What, me Murray? or how Mad made me

There is very little that remains from my youth, least of all my youth. I still have the vinyl records that I purchased until succumbing to the folly of cassette tapes more suited to my transient lifestyle. (Cassettes are gonna make a comeback, I tell ya!) Then there are my university English Lit books, because you never know when you’re going to want to curl up with a good Medieval drama.

But buried in a drawer are possessions I’ve had probably longer than anything else: my Mad magazines.

There are only a handful left. I used to have years’ worth, but somewhere along the way the bulk succumbed to the ravages of time and spring cleaning.

The ones that remain are frayed and torn, mostly without their covers. The oldest is from 1975 and features a spoof of That’s Entertainment called “What’s Entertainment?” complete with song parodies by Frank Jacobs and uncanny celebrity likenesses by Mort Drucker. There are also regular features by Don Martin, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones and “the usual gang of idiots.”

This issue probably belonged to an older brother, but later I had my own subscription. That kept going until about 1982 when I moved on to a cooler, more mature subscription to Rolling Stone.

I don’t have any of my old Rolling Stones.

I’m also not a rock writer. Nor am I particularly cool or mature. Instead, I’m a grown adult man who last week wrote a joke built around the word “beaver.” And not for the first time.

So we now know who to blame for this.

It’s true that Mad had a big influence on me. I grew up in a small town with one cinema and two TV channels – at least in our house. Cable was the stuff that dreams were made on. We didn’t have Saturday morning cartoons. Instead, we had Saturday evenings and “The Bugs Bunny Show,” with its madcap anvils and gravity-defying mayhem, an influence in its on right.

But Mad offered a glimpse at the culture that was happening outside my sheltered, small-town world. Not just a glimpse but a funhouse mirror view – distorted, strange yet recognizable.

I’ve never seen Dog Day Afternoon but I know it through “Dum Dum Afternoon.” I’ve never seen A Star is Born, but I can tell you what happens from “A Star’s a Bomb.” Long before I saw Apocalypse Now, I knew what to expect from “A Crock o’ [BLIP!] Now.”

Mad exposed to me to shallow disco culture, shoddy products, corrupt politicians, The Lighter Side of Grooming. I learned what “planned obsolescence” meant. My brother and I discovered to our endless amusement that when a boob pops out of a bra, it goes “POIT!” (God bless you, Don Martin.)

And weirdly, for a 10- to 15-year-old, I learned the names of the writers and artists. Al Jaffee was a genius. Jack Davis was the bridge between the cartoonishness of Don Martin and the realism of George Woodbridge. To be honest, I paid less attention to the writers, but the writing itself I could count on to skewer everything in its path. And that’s what I took away from Mad magazine – nothing was sacred.

As much as I liked Mad in the 70s, what I truly loved were the special issues, the ones with the reprints of original EC comics from the 50s – “Superduperman,” “Starchie,” “Melvin of the Apes.” These had nothing to do with my current culture. Instead, I was enthralled by the lunatic artwork by the likes of Wally Wood and Bill Elder, with tossed-off gags crammed in every pane. There was no bit of insanity that couldn’t be made more insane, like the ever-changing emblem on Superduperman’s chest (“Good Housekeeping,” “100% Wool,” “For Rent”).

I thought, “I can do this!” And that’s why I decided to become… a cartoonist. But then I discovered I was untalented. (I still have my old cartoon journals too.) Words, however, I could manage, and words could be as flexible as images. Plus there was never a need to draw eyeballs.

Of course, not everyone who grew up reading Mad became a humorist, and no doubt there are many influences that led me to where I find myself – having written a weekly humour column in The Sherbrooke Record for 14 straight years and other places for most of my adult life.

These days we live in Kibitz Nation, where everything’s a joke and comedians come (as Mad magazine described itself) “cheap.” By comparison, the humour of those old Mads is positively quaint. So why do I keep them around?

