“An Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Freundel was fixated on the minutiae of Jewish law. He drilled his converts in the proper blessings to say over a banana or a pretzel, and the order in which they should be recited should we happen to eat both at the same meal. This kind of knowledge was the bedrock of my conversion experience. But how could I continue to make myself care about such details when it became clear that the man who taught them to me valued knowing the blessing for a specific food group over behaving like a decent human being?” Bethany Mandel, The New York Times, November 15,2017

For this atheist, the idea that people think there is a “proper” blessing for a banana or a pretzel is utterly and completely insane.

Religious observance of banana and pretzel prayer etiquette is why I think, on my dark days, that humans are irredeemably stupid.

Please understand that I was raised catholic, and my eyes roll and my heart aches at the nonsense and horrors entailed therein. Or in any religious sect, cult, or fad. You quartz crystal lovers and astrologers, you, too. East and west, north and south, devotion to ritual and superstition horrifies me.

Obedience is not a virtue. But what is this desire, in some, to follow slavishly, unquestioningly, absurdly down that path? Why throw your heart and intellect away for what you KNOW is “the man behind the curtain”? Behind the camera lens? A man? An ordinary man?

BZZZZZZZzzzzzzzZZZZZ!! and MEEP! MEEP!!

What could be better than a two-hour endodontic treatment to re-do a root canal that costs as much as your monthly budget?

Why, the second part of the appointment next week for another two hours, and my first speeding ticket!

Everybody drives like they’re escaping the zombie apocalypse on the highway between London, Ontario and Sarnia. Then, suddenly, just inside the city limits, almost everybody slows right down to that posted 100 kmh. Because they know what’s going to happen. Except the woman with the lucky dice. And they are lucky: my ticket is for 20 kliks over the limit instead of the 30 I was doing passing that huge truck.

And now that woman knows, too.

I will confess to no more without a lawyer versed in the stress of dental treatments, the temptations of old Van Halen songs, a smooth road on a sunny day, and a not-fast-enough transport truck.

What do you do when you have had dental work and the joy of a speeding ticket on the same day?

I sprung for the “medium care” car wash, and bought a sack of potato chips to eat for lunch, with the bottle of cola I’ve been saving since my birthday. I have also gone amok and now have soft pitas and hummus for supper. With another glass of cola, no doubt.

It’s 31 degrees Celsius outside, with a humidex of 40.

My mouth is still partly frozen. I have spilled pop down the right side of me.

Je ne regrette rien.

Meep! Meep!

BANANAS! And a Head Transplant

For two days now, my Del Monte breakfast banana has announced, by way of a very small sticker, that I could WIN a FREE BANANA COSTUME. I have given this some thought, and I have some questions for the fine folks at Del Monte, and for you!

First of all, who has ever heard of winning anything that one then has to pay for? I am not caffeinated sufficiently before breakfast, but even then I’d know that if this prize wasn’t FREE, there would be a scam brewing. Second, why would anyone want a banana costume? Thirdly, if I went online (after securing the use of an electron microscope to read the exact web address) what guarantee would there be – if I were the lucky recipient of this largesse – that I’d receive one in the appropriate plus size?

Maybe you have always dreamed of wearing a banana costume. If so, go to the Del Monte banana website and get in on the draw. I’m telling you now that your desire might be a mistake. You can’t get up or down stairs in a banana costume. You can’t use a toilet. Your arms, constricted, are as useful as the mitts on a Tyrannosaurus rex. No leaving the house without banging your stem on the doorframe, either, and you’ll be rolling yourself into brown bruises down the stairs. And forget the bus. Forget driving a car.

All you would be, friend, is enslaved in the plastic wrap and padding of an advertisement for Del Monte bananas.

I eat bananas, cut up in a bowl, with toasted bagels, for breakfast, because potassium is good for me. I cannot abide the aroma (I would be more honest calling it the stench) of a ripe specimen of this fruit. I’m lucky my local No Frills sells them green. They taste fine to me the way I like them. Odourless. Two or three mornings a week.

Something else that’s odourless is whatever it is that’s causing me and a few other persons I’ve heard hither and yon to find ourselves in a sudden, desert-dry, eye-popping, tear-inducing, gritty-twine-around-the-windpipe, death-grip, choking cough, precipitated, my doctor and pharmacist say, by allergic post-nasal drainage gone awry. I’ve had to spend a chunk of change on a prescription for a night-time nasal spray. I have had to double up my 24-hour over-the-counter morning tablets. I’ve been spending large portions of the night upright on my couch.

