Since I’ve been out for a while, I thought I’d recap a few things that have happened in this last year or so of radio silence.
This is the biggest one.*
I have another nephew! He is my third nephew, the second one named Benjamin, and the first borne by my only sister.
He is an adorable mound of cuddliness. His likes include almost all foods, his doting grandparents, and the family dog.
His dislikes include the Art Knapp train and taking long walks on the beach. This last one I’m assuming. He’s new to this strutting thing and is thus a little wobbly. He can barely handle carpet. I’m sure sand would be right out.
Anyway, I love all my nephews to bits and if anyone in this world was marked for “Kooky Aunt” status, then hoo boy was it ever me.
*If I don’t say that, somehow it will scar him for life. Don’t ask me how, but the poor kiddo’s got a lot of future grief coming his way from the direction of Auntie Ashleigh. I’m going to throw him this bone.
This past Saturday night, BoyRoommateFriend met the family. (Why, that’s a premise you could shape a Ben Stiller movie around!)
My family has a remarkable way of dealing with new significant others. Mum, in particular, has a knack for staging these so-called Events. When she can’t lure you into the trap of an alleged birthday party,* she resorts to emotional blackmail.
So, she invited the two of us around for a family birthday dinner on Saturday, impressing the importance of the evening with an appeal to familial bonds so simultaneously sincere and full of shit that she could rival the greatest rhetoricians.
When I finally called back the next day to confirm that BoyRoommateFriend was indeed coming, she admitted that it was not really a birthday dinner after all, but (as had been advertised to the relatives) Meet Gregg Night.
So, believing that, come Sunday morning, I would find myself either newly single and/or disinherited, I survived the dreaded anticipation by telling myself that “at least there’ll be a good story at the end of this.”
But, alas, there isn’t. It went off without a hitch.
I don’t have a great story.
Yes, I know I received texts to the effect of: “Can’t wait to read the blog post!”
So, to you all: I am sorry.
I prepare myself for the worst, not for things going well. Thus, I don’t really know what to do.
Not that there wasn’t the potential for hilarity. Half the family were hungover. The other half were drinking. Dad had a pulled muscle (tragic curling accident). The Boy stripped himself of his pants and spent dinner jumping up and down on the couch with his widgie in his hands.
These were all plot points I fully expected to tie together like a Christmas bow at the climax of the evening: the proverbial gun introduced in the first act, the delicate chess pieces shifting slowly around the board, waiting to move in for the kill.
It’s just that they came to… nothing.
Nothing at all. No racist tirades. No baby sicking up all over everything. No uncle pointing out who has tiny ears or receding hairlines.
My sister even arrived late, bearing a huge flat of fruit from the zoo. It wobbled beneath her weight as she carried it up the stairs. I mean, honestly. A giant flat of fruit. If you were watching at home, by the end of the night you’d expect that fruit to be splattered all over the walls.
Rather, there was a frequent refrain of how nice BoyRoommateFriend was, how tall, funny, etc, etc. The word handsome got tossed around more times than I think healthy for his ego.
I honestly think they were all just shocked I’d done so well and didn’t know how to react. I honestly believe this. So, I guess if you catch them off guard, their knee-jerk response is civility.
That, or they expected I would die alone, and thus were doing theirabsolute best not to scare him off.
*I’m now convinced that my entire twenty-sixth birthday party was a ruse to get the family out to meet my sister’s boyfriend. (This line of thinking was also encouraged by the fact that Mum completely forgot to tell me, the alleged Birthday Girl about said party until the day before.) Sister and her Boyfriend had only known each other two weeks and he arrived in the middle of a drunken menagerie of miscreants, where, due to unfortunate circumstances delaying the end of her work shift, she hadn’t even shown up yet. In the ten minutes between his arrival and hers, he bore witnesses to a drunken Ashleigh bailing over the baby gate; the solemn, horror film-esque stares of ten silent, male relatives; a kitchen full of a dozen gossipy, drunken female relatives; a moth fluttering through the kitchen resulting in shrieks, flailing limbs, and broken glass; and, in all her glory, Mum.
A short list of reasons why my mum is a superhero. In no particular order.
She wears a Batsuit.
