Your summer reading Guido

BookStackThe Collapsible Marriage
By Gwen Gladenia

In her sequel to her bestselling The Disposable Date and The Travel-Size Engagement, Gladenia asks the hard questions about wedded life: is love forever; is mustard a vegetable; is Wednesday garbage day? Through the ongoing adventures and interminable foot rubs of Alex and Sandy, Cape Brangeline’s most androgynous newlyweds, Gladenia uses her trademark wit and hand-me-down tweezers to concoct a tale that will leave the reader positively lopsided with inner ear problems. An Oprah’s Bratwurst Club selection.

The Scampy Old Broad Who Didn’t Drool or Anything
By Bjorn Bjornbjornsonbjorn

A bestseller in 16 countries and an okayseller in seven more, The Scampy Old Broad (as it’s known for short, or SOB, as it’s known for even shorter, or S, as it’s known by the ridiculously vague) is another in the wildly popular and mildly condescending GrannyLit genre. Translated from the Swedish into Dutch, back into Swedish and then into English, SOB is a talcum-dusted tale of deceptively spry geriatrics who escape from a seniors home and inadvertently join ISIS. Worth the price of the book just for the chapter, “Beheading? I Thought You Said ‘Bed-Wetting’!”

I Never Promised You a Baumgarten
By Irene Feinstein

You won’t be able to put down Feinstein’s semi-fictional, quasi-functional love letter to Tracadie, Nova Scotia, in the 1960s, where she and her family were the only Jews within a 70-mile radius. I dare you; just try to put it down. Go ahead. Oh. That was easy. Anyway, Baumgarten tells of Myra, a 16-year-old on the verge of womanhood but still unable to broindle a glovnik, much to her shame. Will her meddling Bubbe find a nice, good-looking hoyzbrott for her in time for the Coal-Mine Mother-Daughter Lobster Fishing Ceilidh? Filled with colourful ethnic characters and possibly made-up words, Baumgarten will fulfil its promise – to devloitin!

My Air-Brushed Life
By Feta McBride

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get blistering sunburns from lying out in the sun too long reading this madcap romp about Angus Doily, a middle-aged photo-retouching technician living with cataracts and looking for love, or – worst case – squinting for seduction. (Available only in large-print and audiobook.)

Recalcitrant
By Chuck C. Hoolihan

This is the first in Hoolihan’s mildly successful “Quartz Eater” series. The novel is set in a dystopian future where the world government has convinced citizens they’re living in chaos and repression, when really things aren’t that bad, honestly. A young hero emerges from the Darkness That Is Not Actually So Dark, claiming knowledge of the long forbidden Muus-Hik that is said to charm men’s souls, and chicks apparently dig it too. Joined by a ragtag band of reprobates and an allotment of orphans, he sets off for the mythical Mountain of Deuw, where other ragtag bands are said to gather to celebrate Muus-Hik and sell overpriced souvenir T-shirts. Followed by seven sequels: Virulent, Itinerant, Petulant, Flatulent, Expectorant, Elephant and Say Hi To Your Mom.

The Bronchial Addendum
By Lubin Bunsen

The action never stops in this Guy Maddis spy thriller. Well, it does stop eventually, when the book is over. Everything is finite, after all. Even us, though we choose to ignore the fact. We’re all just passing flecks of dust on the raging river of time. When you think about it, none of us will be remembered, nothing matters, all is meaningless. Why do we even bother?… So anyway, The Bronchial Addendum has tons of sex.

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This piece originally appeared in Life in Quebec Magazine.

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I’d sooner not be a consumer

When it comes to consumerism, my wife and I are outliers. What’s a consumer outlier? Someone who would rather leave an old bunk bed out lying by the curb labelled “TAKE ME” than try to make a couple of bucks selling it.

Or say I’m at a store and there’s a sale on shorts. I’ll say to myself, “But I already own a pair of shorts.” Later, I’ll come across a photo and realize I was wearing those same shorts 10 years ago, and I’ll think to myself, “Classic!”

When I do buy things, I never haggle. I waggle, straggle, finagle and gargle; at breakfast I bagel, but I rarely haggle. Whatever’s on the sticker, I pay or walk away. Pay or walk away, that’s my motto. Actually, my motto is “I Used To Be Fun,” but the other thing works too.

I know people who can negotiate bargains like they’re in a diplomatic corps specializing in cheap hotel rooms. There are people who live to make retailers sweat, who capitalize on human error and who will work the system until it begs for mercy. Deb and I, on the other hand, walk into a car dealership, point and say, “We’ll take that one.”

But we’re not pushovers. We won’t be taken advantage of, and if there’s an error, we’ll mention it. “Excuse me,” my wife said to a waitress recently. “You forgot to charge us for the small pizza.” Most people, if they saw an error in their favour, would say, “RUN!”

