ll meet you there at the corner of ‘There’s ice under the snow and I wore the wrong boots.’ We can have a chat while we brush ourselves off. 

Christmas Lights, A True Story

 My relationship with the subject of math has always been strained. Like every kid of my generation, I memorized the times table, learned long division and had no trouble with the basics. But once I got to high school, things changed. In the tenth grade I actually did okay due to an excellent teacher. But after that year’s glow of self worth and the short flirtation with a slide rule had worn off, our relationship went downhill. 

As I was arranging the Christmas lights on the pillars outside my house, I was reminded of all those math feelings, and also of my dad. I remember him pulling out the box of lights, his face filled with the belief that this year would be different. But sometime over the past year the strings of lights had once again decided to mess with him by tangling themselves together.

 ‘What the…?’ I remember his shoulders slumping as he realized that sorting them out would take a whole evening. So here’s a heavenly coin, dad. Buy yourself a beer, and get one for Clarence, too. Decorating the  outside of the house is not all that much fun, and I’m sorry I didn’t sound more appreciative at the time. 

Anyway, back to me. As I swung around the first pillar, one foot on the top rung of the ladder and my De Walt drill in hand, a surge of vertigo washed over me. This has become my new normal, so planting my feet, I grimly screwed a hole into the wood overhead and then twisted in a hook. My problem? I’d recently come into contact with a math germ, ie: Christmas lights and electricity, and was having a hell of a time figuring things out. 

All four strands had gone up a few days before, but only two pillars would light. For people like me who live in a world of faith, God, and occasionally a fairy or two, this was not good news. Was it the cords I’d used? Could one of the many strings I’d joined together be broken? (Full disclosure: I forgot to check them before winding them around the posts.) The strings had been braided through with fake greenery. Working with them can be a challenge. Especially when I’m up high, and the world is swinging crazily around in spite of my not actually being high. If you know what I mean.

I brought out a portable radio and plugged it into the cord ends along the way. Aha! One had only a single in-thingy that worked. The one on the other side didn’t. (For the official name for in-thingy, please consult google. Or anyone who knows about plugs. Or who hasn’t lost words over time. But that’s another story.) 

Sadly, I have recently discovered that electricity is not my friend. When I was installing two small chandeliers in my bedroom ceiling, my brother, who was at work and probably hiding in a closet, was talking me through it. I felt like the latest hire on a bomb squad. In the end, it worked. But after that, my bathroom lights would flicker on and off at random times. I’ve changed the bulbs twice. We’ll see.

So, getting the lights around the outside of my house to actually work was very important to me. I’m basically like every two year old you’ve ever met. ‘Do it myself!’ That’s the toddler’s motto I cling to these days. I don’t know why. Seriously. I have very helpful friends and family members, but I like to experiment with things that might kill me. 

As I was testing the cords, figuring out where I could plug in what (eight cords were now involved, snaking along the wood facing of my overhang and tucked into the now installed hooks) I realized that I really wished magic was a thing. I wanted to be Hermione Granger and just wave my wand and mutter a few words like ‘Stringem upem.’ No wonder they enter Hogwarts at age 11. You don’t have to worry about things like math when you have a magic wand. 

Fortunately, a few verses of ‘How Great Thou Art,’ seemed to do the trick. I don’t know if God saw it as a bribe (it was not, it’s my go to theme song for panicked moments) but in the end, everything worked out. Will I remember how I did this next year? No. I will not. Otherwise, I would have remembered doing them last year. This is not the kind of thing that sticks in my brain. 

So if you drive by, please appreciate my hard work, math efforts, and ability to stay on the ladder while surfing a wave of vertigo. And I will appreciate your work, too. We Christmas lighting people have to stick together. 

The Life and Hard Times of Inanimate Objects

 I was busy rebuking my toaster yesterday when I had a revelation. It had burned my single piece of gluten free bread, an item expensive enough to make me swaddle it in butter and honey and eat it anyway. Our friends may recognize us for who we are, our family even more so. But nobody knows us as well as our household goods. This includes walls, floor and ceilings, but most of my vitriol seems to be aimed at my appliances.