I once nicknamed her housecoat “The Batsuit” in an attempt to mock her. (It had to do with certain resemblances to the Schumacher/Clooney batnipples.) Like any person full of win, Mum turned this around on her would-be bully and now we ALL call it “The Batsuit.” She even put “New Batsuit” on her Christmas list.
She cultivates a well-groomed alter ego.
Mum’s the life of the party, Bruce Wayne-style. She’s also got a ton of hobbies and career choices that seem to be perfect cover stories for someone who secretly lives the life of a crime-fighter. Travel Agent = Easy Excuse for Travelling to Exotic Locales in Search of Scum and Villainy. Wine Taster = Senses Well-Honed to Perfection for Sniffing Out Trouble. Dental Assistant = Imagine What You Can Fashion Those Sadistic Tools Into. Curling = Something About a “Clean Sweep.”
She has a Fortress of Solitude.
Only she calls it “The Princess Room.” It’s where she keeps her yoga CDs, aromatherapy stuff, and all the family albums. You don’t mess with her down time. But Superman had to fly around the world to reach his little sanctuary. He would be gone for a long time, letting crime run rampant in Metropolis while he was off sleeping in an ice cave,* but Mum just needs a quick twenty minutes after a long day at work and then she’s back in the thick of the fray: re-energized and ready to kick ass.
She rules a fear-based regime.
Just like Batman crafts the persona of the Dark Knight as so to inflict fear into the hearts of the criminals of Gotham City, Mum ruled my childhood home with the stern veneer of a ruthless vigilante. After school, but before she got home from work, Disney Afternoon would pop on the television in a fit of rebellious glee. The seediness of our after-school existence was apparent: dishes in the sink, shoes scattered about the hall, backpacks dropped in the middle of the floor. All of it: evidence of the brutality of the underworld. But lo! Suddenly, there would come a noise! The car in the drive: the tires, the engine, the slamming of the door. It struck a terror into our hearts just as deep as any Batsignal or glib one-liner from a web-slinger. Without her even lifting a finger, harmony was restored once more.
She’s a marvel of medical science.
She scoffs at doctors and other so-called medical professionals. “Gall bladder? Bah. Don’t need it! Come on, world, what else’ve you got?!” She’s never met a tranq dart capable of taking her down nor a canister of tear gas that could quell her rage. She can write her own damn prescriptions, thankyouverymuch. I’m fairly certain she has the ability to stop time, Zack Morris-style. That’s the only thing I can think of that would explain her uncanny ability to multi-task (as well as all the tiny details she somehow knows about my private life).
She has a sidekick.
He’s called my dad. He’s kind of Robin/Alfred/Lois Lane/Nick Fury all rolled into one. If Mum told him to, I bet he’d even wear the tights and carry the Bat Shark Repellant.
Global TV owes her a printer.
This is actually why I decided to make this list. I got a call from her today while I was at work. Apparently, her expert pub quiz skills were put to good use this morning and she won a printer from Global TV. “Great!” Mum said to the lady who called her, “I don’t have a printer!” “Okay,” the lady replied, “I’ll email you the details and you just need to print it off and mail it in.” “But wait,” Mum challenged, “I just said I don’t have a printer.” And then Global TV vanished in a puff of logic.
She raised me.
That takes balls.
*Or whatever the crap he did in there. I don’t really know. I never read Superman when I was a kid.
This is the story of How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate Class Differences. I’m pretty sure most of why I grew up to appreciate Marx is encapsulated in this tiny little nugget of childhood.
This is the second time I’ve had to write this post (as I’ve already grumbled about). Whenever such a thing happens, I try to be all self-help sentimental about it and tell myself that this simply means it will be better the second time around.
That’s probably not true. I’m pretty sure I struck gold before. This is just cheap brass in comparison.
If you were female and under the age of ten in the late eighties, you may remember a cartoon called Jem and the Holograms. The entire show was basically one half-hour-long toy advert. It told the story of plucky, young music producer, Jerrica Benton, who moonlights as plucky, young, pink-haired rock star, Jem. An entrepreneurial music producer and a rock star. No matter who you were in the eighties, rebel or yuppie, one of these careers greatly appealed to you.
This was also pre-Spice Girls/Hannah Montana, but post-glam rock, so I’m pretty sure Jem was just a female Ziggy Stardust.
