Fifty Four.

That’s how many pumpkins we’ve got at my house this Hallowe’en.

I carved eight of them myself. The annual pumpkin party was a great success and I’m so glad Marilyn has hardwood floors up there, because even though she hollows out the pumpkins before we start carving, the open spaces in 54 jack-o-lanterns means there’s a lot of pumpkin pulp on the floor. Marilyn spreads plastic drop cloths, and they get most of it, but things are still a little…pulpy on the floor when we’re done. Oh, and since Marilyn insists we carve each one on both sides, that means even more debris.

She claims we carve each one twice “so we have something to look at”, but I’ve watched her. She gets as much fun watching the trick-or-treaters discover the double-carved pumpkins as she does watching them charge up the steps in the first place, then startle at the battery operated spooks, skeletons, ghosts and ghouls. The really little ones, she warns. “Oh, be careful, there’s a ghost coming up,” and nods to the parents, who make sure to laugh and point out that the ghost isn’t scary.

In related news, my house smells of bleach. In several moments of weakness, I told some of my students about our Hallowe’en extravaganza, and I think some of them might come to see, judging from the looks of excitement on their faces. “Fifty pumpkins?” “Well, there might not be exactly fifty, but pretty close. A lot, anyway. ” “No, ten pumpkins is a lot. That’s way more than a lot!”

So I got to thinking that they might want to see where I lived, seeing as I go to their houses to tutor, eat food provided, and use their bathrooms as needs must. What they know about me, variously and as a group: I live with E, who is a musician. My house is 100 years old. I have a lot of books. I have been learning to crochet.

And then I noticed the state of my house. Granted, the carpets are being cleaned in two days, but I still

-vacuumed
-changed the bag when I saw I wasn’t vacuuming anything much
-vacuumed again
-cleaned the bathroom (they might have to pee)
-vacuumed and bleached the front window frame and sill, which were beginning to get a little moldy
-bleached out a couple of spots where there appeared to be mold forming (basement suite, old house, I have to keep on top of these things)
-moved E’s dresser, discovered that that was where the moldy smell in the bedroom was coming from. Bleached the hell out of everything around there
-washed the ornaments that catch the sun in the front window

It comes to my attention as I peruse this list, that I am an appalling housekeeper.

Also, if prevailing weather conditions hold, no one will even bother coming here. It’s too damned rainy.

Samhain

I can’t go to sleep yet. The Hallowee’en partiers are still way too evident. Firecrackers explode every few seconds. Drunken laughter echoes along the street.

Hallowe’en is always a big party time. But why that is the case is maybe a mystery and maybe a combination of things.

1. September’s over. The time of renewal, of the unknown, is over. Students know what their classes hold and can let off a little steam because they know there’s some leeway in the rest of the year. Teachers have the year by the coattails and are going to do their best.

2. Masks. Hallowe’en marks the time when we can be who we ‘truly’ are, or what we want to present for the time being. Why are there so may sexually enticing girls in angel costumes, or so many guys who find a reason to wear a superhero cape (or a jailbird outfit)? I remember my landlady’s pumpkin carving party last year when her friend Mac trolled the party wearing a full mask, holding a (rubber) bloodied knife. His dad was in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s at the time. What better way than to meet Death on your own footing, than to become Death itself?

3. There is the basis of the day ( holiday?) itself. Samhain, the old Celtic New Year. When the fabric between our reality and the reality of the Otherworld is thin enough for some spirits to pass through. Have the spirits possessed us? They may have. Some revellers will wake up on All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1) and think. “What was I thinking?” In other words, “What posessed me?” Maybe Spirits. Maybe just spirits.

It’s a mystery.

Indelible Snobbery.

I am a snob. Today I had a big day planned. I went to Brentwood mall, because it has an IHOP, and because I wanted to get a jump start on Christmas shopping.

The snobbery didn’t prevent me from accomplishing my goals, it just made me realise how seldom I now go to North Burnaby these days. (Not that everyone from N. Burnaby is in any way like this, Cheesefairy, because I know you’re not, but I think you might know the type of woman I mean.)

For one thing, I actively recoiled when the woman in front of me(who looked like she’d tried to achieve the Tammy Faye Bakker look , circa 1988, for about fifty bucks-including hair frosting and perming, and makeup) in the Ricki’s lineup turned to me and said, “You know teenaged girls, they’ve got receipts all over the floor!” I used to speak to women like this on a regular basis. And never, ever flinch.

