Words are tricky. They look like they say one thing but, evil bastards, really they mean something else.
Take the word scone.
For years, the English language and I had an agreement. I would say skoe + n and passersby would smile benevolently upon my efforts, rewarding me with a pasty dry pastry that reminded me of untanned, pimply boy bottoms.
A skoe + n was good enough for me and, taking it for granted, I believed that I was good enough for the scone. I would overlook its unappealing outward appearance in return for its company. Aren’t we told that Beauty kissed the Beast and that Princess kissed the Frog? I was just as forgiving of the scone’s outer appearance if it would bestow friendship.
Then the scone pulled a fast one on me.
A lady blurted out s + con.
I almost replied, “Don’t you mean skoe + n?” The realization sank in. The scone was not the pastry I knew. It had secrets. Bewildering ones. It had a life beyond our relationship.
At home, I wanted desperately to open a dictionary, to see if I was right…or if it was she that was right.
I didn’t know if I could ever trust my pronounciation of scone again. I lied to myself, insisting that the only ethical thing would be to respect the scone’s privacy. I succeeded in avoiding the dictionary.
Next I fell into the arms of an adverb called maniacally. I never had a thing for the bad boy archetype; this time my convictions fell aside as I shamelessly pronounced it may + knee + ack + ah + lee.
The honeymoon ended even faster.
It was not may + knee + ack + ah + lee. It was mah + nigh + ugh + klee.
Again I was embarrassed, hurt, tormented. Could I be sure of the words I spoke when I could not be sure of their identities, slipping as they did between my fingers like canaries racing for the open window?
I dallied with public, turned out it was pub + lick, not pew + blick. Curator confused me as to whether it was a kew + rate + er, or whether it was a coo + ray + ter. Sometimes I wanted to say facetious; a sudden shyness forced me to use the mere funny. Something else deserved an albeit; I stayed safe with an although. Nevermind what happens to poor Nathaniel!
Looking back over my cloistered childhood, the reason for these unsatisfactorily wordy relationships is evident.
There I was, eight, nine, ten, eleven, even now, alone and reading.
We were poor. Without me, my parents did not have to fend off inquiries for toys. So my parents left me in the car. In the car, forbidden to leave its confines, without the radio, with no one else nearby, what else could I do but read?
All these words I knew secondhand, through books. I read them over and over again. I never heard them spoken nor did I ever speak them. When I did speak these words, they came out all wrong.
Right now I have two options. I can annotate the entire dictionary, then tread daintily into a world of words.
My other choice is to continue being the boor, garble words, then consult the dictionary after the pitchforks are sharpened and the torches doused in kerosene.
Spawn of Cuttlefish
Like any fervent convert, I proselytize in favour of pure speech. I therefore beseech all and sundry to give up your diets of Fuck and Shit and return to the classic simplicity of O Corsican Pig.
I turned my back on cussing and am prepared to make you do the same. Because swearing harms public morals, unborn foetuses might not be born except as divorcing homosexual vegan feminists.
Don’t think I am preaching against a vice I have not known. I have credentials. I am a former swearer.
As a Catholic schoolgirl I tormented myself by trying not to think of the word Darn which began to sneak into my eight-year-old mind circa 1982, soon after I learned how to speak.
In times past, superstition had it that evil could not harm one unless one invited it into one’s abode. Once I regularly starting thinking the word Darn, other words showed up. The school forbade Hell and Damn: the jolly viscera of heaven demanded our attention. But Hell and Darn were the bad kids, enticing me over with the glamour of cigarettes behind the tire swing.
It took a few years until I finally got to Shit, Holy Shit, and then, after a circuitous route via Fuck, Cunt, Bitch, Bastard and Asshole, I made it to Holy Sheep Shit1.
Maturity came at a price. After cursing my friends to the depravations of a g** t****** l****, I found myself alone in back alleys swigging whiskey from paper bags. I vowed that if I ever rearranged my life into a purity as clean as bleached diapers, I would never again cuss.