Maybe it’s to remind myself why I do this, that, like Mad magazine, I still might help someone see the world differently, thanks to humour in a jugular vein.

Posted in It Really Did Happen!, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

How to talk to Canadians

Canadians in their quaint traditional bird=scrubbing costumes.

It’s only a matter of weeks before thousands of tourists from around the world flock to Canada for the highly anticipated Victoria Day celebrations. And while much of the travel advice will be focused on the top places to observe the hatching of the scones and how best to avoid injury during the Running of the Victorians (general tip: well-lubricated bloomers), it’s important to remember that you’ll get the most out of your visit to Canada by interacting with colorful local Canadians — or as they so charmingly put it: “colourful.”

Here then is your guide on having conversations with Canadians.

Approaching a Canadian
History makes us who we are, and it’s important when talking to Canadians to remember their history of colonialism: they don’t have one. Canadians have never been colonized. (Yes, the First Nations people, but it’s very unlikely you’ll meet one of them during your visit because Canadians have made sure to keep them and their history very, very, very, very well hidden.)

Consequently, Canadians have no real concept of strangers. This makes them overly trusting. Without indication otherwise, they will likely assume you are a distant relation who wants to borrow money. It’s tempting to take advantage of this misconception until you discover that Canadians are the most indebted people in the world, so good luck squeezing a buck out of your average Joe Louis.

Instead, you should initially address Canadians at a distance so that they can’t make out for certain whether you have Uncle Archibald’s perpetually flared nostrils. Next, extend your passport and say, “I am visiting your country. It is very nice,” to which they will likely offer the traditional Canadian reply, “Don’t worry, dear, no one takes a good passport photo.”

Maintain eye contact
Canadians believe that the eyes are the window to the beer fridge, so it is important to maintain eye contact as much as possible throughout your conversation. Do not look a Canadian in the chin, as this implies you think they are from Hamilton, which is a great insult.

At this point, your new Canadian friend will likely address you with the traditional greeting, “Blessings and high-speed internet to you,” to which you should respond, “Your kindness is as great as a pot-luck broccoli salad. May you be overflowing with real bacon bits.”

Topics to avoid
You wouldn’t think it, but Canadians are quick to take offence. You will be able to tell you’ve offended a Canadian when you hear from a mutual friend three months later that your new Canadian acquaintance “wasn’t impressed.” This can also manifest itself in the Canadian purposely avoiding the aisle you’re in at the grocery store.

While it’s impossible to ensure you will never offend a Canadian (by federal law, Canadians must take offence a minimum 3.4 times per year), you can reduce the risk by avoiding these topics:

– The non-Canadian Great Lakes
– Lloyd Robertson’s alleged colorblindness
– Spandex
– Flathead screwdrivers
– Scone control
– Poorly bound paperbacks
– Interlocution
– 3 downs vs 4
– Politics and sex (at the same time)

Canadian vocabulary and dialect
For the most part, English-speaking Canadians employ standard North American usage, but there are differences in both vocabulary and delivery. For example, Canadians have no word for “train” and instead refer to it as a “wheel snake.” The word “beverage” means both “something to drink” and “that corner of the property you can’t see from the house.”

You also need to be aware of how Canadians incorporate body language into their speaking. For example, many older Canadians continue to employ the tradition of finger quotes when not in fact suggesting irony or figures of speech. This can lead to confusion for the unprepared when told, “I have to go home and [finger quotes] let out the dog.”

And while Canadians do all tend to have similar speech patterns due to the Great Homogenization of 1883, there are regional dialects. For instance, people from New Brunswick pronounce the word “butter” as “bathurst.”

Useful Canadian phrases
– “Don’t worry, I’m not from Red Deer.”
– “That is a surprising beaver.”
– “Excuse me, is this mukluk taken?”
– “Pleased to meet you, Bryan Adams.”
– “Waiter, may I have another moustache?”
– “I insist you repair my Diefenbaker!”
– “Où sont les caribous?”