And do you know what provides the most relief? Werther’s hard candies. Whenever the tickle starts.

Which is why sleeping’s been a problem. Who’s awake to unwrap and suck on a candy when they’re sleeping?

But things are looking up. I have been on the new nasal spray and allergy meds regimen for a week now, and my cough is diminishing. All the muscles involved in clearing blockages and inhaling large quantities of oxygen are tip-top, too, and my ribs don’t hurt anymore. Most days now, I don’t even cough hard enough to pee my pants even once.

I give it one more week, and then I’m calling my physician to ask for one of those newfangled head transplants.

If you see me around in a banana costume, breathing easy all day and night, you know I got one.

Sssswwwwwwussssssssssssssssss!!!!! SSSWwwwwuck!!! SSSssweet!!!

I did go today.
I did vacuum.
Well, I plugged in and pushed and dragged the appliance shown above all over my apartment for about half an hour.
I did not use the hose and attachments to go under things. I got hot and sweaty enough earlier, was my excuse.
I can do that on Saturday was my second idea.
And I probably will, because this Hoover is a mighty fine Hoover.
This appliance picked up two canisters of fur and dirt. I think it picked up fur and dirt from the last three tenants, as well as everything neglected by my other vacuum since October. It emptied easily and cleanly.
Also, it is red and shiny.
There was a lavender coloured vacuum cleaner at the store. I was becoming enraged just looking at it.
Red and shiny is good.
Finally, I believe that the furry dog pictured on the box was reduced in size seven times by close proximity to an operating model, and is revealed almost bald.
There is hope yet.

KA-BOOOOOMMMM!!!!

What did I ever do to the Bissell Vacuum Company? Hmn? What have I ever done to anyone to deserve this fifty-six-year-long fight with carpet cleaning and carpet shampooing appliances? And, more importantly, how is Bissell allowed to design, name, produce and sell a "pro" vacuum cleaner that works as well as me shaking a stick at the pet fur on my wall-to-wall apartment carpeting? EH?
I am all sweaty and mad.
I always get sweaty and mad when I vacuum. My mom used to make me clean the house with an old "floating" globular Hoover when I was a kid. It flung particulates everywhere. My dad was a matchstick shredding, tobacco-shedding, ash-spreading slob. I bump walls and furniture in completely unsublimated rage to this day, thanks to him – less the coughing, thanks to air filtering. I have had many vacuum cleaners of greater and lesser worth over the years, but I suspect the entire world would agree with me when I say that the MINUMUM REQUIREMENT from such a machine would bloody well be SUCTION.
I am, today, finally admitting that I am broken. Broken, hopeless and forlorn.
"Oh," you say. "Dyson!" you say. I hate that Dyson guy. He is so smug. He sells $700 vacuums. $800 vacuums. And a pet fur specialty vacuum that I can order from amazon.ca for $900. I wish he would have devoted his life to perfecting a toaster, because I have to toast my bagels and bread in two steps to get them right. And I love my toaster. No one understands the need for perfect toast, so I work around it.
But vacuum cleaners? Vacuum cleaners should be easy! Jets in reverse! Make stuff GO AWAY! There are flippin LEAF BLOWERS destroying everyone's piece of mind all over the damned place! Men LOVE THEM! Turn the motor the other way!!!

Why are there useless $100 vacuums and divinely perfect $700 vacuums and nothing but wretched gambles in between?

I knew it wouldn't be easy. It is never easy. The cat and dog take off to the furthest walls. The cord gets yanked to its utmost length. I push the power button. Dust and fur go in and then
SONOFA
that infuriating sliiiiiiiiithhh sound when a glob of dog hair throws the vacuum into a state of shock and I have to shut her all down, open the hatch, pull out the tangle, shut the hatch, click the canister back on, plug in the machine, touch the floor and
SONOFA
that infuriating sliiiiiiiiithhh sound when a glob of dog hair throws the vacuum into a state of shock and I have to shut her all down, open the hatch, pull out the tangle, shut the hatch, click the canister back on, plug in the machine, touch the floor and
SONOFA
that infuriating sliiiiiiiiithhh sound when a glob of dog hair throws the vacuum into a state of shock and I have to shut her all down, open the hatch, pull out the tangle, shut the hatch, click the canister back on, plug in the machine, touch the floor and
SONOFA

KA-BOOM!