This show basically treated rock stars as superheroes. They have secret identities. They wear flashing tights. They have magic jewellery. Green Lantern had a ring; Jem has a snazzy pair of earrings which are “able to project holograms around her and [she] uses this ability throughout the series to avoid danger and provide special effects for the performances of her group.”*
Because, let’s face it, you have this amazing “holographic technology” but, rather than use it to fight crime or do something useful, you use it to put on an awesome stage show. I mean, get a fog machine or something.
There are also villains. With their own secret identities. And some of them are after the holographic technology. Some are just rival bands. My favourite were The Misfits, even though they begged a horrible comparison to the real Misfits, which I’m sure left many disappointed upon subsequent trips to Sam the Recordman or wherever else you bought your cassette tapes in 1987.
One Christmas, my list of demands to the fat man was topped by a Jem doll.
Since this was the late eighties, Mum was doing her Christmas shopping at K-Mart and had to drag me along. I shouldn’t have, but I peeked into the shopping cart. Lo and behold, what did I see but Jem. In all her pink-cardboard-boxed glory.
“Mummy,” I asked, “Who is that for? Is that for… me?”
“No,” Mum scoffed, “Remember that box we saw by the door when we came in?”
“Well, that box is for people to donate toys to all the little girls and boys whose parents are too poor to get them any presents for Christmas.”
My mind was blown.
Keep in mind, I was only about four or five. I was too young to appreciate the subtleties of things like class distinctions and tax brackets. My understanding of rich versus poor had been determined solely by Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim.
The only people I recognized in my life that I could clearly label “poor” were homeless people, who seemed to me then as exclusively male and middle-aged. I didn’t realise that, in real life, children could be poor. The idea that there were kids who didn’t get Christmas presents caused my world to immediately grow four times in size, just like the Grinch’s heart.
That the Jem doll would go to one of these poor children seemed perfectly reasonable. Still unaware of my parent’s own fiscal limitations, I felt guilty that we weren’t buying all the toys in K-Mart to donate to these kids.
But, come Christmas morning, I indeed found the Jem doll beneath the tree.
Despite my initial elation at receiving my most-desired gift, I looked to Mum, a desperate tear in my eye. “I thought this was for the poor kids.”
“Oh,” she lied again, “It was. This one is from Santa.”
But dramatic irony is a solid fist of fury. Of course the day would come when I would learn that *SPOILER ALERT* Santa was not real.
I don’t remember how old I was when I realised this, but I do remember that I suddenly felt a great sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What was this strange, unpleasant sensation? What happened to my secure sense of self? What was this feeling?
It was the first time I’d ever experienced middle-class guilt. It never really went away.
But also, this was the day Dad went on his field trip to The Zoo.
Two fun (and slightly related) facts:
1.) My sister, Bri, is a zookeeper at said zoo. (And apparently a damned-good one; she was Employee of the Month).
2.) Dad and his colleagues did not actually take any students on this field trip.
While A Day at the Zoo sounds like a lost Marx Brothers film, I was told there were no mutes, outlandish Italian accents, or witty one-liners amongst their party.
And no ice cream.
Met with Mum for lunch on Saturday.
“So! Did I tell you that I finished the fourth book?!”
She meant A Feast for Crows, which she’s arrived at rather rapidly following her enthusiastic response to Sean Bean HBO’s Game of Thrones.
She actually had told me that already. “Yes. You did.”
“Yes. Cersei is still a bitch.” (Fact.)
Mum sipped at her apple cider. The rain was beating down on the plastic roof because we were at a pub and we tried to sneak in my fifteen-year-old cousin but pretty soon the jig was up and they sat us on the patio.
“Oh,” she drawled as if adding a footnote to Cersei’s personality issues, “And your dad got bit by a cobra.”
“Um, what?” My natural reaction was shock, obviously.
But seriously: a cobra?
Called Dad on Sunday to verify the cobra story.
Turns out: not a cobra, but a boa constrictor. Or, as Dad would have it: “Just a boa constrictor.”
Maybe it was like a Marx Brother’s film after all.
*The Boy’s Sequel is two months old and looks so much like Orson Welles it’s a little unnerving.