I try to be the kind of person who thanks them for their service as recommended in that Japanese book about not holding onto crap. But I’m more like an ungrateful girlfriend. I fall into abusive verbal behavior very easily. And for my poor vacuum, there’s not a court in the land that will hold me to account. ‘You clean my floors well,’ I say to my Dyson. ‘But why does your cord insist on getting caught in the furniture feet? Why do you always make me walk across the room to bend over and untangle it?? Why, Mr. Dyson? Isn’t that your job? Things seemed to be going so well when I first bought you. But lately your attitude sucks.”

Next, I give my drill a serious lecture. ‘Why won’t you hold onto the bit? My job is to hold you. Yours is to grip the bit and let me get this screw into this board!’ As I holler, I can sense all the tools in the house shivering in their poorly organized cases. The walls hear everything. And I am not a silent whiner. Even before my husband became a landed resident in heaven, I was very vocal about the shortcomings of our possessions. 

And yet, I consider myself a grateful person. I am continually giving thanks, aloud, for things like my comfortable bed, warm home, family and friends. Anyone overhearing me would be inclined to think that my character is above reproach. Sadly, as my mangled can opener will tell you, this is not true. 

I’m confessing publicly to appliance abuse as the first step in my self made program I’ve taken to calling ‘Inanimate Objects Anonymous.’ Before you get any ideas about joining, let me tell you up front that this is a one person group. I’m all I can handle right now. I kneel apologetically before my kitchen stove (something I’ve picked up from all those Korean Dramas on Netflix) and tell it I’m sorry for swearing at it last night. I must have programmed the oven incorrectly. (See how I’m owning up to my mistakes? This program is working!) 

And then I notice the pot of soup I left simmering on a back element. Most of the broth is gone and the mushrooms and vegetables are sticking to the bottom. An almost burned smell is rising through the kitchen, along with my temper. “That damned pot,” I mutter, trying to be quiet so the stove won’t hear me. Is this a step backwards? Perhaps. I might have to give back the coin I gave myself for one whole day of nice behavior.

It’s Covid 19’s fault. Okay? There were white and black birds singing on the lake this summer that were less loony than I’ve become over the last six months. Besides going for a walk, I try to do one thing per day that gets me out of the house. Mail a letter. Buy groceries. Drop off some books for a friend. Little make-work jobs meant to shorten the day. But there are mornings when I wonder if I should even bother washing my face. Because, who cares? I’m wearing a mask everywhere I go. I could have spinach stuck between every tooth and no one would know.

I feel better getting this off my shoulders. And I’m sure I’m not the only one with a bit of a temper problem. Maybe other people don’t take their frustrations out on their household appliances, but I think it’s better than yelling at the postal worker for not giving me mail two whole days in a row. 

Last night I heard strange whisperings and rustlings coming from the basement. Since my deceased husband Clarence and I have a pact that he will check in now and again, but without being creepy, I knew it wasn’t him. And I realized that if I’m not careful, the neighbors could come in search of me one day and find me at the bottom of the stairs, the vacuum posed innocently at the top, and a pot in my hand with a strange dent in it. Okay, time for another meeting. I really need to earn back that coin. 

I’ll Make Love to You (Like you Want me to)

I was clearing out a cupboard in the basement when I came across a zippered case full of cd’s from my daughter’s high school years. I tossed it onto the passenger seat of my car and started going through them. The first was the Boy’s to Men song of the above title. And I thought, aw, that’s so sweet. How woke of them! It’s like they looked ahead and saw how things were going to change in the world. Well behaved men would ask permission before making a romantic move. Though I should really credit Babyface, aka Kenneth Brian Edmonds for the foreshadowing–he’s the songwriter. But still. The boys did a lovely job. I assume they’re all men now. 

It got me thinking. Things are changing pretty quickly, and I’m having trouble keeping up with the movements of the day. And the language of the day. (I can picture my sister Linda reading this and jumping to her feet. ‘No! Don’t go there! We’ve talked about this! (We have, indeed.)