I am now a strictly ScheiÃŸe kind of girl, though I often like to explete my mother’s invention, “CÄƒca m-aÅŸi pe nasu lui” (I shit on his nose).
I urge you to do the same, in the name of societal mores. Be a pillar of society and use a CÄƒcat where a Shit might sully delicate ears.
1My cousin Cat (not Stevens)originated this phrase.
Ghost For Sale
The first Amusing Child Encounter du jour was a little boy admiring the tin cars in the toy display. He asked which car belonged to the police.
Putting two and two together I figured he was headed for a career as an aligator skin tanner. Instead of going with the obvious, I asked, “You wanna be a cop, huh kid? Huh?”
“Nope,” he sweetly replied, “I want to be a monster truck driver.”
Why didn’t he stop at monster? I have always wanted to ask people, if they could be any monster in the world, what kind of monster would they be. You know, then I could retort with a “Oh yeah, well I would be an evil cursed blob and I would ooze toxic slime on your face!”
I should have interrupted him right after he pronounced the word monster. He did pause a bit. I missed my chance again. We talked about Transformers after that.
The next Amusing Child Encounter was a little girl who mulled over the Comments section of our guest book.
“You can write about how much you like the muskrat,” was my suggestion.
She went back to the fur trade display to recall which animal she liked best. As soon as she wrote I liked the, she turned to her mother to ask how to write a cursive lowercase R. Her mother wrote the R and the little girl took proceeded to finish the word red. Then she ran back to the display and returned to write out squi. Again she requested two more cursive lowercase Rs of her mother. Then she finished off squirrel.
The Museum, among all the “We loved your museum” comments from Kyrgyzstan and Venezuala, now has a “I liked the red squirrel” comment. Thank you, little girl, but next time write about how much you love the other flayed animals. They feel left out, especially the coarse pelt of that former raccoon. His nose is attached and everything. What’s not to love?
Finally, my third Amusing Child Encounter was another little girl who, quite frankly, is probably my long-lost daughter.
“Do you have any ghosts here?”
Why, ghosts are my specialty, little lady!
I immediately offered her a tour of the vaults and the secret room behind the women’s washroom and the chainsaw room that always creaks. Then her parents said that she can never sleep at night. There was no backing out now. A Bastardized Museum Ghost Tour it would be.
I showed her secret room. As I started explaining the background of that room and what we found inside, I noticed her mother’s eyes getting wider. So when I got to the part where the Museum staff opened the locked door and beheld the horror within…I slapped on a PG rating:
“To find out what awaited us in this room, you’ll have to wait ten years and become a Museum volunteer.” Rather like the X-Men or Spiderman movies, I hinted at a sequel.
My wee ghost-seeker complained that I didn’t have a very good ghost tour. I explained that Herbert does live in the basement and he rattles the chainsaw all the time. I couldn’t be blamed for his hermit mood. So the little girl asked to buy Herbert. I offered to write up a certificate of sale for Herbert if she brings me a few pennies next time.
When this little girl comes back, I could sell her off a few more ghosts. Like this pair of extremely rare dual pink vortexes. A bargain at only $27.99, they mop up any spill.
Or, starting at $10.99 plus shipping and handling, I have a number of spectral wisps ranging from the intangible to the downright viscous. A charming addition to any modest bungalow-style home, they are guaranteed to chill.
In addition I could throw in the disembodied ghostly footsteps that once prevented me from sleeping for two weeks. I’m sure I have an irksome elf around here too, and a few leprechauns. I chained the leprechauns in a row next to the furnace. Once I week I ask them to take me to their treasure. Once a week they refuse. The furnace can no longer handle the leprechauns. May as well get rid of them.
I’ve been having a real mental block in coming up with a conclusion for this post. What happens now? Do I tie in the little ghost girl with the little red squirrel girl and the monster truck driver boy? Do I let my imagine run wild and write the hilarious outcome of the little ghost girl and her ghosts? Can I throw in a car chase or a sex scene?
Unless the parents of these kids bring back their children, I can only guess at what the conclusion to this post will be.