I'VE HAD IT!

If I were one half of a millimeter closer to being a slightly different kind of person, there would be an assortment of busted pieces of a crappy, useless household appliance littering the little concrete paved patio six floors below me.
As it is, I see Walmart, the retailer I hate but can actually afford, has a highly rated Hoover in stock. I haven't had a fight with a Hoover for a long time. Shark was okay to me for a while. Bissell makes me cry. My Bissell "Pro Heat" "power steamer" sits here beside me in the living room. Dead. It lead me along for two years. YouTube advises I open it up, as I might be able to discover a part that I might be able to remove, order, and replace.
I am, at heart, a simple consumer. I wish to purchase a thing and use it for a reasonable length of time that I measure in years and years. I don't want a noisy pile of plastic, wheels, and tubes to exude heat and not ingest anything remotely resembling household dirt.
I am not going today, but when I do, please, little Hoover, please, be good to me.

No Food, Wonders of the World, Art, No Food, Food

I tried to buy lunch today. I got this brainy idea yesterday – I’d visit the newly-opened restaurant on the corner, visit our famous museum, visit our famous art gallery, and enjoy ice cream for supper sometime around 7:30 this evening. President’s Choice Vanilla mixed with Breyer’s Dark Chocolate Truffle. I have enough left of each for one big bowl of it. I have saved it as a kind of a reward. For enduring a “webinar” I should listen to for professional purposes. That I’d rather not.

I live in a small town. People correct me, correctly, to advise that it is, in fact, a small City, Capital “C” – but it is really a town. And I – along with a large portion of the downtown populace – have been watching the dismantling of a failed culinary adventure for some months now, hoping, eagerly, for a different eatery to plunk down, prosper, and stay. Downtown took terrible hits years ago, I am told, losing commerce and all to the outskirts mall. Slowly, it’s been coming back. Each piece of the core propping up and encouraging the others. Two days ago, through the new, massive dark windows of this renovation venture, we could see booths and mops. Yesterday the signs were up, lights lit, the windows were rolled open and the happy hubbub of satisfied diners emanated out to those of us walking dogs and the like.

I googled the menu. I counted the cash. I walked over. I rejoiced in the closed windows – hey, it’s over thirty degrees Celsius with the humidity today – and then I went in.

My rule is: five minutes or being ignored by six separate staff, and I’m outta there. This lovely space, which shall remain nameless, was full. Unfortunately, it has been designed with a large number of extraordinarily comfortable looking six-person curved booths, many four-person booths along the long window wall, and a large, disheartening collection of tippy-toppy high tables for four, with matching tippy-toppy bar stools. And that’s it. So parties of two monopolize more room than is otherwise necessary. And parties of one do not belong. Also, as I stood there, I decided that no matter what happened, the high chairs were not a prudent perch. I am tall enough to hop up. Visions of my rump accelerating all the way down to the floor under a broken stool preoccupied me for a while, though. I did have some time to think about safety, and spectacle, and the social aspects and psychology of seating and comfort. As well as the optics of being elevated among this crowd to eat a burger.

In a city, people eating lunch do not gawk at whomever comes in, and then they do not gawk again when that person waits for a table. As I took inventory of seating design, I made slightly too long, disconcerting (for me) eye contact with probably ten customers, at whom I smiled, because this is a small town, but not one of the five individual wait staff walking right past me standing there would look me in the eye. You know that swervy motion people make with their whole head when a big bee flies by their nose? That’s what I got. Five times. The owners have another version of this place in a town close by that is spoken of highly. Ostensibly, they’ve done this “service” routine before. They may have, in fact, encountered a lone person waiting for a table in a full place before. I can’t tell you anything about it or what might have happened, though, because in a city, a staff member would say, “Hi! We’re so busy today! We’ll have a table in about twenty minutes. Is that okay?” In a town, this big woman is, to those from whom I would’ve ordered a big meal and a pint, and tipped well, absolutely invisible. It’s Las Vegas, pay-per-view magical. Except to ten customers. Who’d probably would’ve watched me eat. And drink. And break a chair.

So they may prosper, but they’ll do it without me.

