It’s a Wonderful Soap

Looks delicious

Donning my traditional Christmas shopping outfit (elf shoes with bells; tights; that’s it), I set out on the weekend to look for gifts at some of the holiday markets that pop up this time of year. I entered the first church basement and began to circulate, making sure to not make eye contact with the vendors who stared like rabid, bloodthirsty hounds – but in a good way.

I glanced at the first kiosk: soap. An assortment of colourful, handmade soaps. Packages in pyramids, balls in buckets, slabs in spittoons. You can’t go wrong with soap, I thought.

I moved along. Huh: another soap vendor. “Luxurious Lavender,” “Pampered Peppermint,” “Gentle Giblets.” A soap for every taste.

Then another soap vendor, then another. I stepped back. I apologized for stepping on that woman’s foot. I stepped back again. I looked around. The kiosks: they were all selling soap!

I made my way to the next market. The community centre reeked of oils and perfumes. I walked around the room, fearing the worst. Soaps, soaps, soaps, nothing but soaps. Aha! Fudge! Finally, a non-soap vendor. I picked up a rich slab of chocolate and took a generous bite.

“Ah, sir?” said the vendor. “That’s soap. Also, you’re supposed to pay first.”

“Don’t make eye contact!” I shouted frothingly and fled.

Every market I visited: exclusively soaps. Where were the doilies? The table runners? The wreaths made out of old plastic grocery bags? Where were the pieces of driftwood with googly eyes glued to them? Nowhere. Instead, a surfeit of soaps.

“I wish soap had never been invented!” I shouted overreactingly. And that’s when I was asked to leave the building. I returned home, dejected, smelling vaguely of patchouli.

The next morning, I went to take my shower. When I drew back the curtain, I saw a little man standing in a white robe. Nothing unusual, but I didn’t recognize this particular little man. “Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m Calgon,” said the man. “No suds today. You’re coming with me.” Then he grabbed my hand and pulled me down the drain.

“AAAHHH!” I woke up in my bed. “Whew,” I said narratively, “it was just a dream.”

I went to take my shower, déja-vu-like. Searching around, though, there was no soap. None there. None there. Definitely none there. I was completely latherless. No matter; I smell naturally delicious.

Realizing that, in my suds-induced frenzy yesterday, I had forgotten to pick up gifts for my child’s teachers, I set out again for the Christmas market.

When I opened the school gym door, there was only the whiff of wet boots and childhood fears. The hall was empty save for a sad author sitting at a table surrounded by piles of his latest humour collection that people “liked” on Facebook but never actually bought.

“Where is everyone?” I asked.

“Just me. Wanna buy a book?” he said.

“Who? What? Wallet’s broken. Allergic to vowels. I’ll get back to you,” and I left.

The next market was likewise void of vendors, soapy or otherwise. “But I need gifts for teachers!” I cried. “Teachers love soap. What’ll I do?”

A teacher happened to walk by, conveniently enough. “Wine?” she suggested.

“No, soap! Only soap!”

Back on the street, I saw the woman whose fudge-camouflaged soap I had nibbled the day prior. “You there, soap lady,” I said, gripping her arm accostingly. “Can you make me some homemade soap in assorted shapes and scents?”

“Don’t know no soap,” she slurred, coughing with a tubercular cadence. “I spend my sad days scouring these streets for discarded food bits to put in me artisanal sausages.”

“Sausages! No! Not that! Not you! You had such promise! You were so bubbly!”

“Get away from me, you delicious smelling man,” she yammered and stumbled off.

“But the teachers!” I called. “The mother-in-laws! The aunts! The office Secret Santas! What are we to do without soaps! I’m sorry I badmouthed soaps. Take me back, Calgon! Calgon, take me away!”

Just then, my nostrils were filled with a pungent stench. A group of teenage boys were walking by. They were unwashed – and coated in Axe Body Spray. “NOOOOOOOOO!”

And that was when I woke up. “Whew! Another dream. What are the chances?”

I rushed to the window, threw open the shutters and spied an urchin in Sunday clothes in the cobblestone lane below. “You boy,” I cried out, “what’s today?”

“Why, it’s Buyer Regret Thursday, sir,” called the lad. “But I think you’re in the wrong story.”

Then I’m not too late, I thought. I rushed out to the nearest market and saw soaps. So many soaps! Pink soaps, blue soaps, soaps with honey, soaps with sassafras. Soaps on ropes. Soaps on chains. And I bought them all! “God wash us, every one!” I announced Tiny Timmishly.

And that, honey, is why you’re getting soap for Christmas instead of the diamond you were hoping for. No lye.

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Riffing on rims

Rims. We got rims. Rims for sale, rims to give. For all your rim needs. Rims R Us. Rim-A-Palooza. Rim-Tin-Tin. Fill it to the brim with rims.