What it comes down to is a general distaste for the buyer-seller relationship. It’s a realization that the retailer and its representatives – the clerks and cashiers – don’t really like you. The reason it’s called “customer service” instead of simply “service” is because it’s a qualified kind of good will, something they’re obliged to offer you in exchange for getting you to part with your cash. My preference is to limit this awkward inter-impersonal transaction so that I can do us both a favour and get out of their lives as quickly as possible.

Happy birthday tree. (Cat not included.)

Happy birthday tree. (Cat not included.)

Which brings me to birthday shopping. Last weekend, I bought an apple tree for my wife. I went to the nearest garden centre, pointed and said, “I’ll take that one.”

But you can’t wrap a tree, so I decided to pick up a few small items to put in a gift bag, and the simplest way to do this was to go to Walmart. Walmart: I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too depressing. Instead, let’s talk about the aisle display of travel-size toiletries, because nothing says “Happy Birthday” like hand-sanitizer. And, of course, an apple tree.

The display announced that everything was $2.00. I grabbed a bottle of hand lotion so my wife’s hands will be nice and soft for those luxurious back rubs she’ll surely give me someday.

After I paid, though, I looked at my receipt to discover that the cashier had charged me $4.28 instead of $2.00.

I stood there in Walmart limbo. I could go back to the cashier and point out her mistake. Some people would revel in the blood sport of making a cashier cry. But I’d have to get back in line, and the young woman had given me a friendly smile – and at my age, retail smiles from young women are the only ones I can count on.

The other option was the Customer Service counter. It was right in front of me. Two women were manning the station. One was dealing with a customer, grudgingly it seemed. The other was channelling her aggressions through a stapler and refusing to make eye contact.

That was when I asked myself: is it worth it? As much as I could use $2.28 to buy other things – a travel rain poncho, for instance – is it worth it to explain to a frazzled employee who has probably been yelled at by three out of five customers, and who (you’ll recall) doesn’t even like me, that I was overcharged? The sighing, the transacting, the violent stapling… when instead I could be out of this horrible, soul-sucking store in less than 15 seconds and driving away – just me and my apple tree.

Besides, surely my wife deserves $4.28 hand cream.

“Fraggle it,” I muttered under my breath, or words to that effect, and left, having spent $2.28 too much.

And that’s why I’ll never be rich.

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Ankle-deep in marriage

My wife and I cringe as we tiptoe onto the first step of our swimming pool. We’re up to our ankles, and that’s where we’ll stand for some time, because it’s scientifically proven that cold water is way colder than it used to be.

It’s just the two of us at the pool, which is rare, but getting less and less rare as the children grow up. In a few years, it will be just the two of us all the time. What will that be like?

The sun has gone behind the neighbour’s tree, casting the pool in shadow, which is taking away what little incentive we had. Every time I swim now, I think, “What if the shock is so great I have a heart attack?” We used to have a thermometer in the pool, but it really made no difference; there are only two temperatures: cold and too cold.

I whip off my T-shirt outside for the first time since September 2014, and I turn to Deb. “I blind you with my chest!”

“Oh my God, look at that,” she says. She’s not looking at my chest but my shoulder. “That’s a long one.”

I look down and see a hair growing where no hair has any business growing. Rogue hairs. The middle-age scourge. I hate them. I pinch it between my fingers. “Don’t pluck it! Gross!” Deb says. I pluck it. This ain’t our first date.

My moles are all there on display too. I was mostly mole-free when we started going out. Deb had no idea what she was getting into, which is why it’s so important to look at your future spouse’s parents, because therein lie clues as to whom you will be sleeping with in 25 years.

Deb has just purchased a new bathing suit but is wearing her old one-piece because she can’t bear to part with it. The elastic is gone on it. But then, the elastic is gone on a lot of things these days.

“We’ll go on three,” I say. “One…”

“No, I’ll go when I’m ready,” says Deb.

“We’ll go together.”

“It’s not up to you.”

We don’t go. We’re standing so close, I can see the texture of Deb’s skin, the freckles, and, yes, the wrinkles. It’s not an insult. Four kids? She’s earned them. I can see the individual hairs of her eyebrows, so blonde they’re almost white. Or are they grey? Either way, it’s all real. There’s no makeup. There’s never been makeup, except on very rare occasions. “Makeup Mom” has always intrigued the children, almost as much as my freakishly long arm hairs.

A few days from now, Deb and I will be walking, and I’ll say to her, half teasing, mostly sincere, “You look pretty good for a woman about to turn X.” Deb will stop and look at me. “I’m turning X-1.” “But you were born in 196X… oh, right.”