Off I went to the famous, privately owned Stones & Bones Museum. Entrance fee: $7 even. Stuffed with an alarming large and varied menagerie of taxidermy, fantastic fossils, information posters, preserved specimens of this, that, and the other, and possessed of an excellent gift shop. The best thing about the Stones & Bones, though, amid the walls of beetles and butterflies and shark jaws and gems and dinosaur pieces and hunks of copper and snake skins and bird-killing spiders and EVERYTHING is the ebullient banter of amazed, chattering, joyful kids. One of whom, unprompted, pointed out to me in particular more details about a specific iridescent butterfly than I was quite prepared to enjoy. But still. There’s something wrong with you if you forget how that was – to see something so wondrous for the first time, and to tell somebody about it. It’s a great place.

So off to the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery. All contents actually owned by this sliver of a gem. As you will be told three times – all contents owned, I mean – and will thus, in all likelihood, remember. Admission free, donations gladly accepted. Two Emily Carr works beautifully displayed, with illustrations of how one, in particular, was restored to its bright self. Respectable Group of Seven in small number. Modern stuff upstairs. Pleasant and knowledgeable reception, and two interestingly informative volunteers. Thank you. I’ll be back in a year.

And then I walked my heat-heavy ankles over to a pub that had its doors all open. In this heat! So I came home.

Supper will be cremini mushrooms in olive oil and butter, with garlic and spinach, on spaghettini. And a beer. I doubt very much that there is a webinar in my near future. There will be ice cream. My ankles have returned to happiness. A good day, even without lunch.


* GPS! in case you’re helicoptering in! (I told you it is cool for kids!)

Review of Books: TR Pearson’s “East Jesus South” and Ian McGuire’s “The North Water”.

I am reading a lot of books at the moment. Again. As usual. All at once. I own very few of them. I am a library gal. I paid amazon.ca to send me T.R. Pearson’s “Off For the Sweet Hereafter” and “East Jesus South” this spring, though. I finished reading the latter up at the leash-free dog park this morning and here I am, a tiny !pip! of a !squeak! in the Weberverse, to tell you how glorious the man’s talent is. If you do not know or think you might imagine satisfying the pleasures of fine crafted, funny, clever prose – and you would like a taste of some of the mannerisms of a part of the American south (satirized, yes, but cut from true cloth), just read T.R. Pearson. From the beginning, if possible. Now. Today. Life is short.

My public library hasn’t got a single one of his works. I hope to amass the entire oeuvre of the gentleman. With my own money. That’s love.

Yesterday I drank a quart (4 cups) of my very fine iced coffee, and sat in the afternoon and evening and drank another. Consequently, I spent the night sort of upright on my sofa, too edgy to lie down in bed, and too tired to read past 12:30 a book of astounding force. I am halfway through “The North Water” and what a ship into the hell that is people it is. Compelling, horrifying, realistic, sad and – hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen on this or after this mid-19th century whaling voyage, but I give the novel a 10 now. It will not let me down. I can just feel it.

It is a library book. It is excellent.

From the air conditioned oasis that is my apartment, I wish you happy reading!

Dear Mrs. Fox

Come crow, come hawk

Take them back

Give them back


The bright coat, the pointed ears over on the left shocked me. Then the kit, in the middle of my lane, took my breath away and barely beyond that an adult raccoon, and then what may have been a mink or a weasel – a wrung-out rag of dark fur. All dead.

Attention, small animals north of hither and south of the pole! Highway bridges over topped up creeks and rills are a particularly nasty trap.

There are many birds of prey around here, aloft, watching farmers plough and seed, hearing newly unfolded leaves whoosh and swirl. The eyes of those birds peruse. The claws flex. Just a little. Not too long now. Not too long.

Mrs. Fox, I did not run over your child a second time, though that doesn’t count for much under the circumstances. I swerved. Wide-eyed. Horrified. I’m home now, and wonder if your other children are, too. Not knowing you are not coming again.

The vehicular death of a fox is a surprise, seen so seldom. Fox and kit together explains something, perhaps. Raccoons common enough, roadside, their rounded fuzzy ears so sad to see. The other creature, mangled utterly, an apt image of a clash of priorities, and who is winning in the short term.

All around, rich soil being turned and planted, lilacs bursting into their final hurrahs, life warming and stretching. Alpacas, of all things, sitting in a corral. Quarter horses in pasture. Farm machinery, oddly large, strangely angled, alien-looking, chugging along the paved routes to hop from field to field. Waterways strong and high.