It’s true that I often suffer from hoof in mouth disease, and why should my writing be any different? But one thought led to the next and suddenly I was immersed in the bewildering world of political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, people. I don’t want to find myself bombarded by posts from incels high fiving me because someone is finally validating their belief that women owe them sex. Because, you know, women are alive. And they owe them this. Nuh uh. (Although, I do feel sad for people who can’t find love. But that’s a whole other story.)

I’m talking about the rush of the world as it speeds toward a more compassionate way of being. The way that boys are now being raised to be considerate, to ask for permission before kissing a girl, and to view women as deserving of the same jobs, the same pay, the same respect. This was not always true when I was little. As I said in the first paragraph, this also applies to sex. The whole song is pretty racy, and I don’t want to break any copyright laws, so go check out the lyrics. Okay. They’re not THAT racy. But I’m the woman who took many decades to realize that so many songs of my generation were actually about sex and that’s what all the background moaning meant. Who knew?

Anyway, back to the point I was originally going for. Some of us are afraid of making mistakes in this kinder, gentler world we’re all aiming for. We don’t want to call people of other colours and races by the wrong names, we don’t want to mislabel others of various sexual persuasions. I worry that we (meaning I) will turn away from a conversation simply because I’m afraid I will say something wrong. Perhaps those of us who err on the doofus side should wear signs like those carried by cars with new drivers. Something like, I have a kind heart. Forgive me if I hurt you. Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll do better next time.

Okay. That’s a bit long for a sign. But you get my meaning. 

There are also people offended by those who practice cultural appropriation by doing some of the following: Wearing blackface. (Justin!)  Copying someone from another race, like how people dressed up as Beyonce before the word got out that it wasn’t nice. Guys dressing up like Dave Gunn (from Flin Flon) for Halloween. Does Dave mind? Weigh in here if you do, Dave. We need to know.

There are those in hot water for writing about someone else’s cultural/racial experience. Like author Jeanine Cummins. Her book, American Dirt, is about a Mexican woman and her son escaping to the US because their lives are in danger. I don’t want to give too much away, except to say that it’s a terrific read. Some Hispanic readers were upset because they didn’t see this as her story to tell. As an author, I can’t buy into that argument. If we only start telling our own stories, the world will be a very boring place. Think of Communist China under chairman Mao, where everyone dressed the same and ratted on their parents if they weren’t walking the party line. It feels dire, that kind of censorship. I might feel differently if the book was terrible, but the writing is stellar, and the story a real page turner. It doesn’t mean that someone else can’t their own version of what it’s like to ride the Beast across Mexico. But why should the world not get to read this book? I’m backing Stephen King on this one. 

I’m happy that the world is moving in the right direction. I especially hope for a really big change on Tuesday, the day of the American election. There’s nothing like the leader of the country next door bragging about how he doesn’t ask have to women for permission, he just moves in and grabs them by the you know what. Does that set the world back about 75 years? More? Sigh. Here’s a good guideline to follow. If he does it, it’s probably best not to copy him. 

In the meantime, I love you all, dear readers. Forgive me when I hurt you or disappoint you. I’m trying to outgrow my cluelessness, but it’s taking me a while. And finally, I’ll respond again to the title of this blog post by saying this: I’m old fashioned! Go ahead and kiss the girl! Okay, I’m being heavily influenced by the Little Mermaid here. Wait…is that bad, now?  Sheesh.

My Secret Romance

I have fallen down a rabbit hole so deep, I may end up on the other side of the world. It was a friend who suggested the trip, and now there’s no going back. It’s not a garden variety descent into obsession, either. In fact, I’ve never done anything like this before. What’s driving this deep dive? Korean Dramas on Netflix. 

They have taken over my television experience. I find myself checking in throughout the day. What’s Kang Joon up to now? Has he stopped brooding and allowed himself to fall in love with the girl who literally fell from the sky? At first I worried they’d be just like Hallmark romance movies, or even worse, the Christmas ones. Thin plots, fake problems, too much decorating. But no. These people are beset by all kinds of serious situations and heartbreak. For example.