First of all, she was frightening for me to behold. Clearly, me and my delicate sensibilities need to get off our butts and out of the West Side more often, because the protective shell I had? Gone. Second of all, she looked like she was about 60. She might have been the girl in question’s grandmother, but she referred to her as her daughter, several times. Thirdly, I am not exactly, ‘A Woman of a Certain Age”, but I really was puzzled for a second when it came to why she would assume I was a mother. Of anyone. Let alone, as she had implied, that my (hypothetical) child was a teenager. Is my hair that frumpy? Then, of course, I realised that as she saw me as a) white (and so, obviously, like her, duh,) and b) over the age of 30, and not in obviously professional attire, in that neck of the woods, I could very likely have a teenaged child. I was creeped out, nonetheless.

I very nearly laid my purchase down on the counter and left. Luckily, I didn’t because it’s a fantastic sweater that (I feel) does not look the least bit maternal.

I hope.

No Surprise There.

You Are A: Monkey!

monkeyMonkeys are intelligent and agile, well-adapted for jungle life as they swing happily from tree to tree. As a monkey, you are a social animal who eats a wide range of food, is quick to learn new things and loves to climb. A monkey’s tiny primate features are irresistable, as is her gregarious personality!

You were almost a: Pony or a Lamb
You are least like a: Kitten or a TurtleDiscover What Cute Animal You Are!

When I was born, a monkey was my older sister. She was a Squirrel Monkey, like the one in the picture, but she was the runt of the litter, so a) Dad got her for a good price and b) she was frailer and more delicate looking than this one. Frodo was five years old when I was born, and so well into Squirrel Monkey maturity.

As older sisters go, she was a bit different from most. She never tried to braid my hair, but she did steal all the green pepper off the pizza before the rest of the family got to eat it. And screamed defiance at us if we tried to dissuade her.

Dad was the Alpha Male in her troupe. If she did something that contravened his law, he’d drizzle cold water over her head. Once, when she bit him in a fit of pique, he bit her tail. She never bit any of us bigger primates again, but threatened plenty. Good call, Dad.

She hated balloons, helium in particular. I love balloons now, and I know I’d have loved them as a young child, except for the fact that one-and-a-half pounds of avenging primate always tried to protect our family unit from the mysterious and possibly predatory things. She’d leap on them, shrieking, and sink her teeth into them for the immediate satisfaction of them dying at her feet. Helium presented no challenge. For a muscular structure developed to leap from bough to bough in South American jungles, a mere jump from lamp-top to sofa-back can easily accomodate the timely dispatching of an unwary balloon. The result was that, if there were balloons in the house, she wouldn’t rest until she’d ‘killed’ all of them. As a result, I didn’t like balloons, because I never knew when one would explode close to me, courtesy of my stealth-mode older sister, trying to keep me safe.

Frodo lived til I was 7 years old. She was pretty crotchety at the end. But wouldn’t you be, surrounded by beings much bigger and more powerful than you, whose laws seemed to contradict your own understanding of family? (Bringing new people in who were not biologically hardwired to you? IE, friends of my parents’, not family?)

When Frodo died, it was the first time I’d ever seen my dad cry. Family is family, and she was his first daugher.

Oops.

So we kind of screwed up on this one.

E’s gone to the Yukon to tour with the Janice Joplin Tribute Rock Opera. Despite the fact that we knew what was happening, despite the fact that he had an itinerary, we forgot to preset times that we could talk to one another on the phone.

This is no surprise, seeing as we haven’t been away from one another for so long (10 days) in our entire almost-six-year relationship. We have no experience of this. As an aside, how strange is that?

I haven’t spoken to him since Saturday. It’s not like he really needs to know the minutiae of my life, it’s just that I want to tell him the little things.

The problem is he’s traveling or rehearsing or performing while I am home and available to take his calls. When he gets offstage at 1:30 or whatever, I’m in dreamland. When they’re planning and costuming and rehearsing and traveling, I’m home and available.

It’s not like I’m worried, I’m just glad I made him take an extra book. And I wish we’d gotten one of those cool hand-held DVD players.

Walking in the Funky Dark

I have a couple of students who live out Acadia Road, at UBC. For those who don’t know, Acadia is the road that lines the Western edge of the Endowment lands, er, sorry, I mean Pacific Spirit Park. The wild frontier of Student Housing.

I love walking to the bus stop along that road. The woods are a buffer against most of the traffic noises of the city, and the streetlights often go off for no discernable reason, just as I walk underneath.

But the best thing is the smell. No perfume could be as subtle, complex, or, to me, evocative.

The base note is the forest itself. The damp decay of cedar logs, the deep umber funk of dying leaves, the mulch, the loam, the worms and bugs digesting out there in the lonely dark.

The middle note is the live trees. The tang of the cedar is strong, but the other trees get in there as well. I smell wet alder bark and slightly bruised Fir greenery.

The top note is the sheer, heady smell of clean air. Although photosynthesis is not taking place in this darkened lane at 9pm, there’s still a fresh, oxygenated quality to what I’m breathing. It’s like I walk beside a slow and shaggy giant, whose breathing is too slow to detect, but nevertheless sweetens the air.