The house was silent save for the flickering of some distant infomercial blasting through the two am airwaves: a direct transmission of nothingness from the autocorrected perfection of the studio right into Dad’s vacant, tired eyes.
He heard me stagger in, heels clicking away across the linoleum. Each clacking step came with the dissatisfied ache of dance floor blisters. Each clacking step betrayed my feigned innocence. Each clacking step cut through the “Three! Easy! Payments!”
“And if you buy now–!” CLACK.
“You’ll also receive–!” CLACK.
“The Blenderific–!” CLACK.
“Free. Of. Charge!” CLACK.
The clacking stopped as my heels hit the carpeted floor of the living room. Were I any other nineteen-year-old and were this perhaps any time other than 2003, I might fear a reprimand.
But no. Dad and I looked at each other, both internally equivocating who sat in the worse light: me, eyes smeared with make-up, hair stringy with sweat, blood thin with alcohol; or him, nearly fifty years old and watching an infomercial for a blender at two am on a Saturday night.
“So,” he finally spoke, “How was your night out?”
He asked honestly, as if the fluorescent glow convinced him he could not be one to judge.
“Oh,” I finally spoke, “I don’t know if this whole clubbing thing is for me.”
I answered honestly, as if suddenly remembering I had once been the only kid in my junior high to own a copy of Highway 61 Revisited.
“I just don’t think I like any of this music. I hate hip hop and dance, and whatever else it’s called. It’s just….”
The night came filtering back like a distant memory. Moments picked themselves out of the fog. But everyone else seemed to be having so much fun. The realization hit bitterly. Is something wrong with me, or were they all faking it too?
“It’s just… I had a crap time. God, I hated it. So full of fake people and fake smiles, fake… everything! Overpriced drinks, sweaty assholes!”
I peeled those horrid shoes from my feet and tossed them across the living room. For just a moment, the violence felt nice.
I ranted for a while, thinking of the dreaded club as a scene from a terrible movie: poorly lit with a horrible soundtrack.
“It was terrible, Dad. Just terrible.”
Dad’s eyes rolled back to the infomercial. I could hear the years of frustration bottled beneath the surface.
He pulled the remote from between the couch cushions as if it had been lost all night and only now he remembered where it was.
Mum took a spontaneous trip to New Orleans this past week, which means that Dad has been home all alone.
Now, Mum normally gets the brunt of the memoir/sledge-hammer, but I really think that’s mostly because she’s a much more exuberant personality. Dad, on the other hand, is a quiet force, soldiering on beneath the radar.
In addition to being the Vancouver Canucks’ first win of the Stanley Cup finals, last night was also Dad’s birthday. Naturally, it was up to the pub for hockey and drinks, then back to the house for whiskey and Game of Thrones (Dad is much more of a geek when he feels he doesn’t need to look cool in front of Mum).
I ended up just staying over, which had the happy result of us going through our morning routines in each other’s presence. Neither of us are morning people.
The following is the conversation that took place between him and I at 7.30 this morning, yelling across the house from the kitchen to the living room:
Dad: I made you a salad.
Me: Oh, thanks, that’s awesome.
Dad: Do you want some yoghurt too?
Dad: *rustle rustle, fridge opening* Okay, but it’s expired.
Dad: Smells a little weird, too.
Dad: Tastes okay, though.
Me: When did it expire?
Dad: Um… May.
Me: Like May 31 or like May 1? That’s a big difference in the world of expired dairy products.
Dad: Hang on, let me get my glasses. *rustle rustle* Okay, May… twenty… something.
Me: *thinks about this* Ah, sure. Go on then. I’ll have some yoghurt.
I am more like my dad than I have previously accepted.
UPDATE: (Lunchtime) I have eaten the yoghurt. I am still alive.
So I’ve been so busy editing (deadlines, man, do they suck, eh?) that I haven’t had much time to write any new posts. I am, however, an iDouche, which means have the power to record voice memos when I’m supposed to be doing better things (i.e. driving safely).
In lieu of a written post, I present you with this. A verbal recount of why my cat is the coolest damn cat in the world. It’s not because he’s cute or anything (he’s not, really) but because he can outsmart skunks… and my dad.