The little red squirrel girl, after a painful courtship, eventually marries the little monster truck driver boy.
Following a series of affairs with peg-legged aristocrats across the Caribbean, the little ghost girl eventually crosses paths with the little red squirrel girl at a Wyoming service station. They exchange DNA samples and discover themselves to be sisters, separated at birth when their mother’s personality split down the middle into the soccer mom prototype and the mom-with-a-lampshade-dealership paradigm. This chance meeting is fortuitous, as the abandoned child of the little ghost girl turns up one night, soaked to the skin, in the aftermath of a typhoon, in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant which the mother of the child (the little ghost girl) can’t provide as she is a heavy smoker and the father ran off with a milliner of indeterminate origin.
I’m sure it’ll all end happily when Herbert and his vapourous brethren throw a big party for the little ghost girl, her recuperating child, the little red squirrel girl, the little monster truck driver boy, the milliner and her new husband, the father of the recuperating child, and both the soccer mom personality and the mom-with-a-lampshade-dealership personality.
That’s a pretty good conclusion.
Vancouver for Free
For the benefit of someone about to move to Vancouver, here are all the places where I get free things.
I volunteer at the Pacific Cinematheque. For a four-hour shift, I get to watch the movie playing that night, plus popcorn, plus a drink, plus a chocolate bar, plus two complimentary tickets for future movies, plus drinks for me and my guest.
I used to volunteer at Music West; recently I discovered the Rogue Folk Club. A few hours stuffing envelopes with the most congenial of company includes cookies and a gourmet pizza dinner, in addition to one ticket for a folk concert.
A few years ago I filled in for a friend at the Vancouver Playhouse‘s Seniors’ Afternoon Series. They gave me two tickets for a performance that evening.
Ever wanted your own pet raccoon but were afraid your leather couch would be chewed to pieces? Try Wildlife Rescue in Burnaby. Hoping for a pet bald eagle but don’t want to decimate the wild population? Try OWL. Ever wanted your own pet parrot but were concerned that you couldn’t burn any more incense due to the parrot’s fragile vocal cords? Try Greyhaven. Don’t want the neighbours to wake up with Puffy the Viper in their bathtub? Volunteer at the Rainforest Reptile Refuge instead. Want to bottlefeed kittens? You can get temporary kittnes at the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue. Hoping to cuddle squirrels? The Critter Care Wildlife Society is for you. Of course, for dog people there are many SPCA locations throughout the Lower Mainland. At the end of the day, you say good night to your Puffy or your Poochie.
For my help at the upcoming Vancouver International Tattoo Convention, I will be getting a petite Vancouver International Tattoo Convention t-shirt. Also available at other big festivals.
See Rogue Folk Club, Pacific Cinematheque. Also try making friends with caterers. A friend who went into catering now fills my fridge with things she couldn’t sell. In Tortilla Flat, Danny’s gang waits “for the daily miracle of food.” I eat less, so mine are weekly miracles.
An inventory of superstitions that govern my daily comings and goings reveals that there are six to which I most rigourously adhere.
My morning showers are a minefield of danger. The end of my shower signals that I must rememeber to not dry my feet. Feet must air-dry; wiping off one’s wet feet is akin to wiping off one’s luck. This new superstition entered my life in February 2003 when I translated Romanian beliefs and proverbs: the book wasn’t clear from which part of Romania this superstition originated. I spent my entire life before that wiping off my feet – how lucky I am that no steamrollers or anvils felt an attraction to me during those unlucky times!
I don’t kill spiders, either. I like rain, but I don’t believe weather phenomenon hinges on the lives of spiders. Luck does. My mother raised me to live harmoniously with animals, not just spiders.
“Pest infestations suggest that the infestee is beloved,” says my mother. “Otherwise why would thousands of wasps choose our garden for their five hives?”
So I live in peace with animals*. We each have our agreed upon boundaries. As long as no one oversteps these boundaries no one gets hurt. I shuffle spiders outside when their company becomes irksome. Flies and I consult on our boundaries. They know that if I turn off my bedroom light, it is time for the buzzing to cease. The raccoons may ruffle up my garbage, but they may not break down the garage door to get at it. Luck, according to this superstition, will surely knock on my door any day now.