Speaking of French, what about Quebec?
Victoria Day does not exist in Quebec.

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Everything you need to know before watching Avengers: Infinity Loop

After 27 years and 103 films, the Marvel cinematic universe will come to a climactic climax next month with the much-anticipated release of Avengers: Infinity Loop.

For those who have not fully immersed themselves in the intertwining storylines of this superhero narrative and would prefer not to be condescended to by white males aged 18-24, here is everything you need to know to get ready for this season’s spandex sensation.

The atomic core of the Marvel universe is Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, and his ongoing quest to ethically justify a non-ironic goatee. A brilliant weapons maker, Stark is reluctantly drawn into the world-saving racket after he thwarts a plot to destroy the global reserve of knishes, doing so by replacing the arc reactor in his chest with a lightly toasted bagel.

The crossover of Marvel elements immediately becomes apparent in The Incredible Hulk, when an errant poppy seed from said bagel travels cross-country via Greyhound and disrupts the lab equipment of Bruce Banner, turning him into the Hulk and making him late for an appointment to get his car detailed. This makes him mad, and who can blame him?

Thor, meanwhile, is a Norse demi-god, son of Odie, tormentor of Garfield. His realm of Asgard contains what we later learn is the first of six Infinity Carbuncles. Each carbuncle harnesses specific powers. For example, the Time Carbuncle can cause the universe to spawn three separate Spiderman actors in 15 years. Anyone who controls all six Infinity Carbuncles is granted limitless power as well as whiter teeth in 7 days.

When Thor arrives on Earth, he is captured by a discrete protector of global security known as S.H.I.E.L.D., not to be confused with a discrete protector of feminine hygiene known as P.A.N.T.Y.S.H.I.E.L.D., a joke for which there is absolutely no excuse.

Eventually S.H.I.E.L.D. assembles The Avengers team, whose motto appears to be “We May Be Big But We Could Be Bigger,” because by the release of Avengers: Infinity Loop, there are exactly 532 members.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, which is actually how fast The Flash can run, but he’s in the DC universe, so screw him. Instead, it’s important to mention the inclusion of Captain America, the moral compass to Iron Man’s carnal Jacuzzi. Captain Steve Rogers is a super soldier from World War II who was frozen for 70 years, which is surprising because I have a burrito in my freezer from 2015 that looks completely inedible.

Throughout these individual Marvel outings, we catch glimpses of various Infinity Carbuncles: the Space Carbuncle, the Time Carbuncle, the Vaguely Odd Smell Carbuncle, the Mindless Humming Carbuncle, the Does-This-Look-Infected Carbuncle and the Garfunkle Carbuncle.

It’s not until Garden Gnomes of the Galaxy, however, that we learn that the Infinity Carbuncles are related and that superhero movies can have best-selling retro soundtracks. We also get further indication that a mighty being is after the carbuncles, a being who is cold on the outside and raging hot on the inside, namely Thermos.

Thermos is the son of Sui-San of Titan and a U.S. postal box. He is obsessed with death, which is why he only watches reruns of “Two and a Half Men.” His goal is to obtain the Infinity Carbuncles in order to destroy the universe and, along with it, vaping.

Superheroes may be smaller than they appear.

By the time we reach Avengers: Age of Elton John and later still Captain America: Another Title With A Colon, the Marvel universe has become supremely dense with characters and side stories. Indeed, the goal of these past two years has seemingly been to expand the roster as much as possible, so much so that the title of the new film was originally Avengers: We Have More Black People Now And One Asian Sidekick.

This surplus of characters and stories has resulted in some dubious tangents, such as a 15-minute sequence in Avengers 2 between Hulk and Black Widow that is a shot-for-shot remake of the 50s diner scene from Pulp Fiction.

At the same time, screen time for other characters has been considerably reduced. For example, it is rumoured that Ant Man will be in Infinity Loop for a total of 15 seconds, consisting of him being smooshed, but because it’s Paul Rudd being smooshed, he will be smooshed so adorably that you’ll want to smirk yourself to death.