The first one I watched was ‘Crashing Down on You,’ about a rich South Korean girl who accidentally paraglides into North Korea. Enter one handsome soldier and his cadre of funny sweet sidekicks and the drama builds from there. These shows are almost Austen-like in the making. It takes a while for anyone to even hug. And when they do, it’s always accidental. She stumbles and he catches her around the waist. The music swells (with the help of a dreamy Korean pop song) and they gaze into each other’s eyes. I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to nail the chemistry every time. After 16 episodes they may have kissed only once or twice. 

Their success is guaranteed by one thing: yearning. It’s the star crossed lovers gazing longingly but never able to seal the deal, trope. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Bella and Edward, Laurie and Jo. They’ve tapped into our teenage selves and shown us that for some people, it works out. Because let’s face it. Most teenagers yearn for the impossible, and we all carry those hopeful 16 year old idiot beings within us. Yes, we do, so stop denying it. 

Another aha moment: I find people of other ethnicities more attractive than white folks. It’s like opening a coloring book and instead of seeing bare spaces, the pages are filled with rich hues and physiques that do not seem inspired by the MacDonald restaurant. (Though a MacDonald’s lover by the name of Clarence still holds my heart tightly in his deceased but heavenly fist.) 

Another surprise: Like characters on the run in any of my novels, these people love to eat. Like, all the time. They must be paying homage to the basic human need for sharing meals. And Koreans eat differently than we do. They tend to slurp their noodles loudly and put far too much food in their mouths. This is to show how much they’re enjoying the meal though it’s usually the female characters doing this. It demonstrates that they’re just regular girls not out to impress anyone. 

One of the characters is always rich, (not necessarily the guy) and one is of modest means. In this way, the wealthy character can gift the poorer one with a new wardrobe so we can all enjoy their Cinderella experience. So the love interest is both the prince/princess and the fairy godmother. It’s extremely satisfying. 

If you’re interested, try Crashing Down on You first. Then step into a more gothic take on love and family life with ‘It’s Okay Not to be Okay.’ I really loved that one and cried all the way through the last episode. I won’t share any more titles because I’m not willing to admit how far down the rabbit hole I’ve traveled. In terms of distance, I may already be in Korea. And if you decide to join me there, let’s get together for some noodles. 

Can I Get a Witness?

Musically, I’m all over the place. There aren’t many limits to what I like, though once upon a time, I couldn’t handle loud music at all. As the years passed and heavy metal came into being, I realized that I really didn’t mind ACDC, or Metallica. It’s the volume that’s an issue. My older sister feels the same. Once when I was playing my Led Zeppelin II album, she came screeching into our room. “Have we died and gone to hell?” (When stressed, we all tend to quote my mother.) For some reason, Led Zeppelin gets a pass from me. I think it’s because Robert Plant’s voice is so agile and almost feminine at times. 

Linda and I are not alone in our response to loudness. Some years back I went to a movie with my five sisters. The moment the music swelled and the violins/whatever the hells/ were screaming, I looked around. Every single one of us had our fingers stuffed in our ears. We’re all a bit like Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man movie. If the sound gets too loud, we have a tendency to slap ourselves about the head. Or slap those responsible. So in spite of all the talented screamers out there, this disability prevents me from appreciating them.

I like rap music, but during the rapping part, I’m always secretly wondering if the artist can sing. It feels like cheating if they can’t. The notion that rhythmically chanting poetry is an easy thing to do is obviously wrong. I can recite a poem or two…maybe even write one. But I truly don’t know how these artists squeeze all the words together, convey a message and still make me want to dance. And yet in spite of my growing appreciation, I feel comforted when the rapping stops and the crooning starts. “Ah, okay. They deserve to be famous, because they have a really nice voice.” Silly, I know. And probably an age thing.