Just in case Luck misplaced my street address, there is another superstition that saves the day: the first busker I pass on any day, I must give him some money and in return my whole day is lucky. Any further buskers do not get my money. Nor do the handicapped or the young whippersnappers with those “Give me money for pot” signs.
A friend asked why I don’t give to handicapped beggars.
The answer lies a few years back. [Woozy in the Sands of Time, your vision gets blurry, then it comes into focus. But it is no longer 2004.] It is 1999, the rough-and-tumble Wanhua district of Taipei. I am buying snacks at the neighbourhood beer-and-squid store. Customary chitchat with the store manager turns to the photo of a little missing boy.
“I hope they find the poor little cutie pie,” I said.
“They won’t. Not in one piece.” The store owner explained that he was probably maimed now, and a beggar, due to a practice criminal elements the world over use to make spare change for themselves.
[Horrified gasp, your vision is blurry again, you are travelling through the Sands of Time, and you are back in 2004.]
That can’t be conducive to luck.
Throughout my day of Luck-chasing, I avoid red pens. The Chinese say that writing a name in red ink signifies that one is breaking ties with the person who owns that name. My sister takes this one step further and refuses to write anything in red. She was recently quoted: “Red pens should be banned!”
Then, at the end of the day, when I get home, I very carefully place my shoes by the door. The shoes must be side by side, with the left shoe on the left and the right shoe on the right. What happens when shoes reverse position? Nothing less than death.
The right shoe on the left side of the left shoe means death. The left shoe to the right of the right shoe – this will make sense in a moment – means death. The right shoe on the left of the left shoe and pointing in the opposite direction means death. If the left shoe sits on the right of the right shoe and points in the opposite direction means death.
I know what you’re thinking, with so much danger, why bother taking off one’s shoes? A Japanese superstition warns that only corpses wear their shoes directly from inside the house to the outside. This Japanese supersition** suggests one puts on shoes at the door’s threshold. Therefore you can’t wear your shoes indoors. That would also be inviting death. I’m afraid the only solution is to take off one’s shoes at the door and carefully place the shoes in left-to-right order.
Once safe inside my house, one more superstition troubles me, right before bedtime. In a book of English folklore, I once read that demons and evil fairy types navigate by shoe toe directions. Thus, if the shoe points to the door, demons and evil fairies leave. If the shoe points to the bed, demons and evil fairies come for a visit.
After every sleepless night I’ve had, I wake up to see my slippers pointing to my bed. Then I realize that nasty fairy fingers have braided my hair to the bedpost.
It’s mornings like that that make me wish I had tentacles instead of feet.
*Cockroaches I kill. Yet cockroaches are not animals. They are evil robot creatures. They have little cameras on their heads and they take rude pictures when people think they are picking their noses in private. They swim in pudding and tarnish chocolate cakes.
**There is also a Japanese superstition that regulates the tying of shoelaces. That’s just ridiculous.
Poodles in Galoshes
A ton of work to do, but the poodles in galoshes have been revolting.
They set fire to my worm compost box. Casualties: Ernie the Surfing Worm and Smithy Jones, also known as Smithy the Cruel.
They clogged my shower with their toenail clippings and my prized towel collection. Casualties: my prized towel collection. 100% Martian cotton.
They messed up my hair. Casualties: Farrah Fawcett do that alarms, not entices.
They filled their galoshes with lemonade and doused me with it. Casualties: everything I touch becomes sticky sweet. I am plastered in supermarket receipts, bits of yarn, and lost pet posters.
They danced on my roof all night. Casualties: a good night’s rest. They may have stuffed an owl into the chimney.
Drat those Poodles in Galoshes!
Presumably while you sip your espresso: a combusting marshmallow, scenes from my refrigerator, the quick peck, and another crustacean story.
MaikoPunk and I walked up and down The Street on foot looking for our own Espresso Story hangout.