Will Avengers: Infinity Loop successfully bring all these characters and story threads together? Will Thermos acquire the Infinity Carbuncles? Will Thor take his shirt off gratuitously? The answers will be revealed – probably 17 films from now.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Scenarios in which I, Ross Murray, might conceivably need a gun

1. I’m a cop.

2. I’m a member of the armed forces.

3. I’m a member of the forces that aren’t necessarily armed but like to be armed in order to feel better about themselves.

4. I’m Liam Neeson.

5. It’s 1802.

6. I need to protect my livestock but only if I am able to use the phrase “them varmints been at ma henhouse aggin!”

7. I need to provide food for my family, and all the grocery stores have been shut down due to an outbreak of e-Cola, the “New Live-Bacteria Beverage That’s A Real Fresh-Maker!” but actually turned out to be a real death-maker, and so with no provision for provisions, I have to take to the woods (but not before letting my food-deprived eyes linger hungrily over the cats, until I recall what I’ve previously seen those cats licking), where in said woods it is man against beast, as well as other man against another beast, or maybe even a bunch of men against the very same beast, which could be cause for conflict (possibly armed conflict) in this dog-eat-dog, man-eat-cat dystopia we’ve created for ourselves, so it’s a good thing I have a gun.

Or, alternatively, I could just go vegan.

8. The above scenario has led to a zombie outbreak, as these things tend to do, and I need a gun to protect my family from the encroaching hoard of undead, though given the nature of zombies and the killing thereof, vis-à-vis the necessity to incapacitate the brain, aka head shots, I had best be confident in my targeting skills, given that bullets in this apocalyptic hellscape are likely precious commodities, so perhaps a firearm may not be the most useful tool in my arsenal compared to the indisputable effectiveness, especially in close quarters, of a chainsaw or even, given the likelihood of gas rationing, your tried-and-true machete, which you have to admit is not only more effective but fun.

9. I’m a biathlete, in which case I really need to step up my cross-country skiing skills.

10. I’m a marauder.

11. She’s a marauder.

12. Wouldn’t you like to be a marauder too?

But… but… it was posted at a high school!

13. I am confronted with an emergency of a marauding-based nature, one that calls for a good guy with a gun to take out a bad guy with a gun, and I am said good guy with a gun. Although, how can I be sure I’m good? Where does badness end and goodness begin? Is it not true that we can be good one moment, bad the next? Can we not be good and bad at the same time, sometimes twice on Saturdays? Sure, I believe in liberty, peace, fairness, but is it not also a fact that I snarkily point out grammar errors in otherwise well-meaning public signs when surely it doesn’t matter that they wrote “everyday” instead of “every day,” since only the doltiest of dolts would fail to understand the sense they are after? And in 1986, did I not spend the weekend with my girlfriend only to break up with her over the phone as soon as she got home, which was the 1986 equivalent of ditch-by-texting? Does that sound like a good guy to you? Thus, the argument could be made that a truly better good guy with a gun might be justified in taking me out, a guy of lesser good. And to be clear, I don’t mean “taking me out” as in “dating,” because clearly he’s too good for me.

14. I live in a high crime neighbourhood and would rather lethally shoot someone than have my porcelain bust of Tommy Lesorda stolen from my home.

15. I live in a place where everyone has a gun because everyone else has a gun so I need a gun to protect myself from the people who bought a gun because the other people have guns. It’s just common sense.

16. For fun, although that would not so much be a “need” as a “want,” like I want to call every constitution-quoting, gun-fetishing, march-mocking troglodyte on social media “human drain gunk,” but I don’t need to.

17. The deer keep eating my beet plants.

18. Penis problems.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

How to fight inertia, sweatpants and go out dancing

My getting ready to go out face. Tweety is my wingman.

1. Are you already in sweatpants? Did you take your bra off?
It’s too late. You will not go dancing. Inertia has won. Start again.

