Why You Drive So Loud?

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O, tender youth with ball cap perched
And moustache like a wisp of dirt,
Upon my street and through my town
Why you drive so loud?

There’s thrill in speed, I get that, fine,
A race can spike adrenaline,
Perhaps you’re late and need to hurry,
But souped-up engines: really?

To tune one’s car, it’s not my bag,
To each his own, I always say.
Spoilers, pipes and mags: all tolerable,
I just don’t get the decibels.

I wish you’d thrust your melon out
Your window as you ride, and shout:
“I’m loud and fast cuz I’m an idiot,”
At least that would explain it.

Instead, you prop your hand upon
The steering wheel, so cool, just so,
Ignoring glares from seniors, dogs
As the engine goes “BHHRAU-BHHRAAAAAUUUGG!”

“The splendick’s murphing in the gleeps,”
I tell my dear one as we stroll,
Or that is all she hears at least
Above the Sentra’s caterwaul.

“Kids today…,” we frown and squawk
As soon as hearing’s been restored.
“Oh, great, he’s turned, he’s coming back.
Oh, wait, he’s forty-four.”

And who is this with tricked out muffler?
A youngish girl, a single mother.
Is it equal rights when noise horrific
Isn’t gender-specific?

And yet, O drivers, fast and pestiferous
With boorish cars mechano-vociferous,
I’m still far off from comprehending
The never-ending revving.

Were you neglected, you wee dear thing,
The youngest whelp of ten, thirteen?
You lacked attention, longed for fondness,
Abandoned in a lot of Hondas?

You wish to stand out in the crowd,
Impress your friends, make Papa proud?
Some strive through art, play sports, some sing
But, you, you’re just exhausting

I likewise strive to feel I’m different
Yet I don’t drive by your apartment with
Tricked out book, bright chrome upon it,
Shouting odes and sonnets.

Is this your social contribution:
Burning rubber, noise pollution?
Pushing neighbours to the brink?
Dunno; can’t hear myself think.

If you were on some circuit there, I’d
Cheer, “Rev on!” I wouldn’t care.”
But here along this peaceful bend
You are a NASCAR without the “N.”

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The hammock of regret

Jughead-186When I think of a hammock, I think of Archie and his pals. It’s usually a setup for a gag. If someone’s lying in a hammock, cartoonishly contented, you can be sure that Hot Dog is going to charge through in the next panel, or maybe Archie wrangling a runaway lawnmower. You just know that the hammock and its contents are going to go spinning like a berserk rotisserie and cause poor Mr. Andrews to suffer an upheaval and possible spinal trauma.

The chaotic comedy springs from the upending of expectations. A hammock, after all, is the epitome of relaxation, verging on Jughead-level sloth. In the suburban ideal of the golf-green, white-picket, backyard kingdom, the hammock represents refuge from all domestic chores, a reward for a lawn well done.

I have a hammock. It doesn’t spin crazily. It just lies there limp, its hanging arc like a mocking grin, and every fall it sneers, “So-o-o…, how was your summer?”

Each spring, with great optimism, I take the hammock out of the garage. I check it for mice, spiders, neighbour kids, and I rig it between the big shady maple and the back of the garage. A long nylon strap keeps one end in place around the tree trunk. The other end relies on a hook that I screwed into the garage wall years ago. Once the hammock is hung, I tentatively sit in it, slowly putting all my weight into the mesh to make sure the old hook doesn’t pull out of the even older wall. It never has, and I’m no expert on physics, but I can imagine if it ever did, it would come shooting out at considerable speed. “Death by hammock hook” is not something you want in your obituary.

Once I’m certain everything’s going to hold, I push off the ground with a dangling leg and have a little springtime swing. I let out a little “Ahhhh…!” and wonder how long I can lie here before the mesh imprints itself into my skin or someone notices I’m missing, whichever comes first.

And that’s about it for hammock time until I take it down in the fall.

This past summer, I spent not one afternoon lazing in the hammock. And that’s not all. Summer’s over and we barely had any backyard campfires that we’re supposed to get a permit for but, honestly, who’s going to bust us? Summer’s gone, and I swam in our pool three times, which is approximately six times fewer than the number of times I vacuumed the bloody thing.