I’ve always loved gospel, which is different from the usual ‘hymn sing’ type music you hear in your average mainstream protestant church. Because we’re not allowed to sing during Covid, my minister has been playing taped music. This last Sunday, he took a real chance and played a gospel version of a hymn we’ve sung many times. It got off to a good start and then quickly went off the rails. It was fine until one of the singers started screeching, ‘Can I get a witness!’ about thirty times in a row. First, let me set the stage. No. In the United Church of Canada, you cannot get a witness. Not the kind that will jump to their feet and shout, Amen, sisters and brothers! Preach it!’ We do say Amen, though. After someone has prayed, or maybe after a hymn we really enjoyed, you can hear some muttered Amens. To give Steve credit, he’s really trying to mix it up and have some fun, because we’re all just sitting there, not able to pray out loud or sing, or even stand. I myself plan on trying out a gospel song when I do a service in a few weeks. However, thanks to Steve, lesson learned. I will not ask for any witnesses. Especially ones with loud, high voices. 

I grew up listening to two kinds of jazz. The stinky kind (Stan Kenton, Miles Davis) which had my mother repeating the phrase about dying and going to hell. Then there was the other kind… a light, loungy jazz like my sisters sing. Dad played big band music, with guys like Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. I also love any kind of World War II era songs, like White Cliffs of Dover or I’ll Be Seeing You. (Billie Holiday!) It’s good they don’t play these in grocery stores anymore. I’d be found in the produce section weeping into the bananas. It gets me, that music. 

Everyone loves pop. I know there are many of you out there climbing up on your high horses and saying, ‘No way! I’m too good for that crap!’ No you’re not. We know you secretly listen to Lady Gaga or Shawn Mendes. But don’t worry. It can be our secret. I remember lying to a friend about liking Donny Osmond, because it wasn’t cool to admit it back then. But I loved his voice, and wished only that he had better material. 

I learned to like classical music in university when I shared our dormitory bathroom with a music major, Shari. She scoffed at my small Strauss collection, who I considered the pop star equivalent of his day, and introduced me to Prokofiev and Debussy and some others that I can’t remember. When I joined our community choir, I fell in love with Mozart and Beethoven and all the guys who wrote really great requiems or symphonic pieces. 

And then there’s Country Music, which wasn’t allowed in our house when I was growing up. I think this was the greatest barrier between Clarence’s parents and mine when they first met. My mother liked Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte. His mom loved Loretta Lynn and Hank Snow. I remember the first time we all gathered in his parent’s rec room and had a drink while listening to Vic’s favourites, ‘The Moms and Dads.’ My parents looked shell shocked when we got home, muttering to themselves and asking me if I was really sure about this guy. 

I learned to enjoy some country music, even Tammy Wynette, famous for the D.I.V.O.R.C.E song. Although, who did those parents think they were fooling? You can spell things out all you want, but you can be sure little J.O.E knew about it already. Country music is like a Hallmark movie that’s been twisted a bit. It seems pleasant and melodic, but the siding keeps falling off all the houses in town. That’s Country. 

My all time favourite music, besides the gold standards like the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel, is emo. Give a whiny guy or girl a guitar and set them loose. There is not a sad, slow song that I won’t listen to on repeat, unless I’m with one of my sisters. ‘Shut it!’ is their usual response. Anyway. 

My least favourite music is really about the performer. I should not throw anyone under the bus, because God knows, my voice would not soothe anyone’s soul. But there is something about the artist, Daniel O’Donnell. Every song he sings sounds the same. Irish lullaby’s, hymns, dramatic songs like ‘The Impossible Dream.’ They’re all very…pleasant. If you’ve ever watched one of his concerts on PBS, you’ll notice that his audience is white haired and elderly. (And now it seems like I’m throwing seniors under the bus. I’m not! I know that many of you are at home right now listening to your Black Sabbath albums!) Daniel O’Donnell fans definitely offer a different kind of witness. “Wasn’t that lovely, dear?” 

Thank goodness there’s something out there for everybody. If only politics was so easy to navigate. Come November, we’ll finally know the results of the US election.  We all get to be witnesses for that momentous event, and even if we can take the tension of the next six weeks, we’ll all feel the fall out, whoever we’re cheering for. If things continue on the way they have for the last four years, I’ll probably find myself in the mood for something like this. 