1. Have a spouse/partner who also is thinking about going out dancing.
“Do you want to go?” Deb asked me.

“It’s up to you,” I replied. “Do you want to go?”

“I asked you first.”

“I’ll go if you want to go.”

“That’s not answering the question.”

“Honestly, the last thing I want to do is go. I just want to get into my sweatpants. But I feel like we should go.”

2. Come up with a reason to go out dancing that is not about going out dancing.
“Why should we go?” Deb asked.

“Because it’s for a good cause,” I moaned. In this case, it was a country dance to raise money for the fire department, the cause being, I don’t know, nozzle training or something.

“Plus,” I continued, “I feel like if we stay home, we’re letting life pass us by.”
I put my head down on the table.

3. Call a friend.
Deb called a friend who had said she might be going with her beau.

“They’ll pick us up at 8:15ish,” Deb said. “There: we’re committed.”

4. Get dressed—but not in sweatpants!
Your good clothes are probably stored very near your sweatpants, so be careful here. In fact, if your clothes are stacked in a sort of reverse chronological order, you might need to dig all the way down to the 2014 stratum, which was the last time you mustered enough gumption to go out dancing. Me, I exchanged my usual attire of blue denim, T-shirt and pullover for brown denim, T-shirt and cardigan. With style like this, who wouldn’t want to go out dancing! Wait: me.

5. Get picked up…
It was 8:15ish.

6. And go to the dance!
“Excuse me,” our friend asked a man in the near-empty parking lot. (“I think he’s with the band,” I said.) “What time does the dance start?”

“Nine o’clock,” he replied.

7. Go back home!
Preferably not your own home, because home (I think at this point it goes without saying) is where the sweatpants are. Home is wear bras get unlatched, and not in a fun way.

We went to our friend’s house for a drink and conversations that veered, for obvious reasons, around the topic of bedtimes and wondering who on earth goes out for the evening at 9 o’clock?

But this type of talk will make you feel old, so when someone half-jokingly suggests staying in at this point, you better believe you’re going dancing, dammit, because you are not a has-been! You are not an old fart, even as you make that groaning sound when you lean over to put your boots back on.

8. Go to the dance again!
It turns out all kinds of people start their evening at 9 o’clock. At 9:30ish, the hall was already bustling, the band was playing and the dance floor was full. We walked in, spotted some friends and immediately joined them at their table. This is dangerous, because…

9. To go out dancing, you actually have to dance.
Inertia is crafty and will hit you where you live, or more precisely, where you sit. Add a table and a drink and you’re basically back in your kitchen. Plus, there’s the intimidation factor—and I don’t mean people were dressed better than me; I had the best-looking cardigan in the place. I had the only cardigan in the place.

“These people can actually dance,” I said to Deb.

Sure enough, couples were whirling and two-stepping counter-clockwise around the floor—men dancing with women, mothers dancing with sons, girls dancing with boys, women dancing with women. No men dancing with men, obviously. (Country music.) It looked fun. It looked dangerous. One wrong step and you’ve got yourself a 50-cowboy pileup.

Deb and I danced to a couple of straight-up rock numbers, where I could move like the middle-aged white man I am, but there was no way I was getting pulled into that country-dancing maelstrom. Until…

“Come on,” Deb said. “We can do it.”

We clumsily figured out how to hold each other and negotiated who would be dancing backwards. Then we worked our way into the rotation. The trick is to stay near the hub where there’s less circular movement, though the gravitational pull is stronger. I don’t think we were actually doing the two-step. More like a 1.6-step. But we were out dancing, and it was past midnight! We were also concentrating so hard that I didn’t think more than once or twice about sweatpants.

10. Congratulations! You beat inertia and went out dancing!
And repeat. Every four years.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , | 30 Comments

The Wearing of the Ochre, or Happy St. Pablo’s Day!