Summer: kaput, and I didn’t fix the screens that the cats have spent years shredding in order to get on and off the porch. They look terrible dangling there and flapping in the wind (the screens, not the cats), and I said that this would be the summer I replaced them with sturdy cat-proof screens. There was double motivation there; not only would it look better but there was the prospect of watching the cats trying to jump into the porch and instead bouncing off the new screen, which you have to admit would be a hoot.

But no.

I didn’t watch a meteor shower. I didn’t take a cycling trip. I didn’t sit in the garden and contemplate a carrot.

I thought all the things I didn’t do in this short Quebec summer as I took down the hammock last weekend, rolled it up and threw it into the garage on top of other stuff thrown in there. (I didn’t de-clutter the garage this summer either.)

It has felt like fall for a while but now it’s officially so. This transition from summer isn’t like New Year’s Eve, where we look back at all that has happened and the occasional celebrity death. Instead we look back at summer’s potential unfulfilled – the hammock of regret.

Thank goodness Canadians have shoe-horned Thanksgiving into the fall to transform this funk into gratitude. So why not start now: I swam in a lake. I saw turtles in a swamp. I wrote a book. I feasted on raspberries. I visited a new city for the first time. I visited another new city for the first and last time. I trekked off the highway to a hidden waterfall. No one bombed my house or tried to behead me and I didn’t catch Ebola. I saw a cabin in the woods named “Camels Hump” and thought “Yes, they do… yes, they do.” And that, surely, is enough.

Originally appeared in Life In Quebec.

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The holdout

NO PHONE SYMBOL_logoFCPAn acquaintance reacted to news that I don’t own a cell phone with the combination of ridicule and disbelief normally reserved for people who vote for the Green Party.

“You must have a cell phone,” he said.

“No, I honestly don’t,” I replied, and my tone wavered as it always does on this matter between self-righteousness and embarrassment.

“But you work in communications!”

True, but I’m also a big fan of irony.

We were on the telephone. Well, I was on a telephone, one with a chord and solid buttons to push, a telephone whose sole function was to be a telephone. He was on a cell phone and was asking me to text him the coordinates of a third party. That’s when I baffled him with the news that I was stuck in 1995.

“I can email it,” I offered, and when I said it I felt 85 years old. If I had said, “I can send it to you by the emails,” it would have been perfect.

I was once offered a cell phone for work but resisted because then people would be able to find me all the time. And if they found me, they’d ask me to do things. And if I did things, they’d discover I’m not actually very good at those things. And then I’d be fired, at which point they’d take away my cell phone, so really what would be the point?

But now it’s beyond that. Now it’s partly a matter of being overwhelmed by choice. I go to the mall and every second kiosk is selling cell phones or cell phone plans or cell phone condos. Other kiosks are selling cell phone cases. The rest are hawking hats and mittens. Do people really go through so many mittens and hats that it warrants dedicated mall-based mitten-and-hat kiosks? Is there some correlation between cell phones and mittens and hats? Do cell phone buyers think, “Hmmm, I should get some mittens and a hat since I’m going to be standing stock still on the cold sidewalk and blocking pedestrian traffic while I break up with my boyfriend via Snapchat”?

I feel I’m too late for cell phones. We’re already up to iPhone 6 and I haven’t even worked my way through levels 1 through 5. At this point, cell phones are like that co-worker whose name I never learned and, well, there’s no way I can ask now! Instead, I just duck into a bathroom when I see cell phones coming.

But I know I could manage. I navigate through technology all the time and am actually pretty good at troubleshooting. I have my iPad (v.1), my laptop, my 8-year-old 2GB iPod. I survived Windows 8. I tweet. I could easily have a friend recommend a phone and a plan and would have my new phone figured out faster than you can write “Autocorrect slacks.”

But I continue to resist, and not just because I know I’ll get sucked into that world and bump into things.

I think it’s for the same reason I don’t want a GPS in my car telling me where to go. A GPS would be convenient and make driving to points unknown easier. And I wouldn’t get lost nearly as often, and let’s be quite frank, getting lost puts one’s patience and family relations to the test. The day I tried to drive through Calgary and missed it entirely was not a good day, although there’s really no reason now to rehash whether I was right or wasn’t wrong. The point is, getting lost can make you panicky and miserable.