I liked Mario best of all. Both times I’ve been to Mario’s, it has presaged disaster. But I know Mario and I are going to be pals. Despite the disasters. I am determined to make trips to Mario’s end better.
By the end of the day on The Street, I had five new plants (sweet woodruff, grapefruit mint, bitter melon, thai basil and strawberry) and a book on terrariums – I’ve been gardening for four years now and the terrarium angle will be a new project. Everyone, prepare to receive terrariums from me.
This was the first time I’ve walked through The Street. I’ve lived near this neighbourhood for years and always just drove or, in my diehard environmentalist days, rode the bus through. The friendliness surprised me. A store owner took an interest in my plant-buying habits. A nice man tried to help us find the coffee shop of our dreams. A bookstore clerk offered to scout for Japanese vegetable books for me. And, of course, Mario shook my hand.
There are other spiffy neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
Some people like Commercial Drive. I like its busy-ness but a friend had the shit beaten out of her there – it’s thus tainted with a smidge of creepiness in my eyes.
Kitsilano is busy, too, but the stores are expensive and no one talks much. The beach is a fun place to people-watch but, after two visits, I am bored with the tanned yuppie crowd. Can’t they stop rollerblading/drumming/tanning just for once? Can’t they just once do something unpredictable yet hilariously cute?
Robson Street – good God! – I haven’t been there or anywhere downtown since February. For those of you not from Vancouver, Robson is the place where men with two-inch dicks turn up the volume to deafening on their car stereos.
Main Street was supposed to be my place. Weird smelly people who care for clouds and nod appreciatively when I mention Cheburashka. Impromptu palm-readings by strangers and the sort of film experience I really go for. I even have a restaurant where I am a regular; they’ve started being nice to me even, not like when I first went and they tried to pour tea on my lap. I also have a designated parking spot and I found my own hooker boots shop there.
Main Street, you failed me!
A foggy walk there one morning really did it. No one in sight.
Neighbourhoods can commit no greater crimes than being desolate.
Main Street can’t fool me. It’s only pretending to be a decent street; when it thinks no one is looking it will go out to the mailbox without makeup.
Don’t get me wrong. Foggy walks are alright in my book. They just have a time and a place. The fields of Calgary or the hills of Ardeal, no problem.
This foggy walk, however, scared me. Main Street suddenly empty. I ran into no one. It was like the set of 28 Days Later, only not perfect.
Main Street could have been something.
Looks like Hastings is cooler.
Unemployment in BC means that over 30,000 people do not have jobs. Nintey-two other people sought out my museum contract. Job ads generally get over 100 applicants, sometimes as high as 600 for one of the jobs where I applied.
Facing this bleak situation, my sister decided to become a factory worker. But Labour Ready, temp agency for factory and construction positions, expects prospective workers to arrive at their offices at 5 AM. There is no guarantee, however, that the worker will find a job for the day.
Disappointed with Labour Ready, her situation looked bleak.
Then, this afternoon, I went to pick up my copy of The Bloody Chamber at the library.
A sign by the check-out: “Do you read relationship self-help books? $50 to help me.”
A local psychiatrist writing a relationship self-help book wants to find readers of books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus to see how people read these sorts of books. I knew there was a copy of Men Are From Venus, Women Are From Mars in our house. Some well-meaning friend had lent it to us years ago. We threw it in the basement with all the other scary monsters.
I ripped off the telephone number tab. Now my sister will have a job, I thought. She could read the book and become a market research assistant for the psychiatrist. I couldn’t wait to get home to show my sister that I found her a job. $50 an hour!
She arrived home soon after I did. “Guess what? Guess what?” I leapt about the kitchen waving my telephone tab. “You can get a job as a relationship self-help book marketing consultant!”
She was so happy and agreed that it would be a good job. But she had her own news. She found another job: my sister will now spend her Saturdays mud-marching!
Her new job entails that she will take off her shoes and stomp on potter’s clay for four or five hours. Now she can combine workouts and work.