A Loon Walks Into a Bar

Well, not really. More like I met it out on the lake, shortly after dropping my butt into my kayak. That’s how you do it…you put in a leg and then drop your bottom. It doesn’t matter what your other leg does, because you’re already secure. Anyway, I was paddling merrily along the shore, staring at the rocks and belting out the Christian standard, ‘How Great Though Art.” For those who love to sing, there is no better place during Covid than being alone on the water. First came the hymn…I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder…and then I met the loon.

Immediately, the lake, rocks and forest around me were transformed into a smoky lounge. Think Rick’s Café in Casablanca. Grabbing a barstool, I silently wondered if the loon came here often, but since I’m writer, I try to avoid such clichés. “Did you come here alone?” I said, knowing they like to travel in pairs. 

“Did you?” it replied with a languid but lonely look. 

Pointing to the spot where I’d scattered my husband’s ashes a month before, I took a second look at the bird. It seemed melancholy, and gave a forlorn wail as proof. “Did you get left behind?” I asked. It nodded. “Yeah?” I said. “Me too. You’ll be okay.” We chatted about the lake, how empty it seemed and how all the beavers had disappeared. I’d gotten used to the steady sound of their slapping tails. It seemed eerily quiet without them. 

“Beavers are just so bitchy,’ the loon said in a low voice. “Always in a bad mood. Like, no one else is allowed to swim around? I raised my glass, saluting its bitter sarcasm. 

“Here’s to those who love us, and bugger all the rest.” We toasted and sipped. I must mention that while we were deeply engaged in this conversation, the lounge was growing darker and more intimate. As we leaned our elbows on the counter, I tilted my fedora…(okay, Clarence’s Tilly hat) and said, ‘Of all the gin joints in all the world…”

“You had to walk into mine,’ the loon finished with a heavy sigh, just before we heard a booming sound. We looked up. Dark clouds crowded the sky, and in the distance, thunder rolled across the heavens. Oh, the irony. I’d just been singing, “I hear the rolling thunder,” before I met the loon. Sadly, its meaning had not registered. 

Quickly the loon flew upward and the lounge disappeared, leaving me to desperately paddle back to my car. As lightning teased the sky, I asked myself this. Would my rubber soled Keene’s ground me? Was my paddle just a lightning rod in disguise?

There are different kinds of prayer. Singing is one type; a celebration of being alive and able to breathe freely. Ordinarily when paddling, I sing a lot, gazing at the fallen trees, (compliments of the beavers) lying beneath the waves like ship wrecks and the gray boulders resting on the bottom like sleeping dinosaurs. As I paddled swiftly, the loon disappeared from sight and I practiced the desperate person’s prayer. (Many of us know it.) ‘Please don’t let me die here. My kids will kill me.’  

Life holds all kinds of lessons for us. Like, remembering to put a foot in your kayak before dropping your bum. Like understanding that time spent with Mother Nature is like applying lip balm to a chapped soul. And then there’s this. If you meet a loon in a bar, don’t be seduced by its pretty feathers or lonely wails. Just doff your Fedora, wish it well, and leave. But feel free to call over your shoulder like I did before paddling away. “Loony, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” 

A tremulous answer came from somewhere far above me. I took it as a yes.

Dear Clarence, Who Art in Heaven

It’s been a month since I’ve written a blog post. And in case you didn’t know it yet, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. You’d laugh if you could see me heading into Walmart or the Co-op. I adjust my mask…yes, I said mask…looking like I’m about to rob the place. This is the new normal here in 2020. 

When I go inside a store, I say hello to random people in case I know them. It’s very hard to tell. We’ve been isolating from each other since March. Happily, summer finally came along and saved us all. It’s been thrilling just working in the yard and kayaking every day. Remember last summer, when I thought you were the dragon fly I saved from the water? I didn’t know for sure. But you’ll be glad to know I’ve been a little less nutty this year. I think.

Our daughter Michelle got married on August 15th. Thankfully, you met her fiancé, John. The day was lovely in every way, but small because of the whole Covid 19 thing. The wedding party was large: six bridesmaids, six groomsmen, but the guest list was tiny. Just family, with a couple extra people. I performed the ceremony and you’ll be relieved to know I stayed dry eyed. I’m not sure how I did it, and I worried about sobbing through my Welcome to the Family speech, later. Fortunately John’s best man Dave cried during the wedding, and this saved me. I felt completely calm speaking because I mentioned his teary face about five times. 

John’s parents, Gerry and Pat, offered their back yard for the celebration. They’d worked so hard on it, and it was stunning… like something out of a movie. Think Meet Joe Black, but on a smaller scale and nobody dying at the end. (Not even of covid… we’re all okay!)

Michelle placed one of your Hawaiian shirts on a chair during the ceremony. After it was over,  everyone toasted you with a tot of Irish whiskey while John, his parents and our family sang The Wild Rover. I might have cried a bit during that part. It felt like you were there.

I’ve had vertigo again this summer, and not the light kind, either. It’s the tougher variety, where I lift my head to look at the sky and the earth tilts. I had to paint the pillars in front of our house, they were long overdue. I stood on the ladder, weaving like a drunken sailor and gripping an overhead nail to steady myself. I also, ahem, cleaned the front eavestroughs, which used to seem so scary. There were three small trees growing inside them. All maples. They’re gone now, and the water definitely flows better.

Because of the vertigo I didn’t have a drink until after Michelle’s wedding. During supper I had some wine, which might be why I mentioned Dave in my speech, referencing his sweet tearstained face. I talked to him about it later. He didn’t seem to mind. Some of the bridesmaids were tearing up, too. Just more quietly. (Sorry again, Dave.) 

Fall is definitely here, but friends and neighbors are all still out and about, boating and doing yardwork. But as they say in Game of Thrones, winter is coming. Fortunately, Michelle is already married, so there’ll be no Red Wedding. (Another G.O.T. reference. I can’t help myself.) 

Our former neighbors Rick and Pat paddled with me onto one of the many lakes around Flin Flon and together, we scattered your ashes. It was time. We sipped Amaretto from tiny plastic bridal shower glasses, told stories about you and sang the Hockey song in memory of all the things we used to do together. You’d love the location. I plan on joining you there someday.

So, that’s me, done for now. I’ll catch you up again someday, but I want you to know that in spite of this strange pandemic down here on Earth, I’m living the best life I can. And I love you forever, honey. I’ll see you in my dreams. Now here’s a few photos of of my summer life.

Bug City

According to the Dalai Lama, or any Buddhist worth their salt, I have become the moral equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. In my previous life (ie: last summer) I was in total agreement with the dharma of interdependence and compassion regarding all beings. For example.

I have a bug catcher from Lee Valley and it has been invaluable. I trap as many insects as I can inside my house and let them fly free outside. Partly because, why kill them when I don’t have to? Also it saves me from squishing things against my windows, walls and ceiling. Whenever I open the door to let a housefly/spider/weird unidentifiable bug outside, there’s a pleasing sense of being one with the universe. That ended this year.

 