Is it just me or are they stuffing fewer and fewer chocolate-covered almonds into those door-to-door peddled boxes these days? Perhaps I am just siphoning nostalgia back from the days when we sold actual chocolate bars.
I was at my parents’ house the other day when I heard a rapping, rapping at the chamber door. It was an eight-year-old boy who reminded me of Gil, the hopeless salesman from The Simpsons.
Only this kid had his shit down. He immediately launched into his sales speech, waxing rhetoric about how not only was this money going to charity (which charity, I’m still not sure), but it was also teaching children such as himself the value of hard work and entrepreneurship. I was too shocked to counter-argue.
The experience simply washed over me and all I could do was feebly hand over my purse like an old lady being swindled into buying a thousand dollar vacuum cleaner.
I paid five dollars for a three dollar box of almonds. No idea how that happened.
But it got me thinking.
I reached into the dark recesses of my childhood and pulled out one of the happiest moments–nay, THE happiest moment–of my young life.
You see, I was once a young, naive chocolate-peddler myself.
We were coerced by the promise that at the end of what can only be described as a Fundraiser / crash-course in Wall Street Economics, there was a yet-to-be-announced prize for the kid who sold the most chocolate bars in that fiscal quarter.*
Since my mom took my box of treatsies to work and pawned them off to dentists and their ilk, I was in the running.
Then came the day to announce the winner.
The principal came into our classroom…
My eight-year-old heart was all aflutter.
He said that the winner was… a GIRL…
Heart beating a little faster.
He said that the winner’s name started with an “A”…
My heart was visible beneath my skin.
THE WINNER WAS ME.
MY HEART RIPPED ITSELF FROM MY CHEST LIKE THAT DUDE IN INDIANA JONES AND SMOTHERED THE PRINCIPAL WITH KISSES.**
And my prize…?
If you are astute enough to guess from the title, it was a five-pound chocolate bar.
I was only a wee thing back then, but I remember the thing being the size of my small body. It seemed like something tourists would stop and take photographs of.
It barely fit in our fridge.
My parents were wise enough to try to enforce rations: “Only one segment a day.”
It was a nightmare. It was the torture device that is Christmas advent calendars, but far, far worse.
In my pre-adolescent mind, I equated the five-pound chocolate bar with a heaven where I sailed a chocolate boat on a river of Cadbury’s Creme Egg filling. And the only thing keeping me from attaining heaven here on Earth were these damned rations. The rations were nothing; they were peering through a window, foggy with my own naive breath, onto a heaven out of reach; they were gazing with unquenchable desire upon pure, unfettered joy.
Now, I know what you are expecting. That my parents came in one day to find me hovering under the dining room table, belly engorged, face covered in melted milk chocolate, wrappers and foil in shreds around me, moaning and remorseful.
I was well-behaved. I accepted my lot, wandering each morning to my mother with pitiful doe-eyes, begging in vain like Oliver Twist.
But I was not stupid.
One morning after the chocolate win, I gleefully ran to the fridge, ready to partake of my candy-coated ration as soon as possible. I knew that from this moment onwards, the rest of the day was all downhill, but I just could not restrain myself. I had my ration and I burned for it!
I threw open the door, giddy and sick with the morning’s anticipation.
Each morning was like Christmas, but better. I earned this.
But then I noticed something was amiss.
For how long these shenanigans had been going on, I was not sure.
But I was angry.
The paper had been carefully trimmed back and the foil neatly folded back into place. It was as if my parents assumed my eight-year-old brain would be too dazzled by the prospect of the chocolate, to hungry and sick for my fix, that I would not notice they had been skimming off their cut of the prize.***
This was tatamount to cold-hearted betrayal. A knife not only stuck in the back, but twisted cruelly. This was treason.
My prize! Pillaged!
It took this exercise in the aforemention Wall Street Economics to the logical conclusion. The banks just went under. To my eight-year-old self, my parents were the greedy corporate swine, the Gordon Gekkos of my innocence. It was injustice at its most pure.
To this day, I can’t save chocolate.
*The “fiscal quarter” qualifier was not official, though I’m sure, for tax reasons, incredibly valid.
**Not actually true.
***Granted, they were the ones who did the majority of the prize-winning chocolate sales, but, seriously… I was eight.