We got tires on rims. Rims on tires, just in a great big, precarious stack, violating safety standards and posing a wheel and present danger to toddlers and cats, and what are you doing letting your toddler wander around a stack of rims/tires anyway? That’s just bad parenting. The cats can take care of themselves.

Everyone’s in a last-minute rush to get their winter tires on before the snow comes three weeks ago. So we all go into our backyard garages or designated domestic junk space and wonder, “Where on earth did those rims come from?”

And of course we got tires. It goes without saying, the tires. Tiers of tires. A tumult of tires. As the scripture says, “For where two or three tires are gathered together, there shall be five to seven more in the midst of them, it’s just the way it is, bro.”

But now is the winter of our discount tires. It is also the winter of regretting not paying a bit more for tires that would endure more than one season. Because these, the ones you’ve stumbled upon in your garage/junk space, will not pass muster, a fact you either missed or chose to ignore when they came off your car in the spring. They are unsafe at any speed, like Nicolas Cage.

Three out of four tires are worn to nubbins, or sometimes one out of four. How can that be? Have you been secretly stunt driving like the Fast and the Furious, the Speedy and the Superfluous, the Young and the Restless?

Regardless, one to four of your tires are shot. So why are they still here, among the other old tires (and rims; don’t forget the rims; we’ll get back to the rims)?

Perhaps you simply do not know when tires are no longer good, because, honestly, who among us does? When the nobbies show? When the tread depth is less than a cuticle’s width? When the swallows return to Kapuskasing? Reading tires is like reading runes, and it is not my forte even though my life is in runes.

Or perhaps you had a prophetic death wish last April, thinking these bald tires would serve you well come December as you slid with nary a skid into oblivion.

But now life is good, and you’d rather stay on the road of life and, well, the road of road as well. So you must shell out for new tires, one to four of them, an unanticipated expense, though, who are you kidding, you’re going to buy the cheapest again.

Which leaves you with more old tires, to be piled among the other tires that came from cars you don’t even remember driving. When did you own a truck?

But tires we can dispose of. Leave them by the side of the road and they will disappear, picked up by someone with lower standards than you, because there is always someone with lower standards than you, if you can believe it.

But the rims. The rims are another story. There’s no accounting for rims. Like tires, they just show up, but unlike rims there’s no getting rid of them.

Who needs rims? People with cars. But cars already have rims, otherwise they’re just poor-man condos. So no one needs rims. “You can never have too many rims,” said nobody ever except rim fetishists, and we don’t associate with them, thank you very much.

You can’t simply put rims to the side of the road because people ask questions before taking them; they don’t want to be saddled with more useless rim clutter. “What size are they?” they ask. “Round,” you say. “No, size, not shape.” “118 35-22-35,” you reply. “That’s not a rim size, that’s a tire size, you idiot!” Joke’s on them; that’s Marilyn Monroe’s weight and measurements. Her rim size was 14.

You try to sell them online but so is everyone else because everyone has rims. Everyone’s trying to get rid of their rims. “Rims $100. Rims $200. Rims $60,” because no one actually knows the value of rims. Rims are rife with mystery.

So we got rims. Rims up the rimrang. Reams of rims. Rims in the rafters, rims in the rear. Soundtrack by Rimsky-Korsakov. Everyone, everyone, everyone has rims.

I could go on but I’m too tired.

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Permission to have the blues

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a rough week, for a number of reasons, not least being that I’m coming up to one year since my surgery for prostate cancer. Right now I’m in the clear, but you’re never entirely in the clear with cancer.

The thing is, I anticipated that I might feel weird around this time. But knowing the train is coming doesn’t make it any easier when you’re tied to the track.

It’s been a year of adjusting to changes in my body, a daily reminder that I’m the same, just different.

This is particularly true in my perceptions of my masculinity (such as it is). It’s as though my dog ran away. The doctors assure me, “Oh, your dog will come back. It just might take a while. But he’ll come back.” But what if he doesn’t? I mean, it’s been a year. I haven’t had a dog in a year. I loved that dog. I played with that dog all the time. Just loved taking that dog out. Poor dog.

The anniversary also coincides with my birthday, and getting older is turning out to be a lot less fun than I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll feel better once those senior discounts kick in, because I may not be young but I’m cheap.

So I’ve been blue. Moody. I’ve been having trouble concentrating. I’m tired. I’m cold. Is this February? No, it’s only November. Sigh…

And you know what? It’s okay. I have to tell myself that. It’s okay to be sad. It doesn’t feel good, but sadness is part of being human. We hate to experience it, and we certainly hate to be around it. (“How was the funeral?” “So-o-o-o fun!”) But we shouldn’t dismiss it as a failing. It’s normal to get sad.

Besides, we need the darkness sometimes to appreciate the light.