I saw a wisteria in full bloom near Sonora this morning. I was on my otherwise joyful Friday ride, on the long, long way to the library, and grocery shopping, and home. Clouds gray and wide, drizzling, the sky chasteningly cold after two days of heatwave. The grebes on the St. Clair River have rested up sufficiently; they’ve all gone north. Freighters and tankers gliding up and down, monstrously silent. The big campground is filling up for Victoria Day – the trailer bump-outs are bumped, the sturdier steps laid out. Wool blankets inside, no doubt. No fooling a Canadian in this season. Pleasure boats and sea-doos begin to dot some of the small docks. Some of the older docks in the river a wish held together with hope. Kids in winter coats on the school buses. Ontario’s summer begins this May weekend.

Come hawk, come crow.

You get a crack at this game, too.

HUH?

Dear Nice Men of a Certain Age, Married or Single, Tall or Short, Wide or Thin, This or That, From Here or There,

GO GET A HEARING TEST.
I said, ” YOU! NEED! YOUR! HEARING! TESTED!”

You’ve lost some – some of you have lost a lot – of range. And I am tired, now that I have been trying to make acquaintances and have light conversations with people in my new town, of being looked at askance, being misinterpreted, and being misheard. Being looked at askance. Twice. Mostly at the leash-free dog park, where a whirlwind of citizens drop by at any daytime hour.

My wide eyes should suggest that some kind of faux pas has occurred, originating – from the direction of my guiding, incredulous, high-eyebrowed gawping –  from YOU, but you are oblivious. And I cannot bring myself to LAUGH OUT LOUD, because, frankly, it would be mean.

A recent news item suggested the worst plague affecting middle aged men these days is loneliness. Ha. That’s just a symptom of many things, hearing loss (as this writing proves) being just one cause. Your early lifetime socialization is a crippling phenomenon that only you can identify and repair. It’s not something about which I am qualified in or willing to assist. BUT YOUR UTTER DEAFNESS OF THE EARS? That, we all experience. It’s adding to the cringe pile. It is a problem you need to get on top of.

Now, mansplaining I understand. Some of you are ten, twenty years older than I am, and that’s just how you talk to the, uh, ladies. I am capable of interrupting that, and startling you with pithy and pertinent and surprising questions, to get you back on track to what I wanted to know, and discovering whether you do, in fact, know it. I like conversations with all sorts of people, on all sorts of topics. People are full of surprises and knowledge and dreams.

But willful deafness, and the propensity to blurge ahead, to fuffle and blibe? You silly old rooster!

YOU DIDN’T HEAR ME. BUT YOU STARTED TALKING ANYWAY!

AND WHEN YOU DO THAT, YOU ARE ALWAYS PATRONIZING.

IT IS ASTOUNDING.

I have spent over a week with the giggles. I seem to have built up the quantum requirement for being tickled, permanently, upon the recollection of Hilarious Statements by Old Guys.

Your family at home is used to you, but they let you go outside unattended. They may have pushed you outside, but I will not meddle in matters familial or private, except to tell you that you might be much less grumpy, far better understood, and nicer, IF YOU WENT AND GOT A HEARING AID.

Your shameerly,

Shimmy

March Sixth: Ontario, Canada

The heralds of spring are beginning to arrive between the gray and the brown. Canada geese, mallards, and some kinds of gulls have been around, eking out a miserable, cold living all winter, but here it is, March Sixth! One red-winged blackbird ca-ronks, then twees, and shakes out its feathers while perched in the dried rushes. Crows and starlings gather on the ground in the trimmed verge, picking at small stones and gravel. Silently, a rather large flock of loons paddles around and around the centre of the pond. They dive, but I don’t think there are any fish in there. I hope I’m wrong. Next to the paths through the recovering and rehabilitated dump, the dog field is muddy, but not so spongy as it could be. We don’t sink in and disappear. Yet.

We walk the paths through the wavy dead grasses and the small patches of trees. Mice must be awakening, in their little villages under all the wild thatch. The dog stops frequently and listens. They stop, down there among the roots of this endless tangle, and wait for us to move along.

It will snow this week, no doubt. It will rain tomorrow. It will be cold, and colder again soon.

But the red-winged blackbird is here.

Can you feel every living thing unfolding?