Since Covid 19 arrived, my temper is not as easily calmed. Little things get me down more readily than usual. Also, it rained for the last three months and the bugs are now the size of cars. All of the bugs. When walking outside in sunshine or gloom, I Am Legend in a land of vampires. I must keep my eyes rolling around in my head at all times because those suckers are everywhere. The tiny black ones are the worst. The smallest come through the screens, and all of them seem to head for the back of my neck, or my scalp. Obviously my hair is like a forest to these tiny creatures, and each strand is like a well spaced tree. They just zoom inside and make themselves at home. For all I know, they’re building nests and planning to take over the world. Before Covid 19, I would have laughed at myself for having these thoughts. For writing about the craziness that has taken me over.
But let’s face it. All bets are off. The world as we know it is undergoing some unthinkable changes. President Putin has his hand so far up Donald Trumps rear end that he can wave at the world through the guy’s mouth. He’s busy running Facebook, too, by the sounds of some of the crazy memes that a lot of folks buy into, and for all I know, the Chinese are working their hands up Mark Zuckerberg’s butt even as I sit here, slapping at the vampires lurking around the room.
I will still protect the insects that help the world. Bees and wasps and all who pollinate. Good for you. You are untouchable in my yard. Spiders, my friends, remember when you take over the world that I was always on your side. My Lee Valley bug catcher is a testament to that. But mosquitoes and all flies of the biting kind, prepare to be flayed and have your livers eaten for dinner.
My Christianity is veering toward the Spanish inquisitor variety. See things my way or take a gander at my heated metal pincers. This is only regarding the biting variety of bugs. And yet, right before I swat, slap, pinch, scream or smack a bug, I tend to holler, ‘That better not be you, Uncle Walter!’ (And I’m not even Buddhist.) But it wouldn’t be him, because he would never bite anyone. Although my favourite bachelor uncle did have a thing for blondes, come to think of it. Anyway.
If you drive by my yard and see me whirling like a Sufi Dervish, please realize that I have not changed religions. And I am not dancing ecstatically. I am in the process of:
a. Fleeing
b. Avoiding
c. Trying to trap bugs.
Feel free to stop and say hello. I’ll be friendly, I promise. But if all my whirling is accompanied by maniacal laughter, just run.

If It’s Wednesday, I’m in Albuquerque

I’m not really in Albuquerque. By the time I post this, it might not even be Wednesday. I wouldn’t really know, because I am losing track of the days. At the beginning of the pandemic I should have started scratching them out on the wall of my cave like Tom Hanks did in the movie, Cast Away. I have an iPhone and a computer, but in the early morning when I’m making breakfast, it does not occur to me to check the date.

In these pandemic times, maybe it’s only the retired, unemployed or childless who feel like their brain is in resting mode. Previously, we’ve had events in our lives that let us know what day of the week it was. For me, that was gym class. I always knew that leg day was Tuesday because I would wake up filled with dread. And now, I never know it’s Tuesday. Not until Wednesday, at the very least. And my legs are getting very fussy at the lack of attention. Come fall, I’m going to have to do something. No, really.

For now, I’m like a vacant lot with no building prospects. No fence, no tools to indicate that creation is about to take place. I work in my yard and garden every day, but I’m getting to the point where I would like someone to come over and boss me around. (This is conjecture. Don’t any of you do this.) But I obviously need direction of some kind. I am so tired of my own pep talks. Some mornings while I brush my teeth, I’ll stare at myself in the mirror and say something like, ‘Today is going to be special!’ Spit. Rinse. And then I’ll say, ‘You know you’re full of crap, right?’

To emphasize the feeling that we’re truly in a pandemic, the bugs are in the middle of a full speed ahead, evolutionary process. They’re bigger, faster, sneakier and they bite like they want you to remember them for the next month. People meet on the street and compare battle scars. ‘I made the mistake of gardening in the morning,’ they’ll say, throwing their hands in the air sheepishly. And really, what are any of us thinking? Never mind Covid 19, we need full body suits to combat the mosquitoes and all the tiny variations of black fly that seem suspiciously new to northern Manitoba.

I know, I know. We’ve always had them. But like everything else, even the bug world is freaking out. And like a two year old trying to be the boss of everything, I want everyone, including mother nature, to stop doing things I don’t like. Yes, some of the world’s craziness has been brought on by ourselves…we’re not guilt free… but the toddler in me doesn’t care about that. Like a contestant doing badly on a reality television show, I want to ring a bell and quit the game. Get off the island. Tell the bachelor/bachelorette that frankly, I just don’t give a damn.
On the other hand, the sun is shining and my kayak awaits. I have bug spray in my bag, and a bottle of water that I could exchange for gin at a moment’s notice. Maybe the toddler in me just needs a time out. (I’m stomping one foot, now.) Ahhhh. It’s lovely outside, with the sunshine and the gin…er, the water. Today is going to be special! (Oh, shut up.)