“After I saw the ad for a mud-marcher in the paper, I left a message. A few days later, when no one returned my call, I phoned again.” Her new message was: “I have fond childhood memories of mud…”
To celebrate a second income in the household, we sought out the exiled copy of Men Who Love Cars, Women Are A Bonus.
My thirtieth birthday is a month and three days away.
Once a lady is thirty, I’ve heard it said, all chances for marriage vanish like cotton candy in a downpour. Cold lonely days spent with peanut butter-licking dogs replace picnics by the riverside with a loving husband. Nights stretch into record cat-brushing sessions instead of evenings at art galleries with a jovial companion.
A marriageless lady puts herself at risk for elderly homelessness, whereupon sadistic schoolboys will beat her. If she can still pay the rent, her knees will freeze onto the floor and the neighbours will mistake her anguished cries for a defective toaster. Regardless of her location, cats will eat the unmarried woman’s eyeballs.
I don’t suppose I will get married within the next 33 days. There are no prospects for an engagement either. I’ve already resigned myself to the inevitable.
Truth is I knew I was cursed for years. I’ve stepped on the toes of all the marriage superstitions.
At seven, in a thrift store, I put on a wedding veil. My mother shuddered. Any young woman not about to marry – if she puts on a wedding veil dooms herself to eternal one-sided games of Monopoly. No further word of this incident passed the threshold of my mother’s lips.
At thirteen, I swept a broom over my own feet. My grandmother scolded me, that if a young woman sweeps her feet she will watch all her friends disappear into a labyrinth of joyous afternoons spent riding in sleighs and the occasional joy of being painted upon with chocolate and whipped cream.
At twenty seven, there were so many people around the table, I sat on the corner. No Johnny Castle barged over to say “No one puts Baby in the corner.” But my friends were there to point out that the corner seat makes one unappealing in nightclubs and therefore not good enough for the requirements of evolution.
For a few years, I thought I had a chance. Others have beaten the odds. How many clumsy maidens, in Ancient Sparta, swept over her feet but still found their Menelauses? Some slipshod scullery gal from Bruges must have tried on her mistress’ wedding veil, only to wed a year later. Surely at the height of the octagon table craze, some Medici teenager found herself in a corner seat?
With my last remaining 33 days, the governor shows no sign of a reprieve. All my energy goes into choosing my last meal: oysters, sashimi, brie, Tom Yam Kum, washed down with a Kama Sutra martini, followed by a molten lava chocolate cake, and finished with a glass of champagne.
Things broken during my mother’s visit:
1. One black velvet jacket with gold trim. Disregarded Dry Clean Only tag means I will now cut the jacket into squares, stretch them onto a frame, and paint pictures of the Old Elvis on them.
2. One brand new mug with a yellow daisy. The mug with the blue daisy survived. You know, the depressing mug lived while the happy mug died. I’m sure the blue mug wishes it had been the one that shattered into the sink.
3. One bathroom lightbulb. She must have used that bathroom during her visit.
Things that have disappeared during my mother’s visit:
1. Okinawan purse. Replaced with a pink & black purse following a torrent of tears and arguments.
2. Sister’s credit card. Technically the responsibility lies with me; I wanted to find a good hiding place for it just in case some drug fiend broke into my house instead of the grow-ops in the neighbourhood.
3. My Taiwanese university transcripts. Found them in the garbage. She says she couldn’t read the Chinese and assumed it was unimportant.
4. My third world travel vaccines. Now I have to go through the pleasure of yellow fever vaccines all over again.
There are many other things I could add to this list. But I can’t find them.
Things I wish materialised during my mother’s visit:
1. Poodles in galoshes. They fight fires. Sometimes they make breakfast. If their fake eyelashes fall off in the pool, they don’t care.
2. A disembodied voice muttering lines from the annotated edition of Treasure Island. Preferably with the accent of a dog attempting to be Scottish.
3. A csar. Or perhaps a csar wannabe: pimping coarse Russian peasant types, like the intact Rasputin, assures anyone a position among the upper echelons of society. No more genteel poverty.
4. Two or three widgets that turn one’s ears into helicopters.