It’s the Temperate Rainforest, distilled into a bouquet of everything that’s in there.

Rosa Parks is Dead

“I’d like people to say I’m a person who always wanted to be free and wanted it not only for myself; freedom is for all human beings,” she said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press in 1995.

Mrs. Parks, I’m with you. I hope that one day, all human beings will be free.

God bless you. In Heaven, where I believe your religious convictions show you’re going, I hope there is not only a seat for every person who is tired, but also a seat that is not next to a crazy person, because, as a rider of transit, I know they’re out there.

Here’s to my hope for Heaven: A seat on transit for all tired people, whatever their colour or creed, and some divine counselling and divine meds for those of us who ride the bus without but the briefest touch of sanity.

Hey, God, if you’re there, you could give Heavenly bus riders a hand here, eh?

NaNoWriMo

Today I took the first step in this year’s NaNo extravagnaza. I bought a little book sacred to the purpose of plotting, characterization, and ideas for Nano. Then, I wrote down the dares and suggestions I’ve been collecting from various people. So far, I have promised(myself and others) to incorporate:

An evil pumpkin
A talking tortoise
Someone vomiting into a handbag
A City Worker coming to announce that he’s going to cut off the water (“but you don’t need it”). Plus, his fly is open and there’s food on his face.
A confused Welsh person.
The later-middle-aged black man who sells Spare Change newspapers at the IGA at Broadway and Maple

Any other dares or suggestions are greatly welcome. Since I’ve (pretty much) decided to do what might be described as ‘offbeat urban fantasy’ set in Kits, send ‘em my way; I can take anything. Especially since I’ve decided to not take it seriously at all.

Come to think of it, since I consciously decided not to take the whole thing seriously, I’ve felt a lot better about it. Could this be a secret to life?

Boring Salad Club

I eat salads for dinner most weeknights. To ensure that I have salad, and not, say, a giant oatmeal cookie from the cafe downstairs, I have told each of the kids I teach in my 6:30 classes that if I come to work without salad for dinner, I will pay them five dollars. We call it Boring Salad Club, as one of the kids said, “You always have salad. So boring!” If they want to bring salad to eat as well, they’re welcome to. But Boring Salad Club has turned out to be the antithesis of boredom.

They love it. They even lean into the room before class to check that I have my salad. One student counsels, “You need protein, but not so much cheese next time. Cheese is fattening.” Another loves, loves the crunching sound of Romaine, so I save the really crunchy Romaine hearts for Friday nights. her eyes light up and she listens intently to the crunch. This, I think is a bit strange, but in the whole rainbow of kinds of strangeness, she’s pretty tame. The kids ask about the dressings, about the add-ins, about the ratios of, say, lettuce to red pepper. We talk about the nutrients in the various vegetables, and sometimes this has an effect. Last week I overheard one of my Boring Salad Club kids telling his mother, “I want good eyesight. We should eat more carrots.”

Man, I love my job.

Moment (May Be Morbid for Some Viewers)

My family keeps things. This has recently become a bit of an issue in light of the fact that Dad is slowly working towards downsizing to a condo on the Sunshine Coast.

This summer, Bo, Carol and I went bravely into the attic to decide which books to keep and which to junk. A lot of Bo’s philosophy stuff is in there, and I couldn’t have told which was valuable and which wasn’t, so I needed him there. Also, I discovered, he needed to be there in order to insist that we save all the Star Wars books he’d had since childhood. I think we managed to part with the Star Wars flip-n-fold storybook, but I think that was the only one. He has a problem. These tacky, yellowing books are completely valueless to anyone but him.

Oh, Shit. Shit. I’ve just looked over to see my collection of spines-taped-up-to-hold-in-the-pages, yellowing, Skye O’Malley romance novels. Maybe I have a problem as well.

Well, it would go with the family affliction.

There’s a certain woven Haida cedar basket in the attic that contains the ashes of our paternal grandfather. When he died, (about a decade ago) my grandmother was just edging into the beginnings of senility, and so she never really made a decision as to what to do with his remains. She had suggested burying them under a Clematis bush (he loved Clematis), but as my mom pointed out, what if the bush died? How would we feel then?

So grandpa went to the attic. I usually say Hi when I’m passing by to get a book or the makings of a Fur Trader costume for a student, but mostly, he’s not an issue.

Carol’s sitting on the bed, sorting through a pile of books. Bo comes out with Grandpa’s basket and plonks it squarely down on her lap. “This is our Grandfather.”

I look up briefly, “Carol, meet Grandpa, Grandpa, Carol.”

Then I notice her face. That expression is why the English language contains the word, ‘rictus’.

Sorry, Carol. I’d feel worse, but it was pretty funny.

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