Good at compliments, bad at math. It’s a gaff Deb won’t forget for days, maybe years. My wife: she doesn’t wear makeup and she remembers things.

But right now, we’re still contemplating getting wet.

The sun moves past the neighbour’s tree, opening a patch of light at the far side of the pool. “Look!” I say. “An oasis!” I step onto the rim of the pool and scamper over to the spot. I sit on the edge with my legs in the water, the sun hitting my pasty, moley chest.

“I’m glistening! I’m sparkling like a Twilight vampire!”

Deb shakes her head at me, on the verge of an eye-roll.

We’ve been together for 28 years, married close to 25. That’s more than half our lives. It’s not always easy. No marriage is. Sometimes marriage is like this swimming pool, taking up so much room in the yard, yet we often forget it’s even there. It requires a ton of work just to maintain it, prevent things from getting too murky, but it gets used less and less every year. Sometimes we wonder, why keep it going at all?

But then we find ourselves together, on the verge of diving, not a whole lot different from when we were young and smooth-skinned; we’re still beautiful (well, one of us at least), and all those years of earned wrinkles add up to this moment. And I think, is there anyone else I’d rather be ankle-deep in freezing water with? Half our lives. As the saying goes, that’s a whole lot of water backwashed through the filter. What happens next? What will it be like?

“Are you ready?” I ask.

“I’m ready.”

“OK: one… two… THREE!”

Early 1988 - the hair years

Early 1988 – the hair years

Circa 2000 - the unfortunate goatee

Circa 2000 – the unfortunate goatee

2015 - with two out of four

2015 – with two out of four

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I prefer to think of them as “endearing”

Dear children,

It may seem odd to you now, but some day you’re going to make fun of your mother and me. “Oh no, not us, father!” I can hear you cry in unison like adorable Von Trapp children, except without the proximity of Nazis.

It’s true. You’re going to make fun of us, mock us and mercilessly imitate us for the amusement of your siblings, cousins and peers. You might even turn us into one of your go-to stories at social events, depending on whether the event is the type where you can shout out, “WITHOUT PANTS!”

In fact, I would guess that you’ve already secretly made fun of us, and you immediately felt bad about it, guilty even. Please, don’t feel bad, but do feel free to go with the guilt, because your mother and I can use guilt in our favour later on. Continue reading

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It’s all relative

When I was maybe 7, I had a friend named Jeffrey. He eventually moved next door, but at that time he and his family lived in an apartment down the street. We weren’t in the same grade, so it made sense in those early days that I wouldn’t be invited to his birthday party. Made sense to an adult, maybe, but not to a 7-year-old. Consequently, come party time, I lurked around Jeffrey’s apartment complex – hovering, listening for laughter, possibly peeping through windows, I can’t be sure. Finally, Jeffrey’s mother must have tired of trying to ignore me and invited me inside for birthday cake.

* Continue reading

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Unfriendly grammar tips

How do you know whether to use “which” or “that”?
“Which” and “that” are known as relative pronouns because they are like cousins, the kind of cousins who look nothing alike but both do this creepy hand-rubbing thing, which makes you go, “Oh, now I see it, but please get away from me.”

Both “which” and “that” are used to extract additional information from the sentence, sometimes against its will, but these are the times we live in. Sacrifices must be made. Preferably not by me.

Whether to use “which” or “that” depends on whether the sentence can make sense without this additional information. For example, in the sentence, “I went to the door that led to the torture chamber,” the door is defined as the one leading to the torture chamber, as opposed to some other door that leads to sweet, sweet freedom. Continue reading

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Your Summer Jam: Emily King’s The Switch

the switchPeople — this people, anyway — tend to feel proprietary about the music and musicians they “discover.” More folks should know about this, we think. I’m going to champion this singer, we say. I’m going to write a music review on my humour blog even though this isn’t even the type of music I would normally get behind.

New York soul artist Emily King is one such singer who deserves greater exposure. Last week the Grammy-nominated musician released her second full-length album in 10 years, interrupted only by her excellent EP Seven. It’s a beautifully written and produced summer groove of warm sun and city cool.

From the opening bass of “Good Friend,” which recalls the theme to “Barney Miller” — in a good seventies NYC way — you can tell this is going to be classic R&B. King’s voice is confidently sexy, even as she purrs about her friends. If I had a friend like this, it would be very confusing…

King is not a belter, and in this “America’s Got Shouters” age, that’s a good thing. The daughter of two jazz singers, she recognizes that there is power in restraint. She knows how to let things build, rising and falling like moods. It’s an intimate party on your balcony without disturbing the neighbours, ice cubes clinking, the light breeze flirting with hair and hemlines, one thing maybe leading to another …

The whole album is streaming right now on the WSJ site. Or have a sip of these cool drinks. Don’t spill on your freshly pressed linen.

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