Earlier this week (when I was feeling low), I opened up the Poem of the Day from the Poetry Foundation. It was called “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon. It begins:

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

And so a year has passed and I’m another year older. With any sadness that brings, I turn to a very simple, happy fact: I’m another year older. I’m another year older!

And I think of all that I’ve accomplished in that year.

I directed my original play, and people came to see it, and they liked it.

I went to the ocean, which, like subscribing to the Poem of the Day, I highly recommend.

I set a writing goal for myself to get published again on my favourite humour site, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. And I did! Four times! Plus, one of my McSweeney’s pieces is included in their 3-pound, gilt-edged anniversary collection, Keep Scrolling Until You Feel Something.

I was in a play, acting foolish and forgetting myself for awhile. People saw it, people laughed and forgot themselves for awhile.

I saw The National in concert.

I published a new collection, A Jerk in Progress, although it’s selling terribly, so get with it people!

Abby graduated high school, James is a Gaiter, Em and Katie are happy city girls.

Deb brought me a warm chocolate chip cookie in the bath that time.

I’ve enjoyed more baths than is especially seemly but there it is.

I’ve been writing, working on a thing. It’s quite terrible, but I’m writing.

I’ve come up with a number of “that’s what she said” jokes for someone in my condition. For example: “There now, that’s not so hard, is it?” And “So I go into this bar, and against the wall is this beautiful Hammond B3: shining mahogany, gleaming keyboard, fully intact. I sit down to play, turn on the power: nothing. Turns out all the electronics in the back have been torn out, hollow. What a useless organ!”

So, you see? It hasn’t been a total bust.

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Yoga: Self-Taught

I can do this, except I call it “tripping.”

I begin by finding a quiet place. There is snow on the ground, so that means the neighbours have decided the street is a snowmobile drag strip; there is no quiet place. I reach deep within myself to find a centre of calm and deep within the drawer to find a pair of earplugs.

I make sure I am wearing something comfortable. I am comfortable in blue jeans. It’s a habit I can’t break, even though I know it’s not a good look, a man over 50 wearing saggy-ass denim all the time outside work hours. But this is my spiritual journey and these are my Kmart Wranglers.

I centre myself in a spacious room, away from open windows where people walking by might see me and wonder if I’m standing with my arms in the air because someone has a gun on me. Continue reading

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McSweeney’s little and big

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of and sometime contributor to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. This week, I have a piece running to mark Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday, entitled “Your Services As Guidance Counselor Are No Longer Required, Mr. Vonnegut.

But the bigger news — like 680 gilt-edged pages big — is that I have a piece in the 21st-anniversary McSweeney megabook, Keep Scrolling Until You Feel Something. It’s a collection of the best of the site and includes the very first piece of mine they ran back in 2005. So, yeah, you can read all the pieces for free, but look at this beautiful book!

That’s it. Don’t forget to support good humour writing and writers by becoming a McSweeney’s patron.

Posted in It Really Did Happen!, Writing | 11 Comments

Caucus? Barely open to us

A Stanstead, Quebec, town councillor is proposing a new municipal tax on babies’ eyeballs. Each new baby born in the Town of Stanstead will be charged $6 for one eyeball, a bargain $10 for two eyeballs. If you’re a baby born elsewhere but move to Stanstead, you’ll have to pay a $15 eyeball surcharge, because we don’t know where those eyes have been.

The purpose of the proposed legislation is to generate some much-needed revenue for the town and to give an opportunity for citizens to say, “Dang it, I’m taxed to the eyeballs!” and really mean it.

Is this true? Maybe? Who knows. Perhaps one of the town councillors really did put forth this notion of a motion. “Baby eyeballs freak me out,” he or she might have said, “so huge in those tiny heads of theirs. We should tax those little goo bags, teach them life is real.” Continue reading

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Demons

1. Be proactive
One of the prime mistakes demons make is waiting for lusty teenagers to randomly stumble onto a Portal to Hell in the basement of an abandoned cabin. After all, when you’re a demon condemned for all eternity, what’s a millennium here or there? However, you are statistically more likely to improve your Soul Reaping Quotient if you take initiatives that lead directly to victim torturing and/or possession. These might include inhabiting the body of a cat (always complicit) to lure her master into an ancient crypt or arranging to have a fortune cookie delivered that reads “Now is an excellent time to dabble in the dark arts.” Recognize your Circle of Influence, your Circle of Concern and your Circle of Hell.

2. Begin with the end in mind
Envision the apocalypse you’d like to see and work towards it. Constantly review your mission. Are you the demon you want to be? Are you sufficiently horrifying? Should you be more wraith-like or more lizard-esque? What is your position on disembowelling? By developing a clear picture of a future where the Dark Lord rules over a dystopian hellscape engulfed in flames and unspeakable agony, you’ll be better able to develop the tools (pitchfork, sword, saw, razor-blade fingers) to reach your goal. Continue reading

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