But getting lost is also a reminder that strangeness is the essence of travel. You’re travelling in a foreign place and you must rely on your sense of direction, consult a map, risk wrong turns and near-misses with semi-trucks as you take that exit, take it NOW! Plus, you might find something amazing in that wrong turn, hopefully something amazing that won’t steal your hubcaps.

If ever there was unknown territory, it’s life. Going cell-free, being out of contact, not having every convenience at your fingertips all the time isn’t a bad way to remind yourself of the need for self-reliance. Going without technology reminds us what we need, not simply what we want.

Most of the time I don’t really need to speak, to text, to post photos of focaccia. Few things are that important that I need a cell phone. And if it really is important, I’ll simply keep doing what I’ve been doing all along: borrow someone else’s.

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Spoilers and stars

Abby had a mandatory book to read over the summer before starting Grade 8. There was also a list of optional second books. We ignored them all and decided Abby should read Of Mice and Men because a) it’s a classic and b) it’s short.

But first I re-read it myself so I’d be able to discuss it with Abby. I borrowed a truly handsome copy from the library that I set about reading and spilling coffee on. I then passed it on to Abby to read and hopefully take the blame for the stains.

Short or not, Steinbeck is another world these days, and for a reluctant reader he can still be tricky. So I waited patiently for Abby to reach the ending so we could review it, but did not hesitate to point out that the character of Lennie is the basis for the Abominable Snowman character in Loony Tunes.

Finally, I asked Abby, “Did you finish your book?”

“Yes,” she said.

“So do you understand? What happened? What George had to do?”

“I think so.”

“You know he killed Lennie, right? Like the dog earlier in the book? A mercy killing. To save him from the horrors of the mob. Killing him kindly, with the visions of the rabbit farm the last happy thought he has. Because George loves Lennie.”

“Oh.”

The human condition. Wisdom imparted. Mission accomplished.

Later on, her mother asked the same question: “Abby, did you finish your book?”

“I have one chapter left.”

But! But! Why did you…? You said…! I just spoiled the ending. I just ruined Of Mice and Men.

Teaching young people to read is important. Teaching them to listen to the question: ditto.

Speaking of listening, I’m back on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway” every two weeks. Here’s my latest audio column for you star-gazers.

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My heart on paper

This week, I got the results of some heart tests I underwent. The thing is, I underwent them three years ago.

It had occurred to me in the past that I’d never received any results for these tests, but I simply assumed no news was good news. It turns out no news was lost news.

Well, that could have ended badly. Continue reading

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Buying dirty books

The last thing you expect when you go to Old Orchard Beach in Maine on the long Labour Day weekend is to keep your sanity. The second-last thing you expect, among the tourists, souvenir shops, fried-everything stands and carnival rides, is a book store. But there it is, right on the strip. Granted, it’s full of remaindered books, and you have to dodge the caricaturist parked at the entrance, but it’s a little bit of paradise among the bikinis. Incidentally, if you’re looking for something called Paradise Among the Bikinis, you’re in the wrong kind of store.

But I did find a dirty book. Tucked into the row of fiction was a book by one of my favourite authors, Nicholson Baker. His novel, The Mezzanine, is particularly good. It’s set entirely during a ride up an escalator. Baker writes a type of fiction in which not much physical action takes place, which also describes my daily fitness regimen, by the way. Instead, he goes off on anecdotal tangents and random explorations, which also describes some work meetings I’ve sat through, but that’s enough of that. Continue reading

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Labour Day madness

IMG_2829The follow-up questions from U.S. Customs are usually the most stressful: “What kind of fruits and vegetables?” “What exactly were you arrested for?” “Do you really think that joke’s funny, sir?” But when I told the border guard we were travelling to Old Orchard Beach in Maine for the Labour Day weekend, his follow-up question was, “Why would you want to do that?”

I think it was a rhetorical question, but still I answered, “I’m not sure.”

If you don’t know Old Orchard Beach, it’s the closest ocean resort for those of us living in southern Quebec. Closest, loudest, crassest. Each summer, thousands of Quebecers make le pilgramage to la plage, and never more so than on Labour Day, the last weekend of the summer.

Labour Day at the beach is like a New Year’s Eve party: too many people, everyone’s uncomfortable, it’s only truly bearable if you’re drunk, and there’s way too much partial nudity. And yet, it’s something you feel obliged to do. Continue reading

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