I recently received the results of my ancestry DNA testing, and in addition to 70 percent of my genetic roots originating in Great Britain, and Scotland, I was very excited to learn that 12 percent of my genetic makeup springs from the Iberian Peninsula! I was even more excited after I looked at a map and found out exactly where the Iberian Peninsula is!

That’s Spain and Portugal, which is amazing because whenever I’ve stood on the pounding surf of the Atlantic and gazed eastward across that watery divide, my eyes have not been drawn to the northern isles but have drifted further south. I thought it was a problem with my eyeglass prescription, but no! It was Portugal, drawing me home, or as they say in Portuguese: “Seu compromisso foi cancelado.”

So naturally I will be celebrating my Portuguese roots, and there’s no better day than today, because, as I’m sure you know, today is St. Pablo’s Day! Top o’ the Fado to you!

We get so wrapped up in the modern trappings of St. Pablo’s Day that we sometimes forget that St. Pablo was a real person, with a real history and a real gambling problem. So allow me to refresh your memory:

St. Pablo was born in the village of Mira-Mira-Anduwahl sometime in the 5th century. Historians aren’t sure exactly when but it is believed around 2:15 in the afternoon. According to early Christian writings, at age 16, Pablo was captured by a roving band of haberdashers, who forced the young boy into the gruelling world of hat blocking.

Pablo was converted to Christianity after listening to a roving missionary whose heart wasn’t really into it, giving rise to the nickname “Pablo The Easily Convinced.”

But Pablo also had conviction, and after many days of fasting and pious prayer, he miraculously escaped his captors when they accidentally left the door open.

Pablo then travelled throughout Iberia performing miracles, including the Miracle of the Necktie Tied Perfectly Every Time, the Miracle of the Not-Mushy Croutons and the Miracle of Pull My Finger.

St. Pablo is perhaps best known for driving the wombats out of Portugal. Today, wombats can only be found in Australia. Consequently, Pablo is known as the Patron Saint of Taking Things Way Too Far.

Today, St. Pablo’s Day is celebrated around the world and elsewhere as well. It has evolved from a Christian feast day to a secular holiday celebrating Portuguese heritage and the imposition of that Portuguese heritage on others, whether 12 percent of their ancestral DNA comes from the Iberian Peninsula or not.

Modern celebrants wear ochre-coloured outfits and eat ochre-coloured foods including arroz de sarrabulho (rice stewed in pigs blood) and arroz com fiapos de secador (rice with dryer lint). They also drink copious amounts of ochre port, which is made by mixing regular port with chocolate milk, a concoction known as coagulando meu estômago (“my stomach will be emptying itself soon.”)

At this point, the celebrants take to the street with the traditional grandes palitos (“large sticks”) and T-shirts sporting comical versions of St. Pablo as well as the mythical symbol of Portugal, the vestigial tail. Some wear novelty ball caps that read, “Goose Me, I’m Portuguese.” They then confront passersby and grill them on whether they are wearing ochre.

“Ochre, ochre, where’s your ochre?” they chant.

“But I’m not Portuguese,” the hapless victim might say. “I’m 30 percent Scandinavian and 70 percent water.”

“Hapless, hapless!” the St. Pabby’s Day celebrants cry. They raise their sticks high into the air. They scream a Portuguese war cry. They lean in menacingly, their breath reeking of ochre-port and dryer lint. And then they take their victim shopping for some ochre accessories at the nearest dollar store.

As a result, many people pretend to be Portuguese on St. Pablo’s Day because, honest to god, what with the parades, the roving rotisseries, the constant threat of “Lisbon litigation” (AKA getting punched in the custard tart) and the all-around piri piri pressure, it’s just easier to go along, even if you’ve never had a single thing to do with Portuguese culture in your non-Portuguese life.

As for me, with my rich Iberian blood, I’ll be spending today celebrating and trafficking in vaguely offensive cultural stereotypes. And so I’d like to leave you with this Portuguese blessing: “May your road be free of potholes, may your pigs blood be savoury, and may you be halfway to Braga before your family knows you wiped out their savings.”

Although, come to think of it, I could be Spanish.

Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

All cluttered up and no place to go

One small corner of paradise.

When our son came home for his break, he began to chuckle as he looked around the kitchen, as if it were all strange to him. And that was his point: everything was strange.

“You ever look at the things in this house and wonder why they’re there?”

He pointed out one of the corner shelves next to the cupboards: a plate, a bell, a souvenir spoon, a wooden top and – why not? – an Easter egg candle. They’ve sat there for years, catching dust.

I’ve thought the same thing myself, and so I joined in, pointing out the plastic tentacle sitting in a dish above the sink; the slender bottle that I filled circa 1995 with coloured water that now may be capable of spawning primitive life.

I could go on. The magnets on the fridge, the tiny soundless bell that hangs from a red ribbon on the cupboard knob, the giant pine cone, salvaged manila envelopes to be used later (AKA never), rarely referred-to reference books, the unopened Star Wars Mini Body Wash Collector’s Set (mango and apple scented) –  and we still haven’t left the kitchen.

As in life, our living spaces succumb to inertia. The painted papier-mâché goblet on the dining room shelf between the cat mask and the conch shell isn’t doing any harm, so why move it? We acquire this clutter and then it settles into place, eventually becoming invisible.

Every now and then, though, a catalyst for change comes along. In our case, we changed some things recently because of insurance, which is like deciding to alter your lifestyle after a prostate exam.

Our insurance inspector noticed a number of irregularities during her tour of the house, and, no, not the fact that there is a very sharp cactus growing out of a ceramic bowl marked “POPCORN.”

For one, we need to replace our water heater. I thought it was maybe 10 years old. More like 20. Time flies when you’re having baths.

Then there’s the oil furnace. It’s an old converted coal furnace, a real octopus of ducts and vents. There’s no fan. Instead, the heat naturally rises. It naturally rises and keeps rising until it’s all the way outside. We need to have it inspected, which I’m reluctant to do because I’m afraid of what they’ll find. (See “prostate exam” above.)

I’ve already taken care of a couple of tasks. One: replace the plastic dryer hose with a metal one. Easy.

Two: cover the exposed Styrofoam in the basement. The Styrofoam encases what we refer to as the cold room, though, given our furnace situation, all rooms are cold rooms. This quasi-insulated room came with the house when we bought it 23 years ago, and it has indeed served as storage over the years for various pickles. More recently, though, it’s been storage for gift bags and wrapping paper. The Styrofoam, I gather, is a fire hazard. No mention of the paper kindling inside the room, but the Styrofoam had to be covered.

But I didn’t do that. We don’t need a cold room. I just don’t pickle like I used to. So instead of covering it, I removed the Styrofoam altogether. Much of it had already disintegrated, courtesy of the cats, but the rest came away easily. Underneath, I discovered on the bare wood a shaded circle and around it dozens of holes. A dart board had once hung there. How long ago was that? Did anyone use it, or after a few enthusiastic rounds did it just hang there unused, blending in?

I’m now startled when I go down to the basement, all that bare wood where there used to be white. Even the shiny dryer hose takes me by surprise. How long will it be before I stop noticing these changes? But right now it feels good, like I made the house a little less cluttered, like for once I haven’t lowered the property value.

My mother keeps a porcelain frog on her kitchen table, on a doily and always pointed one way. Growing up, I would make fun of this frog and sometimes turn it the other way, just because, and Mom would always turn it back.

As I write this, I’m staring at a ceramic green bowl on our kitchen table. It’s filled with garlic bulbs and a pack of cherry tomatoes. Sometimes it holds lemons and avocados, sometimes my lens-cleaner cloth. The other day, it was empty. So I put it in the cupboard. My wife moved it back.

Now I understand the frog; sometimes the clutter you don’t notice is actually supposed to be there.

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do? | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments