So your roommate is feasting on your soul…

“I’m asking you for the last time: refill the toilet paper!”

Welcome, students, to another exciting year in residence! Living in rez is just one of the many amazing aspects of university life, and working together in a supportive, positive, inclusive atmosphere, we can make it a super-memorable experience for all!

By now you are hopefully settling into the routine of living with your roommate – learning about each other’s study habits, sleep patterns, forays into the black arts. It’s a period of adjustment, and as is often the case, you may discover that your roommate is slowly devouring your very soul each night as you sleep. We’re here to help!

First of all, how can you be sure your roommate is slowly draining the very essence of your being in a series of nightly satanic rituals?

One of the best ways is simply to ask! As in any relationship, communication is key. Pick a time when you are both alone and free of distractions, then drag your anemic, nearly spent body across your dorm room floor and whisper weakly to your roommate, “Are you systematically devouring my life essence while I am helplessly restrained in the bonds of slumber?”

If your roommate answers “Yes,” then congratulations! You have achieved a good jumping off point for discussion! If, on the other hand, your roommate dodges the questions, reacts defensively or hisses at you like the writhing whirlwind of a thousand fires, you may need to take another approach.

Before taking action, though, here are some signs that your life spirit is indeed being syphoned off by way of nocturnal rites:

  • Low energy
  • Mysterious bruising/puncture wounds
  • Room smells like brimstone
  • Dreams haunted by the cries of agonized souls tortured for eternity
  • Waking up naked in a farmer’s field with no memory of how you got there

While these may indicate you are being preyed upon by a demonic soul eater in league with the devil, it’s also possible you may simply be a Fine Arts major.

If, however, the evidence points to the ritual consumption of your life force, there are a number of steps you can take:

  1. In a gentle, non-threatening tone, tell your roommate that you are aware the soul-eating is taking place and that it is disrupting your quality of living and, well, living.
  2. Avoid attacking phrases like “I hate that you are sucking my soul at night!” and “The power of Christ compels you!” Instead, make inquiring statements such as “Can you tell me why you are slowly consuming my soul until I disappear into an oblivion of dust?” or “Do you need to hover a foot above the bed when I’m talking to you?”
  3. The conversation may take a couple of attempts – particularly if in mid-discussion your roommate transforms into a winged, sulphurous beast and bursts through the door in an explosion of splintering wood. (Be aware that the cost of repairing structural damage and/or scorch marks will be charged to both roommates!)
  4. Strive for empathy. Just as you need a good night’s sleep in order to perform at your academic peak with your soul intact, so too does your roommate need to feast on the souls of the innocent in order to fulfil the ancient prophecies and summon The Dark Lord. It’s important to walk a mile in the other person’s cloven hooves.
  5. Strike up a compromise. Perhaps your roommate can feast on your soul only on weekends or at least not on nights before a big mid-term. Make a schedule and stick to it! What about offering to seek out other worthy victims whose souls can be consumed in your stead? What a great bonding experience!
  6. Think of this as an opportunity! You’ve never had your soul sucked out of you little by little until you succumb to madness and a zombie-like existence. University is all about gaining new experiences and meeting different people/demons. You and your roommate probably have a lot more in common than you think – namely your soul.

If you are unable to resolve the issue between you and your roommate, your friendly RA is available for you to crawl to in gasping desperation. We’re always nearby — but not too near; we don’t want you luring us into your witches coven. We’re onto you!

And remember: if worse comes to worst and you do lose your soul, you can always switch your major to Business.

 

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Posted in Never Happened | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Progressives and Pleasure-Ways

During our stay in New Brunswick, Deb and I camped at an oceanfront campground. Unfortunately, the oceanfront was primarily reserved for RVs and trailers while our tent was relegated to what wasn’t so much “front of ocean” as “back of sewage plant.” These are the wafting risks you take when you stay at a municipal campground.

Packing the prime real estate of the campground were dozens and dozens of camper vans known as Pleasure-Ways. The park was in fact hosting a Pleasure-Way rally, with Pleasure-Way owners from across Canada and the U.S. coming together to meet and discuss, I guess, Pleasure-Ways.

I can’t imagine being so excited about any mode of transportation that I would want to meet other equally enthused owners. But they happen all the time. When lovers of classic cars get together, it’s called a cruise night. When owners of loud four-wheelers team up, it’s a called a bloody public nuisance.

“Do you know of the Pleasure-Way?” I imagine our ralliers saying. “Come, friend, let me show you the Pleasure-Way…” Sounds positively lascivious until you look around and realize it’s probably been some time since these folks enjoyed the Pleasure-Way.

Yes, the Pleasure-Way appears to be the way of mostly older folks, retirees who have freed themselves from the shackles of job and home for the joys of the open road and sleeping in glorified parking lots.

Seen at our campground. It distresses me that this directive needs to be made explicit.

If I were writing a comprehensive memoir of my life, the chapter covering the times I’ve stayed at campgrounds heavy on the RVs and retirees would be entitled “Old Men Pooping.” Apart from hanging out clever banners (“It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere”) and polishing their RVs, this seems to be one of the driving activities – storming the facilities like the beaches of Normandy, preparing not to free Europe but last evening’s prime rib. There are no atheists in men’s stalls.

This is all crude, ageist and generalizing, of course, and most of all disconcertingly close to home. Looking around the campground, I thought to myself, “Wow, there are a lot of older campers here.” Then I looked in the mirror of the very men’s room I had fled to myself and realized: le vieux, c’est moi.

As I mentioned last week, Deb and I hiked abundantly during our time away, hustling up hills, negotiating rocks with relative ease and nary a broken hip. Even after spending the night on an air mattress, we remained flexible the next day – following a strong cup of coffee and a little quiet time.

But my body is slowly betraying me, and I don’t even want to think about my mind. This past week, I got my first set of progressive lenses, and I am now a person who has to look directly at his feet when going down the stairs. I’ve always wondered why old people walk so slowly, and now I know it’s because two-thirds of what they see is out of focus at any given time. It’s like being drunk but with none of the Pleasure-Ways.

Right now it’s my eyes, but I also need a crown on a molar, and my family will rejoice the day I get hearing aids – and I will actually be able to hear the rejoicing for once. At this point, I’m spacing out the work like they were home renovations, though my resale value is the pits and everybody knows my plumbing is shot.

I acknowledge that the many people reading this are older than me, and I expect little sympathy. It’s not like I stuck a flag in middle-age and declared I discovered it. I don’t even like talking about it that much.

And yet here we are.

Consciously I’m aware that age is a mental game and that if you start thinking you’re old, you’ll start feeling old. Increasingly, though, I find myself, despite myself, comparing aches and pains with peers in similar periods of life – whose knees are doing what wonky thing, whose hips have a mind of their own, so-and-so’s ordeal with digestion, and all the things we can no longer eat, drink, do or do quite as much or for as long.

And now I realize: aging is my Pleasure-Way.

I’m in the club of people with greying hair and failing parents. Our membership is huge! And increasingly into naps!

We all just want to connect. It’s a beautifully human thing, especially at an age when making new friends becomes so difficult. And so we cling to what we have in common to get us through the years, whether it’s comparing your Plateau XLMB (with the innovative Murphy bed) to your neighbour’s Plateau XLTD (with the multifunctional rear dinette) or talking at length about gas. It never gets old.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Sharks are the least of your worries, Mom

Before Deb and I left (alone!) for our vacation in New Brunswick, my mother sent an email warning that sharks now frequent the Bay of Fundy, our destination, including great white sharks, even in shallow water. Also, there are seahorses now, which, by the way, awwwwwww!

What Mom didn’t realize was that in order to get attacked by a shark in the Bay of Fundy you have to step foot in the absolutely frigid waters. In other words, you don’t have to be crazy to get eaten by a shark in the Bay of Fundy, but it helps.

It’s a very mom, very human thing to do – think about the sensational perils that are statistically unlikely versus those more certain to do us harm (see: terrorism vs. climate change). If Mom had only known the other stuff Deb and I got up to (alone!) during our trip.

We spent three days on Grand Manan in the middle of the bay, tenting at the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, which is named after a natural rock formation that looks like – you guessed it – a hole in the wall. Nearby were dozens of rustic campsites perched on the windy edges of the cliffs. Deb and I looked at each other and thought: we would totally camp here.

Alas, the owner died a few years ago and his widow felt unable to keep it all running, so she closed the cliff sites, and we were forced to take a boring old site with level ground and zero precipices.

We made up for it by hiking the trails along the rugged western perimeter of the island. We were virtually alone for miles and miles as we peered down towering cliff faces to the jagged rocks below. Slipping and plummeting to our deaths wasn’t probable, but it wasn’t impossible either. A seaside hike as a life lottery, if you will.

There was greater likelihood of getting lost. The markings along New Brunswick’s trails are virtually foolproof, but fools do find a way. I tended to lead on the hikes, and a couple of times Deb said, “Uhhh, isn’t it this way?” just before I blended Field-of-Dreams-like into the brush. Or the time I thought Deb was behind me and I heard, “Ross?” from, well, not behind me.

Indeed, there were moments when I thought to myself, “Absolutely no one knows we’re out here (alone!). This could go badly. Also: is that mushroom edible?”

Did that stop us? Well, it didn’t stop Deb, who’s never seen a trail or spur or Enchanted Lane of Doom she didn’t like. I was just happy to be on vacation.

Back on the mainland, we found a trail that led to a marshy pond. Cute. But then there was this other trail, one not advertised on the map we were using. So we followed it, not knowing where it would lead or for how long it would be or whether there were sharks at the end. There were no sharks, but I did look down and wonder, “Isn’t that bear poop?”

Along a rough path, over tumbled boulders, past sheer rock faces, bears undoubtedly peeking at us through the pines, we eventually made it to the top of what we later learned was Mount Chickahominy. Don’t get excited; this is a New Brunswick mountain, which is basically a hill with aspirations.

We were taking small risks, as one does any time one ventures outside. But generally it’s not the outside you have to worry about…

So imagine me cooking dinner over a camp stove. I have ravioli ready and am preparing a sauce of fresh tomatoes and basil, chopped garlic, onions and mushrooms. I reach for the jar of oil and pour it into the frying pan, adding the mushrooms, onions and garlic. Funny, I’m not smelling it. I lean closer, sniff. Do I detect lemon? Is my oil bubbling?

I look at the jar of oil. It’s not oil. It’s dishwashing liquid. I am sudsing my veggies.

I try rinsing them, but the thing with mushrooms is they absorb. I know this because I am still tasting the soap a week later.

My point is not that I ruined supper (I didn’t; tomato, garlic, basil, dried oregano, a little wine was just fine) but that I did a very stupid thing. What if it hadn’t been dish soap but carbolic acid? I don’t know what carbolic acid looks like or what it does but I bet it makes a lousy sauce.

The moral of the story is you don’t have to worry about sharks. But you do have to worry about me.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Actually, this IS my first rodeo

So what do I do, what am I riding? Is it just horses and bulls? Do I have to supply my own? My friend Cheryl said she could loan me a cow but I’d need to borrow a van from my ex, but, honestly, I can get it here in, like, half an hour. You cover mileage, right? Or should I say “mooooolage…” Ha-ha-ha!

By the way, I believe it’s pronounced “ro-DAY-oh.”….

*

Back from some time away to find this posted at Points in Case, my first publication with them. Follow the link for the rest.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

In the British series “The IT Crowd,” the running gag is the incoming phone call to the IT Department, with the standard and immediate response being, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” It’s a great gag because we (the tech-savvy viewers) get to scoff at the unidentified callers (moronic drones) who can’t troubleshoot their way around the most basic problems with their computer/printer/internet/yea, even unto the fax machine.

I laugh with smug delight because I can certainly find my way around a network printer. I can even install a network printer, which impresses the ladies no end. I can send things up and down from the cloud like I was the water cycle personified. In my house, I’m the person they count on to fix all technology problems, when, trust me, they don’t ask me to fix anything else.

I’m called on to fix these things, mind you, because, as with real-world IT guys, there’s the sense that I’m the one who broke it in the first place. That’s why when I got home last week and found that the internet was out, I knew it was imperative to get it running as soon as possible. Otherwise, it would be, “Dad! The internet’s not working! It’s not working! What’s wrong with it? Why? My world is collapsing! Make it work! MAKE IT WORK!”

So I did what you’re supposed to do when the internet goes out: I tried turning it off and on again. I rebooted the router, the modem, my devices. It was connecting, but the message kept popping up, “Server not found.”

I looked at the power supply. The black plug was in the wall, as always. I removed the jack from the modem, waited 10 seconds, and put it back in. I did the same for the router. Finally, I gave in and phoned our provider.

“I’ve tried turning it off and on again,” I said pre-emptively because I thought my technician might appreciate the reference. Also: it’s good advice.

“Let me look into it,” he said. “Hmmm, there’s no interruption of service. Are there lights flashing on your modem?”

I walked over to where the modem and router were, on the desk with the afternoon light streaming in. “It’s hard to see the white lights because of the sun, but I think they’re on,” I said.

“That’s your router,” said the tech guy. Embarrassing. “The modem, the small box, are there lights?”

I squinted at it. “Really hard to see any. Like I said, it’s really bright over here.”

“Is it plugged in?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s plugged in. It’s right here.” I followed the cord of the black plug from the wall socket and found… the jack plugged into nothing. I then followed the cord that led from the modem to discover its plug sitting on the table behind the books.

“It was unplugged!” I told the IT guy. “Someone unplugged it and plugged in another black plug that looked just like it.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mr. Murray?”

I wanted so badly to explain to the IT guy. I wanted to demonstrate to him that I’m not like those other dunderheads who call because they’ve accidentally cut the power supply. I wanted to describe in detail the mess of cords that tangle like weeds in our own little IT corner of the house. I wanted him to drop everything, grab his car/scooter and get over here so I could show him how bright the afternoon sun is; we don’t even have blinds on that window. I wanted him to meet my family, who would provide testimonials – written affidavits, if necessary – that I do indeed know my way around software without having to use air quotes when I say I “fixed” it. I wanted to tell him about all the stereos I’ve hooked up over the years. I wanted to explain to him what a stereo is. I wanted to point out that I’m a master of avoiding email scams and phishing, except for that one time. I wanted to introduce him to my children so he could understand that there are people – savages, really – who unplug plugs without considering that those plugs might be powering important things, like the internet, my God, the internet! The INTERNET! I wanted to demonstrate to the IT guy – nay, I needed to demonstrate, like my entire self-worth depended on it – that I was not the type of person to whom you have to sardonically suggest, “Did you try turning it off and on again,” though it turns out I apparently am.

“No, I’m fine. Thanks,” I said.

“Have a good day, sir.”

What a joke.

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | 22 Comments

ABBA über alles


The first album I ever bought was by Valdy, a barely remembered Canadian folk artist, and it wasn’t even the album with that one hit. I have no idea what prompted me to buy it. I mean, Side 1 was live. Live! Live folk music!

My second album was a comedy album by Bill Cosby. People used to buy comedy on vinyl back then and listen over and over. I knew those Cosby skits pretty much by heart. These days, vinyl is making a comeback. Bill Cosby: probably not.

The third album I bought was by ABBA. It was ABBA: The Album, as opposed to ABBA: The Shoe Store or ABBA: The Particle Accelerator. I believe I purchased this because I liked the single, “Take a Chance on Me,” a song that was introduced to my Grade 6 class by our music teacher, who especially noted how the male voices (“Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance chance chance…”) acted as a sort of rhythm section.

(This teacher, by the way, also introduced us to Harry Nilsson – the album Son of Schmilsson, to be precise, but not that song! – so she was way cooler than her ABBA indoctrination may have led you to believe.)

This was not my first exposure to ABBA. I remember hearing “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” on our local radio station. Did I think, even at the age of 10, that this was a terribly dorky song? I did, I did, I did, I did, I did.

Then came “Dancing Queen.” Released in 1976, the song was everywhere (still is), immediately becoming emblematic of the disco era with all its edges air-brushed off. My friend David had a copy of “Dancing Queen” and one particular evening we played it over and over as we danced around his house. Amazingly, we are both straight.

I purged many of my albums in the late eighties, sloughing off some of my more embarrassing purchases. I got rid of an album called Good Girl Gone Bad by (not Rihanna) Terry Crawford, purchased solely because the artist looked trampy on the cover and I was a horny 80s boy. That’s probably the only reason I remember that album at all, and, trust me, it took all my internet sleuthing skills to even come up with the name of the performer.

For whatever reason, though, I never purged ABBA: The Album. I’ve carted it about and stored it for over 40 years – and haven’t played it for about as long. Why didn’t I sell it along with the rest?

Likely because deep down I appreciate that ABBA is actually quite… good. As pop songs go, they are masterfully created and slickly produced, and you can still hear their influence today. Listen to the intro to “Everything Now” by Arcade Fire and you’d swear you were hearing something straight outta Sweden.

Shiny like their suits, clear like their skin, uncomplicated like their looks, ABBA made music to be enjoyed. And people have been enjoying it for generations now. My wife is one of those people. Deb used to put on ABBA’s greatest hits album to torture me, but it was a kind of death by pleasantness, targeting my cynical nervous system. For a while there, she even carried around a CD in her car – an ABBA cover band. Cover band!

Map of upcoming Mamma Mia performances, showing at a community theatre near you.

This summer, Deb has been all up in her ABBA as part of the ensemble of Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, which is essentially ABBA: The Musical. Licences became available for community theatres and high schools only last year, so this summer you can’t throw a platform shoe without hitting a production. Nearby, it has already been performed in Knowlton and Burlington, with the Haskell Opera House production opening last weekend and continuing this. A production in Stowe, Vt takes place at the end of the month.

It’s ABBA über alles.

But I wouldn’t call it an ABBA glut. (Do you suffer from ABBA glut? See your doctor.) Supply is responding to demand, and demand is high for these beloved songs wrapped around a charming plot about a girl on the eve of her wedding hoping to figure out which of three men is her actual father. Tragedy ensues. Of course not! It’s ABBA!

Ultimately, there are certain songs – and even albums, if you still believe in those things – that become indelible thanks in part to their innocence. And these days, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little innocence.

Just don’t hold your breath for a Valdy musical.

To learn more about Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, visit http://borderlineplayers.org.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Vehicular mans-laughter

Story one:

We’ve been thinking of buying a pickup. We’re always moving kids back and forth, we’re considering getting kayaks, and, besides, doesn’t everyone secretly want a pickup?

So I’ve been looking online, and by “online” I mean “lazily browsing Facebook,” where I came across something in our price range, i.e. cheap-ass and terrible. But the kayaks in back will look magnificent!

I sent the seller a message: “Is this still available?”

Some time passed. Then came the response: “Oui.”

Not exactly the hard sell. A couple of days went by as I continued my search. Eventually I wrote back: “C’est à Stanstead? On peut passer quand pour le voir?” [“It’s in Stanstead? When and where can I come by to see it?”]

I waited for the response: “Oui.”

But…!

“Ou et quand?” I asked. [“Where and when?”]

Two days went by. Two full days! And then:

“Quand tu veux.” [“Whenever you want.”]

I call this The Art of the No-Deal. If you can’t respond in a courteous, helpful way — in a way that suggests at least a glimmer of motivation to sell your product — I’m not buying. There are plenty other crap-bag trucks out there, merci beaucoup.

Next story:

On Monday, I was pumping gas at our local station. They are the slowest pumps on the planet. You can actually see the decimal points ticking by. On the plus side, it gives you lots of time to judge the other customers.

On the opposite pump island (“Pump Island,” coming soon to FOX!), I noticed a guy fussing around the partially opened sunroof of his car (make and model: 4 Wheel White). A gas station clerk walked over to him carrying a metal rod with an L-shaped prong on the end. “You might need this,” she said.

The dude (make and model: 2 Leg White) proceeded to stick the rod through the sunroof, trying to squeeze his hand through the opening. Locked his keys in the car, poor dude.

I was still pumping away (“previously on ‘Pump Island’…”) but thought to myself, “Finally, the reason I was born. This is my destiny — to at last put my skinny hands and wrists to good use by sliding them through the sunroof of a stranger’s locked car.”

There was no one waiting behind me, so I walked over and said in my best French, “My hands are on a diet,” or something to that effect. “I can try.”

This was my moment!

Alas, I overestimated my skinniness. So much for destiny.

Failing to reach the lock button from the sunroof, dude decided to try a different tack and out of nowhere produced a three-foot crowbar. Protecting the frame with a cloth, he wedged the crowbar into the top of the door and wrenched it forward, leaving a crack for the rod to slide through.

Now, my French comprehension is not the best. Ideally, for me to understand, you should speak French like a 19th century Parisian nobleman. This is not the case in Quebec and certainly not the case with our dude who, though I hate to be snobbish (liar), spoke French like a white dude with a white car wearing a white shirt with the sleeves cut off.

So to me, his comments sounded a lot like (in translation),“Crunch bar mini-fridge dopamine swing hut.”

Still, we managed to work together to angle the rod towards the button, sometimes him manoeuvring it, sometimes me. “The button: do I push or pull?” I asked. (“On the next episode of ‘Pump Island,’ things take a confusing turn…”)

The clerk, who was guiding us from the passenger-side window, said, “Try now! I think you got it!” (It was me. I’m sure I got it. Hero.) Dude yanked on the door and it popped open.

I looked at the frame where the crowbar had rubbed, a few scratches on the white. “Not too much sorry?” I said in French. “BarcaLounger fruit tip,” he replied.

My French is good enough, however, to recognize the simple word “merci” or even the phrase “merci, mon chum,” but unless my assumption about my new friend was wrong and he was speaking some antiquated French like a 17th century chevalier (“Soothe! Thou art ever thus correspondent of my profoundest gratitude, my slender-handed squire!”), I did not hear a single thanks or acknowledgement as I walked back to my car and drove off.

These seemingly unconnected stories have a couple of things in common. One: courtesy takes only the smallest of efforts; and two: I am easily put out. But soon I’ll be easily put out behind the wheel of a cheap-ass, crap-bag pickup, or as we say in French, une île de la pompe.

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments